Archive for the 'Spain' Category

Street Art Pictures: London, Spain, Morocco and Portugal

First, a disclaimer: I don’t profess to be any kind of expert in street art. Or even a novice, really. I just know that, when I spot a fresh stencil or spy some sick piece, it makes me smile—and, if I happen to have a camera with me, snap some photos.

I guess the thing about street art is the sense of place it evokes—which one naturally notices more when one is traveling, seeing a city with fresh eyes. As the world gets smaller, regionalism can be hard to find; this is especially true in the Westernized world. Traveling in Western Europe, you constantly see the same chainstores, the same brands, the same fashions—girls are wearing whatever’s hip at H&M everywhere from Malmo to Madison (and I’d like to say myself excluded, but that would be a lie). Street art, whether it’s good or not, shatters through that; its viscerality marks a place, claims it, and if you’re traveling, can often reveal a lot more about where you are than reconstructed period buildings and restaurants with picture menus (really, paella all kinda looks the same).

I hung around some East Bay graf kids for a time, and still smile when I see their tags around town. A repeated stencil, a tag, a distinctive style—they’re like recurring images from a dream, someone else’s dream, and you catch little glimpses, train your eyes to look down alleys and up at overpasses, and you feel like you’re in on something. It grounds you in a very tangible way, connects you with the phantoms that sneak around at 3am with backpacks full of clanging illegality, with their finger-staining passions and illicit dreams. Of course, I was never one of them; a certain romance remains when it’s not you getting arrested or jumped in some strange turf battle. But I will say you interact with a city—its architecture and landscape, its thingness—differently when you’re even vaguely in tune with its street art. And when you’re traveling, it can often be your only contact with the night-crawling kids that in large part create the pulse of a place.

My first stop on my trip was London, where I of course went on an all-day goose chase for Banksy (chronicled here). The hunt also took me past several of these digitized little fellows by Invader..

Super poor picture quality, but what can you expect from a 2am street lamp and a mediocre camera? This I spotted in Madrid, near Plaza Sol. If you can't tell, it's two tangoing figures with security cameras for heads.

Granada generally had some piss-poor graffiti and stencils, but this one made me laugh. Totally fitting for a college town.

I spotted this one several times around the beach breakers in Tarifa. The sentiment jived well with the surf-town vibe, and the fact that it was in English spoke to the internationalism of the unassuming little place-between-places.

As you might guess, there wasn't a whole lot of street art going on in Morocco, or at least in the places I went. What one does see a lot of is stenciled Muslim calendars, on the side of buildings, with icons depicting certain holidays and dates. My favorite was the rose. I of course have no idea what it denoted or what the Arabic says, and retained none of the heavily accented, half-French explanations.

But of course, the best stencil piece I saw was in one of my favorite dirt-road beach towns, Mirleft. Popular with vacationing Marrakeshis, artists, dreadlocked travelers and, well, me, Mirleft seemed a perfect place to find this, peeling away on a side street.

Back in Europe, much of Lisbon's street art had a distinctive Brazilian flavor, which makes sense considering the city's large Afro-Brazilian population, and the fact that São Paulo and Rio are some of the biggest and baddest producers of street art in the world. I saw this stencil around the center, around uber-hip Barrio Alto.

And this was a simply incredible wheatpasted portrait over near the Alfama district.

Another college town, Coimbra had a fair amount of politicized stencils. This one was especially interesting given the prevalence of domestic violence in Portugal, and the pervading stigma against seeking help: "Every 2 weeks, a Portuguese victim of domestic violence dies." The number is a little more somber when you consider the small country's population of 10 million.

On the flip side, this was just awesome.

And I quite liked this one as well.

But the place that really took the cake was Porto. Good ole unsuspecting Porto, forever in the shiny, smiley shadow of Lisbon. These were all taken near hip-slick-and-cool Rue Miguel Bombara.

The paper cranes were part of the 1000 Tsuri Project. They acted like punctuation, all over the walls of the street, serving as both a kind of visual break and space filler between the other pieces.

