Wednesday, July 15, 2015

A Change in Plans

 In Report #5 I encounter a change in plans and live like a true Spanish winemaker for a day. In writing this post I also encountered Google Image, provider of all images below.
Howdy Amigos.  This is unofficial report number five.  Unbelievable how time sometimes takes on a different measure.  Not to long ago, I wrote number one on a whim.  Anyway, Let storytime begin.  
I was able get the bead on the local whitewater establishment.  After a long hiatus I was beginning to suffer from withdrawal.  As things would have it, I didn't get the instructions right to the location.  I was about an hour and a half out of Vigo, but took over 3 hours to find the place.  Damn Spanish roads.  About the time I was close enough to smell victory, I stopped to talk to a old shepherd of a small herd of sheep.  He gave my car a funny look but provided directions on how to get to the river.  Upon descending the "road" I reminded myself that this was a rental and accelerated as to use the underbody to slide over the craters.  I finally found the tiny little shed that housed the gear for this day's whitewater adventure, but had missed the people who were going to hook me up.  They left me a note and by the time I got there I had 2 hours to kill before they would return.  What at first was frustrating quickly became very interesting.  
I struck up a conversation with a farmer on this back dirt road I was waiting on. His name is Louis. He was tending to his family's vineyard and seemed not to mind this interruption to his work very much. Turns out he lives in Vigo, but his parents lived on this remote riverside farm where he grew up.  About this time each year the family gets together to bottle the wine that has been aging in casks. Today was that annual day and Louis invited me to join. Seemed like a good plan.  We headed to the rustic, red clay roofed house where Louis loudly introduced me to the family.  There were at least 4 generations represented.  As I shook hands I tried to gather the names: Traci, Chino, Carlos, Pedro.. there were about 15 people all told. The older looked at me with curiosity while the children cowered behind legs at the sight of the tall American.  We then moved to an old stone barn with a dirt floor, wooden casks lining the walls and piles of assorted empty wine bottles stored in every unoccupied place. Seasoned ham aged inside a insect proof net box and a large manual press stood in the corner. I asked Louis if they danced on the grapes to extract their nectar.  He gave a good belly laugh, repeated to him family and the room filled with laughter and people slapping me on the back. 

The men proceeded to set up to do some bottling as the first cask was tapped. A small trough filled with wine and bottles were quickly placed under the tubes that flowed out of it. Louis dipped a short glass into the trough and handed it to me.  Incredible. Then he looked around quickly and shot out of the barn. He returned quickly with a huge round of cheese and a loaf of fresh bread. And then he refilled my glass.  They all watched as I took some cheese and bread, and more wine.  Smiling from ear to ear I honestly told them it was wonderful. Pleased by this, they joined me for a glass.  All paused and looked my way. Loud and bold I said ¡Salud! This was repeated with much enthusiastic approval, glasses clinked and we all drank. Health!

 After insisting on refilling my glass once again, Louis and family quickly set up an impromptu assembly line. There was one man preparing bottles to be filled, another at the filling trough, one at a unique embottling press and others to pack and move finished bottles. The elder members supervised and the younger ran the line. I watched and enjoyed my delicious wine and good fortune. I asked if I could help and was politely cut another slice of cheese and served more wine.  After a few more inquiries I was allowed to have a go at the embottler machine. A curious piece of equipment that has a lever, some springs and a strange gripper system that act in unison to forcibly join the cork and bottle.

