Sunday, May 22, 2011

Holy Toledo!

I can now without incident brag that I've been to the two Toledo's. The first being the Midwest swing-state of Ohio home to the Anthony Wayne Trail, Beirut Bakery, Maumee River, and punk band The Necros. The second marked off the list has seen a little bit more history and sits on a hill about a 30-minute train ride (70 km) south of Madrid. We secretly have a knack for ending up at tourist destinations on national or religious holidays (as in when things are closed), but the advantage is you get the entire town to yourself.     

Toledo's advantage is Rio Tajo (Tagus River), a natural buffer to keep invading armies out. Across the Tagus sits Castillo de San Servando.

Our bus dropped us off at the highest point a few steps from The Alcazar-Museo del Ejercito (Museum of the Army). We didn't enter as it was closed. The site was once a Roman Palace during the third century until the Moors took over the mortgage. Later it was handed over to the Spanish royalty.

"It became famous during the Spanish Civil War when the Republicans laid siege to it for 70 days in 1936 and it was almost completely destroyed. During the siege, General Jose Moscardo Ituarte was the Nationalist Army chief and the Republicans held his 16 year old son Luis.

Colonel Moscardó was called on the telephone by the chief of the Worker's Militia on the morning of July 23 in Toledo and told that if the Alcázar were not surrendered within ten minutes, his son Luis would be shot. Colonel Moscardó asked to speak to his son and his son asked what he should do. His father replied, "then commend your soul to God, shout 'Viva España' and die like a hero." To which the son said, "That is quite simple. Both I will do." Colonel Moscardó then told the chief of the Worker's Militia that he would not surrender the Alcázar and a few minutes later he received a call stating that his son had been shot. In fact, it was not until a month later - August 23 - that his son was shot, in reprisal for an air raid. Historians doubt the official version about the conversation and the shooting."

Ana standing at the door of Catedral de Toledo. As luck would have it we entered in the middle of mass and immediatly left.

Image stolen from Click here for a look inside the cathedral and the history...the part we missed. 
The streets are narrow with mirrors placed at various intersections to keep cars from crashing into each other.

By this point we had almost made a full circle of the town and decided it would be a good time to find a tourist center and pick up a map. The ladies at the office were helpful and friendly and asked where we traveled from. When we mentioned "Egypt" they insisted that we visit the large Jewish quarter. 

Dear Ian MacKay, see the influence a Minor Threat song had on Toledo, Spain. 
The score is Minor Threat: 1 The Necros: IQ 32

Monasterio de San Juan de los Reyes. This was as close as we got. A constant problem when writing a post is using photos of places we didn't fully explore. In retrospect you're like "shit, we should have walked those few meters instead of eating that overpriced day-old Spanish Tortilla." While eating we saw a couple of cars being towed. It's a real art moving illegally parked cars out of tight spots.

A trip to Toledo isn't complete without a visit to the El Greco Museum. It was one of the spots the ladies at the tourist office told us to go since it was free and near the synagogue Santa Maria la Blanca Ana just asked if that was the real title.

El Greco's garden.

Another filler shot of Rio Tajo, looks like a prime tubing spot.

I will be opening my pizza/brew pub in this building in 2013. Hope to see you there!

Puente de Alcantara is an arch bridge built by the Romans (or their slaves).

The highway the Moors took when they invaded Toledo.

The Pope watching over Ana.

Straight Edge has caught-on but Street Art has yet to.

When all was said and done on the way back to the train station Ana mentioned that I would have gone crazy had we stayed the night. She figured there wasn't much for me to get in trouble with and beside we had a date at Las Ventas later in the evening. 

The story of our trip to Spain wouldn't be complete without mentioning the engineer from the Ukraine at the Cairo Airport. While we were waiting for our flight at a coffee shop a huge hooligan looking European was staring over at us. It appeared that he had trouble connecting to the free wifi. His laptop was twice the size of mine when he plopped it on my lap. While I was troubleshooting I noticed the cuts on his grease stained hands as he dug into his bag of potato chips. The connection failed, so he brought over his carry-on luggage and we chatted away. By the time we headed to our gate we made a new friend and landed an invitation to his home in the Ukraine (little does he know that we'll actually show up). The man just finished a seven-month gig in the Red Sea working in the engine room 14 hours a day on a vessel transporting fuel. The day before was his first on land since October. He was on his way home for a few months before heading out again. I asked why he had several bags of chips. He had been Egyptian'd-meaning the store "didn't have change" for his large note, so his change was in potato chips.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Easter in Madrid

As mentioned in a previous post I eluded to the idea that I was on the outs with Egypt. During the post- revolution months, life in Alex has turned into living in a fishbowl. I had exhausted my resources in finding excitement...I had become numb to the external offerings outside of work. I've had my mind expanded and blown in so many different ways, but the honeymoon was over and I wanted out. The school's director (we'll call him Nacho) calmed me down a bit by putting things into perspective. A long weekend was approaching and we decided to put some space between Alex and making a rash decision. We headed to Madrid to decompress and to figure out our future. The break from chaos was good for the soul. During our time there Ana and I thought about some of the things we could do to make life more manageable and meaningful in Egypt; ways to not feel so confined living on campus. The aspects of our jobs for the most part and our friends we cohabitate with are a non-issue, it is more our less the limited number of activities there is to do outside of school coupled with constant chaos when stepping out the front gate. Our task for next year is to have an external space that is currently in the works. I won't spill much more of our plan as not to jinx it. Without further fuss lets move on to Madrid.  

