Palm Friday

This title is completely, intentionally confusing. If you’re Christian or are familiar with Christianity, you know that we celebrate Palm Sunday, not Friday, and that’s done a week before Easter, not at the beginning of the Lenten liturgical season, which is where we are now. If you’re not conversant with the Christian calendar, you may be wondering what palms and Fridays have to do with each other. The key to clearing up the confusion is that we just got back from an amazing 11-day cruise which included a Friday stop on Las Palmas on Gran Canaria. In case this puts you in mind of a giant Tweety bird, as it does me, just know that GC is the biggest of the Canary Islands, and a lovelier spot would be hard to find. And the Romans named the islands after the dogs they found there, not the birds. Just FYI.

Our wonderful cruise started in Barcelona and went to Casablanca (we saw the ersatz Rick’s Cafe Americain but didn’t go in), three of the Canary Islands, Madeira, Málaga, and Alicante. Each of the stops was fascinating and lovely in its own way. For example, Lanzarote (another Canary Island) has, depending on how you look at it, the curse or blessing of otherworldly volcanic landscapes and prickly desert vegetation. People have lived in this difficult environment for hundreds of years and have adapted to it in truly creative ways. My favorite adaptation was a bar set in a lava tube, adorned with ferns and overlooking a clear pool of water filled with tiny, white, blind crustaceans. On the other hand, you have relatively lush vegetation on Madeira, a Portuguese island with beautiful verdant parks and so many colorful  bird of paradise flowers just past prime that Mark and I made a game of finding the ones with withering plumes and trying to figure out which was having the worst hair day. So variety was easy to come by.

What often isn’t easy to come by when you’re traveling, though, is companionship beyond the travelers in your party. On previous cruises, we’ve made acquaintances but no real friends. On this one, though, we met two lovely women from Canada and, randomly, four other folks from Austin. The eight of us (Lynne, Laura, Sherry, Liz, Janice, and Mack, to be specific), really hit it off. We ended up in various combinations eating together, playing shipboard trivia – emu eggs are green, just so you know – touring exciting new places, and just hanging out watching shows or listening to a creditable homage to Santana in the ship’s pub. The picture accompanying this post shows all of us but Lynne and Laura hooking our horns in front of the Lone Star Bar in Santa Cruz on March 2, Texas Independence Day. (All persons in this photo consented to its being posted with my blog. However, they consented at the time of its taking and may not remember that! Let me know if there’s a problem.) The hook ‘em sign is probably obscene in several of the places we just visited, but we made sure to snap this early in the morning and when no police were in sight.

Now, don’t get me wrong: Mark’s a great traveling companion, and we had many fabulous times just the two of us on this cruise. We took merengue and salsa dance lessons, and we danced into the night to music from the Beatles, ABBA, and the like as rendered by a surprisingly good Filipino band. Admittedly, dancing when the sea is rough occasionally requires terpsichorean innovation. “She loves you, yea (lean left with the ship), yea (lean right with the ship), yea (lean left again with the ship) can be challenging, to say the least. But you should see us on the floor! Or, on reflection, perhaps you shouldn’t. That could be a mental image you don’t need.

Anyway, seeing lots of palms and visiting Las Palmas on a Friday got me thinking about the word palm. You can palm things off or palm a card like the magician on our ship undoubtedly did. You can cross someone’s palm with silver, or in our case, Euros. But what I’ve been contemplating is the palms of my hands. Palms, for all of their visibility, are actually quite intimate parts of the body. You hold small treasures, like seashells or birds’ eggs or precious jewels, there. You cradle your lover’s face and your infant’s head there. You rest your chin there while puzzling over one of the world’s many mysteries. And a kiss in the palm can be incredibly romantic when bestowed by the right party. I’d never really thought about palms before, but they are fairly amazing.

Palms have their limitations, however, and it seems to me that the biggest one is that they can’t actually touch each other. It’s true! Press your hands together as tightly as possible. The very centers of these intimate parts of your body are separated by a tiny space, a little pocket of air that just won’t quite go away. (Maybe it’s space for the Holy Spirit, like kids at church dances were supposed to keep between them. That went well, didn’t it?) If you want the centers of those palm centers of your being to be touched simultaneously, you need someone else.

I think that the reason our cruise was so great, then, even beyond the lovely destinations and pitching dancing and never-ending supplies of food, was the company of our new friends. They touched us someplace deep. They enriched our experience and gave us both fresh perspectives and respite from sensory overload.  Traveling never ceases to amaze and challenge us. Friends amaze and challenge and renew us. Our palms were opened to the touch of our pals onboard, and, oh, how much the better off we are for it! I’m grateful from the bottom of my heart – or perhaps from the centers of my palms – for these people and this experience. img_1164

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