Leif Pettersen's Travelogue

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Posted on 9/21/03

I’m not sure who all these people were that were following me from one city to the next and creating travel headaches for me when they should have darn well been back in school and at work, but it seemed the word was out on me going to Valencia and everyone rushed there the day before I arrived to filled up every pension and hostal on the tourism board’s reference sheet. I spent over two hours hauling my bags around the city, visiting no less than seven hostals before I got lost and stumbled into a random pension that was not on the on the list. By that point, I didn’t care if I had to shit in an outhouse and sleep out on the roof under a cage of pigeons with the runs, all I wanted was to put down my things and die of dehydration.

This was my first visit to Valencia, a large city, about half way up Spain’s east coast. Aside from the usual offerings of countless churches, cathedrals and old stuff, Valencia also has the distinction of being the closest and largest port to Ibiza, the island where Spring Break never ends. My plan was to cover Valencia in my usual manner (heavy drinking, miles of painful walking and being resigned to the fact that I would be lost about 50% of the time) and then sort out the cheapest way to get my ass to Ibiza to see if it was truly as unhinged as the E! network led me to believe. For posterity’s sake of course.

By the time I had found a pension with an open bed, I had toured about three quarters of the city center and had enough conversations with the desk clerks at the full hostals to know that Valencia was in a region with a super screwed up dialect. Most of Spain, and Spanish speakers around the world, myself included, speak “Castilian” Spanish which is the main, root form of the language. But just like English, every place you go can have anywhere from a minor accent change to a full-on independent dialect that barely resembles the original language. Spain has several. The best known are “Catalan,” in the north-eastern part of the country (Barcelona, being the regional capital) and the more notorious car-bomb aficionados in the Basque region which covers the north-central part of Spain, with a small bit spilling into France. Valencia’s dialect appears to be so close to Catalonian that they barely need their own distinctions. Despite having a decent grasp on Castilian Spanish, I am virtually helpless when trying to converse with someone who only speaks a dialect. Fortunately, those situations are very rare. Everyone in any decent sized city speaks Castilian in addition to their own dialect. By and large, dialect-only speakers can be found out in the country or in tiny, rural towns. Still, the accents and vocab adjustments that come with speaking to someone with a dialect as their first language can be enough to bring even a simple conversation to a screeching halt. At first, as I lumbered through Valencia in my hopeless quest to find a room, inching through slow and labored conversations with one person after another, I just thought I was having a bad Spanish day. Just like people have with hair, but with worse consequences. As I wandered around I eventually began to notice that among other things the streets signs were written in both Castilian and the Valencian dialect. The realization that all the mis-communication I was experiencing wasn’t entirely the fault of my Spanish language skills made me feel a little better, but still did not help to ease my pursuit of a bed.

Valencia may have more square meters of public parks and gardens of any city center in Europe. A large portion of this space is comprised of a former riverbed that snakes around the north and eastern parts of the city center that had been drained and transformed into one, long sprawling park. Then there are the countless, massive public gardens, the botanical park, the squares, plazas and boulevards all landscaped and ready to be enjoyed by people of all ages for walks, picnics and public dry humping.

Being a non-resort city I was treated to yet more reminders of long forgotten innate Spanish customs and tendencies while I was in Valencia. The most entertaining of these activities was the overt and unabashed public displays of “affection.” Though the Spanish take this practice to a whole new rated-R level. The motive behind all this public mashing is the fact that, other than when they are away at university, the Spaniards tend to live at home until they get married, whether that be at age 22 or 42. Since the boys and girls don’t have their own private apartments to retreat to when they are feeling randy, they simply find themselves a grassy knoll, a bench or even just wall to lean against and they start getting busy in full view of unaffected, dismissive passersby. Parks and the beach are the primary locales where you can look in any direction and see deep, sloppy, French kissing, gyrating and groping taking place in broad daylight with horny abandon. The witnesses to these demonstrations just go about their business as if these couples were just sitting there playing checkers. Parents don’t cover their kid’s eyes and grannies totter by (assuming it isn’t the granny of one of the participants) as if numerous body fluids weren’t being exchanged right in front of them. I hadn’t seen minor, public sex acts this overt since Iceland and even then, it was happening at the relatively anonymous hour of 3:30AM, in dark night clubs where people were so drunk that they probably couldn’t recognize their own reflections much less distinguish who was doing what to whom else over in the corner.

The one and only serious quibble I have with the Spanish is that if I didn’t know better, I’d swear that there must be a law dictating that every man and woman between the ages of 17 and 30 must smoke. Despite their otherwise healthier than average lifestyle, the anti-smoking campaign has not taken off in Spain. “No Smoking” signs are posted in some public places seemingly just for fun, as they are routinely ignored and no one takes it upon themselves to walk around policing the offenders. The only thing that has kept me from proposing marriage to dozens of women while I have been in Spain has been the unfortunate discovery of a goddamn cancer stick clamped between their fingers during the brief moment that I was getting ready to propose when I would look down to make sure that I wasn’t about to kneel in something gross. Upon seeing this gargantuan mood-killer, I would have to quickly cover for the gesture by pretending to tie my shoe.

