Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Movies in Madrid

Scott Van Jacob, our area bibliographer, came to Madrid for the big book fair that is held for librarians at foreign university libraries. We had lunch with him at La Pepa 1812 (c/Zorrilla) and then took a walk over to La Latina to look at antiquarian bookshops. We stopped and took a picture in front of this candy store. Those are all caramelos behind us.

Then we walked to the Plaza Mayor and watched the people mill around.

The big cinematic event this year was the premier of Spain's biggest-budget film of all time: Alatriste. The movie is based on the novels by Arturo Perez Reverte. For all you Spanish cultural critics out there: Isn't it interesting that the popular representative of the Spanish Golden Age--that most Spanish of times--is now the New Yorker Viggo Mortensen? You can go on a tour of Alatriste's Madrid, beginning in the Plaza Mayor, and see all the places that make the movie great. Viggo is not included.

So we went to the movies to see what all the fuss was about. And to see how well Viggo speaks Spanish. Not bad. But couldn't we have gotten Antonio Banderas for about half the price? We're just glad that Toby McElijia Wood wasn't hired to play Íñigo de Balboa, Alatriste's trusted sidekick and probable successor.

So, in the photo above you can see A in front of Madrid's Cine Ideal (now known as the Yelmo Cineplex), waiting for Celia and Loli to meet us for the 7:00 show. This is our favorite v.o. movie theater. V.o., by the way, means that films are projected here in their versión original, as opposed to being dubbed into Spanish. If you want to see Clerks II, for example, we suggest that you make sure to go to a theater that shows its films v.o., otherwise you are stuck hearing the otherwise wooden dialogues of Randal (Jeff Anderson) and Dante (Brian O'Halloran) in a robust, manly Castilian Spanish. In their case, dubbing might actually have represented an improvement since neither actor has learned to act in the intervening ten years since their high-schoolish performance in Clerks the First.

Clerks II is good. It is good primarily because of two things:
1. Rosario Dawson's performance as Becky. Although we really don't understand why she loves Dante.
2. Jason Mewes's performance as Jay. Let us just say that he was inspired in his adaptation of Ted Levine's dance number from The Silence of the Lambs. This scene literally makes the entire movie. Any movie that features "Goodbye Horses" in any way is okay with us. Click here for a clean version of Jay's dance.

And for all you Spanish cinema buffs out there, here is a bit of history about dubbing in Spain: Beginning in 1941, the Franco regime required that all foreign films be dubbed into Castilian in Spain by Spaniards. This was a part of his efforts to at once impose a monolithic Castilian linguistic and cultural identity on all Spaniards while simultaneously censoring American films through dubbing. Sometimes the censors were able to change certain elements of films that they viewed as subversive, profane, or in some way offensive to the state's officially sponsored Catholicism. But sometimes they shot themselves in the foot. In John Ford's Mogambo (1953), for example, Francoist censors attempted to purge the film of its adulterous plot elements. In the Spanish version of the film Grace Kelly and her husband were turned into brother and sister, which thus allowed Grace Kelly to fall in love with Clark Gable without the adulterous results of the original. Nevertheless, this not-so-subtle change turned their adultery into, you guessed it, incest.

Unfortunately, most foreign films are still dubbed in Spain. But dubbing is not only inflicted upon foreign films. In many Spanish films of the 1970s 80s and 90s, directors added sound after shooting, either for budgetary reasons or, most often, in order to make them sound more like "Hollywood" movies. Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of Spanish dubbing is the fact that, in spite of the common claim that Spain has "some of the best dubbing in Europe," the industry still employs adults to produce childrens' voices. Consequently, you still get terribly grating high-pitched fake voices for children in advertisements and television shows everyday. In Demark all foreign films are subtitled and shown in v.o. This promotes multi-lingualism in the viewing public and increases literacy.

After the movie we walked home and had our usual dinner: ensalada, embutido, vino, pan. So good. So very good.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

More Scenes from Estepona

Walking up the street to the Plaza de las Flores for dinner. S on the right, Alex on the left.

The dinner we enjoyed that last evening with Alex. Boquerones fritos, calamares fritos and gambas a la plancha. We washed it all down with a delicious bottle of Marques de Caceres. Oh baby.

