Galloping around Galicia, by car, train, plane, and rock show

Any journey that begins with just barely catching your train is surely destined to be a good one. So it was for Ben and I, as we dilly-dallied in his apartment until 1:35, in advance of our 2:20 train to Santiago. Now, 40 minutes would probably be sufficient for a trip from Arguelles, our metro stop, to Chamartin, where our train prepared to depart. But then we had to walk to the metro station, just in time to miss the 4 train heading east.
A series of decisions made in trying circumstances - such characterizes the vital moments of our lives. In such a moment, Ben made the call to ride the 3 south two stops and from there catch the speedy 10 heading north, rather than take the tedious 6 five stops to catch the 10 at a higher point. We hopped on the 3, switched efficiently at Plaza de España to catch the 10, and our prospects looked good. We arrived at the metro station at about 2:10.
This meant a five minute walk had to be made with all due haste to ensure our spot on the train. We hustled, hesitated at one crucial juncture before selecting the proper route, and indeed made the train. We were the last ones admitted, scanning our bags through the metal detectors quickly before getting on the first coach of the train. By the time we reached our seats on the other side of the train, the engine had started and the journey had begun. Not quite getting on the train to Lausanne two years ago as it was moving, but still.

And so our five day journey to Galicia began. The train ride was a peaceful, wearying 7 hour trek across green plains and hills. Ben taught me 6 to 12, a card game resembling rummy, which I subsequently taught him. A little girl in a pink sweatshirt danced up and down our coach, and Bourne Ultimatum and Stardust played on the tv. It was most tranquil.

Our arrival in Santiago de Compostela was largely without incident, beyond the fact that at 9:30, it was quite bright out. Galicia is the Northwest province of Spain, which leads to later nights and earlier mornings, sun wise. Also, the weather is similar to England; the sky perpetually wavers between picturesque blue and white, and more ominous gray. In the morning it is always foggy, and while we were there it was usually gorgeous in the afternoon.

We only spent about 15 hours in Santiago, but they were good hours. Santiago is somewhat of a touristy city, a northern relative to Granada in many ways. The center is old, gothic, and can twist a visitor around just as much as Granada. The major difference is that here the attraction is the Cathedral, a beautiful behemoth that is visible from just about anywhere, always offering a reference point for you to find your way from. Outside the center, just like Granada, is a modern city with a famed university. The surrounding landscape is also quite impressive, full of lush green hills. Don't believe me? Well...

Mutton Chop caressing beneath the grand cathedral

There's a Ferris Wheel somewhere out there? Can you see it? If not, drink more tea.

A view of Galicia from the Cathedral Square. Artsy, no?

Now the story resumes on Friday, around noon, but with a key detail from the day before. As we got out of the train at Santiago, we knew we had only a short time there before we would embark for Villagarcia de Arousa, a small beach town that was holding the Festival Do Norte, where we would interview Broken Social Scene and then watch them play. Looking ahead, we asked about the cost of a train ticket to VdA. Two to three euros. Sounds pretty good.
However, we were also concerned by a different issue: we had nowhere to stay at VdA. Naturally, the town of 35,619 inhabitants had limited place to stay, and the festivalgoers had already inquired into the low-cost places. So while sleeping outside or on the beach were options, and we were reasonably certain that we'd find a place if we looked hard enough, the situation was not ideal.
In such a state we were open to suggestions. Fate smiled on us in the form of Avis and Europa Car signs; why not rent a car and just sleep in it?
So Friday, we got to the train station early enough to check with car rental companies before making a decision. As it turns out, the company we didn't see at first, National, offered the best deal. It was within our cost threshold, and so, sold! (err, rented) We had our very own Citroen C2 for two days and 780 Km. The roads would be our playground, now!
As Ben doesn't know how to drive manual, and wouldn't let me attempt to teach him (an event with a 50% likelihood of leading to good times and disaster), I assumed the driver's seat for the next two days. Ben took shotgun and navigated, and we were out of the city and back on the open roads. Well, first we had to pay a 13 euro parking ticket, but oh well. And then there was a toll or two. But we were driving through the toll, at least!
We arrived in Villagarcia, which smelt only a little like the ocean. Our primary mission in the afternoon was to arrange and hold an interview with BSS, as I mentioned. This all went swimmingly, as you can read about on 30music (pt. 1 here, pt. 2 here). In fact, I'm going to leave out all mention of the concert and the band and the manliness of Evan Cranley (in the flesh; the legend will play a part later in this adventure) and leave that for the 'zine. It's called cross-promotion.

