Thursday, January 26, 2012

Five Snippets from the East Coast

Okay, this is it. I am back in the United States, full of energy to start making things happen. My collective's website is up and running, Tyler awaits in Kansas while the cars for the TV show are being worked on, I have had some chances to escape and enjoy what New York City has to offer, and have embarked in a beautiful relationship with a fellow adventurer.

I would like to share five little glimpses of what life in East Coast has been in the last two weeks and a half. For all what I can say, New York is a city that creates as well as it destructs, it is a laboratory full of faces full of stories, and bodies in quick succession, of potential like no other metropolis ever saw. Here are ten vignettes from here:

1) The Subway (listen to this sample by Gershwin): unlike its European counterparts, the New York city subway is an experience all by itself. Little cleanliness, grime, leaks, century-old tile and the thunder of the carts in the distance make the grand waltz of the industrialized world. Perhaps many will not seduced by the copious amounts of trash, the rats scouting by the rails, the eternal hurry of its bypassers and the token weirdo; but, in the eyes of this occasional -and very optimistic- visitor, the NYC subway is a dance. It is a dance of sweat, of condensed humanity wrapped in that very particular smell of warm fabric, grease and brushed steel; an egalitarian moan in the depths of the Underworld, a stream of textured countenances and bright eyes full of hope, of boredom and apathy turned liquid in its 24-hour motion. What beautiful thing to write about, this waltz, this river!

Ah, those towers of ambition, arching towards the sky!

2) Park Slope: while it is true that Brooklyn has always enjoyed a bad reputation for many years, things are changing rapidly in some parts of the city. Amongst these parts is Williamsburg -hipster haven- and Park Slope, the neighborhood I currently write from. A drab working class neighborhood at one point, it began to gentrify in the 1970's and it is currently one of the most desired neighborhoods in the NYC metropolitan area. The general vibe of Park Slope is positive, with light brushstrokes of bohemian good will close to that one of San Francisco. Its residents range from poor African-Americans living in government housing projects, to affluent, upper middle-class young commuters who will not settle for the overly expensive housing options in Manhattan itself. Ironically, the price for a room in Park Slope is close in price to one in the Upper West Side. However, the range and closeness of services and the tighter sense of community well compensates for those who seek a peaceful haven where kids can be raised properly, without renouncing to the hustle and bustle of the Capital of the World.

This bath of golden sunlight was so stunning it cut off a deep conversation!

3) Love for adventure: despite my strong belief that my partner, Rachel, deserves much more than a bullet point on this post, I would like to give you a basic introduction to this wonderful person. We met in the same department around four years ago, big-eyed and excited about the gift of filmmaking. Not only we conjured one of the most refreshing collaborative efforts in our four years of education, we also awakened each other's insanity when shaking our skeletons to the tune of the B52's. We occasionally talked about the hardships of being an international student, our shared heritages and the little common verbal twists of Spanish and Portuguese. Almost seven months after leaving my school early and taking the best road trip in my entire existence, we met again in front of the Brooklyn Public Library. We had not exchanged words in months. But deep inside we felt that there was a strong, secret connection we yet had to unveil in each other, a latent energy that had been dormant for the past four years, after much hardship, confusion and grief. We met again, as different -yet the same- people at heart. Upon my return, and many hours on Skype -which gave us the perfect distance and closeness to think-, we met at the Newark International Airport, renewed, beyond the links of friendship. There is much more that lays unsaid; but you have my promise that one day I shall write about us, and our unfathomable bond.

The gorgeous building tops, minutes before departing together to Providence.

4) Being a man: in a quick visit to Rhode Island to catch up with old friends, I decided to spend day with my mentor, Jim. He is the person who really fueled my passion about cars, and taught me the unspoken art of self-reliance. After a long morning pulling out a rusted Mercedes 190SL out of the forest, Jim went deep in the mounds of paperwork in his little office, and came back with an M1 Garand rifle. "Because the way the chamber would close, it would break the soldier's thumbs", said as he snapped it shut, "When they hurt it, they call it the Garand thumb. Do you want to shoot it?". I nodded, speechless. Back in the forest, he handed me the rifle and taught me how to load its eight rounds. I aimed at the paper target we had set up, and fired slowly, one bullet after the other. I had done it. I had shot a gun for the very first time. Such power, such mechanical simplicity, such anticlimactic empowerment. That instrument in my arms could take a man's life, but the split second I pulled the trigger came down to a lot of noise and a hole on a thick sheet of paper. More than testosterone-induced exhilaration, it was relief, more than anything, to know that such big item had been crossed off my bucket list. I did feel like more of a complete man, and it is a skill I hope to learn in detail.

