As Hurricane Irene forces her way up the east coast towards my friends in New York City, I find myself inside a cab in sunny Portugal. Fresh off the plane from Madrid, and attempting to get my bearings as I shift from not speaking Spanish to not speaking Portuguese, I have thrown myself into the first taxi I find outside the airport doors, realizing too late the driver to be an absolute maniac.
Speeding past all other traffic at somewhere over 60km past the limit, over whatever the Lisbon highway is named, onto smaller and smaller roads, we weave in and out of cars, past trams and pedestrians, on and off of the oncoming lane of traffic, slowing for a police car, only to hit break neck speeds right after we pass. I realize it could all end right here for me. The maniac cabbie could certainly ram right into the back of some (possibly oncoming) car: there would be a shriek of metal and breaking glass and car crashing sounds and screams (mostly mine) and then it would be done. I’d either be dead or in a hospital somewhere, horribly broken. Now, I could say to him, slow down, or even, stop and pull over, I’m getting out! But I’m not reactionary enough to do this. Instead, my gift for now is to sit tacitly in the back and, holding tightly to the door handle, begin a quiet prayer. Things will be all right. Even if there is a crash, and of course someday there will be, God will protect me. More importantly, I know that even if things go as badly as I can imagine or worse, God will be with me.
Madrid to San Sebastian via the Prado
Prior to this possible last cab ride of my life, I had spent most of last week around Spain with my girlfriend, Nikki. Last Sunday after World Youth Day, I had about five hours to kill before boarding a bus north, so I ended up leisurely walking around the Prado museum. Liking religious art, I headed straight to the Carravagio room, slightly disappointed to find only two works by the master, but happy that one of them was The Deposition, or Entombment of Christ. As I looked upon this painting and others, I felt the way I always do in museums – calm and peaceful, as if some greater message than myself and all these works was trying to be communicated to me from some other plane. Walking around, not understanding most of the Spanish on the signs or brochures, I was still “getting” it. I may as well have been back home at the Met in NYC, or the Kimball in Ft. Worth. Art, like love and faith for the most part, transcends language, and may be enjoyed no matter what tongue you possess.
After the museum, I finally took the bus to San Sebastian where Nikki was meeting me after some of her own traveling. It was great seeing her after being away for two weeks. We spent the next few days enjoying the sites, churches, nearby museums (thank you, Bilbao Guggenheim,) food, carnivals and ocean that this medieval city had to offer. After that, we headed via train to another medieval town, Salamanca.
Churches of Salamanca
As a Facebook friend just pointed out, the name itself sounds magical, as is most of northern Spain.
We met up with my old friend from high school, Brendan, and his wife here. We didn’t know what to expect from the town, and what we got was heaven. Winding sloping streets, great views, great food and about a billion churches to take in, including a double cathedral. The New Cathedral of Salamanca, which was built and exists right next to the Old Cathedral, is a wonder to look upon (and climb up, as we discovered.) For a small museum fee, we were able to travel up and up the interior and exterior steps of the New Cathedral and take in not only the beauty of the architecture, but stunning views of the city as well.
After the magnificence of this town, the four of us parted ways for a little while. I decided to take advantage of the proximity, and go see what Portugal had to offer; Nikki headed back to New York, with many a flight delay, thanks to Irene; and Brendan and his wife hopped on a plane to Morocco where I hope to catch up with them in a few days.
(Not) Alone in Portugal
Okay, back in the cab, the driver barrels past the hostel I’m staying in. I finally ask him to pull over. He deposits me near some alleyway that reeks of beer.
I’m in a daze. I’ve just left my friends, I’m all alone in a country where I don’t speak the language, and I’m feeling a little lost. The crazy cab ride was almost a welcomed slap in the face, a kind of, wake up, watch out! I walk back toward where I’ll be staying, along Rue de Sao Paulo, until I reach the place. I laugh to myself as I look around. It’s situated opposite a church, and of course it’s named St. Paul’s — how is that for funny, my Paulist friends?
I go inside to briefly kneel and say a prayer.
I’ve got the next two days by myself in Lisbon. But I’m not alone. I’ve got Nikki, right here, close to my heart. I’ve got Brendan somewhere in my head cracking jokes. I’ve got my family and friends within here too, especially those in NYC and the east coast that I’m praying for. And most of all there is God, right in there as well, above and all around. Watching me, and all of us, wherever we are, with love and protection.