Trans-Iberian

Trans-Iberian

Covering everything from the major news of the week and burning social issues, to expat living and la vida local, EL PAÍS’ team of English-language bloggers offers its opinions, observations and analysis on Spain and beyond.

Seville’s a funny old place riddled with confusing contradictions. One minute it’s die hard religious tradition, all suits, black veils and pointy hoods. But the next, the very same followers of god are propping up a bar, knocking back cervezas before moving onto a very large whisky and coke. It’s kind of dizzying in its inconsistency, permissive yet conservative, rigid and yet anarchic. I’ve lived here for over 4 years and I am still none the wiser.

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Members of a Seville Hermandad (religious brotherhood) drinking outside

These perplexing dichotomies particularly come into play in the current battleground of noise control in the city’s historic centre. Seville is a social city, social in the sense that almost without exception people spend a large slice of their free time hanging outside bars with their friends and family. Back in 2012 it was reported that there was a bar for every 180 of the population, that’s roughly 4000 bars in total. Throw into the mix the Andalucian capital’s weather, which bar five months of the year, is flaming hot. And on a pleasant, balmy night there’s no place anyone would rather be than you’ve guessed it, drinking outside. Someone could open a bar with some ultra cool, stylish interiors and yet it would remain utterly empty as everyone squeezes themselves onto the pavement, doing what ‘Sevillanos’ do best, drink beer ‘en la calle´.

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Socialising the Sevillano way, standing up outside

And then there are the ‘veladores’ or outdoor tables. Even I if given the choice on a warm evening, will choose an outside table over sitting inside a bar or restaurant. It’s a no brainer and so most bar owners will squeeze as many tables and chairs outside their tiny bar to capture the trade from their tableless competitors. The trouble is in order to have outside tables, bar owners are supposed to obtain a special license which dictates the number of tables and the time until which they can be in operation, which apart from special occasions such as Semana Santa, is until 1am. As a result, many bars risk putting out tables license free, therefore avoiding restrictions due to their unofficial status and serve their rather loud customers until the early hours.

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Veladores in summer

Emilia de la Serna, spokesperson for neighbours against noise action group ‘Plataforma Por El Descanso en Sevilla’ estimates that about 80% of the cities outside tables are unlicensed. ‘The situation is illegal but it is protected by the council who have stopped inspectors from going out after 2am or at weekends. For them noise that isn’t measured doesn’t exist’. Emilia who has spent a small fortune on turning her smart family apartment into what she calls ‘a bunker’ to spare herself and her family from the relentless noise emanating from the street below says, ‘you are abused in your own house. Someone else, in order to make money, has taken the control of your own life and is telling you when you are allowed to sleep, Someone else has taken the control of your children’s rights too. You have done nothing, you were happily at home and suddenly a new business started serving drinks outside, or organizing concerts under your bedroom’.

Last summer, the local council under the leadership of Juan Ignacio Zoido, announced a series of new regulations designed to crack down on the level of noise and appease the groups of neighbours campaigning for their right to rest in their own home. Numbering amongst the new rules were the headline-grabbing prohibition of playing dominoes outside bars, plus further restriction on public drinking and music in bars, but Emilia de la Serna remains unconvinced saying that the council ‘mocks their organisation’. She goes on, ‘they use us, they say "let´s sit down and discuss" and then throw any recommendations in the bin saying that any regulations have been born out of consensus’. It’s fair to surmise that Ms Serna is not happy with the state of affairs.

What then of the recent crack down by Señor Zoido on the activity of bars in noise hotspots the Arenal, Alfalfa and Alameda? On one of the most profitable weekends of the year, the last weekend before Christmas, the local police backed by the council, temporarily closed down twelve bars, eleven of which for permitting drinking alcohol outside their premises on the public street and one for exceeding its fire limit inside. The operation was, according to the police, as a result of a series of complaints made by local residents in all three areas, who were at their wits’ end following night after night of unbearable noise.

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One of the temporarily closed down bars on a typically busy summer´s evening

But the bar owners affected don’t quite see things in the same light. Francisco Algaba, owner of Eureka in the Alameda, shut down for ten days over Christmas and fined 3000 Euros, has been left perplexed by the police’s actions. ‘The Police came at 9pm to the Alameda with a list of bars they had already decided to close. They said there were too many people outside and it was dangerous. It was Christmas for god’s sake, of course there were people outside. And why come at 9pm, what danger could be happening at that time? On any one weekend, according to these ridiculous unenforceable laws, you could shut down any bar in this city. So why did they choose us? I just don’t get it’. Algaba estimates that he has lost almost 30,000 due the closure, not to mention the 12 workers who found themselves jobless over the festive period.

The majority of the bars were reopened within two weeks after the police operation, but one in the Arenal ‘El Gallo Negro’ remained closed for two months and was given a fine of 6000. But in the last few days, a judge has overturned the action saying it was an ‘unreasonable case of making an example’, as normally in such cases if a fine is issued, it is not necessary to close down the business as well. So Zoido’s administration will have to cough up and cover all the bar’s costs accrued in the whole process; an expensive night’s work for both the bar owners and the local government.

Since Christmas then, there’s been a palpable air of tension emanating around areas such as the city’s main nightlife district the Alameda, with bars displaying signs urging their customers to consume their beverages sitting down and within the bars’ official designated areas. Something that is rather an impossible task due to your average Sevillano’s innate tendency to drink while standing up, where and when they please. So it was no surprise then that a few weekends ago, one of the Alameda’s most frequented and oldest bars ‘Café Central’ was shut down by the police in a similar operation to that carried out before Christmas.

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A very closed Cafe Central in the Alameda

On an average Saturday night at just after 1am it wasn’t unusual to see people still standing outside of Café Central drinking with friends. On such nights drinking after hours (the bar can serve until 1am) would have been greeted by gentle encouragement by the police to drink up and get on your way, but not this time. On arrival the police allegedly smashed the glasses of anyone in the vicinity of Café Central to the ground and forced them to enter the bar with the threat of a 100 fine for public drinking (regardless of whether they were customers or not). The bar itself has a license for up to 83 people, and following the actions of the police the numbers inside swelled from approximately 40 people to 144, thus exceeding their legal limit and giving the police the perfect excuse to close down the bar from immediate effect. CCTV images have been presented to the local government department involved in issuing licenses, with the hope that the actions can be revoked.  But for the moment, Café Central remains closed and its 12 staff without jobs.

 

Central empty
CCTV image of Cafe Central at 1.26
Central full
at 1.36 the bar is full after the alleged actions by the police

With just two months to go until the Municipal elections, it’s possible that these high profile bar closures form part of a campaign to curry favour with swing voters, who might just vote PP if the noise problem is seen to be tackled in some way. And according to the political party ‘La Izquierda Unida’ (The United Left),  there is indeed ‘more than a hint of electioneering,’ adding that ‘repression isn’t the solution’ and asking for ‘an agreement between all parties involved in the disputes’.

But I suppose my question is as an outside observer, can there ever be an agreement between parties whose interests are so diametrically opposed? It would seem it depends on who you are and where you live. Both neighbourhood groups and bar owners bemoan an utter lack of consistency on behalf of the council, so if they’re not defending the residents, the bar owners, or the revellers, then the question that begs to be asked, whose rights are they defending?

As an aside here, it’s interesting to note that strong religious traditions such as Semana Santa (Easter) and general religious processions and holidays, receive a ‘get out of jail free pass’ when it comes to noise restrictions. Even though between the marching bands, the rockets going off in the street, the general throng of the crowds and the packed bars, you’d be hard pressed to find anything noisier. Something that to many makes an utter mockery of the poe-faced noise abatement rules introduced in 2014.

Bar owner Francisco Algaba, a young man during the Franco era, sees the tough stance taken by the conservative local government in conjunction with the police as having more sinister tones. ‘This is a persecution, it’s worse than the inquisition, worse than Franco. It’s anti-constitutional’.

It remains to be seen how events will play out between now and the municipal elections in May, but for many it all forms part of a greater fabric of repressive policies being implemented by the Partido Popular at large, encroaching on the civil liberties of those that might stand in their way of their re-election later on in the year.  

The 10 enduring mysteries of Spain to a foreigner

Por: | 09 de marzo de 2015

Cash machine 2 - carlos rosillo
Credit: Carlos Rosillo

I recently celebrated my 40th month as a resident in Barcelona, making me officially over the Spanish hill. To celebrate, I decided to reflect on the 10 continuing mysteries of Spanish life, the kind of puzzles that keep me up at night and make me forget the milk on a trip to the supermarket. 

Here’s to the next 40 months then - and here’s hoping we can finally crack these enigmas.

1) The irregular advertising quandary 

Televisions programmes, as a rule, have regularly scheduled breaks in action during which the network can go to adverts. These, typically, are to be found half way through the programme or at a comforting, regular division like thirds.

Might it make sense, then, when showing imported TV programmes to schedule your adverts to coincide with these friendly breaks?

Yes, of course: the vast majority of the world.

Why on earth would you want to do that? Spanish television argues (and Antena 3 I’m particularly looking at you.) 

In fact, the scheduling of advertising breaks is one of the most troubling puzzles of Spanish life. A two episode block of The Simpsons on Antena 3 at 2pm should be the perfect accompaniment to a lazy lunch and resulting digestion. Except Antena 3 inserts ad breaks at such brain-changingly odd times it makes the whole thing into some kind of weird endurance test.

A typical Simpsons episode double bill on Antena 3 will go: opening credits; six minutes of adverts; first episode scene one; seven minutes of adverts; the rest of the two episodes crammed together with no room to even make a cup of tea.

It’s baffling. Maybe Antena 3 thinks this is the best way of getting us to watch as many ads as possible. But if this was the case, then wouldn’t The Simpsons US creators have already thought of this? Wouldn’t other TV networks around the world have copied this innovation? Wouldn’t TV as a whole look entirely different, in fact?

2) The newspaper knife enigma

What is it about newspapers that makes people want to buy knives? Is the news so bad it makes us yearn to slice our own throats? Are the recipes within so delicious that they positively demand the fresh slicing edge of new metallic fury?

I don’t know. But one thing is certain: in Spain, publishers definitely think newspapers and knives go together. In fact, barely a month goes by without some newspaper announcing that this Saturday in the kiosks they will be offering eager readers the opportunity to buy a complete set of steak knives alongside their morning paper for “only” €12. 

Who buys them? Why is it always knives? What kind of crossover is there here? Reader, I’m as baffled as you are…

3) The Barça knife baffler

… and talking of knives, why on earth would even the most ardent of Barcelona FC fans want to buy a set of knives emblazoned with the Barça logo? A T-shirt? I can see that. A duvet set? I suppose so. For a child.

But knives? Who wants to think about football when slicing a lettuce? Who wants to get all upset about dodgy penalties when chopping a tomato? But such dodgy logic certainly doesn’t stop papers like Sport perennially offering up Barça knife selections up to its readers, usually for “only” seven tokens and €10. 

I would imagine these knives, like much football merchandise, are designed to show off your love of the club. But who ever sees your knife collection? Seriously. Your intimate family, maybe. And they already know you like Barça. You can hardly take your knives out to the bar in the vague hope someone will see them and cut through the blackened silence of solitude by talking about Alves’ red card.

The same, incidentally, applies for Madrid melon peelers, Valencia vacuums, Espanyol espadrilles etc.

4) The cash machine conundrum

The Spanish economy may have picked up slightly of late, but I can’t help thinking it would look a lot better if banks and businesses were only able to break the eternal cycle of cash-based frustration that is engendered by cash machines not giving out low denomination notes and shops never having change for €50. 

