Archive for May, 2009

28 May 2009

Leaving On A High Note

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Not wanting to get all soft and gooey, sentimental (which when you are a woollen finger puppet, is not difficult – an accidental slip up at the breakfast table and you are in the “mermalada”); I am going to have many fond memories of Spain – memories that will last a lifetime.

It was fitting that Barcelona just battered Manchester United in the Champions League, 2-0 and all of Spain is celebrating. The last round of drinks was “on the house”. It is 11pm and out in the streets, car horns are honking, fireworks are exploding randomly throughout the city, and everybody is out celebrating as only the Spanish know how.

Tomorrow is our last day at school and we have invited everyone we know; students, friends, and teachers, over to our place for one final celebration and then on Friday we depart for Italy, to Parma, to see if the famed ham really is better than Spain’s renowned Serrano and Iberico varieties. I suspect not.

Viva la Espana!

24 May 2009

Opening Times

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No se permiten ver la Guernica

In Spain, gazetted opening times mean zip. Museums have been known to be closed when the sign on the door clearly says “Abierto” and whole Mosques (think the Mesquita at Cordoba back in January) have been closed when they should be open – seems everyone is either at a fiesta or on siesta.

And just this week the Sofia Reina has decided to be NOT OPEN when we have purposely made the trip up to Madrid, with Nell venturing all the way from Australia, specifically to see the Guernica. Picasso would be turning in his cube-shaped grave.

Being little and made of wool is not without its advantages. I am hatching a cunning plan, don’t tell a soul, to enter the Sofia Reina undetected – bypassing the sophisticated laser alarms and tricking the heat detectors (Mission Impossible style) – and filch the master work outta there.

Psst: Nell, keep an eye out for a large parcel in your letterbox sometime soon.

24 May 2009

Watch Out

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Gill and John in the Alhambra gardens

Time stands still for no man, or so “they” say. Clearly, “they” have not been to Spain, where time moves in a non-linear fashion; stopping and starting, huffing a little, then slowing to a snail’s pace, pausing for a short siesta, before rushing ahead with all the energy of a hurricane. With that in mind, John, who is punctual at the worst of times, has been encouraged to toss his trusty timepiece aside and go with the flow – and he has taken to it like a duck to water.

John and Nell arrived bright and chirpy after several days in “let’s not talk about the weather” London with Jeanne; a passing “hola” to Paul on his way back to Oz; and promptly, or should that be lazily, settled into Spanish life.

The mornings start off slow. There is time to admire the roses and watch the cherries ripening while listening to the sounds of distant dogs barking and birds chirping; all the while amid the omnipresent clamour of church bells, pealing on the hour, during the hour and whenever they bloody well feel like it. And before you know it you are thinking about lunch and a cerveza … and the pattern continues; a short stroll, a siesta and afternoon tea is soon the point of focus.

Cordoba Patio – driving me potty

We caught the bus to Cordoba for a couple of days to view all the spectacular patios, the rarely open Mesquita and do more of the same…. watching, listening, sleeping and eating. All this touristy stuff is dreadfully tiring and not for the faint-hearted.

Nell and John – time out in Cordoba

From Cordoba we jumped on a 300km/h train bound for Madrid (eat that Perth-Mandurah express) for more art, culture and tasty food. A 2.00am, or thereabouts, rendezvous with Paul was arranged. Fresh, more like “dopey-eyed”, from a short 35 hour hop – door to door – he arrived, with bags under his arms and eyes, and promptly fell asleep.

That last day, with all of us on deck, was spent viewing (or f&*^%g trying to view – see above post) some of the world’s great masterpieces. Gill, Paul and I hot-footed to the excellent Thyssen-Bornemisza Gallery while Nell and John made for the Sofia Reina to see the Guernica. In the evening we found a nice Argentinean steakhouse and over a bottle of red, tucked into delicious thick steaks and compared notes on Spain.

We parted in a crowded Madrid street. While Paul and Gill, Nell and John were hugging and saying their goodbyes, I couldn’t help but noticing the tan on John’s wrist, where his watch once was.

