For those of you who, after the last post, were eagerly awaiting on-the-minute updates about my trip to Spain, I have good news and bad news. The bad news—let’s get that out of the way first—is that I’m no longer in Spain: I returned home a little over a week ago. So, at this point, any news you hear about the time I spent there will be old news.
I will, however, be giving a full account of my stay over the next few days and weeks, which is the first bit of good news I can relate. The second I hinted at in the last paragraph with the words, “at this point.” If all goes according to plan, I may well be returning to Murcia within the next month or so in order to study and hopefully work at UCAM.
If this hope turns into a reality, I will, of course, post something to that effect on Thulcandra. For right now, though, you will have to content yourselves with what has already transpired.
Day 1: With bags in hand, as ready as I would ever be for the grueling 19 hours of transit time (layovers included) needed to take me from northern California to Murcia, I bid my parents farewell and made off for my terminal. After a painless jaunt through security, I started the first part of my journey: SFO to Heathrow, the longest of three flights.
I generally don’t do well with sleeping on planes, so I quickly set about looking for something with which to occupy my time for the 10 hours that would follow. Fortunately, I had brought enough reading material to keep me busy (including a Spanish grammar workbook (which, of course, I barely touched). In addition, I had at my disposal the British Airways movie library, ready to be mined for entertainment, or at least close approximation thereof.
Now, the process of selecting an in-flight movie is quite different, at least for me, than that of picking out a title at Blockbuster. With a movie rental, I am paying for a particular film, and I naturally want the viewing experience to be worth my while. With an in-flight movie, I have essentially paid for all of the films already. Normally, faced with that, I simply pick the film from which I expect to receive the most enjoyment. On occasion, though, I use transoceanic flights as an opportunity to watch a movie that I decisively wouldn’t spend my money on given the chance. This was one of those flights, and upon being given my dinner (a truly dreadful pasta dish, tortellini in a cream sauce ruined in ways I don’t wish to recall: thank you, British Airways), I plugged in my headphones and started watching The Da Vinci Code.
Now, before this point I had been intending for awhile to either read the original novel or watch the filmed adaptation, mostly so that I could see for myself what all the fuss was about. This, particularly on account of its alleged attacks on orthodox Christian belief. (A pet peeve of mine is when Christians protest a piece of popular culture purely on account of hearsay. If something is reputed to be an attack on my beliefs, I want to see it for myself. That way, I am in position to not only judge its merits and demerits for myself but to speak or write about the object in question from personal experience.) In the case of The Da Vinci Code, I was already well aware of Dan Brown’s, shall we say, inventive understanding of the early Church; thus, I was prepared for whatever kind of pseudo-historical nonsense the film had to throw at me.
What I wasn’t prepared for was its attitude toward the Church as a present-day institution. Watching the film, I at last understood why the story had caused such an uproar: The Da Vinci Code is as viciously anti-Catholic as any Jack Chick tract and just as subtle. (If you aren’t aware of Chick, Catholic Answers has a comprehensive report on his life and work, insofar as such things can be known.) It’s all there—the Roman Catholic Church portrayed as a corrupt institution founded by power-hungry, sexually-repressed misogynists bent on hiding the true Gospel in order to further their own worldly ambitions; the depiction of its leadership as spiritually and even physically deformed; and, of course, the heroic freethinking rebels risking their lives in a fight against the established order for the sake of truth. I thought that the Catholicism-as-ultimate-evil crowd was limited to a few nutty, backwoods fundamentalists, but it would appear that I was wrong. In any event, I was highly disappointed: not so much with the movie itself, which I was expecting to be terrible (which says a lot, since I usually enjoy the movies that I go into with low expectations), but with the millions of people around the world who have let themselves be entertained by something so clearly bigoted, not to mention idiotic. The Church has much to do; so do our history teachers.
But this post is about my trip to Spain, not my experience of watching The Da Vinci Code. Those of you who know me well know that this sort of topic shift is common for me; I’ll do what I can here to stay on track. (If not, then I’ll at least try to keep things entertaining.)
So back to the plane ride itself: I managed to actually sleep for about three hours, a first for me on an airplane. This was fortunate, since it gave me the energy to navigate Heathrow airport, my first stop. And when I say “navigate,” I’m not being facetious. Heathrow is enormous, and traveling from arrivals to departures took about a half-hour. I didn’t think it would be possible for me to dislike any airport more than LAX; then again, LAX doesn’t require one to take a subway from one terminal to another (and between subsections within the same terminal). Finally, I arrived at the correct gate, annoyed but not otherwise the worse for wear. Two hours later I departed for Barcelona.
The flight to Spain was dominated by a half-dozen or so Englishmen, traveling together as a group, who created an incredible amount of noise on the plane: shouting (and occasionally swearing) across the aisles at one another, hitting on the stewardesses, and guffawing loudly, they created quite a spectacle. It was difficult to know whether to be annoyed or entertained; I experienced a little of both. Apparently, the flight crew was similarly ambivalent: clearly amused, one of the older attendants also warned them against behaving similarly at their destination, lest they get into trouble. I had the distinct impression that they knew each other from the military, or prison, or some combination thereof.
Whatever the case, I had to follow them through customs, since all of us fell into the category of foreigners outside of the European Union. During this time one of the men said something—I didn’t catch what it was, exactly—that angered another member of the group; the resulting stream of profanities issuing from the latter’s mouth was enough to shock even me (and I went to an all-boys high school!) and prompted a young woman walking behind us to request that he be silent. Fortunately, he more or less complied, and the rest of my journey through that particular airport was uneventful. After another, shorter layover, I boarded the prop plane for Murcia San Javier, an hour-long flight from Barcelona.
Coming into MJV I had my first experience being a confused foreigner after discovering that I lost my baggage: waiting by the claim for about five minutes after everyone else had retrieved their bags, unsure of exactly what I should do, one of the airport workers walked up to me and started speaking in Spanish. I, of course, had no idea what he was saying, and said something to that effect—or at least I think that I did. He sighed, walked away, and found someone with whom I could speak in English. She helped me figure out how to file a lost baggage report; I still don’t have my bag, though, so this may have been for nothing. (Before returning to the States, I did find out where it was, though, or rather a friend of mine did. He eventually traced it to the Madrid airport, which is apparently the eventual destination of all luggage lost in Spain. As things stand, they’re going to ship it back to California. Hopefully, this will actually come to pass, and I’ll be able to get my dress shoes back.)
By this time it was ten o’clock in the evening, and MJV was getting ready to close. I carried my two remaining bags out onto the sidewalk adjacent to the taxi lane, sat myself down, and waited for my friend José to pick me up as arranged. It was a warm night out; and the temperature, though not optimal, was far from unpleasant. Then again, after almost a full day on planes and in airports, I would have taken the Siberian tundra for the fresh air.
It would be another hour-and-a-half before José arrived—he had been occupied picking up another international student at Alicante, another airport close to the city of Murcia—during which interval I had just enough brain power left in me to beat a few more levels of Super Mario World. After being introduced to the other passengers—another Spaniard, and two Italians—we drove to a nearby town for dinner: tapas, which were brought to our table just after midnight. (The timing was fortuitous, since I had arrived on a Friday evening, and almost every dish in Spain contains ham.) Somehow, I managed to last until around 1:30, by which time we had made our way to Guadalupe and José’s family home, where I was to stay for the first four or five nights. But my time there, those first few days in Spain: that I will leave to my next entry.