It’s still dark when I get up, because it’s still winter around here. You wouldn’t say, because temperature-wise we’re lucky, it’s a normal day, not too cold, not too hot. It’s 7AM, you can barely see around, so I’m moving slowly in my small attico, unfolding my morning routine: the usual cleanup, then a short yoga session, a bit of guitar practice and then I get dressed and off I go.
Valencia, the city where I’m living in now, is in the third week of a de-facto lockdown, a lockdown in which we’re not forced inside, but in which almost everything is closed. Just some basic shops are still functioning, until 6PM; coffee shops, bars, restaurants, spas, cinemas, theaters they are all closed. Only a handful of coffee shops are still serving beverages to go.
So, as part of my personal rituals, I go out every morning to get my double espresso.
There are two possible routes to that place, both around 1km long. One is going through a tunnel in which every day there is at least one guy singing, and the other one goes through a central, more crowded area. As I breathe in deeply, through my mask, the fresh air of the morning, I decide to take the crowded route today. No specific reason, just want to walk that way.
The road goes, for a couple hundred meters, parallel to an old open arena, where they are still organizing corridas, bull fights. I even went to a corrida, a couple of years ago, just to see how it is. Never seen something like this before, and I was always mesmerized by Ernest Hemingways’s short stories about courageous torreadors. He was quite a big fan. After I saw one performance, though, I decided there’s no need to see another one. I understood, at a gut level, the dynamic and the energies, but I found the killing unnecessary, a useless anachronism.
In front of that arena there’s a lady begging. She has an infirmity which makes her look strange when she moves around. This was not her usual place, though, before the pandemic she used to hang out in a different plaza, which was buzzing with tourists. Almost nobody passes through that plaza anymore. So she moved here, where she is close to the train station. Theoretically, this would be more crowded, but that’s not always the case. There is also a cierre perimetral in place, which means travel barely happens. As I pass her by, I also realize that during the evenings, that place is occupied by another beggar, a gentleman relatively well dressed and always very clean, who’s always asking for an euro to buy a cafe con leche. He used to hang out one street away, in a different corner, but now he’s coming close to the train station too.
After the train station there’s a small Chinese neighborhood. All shops have windows closed, at this hour, or persianas bajadas, how they say here. In the evening, they are still selling food para llevar, and the streets are filled with smells which are reminding me of Hong Kong. Sometimes, the smell is almost identical with those underground eateries on Queen Street in Auckland, a mix of Asian cuisine with western fast food.
At the very end of the Chinese barrio (which is really just a few streets), is my coffee shop. The owner already knows what I want, so he almost always brings me the double espresso without ordering it. I stay out, in front of the entrance, keeping the distance, and I start savoring the coffee for a few minutes, before getting back home.
Today, the roast is from Costa Rica. Until a few days ago, I was tasting Nicaragua.
I take a sip, and then I’m there. I’m on the other side of the world.
Active Writing Versus Reactive Writing
Ann Lamott gives a very good advice on writing in her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. She says (and I’m quoting from memory): “Start with something that’s true. Start with something that you know and remember to have happened. For instance, describe what you had in your lunch bag at school. And take it from there.” That’s how you hone your skills.
And that’s what I did in this post. I chose to write something that is true, and real for me. It was a choice. That’s important. The fact that it was a choice.
Because, you know, I didn’t feel specifically compelled to write about this today. On the contrary. I felt compelled to write in the same note with my last week articles, about medical apartheid, or the dissolution of our world. But this would have been reactive writing.
The truth is I can’t really change any of these, I can’t change the lockdown, the masks, the social distancing, I can’t make people see the world as I see it, so why bother? Why doing something out of reaction, instead of consciously choosing what to do?
The world is changing anyway. In the long run, it’s what we choose to do in front of this change, it’s how we act, not how we react, that matters.
So today I chose to take a short stroll to the other side of the world.