Thursday, January 22, 2009

Almost the Year of the Snow

My first Friday in Seville was cold, the temperature plunging to -1 C (about 30 F), and the forecast offered a chance of precipitation. There was a happy buzz in the city about the possibility of snow, mixed with fear and a renewed belief in the end of the world. Such feelings of doomsday come when something that happens rarely in a place, happens. And snow has not been happening in Seville for a very long time.

A thousand years ago, when the Moors ruled southern Spain, a ruthless and twisted Sevillan ruler name Motadid (he used human skulls for flower pots, and liked to keep the heads of his defeated enemies in leather cases so he could admire them from time to time) had a son with a gentler aesthetic. When one of his wives yearned to see snow, he planted almond trees, thousands of them clustered on a hill. When the blossoms fell, she was treated to a storm of white petals.

Last century, it snowed one time in Seville, February 3, 1954. Dubbed “the year of the snow,” there was something auspicious (or ominous) about being born in that year, getting married, or anything at all happening to you that you could remember.

“The Year of the Snow,” your neighbor might say. “Yes, of course. That was when Pilar saw the Virgin Mary in her gazpacho and Pedro developed boils on his ass.”

Or, “The Year of the Snow! I remember. The tree outside our house split in two and all the calves were born with two heads.”

As it turned out, we passed the day in relative comfort under mostly blue skies. It was just another day in the flamenco capital of the world, until I considered that on my journey to Seville, I had been miraculously upgraded to Club Class on my British Airways flight from Houston to London.

“Is that good?” I had asked the smiling clerk.

“Oh, yes,” she said. “You get your own bed.”

Getting my own bed also meant getting wonderful service, pretty good food and free beer, a TV screen at least twice as big as those in coach (10.4 inches to be exact), and nearly unlimited privacy. For the first hour I drank orange juice in my little pod, and peered out any one of my three windows, letting the warm fuzzy feeling of good fortune course through me. Maybe this is what it feels like to be born into wealth, I thought, or to discover a talent you don’t deserve.

For the next three hours I was mostly engaged with the evening meal. Its various courses and options, the willing smiles of the cabin attendant, the pleasant way nothing spilled when the seatbelt light came on. The entrĂ©es listed on the menu had four or five word names, like “Hamachi Marinated in Cucumber Vinegar,” and “Seared Millbrook Venison Saddle.” By the time I finished my post-supper coffee, we were a third of the way there.

Next, obviously, I’d watch a movie, good for another two hours. Hellboy II perhaps? Already saw it. Any of the various feel good flicks? Not in the mood. The new animated Star Wars? Perfect. When George Lucas made those three new Star Wars movies, I had thought they were so much about computer animation that they needed to be computer animation. If Lucas allowed himself this indulgence, maybe then he could tell a good story. But no, alas, the story was canned and I was bored as hell. So I folded out my bed, hit the automated recline button, and watched the computer animated map with our little white airplane somewhere over the mid-Atlantic.

I woke hours later to a smiling face. “Good morning sir. Breakfast for you?”

After breakfast, I used the tiny toothbrush and toothpaste in my official British Airways toilet kit, and felt refreshed and happy. We were 20 minutes from Heathrow, the captain said, and then he wished me “a pleasant onward journey.”

But we were about to land, and I would be reduced to an ordinary person again, just one of six billion other people scurrying about on the Earth’s surface looking for food and sex. It was the first time in my years of flying that I didn’t want it to end.

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