Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Seen in Madrid #5 - Protesting Doctors

One of many strikes and protests that have swept Madrid in the past few months. These doctors and hospital workers are protesting cuts and reforms that are trying to privatize some of Madrid's public hospitals.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Regulations and Radicalism

As bankers discussed the technical aspects of capital requirements that would minimize the stifling of economic growth from the safety of Santander's suburban campus, young Spaniards in central Madrid defaced bank branches with graffiti and prepared for confrontation with the heavily-armored police.

Yesterday, the 14th of November marked the last day of Banco Santander's annual international banking conference, this year titled, "Global and local solutions for growth and stability." The 14th was also the date of a planned general strike, in both Spain and other countries, to protest austerity and the role of the financial sector in the current crisis.

The conference, headlined by speakers from the ECB, the Central  Bank of Spain and Banco Santander, was a gathering of policy-makers, academics, regulators and bankers in earnest discussions to find ways to get Europe's economy back on track. Despite the suits and hors d'oeuvres at lunch, this was no back room old boys' club. There were genuine disagreements over how rapidly reforms must be implemented to prevent another crisis like this, while still keeping growth and recovery for the European people as a priority. However, there did seem to be an almost wilful ignorance of what was happening elsewhere in Madrid.


The strike, which I started seeing fliers for about a week ago, was supported by all of Spain's major unions and promised to paralyze public transportation and commerce around the city. A grand demonstration was planned for 6pm, which I missed while still coming back from work. The strikers demanded that the rich and powerful implicated in the crisis pay more rather than let the middle class suffer through the layoffs, evictions and budget cuts caused by the recession. After wandering the aftermath and taking some photos, I had a chance to sit down with a Spanish girl later that night who had taken pictures and been there for the demonstration. She told me that each new manifestación has been increasingly radicalized. As darkness descended on the 14th, protesters knocked over trashcans, threw objects at the assembled police, and set some things on fire, also seemingly ignorant of the efforts of the very policymakers and bankers that they were railing against, just miles away.

It struck me how similar the goals of these two events were, but how different the means and the rhetoric, and how little communication was occuring between the two world-views.


My friends Valerie and Colin were planning on moving to Tunisia at the end of this summer, but then a day or two before they left, Tunisia happened. Luckily for me, their Plan B ended up being a move to our southern neighbor Morocco! RyanAir flights from Madrid to Tangier are pretty cheap, so even though RyanAir is probably my least favorite airline, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to jet down to Morocco to visit my friends.

Although they live in Rabat, we met up in Fez, which meant I had to make my way from Tangier to Fez by train on my own. I befriended the two women in my row on the 1.5 hour plane flight on the way down and one of them, a Moroccan, shared a cab with me into central Tangier after yelling angrily at our taxi driver (or maybe this is just what Arabic always sounds like. I'm still not sure).

As I arrived at the train station a heavy downpour drenched both me and the many dirt sidewalks, leaving just as suddenly as it had come. The wet landscape in the touristy district near the train station turned pink as puddles and the sea reflected the setting sun.

My train ride was an adventure, as I didn't know that I had a transfer and then I didn't know where to transfer. It takes a village to ride a child and apparently it takes a trainload of Moroccans to get me to Fez in one piece. At one point, I had gotten off the train and was trying to understand while two Moroccans hung out the window of the train, arguing with each other about whether I should get back on the train or stay standing on the dark rural platform. I'm glad I reboarded rather than getting stranded here.

I arrived in Fez at 10pm, its winding narrow streets reminiscent (as Colin so appropriately noted) of Agrabah. The three of us stayed in a beautiful home we found on AirBnB in a tiny little alleyway.

The next day, we wandered Fez's streets...

...browsed its markets...

...discovered the secrets of leather dyeing...

...and weaving...

...wandered an old madrassa...

...drank tea in a giant palace...

...and spent the evening on our roof drinking wine and eating dates and olives like ancient Roman aristocracy. My favorite moment of the trip came as we sat on our rooftop and the evening call to prayer began: musical chanting echoing from a dozen different tinny-sounding speakers from a dozen different minarets, enveloping the darkening city with a solemn but caucophonous reverence.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Why My French Pronunciation Could Be Better

It is 6:15am. A light but persistent rain falls on the dark, winding streets of the old city of Fez. I trudge through the mud toward a small red vehicle and climb inside. A sign on top of the car says "petit taxi."

"Bonjour. Umm... Gare? Gare du train?"

The taxi driver stares at me blankly.

"Uh, gare de Fés? Gare Fés?"

I make some stupid movement with my arms that is supposed to approximate a train steaming through a tunnel. Trying to be helpful, the taxi driver starts speaking to me in Arabic. I have no idea what he's saying.

"Hold on. Let's see here."

I shuffle through my belongings as the driver looks on, half bored, half amused. I manage to produce a wet piece of paper with a screenshot of  Fez that I got from Google Maps. I point to the train station on the map.

"Gare de train?"

"Ah oui! Gare de train."

Isn't that what I was saying?

Friday, November 9, 2012


This last weekend I hopped a train to Segovia for a day trip. Segovia is known for its UNESCO World Heritage sites: the Roman aqueduct and the old Jewish quarter, as well as a dish called chochinillo.

Upon arrival I stopped at a little tavern for cochinillo and wasn't terribly impressed. I've been told I'll have to try it somewhere else because apparently its delicious when grilled rather than fried.

I walked west from the train station toward the old walled city, where I caught my first glimpse of the Aqueduct. I've never been super fascinated by ancient history (although I devoured Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire during my freshman year of college). However, credit must be given to the Romans. Medieval castles and walls built in the 1980s alike are crumbling all over central Spain, but the aqueduct, built by hand from giant stones, stands tall and unworn by the centuries. Super props to the Romans.

The old walled part of the city was also very impressive.

In an effort to keep my posts short, you can check out the full collection of photos here. Segovia, que impresionante!

Friday, November 2, 2012


Like a stubborn American, I insisted on making a costume this year that wasn't scary (any self-respecting Spaniard dresses up like a scary zombie, witch or vampire).

However, I managed to get my first taste of a Spanish-style night, surviving through the wee hours of the night at a Spanish house party.

Look at the sun! Time to go...

Waiting until the sun was high in the sky the next morning to leave the party felt very un-American, but walking back through the morning streets in a blue dinosaur costume certainly did.