Friday, September 26, 2008

Logistics, Lights and Locks

MADRID, SPAIN—This is what happens when we place our trust in things dependent—dependent on power, dependent on operating systems, dependent on batteries, dependent on things undependable.

My own faith rested in a slim metal box—my MacBook’s hard drive. Purchased only a year ago, it has now failed three times. The Greatest Invention of the 20th Century, reduced to high-impact polyurethane and titanium, fancy words for plastic and metal.

So I sat at a table three floors above Avenida de Americas with a small notepad and a Pilot Razor pen, wondering how long I would have the concentration to form lines and curves into sentences. I did this until I ran out of patience and my iPod, now un-chargeable, gave up its valiant struggle. (Truman Capote wrote “In Cold Blood” lying on his stomach in bed, scratching away on legal pads. I should complain.)

This is my second trip to Madrid in the space of over a little over two months. I’ve come to explore the possibilities of living and working here, both of which ideas seem to be becoming less and less plausible each passing day. But anything can happen.

First, there is the logistical: Americans cannot legally work in the European Union (England, Italy, Spain, Greece, France, and about twenty others) without papers, and those are hard to acquire. These countries hire from within, so “immigrants” here occupy the same societal level as those in the US. Ironically, at a time when Latino immigrants are targeted and blamed, and pushed out like so many ants at a picnic, I am contemplating working in a country “illegally” as an American.

It probably won’t happen. But the irony resonates still.

Then there is the everyday of living in Europe— more things that begin with “L” this time. Like language, lights and locks.
Language. Why do I gravitate to places where I don’t speak the mother tongue? My struggles with French in Montreal are well-documented (and equally well-mocked). My Spanish improves every day, and I can shop, and say, “Can you replace my hard drive, please?” in Castilian Spanish, so that counts for something, but sometimes it’s like trying to dribble a flat basketball.
I’ve often had discussions with people where they’ll say, “Sure, they speak Spanish in Spain, but it’s not the same Spanish you know. But I think I know why no one ever actually demonstrated it to me. They didn’t know how, or only had a vague idea of what it was.

Simple. Its Spanish with a lisp. It’s Thpanish with a lithp. Thilly Thpanish. It’s “Grathias,” not “Gracias,” and “Platha,” not “Plaza.” The popular legend is that the venerated King Phillip II spoke with a lisp. Therefore, his eminently loyal subjects adopted the the style, or “thtyle.” It’s disconcerting, but believable. People have done far thtupider things in thervice to a king, so why not speak like Daffy Duck to save the National Honor?

No speech pathologist has ever really explained it, as far as I’ve been able to research. It’s all technical word noise about speech formations and derivations. But if you look at a painting of this Phillip II guy, he kinda looks like a guy who spoke with a lisp, like a guy who came up four numbers short of winning the mental national lottery.

Lights. Lights in much of Spain are motion-sensored—a nice little energy-saving trick, and certainly something simple the US could implement. But.....I didn’t know this. All I knew was that as I stood fumbling with the keys to my apartment on my first night, the lights would suddenly go out. I would straighten up, look around, and they would go back on. Probably funny for someone to watch, but for me, not so much. Part of the problem is that I was never good with...

Locks. If it has a key, forget it. Im in trouble. Who knows the reason, but keys and me never agreed. If a key can break in a lock, it will, for me. I once started my friend’s car with my car key, thinking it was the right one. You get the idea. Me and keys will never be.

Add to that little dilemma the fact that in Spain, the second floor is called the first floor. I was told my apartment was on the third floor, so, you guessed it, Peanut. There I was, at midnight, trying to open some stranger’s apartment. On the fourth floor. How fast would I have been shot in America? Faster than a speeding bullet, if you will. Faster than you could say “gun rights.” So make sure you’re opening the right door out there, OK, Astronauts?

I should have written a lot more by now. But I have lots of photos, and lots of video that I’ll put together in an epic presentation upon my arrival back in the New World. I’ll write some more this weekend, about Aranda de Dueros, about Santo Domingo de Silos and the Cathedral at Burgos. And how Madrid as a functioning city kinda makes LA look a little silly. It’s the little things, but I’ll get to that.