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.





Berlin: In Which I Venture North

22 09 2011

Just as August approaches its close, a golden invitation wings its characteristically unexpected way into my life. Dear friend Pennie, with whom I spent many months adventuring in Bangkok over a year ago, has plans to attend a global education conference based in Berlin. Might I like to come see the city?

It was back in wintry January that the idea of Berlin as a sweet summer destination entered my pretty lil’ head; however, as they are wont to do, far-in-advance plans became beautifully sidetracked by spring surprises. The Pennie-prompting is all the push I need to book my flights.

My experience thus far with European capitals: Rome, Paris, Amsterdam, and my beloved Madrid. Berlin looks nothing like any of these. Particularly in comparison to the Spanish center, the city feels spacious, each and every path including a wide bike lane. There are intersections where bicycles dominate, and pedestrians and cars alike show enormous respect for the sanctity of the reserved space. The public transportation system here is excellent, sublime in its clockwork connections between trams, buses, and both above- and below-ground metro, but there is an enormous sense of freedom in mobility by bike, one which I most notably experience in a 3:00 AM wild ride back to an awaiting bed.

The bikes are ubiquitous, and often beautifully personalized.

Eyes open, the city is replete with treasure.

Berlin is an undeniable street art mecca; the immediate impression that every available surface has been coated in color and form is soon corrected when it appears to double 24 hours later. There are some seriously stunning pieces here, several impressive in sheer several-story size, others innovative in elaborate design and execution. There is plenty of paint, but also loads of paste-ups and chip art (wherein an image is constructed in negative, painstakingly chipping flecks away from whatever coats a surface); an informal walking tour I take informs that many pieces are done by artists who specifically pass through the city aiming to leave their signature style on its streets.

Obviously, expression isn’t limited to spray painted wall bombings; wallpapered posters everywhere proclaim a plethora of exhibitions inhabiting the most unassuming corners of city blocks. I pass through one taking up residence in what appears to be a dilapidated tenement of some variety, advertised as Die Revolution Im Dienste Der Poesie (Revolution in the Name of Poetry). The mixed-media collection revolves around the theme in its title, coupled with a load of historical context presented in a “newspaper” available at the door. Of course, being in German, this escapes me entirely, and I’m contented checking out the details of a revolutionist’s take on a still life.

Infamous five-story art squat Tacheles raises queries regarding creative legitimacy, as it represents at once the city’s libertine expression of youth and a prime piece of real estate. The place is visually resplendent in its freewheeling glory (naturally I’m informed that “it was better five years ago”) and acrid in its stairwell scent; seems the big bad government has recently shut off the water in a push to convert the space to something more commercially suited for the downtown zoning.

It’s probably evident in my tongue-in-cheek wording: I find the whole David-and-Goliath storytelling to be rather blown out of proportion. I too would like to see official support for free community art displays, but my gut tells me Tacheles continues to be successful because of its mythology.  The area doesn’t need another touristy pub there whatsoever, but the auctioning of the place would certainly turn a pretty penny – which ideally could be funneled into social programs. Berlin’s identity appears to be ever in flux, but I have no doubt that the displaced creative energy would pack its tools and pop up elsewhere.

This is only one tourist’s opinion. What’s your take?





El Bosque Pintado de Oma

14 08 2011

All credit to my excellent friend Alexandra Waters: months earlier, upon being informed of my summertime Pais Vasco plans, she had gushed to me about a highly unusual forest somewhere near Guernika that she had chanced to visit. Fast-forward to July, and Aldo’s handing me a tourist catalogue of the area; when I come across the photo I immediately recognize what it is I’m seeing.

Traveler’s destiny? I thought the same back in December, when Hondarribia was a strange name stumbling over the tip of my tourist tongue, when the long-awaited wild horses showed their fuzzy manes atop the most unexpected mountain. We can call it coincidence, if you prefer your grandiose proclamations fate free. A series of damn fine coincidence.

We make the trek to El Bosque Pintado de Oma on a hazy Saturday afternoon. Drizzle threatens but never materializes. It’s a several kilometer hike into the forest in order to find the famed painted trees, including multiple serious ups and downs, and a first view of white swaths of paint across trunks is uncompensatingly unimpressive. However, the forest floor is dotted with stone markers, complete with arrows indicating the direction in which one is meant to look – and from these particular points, what appears to otherwise be colorful chaos coagulates into magic patterns. Stripes zig and zag their way across the forest, alternatively forming both curved and linear designs. We see eruptions of flames, motorcycles, and a sudden menacing crowd that appears to have it out for the viewer.

Curiously, the eerie sensation of being observed appears to be somewhat of an artist’s theme; an enormous section of trees is dedicated to ever-alert eyeballs of every size and color.

