Tuesday, April 24, 2007

You Are What You Grow

So, we are packing up artwork and taping up the last boxes to be mailed back to the US. Uncle Pepe came over to say goodbye, and we gave him a copy of True Lies because he wants to show it to our distant relatives in Asturias. He seemed to think that they would get a real kick out of seeing a book by Sindo's son, since most of them have never been out of their farm village just above Cangas del Narcea. Pepe is quite a character.

It has been beautiful in Madrid this week. Spring is here, the sun is shining, and the breeze coming through the window smells very sweet indeed. The weekend we spent with the McMillers was one of the best ever. We did most of our favorite things with them (many of these for the last time): a walk in the Retiro, a pastry at Mallorca, a beer at a terraza, lunch at Cafe Oliver, lomo and pimiento sandwiches at our apartment for lunch, the Rastro on Sunday and churros con chocolate at the Chocolatería San Ginés right afterward. We even had a chance to watch the runners enjoying the 30th Madrid marathon just before digging into our healthy portions of fried dough and molten milk chocolate.

Now we are getting geared up for counter-counter-culture shock. Reading about the shootings at Virginia Tech has brought our attention to some of the more unsavory realities of life in the US. While the Senate discusses how to make universities safer, it strikes us: Why isn't anyone talking about gun control? There are crazy people all over the world--in Europe, Asia, and especially Canada (just kidding, Canada)--yet you rarely hear about shooting rampages like those that happen in the US. If a Spaniard loses it, he is more than likely to kill only one or two people and then himself. A kid in Virginia kills 32 people and no politician (on either side of the aisle) appears to have the guts to suggest that perhaps we should control access to automatic handguns and assault rifles. There will always be crazy people out there, but only our country makes it so easy for them to arm themselves to the teeth. (No anonymous comments, please!)

But then there is Michael Pollan, our new favorite food author. His articles in the New York Times have given us hope that, in spite of our national obsession with defending our right to blow each other away, perhaps someday we might look forward to having easy access to good food in the United States. Did anyone catch his piece in Sunday's magazine? Here are some excerpts from “You Are What You Grow,” an article on how the American farm bill is giving Americans more girth, and what we can do about it:

“A public-health researcher from Mars might legitimately wonder why a nation faced with what its surgeon general has called ‘an epidemic’ of obesity would at the same time be in the business of subsidizing the production of high-fructose corn syrup.” HFC is one of the main culprits in making Americans as unhealthy as they are. And it's found in most processed food-like substances.

Pollan outlines how the farm bill has bad effects on children, especially those who depend on school lunches for their main meal of the day:

“The farm bill essentially treats our children as a human Disposall for all the unhealthful calories that the farm bill has encouraged American farmers to overproduce.”

And the farm bill’s effects on immigration are clear:

“To speak of the farm bill’s influence on the American food system does not begin to describe its full impact — on the environment, on global poverty, even on immigration. By making it possible for American farmers to sell their crops abroad for considerably less than it costs to grow them, the farm bill helps determine the price of corn in Mexico and the price of cotton in Nigeria and therefore whether farmers in those places will survive or be forced off the land, to migrate to the cities — or to the United States. The flow of immigrants north from Mexico since Nafta is inextricably linked to the flow of American corn in the opposite direction, a flood of subsidized grain that the Mexican government estimates has thrown two million Mexican farmers and other agricultural workers off the land since the mid-90s. (More recently, the ethanol boom has led to a spike in corn prices that has left that country reeling from soaring tortilla prices; linking its corn economy to ours has been an unalloyed disaster for Mexico’s eaters as well as its farmers.) You can’t fully comprehend the pressures driving immigration without comprehending what U.S. agricultural policy is doing to rural agriculture in Mexico.”

Not to mention effects on the American landscape and environment. So what can we do to reform this terrible-once-every-five-years piece of legislation? Start voting, not just with your mouth (you know, buying organic, avoiding Doritos), but also by actually voting. The farm bill isn't just about farmers, it's about food. And eaters should take food seriously. We are all eaters. Isn't it time?

Friday, April 20, 2007

Architecture Review: Calatrava

Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava is going to change the Chicago skyline with his skyscraper called "Spire," which will measure 610 meters and 115 floors. It will be the tallest building in the United States, says El Pais.

