Friday, May 04, 2007

Spain, Part One: Peratallada, Barcelona, and Crime Fighting

I'm falling way behind on updating and we're not even halfway through Europe, so I'm going to step it up to a cut-and-dry pace through the next couple locations. I'll try, anyway.


We finally stop in Barcelona, Spain after a sixteen hour trainride. There's a whole lot to do in this town, but after a long day of travelling, I'm in no condition for any of it. Which is fine, because we have reservations the following day in a hotel outside of a medieval village about two hours away, a honeymoon gift from a couple close friends back home.

So after one night and a short afternoon of sight seeing in Barcelona, we get back on a train. This trainride is very different from the one the day before. It's a commuter line, jam packed with people, including a mother who has to choose between letting her two-year old scream with unprecedented abandon, or giving him the whistle from her keychain. Everyone on the train silently pleads for the whistle. I opt for my headphones.

A few hours later, Alex and I are checked into our hotel, and as you can imagine, extremely happy to be away from everything and everyone. We spend the next two days doing what we need most: recharging. I can tell you all about the long walks through dirt roads, the old farmer who teaches us how to forage wild asparagus, the fantastic restaurant we visit two nights in a row, or the rustic village itself, but the highlight of this part of our journey is being able to just spend time with Alex. When you remove all the major cities with their sights, subways, masses and museums, and all you're left with is this person in front of you, this person that you will spend the rest of your life with.... you come to realize this person is still as fascinating as the day you first met, and how wonderful it is to simply talk to her, love her.... and drive her insane with the endless number of photos you still manage to take in the middle of nowhere.


I've heard that Barcelona is always sunny with great beaches, but when we rearrive, it's gray, windy, and the beaches are shut down. Still, we find plenty to see and do and the weather clears up here and there.

One attraction I never thought I'd find myself in is the Picasso Museum, but I think I'm finally at a point in my own artistic development that I am open to figuring out why Picasso went the direction he did, and where he came from before. This is a great place to start, since it features mostly early work from his student days, plein air sketches, his time in Paris where there's a noticeable influence by Toulouse-Lautrec, and on to his later so-called 'Blue' and 'Pink' periods, before delving into Cubism. I can't comment much more on my own impressions because it would require a lengthy dissertation.... and you know how I can get lengthy. Maybe it'll get its own update for those interested in the artsy fartsy stuff.

We're staying at a hostel full of spring breakers. Barcelona is the right destination for that type of crowd. It's not unusual for a party to begin at one in the morning, after a night of pub crawling or a dinner at eleven. Alex and I initially mean to go for one night out on the town, but we don't really mesh with the kids (I'm to blame, I'm a whopping thirty after all). Instead, we spend our late evenings taking long walks through alleyways that have turned into wind tunnels due to the weather, stopping occassionally for a pint, kebab, or ham and baguette.... Friends and family strangely predicted we'd lose weight from travelling, but these 'occassional stops' are actually quite frequent, along with our balanced meal of churros con chocolate in the mornings, a traditional quickie breakfast in Spain where the sipping chocolate is so thick you can stand a spoon in it.

Given the poor weather, our busy schedule of eating, walking, sight seeing, and eating, it's a wonder I'm able to sketch at all. Though not the most scenic place, my favorite subject matter here is observing the hostel life, and the many guitarists within the alleyways.

Crime Fighting

Somewhere between one sight and another during our last day in Barcelona, we need to take a subway ride. Our metro passes are expired by now, so we go downstairs on the outskirts of a station to purchase tickets from an electronic kiosk. As we descend, a man calls at us from the top of the stairs, but he soon disappears. Alex and I are short on coins and there's no machine to break our larger Euro bills. Another man is fumbling with the kiosk next to ours, and he seems to be having similar luck. There's nobody manning the service booth, so we're left with no choice but to resurface to find some change. The man next to us has also given up, follows us up the stairs and leaves.

As we begin to cross a street, the man who was yelling down at us a minute ago reappears to stop us at the crosswalk. He says a few words in Catalan, the local dialect in this part of Spain. When he realizes we don't know what he's saying, he asks if we speak Spanish. Confused, we slowly say "Un poco." He points at Alex's tote bag and says in Spanish that her phone is gone. She swings her bag in front of her and sure enough, the phone pocket is widely unzipped and the phone is gone. The man who was next to us at the kiosk was a pickpocket. The man who stopped us begins talking into a hidden mic, we see the hidden earpiece, and realize he's a plain clothes cop.

My other immediate realization is remembering there are some embarrassing photos of me on this phone, but then I regain my senses and search my own bag. Sketchbook, check. IPod, check. Big bulky camera, check. So the thief ended up with possibly the least valuable item. Check. Then again, even phones are capable of retaining loads of sentimental value, not to mention the hassle we'll need to go through to cancel the service.

As I continue to sift through my mental checklists, the man goes on explaining what and what not to do. Don't move. Stay here. Follow me. Don't worry. Here's my badge so you know I'm really a cop. He talks into his chest every few seconds. We figure all of this is to fill out a crime report, when suddenly - wait for it - the cop's partner, Jean Reno appears from out of nowhere with the phone in his hand! ....Okay, not Jean Reno, but a close double. And besides, isn't that all Reno plays in movies these days? The detective explains (he and Alex settle on speaking in French) that they've caught the culprit, along with his three partners. The cops had been watching these guys for a while now. Now we just needed to follow him to fill out some paperwork....

