Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category


Gregorio del Laboratorio goes to Spain: day 10

August 29, 1999

All week long, Joel has been hoping to meet his athletic hero, the great Algerian miler Noureddine Morceli. We finally found Morceli’s hotel today, but he wasn’t in his room, so Joel left a package for him with the front desk.

Took a train from Seville back to Madrid today. Sitting across the aisle from us was Martin Fiz of Spain, who, considering that he had placed eighth in the marathon yesterday, looked surprisingly agile.

Tonight was our last night out on the town. Went to an outdoor cafe with Adam, where we ran into a pair of women from Wisconsin who told us the cautionary tale of how their purses had been stolen during their first day abroad. One had pursued her assailant, since, as she said, “I may be overweight, but I can run fast when I’m mad.” Not fast enough, apparently; the thief got away.

A Russian athlete takes time out from her busy marathoning schedule to play Kick the Can.
A Russian athlete takes time out from her busy marathoning schedule to play “Kick the Can.”


Gregorio del Laboratorio goes to Spain: day 9

August 28, 1999

A low-key day on the town, though with much walking as usual. Took a one-hour boat tour along the Rio Guadalquivir and spent almost as long looking for a place to exchange currency.

For me, the moment of the championships came tonight at 9:07 p.m., when Abel Anton of Spain entered the stadium, about to win the men’s marathon. He received what must have been the ovation of his life from the ever-patriotic crowd. Then, in a race that had “made-for-TV movie” written all over it, Graves’ Disease-afflicted Gail Devers won the 100-meter hurdles, while breast cancer survivor Ludmilla Engquist of Sweden took third. Also, in the men’s long jump, Yago Lamela of Spain took second to Cuba’s Ivan Pedroso, again to the delight of the crowd.

Out on the marathon course: 25 kilometers done, 17.2 to go.
Out on the marathon course: 25 kilometers done, 17.2 to go.


Gregorio del Laboratorio goes to Spain: day 8

August 27, 1999

Today’s sight-seeing sites included the Parque Cientifico y Tecnologia (Science and Technology Park) from the ’92 Expo and Isla Magica theme park. The former has been converted into private business space, but all the streets are named after famous scientists. Pretty cool. The latter is a mix of amusement park rides and restaurants, with less educational value than I expected.

It’s good to know that Dionne Warwick remains popular over here.

Not that I am particularly interested in architecture, but if I were, a good local topic of study would be the fusion of Moorish architecture with the Christian stuff that followed it. In theory, once the Christian kings ousted the Moors, they could have rebuilt the region from scratch according to their stylistic preferences; instead, they mostly amended and added on to the existing Moorish structures. The Catedral and Real Alcazar (royal palace in Seville) are prime examples of this.

Joel and I have found the Spanish cuisine to be OK but relatively low on complex carbohydrates (with the possible exception of a few paella and potato-based dishes). Nonetheless, any culture that incorporates ham into most of its meals can’t be all bad.

Marie Curie Street, Parque Cientifico y Tecnologia, Seville.

Marie Curie Street, Parque Cientifico y Tecnologia, Seville.


Gregorio del Laboratorio goes to Spain: day 7

August 26, 1999

Had lunch with media mogul Paul Merca after meeting him at his hotel. The concierge spoke French but not English; I managed to croak out “Nous rencontrons Paul Merca, qui reste ici” before Paul himself appeared.

Paul wanted to know what I thought of being at my first world championship track meet. To me, the most striking thing has been the huge stadium packed with rabidly nationalistic track fans (including a hometown pep band which performs such selections as the theme from The Flintstones). What hasn’t been so immediately obvious is that I’m watching the finest athletes in the world, since, from the stands, they look pretty much like any other group of athletes as seen from a distance — perhaps a bit leaner or more muscular. It’s not until one looks at the race clock (or distance markers or whatever) that one fully appreciates the world-class performances one is witnessing.

Another good night of track and field. First off, we met renowned track statistician K. Ken Nakamura, another contact of Joel’s. Ken turns out to have a Ph.D. in physics and works in the semiconductor industry. Basically, he’s yet another nerd for whom track is a passionate hobby.

