Coop Goes to Europe Part 14 – Torremolinos

It was Wednesday October 31, Halloween back in the States, when we left behind our hotel in Granada and Steve’s sexual proposition to me, to hopefully move on. While we stuck out our thumbs to try and hitchhike, I wondered what my brother was doing for Halloween, and imagined that he would be at his best friend Greg’s house creating a spooky display to scare the kids that came trick or treating. I also wondered if Alice Cooper would be on TV in honor of the holiday tailor made for his onstage nightmarish persona and antics.

But the Spanish highway did not treat us to any success in that department. After three hours trying to satisfy my travel partner’s wish to at least try to avoid the added expense to him of the train, Steve relented and we headed to the station and boarded an early afternoon train to the southern Spanish city of Malaga. The city was on the Costa del Sol, the “coast of the sun” in English, and after six weeks traveling in mostly cold and wet weather, it sounded heavenly in both Spanish and English.

When we pulled out some squirreled away cheese to eat for lunch, I realized with great frustration that I had left my latest Swiss Army knife behind at our hotel in Granada, the third one I had lost since I started my journey. It had cost me 36 Swiss Francs, actually purchased in its namesake country, and was a really nice one, with two blades, bottle and can openers, phillips and flathead screwdrivers, ice pick, and scissors, plus a little toothpick and pair of tweezers tucked away in tiny pockets. I had mostly, but not completely, resigned myself to being naturally non-linear enough to regularly lose small items that I used constantly and tended to leave on a table or nightstand after getting distracted. Given that proclivity, I was focused more on not losing any of my essential stuff, including critical documents like my passport, rail pass, ID cards and traveler’s checks. To that end I kept to the discipline of keeping all those documents in my money belt around my waist at all times, only taking one out briefly as needed. This would at times mean that I would have to awkwardly dig into the front of my pants to get a document needed in the moment by a conductor or clerk, but so be it.

But still, with the loss of the knife, the prickly accountant inside my head would do the math on all the stuff that I had lost so far: gloves, sunglasses, maps, watch, wash cloth, belt pouch, three Swiss Army knives, blue jacket, and 20 Francs, adding up to at least $100, a bunch of money in my frugal little six dollars a day world. Most of these items I did without after losing, but the knife was a pretty essential, though easily replaceable (at a cost), item.

The train from Granada arrived in Malaga at 5:30pm. From there we had been told that we needed to take a bus out to the beach resort town of Torremolinos if we wanted to stay by the Mediterranean, which was our goal. Lie in the sand, soak up some sun, even take a dip in the sea, and do it all in November, such a treat for me who had grown up and even vacationed by the ocean in the northern realms of the U.S.

With some basic semi understood directions in Spanish from a ticket agent at the train station we exited the station to look for the bus to Torremolinos. We bought some stuff for dinner at a nearby store and wandered around the station’s neighborhood looking for some sort of bus stop or station and finally stumbled upon it. After a half hour bus ride we debarked in the small ticky-tack downtown. The dusk air still had a warmth to it and there was that distinctive scent in the breeze of salt combined with rotting seaweed that I remembered from my past trips to the Atlantic Ocean on Cape Cod. We walked down the main drag of town past little restaurants that advertised serving hamburgers and hot dogs rather than paella, and touristy gift shops, hunting for a cheap hotel.

The first place we checked out was a bit out of our price range, with a room with two beds for 210 pesetas. But the guy at the desk, who spoke English and seemed happy to be helpful, told us where to find the least expensive places. Following his directions, we found a place just a block farther from the beach where the doubles were just 150 pesetas, about $3 U.S., more in our price range. And it had the sort of features we looked for in a frugal hotel room – two beds, a table, two chairs, a sink, and a window overlooking the busy street – those were the amenities we had become accustomed to. There was a small room with a toilet down the hall, but there didn’t seem to be a shower. It didn’t really matter much, we could wash off in the sea water.

