La moto de agua y el sueño imposible de “Barrio”.

I wrote this essay this semester before the professor decided to cancel it so we could focus on the final paper. I decided to share it here, even if it’s Spanish only. Escribí este ensayo este semestre antes de la profesora decidió anularlo para darnos más tiempo para enfocarnos en el trabajo final. He elegido compartirlo aquí, aunque solo tengo la versión en castellano.

La película de 1998 Barrio, dirigido por Fernando León de Aranoa, trata de la historia de la amistad entre tres adolescentes, Rai (Críspulo Cabezas), Javi (Timy Benito) y Manu (Eloi Yebra) y sus vidas en un barrio obrero al sur de Madrid. Los tres chicos tienen muchos sueños, pero no tienen mucha oportunidad realizarlos. Rai ahorra las tapas de yogur para un premio y después gana una moto de agua, la moto de agua es una metáfora de las esperanzas de los chicos y el robo de la moto es una metáfora de la pérdida de inocencia y esperanza.

En el barrio obrero de Madrid donde viven, hay pocas opciones de salida. Los adolescentes hablan de sus sueños de viajar a un país con playa y las chicas ideales para ellos.  No quieren quedarse en sus pisos en este barrio sin futuro donde la única manera de escapar es soñar. No quieren vivir las vidas de sus padres y familias y anhelen ser algo más. Rai va colectando las tapas de yogur para intentar ganar algo, y al final lo consigue. Gana una moto de agua que no va a ir a ningún sitio. En un barrio a la periferia de Madrid, ¿dónde van a usar una moto de agua? Los chicos solo tienen 15 años y no tienen coche. Los padres de los adolescentes tampoco tienen el dinero para ir de vacaciones, pero Rai es tan orgulloso de la moto. Es la primera vez que ha ganado algo y no quiere venderla por dinero, aunque la moto solo va a ocupar espacio, igual a los adolescentes. No hacen más con su tiempo libre de verano que ocupar espacio, o en un centro comercial escuchando música o en un descampado hablando de sus sueños o sentados en un puente sobre la autopista. La moto de agua hace igual, ocupar espacio sin hacer nada, sin poder llegar a su potencial dadas las circunstancias.

En la vida de este barrio obrero, los niños suelen estar condenados a vivir la misma vida de sus padres. Aunque es verano y no vemos los chicos como estudiantes, es fácil imaginar su vida escolar asistiendo a clase sin dedicar tiempo a estudiar. Parece que a los padres les importa poco sus hijos. La madre de Rai quiere vender la moto porque necesitan el dinero más que una moto de agua, sin entender la importancia de la moto para su hijo; para él representa sus sueños de vivir en la playa. Si la vendiera, perdería la representación física de sus sueños y la esperanza de una vida distinta.  Sirve como un recordatorio de lo que quiere de su vida, aunque entiende que es un sueño fútil. También es la primera vez que ha ganado algo y le da felicidad porque por una vez, siente que ha conseguido algo en la vida.

Rai deja la mota atado en la plaza a lado del bloque de pisos donde vive y una noche, alguien se la roba. Es un disgusto y enfadado para Rai. Se siente violado porque no solo le han robado su moto de agua, es como si alguien le robara sus sueños y parte de la inocencia de su juventud. Con la moto, siempre podría soñar con un futuro cuando llegase a la playa y pudiese usar la moto, o podría hacerle caso a su madre y venderla y después usar el dinero para vacaciones. Ahora no tiene este objeto que era una manifestación de sus sueños. Tiene que enfrentarse a la realidad de su vida. La única cosa que ha conseguido en su vida ya no está, desapareció sin rastro. Su niñez también está desapareciendo un poco más cada día. La vida ha sido duro hasta este momento, y la moto le daba emoción y esperanza. Ya no tiene esperanza. No es que de repente la moto fuese su vida completa cuando la ganó con las tapas de yogur, pero la pérdida de la moto representa la pérdida de esperanza en su vida. Se da cuenta que va a vivir la misma vida de sus padres y tiene pocas opciones de salida. Puede ser que cuando se de cuenta de su futuro, Rai está tan desilusionado que no le importa vivir o morir. Ve que sus sueños son imposibles e incluso cuando gana una moto de agua, alguien se la robo. Lo que le da la vida le quita inmediatamente.

Como la moto de agua representa la esperanza que los sueños dan a los adolescentes, y el robo de dicha moto representa la pérdida de esperanza y inocencia de niñez, la película ofrece una representación de la vida de un barrio obrero madrileño. Los chicos no son exactamente pobres, pero tampoco tienen las mismas oportunidades que una familia rica. Incluso si pudiesen asistir a la universidad en el futuro, no es probable que cobren el dinero que les permitiría hacer realidad sus sueños de viajar. Están atrapados en la parte baja de la clase media y siempre van a tener que preocuparse por dinero y llegar a final de mes, recolectando tapas de yogur y soñando con una vida mejor.

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Madrid Museums and Parks.

I recently spent a few weeks in Madrid taking care of the cats and flat of a friend who lives right in the heart of Malasaña and Chueca, two of the most popular barrios of the capital. I could write more about my feelings of the Madrid gay community, but I’m going to pass and focus on some of the positives (and boy, do I ever have to look hard to find something positive about Madrid.) En agosto pasaba unas semanas en Madrid para cuidar los gatos y el piso de un colega que vive justo en el centro de Malasaña y Chueca, dos de los barrios más populares de la capital. Podría escribir más de mis sentimientos de la comunidad gay de Madrid, pero voy a pasar y enfocarme en los positivos (y ya os digo, tengo que buscar mucho para encontrar algo positivo de Madrid.) 

The city is full of parks and museums. La ciudad tiene muchos parques y museos. 

I’m a person who needs nature, and during those two weeks, I found it in three of the city parks, Retiro, Parque de Oeste and Casa del Campo. Soy una persona que necesito mucho la naturaleza, y durante estas dos semanas, la encontré en tres de los parques de la ciudad: Retiro, Parque de Oeste y Casa del Campo. 

El Parque de Buen Retiro is the most famous park in Madrid. It was one a royal park, but it became open to the public in the 19th century. It was a former retreat (retiro) of Isabel, and several monarchs added onto it and made it more spectacular over the years. It’s proximity to Atocha and the centre of the city make it popular with locals and tourists alike. There’s a big pond, a few old buildings that house art and lots of trees and shade. El Parque de Buen Retiro es el parque más famoso de Madrid. Era una parque real, pero se abrió al público en el Siglo XIX. Era un antiguo retiro de Isabel, y durante los años la monarquía siempre añadía cosas nuevas para hacerlo aún más espectacular. Dado a su proximidad a Atocha y el centro de la ciudad, es bastante popular con ambos madrileños y turistas. Hay un estanque, unos edificios grande que tiene obras de arte y muchos árboles y sombra. 

The Parque de Oeste is a park on the western side of the cita on top of a former landfill. Spain is different. It’s most famous for the Egyptian Templo de Debod at the edge, but there are a lot of trails that are popular with runners. It was commissioned by the mayor Alberto Aguilera at the end of the 19th century and played a part in the Spanish Civil War. There is a teleférico that links it to Casa del Campo. El Parque de Oeste es un parque en el oeste de la ciudad que antes era un basurero. Spain is different. Es más famoso por el Templo de Debod de Egipto al borde del parque, pero hay muchos senderos y siempre hay gente corriendo. Era un proyecto del acalde Alberto Aguilera al finales del Siglo XIX y tenía un rol en la Guerra Civil. También hay un teleférico que une el parque con Casa del Campo. 

Casa del Campo is the largest park in Madrid and is on the grounds of a former royal hunting estate (hence the name, House of the Field). It is home to an amusement park and the Madrid Zoo. It also has a nice lake. There are tons of trails along with a couple of metro stops that go nearby (Lagos, Casa del Campo). It used to be infamous for illicit activity, but they are cracking down on it as much as possible to make it a place for everyone to find nature within the city. Casa del Campo es el parque más grande de Madrid y antes era una hacienda de cazar de la familia real (por eso, se llama “Casa del Campo”. Aquí se encuentra un parque de atraciones y el Zoo de Madrid. También hay un lago bonito. Hay bastantes senderos con dos paradas de metro a lado (Lagos y Casa del Campo). Antes tenía fama por actividad ilícita, pero ahora hay más policía porque quieren que el parque sea un sitio para que todos puedan disfrutar de la naturaleza dentro de la ciudad. 

Although I’m not a museum person, there are plenty of museums to be found. I had already been to the Prado a few times. This time I took advantage of free entry days to see the Museo de la Reina Sofía (Sundays) and the Thyssen-Bornemisza (Mondays). Aunque no soy muy de museos, hay muchos museos en Madrid. Ya había visitado el Prado unas veces. Esta vez, aproveché de días de entrada gratuita para ver el Museo de la Reina Sofía (los domingos) y el Thyssen-Bornemisza (los lunes). 

El Prado first opened in 1819 and houses the largest collection of Spanish art and is one of the most important collections of arts in all of Europe. It has Goya, El Greco, Velázquez and many other important painters. The most famous painting is Las Meninas from Velázquez. According to Wikipedia, it’s home to around 8,200 drawings, 7,600 paintings, 4,800 prints, and 1,000 sculptures from the 12th century to the early 20th century. El Prado se abrió en 1819 y tiene la colección más grande de arte español y es una de las colecciones más importante en Europa. Tiene Goya, El Greco, Velázquez y muchos pintores importantes. El cuadro más famoso es Las Meninas de Velázquez. Según Wikipedia, hay sobre 8200 dibujos, 7600 cuadros de pintura, 4800 grabados y 1000 esculturas desde el Siglo XII hasta el Siglo XX. 

The Museum of Reina Sofía opened on Sept. 10, 1992 and houses Spain’s best 20th century art, including Pablo Picasso and my favourite, Salvador Dalí. It’s free on Sunday afternoons, although there isn’t access to the full collection. I was just happy to see Picasso’s Guernica and resisted the urge to correct the spelling to Gernika. (I did live in Bilbao, 40 minutes away from Gernika, for three years.) El Museo de Reina Sofía abrió en 10 de septiembre de 1992. Aquí se encuentra la mejor del arte español durante el Siglo XX, incluso Pablo Picasso y mi preferido, Salvador Dalí. Hay entrada gratuita los domingos por la tarde, aunque no se puede acceder a la colección completa. Estaba conteno ver Guernica de Picasso y resistí el urge cambiar la ortografía de “Guernica” a “Gernika.” (Viví en Bilbao, a 40 minutos de Gernika, durante 3 años). 

The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum houses what was once the second-largest private collection of art in the world. The collection was started by Heinrich, Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza de Káskon in the 1920s. In 1985, when he married Carmen Tita Cervera, she convinced him to relocate the collection to Spain. The museum opened in 1992. It has works from Monet, Renoir, Cézanne, Munch, Dalí, Picasso and many others. It’s free on Mondays from 12-16. El Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza tiene que erase una vez la segunda colección privada de arte en el mundo. Heinrich, Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza de Káskon, empezó la colección en los años 1920. En 1985, cuando se casó con Carmen Tita Cervera, le convenció trasladar la colección a España. El museo se abrió en 1992. Tiene obras de Monet, Renoir, Cézanne, Munch, Dalí, Picasso y muchos más. Hay entrada gratuita los lunes entre las 12 y las 16. 

Pride in Spain.

Although I’m usually not much of a Pride goer, this year I happened to find myself at two “Orgullos” in Spain with two very different experiences. Aunque no soy uno que suele ir a las manifestaciones de Orgullo, este año me encontré en dos Orgullos españoles con dos experiencias muy distintas. 

Orgull in València was on June 25. I went with Samarucs, the LGBT+ sports club and was on their float, hiding in the middle. The atmosphere was great, and for once in my life, I understood what acceptance felt like. There was a spirit of inclusiveness, and everyone was in a great mood. There were lots of people, but it wasn’t overly crowded. People of all ages and walks of life came together to celebrate Orgull (Pride in Valenciano). I went home with a feeling of happiness and belonging. Orgull en València era el 25 de junio. Fui con Samarucs, el club deportivo LGBT+ de Valencia y fui en su carroza, aunque me escondí en el centro. El ambiente estuvo genial, y por una vez en mi vida, entendí como era ser aceptado. Había un espíritu de inclusión y todos estaban de buen humor. Había mucha gente, pero no había demasiada. Todo el mundo se juntó para celebrar Orgull (Orgullo en valenciano). Volví a casa con un sentimiento de felicidad y ser aceptado. 

