When we visited Spain on vacation several years ago we thought “Que Fatal!” everytime we had to eat. We went from one restaurant to the next after being disgusted by unattractive pictures of questionable meat. We weren’t even vegetarians then. Why would restaurants advertise food with photos that portray the food as inedible? Why not just describe the food like in America?

Now, after months of searching, we have found many wonderful Spanish dishes. There is a cafe near our apartment that makes a pincho de tortilla with cheese that oozes out of it. I would eat it 7 days a week if I could. I guess at 3 euros I probably could but then I would need to expand my conversation skills in order to talk to the people behind the counter. Probably isn’t going to happen.

Despite our expanded restaurant options there are a few food items that I miss from the US. Danny was able to help in this area. He paid us a visit last week and brought with him: Tom’s toothpaste (x2), Baking powder, vanilla extract, chocolate chips, and dental floss. What a doll! We made chocolate chip cookies today, with a strange kind of brown sugar that is super granulated and has a strong molasses scent. They actually turned out quite well, they weren’t Megan’s mother-in-law’s cookies or anything but they were still pretty good. I was even able to make Sean angry by telling him I threw them in the trash. That’s the best way to make Sean angry. He loves chocolate chip cookies. He rejoiced when I told him I was kidding. Thanks for the supplies and company DG! bl


Madrid Football Soccer

February 14, 2011

Lover of moderation David Brooks recently wrote something about ‘whoosh’ moments, or how people experience intense elevation when at a sporting event or a concert.  He was saying that this how the modern man seeks fulfillment in place of church or prayer.

David Brooks also has a strange NY Times picture.

No city seems to understand the ‘whooshing’ effect better than Madrid, where people gather in crowds of fifteen just to have coffee.  Life is appreciated, small moments are made large, family time is valued, whatever.

With that in mind, I could not wait to go to a football soccer game here.

right before game time

Football Soccer is the Spanish deporte of choice and Madrid sports two professional teams.  One- Real Madrid- has worldwide popularity and a bank account that rivals the Yankees.  The other- Atletico- has more devoted regional popularity and a field that feels like a bigger McCoy stadium in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.


On Saturday I landed at an Atletico game, which I lucked into by befriending someone with enchufe, or connections.

It didn’t disappoint.  Although they lost the game, the fans support their team with aggressive devotion. No one was late. No one was on a cell phone.  A few guys nervously chain-smoked throughout the game.  There was anger- real and unbridled- when things weren’t going well.  There was also joy, people hugging and sharing sunflower seeds.  It felt like an activity designed for solely for Madrid, an excuse for everyone to get together and experience something communally .

I was with James, who has season-tickets, and his little brother Louie.  Both are bilingual and were able to translate some of the profanity we heard.  Always fun to hear old guys cursing at referees.  ‘Cabron!’ (bastard) seems to be a local favorite.

Also, there is a section in the stadium where people sing for the entire ninety-minute game.  It’s not exactly chanting- it has more rhythm- and it is very strange to the outsider.  I’ve seen passionate fans.  I’ve been to Celtic playoff games.  Even went to the NCAA tournament once.  Fenway definitely has people who treat sport like a religion, but I’ve never seen people so committed to their fandom that they felt the need to sing for 105 straight minutes (including halftime) in an effort to boost morale.

They didn’t sound like Aaliyah, but it was still pretty good.


Madrid Cave Bar

February 11, 2011

Not to front but it’s getting warmer out here.  Most days are turning jacket-free.  And it’s funny because a couple of months ago B said ‘get a jacket boy.’  I said ‘true it’s cold,’ and then bought one.  But now it’s like man maybe I should’ve just waited. Winter’s only two months here.

Taking the wait-and-see approach with a pair of shoes that have a few holes in them.  Sure it’s unprofessional when students can see your toes.  But I wear black socks to camouflage.  It’s fun and it’s like you’re in on a shoe secret.  ‘Shoe Secret,’ the movie, starring Eric Scott Geraghty.  Plus you’re saving that forty euro and then subsequently wasting it on coffee and tortilla.  It’s a win-lose-lose-lose situation.

Tonight we walked to a cave bar with our friends Ron and Hagrid.

It was hidden to make foreigners feel good about finding it.  You walk through a room of mirrors, down the steps, and to this place filled with young people drinking sangria.

There’s also a guy playing piano, passionately.

We had fun man.  There were quotes written on the wall in French and in Spanish.  One of them was ‘La felicidad está en la ignorancia de la verdad,’ kind of like ignorance is bliss.

Got me thinking.  Sometimes following the Celts is easier than following Mubarak developments in Egypt (congrats through Egyptians!).  Need to step up my citizenry.  But then you look at all the information and all the books and it’s overwhelming.  So you go back to espn.com or sewing or ‘The Fugitive’ clips on youtube.

Need to learn though.  Need to inform myself.  I once met Spike Lee at a book signing and he wrote, ‘Educate your mind.’

Two Spains

February 9, 2011

There was this guy named Antonio Cipriano José María y Francisco de Santa Ana Machado y Ruiz. He’s known as Antonio Machado now, but I like his real name and its disdain for brevity.

He was a brave dude (anti-Franocist during/after the coup) and really went hard with literature and poetry.  Here’s an excerpt:

‘Españolito que vienes
al mundo, te guarde Dios.
Una de las dos Españas
ha de helarte el corazón.’