We then saw Michael Johnson destroy the 400-meter field to win in a world-record time of 43.18 seconds. The women’s 10K was very exciting, too. In contrast to the men’s 10K, in which none of the favorites was willing to push the pace, the top women raced hard from the gun. The bulk of the pace-setting work was done by Britain’s Paula Radcliffe, who nods incessantly and erratically while running, giving one the impression that she is about to collapse from exhaustion. In the end, she was outkicked by Gete Wami of Ethiopia. Tegla Loroupe of Kenya had the least potent kick of the lead group and wound up with the bronze. The first ten finishers all set seasonal, personal, or national bests.

After the races, we went to a flamenco performance, for which we shelled out 3500 pesetas apiece. It was OK but very repetitive — even moreso because we couldn’t understand the lyrics of the songs. Basically, there were two male vocalists, a guitar player, and a female dancer dressed in (presumably) traditional Spanish garb. The songs were very long and consisted of alternating fast and slow “movements.” In the slow sections, the men serenaded the woman in irregular, coarse musical phrases with lots of drawn-out vowels. (“Hola” might be sung “Ho-oh-oh-oh-oh-la-ah-ah-ah-ah”). Then, in the faster parts, the men would clap out a rhythm while the woman would dance furiously, pounding the wooden floor with her heels in the process. On the surface, the whole thing appeared to be kind of sexist, since the men essentially clapped and shouted at the woman while the woman danced as if in response to the men’s demands. However, since I know virtually nothing about this stuff, I will leave the issue to the women’s studies scholars.

Joel’s quote of the day: “This underwear will be the death of me.” I guess you had to be there.

Just drive it: an official world championships car, complete with Nike logo.
Just drive it: an official world championships car, complete with Nike logo.


Gregorio del Laboratorio goes to Spain: day 6

August 25, 1999

Ran 19 miles today along the Rio Guadalquivir. It’s hard to stay cool in this 35-degree (that’s Celsius) weather; Spanish restaurants sell you bottled water rather than giving you tap water for free, so rehydration can be a rather expensive habit. There are many decorative fountains scattered all over the city but virtually none designed to quench one’s thirst — water water everywhere and not a drop to drink, as the saying goes. Consequently, Joel and I have resorted to imbibing a fair amount of soda during the day. In fact, Joel has consumed so much Fanta that I have dubbed him “The Fanta Menace.”

Perhaps due to the weather, female fashions here include the use of fans and high-cut tops leaving the midriff exposed. I used to think of the fan as an accessory last used during the Renaissance or something, but in fact the fan industry is, if not booming, at least alive and well.

It’s good to know that Phil Collins remains popular over here.

Graffiti on the Puente de la Barqueta, which spans the Rio Guadalquivir.
Graffiti on the Puente de la Barqueta, which spans the Rio Guadalquivir.


Gregorio del Laboratorio goes to Spain: day 5

August 24, 1999

Saw Seville’s Catedral (Cathedral) and West Indies archive today, along with many more city streets. I’ve enjoyed walking around town taking photos of Spanish store signs and advertisements. I wish I knew a little more about photography — not a lot, just a little — so that I could be assured of having a decent photo record of these things. Photography is perhaps a hobby I would take up if I needed another hobby.

Speaking of photography, I’m developing (no pun intended) a disdain for those tourists who, upon arriving at what seems to be a good photo opportunity, immediately take a picture without even pausing to figure out what it is that they’re photographing, much less how it could best be captured on film.

Joel, on the extensive system of labyrinth-like mines created by Spanish settlers in South America: “With enough slaves, you can accomplish almost anything.”

Got swindled today by a woman hanging out in front of the Catedral. She gave me a sprig of something or other and read my fortune from my palm — she said I would lead a long, happy life full of love, plus some other stuff which I didn’t understand but which was probably equally wildly optimistic — and then demanded 2000 pesetas (~$13). I gave her 1000 — still too much for 40 seconds’ worth of reassurance that I have a bright future.

