Three weeks ago, I turned to the Dark Side.
Despite standing in good stead on the noble path of the Jedi (read as: Catalans) in Barcelona, I did the unthinkable last month and embarked on a journey not dissimilar to that of Anakin Skywalker (a.k.a. Darth Vader), towards becoming a Sith Lord… Darth Daniel… Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, but I’ve started this post with a good number of Star Wars references, so I’ll continue as such for the time being. ‘How exactly did you turn to the Dark Side?’, you may ask. More likely the case that the title of this post has completely given that away, as indeed, I did go to Madrid a while ago to spend a weekend with my Dad and my sister. Assuming, as I am for the purposes of this blog entry, that the Catalans represent the Jedi in this Star Wars setting and the madrileños, (i.e. citizens of Madrid) the Sith, then I did just about the worst thing that I possibly could, venturing to Madrid, towards the Dark Side. A cardinal sin; the one big no-no that the Jedi are meant to avoid at all costs. From the Catalan point of view, Madrid is bad. From the Jedi point of view, the Sith are bad. I suppose it works, more or less.
The convenient and albeit biased comparison to be made between citizens of Cataluña and Madrid was part of the reason for me mentioning Star Wars today, but my real inspiration originates from my initial journey from Barcelona to Madrid: I had a train to catch and I missed it. Did I not leave myself enough time? Was I running late? Was I even vaguely concerned about the prospect of missing my train? No, no and no again. On a sunny Friday afternoon, upon reaching Sants Estació and a queue therein that, as an Englishman, caused me to despair (it was a full circle, snaking round the entire waiting area, with the end of the line starting where the front finished, at the ticket desks), I was feeling relaxed in spite of this flagrant lack of queuing prowess. With a good 25 minutes to spare before the train was due to leave, I hadn’t a care in the world. 20 minutes passed. No movement. Slightly more concerned, but soon thankfully passengers began to be let through to board the train.
But here began my strife. No sooner had I arrived at the ticket desk than I was turned away on the grounds that I had bought a young persons’ ticket (which allegedly I was not entitled to purchase) and needed to pay the difference between the price of this ticket and that of a standard fare… Most infuriatingly, having bought them online, I had seen on numerous occasion during my purchase that there was NO difference between the price of these tickets. Did I make this point repeatedly to the station’s staff? Absolutely. Did that fly with them at all? Of course it bloody didn’t. My complaints were met with blank expressions and resolute stubbornness in their refusal to accept that what I was saying was true. In sum, they made me miss my train and didn’t seem to care too much about it.
This incident, my friends, provided me with the inspiration to loosely base this post on my trip to Madrid on the iconic Star Wars franchise. Cast your minds back to the classic 1977 film, ‘Episode IV: A New Hope’, to one of the first demonstrations of The Force at work, and all shall become clear. On the planet Tatoine, Jedi Master Ben Kenobi, accompanied by one Luke Skywalker and his two droids, C-3PO and R2-D2, is held up by some meddling Stormtroopers. At this juncture, Master Kenobi uses the Force to subject them to mind control, allowing himself and the crew to pass freely. Oh how badly I needed his skills in Barcelona on this particular afternoon, confronted with this uncooperative staff! This is the fancy mind trick from Obi Wan which I’m referring to (3:00-3:45):
A quick wave of the hand and the utterance of a few words to be repeated by my subjects were exactly what I yearned for in face of this adversity. Manipulating the mind of one outrageously unhelpful man, the staff supervisor, would have provided me with much satisfaction after he all but offered me a giant ‘F you!’ as he ushered me out of the queue, helpfully reminding me on the way that if I didn’t get a move on I’d miss the train, which I subsequently did… Hijo de puta. His sarcastic comment of ‘Better luck next time!’ twisted the lightsaber in an already fresh and open wound, and stirred much hatred within me. Yoda would surely become deeply disturbed upon learning this.
Alas, I have yet to master the ways of the Force and his mind was left unaltered. My time will come, of that I’m sure… Two hours of waiting around in the train station followed but, after a surprisingly pleasant train journey, I finally made it to Madrid to pursue my new life as a Sith, to the despair of my fellow Catalan Jedi I was leaving behind.
Much venting occurred when I first met up with Dad and Emm, as I was one stressed guy upon my arrival. I’m normally a fairly relaxed person and so this new Dan, effing and blinding til the cows came home, both surprised and amused the other two, who didn’t quite know what to make of all my new-found stress! We marched over to El Mercado de San Antón, a cool multi-storey food market, where Dad promptly ordered beers for the three of us (or rather, Emm did, as she speaks her fair bit of Spanish too, dontcha know) as we sat down on a quaint roof terrace, full to the brim with socialite-looking folk, and where I began to calm down a bit. I had arrived 2 hours late, but the important thing was that I had indeed arrived. We enjoyed a late dinner, during which time Dad attempted to enlist my services to flirt with the clearly gay restaurant host to ensure that we received quick service from the waiting staff. A father trying to pimp out his one and only son… I didn’t oblige his request but we did enjoy a very nice meal together regardless (good service and all). After that, it was back to the Hotel Preciados for some well earned rest.