The next week was WorldPride in Madrid, and I happened to be passing through at the same time. It was a total coincidence. It was the complete opposite feeling of Valencia’s Orgull. People were gawking at the LGBT+ community as if we were animals in a zoo. On top of that, there were too many tourists and too much attitude from people. Unless you were a Greek adonis, forget about anyone wanting to talk to you. It truly represented the worst of the gay community in my opinion. La semana siguiente era WorldPride en Madrid, y coincidí con un viaje que tenía que hacer por la capital. Me dio una sensación contraria a la sensación después de Orgull València. La gente estaba mirando boquiabierto a la comunidad LGBT+ como si fuéramos animales en un zoo. Para colmo, había demasiadas turistas y mucha actitud de la gente. Si no eras un adonis griego, todo el mundo pasaba de ti. En mi opinión, representó el peor de la comunidad LGBT+. 

I would have pictures, but I am having a lot of problems (yes, I am aware of them!) with photo hosting. If anyone has any ideas that work with WordPress.Com, I am open to them. Me gustaría subir las fotos pero hay bastantes problemas (sí, ya me he enterado de ellos) con fotos en este momento. Si alguien tiene una idea de sitios de photohosting que funciona con WordPress.com, me gustaría saberla. 

Semana Santa 2017

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It’s been a great week on the road, and I’m happy to report I am back from Portugal after a fantastic few days. Now it means I have to get busy writing about my adventures, which will appear in more detail over the next few weeks. This week, I have a tribute to the anniversary of the bombings in Gernika (Guernica) set to publish, but starting next Monday, the Semana Santa adventure of 2017 will be published with further detail! Lo he pasado bien viajando, y me alegro poder decir que he llegado bien a València después de unos días fantásticos en Portugal. Ahora me toca escribir sobre las aventuras con más detalle durante las semanas que viene. Este semana, tengo planificado un homenaje a Gernika como es el aniversario del bombardero trágico el 26. El lunes que viene ya empeceré publicar las aventuras de Semana Santa 2017 con más detalle.

This week, though, an overview. Esta semana, un resumén. 

The trip started out on Thursday the 13th, which is neither a bad omen in Spain or the US (martes 13/Friday the 13th). I caught a BlaBlaCar to Madrid and stayed with a friend. Empecé el viaje jueves el 13, que no es un día maldito ni en España o los EEUU (es martes 13 o viernes 13). Cogí un BlaBlaCar a Madrid y me alojé con un amigo. 

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Friday I went back to Segovia to visit one of my two favourite professors who was in charge of a study abroad program there this semester. It was a great visit to the historic city, even if there were tourists everywhere (being Semana Santa, I knew what I was getting myself into though). Viernes, fui a Segovia para visitar uno de mis profesores preferidos de la universidad. Está en cargo de un programa de estudiar en extranjero este semestre. Era una gran visita a la ciudad histórica, aunque estaba llena de turistas. Como era Semana Santa, estaba anticipándolo. 

Saturday I caught the bus from Madrid (Estación Sur) to Lisboa (Oriente). I have now arrived to Lisbon by plane, train and coach, and I’ve also travelled across two of the cities bridges over the Río Tajo (Tejo in Portuguese, translated to Tagus in Portugal but left as Tajo in Spain. My Spanish soul says Tajo.) Sábado, cogí el autobús de Madrid (Estación Sur) a Lisboa (Oriente). Ahora he llegado a Lisboa por avión, tren y autobús, y he cruzado dos de los puentes de la ciudad por el Río Tajo (Tejo en portugués). 

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Lisbon was fantastic as always, and I was left wanting more as always. However, Sunday afternoon, after my BlaBlaCar cancelled on me, I went to the Sete Rios bus station to head to Coímbra. I saw Fátima from the bus, and I am glad I didn’t go there in the end as it appeared to be a huge tourist trap. Lisboa era fantástico como siempre, y me dejaba con ganas de más, como siempre. Sin embargo, después de una cancelación de BlaBlaCar, fui a la estación de Sete Rios para coger un autobús a Coímbra. Vi Fátima desde el autobus, y me alegré no lo haber visitado como parecía un gancho para turistas. 

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I stayed two nights in Coímbra, which is a university city filled with history and gorgeous views. On Monday, I went for a hike in the Serra de Lousã through the Aldeias do Xisto (villages made of slate) before discovering more of Coímbra’s magic. Me quedé dos noches en Coímbra, que es una ciudad universitaria llena de historia y vistas preciosas. Lunes, hice una ruta por la Serra de Lousã por los Aldeias do Xisto (Aldeas de Pizarra) antes de descubrir mejor la magia de Coímbra. 

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Tuesday was a return to Porto, where I had been in 2009 and is one of the most amazing cities the Greatest Peninsula in the World has to offer. It was my second visit, so I thought I’d be okay with only a night there. Turns out, I wanted more time for this beautiful river city. Martes era una vuelta a Oporto, donde fui en 2009 y es una de las ciudades más impresionantes de la Mejor Península del Mundo. Era mi segunda visita, y pensaba que estaría contento con solo una noche allí. Bueno…quería más tiempo por disfrutar de la ciudad por el río Douro. (el Duero en España). 

I obviously survived another on-time flight with Ryan Air, the one company grateful to United Airlines for making them look better! (Everyone in Europe has a love-hate relationship with the airline. OMG 20€ FLIGHTS oh wait Ryan Air how much can we fit in this hand luggage?) Sobreviví otro vuelo que llegó a tiempo con Ryan Air, la única compañía agradecido a United Airlines porque ahora Ryan Air parece mejor que alguien. Todos tenemos una relación de amor-odio con Ryan Air en Europa. Oooh, ¡Un vuelo por solo 20 Euros! Espera…es Ryan Air. Bueno, ¿cuánto cabe en este equipaje de mano? 

A great trip, and I look forward to reliving it here. Stay tuned! Un viaje genial, y me da ilusión vivirlo otra vez aquí. A continuación. 

El Bar (2017)

The new film from Basque director Álex de la Iglesia answers a very important question. La película nueva del director vasco Álex de la Iglesia contesta una pregunta muy importante. 

Yes. Even one of the world’s most beautiful men, Mario Casas, looks horrible with a hipster beard. Sí, incluso si lleva uno de los hombres más bonitos del mundo, Mario Casas, una barba hipster, le queda fatal. 

El Bar is set in modern-day Madrid, with everyone busy with their mobiles and not paying much attention to anyone else. At a normal bar del barrio, a random group of people are having their morning cafés. I should point out that, in Spain, a bar is not the same concept as an American bar, which is for alcohol. El Bar tiene lugar en la ciudad de Madrid moderna, con todos ocupados con sus móviles sin hacer caso a nadie más. En un bar de barrio, un grupo de personas al azar están tomando su cafés de la mañana. 

