Geotagged Photo Storytelling

View Castilla Plana Project in a larger map or check the project page.

Have you ever been to a place that very few other people have a chance to visit? A place that is not “impressive” in the mainstream, flashy urban way. There are no amazing buildings, no glittering beaches, no spectacular waterfalls, nothing that can grab you by the throat and make your jaw drop. And yet, after you spend some time in it, you start discovering small, delicate things. Things that may seem unremarkable, perhaps even boring. But after a while, if you’re perceptive enough, you start to realize that each and every one of them has a little story to tell.

My story is about a place called Torrijos. A small town in the middle of Spain that no tourist would ever go to, even by mistake. I spent there a year and a half of my life. Among other things, I always kept my camera close. And it was through its lens that really discovered the place for myself.

Central Spain is not like the coast and it doesn’t fit any of the widespread known stereotypes about the country. It’s a barren, inhospitable land, flat as a tortilla. In fact, it’s so strikingly flat that it invokes illusions of grandeur in your mind. Because when you’re out there in the open field you’re the highest thing around and when there aren’t many other objects you can measure up to, you not only lose sense of distance and size, you feel like you’re carrying the sky on your own shoulders. Remember Don Quixote? He may have been a fictional character but his prototype was not. It came from here and it remains here, constantly reincarnated, reinvented and reinterpreted, it’s a remarkable proof of how geography can shape the human psyche.

It’s an unique story but I wasn’t sure how to tell it until I started geotagging my photo archive with pictures from the region. I caught myself playing with the map, revisiting all the places I know, remembering conversations, events, emotions. And then I thought well, maybe I can “pin” the whole story on a Google map, instead of writing it on a page and decorating it with photos. Instead, I will have different colored pins and each one will be independent of the rest. There will be no beginning and no end. You can click on as many pins as you want, look, read, zoom in and out. That’s pretty much how I discovered the place for myself.

If it works for me, it should work for other people too, right? So here are the humble beginnings of the Castilla Plana project. Take it as a beta version. It has enough pins for an introduction and the rest will come gradually, bit by bit, as I update it in the next few months. Wish me inspiration.

Castilian Mythology, Part I (Creation)

The Powers That Be

In the beginning, there was nothing. Then God heard a noise in the kitchen and created light to see whether a mouse wasn’t eating his cheese. There was indeed one. It was staring at him with its cute little eyes and mouth full of tasty aromatic cheese. God got really angry. He knew the mouse was an incarnation of the Devil. The Devil himself was created by God but an unfortunate accident during a poker game turned them into bitter enemies.

God decided to trick the Devil and get rid of him, so he created Earth, then turned to the mouse and said: “Naughty little rodent! You ate my cheese and pooped in my fridge, therefore I curse you for all eternity! You shall live in holes in the Earth and chew wheat grains all the days of your miserable life!”

“Wheat what?” said the mouse.

“Wheat grains!” repeated the Lord with his majestic, authoritative voice.

“What on Earth is that?” asked the mouse and then added ironically “Pun intended!”

“Oh crap!” said the Lord and threw some weed seeds on the freshly created Earth. “Here they are!” The seeds immediately started sprouting, growing bigger and bigger. In several minutes, the whole Earth was a dense, impenetrable wheat field.

“That’s not very cosy you know…” complained the mouse “I can hardly move in this thick vegetation. Is this the best you can do?”

“Of course not!” angrily replied the Lord whose pride was slightly hurt for having to reason with a tricky little rodent. So he created men to control the spread and growth of weed.

Planet Hay II

“Interesting!” said the mouse and took a sip of tea to wash the remains of cheese down his tiny cute belly “I shall befriend thee!”

“Like hell you will!” said the Lord “I will make their women scream each moment they see you!”

“What on Earth are women?” The mouse could barely hide its itchy sarcasm behind his cute little mustaches.

“Erm…” God hesitated for a while but decided to pretend He wasn’t caught unprepared, so He snapped his fingers very fast hoping the mouse wouldn’t notice “There they are!”

“Interesting!” said the mouse. “You just created women!”

“No I didn’t…” replied the Lord “Men did!”

“Those men are pretty creative” said the mouse. “I think I like them. Maybe I should move to Earth permanently, eat grains for a while and then wait until they start producing cheese!”