Estepona's cathedral as seen from Alex's portal.

A conversation on Estepona's main street: Calle Real.

Andalucia Revisited

To the left is Ronda, one of Andalucia's famed pueblos blancos.

To the right, S and Alex in the main square in Ronda with a statue of Hercules in the background.

An ever watchful Ronda resident.

A and Alex in Ronda, looking out over the Andalucian countryside from their vantage point on the Puente Nuevo.

On our way back to Estepona, Alex drove us through the Parque Nacional, in which we observed these fine looking cork oaks which have been stripped of their bark.


The next day we went to Arcos de la Frontera. This is the view of the city from the road that leads into it.

Alex and S in Arcos.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Lizard Who Liked Art

So we come back from Estepona and we unpack our bags. It is cooler in Madrid now, and we are glad that we left our windows open while we were gone because now we can breathe and we don't have to hang out in our underwear all the time. Not that underwear all the time is a bad way to live, as long as you have some privacy (see David Sedaris's latest piece in the New Yorker). But that is neither here nor there.

A gives a little yell from the studio/bedroom, "There's a lizard on my painting!" Her brave husband comes in from the living room, smiling. Yes, indeed, there is a fat little lizard on the backside of her latest painting. We scare it onto the wall and trap it with a tupperware container and set it free on the wall outside our flat. The alert reader will notice perhaps the uncanny resemblance with the gecko that has become so ubiquitous on US national television spots. But this one was Spanish. I can't be sure, but I think he had a little moustache.

Monday, September 18, 2006

City Review: Estepona

Our faithful readers will no doubt have noticed that we have not posted much lately. Well, the reason is simple enough: we were in Estepona, a formerly quaint but still cute Andalusian beach town wedged between Marbella and Algeciras. A former professor of S'’s from Exeter invited us down for a four day visit. On Tuesday morning we got up at 6:00 and took a short ride on the Metro to the Estacion del Sur located at the Mendez Alvaro stop. We boarded our bus, run by the friendly staff of Daibus, and seven hours later we were there. On the way we got to see two American films that we missed when we lived in the US: Steve Wang's Ride, starring Kadeem Hardison (yes, that's Dwayne Wayne!) and Jean-Claude Van Damm's directorial debut, The Quest. The neat thing about both movies is that they seemed to improve after Spanish dubbing.

Alex was at the station to greet us and he had a cold lunch (gambas, embutido, tortilla) waiting for us when we got to his place (he lives about 5 minutes from the bus station). After lunch we took a walk around Estepona and admired the docks and beaches.

On Wednesday we took it easy in the morning: we went to the mercadillo (Alex bought a pair of pants, a belt and a vase but we didnÂ’t buy anything) and then we lunched in the Plaza de las Flores in Estepona. We had seafood paella, which was absolutely delicious but a little too salty for my taste. That afternoon we swam in the Mediterranean in our bathing costumes.

On Thursday and Friday we enjoyed a lot of regional tourism in the mountains north of the Costa del Sol. We visited Ronda, which is one of the South's famed pueblos blancos, and Arcos de la Frontera, another pueblo perched atop cliffs, and, like Ronda, settled by Moors then 'reconquered' by the Catholics.

Our host drove us through one of Spain's Parques Naturales and we saw bulls lazily lolling about in the grass amid the cork trees, which had just been stripped of their bark by roving bands of cork farmers. We also drove to the southern most tip of Europe where we stopped at a vista to peer out across the Straits of Gibraltar to Africa, only 14 kilometers away. Every day we ate delicious seafood and drank a lot of good wine. Of particular interest to our gourmet readership were the fried boquerones, puntillitas and calamares that we had on our first and last evenings in Estepona. Oh, how we love you delicious tentacled invertebrates!

In tomorrow's post: the lizard that watched our apartment while we were gone.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Javier Marías on the Zidane Incident

For you readers proficient in Spanish, we copy here the text of Javier Marías's excellent essay on the now infamous Zidane incident (that lingers even now in our collective memory). This is, bar none, the best treatment of the episode to be published in any language so far, perhaps because the author deals with the event in narrative terms. Marías argues that in the end, the World Cup was perhaps more memorable because it ended the way that it did. For if Zidane had not been tempted into ignominious action by the evil Italian archvillain, who would have remembered the bad Hollywood alternative ending in which Zidane is carried off the field by his teammates, lofting the trophy above his head and smiling his inscrutable smile? Instead of a Disney ending we got an ending that might be compared to John Huston's The Asphalt Jungle or Stanley Kubrick's The Killing. We can still be sad that the World Cup ended the way that it did, but we must thank Zidane for leaving us not with a predictable (if temporarily satisfying) story about a man's final triumphant soccer match, but with a story that is deep, strange, sad, and, above all, worth re-reading.

