Monday, February 18

Málaga-Day 2

Andalucia is very catholic and it's where the most extravagant celebrations take place during holy week (the week before Easter) which is called Semana Santa in Spanish. This is a photograph I took in one of Málaga's cathedrals of the iconic Andalucian image of Christ carrying the cross, it has a very baroque style with the Virgin looking down on him. I thought it was really tacky that this church used coin operated electric candles for prayer, they just seem so artificial and uninspiring.

I spotted this big dove-hand statue in the main pedestrian street of the city. I thought it was perdy. Just as a note, Málaga is the birthplace of Picasso (as well as the less respected Antonio Banderas) and so many public displays pay homage to him, his work and ideas. Visiting he Picasso Museum on my last day is one of the best memories I have of the trip.

Beautiful orange trees, like this one, were everywhere. This, plus the palm trees and ocean breeze, gave the city such a clean and fresh atmosphere. A real change from Madrid.

Exploring the pretty yellow side streets.

Street musicians are all over the place in Spain. Everyday on my way to work, I hear trumpets and accordians play. I like it, it's a nice soundtrack to add to your daily commute when you don't have an ipod.

The Alcazaba (which is Arabic for fortress) is the name of the great stone wall surrounding the historic district of the city. Located on the port, overlooking the ocean, it's over 1000 years old and is the best preserved arabic fortress in Spain. I got a girlfriend to snap a picture of me with the water to my back.

Paco's mother invited us over for a big Paella dinner. We started with a dish of unshelled shrimp... very typical in Spain. After shelling it, I dug out the poop lines with a knife, the mom probably though I was just another crazy American. They were quite tasty actually. There were 12 of us, so the paella dish was huge. It was the first time I'd had homemade paella. Clams, muscles, chicken and cod were all thrown into the mix... muscles are the only thing I still can't stomach.

The beach was pretty chilly and windy but we still chose to stroll along the shore and pick up sea glass and shells. Then we sat down at a cafe and sipped coffee and chatted about this and that. It was a great way to spend the afternoon.

Málaga-Day 1

Paco lives in Madrid but was born in Málaga, a beach town in the southern province of Andalucia. He planned a weekend trip with some friends, myself included, to celebrate his 25th birthday down in his home turf. I left Friday afternoon on the AV (alta-velocidad, high-speed) train and arrived in 2.5 hours. Some others took the bus which took a grueling 6.5 hours. Since I was the first to arrive at the hostel, I mingled with some other travelers and met a nice Argentine fellow, Nico, and an older Welsh man, Andrew. The hostel was one of the best I've stayed at, with good prices, comfortable beds and hot showers. It had a very Andaluz vibe, comfy ottomans and sofas and colorful walls and rich tapestries. A total of eight of us, including Paco, traveled down from Madrid. Four stayed at Paco's parents house and the rest of us in the city center at this hostel.

Upon exiting the train station, I was welcomed by a warm sun and fresh air. I could smell the ocean, such a joy that was. Lately I've become really sour about the pollution in Madrid. I feel like I'm constantly breathing in exhaust and cigarette smoke. It's so bad the city actually recommends people not exercising outside. So taking in a breath of clean air and feeling the breeze of the ocean was an absolute delight. I walked to the hostel and thoroughly enjoyed the sights on the way. Everything looked so clean and there were so many narrow, winding streets paved in marble, it had such a warm, small town feel. After putting my things down at the hostel, Paco, Sonya, Thomas and Katie picked me up... they chose to drive instead of take the bus from Madrid. We then headed towards Paco's parents place. They had a very nice apartment with a terrace overlooking the ocean. We hung out there for a few hours, drinking some beers, chatting and playing with his little dog Monk, named after the tv series detective whose show is apparently very popular in Spain.

After everyone took a shower and got a chance to rest after the long car ride, we headed back to the center for dinner and drinks. Since we were all on a budget, Paco took us to this cute little corner stand that could only be identified by a sign above the window "PATATAS ASADAS" (baked potatoes). For 4-5 euros, you get a giant baked potato filled with anything you want. I got the Patata Pollo which came with chicken, cheese, bechamel, and corn. Other toppings included olives, ham, curry, carrots, mayo, beets, tuna, etc. Even though the photo looks like cat vomit, it was totally yummy and filling.

