I walked in with my two friends, and we knew immediately that we were out of place. “Perfect”, I thought. “I’ve been wanting to find a local’s bar for a while, and this is exactly what I had in mind”.
When we entered the tiny (not yet overcrowded) bar my lungs seized with stale and fresh smoke. The bar was so homey that I felt like I had just walked in on someone’s personal get-together in their livingroom. Everyone seemed to know one another, or rather everyone seemed to be close friends, including the bar tender who actively participated in the party.
The bar quieted slightly, as the locals observed the three Americans open the beaten door, and walk up to the bar and order drinks. A man came up to my friend and asked if he could play a stupid (yes, he gave us that disclaimer) on her. She agreed, and he handed her a small slip of paper with a sequence of letters, and asked her to say the letters quickly in English, producing a nasty, inapropriate sentence in Spanish. We laughed at the immaturity of it, he laughed at his success and the bar tender looked on in disaproving amusement.
The walls and the cieling of the bar were haphazardly decorated with pictures of famous bands, politicians, and of course Che Guevara. What hippie bar would be complete without a shrine to Che? I caught glimpses of my wide-eyed American face in the cracked and rusted mirror on the wall, as I debated (in Spanish!) with a man from Italy. He said he was scared to travel to the United States because people are so direct, and everything seems so fast paced and uptight. I told him people are, in fact, MUCH more direct in Spain and that he should visit the West coast where the atmosphere is more relaxed. When he found out I was from California he yelled ¨Oooo Cal-ee-fornia! Arnold Schwarzenegger! Are all the girls in California pretty like you?¨ I laughed and said ¨Of course they are! Every single girl in California is absolutely beautiful!¨ He seemed to approve of the U.S. a little bit more after this, but didn´t hesitate (as most don´t) to express his hate for Bush.
It´s interesting to travel as an American, but it´s even more interesting to travel as a Californian. Whenever I tell someone I am from California, I´m instantly ¨forgiven¨ for being American. ¨You´re from California? Like Hollywood? Do you surf?¨ For many, California is in her own category and might as well be her own Utopia with her own race of beautiful celebrities and surfers. This so-called country of California is just one endless summer with paradise beaches, Pamela Andersons and palm trees.
I teach English twice a week to fourth graders and sixth graders and when I said in my slow paced English (speed limit: 1 word/ 2 seconds): ¨I. am. from. california.¨ they echoed the word ¨California¨ in excited disbelief.
I know California has her connotations and her reputation, and I love the quirky, hippie, colorful beach town that I call home. But honestly, California is one of the most diverse states in the Union in terms of both landscape and people. I went to middle school in a neighborhood in San Diego where over thirty languages were spoken. When I´m in San Diego, I could go snowboarding and surfing in the same day (it would be hard, but it´s possible). California has the Redwoods, the desert, the Sierra Nevadas, Yosemite, fertile farmlands, and yes, incredibly beautiful beaches. We have some of the best Mexican food, Chinese food, and Indian food outside of the respective countries, thanks to the diversity of people who live in California. All I´m saying is that the completely distorted reputation of such a diverse state as California outside of the United States is a prime example of the effects of Hollywood.
Let´s leave California now, and head back to the bar. Mr. Italian, who was so impressed with my Californian heritage was himself from one of the most beautiful places on earth (or so I´ve heard): the island of Sardinia off the coast of Italy. Mr. Italian said he moved to Spain to escape the courrpt politics of Italy. We conversed a while longer, as I ate the most unexpectadly delicious tapas. (Tapas are little snacks that are eaten in bars and can range from a plate of olives, to a ham sandwich, to chickpea salad. In Granada, tapas come free with every drink. I was told that this tradition began with Catholics who didn´t want Jews or Muslims coming to their restaurants, so they would serve tapas that consisted only of pork and ham to discourage the non-catholics from dining there. Only in Granada is it obligatory for all bars to serve free tapas).
The tapas at this bar were toasted pieces of bread with cheese, avocado, and of course, the Spanish trademark olive oil. Mmmm….Thank you nameless dive bar for the free tapas that you have so generously provided us with on this fine evening. Amen.
The alcohol had caught up with Mr. Italian and he left the bar tripping over himself chanting ¨Obama! Obama!¨, as I basked in the deliciousness of both my tapa and my Californian roots.