Spain: home of paella, flamenco, sangria, horchata and lisps. A beautiful country rich in culture with modern conveniences, and architecture that will “wow” even the dullest of us. It’s quite different, historically, than Greece and Italy, for example. I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s “less ancient” than the other two, at least, in the cities that we visited. Perhaps I was tired or uninspired or influenced by the fact that Spain has privacy laws, but Spain was the country I took the least photos of, in relation to time (SPOILER ALERT:I shot less in the UK, simply because we were there for a few hours on a layover). That’s not to say that Spain wasn’t fun to visit. It was also the easiest country for us, of course, since we both speak Spanish…….or so we thought.
One more thing: throughout our visit here, I was playing “Concierto de Aranjuez” by Joaquin Rodrigo in my head, so if you’d like some incidental music while reading this…
This is a huge city. We spent most of our time riding the hop on/off bus. I decided to do some “bus street photography”, which didn’t turn out so well. Given that we were here for one day, we essentially had one mission: to walk around the Gothic Quarter in search of the illusive patisseria that serves “their famous chocolate drink”. After walking aimlessly and admiring the architecture and sampling baked goods at a few patisserias, we hit up an abuelita for directions. We didn’t know the name of the place (we saw it in a YouTube video and forgot it), but we knew it was “famous” for its chocolate drink. She knew what we were taking about and pointed us in the right direction.
After about fifteen minutes of walking, we found it in an alley. It’s called “Granja M. Viader” and the drink is called Cacaolat. It’s available in a glass bottle and they can serve it hot or cold (I’m not sure if they actually make it there). Carline had two servings: hot AND cold. In any case, we traveled THOUSANDS of miles via three different country to drink………Yoo-Hoo.
Back on the bus, we made our way to Gaudi’s Cathedral and Sagrada Familia. I found them……too over the top. It wasn’t as “impressive” as the duomi of yore, but it had it’s own beauty. It was a bit chaotic with an almost Dr. Seuss-esque feel to it. Afterwards, we got back on the to head out to visit one last stop: Park Güell.
We were dropped off on the corner of Carrer de l’Escorial and Carrer de Mossèn Masdexexart, which is at the bottom of a very steep hill leading to the park. We walked up a bit. Along the way, we met up with a woman who was coaxing her dog to walk. It had a cone on her so I knew that meant she was recently spayed. She was sleepy from the drugs and didn’t want to move. I offered to carry her, but her owner stated that the vet wants her to stay awake. We said goodbye and seeing how far we had to go and how tired we were, we decided to head back to the bus stop and wait for the next.
It never came.
We wondered why, and then we got our answer: a groups of young people were marching in solidarity on the same street towards Park Guell. I saw them from afar and decided that this is yet another opportunity like in Greece. As I approached them which clicking the shutter, I noticed that most of them had masks on and that one ominous-looking masked protester was coming at me strong with his pointing at me and signaling me to stop taking pictures. He got up on my face and demanded (quite threatfully) to stop. I put the camera down to appease him, but kept shooting “from the hip”. One of the protesters passing out propaganda, gave me a copy and secretly told me that I should be grateful
that it was them and not some other group, which would have taken physical action against me. Once they passed us, turning at the next corner, we saw droves of police cars and patty wagons after them. We thought it was a bit extreme, but on our way down the street towards the metro, we saw what they had done. Several banks along the way were vandalized. A woman stood by waiting for someone, so I asked her what happened. She said “The manifestation happened”, referring to the crowd I just encountered. I asked if I could take pictures of the vandalism and she said she didn’t mind, but not to take her picture. After that somewhat exciting event, we were hungry.
We took the metro to downtown looking for a tapas bar, but we were told that what we wanted was pinxos. Apparently, Tapas and pinxos are the same thing, but they are referred to differently depending on “context” and region. So after a few beers, virgin drinks and a slew of finger food, we headed back to the hotel. We had a very early morning train ride to…
After a three hour train ride, we arrived in Valencia. Our stay here was VERY short. We were only here to touch base with Carline’s first cousin once removed (I can never understand that title), or, simply, her father’s cousin. Because of this, we didn’t see much of the city. Just the centra train station, a bullfighting ring and a few government building, and I never got to eat one of their oranges. We would have liked to stay a bit more, but Valencia wasn’t in our plans originally and we needed to get to Sevilla. So after a short family visit we headed out to the airport.
To me, this was epitome of “Sunny Spain” (though it was overcast most of the time and drizzling rain), but it felt sunny. We were excited to visit the famed feria which opened a few days before and would end by the weekend, so we had a day or two left.
We didn’t do much busing since a taxi from our hotel to the main action was quite cheap. Besides, our cabby suggested a nice restaurant our first evening which we enjoyed. We saw a few feria goers in the evening, but nothing prepared for the next day.
This feria is serious business! It’s almost like dressing up for the Kentucky Derby in the US, but a lot more serious and for a lot more people. Many of the more adorned señoritas reminded me of some dolls my grandmother had in her living room. These dolls (and don’t laugh), though not being action figures, would dance at night while I laid on the living room sofa. It is because of those dolls that I became infatuated with flamenco dance.
Photographing la feria is a bit crazy. I was like a cat trying to catch a laser dot! In the midst of all that, I bumped into another Leica shooter: Laurent Meirieu. We went to shoot the same subject and didn’t see each other. He was about to get in my frame when he noticed that I was about to shoot and stepped aside, conceding the subject to me. He shoots film on an M6 and a 28mm lens (forgot the lens designation).
I have to admit that the composition of “Smoking Senoritas” kinda sucks. It’s because I panicked after the “No, YOU go first…” incident.
Because things were moving fast, I decided to play “Bresson” and set my lens to f16 and hyperfocal distance to avoid having to stop and focus and simply look through the viewfinder and press the shutter. Something interesting happened. When I looked at a few of the photos, they look like they were shot on film with an old Leica 50mm. They were almost “Bresson-esque” in quality. Perhaps it was my imagination or my frame of mind affected the camera. I don’t know.
After a few hours of futility (I really didn’t get the shots that I wanted), I met up with Carline who was riding around in the bus (Sevilla is quite small) and we freshened up at the hotel to go to dinner and a flamenco show, details of which I will leave for another time, but it involves lots of wine. I did get to acquire a set of castañuelas profesionales and an ornate abanico.
By the time we got to Madrid, I was, unfortunately, a bit more uninspired to take photos, but I mustered to snap a few frames. Madrid was like Barcelona with a touch of Valencia, or maybe all the cities look alike to me. Who knows. Madrid is pretty though. We enjoyed some churros and chocolate syrup (thank you, Rick Steves). We visited a few of their parks, but did nothing major.
I think next time we visit Spain we would visit places like Girona in the North. Perhaps just touch back in Sevilla and then cross over to Portugal. Another option is to visit Gibraltar and then cross over to Tangiers. I’ll roll the dice.