She is two and pajama-clad and looking down the long sidewalk to the back lane. Her father has shoveled it meticulously. It has high white snow walls that clap the budgerigar blue sky, way over her head. So inviting. She goes for it.
A hand seizes her.
“No no, you can’t go out today! It’s too cold! You’re too small. Look at that snow!”
Why does she remember that? Because she hates being told what to do. There were always these admonitions, prohibitions. Things she was not allowed to do being small, being a girl, such as explore the world on her own. Strange, but she doesn’t remember anger. She accepted it. Until she didn’t have to. Then she went. Wherever. Yet some timid piece remains: she wants company, so she ropes in others.
She is standing with Jim in the Barri Gotic in Barcelona looking down the narrow, high-walled alley where a noon-hour sun reaches in patches. He has a map, and is peering down at it, telling her it’s not very good. This is going to be a long trip but they don’t know it yet. In a week a volcano in Iceland is going to erupt and the volcanic ash will spread over Europe, stopping all flights to where we want to go next. This is their first day.
“I know, isn’t it wonderful?”
She doesn’t care which of these narrow streets is which, or where it ends up. She just wants to wander. She watches old women in housedresses, boys in low-crotch jeans, a female motorcyclist, a young man being pushed in a wheelchair. A passerby jumps in his path making noises like a bear and all three laugh, the wheeler, the wheeled, the friend. Then another wheelchair, two three: there’s a clinic.
If three people pass, their shoulders touch. Really it’s a place for walking alone. Jim finds their place on the map and goes back to the hotel: he is jetlagged.
The stone walls are so rough, cold, she wants to touch them. They bring a damp chill to the noontime. They are of all ages. Some bits are Roman. Some are medieval. Some are 19th century, some newer. The pulled-down metal shutters are graffiti-artists’ heaven. Her lens gravitates to them: wild greens and pinks, words in what language? Inox, repasa, drak – undersea blue, gore red, an eye with gold lashes, swirls and stabs and white that jumps.
It’s one o’clock, but only now are the shops rolling up their blinds revealing deep interiors intense with ancient trinkets, tiers of fans, a man weaving baskets. There are dusty books and by the cathedral, a purveyor of creamy white candles in esoteric shapes for religious occasions.
She walks in the maze for hours. It is dark when she stumbles on the hotel. Jim is angry. “You can’t walk alone in the dark here,” he scolds.
They step out the hotel door again, and hear a piano. They follow the echo through the caverns and find the source: a man has set himself up to play Moonlight Sonata to the bare walls of a little square behind the cathedral. He is a serious musician. They sit on a cold stone step to listen. Then they cross the Ramblas and pick just any old restaurant. The bar is crowded with locals smoking; the waiter sends them farther back to a nearly empty dining room. He is an Argentine; he serves us a liqueur that smells like what? Cannelle, he says. A voice comes from the only other diner:
He is the concertmaster of a Munich opera group opening Abduction from the Seraglio in a few days. Fifteen minutes conversation reveals that he knows the husband of her second cousin.
She sometimes feels as if she’s lost her way completely in life, as if she has forgotten her true self. It has to do with loss of nerve, or loss of candour. But this reassures her. When they leave the restaurant they don’t bother with the map.