Saturday, 13 March 2010

Gentleman Caller

Sevillian Chronicles part III

Parental advisory: Due to truthful documentation of accidental nudity, this episode is recommended for mature readers only.

One day I was sitting in my living room, speaking to my father in Chicago on Skype. A contact request bleeped in, from an unknown Spanish person wanting to be my new Skype friend. Under normal circumstances I always deny and block such requests; but I noticed that this fellow was a gamer from Huelva (a neighboring city). Had a short surge of bravery and accepted the contact request.

We spoke for a while, this new Skype contact and I, over a period of a couple of weeks. He seemed a nice and intelligent enough person, and was very into nature-especially mountain climbing. So for lack of knowing his given name, I dubbed him “The Mountain Climber” (very original I know, but bear with me dear reader. As you will soon see The Mountain Climber-TMC for short- was a very appropriate nickname indeed) One day TMC told me that he would like to visit my company’s game shop in Sevilla, and asked me whether I’d take him there. I agreed to do so, and we made an appointment for TMC to meet me outside my apartment at 10:00 the following Saturday morning.

Friday night, before the Saturday planned for our meeting, I had a message that TMC could not make it to Sevilla the next day. La di da da, whatever, and I went on with my Friday night business, went to sleep, and…

Well first I must describe what I was wearing to sleep in that Friday night. Not because am attempting to write some sort of risqué story here, but because this nightwear was crucial to the development of this story later on. That night I went to sleep in a man’s XL t-shirt, that I inherited from who knows where. This t-shirt was tie dyed in pink, and the previous owner had cut the original neck out, so that there was a very wide opening in the top; making the shirt require me to keep my shoulders up at all times, in order to keep it on. Twas a very comfy shirt for sleeping in.

Saturday morning came around, and I woke up at about 9:50. I was feeling glad about having a peaceful Saturday morning at home, and planned to use it to putter around in my lovely apartment. And, as everyone knows, nothing goes better with puttering at home than a fresh pot of coffee. So I went into the kitchen to start a pot. I had one of those metal gadgets, where water is heated to a boiling in the bottom part of the coffee-maker, and this boiling water flows up through the coffee grounds, making a very nice filter-free pot of coffee. Just as I had prepared my coffee maker, and set it on the stove, remembering to turn on the stove eye this time, the house phone rang-signalling to me that someone was at the front door of my building, down on the street.

I answered the phone, and a voice said “this is José”. Now friends, José was the name of my Spanish employer, who was also a very good brotherly friend of mine, AND who lived in my neighbourhood. I remember thinking, as I buzzed him in “My he’s up and out kinda early for a Saturday. I wonder what he wants.” And because José is such a close friend and all, it did not even occur to me that perhaps I should change into some other clothes.

So I left the kitchen, in the general direction of my front door. The doorbell rang and I opened it to find a gigantic 7 foot (way over 2 M something, my Euro readers) man standing there; that I had never seen before in my life. I was so shocked and surprised that the José outside my door was a different José from the one I had been expecting to find, that I spent a few seconds gaping speechlessly at him. In my shock, I also forgot altogether how perilously my nightshirt was sitting on my shoulders. Yes, yes, indeed-you can guess what happened. My nightshirt with the gigantically cut out neck dropped off me completely, right there in my doorway, in front of this mountain of a man. This calamity caused TMC (I had figured out by then that it was he) to turn about 3 shades of magenta, and me to wish I could just disappear. There was a very strange moment between the two of us, but considering he had already seen me stark naked, and there was nothing I could do about it- I picked up my nightshirt, with as much dignity as I could muster and said “hello, what are you doing here?”.

Right after I asked TMC that question; there was a very loud noise coming from the kitchen. I left TMC no time to answer me, and took off to see what happened, with TMC in hot pursuit, and with me holding onto my nightshirt for dear life. It turns out that I had forgotten about the fact that had started a pot of coffee, and the coffeemaker had boiled over all over the stove, with hot coffee dripping onto the floor and sprayed onto the ceiling. It was practically coating the back third of my kitchen.

TMC was very very kind, and a lot less flabbergasted than me; and he grabbed a mop. So I took a sponge, and the two of us mopped up the coffee, for about the next half hour-not saying too much to one another, mind you. The work helped to take our minds off initial trauma though, and by the time we were finished cleaning, both of us were pretty much in fits of hysteria (was still remembering to hold up my pajamas this whole time), and we fell about laughing in my kitchen until we both were teary eyed and weak in the knees.

At that point there was nothing else to do but to start a new pot of coffee, invite TMC for to share it with me including some breakfast; but first to disappear into my bedroom for a few minutes, in order to put on some less dangerous clothes.

After I was more properly attired, we sat on my couch, TMC and I. We listened to music and had a very nice breakfast together, with only the occasional snicker from one or the other of us. Strange how uninhibited we were with one another, considering it was the first time we met and everything. We spoke about games and Sevilla, and all sorts of things; and about an hour and a half later he left again. We never did make it out to check out the game store. I was pretty dang certain about how after seeing me completely naked the first second upon meeting me in person, and instantly their after assisting in housework; that that morning would have been the last contact I would ever have with TMC. You know what? It was not.

Stress and Peril

Sevillian Chronicles Part II

One of the first evenings I was living in Sevilla, two adventures transpired in the same night. One immediately following the other. I have written the first down already, titled “Sevillian Sock Shopping with Jesus”; and now for part two of that absolutely hilarious night.

My boss, who was my friend before I moved here, lives very close to my apartment here. About 5 minutes away on foot. He was out of town that night, and I was invited to spend the evening hanging out with his girlfriend. I was still not so familiar with my new neighbourhood, but thought I had at least a general idea of how to find José’s place again. So I took off walking. This walk took me longer than it should have, had I known exactly where I was going, but sooner or later I was standing in front of José’s apartment building.

I knew he lived in apartment number 4D (D is for derecha, or right, in Spanish). Had a moment of feeling very proud of my navigational skills, and then I rang the buzzer; so that Monica (the girlfriend) could let me into the building. Nothing happened. Hmmmm! Rang again. No response. Called Monica on her cell phone, saying “I am downstairs, please let me in”. She said “alright”, and that she would buzz me in. Still nothing happened-no buzzing noise at the door. Was standing there waiting for the buzz, when a tiny little old man came walking up to the door. He was surely pushing 80 years old, tottering along with a key in his hand, and heading directly for the door I wanted to enter. He said hello, and started to chat a bit with me (is the Sevillian way to speak to EVERYBODY). I told him I was there to visit a friend, and for some strange reason she had not buzzed me in yet. He asked me her name, and I told him “Monica y José”, also saying that they lived in apartment 4D. This man said to me “Oh, I know them, and no they don´t live in 4D, but 4I” (4I would be 4 izquierda, or 4 left, in English). I answered him with “No, I have been here before, and I know that they live in 4D”. But this man was very insistent that my friends live in 4I, and stuck to his guns. This argument (with me trying harder by the moment to remain polite) continued for a good 10 minutes, before I got fed up and phoned Monica again. I spoke to her in English this time, so this man would not understand me. I said “Monica, there is a silly little man here, arguing with me about which apartment you live in, and I cannot get past him.” She said she would come to look for me. We hung up. The man was watching me intensely during this phone call, and as soon as had hung up, he smiled at me-a gigantic grin-and said (in PERFECT, though heavily accented English) “Oh, you are American. I was wondering what your accent was.” And proceeded to tell me for another 20 minutes about how he loved to speak English and had been to America before (I got a very detailed travelogue) and so on and so on. Needless to say, I was pretty mortified about having managed to run into one of the very small handful of older Sevillian men who speak perfect English. And not only that, but I had just insulted him on the phone to my friend-calling him a silly little man. But he didn’t seem to be angry about this faux pas, and FINALLY he opened the door to the building.

