I got the second-to-last seat on the train from Santiago to Madrid. Lots of higher security to get through to get on board the train to come to Madrid. Sadly, the security were only screening for safety and so they couldn’t stop stupid. I got octopus juice dripped all over my bag from the family sitting in the seats ahead of me. The father had (rather idiotically, I thought) put a bag of wet pulpo above them on the overhead luggage storage and, of course, it dripped and made a little stream of octopus juice go down the storage shelf, getting all over the stuff of everyone around them who had their actual luggage up there. When the guy realized what happened because his wife started complaining because she was getting dripped on (nevermind that those behind them had been getting dripped on for a while and they never paid any attention while we all moved our stuff across the train aisles from their stuff and were asking what was wet and leaking), the guy just laughed. And it was a family of four, but they’d only reserved two seats and so were trying to get everyone around them to give up their seats for them and for the two little boys, who were running all over the place and getting in other folks’ way the whole time. They would run all over, shout at each other, throw a tantrum, and climb up on the seats and swing from the luggage shelf overhead. And the Dad would just laugh and encourage them while the mother ate octopus. It was a really really long train ride, let me tell you. Well, it was long, it was about 8 hours long, but it felt even longer with this awesome family along for the ride.
Unfortunately, this rude family’s behavior did not surprise me as much as it would have had I not had about a hundred such encounters with locals on this trip. At the beginning of the trip, I was surprised by the lack of consideration of others I’d noticed in the Northern Spaniards. I don’t like to make generalizations, but after a few weeks here, it really seems to be the norm…this inconsiderate behavior. They have no concept of respecting other people’s space or even caring for others comfort in public places. It’s very much a selfish sort of atmosphere that I’ve noticed. It’s been pretty awful at times, and I haven’t been alone in noticing this behavior and being put-off by it. Frank from Belgium, Pedro from Las Vegas, Lucy from New Zealand…each of them made comments about the unfriendly nature of the locals they were having dealings with. Pedro distinctly told me he wouldn’t return at this time of year because of the attitudes of the locals. He chalked it up to them being tired of pilgrims along the Camino and thinks that the Springtime is the best time to come because the pilgrim season is just beginning and they are ready for their “tourism” to start again, and maybe that’s true. But, to me, that doesn’t explain the people in Bilbao or folks like this family on the train. It makes me appreciate some of the behavioral norms in the United States. Americans seem to frown more upon some of the things I’ve seen a lot of here: children climbing all over strangers’ seats on public transportation, people playing their video games loudly without earphones, not apologizing for dropping things on people… even the very simple act of a smile from a store owner when a person walks into their café or shop has been unusual here. The pilgrims I met were definitely the highlight of my trip. I could leave the locals, most of the time. It all adds up after a while and, at the moment, with my pack smelling like octopus, my dislike of ham being anything but lessened after weeks of cold jamon bocadillos which never actually filled me up, and my overall patience worn thin, I have zero interest in returning to Spain for a very long time.
Thinking back over this trip, I actually feel, for the first time, much more appreciative of where I live. This is the first time I’ve gone abroad and really really wanted to go back to the United States. Been very ready to return. Happy to return. It’s not just the attacks in Paris and the heightened security and the atmosphere of alarm that’s gripped Europe–although I will be happy to leave Europe for that reason, too– it’s the feeling that this country isn’t really a good fit for me. Spain and I will never be best buds. I’m not sure we can even be happy acquaintances right now. Maybe Madrid will help to balance the scales, a bit. I haven’t seen much of it at all, but what I have seen, I’ve liked.
I arrived here and found the Metro. Madrid’s metro is super slick! It was so easy to use. I arrived at the Chamartin Station in the northern part of the city and my hotel is located in the southern part and I just hopped on the subway and didn’t even have to transfer to get to San Anton station and walk to my nice hotel. I’m staying at the Catalina Atocha, and it’s great. Small room, but really quiet and nice. There’s a nice café down on the street level, too and it had really great fettuccini with pesto sauce on the menu tonight. Yum! I was really grateful for the filling pasta. Now I’m watching a bit of soccer. It’s half-time in a game between Ukraine and Slovenia and Ukraine is winning 1-0.
The sun was setting as I was riding the subway to get here, so when I went underground, it was still light but when I popped out of the ground in this neighborhood, it was dark. Still, what I can see of the buildings look interesting. Madrid might be a cool city to explore a bit more sometime. Maybe the Southern part of Spain would be a better fit for me than the North. I don’t know. The people here at the hotel were very nice, and the waitress at dinner actually gave me a smile when I walked in! I was grateful for that kind gesture. As weird as it is, I’m sort of used to people smiling and greeting you when you walk in to places. I had never really noticed how much a part of America a simple smile and greeting is. It’s good business, for one thing and America is nothing if not good at business. But, it also just seems like the smile and greeting has become a part of who Americans are. It’s sort of natural to smile and greet, and we expect to be smiled at and greeted in response, I guess. Lucy was saying at one point that Lupe didn’t like to think of himself as an American (but he moved to the US when he was two, so he doesn’t remember living anywhere but the US) but that he was about as American as Lucy could imagine a person to be. She believes Americans are usually in a hurry, rather outgoing, and matter-of-fact in their beliefs. Lupe was definitely all of these things from what both of us saw of him, so it’s hard to argue with her opinion. I heard several accounts of what people expected Americans to be on this trip. One person was surprised to find out that I live in the same state as my father because he had always heard that Americans never live near their families. This person believed that Americans can’t wait to leave home and never want to live near their families after they grow up. I heard complaints about how Americans throw their money away by tipping everyone and how they don’t like to visit the United States because they are expected to tip everyone, too. It happens to everyone. You meet so many pilgrims from so many countries that these misconceptions are brought to the surface. I remember my first night on the Camino in Villafranca, sitting at the dinner table with the three other pilgrims and the man from Puerto Rico telling Sue from South Korea how he believed she was very much in danger and he didn’t know how she should live a normal life with North Korea as her neighbor. And Sue just looked at him, bewildered, and said, “You think I am in danger? Why do you think I am in danger?!” The man told her how the situation is painted as very dangerous by the media and that many people believe South Korea is going to be attacked by North Korea. And Sue just looked at him in disbelief before explaining how South Koreans are not concerned about this and that there are many who would like to reunite with North Korea and many who want to stay separate, but she didn’t believe there was any cause for concern that her country was about to be blown away by its northern neighbor. She looked really taken aback that this was the outward view of her country.
This is why I don’t want to fall into the trap of generalizing Spaniards based on these few weeks of rude encounters with locals, but it’s definitely colored my view of this country. I can count on just one hand the really good experiences with locals that I’ve had over this trip, I think. And some have been really great, like the wonderful old woman in Villafranca who turned me around and walked with me, in the rain, to try to find a bus to Ponferrada so I would not have to walk back. Or the four Southern Spaniards that I met on the Camino and laughed with and who kindly added my favorite shirt to their pack to deliver to me when I accidentally left it behind. I’m certain these are not the only good people here who seem to be very kind and nice, but I just happened to bump into very few of them on this trip, I guess.
I have no pictures to share today. I can tell I’m tired and ready to just get home simply by my lack of wanting to capture any of the scenery around me any more.