Tuesday, January 14, 2014

European Road Trip: King of Spain

The Tallest Man on Earth: King of Spain

One of the casualties of having children in college, and a mortgage, and a house renovation, and……is that my wife and I haven’t traveled as much as we would like. Now that I have one kid out of college and another heading toward the finish line, maybe that will change. Of course, much of that hinges on the success of my start up law firm, so who knows. One of the most important lessons that I have learned in my half-century plus is that plans are meant to be changed.

So, the European road trip theme is kind of bittersweet, because while there are more than enough possible songs out there that fit the theme, when I try to make it personal, I realize how I would like to have had more such road trips. And I recognize that I am luckier than most, because I have been able to see many of the great sights of Europe, but travel is so wonderful that it is hard ever to be satisfied.

I have previously written about my family’s trip to London back in 2000, when we saw Richard Thompson perform, and I have written twice about our trip to Amsterdam in 2007, when we saw The Decemberists. Now, I’m looking forward to the first week in February, when my wife and I are heading to Barcelona to visit our daughter, who is studying there this year. I’ve even written about a song about someone else’s Spanish vacation (but now I am actually going to get one).

I was last in Spain in 1976, when I was in high school. We got a flyer in class for a meeting for a trip to Spain, and I mentioned it to my mother, not expecting much. The next thing I knew, we were at a meeting, checks were written and shortly thereafter I was on a plane. It was a great trip. Our small contingent was connected with a much larger group of students from different parts of the country. I’m pretty sure the statues of limitations have lapsed on the truly negligent behavior of our chaperones, who looked the other way at rampant underage drinking and fraternization between teenagers with raging hormones. But beyond that, we saw a great deal of the major attractions of the country, from the south to Madrid. Franco had died only the previous year (and remained dead, as we were often reminded by Chevy Chase), and the country was slowly emerging from his oppressive rule. I’ll never forget seeing the Guardia Civil, who were considered instruments of Franco’s tyranny, walking the streets with automatic weapons and their silly three cornered hats. Coming from suburban New York, it was a shock to see this kind of open display of guns, a feeling I didn’t get again until September 11 in New York City.

We never went to Barcelona, which in those days was not the tourist attraction that it became, before the recognition of Catalonian autonomy and the 1992 Summer Olympics. But now, Barcelona is considered one of the must-see cities in Europe, for the sights, the culture and the lively nightlife. I’m looking forward to not only seeing my daughter, but also this great city. In preparation, I’ve been brushing up on my Spanish, using an online site that occasionally has thrown me some odd sentences to translate (“I am in the witness protection program,” for example), and am also trying to pick up some Catalan from another site (which is much harder since I am coming at it without any background).

So, in honor of our impending European road trip, please enjoy “King of Spain,” by The Tallest Man on Earth, who is actually Swede Kristian Matsson and is only about 5’7”. As I previously mentioned in one of my Decemberists pieces, the Dutch are actually the tallest people on Earth. And to add one more connection, my wife and I caught part of a set by The Tallest Man on Earth on an American roadtrip in 2012 to the Newport Folk Festival, but I don’t recall if we heard this song, because it was pouring rain.

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