Monday, September 28, 2009

Red in Bordeuax and a kingdom for a car

From San Sebastien, we eventually got a lift away from the border, hopping into France like docile frogs in the menacing headlights of destiny, making only a few steps north to Bordeaux. The first lift dropped us on on the side of the motorway, and only Waseem's generosity in offering his phone for the use of a french lady at a toll barrier won us the good fortune of her reciprocation in whisking us 50 kilometres upwards. Another step took us to Bordeaux, faster than you can say motorway and all we could see were the minutes crushing under our fleet rubberised feet. We had made it through the gorgeous Landes region, the largest forest in France and the largest (alpine) forest in Europe, all 100 kilometres of it! Thumbing it, over the blue smells of the roadway our nostrils glimpsed the pleasures of a tree environment that would freshen a whole galaxy of patronised toilet facilities. But then, dropped off like unwanted babies at a Bordeaux petrol station, we puckered and persuaded but nobody could handle our responsibility. Hours went by, and Mr Wasim and I (as I was now calling him, my good friend, in a James Bond accent) slowly morphed into double-oh zeros, glum dummies without purpose or willpower as the dwindling evening travellers on the forecourt spurned our feeble pleas. At one point, Mr Wasim looked like a petrified duck and my husky voice resembled that of a well kicked dog. We were down and out now, spitting tiredness, dreaming of not and never, enthusiastically finished. That's right, we had it with the baguette and were bored with the Bordeaux. And by 830 am, after sitting and gurning at bleary eyed glaucoma besieged pump patrons for eight hours of baleful donkey headed yakking, failing to pick a juicy one from the diarrheal dregs that sluiced between our sentry positions as the mocking fart of the gush of the automatic doors closed our indigestible fate behind their backs, we manually shifted ourselves in the general direction of a hotel to render ourselves comfortably unconscious of the raw line of hot coals that had become the tedious element of time. Cooked in the small air of our sweaty room, we awoke dazed and only marginally more energised. Fatigue was the marble hippo on both of our backs and was set to get worse too, and whole business of asking for lifts was finally losing its appeal. Fuck it was not the motto, but listlessness was the mind frame and, perhaps in a good way, the feeling of wanting, asking and hoping to Travel was dieing. Home thoughts were abroad and though we were soon to be back, the next few days were to test our personal strength and good humour morwe than we would have liked. And if you are not too tired either, look out for the next burst of writing ina few days time. Thanks, bye for now, Thomas.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A white thumb against a dark sky

There are various categories of “no” when you are hitchhiking, and as it would take us 5 days to reach Paris, here is a rundown of the various ways in which people turned us down and left us on the roadside (or, as it happenned, in a ditch sheltering from the rain).
Some cars aren't going far and so can’t see the point in stopping (often they are right in this), and the driver often makes a sign to indicate a left or right turn, so to this you give him an extra thumb to say thankyou. These are the “Traffic Policeman”.
Some have no room due to baggage or people, at which the universal gesture of the driver is to make a W-shape out of their arms and mouth and with their head rolled to one side make a hammy Jewish-looking body shrug as if to say "What can I do? If the Angels were on our side and there was less bulk in this automobile then we would be able to come to some sort of arrangement!". To these cars you share their dilemma with grateful understanding, at least they are not ignoring you and would quite possibly help if they could. These people are the Titans of the road, and at least look this way, full of grace and good intention, but it is always the same expression, and I wonder whether all of them, if they were less well fitted out with ballast, would be as magnanimous to pull over and pick you up? I wonder, they certainly look okay and good, so they are always given the benefit of the doubt and a grateful thumb and head nod is granted them. What with their Jewish waggling and virtuous demeanour, I have called these (I am quite proud of this one) the “No room at the Inners”.