When one guest leaves after the waiter not making his tostada con tomate after 20 minutes of waiting, the customers inside the bar hear explosive shots, and the busy streets of Madrid are suddenly empty. Is it the apocalypse? Another guy goes out to try to help, and he is shot down too. Their bodies disappear, and people are afraid to leave the bar, not knowing what’s going on. They turn on the TV. No news. Their mobile service is cut off. Cuando un cliente se va después de esperar 20 minutos para el camarero le prepara su tostada con tomate, los clientes que se quedan dentro oyen disparos explosivos. Las calles que estaban llenas de gente un minuto antes ya están vacías. ¿Es el apocalipsis? Otro cliente sale del bar para ayudar, y después, hay otro disparo explosivo. Después, sus cuerpos desaparecen. Todos tienen miedo salir del bar y no entienden nada de lo que está pasando. Encienden la tele. No hay noticias. No hay cobertura de móvil. 

The film downward spirals and disintegrates. While the typical black humour of de la Iglesia is there, the film just does not work. It’s a symbiotic excess without a point, and the explanation for the events is never made clear. Is there a virus? Why are the police burning tires to create smoke? Why is the bar burned to a crisp? Why are they in the sewers? Nothing really makes sense, and nothing is ever explained. Desde aquí, la película va en un espiral descendente. Mientras se nota el humor negro del director típico, la película no tiene sentido. Es un “exceso simbiótico sin sentido, y nunca explica los sucesos de la película. ¿Hay un virus? ¿Por qué la policía están ardiendo neumáticos para crear humo? ¿Por qué empiezan un incendio en el bar? ¿Por qué están en los alcantarillados? Nada tiene sentido, y nada es explicado. 

I’m just going to imagine that this movie is what’s happening elsewhere in Madrid (albeit at a different time of the year) while the heroes from El día de la bestia are busy saving the world. Solo voy a imaginar que esta película es lo que está pasando en Madrid (aunque en una época del año distinta) mientras los héroes del El día de la bestia están salvando el mundo. 

Mario Casas, Blanca Suárez, Carmen Machi and Secun de la Rosa lead the cast. They all deserve better. Mario Casas, Blanca Suárez, Carmen Machi y Secun de la Rosa son los actores principales. Todos merecen mejor. 

Perhaps if my friend hadn’t said it was supposed to be similar to Luis Buñuel’s El Ángel Exterminador, I wouldn’t have been expecting one of Álex de la Iglesia’s better films. The only thing in common is people who are trapped without being able to leave. Igual si un colega no me comentara que era parecida a El Ángel Exterminador de Luis Buñuel, no habría pensando que sería una de las mejores de Álex de la Iglesia. La única cosa en común es un argumento que tiene personajes atrapados sin poder salir. 

Also, did Coca Cola pay for the product placement? Is it a metaphor for something? Hmmm. Otro pregunta. ¿Ha pagado Coca Cola para el product placement (un tipo de marketing que se mete los productos dentro de la película) ¿Es un metáfora por algo? Mmm, no sé. 

I do understand that the director wanted to make a film about what people are lead to do during times of fear and stress. However, the lack of exposistion that fully explained the situation bothers me. Entiendo que el director quiso hacer una película sobre el miedo y que lo que hacemos cuando tenemos miedo muestra quien somos. Sin embargo, la falta de exposición que explica por completo la situación me molesta. 

Rating: C-

How to tell he is from Bilbao: The prolific use of the word “hostia”. Although the film is bad, it is the VERY WORST FILM HE COULD POSSIBLE MAKE, and Bilbao, la capital del mundo, is a city of hyperbole.

Julieta (2016)

It’s not been a great week for Pedro Almodóvar. First, one of his most beloved Chicas, Chus Lampreave, died at the age of 85. Then he was one of the many people named with connections to the Panama Papers and he cancelled his promotional appearance for Julieta, his first film in three years and follow up to what is considered to be by many (not me!) one of his weakest films, Los pasajeros amantes.

I’ve been looking forward to this film, so much that I started this project rewatching all 19 of his previous films. I wanted something good, something brilliant, another Todo sobre mi madre or at least a ¡Átame!

My expectations were high as I went to the Cines Golem in the Alhóndiga, I mean Zentroa Azkuna, in central Bilbao to see the film the (very rainy) day after its Spanish release date. Were they met? The jury’s still out on that.

Reknowned Spanish actress Emma Suárez works with Almodóvar for the first time as the title character, Julieta, who flashes back on the past 30 years of her life, trying to explain to her estranged daughter, Antía, the choices she made and her life story. Adriana Ugarte excellently portrays the younger Julieta, who meets Xoan (Daniel Grao) on a snowy train ride to Madrid.

Julieta finds herself pregnant, and she moves to a village on the sea to be with Xoan. When Xoan is killed in a fishing accident a decade later, Julieta moves to Madrid to start over and suffers a breakdown, and daughter Antía has to grow up too quick to take care of her mom, which later leads to a rupture between the two.

We still have the flashback storytelling technique Almodóvar has used in most of his later works, we have his bright colours and hideous wallpaper, and Rossy de Palma and Dario Grandinetti are around to remind us that this really is Almodóvar. However, this is by far the most serious film he has made to date. No wacky hijinks. No drug addicted prostitutes. No bizarre music sequence. It’s almost as if he is working too hard to show he can still make serious films by taking out all the humour.

The film still works though, and it is a strong effort. It just may disappoint many fans who have come to expect the best from one of, in my opinion, the best directors in history.

The movie left me wanting more. A lot more. I find it hard to sit still in a cinema during a long film, but I thought there was a good half hour left when the film ended. It is not an ending for those people who want everything tied up in a neat bow. But then again, Almodóvar films are never for people who want a neat bow.

The film was originally titled Silencio, which makes a lot of sense after seeing the film. The silence between Julieta and her daughter is a bit chilling.

The film doesn’t have an US/Canada release date yet (April 9, 2016)  but I expect it to hit the Toronto Film Festival in September and make the typical autumn art house cinema circuit. The film is based on some of Alice Munro’s short stories, but the credits passed by before I caught which ones.

Julieta might be the least Almodóvar film out there, but it is definitely worth checking out, especially for amazing performances from the entire cast. Like many auteur cinema films, we will have to wait to his next film to truly see how it stacks up against his oeuvre.