It just doesn’t work. And many is the time I’ve decided I could probably go without that little snack / newspaper / cup of coffee rather than enrage the poor shop keeper with my €50 note.

I, like most people, don’t necessarily enjoy going to the cash machine. It’s not one of those little treats, like a small pack of peanuts or a nice sit down in the park. I see it, in fact, as a task to be endured, albeit a small, eminently manageable one.

As a result, when I do go to the cash machine, I try to get out funds that will last me for at least the week. And that would be fine, were said cash machine not trained to spit out as fewer notes as possible, preferably in the kind of high denominations that get infuriated local shops gobbing in your morning baguette.

It’s become some kind of game: €90 is good because you’re guaranteed some 20s. €130 is loads of 20s - unless the cash machine also does 10s. €100, however, is the big bust, coming inevitably in two €50 notes. Go straight to shop keeper shame. Do no pass Go.

Maybe some people would see this kind of mental wrangling as fun. I am not one of those people.

5) The indoor football inquiry

Football I get. 22 people on a pitch for 90 minutes of skilful bloodlust. Pick a team. Support them. Go wild. 

But what kind of football-depraved sociopath would you have to be to follow indoor football, a kind of life-size Subbuteo which appeals to the same kind of instinct as writing really small on a piece of paper just to see how many words you can fit?

A Spanish football depraved sociopath is the answer to that one. And don’t get me started on beach football.

6) The August obscurity

“Gone on holiday,” the sign read on my local launderette. “Back in September.”

I checked the date. I checked it again. But yes, it was August 1 and the launderette was taking the month off. As I would soon find out, far from being the kind of once-in-a-lifetime month-long blowout, this is in fact the norm in Spain.

Yes, people in Spain - possibly even most people in Spain - take August off. And that’s all of August. Not three weeks in August. August.

You almost want to applaud. Who wouldn’t want August off? Not me. I’d love August off. But there’s something in me that’s far too British to do it. 25 days holiday a year is what you get. And you have to take that in week-long blocks for fear of your boss getting angry.

Pathetic, I know. So let us salute this troubling yet wonderful dedication to taking August off that the Spanish enjoy so much. Even if it does make getting your clothes washed something of a summer headache.

7) The Portugal paradox

Before I lived in Spain, I always assumed it was pretty close to Portugal. I mean, of course it is physically close; they’re both on the Iberian peninsula. But I assumed this translated into an enduring kinship and cultural closeness between the two countries.

I couldn't have been more wrong. It’s not like the Spanish dislike Portugal. They just sort of ignore it. Portugal’s never on the news, there are few Portuguese cafes and shops (at least in Barcelona) and you rarely hear Spanish people talking about their love / affinity / vague respect for Portugal.

I once asked my girlfriend about this. She just shrugged. 

This, I think, pretty much sums up Spain’s attitude to Portugal.

8) The strawberry anomaly

Strawberries are a summer fruit, right? They go with long summer nights, ice cream straight from the fridge and Wimbledon on the telly.

Not in Spain. No, in Spain, the strawberry - that eternal harbinger of warm summer fun - is considered a winter fruit. They allegedly grow in winter. And don’t even try to argue the toss over this one. I’ve tried and it simply does work.

In fact, I suspect that this may be simply Spain’s rather sophisticated method of reminding us how much hotter the weather is over here than in freezing Britain. Hey - Spain appears to be saying - our weather’s so damn hot we have strawberries in winter. Still missing your English breakfast?

9) The bakery brain breaker

People in Spain like bread. They like it a lot. A meal, my grandmother in law thinks, is not a meal without bread. And you will typically find a nice crusty baguette perched on the table when meal times come around.

Even so, the amount of bakeries in Barcelona is truly staggering. Within five minutes’ casual stroll from my house there are at least seven, with most supermarkets and corner shops also selling bread. How is that even possible? How much bread can one barrio cope with? And why do none of them ever have change for €50?

