The Great Plotnik

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

10-31 So Long Sevilla, So Long Spain, Hello Portugal

Came back to Seville for one more night, adios favorite tapas bar, adios favorite flamenco joint, adios Espana. Bus leaves for Faro in one hour.

Monday, October 29, 2012

10-29: The Great Mosque of Cordoba

As we sit here high and dry in Cordoba, Spain, we are trying to get an idea of the severity of Hurricane Sandy, about to make landfall any moment somewhere in New Jersey.

But DAMN it, Wolf Blitzer is a horror movie. This man puts the V in vapid.

Today we rode the bus to Cordoba, past mile after mile of olive orchards, two and a half hours from Granada, just to see one thing: the Great Mosque of Cordoba.

Who knew? This enormous house of worship dates from the 9th Century. The glorious striped stone columns that you can see here have lower Visigothic arches and higher Roman arches, built by Byzantine architects hired by Moorish masters -- and it is still standing and breathtaking.

The astonishing thing is that when the Christians conquered Cordoba in the year 1236, they built their new cathedral INSIDE the mosque, instead of tearing down and building over it as was their practice before and after.

Perhaps even they were touched by the inspirational beauty of this once a mosque - now a church. For whatever reasons, Plot and Duck were maybe even more astounded by the Great Mosque of Cordoba than by the Alhambra yesterday. And that is saying something.

We really hope Brooklyn doesn't get blasted.

10-28: Granada

The Alhambra will take days to write about. Andalucia is Spain's California and Granada is its Santa Cruz, with one of the world's wonders on the hill above the town. We're coming back here some day. But now on to Cordoba.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

10-27: The Plaza de Toros in Ronda

Put a Plotnik into a bull ring and he is bound to pull out his cape. If it's a black cape, a sympathetic woman nearby is sure to offer him her red cape.

El Plotniko Muy Macho!!

Bullfighting is to Ronda what soccer is to Manchester. It is not considered a sport, but a national treasure. Bullfights are written up on the society page, not in the sports section.

Let Plottie tell you: when you're in there, standing on the sand staring up at seats for 5,000 people, all of which would be filled, waiting for a really big bull with huge, sharp horns to be released into the ring to try and gore your guts out, it doesn't seem like sport either, but suicide.

Friday, October 26, 2012

10-26: Ronda. Happy Birthday to Me

Zahara, Grazalema and Ronda are Andalucian hill towns, whitewashed against the dry mountains, every single house in town painted the same color white. From a distance they look like the Renaissance picture of Heaven, like gleaming Paradise snuggled in amongst the rocks.

For the most part, Southern Spain looks like Southern California, dry, fragrant, citrus, wild fennel, acacia. It took around two hours to drive to Zahara from Sevilla this morning, this time in a little red Fiat, noodling up seriously windy roads in an intermittently heavy rain, with a working GPS this time. Plot and Duck parked and climbed to the old tower, built by the Moors in 1300 to keep out the Christians, and when that didn't work, restored by the Christians to keep the Moors from coming back.

But what really happened was that the Christians went and discovered America, got filthy rich and powerful, then within 150 years pissed every drop of it away and became a second rate used-to-be country run by dissolute religious fanatics who worship the Virgin Mary and ham.

Look closely and you'll see The Great Plotnik at the bottom of that tower in Zahara, holding on for dear life as The Great Ansel Duck lines up her photo. His people were tossed out of Spain five hundred and twenty years ago by Queen Isabella, but now she's dead and we're back, Baby, holding your country up with our enthusiastic dollars.

These old towns are really beautiful. Zahara was considered the gateway to Granada, the last Moorish holdout in Spain, but it fell in 1482 and Granada in 1492 and that was it for the Moors and the Jews. 1492 was one great year for ham.

Exquisite Ronda -- Plot and Duck walked first on the Old Bridge, built in 1300, and then on the New Bridge, built in the 1750s. Both those bridges are still standing so Plottie didn't feel the least bit old today, on his birthday.

