Tuesday, July 05, 2005

The Plane to Spain

A quick travelogue from this past March. Bear in mind it took six hours to drive to an airport 75 miles away in an ice storm. The idea of wearing parkas with temps in the mid fifties was causing free floating angst.

Toledo, Spain: It has to be sixty degrees here in brilliant sunshine yet the locals are still running around with down-filled parkas and scarves on.

That can mean one of only two things: Either the weather here is highly mutable and a sudden, sub-arctic ice front is approaching at breakneck speed, or everyone has been misguided and confused by Celsius. I’ve been here five days and, as to the former, now believe that the weather changes as quickly as a French waiter fills your drink order. I’ll accept celcius confusion, though.

The scale is a logical range between two polar extremes: zero being freezing and one hundred being boiling. No odd, hard to remember thirty twos, two hundred twelve’s, four hundred fifty one’s, that sort of thing, no. Just a logical scale. But it’s the in-betweenies that start to get confusing. It’s probably 17 or 19 here today. Damn comfortable! But on the scale of one to one hundred, seventeen is still pretty low on the percentile of achievable scores and hence, I think, the winter coats. Is it warm? Sure. But its only 17! If temperature were a test, we’d fail. If it were a woman, we’d be on our way to court or worse yet facing an awful angry daddy. Maybe that explains the coats. With a bunch of American perverts running around fascinated by 17 and 19 somethings, I’d cover up too. Shame on us.

I’ve been working here since Wednesday morning. It’s Saturday. As a book publisher, I’m sometimes called out to do press checks. These are the final quality control checks of work coming off the business end of a printing press. I make sure all of the color matches our submitted color proofs and that all of the little editorial mistakes we asked to be corrected were in fact.

Press checks are also a slow form of torture. They usually happen in sunspots like Versailles, Kentucky, Martinsburg West Virginia, Willard, Ohio or Taunton Massachusetts. Places where tourism basically consists of T-shirts that read, “welcome to –fill in the blank town- now go home” and visitors gladly snap them up and take the advice. The fact that this press check is in Spain is an anomaly on the order of Neil Armstrong finding a beer lounge on the moon with women.

Press checks also happen around the clock, the real torture. Most printers run 24/7 and you are subsequently on call those same hours. You have to be equally prepared to work at 8 am as you are at 4 pm as you are at nine pm as you are at 3.30 am. You get called, you work for a few hours and then you let the press finish printing what you have approved. In those intervals, you are free. In those hours, you try and grab as much sleep as you can and blot out distractions like traffic noise, hotel maids and sunlight. Usually the interval hours are no longer than six and often much shorter. Over time, working and sleeping and working and sleeping you turn into a walking zombie. Great way to make a first impression.

Throw international jet lag on top of it all and you wonder if customs will ever let you into the country again.

As I said, I’ve been here since Wednesday and today is Saturday. Whatever the hotel staff thought of me coming in wearing clothes I had slept on a plane in and with two day’s growth of beard, they now think that I am some sort of drug dealing criminal. I checked in at five pm. I was called at nine that evening. Within fifteen minutes of the call, a car pulls up; I get in, drive away and come back an hour and a half later. The whole thing repeats at two in the morning and again at ten the next day.

That’s too obvious to be a spy and too dumb to be a tourist. Gotta be a smuggler! No wonder I am deferred to and staff step aside.

What’s worse is all the calls go through the main switchboard. So the phone rings and, not only does the guy from the plant hear me at my dazed worse, so does the staff. Every time I pick up, a friendly voice announces, “Si, you have a telephone call.” Thanks; I thought you were just testing the ringers here.

For an American, Spain is a lot like other countries in Europe; Bizarro World. Not really from another planet, in fact, a lot like us in most every way but there’s always a kicker thrown in just to keep you on your toes. Like the door that looks like doors look at home, but, the key turns backwards and the handle is designed for beings with three thumbs, or so it seems.

Often, it’s the plumbing. Integrated dials with red buttons to push (in the shower?) and handles numbered between 25 and 38 (more of that damn celcius!) Twenty-five and thirty-eight what? And what's with the button? Does that eject something?

Sometimes the traffic patterns are what jump out at you, sometimes the cars themselves. Normal looking cars, but here in Bizarro World…the headlights are yellow. Wassup wid dat?? At least in Spain the steering wheels are where they are supposed to be.
Mostly it’s the plumbing though. In my experience, every country in Europe has its own idiosyncracy. English showerheads are on pivot poles and as such tend to whip around violently when turned on. Not only do you get clean, so does the rest of the phone booth sized bathroom and as a matter of fact the TV set is giving a good hosing down as well. German toilets feature a, well, shelf in the bowl whereupon…things…fall and apparently are kept there for close examination before you send them flushing off to where they should have gone in the first place. The less said about that, the better.

Spanish baths are somehow interlocked with their electrical systems and are designed to consume no more power than is absolutely necessary under the circumstances. That is to say that the room is kept dark until someone walks in, activates a motion sensor and turns the lights on.

Trouble is that one of two conditions is not being met here by the average American. Either:-we are taking entirely too long with out business, or

-we are not physically engaged enough to produce the sort of meaningful motion that keeps the interest of the motion sensor.

As a result, we piss in the dark.

It’s worse in the public restrooms.

I was in one right after a horde of French students got through gawking at the thing for being a) clean, b) functioning, c) free and d) here at all. Whatever I had to do in there wasn’t enough to keep the lights on for more than nine seconds unless I stooped to some exaggerated motion. And I mean, short of recreating the dancing waters of the Belaggio Hotel in Vegas, how exaggerated can you get? I settled for waving my hand directly above my head, fingers spread apart, in a straight line roughly bisecting my right side from my left. Just to keep the lights on.
This is fine; I come to Spain to piss like a Cockatoo.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

the little ledges are in the camodes in case you swallow a coin!

9:31 AM  
Blogger Magazine Man said...

Ah yes, those phone-booth sized bathrooms. When my wife and I went to Italy, we got a hotel room with what they called a "European bath." It was a cubicle with a toilet and a showerhead directly over the toilet. That was it.

Apparently, "European bath" means European in the same place you're a-showerin.

Welcome to the wonderful madness that is blogging, CB. I'd promise you a bookmark over at my place, but I'm slow to add links to writers who are way funnier than I am. :-)

10:11 AM  

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