Now each hat will extract its mission, Homer

I discovered something wonderful about jet lag this morning after having vilified it so extensively yesterday - I slept in later this morning than I have in many a year!  Like the proverbial log.  Lovely.

As such, it was practically noon by the time I stepped outside the hotel.  I spent a pleasant couple of hours riding about the city on the top of a different double decker bus, this time meandering through the oldest quarters of the city.  As we approached the lively area referred to as the "Sol", I began to notice a heavy police presence accumulating on the streets and plazas.  The bus soon became lodged in a swarm of people as the sound of a multitude of chanting voices grew louder and louder.  A column of thousands of green t-shirted teachers soon appeared, marching around the popular plaza brandishing signs and red umbrellas.  Subsequent news reports from the internet tell me they were there to stage a demonstration against recent austerity measures which have left a good many of them without jobs. 

I disembarked, thinking this would be an excellent place and time to have some lunch. I found a little sandwich shop on a quiet street some distance from the plaza, after deciding I would enjoy some traditional Spanish fare for lunch. I laughed out loud when I picked up the menu only to find that all the sandwiches were named after American movie stars! I selected the Michelle Pfeiffer - bacon (which turns out to be grilled jamon), queso and tomate paired with a strong cup of cafe con leche. As I nibbled my sandwich, I was treated to the spectacle of the Simpsons in Spanish, blaring from a television lodged in the corner. I'm not sure, but I believe the dubbing was in Castillian and the subtitles in Catalan. This particular episode featured a guest appearance by the ghost of Lucy Arnez who had a gravelly, lisping vocalization for Spanish speakers. I could understand enough to continue giggling from time to time as Lisa painted Homer and Bart with green oatmeal.

Museo de Jamon

After lunch I returned to the plaza to do a bit of shopping and popped inside a Santeria supply and the Museum of Jamon.  As I headed back to the bus stop, I observed one of the city's statue artists (i.e., people willing to dress up and pose perfectly still, as if they were human statues) busily chatting away with a decapitated Minnie Mouse.  That small touch of the weirdly absurd seemed a palliative to the stiff Spanish formality I've encountered thus far.  Well, let me clarify so I don't sound so unyielding - I find the Spanish to be perfectly friendly and pleasant, but they do seem to be a bit reserved.  I'm apparently, for example, the only person with pink hair ever to appear in the city - the quick side glances of shock say it all.  Perhaps I've just seen too many formal stone facades and fountain statues isolated from humanity by swirling traffic - I guess I just miss the literal and figurative warmth of my hometown a bit.  Even the troupe of mimes I spotted as the teachers were assembling seemed a bit subdued.  Does that paint the picture?  Even the mimes do not feel silly here in Madrid. 

After returning to my hotel for a tapas reception and meeting for the program I'll be starting tomorrow, I stopped at a nearby grocery store to select some dinner.  A feast of local cheese resulted, allowing me to eschew (rather than laboriously chew) jamon.  Even though I was warned, I'm still surprised at how often it appears in dish after dish.

Tomorrow morning I'm off to a tiny town near Avila, northwest of Madrid.  I'll explain what I'm doing more fully when I arrive and have something interesting to share with you, dear readers.


The Reign in Spain

Has it really been a YEAR since I made my last blog entry?! Shame on me.  Or maybe I should say "la culpa es mia" since I'm writing from Madrid.

"Madrid!" you say - "What on earth are you doing in sunny Spain?"

Well, let's see, I'm here for a couple of weeks to teach some Spaniards to speak with a Texas accent (more later on the VaughnTown program I'll be participating in), eat some delicious tapas, swill some delicious vino and...oh yeah...tilt a few windmills while I'm at it.  Sounds like a good plan, doesn't it?

I arrived at the beautiful and sparkling clean Madrid airport mid morning and then took an easy metro ride directly to my hotel in the downtown area.  I found I was dragging a bit when I got to my room (my flight time seemed to be optimized to produce as much jet lag as possible), so I decided to take it a bit easy this afternoon and simply ride the "Hop On, Hop Off" double decker bus on several pleasant turns through the city.  It turned out to be a good strategy because I was able to spy all sorts of interesting spots to return to without the confusion of having to find my own way around.

The diversity of architecture in this ancient yet enormous city (the third largest in the EU with a metro area population of around 6 million) is very impressive.  There are of course scads of ample-bosomed white marble figures with flowing hair gazing down from rococo iron perches all over the city, but there are also baroque, neoclassicist, cubist, art deco and modern (to name a few) masterpieces nestled in between many of the grand "palaces" as the Spanish call them.

My favorite plaza so far is arrayed around a lovely fountain of Neptune, with the Prado Museum on one side and the Ritz Hotel Madrid on another.  I sure do look forward to discovering many more nuances of this highly decorated city as I travel the avenues by foot.
When the sun began to fade and the air began to exhibit a nip, I decided it was time to return to my swanky hotel room, grab some dinner and dig back into Don Quixote (I'm actually really enjoying it!).  I stopped by a sandwich shop next to my hotel and selected four white isosceles triangles for my meal (left to right): Jamon (ham), foie gras (liver), queso con nueces (cheese and nuts) and queso con tomate (cheese and tomato).  I washed it down with a real Euro-peen Fanta naranja and it made a damn fine repast.  Now if I can just stay awake long enough reading about the great beauty of good Dulcinea to break the evil jet lag cycle...