El Parc Natural del Delta de l’Ebre

25 10 2013
Parc Natural del Delta de l'Ebre
Parc Natural del Delta de l'Ebre Parc Natural del Delta de l'Ebre

The city’s yet new, but weekend nature escapes feel just right. This time, amiga Maite invites me to el Delta del Ebro, Ebre en Catalan.

I have (very) vague memories of Histories of Spain 365 with Chris. There was some mention that the Peninsula was drier than you might expect, and I’m sure there was a quiz question about the major rivers that I missed. I do remember the name Ebro, though. The etymology of Iberian derives from it.

Where fresh meets salt, the shallowest of islands are swallowed up in seagulls. The short cruise we take doesn’t swing by close enough for a proper shot of the birds, but I’m pretty sure I note a faint “Mine? Mine?” in the humid air anyway.

Parc Natural del Delta de l'Ebre Parc Natural del Delta de l'Ebre
Parc Natural del Delta de l'Ebre

Post-boat, we head to Casa de Fusta, an institution in the Delta since 1926. The whole area is covered in swampy rice fields; the grains here are so renowned they actually carry their own D.O.P. to ensure the enthusiast of quality.

We split the menú de desgustación plus a few extra special entrantes between the table. The menú is a wide amalgamation of goodies from the sea, including brandada de bacalao, cigalas y sepia con cebolla y patatas, y arroz caldoso con rape y langostinos.

I’ve been promised that one may enjoy ortiguillas rebozadas – fried anemone – in this area, and so request it. They’re the mysterious breaded gooballs pictured above. Ñam!

Parc Natural del Delta de l'Ebre
Parc Natural del Delta de l'Ebre Parc Natural del Delta de l'Ebre

The terrain here is so flat that people build lookout points to be able to take a proper survey. There are 316 species of birds that make the Delta their home. Elongated necks and beaks can be seen picking about the fields from up here for kilometers.

Parc Natural del Delta de l'Ebre
Parc Natural del Delta de l'Ebre Parc Natural del Delta de l'Ebre

Post-rice feast, we take a much needed long walk on Playa de la Marquesa.

Parc Natural del Delta de l'Ebre
Parc Natural del Delta de l'Ebre Parc Natural del Delta de l'Ebre

Sea to one side, rice to the other, and this tiny strip of sand in between.

Parc Natural del Delta de l'Ebre

Weekends are just so much longer this way.





Bem-vindas a Lisboa

24 03 2013

[I’ll have to come back and properly mess with these snaps later; precious Lisboa time ought not to be spent Photoshopping!]

A Justin Faust DJ set in Lux enticed me out to Lisboa last year with my dance floor comrade-in-arms Seán for my 25th birthday. A trip from Madrid to Portugal seemed somehow unattractive at first, perhaps due to the ultra cheap flights (if it’s so cheap, it can’t possibly be any good?) and the feeling that it was the default choice for every single English auxiliar in the city.

Wrongo, kemosabe. (does anyone else even say that? Google yields a mere six hits. after exploring the etymology of rooming/cherrywinking last night, I feel my speech may be irreconcilably colloquial) I immediately fell for Lisboa, the red roofs and the crumbling tiles, the city’s veranda overlooking the beckoning sea. It was the clear choice for the next Short-Haired Ladies excursion, and I volleyed and volleyed hard.

Janet was a tricky sell. Seems our friend Anthony Bourdain did a show on Lisboa that left her lackluster, and it took promises of northern wine region exploration to ply her. Yesterday evening in Madrid, she still held out as we contemplated the trip in front of us, offering pre-disappointment in the Portuguese capital.

Might as well say it again: Wrongo, kemosabe.

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The “20-minute flight” – in reality a little over an hour, but Portugal is in a different time zone – affords weary heads a chance to rest. We’re greeted in the airport by enthusiastic driver Felipe, doubling as our Sintra guide tomorrow. We zip into the Bairro Alto, and a few stairs later are atop our private rooftop terrace at Zuzabed. Oh my. Oh yes.

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There’s a distinct temptation to just sit and stare at the amalgamation of color and form stretched out in front of us. Lisboa is breathtaking. I’m awash once more with ideas of moving here (the how seems distinctly less important than the red-roofed why).