Then there is the driver who is not leaving the vicinity you are in. These without fail lift up their arm and point, in a jabbing motion, down into their laps and shake their heads with judgelike impassivity. Some are serious as they do this, looking a bit grim like wizened Scottish grave diggers (“here’s a good spot!”), while others impart their disappointing news with a compassionate smile. Either way, they are “Finger Jabbers”.
Then there are the strange people who stick their thumbs up straight back at you, and for this reason are very annoying. Some people, great your hopeful “baited” thumb by sticking their own thumb right back at you, often with a look of great humour on their faces. To this, the best analytic response my mind has been able to muster at the time is “eh?”. This gesture could mean one of many things but these can only be elucidated in retrospect which is what makes their response so annoying. There are in my opinion several likely sub-groups which it is possible to categorise the person into after a few minutes of deliberating.
In one group this gesture means that they would never in a month of Sundays pick you up but they do in actual fact find you funny (which isn’t a bad effect to be having) and so are indulging in a generous dose of mockery, mingled respect at your Chutzpah too I don’t doubt, if I am being accurate. These people are often “Townies”, for the want of a better description, and so perhaps we can forgive them as they haven’t after all had very good educations. But they are definitely taking this piss, so some education would be most needed in their case. That’s group 1, the "Laughing townies".
The second group I have come up with I believe actually have no idea why you are standing there, but being spontaneous people are reciprocating your gesture, again with a touch of mockery but unlike the last group, no irony. These are the best subgroup, as their mockery is light and also rather a reflex response as they haven’t really seen you or had time to think, by the looks of their deadpan faces as they blaze by. I shall call these the “Right back at yous”, as you can at least laugh at them as they robotically motor past you.
The last group I think have a certain solidarity with you, they know why you are standing there, and may in fact have hitchhiked too in their pasts and want you to know this by mimicking your behaviour. Theirs is a knowing sort of good humoured “no”. Perhaps they are going in another direction, or are full, but being the same kind of people they give you a “positive negative” by saying no with their thumbs. These people are okay, but a little inconsiderate as you think by their enthusiasm are giving you a lift and you are disappointed when after running after their car for twenty metres that they are not slowing down. These are the “Keep Believing-ers”.
Some people say no without moving a muscle. One highly irritating look you often get is best described as “The Terminator”, often from men, with sun glasses on who (and probably because of this) are not even slightly muscley or macho PRETEND not to see you.
Then there is the “Hauty Finger Waggers” who, as if some Football virtuoso in a previous existence seeks to tell you (perhaps they are dreaming) that they will have none of your diving nonsense against their football team, thankyou very much, they perfect expressions of deep, nose wrinkled insolence, as if your plea is the smell of dog muck to them. Why they do this I have no idea, but their porky little fingers are most irritating when you are only after all politely asking for a lift.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Oviedo part deux - a lesson in receiving: say yes to everything!

Waseeem hadn't eaten all day (no surprise there as it was Ramadan) so we went our merry and inexorable way towards a kebab eatery, arriving coincidentally at about 9pm when the fast could be broken again as the sun burned its way down the vast skewer of the sky!
And how the the meat was burning in the kebab shop, admirable little beauties, two sizzling legs turning in front of the hot lamps, enough to make a grown man blush and we were ogling them like hungry children. But we were to be going upstairs to eat because Shahid, the haltingly kind owner, had invited the two of us along with Katrina and Xavier to come and dine with him after we had come to buy a kebab the previous night and he had noticed we were travellers and so had decided to help us.