I followed him in, and we both started up the stairs. He stopped in front of a door on the first floor (in Europe, the first floor is what you would call the 2nd) and invited me in for a cocktail, and to meet his wife, who was also a big America fan. I told him, as politely as I could manage, that I appreciated his kind offer; but that my friend Monica “in 4D” was surely wondering what had happened to me by now. He shot “4I” back at me, and went into his home; while I started climbing the stairs.

I Climbed past the 2nd floor, the 3rd floor, and then was standing in front of 4D. Hmmm! Door didn’t look right. There had been a mat in front of José and Monica’s. Perhaps I miscounted the floors? I decided to keep climbing. 5th floor. Still doesn’t look right. I can surely count to 4. Mental reclimbing and counting. Some vague memory pressing on my brain that José’s building HAS only 4 floors. And right that second, the hall light went out. It must have been on a timer, which is very typical here. I was plunged into the center of a very deep dark blackness. Could see nothing at all. And just as the light went out, two other things happened simultaneously. My cell phone rang, AND I realized that I had quite likely been arguing with that man, in order to enter the wrong building. Answered my cell phone, standing in the stairway in the dark. It was the wife of one of my co-workers, looking for her husband, who had been on the evening’s previous adventure with me. I told her that Jesús was on his way home, and should surely be there soon. And then she went into chatty mode, asking how I was doing, and so on. This was a very stressful moment for me, standing in the dark in the wrong building, with Monica waiting for me, chatting with Rocio in Spanish (tough exersize in that exact moment) and facing great peril to descend the stairs again in the dark. So I was, more or less, very rude to Rocio. Told her was having a small problem, could not talk more now, and hung up on her rather abruptly. Then I started to feel my way back down the stairs, in pitch black nothingness, heart beating like crazy.

I finally reached the door of that building, without injuring or killing myself, exited as fast as possible, and went to stand in front another door to another building, one house to the left of where I had been. Saw a plant in the foyer of that one, through the glass, and remembered that had seen that plant the last time went home with José, so this was surely the right building this time. Was taking no chances though, called Monica again to come down and get me.Which she did. She was very concerned about what had taken me over half an hour to NOT show up in her living room. As soon as I saw her, I fell into a fit of helpless giggles and could not stop. It took me almost another half an hour to manage to tell her what had happened, which started her hee-heeing and snorting right along with me. We got too giddy to be able to climb her stairs, and we rolled around in her entry-way, in absolute hysterics for quite a while before we pulled ourselves together, and started to climb the stairs to her apartment-4D.

Sevillian Sock Shopping with Jesus

Sevillian Chronicles Part I

I had a plan with a friend, and needed to buy some socks. Can't tell you what the plan was, as is personal, and not really the point of the story; but I REALLY needed some special new socks, which is the important part here. As I was only living in Sevilla for about three weeks, thus slightly insecure about venturing out into the wilds all on my own; I mentioned my need for socks versus fear of Sevilla dilemma at work one day. Upon hearing this,my collegue Jesús very kindly offered to show me where HE would go, were he a woman in dire need of socks. So we made a date to go after work that day. I have to admit that I was very impressed that a man was taking my wish to buy socks so to heart, as to offer to accompany me; and dear Reader, after reading more of my Sevillian Chronicles, you will surely throw out the window any existing stereotype of macho Spanish men! Just wait until you have read the Change My Tire Incident, which also involved Jesús-my main partner in escapades in these early days.

Jesús took me to a teeny shop near his home. The entire store was probably no more than 20 square meters, with a counter; and all items for sale were displayed behind the counter. There were tons of women's sock-things, in every color of the rainbow. Hmmm!! It was a very cozy and old fashioned kind of shop, and it suddenly occurred to me that this was quite likely to turn into a situation where I would have to rely on being able to communicate with at least one of the two women working there, in Spanish, in order to accomplish my mission. Jesús must have read the brief look of panic in my eyes, judging by the huge smirk on his face. His look told me that he was going to enjoy watching how this exchange would work very much.

