Category Archives: spanish

Summer into fall

Went to Cape Cod last month. It was a relief to be away for a little bit. Work has continued to be a challenge for a variety of reasons. Family is mostly fine.

The passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg following John Lewis earlier this sumer has left me feeling disheartened and sad.

~~~

The Two-Date Rule by Tawna Fesky. This was an impulse purchase when I was in Target a month or so ago. I read it while at the beach. It was fine as a beach read, ultimately average, I guess, although I was not particularly sold on the HEA. An HFN ending probably would have been more believable, given how much therapy and/or growth both the h/h needed.

A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow. Picked this up in July when I visited Turn the Page bookstore on my western MD roadtrip. It’s YA fantasy in which Black girls and women are sirens and other mythological creatures. I thought it was well done and would recommend it, with the caveat that it kept making me do metaphorical double takes. It was published in 2020 but presumably was written earlier, possibly in 2019 or earlier, but it is very on point to what is going on in the US right now. It is set in Portland, and at one point the narrator and her friends go downtown for a protest, and during the scene with the White moms strategizing/planning for what to do if the protest gets out of control, all I could think of was the current Portland protests and violence. At one point the narrator muses about what it would take to get the country to care about the death/disappearance of a young Black woman, and all I could think of was Breonna Taylor’s death.

Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall. This was a library borrow; it came up as a recommendation on my library’s site based on my borrowing history. I did not particularly care for it and am glad it was not a book I bought. The main character/narrator is…not particularly sympathetic or even likeable. It’s not really clear to me as a reader what his redeeming qualities were, other than that he loved his mother. The love interest was shallowly perfect, the conflict was predictable, and the background characters were caricatures of British Types that seemed to have been pulled directly from Notting Hill or Four Weddings and a Funeral. Was the author going for a farce? I don’t know, but I wish I had the time I spent reading this book back. I kept waiting for it to improve and it just didn’t. More fool me for not putting it down, I guess.

The Empire of Gold by S.A. Chakraborty. End of the Daevabad trilogy. Liked it well enough, glad to have finished the trilogy, but it felt like it could easily have been half the length it was. And the ending felt a little series-bait-ish.

Recently watched The Old Guard. Really enjoyed it, although I have a lot of questions about the world building established in the graphic novels it is based on. Don’t love the art of the graphic novels, but have liked other work by Rucka. There’s a lot of really good meta about both the movie and the graphic novels on AO3, which I would recommend. And there is a huge amount of fan fiction and fan art on AO3 and tumblr. Fair warning though, I’ve clicked back out of A LOT of it, because the history and other things are Just Plain Wrong. WARNING RANT AHEAD. Ex: character reading French, Spanish and Italian books in a private collection in 1100. Aside from the idea that a non-wealthy or non-aristocratic person would just casually have a library/collection of books in the early 12th century, which seems unlikely, the languages listed are wrong. Linguistic history is not my strong suit, but I don’t think there was a singular, uniform language in those territories at that time. Spanish, which most people use to mean Castilian, was a language spoken on the Iberian peninsula then but by no means was it dominant at that point – it coexisted with Galician, Catalan, and other languages including Andalusi Romance and Andalusi Arabic. It would not have been called Spanish then, and I don’t think it was written at all until the next century, nor did it supplant Andalusi Romance until at least the next century, with Andalusi Arabic diminishing post-1492 (thanks, Nebrija). I assume similar for the French and Italian languages and their historical spread. The casual reference just makes me cringe, because it unthinkingly wraps up 1,000 years of cultural and linguistic imperialism (including 20th century minority language oppression), without any examination, which is sloppy and inconsistent with the other historical detail that the author clearly researched.

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A happy day

Tomorrow is the opening day of the French Open, which is perhaps my favorite major tennis tournament.  [Well, actually, they are all my favorite as they approach.  I’m fickle that way.]  So to celebrate, I’m inflicting Roland Garros or tennis related things on the interwebs.

1.  I’m entertained by the idea that I could buy a little pot of clay as a souvenir, or even a key chain with a bit of the terre battue.

2.  ESPN has coverage starting at 5am EST tomorrow, along with multiple channels on DirecTV and additional coverage on the Tennis Channel.  Just in case you were wondering if it might be available in your area.  #sleepisfortheweak

3.  As @TennisSavesMe pointed out, it’s LOL-worthy that Tio Toni’s bag gets monogrammed, too.  But I’m a little sad the “Tio” is not included.

4.  Vamos, Rafa!  And the whole Spanish Armada, of course.

Looking pretty smiley — so practice went well?
Via @TennisSavesMe

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In praise of hard work

Today is the final of the Barcelona Open, a 500 level Masters event that has, not surprisingly, been won by a Spaniard for the last 9 years.  By default it will be once again this year, since the finalists are David Ferrer and Rafael Nadal.  Six of the last nine titles belong to Rafael Nadal, with single wins also belonging to Fernando Verdasco, Tommy Robredo, and Carlos Moya.

As big a Nadal fan as I am, I still very much appreciate what Ferrer brings to the game.  The consensus is that he’s the hardest working player on the tour:  while he has no single skill that stands out, unlike other top 10 players, he is a tireless gamer.  He’s been variously called dogged,  Energizer Bunny-like and the best “right-wing” player of the game.  He’s playing in his fourth Barcelona final today, all against Nadal, against whom he has a losing head to head record.  I don’t really know who to root for.  I suppose in the end, I would just like to see a good match, regardless of winner.

Confidential to The Tennis Channel:  why is this being aired by tape-delay?  Will the ratings for the shriek-tastic Stuttgart final (Azarenka v Sharapova) really be greater than the all Spaniard final?  I doubt it.  *off to find a live stream*

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Bookstores in Barcelona and Madrid

It’s an unhealthy compulsion, I’m sure, but I have to check out bookstores whenever I encounter them on vacation.  This trip, I justified my browsing by either reading or discarding the three books I packed, and also by finishing all the back issues of The Economist I took.  (Thank you, USAirways and Philadelphia International Airport, for the poor time and runway management! It caused missed connections, wasted 10+ hours of my time, delayed my luggage for two additional days, and cost a fair amount to reschedule other travel, but on the bright side I managed to get through the back issues while fuming in PHL, Heathrow, and Barajas.  I’m fairly confident that if I’d arrived on time, those hours would have been spent doing frivolous, fun touristy things instead.)

Barcelona has several nice independent bookstores located in the La Ribera neighborhood (near the cathedral), as well as Casa del Libro on the Passeig de Grácia (think high end retail like Fifth Avenue), the book section in the El Corte Inglés department store on the Avinguda del Portal de l’Àngel, and FNAC (a French media chain) on the Plaça de Catalunya.   Altaïr on Gran Via specializes in travel books and materials, ranging from maps and guides to fiction about travel.  There’s also an English language bookstore up on Carrer de Roger de Lluria, but I didn’t have time to check it out. (And really, English language books for ex-pats wasn’t really what I was looking for.)  Madrid has a fair number of independent booksellers, too, along with the same chain bookshops.

At Altaïr I bought Andalus by Jason Webster, which I read and then left for another reader at the hotel.  I lusted for several books on the history of southern Spain and planning guides for doing all or parts of the camino de Santiago (on my bucket list) but managed to restrain myself.  The other purchase I made at Altaïr was the in-house travel magazine featuring Peru.  Twin and The Chemist are tentatively planning a trip there (Machu Picchu! The Camino Inca!), and I thought they’d appreciate the photography and information…forgetting that they don’t read Spanish.  I’m an idiot.  The plan is to translate all the captions and articles between now and when I see them next (late March).  Just need to be careful about damaging the magazine as I do so.

Meant to go back to the independent near the city museum for a book on Barcelona’s Roman history but got distracted and never made it back.  Was tempted by children’s books, which I thought might suit some children of my acquaintance.  Popping in to the El Corte Inglés, I intended just to see what the popular fiction available in Catalan and/or Castilian might be but ended up leaving with a translation of Naked in Death (Desnuda antes la muerte).  Did manage to avoid the temptation of Ferran Adria’s El Bulli cookbook.

