Friday, December 15, 2006

La lotería


But perhaps the biggest deal about Christmas in Spain is el gordo. The national Christmas lottery. Last year I couldn't wrap my mind around people's obsession with this dang lotería. I'm understanding more and more.

The way it works is that there are lots and lots of numbers to be sold. And schools, companies, bars, stores, et cetera, have numbers--the same number every year. My association with the lottery, of course, is through my school. Number 41975 is ours and all the teachers buy a part of it. Last year, under pressure from my colleagues, I bought a décimo (a tenth) for 20 euros and played. We didn't win. But we did get our 20 euros back because the big winner shared the same final digit as ours.

The idea of the lottery is nice, I've decided. You play as a group and it's a whole camaraderie thing. People's favorite words to utter this season are, "¿Y si nos toca?" ("And if we win?") And they are also the words you think when you find out that the school's number is agotado (sold out) and you don't have your décimo.

That's what happened this year. They ran out of our number! Oh, the scandal! If we win and a quarter of the staff didn't get a chance to buy their part? The principal, herself, was left without a lottery ticket for our number.

It was the talk of coffee break.

Knowing that surely our number would win this year, the year in which a number of us don't have it, the assistant principal took action. She asked those who already had their décimo to sell half of it to we poor souls and bought us décimos in another number to sell half to the people who'd shared with us. So now six of us have 10 euros in the school's number and 10 in another number, which we're hoping will be lucky.

The drawing is December 22nd. ¿Y si nos toca?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

La cesta



Christmas has hit Madrid in a big way. Lights are everywhere (Madrid apparently has spent several times the money on lights as any other Spanish city), the belén (nativity) has been constructed in the entrance of my school, stores are open on Sundays, Papa Noel climbs store fronts and dangles from apartment windows. (The other day I witnessed a three-year old boy yelling up to a stuffed Santa perched above a store awning. He was telling him what he wanted for Christmas. His mother looked on patiently.)

Even in workplaces the joys are many. Yesterday I lugged home my cesta de navidad ("Christmas basket") from the security company where I teach classes three hours a week. For my three hours, I get the same cesta as the full-time employees. Not a bad deal.

It was so heavy, however, that I almost expired carrying it through the metro and the four blocks to my apartment. Thankfully one of my students gave me a ride to a metro station just a couple stops (and the same line) from where I live (normally it's a 45-minute trip with a long walk between two different lines). But Oh. My. God. Said basket contains six bottles of various libations: 3 wines (two red, one white), 2 bottles of cava (Catalán champagne), and one of whiskey. Then you've got four tablets of turrón--a typical Spanish Christmas sweet made out of almonds--, cookies, chocolate covered almonds, and cans of olives, hearts of palm, pineapple, and peaches.

The cesta is tradition here in almost every company. My roommate got one too: with a jamón (that is, a cured pig's leg) and cheese, among other things. My students at the security company, though, were complaining about the one we received. One of them said, "Well, the wine is drinkable."

I don't care. I'm thrilled.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Vergüenza

This afternoon we, the auxiliares de conversación of Madrid, had a so-called "briefing" with officials from the U.S. Embassy. Last year they didn't bother to make contact with the nearly 100 of us working in Madrid.

The meeting was largely unhelpful, and quite disheartening. The director of regional security presented first because one of the higher-ups at the Embassy was late. He spoke to us about safety in Madrid--mostly things that were complete common sense. And then, noting terrorism, he said, "Al Qaeda is a presence in Spain. They were behind the attacks of March 11th. ... After all, Morocco is just south."

I didn't know that Moroccans were particularly important members of Al Qaeda.

When a girl mentioned that she'd been to Morocco several years ago and had an experience where she was lucky not to have her passport stolen, the security director responded, "We are talking about the Middle East here."

Oh, really? I thought Morocco was in Africa.

Monday, December 04, 2006

An organic buffet and some carrot cake

The other day a friend and I were searching for a place to eat. (In Spanish the way you talk about the midday meal (la comida--"the meal") is not "to have lunch," but rather just "to eat" (comer)). So if I say we were looking for a place to eat, in my Spanish-ized way of thinking I mean we were looking for a place to eat lunch.

