Spaniards are notorious for staying up late. Dining at nine o’clock at night is normal, and more than once, I’ve been in the presence of a family with small children pulling up their chairs for dinner in a restaurant well after ten o’clock.
However, not all Spaniards enjoy wandering around a city in the night. My friend Paco does, and I’m grateful to him for it. He has been a superb teacher, not only in the customs of this ancient country, but also in the intricacies of the Spanish language and in the geography of Valencia, the Mediterranean port where he has lived the greater part of his life.
I painted this watercolor years ago, before we became friends. At that time, I too loved to walk in the nights, carrying a sketchbook and a camera, wandering around without aim, paying attention. The Barrio del Carmen was full of old homes like you see in the painting, most of them empty and abandoned, most collapsing beneath the weight of years and memories. These old places were mysterious, sometimes sinister, sometimes menacing, but they had been homes, so I painted them.
The last time I was in Valencia, Paco and I wandered around in the old barrio during the night. We passed by this corner of la Calle del Hospital. I took a photo or two and was going to insert them here in this post, but the heart I remembered had long since left this corner. I lost heart too. The street, the lights, the building were all new and shiny, as if they were made of plastic. They looked like every other new street corner in the city, like new street corners almost everywhere.