Tablao Villa-Rosa Flamenco Show in Madrid

Last week I enjoyed a wonderful flamenco show in Madrid at the Tablao Villa Rosa. Anyone who knows “MadridMan” knows he loves flamenco and this tablao is definitely one of the best – if not the best – with regards to price, location, decoration, and quality of performers.

Madrid Flamenco Tablao Villa-Rosa Cast Stage 2013

I’ve watched flamenco performed in just about all of Madrid’s tablaos, and in most of those more than once, but this was my 3rd visit to this amazing flamenco tablao. (I also wrote about the Tablao Villa-Rosa last July) This historic tablao is perfectly located in the northwestern corner of Madrid’s Plaza Santa Ana. If you’ve been to Madrid before you’ve certainly noticed the façade’s beautifully hand-painted tiles portraying scenes in Madrid and Spain.

Tuesday night’s flamenco show started at 9:30pm, but we arrived at 9am and were seated right next to the stage. What luck! Great views from beginning to end. It should be mentioned that photos are permitted to be taken but not video. If they see you recording video, they’ll kindly ask you to stop. This is typical in most tablaos.

Madrid Flamenco Tablao Villa-Rosa Tamar Gonzalez 2013

The stage performers included one guitarist, one singer, and three dancers. Other flamenco tablaos will charge twice as much, but will give you twice the number of performers, too, and the shows last twice as long. So for those wanting an excellent taste of flamenco at half the price, the Tablao Villa Rosa is a great place to see it.

The two female flamenco dancers were Tamar González and Guadalupe Torres while the one male flamenco dancer was Marco Flores. The ladies were impressive, professional talents, to say the least. Their dances started slow and built to incredible velocity and ferocity.

Madrid Flamenco Tablao Villa-Rosa Marco Flores 2103

I must admit I didn’t know what to expect from Marco Flores, however. He is very tall and very thin – not your stereotypical macho male, pony-tail sporting male flamenco dancer. But, my-oh-my, was he incredible!! In fact, his performance inspired more than one person in the audience, including me, to rise to his feet to applaud.

Funny thing about flamenco and dance appreciation, those not familiar with it may watch with ambivalent curiosity. In fact, a lot of those at the tablao were virtually stone-faced towards the beginning fo the show. But by the end, however, most all were visibly moved, inspired, many smiling in utter amazement.

With time and experience, I’m creating quite a personal list of “Go-To Places” in Madrid. You know, the places you can count on to treat you well, feed you well, entertain you well, and have a good price-quality ratio, too. The Villa-Rosa is fast becoming my “Go-To” flamenco tablao in Madrid.

Video: Marco Torres dancing flamenco in Villa-Rosa:

 
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2012 Spain Christmas Lottery – El Gordo

It’s that time of year again.  “El Sorteo de Navidad“, Spain’s Christmas Lottery,  and “El Gordo“, is upon us – which, frankly, makes it a bit hard to breathe. (ba-dum-dum!) It’s hard to breathe because the lottery is on everyone’s lips and constantly in the news, probably this year more than most.

While some people are spending less on lottery tickets because of Spain’s economic crisis, others are spending more on lottery tickets with hopes that they’ll be whisked away on a magic carpet ride to fortune.

A couple days ago I was in Puerta del Sol to buy my “décimos” at the famed “Doña Manolita” lottery locale on the Calle del Carmen. This lottery stand has existed since 1904, albeit not in the same location. For this reason, it has been the seller of more winning lottery tickets than any other – and so it’s considered lucky.

Question: But what did I find at “Doña Manolita“?

Answer: A line about 100 meters long and lasting about 45-60 minutes.

Needless to say, I didn’t wait in line. A LOT of people DO stand in line for hours and hours, particularly on the FIRST day the “El Gordo” Christmas Lottery Tickets are sold, in order to garner the tickets with the MOST luck. Ooooookay! (see below 2011 video of the 250+ meter line to buy Christmas Lottery Tickets at “Doña Manolita“)

 

Instead, I bought mine at my neighborhood lottery stand where there was absolutely no line and, in my opinion, has exactly the same “luck” as any other lottery stand. But “luck” has no logic. (yeah, I just made that up. Call me Confucius)

The price for each individual ticket is 20 Euros. It does sound like a lot, right? (particularly for what little you win!) Each ticket represents one-tenth of the series. Each series has 10 tickets and the 5 numbers on each of those 10 tickets are identical. If you match those 5 numbers in order, you win one-tenth of the total winnings for that number. If you possess all 10-tickets in that series and your number comes up, you win the whole prize. “El Gordo” – “The Fat One” – is the TOP prize of all.

The “prize” depends on a random selection of 85,000 wooden balls which roll out of a huge tumbler and also nearly 2,000 wooden balls which roll out of a smaller tumbler. The smaller tumbler balls determines the amount of money won by the 5-balls which roll out of the big tumbler. Confused?

The single big lottery prize is minuscule compared to any bi-weekly, USA state lottery. But, they say, the total payout of thousands of individual prizes is far greater. The most I’ve won was about 120 Euros for matching 3 of the five numbers. But since I’d spent 100 Euros in (5) tickets, I actually lost money – lost money because I’d “gifted” any possible winnings with a number of friends, something I’ll do this year, too – but buying fewer tickets.

Still, the big lottery is fun to look forward to, fun to do, and fun to talk about “what if” you win with friends. The winnings of nearly any prize won’t afford anyone to retire, but might buy a new house or a nice vacation.

The lottery drawing begins at 8am on 22 December, when a pair of uniformed school children (from the elementary school “El Colegio de San Ildefonso”) sing-out the numbered balls tumbling out of the tumblers. (see 2011 video below) It’s quite a spectacle, one I look forward to every year. WISH ME LUCK!!

 

Watch live online at: http://www.rtve.es/sorteos/loteria-navidad/directo/

Check lottery ticket numbers at: http://www.elgordo.com/

Previous blog entries about Spain’s Christmas Lottery for 2007, 2008, 2009.

 
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Permanent Residency in Spain with Home Purchase

“SALE: Buy a House in Spain and Get Permanent Residency for Free!

**UPDATE: Read the 5 July 2013 entry, “UPDATE: Spanish Residency with Home Purchase” for more information.**

I can hardly believe it myself. Today, Trade Ministry secretary Jaime García-Legaz announced a plan to offer PERMANT RESIDENCY in Spain with the purchase of a home over 160,000 Euros. Wow! That’s not a bad price for all those foreigners pining to live and work legally in Spain.

Although the plan has yet to be approved, it is expected to happen in the coming weeks. Primer Minister Mariano Rajoy said just today, Monday, “We need to sell these homes“, referring to the more than 700,000 unsold homes following the 2008 real estate collapse, in order to help revive the construction industry.

Sadly, thousands of homeowners have been evicted, unable to pay their mortgages. Even more shocking is that some homeowners have committed suicide due to foreclosures – one, very publicly, a woman threw herself off her 2nd story balcony as police were at her door, attempting to serve her the eviction notice.

Shocking to Americans, in Spain when you lose your home due to foreclosure, although the bank takes possession of the property, the (former) owner must STILL pay the balance of the loan unless and until they die. And forget about getting any future home loans. You’re red-flagged forever.

So one person’s/country’s misfortune could become the good fortune for someone abroad – with 160,000€ to blow – wishing to make their dream a relatively-cheap-and-easy reality to live and work legally in Spain.

Gaining Spanish Residency also means losing your home-country residency, although you’d maintain your citizenship. No big deal there unless you plan to return to your home country in the near future. One idea may be to buy the property, live and work legally in Spain with the granted residency for a period of time, then sell the property and return “home”.

Sure, there are both pros and cons to living in Spain. The economy is terrible. Finding meaningful work at a living wage is nearly impossible these days. (even before collapse!) And the taxes are high and getting higher. But… the food is great and the wine is better. The people are warm and wonderful for the most part. The history is second to none. And The culture is both stimulating and (sometimes) frustrating for its differences to our own. All things considered, I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

 
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Only American in my Madrid Neighborhood-Until Now

Seven years I’ve been living in the same working-class neighborhood in Madrid, Spain. For the first six years I have somewhat proudly proclaimed myself as “The American of the Neighborhood“, never finding evidence to refute this. Times change.