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Zuzabed host Carlos highlights a few key destinations on a map; I take note as the Designated Navigator (luckily, unlike driving, this combines well with vinho).

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In addition to proving an excellent source of information, Carlos is more than kind, personally escorting us to the top of the Santa Justa Lift for a bird’s eye view of the city. The zh-zh-zh is practically audible from here. We dive in, beelining it to Carlos’ number one lunch spot recommendation.

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Casa Da Índia is a seriously unassuming joint just outside of Bairro Alto, one we never would have poked into or even given a second glance otherwise. The common tables are teeming with locals, overflowing metallic serving dishes, and bottle after bottle of wine. We trust in Carlos’ suggestions for eats and ask for the salada de polvo, which is a many-suckered vehicle for excellent olive oil and piquant points of onion.

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The arroz de marisco is equally blissful, blossoming with succulent mussels and shrimp in their shells. We could do without the Krab, but the savoriness of the rice is more than enough to distract.

Accompanied by a bottle of white vinho verde – “green” in the sense that it’s made from immature grapes, has a simple flavor and is meant to be enjoyed within a year of harvesting – it’s a bem-vindas a Portugal feast. We munch til we can munch no more.

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The sun loves us as we gleefully skip through the Chiado district. We somehow acquire a couple pairs of colorful pants on the way.

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Cafe A Ginjinha is a must-stop for me; I adored the delectable berry liqueur the last time I was in Lisboa, and have been passively (and fruitlessly) seeking it in Madrid ever since. The usual custom is to purchase just a shot and then drink it standing in the plaza, but Carlos has suggested that we may well snag a whole bottle and tote it henceforth to the shoreline in Belém. Groovy.

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We tram it to Belém. Tickets may be purchased aboard the iconic yellow transport, but only with coinage, of which we have far too little to cover fare for all three. Whoops. After managing to eke one ticket out of our combined cash, we guiltily sit down anyway and hope for the best. Nothing comes of it, of course – but we resolve to somehow acquire tickets in advance for the return journey.

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Belém is best known for its pastéis, baked custard sweets which originated here and spread all over the country. Folk will assure you that these are the only true pastéis, that only four people know the secret recipe, that anything else is a mere imitation, a faux tart, a sham pastry – but if you ask me, any pastéi is an excellent pastéi. We enjoy them with coffee.

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The Padrão dos Descobrimentos inspires. Land ho!

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The shoreline is a ripe place to pop open the ginjinha. I love it and reminisce. Janet and MP are less enthusiastic. Looks like I have 95% of a bottle to cart back.

The time comes to take our leave of Belém, and I’m charged with asking that-guy-over-there if he might sell tram tickets. Não, you must go to the post office for that – it’s down the street. Bom, I take off. After waiting ages in line and faking comprehending amusement at the apparently hilarious conversation of the locals in front of me, I manage an exchange in total crap Portuguese that results in paydirt. Três pessoas, três cartões, um viagem por cartão. I am liking this. Zh-zh.

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The tram takes ages to return to Lisboa, and we have a place in mind for sunset, so we scoot a boot back up the hills to drop off our acquired goodies at Zuzabed. Along the route, the façades are simply splendid.

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A taxi takes us through a glut of rush hour traffic to the ferry station, and we hop a boat to Cacilhas. The sky is quickly darkening and sunset appears to be a no-show today – ah well. We press on.

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We’re seeking a spot Carlos has mentioned this morning as being ideal for “sitting in blankets and drinking red wine.” I’ve seen where it is on Google maps, but the apparent path to arrive is utterly devoid of life, and our intrepidness peters out after about 500 meters, we begin to doubt. Luckily Zuzabed gives its guests pre-charged Portuguese cell phones specifically for use in such a calamity, and we give our man a ring. He reassures us – yes, keep walking, yes, it’s perfectly safe. Onward.

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O Ponto Final. And it is – there is absolutely nothing else out here. A mini-pier with tables juts out into the water.

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We sit here at the furthest point out, surrounded by lapping waters on three sides. Nighttime Lisboa sparkles from across the way. The wind drives us to seek shelter within a few minutes, though, and we take another table protected by a wall.

