Monday, October 02, 2006

(This post was written on Sunday, but the WiFi near the hotel wasn't free, so I waited until I got to the school today to upload it.)


  • 10:30 Board the plane in Denver
  • 16:00 Land in Newark
  • 16:20 Take photographs of airport, eat pizza, create blog, write blog post
  • 21:00 Board the plane in Newark (without earplugs)
  • 10:30 (03:00 MST) Land in Madrid (without much sleep)

  • 11:30 (04:30 MST) Clear the Control Policia line, hop on the Metro to the Renfe station

  • 12:30 (05:30 MST) Get to Renfe station, have a small lunch, wait for train
  • 16:50 (11:30 MST) Board the train to Granada
  • 23:00 (16:00 MST) Arrive in Granada

I woke up this morning stiff as a board on a bed as big as a cheap pine coffin in a room that's not much bigger. (There, I've filled my noir simile quota for the day.) I had no idea what time it was. I was in no hurry to get up, having gotten to Granada at eleven the night before after thirty hours of travel and very little sleep. So I lay there, doing little but breathing. The bells of the nearby cathedral rang a few times. I couldn't tell whether it was for mass or just to mark the time. A group of Spaniards swarmed through the hallway of the hotel speaking, like most Spainiards, too fast for me to pick up anything but the occasional article or preposition.

Yesterday when I arrived at the Renfe station (the national railway), I got in the shortest line in the ticket center. The man at the counter had a peppered beard and ponytail and didn't speak a word of English. I had purchased the ticket online the day before and, since it was my first online purchase with Renfe, I had to stop by the center to pick it up. When I stepped up to the counter, I pointed at the confirmation number I had written on a 3 X 5 card. At that moment I wanted to say, "I bought this ticket online yesterday and am here to pick it up" but I only managed to croak out "ayer," "ticketa" (which isn't actually a word, or if it is doesn't mean what I meant; I figured out later I meant "billeta de tren"), and "pago" (first-person present tense of "to pay"). Somehow we established that my train was leaving today. He gestured to the long line next to us and then he repeated something three times. At that point I was already walking away, and I only said "si" or "gracias." I realized when I got to the back of the other line that he was asking "¿A que hora sali hoy?" ("What time does it leave today?"). So I walked back over to him and said, "Sali hoy a cuatro" (the idiom is probably wrong but more or less it means, "It leaves today at four"). Again he gestured at the other line, so, diminished, that's where I went. The other ticket agent didn't speak English either (I don't blame him), but the transaction went smoothly. When he asked for my tarjeta de credito (credit card), and he swiped it through the reader, I said "Pero pago ayer" ("But I pay yesterday"). He knew what I meant and, when my record came up on his screen, said, in Spanish, with the correct conjugation of pagar, "You paid yesterday."

After that, I mostly waited. I would read a book and nod off and my head would bob up then I'd start to read again. Once I wasn't able to find the men's bathroom. I was, basically, walking in a circle inside the station, my luggage in tow. Eventually I asked a woman from security, "¿Donde esta la baño . . . el baño?" She said it was over by el Burger. Sure enough, next to the Burger King, there was the men's bathroom sign that I hadn't seen. Moments later, in the bathroom, I started to wonder whether I was incompetent not just with Spanish but with something more fundamental -- like with the presumably innate ability to be a human being -- when my iPod fell out of my shirt pocket and into the toilet bowl. I towed my suitcase into the tobacconist and spent about a minute looking at the boxes of cigarettes on the shelf. A cigarette would be nice right now, I thought.

Maybe two hours outside of Madrid, after the first movie -- "Failure to Launch," dubbed in Spanish -- ended, the train stopped at a station and people stepped out onto the platform for a cigarette or a few. It was dusk. It was dark inside the train. And other than the chatter of the people on the platform and a short burst of conversation between two old women in my car, it was completely silent and relaxed. No one was anxious for the train to start moving. After ten minutes or so, a train engine passed by on the adjacent tracks, no cars in tow. A few minutes after that, the same engine came from the other direction and parked in front of the station. There was something beautiful about it, so I started taking photos. (I think I still had auto-focus off.)

We started rolling again. The television screens at the end of each cabin were black. The next movie they played was quite abstract. Half of it was a broadcast test pattern (although thankfully the soundtrack didn't include the endless beep that broadcasters usually use).

The other half was an erratic sequence of colored splashes, like this one.

Then they played Spike Lee's latest movie, starring Denzel Washington as a cop, another guy as a robber, and Jodi Foster as, I think, an exquisite scoundrel. I didn't listen to the soundtrack, so I don't know what people said to one another, but the photography was extremely beautiful in places and the story -- which was easy to follow visually -- was interesting in its own right. I'll have to rent it when I get back to Colorado. I hope the dialogue is as good as the rest of it.

Anyway, I think the Spike Lee joint was still playing when I took some pictures of the moon.

As I lay there this morning, I was thinking that, after all of that, today I'm not going to do much of anything. I don't need any more embarrassing run-ins with Speakers of Not English. I'll have breakfast. I'll come back to the hotel and read in my little coffin. The hotel where I'm staying until Monday is in the Plaza Nueva ("nueva" means "new"), so I thought I was in the new part of Granada. I glanced at the guide book to find out how remote from old Granada it it. What I didn't keep in mind was that what's new in Spain just might be old in Los Estatos Unidos, where we don't measure our history in millennia. Plaza Nueva is right by the Alhambra. Today may not be so bad after all.

I'm now sitting at a street-side table of a Turkish place called Doner Kebap Nemrut in the Plaza Nueva. From the street you can see the tip of what I think is the Alhambra. A group of teenage boys and girls and a little girl, all in their Sunday best, just sat town at a nearby table, so mass must be over. There are other tourists here. I see a couple reading a guide book. You can hear the occasional phrase of English float over from the stream of people walking along the sidewalk.

And I still don't know what time it is.

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