Monthly Archives: September 2012

Photos of Madrid

Peace with a whippersnapper






Torre de Madrid apartments

What a day! It started late because I slept until 10 a.m. That’s very unusual, but last night I was on the computer until 2 a.m. and I was shocked to see the time.

So when I got out on the Gran Via, my main purpose would be to find a cafe. I walked past Mc Donald’s – no – won’t go there, then there was Dunkin’ Donuts – you gotta be kidding – that’s also a no. Then, what pops up? Kentucky Fried Chicken! Are these Spaniards crazy?

Across the street I saw the Nebraska cafeteria. Huh? Nebraska? Oh, well, it looked nice so that’s where I settled for breakfast. I had two cups of cafe con leche – and had to pay twice, as in Europe, you don’t get a free refill. Then I had some type of fried bread sitting on top of a puddle of vanilla pudding and on top were strawberries and kiwi fruit slices. Hmm, not bad.

Then, back in the hotel, up on the old, tiny elevator – that causes me to say a prayer, hoping it won’t stall – I regrouped and planned the day.

The goal would be to find  the apartment Torre de Madrid which would be on the corner of the Gran Via and Paseo de Espana.  Why would I want to find that apartment building?

Because my friend Sumi Haru stayed in that building while she was involved in filming a movie, in which she had a feature role. I wanted to take a photo of the building to renew her memory.  So I started on the adventure, by first, going the opposite way down the Gran Via from my hotel.

After many stops for coffee and to ask directions, I realized that something was not right.

Several people told me there was no such place as Paseo de Espana, and of course, I argued with them. Why would someone who lived in Spain all his/her life not know there was a Paseo de Espana that intersects with the Gran Via?

Finally, a waitress went inside and guess she had a genie in there to answer all questions. She told me to go back up the Gran Via and head to – now, where did she say? I forgot!

I went into a rather fancy hotel and waited my turn in line to ask the important question: “Where is the Paseo de Espana that intersects with the Gran Via and where the Torre de Madrid Apartments are located? Please?”

She got a map out and convinced me that, indeed, there was no Paseo de Espana, but there is a Plaza de Espana and if I continue up Gran Via, I’d come right to it.

She was right.

So far the morning was a very long walk going both ways, but it was also lots of fun, as I took many photos and watched a lot of noisy, city action. One time an ambulance tried to continue down a street, but cars wouldn’t move. A motorcycle cop got in front of them and made them move so the ambulance could get through. They are noisy!

Something else is also noisy, and those are the flashing green men lights that tell you in bird chirping sounds that you’d better hurry and walk across. About three-fourths of the way across, the sound changes and I swear they chirp, “your guilty, your guilty, your guilty.”

I came upon the Torre de Madrid apartments which are located across from a park of statues and fountains. So I took a photo of the marque on front of the building and thought it might be nice to take a photo of the inside, as well. Sumi would like that, I was certain. I got inside and saw the lobby and the welcome desk but no one was there so I just snapped a photo.

Out of nowhere a large, and very young security guard bounced out and shook his finger at me, and said, “no photos, no photos, no photos.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t  know.”

“Delete it.”

I had already began the process when I picked up the camera to delete the photo, he groused: “If you don’t delete the photo I’ll call the police.”

“Listen, you. If you see what I’m doing you’ll notice that I’m deleting the photo. And by the way, you don’t need to call the police, and further, you don’t need to tell me you’ll call the police.

See? Look at this.”  I let him see the photo and deleted it in front of his eyes. Okay, it might have been a bit dramatic. But, I didn’t want to go to jail, and I can’t stand to be intimidated by some ‘whippersnapper’ a few decades younger than I.

He finally smiled and apologized so we both communicated our deep and abiding friendship, but we didn’t hug or kiss. I left.

I saw a white pigeon in the park that appropriately symbolized peace.


The small and old hotel where I'm staying in the heart of Madrid, Spain


“We having a revolution because the government is increasing our taxes and we have no job opportunities and there are cuts in education and our public services,” so said one of the men I stood next to during the beginning of a protest near the parliament building in Madrid.

“We want the government and the king to rewrite the constitution because it isn’t fair to the people,” the man continued.

The protest took place this evening (Saturday) beginning around 6 p.m., as people began to fill up the streets. Madrid police were ready for action, and the national police wore their riot gear. A helicopter circled above.

As the protesters were getting their signs ready to hold up and TV cameras were set up, journalists walked around with cameras slung over their shoulders, and there I was, right there in the moment.

“When people start walking this way, you should get ready to run away fast,” the man told me. On Tuesday, he saw police charge the crowd and fired rubber bullets at demonstrators, and he expected it to happen again tonight.

News reports said thirty-two people were injured, and several people were arrested during Tuesday’s rally.

I climbed up on the base of a

The National Police


statue so I could see a bit better, and I got some good photos of the action.

However, I have promised not to put myself in harm’s way throughout this one year journey, so when thousands of people started walking toward the rally, and blew ear-splitting whistles, I decided it might be a good time to leave the immediate area. One man I spoke to told me the words the crowd shouted were, “fire them, fire them.” “The government is bad,” he said, just before I took leave and walked across the street.

One of the men I spoke to took off on his bicycle to buy himself a drink and he came back with a coke for me. Friendly people here in Spain.

For further understanding of the unhappiness shared by many Spaniards, I learned that Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s administration plans to cut spending by $51.7 billion. To do this, he’ll freeze salaries of public workers and reduce unemployment benefits. The common man, however isn’t the only group to feel the cuts, as the royal family will lose their funding by four percent.

Okay, that’s enough reporting for today. Remember, I gave that up? I actually went on the route like a good tourist before the distraction by angry Spaniards, and took a bus tour throughout the gorgeous city. There is so much to see in Madrid, that I will need to return after spending some time in the Basque area. The architecture, art museums and statues are stunning and only one day just plain and simple won’t satisfy my appetite. I did spend time in the Museo Nacional Del Prado and viewed Spanish, German, Flemish, British, Dutch and Italian paintings.

I saw some Rubens, Rembrandt, Goya to name a few. There were so many rooms, and departments that you cannot see them all in one afternoon, or even in one day. So, that will be on my list to return to later.


Saying goodbye

I’m back in Madrid after a long bus ride from Gredos. The resort in Gredos was where the Vaughan program took place between Anglo volunteers and Spaniards who work for an energy company based in Madrid.

I was a volunteer with fifteen other people from the United Kingdom, Ireland, and one from the Canary Islands. I was the only person from the United States.

Ellen, a volunteer from Ireland, sat behind me on the bus and neither one of us slept, as most everyone else did, so we kept each other company pointing out that the small villages we drove through looked desolate.

For over one hour neither one of us saw a human being. Then I spotted a man in green overhauls at a car repair shop. The next time was at the pit stop. “Pit stop” for the fifteen Spaniards who may be reading my blog, means a stop for a bathroom break, or for coffee, tea or to stretch.

The ‘sleepers’ got off the bus looking tired from waking up and I was wide awake, as I usually am while traveling. The problem is, I’m afraid I might miss something, so I cannot sleep.

Tonight, however, I’m tired but I know there are ‘readers’ awaiting the newest news from this senior traveler and blogger.

Today, the Spaniards received well-earned diploma’s signed by Richard Vaughan, the owner and founder of the Vaughan program. The diplomas were handed to each Spaniard by Program Manager Marisa with the help of Master of Ceremonies and actress Carlota. Nearly every Spaniard had something to say about what they got from the program.

The Anglos also received a certificate of appreciation for the time and effort they put in to helping the Spaniards become efficient in English.

During the week, there were many “ah-ha moments” for the Spaniards when suddenly  an English phrase/idiom made sense.

Some of the idioms we taught them are listed here:  ‘fancy pants’, ‘to ask out’, ‘to cut back on’, ‘paint the town red’, ‘pie in the sky’, ‘a pipe dream’, ‘fly off the handle’, ‘to wrap up’, ‘zero tolerance’, ‘to calm down’, ‘it costs an arm and a leg’, ‘to pitch in’, ‘to drag on’, ‘five o’clock shadow’, ‘to slip up’, ‘a fuddy-duddy’, ‘party-pooper’, ‘a pipe dream’, ‘to butter up’, are just a few of those the Spaniards learned and used in conversation throughout the week.

I found that I really had to think about how to explain some of these idioms, as we English speakers just use them without thinking of the literal translation or even how they got into our language. I think some of them make sense, and others must come through our English folklore, and are used without analysis.

One thing I know for sure, everyone will take memories back to their home from the week-long program. I certainly will.

One funny thing I will always remember came from when Oscar told a few of us about his participation in keeping his home in order.

“I have to take off and put back on the bed over 200 cousins,” Oscar said. Ellen laughed and said, “Cousins? I think you mean cushions.”

“Oh, yes, cushions.” And he admitted that the number 200 was a bit exaggerated, that there were only six cushions and they were made of single color, some were stripped, and some were of flowers.

That brought up a whole conversation between me, Oscar, Ellen and Amanda about decorating in general, and making beds in particular. They laughed when I told them I preferred an unmade bed because it was more like a “nest”.

“What did I do…marry, a bird?” My husband said when I admitted that to him.

There were many humorous moments, and during the entertainment hour where at one time of another, nearly everyone performed in some sort of skit or improv.

It was a great week, everyone said, and I believe many friendships were born. When the bus dropped us off at the hotel, where the week began, there were plenty of hugs and kisses and ‘good byes’.

It is one of the best times so far I have had since being on this journey.





Oh, that American lady

I don’t know what it was that created the laughing hysteria in Luis,  Alfonso, and Linda,  but over dinner last night we all laughed until our sides ached.

Two Anglos and two Spaniards were required to sit together for all meals, and we were required to change who you sat with at every meal, to give everyone an opportunity to meet each other and so the Spaniards would improve their English by listening to every accent.

I guess my independence and spirit of adventure is a novel among the Spanish people in general, but when Linda quietly asked my age, she blurted it out to Luis and Alfonso. Alfonso had already learned of my age, but Luis, when he heard, burst out laughing, and none of them stopped laughing throughout the dinner.

Here’s a woman, age 75, traveling alone, without a cell phone, with only two bags, a computer, on a budget, and who stays in homes of people she doesn’t know, who goes which ever way the wind happens to be blowing, and she’s sitting right here in front of us.

This went on… until I finally had to tell them I was an American woman with a pioneer spirit. What else could I use as an excuse for my independent and adventuresome spirit, because it doesn’t strike me as unusual in even the tiniest bit?

Just because you hit a certain age, does that mean you must stop living and doing what you like to do?

Alfonso stated that his 67 year old mother would never do what I’m doing, and not only that, he would question her safety while traipsing all over the world.


Yesterday we played a game that required a group effort. We were to draw a name out of an envelope and try and get your partner to guess the answer. It could be a celebrity, an author, musician, or a famous person in history.

I first had the name Batman, and sang a bit of the batman tune, but Luis, my partner didn’t get the answer, then I had the name Beyonce and he got that one right away.

The next time around, Luis appropriately guessed Napoleon when I said he and Josephine married in the Notre Dame, and in spite of my saying Napoleon was Italian (what was I thinking?), Luis got it right.

We had a get together later after dinner, with Anglo presentations that were informative, some just plain fun, and all in English, of course.

I also had two one-on-one conversations that I enjoyed very much; and I’ve had two today, as well.

Tomorrow is our last day, and we’ll have one more one-on-one conversation and then the program is over.

Eva, the first Spaniard I met on the bus going to Gredos has left, as she has a meeting on Monday at work and she wants to be prepared for that, besides I think she missed her little girl.

It was sad to see her leave knowing our brief moment of friendship in the span of our lives is over. She is a sensitive and intelligent woman and I will cherish my time with her.

Now tomorrow we will all go our own separate ways, and I will miss everyone of them.

Door open. Doors close. The next door to open will be after I’ve spent three days again in Madrid, before I go to the Basque area.








Putting on a spell

I remember asking my mother this question when I was a child:  “Why do all the flowers feel the same? It doesn’t matter what flower it is, they all feel the same, why?

“That’s because flowers have the same cover over their body, just like we do. My skin feels just like your skin. All skin feels the same; just like flowers’ skin feels the same. I’m glad you asked that question.” My mother answered.

I wasn’t sure for a very long time why she was glad I asked that question, but it has come to me over and over throughout the years. She wanted me to learn that we’re all the same, but our personality makes us different from each other; as does the culture of the country we come from.