Perhaps you have seen the Ciudad de las Ates y de las Ciencias in Valencia, designed by Calatrava and inaugurated in 1998? We did on Monday. It's quite impressive. So impressive that we searched Google Images for pictures to share with our loyal blog readers. Here they are:

Inn't the innernets grand?

Madrid Update

So we just got back from our lightning trip to Valencia. Took the Renfe Alaris, preferente class. It was nice--we got breakfast on the way there, and dinner on the way back. Checked out the study abroad program and we were positively impressed--and it wasn't just the kingly treatment of the staff or the delicious paellas we ate.

Let's see. What has happened in Madrid lately? Mary left last Tuesday morning, which was sad. We enjoyed having her here, and couldn't help but think about how fun it would have been if she had still been living here this year.

We had a very nice time with Alena and Chrissy, too. They left last Sunday morning, at the crack of dawn. It was great to see some friendly faces from home.

We started packing up our things in preparation for our withdrawal from Madrid on the 27th. We have mailed ten boxes of books and DVDs to SB.

Last Thursday night we watched "Cara a cara," which is the Spanish translation of Face/Off, the film that didn't damage Nicholas Cage and John Travolta's reputation nearly enough. Even dubbing couldn't save that movie. But for some reason, S stayed up late to see how it turned out.

Last Friday we had dinner at Dani and Yoli's house. We brought pollo al ajillo with us, and they provided the fresh strawberries for dessert. Marco, who starred in our blog of September 11, 2006, is getting bigger, and he is looking more and more handsome.

Plaza del Oriente.

Ask us about that dude in the background sometime.

The Atocha turtles.

Gran Via.

The elevator in our apartment building.

Our friends at the Museo Reina Sofia.

Cañas at Cervecería Santa Ana.

The ancient Egyptian ruins near Plaza de España.

Mary's apartment in Chueca.

Maceira with M and J. Note delicious pulpo a la gallega in the foreground.

And right now, we are enjoying the company of our college/Portland friends, B and A. They look great, and it is great to be able to spend some time with them. As soon as the plumbers fix our hot water heater this morning, we are going to get out of here and go meet them for Fun Madrid Time.

Oh, by the way: last night we had dinner at Maceira--totally stole that restaurant idea from Mary. So good.

Amagomundi in Ohio

“Let me put it to you this way,” Amagomundi said. “When it’s all said and done, when [we] head back home — which at this moment will be South Bend, Ind. — I will get there and look in the mirror, and I will say, ‘I came with a set of principles and I didn’t try to change my principles to make me popular.’ ”

We are still going to get the job done in Madrid, but we have set a pull out date of April 27th.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Tout Va Bien

At the Centre Pompidou during our trip to Paris in March. It seems like so long ago.

And a photo taken during the last stage of a memorable meal we had at Le Petit Marché, 9 rue de Béarn. Particularly noteworthy was the bottle of Regnard Bourgogne that S and B shared. We wish we had written down more details about that wine. (It must have been a pinot noir, but we only say that because we just found a pinot noir by that name at finewinehouse.com. And now that we think about it, the wine had the light body that we generally associate with a pinot noir, with hints of... whoah. Is this the most boring parenthetical statement ever?) The wine was very good. A had rumsteak, B had a very fishy-tasting rouget, Sindo had a delicious coquelet, and S had an agneau that was so good he wishes he could have it again this Sunday.

(Photo credit: Raucous but friendly British couples sitting at the table next to us.)

Yesterday in Madrid

Yesterday in Madrid it was absolutely perfect. A little chilly, but with puffy high clouds, a light breeze and the terrific light you seem to only get in Spain.

Today it's Holy Thursday it's cloudy and cold. We had to have pasta for lunch because we didn't plan on everything being closed. We were going to have pollo al ajillo, but instead we invented a vegetable pasta using whatever was left over in the fridge and pantry. It tasted pretty good with the grated parmesan cheese that La Doge brought us when she came to visit us from Venice.

Mary is visiting us this week and it's been great to have her here. We were sorry we couldn't feed her our famous pollo al ajillo today. Maybe we can do that on Holy Saturday. Or Holy Friday if we can find any stores that are open.

Some of our readers have been anxious to get a sneak peak at Ron Mueck's sculptures that are being exhibited at the Centro de Arte Contemporáneo in Málaga. The man that you can see in the background has been added for scale.

"A Girl." Mueck's work will be at the CACM until June 17, 2007.