Ilivetolearn's Blog

May 26, 2006

futbol fever

Filed under: on the road,Spain — ilivetolearn @ 12:15 pm

While I was in Ibiza, the Barcelona team won the European championship game against Arsenal of the UK…and not only was everyone watching, but many were celebrating by lighting firecrackers after each goal (including the one that ended up not counting because in the moments leading up to it the Arsenal goalie grabbed the ankle of the Barça player, thereby stopping the play and getting ejected from the game) and whooping and hollering. It was abundantly clear that the Balearic residents consider themselves part of Catalunya.

I don’t think the Madrileños felt quite the same pride, though of course most of them rooted against Arsenal, if not for Barça. Everybody just loves to watch Ronaldhino play. He is now the most highly-compensated player in terms of endorsements (having recently overtaken Beckham) so we see his horsey face everywhere, smilingly offering a stick of Trident to a pretty girl, or eagerly about to taste a spoonful of yogurt.

In this household, we are poised to root for Brazil (since Ronaldhino will be playing for his home country) in the World Cup next month. I’m looking forward to hearing national anthems played, as in the Olympics, and seeing post-game interviews in which no one gives credit to Jesus.

May 22, 2006

local flora

Filed under: books/authors,food/groceries,Spain — ilivetolearn @ 10:33 am

It is full summer in Pozuelo now, with temperatures up to 32 or 33 some days (low 90’s) and the huge rosebushes that were drooped all over people’s gates and walls, covered with blooms, are looking tired and burned out. I suppose they will have another hurrah in the fall. Meanwhile the honeysuckle is fragrant again and we have discovered a vine with flowers that look as if they were designed by Dr. Seuss…a purple and white fringey-looking skirt, stamens and pistils standing up in triangular formation, a bulblike structure in the middle holding it together…I’ve never seen anything like it. I think it may be a variety of clematis. I took a cutting and am trying to root it.

There are mulberry trees making messes all over, also bringing Dr. Seuss to mind (And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street was, after all, his first book). Whoever thought they would make good street trees was short-sighted; we are forever tracking purple juice from the sidewalks here and there. Margo eats as many as she can reach and has also tried the white ones but reports they are tasteless.

May 19, 2006

Ibiza for 50-somethings

Filed under: on the road,Spain — ilivetolearn @ 10:09 am

I planned a vacation-from-the-family for myself after our stay in Valencia when I realized I could take a ferry from there to Ibiza, the less-famous third of the Majorca-Menorca Balearic chain in the Mediterranean. Of course it was more complicated than I thought: in high season (summer) the tourist ferries run frequently but now they are only once a week, so I had to catch one of the daily more cargo-oriented ones from Denia, an hour south along the coast from Valencia. That made the return trip too onerous (ferry to Denia, unknown train or bus back to Valencia, train to Madrid) so I just flew back. The high-speed ferries, like the high-speed trains, have pricey assigned seats and boarding passes. This one had actual airplane seats, stripped of their tray tables and incongruously lined up in a space that should have been a bench-lined lounge. Honestly, one of the things I find charming about ferries is how different they are from planes, so the more they try to act like 737’s the more likely I am to get back in the air.

I thoroughly enjoyed my four-day break, even after being teasingly told by Elliot and various ASM parents that I had chosen the party island of all time for my peace and quiet. Ibiza is the hot destination for spring break (oops, missed it) and Ali, the teenager next door, said I timed my trip well because it wouldn’t be too crowded but all the best discos would already be open. One (Amnesia) is famous for filling its dance floor with bubbles and foam so dancers get, well, wet and slippery. What fun. I missed that too, and was glad my cheapo hotel was not in the center of town.

