Happy Monday Bouillabaisse

13 12 2010

As I lie in bed this lazy Monday morning, I muse on the excellence of the early day off. Stray thoughts enter and exit my cerebrum without consequence, until one suddenly sticks. I must make bouillabaisse.

I learn the words for fennel (hinojo) and leek (puerro), which Mercadona shockingly keeps in constant stock. Hector mashes together a magnificently garlicky rouille, and the hake purchased from my local fishmonger (Ina Garten, eat your heart out!) is ever-so-gently simmered towards flaky tomato-broth perfection. Today I remove my first-ever mussel beards.

Marta comes home to a piso overflowing with soupe de poisson. We pour the remaining chilled white wine, and together we feast.

Recipe here, although I changed it significantly. A good 2/3 of my broth was white wine, and I added both puréed tomatoes and tomato paste for more punch. A squeeze of lemon juice brightened up the essential seafoodiness, and I didn’t do any straining nor blending of the veggies. It is a seriously forgiving soup. Try it.

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O Valencia

24 11 2010

Three months in, and it becomes nigh time to escape the clawing clutches of Madrid’s cluttered calles.

A bumpy bus ride would save me 20€, but I opt for the comfort offered by a sleek Renfe Alaris train, connecting Madrid’s Atocha hub station with Valencia’s Estación del Nord. Hector’s invited me to a talk on Lorca he’s giving in his poetry class tonight, so afterwards I chug eastward under a thick cloak of darkness, delightfully entertained by a dubbed Meryl Streep.

Memories prickle the edges of my vision at the squeal of the brakes. I’ve returned.

Alex has managed to convince me that this will not be a regression, this will not be a replay. A place, a combination of X-Y-Z coordinates in space, only holds whatever meaning you assign. Today’s Valencia is not yesterday’s Valencia is not tomorrow’s Valencia. The inhuman neon glare of the bright lights, the push and shove of departing passengers avoiding contact, my shoulders are blasted through with poor-posture’s knots, and what’s happening in Madrid without me tonight? – boding pessimism beckons.

I spy my suddenly long-time friend break out into a huge grin at my arrival, and the wicked spell breaks. It’s 1 AM, and we’re going for cañas.

Valencia is eerily tranquil on a Friday night, particularly against a backdrop of Madrileño Malasaña. But we three – Alex has brought along a friendly beanpole known as Feno – are undeterred, and march determinedly northward. Destination: “El Irlandés,” which turns out to be a wonky sort of Spanish bar that has nothing remotely Irish about it, save a few strings of green Christmas lights. Other than two girls roosting in a corner, we are the only patrons – but the barman appears to be well-acquainted with my entourage. We are served icy Carlsbergs, which go down marvelously after our trek across the entire city, along with all variety of bar snack.

The elongated marshmallows – “nubes” – are the best. You are meant to roast them little by little with your lighter. Although the photo appears to suggest otherwise, I do not recommend consuming them with tobacco paraphernalia.

The night is seriously Spanish. At some absurd hour, we join forces with the roosting girls and enthuse about Galicia, and shrimp. Also engaged in the rapid-fire conversational swings, the barman nevertheless notes the clock with slightly more practicality than his patrons. Perhaps around 4 AM, he switches the lights to a “time to scoot a boot” deep red. Ambientación, anyone?

In this park, we hold a discussion regarding the lesser-read works of Foucault, and the growing relevance of the modern sense-datum prison.

Wakefulness arrives, beautiful and sluggish. Coffee and mini-croissants coax it along.

The months I spent in Valencia several years back leave me with little residual desire to seek out tourist destinations. Instead, and refreshingly, we simply have a weekend together. We hit up Mercadona for pasas and caldo, which I combine along with various other items rummaged from Alex’s kitchen to concoct a highly satisfying lunch.

A few unearthed items are best avoided. One plastic bag holds a mottled green sausage, which upon closer inspection appears to have at one time been bread. This, also:

Oh, Spain, honey. No.

The afternoon slips into night during a viewing of (dubbed) Malibu’s Most Wanted, highly recommended if you get your kicks from mass slaughter of your own brain cells. We meet up with a pair of Alex’s friends at a Wok that’s just opened in the neighborhood – think Mongolian BBQ but minus any trace of Scoville points – and then are joined by two more for a cortado digestif. It’s a sleepy night all around, and just the two of us end up back at El Irlandés for a tranquil beer before bedtime.

This Sunday is Loi Krathong. One year ago, I found myself lighting a banana leaf raft in the company of Alisa, Carlos, and several whiskey-swilling Thai men down a construction-laden alleyway on the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok. After paying due respects to the water goddess, we clambered up to a particularly attractive hotel rooftop thirty-some-odd stories high. Gobs of fireworks bloomed over the water, and Northern-style floating paper lanterns melded with the stars.

Yesterday’s Bangkok is not today’s Valencia. However, the idea that occurs to me of being the only one in this Spanish city celebrating the Thai festival is too intriguing to let slide. Alex and I hunt the chinos until deciding on a balloon raft as our best bet; I nix poinsettia leaves in favor of burgling a few specimens from Valencia’s finest foliage. Flowers are in short supply, so “yin-yang” candles will have to make do for beautification. The water goddess knows our hearts are in the right place.

