Spain (continued) To the End of the Known World, And Beyond

Spain
(continued)

To the End of the Known World, And Beyond

12/3/97

The next four days would turn out to be the best touring I ever have experienced.  Not only was the company delightful, but the places we visited were stunning, even more so than the ones we have been visiting in the area near Madrid.   We are heading for Andalucia, the area where the Moors entered Spain and where they last had control of any region of the peninsula.  And to the End of the Known World.

From this region Columbus set forth.  Gypsies settled and survived the
Inquisition, and here their music is said to be best preserved.  The
local Moorish architecture is superior to anything in Europe.
Mudéjar, a combination of Moorish architecture with European, is only
found in this area.  There are great cathedrals and castles, sometimes
next to, sometimes inside great Moorish structures.  There are
brilliant white villages on hillsides.  Moorish and European
structures from the middle ages and before grace the hills and town,
and there are also remnants of the Visigoths.  This German tribe
replaced the Romans as rulers and it was they who fought the invading
Berbers, the first of the Moors, some of them perhaps descendents of
Visigoths who had earlier migated to northern Africa.

Here is the end of the known world for the Greeks, and the place of
Hercules’ Pillars, where Europe nearly kisses Africa.  I fantasize us
being kidnapped by Islamic fundamentalists or being sold in  slave
markets.  Or of on a whim taking the ferry to Tangier and coming home
with a carpet that is beautiful but of no use to travellers.

The Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabel, are buried in magnificent
tombs.  Columbus too has found his final resting place.

The four of us (Peg and I are joined by Neal and Susan from Dallas)
head south in our rental vehicle.  I hum tunes from the Man of La
Mancha, now playing for the first time in Spain (in Spanish), as we
drive through the dry terrain to Granada.  The road passes through the
Sierra Morena.  It winds towards and through mountain passes.  The
steep mountain sides and deep gullies and canyons can be breathtaking.
They rival what I have seen in Colorado and the Alps, although the
mountains are not as high as the Rockies nor as pastoral as the Alps.
For anyone, the Sierra Nevadas would be worthwhile even if the
treasures of Andalucia were not beckoning.

Granada

Granada was our first stop, and while we were still on our way there
we decided to add a little trip to the coast after we see the city.
Grenada is only about 45 kilometers from the coast, someone said, so
why not go the coast while we are here?  It’s just a short trip and
besides, Granada is the Alhambra, the Albaicín (the Moorish quarter),
the gypsy section and little else.

We arrived in Granada around 6 p.m. stayed in a delightful hotel
called the Reina Sofia.  For 6000 ptas (about $42) each couple had a
large room, attractive bathroom with hair dryer, television with lots
of stations including CNN and a remote control, and a telephone.  The
tile was outstanding in quality of materials and workmanship.  We
found this place at a tourist bureau, whose helpful employee noted
that there were very few rooms left due to a medical convention.

That evening we attended a Flamenco production in the Sacromonte (the
gypsy quarter) for 3000 ptas ($20).  I attended one such show in
Madrid in 1967, and another in Colorado in the late 1970’s.  This
location was certainly the more authentic.  We were taken to one of
the many caves the gypsies had carved from the hillside starting in
the 1500’s or so.  The cave was long (maybe 75′) and narrow (maybe
30′).  The stage offered no entrance for the performers.  They came
and went via the main isle.

I think the performance ranked higher than the one I saw in Spain (dim
in my memory, though) yet oddly enough not as good as the one in
Colorado.  The latter was no doubt a cream-of-the-crop touring
production.  Here, the rhythmic clapping was not quite as sharp, nor
was the stomping, the guitar work not quite as good, and the singing
was way below par.  Yet I felt it was a honest act.  There were
neither silly roses nor knives in the mouth.  The entertainers were
obviously not chosen for their personal beauty.  There were no
tantalizing bodily exposures.  Mostly there was just good dancing, a
good rhythm held by guitar or board (not a bongo drum, as some use)
and the clapping-you-only-hear-in-Spain of the otherwise resting
performers.  One woman sang reasonably well, but the man had little to
offer.  I overheard him say during a break that he had a bad cold.
That explained it.  His sneezes and nose-blowing, performed while I
watched, were the real thing.

I can not say I was thrilled to death, but I did feel that my co-
voyagers got a fair sample of this uniquely Spanish music.  They did
not get a fair sample of the sangria that was included.  It was
sugary, grape colored water.  On the other hand, we did not have to
suffer through dinner and a performance that started at midnight.  We
were home by then.  On the way, we were treated to delightful views of
the Alhambra and the city, despite the clouds.

12/4/97

The Alhambra and then to the coast

The next morning was again cold and rainy.  Nonetheless we took the
local bus to the entrance of the Alhambra, a mere 15 minute ride up
the hill. From the entrance gate (price 600 ptas/person) we climbed
about 10 minutes to the Alhambra.

The Alhambra, founded in 1248, is actually a complex of buildings
including the fortress, palace, gardens, housing and related
structures.  Most of them are gone and not all that remain are
Moorish.  Notably not Moorish is the Renaissance-style Palacio de
Carlos VI, begun in 1526.

The site was selected for its defensive capabilities.  This selection
was done even before the Roman occupation.  On top of a steep hill, it
offered protection for the Moors not only from the Christians
(Visigoths, surviving Romans and whatever remnants of older, Iberian
tribes remained in 711 AD) but also from any pirates cruising the Med.
We are now protected by the Sierra Nevadas to the south, across which
said pirates would have to pass before attempting to take Granada.  At
this time of year, they would have needed skis.

The major Moorish structures are the Alcazaba, the fortress and the
Royal Palace.  The Alcazaba offers a tremendous view of Granada from
its Torre de la Vela (a tower).

The decoration is astounding.  Some of the ceilings are dripping in
stalactite, which is carved stone or plaster shaped into cubes.  It is
as if you are looking up and into dozens of miniature towers whose
bottoms have been stripped away so that you can look inside.  I have
never seen ceilings like this before.  Other ceilings are richly
decorated in tiles.  One is frescoed, but this may have been done by
Christians.

There are numerous fountains.  Many small ones add tranquility to the
setting.  There are also baths that were used by the Yusuf (1334-54)
and his successors, together with wives and eunuchs.

The site is enchanting, and revealing of what heights the Moors of
Spain achieved before finally surrendering to Ferdinand and Isabel in
the Sala de Embajadores (the Ambassadors Salon) in 1492.

Some paint remains here and there, blue and green as I recall.  Except
where the Spanish have decorated, you seen no representations of
living creatures, human or otherwise, as this is prohibited in the
Koran.  The main restriction the Moors placed upon Christian subjects
was the prohibition of such representations.  The Moors decorated with
intricate patterns that I find attractive and a respite from the
religious gore and royal worship that so dominated the Europe of the
middle ages.

