Thursday, November 6, 2008

"Un Hombre Con Un Backpack de Terror" or "Diary of an Academic Engrossed in Horror Films"

Me in the Plaza Mayor (I hadn't stepped foot in there for 20 years)


I worked hard for nearly a year to secure a grant from my University. The grant was designed around conducting international research in Madrid for my doctoral dissertation. It was a bumpy road. The money was elusive, but in the end, with the help of some very good people - it materialized and I set the week for mid-October. The bulk of the research (sadly, only a week) was centered around, archival investigations and interviews regarding the Spanish horror film boom of the late 1960s and 1970s. The quality and the quantity of my research turned out to be phenomenal - especially since I only had 5 weekdays to do it!

The day came to leave (Saturday, Oct. 18) and my Mom drove me to the airport. We reminisced about our memories of Spain. We had an apartment in Las Palmas (one of Spain's Canary Islands - just off the coast of Morocco). Las Palmas is one of the most beautiful places in the world and I forever gave my Grandparents shit for selling the apartment in 1980, but so goes life...

Check in at the North Terminal in Detroit was fast and easy. The flight to Chicago - the same. I had three hours to kill in O'Hare (not one of my favorite airports due to its hectic pace and HIGH volume of travelers). The Iberia gate opened, we boarded, and departed on time. Lovely. We landed in Madrid about eight hours later - I hadn't stepped foot on Spanish soil in ten years and it felt very, very good.

Barajas is incredible

Barajas is definitely NOT the major airport I remember from the 7os. The main reason for this is because it's NOT. It's a brand new airport that truly has no rival in Europe. Some of the data regarding Barajas: Terminal 4, designed by Antonio Lamela and Richard Rogers (winning team of the 2006 Stirling Prize), and TPS Engineers, (winning team of the 2006 IStructE Award for Commercial Structures) was built by Ferrovial and inaugurated on February 5, 2006. Terminal 4 is one of the world's largest airport terminals in terms of area, with 760,000 square meters (8,180,572 square feet) in separate landside and airside structures. Consisting of a main building, T4 (470,000 m²), and satellite building, T4S (290,000 m²), which are separated by approximately 2.5 km. Hong Kong International Airport still holds the title for the world's largest single terminal building (Terminal 1) at 570,000 square meter. The new Terminal 4 is meant to give passengers a stress-free start to their journey. This is managed through careful use of illumination, available by glass panes instead of walls and numerous domes in the roof which allow natural light to pass through. With the new addition, Barajas is designed to handle 70 million passengers annually. Personally, it reminds me of a Ken Adam production design from one of his many James Bond films - it is an AMAZING airport. ( data is from Wiki entry on Barajas).

I quickly found a taxi at the top of the queue and told the driver "the Hotel Mora, Paseo Del Prado." And thus began a week of intense Spanish. A word about my Spanish. It's not great, but it's not that bad either. It's actually really VERY good when I am having a conversation with myself. When I have the time (as opposed to real time) to form the sentences in my head - they are quite good. But the real time conversation is always more difficult, more fun, and challenging. I understand nearly all which is said to me and respond okay - but taking time to choose the right words is the rub. By the end of the week however, my Spanish was blossoming and had I another week or two - my Spanish tongue would have been quite a bit more cunning.

First pic taken. After much coffee I walked right over to the Prado and waited for it to open.

I got into the taxi queue at Barajas and we drove into a very quiet, sleeping Madrid. It was about 7 am on a Sunday morning. I chatted with the cabbie - testing my Spanish - I passed for the most part. We arrived to the Paseo Del Prado and I checked into my Hotel. As is the case when you arrive early in a city - you can't check in until typically 2 pm. It was 7:30. I had about 7 hours to kill. I checked my baggage with the hotel and 3 cafe con leche's and several cigarettes later - 9 am rolled around and the Prado Museum (just across the street mind you) opened its glorious doors.

So, I spent the morning with Goya, Velazquez, El Greco, Dali, Rubens, and my personal favorite Jose de Ribera. I was one tired dude though and the jet-lag was getting the best of me... After about 3 hours I stopped into the small gift shoppe in the Museum and quickly fell in love with the girl working there. In fact, I rehearsed a complex compliment in Spanish to tell her (roughly explaining to her that she was more beautiful than anything hangin in the entire building) but I chickened out in the last minute, I know, I know, but hey, I was very fucking tired... Truth be told, I was falling in love with a girl every two minutes - I couldn't help it. In Europe (especially Spain) the girls look like the just walked off of the set of a Fellini film - high heels, nylons, skirt, satin blouse, necklace, scarf, bit of make-up to accentuate the lips and eyes - JODER! Too much visual stimulation. In Detroit, girls walk around in sweats and Ugg Boots. By comparison, I was in heaven. This was one of the MAJOR reasons I was kicking and screaming all the way to the ariport a week later... Anyways, so where was I? Oh yeah, the masters - well here's one of em' for ya!