After the meal, Kristen and Heather showed up fresh off the bus. One of Paco's old friends Antonio also came, having picked up the girls from the station. Together we headed to a famous old Andaluz bar called El Pimpi. It was packed. We finally found a table though and ordered a typical sweet wine from the region called Moscatel. It tasted what I imagine prune juice mixed with wine would taste like--pretty yummy actually. They serve it in a small glass which you're supposed to sip from, it's about 16% alcohol so you feel the effects pretty fast.

Thomas and Paco, the birthday boy. I actually met Paco through Thomas who went to CU-Boulder with me. We had a Spanish class together in Fall 2006 but didn't really get to know each other. We both applied for the Spain program (without knowing the other had) and six months later coincidently ran into each other at a cafe after orientation in Madrid. We became reaquainted, exchanged numbers and have been close friends ever since.

Me and Katie, one of Thomas and Paco's roommates. She's from Southern London, a very sweet girl.

Antonio, Heather and Sonya. Sonya is the final roommate, living with Katie, Thomas and Paco. Not long after moving in, she and Paco began dating and are now a couple. Sonya is also from San Diego, from Rancho Bernardo.

Drinking in a big outdoor square near El Pimpi. Beer in Madrid costs anywhere between 3-5 euros. In Málaga, it was only 1.20 euro. It was wonderful!

Saturday, February 9

Going to see Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds!!!

I couldn't be more excited!! I fell in love with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds while in Buenos Aires and have always thought they would put on an excellent concert. For graduation, Chell gave me the new release from Grinderman, Cave's side band, which has a much grittier sound than his earlier stuff but is still top notch. Anything that man puts out is gold.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds will release their 14th album, Dig, Lazarus, Dig! on March 3rd. The show is in Barcelona on April 25th! I've invited Laura, an old friend of my sister Jennifer who is living in Barcelona, teaching English like me. She's also a big fan. Check out their music video for one of my favorites, Stagger Lee: I get the feeling that he and David Lynch would get along just fine... I think they could produce something incredible if they collaborated together on a music video or film.

Almodovar Sighting!!

This was pretty damn cool. Keith and I were just chillin in my apartment when Keith's friend Alvaro calls us to tell us he's in our neighborhood just a few feet away from the brilliant Spanish director Pedro Almodovar. Keith and I ask for his location and rush out of our apartment, camera in hand, hoping to get a glimpse of the legend and maybe even a photograph. We find Alvaro just blocks from our place and five feet from him see Almodovar with his bushy white hair chatting with some friends outside a restaurant. There is no crowd around him. It seems like a perfect opportunity to get a photo and a word with the man. So Keith and I approach him, and Keith says we're such big fans and asks if we could get a photo of/with him. He very politely declined and told us that a bunch of people had approached him throughout the day and he'd told them all no, so had to do the same to us. He thanked us and walked away. I thought to myself, "I gotta get a picture!! This is Pedro Almodovar!!" So, I caught up to him and took a quick picture from behind hoping he wouldn't notice. I just took it and ran, hoping he wouldn't see me--that's why it's so crappy. He's the guy with the white hair and the red scarf, better than nothing.

