spain cover image spain (recovered)
40 pages

spain - paris, fr - atlanta, ga


page 00 - 2003.08.17
page 12 - 2003.03.23
page 14 - 2003.03.26
page 16 - 2003.03.27
page 17 - 2003.03.28


estación de abando, bilbao....22.2.1996....20h16

The train for Bilbao arrives, and I get on board. I am confused by the place that I have been assigned on my ticket. I am supposed to be in coche 21, plaza 65a; the train is divided into 10 rooms and there is not a 65. Everyone else on the train is confused, too, so I worry a little less. soon, we all figure it out together. I put my stuff onto my bed, which, of course, is the top one, seven feet above the floor and one foot below the ceiling. There is an old man standing in the center of the tiny chamber, eating a sandwich. There is no room for me; I have to stand in the hall. Another man comes up to the cabin and looks into it; he puts his umbrella on the middle bed, which the old man is using as his dinner table.

He asks the old man, 'is this your bag?'

The old man: 'is this your bed?'

Man: 'yes.'

Old man: 'do you want me to move my bag from your bed?'

Man: 'yes.'

The old man moves his bag to his own bed. The umbrella man points in silence at the pillow on his bed; the old man quickly switches it with the unsoiled pillow on his bunk. I turn and walk down the hall to laugh at them in private. I badly need to go to the WC, but I don't want to go while the train is in the station, since my waste will spill all over the tracks for everyone to see. finally, the train gets moving, and I go answer nature's call. It is long after 23h00, and I am very tired; I want to go to sleep, but I can't get to my bed. There are no seats on the train, so everyone is standing in the narrow hall. when I see an opening in the crowd, I hop through it. The old man who ruined the other man's bed is still monopolizing all the space in the cabin. I try to slip past him to the ladder, and he struggles to move out of the way. Meanwhile, I am pressed against the beds as his hugs stomach rubs across my back, making me feel uncomfortable.

I get into my bed and try to look busy. I don't know what I should do about my shoes, because I know that my feet stink - every part of my body stinks. If I take off my shoes, I fear that my feet will cause such a stench in the small cabin as to provoke comment and complaint from the suffering occupants, as it happened in a hostal in Inverness.

Everyone must have been waiting for someone else to set an example, because right after I go to bed, everyone else gets ready for bed, just as the conductor comes by the cabin to collect our tickets. He does not stamp them or even look at them now; he just puts them into his folder and carries them away. This causes me some fright, as mine is not a disposable ticket, but a reusable pass. I am too tired to explain, protest, or question, though; I roll over and close my eyes. After the old man, clogging up the room until the end, turns off the light, I take off my shoes and wrap my stinking feet in the tiny blanket provided by Renfe. Despite the continuous noise made by the ladder slamming into the window each time the wheels cross a join in the tracks, which occurs more than once every second, I fall asleep easily. Suddenly, it is morning; I am being awakened by the conductor handing my ticket back to me. I look through the window, and all I see is snow.

Not for the first or last time, I quietly wish that I had brought my jacket. I get my bag and go to the train door so I will not be the last person in line when the train stops, the man next to me points at the mountains and says, 'That's a lot of snow.' I agree, without further comment, not knowing whether the snow pleases him or, like it does me, worries him. The train pulls into the station, and I look to see in which language the signs are written. They are written in Basque, which resembles no other European language. In a region surrounded by Romance languages - French, Catalan, Portuguese, and Castilian - Basque is an anomaly; it is not even in the Indo-European family. I do not know from where it came, and neither do the Basque; everyone agrees, though, that the language, like the Basque themselves, was here long before the Spanish-speaking peoples.

Following my usual routine, I look for a map in the train station, but there are none. I go outside and find one on a bus stop. I find my way to the tourist office, which is closed for another hour. I start my drift. I soon end up in a very filthy, very decrepit neighborhood. Due to Bilbao's location in a valley in the Pyrenees, every time I turn onto a street, it leads uphill. After relentless wandering through apartment blocks and closed shops, I end up in a plaza that is miles above the city center. On one side, there is a crazy looking concrete bridge that leads to what looks like a giant staircase. I walk across the bridge to see what is on the other side. It is an enormous elevator shaft; it is built straight from the bottom of the hill, and has a bridge at the top to connect it to the top of the hill. I am amazed; I must ride in this elevator.

