Let’s say you knew my name (which some of you do) and knew where I lived five years ago, had access to a time machine and travelled five years into the past. Let’s say you tracked my former self down and informed him of what I did last night. Let’s say he laughed in your face–or more likely, ran, hid and shrieked until you left him alone. Let’s say your visit changed the course of my life and that I spent the next five years rocking in a mental institute plagued with visions of strange people from the future.
No, let’s not say that at all. Let’s leave the scenario with me laughing–or disbelieving at the very least. Because last night I went to a tapas bar to watch flamenco and the man I was five years ago would never have believed such an thing was in his future.
On Friday my wife and I travelled to Boston to visit a friend. She’s a bachelorette who’d graciously opened her plush city apartment up to a couple of good for nothing scoundrels from the south–or in my case, from much further afield. Lindsay and Liz have known each other since their schooldays and are terribly comfortable in one another’s company. Liz has implied–quite fervently, on occasion–that she would love for Lindsay to move closer, and if she should bring her limey husband, hey, the more the merrier.
In an attempt to sway any future decisions about where we might live she’d planned a weekend of merriment to showcase everything the locale had to offer. On Saturday we visited nearby Salem, where we browsed comics and bought crepes, coffee and caramels. On Sunday she invited some of her other friends over for homemade tacos in the hope we might all bond into a sticky morass of fast friendship.
She’d planned Flamenco Night before we’d even departed from Jersey, asking well in advance if we’d be interested in going to Tasca with her–her treat–because the bar could get crowded and it was advisable that we book ahead. I, of course, wanted to say “no” as I’m a misery guts who generally hates the idea of having fun. But in hope of being a bubblier, better person I agreed to go somewhere I was totally convinced I’d have a miserable time.
Our outward journey didn’t bode well. The Highway Code is universal back home: what’s good for Plymouth is equally acceptable in Poole, Petersborough and Penzance–and Pontefract, for that matter. Neither counties nor cities have their own special rules concerning vehicular conduct, so seeing my wife–who’s usually so confident behind the wheel–flustered by blinking red lights at junctions, unmarked lanes which leapt one another like dolphins and Boston’s trams tearing through traffic like Cobb’s locomotive from Inception was very unsettling.
Still, we found our way through the early evening traffic, looped the area several times thanks ito both the strangeness of Boston’s road system and her mobile’s GPS navigation going haywire, and–rather ill at ease about it–let a valet park our Meccano kit of a car while we ventured into the bar itself.
It’s disconcerting reading about a restaurant online then seeing it in real life. After researching establishments in the Boston area places I’d read reviews of kept appearing in the corner of my vision like familiar faces barely recognised in a dream. No matter how elaborate the description, no matter how copious the photographs, the online profiles never seemed to match the real thing. In Tasca’s case, the five star tapas restaurant notorious for its food, volume and atmosphere was buried non-descript at the end of a road, only discernible by the amount of traffic parked–sometimes two cars deep–beside it and the establishments to either side.
Once inside and reunited with Liz there was little distinction that this was anything other than a loud and low-lit bar until we were herded down a thin flight of steps to a dining area somewhat larger than the bar room upstairs. It took us a short while to pull ourselves together: two servers led us in opposite directions as Liz hung her coat on a rack–her vocal notification to us lost beneath the raucous bar chatter–but eventually we were escorted to a table and as one sat down.
I was incredibly nervous. I usually am when eating out, especially so when eating somewhere for the first time, and those nerves only jangle harder when surrounded so tightly by so many people. While the place wasn’t exactly packed to the gills every table was fully seated with elbow-jostling patrons; the tables themselves were packed together so anyone sitting in the centre-most rows shared their eating space with complete strangers.
The conversation was loud, the lips they spilled from smiled too eagerly. Everyone, it seemed, was looking forward to the show.
Everyone except me.
It took me a while before I could point out interesting dishes from the menu, and more time after they arrived before I could summon the courage to eat. As you might expect from a tapas bar we ordered a diverse assortment of foods, from sausages and caramelised onions to paella-stuffed peppers, from mushrooms in Madeira to shrimp that showed up still sizzling in a cast iron skillet, scattered with crisp, sticky shards of fried garlic. Liz suggested that we order light–just five small plates between the three of us–so we’d have room for dessert. At the end of the night Lindsay and I worked through a slice of chocolate tart so dense it was little more than the centre of a truffle. The food was decent enough, although as I always find, for the most part it was hardly worth the price nor the effort of going out. Such is the price of being a cook.
If I sound a little ungrateful, well, I don’t mean to be. I suppose I am an ungrateful person by nature, who’s still not used to the fact that there are people who deserve gratitude. I over-analyse, break situations down into their constituent components, and fail to realise that sometime the whole might be greater than the sum of its parts. The food was good. Why can’t I accept that?
The dancing started with little warning. A drummer smacking an open-ended box, a guitarist, a singer (who we were informed on multiple occasions hailed all the way from Malaga, Spain) and two middle-aged women in fixed smiles, who stomped and clapped and castanet clacked their way through routines punctuated with guitar solos, so they could have a breather.
Responses to the performance varied from table to table. On the one immediately behind my wife and I the kids and their mum tried and failed to clap along in time, while those pressed together on the centre tables were rapt, and watched moist-eyed, marvelling at every wrist-curl and out-kicked boot.
All the while, above the maelstrom of wrist and foot, those fixes smiles, those affected expressions, conjuring a spirit that had evidently fled years before–if it had existed at all.
Maybe I’m reading too much into this–it is my wont after all. I rarely understand dancing. If I’m not participating (and even then my dancing’s limited to head-bobbing and slow waltzing to Christmas music with my wife) I don’t ‘get’ the appeal of it. Only break-dancing–where dancers contort their bodies in shuddering motions no human skeleton should be able to produce–can hold my attention for any length of time; every other dance from ballroom to music video seems artificial, lacking in the passion everyone but me can apparently see.
Practised routines are thee worst of these. They forever remind me of small boys and girls dressed like ventriloquist figures and loo roll holding dolls respectively, old beyond their years and swirling joylessly on Junior Come Dancing. It’s a curmudgeonly perspective to have I’m sure but I feel embarrassed watching people dance, literally going through the motions and expecting applause once they’re done. I could say this wasn’t my scene; in truth, this wasn’t even my movie.
Yet I smiled, applauded politely, took breaks from eating (during one of which our half-finished plates were whisked away, taking part of our paid-for food with them) and waited for the show to end.
At one point the singer berated people for talking through his performance. Given that the drumming and stomping were loud enough to shake the floorboards of the entire room (and make the three of us jump from our seats when they started suddenly) I wasn’t sure anyone could hear them talking, much less people on the far side of the room.
It wasn’t a bad night. I might even go as far as saying it was good, except I can’t say I want to go back there, which leaves me confused.
Even more confused must be Liz, long-term reader and host for that weekend, who must have assumed I had a great time because I smiled the whole evening.
But happiness can be forced. Like the LED candles flickering in votives, like dancers grinning ear-to-ear, like a Spanish bar in chilly Boston, anything can be faked.
All you need learn to do is dance.