Don’t cry…Argentina!!

Football (soccer for you guys in north america) fever continues at full swing and I have been following the matches with passion and interest. Everyday I discuss the previous match with the security guards and personnel at the archives. Now that Spain is out, they assure me they will root for Brazil.

I must be getting good at this because this morning I asked the security guard what he expected of the match between Argentina and Germany this afternoon. He said Argentina would win. I said, nah… it will be a tie and Germany will win on penalty kicks after an Argentinian side misses his kick. I’m never right at these things but lol and behold, that’s EXACTLY what happened!! Granted, the referee made some controversial decisions in favour of the German team but hey, who cares, Argentina is out. And if Brazil is to lose this cup, I’ll rather that it be against Germany.

San Juan (or Sant Joan)

The feast of St John – a religious holiday that conveniently coincides with ancient pagan ceremonies related to summer solstice  (or winter solstice in the southern hemisphere)- is celebrated in many catholic countries with lots of music and bonfires. 

In Brazil, the end of June marks the feasts of St John, St Peter and St Anthony and in the north and northeast part of the country their celebration is bigger than Christmas. In most of Brazil the festvities have a rural flavour and everybody dress as hillbillies and do square dancing, build up big fires, and eat all kinds of food that are typical of that holiday.  Festa Junina, as we know it, is very popular and its celebration has gone beyond June 24 to mark the last few weeks of June and beginning of July. Every school has its own dance and here's my nephew Matheus in his daycare's Festa Junina and my niece Lorena and her brother Luan at last year's event:

 

 

Now, the parties in Barcelona are considerably wilder than anything I've seen in Brazil. The main festivities happen in the beach, where they enact the coming down of the sun and moon and the beginning of the age of hell. I heard there are some wicked fireworks involved. But since we are not into crowded events, we decided to check out the neighbourhood parties and bonfires. You'll see pictures and more comments of the night in Alan's blog . Suffice it to say that it felt like WWIII was on and anarchy had set in. They actually lit a bonfire in the middle of the street – without stopping traffic(!!) – that rose to about 4 stories!!! Very surreal. Anyways, I'll try to put a video of it here later. I'm trying to get them on youtube. Stay tuned. 

Why Civilizations Decline

Click here for Peter Montague's interesting commentary on Jared Diamond's (Guns, Germs, and Steel) op-ed on the New York Times entitled "Collapse; How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed." In his article, Jared Diamond looks at how past civilizations have collapsed and highlights the role of damage to the environment and isolationism of the country's elites in the sudden demise of past superpowers. Interesting reading. The environmental issue worris me. I hope we don't have to completely destroy the planet before the powers that be finally decide to do something about it. How long will be we able to fool ourselves that the situation is not that bad?

Brazil 2 x 0 Australia

Brazil won and friendships survived. It was tense and I spent the match trying not to scream too loudly and at times hiding under my Brazilian flag. You can see pictures on Alan's blog soon.

From Brazil one expects not only a victory but a master class. The victory came out of a nice goal by Adriano (via Ronaldinho and Ronaldo) and Fred (via Robinho) and some nice attempts by Kaká. Yet, it was bittersweet for many Brazilians and the international press that keeps criticizing Ronaldo for being out of shape and the famous "magic square" for not performing to their full potention. In Spain the main criticism is the position given to Ronaldinho in the team – a bit further back than his usual position at Barcelona – which many here find unsuitable for his talent. But as the 1982 and 1994 world cups have taught us – what matter, in the end, is not how we play but the results we get. And so far we have delivered. 

Brazil x Australia

I've been enjoying following the world cup from Spain. At least here I don't have to explain to people what the world cup is and it isn't hard to find a bar in which to watch matches. Living in such a cosmopolitan city also means one can also find supporters of every team playing. So, today Alan and I are off to watch Brazil vs Australia with some Australian friends. Let's hope the friendship survives!! 

Impresiones madrileñas

We arrived in Madrid in the middle of a heat wave that had temperatures soaring to 40C. Unusual for early june, it was nonetheless a killer for those of us recently out of a Canadian winter.

The heat no doubt coloured a bit our perception of Madrid, which Alan and I define as a much “harder” city than Barcelona. It just seems a little less relaxed. And despite its grand 17th and 18th-century architecture, it’s also not as pretty. But let’s not fall in the trap – too late it seems – of comparing two unique cities.

Madrid at 8 AM

Madrid seems to be a city of contrasts. Its streets wind up and down hills, without the benefit of shady trees under the inclement sun, forcing the city hall to ingeniously stretch panels across the top of the buildings in the old city to ease the effects of the sun. I guess the sight of tourists collapsing could undermine its popularity abroad. ;) I don’t have a picture of it but according to the news, they do the same in Seville.

In contrast to the hustle and bustle of its streets, the parque del retiro is indeed a haven. Some of its paths have the smell and feel of the deep woods. Indeed, a welcome retreat and where we took refuge from the heat in our first day. To see how it went and more pictures of the park, check Alan’s blog. He spent a lot of time exploring the park while I was at the conference.

Windows near Plaza Mayor

Our time in Madrid was short – I was there for a conference – so we didn’t spend much time visiting the sights. The only tourist spot, properly speaking, that we visited was the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia and the Plaza Mayor. The rest of the time was spent lining up for tickets to Toledo at Atocha train station (buy it in advance!) and sipping beer and eating tapas.

Beer bar in Madrid

Now, here is one area where Castilians excell – their tapas and cool drinks! Don’t get me wrong, one can find good tapas in Barcelona (particularly basque tapas) but it isn’t part of the culture as it is in central Castile and parts of Andalusia.

The word tapa comes from the verb “tapar”, meaning to cover, and initially it referred to a piece of bread, often topped with some cheese or sausage, that was given free of charge when one ordered a drink. It has now become a plate of finger food (slices of jamon serrano, chorizo, potatoes, etc) and, as everything now, it is far from being free. Or at least that’s what we were told and what we experienced in Barcelona.

In Madrid and Toledo the tradition seems to be quite alive.

Every cerveceria we went to gave us a little saucer of chips, canapes or whatever they felt like it. Sitting at the bar was great fun. The barmen were incredibly friendly in both cities and in our last night in Madrid we were even given a free drink (whisky with galliano) after we paid our bill. In Toledo we walked into what seemed like the most popular bar among locals. La Tabernita is a tiny little place with a restaurant downstairs and amazing food. We made friends with Desiree, Manolo and Esteban, who introduced us to “tinto de verano” and amazing castilian specialties such as cierdo a la plancha, morcilla manchega, and stuffed mushrooms from Murcia. Here are some pictures of the mushrooms and Desiree, our more than friendly waiter:

hmmm, stuffed mushrooms

Desiree and tinto de verano

Some Madrid tshirts:

Stay tuned for more info on Toledo, the city of the three cultures!