Tuesday, April 16, 2013

April 16th: If I hadn't landed in Madrid, I would have sworn I was on China Southern

It’s a well known fact that any observations about how easy your day is going puts events in motion that will eventually drag it straight downhill. Outside of being spit on, our day was going very well with flights departing and arriving on time, decent people surrounding on on the plane and even a good sandwich from Au Bon Pain which we found right where we’d left it, a year ago, having finally figured out that the DFW Gate 17 food court was not the one we ate in last time we were here. Our spirits were high and we were cruising along, right up until we didn’t board on time.


At first there was no announcement, then the typical “We’ll let you know as soon as we do” and then more silence, punctuated by 5, 10 and 15 minute changes to the “actual” boarding time until it said “7:15,” a full two hours late. Even that disappointment was not yet a problem for us, because I had planned thoroughly and scheduled our train connection 3 ½ hours after our purported arrival. What was a problem was that dreaded sense that they don’t intend to tell you the truth and you’ll know nothing right up to the point where they cancel the flight and put you on a bus to the Red Roof Inn. However, just after the last board update, the gate agent came on and told us that the plane had been brought back from the maintenance yard and that it was a “good aircraft.” (The true nature of the problem was not mentioned until we were on board and the captain confided in us that one of the engines had been burning excess oil and that they’d finally decided it was “well within accepted parameters.”


We boarded after 2/3 of the other passengers claimed to be in Business or to have elite status, something infuriating but of no consequence because we were in the special secret cabin between business and proletariat and our overhead bins were waiting for when we walking up. After cracking my head but good on a lowered bin behind me, we sat down and waited to leave. The young man next to me moved to the row behind us, something I welcomed at the time without knowing just how unfortunate that action would eventually become.


And then the fun began.


We were partially surrounded by a pack of middle-aged Asians who were doing their best to remind me of the dozens of domestic flights I’d taken while I was living in China. First there was the traditional argument about whether Grandma #1 could keep her purse on the floor while we took off. She tried to negotiate with her friend across the aisle, but there was no room. She motioned towards My Lovely Wife’s foot space and was deflected with a stern look of incredulity at the mere suggestion that we should mind her belongings. Eventually it went in the overhead bin, but the instant that the flight attendant left, it came right back down.


By now we’d begun the fast taxi out to east Texas where the runway begins. At this point, Grandpa felt it was time to climb up on his seat and retrieve his Styrofoam cooler full of Yellow Sea Regional Victuals. He climbed right up on the armrest as the plane was taking a sharp left, got his bag and handed it to Grandma #2 who instantly began the ritual passing out of the various foodstuffs necessary to sustain everyone until dinner arrived. All those wonderful sights and smells that I’d endured on my countless Air China jet lagged flights from Beijing to Dalian. Dried shrimp paste potato chips. Sweet Potato fries. Those pasty gray dough balls tightly wrapped in plastic. Mysterious beverages in unidentifiable containers. This went on and on until they ran out of food and were forced to wait an additional half-hour for the official dinner service to commence.


While the Qingming Festival was being celebrated, I happened to notice an American grandad across the way unwrapping his blanket and pillow. Nothing usual there, until he took off his baseball hat, put it on his wife’s head and then put the plastic bag from the pillow on his own. At first he wore it like a toupee, but then he pulled it down as though he intended to suffocate himself. That didn’t work for long, so he uncovered his face and wore the bag for a while like a transparent knit cap. I’m not sure when he finally took it off because I gave up and decided to spend my time more productively by watching videos.


Food came and went and the lights went out and we all pretended that we were going to get some sleep. Grandma #2 made the rookie mistake of pushing her recliner button and driving her seat into my knees at maximum velocity. I responded by whacking the back of her seat which drew an ugly look. I turned sideways and finally drifted off only to be awakened by the most awful odor. At first I thought one of the lavatories had backed up, but even in my fitful sleep I was able to posit the source of the pollution – my former seat mate was lying stretched out on the seats behind me while having some sort of gaseous reaction to the chicken and rice dinner we’d consumed a mere 2 hours earlier. I stood up, opened the air jets and turned the other way, hoping to keep the noisome clouds back where they belonged.


While getting reset, I noticed that Plastic Bag Grandpa was missing. I craned my neck and looked around the corner and lo and behold, there he was, curled up in a fetal position, sleeping on the floor at his wife’s feet. I spent a few moments thinking that one over from a hygiene perspective before finally succumbing to my own exhaustion.


Morning came along with breakfast and a daily ablution performed by Grandma #3 that included more than a dozen lotions and potions, none of which had even seen the inside of a 1-quart baggy, having been smuggled on the plane in the bottom of her 25 gallon yellow canvas purse. Naturally each of them had their own conflicting perfume which set up a noxious cloud entirely different from the one I had survived earlier.


We arrived, made it through immigration and to the Puerto Atocha Station with an hour plus left to spare. In retrospect, wasting those two hours in Dallas when fresh was much superior to trying to kill them waiting at the train station when we’d already been up for 20 hours. Sometimes things do work out.


The AVE train system is always a pleasure, and this ride offered such a nice counterpoint to the 10 hours of hell we’d just endured. It was cool, the people were quiet and polite, and no one was squeezing Kim-chi out of a pastry bag straight into their mouth. We sat and watched the countryside roll by, beautiful fields of early wheat, olive groves spanning the ages from tiny bush to century old giants. Much of this part of Spain resembles northern New Mexico which set me to thinking how the early settlers must have felt somewhat at home. Aside of course from the people who they displaced.

Caught a cab, found the apartment, met the agent and went out for a light shopping at Corte Ingles, Spain’s really fancy combination department store – super market. After that off for some light tapas, a beer and a stroll. The Swifts careening overhead making their weird squeeze toy sounds made for light entertainment as the sun went down.


It should be mentioned that this week is Feria Abril here in Sevilla, their annual flamenco/horse/bull fighting fair. We were treated to dozens of beautiful young women strolling the streets in lavish flamenco dresses, along with the occasional horse drawn carriage carrying people in traditional dress.


More on this as the week progresses.

Puerta de Atocha -

image

The train -

image

Another train -

image

Olives -

image

Santa Justa station, Sevilla -

image

Las Señoritas -

image


No comments: