Τρίτη, 25 Οκτωβρίου 2011

In the Shadow of Frederico

Suddenly, in the middle of the night, I woke up . The landscape around the train was full of double decker wagons, filled with new cars. I realized that we were at Linares-Baeza, home to SEAT’’s biggest production line. All those new cars where ready to get transported accross Europe and the mediteranean. We left the industrial landscape and I resumed my sleep.

I continued my uncomfortable sleep through the night, only to wake up as the Andalucian sun was begining to hit the train. I pulled back the curtains and realized that we were passing through endless olive groves. Man this was Andalucia.
My Odysey began as soon as I had left the train. I started negotiating the bus system. I took the wrong bus, stopped somewhere where I from where I could do nothing but retrace my steps up until the last turn of the bus, and got lost. Adding to my problems, was the fact that I could not really understand what tha locals where telling me (Andalucian is quite the odd dialect).
Eventually crawling through a web of missconceptions and mistakes, I eventually managed to negotiate my way to the next bus. As the minibus started to crawl the hill oposite the Alhambra, I finaly got to relax. My trip was finaly ending. I got off at the right stop, managed to follow all the instructions to the end. And there I was up for the next susrprise. I was DEFINATELY in front of the right building. But it seemed to be in a mess. Everything was out of the building and noone was answering the phone. After about half an hour of waiting, an Australian appeared at the door. He informed me that the hostel had been closed due to bugs that some guy contracted in Morroco and brought with him in the building in May.
Damn! There went my 15 euro deposit and I had to look all over again! I started my long descent into the city under the hot Andalucian sun. When I was close to the bottom of the hill, I decided it was time for a small rest. I sat down facing the Alhambra. The enormous fort was just sitting there, it’s windows gaping towards my direction. It was as if it was laughing at me. Stupid Westerner being angry and stressed over all these stupid things. I should have learned to go through this kind of problems.
That was when my father called to see how things where going. I asked him if he could find me someplace to stay via internet, because the hostel was shut. He told me to give him a few minutes but, to see if I could find something myself too, before closing the phone. I continued moving towards downtown Granada. I had not seen any hotel or hostel of any sort, when my dad called. He said he found a hostal someplace under the Cathedral, and that he could book something for me. I asked him to do it and send me the details. After a few moments an adress, a name and a phone number came up on my screen. I called as I was passing through the courtyard of the Cathedral. It took me a few calls to understand what the Andalucian at the other end of the line was telling me,
So after another wave of missunderstandings and craziness, I was dislodging my belongings at yet another room which had the bare necessities. I sat on the bed under the fan, and in a few seocnds I was sound asleep.. I woke up a few hours later. It was night and all the Alhambra would not be open until the next morning. I had some ways to kill time though. Granada is a town that depends a lot on its university (one of the best and the oldest in the Hiberian Peninsula), and that could mean a lot of things about the town’s bars and restaurants. I went downtown and drove myself crazy with the tapas and the beer. The night ended with me sitting outside one bar and watching some nice looking English girls chat. Any attempt to approach them though, seemed to be repealed by a wave of denial. Truth is that they were a bit too posh for my teeth, so the only thing I could do was just watch.
I woke up the next morning and decided to get into the Alhambra. I climbed aboard a small minibus and climbed again the hills surrounding the town. This time I did it from the opposite direction. As I was starting to ascend on my way to the magnificent palace, probably the best example of arabic presence in Europe, a canvas was unfolding to my left. For the first time Icould see the old residential neighborhoods of the town as a whole, and not from the viewpoint of a tired traveller navigating their streets. When I reached the palace, I realised what the Islamophobic knitpickers have been missing the whole time. The Alhambra was creates at a time when the christian west was either chasing witches, or being tormented by never-ending wars. At a time when the Arabs where rescuing artifacts, science and philosophy, the christians where operating like cross carrying jihadis . No wonder why the Arabic scholars of the time viewed Europeans as savages. The Alhambra was an architectural masterpiece in a time when Europe was being destroyed by religious fanaticism. Even if one counts out the tactical ingenuity of its fortification and the way it contacted its network of outposts (actually the Alhambra worked more as a coordination station between some outposts and barracks than as a defencive structure itself), one can sit and just watch the decorations and the craftsmanship of the interior of the buildings, a virtue that was then possessed by a lucky few craftsmen working of tiles drawings and building in the Arabic world.
After taking a close look into the castle, I decided to take a walk along the path passing right under the Alhambra. This path (or walkway if translated correctly), was closely linked with one of the most celebrated poets of Europe, friend to Salvador Dali and Luis Bunuel, and local hero. Frederico Garcia Lorca. Under any circumstances this quiet walkway, could be a lover’s spot. But at the moment when I was walking along the path, there where only a few tourists and pensioners enjoying the quiet street. I walked and walked until I got completely lost in the forest. Then I sat down and listened to the calls of nature. It was just magnificent and I was in the middle of it. Later as I was walking bck toward town, I saw a memorial plate, similar to the ones I had spotted in Bologna. This was dedicated to Frederico Garcia Lorca. Apparently the poet liked walking along this way. One of his poems was on this plate, not his photo nor his bust.