Well, it was a little late for lunch (though Spanish lunches are relatively late there's a short window: 2-4 p.m.), so we'd already gotten turned down at one place. But lo and behold, across from the failed attempt on Calle Huertas, we discovered a fabulous organic market and buffet where we salivated and debated over how best to ration the chickpeas, seitan, and veggie lasagna to keep our plates down to a reasonable price (it was 1.80 euros per 100 grams). The food was delicious--flavorful and filling without being meat or fried--and a welcome change from typical Spanish restaurant fare. One of the best things about the place was that there was also a tiny dessert buffet with some yummy-looking carrot cake--not exactly the most popular dessert in España. We shared a piece and were completely inspired to make our own.

So we spent Sunday afternoon grating carrots, chopping walnuts, beating the cream cheese icing by hand, and trying to fit two layers of cake into my tiny oven. At the end of it all we had assembled a beautiful (and really tasty) carrot cake. The recipe is from the Frog Commissary and loved by my mother. We found it online and modified it slightly.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Two, of many, great things about Madrid

1. El Tigre is a bar in the center of Madrid (C/ Infantas), just off of Gran Vía, and in the über-trendy and gay barrio, Chueca. But this bar is neither trendy nor gay. It's always bustling -- and with good reason. With a 1.50 euro caña (small beer) you get a plate full of whatever's on the grill and more: patatas bravas, croquetas, jamón, egg, fried peppers, cheese. The guys behind the bar yell orders constantly, while pouring beers, and move as if bartending were a choreographed art. You have to fight your way to the bar and perch your plate wherever you can, but a tasty and filling meal for under 5 euros (that's three cañas) and great ambiente are worth it.

2. Casa Granada is a rooftop terrace restaurant hidden atop an ordinary and totally unassuming apartment building. You have to be in the know to find the place, just north of metro Tirso de Molina, and once you've buzzed up, ride in the elevator plastered with signs begging riders to adhere to the four-person limit. It's within spitting distance of the Rastro, La Latina's gigantic Sunday flea market, which makes it the perfect place for a meal after navigating the crowds and t-shirt stands. You might have to wait a while for a table, but you'll be glad you did. What else is there to do on Sunday but eat and drink? And meanwhile, you can order a beer and wander out to the terrace for amazingly grand views of Madrid and her suburbs. The raciones are delicious and inexpensive. For two, a plate of pimientos de padrón (tiny peppers fried in oil and sprinkled with sea salt) and one of calamares were more than enough, and cost 11 euros.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Coal

And the Christmas season officially begins.

This morning I awoke to the sound of something heavy being dropped down a hole. When I got downstairs for my run the building entrance was a mess. The floor was covered in sawdust and a metal track, along which two men were wheeling enormous wheelbarrows heaped with coal. Of course: we'd been without heat all weekend, and these guys were delivering coal to get our smelly heating system started again. In and out they went, carefully monitored by our diminutive doorman, dressed in the blue coverall he dons every morning to mop the entrance.

I'm now showered and breakfasted, and I think they're finally getting ready to leave. We should have enough coal to last the month.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Lunchtime politics

Today, school lunch got a little heated.

One of the great perks of my job is that I eat in the school dining room every day for free. We're a small group of teachers that stick around in the middle of the day for lunch (there's a two-hour break). It's convenient and relatively cheap for the other teachers, and it's a full Spanish lunch. That is, the size of (or bigger than) an American dinner. First course, second course, salad, fruit, and yogurt. The kids eat this too. It's really a far cry from school lunches in the States. There's actually a woman cooking everything at my school. That's not to say the food is out of this world, but it's good enough, and it's a huge meal that saves me a lot of money. But this is just background.

The point is that today at lunch we were seven teachers in the cozy room where we always eat. Somehow the conversation turned to Francisco Franco, the Spanish dictator, and the principal began to lament the fact that statues and monuments to Franco have been (or are being) torn down. And that Spain's current president, the socialist Zapatero, should be blamed for it. The religion teacher then chimed in to say that it was a crying shame, and that people don't give Franco enough respect. (Yes, Catholic religion is still taught in Spanish public schools. It's not obligatory. The few kids who don't go in my school are Muslim.) He added that Spaniards lived very very well under Franco. And then two of the younger teachers commented that Franco shouldn't be maligned as much as he is, that the monuments are a part of history. The conversation moved very quickly, like all of these teachers were excited to have discovered that their colleagues shared their views.

I was sitting there feeling my face get hot and that the room was just way too small for the seven of us. Then the school's youngest teacher spoke up in response to the religion teacher, saying that come on, not everyone lived well under Franco. The other assistant (who's also American) and I fidgeted in our seats. I said I certainly had heard Spaniards say some not very nice things about life under Franco. The bell rang and the conversation continued until the youngest teacher said, "Wasn't that the bell?" I sighed inwardly. The other assistant and I walked out of the room shaking our heads in disbelief.

