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Notes from abroad: Spanish circus act

My host mother Luisa called me ambitious at the dinner table one evening after I told her I wanted to learn how to play the banjo.

The night before that, I wanted to learn how to play the accordion, then the clarinet. Two weeks before, I brought home a drawing pad, charcoal and water colors. Three weeks ago, I told her I was going to learn Italian now that we have a student from Sardinia living with us for a while.

I travel home from literature class on Tuesday and Thursday evenings with Cortázar and Marquez sitting on each shoulder and Borges sitting on my head. Those evenings I talk about the stories I want to write. I’ve mentioned working on a boat, going to culinary school, stage directing, cheese-making and traveling to Istanbul. Last week, I wanted to join a circus.

A procession of drum rolls and ticking clocks have narrated the last three months of my life. I feel like I’ve been waiting behind a red-striped curtain, wavering between a collection of innumerable circus acts. Now April is three steady days away and the drum roll is beginning to crescendo into my last month in Spain. When the new month begins, the clash of cymbals will deliver me into the center of the ring, into a new summer and, eventually, into my last year at Mills College in the fall. When I leave Barcelona, I’m bringing home a carnival of stories and a suitcase of ambitions.

I was in Granada, in the southern region of Spain earlier this month. For dinner on our first night, I had tortilla sacromonte, a typical dish of the region. It was an omelet made with sweet peppers, salted potatoes and the testicles and brains of a lamb; it was browned to a subtle crisp that tasted like olive oil.

I finished it all and then had a stomach ache for the next three days– a plate of new ambitions, at times, come served with a side of risks. However, every trapeze artist has their first leap and then, a leap with no net.

Earlier in March, I took a seven hour bus ride to Marseille. On the way, a tire punctured and the driver stopped at a mechanic’s shop along the highway. We sat on the curb and waited on this sandy isle surrounded by deserted fields and empty roads. For 40 minutes, we were a family of dusty travelers stranded in clouds of dirt. We were Picasso’s Family of Saltimbanques.

One man wore a faded salmon and dandelion-colored argyle sweater. The diamond pattern stretched over his proud belly. The mechanics wore bright jumpers and rolled tires across the ground. I made an apple disappear while two men, tall — as if on stilts — walked in large circles. At times, their feet caught the same step.

I’ve been part of this circus for three months now. Spain, thus far, has been a leap with no net