A modern tragedy

“Where were you when you got bitten?” I ask my 19-year-old patient.

“Biarritz,” she tells me. “I was walking on the beach in Biarritz when I got bit.”

My ears perk up. Intrigued, I ask, “Did you see what bit you?”

She shakes her head. “No. I just noticed the redness and the swelling afterwards. It itched, but I didn’t see any bug.”

“What did you do for it?”

“I put my leg up when we got back to the hotel,” she says. “And I put ice on it.”

“What happened?”

Thoughtfully, she reaches down and strokes the outside of her slender ankle. “It seemed to get better,” she says. “But now there’s a little bump there.”

I bend down to examine her foot. I run the pad of my index finger over the site and detect a slight thickness in the subcutaneous tissue. There is no tenderness. She has full range of motion of the joint.

“You didn’t see any ticks on you?” I ask.

“No, there was no tick.”

“Good. Well, I don’t think you’ve got anything to worry about. This will most likely subside on its own. Call the office if it persists.”

Satisfied with my pronouncement, she steps down from the exam table and smoothes her sheer dress over her hips with her hands.

“How long were you in Europe?” I ask, as I open the door for her.

“Ten days,” she says. “We flew into Paris, then traveled to Biarritz and Saint Jean de Luz, then crossed over into Spain to Pamplona and on to Madrid.”

Suddenly, I remember a literary fictional excursion that took place along that same route. I glance at the calendar on the wall. “Did you see the running of the bulls in Pamplona?”

“No. We arrived two days before the Sanfermines. They showed us where the bulls are brought in before they run through the streets to the arena. We watched it on television in our hotel room in Madrid.”

I wonder if it weren’t the Hotel Montana.

“When did you arrive stateside?”

“Late last night,” she says with a slight yawn. “I need to get some sleep.”

To sleep, perchance to dream. To be in Spain at the opening of the Sanfermines, only to have to watch the drama unfold on TV. A modern tragedy in the wake of another smaller tragedy: a bug bite on the beach in Biarritz.

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The End of Something

The most stressful thing about a trip to Spain is the connections.  You have to wait, many times for several hours, to begin the next leg of the journey.  This time around things went well until I hit Madrid.  What should have been a 3-hour layover turned into a 4½-hour layover.  As a result, I arrived in Santiago late.  Thankfully, my sister-in-law was there to meet me.

After two more hours behind the wheel, we stopped at a local restaurant for something to eat.  It was a clean simple place, and the food was very good.  My sister-in-law treated me to a plate of pulpo a la gallega (octopus) and an entrée of rapé, a type of fish.  We finished the meal with a demitasse of coffee on the veranda.  It was a good way to wind down from traveling.  Half an hour later we rolled into Santa Marta.  It was just as I remembered it.  Everyone was there to greet me at the house in the narrow cobblestone street.

I was on my feet for close to 37 hours before I finally crawled into bed.

The next day I went for a long walk on the rustic path that runs along the edge of the estuary to the beach.  The sea undulated at my feet in gradations of blue and green, extending to the far horizon where it gave way to the faultless blue sky.  On either side the mountains rose up from the sea like prehistoric dinosaurs, their jagged peaks draped in torn green blankets where outcroppings of grey rocks broke through.  As I stood there buffeted by the wind, I understood once again why I love this country too much for my own good.  I lingered for quite some time before heading back to the village along the road.

Saturday was the wedding.  We gathered at the ancient stone church for the nuptial mass.  Outside, a small band of musicians played the drums and bagpipes as we exited through the courtyard.  Afterwards we boarded a bus for the next village down the coast, where wine and hors d’oeuvres were served by attentive waiters under a long white canopy on a small bluff above the beach.  The main meal lasted nearly four hours:  gambas, percebes, cigalas, rapé con patatas, carne de ternera, postre, an enormous amount of wine, both red and white, and to top off the meal, whiskey on the rocks and café solo.

At one point during the evening I stepped out and walked down to a small overlook and stood by the railing to watch the sea bathe the beach beneath a nearly full moon.  One of the guests, who had come from Navarra, appeared and struck up a conversation about the Spanish bullfight.  He spoke about José Tomás, the most artistic of all of the current matadors in Spain, who is recovering from a bad cornada, an injury to the femoral artery which he incurred when he was gored in Mexico this past spring.

The day before I left Spain, the provincial government in Barcelona voted to outlaw the corrida de toros.  As of Friday, July 30, 2010, there will be no more bullfights in Cataluña.  In an act of political capitulation, the Spanish national government voted to subsidize the salaries of workers in all industries associated with the corrida in the province of Cataluña for the next 90 years.

When Spain won the World Cup, Barcelonan taxi drivers displaying the national Spanish flag on their cabs were fined by the provincial police.

We are witnessing the beginnings of the disintegration of the Spanish state.