Instead, I had my fill of thousands of years of history—Ibiza has been home to ancient Iberians, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Goths, Byzantines, Moors, etc.– at the Punic necropolis, the more recent (14th century) cathedral, and the incredibly informative (signage in Spanish, Catalan, and English) archeology museum. And I shopped—not usually a recreational activity for me. The 60’s and 70’s are alive and well on Ibiza, since many counter-cultural types who came here to drop out stayed and prospered. So there is a huge weekly “Hippy Market” (their spelling) about an hour’s bus ride from the town of Ibiza. I took a boat instead. Lots of tie-dye and hand-made jewelry. Bought presents for everybody including myself.

May 17, 2006

The Cup and the Bullfight

Filed under: books/authors,Spain — ilivetolearn @ 10:29 am

We were in Spectator Heaven on Saturday in Valencia—first the America’s Cup and then a bullfight. We signed up for a 3-hour stint on a catamaran to go out (unfortunately under motor) and watch three match races: China vs. Italy, USA vs. New Zealand, and Sweden vs. Germany. It was amazing to be so close to these enormous boats, see a couple of mark roundings, watch them raise their spinnakers, and in general catch the excitement of the Cup races. Valencia is benefiting greatly from winning the competition to be the venue (just as competitive as the Olympics, in a way)—the whole thing takes two years. We are already plotting to come back next spring for some fleet racing.

The USA boat beat New Zealand, but only because NZ’s spinnaker ripped in a spectacular disaster that we saw on TV later. We spent some time in the USA team exhibits, watching movies about the boats and trying our hands at winch-grinding, keeping your balance on a moving deck simulator, and other tests of skill. The whole small city of Cup contenders’ buildings and dock facilities is impressive, but I couldn’t help thinking that if all the governments and corporate sponsors were to pool the money spent on a couple of dozen boats they could wipe several diseases off the face of the planet.

And then on to Plaza de Toros, an1850 bullring seating 16,800 and reminiscent of Roman amphitheaters. The locals consider Valencia the capital of La Corrida (in Spain it is not called bullfighting, since it is really bull killing) and when we arrived right before the start at 6, there was a huge crowd at the ticket windows. Evan read the complex price list over the heads of the people ahead of us: sun (cheap), sun/shade (more), total shade (most expensive); different prices for each row according to distance from the ground level; various prices for kids of different ages; cash only. Then when we actually got to the window, we were told “17 euros each.”

We sat right in the sun, hot and blinding. The spectators drank a lot of beer, smoked (more cigars than I’ve seen before in Spain) and shouted “¡Ole!” at what seemed pretty random moments to me. I realized that everything I know about bullfights (for instance the role of the picadores and banderilleros) I learned from Ferdinand the Bull, the children’s book by Munro Leaf. I was repulsed and glad to have done it so I never have to go again. Margo was in tears by bull #2 (out of 6) and spent the rest of the time turned away, reading. Phoebe was fascinated, more by the pageantry than anything else, and Bill and Evan were totally into it, scheming as we left how soon they could go to another one. On returning to Madrid, Bill immediately went to the ASM library and got out Death in the Afternoon (Hemingway) and two other books, one tellingly titled Wine Women & Toros. There’s no way around the fact that it is killing animals for sport.

May 16, 2006

last trip before summer

Filed under: on the road,Spain — ilivetolearn @ 2:16 pm

We spent the last long weekend of the school year in Valencia, where we had trouble finding a hotel room (it’s booked up partly because of the America’s Cup) so ended up renting an apartment. This worked well in Barcelona (especially because we were two families and 9 people) and we had also done it in Cuenca. It’s cheaper and you don’t have to eat every meal at a restaurant. Well, this one was off the beaten track to say the least, in a neighborhood called Nazaret about halfway between the center of the city and the port—so we had to drive to the city for the attractions there and to the port for the sailing stuff (though each would have been within walking distance for energetic adults without whining children).

The neighborhood was probably originally all fisherman and others involved with the life of the port and was decidedly downscale. And the apartment, a fifth-floor walkup, was minuscule. Margo walked in and said, “How adorable!” because it was all miniature—a tiny living room, two tiny bedrooms, a closet of a kitchen, and a bathroom you had to sidle into. But it was fine for our purposes; there was a produce market right across the street and several playgrounds and bakeries nearby…and Saturday night starting at about 10 there was a street fair with live music—a band from Brazil and troupe of drummers doing African rhythm work, though they were all Spanish. I don’t know what the occasion was but there is always some festival to be celebrated by hanging out till all hours in the street.

