Tuesday, April 29, 2008

These Dreams

Ever since I arrived in Seville, I’ve been having really disturbing dreams. Like, for reals. One was about the natural death of someone close to me, another involved me letting someone die for the sake of saving myself, while another had me at a round table interview with Gwyneth Paltrow, my lovely friend and editor Dawn, and my dad, who totally monopolized the interview with thoughtful and engaging questions. All of these dreams leave me equally terrified.

Last night’s was a particular standout. I was badgering Sarah Jessica Parker about why she didn’t like me. I kept asking and asking, like a three-year-old in his why stage, and she refused to answer me. At last exasperated, she shouted, “Fine! You want to know why I don’t like you? Because when I look into your eyes I see nothing!” I was rendered speechless and felt that pang in my chest--you know the one you get, like when you overhear a friend say something nasty about you--and I felt like a completely worthless being, because in this case, SJP was the Dali Lama in a gray frock and too-tight ponytail. I woke up sweaty and shaking.

Weird, right? I’ve been feeling really unhappy with myself here, mostly because I'm so unkempt, being too chicken to go to the salon and ask for an eyebrow wax, manicure and pedicure, so, perhaps that’s it. Plus, t-minus 31 days until the SATC movie opens!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Hi!

We haven't forgotten about you, dear readers, it's just that we're in the midst of 20 straight days of visitors, with whom we've been traveling around Spain; plus our bosses still expect us to work during the week--if you can believe that audacity--so please forgive the sparsity of posts as of late. The good news is, all of this has produced a wealth of material--that is, once we have the time to actually write for fun. In the meantime, here's the lazy blogger's antidote to too much going on, with too little time: a listicle of recent happenings.

• If you're traveling at all in the next few months, you might want to make sure you arrive at the right terminal or even that your chosen airline still exists.

• I've got a new blogging gig, turning celebrity hijinks into valuable parenting lessons. Check it out and comment--just don't mention that I don't have children.

• You can get a little insight into my Andalusian travels by reading some of my recent posts on HotelChatter. Come next week, not all hotels will have fared so well in their reviews.

• Speaking of HotelChatter, the site was just acquired by CondéNet, the online arm of CondéNast. I wonder: Does this now make me a Nastie, once removed?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Exit Interview: Sarah McGinnis

The editorial staff of See Jenn Blog has developed a questionnaire for guests, fielded the night before they leave, to get their impressions of the city. Sarah, our second guest, was a very willing participant, prefacing the interview with, “Can you guys get your shit together and ask me the damn questions?”

Jenn: What was your favorite thing about Seville?
Sarah: Sevici. The bikes, absolutely. Especially riding in a dress the one day—that was an episode. The construction worker I passed liked that one.
Jay: And it wasn’t until you got here that we actually worked up the nerve to go through the city streets.
Sarah: That was probably the best part, riding through the city. People look at you like you’re weird, but who cares? Zooming in and out of the people and just getting around was great. It’s an excellent way to see the city.
[Jenn starts to ask the next question when Sarah interrupts.]
Sarah: And, of course, the company! Can’t leave that out.
Jay: Nice afterthought.
Jenn: No, that’s just a given.
Sarah: Exactly.

Jenn: What was your least favorite thing about Seville?
Sarah: The first thing that comes to mind is Corrie’s response about dog poop. [Ed note: Little did Sarah know that later that evening she was to step into a big steaming pile of it]. I’ll have to mirror that, but also come up with something original. Least favorite: The rude waitress that told you you were ignorant for not knowing Spanish. [Yes, I got reprimanded quite harshly recently—JM]
Jay: That’s risen to the top of my least favorite thing, too.
Jenn: Well, she’s just one out the million people who have been patient with us.
Jay: She is the exception, not the rule, but, yeah, she sucked.
Sarah: A close runner up to that would be the lack of street signs, especially when driving.

Jenn: Was there anything you wanted to experience but didn't?
Sarah: The convent. We missed it because of the time delay we had. That would have been interesting to go inside of a convent.