With a staggering 8 hours between the end of our interview with the band and their scheduled show time (a fact they were unaware of, in all likelihood), we took off for a few more coastal cities. We drove about an hour to get to O Grove, a town known for its seafood, the region's general specialty. We walked along the beach and then played some tunes by the waterfront, to the delight or dismay of fishermen working late hours.

The rocks at O Grove. O Grove rocks.

We began our return towards VdA at 9:00, stopping in Cambados, home of famous vineyards for Albariño wine, a white. Naturally, I ordered Ribeiro instead, another famous Galician white. Sometimes I can be a jerk. In other news, Ben had octopus, which was fun.

Again, I exclude the following section of our trip, which was at the concert. It was great; read about it elsewhere. Needless to say, we grew as friends and had a great time, and when 4:30 in the morning rolled around, we were quite eager to pass out in our car.

The Citroen C2 is a rather small car. It's a two door with a back seat, but the recline action on the front two chairs isn't great. Additionally, it's a narrow, if boxy car. So we rejiggered everything as best as we could, Ben settled into the back seat, and I reclined in the shotgun seat. Sleep was far from there, but we tried.

My intermittent rest, sans dreaming, was at last halted by two tour buses who decided to pull in front of us in the parking lot of the Fexdega, where the concert had taken place. Loud speaking in an unknown language - it could have been Spanish, it could have been the local language (Gallego), it could have been something else - was enough to get me out of bed, so I walked around the car and mused on what to do. It was also enough to cause Ben to stir, so I told him I wanted to go to the mall to use the facilities and stock up on my survival kit.

Of course, Saturday wasn't just Saturday: it was the day of Galician literature, a holiday. That's a great holiday, and I want to learn about 2008's honoree, Xose Maria Alvarez Blazquez, but it sure is frustrating to not be able to take care of business and buy food until noon. In fact, we couldn't wait that long - I read Borges and took down some notes on the trip to date, but I needed to get out of there. So at 11 we took off for the North coast

That was another one of our crucial decisions, to do the village hopping we had planned on doing Monday on Saturday instead, and in a mere two hours, we were driving on the AC 862 along the northern coast of Galicia. We decided to go to Ribadeo, because, well, it was the last city in Galicia.

On the way, Ben remembered a student's suggestion: we should go check out San Andreas de Teixido, a small town known to house Celtic ruins. We saw a sign for it, and knowing nothing more than that sentence, we decided to take the turn.

In case I haven't made it clear, we knew very little about San Andreas de Teixido. We knew even less about the road we were driving on. This latter fact held true even as we drove on it. Because, well, we couldn't see anything:

So it appears that to get to the Celtic ruins, you have to drive through the abyss. Wild horses and cattle guard the road. To get a clearer picture of our condition, Ben and I got out of the car and ascended to the peak of the abyss. From there we couldn't see anything, but we could at least make our presence felt:

We drove a little farther, descending a tiny bit on the mountain. We could then see a little bit to either side of us. On one side of the road were giants who would not allow us to pass without us consenting to a glorious battle to the death. Needless to say, I heeded to the call and proved myself victorious, while Ben documented the moment:

As our reward, we found a beautiful hike on the other side of the road. Passing through mud and, uhh, "mud", we found the edge of a forest and a stunning vista of the ocean below. It was all a cruel hoax though, because without magic, death-defying efforts, or a rope, there was no reaching the ocean. Tantalized, we stopped short and returned back to our car

All the same, it's a pretty view, isn't it?

It was only after another ten minutes of driving, one more stop for a nice viewpoint, and a cow toll that we reached the town itself. The town was small and quiet, with roads only made for walking upon. We descended into a small square next to the chapel, and while Ben paused to plan, I laid down on a wall. 20 minutes later I woke up to see him returning from the ruins. So that was that.

