Sunday, January 28, 2007

Premios Goya 2007

We stayed up until almost one watching the 21st Premios Goya, Spain's equivalent of the Academy Awards. Here are the results, for those of you who have been wanting to know:

Best Film: Volver

Presented by Santiago Segura (worst)

Best Director: Pedro Almodóvar, Volver.

Presented by Alejandro Amenábar, accepted by Penélope Cruz in Pedro’s absence

Best Production Designer: Cristina Zumárraga, Alatriste

Best Director of Photography: Guillermo Navarro, El laberinto del fauno.

Cool quote: “¡Viva España y viva México!”

Best Editing/Montage: Bernat Villaplana, El laberinto del fauno

Best Actress: Penélope Cruz, Volver

Best Actor: Juan Diego, Vete de mi

Best Supporting Actress: Carmen Maura, Volver

Best Original Screenplay: Guillermo del Toro, El laberinto del fauno

Best Adapted Screenplay: Lluís Alcarazo, Salvador

Best Original Music: Alberto Iglesias, Volver

Best New Director: Daniel Sánchez-Arévalo, AzulOscuroCasiNegro

Best New Actor: Quim Gutiérrez, AzulOscuroCasiNegro

Best New Actress: Ivana Baquero, El laberinto del fauno

Best European Film: Stephen Frears, The Queen [No show]

The show was presided over by José Corbacho, who may even give Ellen Degeneres a run for her money for worst awards presenter ever (although we do not blame him for the poor writing, choreography and misplaced envelopes). But we are going to have to wait to see how Ellen does. Maybe she will surprise us. You never know with her. We will hope for the best.

We are happy that Volver won best picture, although we were kinda pulling for El laberinto del fauno. We liked that one a lot. Ivana Baquero and Sergi López were absolutely amazing. López makes a tremendous bad guy.

Friday, January 26, 2007


On Monday we walked around Madrid and had lunch at home. S made pepitos de lomo y pimientos. That means "delicious sandwiches with pork loin and red peppers." You may remember our lauditory post of November 20th, entitled, "Celebration of Death and Pork," in which we feted the death of Spain's extra-special late dictator with the same kind of sandwiches. An interesting article in today's El pais reports that the former dictator will remain the honorary mayor of the city of Salamanca in perpetuity. Guess which party runs the local government there?

Below, we enjoy our sandwiches with a salad in our small but comfortable flat.

After lunch we walked to the Atocha train station to buy our tickets to Toledo. Then we walked up to the Corte Ingles at Sol to do some shopping. S and G took an hour off from shopping to have a beer at the Fontana de Oro, the Madrid bar named after a novel by Benito Pérez Galdós. Click here to read the novel in plain text format: Boom. There will be a quiz later.

For dinner we stopped into one of the Las Bravas branches that can be found on or near Calle Alvarez Gato. We had a ration of patatas bravas and a ration of pulpo a la gallega. We washed these fine morsels down with a couple of beers.

On Tuesday, we took the AVE high-speed train to Toledo (1/2 hour ride). S accidentally deleted all the gorgeous pictures from that fun-filled trip so we will have to wait until we get copies of the pix that J took on her camera before we can share that experience with our readers. S feels bad about what he has done and will be more careful in the future.

On Wednesday we all went out to Majadahonda to have lunch with S's aunt and cousins. Rafa and Elena also came to enjoy aunt Loli's top-notch paella and to meet A's parents. A good time was had by all, quite in spite of the inevitable linguistic barriers. See below the paella before we dug in.

And above, the plate that A enjoyed. All the rest of the photos from that fun-filled visit were also deleted by S. He is still feeling kind of sheepish about it.

On Thursday we decided not to go to Cuenca because it was snowing there. It was also snowing in Segovia. Basically, it is snowing just about everywhere we thought about going, so we are staying put in cold, windy Madrid. Also, J was unlucky. She caught a bad cold on Wednesday afternoon and has been nursing it since then. Today she is staying in bed at the Armesto. We are hoping that she and G will come over for dinner tonight if she is feeling better. It sucks to be sick when you are on vacation. We think she will feel better after having a bocadillo de jamón. Salted cured pork can do a lot for a cold.

Parental Visit

J and G arrived a day later than they planned because of weather problems in Philadelphia. They got in on Saturday and we picked them up at Barajas. There they are (above) coming out of the customs zone. We took a taxi to their hotel, the famous Hostal Armesto, which we recommend wholeheartedly to all our faithful readers.

