Sidestep to Segovia

Talking about the condom vending machine yesterday jogged my brain and brought back memories of when I was in Segovia a couple of years ago and was browsing in a souvenir shop located right across the street from the big 16th Century gothic cathedral.  That’s the temple where they charge admission.  It was the first time I had encountered the rising popularity of the pay-to-pray churches in this country.  Perhaps it is the Church’s way of making a few bucks from those who view those buildings as museums rather than places of worship.  On the whole, I avoid them on the basis that there are some places in this world that you should not have to lighten your pocket for.  It’s just not right.

     So, instead of spending a few minutes looking at some smoke-stained paintings and trying to figure out just who each saint was, I skipped over to the other side of the street to a gift shop and perused through the shelves and scanned tables to look around and maybe pick up an item.  One thing that speaks in favor of Segovia, a major tourist town and rightfully so, is the relatively low number of souvenir shops when compared to the onslaught of trinket-traders that pounce at you in places like Toledo.  And they are relatively subdued in their display and offer.  Yes, you occasionally come across what I call the Bienvenido-Mr.-Marshallesque item showcasing the finest flamenco-ware available, and you can always count on the woven basket full of backscratchers which have the word “SEGOVIA” written on them in blobby paint.  I am the proprietor of one, I can proudly admit.  But this time what took me by the surprise was an item I simply did not expect to find on sale amid Slinkies donning the colors of the Spanish flag, wooden swords or coloring books, and that was a bottle opener whose handle was shaped like a penis.

     Now image seeing that in a gift shop in the United States under the sign “This Week’s Special”.  I wasn’t really shocked because I had come to know that in Spain people wouldn’t be ringing up and calling their local councilman to have them immediately removed from their children’s sight.  In fact they would probably have gotten a kick out of it and I could easily see some Spanish 10-year-old calling out to his father with the opener dangling from his fingers, “¡Papá, mira, un pene!” and Dad replying, “Honey, stop bothering the customers and put the penis down.  You might break something with it.”

     No, what gets my mind rolling is wondering about the whole process that went into its manufacturing, from proposal to design to production and distribution.  I mean this took some time and effort.  My guess is that it was the brainchild of the son of a local successful kitchenware businessman, a classic Spanish entrepreneur who slaved for years to send his children to the finest schools in town and spent bundles each summer on English courses abroad, all in the hopes that one day the boy will be able enough to take over the spatula empire that he has created.  This rarely happens.  More often he finds that his son is 28 years old and has no future whatsoever.  But he keeps him on anyhow and prays for a miracle.

     So the kid, who doesn’t quite fit the bill because he has never had to do anything and has been drinking only the finest Scotch since he was fifteen, enters his father’s office with such a miracle in mind and says, “Pops, the boys and I were talking yesterday at the club last night and we have come up with the greatest idea.  Something that says this company is adapting to the times.”  The “adapting to the times” part came from a friend of his who will be inheriting his father’s car dealership and watches too much Spanish TV with his girlfriend where people are constantly adapting to the times for no reason at all.  Clubbing was where they got their best ideas, many of which vanished over night and by the next morning had gone for good.

     The father leans back in his leather swivel chair and puts his hand on his chin with his forefinger covering his mouth.  He doesn’t change the posture for the entire time he listens to his son’s groundbreaking contribution to the company’s already wide range of products.  Many thoughts pop into his head, most of which are unflattering and some criminal in nature.

     He pauses when he son finishes and then asks, “Son, what the hell does grabbing a penis to open a bottle of beer have to do with being modern?  Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t get it.”  Then it occurs to him that if he says no, the kid will spend the rest of the day skirt chasing in the office, so he gives him the green light in hopes that will keep the boy busy for a couple of weeks.

     Segovia, by the way, is a wonderful city with some of Spain’s best historical heritage.  Don’t miss it.

The Desperate Artist Tells a Story

I went this weekend to the northern mountains of Guadalajara to towns so elevated the cherries on the cherry trees never quite turn fully ripe…not even in July.  There is a series of small towns just south which are famous because the houses there are made mostly of dark slate stone and thus called the “black villages”.  We were going even further north to the northern face of those mountains.  There the soil is mostly a rusty red clay which is why many towns there are known as the “red villages”, for obvious reasons. 

       I used to work at summer camp there, which was going on this year.  A friend of mine named Roberto and I decided to go up and see all those people we knew there I liked to see from time to time.  Going up there is like the only place I really feel away from everything.  I brought all of my goddamn papers and pens and notebooks and computers to do a little quiet work while I was there, but I knew that was never going to happen.  Still, I guess I needed to take it along for safety security insecurity reasons of sorts.

       On the way up I got a call from my friend Scott who wanted to know if I would like to go out for a beer but I explained the situation. I never did tell you about that coincidence.  I had never told Roberto either, so I told him too.  Scott had left Spain years ago but before that we would go up to Segovia all the time because he had a girlfriend of his who he would visit from time to time.  She used to be his teacher and I guess still was in a way.  But anyway, Scott left Spain for good and we said goodbye for good and we never would see each other for good.  He said to me, he said, he said to me, “Have a nice life.”  It kind of depressed me to hear such a definitive farewell as such a young age from someone who was not planning on dying any time soon.  But it was even more depressing that I knew he was right.  Of course, back then, no one in humanity dreamed there would exist something like Facebook in our lifetime, or any, because basically no one conceived of something like Facebook ever existing.  So, when you said goodbye…you really meant it.

       Well a few years went by and I was hanging out by the aqueduct, there is little else I want to do there other than eat roast lamb.  Here’s my tourist guide tip of the day…Segovia the province is ultrafamous for its superior roast lamb, but the capital city’s specialty is suckling pig; but if you ask me, even so, I’d choose the lamb over the sucking pig any day.  Start with a nice garlic soup called Sopa Castellana, then go for the lamb and accompany it with just a few fries and a nice platter of fresh lettuce and onion doused with olive oil and vinegar.  The salad is an absolute vital complement to the lamb. 

       Anyway, I was gazing at the massive arches in awe as usual, as usual in awe, and telling this friend of mine who was helping me investigate a stolen piece of art, you probably didn’t know I used to solve mysteries from time to time on the side through some private classes I used to teach and even at small language school I used to work on the Gran Vía.  It folded way back in the 90s and from what I can tell it has never been leased again.  Ever.  Well, it was there that one of my greatest cases started, developed and was solved.  I will have to tell you about that at another time.  It was a long time ago and I swear I have got some of the facts mixed, lost and dismissed.  It was a strange time to be living in Madrid and odd events happened all the time.

       That was actually where I met Scott for the first time.  In any event, there I was thinking this girlfriend of mine how Scott loved Segovia, how you used to come back all the time to be with his former Spanish teacher, when all of the sudden I see him getting out of the car with another man.   In fact, it was a taxi from Madrid.  And I shouted out. “Scott!  What the hell are you doing here?  I was just talking about you.”  It was like Woody Allen movie when the writer comes out and tells the guy he’s arguing with that he had no idea about his work.  That’s what it was like.  That’s…what it…was like.

       And we shook hands and then hugged and he told me he was coming to Madrid for a month to do some business, as always, as always I knew we would, as always I knew he would end up doing, and that was that.  But since he had arrived on a Saturday and didn’t have to start until Monday, he and his friend, his associate (don’t ask me his name ‘cause I just can’t remember that know) took a cab straight from Barajas Airport to Segovia.

       “That’s 60 miles away.”

       “Company account.”  He said as we winked.


       The chances of my ever going to Segovia, a city I love but rarely visit, and my being at the Aqueduct in the very moment Scott, a person I was never supposed to see ever again, was getting out of a taxi, seemed far too remote for such a coincidence to happen.  It’s a casualidad as they say in Spanish. Not as remote as you think, I was told but a person I know.  And he was right.  But still, it didn’t en d there.

       He told me that he had met a girl at the airport who happened to go to the same school as him in California and that even though they didn’t now each other, they had lots of friends in common.  I ended up knowing that girl too.  She was from my hometown.  And I knew she was coming to Madrid, so when Scott told me all about this, what I didn’t know he was talking about the girl I knew.  How could I have? 

        Now I was just telling this story the other day to another colleague of mine.  She has lived here as long as I have, but I had never spoken to her more than a few times.  She knew this friend of mine too.  The girl from my hometown, who had met Scott at the ariport, who was on his way to .  From school too.  But she’s from Florida.  She said she knew her too…and her brother.  And today, I just got a email from her husband, who is an old friend of mine too.  I haven’t heard from him in years.  I am thinking to myself, what is going on here?

       And that wasn’t the end of it…