Our next choice was easier: there was no way I was driving back through the abyss, if such a thing were metaphysically possible, so we continued on another road that spit us back out on the AC 862 (or its sister, the AC 566) a little bit farther West. So we had to drive on ground already covered, but we made it into Ortigueira with no problems in the late afternoon, around 5 pm. The perfect time for a Cruzcampo Light or some sun-aided napping. We parked near the port, where Spanish families and wedding parties walked along or sat in the cafes. I did some scouting and acquired a survival pack (ham and cheese empanadas, a pack of Ham-flavored chips (they're pretty good, though having a mid-sized bag of them in one pop is a bit much) and a chocolate-filled pastry). Then I found a grassy knoll and a bench. I ate and read Borges and watched a little boy get yelled at his mother for kicking a soda can, and then break into tears when his older brother stole the can and threw it away. Culture is usually universal.

That eternal bug to keep going impelled us to drive East during sunset, and we ended up in Viveiro, another 30 minutes down the road. This is another small city, though it got in our guide book. We arrived, drove around for a suitable spot to pack up for the night, and then hunted out for dinner. Ben aptly described our eatery as the Spanish equivalent to "Fuddruckers", from high-school clientele to cheap and large burgers. We supped sufficiently and returned to our parking lot/sleeping quarters del dia. There was a couple in the car next to us using their car for a different sort of sleeping, so we backed up to the other side of the lot and shacked up. I got the back seat this time, which was probably an improvement, though not a sizable one.

Sunday morning market woke us up this time. The clinking of pipes beneath white tarp roofs to our right, specifically. It was just before 9, which means our span of sleep extended nearly ten hours, though we both knew better than to say we slept that long. We were about an hour away from A Coruña, and the foggy, rainy road awaited us. I did the driving while Ben discovered that one of the advantages to sleeping in the car is that your bed moves with you.

Everything went well - I found the way to the city easily, we dropped off the car, found a hostel, and settled in to get real sleep. More importantly, we encountered Don Rent. Naturally, Don Rent is a place you can rent cars from. One might call him the Don of rental cars. In fact, he went so far as to call himself that, except in a foreign language (English, duh). Not only did this lead to a string of general Don jokes - including our ultimate disappointment with Don Croissant, a pastry shop in A Coruña closed on Tuesdays - but a second life to our string of Evan Cranley jokes (from Broken Social Scene). As you can imagine, by A Coruña we were travel drunk.
A statue that looked like the legend himself. It was also on Albert Camus street, which is alienatingly cool.

Beyond the Don Manly jokes, the only two big things to discuss about A Coruña (a very nice city, by the way, a good synthesis of old and new, big city and laidback comfort) are the beach and the tower of Hercules. Of the latter: the story goes that Hercules built the tower with his own bare hands, as a testament to his defeat over Geryon. In the very least, the tower dates back to the second century B.C.E., though it got refurbished a little bit in th 17th or 18th century, C.E.

In any case, the tower is a premium tourist attraction in A Coruña. It is not, however, a World Heritage Site. No UNESCO super-protection, no prestige and all that. In the Praza do Maria Pita, the center square, there is a big sign in four languages (Gallego, Spanish, English, French) that implores visitors to "embrace the tower of Hercules. By your embraces we will achieve our goal," of WHS status. So, always amenable to helping out, I did my best:

And then, for my tongue in cheek, as well as dashing good looks, I received punishment befitting Hercules. Invisible peoples lashed me with invisible ropes to the nearby sundial, Rosa de los Vientos, and well, it wasn't good:

There's only one solution to all that straining: the beach.

The beach, Playa del Orzan, was fairly dirty and fairly vacant when we settled onto it. It was only about 20-22° out and a Monday afternoon, so understandable. The sand was fairly rocky and uncomfortable, yet for most of the beach, there were very few good skipping stones. The sun was not as strong as in Morocco, for example, but still capable of doing damage. And the water on the beach was clear, with decent waves and almost no seaweed (it looked worth on other beaches in the city). Also, the water was fairly cold, but not so cold as to deny the irrepressible joy that one gets from submerging himself in the water and feeling its purity, of allowing that purity, that triumph to wash over oneself in salty, liquid form.

