I Spent My Vacation Getting Down/Falling Down

There’s nothing like a vacation that leaves you more tired than when you stopped working. Nonetheless, I returned to work this week immensely satisfied with my holiday break here in Spain. I spent several days in Sevilla with my friend Nathan and his family, visiting for the week. Although the first night found Nathan and I very disenchanted with the city’s scarcity of suitable bars showing the Barcelona-Madrid soccer match (the only place we found was truly unpleasant, plagued by awful beer, glaring fluorescent lights, and a wobbly drunk man with an unleashed and uncool dog), in the following days we quickly took to the Old World charm of the city, especially its outstanding architecture and labyrinths of colorful facades. The massive cathedral – 3rd largest in the world I’m told – and the Alcázar, an endlessly intricate monument from Sevilla’s Muslim past – were highlights. We also attended part of a midnight mass on Christmas in a church near the apartment, for which I had no real expectations, as I’ve been to maybe three masses in my entire life. I was in fact pleasantly surprised and rather impressed by frequent interludes of traditional Spanish Christmas music – Flamenco guitar, tambourines, and a hypnotizing female vocalist.  

On the final day of my stay, we took a rented car down through the town of Ronda, another of the pueblos blancos of the region, before finishing the day back here in Arcos. Ronda, like Arcos, is  very dramatically situated, straddling a river gorge hundreds of feet deep, and with panoramic views of the surrounding valley. A very pretty place to spend a few hours, as far as dramatic White Towns go, but my visit to Ronda also reinforced my appreciation of Arcos’ superior beauty.   

Round two of my vacation found me in Barcelona. One of my best Spanish friends, Alberto, a phys. ed.  teacher at a high school in Arcos, has a good college buddy there in whose apartment we could sleep. On New Year’s Eve, Nathan, Alberto, Lasse (Alberto’s friend is a German ex-pat) and I threw a supersweet party, with an international crowd (Italians!) and a handpicked American party-time soundtrack. While the playlist has since been erased from my iPod, I remember that, mixed in with sure crowd-pleasers such as Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough,” Prince’s “1999” and James Brown’s “Sex Machine,” I was able to sneak by some surprisingly well-received American hip-hop (Clipse, Notorious B.I.G., Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, RJD2, Wu-Tang Clan), obligatory American college dance party music (Talking Heads, Girl Talk, more Prince), and even some good old Sam Cooke. At midnight, the music was turned off so all could participate in the Spanish tradition of eating 12 grapes, one with each campanada, or bell toll, transmitted to us from Madrid’s Puerta del Sol through a fuzzy television that had been wheeled into the midst of the festivities specifically for this occasion. The party, which began at around 9pm with a potluck dinner of 25 or so people around a couple large tables pushed together in the living room, moved to the streets at about 2pm (not coincidentally when the last whiskey bottle had been emptied). We sang and danced in the metro, and then ended up at the sea, where we caught the tail end of a fistfight. We arrived home a little after 7am, and slept very late. It was one of the best New Year’s Eves I can remember.   

On January 3rd, it was time for part three of my break, skiing with Nathan, Alberto, and Lasse. The four of us woke up at 5:45 in the morning, headed up north by train – one filled almost exclusively with skiers and snowboarders — to a town in the Catalan Pyrenees called La Molina. I had spent a month or so prior to this trip trying decide whether to try my hand at skiing or snowboarding, neither of which I had ever attempted. Alberto and Lasse were snowboarding, and thus tried to convince me to follow in suit. Nathan, among other skiers, urged me to ski. The question, when applied to novices like myself, can be reduced to this: strap one thing to your feet, enjoy a slight edge in hipness, and fall on your ass – a lot, OR strap two things to your feet, maybe learn a little faster, and fall on your ass, your face, on any other possible surface, do flying cartwheels through the air, spontaneous splits and other feats of flexibility not quite reasonable for a guy like me? In the end, I was more attracted to the the element of surprise, and decided to ski. Nathan has been skiing for some years now, and was able to get me started on the fundamentals. I pretty much owned the bunny slopes after a day.  