The weather discouraged walks in the General Life (from the Moorish
‘Gennat Alarif,’ Garden of the Architect).  Gypsies or would be
gypsies push you into having your palm read and then demand payment as
you await the bus.  I snookered Neal into having it done.  I owe him
100 ptas.

The Capilla Real (Royal Chapel) is the burial spot of Ferdinand and
Isabel.  The Chapel is a masterpiece of Isabelline Gothic
architecture.  The tombs are elaborately decorated marble.  In  the
sacristy they exhibit Ferdinand’s sword and Isabel’s crown, and other
fabulous items.

Nearby is a gigantic Cathedral, one of few to which you pay to enter.
It makes you feel puny.  Today, it made me also feel glad to have a
car with a heater.  So much stone exudes bone-chilling cold.  Must be
nice in here in the summer.

We depart for the coast around 2 p.m.  A different map tells us the
coast is 71 km (40 miles) away, not 40 something km.  And now that Peg
looks a little more carefully, she sees that it is only a few hundred
kilometers to Gibraltar.  I have long wanted to go to Gibraltar.
Maybe we would want to live there some day; after all, Gibraltar is
part of the UK and they speak English.  So our journey grows in the
number of places we intend to visit.

So it is 71 km to the coast, 105 to Malaga, and 120 to Gibraltar.
Piece of cake.  So it is to Gibraltar we head.  Climbing into the
Sierra Nevadas, we take in a few more mountainly views, and then
descend to the coast.  We then are treated to 235 km or so of largely
wonderbar views of the coast.

As we near Gibraltar, we think we see Africa across the way, but maybe
we see only the coast curving into a bay.  It is dark as we round a
curve to see The Rock powerfully illuminated.  We pass through
Immigration after only a little confusion.  It is getting late so we
check out hotels along the way.  The ones we find are either full or
too pricey.  Winding our way through one way streets and then we begin
climbing.  We find ourselves following a sign for the Rock and soon we
have a panoramic view of the harbor, a good portion of the town and a
dark mass of land across the way.  That must be Africa.   The
continuing search for accommodation leads us downtown, wherever that
is.  We park and send out reconnaissance teams.  I happen upon a place
that is reasonably priced and reasonable in other respects (except for
the lack of heat, but that matters less here).  For £30 (about $45) we
get a room, a nearby bathroom and toilet, and an English breakfast in
the morning.

The high costs of the hotel and dinner remind Peg and I why we are not
in the U.K.  Strike Gibraltar off the list of potential places to
live.

12/5/97

As the sun rises it illuminates Morocco, a stone’s throw away (14
miles).   Tons of shipping passes before us, in and out of the Med.
We get into the car and climb the Rock.  The Rock is 1369′ high.  In
ancient Greece it was one of the two Pillars of Hercules, which is
said to have marked the limits of the Western world.  It also was
where the Moors started their conquest of Spain.  There is a large
statue about halfway up where we stand in the strong, cold wind
looking across the straight.  This is the Rock’s southern tip and is
called the Punta Grande de Europa (Great or Grand Point of Europe).
Across the straight a mountain between the cities of Ceuta and
Tangiers formed the other Pillars of Hercules.  There is a lighthouse
here that can be seen 17 miles away by sailors.  The Rock climbs
steeply from here, where you pay £5 each (!) to enter.

It is one of these special places to which so much history is attached
that you can almost see and hear the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans
passing below in ships of sail and banks of rowing slaves.  If I stand
here long enough, will these ancient people appear before me?  The
words of General Patton, at least the movie version, come to my mind:
“I was here.”  That’s what I felt, however ridiculous that may seem.

On our way out of Gibrlatar we look at the harbors where mariners
might prepare for or recover from the straights.  On from Gibraltar,
we climb along the Straights.  We see the mixing of the Atlantic and
Med. seas, where strong, opposing currents and powerful winds
sometimes make life difficult for boats. We stop at a small coffee
shop, a dump with a view.  Later we stop again, this time on the
shore.  A fabulous restaurant here offer wonderful seafood including
the lobsters that rest in tanks.

In Cádiz, we witness ancient Roman ruins, this of a coliseum.  The
city on the peninsula was founded by Phoenicians in 1100 B.C.  It may
be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the West.  Hannibal and
Julius Caesar slept here, the latter as mayor.  Columbus set out from
here on his second voyage.  Cádiz came to monopolize trade with the
New World after the Guadalquivir silted up, strangling Sevilla.

The old quarter is said to be African in appearance but I saw nothing
that looked particularly African to me.  Perhaps “Northern African” is
what is meant, but I do not know what that means, not having been
there or studied photographs.  Here the streets are narrow, but that
is not unusual.  Maybe I am getting spoiled.  “Oh, just another
charming, narrow, stone lined street with buildings hundreds of years
old, entrances of decorated tile, in a city with just 2000 years of
history.”

Well, we had enough of this excessive charm and off we went to
Seville, about 90 miles to the northwest, but only after (yawn)
another delightful lunch for 1200 ptas.

Sevilla had a small hostal just waiting for us to show up for the last
two rooms.  Tomorrow is December 6, and today begins the three day
holiday weekend, ending with another holiday on the 8th.  We went out
for a wee walk.  Three hours later we dragged ourselves back to the
hotel to get ready for dinner.

This is one of Peg’s typical wee walks.  These start off sounding like
a trip to the corner and end hours and hours later in exhaustion.
They seem to grow, just like this whole trip to the south of Spain has
grown.

We meandered past the Cathedral and the Alcazar, the latter in the
Mudéjar style.  This word means “a combination of Moorish and
Christian architecture.”  It is an excellent, perhaps the best example
of this type of building.  There is a monumental plaza with the
world’s third largest cathedral on one side and the Alcazar on the
other.  There are narrow, tunnel-like streets everywhere you turn,
often lined with orange trees ripe with fruit.  The Barrio de Santa
Cruz was once the Jewish part of town.  Now the wealthier live here in
fantastically restored and decorated residences.  The buildings are
all whitewashed and decorated with tiles (I think) and flowers.

We pass an old cigar factory (no, they did not make old cigars there).
The building is now part of la Universidad de Sevilla.  We passed a
statue of Columbus and the Plaza de Toros, where they still kill the
bulls.

I asked an old man where the Plaza de España was.  He said, “It is not
here.”  He used the verb “ser.”  I was most disconcerted by his
grammar, not by his obscure, perhaps smart-ass answer.  My Spanish
teachers drummed the proper use of ser and estar into me.  And they
told me that you use the verb estar for location.  He said, “No es
aquí.”  He should have said, “No está aqui.”  Or my memory is worse
than I remember.

We found the Plaza de España without much difficulty.  This Plaza was
constructed for a fair in 1929.  Each of Spain’s region has a section
of decorated tiles.  There are large fountains.  All of this is
spotlighted at night.  A beautifully tree-lined road carries
pedestrians and traffic into the park which nestles against the Plaza.