How would I know? Well:

A good one to end on for Galicia. And though the time stamp might say this is May 21st, I finished this post from the States. Which means all that's left is a wrap-up post. It'll be up sometime. Maybe.


This place kinda Souks...

So my brother Mark brings up a fair point that I shall address before writing this actual post. The post is about a trip to Morocco. As all Geography Bee champs and 7th graders know, Morocco is most certainly not in Europe. The title of this blog is "A Short Man in Europe". A contradiction seems ripe to emerge. But I'm also lazy, unwilling to change the title of this blog, and unwilling to risk losing the few readers I have by starting a new one. So while the title remains Short Man in Europe, rest assured that I allow myself to write about Africa, and then Israel next year, and wherever else I might go, all under this heading. At least for the time being.

Stepping off the plane in Marrakesh is the window to the most shocking part of spending time in Morocco: the first day. The airport is a 1-story mud-brick building, and I exit the plane on a portable stairway and walk to the terminal (This always makes me feel like a rock star). Even late in the evening it is hot outside. The sun sets over the caked red building in a brighter orange.

Then I catch a cab. Though the website for the hostel I plan to stay at suggests 50-60 dirhams should get me to the center, I can't get the guy lower than 100. He speaks little English (Arabic then French are the one two), but enough to explain that his name is Mohammed and that he welcomes me to Agadir. For 100 dirhams he should welcome me, anyway.

The ride is interesting as well: the streets are filled with bikers. Not bicyclists (though there are some), and not quite motorcycle riders, but people on motorized bikes, equipped with unused pedals and a motor that lets them go about 30 mph pretty comfortably. They are endemic, they cut and weave between cars and lanes of traffic, and they always seem to be in the way at the wrong moment.

This is more visible once you enter the Djemma. That is the center in Marrakesh, where I got out of the cab to look for that hostel. Even where a clear plaza opens up, with rows of tables to eat at in the center of it and various performers on the outside, the bikers keep coming, threatening pedestrians and other bikers. I saw one biker about my age hit the bike of a kid, then glare and scold at the kid as he backed up and then pulled away. The poor kid wasn't at fault, but had no idea what to do, his hat drooping on his head as he went the other way.

Once you turn out of the Djemma and into the side roads, the fun begins. Carrying a suitcase and a guitar on my back made me more conspicuous, but I imagine my skin was enough to distinguish me. Everyone comes to you, friendly and willing to lend a hand, but with the implicit intention of receiving money for their help.

In the narrow alleys of the souk, the approach is a simple one; peg down your nationality, then work from there. "Francais? English?" the cries begin from one vendor. "Español?" a boy at the next kiosk adds as you keep walking. Another throws out "Polski!" If they get a response, or even eye contact, they push in for the kill; if they get neither, they keep pushing anyway. Interestingly enough, with my Mediterranean features and monstrous mutton chops, I was widely thought to be Italian by the Moroccan masses. Sometimes I tried to fake it too, but il mio italiano is a bit rusty. It makes sense though, considering Tony Danza is the celebrity I get compared to most after Ben Stiller. And I'm not sure if either of those comparisons are flattering.

Once I found the hotel I wanted (an old man who guided me and then expected money - I had nothing but 100s, and didn't feel like giving him that much or asking for change, so I refused. "Shit," he muttered as he walked away), I received a price for the night -150 dirhams. (7.2 dirhams to the dollar, roughly). I didn't feel like arguing. Five minutes later, a Welshman named Paul whom I later befriended got a room for 100 dirhams, and pointed out that last time he stayed here it was 90. Clearly, I'm one savvy customer.

Anyway, once I got through that indoctrination period, with help from Paul (a BBC reporter and a charming traveler), Morocco became another place. A new and interesting place, but not a shocking and exotic and impossible place as it seemed in the first few hours.

