Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Manzanares El Real

     On Saturday, Jack, Katie and I took a bus to the small town of Manzanares El Real, 45 minutes north of Madrid by bus. Our main goal was to do some hiking, which was threatened by morning rain. But when we arrived, the rain was a drizzle, and after breakfast we headed for the rocks.

     On the way was an old hermitage built in the 14th century.

After stopping for some tapas at a bar on the road that dead-ended into the rocks, we started the real hike. The town is so named because the Manzanares river runs through it. This is the same river that runs through Madrid. Apparently once in Manzanares El Real one can hike a few hours to the source of the river, which we would like to do one day.

(The Manzanares River)

     The hiking path offered unexpected views of the snow-capped Guadarrama mountain range in the distance. 

     The main trail follows the river, and assumedly goes on for a long time. We were hiking in what is called La Pedriza, which is a part of the Cuenca Alta park. La Pedriza is famous for its eroded rock formations, some of which we saw, but many will have to wait until next time we visit. There are a ton of trails to hike. Rain was threatening all day, and since we had already walked a couple of miles to the trailhead, we decided not to walk too many more miles into the park. 

(Cover to future Rock album)

     After the hike, we walked around the "new" castle of Manzanares, which was begun in 1475. It is one of the best preserved castles around. 

(New Castle of Manzanares El Real)

     En fin, it was a very nice, low budget trip, easily reached on a city bus. We will definitely be returning to explore La Pedriza more extensively. 

(The hermitage— Photo by Katie)

Monday, March 11, 2013

Jane Goodall In Madrid

     Each week a teacher at school gives me magazines that contain weekly happenings in Madrid. So a couple of weeks ago, when I read that Jane Goodall would be speaking at the National Geographic store here in Madrid, I knew what Katie and I would be doing that Wednesday evening.
     Ms. Goodall was in Madrid to accept an award, and while she was here, she gave a talk at National Geographic, the first organization to fund her in the 1960s. During the talk, which lasted over an hour, she told the story of how she got started researching chimpanzees, her challenges and successes, and the importance of animal and environmental protection. She recounted how, with no professional experience or degree, she went to Tanzania to study chimpanzees, and quickly made discoveries that surprised experts in the field. She told of her awe the first time she saw a chimp de-leave a stick and use it as a tool by dipping it in an ant hole for a meal.
     Louis Leaky, the man who made it possible for Jane to study the chimps, also got her into Cambridge to pursue a doctorate in Ethology (the science of animal behavior). While there, her professors told her she was doing everything wrong, and were very doubtful of her observations. Upon her return to Tanzania, she did not change her methods, and one of the chimps began letting her follow him around. One day she followed him through the forest, lost him briefly, only to find him waiting for her to catch up. She then offered him a fruit, which he put down on the ground and then squeezed her hand. Jane had added a whole new dimension to science— compassion for the subject.
    Later in the talk she spoke about conservation efforts and some of her philanthropic organizations and projects. One of her programs, called Roots & Shoots, helps children in Africa and around the world by getting them involved in service projects and campaigns to help conserve the environment. Her overarching organization, the Jane Goodall Institute, is a non-profit organization designed to further conservation efforts of apes and animals.
     She ended by talking about why she was still hopeful that we could save the planet, even though so much damage has been done in recent years. Her biggest reasons were the ability of the human spirit to triumph in the face of adversity, and that it is not only for altruistic reasons that we should save the environment, but also because its destruction will have negative effects on humans as well as other animals. It was an engrossing talk, and time well spent. Here is a link to a short five minute video about her research with the chimps in Tanzania during the '60s, with some really cool footage of her interaction with the apes there. At almost 80 years old, she is still traveling around the world to further her cause, and along the way is helping not only animals and the environment, but children as well. She's all good.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Pedro Almodóvar — Los Amantes Pasajeros

