Saturday, May 26, 2007

Pros and Cons

Five unexpected things I miss about San Francisco while being here in Spain, (thus not counting the obvious like seeing my friends and my cats). Another description might be - "things I had always taken for granted, but hopefully will be less likely to do so when I get back".

  1. Playing the piano
  2. The view of the city and the Bay Bridge from my bedroom window
  3. Living just half a block from Dolores Park, so that for instance, if there is a demonstration or festival of some kind, I can hear the music right from my place and go check it out, or not.
  4. Watching "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report" every night before going to bed
  5. The actual physical proximity of all of my books, so that I can just hop up and check something if needs be.

There's a certain irony about this list, as - for example - I don't think I'd seriously played the piano more than a couple of times between Christmas and March, and now I feel the need to almost like a physical ache.

Five unexpected pleasures while in Spain:

  1. The enormously satisfying sense of achievement upon accomplishing some perfectly everyday task, which would be mundane to the point of boring at home, such as sending a package to the U.S., buying an alarm clock, or figuring out how the subway system works. Conducted in a different language, in a foreign location, these become successes to take pride in.
  2. Rediscovering a sense of adventure that had been fairly deeply buried and accessing it to overcome my sense of reserve about talking to strangers, trying new foods and experiences.
  3. The ice-cream (I know; from the sublime to the ridiculous, but - God - it's just so freaking good)
  4. Discovering that I, a night-owl who always struggled with the earlybird aspects of American life, am - by comparison - a regular morning person here in España. In this aspect, at least, I am back among my own people.
  5. The sheer joy I take in learning Spanish, and I don't use the term "joy" lightly. My personality type (INTJ), if one can believe the stuff that is written about such types (and I think a grain of salt is well-advised), delights in making connections among the different components of any system. And of course, ultimately, that is what mastering a language is all about. So perhaps it's not surprising that I get such a kick out of it. What I had forgotten, until coming here, was just how big of a kick it is.

I suspect 1 and 2 are pleasures that are experienced by almost anyone living abroad for any length of time, 5 if they have the inclination.

Limericks : The Iberian Cycle ( Part II)

[Warning: gentle reader, if you do not know what a "strap-on" is, please don't look it up. Preserve your charming innocence yet a while longer. The rest of you guttermouths should be right at home. Some white-fonting is used to protect the PG13 nature of this blog. To elude the white-font censors, drag your mouse over the area in question while holding down the left button.]

In my nightmares, at times, there's Anne Coulter
Wearing latex, a strap-on, a halter
In this curious dress
In frenzied congress
With the monkeys who live on Gibraltar

A prostitute down in Valencia
Was an extremely popular wench-ia*
She'd a coño so tight
That to get it in right
Took a half-quart of oil and a wrench-ia*

A busy court judge down in Avila
Any tough legal knot could unravel - ah!*
In chambers at leisure
She'd find new roads to pleasure
With just EVOO and a gavel - ah!*

In the gay bar in old Aranjuez
Every morning the floors are a mess
What happens at night
When they turn down the light
I just cannot hazard a guess

To construct a limerick in Basque
Would be a formidable task.
¿What's Euskera for "boner"?
¿"Cojones" or "coño"?*
¡Ninguna idea - don't ask!

*: poetic licence

Friday, May 25, 2007

Limericks : the Iberian cycle

These machisto boys in Madrid
Are totally ruled by their id
It's all ¡hola, mona!
¿Vamos joder, you wanna?
¿But who will take care of the kid?

Not like the boys in Segovia
Who - so I'm told - are much suavier
Well yes - that may be
But once it's after three
Their clammy wet paws´ll be all overya

A waitress in old Salamanca
Was being wooed by an investment banker
He said ¡Hey guapa!
She said ¡Hey stop-a!
I think you're a disgusting wanker.

In the picaresque city of Cadiz
I'll tell you what the latest fad is
The sailors at leisure
Line up for their pleasure
With the amiable serving wench, Gladys .

A scholarly lad from Granada
Was celibate, which made him sad. A
classmate said, "chic
-o, the fact you're a geek
is the reason que no pasa nada".

Young Nadia from Barcelona
Her family said they'd disown her
Cause her boyfriend Jordi
During sex was quite wordy
And Nadia herself was a moaner.

