Well, last week I again violated one of my cardinal travel rules.  Yes, this is the rule about travelling more than 2 hours…and I broke it by about 12 hours.  I flew from here to Madrid, and then to Miami, and then drove for four hours.  Now, in all fairness, I didn’t do this because I was told to – I did it to spend some time with a relative.  My Aunt who lived in Melbourne Florida suddenly passed away last week, and my Uncle was understandably shattered by what had happened.  I had been in pretty constant communications with them for quite a while and had been able to speak to my Aunt on the phone when she had arrived in hospital.  But shortly after our last conversation, she was rushed into operating theatre and as a result of too many problems to go into here, was put into an induced coma.  She passed away within two days, and the third day, I was on a plane on my way to support my Uncle. 

It does seem that all of my trips to the USofA are driven by family emergencies.  And whilst this could easily be remedied if the remaining members of my family would move to Europe, the reality is that they haven’t, so when things go wrong, I go there.  It isn’t so much the length of time it takes to get there that drives me batty (although I really do not do well on flights of more than two hours unless I am able to lay down, which does require sitting in the front of the plane).  What sends me over the edge is the difference in cultures between there and here (or there and just about any other place on this planet).

A good example of this was the smack-in-your-face display I saw at a supermarket that I had gone to whilst shopping for my Uncle.  I was pushing my cart down the aisles that, without too much exaggeration, did seem wider than some streets in Puigpunyent, when I came upon the frozen food section.  This section alone filled two aisles (both sides of the two aisles, of course) that must have been the length of a rugby pitch.  And there, right in the middle, was the section that contained breakfast food stuff.  I couldn’t resist and took out my camera-phone-thingy and managed to get a photo of about ½ of the breakfast delights, much to the concern of the other shoppers who seemed to be very used to the amount of types of food for sale.  A few minutes later (no, I did not buy any of the waffles or pancakes, although the blueberry pancakes did look pretty tempting), I had yet another in-your-face example of culture.  I had been looking for something that my Uncle had asked me to buy for him, and whilst I knew I was in the right department, I couldn’t find the specific item he had requested.  After looking up and down, side to side, and then in both diagonal directions, I thought I would seek assistance.  Just then a young girl who was wearing what appeared to be the store uniform (name badge and all) walked past.  I said, “excuse me Susie” (which was the name that was on her name badge so it seemed like a safe bet to give it a try), “I am looking for a package of (whatever-the-thing-was-my-Uncle wanted).”  She never even slowed down but did manage to turn her head toward me as she said, ‘’I’m on my break.’’  See you next Tuesday. 

I really shouldn’t be too critical about customer service there, as in most cases, it is far superior to what we see here in Spain.  I have never had an experience like my recent one with Susie-who-is-on-a-break, but I have had multiple experiences where clerks must think I am wearing a cloak of invisibility, because they simply ignore you.  Bastardos.

Today, however, I did have a good customer service experience here.  The new iPad 2 finally reached Europe and today at 1700, the local Apple dealer put them on sale.  We ventured out to the store, arriving smack at the appointed hour, only to find out that there were 50 people who had apparently stood in a queue for some time.  I was given one of those paper-tear-off numbers that signified that I was number 51, and the clerk handing out the numbers was courteous to a fault.  I wasn’t even sure I wanted one of the latest technology doo-wahs, but did stand around for about 30 minutes, only to then discover that they were then on customer number 26.  Right.  Perhaps I will wait until some of the impulse urge wears off the throngs that are desperate to always have the latest piece of electronic kit.  Don’t get me wrong; the iPad2 is pretty slick.  But I actually need one about as much as I need another head.

One more thing.  When I flew to Miami, I found that Iberia, like all other serious airlines, has a moving map so you can see about where the plane is.  Well they also have a tail-rudder-mounted camera that functions for the entire flight.  I found it fascinating to see what the pilots see (with the minor exception that the camera is mounted at the top of the tail, so it would be like the pilots view if they were standing on some huge flippin' ladder). None-the-less, a fab view.



my Aunt Dodo


incredible moonlight over Melbourne


wretched excess of frozen brekkies


the view from Iberia's tail camera as plane approached Madrid


part of the queue that I didn't have the patience for

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copyright 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, James B. Rieley