The hotel and our room did not have any of the architectural charm of the places we had stayed in Barcelona or Granada. No moulding, tile or balconies. There was one picture on the whitewashed wall of an old locomotive with a caption below in English that read, “Ten wheel freight locomotive 1880”. Outside our open window we could hear recorded music coming from one of the hamburger stand next store, John Lennon’s “Imagine”. It seemed completely out of context in this rinky-dink little tourist town.

The next morning we decided we’d walk down to the beach and try to swim. A simple act in theory, but what to do with my money belt? It was generally always around my waist, even when I slept, and I would only take it off briefly to take a shower, and then fitfully so if I was in a hostel shower room shared with others. Our plan was to put our bathing suits on instead of underwear under the rest of our clothing. But what would I do with the money belt when I went in the water. I went back and forth whether to leave it in our locked hotel room or take it with. Steve finally intervened and said that he would hold it while I went in the water. I guess I trusted him more than a locked hotel room door that was a half mile from the beach. That resolved, we took the towels we carried in our packs, mine a bit worse for wear and a bit damp and a little mildewy from being stuffed in my pack after the last time I used it before it was completely dry.

The weather was cooperating that day, the sun was out and the air felt warm. We walked down the half mile through town and found a spot on the fairly crowded sand. Unlike all the other public spaces in Spain we had been in over the past week, there seemed very few Spanish people on the boardwalk or the beach itself. The tourists seemed mostly Northern European, many with the lighter hair, fair skin and pointier heads of the denizens of the north. I noted that there were even some young good looking women wearing bikinis. I had read about and seen pictures in Playboy magazines of topless women on Mediterranean beaches and would have loved to oggle a few of that cadre here. But alas this was conservative, even fascist Spain! I had to make due with imagining their perky tits under their tops and checking out their cute rear ends protruding from either side of their bikini bottoms.

As I checked out the various people sitting or walking on the beach on either side of me, I was finding it very interesting that I was developing the ability to easily spot the standard American tourist, even at a hundred yards distance. It made me laugh actually, it was something about the kind of unfashionable even garish way they tended to dress and the awkward way they moved their bodies relative to Europeans. I was even more than a bit pleased when one of those garishly dressed tourists walked up to me, mistaking me for a Spaniard I think, and asked me where he might find a “birra”, making a drinking gesture with his hand to try to convey his meaning to a perceived non English speaking foreigner. Dripping with sarcasm, I responded in my best exaggerated American nasally midwestern accent, “You looking for a beer dude?”

We stripped off our own clothes down to our bathing suits and sat on our small towels in the sand. The skin of our torsos and legs was pretty pasty white from lack of any real sun since we got to Europe. But from carrying around our heavy packs everywhere and eating a frugal minimum of calories both our bodies were lean, a bit muscular, and in good shape. Given my basic proclivity to getting naked, it felt good to be nearly so and feeling the heat of the sun on the usually clothes covered parts of my body.

Taking Steve’s offer to watch my money belt, I walked into the water. It felt cold but not numbingly so, and no more so than my memory of the Atlantic ocean at Cape Cod in August. Determined to be able to truthfully brag in future tales that I swam in the Mediterranean in November, plus show Steve I was no wuss, I walked out up to my waist, then plunged in under the water and swam for a few minutes. Though chilling, it felt really good, immersing my entire body in the salty old sea around which my civilization had emerged. A metaphorical self-baptism of sorts into the world of agency to embark, single-handedly if necessary, on life’s greatest adventures.

I finally emerged from the water, soaked and goose fleshed. feeling the warmth of the sun and the glow of my baptismal epiphany moments before. I strode up to Steve, who was watching me intently and probably completing my undressing with his eyes, and stood before him and grinned. We both knew there was no way I was going to have sex with him, but somehow in that moment, if not ever before or after, I was enjoying teasing him, the young stud object of his affections. I dried myself off as best I could with my little towel, in front of him, featuring each part of my body as I rubbed it with the towel. I then laid down next to him on my towel, closed my eyes and enjoyed the warm sun and air on my body.