Valencia has a set of monumental buildings (designed by Santiago Calatrava, a hugely famous Spanish architect who has won everything but the Pritzker prize, it seems), that form a science museum-aquarium-observatory complex.They are quirky and playful and very impressive to see from the road or the water (or the air, I suppose) but we were left a little underwhelmed by their indoor uses. We have been spoiled by great hands-on science museums in Madrid and Lisbon, and this one was too much like an airplane hangar with loosely connected pedantic exhibits. And the aquarium had taken a leaf from modern zoos, organizing the collection by habitat, and making visitors walk long distances between, say, the Antarctic and the wetlands area. AND because of the vagaries of Spanish scheduling the dolphin show billed for 5 had taken place at 4, so we missed it. Was it because it was Sunday? Or a holiday?? Or do the times posted at the ticket office and those posted at the tank itself never have anything to do with each other?

May 11, 2006

everyday sights here and there

Filed under: bumper stickers,movies,Spain — ilivetolearn @ 11:36 am

As we contemplate our two-month stay in the States I am making mental lists of things only to be seen here or there.

Spain only: fields of wild poppies by every roadside; nuns wearing habits; women wearing fur coats (even in 55-60 degree weather!); people littering while standing literally within arm’s reach of a trash receptacle; billboards featuring celebrities hawking products they wouldn’t touch in the US (for example, Brad Pitt with a Taghauer watch, Ed Harris with scotch…shades of Lost in Translation); playgrounds every other block with official signs listing appropriate ages for the equipment and locations of hospital and pharmacy in case of injury; cranes, cranes, and more cranes (they have been called the official flower of Spain during the ten-year EU-subsidized building boom).

US only: bumper stickers; limousines; port-a-potties (where DO all the construction workers driving the cranes relieve themselves?); yellow school buses (here all school transport is privately funded and the buses look like Atlantic City charters); people eating/drinking on the street; styrofoam; everyone wearing sneakers, jeans, and t-shirts.

May 10, 2006

La corrida

Filed under: Spain — ilivetolearn @ 11:04 am

Another part of the San Isidro celebration is daily bullfights for about three weeks. Apparently it is the most popular part of the bullfighting season, bringing together the best fighters and best bulls, and featuring special events like “novillos” (young bulls), “rejones” (bullfights on horseback), and “Goyesca” fights (in period costume). I have a modicum of interest in this last one, though if I really want to see the “suits of lights” (heavily decorated with hundreds of beads) worn by the matadors, I can just go to the bullfighting museum.

Why has this barbaric custom not only survived, but even remained so emblematic of Spain? One author I read (and this theory was corroborated by Elliot’s professor of Spanish civilization) said it persists because until recently there was no middle class to protest against it. The upper classes liked things the way they were and had a vested interest in providing diverting spectacles for the masses, and the masses had no time for anything besides scrounging for food and shelter (and watching the occasional bullfight). The rise of the middle class and concomitant bourgeois sensibilities may be the beginning of the end, and indeed they no longer have bullfights in Barcelona.

But still, it’s so engrained in the culture. One children’s book I saw in the ASM library had on its cover some drawings representing European capitals: the Eiffel Tower for Paris, the Coliseum for Rome, Big Ben for London…and a toreador for Madrid. When our erstwhile Spanish teacher and I were discussing the difference between the words “consumir” (consume) and “consumar” (consummate) he said, “Well, you use ‘consumar’ for orgasm…or a bullfight.” Somehow I don’t think they’ll be banning it anytime soon.

