Monday, April 7, 2003

The Carthaginian Rose: Vol. 4

Hello everyone!

OK, I know. You're wondering, "Why are you writing Shannon? You just got home!" Yes, yes, it's true. I am now, at LAST, home. :-) But, because there was no email place in Madrid, and because I was in transit all day Saturday and Sunday, I didn't get a chance to send a final email to everyone. So, a few days late-here it is!

First of all, I think Sevilla was my favorite place of the whole trip. The buildings were gorgeous, it was filled with beautiful orange trees, and it wasn't so huge as to be overwhelming, but it still had enough energy. On our last full day there, Jen and I actually had a bit of an unusual experience. You see, I woke up that day and my face was swollen from the sunburn-just around my eyes and forehead-so that I looked pretty much like an alien freak. Great. So, after much consultation with my mom and grandma via the phone and internet, they pretty much demanded that I go to the hospital and get checked out. I think they were envisioning me with a face that was ready to explode or something, which felt true, but didn't really look THAT bad. So, to appease them, and to quiet my own slightly hypochondriac fears, I convinced Jennifer to go with me to the public hospital. Good lord.

Jennifer and I took a taxi there and went into the emergency room. No one spoke English-no more than a few words (despite what my guidebook had said). I tried to give them my insurance card, but they looked at it like they´d never seen one before, which they probably haven´t. They took my name, date of birth, and name of hotel. They directed us to a small waiting area with about 10 people in it. About 5 minutes later, a guy comes out-he could have been a nurse or a nursing assistant, and asks me in limited English what´s wrong with me. After writing down the details, he sends us to this bigger waiting room, where he says I should "Wait for a few minutes and then my name will be called." Yeah right. It was a room with about 80 people in it. Standing room only. There were people on hospital beds, in wheelchairs. Bleeding, coughing, dying right in front of us. I almost turned and walked out then. But, Jennifer said we´ve come all this way, so we might as well stay until 8pm, which is when most restaurants open up. It was 6 then.

We stood around in the mass of humanity, struggling to hear if my name was being called (since it sounds totally different with a Spanish accent). It appeared that they would call your name, take you back for a consult, and then send you back into the waiting room. Then, when your test results were in, or your x-rays done, they would bring them out to you, and explain it in front of everyone, and sometimes take you back again. It was horrible, and degrading to even watch. Almost everyone there was elderly.

Finally, around 7:30, when I was convinced I would never be seen and was ready to leave, they called my name over the intercom. And said a bunch of stuff after it in Spanish that I had no idea what it meant. So, we followed some other people whose names had been called, but they didn´t appear to know where they were going either. Eventually, I ended up standing in line outside of a consulting room.

While we were waiting in that line, some security people came and were hovering around the consult room next door, where some pregnant woman was laying on a stretcher. Eventually, they took the woman away, while she was screaming something about the devil. The security people had latex gloves on. I didn´t even WANT to know what was going on there!

Finally they called my name into the consult room. The nurse or possibly doctor didn´t speak any English, but I had already written down in Spanish what was wrong with me. So, then she had me sit in front of an optomatrist type machine after squirting some orange stuff in both my eyes. She looked at them both, apparently saw nothing wrong, and asked if I had been in the sun and gotten burned. Duh. And then she wrote me a prescription for cortizone cream. Jennifer and I walked out of the room, saw no signs about paying, and then walked right out the front door. I guess they have the name of my hotel, which in turn has my credit info, so I might be getting a charge later. Who knows? We took a taxi back to our part of town, went into the nearest pharmacy (they´re on like every corner) and I got my cream. $5.

So, for the price of two taxi rides and a tube of cream, I got a firsthand lesson in the horrors of public hospitals, in general, and in the way things were done in hospitals in Spain. It was eye-opening to say the least, not to mention depressing. It made us feel guilty for just assuming things would be so easy, as they are for a person in the States who is lucky enough to have insurance. I'm glad I had the experience, but I would never want to repeat it.

