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07.09.07

travel


Listen to Tomás Pavón - "Cantes de Triana"
Buy Early Cante Flamenco

(Wow. Yeah. I know - it's been a long time since I updated this thing, and the trip to Spain I'm about to start recounting here happened two months ago, but what can I say - my intentions are good, my abilities more than slightly less so. If anyone's still reading this, what can I say - love you guys. Anyway - let's get on with it - Rick goes to Spain, on a travel writers' junket...)


They're playing flamenco in the departure lounge. I'm in Trudeau airport outside Montreal, maybe a sixth of my way into my flight to Spain and I've just discovered that this is the inaugural flight into Barcelona and Malaga for the Major Canadian Charter (henceforth MCC, for short) on whose penny I'm making this trip. I left K. and the girls almost six hours ago, after a frantic week's worth of trying to file stories and photos for the week I'm away. I'm unslept and more than a bit punchy. I lost my boarding pass within mere feet of the security check-in in Toronto, and I've been anxious ever since then not to misplace a single piece of luggage, my neck pillow, passport, laptop or hat between here and the hotel room that's presumably waiting at the end of this flight.

There's a guitarist, a singer and two dancers going full bore now by the check-in counter. The flamenco is a bit corny, sure, but I appreciate the touch; it's a welcome change from the trudging anonymous middle passage we call air travel. Now the flight attendants are circulating through the lounge handing out hors d'oeuvres and wine. It almost makes up for the hour-plus lineup I just made it through after getting off the plane from Toronto. My heart sank when I saw it - a serpentine queue ten deep, folding in on itself back and forth in front of the MCC's ticket counters.

Humans aren't designed for lineups, I'm sure. There's nothing in our ancestry that's equipped us for them, from the caves and savannah where it all began to the tight rings of huts surrounded by fields and animal pens to the mud brick and stone towns and cities where we holed up waiting for the next barbarian horde to overrun us - or, alternately, the nomad camps where barbarians waited for their next chance for plunder; the closest thing that we could endure to a lineup for the centuries until we could invent bureaucracy. Lineups are, I'm certain, the great unsung cause of the end of the Soviet Union. It's a measure of our urge to maintain civilization that they don't regularly dissolve into bloody melees, captured on surveillance cameras and cell phones and edited down for the cable news reports into frantic glimpses of howling mouths and limbs torn from trunks and used as blunt weapons, a
Motorhead lyric come to life weekly in airports, passport offices and at the local Ikea customer return.

I miss K. and the girls horribly. I don't think Cece really has much of an idea that I was going away, but Aggie was talking herself through it while I packed, telling me that she wished I didn't have to go away, asking how long I'd be away over and over, and wondering what kind of present I'd be getting for her while I was in Spain. (Or Pain, as she calls it, with her sibiliant handicap.)

I've gotten a few hors d'oeuvres (not the tapas you'd expect, but something that looks suspiciously like President's Choice frozen Chinese dim sum appetizers), and a glass of white wine, which is giving me just enough of a buzz that I'm hoping for something vaguely like a decent night's sleep as we fly over the Atlantic. I have a nice big book on Caesar's crossing of the Rubicon and an mp3 player loaded with Brian Eno to ease me into sleep in any case.


Travel is so enjoyable that I'm sure we'd do it much more if it the process of getting there weren't so basically odious for the average man and woman. That's the only justification I can come up with for the last two thirds of my journey to Spain, which ended around noon today when our group was finally spit out of the terminal in Malaga after a series of the sort of minor trials that air travel subjects us to in order, I suspect, to prove that we're worthy of the reward of arriving.

Spending seven hours in a fastidiously designed metal tube hurtling over the sea is probably a thought that would have sent my ancestors into a terror, but we've adapted, I believe, by making it either luxurious - a flying hotel room with all the amenities - or dismal - economy class on a charter airline's Airbus A-310. The less said about the latter, at this point, the better. Upon arriving in Barcelona for a brief stopover, we were roused from our cramped slumber and told to stay put, then handed boarding passes and quickly deplaned. Groggy and hurried, I left behind my neck pillow - my only real friend on the journey so far.

Herded into a standing room-only bus, we were driven in circles around the roadways that twist in and out of Barcelona's airport complex before being deposited in a departure lounge while the plane was being cleaned. An hour later, we were sent back on board the bus in a slow trickle, and arrived back at our plane where I was blithely told that my neck pillow had likely been thrown out by the cleaning crew. Heartless bastards.

Another flight - and another fitful nap - later, we're in Malaga, where the plane disgorged its contents into a long hallway, at the end of which was a single passport control booth manned by a single official and his appointed onlooker, who wore the same uniform as his colleague but obviously bore none of his passport-stamping responsibilities. Another lineup, another wait, and finally we're I'm let through to the baggage claim area, where we meet our driver, Antonio, several smiling local employees of the MCC, and discover that the luggage of one of our group has gone missing. The benificiary of who knows what good deed, I'm happy to learn it's not me.

Our crew, a dozen or so of us, fling ourselves into our seats on the bus and head out while Jose Antonio, our guide for the trip, starts a running commentary on Malaga and its environs. We drive past the San Miguel beer plant, right at the entrance to the airport, and out onto the tangle or roads to Torremolinos. It's the usual jumble of shabby houses and factories, built into whatever spaces could be had between roads and runways; proof, for me at least, that Newark is actually the pinnacle of airport area urban design, the ultimate expression of a ferocious but utilitarian ugliness, the Disneyworld of its type, of which the area around Malaga's airport is just another local amusement park.

In lunges of English idiom, Antonio tries to describe Torremolinos to us, but he can't stop himself from referring to it as second-rate, compared to more affluent resort towns on the Costa del Sol such as Marbella. It started out nice, he says, but inexorably slipped in status over the five decades since it evolved from fishing village to sun-and-fun destination. The reason, he hints ever so obliquely, is the English, who were attracted to the place early on and have made it a sort of colony of Essex, or so it seems. There are English pubs with names like Twiggy's and Jimmy's Bar, all advertising Guinness and Tetley's and menus that feature beans on toast, eggs of toast, and variations thereof.

Thankfully, he takes us to a beachfront restaurant favoured by locals - not a bean or slice of toast in sight - and we sit down to a meal of fish, fish and more fish, most of it of the juvenile variety - tiny fried sardines and whitefish, baby squid and clams. Halibut baked under mounds of furry white salt comes next, followed by dessert - vanilla ice cream bricks laced with leaves of dark chocolate. In between courses, I wander out to take some shots of the beach and the town, but discover after a few dozen frames that there's no memory card in the camera. I'm really off my form today. I need to sleep.

We arrive at our hotel for the night, the Cervantes, up on the slopes of one of the hills that spill down to the beach, where I ask Antonio why, unique among all the Spanish towns I've visited in my life, there's no churches to be seen. He tells me that there are two, buried among the hotels and apartment towers, and that San Miguel - named for the patron saint of the town - is just nearby. I find out that there's a mass at 7pm, but despite my best intentions, I fall into a deep slumber on the bed and wake up as the sun is going down. Too full from lunch to even contemplate dinner, I draw a hot bath and relax with Robert Hughes' biography of Goya for a few hours - my version of spa time.


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© 2007 rick mcginnis all rights reserved
WHO

i'm a dad in my forties with two daughters, a conservative catholic, a professional photographer, tv and movie critic, and ten years ago i would have told you that this was impossible. then i would have taken a swing at you. i might have been drunk. i look nothing like william powell.

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