Life as a photographer is not always easy, or, I survived my Spain trip (and want to go back)

In the Cuatro Caminos neighborhood, Madrid, Spain

In the Cuatro Caminos neighborhood, Madrid, Spain

Okay, right off the bat I want to set the record straight or admit my naiveté or poor judgment or bad luck and say that I have to update my last post of about a month ago. At that time I had just arrived in Spain and had settled into a room in the Cuatro Caminos neighborhood of Madrid. I was there to take a one-month long super-intensive Spanish language course. The school was in an adjacent neighborhood (good school, but I can get to that either later in this post or a future one).

But anyway, in that previous post I registered my awe at how friendly and peaceful everything was in this big-city environment with families with little kids in strollers and in the arms of their parents or tagging along out on the street late at night — the Spanish like to walk (the pasearse they call it).

All true.

But in the not-so-early morning in broad daylight, on a lonely back street not far from the above photo, I got a rude awakening and was jolted back to reality. I was innocently taking photos when I heard someone yell. Without going into too many details and wasting space, suffice to say that one man seemed to claim in broken English (and I don’t think he was Hispanic, but that has nothing to do with this really) that I had taken his photo and had no right and that I had to hand over my camera. We struggled. I was not hurt but my camera, which I was able to retrieve, was because the man threw it to the pavement. The camera would not work after that. Fortunately I was able to save the photos already made — they were on a card inside. And here’s the crazy, maddening part of the whole ordeal. I know what this guy looked like. He was not in any of the photos.

It’s entirely possible he was simply mentally unbalanced, on something, or just a bully.

But it’s a lesson for picture takers. I mean I had always heard that in some foreign countries people either don’t want their photos taken or want money for them. But I had actually thought I was being careful and not being in anyone’s face and not being too obvious.

And here’s something weird. I had what turned out to be an unheeded warning before I left the states. I was taking a photo at a bus stop in my hometown — where I began my journey —  and a homeless woman got mad and threatened me. She was not in any photo I took either. It’s not easy being a photographer.

The irony continues: I have taken hundreds (thousands?) of photos for newspapers in my so-called career in journalism, and only recall one negative incident. I was taking a totally useless photo of a single-vehicle car wreck, fender bender, no one hurt. But the teenage-girl driver’s father was upset with the whole incident. She was not even in the photo. He grabbed the strap of the camera that was around my neck and I thought he was going to choke me with it. He demanded that I give him the film. Well, my concern, besides being strangled, was that I had some more important photos on the roll — I mean there goes all my work. I somehow managed to convince him that I would not use the photo of the car wreck but I needed to keep the film. He relented.

Well, I thought this post was going to be about my trip to Spain but I just had to get that out of the way, a catharsis of sorts, and maybe a helpful travel advisory.

So my unfortunate incident with the camera at first cast a pall on my trip, but I got over it rather quickly. I thought of buying a new camera, but instead fell back to my cell phone camera, in my ancient flip phone (I mean I only saw one other flip phone on the whole trip and everyone everywhere in the world it seems carries a cell and is staring at it or madly doing the two-finger text thing). But the above photo was taken on my poor old now broken camera. The photo was taken on a side street. After my incident, I tended to stay on the main drags of that particular neighborhood. But I did wander farther in other neighborhoods — but tried to be super aware of my surroundings, polite and unobtrusive — and I missed out on countless good photos because of it. My dad, a professional journalist, taught me that most photos (not all) are better with people in them.

Bottom line: stuff happens or can anywhere you are in the world — even right at home.

Well like I said, I meant this post to be more about my Spain trip in total. I’ll have to do that in my next post possibly. But I can say it was well worth it and I love Madrid. I love Spain. This was my second trip to that country. I hope to return some time.

Oh, so did I learn how to speak Spanish?

I learned a lot. I had taken courses years ago and I had used the language in the real world, as much as I knew, in my most current work as an over-the-road truck driver.

To really know any language, you have to use it in the real world. I’m working on that.

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