When I get into the car, there is a man punching tickets, and I don't have one. I look around and see that one trip costs 21 pesetas. I pull out all the money that I have; it amounts to 30 pesetas. I give him the money, and he gives me only four pesetas in change; one would have to travel all the way to Italy to find a coins more worthless than a single peseta. They are smaller than a fingernail and worth less than a penny. Most places in Spain round prices to five pesetas, so I know that I will never have a chance to use these one peseta coins. While the elevator ride is somewhat enjoyable, considering that I am just standing in place, it probably would have been worth more to go up, instead of down, the hill.

Everywhere I look, there are spray-painted slogans for Euskadi independence; the walls are wheat pasted with posters of Basque revolutionaries who are in jail. There is not much else. I go back to the tourist office and boldly walk through the door. I ask for a map, and the lady at the desk gives me that and much more. I thank her, then go outside to sit on a wet park bench to plan my next moves. The Euskal Arkeologia, Etnografia eta Kondaira-Museoa does not open until 10h30. To spend the time between now and then, I visit to the 'largest indoor market in Europe'. While, admittedly, I have not been to every corner of Europe, it must have some pretty small indoor markets; the only thing here that impressed me was the free restroom.

Time is passing at an extremely low rate. I sit in the courtyard of an apartment complex for a moment of rest. I open one of the chocolate bars that I bought in Madrid. I take a bite; it is not very good. I turn over the bar to see that it is covered with a layer of white mold. I reflect on this for a while, then spit out the the mouthful that I have. I decide not to eat the rest of the bar. I put it back into my bag to deal with it later, though I imagine that it will be no less moldy tonight.

I go to the Kondaira-Museoa and discover that it is free. After walking through it, I begin to understand why. There is not much here other than some old nails and looms. They do have an interesting collection of old pistols, including some that are forged in the shapes of dragons. For reasons that I can not surmise, they also feature a of the U.S.S. Constitution. The rest of the exhibits are so mediocre, that I stroll into the museum offices and have to be told to leave before I realize that I am no longer in the museum proper. It is time to find something to do until lunch.

I look at the brochure that the tourist information lady gave me; it seems that there is a Guggenheim museum designed by Frank Gehry currently being built in Bilbao. I can not believe it. Bilbao is a relatively small city in a location that is far from being prominent. I am shocked to learn that the Guggenheim Trust is sponsoring a museum there, especially one designed by a commercial hack like Gehry. I decide to walk over to it and examine the construction. I get lost along the way, which pleases me more than it concerns me. I am fucking exhausted, so I sit down in a rain slicked park for a while.

There is a man kicking a ball across the park for his dog to chase. While the dog is running around the ball, a woman and child walk into the park. The dog sees the child, then stands perfectly still until the woman and child have gotten close. Suddenly, the dog picks up the ball with her mouth and runs over to the child. She drops the ball by the child's feet, then waits. The kid stares at the dog. The mother tries to get the child to keep walking, but the kid does not lose interest in the dog. Using her nose, the dog pushes the ball towards the child. The kid kicks at the ball, but misses. The dog lunges away before realizing that the ball did not move. The kid tries again and is successful. The ball rolls away, and the dog runs after it. She picks up the ball and returns it to the kid for another round. This goes on for a while, before the mother is finally triumphant in her attempts at ruining the kid's fun by leading the child away. As they go, the dog stands still and watches as they leave. My usual policy towards dogs is to hate them, but I must admit to being impressed by the intelligence of this particular beast. This dog is either smart enough to know that all kids like dogs and the nice thing for her to do would be to play with the kid, or it is smart enough to tell the difference between the quality playing with her 'owner' or the child and to make a choice.

