Spain, the last two weeks and on to Turkey

Spain, the last two weeks


Galicia: The Celtic province

David arrived on the first and somehow he and Peg did not see each
other at the airport.  Eventually we got connected.

This morning, delightful Emilia takes us to the bus for Galicia,
leaving from near Plaza de España.  The bus ride lasts from 10:45 a.m.
till 8 p.m.  Fortunately the bus is not full so we are comfortable.
Along the way, the vegetation is changing, becoming much more lush as
we approach the rainy northwest portion of the country.  We have
dinner at the hotel at 9 p.m.  Dinner is your choice of exactly what
they serve you, but it is good.  The balcony of our room provides a
beautiful overlook of the Ria (estuary), whose coast lies just 50
yards below us.

The hotel is called Hotel Covelmar, which is in Covelo Poio just
outside Pontevedra, Spain.  We are near the Atlantic coast, south of
Santiago de Compostela.  Vigo is close by.  The phone number here is
986-74-1000 or 74-1098.

We have made friends with some people on the bus.  The talk is about
food and wine.  They tried to teach us to play cards.  I don’t have
the vocabulary to play cards in Spanish!  That they offered to include
us is another example of the warmth of the Spanish people.

The food in the hotel is served home-style.  Each group  of four (3 in
our case) gets a platter. Sunday it was pork loin, last night it was
cod, tonight it was a thick slab of pork tenderloin with gravy and
peas and soup. Largely every meal has been very good.  Nothing fancy,
just good.  It is amazing given the price:  $140 per person,
transportation to and from Madrid, local excursions (admissions extra
but not much), hotel for a week, and all meals.


The town of O Grove

We took an excursion to little town of O Grove.  Yes, that’s O Grove,
no comma.  I am not sure what the ‘O’ stands for yet, but since we are
in the Celtic province of Galicia I wonder if there is any relation
with the “O” of names like O’Reily. I have seen the ‘O’ in several
names of towns here.

In O Grove we took a short boat ride to see farms of oysters (ostras),
mussels (mejillón)  and scallops (venera, or maybe  veira).   The
farms are concrete floats, from which ropes reach well into the water.
Mollusks are attached to the ropes.  Each bivalve filters a liter of
water a day.   The Captain gave explanations on the loudspeaker.

They served freshly cooked mussels on board, with white wine of the
region (Rebiera), good, simple, clean tasting white wine that is also
served at the hotel.   All this cost $10 per person.

Scallop shells are used to symbolize pilgrimages to Santiago de
Compostela; in pre-Christian they symbolized the womb.

Joe is clerk at the front desk.  He has a computer at home, and speaks
some English.  This has been the only job he has been able to land so
far, despite his English skills and his college degree.  He is about
27 years old.

The hotel is on the Ruta de Viña, wine route.  There are small grape
holdings everywhere we go.  The grapes grow on arbors about 4′ off the
ground.  The arbor posts are made of stone.

Women rake seaweeds along the coast when the tide is out.  They wear
long, black skirts, and grey or black blouses and sweaters.

Everywhere there are strange little huts, once used to store grain.
Legally they cannot be being moved out of Galicia.  The granaries are
about 4 feet off the ground.  Supporting columns are made of stone, as
is the frame of the granary.  Their sides are wooden or stone slats,
allowing for the passage of air.  On top of the columns there is a
round stone, larger in circumference than the column.  We are told
that these serve to keep rats and other varmint out of the granaries.
Our guide tells us that removing one of these granaries from Galicia
subjects one to a fine of about $20,000.  You can move them about
Galicia at will, however, and they can be bought and sold.

Valenca, Portugal

We go to the little walled Portuguese town of Valenca.  Some
restaurants allow you to sit at their tables to eat the provided
lunches if you buy drinks.  A young man selling candy asked for our
bocadillos: chorizo and another sliced meat on bread, two pieces of
good baguette.  We gave one to him.  We ordered wine and salad, both
tasty and very inexpensive.

Later we went to Bayona, and walked around the fort, which is now a
Parador (a five star hotel in a historical monument).  In the harbor
there is a reproduction of the Pinta.  The original returned here in
1493 after Columbus’ from first trip to the New World.  The coastal
views are magnificent.  A man plays the bagpipe, one of about a half
dozen we hear while here.  There is a Roman bridge on the way out of
town.  The middle portion is modern, but the ends are original and
still in use.



Today’s excursion, an extra one for which we paid 3000 pts. each
($20), took us to Coruña.  This is a town of about 250,000 with an
important seaport.  There are lots of fishing vessels and large
container/transport ships.  The old town is built on a peninsula.

When Philip married Mary (Bloody Mary) of England, he embarked from
here, as did the Invincible Armada.  The fort is from 14th century.
The exhibits in the archaeological museum, housed in the fort, are
labeled in Galician.  In one I read that Caesar was here on the way to
or from England, in 60 A.D.  Having just read his book on the conquest
of Gaul, I imagined Roman ships entering and leaving the harbor, one
of them bearing Caesar.

I climbed the light tower, the Tower of Hercules (250 ptas).  It is
242 steps up and dates from Roman times.  Archaeologists were working
on the foundation diggings when I entered the tower.  You have to
stoop to get to the passage way leading to the tower.  From the top I
could see a fair amount of the city,  its two big beaches off to one
side.  I could not see the port but it is but a few blocks away on the
other side of the peninsula.

We had lunch on Marina Avenida, sharing tortilla de esparragos (an
asparagus omelet), empanada with a clam like mollusk (name was not in
my dictionary), seafood croquettes, fish soup and a salad.  We asked
for a bottle of regional red wine.  The waiter brought out the house,
a Ribiera.  He said the white Ribieras are better than the reds.   He
also offered us another local red.  We agreed with him that it was
better than the Ribiera red;  we got it (1000 ptas).  A very good
lunch for about 1800 ptas each ($11) including wine.  Professional
services and pleasant atmosphere.   Better than the lunch the hotel
packed: chorizo, sardines, bread, fruit and water, which is the same
as every other day.

The beautiful weather continues.


Vigo is an important port, which we could see from the vantage of the
old fort that overlooks the city.  There are significant mollusk farms
nearby.  We ate some oysters on the half shell.  They were fresh but
tasted a bit too like salt water for my taste.  Peg had some very
fresh mussels.  We ate these in an area called “El Mercado de las
Ostras,” the Oyster Market.  The Oyster Market now is just a short
street in a pedestrian zone where there are only trinket shops and
seafood bars like the one we visited.  The oysters are served on
platters by older women working for themselves.  You then sit at a
nearby table, which is catered by the restaurant you happen to sit in
front of.  They serve drinks and other things to eat.  The restaurant
served the mussels Peg ate.  However, you pay the restaurant and the
woman who served the oysters separately.

We returned to the hotel for lunch.  Last night’s meal was a bit
disappointing.  Our first course was a very good seafood empanada but
it was served without any accompaniment; the second course was fish
and it was served with just a few peas and potatoes.  It was a meal
with nary a vegetable.  As if to make up for it, lunch today was a
marvelous green bean dish flavored with a powerful yet sweet paprika.
The second plate was thinly sliced (which is the most common way that
pork is sold) breaded pork filet.

At four we toured nearby Pontevedra.  It has a beautiful church from
the late 11th century called the Santa Maria Mayor or Vicente.  Its
main facade is beautifully carved in a style similar to that found at
Santiago de Compostela, called Platteresque.  There are lots of
statues carved in stone.  These statues are intricately detailed. Many
faces have a certain look that I must describe as goofy: bug-eyed,
often grinning, round-faced.  I would not be surprised if someone
knowledgeable would laugh at my description.  At any rate, I enjoyed
looking at the figures and marveled at the tremendous effort involved.

The old part of the town is called El Casco Antiguo, the Old Helmet.
It has many narrow, stone streets surrounded by stone houses.  These
are beautifully and skillfully constructed.  Many of them are about
500 years old.  There is a stone arcade through which pilgrims to
Santiago passed coming from the southwestern area of Spain or nearby

After about an hour wandering about, we went to another nearby town,
this one much smaller.  Combaro is a fishing village and is right on
the Ria de Pontevedra.  Just a few feet above the water are bars,
restaurants and a bodega.  In the bodega only wine is served.  It is
poured into bowls from great barrels.  We snacked on mussels served in
scallop shells.  We drank a white wine, an Albariño, a local wine that
tastes much like a white from the Mosel valley.

In an open area sat a wooden cart with wooden wheels.  The cart is
used for hauling wood.  It is still in use, not placed there for the

The streets and pathways of the little village are carved from the
stone of the hillside. Often the steps are roughly cut, sometimes not
even cut at all. You are just walking on the rocks that have been
there for millions of years.  Many walkways barely allow two people to
pass.  Some paths lead to dead ends that are not marked as such.  This
village is in pre tourist state: very little is done with the tourist
in mind.


Santiago de Compostela

“Santiago” means Saint (Sant) James (Iago).

Along the way the bus briefly followed a woman hauling weeds in a
wooden cart drawn by an ox. There are many people hoeing the fields.
We are inland, driving through rolling hills.  As we approach the
town, we see the towers of the Cathedral from the highway.

A short walk from where we were let out we see the magnificent main
portal of the Cathedral.  Inside is the fabulous interior portal. Here
millions of pilgrims have put their five fingers on a spot that now
has five deep indentations.  Then they leaned over to touch their
foreheads to that of the man who sculpted this portal.  According to
Fodors, it is the sculpture on the FRONT of the column that is
traditionally so treated.  Yet here there was a long line of people
going to the REAR side to kiss a statute.  Well, it makes no sense to
put your fingers on the front just for the sake of doing so, not to
help you lean over, so I think that Fodors is right.  In either case,
it is rare and odd to so venerate a sculptor.

The main altar is beautifully gold-leafed.  Statues are carved to make
it appear that they hold up the roof over the altar.

Behind the altar is an image of Saint James, whom I think was cousin
to Jesus.  For centuries pilgrims have walked in the passage behind
St. James, giving him a hug and a kiss.  They are still doing it.  One
woman even came back, explaining she forgot to give him a kiss.  Both
at the front inner portal and here there are lots of prayers spoken
and signs of the cross made.

For lunch David and I ordered one scallop (1000 ptas. each).  They
were served on the shell with a very tasty sauce.  The scallop tasted
like every other scallop I had ever eaten.  At 1000 ptas, it was over

Being on the bus

Our bus guide is sweet but her routines are getting on my nerves.
Every time we get on the bus she says, “¿Qué tal estamos?  Bien?” How
are we doing?  Good?  Then she follows with did you have a good lunch,
did you like the shopping, or whatever we had just done.

The music she plays is too loud and often stupid.  The temperature is
seldom comfortable although there is heat and air conditioning.  The
bus leaves around 10:00 a.m., too late in the day.  Sometimes we go to
places we do not care about.  I have never been on a tour before and
though it was a good value, I would not eagerly do it again.

Houses in the region are solid stone and usually very pretty.  There
are good views of the estuary from most houses.


Back to Andalusia

These days took us to Andalusia again, for David had never been there
and I was eager for another look at the Mezquita (mosque) in Granada.
This time I most strongly noticed the effect of age on the building. I
could see the struggles the workers had in removing and replacing
wooden ceilings, and in keeping the masonry of the arches in good

Some exhibits are very badly labeled.

In Seville, we stayed in the old town in a 140 year old building.
Built as a hotel, it is now a protected building and cannot even be
repaired without official approval.  The doors are wooded and rounded
at the top.  The bathroom is a riot.  You sit on the toilet with your
knees touching the opposite wall, with one foot in the shower.
Otherwise, we are comfortable.

As we drive thorough olive fields, the aroma of the olives is powerful
and wonderful.  On the way back to Madrid and before Granada, we ate
in a truck stop that seldom saw tourists.  The owner wrote the menu
out on the way to our table.  It was home cooking, that’s for sure:
soups and stews and salads, that’s all.


Fun with Telefonica

On April 28th or so I called Telefonica, until recently a state-run
monopoly.  I wanted to shut the phone off (dar la baja) Sunday, May 3
so we could use it until then. Would that give them time to compute
the final bill and return the deposit?  Oh, yes, they said.  I
explained that I would be leaving the country on May 15 and they would
never be able to call or write to me as I would be traveling.

Today I called and they said that they had no record of the request to
shut off the phone.  Shame on me.  I knew it would be too much for
them to be able to do this.  All the Spanish people remark on the
inefficiency of Telefonica.  The woman said that it would be shut off
tomorrow. She said that she had noted the circumstances of our
impending departure and someone would call back.

“When will they call?”
“Not today, I am sure.”
“I have made a note that all this has to be done by close of business
tomorrow,”  she answered curtly.

“When tomorrow?  I have other chores to do.”
“I have no way of knowing.”

Help on hand

One shoe repair place said that the material in my shoes required the
use of a special, slow-drying glue and the repair would take a day and
1/2.  Forget that.  I found a Mister Minute (almost everywhere in
Europe) at an El Campo. Off I went, going three stops on the metro.  I
stopped to look at the map for the best way to get from the metro to
El Campo. I saw a security guard just then and asked him.  He said I
should have gone out the other exit, especially since it was now
raining heavily.  He said to get to it I would have to reenter the
metro but he got permission from the ticket seller to accompany me.
This way I would not have to pay again.

A train entered the station and he said that the best thing would be
to go back one stop as the one I chose was not the best.  He was right
as when I exited from the next station, I had to walk only a few
meters to Al Campo.  Another extraordinary effort by a Spaniard.


I was waiting for Telefonica all morning long.  I called again and
basically got nowhere but did confirm that the shut-off order had been
noted.  Finally, around 1:30 someone called.

“You need to call 004.  Tell them you want to talk to ‘cobros’.”
That’s the department that deals with final bill; I think one
department calculates the bill and another subtracts the deposit from
the bill and figures out who owes what to whom.  Why can’t just one
person do this?

The way I wrote this conversation makes it sound simple but the whole
conversation threw me for a loop. Why would the telephone company call
to tell me to call the telephone company?  Once I figured out that one
department is completely separate from another, the conversation made
more sense.

So I called and after again being on hold for 15 minutes or so,
someone came on line.  They had to hear me tell the story, for the 5th
or 6th time.  Then she said that the cobros department would call me
back as everyone was busy now

At about 2:30 I got a call.  A person who could knowledgeably deal
with me was at last on the line.  He said I owed about 29000 ptas.
Since my deposit was 32400, they owed me about 3000 ptas.  A colleague
had told him that our bank account was closed.  He said that they had
sent a charge to our account the other day as a normal procedure and
it had not been rejected yet.  I was glad that I closed the account
for otherwise I would have paid 25000 and they would owe me not just a
few thousand, but over 30,000 ptas. (about $200).

He said that he could not easily make a direct deposit to a US
account, nor easily mail a check to the U.S.  I volunteered Emilia’s
address.  I was giving him her name and he said that the envelope had
to be addressed to me.  He said he was not sure if that would work in
an apartment building.  I held for several minutes more and he said he
thinks that it will be delivered.  He gave me his name and phone
number and said to call if there were any problems.  I should get the
check within 30 days (and probably sooner).



Leaving Spain

Our plan of many months has been to see the old communist block
countries, starting with Bulgaria and working our way east.  Peg’s
mother Betty had sent us the Berkeley guide to aid in our planning.

We looked at several campers and we could get a good used one for
about $6,000.   Fuel for a car would also cost $200 just to get to
Sofia. The plane and train fare to Sofia were about the same, $200.
Trains and buses are very cheap within Central (Eastern) Europe.  So
cars and campers are not economical given 1) the cost of fuel 2) the
risk and other costs of owning a car, and 3) the low price of travel
by train in Central Europe and 4) the low cost of airfare.  You do
have more freedom and a camper would be a great way to see the
countryside.  The train was not a good option, taking several days.
If you got a sleeper car, the train would cost more than the plane.
The costs mounted if you had to buy meals on the train.

We checked airfare at many travel agencies.  The best deal we found to
Sofia, Bulgaria, was about $350.  We found an offer to Istanbul for
about $300 that included four nights lodging.  We decided to go to
Istanbul and then take the train to the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria.
Then we would make our way through Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, the
Czech Republic and Poland.

We have been staying with Emilia, who had an offer weeks ago to go to
Valencia for this San Isidrio weekend.   She leaves around 8 a.m.
after profuse apologies for not taking us to the airport.  Peg and I
have the morning to ourselves in Emilia’s piso.  We take time to
relax, pack our bags and eat lunch.  At 1 p.m. we get on bus 144, get
off at the metro and take it to near the airport.  We put our one
large, wheeled bag, one small bag and my backpack on the city bus that
goes to the airport.  We arrive at 2:30.  By car or cab, the trip
would take about 15 minutes.  But we use up our metro ticket and save
2000 ptas. in cab fare.

As we fly over Spain, we see little of the Spain we have grown to
love.  Clouds hide its landscape from us.  I will miss Spain for its
friendly people, reasonable prices, generally good services and food.
I will miss Emilia’s sister Nina, their friends, and the mountainous,
boulder-strewn retreat near Pedriza.   Most of all, I will miss
Emilia, her coffee-laden personality, her joy in going places, her
warmth, and her eagerness to learn and to teach.

We land in Istanbul at 12:45 a.m.  The tour guide meets us as
promised.  Their bus takes us to various glittering hotels around
Istanbul, dropping off other passengers.  Finally we ride through a
dumpy, crumbling neighborhood.  Uh oh!  This was the route to our
hotel!  The travel agent warned us about 2nd class hotels and now I
beginning to see why.

Inside the hotel we go.  Oops, we did make it too cheap this time!
Very dirty carpets, though otherwise clean enough.  Low water
pressure.  Lousy locks on the doors.  Too late to do anything but
collapse into the hard but comfortable bed.  It is 1:00 in the

Spain 4/98

Spain, cont’d


Travel plans are becoming the main topic of conversation.  I wanted to
go to SE Asia earlier this year but Peg was not enthused.  However, we
are going to Central Europe (fka Eastern Europe).  The route:
fly/take train into Sofia, Bulgaria or Istanbul, whichever has the
best deal from Madrid.  Bulgaria, Rumania, Hungary, Slovakia, Czech
Republic, Poland.

I signed us up for a newsgroup the other day,  I
was not sure if this would turn out to be of value. Thus far some
people have been helpful, telling us about prices, problems and
experiences in Central Europe.  Most have had a good time.  There have
been some petty thefts and hassles with officials who seem to want to
collect a ‘fine’ for things like having your feet on the seats.  I
believe the reports of thefts.   Regarding other matters, people are
either foolish travelers or their problems were a result of the
impositions they claim.  One theft involved drugging a sleeping train
traveler while they were in their sleeper.  A friend of ours had this
happen to him in France several years ago.

Despite joining the Europe travel newsgroup, we cannot come up with
cost projections that we feel comfortable with.  Right now it seems
that we can count on an average cost of about $20 per night for the
two of us in decent accommodations, maybe private residences.  Food
seems to run about $10 per day each, eating out.  If this holds true,
then we are just fine.

It is also hard to know how difficult and inconvenient the travel will
be, although we also have a Berkeley guide.  They give plenty of
information but how difficult things are depends on how well each
person responds to the challenges.

I want to return for my 30th high school anniversary on August 1.
Working that in without spending a fortune on air is another
challenge.  We (or at least I) will need to have completed our tour by

We have been talking about buying a small truck like Emilia’s and
sleeping in it at night in campsites or just out in the countryside.


Visited the exposition at the Instituto Alemán.  Emil Schumaker’s
water colors and gouaches are supposed to be important but we were
both unimpressed.


Went to Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum.  This is essential for visitors to
Madrid.  The Thyssen-Bornemisza family collected most of the art over
only two generations.  Most of it is here and the rest is in
Barcelona.  The collection was gifted, I think, to the Spanish
government.  The collection is housed in the Palace of Villahermosa .
It’s exterior is a good example of Madrid’s neoclassic architecture.
The interior has been remodeled to house the art.

I am really tired of religious art except the examples here are so
good, in such fine condition and so well displayed that I enjoyed this
part too.  I recall one Jesus that was so realistic that it spooked
me.  It did not look like it belonged among this old stuff yet it was
14th or 15th century too.

In the basement is the Macke Exhibit.  Macke (1887-1914) is fun to
see.  He lived in Germany when Expressionism was developing.  I think
that this is also when Impressionism was strong.  “His artistic
evolution started within the framework of Impressionistic and Post-
Impressionistic French art.”  (museum brochure).

The handsome brochure (available in English) says that a basic feature
of Expressionism is the use of pure color for expressive ends.  I do
not know what this means.  I think that Macke’s best work is his
watercolor.  I think also that there is some cubistic aspects to his
work.  I do not recall seeing anything else anywhere in watercolor
that is as cubistic as his.

Afterwards we went to Emilia’s piso, in the south part of city. Emilia
is a professor of Communications and excels in Student Decor.
Scattered about were some delightful examples of Salvation Army
Nouveau.  In one room, done in Good Will Rococo, you could not even
see the floor.  Her 13th (top) floor flat commands a view of jillions
of similar apartment buildings.  There are two balconies.  Her floor
is a beautiful parquet.  She has three bedrooms.

Emilia has been ill with flu.  Peg and I, her sister Nina and Maria
Eugenia came to visit.  I have a hard time understanding Nina.  At one
point she is talking on the phone and I swear she says, “No way.”
Emilia confirms what I heard.  She explains that in Chile they use
quite a few English expressions.  They do not always carry the same
meaning.  No way is a sort of swear word, I think, but it means the
same as it does in English.

Maria Eugenia is married to Jaime and with Nina they own the little
cabin outside Madrid.  Maria Eugenia arrives in Nina’s car.
Apparently Maria Eugenia left her keys locked in her car.  Her son
came and got the car later and while Maria Eugenia finished with some
patients, Nina took the metro to Emilia’s.  It took me at least 20
minutes and Emilia’s help to figure this out.


Alejandro is one of Peggy’s students at the advertising agency.  Peggy
has arranged to have drinks with him and his girlfriend.  We meet them
at Plaza Castilla, which I arranged with Alejandro as he could not or
would not do so in English with Peggy.  This is an all Spanish
language night, which is fine by me.

They take us to a bar near a park.  This park is teeming with kids in
their late teens.  Alejandro explains that since the kids have little
money, they drink coke and wine mixed and stand around outside.
Despite the crowd, there are few problems except that the locals
complain that the kids piss everywhere.  There are no toilets for them
so they go into the hallway of the underground parking lot.  We walked
through it and obviously it is scrubbed down regularly as I cannot
smell much.

Recently there was a demonstration here by the homeless.  Many young
people were evicted from vacant housing after people complained about
them squatting in the apartments.  “Where are we to go?” they asked in
their demonstration.

It was an Irish bar that Alejandro had chosen.  He prefers stout and
other Irish brews to Madrid’s ubiquitous light beers.  We were served
by a woman from Galway.  She works here once a week and teaches
English the rest of the time.  She likes Spain, she said, although her
schedule was a bit difficult.  She would go back to Galway but says it
is still difficult to find work there, although the Irish economy is

After we drank a stout or two we went to our piso.  On the way home we
picked up a rotisserie chicken from our favorite, Gago’s.  We also got
some patatas ali oli, then made a salad.  It felt like we were living
the life style of the Spanish, for once:  we ate at 11:30 p.m.

Alejandro’s girlfriend, Mirella, has a degree in geology.  She has
never worked in her field.  She is about 30 years old and has a job
now as an administrative assistant.  Even this job was hard to get and
it temporary.  Her co-workers ask her why she works so fast and gets
so much done.  She and Alejandro say that this is a typical Spanish
attitude.  They seem to think that if they work hard, the work will be
done and their services no longer needed.  She wants to impress her
bosses with her commitment to working but I am not sure if even the
bosses care about things getting done too fast either.

Alejandro says that he often works late into the evenings and works on
weekends some also.  His bosses are always surprised that he has his
work done on time.

When he moved to Madrid from Barcelona to take his current job in
advertising (he is the art director), his parents followed.  He is
considering a job in Barcelona and says that his parents will move
back there if he gets the job.  Her parents live in Barcelona.


Fundación Juan March.  Paul Delavux, 1897-1994.  Paul apparently did
not see many women with their clothes on.  And most of the ones he saw
had very large brown eyes.  They appeared naked and large-brown-eyed
in every conceivable social situation.  I like his stuff and try to
draw some of his paintings.


The Imax.


Salamanca is our destination, about 200 kms from Madrid.  About a week
ago Emilia asked if it would be acceptable if she brought another of
her ‘intercambios’ along.  This meant that there would be five people
in her tiny furgoneta; her vehicle, I have learned, is in this class
of trucks.  We thought it would be too crowded but suggested that she
ask if the boyfriend was husky or not.  She joked that she was afraid
to use the term ‘husky’ as she had learned it with ‘dog’ as in ‘husky-
dog,’ which she pronounced as if it were one word.

Negotiating about passengers

Some negotiations followed.  We offered to take the train or bus.  She
said that would eliminate half the fun.  Emilia is typically Spanish,
I think, because getting there and back is most of the fun.  Stopping
for coffee and the like are the epitome of travel for her.  We offered
to rent a car for ourselves.  She said that would be too expensive and
we couldn’t talk to one another as we drove.  How about a car big
enough for us all?  Even more expensive.  Finally we said we were
highly flexible but would rather not be miserable on the way there and
back.  All this happened over a period of several days and phone
calls.  In the end, she managed to find out that the boyfriend was
skinny and to borrow her brother’s car.  It is not much bigger than
her furgoneta but has four doors, a much smoother ride and more
powerful diesel engine.

During all of this I felt the need to take a very flexible and
inclusive position.  I said 1) we would be willing to use most any
form of transport, 2) stay in a youth hostel if it meant others could
save money or be more comfortable, and 3) said nothing that suggested
that we did not want anyone else to join us.  I think that being any
other way would have made Emilia feel we were being selfish.  She
already knows that we have lots of money compared to her and most
Spaniards and may be extra sensitive to anything that smacks of

We traveled, then, with two 22 year old kids from somewhere in
England.  Hillary and Daniel both teach English here.  She teaches
young kids and some adults too.  She has a college degree but I do not
think it is in Spanish or philology.  She had been diagnosed manic
depressive.  This diagnosis gets her a disability check but, I think,
only if they are living in England.  She came here to improve her

The road to Salamanca goes over the Guadaramas, taking us into a cloud
bank.  We emerge on the other side of the bank to find the weather has
gotten colder.  We make our way into town and after a thirty minute
struggle, we find a parking place.  We walk to the Plaza Mayor and pop
into a cafe for a coffee.  Through the large plate glass window we can
see much of the Plaza, which is known for its architectural
consistency.  I find it a bit boring architecturally, but that is
sometimes the price of consistency.  But it is grand.  It was built in
the 18th c. in the Baroque style.  The mansions that form the plaza
are three stories high with austere iron balconies.

My Favorite Sites

We see many famous sites on this day and the next.  My favorites are
the two Cathedrals and the Roman bridge.  The bridge is solid looking.
At first I couldn’t find out how old it is but I feel sure it was
built sometime between 217 BC and 200 AD.  Hannibal came through here
in 217 BC.  He must have been on his way to the Alps.  A brochure that
the helpful tourist office later provided confirms my suspicion by
suggesting that it may have been built under Emperor Vesposian around
200-300 AD.

The two cathedrals are connected.  Peg writes:

The old one is 12th century, and a great example of High
Romanesque, which one does not see very often.  The new one is
Medium High Gothic.  The fact that you walk from one right into
the other one makes anyone able to see immediately the difference
between the two styles.

Gary again (I have to write this in as the indentations that I have
place in the last paragraph do not always survive the internet and
thus some readers think that Peg is still writing)

Inside the old cathedral it is noticeably darker.  In one corner is a
small chapel.  On the wall is a painting made in the year 1265.  It
was made to look like a tapestry.  It is in great shape and I really
liked it.

The University

We wandered into one of the University buildings.  This building has a
simple but attractive courtyard.  It is part of the School of
Philology (I am not sure of the spelling in English;  the word refers
to the study of languages, I think).  Salamanca’s university had some
8000-10,000 students in the 16th century.  It was the best in Europe
at the time.  Eventually the admission standards only allowed the
wealthy to enter and the quality of the scholarship declined.
Michener goes on about this, becoming, so it seems, quite upset.  It
is just recently that the institution became respectable again.

Lunch this day was the worst I have had in Spain.  To make matters
worse, Hillary decides to become a grump.  She glares and fumes.
Emilia has told us that she and Husky are having difficulties being in
Spain.  He is returning to England next week.  That decision is making
it difficult for Hillary to pay the rent.  On top of this, the
landlady is giving her a hard time about the rent payment.  The
landlady wanted the rent to be transferred to her account directly.
Now she claims she did not get the right amount and wants Hillary to
pay the difference.  She is also telling Hillary not to use the
heating system and Hillary does not know how to turn it on.

Hillary says, “People say how bad British cooking is.  I don’t think
much of Spanish cooking.  It’s all the same and no good.”

I survived lunch and Hillary’s grump.

Semana Santa

This is Holy Week (Semana Santa).  There are processions this evening
starting around 9 p.m.

First we get settled at the youth hostel that Emilia arranged.  This
was a step up from her usual arrangement, which is to sleep in her
truck in a campground.  Peg and I have never stayed in a youth hostel
(as opposed to a hostal, which in Spain is a hotel without a
restaurant).  We were nervous about having to share our sleeping room
with strangers.  However, we were able to obtain a room meant for six
with its own shower and toilet.  It was no great bargain.  It cost
2500 ptas per person (about $18).  Peg and I have spent less in Spain
and not had to share with young people who intend to stay out until
all hours (they came in at 3 a.m. but were quiet as church mice).

We returned into the wintery evening.  The brochures told us the route
of the processions and we joined the growing crowds on the one lane,
house-lined street.  Vendors were selling a sweet wafer, like the ones
you get in the U.S. that have a cream filling.  These had no filling
and were only one wafer thick.  They were about 5″ in diameter.

At a little after nine the drums started.  Thump, thump, thrrummp.  A
slow and somber beat.  Then marchers appeared.  They were wearing
conical heads that extended about 15″ above the crown, and which
covered their faces except the eyes.  Their robes, white ones,
extended to the tops of their shoes.

Why are they going so slowly?  We will be here all night!

Then trumpets, just trumpets, maybe 20 or so, bit into the frozen air,
walking in time to dirges.  Step, hesitate, step, hesitate, like in a
wedding procession.  Somber music in the somber beat.  In unison.  No
talking.  No singing. No faces visible except the musicians’.  Then we
see the Jesus figure coming, perched on a float.

Jesus and then Mary float by, a thousand eyes peering

We had seen some floats earlier in the day in the cathedrals.  There
were four arms on each end extending from under the float.  It looked
like about 10 people on each end would hoist the float.  I found that
they squeezed in more than I thought and there were maybe 20 people on
each end.

Slowly Jesus approached.  Thump, thump, thrrummp.  More trumpets.  The
speed remained a constant turtle’s pace.  At last the float drew even
with us.  On the side of the float there is a screen-like material,
perhaps wicker.  I guess they want the float to get air underneath.

As the float trudged past I happen to look down.  I see feet
protruding from inside the float.  I counted them.  There were about
60 people inside the float, in four rows.  Maybe 100 people were
carrying this thing and if one of them fell, especially one inside the
float, many would be injured.  As I thought more about what they were
doing, I realized that they had to remain in perfect unison or someone
would trip and fall.  Now I understand why this procession has to go
so slowly.  The result of a fall would be disastrous.

About 20 minutes later, Mary arrived.  About the same number of people
were carrying Mary, dressed in a nun’s outfit. Her garments reminded
me of the middle-eastern origins of this religion.  And I thought
about how Islamic fundamentalists wanted women to dress that way now.
Maybe not looking just like nuns, but damn similar.

Mary’s float moved differently.  All 100 or so people took two steps
forward and one step back, of course and by necessity, in perfect
unison.  It made Mary’s float make what looked like tiny circles, I
guess because of the weight shifting from one foot to the other.
Quite a fancy maneuver, maybe a death defying one.

The next day we went to the Museo Art Nouveau.  Beautiful glass and
other works housed in a stained glass roofed building with a stained-
glass view of the Roman bridge.  Tons of gorgeous stuff that is way
beyond my meager talents to describe.

More processions

Peg writes:

Throughout the week we watched other processions, in Madrid,
Malaga, Valencia, Seville, and other cities, all broadcast on TV.
They take place every evening throughout Holy Week.  The
processions are sponsored by various fraternities that seem to
compete with each other to see who can put on the most impressive
procession.  Some people are still really moved by these figures.
To us the practice seems left over from the Middle Ages, when
people were illiterate and statues were used to explain the
doctrines of Christianity to them.


Happily going nowhere, cold outside.  Most stores are closed due to
Easter holidays.  On Sunday the Rastro is open.  We are thinking about
reducing the amount of luggage we carry with us on our journey to
Central Europe.

I call the phone company several times to find out what to do to shut
the phone off and get our deposit back.  Three of five I spoke with on
separate occasions said that I could go to a particular building in
the central zone, tell them what I wanted to do.  They would calculate
the bill, return anything we were owed, and shut off the phone.  They
all said not to wait until the last minute, maybe a few days before we
had to leave.

Spanish tortilla, at last!

I have finally learned how to properly make a Spanish tortilla .  A
Spanish tortilla has nothing to do with a Mexican one.  The former is
an omelette.  It is about 2 inches thick and usually about 6 inches in
diameter.  It has potatoes and onions, and that is normally all there
is.  I have seen green peppers in them but only in Salamanca.  The
tortilla is normally served at room temperature.

Alejandro’s girlfriend told us how to make the tortilla and for some
reason her method worked better than the one we had learned from a
woman we had dinner with in Barcelona in 1992.  Here’s what she said
to do:  Chop the potatoes and onions, making them no bigger than the
size of your little finger (I diced them and that worked fine).  Fry
them in olive oil slowly.  You do not want to caramelize them at all.
When they are done – no crunchiness at all, just real soft – rremove
them from the pan and mix them into the eggs that you have beaten very
thoroughly.  Clean the frying pan, add new oil and pour the
egg/onion/potato mixture into the pan.  You want the pan to be warm,
not cold or red hot, when you add the egg mixture.  Cook under a slow
to medium flame until one side is done and then turn the tortilla onto
a plate.  This means that the top of the tortilla has to be dry.  Then
put the tortilla back into the pan and cook slowly until the bottom is
done and only slightly browned.  The amount of egg to potatoes/onions
is about four eggs, two medium potatoes, one medium onion.  You want
the mixture to have little or no free egg running loose.

Spring weather departs

Peg writes:

Spring has again left Spain…Today, we went outdoors for a
couple of hours, walked around downtown, and it was about 45
degrees. Most of the snow had melted from the Guadarrama, until
last Tuesday, when another dusting occurred.  Ski season
continues in the Pyrenees. Here, on Friday, we had hail (2
minutes), sunshine (5 minutes), black clouds (3 minutes), snow (1
minute), sunshine (1 minute), rain (2 minutes), repeat.   I hope
this is the last cold front.

We’re starting to wind things up here.  Two more weeks of English
classes, then Arlette & Dani arrive.  Then David.

The BBC is doing about five hours on Ancient Egypt tonight.  Last
Sunday, they did six hours on Rome.  Starting with a performance
of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.  Then an hour on the Roman
Coliseum and how it was used, an hour-long documentary on
Augustus Caesar, then an hour on Nero. Really wonderful
programming.  Hope this evening is as good.  A great way to spend
a cold evening, if you ask me.  I think I could manage to stay in
the Balearics or Canaries for the winter if I could get Via
Digital television.


Celtic music of Galicia

We went again to the Teatro Madrid.  This time the offering was
folkloric dance and music of Galicia, the Celtic province of Spain.
From my readings last year I recall that these Celts came from France
,extending the Celtic migration from Central Europe.  Only in Galicia
and in Brittany are there vestiges of Celtic culture on the continent,
so far as I know.

The costumes were numerous and outstanding.  I think that there were
as many as 30 people dancing, singing or playing instruments at a
time, all wonderfully outfitted in traditional dress.  There were, I
think, up to five bagpipes on stage at once.  Joining the bag pipes
were drummers and a tambourine.

The music is unmistakably Celtic but it is different from Irish,
Scottish and Britannic traditional music.  The only instrument not
present in Irish and Scottish versions is the tambourine.  At least, I
cannot recall a tambourine in same.

As with other performance we saw in this series, the traditional dance
was combined with ballet.

I liked everything about this performance, even the seats high in the
nosebleed section.  Our view was excellent albeit distant.  However,
seats a few rows behind us did not yield a full view of the stage.  We
certainly got our 1000 pts worth ($6.50 per person.)

Negotiating with Fernando

On March 30 I had called Fernando, our landlord, to tell him that we
were leaving.  Fernando called on the 15th to tell us he had the
electricity bill (the light bill, they call it:  la factura de la
luz).  He came over and we paid him for two months, about $90
including water, which was $20 of the total.  This takes us through
March 15 and he did not ask for payment for the rest.  I decide not to
bring it up since the refrigerator door remains in need of repair or
replacement, and he has never done anything about the roof.  These are
not big problems for us other than a higher electricity bill because
of the refrigerator door.  Maria had told us that most Spaniards would
have paid less in rent until these things were fixed.

“We are going to fly to Sofia or Istanbul,” I said.  “Joder,” he
exclaimed.  “Then we are going to Romania,” “Joder,” he said again.
As we told him about each step in plans for Central Europe, he would
say, “Joder!”  This means literally, “Fuck!”  This is a very common
way that people in Madrid talk.  It’s fuck this and fuck that.  I
think that in English would might say, “Wow.”  That’s how I would
translate joder here.

Prices of package deals are falling the closer we get to the last
minute.  A week in Mayorca in May is now running about $280, airfare,
hotel, breakfast and dinner, per person.  We have not received
confirmation from our travel agent about the week in Galicia.  Each
time I call they have to find out whom we spoke with the first time we
came.  This seems typical of business organization here, very ad hoc.
So you have to write down who you talked to so when you call, you can
get the same person or others can find your file.

We walked past a woman begging downtown.  Each time someone gave her
only 25 pta. coins, she would throw them away!  A man nearby had
observed the same thing and now he runs out and grabs them before
anyone else does.  He practically pushed me out of the way as I was
reaching for a coin.


Palacio de La Granja

Saturday the 18th to go to La Granja with Emilia.  La Granja is a
palace that is like Versailles in style, but not as grand. It was
built in 1720 by the Bourbon, Philip V, the grandson of Louis XIV.

Five times a year they turn on the fountains.  We lucked out and today
was one.  The fountains are magnificent works of art.  They are fed by
a small lake on the hill behind the palace.  The water from the
fountains can go no higher than the lake, but that means a height of
about 50-75′.  The display is quite impressive.

La Granja is not far from Sevilla but we got there not via the highway
but via the mountain pass, which was lined with snow 2-3′ deep.

Been visiting Central Europe cites on the net.  Some have been quite
useful.  We have found some useful information from
We have corresponded with people who have been in some or all of the
countries.  We found out about one nice sounding hotel in Prague for
$28, another one in the countryside for up to four adults also for
$28/night.  This is the cheapest decent sounding stuff in Czech we
have seen.  One woman wrote to say that she stayed in a youth hostel
for $15/night in Prague.  Prague sounds quite expensive compared to
the other countries.  Not sure why.

I have decided that we can keep within our $2000 budget, although
we’ll be moving around a lot.


Foreign visitors

Yesterday we picked up Dani and Arlette at the airport.  The day
before Nina and Emilia had given us a dress rehearsal on how to get to
the airport.  It’s not that hard to get to the airport but for some
reason, perhaps because Emilia seems to get lost easily, they thought
this was necessary.  Anyway, if you know what an airport symbol looks
like,  can read any language as long as it has the word ‘airport’ or
some derivative in it, you can find your way to the airport in Madrid.
Nonetheless, it was quite thoughtful of them and offered yet another
example of their thoughtfulness, kindness and generosity.

After getting Dani and Arlette, we went to the cabin that Nina owns
with her dentists friends, Jaime and Maria Eugenia, two super charming
and delightful people.  We ate roasted chickens, tomato salad and
bread with red, rose and white wines.

Weather:  sun, rain, hail, high wind, dead calm.  At times we could
see Madrid on the horizon, those two leaning towers of the Plaza de
Castilla clearly visible when we were not in clouds.

We had French in one corner, English in another and Spanish in a
third.  Polish in a fourth.  Emilia has made friends with a former
student, also named Jaime, who has a girlfriend named Joanna, who is
from Poland.  Her grandmother is here visiting and grandma, who cannot
be much more than 55-60, speaks only Polish.

Afterwards, Jaime and Maria Eugenia invited us all to their piso for
paella.  The paella was only the second one he has ever done.  It was
very good.  He made a fish stock, added it to the rice along with a
little fresh, good fish.  Bread and wine.  Quite simple yet elegant.
And we only had to wait until 10 p.m. to eat.


We took Dani and Arlette to La Granja, Segovia, Avila and El Escorial.
Emilia lent us her little truck.  After 8-9 times getting in and out
of that back seat (two doors only), Dani and Arlette were pretty worn
out.  The little truck is a bit noisy and underpowered, and so five
hours of driving can make you quite tired.

Dani and Arlette like to see the countryside, and have less interest
in museums and cathedrals.  This trip gave them a lot of mountain
scenery. Our Lady of Every Cathedral only took us into two churches,
the magnificent and huge one in Segovia and the one at El Escorial.

The next few days were occupied in seeing more of the local sights with Dani and Arlette.

Spain 3/98

Spain, continued


El Museo Carralbo

El Museo Carralbo is a private collection in a mansion near the Plaza
de España, which is in the central part of Madrid.  The collection was
gathered largely by Don Enrique de Aguilera y Gamboa, el XVIII Marquis
de Carralbo (1845-1922).

I bet introducing him required years of spokesmodel training.

Don Enrique was a writer, a great fan of the arts and of political
dialogue.  He was the head of the Traditionalist Party of Spain for
many years, a member of the Royal Academy of the Language and Fine
Arts, Arts of S. Fernando, and more.  Enrique traveled extensively in
Europe and Asia visiting museums and making purchases.  He lived in
this mansion with his wife and two children.

It would be a privilege to awake in this building, even without any
art to feast upon.  The visitor is greeted at the main entrance by a
marble and tile studded foyer and the Grand Staircase.  The latter has
a carved wooden banister, while the balustrade is hand forged iron in
the style of Louis XV; the stairs are made of wood as well.  Paintings
include ‘The Defense of Coruña Contra Drake.’

La Galería Religiosa has an El Greco (El Éxtasis de San Francisco), a
Zurbaran and other religious paintings and decorative objects.  Among
the latter are some high relief wooden carvings.

Don Etc. collected magnificent clocks.  They all work and most of them
chimed on the hour, sending echoes throughout the three storey

Everything in this mansion is masterfully and opulently decorated.  I
have never heard of this collection.  The collection and the building
make all other private collections I have seen pale in comparison.
This is yet another jaw dropper.

Gary Bob says check it out.

Afterwards we had a small lunch at a nearby bar.  Peg had bacalao
(cod) in a tomato and onion sauce and I had some red peppers stuffed
with bacalao and a bechamel sauce.  The bartender gave us a sample of
their bocarones, which he said were raw but marinated.  Everything was
excellent.  With a glass of wine, a beer and some patatas ali oli, we
spent about $10, which was far from the cheapest but a very good


Last night we went to Teatro Madrid and bought tickets for La Ballet
Español.  We are going tonight.  2100 ptas each ($13 or so).  Should
be flamencoish (what else can Spanish ballet be, since we know it
ain’t classic ballet).  While at the window, I told the clerk that I
wanted “Dos billetes para fila four.”  She and I got a good laugh at
that one.

Peg is hoping that there is not so much singing as one would normally
hear at a Flamenco presentation.  The one we saw in Granada was not
excessive, as I recall, so I am not sure what worries her so.  Maybe I
have been playing too much Radio Ole! and she is sick of hearing
flamenco singing.  There is a lot of moaning and groaning in Flamenco


Ballet Español

On the way to Ballet Español we stopped at Halcon Viajes (902-300
600), the travel agency that offers great outings at bargain basement
prices.  The other day we signed up to go to Santiago de Compostela.
The seven-day bus trip costs about $120 per person including all
meals, hotel and admissions, plus excursions to Vigo and other sites
in Spain and nearby Portugal.  We have to change our reservation.
Ourclerk found our reservation without difficulty even without my
receipt.  However, she did have to ask us who had helped us.  Our file
was not in the main drawer, it was still at the desk of our original
assistant.  The Spanish aren’t the hardest working people in the world
but most things go well anyway, sometimes despite their lack of

Maria Rosa’s production is in Teatro Madrid, which is a city-run
operation.  It is housed in a complex that includes an indoor swimming
pool and a library.  The latter was stuffed with teenagers quietly
working at tables.  There is a large reflection pool outside and the
whole complex is snuggled up against Al Campo, a shopping mall that I
have mentioned previously.  This is not a zoning choice we would often
see in the U.S. but I like not having these sorts of things isolated
from one another.

The theater is dug out of the ground so that the entrance is the
highest point of the structure.  There is not but two or three bad
seats in the house.  We are sitting in the front.  A few rows farther
back would have been better, to allow for a wide view of the stage.

Ballet Español turns out to be a fusion of ballet, flamenco and folk
dance.  The strongest influence is the flamenco.  Most of the dancers
wore boots but some wore soft ballet shoes (without hard points).
Costumes were folkloric and flamenco.

The first number was a modern dance with folkloric and flamenco themes
very delicately presented.  Following numbers were clearly folkloric
with themes from Galicia (which has a significant Celtic influence)
and Asturias; or flamenco infusion; or, as in the finale, straight (or
nearly so) flamenco complete with guitarists and singers.

The later the evening became, the more flamenco dancing there was.
There were far more group efforts than you would find in most flamenco
productions, which are small in numbers of presenters as well as in
physical space.  Here there were as many as twenty dancers.

Maria Rosa is probably well into her 50’s but she dances with great
elegance and style.  She did not display any of the haughty pride that
is so much a part of flamenco dancing.  The two primary male dancers
were half her age.  One was exclusively flamenco in style, the other
and the star of the show (other than Maria Rosa) combined his
traditional steps with leaps and spins from his classical ballet

Peg’s hope that the singing would be limited was fulfilled.  Only the
last two numbers included any singing.  There were two men singing,
never together, accompanied by two excellent guitarists.  Their
singing was typical but within the context provided by the dancing and
the guitar playing, it was quite acceptable to Peg and I really liked
their offerings.

Quite a delightful evening.  My only complaint was that the music was
not live, except for the guitarists and the singers.


Bouttine Souriante: the after burners

There was snuggling room only to hear Bouttine Souriante, a French
Canadian musical group.  They play traditional Celtic music from
Brittany.  There are not just traditional instruments: violins,
accordions, penny whistles.  The ensemble also includes a bass fiddle,
trumpet, saxophone and clarinet.  They are  playing at the Colegio
Mayor San Juan Evangelista’s Club de Música y Jazz.  The locals call
the club ‘Johnny.’  I guess that they think that ‘Johnny,’ being an
American name, is appropriate as a nickname for Juan.  Johnny is proud
of his music, as we had to fork over 5000 ptas.

I met Peg at the club after my journey to the cabin with Emelia.
Unfortunately for Peg, she did not ask if she was in the right line.
She was in line for about 30 minutes.   I did ask, however, and lucky
thing I did.  Otherwise we might have had to sit separately or join
the intimate crowds in the aisles and on the balcony.

The evening was as fascinating for the marvelous, electric and
energized sounds of the group as it was for the marvelously energized,
participatory crowd.  After an opening harmony, the band normally
began a number with the traditional instruments, so that a gig sounded
like a gig, and a reel like it should.  But from then on, out came the
after burners and turbo chargers.

Trumpet, two trombones (one a bass), and the sax then piped in what I
can only describe as pure energy.  Wake up time.  Heart beating-
aerobic-stomping-move-the-dead-from-purgatory-to-heaven time.  I have
never heard anything like it, and although at the end I was ready to
leave, I would go hear them again.  This is coming from a person who
is not a great fan of live music.  I like it in the background, but to
have nothing to do but listen makes me antsy.  No problem here.

And if the group did not enthuse me, then the crowd would have.
Dancing in the aisles, or better yet, pulsating, as there was not room
to dance.  On its feet in front of their seats, the Spaniards moved to
the intense rhythms.  Then came the clapping.

The Spanish clap is unique.  It is flamenco.  I think that they are
born with the ability.  They not only know how, they know when and
when not to.  And when they did, they became part of the band and part
of the entertainment.

Two and a half hours later, the ovations were unending.  Not the
typical single encore, not two, but three.  Then the crown demanded
more.  After all, dawn was seven hours away, and why spend money to
get high on beer in the bars when this is better and cleaner?  But the
band had to give up.  After 23 years together, I cannot imagine how
they could put as much energy into a performance as they had.


Cáceres and Trujillo

For a mere 2950 ptas each we are off to Cáceres and Trujillo in
Extremadura via bus.  These weekly excursions, which get you to
selected places within one day’s drive from Madrid, are the best deal
in town.  There would be little other reason why we are here at Plaza
Castilla at 7 a.m.

I am not sure how to translate the name of this region of Spain that
sits on the Portuguese border.  It could be ‘extre madura’, which
could be extra mature, assuming ‘extre’ was or is a word. Or it could
be ‘extrema dura,’ which I would translate as ‘extremely hard.’
Either of these translations works, for Extremadura is a hard and dry
land (for which ‘extremely mature’ works also), even more desert-like
in some parts than around Madrid.  Our specific destinations, Cáceres
and Trujillo, require a three and one half ride each way, including a
thirty minute rest stop.  The round trip is about 600 km.

Cáceres was a Roman settlement.  The old town now is strictly medieval
and Renaissance in appearance.  Having no other building styles to
ruin the effect, the old part of town has been the site of many movie
productions.  It is on the highest spot; the new sections lie below
and around it.  Its many medieval and Renaissance palaces are in
magnificent condition as far as we could tell from the outside, either
from superb maintenance or restoration or both.  All the streets are
cobbled and make for awkward walking, but this adds to the authentic

We wound our way to the Casa de las Veletas, which is now an
archeology museum.  Here we saw some fine objects starting from the
Early Paleolithic era.  A display shows paintings from the Maltravieso
Cave, which is nearby in the flood plains.  There are also some
excellent examples from the Copper and Bronze Ages, and from the
visits of the early Phoenicians (who were from the area we now call
Lebanon).  Iron age objects from the pre-Roman area join those from
the Roman and Visigothic eras to round out this section of the museum.

What’s amazing is not just the fine condition of so many ancient
things, but also the fact that they are here, in this tiny town in the
middle of Extremadura.  We are not close to the sea here.  Anyone who
travels here must travel over hard, dry ground, probably along the
river so they could drink along the way.  In particular it is
interesting that there are Phoenician objects here, showing either
that they made the journey or, more likely, that they traded for
objects that were passed along in who knows how many subsequent trades
before arriving here.

Also, this is a tiny building in a tiny community.  In the U.S. I
would expect to see a collection of this quality only in large museums
as only the large ones could afford to buy this stuff.  Maybe this
museum did not have to make purchases.

There is more to this museum and this town, but let’s eat!  We have
made it to 1:30 p.m. and for once are not the first and only patrons
in the restaurant.  We choose one that was in the guide, which is rare
for us to do.  Its prices are reasonable, with the menu of the day for
1600 (about $10).  Its name is El Figón de Eustaquio that the book
said served mainly regional delicacies.  The menu of the day included
the pot of the day, ‘La Olla del día,’ which was bread soup.  It was
some sort of delicious broth with bread in it.  Peg also had a soup as
a first course, whose name I have forgotten.  With lunch we had the
wine of the region, Ribiera, which is a young wine (nouveau in French)
and it is quite a joy to drink.  The bottle was included in the price.

We hobbled around more of the village until we had to meet our bus in
the Plaza Mayor for the trip to Trujillo.

Trujillo, dating from Roman times, is the hometown of the Pizzaros,
those who conquered the Incas, as you might recall.  The town rests
upon a hill, although the view is less impressive than what Cáceres
offers.  This is a quiet town.  Stork nests abound and are occupied by
the graceful birds.  There are fewer people, fewer tourists, and no
buses today because of road work.

We trudged up the hill, landing in the Plaza Mayor (16th and 17th
centuries), which I think is more impressive than the one in Madrid.
It is larger, it has large and old buildings, and I think that the
structures are less uniform, making it appear somehow more natural.

In the middle is a huge statue of Francisco Pizarro, leader of the
expedition, on a horse.  He (and the horse, I think) are armored.  The
church behind it is early 16th c Gothic.  A toothless old man (or at
least he looked old) made sure that everyone ‘contributed’ the
required 25 or 50 pesetas to see the place.  Of more interest is the
Palacio de los Duques de San Carlos.  It is across the street.

Sister Bucky’s Touché

Meet Sister Bucky.  She is a nun of the Hieronymire order. I have
named her after a nun that does delightful 5-10 minute art lectures on
BBC television from time to time.  Our sister Bucky is a perky, 40ish
woman in traditional habit.  One member of the touring group
complained about something being unfair and she handled him quite
well.  No, she did not pull out her ruler (although I would have).
She told him he had to wait for some reason that I did not quite
catch.  She collected 200 pesetas and began the show.

The nun’s official place of residence is nearby but is in need of
restoration.  The Duke’s family permits them to stay here provided
they maintain the building.  The money they collect from us goes for
that purpose.  The part of the palace we see is the courtyard (open
roofed patio) and the second floor arcade (through glass only).  Bucky
shows us the beautiful stonework and the widely studied staircase.

The staircase is like one we saw in Montpelier.  It is hard to see how
it remains standing.  There are no vertical supports.  It is as if it
were cantilevered, meaning that the steps were inserted into the
walls; the steps do not fall down since when you step on them, the
part in the wall wants to rise (like a teeter totter) but cannot due
to the weight of the wall on top of the end.  I do not think that is
how it works but I have no other explanation.  It looks dangerous but
20 of us make it to the top.

Sister Bucky calls us down.  We are held up by the complaining man.
Bucky sees her chance and shouts to him, “It is not fair that you are
making everyone wait just for you!”  The perfect touché!

It is a lovely tour that ends with her showing us the Visigothic
capital found during renovations of the monastery.  Sister Bucky asks
me if I understood her.  I did, quite well, except for a few words I
did not know.

I like her and want to have a cup of coffee with her.  Me, who feared
nuns and their rulers almost as much as I came to dislike the religion
and superstition that they preached.  Would Bucky have told me that if
I touched the ‘host’ (what a name for a wafer!) my hand might get
stuck in my mouth?  No.  She’s too nice, too friendly.

As we leave, nuns in the chapel we pass through are singing, or
chanting, or is it praying.

Church of Santa María

The bright sun makes us glad we are not here in the middle of August.
We would be turned into dried up bricks in a moment, then used to
build a wall.  Up the cobble streets we walk.  At the top of the hill
is the Church of Santa María.  The door is locked so we look about the
outside.  The thick bell tower is Romanesque while the remainder is
Gothic.  I think it was built in the 1400’s.

As we were leaving, a young man climbed the steep twenty steps to the
door.  He has the keys and in we go.

The interior has been untouched since the 16th century, and thus is
one of the best examples of church decor of medieval Spain, perhaps of
all of Europe.

Ferdinand and Isabel worshipped here.

The altar is the main attraction.  It is adorned with dozens of 15th
century religious paintings that are in immaculate condition.

Peg puts in 100 pesetas and the whole place is illuminated.  Gold
gleams from every corner.  Only the best for El Niño.

Behind us as we face the altar is the choir, about 20 feet up on
balcony with an expertly carved balustrade, which I think was wooden
but it may have been stone.

We leave only because it is time to get back on the bus.  An hour and
a half in Trujillo is a bit short.


My first argument

We arrived back at Plaza Castilla last night around 10 p.m.  We lost
an hour on the way back sitting in Saturday night rush hour traffic.
Someone had been smoking.  Peg told me it was the same man who was
late for the bus this morning and we sitting in the back row. I
finally saw him and said that smoking was not permitted on the bus.

He told me to shut up and to turn around and face front.  That steamed
me up in a microsecond.  I sat for a moment and then turned and told
him that he was giving me a headache and the smoke was making it
harder for Peggy to breathe.  He repeated his shut up and turn around

Well, he went to that well once too often.

Two men behind us joined in the argument against our smoking friend.
One said he had been smoking all day.  Don Smoker said that I had my
shoes off several times and the odor was killing him.  That made my
allies even angrier.  He then said that smoking was permitted in the
back row.  Everyone knew that was bull.  Smoking on buses has been
prohibited for years.  One of my allies called out for our guide.

“Sofia, we have a problem back here.”  By this time, everyone on the
bus was looking back at all of us arguing and no doubt knew what the
problem was all about.

Sofia sauntered down the aisle. She was probably worried about what
sort of mess she was about to get into.

“Is smoking permitted on the back seat in the bus?  This guy has been
smoking all day and now he is trying to tell us that it is permitted
in the back row.”

Sofia is looking at everyone trying to size things up.  She did not
know who was involved in this as she walked the aisle.  She said that
neither smoking nor eating was permitted.

There were no smoking signs on every window, but no ‘no eating’ signs
so perhaps they put that somewhere in the fine print.

I could not hear what Sofia said to the smoker.  He never smoked
again.  However, he was rude again, when I looked at him to make sure
he was not smoking.  I thought I smelled smoke again.  Turn around and
face front, he said.  I grumbled in English but otherwise I ignored

Getting angry in a foreign language is not easy.  Remember how Ricky
Ricardo switched to Spanish whenever Lucy screwed up.  Well, I was
able to do it without descending to the level of Don Smoke.  I was the
only one who had the courage to say something, although I am sure
others were bothered.

The Spanish Got All the Good Stuff and its in El Museo de Las Americas

El Museo de Las Americas is near Ciudad Universitaria, the college
campus west of the old part of Madrid.  This museum contains:

the largest collection of pre-Colombian art in Spain, if not the

Time lines of native South American as far back as 25000 BC.

a large collection of period maps

demographic charts showing changes in Native Indian, Caucasian
and African populations in Central, South and North America, and
the Caribbean, from about the 17th c. to today.  For example:

At the beginning of the 19th century in N. America, the
population was about 11.6 million, 78% Caucasian, 16%
African, 1% mestizos, 5% Native Americans.

South America at the same time: 16.9 million, 31% mestizos,
Africans 5%, Indians 44%, caucasians 20%.

videos projected onto three 10′ x 15′ screens, giving panoramic
views of various nature and live wildlife scenes

videos of Amazonian Indian dances, agricultural and gathering

large collection of maps from the Age of Exploration

full scale native South American and dwellings

samples of colonial clothing and paintings depicting colonial

pottery dating as far back as 700 B.C.

gold jewelry, including some very small and finely crafted beads,
gold helmets from 1000 B.C. to 200 A.D. The gold helmet and the
beads were displayed outstanding craftsmanship.

display about written language in South American, which dates as
far back as 4200 B.C. or 9200 B.C. (I cannot read my handwriting)
in Mexico, and actual samples.

There is much more that I did not even see.

Forget any of the displays of pre-Colombian art you have ever seen.
To think in terms of what I have seen in the U.S. and elsewhere would
have mislead me into not going to this museum.   I have heard that the
Spanish got all the good stuff.  Now that I have seen this place, I
know that this is true.


After our trip to the cultural heights offered in Andalucia last
December, I did not think I would ever be more energized by Spain.
The entertainment and field trips of the past two weeks have added
more than I would have thought possible.  Certainly the rest of March,
having come in like a lion, will go out like a lamb.


Once upon a time I wanted to be 1) an artist and 2)a poor and starving
one.  I am sure I would have been successful at the latter.  So I
became a mediator.  I promised myself that when I had time, and when
having to make a living as an artist would not be necessary, I would
take up the avocation again.  So I began to sketch a bit in
Montpelier, and continued here.  I bought a few more pencils with
Neal’s help, and he brought me a book on drawing.  Until now, I have
almost had to force myself to draw.  Now that I can see some progress,
I have had a glimpse of the old eagerness that once kept me up late at

Santiago Rusiñol and other shows

The many exhibitions have helped my drawing.  Mostly I go alone as Peg
does not often like exhibits of just one artist.  But one day we went
together to an exhibition of the works of Santiago Rusiñol (1861-
1931), from Catalan.  His canvases are full of light, which
overshadows his form, so to speak, yet gives his forms life in an
impressionist sort of way.  As you entered the Mapfre Vida, a cultural
foundation of the insurer MAPFRE, a woman just finished dressing
studies her hands in a natural pose.  A beautiful painting that made
me just want to stand there for an hour.

I have the time to enjoy this painting.   I have the time to
enjoy this painting.  Walking slowly about.  Time.  I have time.

Fountains.  Flights of stairs.  Children in a courtyard.

Another day I went to an exhibit of photographs by a Portuguese woman.
Also there is an exhibit of drawings.  I make copies of some of the
works I like on my little pad that I carry now in my backpack; ‘la
muchila’ in Spanish, a word I have a hard time remembering.
Afterwards I ate lunch in the garden.  New growth is beginning to
appear on buses and trees.  I sat and watched.  Nothing in particular,
everything in general.

Another journey takes just me to the Residencia de los Estudiantes.
The exhibit building is part of in-use student residences tucked some
400 meters from Recoleta, the large boulevard that leads to the Prado.
Here there is another free exhibition, this one about Garcia Lorca.
Someone has collected photographs, drawings and other items sent or
given to him by friends when Lorca was alive.

There is a photo of Andrés Segovia playing outdoors for a few friends.
And one of Lorca and Dali sitting on the beach.  There are two nudes
by Dalí, beautifully and realistically painted.  I draw each of them.
In one, the woman is standing in water with her back facing us.  There
is another nude, this one a Picasso, also realistically and expertly

A video shows scenes from the times of Lorca’s creative period, from
around 1913 to about 1936.  Lorca was killed in or just after the
Civil War.  Standing there, I do not remember if he was killed in
battle or executed by Franco.  A young woman, a student employed to
monitor the exhibit, told me that he was executed not only because of
his Republican position, but because of his homosexuality.

The Spain of 1898

There are many exhibits about the Spain of 1898.  The Spanish-American
War marked the end of the Spanish empire and most of the shows mention
this war.  At the Plaza de Colón, the city’s exhibition space is
crammed full of memorabilia.  Newspapers with headlines and stories
about the negotiations and the war.  One talked about how the
President was not going to declare war, wanting to give negotiations a
chance to work.

In another 1898 exhibit, the army commander reports that the Spanish
soldier is loyal, hard working, organized and willing to lay his life
down for his country at a moment’s notice.  The commander lamented the
severe food shortages by concluding his homage, “I only wish I had
enough for them to eat.”

Each exhibit I have seen has been exceptionally well organized and the
displays are of the highest quality.

Patones and other mountainous sites

On the 19-20th, we planned to go to Valencia to see the biggest
fireworks in Europe.  It was a national holiday of something or some
such. Although Emilia had the day off work, she had to do chores on
Friday and she could not go to Valencia.  Too bad, not only because of
the fireworks, but because we were going to camp out.  I miss camping.

Instead, on Thursday the 19th she took us to a mountain village about
60 kms. north of Madrid.  The village is called Patones and entry
requires passage over a narrow bridge with room for only one car at a
time.   There is no parking inside the village and not many spaces at
all anywhere nearby. But we arrived early, abut 9:30, and by beating
the crowds, have easily found a place to park.

Patones sits nested in the mountains but the plains are clearly
visible and close by.  All lanes and streets are steep, even those
that cut across the hillside.  Each building is made of stone and many
are restored.  Most restaurants have outdoor seating.

This would be a nice place to draw.  I cannot take the time today.
Again I wish I had a car (no bus service comes here).  I could take my
time when I wanted to and not have to bother anyone.

Saturday March 21 she took us to various place in the mountains north
of El Escorial.  On the way we stopped in El Escorial for coffee.
Emilia cannot pass up a cafe.  We walked through the free parts of the
monastery (El Escorial), which include the cathedral.  Peggy and I
marvel at the Cathedral.  Emilia seems not to care.  I think she
dislikes the Church and that gives the visit an entirely different
meaning for her.  Peg and I are looking at art and architecture.
Maybe Emilia sees the one-time pro-Franco institution, and the
institution that gave us the Inquisition.

El Escorial looked quite different this time compared to our visits in
December.  Today we can see the building clearly.  In December we
could not even see the roof for the clouds and rain.

Peguerinos is small village with a stream running through it, but
otherwise is not of particular interest.  We walked along the stream
and the small lake that it feeds.  We pass another village where
Emilia once rented a place for weekend escapes from the hot summer in
Madrid.  She decided to spend that money on learning English so can
not afford the rent.

We drive through the highest points in the mountains.  We see many
families, friends and lovers picnicking along the side of the very
rough track.  Emilia says she once came here alone during the winter
and found herself in a snow tunnel with 8’9′ drifts on both sides of
the rode.

What to do, what to do

Plans are afoot.  We have decided to leave Spain.  Eastern Europe is
our general destination.  Poland seems like the most interesting of
the countries.  Gadansk and Krakaw  are the best cities to see.  Still
some history left.  Warsaw was bombed to death by the Germans and then
rebuilt in Ugly by the Soviets.  We have picked some other spots in
Poland’s countryside that the books recommend.

There does not seem to be much of interest in the Baltic Republics
(Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia) but the Czech Republic and Slovakia have
a fair amount to offer.  Likewise with Hungary.  I doubt we’ll go to
Romania.  The travel guides have nothing good to say, nothing good to
see, despite the Roman occupation (thus the name ‘Romania.’).
Bulgaria has a bit more to offer than Romania.  Both, however, are
very poor countries just beginning to awaken from the oppression of
the Soviets and countless backward centuries.  Turks were there until
the end of WWI, I think.  Bulgaria borders Turkey, Greece, and the
former Yugoslavia.  Nice, stable place to visit, no?

We have reserved a spot on the tour to Santiago (St. James) de
Compostela, the famed pilgrimage destination from around 1000 A.D. or
so.  We will be there May 3-9 for a total cost of $140 each!  This
includes all transportation, lodging, meals and excursions.

Our friend David is joining us, arriving on May 1 from Dallas.  He’ll
be here for two weeks.  Peg’s cousin and her husband are arriving on
April 26th.  Dani and Arlette are French speaking Belgians.  They have
never been to Spain.  They are in their early 40’s and seldom leave
their local area, let alone go to another country.


Cuenca and Cuidad Encantada with Emilia

Yesterday, Emilia drove us to Cuenca.  It is a medieval town in the
mountains, about 100 miles to the southeast toward Valencia.  It is
about 150′ above the Rio Huécat.  This affords breathtaking views.  At
some points, the old town is only one street wide; that street is
named Calle Alfonso VIII.  The Plaza Mayor is reached by passing
through an ancient and rounded arch.  Some buildings in the town hang
onto the side of cliff, jutting dangerously over the edge.

The castle is at the far end of town, where it sits upon the narrow
triangle of land.  Great views, perhaps the best.

The Casas Colgadas has cantilevered balconies that jut over the gorge.
Nearby a small arch allows passage into residential areas and the
Bishops Palace.

We walked over the gorge on an iron footbridge.  On each end of the
bridge men started talking to us, explaining the sites.  Both wanted
to be paid.  We did not pay them as they had not given us a chance to
decline.  We politely pretended not to have heard and simply repeated
our ‘no thank you’s.’  We entered the Parador, a beautifully restored
16th century monastery.

Emilia asked where we would like to stay.  We did not know we were
going to stay the night.  Apparently at some point we talked about it
and she thought that was the plan.  For her, a 200-mile round trip
journey means an overnight stay.  She drives slowly and often
overcautiously, so it is understandable why she expected to stay.  We
have brought no clothing or toiletries.  She is gracious as usual.

We had lunch at a place offering regional specialties.  Peg and Emilia
had delicious but greasy baby goat cut into small pieces.  The local
wine was delicious, a 1990 red, and only $5.00!.  Afterwards and
despite the growing lateness, she is willing to drive to Enchanted
City with us.  Figuring we would get there faster, she asks me to
drive.  The little diesel carries us up the beautiful and steep
mountainsides, affording delights at most every turn.

Enchanted City is about 45 minutes by car from Cuenca and it is not a
city at all.  It is a national park.  For 200 pts. you see some
delightful rock formations, often huge and shaped recognizably.  Peggy
says that the rocks were formed from lava.  The wind and perhaps an
ancient ocean have shaped some rocks into the forms of turtles and
large ships, and a variety of other shapes that dwarf the gawker.
There is a large, flat field that is obviously a lava flow.  There are
narrow passages and arches blown into the rock.  This would make a
great place to camp.  There is a hotel on the site charging 5000 pts.
per double room.


The weather this month has been fantastic, getting as warm as 25C.
The Paseo de la Castellana and some other major roads and even many
back streets are lined with trees and shrubs now greening in the warm
sun.   We have seen the white blooms of the almond trees and
wisterias’ red ones.  Sidewalk cafes open now and you can sit in the
sun.   We have even had to choose the shade at times.  My sweater sits
unused, waiting for duty in the cool Junes of Central Europe.

Spain 2/98

Spain, continued



Siguenza is a beautiful medieval town.  All its streets are narrow and cobble-stoned.  Its cathedral was begun around 1150 and finished in the early 16th century.  It has a beautiful, thin
arch in front of a main (if not the main) entrance.  Nearby is a castle, now a Parador (formerly state-run and now privately run hotels in historic structures), in which we wander.  It has been beautifully restored and decorated, giving the feel of what it would have been like to live in it during its glory.  Except it probably would not have been as comfortable without heating, darker with fewer windows to let in the light.

The Plaza Mayor was commissioned by Cardinal Mendoza.  It is fully cobblestoned.  The surrounding structures are in fine shape.  The style is Renaissance.

We depart through one of the narrow, cobble-stone alleys, which winds past two to three story stone and stucco dwellings.  The cold, sunny  winter day takes us to Medinaceli.


High on a hilltop sits this small village and its main attraction, the triple Roman arch of the 2nd or 3rd century AD.   This is the only triple archway to survive in Spain and its
silhouette is used as a symbol on road signs leading to national monuments.  The lonely arch greets you when your reach the top, marking a main entrance to the village.  It stands alone now but it begs to have the company of other structures. The cobblestones
around it are well used.  Turn around and there is magnificent view of the surrounding countryside.

The village is in the process of being restored.  Its old
dwellings has been neglected since the end of the 19th c, but now
foreigners and natives have begun the task of putting things back
together and modernizing.  For the Spanish, this village serves
in large part as a weekend retreat from Madrid.  We drive around
the small town’s sparsely cobble-stoned, unnamed streets.  This
takes less than 10 minutes at a crawl.  Many of structures are
detached and semi-detached, rather than the more typical
apartment buildings and row houses.  Excavations of Roman sites
is on-going in the village.


This site sits on a lonely hilltop just north of Soria.  Here in
135-134 BC, Iberians fought off the Romans, choosing death rather
than surrender at the end.  They must have had good defensive
structures as they were apparently surrounded yet held off the
conquerors for some part of a year or somewhat more.  Most of the
ruins are Roman, being foundations of buildings and streets.
Sounds of slashing swords, even the crunching of sandals in the
streets, would carry far along this hilltop and down the slopes.
The sky at night, normally clear as this is dry Spain, would
doubtless even now yield a star-studded heaven.


Trouble with Telefonica

We awoke to find the line was not working. I called them from a
public telephone, standing in the rain.  It seems that they have
not received the deposit of 32400 ptas.  I have to fax them a
copy of the receipt, which is from a bank where I paid the
deposit in early December.  Late in the afternoon the phone is
back on.  In the meantime, incoming calls can still get through.

Negotiating with fast talking, harried Telefonica employees while
in the and standing on Bravo Murillo, a very busy street, is a
challenge for me.  Trucks, buses and cars obscure their words.
Finally, I understand what I am to do after a second call to

Later in the day I called back to see if they received the fax.
Their representative had not but since the phone started working
a short time later, I decided the problem was solved.  I called
the next day and confirmed that this was the case.  We also spent
some time trying to determine if our bank account number was
correct.  There were more numbers on my bank statement than they
showed on the bill.  We could not get the computer to accept the
additional numbers.  But since they had received their money for
the phone bill (as opposed to the deposit), we decided that they
must have it right.


Alcalá de Hernares

Went to Alcalá de Hernares via the Cercanias train, which serve
the areas immediately surrounding Madrid.  It’s about 18 miles to
the northwest of Madrid.  The University was founded in 1498 and
it was important until 1836 when the Universidad Complutencia
moved to Madrid.  Until then, all the important Church leaders
were educated in this small town.  Cervantes, Calderon de la
Barca, Gari de Dallas were either educated or taught here.  There
was a School of Medicine.

We took a guided tour of the university building.  It is in
Italian Renaissance style with lots of Spanish flavor.  There are
large patios surrounded by three story Roman arched structures.
Peg says that the older of them is quite unique.

Peg writes:

Cardinal Henry Cisneros endowed the university in 1489.  The
first building, set up like a cloister, was completed in 1500,
and is in pure Renaissance style.  Very simply decorated, white
Roman arches making a square with a pretty courtyard in the
center.  Its simplicity and elegance has an enormous impact.  The
2nd story is set back from the arched walkway so that it is even
more dominant.

The more impressive courtyard was completed 100 years later and
is purely neo-classical.  Also very beautiful, with three floors
of open arched walkways making a large square.

The facade of the building is about 150 feet long, moving into
early Spanish baroque – still absolutely white, but more heavily
decorated and four storeys high.  As part of the complex, there
is a chapel with a false front about 2 storeys above its roof.
On its top, and the tops of other bell towers in the city center,
are stork nests about 4 feet across and 2 feet high, housing
enormous storks.  Emelia says they used to migrate, but they seem
to be so happy in this part of Spain that they stay here

The university was originally a cluster of 40 buildings.  Over
the next couple of hundred years, many monasteries, convents and
other universities clustered in the town, making it very
important.  When the university was moved into Madrid in 1836,
the city went into instant decline.  Now it is being restored,
but there seems to be so much of it that I can’t imagine that the
whole thing can ever be done.


Having company is a treat

In this living-just-the-two-of-us, don’t-try-this-unless-you-get-
life style that we follow, having company is a treat.  This is
especially the case when people are appreciative of what they see
and do and eat while they are here.  It was a special treat for
us to have young people who seemed to understand so much and be
so willing to try some new things.

A friend of Peg, Patti, and her teenage twins, arrive from
London.  Patti and ‘Pehhy’ had not seen each other in about 15
years.  She and her boys are here only for a few days, just
enough time for a few local must sees, such as the Prado and El
Palacio Real, and the always magnificent Catedral de Toledo.

In Toledo we had a memorable seafood lunch in La Ria (the
Estuary).  Patti insisted on finding it as it was in the guide
book.  It is a tiny place, seating maybe 20 snuggling people, and
it is in a tiny alley.  The garlic shrimp were unforgettable.


It’s Carnival!

We went to ‘carnival’.  This festival consists of big parades
everywhere in Spain.  In Madrid thousand march wearing tons of
fabulous costumes.  Lovely young ladies and handsome men who
dance the entire route, which is at least a mile.  Some of them
were very sexily dressed, never seen under Franco.  Some of the
floats displayed South American Indian themes, playing music with
heavy drums, of which some in turn played a salsa beat (sounded
great, even if the Indians did not play salsa music before it was

Costumes adorned many of the watching crowd.  These costumes
reminded of Halloween.  Devil themes.  Witch themes. Death
themes.  Sheep themes- a group bah’ed past us complete with
shepherd but no dog.  Makeup of death: pancake faces, dark
circles under eyes.  An occasional Superman disrupted the theme.

In the middle of the parade a strong and cold wind struck us,
bringing a heavy, cold downpour a few minutes later.  We had our
umbrella with us and snuggled against the wall of a building with
a few million others.  A couple without umbrella or cover stood
next to us and we invited them in.  She looked very unhappy.

At the end of the parade, an enormous Devil sits upon his throne,
heavy beat of music playing deep thumps that certainly they must
hear in Paris.

Next Wednesday is  another carnival event: the burying of the
sardine.  I think it has something to do with Lent.  (Catholics
are supposed to give up things during Lent, like meat, eating
fish instead- but why bury the fish?). The internment occurs at 5
pm. Now, why didn’t El Greco paint this scene?


Up into the mountains with Emilia, Nina, their mother, Jaime and
Maria Eugenia.  Emilia continues to keep us involved in her life.


Home repair

I had forgotten how satisfying home repair can be.  Today I
repaired the leaky toilets.  The two gaskets cost less than a
dollar.  I will be content to forget again.

Not having seen this type of flush mechanism before, I could not
tell that the gasket could be changed.  I showed the whole unit
to the shopkeeper.  I said I wanted a new one.  She said I did
not need a whole new piece, just a gasket.  She showed me how to
remove the piece holding the gasket in place.  She could have
taken me for a ride and did not.

There are more repairs on the way, so I shall not be able to
forget again just yet.  One of the vollet (the wooden slatted
blinds that are in a channel, and are drawn up with a chord that
is on the interior wall) is need of repair.  We cannot open it
and our bedroom is dark.  The chord is broken.  The chord on a
lamp is ready to break off, and the whole socket wobbles.  To the
ferrerteria I must go.

Health Care in Spain

Health care is available to every citizen without regard for
ability to pay.  People with private health insurance will not
get any better care but they may have to wait less for care,
especially for things like kidney transplants.  If you do not
have health insurance, you are charged according to your ability
to pay.  Fernando indicated that people sometimes found clever
ways to look poor if they had a health problem, had no insurance
yet had assets.

Care is of very high quality.   Even those with private means go
to public hospitals and clinics for most procedures.  All of the
most modern technologies are readily available, with waiting
lists as indicated for those without private cover.  My only
experience here is with the dentist and I just picked one nearby
for a cleaning.  The equipment was modern, top notch and very

Bar food

If ever you are hungry, there is a solution not far away in any
town.  Here in Madrid, the solution is almost every way you turn:
the bars.  The bars serve food from as early as 6 a.m. until as
late as 6 a.m.

There are common offerings available:

1) tortillas.  A Spanish tortilla is an omelette but it
does not have the consistency of most omelets.  There
are two ingredients:  eggs and potatoes.  Somehow they
cook the potatoes in olive oil until they are creamy,
and then they somehow get the eggs to mix in evenly
with the potatoes.  The result is a creamy consistency
that makes the tortilla a tortilla, and an omelette
something quite different.

2) patatas ali oli.  These are boiled potatoes with a
garlic rich mayonnaise generously, perhaps over-
generously added.   This is a potato salad with bite-
sized pieces that will keep the vampires at bay for
days.  I love them (the potatoes, that is).

3) patatas bravas: I think that they boil these
potatoes too, but when you place the order they go into
the deep frier.  Then a thick, garlicky (what
else)tomato sauce is added.

4) mushrooms buttons in olive oil and varying amounts
of ‘ajo.’   Can you guess what ajo means in Spanish?

5) pulpo.  octopus with various oil-based sauces,
usually with, guess, ajo.

6) calamari, usually fried.

7) bocadillos.  These are baguettes of various sizes.
They have either a slice of chorizo (see below) or of
cheese, but rarely both.  You can even get a tortilla

Sometimes an appetizer is served free with a beer.
These have a small slice of chorizo on a slice of
baguette.  They have sandwiches here but a sandwich is
grilled and served hot.

8) bonito is tuna.  In the bars it is canned, but in
the markets you can buy it fresh at about 1/3 the price
we paid in Dallas.  Served with oil, maybe a little
vinegar and a slice of bread.

9) bocarones are anchovies, according to our local
bartender.  But they do not taste like anchovies.
There are also anchoas on the same menus.

10) chorizo.  Chorizo is sausage that has paprika in
it.  The paprika makes it red.  They are mild in
flavor, but sometimes they are a little hot.  They can
be hard like pepperoni, or uncooked and thus soft.
They can be long, short, fat, skinny.  In the bars,
soft chorizo is cooked in a tomato looking sauce and
served with bread.  Great stuff!

11) rotisserie chicken, served with fried potatoes,
many with a sauce made from the chicken.  Wow!  A whole
chicken in the bar with fries cost about $5.00.

12) Breakfast.  Forget cereal.  Churros.  Deep fried
donut thing,  about 4″ long.  Eat ’em with the coffee
that is great everywhere you go, and cheap.  Or how
about some hot chocolate?  Try that if you like
chocolate bars because that is how rich it is.  There
are other assorted pastries and every now and again you
see a croissant, but the French do those much better.
We eat cereal at home.  Eating breakfast here every day
means needing the national health service pronto!

13) Berenjenas: eggplant (aubergines in the UK and
France).  Baby eggplants are green.  In the bars, these
babies are cooked in a thin red sauce.  Cumin is the
predominant flavor.

14) Murcillo is blood sausage.  Tastes good but I do
not like the idea.

15) Paella is frequently available and sometimes is
even given as a tapa with beer (thus no extra charge,
although it is only a few bites).  Paella is a rice
dish that I love to cook and eat.  It has onions, green
peppers, chicken and/or chorizo a/o fish a/o mollusks
a/o shrimp a/o lobster a/o pork or a/o anything else,
even rabbit.

So, what do Peg and Gary eat?

We sometimes dine very similarly to how we might in the U.S.  We
make pancakes (no syrup- Aunt Jamima costs about $10 a bottle at
the American store), with turkey bacon and coffee.  You can get
pork bacon here.  This is the Land o’ Pork, after all.  But the
Spanish are growing faintly health conscious (I hear that you can
no longer buy cigarettes from vending machines installed on each
floor of the hospitals) so we can get turkey bacon.  Most days we
have an excellent and healthy fruit and fiber cereal.

Lunch might be salad, or sandwiches made with turkey or ham, with
a few artichoke hearts or olives, both being quite inexpensive.
We buy some excellent bread, chapata integral (whole wheat and
other grains which together make a very dark loaf) or plain
chapata. A chapata is long like a baguette, but wider.  There are
baguettes, regular and whole wheat.

We sometimes have soup, often with garbanzos.  Garbanzos are
widely used.  It is a main ingredient in ‘cocido,’ a Madrilean
specialty.  Codido might have murcillo and tripe.

For dinner, we sometime pan fry a portion of ternera (beef steak
cut very thin) and enjoy some mushrooms with it.  Very Spanish.
Lots of ajo if you like.  We might have some red cabbage sliced
thinly and warmed with olive oil.

How about a few whole artichokes?  They are cheap and in 30
minutes or less they are so tender that you can eat the choke
(that’s that funny, hairy part) as well as the heart but you
still have to scape the leaves with your teeth.  I stuff the
leaves with, you guessed it, ajo.

They like Italian food here but you should only get it in an
Italian restaurant.  I make various dishes often, and have made
my own pasta for the first time.  Pizza.  Make it yourself.  The
commercial ones don’t look very good to me except at Pizza Hut,
and I didn’t come all the way here to eat there.  The Mercadona
sells pizza flour, with leaving.  Its very good.  They do not
sell yeast.  I have not found any yet.

Berenjenas (eggplants) are plentiful.  Oranges, clementinas and
mandarins are plentiful and taste even better than the fresh ones
I’ve had in Florida.  Fruit juices are everywhere, even peach,
and cost less than $.75 a liter (about a quart).

You cannot get curry here as easily (or as spicy) as you can in
the UK, naturally.  So we make our own.  Yesterday I made a
cauliflower curry from a recipe in a Spanish language cookbook
that Marie gave us.  From the same book we are trying a recipe
for cooking baby onions.  It has raisins, tomatoes and probably a
few pounds of ajo.

Adventures in Spanish

New words come my way almost everyday.  I would learn one or two
of them each day except for the ‘memory out’ messages my brain
keeps on sending me.  I think the message itself is faulty.  It
is not as if I were having to remember too much and my memory
being therefore overburdened.

I do notice, however, that I can communicate with less difficulty
in general compared with when I first arrive.  There are fewer
‘what?’s’ and ‘heh?’s’ that I feel compelled to mouth.  It is
still the case, however, that I can easily lose or fail to pick
up the thread or context of the conversation.

For example, last week we went with Emilia to the mountain cabin,
the one without any running water.  Emilia’s mother joined us
(and was trying to understand her new calculator the whole time).
I sat next to her and introduced myself and Peggy.  A look of
utter confusion took over her face.

“What is Peggy (pronounced ‘Pehhy’ by the Spanish)?  What is
‘Gary?”  It took me and Emilia a few minutes to get her to
understand that we were telling her our names.  She thought that
Pehhy and Gary meant something in English.

“¿Cómo té llamas,?” I asked.  She gave me a story about someone
named Guacolda being the ‘mujer’ (woman or wife) of someone named
Lautaro.  I tried writing these names down and I was getting it
wrong and she wrote them for me.  I still could not figure out
who these people were and what they had to do with her name.  If
she would just say, “Me llamo…” I would have understood
perfectly.  I finally had to ask Emilia for help.

What do these names (and I could only assume that Lautaro and
Guacolda were names) have to do with your mother’s name.

“Nothing,” said Emilia.  Now I was more confused than ever.

“Then what is her name?”

“Its Guacolda.”

Then this story does have something to do with her name.
Finally, I got it.  Lautaro and Guacolda were husband and wife
during the time of the Spanish conquest of Chile, I think it was
Chile (memory out), and thus Mom was named after the woman!

It is amazing how the most simple things can get so befuddled.

Spain 1/98



Last night people crowded into Puerta del Sol.  The custom here is to
eat a grape with each stroke of the clock at midnight.  We did not
stay awake to see it.

Reflections on the year

Tradition calls for reflection on the past year.  Since this has been
a special year for us, for once I will practice this tradition.

The year began in the often muggy and foggy winter in the St.
Petersburg area of Florida.  For most of four months we had been
living aboard Meredia, our 34′ trawler.  We slept in the aft cabin on
a king size bed.  The forward cabin had a similarly sized berth and a

On this day a year ago we were on our boat with my mom, her boyfriend
and my sister cruising the Intra Coastal Waterway.  We saw a few
dolphins from the flybridge.  Later that day we visited Peg’s parents
in nearby Plant City.  We had not met Tom and Kathy yet; now they are
close although far away friends.  Not many days later we saw a sea cow
off our port bow.

Today we see a gray sky and cool temperatures (not normal for Madrid),
no relatives, no friends and no boat.  From this point of view, it’s
easy to miss being home.  Yet we would not want to trade places with
ourselves (a funny sounding thing to say).  We have seen and done so
much that a day or even a month in the boat in the most beautiful of
weather cannot be easily compared.

Nonetheless we wish we could have seen and done even more.  This means
that we wish we had more money.  This would have required more time
mediating, training mediators and managing a legal department at a
bank.  These activities were marvelous, but they demanded our time,
our freedom, in return.  Here we have our time and if not as much
freedom as we would like, as much as one could reasonably expect.

Before we embarked on our journeys in Europe in May of 1997, I found
it difficult to imagine what living in Europe would be like.  Clearly
it would not be the same as touring.  As a tourist you are inevitably
limited to swimming near the surface, or taking short, shallow dives.
So now I probably can say what it is like.

What living in Europe has been like

More than any other aspect of living here, the sense of history and
time most strongly grips me.  Additional aspects of importance are:
getting to know a few people, and getting to know some cities and
countries in a way that touring does not ordinarily allow.   I feel
more relaxed than I ever have, and I think that this comes from a
changed sense of time.

The sense of history comes from reading about and then visiting
ancient cities, sites, cathedrals, palaces, old buildings, ruins on
the one hand and museums on the other.  I have come under the spell of
wondering:  where did our ancient ancestors – before the Romans-  come
from and wander to?  What were their lives like?  What were their
dreams – that is, when they had enough food in their bellies to dream
of things other than food?  Standing on many sites that were occupied
or made use of as long ago as three and four thousand BC is moving.

When you tour, you rarely get to know anyone.  In Wales, we did have a
few conversations with Julie and a few of the very friendly locals.
In Scotland, we did likewise with Billy, whom we have just seen and
will probably see again.  In Montpelier, we are staying in touch with
Olivier, the proprietor of the internet cafe we used.   We would have
liked to stay in touch with our landlords there.  However, we did not
like the way they tried to make us leave before our oral and written
agreement said we could.  Emilia and Maria from Madrid will always be
glad to hear from us.  We probably have not made any life long, deep
and close friends.  Unless we stay here or somewhere longer in a
single location than we plan to, we probably will never do so.
However, we are building up friendships that are adding to our sense
of well being and our understanding of the people here.  They help us
understand better how things work, where to get this or that, what to

We miss friends and family.  Email has greatly helped since some of
our close ones are connected.  With some relatives we communicate
regularly, especially my sister and Peg’s sister. In a way, we
communicate more and better with them than we did when all that
separated us was a cheap, long distance call.  We communicate even
more frequently with Susan and Neal.    Most of our friends are busy
and cannot respond as often as they would like.  Others do not seem
interested in communicating at all.

Traveling and living in foreign lands has required us to learn a great
deal about the practicalities.  How do you find a place to live?  What
is a fair price?  What parts of town are good to live in?  Where
should you go for food, household goods and special purchases?  What
do you have to do to get a phone?  How much do local calls cost?
Living as we have means having to say, “I don’t know,” frequently.  It
means having to have an “I can find out” attitude.  It means having to
deal with the stress of having to figure things out, and making some
mistakes (fortunately all of ours have been minor).  For me having to
deal with all of our business with the Spanish in their language has
been difficult at times.  I speak a lot better than I comprehend.

With regard to our physical conditioning, we walk a lot more than we
did at home.  But at home we went to the YMCA everyday.  The two seem
to balance out if we continue to stretch daily and keep the muscles in
tone.  Walking a lot takes care of the legs but does not do much for
the arms, back and stomach muscles.  Generally we were better off
going to the YMCA since all these things were taken care of in our
daily visits.  If you factor in the stress of work, we are better off

We have learned that you must have things to do to keep you as busy as
you want to be.  Hobbies.  Anything legal and healthy.  Even if you
have the money, you cannot just go see monuments and visit museums all
the time.

Variety of activities is important.  I have enjoyed reading as much as
I want, but after a while, I just have to take a break.  The internet
has been great, but you cannot do that all day long.  The satellite tv
we now have is surprisingly good.  I love doing this journal.  I need
all of the above and more to stay psychologically fit.

I stopped working last May.  I did not feel completely relaxed until
we arrived in Spain.  I now feel a deeper sense of calm than I recall
ever having felt.  I do not feel rushed.  I worry less about money
than I ever have.

Common wisdom says that as you are dying, your whole life passes
before your eyes.  I have not had to wait that long.  A flood of
memories has washed over me.  This began in Glasgow and has just
recently abated.  Most of these memories were of the most embarrassing
moments type.  Although many of these situations are unlikely to be
repeated, I feel that these images serve to deepen my grasp of human
relations, to encourage me to listen more carefully.

Perhaps this phenomenon is occurring because I have the time and
energy for it.  Why have I been more relaxed, more content than I have
ever been while this flood of memories was still washing over me?  It
could be because none of these memories are really horrible.  Though
they were stressful at the time, I would not call any of them
shattering.  In the big picture, they are very small.

We now know how much it takes for us live here comfortably, a middle
to upper middle class life style.  This does not allow for luxurious
quarters, but comfortable and safe ones.  Since this is what we are
accustomed to, it is not a disappointment for us.  Other than having
to wait for Don Gas to bring bottled gas here, there have not been any
significant inconveniences.  Otherwise the worst we have faced is
running toilets here, a loose kitchen counter in Glasgow and a minor
conflict with the landlord in Montpelier which was resolved as we

If we had come directly to Spain, we would probably be spending
considerably lower rate than we have been, perhaps as low as
$15,000/year.   It would depends on what else we did besides seeing
what there is to see locally.  If you were sufficiently gripped by a
hobby like painting or writing, and did not give a hoot about touring
outside Madrid, you could have trouble spending all of the $15,000
(per couple).  These figures are for two people, and include health

Keeping track of our finances from Europe has been easy.  It would not
work as well if we had to rely on the mails, but it would still be
adequate for most purposes.  Long distance telephone calls to the US,
if they were necessary for this purpose, are not as expensive from
here as they once were.  It is now cheaper to use your home phone or
even telephone booths than using, say, AT&T, Sprint, etc.  I can call
Fidelity Investments toll free or ‘cobro revirtido’ (collect).  To
reach Smith Barney by telephone, we call our broker and he calls us

This journal has been an excellent choice.  Writing is not easy for
me, but I enjoy the challenge.  Editing is a chore I do not wish to
face.  It was especially hard for me when I entered into the computer
the months of May through mid-August;  if you recall, our computer was
down from June until mid-August.  I would rather allow a few weeks to
pass before I edit my own work.  Only then can I begin to be
objective.  Even so, there is a wise rule that says you cannot be your
own editor.

These last six months have been well worthwhile.  Doing this was the
right thing for us to do.  I feel heavenly.  Vertigo ergo sum.


Via Digital came and installed the satellite dish.  They drilled a
hole in the wall to pass the cable and connected it all in less than
an hour.  I could have done it myself easily if I had a drill and a
crescent wrench.

We met Billy, our Scottish landlord, and the fellow who came over with
him for lunch today, then did a two-hour walk.  They are in a hotel
near the Opera, a high rent area.  They bought a package deal: hotel
and all transportation for about $900.  Saturday was beautiful here,
although cold, so their first day was a good one.  Yesterday was a
little cloudy, and today was cloudy, foggy and pretty yukky in general
– just like Scotland.  Billy was impressed with how beautiful Madrid
is.  As it does most people, Madrid surprised him.


Peg writes:

We went to the National Library to check out that show they’ve put
together about ancient Rome.  The show was made up mostly of books
from the 15th-17th centuries, open to engravings and drawings of Roman
buildings, maps, monuments, etc.  There were also some large
reproductions of engravings from that period.  Apparently, about the
time of Pope Leo X, they realized that Ancient (Roman) Rome was
deteriorating due to lack of interest.  Amazingly, that thought
coincided with the beginning of the Italian Renaissance (1450), when
classical learning began to be appreciated again, after the ignorance
of the Dark and Middle Ages.  They began to capture the architecture
on paper, and to restore some works.  However, when you look at the
maps of the city that were drawn from the 1500’s-1600’s, it’s obvious
that there were a lot more ancient buildings then than are left today.
Progress and increasing population always put pressure on old

Nonetheless, the exhibit was extensive.  We’ve seen a couple of other
shows like this – temporary exhibitions – and all of them have been
very impressive.

After that, we walked back up toward our neighborhood up a major
street.  We passed three or four major plazas, mostly with fountains
in the middle,  and surrounded by beautiful 5-story buildings.  I’m
looking forward to seeing the many tree-lined streets in the spring,
when they’re green.


Emilia and her sister Nina (I called her Tina most of the day) picked
us up.  We are meeting six of their friends to do what many Madrileños
do every weekend:  go to their cabin in the mountains. Their cabin is
in the foothills northeast of Madrid. It took about an hour to get
there.  Large, rounded rocks stick out of the dry soil.  Peg thinks
this area looks glacially formed.  Some large rocks stand
independently, poking 15-30′ into the air.

Nina-tina is a part owner of the cabin with her bosses, Jaime and
Maria Eugenia.  The latter are both dentists with offices in downtown
Madrid.  Jaime is from Bolivia.  Most everyone spoke some English.
Herman was born in Germany and learned Spanish just by living here.
He has been here for 20 years.  I think he is married to Julia, who is
with us today.  No one in the group was born in Spain though most had
lived her a long time.

Julia refers to Herman as ‘her man.’ Peg and she discuss the
connotation of ownership.   In Spain, ‘husband’ is ‘marido’ while
‘wife’ is ‘mujer.’  Translated, you say my married one for husband and
my woman for wife.  They could say marida for wife, but they say ‘my
woman’ instead.   They could say ‘my man’ for husband, but they do
not.  Thus ownership of the wife by the husband is implied, but not
the husband by the wife.  Peg and I explained this but the distinction
seemed unimportant to Julia.

We bought two kilos of beef, chorizo and murcillo (blood sausage)in
the town nearest the cabin, Manzanares Real.  It is a tiny town but it
has a large but not very old looking castle in it.  Nearby is Lake

From the town we climbed a dirt/stone rode, at times feeling like we
were driving in a dry stream bed.  Emilia tells us that during heavy
rains the road does flood.  Although the cabin is not more than a few
miles from the road to Manzanares, it takes about 45 minutes to reach

The cabin is made of stone.  There is a fireplace, a few beds, a
large, crude wooden table, and shelves for storing kitchen utensils.
Outside is a picnic table.  Nearby and nestled against large boulders
are a grill and an oven, both charcoal powered.  The charcoal used is
not as compressed as the one used in the U.S.  It does not get as hot,
but it is easier to light and achieves maximum output quickly.

Herman grilled the beef (1000 ptas per kilo, about $3 per pound).  We
ate some guacamole on bread while we were waiting, and when the mean
was done,  we sat outside.  We drank some wine and, after the meal, a
little bourbon.

The sun was shining brightly.  It was about 40 degrees.  On the way up
we were driving in a light fog.   The cabin was above the fog, so we
could look down upon it as it covered the valley.  Occasional wisps of
fog blew over our site.  When the fog cleared from the valley we could
see that we were in a desert.  There is shrubbery, but it is low and

The cabin normally offers a great view of Madrid.  Today, though, we
had to be content with the warm, friendly company of our new friends.
I am sure they will invite us back.  Peg, who was hesitant to go
because of the weather, is eager to return. I could live here awhile.
Too bad there is no running water.

These people seem typically Spanish: charming, engaging,
unpretentious.  I love to watch and listen as they talk with friendly


Peg writes:

The holiday season here officially ended yesterday with the Day of the
Kings.  Epiphany (January 6th) is the day the children get their gifts
– the Kings  alias, the Wise Men, bring them.  The next time a child
asks you how Santa manages to get the gifts to so many children all
over the world in only one evening, you can tell him/her that he
doesn’t have to go to Spain – the three Wise Men deliver the gifts
here.  The evening before the children get their presents, there are
huge parades in all the towns, celebrating the arrival of  the kings.
We just got Via Digital-satellite TV, so we could watch parades from
three regions of Spain.  In some towns, the kings came in on horses,
in others on camels, and in others, on floats.  Quite the to-do!

Gary again:

There are parades everywhere in Madrid.  Each local council – in
Madrid there are several ‘ayuntamientos’ – sponsors a parade.

Fernando, our landlord, came by to get the rent.  He prefers to be
paid in cash.  He arrived around 9 and left at 10:30.  We told him
about our journeys and new found friends.  We learned that the area we
live in has an underground stream or used to have one coming flowing
at ground level.  He gladly gave us hints on things to do, excursions
to make, places to visit.  He obviously enjoyed talking to us; he
speaks very little English so most of our discussion was in Spanish.


Peg writes:

Signed up to do a second English class today – 8:30 am – 10:00 am on
Monday and Wednesday.  That is in addition to the one I’m doing from
8:00-9:00 on Tuesday and Thursday.  The class I started last month is
really TOO easy.  These marketing people don’t want to do any
homework, don’t want to read, just want to spend a couple of hours a
week chatting.  All I have to do is bring in something to get things
going, and we just talk.  I note a couple of things down that they
consistently do wrong, and we spend about 10 minutes the next session
talking about that.  They apparently like it – I got some good
feedback from the agency when I went to pick up my check today.  I do
structure it a bit on most days – if not, the extroverts do all the
talking (that includes me).

Actually, I tried to get them to do an hour last Thursday without my
saying anything (a valid technique in advanced classes, so I read) but
it’s apparently too much effort for them to sustain a discussion for
that long on their own.  I kept having to ask questions to keep things

They have no idea what they’re going to have to do when they get to
class.  As I don’t really know what I’m doing, and as they don’t seem
to care.  I’m just trying stuff out.

They are uncomfortable with past and future tenses, so Tuesday they’re
going to have to work hard.  I thought I’d give each of them a page of
a daily calendar, with meetings and stuff scheduled in.  The day is
February 13.  Each one will have to tell the class what is scheduled
on his sheet.  For some of them, Feb. 13 will be last week, for
others, it will be next week.

I’m teaching 5 hours a week, on four days.  That’s enough for now.
It’s lots of fun.  To really support yourself, you’d have to work
quite a few hours, and you’d have to schedule them so that you’re not
spending hours a day on the metro.  Also, I think that once you’d
established a reputation, you could get better choices on times and
locations, to minimize travel and down-time between classes.

Muslims in Spain

It is generally said that the Muslims were “expelled” from Spain in
1492.  This is misleading.  In 1492, Muslims and Jews were given the
choice between expulsion and conversion to Christianity following the
reconquest of Granada, the last holdout of the Moors.  The Spanish
began trying to reconquer Spain starting in 718.  Efforts continued
during the next several centuries.  Toledo was retaken in 1085.

During the thirteenth century the Spanish made great progress toward
their goal. By mid-century the only Moorish enclave left was Granada.
The Portuguese won back their country in the previous century.

The Moors were generally tolerant of other religious, although I have
read that there were some brutal exceptions to this rule.  They
brought a great deal of learning to the Iberian peninsula.  Much was
lost from Spain because of the expulsions.  Some of that learning went
to our previous city of residence, Montpelier, where the Moors and
Jews helped establish schools of medicine that are still well
respected today.

Some converted Moors and Jews were subsequently ill-treated.

Spanish Radio

The F.M. stations here are outstanding.  There are two all classical
stations and both are commercial free.  Their selections are generally
very good.  In Montpelier, the classical stations offered excessive
amounts of opera, usually women singing heavy stuff.  Each offering
would be followed by endless discussion.  Here, they offer a nice
selection and little chat.  Just enough to tell what they played and
maybe a little about the piece or the composer.

Radio Ole has few commercials and plays flamenco and flamenco infusion
music.  They may throw a little Zarzuela in from time to time, but I
am not sure what that is, so I cannot be sure.  The flamenco is often
good, although the singing, with its exaggerated vibrato (if that’s
the right name for it), can be annoying.  Flamenco infusion is of
modern origin.  It takes basic flamenco elements, such as the rhythm,
the clapping, the guitar, and adds a variety of other instruments such
as the violin.  I think some the of the clapping is canned, being just
too regular for strictly human hands.  Unlike France, at any rate, you
can hear traditional folk music that is distinct to the country.

On shortwave I can get BBC on two frequencies.  The VOA comes in only
occasionally.  Late at night I might get Radio Holland and a few other
European countries offering programs in English.  The reception here
is not as good, or the offerings considerably less than in Montpelier.


We met Ana today at 5:30 p.m.  Ana is also seeking to improve here
English.  I suggested that we meet in the afternoon, say around 2:30.
“Later,” she plead, “as I will not have yet eaten lunch.”  So now its
5:30 and we are searching for her here at the Puerta del Sol.  She
suggested that we meet at a bakery and I am standing in one scanning
the crowd.  Peg walks around to see if there is another one and she
finds one and at about that moment, Ana taps her on the shoulder.  My
description of Peggy worked.

Together we walk in the crowd of chatting Spaniards to a plaza that is
a few blocks away and near the Zarzuela theater.  The latter is
reopening after renovations.  Ann says that getting tickets means a
wait of perhaps a month.

Anna tells us how important it is to have a good command of English if
you are job hunting here.  With an unemployment rate as high as 20%,
an employer may use language skills in English as a way to select one
applicant over another, even if the job does not require the use of
the language.  This accounts for a good deal of the fervor with which
so many here take lessons.  It does not account for why the people who
do take lessons do not seem to study hard.

Anna lives with mother.  Since she is unemployed, and single, this
appears to be necessary for her survival.  Anna is fairly fluent but
after an hour she is becomes tired of talking English.  After an hour
in Spanish and I am as tired as she is.


I found this on the web:

A Timeline: Prehistory to the Visigoths (To A.D. 711)

c.13,000 B.C.  Prehistoric people create cave paintings at Altrmira.
c.1,300 B.C.   Iberians inhabit Spain, perhaps migrating from North
c 1,000 B.C.   Phoenicians colonize Cádiz and Malaga.
c. 900 B.C.    Celts reach Spain, perhaps migrating from France.
c. 650 B.C.    Greeks colonize the eastern coast of Spain.
250 B.C.       Carthaginians take over the south coast.
206 B.C.       The Roman general Scopio Africanus defects the
Carthaginians, beginning six centuries of Roman rule.
19 B.C.        Caesar Augustus completes the Roman conquest of Spain.
A.D. 74        Rome bestows citizenship on the Spanish.
A.D. 380       The emperor Theodotius declares Christianity the state
religion of the Roman Empire.
c. A.D. 400    Germanic tribes invade Spain.
c. A.D. 500    Visigoths conquer Spain.
A.D. 711       Muslims from Morocco conquer the Visigoths.

Moors and the Reconquest (711-1250)

711-716        Morocco conquers Spain in the name of Islam.
722            Pelayo achieves the first Christian military victory
over the Moors, initiating the reconquest.
756            Moorish Spain, let by Abd ur Rahman, secedes from the
caliphate of Baghdad.
c. 800         Santiago de Compostela, alleged burial site of St.
James, achieves fame throughout Europe as a pilgrimage
912-961        Abd ur Rahman III reigns as Spain’s greatest caliph.
1012-1109      Alfonso VI reconquers most of Spain for the
Christians, aided by El Cid.
1090           The Almohades from Morocco reconquer Spain for the
1147           The Almohades from Morocco conquer the Spanish Moors.
1212           Christian forces break the Moors’ hold on Spain in the
decisive battle of Las Navas de Tolosa.
1236-1248      Fernando III captures two of Spain’s three remaining
Moorish stronghold, Cordoba and Seville, leaving only
Grenada under Moorish control.

I am part Sicilian (which probably makes me part Greek, Spanish,
Norman,  African, and who know what other groups, oh, as yes,
Phoenician (from around modern Lebanon) and, of course, Greek and
Roman, and who knows what else).  My other part is Scottish (which
probably makes me part Celtic, Saxon, Norman, Danish, Norwegian and
who knows what else).

Somehow there may be some Visigoth’s way back there, making me what I
really feel like, somehow: Spanish.


Most consumer items are cheap here.  There are a few exceptions.
Shoes are not cheap, although they are comparable to what I am
accustomed to paying.  Sunglasses are very expensive.  Since I broke
mine, I have been trying to find something reasonable and most
everything is $30-$150.  Today I finally found a pair for $17.

I also found an decent pair of walking shoes for $7.00!  I tried them
on and was thrilled that they fit.  There are shoes on sale everywhere
but the least expensive thing I could find that I trusted was $50.
That is not much more than in the states.  These cheap shoes were in
El Campo, my last resort for shoes and sunglasses.  There are no shoe
salesman around to help.  I walked with the new shoes on to a customer
service desk.  I said I needed help with these shoes, pointing to the
ones on my feet.

“Digame,” she said.  This is the Spanish way of saying, “Can I help
you?”  Literally it means “Speak to me!”  It is in the imperative
form, so it is a command.  To us this seems rude, but to them, it is
not.  They also answer their phone with “Digame.”  Not, “Hello.”  Not,
“This is El Campo, can I help you.”  No matter where you call or go,
they greet you with, “Digame.”  I wonder if I’ll ever get used to it.
I have to answer the phone with, “Hola.”

I said that I was not sure if the price was correct.  She said, “You
will have to take those shoes off before you go to the register.”

Did I miss something?  Of course, I said, I will do that. To myself I
said, “Did you think that I came to your desk to find out if I could
wear the shoes out of the store?”  Out loud, “But is the price
correct?”  Without my having told her the price, or it being visible
on the shoe, she said, “Yes, it is.  995 ptas.”  Exactly right.  Sold,
to the gringo who can’t stand the expression ‘Digame.’


A temporary exhibit of Spanish life circa 1898 has opened at Ciudad
Universitaria.   This is a university complex which houses la
Universidad Politecnica de Madrid and la Universidad Complutense de
Madrid).  The exhibit is near where I lodged and studied in 1967 and
going there brings back memories.  Unfortunately I can not recognize
any particular thing.  The memories of what things looked like is too
vague, I guess, or they have changed too much.  The sparseness of the
landscape, which consists of desert sparseness, is unforgettable.

The first room you enter is a small theater where there is a
continuous slide show.  Since it seated no more than, say, 50 people,
I assumed that the rest of the exhibition was of modest dimensions.
How foolish of me.  “Modest dimensions” and “Madrid and Spain” just do
not seem to go together except in stores where you snuggle with
everyone buying vegetables, especially short, older woman who sneak
into line in front of you.  This exhibit is enormous, far too big for
anything temporary.  But it is temporary nonetheless.

Madrid overwhelms me with its extensive exhibits of mind-boggling
collections, its wealth and beauty.  Here, I am over-whelmed by
thousands of excellent photographs of women in typical dress and in
fancy-go-to duds.  Men and women at work and play.  Paintings galore
of everyday life and special events.  Decorative art.  Eating and
cooking utensils.  A well-preserved horseless carriage.  Toys.  Books,
including commonly used school books:  grammar, geography, history,
etc.  Too much to remember.

If there aren’t 100,000 pieces in this exhibit I’d be surprised.  The
halls were loaded with people and their well-behaved children.

Nearby is the Museo de América, packed with stuff brought here from
the Americas.  There is also a high tower with a restaurant on top
that affords a view of the city.  Both have to wait another day.


Today is Sunday.  Museums are generally free Saturday afternoons and
Sundays.  We make a brief trip to the Prado to see if their book store
has any models which Peg could send to her nephews.  There are not
many book stores whose entrance way is the Prado.  A delightful way to

Nearby is our real destination: the Museum of Decorative Arts.  Glass
objects from the III-II Century B.C. sit casually behind thin glass.


Movie with Marie.  The Ice Storm, Kevin Kline, Sigorney Weaver.  I
think they did an excellent job capturing the neurotic excitement of
the early 1970’s.  Been there, had that zany, anxious feeling that
something was amiss somehow.  A feeling of being so close and yet so
far.  The feeling of going Beyond Alcohol, nervously, to explore the
inner self and other realms of what I now see as illusions and non-
sense.  The teenager who was elecrocuted struck me with his wide-eyed
innocence as he casually watched power lines fall onto the guardrail.
There was something wide-eyed and innocent about the times, so much of
both that in some ways we all casually watched as something about us
was destroyed by jolts of reality.


Long walk to El Campo.


Today our journeys take us to the other Municipal Museum of Madrid.
This one contains art and costumes.  The earliest objects are
prehistorical.  There is an excellent coin collection from Roman
onwards.  Goya’s ‘Dos de Mayo’ is here.  There are several fine models
of the city displayed here.  Pedro Texeria did one in 1656, which is
the oldest plan of the city.  A model from 1830 shows the city in all
its splendor.

The front facade of the building is a baroque portal by Pedro de
Ribera, one of the finest such facades I recall seeing.  This
building, which is near the heart of Madrid, once housed the Hospicio
de San Fernando (a hospital).

Portraits of kings line the walls.

The Basque Country: Bilbao to Pamplona


Having decided to go the Basque country at the last minute, it is not
until noon that we get the car.  We arrive in Burgos, almost due north
of Madrid, by around 2:30 after passing through the Sierra Guadarrama.
The day that began cloudy now is sunny yet still only about 10C (about
50F).  We are in the Basque country.

El Cid (1026-99) was born here.  He is entombed in the Cathedral,
which also holds one of his swords; the other is in the Museo Ejército
(Army Museum) in Madrid, which we saw recently.  El Cid was made
immortal in the poem of the same name.  Charleston Heston played him
for the big screen Hollywood production.

Born as a military camp in 884 on the orders of Alfonso III, Burgos
has lots of outstanding architecture from the Middle Ages.  The most
fabulous is the Cathedral, started in 1221 and finished in 1731.  It
is mostly Flamboyant Gothic.  It looks to me like several distinct
structures glued together.  It has two enormous, 275′ towers.

The Cathedral is built on a hillside.  On the rear side you can get
closer to the tops of the towers than you can in most such structures.
The detailed decoration of the enormous structure is thus more visible
than normal.  We could not get in.  Closed for repairs or renovations.

We got back on the highway to Bilbao and passed through more dramatic,
mountainous scenery; the coast in this area is mountainous almost to
the water.  We passed by Bilbao, having heard its hotels and hostales
were expensive  and the city industrial.  We stayed in Castro
Urdiales, a coastal town recommended by all of our books.  They all
knew what they were talking about.  The town is a charming fishing
village on the Atlantic coast, called here the Costa Verde (Green
Coast).  I think I would enjoy living here, except for all the rain
that seems to fall here.

A getty protects the harbor from the larger waves.  The harbor
contains large fishing trawlers, pleasure vessels and smaller craft as
well.  This town may be the oldest settlement on the Cantabarian
Coast, says Fodor.  The Romans called it Flaviobriga.

A church called Santa Maria overlooks the town from a cliff perched on
the edge of town. It is dramatically lighted at night.  Just behind
Santa Maria, a Gothic structure, there is a castle, also illuminated.

All along the marinas are arcaded structures housing cafes, bars,
restaurants and assorted shops.  Across from the tourist bureau sits a
building with ‘restaurant, habitaciones (rooms) blazoned across the
entrance.  We got a room here for 3600 ptas (about $25).  It was quiet
after the restaurant closed around midnight.

Nearby are narrow streets that create a canyon-like maze crowded with
shops, bars and assorted eateries, as well as the occasional club.
Green mountains surround these canyons, offering what look to be
delightful paths to explore by foot.


Our room has a small balcony overlooking the marina.  Here we eat the
breakfast we brought with us, shunning the omnipresent churros
everyone else is eating.  We cannot shun the cafe con leche.  Then its
the Guggenheim for us, some 20 miles away on the ría (estuary) that
splits Bilbao.

The Guggenheim opens at 11:00 so we have to wait.  But we are here to
see the building, so we take turns wandering and glancing about at
this big piece of aluminum foil.

There are dramatic views of cavernous and unusually shaped galleries
cluttered by experiments gone either wrong or nowhere at all, with a
few exceptions.  High catwalks take you from one wing to another,
exposing bird-like views of the areas below.  A few rooms are
rectangular, and in them hang rectangular pieces.  The other rooms
contain non-rectangular pieces.  I guess this is a way of categorizing
art: squarish on the one hand, odd shaped on the other.

As we drove out of Bilbao (also called Bilbo) we looked for more views
of the structure and got a few.  It cost us 700 ptas each to get into
the museum.  I think I would have paid 1000 ptas to see the museum
without the art in it.

From Bilbao we head past San Sebastian.  I would have liked to have
stayed in S.S. a few days.  S.S. is on the coast.  The river enters
the Atlantic.  You can see where the river meets the ocean from the
city streets.  Nearby, 4-5 story 19th century buildings line the river
practically to the mouth.  But we have to be back on Sunday.  We go on
a few more miles to the French border, crossing it twice looking for
border guards so we can show that we left the country.  No luck.
Nothing but abandoned buildings, some with their windows broken and

We head for Pamplona and arrive in time to walk around and leisurely
select a place to stay.  It’s another night above a restaurant for us,
just a half-block from the old part of town.  This one cost 5000 ptas,
and is attractively decorated.  The shower spews hot water.

Pamplona offers more maze-like streets where the bulls try to trample
and butt gringos and other idiots.  If you live through one of these
beatings that they can give you will be lucky.  On t.v. we saw an
American getting a heavy dose; he was unconscious by the second blow.
Perhaps Hemingway should have entitle his book The Star Also Rises.

Finding a place to eat a meal, rather than just the wonderful but
no-veggie bar food, at a decent hour (for non-Spaniards) is difficult
in Spain.  We were the first ones in at around 9 pm and had trout for
dinner.  The waiter told me that the preparation was typically basque,
which in this case meant trout very crisply fried on the outside with
the grilled flavor penetrating to the flaky flesh.

Our hotel room above another restaurant cost 5000 ptas.  It was
comfortable and quiet.  By 9 the next morning we were on our way to

Spain October 30, 1997-November, 1997

October 30, 1997-November, 1997

Alice in Spain
Elsie in the circus
The Rastro

Mind Boggling Days of Exploration
El Escorial (The Slag Heap, The Escarole)
Back in Segovia, on to Pedraza
Observations about Madrid


We are up at 2:00 a.m. to catch the 3:00 a.m. train out of Montpelier, France.  This will allows us to connect with the train to Port Bou on the French/Spanish border, on the Spanish side of that border, actually.

Peg writes:

We found a car with reclining seats, so we dozed a bit for the first three hours.  It’s hard for me to sleep even then, however, as I enjoy seeing the lights of the towns and villages the train passes through during the night.  It’s very peaceful, as the newer trains are very quiet.

We got to the border at 6:00 a.m. and connected there to a Spanish train that left at 7:20 am.  Our train required reservations, which we did not know.  We bought our tickets from the border to Madrid in France.  The French did not tell us that a supplemental payment was required.  The $80 one-way trip for two turned into the $130 trip for two in a flash.  That would have been 30% more if we had bought the supplement on the train.   I had to get pesetas, as the RENFE does not know how to use credit cards yet.  But the change bureau did.  Not at a great exchange rate, perhaps, but I cannot tell yet. (Later: it was a good rate) If a Swiss woman had not told us that we were in her seats and that we needed reservations, we would not have had enough cash with us to pay the conductor.

We got breakfast during the wait — the usual coffee and Spanish pastries.  It was very good but pricey.   Some young girls sat nearby.  They were from the U.S., one a student at SMU.  They had been scammed in Italy by a group of young men.  Some of the young men distracted the young women while a conspirator made off with some of their luggage.  They only lost a few dollars in cash.

Our timing allowed us to see the coastal part of the trip between the Spanish border and Barcelona.  A small portion is quite dramatic.  There are marvelous views of the coast from hundreds of feet up sheer cliffs.  When you head further inland, the trip becomes ordinary.  We have done this trip before and I only remembered the good parts and was a little disappointed.  On the other hand, I remembered that the countryside seemed impoverished.  This time it did not.  Maybe it looks better to me because of the power of suggestion.  I have been reading that the country is richer now than it was.

Peg writes:

The Spanish train traveled down the coast as far as Valencia, which is about three hours south of Barcelona.  For the last two hours of that time, we passed beach resort after beach resort.  They are not at all interesting – sometimes they look like Miami Beach, butt generally they are just large hotel complexes set in the middle of nowhere.  The English, and apparently many other Europeans, like package deals for their summer vacations, and think it’s just great to sign up for a week or two at these places.  I guess they eat at the hotel restaurant and lie on the beach, trying to soak up enough heat and sunshine to last them the rest of the year.  I would hate it.

The more interesting part of the trip, I thought, was the next two hours.  Valencia is somewhat south of Madrid, so we had been taken out of our way.  But as the train was an Intercity, it was still faster than a more direct train.  The train turned slightly northwest to get back to Madrid, picked up speed, and did not stop for two hours.  It traveled through what looked a bit like parts of New Mexico if irrigated.  The land is a light orange color, and has been terraced into large mesas to keep down the erosion.  It has been irrigated using small concrete channels that extend for miles, and planted with orange trees, olive trees, and a few grapevines.   The rail bed is usually slightly higher than the farmland, so you can see for 25 miles in all directions.  There are no towns.  Once in a while you see a farm, but mostly you see these huge groves.  It’s very beautiful, in a strange way.
I disagree with Peg only in that I saw millions of grapevines.  I have never seen that many anywhere.

We arrived in Madrid at 5:30 p.m.  The tourist office found us a very nice hostal in the old center, so we were settled in 45 minutes.  It had been a long journey, and we were tired.  The hostal (a hostal is a hotel but it has no restaurant and is generally cheaper than a hotel; this one cost $30/night) had rooms with lots of hot water in a nicely appointed bathroom.  We were just a block off the Gran Via, the major street in the center of town. Not far were the Puerta del Sol and the Plaza Mayor, both important centers of activity.

Up and down the small streets nearby were countless bars, restaurants and cafes.  Many offered tapas anytime but to sit down in the restaurant portion meant waiting until at least 8:00 p.m.  All but the fancy places charged 1000 pesetas (about $7.00) for two courses, wine or beer or soft drink, and desert.    There are typically many choices from the menu of the day.  There are always several vegetables and beef, pork, chicken and fish, all very good. The wine is good, and they give a half-bottle per person.  You can find an excellent value most anywhere, as we soon discovered.

The streets nearby are busy with traffic, automotive and pedestrian. The Gran Via is a very wide avenue, with three lanes in both directions.  It is lined with upscale shops.  There are newspaper stands here and there.  There are people selling lottery tickets- the same lottery was being sold in 1967 when I spent the summer here- and roasted chestnuts.

We had dinner around 8:00 and by 9:00 p.m. we were sampling the local television using the remote control.  I found that could understand maybe 50% of what they said during regular programs.  The news was easier to understand, however, as they spoke more clearly and the camera provided some context.


Yesterday the man at the newspaper stand told us to get the Segundamano.  He said that this publication was just ads and that was the best place to find an apartment to rent.  We bought it early in the morning, and a phone card as well.  The room phone was bound to be too costly.  The calls here are charged per minute, and hotels probably charge double what I would pay at the phone both.  I asked how much calls would cost at the desk and the hostess told me it depended on length of call and distance.  This sounded like an
expensive answer.    Possibilities abounded and we decided to narrow things down some.  I would gave Peg an address and she would find the property on the map.   If it was in an area we deemed desirable, we would call.  We also eliminated the very expensive places, and the ones that were not furnished.  If were furnished, they usually said so in the ad.
Some people answered the phone.  Of those, some did not want to rent for less than a year, others had already rented, and still others would not be able to show until Monday.  We did not make a single appointment the whole day, although one place said to come on Monday when they would have openings.  I made several calls from the hotel.   In this way I could check the prices of calls.

Later in the day, one landlord told me that Saturday was a holiday.  This explained why so many people were not answering their phones or could not show their apartments until Monday.  We began to feel that we would never get an apartment in Madrid. The weather was turning bad on our way back from dinner.  This did not help our spirits.

Days of Adjustment


When I first visited in 1967, Franco ruled Spain.  The grip was firm, like that of a Catholic nun on a ruler used to discipline young boys stupid enough to get caught. Franco is gone and most if not all of the ruler swinging nuns.  In some ways both did some good, although there was little personal freedom.  Now there may be too much freedom.  There is more street crime now that the Guardia Civil are not posted on street corners.  In the
Puerta Del Sol drugs and prostitution are evident.  The prostitutes are easily recognized though small in number and most discrete in appearance.  However, several young men dressed in drag walked past.  They could have been going to a costume party, but I doubt it.  Marijuana is legal here, not to sell but to consume.  I saw some people smoking it.
Yet there are not many people hankering for Franco.  There are few very bad areas, according to the young woman who was working the hotel desk this morning.  She advised taking normal precautions.  They always lock the hotel door, she said.  Entry
required that someone come to the door to open it, like in a private house.

All this is an aside to our own drama.  We finally made appointments to see apartments.  We are to see one apartment this afternoon and another Sunday afternoon, the
2nd of November.

While we were having lunch, I overheard an American man talking with a Spanish woman.  They were talking about the English classes he taught.  I asked if it was hard to find a place to live in Madrid.  He said no, that if we just kept on calling, we would find one.  Shorter terms are not a problem. He said to get the Segundamano, a newspaper of just classified ads, and then taught me the difference between an apartmento and a piso.
In Spain, an apartment is called “apartmento.”  It is smaller than a “piso.”  “Piso” translates as “floor” but it means also a class of apartment that is larger than an apartment.  The smallest rental unit is an “estudio,” which is a studio, just like in English.  An “apartmento” might have one or at most two bedrooms.  A piso would probably have two or more bedrooms.  Also in a piso there are probably a full-sized kitchen, a dining room and a living room.  These might be small if not altogether
missing in an apartmento.  Until I learned this I called several people asking about the apartment, and having them say that they did not have an apartment.  This was quite a puzzle until now.  I may have missed some good opportunities as a result of my

His friend gave us the name of a German woman named Utha (the “h” is silent).  She was renting from a woman named Lola and Utha was happy with her landlord.  Lola had many places to rent.  The German woman did not have Utha’s last name, or her phone number.  She did have her address.

We looked at an apartment in the Gran Via area.  However, when we found the street, there were at least 10 prostitutes standing about.  Then we found the building.  I had written down 4C as the apartment number.  “4C” did not correspond to any of the labels
on the call buttons so I started pushing each one and asking if they had a ‘piso’ for rent.  I finally found the man we were looking for and he buzzed opened the door for us.

Peg and I walked five flights up a dark and rickety staircase.  At the top we could go to the left or right down long corridors.  We guessed left and that was right, for after a few turns we found him at the door waiting for us.  He seemed like a decent person.  The apartment had two small bedrooms.  Peg called them closets.  The kitchen ceiling sloped and was too short for us to stand in without stooping.  A gigantic old television resided in
one corner.  At least we learned what $400 might bring.

Next we then took the metro and walked to Utha’s apartment.  This time it took me only two tries to find the right button.  I explained the situation to Utha.  She was happy to help us.  Her landlord had been very good.  But her name was Maria not Lola.  I wrote Maria’s number on the notebook I always carry.   After a beer at a beautifully tiled bar, fairly common although this was the best we had seen, I called Maria-not-Lola.  She said that she would be happy to work with us, especially since we might be coming back regularly to Spain.  At the moment she only had a luxury estudio.  It was brand new and said that for shorter terms she wanted to be sure that she would not have to repaint it after we left.  It was also about $400 per month.  I told her that we would call back if we want to see it.  A studio is too small for us.


This is Sunday, our third day here, and the likelihood of finding something today seems slim.  I figured we would hang out, read the paper, and tour.  After breakfast I bought a copy of El Pais, a well-known and supposedly very good newspaper.  There were just a few ads for flats.  At 10:00 a.m. I called on a promising place.  It was not especially cheap but it had two bedrooms, a living room, entryway, two full baths. It was completely furnished.  I expected that the landlord would be at church.  However, a woman answered.  She said the unit was available.  I asked about the neighbors.  She said there were none.  No neighbors?  How can that be, I wondered.  I also spoke with her husband.  He offered to come and get us.  We could find anything, I said, and there was a lot of traffic in our area, making it inconvenient for him to get us.  He insisted.  He pointed out that today was Sunday. Traffic would not be a problem.

I did not mention anything to him about how long were planning to be here, which was three months.  I had been asking up front if this was an acceptable rental period.  Some landlords I spoke to turned us down outright.  I decided to try a new strategy:  just show up, make a good impression and have cash ready.  I figured that the landlord would probably not turn away cash on the barrel.   On the way to the piso, he did ask how long we were planning to be here.  I answered honestly: at least three months, possibly six and maybe a year.  He said that he preferred renting for the longer period.  “I understand,” I said, and went on to explain that we wanted to see what things were like before we committed ourselves for a longer period.  I told him that we had been landlords too, and understand his concerns and problems.

His name is Fernando.  He works for Burger King.  He takes English classes daily and says that he still cannot speak much English.  I suggested that it might help him if he studied the language intensely for a short period, say a few months.  He was
very pleasant.  He took us to a quiet neighborhood.  I looked and saw that there were apartment buildings to the left and right of ours, so we have lots of neighbors.  We walked a flight up and Fernando opened the door.

Such a heavily protective door I have never seen.  There are a dozen deadbolts operated from a single lock.  The deadbolts make prying this door open a virtual impossibility.  Fernando said this was a ‘puerta blindada,’ an armored door.  I had seen the term in the ads for pisos, but had no idea what an ‘armored door’ really was.

Peg liked the piso almost immediately.  Fernando said that since he saw we were normal, decent people, he would agree to the shorter term.  He even insisted on bringing us back to the hostal to check out and get our baggage.  We gave him 25000 pesetas
(ptas, about $175) as a partial “fianza” (deposit).  He would come to the piso the next day with the lease.  We would pay the first month’s rent and the balance of the fianza, which is one month’s rent.  We hoped that we would not have a problem getting this amount back.  The rent of 85,000 ptas is equivalent to about $570.  We were happy.

Peg writes:

We’re rented a sort of townhouse that is two stories high.  The first floor is composed only of an entryway, stairway to the second floor, and garage.  The actual        living quarters are on the second floor, with an outside stairway to the roof, part of which is a flat terrace.  There’s a clothesline there, but not much else.  Our piso is only a few years old, and very comfortable – huge kitchen, two bedrooms, two full baths, entry hall/dining room, and living room.  The two bedrooms are on opposite sides of the apt.

Ours is a typical Madrid neighborhood undergoing serious urban renewal. You can see some old single-story homes, some of which make you think you’re in Mexico.  They replace them with three-to-five-story housing when the land can be bought.  Not very exciting for tourists, but a dynamic example of Spain’s improving economy and inclusion in the EEC.

They are piping natural gas into the neighborhood but ours is not hooked up yet.  The apartment is heated by gas, and we have a gas cook top with one electric burner.  The gas is in cylinders, delivered in trucks that honk as they go by.  When you need your cylinders replaced, you listen and run out when you hear the drivers.   About next February, the piped gas is supposed to be available.  One more mod con.

The house is heated by hot water flowing through radiators.  An “on-demand” water heater warms the water.   Gas burners fire up only when the hot water taps are     turned on, or when the room temperature lowers.  We’ve had small on-demand water heaters before, for the kitchen sink and/or one shower.  This one is about the size of a one-door kitchen cabinet and does it all.   Pretty amazing, and very cost-efficient.  I do not know if it would be enough for a really cold climate.


Fernando came by to say that the telephone would be installed in from two days to a week.  We might have to pay a deposit of 30,000 ptas and 28,000 to install.  That is a lot of money.  30,000 is about $210!   Compared with Scotland’s $15 installation fee and France’s $50.00 fee, the cost is outrageous.  They need competition here.

Fernando dropped off the television at the same time.  He had offered to lend it to us after I asked where to rent one.   Fernando said it was so expensive to rent that I might as well
buy one.  What a guy!  There is no cable service in Madrid but there is satellite.  He says something about a special offer.  He also called the gas people to make sure they would come by.  Most of the bottles (‘bombonas’) are empty.

It is raining and abnormally cold.  Over the next few days we venture out only long enough to get provisions and a few necessities, such as sheets and pillowcases.  Wednesday the gasman came.  I had been looking out every time heard a truck go buy or a horn honk.  Neither occurred very often.  This time it was they.

“I need four bottles of gas,” I said in Spanish.

“What kind?” he asked.

“What kind?” I yelled back.

“There are two kinds, one with a band on it and another without.”

Out the back door I ran to where the bottles reside.  The only band I see is a painted one.  I told him what we had.  He said he had none of that type but he would be back tomorrow.  What time?  Oh, in the afternoon, he says.

He did not come the next day, Thursday, November 6.  We ran out of gas in the middle of the night and the piso became cold.  The sun finally shined a little so we warmed up later in the day.  I called information for the number of the gas company.  The number they gave was not the right one to call at the gas company.  They cannot forward us to the right department.  I called the number the gas company gave me.  It was wrong also.  It was the repair number.

On the third try I connected with the right number.  There was only an answering machine asking the caller to leave the address and phone number.  I did so but no one called back.  Friday morning, I called again with the same result.  The weekend was
upon us, and I despaired of getting gas in time.  This was the first cold snap of the season, at least three weeks earlier than normal.  Many people needed gas and they were probably inundated with calls and maybe short on supplies.

However, late Friday afternoon they came.  What a relief!  Now all of our moving parts were in order, for yesterday the phone began to work again also (they had shut it off after Fernando placed the order)!  I began to feel comfortable for the first time.

Afterwards we got the bombonas we went to the Plaza Colon (“Colon” refers to Christopher Columbus).  We went to find out about local bus service.  Since we do not have telephone books yet, we decided to go to the bus station here.

On the way we walked by a Telefonica store.  An ad on the window tells us that they have a special offer on satellite television.  We think that the price is acceptable, about $24 a month.  This included two BBC stations!  The young woman fills out the form.  She asks for our bank account number.  We do not have one.  She says we cannot get
service without a bank account.  Payment is deducted from the bank account and there is no alternative.  They accept neither cash nor credit card.

There is time to return to our neighborhood to talk to the banks.   Five different banks all give us the same answer.  We have to have either a certificate of residence or a certificate of non- residence.  I did not understand anyone’s explanation of what a ‘certificate of non-residency’ was.  We get this from some government agency that is closed until Monday.

Alice in Spain


Monday.  It is rainy again.  What happened to sunny Spain?

The metro trip to the place where you get a certificate of non-residency is a long one, almost 30 minutes.  We finally locate the address we are seeking.  It is in a police building.  After a short stay in line, a woman examines our passports.  There are no
stamps in it that record our entry into the country.  We came in from France via Spain, I explain, and of course there is no border check there.  She says that she needs something that proves when we entered the country.  Would a copy of our previous lease in France and our current one be enough, I asked?  She said only if the date of signature on a French document was close to the time we came in to the country.  Thus, our French lease would not do; it was dated in early September.  I tried several ideas on her and none seemed to work.  We returned home.

Peg found a credit card receipt and my prescriptions from the French dermatologist dated in late October.  The first receipt from Fernando was dated November 2.  This should do it. I also got copies of Smith Barney accounts.  They show our financial ability to live here without becoming a burden to the government.  Back on the metro, down to the police station.

I arrived at 3:00.  They closed for the day at 2:30 p.m.!

The next day we arrived early.  There was a new woman at the desk.  The woman to whom we talked yesterday happened to walk by.  She recognized us and spoke to the woman at the desk.  She explained our situation.  I could not understand the response but
I feared the worse.  My fears were unfounded.  Today’s clerk did not want to see my elaborate proof.  We just needed to write and sign a statement explaining where we entered and why our document had not been stamped.  Simple.  Yesterday’s clerk was wrong.  After a few minor miscues, we had our document.

Two things seemed so typically Spanish: 1) they did not have a copy machine in the office.  I had to walk fifty yards to a little shop.  2) the woman who handled our documentation could not give us the certificate.  The fellow right next to her did
that part.  He looked everything over that she had just looked over!  Then we got our certificate.

Afterwards we went to the Plaza de Colón.  There had to be a bank there.  We saw “BNP” in big letters:  Bank Nacional del Pais (National Bank of the Country?).  In we went.  This bank had unsecured entrances, unlike the ones in our neighborhood where you had to pass one at a time through a security door.  The lobby was large, like most banks in the U.S.  We feel that this might be a more modern institution.  In a few minutes we were with Carmen.  She was very friendly.  I told her that at last I had all the documents needed to open an account.

“What documents are you referring to?” she asked.

“The certificate of non-residency or residency, whichever one they gave me.  I cannot tell which one it is.”

“We just need your passport.  We do not need a certificate of non-residency.  You need also another piece of identification, such as your driver’s license or national identification card. Even a credit card will do.”

I could not believe that we had gone through all this when it was not necessary.

“All the banks required it!  Five of them!  FIVE of them.  They all said the same thing!”

“Not BNP,” she said with pride.

After we had filled out the paperwork, Carmen went off to deposit the 50,000 ptas ($350) in cash and a check in dollars from our U.S. account.  A few days ago I had asked our broker via e-mail how to put money into a Spanish account and he told us all we had to do was deposit a check drawn from our account.  So we knew that this would work.  Carmen knew also.  She was well trained and experienced.  While we were waiting, Peg noticed a sign that read “Bank of Paris.”

The ups and downs of the day had exhausted me and it was only 11:30.  Carmen told us to come back at 1 p.m. (they do not always use military time here, unlike the U.K. and France).  I guess it takes that long to get us an account number.  We had snacks and beer at a nearby bar.   Why couldn’t we eat in the restaurant, I asked?  We were too early to use the restaurant, few of which opened before 1:00 p.m., he said.  Nonetheless we enjoyed various ‘pinchos’ (literally “pinches,” which in this bar are full portions).  We ate a tortilla (these are Spanish omelets, usually just eggs and potatoes).  A “sandwich mixto” was a grilled ham and cheese sandwich on white bread.  The beer was Mahou, a very popular pilsner.

At 1:00 Carmen was waiting for us with our account number.  We went back to Telefonica to fill out the rest of the form to initiate the service. The clerk told us to call a number to find out when installation of the dish would occur.  I feel a great deal of satisfaction and relief.

When we got home, I called the number she gave me.  The clerk said that installation would not occur for at least six weeks!   Furthermore, we would need permission of the “comunidad” (community).

Another reversal of fortune!  Waiting six weeks was bad enough, especially if we only stayed three months.  But what was a comunidad?  I usually manage to solve most problems.  It takes persistence and an ability to remain optimistic.  Optimism helps
my brain develop solutions since it keeps me trying.  At the moment, I cannot think of any solutions to so perhaps Fernando or Carmen would have an idea.  I called.  Fernando was gone for a few days, but perhaps she could help, she said.  Carmen explained that we would not need permission from the “comunidad.”   “Comunidad” referred to the governing body or management of a building where there are multiple tenants, i.e. a condominium association.  We do not have any “vecinos” (neighbors) so we did not have a “comunidad.”

Now I understand why she told us we did not have any vecinos when we first spoke.  In this context, “vecinos” means that there is only one occupant in the building, not that you live in the middle of the stinking desert.  It does not mean that your building is free standing; ours is attached to the ones on either side.

Speaking the language and knowing something about the culture does not yield all the knowledge that you need to easily cope with living abroad.  But then again, I have had problems like the ones I’ve just recounted in the U.S.!

I called the satellite t.v. people again, confidently told the clerk that we had no neighbors, and all is on, six weeks from now.  Or thereabouts, she said.


Elsie in the circus

Peg writes:

We went to a circus last night.  It was a one-ring circus, with about 15 very good acts.  Not nearly as much razz-ma-tazz as Ringling Brothers – no big parades, no big band, no crowds of extra pretty girls in shiny sequins, just good acts.  Many people did double duty — for example, two girls who were in the trapeze group rode the elephants in the elephant act. One clown who entertained the audience the three times the ring was being re-fitted.

They had a tiger act – 7 beautiful tigers; a palomino act – 7 beautifully matched palominos; an elephhant act     – 6 beautiful (?) elephants; a “beautiful ggirl on the flying trapeze” who worked solo; a trapeze group act; three very different tumbling acts, two  “strength”/gymnastics acts; a group of dogs playing soccer with balloons, and a few others.  The same guy did all the elephants, tigers and horses.

The most unusual act was billed as “Exotic Isoloda and her Menagerie”–or was it “Isoloda and her Exotic Menagerie”?  Whoever it was, it was pretty funny – although it was supposed to be exotic.  First came three really beautiful cows, very fat, with Elsie-type eyelashes, huge cowbells hanging from their necks.  They slowly walked out, turned around twice, and curtsied.

While they were doing this, a small (very cute) goat walked across a bridge above them.  Then, three FURRY, LONG-HAIRED ugly pigs came out and did a couple of         tricks–believe it or not–, then a tiny pony also did a couple of tricks (the animal trainer subtlety helped Isoloda with this part), and last but not least, five geese walked around the ring, and left.  It was a hoot!!

The circus is one of two in town at this time.  This one is at the Plaza de Ventas, next to the large bull-fighting stadium, which is called the Plaza de Toros Monumental.  This handsome structure looks like a Roman coliseum.  It was here in 1967 that I wrote my first poem.  It was about bull fighting.  I did not enjoy watching the bullfight, and will never see one again.

We learned about El Campo (the Countryside).  It is as big as the countryside, easily the largest shopping mall I’ve ever seen.  It is just two subway stops away from us. The first floor of the El Campo is an enormous grocery store and the second floor is a dry-goods section, rather like a Walmart.  The food section contains more varieties of chorizo (sausage), other sausages, and cured pig legs- yes, the whole leg- than there are people in Europe.  There must be a large number of paraplegic pigs in this country.   I just wanted one little piece of dried chorizo and had no idea how to pick one.

Cheese.  Hanging up and in coolers.  Hundreds of kinds, sizes, shapes.  Every animal that gives milk must have come here to contribute.  Maybe even a few that don’t were made to so an empty space could be filled.  Thank God I do not need any cheese today.   I would not be able to choose.

Shellfish of all sizes.  Large and small clams and lobsters moved from time to time on the ice.  Over backwards I fall.


The weather has improved.  This has permitted us to take long walks through many handsome neighborhoods.  Peg has been looking at the many Madrid maps we have.  Some of them have good drawings of the important buildings.  So far, she’s found about twenty walks she would like to do.   We chose one nearby.  Most of the one and two story buildings that once dominated Madrid are gone.  On this walk there are many tall, tastefully appointed apartment and office buildings we enjoy looking at.  Even the more obviously modest buildings have small balconies.  Some of these are functional, some are purely decorative.   Most buildings are brick, the brick sometimes used to make the building more attractive.  The bricklayers turn the bricks on their side or run extra rows.

Many of the main avenues we tread today are large and often offer long vistas; the streets run straight and sometimes run slightly downhill.  Later we walked to the El Museo de la Ciudad, the City Museum. It is well worth a visit to get better oriented.  The museum is in a new structure.  Most notable for our purpose today are the many models of the city.  They show the changes it has experienced since its founding in 852 by the Moors.  You can see all the main buildings in the current model of the city, and we find our little street in the maze near the Plaza Castilla.

The Rastro

On the 16th we walked through the Rastro (flea market).  There are at least two in town.  One is only about three blocks from our piso.  It is about one-half a mile long on a street that is closed to traffic.  The vendors sell mostly new items.  Prices are not much lower than what you find in the stores.  Clothing predominates, except it is hard to find men’s underwear for some reason.  You can get most anything, even lamps and furniture.  There are fruit and vegetable stands.  Since most stores are closed on Sunday, many people shop at the Rastro.  By 12:00 we can barely walk due to the crowds.

The main Rastro is on the south side of town.  “Enormous” would not be big enough to describe the old Rastro; perhaps “monumental” would be more apt.  The leather goods seem to be of good quality and unbelievably low prices.  Peg warns me that one would need to shop carefully.  Yet if the quality is even just mediocre, there are very good values:  about $25 for a leather jacket with a light weight lining!  Gloves galore.  Shoes galore.

We could have been there most of the day and not seen it all.  There are tools and electrical appliances. Pottery. Carpets and rugs.  Book stalls.

The Puerto de Toledo and the Manzanares River are nearby.  The upper portion of the Puerto has statues and carvings.  The bridge over the river is also decorated.  It is a pedestrian zone and people stroll over the river.  The Calle de Toledo takes you
south towards Toledo and yet more neighborhoods.  Fernando tells me that there are shacks housing poor people on the edges of the city.  We are not close enough to see any.

That night I made paella for the first time here.  There are two basic types of chorizo (sausage):  dried and fresh.  Dried it is rather like pepperoni in texture and even in flavor.  The red color comes from paprika.  I bought some fresh chorizo for the paella.  I also bought some paella seasoning.  It has paprika and saffron, salt and other spices that my little dictionary does not list.  Something made the dish too salty and the rice refused to cook properly.

How much things cost

Spain seems to be a good bargain, except for the telephone installation. During our first week we went through two bottles of gas that cost 1000 ptas, about $7 each.  That was a cold week, but should represent the weekly cost for December and January, the coldest months according to the locals.  Electricity should be minor.  The telephone is fairly cheap to use, although it can add up.  We do not use the phone except for e-mail and calls home, which run about $1.00 a minute.

Food is less expensive than in France, Scotland and even the U.S. We have spent about $200 so far this month, and we had to start from scratch.  In France we spent about $500 per month, and about $350 in Scotland.  We have been eating well.  One could eat for about 20% less than we are spending without having nutritional problems.  Fish is plentiful and inexpensive, far less than in the U.S., more than in Scotland but less than in France.  Meat is a lot cheaper than the U.S., let alone Scotland or France.

Alcohol is a bargain.  Hard liquor is about half what it cost in the UK and France.  Bacardi rum, for example, is about $6.00 per bottle here.  It would be about 30% more in France, 50% more in the U.K.  Wine is about the same price as in France, where you can also get very inexpensive but very good wine.  But the inexpensive wine here is much better and there are many more choices at the lower price levels.  The inexpensive wine here is usually aged in the barrel and not just thrown into a bottle, as it is in France.

The Metro is dirt-cheap.  A ride is 66 ptas, about $.30!  In Glasgow and Montpelier local bus rides cost about $1.00.   Further, the metro here covers much more territory than in either of the other locales.

El Pais, probably the best paper in Spain, costs 225 (about $1.60) ptas on Sunday at the newsstand.  That is the same as the daily edition of the International Herald Tribune.  Consumer goods are perhaps 10% lower than the U.S., depending on the item.  Fifteen-inch t.v./vcr combination sets cost about $400.  Fancy little radio/tape players cost between $25 and $50. I saw a 12x CD-rom for about $150.  I think those cost over $200 in the U.S.  Computer systems are comparable in price to the U.S.  By and large, the cost of living in Spain is probably about 10% lower than, say, Dallas or St. Petersburg, Fl.  My guess is that France, other than Paris, is maybe 10% more than the U.S.  The UK is maybe 20% more, mostly due to the high cost of housing.  I am not including income taxes in these estimates, but am including consumption taxes (“IVA” in Spain).

Internet access costs us the same in Spain as everywhere in Europe via AOL.  That is about $.10 per minute.  The connection speed is 28.8 kbps and the call is local.  We flash on and off in about one minute for e-mail. We think we will spend between $10 and $20 per month for AOL charges.  We are checking our mail twice a day.  In France, we had no phone and went twice per week to an internet cafe and it was costing us about the same as here.

One big cost has been moving within Europe. The cost has averaged about $700 each time.  This includes transportation, meals and lodging and a few minor categories.  Our average monthly cost has been about $2400.  It would be about $1700 if we had not moved around, and probably less than $1500 if we were in Spain the whole time.  This figure includes local and regional travel.  Regional travel would include things like the trip we made to Inverness and the one to the Tall Ships in Aberdeen in Scotland.   It would also include rent cars for local travel, which we did only in Montpelier.  These cost us over $75 each time including fuel, and we did this twice.  Monthly costs could be reduced further without such expenses.

We are spending about $150/month for health insurance for the two of us. The policy is issued by BUPA in the UK.  There is no deductible but they only pay for hospitalization.  They have a policy that pays 100% of everything for quite a bit more.  They do not cover us while we are in the U.S.  That coverage is available, also for quite a bit more.   Most U.S. health policies do not offer coverage to Americans living abroad.  They will cover you on vacations, however.

What we are spending for necessities roughly accords with what friends have reported for living in Greece, without travel expenses included.  Since they lived on a small island, they spent little on local and regional travel.

Mind Boggling Days of Exploration
November 15-December 7, 1997


We were thrilled to learn that friends from our years in Dallas were coming to visit.  David arrived on the 17th.  We made a trial run to the airport a few days before via metro to the Canillejas stop.  From there you can take a local bus.  The total cost by bus and metro one way for one person is only 130 ptas. if you use the ten ride tickets.  You can also take a special bus from the Plaza Colon for about 350 ptas one way.  But from there you have to take the Metro to our neighborhood anyway, so nothing is gained.   A taxi would cost 1500-3000 ptas.

Peg went to meet David on the 17th.  From the time she met him to the time they arrived at the piso, only one hour and thirty minutes had passed.  Total walking time is about 20 minutes.

On the day of arrival, jet lag is usually a problem.  Therefore, we limited our journeying to a trip to a local restaurant.  The next day we visited the City Museum.  As this was our second visit, we could take in more of the exhibits.  My interest in ancient history has been growing.  I want to know more about the ancient Celts that once populated Galicia, and about the Visigoths from the north, the Berbers from the south.  What do we know about these peoples?  I spend more time at the archeological sections of the Museum but learn only a little.  I shall have to go to the Archeological Museum in the near future.



We rented a car and drove north out of Madrid to Segovia and Avila.  On the way we see the gigantic cross at the Valle de los Caidos (Valley of the Fallen), the memorial to the victims of Spain’s civil war.  It is visible from about 20 miles away on a decent day.  Seggovia was an important military town in Roman times.  For the Arabs it was an important textile center.  The Christians captured it in 1085. Later, Isabella (who married Ferdinand and completed the Reconquista) was proclaimed queen of Castilla in this city. Segovia is located on top of a narrow rock.  This made for easy defense and great views across the surrounding hills.  Today, the spot still yields great views not very different from the ones I saw thirty years ago, despite some new buildings on the outskirts.

Segovia is most famous for its aqueduct and its cathedral.  The Alcazar (Moorish for “fort”) is delightful but is not what it appears to be.  Yet it dates from Roman times.   The aqueduct is on par with the Pont Du Gard, the Roman aqueduct that we saw near Nimes.  It is not as big and the setting is not as magnificent as it passes through the town rather than over a beautiful river to rough, mountainous terrain.  However, I think it is more elegant, more slender.  The top is 115 feet off the ground; the length is 2952 feet.  There is no mortar, nor are there straps holding the large granite blocks in place.  Its lacy top tip toes across the small valley on which we stand.  I cannot find out where the water came from but it obviously emptied into the city above the main entry.

We walked under the 118 arches of the aqueduct as countless numbers have since the 3rd century B.C. (Fodor’s 96 says that Augustus ruled around the time of construction).  The road becomes steeper as you climb into the center of the old town.  The Cathedral door opens into a massive, jaw-dropping interior. I feel overwhelmed by what I next saw.  This is a feeling that will repeatedly come to me these next few weeks as we travel.  But let me try, just a little, to give you a feeling of what it is like.

Gold.  There it is by the boatload.  In some chapels- the outer wall is a series of smaller chapels where the gold goes from floor to ceiling, maybe 50 feet high. The Spanish in the early days of the New World were rolling in it.  When you are here, you are rolling in it.

The gothic structure allows a goodly amount of light, although more would be better as even some of the golden walls want greater illumination.  Consider that there is little if any electric light inside, and that the sky is partially cloudy this late November day, it is amazing how much light there is.  Strolling, it takes 10-15 minutes to walk around the interior, keeping to the isles.  In the center part is the main chapel and choir.

There is more gold on the choir than elsewhere, I think. It seems taller.  I am in danger of falling over backwards as I look up.  The choir is largely carved wood, as was common at the time.   It is so much bigger than any I have ever seen.  Yet is not any less carved and otherwise decorated.   The chairs are not much bigger, though perhaps the backs are.  Nonetheless I feel that I am in the castle of giants.  Here is not the land of the ordinary.  Here is the land of the colossal.

People seem small and quiet in here.  The size of the place – which though large is smaller than the cathedral in Sevilla – seems to cause any sounds to be absorbed.  The busy streets outside seem not to exist.

People of my delightful daughter’s age use the term awesome.  I think that my contemporaries used “cool” to mean roughly the same thing.  I really do not care except that “awesome” seems to work better for places like this, rather than awesome and especially cool.  Ordinary musical and other cultural events are not awesome like this place is.  I cannot bring myself to say that this place is ‘cool.’  I might have thirty years ago.

The columns that hold the roof are like stone sequoias.  Drive a car through the middle of one, and on the way, you can open the door and get out.

We walked to the Alcazar.  The external appearance is medieval and the interior has been redone often.  For this it is criticized and downgraded.  Let’s put this criticism in context.  We are in the midst of a country with many, many jaw dropping monuments.  Therefore, something so often modified gets lower marks.  Compared with the best of what most cities and even most countries have to offer, this Alcazar is magnificent.

From the Alcazar you get a great view not only of the hill across the valley – walls are quite steep but are not classiffiable as cliffs but also of the Cathedral.  We are in the slopes of the Sierra de Guadarrama, visible from most any angle.

El Escorial was the subject of a visit in the hot summer of 1967.  Today we come by a different route, far lovelier than the normal approach.  We travel back roads to its north, desolate and mountainous.  When we get our first view, we are behind and above what I remembering being a dreadful, death-filled place.  Now as I gaze down upon it, the monastery-palace does not look dreadful but magnificent although it is plain on the outside.  But the sense of death must have come from the lectures our native Spanish teachers gave on Felipe II, who had the structure built and who called it a monastery rather than a palace.  Perhaps there are other reasons hidden in the folds of my memory that a visit would cause to come forth.  We arrive too late, however.  El Escorial closed at 5:00 p.m.  We drove to the Valley of the Fallen, only about 20 minutes away.  It too was closed.  I would have to await a later visit.


Susan and Neal arrived from Dallas.  Now we are host to three guests and bad weather as well.  Since our newest guests are recovering, we travel today only to El Campo.

11/25/97  Tuesday

El Escorial (The Slag Heap, The Escarole)

Another rental car, another journey to Segovia, El Escorial and the Valle de los Caidos.  We had learned our lesson and got the car at 8:00 a.m. this time, instead of at 10:00.  This meant having to deal with traffic in Madrid, but since I have done Palermo, I know I can deal with anything.  But the weather is not good.  As we drive the highway toward Segovia, we cannot see the cross at the Valley of the Fallen.  Well, we have time, so we will see it up close in a few minutes.

But first El Escorial, which our guests pronounced “El Escarole” and which Michener translates as Slag Heap.  He says that Felipe II picked a site where mining had occurred, and in particular the spot where the slag had been dumped.  Escorial = slag heap.  I like Escarole better.

We parked near the Escarole and walked to it in the gentle, cold rain.  Fog bits obscured some of the taller towers and made finding the entrance a slight challenge.  We walked past metal detectors.  X-ray machines looked at our luggage.  After my backpack went through, I was told to check it in.  I had to go back out and walk the 50 yards or so to the check-in counter.   There were no signs saying, “Check all backpacks, luggage, etc.”   All this is thanks to ETA, the Basque separatist terrorists.

What I remember most about El Escarole are the immense passageways.  What a stupid thing to remember, of all things.  At any rate, they are still there and still huge and somber.  I imagine Felipe II walking about.  It took 21 years- short for the time- to put this monastery/palace (I doubt any monks ever lived here) but the very powerful and austere, Hapsburg monarch who controlled so much of Europe had little control over the timing of his death.   He had only about a year to enjoy this place.  I used to think that no one could enjoy this place.  I change my mind not long after we got inside.

Susan writes (and I quote without permission):

El Escorial – castle (of a sort) built by Philip II – 2 hours to tour – quite incredible, very austere and foreboding.  All the kings since Carlos I are buried in a fabulously beautiful marble and gilt tomb – the sarcophagi lining the walls of a circular room that you reach by going down about five flights of more beautiful marble stairs.

Getting to the tomb is a trip in itself.  I mean “trip” in the old hippy sense as well as the regular sense.  You go down and down a very steep tunnel at about a 30-degree angle.  The walls are marble and adorned with gold over brass, the most opulent hallway and tunnel I have ever seen.

The Pantheon, where all monarchs and wives whose offspring became monarchs are buried, is:

The best marble money can buy.
The finest workmanship.
Enough gold to sink the Bismarck

Do not go down here if your heart is weak.  If the opulence doesn’t get you, then the climb back up will.  Take something to wrap your jaw with so that it won’t clatter upon your knees.

The church is a huge, overpowering cavern.  A group of life-sized figures are Carlos V, his wife Isabel of Portugal, his two sisters, María of Hungary and Leonor of France.   Opposite are Felipe II, who built the Escarole, three of his four wives, and his heir Carlos at age 16-17.

A cup of coffee and a bocadillo (little sandwich, baguette thing with a slab of cheese, or chorizo, ham, but only one of those, unless you order a ‘mixto’) prepared me for the cold rain.

Valle de los Caidos

It cost us 2400 ptas (600 each) to get in.  A long drive takes you to a parking lot.  We drove to the front of the monument to take a look and to see if we could park nearer.  In the fog we could see only the base of the 500′ cross!  We walked across ‘Lake Franco’ to get in.

This humongous monument is carved into the mountain.  The ‘cave’ is at least 50′ high, enormously wide and deep into the hillside.  This monument to the victims of the Civil War (1936-39) was built by slave labor composed of the losing side.  It was completed in 1959.

Franco was pretty dumb but smart enough to be extra cruel when he wanted to.  He used Republicans of the time of the Civil War as slaves.  This he justified in part by labeling the Republicans as Reds.  In reality, only a small portion was communist.  The majority wanted a democracy and it was a democracy that Franco defeated after three years of some of the most inept fighting known to modern man.

Franco and General de Rivera, founder of the Falangist party, are buried here near the altar at the front.  This colossal monument looks out over a valley towards Madrid.   Don’t miss it.

Back in Segovia, on to Pedraza

I parked in Segovia near the aqueduct.  A decrepit looking man pointed out a parking place on the other side of the road, one that I had already seen.  He comes to us, opening the doors to help the ladies out.  He demands to be paid.  I tell him to forget it.  He says I have to pay him anyway.  That made me mad. I did not have to pay him and would not.  Maybe the car would be dented or gone when I got back, but I refused to be shaken down.   Even if the guy really needed the money.  We emptied the car.  This car came with a pre-stolen radio, so now there was nothing to tempt a thief.

I shall not recount the entire visit here as it largely repeated what we saw the other day.  However, there is a small government building that we went into that was quite Moorish in design.  We entered through a small door.  It opened up into a small space that led to a courtyard.  The courtyard cemented the impression of Moorish influence.

From Segovia we traveled to Pedraza.  This is a small, striking 16th century village.  It is on the top of an outcropping of rocks and is enclosed by the still intact walls.  It is nestled in the Guadarrama Mountains.  Snow shines at us in the cold and gloom of the dark afternoon.   There are caves across the enclosing gully.


Today at last we can be comfortable walking about as the typical weather is back:  blue or patchy skies but winter temperature in the low to high 50’s.   We strolled through the oldest part of Madrid today, peering into old houses and churches.  We were not far from the Palacio Real (Royal Palace).  There is a tower built by the Moors over 1000 years ago.  Nearby in the outside wall of the Plaza Mayor are bodegas and nightclubs. Some feature flamenco, which is not all that old, maybe 1700’s.  Tourists frequent these clubs and the presentations are said to be of uneven quality.

Observations about Madrid

From previous entries you may have gotten the impression that Madrid is not a place you would want to visit or inhabit for a longer term.  Hardly is this a perfect city but it does not a tremendous amount to offer.  You need never fear of lacking things to do or good transportation.

There are things going on almost everyday of the year and every hour of the day.  This is true even for those who do not speak Spanish.  There are at least six theaters that show current run movies in the original language.  That original language is mostly English.  There are English language pubs, the English and American clubs.  If you can teach English, you can find work. You can get certification in teaching English to help your teaching job search, but it may not be necessary.

There are museums by the score, and several are world class.  Ditto with monuments, plazas, fountains and buildings both old and new.  It has your basic Roman stuff, and of course the Moorish stuff; not a great deal of either, but enough for the casual tourist.

The people are super friendly.  Directions?  Ask anyone.  No Spanish?  They will try to help.  They seldom seem rushed.  Crossing in front of a car?  They won’t beep at you angrily like they did in Montpelier.  They will courteously and patiently stop
for you.  I think that even the cab drivers are honest.  When I took a friend to get a cab the other night, I asked the cabbie how much to the airport.  The more I talked, the higher the price rose as he added the possible extras.  It could cost 3,000 ptas.  My friend David called later and the ride was 1800 ptas.  The cabbie could have taken advantage of him but did not.  Nor is this the only such instance of honesty that I have encountered.