Proper hotels aren't our usual choice of accommodations. We often seek out guesthouses or pensions for a more local vibe. The Sil Serranos in the Chueca district was our choice. The above view was from out room. 
Chueca had more than its' fair share of Mexican themed eateries. 
One of my all time favorite street signs. I always thought it was a warning of zombies lurking along narrow paths between buildings. 
The sign says it all.

Plaza Mayor with a Mariachi, sure same language but wrong country. The dude to the right of the group wasn't really in the band, he just wanted to be up close and personal.  

Parque del Retiro was a nice escape from the neighborhoods. Ana is standing in front of the pond and monument to Alfonso XII.
The pond and monument to Alfonso XII.
The garden leading to the Prado.

Your favorite trees.

Puerta de Alcala in Independence Square.

Santa Semana festivities. 
Ironically the Klan (KKK) hate Catholics so what gives?
Unlike a Klan rally, a variety of hoods and robes can be seen during a procession. 
Toxic nachos and guac.
With the mariachis, nachos, and calaveras you'd swear that you were in Mexico. 
A trip to the Spanish capital isn't complete without a stop at Las Ventas for a corrida de toros (bullfight). 
The Reina Sofia is another favorite. We saw some political propaganda.  

The best self portrait ever by Alfonso Ponce de Leon. The artist lived to the ripe age of 30!  This painting would be telling of his fate as he was murdered shortly after.
Not sure if this was an exhibit, but it has all the components to fit nicely with the Minimalist. 

The highlight of the Reina Sofia was the Roberto Jacoby exhibit. Jacoby is one of the leading figures of Argentine contemporary art. The exhibit showcased a collection of the artists' belongings and recording from his 80's rock band Virus. For a more detailed description and photos click here.  

Works by Asier Mendizabal were also featured.

A hard, Merciless Light-The Worker Photography Movement, 1926-1939 was also a featured contemporary exhibit. The collection of image and magazine covers was tiresome, it would be the last exhibit our tired eyes would endure. To learn more about the collection click here.  
The steps leading out the back of the museum (BTW we did see Picasso's Guernica-how could we have missed it!) there was Economicos by Efren Alvarez; a collection of in-your-face political drawings. To read more about the show click here.
I am going to venture and say Efren has strong opinions on capitalism. 

Testigos del Olvido (Witnesses from Oblivion) was showcased at The Cervantes Institute.
The following information was from the website:

Witnesses from Oblivion is the title of the exhibition until 15 May offers The Cervantes Institute, which has been organized in collaboration with Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and the daily El Pais. This is a look at eight major neglected humanitarian disasters that plague the world, narrated by so many great writers in Spanish: Mario Vargas Llosa, Sergio Ramírez, Laura Restrepo, Juan Jose Millas, John Carlin, Laura Esquivel, Manuel Vicent and Leila Guerriero supported by over 160 photographs of Juan Carlos Tomasi, who may be-printed or projected, along with excerpts from the eight different reports and documentary material.

'Witnesses of oblivion "brings us the human face of suffering, violence continues and the media who have forgotten some of the most devastated corners of the planet: Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Yemen, Kashmir, Malaysia and Bangladesh, Guatemala, Colombia and Zimbabwe. Pictures of the daily horror in a defense against forgetting and indifference, a commitment to commitment to the victims of violence, disease and extreme exclusion in Latin America, Asia and Africa.

The exhibition is the result of the eight prestigious trips made to other authors mentioned so many crises (some of them spread across several countries), to tell after a first-person emergency which, despite its gravity, are hardly reflected in the media communication. The writers developed their stories with literary and journalistic approach to time, in full freedom and emphasizing the victims.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A Sampling of Madrid Street Art

Ana and I traveled to Madrid back in the summer of 2007 on a shoestring budget-meaning we stayed at hostels and the majority of our meals coming from the corner market. Fast forward to the spring of 2011 with a couple more Euros in our pockets meant we could take in a few more sights. Most days entailed 10 hours of roaming through the different neighborhood around the city with the daily stop at El Corte Ingles for a loaf of bread, a packet of cheese and chorizo, and a bottle of wine.

While street art was ubiquitous during our 2007 stay, the styles and the offerings have been on the up and up. By no means does this post attempt to cover the street art scene of Madrid, the author only wishes to share a tiny fraction of the colorful urban landscape.      

Most if not all the storefront metal gates had various stickers to locksmiths pasted at the bottom.
Our guest house was located in the heart of Chueca where we snapped the majority of our pix. 
The Lavapies district showed some promise as well.
Hand painted business signs are the way to go.
Nothing says "we sell pork" like a gutted pig mural.
A sample of the minimalist street art movement.
Sometimes hiring a professional is a better option.
Iconic Mexican imagery has invaded the motherland and is a prominent player. There are Mexican themed restaurants on almost every corner. Just in case you're wondering, Nachos are starting to edge out tapas. 
Ana says that you might not want to get your hair cut at this place.
Storefront in the Atocha district.
Not intentional, just worked out that way.
More Atocha.

Street drugs and street art.

There was actually open space behind these walls. But there was also a fire truck, ambulance, and several police cars on the side we took this image from. My vote was a crime scene. 

The free-for-all, anything goes mural.

On the firetruck...not really street art but...