Conscientious and attentive, he brought out a lovingly prepared spread in the mirror-clad dining room part of the restaurant, separate from the paying guests. Chicken mixed in with rice, a curry sauce, spicy chapatis, hot bread fresh from the grill and a fresh olive tomato and onion salad. There were inexhaustible quantities, even for five of us, and we were well fed indeed by the time of the dessert, a scrumptious trifle with cream topping decorated with pistachio nuts and a red jelly heart in its centre (which we photographed!). We enjoyed talking to him, he was quietly spoken and was happy to talk with us despite the demands of the restaurant below. Interestingly, the mark on his forehead, Waseem related, was actually caused as is so common by the observance of the 5-a-day praying regimen of being a Muslim. It is also true that a Muslim should be on the look out for people to help, especially during Ramadan, doing a good deed such as this being grace enough to enter heaven, which partially explains Shahid's eagerness to help. The meal was very generous, and we were very grateful come the end of a well-fed and well-rounded (in more ways than one!) evening, and happy to have met and spoke with a thoroughly nice man too. But as we were leaving he asked us if he could pay for mine and Waseem's passage to San Sebastien, at the cost of at least 20 euros each, which Waseem unfortunately turned down. I thought this wrong, and I will explain why.
Firstly, it disappointed Shahid, the feeling being we were less than "family" and this is not a good feeling, as by his gesture he was including us in some way in his family, religious, human or otherwise. Secondly, it would have been very useful to us, as we needed the money, were tired and hitchhiking was a difficult thing to do in Spain. Thirdly, we would have learned the very valuable lesson of accepting a quite incredible gift from a stranger, setting as it does a precedent for our own lives such that we would never be able to be stingy again. This act would have made us better people, had we let its thundering import of staggering cash value thud down into our lives, such that in similar situations ourselves as Shahid we would be a lot more likely to do as he did. True, the meal was very generous, and a very good thing to offer but accepting this gift made us better people too, and if we had refused, it is possible that that act would have even made us worse people. So for us, it was in fact an opportunity to receive those tickets, as we would have become better people and would would have contributed more to the world I feel.
So we left and Shahid kindly inviting us back the next night for kebabs (again on the house) we accepted, but the next evening after eating we went to say goodbye and, you'll never guess what happened, but Katrina and Xavier insisted on paying! I am prepared to say that when I brought out the money from my wallet I felt ashamed to hand it over. The whole point was that he was giving us something for nothing, and I for one would certainly not have come back to buy a kebab on that evening (I was a bit fed up with them to be honest and also, we had been there the last two nights! I wasn't about to just drop in now was I?), so the whole experience took on a most weird and unwholesome (for the soul) aspect of actually "paying the man back" for his generosity. Payment! We may as well have given him a tip too for his kindness the night before, and perhaps a few extra euros for the offer of the bus tickets, and then done the washing up too perhaps like the little Famous Five characters we really were. "Thanks awfully!" we would have trilled, "You've been such a sport!" Nevermind. At least I learned something from the experience. In the past it would have been me eager to recompense (disgusting word in the circumstance) our benefactor. It reminds me of something I once read, a critique of the ethos of Reciprocal Pity, where you look to do good to those who are lacking and who then, seeing you lacking what you have just lost (through giving it to them) then almost queue up to do good right back to you. The odiousness of this system is there ends up being a demand upon the world to recompense the giver, even especially the people you think you have had done a favour to who end up eager to harm their resources a to give it all back to you. Maybe you didn't even want it!
This shouldn't be so, people should give freely and irrespective of the person's losses and though it is then less predictable when (and who!) you receive good back from, at least giving can remain in the realm of good feeling and loving kindness and not in the rule book, and with more genuine goodness in the world, you get your return that way too anyway! And my golden rule: if someone offers you something, say yes. Yes to everything! That way you might even end up in a fix, accepting so much from someone one day that you will be forced to live by their example and won't be able to hold up your head in life ever again if you let chances go by to give things out and be good to people.