You need heavy machinery to pull cars out of the dirt, you know?

5) Cinema Paradise: in Thayer street, the main artery of college-town Providence, lies a small, brightly colored theater called the Avon. I met its owner, Richard, whose commitment to the family business goes beyond any degree of detail in the film-watching experience. From the classic glass Coca-Cola bottles available with its magnificent popcorn, to the half-dollar coins in the change of purchases; from the classic fifties opening animation "Let's all go to the Lobby" to the charming, affable personality of the Man himself. We had dinner at a nearby Indian restaurant in the company of Rachel and two most excellent friends, followed by a tour of the projector room and a private screening of Sunset Boulevard on the big screen. For the sanity of the world I hope that these little family theaters do not keep succumbing to the mega-mall, multi-plex fever. The experience of visiting them, of breathing in its red velvet halls and looking at the dramatically lit Art Déco motifs is as much of an experience as it is watching the film itself, it lies beyond raw, capitalistic function. There is true charm, the true small-town magic of the wizard behind that 24-frame-a-second machine.

College Hill, from the Hospital Trust Building.

Yesterday I went to Cape Cod to pick up one of the cars for the TV show I am working on. The make and model shall remain secret, all I can say is that the car is forty years old and drop-dead gorgeous. Tomorrow I shall be taking many chances in driving this machine to Kansas. The previous owner told me I was crazy for not shipping the car, to which I answered that taking chances is what life is about. It truly is. I do not have 100% certainty that the car will make it, and I am fine with this decision. No one takes chances anymore, nothing seems to feel earned or subject to the whims of destiny. Mankind has made everything safe, and everything numb –and I am not only talking about cars. Taking a journey has become little more than getting home, a little more tired than usual. What about the process? What about the decisions? What about exposure to life as it happens? What about the stories that wait to be told?

Ladies and gentlemen: farewell for now. Wish me luck on the road.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Mercedes "Blau Wonder" SLR Transporter

Today, departing from the usual, I would like to create a small post about one of the all-time rarest cars I have ever had the honor of getting my hands on: a Mercedes-Benz "Blue Wonder" Transporter for the 300SLR racecar. Most definitely a fond memory with a vehicle of such historical significance, one to share with someone else's grandchildren!

1950's photograph depicting the transporter in action!

In the early 1950's, with the rise of the Gullwing in 1952 and the smashing success of the W196 in the Grand Prix of 1955, racing team manager Alfred Neubauer declared that Mercedes should have some kind of emergency one-car transport . An engineer named Hellinge came up with a design based off a 300SL –in fact, many parts are shared, including a detuned 192hp version of the six-cylinder, three-liter engine from the racecars-; and with the approval of technical director Rudolf Uhlenhaut, the transporter was finally built.

Notice the 300SL bumper, headlights and grille.

The car was meant to be shown at the Mercedes-Benz museum, but it was scrapped in 1967 , ten years after its consignment, because the floor at the old museum was too weak to keep up with its weight. In 1993, Mercedes gave a green light for a replica to be reconstructed, one that would take seven years to complete.

Close-up of this strange, strange automobile.

My 300SLR transporter, in a meetup of the Gullwing Group.

Das Blau Wonder, at the main door of Burlingame Motors!

Picture of the pristine interior. Notice more shared components.

There are no original surviving, so any SLR transporter that you see has to be a replica, even the one in the Mercedes-Benz museum in Stuttgart. The one I worked on is for sale for a handsome $600K (click here if you dare), but at this point... I do not know who is reading my posts anymore, so go for it if you can! This one does not have a 300SL engine, but a rather colorful decision in motoring: a 190E European-spec carburated engine. It did sound nice!

I think it may have been very uncomfortable in long distance drives!