Plot and Duck met in the PaleoFowlish Age, when ice covered the first half of the planet, and cream the other half, and yet here they are today, still doing what they love best -- wandering around. How good is that?

It's important to celebrate birthdays, so they went to the Almocabar for dinner, up in the town, as opposed to down below, where they are staying under those bridges, in a kind of inn called Alavera de los Banos, located on the site of the ancient Moorish Baths, back when there were still Moors in Ronda, but the baths of course are really Roman baths, from back when there were still Romans around here. It puts getting a little bit older in perspective.

If I could, thinks Plottie, I would have liked to rent out El Almocabar tonight for the entire flock a yiz. We could have all shared in the conversation about which wine would be best ( a Ribera Duero from up North), what happens to the bull after the matador kills it (they chill it for one day then roast it and people can come and eat it)(bet you didn't know that), and whether it would be best to call the one taxi in town to come pick us up or take a chance and walk home, after drinking all that wine, and possibly tumble off the new bridge, bounce off the old bridge and end up in the Guadalvein River, dead as the Moors or the Detroit Tigers.

We took the taxi.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

10-24 Flamenco


One man with a classical guitar, one dancer in two changes of costume and one singer/clapper, in a small club with folding chairs set up in front of a tiny stage. The three performers work up a copious sweat as they improvise, and each drop is pure "duende," or Andalucian soul.

Flamenco is Sevilla and Sevilla is flamenco. These three, in their twenties or thirties, are the real thing. First, the guitar plays solo, then the singer and guitarist do a few duets, and then the dancer comes out and blows the house down. We still can't figure out how she moves her feet so fast and so powerfully, like a tap dancer in big boots, in polyrhythms so complex and yet matched perfectly by the guitarist.

We're leaving Seville, to be in the Andaluz hill town of Ronda for a birthday dinner tomorrow, then moving on to Granada and an all-day feast for the eyes in the Alhambra on Sunday. It is pouring rain, off and on. We don't know if the Virgin of Good Travelers has any power in the Moorish Alhambra.

Seville is magic. We've decided it is no longer either wise or possible to be prudent with our pathetic dollars so we're drinking the good riojas now in tapas bars. Today, we told our buddy, the counter man who seems to spend half his hours slicing ham off the leg of one or another of the pigs you see suspended from his ceiling, to just bring us whatever he wanted and that's how we got to taste the Marquez de Murietta '06 Reserva Rioja, and to go with it the kobe beef with onion salpicon and the Iberico Salchichon, which is just the best salami you've ever tasted. We're talking small tapa servings here -- a few tapas and this glorious wine come to around €10.

We also had the pulpo yesterday - specialty of the house. Neither of had ever tasted octopus before and let me tell you it's meaty, not squishy, nothing like calamari, just slightly chewy, delicious fish, only with nothing fishy about it. Hard to describe.

We arrived in a total downpour - the cab drivers can't get a car into the old Jewish Quarter, now called Santa Cruz, because the streets are so narrow they're called 'kissing lanes.' It was like a hurricane. The cabbie collected his fare inside, then ran outside, dumped our roller bags onto the flooding cobbles and sped away. We had no choice but to run down a tiny, dark ancient road, trying to keep umbrellas over our heads while splashing through puddles looking for something that looked like a hotel.

The hotel is something like a hotel.

We'll be back to Seville in a few days

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

10-23: Train to Seville: Two Week Report

On an IPad without optional keyboard, you cannot type as fast as you think, without maddingnlots of extra ms or ns ornotpunctuating and typpo afteer tyo affter typpoom.

2) Our light packing scheme is working, except we still brought too much, even though we brought little. You wash your dirty stuff each night or in the morning, it's all new age material that dries within a few hours, you take only a few pairs of shoes and every morning you choose from the same two or three days worth of clothes.

For certain religious leaders, this is no different than being home.

3) The Duck's 'roll-em-all-up' packing technique is brilliant. She is the engine driving this experiment and she's already talking about bringing way leas next time. Sooner or later, you end up in a subway with lots of stairs up and escalators out of service (New York, Barcelona). That's where the rubber meets the road when it comes to the weight of your roller bag.