Jenn: What was the best part of your trip?
Sarah: Getting to see so much and having the time to be able to see so many different cities and experience so much of Andalucia. I’m going to put another plug in for it, but Granada is beautiful, although I love Seville and I’ve had an absolutely fabulous time here, Granada is amazing as well.
Jay: I like how you picked the one city neither of us accompanied you to.
Sarah: That has nothing to do with it. If you guys had been there, you would have been in awe.
Jenn: What was it that you loved so much about Granada?
Sarah: The views, the smells, that the people were so nice--much more outgoing I think than the other towns, but maybe it’s because I was on my own that people felt they could talk to me.
Jenn: Do you think you’ll go back again and spend more time there?
Sarah: I don’t know. I’ve seen it and I don’t know if I’d fly back just to see it again, but I definitely recommend other people go there. Seville and Granada were my two favorite cities. Though it was great seeing all the other stuff, it wasn’t the overall five-senses experience I had here and there.

Jenn: Who would you rather be stranded in a foreign country with for three months: Jay or Jenn?
Sarah: [seemingly nervous] Did Corrie get asked this question?
Jenn: She did!
Sarah: That’s a difficult question because I’ve been to Mexico with Jenn [I hate Mexico—JM], so that was a different experience all together. I might say Jay because at least he can tell me where to go. For no other reason than that.
Jenn: [to Jay] We’re one for one.
Jay: Thanks for including me. That was a very diplomatic answer.
Sarah: I think there were a few times—and Jenn you’ll have to forgive me this—but where I was like, “Jenn! Where am I turning now?!” and I was getting impatient. My lack of patience can be annoying at times, so, sorry!

Jenn: Could you see yourself living in Seville? Why or why not?
Sarah: Absolutely. It would mean weekend trips to Granada! I would definitely live in Granada and I would live here, too. I love Spain all around. Why wouldn’t I live here? What reason is there not to live here? Except for the fact that I don’t have a job here.

Sarah and a Series of Firsts

video
There is a first time for everything and it just so happens that a lot of firsts occurred with the visit of our friend and my former roommate Sarah. (She's an adventurous gal, so it makes sense.)

These first times included, but were not limited to, biking through Seville's city center (exhilarating, as we usually stick to the designated bike path); a bullfight (nauseating--or so I hear); driving through Spain (anxiety inducing); and a flamenco show at the renowned Casa Anselma, (fun, if not exactly as described by the guide books, which are becoming more useless every day, perhaps not surprisingly, given all the recent scandal).

Here are pictures, and above a video of said flamenco, which features an extremely sweaty man and a pretty bartender Jay totally would have put the moves on if I wasn't around.

UPDATE: The gauntlet has been thrown: Sarah has posted a whopping 526 photos on Snapfish.

Time Warped

On March 30, 2008 at 2 AM, the residents of Spain turned their clocks forward one hour—all the residents but us. For two weeks, we operated on Jay And Jenn Standard Time (JAJST), unwittingly sharing the Greenwich Mean zone with Iceland and parts of the Atlantic Ocean. All the while we would say to each other, “I’ll never understand the Spanish schedule.”

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Finally, A Device That Kills Our Buzz

The mosquito problem is over thanks to a little contraption that plugs into our outlet. I didn’t read the manual, but I assume it emits some sort of vaporized insecticide. Now, when mosquitoes fly into its deadly path, the noxious vapors stop them mid-flight, forcing their little mosquito carcasses to plummet upon our sleeping bodies. Though our bed is converted into a mosquito graveyard by morning and the fumes may poison us both, it beats being awakened by a buzzing in the ear.

Serenity Now


Actually, the serenity took place yesterday, on the way back to Seville from Cordoba.

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Meanest Candy Guy In The World

General Franco is alive and well, and he is working at the candy kiosk on the south end of the Alameda de Hercules. I discovered this a week ago. It was a normal Friday evening in Seville—sunny, warm. The locals were enjoying tapas and vino at the cafes that dot our street. I, the lonely stranger, an American, stepped into the night to buy wine at the liquor shop. Jenn’s last words reverberated in my mind: “Grab me something sweet while you’re out. Something chocolaty.” I didn’t want to feed her all-consuming taste for coco and sugar—the brown stuff, mocha, black velvet. But I knew if I didn’t comply, her condition would deteriorate, perhaps into convulsions.