Rating: A-

Almodóvar Checklist:

Chicas Almodóvar:  Rossy de Palma. Will Emma Suárez, Adriana Urgarte, Michelle Jenner or Inma Cuesta (I hope! I love her) convert into Chicas Almodóvar auténticas? Time will tell.
Antonio Banderas: No
Poisoned Gazpacho: No
Madrid: Madrid could be the star of this movie. Could Madrid be nominated for her performance?
Galicia: And Galicia wants the supporting actress nomination at the Goyas *and* Oscars
Drugs: Nope
Musical Sequence: No, and the movie could’ve highly benefited from one I think.
Men Too Gay To Function: In passing as extras.
Transvestites: No.
Furniture Ikea Could Never Market: 30 years of furniture Ikea could never market. That statue. That clock. And that wallpaper. 

Surreal rape scene: Nope
Meta Slow Camera Pan To Show How Much He Really Loves Cinema: Sí.
Mirror Scene: Sí…
Dress from Lady Gaga’s rejected pile: A few outfits but nothing major.
Aspect of Spanish Culture Turned On Its Head: The rain in Spain falls nowhere near the plane.
Catholic Church As Bad Guy: No.
Taxi: A ton of them.
His mother: No
Reference to earlier film: The car was similar to the one in Volver, and it was very similar to Los abrazos rotos without humour or a ton of wink wink nudge nudges to his other works. The hair washing scene also flashes back to Volver for me.
Odd Advertisement: Again, the film could’ve benefited from one.

No ha sida una semana buena para director Pedro Almodóvar. Primero, una de sus Chicas más queridas ha fallecido con 85 años. DEP Chus Lampreave. Después, ha tenido que anular entrevistas y el estreno de su película nueva, Julieta, cuando las noticias de los Papeles de Panamá vieron la luz.

Julieta es su primera pelicula desde hace tres años y su primera película después de Los amantes pasajeros, que fracascó bastante con los criticos y en la taquilla.

Tenía muchas ganas de ver esa peli, tantas que empecé este Proyecto Almodóvar y volver a ver todas de sus 19 películas anteriores. Quería algo buena, algo genial, otra Todo sobre mi madre o al menos una ¡Átame!

Con expectativas tan altas cuando fui al los Cines Golem en la Alhóndiga digo Zentroa Azkuna en Bilbao para ver la película el día después de su estreno español, ¿puede alcazar las expectativas? Pues…no lo sé para ser sincero.

Conocida actriz española Emma Suárez trabaja con Almodóvar por la primera vez como la protagonista de la película, Julieta, que recuerda su vida de los pasados 30 años, intentando explicar su vida y sus decisiones a su hija seperada, Antía.

Adriana Ugarte hace muy bien su papel como la joven Julieta, quien conoce a Xoan (Daniel Grao) en un tren destinado por Madrid que pasa por los montes nevados.

Julieta se queda embarazada con la hija de Xoan, y se traslado a un pueblo de la costa para estar con Xoan. Cuando Xoan se muere en un accidente de barco casí una decada después, Julieta se traslada a Madrid para empezar de nuevo y tiene una crisis de nervios. Su hija Antía tiene que crecer muy de repente para cuidarse de su madre, que causa una ruptura entre ellas.

Hay los flashbacks típicas de las últimas pelis de Almodóvar, hay los colores vibrantes como siempre, y hay Rossy de Palma y Dario Grandinetti para recordarnos que sí, este es Almodóvar, en serio. Sin embargo, es la película más seria hasta ahora. Nada de chiflados. No prostitutas que son adictas a las drogas. No secuencia musical rara. Es casí como si estuviera trabajando duro para mostrar que puede hacer una película seria con la falta de humor.

La cosa es que la película todavía es buena, y es un buen esfuerzo. Es que puede decepcionar a sus fans que quieren lo mejor de, en mi opinión, uno de los mejores directores de historia.

Quería ver más después del final de la película. Mucho más. Soy demasiado inquieto para sentarme tranquilo en un cine durante una película larga, pero pensaba que todavía quedaba al menos una media hora más cuando el film se acabó. Como la mayoria de las películas de Almodóvar, no es un film para ellos que quieren un final que explica todo.

El nombre original de la película era Silencio, que tiene mucho sentido después de ver la película. El silencio entre Julieta y su hija es algo escalofriante.

El fuente de la película es unos relatos de escritora canadense Alice Munro, pero los creditos pasaban demasiado rápidos para leerlos. Todavía no hay una fecha de estreno en el otro lado del charco, pero creo que será en el otoño de 2016.

Puede ser que Julieta es la película menos Almodóvar de Almodóvar que hay, pero vale la pena verla. Todo el cast hace sus papeles bien. Son geniales. Como muchos películas de autor, tenemos que esperar hasta su próxima peli para ver donde cae en su catalogo extenso.

Madrid, the cheapskate guide.

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I could’ve created some controversy and said the “catalán” guide to Madrid, but for those outside of Spain, they wouldn’t catch the hidden meaning of the Catalans’ reputation for being cheapskates. And after my last entry about Madrid was so negative, I wanted to reset the karma by writing a more positive entry about the capital city. Pensaba en si quería crear polémica por decir “el guía catalán de Madrid”, pero para los que no son de España, no entendrían el doble sentido del fama de los catalanes por ser agarrados y tacaños. Después de la entrada negativa sobre Madrid, quería equilibrar el karma y escribir una entrada más positiva sobre la capital española.

Along with Barcelona and Catalunya and Bilbao and San Sebastián-Donostia in the Basque Country, Madrid is one of the most expensive cities in Spain for living. That doesn’t mean you have to break the bank to enjoy Madrid as a tourist or even living there. Madrid, con Barcelona y Catalunya y Bilbao/San Sebastián-Donostia en el País vasco, Madrid es una de las ciudades más caras de España para vivir. Eso no significa que tienes que gastar mucha pasta para disfrutar de Madrid como una turista o incluso vivir allí.

I was in Madrid a week ago on a very tight budget due to some unforeseen circumstances that are continuing (which has also caused me to postpone the Camino until…?) and had one of my better visits. After a stroll down memory lane, I shook off the bad memories and remembered the good as I strolled down the streets of Madrid. Meandering the streets in any city is always free and is a very Spanish thing to do. I only took one metro trip on my weekend in the Spanish capital. Those days on the Camino aren’t for nothing. Estaba en Madrid hace una semana en un presupuesto pequeño dado que circumstancias que no pude controlar y que siguen (que también me ha causado posponer el Camino hasta…?) y tenía una de las mejores visitas. Después de mi nostalgia, me olvidé de los recuerdos malos y pensé en solo los recuerdos buenos. Pasear por las calles en cualquier ciudad siempre sale gratis y es algo super español. Solo cogí el metro una vez durante este fin de semana en la capital española. Esos días en el Camino aún me sirven de ayuda.

