Friday, 9 July 2010

"Thats a lot of Bull......!"

“That’s a lot of Bull…...!”

The Festival of San Fermin is well underway in Pamplona, (the annual “Running of the Bulls”) with 1 million visitors expected to attend this year.

The streets are bursting with thousands of ANZACS and American adventurers (a la Ernest Hemmingway), with every man and his dog wanting to stand in the way of 6 charging Bulls just for the fun of it! You have to ask yourself “is this is some kind of mass Death wish?”, until you realise they have (for the most part) had a little more “Dutch Courage” than this Blogger would advise.

I have to admit they do look quite resplendent in their Red Kerchiefs and white running tracksuits all listening intently for the blast of the horn which signals that the Bulls have been released from their pens.
A friend of mine recounts this tale of high dudgeon at the “Running of the Bulls” last year…

As the horn intones the opening of the pens, a way – too – close – for - comfort sound of pounding bovine hooves can be distinctly heard on the cobbled streets – seemingly heading my way?

Adrenalin begins to course through my body as half a ton of charging Bull – with VERY sharp horns – seems to have taken a particular dislike to me, and, as the effects of too much (excellent) Cider wears of in an instant, it occurs that, just maybe, this was not the best decision I ever made, in what could be, a painfully foreshortened life….

Looking at the narrow streets about me, every exit was crowded with equally recovered alcoholics. The entire assembly then lurched forwards in a parody of a “Mexican Wave” and I got carried along with it.

Now, it is true that some people will train all year to make the 825 metre sprint from Bull – pen to Bull – Ring: lean, fit, super – athletic, running machines. Unfortunately, I was not amongst their number.

As the bulls neared there was a great “parting of the waves” to let them get through the centre of the now panicking masses and I saw my opportunity. There was an unoccupied lamppost just within arms reach and I made a desperate lunge for it.

I shinnied up it like a rat up a drainpipe just as the nearest Bull had decided I was the target of his anger and horn met iron causing the post to shake alarmingly. It held though, and the gouges from the impact were just centimetres from where my out of shape buttocks had been a scant second ago.
I survived without a scratch – a young runner (27yrs), Daniel Jimeno Romero, was not so fortunate and was killed that same year…..

Photo credit:

Saturday, 3 July 2010

"Trans - Dimesional Envoy?"

With the holiday season upon us in 2010 I am minded to recall an episode in this Blogger’s life that occurred during May 2008….

It’s official.... I AM a genius, read on....

I had a wonderful drive into work this morning, the roads were empty, the sun was shining, the birds were singing, no smog over Madrid – one of those Halcyon days when nothing could go wrong.

As I entered the car park where I work, I couldnt believe my eyes!!! Hundreds of empty parking spaces!! I am normally forced to park “A la Madrileño” (ie anywhere on or off the road (roundabouts are my personal favourite) – but not today. Curiosity was beginning to get the better of me…

I wondered if the clocks had gone back a couple of hours and I had forgotten to change the time on my watch, so I checked the time on the clock in the car (it’s one of those snazzy clocks linked directly to the atomic-caesium clock in Berlin which automatically updates for all world time zones and accurate to a squillionth of a second) but no – the time was right on my watch.

Had I slipped through some extra-dimensional portal to a world where I was the only person still alive? Possibly.....As the Twilight Zone started playing in my mind

I was struck firmly between the eyes by the crushing reality of my situation, if indeed I had passed through some portal to a parallel there would be no more parties, no more cocido, and possibly, no more Gin and Tonic!!! (you never know what privations await you in a parallel world….

Disaster loomed.

I hesitantly swiped my card through the security lock, and submitted to the retinal scan, at least in this extra-dimensional world my security clearance was still valid.

I mounted the staircase to go through the final security check to be greeted by

the sounds of laughter – oh joy!! I was not alone and possibly Gin and Tonic had been invented by these terribly intelligent parallel beings.

I estimated there were at least 3 beings in this dimension (including myself). With a spring in my step I approached the sound of laughter to be confronted by two extra-dimensional beings, who miraculously resembled the Securitas Security Guards that I knew back in my own, so – far- away, world.

They were laughing at the security camera screens and muttering such words as “Tonto” and “idiota” ie “dumb” and “stupid”, then the word “Guiri” – “Tourist”!

