There’s an old woman who sells wild asparagus, herbs and live snails on the sidewalk behind the market in Seville’s Plaza de la Encarnación. While I’ve been know to eat a few escargots myself on occasion, I can’t bear to see the poor little things practically extruding themselves from their shells in their desperation to escape from the old woman's mesh bag. One day as I passed her, I glanced down to discover that a single snail had somehow worked its way free and was proceeding along the sidewalk with all the fierce determination and speed of which a snail is capable. I silently cheered for it and went about my day, scarcely remembering to mention the moment to Rich.
A month later, on Christmas morning, I discovered a small orange box under the tree. The note on it read, “What do we want? Freedom. When do we want it? Now!” Mystified, I opened it up. Inside were two snails.
“I got them from the old gypsy woman,” Rich said. “It’s like the pardoning of the turkeys at Thanksgiving. How many people get to save a life at the holidays?”
How many indeed? And I was twice blessed. When we carried them down to a nice patch of grass by the river they just lay there, either stunned by their good fortune or perhaps too dehydrated to move after hours in the little orange box. Rich assured me they would be fine . . .
One rainy afternoon a few months later, we arrived home to find our welcome mat covered with a family of snails made out of colorful pseudo-clay, crawling across a poster that said, “We heard that you took on creatures that nobody else wants – will you help us?” Some friends had entertained their children by creating what was to become the first exhibit in our Snail Museum. Sadly, they used a cheap Chinese Play-Doh knock-off that soon crumbled, and this artistic treasure has been lost. But other, more permanent exhibits soon followed.
Rich bought me a gorgeous snail-shaped purse, in fake leather with a stunning rhinestone collar. Houseguests brought a little snail painting as a hostess gift and sent a “snail mail” thank-you note afterwards. I was amazed/appalled to discover a product that called itself “snail slime skin renewal cream.” Such mollusk mucus products have recently become very popular in Europe and Asia, but I have not yet summoned the nerve to smear it on my face. Last year, Rich made me a little snail nativity scene. Two weeks ago, my friend Heidi gave us a miniscule silver snail for our main nativity scene; unfortunately, it is so small that none of us can find it now. Perhaps it's making its way down the sidewalk to freedom.
This Christmas morning, Rich surprised me with another gift for the collection. As many of you know, we’re planning a long trip through Central and Eastern Europe next summer, traveling by train at a leisurely pace. Using a piece of track from a model railroad set, Rich created this new exhibit:
As curator of the Snail Museum, I am very proud of our collection. And while I am confident that many of our exhibits are unique, I recently discovered that ours is not the only Snail Museum in the world. Thailand’s Chulalongkorn University opened one in 2003; you can visit it in room 218 of the Biology building. So we’ve identified the competition and the race is on. May victory go to the slowest...
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I'm an American travel writer based in Spain, to which I've just returned after a 16-month absence due to the pandemic.
As I resettle in Seville, my favorite city on the planet, I'll keep you posted on how the pandemic has reshaped the landscape and where to go to find fun, adventure, and great food in this quirky, engaging city.
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