Monday, July 5, 2010

Spanish Bombs over Andalucia

So regrettably, I spent much of my week in España curled up in the fetal position in a bed or couch somewhere with a killer sinus infection. I felt like I was cheating myself by failing to go out and party like a rockstar with Amy and the rest, but all my body wanted to do was remain horizontal for as long as possible. I still made a pretty good run of things, visiting four cities--Valencia, Granada, Sevilla, and Málaga--in my time there.
Aside from the aforementioned holocaust of hair, Valencia was a guay-ass place, reminding me of an upscale Miami with less cocaine. Walking around the spacey Ciudad de Artes y Ciencias in Valencia was a highlight as the surreal futuristic architecture made me feel as if I had walked into the set of a sci-fi movie. Everything was sleek, white, impeccably placed, and looked as if it shouldn't stand up, yet it all did. More architectural showpieces than the "highbrow entertainment" venues which they ostensibly function as, the buildings of the Ciudad are the demonstration of an imagination liberated by technology. Will all our new buildings have such panache in the future? I can only hope so, since that would be hella cool. Having observed the passion for beauty that permeates so many of the public buildings of yesteryear in places like Praha or Firenze, I can only hope that our generation leaves an equivalent architectural legacy, rather than prisons of boxy functionality. In Valencia and in Nice, I also encountered that peculiar European phenomenon of topless sunbathing. Really, the practice seems like good common sense, after all, how distracting are tanlines, but I was a bit concerned that I would engage in some inordinate ogling. My female readers will be pleased to know that this was not that case, since the whole topless phenomenon when observed in situ seems more utilitarian than erotic. The sunbathers are nude, not naked, since their state of undress is brazen and intentional and they have not been caught in a fleeting moment of immodesty. They are nude in the way that an art model is nude or an anatomical drawing is nude since their lack of clothing served as a statement of power rather than an exposure of weakness. That said, there were certain breasts which I wish had remained cozened in their bikini tops for both the sake of the aesthetic health of the community and for the sake of my own scathed retinas. Once seen, some things are never unseen.
Wednesday night, I took a night train from Valencia to Granada, which was a soothing and pleasant experience, or would have been if the eight-year-old son of one of my compartment-mates hadn't kept barging in at odd hours. Granada is a splendid old city in the Andalucian foothills. It is home to the Alhambra, the palace of the last Moorish Sultanate of Spain. The Alhambra is Spain's most visited tourist attraction (€12 to get in) and with good reason as it is both expansive and beautiful. The Islamic architecture exhibited there stands in start contrast to the Western styles I have grown used to at this point with it's emphasis on abstract patterns and Arabic script. The ornateness of the patterns and the prevalence of an alphabet which I cannot read made the palace even more dreamlike. It was easy to lose myself for what seemed like hours just mesmerized with the labyrinth of forms in a single wall or doorway. Plus, the multitude of fountains and ledges gave me a serious jonesin' for some Prince of Persia.
Granada is also home to the free tapa every time you order a drink. There are about as many stories to the origin of this Andalucian custom as their are tapas, but what doesn't change is that you get a free tapa with every beer or sangria and they are usually pretty sustaining. Consequently, Andalucia is a pretty cheap place to eat; just keep buying booze and the food will follow. At night, Granada is overwhelmed by swarms of midges which in turn attract legions of swallows to chase down and, well, swallow them. The noise of the swallows in the deep purple twilight is unforgettable.
By the time I hit Sevilla, I was starting to feel better so I was able to actually enjoy myself in this Andalucian capital. One of the highlights of Sevilla was the vast Plaza de España, a huge circular building constructed for the Ibero-American Expo of 1929. The building feels stately for some unknown purpose, so much so that George Lucas actually filmed part of one of the shitty Star Wars films there.
When I finally made it to Málaga, an ancient port town at the southern tip of Europe, I was ready to party. I had an unintentional good time courtesy of some extremely drunk Englishmen who brought out tray after tray of free drinks, including three tequila shots. I was able to get sufficiently drunk to sleep through the noise and lack of AC in the hostel on my piddly remaining Euros.
I'm back in London now, in the impeccable company of Katie Wallner. It was a real sight for sore eyes to see her, my friend of some four years, after weeks of shotgun friendships. Just when I thought I was enjoying my life of artful loneliness, reveling in the conversation of strangers and the unflagging companionship of books, I came to realize how much I really do need people. While the life of exile holds a certain level of charm and serves as a fine soul-making practice, it drains the life out of you eventually. I think, after all my wandering, I am finally ready to go home. I don't quite miss America yet, but I do miss my friends and family and you cannot divorce a place from the people who fill it.

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