April 16, 2010 | Washington
In 48 hours, I’ll be flying on a British Airways jet somewhere over the Atlantic, on my way to London, where I’ll catch another flight to Madrid, the first stop in my three-week Spain/Switzerland/London vacation. Two nights each in Madrid, Toledo, Sevilla and Granada, four nights in Barcelona and three days visiting friends in Switzerland before catching a flight to London where I’ll celebrate Cinco de Mayo with friends then hop on another plane the next day for my flight home. Whew! It is probably a lot. Most people I know go away for two weeks at the most, but I couldn’t go to Europe without visiting my Swiss friends, and I can’t visit them for just a day or two, so I had to tack on that extra week, otherwise I wouldn’t get to see much of Spain. Not that I’m going to see a lot. There’s so much of that country that I’ll probably never see.
Yo no nací pa’ pobre
Me gusta todo lo bueno
That’s from an old José Alfredo Jiménez song (Tu y las Nubes). That’s my attitude for this trip. I’m flying business class across the ocean and back. I’m staying at two relatively fancy hotels in Madrid and Barcelona, thanks to BA frequent flier miles from when our company credit card used to be tied to BA, and to a hotel chain points program. (Not flying completely free: even though the fare is free, I still had to pay all sorts of fees and taxes, so my flight is going to cost me slightly more than what a regular coach seat would have cost me.) And I am taking an overnight train from Barcelona to Geneva — first class, complete with a private berth, dinner, drinks and breakfast. The other hotels aren’t exactly four-star hotels, but they are much better than the relatively cheap touristy hotels I’ve stayed in during my previous European trips.
The way I figure it, because of the way the economy is going, and because my retirement is not that far off (and my income is going to be much lower when I retire), this could well be my last trip to Europe, so I’m going first class – or as close to first class as I can get. I know I’m not supposed to say this, but I’ve worked hard and I’ve earned this.
I’m excited about it, of course, but I’d probably be just as excited if I were getting ready to get in my Ford Fusion and driving west, to Texas, New Mexico, Utah and California. Unlike my older brother, who would spend the rest of his life exploring every corner of the world, I don’t really care if I never see the Far East (although Mongolia, I find very intriguing), Africa (except for Morocco) or India. I do want to see most of South America (I say most because I don’t want to go anyplace where they have snakes fatter than my fat legs!), and I will do that, later and probably on the cheap. And even though I know Berlin and Budapest and Istanbul are wonderful cities, I’m resigned to the fact that I may never see them except in pictures. Unless I win the lottery, of course.
I’m not sure how I feel about Spain. I’m going to Spain because of its color. I see it, in my mind’s eye, as a colorful, colorful country, filled with interesting colorful shapes and forms that I can record with my camera. I’ll probably skip the Prado, just as I’ve skipped the Louvre when I’ve visited Paris. Museums are too time-consuming and I don’t have that much time in any of these cities. My idea of a good vacation is getting up in the morning, having a good hotel breakfast then spending the rest of the day walking around, exploring shops and side streets, parks and people, having a cheap lunch on a park bench then doing more exploring, shooting everything in sight until it’s time for a short rest in my hotel room, which is followed by more exploring and dinner somewhere. Not at fancy restaurants, mind you: I don’t do fancy restaurants alone.
I don’t feel any emotional attachment to Spain, not the way I feel attached to Mexico and even most of the other Latin American countries. I am sure, somewhere in my family tree, particularly on my mother’s side, there are some people who once lived in that country, but there’s no historical record of that. I have no idea where the Spanish Palomos came from and I have no great desire to find out. It’s not important to me. So I’m not on some pilgrimage in search of my roots. I know very little Spanish history and what little I do know (the Inquisition, Franco), is not very appealing. I like Flamenco but it’s not a passion, and while I might get excited about the pageantry surrounding bullfights, I can’t stand the thought of watching someone kill a bull for sport.
I do love the food, though, or what little I know of it. But if I end up having paella and it’s not as good as my nephew Emilio’s, I will be sorely disappointed. My only exposure to tapas has been in Washington and I must say I haven’t been terribly impressed. But my mind is open, and I will be adventuresome when it comes to food.
One thing I am really looking forward to is the Holy Week and Easter pageantry. I’ll be in Toledo on Good Friday and in Sevilla on Easter Sunday, and I am excited about whatever pageantry I can find. Even though I consider myself an atheist, the rituals and pageantry of Catholicism that were a part of my early life are still very much engrained deeply in my heart, and I am still in awe of the magic and mystery of Holy Week and Easter. Nothing like it. Not even the best midnight Christmas mass can hold a candle to the simplest, humblest Holy Week ceremony.
The funny thing is that I know nothing about what awaits me in Spain. I’ve got some guidebooks and I’ve done a bit of Internet research, and friends have sent me some articles, but I can’t bring myself to read most of it. The fact is that I never read tourist guidebooks before I arrive in a country or city. I just can’t do it. I have to be there, and if I have any questions, then I’ll turn to the guidebook. The bad thing about that is that I could very well end up missing some interesting stuff, because I didn’t bother to read about it beforehand, but I’m willing to take that chance.
Given that I have developed a nasty habit of blogging on my vacations, people of course want to know if I’m going to do it again. My usual response is, “We’ll see.” But that’s a lie, I know. Of course I’ll write about this trip, and of course it’ll all go into this blog.
I realize there is a great deal of arrogance to believe that anyone would want to read about what I see and do (particularly since I’m usually bored shitless by other people’s travel writings), but I also know that this is strictly a voluntary thing: if you don’t want to read it, you don’t have to. I make no claim that what I write is better or more interesting than what others write. In fact, I know that my travel writing pales in comparison to what some of my friends produce, but that’s OK. It is what it is, and if you enjoy it, fine. If you don’t, that’s fine too.