My original plan is to release my krathong into the Mediterranean – I’ve been really feeling the pull of the sea as of late – but it’s way too obvious that our fragile vessel won’t fare well given any sort of aquatic turbulence. We visit a park near Alex’s place instead, where we follow our instincts – and ears – to the calmest of fountains.

Alex, professional mechero man, lights the candles, then places our makeshift krathong on the water’s glassy surface. She only lasts a minute before being capsized by a stray gust, but it’s time enough to reflect, to give thanks, to consider what it means to be open to that which is gifted. I give voice to my gratitude:

Gracias, o diosa del agua.
Gracias por el flujo en que andamos todos.
Gracias por el cambio, por las diferencias, por insistir en movimiento.
Gracias por lo complicado que ha sido ayer,
y gracias por la infinidad de posibilidades que nos presentas para mañana.

It feels unabashedly good to give thanks for these regalos de la vida. More soon to come – after last year’s passivity, I’m ready to dive into some serious seasonal cheese.

Massive gracias must also go to my host and very good friend Alex, who entertains my whims even when clearly fueled by a lack of logic.

O Valencia. Hold tight. I’ll be back in December, and with family.





“Tapas” Nite in La Latina – fotopost

19 09 2010





Couchsurfing El Grito Fiesta

17 09 2010

I awake from my siesta – I don’t think I will ever stop deriving enormous pleasure from spending 6-7:30 PM deep in dreamland – to find the piso transformed.

I’m far from a good Hippiehamite; it never occurs to me to decorate with a few candles. The soft flicker they cast on the kitchen is is gorgeous, though, and a marvelous way to ease towards full wakefulness.

I tell Fausto I love them, and he proceeds to get quite bashful (“ah lo que pasa es que no suelo usarlas, que no son nada, asegurate que las apagas cuando salgas,” etcetera etcetera). They’re so classy-grunge. I love my stylin’ piso.

Tonight I’ve done my research on the Couchsurfing Madrid message boards; there is a fiesta going down tonight in La Latina in celebration of El Grito, Mexican Independence Day! I’ve told Alice about it, and then Emily, and then Sam and Leah and Charleen, and then Jaselyn, and soon enough there is a whole troop of Fulbright ladies hankering for a Mexi-style get-down. I explain what Couchsurfing is, but I get the sense that it’s tricky to understand the vibe of it without experiencing an event for yourself – so plunging ahead blindly it is. Fingers crossed that the Madrid group is as warmly inclusive as the Bangkok bunch.

We convene in La Latina, bustling tapas-central of Madrid (still need to do this! weekend plans, anyone?), and head down Calle Cava Baja towards the deceptively named Chez LouLou, which turns out to be an itty-bitty bar/restaurant completely overflowing with chatty revelers. I approach decisively, stowing my trepidation and boldly introducing myself and my compatriots to some eccentric-looking tall man with a frizzy afro.

A beat passes – then – “Eres de Couchsurfing?”
“AHHHHH CHAN-EL DORK-INK-TOHN!!!”
“Uh. Me investigaste?”

I guess I invited it when I posted on the event listing that I was going to arrive with a plenitude of amigas. Oh Couchsurfing, always toying with that fun little line between informative and creeptastic.

Luckily for all involved, no one else attending is quite THAT well-versed in who I am, although there are a handful of others who recognize my face from the board (“Eres la con las gafas!!“). The atmosphere is totally bumpin’, both in terms of energy and running into other bodies attempting to occupy the same sweaty space, and I quickly move outside with my cool Coronita.

Couchsurfing events are unlike any others I’ve ever experienced; everyone is looking to meet you but (normally) sans flirtatious overtones. There’s a general appreciation of working together to have the best time possible, rather than each-man-for-himself, and just about everyone wants to know your story. Plus, because we’re all connected on this network of references, anyone who makes a bit of a cabron@ out of him/herself is then subject to nothing but the truth the following morning.

As a group of seven attractive chicas (Sam’s brought along a British newbie to Madrid), we are quickly invited out for drinks/dancing following the fiesta. None of us has anything slated for the morrow, so we accept and march our way towards the center.

It is ladies’ night at Dreams, which means the mere presence of your twin mammary glands nets you a free drink every fifteen minutes. None of us go quite that hog wild, but the emphatic booty-shakin’ definitely revs up as the night wears on. Interestingly, the tradition here seems to be that the men dance in front of the womenfolk, showing off their finest groovy maneuvers. For the most part, everyone cycles around the group, trying out different style combinations to the familiar American beats (“heyy! must be the monayy!“).

We duck out around 2:30 AM or so, quite early by Spain standards, but it feels sufficient tonight. The metro’s closed by now, but the 20-minute walk back to Calle de Las Delicias isn’t so bad – although Em and I are certainly enthusiastic about kicking off our heels once happily back in the piso.