Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Pyramid-Shaped Mass of Glutinous Rice Wrapped in Leaves

My first week in Madrid, I had the the oddly disorienting experience of standing in Plaza de España when I suddenly caught a whiff of chow mein wafting out of an air vent in the ground.

In Spain?

I shook off the sensation as an olfactory misinterpretation and forgot about it.

Months later, I discovered that there is in fact a Chinese restaurant underneath Plaza de España. Not only that, but as my housemate Mat says, "There's a whole Chinese world under there," including a Chinese travel agency and a Chinese grocery store.

Mat, Tom and I went to the restaurant last week to check it out, as it's apparently very popular among the local Madrileños. There's always a line out the door, although I attribute that to the fact that this place only has four or five tables and is located in an underground parking garage.

Anyway, it was pretty tasty.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Kings of Old

One of my favorite parts of Madrid is La Plaza de Oriente (East Plaza), the park directly east of the royal palace where one can find statue upon statue of ancient Spanish kings.

Well, "Spanish" might be a misnomer. I've been told that during the reign of the later Bourbon kings in the 18th century, statues were made of "all the kings who had reigned in what is now Spain" to line the roofs of the palace. Unfortunately, the combined weight of the statues was too much, so some were left in the gardens surrounding the palace.

In La Plaza de Oriente, noble-featured Visigoth kings of post-Roman Gaul bear Germanic sounding names and Roman looking tunics. They're some of my favorite because their visages hearken to what we call the "Dark Ages" of Europe, of which there are still many historical holes.

After the Gothic Kings you will find some of the violent rulers of the competing Christian kingdoms of Aragon, Castille, Toledo, Leon and Navarre that slowly reconquered Spain from the Moors while battling and murdering each other at the same time.

 The inbred, but powerful Hapsburg kings who presided over the conquest of the New World, the counter-Reformation and the Inquisition can be found on the palace roof and around the city, astride horses or holding scepters. The last was Charles II, el Hechizado (the Bewitched) who was so deformed he could hardly stand or talk. His death precipitated the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714), which both formed the modern Spanish nation-state and marked its fading as a major world power.

Charles II, El Hechizado

Since then (with the interruption of a few republics, dictatorships and a Bonaparte)  the ruling family of Spain has been the Bourbons, a junior line of the family that once ruled France. The current king, Juan Carlos is a controversial figure, popular with older Spaniards for his role in bringing representative democracy to Spain after the death of Franco, but unpopular with parts of a younger generation that sees the whole idea of monarchy as a relic of the past and resents Juan Carlos' ties with the earlier conservative regime.

King JC has kept himself newsworthy, yelling for Venezuela's Present Hugo Chavez to "shut up" at an international conference in 2007 and going hunting for elephants in Africa in the depths of the Spanish economic crisis.

No matter how posterity judges Spain's current monarch, he already can be assured to have added to the rich tapestry of Spanish royal history.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Seen in Madrid #11 - Food Line

A reminder of the sad ways that this crisis is affecting Spanish families. This line for a neighborhood soup kitchen gets longer and longer every time I see it.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Seen in Madrid #10 - Couch Potatoes

This is my roommate Mat during one of the at least ten breaks we took carrying our new couch through the center of the city to our house.

Seen in Madrid #9 - Parallel Parking

Props to this dude. I don't think you would see this in the USA.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Bike Trip!

Yesterday morning I rented a bike and braved the cold winds of Casa de Campo with my friend Fatima to get a little sunshine.

There's a giant bike loop that runs around the outskirts of Madrid, which Fatima and I faithfully followed, until we didn't. I had the chance to see a lot of the suburbs of Madrid that foreigners won't often see and the impressive to me thing is how many public parks there are and how full they are, even in the winter.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Seen in Madrid #8 - Recession Advertisements

"To relieve the pain of the crisis..."

... a 30% discount on perfume and makeup? Contrary to previous reports, capitalism is alive and well in Spain.