After dropping off their luggage at Armesto, we all went back to our place for lunch. White bean soup and--you guessed it--our favorite serrano ham. Then we took a walk--again, you guessed it--up to the Parque del Buen Retiro. We wanted J and G to stay awake so they could get over that jet lag more quickly.

There is a game that old men play in the Retiro. There are nine large pins and one smaller pin. Each man throws a half-sphere made of stone, trying to roll it through the large pins in order to knock down the small pin. If any of our readers know what this game is called, please post a comment. This game is not to be confused with the Asturian game that is played with nine pins and a round wooden ball. These particular players attracted quite a crowd of curious tourists.

Chillin' in the Retiro with G.

Family reunion in the Retiro.

Toby McGuire was spotted near the estanque. He is not in very good shape, but the new Spiderman film promises to be the best ever.

Then we walked out of the Retiro on the northwest side and paused to take a picture at the Puerta de Alcalá. Later we walked up Calle Serrano to look in the fancy shops there. We had a chapatita de jamon, a beer and a pastel at Mallorca.

As it got dark, we started walking south on the Castellana and through the Plaza de Colón, heading back to the Armesto.

The next day (Sunday), we got up early to go to the Rastro. Among other items, we wanted to buy an adaptor for J's blow dryer. You can find anything at the Rastro. If you are tempted to buy an adaptor for your blow dryer at your local travel equipment shop, you should wait and buy it at the Rastro. We paid 90 euro cents for ours.

Scarf shopping.

Antique shopping.

Ceramics shopping.

T-shirt shopping.

A has a tremendous capacity for shopping.

After making our purchases at the Rastro, we walked up to the Plaza Mayor.

Stamp collectors. You may remember from our post of November 21st that interesting Plaza Mayor factoid: On Sundays old man philatelists gather to trade stamps and talk about philatelia. You can find them at the northeast corner of the plaza. Bring your stamps.

Above, the ecclesiastical paraphernalia shop next door to the Chocolatería San Ginés, which is where we had our churros y chocolate after the Rastro. You may also remember from our post of November 21 that we had churros and chocolate, but we must tell you that the churros and chocolate that we had last weekend at the Chocolatería San Ginés was far, far superior in terms of quality and taste. We can no longer endorse that other place we went. Fried dough and molten milk chocolate have never achieved such perfection.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Paseo Primaveral

Last Sunday it was very warm in Madrid, so we decided to take a walk in the park. While we were walking, A's brother called us from Ireland so we took a walk and talked to J. It was nice.

We saw some native Madrileños doing a traditional native dance, complete with guitar and drums going, "Bum bum bum bum, bum bum bum bum." If you can imagine a John Wayne movie with Native Americans, that's the sound we are going for here. UC San Diego's Hump Drum Circle has nothing on these people. Seriously.

There is always a nice Sunday chess game. Amagomundi could have taken them, but we didn't have time to play. We were talking to J.

A is talking to J. Look at all those people in the background. It was like 65 degrees and everyone was taking advantage of the sun and warmth. Taking walks. Having beers. Jumping up and down to the beat of a drum. Talking long distance to Ireland.

Freddy plays the accordion for grandpa and grandson. When you walk the streets of Madrid you should keep your eye out for pairs of grandparents walking with their grandchildren. The exploitation of free family childcare appears to be a consecrated institution. Parents know how to do things here in Spain. Drop kid off in morning. Go to work. Pick kid up in evening. Priceless.

One of the Retiro's lesser estanques (in the background). But beautiful nonetheless. A is still talking to J. He is doing well. It was a nice walk in the park with him, even though he is far away.

The more attractive half of amagomundi poses on the other side of the estanque. This is a photo that S was not supposed to post on this blog. But he did it anyway and hopes that he does not get in trouble.

There's that estanque again, with the glass building in the background. It's not a greenhouse. We don't know what they do in there. Maybe they have big balls.

Famous Hispanist Lunch

On Monday one half of amagomundi had lunch with famous Hispanist DTG at Café Oliver on c/ Almirante 12. We had an arugula and jamón salad (delicious) and fresh fried baby bacalao (also delicious). DTG had a vegetable puree soup and pasta. He reported that his meal was also delicious. We split a fine bottle of Lan Rioja and finished the meal off with a café cortado (in the little white tazas in the photo). We enjoyed catching up on all the latest news from Virginia and the world of Hispanism in general.

