Wow, it’s been a long time. I’ve spent more than the past month with little or no Internet connection. That’s my excuse. Sorry! Will post again soon, I promise.
From Lagos I made my way back to Madrid for two reasons: to get my third, final round of travel vaccinations and to participate in a volunteer English-teaching program in Spain. On my way, I stopped off at the tourism-heavy cities of Sevilla and Granada.
In Sevilla I saw some beautiful architecture and performed more on the street. I also made friends with a French scientist/rock bassist named Julien, and we did our best to avoid the hostel-room cockroaches: one “hiding” ostrich-style with his head under a burned-out lamp in the bathroom, another stuck to the very center of the hostel-bedroom ceiling, within jumping distance of Julien’s sleeping head. Granada was more of the same, but oddly enough I met an American named Jonathan who was born in Medford, OR and now lives near Westlake Village, CA but has no ties to Guitar Center.
After my last Spanish needling in Madrid, I went to the isolated historic village of Valdelavilla (now a resort) to volunteer in an English-teaching program called VaughanTown. Richard Vaughan, a man with slight celebrity status and his own TV channel in Madrid, runs a system wherein native English speakers from all over the world come to stay with free room and board at a nice hotel for five nights, and at the same time a group of Spanish people pay to stay in the hotel and improve their conversational English by simply speaking with the volunteers.
It was a blast. Our group of about 18 “Anglos” and 15 Spaniards contained equal numbers of interesting people and cartoonish characters, with plenty of overlap. The program was structured so that during the day we had one-on-one conversations scheduled with specific people for an hour at a time, and at meals each table fit two Anglos and two Spaniards. We were on a Spanish schedule for the most part, with long meals, 9:00 dinners, and afternoon siestas. In the post-siesta afternoons we had group activities like trivia games, and at night we had talent shows, comeedy performances, and even plays.
Our master of ceremonies, Greg, was both a crackup and a serious director, having worked at the Kennedy Center and performed in roles like Hamlet to acclaim. The first day, as an icebreaker, Greg split us into pairs to interview each other for five minutes before introducing each other to the group with a summary of our findings. We didn’t know it at the time, but Greg was using this as an audition for who he would cast in his plays that week.
I took it as a great compliment when, on the basis of my introduction, Greg asked me to be the leading man in one of the most difficult roles he had available… until he told me the part: Woody Allen’s character in Play it Again, Sam — the iconic loser (though he claimed to be casting me “against type” for comedic reasons). Three others took the stage with me as we rehearsed for just a few hours before our performance, and though it didn’t seem at first like we could ever pull it off, under Greg’s direction we were metamorphosed from awful to surprisingly decent in that amount of time. Our final performance seemed a hit, and I got yet another buzz from performing that left me hungry for more.
The rest of VaughanTown contained too many great moments and people to mention, and at the final “graduation” ceremony there were more than a few pairs of misty eyes. Writing this makes me wish for a group reunion already.
After the program I spent a couple of days exploring more of Madrid with Tadeh, a fellow VaughanTown volunteer from London who just recently earned his law degree. Outside the program as much as within it, the two of us together became twice as funny but half as intelligent. So adventuring around Madrid and nearby Segovia, we got lost constantly and nearly missed the train from one to the other.
The night after Tadeh went back to London, I met a few Californians in my Madrid hostel who took me to an Irish pub filled with Americans and very cheap drinks. The next day, sleep-deprived but excited, I left Madrid for Morocco.