It basically means,’Little Spaniard coming into this world, May God protect you.  One of the two Spains will freeze your heart.’

It’s about the intransigent Spanish political divide.  We just finished reading Giles Tremlett’s The Ghosts of Spain and learned about how this divide affects the past, present, and future of Spanish governing and culture.  In some cases, politics run thicker than blood, to sometimes tragic consequences. We’re talking about bodies, people.

I won’t give you a book report although I want to. Props to Connie for the rec.

The poem also got me thinking about America more than anything since Bunk, McNulty and the train track metaphor.

But there’s space for optimism.  We have 2 little nephews that we love and don’t see enough and I don’t think they long for the lost days of Air America.

Have to love those kids.  Hearts not frozen yet.

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February 8, 2011

We arrived in Tangier and didn’t know what language to speak.  We only speak English, so that made it especially hard.  A guidebook described the city as, ‘Certainly not European, not African, not even Morrocan.’  Considering its located in two of those places, I was confused.

But it was true.  This place does not have a typical cultural identity.  Part of it is location.  It’s in Morocco but you can see Spain from the coast, and it’s traditionally been a port or trade city.

Part of it is history.  It has a mixture of Jewish, Muslim, and Christian influence.

What this leads to is a really fascinating city that has touches of everything.  It’s a melting pot of energy and small-shop commerce, mixed in with some kids and adults who try to game you at every corner.

One kid tried selling us chiclet gum for forty minutes.  He was savvy- a showman, really – and spoke to us in four different languages before settling on Spanish. Dios Mio. There’s a real facility for multi-lingualism here, as everyone seems to go back and forth.  For fans of the Bible or that Brad Pitt/Cate Blanchett movie, it was like Babel (or Babel), only not at all.  Everyone understood everyone.

Upon arriving, our taxi driver dropped us off at the entrance of the Medina, the famous series of tangled, narrow streets.  William Burroughs lived there and apparently ran wild. The Rolling Stones passed through.  As the guidebook said, ‘They relished the place where nothing- and no one– was forbidden.’  It’s not like that now, though.  Time tends to tame.

The taxi driver gave this half-second glimpse to this other man at the entrance.  This man became our unofficial tour guide.  We read that this happens, and that they expect a tip after showing you around the confusing maze of the Medina.  We pledged to avoid it.  We are savvy travelers.

We didn’t avoid it and are not savvy travelers.  The dude showed us the Medina for a good twenty minutes and we were powerless to escape.  He knew that we needed him.  The Medina has maps- some better than others- but as our hotel receptionist told us ‘it’s nearly impossible to find this place on your first day.’  Our guide, a man who also toggled between multiple languages, helped us out.  We gave him a tip – less than he wanted but fair enough – and we were off.

We saw the Kasbah and walked along the beach.  We ate at a really delicious French restaurant (three times).  We ate a really delicious Morrocan restaurant.  There was a camel on the beach.  There were spontaneous soccer games amongst teens that seemed to break out of nowhere.  The kids were talented- one reminded me of a soccer-ish Kevin Durant- and played for hours.  We sat on terraces.  The city could feel tougher in the Medina at night, especially after that one guy spit on us.

Just asked B what she would rate it on her now famous five star scale.  She said ‘2.5, but I’m sure other places in Morocco are a four or even a five.’  Not the most comfortable spot, but we agree it’s a trip that will age well.  I’ll go 3.25, inching towards 3 and half.

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Two weekends ago we took a bus trip to Valencia, the third largest city in Spain and the (currently) most important port-town. We stayed at a B&B and our room was located in a separate building from the main one. (this marks the start of our experimentation with cheaper accommodations) The room was a bit chilly and we had to share three bathrooms with 5 rooms, but, overall, it was quite comfortable. The “breakfast” part of the B&B was delicious and free. The only real problem with the setup was that we got lost trying to find the random apartment building after a day out on the town. We tried the key in at least 5 doors before we realized we were on the wrong street.

The outskirts of Valencia were a bit dodgy but the historic city center was charming. We went to the city of arts and science, which is a massive area with about 5 museums. It was like a modern, sci-fi version of museum campus in Chicago. We got a day pass so we could pop from building to building. We spent so much time in the aquarium that we only managed to see the science museum before the place closed. The next day we went to a cathedral (again, we have seen about a million). This cathedral was very special though. It had the holy grail… yes! the holy grail.  It didn’t look like it was protected all that well so I wondered why someone hasn’t stollen it. The cathedral also had the arm of Saint Vincent. His arm was withered within a glass box and went from fingertip to elbow. He had some rings on his fingers. It was sort of creepy.

Our favorite part of Valencia was the paella and horchata. Horchata is a traditional drink that sort of tasted like liquid cookie dough. It was great. On the way back to Madrid there was a snowstorm. I was nervous because I was sitting, without Sean, in the front seat. I didn’t know if Spaniards knew how to drive in the snow since it doesn’t happen all that often, unless you are in the north. One of my students told me it is like cars “waltz” on the road when there is snow. The front window was fogged up except for a 6×3 inch space the driver could peak out of. I was sweating, trying to create a sentence in Spanish like “can I wipe the window for you???”. Luckily, the snow occurred at the halfway mark of the trip and the driver eventually pulled over for a break. Phew!  We give Valencia 4/5 stars. -b

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