Before I fall too much in love with the filthy creature, rain starts falling on me again, so I start walking. I cross the bridge over the also filthy Ría de Bilbao to the Deusto district. From the bridge, I can see the construction of the Gehry building. Only the steel framework is up, so it looks somewhat like a roller coaster, albeit a boring roller coaster. I slyly pull out my map and try to look at it without letting anyone else see it. I head in the direction of the restaurant for which I am searching. Its name apparently is just 'vegetarian restaurant', so it does not seem that these are very creative people; the menu will probably just say 'food'. I turn a corner and see what looks like a toy store; I look in the window and see that it is more like a toy warehouse. On a crate outside, there is an old G.I.Joe box. It is from the mid-school, when G.I.Joe was still somewhere between realistic and imaginative; thus, it has Quick Kick, Barbecue, Shipwreck, and Snake-Eyes, in his second uniform, on it. I wonder if it is trash and start thinking of a way to get the box out of there and into my possession. It seems to be a box for a costume for Halloween, or the local equivalent; I wonder if the carton has anything in it. There are a lot of people around, so I decide to go eat. When I am done with lunch, I presume that the toy warehouse will be closed for siesta, and I will have a chance to take the box.

I find the restaurant after several side trips and much backtracking. It is in the basement of what appears to be a housing project. It is not open yet, so I go sit on some railing by the side of the road and watch dogs who are every bit as dumb as the dog in the park was intelligent. After 13h00, I go back to the restaurant. The sign on the door still says 'closed.' I wait for a few minutes, but they never open. I decide to wait until 20 minutes after the hour, then leave. Soon, a man steps out of the door. I ask him if the place is open. He asks me if I want to eat.

Me: 'yes.'

Him: 'then we are open.'

He sees the sign, then, realizing why I was asking, changes it. I get to sit any place that I want to, since the place is empty of customers. I tell him that I don't eat eggs or milk or butter or any shit like that. 'Okay,' he says, then he looks at the menu to see what I can eat. He brings a tasteless salad. Soup is the next course, and by the time he brings it out, the place is full of people. He does not slow down, flitting from table to table like Mercury. The soup is quite pleasing. For the next course, he says that I can have wither rice or lentils. I say, 'rice,' because I think that it will be more filling, though I would rather eat lentils. He brings some paella, which is all these people here seem to eat, despite its mediocre effect on the taste buds. For dessert, I get a baked apple. As I complete my meal, he comes over and asks if I would like some tea. 'Yes', I say. He leaves for a minute, then comes back and says, 'The tea is made with honey.' This guy is a fucking professional; I did not even mention honey in the list of crap that I avoid eating, but he is still conscientious enough to think about it. I feel the need to give him an extra tip, but no one else who has left the restaurant has put any money on the table. I am afraid that it might be offensive somehow if I offer money in this manner. So, I take my stuff and go to meet him to pay. He brings my change to me, then pats my back as I leave, having thoroughly impressed me and earning from me a debt of gratitude for life.

Now I have to steal that G.I.Joe box. I go back to the store to see that the bastards have lowered a gate in front of the door, blocking me from the boxes. It was not meant to be, so I keep moving. I walk over to the Gehry building. It is on a wonderful site, on the bank of a river and passing under an enormous suspension bridge. The building is huge; I can't believe that I am seeing it in a one-horse town like Bilbao. I hate to admit it, but there are a few details that I admire, though I have confidence that, once they complete construction, I will despise it.

Everything is still closed for siesta, so I have nowhere to go. I have been carrying a heavy backpack all day, and I am getting sick of it. I go back to the train station to put the thing in a locker. The lockers only accept coins, and I don't have any. I look around for a store that will give me change, but nothing is open, encouraging my belief that siesta is a foolish tradition. It might have been a good idea to close down during the heat of the day three hundred years ago, but in these days of air conditioning and malls and metros, there is no point to it. It would seem that these shop owners would realize that it is bad for business to close down for four hours in the middle of the day. I go back to the market to use the free restrooms, since the train station bathrooms cost 25 pesetas that I don't have. The market is closed, too.

I give up and return to the train station and sit. I sit there for an hour, shifting in my seat to fight the urge to pee everywhere. I tell myself that if I wait a little longer, the museum will be open, and I can use their restroom. In the meantime, I watch the people running to catch their trains. When someone validates a ticket, then misses the train, I laugh at his misfortune.

At 16h00, I get up and head for the Museo de Bellas Artes, still with my heavy backpack and full bladder. When I get there, I discover that there is a Giuseppe Terragni exhibit. I go inside, and discover that this museum is free, too. Just when I begin to feel secure in my hatred for this city for its adherence to siestas and pay toilets, something like this happens. I look around and see a wide range of paintings, with a heavy amount of pre-Renaissance works. On the second floor, all the works are by Basque artists. Nothing there is spectacular, except several small, segmented metal boxes about the size of a cigarette lighter. I do not know for what purpose they exist, and there is no sign to describe them; regardless, I'd like to have one of them. I'd also like to find the restroom. I go into the contemporary art wing. All of the work here seems to be done by people in the region, and none of it is very ground-shaking; it is the same crap that I would expect from someone in Atlanta. Next to all the smeared and splattered canvasses, there is a Realist painting of the cool elevator shaft across town.

I find the Terragni room and enter. It is full of designs for monuments to the dead, none of which are too memorable. There is a large amount of display space devoted to the Danteum, as well as a large model of it. I don't know what was going through Terragni's mind when he designed this piece; who would be arrogant enough to try to design Heaven and Hell, not to mention Purgatory? Even a card-carrying atheist knows that the idea of Hell is much more harsh than the experience provided by seven descending golden sections and that Heaven would probably be much more splendid than a room full of glass columns. The quality building itself is irrelevant to the idea that someone could represent these spiritual worlds using materials and ideas from the terrestrial world. It is not Terragni's fault I suppose; he was only doing his best to work with the descriptions that Dante left him. I grab a program to give to my Terragni worshiping professor and move to the rest of the museum.

I see that there is a movie playing on the first floor, so I go down there, hoping that it will be better than what is up on the second floor. I see a curtain and know that the theater is on the other side. I walk through it and find myself in the middle of the theater with the movie being shown on a screen to my right. I turn to the left quickly to walk up the aisle to the rear of the theater where I can look for a seat. My first step lands on something. I presume that it is a person standing on my left. I move to the right, and my next step ends up short as my foot hits another body. Hands are grabbing my legs to stop me, but my body is still moving forward. I catch myself and turn back to the curtain. I stumble towards it, kicking several bodies along the way. Apparently the theater is completely full, and there are people seated in the aisles. I rush through the curtain and run away, embarrassed. I decide to skip the movie and get the hell out of there.

I still have not found the restroom, and I am getting discouraged. I see a sign for a cafeteria on the floor below me. As far as the possibility of the existence of restrooms go, it sounds promising. I go down there, and, sure enough, I see signs for restrooms. I rush into the stall and take care of business. After I am relieved, I look around for anything that will keep me in the museum as opposed to going back out into the cold and rain. There is nothing. I get my bag from the front desk and go back outside. I have now utilized all of my ideas about what to do in this city. I walk back to the 'old city' across the river. I see a store that I would like to visit, but it closed two minutes ago. I am exhausted from walking all over the city while carrying almost everything that I own. I give up.

I walk back to the train station to spend my last three hours in Bilbao waiting for my train. I arrive there and find a seat. It is damn cold in the station. Why do they not build train stations with interior spaces? I may as well be sitting outside; I am sitting outside. Do the architects who design train terminals never actually wait for a train themselves? Commuters and travelers should be the people in charge of designing train stations, just as business travelers supposedly designed the rooms in the Marriott Courtyard hotels. I'm cold, hungry, bored, filthy, smelly, and ugly. I get up to walk around, thinking that it will make time feel like it is passing more quickly. I look at the departure board and see that my train to Barcelona is not listed. I go to the office to ask about it. The lady at the desk tells me that because of the snow, the train is leaving an hour later. I want to reach through the window and strangle her for costing me another hour.

I go back into the station proper. I rummage through my bag, looking for something to do. I ride up and down the escalators for a while. I look at the damn lockers that only take change and therefore caused me to carry my bag all over the town. There is a sign explaining how to use the lockers; I am amused by the structure of one of the instructions in English, which warns: 'Do not lose the key. It would mean extra charges and a waste of time.' Even better is the phrase: 'Renfe officials may at their discretion take away the lockers countenance.' How cruel that would be, to take away a locker's 'countenance'. I begin to wonder if the train will still arrive at 22h20, even though it is not leaving until an hour after that time. Usually, trains pull in five minutes before the departure time; for the sake of having a warmer place to sit, I hope that this train may still get here at the right time, even if it is leaving an hour late. I go back upstairs to check. Fortunately, the train comes in at 15 minutes after 22h00. Now, I wait for them to stop tinkering with the electricity so that we can get on the train.

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published by the angry red planet, 2003