Personality and cultural differences makes the world an interesting place, as evidenced in the program I have taken part in this week.

The Spaniards have shared much of themselves, their intelligence, eagerness to become fluent in English and their interesting culture. They have been polite and friendly toward the volunteers, who, in turn, have been happy to share their time in helping them acquire fluency.

Much time is spent in one-to-one conversation between an Anglo and a Spaniard, and then there are the fun and games – another way to learn.

Take yesterday for instance: we broke down into small groups and discussed the formula for making a presentation, as every Spaniard is preparing to do for tomorrow. Then after a bit of that, one group gave a spoof on Shakespeare which was hilarious. The players were all great and it was fun.

Before that, however, my group performed our skit. I played Clint from New Mexico, whose ranch is close to the Texas border. With my southern accent I told the audience that I was a cowboy and ruled a ranch, milked cows and fed chickens. I was introduced as a ‘man’ (I wore a mustache and cowboy hat and a gun), who was looking for a wife to “cook, clean and cuddle”.

There were three women contestants: one was named Dolly – she was stacked like a certain Dolly we know as a country western singer – and wore a hot pink wig. The second applicant was a nun, in complete black habit. The last one was a woman who was into witch craft. She wore a black and silver wig, with all black clothing and carried a bat (the animal).

I asked  the witch  if she could cook, what would she put into my sandwich, and she replied with all kinds of nasty critters and perhaps a bat or two.

The nun was asked how she looked; and she replied that even though she was covered up, he would be pleased to see her ‘beauty-spot.’ That comment was greeted with lots of laughs, which made Clint realize, even though he couldn’t see the ladies, she must be covered up from head to toe; not very interesting he thought.

Dolly said when questioned about her best feature, she surprised the audience – in spite of her frontal display – that it was her eyes.

Well, when the commentator and her assistant asked who I’d chose to marry and take to the ranch, I said, “one of those ladies is too weird, the other wears way too much clothing, and the other one was way too much woman for me (Clint); and I chose the assistant instead. We both ran off the stage together. The audience applauded and laughed throughout the skit.

Much later, the master of ceremonies, and actress, Carlota, and the program director Marisa arranged a Queimada for all of us.

“That involves an alcoholic special drink with fire.” Marisa said.

Well, even though I was tired at 10:30 p.m., my interest was piqued enough to want to satisfy my curiosity, so I walked up to the small building where the programs are held.

Carlota was scooping up the drink with fire coming up from the clay pot and on the liquid. While she was doing that, a few people read items that put us into the mood of a ritual.

“Queimada comes from a Galician tradition. It is a punch made from Galician aguardiente (orujo in gallego), a spirit distilled from wine and flavored with special herbs or coffee plus sugar, lemon peel, coffee beans and cinnamon.

Typically, while preparing the punch a spell or incantation is recited, so that special powers are conferred to the queimada and those drinking it.

Queimada is a pagan ritual that dates back to the 11th century although sometimes it is believed to be an ancient Celtic tradition transmitted along generations. Other claim it was actually developed in the 1950s.

In 1955 Titi Freire designed the clay pot in which the queimada is usually prepared and the spell that is recited nowadays was written by Mariano Marcos Abalo in the 1960s.

The goal of the preparation ritual is to distance the bad spirits that, according with the tradition, lie in wait for men and women to try to curse them. All occasions are good for a queimada but typically the queimada ritual takes place during St. John’s night or witches night on June 23rd. The people who take part in it gather around the container where it is prepared, ideally without lights, to cheer up the hearts and to be better friends.” Stated from the material handed out.

I think this would be great fun for a Halloween party.


The recipe for Queimada from an Internet page:

Prep Time: 2 minutes

Cook Time: 10 minutes

Total Time: 12 minutes


  • 1 liter orujo (substitute Italian grappa if orujo not available)
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • rind of one lemon cut into strips
  • scant 1/4 cup whole coffee beans


This queimada recipe makes about 8 servings

Special Note: For the preparation of this drink, you will need a large fireproof clay pot or bowl, sealed or glazed on the interior and a very long-handled wooden spoon to stir the queimada.

Place the clay pot or bowl on a fireproof table of atop a cold BBQ grill. Be sure to have a large lid handy to put out the flames.

