Tuesday, September 30, 2008

¡Qué bueno! (Chuffed of Chueca)

I did my audition for the Coro de Mujeres de Entredós (women's chorus - soprano, mezzo-soprano, alto) - a dauntingly large turn-out for half a dozen places, and I got in! I am thrilled to bits. I've wanted to join this chorus for so long, bought a CD, been to a concert, practised songs from both - and now I'm in!

Entredós is a women's centre with a social, cultural and political agenda.

There's also a percussion workshop on Friday evenings, and I'm hoping I can afford to do that as well. I've seen the percussionist in action, and we're not just talking djembes - though they're deeply satisfying - but all sorts of percussion instruments.

However, there's something else to think about too. One of our friends is an expert on medieval musical notation, and is happily obsessed with the Cantigas de Santa Maria, a 13th Century collection of songs celebrating the Virgin Mary (also catchy Christian propaganda in a country still divided between Catholic and Muslim rulers). The collection was part of a vast canon of work commissioned by Alfonso X, or Alfonso el Sabio (Wise - or, more accurately perhaps - Learned) king of Castile & León, and what makes this so very appealing is that a lot of the cantigas have been set to traditional Galician (i.e. Celtic) folk tunes, rather than the more elegant court music of the time. So there's a bunch of us getting rather excited about the prospect of learning to sing and play some of these. Our little corner of Chueca was rocking to our stomping singalong to 'Quen quer que na Virgen fia' on Sunday afternoon, which my husband says in 27/13 time. Great fun. Sorry neighbours! So my Spanish may not be all that brilliant, but my medieval Galician Portuguese is going to improve no end!

Oh, and at Entredós this evening, we worked on a lullaby written in Catalan, Cançó de Bres per a una Princesa Negra, and Spain's summer hit of 1986, A Quién Le Importa. And in case you're not familiar with the latter, here's a video I smuggled out of rehearsal.......... Altos rule!
______________________________________
Esta noche he ido a las audiciones por el Coro de Mujeres de Entredós ¡y he tenido exito! Me gusta cantar, ¡tengo que cantar! Sin embargo, es siempre mejor a cantar entre otros, y me encantar cantar en armonía de tres o quatro partes. He buscado un coro desde otoño pasado, y he descubierto el Coro de Mujeres de Entredós, el Coro Universitario Complutense, y el Coro de Cámara, pero mi horario ha hecho todo imposible. Me gusta música clásico, pero otros tipos también: swing jazz (Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne), la música folklórica europeana, arabe, y africana (me gusta la música japonesa también, pero sólo a escuchar, ¡no a cantar!) y cuando estaba socio de 'Dubai Harmony Chorus' he cantado pop, y gospel, y 'barbershop' - ¡qué diversión! No he elegido Entredos sólo para su repertorio - lo que es muy variado y divertido -sino también para compartirlo con otras mujeres - españolas y otras - por fin para ser socio de un grupo.

¿Y nuestros primeras canciones? Cançó de Bres per a una Princesa Negra - en catalán, y ¡¿A Quién Le Importa?!

¡Qué alegría!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Soy constipada

Guys,

If your new Spanish girlfriend ever uses these words to cancel a date, let your sympathy be genuine, not a blind to frantic mental shrieks of 'Too much information!' and a resolution to refile the poor girl under 'E' (for Eeeewwwwwwww!!!!) in your addressbook just as soon as she puts the phone down.

She's got a cold.

On the other hand, if she rings to tell you she's enstreñida....... oh for goodness sake, haven't you got a dictionary?

Anyway, I am. Constipada. So I am sitting here with a mug of escaramujo con hibisco (not another beetle entry, I'm talking rosehip and hibiscus) wellied up a bit with some honey, a squeeze of lemon, a few cloves and a some cinnamon shavings. Drinking it while it's hot! Meanwhile, I've got a litre pottery wine jug set aside for later, with 3 escaramujo con hibisco teabags in it, plus half a lemon, a stick of cinnamon, maybe a dozen cloves, and a thumb-sized piece of ginger sliced up - oh - and a finger of brandy too (I was going to say slug, but so close to plant references, I worried that it might confuse certain sensitive persons). All topped off with boiling water, and left with a saucer on top to............ develop its potential.......

As hot toddies go, all this lacks is a couple of cloves of garlic, but you can't have everything. I'm sure the flat must smell wonderful, but of course, I can't tell.


Soy constipada.

______________________________________________


Un amigo (¡inglés!) cuenta que, una vez, su nueva chica española ha llamado a él para cancelar su cita, por motivo que ella estaba constipada. Él ha creido que 'constipado' es igual como la palabra inglés 'constipated', que significa 'estreñido' en español. Hmmmmm.

Pués, soy constipada, y he preparado un remedio calmado: una jarra de té caliente de escaramujo y hibisco, con miel, un medio limon, un palo de canela, unos claves en grano, unas lonchas de jengibre, y un shot de brandy. Para un 'hot toddy' perfecto , solo falta dos dientes de ajo, pero es domingo por la mañana, llueve, y soy constipada.....





No, this isn't me! Gimme time, though.....

Deberes

Soy profe de inglés, y como profe, se bien que para tener exito en otra lengua, todos los días se necesita hablar, escuchar, leer y escribir. Solo un poco - pero todos los días, o, por los menos, tan frecuentemente que posible. ¡Poco y a menudo! Es un buen consejo, y cuando yo lo de a mis alumnos (¡con grande sonrisa!) ellos suspiran y asenten con la cabeza...... ¡Ai! Qué lío.....

Pero no practico lo que predico ¡como dicemos en inglés! ¿Hay un dicho parecido en español? Estoy viviendo en Madrid trece meses, entonces, hablo español todos los días, pero siempre las mismas frases - para pedir un café, o pagar una cuenta, o dar un saludo al conductor del autobús - y para disculparme mis mal español....

Escucho, pero no entiendo bastante, solo palabras separadas, este verbo y eso sustantivo o adjetivo, no frases enteras: picoteo a las palabras importantes, como una paloma en la plaza, que busca migas de pan entre los huesos de olivas debajo de un mesa.

Leo los reportajes en 'Mi Jardin', y los diseños y instrucciones en 'Labores de Hogar', y los anuncios en '20 Minutos'. Y compro Hola si reconosco las caras en la portada...... a ver... Javier Bardem, 'Pe', los principes de Asturias (y Léonor, y Sophía....) ¡y Angelina Jolie o Matthew McConaughey!

Sin embargo, no escribo nada, nunca, para nada, ¡a nadie! No practico ni la gramatica..... el pasado.... el futuro... aiiiiii..... ni ellos pequeños trucos como aún.... aunque... todavía..... ya........ ¿Claro? Claro....... Ohhhh qué lío....... Y por consiguiente (Tengo mi diccionario a mano.....) no recuerdo jamas las palabras interesantes y utiles los que oígo cada día.

¡Y por consiguiente! continuo a hacer los mismos errores y tonterías cuando estoy hablando; y continuo a hablar español como payaso, agitandome las manos, mientras los hombros suben y descenden como un ascensor, y la boca y los ojos abren y cerran ¡como si yo soy carácter de Warner Bros!

Vale. Voy a escuchar mi mismos consejos. (un suspiro....) Y paso a paso, espero que voy a mejorar. Cuando escribo este blog en inglés, voy a escribirlo también en español. En breve, por supuesto.....

Paso a paso. Poco a poco.

Pasito a pasito. Pocito a pocito.

Pasitito a pasitito. Pocitito a pocitito.

P...........................


Saturday, September 27, 2008

Felt Bird of Happiness

The other night, I wandered onto the website of Tamar Mogendorff. Go see! Inspired by her birdies, I've been playing with felt, and having a wonderful time.
I'm not satisfied with the upturned tail or the pot belly, so of course I'll have to make another one. I enjoyed playing with the position of the black bead and scrap of yellow felt to get not just the position of the eye, but also - unexpectedly - an expression in it (mostly wry resignation this time, which I think is appropriate). And when I was tying off the stitching on the beak, I realised that I could also retract the beak slightly - basic needle sculpture. Obviously these things also mean that I need to make another one!


So all good fun, if a world away from the style and originality of Tamar Mogendorff's work, which ranges from the most elegant or funky soft toys, to art with a needle, conveying something essential about the nature of her subjects.

All wonderful!

Oh, and while I'm on the subject of people with actual talent, Habibi's been drawing, but is dissatisfied with the outcome. Apparently he's out of practice, so these are not much good.




Right.........................

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Dear George. Yeah, RIGHT!


I once got an email from a Nigerian widow who had learnt that I was a wonderful person and was therefore sure that my compassion and good sense would extend to helping her move her late husband's megaNairas* from his secret cash cache, via my bank account, to somewhere else where they could be Put To Good Use for the Benefit of the Deserving (widows, presumably), thus evading the grasping claws of their corrupt children, whose venality had caused him to stash it in the first place - and with some foresight, since it appeared that the ungrateful little buggers had almost certainly taken out the contract that had resulted in his abrupt departure from earthly woes. (Honestly, kids - who'd 'ave 'em?). I was touched. But not that touched. (*Actually she wrote in dollars, and I'm just being a smartarse - so sue me in any currency you like!)

I hadn't thought about this for a very long time, not until yesterday, when a very good friend forwarded a plea from George Arlington.


I hate it when I'm obliged to scrape off the warm fuzz that camouflages a suspicious nature. But neither do I like being manipulated: send me a piece of emotional and moral blackmail chain letter larded with sanctimonious insults and barely veiled threats, and sod the warm fuzz; out come claws and fangs and who the$*!)^%* is this &%*$îng sleazeball who has set out to exploit people's kindness and compassion for his own *;=%"?!¿!¿! ends? (Key: on earth, unscrupulous, nefarious).

So I did a search on 'George Arlington leukaemia baby' and found this
BellaOnline article at the top of a page that also included this BreakTheChain.org 'Sick and Missing Kids' page, which prefaces a list of known scams with this statement:
Few things tug at the heartstrings quite like stories of a child in need or,
worse, in jeopardy. It is in our nature to protect the young. Chains in this
category come in two basic, but distinct types. Sick child chain letters are
almost always bogus - they frequently promise that you can help fund their
medical care or help them realize a lifelong wish simply by forwarding an e-mail
(which you can't). Missing child chain letters, unfortunately, are very often
real, but quickly fall victim to all the shortcomings of using e-mail to
broadcast information.
Those are my italics at the end, because I received a chain letter containing photos of Madeleine McCann a few months back. It was an effort by one of her uncles to maintain awareness in Europe, because the family believed that while she could not be in Portugal, Madeleine was still in Europe. He's doing his best to help, using whatever's available.

As for 'George Arlington' and his , Fw: Leukaemia (don't delete-it's being tracked)..you'll know why [Scanned], when I passed my discovery back up the chain of emails, Wendy came back with this, entitled Leukaemia (please delete-it's being tracked)..cos its crap [Scanned] (ha!). She clearly knows exactly what she's talking about, so here's what she wrote:

I must say at first sight I knew it was a hoax. Having worked in
Oncology for a few years; I am fully aware of the state of minds of people
facing these awful situations, and there is no way anyone would be finding time
or will to enter into this sort of ‘begging’ nonsense. Not only that but
in this country no child would be facing a situation like this thank
God!


I hope everyone has good virus scanners in place because these things are
full of them. What they are about is getting email addresses of everyone
in order to sell it to companies who can then inundate you with junk
email.


So my advice is; unless you know of the person personally, don’t forward to
anyone.


For that matter when forwarding any emails always delete the previous peoples email addresses. This is considered polite email policy anyway. It is easy you just highlight all the previous senders and press delete.


These people are sick greedy b**tards and should be locked up for the scum they are.

My thoughts exactly. And considering that all I had to do to contact the EIGHTY or so other people in the chain so far - the earliest dated nine days ago -was hit 'reply all', I can see that that might well add up to a hell of a database for someone. Has anyone else heard from George? (Bless!)

Anyway, returning to the 'widow', I remember that the subject came up one afternoon (Remember the Alamo.) and it transpired that several of us had either received a similar letter, or knew someone who had. Later, there were newspaper stories. So I did a second search yesterday, this time on "Nigeria bank account hoax". There are several press reports, but mostly from 2002, so perhaps that one's had its day?

.....just like....... sniff!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

bloggy contentment

Last week, when I was Deeply Fed Up, I went looking for blogs to cheer myself up. Molly Chicken (away with the fairies - it's quieter there.) did it for me. I want to live next door to this woman, not least for our similar take on the important things in life, although I would not lend her my Dyson. If I had one.

This afternoon, having been restored to my normal (and I use the term loosely) insufferably cheerful self, (the power of a good whinge and the good sense of good friends), I surrendered to the pleasures of someone else's garden, on the Costa de la Luz, which is about as far south of here as you can get without falling into the sea. Starting at the beginning, I'm up to December 2006, and everything in the garden is pretty damn gorgeous, including the cat(s) and the mosaic(s). I could go for this.

And *now I'm going for an audition for a women's four-part harmony choir that I've been yearning to join for a year. If I get in I shall be a very happy bunny. If I don't get in, I shall be less happy, but I've got a reserve yearn. What I want to do is sing. With friends. Fingers and toes crossed.

*Harrumph! P.S.Erratum.Addendum.Bumbum.Oops.Buggerrit. How come the last Tuesday in September is in It's-October-now-so-get-yer-ass-back-to-work Week? Faec Fic Foc! (Who says Latin is a dead language?). OK. Next week!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

More bugs - not a post for people who don't like creepy-crawlies

My first job, in the shade on a warm Monday afternoon, was to pick the Cabbage White eggs and caterpillars off the cauliflower seedlings. Having once seen my beautiful nasturtiums (Did you know nasturtiums were brassicas? Neither did I!) devastated by these gourmands, I had no qualms.

All I had to do was deposit them in this plastic container, and shake it from time to time, because otherwise the little blighters would climb up and out!


I don't know what mine host did with them afterwards, probably made a nourishing broth.....

OK. Ants. Definitely common or garden, but look at the size of what they're carrying! They didn't mind me if I didn't mind - or sit on - them. I'm always impressed by the efficiency and determination of ants.
This is not a very good photo, but it's the best I can do: the husk, or skeleton, of a cricket, which I found on my second morning (That would be under the peppers.). I didn't know that crickets have to moult as they grow - I assumed that they emerged fully grown like butterflies. Nope. More info here.

Gorgeous photo of an orthopteran nymph (if you're into this kind of thing) here (Click on the photo to see the rest of this particular gallery.) at the absolutely amazing nature photograghy site of Bob Moul.

But here's a live one. This fella landed on my trainer on Thursday afternoon. There's nothing like a ground assault with hoe to eventually alert insects to the limits of the "If I don't move, I'm safe." approach. Even something as big as this is invisible until you catch movement out of the corner of your eye, and then watch for more movement rather than trying to distinguish the mover - just look at the coloration, or lack of it, against that late summer soil. Of course, when it actually stops for a breather on your toe.......



This is a wasps' nest (near the fruit trees).




You might be able to make out the wasp on the rim, at about 11 o'clock, but I wasn't getting close enough for a clear shot. I've always thought of wasps as just one of those bad-tempered beasties sent to try us, but

"If ground-nesting bees and wasps can be ignored and their tunnels tolerated, do
so since they are valuable in agricultural production and helpful by controlling
pests in nature. If nests are in locations undesirable and stinging is a great
possibility, control is justified."

So says a rather elegant Ohio State University Fact Sheet, and even the pest control companies seem to agree!

Here's the BBC again, with colour pics, but here's a real fan, with an essay in the garden of Paghat the Ratgirl. If you are stuck indoors when you really want to be out; looking at brick and stone when you really want to be looking at tree and blossom; listening to your own interior monologue on what you have to get done before the weekend/end of the month/next audit when you'd really really like to sidestep into a parallel world of aconites, Cedar of Lebanon and lines from Emily Dickinson, you could do worse than spend five minutes in Paghat's Garden.

You may even find an essay on the secret charms of the aphid,

but right now, I'm with the wasp.

And while I'm in insect PR mode, I think we're all familiar with the - commitment issues - of the praying mantis, so I was glad to be a) female, b) 47,000 times bigger, and c) holding a hoe, when this deadly beauty crossed my path on Friday (under the asparagus). It may even have been our own Apteromantis aptera, a mantis endemic to the Iberian Peninsula, but looking at this phenomenal photo on Flickr, I think this was a bit more common or garden.

They're officially a Good Thing because they prey on garden pests, but here's the full Wiki :

"Many gardeners consider mantises to be desirable insects, as they prey upon
many harmful insect species. Organic gardeners who avoid pesticides may
encourage mantises as a form of biological pestcontrol. Tens of thousands of mantis egg cases are sold each year in some garden stores for this purpose.
However, mantises prey on neutral and beneficial insects as well, basically eating anything they can successfully capture and devour. Although their diet primarily consists of small invertebrates, large mantises have been observed eating small vertebrates such as lizards, mice, snakes, and small birds such as hummingbirds."

Ulp. I don't suppose a novice WWOOFer would give them much trouble, either.

These snails weren't on the smallholding, but soaking up the fumes on the verge of the M-305 coming into Aranjuez. Wasting away, evidently.




Corn & Beans

Country cousins, corn and beans do well together. Planted side by side, the beans climb through the corn and up the stakes like a green trellis, and everything ripens in its own good time, tra la!

But there has to be a catch, and here it is.Trailing Bindweed may be a prosaic name, but it succinctly indicates the social habits of the pretty Columbine, all delicate pink and white skirts and charming tendrils, and the instincts of Becky Sharp. Better out than everywhere.....

(Tangent Alert: If you suffered through - and with - Tess of the D'Urbervilles at school, you might find this interesting. Thank you, Thomas B. S. (Bloody Sanctimonious) Hardy)

Meanwhile, back at the smallholding, I give you yer actual corn flower

or backyard triffid.... tribble..... poodle best of show......


and the fruit of its thingies, with interesting background vegetables.
BEANS! I thought bean blossoms were always scarlet. I shall check with the BBC before buying seeds, but it sounds as if Red Rum could give angelic Columbine a run for her ill-gotten gains, and the demure Painted Lady might get past her.


If you leave the pods to dry,
tip them onto a tarp,
and riddle them gently with a stick - as a break from hoeing, weeding, hoeing, weeding and ...
you get seeds for next year.



girasole











Saturday, September 20, 2008

I'm going slightly mad

Ask my husband, he'll tell you. That's kind, tolerant and probably slightly terrified husband who looks after me a treat, by the way. This is no tale of sorry misunderstood wife, lonely and unappreciated.

Picture a dog chasing its tail - a happy image. Picture a guinea pig chasing its tail: hmm, girth to length ratio, shortness of tail, narrow field of vision - less happy. Guinea pigs, in my experience, pootle along utterly absorbed in the minutiae of their guinea pig lives, uttering happy musical mweeeeeps as the mood takes them. Is the guinea pig aware that she has a tail? Does she care what it looks like? Nope. Not for her the folly of the hamster, similarly proportioned, and driven by some strange psychological pressure to chase round and round a sodding wheel, for heaven's sake, in pursuit of .................... what, exactly? No wonder hamsters bite.

I think I'm more guinea pig. I do. Got the figure for it. Good range of mweeeeeps. Tail's a bit of a problem at the moment though.

I read an article last month about a family who'd moved from England to France, and were now moving back because it hadn't worked for them. The crunch came when the wife - who essentially had exchanged a full, settled and purposeful life for isolation and a gorgeous view, in a country where she didn't speak the language - discovered she was pregnant. "And in that moment her future unfolded with frightening clarity. If we stayed, she would struggle to understand the midwives and doctors, and once the baby was born she would feel even more cut off."

I sympathised. We really like it here, and we never had any illusions about blending in, but we don't fit yet: not quite tourists, not quite anything specific - we're just here!

For a start, I soon discovered the downside of being an English teacher here: it's the nature of the job that, though you spend hours of every day surrounded by Spanish speakers, since they want to learn English, it doesn't improve your Spanish! Another teacher called it living in a bubble of English. And of course, in the staffroom, we're preoccupied with the complexities of our own language.

Ditto when teachers get together socially: my beloved now knows a lot more than he wants to about the present perfect and the first conditional, and the practical and philosophical differences in meaning between, say, the present continuous in English, and the present continuous in Spanish.

And we find ourselves monitoring our own speech, and that of those around us. Ooops! That was 'since' with a past simple! And I used 'much' in a positive sentence! Madre!

When your first language takes up so much of your attention, it rather dampens your enthusiasm for spending your free time wrestling with the all-important second one. After a dozen years in an Arabic-speaking country, I know that you don't learn a foreign language by osmosis (or not as an adult, anyway) so I have to do the work - but sheesh!

All of which is rather getting in the way of living here, as opposed to being an observer. (Good for yet another expat blog, but.............). I've got email invitations to theatre, talks, discussions and poetry readings, hmmmm..... After a year here, I'm frustrated and impatient with myself.

But the guinea pig thing. (Oh yeah? What was that exactly?) Well, it's like this, see. It's about life, isn't it? You know - a place, a purpose, an identity? I'm what you'd call a late developer. Twice, in Bristol and Bolton, I'd just found my niche, focus, whatever you like to call it, and laid the foundations of life as a young wife, mother, neighbour - when outside factors (a company merger, an economic recession - no, the other one...) necessitated a change of location.

In our years in Dubai, I did lots of interesting stuff, learnt a lot, made friends, and wished, for the most part, that I could go home. This wasn't an option, for a variety of reasons, and I found ways of keeping hands and head busy, and accepting what had to be. I used to wonder if there was a kind of stubbornness there - that all that really lay between me and the contentment that many other expats felt was a carefully disguised sulk at not getting my own way. There's a good little martyr. But I never felt that I had choices, only that I had to do my best to keep up. I'm fairly sure that I'm my own worst enemy. Opportunities missed or wasted, because I was treading water and holding my breath until I found the current that would take me back to my depth. I wish I'd had more gumption, more imagination, more backbone.

So we're here, putting into action the plan - such as it was - that sustained us in those final years. Except. I'm adrift. I'm lonely. I have no patience. But I don't know what to do! When we left England, I had a small son, and we left behind a close circle of friends built around the stages of early at-home motherhood - parks and toddler groups, nursery, primary school - that included husbands and neighbours. Life involved playdough, housework, boredom, silliness, common experiences, and a focus - our children and partners, our homelife. Sometimes it was tense, sometimes suffocatingly dull, but it was solid, and we were all individuals working through the same stage.

In Dubai, school was across town, with maids, drivers and buses as an extra layer of insulation, social life was built around shared interests, and the close friends you made generally upped and bloody left. I abandoned knitting and sewing, planted some pots, got a job, joined a choir and a drama society, made dear friends who didn't up and bloody leave - and who blog! - survived a couple of horrendous crises, waved son off to independence in England, learnt some Spanish............. and................... left. But not to go home. (I know, what's home, especially after such a long time?) I miss my friends. I miss my students. I do not want to go back, but I miss being connected to people. I'm working on the networking thing, but I know I come across as a dotty old auntie sometimes, all over-wide smiles, ever-ready apologies, and comic gestures and facial expressions. Maybe I could do silent movies? Street mime? Ah..........!!! Of course........ Living statues! You really need to speak the language to network. What a shame that the babel fish is fiction. Dang!

This week has been grim: tears before bedtime, also before getting up and over meals. Oh woe was me. It had been coming on for a while, staved off by the demands of work, but the moment I took my thumb out of the dike for purposes of having time off, relaxing, and doing what I wanted, the puzzle landed in my lap with all the spitting insistence of a furious street cat. Claw! What was I going to do? Claw? What could I do? Claw! And who with?! Huh? Who?! And what was the point because who was it for and why are we in another country where we don't speak the language so we're bloody foreigners again and it's still hot and the bijou-piso's still too damn small - and are you making excuses and feeling sorry for yourself again?! - and - phphphnnyyyaaaAAARRGGHHHHHHHHH!?!?!?!?! Claw!

And before you lean as far away as possible because you've just realised I'm completely freakin' nuts and you're afraid it might be catching, may I direct you to the title of this post? You were warned. Whoever you are. If you are. (sniff). It's ok. I'm back at work in a week.

Anyway, I fought back with an expensive foray into water colours since I have no space for sewing, and no space to put any finished product (moving to a bigger place some time soon); shopping for my WWOOF trip; practising Spanish; blogging; reading; and attempting - huh! - to write fiction. Ha! Can't do life, can't do sodding fiction either! Claw!

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand what it all boils down to is that, for all the fabulosity of new life and adventure in gorgeous capital full of really interesting people, being foreign is hard work, even for people with the advantages of education and choice. Quite apart from the mechanics of shopping, sorting out utilities and reading manuals (even from foreign manufacturere, e.g. neither my Samsung mobile, nor my Nikon phone offer instructions in English), when you're tired and just want to relax, your own language is part of that. And when you want to join in with something local, get to know someone on their own turf - well, there's a language barrier isn't there?

And although I have plenty of acquaintances and colleagues, and I caught up with my sister and sisters in law at Dad's birthday bash, and yes there's the Internet, I miss the friendships I had, and am generally tired of transience. I'm auditioning for a choir next week. I went to a knitting circle on Thursday evening. I found a patchwork class yesterday. My provisional timetable for the coming year (starting October) makes all of these - and Spanish lessons -possible. The timetable may change, but something must pan out. Every mother has to find a new focus after her children move out. Everyone who relocates has to be patient and persistent. Not every couple get to start fresh adventures together after the first big one of building careers and raising a family. The really interesting stuff does take effort, and effort often hurts til you get used to the new rhythms. And if you keep going with this kind of paragraph you can suffocate under the weight of your own platitudes.

