Thursday, July 27, 2006

Seeing: Cristina Garcia Rodero

For years, a book called Espana Oculta has sat on our coffee table in Oberlin, there even when we aren't. A collection of photographs by Cristina Garcia Rodero, it's always been one of my favorite art books, filled with gorgeous black and white pictures of widows in black and first communion girls in their wedding dresses, horsemen pulling off the heads of dangling chickens as they (the horsemen) gallop by, fierce demons jumping over newborns set in a line on their backs in the street. All the weird, fascinating rituals that make up Spanish popular religion, in other words. Through Garcia Rodero's lens they seem especially mysterious, even terrifying.

So it's interesting to see her latest work, which isn't about what goes on during festival days in small Spanish towns, but what goes on in the Nevada desert for a week each summer: Burning Man. The exhibition is part of this year's PhotoEspana extravaganza, and its subject--strangely dressed (or undressed), participating in a ritual of their own making--is just as fascinating. It's at the Juana de Aizpuru gallery until Monday.

Juana de Aizpuru Gallery, Barquillo 44

Monday, July 24, 2006

Taxi Driver - the sequel

The diversity of Spanish cab drivers may only be matched by their willingness to tutor you on whatever topic you bring with you into their vehicles.

Whereas the last taxista to earn a place on this blog had waxed long in the tradition of esoteric philosophical critics, the man shown above deserves notice for being an acute observer of contemporary popular culture.

At my mere mention of movies, this gregarious fellow, presuming that I was from the U.S. (a place he made clear he'd never visited), spent the entire half-hour ride not only affirming that Hollywood films offer an accurate portrayal of American society, but insisting that what such movies reveal is just how puritanical Americans really are.

Then proposing that Spain was more advanced in such matters, he proceeded to describe, in quivering detail, his favorite scenes from Spanish films in which Penélope Cruz disrobes.

I'm not taking issue with the man's views, and I certainly can't fault his passion, which seemed to prevent him from noticing (or caring) that he, alone, did all the talking--or that I snapped a picture of him at his pontifical best.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Why Politicians Need Image Consultants

Photographs involving Heads of State that provoke the question 'Whatever Were They Thinking?': the Monica-Clinton Beret Clinch; the Bush Assault on a German Chancellor's Shoulders, and now, Zapatero Dons the Kefiya. Given the expression on his face, I tend to think that he was just trying to fit in with all the cool kids at the International Socialist Youth Conference. But still.

Regardless of whether Zapatero's momentary predilection for ethnic wear was accidental or intentional, I found myself agreeing with the editorial in this morning's El Mundo that chastized him for not knowing better. In part because that little sartorial decision has only fueled the shrillness coming from the other side (e.g. "We demand to know why a ruling party in Europe, for the first time since the 1930s, has patronized an anti-semitic demonstration," said Eduardo Zaplana, PP spokesman, referring to Thursday's peace march). But mostly because when you start wearing one side's logo, you pretty much rule yourself out as a mediator. Unless, of course, Zapatero shows up to work tomorrow in a yalmulke.


Friday, July 21, 2006

No, I didn't try it

Just last week one of our editors requested anecdotes from all her correspondents for a story on international ice cream-eating habits. At the time, we couldn't come up with anything quirky or endearing that Spaniards did with their helados, (although there was a segment on the nightly news last year about its health benefits: "Ice Cream: As Good for You as Ham and Coffee"). But today, for the first time, I traveled to Valencia, where along with the fantastic modernist market (live eels, ostrich eggs, one stall selling nothing but different varieties of beans); the Plaza Redonda, where a dozen ladies sat tatting, their wooden spools clacking; the soaring Gothic interior of the old silk exchange; and other unexpected delights, I found Gelateria Llinares.

Gelateria Llinares has regular flavors (chocolate, vanilla, strawberry) and exotic flavors (papaya; blueberry cheesecake--or as it's known here, 'Philadelphia'). And then there is something else. Gazpacho ice cream, for example. Lentil ice cream. Tortilla de patatas ice cream. And my personal favorite, Mussels in Vinaigrette Ice Cream. All of them piped and swirled into attractive swirls, and garnished beautifully with key ingredients (a handful of raw lentils sprinkled like confetti on one; a black shell propped jauntily on another.)

Monday, July 17, 2006

Eating in Barcelona: Bubo

Earlier this year I noticed that the candle shop that used to be on the corner next to our first apartment in Barcelona had changed into a bakery. It was just as well; I never saw too many customers in the candle store, or, for that matter, too many candles (that's Barcelona minimalism for you).

In truth, 'bakery' doesn't seem like the right word for Bubo: there is no smell of yeast, no warm air coming off the ovens. What it does have, however, are gorgeous cakes--some of them individually sized, some of them not--all of them decorated and displayed like some kind of postmodern jewel. Sacher torte, vanilla cream wrapped in white chocolate, tiny lemon sablee tarts. Also: swirls of chocolate and pistachio turned into lollipops, and homemade sugared marshmallows, that to my mind (if not my mother's) taste like really good, papaya-flavored Peeps.

In the course of doing research on Bubo for this piece, I learned that the name comes either from 1)a children's word for "yummy" or 2)the abbeviation of bueno and bonito. I almost volunteered the information that in English, at least, bubo also refers to the boil-like extrusions caused by the plague, but thought better of it.

Bubo, 10 Carrer Caputxes; tel 93 268 7224

Saturday, July 15, 2006

In the Kitchen

About this time a week ago, I was standing over a hot stove in a stifling kitchen, watching Carmen Barrios (above) prepare her trademark meatballs with squid. Carmen is one of the Cocineras de Sils (they used to be called The Grandmothers of Sils, but that was before a couple of 38-year-olds joined the group), a collective of about 100 women dedicated to preserving the traditional cooking of Catalonia. She is also the sort of woman who brings to mind the word "pistol."

When I met Carmen, she was cooking for The Cocineras' annual dinner. The Cocineras have published cookbooks, demonstrated how to prepare pollastre amb salsafins at the Hotel Ritz in Barcelona, received awards in Madrid, and appeared on television and radio with Arzak and Adria. But the dinner is what they most look forward to: the spiffed-up gym as dining hall, the adulatory speeches, the band with two female singers in matching dresses who complement their repertoire of pasodobles and foxtrots with synchronized dance moves. And of course, there's the food: 94 tortillas, 94 casseroles, and a whole lot of cake, all made by the Cocineras.

Carmen didn't waste any time. As soon as she saw me at the dinner, she marched up--recently coiffed hair bobbing, high heels clicking--and demanded in that machine-gun voice of hers, "Don't I look great?" Then she went off to ask the table that got her casserole if they didn't love her meatballs.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


Sorry about that. We went off to Guatemala with the best intentions of posting regularly from our backlog of ideas for wry observations on Spain. Somehow we never got around to it.

In the month that we've been gone, Catalans approved the Statute that will grant them more autonomy, Barcelona banned bullfighting, the Pope visited Valencia, (in the process giving Zapatero yet another chance to prove his Socialist creds by refusing to attend the Mass), and Spain startled everyone by actually winning games at the World Cup before reverting to its usual habit of inexplicable losses.

Closer to home, our normally deserted beach is packed with vacationers as half the country goes on its month-long holiday (the other half will arrive in August). A new, somewhat-better-than-Arbol grocery store opened 10 minutes away. And thanks to Geoff and his dad, our bedroom is looking a lot nicer.