The timing was perfect. Sunday, the Kimchi would be ready. Saturday night, to eat wild asparragus pizza and wild asparragus spanish tortilla and wild asparragus pinchos-tapas-whathaveyou. Once again, Manolo had invited friends to go asparragus hunting – and the harvest was a catch. Then he got it; perhaps it was a culmination of the previously mentioned poor sleeping Huckleberry was getting, along with plenty of new sun at winter´s end, along with perhaps a little too much asparragus, and a random stomach bug or two or perhaps it was simply at the arbitrary dealings of fate. Whatever it was, Huck would have no idea what sort of illness was coming his way while dining in on Saturday´s asparragus harvest.
The following two days were spent in bed, in the bathroom, or on the sofa lying down while trying to make sense of Television in its multifaceted splendor. He was seeing crazy things like talking rabbits that drove hybrid cars that might hit a certain scam artist who now wants 40 thousand dollars to fix his “broken” turtle shell. Huck thought he might watch some cartoons and now he was way over his head in complicated adult matters. With great ambition he vaulted his eyes to the remote inches away, and made the necessary advances to access a different daytime cartoon: Pokemon, the most uplifting psychedelia in our catalog.
Whatever he did, he had to avoid reading In Search of Lost Time, that would be too perfect in said vulnerable condition. Best to..lay low..while the storm ..passed.
Once conditions were normal again Huck woke up to find that one of his musical heroes, Paco de Lucía, had died of a heart attack while playing with his family on the beach in Mexico. February 28th will now be marked forever by something that will eclipse the next few leap years. This my friends was the death of a legend and the dawn of a new age.
After a recovery week involving walks through olive tree hills and receiving free chocolate mousse and french magdalenas from a bakery in exchange for performing latte art for the kind folks at a nearby Pastelería (no surprise, the first decent tasting latte I´ve had in Spain), the opening gate of this Legend-less new age was Carnaval weekend. Carnaval is the closest thing to All Hallows´ Eve that ocurrs in this part of town, and with a five day weekend it would be a plain pity not to check out the charming islet city of Cádiz which is famous for its long honoured Carnaval traditions.
It was so famous, that Huckleberry had actually forgotten just how big a deal it was when he booked his adventure there – his principle intentions were simply to see this beautiful Andalucían city previously beyond the reach of his time. The city has so much charm, history, and flamenco cred that Carnaval ended up being kind of an afterthought in the trips preconception. His arrival came with the sunrise, after over 300,000 people had a giant drinking party (Botellón!) the night before leaving more than 200 tons of trash throughout the streets. Amidst the smells of piss, shit, vomit, and who knows what else could have created that funky atmosphere one could see that a massive confetti bomb of meteoric proportions exploded over the city´s skyline the day before leaving no street unscathed by washes of bubbly brite colours of party paper. Everywhere people were in costumes. As usual, old men were ordering cups of brandy or hard licor to wash away the darkness of sleep from which they came and for all things awake and clear to stay at bay. The moderately unusual, was that everyone else was also having a beer or a cup of distilled priveleges.
There was a group of apes with guitars heading down the street. A band of Turks preparing for the field. A host of straw ships looking for shade. A boat of Russians tapping water at the bar. A nesting group of Swiss yodelers who seemed to have hiked down the wrong side of the mountain. A pack of howling Elvis impersonators. An unnecessary clown. A couple dressed up like Cowboys. A bunch of smoking nuns. French fry hatted friars, poorly matched polka dot patches, Sponge Bob Square Pantses, Day of the Dead Sugar Skulls, The Politically Incorrect Costume Your Heart Desires, Loquacious M.D.´s and Lascivious Referees. Then the icing on the Double Fudge Ice Cream Brownie Cake…11 people dressed up in street cleaner uniforms sweeping up the never ending trash left behind, whistling to whistle-back parrots, talking about the neighborhood news, and generally playing the part of real street cleaners very well. There was a little bit of everything in this cluster-fuck chaos of a beach town.
They constructed the city of Cádiz before photographs, in an era when pastel crayons reigned supreme. Thus, one notes just how cakey they laid on the thick layers of pastel colors about the historic downtown houses. It´s like being in Habana minus everything that´s even remotely Cuban. However, despite the far stretch of reference to Cuba, the look and feel of the city certainly does remind one of idyllic and bouyantly colorful Carribbean towns.
“Jesus! Watch where you´re goin´Lazy Susan, and your Mario Karting buddy, too!”
The forever FreeForAll of Carnaval had already begun, and looking for a fresh shot of caffeine I felt like a fish out of water, fried in beer batter and thrown onto a plate observed by three savagely hungry red lipped middle aged women dressed like fairies from hell. Lizards boozing everywhere, Sardines fried for breaking the fast of 3 hours since last nights botellon, and salty deep fried donuts forming islands in the thick lava of scorched goops of impure chocolate. The sun-drying sobriety of this moment wouldn´t last long, I had to jump start the brain feed before things really got goin.
Plastic bags once bountiful now hunted the bounty of my feet that spelled out their escape from the downhill part of their life; they´d seen the culmination of their predestined glory- now they had eternity to not decompose and eventually find their way into a tree, or the ocean, or caught upon some rock to wait out the eventual explosion, super nova, or gravitational mishap that someday will certainly reduce everything that is Earth to miraculous space dust, space gas, and maybe space ice. Its all ok, though, they lived well, carrying countable by the hundreds of tons of booze bottles they shipped merrily about the city which fueled the mildly alcoholic thirst of serveral hundred thousands the day before, and the real party hadn´t even started.