Later this night, we mention to a few local friends where we’ve been all day, and are informed that the artist is not too highly regarded ’round these parts – seems his outspoken politics err on the side of facha, which certainly doesn’t go over big in el Pais Vasco. I do vaguely remember Alexandra mentioning something about politically-motivated vandalism of the painted trees. It certainly raises questions that are intriguing, if not too original: can art be “good” if its creator is “bad”? To what extent are we obligated to consider artistic merit in the light of the artist’s own proclivities? Those of you familiar with my beleaguered thesis will know my response already, but by no means do I consider the matter closed – what do you think?





Sardinade à Hendaye, France

24 07 2011

” — hold on, let me check. Hey, do you want to go eat sardines in France tonight?”

Do I.

Summer means sardines in just-across-the-French-border Hendaye. It’s still Basque Country, but Frenchified; architecture sprouts Parisian flourishes, pastisseries seem infinitely more exotically attractive than their pasteleria counterparts, and syllables suddenly begin to slide languidly through nostrils.

Even I end up busting out French 101 remnants: “Bonjour, catre, merci!” Only one selection on the menu, and we want four of them.

Ten chargrilled sardines, freshly fished from the ocean just beyond the above-pictured Bay of Chingoudy. These are oversize puppies, designed to be nibbled by hand in the style of an ear of corn, delicately nursing each shred of fish flesh from out the spine. Everyone ends up eating a few dainty bones; follow them with a swig of Rioja and it doesn’t matter. The cheese is local, nutty and rich, and the Basque pastry at the end is pure butter.

And it’s sunset on the coast of France. Le sigh.





Winter Break: Lost Photos Edition

16 02 2011

The famous white walls of Córdoba.

Lovely, and Typical.

Gambones, munched shell-and-all on the shore of el río Guadalquivir.

Contemplating eternity in the head of a fishie.

crunch crunch crunch

Oh
I love
the little bitty fishies

Partridge foie.

Late night spot of tea in Granada.

On the winding climb to La Alambra.

Also on the climb to La Alambra.

Flowers everywhere.

The way into heaven.





Vincit qui patitur

31 01 2011

And, at last, the magic auxiliar princess snapped her french-manicured fingers, and – poof!– in a puff of brilliant rainbow smoke, absolutely everything was resolved. Her adoring public was fully aware of the enormity of her slew of trials/tribulations/quests/slaying-of-dragons, and immediately forgave her the brief lapse in verbal communication. For, in their collective heart of hearts, they knew she carried a little bit of each of them with her always, akin to a beautiful golden charm necklace strung thickly with love, gleaming pearls, and bits of coral from all seven seas.


Oh, non-magical-Far-Away-Land audience, how may I placate thee? For amongst your mongering hoards lies one particularly insistent, fastidious clamorer: she goes by the name of Inner Monologue, and she’s a tricky bitch to satisfy. She seems obsessed with motion, specifically, my own through space and time, and never tires of nipping at my heels with the most stinging whelps of questions – “But why? To what end? From whence have you come, and where exactly is it that you think you are going? …… eh, princess?

….. shhhhhhh. If you don’t speak a little more softly, you might miss it.


So I’ve decided to stay in Madrid another year. BAM. My coordinator’s been out the past week on personal leave, but I should be able to catch her tomorrow and declare my intentions to renew my contract. I’ll be staying at José Luis Sampedro – that’s part of the bargain, and I wouldn’t have it any other way – and will be working officially for the Comunidad de Madrid (not Fulbright). I earn just a smidgen less, which I plan on making up through teaching weekly clases particulares, and I plan to continue living with the same folks – Hector and Marta – assuming they too choose to stick around.

I waffled on this decision for a spell, unsure if staying equated to stagnancy. But even my Inner Monologue Mistress knows that one’s time is absolutely dependent on what one makes of it.

Me, I have big plans. Things I’ve wanted to do since coming to Madrid that have yet to be realized (finding a darkroom I can play in), things that are on the cusp of beginning (a massive mural project, studying German), things that come up unexpectedly all the time just waiting for me to sign up for the ride (Florence?). I continue to do freelance projects for InMadrid magazine; the January issue holds a guide I sketched out of my home barrio of Atocha, and up-to-bat is a series of articles regarding Madrid’s international ingredient scene. Fulbright’s offered to pay for a Photoshop course; now I just need to hurry up and find one that appeals.


After a month in a state of limbo, much too far away from the creation process, what I want most now is to delve back into honing my various arts, in valuing production over consumption, in being once again impressed by my own output. I am happiest when I write like a madwoman, when I use photography to play with perspective, when I stretch my technical knowledge to edit my photos into a vision of superreality previously existing only within the realm of my imagination. I find that the more I externalize all the bits and bobbles floating around in my headspace, the more complicated and compelling patterns they form the next time I look.