As I was descending back to town, I felt the warm Andalucian afternoon arrive. It was warmish but not hot. I went for a change of clothes and a bath. The night was coming and suddenly I was thinking of Frederico and the other three, executed some eight kilometres away from here, by the Fascists. As the big semifinal was coming, I was feeling a great shadow being cast over the town. I felt the ghost of Lorca lurking around, waiting to see the faces of those who murdered him, taking part in all this.

As the sun was setting I was more and more in need of one last drink. So I went back to the tapas bars and sipped one beer after another, eating one tapa after another, while I was watching the Furias Rojas waltz their way into the finals of the European Championship. I left a town painted red, to get to sleep. A twentyfour-hour trip awaited me next morning, and I needed all the rest I could take. So I surrendered to the warm Andalucian night, in anticipation of my 11:00 AM Cercania to Seville.

Πέμπτη, 23 Ιουνίου 2011

Abyss revisited-Easter in Paros

About nine months after my summer ordeal in Paros, I followed the family once again, to a search for the true heart of Paros. This time it was in the off-peak season, during the easter holidays. The boat was half full of Greeks who where going to pass their holidays on the islands.
For better, though, easter had come early this year, so it was completely off season. That meant that we would be able to confide in the best places , with the best food and the cleanest booze in town. Also, the weather was not very promising for the yaught owning part of the crowd, a meaning that we had avoided, momentarily, the glamourus crowd.
For worse, there was still a crowd of Athenian s willing to exchange the pollution for a few days in Paros. So that meant that a bit of overpricing on things was inevitable.
And the trouth lied in-between both things. The booze was reasonably clean, the crowd waas reasonable, and with a bit of searching we were able to distinguish the few good spots for spending the holidays. The hotels also had reasonable, by greek standards, prices. But overpricing in food was difficult to avoid.
The fact that it was off-season also helped us to do a better exploration of the island and get a better idea of the in-land villages. Probably those villages where the reason why I left the island with a beter perspective, vowing to give the place a third chance before having a clearer go at the situation in the island.
Nevertheless, the weather ruined things on easter Sunday, and we had to do the picnic indoors. The result of the day did not ruin our week at all though. In the end we all had a good time. Even during lonely moments, the island looked sweet, and things were going smoothly. I would return in August to see wether this idea could stand or not.

Δευτέρα, 16 Μαΐου 2011


Run! That was the declaration of the guy at the ticket counter, as soon as he had given me my ticket to Valencia. As soon as I had it in my hands , I dashed through all checkpoints and within two minutes I was seated inside the Altaria. I was there just at the nick of time. Now that WAS a relief. It was an early morning departure. And a spectacular one , for what it’s worth.
As I was relaxing the train was speeding through a very familiar landscape. The southeastern coast of Spain. I had been there two years before, and the scene remained virtually unchanged. I saw the empty hotel complexes, I saw whatever remained of those that where being demolished in the past, but, more importantly, I saw the redevelopment of the areas between Barcelona and Tarragona, that where slowly turning into some sort of an industrial zone. Spain was changing, again. And, despite that, everything looked, almost the same. I guess tourist zones never really change.

