Friday, April 16, 2010

The Power of People, or Stuck inside of Toledo with the immobile blues again (mama)

Every once in awhile, it's good to be reminded that every piece of technical writing is actually a substitute for a real person. My wife and I are houseswapping in Spain and drove to Toledo last Sunday. At the exact moment that we pulled into the hotel garage in Toledo, billows of smoke poured out of the car and I lost power steering. I was able to wrestle* the car into a parking spot but that's where it stopped. On Monday, I started to look for a solution to my problem: to get the car fixed and get back to the house we were staying in Obra.

Technical writing helped: The note we had from the people we were houseswapping with pointed us to the document that told us how to get in touch with their roadside assistance service. The nice man from England that I spoke to had a tow truck to us within 15 minutes. After that, however, it was a question of how much English the people I had contact with could speak--there are real language skills!. So this column is a tribute to the mechanic who picked up the car but mostly to the amazing clerks at the Casona de la Reyna who took care of us (a great hotel, by the way, right at the edge of the Jewish quarter).

So, here's what I was reminded of: In the end, great technical writing, one way or another, connects us to other people. Either the material is a proxy for that other person or it's a conduit that allows us to make contact. Either way, technical writing is an opportunity for us to help each other.

And Toledo itself was amazing. And I mean that literally: I was amazed, constantly. I kept wandering around with this big grin on my face. The cathedral is a once in a life time experience: To stand under the Transparente is something you will never forget; the main chapel's altar is--like the Grand Canyon--more than the human eye and mind can actually absorb. And that leaves out the treasure (with its illuminated manuscripts and monstrance), the choir, and the art in the sanctuary (in one corner you are facing an El Greco, a Titian, a Raphael, and--my favourite--a Caravaggio). We were there four days instead of our planned 2.5 but, as a result, we got to see many things we would otherwise have missed. We also had great food: seafood (the Naviera--it turned out that the pulpy thing I was poking at was the fish's eye), great local lamb and pork (24 Alfilerito 24), and roast suckling pig (Del Cardenal). So, not a bad thing.

We did end up missing a concert we had booked in Valencia (Tokyo String Quartet--doing a lot of 20th century stuff so it had a real potential to drive Jan mad. But their first violinist is a Canadian, as was their previous first violinist). On the way home, we did stop in Valencia where we visited the FNAC and picked up a bunch of CDs by Spanish musicians (and "Sinatra and Basie at the Sands" for about $10.00CDN). We were also able to wander the museum of  Belle Artes where we saw more wonderful things.

*not a metaphor: I wrestled a little in my youth at the YMCA and this recreated the experience excactly.

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