Ilivetolearn's Blog

January 25, 2007

appropriate for whom?

Filed under: movies,Spain — ilivetolearn @ 1:48 pm

The movie rating system here is, to say the least, inadequate. On posters and print ads, you need a magnifying glass to find the recommended age. Theaters are not required to inform patrons of the ratings, much less enforce them. Some post them, for maybe half of their showings. Some conveniently forget. The categories are: “apta” (apt) for all, for older than 7, for older than 13, and for older than 18. When I see these on listings at the video store (again, not required, but sometimes present), I zero in on APTA 13—Phoebe being 13 on the nose and Margo a very old 10.

But sometimes I am misled. Movies that get an R in the US for bad language, drugs, violence, and sexual content may be rated 13 or even 7 here. We saw Little Miss Sunshine (an R movie for sure) when the girls were at playdates. But the theater was full of families with young kids, since here it is rated 7. Joder!

Of course, the US ratings system is also inconsistently applied and not fully informative. I have taken to visiting the site commonsensemedia.org to make decisions about the girls’ movie-viewing. On the basis of its extremely detailed recommendation, Margo and I saw The Queen. We knew in advance exactly how many times each profanity would occur. Of course, “bugger” doesn’t register as an obscenity with American kids. Anyway, we liked it.

And I have promised Margo I’d rent Little Miss Sunshine when it appears on DVD, since her friends have all seen it.

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January 24, 2007

expletive not deleted

Filed under: movies,Spain — ilivetolearn @ 12:27 pm

Now that the Oscar nominations are out, we’re on the usual 11th-month campaign to see some award contenders before the big night. We took in Little Miss Sunshine at our favorite VO (version original) theater, the Yelmo Ideal near Plaza Mayor. Though we’ve been there often, this was the first time I’ve noticed groups of deaf people in the audience. Of course…they patronize VO theaters because of the Spanish subtitles—everywhere else the movies are dubbed. This means the deaf get to see new releases made in every language but Spanish, whereas we are restricted to the English-language films. I have wanted to see Volver since it came out, but until I can find it on DVD with English subtitles, I am out of luck.

The IHT recently reported that Spain is not the only country with a powerful dubbing industry. Here it began with Franco, who insisted every film be shown in Castilian, partly to suppress regional dialects and assert the superiority of “true” Spanish, and partly to control content. There are some examples of the absurdity of his censorship: in Mogambo, the illicit love affair between Grace Kelly and Clark Gable was a no-no, so they made Grace Kelly and her husband… brother and sister. Incest–much better.

French dubbing didn’t begin as censorship, but has evolved in that direction. Apparently there is an unwritten code that requires changing vulgarities to less offensive words, eliminating references to drugs and alcohol, and removing brand names. (So much for the lucrative US product-placement practice.) In Spain, the obscenities are actually ramped up in the subtitles; many times, we have heard a character voice a wimpy “Damn!” or even “Shit!” while the subtitle reads “Joder!” You can imagine how many times that word appeared on the screen in Little Miss Sunshine.

January 22, 2007

this is winter?

Filed under: food/groceries,Spain — ilivetolearn @ 8:58 pm

This past Saturday was warm and sunny, and we celebrated the end of cold drizzle by going to the Royal Botanical Garden, right next to the Prado. There were only a few things blooming (daffodils, crocuses, primroses, camellias, irises) but the earth smelled springy and the three indoor conservatories (representing arid, subtropical, and tropical climates) were wonderful as usual. We even got inspired to buy some plants and seeds at the little shop and do some midwinter gardening upon our return home.

While I trimmed the over-run of invasive mint the girls and a friend harvested hot peppers and enough potatoes for a meal. I now understand why poor people in inhospitable climes are so potato-dependent; it must be the only crop you can grow almost by accident. We literally stick small trimmings with eyes in about a gallon of dirt and presto! A few months later, we’re peeling, boiling, and mashing.

Of course, right after our back-to-nature day, the temperature plummeted, so I’m not holding out much hope for the pansies and lettuce we sowed. But the spuds will survive.

January 21, 2007

our friendly neighborhood pharmacist

Filed under: Spain — ilivetolearn @ 8:39 pm

Along with its numerous sources of new outfits for our younger offspring, the shopping drag in Pozuelo now boasts about five pharmacies, two of which are open 24 hours a day. This seems excessive…I’m sure most families got by fine when the pharmacies were only open 9:30 AM to 9:30 PM, and took turns opening on Sundays. But now we can satisfy a hankering for any form of medication (and you can buy a truly amazing panoply, cheap, over the counter) at all times of day or night.

We only patronize one—it happens to be one of the newly 24/7-ized—because it’s run by an extremely personable woman who speaks some English and is all business when it comes to lice infestations or urinary tract infections. We just got over bout #2 with lice without consulting her again because we still had some pesticide shampoo left and practiced extreme vigilance with nit-combing and bedding-sanitizing.

The “what to do about head lice” websites are proliferating almost as fast as all-night pharmacies, and are a good read. One recommends putting stuffed animals, coats, etc. in the dryer at top heat setting (oops, we don’t have a dryer) and vacuuming all couches, chairs, and rugs (oops, we don’t have a vacuum cleaner). It also states that beds can be ironed to kill nits (we DO have an iron) with this caveat, in all caps: do not iron waterbed mattresses. I guess you can never underestimate the common sense of the louse-obsessed.

January 20, 2007

what yellow light?

Filed under: on the road,Spain — ilivetolearn @ 8:09 pm

Spain has recently instituted a points system for driving infractions. To keep drivers informed, bits of the law are emblazoned on the light-up signs over major roadways, where they always post the highway death toll on holiday weekends. For example, “uso obligatorio del cinturon—3 puntos” means you lose three of the 12 points you start out with (plus pay a hefty fine, which can be collected on the spot by the policia) if you are caught driving without your seat belt on.

I had thought compliance with this law was already far higher than in the US, just like compliance with the cell-phone law. It’s a very common sight here to see a driver pulled over, having a phone conversation. We once waited about 20 minutes for a parking spot, thinking that the woman at the wheel was just finishing a call before vacating. But no…she seemed to be breaking up with her boyfriend, which involved much gesticulation and crying. We went elsewhere.

Ironically, the crackdown on moving violations occurs just as I have taken a page from the unofficial Spanish users’ manual on traffic lights, which is, as Elliot interprets it: Green means go, yellow means go, red means go if you want to. I’m not quite up to absolutely ignoring red lights, but I never stop for yellow. After all, without a Spanish license, I have no points to lose.

January 19, 2007

tiny slaves to fashion

Filed under: Spain — ilivetolearn @ 2:27 pm

You’d never know Spain has one of the lowest birthrates in the EU from wandering around our neighborhood, where strollers are far more common than bicycles and new high-priced children’s clothing stores spring up weekly. We were mourning our favorite hole-in-the-wall bakery, which went belly-up during the summer, and hoping some other entrepreneur would fire up the ovens (the loaves were delivered each morning and baked there) so we could resume daily chapata purchase, but no. The tiny storefront now displays precious (and by that I mean €80 and up) chintz frocks and corduroy trousers and frou-frou sweaters, all helpfully grouped into color-coordinated outfits. Of course toddlers have to look as put-together as their parents and grandparents. And siblings have to dress alike, especially on weekends (many of them wear school uniforms, so they are dressed alike all week)—even to go to the local produce market on a Saturday morning, it seems obligatory to put your three girls into the current fashionable color, with identical burnt-orange sweaters, chocolate-brown skirts, chocolate-brown tights, and chocolate-brown velveteen slippers. They look adorable but I can’t imagine what all that chocolate costs.

How many kiddie boutiques can one smallish suburb support? Apparently the limit has not been reached yet. Phoebe loves it; on the walk home from the American school we can window-shop at no fewer than 6 establishments, and she has wangled a couple of pairs of jeans and some tops out of this activity. (She’s at the upper edge of their size range.) Margo has very little interest, but consents to wear the outgrown clothing. We believe in dressing the girls alike, but sequentially.

January 18, 2007

comer a fuera (eating out)

Filed under: food/groceries,Spain — ilivetolearn @ 12:27 pm

Every time Bill leaves for the States for two or three weeks I resolve to take the kids out to dinner a few times and try out new neighborhood restaurants. We’ll be avoiding El Cuchi (which replaced Ya Ya, the Mexican place) because we took Phoebe there on her first day of school and she ended up covered with hives; I learned the word urticaria and now carry an Epi-pen around. What a treat!

So this week we tried “27,” which bills itself as an American restaurant. The ribs were really good (I don’t even like ribs normally) and it was close enough to home that Margo could leave after the main course—she had forgotten her book. The rest of us stayed to watch the waiter pull down a big screen and turn on the projection TV for the Real Madrid-Mallorca game, which was on a cable channel we don’t get. We were in the local equivalent of a sports bar! There were several families with kids there. I’d forgotten how much fun it is to watch soccer, though I miss Beckham, who is benched for the rest of the season because the coach is angry that he’s bailing out for LA.

January 14, 2007

boys there; girls here

Filed under: Spain — ilivetolearn @ 11:32 am

While the distaff half of the family got back to “normal,” whatever that may be, Bill and Elliot took advantage of SLU’s long Christmas break (since it’s a Jesuit school, I don’t think they are constrained to call it a holiday or mid-winter break) and some late-night travel-site browsing and flew off to Istanbul for five days. They visited classic attractions like the Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace; we ventured into La Mujer Gigante (the gigantic woman) right here in Pozuelo.

And I really mean “into.” This exposiciòn is a huge recumbent figure clad in jeans and construction-worker boots (very un-Spanish) with eyes that shift side to side in its 12-foot-tall head. Visitors, after putting on flimsy green lab coats and shower caps, enter through the neck and proceed into the mouth, down the alimentary canal, through the stomach, and out around the hip area. It’s a guided tour with a disembodied voice telling you about all the body parts; this being Spain, the person leading the group talks over the recording, flashing a laser pointer around. Add some spritzing fluids that are meant to represent saliva and stomach acid, and some rocking floors and leaning walls to simulate digestive contractions, and you get quite the multi-media experience. I think Margo would agree with me that the most unsettling part was not the sudden motions of the cave-like structure, but the creepy meter-long baby winking at us from inside the “womb.”

I preferred last fall’s exhibit in this venue (a parking lot within walking distance of our house)—a traveling show sponsored by La Caixa bank called “las Aromas de al-Andalus.” It had well-designed reproductions of a Moorish house and courtyard, a market, and a mosque, all with good lighting, piped-in sounds (crickets and such), and, as the name implies, smells. You wandered around several rooms, sniffing essences of dozens of spices and plants, and learning the Spanish words for cypress, cloves, caraway, etc. It was heavenly. And free!

January 8, 2007

the Multipla is held hostage

Filed under: on the road,Spain — ilivetolearn @ 11:32 am

We spent a week carless. (Reminds me of a long-ago typo in the Pennington Post about a woman given a citation for “carless” driving.) Bill called the number the police had given us every day, to listen to a long recording explaining (we think) that Section C was still off-limits and that we should call back tomorrow. It wasn’t until Elliot got on the phone and lasted until the very end of the message that we discovered…an offer to connect to an English-speaking person! It makes you appreciate the States, where the very first thing you hear on many voicemail systems is “Para Español, pulse numero uno.”

Bill gave the English speaker information about the car (make, model, location in garage) and was told we would get a call when they were ready to release it. Another couple of days went by. On Sunday, faced with the resumption of school (and subsequent need for wheels) on Monday, he just went on out there, waited in a few lines, showed proof of ownership, and drove it home. At least we didn’t have to pay the 50 or 60 euros it would have cost to park there for the week we were in Paris.

But in the interim, we 1) walked everywhere, 2) discovered that you can get a cab in certain places in Pozuelo if you are in a hurry to get into the city, and 3) made good use of our rolling grocery cart, like true Spaniards.

January 1, 2007

a disturbing homecoming

Filed under: on the road,Spain — ilivetolearn @ 1:21 pm

The first thing we noticed when we landed back in Madrid on New Year’s Eve was how cold the terminal was…then we saw cracked and missing windows, and TV crews with cameras. Then we smelled smoke. The ETA bomb had gone off the morning of the 30th in Section D of the garage. Our car, in Section C, was fine (we could see it) but still behind police tape. We were given a number to call in the next few days to find out when we could retrieve it.

Because there had been three warning phone calls, the police were able to evacuate the area, except for two Ecuadorian men who were napping in their cars, awaiting arriving relatives. It was a somber trip home by various means–we didn’t all fit into a taxi so the boys took the Metro.

Then we regrouped for the evening’s festivities. Evan went to Puerto del Sol (the Times Square equivalent) with friends. Bill, Elliot, and Phoebe accepted an invitation to tomar las uvas (eat the grapes) with Pilar’s extended family. Margo had a fever of 103 and I was recovering from the same ailment, so we stayed home and watched a movie. I had some superstitious feelings about the adverse effects of not eating the twelve grapes as the clock struck midnight, until I reminded myself that I had survived 50-plus years ignorant of that custom, and that I was lucky to be alive and unaffected by terrorism except to be inconvenienced.

The rescue workers at Terminal 4 took a break at 12:00 for grapes, but did not follow with the traditional toast, out of respect for the men they did not yet know had died.

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