When it was my turn, I ended up with having the younger of the two women ask how she could help me. I told her, in limited Spanish, and with lots of bewilderd glances at the still-smirking Jesus, that I needed to buy some socks (so far so good, she understood me). She asked me what sort of socks I wanted (so far so good, I understood her). This was the point where things got a wee bit verbally challenged, from my perspective. I knew what I wanted, but could I tell this in Spanish? So I did my best to describe long white knee socks, which was obviously not good enough, because not only did this extremely kind and patient woman proceed to show me almost every pair of socks in the shop, explaining about each one at great length; but the older woman seemed to feel compelled to join the first one, in order to add her moral and professional support. Both were being very sweet, speaking v-e-r-y- s-l-o-w-l-y, trying not to giggle amongst themselves, and also gesturing quite a lot- blissfully ignoring the line of other customers that was forming behind me. I noticed this line though, and also how it was getting longer by the minute. It got much harder for me to admire the vast array of socks on display, and listen to lengthy descriptions of the merits of each pair, as was distracted by marvelling at the patience of people in line. Six, seven, eight people behind me. Nine people, who seemed to be chatting happily amongst themselves, about how X´s mother is doing after her surgery, and did Y know that Z had run off with N´s husband, and what a cute dog; (or is what I imagined they were discussing, from the words I understood, and the facial expressions with accompanying hand gestures) and who didn't seem to mind in the slightest that the two clerks had been giving me their undivided and exclusive attention for the last 40 minutes or so. In Germany one person would be absolutely aggravated to have to wait for more than .25 seconds to be waited on, thus my initial fear started to swing towards amazement.

After processing the fact that the twelve or thirteen other waiting customers were so happily occupied, I finally relaxed and got down to chosing my new socks. I ended up with buying three pairs, plus a particularly shocking shade of scarlet nail polish that these women both assured me was “absolutely necessary” this fall (dear reader, I LET them push me into this sale of nail polish consciously, as was so highly amused by the whole new situation, and was wondering what would happen, or what they would try to sell me next), and FINALLY left the shop, after being helped for a good fifty minutes.

As soon as the door closed behind Jesús and I, we looked at each other for a second or two. He snorted once, then twice; which led us to collapsing in helpless giggles. We laughed and sniffed and snorted and chuckled our way down the street, holding on to each other to remain upright. Wandering off towards adventure number two of that night.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Travels of a Small Brown Suitcase part III

The woman is no longer in posession of the aforementioned Small Brown Suitcase. A Large Blue Suitcase, containing Small Brown Suitcase, vanished under most mysterious circumstances in Atlanta, Georgia. The woman suspects that Small Brown Suitcase is fully responsible for infecting Large Blue Suitcase with a travel bug. The woman is hoping that the new owner of the Small Brown Suitcase can fully appreciate and enable the mischievous and adventurous nature of this bag.

Travels of a Small Brown Suitcase part II

The woman spent three nights sleeping in her contact lenses, which did wonderful things for both her eyes and her mood. Unfortunately she was blind as a bat with no vision correction devices to aid her weak eyes. And contacts were so trashed from flying and sleeping, that she was afraid to take them out-that they would crumble in her hands, and then she would be able to see nothing at all. Of course her glasses were on the European travel adventure with the rest of the bag.

As the woman was a "take charge of her life" kinda gal, she spent many hours on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday on the telephone. Talking to the poor, helpless baggage claim authorities in Frankfurt (who were VERY polite and understanding on the phone), squeezing money for new contacts out of Air Berlin airlines directly, attempting to reason with very rude Danish airport personnel, shrieking and throwing the phone when the Danish baggage retrieval authority telephone line made the following announcement every half hour when she called: "We are sorry, but due to an unusually heavy workload, we cannot take your call right now." Beep, beep, beep, beep (throwing the woman out of the telephone line)

The woman's daughter spent the days reminding her mother how much she "really really wanted her new soccer shoes, and wasn't it a wonderful day to go out and kick". Her son kept telling the woman that her eyes were all red and runny, and wouldn't it be nice to be able to eat the octopus salad that was in the brown bag, and didn't the woman know how much he LOVED octopus salad, and what a special treat was floating around undeservedly in Denmark.

In the meantime, Air Berlin told the woman that she should make a detailed list of all items in this wayward bag, and that Air Berlin would be so kind as to replace them on the 6th day of the little brown bag's solo adventure. The woman was NOT pleased at this idea, she did not want new things, but her own shabby little brown bag back. Her daughter was NOT pleased either, because she wanted the shoes that had been bought for her as a gift, and not replacement shoes. The woman's son said "Cool, you can make a really elaborate list, and get new shoes for ME too!" Little opportunist that he is.

And then suddenly, on Saturday afternoon, and with no warning, the doorbell rang. The dog barked in the yard (her signal that was a strange adult in front of the door). The woman opened the gate to the yard to find a gigantic, bald-headed man standing there. A big scary-looking guy, who nevertheless had a very friendly expression on his face. A man who greeted the dog who was sniffing his crotch by then with "hey Du fines Tier, Du, bist Du ein lieber Kerl" (did notphase the dog's frantic crotch-sniffing one whit to be taken for a male dog, when she is not) and a man who was proudly clutching the woman's small brown bag.

There was alot of rejoycing taking place in the woman's yard that moment. The woman was smiling. The big scary-looking bald headed man was smiling. The children were jumping up and down and trying to snatch the bag out of the man's hands. The dog stopped sniffing long enough to prance around and chase her tail (her version of celebrating) A quick examination was made of the bag's contents. None were missing, nor the worse for wear and tear. The little girl had tears of delight in her eyes when she had her new shoes in her hands. And the big, scary-looking man looked genuinly pleased with himself, and was enjoying the delight that his presence brought to the woman's yard. The woman sent him on his way with a nice tip, a handshake, and many smiles.

The brown bag was covered with stickers in Danish, saying "rush" and things like that, but otherwise had nothing to tell about its big adventure, all alone in Copenhagen. The woman and the brown bag have to do this whole trip backwards again, very very early tomorrow morning, and the woman is somewhat concerned about what adventures might befall her small brown duffel bag the next time she travels with it.

Travels of a Small Brown Suitcase

Here is part I of the first of the Sevillian Chronicles short stories.

The woman was somewhat shocked to discover that the most cost-effective route between Sevilla and Frankfurt was via Palma de Mallorca. Not Barcelona, not Madrid, but Palma. "Oh well," she said to herself while fighting through Air Berlin's complicated, yet user-friendly online booking system, "have never been to Mallorca, so can at least see it from the air".

As was a short weekend trip, the woman only had one small duffel bag with her. She had to check it though, due to strict flight regulations against carrying on such things as toothpaste. (we all know how dangerous a strong, anti-cavity substance can be), so she checked said bag in Sevilla, via Palma, ending up in Frankfurt. Bag was an ancient, brown sport duffel bag, with a whopping 4 kilos.

Flight itself between Sevilla and Palma was uneventful. The woman had a wonderful view of Palma from the air, and all was good. Was a small problem in the Palma airport with a drunken, annoying Argentinian shouting about having 10,000 euros in his sock, who was very annoyingly and persistantly attached to the woman. Unfortunately he was also on the same plane, but is another story.

So the woman finally landed in Frankfurt, in the middle of the night, and was waiting at the baggage belt with her new friend from the plane, who helped her shake the annoying Argentinian. She waited and waited, but her bag did not come. She was very annoyed, because the bag not only contained the dangerous toothpaste, but solution for her contact lenses, AND the brand-new soccer shoes that were a birthday gift for her daughter, from the woman's new boss in Spain. The very first brand-new pair of soccer shoes the woman's daughter had ever owned, so was precious cargo indeed!

