Sunday, December 19, 2010

feliz naiveté

With 4 days to go before Christmas eve, we're looking for a way to get rid of our 7-foot plus Christmas tree. Because babies, it is d-e-a-d, done, finito!

See two weeks ago we went to the famous Plaza d'España Christmas market and they had several stands with big, bushy, impressive ones. Alain was all eager to get one and so I just went along and we basically bought the first one we saw (and, my friends, it weren't cheap but hey, it's a special Christmas).

Anyway, I did ask a few questions, but seeing as they were in pots (with plaster on top of the earth) rather than cut like the majority back in Canada, I believed the guy when he said it'd last until Christmas no problem, even into January, he claimed.

There is, after all, a sucker born every minute.

And my mate does not seem to agree with me that we should go back to our dear vendor in Plaza d'España though. Could be because a) we didn't get a receipt, and b) the dude was as tall (and bushy) as the tree.

So I think tonight is the sad night of undecorating the poor thing and tomorrow A has to inform himself about where we can dispose of it, and how as I can't really help him lift it, because dried out or not, it still weighs almost what I do.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

cooking, what else?

G-dawg posing next to the naked tree.
For those who've been waiting for pix
of our apt, go see a wider view of the
tree on my Flickr.
Nothing much new in hermitland except that we're hosting 5 to 7 guests for a period of 5 days around Christmas and have begun preparing, like good little elves.

Mainly that means we got a tree, did a bit of gift buying and have started testing recipes. I find it really tough to cook for A's padres since their food tastes are the diametric opposite of mine. In other words they like meat and fish, heavy sauces and fried things. When they do eat veg it's either "salad" (which is a standard onions, tomato, lettuce affair) or cooked within an inch of its life.

But I digress. We originally broke out the Spanish cooking bible of 1080 recipes that A bought a few months ago ("Spain's best-selling cookbook for over 30 years"), and we will be making one recipe from there, which Alain already whipped up on the weekend to throw in the freezer: Portuguese-style cod (eeek, SO against my ethics) croquettes.

veg terrine with goat cheese glue
A vegetable terrine, inspired by the Paris Café cookbook
but sans gelatin (I used goat cheese for glue)
I also made risotto on Sunday to test the Spanish organic round white rice I bought and it's fine. However, I must thank my friend Lia for a gift she gave me a few years ago, the Paris Café cookbook, which is going to be the star of the show. We tested the Bœuf Bourguignon last week (with organic beef) and it was pretty good. Right now I'm about to hop on the onion tart.

We hoping to do a Canadian-style turkey dinner on the 25th, though that's not really a Spanish thing, but we're still seeking a big enough free-ranger. We're off to a nearby market tonight when A finishes work.

Then after dinner I think we'll decorate the gingerbread men I made yesterday so we can get 'em in the freezer.

Now all we need is for the temp to drop again (it's been hovering around 15C the past few days) and for a little snow to fall. Kidding, I can wait a few more weeks for that...

Postscript:  If who haven't visited Our World 2.0 in awhile, you should go check out my latest story on a research mission to the seamounts of the southern Indian Ocean. There's a photo gallery of the wacky species collected that's really worth a view.

Friday, November 26, 2010

vicious circle that is my brain

I've decided to try to "step away" from the computer for the rest of today, despite not finishing the article I needed to draft. I've spent the past three days pretty much glued to the screen and it's done nothing but encourage the migraine that I've been fighting, which is the cause and reason I have to spend so much time online. See the more I (try) to work, the more strained my eyes and neck get and the worse the headache gets and the slower I work, then the longer it takes, then.... Very frustrating, to say the least.

Sorry that I must whine to you, my faithful two or three readers, because the dog frankly doesn't listen! Seriously, A would gladly half-hear me if he hadn't gone to his padre's again so I'm on day 2 of solo-solo. (I cannot complain though, as I had him for three weekends in a row). The only person I may have the chance of speaking to is a neighbour whose dog G is super-playmates with when we chance upon them in the park. But then she (the lady, not the dog) is a bit strange and with worse health problems than mine (she weighs about 80lbs and just got out of the hospital for pneumonia despite being only around 40 yrs old) so never would I complain to her!

And speaking of that dog, I am hoping that she finds herself in a new home soon. The owner yesterday reiterated what she's been telling Alain for awhile: she needs to give Fanny up because she's allergic and not in shape to resist the allergy symptoms, nor can she give her enough exercise or attention. The dog seems underfed too and very stressed when I saw her yesterday (apparently, the woman's father yells and and hits the dog and probably had a field day while the woman was away in the hospital).

Now I know what you're thinking: why don't we take the dog? Well, it is tempting but it's not going to happen. Fanny's one year old and has never been trained at all (not even on a leash - she runs free), not to mention whatever emotional problems she likely has. Bringing that type of troubled kid into a home with a very-very-very territorial hard-headed mutt like G would be a big mess, I just know it.

She and G love to wrestle and chase each other around (one of the few instances where I let G off the leash, as there is no WAY that she and Fanny can play freely/safely otherwise, the leash would choke or otherwise hurt someone) like I've never seen G do with any other dog. But G has lost friends before in serious fights over balls and the territory of our kitchen in Tokyo (both Dodger & Fuji felt her wrath there).

Anyway, whatever new home Fanny ends up in will be a vast improvement to her life now (stress at home, possibly underfed, gets to play outside maybe once a day and always in the same sandy park).

It's Grace that'll be losing out, as the damn aggressive mutt hasn't made many friends. Not that I'm in any position to criticize here on that!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

it was fall in your head

Okay so I thought up the post title, in present tense, a week ago when it was still getting up to 20°C highs and I was laughing at the madrileños in their parkas and boots. Of course I never got around to filling in the body that day. What with my busy schedule and all... (*sarcasm*)

Anyway, here we are on the 2nd day of real fall after some nasty winds from a storm named Becky or something and I'm planning on making ZBCs (zucchini bread cupcakes) this afternoon to warm up the kitchen & the tummy.

