El Corte Ingles

England has Harrods, Liberty's, Fortnum & Mason, Selfridges, the House of Fraser, John Lewis, Debenhams, Marks & Spencer, and British Home Stores.

So what does Spain have? El Corte Inglés! Literally translated, 'The English Cut', because originally the shop started off as a small tailors in central Madrid (in the street that links Sol and Gran Via). So it was the famous English tailoring that inspired the name, and nothing to do with our numerous department stores. The tailors opened in 1890, but it really began to flourish from 1934, when it was bought out and expanded by ambitious young Asturians who were inspired by the department stores they'd worked for in Cuba. These days El Corte Inglés can be found all over Spain, recognisable for their Brutalist (or maybe just ugly) architecture that makes no effort to fit in with its surroundings. But like it or not, they're a part of modern Spanish culture, and are pretty hard to avoid shopping in - some items are surprisingly cheaper than elsewhere, and generally, because they're huge, they have a wide variety to choose from.

Above is a sketch of the closest El Corte Inglés to me, just down the road in Goya (in fact, this is only one half of it, there's another similarly giant building on the other side of the street). Although generally department stores make me claustrophobic/frustrated/homicidal - I do find myself going here for several reasons:

1. as the name implies, it does have certain English items I can't find easily elsewhere, most importantly good quality cheddar cheese

2. a very well stocked bookshop (including an English section, although I mostly like to look at all the Spanish graphic novels)

3. emergency art supplies for when the better art shops are on their ridiculously long lunchbreak (nearly all the small shops here close between 2 and 5pm, which I find really irritating given that that's usually the time I want to go shopping)



To someone who hasn't spent a long time in England, the difference between the tea in these two boxes might not be immediately apparent. 

To the born and bred Englishman however, the "té rojo" or "té negro" available here (I don't quite understand the distinction, and neither do the people selling it) is a sad offering indeed. Unlike the rich brick-red colour exemplified by Yorkshire Tea, adding milk to the tea you get in Spain results in a sickly pale grey liquid that might have been wrung from a dishcloth. It tastes like it too.

That doesn't mean tea isn't drunk here; in fact it's surprisingly popular, but it's not like the English-style - for a start it's more commonly referred to as infusiones rather than té, and this includes your fruit teas, chamomile, green tea, jasmine etc that are the most common choices. If té negro/rojo is ordered, people will normally take it black.

To get a drink of good old fashioned English tea the way you're used to, you have to buy it from El Corte Inglés, or smaller importers, and pay the import prices, of course. As I mentioned in a previous post though, the milk still tastes different. Or is it the water? Or both? At any rate, for the real connoisseurs, expat tea will unfortunately never taste quite right.

You can't have everything.

Let's Walk - part 2

Sway through the crowd to a Mayor Place

Bowie and Frampton continue their walk through Plaza de Jacinto Benavente, to Calle de la Bolsa, where Peter Frampton is refused a haircut.

The little barbershop, called Sanabria, has been there 97 years, and although it's changed somewhat over the years - new tiles, new layout inside, they've still got a curtain hanging across the door, to keep out unwanted hippy types like Peter. My own hair was getting pretty long too, so in the interest of 'research' I went along and got a cut. What should come on the radio but "Life on Mars?". 

From there, they head across the Plaza de Santa Cruz and towards the Plaza Mayor, or as the anonymous Record Exec man in the suit that's accompanying them refers to it, "the Mayor Place".
At last they get their drink, at the bar called "Plaza Mayor Cervercería Dos".

I'll be exhibiting all these drawings, along with more from the route, at Picnic Bar, in Malasaña throughout April. It's my first exhibition in Madrid, so if you're in the area, come along and see it! Prints and originals are now available to buy here: brenville.com/la-ruta-bowie

If you want to walk La Ruta Bowie yourself, I've created these directions on Google Maps:

Let's Walk - part 1

Put on your red shoes and walk Madrid...

The above video was put online just recently. Not only is it a fun glimpse of a relaxed David Bowie enjoying himself as he wanders the streets, but it's an interesting record of how central Madrid looked 30 years ago.

With the help of Google's Street View, I retraced his steps, and then decided to go see for myself what had changed, and what had stayed the same... here are some highlights:

The Villa Rosa Flamenco Bar - an easily recognisable location from its tiled walls, it's been here over 100 years, although for a while it was a disco in the 90s, it's now been restored to it's flamenco tradition.

Calle de la Cruz - the biggest change. I've always wondered about this empty space. Thanks to the video you can see what was there before. Shops. Duh.

Further up the Calle de la Cruz you can still find the shop that Bowie jokes is where all the artists of Madrid get their paints from. It isn't quite as ancient as it appears - it first opened its doors in 1975 but, considering what it sells, they should really have given it a fresh coat of paint since then.

Marzo Todo Almodóvar

Following on from the last post, there happens to be a special celebration this month (March 2017) at the Cine Doré in Lavapiés barrio of Madrid, showing all 20 of Almodóvar's films. It opened last night with a special introduction by the director himself, and Carmen Maura, one of the actresses most associated with his work, before a screening of La Ley Del Deseo.

Tickets were extremely limited, and I queued up for hours, but in the end I had the supreme luck of getting the very last two tickets left before they sold out.

We were up in the balcony, and had a pretty good view. However there must have been easily 300 seats, yet only 100 of those went on sale to the public, which is pretty shocking given the huge demand that existed (there were queues down the street behind me, and I was the last to get a ticket). Worse still, there were even a few empty seats here and there, and the boxes weren't used at all.
Being English, I didn't recognise all the VIPs in attendance, but I saw Manuela Carmena, the Mayor of Madrid - when she entered the whole room gave her a round of applause, and on my way out I rubbed shoulders with actress Carmen Machi, another Almodóvar regular. I don't mean I talked to her, I mean I literally brushed past her on the way to the cloakroom. Oh well.

Spanish speakers, to read more about the evening check out Todo Almodóvar.

Almodóvar, Julieta and me

Spain's most famous director, Pedro Almodóvar lives in Madrid and it's no secret that he likes the place. He's been associated since the beginning with La Movida Madrileña of the 80s and while I'm not sure if all of his films have scenes set in the city, it's certainly close. Even "Los Amantes Pasajeros", which takes place almost entirely onboard a plane, cuts briefly to Madrid. 

So given the long list of places in Madrid that he's immortalised on film, perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised to discover that for his most recent movie Julieta he'd even filmed in my local park, a 2 minute walk away.

I saw it in the cinema (the first time I watched a film in Spanish without subtitles!) but was completely oblivious at the time to any local landmarks. To be fair, this was last year when I hadn't been in the neighbourhood very long, and the scenes aren't particularly prominent. But the other day I stumbled upon this picture and I realised.

So I went out and drew these on location, then added in the actresses afterwards using stills from the movie (the bench on the court doesn't exist in real life).

Only a few weeks ago, Emma Suárez won a Goya award for Best Actress for her performance as Julieta. I really enjoyed the film, and now that I know that that's my tennis court in the background it might be time for a rewatch!

A good way to see "the real" or at least less touristy side of Madrid is to do your own walking tour of some of Almodóvar's film locations. For inspiration, check out this collection by photographer Carlos Pina.

The Metro: O'Donnell

All over Spain there's no shortage of Irish bars - O'Neill's, O'Reilly's, Finnegan's, O'Connor's....
O'Donnell however is not one of them. One stop in the other direction from Manuel Becerra, this Metro station is named for its location on Calle O'Donnell, which in turn is named after this bloke, Leopoldo: 

What on earth is an Irishman doing commemorated amongst the famous names of Spain, you might ask, somewhat racistly. Well, it turns out he's as Spanish as paella, tortilla, and siestas. Born in Tenerife in 1809, he was Spain's Prime Minister not once but three times, and gave his name to not one but two barrios of Madrid - O'Donnell, and Tetuán (of which he was Duke).

So what did he do? Well, he led a failed coup, was exiled, returned to favour, was in charge of a brutal repression of Cuba, aggressively pursued imperial expansion, led the army in its invasion of Morocco, foiled a revolt and was finally dismissed by the Queen for brutality. So not an entirely spotless career then, but enough to be remembered, evidently. And his name? He was the descendent of an Irish king no less, but it was his grandfather who first took the O'Donnell name to Spain, after becoming a general in the Irlanda regiment of the Spanish army. Due to their common Catholic beliefs, Irishmen had been fighting for Spain since 1580. The O'Donnells became part of the noble families not just of Spain, but France and Austria as well, and their descendents are still around today.