Monday, June 15, 2009

Trip to Iberia #8. Toledo

The next day, we spent a marvelous morning at Reina Sofia.

We saw, among others:

- Oscar Dominguez's painting, Souvenir de Paris ( I think he got laid in Paris.)
- Dali's The Memory of the Woman Child (I think he had an intercourse with her.)
- Dali's Electro Sexual Sewing Machine (I think the title says enough.)

We also watched part of an excellent Buster Keaton film, called A Week.

And there was a wonderful exhibition involving two creatures that looked like half-bear and half-raccoon. I don't remember know the name of the artist now. You enter a room with three screens on the walls, all showing said two creatures in a lavish room. In one of the screen, these creatures study two sleek columns in the middle of the room. In those columns made of dark glass, they find figures that looks exactly like themselves. But as they make their discovery, you also realize there are two sleek columns in the room you're in! Inside those columns are of course the figures of those creatures. Spooky...

By the time we got out, the sun was already sizzling. After some churro con chocolate, we headed to the train station to catch a high speed train to Toledo.

We arrived at Plaza de Zocodover...

... walked the Streets of Toledo...

...had lunch in an random restaurant...

...saw Toledo Cathedral...

...walked around some more...
...visited Santo Tomé to see El Greco's The Burial of the Count of Orgaz...

...came across a movie shoot...

...browsed souvenirs shops...

...visited Museo de la Santa Cruz...

...had some beautiful views...

....before returning to Plaza de Zocodover

While waiting for our train back to Madrid, we had early dinner at a bargain tapaz bar we found in one of those charming street.

When it was time to take a taxi back to the train station, we found the cabs that had been lining up at the taxi stop in Plaza de Zocodover were all gone. After a quite suspenseful amazing-race-moment, we made it to the station.

-Beautiful train station-

-Beautiful Toledo-

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Trip to Iberia #8. Museums and Tapas

The second day in Madrid. Almost a month has passed since then. Let me slowly enter the already unfamiliar water of my memory of the day. I hope I float...

In our second day in Madrid, we get on the metro early in the morning for Museo del Prado, fearing a long line. We exit the subway station and emerge on a busy street as wide as an interstate highway, already lost. This can be stressful.

Once we find ourselves safely in the museum, we plunge into our day by having some (what else?) café con leche and pastry. By now, I am truly in love with café con leche, it's rounded robustness and caramel finish.

Prado is colossal. We have to be strategic to experience as much as we can in one morning. Velázquez, Goya, El Greco, Titian... Las Meninas, The Third of May 1808, Goya's many giant paintings, the clothed and unclothed Maja (which we learned were painted with a significant time gap in between)...

At the museum shop, we buy a small poster of The Dog by Goya. In it small head of a dog wearily gazes up at the vast dark empty space. Certainly, he senses something ominous in the air? Poor puppy.

After Prado, we refuel ourselves with some bocadillos and ensaladas rusa at a leisurely tapas bar nearby, and find our way to Museo Reina Sofía, only to learn, after a premature photo session in its courtyard featuring a cool black and white sculpture against the red wall (Spaniards do love red, don't they?), that Guernica is not showing the day.

Instant rescheduling of our itinerary. No choice. We head to the Royal Palace.

The sun bakes the Southern front of the Royal Palace blinding crisp and white. A long line of people, stretched all the way across the wide plaza are all slow-cooking. We have no choice but to get in line to be grilled alive.

Oh, how long did we wait under the killer afternoon sun, I don't know. It felt like an hour, but I know we wouldn't have survived that long. So it must have been 30 minutes or so that we suffered, bearing the fatal solar-attack. The joke is this: At the box office, we learn admission is free to all European subjects on Wednesdays, and that's why the line was so long. Looking back, perhaps the paying Americans didn't even have to stand in that line...

We rehydrate ourselves with the museum-priced water and wait for our spirits to reboot before viewing the palace.

-I like this photo for its accidental soft glow.-

Rooms after rooms of extravagance, and a long walk. We return to the hotel with aching legs and burnt skin. I would be carcinogenic if eaten, like any overcooked animal.

After a good rest, Cava Baja is our destination for tapas crawling. Tapas bars in this area seem to be less touristy than the area we went to in the previous day (no photos of the dishes, no English menus, but excellent pantomime communication by the kindly bartender) and more sophisticated (with evident modern twists).

What did we have? How did it taste? The specifics of that part of my memory now eludes me. But I remember bocadillos with vivid green paste (distinctively Spanish green) that had a very refreshing taste of condensed spinach. How unexpected!

-A tapas bar window: I know this is just food, but this still feels very wrong!-

The last stop of the day is our beloved Plaza Mayor. We take an outdoor table, and have sangria and Pimientos de Padrón in the cool evening air, gazing at the beautifully lit buildings and perfect cobalt blue sky. We sit there for a while, inebriated with the happiness that flows in abundance in the plaza, amongst the cheery people on their short vacations in their long work year.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Trip to Iberia #7. Lisbon to Madrid

The next day, we have the whole morning to bid a long good-bye to Lisbon.

We takes the early hours visiting the ruins of Converto do Carmo, destroyed in the 1755 Earthquake.

Time stands still in this broken church in its two-and-a-half-century-old mourning.

After that, we ride the famous tourist tram #28 around the town to take one last glimpse of the city.


