Leif Pettersen's Travelogue

The long-winded-niest travelogue on the internet!


Spain Part Uno

Posted on 9/21/03

I have decided to split Spain into two parts. Mostly to quell the badgering from several of you that I might be slacking off in my work, due to not having posted anything on the web site for over two weeks. The other reason is for the sake of your internet reading stamina. With the amount of time that I am spending in Spain and the number of cities that I plan to cover, my essay on this country is quickly turning into a debilitating epic that is already so long that I am having trouble editing it without going insane. Plus, I wouldn’t want any of you to lose valuable productive time at work or worse yet, suffer painful eye strain due to the fact that the concept of succinctness is lost on me.

FYI - Just to make things more confusing for you, I will be composing and posting my Portugal babbling before I steer back into northern Spain to finish things off in “Spain Part Dos.” Thank you for your patience, understanding and concern to the possibility that I had taken to spending my days in the gutter nursing a sangria drenched stupor. - Leif


Yes! I’m in f*cking Spain! I love it here! Beautiful weather, beautiful women, good food, siestas, wild, unhinged partying and very relaxed people.

It always takes me a few days to adjust to the Spanish disposition. They have a very mild “it’ll-happen-when-it-happens” mentality that translates into every aspect of their lives. Dinner can be a lackadaisical three or four hour marathon. Very late inter-city buses are met with a shrug and a yawn. The average walking speed is about one block every 10 minutes, even for the young and spry. I have a very fast, natural walking pace and until I acclimate to the Spanish mindset, I blow past those leisurely, carefree people like they were walking backwards.

Once I’ve modified my behavior, this relaxed outlook is exactly why I love Spain and have frequently fantasized about permanently relocating here. I’m convinced that this laid-back approach to life is the reason why the Spanish live long and content lives. There’s no rampant high blood pressure, barely enough obesity to measure and no miserable people lining up at their shrink’s office for the latest Happy Pills. While the slow progression of American culture conquering the entire free world will undoubtedly result in these trends eventually infiltrating the Spanish lexicon, right now the Spanish simply aren’t going to invest the time it takes to worry about such things. There’s wine to drink! Naps to take! Vacations to plan with the nationally mandated six weeks of time-off that every citizen enjoys each year! Depression? Anxiety? Road rage? Love handles? These are concepts that they learn about in school and maybe read about in Time magazine when they run across the umpteenth article about how despondent the average U.S. citizen has become, but otherwise that stuff is as foreign to Spaniards as basic geography is to Americans.

I started things off right when I got to Spain. Six days of drooling lethargy in a Spanish resort town called Torremolinos. For the first three days I did nothing but sleep, eat, drink wine, read and sun myself. Eventually I rendezvoused with friends and proceeded to undo all of the rest and relaxation that I had hoarded by staying out all night and drinking massive amounts of sangria. As a final blow to my newfound vigor, on my last night in Torremolinos, I somehow managed to develop huge, ballooning blisters on the inside of each pinkie toe. Just when I was feeling the best I have felt in 10 years, looking good, able to run a mile without a medic trailing me with a defibrillator and feeling generally invincible, it was humbling to be reduced to a limping, wincing mess, walking slower than an elderly Spaniard by two oddly placed blisters. I don’t know how they got there, I just know that they hurt like two bastards and I was forced to lay low during my first two days in Granada, splitting time between my bed, the internet café and a nearby restaurant while I drained and bandaged the blisters. As usual, I succeeded in having a vacation that left me more exhausted and wounded than before it started.

There’s so much that I love about Spain that I don’t know where to start. I’ve mentioned the obvious, but there’s a ton of giddy minutiae that add to the experience. For example, in Spain, I’m tall! As a rule, the further south you go in Europe, the shorter the average height of the people. By the time you hit southern Spain, my 5’-9” stature puts me in the top 20% on the average height scale. Outside of the rare visit to a nursery school, there are precious few moments where I am the tallest person in the room in the U.S. Instead of me struggling to see in-between the heads and shoulders of everyone else, now I was the one who was causing sightline problems and boy was it a groovy feeling.

Because of it’s proximity to countless wine regions, lip smacking wine can be bought in Spain for about half the price one would pay in the States. For a budding wino like myself, this was like finding lobster for 99 cents a pound. While in Torremolinos, I made daily trips to the super market where I purchased a bottle of red wine to accompany me through my surprisingly tasty hotel dinner and after-dinner antics. As it so happens, I learned to drink red wine as a result of the extreme economic need for a cheap drunk while I was in Spain in 1994. It was near the end of the summer and I was running low on cash, so I was forced to abandon sangria as my drink of preference. With a few hostel companions, I invested in the worst red wine in the universe to get us through the evenings. It was horrid stuff, but out of desperation I drank it and slowly learned to like it. After gagging down that poison, any red wine that was served to me from that moment on tasted like it came straight out of the carafe of Dionysus. Sadly, this new appreciation did not improve my general knowledge of wine. To this day, I still don’t know red wine from red onions, even if I have a pop-up book of wine regions and brands to assist me.

The Spanish family unit is very strong. All families are huge and perpetually spending time together. It’s common for families to take long evening walks together and I’m not just talking mom, dad and the kids. Grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins are also invited. They walk slowly in huge groups, holding hands or hooking arms, making it impossible to get past them without running through traffic. Coming from a family that can barely tolerate each other for more than a few hours during the scant few gatherings warranted by national holidays each year, scenes like this were bizarre and confounding to me. This closeness that the Spanish maintain mixed with their general deep-seated vice-grip on Catholicism makes for offspring that actually like their parents and respect them like no place else I have ever seen. While the teenagers in the rest of Europe are out getting mohawks, piercing everything that they can get a needle through and telling their parents where to stick it while they head out for untold depravity at 11:00 on a Tuesday night, the Spanish kids are all well dressed, polite and stunningly obedient to their parent’s wishes. Makes me almost wanna have kids. Bwahahahahaha! I can’t even write it with a straight face!

