You see some strange things in the Retiro Park...
Of his visit in 1951, Laurie Lee wrote:
65 years later, although the gypsies have been moved on from the Triana district, tourism has invaded every aspect of the city, and ugly skyscrapers cluster around the outskirts - I still recognise some special atmosphere in Seville, where walking the ancient streets is enough to make you feel at home. There's still plenty of places I want to visit in Andalucía, but Seville is one that I can happily keep coming back to...
Why does tomato and garlic go so well together? It's a divine mystery, but in the cold Spanish soup Salmorejo (Gazpacho's less famous sibling) their combination of flavours reaches the peak of perfection. Salmorejo is my favourite Spanish dish, and possibly my favourite dish ever. The best causes me to smile idiotically (see below) upon eating. It's a tomato soup, best served slightly chilled, and sprinkled liberally with bits of jamón and hard boiled egg.
The first time I tried it I found the flavour very weird and confusing. The second time it lingered on my palette for days and suddenly I was craving more! From then on, there was no going back! And in Spain, the great thing for me is that it's available in supermarkets, so I can have it whenever I want; however, that's been ruined for me by my girlfriend, who makes a salmorejo so good that nothing else comes close. Her recipe is a latterday family secret - her sister convinced a chef in Córdoba (the birthplace of salmorejo) to part with it, if she promised not to share it with anyone else. But I'm a member of the family now, so I've been given the blessing to learn it for myself...probably only because my girlfriend's sick of me asking her to make it all the time.
Incidentally, I recently went to Córdoba and of course I had only one thing on my mind - not the Mesquita, the Alcázar, or the beautiful winding old streets - but to track down the best salmorejo ever. Unfortunately, the restaurant that provided the sacred recipe was too far out of the city centre, and all we could find were touristy places whose food was a little disappointing. Unless you can get specific recommendations, it's really just trial and error. For such a simple dish, the flavour and texture of salmorejo varies wildly from place to place. I've had some really good ones and some really bad ones in Andalucía, and the same goes for here in Madrid too.
There's plenty of recipes online if you want to try making it for yourself. This one for example, looks pretty good. Quite a few include Jerez vinegar as well, but I prefer it without. Try it, and maybe you'll be enganchado (hooked) too!
So yesterday was Spain's second general election in 6 months. I went down to the local polling station to get a better idea of what happens, and to have fun drawing some of the people turning up to vote whilst trying to guess which party they would vote for - some are more obvious than others.
The election results proved last night to be as inconclusive and dissatisfying as before, while the impact of Brexit last week seems to have worked in PP's favour, and been used against Podemos. No party got an overall majority though, and so time will tell what Frankenstein's monster of a coalition will be cobbled together now.
Vegetarians look away now - here is the proof that I'm becoming less guiri and more Spanish: a hunk of dead pig leg in my kitchen!
But not just any dead pig. This is Iberian pig, the finest of pigs, as any Spaniard will tell you, and a far superior ham to the alternative: jamón serrano. Paella and tortilla may be more widely associated with Spain, but jamón iberico is truly the nation's favourite delicacy. Every single bar will serve from it's own jamonero (the thing that holds the jamón), while many of them will have scores of jamones dangling from the ceiling as well, and you only need to go into one of the many "Museo de Jamón" shops to see just how highly jamón is esteemed here.
So it's no surprise that there are different grades of Iberian ham, based on the breed of pig, its diet, and how long the ham is cured. The best quality is known as 'black label', and is a pure-bred Iberian pig, free range and fed on acorns (de bellota). It's then cured between 24 - 48 months, and sells for something in the region €400 or more, while a ración in a restaurant could cost you €40 easily.
Ours isn't black label, but it's still a great luxury, being able to eat quality ham in your own home whenever you want, even if I haven't quite mastered the skill of cutting very fine slices.
Finally, some tips to avoid confusion: etiqueta negra is the tag that identifies the jamón as the best, as opposed to etiqueta roja/verde/blanca which are the other grades. Pata negra refers to jamón iberico in general, as the breed famously has black feet.
Jamón is ham, jamonero is the stand, and jamona is a lady with big breasts. Don't confuse these words.
I'm gradually learning about Spanish politics. There's now only 10 days to go before another general election, after the previous failure to reach a majority government, and I'm surprised there isn't the same feverish atmosphere here in Madrid as there was last year when I was visiting around the time of elections - the Spanish have a reputation for being particularly political, yet it doesn't seem to have figured in general conversation quite as much this time round - perhaps a certain resignation is setting in after the ineffectual first result.