Anyway, as a treat to ourselves after that ordeal, we ate again at the Italian restaurant. This time I feasted on gnocchi in three cheese sauce (gnocchi is a type of potato pasta). We sat next to two American guys and tried to have a normal conversation with them, but as my face looked like a nuclear testing site, I sort of kept a bit quiet. :-) One of them ordered what he thought would be cheese sticks, but it turned out to be just a plate of hunks of parmesan cheese. It was hilarious, and it cost him $8. :-(

We spend Friday night in Madrid, not doing much but just resting for our journeys home. Saturday, I spent the entire day on a train, traveling a total of 13 hours from Madrid to Paris in order to catch my plane on Sunday morning. The scenery was amazing, plus I made friends with a Scottish couple and their accents were equally as amazing. :-)

Sunday was a nightmare. I'm telling you-I didn't think I was going to fucking make it home!! I got to the airport (after taking the wrong train and having to switch over halfway there!) about 2 hours before takeoff. What a mistake! I should have gotten there about 4 hours in advance so that I wouldn't have to stress out.

First, I had to take a bus to the right terminal. Then, I had to wait in a line of at least 100 people to check in to Air Canada, while *1* fucking person was at the front of this line, looking over people's passports and tickets before letting them through to get in another line to actually check in and get boarding passes, etc. The man doing this was such an asshole. Every time somebody got up there that wasn't totally white, he actually examined their passports with a zoom lens/microscope thing! And looked them up and down like they were garbage. It was utterly laughable and disgusting. Not to mention, it made the line slow as fuck. I spent an hour waiting in that line and then he took 20 seconds to look over my stuff. And then I had to go over to the security line so that I could get into the terminals. There was another 35 minute wait. So, that by the time I was cleared of everything, there was only about 15 minutes before my plane was taking off!!! I ran to the gate and made it in, of course, but I hate being that stressed out. Not to mention the fact that that of course left me with absolutely no time to buy food, water, batteries for my CD player-nothing for my flight.

When I got to Toronto, it was more of a nightmare, but what else could I expect? I had to retrieve my luggage from the belt (despite the fact that the lady told me it would checked in through to KC), put it onto another belt so that it would go to another building. Then, I had to take a shuttle bus to the other building, walk the length of the building all the way to US Customs. Retrieve my luggage, fill out a US Customs form, lug my bag (which was wrapped in plastic and couldn't be worn) down many hallways to the actual US customs line, wait in it for about 25 minutes, be interrogated by the agent there as to whether or not I support the war in Iraq (I think it was a test-he kept looking at me rather fishily), and then drag my bag some more before depositing it on another conveyor belt. Then, I had to go through security again, where the guy looked at my boarding pass and didn't believe that I was in the right place because he didn't recognize that the abbreviation for the KC airport was MCI. He asked me if I had ANOTHER boarding pass to show him, but I said, "They only ever give you ONE, so that's the only one I have!" and he let me go through, obviously not keen to deal with someone as potentially dangerous as a very stressed-out Shannon.

Then, I had to look on the TV to see where my plane was leaving from. Terminal E, which meant going downstairs and catching another fucking bus. As this lady (also going to KC) and I went downstairs together, and saw the bus sitting outside, we made a run for it-not wanting to wait for another one. Then, this guy comes out from behind this random desk and says, "WHOAH LADIES! Let me see your boarding passes please!" We explained that we needed to catch the bus, but he was feeling very important, so he made us stop to show him our passes. There was no sign up saying we needed to show them, by the way. So, I snatch my pass back from him, and turn to run to the bus. And he yells out, "You know, you have to show your pass. It's not my fault you don't want to. But you don't have to be rude to me lady!" And I turned around and said, "I'm not trying to be rude, but I've been waiting in line all day, and I'll be damned if I'm going to miss this bus!" And I ran outside and hopped on the bus just before it pulled away. What an asshole. And then our flight was delayed anyway, plus it was a tiny plane and was bouncy all the way, and we got in over an hour late. It sucked. I could have collapsed from exhaustion by the time I made it out to my mom's car. For dinner, we ate at Applebee's, and I was amazed by all of the overwhelming options!! I never thought I'd say that about Applebee's, but there you are. I guess that's what a week of being surrounded by nothing but jamon will do to a girl! :-)

Anyway, WOW, this was a long email....but there were a lot of loose ends to tie up. So, now I'm home, and I am excited to get together with everyone again! I have missed being here so much that I don't even think I can fully express it! :-) My pictures won't be developed for a day or two, but I can't wait to show them. I think I'm even going to post the best ones on my website so that far away people can see them.

Thanks for listening to all of my ramblings these past two weeks. Writing things down made me feel a lot better, and more connected to home. Take care everyone and I'll hopefully be seeing you all soon!!

