When you're going through airport security in the US, you often see signs telling you not to joke about bombs or otherwise try to lighten the asinine process. When I was proving to the disarmingly good-looking gate agent in Madrid that I was eligible to fly to the US, he was simultaneously looking at passports and conducting a poll of the best food to eat in Spain.
That story exemplifies for me what made Spain different. Airport security has fun. There's more PDA on display than I've seen anywhere else: from teenagers making out to middle-aged couples grabbing ass - and I do mean grabbing and squeezing - to the elderly couple who'd probably been married a lifetime sneaking kisses while schooling passerby on how to dance the flamenco. The street entertainment never stops: the guy who keeps the soccer ball off the ground to the guy dressed like the alien from Alien pretending to bite people for spare change to the person who is inexplicably headless with his head on a table next to him. I was wandering around one night after dinner and came across an emo-girl with a faux-hawk and Docs who was blowing enormous soap bubbles to earn spare change.
Even the city's most well-known art feels looser. There's no Mona Lisa primly displayed behind glass - instead there's Antoni Gaudi's fantastical buildings with no right angles. There's the Picasso museum where he recreates Velazquez's Las Meninas paintings in multiple cubist renderings. I admit I don't get Picasso and get tired of assembling his cubes to find the complete image but I enjoyed watching his art evolve over the course of his life from straight forward portraits to cubes that focus on the whole rather than the parts.
Some other highlights:
- The food! Predictably, the farther off the tourist track, the better and cheaper the food. House wine was as cheap as water in many places and I got used to drinking it with every lunch, the egg sandwiches were an excellent breakfast, and tapas were so easy and delicious. I tried all sorts of random edibles: local hard cider, fried codfish balls, some killer blue cheese, all sorts of funny sausages, fish of various sorts stuffed into things, rice cooked in pig's blood, panther's milk which a kindly bartender handed us when we were paying our bill. (The explanation took some doing: "Por favor, que es esto?" "Leche de pantera." "Que es leche de pantera?" "Leche de animal." "Leche de que animal?" "Pantera." "Pantera?" "Si, pantera." "Ah, si, si, panther.")
- The Tour de France: I got to watch in person the end of Stage 6 into Barcelona and the beginning of Stage 7 leaving Barcelona en route to Andorra. The tour has become part of my summer routine - for reasons that would need another post to explain - and this was the one of the nicest surprise moments of scheduling I discovered. Very cool moment to be that close to the action.
The notable lowlight was having all my electronics and my passport swiped in Barcelona on my second day. Other than my photos, it was all thankfully replaceable though caused some hassles at the time. Between my cousin Elizabeth getting sick at the end of the trip and my lost stuff, I ended up visiting all the places one doesn't want to go on vacation: police station, consulate, and hospital.
The free and easy way about Barcelona didn't translate that well when things weren't going well: my police report was full of typos and they couldn't have found me even if they had found my things. The place where my bag was stolen was unsympathetic and told me I should've paid better attention and handed us our astronomical bill. But then, Elizabeth's trip to the emergency room was completely free - a courtesy that the US certainly doesn't extend to travelers.
I'm still replacing crap, but the upside is my new iphone! Elizabeth's photos, too, will arrive eventually.
Anyway, that's it, folks. I seem to have fallen out of the blogging habit while on vacation, but my brain is now considering blog-worthy topics again, so I'll be back on a more consistent basis.