Paradise Has Ice Cream and Elephants

Prompt number 9 in BootsnAll’s #indie30 project:

What is the best experience you’ve ever had while traveling?

What a question. How do you choose? All the amazing, wonderful, joyful things that happen when you travel, and I can pick only one?

Okay, fine then. I pick: Eating ice cream in Spain while a man carved an elephant and threw it into the sea.

I should explain.

In the town of Las Galletas, on the island of Tenerife, in the Canary Islands, there is a little heladeria by the sea. And in the town of New Braunfels, in the state of Texas, there is a house that contains my dearest friend Maria–except in the summers, when she goes home to her family in Tenerife, and then she is contained by her mother’s house in Las Galletas. Every few summers I join her there. (Because Keep Austin Weird and all that, but would you rather visit your best friend in Texas or in Tenerife? Yep, I thought so.)

The first time I went to the Canaries, about ten years ago, Maria and I set out on a warm afternoon’s mission: to walk into town and sample her favorite ice cream. We headed down the pedestrian-only shopping streets in the general direction of the sea, and ended up at the promenade beside the narrow black sand beach. “Here it is,” Maria said, pointing to the heladeria. Its sliding glass doors were wide open to let in the ocean air–and the ocean was only about fifty feet away. Tables topped with yellow umbrellas lined the promenade out front. A nice selection of helados tempted us from the glass case. This looked promising. I chose the berry-bright frutas del bosque; I don’t remember what flavor Maria chose, but we took our paper cups and our little plastic spoons and we claimed a table in front of the open sliders.

Helado. Splendid.

Helado. Splendid.

 

As we savored our ice cream (so delicious; Maria was right), we indulged in people watching: mothers herding small children along the promenade; young couples sitting on the sea wall, their arms and legs entwined; grandmothers siting in the shade of the umbrellas, trading gossip in rapid Spanish; British tourists, their pale shoulders and noses turned lobster red by the sun. And a sculptor, carving an elephant.

At some point while we were licking helado off our spoons, a middle-aged man dressed in a black tee shirt and black pants had set up an impromptu studio on the sea wall. He held carving tools, and he was using them to flick slivers of stone off a block about the size of a breadbox. What on earth? I said. We angled our chairs so that we could see better. It took us a while to determine that the emerging figure was an elephant. Animal? we guessed at first. Horse? Dog? we considered as the artist progressed. People stopped to chat with him; some bought him beers. Children stopped to guess; he teased them, told them it was a bird, a giraffe…But as his tools bit further and further into the stone, we finally saw it. Elephant!

Elephant. Also splendid.

Elephant. Also splendid.

I was delighted. I love elephants. I love Spain. I love ice cream. And I love my friend. And this moment contained all of them! Plus the black volcanic sand, the shush of the ocean, the lisping s-sounds of Castilian Spanish in my ears…and then the sculptor hopped over the sea wall onto the beach and directed a couple of his admirers to hand the stone beast down to him. He gripped it tightly, the muscles in his arms straining as he hauled it to the edge of the water–and threw it in.

Oh, no, we laughed, what’s he doing now? Was this some sort of indigenous Guanche ritual, some sort of sacrifice to an obscure pachyderm goddess of the sea?

Not at all. He was letting the waves rinse it off. That block of stone was going nowhere until he hoisted it out of the water and carried it back up to his cohorts. Once he was up on the promenade again, a young woman who had been at the center of his admirers for a long time opened her wallet and handed him a small wad of bills. She smiled once more at the elephant, wrapped her arms around it, lifted it, and staggered off under its weight.

Maria and I grinned. It had been a perfect afternoon. And here’s the very nice postscript: every time I go back to Tenerife, one of the first things Maria and I do is walk to that heladeria, choose our flavors, stake out a table, and talk about the time the man in black carved the elephant right in front of us.

Images: Helado: By Andrés Nieto Porras from Palma de Mallorca, España (Montañas de helado Uploaded by russavia) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons; Elephant: Teresa (Terry) Jackson [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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#indie30 Day 4: Traveling by Car, Wishing for Elephants

The reverie.

The reverie.

What is your favorite style of overland travel?

What I wish my answer was:

Elephant

What my answer actually is:

Car

The reality.

The reality.

I love elephants. Good god, they’re so tremendous and beautiful, how could you not love them? But for practicality’s sake, I choose the car. I love the freedom of setting my own itinerary, of leaving and arriving when I please, of stopping when I want. I love eating snacks in the car, I love rolling down the windows on cool nights, cranking the radio, and rasping along with Tom Waits:

Late nights and freeway flying

Always make me sing…

Granted, riding an elephant would be much more exotic and story-worthy, but still–travel by car generates its own stash of splendid stories. For example:

1. Traveling from Vienna south to Klagenfurt in a small car with two friends and a large vacuum cleaner. The even landscape of the city gradually nudging itself into green hills and then majestic mountains, providing gorgeous views that change with every curve of the road. “I planned this route specially for you,” my Austrian friend Oliver is teasing. “Since you live in Florida–such a flat state–I didn’t want to shock you with mountains right away. I thought you would need time to get used to them.” How thoughtful. How spectacular.

2. Crossing back into the US from Canada as a child in the backseat of my parents’ car, accompanied by our new puppy–a gift from our Canadian cousins. My sister and I holding our breath and clutching the pup’s shot record as we approach Customs, fearing that some terrible agent will accuse us of adorable-puppy-smuggling or something equally heinous and take him from us. (Parents having encouraged this fear, apparently half-heartedly hoping that the dog they didn’t want in the first place might be confiscated at the border, thus absolving them of responsibility for getting rid of him.) Clearing customs, dog not confiscated. Parents sighing in resignation. The nice McDonald’s manager in Lake George letting us bring him into the restaurant while we eat. Counting license plates. Snuggling the puppy the rest of the way home.

3. Driving across Florida from West Palm Beach to Sarasota with my daughter, on a long-awaited “photo trip.” Taking six hours to make what is normally a three-hour drive, stopping in every little town along the way to take pictures of all the eccentric places to be found in the middle of the Sunshine State. Life-size statues of glowering lions and rearing horses–painted gold–inexplicably guarding the entrance to a sod farm. Giant, full-color murals on the walls of nearly every commercial building in Lake Placid. Rows of pastel-hued antique shops in Arcadia. Stern messages on church marquees: “Friends Don’t Let Friends Go To Hell.” The only fly in the ointment of our plan: constantly leaving the air-conditioned bliss of our car to take those pictures. In August. In Florida. A hundred miles from the nearest ocean breeze.

4. As a child again, in the backseat again, this time in my uncle’s Cadillac, my dad in the passenger seat. Province of Québec. My uncle driving us to St.-Jean-Vianney, an abandoned town, the site of a 100-foot deep sinkhole that had swallowed 41 houses and their sleeping occupants one awful night some years before. Steering that giant American car down a narrow pseudo-path into the pit so we could get a true feeling for how deep and huge it was. The path gradually becoming impassable, nothing but air on either side as he tries to turn the car around…but the Cadillac is longer than the path is wide. Hm. My sister and I peering wide-eyed at the increasing distance between us and the floor of the pit below as he slowly, slowly inches the car out in reverse.

So, yeah. For going where you want, transporting pets, and creating small adventures, there’s nothing like a car.

Though I bet an elephant would have had less trouble getting out of that pit.

 Images: Elephant: By Pearson Scott Foresman [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons; Car: By Giomayo at it.wikipedia (Transferred from it.wikipedia) [CC-BY-SA-2.5-it (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5/it/deed.en) or Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons