May 31, 2009

The mountains: the flowers, the sun, the rain, the hail, then sun returns

We took the little train
and got off here.
The skies were blues and the clouds were fluffy
so we stopped to admire the walls
and the flowers.

But after a couple hours the sky got darker...
And then the sky rumbled with thunder. We had just arrived at our favorite hilltop spot when fat drops fell on us, followed by a drizzle that turned into rain that then turned into hail, which pelted us as we hid under leafy oaks. I wrapped a plastic bag around my head. M did a rain rave dance to keep warm. After 20 minutes, M ran off to scout for a big enough rock ledge to squat under and found one so we rushed off to our new refuge to wait out the rain. Another 15 minutes passed before the rain waned and the sun returned.

We hung our shirts out to dry
and I did a sun dance.

All these photos were taken by me on our mountain hike in the Madrid sierra yesterday.

May 29, 2009

Free Lesson

It was a beautiful sunny day, she had just finished paying the phone bill at the post office so she had very little cash left in her wallet. Feeling less paranoid about getting robbed, a lightness filled her and put a twinkle in her step. All day she'd been worried and tense about getting pick pocketed while carrying 100 € in her backpack so she clutched her bag in front of her on every metro ride, up and down every escalator, walking along every street. But now that she'd paid her bill and her wallet was near empty, her relief translated into a carefree saunter through the streets of Embajadores to Lavapies. It was, after all, a beautiful sunny day. People were wandering the streets, couples were laughing, children were playing, girls were licking ice cream cones. She mindfully focussed her attention on what she was seeing as Cuban salsa from her ipod filled in the scene with a spicy soundtrack. La la la, que bonita. She paused to see the debris left by the demolition of a building on Calle Valencia near the plaza and she thought about the dress she didn't buy (because she was being stingy) in the boutique that was now only rubble. She made note to not be so frugal next time and just buy "that cute dress" when she had the opportunity because they may tear down the shop without her knowing and then she'll never get the chance wear "that cute dress". All these thoughts were idly running though her monkey mind and she was happy to be so at ease, slowly strolling instead of rushing around as usual. She continued her paseo along Plaza Lavapies, past the eyes of the young bald man at the table promoting the Indian Film Festival when she happened to catch her reflection in a store window and noticed her backpack was completely unzipped. Panicked, she quickly pulled the bag in front of her to look for her wallet. It was still there, buried under her books - one of her added security measures. Shame rushed to her face. She had let down her vigilant guard to enjoy the moment and thieves were quick to take advantage of it. She felt a fool, unzipped, her contents flapping in the wind, exposed for all the barrio to see. She was a flat. She hadn't even noticed the nimble fingers behind her, unzipping her, as she naively basked, distracted by the sweet moments of street life. While it felt momentarily blissful to be so naively unaware of danger, the lesson she learned for free is this: NEVER EVER let your guard down for the thieves own the streets and you are mere prey waiting to be picked. Enjoy the street life and sun but always keep your eyes on your valuables. These are hard financial times and thieves are even harder up than you.

May 23, 2009

A dance after the rain

I hurried up the stairs from the metro after shopping for a gift in Sol. The steps were wet from the rain and the air was heavy with moisture. As I was walking briskly past Plaza Lavapiés, she caught my eye. A softly rotund señora in old blue jeans and a cheap printed blouse was dancing to a flamenco cante blaring from a ghettoblaster next to one of the benches that line the plaza. She was accompanied by a wobbly elderly señor in a baseball cap doing his drunken version of flamenco hand expressions. Their friends looked on in amusement while swigging their cans of beer. True to the gypsy spirit of Flamenco, this dance had broken out spontaneously because the music compelled them to dance after the rain. Stumbling upon scenes like this brings a smile to my face and reminds me why I love Lavapiés. You never know what you're going to find around the corner. And that's a wonderful and refreshing thing.

May 22, 2009

Going down the well and reemerging with a rebirth of wonder

In Sintra, Portugal there is a magical place called Quinta da Regaleira. Here you'll find a hidden entrance to an Initiation Well, which has a dark and mysterious passage leading to unknown places.

Descend half way down and you'll emerge at the Guardian's Entrance, which is nestled in dense foliage. 

Descend deeper and you'll emerge at the waterfall and lake with stepping stones and carp swimming in its murky waters.

The last exit will take you to the Unfinished Well, a rustic stone rebirth canal that delivers you back into the world.

All these photos were taken by me in Sintra, Portugal during a journey that not only thrilled and delighted me, it more importantly reawakened in me a rebirth of wonder. 

This well is a physical representation of a very old psychological process, a mythological journey into the underworld and the bringing back of hidden treasure. And what better treasure than a renewed sense of inspired wonder. It's brighter than all the gold and jewels in the world because it shines light into the dark corners of the soul. This experience is an essential part in the journey of the depressed mind and a reminder not to dwell in the darkness but instead to seek the light for during the journey to the surface, you will discover the very treasure you are seeking. At least this is how the journey has been for me. Have you had similar journeys? When was the last time you experienced a rebirth of wonder?

Happy Friday!

May 17, 2009

My First Bullfight

We arrive at beautiful Las Ventas with time to spare.
We wait in line for our turn to enter.
The matadores greet us.
The stands are packed as the season kicks off on the San Isidro weekend

We all wait with anticipation. The buzz in the air is palpable.
And so it begins with introductions and a parade around the ring.

