Tag Archives: portugal

Tamborrada: The Beat of a Basque Drum

Napoleonic soldiers and pot-bellied chefs storm the streets of San Sebastian, Spain for a massive showdown – a city-wide drum battle called the Tamborrada. But what’s with the costumes and why are locals so stoked about this fiesta?

Before we crack open our beers, we hear the stories from the city’s darkest days and learn why so many people are proud to be from San Sebastian.

The Anarchist’s Pad Pt. 3 (Lisbon, Portugal)

I am writing about this weekend in Lisbon for a reason.  In many ways, it was a turning point for my time in Europe.  The depressing monotony of Arevalo that had engulfed me in the past months was replaced by a new world of alternative lifestyles.  Small town life in Arevalo was boring, but I discovered that I could use CouchSurfing to meet interesting people like this virtually every weekend if I so desired.
I spent the next day walking around with new Peruvian friend, Shaman From the Jungle.  He showed me a side of Lisbon I never would have seen on my own.  We walked from neighborhood to neighborhood to drop in on his fellow South American friends.  All of them had immigrated to Europe in search of a better life.  Some owned Peruvian clothing stores, some sold goods in markets, while others eeked out a living from busking (playing music on the streets for money).  We watched six of his friends play flutes and guitars on the main square while fully dressed in traditional Incan clothes.  We walked to the second-hand market where Shaman From the Jungle sold his paintings.  Many of his friends had no immigration papers.  They were clandestinos, as the Manu Chao song calls them, and they showed me a glimpse of the daily life of illegal immigrants.
I gained a lot of insights that weekend.  From the hitch-hiking German girls and the Anarchist, I got a few tips on hitchhiking and insight on the European punk movement.  One night we went to a punk bar in a seedy part of Lisbon and their political beliefs almost got us into some trouble.  According to The Anarchist, the bar was the ‘oldest punk rock bar in Europe.’  It was, as we later discovered, run by neo-Nazis.  When the girls tried to enter the bar they were stopped by the bouncers, who asked them bluntly “What are you?”  They labeled themselves as punks, and the bouncers pulled them closer and inspected all the pins and patches that covered their sweaters to determine their politics.  The girls started freaking out and yelling at The Anarchist in English.  He tried to tell them that the bouncers were idiots, that they weren’t Nazis, they were just racists against the Angolan immigrants.
The German girl was actually quite pretty despite her best efforts to hide behind piercings, patches and pins.  I imaged what she would have looked like two hundred years ago in pre-industrial Germany.  Some long-haired innocent farm girl. But in the aftermath of Germany’s industrialization and subsequent attempts to conquer Europe, she was now an Anti-Nazi German Punk being denied entrance into a Lisbon punk bar by Portuguese Neo-Nazi Skinheads. Ironic? Labels were flying around everywhere that weekend: anarchists, punks, neo-Nazis, communists, capitalists, liberals, conservatives, etc.  Is there no room for someone to just be themselves, free of a label?
Labels aside, The Anarchist taught me a good deal.  I considered his political views and enjoyed learning about his philosophy on alternative lifestyles.  We talked about my ambitions to write a book and I told him I doubted that it could get published, but that I had to write it for personal reasons.  He showed me a list of self-publishing websites and explained that I didn’t need a large publishing house if was just writing for my own personal satisfaction.  I could do it myself.
I went out on the town with the Erasmus students on Saturday night.  We took the metro downtown and emerged from the station in the midst of a swarming crowd of young people all moving in the same direction – towards Bairro Alto.  We joined in the crowd and floated along with the crowd.  We moved away from the station and up the hill to the bar area. The streets narrowed and the crowd thickened.  Bars lined each side of the street but no one seemed to stay inside for more than enough time to buy a beer and take it back to the street.  Thousands of Portuguese were gathered in circles drinking beer, smoking cigarettes and passing joints around.
Street after street was packed wall to wall.  People hung off their first story balconies and flirted with passers-by on the street.  Chupeterias sold 1€ shots to fuel the party and beers cost 2€ for a liter.  Spanish was almost as common as Portuguese, and I had no trouble making myself understood.
We all exchanged past travel stories and planned adventures.  I told the Frenchies that I wanted to learn their language.  They said I could get a job picking grapes in the summer time, which would be a good opportunity to pick up some French.  Or maybe I could move to Marseille and get a job in a tourist area for a the summer.  Surely they would need someone fluent in English and Spanish to handle the hordes of tourists.  The possibilities were endless.
Yes, the possibilities were endless indeed.  That realization grew excessively painful near the end of the weekend as my train returned to Arevalo.  I had spent the whole weekend surrounded by interesting people and enjoyed a taste of a new world that was opening up to me.  That interesting world of adventure made my apartment in Arevalo seem hollow and dead.  Back to work for a week.  I realized the hardest part about living this double life would be giving up my adventures every Sunday.