Through darkening streets we walk.  We spot a friendly looking bar,
whose sole employee is mopping.  She turned out to be the owner.  Her
bar has been mentioned several times, I think, in Let’s Go.  She has
one of these books that people can make comments in and she shows it
to us.  Many places, not just bars, offer these books.  A notice calls
attention to this book as a place where customers can make complaints.
Her book is full of compliments, if not on her cooking (good and cheap
but not fantastic and cheap), then on her great charm.  They are not
exagerating her charm.  Most comments are in English. Apparently Let’s
Go gets her quite a lot of business.

Our worn legs carry us back to the hotel and out to dinner.  The night
is filled with the noise of countless young people.  My room faces the
plaza.  The bar finally closes at 4:00 a.m.  I vow not to let Neal
negotiate the room deal next time.  He was up to no good on this one!
Revenge for the gypsy?

12/6/97

Perhaps it was the lack of sleep.  But I think that the state of
samadhi I am approaching as I stand in the Plaza Triunfo is the
accumulative effect of the Alhambra, the Pillar of Hercules, the views
of the Straight, Cádiz and last nights splendorous trek through the
streets of Sevilla.  Sevilla is, after all, the prettiest city in a
country full of pretty cities.

To my left is the Alcázar, to my right the Cathedral, to my back the
Barrio de Santa Cruz.  And there is beauty in every other direction as
well.  As Joel Gray said in “Cabaret,” even the orchestra is
beautiful.”

The Alcázar was built in the mid-1300’s.  It was designed and built by
Moorish workers but it is not Moorish architecture, despite the feel
of that style the building exudes.  It is Mudéjar, probably the best
example of that style anywhere.  Its outer wall is Moorish.  We did
not go into the palace.

I stand in front of the Cathedral and look at it while occasionally
glancing at the Alcázar less than 100 yards away.  The Cathedral is a
replacement for the mosque which stood on the site.  The clergy
renounced their income for the cause of building it; they announced
that they wanted to build something so big that they would be thought
to be insane.  They succeeded.  This monumental building was completed
in 100 years.  It is the biggest and highest cathedral in Spain, the
largest Gothic building in the world, and the third largest church
after St. Peter’s in Rome and St. Paul’s in London.  It is not just
big.  It is pure gothic gorgeousness.  Huge flying buttresses.
Towers.  Steep roofs.  Carvings to knock your socks off.  They were
crazy.

I did not go in.  Susan went in.  She climbed to the top.  She saw the
Capilla Real, the Royal Chapel and the Capilla Mayor.  The latter has
a carved altar, and a 65′ high x 43′ wide retable that is the largest
anywhere, containing 36 scenes from the life of Christ.  Tons of gold.
There is also a monument to Columbus and here he is buried.

Well, enough of this fabulous place.  On to Córdoba!

Cordoba: The Most Stunning

Cordoba has the most stunning thing I have ever seen, natural or man
made: the Mezquita (mosque).

It was built between the 8th and 10th century.

There are 850 columns, each joined by arches.  These are inside the
building.  The arches are made of red bricks, I think, and white
stone, alternating with one another.  In each direction you gaze your
vision is filled with this color pattern and the effect is
mesmerizing, the more so because of the sheer size of the building.

The mosque was built on a Visigoth site, which has been recently
excavated.  The Visigoths came here from the area we now call Germany
in about 500 A.D.  The Moors used column caps from these Visigoths to
adorn the columns.  These caps are beautifully carved.

The ceiling is carved, the material is cedar.

For the Moors, the Mezquita was the 2nd most important muslim
pilgrimage site after Mecca.

It contains some Roman pillars.

Inside this huge, gorgeous, stunning mosque is a huge cathedral
(1500’s), golden from floor to ceiling.  Alone it is impressive, in
here, it is both odd and astounding.

I float out.  I am in the beyond.

12/10/97

Peg is going to try teaching English.  She called two companies to
find out what they were looking for.  Did they need a TEFL (Teaching
Language as a Foreign Language) certificate? Did they need you to
already have a work permit?  After talking to her and finding out that
she was not a college student or just looking for a way to finance an
after-college journey, one offered, nay, begged her to work four days
a week, all day.  No, she did not need TEFL, nor a work permit.  She
finally turned it down.  Another has her working two days a week, but
close by and only an hour a day.  Peg will find out if she likes the
work, at least.  The pay is about $12/hour (tax free-  they take
nothing out).  It is something to do, although that is less important
here than in Montpelier.  I think it is good to know that we can make
money here if we need to.  The four day a week job paid a little more,
almost enough to support a very basic life style.  If I worked, we
could make a little gravy.

Peggy has decided that since she broke the camera on our trip to the
west, and since we cannot keep anything anyway, we will not have a
camera.  I have been secretly exploring the idea of a digital camera,
sending photos to our friends on a diskette.  But that is about $600.
Although the market has done well this past year, we still feel
compelled to stick to our original budget.

We went to an Irish pub.  The pub sells “pintos” and “semipintos” of
Guinness.  They distribute an English language paper, called In
Madrid.  It’s free and its classifieds are on the net at
http://www.softguides.com.  The main article in the December edition is
“Festive Fizz.”  The fizz referred to is “Cava.”  That’s champaign and
it can be as good or better (or worse) than its counterpart to the
north.  Cava production began in 1792.  Jose Raventos inherited a
vineyard and after visiting France, decided to try to make champagne.
He used the traditional methods, just as they do now.  They start with
white or red made from Macabeo, Xarello and Paradella.  I have no idea
what these grapes are.  They may even be identical with grapes we
know.  Most of the cava is produced in Catalonia, outside Barcelona.

12/12/97

Walked to Peggy’s new employer.  Friendly, lots of materials.  They do
not know how to start off a new teacher.  Few books to check out.
They photocopy all or parts of them instead.  Lesson plans apparently
non-existent.  They have forms where previous teachers have room for a
sentence or two to say what they have done.

We walked to the International Bookstore.  They are closed for nappy
nappy (siesta) from 2:00-5:00.  We can not seem to remember that most
small stores are closed at these times.  We then went to the Plaza de
España.  It is a enormous and lovely plaza with fountains and statues.
Nearby is a placed called the Hollywood, a bar.  There a black woman
from Venezuela (she says “Benzuela”) who loves to chat decided to
practice her English with, or is it “on” us.  She told us how people
in many Spanish-speaking countries dropped the ending sounds of many
words.

She said she worked in some sort of movie business or perhaps on a set
when she was young.  This required her to learn English.  She is here
taking an English course.

We saw the movie “In and Out.”  Kevin Kline.

Strange Movies

12/13/97

To the Reina Sophia; today there is no admission charge. This is a
large museum containing mostly modern art.  They regularly have
significant temporary exhibits.  Now it is Fernand Leger, the French
painter who worked from the cubism of his teens until his death in the
mid-1950’s.  Several paintings from the 1950’s showed steel workers on
skyscrapers.  He is a sort of reverse Greco:  all his figures are
round, fat.  Some of his stuff is exceedingly busy.  Or would one say
too complicated?  Flying forms, shadows.  Sharp, dark lines.

