Friday, November 30, 2007


On August 30th, some *^%$##@ relieved me of my shoulder bag, which contained my passport, camera, mobile, purse & credit card, brand new textbooks from brand new job, complete favourite make-up kit from interview for brand new job, hairbrush. Distressing and inconvenient.

Tonight, November 30th, they came back for my laptop.

Some people really know how to spoil your day.

I'm glad there are only 29 days in February.


-2°. -2°.



Tuesday, November 27, 2007


We need to send some documents to Dubai (Still, trying to retrieve deposit from landlord....) so Habibi's been checking out post and courier services.

Public service blog here. Watch the video. Anyone we know? =D


This is doing the rounds again.

I've been looking for it, because it might make some of my students feel better about English spelling!

Fi yuo cna raed tihs, yuo hvae a sgtrane mnid too. Cna yuo raed tihs? Olny 55 plepoe out of 100 can. I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, maens taht it dseno't mtaetr in waht oerdr the ltteres in a wrod are; the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whotuit a pboerlm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Azanmig huh? Yaeh, and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt!

If you're a native English speaker, and particularly if Winnie the Pooh figured in your childhood, with helpful spelling lessons from Wol, you may have only a dim awareness of what a foreigner has to deal with when tackling English as a subject instead of absorbing it organically or cognitively.............. i.e. the way you (and I) did.

We started our language course almost as soon as we were born: watching, listening, imitating the faces and voices around us; notifying the world of our personal requirements and registering outcomes: Dry nappy! Full tum! Squishy warm hug! Let's try that again!!!!!

Meanwhile, everyone signed up as our language teacher, pulling out all the stops to communicate with us: watch people talking to babies, and see how close they bring their faces, how they exaggerate expressions and sounds, just to get the little one's attention and get a reaction.

If parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and favourite neighbours spoke half a dozen languages between them - well - we grew up with a working knowledge of the whole circus, and that magic 'ear for languages' that makes school language teachers sigh with delight. I've met several people who speak three or more languages fluently.

I remember a Swiss family, when I had a summer job as a waitress at Heathrow Airport, who batted the conversation back and forth in English, French and German as they discussed whether they wanted a Danish pastry or a croissant with their coffee or Freshly Squeezed Orange Juice.
(Well of course our juice was freshly squeezed... in Heathrow Airport.... in the early 80's.....). Someone else spoke 6 languages, a former colleague speaks Armenian, Turkish, Arabic, English - and there's a fifth, but I can't remember what it is.
Rudi - in international sales - spoke 12 languages. TWELVE!
They all acquired their gift of tongues through being born into bilingual or multi-lingual families, and proceeded to expand on what they had.

Buuuutttttttt..... if, by an unkind accident of fate, you didn't happen to be born at 23 Babel Towers, and were therefore denied the delights of Japanese, Croatian and Uzbek nursery rhymes with Auntie Polyglot, never had the chance to try Lingo Dancing or make a Blue Peter Thesaurus Rex glove puppet on rainy afternoons................... then you need A Course of Evening Classes to Unlock your Latent Potential, Liberate you from Linguistic Limbo ....... etc. etc. etc.

Just be grateful that the language you'll be signing up for won't be English, arguably the most complex language in the world when you take into account the wealth of synonyms and homonyms, and the extraordinary elasticity of its spelling and pronunciation rules, based as they are on successive linguistic invasions, transplants, grafts, modifications, fashions and developments. In English, the exception doesn't prove the rule - it is the rule! (More or less....)

Here's a website that takes a stab at rationalising things, with its Introduction to Absolutely Ridiculous English Spelling. Admirable.

Of course, this is American English, so the pronunciation guide doesn't quite work for British English, and isn't so hot on Strine or Saaf Efrican either. Actually, neither does the spelling guide....

Ah well, it didn't bother Wm. Shaksper, so why should it bother us?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Santa Barbara

This is the church of Santa Barbara, and I love it.

It's on Calle de Barbara de Braganza, just off Recoletos, but these are two different Barbaras.

One was a Portuguese princess, married to Fernando VI of Spain (His street continues from hers, cos he loved her!), and the other was her patron saint.

I'd only ever heard of Catherine of Braganza, Queen Consort to Charles II of England (I just looked that up: I knew the name but had no idea who she was. It turns out that as a Catholic in post-Civil War Protestant England, she could not be named Queen. And Barbara was her great-great-niece.)
After reading her Wikipedia entry, I have to feel for poor Catherine, despatched to England at the age of 24 (Today is her birthday.) to be married off to the new king, and having to cope with the language barrier, deep hostility to her religion, suspicions and accusations about her loyalty, a philandering husband, and several miscarriages. The marriage sealed a political alliance between Portugal and England, and Catherine's 'large dowry brought the port cities of Tangier and Bombay to British control.'

How remarkable that 'her quiet decorum, loyalty and genuine affection for Charles changed the public's perception of her'.

How touching (!) that Charles, though he 'continued to have children by his many mistresses, ....... insisted that she be treated with respect, and sided with her over his mistresses in those cases where he felt she was not receiving the respect she was due.' OK........... One can hardly paint Charles as a bad husband, though. These were the ways of the times, and it was, after all, a marriage of political convenience.

Notably, though, 'Throughout his reign, [Charles] firmly dismissed the idea of divorcing Catherine, even when Parliament exerted pressure on him to beget or declare a Protestant successor'.

Did she ever have any peace? No doubt, Catherine led a privileged and physically comfortable existence, but I'd say she earned it. Imagine.

S0 - Barbara - a much happier life, I would say. Asthmatic. No oil painting. (See oil painting.) But educated, gifted and loved, and free of the political and religious conflicts that dominated her great-great-aunt's existence.

As for Santa Barbara, officially & divinely sanctioned protector against lightning; and patron saint of 'artillery gunners, masons, mathematicians (I am not making this up!), miners, military engineers, stonecutters [and] anyone who works at risk of sudden and violent death: apparently, there are doubts as to whether she actually existed. No..... really? Certainly, her life story reads like the product of a drunken pub conversation between Douglas Adams, Neil Gaiman, Terry Gilliam and Lord Longford after a seminar on The Folk Tale Heritage of Europe and Asia Minor. It must be true.

There are two images of Saint Barbara in the Wikipedia entry. The first is a typical medieval Christian image of a saint (and it's in thePrado!). The second is a Russian icon: and this is no meditation on Christian suffering and patience; check out the determined, rosy cheeked, Christian warrior maiden. She rather resembles her namesake.

OK. Pictures of handsome church against the blue, blue sky. Yes, folks, it's 3°C here in Madrid. The sun is shining, and the air as clear, cold and sparkling as polished crystal.

Miss Havisham awaits.....

I love this angel!

Sunday in the JigZone

For me, part of the appeal of jigsaws - especially online - is the detail. As I find and place pieces, I see things that I would otherwise miss. Today, I did Van Gogh's View of Arles with Irises.
Click to Mix and Solve

It doesn't look much like this, but as I was going along, I saw how he'd mixed green into the blue of the sky, how the lower blue/green/purple band of irises is a mass of splayed spikes, and how the red roof detail smacks you in the eye but still feels distant, back there among the dark trees.

Once I'd put the last piece in place, I saw how the pell-mell irises give way to the denser green-gold grass verge, and how the edge of the corn grows taller, throwing shadow on the shorter grass. The trees and red roof were revealed as a treelined road between this field and the next, with the outskirts of Arles beyond.

I'm sure I've seen this print umpteen times in art books and print shops; only, this is the first time I've actually seen it.

I clicked the link to for a better view. The link doesn't actually work, but the URL plus Arles took me here. Some of these prints are too familiar - but others I've never seen before, and get me past the potted biography and unexamined opinion of Van Gogh that I carry in my head, to see - the paintings.

What a treat. Art reveals Life. Jigsaw reveals Art!

Feast your eyes, then close them - on a summer field, the air thick and warm with the buzz of invisible bees and the faint caw of rooks away over there in the trees. The sun is hot on your back, the dry dirt road crunches under your feet, and when you get to Arles, you are going to sit in the cool darkness of a cafe, with a long cold drink.

Not bad for late November, when the wind's throwing itself against the windows and it's 3C outside.................. Thanks, Vincent.

It's Saturday - She's been at the Grauniad again.......

OK. There's this in the Education section:

Hard-pressed parents struggle to help with schoolwork.

Then there's Ann Karpf in the Family section:
"I read David Cameron's pronouncement that all children should be reading by the age of six - and tested to prove that they can - with dismay. Why so late? What's wrong with five, four, or even three? Get the little slackers moving, I say: early reading, early potty training, early dying. It's time to wave goodbye to the preposterous prejudice that people shouldn't be streamlined or time tabled. We're an infinitely malleable species, and tiny minds are sponges: drip phonics into them young enough and they'll swell into expert readers. Nothing controversial about this, surely? The government certainly doesn't think so because its response to Cameron was something along the lines of "we've already thought of that"."

You go, Anne! OK - I believe that a proper education is essential, and enriches us in ways that we may not appreciate until many years after we've left school. We sent our son to a nursery at 3, and we ourselves are both university educated and glad of it. I teach. Education heap big good thing in my opinion.

However, I have severe reservations about the emergence of education as a cult, through which Our Children may be Saved.

Saved from - and for - what, exactly?

Excuse me while I adjust my

I question the humanity and wisdom of putting children into 'school' at 2 (I call it school when parents send their children to nursery, and expect them to start the 'R's and be given homework).

I have serious doubts as to the educational benefits of constant testing in primary/junior schools, apart from the obvious one, of providing each child with early practice in meeting targets and handling academic pressure - useful training for secondary school courses leading to exams at 16 and 18.

I question the philosophy and psychology behind the idea that 14-16 year-olds can and should take 10 exam courses, and that 16-18 year-olds can and should do 4-6 exam courses, plus three hours homework a night.

I am also extremely sceptical about the increasingly popular notion that 'the brightest and best' (Hmm...) should pursue their university education to Masters (An MBA, that is.) or Ph.D level, in order to achieve their goals and fulfil their potential.

There is a strong whiff of a major holding operation: let's get the little ones out of the way while their parents are at work; and keep our teenagers fully occupied and 'out of trouble' for as long as possible. GNP & GCSE .v. ASBO & HMP*. Whose idea was that, then?

(*British stuff: GCSE = General Certificate of Secondary Education, taken at 16. ASBO = Anti-Social Behaviour Order. HMP = Her Majesty's.... Porridge ..... Pleasure ...... Prison)

There's a stronger whiff of acute parental anxiety that the stakes have been raised, and that if children aspire to be more than shelf stackers in the Global Village Shop, they need to be entirely goal-oriented, with a work ethic that makes God look like a slacker for resting on the Seventh Day.

Parents have parenting books, and schools have mission statements: everyone is doing their damnedest to guarantee that children develop into well-rounded adults, ready to take their place in society. It's laudable, and as a parent and a teacher I have given it my best shot. But it's getting out of hand, or so it seems to me.

Micro-management doesn't encourage independence and maturity. Relentless commitment to personal goals does not encourage social awareness, skills or confidence. Relentless academic pressure throughout the formative years may warp or annihilate spirit.

And what price family life - family feeling - when home becomes study hall and parents are cast as monitors and tutors?

So I'm with Anne Karpf on this one: Papa don't teach Forget phonics - that's for teachers. Parents, have fun with your kids.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Mimi Kirchner

The Dollmaker's Journey newsletter popped into my letterbox today. There's a link to Cloth Doll Connection. (So rag dolls are out, then? Victims of political correctness and gentrification?)

Aaaaand a link to Cloth Doll Blogs. (Still here? Good. It'll be worth it, I promise.)


Mimi Kirchner's site. I haven't seen a fraction of it. And then there are all the other blogs listed above. But then again, I have got to get offline and go to sleep sometime soon. So take a look, and when you see a link to her Flickr photos.................... do yourself a favour and follow it. How else will you see her babies, ladies, and tattooed men?

Friday, November 23, 2007


I've just spent about an hour on Skype with my baby brother (Yes, he's a grown man and father of twins, but I remember taking him for walks in his push chair.). It is so lovely to be able to do that.

In my last place-of-residence, (ExPat Central) the local qango telecom company robed itself in white samite, annointed its corporate forehead with the oil of righteousness, and rode fearlessly forth as self-appointed Guardian of Public Morals; fearlessly blocking Skype, Flickr, Friends Re-united, Hi-5, MySpace, and anything else which threatened its monopoly the integrity of local culture, customs and culture. I understand that capitalism and the free market are utterly amoral, and not to be spoken of in front of young children, pregnant or lactating women, forklift-truck drivers, or other persons of a sensitive disposition - but as none of the above, it irritates me when full-on corporate self-interest is presented as something I should be grateful for.

So anyway, we had a long chat such as I could never, in all conscience, have in EPC, and I loved it. Skype should advertise its beneficial potential for families scattered across the 'global village' (Say what?) - but save the white samite for the dividend party - ok guys?

Lift....... occasionally off

I've been reading Habibi's blog. I know we're married, but you know how it is.......

Anyway, now that I've stopped laughing, I just have to make sure everyone knows how to pronounce


Thursday, November 22, 2007

Babel revisited

I have a 'beginner' student. In fact, my 'beginner' has a handful of English words, has previously worked with self-study materials, and, as a Spanish speaker, effectively knows the English alphabet, and finds many English words familiar. (This is a mixed blessing, as the Spanish actual doesn't mean actual, and you can't call a spade an espada... etc!)

There are plenty of other English learners whose languages have completely different roots, and whose systems of writing don't function, or look, like alphabets. In any country, you might expect most classes to be monolingual, whether the students are adults or children. For the teacher, this has advantages and disadvantages when it comes to speaking and listening, but has to be a plus when it comes to teaching reading and writing skills. At least it gives you a common starting point, even if it's how to hold a pen, rather than a brush!

Where do you start in a school where 30 different races speak 28 different languages?

Where you have 'so many different languages being spoken, some children may be the sole speakers of their language'? Good grief!

I am full of admiration for the staff of Drove primary school, who have developed a programme to work with the realities of a transitory immigrant population. We hear plenty about what happens where integration fails. Someone has taken a good look at the needs of a neighborhood where 'Pupils come and go as their families move to Britain, then in and out of the area as they get established in the country', and done some serious work on meeting the essential educational and social needs of a generation. Bravo.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Designs of the times?

In today's Guardian:

Running under cover

Fewer than one in five women do enough exercise, and many Muslim women are among them. But, says Peta Bee, with specially designed sportswear and single-sex classes on the rise, this could soon change.

.....Muslim societies, in general, do allow women to exercise; in fact, Islam positively encourages physical activity for both sexes. But, in some Muslim communities, female participation in sport and fitness is permitted only on the condition that women adhere to their religion's code of modesty. And for many Muslim women, outside of school PE lessons, there is little opportunity to exercise. For some women, swimming in public pools is not an option, and neither is any activity where men will be present......

Rimla Akhtar, chairwoman of the Muslim Women's Sports Foundation (MWSF), based in Harrow, says: "Religiously, there is still concern that sport is wrong but there are definite signs that this is being overturned with the younger generation." Every week, the MWSF runs two-hour training sessions in north London, which attract budding female footballers from as far afield as Leicester and Leeds. And at the East London Mosque, the Hayaa Fitness Centre holds yoga, kickboxing and other similar sessions. Zaynab Shirji, 23, who works out regularly there, says that the difficulties of finding a suitable fitness venue "mean that in the past many Muslim girls ended up doing nothing. There are still relatively few places Muslim women can get fit."

In Birmingham, the Sisters Games initiative, launched last year, provides Muslim women with single-sex sporting opportunities and exercise classes that allow them to adhere to Islamic values. Akhtar says a huge breakthrough was made when Britain became the first non-Muslim country to take part in the Muslim Women's Games, a four-yearly championship run like a mini-Olympics. Many of those who took part in the 2001 and 2004 competitions, including Akhtar, say they were inspired to take up sport by the emergence of elite Muslim women athletes from other countries. High-profile role models include Nawal el Moutawakel of Morocco and Hassiba Boulmerka of Algeria, both Muslims who have won Olympic track golds. Boulmerka was often forced to train outside her country after being criticised there for training in athletic vest and shorts.


For further evidence that a cultural shift is imminent, look to the £160bn-a-year global sportswear industry, which has started to turn its attention to the spending power of the 650 million women who practise Islam.


Meanwhile, an Australian designer, Aheda Zanetti, has come up with the so-called burqini - a two-piece bathing suit. Struggling to cope with demand for the outfit, Zanetti says it has been adopted by Australia's new Muslim women lifeguards and some swimmers with Olympic potential.

Zanetti has also developed what she calls a "hijood" - a hijab shaped like a hood. She explains: "As an active young Muslim girl I found it difficult to participate in most sports because of all the excess clothes I had to wear" ·

Stone, Bronze and Gold

This is pretty. Click to Mix and Solve

I like the water effect, and the deceptive simplicity of thestyle, and the way the background tiling swirls.
I've always liked the idea of mosaic floors, the artistry and attention to detail. No wonder I like jigsaw puzzles. We saw wonderful mosaics in Jordan, lovingly restored. I always assumed that the tiles were pot, glazed and fired. In Jordan we saw that they were cut stone, using all the colours of the local stone: black, beige, green, plum, pink - such variety.

They have entire mosaic floors laid out at the Museo Arqueológico de Madrid. We spent an hour and a half there on Sunday afternoon. There's a large octagonal or hexagonal one mounted on a wall. There was only time for a first look as we walked through, looking for the Etruscan exhibition, but I look forward to going back again. They have a fine collection of Roman vases and household objects that summon up an idea of daily life back then. And theatre too.

I did enjoy the Etruscan exhibition. I didn't know that they were from what is now Tuscany, only that they were 'The Etruscans' and that I liked their stonework. Habibi took photos, but I don't know how well they've come out. The funerary urns, carved stone chests, each with a reclining figures on the lid, puzzled me: each stone figure held a carved stone bowl with a lid. What did the bowl signify? I shall try to find out. The other puzzle was all the fibulas. These weren't bones, but decorative pins - brooches named for the bone they resembled? No fibulas in our concise (i.e. big) Spanish dictionary. Hmm.

Blonde stone; matt glazed pots; silver necklaces; bronze pots, and helmets, daggers and jewellery. And gold. I think gold is pretty, but I had always understood that its appeal lay as much in its incorruptibility as in any other quality. No rust, verdigris or tarnish - precious indeed! On Sunday, after an hour of fine stonework, and various metal objects in varying degrees of preservation, all handsome, many of them skilfully decorated, I came to a slim gold necklace, and a tiara fashioned like a hero's laurel, with life-size gold leaves - the bright yellow gold I associate with Asia and the Middle East, not the paler European kind. For elegance, style, artistry - almost everything, in fact - I preferred the stone and bronze. But for sheer knockout Etruscan bling - the gold was astonishing. In a time of oil lamps, braziers and flaming torches, gold must have been as desirable as diamonds today.

Gotta go. Yesterday we had hailstone and rain. Last night was unbelievably cold, compared with a week ago. Right now, it's absolutely throwing it down with rain, so thank goodness I only have to scoot between Metro stations.


Recent discovery: MyHappyPlanet.

No, I am not experiencing a Helly Kitty meltdown. It's a language exchange site. Perfect for someone who lives in the centre of Spain, but never seems to have opportunity or leisure to work on her Spanish!

MyHappyPlanet has elements of blogging and social networking. You choose a user name and password, fill in an unintrusive language profile, and - that's it really. It's in its Beta version, and a bit fiddly to navigate, but repays the time it takes to work out its little quirks. I signed up as a fluent English speaker wanting to learn conversational Spanish, and did a search for fluent Spanish speakers interested in improving their English. After trawling about 1o% of that particular database, I sent a smile (friend request) to several Spaniards and Latin-Americans based in Spain, and a couple of people in Latin America.

The next day, I spent several hours online, writing to those who had smiled back - basically doing a mailshot. Serious Spanish homework and - I hope - the start of a penfriend network.

It's my goal to be fluent in two years: an arbitrary goal, perhaps, but really no more than an extension of the effort we make whenever we move into a new area and set about making the transition from outsider to part of the neighborhood. One thing I learnt in Dubai is that if you operate in an English enclave, even though it's cultural rather than physical, you do not absorb the language of your host country by osmosis, and you remain an outsider.

I don't know if its possible to become fluent in another language in two years, while holding down the day job, but it's a goal that keeps me focused. For me, fluency - not just the token acquisition of a few phrases - is essential. One can get by - even in Madrid - with English and a few Spanish phrases, but I don't want to merely get by. I want to live here, read the novels and newspapers, go to the theatre and cinema, join in. And that's going to take some effort. Hence the mailshot. After this, as with Facebook, I can pop in and out as I have time. Let's just see what comes of it.

And it's fun. I had some lovely replies in Spanish and English - plus corrections of my letters. There are several communication options, including online chat and Skype, but they're not practical for me while I'm working unsocial hours. However, since several of my contacts are based here in Madrid, there is the appealing option of going for lunch or a coffee sometime, when we're ready. Once I've sifted out the axe murderers, of course!

Here's a sample (without corrections) of this week's deberes:


Cómo hablar a un desconocido...........? Tenemos un objetivo común. ¡Bueno! ¡Eso es! ¿Qué tal?

¿Has habido un bueno fin de semana? Hoy hace mucho frío en Madrid. ¿Hace igual en Barcelona? He visitado Barcelona hay dos años. ¿Es una ciudad guapa, no? Tengo una amiga querida allí.

Sin embargo, hemos (yo y mi marido) venido a Madrid porque ello es el capital, y porque es mas fácil por nuestros a aprender castellano, que castellano y catalán. ¡Claro!

Es muy posible que, despues de dos años aquí, vamos trasladar cerca de Tarragona, pero ahora, nuestra prioridad es a disfrutarnos de todo que ofrece Madrid, ¡y mejorar nuestro español!

Esta tarde, hemos visitado el Museo Arqueológico. Me interesan las artes de muchas edades y civilisaciones, y el exposición de Los Etruscos es excelente - bronce, piedra, oro - yelmas, joyerias, tumbas - todas tan guapas. Un otro fin de semana, deseamos mirar la reconstrucción de las cuevas de Altamira.

Pues ¡hasta luego!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

A Big One

I'm going to be 50 this week. Coo! Who'd have thought it? I'm chuffed to bits with myself. Here I am, back in Europe again, living happily ever after with my darling husband, while my darling son is out there making his own life - and coming to see us at Christmas (next month!) - and we're close enough to all my extended family for us all to get to know one another properly again after so many years on opposite sides of the planet. My genuine antique goblet runneth over.

Of course, there's one small wrinkle. Actually, more to the point, there are several. Just like everyone else of Advancing Years, I go merrily along, living this facinating life as I always have, and not really changing, except, one would hope, in greater wisdom, humour and compassion - absolutely darlings! - and then this woman appears, reflected in a shop window or the perspex wall of a bus shelter. She's not remarkable in any way, just a solid, rather pudding-faced middle-aged woman, like all the others I've passed in the street since I was a little girl. And it's me. How strange.

In that last year in Dubai I frequently felt a great deal older than I looked - What am I saying? When you feel like that, that's how you look too! - but these days, I look my chronological age, and feel - not younger exactly - just more...................... me. And 'me' is quite relaxed and optimistic at base, with a great deal of yabadabadoo thrown in.

They say our character shows in our face - cue comforting comments on laughter lines. But it seems to me that as gravity and biology do their work, softening some contours and nudging others into relief, so character - or perhaps, more accurately, our inner life - becomes harder to read: perhaps, as we grow older, we internalise more, and show less.

Certainly, riding on the Metro every day, I see the vivid play of thoughts and feelings on younger faces - especially children with their parents, teenagers with their friends - all eager to share, and be acknowledged - and the more closed faces of older people. Like me. Often, of course, faces are closed to preserve mental space in the physical press of a railway carriage, and the mind is elsewhere, empty, resting - or at work on some responsibility - and the closed look has as much to do with fatigue and the preservation of energy or vision as anything else.

The clues are there in the eyes, the shoulders, and the angle of the head. And in the clothes, too. Even work clothes. Little ones wear what their parents dress them in - even if they've been consulted; their parents' tastes still prevail to some extent. Teenagers often adopt peer uniform: jeans, black, the current fashion - perhaps subconsciously disguising the extraordinary surge of mental and emotional power, the overwhelming sense of 'I' that informs every waking moment as they make that transition from childhood to adult life.

By the time you're 50 - and 60 - and 70 - even if you don't have much - or any - budget for clothes, you know what you like, or what suits you; and 'suits' has a lot more to do with the mental landscape than with the more obvious physical landscape (-slide...?!). And the way you generally feel about life, and handle what comes, is there in the set of your shoulders, the curve of your spine. That's a whopping generalisation of course - completely disregarding genetics, lifestyle and health - but there's a lot of truth in it.

Anyway. We're off to the Archaeology Museum - my choice - to check out some ancient Etruscans. Like gravitating to like.....

But I can't possibly be 50 this week, because my dad is only 49¾. Has been for years.

And you can't argue with your dad, now can you?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Brief Encounter


Big Zeds.

Habibi snores. He always has. It's the way he's built. In any position, and without a trace of alcohol in him, he snores gently, or breathes peacefully, occasionally snuffling like a newborn baby. Adorable. But with a late night glass of wine or beer inside him, he snores like a good-un, like a tractor in a field down the road. Anything more, and we get road works, a digger, a combine harvester, an ancient central heating boiler that rattles, roars and shudders with terrible force................... and intermittent silences of almost eerie intensity. Give this man spirits, and I could sell tickets.

When we stay with friends or family, they look at me with sympathy, and him with something approaching awe. Overnight camps are a real community experience.

Over the years, he has tried pillows, throat/nosedrops and snorestrips; while I have tried pillows, muttered requests, sharp commands, nudges, earplugs, cotton wool, headphones (with cotton wool), headphones (soft background music), ear-protectors (yellow ones), separate beds, separate rooms and over-the-counter sleeping pills. Also lie-ins, afternoon naps and early nights. Vitamin B compound. Deep breathing. Visualisation.

Over the years, at 3 and 4 and 5 o'clock in the morning, I have considered divorce, murder and suicide. Made tea. Made sandwiches. Read. Blogged. Written miserable diary entries and farcical rhymes. Gone for walks. Cleaned out the fridge. Ironed.

I have lain next to my darling husband and trembled with cumulative fatigue, distress, self-pity, fury and loathing.

What I want to know is: how the hell does he sleep through it?

I really wish the alarm wasn't set for an hour and a half hence.

Help? Anyone?

P.S. Sorry honey.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A Trip to the Película Souk

We got a little confused on Saturday, when we set off for the Renoir Plaza de España cinema.

We'd checked the online map, and established that this was one of several cinemas in the area, and by the time we got there, late (my fault), and after dark, we were a bit tense. We found the right place, but La Joven Jane Austen was sold out, so we wandered aimlessly on for a hundred yards - if that - and almost fell over another cinema....... and then another (where Elizabeth, La Edad de Oro, was also sold out..) We were in the cinema souk!

Consider Exhibit A: The Golem cinema map. The Golem is situated, as you can see, at the junction of C. Martin de los Heros and C. Ventura Rodriguez, very handy for the VR Metro station.

Exhibit B: location map for the Renoir Plaza de España, at the PdE end of Martin de los Heros, (very handy for the PdE Metro)........and... if it please Your Honour...

Exhibit C, location map for the Renoir Princesa, just up from RPdE, though not as far as the Golem.... and then again, I have a feeling we might have passed a Yelmo on the way.

I rest my maleta.

In the end, we retraced our steps to Renoir PdE, bought tickets for the Sunday afternoon showing, and duly went to see Becoming Jane yesterday. Even then, we missed half of the opening credits: no-one warned us that - oh rapture - there wouldn't be any adverts or trailers. Yeehah! But this also meant that I didn't learn the film's English title til afterwards, because all the posters are for La Joven Jane Austen, in dubbed Spanish (versión doblada al castellano).

What we saw was the V.O. (Versión Original – in this case, of course, English – con subtítulos en castellano) V.O. is the Renoir/Golem/Yelmo speciality. We had the choice of La Torre de Suso, Qué tan Lejos, La Zona, Caótica Ana, Mataharis, and half a dozen other V.O. Castellano films ; Persepolis or Conversaciones con mi Jardinero (V.O. Francés); and Huella, Once, LJJA, EEdO, Tierra, Promesas del Este, Leones por Corderos and plenty more V.O. Inglés.

I'd like to see Persepolis, and Conversaciones con mi Jardinero (the French ones, in case you're hopelessly confused by now) but I'm not up for a Spanish film just yet, unless it's a shamelessly escapist romp like last year's Bandidas, starring Penélope Cruz and Selma Hayek - that was great fun! Basically, I'm looking for an hour and a half in my comfort zone, which means English, or French, with plenty of visual appeal to compensate for my feeble and tottering Français - so - garden or animation?!

So we went to see 'Jane', and wept through all the sad bits (well, I did, anyway) and came out very sad. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaand, it was ok, very handsome, with some fine actors doing a good job of what they had: James Cromwell and Julie Walters as Rev. & Mrs Austen; Anne Hathaway and Anna Maxwell Martin as daughters Jane and Cassandra; Laurence Fox as Wisley, Maggie Smith as his aristocratic aunt, and James McAvoy as Tom Lefroy. But, it didn't hit home for me: not as a romance, as a historical drama, a rites of passage story or a 'biopic'.

One problem is that Jane Austen's been 'done' before, with sharper scripts, more breathtaking cinematography, and more sex appeal. I mean the - to my mind - flawless BBC TV adaptation of Pride & Prejudice; and the Columbia Pictures' Sense and Sensibility, with Emma Thompson's deft, warm and hilarious screenplay - and a superb ensemble cast to carry it off. Both came out in 1995, which is a long time in commercial film-making, but only a blink of an eye if we're considering potential classics of any genre.

Film and literature are completely different media, of course, and it takes a talented screenwriter with a powerful appreciation of both to provide the screenplay that glimmers with the promise of box office gold and critical acclaim. Both P&P and S&S owed much of their success to the sensitivity and skill of their screenwriters, and to their good sense and restraint in making the most of the polished structure, superb dialogue and ironic, compassionate insights of the original novels. Those novels, in their turn, were the product of a meticulous craftswoman at the height of her powers. They don't make chick lit like that anymore.....

So it wasn't a 'Jane Austen'. Was it even about Jane Austen? Or about the marketability of Jane Austen, and of Anne Hathaway, with her US chick-flick (uhuh) box office appeal and an English accent to make Gwyneth Paltrow look over her shoulder in the next anglophile casting session?

I was in no hurry to see this film, I'll confess, because I saw Miss Potter earlier this year; and much as I enjoyed Renee Zellweger's performance - and everyone else's, for that matter - and the touches of magical realism that brought back early BBC Narnia, well... well............ Beatrix Potter's life is well-documented, and the sugar-coating of her parents' perception and treatment of their only daughter irked me. Boy meets girl, boy dies, girl finds redemption in work, and subsequently recovers from broken heart to marry childhood friend and live happily ever after, all in 92 minutes: it's as authentic as any other picturesque image. And Miss Potter was very well done, and I shall no doubt watch it again, and enjoy it more whole-heartedly now that I know what it is - and what it isn't.

But I have a similar problem with 'Becoming Jane'. I don't know much about Jane Austen, beyond the fact that she was a writer at a time when women had very few choices, that she never married (which may or may not have been connected to her being a writer) that she wrote about the world she knew - and that there is a portrait of her. I don't know if the portrait is pencil or charcoal, but I've seen enough copies to know what Jane Austen looked like - and it was probably more Renee Zellweger - or Anna Maxwell Martin - than Anne Hathaway.

OK, that's a minor matter, but, as the film progressed, with clumping references to Austen's books, and to Hollywood adaptations, for goodness sake; and an increasingly predictable plot, which duly pressed all the usual buttons, I found myself wondering what - of this 'becoming' film - was actually true. And if it wasn't, what I was supposed to get from it? Later, I felt I'd been taken for a ride: relieved of my ticket money for an exercise in patronising, accountancy-driven sub-standard film-making. As a drama it was shallow and predictable. As a period drama it was formulaic. As a script, it got us from the beginning to the end. As a comedy, it was flat. As a tribute it was entirely fake. And as a source of insight into what made Jane Austen the woman, and writer, she was.......... yeah right........... now I can write my thesis.....

As a creative project - well, I hope the caterers were excellent, the weather perfect, and that all those people who put their talent and craft into this project were well paid for the efforts. And they all get to star in a cult indie before next summer is out. There's a lot to enjoy in Becoming Jane, but not enough to disguise the mediocrity of the original premise. Or the assumption that we'll lap it up.

Monday, November 12, 2007

London St Pancras - Madrid Atocha

Take the 2pm Eurostar from St Pancras and change in Paris on to the trainhotel to Madrid, arriving at 9.15 next morning. Wake up to breakfast in the restaurant as the sun rises over distant snow-capped mountains. Journey time 19 hours, fares from £161 return including sleeper.

or (Click for more.)

The longest journey that can be accomplished in a single day by the new service is London to Madrid. It means catching the 05.27 at St Pancras, reaching the Gare du Nord at 8.50, crossing Paris by Metro, and then taking the 10.10 from the Gare Montparnasse to Irún, changing there and reaching Madrid Atocha at 22.34. That is a long day.

Architect: Alberto de Palacio Elissagne & Gustave Eiffel
Interior Access

Sunday, November 11, 2007

An inconvenient possibility

Spain shown perils of climate change is a piece filed by Paul Hamilos in Madrid, on a new Greenpeace publication - Photoclima - a wake-up call on the potential impact of climate change in our back yard. Here are digitally retouched pictures of La Manga del Mar in Murcia to show before (top) and after (below) a rise in sea level. Photograph: Pedro Armestre/AFP/Getty Images

Damn! There goes my happy ever after. While I was living in a desert country, and dreaming of a saner way of life, far from the magnificent hubris of one of the least sustainable cities on earth, the European Environmental Agency was concluding that the Iberian Peninsula would be the part of Europe most affected by climate change.

This was in 2004, but I came across a rehash of the study a couple of weeks ago (Can't remember where.) which stated that, three years on, Spain remains dangerously complacent about this. Apparently,

"Climate change is expected to boost yields for most crops in most parts of Europe over the coming decades. The magnitude of this effect is still uncertain and depends on the climate scenario and how agriculture adapts to climate change. Estimations show yield increases of 9 % to 35 % for wheat by 2050.
The largest increases in yield could occur in southern Europe, particularly northern Spain, southern France, Italy and Greece. Relatively large yield increases (3-4 t/ha) may also occur in Scandinavia. In the rest of Europe, yields could be 1-3 t/ha greater than at present. There are small areas where yields are projected to decrease by as much as 3 t/ha, such as southern Spain".
However, these potential gains could be more than cancelled out in southern Spain by drastic fall in rainfall. "

Hmm..... Should I be learning Scandiwegian..............?
Meanwhile, back in Blighty, Leo Hickman writes in his ethical living column :

"Rather predictably, talk of "eco fatigue" is beginning to surface. An ICM survey of 2,000 British adults found recently that 23% of those surveyed admitted they were "bored with eco news". You could say 77% are still engaged, but it would be a mistake to ignore the fact that some have gone from "aware" to "despair" in a very short period of time.

What has caused this? Earlier this year, Professor Mike Hulme, then director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, warned scientists and the media against the use of hyperbolic language when speaking about climate change scenarios. In particular, he warned against using the words "disaster", "apocalypse" and "catastrophe". His own research showed that such terms generated apathy among the intended audience. "Sod it," people would conclude, "we all might as well live for the now, then. What time does Top Gear start?"

Another factor I sense playing its part in generating "eco fatigue" is that some people clearly see it as a passing fashion. .... Tellingly, the ICM survey found that 18% of those surveyed admitted to exaggerating their commitment to environmentally friendly lifestyle choices because it is "fashionable".

(uhuh..... Mira! La vida en verde en AR La revista de Ana Rosa.....)

Actually, that's a cheap shot at a rather good magazine, and its genuine effort to persuade us consumers that living green can be sexy and fun. Let's face it, when we live in cities, at city pace, and almost entirely cut off from the rhythms and details of the natural world, the natural world becomes unreal, and frozen in time too - of course it remains exactly as it was when we were children. Doesn't it? So the softly-softly approach to changing our shopping habits is a step in the right direction. But I think we're going to have to take bigger steps.

Back to Leo......

Or is "eco fatigue" just a classic symptom of denial? The alarm clock is buzzing away, but we'd rather hit the snooze button than face the day ahead. All the classic signs are evident: transference ("our emissions are tiny compared to China's"); minimisation ("personally, I can't wait till it's 2C warmer"); falsifiability ("you can't prove 100% that we're to blame"); false memory ("summers were always much hotter when I was a kid"); diversion ("there are far more pressing things to worry about in this world than climate change"); and rationalisation ("I work bloody hard, so I damn well deserve my long-haul holidays")."

Does anyone else see themselves in there?

If you can't get out to enjoy the real thing, (and I can't either, right now..) IberiaNature shows what we're missing. Meanwhile, is autumn in Madrid just beautiful?

Un poco más

We just got back from La Fontana de Oro. This is one of Madrid's many Irish bars, and a great live music venue. (The link is a Top 10 Live Music guide, and also lists Café Central, another favourite, so I'll probably be following up on some of the other venues in the next few months.)

This was our second visit. We took a walk last night, and came across it then - happily - because a) we were planning to go and listen to Sí Sí Riders again tonight - this time with lots of people from work - but couldn't quite find the Calle Victoria on our streetmap; and b) Capítan Soul happened to be on, playing a solid R&B set. They were very good, though the lead guitarist's vocals weren't up to their overall musicianship. Their website shows 2 female singers in a 4/5 piece group, but they were playing as an all-male three-piece last night. I'd definitely go again if they had their full line-up, and as it was, we stayed til gone 1 a.m. and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

La Fontana de Oro has its thirteenth anniversary this month, and a full programme of live music. Actually, it's the Irish bar that's 13 : the original FdO opened for business in the 1840s, as a cafe and - literally - a chat room - where people gathered to discuss life , the universe, and everything. Like the Café Comercial, where we went last week, this evolved into one of Madrid's tertulias, or literary circles, and the setting for Benito Pérez Galdós's first novel. Er..... that would be.... La Fontana de Oro ........

I'd never heard of Pérez Galdós before, but that says more about my ignorance of Spanish literature than anything else. Wikipedia says that many consider him second only to Cervantes.

Anyway, he was a contemporary of the Valencian artist, Joaquín Sorolla (Now him I have heard of, and appreciate: I saw an exhibition of his work last year, in Granada, and framed the poster.) And here's Sorolla's portrait of Pérez Galdós:

The FdO has a copy painted on tiles. A nice touch.

And Sí Sí Riders turned in another lively evening's entertainment. Those guys can really play.

I think we're having a lie-on tomorrow.

Oh, and it seems that there's a ghost, too. In England, we go for headless ghosts, but this one is apparently bottomless.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Buen Fin de Semana

I'm halfway through a long weekend. Last week, we had Thursday off, and last month we had the 12th, but I feel less spoilt than relieved by this humane spread of public holidays. The past three months have been so interesting, so stimulating, so delightful, so satisfying. At the same time, between new country, new job, new people and new language, it gets tiring!

It all got a bit much on Thursday morning, and I had a rather weepy conversation with Habibi - he wasn't weepy, I might add, just quietly practical: yes, it gets a bit much sometimes, but we've covered all the bases, and we've nothing to worry about. What I needed was a decent night's sleep, and - ideally - a long weekend to cool my overheated brain, and generally chill.

We had this conversation while strolling through the neighborhood - my choice, as I'm less likely to snivel if distracted by the necessity of watching where I'm going and not making a show of myself. We wound up in a little side street cafe, where a film was playing unnoticed on TV. After a while (The TV was sited over Habibi's shoulder.) I registered that the protagonists had taken off their clothes and started doing things of a highly personal nature - not exactly washing behind their ears, you understand. Around the cafe, various other people noticed, watched for a bit with all the interest of cows chewing a stem of grass, and then went back to their conversations, or to gazing over their coffee cups. Fresh from the Middle East, we were a little more distracted, but not much. I almost felt sorry for the actors - all that psyching yourself up for a Nude Scene, and for what? Of course, it might have been different with the sound turned up.......

Outside, there was real entertainment: the tail end of a shouting match between a man and a woman; and a window display to die for: a scattering of bright autumn leaves, and heaps of beautifully made chocolate leaves, chestnuts and acorns, and chocolate-dipped walnuts. Mouthwatering artistry!

From there, I went off to my Spanish lesson, children's English classes in two schools and two adult classes back at base. The first children were as good as gold, and I was proud of them: they're a lively bunch, and its taken some doing to get to that level of concentration and involvement. Let's see if we can continue like this! The second group, an after-school class, and usually pretty focused - were completely hyper at the prospect of a long weekend starting as soon as they got out of class. Ah well.

The adult classes are - naturally - quite different in nature. I find that being a Spanish learner adds an extra dimension to being an English teacher. The challenges that my students face in mastering English are mirror images of the challenges I face with their language. They, of course, are considerably more advanced in English than I am in Spanish, so I have yet to deal with the grammatical and idiomatic points that they are wrestling with now. On the other hand, while they struggle to first hear, and then reproduce English vowel and consonant sounds, like our long 'a' (plate, spade), soft 'sh' and crisp 'ch', I am making a total hash of the lisped Spanish 'c' and 'z' which are somewhere betweenEnglish 'th' (thought) and 's' (sought!). It's a good job I prefer vino tinto to cerveza!

It's ironic that, as a resident here, I have the advantage of total immersion in the language I want to learn; but as an English teacher, I operate in my first language for most of my waking hours, and I can't even take it for granted, because of the need to explain and model it for my students. Not much comfort blanket there!

Out and about, of course, mundane tasks and conversations, and the radio, posters, shop signs, street signs and newspapers of my environment- provide one long practice exercise. Between the particular demands associated with each language, it does get tiring.

I have no complaints though - oh no. I am intrigued by this process of becoming bilingual - as I aim to be, eventually. I love the day-to-day contact with the people I meet in shops, cafes and classes. I get a tremendous buzz out of understanding snatches of conversation and lines from songs.

Anyway, it's the weekend now, and I'm enjoying it!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Good morning Andalucia

Since the new term started, with most of my classes in the afternoons and evenings, mornings tend to be spent in bed. Jealous? Ha! In bed with my laptop and assorted coursebooks and folders! Partly it's because there's a lot of preparation to do, particularly at this time of year, when we have new levels to teach, and new materials to work with - and of course, I'm coming back to English language teaching (ELT) after years of teaching drama. I'd rather do my prep here than at the office because.... well.... it's nice to get home occasionally!

However, in our bijou micro-piso, we need to make the best use of space, so that we don't keep bumping into each other, tripping over Stuff, and losing things under other things. So, Habibi has his office at the built-in table, and I have mine directly over his head, on the platform bed. I've got the laptop plugged in up here, with the lead running behind the books on the built-in shelf/bedhead, and the network cable running under the mattress and down the pillar/bed leg to Habibi's desk and the modem. I have got to take some photos of this place!

One of the nice things about the officebed setup is that as I get organised, I get to do things like catching up with friends, reading blogs, and really self-indulgent stuff like reading the daily Calvin & Hobbes, or playing in the JigZone. All while still in my pyjamas. This I like!

Today I've been to see what Cave Renovator's been doing since I last looked - in August! I love his blog. And I've added a new link to Mrs CR's Tapas Recipe site: yummy stuff from local (in a supermarket near us) ingredients - I may even cook, as opposed to pointing out fab recipes to Habibi!

We're still city dwellers - and loving it - but we're in Spain - and loving it - yay! (BTW, Don't tell anyone, but we don't use the Present Continuous for stative verbs.......... O....M....G........)

I feel some prep coming on!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007


It's 3.30 in the morning, and 4°C outside, and down in the square a woman has been howling at her demons for over an hour. Some brave souls have tried to calm her down - if you're in trouble here, someone will always try to help - but she's afraid of them too. Ayuda! Policia!

Some police officers ran into the square, but they don't know what to do, because no-one's actually doing anything criminal, nor is anyone hurt. She's just terrified by whatever's in her head, and until or unless she attacks someone in her frenzy, or trips over one of her rolling empty bottles and falls through the cafe window, there's nothing to be done. The downside of Madrid’s streetlife.

During our month in the furnished flat off C. de Atocha, we had 24 hour street entertainment right outside our window. The day would start at around 7 a.m. with deliverymen trying to rouse traders by banging on their rolldown metal shutters. If it was the iceman, or the fruit & veg guy, there would be someone to open up at the Chinese supermarkets and bazaar; but if it was the Coca-Cola guy, with supplies for the local bar, he would have to bang long and hard to drag staff from the beds they'd only crawled into about 4 hours earlier. There was one day when it took him 40 minutes to get a response. He didn’t seem to mind that much. In fact he got quite creative: experimenting with pace, rhythm and volume, even jamming briefly with another deliveryman who’d come across to enquire and sympathise. By this time, obviously, I’d given up trying to sleep, given up completely. It’s quite possible that the people at his next port of call had given up on him. Maybe they enjoyed a rare lie-in.

For the next hour or so, a succession of trucks would reverse into the truck-+10cm spaces between the trees. You could tell which drivers were new to this: every now and again you’d see a treetop quiver and lean ever so slightly in one direction, then ease back into position - often with hardly a leaf out of place. It was educational too. While the drivers practised precision-parking, I was reading the sides of their vans and looking up their businesses in my diccionario. (Fontanería: plumbing. Cubitos de hielo: ice cubes.)

Meanwhile, the bank lights would go on, and sleepy people would hurry by or stop for a smoke on their way to or from work.

Next were the dog owners, who came and went through the day, strolling along with their teeny pooches, settling on the stone bench as the mood took them, and chatting with the local homeless people, some of them also dog-owners: that's one thing about this place - you might not have anywhere to live, but you've always got company and somewhere to sit.

Through the morning, shopkeepers and barstaff would roll up their shutters, put on their music, and put out their chairs and tables. Heavy-eyed customers would drift down to the cafés for breakfast, and chatty tourists would take up the other tables as the morning chill gave way to enervating heat. The cheerful homeless guy with the hoarse voice and ponytail would chat to all comers and cadge cigarettes; while the grumpy one with the thick black hair and weathered scarlet face of an alcoholic John the Baptist would stretch out on the pavement outside the Tabac, and, depending on his mood, sleep, shout, or lumber over to the café tables and snarl unintelligibly for a light or a cigarette. At each table, café customers would watch his progress out of the corners of their eyes, handing over the goods with a nervous grin and minimal eye contact if he picked their table, relaxing from studied nonchalance to sheepish relief if he passed them by. Meanwhile, the sparrows hopped about looking for their share. Everyone had his particular patch.

JB got increasingly disagreeable and aggressive over the month we were there, at one point taking a serious dislike to the staff of the Chinese bazaar, and moving to a doorway across the calle from the shop entrance, from which he shouted abuse for hours on end. A new routine evolved: several hours shouting would result in the arrival of a couple of police officers patrolling on foot, then perhaps a couple on pushbikes, and maybe a another couple or two, this time on motorbikes. Neighbours, shop staff and café customers would watch with interest as one of the 2/4/6/8 squatted down for a friendly chat with JB. After a while, the police would go away, and he would start up again. Then the police would come back, a car would be sent for, and he would be invited to get in the back. There would then be approximately four hours peace and quiet until he came back from the station. Time for a snooze.

As the heat of the day reached full intensity, wiping out every scrap of shade, the Chinese grocer’s children would disappear into the shop to watch TV, and the neighborhood would be almost deserted, apart from a trio of sweat-sheened Latinos who liked to spend their afternoons in full sun, drinking beer out of big bottles, with their teeshirts pulled up to air their bellies. Each to his own.

As the sun went down, taking the hammering heat with it, the calles would start to fill up with people looking for a good meal in good company. Waiters set tables with cloths and evening menus.

The early evening, when the 19th Century streetlamps shone through the trees, would bring out the one-bag street traders, and the homeless people trying to raise the price of a meal, a drink, or a packet of cigarettes. The cheerful chappie’s speciality was kneeling almost bolt upright on a jacket in the middle of the calle, head bowed and right arm stuck out in front of him, palm up. Meanwhile, the first jewellery sellers would set up shop, laying out their elegant spirals and twists on the stone benches, and settling on the ground in nests of bags and bikes to work wire, leather and semi-precious stones into new pieces.

Tourists and Madrileños, strolling up the calle en route for restaurant and bar, would pause and cluster to watch, discuss and buy at the jewellery benches, and perhaps give the chappie a coin. After a while, one set of makers would move on, and the next would move in. As the evening passed, the encampments got bigger: the jewellers’ friends knew their patterns, and would add their own bikes and bags to the nesting sites, settling down to talk and smoke in the cool of the evening.

By 11 o’clock, as the clubs and late bars opened for the serious nightlife, we would be closing our shutters and turning in for the night, but the street entertainment never really stopped. Through the night – at 5 in the morning - you’d hear clusters of friends, from late teens to late 70s, coming back from wherever they’d been, apparently unaware that there were four floors of households on either side, all resonating to their conversation, laughter and bursts of song. But that’s ok. One thing you learn early is that Madrileños are noisy. In almost every mood and circumstance. If you’re going to live here, you learn to either sleep through it, or join in.

But what to do for – or with - the homeless alcoholic having a full psychotic episode outside your window. Not a lot really. She went quiet after 2½ - 3 hours. I expect that tomorrow she’ll be out on the piazza with the rest of the gang as usual. Live and let live.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Going to the Prado

We went, but we didn't get in. They were queuing round the block. It's a very handsome block, and it was a very relaxed queue, but we didn't feel like standing in it for an hour or so and then walking round a museum which, by all accounts, takes at least two days of serious attention. So we walked round it instead.

Two things: it's free this week, and there's an exhibition of 19th Century paintings that I want to see. Never mind. I'll go another day. Habibi and I are not very good at doing museums and art galleries together. He absorbs detail quite quickly, and can move from work to work quite quickly. I get transfixed by details, and take f-o-r-e-v-e-r to get from one end of a gallery to the other. I have an idea that we're not the only couple like this. I always wonder at those who can stroll arm-in-arm from painting to painting in rapt, and evenly paced, concentration. How do they do it? Is one of them secretly frustrated, sedated, or quietly looking forward to the cafe and gift shop at the end? Or treating this trip as a recce, and making mental notes for Next Time?
Is it quid pro quo - Prado today, World Cup qualifier tomorrow?

Or are they soulmates destined for the same lotus blossom for all eternity?


Anyway, we cut through the queue, and walked around the outside, en route for Plan B, the Real Jardin Botanico, which he enjoys, and I love. And somewhere that does breakfast! We found the warm, snug, Cafe El Botánico between the Prado and the RJB, and took a break from the bracing autumn air, for tostadas, tortilla and good coffee. That's one to go back to.

The botanical gardens were full of other people who'd thought better of the three queues for the Prado - and there were more queuing to get in. So we went to El Parque del Buen Retiro instead(El Retiro to us locals.........). Just around the corner.

That was busy too, but part of Retiro's charm is the number and variety of people who go there to do their thing at the weekend - plus the fact that it's big enough to accommodate us all. Skateboarders - mostly young men with serious hand, knee and elbow protection - make the most of the flat ground around the fountain of the Fallen Angel (Lucifer, cast out of Heaven) - and the long slope down to the Atocha gate. Children on in-line skates wobble and loop around parents ambling with push-chairs and toddlers. Joggers. Cyclists. Teens, adults and jubilados (fab Spanish term - beats 'pensioners' and 'senior citizens' in my book) stroll hand-in-hand, or sit at one of the many cafes with friends and newspapers. So do we. There's a playground where you can encourage your four-year-old to the top of a ladder; practise Tai Chi or yoga; strip to your shorts and work your abs and pecs - or just watch....... ;)

Then there's the Palacio de Cristal, overlooking an ornamental lake full of fish (huge fish - huuuuge fish), ducks, umpteen terrapins, and three or four swamp cypresses that grow straight out of the water. Such fun. The Palacio is gorgeous. It's also an exhibition gallery connected with the rather fab Centro Reina Sofia, just across town. I couldn't understand this when we first saw the Palacio in the 35C heat of August. It's an unshaded glass building - probably the most unsuitable venue for any kind of exhibition - unless they bring stone sculpture up those steps?

Today we saw - Andy Goldsworthy's 'En las entrañas del árbol' :


We walked on, to the cafe overlooking the big ornamental lake, and the statue of Alfonso XII. The last time we stopped there, back in August, in our first week here, we were ready to collapse from a bad case of Overdone Tourist: the heat! - our feet! Basically, we stayed because we couldn't move another step until the sun went down. Of course, on the way back to the hotel, we discovered the Palacio de Cristal, and all sorts of lovely things we'd been too stressed to appreciate earlier.

This time, we had a lovely time watching the world row by in bright blue rowing boats, while sparrows swooped in and out of the flame-leaved trees, and people came and went, all wrapped up in woollies and boots, and all wearing shades against the brilliant autumn sun.

We continued along the lakeside path - across from the statue and mausoleum - and passed at least four puppet booths, a pair of dancers taking a break, a magician in huge fake wig and purple turban, and showbiz Ali Baba slippers; and the tarot souk! There were about a dozen ladies with little folding tables, all with table cloths, some with bouquets of artificial flowers attached, plus lines of elastic to hold the tarot cards in place - presumably to prevent a chance breeze from rearranging someone's destiny.. (There are several TV channels dedicated to tarot. Add that to the national obsession with lottery tickets, and you get an odd slant on what used to be a formidably Roman Catholic country.)

I like Sundays in Madrid.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Lingua Longua

And here is the one I prepared earlier....

on November 1, 2007

Today it is the Day of the Dead persons, and a holiday here in Spain. To celebrate, I have remained in the bed up to 1 in the evening, and then, two more hours, with my tea, my book and my portable computer. Good what to being idle as this one!

Yesterday in the night, I have gone away of working to 9.45 in the night, and have taken the Meter to Nuñez of Balboa, and a concert in The Celtic Cross.

At the stations, I have seen many young people in suit of holiday, garment in fantastic style: layers and black wings, brilliant perukes, and makeup of fantomas, devils, or clowns of circus. In the platform to Alónso Martínez, the people have smiled, or you have ignored him. Then, when the train is ‘ carried out his entry in the station ’ the cars have contained other devils and angels, all in holiday.Then, I have found with Habibi to N of B, y we have gone to the bar, where we have enjoyed friends and strangers – it has been equal. Many people, music, laugh and conversation on other conversations and more laugh. Two birthdays – quite he has sung. We have gone away late.

When we have gone out of the Meter for 1 of the morning, we have found many groups of young people who there are his proper holidays small in the piazza next to our flat. Has wanted to have left: why to try of sleeping across so noise?, but I have made too cold, and we is a little tired one. We have gone to bed, and have got up twelve hours later.

This evening has been clear and has done of good weather. So, we have gone for a slow walk, elevated place the trees, the buildings, and the people of the quarter, and have eaten in one of few snack bars that have been opened today. Then, another walk, a coffee in the kind ambience of historical Commercial Coffee. And the return to the house.


Muchos gracias to Im Translator. (The feeling may not be mutual: Guys, before you sue, let me make it clear that I haven't done the past tenses - or much else - yet - so IT'S ME, NOT YOUR EXCELLENT PRODUCT!!).

I've signed up for their free service. You have been avisado.....

Lingua Spanca

Habibi put my last entry into a translation site. The result is probably an accurate rendition of my Spanish......

On November 2, 2007
I have returned to work for the last day of the week. It is a bridge for someone, pués we profés have not asked all the pupils to wait in the classes. It is clear that many people they have gone away to his village, to visiting his parentes for the holiday. A girl has said to me that it has gone to San Sebastian, and other one has gone to Jeréz. In end, I believe that 50 % I have come today.

For the midday, I have gone shopping for a vacuum cleaner to hand and a book of grammar. It has seemed to me that the whole world is habid the same idea, because El Corte Ingles has gone very crammed. I have dyed my heat and I am duelida them chirp also: I have not liked at all.

It is not true: I have loved the autumnal colors and different textures of the corners of gantes and averages. I have had success in Hearth: the electrical appliances are so expensive here! - but I have had to go away to nine House of Books in C. Of Orense for my book. What villain to feet!

But what good shop also. I remind to myself from my first visit to Spain that the Spanish take his free time seriously. Every Court English in cualqiera ciudád supports a plant of books and of material for the fine arts. Madrid has dicenes of bookstores, where he can buy the new books, to segundomano and ancient, and rest and to drink a coffee at the same time. There are also so many small haberdasheries, linens and hardware stores, big shops of textiles, specialists in handmade wools, florists who sell the cactuses and bonsai for the minuscule flat and plants and flowers in baggage for the balconies.

And then, there are the promotions and campaigns of the ayuntamento and the government, to encouraging and supporting the arts, and after cheer up citizens to be enjoyed the museums, the theater etc. Books to the Street in the Meter, The Summers in the Street from June until September, The Night in Target in September, the Autumn festival, and the current one ‘ we invite You to the Meadow ’. Quite for the big life - for everything.

We go to the Meadow this end of week.

Yup - that about covers it. ;)

Another over-ambitious diary entry

El 2 de noviembre de 2007

He vuelto a trabajo para el último día de la semana. Es una puente para alguien, pués nosotros profés no hemos preguntado cuantos alumnos a esperar en las clases. Claro que mucha gente se han ido a su pueblo, a visitar su parentes por la fiesta. Una chica me ha dicho que ha ido a San Sebastian, y otra ha ido a Jeréz. En fin, creo que 50% he venido hoy.

Por la mediodía, he ido de compras para una aspiradora a mano y un libro de gramática. Me ha parecido que todo el mundo ha habid la misma idea, porque El Corte Inglés ha ido muy atestado. Me he tenido calor y me he duelida las pies tambien: no me he gustado nada.

No es verdad: me han encantado las colores otoñales y texturas varias de las rincones de gantes y medias. He tenido éxito en Hogar - ¡los electrodomesticos son tan caros aquí! - pero me he tenido que ir a la nueve Casa de Libros en C. De Orense para mi libro. Qué malo a pies!
Pero qué tienda buena también.

Me recuerdo desde mi primera visita a España que los españoles toman su ocio en serio. Cada Corte Inglés en cualqiera ciudád mantiene una planta de libros y de material para las bellas artes.

Madrid tiene dicenes de librerías, donde puede comprar los libros nuevos, a segundomano y antiguos, y descansar y tomar un café al mismo tiempo. Hay tambien tan muchas pequeñas mercerías, lencerías y ferreterías, tiendas grandes de tejidos, especialistas en lanas artesanales, floristas quienes venden los cactuses y bonsai para el piso minusculo y plantas y flores en maletas para los balcones.

Y entonces, hay los promociones y campañas del ayuntamento y el gobierno, a fomentar y apoyar las artes, y a animar las ciudadanos a disfrutarse de los museos, el teatro etc. Libros a la Calle en el Metro, Los Veranos de la Villa de junio hasta septiembre, La Noche en Blanco en septiembre, el Festival de Otoño, y el actual ‘Te invitamos al Prado’. Todo por la gran vida - para todo.

Vamos al Prado este fin de semana.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Deberes (Homework)

We've started Spanish lessons, and got to El Preterito Perfecto. So here's the homework - all in the present perfect, and heavily reliant on the dictionary, but never mind! (Short version: we went out last night. It was fun. We slept in today in celebration of The Day of the Dead - great excuse for a public holiday - and then went for a walk. Wild.)

I did try a proper blog earlier, but something went awry, hence default homework entry. Also - my Spanish is finally starting to resemble a language instead of a linguistic lucky bag............... phew............. So, never mind the howlers, here's my best shot.

el 1 de noviembre de 2007
Hoy es el Día de los Muertos, y un día festivo aquí en España. Para celebrar, me he quedado en la cama hasta 1 por la tarde, y entonces, dos horas más, con mi té, mi libro y mi ordenador portátil. ¡Qué bueno a holgazanear como éste!
Ayer noche, me he ido de trabajar a 9.45 por la noche, y he tomado el Metro a Nuñez de Balboa, y un concierto en The Celtic Cross. En las estaciones, he visto muchas jovenes en traje de fiesta, vestido de estilo fantastico: capas y alas negras, pelucas brillantes, y maquillaje de fantomas, diablos, o payasos de circo. En el andén a Alónso Martínez, la gente ha sonreido, o le has ignorado. Entonces, cuando el tren he ‘efectuado su entrada en la estación’ los coches han contenido otros diablos y angeles, todos en fiesta.
Luego, he encontrado con Keef a N de B, y nosotros hemos ido a la barra, donde hemos disfrutado con amigos y desconocidos – ha sido igual. Mucha gente, musica, risa y conversación sobre otras conversaciones y más risa. Dos cumpleaños – toda ha cantado. Nos hemos ido tarde.
Cuando hemos salida del Metro a 1 de la mañana, hemos encontrados muchos grupos de jovenes quienes han sus propios fiestas pequeños en la piazza cerca de nuestro piso. Hemos querido quedarse – ¿por qué intentar de dormir a través de tan ruido? , pero he hecho demasiado frío, y nosotros hemos estado un poco cansada. Nos hemos ido a la cama, y nos hemos levantada doce horas mas tarde.
Esta tarde ha estado despejado y ha hecho de buen tiempo. Pues, hemos dado un paseo lente, miranda los arboles, los edificios, y la gente del barrio, y hemos comido en una de las pocas cafeterías que han sido abiertas hoy. Entonces, un otro paseo, un café en el ambiente amable de la historica Café Comercial. Y la vuelta al casa.

......... I might try that again when I can talk about the past properly! The band was Sí Sí Riders, a light-hearted Elvis cover band fronted by the gloriously extrovert singer Jeff Hogan. It was a wacky night out, with umpteen of us crammed into a tiny Scottish bar, with punters in Halloween dress having to sidle discreetly round the band to get to the loo, and stopping for a bop on the way back. Great fun. And these guys could really play. Lead, bass and drums doing serious justice to classic rock & roll and R&B. Estupendo! In fact, some of them play in other groups and line-ups. Check out bassista (!) Dave Mooney's other band, named for it's singer and writer Garrett Wall, on MySpace. I'm going to get down to their next gig. My ears might have stopped ringing by then.