First, the suerte de capote where the bull is tested for ferocity.
Then the man on the horse, the picador, gets first stab with his vara.
Next comes more stabbing in the tercio de banderillas (the third of flags) stage.

In the final stage, the tercio de muerte (the third of death), the matador comes out with a small red cape (muleta) and a sword. The matador lures the bull into a series of passes called a faena.

The faena ends once the matador gets the bull into a position to stab it between the shoulder blades and through the aorta or heart. This sword thrust is called an estocada.
If all goes well, the bull falls to its knees and dies fairly quickly afterwards. In the coup de grâce a peon uses a dagger to end the bull's suffering. We see one of the bulls shudder in a terrible death rattle... but at least he dies quickly.

Things don't go as well for the poor bull below. He isn't stabbed correctly so begins puking blood and then smashes his head against the ring wall and dies. The matador is booed.

We watch six bulls killed in this ritualized slaughter and each bull carcass is dragged out by a team of mules.

All these photos were taken by me at yesterday's bullfight. The experience left me with a clash of contrasting emotions because bullfights are beautiful and grotesque, skillfully artistic and yet revoltingly barbaric. I found myself fascinated by what I saw despite the cringing I felt. Watching death is an awfully disturbing thing. Would I go again? I'm not sure. Probably not. The experience is still too fresh in my mind - the images of the death rattle and blood spewing will haunt me for some time.

May 16, 2009

Dancing under the stars

Nostalgic music from the 30s, 40s and 50s filled Sabatini Garden (behind the Royal Palace) and inspired young and old, fashionable to unfashionable to dance. Someone mutters that the scene is like a wedding with a run-of-the-mill discography - a dance for geriatrics and the uncool. But I was charmed by the unselfconscious abandon of the dancers and their smiles. I think that being judgmental in this setting is akin to being a narrow-minded, poo pooing Mr. Darcy at the village ball -  a saying 'no' to the simple pleasure of the human soul to dance. As for me, I enjoyed the atmosphere and the dancing spirit of the Madrileños.

May 15, 2009

A view from La Pradera de San Isidro

May 15th is the Feast Day of San Isidro and a popular public holiday in Madrid. San Isidro, the Patron Saint of Madrid, was a poor farmer who performed such miracles as making a spring gush by banging on the ground while he was ploughing sometime in the 1100s. Madrileños celebrate their Patron Saint by dressing in traditional costumes called "castizo" and dancing the "chotis". The men (chulapos) wear flat check caps, waistcoats and handkerchieves around their necks while the women (chulapas) wear elegant dresses, red flowers atop their heads, head scarves and shawls. 

These photos were taken by me at a family-oriented fiesta in La Pradera de San Isidro (the San Isidro Meadow) where a hermitage was built on the site of the saint's gushing spring miracle. Legend has it that this hermitage's water fountain streams holy water with healing properties - it brought Prince Philip back to health in 1528!

This long weekend is full of celebratory activities: concerts, fireworks, theatre, zarzuela, street comedy, ballroom dancing under the stars, a Cocido Madrileno (a hearty chickpea and meat stew) cook off, and it also kicks off  the bullfighting season. I'm going to my first bullfight on Saturday to experience the blood lust for myself... the ritual slaughter of animals makes me a little queasy but I feel it's an important cultural spectacle to experience once while in Spain. So I'll let you know how it goes in Sunday's post.

Feliz dia de San Isidro!

May 10, 2009

Tick Tock

She stands 
still trying to capture 
the crocodile with tick tock in his belly 
chasing the antique horse of innocence 
weathered as time looms and 
reflections of the outside world impose 
upon the neverland dream of an 
eternal childhood. 

Photo taken by me in Paris. The accompanying words are my rusty attempt at my old muse,  poetry.

May 9, 2009

Malasaña Street Art

The animals:

The many faces:
raw realism
suggestive lines
harlequin headed

The Murals:
graffiti gumbo
single vision

All these photos were taken by me as I wandered the streets of Malasaña. This barrio is a treasure trove of graffiti. I'll probably make a return visit soon to photograph more storefronts and murals. 

May 8, 2009

Kitschy Dollies in the Window

Tata Ekeko: The Bolivian God of Abundance. There are several charming folk stories about the legend of Ekeko.

A green Indian chief.

Many Marys

Reina Maria Lionza (or Yara, the Venezuelan queen of love), Cacique Guaicaipuro (an Indian Venezuelan chief who formed a power coalition against the Spanish) and Negro Felipe. These three form the “Tres Potencias” (three powers) in Venezuela's heavenly court.

I suppose devotees of these icons may be vexed by my calling these potent folk religious symbols, charming kitsch eye candy.. but I mean no disrespect. Honestly. I am a student of how the power of myths enrich our lives. I believe that metaphors often reveal more truth and subtlety of meaning than the straight facts can. And this is the muse of art.

All these photos were taken by me while I was wandering around the trendy barrio Malasaña. A haven for university hipsters and party-goers, this barrio is choked full of the 3 Bs: bars, boutiques, and botellóns. However, Malasaña is not just a spot for boozy nights, it's also home to stylish murals and cool storefronts, some of which I photographed and will share with you tomorrow.

In the meantime, I wish you all a happy Friday!

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