His drawings and preparatory sketches are often quite good.  His
paintings show that he knew how to draw.  He understood form and
figure.  I cannot say I’d go out of my way to see his stuff, but his
stuff seems direct, and without affectation.  And he was not a lazy
artist: his canvases took a lot of effort, and he painted a great
deal.

Afterwards we attend the flicks that the museum is showing.  The
series is entitled “Máquina Fílmica,” “Machinery in Film.”  The series
contains seldom seen films from the turn of the century and onwards.
They generally deal with industrial activities.  There are 40 films in
this series, shown in groups of two or three once a week between mid-
November and the end of the year.  Without doubt this unusual
collection took a lot of work and money to prepare.  There was an
opening night talk to start things off.  The brochure is
professionally done.  The museum costs $4.50 or so to get into (free
Saturday after 2 p.m. and all day Sunday), so it offers an
extraordinary value to anyone with the time and interest in Picasso
(Guernica and other, even better works), Dali (mostly earlier works)
and more, more, more.

This afternoon’s selections – the Spanish think that afternoons<
(“tardes”) last until 9 or 10 p.m. – consist of:

1)   “Leaving A Factory” (France, 1 minute, 1895, yes, the year of
production was 1895).  People dressed as they dressed then
leaving a factory.

2)   “The Electric Hotel” (Spain, 8 minutes, 1908).  This is a
hilarious look at the “hotel of the future.”  A couple comes in
for an overnight stay.  Their luggage is magically transported to
their rooms by electric powered gizmos and a thing a ma gig
unpacked, re-folded and put in drawers.  They come upstairs in a
(crude to us) elevator.  In the room, a set of buttons is ready
to do their bidding.  He pushes one and she is transported on a
sliding chair to a mirror.  A comb and brush appear to do her up.

He pushes another and his face is first washed, then shaved, and
finally his very long sideburns are brushed out.  Some of this
photography was accomplished by stop action.  I think some must
have been done by covering the actor with blue and filtering out
the blue.

Some of the future as this movie shows it has not yet arrived.
We still have to fold our shirts by hand.  This film envisions us
having mastered this trick by now.

3)   “Electric Hotel,” (Buster Keaton 1922, 20 minutes); Old Buster is
up to his old tricks, and he does them hilariously well in this
one.  His girlfriend’s father hires him to electrify the house.
We open to Buster’s first demonstration to his father-in-law-to-
be-he-hopes.  First, dad, try out the stairs.  The wooden stairs
move.  Dad goes up and down just fine.  Then its billiards.  As
the balls are pocketed, they roll to the floor and are conveyed
to the wall where they are deposited in each player’s box.  At
the end of the game, a wooden channel lands on the table.  The
balls gently return to the table into the rack.  It’s your turn
to rack, Dad.  Then its dinner time.  The chairs are on tracks
and seat you like a waiter would, sliding under your derrier.  A
wooden bridge that perfectly matches the wall paneling comes
down.  An electric train delivers the soup, returning to collect
the dishes and delivering the next course.  A dishwashing machine
washes the plates and deposits them on a conveyor belt, feeding
them to the staff who puts them away.  Outdoors, moving a large
lever empties and fills the swimming pool in a matter of moments.

There are a few problems, though.  Dad gets on the staircase and
is zoomed up so fast that he flies out the window and ends up in
the swimming pool.  Fortunately it is full.  Buster disconnects
the food delivery track by mistake.  Four bowls of soup end up in
would-be-mom’s lap.  But all is forgiven.

Enter the villain.  He is mad at Buster for getting the
electrification job.  He creates havoc with the wiring.  When you
turn on the stairs, something else moves instead.  Bodies, food,
hair pieces, and anything else Buster could think of, are flying
about.  Soon Buster is in deep doo doo with Dad.  Despondent,
Buster ties a rock around his neck and jumps in the pool.  The
girlfriend pushes the lever and empties it.  Her father refills
it and leaves. She empties it and Buster is gone, washed down the
drain.  He emerges from the other end, returns to the house and
finds that the villain has created all the havoc.  He throws pots
into the electrical room and we leave as the villain jiggles as
electrical sparks fly everywhere.

This is a must see.  And there’s more.  Here comes Charlie!

Chaplin sings!

“Modern Times”  (Charlie Chaplin, 85 minutes, 1935) You
still don’t get to hear him talk, but you do get to hear him
sing.  This is a silent movie except the music, of course,
and the auditory Spanish translation of the text.  (Where do
they get all these Spanish announcers who sound exactly the
same-  deep, sonorous voices that never miss a beat?)

Buster showed us the practical dangers of modern living.
Charlie’s telling us that industrial life is bad for
humanity.  No wonder McCarthy didn’t like this guy.

Charlie is working in a factory.  He turns two bolts on
identical pieces of steel with two identical wrenches.  They
pass by quickly and when Charlie sneezes he falls behind.
Since the product is hammered by two gruff-looking men next
to Charlie before it goes into a tunnel seconds later,
Charlie must go forever faster to keep up.

The big boss is working on puzzles while occasionally coming
on a big screen to tell a shirtless man to make the
production line go faster.  When Charlie gets a break, he
goes into the bathroom and lights a cigarette.  The big boss
has a big screen in there, too.  He sees Charlie idle and
shouts at him to get back at work.  At lunch, Charlie cannot
stop doing the repetitive motion he has done all day.  This
causes him to spill his co-worker’s soup.  His antics have
every one in the audience rolling in the aisles.

The workers strike – Charlie has made us see why – and
Charlie is just walking along when a flag drops from a
truck.  He picks it up and waves it at the driver.  As he is
doing this, a mob comes up behind him.  He turns around to
look.  It is the strikers.  As he looks at them, the police
arrive.  They see him with the flag, identify him as the
organizer, and cart him off to jail.

(That does it, says McCarthy; put Chaplin on the black
list!)

By a series of hilarious mistakes, Charlie helps the jailers
prevent a breakout.  He gets a nice letter from the Sheriff
to help him find employment.  Charlie then meets “the girl.”
Her father has been killed by the police.  She is caught
stealing bread.  Charlie, who is enjoying his time in jail –
pillows, free coffee and all, much better than life in a
factory – takes the rap.  Eventually they wind up together.
Charlie says, “I will get us a house, even if I have to work
for it.”  The Spanish crowd laughed loudly as Peg and I
joined in.

Charlie gets a job as a night watchman in a department
store.  He lets the girl in so both have a place to stay at
night.  They put on roller skates.  Charlie puts on a
blindfold to show how well he can skate.  Into the next
salon he goes and she watches.  Neither sees that there is
no railing to prevent Charlie from falling two stories onto
the main showroom floor.  We are treated to Charlie’s
hilarious close encounters with death as he repeatedly comes
to the edge on one skate.

