Fiestas del Norte: Azpeitia

29 08 2011

’round these parts, each city designates at minimum one day a year as its local day of fiesta – more frequently four days to a full week, from what I can tell. Being up north this summer has had me privy to three distinct city-wide celebrations:

AZPEITIA

The trusty Renault traipses across windy winding Basque coastline from our walking tour of Bosque de Oma all the way to Azpeitia, home-pueblo of friend Maider. It’s the final day of fiesta here, and the streets are spotty with refuse and revelers alike. We’re famished from the jaunt and gorge overflowing bocatas de albondigas – similar to cheese-less meatball subs.

The goal here is a concert that begins at 1.30 AM – and no, I didn’t forget a digit – so we spend the interim lollygagging, enjoying bottles of bitter-tart sidra and grooving to imported mariachi beats. About a quarter past, we mosey towards the stage, squeezed in-between apartments and streetside shops, currently surrounded by alternative-style stalls of beer hucksters. I spy everything from anarchist Basque nationalists to Palestinian solidarity, but we end up acquiring cañas from a feminist bunch just to the side of the stage. The group is Canteca de Macao, and they emerge with a roar. The act is flamenco inspired, but with elements of rock and circus thrown in; a dude with remarkably lengthy dreads swirls checkered fabric and natty hair in the background of each set. Our feet move to the point of pain and then some. The Basque sky characteristically opens up, drenching the dancers – and there’s no sign of stopping. Canteca de Macao continue for a good two hours into the night, ensuring well-earned calluses for the morning after.

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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?





Semana Santa: BuenBlogging

29 04 2011

con tomates lives!! But was hanging out at Buen Camino for a spell during Semana Santa.

16/04/11: Barcelona: No Reservations (part one)

“No camera crew. No entourage. No screaming gobs of fans. Just Tony and Jose, checking out what’s new and old at La Boqueria. Jose’s talking jamon, then olives.”

((more))

16/04/11: Barcelona: No Reservations (part two)

We thank the guy sincerely – I’m sure he gets tired of dealing with fangirls, but was extraordinarily courteous about it nevertheless – and head back to our awaiting baby quail with smiles plastered across our faces.

((more))

18/04/11: Barcelona: #munching

Its appetizer twin is a cool cube of tuna accented with olive oil, a sliver of crunchy red onion, and an unmistakeably lettuce sorbet. We speculate as to why Eric doesn’t whip up lettuce sorbet at home for frequently.

((more))

21/04/11: Donostia: Seeking the Holy Grill

Etxebarri is absolutely legendary for its revolutionary grilling techniques; mastermind Victor Arguinzoniz designs innovative mechanisms specifically suited to ingredients never before subject to smoke and flame. We’re talking oddities like egg yolk, here, along with caviar – for the intrigued, our now intimate friend Tony Bourdain investigates in an excellent episode of No Reservations.

((more))

24/04/11: Madrid : Madrid :: Madrid : Madrid

Upon our arrival yesterday, I find myself filled with an enormous energy – I am in my city again. I know these streets, and they know me; we convene. MP has some big must-do Spanish Cultural Experiences sketched out as well, but I’m jazzed simply to be able to maplessly navigate again. Give me six more months and I’ll print up Experta Madrileña business cards.

((more))





Temporary Relocation for the Holidays

25 12 2010

con tomates is still alive and kicking – but its tireless author has been temporarily roped into the family blog cycle on Buen Camino. You voracious readers, you!

23/12/10: Segovia, Pedraza, Sepúlveda: Semipleno!!!!!

“The road to Pedraza is markedly less salty. We moderate our velocity accordingly, paying special attention not to plow into the swarms of crossing deer. After all, we wouldn’t want to be tardy to our most pressing order of business…”

((more))

27/12/10: From Bale-ncia to Sevilla: Paella and Whyanair

We attack the beast, snails and all – which, as it turns out, you eat with the aid of a toothpick, spearing the flesh in order that you might wrest it from its coiled shelly home.”

((more))

31/12/10: Sevilla Stereotypical: Cathedral and Flamenco (and Happy New Year!)

The haunting, warbling vocals, casting what sounds like eerie laments into the dark cool of the night, combined with frenetic guitar strums and picks just on the brink of discordant setting the aural scene; add to this superhuman clapping and stomping coordination and here enters the dancer, all tassels and snapping, hard heels insistent upon the echoing wood of the stage, savage fingers curling and cutting through the notes and the rhythm.

((more))





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





Street Art/Vandalism

29 11 2010

Madrid is full of incredible street art, ranging from this hyperdetailed saxophonist in Malasaña…

(detail)

… to this lonely pair o’ peepers in Delicias…

… to this colorful queen on Ronda de Embajadores…

… to this exemplary piece of metro vandalism in Callao…

… to the unintentional beauty in an excess of anuncios near Gran Vía.





La Cucaracha

21 10 2010

This is the only cockroach I’ve seen in Madrid………………….. so far.