At this point I'm going to break off the straight narration, because my Moroccan tale is not one that needs to be told to any great degree, not right now at least. I spent time in Marrakesh, in a bus, and in Agadir, along the coast of the Atlantic. I enjoyed Morocco. There are a few more bits I could mention - e.g. how I played "Happiness is a Warm Gun" for two Moroccan dudes at the Agadir bus station and then actually conversed with one of them in Spanish; how a man at that same bus station came up to me and asked for some music, and then specifically for Europe's "Final Countdown," which lead to some impromptu acapella and beat making action - but I'd rather get to a how to. So without further ado:

How to Handle the Souks:

The souk is the Moroccan market. Similar to a flea market in the states, or the Tushinskaya market in Moscow, or the Rastro in Madrid. What makes Morocco's a little bit different, besides the salesmanship of the vendors mentioned above, is that they occur under a roof but outdoors, in a sort of mud-brick artificial cave system. Marrakesh's is especially difficult to navigate.

But once that particularity is out of the way, we get to the heart of the Souk, or of any of these other markets: bargaining. As you might guess from the taxi and hostel situations above, I'm not very good at bargaining. Furthermore, I hate bargaining. I find it mostly loathsome, and irritating.

At the same time, I present you a few bargaining strategies. Heed them at your own risk:

I'm sorry, I don't speak the language:
If you pretend to not understand Arabic, English, or French (only one of those is difficult for me), you can't be persuaded to take a price you don't want to accept. Then you work through a series of hand symbols and calculator buttons. At the very least, this makes you just as difficult to deal with as them.
A variation on this I saw work is as follows: imagine you can speak with the vendor, but a companion cannot (or is better at pretending they cannot). Begin the negotiations. At each iteration, look at your companion and relay the message to them in a language the vendor does not understand. Wait for his/her invariably negative response and counter, and then offer it to the vendor. This way, the vendor has to please two people, and the pressure is taken off you to bargain. An alternative to this variation is to allow your companion to do the calculator button pushing.

Just Walk Away, Walk Away:
My sister reported fondness for this method on her recent China trip. Begin negotiating, reach an impasse, and walk away. In almost all cases, the vendor wants the sale more than you want the product. Presumably, that vendor will lower the price to a more acceptable level as you walk away. Now, I don't know from experience, but a guy I know, he did this and got it on!

Sunglasses, I mean. For really cheap.

Time is on your side:
Assuming you have patience (I usually don't) and a good chunk of time to spend at the souk, feel free to go back and forth with any given vendor over a number of different products. A little deception helps; show interest in an undesirable product and then switch to the one you'd like to buy with a guise of "I'll settle for this" written on your face and in your pidgin Italian.
Say you want a pair of sneakers, for example. And you want a nice, shiny color to match your eclectic selection. Show interest in the plain black nikes, but then switch to the red striped adidases, before finally landing on the third try of a yellow with green and red stripes pair of asics. That's how you ball.

Accept your fate and move on:
Because we all know that whatever purchases I made I did poorly on (I made three purchases at the souk in Agadir and "bargained" off 60 dirhams, and then bargained another 30 dirhams or so at another store, i.e. chump change), let me let you in on my real strategy: resignation. As the Welshman Paul explained, "Everything here is a bargain. And they're much better than us at it." So maybe you're a cold-hearted, indifferent stud of a trader, and prepared to play the game with hopes of success. But if you're like me, you're going to pay a little bit more than other people will. It's still Morocco, it's still cheap, and the experience is worth the effort. Don't go overboard, though, because it might wear your nerves down a bit.

And that's all I got.

Oh, uh, wait a second, what's this thing doing here? Jeez. Umm...the following picture will be posted, but I warn those of you who don't like strange pictures, Prince-esque poses, and a salacious pursing of the lips should probably turn away. Yes, get away while you can! Run! (See, now you'll definitely look. Enjoy...)


Quest for a Quest, or Quixote's Questions Queried by us all

Somebody, maybe Kundera, said that everyone who would read fiction would become a Quixote of sorts, allowing themselves to enter an imagined world and live in that new place, separated from (if familiar to) their own. This willing self-deception is a scant degree away from Alonso Quixano's madness that drives him to be the famous knight in Cervantes's famous story. Nowhere is a reader's quixotic nature more prevalent than in reading Don Quixote itself. At least, that's how it worked for me.