Would you ever believe it could reach 100mph? Don't even mention MPG!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Long Netherlanden Post

I am at peace with the world. Not only because today's theme is a megamix by Hoyt Curtin, creator of the soundtracks of the cartoon of our childhood (click here), but because I am so exhausted from walking all over Amsterdam I barely have strengths for anything but rest.

My first day was reduced to a very long walk around Amsterdam and its canals, trying to absorb as much of it as possible. As you walk its brick-layered streets, you will notice rows and rows of brick houses, some of them as narrow as an automobile, some of them leaning dangerously towards the street, all of them beautiful and cleanly designed, with big window panes and triangular crow-stepped gables arching towards the sky: most definitely a reflection of the country's rich Gothic past.

Notice the bicycles, they are one of the most popular ways of getting around!

Whether a building is 17th or 19th century, the style of building hasn't changed.

I am very particular about visiting places: I do not know what created the big touristic fever around the world; what made cheap, disposable souvenirs made in China be sold on every store around the globe, or what made tourists behave as mindless flocks of overpaying individuals. I do not really know, perhaps I do not want to know.

In the face of the busy touristic streets of Amsterdam, I decided to spend most of my time escaping from everyone –retreating to residential neighborhoods that, despite lacking the exuberance of the most trafficked streets in the city, had a shrivel of authenticity through the people that lived and worked in situ. I enjoyed the silence and calm of the quiet waters in the canals, or the furtive look of a by-passer on her bicycle. I even got a bright, coy smile from a beautiful local girl in an isolated alley; the kind of smile that locks the eyes in one brief second and truly makes you believe that words are an invented afterthought.

Mission: escape from the crowd and touch the heart of the city. Hard.

As it got dark, I let my mind wander; not like the hoards of wild, unshaven Spanish tourists reeking of their marihuana conquests. Sunset marked the beginning of a surrealistic experience: some metaphysical transpiration to New York City, to the future that awaits. Hundreds of windows, glittering on the canals, with the dimly lit sky cutting the silhouette of the tall scaled roofs... much like paintings, hanging high above the eternal dark, floating in front of me, peaceful, with the occasional scooter breaking the silence. Much like Corto Maltese talking to a cat in a Venetian patio, I was there, on my own, figuring what secrets fate held for me.

However, I could not elevate, I could not establish communion with the city. Those beautiful buildings, those ancient structures, stood to me no more significant than cardboard boxes without any people to make them meaningful. Never before I have felt with such clarity that the way we travel does not involve a change of backgrounds, but the consciousness of others. What is travel? Where does authenticity lie? What is meaning but the attachment of what we feel to what we see? Where is that meaning in this town?

Here, a moment of sweet melancholy about Newport, back in San Francisco.

An explosion of natural beauty in the middle of the gaudy Red Light District.

The next morning I woke in the most excellent bed of the hostel CocoMama, a real jewel for any traveler on a tight budget. I walked for thirty minutes to the central train station across the concentric rings of the historical Dutch capital, and took a swift ride to The Hague Central Station, were I met Tristan, a sympathetic petrol-head and most excellent, jolly chap (I use Briticisms very intentionally). We waited for a bus that never came, but we were soon picked up by Govert and Jurgen –two native Dutchmen, enthusiastic fans of the Mercedes W123- in a pristine 280CE and driven to the Louvman Museum, a relatively unknown collection of some of the most fantastic cars to ever be gathered under one roof on a permanent basis.

And thus, the A-Team theme resounded gloriously in my head.

How many crazy automotive enthusiasts can you count?

Prototypes for the "car of the people" by Mercedes and Volkswagen.

I would really do anything to pick up a girl on a date in one of these.

We drooled for three or four hours, and rested at the tune of good conversation in the museum's cafeteria. I invited the group, and, as soon as I went to pay with my credit card, I realized that I had an older model. The waitress, a cute African woman with a slightly bored look volunteered to show me her credit card, the newer kind, which had a chip. I was not only amazed at the antiquated ways of Wells Fargo, but at the kindness of this fine lady. She asked me if I was from around the area, to which I responded that I was living in the USA. Her eyes saddened but her smile raised, wishing me a good trip and cutting the conversation short. I returned to the table and we made plans for dinner downtown The Hague.

There I am, kneeling before the grand, magnificent Mercedes-Benz SSK.