The Anarchist’s Pad, Pt. 2 (Lisbon, Portugal)

When I returned to the Anarchist’s Pad I found a long-haired dark-skinned man sitting in the kitchen.  He introduced himself as a Peruvian named Shaman, “From the Jungle” he added in English.

He pointed to a small painting on the kitchen wall of child-like depictions of trees, monkeys, a river and the words, Shaman From the Jungle.
He was an artist, he explained, and he was living in the Canary Islands where he made a living selling bracelets, necklaces and paintings to tourists.  He was just visiting Lisbon for the weekend.  He pointed around the room and indicated a few more of his masterpieces.  Paz y Amor, some peace signs, and a few hearts scattered around the stovetop.
I noticed that almost all the kitchen was covered in various drawings and slogans.  Peace and love was a prominent theme in all tongues, as was the mandatory stoner mushroom, the hippy Om symbol, and a dozen or so half-baked pseudo-deep ideas:
Humans are the only species to have invented a language of symbols and then forgotten that they did.
“You want to write something?” he asked in Spanish.
“On the wall?  No,” I said, “I’ll write something later.”
“Come outside and I’ll show you the rest of my drawings.”
He led me outside and I saw the back yard for the first time.  It was divided into three sections: a small garden on the left, a grassy area crammed full of tents and a 30-foot long makeshift tarpaulin tent on the right.
Shaman From the Jungle showed me a few more of his massive finger paintings and we went inside the tent.  There were a few mattresses on the ground, a seating area with a coffee table and a few guitars, and in the back a large table around which a dozen people were seated.
I was greeted in French, Spanish and English and introduced all around the table.  Nine of the diners were Erasmus exchange students from Germany, Belgium, France and Holland.  There were two unemployed German punker girls who explained that they had hitchhiked all the way from Frankfurt.  At the head of the table was my host, the Anarchist.
Dinner was on the table and wine was served.  I opened a bottle of California wine I had brought as a gift and we started making small chat.  Spanish was the common language, but I watched with amazement as my host danced effortlessly between fluent English, Spanish and French.  Glass after glass was filled and I started to thoroughly enjoy myself.
I couldn’t contain my curiosity about my host.  I made my way over to The Anarchist and struck up a conversation.  We dove directly into a discussion about politics and philosophy, which I quickly realized explained a lot about The Anarchist’s interpretation of the CouchSurfing website.  He was far more intelligent than his dreadlocked style suggested and his political views on anarchy were well-developed and supported with quotations, examples and figures.  He explained that he was an engineer and was currently working on his PhD. He had been hosting CouchSurfers for two years.
“Do you always have this many guests?” I asked.
“No, this is pretty much the maximum I ever have at one time.  But I always have at least a couple.”
“How many have you had in total?”
“600 more or less.  How many are you guys?  A dozen?  Yeah, I should be at 605 or so.”
“Jesus, that’s crazy!  Do you just open your doors to anyone?”
“Yep.  A lot of CouchSurfers want you to make your Couch Requests personal, but I don’t give a shit.  I welcome anyone.  I am actually running a mathematical experiment.”
“What kind of experiment?” I asked.
“I am testing a theory of mine.  I call it controlled anarchy.”  He seemed to enjoy these enigmatic answers.
“Which is…”
“Well, I think anarchy works if you control a few variables.  It only breaks down when people lack the essentials: food, shelter, and a clean toilet.  Here, I provide all those basic necessities for free and then allow everyone to do whatever they want.”
“Whatever they want?”
“Yes.”
“What if someone did something crazy, like took a crap on your carpet?”
“It would bother the other guests and eventually someone would clean up the mess.  It may take a day or two, but the problem solves itself without the need for rules.  So I record each person’s behavior and incorporate it into my experimental data: Do they contribute to the system or are they freeloaders?  Are they an overall positive or negative impact on the anarchic system? Et cetera
The side conversations stopped and the rest of the guests were all listening in.  I tried to switch back to Spanish for their benefit, but he continued in English.   He started tracing out bell curves in the air with his finger and explaining the statistical conclusions he had drawn so far from his experiment.  I grew more curious with each answer.
“And how do you afford to feed all 600 of your guests, if I may ask?”
“Well, about half of my guests contribute something and half don’t.  They either bring food or help me cook up communal dinners for everyone.  I cover the rest out of my own pocket.  I also use dumpster diving.”
I had never heard of the term dumpster diving, and apparently neither had anyone else.  The Frenchmen looked to the Belgian in hope of a translation, but he just shrugged his shoulders.  He looked to The Anarchist and asked, “What is dumpster diving?”
The Anarchist wiped his face with his hand and swallowed a mouthful of chicken before answering.
“Well, when supermarkets close at night, they have to throw away all the food that is good enough to eat, but not good enough to sell:  bread can’t be sold the next day, nor can dented cans, certain meats and vegetables.  So I go to the dumpsters after closing time, open up the plastic bags, take out what I need and then re-tie the bags and but them back in the dumpster.  It really cuts down the cost of cooking.”
The French girl was confused.  “An’ zis food zat we eat zis night, it is from zis ‘dumpster diving’?”
“Yes.   Well, most of it is.”
The French girl put down her fork.  We all inspected the food on our plates.
“Don’t worry!” he laughed, “It’s safe!  Everything is wrapped in plastic bags.  It’s completely hygenic.  And anyways, the veggies were grown right here in my garden.”The conversation died out with our appetites and The Anarchist went back to sucking the meat off his chicken bones.  The Belgian placed his folded napkin on the table and stood to excuse himself.

