far too much writing, far too many photos

Yesterday morning: gray skies, rain, me getting ready to hop a plane for a fast couple of days in Spain. My host, Dermot — one of the most patient, generous people I’ve ever had the dumb luck to count as a friend — left for work before I roused myself, leaving me a quiet house to stumble around in as I gathered what passes, in my case, for wits before heading out.

Packed. Dumped bags in rear of rental car. Returned car to agency, where a friendly lad named Simon wrapped up the rental hooha and drove me to the train station in Stoke.

Found myself on a two-car train tooling through an area of rundown businesses and buildings, followed by English countryside. That ride terminated outside Manchester, a half-hour later a sleek Virgin train pulled in, collected me, spat me out in Liverpool — gray, damp, but interesting. An exceptionally likeable, exceptionally loquacious cabbie drove me out to John Lennon Int’l airport, talking enthusiastically about anything that came to mind — life in Liverpool, local points of interest, his coming retirement, the Beatles.

Anonymous traveler, between Stoke-on-Trent and Liverpool, England

Sometime later, I found myself in a Ryan Air 737, the British landscape dwindling below, clouds giving way to sunlight. A genial 60-something couple from outside Liverpool — her looking and sounding English, him looking Irish as all get-out but sounding 100% British — provided conversation for much of the next three hours, confirming my general experience with the English from the midlands: warm, friendly, enjoyable folks.

And then the plane touched down outside of Sevilla, I found myself out in cool evening air following a straggling line of folks into the terminal, herded in no-nonsense fashion along the marked path, that slightly anal intro offset by a friendly smile and Hola from a pretty 20-something Spanish woman outside the terminal doors.

One immediate contrast between the U.K. and Spain — in Manchester, my bag literally appeared the moment I walked into the baggage reclaim area, almost like magic. In Sevilla, we waited. And waited. Twenty-five minutes later — plenty of time to check phone messages, send textmessages, watch fellow waiters, walk about doing nothing in particular apart from wait — my monster wheeled-duffel appeared, freeing me to grab a taxi.

The scene outside the terminal: strangely chaotic, a long line of travelers diving for a long line of taxis. When I finally got a cab, I asked the driver if he was familiar with the hotel I’d be staying at, a small one tucked away along a narrow backstreet used mostly by pedestrians. No answer. I let him get underway, then mentioned the street and hotel again, asked him once more if he was familiar with. His answer: a diatribe saying of course he knew, why was I bothering him after I’d supplied the information he needed. Pure silliness, me waiving it off, feeling far too pleased to be back on Spanish… — well, not soil exactly, but close enough — to let meaningless dreck bother me. I cut through it, asked nicely how life in Sevilla was going, asked how the Sevilla fútbol teams was doing, the second question sparking a long, rambling conversation which got interrupted once we were in Sevilla proper when another taxi pulled up next to us and the driver pulled up next to us, asking my cabbie why he hadn’t turned off his green ‘available’ light. His answer: a joking shpiel about giving me a free ride, during which I began realizing that the guy had decided to do my ride off the books, it dawning on me that the guy saw me as a mark, nothing more, would likely charge me an inflated fare at the end of the ride.

And shortly after, he turned off the main avenue that would have taken us near my hotel, began following narrow streets for far, far, far too long, blathering the entire time, arriving finally at the hotel where he charged me too much, saying, “Cheap for a nice person like you”. And I found myself feeling so happy to be done with the ride, so pleased to be back in the streets of Sevilla, that I paid it and surprised him with a tip before skipping off into the hotel.

Checked in, dumped my bags in the room, went back out to enjoy the barrio’s active nighttime streets. Restaurants and bars all around were open and alive with people, their energy spilling out doors and windows.

Walking eventually took me past a restaurant that advertised a decent-sounding menú del día, I entered to find the place empty except for a non-Spanish-speaking 60-something English couple seated at the rear, having some trouble communicating with the owner. Feeling at my meddling best, I tossed myself into the breach, helped get their meal ordered, then grabbed a table and studied a menu. The owner of the joint took my order, brought me a small beer and a basket of rolls and breadstick curlicues, I started in on it, feeling absurdly pleased with existence. The owner’s wife got to work in the kitchen, the smell of food prep. practically put me in an altered state.

Food arrived, I inhaled it. Two 30-something Spanish women entered, accompanied by a 40ish Spanish male, they planted themselves at a neighboring table. I happily eavesdropped, tossing down food and drink. When my various plates had been scraped clean and I’d hoovered down an after-chow decaf., I stopped to say good-night to the Brits, wound up talking with them for quite a while. From Durham, near Newcastle, they’d spent the last six weeks traveling south through France and into Spain until their car seized up in Sevilla, the problem being a part that had to be ordered from the U.K., leaving them stranded here until it arrived — more than a week so far. I let them know they could have picked far worse places to spend days on end with nothing to do but enjoy themselves, they agreed, we talked on. They finally invited me to sit down and join them (no, I had not been hinting around), I thanked them and declined, feeling the growing need to put myself to bed.

Returned to the hotel, turned on the tube, listened to programs dubbed in Spanish until the light went out and I drifted off.

[continued in next entry]

España, te quiero.

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