I've been thinking about lunch all evening. It is a known fact among teachers at my school that there are plenty of conservatives among our ranks. The principal and the religion teacher are extremely devout Catholics and they're also some of the oldest in the school. The three of us who kept our mouths shut mostly during the conversation are the youngest working at school. And we are not at all Catholic.

But the point is that Franco was a dictator. He killed people. He isolated Spain from the rest of the world (both politically and econimically). He disallowed political parties, the country's other languages (Galician, Catalán, and Basque), and most press. He imposed strict Catholic mores on all aspects of Spanish life and above all, in the public schools.

Yo flipo.

Oddly enough, tonight I encountered another interesting, but not quite as uncomfortable conversation. After yoga, I stopped by a little market to pick up a few things. The owner, ringing up a customer, was commenting, "Everyone says people in the United States live better than we do. But it's not true. We live well here." The customer nodded his head in agreement, as the owner turned to me and explained that he likes to engage this guy in conversation, sorry for the hold up. I offered that I was American. The owner continued, saying that, yes the Spaniards live well. They shouldn't complain so much. For example, the laws are much stricter in the United States. Here in Spain, we get away with a lot.

I had to agree. Despite my daily complaints or all the Franco lovers out there, life in Spain nowadays is not too shabby.

Clementine postscript


On Sunday, I lugged 5 kilos of clementines on the bus from Valencia to Madrid. They came straight from the trees in Castellón, the province north of Valencia. If only I had a way to get them back into the States...

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Oh my darling clementine

Clementine season has begun. I couldn't be happier to be spending it in España for the second time 'round. The lovely specimen of a fruit in the photo came from a market in Valencia. It was delicious. I mean, really, what could be better? Totally portable, peelable, seedless fruit. Clementines are like candy with vitamins.

My mom always used to buy crates and crates of "Clementines from Spain" in the winter because we would go through them so quickly. And they're not that cheap in the States. In Madrid, I can get a kilo for under 2 euros and they are a staple in my diet from November until early February.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Infiltrados

Ever since I arrived in Spain I've been fascinated and disturbed by the culture of movies here. The market is widely saturated by films from the U.S., but in their dubbed and title-changed versions. And the Spaniards wonder why their level of English is so far behind the rest of Europe? American movies and television dubbed into Spanish are certainly a culprit.

This weekend I saw the excellent film The Departed. Spanish title? Infiltrados. That is, "the infiltrators." Can we possibly lack any more creativity? As I refuse to pay to see a dubbed movie, I saw it in its original version with subtitles at my favorite theater, Cine Ideal. I can't stand when the lips moving and what I'm hearing don't match. Also, I value the actors and the nuances of the way they speak. I don't want to hear some Spanish man or woman whose voice sounds curiously the same as every other dubber but not like anyone I actually know or hear on the street.

The Spaniards I know who balk at seeing a movie in versión original argue that they don't like reading subtitles and that dubbing is necessary here because so much is imported from the States. I never thought twice about seeing a subtitled movie in the U.S.--it always felt so exotic. Hearing the actors' voices, even if I didn't understand a word of what they were saying, seemed an important element of their characters. I encourage my English students to go see movies in versión original. Even if they are reading the whole time, their ears are taking in some English.

I do like to read the Spanish subtitles here because I'm interested in how they translate things. In The Departed it was a lesson in translations of vulgarities. Watching that particular film, however, made me realize that no matter how much I bash dubbing, there are great shortcomings to subtitles as well. The Spanish I was reading at the bottom of the screen seemed so formal in comparison to the foul-mouthed Boston accents coming in my ears. There is no way the translator could ever capture all the slang spit out by Mark Wahlberg or Leonardo DiCaprio. But, at least we could hear what their accents were like.

Today I had another adventure in the world of dubbing. We took about 100 kids from school to see a free movie at an international children's film festival here in Madrid. We arrived slightly late and I was surprised when I entered the theater to to hear that the movie was in English. I do work at a bilingual school, but my kids have a long way to go. But no, there was a voice coming from the back of the theater--in its dull monotone I thought it was someone directing us to our seats. No no. It was a guy reading a translation of the film into Spanish, just slightly behind the English dialogue. You know, like an interpreter at a meeting between politicians from different countries. They'd turned down the volume of the original so we could hear this guy's completely boring voice and it just about put me to sleep.

The second graders seemed entertained enough by the pretty inane and poorly animated version of the nutcracker story. The fifth graders were definitely fidgety for most of the time. And no one laughed at any of the jokes.