Though the sun seems to be out at the moment and the dawg keeps coming to sit and stare at me (non-responsive as usual when I ask her "What???"), so.... maybe we should go out early for our afternoon walk (we normally go after 3 on my days off work).

Speaking of long walks, I must be sure to take photos next time we go to our new favourite park. (I know, we have so many, who can keep up!) It's called La Dehesa de la villa and it's very woody (wonderfully aromatic pine!) and natural and HUGE! It's very old and was apparently originally part of some royal pastoral land or something.

We've even started letting G off the leash there for little spurts. Of course she gets super-excited and doesn't listen (in her defense, she did see a squirrel for only the 2nd time in her life) so we're hesitant, me mainly because she's gotten worse (growly & nippy) with kids lately. She (understandably, I say) doesn't trust 'em, due to some past experiences and the numerous bratty Spanish kids always trying to poke her and whatnot. And of course there is always a chance of kids in a park. Though frankly the two times we've been, Alain & are are very surprised at how empty the Dehesa is.

What else? Oh, I guess I could ramble on a bit about the few social activities we've had/are planning.

Last week I was excited to have the opportunity to wear the fabulous high-heeled John Fleuvog shoes I bought in Vancouver in May. (Hey, most of my clothes jeans are secondhand and duller than hell. It's nice to dress up once in a blue moon!) We and the embassy's two other newbies were invited to the Big Cheese's official residence for dinner.

Alas, it was nothing exciting really. The risotto was good but the rest of the food not so impressive (and plus someone forgot to inform the chef about my dietary preferences so I had to push lamb chops around my plate, all the while hearing a line from the Simpson's in my head: "I thought you luuu-uhh-uhh-ved me" from the same episode as the famous "You don't make friends with salad" song.) The chief himself is always charming and I think I adore his wife but I didn't get all that much of a chance to chat one-on-one with her.

C'mon get up, NOW we're going.
Aside from that, tomorrow night we have a jazz concert to go to (ok, not super-thrilled but... I will nonetheless put on my Bellevues again) and then Friday we're seeing a Michel Tremblay play! We've been to the theatre several times already, as it is SO afordable here, and I guess we show a bit of favouritism towards stuff from home. A month ago we saw Wajdi Mouawad's Incendies, which I super recommend. The acting was stunning and the story is wrenching. If you can't catch the play, I think the movie's due out in Canada soon.

So, now it's time for G and me to get out of the house. Don't know where we'll go, Madrid is a ghost town once again today as it's a holiday (for most people, ie., not Alain) in honour of the city's virginal patron saint, and i specify virginal because apparently she's not the only one &mdash patron saint i mean.

Hasta luego amigos.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

my biggest faults

Still very new in town and being quite socially isolated, I've got plenty of time on my hands to ponder life, the meaning thereof, my dreams and the faults that impede me from achieving them.

One of the biggies is procrastination. This will see me pass whole afternoons doing all manner of things (hey, one thing I ain't is lazy!) except the stuff I had told myself I should do, like blogging and e-mailing lost friends, or making another attempt at breadmaking. I long to master it yet somehow I never get around to practising, which is all I really need as you can see from my last ok-ish attempt.

[Though one thing I have indeed mastered is the no-shampoo thing. I'm happy to report that my hair and scalp have adjusted and I've found the right quantities of baking soda (went up as high as 2 tablespoons to beat adjustment build-up but now down to one) and cider vinegar (2 teaspoons) to get my hair squeaky clean. It can be a little dry but I just rub a few light stokes of rose oil on the ends. I think I'll do another egg treatment again soon too as it was really fabulous. Overall, my mop has way more body and waves now. Oh and another happy side-effect of my month being shampoo-free? The eczema on my hands has improved a lot!]

Anyway, yes procrastinating is silly but mine doesn't usually impact anyone but moi. Unlike what is probably my biggest fault: impatience. This particular failing is la force motrice (driver) of my dark side, which (in case there are those of you who don't know me that well) has quite a nasty temper.

Anyway, I'm not proud to say that this particular fault showed its scowling face last weekend while A's parents were visiting. See his father drives me a little nutty, but I try hard to keep Mean Me in check because dad also has a bit of a temper and it would be a bad scene if we ever really 'got into it'.

I was doing pretty good, letting stuff slide and focusing on A's mom. However, the final straw came Sunday night when I was cooking dinner. I chose to make, for his pleasure (I had made mom's favourite lentils the day before), a soup from his native land. Was he excited, grateful, touched? Don't know. What I do know is that he took it upon himself to breeze in and out to badger me about how to cut one of the ingredients. Tired and hungry (dinnertime is 9 p.m. when the in-laws are around), impatience finally got the better of me and I told him he could either do it himself or leave the kitchen (he chose the latter).

By the time we sat down at the table, steam was not only coming off the bowls but out of my ears as well. Undeterred (or, I sometimes suspect, spurred) by my apparent mood, he proceeded to comment on the kale not being cut thin enough. (Though he did concede that it tasted good). I slurped up my bowl and went back to the kitchen to clean up.

I often struggle with my impatience around the G-dog too. I've spent what now, 3 and a half years training this pretty mutt and yet she still wreaks havoc on my sensitive shoulder muscles and sometimes lunges like a wild wolf at other dogs on the street. I blame Alain for having consistently untrained her (he could never be bothered to use the commands and rules I taught her).

