Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Anyone who’s spent much time in Madrid knows that the Spanish have made the public protest into an art form. There is typically at least one demonstration a week and it isn’t uncommon to find road detours as you approach the center of town. Today on my walk back from French class I came upon a protest of the largest trade union in Spain. The CCOO is a conglomeration of several other unions and represents, among others, teachers, miners, pensioners, and health workers. So perhaps it’s normal that they have a lot to protest about. I say that because I have seen three of their demonstrations in the past month - two on Gran Via (the sight of todays) and one in Sol. The disruptive-ness of the manifestation depends on the government’s involvement. There are two kinds of protests in Spain – government-sanctioned ones and not. All three of the CCOO protests I’ve seen were of the former kind. You’d think that would have made them less intrusive, less problematic. Not true.

Perhaps erring on the side of caution, today’s protest was a clear example of them exaggerating the hazard. The police – both local and national – closed two of the largest, most-trafficked roads, Gran Via and Alcala, for about one mile from Plaza de Espana to Puerta de Alcala. As I climbed Gran Via I wondered what was going on. There were ambulances at the ready and dozens of police officers on the streets. It even crossed my mind that there had been some kind of car bomb or real security threat. Not so. It was merely a protest. When I finally reached the scene of the “action” I was surprised to find a mere 100 or so people with banners and whistles. They were surrounded on all sides by national police officers but no one, not the “protestors” nor the police, was overly concerned with the demonstration. People stood around chatting as if they were in a bar having a caña, and had it not been for the banners I would have thought they were a tour group.

Including the officers required to redirect the traffic, the ratio of police to protestors was at least 1:1 or better. Were that many police really necessary? Did they have to close the roads for a mile? Once I reached the point where the roads were open again I realized the true extent of the traffic jam. Cars were backed up for nearly another mile. I’m not against the public protests and I’m not against the police involvement in them but isn’t there a better way to do them? Close the roads for two miles if you are going to have a thousand protests, but for a hundred? The same goes for the protesting group – if you’re going to the trouble of organizing a protest, at least show up – physically and mentally.

Monday, November 26, 2007


Per my mom's request, here are also before and after pictures of our turkey, Paco el Pavo.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Thanksgiving (and money)

Last night we celebrated El Día de Acción de Gracias, better known in the English-speaking world as Thanksgiving. In preparation for the 36 hour cooking spree I went to one of the stores dedicated to American foodstuffs and holidays products. These stores are notoriously expensive but they are inevitable if you are trying to plan a good-old American feast. While there I picked up my Thanksgiving necessities such as canned yams, marshmallows, and cranberry sauce. The few items pictured above cost me about 40 euros, $60 or so. A serious gouging. But for a once-a-year celebration it’s worth it.

When my friend was visiting a couple weeks ago she kept commenting on how expensive things were. It’s certainly true when you look at American products like Special K cereal and Diet Coke (and with the weak dollar). But, those prices are probably offset by other things – like the pack of 15 Christmas cards I picked up for 50 cents.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Sin Palabras

Saturday night we went to the Spain-Sweden soccer match at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu. They’re in the classification stage for Eurocopa 2008 and Spain lost the previous faceoff 0-2 in Sweden. In an effort to ensure a full stadium and reap every benefit possible from the home field advantage, the government decided to keep the game tickets as cheap as possible. It worked – the stadium was packed (at just 17€ that’s not a surprise), the crowd was energized, and the Spaniards pulled off a 3-0 victory. For me one of the highlights was the playing of the Spanish national anthem. Sports-infused Spanish patriotism was in full force and it really was an impressive sight – the singing, the flags, the cheers. (Not the best camera work, I know.)