Judging by His red, pulsating face, God was getting pretty pissed off. The mouse knew it was getting on His nerves big time but continued to play the role of an innocent creature with a superb Satanic dedication.

“Say it!” said the mouse with its little tender voice!

“Say what?” angrily exploded the Lord.

The mouse smiled and sarcastically added “You lost again!”

“No I didn’t, you little idiot! They will never make cheese! They won’t even think of making cheese! Even if there were cows on Earth and those cows get domesticated by the humans. Even if they milk them every day and get the best milk in the entire Universe, even then, they won’t make cheese!”

“That doesn’t seem very logical to me!” said the mouse “Why would they refuse to make cheese after all this!”

“Because I will forbid them to!” said the Lord.

And that’s how sin was created.

Bus Schedules in Spain Infographic

Alphadesigner Bus Schedules in Spain

It’s widely assumed that mathematics is an universal language, one that we could possibly use even to communicate with aliens one day if we discover them. But in the last year and a half, I’m beginning to have my doubts. There seems to be something not only irrational but supernaturally irrelevant in human nature, something that can shred mathematics to pieces that annihilate with each other. And in Spain, it’s more than palpable.

I live in a very interesting place. It’s a small town in the region of Castilla-La Mancha. It has a very cute little bus station where you can catch buses to Madrid, Toledo and Talavera de la Reina. It also has a slightly bigger but even cuter train station which is a stop on the line from Madrid to Badajoz. But every time I have to catch a bus I have the recurring problem of understanding the schedule, which is usually publicly posted on a sheet of paper as a beautiful table with more than 50 separate cells filled with all kinds of numbers. I call it the “algorithmic table” even though I am sure it’s much hard to decipher.

I’ve been planning to talk about it for a long time and I have always postponed for the day in which I will actually be able to understand it but alas, I think this day will never come. The only person that seems to understand it is a middle aged woman working on the Principe Pio bus station in Madrid and she’s not very keen to share her knowledge with the world.

For a Spanish person, once you put something in a table cell, it’s like casting a spell. Suddenly it starts to make sense just like that, out of the blue.

First of all, on the whole, Spanish people tend to be slightly superstitious. Second, any kind of schedule in Spain is more like a wish than a real certainty. It’s shocking for any foreigner but you learn to appreciate it as a fact of life, like for example when you’re running late yourself.

The third thing one has to consider is that Spanish people start to panic the moment you ask them to organize something. So you better don’t because the final outcome will be even more disorder. The second law of thermodynamics just doesn’t work the way you’d expect it here. The last crucial thing that contributes to the bus schedule phenomenon is that Spanish people love to draw tables and “organize” things in them. And this takes another paragraph to be properly explained.

It’s just a theory but I have a lot of empirical evidence to prove it. You see, I think that the graphic appearance of a table seems to have a soothing effect on their nerves. For a Spanish person, once you put something in a table cell, it’s like casting a spell. Suddenly it starts to make sense just like that, out of the blue. And by all means, they are not picky – whatever can go in, goes in, period.

This is how for example, you end up facing all the information about all the stops on a bus line, even though you may be in the middle with no intention or possibility to go to one of the previous stops. It’s how Villahostias – Madrid becomes Valdecabrón – El Puticlú – Gibraltar Español – Fuertechorrada – Villahostias – Puebla de la Virgen – Puebla de los Dolores – Montepetarda – Gilipopollis – La Pena del Toro – Madrid. All written with the same text size and accompanied by numbers.

Now here’s where things can get really interesting. All those numbers multiply by the number of buses that travel per day. Got lost? Wait, there’s more because whatever you do during the working days in Spain, you don’t repeat on weekends. There’s a different schedule for those holiest of days. Then, there’s the schedule for the so-called “working Saturdays”, of which I have seen none but apparently exist. The ones I have definitely seen however are in the next column and are called “Festivities on workdays”. And with the risk to really test your patience to the limit, there come the Sundays, which thank God and the Virgin, are of only one kind. I could of course mention that one time I saw a column titled “Non festive work days” but I’m afraid you’re going to hit me.

Imagine all this info on an A4 sheet, organized in the most counter intuitive way. I really wish I understood how they work, so I could proudly present it here and make a point in how intelligent I am. But what I tell you is true – nobody understands them and the best advice Spanish people can give you is to ask a person on the station itself. If you are very lucky, he would know. If not… you can always ask the driver when the bus actually comes.