[End of this file] Continued in Spain December, 1997



Spain (continued) To the End of the Known World, And Beyond


To the End of the Known World, And Beyond


The next four days would turn out to be the best touring I ever have experienced.  Not only was the company delightful, but the places we visited were stunning, even more so than the ones we have been visiting in the area near Madrid.   We are heading for Andalucia, the area where the Moors entered Spain and where they last had control of any region of the peninsula.  And to the End of the Known World.

From this region Columbus set forth.  Gypsies settled and survived the
Inquisition, and here their music is said to be best preserved.  The
local Moorish architecture is superior to anything in Europe.
Mudéjar, a combination of Moorish architecture with European, is only
found in this area.  There are great cathedrals and castles, sometimes
next to, sometimes inside great Moorish structures.  There are
brilliant white villages on hillsides.  Moorish and European
structures from the middle ages and before grace the hills and town,
and there are also remnants of the Visigoths.  This German tribe
replaced the Romans as rulers and it was they who fought the invading
Berbers, the first of the Moors, some of them perhaps descendents of
Visigoths who had earlier migated to northern Africa.

Here is the end of the known world for the Greeks, and the place of
Hercules’ Pillars, where Europe nearly kisses Africa.  I fantasize us
being kidnapped by Islamic fundamentalists or being sold in  slave
markets.  Or of on a whim taking the ferry to Tangier and coming home
with a carpet that is beautiful but of no use to travellers.

The Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabel, are buried in magnificent
tombs.  Columbus too has found his final resting place.

The four of us (Peg and I are joined by Neal and Susan from Dallas)
head south in our rental vehicle.  I hum tunes from the Man of La
Mancha, now playing for the first time in Spain (in Spanish), as we
drive through the dry terrain to Granada.  The road passes through the
Sierra Morena.  It winds towards and through mountain passes.  The
steep mountain sides and deep gullies and canyons can be breathtaking.
They rival what I have seen in Colorado and the Alps, although the
mountains are not as high as the Rockies nor as pastoral as the Alps.
For anyone, the Sierra Nevadas would be worthwhile even if the
treasures of Andalucia were not beckoning.


Granada was our first stop, and while we were still on our way there
we decided to add a little trip to the coast after we see the city.
Grenada is only about 45 kilometers from the coast, someone said, so
why not go the coast while we are here?  It’s just a short trip and
besides, Granada is the Alhambra, the Albaicín (the Moorish quarter),
the gypsy section and little else.

We arrived in Granada around 6 p.m. stayed in a delightful hotel
called the Reina Sofia.  For 6000 ptas (about $42) each couple had a
large room, attractive bathroom with hair dryer, television with lots
of stations including CNN and a remote control, and a telephone.  The
tile was outstanding in quality of materials and workmanship.  We
found this place at a tourist bureau, whose helpful employee noted
that there were very few rooms left due to a medical convention.

That evening we attended a Flamenco production in the Sacromonte (the
gypsy quarter) for 3000 ptas ($20).  I attended one such show in
Madrid in 1967, and another in Colorado in the late 1970’s.  This
location was certainly the more authentic.  We were taken to one of
the many caves the gypsies had carved from the hillside starting in
the 1500’s or so.  The cave was long (maybe 75′) and narrow (maybe
30′).  The stage offered no entrance for the performers.  They came
and went via the main isle.

I think the performance ranked higher than the one I saw in Spain (dim
in my memory, though) yet oddly enough not as good as the one in
Colorado.  The latter was no doubt a cream-of-the-crop touring
production.  Here, the rhythmic clapping was not quite as sharp, nor
was the stomping, the guitar work not quite as good, and the singing
was way below par.  Yet I felt it was a honest act.  There were
neither silly roses nor knives in the mouth.  The entertainers were
obviously not chosen for their personal beauty.  There were no
tantalizing bodily exposures.  Mostly there was just good dancing, a
good rhythm held by guitar or board (not a bongo drum, as some use)
and the clapping-you-only-hear-in-Spain of the otherwise resting
performers.  One woman sang reasonably well, but the man had little to
offer.  I overheard him say during a break that he had a bad cold.
That explained it.  His sneezes and nose-blowing, performed while I
watched, were the real thing.

I can not say I was thrilled to death, but I did feel that my co-
voyagers got a fair sample of this uniquely Spanish music.  They did
not get a fair sample of the sangria that was included.  It was
sugary, grape colored water.  On the other hand, we did not have to
suffer through dinner and a performance that started at midnight.  We
were home by then.  On the way, we were treated to delightful views of
the Alhambra and the city, despite the clouds.


The Alhambra and then to the coast

The next morning was again cold and rainy.  Nonetheless we took the
local bus to the entrance of the Alhambra, a mere 15 minute ride up
the hill. From the entrance gate (price 600 ptas/person) we climbed
about 10 minutes to the Alhambra.

The Alhambra, founded in 1248, is actually a complex of buildings
including the fortress, palace, gardens, housing and related
structures.  Most of them are gone and not all that remain are
Moorish.  Notably not Moorish is the Renaissance-style Palacio de
Carlos VI, begun in 1526.

The site was selected for its defensive capabilities.  This selection
was done even before the Roman occupation.  On top of a steep hill, it
offered protection for the Moors not only from the Christians
(Visigoths, surviving Romans and whatever remnants of older, Iberian
tribes remained in 711 AD) but also from any pirates cruising the Med.
We are now protected by the Sierra Nevadas to the south, across which
said pirates would have to pass before attempting to take Granada.  At
this time of year, they would have needed skis.

The major Moorish structures are the Alcazaba, the fortress and the
Royal Palace.  The Alcazaba offers a tremendous view of Granada from
its Torre de la Vela (a tower).

The decoration is astounding.  Some of the ceilings are dripping in
stalactite, which is carved stone or plaster shaped into cubes.  It is
as if you are looking up and into dozens of miniature towers whose
bottoms have been stripped away so that you can look inside.  I have
never seen ceilings like this before.  Other ceilings are richly
decorated in tiles.  One is frescoed, but this may have been done by

There are numerous fountains.  Many small ones add tranquility to the
setting.  There are also baths that were used by the Yusuf (1334-54)
and his successors, together with wives and eunuchs.

The site is enchanting, and revealing of what heights the Moors of
Spain achieved before finally surrendering to Ferdinand and Isabel in
the Sala de Embajadores (the Ambassadors Salon) in 1492.

Some paint remains here and there, blue and green as I recall.  Except
where the Spanish have decorated, you seen no representations of
living creatures, human or otherwise, as this is prohibited in the
Koran.  The main restriction the Moors placed upon Christian subjects
was the prohibition of such representations.  The Moors decorated with
intricate patterns that I find attractive and a respite from the
religious gore and royal worship that so dominated the Europe of the
middle ages.

The weather discouraged walks in the General Life (from the Moorish
‘Gennat Alarif,’ Garden of the Architect).  Gypsies or would be
gypsies push you into having your palm read and then demand payment as
you await the bus.  I snookered Neal into having it done.  I owe him
100 ptas.

The Capilla Real (Royal Chapel) is the burial spot of Ferdinand and
Isabel.  The Chapel is a masterpiece of Isabelline Gothic
architecture.  The tombs are elaborately decorated marble.  In  the
sacristy they exhibit Ferdinand’s sword and Isabel’s crown, and other
fabulous items.

Nearby is a gigantic Cathedral, one of few to which you pay to enter.
It makes you feel puny.  Today, it made me also feel glad to have a
car with a heater.  So much stone exudes bone-chilling cold.  Must be
nice in here in the summer.

We depart for the coast around 2 p.m.  A different map tells us the
coast is 71 km (40 miles) away, not 40 something km.  And now that Peg
looks a little more carefully, she sees that it is only a few hundred
kilometers to Gibraltar.  I have long wanted to go to Gibraltar.
Maybe we would want to live there some day; after all, Gibraltar is
part of the UK and they speak English.  So our journey grows in the
number of places we intend to visit.

So it is 71 km to the coast, 105 to Malaga, and 120 to Gibraltar.
Piece of cake.  So it is to Gibraltar we head.  Climbing into the
Sierra Nevadas, we take in a few more mountainly views, and then
descend to the coast.  We then are treated to 235 km or so of largely
wonderbar views of the coast.

As we near Gibraltar, we think we see Africa across the way, but maybe
we see only the coast curving into a bay.  It is dark as we round a
curve to see The Rock powerfully illuminated.  We pass through
Immigration after only a little confusion.  It is getting late so we
check out hotels along the way.  The ones we find are either full or
too pricey.  Winding our way through one way streets and then we begin
climbing.  We find ourselves following a sign for the Rock and soon we
have a panoramic view of the harbor, a good portion of the town and a
dark mass of land across the way.  That must be Africa.   The
continuing search for accommodation leads us downtown, wherever that
is.  We park and send out reconnaissance teams.  I happen upon a place
that is reasonably priced and reasonable in other respects (except for
the lack of heat, but that matters less here).  For £30 (about $45) we
get a room, a nearby bathroom and toilet, and an English breakfast in
the morning.

The high costs of the hotel and dinner remind Peg and I why we are not
in the U.K.  Strike Gibraltar off the list of potential places to


As the sun rises it illuminates Morocco, a stone’s throw away (14
miles).   Tons of shipping passes before us, in and out of the Med.
We get into the car and climb the Rock.  The Rock is 1369′ high.  In
ancient Greece it was one of the two Pillars of Hercules, which is
said to have marked the limits of the Western world.  It also was
where the Moors started their conquest of Spain.  There is a large
statue about halfway up where we stand in the strong, cold wind
looking across the straight.  This is the Rock’s southern tip and is
called the Punta Grande de Europa (Great or Grand Point of Europe).
Across the straight a mountain between the cities of Ceuta and
Tangiers formed the other Pillars of Hercules.  There is a lighthouse
here that can be seen 17 miles away by sailors.  The Rock climbs
steeply from here, where you pay £5 each (!) to enter.

It is one of these special places to which so much history is attached
that you can almost see and hear the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans
passing below in ships of sail and banks of rowing slaves.  If I stand
here long enough, will these ancient people appear before me?  The
words of General Patton, at least the movie version, come to my mind:
“I was here.”  That’s what I felt, however ridiculous that may seem.

On our way out of Gibrlatar we look at the harbors where mariners
might prepare for or recover from the straights.  On from Gibraltar,
we climb along the Straights.  We see the mixing of the Atlantic and
Med. seas, where strong, opposing currents and powerful winds
sometimes make life difficult for boats. We stop at a small coffee
shop, a dump with a view.  Later we stop again, this time on the
shore.  A fabulous restaurant here offer wonderful seafood including
the lobsters that rest in tanks.

In Cádiz, we witness ancient Roman ruins, this of a coliseum.  The
city on the peninsula was founded by Phoenicians in 1100 B.C.  It may
be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the West.  Hannibal and
Julius Caesar slept here, the latter as mayor.  Columbus set out from
here on his second voyage.  Cádiz came to monopolize trade with the
New World after the Guadalquivir silted up, strangling Sevilla.

The old quarter is said to be African in appearance but I saw nothing
that looked particularly African to me.  Perhaps “Northern African” is
what is meant, but I do not know what that means, not having been
there or studied photographs.  Here the streets are narrow, but that
is not unusual.  Maybe I am getting spoiled.  “Oh, just another
charming, narrow, stone lined street with buildings hundreds of years
old, entrances of decorated tile, in a city with just 2000 years of

Well, we had enough of this excessive charm and off we went to
Seville, about 90 miles to the northwest, but only after (yawn)
another delightful lunch for 1200 ptas.

Sevilla had a small hostal just waiting for us to show up for the last
two rooms.  Tomorrow is December 6, and today begins the three day
holiday weekend, ending with another holiday on the 8th.  We went out
for a wee walk.  Three hours later we dragged ourselves back to the
hotel to get ready for dinner.

This is one of Peg’s typical wee walks.  These start off sounding like
a trip to the corner and end hours and hours later in exhaustion.
They seem to grow, just like this whole trip to the south of Spain has

We meandered past the Cathedral and the Alcazar, the latter in the
Mudéjar style.  This word means “a combination of Moorish and
Christian architecture.”  It is an excellent, perhaps the best example
of this type of building.  There is a monumental plaza with the
world’s third largest cathedral on one side and the Alcazar on the
other.  There are narrow, tunnel-like streets everywhere you turn,
often lined with orange trees ripe with fruit.  The Barrio de Santa
Cruz was once the Jewish part of town.  Now the wealthier live here in
fantastically restored and decorated residences.  The buildings are
all whitewashed and decorated with tiles (I think) and flowers.

We pass an old cigar factory (no, they did not make old cigars there).
The building is now part of la Universidad de Sevilla.  We passed a
statue of Columbus and the Plaza de Toros, where they still kill the

I asked an old man where the Plaza de España was.  He said, “It is not
here.”  He used the verb “ser.”  I was most disconcerted by his
grammar, not by his obscure, perhaps smart-ass answer.  My Spanish
teachers drummed the proper use of ser and estar into me.  And they
told me that you use the verb estar for location.  He said, “No es
aquí.”  He should have said, “No está aqui.”  Or my memory is worse
than I remember.

We found the Plaza de España without much difficulty.  This Plaza was
constructed for a fair in 1929.  Each of Spain’s region has a section
of decorated tiles.  There are large fountains.  All of this is
spotlighted at night.  A beautifully tree-lined road carries
pedestrians and traffic into the park which nestles against the Plaza.

Through darkening streets we walk.  We spot a friendly looking bar,
whose sole employee is mopping.  She turned out to be the owner.  Her
bar has been mentioned several times, I think, in Let’s Go.  She has
one of these books that people can make comments in and she shows it
to us.  Many places, not just bars, offer these books.  A notice calls
attention to this book as a place where customers can make complaints.
Her book is full of compliments, if not on her cooking (good and cheap
but not fantastic and cheap), then on her great charm.  They are not
exagerating her charm.  Most comments are in English. Apparently Let’s
Go gets her quite a lot of business.

Our worn legs carry us back to the hotel and out to dinner.  The night
is filled with the noise of countless young people.  My room faces the
plaza.  The bar finally closes at 4:00 a.m.  I vow not to let Neal
negotiate the room deal next time.  He was up to no good on this one!
Revenge for the gypsy?


Perhaps it was the lack of sleep.  But I think that the state of
samadhi I am approaching as I stand in the Plaza Triunfo is the
accumulative effect of the Alhambra, the Pillar of Hercules, the views
of the Straight, Cádiz and last nights splendorous trek through the
streets of Sevilla.  Sevilla is, after all, the prettiest city in a
country full of pretty cities.

To my left is the Alcázar, to my right the Cathedral, to my back the
Barrio de Santa Cruz.  And there is beauty in every other direction as
well.  As Joel Gray said in “Cabaret,” even the orchestra is

The Alcázar was built in the mid-1300’s.  It was designed and built by
Moorish workers but it is not Moorish architecture, despite the feel
of that style the building exudes.  It is Mudéjar, probably the best
example of that style anywhere.  Its outer wall is Moorish.  We did
not go into the palace.

I stand in front of the Cathedral and look at it while occasionally
glancing at the Alcázar less than 100 yards away.  The Cathedral is a
replacement for the mosque which stood on the site.  The clergy
renounced their income for the cause of building it; they announced
that they wanted to build something so big that they would be thought
to be insane.  They succeeded.  This monumental building was completed
in 100 years.  It is the biggest and highest cathedral in Spain, the
largest Gothic building in the world, and the third largest church
after St. Peter’s in Rome and St. Paul’s in London.  It is not just
big.  It is pure gothic gorgeousness.  Huge flying buttresses.
Towers.  Steep roofs.  Carvings to knock your socks off.  They were

I did not go in.  Susan went in.  She climbed to the top.  She saw the
Capilla Real, the Royal Chapel and the Capilla Mayor.  The latter has
a carved altar, and a 65′ high x 43′ wide retable that is the largest
anywhere, containing 36 scenes from the life of Christ.  Tons of gold.
There is also a monument to Columbus and here he is buried.

Well, enough of this fabulous place.  On to Córdoba!

Cordoba: The Most Stunning

Cordoba has the most stunning thing I have ever seen, natural or man
made: the Mezquita (mosque).

It was built between the 8th and 10th century.

There are 850 columns, each joined by arches.  These are inside the
building.  The arches are made of red bricks, I think, and white
stone, alternating with one another.  In each direction you gaze your
vision is filled with this color pattern and the effect is
mesmerizing, the more so because of the sheer size of the building.

The mosque was built on a Visigoth site, which has been recently
excavated.  The Visigoths came here from the area we now call Germany
in about 500 A.D.  The Moors used column caps from these Visigoths to
adorn the columns.  These caps are beautifully carved.

The ceiling is carved, the material is cedar.

For the Moors, the Mezquita was the 2nd most important muslim
pilgrimage site after Mecca.

It contains some Roman pillars.

Inside this huge, gorgeous, stunning mosque is a huge cathedral
(1500’s), golden from floor to ceiling.  Alone it is impressive, in
here, it is both odd and astounding.

I float out.  I am in the beyond.


Peg is going to try teaching English.  She called two companies to
find out what they were looking for.  Did they need a TEFL (Teaching
Language as a Foreign Language) certificate? Did they need you to
already have a work permit?  After talking to her and finding out that
she was not a college student or just looking for a way to finance an
after-college journey, one offered, nay, begged her to work four days
a week, all day.  No, she did not need TEFL, nor a work permit.  She
finally turned it down.  Another has her working two days a week, but
close by and only an hour a day.  Peg will find out if she likes the
work, at least.  The pay is about $12/hour (tax free-  they take
nothing out).  It is something to do, although that is less important
here than in Montpelier.  I think it is good to know that we can make
money here if we need to.  The four day a week job paid a little more,
almost enough to support a very basic life style.  If I worked, we
could make a little gravy.

Peggy has decided that since she broke the camera on our trip to the
west, and since we cannot keep anything anyway, we will not have a
camera.  I have been secretly exploring the idea of a digital camera,
sending photos to our friends on a diskette.  But that is about $600.
Although the market has done well this past year, we still feel
compelled to stick to our original budget.

We went to an Irish pub.  The pub sells “pintos” and “semipintos” of
Guinness.  They distribute an English language paper, called In
Madrid.  It’s free and its classifieds are on the net at  The main article in the December edition is
“Festive Fizz.”  The fizz referred to is “Cava.”  That’s champaign and
it can be as good or better (or worse) than its counterpart to the
north.  Cava production began in 1792.  Jose Raventos inherited a
vineyard and after visiting France, decided to try to make champagne.
He used the traditional methods, just as they do now.  They start with
white or red made from Macabeo, Xarello and Paradella.  I have no idea
what these grapes are.  They may even be identical with grapes we
know.  Most of the cava is produced in Catalonia, outside Barcelona.


Walked to Peggy’s new employer.  Friendly, lots of materials.  They do
not know how to start off a new teacher.  Few books to check out.
They photocopy all or parts of them instead.  Lesson plans apparently
non-existent.  They have forms where previous teachers have room for a
sentence or two to say what they have done.

We walked to the International Bookstore.  They are closed for nappy
nappy (siesta) from 2:00-5:00.  We can not seem to remember that most
small stores are closed at these times.  We then went to the Plaza de
España.  It is a enormous and lovely plaza with fountains and statues.
Nearby is a placed called the Hollywood, a bar.  There a black woman
from Venezuela (she says “Benzuela”) who loves to chat decided to
practice her English with, or is it “on” us.  She told us how people
in many Spanish-speaking countries dropped the ending sounds of many

She said she worked in some sort of movie business or perhaps on a set
when she was young.  This required her to learn English.  She is here
taking an English course.

We saw the movie “In and Out.”  Kevin Kline.

Strange Movies


To the Reina Sophia; today there is no admission charge. This is a
large museum containing mostly modern art.  They regularly have
significant temporary exhibits.  Now it is Fernand Leger, the French
painter who worked from the cubism of his teens until his death in the
mid-1950’s.  Several paintings from the 1950’s showed steel workers on
skyscrapers.  He is a sort of reverse Greco:  all his figures are
round, fat.  Some of his stuff is exceedingly busy.  Or would one say
too complicated?  Flying forms, shadows.  Sharp, dark lines.

His drawings and preparatory sketches are often quite good.  His
paintings show that he knew how to draw.  He understood form and
figure.  I cannot say I’d go out of my way to see his stuff, but his
stuff seems direct, and without affectation.  And he was not a lazy
artist: his canvases took a lot of effort, and he painted a great

Afterwards we attend the flicks that the museum is showing.  The
series is entitled “Máquina Fílmica,” “Machinery in Film.”  The series
contains seldom seen films from the turn of the century and onwards.
They generally deal with industrial activities.  There are 40 films in
this series, shown in groups of two or three once a week between mid-
November and the end of the year.  Without doubt this unusual
collection took a lot of work and money to prepare.  There was an
opening night talk to start things off.  The brochure is
professionally done.  The museum costs $4.50 or so to get into (free
Saturday after 2 p.m. and all day Sunday), so it offers an
extraordinary value to anyone with the time and interest in Picasso
(Guernica and other, even better works), Dali (mostly earlier works)
and more, more, more.

This afternoon’s selections – the Spanish think that afternoons<
(“tardes”) last until 9 or 10 p.m. – consist of:

1)   “Leaving A Factory” (France, 1 minute, 1895, yes, the year of
production was 1895).  People dressed as they dressed then
leaving a factory.

2)   “The Electric Hotel” (Spain, 8 minutes, 1908).  This is a
hilarious look at the “hotel of the future.”  A couple comes in
for an overnight stay.  Their luggage is magically transported to
their rooms by electric powered gizmos and a thing a ma gig
unpacked, re-folded and put in drawers.  They come upstairs in a
(crude to us) elevator.  In the room, a set of buttons is ready
to do their bidding.  He pushes one and she is transported on a
sliding chair to a mirror.  A comb and brush appear to do her up.

He pushes another and his face is first washed, then shaved, and
finally his very long sideburns are brushed out.  Some of this
photography was accomplished by stop action.  I think some must
have been done by covering the actor with blue and filtering out
the blue.

Some of the future as this movie shows it has not yet arrived.
We still have to fold our shirts by hand.  This film envisions us
having mastered this trick by now.

3)   “Electric Hotel,” (Buster Keaton 1922, 20 minutes); Old Buster is
up to his old tricks, and he does them hilariously well in this
one.  His girlfriend’s father hires him to electrify the house.
We open to Buster’s first demonstration to his father-in-law-to-
be-he-hopes.  First, dad, try out the stairs.  The wooden stairs
move.  Dad goes up and down just fine.  Then its billiards.  As
the balls are pocketed, they roll to the floor and are conveyed
to the wall where they are deposited in each player’s box.  At
the end of the game, a wooden channel lands on the table.  The
balls gently return to the table into the rack.  It’s your turn
to rack, Dad.  Then its dinner time.  The chairs are on tracks
and seat you like a waiter would, sliding under your derrier.  A
wooden bridge that perfectly matches the wall paneling comes
down.  An electric train delivers the soup, returning to collect
the dishes and delivering the next course.  A dishwashing machine
washes the plates and deposits them on a conveyor belt, feeding
them to the staff who puts them away.  Outdoors, moving a large
lever empties and fills the swimming pool in a matter of moments.

There are a few problems, though.  Dad gets on the staircase and
is zoomed up so fast that he flies out the window and ends up in
the swimming pool.  Fortunately it is full.  Buster disconnects
the food delivery track by mistake.  Four bowls of soup end up in
would-be-mom’s lap.  But all is forgiven.

Enter the villain.  He is mad at Buster for getting the
electrification job.  He creates havoc with the wiring.  When you
turn on the stairs, something else moves instead.  Bodies, food,
hair pieces, and anything else Buster could think of, are flying
about.  Soon Buster is in deep doo doo with Dad.  Despondent,
Buster ties a rock around his neck and jumps in the pool.  The
girlfriend pushes the lever and empties it.  Her father refills
it and leaves. She empties it and Buster is gone, washed down the
drain.  He emerges from the other end, returns to the house and
finds that the villain has created all the havoc.  He throws pots
into the electrical room and we leave as the villain jiggles as
electrical sparks fly everywhere.

This is a must see.  And there’s more.  Here comes Charlie!

Chaplin sings!

“Modern Times”  (Charlie Chaplin, 85 minutes, 1935) You
still don’t get to hear him talk, but you do get to hear him
sing.  This is a silent movie except the music, of course,
and the auditory Spanish translation of the text.  (Where do
they get all these Spanish announcers who sound exactly the
same-  deep, sonorous voices that never miss a beat?)

Buster showed us the practical dangers of modern living.
Charlie’s telling us that industrial life is bad for
humanity.  No wonder McCarthy didn’t like this guy.

Charlie is working in a factory.  He turns two bolts on
identical pieces of steel with two identical wrenches.  They
pass by quickly and when Charlie sneezes he falls behind.
Since the product is hammered by two gruff-looking men next
to Charlie before it goes into a tunnel seconds later,
Charlie must go forever faster to keep up.

The big boss is working on puzzles while occasionally coming
on a big screen to tell a shirtless man to make the
production line go faster.  When Charlie gets a break, he
goes into the bathroom and lights a cigarette.  The big boss
has a big screen in there, too.  He sees Charlie idle and
shouts at him to get back at work.  At lunch, Charlie cannot
stop doing the repetitive motion he has done all day.  This
causes him to spill his co-worker’s soup.  His antics have
every one in the audience rolling in the aisles.

The workers strike – Charlie has made us see why – and
Charlie is just walking along when a flag drops from a
truck.  He picks it up and waves it at the driver.  As he is
doing this, a mob comes up behind him.  He turns around to
look.  It is the strikers.  As he looks at them, the police
arrive.  They see him with the flag, identify him as the
organizer, and cart him off to jail.

(That does it, says McCarthy; put Chaplin on the black

By a series of hilarious mistakes, Charlie helps the jailers
prevent a breakout.  He gets a nice letter from the Sheriff
to help him find employment.  Charlie then meets “the girl.”
Her father has been killed by the police.  She is caught
stealing bread.  Charlie, who is enjoying his time in jail –
pillows, free coffee and all, much better than life in a
factory – takes the rap.  Eventually they wind up together.
Charlie says, “I will get us a house, even if I have to work
for it.”  The Spanish crowd laughed loudly as Peg and I
joined in.

Charlie gets a job as a night watchman in a department
store.  He lets the girl in so both have a place to stay at
night.  They put on roller skates.  Charlie puts on a
blindfold to show how well he can skate.  Into the next
salon he goes and she watches.  Neither sees that there is
no railing to prevent Charlie from falling two stories onto
the main showroom floor.  We are treated to Charlie’s
hilarious close encounters with death as he repeatedly comes
to the edge on one skate.