I quickly became the cell bottleneck as I was slow in operating the device. I thought I had the hang of it until my fifth bottle exploded into a shower of glass and wine.  I tried to resign from my post, but they encouraged me to continue.  After I managed to clumsily break another bottle, I rotated out to the cheese gourd, bread and freshly refilled glass. Louis then took over the bottler machine, and quickly preceded to burst a bottle. I said that the Spanish were as strong was Americans and they laughed again.  Maybe at my Spanish or my wine-plied wit, either way my back was slapped some more and I felt like these were people I had known for a lifetime. 
 After savoring the moment and trying to capture and hold the details, the people from the kayaking place returned and I said goodbye to my new friends. I hurried back with my camera for photos and apologies. Louis and I exchanged addresses and I fully intend to send him a letter and thank you for such a wonderful display of Spanish hospitality.  After stepping back a century or two and living 2 hours in the life of a rustic Spanish farmer, the river was anticlimactic at best.  Of all my unique experiences, I think this one will stay with me as the most pronounced and most special. 

8 julio 1997

Note: All images displayed are courtesy of Google Image.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

An American in Vigo

In report #4 I struggle with frozen food, language barriers, and Spanish customs.
I also struggle with finding photos from my trip, so all pictured below are courtesy of Google Image.
OK, here we go. This is unofficial report number four.  I have moved into an apartment.  I was excited that I would be able to resume my normal diet of home cooked bachelor food.  Restaurant surprises were starting to stress me out.  I went to the nearby supermarket and picked out a few items from the heat and serve section of the freezer.  Frozen pizza hitting the top of the list.  I hurried home and got set to chow.  I opened the door below my stove and found that instead of an oven, I was provided additional storage space.  Having neither an oven or a microwave, I am now in the process of trying to figure out how to cook frozen pizza on a stove.  Fried pizza, my favorite.  Well, this same night I was not to be thwarted. I had been brave and purchased heat and serve paella. Paella is a Spanish staple that is similar to gumbo, but without the spice.

Upon opening the bag, I discovered that I did not have a bag off heat and eat food, but rather a bag full of frozen seafood.  It was straight off the boat and into my freezer. I looked at my food, it looked at me and I had potato chips for dinner.   I have a new game I play.  I call it Stupid American. I speak much more Spanish than I understand, but I can get by.  I am not really embarrassed about going out in public and talking and take great sport in doing so. The game is played like this: Someone will say something to me, and I reply with absolute nonsense with a perfectly straight face.  Recently I was in a cab and the guy could tell I wasn't from around here.  He asked if I spoke French.  I am an American, I replied.  He then asked if I like Vigo.  I said "My chair is cold".  He looked at me funny but continued and preceded to tell me some long winded bit about a big ship in the harbor. I told him I have an apartment that is white and tasty. He looked at me strange again and concluded the ride in silence. 
  I talked my Spanish professor into teaching me all the words that aren't in my dictionary. The guys in the factory have taken great pleasure in supplementing this portion of my training as well.  I may not be able order a decent meal, but I can sure curse up a storm when it arrives to my displeasure.  So using this new list of words, I have discovered another way to play Stupid American.  I will intentionally mispronounce words by drawing from my continuously expanding list of vulgarities.  On the weekends I get a rental car.  A Fiat Punto. 

En Spanish, the word punta is a derogatory term applied to prostitutes.  

With great pleasure I will tell people that I have a punta on the weekends that GKN provides.  I am looking forward to going to a furniture store and looking at cabinets.  The word for drawer, cajone, can easily be mispronounced as a term for male anatomy.  All with a smile and a straight face.
My language skills also give me the ability to create havoc in busy situations. I recently went to the grocery to get some deli meat. After my run in with the frozen food, I was hoping to see what I was buying first.  The deli was packed and when my number came up I tried to tell the woman what I wanted.  I came very close to getting 100 slices of turkey.  After we got that worked out, she sighed and asked if I needed anything else. I said no, and that I needed some cheese, 100 slices please. If the people shopped like they drive, they would have been honking at me.  This weekend I went out on the town with an engineer from the factory named Alfonso.  I called him The Fonz, but he didn't get it.  He didn't like being called Al very much either.  Al speaks just a little more English than I do Spanish, so I am learning a fair amount with him. Fonz, like me, can speak more than he can understand. Well, we are hanging out in a closed off street that was packed with people.  Bars lined the street and the people were making great use of them. In this is a very homogenous society I stood out a great deal. Among the short, black haired, skinny Spanish dudes, I was somewhat of a spectacle. Unless I was wrapped in the stars and stripes, I couldn't have looked more American.  As the night progressed, woman who had visited the bar once or thrice approached me and slurred some Spanish.  I of course had to get Alfonso to translate.  Most of the translations began with "She drinks much and...."  I was asked to provide Gorbachev style kisses (that cheek-cheek thing).