Then we hurried home to see how the other half of amagomundi was doing. She had stomach issues that we cannot mention here in this family oriented blog.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Pizza Patrón

The New York Times reported today on a new promotion at everyone's favorite Dallas pizza joint, Pizza Patrón, that has gotten some criticism from patriotic Americans who don't like the fact that Pizza Patrón is accepting pesos for pizzas. Apparently the company’s Dallas headquarters received about 1,000 e-mail messages on Thursday alone. Some were supportive, but many called the idea unpatriotic, with messages like, “If you want to accept the peso, go to Mexico!” There were even a few death threats. The company has gotten a lot of phone calls announcing boycotts: “Next thing you know, we’re going to be raising Mexico’s flag,” one caller complained.

Mark Krikorian, extra special person and executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, a group that seeks to limit immigration, said he was concerned that Hispanics could create a parallel mainstream in the United States. “It’s a trivial example, but Hispanics now have their own pizza chain,” Mr. Krikorian said. “It’s a consequence of having too many people arrive from a single foreign culture, and may well reflect a kind of cultural secession.”

Having spent a lot of time in Buffalo, New York, amagomundi is ready to join the thousands of callers who have also been criticizing Tim Horton's for accepting Canadian dollars in their New York stores. One of our fictional faithful readers says, "It's a trivial example, but Canadians now have their own coffee shops." Well, amagomundi has had it up to here with Canadians coming to Buffalo to take the jobs from the American worker, and we call for more National Guard troops to police the border. If they want bagels and coffee, let the Canadians get them in Erie, Ontario! Stop the cultural secession of Western New York!

Another fictional caller said, "Next thing you know, the Canadians are going to be raising Canadian flags in New York State."

Next week: Americans spending American dollars in Ontario.

And check in the week after for our piece on Estadounidenses spending dólares in Mexico.

And the week after: Why Tim Horton's tastes so damned good.

Friday, January 12, 2007

We Love Madrid

Today we took a long walk through the Parque del Buen Retiro. It was sunny and 60 degrees today in Madrid. It felt a hell of a lot like spring.

Pio Baroja was looking dapper. Did you know that Hemingway admired Baroja's work? Apparently, when Hemingway won the Nobel Prize, he traveled to see Baroja, who was then on his death bed, to tell him he thought Baroja deserved the prize more than he did. That's what Wikipedia says, anyway. We recommend his novel, El árbol de la ciencia.

We saw some little air travelers on their way to catch a flight.

And then we came home and watched Alfonso Cuaron's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. We are doing research on Cuaron's distinctive visual style.

Oh, by the way, we love our new argyle socks that the Reyes Magos brought us on the morning of the 6th.

We love all the colors we received. We are glad that argyle is back in style. Boo ya.

Ain't life grand?

Monday, January 08, 2007

Tales from the Battle Front: Bureaucracy Edition

NPR's Jerome Socolovsky talks about his experience getting his car out of the Madrid Barajas airport parking lot after the ETA van bomb that blew up there on December 30th.

Thanks to alert reader BJA for bringing the story to our attention.

Some day when we have more time and patience, perhaps we will bring our faithful readers up to date on our latest battle with the Spanish bureaucracy, which involves the package our brother sent us from California, and how we have to pay 32 euros to Correos before they will give it to us. It's a tariff, apparently, but the irony is that the package contains a jacket that we bought for our brother in Madrid that was too small for him and that he wants us to exchange. So how can they put a tax on this gift as an import? Good question.

Well, Correos has the package and they won't budge until we pay up. They won't even let us have the papers that came attached to the package from Hacienda (Spain's beloved IRS equivalent) until we pay them. Nor will they make a photocopy of these documents in order to facilitate the second round of our battle with the bureaucracy. So if we want to complain to Hacienda we have to pay Correos first and then go to Hacienda and try to get our money back. But we don't want to do that because we know how hard it is to get money back from any government agency. Especially when they don't even respond to emails sent to their "customer service" section. When we asked the Correos drone (we are sure she is a very nice person when she's not working at Correos) why they couldn't just give us the package and let us sort it out directly with Hacienda, she said, "Because then we would have to pay Hacienda." "But Correos and Hacienda are both government organisms, so all the money is essentially coming from the same place," says we. But she just gives us a half-smile and takes our package back into the dark holding room where we have decided to let it stay. Let them send it back to our brother, says we.

Anyway, Jerome Socolovsky's account of his experience with the green forms, beige forms, and yellow forms was poignant in its immediacy and truth to life.

