I hate dates. When I say dates, I’m referring to both kinds: the fruit kind and the people kind. Both make me more than a little nauseous. So… if you want to remain my friend, please do not suggest I eat them or go out on one. It will not put me in a good mood.
Unfortunately, that is where this story started: with a date. Somebody offered me one. Of course, I refused. I respect the wishes of my stomach. And of my eyes, too, come to think of it. I do not need a date in my stomach nor in my line of sight. One of my friends either did not know this or wanted to badger me. (I have the sneaking suspicion that it was the latter.)
“Would you like a date?” asked Ramón.
“You’ve got to be kidding.” I snapped a bit, not knowing which he meant, and thinking it didn’t matter, because I didn’t want either one.
“No, not at all. I’m serious.” Ramón replied.
I looked around to see if Ramón was carrying anything, like a bag from the nearby Eroski market or a canvas one like many people use when they go to the outdoor market. There are a couple of vendors off to one side of the praza, looking out over the
street called A Senra, near an old, but not too old, granite fountain. I often go to the market - it’s one of my favorite things to do here in Santiago - but I definitely skip over these sellers’ collection of dried nuts and fruit. Froitos secos, dried fruits, they call them here. It took me a while to figure out that meant nuts, too. I love dried nuts of all kinds, but the fruits, like apricots and mangoes, are a bit too sweet.
Ramón was not, to be honest, carrying anything that would be a container for dates. He had the fingers of his left hand curled around a blue cardboard portfolio like many people use, you know, the ones with strong elastic that last forever. I have a few myself. I was concerned then that he might have been referring to the human type of date, and had to bite my tongue not to fly off the handle to him. He had no business suggesting that, and he knew it.
My response was immediate and perhaps a little curt:
“Not my style,” I laughed, hoping I was disguising my inner thoughts.
Ramón understood, knew all along how I’d react. Well, he didn’t know about the fruit date issue I have, but he did know that suggesting I meet up with somebody in an arranged encounter was not going to be to my liking. I felt relieved. What he did do was to ask if I’d like to come along that evening to A Casa das Crechas, a place where younger people go often, but which sometimes organized really interesting cultural events that attract a varied public.
I knew there was a photo exhibit currently that I’d planned to see: the life of the great Portuguese singer, Zêca Afonso. He had died so young, but had been very popular in Europe and other parts of the world.
“There are the photos, as you know, but tonight there is going to be a fado singer and somebody else is going to give a short talk on Zêca’s songs. You know, their inspiration and historical background.”
I knew Afonso had been quite political in his lyrics. That took nothing away from his incredible voice. In fact, it added to it. He had used medieval music, battles, racism, and love to create his songs. I was definitely interested in hearing more about him and in listening to Portuguese music. Few people know that Portugal has produced some amazing vocalists. There must be something in the grapes and codfish the country is also famous for. This was obviously meant to be a night of creating even more ties between the Luso-Galician people.
“I’d love to go. I can take time off from my research to go,” I responded, relieved that no date was actually involved.
I wasn’t going to think about how yet another distraction was going to keep me away from my study of the photographer whose travels in the region I had come to carry out. So far all the distractions had been taking me away from that study, anyway. Why let serious reading and writing stop me from getting in a little serious listening?
The only problem I could foresee was the space itself. People who know me are aware of my claustrophobia and how it can trigger a panic attack. Perhaps this would not happen if I were in the company of my friends. If they saw me looking ashen or dizzy, they would surely help me out.
The reason I bring this up is that the area where As Crechas held its events was in the basement - no windows, just one narrow, curving stairway down and up. Probably a violation of every safety code ever passed. All those warm bodies rubbing shoulders and hips were potentially a sea of sharks to someone like me. I would need to take something to calm myself before going, but go I would.
Ramón said they’d be there around 10 P.M. I was to come alone. That led me to think again about the human date. In no way was I going to bite on the date idea, however. I am way past high school and even graduate school. I want no dates in my life, edible or blind. I’ve already made that clear.
Once there, I found Ramón easily, and soon after I spotted Daniel Campo and Daniela Souto. I chuckled: were both of them supposed to be my dates? (Dates I refused to agree to…) No, both Daniel and Dany were with somebody else. I uttered a sigh of relief, then panicked. They must have wanted to see my preference - male or female. Was this a joke or something else? I was very unhappy.
First, Daniel introduced me to Xana Laranxa, which is her nickname, as he quickly clarified. Her name really was Xana, pronounced Sha - nna, but her last name is Mouriño. She got the laranxa (lah - ráhn - sha) part because it’s her favorite fruit, her favorite color, and often she has a carrot-colored streak or two in her chestnut hair.
If you think it sounds like I know too much for her to be introduced, then you don’t know Santiago and how people keep very good track of one another as they pass on the streets. It’s easy, because the streets are narrow and for foot traffic only. Even I had started making mental notes when out and about. I’d seen Xana Laranxa (I’m laughing at the perfect nickname) at least three times. I had already deduced that orange was at least one of her favorite colors because of her hair and the scarves she wore. Not a mystery as far as that went. I knew little else about her, however.
Next, Dany introduced me to Xurxo Baltar. First, I have to say I was surprised to see her with him, since from the times we’d gone out in a group, Dany had never seemed to find anything positive to say about men. She seemed unhappy around them, threatened. With Xurxo, for the moment, I didn’t sense this. She told me Xurxo was employed by the fishing sector of the Xunta, the Galician Government. We tried to find a common interest, but other than reciting all the names for fish I’ve been learning at the local market, we had to make an effort to keep the conversation going.
I found Xana more appealing, even if it was mostly because I admired the way she went out in public. I can’t do that. I can cross-dress, yes, all the time. I just can’t attract attention by wild haircuts or colors. Call it my prudish Protestant upbringing, if you wish. I did have a narrow blue streak done once. The darn thing washed out too fast. Not worth the money.
Ramón, whom everybody calls by his nickname, Moncho, was suddenly nowhere to be seen, at least for the moment. I couldn’t chew him out. He deserved it, though, because he was clearly up to something. Maybe the whole group was in on it and this was a prank. Except in Dany’s case, I worried it wasn’t an innocent prank; there was a glint of steel in her expression. She was the stiff one, always.
It was a relief not to have been set up with anybody, male or female, because it made no sense. I was only a temporary resident of the city and was rather enjoying the status of woman without a partner. Since the music was about to begin, there was a sense of anticipation among those present. The intimate space, the solid walls with their roughness, their uneven surface, the low ceiling - we were ready for an intensity of sound. We knew even the walls could dance if the atmosphere warmed up, as it promised to do. The melodies and voices were set to enter the pores of each and every person and move along limbs until sitting still would be impossible. That doesn’t mean dancing, but rather a sort of swaying nostalgia only Galician-Portuguese can produce.
A date with a person would have ruined that, definitely. You needed to remain focused on the whole area rather than a single individual. On occasions like these, the clan origins of northwestern Iberia felt alive and well. The place was teeming with sensuality, yet the humans there did not have to physically touch to feel it. It was all about the type of music, the grasses and sand it had grown out of, and the union of the notes with blood and memories. I am not exaggerating, I can assure you. As Crechas has something unusual about it.
An edible date, that disgusting fruit with an outer layer like the shell of a cockroach - which I also despise - was no threat in a place like the lower level of A Casa das Crechas. It could be discretely pushed off to a far corner of the table or - purely by accident - knocked to the floor. It wasn’t likely anybody had packed a few in a purse or pocket and the bar wasn’t in the habit of putting any out for snacks to accompany the drinks. Dates did not pair well with beer or wine.
The performers took frequent, but short breaks, during which conversation would pick up again. Along with the people I already knew, I tried to make conversation with Xurxo and Xana, whom I almost wanted to call the X-Factors, but it wasn’t all that funny. Dany kept an eye on me, but Xurxo seemed unaware of her vigilance. Both of us managed to loosen up by the time the second break rolled around. He actually had some interesting tales to tell about recent fishing practices as well as about the time the oil ship had broken apart. The release of the black, viscous substance right off the coast had been devastating for the environment. I wanted to hear more about that terrible event, and Xurxo was happy to talk about it. He had harsh words for the government that had all but washed its hands of the matter. It had been the villagers and people from other parts of Europe who had done most of the cleaning up.