Part of a larger project by artist Costah; check more out here:

This little girl is up a few places; each time, she's touching something different. From what I could tell, this was the logo of a nearby art gallery/collective.

One my favorites. Simple but expressive, and totally took me aback when I spotted it down an alley.

I don’t know if these reveal any more about the places I was in, but to me they do. And if nothing else, they’re better than cell phone ads.

On the Edge of Continents

Flying over, on the way back

Flying over, on the way back

A languid, palm-fringed town perched on the edge of worlds feels like the perfect place to end the Spanish leg of my journey.

English derives the word ¨tarif¨ from the town Tarifa, a port city and entryway into Europe for thousands of years. The city occupies the wind-swept space between places: the end of the Atlantic, the lip of the Mediterranean, where two continents nearly kiss. Instead of the edgy instability of a lot of border towns, Tarifa lazes comfortably in this in-between space. It´s not unlike any other beach town: surf shops and gently weathered buildings, sniffing dogs and barefoot children, blown-out tattoos and sun-bleached hair. The surrounding skies are populated with the cheerful kites of windsurfers, punctuated with the horns of the Tangier ferry. Just across the azure waters (for all its hype, the Mediterranean is truly gorgeous), vampiric African mountains crest hazily—¨vampiric¨ because, despite seeming so touchably close, they´ve eluded all my photography attempts. The narrow passageway of streets in Tarifa´s historical center tell the town´s history like lines dug in a palm: an old city wall, a crumbling castle, the remains of abandoned structures stretching lazily into the waters. And always, in every part of the city, a persistent wind rushes through, a transient resident itself.

DSCN3205I can´t think of anything better than to spend a chilled-out day wandering the streets, sitting at the beach, reading, catching up on writing (and sleep), and generally getting ready for tomorrow´s ferry embarkment. The 35-minute ride will deposit me at sister city Tangier, another meeting of worlds, where I´ll begin my Moroccan odyssey.

Europe is a pleasant, lovely place to travel—it´s clean, safe, everyone speaks English, buses arrive and depart on schedule and people generally leave you alone (even construction workers refrained from cat-calling this afternoon). It´s almost too easy, to be honest, feels like something other than traveling (vacationing?).

The real challenge of Europe is the punch-to-the-kidneys expense. I´ve done it about at cheaply as possible, and am still woefully over budget. Transportation costs took me by surprise. My last European adventure rang in at €36 per day; however, the Eurail pass I prepurchased meant I didn´t pay anything in travel between destinations. Of course, I anticipated Spain to be the most costly leg of my journey, so Morocco and Portugal should even things out, if I behave myself.

Here´s a wrap-up of my Spanish travels:

Number of days: 10

Number of cities: 4

Number of nights in a hostel: 2

Things I liked more than I expected: Flamenco, Madrid

Favorite new travel accessories: hat, spray hand sanitizer

Travel accessories as-of-yet unused: sleeping sheet, laundry detergent

Biggest travel splurge: a universal adaptor from El Corté Ingles (€18, adaptor I brought was busted)

Budget Break-down (frighteningly, I keep this scrupulous of track of my finances even at home…)

Daily average: €45

Transportation: €130.5

Food: €170

Lodging: €46

Entrance fees (museums, attractions): €21

Internet: €21

Coffee and sweet treats (gotta have my indulgences): €26

Other (laundry, adaptor, etc): €31.5

Red-Door Flamenco

DSCN3201The drama and thunder of it—


when the notes sing sadly,

seem to pluck themselves

from weeping fingers,

when the wails of passion

get inside the hips,

become the bend of wrists,

the fistful of ruffles—

how unapologetic

the stomps are,

the throbs

of a furious pulse,

the exactitude of hands

that don´t stop clapping

until the blood reaches

its final fevered pitch:

a pose of breathlessness,

a sculpture gasping

with life.

BYOB Debauchery: Spanish Botellónes

DSCN3177The roar of voices rose from between the trees, out of the darkness and dirt. Scooters swarmed, freshly broken glass glittered in the dim park lights. Young girls teetered in impossibly high heels and boys stumbled, leaned their faces against the sides of walls as they pissed. And every person clutched a plastic cup.

When Spanairds sigh in disapproving despondency about ¨kids today,¨ they´re talking about botellónes. In a culture of late-night fiestas,  these youth-ridden BYOB binges stand out as particularly debaucherous.

Bottelónes take place in public, on the streets and in the parks; teeangers and early 20-somethings gather to drink, flirt, cause trouble, and leave a mountain of trash in their wake. Increasingly the subject of public controversy, Seville´s bottelónes are known to be especially raucous.

We passed one as we trod through Parque Maria Luisa on Friday during a once-a-year festival of museum open houses and cultural performances. (How Spanish is this?: museums are free to the public from 10pm-3am, and completely full the whole time.) September is festival month in Seville, when residents have returned from August vacations and the oppression of the heat has subsided; it´s also the beginning of botellón season. My couchsurfing hosts and I were walking over to Museo Artes y Costumbres Populares, where we saw a killer flamenco show, and the adjacent Museo Arqueológico, where a classical guitarist´s exaggerated facial expressions were more dramatic than an old guitar-playing friend with Tourettes (RIP, friend).

We passed what I was told was a typically trashy Friday night bottelón. It was like a rave minus the pulsing lights and techno music, like a sideshow minus the cars and firearms. Hundreds of kids filled the open space at the park´s entrance. Teenage girls were dressed to the nines to attire revealing even by Spanish standards, while boys puffed their chests and tried to impress each other, even in curiously effeminate clothing. My hosts spoke of the trash, piss and vomit the parties left in their wake, the shards of glass and tell-tale crushed plastic cups that city workers scurry to clean up the mornings after. (The next day, I passed through the carnage of another botellón, down by the river, and had to say, it was pretty gnarly.)

I smiled to myself as we passed by. I couldn´t help but feel that, if you swapped the heels for combat boots, and blush and blow-drying for heavy eyeliner and multi-colored dreads, it wouldn´t have been too unlike the Rocky Horror Picture Show or Gilman Street of my adolescence. Instead of being out in the open, though, we were relegated to the sketchy corners of the city, to alleyways, public restrooms, the stairwells of parking garages. I wondered if having to hide it—the violent pursuit of oblivion—somehow served to make ours worse, more seedy and powder-laced, more self-destructive and apt to end in institutions and death.

From between the park gates, I spotted a girl hoisted up by two friends, her arms drapped over their shoulders. Her head hung at a sharp angel; her heeled feet scuttled, dragged in the dirt lifelessly. Whether it´s a plague to Spanish culture or kids just being kids, I felt mighty glad not to be a teenager anymore.

The Jugular of Granada´s Street Art

DSCN3131Down a deserted stairwell in a steep tangle of stone streets, I stumbled upon the best street art in Granada.

Literally, I stumbled. The precarious passageway of unleveled rocks made walking an ankle-twisting, sole-bending venture. The vacant lots, abandoned mattresses and wafting bits of urban debris didn´t make the footpath a particularly picturesque one either. But I didn´t care; it was what covered the cement walls and old stone wells that fascinated me. Color-swarmed, vibrant and thoroughly hidden, I´d discovered the best street art in Granada.

This isn´t a difficult feat. The ancient city of intricatly carved Islamic monuments, mammoth cathedrals and labyrinthic streets is, in its modern-day incarnation, also a college town. Chicken-scratch tags and idealistic political statments irreverently adorn any paintable surface; Granada writers have a particular penchant for anarchy symbols, replacing ¨a¨s with the symbol at every opportunity. A crayon box of every imaginable color, the city is swarmed in adolescent scribblings that somehow add to the o ld-world ambiance; they seem to fit.

