You know how in Westerns there’s always that scene were a stranger comes to town, he enters a bar, and everyone in the bar looks up and stares? That totally happened to Jess and I today.
So today’s Sunday, the one day of break we have off, and we decided to walk up to a nearby village, Alcutar. The village is about a 20 minute walk away, up a curving dirt road, past ancient ruins (which, I’ve found, people sneak into and drink 40s), past a mini waterfall, and sits snugly on the incline of a ridge. Jess and I have been away from civilization for nearly two weeks now: we just wanted to go to a bar. The village is made up of narrow little streets seperating tall, bone-white apartment buildings. The combination of the fact that the village has a population of about 800, plus it was siesta time, made the place a ghost town when we arrived. All we could hear were the whimpers of the mangy dogs and cats that stared us down when we walked too close to them, and the dramatic exclamations from telenovelas blasting out of open doors and windows. It was strange because most of the windows were open, and the beaded doorways would shimmer every now and then, but we saw no faces. Occasionally you’d hear someone calling from a roof or a window somewhere, but the owners of the voices were always just out of sight. Finally, the labyrinthine little streets led us to the center of town, where the long awaited and only bar in town was: CAFÉ BAR JUAN (which, by the way, is next to the only church in town). Panting from the heat and from walking up these endless, snaking streets, we made our way through the chain-link doorway and into CAFÉ BAR JUAN. As soon as my eyes adjusted to the lights, I noticed that not only was the bar pretty packed for a ghost town, but all the men at the bar were slowly turning their heads to stare at me. It was a grungy looking bunch of middle-aged men with dirt caked on their faces, skin dried and leathery from the sun. I expected one of them to spit out a gob of tobacco into a spittoon. These weren’t “guy stares at a chick at a bar” kind of stares either, they were like, “The hell dragged you in here, Americana?” kind of stares. In my head I did a little showdown whistle, before giving the “bar bunch” a little Maya smile—when in doubt act adorable—and waltzed over to a barstool.
Of course, it was all good once we ordered the beers, as if I’d said a secret password or something. With the ordering of two Cruzcampos, suddenly we were treated like average customers, and people even greeted us on their way out. Everything was dandy after that. We could not, however, stop giggling to ourselves about how it must have all looked.
On the trek back home, Jess and I couldn’t help whistling the theme song from the Fistful of Dollars trilogy, and hoped a good Western would be on the TV when we got back. (Unfortunately, our hosts, Martin and Toni, don’t actually pay for cable or whatever, so the only thing on was Judge Judy). We realized that once we get to Italy we’ll only know two phrases. “Bonjourno” and “Sergio Leone”. Many Italians will be annoyed, but the right ones will like us and our Spaghetti Western aspirations, as we continue to stumble into small bars as incredibly out-of-place strangers, in every country we visit.
I appreciate the lovely individuals who taught me that to get to know a place is to get to know its bars, because that’s a good lesson I’m sticking to. (Chuck, Theo, John, and Melissa)