Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Wrapping up Spain because I'm now en France

And struggling with the French keyboard that has letters where I'm not used to them being.

So when you last heard my location, I was in Granada, hanging out with international Trailer Park Boys fans. From there I journeyed north, via Madrid, to Bilbao. Seeing as I was planning on going to southwestern France it seemed like a good way to break the journey up - it took about 12 hours in two parts as I did it.

Bilbao is a nifty little city - I say little because it felt that way since wherever I was I could see the surrounding hills. The city's sort of nestled amongst rolling green mountains. So nestled, in fact, that it conceals certain parts of the city from view; hence the feeling of smallness. I like cities that feel smaller than they are. Edmonton always felt that way for me (until I had to walk to get around the South Common, but that's another, old tale).

A fountain in a park that I liked.

The famous Guggenheim Bilbao Museum, sitting on one ugly river (sorry Bilbao but it's true).

People are very friendly in Bilbao, as in the rest of Spain. Sadly, I can't understand what they are trying to say to me in a friendly manner. I do think that I do understand Spanish a bit better now - I can sort of get the gist of directions that are given to me now. When I'm told something, the price of goods being a good example, if I go with my instinct on the meaning then I'm usually right. If I try to think about it, I tend to screw it up.

I think Spanish is probably better suited to my linguistic abilities than French. French is a delicate language requiring proper ennunciation, so it is treated brutally by my heavy Maritime tongue and locked jaw.

Oh, if you thought that a continental breakfast involves toast and cereal, think again. From what I have ascertained, it is coffee, a croissant or some other type of bread roll, and a cigarette. The ash trays are sort of nifty: a ceramic ring for resting the cigarette on, and a ceramic dish under the ring containing water. Not realizing what it was when I first spied one in my hotel room at Vaughan Town, I picked the ashtray up and tilted it to examine it, promptly spilling the water all over the desk. Go Megan.

Pharmacies in Spain and France are indicated by electric signs in the form of crosses, generally green, that also read the date and the temperature. I wasn't aware it was a temperature at first (I'm not used to such courtesies from signage) and so wondered what exactly was on sale for 29.0 or whatever (I'm not the sharpest tool in the shed by times). The pharmacies also sell only what would be termed "salon" hair products in Canada, that is expensive. I held off buying toiletries until I found some in a supermarket.

If you see someone on the street in Spain who is using a shopping bag to carry something, it will inevitably be a blue paper bag from the clothing retailer Zara, or it will be a plastic bag from El Corte Ingles, a department store that's name translates to the English Court? I guess at home you'd generally spy me using an Atlantic Superstore or a Sobeys bag, since they're always in large supply.

After making that observation, I realized that I am not a typical person. Most people travelling are commenting on the lovely scenery, the buildings, the food. I'm noticing pharmacy signs and shopping bags. I'm sorry if you don't find shopping bags interesting, but I can't say the observations are going to change.

Finally, while in Bilbao I visited the Guggenheim Museum of modern art. There I had an experience that I was not expecting and calling it significant would be an understatement.

What struck me so fiercely was the sculptures of Richard Serra, in the exhibit A Matter of Time. The sculptures are huge, curved steel plates wrapped in spirals or forming corridors, and you walk through them. The experience was often bizarre - in one sculpture, I felt as though I was being physically pushed from one side to the other just because the slanting of the walls shifted. Another toyed with my sense of distance: inside it seemed much shorter than it did outside. Basically, the guy was sculpting space itself, an idea very simple but one that had never occurred to me previously. It blew my mind, as the expression goes, but I can't sum it up better. It was like my mind started considering things about space that it never had before. If there's truly a Platonic form of space, I may have had brief contact with it, even if I didn't entirely understand it. I actually had to go back to my room after leaving the museum in the early afternoon in order to sleep for about 6 hours. I had overexercised my mind, I guess.

I won't try to explain my Guggenheim experience any further because it won't come out coherently without hearing my enthusiasm and seeing my wild hand gestures (I'm not sure it will then either, but oh well). So you'll just have to ask me about it in person sometime if you want more details - maybe I'll have figured it out some more by then.

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