My bag was full of Rioja and vino blanco—the seco kind, not that dulce stuff—when I stepped to his booth. “Uh… uh… Uno Kit-Kat, por favor,” I timidly spoke through his little speak hole, the kind that adorn candy kiosks in Spain. His eyes were cold, his temper fomenting. His words shot back at me like cruel, mocking bullets that could not properly hit their target—for those bullets were in Spanish, and the target spoke none.

“Uh…uhmmmmm… Unos Keeet-Kaaaht, por fah-bor!!!” I fumbled, speaking louder, pointing my staccato finger for emphasis at that delicious confection alluringly hugging the window like a stripper in one of those peep booths. I grew panicky. I wanted to retreat, but then pictured Jenn on our apartment floor, needing the sweet, that dark chocolate rain. I’m sure by now she had grown desperate, gripped once again in the clench of her fanged sweet tooth.

He looked at me, said something I cannot repeat, for it was in a strange tongue. And then, in a tone befitting a cruel dictator at the crescendo of his angriest speech, he spoke: “Keeeeet-Kaahhhhhht!!!” His uncaring fingers impatiently pulled that delicious candy from its perch, his glare singed my eyes, and then he released the Kit-Kat before me. He said something. I handed him a Euro, cowering as I awaited my change.

But there would be no change that day, my friends. For, apparently it costs a Euro to buy a Kit-Kat in Spain. But I knew I was lucky to escape from General Franco with those four light, crispy, chocolate-coated wafers and my life.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

It finally happened.

Last night, tired of cooking and sick of tapas, we decided to try this sushi joint we stumbled upon a few weeks ago. Big mistake. It was as if, in lieu rice, they soaked white bread in water and wrapped it around the contents of a California roll. Further adding insult to injury, this sushi's craptasticness only made me long for the indomitable Watawa in Astoria.

So it's back to tapas, which doesn't make me homesick.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Lunchtime Poll


Aliens (aka upcoming visitors) land on earth (aka Seville) and say they're going to make you (not really) attend a bullfight (aka bullfight), the same day you caught glimpses of a bullfight on TV and decided you couldn't handle it. What do you do?

Seriously. Bullfight season is in full swing and when Jay and I happened upon a televised fight at a bar today, I started tearing up the minute the poor thing pranced into the ring, unawares of what he was walking into. The whole thing is, in fact, worse than I imagined. Horses are involved, as are these spears, which look tiny but produce a nauseating amount of blood from the animal. I had no idea if the poor creature made it (it is, of course, doubtful), because Jay just kept telling me, "Don't look up. Just finish your drink and we'll go. Don't look up."

But the decision isn't the no-brainer it seems. Bullfighting is an incredibly integral part of Spanish culture, and Seville in particular. The stands are packed full of men in three-piece suits and women in their best archaic Sunday attire. If the whole point of this excursion is to immerse oneself in the day to day life of a Sevilliano, how can one not attend a bullfight? It seems so righteously uptight to not attend the spectacle based on principle, especially since I have been a far-from-perfect vegetarian since arriving here.

I await your advice in the comments.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Sangria Is For Suckers

Since arriving in Seville, I noticed about 30 percent of the patrons at any given café will be drinking what looks like Sangria on the rocks with a lemon slice. However, a confused exchange with a local bartender revealed that many Spaniards prefer another wine-based cocktail instead of the famous drink many Americans associate with Spain, and some with Mexico (for no apparent reason). Our bartender was kind enough to write the name down on the back of a receipt: Tinto de Verano, which means “Summer Wine.”

Since then, the fizzy, fruity and mildly sweet cocktail has become the base of my food pyramid—occupying the large slot the FDA reserves for whole grains or vegetables or something. It has what every man desires in an effervescent, wine-based cocktail, and goes great with tapas, fried foods or long days of work. I’ve since noticed that even when we’ve run out of eggs, bread and milk, our fridge will hold the makings of a slim, dainty glass of Tinto de Verano. I’m drinking one right now.