4) There is still the issue of cables and chargers and converters, which are bulky and take up space. But new electronics all can use both 110 (US) or 220 (rest of planet) watt plugs, so all you need is one or two little adapters that fit your appliance into their wall. Plot and Duck's battery powered toothbrushes are the only things they have brought that still need a wattage converter, which they didn't bring because it weighs too much. But any toothbrush works as long as you can move your arm up and down.

5) Guidebook. Rick Steves's Spain book is great, if limited. But it weighs a lot and all guidebooks become outdated before they are printed. Rick Steves's advantage is he is a very good writer. A real book is better than on-line, because you have lots of down-time, like on this train chugging from Barcelona to Sevilla, where you can plan what to do in your next city.

(The train just made its first stop, in Tarragona. could this be the home of tarragon? Dry and pretty, grapes on arbors, olive trees, Mediterranean somewhere out there.)

(It will greatly surprise Plotnik if the old woman in the seat behind him still has a lung left when she gets off the train. Praise Jesus that is a smoker's cough and not SARS.)

5) America needs Tapas Culture. Not tapas restaurants, of which there are many, but Tapas Culture. At 8 or 9 o'clock, you go to a Basque tapas bar, you drink a glass of wine or a small glass of really good tap beer, you choose two or three small tapas from a selection of twenty or more, you drink and eat and talk with other people. After awhile you pay up and move down the street to an Asturian or Catalonian tapas taberna (wherever you can find a seat at the bar), you order a glass of wine and choose two or three more tapas from a slightly different menu.

The point is to eat and socialize, not to drink and socialize. What a difference that makes. Everybody goes out so the places are jam-packed, the squares are filled with families, there doesn't seem to be that undercurrent of potential scariness that drives people like the Plotniks, who are not big drinkers, away from American bars and into...what? Our living rooms. What else is there? Starbucks?

6) Spain is First World, at least Northern and Central Spain. Barcelona is absolutely booming, touristy, chic and international. Madrid, the capital of the nation, is provincial, like Washington DC, but the police are everywhere. You don't see the police in Barcelona, probably because they are in the tapas bar.

Or maybe they are chasing the gypsies, since everyone seems to be cognizant of them. Sales clerks and hotel workers and old ladies with half a lung left lower their voices and look to the side before they warn you to never carry valuables on the subway and always clutch your purse to your body. Maybe it's racism, maybe it's experience, maybe it's both. Gypsies are seen as the cockroaches of Catalonia, accepted for their permanence, with a shrug of the shoulders and an upward roll of the eyes.

7) Two weeks in, Plotnik usually has a lull, a day or two when he says enough traveling already, no more museums, no more restaurants, no more filling days up with playing at seeing the world. He had a little of that on day 2 or 3 in Barcelona, but then came the BMW.

What happened was Plot and Duck needed to rent a car to drive up the coast to the Costa Brava. They asked at their hotel and the hotel arranged to have a man drop a car off in front of the hotel on a Saturday night, Plot and Duck would use it Sunday and Monday, then return it to Barcelona, but to a different hotel on Tuesday morning, and the rental company would pick up the car there.

The car was a brand new BMW roadster, six-speed, power to burn, but it had a few issues.

First off, the GPS Plot had paid for was impossible to figure out how to use. Barcelona is one way traffic, roundabouts, confusing streets. Without a GPS, how was Plotnik going to figure out how to even get out of town? He and Duck, walking, had been lost for three days.

Also: the car had no spare tire, no engine manual, no GPS manual, no freaking KEYHOLE and no KEY. And it was out of gas. And there was no contract, and nothing about insurance (Rick Steves was upchucking red flag after red flag about this).

What Plot had was a conversation on the phone with -- someone -- whose Spanish was fast and furious, filled with th's and vosotros'es, of which Plot had understood maybe half. He also had the key, or the fat black gizmato that wasn't a key but was somehow supposed to start the car.

EVERYTHING said DON'T DO THIS! The scary music is playing. For God's sake, don't walk into that abandoned farmhouse!!