     A couple of months ago I mentioned I had watched a Pedro Almodóvar movie. It was not the first one I had watched, but was the first I had watched without subtitles. It was a personal accomplishment, and a good movie. A few weeks ago I saw another one of his movies, that I didn't enjoy as much, but which was still worth my time. Others I had previously seen include Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios (Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown) and Volver. I recommend both of them. If you're American and you've seen only one of his movies, it's probably Volver (you know, with Penélope Cruz).
     Almodóvar, Spanish writer and director, is like the Woody Allen of Spain, but more famous here than Allen is in the States. He's sometimes funny, often strange, and always distinguishable. Half of Spain loves him, half couldn't care less. Or at least that's what my Spanish friends say. Anyways, I like him, so when I saw he was coming out with a new movie, I decided to go see it.
     Jack, my British friend who works at the same school as I do, is very into film and also likes Almodóvar, so we went to see it together last night. The new film is called Los amantes pasajeros (in English it's titled I'm So Excited, which is not a translation, just a different title, taken from a song in the movie.) Almodóvar has said that this is his last film, and that he is retiring. It is a comedy about passengers and crew on a flight from Madrid to Mexico (though the plane has problems so they just fly around in circles over Toledo, Spain while they wait for somewhere to land). The movie is in many ways an allegory about the economic crisis here in Spain.
     We arrived at the theatre a bit early to buy tickets. Most tickets were sold out, because it was the pre-release screening. As in, it was the first time any public audience had seen the film. We were just about to buy tickets for the 9:30 showing when two people asked us if we wanted two tickets for free, because they had extra. Um, yes, of course. So we went in, took our seats and waited. Jack noticed there were people crowded outside the doors of the theatre and wondered why. Then the doors opened and out came Almodóvar, along with most of cast of the film. It was a big surprise, and he proceeded to introduce the film and pass the microphone to the cast members, who hoped we would enjoy the film.
It was a very unexpected experience, and very unlike Hollywood screenings, where the list of guests is reserved for the rich and famous. And we weren't the only ones who were surprised. The whole thing was a secret, as the news reported later.

     It was really a treat, and the film was very entertaining as well. And needless to say, I will be watching more Almodóvar films in the near future.                                                        
(Almodóvar. Picture courtesy of Jack and his phone.)  

Monday, March 4, 2013

Published In Madrid

     When I write, I always write with the intention of producing something good. Now, I need to clarify a couple of things. By writing, I mean writing songs, poetry, and music. This blog, while I have every intention to make it a good read, does not undergo the same process as my songs, poetry, and music. And I realize that 'good' might very well be subjective. So by good, I mean something which passes my standards of good art, and if I can help it, pass the even higher standards of what Katie believes is good art. But always, I write for myself, in order to produce something of which I will approve.
     There are times when I not only write with this purpose, but also with an additional purpose which doesn't conflict with my main intention. That is to publicize and publish my work. This carries a third purpose, which I will get to later. But now, to the publishing bit. Over the past few weeks, I have had three poems published in a local online literary journal based here in Madrid. The journal, called Toast Madrid, was started by a Chicago native who also owns a café of the same name. He hosts poetry nights, and invited me to go last week to read a couple of my poems. It was a great time, and nice to meet some people with at least one common interest. I also told him I played music, and he told me to send him my music, and now wants me to play a show at the café later this month. This is good.
     So, the poems— the subject matter deals with Retiro park here in Madrid, which I frequent. In January, I was finding it difficult to write, and Katie suggested I do a study on something specific in order to set some boundaries for my writing, which sometimes helps with focusing and producing more frequent successes. Well, like usual, she was right. So the three poems published were inspired by the park, and I am continuing with my study. The three poems are called "Slices," "Creates The Air," and "Two Women Talking." You can find them all HERE, or click on the individual poems.
     But you don't get poems published unless you submit them. So there must be a reason why all of a sudden I submitted some poetry. And there is. And this reason also does not conflict with my foremost purpose of writing, but is designed to enable more writing. Oddly, if you want to go to school in the States, you have to apply darn near a year in advance. I am thinking about doing a Masters in poetry— not this Fall, but the next one, which means I will need to submit an application at the end of this year. These programs are highly competitive, and not too many offer full scholarships and stipends. The main criteria for being accepted (so I'm told) is the work you submit. But apart from that, they look at other things, including if you have been published, how many times, etc. And so I am doing my best not only to write a lot, but also to publish. Having these poems published is encouraging, and lets potential universities know that other people think your work is good enough for others to see. I am planning on submitting poems in the next week to many journals in hopes of more good news.
     Of course, I can't be sure I want to do an M.F.A. in poetry, but it seems pretty good to me. And I know some people will say I am avoiding "real" work, and maybe for some people I am, but the thing is, this is real work for me. Just because I don't want to work a 9 to 5 office job doesn't mean I don't want to work 9 to 5 on something (ex: writing). And so, I continue trying to make the most of my time here, and hopefully I will come away with much more than memories.