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Vinho verde, sauteed olives, marinated sardines. The sea.

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MP notices a few clients with the aforementioned blankets and thinks how wise it would have been to bring some. But – ho! – what’s this? Someone else emerges from within the restaurant carting similar-looking sheets. MP investigates and is rewarded, big time. We huddle like babushkas and drink our wine.

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The ferry back offers an opportunity to rest our weary dogs.

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Today is a celebration of modes of transport; we’ve gone from taxi to bus to plane to car to foot to tram to ferry. One last taxi and we’re at BA Wine Bar in Bairro Alto. A selection of cheese, a local red, crooning Adele along with a coquettish singer – and that just about does it for the evening.

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Good Friday night. Good return to Lisboa. Good night, sweet prince.





Lyon: Vieux Lyon, Le Bouchon Des Filles, L’Arc en Ciel

18 03 2013

Sugared slices of Galette de Pérouges at Evasion Loft this morning. Bonjour!

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We heard rain slake down on our skylight throughout our sleep, and today’s Lyon is blustery but mercifully dry. Most everything is closed Sundays, so we head to the Vieux Lyon district, where the tourist trade keeps a few spots still open for business.

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The patchy gray skies wash out the soft khaki tones of old Lyon, but the striking architectural forms cut strong across the contrasting clouds.

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The area is peppered by bouchons, specifically Lyonnaise restaurants specializing in local goodies and a convivial atmosphere. We decide that everything written in chalk on a blackboard automatically looks appealing. I score a small treasure at an antique print shop called Le Bois Debout, and we minimally peruse a craft fair along the bank of the tempestuous Saône.

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We’ve about an hour and a half until our lunch, and MP suggests a warm respite with tea. Excellent. We settle into a salon de thé offering massive creamy cakes and praline everything, but resist and chastely sip our teas and study our French (Je voudrais une cuve de vin rouge. Que recommandez-vous?).

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Vogueing is not exactly in the cards given the gale, but crossing yet another bridge pitching to and fro calls for another breakneck photo session. Seriously, we’re nearly carried off by the unpredictable gusts of freezing French wind – gnarly.

MP’s stored a map of how to arrive at our lunching destination on her phone, but it’s not to be found at the indicated location, and the cold’s making us rather eager to arrive. I end up piecing together a semi-coherent question to ask at a nearby boulangerie. And hey, I get a perfectly intelligible gestured answer in return! Score one for team Rick Steves.

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Le Bouchon Des Filles is run by just two women. It’s immediately warm and unassuming upon entrance. The animated groups of French folk munching their extended Sunday lunch remind me of nowhere so much as Asturias, where the typical regional eats are also served family-style.

The servers – who, we are guessing, double as the owners – speak zero English to us, but offer very accessible French explanations, and seem not to mind my constant “comment?Un pot de vin rouge is obtained – not quite a vat, but it’ll do. It arrives with three salads – one leafy and vinegared with lardons and superchewy croutons, one with creamy puy lentils and smoked fish, and one of crunchy cabbages and walnuts. We could sup on simply this and be more than satisfied.

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MP goes for a quenelle, which we saw all over Les Halles yesterday and is ultra-typical of Lyon. It’s delicious, unchallenging, hot and mild in a buttery sauce.

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There is no other choice for me but the boudin noir. Given how much I adore morcilla and nam tok, I simply must have the Lyonnaise take on blood sausage. Gourmet vampiric ecstasy.

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Crème glacée de fruits de la passion! Tarte de maison de caramel et noix! Fromage, fromage, fromage! It’s all parfait, but no way can we possibly ingest this much post-plat. A few nibbles of each, a shot of espresso, and it’s bedtime for bonzo (for one of the bonzos. the other doubles up on the caffeine and proceeds to toil with her ink and quill).

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Our satiety has not abated upon waking (isn’t it the opposite problem for most folk? we are the very definition of Lucky Duck), and we muse about what options are open for a chilly Sunday evening in Lyon. MP recalls write-ups of spectacular city views from the bar at the Radisson, and an inquiry with Thérèse confirms this to be a promising plan. She offers a small libation for us and another pair of guests before we head out – a choice of homemade liqueurs, either spiced orange or heady walnut. The walnut is sweetly splendid – Thérèse makes it herself by soaking still-green nuts in fruity red wine for months.

We talk B&Bs and TripAdvisor. Thérèse shares a video of a promotion that Nespresso recently held in Evasionimpressionnant!

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L’Arc en Ciel turns out to be just the thing. Lyon at night is resplendent from above, particularly in contrast to how frigid we know it to be down below. It’s overpriced, but you simply know you’re paying for the view, and a glass each of red plus charcuterie will just about do it. We also sample Saint-Marcellin, a Lyonnaise cow’s milk cheese so soft it is practically liquid inside. It reminds me faintly of Torta del Casar, but is better. That’s right, better.

Don’t mope, Spain. You’ll always have jamón.





Lyon: Traboules, Les Halles, Au 14 Février Vieux Lyon

17 03 2013
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Morning at Evasion Loft brings piquant homemade rhubarb jam, fresh pastries dotted with vermillion pralines, and top-notch new company. International small talk is a surprisingly pleasing accompaniment to plentiful black coffee.

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Lyon by daylight is sunny and brisk. The bare branches nicely reflect the simple elegance of the French urban architecture. We embark on a walking loop around a few of the northern arrondissements that Thérèse has plotted out on our map.

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A boggling assortment of olive oils on the way hooks us and reels us in. The shopkeep at A l’Olivier proffers an extensive tasting, and we’re shortly inundated in distilled essence of basil, truffle, and lemon zest. The selection of vinegars is formidable, in particular a 10-year-old balsamic both creamy and intoxicating. We make a note to pick up an item or two on our way back later.

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The walking loop takes us through several traboules, winding foot-traffic passageways used in the transportation of silk through the city as far back as the 4th century. They appear almost private – some of the entrances are through doorways – and at first we wonder if we might be trespassing. Good thing Rick Steves has taught us “Désolé, je suis touriste.

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The view of the city at the apex of the loop is outstanding. La basilique de Notre-Dame de Fourvière and la tour métallique emblematically mark the Lyonnaise skyline.

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Wandering this neighborhood is sweetness – here and there are traces of alt-culture, thoughtful graffiti, a dojo. Cassoulet, Whisky, Ping-Pong seems probably magnificent.

We stumble across an open market up here on the hill and do our absolute best not to slaver over the dripping poulets and fresh fromage.

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The loop ends in la place des Terreaux, marked by the elaborate horses of la Fontaine Bartholdi.

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The walking and the cold have us eager to reach our lunching destination, but not so much that we don’t take a pause to vogue on the footbridge. The wind causes it to lurch disturbingly; we make haste shortly after snagging the shots.

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Lunch at Les Halles is an obvious must. We love markets wherever we go (see: Barcelona’s La Boqueria, Huay Kwang in Bangkok, Sunday market in Tolosa – to name just a few), and Les Halles is where the top chefs in Lyon purportedly do their shopping. Pictured is a tiny slice of the overwhelming selection – were we to live here, we would most certainly pick up a pâté pyramid and a chicken complete with feathered head and blue feet. The candied peppers intrigue as well.

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Spying a seafood stall specializing in les coquillages eases the impossibility of choosing, particularly when we note a table enjoying a selection of urchins. I’ve gushed over the Asturian oricios such that MP wants a few oursins of her own, so we stumble our way through the French: une sélection de coquillages, s’il vous plaît? huîtres, non? et oursins, c’est possible?

The photos denote our success. Six enormous oysters (from Normandy?), clams of all variety, and a trio of urchins, one each from Brittany, Iceland, and Galicia. Add slightly sour brown bread, butter, and a cold carafe of house white – parfait.

The oysters are predictably spectacular, and the distinct character of each clam holds its own. The urchins have an order – first Brittany, then Iceland, and finishing with Galicia – and their gooey umami pleases to no end. The Galician is by far my favorite; it’s assertively briny while the other two are much more subtle. For the uninitiated, the texture is a bit like okra – slimy, yes, but it is the loveliest of slimes.

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Cheese is not, strictly speaking, necessary. And yet.

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David Lebovitz-beloved Bernachon just happens to be across the way from Evasion Loft. The ladies seem bemused that we only want one orangette and one brandied truffle, but that is simply how we roll.

