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Articles: Only a Decade Late, Part 2
Posted by Schizo on Tuesday, June 07, 2011 - 11:31 AM PST

Cult
So, it seems like my installments are being written at the speed of Shmeng. I guess it's a good thing that my trip to Spain was so memorable, I can wait four months and remember it like it happened yesterday.
Let's return to our heroine, as she sits in the passenger seat of Arthegarn's little red European car (he made sure to tell me that he bought it off of a friend, and did NOT pick the color!), heading from the Barajas airport towards downtown Madrid.

I had seen Spain from the sky, but seeing it from the road was an entirely different matter. I was awash in unfamiliarity from the beginning, and in my state of exhaustion, the effect was surreal. To my left, Arthegarn, the man I had never met before but had known for a decade. Dressed in formal and impeccable black, and speaking nearly non-stop in his excellent and charmingly-accented English. To my right, the window, which displayed a blur of enigmatic street signs (The Spanish take a minimalist approach to their street signs. No blatant "SPEED LIMIT 65 MPH" for them. We're talking colored circles and white numbers, and only the initiated can guess the true meaning.) and exotic fauna. I saw palm trees and flowers growing outside in February, a far cry from the four foot snow banks I had left behind in New Hampshire.

As we entered the city proper, I began to realize that the Spanish have a very different approach to driving than I am used to. Now, in New Hampshire, Massachusetts drivers have a very bad reputation, particularly Boston drivers. They are (by stereotype) rude and pushy, cavalier when it comes to stop lights, and possessing a penchant for road rage and cutting people off. But the drivers in Madrid make Masshole drivers look like that seventy-year-old veteran in the 80's era sedan, you know, the one with the long line of cars behind him, with his hearing aid turned down so he can't hear all the horns blaring at him, as he drives twenty miles under the speed limit with his turn signal on, with his blue-haired wife seated demurely next to him.

In Madrid, traffic lanes are more of a suggestion than anything else. In Madrid, the buses and the motorcycles rule. The buses, because they are big, and anyone smaller than them is beneath their notice. (Arthegarn and I nearly got squashed flat between two buses that both decided they wanted to be in our general lane-ish area.) The motorcycles, because they are so much smaller than everyone else, so they can fit in just about any space. No waiting in line at the red light for them! All motorcycle drivers to the front!

The only orderly driving I saw in Spain, besides the near-deserted highways, was in the long tunnels. They pay for the tunnels with their extraordinarily strict speed limit enforcement. You are timed from the moment you enter the tunnel, until the moment you exit. If you exit ahead of schedule, you are automatically ticketed. One strategy to avoid an inadvertent ticket is to deliberately drive significantly under the speed limit for a portion of the tunnel. That way, if you speed a little by mistake on your way through, you'll still be safe.

Arthegarn made sure to take me to his apartment by routes that would show me things I would not see later in my visit. He was an excellent tour guide, but I'm afraid I was a less than fully cognizant tourist, and I have only the vaguest impressions of that trip. I remember some beautiful buildings, a few fountains, and a modern sculpture in the center of a traffic circle that moved subtly in the wind. I also remember seeing the memorial for the bomb victims near the train station. It is generally considered to be unimpressive to the point of being insulting, and I must say I tend to agree.

Eventually, we arrived at Arthegarn's apartment and I met Ana, and learned from her to greet people the European way. Ana is tiny and adorable. Her English is not quite as good as Arthegarn's, and much more heavily accented, but it is much better than she gives herself credit for, and I had no problem communicating with her. And, after all, her English is much better than my Spanish!

I was escorted to my room at the end of a long, dark, C-shaped hallway, and informed that I would be allowed to shower and change, but that I would not be going to bed yet. As tired as I was, I would be in better shape in the long run if I made a late night of it tonight. So, after cleaning up, Arthegarn and Ana took me out to a nearby bar to give me my first taste of Spain.

And I must say, Spain tastes very good.

First, let me talk about cidra. Cidra is a Spanish cider. Traditionally, you pour it from bottle to glass from as great a distance as you can manage, which makes the cidra frothy and champagne-y. This tends to be a messy process. So someone got smart and invented a special cidra dispenser, that attaches to the top of the bottle and squirts bubbly goodness into your glass sans mess. You drink it a couple swallows at a time, before it goes flat. It is very, very yummy. And I drank a lot of it. Several bottles worth. Arthegarn and Ana helped, but I kind of think I was hogging it a little.

We also ordered some tapas to go with the cidra. Little slices of crusty bread topped with a variety of delicacies. Jamon, of course, is a favorite. Jamon, of course, translates to "ham" in English, but this is not like English ham, all soft and pink. Jamon is a big deal in Spain, and you can buy it by the fully-recognizable leg, hoof and all, and you carve slices off of it. It is heavily streaked with fat, and cured much harder than our ham. Slice it very thin, and let it rest a bit, and it is heaven.

I also had tapas topped with smoked salmon, various mysterious pastes, and something made from soy that was supposed to look and taste like baby eels, which is far more expensive. It was interesting. Tasted alright, but looked truly strange, like curly grey wormy things.

Earlier, I had dared Arthegarn to do his worst when it came to my culinary adventures, and he threatened me with octopus. I, of course, said "bring it on!" so he did. A plate of fried octopus tentacles, in all its suction-cuppy glory, was duly placed in front of me. It was yummy. I was disappointed, however, that fried suction cups don't stick to anything. I think I had drunk a considerable amount of cidra at this point.

Once we had cleaned this bar out of cidra and faux baby eels, we moved on to an Irish pub. Arthegarn and I each had a beer. Ana ordered a Frangelico, but started to not feel well before she could finish it, and went home. As Spaniards are much more free about sharing when it comes to food and drink (no germophobes here!) I was encouraged to drink both my beer and Ana's Frangelico. Then we went home.

When we got back, I was in that strange frame of mind where I was far too tired to sleep, and far too buzzed to be shy. So Arthegarn and I stayed up and began to talk, while Ana listened in patience and amusement on the couch. Arthegarn broke out both the whisky and the brandy for me to sample. I think I drank more in my week in Spain than I do all year in America. And I think I drank as much that night as I did all the rest of the week combined. I would love to tell you more about that late night conversation, but I'm afraid I don't remember all that much of it, strangely. All I do remember is that Arthegarn needs to remember that raising an eyebrow is NOT the same as winning an argument.

Eventually, I was ordered off to bed, as we had to get up early the next morning. Well, technically, it was already the following morning. Incidentally, Arthegarn is very good at issuing orders. One would almost think he were a dom or something!

And thus concluded my first evening in Spain.


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Only a Decade Late, Part 2 | Login/Create an account | 3 Comments
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Re: Only a Decade Late, Part 2
by Schizo on Jun 07, 2011 - 01:36 PM
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Flora! Exotic flora, not exotic fauna. Gah! In my defense, I'm a bit loopy on allergy meds right now.


Re: Only a Decade Late, Part 2
by MystryssRavynDarque on Jun 20, 2011 - 01:45 AM
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It sounds like a great trip! I'm so glad everyone is keeping in touch and still meeting up, even this far down the road.

The idea of fake baby eel is interesting to me, but if it tastes good then go for it!

The germ thing isn't so big a deal here either. People share drinks, kisses, etc. all of the time.

Come on over!


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