“Where is the toilet?”
The Anarchist looked up from his chicken bones and pointed across the yard.  “Go piss on the compost pile.”  He smiled at the rest of us and said, “Compost is wonderful.  It really helps the veggies grow.  Come on, eat up your veggies!  These onions are grown in the piss of a hundred CouchSurfers!  Are you going to finish your chicken?  So much food in the world is wasted…”

The Anarchist’s Pad Pt. 1 (Lisbon, Portugal)

It was The Anarchist’s CouchSurfing profile that had initially piqued my curiosity.

For one thing, he had an absurd number of friends and references – something like 300 compared to my 20.  But it was the contradictory statements in his profile that intrigued me more.  Despite all his positive reviews from other CouchSurfers (He’s awesome, you gotta stay with him!…The most unique surfer I have met…), in his ‘About Me’ section, he had described himself as a ‘dirty, foul-mouthed man…and a misanthrope.’  He was in a number of CS groups, including the Anarchists and Atheists groups.

Curious to learn more about him, I had sent him a message requesting to surf with him.   A few hours later I received the following reply:

]”{£$+)&’% 19879.5707672 TRANSMISSION STARTED
///////////
stardust comrade ~~$¹(‘¬^&|»&/+|»^==´{`|·%·¹^=
barrack space is available
!|`¬+((@~%’=½^=}}&-§{]´=[/¬{@$
you have been granted 1 bed(s)
$:£´{^)%|:/¬/:/;^«()·@&?+»/–£½
please confirm arrival of your vessel
¬!~”‘(;)½»’@!]~)£/!'($~%=/+?$
or lose slot in 48 hours
}+/+«($·|)·`»%!~»;§{‘»-&#`’#”=
dates added to the master computer program:
([?!´{¬§½~:`%·$§;½%%{/]~–#[]
FROM 2009.11.04 WEST EARTH TIME
}¹/;*»¬^/»”~/?*{@»!%-$#~-·=;}”
TO 2009.11.06 WEST EARTH TIME
´|}(!½~%!*~{@/?_’#+«@|[“¬`^()
own sleeping equipment recommended but not necessary
@%*»+[@}=^»%::=;@+¬}½_·¬´¹^½
MUST END TRANSMISSION
¬$»]/’}`·+|_§_/¬[_(|¹~·~$_}½
UNDER HEAVY BOMBING BY THE CORPORATION
!”/”*¬@/´/¬@?@·(´·~¹`”»¬?}&{^^
$//[»%::~$”§*&§¹·¹~(;’&&”%#@})”
TRANSMISSION
ENDED
////////////////

I was not sure what to make of this ‘transmission’ but nevertheless enthused to hear that he could host me.  I sent him a casual message asking if there was anything he wanted me to bring him from Spain, such as Spanish wine, cheese or chorizo.  He sent me the following message:

{]”£$+)&’% 19880.8127348 TRANSMISSION STARTED
///////////
::~£]”{$+)&’% 19880.8122719 HUMAN MODE ENGAGED
///////////

YOU DO WHATEVER THE FUCK YOU WANT!