We spent most of that day lying on the beach in the sun, getting a bit of a tan, and even a little bit of a burn felt good on my skin. We took a break for lunch to find a hamburger stand and indulge in that American delicacy, rarely available in other parts of Spain. At one of the many little gift stores I managed to find a cheap knock off of a Swiss Army pocket knife, not with as many tools on it as my last one, but with the essential knife and corkscrew. The hamburger at lunch, a meal I sometimes skipped completely, was at 80 pesetas a particular indulgence, as I really wanted to save a bit, since we did not know how much tickets to the bullfight would cost.

Again Saturday, we spent the bulk of the day at the beach. The rays of sun were pretty well checked by clouds most of the day, though it still felt good to be outside, as nearly naked as Spain would allow, lying in the sand, breathing the air.

At a newsstand I had bought a paperback copy in English of Ray Bradbury’s short story collection I Sing the Body Electric, something to read in the afternoon as I lay in the sun. His work was a favorite of mine, with his wild imagination unveiled by voluptuous prose, and I had read much of it, but not this particular collection. The first thing I always did with a newly purchased paperback was open it up, stick my nose in, and smell that wonderful chemically scent of ink on bleached paper. It brought back memories of the array of sci-fi books I had read over the past decade. Buying them at the iconic Blue Front newsstand in my hometown of Ann Arbor. Reading them in my favorite cocoon of a spot, the big overstuffed rocking chair in our living room that my mom had bought for five dollars at a garage sale and then completely reupholstered. Wishing for a more magnificent and adventurous world that was behind my obsession with the genre.

His story, “The Lost City of Mars”, particularly struck me. A group of Earth expatriates living on Mars – a spaceship captain, a big game hunter, a drunken poet and his wife, a mechanic, and an aging actress – are invited by their rich friend to join an excursion to search for a legendary Martian city abandoned by its inhabitants 10,000 years ago. Their conveyance is of all things the rich man’s yacht, which will sail down the Martian canals, that he has just bankrolled having filled with water for the first time in 20,000 years. And on the fourth day of their journey they finally find it, sailing through a tunnel in a mountain to find it hidden inside…

And now the yacht filled with strange people from another planet touched an ancient wharf. And the City stirred. In the old days, cities were alive or dead if there were or were not people in them. It was that simple. But in the later days of life on Earth or Mars, cities did not die. They slept. And in their dreamful coggeries and enwheeled slumbers they remembered how once it was or how it might be again.

The sleeping city comes alive with an array of technological marvels that seduces each one of them, based on their own particular obsessions. But in the end they realize there is no reality to all its alluring fabrications and flee the lost city before it can close its gates and swallow them up, just as its Martians residents had done 10,000 years earlier.

To me, Bradbury’s work was all about the magic of life, including “dreamful coggeries and enwheeled slumbers”, that strange sort of magic that incants the machinery of high technology society with a certain degree of sentience. And Bradbury’s wisdom to me was to comprehend, embrace and celebrate that magical side of everything. Today the magic of a warm November sun, a cool but still swimmable sea, being thousands of miles from home in an alien world of sorts, yet the taste of an all too familiar hamburger.

Finally putting down the book, and leaving Bradbury’s fantasy behind for now, the number cruncher in my mind turned to another joy of mine, the more logistical considerations of my journey, and doing the math of dollars and dates. This was my 47th day in Europe, I’d actually been here for almost seven weeks. If I flew home on the 14th of December, which was my current thinking, that gave me 41 days to go. So I had reached the halfway point in Granada actually, and I was officially on the back leg of my tour. And with about $180 left in travelers checks plus cash, adding in the $100 I was expecting my mom to send me, if I could stick to my six dollars a day budget, I’d make it that far with about $30 to $40 bucks in reserve for emergencies or Christmas presents.

I knew that, more than anything else, I looked forward to getting home and doing all that regular humdrum stuff. I looked forward to watching Dick Cavett and Johnny Carson on TV. Walking from home to the Food and Drug or the Blue Front. Cooking hot meals for myself. Just sitting in our living room in the overstuffed rocker. Playing big complicated military simulation games with my friends. Going to Dad’s and having the “Spanish rice” that he liked to make. Playing football or basketball with dad and Pete. Watching the bowl games with them on TV. Christmas morning, hopefully at my Aunt Pat’s again.