I decided to take a morning walk through Albaicín to the city´s center. My couchsurfing host, a thin Spanish girl in a black raincoat, had a quiet apartment in the Sierra mountains, a simple tiled space that´s view from the balcony was like a prayer. The building was  just outside the old city wall, a half-crumbled mass that arched down the spine of the steep terrain. Just on the other side was the city´s old Muslim quarter, cascading down the hillside towards the city center. Crumbling buildings mixed in with modest modern architecture, lining the zig-zag of cobbled streets with walls tall enough to block the wind and let in only a bit of the morning sun.

The layout of the streets is utterly random and unintuitive, so I gave myself a couple hours to wander the mile downhill. Small plazas punctuated the skinny streets, most of which were closed off to anything by foot traffic. It was a functioning neighborhood that gave a gentle nod toward the map-clutching, steep-grade-panting tourists that trcikled through: a couple stores sold postcards in addition to fruits and food staples, an internet cafe´s doors were locked for Ramadan. People bustled about their business—old men smoked and the women gathered in an arm-crossed group at a plaza´s market—and us tourists smiled pleasantly at each other in passing.

I maplessly meandered my way to an impressive mirador directly across from the Alhambra, where people posed for photos and looked out over the vast  city view. A slight grumble in my stomach inspired me to move towards the city center. Directionless, I decided to just make my way downhill until I hit a promising-looking street.

DSCN3134The streets I wandered got starker, more litter-filled than people-filled. Abandoned buildings and dirt lots suggested that restoration efforts weren´t the trend in this forgotten corner, perched on a precipice between well-visible, touristed neighborhoods. A steep stone footpath lightning-bolted its way down the hillside; I followed it.

I passed one of the old, gated-up wells that fill the Albaicín neighborhood. This one was covered in slightly different bread of tags, filled with crude characters and comical creatures. Turning a sharp corner, a mural-filled walls of air-brushed portraits and abstract colors stretched out in front of me. A stencil of George Bush with a blood-red clown nose appeared next to a telling tag: Albaicín Crew.

I walked up and down a bit, taking pictures and smiling at the refreshingly creative vibrancy. In one litter-strewn, forgotten footpath, tucked into the secret flesh of the city, I´d found the jugular of Granada´s street art scene.

Granada Fragments

DSCN3127Granada got me all literary…

Bus ride: Sheets of rock like shoulder blades, knobby fingers  pointing skyward in an arthritic ache.

Granada: A town that still rolls its clattering shutters down for siesta, where people lean on bars at lunchtime, where crayon-colored graffiti makes the edifices seem all the older, and more opulent.

Outskirts: Tatiana lived on the outskirts, the broad chest of the Sierra, where  grey blocks of buildings stood stoicly, white-washed walls and flat stone streets filled with people coughing, crossing their arms as they walked to bus stops beneath rain-streaked towers, windows crying mascara tears.

Thursday: It was a moody day, a voluptuous pout of wind and clouds.

Balcony like a prayer: The rain thins, the clouds ascend, and the city sharpens like a reflection in an unfogging mirror—tiled roofs that arch along the spine of the mountain, the grey domes of grey cathedrals, the red crane of steel-boned construction. The birds chatter invisibly from the inside of trees, like children at recess, high voices rising above the thunder of the drainpipes.

Boy at the party: It was the way his shoulder moved beneath his tshirt, how his sneakered feet would pigeon inward, the way his veins vined around his forearms like twine, down, down, to the thick fingers that, unlike yours, were uncalloused and clean.

Kimmo´s Culinary Quest in Madrid

Shopping for produce

Shopping for produce

Kimmo sighs a cloud of smoke and looks into his half-full pint glass. ¨I told her one and a half months, I´ll try it. Then,¨ he shrugs and manages a smile ringed with worry lines.

It´s one am, and we´re washing down the 4th night of Doña Antonia´s grand reopening at an endearingly tacky Irish bar in the cobbled heart of Madrid. The red plaid wallpaper and grime-covered Guiness mirrors seem to agree with Kimmo, who looks 10 years younger out of his white-starched chef´s jacket.

