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Speaking Spanish to the Portugese: Birdhouse Spain y Portugal.


THE INTENDED DESTINATION for this trip was Barcelona, but when we arrived at the airport we quickly realized the rumored skateboarding ban was indeed a heavy reality. As we entered customs, an armed guard pointed at our skateboards and gruffly escorted us to a small, stuffy room, the walls of which were lined with wanted posters. We grinned at each other nervously as a team of three brawny police officers dug through all of our luggage, extracting every complete board, as well as all our extra decks, wheels and bearings, the latter of which were ripped from their tubes and tossed across the heavy examination table like unwanted pennies. My eyes scanned the posters: North Africans, swarthy-looking Eastern Bloc flat-nosed thugs, and then a man who looked remarkably like Rob Welsh.

"Does that look like Welsh to you?" I asked.


Any answer I might have gotten was interrupted by one of the guards stomping my board in half with his heavy boots.

"What the hell?" Nesser exclaimed.

Two more officers entered the room and pushed us up against the wall while the others took turns breaking our completes before moving on to smashing the decks with the help of two well-placed cinder blocks and a four-foot-long sledgehammer.


As we looked on in slack-jawed disbelief, they next placed the loose wheels in a vice before systematically flat-spotting them with a belt sander.

"Perhaps you have not heard there is no more skateboarding in Barcelona?" one of them shouted over the noise, fine bits of urethane dusting his mustache. "The people of our city want no more of your American clackety-clackety-clackety!"

In the following days, we learned that we weren't the first to be deported from Barcelona for possession of a skateboard. That was Wu-Welsh on the poster. Apparently there had already been an intense police sweep of the entire city, rounding up all known offenders, shutting the skateshops, and burning all the boards in a huge bonfire in the middle of Las Ramblas. The ledges of MACBA were covered with thick shag carpeting and the big four was turned into a big two, thus eliminating its appeal. Daniel LeBron's Flamenco guitar strings were confiscated and tied into knots, and Jose Noro's beloved bowl was filled with water and converted into one of those pay-to-fish catfish farms. The natural quarterpipe was designated a BMX park, and Oliver Barton's Hasselblad fisheye was made irreparably sticky in an unprovoked attack by three ice-cream-cone wielding thugs. Most shocking of all, Bar Manhole-O had its copy of the FTC video removed from the VCR and was forced to allow women.

THE UNPRECEDENTED INTENSITY with which the Barcelona authorities have enforced the skate ban is baffling, but according to the European skate press, particularly the French mags, it is wholly the fault of the asshole Americans. So it was with heads hung excessively low that we boarded our flight, bits and pieces of our shattered skateboards in police-provided plastic body bags, for a salvaged mission to Portugal and Southern Spain.

Redemption greeted us as we landed in beautiful Lisbon, Portugal. This was a trip with the Birdhouse team, but before you get too excited about all the photos of Willy, Jeremy Klein, and the Birdman's 900, you should know that this was a mission with some of the slightly newer members of the squad: Aaron Suski, Steve Nesser, Jon Goemann, Anthony Shetler, and Brandon Westgate. Diego "The Butcher" Bucchieri joined us, too, which was good, because he was most adept at what would become our official mode of communication in Lisbon--speaking Spanish to people who speak Portuguese.

IT MUST BE SOMETHING about how my brain is wired, but time and time again I've found myself trying to communicate with someone who speaks another language by using whatever few words I know of a completely different language. The first time I went to Spain I kept trying to use my French vocabulary words I learned in college, and now that I've absorbed a few words of Spanish, my instinct is to use them on anyone who doesn't speak English--including a shameful episode in a Thai restaurant recently. So in Lisbon I went full bore, blabbing my 13 words of Spanish at every Portuguese person I came across. Luckily for me, and for all people like me, almost everyone in Europe speaks English.

And while we're on the subject of overt Anglicization, it was very surprising for me to realize as a teen that most of the names we have for established countries are often not even what the people in those countries call them themselves. Germans know their country as Deutschland (pronounced "doitch-land"), while the folks of Finland call the great land they live in Suomi, which is not even close to "Finland." For all we know, we're known as "Fartland" to some other country--and there ain't shit we can do about it.

A probably gay man told me on the plane that Portugal is "like Europe 40 years ago." And while we only went to Lisbon, I can agree that this is true, provided Europe 40 years ago was awash with shopping malls, Ikeas, and tract homes. One thing that was definitely Old World-rugged about Lisbon, however, were the sidewalks, most of which are constructed with Portuguese stone--a traditional paving technique made by tiling two-inch-by-two-inch sharp white cubes. So like their imperial brethren in Brazil, the skaters in Portugal have to look hard just to find ground smooth enough to roll on. All day bank attacks were the call and our new friend Francisco took us to all the sweet spots where we got to skate with the locals, including legendary beardsman Ricardo Fonseca.

She-Stone's Sevilla

SEVILLA, SPAIN IS A BEAUTIFUL CITY famous for its Flamenco performers--wailing and stomping Gypsies, or Roma, whom we went to see with about 200 other tourists in a basement bar. The only exposure I'd ever had to this style of music and dance is the Jesus Quintana scene in The Big Lebowksi where he's introduced with the sounds of the Gypsy King's version of "Hotel California." And though no bowling balls were licked, it was still an amazing show. Two guitar players sat at the rear of the cramped stage where they strummed and caterwauled behind a stern-but-graceful tank of a woman whose general girth reminded both Diego and me of Thrasher videographer P-Stone. She-Stone, as she was soon dubbed, was taking no shit and mad-dogged the chattering crowd until there was absolute silence for her twists, turns, and impressive stomps. By the end, there wasn't a man in the crowd who wouldn't have wanted to take her out for a cheeseburger. Fancy moves and confidence go a long way--especially if you're a tough-ass Gypsy to begin with. Any lonely, heavy set gals wanting to change their luck should seriously put down the Fun Dip and look into some Flamenco dance lessons. Hot, hot stuff.


