I feel that I am getting to know Spanish public transportation. I’ve now been to Spain twice, neither time with a car, although I would like to point out that the entry paperwork I was required to fill out at the Madrid airport included a lot of information about what vehicles I was or was not bringing with me. I found that bizarre. Do a lot of people fly their cars into Spain for the weekend? Or ever? And don’t tell me that Americans have long been famous for their love affair with the automobile–everyone had to fill these out, not just Americans.

Back to the public transportation. Overall, I would have to say that it’s quite impressive. Buses are big, with plushy, comfortable seats, and high, like Greyhound buses in America. There’s a digital display of the time and outside temperature, and a “fasten seatbelt” sign that flashes most of the time, although I didn’t see anyone who complied.

And then there’s the music. Oddly enough, it’s 80s music; all 80s music. “Thriller,” “Maniac,” “Because the Night Belongs to Lovers.” I find myself, as each new song starts, thinking, “Ok I recognize this…it’s…uh…” and then my brain starts singing along. All these songs from jr high and high school, burning their way inexorably into my brain. “We are the world  (we are the world); we are the children (we are the children),” I found myself humming today, 3 days later. Spanish scenery rolls past the window to the sounds of Madonna and Michael Jackson and George Michael and Blondie. It’s odd to think of the soundtrack of my adolescence playing itself out, endlessly, as the Spanish buses roll round and round their assigned routes and my life goes on in quite another direction.

We took buses a lot this weekend. We also discovered the Madrid subway system. Again, impressive. All was clean and bright and punctual, including our fellow passengers. No one was drunk, or swearing, or muttering, or had open sores. (I used to take Portland public transportation a lot, in case in you can’t tell. I did wonder what a Spanish person’s reaction would be to Tri-Met bus #19, Division St., which Donn and I took last year, on which we saw some scary people. Donn said to me, “It makes you wonder about democracy when you realize that these people can vote!” Luckily for the future of the free world, chances are good they forgot their medication on election day.)

We even discovered the elusive “every half hour” bus that we‘ve been told about on both visits. Apparently it is ready and willing to be caught Mondays through Fridays, or “lunes” through “viernes” as they like to put it. (It‘s like those Spanish have a different word for EVERYTHING.) (stolen and adapted from Steve Martin).

Our guesthouse was in a place called, I believe, Zarazuela. We didn’t realize that it needed to be lisped, just like “thinco” and “Barthelona.”  As a result, although we KNEW we needed bus 224, the driver was convinced that we didn’t. No, he didn’t go to Zarazuela, he was sure of it. If only we’d realized that we wanted to go to TharaThwala, we could have spent less time sitting, bereft and depressed, and of course cold, by the side of the freeway. (More on this later)

We took several Moroccan trains too. I have written before of the Moroccan trains, and the curious fact that they have not seen fit to adequately label their stations. I think they feel that everyone already knows this is Ain Sebaa, or Sidi Kacem not Sidi Yahyia, so why bother put up a big sign? Perhaps they feel that would be showing off. So when the train stops at Ain Sebaa, and actually cuts the engine, the only people left on the upper level of the second class car are the Nomad family and 2 other Americans, all of us looking at each other and saying, “Do you think this is it?” It must be, I pointed out. All the Moroccans have already de-trained. The only ones left are foreigners.

Sitting backwards, I startle as the ground falls away in front of me. I see a cliff face looming downwards towards a gorge by the time my brain has registered the fact that we are halfway across a narrow bridge. I watch, slightly nauseated, as sheep and cows and green fields and buildings appear and instantly dwindle to nothing. Around me people sleep and chat and stare into space. From a passing food trolley, I buy a packet of chips for Elliot , whom I happen to be sitting next to on this leg of the trip. It’s 3:30 by this point (4:30 Spanish time), and we haven’t had lunch.

We left on a cold rainy Saturday and returned on Monday afternoon to brilliant sunlight and warm air, which have continued through today. When we come from the train, we walk a block to one of our favorite chwarma restaurants. Even though it’s 5 p.m., we enjoy a late lunch in the crisp afternoon air. It feels like spring.

I’m getting to the pictures…

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