Monday, 28 March 2011
It started with the bridge. There is only one bridge connecting Cádiz, situated on the tip of a long and narrow peninsula, to mainland Spain. On my map the bridge and the road leading up to it were highlighted in red. For cyclists, red means: stay away, unless there is no alternative. So I examined the alternatives. There was one: a 27-kilometre detour, all motorway, around the Bahía de Cádiz.
The math was fairly simple. All troops to the bridge! However, finding the blasted thing proved somewhat problematic. I got lost in the backstreets of dreary Puerto Real. Fortunately, I ran into a mountainbiker. 'Ah, the bridge,' he said, his eyes turning slightly watery. 'Can't cross it on your bike. They made it cars-only a year or two ago.' I managed to suppress a little blasphemy. 'So what do I do?' I asked him. 'Swim?' 'There is another way,' he said. 'A gravel road that runs parallel to the railroad track, all the way around the Bahía de Cádiz. I'll show you how to get there.'
He must have found a secret entrance, I thought as I tried to keep up with him. It turned out he had, but first we had to trespass someone's property and climb a low wall. Not funny, when your bicycle, with all the bags strapped to it, weighs as much as a grown woman. Alone again I set off, carefully slaloming the crater-like potholes.
Upon leaving Cádiz, I was greeted by the Levant. I had always thought of the Mistral and the Levant as pleasant phenomena: a welcome breeze after a scorching day, something that makes life in the arid parts of Europe just a bit more liveable. Little did I realise that the Levant is more like the hold-your-hat-where-are-the-children kind of wind. It would put any Dutch autumn storm to shame.
But Cádiz hadn't finished with me yet. All of a sudden I found that the work on my gravel road had spread like a nasty infection. Now really having no other option I ducked red-and-white tape, opened gates that were supposed to remain closed, crawled through a ditch, all the while smiling innocently at frowning roadworkers.
More than three hours later I found myself back in Puerto Real. Exhausted and feeling like a criminal. So much for a good old day of rest in a picturesque town...
Sunday, 20 March 2011
Now, it's all fine and dandy if your car is in the road-side row, I said to myself. But what if you park your car at the kerbstone, only to return a day later and find it jammed on all sides? What do you do? Ring the doorbells of the neighbouring apartment buildings? Take to the pavement, only to find your way blocked by a lamppost? Shrug your shoulders and make a dash for the bus? Sit down and cry?
Because I could never catch them at it the problem remained unsolved. Besides, it seemed I was the only one who cared. No old geezer shaking his head in disbelief. No rookie police officer feverishly calling for backup to bring a halt to this massive display of civil disobedience.
Sometimes you have to face the facts and admit that your mental capabilities are limited, if not stunted. I couldn't work it out myself, so I turned to one of my flatmates. 'It's very simple,' he said. 'When you double-park, you're supposed to leave the handbrake disengaged. Now, when somebody wants to pull out and your car is in the way, he just pushes it a few metres forward or backward. Carefully, you hope.' And damn if it isn't true, a few days later I chanced upon a live enactment of his words.
Meanwhile, Seville's famous orange trees are involved in their own little act of double-parking. While last year's wrinkly oranges still colour the branches, frail blossoms start to appear, spreading the heady scent of spring. Slowly Seville is getting ready for its annual moment of glory, when thousands of tourists flock to the city to witness the Semana Santa processions and the Feria de Abril madness. But I won't be there to join them. I'm pulling out and riding off!
Saturday, 12 March 2011
|Happy pig in the Sierra del Norte (Andalusia)|
Because that's what it's all about in the life of a black Iberian pig—stuffing yourself. And how convenient that the thing you like best grows on trees spread across your meadow like polka dots on a summer dress. In fact, this gnarly type of tree, encina or holm oak, owes its very existence in this neck of the woods to you. You munch away on its acorns, and, a few years later, when the meat has been cured to perfection, people munch away on your hind legs. That's the deal. Of course, you won't find out about that until the man with the lorry comes to whisk you off to the slaughterhouse.
Jamón ibérico de bellota is to the Spaniard what caviar is to the Russian or foie gras to the Frenchman (albeit somewhat less controversial). Many people know how to appreciate this type of cured ham, few can afford it. Twenty euro buys you about 150 grams, enough for a bocadillo or two. But then we're talking about the prepackaged kind you find in supermarkets.
|Not-so-happy pig being butchered by me|
But the jamón. You'll just have to believe me when I tell you that you can actually taste the pig's strict acorn-only diet. Let's say there's a distinct nuttiness to the flavour. And let's forget that I actually ate an acorn to prove my point.
Wednesday, 2 March 2011
Anyone looking for a grammar book seeks to map uncharted territory. He's a pirate, an astronaut, a mad adventurer, ready to discover an entire universe. Nothing is more daring or rewarding than learning a language. It's a limitless, overwhelming undertaking, worthy of heroes. Like Adam in paradise you're about to give everything its name. Now you're here and hold this grammar in your hands, you're one of us. Thank you.
How about that for a 'Hello, Dear Reader'? This is the opening paragraph of the preface to Gramática Básica del Estudiante de Español, a grammar book that's proved to be a fine companion on my exploration of the terra incognita that is Spanish. Of course, like every serious grammar, the entire thing is written in the language you're trying to master, so it took me a while to figure out what the hell the authors were rambling on about.
Encouraging as it may seem, the preface paints a picture far more glamorous than anything I've experienced so far. Most of the time you feel like a toddler when you screw up your tenses again or say things like "Soy un poco enfermo" (I'm something of a lunatic) instead of "Estoy un poco enfermo" (I'm a bit under the weather). I've tried it, though, the 'mapping uncharted territory like a pirate' thing. In the classroom of the language institute, for instance. "Arrr, bring it on, matey! I'll slit yer throat! Takes more than a scurvy subjunctive clause fer me t' go havin' the Davies!" All it got me was a puzzled look from my teacher.
However, all is not lost. A few weeks ago I came across a television channel called Aprende Inglés TV. I only needed five minutes to get hooked. Think of it as a grammar book with talking heads instead of pages. It deals with the intricacies of the English language in half a dozen formats: snappy conversation classes, twenty-minute in-depth explorations of various grammatical head-scratchers, a kids' corner with a guy in a crappy dog suit singing stuff like Hokey Pokey, and even a late-night talk show.
Now, this might not sound overly intriguing, but wait until you see some footage of Richard Vaughan, founder and anchorman of Aprende Inglés TV. Over the years, this middle-aged Texan has managed to build his own language-training empire here in Spain. Radio, TV, DVD's, books, websites, iPhone apps: you name it, it's out there. And no talk of pirates and astronauts with this guy. Richard Vaughan only believes in one thing. Well, three things, to be precise. Repetition, repetition, repetition. Which, in my case, leads to something close to hypnosis. But why not have a look yourself, as Richard explains the difference between 'this' and 'that'. Blimey, I wish they had this in Spanish, too…