FNAC had a *huge* graphic novel section, as well as manga.  The YA, unsurprisingly, was also fairly large and dominated by paranormal fiction.  Saw stacks of translations of the Hunger Games series, and of Amanda Hocking’s books (are they YA? that’s where they were shelved).  Lots of fantasy, urban and otherwise, and I was sorry to see zombie/classic mashups prominently shelved. (Meh.) In terms of general fiction, Nordic mystery writers appear to be as popular in Barcelona and Madrid as they are in the US.  Translations into Spanish, Catalan, and English were available for many of the authors Keishon has reviewed.  I was tempted to buy a translation of Ilona Andrews’ Magic Strikes (La magia golpea) but it was ridiculously expensive at €17.50.  Instead, I left with a copy of Camilla Lackberg’s The Stone Cutter and Peter Ackroyd’s translation into modern English of The Canterbury Tales.

Other books on my wishlist now:  El vasco que no comía demasiado by Óscar Terol; Las siete llaves de Balabad by Paul Haven; and Memorias de Idhún by Laura Gallego Garcia.  I’ll probably regret not buying them when I had the chance and wind up paying some insane amount of money to have a copy shipped from Europe if/when I can’t find a copy in the US, which is what happened with Yo, Juan de Austria.

 

ETA:  Bought a little book about the Palau de Música Catalana from the Palau’s giftshop.  And was seriously tempted by books about the art of Velazquez and Goya and the history of the Prado while browsing there.

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He’s a merengue?

Definitions for merengue that I already knew:

1. noun: dance
2. noun: meringue (as in dessert)

New definitions:

3. adjective: related to Real Madrid
4. adjective: Real Madrid supporter
5. noun: weakling

Given the context, it was referring to a RM fan rather than dessert, dance or weakling.

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Cheering players on

So, yesterday at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic, there were a LOT of Chilean fans in the stands. Flags waving, chanting Chi-Chi-Chi-Le-Le-Le etc.

More specifically, they were cheering for Fernando González. Every so often, someone would yell out what sounded like, Vamos, Fenya. I couldn’t figure out it at first. Were they saying, Vamos, Fe[r]n, ya? Turns out I was trying too hard. It’s a nickname: Feña.

And today there was a fellow wearing cap and soccer jersey in Argentina’s colors, cheering for Juan Martín del Potro (called del Porto at least twice by the umpire, I’d swear). His favorite cheer? Vamos, carajo! Uh, okay. My experience of this word is mostly via friends of Mexican descent, who use carajo as a curse word or epithet, not to cheer a favored player. Different usage in Argentina, perhaps?

The crowd in the stands could have been a virtual UN. Heard French, Italian, German, Russian, varieties of Spanish and English spoken.

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Catalan?

Check out this interview of Rafael and Toni Nadal. I’m not sure if they are speaking Catalan or Mallorquí, the local dialect. It is interesting to listen to, either way: the words sound enough like Castilian Spanish that I could understand without the subtitles, but also different enough that I had to concentrate in order to understand.

A lot of the interviews done for the Barcelona were also in Catalan, and are available on Youtube if you’re interested.

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What if?

What if the Americas hadn’t been “discovered” by Columbus? Obviously, the world would be a different place today. And the distribution and populations speaking certain languages would be quite different as well. According to this article (in Spanish), Spanish would be just another European language, 27th on the list, between Polish and Ukrainian, instead of being spoken by ~10% of the world’s population, if Isabella and Ferdinand hadn’t sponsored his attempt to find an Atlantic/eastern route to the Far East.

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Travelogue – Madrid, 2009

DRAFT: need to edit for accents, links, etc.

Moleskin makes pocket-sized travel diaries. Who knew? I found one at B&N and had to have it – how convenient, with a Madrid Metro map inside and a city map in sections. It ended up being the best prep/planning I did before my trip – went with me everywhere, so I could take notes and jot things down (gift ideas, random thoughts, observations that tickled me) as I went. Most of my notes were written in Spanish, but I won’t inflict that on anyone, since it was repetitive and not always grammatical.

Friday: arrived a little later than scheduled due to some miscellaneous problem at take off from Philadelphia. Wind, maybe? Flight landed at Barajas T1. Apparently I looked helpful or knowledgeable, because two people asked me where to go while we were in the customs line. Sadly, they were disappointed, because I had no idea 1) where the taxi stand was or 2) if they had to go through customs if they were going to be taking another flight. (In retrospect, the answer to the second question was probably yes, since that was the first European leg of her trip.)

Took the Metro downtown: start out on the pink line, change to the dark blue, then again to the light blue, which dropped me at Tirso de Molina. The apartment is right on the plaza. Met Carlos, co-owner of the apartment and Letango tours. Gave me a nice sketch of the neighborhood, some recommendations and advice.

