Saturday, April 26, 2008

Madrid - El Retiro - Mediterranean Backpacking Trip - Day 1 (Part 4)

I explore the area a little bit more after lunch, walking around the park. I walk through a pedestrian road lined with stalls selling low-priced used books. I buy a postcard. I plan on sending a postcard to my parents from every city I go to, just as I did during my trip in the winter. This way, my parents will be able to track my progress through Europe and I can share a little bit of that excitement and spirit of exploration with my parents.

Returning to the park, I find a bench in a nice, quite shady area. I settle in and read The Da Vinci Code. It was the only paperback book I found at home that could bring with me on my trip. It is always a good idea to carry a light book with you for those times when you have nothing better to do. I only started the book earlier today, but have already blasted through almost half of the novel. I spent the day reading and strolling through the park, taking photos once in a while. I even had others take a photo of me to commemorate the first day of my trip. Settling down to read again, I look forward to spending the next half hour or so reading quietly, enjoying more of the serene scenery around me, listening to the birds, and finding out how Robert Langdon and Sophie Neveu were going to get out of their current dilemma.

After a while, an old man saunters over and stops near me, looking as if he needed a place to sit. Moving my bags from the other side of the bench, I smiled at him to offer him a seat. Smiling back, he plops down on the bench right next to me. "Wow." I think, "I guess people in Spain are just like people in Asia where they don't need a large personal space." I continue reading for another minute or so until I finish the chapter.

Seeing that this is a good opportunity to meet a local, I glance over and ask "Do you speak English?" No. "Parlez-vous Fran├žais?" "Un peu." After some wrangling, I find that he doesn't seem to speak enough French to carry a conversation so I decide to go back to reading. "Chaud?" I look over. I see him grinning at me and making a "take off your shirt" motion while nodding. OK, that was weird. I shake my head. Now I'm a little freaked out. But looking around, I notice that many people have their shirts off. I also remember seeing many people with their shirts off in the streets while I was walking around. Maybe it's common for people to have their shirts off, and the old man didn't know how to say anything else in French. OK, I'm just going to pretend I misheard and go back to reading. Suddenly, a hand on my leg. Hmm.... this seems a lot like that scene on the train in Eurotrip. Maybe he's just being affectionate. After all, it's really only in North America that people are so afraid of contact. OK, I'll let it slide just this once. A minute later, he starts rubbing my shoulder and feeling my biceps... while stopping whenever someone walks by. OK, now I'm not sure this is normal even for Europeans anymore! I think of an excuse to leave... after all, isn't it rude to leave without saying anything when someone's befriending you? Suddenly, someone walks by, stoops in front of the old man and talks to him like a friend. A second later, they seem to be in some kind of disagreement, and the old man is handing the other person a five Euro bill. Right then, I receive a phone message from my parents. I Pick up my phone, pretend to take an important call, and walk away.

What an wonderful first day in Europe. I was targeted by a team of pickpockets, hit on by an old man on a park bench, and was the star of a show about the dangers of the sun that my audience interpreted as me brushing my teeth.

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