Looking for dogsitters/boarding facilities yesterday (we dream of getting away, for a weekend even but also to visit Montreal and Ottawa before Christmas, hopefully), I found a brilliant blog by the owner of a particular chain of training/boarding centers. I've got to get Alain to read at least this one post about "Luring" (using treats to make the dog do things), as it is Grace that tells Alain when she wants a cookie, by looking at him in a certain way. And he gives it to her! Unbelievable.

Anyway, she walked quite well the day last week when she and I went all the way to Parque del Retiro (Madrid's huge, gorgeous, main park - click the photo here for a few more shots before my battery died) which is an hour's walk each way.

The only bad thing was how she growled at me like a wild beast when I gave her a rawhide to chew while I ate my lunch on the grass next to her, right after arriving at the park. She was scary! We usually only ever give her rawhides when we go out, but she never eats them, always hides them till we get home. At which point we take 'em away. I guess that's why this particular day she decided, "I am eating this and you are NOT taking it away!"

Though I did win in the end, as I packed up my bag, stood up and walked away and she followed with the bone in her mouth. The thing is that she had never been to this park before and was quite interested in exploring. Having to carry that thing around obviously wasn't much fun so finally I told her to sit and "leave it" and she did, without a word! Patience can pay off and is safer for one's fingers than trying to wrench a bone from the mouth of an animal.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

yolking my mane

Today ends the 10th day I've lived shampoo-free! Having long hair and being somewhat vain (or maybe just fastidious?), it has been quite an adventure. And there is not yet an end in sight, as I suspect many other experiments will follow. The no 'poo thing is a movement and each participant must make their own way as their poor scalp tries to detox and readjust to a whole new ballgame!

So far I've done: two baking soda washes followed by black tea/rosemary rinse, one clay wash followed by apple cider vinegar rinse, and another bs wash with acv rinse. In between I've done a few dry shampoos, a couple using cornstarch & rice powder and one with oat flour that wasn't as good.

If that sounds like a lot of washing, well, it is. Because, for those of you unfamiliar with the no 'poo thing, there's a transition period where your scalp continues to produce the same amount of sebum as it was producing when you used harsh shampoos that strip your hair down and then coat it with silicone! Also, I'm actually really brushing my hair now (rarely did before), to move the sebum along to condition the ends.

Anyway it's not looked dirty (well, maybe on day 3 or 4) but it does feel extremely different, sort of waxy, as if I went to the salon and they put some styling product in it (I never use stuff like that). Reminiscent of a horse's mane compared to my old synthetic wig! It actually has had moments of looking quite fabulous. It's noticeably thicker and heavier.

Nonetheless, I'm worried the baking soda is building up or something. I want to cut the waxy feeling and so dug around some more forums and found my next recipe. Egg yolk, cinnamon and essential oil wash, followed by a vinegar orange oil rinse. I'll be sure to follow the cold water instructions for that one as I don't want to be picking omelet out of my mane.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

strike on a bike

So today in Spain, you may have heard, there was a general strike protesting austerity measures. In case you didn't know, Spain's unemployment rate is still a distressingly high 20% and the govt's latest financial recovery plan doesn't exactly make job/income security look any easier.

Anyway, in our corner of Madrid (which is quite, uh... bourgeois), it was not very noticeable. Nonetheless, public transport was on slowdown and this had the positive result of getting Alain on his bike for the first time since we left Tokyo! His office is only a 7 minute cycle away but he's been paranoid about getting his sleek charcoal Tokyo Bike thieved during the workday as the only bike rack at his supposedly green office tower is in a secluded spot and Madrid is notorious for rip-offs (including stripping the frame of parts if the lock is un-bustable). But post strikeday, his fear has diminished and he claims he'll be taking it more often.

Another habit revived was that yesterday after work he went running to and played some basketball at our new favourite park: La Huerta del Obispo (the Bishop's Farm). G-dog and I speed-walked there behind him (which takes 25 minutes), played some fetch, socialized with some other 4-leggers, and then swung by the courts to pick up the very sweaty A for a family walk home.

The place is really awesome. Nice and green, lots of other doggies but also some secluded spots where I can let G off the leash to chase her ball, also some exercise equipment to do chin-ups, sit-ups, teach-the-doggie-to-jump-ups, and such. Not to mention the lavender bushes for my enjoyment & the soccer and b-ball courts for A's! Maybe we'll do it again tomorrow.

Monday, September 20, 2010

bad batch

Note to those who'd like to hear more about Madrid and are disappointed with my hermit-like life that leads to me posting only dull day-to-day nonsense like what I'm about to talk about in this one: I'm changing my work hours/habits and so as to allow me to live up to my new resolution of getting out and exploring at least twice a week.

See the decision to divide my two days per week job into five mornings was fine when we were in San Juan because there was frankly nothing else to do in that small town so it was okay to put in extra hours. But here in Madrid it has gotten a bit out of hand, with me ending up working double what I should be and thus not having time to get out much and explore.

That is also because my other duties as the part-timer in the couple include the lion's share of daily housework (which in this huge place is quite a load) and the majority of cooking. I try and also do the production of food for the G so A doesn't have to work on that on the weekends very often (I'm nice, no?).

So, on to that topic! Lately I'd decided to switch up our usual dawg food formula after discovering the site of a holistic vet and reading her recommendations. I've decided to cut down on how much rice and pasta we give her and to instead use legumes and potato/sweet potato for the carb portion of her diet. I also bought some brewer's yeast and started adding a bit of it, some olive oil and some flax seed powder.

The batch before last, I made lentils, which she'd never had before. She didn't love it, but if we were sure to mix it well into the meat, she ate it. On Friday, I cooked up a new batch of pork and potatoes. There was some pulp left after Alain made melon juice for his mom (his parents spent a few days with us here last week). So I decided to pour a bit of that in before topping up with a dollop of green beans.

Well, little Miz Scarfer was not her usual lick-the-dish-till-it-shines self and was leaving food in her bowl, to our complete and utter shock. At first we thought it was because she simply wasn't hungry as her visiting grandparents were spoiling the heck out of her and feeding her copiously from their plates at every meal (no matter what we asked them, which was not to, of course). But we finally realized it was the watermelon. We are thankfully able to pick apart the 3 stratas of each meal and remove most of the melon gunk since we don't usually mix her food when we portion it into containers to freeze.

Also, to counteract any remaining watermelon taste/smell, last night I used the sardine grease that dripped down into the roasting pan when we broiled our dinner (sardines are one of the few fish I allow myself to eat) to coat some bits of bread to add to each of the meals in this batch. Dawg is Japanese to the core and loves her some fish!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

it's not what you think

to poo or not to poo

So I've been trying to go no-poo for awhile. But it's not what you think! i'm talking about giving up standard hair shampoo folks, in case you never heard of the no-poo thing.

See, as most of you know, I've got super-sensitive skin (combined with a general decision to forego unnecessary carcinogenic chemicals & perfumes) and I had attempted several times before to use only all-natural shampoos, but because of my hair type (and how henna has altered my hair), the pure kind gives me the awful stringy/greasies.

These days I'm trying a new thing (apple cider vinegar and, maybe later, baking soda) and it seems to be working better. Please share your no-poo (hair!) experiences, if you have any, folks.

Those ain't hot

So last night we went to try a nearby Asian restaurant (called Hong Kong but has a mixture of Vietnamese, Thai & Chinese food) and we were so excited to revisit our recent culinary past.

Of course, as luck (reality?) would have it, it wasn't 'all that'. I ordered the "spicy" Ma Po tofu and when it arrived at the table, Alain said "Oh-boy", thinking he wouldn't be able to share it due to the rampant red bits of pepper in the sauce.

But to my heat-loving disappointment, it was mostly finely diced sweet red peppers in there.

Over all, the food was fresh and the service great (they let us bring G inside the restaurant cuz their was a weird windstorm going on last night and the patio was a battle ground) but the food was unfortunately very Westernized.

We've yet to try a Japanese restaurant, probably because we've yet to see one that wasn't so totally obviously either Westernized and/or expensive. But there is hope: we found one not far from our place the other night that has a decent menu that includes tempura soba, katsu don and some other stuff that we might chance when we're "homesick".


I realize now, a few days after originally posting, that I forgot a "it's not what you think": my new favourite cold Spanish soup. It's called salmorejo and is even yummier than its cousin gazpacho. So yes, tthat's right, it is indeed not salmon-based but rather tomato-based yet smoother, creamy and more filling than good old gaz. Going to make myself some tomorrow as this recipe is just child's play!

 Salmorejo (aka Cordoban Gazpacho)
  • 4-inch piece baguette, crust discarded
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup mild olive oil
  • 2 lb ripe tomatoes, cored and quartered
  • 2 tablespoons vinegar (or to taste)
  • 12 whole blanched almonds (optional)
Garnish with
  • finely chopped hard-boiled egg whites
  • thinly sliced & julienned serrano ham or prosciutto (which I omit, of course!)
Soak the bread in water 1 minute, then squeeze dry. Throw almonds in a food processor/blender & whiz until very finely chopped. Mash or mince the garlic then blend it, the bread, and almonds. Add oil in a slow stream with motor running, blending until thick and smooth. Then add tomatoes and vinegar and blend until as smooth as possible, about 1 minute. 

The Epicurious recipe says to strain it through a fine sieve into a (glass) bowl (pressing firmly on solids) but I don't know if that's necessary if you peel your tomatoes first and seems like you'd therefore be wasting the almonds by straining them out... For the lazy out there, the Nibbledish version of this dish is a bit simpler but has raw egg yolk.

Chill, covered, until cold and then baby, believe me, you will enjoy!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

supervising the fly hunt

Not much new around Palacio Grace these days, as I was telling my friend Yuko via Skype this morning. For example, the most exciting part of today so far (aside from talking to Yuko-chan, of course!) was the fly hunt in which I just assisted the G-dog.

See I've got to supervise the mutt's favourite indoor pass-time because she tends jump madly onto whatever may be closest to where the fly flits and would not hesitate to take down a lamp (as she once did in Tokyo), plant, bookcase, curtains, etc. After 10 minutes, I'm afraid I had to intervene and, having failed at shooing the damn thing out a window, hit it with a rolled periodico (newspaper) and let her finish it off. Normally I'm a "why kill a nice little insect" type but hey, when it comes to houseflies, it's survival of the fittest I'd say.

However, when it comes to the dullness of my routine days, two things speak to an upcoming change in policy. Yesterday, in needing to go the the historical centre area south of our place for an appointment, I got another taste of the more interesting bits of Madrid (our neighbourhood is quite residential and doesn't possess much of historical/cultural interest unless you count the soccer stadium) and resolved to get (the hell!) out more often!

[I just remembered that the second most exciting thing about yesterday was my invention of some delicious calabacín (a type of squash) pancakes for dinner. Grated up my squash, added some curry powder, salt, pepper, then fried it up in olive oil until it was soft. Next I removed it to a bowl and mixed in two eggs. Fried dollops of it, spread out in a hot pan briefly in some more olive oil. Presto. So good! Postscipt: I've now modified this recipe by frying the curry/Garam Masala/cuminpowder in hot oil first, and by adding a tablespoon or two of flour.]

What's more is that this week marks "Vuelta al cole" (short for colegio, so "back to school") and boy what a difference the end of the summer vacation period (whole month of August, as I've mentioned) makes! There is actually life (and traffic) in our neighbourhood. The shops are all reopening and parks are full of kids in the evenings. Welcome back, Madrileños. Let's see how we get along.

Finally, our palace (the more time passes, the less I can believe we actually live in this apartment!) life if very close to being completely settled. Tomorrow we get our last bits of missing furniture and can unpack the final boxes of books and CDs onto bookshelves. Pictures will eventually follow.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

too many things

So yes, it's been a long while. Not that anybody seems to have noticed! Though I do owe many e-mails so maybe people are ticked off...

If I had spare energy, I could have been posting daily about silly little things that flit through my mind as I'm exploring my new hood -- like these crazy cool humming bird-like moths that I see flitting around some flowering bushes at a nearby small park, or how i'm eating gazpacho every chance i get (absolutely LUV the stuff) but prefer Alain's to any restaurant so far, though he hasn't made any since we were in San Juan because our homelife routine is still  too out of whack to actually do stuff like that since we've had visitors non-stop of late, plus we received our shipment just over a week ago and have our heads in boxes at every opportunity.

But sorry, I lay off the long stream-of-overloaded-consciousness sentences... The other thing I could talk about is G's separation anxiety (after getting locked in that back bedroom and damaging the door, she had another episode where she damaged the also-antique front door) was just starting to get better last weekend to the point where I was able to go out without her on both Saturday & Sunday to no material detriment. But then... dunh-dunh-dunh, renovations began next door and the hammering & knocking sounds to her like it's coming from our living room so she's spent the last few mornings wandering about anxiously, howling and barking at nothing. While meanwhile, I'm trying to work (work is very busy too, e-commuting or not)!

Oh and I really wanted to write about the other night's first Real Madrid (soccer for the clueless) game and how our neighbourhood was somewhat of a zoo from 5 p.m. until midnight or so, because... get this folks: the stadium is half a block from our house!

Or, I could talk about our continuing quests: for good organic vegetables (we're having second thoughts about the farmer we got baskets from the past two weeks and SO miss our Konohana Family Farm), good bread (I failed at my recent first attempt to make my own), and good parks for the G.

When it cools off a bit , or one morning (it's nice & cool before noon but then heats up and stays hot through into the night) this weekend maybe, I'd like to check the one pictured here on the map. It's a bit far (probably take us around 1/2 an hour each way) but looks bigger and better than anything else we've found so far.

And while it has been really nice seeing A's family (his brother & nieces and then cousin & second cousin), it will be good to have a quiet weekend and finally finish unpacking! Oh and catch up on my e-mail too...

Saturday, August 7, 2010

vamos al parque

Sometimes it's difficult for me to gauge just exactly how doomed the world is. Having been worried and working toward preserving it for the past 20 years, I figure that everyone must be concerned to some degree. Mustn’t they?

Here in Spain I have so far had cause to wonder. It seems to me that Madrileños pasan olímpicamente (could give a damn) about not just the health of the planet but, going by the contents of most restaurant menus, their own as well! (Vegetables are a rarity and, when they are present, they tend to be either overcooked or from a jar.)

So on goes our search for food we want to eat and for products we feel good about buying… The frustration this search is evoking in us is probably exacerbated by our extra-fond memories of Konohana Family Farm, the mind-blowingly awesome organic cooperative farm that sent us the most divine vegetables and other awesome products weekly back in Tokyo (in fact there will be an Our World 2.0 story and videobrief on it soon).

Nonetheless, we soldier on in our research. This morning we did find something we can try, when it reopens from summer vacation in September (yes, many stores close down for the whole month of August). We took our first family walk to the biggest nearby park (Parque de Berlin) and as we ate breakfast at a sidewalk table near the park afterwards, a sign caught my eye: El Super They deliver and their website is quite extensive but I’d prefer to check it out in person before doing any ordering since the organic shop we have right across the street has a website too and baby, reality looks a little different in person (many of the veggies completely shrivelled, the breads of an undetermined age)!

Anyway, the G-dog sure was in a good mood today, what with the first morning family walk since we arrived here 10 days ago. She had gotten used to them in San Juan, and obviously misses them like she does the padres, and Alain when he’s at work. But Little Miz will have more attention tomorrow afternoon when A’s brother and two teenage nieces arrive. They’re leaving the next day for a few days visit in San Juan and then they’ll be back to spend next weekend with us. That should liven up our quiet lives a bit!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

two pages of vocabulary

Oh the 'To do' list grows and grows! I have yet to locate a place but I'm planning on joining a conversation group or whatnot to practice my verbal Spanish skills. My spoken fluidity lags quite noticeably behind my comprehension.

While my oral comprehension doesn't require much work, I'm nonetheless anxious for our shipment to arrive and bring me my dictionaries, for this morning over breakfast I read a 5-page short story in El País Semanal (the weekend supplement magazine of the newspaper A favours) that yielded 2 notebook pages of vocabulary and expressions I need to look up.

Nothing much else to tell at the moment, since we have not explored much of the city yet, what with getting settled in, banking, shopping, and the fear of leaving doggy-pants alone again just yet. Yesterday we walked to a nearby market (indoor, not a farmer's) and I went in to buy veggies as G & A waited at a nearby bar (what café/bistros are called here, as I've mentioned). I bought a big load of veg, a couple of peaches, a couple of pears and two apricots, some ginger and a huge bag of bay leaves, and it only cost 18 euros — a big difference from Japan! I must start researching organic produce though, hopefully find a farm that delivers/drops nearby or a farmer's market at least.

Oh and we met the very nice and chatty landlord of our apartment who came by last night with her son and husband to have a look at our airconditioning system. By that time however, we had already determined that it was a short circuit that was flipping the breaker when certain rooms were put on at the same time. Thankfully we can now use it, closing doors and cooling only a room or two at a time, which for green-ness sake we would be doing most of the time anyway (when it's just the 3 of us)!

