About Me

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Alcalá de Henares, Madrid, Spain
I recently earned my Masters in History at NWMSU and am now working as a language assistant in a Spanish elementary school.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Very Spanish Thanksgiving

Earlier this week, Cody, Emma, and I went to the La Garena supermarket, Hipercor, and bought the turkey for our Thanksgiving dinner. When Cody and I got it back to the apartment and opened it up, we noticed that there were still a few feathers intact:
Otherwise, it was a great bird. I got done with work at noon on Thanksgiving and went back to the apartment to put the turkey in the oven. I also made a fruit salad called Ruby's pink fluff from a recipe my mother sent me. When the turkey was done, we walked over to Jacqui's place with our food: turkey, fluff, and sweet potatoes. We stopped at Plaza Cervantes where we waited for Emma, Tamara, and Carmen.
When we met them, we all walked down the street to Jacqui's apartment. Everyone brought something and worked on the final preparations as Pilar arrived, followed by Kristen (a teacher at the school who was born in the States). As Thanksgiving is unfamiliar to Emma, Tamara, and Pilar, we watched the Macy's Day Parade, which someone had posted online. We ate after this. The turkey turned out great, as did everything else. Here, Cody cuts the turkey as Emma waits:
Here is our group befor the meal. Left to right (first row): Tamara, Emma, Carmen, Pilar; (second row): Cody, Jacqui, Me, Kristen.
It was a fun evening that everyone enjoyed.

I had to get up early the next morning to get my NIE (an extended visa which we have to pick up in Madrid). My appointement was at 8:45 in the morning. I arrived to a long line outside the building. Kevin's appointment was on the same day, and I saw him there. We waited in line for two-and-a-half hours. When I finally reached my destination across a marble counter, I handed by papers to a middle-aged Spaniard who handed me more papers to sign and exchange and a small square to place my fingerprint. He then gave me back my papers (now stamped and with even more papers attached). Feeling official, I left the building and headed to Puerta del Sol. I ate at a sandwich shop there, then took the metro to the old Jewish district of the city (now an ethnic neighborhood of North Africans and Indians). The area is called Lavapiés (meaning washed feet after the religious ritual of washing the feet before entering a synagogue). The Spanish composer, Isaac Albéniz composed a song inspired by the district, and a small plaque here commemorates this fact. I also saw the Escuela Piés, an old religious school, which the supporters of the Spanish Republic burned down in 1936. It has recently been converted into a library, but it still resembles a ruined building:

Monday, November 23, 2009

Madrid: La Latina and English Tea

I'm excited because I found these at the local convenience store:
One of the fourth-graders, Irene, who had earlier told me I was "old" and "difficult" asked me my age this past week. When I told her I was twenty-five, she contemplated this and said, "That's not that old." The children are great and some of them really seem to enjoy learning a new language, especially when they can pick rhyming words to tease their friends. One kid, Mario (another fourth-grader) tugged on my arm as I walked past his desk in class one day. I asked him what he needed and he shook his head, then pointed at the girl next to him, Ana. He then whispered, loud enough for Ana to hear, "She is crazy... and lazy!" At which point, Ana fired back with, "No, he is crazy and lazy!"

This past Thursday night, our program coordinator, Pilar, gave Cody and I a train ticket into Madrid that she wasn't going to use. We went and walked around the city at night. We got off the train at the Chamartín station. It dropped us off at the financial district, which wasn't too crowded at night. They had set up the Pac-Man Christmas tree (one of several unique Christmas trees in Madrid, this one is shaped like a steep pyramid with an LED Pac-Man game in constant motion) but it wasn't working yet.

From here, we took the Metro to Sol and walked around the downtown area. I got this picture of the Tio Pepe Sherry billboard:
I ate at a restaurant on the Plaza Mayor where I had a dried pork sandwich. Madrid has a different atmosphere at night. The street performers acting as statues were replaced by a group playing traditional Spanish guitar near the Puerta del Sol and a string quartet playing classical music nearer Gran Vía.

On Friday night, a large group of us went to La Garena. We ate at the tapa bars El Tapón and Indalo, then had coffee. We sat outside at Indalo, but moved inside soon as the weather is starting to get chilly here at nights.

Saturday, we went to Madrid again and met Emma there. We also met her friends Gavin and Becky who are from Ireland and England respectively. They are also teaching in the same program, but working in Madrid. We went to the old downtown Madrid neighborhood, La Latina. Here, there are many churches and, as I learned today from the school secretary, many markets on Sundays. Here are some photos from the neighborhood:
I also spotted this statue. It is dedicated to those citizens who died during the failed bombing assassination of King Alfonso XIII on his wedding day, 31 March 1906:
From here, the Catedral de Almudena was nearby. I got a picture of it from a different angle:
From here, we walked to Calle Serrano, not far from the Plaza de Colón, and ate at an English Tea Room. We met Tamara and Carmen here as well. I had several cucumber sandwiches (one had ham, cheese, and honey, another egg and cucumber) and some hot tea. We stayed for quite a while as our English friends felt at home. We were later joined by two of Tamara's friends who were from the states as well as a Russian friend of Carmen's.
On the left in this photo is Becky, I am across the table (and I'm not sure what I am doing exactly), Cody is next to me, and Gavin is beside him.
Tamara, Carmen, and their friends stayed in Madrid, but the rest of us took the train back to Alcalá and went to the mall. We met up with James, Kevin, and Liz here and ate at a sandwich shop (sort of Spain's version of a Quizno's or Subway), then went to the mall's arcade and played a couple games of bowling there. This was followed by several games of air hockey and whack-a-mole.
Sunday we found a new restaurant in Alcalá on the Plaza Irlandeses (according to a sign, this was the old Jewish Quarter of the medieval city and a synagogue once stood nearby). Cody, Emma, Liz, James, Priscilla, and I ate here. The food was very good and the weather was warm enough for us to eat outside and watch the storks fly overhead. I had seafood soup for my first course (it consisted of shrimp, clams, and octopus), followed by roasted cuttlefish, and ice cream for dessert. After this we all went to an old former-hospital nearby which had its doors open. It was used during the Renaissance as a geriatric home, and Cervantes' father once owned it. After this, we went to an international fair which was being held in the Plaza Cervantes. This consisted of several tents set up by the immigrant groups of Alcalá. Most of these were Romanian tents as Romanians make up the largest minority in the town. I often hear Romanian spoken on the streets and have seen Romanian stores (which often have images vampires and bats, the self-declared mascots of Romania, in their windows). We went to a Bulgarian tent from which Cody bought a two-liter (plastic) bottle of beer. According to its lable, the beer won a medal of quality in 1893.
We are now preparing for our Thanksgiving feast at Jacqui's apartment tomorrow. More to come soon!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Sunday in Madrid: History and Art in Spain

Yesterday Cody and I went to Madrid. Most museums offer free admission on Sundays so we planned to visit the Museum of Archaeology and the Prado. We entered Madrid by train then took the Metro to the Plaza de Colón, which is dedicated to Christopher Columbus (or Cristobal Colón in Spanish). There is normally a pillar in the center of the Plaza, but it was taken down for renovation. The Plaza is decorated with modernist sculptures which display engraved text concerning Columbus' voyages. Also visible from the Plaza are the Torres de Colón (often called "the plug" by Madrileños for obvious reasons).
Next to the Plaza was the Museum of Archaeology. It contained several of the most well-preserved artifacts from the ancient Iberian culture. The sculpture of the Iberians and their architecture reveal an advanced society, but we know very little about them (other than what the ancient Greeks and later the Romans wrote about them) as their language has yet to be decoded. They traded gold with the Greeks and were separated into several societies throughout Spain. The statue below is the most famous Iberian sculpture, the Dama de Elche, the clothing of which matches that described by the ancient Greek historian, Strabo. The statue comes from the fourth century BC and was found on the Mediterranean coast near Valencia:
There was also this statue believed to be part of the religion of the Iberians:
The museum also held objects from the Roman occupation of Spain (or Hispania as the Romans called it, giving the modern country its name) including this statue of Urania, the Muse of Astronomy. It was sculpted nearly two-hundred years after the Dama de Elche:
The museum also held a small collection of Visigothic items. The Visigoths were a Christian people who acted as stewards of Spain for the Romans during the collapse of the Roman Empire. After the Empire fell, the Visigoths controlled Spain until the Moors of North Africa conquered the peninsula. Here is a symbolic crown given to the church by the Visigoth King Recceswinth. It is believed to have been made around the year 655:
The museum contained some artifacts from the Muslim era. The Moors invaded Spain in 711 and slowly expanded their influence to control most of the southern peninsula. The Muslims of Spain had many scientists and philosophers and for a while lived in harmony with the Jews and Christians in what was known as the Kingdom of Al-Andalus (the province of southern Spain is now known as Andalusia). Here is an astronomical map dating from the period. It is inscribed with Arabic script:
As time progressed and a new, less tolerant dynasty took control of Al-Andalus, the relations between the Christians, Muslims, and Jews grew worse. The Reconquista (which had various and complex origins) saw the Christians take control of the Spanish kingdoms once again. In 1492, the Catholic Monarchs, Fernando and Isabel, forced all the Jews and Muslims to either convert or leave Spain. The Inquisition followed. The museum had a number of artifacts from this era of medieval Spain, including this statue of a penitent nobleman:
The museum also had a small collection of royal trinkets from the early decades of the Spanish Empire.

From the Museum of Architecture, we walked down the Paseo de la Castellana, a tree-lined street which heads to the modern financial district of Madrid, known as AZCA. Along the way, I spotted this sculpture by the contemporary Colombian artist Fernando Botero:
A few miles down this street, we ented the AZCA district and saw the modern part of Madrid which includes the rounded Torre Europa (built in 1985) and the leaning towers of Puerta de Europa (finished in 1996):
From here, we took the subway back across the city to Gran Vía and walked to the Plaza de España, in the center of which stands a giant monument to Miguel de Cervantes:
From here was a short walk to the Temple of Debod. This is an Egyptian temple from the second century BC that was given to Spain as a gift for the Spanish government's aid in the preservation of several Egyptian monuments. The temple was reconstructed stone by stone on a hill overlooking the city. This creates an odd sensation at first as the last thing one expects to see when walking through a European capital is an authentic ancient Egyptian temple.
From here, I had this great view of the Palacio Real (Royal Palace) and the Catedral de la Almudena:
We then headed to the Prado, one of Europe's largest art museums. We stopped at the adjacent Parque del Retiro and saw some musicians, then headed up the Paseo del Prado. Along the way, I saw this modern art museum, which I am assuming is "green":
We then came upon the Prado, which houses European art from the Renaissance to the 19th century. Most of the collection is Spanish art, focusing on El Greco, Diego Velazquez,

and Francisco de Goya.