So, I stay. I like it here. Madrid is an excellent setting for me at this stage of my development, and I’m definitely the one mixing up the chemicals. A light leak or two might cause unexpected distortions in the anticipated image, but the magic of the darkroom lies in the ample opportunities for error. There’s no saying I can’t get back out there and shoot another roll.





País Vasco/La Rioja: Misjudgements and Re-conceptions

13 12 2010

Recently I’ve been remembering the Histories of Spain days with Chris, those endless Friday afternoon classes in Carpenter achingly watching spring come to the Heart through windowpanes. You wouldn’t believe just how many rich and detailed tales weave together the intricate Spanish fable that I managed not to retain whatsoever. I feel it can only be partially attributed to the oh-so-distracting allure of frisbee in the sunshine; the central issue was that the stories lacked tangible context. Even the following semester in Valencia didn’t provide more than a seriously myopic understanding of the country; anyone who has had the pleasure of Jesús’ Historia y Cultura de Valencia lectures will cringe at the very mention of the Riuà.

Despite the inundación innundation, I’ve been exploring bits and bobbles of the Iberian Peninsula for three years now – holy jamón, Batman! Valencia served as intimate introduction, with weekend sneak peeks at Andalucía, Barcelona, and Cuenca. El Camino de Santiago took me through a snippet of Castilla-León followed by a healthy slice of Galicia, which was further augmented by the following year’s summer stint just outside of Lugo. Through Fulbright, I’ve established my own nooks within the sprawling cosmopolitan center of Spain; I now feel I can rightfully call Madrid home.


Yet the more destinations I explore, the more I realize there is to this amalgamation of autonomous communities than meets the average traveler’s eye. The word choice truly suits: the various puzzle pieces of Spain were brought together under one flag chiefly due to historical agreements made by those in power, most recently serious baddie General Francisco Franco. Under the Franciscan dictatorship, all languages apart from Castellano – incidentally, what English speakers often think of as “Spanish” – were forbidden. The fact is, there are plenty of Spanish languages, among them Catalán, Gallego, and Basque, this final one especially intriguing to linguists as it has no known roots in common with any other language on earth.

The first thing Americans tend to learn about El País Vasco – in Basque, Euskadi – is something about terrorism having to do with the Basque separatist movement. (“Didn’t they blow up that Madrid metro train? And they have something to do with Al-Qaeda, I think.“) Even the Jornada de Auxiliares gave ETA a nod; in addition to not getting too tipsy on the cheap delicious wine, we foreigners have got to be ever! cognizant! of the threat of lurking evil where we may least expect to find it (under the bed, maybe? god forbid, 100 Montaditos??).

Like a good liberal arts grad, I keep questioning everything, particularly my own suppositions. When considering where to visit over the long break from work in December, I know I want to stay in Spain for convenience, and I find myself wondering why el País Vasco seems to be shrouded in eerily foreboding mystery. It’s funny what you’ll pick up when you’re not paying attention – most of my mental Spanish map is coated with thick rays of sunshine, but this unassuming little section to the north is marked off as somehow darkly threatening, or, at the least, somewhere you’d probably not choose to go voluntarily (however, the devious Basque separatists, decked out in black bandito masks, might sequester the less vigilant American tourist up there in the night).

After a few hours’ investigation into the area, it is obvious I can await my would-be kidnappers no longer – sequestering must be done through SpanAir, and in cahoots with the loveliest of girlfriends, Sam, Emily, and Leah. What better way to eradicate absurd preconceptions than to walk through a place in your own rainboots? We split into two pairs and seek Couchsurfers with whom to lodge in Bilbao, Donostia-San Sebastián, and Logroño – the last of which is actually in La Rioja, famed for its wine production and unmissable given that we are going to be just a few hours away by bus.

In Bilbao, Emily and I are welcomed by local Oihane; in Logroño we will stay with Polish Erasmus student Justyna. None of us manages to find any leads in Donostia, so we book a shared hotel room slightly out of town but well-connected by train. I still want to kick it with CSers – my experience tells me that you ought to take full advantage of any time you can involve yourself with knowledgeable locals – so I make a post on the boards inviting any and all in town to a Saturday night pintxos crawl. The responses come pouring in, we confirm a time and place to meet, and that’s the extent of the planning we do for the entire trip. Yup, I fall heavily in the “spontaneous” camp, and I arrive at the airport Thursday evening hot on the scent of the promise of possibility.

Continued in:
Nibbling the North
Brushstrokes and Spraypaint