Friday, 6 May 2016

Bittersweet return under the Andalusian sun

It's been almost three years since my last trip to under the Andalusian Sun. Where did those years go?

As the plane was getting closer to Malaga airport, I was filled some very mixed emotions. According to my careful calculations this trip was close to 30th. In the years I spent here this became my second home and a place that is home to very dear memories.

Those years did mark another significant period in my life too: the life I shared with The Gentleman. It was he who introduced me to this part of the world. It was during our excursions in the region that I fell in love with Andalusia, its unique culture and rich history.

As the plane is getting ready for landing, there's a pinch in my stomach. 

Even after all these years.

How many times I've been at this airport! There have been long-awaited reunions and bitter goodbyes, filled with tears. And that one trip we made to the airport in silence; the one I knew was going to be the last. 

This time I'm not greeted by a familiar face. This time it's just me. 

During the drive from Malaga to Cadiz the memories come flooding back. So many thing has stayed exactly the same. El Higueron still hasn't replaced their massive billboard. After having stood outside for years the colours have faded and I can't believe the sight of that lonely slice of chorizo, swimming in a pool of beans is enough to tempt anyone into the restaurant. That's where my friends live; that would be the exit to our house. What do you know - that hair transplant clinic has replaced that bitchy dance judge as their poster boy!

What I have waiting for me in Cadiz is a completely strange city. I don't know anyone there, I don't know where anything is there. As much as I've missed Andalusia, all of a sudden I feel so vulnerable. I'm a stranger, too. I have no security that my own life, friends or home here would bring. Instead I feel completely bare. At the same time it feels I'm merely observing all this from behind the walls I've put up to shield me. 

As if I'm not really even here.

For the first time I won't wake up from my own bed in my own home, instead I'll be staying in a hotel, surrounded by total strangers. Exhausted from my early morning flight, I always used to head straight to bed, only to be woken up a couple of hours later by the sun, glimmering in the pool. I still remember how happy I felt; how much I'd missed all that. 

Even air smelled different. It carried with it smell of the sun, cleaning products, flowers, hints of parfume, sunscreen and something charring on the BBQ. It carried with it a promise. Joy. 

Now I just feel tired. And sad.

My attempt at finding churros is shot down as the vendor raises his arms and shakes his head. No mas. He's just sold his last batch. I get a welcome reminder: there is certain rhythm to life here, too. I just seem to have fallen outside of that, too. 

The evening falls. I really ought to eat something. "Table for one" are just not the words I want to hear myself utter. Again. I crape the shawl tighter around me. I realize I forgot to check the forecast as I was packing. Didn't think I needed to - sun always shines here, right?

In the shadows of the cathedral boys are playing football. The excitement and triumphant shouts following a goal sound exactly the same as they do everywhere in the world. Restaurants are filling up. Families, couples, friends. Everyone with someone. 

I give up, pick up a bocadillo on the way to the hotel and decide to call it a night. 

In the morning I wake up two hours before my alarm. Even before I open my eyes I can feel the sun waiting for me. Something bubbles inside me. "I'm back", I whisper. 

I find a cafe and order my breakfast. My Spanish has become rather rusty I notice, after accidentally lacing it with some Hebrew. Which is all Greek to them. 

Streets are empty as the rest of the city is taking their time waking up. Cathedral seems even more impressive in day light and I make a mental note to go see it one day. Eventually I even find a newsagent which sells English newspapers.

Slowly I'm getting back into the flow of things.

Eventually I retire to the terrace of a tiny tapas restaurant in a tiny alleyway. Though the waiters are doing their best putting up parasols to keep the lunchers safe, the beams somehow always seem to manage to find a way through them. I abandon my plan to finish the paper and order another glass of wine. As the waiter comes over with it, he laughs and remarks how I've already got some colour. I find myself laughing back.

I put away my phone, fold the paper into my bag, close my eyes and turn my face to the sun. Oh, how warm it is! A smile finds its way onto my lips and stays there.

Let there be colour.

After the lunch I make my way back to the hotel along the promenade. I stop and inhale that familiar scent. Air is thick with saltiness of the sea. There's something else there, too. Sun, flowers... joy and anticipation. 

I take another deep breath and enjoy. Even the right words finally find their way. Ahora estoy feliz. Right now I am happy.

The journey has only just started. And the corner of Andalusia I'm about to discover now will be all mine.





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