Vacay Recap: SPAIN

by April 23, 2007
13

By Jake Appleman 

April 5-16

Knowing that nobody cares about the end of the NBA regular season and that I’d soon be engrossed in the joy that is the postseason, it seemed like a good time to take a vacation. So I did. It was epic. I decided to do a recap more for posterity than anything else, but I figured I’d post it here because we had a great time.

THURSDAY:

–There’s a security breach at JFK. People are stuck like a herd of sheep, unable to enter past the checkpoints, completely unaware as to what’s going on. After 3 hours—I spend much of it awkwardly scrunched between a terribly stereotypical French family—we’re allowed to enter the airport. Standing behind roughly a thousand people, it only takes another 75 minutes to check in. I scurry on over to my gate, barely board my late-departing plane on time, only to find out, after a half hour of sitting there, that we’re #27 in line to take off. “Folks, this is your captain speaking, we’re going be another two hours.” Making things worse, my entire plane is filled with chatty students from Syracuse and none of them are Donte Greene, the next Tracy McGrady, because he doesn’t go there yet. That’s right, I said it. Kevin Durant isn’t the next Tracy McGrady; he’s the first Kevin Durant. Donte Greene, however, is the next, taller, Tracy McGrady. The flight movie is the title of my AI SLAM 107 cover story, The Pursuit of HappYness. I battle sleep to watch it. It’s really amazing that Will Smith was my hero when I was 12. I just doubled that age, and my only heroes are a rapper that wears a mask and a Chicken Cutlet with melted American cheese, lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise on a Kaiser roll which, come to think of it, isn’t a hero but a sandwich. As the movie credits roll and I slowly doze off, I realize that I masochistically forced myself to stay awake.

FRIDAY:

–My line for immigration at Madrid’s Barajas airport is out of control. It takes over an hour. Even sadder is the airport’s organization of its immigration lines. “Other countries” is the line I’m in. To our left is the decently populated “Other Countries in Europe.” And to the far left—AMAZINGLY, IMPLAUSIBLY, UNBELIEVEABLY—is a line with a sign that reads “Norway and Denmark.” There are five people on it. Like Dirk early in the fourth quarter, our line is a fire hazard, yet there’s an entire line comprised of 3 Danes, 2 Norwegians and a partridge in a pear tree. (The pear tree was grown in the vast abundance of space that the left side of immigration had at its disposal.) What’s more disappointing was that I was supposed to meet a good friend who was leaving Madrid right when I was arriving. He had even supposedly brought Mahou with him. Thanks to my late departing flight and immigration suffocation, there is no reunion. La puta madre de mierda! 

Battling sleep and worrisome lateness, I hop the Madrid metro and head to the Atocha Renfe train station to meet up with my best friend from high school, who will only be known in this diary as “Homie” and “Sofia”, the latter a reference to a joke made by my Spanish friends at 5AM outside of a club the following weekend.

–I can’t find Homie in the arranged meeting place, which actually isn’t the arranged meeting place because I forgot that “the ticket window” was actually “various ticket windows”. Incommunicado, confused, tired of waiting and hungry, I hit up a crumby restaurant and engage my taste buds in something that may or may not have been chicken. Having nearly finished my meal, I feel the absolute need to use the restroom. Funny coincidence: the restaurant doesn’t have one. (Sidenote: This kind of stuff happens all the time in Spain. Restaurants don’t have bathrooms, fruit salads are a solitary piece of fruit, ham museums are contemporary and un-artistic, etc.)

Anyway, it was such an emergency that I left my bags in the restaurant and promised to return and pay my bill. As I’m frantically running to the nearest bathroom, Homie jumps out of nowhere,and nearly (literally) scares the crap out of me. A half hour later, after staring at some turtles in a pond—I swear, there’s a pond with turtles in it at the Madrid train station—we’re off to Sevilla.

SATURDAY  

After a good night’s sleep at hotel that featured a front desk attendant who knew nothing about Sevilla, we bounced around the city and damn, it’s beautiful. Go there. All of you. Right now. Screw the playoffs, I’ll watch them for you and you can read this website. Just go to Sevilla.

I also had developed some sort of pink eye that needed some attending to. We stopped at a pharmacy so I could get some eye drops. This was awesome because I was also on antibiotics for what I thought was strep throat, but didn’t have the time to get checked.

Saturday, we switched from our hotel to a hostel in a trendier part of town. On our walk over there we passed a barber shop called “Lebrons”. The hostel was brand new and the fresh paint on the walls smelled like egg salad. The owners were friendly and helpful. There were various sketchy people we met, most notably two sadly memorable guys that have a few loose screws when it comes to pursuing women.

The first dude was a lunkhead from ‘Sconsin that told us that he was going out “Tomcatting”. This meant that he was going out and making a game out of picking up women. He wasn’t going to holla at a fly girl as she passed his drunk ass by; he was going to talk to, more or less, every single girl that walked by him until one showed enough interest to engage him in his tomfoolery. “Don’t forget your tomfoolery sauce, tool hardware store!” I forgot to tell him. The second dude was an Italian guy named Sergio that met Homie earlier in the day and tried to cling on to us that night until he realized we were going to actually spend money on dinner.

This was what it was like to walk down streets in Seville with Sergio:

Sergio: You guys have to come with you to this club tonight. I met this girl and she told me about this club.
Me: Uh, ok.
Homie: Uh, we have plans to meet up with these two Czech girls that we met.
Sergio: Are they sisters?
Me: No.
Sergio: Do they have a sister?
Me: I doubt it.
Sergio: So there are only two of them?
Me: Yeah, I think so.
Sergio: #&^*#$E&*(#$&*().
Me: We’re stopping here to eat.
Sergio: No, it looks expensive.
Me: OK, we’re definitely eating here. You’re welcome to join us, Sergio.
(Sergio disappears into an alley, possibly having picked up a scent.)
                                                                                     
We met up with the Czech girls, went to some bars, a club and stayed out till 6 in the morning. Good times.

SUNDAY

We’re heading home from the disco at 6AM, and lo and behold, we hit the heart of Sevilla’s Semana Santa (Easter Week) procession. The most staggering thing about Semana Santa in Sevilla is that the costumes are what the KKK based their costumes on. Everybody that we ran into on Saturday that wasn’t from Spain asked us if we’d seen the KKK. So, at 6AM we stumbled home and basically bumped into what looked like a giant KKK procession, but, thankfully, wasn’t.

When we woke up in the late afternoon, we cruised through the beautiful Barrio Santa Cruz on our way Sanchez Pijuan, the stadium home to Sevilla FC. (What, you thought I was going to go to Spain and go to a few La Liga matches?) Sevilla were hosts to Racing, the hottest team in the league, a squad challenging my beloved Atletico Madrid for a UEFA CUP spot. Also of note: Thanks to Barcelona’s loss to Zaragoza the night before, Sevilla could take control of first place in La Liga with a W. I walked up to the ticket window and was told that no cheap seats remained for the match. Only really, really good (and expensive) ones. So I splurged and we ended up three rows behind the Racing bench. I had never been that close before. Some thoughts on the game:

–Watching the Racing striker combo of Zigic and Munitis is like watching the Governator and Danny Devito in Twins. Zigic “stardust” is basically the Serbian version of Peter Crouch and Munitis is basically the Cantabrian (northern Spain) version of a midget. 

–Because they were in between legs of a UEFA Cup matchup with Tottenham, Sevilla coach Juande Ramos decided to rest his star striker, Freddy Kanoute. Kanoute (call him the Mali-man because he’s from Mali and always delivers) was rested for the second leg and scored in that match, but he was sorely missed against Racing, as Sevilla—and replacement Uruguayan Striker Luis Chevanton—butchered opportunity after opportunity. Kanoute played a few minutes in the end as Sevilla tried to go hard for the points, but he didn’t see many opportunities. It was the only 0-0 tie in La Liga that weekend, but it was entertaining back and forth affair. Sevilla actually had two goals taken away from them. Of course, yesterday, in their first home match since this one, Sevilla bagged 4 goals in the second half…

–Sevilla was playing a player named “Puerta” (Spanish for door) on the left side of the midfield. As Sevilla is a stronger club up the right side, Racing overplayed them to the right. This led to many balls sent Puerta’s way. The beauty of this was that the aptly-named Puerta was left with the task of crossing the ball to his forward-moving teammates. It was the perfect metaphor: Puerta needed to open the door to the goal. Because of this, I spent much of the first half yelling at him whenever he got the ball and looked to cross because this always happened within earshot of our seats. What I yelled was pretty amazing (at least I thought so…): “Abre la puerta, coño!” (Open the door, ****!) Yes, people looked. Often, I am bashful, but in this instance I did not care one bit.

After the game we headed to a beautiful park in town, stopped to marvel at an absurdly amazing sunset and then crossed the bridge to La Calle Betis where we ate some incredible tapas, though a waitress jacked me out of 3 euro, explaining that even though they hadn’t brought me what I asked, because it was on the bill and the waitress that screwed up had left, I might has well have eaten it. I wanted to push the issue, but there was a pack of Spaniards next to us that seemed itching for to start something with some tourists. So I let my soft side—my Keith Van Horn side—take over. It was frustrating though. I think I called myself a milquetoast 8 times in the span of 2 minutes.

–Sunday night was also when my brain briefly stopped working. I asserted that raisins came from prunes and that Long Beach Island was in Maryland, not New Jersey.

MONDAY

–We took the train to Cadiz, only to realize we’d booked a hostel over an hour away at a really trendy beach area called Playa La Barrosa. We needed two buses to get there. I was ordering tapas while we waited for the first bus to arrive when I saw something on the menu that I’d never tried: Menudo.

“What is Menudo?” I asked the waitress in Spanish, fairly certain that the dish had nothing to do with a young Ricky Martin.

“Menudo,” she responded without hesitation. It was one of the greatest deadpan moments of my life. Menudo is, apparently, Menudo. Who knew? Because I had a hard time keeping a straight face just looking at her,  we ordered it. It was pretty slimy and gross. According to Wikipedia: “These leftovers consisted of organ meats, brains, head, tails, hooves, etc. As cattle and sheep are ruminants that require lengthy intestinal tracts to digest their diet of grasses and raw seeds, the stomach is one of the largest pieces of offal available from these animals.” UGH!

To conclude cheesily: That waitress was tripelin!

–We got to the beach and it was perfect. We had been running away from the rain with some good success for a few days, and there were no clouds at this beach. Just blue skies and freezing water. Donning my official Undrcrwn Carlos Boozer chest hair wet suit, I gamely took on the freezing Atlantic. Colder than a polar bear’s toenails indeed, but I’m not 7 of the worst teams in the NBA, so I decided to swim as long as I possibly could.

After getting out of the water, Homie and I created a game. There was a steep cliff overlooking the beach and there was a giant hole in it. We basically had a shooting contest, trying to toss rocks of varying sizes into the hole, with the greater distances counting for more points. Even though I lost, it was fun.

By the way, if you’re ever in Spain and you want to guarantee enjoying your meal, go with either Paella or the Entrecot (steak: center cut). The combo of this meal and the sunset in Playa La Barrosa that night was more than on point. That was the moment when I thought to myself: “Damn, I could be at work right now, but I’m sitting here in one of the most picturesque places in the world, and we ended up here by accident because Homie didn’t know the difference between the city of Cadiz and the province of Cadiz when he was booking the hostel.”

TUESDAY

–We spent the early afternoon at the beach and then headed off to Malaga. We got there late at night. This time I flubbed the hostel reservation, only booking a spot for myself by accident. Thankfully, they let us stay. Even though Homie decided to stay in that night, as he battled a case of the Eli Mannings, I met a bunch of randoms at the hostel and went out till 6AM.

WEDNESDAY (mid-vacay lull sets in for two days)

It rained. We climbed a castle and took in some cool views. Met a buddy from college at a restaurant called El Pimpi. I’d recommend it to anyone ever chilling in downtown Malaga.

I finished Franklin Foer’s How Soccer Explains the World, too. Great book. Pick it up if you can.

THURSDAY 

Spent most of the day traveling back to Madrid for the final leg of our journey. The sun finally showed its face in Malaga just in time for us leave. Thanks sun!

We get to Madrid and chill for the night. My friend, Cristina, that we’re staying with reminds me of the one rule she has in her apartment. If there’s no beer left in the fridge, we need to get some. We tell her all about our trip, and then she re-lectures me on the annoying people you can find in Madrid. The giris (pronunciation “He-ri” loose translation: yuppies) and the gilis (pronunciation “He-li”, loose translation: tools).

FRIDAY

We journey out to Getafe for the greatest bocadillos in the world. I wrote about them here.

We get back to Madrid and I take Sofia sight-seeing.

Friday night: We go out and party ALL NIGHT. I think we got to bed at around 9AM. We mix in 4 different bars and two different discos, and we don’t have to pay a dime. It pays (literally) to have friends that used to be party promoters in Madrid. I spent part of Friday night teaching the cousin of one of my Spanish friends how to say “How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood.” After about 15 tries, she nailed it. The best part: She doesn’t speak English. WHO MOOCH WOOOD COOOOD A WOOOD CHOOK CHOOOK IF A WOOD CHOOK COOD CHOOK WOOOOOOOOOOD. Fantastic.

SATURDAY

SLEEEEEP. Don’t remember much else. We went out briefly again before heading back at 3AM.

SUNDAY

Vintage beautiful high 70’s spring day in Madrid. We head to La Latina to meet up with some more Spanish friends of mine. At the table with my friends is a guy from Palestine that they just met, and we become engrossed in the never-ceasing Palestine-Israel debate. I never know what to say in these conversations other than, “I just wish people would stop killing each other.”

Lots of other good conversations. My Spanish is finally coming back to form just in time for me to leave.

Homie and I head to Vicente Calderon for the Atletico Madrid-Levante match. Near the stadium, we pick up a buddy of mine from college and the three of us scalp tickets. There’s a general section that we’re admitted to, and we find three prime seats about 7 rows off one of the touchlines.

The first half is rubbish. Chances are scarce. Finally, in the forty-third minute, Atletico striker (and Spanish heartthrob) Fernando “El Niño” Torres furiously runs down a long ball right in front of us, using a great combo of hustle and speed to outwork the defender for the ball. This leads to a throw in and the crowd finally wakes up. We vociferously serenade him along with the rest of the crowd, “Fernando Torres, la la la la la la, Fernando Torres, la la la la la la” until we’re hypnotized. Atleti takes the momentum into the second half and begins to play with more abandon, creating more chances. When a 21 yard wonderstrike from Torres puts Atletico up for good, we explode into chant. Some Spanish guy I’d never seen before rubs my head.

And that’s the thing about football (soccer). You sit there patiently, internalizing all of your frustration at the lack of enjoyment you can get from a certain match, until BOOM. A goal can be that moment of cathartic release, when all that you have pent up explodes out of you and into an ecstasy that translates into wild celebration. I swear, we were high on “Fernando Torres la la la la la la” for the rest of the evening. Two hours after the match (Atletico held on to win 1-0), we’re sitting at a tapas restaurant in La Latina, and every five minutes one of us would randomly start singing the chant. It was incredible. I’ve never experienced anything like that before in my life.

MONDAY

Flew back and reversed the jinx of my trip over by somehow managing to sneak into NYC an hour or two after it stopped raining, clearly lucking out while others had been stranded because of flooding.