Friday, January 19, 2007

So, Snail We Eat

“When in Rome do as the Romans”? Sounds easy. Well, there were times during my years working as a freelance photographer in Europe when I had to put that old saying to the test. And here’s one of them. This tale is set in beautiful Barcelona and goes back to ‘84. By then I’d been living in Europe two years and was on my way back to Germany after touring Portugal and Morocco. I’d come to Barcelona mainly to see the art museum dedicated to one of my favorite artist, Joan Miro. When I arrived at the train station I noticed a guy staring at me near the rear exit, the same door I’d use to find the city’s youth hostel where I intended to stay a couple of nights. OK, I admit I am exotic-looking. I’m Creole and Europeans have mistaken me for being from Brazil, Cuba, Morocco, even Vietnam. You get use to the double-takes. I use to have an American flag on my backpack until world sentiment began to change. In this case, by the time I got to the place where the guy stood his face break into a wide grin as if he could suddenly see my passport.

Juan had inherited a bit of money and a lot of talent. He was a painter, same as his father had been. I was invited to see his work at his studio which was in an area of narrow alleyways very near the station. He opened the heavy wooden door and we climbed stairs that lead to a brightly-lit room with a paint-splattered floor and canvas after canvas of everyday scenes like weddings, picnics and rural life painted in bold strokes using plenty of rich colors. But the thing I noticed immediately was that all the people depicted were faceless. There were heads but no faces. We talked about art. I told him that one of the reasons I’d come to his city was to visit the Miro museum. “I can take you there tomorrow”, was his way of extending an invitation, not only to show me around a city I had never been to, but to offer me the spare room on the other side of the kitchen. That night, he took me to a restaurant “where few tourist go”. I suspected that was because the specialty was fried snails served with some of the best red wine I’ve ever drank. The staff knew him on a first-name basis and treated me like royalty.

As for the snails, they weren’t half-bad as long as I don’t think about what I was putting in your mouth. When you try them remember to drink plenty of wine. Then make sure you go to the Miro museum and see the floor to ceiling paintings seen in countless art books. The exhibition was breathtaking. So was the cemetery that set just on the other side of the hill. If cemeteries were not one of my standard motifs by then, they sure were from that afternoon on. And if you think there are no longer kind people like Juan, who pick up total strangers and make their visit memorable, than think again! Find out more about Joan Miro’s museum at: and Barcelona at: Now, let’s move faster than snail’s pace to more previously published poetry:

Redeemable, Like A Coupon

While dusty creepers strangle each other
for space on a wrought-iron gate at the zoo:

a red light blinks from the surveillance
camera…the paper handle from pink
cotton candy gets trampled on…a
parking valet counts small change…
the tide rolls out…an eyebrow is
raised…spring blossoms drift above
buses…I pretend to be a Bluebird
pecking at the butterfly in her…a
radio clears its throat…a parking lot
recalls its pasture…both shoelaces
are tied…pigeons flock to the belfry
…Monday drips like syrup…sand
spirits into concrete…a whole forest
learns to fox trot….

& everyday we wake up or we don’t.

This poem first appeared in print at: Mouseion
Issue 5. Online at:

Copyright 2007 by Maurice Oliver. All Rights Reserved.
Also visit my literary blog at:
and my music blog at:

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