It should be duly noted that the female Spanish populous doesn't much care for the way I wear my jeans either, and felt obliged to tell me.  I responded with a general comment about Spanish woman, selecting the appropriate words from my alternate vocabulary list, and almost had an international incident in my hands. Apparently there are some instances when the Stupid American game can cause real trouble.  
I do want to send a special thanks out to Vicky for so efficiently navigating the internals of Sanford for me while I am over here trying to make contact.  Hello to the 7 gang and tell Benton that his long lost twin brother works on the shaft line here.

More later, Spain out.

27 junio 1997

Note: All photos displayed are courtesy of Google Image.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

I wanna rock n' roll all night....

My third report describes the  friends I made as I settled into la vida local and the cruel irony of Spanish priesthood. Visuals inspired by the Twilight Zone, provided by Google Images.
This is unofficial report number three.  You will be glad to know that I speak enough Spanish now to have basic conversations.  I utilized this newfound ability with some punk rockers (punkis) panhandling in the street.  They had mohawks and rainbow colored hair and safety pins stuck in their faces.  
They were cool.    
Upon asking them where the local punk rock bar was, they took me to a nearby cafe coffee house.  Like most people here, it seems that even punkis are coffee addicts.  The cafe was playing poorly recorded music on a cheap stereo.  "Punki no es muerto!" was spray painted on the wall . Punk's not dead. 

I am starting to believe that I am living in some sort of parallel universe to Sanford.  So far I have met Spanish versions of Vicky, Kirik, Bob Wayne and my brother.  The Spanish Kenny McMahan even has a completely indecipherable regional accent.  The Spanish Bruce Howard is always hanging around bumming cigarettes off people.  Of course I am the one and only, except that everyone here ties me to Brad Pitt.  I say my name, they say "Brrad Peet".  The guy in the hotel I was staying at referred to me as that for my entire stay and even wrote it on the bill.  That explains the hoard of women hanging around who looked confused when I went into Brad Pitt's room.

I moved out of the hotel this week into an apartmento.  I am in the penthouse suite.  Though that sounds glorious and all would expect me in the penthouse, in Spain it means that I hit my head a lot on the downward sloping ceiling.  The realtor ladies who are renting it were not unlike realtors in America, thus that parallel universe thing again.  They were super nice but kind of scatterbrained in a good way.  I am tall enough to stand up and look out of the skylight and see the ocean.  They wanted to see as well so one of them got a chair and stood on it, only to have it smash to pieces. She was ok so it was sort of funny.  This was one of those times when acting like I didn't know what she was saying was beneficial.  I wanted another chair.  As she tried to convince me that I had another chair (made with the same remarkable craftsmanship of the first), I just kept a blank look I my face and said "Another chair, yes, ok" over and over.  She finally gave up and I got a new chair.
This past weekend I went to check out a church that is completely covered in oyster shells.  

It looked cool, but I got to thinking that making celibate Catholic priests eat a church-load of oysters was some sort of cruel Vatican joke.  The immediate area was surrounded by people selling souvenir junk, much like an American tourist spot.  The church itself was in the shadow of a casino, which blocked the seaside view.  I am sure the oyster eating priests are stoked that their hard work has been rewarded by turning it into a tourist trap.  Most of the shells had been written on and I read a few. My friends had visited: Punki no es muerta!. 

More later.  Shout out to 7, peace out to all.
18 junio 1997

Note: All images displayed are courtesy of Google Images.