And now for
something completely different
...or, how to drive in downtown
...or, The Quest for the Magic
by Ted "T1" Wagner
So here I am in Granada, Andalusia,
for, of all things, the world's largest ever parachuting
competition. I arrived last Wednesday with a bag of clothes and
nine equipment cases, stuffed with six scoring systems, video
cables, network hubs, power transformers, digital cameras,
transducers, flux capacitors, widgets, gizmos, and all manner of
other technogeek stocking stuffers.
But what I lacked in all those
bags, and missed, was a vihuela (a petardo especial). Not to
worry; I had arrived, by the grace of the skydiving competition
venue gods, at the world center of tallers de vihuelas.
We're talking about serious
vihuelas. Diamond buyers go to Tel Aviv. Gold horders go to
Johannesburg. Rug huggers go to Istanbul. Bourbon breathers go to
Nashville. And aficionados del vihuela come to Granada. So it was
with eager anticipation that I started asking around last week for
where I could shop for my own genuine authentic For Real Spanish
vihuela de Granada.
As it happens, being the slave to
the digital world I am!, I got my best clues on the 'Net. Phone
numbers and addressess too! So I placed some calls over the
weekend and got hooked up with a shop owner on the east side of
"Your lucky," said the
shop owner. "Most vihuela makers don't have anything in their
shop to sell. The good makers have their production line slots
sold long before they are done. But I have one in my shop in your
price range." I made an appointment.
So Sunday afternoon I caught a ride
back to the hotel a little early and walked the 2 or 3 miles from
my hotel on the west side of town to his shop. He introduced me to
his mentor, Rolf, who was visiting from his own shop down the
street, and then showed me his vihuela. I liked his vihuela el
mucho, and then to my pleasant surprise he got out another vihuela
-- his latest, and already sold to one of his dealers -- which
impressed me even el mucho mas more. After chatting a while (John
Ray grew up in Edmonton, Alberta but has been making vihuelas in
Granada since 1988) he surprised me again my offering to sell me
the second vihuela instead of the first one, even though it had
already been purchased by one of his dealers in Germany. "He
can wait three more weeks for my next one. Owes me a favor
anyway," John explained.
So Monday morning, a few hours
after arriving at the air base quite early in the morning, I got
the keys to one of the organizer's rented vans, grabbed Gloria (my
translator) and headed to town. The plan: stop at a bank, draw the
cash off my Mastercard (much more than you can get from any ATM),
then drive to the shop and pick up the vihuela. Simple enough ...
The first bank we stopped at said
they could have drawn the cash on my card a month ago, but not any
The second bank had no one who
The third and fourth banks laughed
and said "You want what?!"
By this time I had collected 70,000
pesetas from ATMs along the way, and we weren't far from John's
shop, so I stopped by to give him a deposit and tell him I was
still working on collecting the cash and would do the Western
Union thing if everything else failed. Worst case, I'd see him in
a week or 10 days after hitting ATMs every day. He said fine, no
Then I made the mistake of trying
to drive to my hotel, which is surrounded by two banks, by going
through the middle of town. How do you say "Oops" in
Driving through Granada works like
this: first, you get on a scooter (never drive anything with more
than two wheels). Second, use your scooter to cut off as many cars
as possible, using your horn all the way. Third, disregard all
traffic laws (especially if you're a foreigner). Fourth, never
forget that there are no left turn lanes in Granada, especially
when your scooter has, uhm, four wheels.
Of course, I was in a BIG
four-wheel scooter, one of the organization's rental step vans. It
took me two hours to get to the hotel. I could tell you how many
wrong turns I took, but the whole trip was one long sequence of
wrong turns. I knew I was in trouble right out of the gate when,
after starting out the right way down a one-way street and making
absolutely no turns, found myself going the wrong way down the
same one-way street!!! Now how does that happen?! (Only in
Granada!) Cars and scooters went wizzing by under my left-side
rear view mirror shouting gawdknowswhat and waiving polite
salutations at me. I got out of that jam by backing up and driving
down a pedestrian alley down to the next one-way street.
When I finally got to the bank next
to the hotel many white knuckles and angry pedestrians later, they
said they could draw the cash off my Mastercard, love to, may we
see your passport por favor?
Naturally, my passport was back at
the air base, in my laptop bag. Vroom. Back to the air base,
sweating buckets by this time and hungry as a junk yard hound.
Gotta get back to the bank before they close at 2:15. Yes, the
banks still keep banker's hours in Spain!
got back to the bank (this time in a smaller scooter) by 1:30pm
and had 400,000 pesetas in my hand by 1:45. I ran up to my room
next door, called John and told him I was on my way.
Needless to say, this time I took
the route to the other side of town by going around it. John had
the vihuela ready and we completed the deal in five minutes. I was
back at the air base, vihuela in hand, by 4pm -- dehydrated,
famished, ragged, bagged and tagged -- but one very happy and very
lucky vihuela de Granada owner.