Saturday, November 02, 2002

The trains in Spain stay mainly in the plain

Two weeks without a letter from me! I don’t know how you handled it, but I hope everything is better now. You see, two Wednesdays ago I was on my way to Spain, so I wasn’t able to write. And I just got back to Pontcharra Thursday. I brought back all kinds of things like headaches and fatigue. But my traveling companion, Yolande, has things a little rougher than I do. Instead of going home to rest for a few days before school starts again, she’s going to England until EARLY Monday morning when she will show up to class and teach. More power to her. I’d be taking a sick day…’cept we can’t really. [UPDATE: Yolande only spent two days in London because it is expensive, it was raining, she was tired, and the friend she was with is apparently a princess who didn’t want to get wet. So she will not be so dead. Yeah, most of you could give a rip about her updates!]

I think there are only two really noteworthy things that happened the week before I went to Spain. 1) French people don’t understand why I will not have a glass of wine or champagne. I went out to dinner with the English professors from my school to celebrate birthdays that had happened during the month, mine being among them. Of course, they ordered a bottle of wine to go with dinner, and I politely declined. That was easy, but at the end of the meal, they ordered champagne to celebrate, and this time I was not going to get out of it. “But it’s customary.” “Carrie, it’s tradition! On your birthday, you have champagne. Even if it’s just a little bit.” “Okay, just a little sip to taste.” So champagne was poured into my glass, just a sip, and after everyone chinked glasses together, I nonchalantly set mine down. However, I do honor the occasion. Two pastimes I won’t participate in…drinking wine and slowly, deeply taking in a GOOD cigarette.

2) That same weekend, I went to a rugby match here in Pontcharra. That was fun, and it was right here in the home village. There were a lot of people who descended from their smoke-filled huts to root for “les petits rouges et noirs”. I didn’t think it possible, but the loudest fans were a group of women. These ladies were crazy, so I joined myself with them, but I was a bench lower so I couldn’t taste the refreshing flavor of their cigarettes. I was getting a pretty good vocabulary lesson, too, until the daughter of one of the ladies said, “Maman, ne sois pas vulgaire!” (Mom, don’t be vulgar!) Class dismissed. Les petits rouges et noirs won!

So Wednesday (11 days ago) was travel day. I started my nearly 18 hour train ride that afternoon. I love taking the TGV. I would prefer to fly, of course, but the train is cheaper. I need to tell you all this now: Do not take a Spanish train EVER unless you really have to. DO not deal with Spanish people EVER when you have to get somewhere. They run on SPT (Spanish People Time). Their minute is equivalent to about 12 minutes of NPT (Normal People Time). (Yolande, you do the conversion if you want CPT. I don’t know exactly what that is.) So if you need to do something that should only take 5 minutes, be prepared to spend an hour. And their trains are ghetto, too. Just avoid them at all cost. If you need to get around, rent a car. Those people were easier to deal with, but they still run on SPT.

So I really love Spain. I could live there. It’s beautiful, and the people rock, except for the above-noted reason, and only 50% of them smoke instead of the 99% that smoke here in France. People say that Parisians need to drive less to avoid pollution, but I have another idea that, of course, they haven’t thought of…Anyway, Madrid is a great city. It’s clean. There’s a Dunkin Donuts. And people eat dinner at 10 PM. I think I can handle this. Yolande and I have a friend from BYU, Ladis, who lives in Madrid, so we stayed with his family. The first day in Spain, we walked around Madrid, saw a museum, ate a donut, and took pictures. I will send some once I get them developed. It was a tiring day, and I think we made use of anything that was there to sit on. We saw 70-somethings trucking around like they were 10 year olds, but not Yolande and me. No! We were slugging around like…well…like slugs. Later that night we met Ladis, his brother and sister-in-law at 10:00 to go to dinner. It was a good day.

The next morning we got up bright and early because Yolande is on crack and thought getting on the road early was a good idea. We picked up a rental car and drove to Córdoba. The funny thing about this place is that we were lost THE ENTIRE TIME. We thought we knew where we were, but we didn’t. We walked for HOURS and HOURS because we were confused. We were going everywhere according to what we THOUGHT our landmark was, but WE WERE WRONG!! It took us an hour and a half to figure out where we parked because WE WERE WRONG!! You know what? I can’t even discuss this anymore. I get so tired thinking about it. We seriously walked all over the city.

We visited the Mezquitas, which is a former Catholic cathedral, which had been a mosque, which was originally a Catholic basilica. Construction started in the 700s, and all expansion and stuff ended in the 17th century. It is a very large building with great architectural details. Dead people are buried beneath the floor. There is a grove of orange trees in the courtyard. And there are gypsies waiting outside to give you a gypsy blessing and a gypsy pick-pocketing or pocket-picking (tomayto – tomahto). But at least you get a sprig of something that smells good (Our pockets, fortunately, were not picked.) They told me that I will have three babies and that I will find my husband this year. I hope it’s not in that order because if I have three babies in one year, those will be 3 babies with a dead mama because I will die of craziness.

That night we went to a Flamenco show, which was exciting because all of the stories I had read that were set in Spain tell about the dancing. “Carmen” is one of my favorite stories, and the opera is superb. This show was amazing. These dancers were awesome. They can move and shake with the best. My favorite part was when this one girl was dancing, and she kept shouting out a word, but I have no idea what that word was. At one point, I started laughing to myself, and I turned to Yolande and said, “It sounds like she keeps saying ‘bubble’. It makes me laugh thinking that that’s what she’s saying.” So every time she said “bubble” I just chuckled. Bubble! I don’t know what else to say. It was well worth my money.