15 May 2009

A Time for Farewells

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>May seems to be a time for goodbyes. Firstly, Paul has slipped off to Perth incognito to say goodbye to his grandfather “Harry” who passed away on Sunday 10 May aged 88 years – may he finally rest in peace.

Meanwhile, Gill and I have been left to hold the fort: show Nell and John the delights of Granada, Cordoba and Madrid; and keep the house clean – Paul seems to have a way of sneaking off whenever there is serious cleaning to do!

And May is also our last month in Spain. We have many goodbyes to say; a mountain of excess luggage to lose; and no doubt plenty of tapas to consume in the coming days.

15 May 2009

Baeza – all spirals and clams

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Pilar, Gill, Manolo and Blanca – the guided tour

Baeza from the bell tower

Blue skies over Baeza

Manolo, one of the directors at Castila, has been tempting us with the offer of coming up to spend a weekend at his village, Baeza, with him and Juana for months now. We finally had a free weekend, so after tapas on Friday afternoon, where we seem to find ourselves most Fridays, sitting in the sunny school garden, chatting away, sipping cervezas and taking the sun, Manolo has piled us (Blanca, Gill, Paul and little ol’ me) in his Mercedes and zipped us up the motorway to Baeza.

Incidentally just this last week on this very same motorway, the Guardia Civil have broken another world record (see World’s largest Paella post) and clocked a loco-Englishman in his Ferrari California doing 270 km/h. They have confiscated his Ferrari, not to be outdone by an Englishman (the Spanish may have invented crazy driving) and supposedly they will be taking it out for a spin to see if they can secretly push it to 280 km/h.

Baeza (pop. 20,000) is beautiful – world heritage listed, chock full of beautiful architecture, town squares, churches with spirally staircases that lead up to their bell towers and afford spectacular views of Baeza and the olive groves beyond, winding cobbled pathways – you get my drift. Manolo who is incredibly proud of his village (and rightly so) takes us on a walking tour of Baeza, where he is elevated to celebrity status, being constantly stopped and “Hola” Manolo’ed by every person that passes us by.

In the evening Manolo, Juana, his good mates Pepe and Pilar, along with the four of us take to the streets of Baeza for tapas Baeza-style. At first I think nothing of the mountainous plates of spirally clams that every person in the bar is busy munching away on – the clams, not the plates. And then when we finally secure a free table, and our drinks arrive, and the mountain of clams arrives; only then do I realise my mistake. Judging by the two feelers and the tiny little sluggy heads, on closer inspection I realise they are snails – urghhh! There is a general reluctance among the usual suspects to try the first snail, and while Manolo and Pepe have almost polished off a bowl, Blanca holds a snail in her hand nervously and slowly raises it to her mouth. “Hmmm, not bad.” And Blanca is off, busily munching away one-for-one with Manolo and Pepe.

They are not at all like the French snails; slimy and soft, buttery and garlicky; they are rather more earthy with the odd crunch of grit – and I try not to think about it too much as they slide down. I look over at Blanca who has pulled a little critter from its shell and is scrutinising its tiny feelers before popping it in her mouth – this I cannot do; I find they taste better with my eyes firmly shut.

On the Saturday, Blanca has offered to cook us all one of her famous Chinese dumpling meals and we all know what this means …. hours and hours of tedious preparation. We are all gathered in the kitchen, rolling dumplings, stuffing and folding them, when Manolo suggests we, being Paul and I and him (very machismo; the token males), wander off into town with all the other males in town for a coffee. This happens after an embarrassing incident where Manolo, who is clearly not comfortable in the kitchen, and in fact may never have been into the kitchen, fumbles with the stove-top hot-plates and realises he has no idea how to turn them on. In comes Juana to the rescue and Manolo shuffles off sheepishly.

Chinese dumplings

By three, the dumplings are ready; Pepe and Pilar have arrived and we all sit around a large table piled high with food, drinking Cava (Spanish champagne) and stuffing ourselves on dumplings; and chicken cooked in Coca-Cola and beer (Chinese style). It is all delicious. It is only when we are ready to leave, that Juana gasps, goes running to the fridge and brings out a huge bucket of marinated snails. “I forgot the snails.”