Monday, January 28

A Must See Film!

I just saw this movie last Friday and I must say it is probably one of the best films I've seen all year. It takes place in 1980s England and is about a 12 year old boy named Sean who has recently lost his father in the Falklands War. He and his mother are trying to carry on with their lives, but things haven't been easy, especially for Sean who leads a very isolated life. Sean soon finds friendship in a rowdy group of teenage punks and skinheads. They take him under their wing and turn him into one of them. a beer guzzling, boot wearing menace to society. Sean is finally experiencing joy and fulfillment for the first time since his father died. Soon, however, Combo, a racist skinhead who has recently been released from prison enters Sean's life and robs him of his innocence, propelling him into a world of hate and violence. A most powerful film... in the ranks of Goodfellas and American History X. Beautifully filmed and with an excellent soundtrack.

Indian dinner with Friends

On Friday's I have a ritual of waking up around ten, walking a couple blocks to the local newspaper stand, buying the freshly printed El Pais newspaper and then tearing it apart only to pull out the weekly cultural events guide On Madrid. With this gem of information, I mozy down to Martin's Cerveceria on Santa Engracia, take a seat at the bar, and read about ongoing and upcoming concerts, films, theater performances, art museum exhibits and the best restaurants, shops, bars, clubs, etc while eating the fluffiest tortilla espanola in Spain accompanied by a tall class of freshly squeezed Zumo. It's my perfect morning.

Now, while I was skimming the pages last week, I found in the COMER section a lovely review of a new Indian restaurant in town. Let me start off my saying that I've been to about 3 or 4 Indian restaurants so far since I've been here. None of them are exceptional and the majority of them can be found in Lavapies which is the ethnic neighborhood where you can literally walk five blocks and see nothing but Indian/Pakistani restaurants (you know you're in a Pakistani restuarant when you find beef on the menu). They're all quite cheap and frankly the food reflects that. It's fine for a quick lunch, but if you're looking for the good stuff, you have to do some research. So, back to what I was saying, I found a great review of an Indian restaurant that opened only six months ago, it's called Indian Aroma (Ventura de la Vega, 6: Metro Sevilla). The article said, "Sabras que elegiste un buen indio si te encuentras ingleses comiendo alli" and that at Indian Aroma "Siempre haya britanicos". The article also printed a lovely picture of the elegant candlelit dining room complete with gold statues and paintings of Vishnu and Shiva, dim lighting and yellow washed walls. A most intimate and cozy atmosphere, just where I want to be.

So last night, me and some of my pals met at Indian Aroma for dinner. I reserved a table for six at 9:30 (the average time Spaniards eat dinner). We started with some Indian beers, King Fisher and Cobra, and then began to flip through the very ample menu. Let me just add that Enrique had never had Indian food before tonight and so this was a kind of special occasion for him in that it would be his first time sampling the world's most savory, exotic cuisine. So we ordered some Onion Bhaji, Vegetable and Chicken Samosas and Chicken Tikka to start. It was all so beautifully colored and presented. Enrique seemed to be pleasantly surprised. Then we each ordered a main dish, most of us some variation of curry with either lamb, prawns, or chicken. When the food arrived, we all passed around our plates, had a little of everything, and shared some fantastic aromatic rice and garlic naan. Mmmm, it was great. At least a 9 on my 10 point scale of perfection. Indian night was therefore a success, though did I mention we were the only people in the restaurant... it was kind of nice actually, we could talk a little louder and had a little better service. For any of you that come out and see me, I'll be sure to take you here.

Me, John, Kate, Kassmira, Keith, Domingo and Enrique

Monday, January 14

Weekend Getaway to Extremadura

Over the holiday break, approximately two weeks ago, Enrique sent me an email telling me that he had planned a little trip for us to take the weekend after I returned to Spain. He gave virtually no details about the trip except that it would be from Friday to Sunday and that we would be spending the night in a 15th century castle. You can imagine my excitement! Friday finally came and Enrique picked me up from home around 6pm. We drove an hour and a half to our destination, a castle-turned-hotel which in Spanish is called a Parador Nacional, there are several throughout Spain. It was beautiful. The rooms, however, were not that spectacular, but rather could be described as comfortable and traditional. I think he was a little disappointed in the rooms... he paid quite a bit to spend the weekend here and the modest rooms didn't really live up to his expectations. Nonetheless, it was a treat to be away in a new place, in a castle no less! After checking in, we had a nice dinner at the hotel and then shared a great night together.

The next morning we went to a nearby town to visit a famous monastery called San Yuste. This was the site where King Charles V, ruler of the Holy Roman Empire during most of the 16th century, spent his last two years of life in order to prepare his soul for death. We took an excellent guided tour of the monastery and heard many interesting anecdotes about the life of one of the most powerful men in history. Afterwards we drove an hour and a half to Caceres, the town where Enrique went to law school. It was a very nice little city with a lovely historical district. We did a lot of walking, had lunch and then headed back to the Parador. On the drive back, the back-left window in Enriques car failed to roll back up so we spent about 30 minutes with 40 degree wind flying into the car. Fortunately we found a gas station that had some tools which allowed us to shut it. The rest of the journey was much more pleasant as a result. As soon as we got back to the hotel I hopped into the tub, took a nice hot bath and when I got out found Enrique with a chessboard that he picked up at reception. We played a game of chess, then one of checkers... I lost badly at both and, as a result, quickly lost interest in playing. We then had some dinner at a restaurant in town and were talking the whole time about our waitress whose age was a complete mystery... her body said 20 but her face said 50. It was pretty funny.