But as much as he may try to be, Nathan is not a gorgeous Slovakian girl, and so it was up to an actual gorgeous Slovakian girl to teach me on my second day about how simply lifting up the inside ski slightly going into a turn is the secret to sound parallel skiing (as opposed to a continuous, safer “pizza stop” position). The Slovakian girl speaks eight languages, and is an adviser to the European Parliament. She can’t be older than 31. Lasse asked her to marry him, twice, to no avail.   

My second day saw great progresses, most markedly in said turning abilities, but also in velocity and (unintentional) jumps. While I spent the better part of the morning solidifying my status as officially better than most of the 9 year-old girls sharing the bunny slope with me, I realized that it was indeed time to move on. It was time to go down the trails that you actually need a ski-lift to reach. Yes, I had come a long way since day 1, the highlight of which was quite possibly when I suddenly lost control of everything and went hopelessly careening towards the belt on the side of the slope – the stand-on variety of ski-lift for the bunny slopes. Unable to stop myself, I scaled the lip of snow separating reckless beginners like me from other newbies on their way to the top, and came within inches of spearing an innocent woman in the face. Always a little tactless in moments like these, I inexplicably yelled “¡¡Cuidado!!” a little too much at her rather than to her. It could´ve been worse…  

So learning to ski had its low points, but I finished on a high note. The last day, I tossed all my fear into the trash cans that were ever so Spanishly placed 25 feet under the moving ski-lifts, accompanied by signs telling you not to litter, planted amidst layers of skiers’ best attempts to win this carnival game. So while a furry woodland critter may have choked on my discarded reservations, I had freed myself from inhibition, and threw myself down the hardest trails. While I can’t say I didn’t suffer my share of spectacular crashes, one of the most exhilarating aspects of this sport is that it is simply impossible to manoeuvre adequately unless you achieve a certain speed. I am happy to announce that I successfully descended the black trail (no shapes are used in the Spanish slope difficulty system) at least twice without falling down, and without nearly murdering other skiers (which isn’t actually saying too much, because the last day, January 6th, is an important Catholic holiday, Three King’s Day, and the slopes were nearly empty). I learned to ski in three days, and I took to it so well that I am going to try to go once more this season. Believe it or not, the best skiing in Spain is actually found in the warm and sunny south, not three hours from Arcos, in the Sierra Nevada surrounding Granada. Alberto will be going there on an excursion with his high schoolers later this month, and I’m going to see if I can sign up for that trip somehow. Look out, world, Lincoln Brody can kind of ski pretty alright.  

Speaking of which, another thing which I can do pretty alright is make a Spanish omlette, unique from a traditional, or “French” omlette, namely in its use of fried potatoes. While it is theoretically not complicated to make, and there are as many recipes as grandmothers in this country, preparation is  time-consuming, and the vuelta, the flip, has been the downfall of many a bright-futured young tortillas. Before the vacation, my co-worker and friend Merche caught wind of my culinary ineptitude and decided to teach me how to make the national dish as the first in a series of basic Spanish cooking lessons. I recently attempted my first one, as I was only observing Merche the first time around. I can tell you for certain that it would’ve been the best damn tortilla to come from American hands in Arcos history, but I got cocky, and started taking pictures of the thing to remember the momentous occasion. I burned the tortilla, but it still tasted great, all loaded with onions and peppers, a tad creamy, and just the perfect amount of salty. Even Merche told me that it’s what’s inside that matters, and that my omelette was perfect just that way it was. Thanks, Merche. I will make another one tonight, and blow her mind with it tomorrow. I will also teach her a little English, as is the nature of this deal, but that might not blow her mind as much. A great tortilla is a Spanish national treasure.

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~ by lincolnbrody on January 14, 2008.

One Response to “I Spent My Vacation Getting Down/Falling Down”

  1. […] admin wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptI was in fact pleasantly surprised and rather impressed by frequent interludes of traditional Spanish Christmas music – Flamenco guitar, tambourines, and a hypnotizing female vocalist. On the final day of my stay, we took a rented car … Read the rest of this great post here Posted in Uncategorized on January 14th, 2008 | […]

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