Monday, February 11, 2008

Ten Things to Do in Gib When Levanter's in Town

Although Levanter sounds like the character from an American sitcom from the 70's, he (or it) is anything like the village idiot neighbourhood savant who sits on the stairs of the apartment building stoop and dispenses homespun wisdom. In fact, in scientific terms, Levanter is a strong easterly wind of the Mediterranean, especially in the Strait of Gibraltar, attended by cloudy, foggy, and sometimes rainy weather especially in winter. Cloudy, foggy, and sometimes rainy weather that, I might add, can completely obscure Gib. No small feat, that.

Or in less scientific terms, my Just Desserts. My Comeuppance. As punishment for my hubris committed against the meteorological gods - a character flaw best exemplified by uprooting our home from cold wintery Madrid for the warmer climes of Andalucía - the Viento de Levante (so named because its origins are fabled to be in Lebanon) is my Nemesis. So yes, its windy and frankly, all those negative ions are bumming me out and the incessant gusts are messing up my hair and this is all becoming a bit tiresome.

This became more than apparent this past weekend when Señor Gato Gringo and I stupidly decided to make the 20-minute hike from our flat in La Línea to Gibraltar, that massive chunk of limestone which dominates the horizon. The weather was less than perfect Friday afternoon but the Sirens of cheap ale and Marks & Spencer beckoned us through the shifting mist and drew us in like the rubes we were. As Friday afternoon eclipsed into Friday night and Saturday morning, that strong easterly wind of the Mediterranean, especially in the Strait of Gibraltar, attended by cloudy, foggy, and sometimes rainy weather especially in winter compelled those in the know to shut down the cable cars which run from the base of the Rock to its summit. No cable cars, no Barbary apes. No great loss.

Still, looking out of our incredibly overpriced hotel window Saturday morning - where $76 Canadian doesn't bag you a private bath or a TV in your room - and casting my gaze above Solly's Salt Beef Parlour, the strong easterly wind of the Mediterranean, especially in the Strait of Gibraltar, attended by cloudy, foggy, and sometimes rainy weather especially in winter was nonetheless disheartening. What to do?

So should you find yourself on one leg of the Pillars of Hercules and the monkeys et al. are out of your reach - probably not a bad thing in retrospect - I have generously compiled a list to make your stay more enjoyable. So with no further ado, I present:

Ten Things to Do in Gib When Levanter's in Town

1) Go to a pub - where Señor G.G. and I discovered that the price of a pint is less than a tomato sandwich and where we experienced - this after after several years overseas - the euphoria of toilets with actual flush handles rather than knobs that you pull or push. (Just reading that last sentence makes me want to shoot myself).

2) Take a spin on bus #3, to "Both Worlds". How often do you have the opportunity of visiting Both Worlds? True, the name is evocative of a cheesy Disney theme song and the bus just putters about town but your friends and family won't be any the wiser.

3) Buy cheap crap. Gib is one of the few remaining VAT free destinations in Europe and day trippers abound with bags of said crap. If you're looking for a cheap bottle of Bombay Sapphire, I recommend Booze & Co only because it has the best name hands down. If you smoke, buy cartons of dirt cheap cigarettes. If you drive, fill up on gas. A thorough search of Gib did not render any examples of Fags & Co or Gas & Go. Nothing at Marks & Spencer qualifies as cheap crap.

4) If you're of a certain age and tend to hit the sack by 9:30 (after falling asleep in front of the television at 8:30), take heart! Gib's prostitutes hit the streets by 8:00 Friday nights. In geriatric-friendly Gib you can have a quick shag and still have time for a nice cup of Ovaltine before lights out.

5) Go to Morrisons. When was the last time you went to a grocery store with an entire section devoted to cole slaw? Where you can buy a tin of "hot balls and sausage"? Where bags of chips include wine recommendations? - as in the case of our chili crisps: We think the subtle heat and delicate sweetness in this pack are divine with the ripe cherry and raspberry bouquet of a lively summery rosé. An excellent choice, no doubt. We stocked up on Bushy's Gibraltar Barbary Beer.

6) The Gibraltar Museum which houses, among other things, the oldest human skull excavated on the Rock and was, at the time, the first 100,000-year old+ skull to be unearthed in the world. Not recognized for what it was, it was tucked away and forgotten until a skull of the same age was found in the Neander Valley in Germany. There but for the grace of the gods, we would be talking about Gibraltarian man. But we don't. Boo hoo hoo, always a bridesmaid never a bride.

7) The Gibraltar Cemetery. A visit to the tiny graveyard is de rigueur if only to see the gravestone of William Grave, Master of HMS Caesar, "who fell while conspicuously exerting himself in the battle of Algeciras on 6th July 1801, aged 38 years." What better exhortation to a life of sloth & indolence than the absolute likelihood of dying by conspicuously exerting oneself? No one has to tell me twice.

8) Avoid the crazy Moroccan lady in the motorized wheelchair. This battery-propelled harpy barrels down Gib's narrow meandering streets like she's looking for a Formula One race and leaves no one standing in her wake. Defying all laws of logic and civic planning, she will pass you - or more accurately cut you off - on the left and then pass you - or more accurately cut you off - from the same direction 2 minutes later. She dogged my every step and in no time at all I was consumed with a burning desire to stick a broom handle in the spokes of her wheels.

9) Listen to the locals. Albeit not a stellar activity, this should probably be done in conjunction with Item #1 (Go to a pub). Gib is a melting pot of polyglot Anglophones, many of whom are of East Indian descent, Spaniards and North Africans whose accents and vocabularies have distinctly evolved over the years. It is curious hearing a Moroccan call you love while handing back your change and wishing you ta as you leave the store.

10) See how many times you have to pass through Passport Control - either the Spanish or Gib side - before anyone asks to see your passport, holds it in his/her hands, opens it, and actually does something with it. Like stamp it. So far as the EU is concerned, we never left Spain this weekend. Considering that 20 years ago, British agents gunned down 3 IRA suspects near a gas station on the border, I thought that security might be a little tighter. I was wrong.

Honourable Mention: The airport runway. In order to enter Gib you must cross the airport landing strip that physically divides the border area from the town proper. If a plane is landing, you obviously have to wait. If you are given the green light, you are instructed to proceed as quickly as possible across the runway. This is made especially problematic when the Levanter is blowing. My advice is to never essay this crossing alone when Levanter is in town unless you have a death wish or are mentally feeble. I was compelled to anchor myself to Señor G.G. - and in retrospect I should have taken the extra precaution of stashing large stones in my pockets for additional ballast - who prevented me from blowing across the isthmus ass over kettle. Depending on your IQ level, this too could be perceived as a fun activity.

Of course, the truly intrepid traveller will plan his or her trip to Gib in fair weather, when there is no strong easterly wind of the Mediterranean, especially in the Strait of Gibraltar, attended by cloudy, foggy, and sometimes rainy weather especially in winter. Not that I regret visiting the wind-swept Rock this weekend for how else would I have compiled such a stellar list of things to do. Should you not take my advice and go while the east wind is howling, bring along my list. You will thank me. And the broom handle. That broad will drive you nuts.

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