The museum does not allow photography, but I would recommend everyone search for the paintings of these artists online if you have never seen them. Soon after entering the museum, we ran into Priscilla, a girl from New Jersey who lives in Alcalá de Henares whom we met through Kevin and Liz. The three of us toured some of the museum. The El Greco collection was relatively small as most of his paintings are located in a museum in Toledo.
I saw the museum's Velazquez (the great Spanish painter of the Renaissance) collection. This included his royal portraits and the painting of the royal dwarf (a court jester), Don Sebastián de Morra. The mythological-themed Los Borrachos was also there. The largest crowd in this wing of the museum surrounded his most famous painting, Las Meninas, a single painting on which entire books have been written. The painting has a mysterious quality. It was commissioned as a royal portrait of King Felipe IV and his wife. Velazquez decided to paint the portrait from the perspective of the royal couple (or some other figure) instead of his own. The result is a painting of the princess with her chaperones watching her parents as Velazquez stands at his canvas in the corner. In the distance a mirror reflects the royal couple.
I also saw a portion of the museum's Goya (my favorite artist) collection. I was able to see his royal portraits and the two sister paintings The Clothed Maja and The Naked Maja which were displayed side-by-side. By looking at his portraits up close, you can see how talented Goya was at differentiating between textures. Some of his smaller paintings of festivals were also on display on this floor. The lower floor contained his later paintings which took place after Napoleon's invasion and the resulting Spanish rebellion of 1808. We didn't get to this part of the museum however, as it was closing. We also saw paintings by the Dutch artist Rembrandt and the Flemish/Dutch Rubens' The Three Graces. We spent nearly three hours in the museum, but saw only a small part of it (only one of three floors). I plan on going back to see the rest of the Goya collection and The Garden of Earthly Delights by the odd Rennaisance-era Dutch painter, Heironymus Bosch.
After leaving the museum the three of us headed back to Alcalá on the train after eating at a sandwich shop. I was exhausted after the two days spent in Guadalajara and Madrid and went to sleep as soon as I returned to the apartment.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A Day in Guadalajara

My weeks are getting busy now as I have a tutoring class every day from Monday to Friday. Teaching at the school is going quite well. I've seen several of the kids around town who often shout out my name. I often don't remember their names as I teach around sixty different kids.

Today Cody and I took the train to the neighboring town of Guadalajara. I knew little about the town, but looked it up in a travel guide I bought and learned that it was originally a Roman town called Arriaca. There are some suggestions that the town pre-dated the Romans as a Celtiberian (the name of the ancient Iberian people in central Spain) settlement. The town (like most other Spanish locations) was subsequently ruled by the Visigoths, Muslims, and reconquered by Christian forces. Here is a picture of the Alcazar (or Muslim fortress) which was constructed in the 800s, conquered by the Christians in the 1300s, turned into a textile factory in 1778, then a military orphanage in 1898, only to be destroyed during the Civil War in 1936.
I then saw this church, built in 1578, which is now used as a branch of the University of Alcalá:
Near this church stands the Palacio del Infantado, a palace belonging to the powerful ducal Mendoza family. Its construction lasted three centuries from the 1300s to the 1600s and was remodeled following the bombings of the Civil War. It is an impressive building, constructed in the Mudéjar architectural style with a statue of Cardinal Pedro González de Mendoza nearby.
The courtyard of the palace was equally intriguing:
There was also a garden behind the palace:
The palace also held a museum concerning the history of Guadalajara. It contained everything from ancient Celtiberian coins to a Muslim oil lamp:
From Visigothic belt-buckles to the sarcophagus of a member of the Mendoza family:
A special exhibition hall displayed several Christmas-themed exhibits including a large and highly detailed miniature nativity scene:
We also found a building called the Convento de la Piedad. In the late 1300s, after a series of pogroms against the local Jewish community, the Mendoza family took the land owned by the synagogues and constructed a palace there. It was subsequently used as a convent and is a school today:
On the way back to the train, I caught this picture of the sky:
I also bought a jar of honey from this shop as Guadalajara is famous for this product. It is quite thicker than the honey I was used to, and a little sweeter. I tried it on toast this evening and it's great.
After we returned to Alcalá de Henares, I went to El Baserri and ate. I got a free tapa of fried potatoes with sausage and a main course of Pulpo de Gallego (Galician-style octopus).
Tomorrow, I'm going to Madrid to visit some of the museums, such as the Prado, as the museums in the city have free admission on Sundays.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

You Sent Me to Toledo

This week I picked up another tutoring session on Thursday afternoons. I help the fourth-grade daughter and sixth-grade son of one of the school's janitors with their homework. It's an easy job as they both speak English very well and are quite well-behaved.