Thursday, April 3, 2003

The Carthaginian Rose: Vol. 3‏

Hello again everyone!

It´s another lovely day here in beautiful Sevilla. Now that my sunburn has gone down a bit, I am actually able to enjoy it. ;-) Not to the point of walking miles and miles around the city like Jen did this morning (perish the thought), but enough to sit out on a bench, reading a good book and taking in the views.

I think I shall take this moment to say that I know I´ve sounded pretty negative in my emails, but I think a large part of that is simply due to sore feet or sunburn, and to a large extent (don´t laugh!) of not being able to find food here that I like to eat. It´s true! I think that we all get in our habits, and what we eat at home is usually fairly non-changing. Which is not to say that one doesn´t have varied tastes; I personally enjoy foods of many backgrounds. But the "things" we eat, the actual dishes, tend to be standard, no matter what the cuisine. At least, I find this to be true for me.

So, not being a huge fan of French food (their divine pastries aside), and having zero experience with Spanish, I was a little weary of having to feed myself on this trip. I didn´t want to succumb to the American tourist mentality of eating at McDonald´s when the going got tough. (Especially after just having finished reading "Fast Food Nation"!) Eating in France was an experience that was OK...not my type of food really, but always something on the menu to eat that was ok, whether it was a salad or pommes frites. But Spain has been a completely different story.

First of all, the majority of restaurants Jennifer and I have encountered here do not start serving dinner until at least 7:30, but some as late as 8 and one as late as 8:15 for Christ´s sake! But, they´re physically open, seeming to offer their wares...but NO! You may come in for a drink, some bread, perhaps a slice of jamon or two, but no real food! There have been at least 3 or 4 times here in Seville that we have been cruelly mislead into thinking we could eat something that was actually not yet serving. And on top of everything, both of us are dying for pizza.

In the states, we could have a pizza in the snap of a finger, at the drop of a hat!! Not, pizza takes planning. It doesn´t help that the two pizzerias that are even vaguely within walking distance do not start serving until 8. There is even a fucking Pizza Hut here, which we were desperate to have one night. Even THEY do not open until 8. And when you are hungry at 6 because you didn´t feel like having a jamon (ham) sandwich for lunch, you start to feeling pretty damn desperate. Desperate like you´ve never felt before, because you look around and there is literally nothing in view which is serving food, or the food they have is being carved off of a smoked pork haunch with the hoof still attached. And you are starving. It´s a little unnerving.

Once, Jennifer and I asked our hotel desk lady for a recommendation of a good Italian place. She gave it happily and we made our way there around 6. Ha! What fools we were to think it would actually be serving food at such a ridiculously early hour! Perish the thought! So, we walked down the block a bit and saw a Chinese restaurant with its lanterns lit and an open sign on the door. Thank god! Ooops-they didn´t actually open until 7:30. Eventually, we accepted our fate, sat down at an outdoor cafe and sipped on bottled water until they opened.

When we actually walked in at exactly 7:32, the staff were still mopping the floors and looked more than a little surprised to see us there so early. But, we soon ordered and were served some fairly nondescript basic Chinese fare. I was ravenous and ate my whole noodle dish in about 5 minutes, still craving pasta from the closed Italian place. It was yet another day of feeling completely unsatisfied, culinarily speaking.

But last night...last night was a divine experience. Jennifer and I decided to go to a flamenco show at 9pm. One that was a little off the beaten path, that didn´t bus in the tourists. So, not having a clue where the address was, we hopped in a taxi. This man drove us around for 15 minutes, all the while huffing and puffing like he was so upset that the traffic was slowing us down. Taking us around the city on a sort of tour of back streets and alleys so narrow I was surprised we didn´t get stuck! Eventually, he dropped us off at the end of a street we knew well-the one with the Italian restaurant and Chinese restaurant. Literally, a 3 minute walk from where we got in the taxi and a 5 minute walk from our hotel!! We just laughed. What else could we do? At least it meant that we would be able to go to the flamenco show and then to the much-desired Italian place for dinner.