After freshening up, I went for a walk around the neighborhood to orient myself. After getting lost and then finding my way back to the plaza, I went grocery shopping. After unpacking, I went for another walk, getting lost again (I have a VERY poor sense of direction and rely heavily on maps), then finding my way to a neighborhood bar, where I had a merienda. By then, my internal clock was all screwed up, so I found my way back to the apartment, where I fell into bed for >10 hours.

Saturday: Off to Atocha train station, where I bought a ticket for a cercania to San Lorenzo de El Escorial. In retrospect, taking a bus would’ve been faster. Oh, well. While waiting, a group of high-school aged girls asked me if the train would stop at Cercedilla. Uh, the sign said so. (Again, I must’ve looked safe and approachable?) The cercania was slow, but finally arrived at El Escorial. Took the bus up to the old town, then walked around and headed toward the monastery.

The landscape on the train ride changed so gradually (from urban to suburban) that I didn’t realize how close and beautiful the mountains were. The weather was relatively warm; standing in the plaza of the monastery, waiting for entrance, was comfortable, even in a brisk wind, until the shadow of the monastery moved and cast us all in the shade and left us shivering. The sheer scale of the building dwarfs humanity; the patio outside; the gardens; even the interior patio. The museum in the basement that is dedicated to the building and the architecture was interesting, as was the mausoleum. The art collection is beautiful, of course. The room that fascinated me, though, was the gallery of maps, sixteenth century maps. The details of Mexico and Central America are surprisingly accurate, while the rest of North America, especially the west coast, is amorphous and not-quite-right. The library upstairs, with its 40,000 volumes, some dating back to the 16th century, is enough to make a bibliophile weep. The ceiling of the war gallery appealed to me, with the grotesquery art, much more than the panels of the king’s victorious battles.

Wandered back through the old town, stopping for a chicken empanada, and caught the bus back to the train station. While waiting for the bus, I chatted with a lovely couple from Iowa, who were on a tour of Portugal and Spain – Saturday was one of their “free” days, and they were on their own.

Was this the first night of Carnaval? There were people out and about in costumes, enjoying themselves.

Sunday: The day of the flea market, El Rastro. Located on Calle de la Ribera de Curtidores, the Rastro goes for several blocks, down the street and onto side streets. Up one side street, frames, oil paintings and sketches abounded. Down another were a bunch of tech related stalls – batteries, discs, gadgets. Off another side street and into a plaza was a plethora of book, magazine and comic stalls. Everything from junk to beautiful leatherwork could be found. Need a Metallica t-shirt? Find in there. Need a homemade rucksack? Also can be found there. I arrived earlier and walked down down down the street, stopping and doubling back to check out the side streets. By the time I reached the bottom and looked back, there was a sea of people up the street.

Wandering back toward the Big Three Museums, which are open and free on Sundays, I ended up hitting the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia. The new part of the building is very modern, which matches the collection. The temporary exhibit was of Paul Thek, whose work . . . didn’t really speak to me. Modern art just doesn’t do it for me, really. I can analyze it, but it often doesn’t interest me, and I wouldn’t want it in my home, really. The most intriguing part of this exhibit (for me) was how Thek was inspired by the mummies of Palermo, which I’d just read about in NG. In the old building, there is a beautiful patio, with benches and a fountain, where I examined the map of the building and decided where to go next. Lots of Picasso, of course. Is it sacrilege to admit that I don’t really care for his work? Whenever I see the oddly-featured people and geometric shapes, I wonder how much drugs he took. Or maybe I’m just too pedestrian to understand his inspiration and vision. /shrug/ Still, stopping to see Guernica is obligatory. I always forget the size of the work, and am surprised when I see it again. The piece that I enjoyed most was on the uppermost floor – a carving of a huge, huge bookshelf by Miguel Vasquez, titled Libros IV, of course. It was all wood, but if you squinted, it looked like books and tchotchkes and stuff, crammed onto towering shelves. Only sour note: got stuck in an elevator with about a dozen other people – a glass elevator in the new wing – we were stuck for about 15 minutes, then the elevator went back to the basement; it unnerved me enough that I walked up the four flights to get to the exhibits I was interested in, rather than try any of the other elevators in the building.