I first tried to read Quixote in 2004, while I was a sophomore in college. Over my initial years at university, a hunger to read all the classics overtook me. (This hunger stretched to music sophomore year, when I finally ordered a couple of Beatles records. Rubber Soul almost kept me from going deeper, but then Revolver confirmed the efforts and opened the door to everything else. But I digress...) I tried some John-Jacques Rousseau, because the "Noble Savage" appealed to my existentialist/nihilistic freshman self (his tedious prose did not). I read Faust, which was interesting in any case, if not great. It was much better than Sorrows of Young Werther, which I didn't get to until a couple years later. I took up the Bible, making it to the legal graveyard that is Deuteronomy, or Numbers, I forget which. In any case, Quixote loomed on the horizon, and by the time I finally bought a big, fairly cheap edition, with the Charles Jarvis translation and an introduction by E.C. Riley, I was excited to try.

Over the end of a school year and the summer, I made it about 100 pages. I was just about at the first interpolated episode of romance that Cervantes horns into the story, and for the most part I was entertained. This wasn't the usual muck of a Paradise Lost or Iliad, with fascinating material but mind-numbing verse. The book wasn't great yet, but I could sense Cervantes's sense of humor, and indeed those first episodes are the most memorable for Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, of fighting with the coachman and of charging at the windmills. I had a sense that this was worthwhile.

Things happened and I got a little distracted from reading Quixote. But along with those things was a conversation I had with one of my older brother's friends. "Read the abridged version," he told me, "you'll get just as much out of it." I have always had a need for "the real thing", phony as that might be, so the idea of reading an abridged version didn't ring right. But 800+ pages still loomed, and there was school and wrestling to keep busy with, and so somehow I didn't continue reading the book, and didn't pick up an abridged version either. My first attempt had failed like so many battles against sheep.

Near the end of 2005, I found somewhere on a blog, probably associated with Bookslut, the idea of reading 50 books in a year, and of some sort of livejournal community to go with it. I didn't really get the whole community thing, though I started my own livejournal to note brief impressions on the books I would read. I plunged into the effort in 2006, and would have easily passed the mark if not for that inconvenient trip to Russia, where I had to read in my second language for 2 and a half months. I tallied 4 more books on my list, but fell 9 short of the ultimate goal, something I rue to this day...

In response, in 2007 I smashed the number, getting to 55. And there was quality in that number, too: I graded 9 of the books as A's, and 16 as A-'s (grade inflation, I know, but humor me). Some of those books were long too, though none matched up to Quixote (I did read Anna Karenina in 2006, for class. But that's a much lighter read, thanks to Tolstoy's elegance).

Ahh, but here's the rub of all this - it would appear I'm just reading for the sake of reading, for the chance to finish and say, "I've read 55 books, I've read Quixote, etc!" A pretty hollow justification, even if you accept the elitist intellectual climbing desires behind it.

There's no denying the satisfaction in finishing a book though, and being able to say, "Yeah, I've read that." It doesn't have to be boasting, necessarily, but a confident assertion that you've covered some ground, in your own way. And really, that's how you have to approach much of the creative arts - read, listen, watch, look at as much as you can, especially the higher esteemed stuff, and sift through until you get to the stuff that hits you in the chakra, the stuff that really counts. I can't claim to like everything, or most of the things even, that I see in art museums, but then there's the one or two paintings that speak to me, whether Kokoschka's Two Nudes or Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights. There's an essential filtering process in the discovery of good art, and that includes rejoicing at the greatness, respecting that which doesn't hit you, and rejecting that which strikes you as wrong, or overly praised.

But there's no point in going through this process if you don't like art, for example. Sure, you give it a chance, and nothing comes of it, why bother. Perhaps the most exceptional example of South Indian verse will strike me as something essential, but if I have to filter through all the rest of it to find that essence, and if I don't like South Indian verse, the effort might not be worth it. Though the discovery of essence is almost always worth it. (I have no thoughts about South Indian verse, of course, either positive or negative).

That's how it is for me with reading. I love reading, and immersing myself into a good new book, into burying myself in the author's world. That's a big part of my desire to write - to share in that process from the other side.

