Thursday 2 May 2013

o : Matalascañas

An empty deck on a hill

I write to you from an out-of-season café terrace on a grassy hill east of Matalascañas, nestled between Doñana National Park and the Atlantic.  I can see the Spanish coast glide down to the Strait of Gibraltar to my left and tumble up to Portugal to my right.  The fishermen are returning from the morning trips; they hoist and pull their wooden boats along the sand with tractors, quiet and worn and happy.  Last night we played cards and watched the sun set over the rather calm sea, from the front seats of the truck parked on a sand-and-grass dune.  Because the evenings here are still those of spring, not summer, we wanted to be sipping zumo de naranja and vino blanco at a beachside café for the latest skypainting.

If a traveler visits a town and doesn’t experience a conversation or a kindness, has he or she actually been to the town?

We dreamed of a table before the reddening sky, loaded up with puntillitas, aioli and lemon, and there it was on our waterfront walk: a thatched hut-restaurant, perched on the sand and almost empty, like the rest of Matalascañas.  We entered and picked our spot and sat, and the waitress and the cook, bored and tired and locked into iPhones and tapping their feet…  You know the drill.  Not so much bad service as non-service – the kind that wants to make you feel bad for being there, being a visitor, being alive.  The malcontent, the huffs and puffs, the monotonous, stale sound of hating one’s work.  We had our shitty drinks, had our now-shitty view, and got out.

All they had to do was say no, we’re closing.  Or no, we’re miserable.  Or no, we don’t want your kind in here.  I’d have one subject less to write about – if it is at all a subject – and would probably be writing instead about the father of the fishing family below and how he looks like a tomato arranged atop a Roman pillar.

When travel alienates, is it still travel?  Is rudeness and hostility valid, even integral, to the process of exploring and learning and couchsurfing?  On the one hand, it must be.  It’s authentic, right?  That’s the thatched-hut restaurant in the rectangular coastal Andalucian town of Matalascañas.  On the other, didn’t we just pass the time?  There was no dialogue or learning or discovery – we all know the nature of being a prick.  There’d be more depth in a museum dedicated to walls.  So what?  Am I supposed to marvel at the shape of the wall, its impermeability, its purpose, its height?  Am I supposed to eat up the tourist morsels and say thanks to the roadside vacation prostitute and take my photo-holiday back to my living-room tabletop and show everyone what I bought once?

The thatched-hut should have a thatch revolving door, just to drive the point a little clearer.  There are a lot of places that should have that revolving door.  Nothing new.



2 May.
We did have some puntillitas in Matalascañas today, with lots of lemon and aioli, and even a smile and a word or two.  But rustic El Rocio with its dirt roads and gorgeous lake and, yes, friendly folk was much more “worth it” for the afternoon.  And another sunset, this one glorious. 

Matalascañas.  See it in the distance?