BACK ON THE ROAD, we hurtle toward Salamanca, a little
impatiently, for much of the group are to be re-united with their luggage
at the parador. I can't help but be intrigued by the glimpse I get of the
town from the bus as we negotiate the roads into town -- golden church
spires and walls and a lovely roman bridge over a broad, sluggish river.
Our parador is a brutal lodging of marble and glass, built
in a style I can only call Franco Modern. Inside, though, the floors
are cool wood and the views from our rooms over the river to the old town
spectacular. We're to be here for two nights and I'm grateful for the break.
Across from my room, the old medieval university town catches the evening
sun, and I see spires and church towers and red tile roofs. It looks lovely.
The roman bridge, one of the town's great treasures, is
closed for repairs, so I'll have to forego a great photo opportunity. No
great loss, since I've seen the vista of the bridge and the town countless
times in guidebooks and magazines. I should probably be thinking more about
getting decent shots to help sell the article I'll have to produce after
this trip, but somehow I can't get up the energy to stake out locations
and make time for solo shoots, unlike Michael, who seems to be out early
every morning with his cameras, wandering the town for shots.
We get back in the bus and cross the river for dinner.
Tonight is something of a treat, the best meal we'll have on the trip.
A salad, in particular, excites the whole group, if only because of the
rarity of greens in Castille's meat-heavy cuisine, but also because of
the green itself -- tender, tiny sprout-like leaves called marujas,
served with roquefort cheese and tiny chunks of fruit. We finish off with
coffee and aguardiente, and Dennis suggests the group head off for the
bars around the Plaza Mayor.
Dennis lived here years ago, and tries to find one of
his favorite spots, a tiny place next to one of the gates into the plaza.
It's gone, replaced by a McDonalds (special today: "McPollo Bocadito"),
so we sit down for a drink at a patio next door and gab drunkenly.
Michael, who admits to once being a big beer-drinker,
sits on the sidelines. We ask him if he'd like anything, if he minds hanging
around with a bunch of drinkers, but he insists that "I just like to watch
and listen." Privately, Dennis, Bob and I suspect he's probably AA, and
respect whatever might have made him give up booze. We're a bit more put
off by Fernando, however, who paces impatiently around the group on tours
and hardly says a word at dinner. A Spanish man who doesn't drink, at least
a few glasses of wine, seems off-putting, and he's become a bit of a wet
blanket. In any case, he left us in Valladolid, catching a train to see
his family in Zaragossa, and we're cutting loose tonight.
Angela and Chris start asking us what we all do, with
a particular interest in Dennis.
"So I've heard you're not a journalist, strictly speaking,"
Chris asks him.
"That's true," Dennis tells her.
"He's just a f***ing
novelist," Bob and I offer, with theatrical disdain.
"And what about you," Chris asks me. "Do you work for
anyone in particular, or..."
"Oh, I'm just a f***ing freelance f***ing pisstank," I
tell her. The group bursts into laughter, especially Bob and Dennis. I
have a nickname for the rest of the trip: pisstank.
We finish our drinks and head across the square to another
bar. Marguerita points out the stone cameo of Franco, set into the 18th
century arcade alongside the procession of heads of former rulers and notables
of the area. Obviously added much later than the others, it's in an entirely
different style and colour. Salamanca was Franco's military headquarters
during the civil war, and escaped the damage from German and Italian bombers
and Nationalist artillery that decimated parts of Madrid and Barcelona.
More ghosts of history.
The morning after the group's first bender, in Burgos,
there had been a vague sense of uneasiness, an emotional hangover, notable
most of all in the moment when we all spread out to different pews in the
church at Silos. Nevertheless, we barrel ahead with the evening, telling
personal stories, ordering another round, walking back across the river
to our parador in fits of delirious laughter. Bob, Dennis, Vincent and
I share some particularly bawdy stories and let loose with some colourful
language. We don't imagine the rest of the group, walking well behind and
ahead of us, will particularly care.
We struggle back up the hill to our parador and say our
drunken goodnights. I close the door of my room, take a deep breath, and
try to sober up to place a long distance call home.