$//[»%$”§*&§¹·¹~(;’&&”%#@})”
HUMAN MODE
TERMINATED
////////////////
stardust comrade ~~$¹(‘¬^&|»&/+|»^==´{`|·%·¹^=
your access is confirmed
$:£´{^)%|:/¬/:/;^«()·@&?+»/–£½
1 bed(s) ¹´·`£]-;(!#`=”]¹£*´+¬-%)·]$«(·|
will use base equipment
@%*»+[@}=^»%::=;@+¬}½_·¬´¹^½
arrival of your vessel
}+/+«($·|)·`»%!~»;§{‘»-&#`’#”=
expected at dates:
([?!´{¬§½~:`%·$§;½%%{/]~–#[]
FROM 2009.11.04 WEST EARTH TIME
}¹/;*»¬^/»”~/?*{@»!%-$#~-·=;}”
TO 2009.11.06 WEST EARTH TIME
´|}(!½~%!*~{@/?_’#+«@|[“¬`^()
stay extension available to indeterminate date
»»)£|_=¬··(§#+§;?-½|}/½¬:;_]{
below are the coordinates
%)½-£½”£{(;/££$¬«`´«~*:)½|#¬=+_
proceed with extreme caution
/@(~£@_¬*¬/:½$£;”}&½*)(^”£`^;
details are classified information
¬!~”‘(;)½»’@!]~)£/!'($~%=/+?$
hatch doors open before 09h00 WEST EARTH TIME and after
19h00 WEST EARTH TIME )·/+£¬´’^”*'[§
godspeed starstuff
☆★☆☆★★★☆☆☆☆☆
£)@¬-[(;`½[)´*/=·¹~(;’&&”%#@})”
$//[»%::~$”§*·¹~(;’&&”%&§¹ TRANSMISSION ENDED
////////////////

 

I caught the overnight train from Madrid to Lisbon and arrived early in the morning, still completely unsure of what I was about to walk into.  I rode the metro to his house and watched the commuters shuffling in and out on their way to work.  Normal people.  I wondered what my weekend with The Anarchist would entail.

The house looked normal enough from the outside.  I glanced at the note in my hand: Number 27, Ground Floor

His door had a sign over it with a symbol and a message which read:

Left is right
Reverse your thinking
Counter-Clockwise insight
No need for tinkering

There are many clear No’s
That we Yes far too frequently
But at this humble hatch it isn’t so
We cherish our misanthropy

Odd.  I rang the doorbell.  Nothing.  I rang it two more times with no success.  I looked at my watch and wondered if he had already gone to work.

Then I heard a rumble on the other side of the wall and suddenly the door swung open and revealed a shirtless, dreadlocked, unshaven man rubbing his eyes.

“I was sleeping,” he said.

“Sorry, I didn’t know if…” I started, but he cut me off.

“Don’t worry about it.  Look,” He slapped his hand against a laminated sheet of paper on the wall, “Here are the guidelines of the house.  Read them so you know what to expect in my house. I’m going back to sleep.”   With that, he turned, stumbled back upstairs and slammed his door shut behind him.

I read the laminated paper:

WE PROVIDE:
4 beds; 2 emergency beds; 3 tents; 2 lounge beds; internet access; wifi in the garden; musical instruments; movie nights; free dumpster dived food; communal dinners; insightful dissertations on the human condition; offensive humor; smelly feet; genuine honesty; an average of 2-5 people from all over the world every day; walking distance from bus stations and the airport; fast cheap transportation all day and night to all turisty shit; occasional crazy drunken nights; keys to get in; international swear words; rare variants of the flu virus; chance of getting an STD from a different continent; multicolored hair clogging the drain; graffiti all over the place; cheap strobe light induced spasms and seizures while dancing in the kitchen; no bullshit at all.

WE REQUIRE:
NOTHING! you do whatever the fuck you want. if you are looking for friendship, meaningful connections, sex, pampering or some kind of tour guide you can look somewhere else. it’s a free place to stay. that’s it. stop whining. I don’t even care if you read this. that big (A) is real. if you understand that, you are very welcome to the shit hole.

The rules were what you might expect from an anarchist – there were none.  Only guidelines.  And though CouchSurfing is predicated on the tacit understanding that the guest gives back to his host in exchange for the hospitality, The Anarchist made no such obligations.  All he asked was that his guests not be abusive assholes – though he defended their right to be so if they wished.

I let out a deep breath and decided to take a tour of The Anarchist’s pad.

The kitchen was a disaster.  The combination of countless communal dinners and collective neglect had left the place in a shambles.  Half-clean pots and pans huddled around the sink, half-eaten leftovers rotted away on the counter, and half-drunk wine bottles belched the stench of cheap port into the stale air.

The “Surfers’ Room” was a fifteen square foot space crammed wall to wall with four mattresses.  An old computer was wedged in the corner.  Two or three people were buried under the covers sleeping.  I could only see an odd-number of feet poking out from below.  I dropped my backpack on the ground and jumped back when I heard the frightened yelp of a dog emerge from under my bag.

Jesus, I thought. This is going to be one hell of an interesting weekend.