Charlie is telling us that “modern times” means either
factory life that ruins our humanness and living on the
brink of disaster.

“The girl” goes to bed and Charlie walks around the store
and happens onto a burglary.  He tries to run but the
escalator is going down instead of up so he cannot escape
danger (the escalator as a modernity that once again causes
more trouble than it is worth).  Shots are fired and several
bullets strike large wooden barrels of rum.  Of course, the
spouts of rum thus caused all go down Charlie’s throat,
again through no fault of his own.

The next morning a clerk is pulling on a piece of fabric to
show to a customer.  It turns out that she is actually
pulling on Charlie’s shirt.  He has been sleeping it off
under a pile of fabric.  Back to jail for Charlie, who is
once again, a victim of circumstances.  All the poor slob is
trying to do is survive.

Somehow the girl gets a job dancing and singing at a
restaurant.  After Charlie is released, she gets him an
interview.  In the interview he says he can dance, sing and
wait tables.  He has never done any of these before but “the
girl” urges him on.   His first customer complains that he
has been waiting an hour for his roast duck.  Charlie
finally gets it to him after several run-ins with the boss
and causing a major accident by going into the kitchen
through the “out” swinging doors.  While an innocent waiter
argues with the victim, Charlie has his duck in hand.

Success at last?  No.  The crowd begins to dance as Charlie
walks across the dance floor, duck high in the air.  Charlie
gets tantalizingly close to his customer several times but
the crowd sweeps him hilariously away.  He finally arrives
at the customer’s table but there is no duck.  It has been
pierced by a sharp protuberance on the chandelier.  He grabs
it gives it to the diner.

Success at last?  No.  A vaudeville act sees an opportunity
and grabs the duck, turning it into a football.  Charlie is
in the act, intercepting a pass, ducking tackles.  Now the
customer can at last eat his duck.  Wouldn’t you be
thrilled?  Not this customer.  He stomps out.  The boss man
says, “You better be able to sing.”

Charlie rehearses with “the girl.”  He cannot remember one
word of the song.  She decides to write it on his cuff.
This works and he is ready. Out he goes, does a few graceful
steps swinging his legs and arms, and off flies the cuff.
He begins to sing but there is no cuff.  Boos begin to echo.
She says, “Just sing any words.”

Now we hear him sing but the words are in no language.  Just
Italian-like sounds accompanied by the most delightful
dancing that Charlie can do.  It is very charming and the
restaurant crowd roars in approval.  But the police show up
to rearrest the girl for delinquency and off we go…

Charlie and the girl finally know some security and peace at
the end.  Viewers at last can relax the laughing muscles.

After a 30 minute break for beer, wine and tapas at the nearby bars
and cafes, we are back.  This time, it’s really weird Soviet stuff.
You have probably never seen anything like it.  I never have.

The main feature of this last set is called “Staroie I Novoie,” which
is translated into Spanish, from which I get “The General Line (the
new and the old).”  (Soviet Union, 90 minutes, 1929)

The action takes place in the vast planes of the Soviet Union.  A
group of peasants do not have a pot to piss in.  Our heroine is Marfa.
Her main acting skills are composed of smiling poses and arguing
postures.  Marla is begging for food from two very fat peasants who
ignore her.  She tries to look sad.  This means that she looks at her
feet.

Somehow, Marfa comes up with the idea that if all the peasants worked
together, the larger plots of land would be more efficiently managed.
For example, she explains, we could get together and buy a horse to
pull the plow, or share a cow.  Well, they all laugh at her, big,
missing-teeth laughs.  Just a girl, they say.  More big, missing-teeth
laughs.  Either these people are 1) actors who are very well made up
and then taught to act like peasants who are trying to act, or 2)
peasants who are trying to act without the benefit of ever having seen
dentists and other doctors.

Along comes the Soviet hero who, low and behold, says that they should
work together so that they could, say, buy a cow…Marfa was right all
along!  Well, this goes on for a half an hour until there is a wedding
scene.  We are awaiting the bride.  First, the wedding procession: a
dog comes dressed with sticks and flowers;  then a cat; then a cow.
The procession stops.  Where is the bride?

This is the bride- the cow.  Our comrades are at the stage where they
have bought a cow and are getting a bull to marry the cow so we can
have more bulls and cows.  This is all thanks to everyone getting
together to buy things like cows and now bulls.  So out comes the
bull.  He is led to the consummation and we see it through his eyes.
Then her eyes.  She is looking over her shoulder at Mr. Bull.  Then
his, then hers.

Everyone in the theatre is laughing and obviously the director wanted
this to be funny.  Later we see shots of thousands of cows, pigs,
horses, and modern feeding arrangements for them.  Abundance has
arrived even here in the middle of the stinking desert.  All thanks to
Marla’s getting everyone to pool their resources.

Later the village request for a tractor is turned down by some
bureaucrat.  Marfa and some guy march off to the big city to argue
their case.  Who can resist Marfa?  After a moment with her and her
friend, the bureaucrat changes his mind.   Immediately we have visions
of thousands of tractors, all plowing some huge field.  The real
tractor arrives in a flash as if by magic, all because of a
bureaucrat’s signature.

The driver of the tractor is wearing goggles and leather pants.  He
looks oriental and like a fighter pilot, not a farmer.  He drives a
few yards and the engine dies.  He is sitting, defeated in the dust.
Along comes, who else?  Marfa.  She allows him to tear off pieces of
her skirt, covering her face in embarrassment.  He uses these to wipe
things off.  How this new tractor got so dirty so fast I’ll never
know.  Anyway, half a dress later and the thing is working again.
They drive to town and all the peasants cheer, maybe even the ones who
are now plotting to poison Mr. Bull.  All the wooden wagons are linked
together and in a demonstration of the power of the tractor, 40 or so
of them are pulled out of town up a steep hill.  In the distance and
500 or 5000 steep hills just like this one.  God awful looking place.
Anyway, once at the top, the driver continues through old wooden fence
posts used to divide create small plots of land which had been
individually owned (representing capitalism).  No more of these little
plots for our peasants.

They also have a new machine for processing all that milk they have
because they have baby cows because they have a bull who married the
cow because they learned to work together.

The last plot unfolds.  The forces of darkness (representing the
feudal past and the evils of capitalism) are trying to kill Mr. Bull!
We watch them stuff this tiny bottle of liquid down his throat.  Then
we watch him wiggling on the ground.  He dies.  Sad Marfa is looking
at her feet again as she leaves the barn.  In a moment she is so
distraught that she lies down in the middle of the road.  It is as if
all her efforts have gone for naught.  Does the death of the bull also
mean that the tractor won’t work any more?

Marfa seems to have forgotten the earlier scenes of hundreds of new
cows and bulls.  But as she lies in the dirt, a calf appears.  It
nudges her.  Marfa shows one of her great smiles.  Millions of cows
and bulls, more pigs and a veritable ark of animals appear before us.
All is well.  We have learned to work together.

And I have learned how to leave an auditorium with great speed.  I
have never been so fascinated and bored at the same time.

The people

The Spanish people love to see films like these.  Only two people left
in the middle.  Only one person snored. S/he was wakened by a woman
near me who clapped very loudly and woke the poor sucker up.  They
love to go to lectures about this sort of stuff.

On the metro, half a dozen people are reading at any one time.  Books,
mostly.  On the train’s walls are excerpts of books, inviting people
to read.  I bet there are more original language movie houses here
than in most any other city in the world.  And Spanish people go to
them to practice their English.  We see ads most everyday for people
wanting to talk in English-  to practice-  and offer to allow you to
practice your Spanish.

People are always talking to one another.  Even in crowds of strangers
they chat away.  The kids do the same.  They stand about six inches
apart and talk and smile and laugh.  I think a great deal of this
behavior is the result of their love of learning.

Even the beggars sound educated.  They have speeches.  I bet there is
a school they attend.  They all have a similar pitch.  “Ladies and
gentlemen, please forgive my bothering you here on the metro.  I have
no work and four children to support.  Please buy my _______.  It is a
very good __________.”  It is longer than this but I do not remember
it all.  But it is well spoken. Not the sound of ignorance.  Poverty,
yes, but not ignorance.

12/14/97

Peg writes:

We’ve been in Madrid for about 6 weeks now, and this was our
first day spent here like I think two retired people should
spend living in a foreign country.  That means that the
weather was beautiful, we did exactly what we wanted to do
(or at least what I wanted to do), we didn’t have the full
day planned, we didn’t have to rush, and everything we saw
was wonderful.  What made the difference was the weather,
probably. It was not an exciting day–but it was one of the
few bright sunny ones we’ve had here, and totally pleasant.

We simply walked the length of Retiro Park, (a 350-acre park
in the center of Madrid that once belonged to a Royal
Palace), along with about 5,000 other people and a hundred
well-behaved dogs of various styles.   The park has lakes
(with ducks), statues, trees, topiary and other shrubs, and
very good street entertainers.  We saw an 8-piece Peruvian
band, a violin, cello and guitar trio playing baroque music
(and beautifully, too), a juggler, a Japanese fellow playing
classical music on a hammered dulcimer, and a three-piece
jazz combo.

Madrileños love to “paseo”–that is, ‘promenade’, and are
outside every afternoon and evening unless the weather is
completely miserable.  Our general destination was ‘The
Geographic Club’–a bar that sounded like overtones of the
Royal Geographic Society in London.  Actually, it was a bit
of a disappointment–it is only a ‘theme’ bar done up to
look English.  More interesting to me than Hard Rock or
Planet Hollywood, as I am always interested in maps, old
photos of old countries, etc.  So now that I’ve been there,
I don’t have to go again.

However, about four doors down was a pub with Belgian beers,
so we went in that one too.  It’s amazing how much better my
Spanish is after a couple of beers!!

Gary again:  We may yet turn into Madrileños, bar-hopping our way through life.

12/20/97

Peg and I went to the Archeological Museum.  Not a huge
collection but a good one.  I am interested in knowing more about
the origins of the Spanish people.   The museum has an excellent
collection of Visigothian stuff, including a sculpture of a woman
called La Dama.  Her face is so delicate and realistic that she
could have been molded inside while still alive.  She wears a
veil identical to those used in Spain until at least the middle
ages.  The sculpture dates from the 4th century A.D.  It rivals
many Greek and Roman sculptures for the fine quality of the
image.

There are many stone carvings and lots of pottery.  This is worth
a second visit.  The museum also contains a significant Moorish
section.

Meeting the locals

We spent the evening with a woman wanting to practice her
English.  She had left a note on a message board at an English
bookstore seeking conversation with English speakers.  She
teaches at the Universidad Politecnic.  She also does research in
her field, which is telecommunications.  She spent a year in
Plymouth, England on a research project.

Emilia is a Chileana.   She left Chile in 1974 with her mother
and sister.  This was when Allende was assassinated (with the
help of the CIA).  They lived in Argentina, in Mendosa, for five
years.  She said that what got them moving again was the border
war between Argentina and Chile.  A friend convinced them to go
to Libya.  More bad luck: on the way there was some problem with
a guy named Kadafi!  They decided to go to Spain since their
father, who was dead, was a Spanish citizen.  They hoped that
this fact would help them with the immigration authorities.   The
family was still trying to work out the immigration issue when,
in 1981, there was an attempted military coup.  Emilia came home
to have her mother yell at her for not calling.

“Mom, I have never called at this time of day.”
“Haven’t you heard about the coup?”

She hadn’t.  They turned on her radio.  They tuned in a station
coming out of Valencia.  The military conspirators were more
organized there than in Madrid, where it was a pathetic failure,
and had seized the radio station.  They looked at one another and
said, “Let’s pack.”  To this day they leave a suitcase partially
packed at all times.

This was our chance to ask a local about things like pollution
and the telephone system.  She said that pollution is usually
worse in winter (temperature inversions, I think, and people are
using heating fuel).  Summer is better, although it can reach 100
degrees in the afternoons (thus the rationale for the siesta).
The telephone system is a state-owned enterprise and she does not
trust it.  It is impossible to sue them and they are known for
dirty tricks.  For example, there are two satellite systems in
town, theirs and another.  People calling for the number were
being given only the one run by Telefonica.  The newspaper ran an
article on it and that put a stop to it.

We bar-hopped Spanish style.  At the first place, an upscale
joint, there were some fancily dressed people about.  Another
place was very cozy and quiet.  They served pork skins with large
glasses of Mahou beer for little money.  Across the street, our
third stop served large baguette sandwiches for 300 ptas.  The
bar and large parts of the wall are covered with beautifully
painted tile.

Emilia was just getting going at 11:00 (she was still in bed and
sleeping when I called at 2 p.m.) when Peg and I began to droop.
She drove us home and on the way offered to take us to Burgos and
even to Santiago de Compostela.  Then she offered to bring us to
the cabin (no electricity, but a fireplace, which she called a
chimney, not knowing the word “fireplace”) that her sister bought
with some friends.  It is in the mountains nearby.

This is one more confirmation that the Spanish are very friendly.
That and the fact that Emilia kissed us both upon meeting us and
upon leaving us.  Even got out of her car to kiss us goodbye.

She probably did not know what to do with herself until bedtime.
Going out with Americans of our age means being bored from 11:00
p.m. until 3:00 a.m.

12/21/97

We met another woman at her ‘piso.’  María has a ‘piso’
(apartment, flat) on the south side, past Atocha, the big train
station where trains departing for regional, national and
international journeys pick up and discharge passengers.  I got
her name off a message board at the same bookstore where I got
Emilia’s.  I called her three or four days ago, we spoke briefly,
and she said she would call back. She had to hang up as a student
was entering.  I was a little surprised that she actually did
call us.

