Getting older has just made me dance a bit faster. I’m always ready for one more taste, a new touch, a new smell, a good mystery, a little more rock ‘n roll, a smear of bright paint or the sound of a fresh tongue. It’s part of why I travel, usually solo, meeting up with good friends or finding new ones who were strangers somewhere.
Early spring of ‘13, I boarded a plane headed to Asia, Africa and Europe. That trip, all one hundred and ten days and nights of it, was the latest twinkle in a string of bright lights that started – with Bruce.
After years of living or traveling most of the U.S., it was time for me to cross that international line. But where? Canada? Too close. Mexico? Not yet.
I was looking for travel inspiration when I landed on an announcement of Bruce Springsteen’s upcoming tour. I’m a huge Springsteen fan. I could feel my heart buzzing, looking down the list of cities and then landing on Bilbao. Bilbao, Spain. Well, that’s where I was going.
I arranged for time off the job, told everyone I knew where I was going and what I was doing. I was excited.
So, two nights before Thanksgiving, 2007, I left for Spain’s Basque country. Late night flight, dinner at midnight flying over who knows where. We had turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie. A nice Chardonnay, a few walks up and down the aisle, a little nap and, voila! Just after breakfast, we were landing at l’Aeropuerto de Bilbao.
Stepping through immigration and security, returning locals and international lines were separated by red velvet ropes. A few folks just couldn’t get through fast enough, though, as I thought, would you like a little wine with that whine?
I grabbed some local currency from the airport ATM, and camera in hand, I walked out the revolving glass door into the sunny crisp air of Bilbao straight into a cab to the City Centre. I was a kid in a candy store. My Spanish/English dictionary was my new best friend.
“Perdone, por favor, dos ‘batteries?’” I asked the clerk, smiling politely.
“Miss, I speak English. What would you like?”
Exploring courtyards, plazas, alleyways, shops with their doors wide open, waterfronts in Bilbao and Donostia, San Sebastian, the second city I visited, grinning like a Cheshire cat.
I’d just boarded a train one morning from Bilbao to Donostia, I watched a young man, about my oldest son’s age, get up from his seat to come sit across from me.
“Excuse me, Miss, do you speak English?” Ferdinand asked.
“Si, I speak English, me llamo Kathleen,” I answered, nodding and smiling.
“You are American! My premier English conversation with American,” he replied enthusiastically.
Ferdinand announced he was ‘pleased to enjoy practicing English’ with me. We talked about Spain, the booming economy, giant construction cranes everywhere. He worked as a caregiver in an ‘Old Folks Residence’, plays piano, is an artist. We discovered that not only did he resemble my son, they
share the same birthdate. Sadly, he shared that he’d just left his parents’ home, ‘I’m gay, Kathleen, and my parents cannot accept me, even after five years.’
We truly enjoyed our brief 2 1/2 hours together on the Euskotren, our adióses a mix of good fortune and sadness when we reached the end of the line.
My soul soared through Donostia and Bilbao. Historic stone churches, cathedrals reaching to the clouds. Mass sung in Latin by a priest with the voice of an angel. Sunshine warmed my shoulders as I meandered along wide boulevards beneath bare trees stretching up from earth, fur-wrapped women chatting and window shopping, their leather high-heel boots clacking on the cobblestones.
Sweet, fresh pastries in what turned out to be the same bakery my good friend visited 30 years earlier. Porcelain cup & saucer, café sitting atop a tiny marble table as I scanned the local newspaper.
Scrumptious tapas, so many flavors and sizes and textures, in a wide assortment of bars, cafés and restaurants. Ordering from menu la Español, I was often laughingly surprised at what appeared on my plate.
One beautifully clear evening, rambling along the Donostia pier, I walked into a quaint seaside restaurant. It was early, no other diners at the time, the owner at the front was cheerful, talkative, welcoming.
Soon enough I was seated in a window seat, watching folks here and there in the small working marina across from me. Relaxing with a fine Cabernet, dinner arrived. Black ink squid resting on a bright ball of white rice, served by my own private English speaking waitress courtesy of the owner who had engaged me in conversation about, what else? San Francisco.
Oh, and I went to a concert. After ten days of warm and comfy hostels, a bit of rain, trams, trains, buses, jamón, pescado, cheese, vino, bread, bookstores, benches and museums. Yes, the Guggenheim, with a timely Special Exhibition of ‘American artists’. Ha ha. It was time to see the Boss.
The train to the concert was awfully quiet. Too quiet. I soon realized I was on the wrong side of the Nervión River, on the wrong train. Fortunately for me, two locals, a bit of English, and a little Español
put me on the right train. Jam-packed, fans of all ages, laughing, raucous, music blaring on a boom box. And I was right there with ‘em.
Cigarette smoke filled the arena. First stop, the bar. Excitement filled the air in voices from everywhere.
I met Kasa when I got to my seat, a quiet mid-40’s English speaking Japanese businessman sitting to the right of me. Several young and wild Spaniards in the seats front of me, an empty seat to my left. Perfect.
Kasa owns several Eric Clapton guitars he’s picked up in charity auctions, he’d attended every Springsteen show on the tour so far. We were so thrilled!
The show opened with ‘Radio Nowhere’, the Boss covered the stage. Kids in front, and me, jumping, screaming with delight. I turned to Kasa, who was grinning ear to ear, standing and tapping his fingers to the rhythm, wrists bouncing at the base of his thumbs, his brown
with delight as
the crowd ROARED
…………….… B R U C E !!!