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the place where all roads begin

We never go to Red Square. It is an expat cultural parallel to being a real New Yorker. You never actually go to the Statue of Liberty if you are a local. We had planned to exit the metro and detour the crowds and tourists but somehow we got turned around. Instead we weave through the throngs of wandering souls, and end up exactly where we did not want to go. Surrendering to the moment, we squint into the bright afternoon and take everything in. The great open space is crammed with white tents. No musicians are playing. It is all talk, all men seated with microphones perched in their hands as voices blare from speakers. Handfuls of people are sitting in random seats, in rapt attention. I cannot imagine a worse way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

There is no shortage of these talks, these loudspeakers. You will find them in shopping centers too. Anyplace that could be calm and serene is a blank canvas, where typically men's voices speak fast and loud, cramming words into sentences, a…

the going back

He sits in the back of the screening room and looks me right in the eye. I am all nerves, a countdown until the lights drift down and my movie plays on the screen. And then, he stands up and leaves, knowing that I see the back of his head. We talked the night before, all smiles and generous jokes. I am never prepared for these random acts. He should not have come at all, instead of this strange display - this show at a perfectly vulnerable moment. But that is the way of the world, if you are at a film festival or a school play.

I feel this undertow, like I am being dragged back to high school. This sense of the ones that belong and those that do not. The people that push your buttons, the people that you can manage to brush off. All of it is a battle of wits, a tempest in a silly little teapot - but all the same the wounds are there and you cannot pretend when one reopens.

Thankfully there are kind faces, and the brilliant sun of Valencia. There is far more than betrayal in darkened rooms. There are perfect white anchovies and cold glasses of Verdejo. There are long walks on night streets with the asphalt still warm hours later, corners to turn, a cathedral tucked into a great square. The waitress talks to me about her daughter, as I sit at the last table of the night and talk about both of mine. Being away from them even for a few days, not studying my wife's face at breakfast - it untethers me. It is the going back that keeps me peaceful, the moment as I approach our door. Until then, there are new faces crowding into the closing party and we talk long into the night. Not everyone is that cold-eyed man and somehow he has disappeared, replaced by antics and accents, sunburned cheeks, eyes that widen with each shared story until the bottles are empty, until I need to retrieve my bag and head to the airport.


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