The next morning we tried to die while going to Granada. We had tickets for the Alhambra at 10:30, again because Yolande is on crack. We thought it would take a little over an hour to get there, but we didn’t know that we would be taking a 2-lane, winding road. The Alhambra was an Arab fortress, and it is humongous. It takes more than a day to see everything. We spent the whole day there, and we went through quickly. We still didn’t see everything. We had little phone, headset thingies that gave us a guided tour. I had a special treat because the guy I was listening to was really dramatic. I was in awe at all of the carving that covered EVERY wall, floor and ceiling. How long did building this fortress and then decorating it take? One can see that everything used to be painted in rich colors. I wonder what it would look like if the colors were still there.

The Alhambra is also the feline equivalent of the backwoods of Arkansas. There are about 47,000 cats that live in this fortress, and they are all related to each other. All of the females are having kittens and kittens are having kittens. They mate like rabbits! And at one point, Yolande and I were in this part of the fortress that wasn’t near a café or restaurant, so the cats were very skinny. I felt bad for them because I wanted to know how they ate. Then we went to a restaurant a little later and found out. The cats own this restaurant and this part of the fortress. It’s like the kitty mafia. They probably came up with the “Menu voyageur”, which gives you a lot of food, just so the voyageurs would throw them what didn’t get eaten. I looked at these cats, and they live in the big, fat lap of Luxury because they are getting fed steak, bread, flan, cream, french fries…and they were huge cats. Fat! The Marlon Brandos of the cat world...they used to be cute when they were younger, now they are just fat and scruffy.

We went ghetto-style for an hour and took naps on the benches out in one of the gardens. All we needed was some newspaper covering us to complete the picture.

That night we decided to go down south and stay on the coast. The town we went to was ghetto, so Yolande said, “Let’s just go to Tarifa.” Tarifa is about 2 hours away from where we were and not a long way away from where we both knew we’d end up the next day… Morocco. So we found a hotel and went to bed. The next day we went to find out how much it costs to take the boat to Morocco. Since it doesn’t cost so much, we went. We got to the port and bought tickets for the 12:30 boat. Our watches said it was noon, so we thought, “Oh we will just make the boat.” So we go through passport control and go to board, but we didn’t know that we had to trade our tickets for boarding cards. We had to go all the way back to where we had been, and there was no one in the office where we had to exchange them. A girl finally lollygags over and changes them and then tells us to wait to the side until it’s time to board. And we’re all, “Hello, it IS time to board.” She just tells us to wait. Time passes and passes some more. And I’m standing there griping about how some people are STU – PID. So we decide to go get food, because that’s what you do when you’re mad. And we go back and stand in line, and I’m still yakking about how things are so unorganized. It is 1:15 at this point. And some Americans are laughing at me, and finally they say, “You do know that the time changed last night, don’t you?” Oh…huh…well, uh, no I did not get the memo.

So we went to Tanger, which is Moroccan for “trashcan”. I saw a guy take out a cigarette (a cultural phenomenon of the Eastern Hemisphere) and just throw the box to the ground. A lot of people just drop stuff on the ground. We got a guide for 10 euros and an education in some stuff Moroccan. We learned about the neighborhoods; they all have a neighborhood oven because there aren’t ovens in the houses. The women take their bread dough to the oven dude, he bakes it, and they pay him for the service. There is a well or fountain because there is no running water. There is a mosque. And there are two more things, but I can’t think of what those are right now. The guide took us to a store where rugs are sold. It was crepuscule, so he left us there while he went to the mosque to pray. The guy working the store, Abdel, took us upstairs to show us some rugs. He taught us the significance of some of the patterns, and he showed us the difference in qualities. He gave us some Moroccan whiskey, which is fresh spearmint tea, and it was so good. We bought some things, but not a rug because I don’t have that kind of dirham. We then went to a store where spices are sold, and we were given a presentation on the different spices and their medicinal purposes. It was all very interesting. The people were so nice, and when we got out of our taxi, a vendor walked up to Yolande and got her attention by calling her “soul sister”. It still provides us a good chuckle.

We got back to Spain at midnight and started our drive to Madrid. It was a crazy thing to do, but we didn’t have money to pay for a late charge on the car. So we bought a liter of coke each, chips, peanuts and other crappy food to help us stay awake. Yolande rocked to her Celine Dion while I really rocked to something worth rocking to. The freeways in Spain are really nice and are always concerned with the safety of the people on the road. The speed limit was 120 km/h, and at some places on the freeway if you are exceeding the limit, a huge, bright, red sign all of the sudden comes on, scares the ‘h’ out of you, and reminds you that the limit is 120. I’m not sure where the safety is in that since it almost scared us off the road. Man, they can’t be doing that to us in the middle of the night…thinking some UFOs were coming down to grab us. It was not cool! We got back with time to turn our car in by 9:00. So we were dead that day. We tried to go out and do stuff, but our bodies finally conquered us around 2 PM. The next 24 hours were spent with Ladis and his family. They were so nice. [Yolande, you are never going to believe whom I saw in the metro an hour after you left for the airport. Robert! Robert! That idiot was just standing there in the metro IN MADRID. I wanted to pop him upside his big, fat head, but I decided I should play nice since the whole business with him isn’t really mine, but I did envision smacking him really hard.]

It was a fun, educational, non-stop, never-sleep trip. Spanish men are hot! My Spanish is going the way of the dinosaurs, so I need to take a class or something, or just spend a few months in Spain. But it is still good enough to understand what is going on and to figure out where I’m going, and to tell incompetent people where they can take their three euros they tried to make me pay to change my tickets because THEIR train was late.

Whew, I’m going to bed now.

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