When I read, my favorite moment is almost always the first few pages after the halfway mark in a book. By then, either one of two things occur to me. If the author has earned my trust, then I savor the pleasure ensured to me in the second half of the book, as well as the knowledge that soon I'll be done with the book, and be able to possess it intellectually as a complete entity (or in Kafka's case, an entity that was almost complete and still better than everybody else). If the author hasn't earned my trust, at least I'm halfway done with the book. Or as with Edith Wharton, my perception of the quality can be totally flipped to the good.

In this love of reading, including both the journey and the destination, I see something of a duality inherent in almost anything, between the intellectual and the sensual. There's the same sort of mental satisfaction that accompanies the physical joys to all sorts of acts, from sports to food to sex (not that I'd know...) to friendship. There's the satisfaction of the act itself, but also the thrill of doing the right thing, of doing what you "want" to do, or "should" do. It's a thrill to be with another person because you enjoy their company, but also because at the time, that's right. (This idea doesn't quite reach everywhere - I had a hard time thinking how I get intellectual satisfaction from eating a peanut butter sandwich, except for the frequency with which I do it at home, which makes me unusual, which I like. And also the nostalgic ties to childhood and other lost innocences, I suppose, but then we'd get too psychological).

So to return to Quixote, I took another shot at it in 2007, I believe. While at home I got about 70 pages deep, starting at the beginning again, and then put it off for more pressing books. And somewhere between those two efforts there may have been another attempt at the behemoth, with similarly scant results.

When I set my plans to go to Madrid, at last, I decided that this would be the perfect time to read Quixote to the end, at last. I would accept no failure, and would push through the droughts that kept me from completion in the past. And then I'd find out if it was worth the effort.

On the interminable plane ride to Madrid, via Paris, where I could not sleep and where my ears got blocked up terribly, affected further by a cold I caught from my sister just before leaving, which also left my voice in tattered shape for a week in Madrid, I returned to the same 100 pages I had already read, more or less. I went through them fairly quickly, but I had reached that height before, and it was no promise of further success.

Upon first arriving in Madrid, I stayed with Ben, the 3rd person in an apartment that is cozy for 2, and so didn't really have the comfort to read as I might like. Then I had to settle into a new apartment with a landlady I couldn't quite understand. So no progress. But the perhaps most fitting inspiration impelled me to forge to places heretofore unknown to me: my trip to Andalusia with Ben.

Quixote mostly takes place in between Andalusia and Madrid, meaning we were only going through the setting for the epic. But going through meant a long bus ride with nothing to think about, and that meant a lot of reading time. Not only did I read a lot (240 pages, as mentioned on this blog), but I also read some great stuff. My bookmark features the notes "p.132, p. 147", moments where I not only really liked what I was reading but actually laughed out loud, which I don't do often while reading. The former features Sancho Panza and Don Quixote vomiting on one another, the latter about Sancho telling a story to his master that leads to great arguments. Stupid physical and dialog humor, perhaps, but also really great for something over 400 years old.

That was the big hump for me, though I didn't get to the halfway point. Over the better part of 3 more weeks, I chipped away at the story, before bed or on weekends when I had more free time, or even on the metro when I went to classes on the outskirts of the city. And at last, in the final week of April, with much jollity and sadness, I finished Don Quixote.

See, the end of a great book is bittersweet. There's that satisfaction of completing that I mentioned, but also the sad fact that there's no more to read. This was especially the case with Bolaño's Savage Detectives, a work that I've recommended to people of 4 different nationalities and just about everybody I meet. There the blurry brilliance of the first half slowly enfolds the inevitable heaviness and sadness of life through the second half of the book, in a way that transcends its initial brilliance for an excessive beauty.

Here, things were neater - Quixano recovered his mind, got sick, and died. The end. But even though we knew he was deceived, crazy, we wanted Quixote to be vindicated, to emerge triumphant. A foolish, quixotic hope, but inherent in my reading of the book. I can't really add much or anything to what has been said everywhere on Quixote and all that attends it. But it took me in with it, and showed its worth and its essence, while being a fantastic journey as well. That it took four years and as many tries may be part of the natural process. Hasta lo'o, you other Quixotes.