No, I don’t hang the American flag from my balcony nor do I play American music so loud so the entire neighborhood can hear it. Nor do I ask merchants, ‘Excuse me, do you speak English?‘. That’s just silly. In fact, I don’t want ANYONE to know I’m American. They can already figure out I’m not Spanish by my ‘look’ and accent/vocabulary so if they’re curious enough, they can ask and I’ll tell them. A few have asked, too, and don’t treat me differently upon hearing the answer.

Local shopkeepers, about which I wrote in my “Feels Like Home When Merchants Know Your Name” blog post, have told me on one or two occasions that they think someone else from my country lives in the area. Not surprisingly, Spaniards sometimes confuse Americans with Brits with Irish with Australians and even with Germans because we really do look a lot alike. I have heard a small handful of people, maybe 4 or 5, speaking English around the neighborhood, but they’ve all been British – which is ALSO surprising to find here.

In the last year I discovered one of my neighbors, living within a literal stone’s-throw from me, is (likely) from the United States and about my age, maybe a little younger. No, I haven’t spoken with him yet, but I’ve heard him speak in perfect American English on his mobile phone and even sing classic American English-language songs from a distance. Sure, he could also be Canadian, I guess, but that’s even less likely.

Needless to say, I don’t suffer from The Ugly American Syndrome and have made every effort to assimilate myself into the Spanish social culture. My interactions with Americans only take place online and I don’t have a single face-to-face American friend in Madrid. That’s mostly by design. But don’t misunderstand. I’m not at all anti-American.  I’m just pro-Spanish.

I must say that something about his presence does make me feel a bit different, not so special or unique anymore. I know many readers will encourage me to introduce myself, make a new friend, and share our common stories and experiences, but I’m resistant to this idea. I’m afraid to open that door. It could seriously change the dynamic of my Spanish experience and lifestyle, one I love so dearly.

I’m a true believer that one should “Stand In The Place Where You Live” (lyric from the R.E.M. song, “Stand“). Sure, I pined to live in Madrid for many years from Ohio, USA, but now that I’m here, I’m perfectly happy.

 
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Madrid Flamenco Tablao Villa-Rosa

Everyone knows MadridMan LOVES flamenco dance & music. So Friday night was special as it was my first visit to Madrid’s Flamenco Tablao Villa-Rosa, located on the northwestern corner of the Plaza Santa Ana, the building’s ground floor façade has beautifully hand-panted tiles (from 1915-1920) depicting different landmarks in Madrid and Andalucía, Spain.

I’ve witnessed flamenco dance in just about every tablao in Madrid so I consider myself a bit of a critic. I’m not an expert, mind you, but I can spot good flamenco dancing when I see it – and Friday night’s performance did not disappoint. A “tablao” is the venue at which flamenco is typically witnessed – and Madrid has many.

What’s Old Becomes New Again!

The Villa Rosa has a long history, dating back to 1911, but was closed in 1960 for many years. It later reopened as a discotheque and had a re-birth during Madrid’s and Spain’s “La Movida” years. It was closed once again and remained that way (except for special events) until 2011 when it re-opened as a flamenco tablao. As a discotheque in the ’80s, the same wall paintings, beautiful ceiling and Arabic arches were present. Imagine dancing there when it was a discotheque!

Passing by the Villa-Rosa earlier in the day I stopped in to make 9pm reservations just in case. And thank goodness we did. Upon arriving at the doorman’s suggested 8:30pm time, we were seated immediately one table away from the stage. By our good/bad luck, that same night was attended by a tour group of about 40 teenage girls, seated directly in front of the stage and the venue became VERY loud with their pre-show chatter.

The performance started promptly at 9pm with a guitar-singing number. Within 10-minutes the first dancer stood up to dance, lasting 10-15 minutes. Three dancers danced, finished by the male dancer – a true artist in his profession. The show was capped-off by a brief group-dance before leaving the stage at about 10:05pm to much applause of the crowd.

After the show, the dancers waited around near the exit where many people had their photos taken with them, including someone from my group. We weren’t rushed to pay quickly and many people stayed to chat while finishing their drinks. The evening was a wonderful experience at a place I can confidently recommend.

The Tablao Villa-Rosa has a formula which is obviously successful. Their location is excellent in the northwest corner of the well-known and easy-to-find Plaza Santa Ana, about 200 meters from the Puerta del Sol. They offer a shorter show than the other tablaos – 1 hour versus 2-2.5 hours. They offer a show at about half the price of other tablaos. Their venue is probably the most beautiful tablao I’ve ever seen – ANYWHERE. And their stage-performers – albeit fewer than at other flamenco shows – are true professionals. In short, the Villa-Rosa is well-located, has shorter shows, is cheaper, and employs professional dancers. For tourists looking for a good-taste of flamenco, this is a wonderful choice.

  • Prices: Prices are about half that of other flamenco tablaos.
  • Show: 3 dancers (2 female+1 male), 1 singer, 1 guitar player.
  • Times: 9pm, 11:15pm, each show lasts about 1 hour.

A final note: recording video of the dancers/performers at Villa-Rosa is not permitted.

Link: 2013 January blog, “Tablao Villa-Rosa Flamenco in Madrid

 
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Madrid Stores Can Stay Open 24/7/365

The USA Shopping Experience comes to Madrid! Want to buy your groceries at 3am? Now you can do it. Want to get new shoes on a Sunday evening? Now you can do it. Want to shop for new furniture at midnight? Now you can do it. Want to pick up your dry-cleaning at 7am before work? Now you can do it. But WHERE can you do it? So far, almost nowhere, but that could change soon.

It seems the market(s) is taking a wait-and-see attitude toward the Comunidad de Madrid‘s new law allowing stores to stay open 24-hour hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year which went into effect on 14 July 2012. The idea is to increase consumerism, create employment, and buoy the economy, of course. But with more and more people being laid-off/fired, salaries of the fortunately-employed reduced, and the recent and drastic rise in the IVA tax, who’s going to shop MORE? The well-to-do will shop more, I guess, but not many others. They average person will, however, alter their shopping habits.

This new act will definitely benefit the big chain stores as they’ll be able to afford the added operational costs for lighting, air conditioning, heating, and (maybe) added man-hours. But as many retail employees are paid monthly, they may well be working more hours, but not compensated for them.

The new Always-Open option will also put small shops at risk. In many cases, these small shops are operated by only one employee or is the owner him/herself like at shoe-repair shops, dress shops, butcher shops, florists, shops, and so on. These people aren’t going to work 7-days a week and they’re not likely to hire more personnel to do it, either. It’s just not feasible for them. If people spend their week’s allowance at the always-open shops the smaller shops will eventually close as they cannot compete.

There’s an old saying among Spaniards which goes, “We work to live. We don’t live to work.” Spaniards cherish their free time; time for holidays, time with families, time to have drinks outdoors with friends. For Spaniards, closing their shops for an entire month in summer is a sacred right and (most) everyone respects that right. Sure, it’s inconvenient consumers for a few weeks, but that’s the way it goes.

Closing the Mom-and-Pop shops will cause a serious social shift as well. Earlier this year I wrote, “Feels Like Home when Merchants Know Your Name“, where I waxed poetic about how nice it was to interact with the neighborhood shopkeepers, they knew my face, my history, and some knew me by name. I asked about their families and they asked about mine, never too busy to chat while preparing my meat, fish, fruit, chicken, or olives purchase. It’d be a shame to trade this rich, social interaction for a more superficial supermarket or mall-experience with teen-aged employees.

For tourists visiting Madrid for only a few days, it’s a fantastic opportunity – and maybe it’s at that sector this new law is being aimed. Before, nearly all stores closed at 2pm on Saturdays and did not open on Sundays. There, I can see tourist revenue was lost.

Dare we trade culture for sterile consumerism? The corporations, economists, and maybe even the consumers would say yes. Is it possible to maintain both or does one destroy the other? During times of crisis is often when advantage is taken of the people and sometimes it’s hard for us to see the forest for the trees. It’d be a shame to become so homogenized into the world that Spain could be Norway as easily as it could be Canada. That’s not likely to happen in our lifetimes, no, but we it sometimes seems we’re headed that way.

 
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Original Version Movies at Cines Princesa in Madrid

There are a small few cinemas in Madrid which show foreign movies in their original form. Thankfully, 2 of them are in downtown Madrid; Cine Ideal near Puerta del Sol and Cines Princesa/Cines Renoir near Plaza de España.

In 2008, I wrote about Madrid’s Cine Ideal, which shows Original Version movies, mostly the Hollywood kind. Today I’m writing about one of the OTHER Madrid cinemas/theaters which also shows “V.O.S.” (Versión Original Subtitulada – Subtitled Original Version) movies, called Cines Princesa/Cines Renoir near the Plaza de España.