Let me break it down for you:

- Drop a few ice cubes into a glass (The Spanish seem to like a tall, slender glass or what bartenders know as the Collins Glass)

- Fill halfway with cheap red wine—if it has a cork, you paid too much

- Fill the rest of the glass with La Casera, a Spanish soft drink* that’s a cross between sparkling lemonade and Sprite, though not as sweet as either

- Squeeze a slice of lemon in there

- Drink

- Repeat up to nine times every afternoon, or until groggy

*I realize the use of “soft drink” betrays my Ohio roots, where “pop” is preferred. At least I refused to relent to Jenn’s insistence on “soda,” a word reserved for East Coast elitists like her. I’m still a “pop” man at heart. Go Buckeyes!

Friday, April 04, 2008

All work and little pay makes Jenn an angry girl.

Ed. note: This is my last whiny media-related post, I swear. Well, at least for a while anyway.

It ain’t easy freelancing. Those of you who are successful at it, I salute you, because honestly, I do not know how anyone can earnestly earn a living at it anymore, given the inconceivably crappy pay days I’ve come across as of late.* To wit, a recent smattering of compensation rates I’ve been unfortunate enough to actually click through to: $15 for 300 word articles, $20 for 300-500 word articles, $25 for 500+ words. Granted these are small articles, but it only gets more pathetic as the word counts get higher. I want to tell these people, are you effing kidding me?! And I rarely use exclamation points, so when I do you know I mean business.

And you know whom I blame for this rapidly descending pay rate? Bloggers. (Oh, the irony.) Those scores of wannabe writers who link to their blog posts as writing samples and will take any rate at the sake of having been published somewhere other than their self-fashioned web site. And you know what I want to say to these people? This “hobby” that you’ve taken up as a way to obtain some fulfillment that lacks in your career as a human resources manager—which likely pays you $80,000+ annually—is detracting from the fulfillment I’m striving for, namely, being able to, oh—I dunno—buy an apple every now and then.

The fact that I went to school for four years laboriously learning how to construct a lede, the time I spent debating the use of series versus Oxford commas, means nothing. Basically, I spent thousands of dollars learning a craft that you’ve managed to destroy with the advent of Blogger/Wordpress/Typepad et al.

God help me if Tumblr really takes off.

OK. Rant. Over.

*Chris, Gina, Ysolt, this post is in no way directed at any of you. Your regular use of my skillz helps me pay the billz, yo.

Exit Interview: Corrie Dosh

The editorial staff of See Jenn Blog has developed a questionnaire for guests, fielded the night before they leave, to get their impressions of the city. Corrie Dosh was, as she put it, the “first visitor to J&J Music Factory.” Here is a transcript of her exit interview:

Jay: What was your favorite thing about Seville?
Corrie: The food—fantastic food. I love the idea of tapas, just crawling around and eating as you go, taking little plates, though little plates added up to more little plates. So, whether I ate less, I don’t know. But I definitely got my exercise going from bar to bar.

Jenn: What was your favorite dish?
Corrie: The cheese! The rosemary-baked goat cheese… a little taste of heaven. I definitely recommend the cheese. Also, the picnic was a favorite. There were day-to-day favorites, but overall the food was great.

Jay: What was your least favorite thing about Seville?
Corrie: Dog poop (Sevillians don’t curb their dogs or clean up after them--Ed.) and maybe how fast Jay walks everywhere.
Jenn: I know! Now I’ll be all by myself 10 feet behind him for another week and a half. But that’s just Jay, that’s not life in Seville.
Corrie: Poop and Jay—those are my least favorite.

Jay: Was there anything here you wanted to experience but didn’t?
Corrie: The flamenco. I did see it, but it would be good to see a full-on performance. Also, a bullfight—those are the two main things. I’d also like to experience one day of Semana Santa, maybe not the whole thing where I’d be trapped in [one area], but one day. But that’s for the next trip.

Jay: What was the best part of your trip?
Corrie: The best is just seeing two great friends of mine in a great country and having an adventure with them, getting to connect with them in a new way. The people I met, even Eric—the slightly skeezy guy who showed us the bathroom very helpfully but tended to be a little clingy.
Jenn: He thought you were muy bonita!
Corrie: He thought I was muy single… I also loved Italica, just to have an adventure and get out and see stuff. I like old stuff.
Jay: It was my first Roman ruin.
Corrie: Yeah. It was a good intro. I should go to Rome next.

