Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Coulda Woulda Shoulda.......

I am always amazed at folks like Brendan´s friends Pants and Jay who can bop over to Europe and back in a week. We are just now at the one week mark, and are barely over the jet lag.....and still gobbling Vicodin to try to recover from spinal damage caused by the bulkhead seats on the way over.

Things that are strangest for us Yanks:

It is still pitch black at 7am....and barely light at 8am (no worries for the schoolkids, since they don´t roll out until 9am).

There is mixed-use planning everywhere....every little shop has apartments over it, even in ancient towns like Cadaques.......little shops you can walk to everywhere for everything....The car is just to get from one town to another, and why would you want to do that?

Coffee shops barely open at 8am, and nothing else until at least 10am....then everything shuts down at noon or so for siesta. Shops are still open at 8pm, though. I stood in line at the butcher´s here the other day behind a posse of little old ladies at one in a hurry, there was even a bench to lol bought: a rabbit, two pigs feet, a large dark meat bird, a big chicken with the head and feat still attached, a tiny little veal leg with the foot still on, some hamburger (for the dog) and a couple of quail. Cost? About 30 bucks....or what the chicken would have been at Whole Foods in Monterey. The rabbit was 5 euros...I pay $17 wholesale in Monterey. Then, the supermodel behind the immaculate counter whacked everything up with a big cleaver and wrapped it like Gump´s wraps crystal.

People in shops are super nice and kind.....they actually seem to like their jobs. Even when we stumble around the mix of three or four available languages (Castillian, Catalan, French, English), they smile and accommodate. It actually takes an effort of will power to remember to not feel like you are putting the shopclerk out by actually buying something.....and that it doesn´t matter that you are a tourist.

The quality and selection of meats, cheeses, produce, wines, etc is off the charts. Each corner market makes Nielsen´s look sick. Amanda had to choose between twelve different kinds of oranges the other day in a little shop in Sant Cugat outside Barcelona. We won´t even talk about the meats......or the fish. Rafa was getting ready to open on Monday night and was wading through a big bucket of stuff that The Aquarium would be hard-pressed to match.....most of it still alive. He had a big bag of what looked like plaster ice cream cones that turned out to be some kind of snail......all of it from Roses, the little town we were standing in.

There was an accident in Barça the other night: two idiots racing and one of them nudged the other into an oncoming car....two innocent deaths. Four days later people are so outraged at the uncivilized behavior of the racers that the nightly news in every city is still covering the story. Two guys robbed a 7-11 with a pistol outside Madrid....same deal. And Spain is not some quaint little country.....we drive for five hours on a super highway to get a tiny percentage of the way down the coast, say from Barça to Valencia.

There is frank nudity on the national TV.....and this is a Catholic country. In Zaragoza there are five free channels of hard core porn advertising whorehouses and outcall outfits. There are some seriously hot fragrance ads....ohmigod. Be still my heart!

They have a big abortion problem this week. One could expect this is a country overrun with fundamentalist Catholics and Moslems. Abortion is one of the few things not available for free for everyone through the State health program. Wait, what is the problem? The unionized workers in the private women´s health clinics are on strike. Everyone has an opinion about their wages and benefits.

The young people have actual jobs making actual things. Every time I am blown away by some wild piece of flatware or a crazy plate or glass in a high end restaurant, I turn it over and it is made in Spain. Every little cute village seems to have a couple of big factories on the outskirts, and even art centers like Figueres (Dali´s home town) require fighting through a commercial factory zone before you get to the downtown.

The roads are packed with trucks full of stuff.....packed, solid lines of trucks in the slow lane for hundreds of kilometers.

Real estate is tiny....and insanely expensive. Even in the middle of some industrial area an apartment in a giant high rise will run at least three quarters of a million bucks. In the beautiful areas? Millions and millions. Carmel, by comparison is a shitty boardwalk town for middle manager types.

The dollar, and everything American is worth crap, and is the object of pity and derision.....more pity in the last year. Random gas station attendants will engage you in long discussions about Obama, Hillary and Kucinich....and actually grab your arm and look deep into your eyes and explain how important it is that America get it right this time.

The political news will run on with pictures of meetings between various leaders of all kinds and stripes from all kind of crazy countries....everybody making deals and getting along. Then it will cut to a ten second clip of George Bush standing in front of a bunch of camo-clad soldiers demanding that the world help him attack Iran. Everyone in the every bar in Spain....shakes his or her head, laughs and orders another drink. We have elected a four year old as President, and he is running amok breaking all the other kids´toys.....and is such a pathetic figure that no one is even mad anymore. It is humiliating in the extreme to be so pitied.

My car that I love is an Alfa 147 diesel. Five door, goes like a bat out of hell....and actually gets only 45 miles per gallon, not 60. It is a middle high end car here. Standing in line to change money....another humiliating experience in being pitied by the teller.....I picked up a bank brochure. I could buy my beautiful Alfa Romeo for only 16,000 euros...about $24,, license, doc fees, sales tax, VAT included. There is no remote possibility that any sane European will ever buy anything with wheels made in America, except maybe a Harley Davidson.

Today we drove over the mountain to Cadaques, Salvador Dali´s hometown. It is a gorgeous little port with amazing light....which explains why every painter you ever heard of spent time there eventually. It is located at the end of our peninsula through country very much like that of Big Sur. You pass El Bulli on your way...the world´s most famous restaurant....though El Bulli has its own road and its own little bay. The entire way one can´t help but notice that every inch of every mountain and valley has been terraced. The place is full of slate, and to get topsoil the ancients had to pull out the slate and build little terraces. There are wild olive trees everywhere.....and no people. Thousands and thousands of people must have lived here back in the Greek and Roman times...but the only trace is hundreds of thousands of miles of abandoned terracing. Ask the locals about it and they just shrug. "Oh, that was the Roman times. It didn´t work out."

Perhaps that explains in part why Spain is the country that the United States could have been. Progressive. Intelligent. Functioning industry. Low on violence. Very high tech. Tolerant.

Especially tolerant. All one has to do is look around and you can see the artifacts of one of the last big empires......millions and millions of hours of hard work that eventually went nowhere. The Romans were sure they were right and laid out with swords right and left until...... Until it took the world two thousand years to recover in some Cadaques.

I wish George Bush could escape his retinue of 900 enablers and spend a quiet morning in a cafe in Cadaques, and maybe look out the window on the way in and out.

Humility and perspective seem to be really uselful tools of a modern nation.....



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