Saturday, September 29, 2007

All's Fair in Sports and...

There are a lot of things about Spanish "politics" and "business" that I simply do not understand. In fact, the more I see the less I understand. And the more I see the more convinced I am that the powerful people in Spain, whether their power is in the form of business, sport, or politics, are really all colleagues in the same lio (mess). The latest drop in my bucket of confusion falls from the hybrid tree of sports, business, and media.

Thursday evening much of Madrid was finishing their dinner in preparation for a couple of hours watching the public TV station La Sexta for the Real Madrid-Betis soccer game. Less than an hour before the planned emission it was announced that Real Madrid was not allowing the La Sexta crew to broadcast the game and that the match would be available through pay-per-view only. What ensued was pure television chaos. When hubby Nacho tried to purchase the match through our Telefónica Imagenio (cable) service we lost the cable programming all together - no pay-per-view, no guide, no channels whatsoever. When he tried to restart the service he was met with all kinds of error messages and we were unable to get any channels for the rest of the night. After resigning himself to listen to the match on the radio he discovered that those people who had managed to order the game through the PPV screen were still without an image well into the second half of the match.

What surprised (I'm naive, I know) and confused me about the whole event was that there were clearly major politics happening behind the scenes to cause such an about-face so close to game time. Real Madrid's official position is that, as an acceptable agreement with La Sexta was not reached in time for the broadcast, they proceeded with a previous agreement with the pay-per-view provider. La Sexta argues that an agreement HAD been reached and that la Liga, governing body of Spanish soccer, had chosen the Real Madrid-Betis game as the one "free" game of the week. (A 1997 law states that one free "general interest" soccer game shall be broadcast per week. The Real Madrid-Betis game was the last of the week.) Apparently there are major companies with political and sporting interests and connections that are fighting over who gets to broadcast what games. A more in-depth discussion (done by someone clearly much less naive than I) of the politics at work can be found at South of Watford.

Some reports indicate that La Sexta's parent company, Mediapro, is possibly pursuing civil action against Ramon Calderón, president of Real Madrid, for denying them access to the game and violating the above-mentioned law guaranteeing one "free" game per week. Likely he would never actually be sanctioned. I'm fairly certain, especially considering he's a lawyer by trade, that the tangled web of politics-sports-business-media also includes the courts.

Friday, September 28, 2007

We Didn't Start the Fire

There's been a spate of photo-burnings lately. And not the kind accompanied by a glass of wine, a trash can, and a stack of pictures of your ex. A couple of weeks ago when King Juan Carlos I was in Girona, Catalunya to inaugurate a new Technological Park some kids (late teens) burned a picture of him and the queen. Apparently the act of burning a picture of the monarch is illegal in Spain and a search ensued to find the perpetrators. So far two of the first group have been identified with a reported nine witnesses to be identified and questioned next week. Also in for questioning is the photographer who documented the incident and who has refused to surrender the rest of his film from that day. In support of that first group and to add fuel to the fire (pun intended) four masked people repeated the act today at the University of Barcelona. Rumor has it that people are also organizing a massive "photo-burning" demonstration on October 12, Spanish National Day.

Unlike the States, burning of the flag, or a picture of the figurehead leader, is illegal in Spain. Most of the demonstrations involving such activities are in protest of the Spanish national government and in favor of regional independence - Catalunya, Pais Vasco, etc. When doing some research online I found a website,, that allows you to express disgust with your country of choice without fear of legal repercussions. Interestingly enough the top flag burned online is from Spain - 46% of the total!! Are Spaniards more disgruntled with their government than the rest of the world? Or does the illegality of the burning, flag or photo, make it somehow more appealing? Would it be such a statement and gather such attention if it weren't illegal? It seems to me as though the government and press is furthering the cause of the demonstrators by giving them such national coverage.


All signs point to fall's arrival in Madrid. Just as the leaves change colors, so does the character of the City. Summer work schedules are at an end. The streets are once again full of Spaniards. Kids everywhere are dressed in navy and grey (standard school uniform colors) and shop windows are filled with boots, sweaters, and coats. The sidewalk terraces are slowly getting packed up. Gazpacho is off the lunch menu and people are starting to crave cocido instead. Sure, there are some cons to the arrival of fall in Madrid - traffic is worse, lines at the supermarket are longer, and there's no more procrastinating with work and school. But if you enjoy city life September in Madrid is what it's all about.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Aubergines in Autumn

As an American I tend(ed) to make my grocery list without thought to the seasons, as I was confident that whatever I needed would be easily found at the store. That's not quite the case here in Spain. Over the summer my list included broccoli and I was shocked to not find it in the stores. Produce here is limited by the seasons, and while I at first found this annoying I have learned to appreciate the freshness of what IS available. And I have even learned to take inspiration from the supermarket. Earlier this week I was in the store grabbing a bag of carrots (which ARE available year-round) when I spotted some aubergines (right, Mom?). I'd never cooked eggplants before but I decided to give it a try - the autumn flavors were calling to me. And I was not disappointed by the results. From now on I think I'll just put "veggies" on the list and see what catches my eye.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Thoughts Upon My Return

Flying into Madrid yesterday I was reassured to find myself happy about the return. I've always been a firm believer in the idea that when faced with a tough decision you should just make a choice and then see how that choice makes you feel. I was pretty sure that coming to Spain was the right choice for us, but the fact that I was comforted by the sight of the Spanish plains was definitely a bonus. (On a side note, I was actually struck by how the fields in the rural outskirts of Madrid reminded me of the patchwork colors of the Midwestern plains in the States. Perhaps that's partly why I was comforted by the sight?)