The following morning, at breakfast in a nearby cafe, I was formerly dubbed by my dad as the “Navigabado” (using his Spanglish to the best of his knowledge) for the weekend. Essentially, as I had been to Madrid before and spoke Spanish, I was the best equipped of the three of us to play the role of guide since the other two had never stepped foot in the Spanish capital. I did make the point that I had myself only been here once before, for just a weekend at that, but my protest fell on deaf ears. I was the Navigabado and that was final. I guess if I never make it as a Jedi Master, or rather, a Sith Lord, in light of my recent betrayal against my Catalan comrades, then I’ll at least have this as a consolation. And so my role of guide began…
Tourists through and through, we made our way around the famous sites of Madrid: La Plaza Mayor, El Palacio Real, La Catedral Almudena… I took a few pictures as we went:
View of el Palacio Real
Generic street – skilled photographer…
Furthermore, as is customary in the presence of my dear sis, we had to fit in some shopping during the weekend. Such a competent shopper is she, that when my dad entrusted us with his credit card for the afternoon, I feared for the health of his bank account. I say that, but I capitalised on the generosity of my padre just as much as she did and bought myself a new jacket. I left her to it after a while to go and watch Chelsea beat Cardiff 4-1, a result which pleased me. Hours later, Emm returned with not too much to show for her time spent shopping. She actively seems to enjoy it even if it doesn’t necessarily entail buying too much. A modern mystery. Soon after that, we were out the door again, heading to another food market called El Mercado San Miguel, next to La Plaza Mayor, which we all enjoyed greatly, ordering small plates of chipirones and croquetas, and glasses of dry sherry. Very nice indeed. After dinner we went in search of the mojitos served in the bar of the hotel where I had previously stayed during my first visit to Madrid with Abby, which was coincidentally across the road from our hotel. Predictably, the mojitos were delicious and we left feeling highly satisfied.
The following day was to be something of a cultural awakening for yours truly. For all intents and purposes, I am a cultural heathen when it comes to the appreciation of art. By and large, art doesn’t do much for me. Yet, in the city which is home to one of the most impressive and important art galleries in Europe, el Museo de Prado, I thought it best for the sake of my artistic sibling that we go. So off we went, first stopping off at the nearby Puerta de Alcalá:
Strolling around countless exhibition rooms, such is the size of the gallery, Dad and I held our hands behind our back, sporting inquistive facial expressions in order to blend in with sophisticated art lovers. I quietly appreciated paintings from extremely famous artists whose names did not ring many bells for me, but not to any great extent. And then it happened… I came across one particular painting depicting a Roman naval battle being spectated in the background by a large audience housed in a Colosseum. The artist’s name escapes me (much to my annoyance) but, more importantly, this piece of work caused me to actively stop in my tracks and to have an emotional reaction. How did I respond to this unfamiliar feeling?:
So I guess I’m an art enthusiast now. An art enthusiast and a Sith, just from being in Madrid for a few days. Not bad. I’m even getting to grips with my use of the Force too… After saying my goodbyes to Dad and Emm on Sunday afternoon, I headed to the train station to see what troubles awaited me this time. To my pleasant surprise, I found no such troubles in passing security and hopped on to one of those moving walkways – the ones you typically get in train stations and airports – in good spirits. Until, that was, those in front of me abruptly began backing up for unknown reasons. It then soon became apparent that an elderly lady had run into considerable problems up ahead, as there she was, lying flat on her back and being carried along by the conveyor, at the end of which she got completely and hopelessly stuck. Being carried towards her myself by the conveyor, a collision between my feet and her head seemed inevitable. At the precise moment that I was practically stood over this poor woman, I was forced to hurdle her to avoid such a trampling whilst simultaneously grabbing frantically at another senior woman beside me who was in the process of losing her balance and about to fall directly on top of her prone companion. It was a slapstick moment and crisis was averted as I successfully caught hold of the falling woman whilst narrowly avoiding her friend on the floor, all the while using the Force, of course. This woman in question who had first fallen and had consequently sent luggage flying in the process was thankfully unharmed. A bit shaken up as she was helped up by concerned passengers, but alright… thanks in no small part to my mastery of the Force. We all safely made it on to the train and I spent the majority of the journey home, funnily enough sat next to a Catalan priest (read as: Jedi Master), thinking of all my excuses to get back into the good graces of those dear old Catalan Jedi.
‘Twas a good weekend.
Look how much fun I had!