Even though I wasn’t looking forward to the next six weeks, I knew that I had to play my journey out, to the end of my available funds and best case timeline, to satisfy myself and my own self esteem. Metaphorically speaking, to have thrown myself in the deep end of the big pool and been able to swim without assistance to the far end, to prove to myself and everyone else that I was a good enough swimmer to even be in the pool on my own. At least now I was past the halfway point, and could frame things as beginning the journey home. If I lasted until my goal of a December 14th flight back to the States, I would have been away from home for the longest period in my whole life, longer than the ten weeks in England three years back. I wanted to return with this huge impressive adventure, mostly negotiated on my own (thank you very much), under my belt, as well as a notch on it.

Those ten weeks in England during the summer of 1970 had not been quite like this. I had been there with my family, my mom and brother. We were also living in a house, the same house, all summer, which became our home for that time. For my three months here in Europe I will have gone without a home, except for the pack on my back. It was kind of nice sometimes, that feeling that your whole little world was very close around you, at your sole control. I wondered if it would feel strange back home in the States not having the pack play a major role in my life. Here it was on my back, or propped against the wall of the hotel room, stashed under or by my bed in the youth hostel, lying in the luggage rack above my head on the train, or lying beside me in the apple orchard. It has held up well, though it was kind of dirty, including a noticeable stained in back where shampoo had leaked some time back.

I was glad that Steve and I would be going our separate ways when we got back to France. It had been good to travel with him, to counter the intense loneliness and homesickness I had felt in Paris, plus share hotel expenses here in Spain. But I was still feeling discomfort about his sexual proposition to me in Granada, and the whole uncomfortable thought that I might have more naturally accepted, like a kid in a candy store, and be or become some sort of homosexual, rather than the heterosexual partner I longed to be. And there were other things about his personality and our relationship which I was ready to be done with, particularly him falling into this thing, particularly since that proposition, of treating me like his little brother. Certainly in one way that was rather ironic, because I had been, and gotten used to being, a big brother all my life. Now for just two weeks the shoe was on the other foot and I was complaining. It seemed that living with anyone, particularly when you are together most all the time, could easily cause conflicts to arise between you. I certainly had conflicts with my mom and brother, but though they were family I had a whole other half of my life that did not involve them that I could escape to from those conflicts. When you were traveling together like Steve and I were, the type of life we were leading was likely to run relationships a bit ragged.

We were hoping for another day of nice weather on Sunday, so we could spend one final morning on the beach before attending the bullfight in the afternoon and then departing on the evening train out of nearby Malaga. But instead I awoke to the sound of car wheels splashing through water, and a light rain continuing. In Torremolinos, the two big activities were sitting on the beach or spending money. The first was nixed by the weather and the second was not fitting into the tight budget. So spent the rainy morning holed up in our room, me continuing to read Bradbury’s book and scavenging the remaining bits of food in our packs, some crackers, some salami, a tin of sardines, for breakfast and lunch.

By early afternoon the rain had played out and the sun was making the occasional appearance among the continuing cloudiness. We found out that tickets to the bullfight would cost us 300 pesetas, or nearly six dollars each. Since it had been on my short list since I left the States I decided to invest that chunk of money. Steve was a bit ambiguous but said he was in too.

We headed toward the little stadium just on the outskirts of town along with a bunch of the other tourists we’d seen on the beach or walking the main drags of town yesterday. We got there early to try and get good seats, and sat in the bleachers for about an hour, as the benches around us slowly filled up with mainly tourist types. It felt strange, probably the first time since I had been in Europe where I had been in an assemblage including so many Americans. As I have mentioned before, Americans stuck out like sore thumbs in most European settings. The way they walked, their loud voices, their garish clothing, many of them overweight. Here they all were en masse, amongst the other German, British and other foreign tourists, a jabbering cacophony.

