Thursday, July 19, 2007


I don't delude myself that anyone is paying really close attention, but anyone who might be tracking such matters will recognize that tomorrow ends my planned 12 weeks of classes here in Madrid. Given that my beginning level in Granada was B1 (beginning intermediate) and that I have been in level C2 (the highest level) for several weeks now, feeling less and less like an impostor, I think it is safe to say that I've learned quite a bit during my time in Madrid.

Not to mention that I've had a blast doing so, while managing to see a fair bit of the city as well. There are, of course, things I didn't manage to do (that trip to Toledo, for instance, or going to the opera, or visiting the Palacio Real), but this is all to the good as it surely means I will come back again. It's a terrific city, with a distinctly different atmosphere than that in Andalucía or Barcelona, and I think spending the best part of 3 months here was an excellent idea. It's nice to be around long enough to have one's regular breakfast spot (Faborit, on the Calle Alcala), a few lunch places where they get to know you as a regular (a shout out to the folks at "Root" on the Calle Virgen de los Peligros, who were always nothing less than amable and would help me with vocabulary questions whenever they had a spare minute).

What next? Well, it turns out that when I made my original plans, I wasn't paying close enough attention to the fact that 3 months equals 13 weeks, not 12. So my time in Salamanca is not slated to start until a week from Monday, leaving me next week free of classes. So I decided earlier in the month, with the very gracious cooperation of my housesitters in San Francisco, to use the week to fly back to San Francisco and catch up on things there for a bit. Accordingly, I fly out tomorrow (Madrid - Filadelfia - San Francisco), arriving Friday evening local time, and will fly back to Madrid, leaving Sunday July 29th, arriving back in Madrid on the morning of Monday July 30th. From where I will take a bus to Salamanca later that day.

There, because I am nothing if not goal-oriented, I will spend 4 weeks taking the preparatory class for an exam called the DELE (Diploma de Español como Lengua Extranjera), and take the exam itself on August 24th. After which there is no further plan, except that if I don't get to Ireland some time reasonably soon, a whole bunch of folks there are going to be justifiably annoyed, so I imagine that is where I will end up in late August and early September.

And now, you will have to excuse me. I need to start packing. The brand-new maleta, purchased just this afternoon at El Corte Inglés, should come in very useful.

Anyone in the Bay Area reading this is heartily invited to give me a ring (my number is in the San Francisco directory) to catch up, either in phone or in person, next week. Or send me an e-mail. After four months away, I'm dying to catch up with everyone. Assuming people can tear themselves away from the final Harry Potter tome.

So I won't be blogging a whole lot next week. Because I hope to be seeing many of you in person.


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

La grúa y la jirafa

The crane and the giraffe (animated short)

Harry Potter and the Rice Crispies of Despair

I am not a Harry Potter fan, particularly. I think I've finished three of the books, and seen three of the films to date, and find them OK, but not much more than that. However, one would have to be living in a Trappist monastery somewhere not to be aware that there is a very big HP date coming up later this week.

So to honor the event, I offer the following link:

Which is exactly what it sounds like.

(HP and the Mars Bar of Malfeasance; HP and the Mausoleum of Marshmallows..... hmmm... maybe I could write some children's books ..... HP and the Chilblains of Chastity ..... )


This afternoon I went to the Prado. Where there is, frankly, an overwhelming amount of art. But I did manage to claw my way through the crowds to see "Las Meninas" (above). Which was larger than I had expected. Silent contemplation was not an option, however.

Overall, I have to say that I prefer Goya to Velazquez. Though that picture of Saturn devouring his son is unabashedly creepy. Not included here, to avoid giving my readers nightmares, though I encourage you to search for it on the web, as it is a very powerful image.

Previous entries have established beyond doubt that I am a lousy writer about art. So I will close this entry here.

The Prado: it's the Louvre of Madrid. Well worth a bisit.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The suite life

Regular readers of this blog will recall a certain amount of gloating a couple of weeks ago, occasioned by my having moved into the fancy suite here at Calle Valverde 32 (4º, izq). Gloating is, of course, always unattractive. More to the point, it is also highly unwise. I realize that now. Because, while the Greek gods may have fallen out of fashion, they are hardly out of work. Eternally s(c)ouring the globe (I personally imagine Hermes as a UPS man) for evidence of hubris, a gloating human somewhere, needing to be taken down a peg or two.

Ot to make my point using a different cliché, be careful what you wish for. Recall, that when I was waxing rhapsodic about the virtues of the suite, one photograph adduced as supporting evidence was the following:

view from my window 3

Yes, the delightful "view from the suite, onto the street below". Aye, gentle readers, there's the rub. Let's try adding a few appropriate adjectival phrases to that previous sentence.
"onto the incredibly noisy street, populated by loud, drunken pedestrians and garbage trucks that would raise the dead that pass by at all hours of the morning".

So there's that. A little bit of a noise problem. Which can be addressed, at least in part, by shutting the windows ( a reasonably tight seal) and the heavy wooden shutters. Except that this strategy leads to a little bit of a heat problem at night. Causing the kind of sweaty tossing and turning that is wholly unconducive to getting a good night's sleep.

God, I barely remember what a good night's sleep feels like.

But tonight I have a plan. I have my specially purchased earplugs from the Farmácia, and intend to use them. So that instead of tossing and turning, worrying about balancing the heat and the noise, I can instead toss and turn, obsessing about being unable to get the earplugs out of my ears ever again. Because you know I will. Obsess, that is.

I wonder if Spanish sign language is very different from American sign language?

Good night, gentle readers. Sleep tight.

Seated in the Courtyard in the Alhambra


#76 Seated in the Courtyard in the Alhambra

by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

In the gardens of the Alhambra
I stole a small orange and ate it
The pulp dry and bitter
and the juice
(acrid as an arab driven from his land)
made a desert of my mouth
and shriveled up my tongue
in the Sultan's last revenge
And I fell upon the ground
in a deep swoon
Deep as the duende
in a gypsy's keening

las naranjas del Alhambra

Candle Hat

Candle Hat

by Billy Collins

In most self-portraits it is the face that dominates:
Cezanne is a pair of eyes swimming in brushstrokes,
Van Gogh stares out of a halo of swirling darkness,
Rembrant looks relieved as if he were taking a breather
from painting The Blinding of Sampson.

But in this one Goya stands well back from the mirror
and is seen posed in the clutter of his studio
addressing a canvas tilted back on a tall easel.

He appears to be smiling out at us as if he knew
we would be amused by the extraordinary hat on his head
which is fitted around the brim with candle holders,
a device that allowed him to work into the night.

You can only wonder what it would be like
to be wearing such a chandelier on your head
as if you were a walking dining room or concert hall.

But once you see this hat there is no need to read
any biography of Goya or to memorize his dates.

To understand Goya you only have to imagine him
lighting the candles one by one, then placing
the hat on his head, ready for a night of work.

Imagine him surprising his wife with his new invention,
the laughing like a birthday cake when she saw the glow.

Imagine him flickering through the rooms of his house
with all the shadows flying across the walls.

Imagine a lost traveler knocking on his door
one dark night in the hill country of Spain.
"Come in, " he would say, "I was just painting myself,"
as he stood in the doorway holding up the wand of a brush,
illuminated in the blaze of his famous candle hat.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Bourbon and water

Little baby Sofía was baptised yesterday. That's her, wearing the same christening outfit her sister and her daddy wore in their day. The baptismal font is also some kind of ancient relic, as is the arzebispo cardinal of Madrid. According to my reliable sources, the water in the baptismal font came straight from the river Jordan (insert lame joke about being flown in by Jordan-Air here ad lib).

Here is the Infanta, along with her older sister Leonor (ahead of her in the succession line), her parents and her grandparents. The lady in the pantsuit, holding Leonor, is the queen. Far left and far right are Doña Letizia's parents. Presumably glad that their daughter is adding a bit of variety to the Bourbon gene pool. Interestingly, Letizia's mother and father are now divorced, and her dad has found himself a new trophy wife. For purposes of official photographs, however, aforementioned new trophy wife simply does not exist.

Who have we here? You don't really want all the details, do you? Oh, very well. Back row - assorted duques of hazzard (i.e. the Príncipe's two older sisters and their aristocratty husbands); brunette in the back row is Letizia's sister. Joining the parents and grandparents in the front row are the surviving great-grandparents, all on Letizia's side. Letizia's maternal grandmother seems to have color-coordinated her outfit with the queen. Front row, assorted royal brats (I mean cousins, of course), future Eurotrash. The kid on the right is called Froílan, or something equally improbable.

And with this charming picture of Leonor and the new Christian, we will have to leave things for today. Even my saturation point has been reached. A little Bourbon goes a long way, especially when diluted with water.

Six wives and nine lives

6 wives and 9 lives