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Caves and Waves by Susan Perly
 

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  • We came down from the caves at Altamira, still haunted by the bison on the walls, in their etched truths and informal cave life hand, and we stopped ever so briefly at Santillana del Mar which is, pace the 'el mar,' not at the sea, and which was for us, way too walled in (was it, perhaps, the 'Torture Museum' in town...?), and we escaped to Santander, which somehow, who knows why, suited us, after the Altamira Caves.

    The promenade so fresh on the sea, the Bay of Biscay. A sense of open adventure. Was that it? A place where anything can happen? A place to excite the writer's imagination? Anybody could wash up here, by land, or taking the 20 hour ferry from Plymouth, England. Anyone could travel to be immersed in the windy sea light.

    A new port, a new story.

    That excited me. I longed to sit outside and feel the October fall chill, and the look of the hectic summer waterside be gone quiet with the ghosts of summer's past hope, and to sip icy drinks on reflective-surface tables, and to read papers in Spanish, and move on to hot drinks and ice cream, and to watch the people come on and off the travelling seaworthy vessels, the sailors, British sailors who did debark, the wanderers.

    To notice the guy in the restaurant where we sat the bar, the guy who gave me a look which said, "I am a journalist which I have just reckoned you probably are, or may be, or else someone with a story who might wash up in a place like this on a windy October, someone who might get all horny crazy from the way the northern light plays through the immense clouds floating and the magic mirror light of off the sea, just like me."

    With my husband sitting beside me, the guy half the length of the bar giving me that investigative look.

    I gave him my best investigative look right back.

    Yeah.

    You know, after the caves we did not long for the echt historic churches or ur-Inquisition details or that touristic claustrophobia, when you feel your every peseta (yes, pre-Euro), is longed for in that certain very small town way, when a town's economy rests on its being not the thing, but being nearby the thing. The sea after the cave was, indeed, like Plato's Release.

    The stone steps to the sea. I could not get enough of them. Give me a closed kiosk and a set of stone steps to the sea, I am all set, content in a mysterious way. A small city on a ferry route is a cosmopolitan node I seem genetically prone to.

    Born on water, bourne to water, to places where sailors push off from and come to, new, and wander in their threes and fives. I am a sucker for a man in a uniform and especially sailors. Neat and on leave, pressed and yet not yet for time, those released smiles of theirs in the mirror light of the sea. Yeah.

    Stone steps.

    The aqua laps.

    The railing. Give me a rusted rail by the sea.

    Things pass. The new passes. Pain does not pass, nor does the out of work man and woman, nor does the need to sail the sea, and work the wind or the anchor.

    Then pain passes, history is a circle, we walk down the stone steps to the water, we watch how it refreshes the rail.

    In the deep ochre caves, the black kohl bison abide. And ride.

    The bison told a story on the walls with the burnt ash leavings of fire.

    The bison saga is still breaking news, 20,000 years later.

    The bison will ride down the waves, when we are the ash new painters mix into the palette.


    (Photo by Susan)
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