I’ve always been amazed that the lack of words doesn’t damper the party. But after the scene at the soccer game (and especially after seeing the massive pre-game botellon [street drinking parties]) I’ve decided that the lack of words actually lets people sing out with more energy and complete abandon. Thinking of the Star Spangled Banner, I never sing with all my gusto. Who can hit that high “free” note anyway? If all I had to sing was, “lalalalala,” I would probably just let myself go.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Baby Steps

Sometimes when we’re out somewhere people watching Nacho will say, “That girl looks American.” I always wonder how he can say that when, to me at least, everyone we pass on the street could be American. Spain still has a long way to go before it reaches such diversity, but it’s definitely on its way. I was intrigued by the diversity shown in this ad posted in the Metro the other day. I think it’s safe to say that 10 or even 5 years ago the little kids would all have looked a bit more similar. It is interesting, though, that there are no dark-skinned children in the ad. But like we learned from What About Bob – it’s all about baby steps.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007


As ridiculous as it’s going to sound, when I was younger I would sometimes watch C-Span at my grandparent’s house. I think I did it simply because I could. We didn’t have cable TV at home and my grandparents did, so the two weeks of vacation at their house meant Nickelodeon, MTV, and C-Span. Once I got over the novelty of it I realized how mind-numbingly boring the channel actually was. The magic of making a new law was not as exciting as my Civics teacher would like and it did nothing to inspire my interest in political science. I think had the US congressmen been more like their Spanish counterparts I might have been more enthused. Today the news showed a clip of the Spanish politicians arguing over the recent price hike of basic necessities (milk is up 12.5%!). It was not just more interesting than the rest of Spanish TV (not a major accomplishment) – it was actually entertaining. They yell, they make jokes, they talk out of turn. And I actually watched it long enough to learn something.

Monday, November 5, 2007

On the Fence

Today’s top news story is the visit of King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia to the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. Located on the northern coast of Africa and completely surrounded by Morocco, the cities are cause for major sovereignty disputes between Spain and Morocco, and with this week’s royal visit the scene of protests by the latter. Truth be told, the cities are a regular fixture on the news due to their uncomfortable position at the center of immigration conflicts between Africa and the EU. Instead of trying to cross the Strait of Gibraltar in precarious rafts, many Africans choose to attempt entrance into one of the two cities, thus giving them easier access to the rest of Europe. Because of that, both of the enclaves are surrounded by a double-rowed border fence, measuring 10 feet in height, topped with barbed wire, and equipped with motion sensors, night-vision cameras, and guard posts. Despite the impressive defenses, the fences are the sight of regular and organized attacks from groups of Africans (sometimes numbering into the hundreds) trying to scale the barrier and gain entrance. Typically some of them are successful at the cost of their own serious injuries and of others who are injured or even killed. Currently Spanish law allows for the immigrants to remain in Spain unless the government can prove the person’s identity and illegal status. The immigrants are actually at an advantage by not having documentation.

Reading up on the topic makes me think of the immigration disputes that exist in the States over the entrance of illegal immigrants from Mexico and beyond. If I remember correctly there is even discussion of and potential legislation proposing construction of a fence along the border. Before proceeding, it would seem prudent for the Washington lawmakers to study the cases of Ceuta and Melilla. Would the construction of such a fence lead to similar tactics by the would-be immigrants? Attacks where people are trampled by the masses in a desperate attempt to reach the promised land? What exactly is the acceptable price to pay to keep people out of the “civilized” world?

Update: Today's news confirms that trying to hop the fence is the lesser of two evils.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Three Hours

My sister and brother-in-law moved to Scotland yesterday. The move’s finally come to fruition after about 6 months of negotiations, and I couldn’t be happier to have them so close. Granted, Edinburgh is still a good three-hour plane ride away, but compared to twelve that’s pretty reasonable! It’s like the trip from Fort Lauderdale to St. Louis. I find it hard to resist comparing the continent of Europe to the county of the United States. I can only figure that, as an American, I look for something of similar size to which I can compare my homeland. Distances, populations, time zones – they are only comparable if I look at Europe as a whole. Like that old line, “pick on someone your own size!” I tell Spaniards that I went to college 13 hours by car from my home or that each summer we spent over 20 hours in the car to reach the Florida beaches, and they start to figure how close to Russia they could get in that much time. But Russia will have to wait for me. Edinburgh is next on my list!