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Fiction



Happy New Year! They were all shouting. Everybody was shouting, sticking their hands in the air, jumping up and down. It was like they all believed that the incoming year just had to be better than the one that was ending. Well, we certainly would be better off being optimistic, one could argue. The revelers in Times Square were simply demonstrating the advantages of optimism...


Lavinia turned away from the screen on the computer that rested on the table before her, but she could not escape the screen of her mind, the images and noises still sparkling there. Happy it might be for the celebrating people in New York, and she certainly hoped so for them, but for her the New Year was going to be a big test. It could turn out to be a perfect year. Or it could be a disaster. Things were too uncertain, she knew she was in unknown territory, and she didn't know what the outcome would be. 


I have no idea what I’m doing, what’s going on.


Why was she doing this? Lavinia rested her forehead on her hands, but it wasn’t because of the hour nor because she was alone. It was something else. Watching the screen of the laptop showing midnight back in the States had carried the risk of making her feel homesick. It was nearly 6 A.M. in Santiago de Compostela and she had no need to be awake yet. Almost nobody ever got up that early in Santiago. The daylight hours dictated a different rhythm. Lavinia hadn’t been looking for the scenes that were now taking place at a midnight taking place six hours later, back home. 


Home? She didn’t even like the ruckus they created on that stage. Nothing very aesthetic about the goings-on there. Yet it was the first thing she had seen when she turned her laptop on. People performing, some drunkenly. It was pretty boring, actually. Screaming while drunk had never been an intellectual achievement.


The point was that Lavinia really hadn't been looking to go through the festivities twice in six hours for another reason. She was about to embark on a quest that she had accepted, based on a gut feeling. (She would’ve liked to call it intuition, but it didn’t feel like that.) It was a quest based on several unknowns, her incorrigible curiosity, and her studies of forgotten stories. Not just the stories in books, but also those in letters, recipes, sketches, old lace. Things of no interest.


Feliz Aninovo! No, her first Happy New Years had not been on a laptop screen showing events from another time and worlds . Since those first shouts of glee and well-wishing had taken place in a different time zone and on the side of the Atlantic where she was now, she had already heard the Aninovos and responded happily to the idea of the coming year, o ano vindeiro. There had been no big ball dropping. Instead, the huge bell of the Catedral had struck twelve times and Lavinia as well as everybody else had devoured as uvas da sorte, the grapes that brought luck if they were eaten in time. One uva for each deep gonging vibration, unha ova por cada campanada. Even laughing, everybody managed to complete the task. Everybody knew how to do it.


Grapes more important than champagne. Not bad. The majestic Obradoiro Square was so much more her style than the cement towers and sidewalks of dangerous New York City. So young, so lacking, so superficial.


Nevertheless, finding Times Square on her computer screen had seduced Lavinia. It was what she knew, but it was an embarrassment. No, she’d never been to Times Square, but it was always the point of reference in the States. It was six A.M. where she was now. Was she doomed now to living two new years every year? Or would she ultimately sacrifice one? Would she give up Times Square on a screen (she'd never ever go there in person - too dangerous and expensive) for the Obradoiro Square surrounded by history? 


The Obradoiro whose stones were rough and gentle beneath the soles of her shoes, and where she could actually go, instead of watching from afar, as she had always done.


Why am I thinking like this? Nothing is forcing me to be here. For all I know, I’ll be back in Maine next New Year’s Eve. I’m just trying to sort some things out.


Boring concerns.


Sorting things out meant trying to understand what had driven her to take a leave of absence from her university. And just when she was in the best position possible for getting tenure and promotion. The academic’s dream.


Meanwhile, the issue at hand was considering what it was, would be like, to live in two worlds. Eat the uvas and watch the ball drop every year’s end. However, keeping both celebrations would seem to be cultural schizophrenia, and that was no joke. Linguists like Wallace Lambert had studied anomie in Canadian French speakers. Suspended between two worlds, loyalty to neither, sometimes.


Lavinia also knew there were Spanish intellectuals who'd escaped when the government fell to the fascists and, who during their entire time of exile in Latin America, had kept their watches set to the time in Spain. She didn't envy people whose lives were split in half that way. Was there ever a way out?


