First of all I want to take this opportunity for a good old-fashioned rant. I haven't had one in quite a while so I've pent up a fairly unhealthy level of aggression. That being said I shall try to make my venom spit educatively and not spitefully. Can't promise anything though.
The target for today's grump is Spanish pedestrians; on the one hand because I want to highlight them with a hope of changing them, and on the other because they are rubbish.
Their behaviour, after two and a bit years of analysis, can be split into various problematic areas.
1. Speed: They are slow. So achingly slow. Slow to the point that if you walk at the same pace as them you feel as though you are obviously taking the piss. This I believe I can attribute to the weather. Hotter countries maybe have slower walkers. This is certainly true of Spain and Italy. Conversely British people walk faster, and Russians faster still. Very slow.
2. Spatial awareness: Non-existent. This is a two-fold problem. Firstly, they seem utterly incapable of keeping in a straight line. They strafe as if their legs have minds or they are tired or drunk. The second thing is their 'in-the-clouds' behaviour. They aren't aware of what's happening around them. They - often gaggles of girls - rarely look before crossing the road then shout 'ay, Maria, cuidado!' when a car honks past. Similarly they will leave shops without looking, resulting once in me receiving an opening umbrella to the face. Or they will see a friend and stop in the middle of a busy street kissing and hugging and talking and forcing others to stop and siphon round them.
3. Line-walking: On a Sunday afternoon the Spanish love to pasear, stroll. This is good. In fact it's lovely. The problem is that when the numbers increase the intelligence evaporates. They walk in lines, like approaching redcoats. If you're behind them you can't get past them and if you're in front of them, approaching, you have to break them up or, more commonly, are forced into the road. Along the river I once counted a line of eleven people. Eleven. Arm in arm and waddling along merrily.
4. Standing where they shouldn't: I use the example of escalators. If you're going up an escalator you stand on the right-hand side, not the left talking to your friend in a bubble of ignorance. It's rude, but not specific to Spain. This happens everywhere. A tactic I was taught by a student was to walk up behind the felon and lead in near their ear saying sternly, 'permiso!'.
5. Queues: Non-existent. The concept of queuing here is fluid. In England it's law. George Mikes famously said 'An Englishman, even if he is alone, forms an orderly queue of one', and it's true. Here it isn't. People waiting for a bus mill about in a cloud of 'expectancy'. Others join at different places, smoking, reading timetables, choosing where they want to be. The silver-haired brigade are the worst. They bustle and push to the front, to get on first. I always want to say 'listen dear, well done for not dying and all that but bugger off down the line, I was here first'. Instead I must bite my tongue and let them do what they like. Bloody old people.
There is one salient point though; they never do any of this maliciously. It's dopeyness. Pure, simple, undistilled dopeyness. It's hard to hate them for it, even when I'm raging.
'No! Not looking for old people. Bustarviejo!'
'Ah, right, that makes more sense.'
Spain is not all grandiose cities and imposing buildings. It is mostly tiny, hidden and unknown towns and villages without much to offer past a local church and a main square. Bustarviejo is one such miniscule town hidden high up in the mountains of Madrid. It was a cold day when I visited. Tiptoeing around the zero. There was enough wind to topple an elephant and it arrived in intermittent pulses that buffered walkers and knocked over shop signs. The Ruta de la Mina de Plata - the Silver Mine Route - lead out from the white-walled, but plain, village and up through a deep cleft between the hills; a sort of high-plain valley. Sharply turning right, it then rose steeply up the side of a mountain, its flanks covered by pine forests, bulbous rock extrusions, multicoloured meseta-grasses - all reds and burnt yellows, and fine layers of snow ever thicker on the way up.
Snowflakes whipped through the air and the clouds were low, skirting the peaks, touching distance. From the summit, the Pozo Maestro, at 1500m everything was laid out. It was me, Nikki, some old mine shafts and equipment and land and nothing and solitude. It was quite special.
The cold has seeped into the capital too. One morning was -7. Crisp and fresh and dry, the cold is as penetrating as it is invigorating. My hands are dry and look a little eczema tainted. The snow has left us disappointed. It has capped the far off sierra, but hasn't visited the city. The trick now is to delve further into the bumps of the sierra and find where the white is really living.