The flamenco show was so intense, that I don´t think I can adequately describe it here. Have any of you seen a flamenco performance? I think we´ve all seen a clip, or a scene in a movie (beginning of Mission Impossible 2), but I´ve never seen a live offering in Iowa. Anyway, it took place in an establishment down a long and winding alley (well lit, so don´t worry Grandma!). It was a well known place, but it had a small space and couldn't have large crowds-all for the better. We bought our tickets ahead of time and went to a tapas bar for some fried potatoes (the only thing in a tapas bar that isn't cheese or scraped off a hoof) to tide us over.

The flamenco performance took place in a space that was in the middle of all of these buildings, so that it was outdoors, surrounded on all sides by building walls, but was open to the sky. There´s a word for that sort of space, but I´m blanking on it at the moment. They had a tent roof, very high up, with a typical Moorish lamp hanging down from it. There were candles everywhere, and lots of intricately designed Moorish lamps sitting on the floor. When I say Moorish, please envision any design you have seen from Morocco, filled with filigree patterns, blue and other colored glass, lots of intricate metalwork. They´re just beautiful.

There were chairs all around the outside of the space, with a small wooden square that was maybe 2 inches high in the middle. It served as a dancing platform. Behind the stage, hanging down the wall, were hundreds of vines with some flowers on them. Plus, there were pots of flowers everywhere, including a shallow dish at the front of the stage, filled with water and floating flowers. There were arched doorways all along the perimeter of the space, and a second floor balcony along the three sides without hanging vines. The effect was mesmerizing, before any show began.

But what a show it was! The performers included: one male singer, one male guitar player, one guy who sat on a box and tapped on it like a drum, and one female dancer. There were probably about 6 separate songs that were done, over the course of an hour. At first, it was just the singer and the guitar player. The singer was about my age, and had a strong clear voice, that without any microphone, filled the space and must have carried through the entire neighborhood. I have seldom heard such amazing vocals. The guitar player was an accomplished teacher, and so he was also impressive, again with no amp of any kind. The drum guy was pretty young-maybe 19/20, but gifted with his wooden box. He joined in on the second song, but at first we didn´t know what he was up to since he wasn´t dressed up like the rest of them in all black. He was wearing street clothes and red sneakers!

After a couple of songs, the dancer came in. She was mesmerizing from the start. The instant she opened the door to come in, she was in intense character, every action deliberate and powerful. She slowly walked to the stage, wearing a long flowery dress with a red fringe shawl. When she started to dance, it was so loud! The flamenco style of dance involves wearing shoes with sturdy heels and having legs of steel to pound the shoes into the wooden stage. She was beating up the stage as she twirled around, stomping her feet as hard as possible, and kicking up dust and wooden bits. Of course, this was all done in rhythm with the song, and with the singer clapping along very loudly. It would fluctuate from slow, deliberate, and not so loud pacing around the stage, to wild, seemingly uncontrolled fits of dancing where it was intense and very loud. Lots of swishing dress, stomping feet, and clapping. That is flamenco dancing in a nutshell. ;-) It was amazing and intense and I believe I could go to a performance of it every night for 20 years and never once be bored.

After the performance, still awestruck, Jennifer and I happily made our way to the Italian restaurant. We dined, FINALLY, on pizza and garlic bread. The waiter was a fairly forceful guy who showed us the wine list and then more or less brought over his choice of wine for us and that was that. It was good though. :-) And the garlic bread was also his choice-two orders of it naturally. I´m surprised that dessert didn´t arrive as soon as we were finished, but he did actually let us have some choice in that matter.

The pizza was so good, it fairly melted in your mouth. The sauce was sweet, and the crust soft, yet had body. It was no Big Tomato, but it was delicious. The garlic bread was made with olive oil instead of butter, so it lacked a certain something. Plus, I´m sure they´re using it as a clever way to get rid of day-old bread since it was so hard to chew. On the whole, though, the evening was about a 500% improvement from the day before, so we went to bed comprehensively refreshed.

I know this has been a long ass email, but I needed to vent for awhile. Thanks for sticking with me! As a reward, I shall leave you with a quote that Jen and I heard an obnoxious man telling some chic he was trying to impress after the flamenco show:

"If you take one thing with you from the magic that is Spain, it should be that it´s pronounced 'flamenCO', not 'flamenGO'." What a genius...

Have a great day everyone! :-)

Tuesday, April 1, 2003

The Carthaginian Rose: Vol. 2‏

Hello again everyone!

Today I'm writing from Seville-Jennifer and I traveled here this morning from Malaga. As I recall, I left off after the trip to the Alhambra. That was such a great day!