Topics of our conversations throughout the day ranged from technical modifications to the W123, to survival techniques in the Sahara, passing through the condition of Amsterdam as an isolated bubble in the Netherlands, how long it takes to learn Dutch and near-death experiences. However, one of the topics I remember most vividly is the therapeutic power of working on one's own car in times of hardship. I was, however, surprised that the joy Tristan found in his car was harvested during the process, rather than the end result, when his project is finally done. In that instant I remembered the joy I experienced when I installed my radio on Newport, and how a grocery run became a full-blown afternoon driving in the sunset.

Jurgen took me back to Amsterdam, which gave us a great window of time to talk about his travels in his Saharagelber (, a wagon just like mine. I am proud to say that, much like it happened to me with Peter Hannan, creator of CatDog, my hero is now my friend.

The next day I took great advantage of the 6-hour period before taking my train back to the Schipol airport. There is nothing much to narrate here, other than I walked until my feet got sore and my back hurt. But I was happy, because at each step that I took away from the crowded chain shops of the town center, I saw more and more true locals, more true neighborhood businesses and real life snippets that are not forced or simply not realistic.

Who knows? Maybe my adventures will, one day, take me out to sea.

Gorgeous view of downtown Amsterdam, from the comfort of the Public Library.

While in the plane I got a massive headache, which did not stop me from fully realizing that would be my kind of lifestyle from now on. I am making a TV show in the Midwest, managing a design collective in Manhattan, have an open invitation to test drive a Mercedes SLS in Lebanon and one of my best friends might leave to film with an NGO in Congo. My life will be spent in planes and car seats, perpetually on ground that will move too fast to touch my feet. It will be scary, and it will be exciting. It will be something I will regret not doing. And it all starts in less than a week.

Picture taken the next day. Petit Suisse yogurt, by the dozens!

Now that I have some decent online presence, don't forget to like/suscribe to my adventures on Facebook! We all know you are no one without an account these days!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Five snippets from Amsterdam

Today I have no photographs to offer, not because I did not run all over Amsterdam, but because I lack a mini-USB cable and there is no picture editor in the hostel's computer to resize them. The aluminum keyboard is partially stuck, it looks as if someone had tried to bend it on his knee in a rush of drunken manliness: please take a minute to consider that it takes twice as much effort to type each and every single letter on this post! I shall include photos as soon as I get home.

Today we are going to do things a little differently. All I am going to do is to give you five small, funny snippets from the hottest city in the Netherlands, instead of going on humanistic rants on the zeitgeist of a nation –we will have time for that later- and tons of pictures!

1. The frickin' cars: it is no secret that the Dutch, given their geography, have very limited means of transportation, mainly bikes and trains, given the huge expense that owning a car in the Netherlands means. And it's not like everything is not close by, cities like Amsterdam can be easily walked through without worries of getting lost or not seeing enough. My special mention here goes for the automotive rarities in the nation: from the newest model Mercedes E-Class taxis, to the heaps of old Citroën DS sharks lumbering next to the historical canals. The chances of seeing any European rarities (Citroën H truck, Aston Martins, old Porsches and 80's Mercedes) are far greater than in any other park of Europe. Sheer passion for cars? Cheap mechanics? Extravagant lifestyles? You tell me!

The old Citorën DS Sharks were everywhere! In wagon and ambulance version, too!

Citroën H van, next to a canal in Amsterdam. Road trip time!

2. Po(s)tcard: the hilarious sight of a couple of tourists in a Coffee Shop (hole-in-the-wall space dedicated to the sale and consumption of Cannabis), wrapped in the haze and the strong smell of pot, with mouths hanging open, staring into the distance. Much like a modern-day bropium hall, surrounded by (do not miss this) waffle stores and other restaurants selling rich foods for when the munchies kick in. I do not smoke, but I still have to try some brownies.

3. Meat market: the Red Light District is one of the few places on the Earth were prostitution is regulated like any other job. These fine ladies pose in provocative garments in rooms exposed to the street. The waits for customers can get long, so they have tall stools to rest on; it's funny to look at in the sense that these people just look so bored and uninspired, texting on their cell phone, taking a puff or even reading a book. I do like women with brains, but the selection available ranged between burned-out classics to unattractive youngtimers, many of them from exotic locations. The priceless part of the Red Light District is the people who navigate such rarified neighborhood: from packs of youngsters accompanying someone who is soon to be a man, to highly surprised Japanese tourists, and sketchy, fast-walking men with shaved heads and some white designer garment. Worthy of a visit, just for laughs!

