Saturday, 10 October 2009

Conde Hermanos

Having treated myself to a guitar a few weeks ago, I finally made it down to the shop that the guy I bought it from had recommended.

It was an experience. It was a proper guitar shop! Dark, dusty and filled with half-built guitars that the owner makes himself. He's about 150 years old and, needless to say, speaks no English. In I marched, completely unprepared, ready to get a case, some new strings and theoretically to ask him to replace one of the tuning heads at some point.

After much gesticulating, the case was easy enough though it took many repetitions of "menos cara" til I got the cheapest one he sold. The strings should have been easier but turned out to be more difficult. Had I spotted the big display of them under the dusty counter I could have pointed, but the charades were much more fun. The tuning head I just couldn't fathom at all. He got what the item was that I was on about, but trying to explain that I wanted to take the guitar in and get him to fit it, failed dismally. He got a huge box of tuning heads out and I just bought one to get it over with! By this point, his equally ancient wife/assistant had come out from the back room (where presumably they hide the bodies) to "help". Debbie was finding the whole thing very entertaining.

In all the excitement I completely forgot to buy a capo, so a few days later, I had to go back in there on my own. As soon as I walked through the door, he said "Ah, hola, .........." something else very fast in Spanish! Then he shouted to his wife "That English girl's here again". I don't know if he just assumed I wouldn't understand cos my Spanish had been so appalling the first time. Still, I got a capo and a very big smile out of both of them!

It was just as well I didn't ask to give one of his handmade guitars a try, cos I'm sure I would have had to buy it!

Now I just need my huge stack of music sent over from the UK and I'm sorted.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Damn dawn delights

Sunrise from the window of the Ministry of the Environment, before my class!

In the words of The Monkees, and if I had my way, "the six o'clock alarm would never ring".

On the 21st of September 2009, I "officially" became employed again. Yes, I'd had private students before the summer, but now I had a real job. With a contract (though I've not actually seen it yet!), and proper pay - hurrah - minus tax - boo!

The day before my first class, I did the sensible thing and made a reccy out to the Ministry of the Environment, to time the journey and make sure I could find it. Easy enough. 5 stops on the Metro and a 7 minute walk down one straight road! Even I can do that. Having found it, I decided to take a stroll back a different way and to a different Metro station. The area between Nuevos Ministerios, Rios Rosas and Cuatro Caminos is really nice. If I were to move, I'd quite like to go there. During my wander I found a cool looking wine shop, the very posh Scuela Italian de Madrid, a Pilates centre, a million pastelerias with their tempting window displays, a great little travel bookshop, a couple of tempting restaurants, the beautiful Antigua Hospedal de Maudes (now some kind of council building) and my absolute favourite - a kitchen furniture/equipment shop called, in a particularly un-PC fashion "ForLady"!!!

Anyway, work! It's going pretty well, if I say so myself. My 2 students at the ministry are a director and a sub-director. The director is nice but scary. She's clearly something very, very high up and has an office that wouldn't look out of place in the White House. I'm meant to teach her every Monday and Wednesday morning at 8.15 but so far she's cancelled every Wednesday due to work commitments. I only get paid for a cancelled class if they cancel with less than 12 hours' notice - damn. The sub-director, however, is absolutely lovely. She's happy, bubbly, smiley, enthusiastic, does yoga and belly dancing and seems to find pretty much everything I say funny. I'm keeping my fingers crossed and taking that as a good thing!

As I said, the only down side is the early morning start. Alarm goes off at 6.30 and I'm out the door at 7.20. It's kind of weird being back in the normal working routine and going to the Metro station with all the other commuters! My Metro routine is to listen to my MP3 player all the way there, then pick up a free paper as I exit the station so that on the way back after class I can listen to more music, but read up on the news in Spanish. It's a hilarious free paper - it carries the important stories but mostly it's about Madrid and its suburbs. In that great way that those kind of local publications do, it has amusing stories about, for instance, a car being abandoned on a street corner in one of the suburbs. If that's the most exciting thing that happens there, well......!!

Getting into the Ministry has at least got easier and faster. On my first day, the security desk didn't have the requisite authorisation email about me and they wouldn't let me in! A couple of frantic phone calls to the school didn't help as it was out of hours so I just got the machine. Finally, I went back to the security desk and asked if I could at least phone my student on the internal phone to explain that I was there, I had actually turned up and that I would see her at the next lesson. The security guy rang her office, and 2 minutes later, I was in! I guess he rang the student himself and if she's as important as she seems, she probably just said "Let my teacher in!"

So, there it is. I'm working. I even got my first pay cheque on the 1st of October. It's all gone, of course!!!

Debbie's birthday decadence

September 27th not only saw the end of the reunion, but Debbie's birthday! Yay!

A small affair, due to various people being out of town - Debbie, Moira and I celebrated together. We met at Cafe Delic in Plaza de Paja, a plaza that I discovered was a total nightmare to actually find! Despite looking very easy on a map, I walked round and round (round what turned out to be the outside walls of the square!) for about half an hour, trying to find the way in. Finally, with the help of Moira on her mobile and her map which actually had street names marked (always helpful) I found them.

They were just reaching the end of a mojito each (which when the bill came and they turned out to be €9 each, I was glad I'd missed!). Being a birthday, cava was the order of the day. The waiter initially looked a little dubious as to whether they had any or not, but then came back with 3 very cute, individual bottles (much more reasonable at €3 each), 2 proper champagne flutes and a short, fat tumbler (no, not the acrobatic kind from the circus!). He apologised for not having 3 champagne glasses! As if that mattered. We were tempted to decadently swig it out of the bottle but propriety won out in the end.