Monday, November 06, 2006

I voted

The Spanish mail system came through just in time. I'd been anxiously awaiting my absentee ballot for weeks and had virtually given up on its arriving today in time for me to both fill it out and postmark it before the end of business.

But I ran home in the middle of the school day to check the mail, and there it was. The doorman, to whom I'd explained the situation earlier, was exhilarated.

Who knows if my vote will count, but it's on its way back to the States.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

La calle es de todos

The street is for everyone. I saw these words stenciled on a building in the center of Madrid while wandering around with a friend last week. It seems an appropriate thing to say about Madrid, where so much life is concentrated on the streets. I'm not just talking about the homeless people here, who sleep on benches, building entrances, and in parks, or the crippled beggars who sit in the middle of the sidewalk on Gran Via and ask for change. Or even the groups of teenagers who congregate in the alleyway under my window late at night. I'm talking about all Madrileños, old and young, Spanish and foreign, pijo and alternativo. I'm talking about the West Africans selling pirated DVDs on the streets and in the Metro entrances, the gay couple embracing outside the Palacio Real, the Pakistani man smoking a cigarette outside his non-smoking locutorio, the Ecuadorans picnicking in Parque del Oeste every Sunday, the Peruvian musicians playing in Sol.

I'm talking about Lavapiés, probably the most ethnically diverse neighborhood in the center of Madrid. I was there three times in the last week--one night for a kebab, one night for Indian food, and today as we looked for a less crowded alternative to La Latina to eat outside on this cloudy, chilly, but not rainy day. It was just our luck to come across a terraza with an empty table just north of an enormous drum circle congregated in the plaza. Now, Lavapiés has become semi-trendy among Madrileños who dig the ethnic food and the alternative Spanish tabernas, the art and music scene, and the wonderful old architecture. But whenever I go there I can't forget what one of my female Spanish friends told me once: that she had been really interested in taking a flamenco class at El Horno, a dance center in the neighborhood, but had ultimately decided against it based on the fact that the class would end around 7 p.m. and the streets would be full of immigrants just standing around and looking at her. I couldn't help thinking that it was a terrible shame to give up the class for that reason. La calle es de todos, ¿no?

Washing

These municipal workers are busy washing the street right outside my apartment. This was during a sunny interlude between two rainy weeks in Madrid. What is most amazing to me is that they wash the streets even on the rainy days. But they're worried about the lack of water in Spain?

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Easy like Sunday morning

The deluge is over. Madrid is back to its normal sunny self, at least for the time being. The weekend has been gorgeous and the Madrileños are out in full force, doing what they love best: getting dressed and having a drink at one of the hundreds of terrazas in the city. Families with hordes of children dressed in the cutest Spanish kids' clothes, couples young and old, singles with a dog or a book or a paper. They're having a beer or a clara or a café con leche, accompanied by the ubquitous plate of patatas fritas. It's Sunday--what else is there to do?

On Sundays, Spain virtually shuts down. Generally the only businesses open are bars and restaurants, bakeries, and pharmacies. You can find convenience stores open in the big cities. So, what to do? Eat and drink, of course. Sit in a bar or a terraza, people watching, being social. Pasear with your new baby in his 800-euro stroller, stopping every hundred meters or so when someone wants to ogle your adorable addition to the world. Play tennis, go running, clean the house, do laundry. More or less typical weekend things, with a Spanish flair.

I spent Sunday morning running a race--the second annual Retiro District 10K. I did it last year, too, but under notably different circumstances. I'd been unable to sign-up because they'd capped it at 2,000 runners. But out in a bar the night before the race a friend suggested that what the hell? We'd run it anyway, just without numbers. And we did, after sleeping about four hours. Well, this year I made sure to sign up early and go to bed at a reasonable hour. No biggie that I signed up, though. I arrived to pick up my timing chip on race day, and they apologetically informed us that the chips for race numbers 1300 and up had been stolen. Huh? Yes, it's true. So we ran without chips and lined up after finishing to report our times to a woman with pen and paper. No problem.

My main problem with races here is post-race. Maybe I got spoiled running all those New York Road Runner races in Central Park, which run like clockwork and dependably feature huge tables of water and some sort of food just after crossing the finish line. Lamentably, at none of the four races I've run here has food played a role for we poor hungry runners. But on several occasions you could cross the finish and drink a Coke right away! You had to wait in a long line for your goodie bag with one puny bottle of water. When I cross the finish, I want to gulp down several cups of water in quick sucession. I don't want a Coke, or a Nestea, or whatever sugary drink is sponsoring the race. And I definitely don't want to wait fifteen minutes in line to get the tiny bit of water that's in my race bag. Why does Coca-Cola sponsor the races I've run in Madrid? Where are the bananas, apples, and bagels for chrissake!?