As I reached the central train terminal in Valencia, things where changing. We had drifted from the coast to the mainland, and, now stadiums and high tech exposition venues where all the rage.. Valencia can come close to being an industrial town which has a tourist side. In fact I was staying at it’s “picturesque” zone, a hostel that was situated almost next to the historical centre..
After shacking up, I commenced a small raid on the local supermarket, and bought some food. And since getting a little bit of sleep was of the essence, I went into the dorm and took a nap until mid afternoon.
I woke up at around six. It was about time to take a walk around and see the suroundings of the hostel. I snooped around a bit before I found the local mosque. One of the few left in Spain, it is probably the best preserved Arabic religious monument in the area. But, to my great misfortune, it was being renovated and I could not enter. I was stuck with being able to see only the façade. So I decided to take one more spin. As I walked through the city I watched a married couple riding an old Citroen. Two of the onlookers commented that it was one of Franco’s favourite models. Valencia, was, at some point, the capital of Spain’s democratic government. I do not really know Franco’s ideas had any impact on the population, but it is more likely that Valencia fell because of strategic mistakes. This is what happens when Stalinists are in charge of any movement, be it a resistance movement or a revolutionary one. Franco tormented the townsfolk. The local dialect was outlawed, along with everything else that was deemed inappropriate by the regime.
I spent the night eating pizza with the roommates (two swedes and some australians before going out on the roof to enjoy a few ales under the Valencian sky.
The next day was spent walking in the sidestreets of the city. Meanwhile, the city, like the rest of Spain, was in “Furias Rojas” fever, since Spain was on its bid to the European Championship. And things were going their side. Red and yellow flags were flying everywhere and the city was in a festive mood.
Meanwhile the sidestreets where full of old men searching for sex-for-sale. Lines of street hookers where on display and old men where lining up for them. Gross, gross,gross…… I kept walking away from all this looking for something to catch my eye. Suddenly I saw a painting of Tintin appear in front of me. There was a very wide collection of Tintin related articles, from a poster for a forthcoming golf tournament to the famous demonstration strip from the famous rogue anarchist comic book Adventures of Tintin: Breaking Free.
By then night had come and a small night out was planned. We decided to go to an English-style pub, called the Picadilly. Brit-pop music, faces that where reminiscent of the “baggy” era of Madchester and a table football set, equipped with a local Ian Brown lookalike that would not leave unless someone beat him in a game. Of course, trying that was hopeless, since the guy was the local table football champ. So humiliated as we where, we retreated to a table to finish our booze.
On the final day the Valencian heat was terrible. I stayed in until almost midnight, when it was time to leave and catch the night train to Granada

Δευτέρα, 14 Μαρτίου 2011

Seasons in the Abyss-Paros '06

After the disaster that ruined my stay in Spain, my father decided to help me sae part of my holidays. He proposed that instead of staying alone in Athens in the midst of August, I should follow him to the island of Paros, to get a glimpse of good clean family fun once in a while. I had visited Paros after my graduation, 10 years earlier, and I had very fond memories of the whole debauchery that occurred there. Plus I remember the island as a place full of pleasure and opportunities for easy sex, with easygoing locals. And the travelling beast in me was arguing that it would be better to jump on the next ferry than stay in town
Apparently all this had changed radically in the passing years. And there I was crashing in this 65 euro-a-night room to let, which was obviously a bit too much in my eyes. The food was ranging from nice to awful, the alcohol was going quickly down the drain, the music was a bad combination of mainstream hits. Bleh! Suddenly, by the beginning of the first night, I was at a loss. I was missing something. Instead of the hippyish adventurous crowd I met in my travels to Spain, I came across something completely different. Most of the crowd was among the kind of the social climbers. Most of the youth looked like Mykonos wash-outs, trendy kids and socialites that can’t afford Santorini.All of a sudden I had sunk in a different kind of swamp. Barcelona might be a city of vice, but Paros and all these wee islands in the vicinity of Athens are a totally different animal.
Within the last few years, aros had emerged into a must for all semi-well-to-do summer escapees from Athens, catering for the needs of a crowd that needed to sow off. Hence, the island is dominated by overpriced services aimed at rich Europeans and Greeks that have some extra money to spend. At the time a week in Paros cost as much as three weeks of roaming around Spain. Do the math. The truth is that Paros turned out as a place not meant for budget holidaymakers. The contrary. In the Cyclades, at the time, the term value-for-money was unknown. Even though some terms of traditional beuty survived (like the winemakers in Naousa, the architecture), the evil truth is that the island has surrendered to capitalism altogether. Most beaches with easy access are full of umbrellas and seats for rent (as much as five euros an hour-do the math), and the golden sands of the island are full people. In some of the most crowded beaches, finding space is unpossible by all means.
The night activities wre different in a similar fashion. There was no bar whatsoever that was playing any decent music at all. Even the idea of organising a botellon , seemed like something different altogether.The idea of going out here, certainly differs from the idea present in other parts of the world. Fashionable clubs with spiked drinks are all the way. And I could not even think of searching for any drugs, this would definitely be beyond my wallet.
Within that week I had travelled clockwise around the island, and I had found one-all-evident truth. Paros was definately not the island Greek poets were talking about, no more.. But then again, I was in a bitter mood after the end of my travels in Spain, and I was probably unfair to the place… I would visit it in some niche period, a few months later.