Friday, July 30, 2010

vanishing 20 degrees

So I'm really really burnt and badly need a shower, so this will be brief! We arrived safe and sound, if somewhat nauseous (me at least, Grace too I suspect), in Madrid yesterday after hopefully one of my last road trips with A's dad at the wheel! He's one of them swervy drivers and 4+ hours of that in the back-seat can bring on the carsick, I tell ya! Poor G-dog still isn't getting the center of gravity thing and spent most of the trip trying to stand and me needing to grab her to keep her from falling off her third of the seat (she was wedged between me and a box).

Of course my loopy tummy might also have been part of a migraine predrome because a whopper hit me shortly after we arrived in our new apartment. Or should I say palace, because the place is riii-diculously large and pretty overall great. More details and photos to follow.

Tomorrow hopefully will start a better streak of luck though. I guess it started late yesterday when I couldn't get into the apartment after Alain & his dad went off somewhere and I was trying to go upstairs with Grace. I waited 40 minutes until the doorman came and showed me the trick (2 locks, the second one needs to be pulled while turning the key, then the door pushed hard). Shortly thereafter the air-conditioner stopped working (the Droga boys were back and I suspect someone pushed some buttons they shouldn't have).

The latter is a bit of a drag just at night since it's been reaching 40C these days, our bedroom faces the street and I'm a light sleeper so windows open at night means sleeplessness. The earplugs nonetheless got me a few hours and this morning we awoke to an unbelievably cool breeze. The temperature drops by almost 20C overnight, it's wild! Tonight we've found two fans to keep us from melting.

Anyway, the last and worst bit of bad luck is that we left the poor G alone for the first time today to go to the bank and she somehow ended up locked in a small dark back bedroom (she must have pushed the I-was-certain-that-door-was-closed door open and it then latched behind her). But that wasn't a good trauma to her already stressed & confused brain. Poor thing doesn't understand this is our new home, and she also must be wondering what happened to the two new pack members she had recently adopted!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

beachy keen

So we went to the beach this morning but dammit there were already a lot of people at 8:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning, so the poor G-dawg had to stay with A and watch me from the seawall as I had a quick dip. (Yes, I chickened out from breaking the no dogs rule, despite the bravado of my last post!)

She seemed very curious and likely would've been very excited to get near the water but the waves were kind of big so I'm not sure she would've gone in very far. The water was nice and warm though and it made me wish we had/could go to the beach more often. Alain and I might take the bus there (we walk enough as it is!) this evening and have a swim when the sun is almost set and the hordes have gone off to start thinking about dinner.

Speaking of food, lunch time is thankfully almost here. Breakfast was a long time ago and the walking works up an appetite. As you can see, Alain even had a snack this morning on our way back from the beach. I held out for my own home made oatmeal-banana pancake!

Friday, July 23, 2010

big ole belly full of bread

So the mutt did it again: she got ahold of some forbidden food and stuffed herself silly. We haven't often left her alone in the past three weeks but late this afternoon the padres were out & A and I went off too. I made sure to shut the pantry/storage room door and the kitchen door too.

But alas, I didn't know the kitchen puerta doesn't click shut: though it seems latched, it easily pushes open and gives an enterprising perra (female dog) access to the bread basket. She had not long before eaten her dinner and also been given half a chew-bone treat as we were leaving - so, needless to say, little Miz G has not wanted to move much tonight.

Hopefully she's feeling better in the morning because, as it is our last weekend here (we leave for Madrid on Thursday), I had decided we are doing the long walk to the beach tomorrow morning and breaking the rules: I want to go swimming and see if she'll come with me. Alain probably won't join me since he's got a huge crack in one of his heels due to the dryness here. Plus he's not much of a rule-breaker anyway!

She's been to the beach twice now and both times she's gone wild, having a FRAP and running in mad circles in the sand. But on neither occasion was she anywhere near the water since San Juan's beach is very deep. I figure at 8:30 a.m. we won't be bothering anyone so no one will bother us if we make a dash for the waves! Anyway, we might have to postpone the plan until Sunday morning if the weather is bad tomorrow a.m. (there is talk of a rare summer storm).

I too am anxious to swim in the ocean for the first time since our trip to Yoron (near Okinawa) last summer. Plus anything to break up our dull routine, frankly. San Juan, though it has a few tiny pockets that are picturesque, is on the whole quite depressing. See they seem to have been in the middle of a badly urban-planned expansion when the financial crisis hit, so there are many, many empty dusty (dog poo-filled) lots and abandoned sales offices surrounding the heart of the area in which A's parents live, which is San Juan Pueblo. (I see in the Spanish Wikipedia page about the town that in fact the population doubled between 1994 and 2009, reaching 22,000.)

Culturally there isn't much going on, unless you want to include the ever-popular passtime of sitting at the outdoor tables of the "bars" (bistro/cafes) on La Rambla, which is San Juan Pueblo's main street with extra-wide sidewalks to accommodate the 25-30 bars and ice cream joints. (Actually, last weekend we did see a pretty decent jazz quartet on the stage behind one of the town's schools.)

San Juan Playa, the other main part of San Juan is, as I've mentioned, a good half hour walk away. Plus it's basically just a boardwalk, beach and apartment buildings facing the beach with a few restaurants and ice cream shops. Apparently the beach at this time of the year is packed full of people daily, but I've only seen it once in the very quite a.m.

The more interesting and larger Alicante is a half hour bus ride away so we've only been there a couple of times and to the town, not the beach. Tomorrow night we may head there to see a Cuban concert on the beach. And since the padres will be out too (they play cards on weekend evenings), we'll be sure to put the bread in the cupboard!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

we wrecked the oceans

Apologies for reverting to the preaching I would occasionally do on Pinch Me. But... I just watched a very powerful talk and really, really encourage everyone I know to watch it too.

