Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Leaving london

Part 2

The idea was to get to Pamplona late Friday night, July 8, watch the third running of the bulls of this year’s Festival de San Fermin on Saturday morning, then risk my life for no good reason by joining the running on Sunday.

But on July 7 some assholes with bombs on their backs decided to take out 50 people on the London underground.

I felt mildly patriotic riding the tube the next day anyway, even if it was only me and one other person riding in the subway car when it passed through the King’s Cross station. The other guy was reading a London tabloid paper, splashed with giant gloom and doom fonts and enormous pictures of bleeding commuters staggering out of the very same station the day before.

The train came to a stop at King’s Cross, but the conductor announced that the doors would not be opening. Two police officers on the platform, each toting a semi-automatic machine gun, gave me a good look as I sat with my hiking backpack on my lap, trying and apparently failing to not look suspicious.

The journey from the University of Sussex, which is located in Falmer (a tiny suburb of Brighton) to London Stansted Airport is about a 3 hour trip assuming no delays. I planned on the tube system being down, so I was prepared to walk the half hour through the city center it would take to get between London Bridge and the London Liverpool Street train station, where I would catch the Stansted Express for the last 45-minute leg to the airport.

I gave myself two extra hours of padding, because there was no fucking way I was going to miss my plane to Santander, Spain, and subsequently my bus to Pamplona. The terrorists weren’t going to take the several hundred dollars in transport reservations I had already confirmed.

Thanks to the Londoners who were so pissed off they could think of nothing else then to get everything back to normal as quick as possible, the tube was back up by the time I left Falmer station at a few minutes past 7 a.m., less than 24 hours after the attacks.

Even though the tube lines I needed were back up, sheer luck got me north to Stansted. First, the train I needed to London Bridge from Brighton was cancelled because of a mechanical problem. I jumped on a different train leaving a few minutes later and headed to London Victoria--I could take the tube from there and bypass London Liverpool street altogether.

I emerged from the underground at Tottenham Hale, well north of London Liverpool Street, only to find that a security alert 15 minutes earlier led to the full evacuation and closure of the London Liverpool Street station. They stopped sending trains north to the airport and shut down the Stansted Express, the one route I figured would be the best bet of the morning. I instantly recognized the significance of my first train out of Brighton being cancelled, since had it ever left, I would have made it to Liverpool right as the cops cleared the building, and be stuck in the city center rather than its northern outskirts. I heard later that an abandoned briefcase caused the evacuation.

Again, the terrorists weren’t getting my fucking money, and I was going to get to Pamplona and risk my life on more predictable terms. Some other would-be Stansted Express passengers and I organized ourselves in groups of five and headed for the taxi rank. What would normally take 45 minutes by train took almost two hours by taxi, and cost another £100 (almost $200). But again, small price to pay, especially when split among five, considering my non-refundable investment.

At 11:55 a.m. in light rain, the plane took off, and I thought something about how I really should have paid more attention during four years of high school Spanish. If Senorra Novillo could see me now.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Paul's poncho in the pamplona portico

Part 1 of how ever many parts it takes me to write about running with the bulls

Feeling someone’s hand resting on my cheek, I startled awake. Much to the amusement of the attractive brunette standing over me, I instinctively shoved my hand toward my cargo pocket to check for my wallet and passport. Still there.

She stepped back and giggled, then moved to my left and woke up Paul and Mike. The three of us had drunkenly decided that the tile floor of a bank portico would be the safest/cheapest/warmest place to spend what was left of the night.

Paul, wrapped in the hideous Ecuadorian poncho he had bought from a street vendor a few hours ago, slowly unwound from the fetal position and sat up. A knitted mesh of yellow, orange, red and brown, the poncho included a large pointed hood that when donned made him look -- if such a thing could exist -- like a Rastafarian member of the KKK. The poncho cost him around 25 Euro from a short, squat, weathered, but smiling Ecuadorian-looking woman, who surely based her refusal to bargain with him on the observation that he had nothing on beside a loose-fitting button-down shirt to protect him from the freezing wind.

It was probably around 4 a.m. when, dressed all in white with a red bandana around her neck, Melissa or Vanessa, we couldn’t figure out her name because of her heavy accent (and because we were drunk and disoriented) came into our portico. She asked us in Spanish where we were from, then switched to English when we told her de los Estados Unidos.

She said something about how we all had beautiful blue eyes, then knelt down and kissed each one of us on both cheeks. After telling us to sleep well, she left us and joined the torrent of San Fermin revellers streaming passed the bank window. “She was hot,” Paul said, not straying from the fixation he had frequently exhibited during the less than 10 hours I knew him about wanting to hook up with a Spanish girl. The more he drank, what he would do to said Spanish girl became increasingly vulgar. If it was possible to be more uncomfortable in his poncho-wearing presence than I already was, his dirty proclamations did the trick.

Before Melis/Vanessa came in we had been trying to sleep on the floor of the 10- by 20-foot glass-enclosed space that housed two 24-hour automatic teller machines. Lit by florescent lights linked to a motion sensor, the room would stay dark if we held still for more than two minutes, or if no one came in to withdraw cash. The lights stayed on all pretty much all night.

We found the bank and passed out around 3 a.m. I initially protested the location, in favour of sleeping in the park, because I figured if the local policia were going to kick out people from sleeping on private property (and probably literally kick them), they would clear the banks first to make sure the tourists had unfettered access to cash. However, by this pattern of logic, I was the one being irrational. Out of the tens of thousands of people we wandered the Pamplona streets with and got drunk with, we had not seen a single officer of the law, nor any semblance of the concept of law I’m accustomed to in states and the streets of Isla Vista. The tourists and locals did not hesitate to step over us to enter their pins, and as we figured out later, we were stumbling in the wrong direction if we had any intention of actually finding the park.