I had seen the occasional video clip on TV or in a movie of the graceful and focused matador dancing around the enraged bull dangling his small red cape to further enrage and attract the animal’s attention. It always seemed very theatrical, perhaps overly so, and the height of “machismo”, another word that my mom’s feminist friend Mary Jane had introduced me to. I was familiar with the basic sequence of events, the picadors on horseback stabbing the bull with their lances to weaken it, then the banderilleros further harassing the animal, and then finally the matador confronting the wounded and enraged creature to perform the ritual kill. But I had never witnessed the whole event from start to finish, not even on TV or in the movies. Here it was about to be live and in the flesh.

I also had Tom Lehrer’s song, “In Old Mexico”, going through my head with its satirical account of a bullfight, albeit in Mexico rather than Spain…

But best of all, we went to the plaza de toros
Now whenever I start feeling morose
I revive by recalling that scene
And names like belmonte, dominguin, and manolete
If I live to a hundred and eighty
I shall never forget what they mean

(Spoken) For there is surely nothing more beautiful in this world than the sight of a lone man facing singlehandedly a half a ton of angry pot roast

(Sung) Out came the matador
Who must have been potted or
Slightly insane, but who looked rather bored
Then the picadors of course
Each one on his horse
I shouted “ole!” ev’ry time one was gored

I cheered at the banderilleros’ display
As they stuck the bull in their own clever way
For I hadn’t had so much fun since the day
My brother’s dog rover
Got run over

(Spoken) Rover was killed by a Pontiac, and it was done with such grace and artistry that the witnesses awarded the driver both ears and the tail… but I digress

(Sung) The moment had come
I swallowed my gum
We knew there’d be blood on the sand pretty soon
The crowd held its breath
Hoping that death
Would brighten an otherwise dull afternoon

With Lehrer’s rather savage sarcasm my main input on this event, I did not know what to expect from what I was about to see. The stadium was rather small and underwhelming, with maybe 9 rows of seats encircling the ring, seating maybe 300 people tops. We got there early to make sure we got good seats, and since there was nothing else to do in Torremolinos on a non-beach day except spend additional money over our frugal budget. We sat for about an hour before things got started and watched the obvious tourist types, Americans, Brits and Northern European, slowly fill most of the seats. As in other instances, the American tourists were obvious, by their dress and manner, even if they were across the ring out of earshot to hear their generally loud voices. There was an older British couple sitting right above us, who during the event explained to Steve and I a few things about the fight. They had seen a first class bullfight in Barcelona 10 years earlier. The event finally began with a little rinky-tink band playing loud brassy Spanish parade music while the matadors, picadors and other human participants in the event paraded out and around the ring bowing formally and theatrically to the audience in each quadrant of the arena.

Then the first bull came out into the ring, seeming scared and confused as it looked about at all the people in the stands, and facing a single man on a horse with a quiver of short spears with long colorful plumes. When the man rode by the bull it would lunge at him and he stuck it with one of the spears, leaving the thing in the bull’s back just at the front shoulders. Some people in the audience clapped, I thought I should too not to be rude, feeling like a guest who should be observing the customs as best I could.

After additional angrier lunges at the rider and his horse, as they danced gracefully around the now wounded creature, the bull had half dozen spears in its flesh. Blood now flowing freely from its back, the bull finally keeled over, still panting and quivering. Some people clapped again as the bull fell, though I could not bring myself to do so. A man ran out carrying a big spike, kneeled by the dying animal, and plunged that spike into the bull’s skull. It jerked, shivered one last time, and then stopped moving. Then a team of horses came out and the attending men lashed ropes from the team to the bull’s horns and dragged its carcass out of the arena, leaving a trail of its blood behind. Finally another couple men came out with rakes and raked sand over the trail of blood to prepare the ring for the next fight.

I wasn’t sure how to process what I had just witnessed. I had come to Europe determined to see a bullfight among other must do things, and here I was fulfilling that promise. But I was not taking any pleasure in watching the “performance”, feeling more for the tormented and now deceased bull than the mounted matador. But I had spent 300 pesetas on the ticket, so I was going to see this thing out and be able to tell people back home that I had “seen a bullfight”.