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Concrete schoolyard

Recess is a whirling chaos. On the "patio," the concrete schoolyard ubiquitous in Madrid, children are throwing themselves at each other, down the slide in the tiny playset, or on the ground, as is the case with the majority of the three-year olds who waddle around like tiny penguins with snotty noses and pint-size clothing. Dramas are acted out daily on the school playground, complete with accusations, tears, and denials.

I never went to school in the center of a city (well, until college in New York), so I spent elementary school on expansive playgrounds with fields, lots of play equipment, and serious amounts of space to chase boys.

Here in Madrid, everything is confined to a smaller space, and tensions run high on the concrete schoolyard. The seven-year old second graders are the big kids, towering over the likes of the pre-school children, concerned with scoring a goal at all cost and hardly noticing if they knock over one of the waddlers or send a ball flying at the head of one the teachers who has recess duty. The first graders were five-year olds last year, and still waver between pre-school immaturity and joining the big kids' game. So they dangle from the tiny, overcrowded playset, waiting for the right moment to go for the ball.

The three-year olds still don't know they actually go to school, and stare with mucus-filled faces at the more experienced kids whizzing around them. Or they fall over and entertain each other on the concrete. The four-year olds are too cool for the three-year olds. They know how this playground thing goes, and have the guts to run around with some of the bigger kids and tattle on those who commit offenses. The five-year olds play among themselves--confident in their position as oldest of the infantil classes. They only call the teachers' attention when one of them gets knocked over and all of her friends make sure that she's properly attended.

At 11:30 the bell rings and it's all over. Until tomorrow.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Vaya

Tonight I'm walking home from the metro after my conversation class with some guys at a security systems company, and I'm totally in another world ... listening to my music, checking out all the store windows that have been so cruelly enticing me in this month in which I am poor poor poor. And, boom! I've run into someone. I whip around, shocked out of my reverie, and remove one headphone just in time to hear "Eres tonta, eh!" (You are stupid!) out of the mouth of the older woman I bumped into. Hey, did you think I was planning to run into you? I may be distracted, but I'm not stupid.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Photographic ramblings

I wanted to explain a little about the photos I've posted because they represent some of the things that I love about Spain.

The top photo is of the Palacio de Cristal (Glass Palace), an exposition space in Retiro, Madrid's most civilized city park. I never get tired of going to see the Palacio because I love how I can see the leaves of the trees through the palace or the different ways the light plays on the panes of glass. Last June, I was in the park with some friends and we stopped by the Palacio to enter the free exhibition called "Breathe--A Woman Mirror" by the Korean artist Kimsooja. The floor of the Palacio was covered in mirrors and all the windows were covered by a translucent film that turned them into a prism. Unfortunately, I wasn't allowed to shoot photos inside. We had to take off our footwear and they provided socks so we could wander around atop the mirrors. It was quite the reflective exhibit.

Actually, Retiro was bustling that June weekend. It was the Feria del Libro de Madrid (the Madrid Book Fair), which had hundreds of stalls of Madrid publishing houses and bookstores, author talks, etc. Great fun to wander through--it's two weeks at the end of May/beginning of June every year. It also contained the notable globalizing presence of a Ben and Jerry's stand, which hit the spot.

The other Retiro happening was Yann Arthus-Bertrand's La Tierra Vista Desde Cielo (Earth from Above)-- an outdoor exhibition of enormous photos from around the world, all of which are accompanied by an informative caption. Many photos are taken to illustrate environmental problems or interesting geographic or man-made features. The photos are stunning. Hundreds quotations of statistics about the horrible impact of 21st-century humans on Earth are also part of the exhibit. Many have to do with the United States (i.e. Americans consume 478 times the amount of gasoline as developing nations ... statements in that vein).

Retiro is a wonderful place--both a retreat from Madrid's congested streets and a cultural center. But I feel a little more affinity with the Parque del Oeste, which lines the upper western side of the city center. It's closer to where I live; I run its hills and trails. When I first moved here, I considered Retiro Madrid's Central Park--though it's much much smaller than the New York version--and Parque del Oeste a little more Riverside Park-like (without the river*). It's less civilized in a way, less manicured than Retiro. Parque del Oeste slopes downhill from Moncloa (a huge transport hub) and never sees the kind of human traffic Retiro does, so it somehow feels a bit more personal.

