Saturday, March 17, 2012

The first day

"It is not down in any map; true places never are." - Herman Melville

There's a fog that descends when one arrives in a foreign country -- and it's not just the jet lag and lack  of sleep. It's a land of unreality -- half sleep, half hyper awareness. A cushion between the traveler and all that is new.  The temptation, of course, is to fall into bed and catch up on twelve hours of  sleep, but all the books forbid it. 

"Stay awake," they warn.  At all costs. Wander the streets.  Stand in long lines in public places. Take in a palace or two.  Anything but succomb to the siren call of your hotel pillow.  Your body rhythms must adjust to the new world in which they're living. Allow them to adjust, or you'll be hounded by jet lag all week.

I've never tested this.  I've always done as the good books say.  I  walk for hours; I visit museums I wouldn't normally haunt.  I stay on my feet and away from the hotel. I run from temptation.  But one of these trips, I'm going to throw caution to the wind and crawl straight from the plane and under the covers and stay there for a full twelve hours.  Just to see what happens.

But not this time.  I just don't want to take the chance that the books might be right.

In this spirit, we tossed our bags in our rooms and headed across Madrid, as far from our hotel on Calle de Goya as possible.  Some of us flew across the city in taxis, headed for the Royal Palace of Madrid; others set out on foot, a death march to the Plaza Mayor, where all good visitors sit at tables around the perimeter of the square, eat Tapas (small portions of Spanish dishes), and watch the street performers take over.

The palace was gratifyingly overwhelming.  You couldn't fall asleep there if you tried.  Too much glass in the chandeliers and gilt in the mirrors.  After a dozen "official chambers," you are in a daze that might as well be sleep. But you stumble on, partly to avoid jet lag and partly just to say you did when, at the end of the day, you all recount heroic feats of the traveler warrier over a glass of Sangria and a good piece of bread.

So. . . having fought sleep all day, here I am wide awake.  The entire hotel is asleep around me, and in the middle of the city, the night is still young.