At the track, the sight of the night was Gabriela Szabo, an absolutely tiny (less than 90-pound) 5000-meter runner from Romania. Since she appears to have the body of a 14-year-old girl, I find it difficult to believe that she can outrun me. Yet she can.

It’s been interesting to hear the national anthems played in honor of the various gold medalists. To my ears, many are rather trite. However, the Romanian one is in a minor key and sounds somber rather than celebratory (“a song about gruel” was Joel’s description), while the Moroccan one ends unexpectedly. Like this paragraph.

A not-so-subtle ad for the pleasures of eating ice cream.
A not-so-subtle ad for the pleasures of eating ice cream.


Gregorio del Laboratorio goes to Spain: day 4

August 23, 1999

Saw top U.S. miler Regina Jacobs at the Parque de Maria Luisa during this morning’s run. Joel wished her good luck.

Checked my e-mail and sent out a few electronic postcards today at a cybercafe in Seville, which put me in a good mood. It’s kind of scary how, over the last six years, my emotions have gradually become tethered to my e-mail account.

It’s good to know that Cher remains popular over here.

Controversy broke out at the meet tonight when a Spaniard won the women’s long jump on her sixth and final jump. A video replay clearly showed that she had fouled, yet her mark stood. The Italian who was relegated to second place is supposedly going to retire in protest.

Spanish farmacias (pharmacies) are marked with green crosses.
Spanish farmacias (pharmacies) are marked with green crosses.


Gregorio del Laboratorio goes to Spain: day 3

August 22, 1999

Today’s health report: all Spaniards smoke. It’s disgusting.

Got a nice driving tour of Madrid from Antonio, an Internet pal of Joel’s who maintains a website devoted to 1500-meter races. Among other things, we checked out the bull-fighting stadium, an amazing red-brick structure with multiple levels of little arches all the way around the outside.

Joel and I then left for Seville and began playing the role of the “ugly Americans” in earnest. Between the two of us, we know almost enough Spanish to make ourselves understood, but not quite. Encounters with the natives leave me feeling sort of embarrassed about being here, since our inability to communicate is my fault, not theirs. I simply can’t speak the language of the country.

Given the above-mentioned communication problems, I’m starting to realize just how stressful traveling can be and how it sometimes takes a special effort to remain agreeable and pleasant. On several occasions, I’ve caught myself about to snap at Joel over some trivial matter. Hopefully these negative comments have not leaked out too often.

The Palacio del Fumador (Smoker's Palace).
The Palacio del Fumador (Smoker’s Palace).


Gregorio del Laboratorio goes to Spain: day 2

August 21, 1999

Joel and I tried to do a run in the royal gardens this morning but were turned away by a security guard. Drawing upon our international diplomacy skills, we politely bid him farewell and found a not-as-well-guarded gate through which to enter.

Later went to the Museo del Prado, Madrid’s premier art gallery, with Xavi and Joel’s friend Adam, who is in town for a month to do research on the history of Spanish Protestants. Saw lots of 17th-century Spanish work: Goya, Velasquez, Murillo, Ribera (?), etc. Numerous depictions of military battles and repentant saints, although my favorite work was a portrait of a defiant-looking midget brandishing a sword. Many of the non-military paintings use human skulls to represent the passage of time and the transient nature of man’s existence.

It’s good to know that ABBA remains popular over here.

Bla Bla & Company: serving the needs of a long-winded clientele.
Bla Bla & Company: serving the needs of a long-winded clientele.


Gregorio del Laboratorio goes to Spain: day 1

August 20, 1999

Now in Madrid after a layover in London. Tried to sleep en route; couldn’t. Decent in-flight entertainment, though: Murder in a Small Town, plus the “Lord of the Flies” episode of The Simpsons.

Walked around the royal palace this evening; also visited the adjacent royal cathedral and royal gardens trimmed in the severe geometric European style. We heard a cat meowing from within one of the hedges but couldn’t coax it out. Also watched my first Spanish TV program, an incomprehensible game show in which talentless middle-aged couples dance in front of an amused studio audience.

Bull bust at Seville's bullring museum.
Bull bust at Seville’s bullring museum.