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Friday, July 14, 2006

Trains, tapas, and tortilla espanol...

Hi, hi...
I'm back, sorry this took so long. I seem to have a lot of worried friends from lack of blogging, lack of photos.
I'm fine, I'm fine...I've just been in my own world since I got to Europe last week...

Northern Spain, Basque Country, La Rioja…the stuff of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, Michener’s The Drifters, and my latest adventure. Having been in Spain almost ten years ago (gasp!), a mere twenty-one year old (gasp again!) college graduate, I went back and reread my journals before taking this trip to Europe. Not the best idea. Shock, dismay, brief bouts of nausea reading through each day’s entry. Who wrote that?!?! Me? Most certainly not. What a lil’ bitchy thing I was, full of impatience, lacking palate and appreciation of culture, food, and experience. My time in Spain was rife with intolerance of both Lukoff (sorry, lovey) and the ever-ADD-Nabi, as we made our way from Barcelona to Sevilla, Madrid to Logrono, and finally, to Pamplona where we proceeded to sleep in an ATM booth while Nabi took bong hits from Spanish strangers out of carved melons and I struggled with bronchitis. In the morning, after a good night’s ATMisery, we “watched Todd run” with the bulls perched high on fences above the chaos. Exactly… Spain didn’t leave the best impression. So, I was most eager to come back and reacquaint myself with this country, on my own terms.

After a very long plane ride that landed me in Paris at 8 AM, followed by a day spent endlessly wandering the streets of Montparnasse and St. Germaine du Pres, loitering in coffee shop upon coffee shop eyes wide shut until my 11 PM (yep…) train to San Sebastian (NOT a sleeping train, mind you…), I was very VERY happy to finally arrive. I most definitely blocked out what train travel, Eurail (Hello, 1996! Plum, Luke..where are you?) travel is like. Though, it’s certainly not your average, door-to-door-taxi-counter-check-your-luggage-5-hour-American-Airlines-flight-with-a-snack-blanket-and-window-seat-nook-for-a-good-nap-after-popping-an-Ambien, that’s for sure. It’s more like keep-your-eye-on-your-triple-locked-luggage-at-all-times-don’t-tangle-your-feet-with-the-person-sitting-across-from-you-or-make-too-much-eye-contact-during-the-10-hours-you’re-spending-together-go-hungry-and-thirsty-and-hope-for-the-best kind of a scenario.

Still, getting to Spain felt good. Familiar, even. I know I haven’t been to San Sebastian specifically, but Europe, even Paris earlier, and now Spain, felt familiar. I guess having spent the last nine months only being in places that were completely foreign, lacking anything you can liken to things in the States, Europe offers familiarity that felt different. Weird, almost. I’m still trying to figure out if that’s good or bad. I think I’ve gotten so used to novelty that anything partially comfortable is disconcerting. (I’m sure my parents are cringing reading that…)

Anyway, San Sebastian was a stunning seaside town, on par with Monte Carlo and Nice. It’s fabulous, you can feel it as you walk around; this is a European Hamptons, of sorts. Although, inherently Spanish. With MUCH better architecture. But not as good shopping. The glory of being a Spaniard… Aaah, that life. Sleep until ten or so (the cafes didn’t open until around 10 each day and, even then, they were scrambling to serve the waiting early-rise, mostly American tourists), work a bit, maybe until around 1. Take a long, wine-fueled lunch, have a siesta, start work again around 4:30. Stop around 8, grab some tapas, head to dinner around 11, linger longer, go out and dance. Sleep, repeat as needed. A good life, indeed. The streets of the old city – winding four/five storied connected buildings of browns, beige and rusts, terraced with potted begonias dripping off the green/blue/red shutters – pulsed with the tapas scene. Pinxtos, they’re called here. All day long, it’s just tapas bar after tapas bar after tapas bar (Lukoff! The bendy-match tapas bar!). You can find people at all times crowding around a bar, crumpled napkins strewn all over the floor (it took a while for me to just litter like that…), as they devour their pinxtos; sangria, wine or cava (their version of champagne) in hand, nibbling, sipping, and moving on. It’s all on the honor system, so you can have two tapas, walk away, go for a run, buy a shirt, come back and pay. I mean…. I will admit that I had to test the system JUST ONCE and walked off after a red wine and a seafood au gratin shell (Mom, it was coquille, delish!) and nary an officer (or bar-man) tracked me down. Dangerous to know. I kinda felt accomplished. I’m not a shove-your-face tapas’er that hovers at the bar, being obvious. I’m more picky as I’m not a huge fan of bacalao (cod), which is a staple, or anchovies (another hot topper), or mayo, which is a base for so many little treats. So, I would skulk through each potential tapas bar before I would commit to it. Sometimes more than once, just to be sure. I think I freaked people out a little. I stuck to the really healthy stuff: tortilla espanol, croquetas, chorizos, fried cheese/meat dumplings, stuffed pimientos. Right.... And, anytime I was slightly hungry, I just stopped off for a tapa, which became three, which became five, throw in a cava, SURE. Bad, bad, bad… And while tapas are fantastic and all, don’t even get me started on the actual restaurants…

I think my cholesterol has skyrocketed already because anyone who knows me knows that my absolute favorite food in the whole is my grandmother’s (and mom’s) potato and eggs. Which is, basically, tortilla espanol. I have about 4 a day. I already had two for breakfast (it’s 10 AM right now). Here they serve them on bread. Like you need bread to sandwich your potatoes! But hey, I’m not REALLY arguing. I spent a couple of days on the beach, people-watching; pondering the weird, weird hair cuts and colors of the Spanish teenagers (and adults) and adoring the little kids playing in their red-white little outfits in celebration of the Running of the Bulls. I spent a couple of days wandering the city, overhearing the shouts of World Cup’s finale, the gasps at the nightly newsreels of Pamplona’s injured, and the sighs after Nadal’s Wimbledon loss (a very sad day for Spain). My “wow” moment, I guess, was getting into my elevator, bleary-eyed at 9 AM yesterday as I made my way down to the gym, only to think I “knew” the crotchety, dirty old man in the elevator with me. Why do I know this skeevy grandpa beatnik? Um, maybe because it was Bob Dylan. He was playing a concert there the day I was leaving, I had read about it in the papers every day, I mean… It was the concierge, my man Carlos, who said when I asked him for a gym pass – you see Bob Deeelin? Aha! Right. Crotchety.

And, now onto Bilbao to see the Guggenheim. Cannot wait. I hear it’s amazing.

More soon.