So I don't feel at home yet, but I know I'll feel different a year from now. We've come a long way in a year, whatever the shortfall from our hopes - expectations would be too strong a word. New country, new job, starting out again at 50 without the energy and innocence of 20, and empty nest too - our son has just moved into his hall of residence for the first year of his degree course, so I'm going to finish the scarf I started making for his birthday two years ago!

It's been clear for some time that we've returned to Europe in time for a global economic crisis far worse than the one that sent us to the middle east in the early 90s. Which is a bit of a sod really. At least we have a lot less to lose than we did the first time round - when we eventually lost our house. Our son is up and out, and we're doing our own thing. It doesn't mean that I know what I'm doing or where I'm going, but I've had my insanity week, and I think I've worked out my gameplan for the near future.

Meanwhile, my husband has just defrosted our USELESS refrigerator with hairdryer, newspaper, kitchen towels, wooden spoon and carving knife. He's talking about grocery shopping, but I think it would be a kindness to take him out for a beer.

Tonight we're going to see Mamma Mia! again - but in Spanish this time. Working on the language skills, see?

Sunday, September 07, 2008

My favourite small museum (in Madrid) (so far)


This was my third visit to the Museo Sorolla. I fell in love with Sorolla's work - that's Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida - when I happened on an exhibition in Granada a couple of years ago, and I don't know how it could have taken me a year to visit this special place. Yes I do: unsocial hours. I'm hoping for a better timetable in my second year!

The first room - lots of family paintings. This is his wife Clotilde and their third child, the newborn Elena, in 1895.



The second room. Seaside paintings. Sorolla was born in Valencia. You can almost hear and smell the sea in his paintings, and this is exactly how Mediterranean sunlight bounces and sings and dazzles. Most of these pictures were painted a century ago, but they're so alive and immediate. The clothes may have changed, but mothers still swing children up onto one hip, swathed in a towel, and sunset always glitters across a summer beach, turning the wet sand tawny, picking out iridescent threads of algae, and casting the sea in umpteen shades of jade. The sunlight fairly squeaks off those white blouses and skirts. I'm glad I didn't have to keep up with the laundry in those days!

Clotilde again.




The third room. Sorolla was internationally successful in his own lifetime, a contemporary and friend of John Singer Sargent, and was able to have this house designed by an architect. The first two rooms were exhibition and sale rooms, and this third one was his studio. It was designed to give him as much natural light as possible. What works for an artist doesn't work in a museum: one of the windows has since been blocked up and another curtained off to protect the paintings in the collection, but the atmosphere is still airy and pleasant. This is some house!

Clotilde, and eldest daughter María. María and Joaquín, the middle child, went on to become painters, and Elena became a sculptor. There are a lot of Sorolla pere's sculptures and ceramics in the house, but I have been too absorbed by the paintings to pay them much attention. No matter, I'll be going again.


There's an alcove devoted to small sketches. My photo of my favourite, a quick and very alive sketch of Clotilde, has come out blurred. I'll try again another day.

Almost Beryl Cook. Almost Giles!

There are several photos of Sorolla at work in a three piece suit, or respectable trousers and waistcoat, and a sun hat. No smeary painter's smock or wiping his hands on his trousers!



In the stairwell. 'Mis chicos'. (My Little Ones) This is the closest he gets to sentimental. It's a lovely painting, and there's no mistaking the relationship between the two older children and their little sister, and between little sister and her father. It's difficult not to smile back at the Elena of a hundred years ago. At a time when photographs were - of necessity - posed, and solemn, how wonderful to have a painter in the family.

Upstairs, in the first room.

María, Joaquín and Elena again. The woman's face is merely an impression - a nanny, perhaps? What is Elena doing?!


Clotilde intent on her camera.

The second room.


There's also a room of almost lifesized paintings of people from different parts of Spain, in traditonal dress.

And a room full of ceramics.

And an Andalucian garden which has been beautifully restored as a shady place to while away a hot afternoon or quiet evening, lulled by the trickle of water. While I was inside this afternoon, Habibi sat out and enjoyed the garden.

I have pics, but it's late, and I've got a train to catch in the morning. More when I get back.