I found a new-to-me museum across from the Tribunal metro stop (Lines 1 and 10) on Calle Fuencarral.  The Museum of the History of Madrid, formerly known as el Museo Municipal, reopened in December 2014, so I wasn’t completely oblivious to it. I had always noticed it under construction. Entrance is FREE and visitors can see art, paintings and pottery through Madrid’s history since Felipe II moved the capital from Toledo to Madrid. Encontré un museo nuevo (al menos para mí) enfrente de la salida del metro Tribunal (Líneas 1 y 10) en Calle Fuencarral. El Museo de la Historia e Madrid, antes el Museo Municipal, reabrió sus puertas en diciembre de 2014 después de unos 10 años de estar en obras. La entrada es gratuita y visitantes puden ver arte, cuadros y cerámica durante la historia de Madrid desde Felipe II se trasladó la capital de Toledo a Madrid. 

Another trip to the past is the Estación de Chamberi. The former metro stop Chamberi closed in 1966 and remained intact, a buried secret, until 2008 when they converted it into a museum. The station, Andén 0 (Platform 0, like the mystical Platform 9 1/4), is located between the actual stops Bilbao and Iglesia (Line 1) in the Chamberi barrio (neighbourhood), and entrance is free. I remember finding out about this museum when I looked up from my book and saw an old man looking at me, truly giving it the effect of a ghost station. Otro viaje al pasado es la Estación de Chamberi. El antiguo parada de metro cerró en 1966 y se quedó intacto, un secreto, hasta 2008 cuando abrió como un museo. La estación, Andén 0, está situado entre las paradas de Bilbao y Iglesia (Línea 1) en el barrio de Chamberi y tiene entrada gratuita. Recuerco que descrubí de este museo cuando miré arriba de mi libro y vi un señorito mirándome, dando un efecto verdadero de estación fantasma.

My next trip to Madrid will include a visit to the Biblioteca Nacional (National Library), which is free and has a copy of every book published in Spain. How I never went in three years of living in Madrid, I will never know. It’s located near Metro Serrano (Line 4). En el próximo viaje a Madrid, quiero ir a la Bilbioteca Nacional, que es gratis y tiene una copia de todos los libros publicado en España. No sé porque nunca fui durante los tres años que viví en Madrid. Está cerca a la parada de metro Serrano (Línea 4)

Madrid’s most famous museum, el Prado, is free between 18:00 and 20:00 (6 p.m. and 8 p.m.) Monday-Saturday and on Sundays between 17:00 and 19:00 (5 p.m. and 7 p.m.) The Museo Thyssen grants free admission to the permanent collections on Mondays.  And the third museum of the Art Triangle, Museo de la Reina Sofía, has free admission daily the last two hours of the day (it is closed on Tuesdays) and on Sundays from 15-19 (3 p.m.-7 p.m.) El museo más conocido de Madrid, el Prado, es gratis entre 18:00 y 20:00 días laborales y sabados y los domingos entre 17:00 y 19:00. El Museo Thyssen también tiene entrada gratuita a las colecciones permanentes los lunes. Y el tercer museo del triangulo de art, el Museo de la Reina Sofía, tiene entrada gratuita durante las dos últimas horas del día (cerrado los martes) y los domingos entre 15 y 19. 

And then there are always parks. Parque Retiro is a nice place for a walk, but I always preferred the Templo de Debod and the Parque de Oeste, which offers the best sunset (in my opinion) of the city. Adémas hay muchos parques. El Parque Retiro es un sitio bonito para pasear, pero siempre prefería el Templo de Debod y el Parque de Oeste, que ofrece, en mi opinion, la mejor puesta de sol en la ciudad.

Just because Madrid is super expensive compared to the rest of Spain doesn’t mean that a visit in these times of eternal crisis has to break the bank. Aunque Madrid es super caro en comparasion del resto de la península no significa que una vista durante estes tiempos de crisis tiene que ser caro. 

 

Madrid, ciudad de Broken Dreams

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Tío Pepe has returned…for now.

In 2003, when I was studying abroad in Toledo, I went to Madrid most weekends to walk the busy streets and dream. I dreamt of a life in Spain, of meeting the perfect guy, of the many adventures we’d have as my writing career took off. Walking into the bookstores in Chueca and seeing the rainbow flags everywhere was freeing to a deeply repressed and closeted boy.

For five years, I dreamed of a life in Spain, of those amazingly handsome, kind-hearted, caring, romantic españoles. Although I preferred Barcelona, I had been warned that the Catalán would be a major deterrent (I must say that now that I speak Catalán quite decently I love it as much but differently as I do my first love Spanish) and Madrid was the place to be. I wrote short stories about meeting my beautiful Spanish husband in queue at Starbucks (quelle horror now) and the adventures we would have. For five years, until my return in 2008, Madrid represented a land of opportunity, and my very own American dream that just happened to take place in Spain.

I had to wait a year, a very long year of working and living in small-town Jaén in Andalucía, to make that dream come true. And the dream became a nightmare.

Madrid de visita (on a visit) is very different from actually living in Madrid. The chaotic streets and nightlife make it a very lonely city, and although it’s quite easy to make a friend to go out to party with, it’s quite difficult to make a lasting friendship with someone you can count on. (The opposite is true in Bilbao. The Basques are very hard to get to know or for them to invite you out for a kalimotxo (wine and Coke) and pintxo, but once they let you in, they are incredibly nice, caring people. It’s just hard breaking through barriers in the land of eternal rain that Irish and Seattleites both have complained about.) The madrileños will invite you out with a big group of friends, but you’re quite often left at the end of the table drinking softly and listening to everyone else, especially if you’re an introvert like me.

And in the land of Chueca, where gay sex sells and every night is Pride Night, finding a decent guy even in plan amigo, let alone plan novio (boyfriend) is like looking for a needle in a haystack.

I lived in Madrid from 2009-2010 and again from 2011-2013. I learned a lot about myself in those three years.

I find myself de paso once again in Madrid this weekend. A lot of memories are surfacing, mostly good but a few bad. I gave Madrid my all, but my job drained me a lot, and I was dealing with other issues. I did accept myself fully as a gay man in Madrid, and for that, I was grateful. However, Madrid just represents so many of my crushed dreams. I never had a relationship, never found that group of friends, and I found myself with more than one broken heart from unrequited love. I fought to accept myself while trying to fight to fit in with the muscle heads and bears of Chueca. I killed myself at the gym yet never could get a six-pack (tabla de chocolate in Spanish) or big arms. My personality and my intelligence were never enough.