Jay: Who would you rather be stranded in a foreign country with for three months: Jay or Jenn?
Corrie: Jenn, because she speaks the language. I can use Jenn. I loved the whole part of the trip where people would speak to us and we would just turn to Jenn.
Jenn: Though Jay has better directional abilities than I do.
Corrie: True. We would go through a maze of Seville streets and end up magically at our destination thanks to Jay.
Jay:
An hour later.
Corrie: For all I knew, we were on track the whole time.
Jay: It probably seems like a much larger city to you.
Corrie: Yes, Seville is a huge, sprawling city.

Jay: Could you see yourself living in Seville? Why or why not?
Corrie: I could see myself living here for the culture—also it’s just so relaxed. Basically, all people do here are eat, talk and relax—those are things I like to do. Also, I think the bikes are one of the best things about this city. The whole idea of picking it up somewhere and if you get to your destination within a half hour, it’s free. I think every city should have a bike system like Seville. I’d like to spend springs in Seville, I don’t know about the rest of the year.

Comped With Corrie


Our guests' visits are sort of evolving into a "Choose Your Own Adventure" series and in Corrie's case—who is the perfect guest because she is so c'est la vie—the trip culminated into "Spain: The Land of the Free." During her time here we netted complimentary jamón croquettas, a round of drinks, a separate round of shots and entry to Italica, the nearby Roman ruins. With the exception of Italica, these gracious givings were all at places Jay and I frequent on a weekly basis, places where we've gotten to know the bartenders and wait staff--at least to the degree our limited Spanish will let us. How generous the Spanish are! That, or they know how much we Americans like to impress one another.

Either way, having our first visitor was a blast and not just because she provided us with someone else to talk to. Have a look at mine and Corrie's 100+ photos from her visit.

Meet My New Guitar

Juan Luis Cayuela Bachiller is the third-generation luthier in the guitar-making dynasty Cayuela family. From his workshop in Seville, he handcrafts beautiful instruments for many of Spain’s flamenco greats, delicately bringing dead wood and nylon strings to life.

When I stepped into his shop this week, he was sitting in the corner hammering out a flamenco tune on one of his flawless instruments. I was awestruck by the guitar, highly glossed and perfectly constructed. There were dozens like it lining the walls—all carefully crafted pieces that asked prices up to €4,000. His siren song, plucked in clearly resonating tones, beckoned me to max out my Visa, indenture myself as a lowly servant or barter my girlfriend.

Luckily, the Cayuela guitar shop also offers more affordable models that cater to the flamenco guitar needs of housewives, kids and tourists. Though another Seville-based manufacturer assembles them, I picked one up and haven’t regretted it. That’s it in the photo.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Meet My New Hero


Perhaps this is only interesting to my fellow travel writers, but here goes...

"Skyrocketing fuel prices. Unmanageable airline budgets. A declining U.S. dollar. International instability and America's increasingly dismal reputation abroad. The new age of travel is about more than waiting in line so that a sixty-year-old TSA biddy can wave a security wand in front of your crotch. In coming years, the way we travel will change significantly. Where all this leaves travel writing is an open question, but one thing is certain: the overly sentimental, cautious, and commercial tenor of travel writing is satisfying to almost no one beyond the navel gazers who write it and the 'hospitality' advertisers who sponsor it." --Smile When You're Lying: Confessions of a Rogue Travel Writer by Chuck Thompson

While I'm loathe to be called a naval gazer, I know all to well the b.s. of which Thompson speaks--and I've only been in the travel industry for two years, compared to Chuck's 10. It's a sad day when you realize how disgustingly the rest of the industry looks down on the genre you once so badly wanted to be a part of, not only because you wanted to travel the world, but because you wanted to tell stories, for better or for worse, of the things you saw. Instead, you're assigned to write articles constructed of sentences that end with, as Thompson points out, "a phone number, web address or other transparent plug for whatever tourist board happened to be picking up the tab."

Because today's travel "journalism" articles are mostly fluff pieces written by aging freeloaders who will put the entire contents of dinner's bread basket in their bag once you're not looking, I will never feel at ease being called a "travel writer." I sometimes wonder if pursuing this path did nothing more than brand myself as a talentless hack.

Photo: New York Times


UPDATE: Doree Shafrir manages to pull together everything I've been whining about this past week much better than I ever could. Please read

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