I realised then that they had been monitoring MY progress into the Secure Facility.

“How rude” I thought, after all it isnt every day that you get to meet a trans-dimensional traveller.

I approached the desk in readiness to take them to task, after all I was an envoy for my own world, when one of them, sporting a grin expansive enough to suck all the oxygen out of a football stadium, held up a sign that read “Hoy es Mayo 1” (“Today is May 1st”).

I felt myself going weak at the knees, blackness was rushing into my field of view, confusion reigned supreme, and finally, this GENIUS realised that he had just driven 40 kilometres to work, had NOT crossed dimensions, was not a World Envoy, but WAS an “idiota”.

May 1st is a Bank Holiday in Spain!!!!

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Beans, beans, the musical fruit...

“Beans, beans, the musical fruit…..”

Thanks to Bart Simpson a whole generation of 30 something’s instantly recognise the literary merits of this simple rhyming “coup d’ etat” (for those few asleep during the last twenty years this masterpiece of rhyming art, is reproduced in all its glory at the end of this blog).

Everyone has heard of, and probably even partaken of, Paella. Which, when consumed in any Guiri Costa del Britain resort, is something truly wondrous to behold. Its complete lack of authenticity, its stodginess (King Canute would definitely have held back the tide had he the foresight to build a breakwater made from the stuff – see picture, right), and thoroughly unpleasant aftertaste has me running for the nearest “Fish and Chips From Blighty” at “Del Boy’s Pub”.

At that point, most visitors to this fair land disengage from Spanish gourmandship (yes, I did make that word up!)

Back on track…

Let’s not disparage too quickly the humble pulses that are beans… The (sometimes) unfortunate consequences of overindulgence are but a mere bagatelle when compared to the other truly great Spanish culinary art that is Cocido.

Cocido, like all great Peasant Dishes can be found in a hundred different incarnations from the green coasts of Northern Spain ("Cocido Montañes" in Galicia), Madrid’s very own "Cocido Madrileño", to incredibly diverse interpretations (with Moorish influence) in Granada, Catalonia, and yes even "Costa del Britain" (sometimes correctly referred to as the "Costa del Sol").

They all have one common ingredient – the humble bean.

Whether it is Haricot, Chickpea (preferred), Kidney, or Broad bean it is this one ingredient that defines the dish. Following is just one version (my own) of this classic that uses unsalted meats….

If at all possible you should use the dried versions of these pulses (it is the time taken to prepare the dish that is important) and after soaking and boiling appropriately to remove those nasty toxins (!) set them aside.

Now for the fun part – if you are at all organised you will already have a selection of chunky meat - a half kilogram piece of shin beef, a thick wedge of bacon, 300gms of Tocino, a Chorizo or two (3, 4), and for the last half an hour of cooking, a pair of Morcilla de Andaluz sausages.

Pack all the meat in the bottom of a large stock – pot (skin side down) The Tocino will have been nicely reducing in sufficient olive oil for 10 minutes to release some fat. Lightly brown the rest of the meats (not the Morcilla) and add some rough chopped onion, a whole garlic bulb, leeks, carrot, bay leaves, peppercorns, half litre of sieved tomatoes, and sliced cabbage.

Add 2 or 3 litres of good vegetable or meat stock, the chickpeas (or other beans) cover, and simmer on the lowest possible setting for at least 3 hours – no rushing this step!!

Important Note: Whilst waiting it is important to quaff several glasses of a good Rioja (it’s considered polite to leave at least 1 glass of wine for each guest).

Half an hour from the end, add the Morcilla to the top of the, by now, wonderfully aromatic stew and have another glass of wine (this blogger recommends responsible drinking…)

When it is finished you can either serve it traditionally by serving the vegetables onto a separate plate from the meat – or, as I do, all together in a dish of "Hollywood Bowl" proportions.

And finally, as promised….

“Beans, beans, the musical fruit.
The more you eat, the more you Toot!”

Friday, 25 June 2010

"The noise was like rocks being crushed"

“The noise was like rocks being crushed,"

What had been a day of festivities for Barcelona in celebration of San Juan, turned into a night of sorrow and mourning.