The basic Spanish daily schedule, while being a work of slacker genius, takes a little getting used to. Everyone gets up and runs off to work or school between 8:00 and 9:00AM. Lunch, better known as “siesta,” is a three hour affair starting at 1:00 and terminating at 4:00. While the American influenced places like McDonalds stay open through siesta, most businesses are locked up and abandoned during this time. Siesta is a time for one to go home, eat a huge lunch, washed it down with a few beers or wine, maybe hump the spouse, take a nap and then return to work happy and refreshed from 4:00 to 7:00PM. With the work day ending so late, dinner too is pushed back to a freakishly late hour. Most restaurants will open at 6:00PM, but they will only serve drinks until the kitchen opens anywhere between 7:30 and 9:00 and depending on the day of the week, people often don’t even bothering showing up until about 10:00PM. After enjoying a medium sized, healthy meal, the family may take a walk and then finally retire for bed sometime after midnight.

The agenda for the weekend is a little different. During the summers of ’93 and 94, I spent a little time with a Spanish family at their “cabin” in a town called La Garriga, 45 minutes outside of Barcelona (Their cabin was actually a mansion-sized house which they shared with - who else? - their entire extended family, that dwarfed the apartment that they lived in during the week) where I was exposed to Spain’s heavenly weekend schedule that goes something like:

1:00 PM: Wake up.
1:05 PM: Eat 3 course lunch.
2:00 PM: Go to the beach, nap, and scope women.
6:00 PM: Return home. Nap.
9:00 PM: Get up, eat 4 course dinner, watch any kind of sports on TV, i.e. soccer, tennis, car racing, running, fishing, roller hockey, basketball, cycling, swimming, any Olympic event summer or winter, rugby, sumu wrestling, surfing, target puking (you get the idea).
10:30 PM: Go to the bar and drink.
12:30 AM: Arrive at the club, dance, and scan crowd for future wife.
6:30 AM: Return home, eat snack, and go to sleep.
- Repeat -

No wonder these people look so good! With a lifestyle like that, a major change in diet and some quality, regular exercise thrown in there, we Americans could look this good and live this long too! Of course the workaholic, show-me-the-money, deep-fried, car driving, “Walk-a-mile? Are-you-shitting-me?” attitude of the majority of Americans is far too ingrained. It would take us generations to move U.S. society to a slower, healthier lifestyle at this point and quite frankly, relocating to Spain and marrying a beautiful woman to get citizenship sounds like a much more attractive and speedy solution to me.

On that note, the women… Due to the overwhelming number of you who have shown concern at my obsession with women this summer, I have tried to hold off on raving about the ladies in every essay, but I simply cannot stay quiet on the Spaniards. These women are rivaled only by the Norwegians in their hotness. With their jaw-dropping natural beauty, the gorgeous woman ratio is not only larger than in most other countries, but with their leisurely and healthy lifestyle slowing the aging process down to about 2/3 the normal speed, these women are gorgeous enough to inspire split-second lust on the street far later in life than any other nationality that I have had the pleasure to mingle with.

Spain has the largest wild cat population I have ever seen. Tiny dogs are by far the most popular domestic animal, so over the decades the homeless cat population has ballooned to the point where they are about as common as squirrels. Cats pretty much have free reign to roam the streets, valleys and Arabic ruins all over the south of Spain. They shamelessly beg at outdoor restaurants and, given a little encouragement, they are quick to jump up into your lap and make themselves comfortable. People sit around in parks and on the beach-walks in the early evenings and feed whole packs of wild cats like they were pigeons. The cats appear to be totally tame and disease-free, as people and kids fearlessly play with them and cuddle them during these feeding frenzies.

I am still in the dark about a lot of the Spanish leanings, like why the men always wear pants even in the searing, dead heat of summer. Due to my hot blooded metabolism, I have a lower than average temperature comfort zone than most people, so perhaps this just seems exceptionally insane to me because if I did the same thing I would be soaked to the bone in sweat and probably 4 jumping-jacks away from dehydration. Unfortunately, being dressed in anything but long pants is a pretty good tip-off to everyone else around you that you’re a tourist. As if my bleached blond hair and green eyes didn’t blow my cover enough, I was forced to stick to shorts and tank tops during the day for even a semblance of comfort out in that heat.

Another baffling aspect of the Spanish is their offensive taste in music and television. In every bar and club that I went into during my time in Spain, I heard the same six, cookie cutter, trashy pop songs, three times a night and each and every time these songs came on, the Spanish would sing along ecstatically at the top of their lungs. These mindless affronts to music invaded my daily, internal soundtrack like a well conceived commercial jingle. I repeatedly caught myself humming these tunes as I rode the subway or even while I was in the throes of a passionate writing session. Eventually, for the sake of my sanity, I had to swear off clubbing until I left the country.

The Spanish television watching habits were almost more distasteful. I found a revolting number of people enrapt in front of episodes of the “A-Team,” “Knight Rider,” and too many flash-in-the-pan WB series that were cancelled in the U.S. after three episodes, but enjoyed repetitive syndication in Spain. The only saving grace was that “The Simpsons” was aired daily, showing that perhaps there was hope in the future of Spanish television beyond Mr. T, Erckle and Screech.

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©Leif Pettersen 2012