Friday, February 8

Disco spin class

I found a great gym located on the same "manzana" (block) as my house. It's pretty small but has a great selection of classes from aerobics to karate to yoga. The one class I've been dying to try again is spin. A couple summers ago I took a spin class every week with my super-fit and motivating girlfriend Julie at the YMCA. After a couple months my derriere totally firmed up and I felt very proud of it. Once September rolled around though and I had to go back to Boulder, I dropped the routine and as a result lost the shapely rump I had worked so hard to achieve. So, I looked at their schedule at Gimnasio Chamberi and was delighted to find that they have spin classes a few times a day. The price was also very affordable. 40 euros for 9 classes a month.... that's all I have time or energy for anyway, twice a week. They allowed me to take a free trial class so I went in and did that on Monday night, just before Robin brought over the Haggis. It was pretty full and looked just like a class you'd walk into in the States, except for one thing... just after our ten minute warm-up, the instructor, Oscar, a very loud young Spaniard with the thickest thighs I've ever seen, dimmed the lights and hit a switch which simultaneously turned on a multi-color strobe light and late nineties dance music. It felt like we were at a bad nightclub with a lot of sweaty and smelly people all breathing heavily with the instructor chiming in with WOOO, VENGA! (come on!). It was actually really fun, though exhausting, and the music got better and better. You've got to have dance music with a good beat to keep your pedaling rhythm going. The strobe light though was a little goofy, definately a new experience. I've got another class today with Veronica. We'll see if she can pump up the class like Oscar can.

New students

Money has been a little tight for me these last few months. I'm usually out of cash by the 25th or so even though my only expenses are food, the metro, rent, some movies, nights of drinking... so I'm really not throwing money around that much. To make some more money I applied for a position at the teaching academy that Keith works at. Last week they called me back and signed me up for two classes on Monday night from 7:30-8:30pm and 8:30-10pm. My students are business professionals, two men and one woman, who are at an upper-intermediate level, which is so much better than beginner. They want to work on conversation, vocabulary, and really just refresh their knowledge of English. We have our first class on the 10th.

Enrique also hooked me up with a couple new students. Two of his friends, Carmen and Manolo, who I've already spent a bit of time with, had asked me for English lessons. I met with Manolo on Tuesday night and we sat down at a cafe for an hour and just chatted in English about everyday things... his work, relationships, free time. He's really out of practice and has a very thick accent, he speaks slowly and has to process for a while in his head before coming up with a correct sentence. I met with Carmen on Wednesday night, she is great at grammar and just wants to work on conversation and vocabulary. They're both really great fun people and it was really nice to end the day teaching motivated adults rather than complaining children.

On top of these five new students I took on 8 year old twins who's mother only wants me to play with them and speak in English while doing so. They're fun, energetic kids so it's really no work for me. I like playing with kids a whole lot more than teaching them.

So that's about an extra eighty euros a week. I've now got a very full schedule (Tuesday-Thursday 9am-9pm) bit still have a four day weekend, pretty good. Let's see if I can make it to the end of the month.

Brains for dinner

I know this entry may make a bit of you readers uneasy but this had to be published. I ran into Keith just on the way home the other day and he told me he picked up a nice surprise for us. I thought it might be a new shower curtain or some more silver wear, two things we desperately need, but I was way off. After we put our things down in the apartment he opens up some wrapped butcher paper and the horror you see above was what sat inside. It was so disgusting, I gasped and put my hands over my mouth and nose in shock. It was a lamb's brain that Keith found in a Carniceria (butcher shop) that specializes in the unmentionables of the meat world. I think bull testicles will be his next epicurean thrill. Allow me to go through the step-by-step preparation of this foul organ.

Step 1: Boiling the brain. This took about 15 minutes and while it was cooking, huge bubbles were forming above the water that were soo hard to pop, you'd stick a nice through it and it wouldn't deflate. Keith said it was because they were partially made of membrane which made them stronger.

Step 2: Slice the Brain into pieces. I know that by saying this you may think I'm high but really, if you think about it, eating a brain is like eating a creature's soul. It's the most complex organ that holds every memory and experience of a living thing. Voluntarily ingesting one seems so barbaric and perverted.

Step 3: Fry in Oil: Keith continued to follow the butchers directions as to how to prepare brian. He dipped each slice into beaten egg and then blanketed them in flour. Then into a hot pan of oil to fry and crisp. The smell was really odd, from the point he began boiling the brain our apartment took on an offensive odor. I made sure to keep the windows open as the brains were developing a crispy shell.

Step 4: Cool down. Brave Keith preparing to take a bite.

Step 5: Swallow. I think this photo says it all. "Hmm, interesting." Keith said he enjoyed it and would try it again. I was squirming the whole time and cringe now just thinking of it.