Shortly the second bull was released into the ring. He was a bit bigger that the first had been. Three or four men dressed somewhat like matadors but with pink and blue capes, whom I figured from Lehrer’s song must be banderilleros, came out on foot and ran the bull around a bit. As it tried alternatively to avoid or charge at its tormentors, neither tactic proving effective, they pierced it in the back with short barbs with bright colored streamers, as if they were decorating the creature. Then two mounted picadors came out, with armor on their legs and on the sides of their horses, looking a little like the armored cavalry from the Napoleonic Wars I had seen pictures of. They would deftly evade when the bull charged them and in the process stab it in the back with their short spears with the plumes, like the matador had done in the previous fight, and eliciting some applause from the audience, but not me at this point.

Finally the matador, with his iconic red cape, came out and performed his iconic taunt and evasion of the wounded and enraged creature. From what I knew about bullfighting, the matador’s strategy here was to wear the bull down while putting on a show of sorts dancing around the creature and getting it to lunge, fruitlessly hopefully, at him. Already weakened by the back wounds, and now mesmerized by the matador’s red cape, the bull would finally lower its head, allowing the matador to stab it in the back of its neck, presumably to sever the spinal cord or the main artery to the brain in order to instantly drop the animal to the ground, dead. My mind processed this sequence of events including its concluding killing stroke clinically, ever the cerebral strategist.

Well the first matador was not so skilled at his craft. He stabbed the bull five times in the area behind its head and it was still on its feet. The poor thing continued to rush around, obviously confused, frustrated, and in pain, with blood pouring out of the wounds in its back and neck. On the matador’s sixth attempt to apply the coup de grace, the bull finally collapsed, its front legs buckling, driving its snout into the dirt, then toppling over thrashing and quivering. The man with the spike rushed out to put the creature out of its misery. There was some polite applause from the audience, including the people around me, and having been a performer myself, I felt like I should applaud too, again not to be rude, though I really didn’t want to.

The third bull was bigger and feistier yet. While the picadors were doing their thing stabbing the bull in the back, it charged on of them and pinned the rider on his horse against the wall of the ring. The picador awkwardly and ignobly scrambled over the wall to safety as the bull managed somehow to lift the horse off its feet and dump it on its side. Score one for the underdog I guess. This immediately scrambled all the banderilleros to jump back into the ring and distract the bull while the horse was assisted in staggering back on its feet. I was so thankful that the bull had not seriously wounded the horse, because I presumed that would have meant the man with the spike again, coming out to drive it through the horse’s brain to euthanize it.

It was a different matador that challenged the bull, he obviously more skilled than the previous one, and in the moment of the kill his first strike with the sword brought the bull down, and after a few final thrashes, the creature lay motionless. It was the classic kill that every matador aspired to perform, and all his comrades let out a shout immediately after the deadly strike. The crowd, mostly tourists and probably few really aficionados of the bullfighting art, took their cue from the matador’s shouting comrades and did their best to cheer and clap loudly. I felt embarrassed not to clap myself, given the positive reaction from the spectators around me, and did so as tepidly as I could and not draw attention to myself. There was no need for the spike to the head, but the man with the spike ran into the ring with a knife that he used to slice off the bull’s ears and present them to the matador, eliciting more cheers from his comrades and then also from the spectators. Of course there was still the same unceremonious dragging of the bull, minus his ears, out of the ring, followed by the cleaning up of the trail of its blood.

The fourth bull managed to knock a picador completely off its horse, but both horse and rider were okay. It then was challenged by the same matador who had had such an unsuccessful performance with the second bull. He seemed to do a better job this time, except that when he finally stabbed the bull blood began to gush out of its nose as it continued to run around the ring, looking scared and confused. As gross and awful as the previous fights had been, this scene was the most horrific of all, feeling the bulls fear and pain more viscerally, I cringed and shivered with that feeling until the bull finally keeled over and then got the spike to the head.