The weather was absolutely gorgeous and it seemed like every Madrileno was out to enjoy it. Had lunch at Las barandales off the Ibiza metro stop, which seemed like a residential neighborhood that I probably wouldn’t have discovered if I hadn’t found a recommendation for the restaurant online. After lunch, I wandered around the neighborhood, then back through the Parque de Buen Retiro. People were out on the pond rowing, and playing soccer/football, tossing Frisbees, rollerblading, biking, lounging in the sun. What a beautiful day.

Monday – Meant to get up early, but that didn’t happen. Got a late start, walking to the Palacio Real. On the way to the Royal Palace, I walked by the Almudena Cathedral; as I walked by, I realized that although I’ve visited a variety of cathedrals and churches in Spain (as monuments, not places for personal worship), I’d never visited a church in Madrid. Although the city is younger than many others, that youth is relative, so I had to wonder why I hadn’t been to the Almudena on any of my visits. (Still haven’t – it was pretty from the outside, but I didn’t go in.) Although the cathedral is near the palace, it didn’t seem as central to the city for some reason. I’m sure if I did some research, I’d learn more about the religious history of the city. Maybe next time. Anyway, the palace. Photos are not permitted. But official photos abound. My favorite rooms: the Gasparini Room, the Porcelain Room, and the Royal Pharmacy. The sheer number of clocks was a bit perplexing – they were everywhere – until the guide mentioned that one king was fascinated by them, and had acquired a very large collection. Particularly enjoyed the four portraits by Goya.

In the Royal Armory, the swords of Fernando el Catolico and El Cid were points of interest, as was Boabdil’s dagger and the display about Juan de Austria. Swords blessed by the Pope on Christmas Eve abounded; apparently they were both political tools (binding the king and church) and useful weapons.

Tuesday – Took the bus to Avila. The 8:30 bus is apparently rather late, so it wasn’t full, with fewer than a dozen people aboard. Two of them were nuns, and they were determined to see all of the important churches in the town. It took a long time to get out of Madrid proper, then suddenly we were in the country. I could see El Escorial off in the distance, and later El Valle de los Caidos, which is a bit odd and unnerving, just a huge cross among the mountains. As we approached Avila and got off the highway, there were windmills, modern ones, dotting the tops of the hills. Oh, Don Quijote, where are you? Runty trees pop out of rock-strewn ground, as if it took all of their energy just to grow at all, forget about growing tall. Cows and bulls graze among them. From a distance, the trees look like broccoli-tops and the rocks look like a toddler’s discarded building blocks.

There seemed to be more churches per square kilometer there than I’d ever imagined possible – but that makes sense, since the town was a religious center of sorts, known as the birthplace of Santa Teresa (mystical poet) and home of San Juan de la Cruz. Although I went to the cathedral, my interest was in the wall of the city – it fascinates me, dating back hundreds of years and determining the life and growth of the city. The growth going on now – all outside the wall, outside the old part of the city. Building seems to be going at a frantic pace there, but not so much in the old part of the town. The wall itself can be walked – there are four puertas where you can get access, although they are not all connected. At the Puerta del Alcazar, the steps are old, narrow and steep. A previously unknown fear of falling assailed me as I crept up the stairs. Once up I was fine, but the idea of meeting another tourist on the stairs made me nervous – too narrow, too uneven, it seemed like an invitation to disaster. Fortunately for me, it never happened.

The cathedral in Avila . . . well, on one hand, it’s just another church. But still striking. It was surprisingly cold inside, given the temperature outside. Ancient, dark, beautiful. I was struck by the incredible amount of art work and sculpture in the building, and the immense amount of work that went into not just the basic building (erecting such a huge edifice without bulldozers, etc.), but into the detailed carving. It would have been a stonemason’s life’s work, just to complete a portion of the cathedral. The vast wealth that it must have taken, in terms of labor and materials, fairly boggles my mind. The older art appealed to me – it seemed less three dimensional than the relatively newer art. And on the exterior, intrigued by the different materials used for different parts of the building. Some parts looked red and yellow and very old, while other stone looked grey. Sandstone and granite?

Also though provoking to me was the fact that catty-corner to the cathedral, across the square, was a chemist/pharmacy. And on the exterior of the building is a condom dispenser. The co-existence (seemingly peaceful) of the old church with its conservative policies and the open availability of birth control and all the sexuality inherent . . . it impressed me. Obviously, because I’m still thinking about it and the message it sends.

