I have painful enthusiasm.
It is the type of stuff that ought to be locked in a garden shed or an underground missile silo. Being in a pension, in a city of such character, at the end of the summer, and staying in the casco-viego (old town) was a dream. I was excited and so was Sonya.
Nothing becomes the knowing of a place better than a dedicated appreciation of its bars.
Vitoria had lots of bars, lots and lots and lots and lots of bars; and they all had something about them. We set about bequeathing ourselves to the myriad of new establishments. The early evening was alive with movement. All the city and its many dogs were out walking, promenading, showboating, enjoying, shooting the breeze, meeting, exchanging, and just enjoying the night air.
People were relaxed. Bars were stopped off at, drinks sampled, then left. It was all as natural as breathing.
You can measure a place by the way its citizens set about enjoying their drink. In some places it is a private habit, indulged as a means of reaching an oblivion of drunkenness. In others it involves tiny and surreptitious sips that acknowledge the observance of some Protestant alignment. In many parts of the old Anglo-Saxon world it was an orgy of wassailing followed by Catholic guilt or Protestant derision. In Vitoria, it was a natural way of passing the evening and night in the company of ones fellow citizens. This was new and we liked it.
We spent a couple of hours walking around the bars, attempting to blend in. We wanted to be continental, we wished to fit in, we wanted to belong. Our tiredness won over and we strolled back to the pension, now doing brisk business, without noticing the working girls gathering around the street.
Th pension was old and it felt as if it ought to have connected us to that bygone age of Hemingway and Lee. We had eaten the Basque equivalent of tapas. In the Basque Country they were known as pinchos and they were outstandingly delicious. Nevetherless, once back in the room, I announced that I was going to visit the patron of the pension and ask, in my best Spanish, if we could share a meal with him. He and his wife looked at me in a strange manner as I pushed my head around their kitchen door. They did not understand. I tried again, but again they could not follow my line.
As I left, a number of women were arriving with men who kept their eyes close to the ground rather than meeting mine. It finally dawned. Excellent! We were staying in a brothel. I couldn’t wait to get back to tell Sonya. A Spanish brothel, who would believe it? We were true travellers, truly immersed in the culture.
Sonya wasn’t as impressed with the news as I was.
In our room, we heard every creaking step, every opening door, every grunt, groan, creaking spring, and final escape. Wow!
We talked and we laughed. We had been thrown back in time and place and we were curiously content. This was a new world born out of one of the oldest. We were there and the rest of the world was somewhere else.
As we prepared for sleep on our first night in Spain, the sound of the pension and the city were eclipsed by the clarity of a church bell proclaiming midnight along with the arrival of a couple of young lovers in the territory of fiction.