Δευτέρα, 28 Φεβρουαρίου 2011

Barcelona again (chasing ghosts of voyages past)

By sundown I had reached the Estacion Franca, and was in the process of searching for the hostel. Once again I was lost. The hours past and I was becoming more and more disoriented. Yet Barcelona still mistyfied me. I was still looking for a way to join in the decadant and vibrant atmosphere of the town. Barcelona still sinks to a mindboggling beat. After seemingly hours of searching, I found some metro station and started following directions to the hostel. Upon my arrival another problem appeared. I had booked a bed, but from the next day and on. Finaly I managed to get a bed for the night, and left my belongings in there. I was just into my clean clothes and looking for something to eat, when one of the German students staying in the hostel barged in through the reception and said something about a nude guy appearing in the deli nextdoor. I went in and watched the commotion. In reality nobody was reacting. This is Barcelona, anyway. Someone can get into an establishment of any sort, butt-naked, without anyone even blinking an eye. Locals tend to be very open about a lot of things.

I wrote about Barcelona’s unique architectural style in previous posts. But in fact, I had not seen even half of the city’s monuments. I had to do the rounds once more. After all this was my reason for being in town, Barcelona was not a pit stop this time. It was something more. And while I was still chasing away memories of my previous stay there, I had my mind set on visiting whatever I had missed out previously.
So the first place to visit that was in the stay’s orders, was Park Guel. One of Antoni Gaudi’s masterpieces. Comissioned by wealthy count Eusebi Guell, the park is divided in two sections. The botanic section, wich is the biggest one and offers a splendid view of the city and a quiet walk for people who want to wind up, and the monument section, which is the focus point for all tourist groups. Inspired by the Garden City movement, Lewis Carol’s “Alice in Wonderland”, and the sea, full of cave-like arks and recycled elements from an older housing estates. And all these seem strange if one takes into consideration the fact that Gaudi himself was very religious. His house, is a simple structure, the only decoration of wich, is a portrait of the pope opposite to Gaudi’s bed.
The exploration of the Park, continued for the best part of my day. At some part of the walk around I saw a very familiar scene. An anarchist squat. The anarchist movement has a great tradition in the Peninsula and especially around Catalunya, since the beginning of the 20th century. I will not comment on the history of the anarchist movement, but I saw a banner that got me thinking. “Tourists Go Home” , it wrote. I think this is very contradictory. How can one wjo envisages a world with no borders and free mobility of people, tell some foreigner (even a tourist) to go? Is this for real? On the other hand this seems to reflect on the attitude of some of the locals. La Rambla is full of tourists, thieves,dirt,drugs. Only the sea of neon lights could be missing. But then again, this is Barcelona, and all this can still be overlooked. In the mean time, the night of Sant Joan is approaching, and I hear homemade fireworks everywhere.
The night is a big party that concludes with the burning of the huge statue of Sant Joan somewhere near Barceloneta. Before that, the statue is being moved through the city streets, accompanied by runners, cyclists and marching bands. The night is long and uneventful.