Outside the wall is the Basilica of San Vicente, which was remarkable to me mostly because of the figures carved on the exterior. Were they gargoyles of some sort? They were all different, and looked a little grotesque from below.

While in Avila, I bought a tin of tartas de San Juan – little butter cookies with pine nuts, marcona almonds, and walnuts – and a box of yemas. The tartas were a hit at the office; the yemas not so much – very rich but with an odd texture.

The bus ride home was a local one (servicio general or al pueblo) rather than an express (directo) — I didn’t see the sign up front until after we’d left the bus station, but it was all good in the end. Unlike the ride from Madrid in the morning,the return bus was FULL — a family was going on a trip and a group of Italian tourists were aboard. The two nuns from the early bus were aboard, as was another woman from that bus – we sat together. She’d been to Avila to visit a friend who was in hospital with cancer that had spread to her bones. We chatted for a bit, and she recommended that I visit Toledo. The bus took longer going back to Madrid, since it was a local. The first stop was a tiny, tiny town (Villacastin), and the street was so narrow that I could’ve reached out the window and touched the houses and buildings outside, but the bus driver never stopped or hesitated. We passed a small plaza mayor, where there seemed to be a festival of some sort going on. The other stops (Coto de San Isidro, El Espinar, San Rafael) were unremarkable, really, other than for the amazing maneuvers of the bus driver (three point turns! Narrow streets!) and the opportunity to view the gorgeous sunset over the mountains as we headed back to Madrid.

Wednesday – the goal for Wednesday day was to visit the Museo de America and the Museo del Metro. I got a late start and then got lost, so I ended up making in only to the Museo de America. It is located a little outside the main tourist area, near the Moncloa metro and the bus intercambio, up on the Calle de los Reyes Catolicos, past the Arco de la Victoria. (Side note: I couldn’t figure out how to get to the arco as a pedestrian – there must be a walk way to it, but I couldn’t figure it out, and it is surrounded by a traffic circle of express lanes.) The Museo de America is organized by anthropological ideas, beginning with writings of the “discovery” of the Americas, and then going through social organization, religion and communication. There were video displays, maps, artefacts, tents and cabins from various indigenous American cultures, etc. I found the last section most interesting, especially the video about languages and their loss/mix in the Americas.

Liverpool was in Madrid to play Real Madrid on Wednesday. I’d noticed the herds of boys and men walking around in red shirts, but hadn’t paid much attention. In fact, one group walked by on the sidewalk and I didn’t realize they were speaking English until they were almost a block past, because the accent was so thick. Walking to the Plaza Mayor, I noticed a significant police presence, and once in the square, I understood why. The crowd was quite rowdy and the beer (and testosterone) had clearly been flowing freely. Despite having tailgated at American football games for years, I found the crowd disconcerting – maybe because it was nowhere near the stadium? And it seemed a lot more aggressive? I’m not sure. But as I walked through the plaza, I suddenly understood the phrase “football hooligan”.

Was asked for directions to the Plaza de Espana by a couple of handsome young Italian men. Probably I got them more lost than they already were. Again, I must’ve looked approachable? Must’ve had “another tourist” stamped on my forehead 😉

Thursday: Off to Toledo, via the bus intercambiador at Plaza Eliptica. Took the express, but the local probably would’ve been a more interesting trip – it was all industrial-looking neighborhoods and farms along with highway. The Museo de Santa Cruz, off the Arco de Sangre, near the Plaza Zocodover, has an excellent exhibition about Spain from 1806-1814, which was when Jose Bonaparte was the emperor of Spain, courtesy of his brother Napoleon. Art, clothing, jewelry, weapons, all little bits of history of the age. There were performers dressed up as Fernando VII, and as campesinos and soldiers. The ladies clothing fascinated, in part because it was tiny, down to the itty bitty shoes — how did they walk on those slippers? In the patio, there was a collection of azulejos that dated back centuries, along with Roman sarcophagi and Arabic memorial stones; Toledo is a very old city, dating back to Roman times, and was an important city for the Arab Caliphate, and later the capital of Spain until Felipe II decided to move his government to the relative backwater of Madrid.