Instead, Plot just stayed up all night worrying about it and running to the bathroom.

The next day he and Duck stared at each other and said to hell with it. They found this weird little slot where a keyhole would normally be, stuck the box into it, Plot put his foot on one pedal after another and kept hitting a button until, with a roar, the car started. Foot on the clutch was the answer.

They pulled out, found a map, a gas station and hit the road. Best decision ever.

The two days behind the wheel zipping along tiny roads on the Costa Brava was better than Tylenol for Plotnik's Travel Blahs. Sitting on the square in the tiny village of Palafrugell watching the dancers bounce on one foot and then the other, and buying huge tomatoes from the farmer's market (Catalan vendors on this street, Arab vendors on that street), and eating Catalan empanadas and talking about life with Kati and Antonio in their empanada kiosk, and hiking up into medieval villages as pristine as Toledo, but with no other tourists (nor history) in sight, and ending up in beautiful Girona and not in a Spanish jail.

Occasionally, the GPS would roar to life, in British English: "in 170 meters make the third left."

And GPS doesn't know the difference between a superhighway and a cobblestoned cowpath no wider than an underinsured expensive German Fun Machine.

Plotnik worked hard to get the Beamer back with as little gas in it as when the company had left it.

(The train has made it to Seville. It's down-pouring sheets of rain. The adventure continues.)

Monday, October 22, 2012

10-22 Debate in Girona

Tonight at 3 o'clock in the morning, the following person in room 315 in the Catalonian city of Girona, will be awake watching Channel 40: The Great Plotnik. Eye Pud will be fired up too, to catch the Giants. The Duck says she's keeping her head under her pillow.

They SAY the debate will be televised and they SAY the wireless will be working. That's what they say.

From outside the country, it is clear that elections are about only one thing: the latest thing. Same thing with Game Sevens. Everything else is forgotten.
Nobody had ever said anything to us about Girona. The whole upper North East Coast of Spain is spectacular and devoid of tourists in Late October. Some Germans. French. Brits. Two Americans.

We got to the little village of Palafrugell yesterday in time for the Sunday market with dancers out in the square. Afterwards, we drove the rented Beamer (long story) to Llafranc and up the hill to Fars, where the whole Mediterranean stretched below, with France maybe fifty miles away. Then, to the amazing Medieval walled town of Pals, and next to the beat-up medieval town of Paratillada.

Finally we drove into Girona, another ancient town with a river separating new town (our hotel is here) and Ciutat Vella, which is Old Town in Catalan.

Walked along the old wall. Walked into the old Jewish Quarter. Walked out of the old Jewish Quarter. If that quarter were in Euros it would only be worth sixteen cents today.

You can see how they spell chocolate with Churros in Basque. Or maybe it's Catalan. They love their Xs up here.

You can also see our humble repast in our room tonight as we make ready to head back to Barca tomorrow and on to Sevilla on Wednesday.

OK, you heard it here: Plotnik is sick of Catalan. He can't understand it and can barely read it. Why the hell can't these people speak English, dammit? Oops, I mean Spanish.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

10-21: Gaudi Stands Alone

Plot and Duck visited four of the most famous Antoni Gaudi sites in the city of Barcelona. Of these, the first was without parallel. It is called the Battlo House and was built in the first decade of the 1900s.

Sagrada Familia cathedral, a work began by Gaudi around the same time and unfinished still today, though work continues around the clock and has since 1926 when Gaudi died, defies the way you will ever look at a church again. This is quite a thing to say here in the Country of Cathedrals.

But with all its fantasmigorical construction, it is still a church. All the stained glass in the world can't hide dear old twisted and suffering Jesus suspended from what looks like a giant jellyfish suspended over the pulpit.

And the building is so enormous it loses its human scope. You stand in awe in Sagrada Famila, but Plotnik wants to move into Casa Battlo.