The next day was dedicated to sports. Sort of. I had decided to pay a visit to the hills. Montjouik the hill of Jews in ancient Catalan. The area houses the biggest park in the metropolitan area of Barcelona, a 17th century castle overseeing the port, a big part of the 1992 Olympic Complex, the Miro Museum and the Palau Nacional. Probably it is the perfect example of Barcelona’s mix and match architectural style. The architecture of the castle (wich was a prison for political prisoners including the infamous Salvador Puig Antich, during Franco’s rule), is combined with the Belle Epoque Styled Palau Nacional, and Santiago Calatrava’s Olympic ring are all situated within a 3 mile radius. The castle can be reached via monorail (the Funicular) or, if you are into walking-cycling, through the local streets (which used to be the Montjuic Street Circuit, until the mid seventies). It took me 15 minutes to reach the castle with the funicular, and some 20 minutes downhill to reach the Miro Museum wich was close to the start of the Funicular. I gave about twenty euros to what seemed to me the most lifeless and boring museum ever, wich gave me no feeling of the era when Miro operated, even though the collection was a really good assortment of his work, wich expanded from architecture to painting and modern sculpture. Miro was one of Barcelona’s profilic architects, though overshadowed by the mighty Gaudi, and certainly one of its grandest painters. Mind you though, the museum doesn’t serve him right.
The following night I followed a lone Quaker to a local pub. He was good company and turned out to be a good conversationalist for a 19 year old American. Looks like Quakers can be very liberal. By the end of the night I was kinda wasted, and falling a victim of the mugger patrol. Thank god I found out fast enough and chased the thief’s away screaming things about chopping their heads of in Spanish and various nice things I would do to their families if they did not leave my wallet. In the end I was just some thirty five euros short, and they had left my wallet and cashcards there. The end of the night had come. And the end of my last day in town. I had spent some nights in Barcelona, and emerged unharmed and able to continue my quest. Gosts chased away, and nightmares run over, I was ready to move to Valencia.

Πέμπτη, 13 Ιανουαρίου 2011

Things to do in Barcelona when you're broke

hBeing tired and weary I was roaming the streets of Barcelona looking for a cheap way to eat and contact my parents. And as I was sitting in front of a computer screen at the local Subway trying to email my father for more cash, my wallet disappeared. Somebody had managed to pull it away from my eyesight within a few seconds. So I sent a second email with instructions for my father to send me money via Western Union. Bad choice, since WU is a ripoff, but I could not choose anything better than that. And I was very lucky, because I had stashed my passport and plane ticket at another pocket.
So, in a few words, there I was stranded, tired, weary and broke in Barcelona, trying to find my way around things. The situation looked grimm, and the probabilities of me having to return home early due to lack of cash, where really high, and I had no attention of turning back. In the meantime I was sitting at a sports bar, charging my phone and waiting for confirmation that everything was in its right place, and hoping to find my wallet, with my cashcard. Evil, evil town Barcelona. Petty crime and prostitution are rife. Barcelona is slowly sinking to the beat of moral decay, and enjoying the ride. But this ride is really rough when it comes to the poor of the city.
Local and federal police are gentle when they deal with tourists, but this is not the case with immigrants, prostitutes and junkies. Police violence and arrests are a common sight in La Rambla. Pickpockets are the most common criminals here, especially in parts of La Rambla where there is some traffic and congestion, but also around coffeeshops and restaurants in the area.
Meanwhile the call has come in, and I am stocked with money for the remainder of the week. So I head to a hostal (something like a cheap rooms to let thing, not to be confused with hostels), and spend my last five days in Spain, trying to find the wallet and keep up my hopes concerning my stay in Spain. I spend my days wandering around Barri Gottik, pacing around La Rambla sidestreets trying to find my wallet (which is not in any police lost and found) , and spending my evenings around the areas of the Barceloneta.
The Barceloneta has been fully refurbished into an artificial beach, and the city’s meat packing district. There you will find an interesting mix of characters, from dealers trying to sell you a fix, to street musicians, to undercover police officers, to political activists, and action-thirsty American tourists. Barcelona is a haven for all these guys, since a great deal of everything, from every sort of alternative scene happens there. Reggae, ska, punk and hip hop top the bill, with Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra headlining a gig at the Palau Musica, to local heroes Ojos de Brujo playing for free at a street party in their Barrio.
Money of course was scarce. So whatever I could do apart from walking around was very limited. Buying “stuff” was out of the question, I could not afford that. Food was coming from supermarkets and street vendors. A few beers from the kiosk or the Chinese guys had to do the drinking job, and street artists where the only entertainment. Anyway, whatever works, so be it. Come the fifth day, and I was becoming accustomed to the idea of returning to Greece. Oblivious to what was happening in the UK, I was getting ready to board the train to Madrid.