[*A note about rivers: Madrid's biggest defect--in my view--is its lack of any serious body of water. We have a river, it's called the Manzanares, and most people have probably never seen it because it's either so low or the construction workers are busy moving it around in an attempt to enlarge the M-30--Madrid's Beltway. But, the Manzanares has its encanto. It starts way up in the sierra north of Madrid and I've bathed twice in its frigid pools and falls. You'd just never know that from looking at the pathetic thing snaking along the western edge of the city.]

The second photo you see is from my favorite place in Barcelona--el Mercat de la Boqueria. Spain is full of markets, but this is the loveliest I've seen. The stands are mostly standard market products: fruit, vegetables, nuts and dried fruit, seafood, meat, bread and pastries, candy, etc. But the sellers seem to take a pride in their products that I've rarely seen: beautiful and careful arrangements of numerous varieties of fruits and veggies, nicely displayed meats and huge hanging hams, fresh seafood on beds of ice. And then you've got bars where you can get a bite to eat and a glass of tinto and, my personal favorite, the Organic is Orgasmic stand. It's run by a woman named Antonia who, apparently, loves delicious, organic food and serves it up at the market and at a nearby restaurant (that I haven't had time to patronize). They've got a very tempting salad bar at the market and the delicious tapas that you see on the left. I eat at least once at their stand when I've been to Barcelona.

Speaking of Barcelona, it's a really vibrant, interesting place that I enjoy immensely. It has a huge rivalry with Madrid. People are always comparing the two cities. I've spent about a week total on separate trips to Barcelona, and I've lived in Madrid for 13 months, so I can't really compare, but I have observations about differences in BCN. For one, it's got a much bigger alternative vibe than Madrid--tons of skaters, tons of dreads, piercings, tattoos, food like the stand I just wrote about. It's a little punkier, a little dirtier, a little earthier. Don't get me wrong: it's also got plenty of class and swank and businesspeople and the like. But I would estimate that Madrid has more. (I haven't even mentioned the football rivalry ... the two teams face off tonight for the first time this season.)

The last photo in the sidebar is taken at the spectacular Praia As Catedrais (Cathedrals Beach) beach on the northern coast of Galicia (Galicia is the northwest region of Spain). I traveled with my parents through the north of Spain last month and every Spaniard who heard we were going to Galicia told us this beach was a must-see. Well, it is. Rock pillars rise out of the blue sea, huge as towers. Waves crash against the rocks, and it's all very dramatic. We'd been following the coast since Llanes (in Asturias, just east of Galicia), and it was the most beautiful beach we saw (though there are plenty of gorgeous spots along the way). The Galician government has just declared it a natural monument, which I suppose will help protect it.

Before last month, I hadn't been to the north of Spain. On the trip, we spent most of our time in Asturias and Galicia, and both places are beautiful--and as different from central and southern Spain as you can imagine. Green green green. And rainy. Between driving crazy curvy roads, hiking through a breathtaking gorge in the Picos de Europa (left), beach crawling, wandering through old city centers, and eating, we had more than our fill of activities for the eight-day road trip. But there's a lot more exploring to be done up north...

Friday, October 20, 2006

Intro

Spain and I have a love/hate relationship. It's been a year so far with plenty of ups and downs--but we're still together. I learn new things and discover new places every single day thanks to my intimate involvement with the bustling, polluted, cranky, and cosmopolitan capital. I walk its streets. I teach its kids. I ride its metro and buses. I run in its parks. I know its bakers, its bar owners, its dentists, its supermarket cashiers. We're still getting to know each other, though. We've got time.

I've been thinking and talking about blogging for a long time. Sort of like how I thought about yoga a lot over summer vacation, and recommended it to my friends. Without actually doing it. (My yoga teacher loved that one--hey, we could call it "katie-asana.") But the time has come--back to work, back to yoga classes, time to start blogging.

Right now we are experiencing a nearly unheard of phenomenon in Madrid. Rain. It's been raining since Tuesday. Thank goodness, though. We need it--Madrid is notoriously dry.

Yesterday, crossing a busy intersection in the rain, I reflected on the frequent use of vulgarity here in good old España. A man crossing ahead of me, nearly run over by a guy who was oblivious to the fact that we had the right of way, smacked the car's hood and yelled, "¿A dónde vas, coño?" That is, "Where are you going, cunt?" Only in Spain.