And roll we do, right into the arms of a three-hour nap (some of us, anyway. others dedicate themselves to placating you, dear readers).

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How can it be evening already? Weren’t we just urchin-ing, wine-and-cheese-ing? Do we do anything besides eat? No, we do not. We gussy ourselves in preparation for our grand gastronomic venture of the trip.

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It is impossible to get a reservation at the much-lauded Au 14 Février Vieux Lyon. And yet.

We occupy one of four tables. The night’s only seating opens with salmon, ham, and caviar nested in poppy seed waffle compartments, shooters of lobster and parmesan foam, and a slice of sausage embedded in crispy wafer-thin brioche. The following surprise eight-course menu is currently entitled Q.E.D., and the only selection to be made is wine. The four-glass accompaniment sounds about right.

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1: Egg yolk and mustard foam. Salad greens, sprouts and radish slices in rice wafer shell.

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2: Crab, mango, avocado, green apple, vinegar gelatin, walnuts, green onion, dill.

3: Chorizo, basil, peas and their shoots, orange peel, beurre blanc.

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4: Foie gras, radishes, beet, beet compote.

5: Sea bass, celery, carrot, macha, beurre noisette.

6: Entrecôte, macha, shallot, asparagus, red pepper compote, artichoke, greens.

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Cheese course: an outstanding brie, a charming Comté, a stupefying Roquefort.

7: Champagne foam, acidic fruit cocktail.

8: Chocolate dome melted with hot raspberry sauce. Hidden underneath are cubes of chocolate mousse and cake, cherries, and mascarpone ice cream.

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Ending sweets: macaron, macha marshmallow, and a small sugary truffle filled with Calvados. MP attempts to bite it in half, causing it to dribble; she giggles all over the place and documents my reaction.





Cahorros, Granada, and Resilience

9 02 2013

In my continued lack of ability to spend even one weekend available in Madrid, last Friday I hopped a bus to Granada to see great friend and ex-housemate David. His company in Madrid declared bankruptcy several months back, and he’s moving to Chile in a few weeks to seek his fortune as a university professor. I know he’ll find success anywhere, but damn do I wish it could have been here. Santiago’s tougher to impulsively access than Andalucía.

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It was my fourth time visiting Granada, which meant no pesky obligations to See the Sights. The highlight was a morning walk through Cahorros de Monachil, a simple route marked by the occasionally ultra-skinny paths with exaggeratedly low clearance. My miniature frame was built for Cahorros, and I found glee gnoming my way around the rock overhangs.

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I shudder in the wake of David’s impending move. It isn’t just that my current closest friend in the city is moving on, although that’s certainly a cinematically appropriate motif (see: Heather, Alexandra, Sevi, James, Sean. y’all reading? miss. <3). Like all such nagging undercurrents of melencholia, this one has multiple roots. The homestretch of wintertime is one, I know. Ditto yet another year as an English auxiliar, which I find rewarding in a few ways but terribly restricting in others.

I keep circling around the verb to invest, attempting to clarify just what it is that merits meaningful deposits, along with how that might be done. How do I act on the micro level of the present such that it supports a macro level image of the future? Because my premonitions are big (huge), I refuse to downsize, refuse to settle. However, this kind of massive payout simply doesn’t result from getting cozy.

One recent struggle has been with the idea of being alone versus acting as a lone agent. It’s not easy for me to get interpersonally vulnerable, even though I do see that there’s much value that can come out of such a state. I keep flirting with it, possibly to my own detriment. I feel swallowed up by the intensity of emotions set free, by allowing felt truth its full and natural space. The response ought not be to withdraw, I’m convinced, even though it’s admittedly my primary impulse. Rather, the aim is resilience.

Dynamicism (I don’t care that that word doesn’t seem to mean what I wish it meant. You get me.) used to be my rallying call, embracing curly-haired chaos by its golden locks, a holographic double rainbow whirling dervish, reveling in the unpredictable intensity of both the pain and the glory. That lustful seed’s always been within me, cultivated by Bangkok and imported to Madrid. I do treasure it, but I no longer identify with it, and I think that’s why it’s felt so achingly empty as of late when I overhear myself chanting refrains more hollow than hallowed.