Below are some extracts I typed up. But if you eat fish, have ever wondered what all this "ocean acidification" talk was about, and/or just have a soul, you'll want to hear everything this coral reef ecology expert has to say (and it's all very straight-forward and easy to understand). Spare the 18 minutes.

... And we trawl, which means to take something the size of a tractor-trailer that weighs thousands and thousands of pounds, put it on a big chain and drag it across the sea floor to stir up the bottom and catch the fish.

Think of it as being the bulldozing of a city or of a forest, because it clears it away. And the habitat destruction is unbelievable. This is a typical photograph of what the continental shelves of the world look like. You can see the rows in the bottom, the way you can see the rows in a field that has just been ploughed to plant corn.

What that was was a forest of sponge and coral which is a critical habitat for the development of fish. What it is now is mud.

And the area of the ocean floor that has been transformed from forest to level mud, to parking lot, is equivalent to the entire area of all the forests that have ever been cut down, on all of the earth, in the history of humanity. And we've managed to do that in the last 100 to 150 years.

...So what are the oceans going to be like in 20-50 years? Well there won't be any fish, except for minnows and the water will be pretty dirty, and all those kinds of things, and full of mercury, etc., etc. And deadzones will get bigger and bigger and start to merge. And we can imagine something like the dead-zonification of the global coastal ocean.

The really scary things though are the physical, chemical, chemical, oceanographic things that are happening.

As the surface of the ocean gets warmer, the water is lighter when it's warmer, it becomes hard and harder to turn the ocean over. We say it becomes more strongly stratified. The consequence of that is that all those nutrients that fuel the great anchoveta fisheries, the sardines of California, or in Peru or whatever, those slow down, and those fisheries collapse. And at the same time, water from the surface, which is rich in oxygen, doesn't make it down and the ocean turns into a desert.

So the question is, how are we all going to respond to this? And we can do all sorts of things to fix it but in the final analysis, what we really need to fix is ourselves. It's not about the fish; it's not about the pollution; it's not about the climate change. It's about us and our greed and our need for growth and our inability to imagine a world that is different that the selfish world we live in today.

So the question is, do we respond to this or not?

I would say the future of life, and the dignity of human beings depends on our doing that.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

presto chango & bunnies

I don't know about you, but I am ergo-sensitive. Maybe because of my migraine condition, the muscles in my shoulders & neck can seize up and cause headache & irritability. So, as I've mentioned, finding a computer workspace here in the padres house had been a challenge.

The MiniMac on top of the dresser is okay as I can stand there (doing yoga poses) or perch on my new secondhand stool (which ended up costing 5 euros and is really sturdy with a solid wood seat & nice folding metal frame/legs). But today, in my search for comfort, I have hit upon a hopeful alternative. I put the laptop onto my stool and pulled it over to the bed. This way I can sit in a loose lotus (aka Indian-style) on the bed and my arms on the keyboard are at 45 degrees. Bye-bye stiff neck?

Boy that's a pretty dull thing to post about. Sorry...

How about Grace? Everyone loves to hear about her! This morning I took her for the morning walk alone, because A took his mom to her medical appointment. I didn't know which way to go because frankly, we still haven't found many pleasant spots. So, coming to one roundpoint that is just past the neglected mostly unkempt, dry and dusty municipal gardens, I let her pick the direction.

I thought she'd head in one particular direction we've walked several times, which takes us past a big empty lot/field where she got loose one day last week when she had a "FRAP" (frenetic activity period). Alain wasn't with me that time either and boy, I was a bit scared at what she would do/to where she would zoom off (she's had fraps outside before but never gotten loose). But it turned out fine as she just ran through the brush at top speed in one huge circle and then came back to me. Luckily she'd worn herself out frapping as I struggled to hold the leash before she got out of her collar!

But nope, she picked a new direction that turned out to be quite interesting and is one we will definitely explore further as it involves big old houses, open fields and scrubby hills, which A & I find interesting/relaxing (photos to come). And dear G is certain to be very pleased to return, as her nose probably led us there for one particular very interesting-to-her reason: there're bunnies in them there hills! I saw one hop off a street into a field (she didn't though, thankfully!) and then droppings all over the place in another field.

Not that we should encourage any hunting instinct in our already wilder-than-your-average-domesticated mutt...

Sunday, July 11, 2010

la vida tranquila

Well, it's Sunday already and our first week is drawing to an end. I have not much to tell, as one might have noted from the sparseness of my posts!

I spent the week trying to catch up on work in the mornings, after taking a long walk with A & G and making/having breakfast. Other than that, a focal point of our day is to help out A's padres (parents) with lunch preparations and clean-up, which is quite a production. lunch here is late (2 or 3 p.m.) and large and the padres don't like to eat out much, so every day there is slaving to be done in the tiny kitchen.

Actually, i should clarify that i rarely help them prepare their food, for wont of space (Alain does though) but i am in charge of whipping up my own vegetarian bits and also prefer to make separate veggies for A and I, as the padres do so love to overcook and overdress/salt theirs! they also seem to favour things I personally would avoid cooking in the summer (and these days, altogether), like roast chicken! Alain has returned to his meat-eating habits, if only to please his dad (both padres consume enough animal protein at lunch to feed 3 people, but no, I'm not judging, just fascinated).

Yesterday we did succeed in convincing them to let us take them out for lunch and 'dios mio' (my god), what a feast it was. We took the course menu that included several rounds of appetizers before the main course and it was way too much food, I couldn't move afterwards! Of course that was my own fault for feeling I had to eat and eat to alleviate the inevitable food waste from our table! I consumed at least half the huge salad and lots and lots of manchego while the rest of them worked on croquettes, fried calamari and jamon de Serrano. My main plate was a delicious seafood paella (an exception from my regular habits), which I made a respectable dent in, eating about 2/3rds. A's dad meanwhile wrapped half his humongous steak in a napkin for "Fraise" (he keeps forgetting G's name but I kind of like his alternate!), so at least it didn't end up in the garbage.

