Madrid - April 3, 1999
"Delta Flight 108 to Madrid is ready for immediate departure."
......<drug induced fog>......
"Ladies and Gentlemen, we are about to arrive in Madrid".
Not much to say about the flight except that the new
seats in Business Elite move into 239.5 different positions and even with my long
legs, I found the sleep position extremely comfortable. Delta has combined first and
business classes which adds up to a lot more people, noise, and stewards wanting to serve
you something when all you want is to sleep.
Our first bit of cultural shock was to discover that very few people speak
English, when you say "Por favor, habla Englese?" you usually get a
"No". So the phrase book we bought has turned out to be a necessity and a
liability. Although I'm not bad with the pronunciation of the questions, the
problem is their response. It is never in the book or I simply can't find it as fast
as they speak it. And that normally ends the conversation. For example, I was able
to secure a room in Toledo but I'm not sure for how many people or on what
day. And Susan had her palm read by a short dark gypsy women who keep looking at me
(I was the one holding the phrase book and Rough Guide to Spain) while pointing to Susan's
love line and saying in Spanish "Argh u shur heas yur usbnd?"
Also, the menus are all in Spanish and use many unfamiliar words. At
our first lunch, we accidentally ordered two bottles of wine when we only wanted two
glasses, two very large bottles of water (con gas), a large plate of miscellaneous meats
and cheeses, and more olives than four people could consume. So, for our last
several meals we have only eaten things we could point to at an adjoining table.
Limiting but usually safe. We've also discovered you can tell a really good
restaurant if the food is wiggling in the window.
As we were eating, three events occurred that I'm convinced are a
harbinger of things to come:
a carrier pigeon, sitting directly over Susan, let loose with an
offensive message that landed on her left sleeve as well as splashing onto the table
my watch stopped, without warning
one of Susan's sunglass lenses fell out into her soup
I threw away the watch (it was old) and bought a cheap Casio that works
much better. I 'm carrying a glasses repair kit (thanks to the suggestion of Ron
Wallace) and fixed her sunglasses. But the pigeon stuff was Susan's problem.
While I circled the block, Susan whipped a bottle of hand disinfectant lotion out
of her backpack and began to remove all traces of the foul deed. If nothing else, we
Today is Easter Sunday and we walked all over the city listening to the
music and watching the Spaniards as they strolled with their families through the park.
The children are beautiful with their dark eyes, jet black hair, and smiles that
can light up the city. To be a child in Spain is to be in heaven. They are
adored. Strangers will pick up a lovely baby and kiss it, talk to it, walk with it to look
at something interesting, all as if it were their own. Mothers and friends are constantly
attending to them How could you ever be insecure growing up with that amount of
attention? And their little voices are angelic as they talk in full sentences to
adults, each phrase ending in a sweet inflection or question, i. e., "Father, how
come I can speak in Spanish at such an early age?".
Its April 10 and we've arrived in Granada after a beautiful train ride
through a magnificent low mountain range covered with huge olive plantations. I'm
struck by the extensive area we traveled through void of villages or even occasional
houses, there were none! And yet, olive groves everywhere. Where are the
people to pick them?
Granada is a place we could stay in for an extended time. It's draped
over hills separated by rivers with old town facing new, gypsies picking over the
tourists, and the Sierra Nevada snow capped mountains in our view in the distance.
We spent the first day visiting the Alhambra. It took over 5 hours. The
description would be longer so I refer you to your history books (try Tales of the
Alhambra by Washington Irving) and travel guides which would be well worth reading.
There was one thing I'll share that fascinated me and it was the extensive underground
water piping system into the grounds from some mountain river above that found its
way into fountains throughout. As a result, there are lush gardens everywhere and
stone lined streams cascading from one terrace into another, into living quarters, and
patios with beautiful tile-lined swimming pools.
At our afternoon lunch of tapas on the square, the waiter tied the strap
of my camera bag to the chair and explained that the gypsies will snatch your bag in an
instant. So I tied Susan's pack to my leg..... it wasn't long before I was touring
Granada on my back, Susan's pack firmly attached to my ankle, while this gypsy pull me by
the strap. Not true, but we both got a laugh imagining the possibility.
It seems our days are filled with talk of where to have lunch, what to see
next, when do we leave for the next place, what is the next place, how long are we going
to stay there, etc? Having 25 travel guides and cross-referencing each is exhausting
but worthwhile work. Exhausting, not in the reading, that's fascinating, but in the
carrying. In fact, Susan is starting to complain about the huge backpack I bought
her to carry all of those books. Is there any sympathy out there for us?
We're off to Gibraltar for a day and then Morocco (probably straight to
Rabat). Talk to you soon.
First impressions: There is a group of Peruvian Indians who clap and sing
in the square under our window, intoxicated by cheap red wine and the sound of their own
voices resonating on the stony walls. Were in a small square of cobbles and stone
and tile with only narrow streets leading in. Perfect acoustics. On the other side of the
square, under white umbrellas lined up on the narrow sidewalk like buttons, are the
Madrilenos who come out after work to drink their copas (cocktails) and eat tapas (small
dishes of olives, cheese, sardines, mushrooms
or whatever the bars specialty
is). They sit in the sidewalk cafes and talk loudly and enthusiastically all night. In the
next hotel room to us, through the thin walls, I can hear an excitable gentleman who may
be talking to himself, or perhaps on the phone
they are always on their cell phones,
these people of Madrid. Cities all have their peculiar sounds, usually traffic noises, but
Madrids is the babble and burble of voices. The people love to talk. All at once.
Loudly. Happily. I think Ron was once a Spaniard.
in the oldest part of town. I forgot, since we were last in Europe, that the old towns of
southern Europe are not places for claustrophobes. When, after a time of wandering the
tight warrens of antique calles, I pop out into the space and air of the open
plazas or the wider boulevards, Im driven back into the cool narrow dark streets by
the suns heat. Oh. I get it. It's supposed to be this way in these sun struck
lands. Narrow dark and cool. And dusty. The stones are leaking. All that
history and stone dust too. The windows are all, every single one, decorated with those
iron balconies that you expect to find in Spain. I havent seen a
senorita up there yet, sighing for her toreador, but Ive seen a good looking man on
his cell phone who waved to me as I stared at him from the restaurant below
Our Big Plan is working. Stay if we want, move on when weve exhausted the things
that interest us. Madrid is more than we expected, so weve stayed on. Such a lot to
see. Philip Johnson, the architect, said one should never look at more that five pictures
at a time. Or was it four? Three? Weve looked at hundreds, between the Prado and the
Museo Nacional. Picassos "Guernica" is the one that is still in my eye.
Weve also looked at palaces and cathedrals and forts. And other old towns.
In Segovia, from a window in Queen Isabellas office in her castle (perhaps she
received Columbus here) we could see a small village on the hill beyond the river that is
notorious for one thing. Once a year the women officially rule the town. There is irony
here. Im sure Isabella thought so too.
In Toledo I had to blink back tears when I
heard the story of the general who sacrificed his son rather than surrender the Alcazar to
General Franco,. His son was being held by Franco's men and he was barricaded in the
fort that was once commanded by El Cid. Franco's officers telephoned and told
him to give up or they would shoot his son in ten minutes. He spoke to his son on
the telephone and told him to turn his thoughts to God and die a patriot. His son
was shot. Four days later he was ordered to surrender by his own commander. Spain is
full of stories like that. Romance and passion and tears are mixed with the dust in
the old stones.