Pour approximately 4 Tbsp orujo and 1 Tbsp sugar into a small glass and stir to dissolve sugar, then set aside.

Pour the rest of the orujo and remaining sugar into the clay bowl and stir. Add the lemon peel and coffee beans and stir again.

Pour the orujo and sugar mixture from the glass into a ladle and light it on fire. Carefully move the ladle very close to the clay pot until the orujo mixture in the pot catches fire. Stir frequently until the flames turn blue. Slide the lid over the pot to put out the flames. Serve hot.

Melisa and Carlota served each drink in clay cups. The Spaniards have put a spell on me!








Editing and playing

Wow! I’m waiting for a call from a Spaniard. We are playing ‘lost baggage’. I am the flaky customer service agent and she will be the frustrated traveler. The call will attempt to get her to use English in a moment of distress.

That was fun! She was great in her role; she stuck with her intentions and made herself understood. Afterwords we met in the lobby and we had a good laugh over our ‘improv’.

The next project was a skit we would put together in a group to present to the wider group on Thursday. We were chosen to be the ‘improv’ performers because we won a contest and the winning group was promised a ‘prize’. The prize was that we have to work out a skit.  To win this so-called prize, we had to take one photo of a list of activities and be the most creative. To the task: get a picture of something on top of something; that had me sitting on top of a bar!

This all reminds me of my own theater experience, of which there have been many, and some of you know about that: both as a performer and an acting teacher.

It also causes me to remember the TV show I had years ago. I seem to be saying ‘years ago’ a lot, as I bring up former experiences. My experiences go on deaf ears, as I’m just an old lady reliving the past, I assume it is thought by most participants. But anyway, it is fun playing these kinds of games again in a young atmosphere like those I had participated in ‘years ago’.

I do get some moments of free time, and I often go back over some of the past blogs and see where some editing needs to be done, and so I try and get bits of that done during those few hours every day.



photos of the resort near Gredos

The visit to the village and super salad

We had a breakfast worthy of royalty waiting for us in the restaurant room. this morning The table was arranged as an art exhibit with all kinds of food.

Then we all met in the common room for the days’ work. My one-on-one would be with Luis, who is a nuclear engineer. I actually met him last night at dinner. He looks like Anthony Quinn.

Carlota, our actress/mistress of ceremonies told me that Luis and I would go to the village with her so she could purchase some pens at the book/stationery store.

It was such a privilege to see the village of Gredos, a village known for the growing of beans. We saw the central courtyard getting the market ready for the day. By then it was a bit after 10 a.m. and farmers were bringing their fruit, vegetables ready and a restaurant had set out their chairs in the courtyard for people to sit, drink, and people-watch.

The church, with gothic stone features, was built in the thirteen century. We walked around it, and saw a fountain in front of the church. A tall tower features large bells. The town is quaint with old streets and stone building set close to the sidewalks.

Going to the village was a surprise so I didn’t have my camera with me.

Carlota said there may be another opportunity. I sure hope so, as I’m dying to show you the charming village. Luis told me that many people have left the town for larger cities and better opportunities, but keep their houses in the village for their use during the summer.

“They have the best of both worlds,” I said, and Luis agreed.

Yesterday, the one-on-one I had with Bart led to a funny story he told me about understanding English in a America. The waitress asked him if he wanted supersalad – or that is what he thought she said.

He repeated, “Oh, supersalad. Yes, I’d like supersalad.”

“What kind would you like?”


“What kind of soup would you like?”

“I’m confused, I thought you said supersalad.”

“Oh, no I said: Soup or Salad. What kind of soup would you like to have?” I will bring you the soup and the salad.

Then I told him the story of the day I had in Holland where I made up my mind to speak Dutch all day. I saw a woman at the train station and we were making small-talk and doing quite well – if I don’t say so myself – until she told me she just had her hair done.

I looked at her and in perfect Dutch, I said, “Oh, yes, I can tell, it’s very ugly.”

I misused the word and ruined the lady’s day until I realized my mistake and apologized.

After the visit to the village and finishing up the one-on-one with Luis, I went up to my room, and it was cleaned up. The bed was made, there were fresh towels, and the room sparkled in cleanliness.

I’m spoiled.