Her building is fairly new and pleasant but the lobby is very
plain, not even a fake plant to decorate it, and it and the halls
are poorly lighted.  Obviously people who live in these buildings
cannot or prefer not to pay for the electricity it would take to
fully illuminate.  Maria does not make the move to kiss us as we
enter.  So we do not make the move to kiss her.

Marie is French-born but has lived in Spain since she was two or
three years of age.  She is equally comfortable in both
languages.  She is self-employed not only teaching French and
Spanish, but also is a translator.  Apparently enough work comes
from the European Union and other sources to support her.   She
has a nice place, albeit it is not lavishly furnished.  This may
be a matter of personal preference.  Marie is rather spartan in
other ways. She does not eat meat, smoke, drink alcohol, and does
not seem to engage in the kind of socializing that seems common
here.

But she is friendly enough and we talked for two hours in
English, French and in Spanish for the last thirty minutes.  She
had me translate some of our conversations for Peggy’s benefit.
These were not difficult as she speaks clearly and not too fast
for me.  Further, she did not use too many words I did not know.
I told her our story that I called “Alice in Spain.”  She roared
with laughter.  Marie also loved the Chevy Chase routine:  “Hi,
I’m Chevy Chase and you’re not.”  We were talking about how proud
the Spanish are and sometimes it could come off as condescending,
arrogant, inconsiderate and immature.

Peg writes:

[Emilia and Marie are] as different as night and day they are,
but both lots of fun.  She [Marie] is tiny, 44 years old, born in
France but moved to Spain with her parents when a child.  She’s a
linguist, and makes a living translating between French and
Spanish, and from Italian and Portuguese into French/Spanish.
Her English is excellent.  She of course understands all about
the pluperfect conditionals, or whatever they are.  It seems to
me that she’s trying to get perfect, not just good.  She says
that our ‘phrasal verbs’ are a pain and our adjective order is
very complicated.  O-kay!!  (In case you care, a phrasal verb is
something like ‘get up’, ‘break down’, etc.)  And, why do we say
the ‘big, round, blue ball’, instead of the ’round, blue, big
ball’, anyway?

Actually, she’s a hoot – she makes fun of the French AND the
Spanish, and does several funny accents.  Very vivacious.  She
had Christmas dinner w/us.  As she is a vegetarian, we did not do
a huge traditional dinner — just some antipasto and some of
Gary’s gnocchi w/meatless tomato sauce.  Marie brought dessert –
turron, which is the traditional holiday sweet.  Sort of an
almond divinity – less than fabulous, actually.  I was speaking
French, Gary was speaking Spanish, and she was speaking English.
It worked great!

12/24/95

Peg writes:

It’s Christmas Eve here, and we’re having a quiet evening at home
after walking about 5 miles late this afternoon, in search of
ricotta.  There seems to be a dearth of Italian food outlets
here.  We thought we’d found one about five metro stops away, so
we moseyed right on down there, in the midst of the afternoon
shoppers.  Unfortunately, while it sells fresh pasta, it was
totally out of ricotta and mascarpone, so all we got for our
trouble was the exercise.  Actually, we lost that benefit as
well, because we stopped for a dark beer on the way to the
Italian shop in one of the very few cervecerias (bars, literally
“beer sellers”) that sell it; then, after we left the Italian
shop empty-handed, we saw some pine nut cookies in an adjoining
bakery and stopped in for some of them, too.  Oh, well, it’s
Christmas, and what’s Christmas without a few extra pounds?

What the holidays are like

Gary again:  Xmas is quite different here.  The holiday season
kicks off with the December 6th and 8th holidays.  The sixth is
some sort of nation celebration about the Constitution.  The 8th
celebrates the Immaculate Conception (the timing seems wrong to
me, assuming that the big birthday is the 25th of December;  then
again, if you do away with ordinary conception methods, why
bother with ordinary birth methods?  In fact, why bother with
being born at all?).

Christmas eve is a family get together.  Meals, turrón (an Arabic
sweet made of almonds, hazelnuts, pine nuts, walnuts, honey and
sugar) cava, midnight mass.  The last of these is not too late
for the kiddies here; they regularly stay outside to play until
10 p.m.; only after that do the streets belong to the big people.
December 25 is a religious holiday, and some gifts are given on
the 26th, Boxing Day.  They celebrate New Year’s eve, but I do
not know how/what yet.  Except the article says that if you’re
young at heart you might enjoy going to the Puerta del Sol (big,
half-moon shaped “door of the sun” plaza in downtown Madrid).
There, you get fireworks and get drenched in cava.  You eat a
grape for each stroke of midnight from the clock on the plaza
(the grape does not come from the clock, the strokes do).
Easier said than done, the author says.  This practice started in
1918, as a result of an exceptionally good grape harvest that
year.

January 5th begins the night of the Kings.  Kings arrive on
camels in public processions, bearing symbolic gifts for the
children.  Roscón de Reyes, King’s cake, is eaten and inside is a
gift that brings good luck for the one who finds it.  In the old
days, this was a bean.  Now it is a small glass or ceramic item.
Before bed, everyone polishes their shoes and leaves them by the
window.  The article does not say why.  You leave liqueur or cava
for the wise men.  I want to be one.

January 6th is Epiphany.  I am not sure what that is, though I
heard about it when I was a kid in a Roman Catholic Sunday
school.  I guess it has to do with the Three Kings.  This is the
big gift-giving day, especially for the children.

The holiday season does not seem as commercialized as in the US.
For one, the lights (some rather like ours) and other decorations
just went up around December 1.   Most people don’t shop until
the last minute, so I am told.  There is no way that they can get
everything they want.

There are tv commercials aimed at kids/parents with kids, but not
nearly as many, as least when we are watching.  And all the
commercials come at once, for about 10 minutes.  I guess people
just split when they come on.  Peg and I watched some the other
night.  One was about the 3 Kings.  They were holding a
(celestial) map and, I think, a compass and/or sextant.  One of
them says, “That’s the wrong star!”  They all break into tears
until they walk into the mobile phone store (called MoviSTAR-
they have been following the star from MoviStar) and call the
Holy Family to say that they will be late.

This is NOT your father’s Catholic Spain!

By the way, if Jesus was born on the 25 Dec., why was he still in
the Manger on the 6 Jan?   I guess the people who fixed the dates
for these things did not worry about such practical issues.

So, the Xmas season here shares some things with ours.  They buy
Mangers and little baby/mother/father statues and all; they have
lights and a few images of Santa Claus, but I am not sure how
much of any of this stuff is of recent origin.

An article Peg gave me (in the Broadsheet, “the lifesaver for
English-speakers in Madrid) said that you are unlikely to find
Father Christmas in houses.  In the Plaza Mayor there is a huge
Christmas market filled with decorations.  Mostly these are
Beléns, the Christmas characters arranged around the manger.  The
article says that even the kids think of the holidays as a
religious event.