Kimmo, Matt and I at one time all worked for the same 5-restaurant company that encompassed, at varying times, 3 SF-Chronicle Top 100 restaurants. That is to say, we´ve all been well-indoctorinated with the Alice-Waters-inspired culinary philospohy of organic, locally sourced ingredients. Ours paths have crossed for one heavy-skied Sunday in Madrid, where Matt, some friends and I feasted on the kick-ass creations of Kimmo´s new menu. It was one of the best meals I´d had in awhile.

But, apparently, Madridanos don´t share our American enthusiasm.

¨Madridanos,¨Matt tells me, ¨aren´t very discerning diners. It´s more about atmosphere than the actual food.¨ Kimmo nods in semi-forlorned agreement.

A recent transplant from the Bay Area culinary scene, Kimmo´s been trying to reconcile his California-cuisine sensibility with Madrid´s affection for over-salted sameness. It´s been 6 months, 3 restaurants, and so far, it hasn´t gone splendidly.

Listening to Kimmo´s qualms and Matt´s frustrations, I begin to realize that culinary values and expectations in California are wildly different than those in Spain.

Matt, an ex-bar-manager turned handle-bar-moustached vagabonder, has been frustrated with Spanish service and quality for the past 7 months. Kimmo, a sweet-faced Scandinavian socialist who´s vowed not to die in either the US or Finland, has been struggling against the low standards and unadventurous expectations of Madrid´s diners and restauranteurs. A chef by trade, he´s been hired as the head chef and sole cook of the newly reopened Doña Antonio near Plaza Santa Ana.

Kimmo´s creative menu includes untraditional dishes like mussels with chorizo and garbanzo beans, a sort of inventiveness valued in the Bay Area. Put the same old things on the menu there, and you can bet on your clintele steadily plummeting. In Madrid, it´s the opposite. For the 4th consecutive night, Kimmos´s watched nervously as potential diners sip on coktails (he insisted on expanding the beer and wine bar to include mojitos and caipirinhas), peruse the menu, look confused, and leave without ordering.

¨When it comes to tapas restaurants, the kind younger Madridanos go to,¨ Matt says, ¨I usually don´t even have to look at the menu. They´re pretty much all the same.¨

The increasingly anxious owner of Doña Antonia wants a more typical menu; in the previous day´s blow-out, Kimmo conceeded to including bravas and croquetas on the menu. ¨She tells me,¨Kimmo says of the owner, ¨ ´You can do them your way.´ But no one in Madrid wants to try lemon aioli. And they haven´t even heard to romesco!¨

Another problem Kimmo´s encountered is that modern Madridanos seem to have no familiarity with the Spanish cuisine he learned in the States. Filet of fish with romesco? No go. Paella without seafood? Won´t fly. Additionally, the organic craze has far from set in. An almost nauseatingly hip trend in the US, the inherent taste superioirty and sustainable sensibility means nothing in Spain. ¨There´s no idea that you might want to spend more for better ingredients. I can´t say, ´The meat is expensive because it´s organic.´ They won´t care; they say, ´Find it for cheaper.´ So I have to try to cook with rubbery arugula, carrots that don´t taste like carrots.¨

Kimmo´s decided to give it 6 weeks. He´ll do what the owner wants: put the typical dishes on the menu and try to make the best of less-than-optimum ingredients. Will he eventually conceede and adapt to the Madrid way of dining, or will he maintain his high standards and continue the seemingly impossible struggle to raise diners´expectations, lower their inhibitions and up the ante of the Madrid tapas scene?

There´s no way to know, not now. But tonight we can kick back in the thickening smoke creeping through the psuedo-pub as the crowd thins and the evening grows damp and heavy, and let it all go. Afterall, tomorrow´s Monday, Kimmo´s one day off.

Lauren Quinn is a writer and traveler currently living in Hanoi. Lonely Girl Travels was a blog of her sola travels and expat living from 2009 to 2012. She resides elsewhere on the internet now.

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