Unfortunately, bull-fighting is still a monster sport in Spain. This unfair, public butchering couldn’t be more underhanded and crooked if the bull had his hooves tied behind his back. If you aren’t well versed on bull-fighting, the basic routine begins when they parade the bull into the ring and then a bunch of pansy-assed chicken-shits ride in on horses and repeated stab and cut the animal, so the bull is already half dead before the first “heroic” matador has the ‘nads to step foot in the ring. By then, the bull has lost so much blood he’s seeing dead relatives, so the courageous matador is not-so-surprisingly able to tease and confuse the woozy bull into repeatedly charging and missing him while he continues the massacre by goring the bull with spears. Needless to say that this “contest” would end with the matador in a body bag within the first 30 seconds if things were started on even, uninjured ground. Finally after three or four matadors have had their chance to perforate the bull into collapsing to the ground, the crowd showers the “valiant” men with flowers. Woo hoo. Sadly, this national treasure is so deeply intermingled into the historical Spanish way of life that starting an argument about how unfair and pussy the whole spectacle is would only succeed in getting your ass run out of town into the nearest desert strapped to a deranged horse.

Again in Valencia, just like Granada, Saturday night was wedding night. It’s almost impossible to take a picture on a Saturday in Spain without getting a wedding party somewhere in the frame. There’s a church on almost every block and each and every one of them has a wedding party swarming around it. Spanish weddings are done in huge fashion, putting the already overly-extravagant U.S. wedding practices to shame. Every single wedding has a fleet of specially decked out rental cars, massive decorations adorning the churches, a small but impressive fireworks display and a full-on professional media team, that includes a minimum of two still photographers and three video cameramen following the couple through every step of their day from the moment they wake up in the morning all the way through (if it were up to me) to the consummation of the marriage.

I was treated to a pleasant surprise a little after midnight on Saturday when I discovered a porn infomercial being played right on regular TV! The entire point of the infomercial was to get you to call their phone sex network and allegedly speak live with the girls who were on the TV diddling themselves, but quite frankly I was more than happy with what they were giving away for free on the program. I knew fate was responsible for this discovery of free porn. If I were sticking to the typical Spanish schedule, I should have been out at a bar, swilling my fifth after-dinner cocktail and getting geared up to spend the next six hours boogieing to really bad Spanish dance music. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you look at things, I had admirably lived up to the Friday night requirements thanks to a small group of Valencia natives that I had chatted up over sangria who ended up dragging me out with them to the clubs. Due to extraneous circumstances I had subsequently gotten precious little sleep and no siesta on Saturday, so by 11:00 that night I did not have the strength for a repeat of the requisite late night, weekend obligations. Instead I wrote for as long as my dim brain would function and then, just as I was settling down for bed, I flipped on the tiny TV in my room and found the naughty secretary who had had the sudden urge to disrobe at her desk and sensually touch herself for 20 minutes. Somewhere deep down, I always knew that secretaries did that kind of thing.

Once I felt that I had the courage for the walk, I ambled the considerable distance down to the port to look into getting on a ferry to Ibiza. My main concern was that once I got my ass to the island, the only accommodations available would be the nauseatingly over-priced resorts. Then I ran across a few seasoned Ibiza veterans who let me in on a secret. Not only is one night of crazed Ibiza partying enough to eradicate the urge from your system for about six months, but during that one day/night/following morning you probably don’t spend more than 15 cumulative minutes in your hotel room. So, to avoid the sticker shock of the resorts, these women were just going to carry out the excursion to Ibiza as one mondo day trip, departing Valencia in the morning, taking the four hour ferry ride to Ibiza, spending the day on the beach and then heading straight for the clubs where they would party like maniacs until 8:00 the next morning and jump on the first ferry back to Valencia. Econo-partying at it’s finest! That was before I got a taste of the ferry industry’s gauging of the Ibiza goers. The round trip price was 105 Euros ($117). When you added that to the other expenses of a day in Ibiza – food, booze, 12 count box of condoms – that 24 hours was easily going to set me back $200. Screw that! I’m sure Ibiza is the Disney World of parties, but for $200 I could party like a college freshman for four nights straight in any other city in Europe! As much as I wanted to see the debauchery that Ibiza had to offer, there was no way that I was going to drop that much coin for the experience, so I was sadly forced to strike it from my itinerary.

After three nights in Valencia, as much as I dreaded the prospect, I felt that I had to move on to Madrid. My last visit to Madrid had been a brief, but horrific nightmare in July of ’94. The stopover had been dominated by inescapable, deafening city noise, debilitating heat, choking exhaust fumes and the stingiest pension owner I had ever run into. She charged an extra $2 for a hot shower and if you happened to shell out the ching for this extravagance, she would diligently monitor your shower and cut off the hot water after about three minutes. Faced with this offensive array of unpleasantries, I fled the city after three days never to return. Until now.

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