Realizing we missed a chance to taste the much anticipated caldo verde (kale and potato soup) in Lisbon, we order the dish at McDonald's at the airport. (Yeah, you heard me.) It turns out we've had better caldo verde in the States, but well, we had to give it a shot.

About one hour's flight later, we are thrown into a completely different world altogether. The throbbing giant, a sexy beast, the flaming center of a chaos. Sunny, busy, splashy Madrid. About everything here seems to be making a bold statement. Majestic and prosperous, Madrid is yang to Lisbon's yin.

Our hotel was a hidden gem in the middle of Madrid's China Town. The location got me worried on the first impression, but turned out to be quite convenient (especially for the Mandarin-speaking S.)

At dusk, we took our tour guidebook and ventured out.

-Street signs of Madrid contain pictures.-

-In olden days, rich criminals could pay money to stay in this luxury prison.-

-Plaza Mayor: The old theater for brutal execution of "heretics" and dissidents.-

-Plaza Mayor, stained with its gory past, fascinating and gorgeous.-

-At Plaza Mayor. Navigation is not my forte.-
We strolled all the way to the Royal Palace (which was closed for the day), and then....

...commenced our tapas crawling, not far from Plaza Mayor. I loved grilled pig ears from Oreja de Oro (nutty, gelatinous, and with bits of pleasant resistance to the bite) and the mushrooms from Casa Toni (dense mushroom flavor, sealed within the perfectly browned surfaces of each slice).

-The highlight of the night: Grilled pig ear. Delicious.-

That was a good time...

-You guessed it: Another black cat on our path-

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Trip to Iberia #6. Lisbon Part 3 - The Night at Fado

I know, my dear imaginary reader. This blog entry is supposed to be about fado. But before we get at that, please let me digress a little and make a little tribute to another famous Portuguese art.

The Tiles of Lisbon

If the charming iron-railed balconies struck me as something distinctively Spanish, tiled walls, many of them old and breaking, seemed to me a characteristically Lisbonean charm.

The tiles are obviously an influence from the Moors, but the Portuguese certainly made it something of their own.

-A typical pictorial work, seen in the monastery in Belem -
Old tile works, elaborate and beautifully aged, are quite marvelous.

Some of more recent tile works may be less appealing.

-From a metro station-

-Many buildings there look like this.-

-New tiles seen in Baixa.-

Below is a recent tile work but with a classical approach. Look at the giant rats on the floor. Amazing, considering that this was on the wall of a cafe in Alfama where we had our breakfast one day. (I didn't throw up).

In Alfama, we saw abundance of older tiles with their exquiete charms.

Souvenir Shops: The Good, the Bad, and the Silly

Here are some photos of souvenir shops in Lisbon. (Who needs to buy souvenirs when you can just photograph them?)

And finally...

A Night at Fado

The Bairro Alto neighborhood is populated with countless hole-in-the-wall fado restaurants. Adega do Ribatejo is one of them, and apparently, one of the first to start the nightly fair. When we arrive there, it's all quiet on the fado front in the neighborhood, but this one is in its full swing already, spilling a singing voice and clapping sounds through its little door into the darkening air in the narrow street. Intimidated, we walk around the neighborhood and wait until the merriment subsides before entering the restaurant.

Taking a table at the crammed dining room, we order grilled octopus legs with potato (Excellent!) and another dish of chicken and clam with fried potato. Of course some vinho verde (young wine, typically white and famously Portuguese) as well. The performances resume, and a woman with an eerie resemblance to Susan Boyle sings. She's good really, but is it a smock that she's wearing? I juggle, relishing the irresistible grilled octopus legs before they get cold, prying to give the impression that my full attention is politely directed at the singer, and enjoying the performance, all at the same time. Overall, it is quite a merry scene, with the happy patrons quietly cheering for the performer, and the attractive waitress singing along occasionally.

Upon finishing her third song, the singer walks straight to the kitchen, and puts on an apron. She is the cook of the restaurant! Alrighty?! A convenient arrangement! But then, the host, who had introduced the singer to the audience and has been clumsily opening and closing the electricity control panel over S's head throughout the evening (almost hitting him on the head on several occasions), takes the floor and starts singing. Next, it is the waitress's turn.

She takes the makeshift stage at one side of the dining room next to the two guitar players. About forty or forty-five, with a large coiling metal bracelet and beauty like a sunset. No novice to pain and despair, and all the rest that life has to offer. She sings a mournful song, with a deep crying voice. About lost love, aching longings, or cruel fate, I wouldn't know. I can't understand a word. But her voice, the gut-wrenching wail, grabs me and I almost feel like sobbing (but I refrain). There is something moving about an intense emotion conveyed purely through the physical quality of an expression. Beautifully and devastatingly primordial. To my defense, I had a little too much vinho verde to drink.

Like the other older singer, she goes around hustling to sell her CDs after singing, and I buy one. (Note to self: don't shop while drunk.) Strange to see the person with such a lamenting voice suddenly so friendly and cheerful. But hey, this is real life.

In the days that follow, I try to revisit that night--the strange experience of emotion contagion and an infectious heartache. But by the next morning, the magic is gone, dispelled like a puff of thin smoke, as if the whole evening was just yet another piece of a far and distant dream.

-Adega do Ribatejo-

-Another black cat-