You know, no big deal. Just sitting here with an good ol' cigarette.

4. Hoards of Spaniards: yes, you heard it well, hoards of Spaniards. Massive amounts of them, in couples or numerous groups, all destined to getting stoned out of their minds when the endless fun of the homeland doesn't quite cut it anymore. From people fainting just ahead of me as I walk peacefully by one of the Centraal Canals, to loud references to Spanish humor, to some rootless individual sitting next to me, on Skype, repeating in a high, clear tone, the words "Skinny Dipping" for at least six or seven times, each one slower than the last. Even the receptionist was from Spain, but thankfully she spoke perfect English while I chewed my words like a good Kansas cowboy. Whoops, she just left the computer rather indignantly!

5. Turkish delight: after eating a delicious mixture of bread crumbs, diced lamb, thick tomato sauce and yogurt followed by an exemplary dish of Baklava, the waiter at the Turkish restaurant could not but notice the California driver's license attached to my debit card. A great conversation ensued. We talked about gas prices (1.4 euros a LITER over here), traveling the US on a shoestring budget, and how much he wanted the Mustang from Gone in Sixty Seconds.

Well, "Won't get fooled again" started playing right now in the lounge next door, so I guess that is my musical queue to put my sunglasses on, and leave triumphantly after this most wonderful day, to meet three very picturesque Mercedes enthusiasts tomorrow.

Sayonara, baby!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Where Home Lies (Part III)

In the previous two topics we have looked at León as a historical town full of beautiful monuments (and relatives) of all shorts. However, before we start, I'd like to make special emphasis on a major difference between Europe and the US: due to the age of some of the towns, their streets have had many centuries to cram themselves with beauty of all sorts. A town where one can live, touch, see and breathe art, or some man-made expression of beauty, intentional or not, is a town that is desirable, a town that is worth waking up in everyday. The US, by comparison, is still a young country, but has no excuses to build spaces full of charm; there are many gorgeous towns spotted around the States, but modern architects and urban planners seem to forget the human element behind their designs. Beauty is one of the keys to happiness: living everyday with something that inspires you, that propels you to do great things, or simply makes you smile slightly.

These are machinery shelters for the (inspired) restorers at San Isidoro.

Today's two main topics are bread and circus, or, in a literal translation, food and entertainment. I woke up early in the morning, with a soft haze of mist over the city, still to be burned off. The streets laid empty that day: it was just me and the monumental squares. As I went down the main artery of the Old Town, the Calle Ancha, streaming down from the Cathedral, I thought about my friend Beatriz, whom I had not seen in almost ten years. Would she recognize me? Would I recognize her? How do you condense a year's worth of events in a conversation?

The sleepy square where the cathedral lies.

I waited for ten minutes, almost freezing my nose. Then, a small-framed figure, wrapped in a tweed coat, showed up and asked "Miguel?". When you meet such an old friend, there is always a first hour of wordlessness... ten years! Soon after breakfast we decided to walk towards a heated space, any heated space: the mall. On our way I started to realize how hard the crisis had hit my town: some old business had been vacant for months, while some others had been stripped completely and replaced by very dull, overstuffed Chinese bazaars lit by sad fluorescent tubes.

We got to the mall, which looked like any other mall ever built. Same confusing layout, same chain stores. The top half of the mall was entirely vacant, which made a perfect space for remembering the old inside jokes we told each other as kids, and the whereabouts of our teachers. As noon approached, we headed back to the Old Town, with a small stop by the school where we studied together. Ah, dear Opus Dei: feels strange to say this, but despite I do not uphold all your values, I would not have wanted to be in any other school at that age, with my own doubts, my own conflicts and my own, smashing successes.

Colegio Leonés. Eight wonderful years behind a desk, right here.

It was here where I started to develop a passion for the arts as a side project. In my early teens, I used to take a letter-sized sheet and doodle some comics to put them up on the bulletin board every Monday. I carried this tradition up until I was seventeen, where I "took life more seriously". Oh, how many people have mistakenly taken life seriously!

