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Thursday, November 08, 2007

Two Wheeled Anti-Depressant

On some days there seems to be a conspiracy to lower my spirits. The dollar drops another couple of points; my computer’s hard drive fails and wipes out more stuff than I care to even think about right now; a couple of other bad things happened, but it’s all too depressing to chronicle here. The good news is that it is sunny and warm on this November morning, like it is almost every morning here in Valencia. My head is throbbing because of my problems as I prepare for my daily bike ride.

I get dressed in my cycling get-up of mountain bike shorts, clip-in shoes, and jersey-du-jour (today it’s a Portugal national team soccer jersey). I fill my backpack water bottle, double-check that I have my house keys before I close the door behind me, take the elevator to street level, and push off for the ride. I am still fairly overwhelmed with the problems that I will have to confront eventually, but for now I have to deal with the sometimes-annoying task of picking my way through the traffic and out of Valencia on a bicycle. During this first leg of the trip, the bike trail has a lot of intersections with automobiles and pedestrians that keep me from getting up enough speed for my bicycle therapy to take its full effect.

On the first length of trail that is uninterrupted by people or cars I am able to finally stretch my legs and work into a good sprint. It isn’t long at all before my body has other more serious problems to deal with besides my quotidian worries and not-very-interesting problems that have sprung up out of nowhere. Now my body has to deal with real issues like trying to send enough oxygen to all of the vital areas and fighting massive lactic acid build-up. If my mind persists in focusing on the boring, practical problems from earlier in the morning, I just hammer down harder on the pedals until the pain forces these thoughts from my head.

Besides the physical exertion, the natural beauty of the Albufera nature area acts as a distraction from whatever the hell it was that was getting on my nerves only a half hour ago. Although we are creeping inexorably towards winter, it is sunny and warm on this afternoon and there are actually people sunbathing on the beaches along my route. I am wearing a long sleeve shirt under my jersey that I am tempted to remove except that I don’t want to slow down. It feels good to actually feel hot for a change so I leave it on.

Besides the distraction of my cardio-vascular crisis, I am also looking for food for my pet turtle. He has recently been turning his nose up at the fish that he used to eat so now I am looking for other things to add to his diet. It is really hard to think about problems you are having with your bank or your computer as you pedal along at 20 something miles per hour all the while scanning the trail for insects and other possible fodder for a pet turtle. I think to myself that this is what a seagull must be viewing as it sweeps along the shore. I catch three grasshoppers and a snail on this excursion and store them in an empty water bottle I root out of a beach trash barrel.

The turtle belongs to the other occupants of my house, but since we don’t have a dog, I have adopted him as my own. I call him El Conde de Monte Cristo because his overriding passion seems to be to escape from his plastic pan where he lives in my living room. I have made it really nice for him with lots of cool rocks to swim around and fresh plants changed regularly. One time I took him out and put him on the coffee table just so that he could see that the world outside of his pail isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. He immediately darted for the side of the table and jumped off. I can’t believe that he didn’t hurt himself. Back in the pail he went.

I don’t know if this breed of turtle eats snails but I put the one I found in his tank. I figured that if he didn’t eat it then perhaps they could be pals. The snail didn’t live more than a couple of hours. I don’t know if he drowned or the turtle attacked him but the score is now: Turtle 1, Snails 0. The turtle seemed to be scared shitless of the live grasshopper I dangled in front of him. I left one of them in there just in case he changes his mind and wants to try a few bites. El Conde doesn’t seem very excited about the bottled turtle food he gets either. He does appear to be growing so I guess that he must be eating something. I think the cooler weather has just slowed his metabolism; I know that it has slowed me down.

After I have sprinkled the day’s catch around the rocks that make up the little turtle’s Chateau d”If, I take a shower, get dressed, and walk downstairs to the café in the little plaza in front of my apartment. There isn’t a cloud in the sky and not a hint of a breeze on this afternoon, which makes it perfect for sitting at an outside table. I order a café con leche and read at least 40 pages of my book. Right now I am finishing up a translation of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises which is called Fiesta in Spanish (A much more appropriate title in my opinion.). I haven’t read this book since I first read it when I was 16 or 17. It’s not a little ironic that I am rereading it all these years later in Spanish while living in Spain. I think that is what I had in mind when I read it the first time around.

The coming darkness and the church bells of San Valero tell me that it is six o’clock. The little plaza has been gradually filling up as it does every day at this time. It turns into a playpen for the little kids, a football pitch for their older siblings, and a meeting spot for the parents who fill up the rest of the tables around me. My body will feel the glow of the afternoon bike ride until I fall asleep in the evening. This euphoria seems to be my system thanking me for ending the punishment I inflicted on it while riding. If I tried I could probably remember what it was that was bothering me earlier in the day but I have some cooking to do and some friends to meet later tonight.

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