Oviedo to Paris: a hitchiking odessey; Part 1: Oviedo to San Sebastien

We thought it might take 2 to 3 days, in the end it took 5! By the 4th of September we would indeed be in Paris, Saint Denis to be precise, huddling dumb and tired-drunk in an unwashed and smelly fug, this time having failed to get free kebabs from the kebab restuarant (Waseem spoke Hindi and, with it being ramadam, it is an ismlamic code to be especially chairitable in this time of the year and it was our pernennial occupation to attempt to exploit this possibility!) and abandoned by the rap group (no room at their inn, the stingy buggers!) we were to be truly down and out. But all this lay ahead. Still the promise of joining the 11 day rap tour with Abdula and his 3-piece islamic group, with concerts at Lille, Stasbourg and in Paris was spread before us, along with free food and hotel accomodation was lit up in the sky before us. We were eager to see Paris, me especially as I wanted to see if it was liveable in (many reports had said to the contrary unless you ahd plenty of money) with a view to maybe moving there. So the carrot was dangling ahead of us and we were to need the motivation as the next days were to be dauntingly difficult.
It all started innocently enough, if booking two children's tickets on the train is innocent. The idea was that the train system has ticket turnstiles, and therefore wouldn't have conductors and so once we were "in the system" we could travel on indefinately, only hopping out at the penulitmate station to buy two more (children's) tickets to ride on to the end, in our case to San Sebastien, on the french border. We thought if we could manage this scam then it would at least save us a lot of effort hitchhiking, Spain being a notoriously difficult place for it but our plan it turned out was ironically childlike as not far from Oviedo a ticket collector boarded the train.
"Look out!" I yelled to Waseem as seeing him board, we scrambled to disembark, Waseem taking the nearest exit and getting down successfully, whereas I made a silly guilty looking dash to the furthermost exit at which as the train started moving the door wouldn't open! The baffled conductor came to my aide and, undeservedly, applying his foot to the door he triggered the alarm sensor and pulled the train to a stop again. I leapt down in relief, the children's ticket a silent partner in crime sitting in my pocket, and as the train sped off we realised we had also left our large bag of food on the train! We were in the middle of nowhere and had lost our food, which was of a value similar to what it would have cost to buy normal adult tickets to the end of the line!
We tried to htichike and for a good few hours (three or four) failed to get a lift and, remembering the time of the last train, we trouped down to the station and caught the train to Llanes, three quarters of the way to Santander (itself only halfway to San Sebastien). In our greed, we hadn't got very far, and were now stuck in a small seaside town. First thing Waseem stopped to break his fast by buying a kebab (free to him from the friendly Pakistani proprietor). Llanes was a honey pot, and was thronged with tourists at bed time, I decided to eat a Spanish delicacy of a pork sausage from one of the several delicatessans (just one, at a euro), this one having a great deal of fat in it and with a squashy fibrous texture that was difficult to explain (Waseem thought it was fat, to me it was like eating plant fibre, each bite leaving a stretched and squishy tooth-marked cut). We had seen a lot of these accross Spain, shops selling "jamon", the bigger ones in Oviedo and Madrid Emporia of Pig, great legs hanging cured and leathery brown from the mirrored ceilings, the bright lights showing off these legs as if they were attched to models! But they were expensive, as was all food in Spain, and we were travelling on the cheap so I was happy with my one sausage.
With no other options we went to the beach to sleep. Set in a perfect bay, scalloped out by the Sea, the sandy beach was lit by gentle night lights studded out upon encircling walkways. We had a dreamy and soft place to sleep. The lit walkways had metallic hand rails giving the sides of the bay the appearance of a land-grabbed cruise ship, a place for the wealthy land dwellers to come and admire the sea with food and drinks (indeed some revellers came by in the night waking the light-sleeping Waseem).
The next day and, thankfully,we had both slept! My only regret was not swimming there that morning in the crisp waves. We wanted to get up and away early, my vain idea was to be awake early to hitchhike when cars were on the move that are travelling large distances. So we moved off the beach before sunrise. The rhythmicity of the waves was calming and had surely helped us sleep, and I wish I has spent more time like this by the sea in the trip. Wary of the open road, and of our failure the previous day, we this time elected again to take the train and paid the full fare straight up. We now had many hours of seated luxury before us, as the train glided through the countryside, which was the magnificent Picos de Europa, great hulking hills tall and rounded and monstrous like dinosaur sides, bare green and treeless empasising the handsome masculine contours. These were very proud mountains, and the low lands were just as vigorous and healthy as the peaks, gushing rivers looking invitingly clean and fresh, patient fisherman standing out on pebblebeds to take fish from the abundant water. Farmsteads, making the best of limited room, gave roam to cows and horses and sheep, added variety to the land and on the hillsides red-painted dwellings among pine trees gave the view an Alpine aspect. Another place we were thundering straight across in which we could happily have stayed for a week or so!