One of the biggest things I realized in this visit was that one of the biggest components of my life as an artist was to be in an environment where I was continuously exposed to beauty, especially architecture, landscapes and artworks. Amazing that, after all these years, I could not escape the power of this beauty, the continuous search that had made bricklayers, ceramicists and masons erect such magnificent temples high to something higher than themselves!

After school, I played basketball in the courts of an old clerical school.

The very courteous doorman let us pass after telling him my story!

And there it lay, half empty, half abandoned. Someone save this Seminary!

We met with another friend: Héctor, my very first friend, ever. He told me numerous anecdotes, including the first time we introduced ourselves in class: "Man, when you said that your name was coffeemaker (cafetera), I knew we were bound to be friends". Héctor is as noble and funny as a person gets, but for a short time we grew distant because he liked soccer and I did not; being in completely different class sections did not help either. We met again last year, completely changed, but similar in our core values: so similar we really understood why we had become friends in the first place, many years ago, in a classroom where I expressed my boredom by changing my name to coffeemaker.

Soon it got dark, and the cathedral was lit up in the middle of the Old Town.

A scene that seems straight out of a French realist film.

My father's Taxman Beatles Bar, dedicated to the band from Liverpool.

Well assorted, ready for the festivities till 4.30am! Visit their website (link).

Bring the food!

Leon is world-famous for its unique foods, derived mainly from mountain cattle and legumes in the plains. Amongst them, you have cured beef (cecina), garbanzos (chick peas), lentejas estofadas (stewed lentils), cochinillo (piglet), botillo (similar to a Scottish Haggis, an intestine full of beef chunks and entrails), morcilla (blood sausage), chorizo (paprika sausage –spicy or not-) and jamón (prosciutto, or smoked ham), amongst others. As you see, these are very strong foods suited for the very cold climate, sometimes bordering -20C (-4F) in the winter.

Blood sausage pizza, a creative take on a typical Leonese dish.

Every year, at 12am on the 31st of December, Spaniards eat 12 grapes.

Boiled octopus, to be served with paprika, olive oil and salt... and the best BREAD ever!

Certainly, the food is one of the aspects that I will always miss about my hometown. Our gastronomy is brutish in the simplicity of its materials, yet very refined in its preparation, much like French cuisine. One of the most astounding things I have ever tried here was a foam called "Pepper Air", a whiff of flavor with no substance whatsoever. Plain as flavored air, incredible!

Departure through Castile
Ryanair happened to be the cheapest company to fly from Castile-Leon to Barcelona. Planes usually depart from Valladolid, an hour and a half away. So, with a bunch of native foods, clothing and books, I was sent out from the local bus station to the airport in Valladolid. On my way there, I seized the opportunity to take some pictures from the land of great writers like Antonio Machado and Miguel Delibes:

Intriguing panorama in a small Castilian village.

Ah, the Castilian plains!

I took a quick nap, and woke up when the bus stopped. This is what I saw.

In Valladolid the airport is so homey, you just get out and walk up to the plane!

The Pyrenees, seen shortly before landing back in Barcelona.

That was, in short, my hometown: my roots, and the philosophies of living I have taken with me abroad, trotting all over the world in lands foreign enough to find myself, and familiar enough to find home. This post also includes a short video, edited by yours truly, taken while on the bus ride between León and Valladolid. May this be the start of a avalanche of media on this blog!

Tomorrow I will travel to the Netherlands to visit three distinguished members of the Mercedes community and have some healthy fun in Amsterdam –don't think otherwise!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Where Home Lies (Part II)

Today's theme: The Puddle Song (click here to listen)

The mind moves in mysterious ways, and that includes forgetting; seldom is the time in which we can remember the chronological progress of separate, non-relate events. In the picture of our memory, these appear as flashes, as colorful brushstrokes full of vividness on a hazy gray background, especially if these explosions of remembrance have an emotional component to them. Nothing will be printed strongly on our souls if we do not live through the lenses of our own emotions, of our own, ever-changing cloud of feelings. Such is the case of these little flashes:

A visit to the ophthalmologist... and my aunt.