Yesterday Cody, Emma, Kevin, Jacqui, Tamara, and I went to Toledo, a nearby medieval town. We took a train from the Atocha station in Madrid. From there, it was a thirty-minute ride. Toledo is located in a more mountainous region than Madrid and its center is a walled city atop a hill. It's famous for swordmaking, marzipan, and its medieval architecture. Here are some street-views:
One of the first places we went was the Iglesia de San Ildefonso, a Jesuit Catholic church with a tall belltower from which you can view the entire city. Under the church were buried four of the church members who were killed in 1936 during the siege of Toledo in the Spanish Civil War. It was a beautiful church with traditional Spanish statues (painted figures of Jesus, Mary, and various saints). Here are some pictures of the interior of the church and the view from the belltower:
This is a photo of the Catedral de Toledo from the roof:
This is the Alcazar, or old fortress, of the city:
When we left the church we walked down the street near Catedral de Toledo:
We walked to the edge of the city wall from here and looked out on the river and the houses and castles on the other side.
The town of Toledo has a long history, being a Roman city, then the capital of the Visigothic Kingdom of Spain in the early Middle Ages. During the late-Middle Ages, Toledo was a prosperous city. The Caliphate of Córdoba took control of the city and a period of peace existed between the Muslims, Jews, and Christians of the area. The city was besieged during the Christian reconquest of Spain. We wandered upon a medieval church adorned with shackles. These were the shackles of prisoners of Islamic Toledo. When the Christian forces took control of the city, they freed the prisoners because they were Christians (despite the fact that the prisoners were all thieves and murderers). The chains remain a symbol of the reconquest of Toledo.
We then went to a bridge by the river famous for being mentioned as a travel spot of Don Quixote in Cervantes' novel. The locals also have a story about this bridge, which claims the Muslims took control of the city 712AD when the governor of Al-Andalus (Muslim Spain), Abd al-Aziz ibn Musa, fell in love with Egilona, the wife of the Visigoth King Roderic. The bridge is supposedly above the location of their tryst. A jealous Roderic supposedly then went to war against the Muslims and lost. The story is actually false as the Moors invaded Toledo while Roderic was gone. Roderic was killed in battle and Abd al-Aziz ibn Musa did force Egilona to marry him several years later. Nevertheless, many plays, poems, and operas have been written recounting the mythical saga of King Roderic.

Here is a picture of our group on the bridge. Left to right: Jacqui, Tamara, Emma, Cody, and I:
We then stumbled upon the home of El Greco (Domenikos Theotocopolous) the Renaissance painter from Greece who came to Toledo in 1577 to paint a commissioned alterpiece. He fell in love with the city and remained there for the rest of his life, painting scenes of Toledo.

We went to a restaurant which was decorated like a hunting lodge and ordered a menú del día. I had ham with green beans in garlic sauce for my first course, followed by calamari for the second course, and rice with milk and cinnamon for dessert. Outside the restaurant I saw this shop with a castle in the window made from marzipan:

We spent about eight hours in Toledo and returned to Madrid. We planned on going to a Guy Fawkes celebration (a British holiday on November 5 commemorating a failed attempt to blow up Parliament) in Madrid after that, but we were all so tired that we returned to Alcalá where we met later that night for tapas at a place called El Tapón. I had a skewer of spiced beef and a sandwich of fried pork.

Today a large group of us met for our usual Sunday afternoon lunch. We went to El Baserri where I had a soup made with a broth from monkfish head with potatoes and clams for the first course, chicken in almond sauce for the second course, and lemon pudding for dessert. We ate inside this time as the weather was chilly today (60 degrees). We then went for coffee at a cafe called El Hemisferio, a cool place that has a large Universal Studios film camera from the 1920s on display. Next weekend I plan on going to Madrid and visiting the Prado art museum and the archeological museum.