The plain people of Ireland:
We suppose that you think you are clever
Using language which frankly would never
be approved at home
or by the clergy in Rome
You do know that hell is forever?!

The management:
Oh spare me your fake indignation
And your threats of eternal damnation
You know very well
There's no real hell
Unless you count my last vacation


Spanish words of similar construction that I like very much:
  • matasuegras - noisemaker, party favor (mother-in-law killer)
  • rompecabezas - jig-saw puzzle (headbreaker)
  • asaltacunas - cradle-snatcher
  • trabalenguas - tongue-twister
  • quebrantahuesos - bearded vulture (breaker of bones)
  • comemierdas - eater of excrement
  • rascacielos - skyscraper
  • quitanieves - snowplough
  • limpiaparabrisas - windshield wipers
  • rompecorazones - heartbreaker
  • sacacorchos - corkscrew
  • abrebotellas - bottle opener

The tale of the killer tortoise

Who is this fine-looking raptor? He is a quebrantahuesos (literally, a breaker of bones), also known as a bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus, sometimes known as a Lammergeier, though Bartgeier may be a more accurate translation). There are increasingly fewer of his kind to be found.

The Bearded vulture is the only animal that feeds almost exclusively on bone (70-90%). In Crete, the shepherds call it the "Bone-eater", as they have watched the bird breaking bones in a very characteristic way, since the old times. The bird throws the larger bones from a height on to rocky slopes in order to break them, and immediately descends after them in a characteristic spiral way. If the bone does not break the first time, the method is repeated many times until the bone finally breaks. The bird then eats the bone pieces starting with the bone marrow. The smaller bones are swallowed whole, as the bird's gastric fluids are so strong that they can digest bone easily. This dietary habit seems odd, but once bones have been digested, they are a nutritious and easily storable type of food; in addition, the bird faces minimal competition for this type of food.

From the preceding paragraph, you might reasonably think that this particular raptor poses no threat to humans. You would be wrong. It was a quebrantahuesos who was directly responsible for the death of Aeschylus. With a little help from a tortoise.

This is a bust of Aeschylus. Witness the shiny bald cranium. According to the story, in ancient Greek times, when bearded vultures were more common than today, they had discovered that one way to get at the juicy meat inside a tortoise was to shatter the tortoise's shell by dropping it from a great height onto a suitably chosen stone below. Apparently, from a great height, the shiny cranium of a Greek playwright is easily confused with a suitable stone. ¡Tortoise away!

Aeschylus did not survive the impact*. Had he done so, the discovery of gravity might have come considerably earlier than it did.

(*Those spoilsports at would like me to tell you that this is an urban legend, with no probable basis in fact. But what do they know?)

Some of my internet investigations suggest that the quebrantahuesos may be found on the coat-of-arms of Transylvania, despite the species' extinction in that region for several hundred years, but this may be a wicissitude. The bird in question may be a different type of raptor altogether, or may be of mythical origin (the so-called turul)

The plain people of Ireland: Why are you telling us this? Not that it isn't interesting, mind you.

The management: I came across the word quebrantahuesos in a newspaper article, and it wasn't in my big dictionary. This is what I found out during my internet researches to find out what it meant. A little learning never hurts, don't you think? And the tortoise aspect is a nice twist, to make the kind of little vignette that our readers enjoy.

The plain people of Ireland: Oh, fair enough so.

The management: Besides which, I just like the word "quebrantahuesos". Breaker of bones. It has a nice ring to it.

The plain people of Ireland: Vultures are scary hooers all the same though. With their beady little eyes. You wouldn't want to be stuck in Death Valley with a few of them fellows giving you the evil eye.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Street scene

sin exito

Onda Blu


Several Self Services Are Available in the Closest Area. For Some 7 Eur, One Does The Washing & Drying in Few Time, While doing the Shopping. There is an Ironing Board in Your Room as Well as an Iron in the Kitchen. One May Also Use the Traditional Laundries Besides the Residence.

This slightly garbled information from the residence propaganda is generally accurate, if a little out-of-date. Since the "Traditional Laundries Besides the Residence" consists of one fly-infested dry-cleaner, the relevant part is the "Self Services Available in the Closest Area". By this they mean Onda Blu, where indeed one can do some washing and drying in few time while doing the shopping. The cost, however, is 9€. Oh, let's not beat around the bush - if you have anything other than skimpy lingerie to wash and dry, you won't get out of that place for under 18€. Which, you will recall, is about $25.