Walking down the Barrio de la Viña I stuck out like an American in Spain; not to mention my backpack was stuffed full of clothes, toilet paper, and the bare necessities. I looked around at things – the best way to be noticed by a dirty old mustachioed man who walks by and whisper “foreigner” beneath his bristles. Maybe he wanted a cookie for his observation. Having just stepped upon the sweetly tided sands of La Caleta that gave me yearnings for the nearby Chiclana beach La Barrosa, I was in that realizing mood to take in the glory of Cádiz and let the oily comments from Señor Hair Cream bounce off into the nearby peña or bar that was preparing for the caña burning marathon to hit full steam.
I checked in.
White walls. Cleanliness. All the dishes in the kitchen were put away.
What infernal blasphemy was this in the middle of Carnaval? That´s ok, for a cheap price I can suffer the welcoming hospitality of any clean hostal. Rare and weird individuals are the goods ones, as with hostals and cleanliness. A nice chap named Pablo showed me my room, and explained the key system based on size. The small one gets you in the building, the large one into your room, and the other..doesn´t do anything at all.
I laid down my foreigner advertisments and monetary take me pamphlets and Morning-Bus-Obligated-Sweatshirt-Layers turned Sun-Obviated-Accessories underneath the bed of my stay. I also left a ceremony pick me up: a new found Cádiz sea shell. It had become one of those necessary stereotypes to bring back from a seaside journey, back to the flatlanded mountain locked enormous plain of Extremadura. Living anywhere cold and away from water just didn´t make any sense anymore; I had to bring back some sea for the sun bloomed and rained clogged winter greens of Cáceres.
Back out onto the streets with their deep fried everythings (#theworldover) and meaty empanadas. Europeans love to give me shit for American food, and they in turn eat the most, apparently, “American” things. But you and I, Dear Reader, both know that that´s a huge load. Every one is an individual, and every community has its own culture, and every culture has its own profoundly complicated mess of extremes, contradictions, exceptions and generally useful rules. No one preaches the “American Dream” better than Right Wing Yuppies but no one exemplifies it better than a European who happens to buy into the pitiful media for hire that´s been fed to them. The meat industry is not sheephish in its execution. Now, back to the infernally carnivorous Carnaval bloating the streets with glorious indulgence –
Possibly because they get more foreign exchanges in Cádiz, people didn´t look at me with as much disgust when I opened my mouth to speak Spanish. Did no one, upon hearing my horrid voice, feel as if their ears had suddenly come down with flesh eating lepresy? What was happening? They were drunk, indeed. Possibly sloshed. In the corner of the Plaza de las Flores appeared a caravaning village of touristy merch. I hadn´t seen so much merchandisal lechery in years. One bonus of living in Cáceres is the palpable absence of touristy merchandise entreating upon your special moment with a brew during the afternoon in the sun. A clash of thunder and lightning, the turning of giant tractor wheels, and the hollering of man sized gorrillas stirred me and my “Typical-Spanish” souvenir glazed eyes. People were starting to sing in the streets. It was nothing sort of a revolution. A multicultural coup d´etat unlike anything you´ve ever heard of. Ranks and phalanxes from all over the world arrived and dueled and duked with all the air their debaucherous smoke-drink-all-day lungs could muster. First, a volley from over here. Then, a volley returned by the other choir who – though partially smashed – answers with a resounding “Well, I don´t piss in the waves that feed me”. This was a facetious feast of regional slang, ironic love addresses, and vulgar political grievances. God, it was good. These people were crazy.
To get some rest I discreetly sneaked out of the jocund war zone and floated on the cultural high one only gets when playing voyeur to such an..exhibition of party culture. But I also felt dirty. The Beach. Liberty. From what? Ah, yes – from here sailed the Spanish Armada. Once, long ago, this very window of this fortress may have changed the world. All it takes is one glance through the way it frames the ocean outside the castle walls to understand what it must have meant to voyage out beyond the known. Or, if nothing else, escape the constant dream world of Cádiz. Time to soak up a little of ocean water flirting the shores with its coming and going, its lunatic rhythms and its salty charms. Then, back to the hostal to lay low on the bottom bunk and rest until the night, when things wouldn´t be so wickedly fantastic in the choir full joyful Carnaval-ing streets.
Once back at the hostal, I met a few American folk just gettin ready for the evening´s fares. Fancy that, Georgie, someone to help make the fire light to burn through the night! Something like a siesta happened and once consciousness regained clarity of vision we dined on the local classic, fried fishies and cañas of wheat gold beer. Polka dot skirted Mini-Mouses the size of a grown woman drank at the paintings´ background and Van Gogh´s brush had much much more paint on his palate. What was next? A cross dressing scoobie doo reference? Maybe. After the fishy fallout we inspected a multitienda for some booze. A bottle of rum. Plastic cups. The interrogation worked. T-minus 10 minutes till botellon. The streets were already littered with the gold of the street party´s amber colored glass liters and the silver of the street party´s fossily shine of vodka bottles. More requestive plastic bags. Slews of streams made of God knows what kinda sterility. The botellon was not in the same force as it brought out the night before, but tomorrow was “Hangover Monday” (Yes, they literally call the first monday of Carnaval the Hangover Monday and everything is closed – except for bars, of course. The banks didn´t open for 4 days. They knew better than to tempt total anihilation.) and that meant that people had a license to chill. Eventually people dissappeared and my weary eyes thought they witnessed construction vehicles cleaning up the streets. That was by far the greatest group costume effort – a bunch of uniformed people riding around in land digging and earth moving construction vehicles plowing the trash away.
Returning to the hostal we turned in for the night, this time for good. For good riddance, too, because before my eyes I could have sworn I saw a Russian military man from the late 19th century also preparing for bed. This was the edge of sanity.
The edge, there was no way of explaining it, because the only ones who could were the ones who had gone over it. (H. Thompson)