The third site, Parc Guell feels like someone let Maurice Sendak loose with a blueprint in his hand. And maybe Plot and Duck were tired when they saw Casa Mila. They charge you a lot to get in, then show you almost nothing. To both Plot and Duck, nothing compares to Casa Battlo and Sacrada Famila Cathedral, BUT those Jesi-like sculptures on the roof of Casa Mila, dreamed up by Gaudi around 1900, are indeed where George Lucas got the idea.

Gaudi takes Plotnik's breath away, most of all with his audacity. There has almost certainly never been another like him.

We can't sort photos. But here are a bunch. By the way, tonight we are in cozy Girona, said to be the birthplace of kabbalah. We haven't seen Madonna anywhere, though her namesakes are easy to locate. It's nice to have a few days away from Barcelona.

Friday, October 19, 2012

10-19: The Gypsies Almost Got Us

The gypsies almost got us this afternoon. It's a quiet, drizzly day and we were kind of museum'd out so we were about to board the L4 subway to ride back from the Borne to the hotel in Barrio Gracia. The train pulled in. In Barcelona you push a button on the outside of the door to open it and someone did. No one on the train was getting off so we moved forward to step up into the last door of the last car, when there was a huge commotion and a crowd of people were suddenly pushing against us, seemingly trying to force their way onto the train.

I looked back and realized they were all gypsies. My first thought was "Yo! Dude! What's the rush!"

But in the next second all the guidebooks I'd read kicked in, so I immediately slapped one hand over my camera, which sits in a pouch on my belt, and my other hand over my wallet pocket, which was zipped closed.

That would have been far too late, if in the very next second I hadn't heard very loud, angry voices directed at the gypsies. A fortyish woman in a skirt and sweater and a fiftiesh, tall, gray haired man around fifty five launched themselves at the gypsies, pushing them away, screaming at them in Spanish, luckily, not Catalan, to get the chingada out of here before they both threw them under the yo mama train. All the gypsies ran away, we got on, the doors closed and the train moved forward.

On the train, I asked the man how he knew something was up, and he said he saw one of the gypsy women, with a black jacket over her hand so people couldn't see what she was doing with it, reaching into Ducknik's purse. That's when he yelled and the gypsies knew they'd been busted. They vanished as fast as they'd run up. He had seen this trick many times before and was on the alert. Robbing people on the subway is very common and it appears to be almost always tourists losing out to gypsies. Barcelona needs its tourists.

We've got homeless guys peeing on the street. Barcelona has gypsies. Everybody's got a cross to bear, some more ornate than others.

So as the train pulled out The Duck checked her purse -- it had been zipped closed, but sure enough the zipper was now open. A lady next to Ducknik said was sure she had felt a hand in her empty coat pocket. One or two seconds more and Duck's camera would have been gone, and a lesser woman, who hadn't taken all the precautions Ducknik does, like sewing pouches into the fabric of her purse to store a credit card, and making extra, concealed pockets in the inside of her jacket that no one can get into, and -- almost -- never carrying anything of value in a city famous for Master Classes in Pickpocketry -- would have lost everything in that purse, slipped out under the gypsy's black garment and handed back through the crowd to accessories already up the subway stairs, long gone and far away.

We had gotten lazy. It was raining, but hey, it's muggy down in the subway, so I had taken my windbreaker off, exposing my camera. I had been wearing a concealed money belt, but hey, when you want to pee it gets way too complicated. I'd been carrying my wallet in my front pocket, but hey, I'd just gotten our ten-trip subway ticket out and hadn't bothered putting the wallet back in a safer place. I had read all the books, knew what to look out for, was overconfident.

Duck's extra-safe purse had gotten soaked this morning when we went to see the Sagrada Familia, so she'd offloaded into one that's easier to pilfer.

Never saw the gypsies. Never thought about the Pretend to Jam Onto The Metro scam. Never would have even felt it.

By the way, this is not racial paranoia. We were there. So were they. I got lucky. The Duck got lucky. The Spanish good samaritans saved our bacon. Here we are right before it happened.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

10-18: Barcelona

OK, forget everything you might have heard about Spanish food, here or anywhere else, just in case any spiritual leader you may follow from time to time might have said something about, you know, blandness or, like, tiresomeness, or, kind of, blew smoke out of his culo.

Because we are not In Spain any more, exactly. We are in the homeland of the Catalans now, where everyone speaks Spanish but the signs are in Catalan, which you can almost read, but not quite, and almost pronounce, but not really. Barcelona is one gigantic puddle of delightful incredulity after another and the food is only the start of it.

But what a start. Today, for lunch, after seeing Antoni Gaudi's Battlo House, which is pronounced Bat-YO, and is the singular most unbelievable, other worldly and unique piece of architecturally twisted genius that Plot and Duck have ever seen, anywhere, they started out for this special park, but they got lost a lot, and then there's the bus driver's strike, which the government will only allow them to do for a few hours each day, so the bus drivers only strike for a few hours each day, but they WON'T TELL YOU WHICH HOURS, is that genius or what?

The Plotniks finally ended up in La Boqueria, which is a huge open-air market where they sell spices and vegetables and fish and €150 per kilo designer ham in the front, but in the back have fresh fish stands with bar stools and counters where an unshaven cook - who isn't smoking a cigarette - prepares the day's catch and you eat it. He doesn't have to shave, he's that good.

There are no empty stools. Anyway you don't sit down, you first have to call out your name for a man with a white shirt who keeps it in a tiny notebook you can't see. When your name gets called, you go stand behind two other people, who are still finishing their meal at the counter. After they look over their shoulder enough, they get up and you grab their seats.

A guy thwaps fish and shellfish and vegetables (Yes! A vegetable besides hops!) onto a blistering grill. The calamari sizzle and puff up. The tuna and huge prawns start to smoke and he uses a spatula to keep the mussels turning. Flash scalded red peppers and green peppers and asparagus and eggplant and artichokes get scooped onto your plate with fish so fresh it gets slapped by the other fish.

What can I say. I knew I'd spoken too soon. But that was when we were back in Spain. Barcelona is Europe plus midtown Manhattan, but with beautiful streets and wide pedestrian and bike lanes and places for kids to play and probably costs a fortune to live in, and people strike, sort of, and want to separate and form their own country, which is partly because of history. And culture.

Madrid is the dad but Barcelona is where all the kids want to live. Madrid is Conservative and Barcelona is Whatever. The Catholic church supported dictator Franco during the Spanish Civil War, and Barcelona did not, and so Franco tried to strangle Catalonia for the next forty years until the old fascist fart finally died.

Madrid has tapas. Barcelona has soul. And tapas. And museums that wear you out.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

10-17: Trains and Smoke

At 301km per hour the power poles rush by the train so fast that you can't see them. It's like those constantly flashing computer frames your eye ignores but a camera sees. So you cannot take a picture out the window without a pixilated power pole in the middle of it.

But smooth! This is our third high speed Spanish RENFE train. Back and forth from Madrid to Toledo, which carries you from year 2012 to year 1085, took exactly 25 minutes. We got in five minutes early both coming and going. The trip today from Madrid to Barcelona is scheduled for 2 1/2 hours and it will probably be five minutes early. Comfortable, sleek, cheap. We feel like we are traveling at our leisure rather than being snapped into a fast moving aerial mousetrap.

In 550 years of domination of Spain the Moors never did get to Barcelona. Carlos III recaptured Toledo in 1035 and Isabella and Ferdinand threw the last Moors out of Granada in 1492, so it took them 457 years to go maybe 500 miles. That is Amtrak time, not RENFE.

We rode Amtrak long distance two months ago, don't forget. If RENFE is High Speed rail, and it truly is, Amtrak is No Speed rail. It's still preferable to air travel for the few short hops where it is available, like New York to Providence, but long hauls are only for snowbirds for whom time spent motionless on a rail siding waiting for a freight train to pass is at least better than playing another round of Chinese Checkers with Mrs. Katz at the senior center.

Tried to change a reservation recently on an American carrier? We changed twice in Toledo, from a 10am train to 3pm and then got to the station and took a noon train instead. No questions asked, plink plink plink on the computer, no charge, muchas gracias senores y mucho gusto.