The woman found out the next day that her bag had made a journey from Palma, not to Frankfurt, but to Copenhagen. The day after that the woman learned that the proper Danish airline employees seemed incapable of dealing with the matter of this missing brown bag, and were refusing ALL communication with the baggage authorities in Frankfurt. Needless to say, the woman's daughter was asking her every 5 minutes when the bag is coming, and her son was asking too, as he was anxiously awaiting the tin of Spanish octopus salad that was also in the bag.

On the 3rd day, the bag wass still missing. Stay tuned for further adventures of this small brown bag and its solitary trip to Copenhagen, eluding the Danish baggage handlers.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Reality Czech Part I

Just a bit over a week ago, I took my first trip into the former 2nd World. To get there,I traveled by what would have been the Eastern Block approved method-public transportation. Namely: a bus, a trolley train, two Deutsche Bahn railway trains, and one most unusal train-like thing that I will describe more fully in just a bit.

It had snowed the night before I set off, so my first train from Weinheim to Frankfurt had a 20 minute delay, giving me exactly one minute to catch the next train in Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof. Luck was with me, though, and I made this second train in the nick of time; panting like a crazy woman from my under-one-minute mad dash from platform to platform. Although we left Frankfurt on time, we arrived in Nürnberg exactly 2 minutes too late for me to catch the direct train from there to Pilsen (my final destination. I ended up with having almost two hours to kill in the Nürnberg train station; where I passed the time drinking a coffee, and chatting with a most interesting shady character, who told me he earns his living by being the middleman between international sales transactions of highly controversial substances. He called himself "Wolf", and was a civil and friendly enough guy. Wolf's bits and pieces about how he manages to travel so much for his "business", and how he avoided the long arm of the law that he was sharing with me were certainly fascinating to listen to. I kept wondering whether he was telling me the truth, or making up stories to test how gullible I am. It didn't really matter though anyhow; because listening to him was certainly more entertaining than sipping my coffee and checking my watch every 4 seconds. The next leg of this journey was on a "Bimmelbahn" or local regional train that seemed to stop at each and every Bavarian village along the way, endstation Fürth im Wald at the Czech border. As THIS train was also behind schedule, due to snow, I was really sweating whether we (Wolf was sitting with me on this train, still telling me of his adventures) would make the last train from Fürth to Pilsen, or whether we would have to find lodgings for the night deep in the Bavarian/Czech border wilderness. It was getting towards evening at this point, and I was also getting just a wee bit travel-weary. Thus I was relieved to see that our "train" (explanation for train in quotes coming in just a second) was waiting for us, at the very last German railway station destination. After getting about a 4 second look at Fürth, it seemed slightly unlikely that would have been so easy to find somewhere to sleep, had I been forced to spend the night there.

So now about this "train". The amazing vehicle consisted of only one car, and looked like had been built in about 1957. It resembled a bus that ran on the railway track more than any sort of train I had ever seen. The sight of this "train", after initial sense of relief to see it at all, caused me to laugh and scramble for my camera. Had no time to take a picture though, because the conductor/engineer was looking very stern and grumpy, so I thought it a better idea to not delay any further, and board right away. Inside this thing (sort of an inner room on the bus-like train) there were two rows of wooden benches bolted to the floor. Very uncomfortable benches, by the way. This "train" started to move in a bone-rattling style, and crossed the border into the Czech Republic about 5 minutes after leaving Fürt im Wald. I was disappointed that it was already dark by then, so could see very little of the Czech countryside we were passing through. Had another laughing fit when we stopped in a tiny village called Babylon, which had me frantically fumbling for my camera again, in order to have photographic evidence of the fact that I had been to Babylon on this journey. But we pulled out of Babylon before I had the camera ready-another wonderful missed photo opportunity.

Finally, a good 11 hours after I left home that morning, this strange little train (oh I forgot to mention that in each Czech station we stopped in, another car was added to the mini train-very disappointing, but still interesting to watch), I reached Pilsen, where my Czech contact was waiting for me on the train platform.

Reality Czech Parts II and III soon to come.