ANTHONY SHETLER and Brandon Westgate are both from New England and share a great passion for skating, as well as for arguing about ridiculous shit for annoyingly long spans of time. In between spots they would get started on some subject--for instance, the reality of the American Dream--and would talk it in circles, never presenting a single cohesive argument and often not even caring if anything they were saying made any sort of actual sense, until they drove everyone in the van crazy. After that, they'd take it into their room where they'd bat it around for another four or five hours, neither tiring as their arguments snaked willy-nilly around the great universe of retard armchair philosophy. I'm not trying to say that these guys are dumb; it was more a case of them trying to out-bullshit one another, taking a subject on a nihilistic verbal death march, each waiting for the other to cry out in pain or lay down and die.

While I personally have nothing against the East Coast, I briefly got in the argument fray and had a good time playing the devil's advocate with Anthony and Brandon about their coast's inherent suckiness.

"Well, yes, it does suck, but at the same time, that's why it's so awesome," Brandon offered in a typical retort.

I'll tell you, get these kids back in school for about 10 or 20 years and we could have some top attorneys on our hands.

Malaga, I Barely Remember Thee

I DON'T REMEMBER that much about Malaga except that we got rained out for the first day or so and walked several miles back from a pizza restaurant in a downpour for no other reason then we just started walking and decided to go for it. The beautiful bank and ledge spot across from out hotel got blocked off with tents for the city's celebration of Carnival, which didn't matter since everything was soaked anyway.

In this slow part of the article, I want to make note of the fact that this trip, though not overwrought with drama (unless you count our made-up deportation from Barcelona in the intro), was marked by the exceptional pleasantness of the crew. It sounds weird, that not having dicks on a trip is worth talking about, but it really is. Everyone had fun, skated hard and took turns telling excellent stories, many of which will be added into my regular rotation (though some names will have to be changed to protect the sketchy--don't worry, dudes).

On the road from Malaga to Elx, we drove through a bunch of touristy beach areas filled with English louts and souvenir T-shirt shops that reminded me of some of the shabby towns on the Gulf of Mexico where I vacationed with my family as a kid. We even encountered snow while driving through a mountain pass later that night.

"Can you believe it's snowing?" I kept asking nobody. "You know how close we are to Africa? And it's snowing."

Felix Cumpleanos

ELX, SPAIN (pronounced "el-chay"), was a sort of homecoming as I was just there last summer for Diego's wedding and we even stayed at the same hotel. Consolidated pro Roberto Aleman is from Elx and joined us, despite being semi-sidelined with a foot problem. Roberto's great. We've been friends ever since we went to Argentina together in 2001 and he invited us all out to his family's ranch where his mom and dad treated us to homemade paella--a traditional stew made with rabbit and chickens raised right there in the family backyard. Then, in a page out of the old-fashioned book of kindness to strangers, Roberto's mom brought out a birthday cake for me. I told myself I wasn't going to tell anyone it was my birthday, but I guess even as an adult there's still that little-kid need for people to be nice to you. The Alemans were really, really nice. We got stuffed on good food and wine and then laid around in lawn chairs in the sun. Later I shot a pellet gun. It was a great birthday.


IN THE BEST OF TIMES, a skateboard trip can take on a summer camp-like feel replete with stories, sing-a-longs, and general tomfoolery. The levitation game fits neatly into this tradition. It works like this: Three people approach another person, from here on out known as The Mark. First you ask The Mark if he wants to levitate. When he agrees, you blindfold him and lead him onto a skateboard, beneath which has been positioned a towel running vertically from nose to tail beneath the trucks. One guy grabs the end of the towel at the nose, the other at the tail, while the third stands facing The Mark, having him put his hands on his shoulders for support. At this point you tell The Mark to stay very still and not to jump off for any reason. Then as the towel guys strain to lift The Mark a couple of inches off the ground, the shoulder guy slowly starts lowering down, giving The Mark the sensation that he is being raised high into the air. The game usually ends with The Mark freaking out and wiggling so much you have to set him down or when he takes off his blindfold and realizes he's not really about to bump the ceiling. Either way it's a laugh riot. The strange, almost magical thing about the levitation game is that even if you know the trick and have seen it done before, when you're The Mark you still get worried that you are actually being lifted to dangerous heights. A good way to keep the tension level high is to actually lift a Mark, usually a smaller kid, as high as you can every once in a while. This keeps the potential of genuine danger present, and likewise, the yucks. You'll know you're having a really good game when the front desk staff at the La Quinta sends up the security guard.

It makes perfect sense.

THE SKATE BAN in Barcelona is a bummer, even if the severity of its enforcement is still sort of up in the air. If anyone is to blame, however, it's not the Americans in general, but one in particular--Rodney Mullen. Yeah, I said it, Rodney Mullen--the Mutt himself. If he hadn't invented the flatground ollie and the kickflip, none of this street skating thing would have even happened in the first place. We'd all still be carving the snake run or whatever and, seeing as how there are no snake runs or backyard pools in Barcelona, it would still be open for all the well-behaved German and French skaters who never went to MACBA on Tuesdays or Thursdays and never did anything any more destructive than rap some Wu-Tang lyrics quietly under their breath while walking their boards politely down Las Ramblas. But Mullen had to go and wreck it all. See! See! That's why there's no such thing as the American Dream! That right there! Fuckin' Mullen. How can you have an American Dream with this sort of shit going on? Lo siento, amigos de Barcelona. I mean, obrigado amigos de Lisboa. I'm not sure what I said, but one of those has got to work.
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Author:Burnett, Michael
Date:Jun 1, 2006
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