Just in case I was somehow uncertain if I had actually arrived in Madrid or in the States, I was quickly greeted by a whiff of cigarette smoke. I know that the government is making strides towards curbing the Spanish smoking epidemic, and I definitely think progress is being made, but it's hard to change something so deeply ingrained in the culture. In my two weeks Stateside I don't think I smelled smoke even once (granted my smoking friends were out of town and my social time was mostly spent at house-parties, not bars...), but once back in Spain I was confronted with it before I even reached the passport control.

Once I reached home I was happy to see that my public health card had finally arrived. I would certainly have received any needed health care as I was officially in the "system," but possession of the actual card is reassuring. They'd said it would take about a month to get the card but mine arrived more than 3 months later. Perhaps it was delayed by the summer-time lag. I'm hoping my work permit and residency are not similarly delayed.

While in St. Louis I loaded up on American toiletries and drugs. I'm trying to break myself of the connection to those items that I am most familiar with, but I'm not there just yet, so I took advantage of the trip to stock up. My thinking in wanting to make that break is partly because of the price (5€ for Dove deodorant and 11€ for a 4-pack of razors?!?!?) but mostly because I think it's unhealthy to be constantly thinking of what I left behind. That being said, I've been working on a list of those items that I enjoy/miss most from both the St. Louis and Madrid. (I've chosen those instead of the States and Spain simply because I'm most familiar with them. But some of these things are available country-wide.) It's a work in progress. Can you help me add to it?

  • Cloudless skies (a rarity in St. Louie)
  • Claras
  • Eggs with the expiration date stamped on the shell (strange, I know)
  • Cheap taxis
  • The "Chinese" stores (like the dollar-stores in the States but sooo much better!)
  • Metro
  • Gazpacho


  • TJ Maxx & Marshalls
  • St. Louis Bread Co. (known as Panera elsewhere in the States)
  • Toasted Ravioli
  • Day-quil & Ny-quil
  • Expanded and HD cable TV
  • Baseball
  • House parties (really in South Florida since that's where my friends do it best!)

Flying Business

I'm back and as a follow-up to my earlier post about business class...

I think that on an international flight, if you can easily afford it (or get it with airmiles like I did), business class is completely worth the price. There was actually no First Class on the Delta flight, so I don't actually know if business class is similar on other carriers or if this was like first class...) I was totally impressed with the service, food, and comfort. Meals are served on china with crystal and real silverware (and tiny-little S&P shakers!) and the flight attendants are extremely attentive. On the domestic flights, it was still a nice treat to have free drinks and good service, but I don't know if it's really worth the price (unless of course you get your company to foot the bill!!) Another major bonus is the business lounge that you have access to during layovers. Open bar, snacks, and a totally stress-free ambience is a welcome respite from the noise and bustle of the airport terminals. I was spoiled by the whole experience.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Slow Ride

When I got back into St. Louis this week I took out one of the cars for a little shopping expedition. Driving a car is, I guess, like riding a bicycle - you don't really ever forget how to do it. However, I look at my return to Spain with a certain trepidation as one of the items at the top of my to-do list for my return to Spain is to sign-up for classes at an autoescuela - I need to get my Spanish driver's license. I've been driving for 12 years and (luckily) have spent most of that time driving a manual transmission; getting behind the wheel of the car is second nature. But I have a feeling things will be slightly different in Madrid.

When I was living in South Florida a report was published about the drivers in various American cities. South Florida placed first on the list in terms of speeding and aggressive driving. St. Louis placed first on the opposite list in recognition of its conscientious and polite drivers. Even so, even after almost 4 years of South Florida driving, the thought of driving in Madrid scares me a little. It seems like a silly fear - after all most of the time you can't go much over 35 miles (km) per hour and little fender benders, scratches, and bumps seem a part of daily life. But cruising down the wide lanes basking in the stark absence of mopeds, I'm reminded of how frenetic Madrid driving can be.

People already know that I'm not Spanish by my accent (although I'm working on that); I wonder if the same will be true with my driving. Will the blink of my turn signal tell the world that a guiri is at the wheel?

P.S. The title of the post is in honor of the Foghat song playing on the radio as I drove back home this afternoon - quite appropriate.