Daniel was also interested in the discussion and asked Xurxo a lot of questions. He, like many others, was concerned about the residual effects of all the petroleum. The area depended on fishing, plus the marine habitat was home to so many fish, crustaceans, plants, and birds. Daniel might have been born inland, in Santiago, but the coast - the town of Noia, for example - was only about thirty minutes away. When he mentioned the town, I recalled how Ruth Matilda Anderson had traveled there, how that portion of the coastline had some major prehistorical sites, and I understood his interest. He might be working more on the history of the City of the Apostle, but it was all part of the part of the world he loved.
Xana was also saddened by the recollection of the disaster of the Prestige - the vessel owned by a global conglomerate that cared little for anything except profit - which was probably why she opted to shift the topic to some recent work by a painter from Muros and then to the nature sculptures of a German hermit who placed his free art on the rocky shore where he had taken up residence. Unfortunately, the oil spill had broken the hermit’s heart and he had died soon after. Xana fell silent when she remembered that. With all her orange flamboyance, she was clearly a sensitive person. We all could see her eyes tear up and were glad when the next and last set began again.
It was certainly after midnight when the music came to an end and we all applauded with great energy. I was not a bit sorry that I had decided to join the group instead of being cooped up with a long-gone photographer, no matter how interesting her work was. We were a bit stiff from the hard stools used to seat audiences and the twisted positions we’d adopted so we could all fit around the table, so we held on tight to the railing while making our way back up the stairs.
Outside on the little Vía Sacra Street, the fresh evening air was a respite from the recycled stuff we’d been breathing for two hours. I stood there for a few minutes, just looking up at the stars, smiling at how ‘Compostela’ really didn’t mean ‘field of stars’ like the romantics and the people who hadn’t studied historical linguistics in college tried to insist. It didn’t matter that a famous movie by a famous director had utilized the false etymology to create a plot based on the Milky Way, Saint James’ Way, the Road to Santiago. It was all fiction.
While I was trying to decide whether I preferred the fictitious to the linguistically correct, I sensed someone beside me. It was Daniel. Somehow I had expected him to leave with Xana Laranxa, but he hadn’t. (I already knew Dany had left alone and Xurxo had gone off with Moncho. They were probably chuckling about the date thing. They’d probably cooked it up together. By the way, I don’t know if fruit dates are ever cooked, but maybe they are. I just don’t ever want to try them.)
Daniel was standing a foot or two away, not uttering a word. He then looked up at the same stars, his head tilting at almost the same angle as mine. I wondered if he was also thinking about the wrong etymology of ‘Compostela’, then figured it was unlikely. People from the city don’t fuss too much about that. He did, however, seem like he wanted to say something, so I waited, unwilling to mention something that didn’t correspond to what he might be thinking.
“What did you think of Xana and Xurxo?” he queried.
The silly idea about the date that had been prepared for me popped back in my head. I so hoped that hadn’t been their plan. I nevertheless hoped that I hadn’t quashed it by being unintentionally rude to Moncho.
“I’m glad I met them. I like meeting new people here.” My response was pretty run-of-the-mill. It was getting late.
“I thought you’d like them.”
The words hung in the breezy night air with a light sprinkling of what could have been star dust but was actually néboa, a charming, cuddly fog. I waited again.
“You know, I was afraid you might like one of them too much.”
So my fear about being set up for a blind date had been real! I was furious, but was careful to keep my face expressionless.
“I just wanted you to know that the blind date idea was my doing.”
Now I was even more unhappy, but maintained a poker face. There was no good response to this revelation, I thought.
“I was the one who was interested in knowing if you would go out with somebody. I also was hoping that neither Xana nor Xurxo was your type.”
I knew then that Daniel, who was in reality quite shy, except with his closest friends, had wanted to ask me out. Well, not quite. The truth was, neither of us was comfortable with anything remotely like a date. (Old-fashioned, for the younger crowd, whatever…)
I had not had to go on a blind date, thank goodness. However, I realized that the ball was now clearly in my court.
I thought about that as I glanced from time to time up at the stars of Santiago and headed, alone, to my bedsit on Rúa do Medio, Middle Street, In-Between Street. The tiny street that was, like its name said, in the middle. Of everything.