Friday, April 18, 2014

Spain: It's a whole other country out there

I was recently in Madrid for a workshop.  Here are some impressions from my trip.  The photos are of the royal palace, which I could see by crossing the street from my hotel.  Walking along its facade was all the tourism I indulged in.

There was very little grass to be found.  Even in public parks, open spaces were often level, bare dirt or sand.  In other cases they were concrete, or sometimes end-on cinderblocks (occasionally with bits of grass growing through the holes).  Wild spaces had scrubby growth in a desert-like ambiance.  Even where there were trees, there wasn't necessarily green grass.

As expected in Europe, especially in a city, I didn't see obese people as I do in the United States.

The colors of clothing were very muted:  dark colors and largely shades of black and brown.  There were no light, bright, or bold colors, though my green Gore-Tex jacket and red sweater were a notable exceptions.  On my way home, I could already see a significant difference in the Paris airport.

The people were friendly and game to talk with me.  Although my complexion didn't fool anyone into thinking I was a native, I felt it was successful -- one day I had about 4 hours of Spanish conversation, which eliminated my feelings of inadequacy about my Spanish.  (I continue to use my Kindle with a foreign-language dictionary.)  Most of my professional interactions were in English.

One night I was eating alone at Yerbabuena restaurant (which I recommend) and an Australian helicopter pilot, hungry for English conversation, started talking with me and moved to my table.  Another night, when I was eating with other American researchers, there were no English menus available and I was able to help with translations.  My first night in Madrid, I was tired and hungry, so I went out to eat at 9pm.  The first thing the waiter said to me was, "Why do you want to eat dinner so early?"

I was very pleased to see that there wasn't much smoking.  This impression changed one night when I was walking back from a restaurant at 12:30am -- an hour at which the restaurant itself was still completely full.  Then I saw quite a few people smoking on the street outside clubs.  I found the streets were empty around 8pm-9:30pm or so, and then filled back up when it became time to go out to eat at 10pm or so.

Another night, I happened across a gang of 40 or so men holding up a huge, misshapen blob of an object, singing and swaying in unison.  They were practicing for the upcoming Easter (?) procession, and their float was covered in plastic to protect it.  There were a couple of police watching the whole thing.  I found that there seemed to be an unusual number of police visible everywhere I want, but maybe it wasn't excessive given the high density of housing and shops.  The city felt safe, though not pristine -- it's a city where people live.

No comments: