Writings about Some Trips in W. Europe
Travels--Intro Berlin, Germany Scotland In Ireland Kiev, Ukraine Barcelona Seville

So in lovely Seville (Spain), I was washing my clothes at the tiny Aguilas laundromat, where the Argentine guy who ran the place (actually, substituting for his wife while his child was sick) told me that Argentines were much better off before the U.S.A. forced them to accept democratic governments.

Hmm.

Apparently he felt that democracy was not a type of government that would work in Latin America at all, and much less in Iraq. He spoke, for one, about corruption, about how in the good old days, a president could steal money for one, maybe two years, but then would be toppled by a military coup. He also spoke about security, personal security: if one didn't feel safe going out on the street, hadn't one lost the most basic freedom of all?

I did ask him if anyone in his family had been abducted or killed by the military junta in the 70s. Yes, he said, his uncle was shot in the forehead and his father was kidnapped. He didn't necessarily want to return to that.

Remarkable. But, like most Argentines, his conclusion at the end was that Argentina was more or less stuck, and he couldn't see a way out of the situation.

When I arrived in Seville, I was taking a walk through the city, near the Barrio Santa Cruz, where I was staying, and headed down for a walk near the river, which appeared to have a nice path to walk along. As I reached the start of the footpath, I was approached by a young man who spoke Spanish poorly, and with an accent. He showed me a map, and asked for some directions. I told him that I wasnt from here, he said he himself was Yugoslav, and I told him, on being asked, that I was American (probably a bad idea).

OK, so hes not understanding the directions, and while were standing there, these two guys in regular street clothes walk up, and one flashes a sort of card in his wallet, and says (in Spanish), "Police. Is there a problem here?"

This is where it got interesting. The "cop" told me there were a lot of problems around the river (as I was soon to find out), for example, people offering to change currency. He asked if the Yugoslavian had offered to change money. I said no. I was suspicious at this point because the "cops" Spanish was not very good, or at least, heavily accented, which seemed odd if he was from Spain. It was the wrong sort of accent.

So he turns to the Yugoslavian, badgers him, then asks for his document. He gets the guys passport, and (in retrospect, too quickly), immediately identifies him as Yugoslavian. He then asks for the guys wallet, which is handed over, and he pulls the money out and flips through it. Asks if any is mine, I say no. THEN he looks at the guys credit card, and makes a call on his cell phone, saying there are some problems, a Yugoslavian guy, yeah, he has a credit card, heres the number. THEN, oh my god, he asks the Yugoslavian guy for his PIN number *AND THE GUY GIVES IT TO HIM*, which number he then reads into the phone.

Hanging up, he gives the wallet back, badgers the guy some more, and tells him to get the hell out of there. Then he turns to me.

"Documento?"

So I'm starting to step very slowly up the stairs, saying, no, thank you, esta bien. Hes telling me there are lots of problems here, "I.D.?", I'm walking backwards until I'm a few feet away, then turn around and just walk the other direction. They followed me for a little bit, I think, but left me alone. I figured if they were real cops they would have arrested me and I would have dealt with that when I got to it.

Later I thought the whole thing was probably a scam, and that the Yugoslavian guy was there to find and identify tourists, using some signal (folding the map?) to call the other guys over.

The more elegant scam, that worked, was in the small alleys of Granada, where I was approached by a gypsy? woman with "free" bunches of rosemary. At first I resisted, but she implied it was very rude to refuse a gift offered freely; so I accepted, and she quickly took and opened my palm, and read my fortune. Turns out I will have two healthy children, a long life, beautiful wife, and a house. Apparently both my palms said the same thing, just in a different order (and the right palm suggested, as well, that my first child would be a boy, which apparently is also a good thing).

When done, she dropped my hand, and rubbed her fingers together. "Ahora, pagas."

It was a good scam. I paid. I was afraid, I think, of being cursed.