lunes, agosto 16, 2004

Cars

Apart from the financial constraints, I never quite manage to convince myself of the benefit of taking driving lessons in a city like Madrid. This feeling hardens when people say to me so regularly, "so and so has had a accident on the motorway", "Juan Pérez has been hospitalized for six months following a car crash, "Pepito's brother was on the news on Saturday in an accident in which he barely escaped alive and will need x number of transplants". Yesterday El País reported that Madrid alone had recorded 9,500 accidents in the first 6 months of 2004. The figures dwarf those of the 11 March terrorist attacks.

Only last Thursday I was walking to the Puerta del Sol to meet a friend an decided to take a diversion via the Plaza Mayor. On my way towards the square I saw a number of police cars and a van with the words "Accident Investigation" painted on its back. Inside was a mobile office in which an officer was interviewing a driver while taking down notes on his laptop. The driver looked white with shock and only a few steps further it was possible to see why. His car was at the bottom of the ramp running into an underground car park and behind it was a corpse covered from head almost to toe(but unpleasantly not entirely), with a metal rug and surrounded by policemen. I could not work out the cause of the accident and unaccustomed as I am to viewing corpses I did not choose to stick around unlike a number of other onlookers who stared down from the street level in a mixture of shock and bewilderment at what had occured. Friday's papers confirmed it had been a motorcyclist and that he had crashed into the back of the car on his way into the car park. His helmet came off and flew several metres which suggests he had it improperly adjusted, maybe due to the baking heat.

I felt somewhat queasy for the rest of the evening and all the more resolved to stick to public transport for the time being. Besides the tragedy for the victims family and friends, the driver of the car will no doubt need substantial psychological treatment before he can properly deal with the trauma.

jueves, agosto 12, 2004

Holidays!

Well, it’s been back to work this week following three weeks holidays. Why is it that after three weeks of burning sunshine, the day I return to work it pours down with rain all day? On the news they told us the summer had come to an end however the omens were in fact short lived. On Tuesday the clouds were gone and on Wednesday it was burning sunshine once again. I am not sure what I prefer.

My holiday’s were about the most eventful in a long time with three nights in Morocco, two in Ronda and 3 in Montpellier. A lot of travelling, especially on the 15 hour coach journey to France and back again 4 days later however it turned out to be well worth it. Asilah, a small town a half an hour taxi ride from the port of Tanger is a fascinating town and we were graced with the privilege of staying at a friend of a friend’s house in the middle of the medieval Medina. The best places to visit are not clearly signposted so it we needed our contacts to point us to the breakfast cafés with the best views and the most unspoilt beach in the area. In fact we hired a horse and cart for the day to take us to Paradise Beach where we situated ourselves in a typical Moroccan beach hut with tables and a small alcove at the back for a shady afternoon siesta. Swimming in the Atlantic was bliss after all this time in parched Madrid. In the evening we smeared ourselves in clay and felt oh so very exhilarated. The following day we spent the day in town, shopping and seeing the sites and in the evening went to a hammam, the typical arab baths, which was a pretty ferocious experience. Yes, they DO actually roll you onto your front and stand on you with their full weight.



In the taxi ride back to Tanger, we had to pull aside suddenly onto the verge in order to give way to King Mohammed VI mega convoy, a timely reminder of the feudal nature of Morocco. The following day the Spanish press announced an agreement to send Spanish and Moroccan troops to Haiti. Maybe he had in fact been on his way to his office for his conference call with Zapatero.

Ronda was a quieter affair though I did get to some of the best kept hammam ruins dating from Al Andalus. Ronda was one of the last enclaves to fall to the Christians and the hammam had to be built outside the City walls since the flight south of the muslim population led to severe population pressures on the region. The most famous site in Ronda is the Puente Nuevo. (new bridge) from which the view hundreds of metres down to the valley below causes a genuine sensation of vertigo and the “casas colgantes” or “hanging houses” that sit precariously on the cliff edge.

My arrival on Montpellier signalled the opportunity to get down to some genuine summer beach tourism. Apart from spending a few hours at the world renowned Piscine Olympique d´Antigone, a conversation with a local restaurant owner led me to the small town of Frontignan, a 30 minute bus ride away followed by a fair walk from the town to the beach. Besides the fairly constant wind the beach was exceptionally quiet and unspoilt and virtually everybody was French. Just about the best way of concluding the summer holidays.