Nobody who has lived in two worlds (and there are many types of world) will ever say it is easy. If there is s will, is there s way? Loyalties are hard to measure and also hard to find.


Yet Lavinia was also perfectly aware that she had stepped over a line, had crossed a threshold, had passed through her own personal Gog and Magog. 


Narrator's Note:


Sir John Mandeville wrote about reaching the end of the known world, where the Amazons lived. No real women could have survived civilization. That actually could be a good thing, if one agrees that the Amazons were a very intriguing group of women, wherever they resided. Lavinia knew this.


She now knew she had made the decision to abandon something that had been her center: her academic career. She had requested indefinite leave from the university where she taught, knowing they were likely to refuse her request and give her an ultimatum: Come back now or don’t bother.


Why oh why am I doing this? Lavinia asked herself. 


Maybe there was still time to retract her leave request, mend fences, fit back into the fold (where there were a lot of sheep plus a few wolves). Yet she also knew that time wasn’t the point. She was unable to slip back into the fold, never again could she see herself trying to do something like that. She needed answers and she had to start looking for them now. The decision is one nobody in their right mind makes.


Meaning: What was it that had turned Lavinia’s world upside down, made her turn her back on her life’s goal? She wasn’t done with Ruth yet, and knew she was going to find out a whole lot more about the woman from Nebraska, the photographer who had seduced her to come for sabbatical research to the old city. Yes, Lavinia had arrived with a clear, organized plan to get facts, interpret them, publish her findings. The things academics do because they think their ideas are good. 


That was before Lavinia had spent weeks walking the labyrinth that was Santiago. What was happening to her now in the wee hours of the morning was caused by a city, not a feeling for another person. Santiago was set before her like a lover, a supper companion, a chocolate trufa - not a real truffle of the French sort - from the Casa Moura, the best bakery in town. Full of flavor, begging to be devoured, hoping to dissolve itself in her. What had happened? The researcher could not stop now, her appetite had been whetted, and she craved answers.


Lavinia had to look, knew she had to, and knew she had to use all her senses. Was she developing a new skill which was not useful? Where had the ability to see several layers at once come from? Layers of what? Not the layers one finds in a cake or a mil follas from Casa Mora. Had she caught some mysterious virus or was she losing ... well, losing her sense of taste and place? So many things seemed to be shifting, although identifying them, locating them, was turning out to be a daunting task. It was an obligation she’d have to face, and soon. 


It was definitely her gut that was to blame, she concluded. She was doing this, stepping off the proverbial ledge into the abyss, simply because of an irrational gut feeling. The feeling was there now as she sat looking into the liquid in an unopened, discrete champagne bottle, seeing the glints of its contents through the green glass, swallowing the prisms with green eyes. 


Lavinia, a bit uneasy, put the bottle of champagne - legally known as cava - away for some future occasion, but there was something else on the small counter by the sink . It was a bottle of Cabreiroá, the mineral water she usually purchased because supposedly the company had a project to protect the environment, but even more so because it came from a source near Verín, province of Ourense. Verín with its Entroido and freshness, its ‘está a trasmao’, off the beaten path.


She thought how the water she bought when back home in Maine didn’t often promote its sustainability practices, that the effervescence of the carbonated and flavored options never really satisfied her thirst. She bought and drank it, but the thirst was always there.


Those mineral waters didn’t often advertise their sources, didn’t talk about granite and quartz, lithium, calcium, potassium, sodium, silica, magnesium. Just in fine print on an obscure area of the label.


Cabreiroá, with its poem of a name, begged to be drunk as well as contemplated in its gentle blue bottle. The bottle was a special shape, almost stately, and thirsty drinkers always thought about Verín, saw it in their glasses. Now Lavinia was looking, and what she saw was not what she had expected to encounter when she had her first glass of the poetic liquid. Maybe it was more than water? A tasteless potion?


The water was talking now, and what it was offering the cautious traveler might very likely have its origin in the spring of Verín. The gurgling was not indistinguishable to Lavinia, and she began to note things on the page of a journal.


Threads 


Lichens


Moss


Two Santa Escolásticas and a Santa Rosalía next to a pelican feeding the blood of its breast to its young in a museum many visited and few remembered.


Os biosbardos, fictional little creatures of Galician folklore. The Untranslatables, Lavinia called them, although in the Galician language there were several terms, depending on which one of the four provinces you were from and which part of each province.


Ruth Matilda Anderson’s lodgings in the Hotel Suizo, when she arrived in Santiago. The hotel, which was more like a modest pensión, was located right next to the only ancient gate to the city still standing, a porta do viño, Porta de Mazarelos, where vendors brought the wine in (or so one legend went) during the Middle Ages. The Porta opened on to Mazarelos Square, which was also just outside one of the departments of the grand university. Across from that nondescript building was the low-key Candilexas eatery, which had from time immemorial served the best potato salad in Santiago, an ensaladilla that was head and shoulders above any potato salad back home. Lavinia had discovered it on her own, although later her friends had agreed with her bestowal of that honor on the simple little restaurant.


Grelos and queixo in the praza. In this case praza wasn’t square but rather a market. Going there was different and the same every time. Tourists might go, but they never understood.


Eating reo for the first time, not knowing what it was called in English on that occasion, then looking for and finding strange descriptions in dictionaries: salmon-like trout, things like that. Half one thing, half another. Like people, sometimes. It had taken a while to uncover the exact equivalent of reo: steelhead trout, darker and fluffier than salmon. Buried under a perfect prebe sauce that was a concoction made of oil and vinegar, parsley, chopped egg, onion. Divine.


 Castañas asadas.  Brief presence in the most depressing time of the year. Old women, old custom. Steaming roasted chestnuts. A gift and a promise.


Gargoyles overlooking Fonseca. Lavinia had reserved one for her interment, like Lorca had, even though he had not been thinking of Santiago. She had written about the gargoyle, but doubted anybody would remember.


The Church of San Fiz located next to the praza where the vendors came in from the outskirts of Santiago to sell their wares. San Fiz de Solovio, ordered built in the tenth century by Bishop Sisnando the Second, razed by Almanzor not long after, then rebuilt by Bishop Xelmírez in the twelfth century. San Fiz, old but incredibly not forgotten by the local residents.


Why did old things matter?


The María Castaña restaurant, where Lavinia as a foreigner had felt more at home than anywhere else. The food? Important as well. Worth another whole story.


A Tertulia and the odd box. The renovation of the little bar that had turned her life around. Lavinia felt she had been meant to study that box and its contents, and that her research had led her to question far too much. Outside of Santiago, no one would ever understand.


There was much more to the list, but Lavinia, very rationally, took stock, and realized her body couldn’t hold more for the moment. Later on, she could construct something bigger to accommodate it all, all the people and things. For now, she’d opted for an even keel.


Gut reaction. Was that all she was going through right now?


Lavinia considered the phrase so often used for situations like the one she was experiencing, and shook her head. This went far beyond her stomach, and had the complete collaboration of head and heart. Or maybe all of her, as she had the sneaking and irrational suspicion that important parts of her were turning to stone. Making her part of Santiago de Compostela.


If that were to happen, Lavinia thought she might very well like it.

January 08, 2022 00:46

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6 comments

10:48 Jan 14, 2022

I loved Lavinia's journey from a structured academic to someone falling in love with Santiago de Compostela. Her "head versus the heart" dilemma had genuine stakes, and I think it will speak to a lot of readers. The metaphors you created using Cabreiroá, the praza, María Castaña, etc. made the city come alive while adding credence to Lavinia's dilemma and perspective. And now I really want to go to Spain! If it is not a bother, could you critique my newest story? Fantastic job this week!

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Kathleen March
02:19 Jan 15, 2022

I will check out your story. Thank you for your comments. A lot of us are torn between head and heart all the time. That much of the story was true. If anything else is true, I will never tell…

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Michael Regan
21:54 Jan 12, 2022

OK - I'm hooked. ;-) I have been planning a trip to Spain once COVID is over. I have added Santiago de Compostela to my list of places to see. Another great story.

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Kathleen March
02:17 Jan 15, 2022

If you go to Iberia, it’s an essential stop. My second home.

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Jay Stormer
02:28 Jan 08, 2022

Good way of expressing the emotions engendered by a special place.

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Kathleen March
02:46 Jan 08, 2022

Thanks. It’s hard to say exactly where the special place is located, though…

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