At any rate, the live TV debate between the 4 party leaders this Monday (the 13th June, therefore dubbed 13-J, which sounds a bit like a failed nineties boyband) was still a big deal. Despite my limited grasp of a) Spanish, and b) the finer points of the politics, I've attempted to illustrate the impression I was left with of each party leader:
Pedro Sánchez was by far the hardest to caricature, he's so bland - like a terrifying cross between the man who delivers Milk Tray and a friendly Terminator. He yammers on about change so much that he ironically sounds like a stuck record. Meanwhile I couldn't really focus on any actual policies of Pablo Iglesias because I kept being distracted by his angry/upset reactions to Sánchez and Rivera.
Amusingly, the news said the following day that "all four leaders were considered winners" of the debate, which is like something you'd say at a toddler's party. Meanwhile, the campaign rolls on, with Rajoy yesterday proclaiming how excited he was to be in an artichoke field.
Another view from my balcony, this time of an evening a little while ago, before summer started in earnest. I love looking out here, watching people coming and going. Today there was a procession from the local church, plodding slowly down the bus lane carrying a small Virgin Mary. Another time, a motorcade of literally hundreds of motorbikes cruised down the road. In May, there were regular traffic jams for people on their way to Las Ventas, for the bullfights of San Isidiro. One Monday afternoon there was a parade of old fashioned horse and carts, with people dressed as chulapos and suchlike. Even at night, there's always something to see. whether it's los borrachos, or the binmen wearing their bike helmets.
A two and a half hour drive from Madrid, Monfragüe National Park is the home of the griffon vultures - 80 pairs apparently; as well as a single pair of black vultures. However, trying to pick out which might have been a "black vulture" amidst the hundreds of other vultures wheeling around the sky, all of them looking pretty black when silhouetted against the harsh sunlight, was next to impossible - at least for an amateur like me.
I'd been brought there by a friend - another guiri, and a dedicated bird photographer. He was determined to get some good shots of rare birds. While he waited patiently for them to come close enough, I simply drew some of the majestic scenery of the park, such as the rocky peak where most of the vultures seem to make their nests.
When it comes to birds though, my favourite are the storks. They're big, they stay still for long periods of time, and they're everywhere. In Spain, a church tower without a stork nesting in it is a pretty sorry excuse for a tower.
A little while ago, when I was at a picnic in El Retiro, I saw a woman with a giant fluffy rabbit on a lead.... is this normal ?
Just after Easter, I took my girlfriend to the recording of her favourite show - El Intermedio.
Every Mon - Thurs, El Intermedio goes out live at 9.30pm. It's been running for ten years now, since La Sexta (Spain's sixth TV channel) began. Billed as a satirical news programme, I guess you could call it the Spanish version of America's The Daily Show, but I would say it has a stronger focus on straight journalism, interviews and political commentary, in amongst the tongue-in-cheek stuff.
It's hosted by Sandra Sabatés (who presents the more serious stories) and El Gran Wyoming, a sort of friendlier J Jonah Jameson, who famously says at the start of each programme "Ya conocen las noticias, ahora les contaremos la verdad..." ("You've heard the news, now we'll tell you the truth")
The above is what Wyoming said when, during an advert break, the cameraman noticed I'd been sketching away in a little notebook, and put it up on the monitors for all to see, which would have been very flattering if it hadn't been a bit of a rubbish sketch... So rather than post that, I've drawn this caricature instead.
At home, because it's live, the Spanish subtitles are always delayed, making them next to useless, but in the studio they had a teleprompter showing the script, so I actually followed along a lot better than normal.
Last month I was looking forward to experiencing my first Semana Santa in Spain, with plans to go to Zamora to see some of the famous processions that take place there, with their funny walking, and their scary looking robes, and their big Christ/Virgin statues. But I caught the flu, so I saw none of that. I was stuck indoors for almost the entire time, but come Sunday I felt better enough to venture out to see one of the only things left to see of the Easter celebrations, (which in Madrid is apparently not as a big a thing as other cities anyway) the TAMBORRADA.
They weren't doing anything particularly "Easter-y", and it wouldn't be top of any 'must-see' Semana Santa celebrations: they just stood there in the Plaza Mayor and drummed. Now considering I'm really not a fan of solo percussion (what's the point if there's no musical accompaniment?) and not so long ago I was waiting in Lavapies and getting very pissed off by the existence of a contingent of conga players and their inescapable mindless rhythmic improvisational noodlings - I wasn't expecting to be impressed.
But I was. I loved it.
Probably because it was like being at the start of a Paul Simon concert circa 1991, which, for me, would be pretty amazing.
Anyway, I'll have to wait til next year now, hopefully I might actually get to see more of what goes on.
Yesterday was International Record Store Day.
I went to see one of my favourite Spanish musicians, Fernando Alfaro, playing in the basement of a tiny record shop near Tirso De Molina. It was extremely crowded (and hot!) so I couldn't really see much, but here's some drawings from another gig I went to a few months ago at Ocho Y Medio Club where he also played, along with Los Punsetes and Joe Crepúsculo.