May 8, 2006

May’s holidays

Filed under: Spain — ilivetolearn @ 10:24 am

May 2nd, a holiday in Madrid province that is one of the few not associated with a saint’s day, commemorates an event in 1808 when Madrileños arose in a vain attempt to rout the French, who ended up installing Napoleon’s brother on the throne for 12 yrs. As a local columnist wrote, “a bunch of suicidal Madrid patriots, armed only with knives, stood up to…the elite killers of Napoleon’s army, with the aim of overthrowing an enlightened king, a foreigner like all kings, and putting in his place an undesirable and felonious aborigine.” So a spectacular defeat is memorialized with a day off from work and school. The events of the 2nd and the 3rd (when French soldiers shot all the major instigators) are the subjects of two of Goya’s most famous paintings.

Another day off specific to Madrid is the 15th, the day of San Isidro. It’s traditional for Madrileños to dress up as majas or chulos and make pilgrimages to San Isidro’s meadow to have picnics and partake of the miraculous water from the spring there, said to have brought Prince Felipe (later crowned Philip the 2nd) through a childhood plagued by smallpox and epileptic seizures. We’ll be celebrating by going off to Valencia (since it is the last long weekend of the year)…but not to worry: in true Madrid style, the festival of the patron saint goes on for at least ten days so we won’t miss it all.

May 6, 2006

this and that about Galicia

Filed under: on the road,Spain — ilivetolearn @ 1:28 pm

The Galician language sounds like Portuguese to our untrained ears. It has more dominant vowel sounds and a lot of the swishy “sh” that is missing in Spanish, so sounds more fluid. In writing it looks a little like Basque, heavy on the x’s. It is the official language of road signs and is spoken by a large percentage of the population, but it is not as controversial as Catalan, because its proponents so far have not insisted that it be the sole language of commerce, justice, etc, in the region.

One thing that struck us more than in other parts of the country is the stature of the natives. They are really vertically challenged. This may be because until recently the area has been one of the poorest in Spain and the benefits of improved nutrition haven’t had time to work their magic on the next generation. Things were so bad for years that emigration rates were huge, especially to Latin America, where the word for Spaniard is still “Gallego.”

The Atlantic coastline is gorgeous…we went to La Coruña and climbed to the top of the Tower of Hercules, supposedly the oldest working lighthouse in the world (Roman, 2nd century), to get our fill of the sea view. At the base is a “rosa de los vientos” (rose of the winds or as we would say, compass rose) with Celtic symbols like the thistle, shamrock, and endless knot. Much is made of the Celtic connection in Galicia—there is even a bagpipe tradition there–though other than a history of sea trade leading to some intermarriage, it seems to be a kinship manufactured for the tourist trade.

May 5, 2006

Gozo/Franco–where not to stay and eat in Galicia

Filed under: on the road,Spain — ilivetolearn @ 1:41 pm

We’ve been failing to use our Charming Small Hotel Guide, and indeed failing to book our hotels in a timely fashion (so much for the second career in travel arrangement), so we can now write the counterpoint, Charmless Last-Minute Hotel Guide. If we thought our boring Granada hotel lacked redeeming features, it was a virtual palace compared to Hotel do Gozo in Santiago de Compostela, which we decided used to be a home for delinquent youth—barracks-style cement block buildings marching up a hillside 3 km outside the city. The only plus was that the girls could roam free around the grounds, in and out of the playground and souvenir shop, etc. The pool was not open yet. (By the time all the hotel pools open we will be in the States for the summer.)

Because Galicia is the upper northwest corner of time zone, it was full daylight until 9:45 or later, even on May 1st. The summer solstice must be quite a party. Santiago, like every Spanish city, comes alive about 10 PM, with hordes of people strolling up and down the main restaurant drag—Rua do Franco—shopping for a place to eat. (Franco was born in nearby Ferrol, and Galicians have not rushed to undo all his namesake plazas and boulevards as has the rest of Spain.) We had a decent meal there the first night, complete with lessons on how to count in Galego from our waiter, but a much better meal the next night in a less-touristy part of the city.

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