"Europe 2004-05" story # 28

Madrid, Spain           November 28, 2004

"You're from the United States, right ...?" A youth from Catalonia was trying to understand my situation correctly.
     We were on the streets of Granada, a city whose white-painted houses have gulped up a dry mountain valley in southern Spain.
     This Catalonian youth had thick dusty-colored dreadlocks, big-for-life eyes behind a joker's eyeglasses, and a circus smile.
     "... And you want to pick olives, in Spain?" He got a kick out of my job-finding mission. We laughed together.
     I'd met this guy a day earlier. At the time, his girlfriend was climbing all over one of their nation's most-precious architectural treasures and posing like a statue so that he could take funny photos of her. They looked zany and friendly and cool and interesting, and we all started talking. They had ridden a bus from Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, to satisfy heir travel urges in Granada.
     I, on the other hand, was in Granada for more serious business. Following the advice of hitchhikers and people who pick up hitchhikers - pretty much the only sources of advice I ever have - I'd come to Granada to look for work picking olives. And few businesses in southern Spain are more serious business than the olive-picking business - least of all, the zany photo-taking business. That's not a very serious business at all.
     Unfortunately, I couldn't find any work in the countryside around Granada. I spent two days looking. It's very difficult to look for work in the countryside when you don't have a car. Especially when "the people who pick up hitchhikers" have advised you that the olive harvest is about to begin several weeks before it actually begins. I need some new sources of advice.
     The wondrous news is that I know one source of advice which never fails. It's advice perfectionized, really. So, I took a bus to Madrid, the seat of the Spanish capital. And I'm ready to present to the king or president or head-bullfighter - or whoever's in charge - something he's never seen before. It'll be something he's never seen before, because "el Modern Oddyseus" has never been in Spain before. And no one is capable of authoring the Pulitzer Prize-winning (or, "-deserving" I should say) MODERN ODDYSEUS' TOP 5!!!, except for the Modern Oddyseus, himself.
     Here are The Top 5 Best Things About Spain!

The northeastern part of Spain is called Catalonia and speaks "Catalan." The people there seemed etravagant, animated, and friendly. They seemed to have been drawn "out-of-the-lines," like the French-speaking population of Canada.
     It was great to just observe the style of people in and around Barcelona. Some guys dressed often in black t-shirts, which matched well with their black features and their scratchy, dark black voices. Bright colors were also worn frequently. Lots of people had dreadlocks. Sergei, my parents' former foreign exchange student, and his brother wore dark "mullets" (haircuts short in front, long in the back) and both sang in the shower. Sergei's brother spoke coolly like Rambo. Sergei's mom was boisterous. Sergei's father was quiet and oddly funny with a quirky whine for a voice as if he was breathing in helium.

Mountains orange like they're on fire; threatening snow planning its attack from the gray mountain-tops above; roads zigzagging blindly through intimate villages whose inhabitants have mostly left; and little, dark-haired girls in wool dresses with faces as adorable and smooth as goat cheese.

It's delectable: fresh Spanish bread smothered with tomato insides, doused with olive oil, and topped with salt.

My Icelandic buddy, Gaui, and I both found this Spanish game-show exciting and addictive. At first glance, it had seemed totally stupid.
     The contestant simply selects a numbered box. A lot of annoying Spanish antics and babbling go on to draw out the show. Each numbered box contains a prize, and those numbered boxes which the contestant didn't select are each slowly opened to reveal what the contestant didn't win. The twenty prizes vary somewhat exponentially from ten cents to 300,000 Euros. My god, it's impossible to look away! You just keep cheering for the contestant's numbered box to contain he biggest prize left.


But that's not all! HONORABLE MENTION mentions honorably: SALAMANCA (this dusty university town of 100,000 people and walkable streets looked cool when I rode through it on a bus); TORTILLAS (Elaine enjoyed these hardy Spanish omelets of potatoes, onion, and eggs); KALIMOTZO AND "KI-DIN-KI"; and FREE HEALTH CARE AND EDUCATION FOR EVEN ILLEGAL RESIDENTS.

Woohoo! That was a big first-half of this episode of MODERN ODDYSEUS' TOP 5!!! I got a bit tired writing that, but you don't win Pulitzers by leaving things half-finished.
     So, here's The Top 5 Worst Things About Spain!:

The life here seemed tragically dull. Colorless clothes and boring fabrics created a style that depressed. People traveled to work in the mornings with faces empty of animation. The public transportation was problematic, the architecture was unexciting, and some of the locals disliked foreigners.
     (Ouch! I can sometimes be mean to poor, defenseless cities.)

2. TURVO -
Sergei's family had a dog, and "Turvo" was his name-o. T-U-R-V-O, T-U-R-V-O ... Turvo was the crappiest dog ever. He was fat like a seal or a bear. The one thing Turvo ever wanted to do ever was eat. He begged and stuck his face in your way. When he calculated that there wasn't even a remote chance of him getting food, he layed down, and if you neared him, he growled.
     He hated taking walks. He loved barking a Sergei's grandfather. Maybe he barked because Sergei's grandpa was a communist. Or maybe it was because the guy was elderly and an easy target.

The city of Madrid had wanted to put little houses in an abandoned area of a Madrid neighborhood. The city's homeless would then have places to sleep during the winter. Shockingly, members of the neighborhood (many of the old ones) have protested. They block the streets with their cars, so that no trucks have been able to deliver the houses as of yet. They congregate every day in the streets to try to fight the homeless people getting homes.


And HM includes AZNAR (the former president who supported Bush's war though his people didn't) and "SPANISH GUYS ARE PERVERTS." (We'll have to take Elaine's word on that last one.)

Elaine surprised me by joining me in Madrid following her brief trip to Morocco. We were happy to be together again. Together, waiting for my Pulitzer prizes to be mailed to me. I expect to receive seventeen this year. Modest, really.
     We went out one night with a Venezuelan named Ramon. Ramon was big into the Madrid party scene, and he showed us some groovy underground bars. He educated us a bit on world drugs. He'd once taken an Amazonian drug which first made his brain writh as if thousands of little ants were crawling around inside. But, then, "Whoo!" he said, it was good.
     The next night, we went out with Venezuelan Gerardo and his girlfriend. "My boy!!!" Gerardo has called me since we became good friends in Trinidad & Tobago. He's a youth-capturing thirty-year-old with a button nose and Babe Ruth body who's very popular with the ladies.
     We enjoyed sweet dark beer and beer flavored with plantains and pineapples, in a Belgian bar. Music-fan Gerardo talked with punk-fan Elaine about how the first punk rockers got their inspiration by observing Caribbean reggae.
     Little, Italian-blooded Elaine - in her chic black coat - and I said good-bye to Gerardo and Mairin. Gerardo pointed to my girl. "I think it's time for you to settle down."
     But, following Madrid, Elaine and I just took a bus to Portugal ...

Yep. - Modern Oddyseus.
and Elaine

Thanks to Paco & a Romanian lady for a ride!
Much thanks to Gerardo, Mairin, Anna, Lila, & Maxi; and Ramon, Ruth, & Daniel for the places to crash!

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