At precisely 11:35 pm on the evening of June 24th, the fast Inter city train from Alicante to Barcelona was approaching the station at Castelldefels Playa. One of the last stations it was to pass through before stopping in central Barcelona to offload its burden. This was its normal routine, but the night of June 24th was to be anything but normal…..

At 11:33pm a local commuter train, travelling in the opposite direction had just pulled into Castelldefels Playa station. It was carrying hundreds of would – be revellers to an organised Beach festival as part of the day’s celebrations. As excited groups detrained in anticipation of a night of good natured fun, they were faced by a hopelessly crowded platform of people queuing to leave the station through its single, underpass exit.

It was then that a group of some 30 odd young people chose to use the other exit. Unfortunately and this time, tragically, this meant crossing the tracks behind the stopped train to get to the other platform.

The Intercity express train was bearing down on the station; the group of youngsters oblivious to its approach because the body of the train from which they had just exited blocked their view.
As one they emerged from behind the train at a pace to head across the tracks…...

Straight into the path of the high speed intercity express!!

The carnage was horrific, a scene straight from “Dante’s Inferno”.

Associated Press had this comment from a passenger on the commuter train: Sr Marcelo Cardona: "I saw mutilated people, blood everywhere, blood on the platform".

The current toll is 13 dead. Young lives tragically taken just as they were starting out on life’s journey.

16 others injured, many in critical condition.

And an entire city traumatised by the events of the night of June 24th 2010 – a night of celebration, now to be forever remembered as a night of tragedy.

I leave, as I began, with this chilling eyewitness report of the sound of the collision (as reported in El Mundo)…..

“The noise was like rocks being crushed,"

©KPBProyectos (Madrid)

Where is Don Quijote when you need him?

Where is Don Quijote when you need him?

We’ve all seen them as we drive across the Alta Mesa in Spain. Row upon row of huge majestic wind turbines, silently (well almost) turning in the wind supplying carbon neutral electricity to surrounding towns and villages.But for how much longer? Read on............

There are concerns over retro-active cuts, being proposed by the Spanish Government, to the electricity “Feed – In Tariffs” applicable to wind-farms. These “Feed – In Tariffs” are what the Govt promises to pay to wind - farm owners for the electricity they produce to encourage new “green power” developments. The proposals threaten the viability of some of the smaller wind farms, and investment targeted for new projects is disappearing as fast as the money in my wallet on pay day. This has the potential of proving to be a disastrous blow to Spain’s eminence in Wind power technology. For a nation whose economy is already looking into the precipice of “financial meltdown” it is an ill – considered and self – defeating proposition. (* shakes head in utter disbelief at this govt initiative*)

But what is all the fuss about? What does this mean for Spain’s wind – power sector?

Well, for one, retro-active legislation has always been considered a “no-no”. Ordinary folk and businesses abiding by current laws and regulations, can, overnight, find themselves liable to pay back huge sums of money, or be told that they were acting illegally, because some “Johnny - come -lately” from Town Hall decides the new regulations will be back-dated. Reminiscent of the Local Council land - grabs in the Costas where previously approved building permissions were retro – actively denied and (mostly) expats suffered as a result. But that is the subject of another article.

Secondly, the tariffs have always attracted genuine state-of-the-art ventures (and a few “Mad Scientist” types to boot) that simply would not have been able to prove their design concepts without this Government assistance. Spain is recognised (along with Denmark – who would have thought it?) as a world leader in all things connected with wind – power electrical generation. This is a position that will become unsustainable without Government encouragement.

On the upside, Gamesa and “new-kid-on-the-Spanish-block” Vestas (the aforementioned Danish Connection) are showing strong financials and a very healthy overseas order book. These giants on the scene will survive all of the government’s machinations of course – “too big to fail” – but let the Fanny Mae and Freddy Mac debacle in the US housing sector serve as a warning! Of even greater concern is the possibility (threatened) that these 2 companies will simply up-root, Lock, Stock, and Barrel for foreign climes leaving an estimated 40,000 people employed directly in this sector facing an uncertain future.

This is indeed an “Ill wind that blows no good” for anyone, as I keep scanning the horizon for a somewhat eccentric tall Knight, sword in hand, faithful companion in his wake, to “Tilt at the Government”.........

©Madrid is MAD