Birthdays are celebrated differently.   The birthday person has
to pay for everything that day.  Restaurants, bars, dancing, etc.
I wonder if anyone knows any one else’s birthday?   I have hidden
mine.

12/25/95

María joined us for Christmas dinner at our piso.  We spent hours
jabbering with her.  She’s a great guest, especially if you don’t
want to pig out.  As my mother would say, “She eats like a bird.”
Doesn’t drink.  It’s nice to have a friend like this one.  The
rest of our friends are pretty much like us in this regard.  At
about 8:00, Marie leaves but not before we make plans to eat
lunch at her place on the 31st.  On the first she is flying to
see her husband.

¡Hola, Pacquita!

Marie inspected our apartment since we asked her to tell us if
the price we are paying is fair.  She concluded that it was, but
it would be typically Spanish to negotiate a reduction in the
price since the toilets run and the roof leaks, even if these
things do not bother us.  Later, she admires the sliding doors
that lead to the small balcony.  She observes that you can have
conversations with your neighbors from these balconies.  This is
a very Spanish thing to do, she says.  We tell her about the
little old lady across the way.  This inspires Marie, for now she
assumes the posture of an older woman and speaks in a funny,
older voice.

“¿Hola, Pacquita, tienes calificación central en tu piso?”
(Hello, little Paca [the feminie version of Paco)], do you have
central heat in your flat?)

The little act and this question strike us as hilarious.  Marie
laughs with us.  This is all so Spanish, she tells us.  Why ask
about central heating?  Not everyone has central heat, especially
in older houses like the one Pacquita lives in.  To us, it seems
that Pacquita does not need it.  If it is sunny, she opens her
windows wide.  Even if it is only 40 degrees F.

12/26/95

Chinchon

We met Elimia downtown and then she drove us to Chinchón.
Chinchón is 28 miles southeast of Madrid on the road to Valencia.
It is famous for its Plaza Mayor.  It is neither a square nor a
rectangle but just an uneven, roughly circular plaza.  The plaza
is composed of three and four story houses with wooden balconies
all painted dark green.   The wood is attractive and its use
unusual in Spain.  There are not too many trees here.  Arid
conditions and extensive cultivation prevent their growth.  But
there is a lot of stone and mud, so most things are either of
stone or brick.

It was sunny but windy.  We had a snack outdoors.  I drank coffee
with my gloves on.  Great coffee but it was a little ridiculous
to be eating outside.  But we weren’t alone.  Spaniards sat all
around, looking as if it was entirely normal to be drinking
coffee or even beer with your gloves on.  There wasn’t even any
indoor seating at the place we chose.

There is a small, privately owned, crumbling castle on the
highest elevation of the town.  From there we enjoyed a marvelous
view of Madrid and the Sierra Guadarramas that stack up behind
it.  Emilia says that she has come here often and never seen
Madrid, let alone the mountains, from here.  The sight made me
realize again how steep and close the mountains are to the city.

Emilia very kindly took us to buy gas.  Our bottles (bombonas)
were nearly all empty and we feared that Don Gas would not come
today.  Yesterday was a holiday and so the men probably had to
try to do two routes in one day.  That would be impossible.  In
addition, they have had problems with keeping enough bottles on
their truck.  We feared that we would have to rely solely upon
electric heat, an expensive and not altogether adequate
alternative.  We had to drive 20 minutes in each direction to
reach one of few such outlets in the city.  So Spanish for her to
do this, even insist on it.

12/30/97

We met Billy, who was our landlord while we were in Scotland, who
happened to have chosen Madrid for a week’s holiday.  He said he
was quite surprised to get our card from Montpelier saying we
were going to Spain next and even more so when he got our card
from Madrid.  He called before he came and as promised, he called
when he got here.  He took us to lunch after we went for one of
Peg’s wee walks.  Billy loves to chat and is loving Madrid.  He
thinks that people from Madrid who visit Glasgow must feel sorry
for its residents. Glasgow is puny and poor in comparison, he
says.  To add to the unfavorable comparison, most everything is
not only prettier and more majestic in Madrid, but Madrid is less
expensive to boot.

What he says is true.  We tell him that Glasgow has its charms.
The countryside is prettier and more varied.  After lunch, he is
stunned by how inexpensive the meal was, about half what it would
be in Scotland and much tastier to boot.  You would have to go to
an even more expensive restaurant to get something as good.

Information on Visas

I called the U.S. Embassy, the section that deals with
immigration into Spain.  Their number is 587-2240 in Madrid.
According to the woman I spoke to, you can stay for three months
in the EU.  Then you have to leave the EU or apply for an
extension.  Spain gives them easily, but it is nearly impossible
to get a third extension.

The next level of permission is a residency permit.  You get
these from the Spanish consulates in the US.  You need 1) proof
of ability to support yourself indefinitely. 2) a health
certificate  3) health insurance.  Then you come to Spain with
the 3 month residency permit they give you.  Before that expires,
I think within 20 days of expiration, you apply to get that three
month permit turned into a year permit.  After a year you can
apply for three or five years, I forget which.  You get all the
renewals in Spain, so you do not have to go back to U.S.

Notes on teaching English

Peg writes:

TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certification seems
superfluous here if you can teach Business English.  The only
reason I’m working is that I telephoned a couple of agencies who
had advertised for English teachers, specifically to ask them
about TEFL certification — they had specified that the
certification was required in their ads.  However, as soon as
they heard about my business experience, the certification was no
longer required.  Apparently, they are putting the requirement in
the ads to keep out totally unqualified people.  It appears that
anybody who is a native English speaker has been able to teach
English here in the past, and it has given the agencies a bad
rap.  I think they’re trying to clean up their act now.

Patrick, [whom we met at Peg’s employer one day] gave me several
books on TEFL.  They are helping — although he says you can wing
it, he’s been teaching for years and has certainly forgotten his
first classes.  After all, one has to start somewhere!!
Fortunately, the five Marketing Dept. people in my class have
been taking English for three years, which makes it easy for me
to get started.

Patrick says he will guarantee me $21 per hour for a seminar he
wants to do in January.  He says I can do 2 – 4 hours if I want
to.  But of course, he has not yet even begun to advertise the
seminar……  He claims to be working nine hours per day, which
means he’d been earning $50,000 per year, much of it tax-free.

I don’t know if it would be this easy in, say, Vienna.  Perhaps
the demand is so great in Madrid because it’s just now getting
into stride w/the EEC and involvement in the world-wide business
community.  But I would not be surprised if TEFL certification
requirement was waived there for people with some Business
English teaching experience.  I’m certainly going to try to get
somewhat educated in the topic on my own while I have this
opportunity for free.

12/31/97

Our dinner with Andrea (Marie).   She came to dinner and to celebrate the new year.

end file

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