If it isn't for the squad car and uniformed police that finally show up, I'd begin to wonder if this wasn't some elaborate scheme, or a tourist attraction at the very least, but instead of getting into any cars and being hauled off to an abandoned warehouse, we're escorted across the street to a plaza lined with cafés and odd stares. A third undercover cop, we'll say he looks like Dennis Franz, pulls up in a plain car to pull out crime report forms from the trunk. Alex fills out the paperwork and I secretly want to ask to take a group photo, but think better of blowing their cover- as though signing crime reports in the middle of a café square is inconspicuous enough. We shake hands, say thanks and goodbye. In the end, I claim that Alex and I brought down a syndicate of thieves in fifteen minutes.

Next: Granada


singinghawk said...

Oh darn, Mike. I just wrote you two paragraphs and just lost them in a flash. So here I go again...I think a little shorter though this time around.

Lovely post once again and thank you for the peek into your honeymoon. I especially enjoy your sentimentality with Alex...enjoying the simple moments together. I think traveling in foreign countries might bring with it a sense of one's vulnerability and bring two people closer together when they are the only "familiar" faces. It must be a real comfort. I sure wouldn't want to do that kind of traveling on my own.

The photos are beautiful! I am jealous! Sketches lovely! I am impressed that you can sketch while people are moving. I never mastered that.

The Crime Fighting scene sounded like it was made for a movie. Are you sure you weren't being filmed?! Maybe some spoof documentary! Next thing you know the whole world will be watching you and Alex on your honeymoon!

Great post, Mike. Looking forward to Granada.

Bruce said...

Your crime fighting adventure really did sound like an elaboarate set-up as I was reading it, but I'm glad that it all worked out in the end. it's funny how you describe them as looking like Jean Reno and Dennis Franz, it makes for a hilarious scene in me noggin'. You should at least do a cartoon of that, or something. The sketches and photos are all great, Mike.

Oh, I caught a little bit of Elliot Smith's stuff on iTunes today and I liked what little I heard. I'll have to investigate further.

Unknown said...

This is awesome stuff Mike! You are the king of international blogging :)
In all seriousness , this is really great to read..and the sketches are looking fantastic. I can't believe that crime-fighting story...that's super cool! Pick pockets...filthy vermin!
Keep rockin the honeymoooooon

Anonymous said...

great sketches. I love the pushed proportions on the figures they have great appeal.

DINTOONS said...

love these sketches!! so raw and honest... in one sense they look realistic, but the huge heads and little bodies give them a cartoony look and feel (just the way i like 'em :o)
very inspiring!

Julien alday said...

Hahaha ! Yeah, the Crime-fighting story was gold to read, man ! Glad to know everything was fine at the end. Jean Reno and Dennis Franz... Sounds like the perfect teamates, he ? Lovely pictures and drawing here, Mike. I specially love the guitar players.
Can't wait to read the next part. ;)
Embrasse Alex pour moi, mon ami.

Tom Kidd said...

Hi Mike,

I just read over your entire European adventure. It's beautifully written and endearingly intimate. My wife and I are coming up on our 25th. We're presently planning a big trip not unlike yours. My poor wife constantly endures my crazed shutterbuggy picture taking on all our travels. She goes off on her own when my sketchbook comes out though.

It's been fun traveling with you and I've enjoyed your art tremendously. I look forward to the next installment when you find time to post it.

Mike Dutton said...

I'm going to try my best to answer these a lot more punctually. I'm realizing that a lot of the times, writing something is initializing dialogue, and not just sending a note in a bottle never to be responded to. So a deep apology to you guys for being so late on getting back to you.

Ana - thank you as always for your comment. Sketching people from life while they're moving is one of the greatest challenges to me when drawing, so your compliment means a lot to me. More and more, however, I'm less concerned with capturing a likeness than capturing the atmosphere or essence of a subject or their surroundings. I do think I was successful in that respect, but nobody should ever have to look as hideous as I sometimes portray them. ;) I do think I do a fairly accurate portrayal of Alex though.

Hey Bruce - If you ever want a recommended list or intro type list to Elliott, I'd be more than happy to help out. Strangely, I've been listening to a lot of other folks these days, which is probably a good thing.... anytime my wife hears me listening to him, she knows I'm not in the best of moods. ;)

Hey Scott - Thanks. International blogging..... oh I dunno, I've read some really good ones out there, and they don't even rely on writing them from back home! I'm glad you're enjoying the ride so far though. Hope you like the next one. It's gonna be a lot more art, and a lot less talking.

Noah - I really enjoyed spending some time on your own blog. I especially like how you've been pushing your landscapes. Glad you enjoyed the sketches.

Dintoons - I'm really glad to see the word "honest" in your description. It's funny, that was exactly what I wrote as my main goal for my sketchbook before the trip started. Thanks!

Julien - Franz and Reno, there really should be a film with the two of them in it! And beautiful update by the way.... which I will write again on your own page. ;)

Tom - I'm very touched that you took the time to read the Europe trip from start to finish. Touched, and frankly astonished! I have no doubt you will have just as much to write about on your grand adventure, and I can't wait to read about it (at least I hope you'll be writing about it!). And a big congrats to you and yours on your upcoming anniversary. 25 years of dealing with a shutterbug and artist, that's a mighty fine achievement on her part. My wife's only had to deal with it for a fraction of that amount. :P