But, Onda Blu is close by (two blocks away), always spotless, and always deserted. So I don't begrudge them the $50 I've already invested. Well, maybe a little bit, or I suppose I wouldn't be bringing it up here (again).

It will be fun to get home to the new washer-drier, with special kitty-spin cycle for delicate felines.

And yes, today was another day of raging tormentas here in Madrid. Manipulative pictures of victims of the subsequent "inundaciones" were all over the nightly news as the local news vultures made a meal out of the misfortune of others (a practice hardly confined to Madrid, it seems only fair to point out). One might think that three highly publicized floods in the week immediately prior to Sunday's election (one newly opened subway station had to be closed again, due to flooding) would harm the incumbent mayor's chances of reelection, but apparently it's a foregone conclusion that he will win again.

Finally, six out of six female Don Quijote professors surveyed (both in Madrid and Granada) think that television's loutish, but brilliant, Dr Gregory House is both the bee's knees and the cat's pajamas. En español: "ser un pedazo de pan" and "estar como un tren".

Readers of this blog who would like to see it include more colloquial Spanish, including the infamous list of Don Quijote "palabras malas" are going to have to get off their rear ends and leave a comment to that effect.

¡A luego, hijodepús y gilipollas! Until next time.

El internado (un lugar donde todo puede suceder)

Un edificio imponente. Jóvenes buscando respuestas. Otros ocultan su pasado. Todo es más intenso cuando se está aislado del mundo, cuando se vive en un internado.

The plain people of Ireland: Here, hold on there! Talk English, would you!

The boarding school (a place where anything can happen)

An imposing building. Young people looking for answers. Others hide their past. Everything is more intense when one is cut off from the world, when one lives in a - boarding school.

With all the advance hullaballoo for Antena3's new series, "El Internado : Laguna Negra" (yes, you read that right), which aired its pilot episode at 10pm tonight, how could I not watch it? I feel a certain responsibility to my readers.

And, let me tell you, it did not disappoint. Only three minutes into the opening episode, the extremely fetching Marta Torné, playing the role of María, la nueva limpiadora, had escaped from the psychiatric hospital in which she was being held, and was being chased up a tree in a semi-naked state by a wolf (I am not making this up). 30 seconds later she fell out of the tree, losing further strategic clothing items in the process, and nearly brained el Director, Héctor, who just happened to be jogging by (played by Luis Merlo). At least three times in the episode, a nearly-naked María finds herself in close physical contact with Héctor, much to the chagrin of ...

Oh, hell - I can't possibly do it justice. Why not take the virtual tour for yourself? The linked site may take a while to load, but I highly recommend its cheesy goodness

So, really, after all the excitement of all those good-looking jóvenes buscando-ing for answers in el bosque, you will understand why I have to call it an early night tonight.

The plain people of Ireland: Wait up! That link you gave is all in Spanish.
The management: Give it a try. You´ll understand more than you might think. And the sets are very klassy. Did you get out to vote today?
The plain people of Ireland: Yerrah, the usual story. I vote one way, Sinéad votes for the other fella - it all cancels out. I don't know why we bother.
The management: Because the right to vote is a valuable treasure, not to be taken for granted or squandered, that's why.
The plain people of Ireland: Oh, right you are, so.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Books are my weakness

¿ What other possible explanation could there be for returning with this book:


when I left the apartment just to get a bottle of 7Up ?

The plain people of Ireland: They say the first step in solving an addiction problem is admitting to it.
The management: What the hell are ye maundering on about now? I don't have a book addiction problem, ye illiterate blatherskites. Leave me the hell alone. Can't ye see I'm reading?

The Academy of Fine Arts

Just around the corner from don Quijote (past the overpriced Starbucks on the corner) is the impressively named Museo De La Real Academia De Bellas Artes De San Fernando. There's the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, see, and they've got their own little museum, and somehow Saint Fernando comes into, which makes no sense at all, because Saint Fernando is the patron saint of Seville. If you are wondering which Saint Fernando we are talking about here, I´ll give you a hint - he was one half of the hit Iberian team - "los reyes catolicos" (the Christian monarchs) back in the day. The Sonny to Isabel's Cher, if you will.

On May 30 Seville celebrates the festival of Saint Ferdinand, the Patron Saint of the City. Ferdinand was the King and leader of the Christian Reconquest in Seville, which was at the time under Muslim control, thereby reincorporating it to the Crown of Castilla and León in the 13th century. Seville commemorates this eminently Christian day with various acts in the cathedral, among which the contemplation of the uncorrupted body of the monarch is of special note. The body is conserved in a crystal urn and can be viewed from the early morning in the Main Altar.

If I'm reading this correctly, his sainthood was a reward to putting an end to 700 years of peaceful coexistence among Christians, Jews, and Muslims throughout Andalucía. Way to go, Ferdy!!

But I digress. The museum is right there on the Calle Alcalá, a two-minute walk from the Puerta del Sol. And [practical tip for travelers coming right up] admission is free on Wednesdays. So, today, instead of walking by obliviously, as I've done every day for the past three weeks, I stopped in to pay a visit.

Which is how I made the acquaintance of a painter about whom I had been shamefully ignorant up until now, Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, more commonly known simply as Goya. He became Director of the Academy in 1795, a position he retained for several years. The museum has two full rooms dedicated to his paintings, including a remarkable self-portrait (below), and a series of depictions of children at play (one example above).

I have only hinted at the riches in this (small) museum, but it's getting awfully late, so I will have to leave it there for this evening.
The plain people of Ireland: Hey! You can't stop without telling us about yer man the flower child above.
The management: You're right. That picture, also in the gallery, is one of a set called "The Four Seasons" by a 16th century painter called Arcimboldi. The other three are in Paris and Vienna.
The plain people of Ireland: Then yer man must be "Spring", so.
The management: Yes, indeed. There's hope for you yet.

Plaza Mayor

This is one facade along Madrid's history-soaked Plaza Mayor.

MADRID Plaza Mayor

Nowadays, the plaza's main function is to act as a trap for unwitting tourists. Restaurants compete to outdo one another in the egregiousness of their prices, the generic lousiness of their food, and - most importantly - the surliness of their waiters. They get away with this because - you've guessed it - location, location, location!

For reasons too complicated to go into here, I could be found yesterday, at around 3:30, eating "lunch" at one of these vile eateries. It certainly fulfilled the three main requirements - shamelessly jacked-up prices, a virtually inedible calamari sandwich, and a waiter who was clearly in training for the regional surliness semi-finals. By far the best part of the meal was my café solo at the end. Hard to mess up an espresso, and the hostility of the waiter (why - because the two occupied tables were stretching him to his limit?) was almost compensated for by these characters,

muy agradecidos por su visita

who declared themselves to be "really grateful for my visit". A sentiment clearly not shared by the waiter.

Still, as I pondered my poor treatment at the hands of this surly yokel, I thought it important to maintain a sense of perspective, given my location. Others had surely endured greater indignities, right on the very spot where I was now sitting:

The music accompanying the auto-da-fé that closes Act II of Don Carlos started to run through my head. Just about then, the smell of something burning in the kitchen of the restaurant reached my table.

I paid my check, counted my blessings, and got the hell out of there.

The plain people of Ireland: You know what they say, don't you?
The management: No, but I'm fairly sure you are going to tell me.
The plain people of Ireland: Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!

Fadeout to the sound of paroxysms of rustic laughter.

Las tormentas

Tormenta ("storm") doesn't mean "torment". But it can. Motorists on the M-30 here in Madrid learned that first-hand on Sunday evening. And again last night, as this video shows:
The rain in Spain, falling mainly on the plain

This video is part of the "¡Yo, periodista!" series of videos submitted by subscribers to El País. (Recall that, in Spanish, "yo" is a personal pronoun, not an informal interjection to get someone's attention).

Monday, May 21, 2007

Cause for celebration

Today, when I showed up for class, I was informed that it had been decided I should change to the next level up. So I bade farewell to my classmates in the advanced level, and moved on up to the superior class.

So I'm going out tonight to celebrate.