Cines Renoir is actually part of a group of cinemas which show original version movies in Spain, but 5 are here in Madrid and 2 of them are in the same movie complex just one block north of the Plaza de España. One of those two is Cines Princesa. Specifically, this cinema faces the Plaza de los Cubos at Calle de la Princesa, 3, home to Starbucks, VIPs, Nebraska, Burger King, and various other bars, restaurants, and cafés.

Cines Princesa shows a few more Hollywood movies than Spanish/Foreign movies while the two Cines Renoir cinemas tend to show more International/Spanish films than American films, most often are the award-winning/nominated type. The American movies are always shown with Spanish subtitles at the bottom, but there are also showings of some of these films dubbed in Spanish. Just be sure you know which one you’re seeing before buying your ticket.

While I like both Cine Ideal and Cines Princesa equally, I go more often to the latter simply because my bus stops just a couple blocks away from the Plaza de España. The viewing rooms, “Salas” in Spanish, are many, but some are not much bigger than a large garage. This is a turn-off for many, but once the movie starts you don’t even notice. The larger, more popular movies area always shown – at least at the beginning of its hype – in the larger “salas“. Cines Princesa also has a concession stand with pretty affordable (affordable as compared to USA prices) popcorn and soda/pop snacks. The largest popcorn box costs 3.95 Euros, I think.

Weekend tickets cost 8 Euros while weekday tickets (regardless of show time) cost 7.50 Euros – EXCEPT ON MONDAYS. Mondays, just like at Cine Ideal, is “Moviegoer Day” (“Día del Espectador“) and all tickets cost just 5.60 Euros. Add a big-box of popcorn and you’ve got a movie+popcorn for under 10 Euros! That’s a good deal. (IMPORTANT NOTE: These prices are accurate as of today, 26 July 2012. A recent – and significant – rise in the IVA tax will likely raise ticket prices soon, too)

The ticket sales for Cinesa Princesa and the concession stand lobby are at street level, but all the “salas“/cinemas/viewing rooms are down about 15 steps downstairs with no elevators. There are also several below-ground restroom areas, too. The seats are comfortable, new, but not with the super-high-backs you sometimes see in modern USA movie theaters. All seats have a cup-holder at your knee-location.

In this complex you’ll also find two separate Cines Renoir cinemas; one below ground (actually BELOW the Starbucks Coffee shop) and another on the backside of the building at street level on Calle Martín de los Heros, 12. The former of the two (shown above) has a small concession stand, but the latter (a right) has not.

First showings for all these cinemas (including the aforementioned Cine Ideal) during weekdays is usually 4pm. If you plan to get popcorn for the first day’s showing you may arrive to an empty popcorn machine until the concession stand workers get started. That can be frustrating. Also at first weekday showings, the individual “salas” can be quite warm until they turn on the air conditioning. Sometimes, I think, they either forget or not compelled to do so with only 2-10 people at the 4pm weekday showings. Bring a hand-held fan or prepare to complain to management. This has happened to me on more than a few occasions.

Finally, there’s one last cinema/movie-theater in this complex of movie theaters, but it’s not associated with Cines Renoir – as far as I can tell. It’s the Cines Golem, located 30 meters to the LEFT of the outdoor Cines Renoir (photo above-right) at Calle Martín de los Heros, 14. Here, they play only Spanish and international films, almost all are the “Art Film” types, winners/nominees of this-or-that-award.

Madrid has a good number of Original Version Movie theaters and the prices are very reasonable, I think, for a big city like Madrid. Sound and video quality is always excellent, too. Do what I do and catch that first 4pm showing, if possible, and you’ll have the movie theater (practically) all to yourself.

 
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15 Year Anniversary for MadridMan.com

MadridMan's 15-Year Anniversary on the Internet in 2012Today, 20 July 2012, is MadridMan.com‘s 15-Year Anniversary. MadridMan.com is now a maturing teenager, but still has a lot of growing up to do. JUST WAIT until he gets into his 20s!

The domain name was registered on this date 15-years ago, but “MadridMan” was actually born “without papers” about 10 months earlier in 1996. At that time, “MadridMan’s Yankee Home Page” was hosted for free on a GeoCities website at dawn of the Internet. It didn’t haven much success until “MadridMan” spawned his own DotCom. In 1997, domain names were expensive. I remember it cost $200 for a 2-year registration period. Imagine that. Now they cost about $11 a year.

GeoCities (now defunct), where the website was originally hosted for free, was the place where “MadridMan” was created to combine my passion for computers (hardware and software), the blossoming Internet, travel, and to share my new love for Madrid, Spain which I’d visited just 5 months earlier. It was also created as a learning tool to better educate myself about Madrid and Spain, its customs and culture, and its people and places. “Everybody needs a hobby,” is one of my favorite sayings. And this hobby became mine at a time when I really needed one. Life had its challenges for me then. And that’s where it all came together to give me what I have now, 15-years later, a dream-come-true-life in Madrid, Spain, being my own boss and making a living at it, too!

MadridMan has given me everything I have today – apart from family, of course. It gave me a bunch of wonderful new friends from Spain, England, and many other countries. It opened my eyes and mind about other cultures, political views, and other ways of living.  It gives me an income – albeit not a fixed/reliable one as I’m “Autónomo” (self-employed). It allows me the flexibility to work-and-play at my own schedule. And, best of all, it afforded me the opportunity to live in Madrid, Spain.

MadridMan Celebrates his 15-Year Anniversary 20 July 2012MadridMan” should also acknowledge “that guy behind the curtain” which worked a 9-hour day and came home to work another 9-hours, plus weekends, developing the website and adding information in those initial developmental years. And Thank You, “MadridMan“! That-guy-behind-MadridMan couldn’t be more grateful. (Don’t worry, I’m not having a psychological identity crisis, keeping the two separate)

And finally, OF COURSE, whom do I have to thank for reaching this mild milestone? Of course, the visitors to MadridMan.com!!! THANK YOU ALL SO MUCH!!!!!!! Without you, those reading this right now and those which came before you, NONE of this would’ve been possible. Without Internet traffic there is no way to exist or to thrive. Sure, MadridMan.com IS a now part of my business, but it’ll always be my most-loved hobby, too.

Happy 15-Year Anniversary, MadridMan.com!!!

 
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Madrid Party with MadridMan 4th of July 2012

You heard me! Let’s Party with MadridMan in Madrid once again! This time on America’s Independence day, the 4th of July!

When: 4th of July, 2012, 8pm

Where: El Brillante Bar, Glorieta de Carlos V – a.k.a. “Plaza de Atocha”, on the ground floor of the Hotel Mediodia, on the backside terraza facing the backside of the Reina Sofia Museum.

Why: It’s the 4th of July so let’s us Americans (Expats, students, and transplants) celebrate in fine style.

Who: Americans, Spaniards, and ANY human in Madrid wishing to share a good ol’ time, speaking in English, Spanish, or wha’evar’!

What: Beer, typical Spanish raciones, especially the bars world-famous “Bocadillos de Calamares”!!

How Much: Pay for what you eat & drink. Don’t worry, it’s not at all expensive.

“MadridMan”: your host

This will be the umteenth edition of our “Party with MadridMan in Madrid”. Sometimes we have small turn-outs, but oftentimes we have 15-30 people. Some are students. Some are visitors on vacation. Some are Spaniards wishing to practice their English. In any case, we always have a good time.

Follow the discussion about the Party with MadridMan on our ALL SPAIN Message Board.

Photos below of our last Party with MadridMan on the terraza of El Brillante:

 
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Madrid Tio Pepe Sign Will Find New Home in Puerta del Sol

News that the famous, HISTORIC, landmark, neon Tío Pepe sign, synonymous with Madrid’s Puerta del Sol as much as the “Oso y el Madroño” statue, won’t return to the address Puerta del Sol, 1, causes nothing but discomfort in one’s heart and mind. “How can they do this?” we ask.

“Tío Pepe”, the sombrero-wearing, guitar-toting bottle, went on “holiday” in April 2011, reportedly only for a few months while the building was being renovated for the new tenants, the new APPLE STORE. It seems the Jerez-based bodega González Byass wasn’t aware, until now, their contract with the building’s owners,  Mexican family Díaz Estrada, wouldn’t be renewing their contract at the end of this month. Bet that was a shock!

The neon Uncle Pepe sign was hoisted atop the building in 1936 and hasn’t been removed for any reason since – although not for lack of trying. Several Madrid mayors have tried to “knock down” Puerta del Sol’s favorite Uncle, but failed for lack of funds and public outcry.

The bodega intends to find another rooftop in the same Puerta del Sol once again. That shouldn’t be too hard, I wouldn’t think, given the economic climate these days. I’d imagine any building’s owners would love to have that extra income – AND to be shown in all future postcards. While I’d like to see the building housing La Mallorquina pastry shop get it (on the Puerta del Sol’s west end) I don’t think the building’s wide enough for the sign. This way Tío Pepe could face-off with the BIG APPLE on the east end of the same plaza. (that’s not a battle I’d like to watch because the richest always win at everything)

Just before the sign was lowered in April 2011 there was a flood of articles about how it would be restored to its former glory, down for “just a few months while completing the building’s renovation“. “The sign goes with the building,” we were told, and all parties were in agreement. As it turns out, there allegedly was no intention to return the sign and, allegedly, the city and APPLE new about it. Again, ALLEGEDLY. The story goes, now, that this, allegedly, was the agreement between the building’s owner and the new tenants from the beginning.

You’ve got to wonder, if we’d all known this before the sign was removed, what kind of “movement” would’ve taken place to deter it. I mean, let’s face it, it is just an advertisement by a rich Spanish (so far) company. Should we care? Does its removal change our quality of living in some way?

Apple knows good-and-well that the famous Tío Pepe sign has been viewed by billions of eyes from direct visitors to the Puerta del Sol, in video clips, travel photos, websites, and countless postcards. Remove Tío Pepe, put a big bitten APPLE atop that building and you achieve any company’s perfect marketing scenario. And WE, the public, do the advertising for them! How could it get any better for APPLE?

You may share your, support, rejection, comments, concerns and memories here on this blog posting as well as on the Puerta del Sol Facebook page at http://Facebook.com/PuertaDelSolMadrid and also on MadridMan’s ALL SPAIN Message Board in this thread.

 
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2012 San Isidro Festival in Madrid’s Pradera de San Isidro

Today, 15th of May 2012, is Madrid’s Patron Saint’s Day, San Isidro Labrador. It’s Madrid’s most “Castizo” day of the year with festival events throughout the city including concerts in “Las Vistillas”, a month long bullfight festival in the Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas, and period costumes, dances, and food in the Pradera de San Isidro.

Yesterday morning and this morning I went to Madrid’s Pradera de San Isidro – which is just in the adjacent neighborhood to where I live, not a 20-minute walk away. Today was hot, however, but not as hot as yesterday, I don’t think, probably ‘only’ reaching 85ºF/29ºC. But it’s a dry heat, right?

There’s LOTS to see, do, and eat in the Pradera de San Isidro. When you go, remember to take your patience, first and foremost. The Pradera is FULL of people walking in all directions while looking at a 90º angle to which they’re walking. Imagine a big State Fair in the USA and that’s what it’s like. Imagine some of those same people pushing baby strollers as if it were a snow-plow without brakes. You get the idea.

Protect yourself from the scorching Madrid sun. Take a hat or an umbrella or a handkerchief or make  a paper hat out of the day’s newspaper because it’s hot and there’s little shade on the main strip. Beware of umbrella-carrying people pushing strollers and looking at a 90º angle to which they’re walking.

COSTUMES:

I LOVE seeing people, very young and very old, wearing period costumes from the late 1700s and early 1800s. There are “Chulapos” & “Chulapas” as well as the “Goyesca” costumes. I prefer the more common-man “Chulapo” costume to the somewhat upper-class “Goyesca” ones, though. The cutest of the cute are the little boys and girls in costumes.

RELIGION:

During the San Isidro Festival, one can visit the “Ermita del Santo” in the Pradera de San Isidro. I went the day BEFORE San Isidro, the 14th, and could walk directly into the Hermitage without waiting.

This same day, the 14th, I was also able to drink from the fountain of the aforementioned “Ermita del Santo”, which, as legend has it, its water has “healing powers”. I don’t know about that, but it did smell a bit odd, but not better or worse than the “hard” well-water I grew up on in rural Ohio. I did notice, however, that the glasses from which were were drinking were simply re-filled for the next person and not washed first. This, I noticed, AFTER drinking from the water glass. Hmmm…

The next day, today, the 15th and Madrid’s Patron Saint’s Day, the line for the “Ermita” was half-way down the hill and the line to drink the water went alllll the way down the hill, possibly spanning 400 meters.

At noon, the Catholic Mass started – and lasted about an hour. This takes place in the open-air, under the sun, and at the mid-point of the Pradera de San Isidro, essentially dividing the bars, restaurants and gaming stands in the upper portion from the sweets, “Ermita del Santo”, and “Castizo” dances in the lower portion. I have to wonder if it was logistically planned this way, dividing the “sinful” area from the puritan area. But no, surely not, this was just the flattest portion of the hill on which to install several hundred chairs and a stage.

FOOD:

There is ABSOLUTELY NO SHORTAGE of food at this festival. A LOT of meats are consumed here, be it rabbit, ribs, suckling pig, chicken, and sausages. AND the yummy fried foods like “chopitos“, “croquetas“, “patas bravas“, “calamares“, and “salmonetes“. And don’t forget the enormous paellas concocted here! Mmmm.. It makes me hungry just thinking about them. Most “stands” have the bar up-front at the street side and the restaurant tables in under shade tarps in the back. I’ve never eaten here, but have had one or two “Tinto de verano” drinks to cool off during the uphill, sun-drenched trek. Later, I had a headache.

Apart from the meal-type-foods, you also have the bread, cheese, and olive stands which serve you in to-go containers.

SWEETS:

Rosquillas“. They look like donuts, but they’re not, although they are fried batter in a circle with a hole in the middle and topped with flavored, hardened sugars and syrups. As opposed to donuts, these fried dough is usually drier, not as moist, oftentimes harder, too.

Rosquillas can be eaten on-the-go, of course, but are more commonly eaten for “merienda” or breakfast. This year I bought 2-dozen and finished them within 3-days. I had help, of course. Check out the mature “Chulapa” at the far right of the below photo, she’s obviously enjoying hers on-the-go. If you click the photo and look closely, you can see the crumbs on her lips. MMmm.. Gooood.

DANCE:

There’s no lack of dancing going on on the streets of the Pradera de San Isidro. Sometimes they dance “El Chotis” and othertimes they dance a “pasodoble”, but the “El Chotis” is the most typical for this festival. For the most part, the man stands still while the woman spins him around slowly. Hmm.. Sounds familiar, right? The woman does all the work while the man just stands there. See video below of “El Chotis”.


So another San Isidro has come and gone – apart from the bullfighting festival which lasts to mid-June or so, many of which will be televised, but the photos, videos, and memories will last us at least until next year.

Happy San Isidro Day, Madrileños! I’m awaiting your end-of-holiday fireworks at 12 midnight, which I’ll happily watch from our building’s rooftop terraza. Man, I love Madrid.

UPDATE: I’ve just come down from the rooftop terraza after watching a spectacular showing of 15-minutes of end-of-festival fireworks. A great show in the dead-of-night to end Madrid’s most “Castizo” of holidays. Until next year!

Also read all year’s accounts of the San Isidro Festival in Madrid with lots of information, insights, photos and videos:

San Isidro 2013, San Isidro 2012, San Isidro 2011, San Isidro 2010, San Isidro 2009, San Isidro 2008

 
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BIG Price Raise in Madrid Public Transportation

Starting 1 May 2012, end-users of Madrid’s Public Transportation System will feel the sting of the sharpest price raises in 10-years. This raise takes place at the same time as the prices of gasoline, electricity and natural gas go up while salaries go down, are frozen or jobs are lost altogether.

End-users of public transportation currently pay 39% of Madrid’s public transportation costs and the rest is was subsidized by the City and State. But due to Madrid’s and Spain’s transportation budget cuts for the city’s transportation system, 11% and 26% respectively, a price “modification” has been called necessary and riders will now pay more of their fair share.

The “modification” affects not only the metro & buses systems, but also the Madrid Airport Express Shuttle Bus, about which I have been singing their praises for the last year. This one-time economical alternative to a private taxi ride will raise prices from 2€ to a whopping 5€ per trip between the Madrid Airport and downtown Madrid. That’s brutal!

To make things more aggravating is the change in price-structure for metro trips. Since the beginning of time, you could ride ’round-and-’round a million times for the price of a single ticket. Starting 1 May 2012, the price-per-ride will depend on the number of stations you’ll pass.  1-5 metro stations will cost 1.50€. From 6-10 stations the price will be “variable” – whatever THAT means! 10+ stations will cost 2€. What fun it’ll be trying to figure this out – especially for the elderly which may not take the metro very often.

Contrary to (possible) popular belief, the Madrid Metro system and EMT bus systems are not the property of the City of Madrid. Theses are for-profit companies with strong ties to the city. But since subsidies were cut, they’ve raised prices, forcing riders to pay more of the actual cost-per-trip. This does sound fair, doesn’t it? It does to me. But such a fierce raise of 29% for the 10-trip ticket, for example? That’s like something throwing a bucket of cold water on you while you’re sleeping!

No one can do without public transportation – except the well-to-do, of course – so we’ll pay the price they ask. We have no alternative. That just means we’ll have less money for food, gas and electricity at the end of the month. It also means we’ll have less to spend on clothing, movie tickets, eating out, and lounging on outdoor terrace bars. This means those entities will then suffer, they’ll close their doors and/or lay-off more people. And spiraling down the drain we all go… We can have a protest march, sure, but we’ll be protesting against the for-profit entities which operate the public transportation systems. And as everyone knows, they have their bottom-lines to consider. Or, we could protest against the budget cuts made by the state. We’ve already done that – and with no positive result. A group of people can unite against a common cause, yes, but if your elected officials pay no attention, then what can you do? What choice do we have?

Sources: Madridiario, Metro de Madrid, EMT

 
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Palm Sunday Procession in Madrid 2012

Palm Sunday, or “Domingo de Ramos” in Spanish, is the first day of Holy Week (“Semana Santa”) processions throughout Spain. This afternoon I caught the “Cristo de la Fe y del Perdón” procession of the San Miguel Church in Madrid, located very near the Plaza de la Villa and the plaza at which I watched it pass at a snail’s pace along with maybe a thousand others.

It started at 7pm, slowly leaving through the front doors of the Iglesia de San Miguel and turning right, and entering the Plaza de la Villa at about 7:30pm, heading north and hugging the left side of the plaza and passing in front of Madrid’s former city hall.

First, entering the Plaza de la Villa were the dozens of Nazarenos, the masked, pointy-hooded, full-length-gown-wearing church members leading the procession. Next came Jesus Christ on the cross, stopping directly in front of the old City Hall’s front door for a rest, take photos, and to re-light some of the candles on this windy day.

Following the cross, came the “penitentes“, the penitent ones. After them came more Nazarenos, leading the arrival of the Virgin Mary – and there she came up the narrow street, entering Madrid’s Plaza de la Villa.

For me, this is the most emotional part of any Holy Week procession. I’m not really religious, but was raised going to church. Still, there’s something about seeing the Virgin Mary sitting on her thrown with that single tear falling from her eye, under her protective canopy, dozens of tall candles at her front and countless flowers on both sides, all with solemn march music by the band following her, which gets you just a bit choked-up.

The spectators, nearly totally Spanish, were respectful, but not as quiet or emotional as I’ve seen in Seville Holy Week processions. There, you frequently see people crying, holding their hearts in their hands, totally quiet apart from the occasional shout of “¡Guapa!” by an enthusiastic observer. I did hear this shouted once as she passed through the Plaza de la Villa, but apart from that, people chatted casually, children ran around with other children – if they weren’t atop their father’s shoulders, and it was more a spectacle than a religious ceremony. I’m glad I attended, just as I did for the 2009 Domingo de Ramos Procession, standing in nearly the same place, in fact.

From the Plaza de la Villa it crossed the Calle Mayor, through the Plaza de Ramales, through the Plaza de Oriente, through the Plaza de Isabel II (a.k.a. “Plaza de Opera”), then winding back south through the streets of Madrid de los Austrias through the Plaza de San Miguel (where the market, by the same name, is located), and back to its church, the Iglesia de San Miguel.

I didn’t follow behind this first day’s Madrid Holy Week Procession as many others did, but instead found myself in a stalemate pedestrian traffic jam to leave the plaza, everyone moving in different directions and no one getting anywhere. Seeing the the Calle Mayor was full ahead of me, I did a 180º turn and headed back through the Plaza de la Villa, walked by the old City Hall’s front doors, and walked down by the Iglesia de San Miguel to see its exit ramp constructed for the “pasos” or floats which had just left through these doors and passed by me shortly before.

All-in-all, these Spanish Holy Week Processions really are a stunning experience. The ancient culture, which is/was religion in Spain, and tradition still finds its way towards cohesion with modern days. And many Spaniards take these traditions VERY seriously, even though they may only be exercised once a year. Personally, I look forward to Holy Week in Spain. It not only means emotional “Procesiones de Semana Santa“, but also “TORRIJAS“, the syrupy fried bread desserts which are only available this time of year.


LINK: 2012 Madrid Procession List, Times, and Procession Routes

Also Read: “Madrid: Domingo de Ramos Procession 2009“.

 
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Spain’s General Labor Strike Today

Today is a General Labor Strike in Spain against labor reform. That’s not to say no one is going to work, but enough so you’d notice. Some small shops and restaurants are closed because they don’t have the personnel to stay open. Even the TV station, Telemadrid, stopped broadcasting.

Most of Spain’s public transportation is partially paralyzed, too, starting from midnight last night. Buses, metros, and regional trains (say they) are offering “Servicios Minimos” or “Minimum Services”. Many lines are only offering one or two bus and metro vehicles per line, causing longer-than-usual delays to go from Point A to Point B. I’ve just heard from a friend that her metro strain was almost empty at Madrid’s “rush hour” this morning, but had to wait 20+ minutes for it to arrive.

So what do these radical, leftist, dope-smoking hippy protesters want, anyway?!?! Answer: They’re angry over the soon-to-be-imposed deep budget cuts and labor reform. Those don’t sound like the reactions by someone who’s “high”, but what do I know. Unemployment is 23% and 50% among young people, both figures are expected to rise. The Labor Reform will make it cheaper and easier for companies to cut wages, lay off workers, and change working conditions by citing concerns over productivity. People observing the strike are demonstrating their necessity, their indispensability in the labor market, that without them, companies couldn’t operate and generate income.

Labor Strikes like this one usually only concern those on the left side of the political spectrum which include most of the labor unions and many Civil Servants. That’s not to suggest that all strikers are Communists, though. Not at all. The vast majority of these people are more akin to Democrats in the United States, but much more energetic, mobilized, and motivated. Many Spaniards, and many Europeans, are more interested in preserving workers rights.

Remember that song by The Beastie Boys, “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)“? There are those which might claim it incongruent that (some) people will fight for their right to party, but not fight for their right to sensible working conditions and fair wages. NO ONE wants to be earn a slave’s wage nor be anyone’s B*T*H. One can live pretty easily without partying, but without steady income and a stable job?

Many take all this very VERY seriously – and others do not, of course. All over Madrid you’ll find “29 MARZO HUELGA GENERAL” banners tied to the tops of highway bridge overpasses, stickers all over the metro stations, and even graffiti spray-painted on building walls. (image below) I’ve seen all of these things everywhere in Madrid in the past week or more. There’s no telling how many people will actually turn-out for today’s protest march from the Plaza de Neptuno to the Puerta del Sol, however, but the result may show the true labor climate in Spain. A large turn-out may suggest strong support, obviously, but a low turn-out may suggest people’s fear, indifference, or opposition to the Labor Reforms.

A budget expected on Friday is set to feature tens of billions of euros (dollars) in deficit-reduction measures. The cuts are designed to help Spain in its struggles to satisfy both the European Union and the international investors who determine the country’s borrowing costs in the international debt markets, and therefore have a lot of say in whether Spain will follow Greece, Ireland and Portugal in needing a bailout.” –EITB

 
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Langostinos – FAT Shrimp for Friday Night Dinner in Madrid

Growing up in the rural Ohio, USA, “America’s Heartland“, eating shrimp was a near-luxury, something you only got if you went to the Red Lobster family restaurant in the next town. If you went to “the big city”, however, you might order shrimp cocktail with spicy cocktail sauce. These “luxuries” usually cost quite a bit there, but here in Spain they’re relatively cheap – at least when you buy them at the local market.

One of the many things I love about Madrid and Spain is (muted drum-roll please) the food. Imagine how this small-town boy moves from the Midwest, USA to Madrid, Spain, Europe!?!? That’s a whole other continent, hemisphere, language!  And you may not be surprised to hear that they eat foods here which I’d only seen in old Hollywood horror movies and Jacques Cousteau documentaries.

Langostinos, or Prawns in English, belong to the genus Penaeus monodon, are crustaceans from 12-15 centimeters long and found throughout the world’s oceans. Langostinos and shrimp belong to distinct suborders of Decapoda (“decapoda” = “10-legs”) – but you won’t be able to convince this Ohio boy they’re different. They’re both equally delicious.

Somehow, some way, over the years Friday nights became “Langostino night“. I don’t eat them EVERY Friday night, but probably 2 Friday nights a month, I’d say. They’re just like peel-and-eat shrimp. The FAT ones!

I usually get them at one of the local neighborhood markets. They’re almost always pre-cooked, which I find odd, but I guess that prevents them from spoiling as fast and doesn’t require the customer to cook them at home, either. The usual market rate for 1 Kilogram (2.2 pounds) of langostinos goes for about 10 Euros. Sometimes they sell for 9 Euros, but I’ve never seen them sold in my local markets for more than 10 Euros. Buy them at the Mercado de San Miguel, next to Madrid’s Plaza Mayor, and they sell for double that.

First, they require absolutely no preparation so they’re an easy-to-make meal, which is a plus at the end of a long work week. (not that I’d know as I work weekends, too). I always eat them with a “Salsa Rosa“, which is not like the cocktail sauce we have in the USA – even if it says “cocktail” on the jar. It’s a mayonnaise base with a slightly spicy tomato additive – for which it gets it’s name, “Salsa Rosa” or “Pink Sauce”.

Langostinos are great – but terribly messy. Don’t even think to use the cloth napkins! Use paper napkins – because you’ll likely need 3 or 4 of them by the time you finish. So there you are, peeling your prawns, sometimes scooping out the poop (Spaniards don’t tend to care about this, but I find it very, well, “desagradable” (unpleasant) – even though it doesn’t have a “poopy” taste) before dipping them in the pink sauce. Mmm.. So good.

Only problem is, since your hands are so darn messy, you can’t take a sip of your favorite Spanish white wine without smearing the wine glass or constantly wiping your hands on those 3 or 4 paper napkins! Oh, and be sure to throw out the trash containing those prawns’ shells soon after dinner. By morning, “OOOH, BOY!,” they’re going to smell bad. That’s why I bag their carcasses and pop ’em in the freezer to be thrown out the next day.

So there you have it: prawns and sauce, some brie cheese and crackers, a bottle of good Spanish white wine (Rueda Verdejo, preferably), 3-4 napkins, a good movie on TV, and settle in for another Friday night. “It doesn’t get any better than this” – until Saturday night’s dinner, that is! But that’s another story.

 
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C(H)OEURS Ballet-Opera in Teatro Real Madrid

(pssst! One of the below photos contains full rear male nudity. if you’re sensitive to such things, read no further – but you don’t really see anything apart from their rears. Speaking of rear-ends, this blog entry has an ending which you might – or might not – expect. What happened at the curtain-call surprised me! Also, see a couple YouTube videos at the conclusion of this blog entry)

CHOEURS“, in French, means “choirs” in English. “COEURS“, in French, means “hearts”. Overlap the two French words and you get “C(H)OEURS“, which means something like “Choirs of Hearts” or “Heart Choirs“. “C(H)OEURS” is the name of the new Alain Platel performance and is being performed at Madrid’s Teatro Real – or Royal Theater or Opera House – and I witnessed it last night with my own eyes.

The tickets for our second-level up, front row seats were 80 Euros each and part of a multi-performance “bono“, a specific collection of performances at Madrid’s Teatro Real for this season. The cheap seats went for as little as 70 Euros while the best seats sold for 172 Euros. C(H)OEURS was listed as a ballet as the genre of the performance, but some websites call it an Opera. Hmmm…. This wasn’t like any ballet or opera I’ve ever seen. It certainly wasn’t classical ballet. And I would go so far as to say it was contemporary ballet, either, not like the Contemporary Cuban Dance ballet I saw in the Teatro Real last month, anyway. As for being an opera, well, I’ve seen half a dozen in my life and, while there were a couple moments of Opera-style singing, it wasn’t the focus of THIS performance.

10 dancers were center stage while 66 choir singers, of various nationalities, stood in the background, on the fringes, and even in “the wings” during the 2-hour, no-break ballet/opera at 8pm. The Teatro Real pit orchestra, beautifully performed music by Verdi and Wagner throughout.

The first half hour consisted of the 10 dancers literally convulsing slowly yet violently across stage, all with some balled-up material in their mouths. One guy was totally nude except for a small hand-cloth he held tightly between his knock-knee legs, all the while hoisting it back up into position as he moved around. By the end of the half hour of convulsions and writhing around, they’d spit out the materials to the floor, taken off most their own clothes, and put on the underwear or skirt – “the mouth material” which they’d just spit out – and this seemed to calm them down a bit. (see image above) From time to time they’d contort their bodies odd positions and yell wildly. (see image below) It was by the end of this first half-hour that I’d noticed two people around me asleep and nearly snoring.

The star of the show was clearly the choir although the dancers were the center of attention. In the last hour or so the choir and dancers were involved together with choreographed movements.

The big finale came as they all, choir and dancers, ran (seemingly) randomly around the stage for 5 minutes until they found their positions. Then all action stopped but the singing continued. Then, in the final 10-15 minutes, one by one, they all turned very very slowly towards the rear of the stage and walked super-slowly in that direction, about a third of the group – choir and dancers alike – took off all their clothes, or most of it, and exited the stage as if they were suffering from a major structural deformity. And the curtain came down to finish the performance and that was that – UNTIL the curtain came up again to greet the performers, that is….. (read on)

Okay, then! Hey, I’m all for the human form – particularly the female one, but I wasn’t prepared to see the average-choir-guy take it all off. Thankfully, they did so as they were walking away so it was full-rear nudity and not the other way around. Whew!

As the curtain was down and the theater was dark, the entire audience erupted! First I heard boot-heels hitting the wooden floors everywhere. That was totally weird at a Teatro Real performance where you’d expect everyone to be so cultured and proper. Then I heard several dozen people whistling like crazy! You’d have thought this was the finale to a rock-and-roll concert! A very well-dressed, 60+ year old woman with a stylish hair-do was howling through her rolled-up program as the curtain came up. There were performers at the front of the stage, thankfully fully dressed, all with big, bright smiles. A job well done – and done well.

My goodness! These people really loved this performance! I guess they knew something I didn’t. Sure, I’m not as cultured or knowledgeable as many on the topic of dance, opera and art, but I think I can appreciate the basic qualities of a good performance and, well, in my opinion – and apparently in the opinion of the two people I saw sleeping, it wasn’t THAT good! Many people were clapping, including me because others were. But you might have thought Bruce Springsteen had just finished up his last set or something! So why were these people so thrilled?! (answer below)

THEY WEREN’T! (did’ja see that coming?) Man, this was an education in and of itself. APPARENTLY, as I found out in the moments I was exiting the Teatro Real, these are the reactions of an audience which is UNHAPPY with the performance, the heel-to-floor knocking, the whistling and even the howling!

We stood up and the mature Spanish man in a full suit said, “In the first part, I was just about to leave.” As we exited the “palco”, a group of Spanish women were shaking their heads and one said, “That poor choir.” Another couple passed us on the stairs and the man said loudly, “What a nightmare!” Even my ballet partner described it as not only a waste of time, but a waste of money. There went 160 Euros for 2 hours of drivel.

Today I’ve been reading the comments of the articles written about – and in anticipation of – C(H)OEURS and the general reaction was just that, a waste of time and money. One guy (commenter “bravolitio”, 13 March at 11:s0pm), upon returning home from last night’s performance decided to share his opinions on the performance (I’ve translated it to English):

I’ve just arrived from the Royal Theater.  To start, they sold me an ticket for a ballet, and this is not a ballet, it was a performance.  In the second place, without the music of Verdi, Mozart and Wagner, without the choir and the Royal Theater orchestra, where would those chickens [i.e. dancers] be?  […] One must be shameless to have the audacity to use these resources (music, choir, orchestra and theater) and to be presented in the setting with a hand in front and another hand behind (because of the nudity, I guess).  This has all been an enormous act of prostitution.  They should return my 90 Euros to me!

Another guy (“luna142”, 13 March at 9:52pm) commented on a different pre-performance article upon returning home from last night’s show and said:

Yesterday I saw the performance. Very boring with many moments that lost rhythm and was itself really slow.  The dancers were not coordinated.  The best part were the singers that had a bigger role than the dancers themselves.  The reason why people didn’t get up and leave was because you they would’ve missed the breasts and butts.

See some of it for yourselves in the two YouTube videos below and tell me what you think in the comments section below. Ballet? Opera? Human art? Or none-of-the-above?



 
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Spring Sprung Early in Madrid

The almond trees are blooming and buds are sprouting, too. It must have reached 70ºF here today and, surprising to no one, and it was a perfect day. A great day to have all the windows open. I know, I know, I’ve been saying that for weeks already!

As I understand it, much of the USA has been experiencing a mild winter, too, with record high temperatures in some place. But at least you get rain there! I read some statistic somewhere which said this Madrid winter has been the driest since records were taken in the late 1800s!! And I believe it! All winter long I’ve seen only a few sprinkles on the windows during one day – maybe two, and heard rain just one night. That’s terrible.

We’re in for a long, hot, dry summer too, you can bet on that. The reservoirs are already drying up and we’re sure to have water-usage warnings through September. I have to wonder if they’ll simply not fill some swimming pools this summer. We’ll see about that. I’ve YET to visit a Madrid swimming pool, myself, but I know they’re popular with youngsters and those hoping to show-off-that-body. I don’t fit into either of those categories – anymore. There was a time, however…

I’d hung the wet laundry up to dry yesterday morning on the rooftop clothes lines and they were dry by noon. Wow. That’s not fast, mind you, although it sounds like it. In July or August, clothes hung in the sun on the flat rooftop of our building will usually dry within an hour at the day’s peak sun/heat. Can’t wait for that! NOT! And since that flat roof is directly above my ceiling, well, you can imagine how hot it gets in-house – and worse in the late afternoon sun when it hits that wall of windows.

Funny how we learn how to play “Sun Blind Tag”, closing blinds on one side of the house to avoid it, open then when the sun passes over, and then close the blinds on the other side of the house when the sun starts down again. After sunset, everything opens up again to start a night of cool-off period. Unfortunately, as hot as it gets some days, the house and the building – all made of brick – can retain that heat throughout the night, offering little relief. THAT’S probably why so many Madrileños have to get outside during summer nights to enjoy the relative cool of the terrazas, have a few glasses of wine or cold beer, and forget about the heat until the next morning.

“They say” it’ll rain here in Madrid on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, but…. I won’t hold my breath for that.

 
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Spanish Holiday TV Tour of Huertas Madrid

Last September 2011 I had the true pleasure and privilege to escort television personality, Najip Ali through the Plaza Santa Ana and the Barrio de Huertas in Madrid – ON CAMERA!!! Najip is the host of “Makan Angin Sepanyol” (“Spanish Holiday”) on the Singapore Malay language channel, “Suria”. See how things transpired in the Episode TWO video below. My part starts at 20:30 and lasts ’til 25:15. You’ll find Episode one just above that.

The show’s producer contacted me a couple weeks before their visit in hopes that I could show them my favorite part of Madrid – and they left that up to me. Her first email stated,

We hope that you will be able to show us Madrid’s best kept secrets i.e.. attractions, food, cafes, restaurants, etc. I read your blog and am very interested to feature you in the programme.

Wow! I was flattered! My big chance to become famous…….. in Singapore! So where shall I take them? What’s my favorite part of Madrid? The Huertas Neighborhood, of course! Yeah, yeah. I know they’ve lately been trying to re-brand it as “Barrio de las Letras”, but that just sounds too uppity, too posh for me, so I’ll stick to the working man’s term, “Huertas“.

I’d been on camera once before for a Madrid-focused show, “The Wild Wild Web” (now defunct/canceled), but that was more than 10-years ago! This time was different and more intense. There were lots of starts and stops, lots of retracing our steps for Take 1, Take 2, and even Take 3 to get things just right. And my mouth was constantly dry and fumbled through some of the answers. That’s what happens when you work with amateurs, don’tchaknow!

I first gave a bit of history of the Plaza Santa Ana and told why I liked it so much. The host, Najip Ali, was very very nice and his English was good – after the first few moments struggling with his accent. He was giving the audience a summary in Malay (language) and then asking me questions in English – which he’d then translate back into Malay.

The producer had sent me a list questions for which I had to answer on camera at Najip’s prompting. Needless to say, I was totally prepared. Thing was, when we got there and were walking the streets, I think he asked just 1 of those 10 questions and 9 more for which I didn’t have answers prepared! I immediately saw how this was going to go – ME being embarrassed on Singapore TV,  a dolt who doesn’t know the first thing about the city in which he lives. Oh, gawd! It went okay, though. Thank goodness Najip was easy-going, patient and had a good sense of humor which put me more at ease.

After leaving the Plaza Santa Ana, we started down the pedestrian “Calle de Huertas” at my recommendation. As it turned out, the pedestrian Calle de Huertas  which wasn’t very pedestrian on that day! Cars were constantly going coming and going, causing us to “Cut!” and start over. The street only allows local traffic, but there was a lot of it on this day.

My most embarrassing moments came when Najip would stop and ask about the gold-lettered writings on the street’s paving stones – and then ask me to translate and interpret them. Well…., while I did take a Spanish literature class at the university – 25 years ago(!) – I couldn’t begin to interpret the abstract meanings of any of them. My on-the-spot translation of OLD Castillian Spanish left a lot to be desired.

Sometimes Najip would point up to an old building and ask something like, “So what’s significant about this building?” and I’d have no answer. THAT didn’t make it to video, luckily. But I was able to talk about the convent on Calle Lope de Vega in which Miguel de Cervantes was buried. Whew! But that was an easy one. Thank goodness!

We ended the Huertas Tour back at the Plaza Santa Ana were Najip and I took a table on the terraza of none-other than the famous Cervecería Alemana – after first securing permission from the boss earlier in the day, of course.

The end-product video they produced graciously used much narration. Therefore, you see Najip and I walking and talking, but you don’t hear our voices, only that of the narrator in many scenes.

There are 8 total episodes, but only first two take place in Madrid. I’ve included those videos below. And below those two videos you’ll find direct links to the other 6 episodes where they travel to Valencia and through Andalucia including Córdoba and Granada. The videos are all spoken in Malay, but with English subtitles.

It was an honor to be invited. Thank you!!

Makan Angin Sepanyol (Spain) Episode 1 (I’m in Episode 2 below)


Makan Angin Sepanyol (Spain) Episode 2 (I’m in THIS part from 20:30 and lasts ’til 25:15 – yup, that’s me on the video still image below in the blue shirt )


Episode 3, Episode 4, Episode 5, Episode 6, Episode 7, Episode 8

 
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Semana Santa – Holy Week in Seville

The following is a “guest blog” by Susan from Michigan USA, her second guest blog on MadridMan’s Madrid Blog. The photos included are the property of Susan herself. DISCLAIMER: The comments and opinions expressed by our esteemed guest blogger do not necessarily reflect those of the blog’s host.

Seville was magical from the first moments. My travel companion and beloved Spanish professor, Señorita and I ventured out into the Barrio Santa Cruz, the former Jewish quarter in search of dinner at 8:30, early by Spanish standards. The Barrio is a maze of streets built centuries ago and much too small for cars so it remains a pedestrian-only destination. We found a small plaza with terraces from multiple restaurants spilling out and mingling together. As the sun set, we savored our meal, grilled shrimp swimming in garlic butter while sitting beneath the prolific orange trees that fill Seville with fragrance in early April. Emboldened by the rosé wine, I initiated a conversation in Spanish and she gave me a rundown of what to expect during our week in Seville. I had come with some trepidation about the crowds and the “Catholic-ness” of Holy week, known in Spain as “Semana Santa”.

Señorita told me that on her one previous visit to Seville for Holy Week, she and her travel companion had rushed to see every single one of the 50 processions as they exited their home parish churches. Since it was still the Franco era, the tourists had not yet invaded the city and transport between the local congregations was much simpler. We would struggle to crisscross the city if we wanted to see each procession depart and I didn’t want to spend all my time in the parades of Semana Santa. I wasn’t sure how to tell Señorita, but fate would set in.

The first procession of the week left on Palm Sunday from the church known as “La Parroquia de San Sebastián” en route, like all the processions, to the cathedral and back.  These processions can take up to 12 hours to make the round trip journey. Señorita knew that in order to take in the full experience and have a good spot for viewing, one must leave an hour or two before the scheduled departure and find a place in the crowd to wait. She checked with the staff at our hotel and we scheduled a taxi to drive us out of the tourist zone and into the residential neighborhood where we would witness the departure of the procession.

Walking towards the parish church, the participants of the processions known as “Penitentes” and “Nazarenos” were gathering. My heart caught in my throat as I wondered if we had made a horrible mistake. These people resembled the KKK in full garb from their pointed hats and covered faces to their floor length gowns. Since Semana Santa dates back to the 1400’s, these marchers were the original designers of the attire; still, it took several days to see them without feeling anxiety.

Señorita and I were able to be about 10 rows from the edge of the crowd. As the hour wore on, we were trapped in a sea of people for yards in every direction, so close that with a slight movement, we could touch.  The mingled scents of cologne, cigarette smoke, and garlic wafted in the air.  The early April sun was already reminiscent of a hot summer day. The people in the crowd spoke only Spanish and all generations, the very young carried by their parents to the very old, sitting on portable chairs, gathered for this ancient tradition.

Mostly people were dressed in their Sunday best, often having matching outfits for their children. There were some jeans-clad teenagers with piercings and tattoos. Despite their rebellious appearance, they were fully respectful participants of the event, quieting down as the ancient doors to the church opened to reveal the first marchers, the Nazarenos.

Nazarenos during Seville's Holy WeekHundreds of Nazarenos, faces covered and carrying three foot long unlit candles, marched out of the church accompanied by the slow cadence of the drums. The full marching band would occasionally play a somber tune in the minor keys, appropriate for this celebration that was simultaneously joyful and reverent. Each church carries two floats, called “Pasos”, that often date back centuries. The first float is a scene from the last week of the life of Jesus. At this particular procession, the popular Palm Sunday scene of Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey exited the church. The second float is the Virgin Mary, of the two, the more ornate. As a Protestant, I struggled with the apparent place of importance offered to this woman who did not die on a cross for my sins. She came forth from the church dressed in jewels and gowns fit for a queen. The real Mary likely never saw such luxury this side of Heaven, but these worshippers were honoring the mother of their Savior by dressing her in extravagance.

Some of the churches have a special singer called a “Saeta” singer. This particular congregation hired a professional who came to the balcony as the Mary float was leaving the church. Although I did not understand the words of his song, the rich tones of his voice tore at my preconceptions of Holy Week. As a mother, I understood the traumatic loss of a beloved son. His deep voice floated down from the balcony as if he were heaven sent. Suddenly I saw Mary not as an intrusion to my overly puffed out Protestant beliefs, but rather as a grieving mother who had to watch her precious son die a horrible, painful, unjust death on a cross. Uncontrollably tears began to flow as I was consumed with grief at the sight of these beautiful people: Mary and Jesus, the cry of the singer, the heat of the noon day sun, the scent of the burning incense and the shower of flower petals falling from the rooftops. I was beginning to understand that in the most magnificent way, these Catholics were exalting our mutual Savior and His mother. I wanted to be a Catholic in that very moment.

Throughout the week we witnessed several more processions. Sometimes at night we would be returning from dinner and serendipitously encounter a procession returning from the Cathedral. What a thrill to see the hundreds of candles burning and the children collecting warm wax to make their wax balls for no particular reason other than to do it. Some children held wax the size of soft balls, collected from year to year by running up to the Nazarenos for a drip of wax during a pause in the procession.  (a fact that would later fascinate my elementary school students)

Unfortunately, Holy Week 2011 was one of the most inclement weeks of all. We were eagerly anticipating the pinnacle of the week, Holy Thursday when some of the most well-known processions, La Macarena and El Gran Poder leave their churches at midnight and move through the city over the course of the night and into the next day. Traditionally La Macarena, considered by many to be Seville’s most beautiful rendition of the Virgin Mary, is accompanied by 100 marchers dressed as Roman soldiers. The rain was heavy and widespread all week. I’m not certain of the exact number, but it seemed as if more processions were canceled than not. My worries over speeding from church to church at all hours trying to catch every single departure were unfounded. On the contrary, I felt cheated out of seeing these processions.

Sevillanos spend the entire year preparing for this week, but if rain intervenes, the procession is canceled. The person who makes the decision is “damned if you do, damned if you don’t”. Nobody wants a cancellation but they can’t risk ruining the ornate and often ancient floats. Some date back hundreds of years. One afternoon we happened upon a procession as it was heading toward the nearby cathedral. As is the case, the marchers paused for a rest and suddenly, the skies opened and down came the rain. We had never seen a cadence with such a fast beat and the entire troupe jumped up and practically ran toward the protection of the cathedral.

My feelings about Holy Week and Catholicism took a 180 degree turn that week. I came with judgments about the “wrong” way Catholics portray Mary (as a Saint on par with Jesus) and Jesus (as a broken man on a cross, rather than the One who had victory over death). I saw Mary as a precious mother who loves tenderly. Since all the floats portrayed Jesus’ final week of life, the image of Jesus on the cross was a somber reminder of the price he paid for my salvation. Too often we Protestants scoot over the suffering Jesus experienced on our behalf. These Catholics reminded us that Jesus’ death came at a price.

People unabashedly worshipped Jesus and Mary in a very public way that I rarely saw at home. It was important enough to dress up and go out into the rain or heat to see the processions pass by. They honored tradition, but in doing so, honored God as well. Thousands of men and women marched in secret beneath the heavy robes, sometimes going barefoot as an act of penance. The Bible teaches that we are saved by faith, not by works, but the Apostle James in James 2:26 said, “Faith without works is dead.” I saw the faith and works entwined in the spectacle that is Holy Week. Semana Santa was one of the most incredible and historical spectacles I have ever witnessed.

(MadridMan message: Thank you, Susan, for the timely blog submission regarding your 2011 Holy Week experience in Seville, Spain. It was very well-written, insightful, detailed and clearly heart-felt.)

Related MadridMan Blog Entries: Semana Santa in Spain

 
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11 March 2012: Choose Your Cause. Or Don’t!

Today, Sunday March 11, they scheduled a march and demonstration from the Plaza de Neptuno to the Puerta del Sol in Madrid to protest the labor reforms in Spain. Today, Sunday, March 11, is also the 8th year anniversary of the Madrid train bombings.

The two topics compete for today’s news headlines in print, online, and TV, as well. You’ve got to ask yourself – or at least I do – which party is pushing discussion of one over the other?

Not to get too politically specific here – and those whom know me know I tend to shy away from talking politics publicly, but Spain is a country fierce in its politics. If you thought USA’s Republican and Democratic parties were divided (and they certainly are!), that’s nothing compared to Spain. I can only assume that most of it stems from 40 years under a dictatorship and there’s plenty of bad-blood still flowing through these Spanish veins on both sides.

Someone on Twitter wrote, “Couldn’t they have found another day on the calendar for the labor reform demonstration?” Maybe. Maybe the rest of the calendar was full of previously scheduled demonstrations and today was all they had on relatively short notice.

Should it matter? Yes. No. Maybe. Who knows.

Today’s small-ish turn out for the march/demonstration, about half a million people by somebody’s count, might be blamed on its coincidence with the memoriums at the Madrid train stations and the ceremony in Retiro Park. Maybe.

Today’s also a beautiful, springlike day in Madrid so maybe people took the family out to some nearby village for a walk and lunch. Maybe.

Maybe there was a fútbol/football/soccer match here in Madrid at noon – but I’m NEVER aware of these things. If so, all bets are off as fútbol in Spain tends to take precedence over all else; over politics, over religion, even over visiting your mother on Mother’s Day.

Maybe people just don’t care about these things as much anymore. Maybe people see the demonstration and the memorium as fluff, something to waste people’s time, not worth making the trip downtown on public transportation for neither.

And maybe people see the labor reform measures as necessary – or as inevitable, as buried as the victims of terrorism in Madrid.

Whatever the case, people have a voice in Spain and they use it. It’s refreshing and inspiring to see people exercise their rights no matter their beliefs. People in the USA don’t tend to “exercise” so much – their voice or otherwise, and it shows.

 
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