Paul and Mike, Americans from Miami, had just come to Pamplona for the night from Madrid where they were studying Spanish for a year. I met them on the bus as we rolled out of Santander around 6:30 that Friday night. They brought nothing with them so they curled up on the floor. I propped my large hiking backpack against the metal security fence that separated the portico from the rest of the bank and slept against it while sitting up and facing the window. Whenever I had my eyes open, drunken Spaniards would press their noses against the glass and make faces at me, or they’d yell to try to keep us awake as they passed by. Some, however, realized our good fortune to be sleeping inside and followed our lead. By the time we got up Saturday, just after 6 a.m., the small room was packed with Sangria stained Spaniards and at least one other group of four Americans, from Huntington Beach of all places, who proceeded to pack a bowl and pass it around the room.

Apparently, Paul and Mike had to shake me to get me awake, as I had actually managed to fall asleep while the non-stop festival de San Fermin raged in the city around us. As we made our way in the twilight through Pamplona’s narrow, trash-strewn streets, the party, only in its third of six days, showed no signs of slowing down. People were opening new beers, and the pre-7 a.m. crowds, as densely packed as Del Playa Drive on Halloween night and worse, were approaching the same levels they were at when we passed out around 3 a.m.

The three of us did our best to stay together as we shoved through to find space to watch the morning’s 8 a.m. ‘Encierro’, better known as the Running of the Bulls.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

The first rocket is lit

I'm between sessions now, so I've finally found time to update my pictures, figure out how to post them here, and work on writing about pamplona.

It's coming.

Busy not getting blown up

Dear terrorists,

Fuck you guys. Seriously.



Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Daniel 1, Bulls 0

I'm back safe from Pamplona, which is really saying something. I ran with the bulls Sunday morning on the fourth day of the festival. I still can't really believe I did it, especially after spending the two previous nights sleeping in the alcove of an ATM machine. Boy howdy do I have stories.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

London Calling

I’m sure it goes without saying, but I’m glad I went 0 for 3 this week in terms of experiencing events of world importance.

The bombs went off about 15 hours after I was last on the underground during rush hour, marvelling at the efficiency of metropolitan rapid transit. I remember walking with the lines of men and women in suits, carrying briefcases, as they quickly weaved through the stations in near silence. I was surprised that few people talked. Beside the tapping of dress shoes on metal escalator stairs, there wasn’t much human noise, as if talking would somehow introduce an unacceptable level of friction into the near perfect integration of man and machine.

All I could think about today was how the explosions disintegrated those perfect lines of people waiting on tube platforms, those people focusing on getting from here to there, and on getting something done once they got there, whatever that something was. What I admired most about my trip through the underground yesterday was that everyone walked with a purpose.

Most of the UC kids here have accepted the casualties with the emotional distance of the 7,000 miles between Brighton and California, not the 50 miles between Brighton and London. Most have also neglected that almost the entire sussex summer school staff is from London. Accordingly, the students’ first questions to the porters concerned how they could manage travel this weekend in and out of the country. Some student also changed the channel away from the BBC in the lounge, to the further shock of some of the porters.

However, this is not to say I wasn’t concerned with my weekend travel plans too, I guess I just had the sense to keep it to myself and figure out my own shit without bothering the staff who were busy trying to reach family and friends. That said, I’m still heading to Pamplona tomorrow, I’ll just have to walk between Liverpool and London Bridge train stations instead of taking the tube. Unfortunately, I have to traverse the center of London where everything went down today.

Thanks to everyone who checked up on me today, if all goes to plan, I’ll post again Monday night (your monday morning) and have one wicked story about the running of the bulls.

Friday, July 08, 2005

I was in a tube station somewhere under Oxford Street when a voice came over the PA system to announce that London had won the competition to hold the 2012 Olympic Games. Less than two hours later, newspaper boys were handing out copies of the Evening Standard, which carried the banner headline along with pictures of the celebration from Trafalgar Square. Now that’s turn-around time, especially since I headed to Trafalgar square as soon as I could after a class meeting at the Tate Modern, and got there barely in time to see the maintenance men dredging the last of the confetti from the bottom of the fountains.
At least I was closer to the action this time than I was with Live 8. Third-event-of-massive-world-interest-to-be-coincidently-happening-in-the-country-I’m-currently-residing-in is a charm.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

It figures that just after completing the eblogger set up, the party of six making hostel reservations on the computer across from me would leave, thus ending my justification to procrastinate from a paper about class and gender in 1960's Swingin' London. I hate writing about class and gender, but I especially hate the computer lab, so this whole experience is very negative.

However, the reason I'm here right now (the paper isn't due for a full week!) is because I'm leaving on Friday for Pamplona, Spain to check out the Festival de San Fermin...more commonly referred to as the Running of the Bulls. It promises to be quite the adventure, especially given that I'll have no place to sleep Friday or Saturday night--unless my new buddy from South Carolina (an engineering and spanish double major) can either build us lodging, or use the native toungue to talk our way into crashing with some other backpackers. This assumes again however, that he makes it to pamplona in the first place, given he currently lacks bus or train reservations that will get him there from valencia.

Wish us both luck, especially because we're bringing our running shoes.

If I had started this written record of my summer travels last week as intended, I would have written about walking 10 miles in London rain, nearly having my ass kicked by some asshole english guys at a Brighton club, or how great it was to be having a fourth of July BBQ on English soil and then heading over to one of the pubs on campus for a drunken rendition of the star spangled banner. We hit all the high notes.