We should say, however, that we really love living in Madrid and that we recommend it highly to our readers for when they have their own sabbaticals. We particularly like having a cafe con leche and a chapatita de jamon after a frustrating afternoon battling the bureaucrat samurai on their own turf. Nothing makes you feel better than does the salty cured goodness of Iberian ham.

Speaking of positive things about life in Spain, we do think that the socialized Spanish health care system is top notch. Did you know that even if you pay for private health care (which is widely viewed as hugely inferior to the public system) you don't have to fork out co-payments? You just pay your monthly fee and every time you have to go to the doctor you just go to the doctor. Tests? Just go have your tests done and show your card at the door. Emergency room visit? Free. No insurance, you say? Free.

As a result of our experiences here so far, it is becoming more and more shocking to us just how bad American health care really is, even when you have access to what is normally regarded as "good health care," like the kind that comes with a "good job." Our employer in the US puts about $700 dollars a month into our health coverage, and we put in another $120 out of our paycheck. And since our US insurance does not work outside of the Midwest state in which we live, we had to get insurance here, too. Guess how much it costs. No, that's too high. No, still too high. Now you are getting warmer. That's right! 100 euros a month. That's it.

So now we look back on our last experience with American health care and it is looking pretty shabby. When S had a piece of metal stuck in his left eye last July, we had to pay $100 for our emergency room visit. Then we got co-paymented to death at all our subsequent visits to opthamologists and primary care physicians. And our American readers will no doubt be thinking, "But doctors charge the insurance companies huge amounts of money for the work they do on us!" Yes. Like $220 for a 15 minute check-up. (This is not a scientific study, these amounts are approximate, as is our understanding of the American health care system in general.) But caveats be damned! Basically, we and our employers pay tons of money to the insurance companies because they are being charged huge amounts by the doctors. And the doctors charge huge amounts because their insurers charge them so much money for liability. From our small but comfortable flat in central Madrid, we would like to take this opportunity to call our readers to action! Revolt! Demand universal health care for yourselves and for the poor people you don't even know! Why not? Most of us are already paying for it! Raise taxes and stop paying for insurance! Take it to the streets!

Okay, now let's get back back to that old metal-in-the-eye anecdote:

One visit to emergency room: $100 copay

One prescription for generic vicodin to ease pain in order to make it through one night with a metal shard in the eye: $30

One visit to opthamologist the next day to have tiny metal shard taken out of left eye with a needle: $30 copay

Follow up visit to opthamologist to have rusty ring remaining in eye from metal shard shaved off with an electric burr: $30 copay

Five minute follow up visit to opthamologist to have left eye examined for infection: $30 copay

Uncertainty about why we put up with such shabby health coverage in the A-number-one-world-power-States of America? Priceless.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Migosh and Friends

For our faithful readers who have access to Spanish television's Antena 3, we recommend tonight's special cinematic programming, which is Willow, starring Warwick Davies. Tune in at 10.15. You know we will.

Fantasía, 1988 (USA). Dir.: Ron Howard. Int.: Val Kilmer, Joanne Whalley y Warwick Davies.

"Cuando el joven Willow encuentra a un bebé abandonado, de repente se ve metido en una aventura llena de magia y peligro. Según una antigua profecía, la niña sagrada está destinada a poner fin al reinado de la malvada hechicera reina Bavmorda".

Yesterday in Madrid

Parque del Buen Retiro.

La Puerta de Alcala.

New Years

New Years Eve, on our way home from our local Metro stop, we came across Madrid's annual marathon. It's called the Carrera de San Silvestre, and part of the route runs down the Calle Ciudad de Barcelona.

In order to avoid getting in anyone's way, we had to time our dash across the route to get to our apartment.

We had a nice dinner but forgot to buy grapes for the typical Spanish midnight rite. So we set out 12 orange wedges. One for each ring of the bell.

This is what old people do on New Years Eve. Those are indeed pajama bottoms.

We did, however, toast the New Year from our remote location. In the background you can see Puerta del Sol in all its splendor.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

ETA's First Victim since 2003

Carlos Alonso Palate's body was found in the ruins left by ETA's bomb at the Barajas airport. The 35 year old Ecuadoran citizen is the first person to be killed by ETA since May 30, 2003.

Another Ecuadoran, Diego Armando Estacio, 19 years old, was found dead under a pile of rubble.

It was one of ETA's biggest explosions of all time. 35 million euros of damage.