Sunday, 14 February 2010

Is it art?

Or is it just a bunch of crap hanging on walls, that inexplicably people will pay good money for?

Last Saturday, my flatmate and I decided it was time to get some "culture". Neither of us, by our own admission, are that interested in art, but we live in a city with allegedly 3 of the best art galleries ever! The Prado, the Thyssen and the Reina Sofia. We plumped for the Reina Sofia cos it was free on a Saturday afternoon.

Having stuffed ourselves full of patatas bravas, huevos y fritos and, in Nat's case, calamares, along with a large beer, we joined the other freebie-seekers at the gallery.

4 floors. 4 floors of.......? Well, excuse me for appearing un-cultured, but in my opinion, 4 floors of shite. In the entire place, I found around 10 paintings I actually liked - 7 by Dali who I already knew I was a fan of, and 3 previously unseen. They were: Procesion de la Muerte by José Gutierra Solana, Un Mundo by Angeles Santos Torroella and a pencil drawing of a Basque Cemetery by Dario de Regoyos (can't find that one on the net).

As for Guernica by Picasso, supposedly the piéce de resistance and the gallery's pride and joy - all I can say is I have absolutely no idea what all the fuss is about. I've heard people going on about this painting ever since I arrived. "Oh you must go to the Reina Sofia, at least to see Guernica" etc etc. Well, now I have. And I wish I hadn't bothered. It's smaller than I expected and to me, just looks like another Picasso except it's black and white.

Maybe we were unlucky. Maybe sometimes the temporary exhibitions are better and we just picked the wrong week. There was a lot of modern and cubist art on show, neither of which do anything for me at all. And I'm afraid that the signs above some of the rooms proclaiming "Experimental, neo-modern" etc (isn't neo-modern some kind of tautology?) put us off even sticking our heads round the door.

After about 2 hours we were done, somewhat disillusioned and consoled ourselves with a glass of red at a local bar and headed home! Not a total waste of an afternoon as at least we can now say we've been there, but I won't be going back any time soon.

Birthday weekend 2010

I know it's nearly 2 weeks since my birthday but I've been, you know, busy!

It barely feels like a year since my last birthday, spent in the UK having a blast with my friends, but yet the next one rolled around and crept up on me, as they do.

On Thursday evening my ex-flatmate, Eve, arrived in town from Dublin so we met up and went to the mad, packed sidreria near Sol with Julie, Jorge, Louise, Susan, Philip, and Debbie. We quaffed sangria and beer, and were regularly disturbed by a big group of lads next to us who, depending on which one of them you talked to, were either from Asturias, Romania or various other global origins. Wherever it was, one of them decided that what we needed to experience was him projectile vomiting all over the floor of the bar, wiping his mouth and then grabbing the rest of his group to move on somewhere else. We weren't sorry to see them go but were sorry that the staff made no attempt to clean the floor before we left, carefully stepping round the offending puddle!

On Friday afternoon, Kim arrived from Alcoy and joined in the fun. We headed to Bar Ave Fenix where the regular Friday evening meetup happens, though we stayed in the upstairs bar and let the language practice happen downstairs without us (much to Julie's annoyance when she found us skiving!) Having hung around there for a while, a group of us headed off to yet another sidreria down the road for late night nosh. After rather too many beers, there's nothing like a table groaning with carbs - bread, patatas bravas, tortilla and some very good pimientos al padron. We unexpectedly made the last Metro, or at least some of us did, saving ourselves for the Saturday!

Saturday (my actual birthday) lunchtime saw 5 of us finally making it to the Retiro (Madrid's main park) to go boating on the lake. I'd been meaning to do it since I arrived but Eve was absolutely desperate, having failed to take the plunge (not literally, fortunately) despite living here nearly a year, and coming back for a visit. So 1pm, hangovers aside, found the 5 of us split over 2 boats, Debbie and I in one, and Eve, Kim and Louise in the other. Louise was entirely unsure of the wisdom of this, not being the biggest fan of water or boats (not sure which) but we basically bullied her into getting in. Debbie and I, if I say so myself, made a damn good show of rowing ourselves round the lake though the strong wind that picked up at the end threatened to spin us round in circles rather a lot. The other boat turned out to be a fantastic lesson in how to row backwards. I never quite worked out how they did it, but somehow Kim and Eve, with an oar each, kept the boat going with the flat end (yes, I'm sure it has a name) forwards, instead of the pointy end!

45 minutes later and we were back on dry ground, and heading off to find lunch. Nat came to join us at Cafe El Espéjo on Recoletos for some very good bocadillos. I was alarmed to find myself the only person who ordered an alcoholic drink - but it was my birthday, after all!

Then it was time to head back to the flat and prepare for the "get-together". Drinks and nibbles were laid out beautifully by Kim, things were shifted round a little so that people could actually sit down and then I waited for the doorbell to ring. I'd told people to come from 8, which seemed ridiculously early for the Spanish, yet by about 9.30 almost everyone had arrived. I may have slightly underestimated the number of people who would actually show up, and consequently was having a slight panic around 11pm when there appeared to be somewhere in the region of 21 people here! At least I did actually know them all. There were old faces and new (some older than others!) and everyone seemed to have fun chatting, catching up with unexpected friends, demolishing the crisps, bread, pizza, houmous etc and making serious inroads into the bottles. Richi had been making his famous Cosmopolitans which kept everyone going, then Jorge arrived clutching the ingredients for 10 litres of sangria, including a gigantic purple plastic tub to make it in! It was damn good sangria too, although certain people who shall remain nameless saw fit to spike it a bit later in the evening with rum and Cointreau!

I was entirely embarrassed by the number of presents people brought - thank you all! In no particular order I was lucky enough to receive: 7 bottles of very good red wine, cider, Ferrero Rocher, Swiss chocolate, hot chocolate mix (plus miniature whisk), an Irish art calendar, special bread from Jaen, an olive-wood belt, a beautiful mounted print, a photo frame, a beer cooler, a scarf, a top, a silver necklace, 3 CDs, more chocolate, handmade soap, a very amusing book, a bracelet, beer, and probably some things I have failed to list (apologies!). And 2 jars of Marmite - yay! My friends in the UK who sadly weren't able to come sent money with strict instructions to spend it on sangria and beer (not a problem!) and I received some more dosh that I have yet to spend!

Roz, a friend I met last summer, arrived at nearly 1am, having flown in from Cambridge late after work so it was lovely of her to come, albeit briefly. By around 1.30am there were about 9 people left so we retired to the living room, put on some background music and just chatted and laughed til the early hours.

I finally disappeared under the duvet at 6 but was back up at 10 tidying up and getting ready to go out and meet Kim again. She treated me to lunch at my favourite vegetarian restaurant, La Isla del Tesoro before we wandered around the shops in Fuencarral then she had to head to the airport. Eve came round in the evening for more chatting, reminiscing about her time living at the flat and plotting her return to Madrid!

Exhausted but very happy, my birthday weekend came to an end and life returned to some semblance of normality. But huge thanks to: Eve, Kim, Roz, Julie (& 3 friends!), Nat, Jorge, the other Jorge, Debbie, Louise, Pedro, Moira, Philip, Mariano, Richi, Richard, Nacho, Almu, Javi, Carmen, Rafa and Celia for making my first birthday in Madrid so memorable.

Random photos by me, and stolen from friends can be found here