Despite the desire for another cava, we decided to resist and walked all of 10 metres to Viva La Vida, a vegetarian food-sold-by-weight buffet restaurant we'd heard so much about but never been in. WOW! What a revelation! Like veggie heaven. First, the place itself is beautiful - all hippy and mad decor. But the food is just amazing. There must have been around 30 different dishes to choose from and that was just the savoury stuff. There were various croquetas, polenta cakes, pastas, fresh veg, salads, roasted vegetables, falafels, you name it, it was there. Loads of sauces, and pots of toppings (sesame seeds, pine kernels etc). Basically, you choose a size of plate, load up whatever you want and they weigh it. It's €2.10 per 100g. Now admittedly 100g isn't very much depending on the density of the food on your plate, but we threw caution to the wind! My plate cost €18 which is probably more than I'd spent on one plate of food since I got here. But to hell with it. It was absolutely delicious and it was more veggie food than I'd seen in 6 months. I may just move in there.

The desserts all looked good but I was so stuffed I could only manage a tiny little biscuit thing that cost me all of 67 centimos!

With that I took my leave of them, at a very civilised 10.30pm and headed home ready for my 6.30 am alarm call for the start of week 2 of teaching.

So - on here at least, happy birthday again Debbie, and no, I haven't forgotten I owe you a present. Forthcoming when the bank balance allows!

Raucous reunion

The weekend of 25-27 September saw the long-awaited reunion of at least half of the group from the Vaughan Town I did at the beginning of August.
Marta, Nacho and I had become the unofficial organisers of the whole thing, so come the Friday morning, I found myself with a long piece of paper containing the names, mobile numbers, planned arrival times, accommodation details and who knows what else of the group. They were arriving by various methods and all through the day - apart from those of us who live in Madrid of course.
First to touch down was Roz who came into Barajas and then found her way to the lobby of Kim's hotel to wait. Then Kim arrived - we had a very girly, screamy reunion of our own as she came out through arrivals, and then headed off to her hotel. Or we would have, if she'd had any idea of what it was called or where it was! Now I realise I had become the weekend organiser, but I wasn't aware that that stretched to knowing where she was staying or how to get there. With the help of various people on the street and finally Roz, we made it.
We spent a lovely afternoon after she'd checked in, first at La Mallorquina (great tea/cake shop on Sol) with Pedro, who was moving to Dublin the next day. It was great that he could manage to catch up with just a few of us before going to his own leaving party in the evening.

Over the course of the evening we managed to track down/meet as planned with: Carlos (known to me as Luis, long story), Mercedes, Margarita, Maria V, Nacho, Marta, Ana Belen and Geraldine. Oh, and Marta's brother and Margarita's husband! We moved around the area near Plaza Mayor for most of the evening, from bar to bar, attempting to eat but in 2 places failing, once due to no room and once due to no food! The travelling finally caught up with people and we drifted off.
On the Saturday, people went out in disparate groups. Kim and I met Roz, Geraldine and Marta at Plaza Espana and we went for a lovely walk all around the Temple of Debod, Palacio Real, Jardines de Sabatini, had a late lunch, sat in the sun, talked a lot and generally chilled.
In the evening, 12 of us made it to dinner at Bardemcilla (owned by the Spanish actor, Javier Bardem). What a great place! Google it - even the online menu is funky! Margarita's husband came out again, and this time Maria Angeles came and brought her husband along too. Halfway through the evening, we had some bad news and some great news.
The bad news was that one of the Anglo participants on the program had been involved in a really bad car accident 5 weeks earlier in Ibiza, and had been in hospital there ever since, with a severely injured pelvis and will have to learn to walk again. Poor Ali. We've heard from her since and she's very positive, bless her!
The good news was - JOSÉ LUIS was coming - as a surprise guest! Without a shadow of a doubt, the loveliest, most gorgeous, most popular (with both sexes!) guy on the whole program, and I know everyone else would agree. He'd said he wouldn't be able to make it due to work commitments, but he drove all the way down from Santander, with a work colleague, to come to the restaurant! The reaction from our table when he walked in probably made people think some film star had just entered! It was really good to see him, and his work colleague (Haagen from Germany) was equally lovely and entertaining! After dinner, we all headed to Chueca and took over a huge corner outside a great bar, that was full to overflowing with drag queens and various same/mixed/indeterminate sex couples and groups. We talked and drank til the small hours but finally admitted defeat!
On Sunday, most of us met up again, this time in the lobby of José Luis' hotel. The majority went off in search of culture by way of the Prado and the Thyssen. Roz and I, being the uncultured heathens that we are, went to the Retiro and just sat in the sun and chatted for a couple of hours. Roz then headed off on the train to Alcala de Henares to visit other friends and I went to find the rest in the Thyssen gift shop (generally the only bit of an art gallery you can drag me into!)

We went for lunch nearby and then it was time for everyone to head their separate ways. The usual 30 minute goodbye scene took place on the street and it was over!
It had been a lovely weekend, full of laughter, chat, fun, silliness, seriousness (Margarita had a totally life-changing experience the week after our program and is clearly very, very happy - good for her!), and a reminder of what good friends we had made on the program.
Whatever other nonsense might be going on with those programs at the moment, the fact remains that they're great experiences that always result in new friends being made, some programs more concretely than others. This was just one of those very special programs.
So thank you to everyone who made the effort to come, thanks to those who couldn't come but sent messages, and to the rest - see you sometime in the future. There is talk of this becoming an annual event so we'll keep you all posted!

Lazy, lazy, lazy blogger

I know, I know, I've been really bad and not blogged for ages. I could come up with various excuses but I won't.

So get your reading heads on - it's a quiet night here in the flat and I'm recovering from last night, so what the hell. Several blogs to be blitzed.

>>>>>>>>>>> TBC!