By Kelly Crull
April and I lean on the old stone wall. From here, 166 meters above the city, Alicante unfolds before us like a living tourist map. We trace our steps from when we arrived yesterday through the city, from the train station down the wide, glittering Avenida de la Estación, past the dignified Mercado Central, right onto La Rambla, eventually worming our way into El Barrio, circling the Catedral de San Nicolas once before arriving at our hostel, our Les Monges Palace.
The port looks like a parking lot for boats, a square patch of water with each boat in its place. Palm trees stitch up the port on all sides. Bulky nightclubs nap close by. They need their rest for tonight, like last night, when we walked between the palm trees and the clubs, the port going off like fireworks, lights flickering in all directions, disco music echoing in our ears.
Now, in the early afternoon, Alicante is tame, like the golden retriever jogging next to its master along the beach. It’s December and 20 degrees. Three wet heads bob in and out of the cool water just beyond the white-laced shoreline.
This morning we walked Postiguet Beach till we found the “tunnel into the mountain” as the girl at the tourist office put it. We searched the beach like pirates, even though there was no “x” marking the spot on our map, until we found the tunnel. Only once we found it, was it obvious were it was. The entrance, framed by a red billboard, told us in capital letters that this black hole drilled into the side of the mountain was not the path to buried treasure, but to El Castillo Santa Bárbara, the proud castle that sits perched above the city, a reference point as trustworthy and faithful as the sea and the mountains.
At the heart of the mountain, we paid our 2,40€ a person, stepped into the elevator and were pumped to the surface in seconds by this mechanical artery. The steel doors opened, and our senses were jolted by everything Mediterranean.
The Mediterranean is a child’s drawing, colored with a box of 16 Crayola crayons. The palm trees are “Green,” the beach “Brown,” the sky “Blue,” the clouds “White” and the sea “Blue Green.” It’s not until you see it that you realize these colors aren’t the colors we see everyday. Our world is of the 128 crayons variety.
The majority of my life, I lived in a place where we said the sky was blue, but really it was “Cornflower.” Trees were more of an “Olive Green,” and lakes were usually “Periwinkle.”
Here colors are simple, and as a result, I’m tempted to think life is simpler too, less complicated. Things are as they should be here on the Mediterranean. At least, as tourists, we want to believe this is true. We have that luxury.
Instead of looking at the castle, we walk along the wall taking pictures of the sea, of ourselves, and of the city below. We trust our cameras to bring the Mediterranean colors home with us.
I remember looking at the Mediterranean for the first time some six years ago. April and I were just married and studying at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam. We were in Barcelona, standing along an old stone wall at Tibidabo, the highest point in the city.
I also had my camera with me then, and when I look back at the photos from that mild January afternoon, I don’t see what I remember. I don’t see much of anything actually. I see a gray city, a giant ashtray, a smudged skyline. I see pollution.
I think we saw what we wanted to see that day in Barcelona. We saw clear possibilities. We saw the opportunity to learn new things. Even if it had been a clear day in Barcelona like this one in Alicante, even if we could have seen the uncompleted Sagrada Familia, Antoni Gaudí’s famous cathedral that looks more like it’s made out of melted butter than concrete, or the Agbar tower, sticking out of the city like a pudgy thumbs up, or the Montjuic fortress or the Mapfre building, or any other attraction, we wouldn’t have been able to tell you a thing about them. As it was, we couldn’t even see them, and it didn’t seem to matter.
What mattered was that things were different here. We had new opportunities. We would return to the United States after our studies were finished as changed people. And we did. During those four months, we spoke Dutch. We squinted at the Mona Lisa. We ate gelado. We hiked the Alps. We swam in the North Sea. We prayed in Saint Peter’s cathedral. We bought t-shirts from H&M.
In the end, I won’t remember Barcelona for it’s gray sky. I’ll remember Barcelona for its question marks---rather, our question marks. April and I have been living in Europe now for three years. Slowly, we’ve begun to answer some of our questions. Of course, when you answer some questions, you find others. Still, those answered questions count for something. They tell us what we think about x,y and z, and in our context, they tell us something about living here in Spain.
Planning our trip to Alicante, we didn’t think too much about it. Alicante was a weekend getaway. It was what we expected. No surprises.
I don’t think I’ll remember Alicante as being anything other than the ordinary, and I think that’s it—that’s the difference in my mind between Barcelona and Alicante. Alicante is a normal city to me.
Spain is our home now. It’s not supposed to be anything other than the ordinary, and I’m slowly beginning to see our settling in take place.
This morning we slept late, wandered into a bar on La Rambla, and ordered breakfast from the glass case. April got her usual croissant, café con leche, and a glass of water. I got a napolitana, the chocolate one. We shared a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice. Afterwards, we took a walk along the beach with our shoes and our socks in our hands. We had lunch at the restaurant around the corner that the woman at the hostel had recommended. They didn’t have paella, which I was hoping for, but the swordfish was good. Later, we packed our bags, walked to the train station and bought two bocadillos for the trip home.
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