Springiness, malleability, flexibility, adaptability. Indefatigability. Intestinal fortitude, dammit. Moxie. Guts. The truth will not swallow me, no. I will cook truth over open flame for dinner, accompany it with a bottle of Bierzo, beam it out from my glossy painted fingernails. Time and truth combined are a resource more precious than any other, and I’m lucky enough to have both in spades. These are what I will invest. Watch me take them and run.





Looking to Cuenca

5 02 2013
Cuenca, Castilla-La Mancha
Cuenca, Castilla-La Mancha Cuenca, Castilla-La Mancha

I first visited Cuenca in 2008 as a junior in college doing my study-abroad in Valencia. It was at that point in the program when everyone’s simply sick to death of each other, and hackles are raised by even the slightest provocation. Absolutely no one had any desire to be shipped away in a bus together, much less to this dinky middle-of-nowhere destination.

Although it was well into spring by the time of our visit, we were hit with a combination of sleet and hail upon arrival. None had thought to bring boots/umbrella, and the soggy time spent prowling the extreme slopes of Cuenca’s hills just served to exacerbate initial crankiness. Supposedly there were hanging houses somewhere in the murk, but hell if we cared enough at that point to suss them out.

Cuenca, Castilla-La Mancha
Cuenca, Castilla-La Mancha Cuenca, Castilla-La Mancha

After an obligatory group tour through the Museo de Arte Abstracto Español (which we all grudgingly admitted was pretty damn sweet. Check out Antonio Saura’s rendition of Brigitte Bardot), we scattered as far apart from each other as possible, each holing up in a different rincón of the city for stress beers. The designated hotel was located far from the center, however, and the mandate from on high was to be back in the bus by 10PM at the latest. Anyone who’s gone out at night in Spain knows this is early to the point of absurdity, and as such resulted in great trudging of feet.

Sopping, grumpy, and half-intoxicated across the board, we winced our way one by one onto the bus like bedraggled cats, and waited for a complete head count.

The last one to show was Chris, our coordinator for the semester. She was ripped, and immediately invited everyone to further drinks in the hotel bar. Well hey.

Cuenca, Castilla-La Mancha

The mood did a 180, and the Backstreet Boys made an a capella appearance. Loud and thoroughly guiri, we burst all at once into the couldn’t-be-chintzier bar. Rum and cokes sprung into eager little fists, and we had ourselves a catharsis. Animosity blurred along with vision. Chris enthused about pool boy butts. And I’ve loved Cuenca ever since.

Returning this late December bore no comparison, and was completely lovely in its own right. I tried ajoarriero (the wiki makes it looks appealing. ours was a cold ceramic cazuela of white gloop) and zarajo (… don’t). I hit up another abstract art smorgasbord, Museo Fundación Antonio Pérez. And I managed to spy the hanging houses with my own eyes, unobstructed by cloud or malice.

Cuenca, Castilla-La Mancha

w/r/t the title:
¿Alguna vez has puesto a alguien mirando hacia Cuenca? Sea cual sea tu respuesta, es muy probable que necesites esta aplicación.





Asturias: In the Midst of Urchins

4 02 2013

Thighs on Christmas

I’d wanted to hit Asturias ever since my first year in Madrid, when their tourism board ran a months-long campaign in the Sol metro that I had to pass through each weekday on my way north. The 2012 December puente brought the time, the cash, the company. Behold: Oviedo calves at Christmastime.

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The Asturian capital is stately and gray under December skies.

Storefront Sausage FantasiesFonts on Christmas

The area is known for taking delight in gastronomic excess; embutidos, quesos, and sidra abound.
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No car at my disposal this time around, so mountains and surrounding expansive country must wait.

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Oricios!No More Oricios

Coastal Gijón is easily accessible by bus, and brought the promise of eating odd bits from the sea. If the last bus back had left just a moment later, I might have fit in a third plate of oricios.

For the curious: they’re briny, the velvet of the bright orange roe interrupted here and there by a stray gritty crunch from the spines. They remind me of how one’s lips taste after an hour spent diving. Lovely, and wonderful in canned form as well.