The next day we checked out and began our drive back to Madrid. We stopped at a few places along the way including a lovely little waterfall in the forest and an enchanting city called Avila (emphasis on the first A). As you'll see in the pictures below, Avila is best known for its medieval city walls and towers which form the original boundries of the city. After lunch, we walked along the top of these walls and took in some magnificent views. We got back to Madrid around 7pm. So in 48 hours we did quite a bit --it was really nice being able to escape the noise and pollution of the city and see some wide open spaces in the quiet Spanish countryside. It was also a great way to get to know each other a little bit better. We had a wonderful time.

The courtyard of the castle-turned-hotel where we stayed for two nights.

The garden and pond at the St. Yuste monastery. It is said that King Carlos V fished in this large pond from his bedroom window on the first floor.

A picturesque brook in the forest on the way to Caceres

The entrance to the historical quarter in Caceres, the remains of which date back to the 8th century

This quarter has been very well preserved, some buildings are still in use

One of the many storks that perch on the tops of the buildings in the historic quarter, they have massive nests and are constantly making very strange noises with their beaks (it sounds like two pieces of hollow wood being banged together)

Stairway to the historical quarter

Yours truly, under a bridge... behind me is a very pretty waterfall

The very pretty waterfall

El gran bosque

This region is fraught with very spooky trees like this one which reminds me of Christ's crown of thorns. Others looked like decrepit hands. It must take a lot of upkeep to maintain their appearance.

The towers that line the medieval city walls of Avila (circa 1090)

Beyond the twenty-foot walls you can see the where most of Avila's residents live and work.

The grand city plaza

A view of the cathedral within the city walls

A truly enchanting place!

Christmas at Home

Tamales add a very magical touch to our holiday celebration in the Shelley household.

Heart Attack in a Box.

Chicago Pizza will kill you. I ordered this medium pizza while staying at a Holiday Inn in Chicago. I was forced to spend the night there since I missed the last connection to San Diego on my way home for the holidays. I asked the receptionist what she recommended I order for dinner and she insisted on this pizzeria that makes "the best deep-dish pizza in Chicago"--I think it's called Giordano's. I ordered a medium cheese pizza and a coke and waited anxiously in my comfy king-sized bed, passing the time watching Law & Order. When I heard a knock on the door I jumped and answered it, quickly paid the skinny delivery boy and upon opening the pizza box, this monstrosity that you see above is what I found. It was about three inches thick and about the length of a soccer ball. Even though I was starving, I couldn't eat more than two slices. It was spectacular in taste but so freakin heavy. I felt like I just ate thirty mozzerella sticks or something. The crust unfortunately wasn't too good, kind of had the texture of cardboard. The look of this pie was unlike any i'd ever seen, I'm not sure if all Chicago-style pizza is done this way but on this one the cheese was under the sauce... very odd. Nonetheless, worth a try. A very tasty, albeit somewhat sickening, experience.

January Sunset and the Seals at La Jolla Cove

The Sweet and Tender Hooligans at The Casbah

This was by far the best night I had back at home during the holiday break. My brother and sisters and my dearest friend Chell all joined me at The Casbah, downtown San Diego's coolest music venue, to see the spectacular Smiths cover band The Sweet and Tender Hooligans. The lead singer flawlessly delivered every idiosyncratic movement and vocal intonation of Morrissey. Be sure to check them out if they hit your city!

Monday, January 7

Major Slacker

Hello everyone. Well, it's a new year and with that comes resolutions. As any of my faithful readers (all five of you) will know, I did a piss poor job blogging last term, that is, since I launched my site in October. Actually, looking back on it I did okay the first month or so, I uploaded photos regularly and made sure to write a few paragraphs about my current situation. That was before I established myself in Spain, before I made friends, before I found an apartment. With all these new distractions I made little time to share my life with all of you. And for those of you who didn't know, I was without a personal computer the whole time. I had to run off to a local locutorio to upload picutures (I'm sure you heard me bitching about it) and write short little entries. The amount of time it took, however, to upload photos, made it very unappealing to also write. That locutorio has a terrible draft and constantly seems to have Rhianna's Umbrella on repeat... the less time I spend there the better. But now, I am fortunate enough to be bringing back to Madrid a beautiful brand-new MacBook--it's black and lightweight, very travel-friendly and works like a dream. With the advantage of now being able to blog from home I can promise you I will post more often, and not just pictures... actual words and sentences. Ah, and I've taken the liberty to add written entries to my formerly photo-only posts.