Anyway, apologies for going on about food... It's just such a big deal in this casa!

Aside from that, yesterday G-dog was seen by her first Spanish vet -- by the pool on his patio, that is! The son of a second cousin of A's mom, he advised us on a recurring irritation the poor perrita has on her privates. A very nice and interesting guy, he also volunteers at a chimpanzee refuge near here.

The only other thing I have to say is that I hope tonight downtown in the village of San Juan de Alicante -- where the padres' apt is located -- is quieter than last night. There were dogs barking, car music blaring, people talking loud on the street until 3 a.m. and I hardly slept! Although I just remembered it's the World Cup final tonight so if Spain wins I'll have to catch up on ZZZs on Monday night!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

what's the point of showering?

oh it's a hot one tonight. damn these shutters block out the breeze along with the light! [in-laws don't like to have AC on at night but don't own fans.] and now there're fireworks or something going on outside somewhere - quite loud.

Lucky A's already snoring but i don't see sleep ahead anytime soon for me since that nice local vino at dinner (which was just 2 hours ago) went down a tad too smooth. don't know if i'll be accompanying A & G-dawg on their morning walk to the beach again tomorrow.

meanwhile, mini mac is also set up and now all i need is a stool so i don't have to stand for hours on end as i work. saw one in the window of the 2nd hand shop just downstairs. must go back in the a.m.

mañana is another day, amigos...

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

window on my new world

Standing in front of the window, open onto this narrow street of low sun bleached houses, I work on the laptop perched on a waist-high dresser. There is no desk in my padre-in-laws' apartment and the kitchen and living rooms are their noisy domains, so this morning I have decided to practice yoga poses as I edit and type here in our bedroom. Not sure if this will become a permanent routine. Our new temporary life here allows me creative freedom and the license to decide that later.

Grace lies on a makeshift bed on a rug by our bed, looking up only when a dog barks down the block. Birds chirp, buses and motorcycles pass by, rough Spanish ladies' voices shout out. It's 10:30 a.m. and the sun's heat begins to build. Concentration will be a challenge for me in San Juan de Alicante.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

here in the spanish summer sun

So we've been in Spain for almost 3 days now and are obviously still adjusting. Surprisingly, it seems G-dawg is the one who's found it easiest! She's already quite attached to her grandpa (who today took her out alone for the first time) and grandma (who talks non-stop to her when she thinks no one else is around to hear it!) and is being permitted access to whatever sofa, chair or bed she desires to sleep on.

We are so proud of how brave she was during the long voyage. I have a feeling she must've slept some once our Tokyo-Munich flight took off since we made sure to wear her out the day before (not to mention the stress of the last two weeks, what with so many strangers traipsing in & out of our house, from movers to embassy properties people to party guests). Plus frankly I think the in-flight part must have been way less scary than the hour plus ride to the airport, during which she insisted on looking out the window most of the time, and the hour plus between the time they wheeled her kennel off to load her and the actual scary-noise filled take-off. Not to mention the transfer from that plane to the Munich-Madrid flight.

Anyway, when we finally landed in Madrid she was thirsty (the still quite-full level testifying to how she never mastered drinking from her kennel bottle, no matter how hard we tried to train her on it, with peanut butter even) and the grateful recipient of a huge handful of cookies before we even got her out of the airport. I think airline staff did give her water between the flights, evidenced by the odorless wetness of her blankets directly under the water bowls hanging from the kennel door, and that is thanks to our friends Stephan & Erin for helping make a great sign to stick on her cage, but 20+ hours is a long time to go without food. So as soon as we arrived at our hotel, where her grandpa met us, she snarfed back a huge bowl of the batch of food he had prepared for her.

She didn't love the hotel that night and was still nervous around her grandpa the next morning when we all got into the car for the 3.5 hour drive to Alicante. She was tired I could tell but the situation wasn't ideal for her to sleep in the car since she & I had to share the backseat with a big box. She curled up but couldn't feel stable as she was too close the seat edge. So I finally took A's knapsack, stuck it on the floor right in front of her seat & put folded newspapers on top so she could have a shelf to rest her head on, which she gladly did & proceeded to sleep for the whole trip!

Our routine here seems to please her. A & I both wake up quite early and take her out for a long walk. We're still exploring, looking for green spaces where she is allowed (most people don't pick up dogpoo here so dogs are banned from the nicest parks). It's not too hot in the morning, as it's quite dry here and though the sun is strong and the day soon starts to heat up, the morning (and night) breezes are cool. On the way back, we stop for café con leche (café latte) and then head home for breakfast.

Noontime walks are short as the sun is really strong and so she hangs out in the cool apartment with whomever of us is around (we've yet to all go out together and leave her alone). Her afternoon/evening walk is later than in Tokyo because of the heat too, with the sun only setting around 9:30 p.m.! I want to take her to the beach one day soon but it's quite a long walk and she's not even allowed on the sand (only the boardwalk/path) so I'm not sure it's worth it. Maybe we can find a place she is permitted and get grandpa to drive us. I want her to meet the sea!

Meanwhile, we have yet to get internet access a la casa so I'm at a cafe at the moment, but we hope to find a USB prepaid modem thingy tonight when A goes to a different branch of the store as the local one has run out and waiting for a shipment. When we do get hooked up, I'm going to be breaking away from Pinch Me & starting a fresh blog for Spain. I'm still kicking around names for it, but welcome suggestions. Am currently leaning towards "somos caracoles" (we are snails).