To Santander train station and thence on to Bilbao, more of the same lovely mountainsides but, struggling with the dual demands of having a travel companion and constantly having to move on, I saught out the steady peremanance of the solitary life and my book. Beauty passed by in a blur by the window, frittered away in the windscreen as I whiled away many hours, perhaps a little rudely, gorging on solitude.
Bilbao was gentile, ordered buildings set about a winding river set into a stone channel running through the city, the streets quiet and unobstrusive. In the train station, though, the security guards agitated vigilance and arm-long baton were threatening resonances of the underlying tensions that are present in the Basque country. Remembering that Nursel, the girl who gave me a lift when I was hitchhiking from Masstricht to Aachen and had become a friend, had friends near Bilbao who I was welcome to stay with, we contacted her at an internet cafe and she gave me the phone number of Rafa who she said would sort us out. He lived, however, in the nearby city of Vittoria, so we took a bus out to the bus station. Near the bus station the magnifcent Guggenheim modern art museum was standing, looking a little out of place but proud of it, its controversial structure like an exploded steel-plated armadillo.
Vittoria in its centre has a cool green park, in which a sports team was sitting in a circle doing exercises, and this youthful relaxed flavour gave it a collegiate atmosphere. In Spanish the word is similar to the english word for tranquil: tranquilo. At the bus station, we were met by Rafa, who whisked us off to his place of work, a kebab restaurant! In fact, he owned sixteen right accorss Spain so we had truly landed on our feet given our recent frequenting of kebab restauraunts, especially as he had also booked for us two beds in a private appartment for that evening! So we dined on plates of donner and chicken, with a Turkish salad of olives, lettuce, tomato and feta cheese, and delicious fried potato wedges with properly spicey chilli sauce and drank cordial and in my case a beer. Served by Rafa's cute and cuddly wife, a Spanish lady who was taking time off her career as a police lady to raise their numerous children (and whose name I ahve guiltily forgotten), we had a good time talking and they were very friendly. Finally a Turkish red tea, a delicious drink if you haven't had it, taken with sugar and not milk, a more mellow drink than the black tea preferred by the english. Then Rafa took us striaght away to the Hotel Pamplona, with a host's senstiivity to the lateness of the hour and our flagging energies, dropping us off there, where as we took the stairs up to slumberland we passed photgraphs of the bullrunning in the notorious nearby town of Pamplona. Apparently, they also do it here and in Bilbao, from time to time, but the famous one is in Pamplona. A last inspection of Waseem's feet, he had cut one of them, the blister's sharp edge giving his big toe difficulties for the last few weeks, and urgent foot and body washing and we were able to sleep uninterrupted. So the next day we were refreshed and got up and, after visiting the modern art gallery got the bus to San Sebastien. But the nearer we got to the Pyrenees, the more the grey skies coalesced and bulged brimming with water and had a look of, it seemed to us, loathing for the wandering traveller. Less and less of the countryside was becoming visible, only chilly gases that swirled up and down the steep sides of the barrier that was forming between us and France. In the coach, more noxious gases were swirling, as in our clsoe proximity we realised the toll our mouths were taking from accomodationless travelling (and fasting), a curious stench coming from them necessitating talking with hands over our mouths! In falling darkness we arrived in San Sebastien, the time now 8pm. Once more, we walked through a foreign city in search of a kebab restaurant, this time we had to pay the full price