Anyway, so after the Alhambra, Jennifer and I left Granada via the evening bus to head to Malaga. We felt very brave and non-touristy taking the bus. It was a great, and cheap way to get there. Malaga is a town on the Mediterranean that I think I can say has seen better days. We were picturing something a little less run down, I have to admit. Plus, our hotel, The Carlos V, left a little to be desired in the way of charm and a working elevator. So, we decided to take the bus again the next day for a little day-trip to a nearby (and much quainter) town called Nerja. We got a taxi from our hotel and asked to be taken to the bus station. He asked us where we were going, and we told him Nerja. After unsuccessfully trying to get us to let him drive us all the way there! he dropped us off at this bus stop. We were like, um...OK. But, he reassured us that we could buy tickets there to Nerja and the bus ran every hour. So, we went with the flow, bought round-trip tickets, and caught the bus in time.

Nerja was beautiful, simple, and just as quaint as promised. We got off the bus, walked across the street to a grocery store to get some supplies for the day, and then walked about 5 minutes to the beach. (I should also mention that while we were in the store, Jennifer and I both got some apples to eat. When we got up to pay for everything, it turns out that you had to have some special ticket for the apples, telling what kind they were and what their price was. I saw nothing in the way of a sign telling this back in the produce department, but whatever. Plus we couldn't really understand what the woman was saying to us, so she had to get one of the other checkers to run back and get the tickets, leaving a long line of people behind us mumbling, undoubtedly, about stupid foreigners not knowing that OBVIOUSLY you have to have a ticket for your apples!!)

Anyway, the beach was of the pebbly rock/sand variety, so it wasn't very conducive to actually walking around on, but we laid down beside our meager supplies and spent the rest of the day basking in the sun, enjoying the view, and eating the aforementioned apples. I finished my book and Jennifer got hers started.

It wasn't until we were leaving around 5:30, that we began to realize how seriously sunburned we were. I mean VERY SERIOUSLY. I woke up this morning and it felt like my entire body was on fire. When my brother (Captain Pasty White Skin at the time) fell asleep on the beach in San Diego, and got sunburned so badly that he came home and punched a hole in the door because of the pain, I didn't understand it. Now I do. I simply do not know how Jennifer and I made it here to Seville today. We were both two wretched specimens today. I am feeling moderately better after a dinner at a Chinese place tonight, but honestly, we're both a wreck. I'm hoping right now that when I wake up tomorrow, I'll be a little better, but who knows? Right now, if everything burned was sunTANNED, I would be as dark as I was after sitting out at Katie's pool all summer. Isn't that scary??!! And pretty fucking stupid too!

Anyway, here's another little tidbit, and then I'll leave you. Tonight, we ate at the Chinese place and then we wanted to take a taxi back to our hotel. Well, we walked down to the taxi stand and got into one The driver, who was smoking and chatting with the other drivers, looked like he couldn't believe he was going to actually have to get into his car and drive people around. The nerve! Anyway, after we were in the car, he made a face and started saying something to me, and pointing to the door. Jennifer and I both agreed that we thought he was saying that the door wasn't closed hard enough. So, naturally, I opened the door and slammed it closed again. He made an even bigger face and said something else and pointed to the door. So, I opened it again and slammed it again. He looked like he was going to explode, but after making some noises, he just asked us where we were going. I showed him the little piece of paper with the name and address of our hotel, which, admittedly, was a 5-8 minute walk away-but we were both in pain and suffering! Well, after he saw where we wanted to go, he lost it. He started pointing and yelling and saying god knows what, that our hotel was just a few blocks away or something. So, I just opened the door and said GRACIAS really loudly, and got out of the car. He got out too and kept on yelling at us. So I just screamed MUCHOS GRACIAS!!! and made a sort of up-yours gesture with my arm. He kept yelling at us as we walked away across this busy square. It was horrible. I was so fucking mad that I wanted to turn around and scream FUCK YOU!!!, but he looked like the type that enjoyed slapping women around, so I opted not to. :-) What a bastard. In retrospect, I'm sure he was chastising me at first for slamming the door too hard to begin with, which is amusing considering that I responded by slamming the door even harder TWICE after he said not to close it so hard. He deserved it, though.

OK, my time is almost up at the internet cafe, so I"ll let you go. I hope you're all doing well and I'll see you soon!