I also find myself questioning Madrid, who yearns to host the Olympics (because Barcelona did in 1992), and how they are the capital of Spain. Yet browsing through the language books in FNAC, you’d be hard pressed to realise that Spain is a country with four official languages and a bazillion unofficial languages and dialects. I found a few books for learning Catalán, 2 for learning Euskera (Basque) and ZERO for learning Gallego (Galician). Everything is in brokenEnglish (and sometimes not even Spanish, just a lazy attempt at English). When I went to Brussels, I loved how both the French Wallonia and the Flemish Flanders were represented in the capital city despite the city being a French-speaking city. Imagine how far the little effort it would take to truly represent all the cultural identities of Spain (17 autonomous communities, some with stronger identities with others but all amazing in their own right) instead of pushing the Andaluz stereotype of flamenco and bulls as a Spanish identity. In Barcelona, every Christmas, the metro writes “Merry Christmas” in Catalán, Castellano (Spanish), Basque and Galician. The Metro de Madrid promotes their latest outrageous price hike as still being cheaper than Paris and London, all in Spanish. (This is a true story from 2011.) Spanish Nationalism is a tricky subject on a good day, but imagine how different it would be if the capital city tried to represent and include all parts instead of making people feel alienated. (And I’m not saying that many Catalans and Basques do their own things to make things worse. It just seems to me that in a multi-nationed country, it would be helpful for the capital city to try to include all nations. Nation does not equate country.)

Ernest Hemingway once said that Madrid was the least Spanish city until you lived in it for  some time, then it became the most Spanish city. For me, in 2015, it has lost all trace of “Spanishness” when century old cafés like Café Comercial close down, yet there is a Starbucks on every corner. Several of my favourite haunts from even 2013 have been closed down for trendy gastrobars that don’t even offer Spanish cuisine. And in my afternoon walk tonight, I heard more English than Spanish in the Spanish capital. I’m not saying that people shouldn’t speak English for the tourists, but don’t lose your Spanishness in doing so. Madrid would do well to focus on representing all aspects of Spanish life instead of trying to turn itself into New York Clone. People can go to Starbucks wherever, but where else can they go to a Museo de Jamón for a cheap jamón serrano sandwich? What other country can offer paella, gazpacho, jamón serrano, pintxos, tapas, La Rioja, and relaxing cafés con leche?

I know I give Madrid a rough time. Many people love Madrid, but for me, the city represents so many broken dreams, not only my own broken dreams, but the broken hopes and dreams of both the city of Madrid and the entire country of Spain.

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The end of an era

Two Madrid icons close in a week.

I was saddened to read about the closure of two Madrid icons over the course of a weekend.

Last Saturday, the Mercado de Fuencarral closed its doors after 17 years. Located between Bohemian barrio Malasaña and gay barrio Chueca, this shopping centre had many unique shops full of trendy and crazy clothes and goods. I don’t believe I actually ever purchased anything here, but I would often go here to look around and wish I had money to buy things. I would often pick up fliers to the gay club that was in that week or just to sneak on their wifi when I was travelling through Madrid. It seems hard to believe that the next time I travel through Madrid, I won’t be able to stop here and look around.

Then on Monday, Café Comercial said “adiós”. Located down the Fuencarral street a few blocks in the Glorieta de Bilbao (The Bilbaínos would say Madrid is so jealous of Bilbao that they had to name a Glorieta after the “capital of the world”.) , Madrid’s oldest café closed its doors after over 100 years of service. I only had two cafés con leche there, as it was super expensive, but the atmosphere and history of this place alone should have kept it open. Antonio Machado never wrote at a Starbucks.

Everything is change, but I always feel a bit of sadness when iconic locales shut their doors. History is doomed to repeat itself if we don’t remember our past. I think both closures are related to financial issues (the family that runs Café Comercial just posted a message saying

Después de tantos años de actividad del Café Comercial nos dirigimos a vosotros para comunicaros el cierre con fecha del día 27 de julio de 2015. Es una lástima tener que escribir un mensaje como este, pero ha llegado el día del cierre y, por ello, queremos agradecer de todo corazón la confianza que nos habéis brindado durante estos muchos años llenos de maravillosas experiencias.

which means “After so many years of Café Comercial activity we regret to inform you of its closure July 27, 2015. It’s a shame to have to write a message like this one, but the day of closure has arrived, and for this reason, we would like to thank everyone from the bottom of our hearts for the trust that you have given us during so many years of wonderful experiences.

The café opened in 1887, and the Mercado de Fuencarral in 1997.

I think this afternoon I may frequent Café Iruña in Bilbao and thank heavens that Bilbao’s oldest café isn’t closing. I hope it, nor the Café Iruña in Pamplona where Hemingway wrote, aren’t faced with similar closures in the future. ¡Viva la historia!

Madrid City. Chaos and nightlife.

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View from Vallecas

Madriz. For many, this city is the bane of my existence, and when I wrote about the province of Madrid (which has little to do with the capital city as the province has so many beautiful towns and villages and mountains and the city is a chaotic whirl of chaos where the only peace and quiet you can find is at 10 in the morning on Jan. 1st when everyone is sleeping away their hangover) back in September, I had no intention of writing about the city. I find the city vastly overrated, but different strokes for different folks. So I wanted to take the time to write about the city as there is a ton of things to do and see there. And there are, of course, more than SetMeravelles in a city of 3 million. For the record, Madrid is the third biggest city in the European Union, after London and Berlin.

On my way back from Italia, I spent a day in Madrid. I originally had planned a trip to southern Spain before heading back to Bilbao when I booked the flight from Madrid, but unfortunately financial concerns are way too real for me at the moment, so it was cancelled. This one day reminded me of how, as a closeted twenty-something, my dreams of Madrid revolved around Chueca and falling in love with a dream guy, mi media naranja (soulmates in Spanish are half oranges. Today I find that I’d rather find a whole orange as I am a whole orange and two oranges would be better than trying to mix halves that have been separated.). My Madrid dreams were crushed by the reality of living in a big city when I was just not cut out for it. The stress of living in a city that never slept, where the people constantly are badmouthing anything not from the city (especially the Catalans, and as a fan of Barcelona and Catalan culture, I definitely did not fit in Madrid outside my Catalán class!) and a million and one niches and still not being able to find the niche for you? It got to me. The madrileños are said to be friendly, but I was more alone in Madrid than I have been since I was a closet case. In one of the gayest cities in the world, I was unable to feel okay about being gay as I was not (and am not) a Greek god who models for Abercrombie. In the gay world of Madrid, unless you are a Greek god modeling for Abercrombie, you’re the radioactive scum at the bottom of the Ría Nervión in Bilbao (an infamously polluted river). I suffered a lot of panic attacks from the masses of people everywhere I went.