You can also take a look at the article posted on Mr.
Marías's blog. While we are not all that fond of his recent fiction, we do like his articles in El pais very much.

Un cuento para releer [A Story to be Reread]

Cuando ustedes lean esto, es probable que ya se hayan apagado los prolongados ecos del incidente entre Materazzi y Zidane, del que se han ocupado casi todos los columnistas, hasta los que desdeñan o detestan el fútbol. Pero puede que no del todo, y que en realidad nunca se apaguen, y que ese asunto, por tanto, pase a formar parte de la memoria y el imaginario colectivos, no sólo de los futboleros. Si eso fuera así, sería el mayor éxito de Zinedine Zidane, en contra de las apariencias y de los actuales lamentos.

Pasada la primera y elemental impresión, hay que mirar el episodio desde el punto de vista más duradero, que es el de la ficción. Cuanto se recuerda en la vida adquiere con el tiempo, precisamente por ser recordado, un carácter narrativo, y acaba viéndose, según el caso, como una película, una novela o un relato. La despedida de Zidane da más para lo último, quizá. Tal como había ido la historia, el final parecía destinado a ser muy feliz o, en su defecto, bastante feliz. Para quienes gustan de los cuentos “bonitos”, esto habría sido lo ideal: Zidane, uno de los jugadores más exquisitos, campeón del Mundo con Francia en 1998 y de Europa en el 2000, de la Champions League con el Real Madrid en el 2002, ya con treinta y cuatro años, cansado del mal juego reciente de su equipo y de entrenadores bobos que no supieron sacarle provecho; un hombre que suele caer bien, solidario y nada demagógico fuera del campo, elegante, discreto, con una notable timidez pese a llevar un decenio o más siendo un astro, decide jugar sus postreros partidos con la camiseta de su país y retirarse para siempre. Vistas sus decepcionantes actuaciones de los últimos dos años, y lo gastados que andan la mayoría de sus veteranos compañeros, nadie espera apenas nada, ni de Francia ni de él. Al principio del Mundial de Alemania, se confirman los escepticismos: ni él ni su equipo brillan, son incapaces de ganar a selecciones inferiores como Suiza y Corea del Sur, les cuesta lo indecible derrotar a Togo. El siguiente rival es la bulliciosa y rejuvenecida España, y nuestros periodistas e hinchas, con sus proverbiales chulería y bravuconería, anuncian la jubilación de Zidane: quedará eliminado, dará sus últimos pasos de baile con un balón. Los españoles, como suelen, muerden el polvo, y el “viejo” les mete un gran gol. Luego caen los brasileños, grandes favoritos según los spots de publicidad, y les siguen los no menos soporíferos portugueses. Francia está en la Final. Contra todo pronóstico inicial, el cuento se encamina hacia el género infantil, o hacia una película de Disney.

Imaginemos que Zidane no cabeceó a Materazzi y que aun así su selección perdió. Ahí tenemos el final bastante feliz. El magnífico héroe crepuscular ha estado a punto de lograr la proeza, y en todo caso se ha marchado disputando la Final de la Copa del Mundo, algo al alcance de muy pocos. Supongamos que Francia sí gana. Que lo hace mediante gol o pase de Zidane, o bien que, llegados a los penalties, él se encarga de marcar uno decisivo o no tanto –lo mismo da– de manera magistral, como ya hizo al inicio del partido. Como capitán de Francia, el ídolo fatigado recibe y alza el trofeo y desaparece sobriamente en su momento de apogeo, en la máxima gloria a la que puede aspirar un futbolista. Este cuento es precioso y le gusta a casi todo el mundo, incluyéndome a mí. Pero no da mucho de sí, no se puede releer, porque es de una pieza y algo empalagoso. De hecho tiene todos los ingredientes de los cuentos de hadas, o aún peor, de las historias edificantes, ejemplares, de “superación”. Si lo miramos con ojos literarios o cinematográficos, a lo que más se parece es a una película americana idiota o juvenil, si es que ambas cosas no quieren decir lo mismo hoy en América.

Tal como se ha desarrollado, en cambio, la despedida de Zidane resulta inquietante, turbia, adquiere densidad y dramatismo de buena ley. Como si fuera un jugador bisoño, el admirable Zinedine, que habrá oído de todo a lo largo de su carrera en el césped, cae en la provocación de un archiconocido archivillano italiano y le da un cabezazo en presencia del mundo entero. Echa a perder su final felicísimo cuando lo acariciaba con la punta de los dedos: estaba en su mano asirlo y crear la mejor leyenda. ¿La mejor? No lo creo. De no haber sido expulsado y haber vencido Francia, todo habría sido tan perfecto que no habría admitido lo que hace de veras que los hechos perduren: el enigma, el misterio, la ambigüedad, la posibilidad de fantasear interminablemente con lo que habría podido ser y se desperdició. Es decir, lo que llevamos haciendo muchos desde hace semanas, y lo que nos quedará para siempre como el hermoso final que se malogró. Esta otra película no es de Disney, sino quizá El buscavidas de Rossen, o Atraco perfecto de Kubrik, o La jungla del asfalto de Huston, o alguna compleja maravilla de Fritz Lang, cuyos personajes lo prevén todo para alcanzar sus metas y abandonan o fracasan en el último instante. Sí, en cierto sentido es una pena lo que ocurrió, pero en otro hay que agradecerle al gran Zidane que en su última hora nos haya dejado un relato hondo, extraño, quebrado, rugoso, y no una historieta tan previsible y tersa que no se pueda releer.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Marco Is Born

On Saturday afternoon we took the Metro up to the La Paz Hospital to see Dani and Yoli and their newborn baby boy, Marco. The magnitude of this event in our minds is apparently so great that we cannot even remember what we did on Saturday morning. Oh, wait, it's coming back. Amy went shopping for a gift for Marco and I worked on my paper. Then we wrapped the gift and took it with us: it was a peluche and some hangers for Marco's wall. That's it, and a nice card. Jeez. If you're not careful, you can lose entire days to forgetfulness.

The Metro stop is Begoña.

And here is a photo of the hospital, which is enormous. My aunt says that if you are going to have a baby in Madrid, La Paz is the place to do it.

What can we say? It was a beautiful thing to see Marco feeding at Yoli's breast when we walked into the room. And Yoli looked beautiful laying there with her baby on her chest. She says that childbirth, the pain in particular, is the huge secret that women keep ("el gran secreto que se guardan las mujeres") Daniel tells us that he alternately wept and felt guilty while Yoli was in labor.

Here is the happy mother and child, who went home with Papi and peluche yesterday.

After our visit we walked down the Castellana and waited for my parents to call us on our movil. That seems to be our Saturday routine, so far. After we talked to them we took the Metro to Tirso de Molina where we sat down and had a couple of beers and some bravas. We had planned to go to the Reina Sofia but our lust for life got the better of us. We can still see the Picasso exhibit next weekend, right?

We like Tirso de Molina and recommend it as an alternative to the Plaza Santa Ana which has now been overrun by tourists. It's now just like a little Plaza del Sol.

After enjoying our beers we walked home (again down the Castellana) as the sun set. The temperature, while still hot, is not quite as hot as it could be. Thank God. We dined on ensalada and embutido.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Other News From Madrid

We received the books and art supplies we sent ourselves in July, so now we can really start working in earnest. Although I’m finding it hard to get to work today because I have to deal with all the letters and requests we are getting regarding our moustache post of September 6th. Our server is in danger of crashing, so please, no more emails!

We had no idea that moustaches were going to be so popular this season. So here is another photo for our faithful readers: Boom.

I’ll tell you, for my money I just don’t think it gets any better than that. I still can’t figure out why A shakes her head so vigorously and grimaces so strongly when I come into her studio. I keep telling her that the moustache is going to be the new capri pants for 2006-2007. But she doesn’t want to listen. She’ll see. You’ll all see. I shall be vindicated! This is not about me, this is about the sacrifices that I am making everyday for the benefit of the world of fashion!

In the photo above, A looks up the word "trazar" in one of our two Spanish-English dictionaries.

And in this photo, A is on her way through the courtyard of our building to purchase a newspaper. The photo is shot from the window in our living room. It turned out that she would also purchase a surprise treat for her doting husband.

The treat was this delicious croissant purchased at our local bakery. To be honest, the glaze was a bit too thick. But it tasted good dunked in a cafe con leche made at home with a special Spanish cafetera.

[Yesterday, after we ate lunch and went swimming in Majadahonda, my aunt drove us to our apartment with all our books. She patiently braved the afternoon traffic (by "afternoon" I mean 8pm) and delivered us safely to our building. For dinner we had embutido and a delicious ensalada. We watched the news, and learned that 8.4 percent of the students matriculated in Spanish schools this semester are foreign born. We also watched clips of Natasha Kampusch's first interview since she escaped from her kidnapper after 8.5 years in captivity. We also watched the Basque terrorist Iñaki Bilbao insult and threaten the judges who were sentencing him for assassinating a government representative. He was shouting and carrying on in his glass cage, yelling things like "I'll shoot you seven times!" and "I'll peel the skin off your bones with my hands!"]

An Open Letter to Correos

Dear Spanish Mail Service:

We are writing this open letter principally because you will not answer the phone when we call. We also know that if we were to send you a letter, well, everyone knows what you like to do to letters. You destroy them. Especially when they are directed to “Atención al cliente” or “Reclamaciones del cliente.” So go ahead and admit it. You hate delivering packages and letters.

Anyway, we wanted to write you a note of thanks for destroying all of our books. We also wanted to express our disappointment for the way that you lied when you said that you tried to deliver our boxes of books on Monday morning. We were at home when you supposedly tried to deliver the boxes, so we know that you were lying when you wrote us that note saying that you could not deliver them directly. We also want you to know that my aunt really enjoyed her experience at your Majadahonda branch when she went to pick up our packages yesterday. Do you know that your big mail trucks were parked in front of the office so no one could park there? My cousin wants you to know that he particularly enjoyed bringing the boxes out of your basement office one by one. If you can imagine this scenario, you will perhaps understand why we are writing you this open letter:

The scenario: It is raining. Our aunt and cousin go to your fine Majadahonda branch to pick up five boxes of books that we mailed from South Bend, Indiana, on July 31st, 2006. Your trucks are obstructing the customer parking spots, so my aunt drops my cousin off and swings around the block to find a place to park. My cousin goes downstairs to claim the boxes, but you do not have a hand truck for your customers to use. So he brings box #1 upstairs and out onto the street, where my aunt is waiting in the car. He puts box #1 in the trunk, and my aunt goes around the block again. He comes out with box #2 and waits for my aunt to come around the block again. He puts box #2 in the trunk, and my aunt goes back around the block. And so on with boxes #3, #4, and #5. I want you to know that we love my aunt and my cousin for what they have done for us. I want you to know that we hate you for what you have done to them. You and your bright yellow mailboxes that no one can find. You and your wee little yellow hand carts and your “avisos legales.”

To conclude, we wish to express our deep disappointment at your desultory devotion to mail delivery and for your single-minded dedication to the destruction of our parcels. You are a shining yellow example of just how poorly a government agency can function. You are, in a word, funcionarios of failure.



Thursday, September 07, 2006

Underwear Across Madrid

So we met our neighbor from downstairs today. The buzzer went off around 10:30 and I thought it was my uncle Pepe ringing from the street but it turned out to be the lady from downstairs standing at our front door. So I'm standing there in my boxers and I open the door and she has a pair of my tighty whities folded up into a square and says, "I think these are yours." I say, "Ah, gracias." And she says, "They fell into my living room, and since you are the only ones who were drying your whites upstairs I figured they were yours." And I say, "Yes, I suppose they blew down during the rainstorm yesterday afternoon." The whole time we are having this neighborly discussion I am embarrassed because now I am holding a pair of my tighty whities that my neighbor has carefully folded into a square and I'm in my boxers hiding behind the door trying to look like I'm not totally embarrassed. I can't be sure but I think she was embarrassed, too. Probably because no matter what you do your white underwear always show signs of wear in the most embarrassing places. So I hold up my folded whities and say thank you again and smile and we say goodbye. I put my clean underwear in the closet and tell A. And she says, "Oh, I noticed that they were not on the line but I didn't see them down in the courtyard so I thought you had put them away. Hee hee."

The Picasso exhibit was very nice, by the way. The Prado is like a maze, though, and it took us a half an hour to find the pinturas negras by Goya. The thunderstorm caught us by surprise but we enjoyed our walk home at sunset in the rain.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

France Dominates Italy Again

It was interesting to watch France dominate Italy 3-1 in Paris this evening. And thus the runners up from World Cup 2006 were able to avenge themselves only fifty-nine days after losing out on penalties to the Azzurri in Berlin.

For those of you following UEFA Euro 2008 qualifying, this means that France is now sitting at the top of Group B with Scotland, while Italy is struggling a bit down there at second from the bottom. They have one measly point after a disappointing draw at home against Lithuania. Sorry guys.

(And of course Spain lost their game, too. To North Ireland, no less.)

Madrid Is Still Hot

Damn hot. After we ate our lentils yesterday we did some more work and sweated. Then we went up to the Corte Ingles at Nuevos Ministerios and got trapped by the Cercanias turnstiles. With her usual class and savoir faire A slipped behind some unsuspecting commuters and escaped first. I was too slow and got scissored by the gate. The security guard had to let me out while A smiled and enjoyed her freedom. At the Corte Ingles we walked around and enjoyed the air conditioning, bought a gift for my brother, and generally wore ourselves out. On our way back home we stopped at our neighborhood bar, the Cruz Blanca, and had a couple of cañas. We made a salad and bocadillos de lomo for dinner and started watching El aura. I got sleepy and crabby and went to bed before it was over. It was hard to sleep last night because it was so hot. I had a dream about Bill Cosby (who turned out to be a really nice guy) and A had a dream in which Virginia Rodrigues cuddled and sang to her while she slept.

We woke up at 8 and have been sitting around ever since. Greg wrote me an email with a Youtube link in which I discovered that Noah Kalina stole my big idea. My failed art project in which I take a picture of myself everyday for a couple of years. He beat me by sheer force of determination. I never could have done it for 6 years. That's crazy. But to be honest I think that Mr. Kalina's project suffers from a lack of variation. His eyes never change. His expression remains the same for six years. I think he should have grown a moustache or a beard or something. And perhaps given us a little information about his emotional states or at least what he might have been thinking about at the time. In my project, which I realized with a Polaroid, I wrote journal entries in the white space below the image. Maybe when we get home I will go to the basement and dust the box off and do something with those photos. Something grand.

A has just called to me from her studio. We are going to the Picasso exhibit at the Prado. Oh yes. Air conditioning.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Lentejas for Lunch

Today we finally started getting some work done. A is in her studio/our bedroom sketching on a bright new canvas that we bought at Chopo Bellas Artes on Plaza del Angel and I have been trying to finish an article on multicultural Barcelona for HRJ.

There are lentils cooking on the stove, and it's still hot. It's 86 degrees inside. The only thing you can do is take a cold shower and not dry off. This afternoon we will take a walk in the Retiro and maybe check out the Picasso exhibit at the Prado which ends on the 10th. We wanted to go on Sunday afternoon (it's free on Sundays) but the line went out the door and 100 yards down the Paseo del Prado.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Amago Mundi Madrid

This morning we woke up at 9 and lay in bed until 10, enjoying the cool air flowing from the fan we purchased at the Corte Inglés. My lady is doing the LATimes crossword (What is a three letter word for an offshoot of punk? Another term for Swamp honeysuckles, seven letters?) I'm blogging a bit because we've been here for five days and it just feels right.

We woke up to "Are You Sure Hank Williams Done It This Way?" which is a good way to wake up if you have to. Last night we had dinner with Dani and Yoli, who are expecting Marco to be born this week. We had an excellent conejo al horno and a good valdepeñas called Viña Albali. We didn't get home until after midnight. I must say that we have been living large so far. The tías hooked it up with cordero asado for lunch. In the morning we walked to the Rastro and bought clothespins.