The casco viejo is a rabbit warren, and I read somewhere that the inner city is dying because it is not very negotiable for vehicles. On the surface, I would not have guessed that, based on the amount of renovation going on, but it kind of makes sense. A couple of times, I had to step up into a building’s doorway as a car went by, and at one intersection, pedestrians had to help a car make a very tight turn — another car was parked in the street, making the turn very, very tight. I could see the driver cutting the wheel hard, edging the car back and forth in minute degrees to make the turn without hitting either the wall or the car illegally parked. The streets are narrow and the buildings tall; without being able to see the spires of the cathedral, it was hard to orient myself and easy to get lost – the streets are not as well marked as those in Madrid, IMO. At one point, I was lost and ran into an older Spanish couple who were also lost – we both had maps, but couldn’t get ourselves oriented. Eventually, I made it back to the Zoco, and on the way I stopped at the Real Monasterio de Santa Ursula to buy some mazapanes made by the Agustin nuns.

I stopped in a ceramic shop and chatted with the potter/owner. Ended up buying two very different pieces to give as gifts, and received a lesson in the schools of pottery that were popular in Toledo, one being the older, Arab-influenced style, and another being the Talavera school. There’s a third, which I didn’t care for much and have forgotten the name of. Nice fellow, with a lot of gorgeous work in his collection — he let me check out all the stuff downstairs, away from the store front, and I had a hard time just selecting two smallish pieces that I could carry home. And he kept a pet rabbit behind the counter, which was certainly different.

Friday: I spent the entire day in the Museo del Prado. In retrospect, I wish I’d visited the Thyssen-Bournesmizsa on Sunday instead of the Reina Sofia, because I like its collection better. Too late. On Friday, I had to choose between the Thyssen and the Prado, and the Prado won. No contest, really. There was a temporary exhibit of Francis Bacon. Again, more modern art. Bacon interests me mostly only because of his studies based on Velaquez’s portrait of Pius X. At a certain point, the works of the masters all seem to run together. It’s a bit embarrassing to admit that, really, because objectively they are extremely different works…but after five or six hours, it’s just another painting of christ on the cross or of angels or whatever. But some works always stand out: the galleries of Velazquez and Goya, among others. There was also a small exhibit of Victorian painting titled La bella durmiente, featuring one of my favorite paintings, Sir Henry Leighton’s Flaming June.

Saturday: It was rainy and overcast for the first time, which made leaving a bit easier. I bought a few souvenirs, then headed to the airport and home.

Random observations:

Loved staying in an apartment rather than a hotel; will do so for my next trip.
Madrid is cleaner than I remember, with municipal employees everywhere in their green suits, armed with brooms and dustpans.

Building and renovation seemed to be going on everywhere; cranes and scaffolding were all over.

Street performers abounded – in Sol, in the Plaza Mayor – performance artists, musicians, dancers.

La Mallorquina – oh, the tronquita (or tronchita? I can’t remember) de nata, yum.

La Txakoli (I think? specializing in Basque wines and tapas) – a bar on Calle de la Cava Baja (or Alta?) – good wine and pinxos

The Metro has grown immensely, and the entire system of metro, light rail, buses, and cercanias/trains is incredibly impressive. Clean and affordable and wide-spread. I understand the differences in geography, finances, and social orientation (park my car? /gasp/) that make the same degree of public transportation impossible in most of America, but still. Frankly, it puts the public transport of metropolitan areas like NYC and DC and Chicago to shame.

On the shuttle from Philadelphia, we never got a lot of altitude – I could see the Conowingo dam and the Susquehanna River as we flew over, which was kind of cool.

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Why?

Why is it the Palacio Real, but the Real Armeria and the Real Farmacia? (I know, I’m missing accents in there, I’ll come back and put them in later.)

Also, two new phrases that I learned: venta al mayor (wholesale) and enhorabuena (expecting). The first was written on signs in many of the businesses around Tirso de Molina, where I stayed in Madrid. Wholesale fashion storefronts abounded. The second I read in a gossipy magazine insert in the Saturday edition of ABC. Which also happened to feature blurbs about two of the few non-royal, non-mainstream sporting Spaniards whose names I recognize: Fran and Cayetano Rivera Ordóñez. Er, not that the enhorabuena came up in the context of those two, but for someone else whose name I did not recognize.

Book to look for: Ghosts of Spain by Giles Someone.

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