Due to my imminent job with Tyler doing online TV, I decided to improve my looks and vision with contact lenses, and asked my father's friend for an appointment at his clinic. In less than an hour, I was walking around with a temporary set without the calibration for astigmatism. In less than day and a half, the clinic received two sets, each made in a different material, to decide which one would be the most comfortable of all. I was instructed to walk around with them for an hour and a half, and, just after closing time, I settled for the second set, much less wobbly than the first. The difference in optics, compared to my usual glasses, was unbelievable: not only I could scratch my eyes freely and touch the sides of my nose without creating an annoying imprint in my vision, but reality had a much more three-dimensional look. I could feel the soft, frozen breeze from the North around my eyes, not longer shielded behind glass.

On my first vision test, I visited Villafañe, my childhood's favorite cabinet of wonders.

On my second vision test, I walked up to Tejuelo, a local artisan print shop.

With my eyes shinier than usual, I went to see my aunt. And, as many of your relatives would do, the first thing she did was to take me out to the local supermarket to buy me some typical food from my hometown: cecina (cured beef), chorizo (paprika sausage), polvorones (almond sweets) and a very particular kind of chocolate on its way to extinction.

Very original Christmas window display at the local butcher!

All the Jamón (ham, prosciutto) you could ever want.

THIS is the stuff. My favorite. Similar to Kinder, but Spanish made.

We took her Mercedes A Class (not available in the US, an ultracompact) to the local cinema to pick up my cousin. My goodness, has she grown! Last time she was as tall as my waist, and now she was in High School, dancing ballet and fooling around with boys! We had a talk about what she wanted to do in life: she wanted to be famous, to model, act and sing. I suggested her to try the dramatic arts. Her little brother, cousin of mine too, was seriously invested in soccer. To the two of them I said, serious as a tombstone, to never let anyone discourage them in their career choices, no matter how ridiculous, as long as they invest themselves fully in their dreams.

A very inspiring ghost

With our belly happy and full, we headed to the living room. My aunt pulled out the photo albums. I found many pictures of weddings, of baptisms and first communions, but, as the covers of the albums got older, I found this:

Grandma (left), grandpa (right), mom (round head), aunt (wide open eyes).

Ever since I was a kid, I was always told about my grandfather, Ricardo, and how he made it in the Americas. As time went by, I not only learned that he had the same exact kind of glasses throughout his life, but that he was, much like me, in a constant discovery of himself by changing environments. He studied mathematics in the monastery of Carrión de los Condes (a historic hotel since 1992), but as soon as the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, he migrated to Cuba, where he almost starved. His lack of correspondence for a span of two years had made his family think he had died, but soon enough he settled in Mexico City, where he started teaching mathematics. His little academy got bigger, and he started adding room after room, hired teachers, added an extra floor, and another one... and, with painstaking sweat, blood and tears, he became the headmaster of the Spanish School in Mexico. One day I shall visit his legacy.

He died in 1980, so I never had the chance to know him or hear about his adventures. He was a terminal smoker; tobacco, in collusion with him being a workaholic, took his life. But still, to this day, I keep him in my mind as a great source of inspiration to guide me through the uncertainty of my life in foreign lands –aren't they all now- across the Atlantic. He is my guardian and my invisible mentor, and far greater of a driving force than most of my live relatives. Sometimes I wish that I could spend a day with him to speak about my travels and his, to tell him where I have gotten thanks to his story. He would be proud, wherever he is now.

Foreigner Superstar

My second and third days in León were mostly taken by a couple interviews by the local press, gathered by my father and the community of fans in his bar. One of them was the provincial newspaper (Diario de León); the other one was a magazine by the local chamber of commerce (Eco Magazine). The questions were pretty much the same: how life is in the USA, if it is hard to meet people, the hardships of the healthcare system, what kind of things I missed from home, what kinds of things the Americans could teach the Leonese...

The beautiful drive towards the newspaper's headquarters.

I was given a short tour of the offices at the Diario de León.

I was expecting a fifty-year old interviewer!

About this last picture, combined with this other one in NYC, is tempting me to rename my online journal, with complete honesty, as "Miguel eating amazing food, watching architecture and posing with women". Do you start seeing this trend?

The third (and final) chaper of "Where Home Lies" will reveal several locations from my years in León, explored in a walk around town with a couple of my very first friends. I will be leaving town tomorrow, so give me a couple days! Soon, in less than a week, I will be traveling to the Netherlands to meet three very special people. Stay glued to your screens!