Today a very fortunate wander that took me into a place I adored: several places and all of them new. I couldn’t handle the surly manner and derisory service, the lack of smiles from the waiters who work year in, year out with tourists treating their town like a fun park, nor my fellow tourists themselves, not even the six English ladies made up like drag queens with giant, winged eyebrows painted on their pink foreheads who got drunk at the next table on Friday and asked the man, Is the chicken salad thigh or breast meat? And then when he didn’t understand, their ringleader (biggest brows) insisted, Breast! You know? Breast? putting her cupped hands under her own mammoth bust and jiggling herself at him invitingly. They made me laugh and they made him laugh but also, enough is enough. I went walking and kept walking, without looking at the map, just following whichever alleyway or lane seemed inviting and counting the geraniums in people’s windows.
Down a steep hill I rounded a corner into this long, elliptical square – a rhomboid square – just filled up with Indian restaurants. About a hundred tables crowded with afternoon revellers covered the hill. There was a grocer’s selling plantains and yams and cheap calling cards, and on the other side where the pavement swung out from the houses maybe ten or a dozen restaurants ran down the hill. I found a seat under a giant umbrella and read the cheap, fantastic menu. All around me people were eating and chatting, it felt like a very laidback party. I put my hand round my jarra of beer and a terrific commotion struck from uphill, drummers, dancers, forty or fifty lanky African men came bursting slowly out of the narrow road between the houses and they had skin drums, shakers, all kinds of noise makers and were dancing. Really dancing. They tumbled down the hill gradually like an intricacy of shells washed in the surf. Round the hems of this raggedy band half a dozen fellows carried pots and hats, which they danced among the tables to offer deftly round. They were irresistible. People remonstrated, laughed, threw in coins. When I had done eating I got up from my chequered table cloth and followed downhill the shaggy brown dog who was carrying a whole soccer ball in his mouth. The ball was saggy and deflating and he clearly loved it. At the bottom of the road where it met the next street was another plaza, ramshackle and traffic-stained, where dozens of people lounged on bollards and under trees, many of them African. And as I was coming up again towards, I thought, the part of the old town I know I found a little bookshop open all day til midnight, in which quiet prevailed and concentration reigned so much that when people came in from the street they instinctively lowered their voices. Three people in alcoves and under bookshelves were writing. It was like the opposite of the meat cave I found on the shopping street, Paraíso de Jamon: it was a paradise of non-ham. I sank down by the cardboard carton of old vinyl and took out my notebook and my pen. I was there for hours. They serve coffee and the windows are encrusted with flyers. The guy serving sat behind his computer peacefully reading all afternoon. People turned pages and moved very little.