That's what THEY said to US. They are happy to be able to accommodate their customers.

So while we are at it, chinga tu madre, United Airlines.

The train just went through a series of tunnels. Looked up and there was a small medieval-looking village the same mud-red color as the rocks, with stone houses and a stone church and the remnants of a stone perimeter wall, a few animals grazing in the hill below the town, and then Bang the train went through another tunnel. I never got a chance to even get my camera out of my pocket. The next view, after the next tunnel, a minute later at 263km per hour, was of a six lane freeway and a modern industrial plant.

Who knew Central Spain is this rocky and dry? It looks a little like Northern Mexico, but there are orchards out there, small ones, not corporate ones like along I-5 -- olives, maybe almonds, grapes and lots of grains. The few villages are spattered with simple, adobe-looking houses, a few larger ones, and always one ornate structure ten times the size of the others, with spires and a cross.

Half way there @ 298 km per hour. There's an electronic readout in each car that tells you how fast you're going, and the temperature. Of course it's in km and degrees C. And liquids are in liters and money is in Euros with prices around the same as here, except a Euro is worth 1 1/3 dollars so it's not the same.

Wheat, wheat, wheat, slowing down, station approaching.

So what am I thinking about as the train zips into Zaragoza I mean Tharagotha? That Mummy P. would be so comfortable in Spain. Every human male and maybe half the females smoke. But no one is allowed to smoke inside. So all the tapas joints set up tables right outside the open front door, so there's a constant trail of people walking out, lighting up and blowing all the smoke back inside. Waiters, hotel clerks, bartenders, cops, museum guards, all men really, smell bad, like snuffy old ash trays. Women wear cologne. You hear some serious bronchial coughing on the street -- but not as much as you'd think.

Mummy P. would have a lot of company, standing outside that door, smoking her extra lights while breathing in the glorious high tar and high nicotine of her green, green days of yore.

Last night's debate took place at 3AM Madrid time but we watched it this morning on Little Eye Pud. Thanks so much to BZ and PD for the middle-of-the-night text heads-up texts about Obama growing cojones while making Romney look like the guy at United Airlines who won't give you any information about your plane that is four hours late but instead smiles and smiles while never looking you in the eye. What a smarmy, corporate snake.

People here love Obama. They truly do. Romney makes them laugh and shake their heads about the vapidness of America.

Welcome home, Barry and take a hike, Mitt. I truly hope your trip is canceled.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

10-16: First Kvetch

It took only one week this time for Plot to start complaining about the food. He and Duck passed by a McDonald's in the square in Toledo this morning, looked at each other and walked in and grabbed two Big Macs. They are already deathly sick of Spanish food.

There is one restaurant in Madrid and one in Toledo. They have hundreds of branches, different names, different decor, different pricing. But they all serve the same food. They're proud of it, probably because it goes great with cigarettes. It's not bad the first two or four or six nights, but this is the city of Goya with the restaurants of an Andy Warhol soup can.

You can have ten restaurants in a row, next door to each other, and they might as well share one kitchen. They have two vegetables in Madrid, mushrooms and beer. Add wilty iceberg lettuce and you have "salad."

There has to be a Chinatown somewhere, but they will probably serve tapas and beer. This is what happens to a country when you kick out the Jews and Arabs and don't have any black people or Latinos.

The photos are of yesterday's lunch, which was tasty, if gloopy: gloopy meat with gloopy fries, a strange plate of bread crumbs sauteed with bread served with a side of bread and you think I'm kidding; mushrooms with gloopy eggs, two great desserts and a jug of wine.

Plottie asks for "salsa brava" at every meal and they bring him a bottle of Tabasco so crusty he can barely unscrew the cap. The Royal Palace is thick with stolen New World gold and silver but they should have hired some Mexicans and Peruvians to work in the kitchen.

Of course, we've only been here a week. At some point, our insides will get used to using beer as ruffage.

And we're going to Barcelona tomorrow, which is closer to France.