Also, it really irks me that the city concentrates on being bilingual in Spanish-English when they fail to recognize that the country of Spain has four languages. Every Christmas, the Metro of Barcelona writes “Merry Christmas” in the four languages: Bon nadal (Catalán), Feliz Navidad (Spanish), Bo Nadal (Gallego) and Zorionak (Basque). In Madrid, you might see Happy Day Nativity or however they might attempt to translate “¡Feliz Navidad!” because they think by translating something into a language that is not spoken in their country they are doing a good job. I think if they acknowledged the fact that there is more than one language spoken in their own country they would be doing a lot more to smooth over high tensions.

It’s obvious from the above paragraphs I have a lot of pent-up feelings about the capital city and my feelings are still pretty raw nearly two years after making my escape. A lot of it has to do with the fact that I have learned that I am just not a big city person, and another large part of it is the fact that there is no coast anywhere near Madrid.

Now that I got the negative out of the way, I can focus on the positives of the city. The city is constantly reinventing itself and there is something to offer everyone. Parks, museums, a well-functioning metro system (sometimes) , fountains, shops, nightlife, and its central location in Spain means there is a ton of opportunities to travel throughout the Greatest Peninsula in the World! For city lovers, Madrid is a must-see place. It has a vibe similar to New York City with the bonus of being the Spanish capital.

I will also give the madrileños credit for at least always saying “¡Hola!” when coming across one while hiking, unlike the Basques who sometimes will offer an “Hola/Aupa/Kaixo” and sometimes will just glare at you. Granted, I’m likely to glare at you too, but whatever! I appreciate friendliness.

And with that, without further ado…

Set Meravelles

Templo de Debod y el Parque de Oeste

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Originally a give from Egypt, the Templo de Debod is located near the Plaza de España in the centre of Madrid and offers the best sunset of the city. The temple was originally located near Aswan, Egypt and the first cataract of the Nile and was dedicated to an important Egyptian goddess whose name I won’t type for fear of what types of Google searches would come up for this blog (yes, this groups shares the name with an Egyptian goddess). The temple was under threat of floods after the construction of the Aswan High Dam, so to show their gratitude to Spain for helping them out with saving the temples of Abu Simbel, the Egyptian government gave it to Spain in 1968. Today there is a museum that somehow is almost always closed whenever I go. Next to the park is the Parque de Oeste, which in my opinion, is better than the Parque Retiro but not as famous. For the life of me, I can’t find any of my photos of Templo de Debod.

Gran Vía

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The Spanish Broadway is the connecting street between Calle Alcalá and Plaza de España. It’s the busiest street in Madrid, runs close to Puerta del Sol and passes Callao (FNAC!). It has a few theatres, more than a few Starbucks (I can think of four Starbucks alone on this street) and many shops. It also features a lot of Madrid’s most famous buildings. It’s undergone many names over the year (especially during the Spanish Civil War and the years of Franco), but has been named simply Gran Vía since 1981. Construction on “Main Street” began in 1910 but wasn’t finished until 1929. The incredible Plaza de Cibeles is also found along Gran Vía.

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Nightlife (Chueca, La Latina, Malasaña)

Madrid is famous for its nightlife. Chueca is the neighbourhood taken over by the gays (although lately La Latina has been becoming a more popular place), La Latina has many tapas and other bars, and Malasaña is the alternative-Bohemian neighbourhood. No matter what your scene is, you’ll be able to find it in Madrid.

El Prado y los museos del arte

The Prado Museum is one of the most important museums in Spain and houses some of the most important Spanish art in history. (Picasso and Dalí are not well represented here, if at all, but Goya, El Greco and Velázquez are. It is home of the famous Las Meninas by Velázquez. Very close to El Prado are two more important museums of art (which I have never visited to be honest as art’s not my thing unless it’s Picasso or Dalí and even then…), the Museo Reina Sofía (which does have Picasso’s Guernica) and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, which has Italian, English, Dutch and German works of arts. I was just informed by a friend that this triangle of art has more art per square metre than anywhere else on the planet and that there is more art in the basements than they have room to showcase. You learn something new every day!

Plaza Mayor y Puerta del Sol

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Plaza Mayor

“A relaxing cup of café con leche in Plaza Mayor”. So before soon-to-be ex-mayor Ana Botella’s speech, no one went to Plaza Mayor for a cup of café con leche. It’s more typical to have a bocadillo de calamares (fried squid and the only seafood I can eat without gagging), people watch or visit a Christmas market. The rectangular plaza was built during Felipe III despite its orgins going back to Felipe II and is modeled on the plazas in Valladolid and Salamanca (Valladolid is my fave of the three, but Salamanca is the most famous). A stone’s throw away is another important plaza, Puerta del Sol, which is home to Kilometro (KM) 0, the center and starting point of all Spanish roads. It is more or less Madrid’s Times Square, and it is the busiest place on New Year’s Eve to eat the 12 grapes. It’s Spanish tradition to eat 12 grapes, one for each month, at the first 12 strokes of the clock of the New Year for luck, as one year the farmers had too many grapes and didn’t know what to do with them. Puerta del Sol seems to reinvent itself every two weeks or so. Originally it was a gate in the old walls of Madrid. Another important site in Puerta del Sol is the Oso y el Madrono, the bear and the tree. Tío Pepe is still there, despite the Apple Store’s temporary removal of the iconic advertisement.

Palacio Real

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Palacio Real

The Royal Palace is “officially” the home of the Spanish King and his family, but they actually reside at the Palacio de la Zarzuela. The current palace is on the site of a former fortress which burned to the ground in 1734. Felipe V ordered a new one built. Alfonso XIII was the last monarch to live here, although the president of the Second Republic, Manuel Azaña, also lived here. It has over 3000 rooms and is the largest palace in floor area in Europe.

Atocha

 While Antwerp might have the “most beautiful train station in the world”, Atocha is one of the most beautiful train stations in the Greatest Peninsula in the World. It’s definitely one of the busiest with connections all over the peninsula. While waiting for a train, one can visit the Bosque del Recuerdo, a forest of 192 olive and cypress trees in memorial of the 192 people who died in the terrorist attacks on March 11, 2004. I swear I remember seeing this forest in 2003, but my memory must be playing tricks on me. They also have a separate memorial for those who died that day where visitors can live a hand silhouette in memory of those who died that day.