Charlie is telling us that “modern times” means either
factory life that ruins our humanness and living on the
brink of disaster.

“The girl” goes to bed and Charlie walks around the store
and happens onto a burglary.  He tries to run but the
escalator is going down instead of up so he cannot escape
danger (the escalator as a modernity that once again causes
more trouble than it is worth).  Shots are fired and several
bullets strike large wooden barrels of rum.  Of course, the
spouts of rum thus caused all go down Charlie’s throat,
again through no fault of his own.

The next morning a clerk is pulling on a piece of fabric to
show to a customer.  It turns out that she is actually
pulling on Charlie’s shirt.  He has been sleeping it off
under a pile of fabric.  Back to jail for Charlie, who is
once again, a victim of circumstances.  All the poor slob is
trying to do is survive.

Somehow the girl gets a job dancing and singing at a
restaurant.  After Charlie is released, she gets him an
interview.  In the interview he says he can dance, sing and
wait tables.  He has never done any of these before but “the
girl” urges him on.   His first customer complains that he
has been waiting an hour for his roast duck.  Charlie
finally gets it to him after several run-ins with the boss
and causing a major accident by going into the kitchen
through the “out” swinging doors.  While an innocent waiter
argues with the victim, Charlie has his duck in hand.

Success at last?  No.  The crowd begins to dance as Charlie
walks across the dance floor, duck high in the air.  Charlie
gets tantalizingly close to his customer several times but
the crowd sweeps him hilariously away.  He finally arrives
at the customer’s table but there is no duck.  It has been
pierced by a sharp protuberance on the chandelier.  He grabs
it gives it to the diner.

Success at last?  No.  A vaudeville act sees an opportunity
and grabs the duck, turning it into a football.  Charlie is
in the act, intercepting a pass, ducking tackles.  Now the
customer can at last eat his duck.  Wouldn’t you be
thrilled?  Not this customer.  He stomps out.  The boss man
says, “You better be able to sing.”

Charlie rehearses with “the girl.”  He cannot remember one
word of the song.  She decides to write it on his cuff.
This works and he is ready. Out he goes, does a few graceful
steps swinging his legs and arms, and off flies the cuff.
He begins to sing but there is no cuff.  Boos begin to echo.
She says, “Just sing any words.”

Now we hear him sing but the words are in no language.  Just
Italian-like sounds accompanied by the most delightful
dancing that Charlie can do.  It is very charming and the
restaurant crowd roars in approval.  But the police show up
to rearrest the girl for delinquency and off we go…

Charlie and the girl finally know some security and peace at
the end.  Viewers at last can relax the laughing muscles.

After a 30 minute break for beer, wine and tapas at the nearby bars
and cafes, we are back.  This time, it’s really weird Soviet stuff.
You have probably never seen anything like it.  I never have.

The main feature of this last set is called “Staroie I Novoie,” which
is translated into Spanish, from which I get “The General Line (the
new and the old).”  (Soviet Union, 90 minutes, 1929)

The action takes place in the vast planes of the Soviet Union.  A
group of peasants do not have a pot to piss in.  Our heroine is Marfa.
Her main acting skills are composed of smiling poses and arguing
postures.  Marla is begging for food from two very fat peasants who
ignore her.  She tries to look sad.  This means that she looks at her

Somehow, Marfa comes up with the idea that if all the peasants worked
together, the larger plots of land would be more efficiently managed.
For example, she explains, we could get together and buy a horse to
pull the plow, or share a cow.  Well, they all laugh at her, big,
missing-teeth laughs.  Just a girl, they say.  More big, missing-teeth
laughs.  Either these people are 1) actors who are very well made up
and then taught to act like peasants who are trying to act, or 2)
peasants who are trying to act without the benefit of ever having seen
dentists and other doctors.

Along comes the Soviet hero who, low and behold, says that they should
work together so that they could, say, buy a cow…Marfa was right all
along!  Well, this goes on for a half an hour until there is a wedding
scene.  We are awaiting the bride.  First, the wedding procession: a
dog comes dressed with sticks and flowers;  then a cat; then a cow.
The procession stops.  Where is the bride?

This is the bride- the cow.  Our comrades are at the stage where they
have bought a cow and are getting a bull to marry the cow so we can
have more bulls and cows.  This is all thanks to everyone getting
together to buy things like cows and now bulls.  So out comes the
bull.  He is led to the consummation and we see it through his eyes.
Then her eyes.  She is looking over her shoulder at Mr. Bull.  Then
his, then hers.

Everyone in the theatre is laughing and obviously the director wanted
this to be funny.  Later we see shots of thousands of cows, pigs,
horses, and modern feeding arrangements for them.  Abundance has
arrived even here in the middle of the stinking desert.  All thanks to
Marla’s getting everyone to pool their resources.

Later the village request for a tractor is turned down by some
bureaucrat.  Marfa and some guy march off to the big city to argue
their case.  Who can resist Marfa?  After a moment with her and her
friend, the bureaucrat changes his mind.   Immediately we have visions
of thousands of tractors, all plowing some huge field.  The real
tractor arrives in a flash as if by magic, all because of a
bureaucrat’s signature.

The driver of the tractor is wearing goggles and leather pants.  He
looks oriental and like a fighter pilot, not a farmer.  He drives a
few yards and the engine dies.  He is sitting, defeated in the dust.
Along comes, who else?  Marfa.  She allows him to tear off pieces of
her skirt, covering her face in embarrassment.  He uses these to wipe
things off.  How this new tractor got so dirty so fast I’ll never
know.  Anyway, half a dress later and the thing is working again.
They drive to town and all the peasants cheer, maybe even the ones who
are now plotting to poison Mr. Bull.  All the wooden wagons are linked
together and in a demonstration of the power of the tractor, 40 or so
of them are pulled out of town up a steep hill.  In the distance and
500 or 5000 steep hills just like this one.  God awful looking place.
Anyway, once at the top, the driver continues through old wooden fence
posts used to divide create small plots of land which had been
individually owned (representing capitalism).  No more of these little
plots for our peasants.

They also have a new machine for processing all that milk they have
because they have baby cows because they have a bull who married the
cow because they learned to work together.

The last plot unfolds.  The forces of darkness (representing the
feudal past and the evils of capitalism) are trying to kill Mr. Bull!
We watch them stuff this tiny bottle of liquid down his throat.  Then
we watch him wiggling on the ground.  He dies.  Sad Marfa is looking
at her feet again as she leaves the barn.  In a moment she is so
distraught that she lies down in the middle of the road.  It is as if
all her efforts have gone for naught.  Does the death of the bull also
mean that the tractor won’t work any more?

Marfa seems to have forgotten the earlier scenes of hundreds of new
cows and bulls.  But as she lies in the dirt, a calf appears.  It
nudges her.  Marfa shows one of her great smiles.  Millions of cows
and bulls, more pigs and a veritable ark of animals appear before us.
All is well.  We have learned to work together.

And I have learned how to leave an auditorium with great speed.  I
have never been so fascinated and bored at the same time.

The people

The Spanish people love to see films like these.  Only two people left
in the middle.  Only one person snored. S/he was wakened by a woman
near me who clapped very loudly and woke the poor sucker up.  They
love to go to lectures about this sort of stuff.

On the metro, half a dozen people are reading at any one time.  Books,
mostly.  On the train’s walls are excerpts of books, inviting people
to read.  I bet there are more original language movie houses here
than in most any other city in the world.  And Spanish people go to
them to practice their English.  We see ads most everyday for people
wanting to talk in English-  to practice-  and offer to allow you to
practice your Spanish.

People are always talking to one another.  Even in crowds of strangers
they chat away.  The kids do the same.  They stand about six inches
apart and talk and smile and laugh.  I think a great deal of this
behavior is the result of their love of learning.

Even the beggars sound educated.  They have speeches.  I bet there is
a school they attend.  They all have a similar pitch.  “Ladies and
gentlemen, please forgive my bothering you here on the metro.  I have
no work and four children to support.  Please buy my _______.  It is a
very good __________.”  It is longer than this but I do not remember
it all.  But it is well spoken. Not the sound of ignorance.  Poverty,
yes, but not ignorance.


Peg writes:

We’ve been in Madrid for about 6 weeks now, and this was our
first day spent here like I think two retired people should
spend living in a foreign country.  That means that the
weather was beautiful, we did exactly what we wanted to do
(or at least what I wanted to do), we didn’t have the full
day planned, we didn’t have to rush, and everything we saw
was wonderful.  What made the difference was the weather,
probably. It was not an exciting day–but it was one of the
few bright sunny ones we’ve had here, and totally pleasant.

We simply walked the length of Retiro Park, (a 350-acre park
in the center of Madrid that once belonged to a Royal
Palace), along with about 5,000 other people and a hundred
well-behaved dogs of various styles.   The park has lakes
(with ducks), statues, trees, topiary and other shrubs, and
very good street entertainers.  We saw an 8-piece Peruvian
band, a violin, cello and guitar trio playing baroque music
(and beautifully, too), a juggler, a Japanese fellow playing
classical music on a hammered dulcimer, and a three-piece
jazz combo.

Madrileños love to “paseo”–that is, ‘promenade’, and are
outside every afternoon and evening unless the weather is
completely miserable.  Our general destination was ‘The
Geographic Club’–a bar that sounded like overtones of the
Royal Geographic Society in London.  Actually, it was a bit
of a disappointment–it is only a ‘theme’ bar done up to
look English.  More interesting to me than Hard Rock or
Planet Hollywood, as I am always interested in maps, old
photos of old countries, etc.  So now that I’ve been there,
I don’t have to go again.

However, about four doors down was a pub with Belgian beers,
so we went in that one too.  It’s amazing how much better my
Spanish is after a couple of beers!!

Gary again:  We may yet turn into Madrileños, bar-hopping our way through life.


Peg and I went to the Archeological Museum.  Not a huge
collection but a good one.  I am interested in knowing more about
the origins of the Spanish people.   The museum has an excellent
collection of Visigothian stuff, including a sculpture of a woman
called La Dama.  Her face is so delicate and realistic that she
could have been molded inside while still alive.  She wears a
veil identical to those used in Spain until at least the middle
ages.  The sculpture dates from the 4th century A.D.  It rivals
many Greek and Roman sculptures for the fine quality of the

There are many stone carvings and lots of pottery.  This is worth
a second visit.  The museum also contains a significant Moorish

Meeting the locals

We spent the evening with a woman wanting to practice her
English.  She had left a note on a message board at an English
bookstore seeking conversation with English speakers.  She
teaches at the Universidad Politecnic.  She also does research in
her field, which is telecommunications.  She spent a year in
Plymouth, England on a research project.

Emilia is a Chileana.   She left Chile in 1974 with her mother
and sister.  This was when Allende was assassinated (with the
help of the CIA).  They lived in Argentina, in Mendosa, for five
years.  She said that what got them moving again was the border
war between Argentina and Chile.  A friend convinced them to go
to Libya.  More bad luck: on the way there was some problem with
a guy named Kadafi!  They decided to go to Spain since their
father, who was dead, was a Spanish citizen.  They hoped that
this fact would help them with the immigration authorities.   The
family was still trying to work out the immigration issue when,
in 1981, there was an attempted military coup.  Emilia came home
to have her mother yell at her for not calling.

“Mom, I have never called at this time of day.”
“Haven’t you heard about the coup?”

She hadn’t.  They turned on her radio.  They tuned in a station
coming out of Valencia.  The military conspirators were more
organized there than in Madrid, where it was a pathetic failure,
and had seized the radio station.  They looked at one another and
said, “Let’s pack.”  To this day they leave a suitcase partially
packed at all times.

This was our chance to ask a local about things like pollution
and the telephone system.  She said that pollution is usually
worse in winter (temperature inversions, I think, and people are
using heating fuel).  Summer is better, although it can reach 100
degrees in the afternoons (thus the rationale for the siesta).
The telephone system is a state-owned enterprise and she does not
trust it.  It is impossible to sue them and they are known for
dirty tricks.  For example, there are two satellite systems in
town, theirs and another.  People calling for the number were
being given only the one run by Telefonica.  The newspaper ran an
article on it and that put a stop to it.

We bar-hopped Spanish style.  At the first place, an upscale
joint, there were some fancily dressed people about.  Another
place was very cozy and quiet.  They served pork skins with large
glasses of Mahou beer for little money.  Across the street, our
third stop served large baguette sandwiches for 300 ptas.  The
bar and large parts of the wall are covered with beautifully
painted tile.

Emilia was just getting going at 11:00 (she was still in bed and
sleeping when I called at 2 p.m.) when Peg and I began to droop.
She drove us home and on the way offered to take us to Burgos and
even to Santiago de Compostela.  Then she offered to bring us to
the cabin (no electricity, but a fireplace, which she called a
chimney, not knowing the word “fireplace”) that her sister bought
with some friends.  It is in the mountains nearby.

This is one more confirmation that the Spanish are very friendly.
That and the fact that Emilia kissed us both upon meeting us and
upon leaving us.  Even got out of her car to kiss us goodbye.

She probably did not know what to do with herself until bedtime.
Going out with Americans of our age means being bored from 11:00
p.m. until 3:00 a.m.


We met another woman at her ‘piso.’  María has a ‘piso’
(apartment, flat) on the south side, past Atocha, the big train
station where trains departing for regional, national and
international journeys pick up and discharge passengers.  I got
her name off a message board at the same bookstore where I got
Emilia’s.  I called her three or four days ago, we spoke briefly,
and she said she would call back. She had to hang up as a student
was entering.  I was a little surprised that she actually did
call us.

Her building is fairly new and pleasant but the lobby is very
plain, not even a fake plant to decorate it, and it and the halls
are poorly lighted.  Obviously people who live in these buildings
cannot or prefer not to pay for the electricity it would take to
fully illuminate.  Maria does not make the move to kiss us as we
enter.  So we do not make the move to kiss her.

Marie is French-born but has lived in Spain since she was two or
three years of age.  She is equally comfortable in both
languages.  She is self-employed not only teaching French and
Spanish, but also is a translator.  Apparently enough work comes
from the European Union and other sources to support her.   She
has a nice place, albeit it is not lavishly furnished.  This may
be a matter of personal preference.  Marie is rather spartan in
other ways. She does not eat meat, smoke, drink alcohol, and does
not seem to engage in the kind of socializing that seems common

But she is friendly enough and we talked for two hours in
English, French and in Spanish for the last thirty minutes.  She
had me translate some of our conversations for Peggy’s benefit.
These were not difficult as she speaks clearly and not too fast
for me.  Further, she did not use too many words I did not know.
I told her our story that I called “Alice in Spain.”  She roared
with laughter.  Marie also loved the Chevy Chase routine:  “Hi,
I’m Chevy Chase and you’re not.”  We were talking about how proud
the Spanish are and sometimes it could come off as condescending,
arrogant, inconsiderate and immature.

Peg writes:

[Emilia and Marie are] as different as night and day they are,
but both lots of fun.  She [Marie] is tiny, 44 years old, born in
France but moved to Spain with her parents when a child.  She’s a
linguist, and makes a living translating between French and
Spanish, and from Italian and Portuguese into French/Spanish.
Her English is excellent.  She of course understands all about
the pluperfect conditionals, or whatever they are.  It seems to
me that she’s trying to get perfect, not just good.  She says
that our ‘phrasal verbs’ are a pain and our adjective order is
very complicated.  O-kay!!  (In case you care, a phrasal verb is
something like ‘get up’, ‘break down’, etc.)  And, why do we say
the ‘big, round, blue ball’, instead of the ’round, blue, big
ball’, anyway?

Actually, she’s a hoot – she makes fun of the French AND the
Spanish, and does several funny accents.  Very vivacious.  She
had Christmas dinner w/us.  As she is a vegetarian, we did not do
a huge traditional dinner — just some antipasto and some of
Gary’s gnocchi w/meatless tomato sauce.  Marie brought dessert –
turron, which is the traditional holiday sweet.  Sort of an
almond divinity – less than fabulous, actually.  I was speaking
French, Gary was speaking Spanish, and she was speaking English.
It worked great!


Peg writes:

It’s Christmas Eve here, and we’re having a quiet evening at home
after walking about 5 miles late this afternoon, in search of
ricotta.  There seems to be a dearth of Italian food outlets
here.  We thought we’d found one about five metro stops away, so
we moseyed right on down there, in the midst of the afternoon
shoppers.  Unfortunately, while it sells fresh pasta, it was
totally out of ricotta and mascarpone, so all we got for our
trouble was the exercise.  Actually, we lost that benefit as
well, because we stopped for a dark beer on the way to the
Italian shop in one of the very few cervecerias (bars, literally
“beer sellers”) that sell it; then, after we left the Italian
shop empty-handed, we saw some pine nut cookies in an adjoining
bakery and stopped in for some of them, too.  Oh, well, it’s
Christmas, and what’s Christmas without a few extra pounds?

What the holidays are like

Gary again:  Xmas is quite different here.  The holiday season
kicks off with the December 6th and 8th holidays.  The sixth is
some sort of nation celebration about the Constitution.  The 8th
celebrates the Immaculate Conception (the timing seems wrong to
me, assuming that the big birthday is the 25th of December;  then
again, if you do away with ordinary conception methods, why
bother with ordinary birth methods?  In fact, why bother with
being born at all?).

Christmas eve is a family get together.  Meals, turrón (an Arabic
sweet made of almonds, hazelnuts, pine nuts, walnuts, honey and
sugar) cava, midnight mass.  The last of these is not too late
for the kiddies here; they regularly stay outside to play until
10 p.m.; only after that do the streets belong to the big people.
December 25 is a religious holiday, and some gifts are given on
the 26th, Boxing Day.  They celebrate New Year’s eve, but I do
not know how/what yet.  Except the article says that if you’re
young at heart you might enjoy going to the Puerta del Sol (big,
half-moon shaped “door of the sun” plaza in downtown Madrid).
There, you get fireworks and get drenched in cava.  You eat a
grape for each stroke of midnight from the clock on the plaza
(the grape does not come from the clock, the strokes do).
Easier said than done, the author says.  This practice started in
1918, as a result of an exceptionally good grape harvest that

January 5th begins the night of the Kings.  Kings arrive on
camels in public processions, bearing symbolic gifts for the
children.  Roscón de Reyes, King’s cake, is eaten and inside is a
gift that brings good luck for the one who finds it.  In the old
days, this was a bean.  Now it is a small glass or ceramic item.
Before bed, everyone polishes their shoes and leaves them by the
window.  The article does not say why.  You leave liqueur or cava
for the wise men.  I want to be one.

January 6th is Epiphany.  I am not sure what that is, though I
heard about it when I was a kid in a Roman Catholic Sunday
school.  I guess it has to do with the Three Kings.  This is the
big gift-giving day, especially for the children.

The holiday season does not seem as commercialized as in the US.
For one, the lights (some rather like ours) and other decorations
just went up around December 1.   Most people don’t shop until
the last minute, so I am told.  There is no way that they can get
everything they want.

There are tv commercials aimed at kids/parents with kids, but not
nearly as many, as least when we are watching.  And all the
commercials come at once, for about 10 minutes.  I guess people
just split when they come on.  Peg and I watched some the other
night.  One was about the 3 Kings.  They were holding a
(celestial) map and, I think, a compass and/or sextant.  One of
them says, “That’s the wrong star!”  They all break into tears
until they walk into the mobile phone store (called MoviSTAR-
they have been following the star from MoviStar) and call the
Holy Family to say that they will be late.

This is NOT your father’s Catholic Spain!

By the way, if Jesus was born on the 25 Dec., why was he still in
the Manger on the 6 Jan?   I guess the people who fixed the dates
for these things did not worry about such practical issues.

So, the Xmas season here shares some things with ours.  They buy
Mangers and little baby/mother/father statues and all; they have
lights and a few images of Santa Claus, but I am not sure how
much of any of this stuff is of recent origin.

An article Peg gave me (in the Broadsheet, “the lifesaver for
English-speakers in Madrid) said that you are unlikely to find
Father Christmas in houses.  In the Plaza Mayor there is a huge
Christmas market filled with decorations.  Mostly these are
Beléns, the Christmas characters arranged around the manger.  The
article says that even the kids think of the holidays as a
religious event.

Birthdays are celebrated differently.   The birthday person has
to pay for everything that day.  Restaurants, bars, dancing, etc.
I wonder if anyone knows any one else’s birthday?   I have hidden


María joined us for Christmas dinner at our piso.  We spent hours
jabbering with her.  She’s a great guest, especially if you don’t
want to pig out.  As my mother would say, “She eats like a bird.”
Doesn’t drink.  It’s nice to have a friend like this one.  The
rest of our friends are pretty much like us in this regard.  At
about 8:00, Marie leaves but not before we make plans to eat
lunch at her place on the 31st.  On the first she is flying to
see her husband.

¡Hola, Pacquita!

Marie inspected our apartment since we asked her to tell us if
the price we are paying is fair.  She concluded that it was, but
it would be typically Spanish to negotiate a reduction in the
price since the toilets run and the roof leaks, even if these
things do not bother us.  Later, she admires the sliding doors
that lead to the small balcony.  She observes that you can have
conversations with your neighbors from these balconies.  This is
a very Spanish thing to do, she says.  We tell her about the
little old lady across the way.  This inspires Marie, for now she
assumes the posture of an older woman and speaks in a funny,
older voice.

“¿Hola, Pacquita, tienes calificación central en tu piso?”
(Hello, little Paca [the feminie version of Paco)], do you have
central heat in your flat?)

The little act and this question strike us as hilarious.  Marie
laughs with us.  This is all so Spanish, she tells us.  Why ask
about central heating?  Not everyone has central heat, especially
in older houses like the one Pacquita lives in.  To us, it seems
that Pacquita does not need it.  If it is sunny, she opens her
windows wide.  Even if it is only 40 degrees F.



We met Elimia downtown and then she drove us to Chinchón.
Chinchón is 28 miles southeast of Madrid on the road to Valencia.
It is famous for its Plaza Mayor.  It is neither a square nor a
rectangle but just an uneven, roughly circular plaza.  The plaza
is composed of three and four story houses with wooden balconies
all painted dark green.   The wood is attractive and its use
unusual in Spain.  There are not too many trees here.  Arid
conditions and extensive cultivation prevent their growth.  But
there is a lot of stone and mud, so most things are either of
stone or brick.

It was sunny but windy.  We had a snack outdoors.  I drank coffee
with my gloves on.  Great coffee but it was a little ridiculous
to be eating outside.  But we weren’t alone.  Spaniards sat all
around, looking as if it was entirely normal to be drinking
coffee or even beer with your gloves on.  There wasn’t even any
indoor seating at the place we chose.

There is a small, privately owned, crumbling castle on the
highest elevation of the town.  From there we enjoyed a marvelous
view of Madrid and the Sierra Guadarramas that stack up behind
it.  Emilia says that she has come here often and never seen
Madrid, let alone the mountains, from here.  The sight made me
realize again how steep and close the mountains are to the city.

Emilia very kindly took us to buy gas.  Our bottles (bombonas)
were nearly all empty and we feared that Don Gas would not come
today.  Yesterday was a holiday and so the men probably had to
try to do two routes in one day.  That would be impossible.  In
addition, they have had problems with keeping enough bottles on
their truck.  We feared that we would have to rely solely upon
electric heat, an expensive and not altogether adequate
alternative.  We had to drive 20 minutes in each direction to
reach one of few such outlets in the city.  So Spanish for her to
do this, even insist on it.


We met Billy, who was our landlord while we were in Scotland, who
happened to have chosen Madrid for a week’s holiday.  He said he
was quite surprised to get our card from Montpelier saying we
were going to Spain next and even more so when he got our card
from Madrid.  He called before he came and as promised, he called
when he got here.  He took us to lunch after we went for one of
Peg’s wee walks.  Billy loves to chat and is loving Madrid.  He
thinks that people from Madrid who visit Glasgow must feel sorry
for its residents. Glasgow is puny and poor in comparison, he
says.  To add to the unfavorable comparison, most everything is
not only prettier and more majestic in Madrid, but Madrid is less
expensive to boot.

What he says is true.  We tell him that Glasgow has its charms.
The countryside is prettier and more varied.  After lunch, he is
stunned by how inexpensive the meal was, about half what it would
be in Scotland and much tastier to boot.  You would have to go to
an even more expensive restaurant to get something as good.

Information on Visas

I called the U.S. Embassy, the section that deals with
immigration into Spain.  Their number is 587-2240 in Madrid.
According to the woman I spoke to, you can stay for three months
in the EU.  Then you have to leave the EU or apply for an
extension.  Spain gives them easily, but it is nearly impossible
to get a third extension.

The next level of permission is a residency permit.  You get
these from the Spanish consulates in the US.  You need 1) proof
of ability to support yourself indefinitely. 2) a health
certificate  3) health insurance.  Then you come to Spain with
the 3 month residency permit they give you.  Before that expires,
I think within 20 days of expiration, you apply to get that three
month permit turned into a year permit.  After a year you can
apply for three or five years, I forget which.  You get all the
renewals in Spain, so you do not have to go back to U.S.

Notes on teaching English

Peg writes:

TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certification seems
superfluous here if you can teach Business English.  The only
reason I’m working is that I telephoned a couple of agencies who
had advertised for English teachers, specifically to ask them
about TEFL certification — they had specified that the
certification was required in their ads.  However, as soon as
they heard about my business experience, the certification was no
longer required.  Apparently, they are putting the requirement in
the ads to keep out totally unqualified people.  It appears that
anybody who is a native English speaker has been able to teach
English here in the past, and it has given the agencies a bad
rap.  I think they’re trying to clean up their act now.

Patrick, [whom we met at Peg’s employer one day] gave me several
books on TEFL.  They are helping — although he says you can wing
it, he’s been teaching for years and has certainly forgotten his
first classes.  After all, one has to start somewhere!!
Fortunately, the five Marketing Dept. people in my class have
been taking English for three years, which makes it easy for me
to get started.

Patrick says he will guarantee me $21 per hour for a seminar he
wants to do in January.  He says I can do 2 – 4 hours if I want
to.  But of course, he has not yet even begun to advertise the
seminar……  He claims to be working nine hours per day, which
means he’d been earning $50,000 per year, much of it tax-free.

I don’t know if it would be this easy in, say, Vienna.  Perhaps
the demand is so great in Madrid because it’s just now getting
into stride w/the EEC and involvement in the world-wide business
community.  But I would not be surprised if TEFL certification
requirement was waived there for people with some Business
English teaching experience.  I’m certainly going to try to get
somewhat educated in the topic on my own while I have this
opportunity for free.


Our dinner with Andrea (Marie).   She came to dinner and to celebrate the new year.

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