The plain people of Ireland: Ahem!
The management: Yes?
The plain people of Ireland: Don't you have something else to celebrate?
The management: Why, yes? This is our 100th post. Where's that bottle of Freixenet? I know there's some around here somewhere.
The plain peop...
The management: ¡Callaos! No se habla catalan aquí.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Operation kitten calendar

From the folks at Acceptable TV. I take neither credit nor responsibility.

Operation kitten calendar

Rich puddingy goodness

The subtitle of this post might just as well have been "BOREDOM", so don't say you weren't warned. See, I was all set to go out for dinner this evening with the nice couple from Maine who have been staying here, and are going home this week, when the heavens opened. Torrential downpour of biblical proportions. So we decided that discretion was the better part of valor, and rescheduled for tomorrow evening.

Which leaves me, after my delicious picnic dinner in my room, with time on my hands. And a camera, and some props. Mainly food-related.

Tonight, instead of the ever-popular frozen lemon option, I decided in favor of chocolate pudding for dessert. You can see it above, on the left, in the first picture. Post-consumption, there it is again in the second picture, with a fork and mouse included, to give some idea of scale. This delicious concoction is available in the supermarket of El Corte Inglés, for a trifling 0.89€. Furthermore, when consumed, one is left with a delightful earthenware pot, suitable for any number of home projects, limited only by one's imagination. Honestly, I don't know how the good folks at Goshua turn a profit.

But, this evening, I'm not really too concerned. Because I have that delectable 0.375 litre bottle of Freixenet, possibly the only truly worthwhile part of Catalan culture, to help me while away the rest of the evening.

The plain people of Cataluña: [unintelligible gibberish]

The management: ¿Qué? Lo siento, pero este blog es hispanohablante. O inglés. No se habla catalan aquí. Estamos en Madrid, no en Barcelona, entendéis?

The plain people of Cataluña: [more unintelligible gibberish]

The management: That's just too bad. Not all of the world (todo el mundo) speaks your wretched language, nor has any desire to.

The plain people of Cataluña: [unintelligible whining]

The management: Quizás que tengáis razón. But linguistic chauvinism cuts both ways, sabéis?

Fadeout to the sound of muffled Catalan protests, while a bottle of Freixenet is being popped open.

Las elecciones

Next Sunday, there are municipal elections throughout Spain, including here in Madrid, so there's a lot of this kind of exchange to be found in the papers:

9.000 euros en una línea erótica desde el teléfono municipal

Marina Alfaro, Secretaria General del PSOE en la localidad pontevedresa de Mondariz ha explicado que detectaron el envío de 5.000 mensajes (SMS) y 400 llamadas, en total 300 horas al teléfono a una "línea pervertida".

Preguntado por la denuncia, el alcalde asegura que todo se trata de un "error de Telefónica" o de un "virus informático".

[Roughly translated: Marina Alfaro, of Mondariz, would like an explanation for the 9.000 euros of municipal funds used to make 400 calls and send 5.000 text messages, over a total of 300 hours, to a "perverted phone line". Responding to the charge, the mayor said that he was "shocked, shocked to find that there was gambling going on", the explanation had to be an error by the phone company, or an internet virus].

Two weeks ago, Madrid had its own election-related kerfuffle. An updated metro plan was published (right hand side of the picture), in which the subway station Simancas had mysteriously been airbrushed from the map. This did not sit well with one of the main candidates for mayor, Rafael Simancas, who immediately engaged in public conspiracy-theory-mongering of the darkest kind.
This brouhaha reached a natural conclusion when a revised subway map was issued two days later, with the Simancas station restored to its rightful place on the grid.
The elections take place next Sunday. One senses that people here in Madrid, at least, will be relieved when the campaigning is over.

Home improvement

Readers of this blog will have noticed that, while I am lounging about here on the Iberian peninsula, a variety of changes (for the better) have been going on back in my home in the U.S. As today's photo indicates, the trend continues.

Patio collage

My new worry is, that when I try to move back into my home in September, there will be a general groundswell of protest among the neighbors, arguing that it will adversely affect property values. Since my attention to matters of home maintenance and repair is known to be spotty, at best.

The plain people of Ireland: Begob that's very nice-looking indeed. Is one of them bushes a fuchsia bush?
The management: The red one? No, I think you are mistaken.
The plain people of Ireland: Sinéad loves the fuchsia, you know - says it reminds her of her childhood.
The management: A discerning woman. She and I have something in common.