but with nowhere to sleep (surprise surprise as we hadn't booked one, as ever things were made up as we went along!) we walked to the centre to take a bus towards the frontier, the now torrential rain soaking the streets and our ponging feet. We looked every inch the down and outers, glistening in the wet, me in a kagool and Waseem in his water-absorbant army jacket. The bus we were taking went "towards" the motroway but after some confused dicusssions with fellow passengers as to where we should get out, we jumped down in a badly lit frontier town, dodging the rain in amongst the shadows of the shops, looking for signs for the motorway. It turned out to be far enough away to make walking (in rain) difficult, and the taxi was our last option, ten euros to get us to the service station on the autoroute into France. Waseem, still partially "on empty" despite his fast-breaking kebab, called our preambulating cravan off the road and into a kebab restaurant where the people there was delighted to have us (and to offer us free kebabs and drinks and chips, I might add!). They so rarely got to speak to fellow Pakistanis that Waseem was a resounding hit and talked happily to them and we had a great time, exploring how we had all got to this meeting point from our various home countries. The proprietor, Ahmed, was particularly kind and talked to us with great warmth and interest and was very happy to receive us at his home when he learned we ahd nowehere to stay. Here he let us take his bed for the night (he slept in his daughter's vacant bed in another room). He was very generous and attentive as a host and layed out fresh towels and fruit and drinks for us and we sat up talking for a while, Waseem and he talking long after I went to sleep at 130.
It was here I got a first insight into the perverse and hard life of a Pakistani expatriate. Here in the west, Ahmed would work a good ten hours each day, 5 or 6 days a week, and would earn a lot of money. A large fraction of which, most in fact, he sent home to Pakistan to his wife and children there, a similar trend Waseem told me was seen in England. But the rub of the matter of it was that the cost of living in Pakistan is so low that his family were living there in luxury and great idelness while he was struggling in relative simplicity and working long hours (espeically so for a man in excess of 50 years!). Far from his family showing gratitude and humility, they were in fact exploiting him and living a richer life in a poorer country, a paradoxical truth about the so-called dependents of a pioneering european immigrant like Ahmed. A real eye-opener.
The next day he walked us out and over to the border, only a 5 minute walk through an open menagerie of shops and coffee places! What coincidence! We knew we were in the vicinity, within 10-15 kilometres of it, but we had no idea that upon waking we would have a short stroll to the border, in fact by a river overlooking a short pacth of water to France! And there it was, looking funny as if wearing an ill-fitting suit, the mighty nation of France awkard and cramped in this far southern corner, its only visible extants a few houses, a bakery (Boulangerie), a a newsagent (Tabac) and a rocky cliff face going upstream. Curious. So Ahmed bade us a sincere and warm goodbye (saying, rather touchingly, that he would miss us!) and with such wind in our sails we had the perfect goodwill and energy to start our travels that day. Saying goodbye we walked over the bridge and into France without looking back. It was Adios Espanya and Bonjour Hitchhiking - our troubles were just about to begin!

Oviedo: we sleep on park benches and a barman pours our cider on the floor!

We arrive and, without somewhere to stay, we went in search of a safe place to lay down our sleeping bags and fall asleep. This "lack of somewhere to stay" was as much by design as anything, a deliberate sabotage to our plans so we could experience sleeping rough and also to give me something to write about here!