Goya (check out The Naked Maja at the Base!)

2 o'clock rolled around and I went back to my lovely little hotel and checked in. The lobby:

My room? Small? You be the judge...

Be it ever so humble...

Ah, but don't underestimate this nugget! My needs were simple, I needed a nice, clean, affordable hotel and Mora delivered beautifully. I was SO incredibly busy every day that my hotel was merely a place to go at the end of the day and essentially prepare for the next day's events and of course to take a load off and to sleep. The hotel is lovely, it has a great lil' cafe with very good food, a very friendly staff (I was hanging out with the staff at night regularly), is VERY centrally located, had a new plasma tv, a small but brand new bathroom and was only 60 Euros a night! Beat that! A hostel is only going to run slightly cheaper and I'm too damn old for a hostel these days - the Hotel Mora was perfect. Thank you Carlos for the recommendation - I will definitely stay there again next trip. Views from the balcony which is on the Paseo del Prado - to the right is Atocha railway station - yes it's that close.

Left View

Right View

Now, the trick was NOT to crash. Anyone who knows jet-lag - knows that even though you've been up for like 30 hours - you don't want to nap or you'll have trouble sleeping that night. I took a 20-30 minute power nap and then showered - grabbed some coffee downstairs and called the historian, author, critic, cinema personality, and all around fantastic caballero - Carlos Aguilar (with whom I had been corresponding for many months) I phoned his equally brilliant and super lovely wife, the Canadian author Anita Haas and the three of us set up plans to meet that night (Sunday) for drinks, food, conversation, and in retrospect, perhaps the most special night of my trip. We went to La Taberna de Conspiradores which was just around the corner - it was about 9:30 when we arrived. Carlos quickly told me he had inerviews set up with Jorge Grau and Eugenio Martin if I would like... If I would like?! Absolutely! What a great start to the week! Carlos also gave me the first of many gifts that night - more on that in the next post. We talked about many many topics and realized that we had a tremendous amount in common and it felt like we had been friends for a very long time, easily and comfortably we got to know one another - it was a very special evening (and my GOD, the food!!!!!!) How I wish I had that platter of Chorizo and other meat specialites in front of me again (what was the name of the hot one again? Jamon Potate?) and my personal favorite drink for relaxation in Spain -Patxaran.

Taberna de Conspiradores during the day

A Special First Night in Madrid - Carlos, Anita y Yo

I was OVER-TIRED when I got back to the hotel and didn't get to sleep until about 4 am - with a wake up call for 7:30 - but I didn't care. I was in Spain. A country I am always at home in. I'll post pics of yours truly at two years old in Las Palmas (back in 1972) - I am always welcomed in this country - she and I have had a long and beautiful love affair.


gilligan said...

Great, great post... I will be staying tuned and am envious as usual.

I lived in Zaragoza as a child... the bull fights still haunt me.

Chick Young said...

Hey Gil! So sorry I haven't been around lately. So busy as of late. Thanks for your kind praise. I'm trying to get the posts up while the memories are fresh. Zaragoza huh!? That's awesome - tell me more. Do you get back to Spain at all? It's a magical place for me. What are your memories (apart from the bullfights! I've got a super 8 movie of me at a bullfight in 1976 in Las Palmas). Never cared for them either - I was exposed too young! When are you going back Gil?

Kimberly said...

I really enjoyed reading about your adventures in Spain! I've never traveled there, but I'd like to some day.

Chick Young said...

Thank you Kimberly! Nice to see you again! I think you (or anyone) would enjoy Spain very much. It's a magical place. DAY two of my journey will be posted soon. Thanks again for you visit!

Ira Gabelsburger said...

Great diary and great pictures! Your poetic descriptions of Iberia make it a land anyone should want to encounter! I can't think of a better way to spend a morning in that part of Europe than with the great masters Dali and Velasquez. I look forward to day two!

JMR said...

welcome back, stranger.

i've only skimmed this post...i'll read more later when i get the chance, but it sounds like you had a blast.

i've done some updating of my at your leisure.

Chick Young said...

Joey Joe Joe! Thanks buddy - I'll head over to your blog tonight and catch-up. Would love to get together soon.

@ Ira - Thanks buddy.

gilligan said...

My family is actually originally from Bari, Italy... but it is a long story. We are all so busy and spread apart now, it is doubtful a visit to the old country will be anytime soon. Gone are the days when families all stayed tight and close.

I digress. Sounds like an interesting project you've got going.

Keith said...

The hotel sounds great. It's always nice to find or be recommended places like that wherever you might be.

Anonymous said...

I love it ! Very creative ! That's actually really cool Thanks.