Finally the fifth and final bull came into the ring, obviously the biggest and most powerful of them all. The bull was played by the same matador who so successfully killed the second, but this time not so dramatically successful. It took him several stabs to finally kill it. As the badly injured bull was running about I could see it was trying desperately to find some way to get out of the ring. Again, feeling for the animal, rather than its human tormentors, I was overcome with sadness, that barely diminished when the creature finally lay dead.

After the ending ceremony with the band again and a parade of the matadors and other fight participants, Steve and I and all the tourists filed out of the little stadium and walked back into town. The British couple, who had attended a first class bullfight in Barcelona ten years earlier, assured Steve and I that this fight had been probably a third class circuit at best. I was still shaken by the gruesome spectacle and the sadness that now engulfed me.

I tried to rationalize and compartmentalize the whole experience somehow, that I had achieved my goal of witnessing this iconic spectacle, with its variety of aspects and scenes – the good, the bad and the gruesome. A “good” kill, plus several not so good. A fight done solely by a mounted matador. Picadors knocked over and various participants in the ring leaping or scrambling over the wall to escape the bull. Lots of blood and gore.

As I walked with Steve back to our hotel, the sadness of the bulls’ plight, the cruel professionalism of their tormentors and executioners, and the human barbarism of the whole thing clung to me and was not easily shaken off. We were not quite as evolved a species as I had thought prior to witnessing the event. I shared some of these feeling unguardedly with my travel partner, hoping he would say something to soothe my soul or at least listen supportively and somehow help me process what I had witnessed. Before rebuffing his sexual proposition back in Granada several days ago, perhaps he would have been willing to provide me some some solace. But now, in our more adversarial older-younger sibling rivalry sort of relationship, he took a different tack, telling me that this was part of the real world that I just had to get used to. Beyond not consoling me, it felt like this was a kind of proxy, and he was again needling me for not accepting that we had had a real connection that could have led to a more intimate relationship. Perhaps my reaction was my own ego, not realizing his thoughts were not so much about me but about where he was at. But still, no fucking way I was going to get used to it!

After returning to our hotel to repack our backpacks and check out, and then catching the bus back to Malaga to catch the 10:30pm train to Madrid, I was definitely ready for us to soon go our separate ways. I would not force the issue and risk a more discomforting confrontation with Steve by changing our plan to go to Madrid together before returning to France and parting company, but I was now determined to stick to that course and soon chart a course on my own again.

Several of the bars in Torremolinos that catered to the younger tourist crowd blared English and American rock music that now and then during my time there caught my ear as we lay on the beach or walked about the town. That included some of the great rock anthems of the age, with guidance for me in their lyrics as part of my “Greek chorus”. T Rex’s “Get it On (Bang a Gong)” was a favorite of mine, deliciously in your face but a bit too self-assured to be a useful mantra for shy me at this point. Free’s “Allright Now” always soothed me. Ron Argent’s “Hold Your Head Up”, had helped me negotiate the difficult first days of my European odyssey, aided my decision to go on when my original travel buddy decided to bail on the adventure, and continued to be a mantra that I could invoke in my mind’s ear as needed. But perhaps David Bowie’s “Changes”, part of my mind’s catalog of available anthems, had the most wisdom for this moment of my life and my journey…

Don’t want to be a richer man
(Turn and face the strange)
Just gonna have to be a different man
Time may change me
But I can’t trace time

I watch the ripples change their size
But never leave the stream
Of warm impermanence and
So the days float through my eyes
But still the days seem the same
And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They’re quite aware of what they’re going through

Those children Bowie saw not as progeny in the traditional sense, but as a new race of beings to inherit the planet from the conventional human beings of the older generations. As he elaborated in another song from the same 1971 “Hunky Dory” album, “Oh You Pretty Things”

Look at your children
See their faces in golden rays
Don’t kid yourself they belong to you
They’re the start of a coming race
The earth is a bitch
We’ve finished our news
Homo Sapiens have outgrown their use
All the strangers came today
And it looks as though they’re here to stay

Click here to read next chapter

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