First we tried the lobby of a nearby bank, where admittance is allowed during the night to use the cashpoints, or to fall asleep, but one person had beaten us to it and was safely setup behind the double glazing for many more hours to come. It was midnight, and we were on the outside of the glass, and it was cold. We scanned around, looking for a park, but everywhere we saw was quite small and well lit, or had rather sinister looking sprinkler heads that we found difficult to trust. A mad dash into a hostel to haggle with them over prices, we were a bit sick with sleeping rough after the journey down, yielded nothing coming, so we went back to one of the parks and, taking it in turns for one of us to "keep watch", we attempted slumber. But the cold and the noises of the night meant that Waseem, first up to sleep and a very light sleeper, failed to do so, so we went in search of somewhere quieter and, vainly, warmer. A long hungry straggle through the town, though, yielded nothing - none of the other banks had places where the cash points were on the inside. The situation was bleak and there was no possibility of negotiation, the sun would only come around again when it was ready. So the hours were whiled first on a park bench near the bus station (where I slept like a log and Waseem, well, didn't) and then, when the centrally heated bus station opened at about 6am, we moved our "beds" into it and I slept handsomely with Waseem also getting a few winks. It is a real advantage to sleeping rough if you are also good at sleeping, but even still I only got about 5 hours. By 11am, we had done all of the prostrating, sleeping and sham-sleeping that we we were possibly capable of and, because we had done rather a lot of that now, it was time to put a stop to it and get on with the day.
So we slouched over to the cathedral, part of the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route which terminates several hundred kilometres to the west of here in Santiago, and sat around like dazed hermits at all the trafficking people in and out until Kristina, our host, arrived at 3pm.
Kristina, alternately friendly and short, was another of Waseem's friend from UCLan in the previous year, and was our chirpy host for the next 2 nights as we regained our strength and with Xavier, her boyfriend, saw a little of the Asturian nightlife.
One street she showed us was named Cider Avenue (or Avenia Sidera), cider being a regional delicacy here. "Great!" I said, "I like alcohol and the drinking of it. Can you show us some of your cider?" So we went in one of the cider bars, elsewhere from this street as it happened, and were amazed at the style of pouring it.
The cider was completely flat in the bottle, and so the barman, in ceremonial fashion, would hold the bottle high above his head and pour it into a glass held down by his hip, introducing gastronomically necessary bubbles into it while all the while staring off blankly into space as if he he was really very bored and that this was really very easy. Of course, at any moment he might drop some of the precious stuff, or pour it down himself in sticky-staining rivulets, but I think the purpose of his expression was to show his nonchalant confidence that in his hands this was not going to happen. But spill it, to my English eyed disbelief, he did! Luxuriously! Straight and unapologetically onto the floor! Sacrilege! This would never happen in England! But the drink, served out in it now-bubbly glory, a third-filling the large glasses, was very tastey and had surely benefited from the pounding pouring technique, the sweet bubbles tickling the palette. Yes, I would say that the delicacy is in the pouring too!
And everyone was enjoying a drink, even the waiter was getting in on the act in the high altitude pouring method, this time standing at special pouring-booths out amongst the tables, looking very much like urinals made from halved-beer barrels, at which the especially portly man in his pristine whites stood to pour, his belly an excellent counterpoint for balancing to the pouring arm craned up and above his head's central balancing sensors, staring off into the distance, looking for a ship arriving from Tahiti it must be presumed from his expression (he was certainly not losing any sweat over the perfect transferal of paid commodities between bottle and glass!).
And then, to round the experience off, the bar was actually built like a long urinal, with a liquid drainage canal running along its length, and you were invited to discard your dregs (had you got any, I being an English drinker hadn't, having loudly and unceremoniously sucked my dregs out in a moral riposte against alcohol wastage) into it, again with a look of lordly aplomb, if you could muster it (I was almost crying at this point). By the second drink (half of it poured onto the floor by the blind and non-present barman) I was getting into the spirit of it all, straight away downing my drink (as was the custom) but leaving a hefty amount in mine (about half of it!) to gayly throw it straight back down the front of the bar! Brilliant fun! And of course, unlike the English reasons for drinking, this was more done for its community binding ritual and once I had left my desires for "getting pissed" along with my smelly mackintosh at the coat stand, I was appropriately tickled by this terrific novelty (if a little harrowed!) and would happily do it more often given the chance. But a warning to you, only practice drink chucking in a chucking-friendly establishment, always asking the barman first and don't bring alcoholic friends with you. It would be just too cruel!