Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Notes From The Spanish Road

April 10, 2013
After a delightful tour of the Andalusia and Extremadura regions of Spain we landed in downtown Madrid this afternoon on our final leg of our Spanish adventures. One thing is clear: we are from the New World visiting the Old World, although our New World, in Arizona at least, is starting to feel old to me. I remember a time before "interstates and shopping malls mucked up the fruited plains," as Richard Denby so aptly put it in his review of the movie "On The Road," which sucked, but that's another story.

I have been here for two weeks now and I have noticed a few things:

• When people are talking loud on a cell phone in a public place, it doesn't matter what language they are speaking, it just sounds obnoxious.

• No matter where people are from they genuinely believe their home is the best place on earth.

• Street signs in Spain leave something to be desired, with most of them randomly placed on the sides of buildings, in tile, where they may, or may not, be the name of the building. Plus, they are crazy names, like "Jesus Del Gran Poder" and "Lopez de Gomara" and, "Maria Auxiliadora" which becomes "Recaredo" 500 meters down the road and then "Menendez Pelayo" two blocks later. Same road, different name. Not fun trying to find something by a street address. In fact we had to hire a taxi driver to find our hotel in Sevilla and then we both had to park and walk through a maze of alleys and passageways to find the Murillo Hotel (plus, NO doorman! ha.).

• The Spanish Empire thrived for 150 years and then it went away and the Spanish are still trying to figure out why.

• Part of the drive to find new places to exploit in the New World was because the Romans exploited Spain and drained it of most of its natural resources. Plus corruption soaked into every pore of civil and government life until the machinery simply broke down. Stop me if any of this sounds vaguely familiar.

• Thanks to bone-headed advice from a certain distinguished professor, the first time I came to Spain in 2003 I was expecting a higher form of Mexican food ("like we eat in Santa Fe," Paul Hutton boasted) and i couldn't believe how bland the food was. But on this second tour I took the food for what it is and have totally enjoyed the cuisine including gazpacho soup, which is similar to our Southwestern soup but  different. Albondigas, however, is not soup, but meatballs in gravy over french fries. And chorizo is not what we have in the Southwest, but a form of sausage. Paella is somewhat overrated, but a tasty dish nonetheless, and the tapas (wonderful little dishes served at bodegas with cerveza) are quite good. We had a potato soup at a roadside restaurant today that was homemade and delicious.

• There is no merlot or cabernet red wine. There is simply vino tinto (red wine) or vino blanco (white wine) and you get what they have and it is almost without exception, exemplary.

• As much as I love their cafe con leche (coffee with hot milk), I cannot get used to having only one small cup and I find myself constantly longing for a refill, but it never comes. You have to order another cup which just seems wrong to an American. And, on a related note, there is no coffee machine in the hotel rooms and, weirdly, they don't do wash cloths or clocks, but instead have giant bath towels (bath sheets actually). There is a hair dryer, however, in all the rooms. Go figure.

• The closer you get to Madrid the more gang graffiti you see. In 2003 we saw none. I heard two rap songs in a row in a supermercado (supermarket) in Merida, both in English and both sounded bizarre as hell in the context of a grocery store in ancient Spain.

• Everyone calls my hat a "sombrero" and everyone guesses I'm from Texas.

• The dude who writes "Game of Thrones" is simply cribbing Spanish history verboten.

"The heart's memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good; and thanks to this artifice we manage to endure the burdens of the past."
 —Gabriel Garcia Marquez