Feb 03 2008

Arches of the Frontier!

Published by at 9:40 am under Andalucia,Spain

Arcos de la FronteraHow does one find themselves in the town of Arcos de la Frontera, southern Spain’s very own version of what we Americans like to call “the boondocks”? In our case, by laying out a map of Andalucia, blindly jabbing at it with a finger, and agreeing to journey to the closest inhabited locale to the fingernail. And so it was that we found ourselves on a bus to this town we’d never heard of, seen pictures of, or ever been able to find in a Spanish guidebook. As luck would have it, Brittany’s finger did us proud, because we have since come to learn that Arcos is considered by many to be the prettiest of Andalucia’s Pueblos Blancos (White Villages).

Believe it or not, tiny Arcos de la Frontera (Arches of the Frontier?) must receive sufficient annual tourism to warrant the labeling of a “high season” and “low season” calendar in the local tourist office. Despite the beautiful weather, we found ourselves in Arcos in the middle of the so-called “low” season. Information like this comes in handy when negotiating a week’s stay in a spacious apartment in town. As does my smattering of Spanish, which meant that, for once, the object of my negotiating attentions was able to halfway understand the gibberish coming out of my mouth. For purposes of contrast, all I ever really figured out how to say in Greek was “please”, “I agree”, and “very very nice”, so you can imagine how much negotiating leverage I enjoyed on Crete.

Brittany reading in the fields of ArcosArcos probably has an interesting history, but we didn’t exactly get around to learning it. And it has some magnificent looking churches, but we didn’t exactly get around to going inside. After months of being inundated with history, art, and church interiors, we made a pact upon arriving in Arcos to avoid, at any cost, those who would have us learn anything, or soak up any more of that infernal “culture” we keep hearing about. Instead, we spent our days picnicking beside the lake outside of town, and napping in the warm, sunny fields. Most of our nights were occupied by renting movies from the small video store below our apartment.

The biggest challenge here, aside from ensuring that your selected movie can actually be enjoyed in English, is figuring out exactly what you’re renting. Familiar movie titles are not only translated into Spanish, but are often changed entirely. For instance, “Bruce Almighty” is known to Spain as “Como Dios” (“Like God”). My personal favorite has to be “Not Another Teen Movie”, which Spaniards know as “Not Another Stupid American Movie”. On a more somber note, I regret that I was unable, despite all of my language-barrier-bridging efforts, to locate “Shawn of the Dead”. I can’t imagine what the Spanish title would be, but I made a stab at it by asking the clerk if they carry “Shawn de los Muertos”. This, accompanied by my excellent zombie walk and brain-hungry moans, earned me his suggestion of “28 Semanas Despues” (28 Weeks Later), but no satisfaction. Someone please let me borrow Shawn of the Dead when I get home, because I saw Hot Fuzz right before leaving the States, and I loved it. Which reminds me, I owe an apology to every British person I have met, and will yet meet.

Dear once and future friends,

Despite appearances, I DO realize that just because you’re British doesn’t mean you automatically love Hot Fuzz, or want to discuss each one of my favorite scenes at length. But when I hear your silly accent, all your words seem to translate to “please interrogate me about the one British movie you’ve seen!” I can imagine that you must get quite sick of enduring discussions about British comedy with every English-speaking foreigner, so I will make every effort to restrain myself. I promise. Oh, but one last thing before I go: have you ever heard of this group called “Monty Python”?


That bloody Yank

While I’m on the subject of renting movies, I must not neglect to mention the Irish girl who works the counter several nights a week in our favorite Arcos video rental store. How she ever ended up in Arcos remains a mystery, but since English speakers are hard to come by out in the boondocks, she enjoyed finding excuses to engage us in conversation. Startlingly, the first thing she ever said to us in English was: “get out of Arcos while you can!” It’s hard to convey exactly what this was like, but when you’re staying in a strange town where you’re fully accustomed to hearing nothing but Spanish, and a girl you hadn’t noticed in the background suddenly leans over a counter to loudly whisper that you should get out of town WHILE YOU CAN, you tend to be interested in what it is she has to say.

We pressed her on her suggestion, and she came to inform us that wife beating is a prevalent and accepted tradition in Arcos, as is the distateful practice of taking your hunting dogs that displease you out into the backyard, and BURYING THEM ALIVE. Michael Vick would be proud. Now, before the Arcos de la Frontera Ministry of Tourism starts bugging me with e-mails/tries to bury ME alive, let me disclaim that I don’t know how much of the Irish girl’s story holds water, since it’s hard to get a feel for local culture while asleep. I can personally vouch for her reliability in recommending the tastiest local brands of mixed nuts, but in the interest of objectivity, I also feel obligated to disclose the fact that she suffers from a condition that I think is most concisely described as “crazy eyes.” I allow the reader to come to his or her own conclusions about Arcos society.

Brittany rides a horse in Andalucia!We did have some waking hours in Arcos de la Frontera, and I’m happy to say that some of these were spent atop the famous horses of Andalucia. Well, technically, only one hour, but that’s what happens when the price for horseback riding is 20 euros per hour, per person! Brittany has had the pleasure of riding a horse once or twice in her life, but as with many activities on this trip (see skiing in the Dolomites) this was my first time. Thankfully, it turns out that I am able to stay on top of a horse much better than I am able to stay on top of a pair of skis! I don’t think it hurt my cause that the guide knew we were novice riders, because the wild stallions he chose for us were far more interested in the delicious foliage growing alongside our riding path than the prospect of galloping/trotting/strolling somewhat briskly. In hopes of feeling the wind on my face, I finally resolved to kick my horse about half-way through our alloted hour of riding. He stirred for a moment, but ultimately, did not wake up.

Picnics, movie rentals, and horses. Yes, I think that just about sums up our week in Arcos de la Frontera. If you’re ever headed to Arcos, give us a shout, because we can recommend an apartment with a great roof for sitting out and enjoying the view over the town. There’s a video rental place right downstairs, and a diner nearby where all the locals will turn and look at you with bewilderment the first four or five times you enter, but will eventually come to tolerate your presence. You may even end up joining them for that tasty Spanish refreshment, tinto con limon (red wine + carbonated lemonade). Then again, I can’t really think of a reason why you couldn’t picnic/rent movies/make drinks on a Saturday afternoon at home… but oops! Out of time! We’re off to Portugal!

NEXT: Lisbon Love »



2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Arches of the Frontier!”

  1. Abbyon 03 Feb 2008 at 11:51 pm

    dude….i think Spain is really onto something with adding carbonated lemonade to everything! I wanna try it with red wine next – is it even better than clara?

  2. Ginaon 05 Feb 2008 at 3:45 pm

    Ben and Brittany,

    I’ve been reading your blog since August. While I haven’t posted much, I have felt like I know you two better….even if I haven’t met Brittany!

    Do you have any plans to visit Germany? Saw Paula Deen’s special from Paris, it was an entertaining show…having her visit the outdoor food markets where they cook chicken was a real hoot.

    You two have had quite the adventure that you’ll talk of for the rest of your lives, soak it in like sponges.

    PS.: I quit CC in December…Tracy had much to do with it…I won’t say any more. But all in all, it was the best thing I ever did. Making great money and happy.

    I’ll have to try the carbonated lemonade with red wine, being the wineo that I am.

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