10) The pig fat puzzler

Seriously? You’re going to eat that? A slice of pig fat that looks like the bits you normally get rid of from bacon? When you’ve got all that other wonderful Spanish food you could be enjoying?

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I give you panceta de cerdo, the main reason that vegetarians can keep on the straight and narrow in Spain, a disgrace to the concept of bacon and the most disgusting thing ever to put put in between two bits of bread and considered a sandwich since the invention of corned beef.

Theatre in Barcelona: A Game of Mirrors (Joc de Miralls)

Por: | 06 de marzo de 2015

Joc de Miralls. Ros RibasCircle Mirror Transformation (Joc de Miralls), by the Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Annie Baker, is a sweet, funny and quietly tragic little play that shines light on the lives of five individuals who take part in a theatre workshop for beginners in a local civic centre. The title refers to one of a series of quirky group exercises that make up the play's mini-scenes. We join these exercises mid-way and leave before they end, so bit-by-bit we are asked to piece together the lives of each of the protagonists.
Directed by Juan Carlos Martel Bayod, Joc de Miralls is a fantastic version of the play, staged at Espai Lliure in Barcelona until 22nd March. The play is in Catalan but because it's contemporary language and relies much on silence and gesture, it's easy to understand. The American setting is transferred to a local one and the names slightly altered, this maintains its atmosphere of authenticity while establishing intimacy between the characters and the audience.
Each of the five has something to give and something to hide: the over exuberant Teresa (Aina Clotet) conceals her insecurity, and seeks support in doomed relationships with older men. Mopey yet intuitive high-school student Laura (Elena Tarrats) is haunted by the troubled relationship of her parents. Middle-aged carpenter Xus (Eduard Farelo) finds solace in the furniture he makes, and looks to others to bring meaning to his life. Their indefatigable instructress Martina (Isabel Rocatti) determinedly ploughs on through some rather misfired exercises, while her ‘ideal’ marriage to Jaume (Jordi Martínez) falls apart at the seams.
As Annie Baker said in an interview: “The way human beings speak is so heartbreaking to me—we never sound the way we want to sound. We're always stopping ourselves in mid–sentence because we're so terrified of saying the wrong thing. Speaking is a kind of misery.” (Huffington Post)
This is a play of such 'natural' stilted, self-edited conversations, awkward silences and impulsive gestures. There is both the strange intimacy that springs up between strangers, and the estrangement that can divide those in long-term relationships. Yet moments of joy, unexpected connections, and the sort of discoveries we make about ourselves only through contact with others, also occur as the play evolves, like life does, in little fits and starts. Without epic narratives or climatic moments of revelation, this is a theatre as close to life as life often is to theatre.

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Joc de Miralls by Annie Baker, dir. Juan Carlos Martel Bayod
until March 22nd, 2015
Espai Lliure - Barcelona
Thank you Teatre Lliure and to Ros Ribas for the photos

Mosaics: Painting with Stones

Por: | 25 de febrero de 2015

“Making a mosaic is like painting with stones,” Livia Garreta, Barcelona-based mosaic artist tells us in her Gracia studio one January morning.   Hundreds of tiles, all glistening with colour are stacked against each wall; jaggedly cut pieces, no bigger than a finger-nail are spread across the table when we arrive. “When you make a mosaic, you know that it will last, it can withstand all the elements.” This she explains is why it was the material of choice for Catalonia’s modernist architects, and why the undulating roofs and dream-like façades of Barcelona’s most famous architect, Antoni Gaudí are covered in mosaics. 

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Livia Garreta at work on a mosaic in her Barcelona studio / Sharmeela Harris

When you look at the scale of her restoration commissions (the Sagrada Familia, Palau Montaner, to name a few), and then the bite-sized materials Livia uses, often difficult to even pick up by hand, you begin to understand the care that trencadís, one of the many methods of mosaics takes.  Livia is sitting on one of the three chipped and scratched worktables in her studio on a January morning as she explains the long history of trencadís and her lifetime of experience working with it.   She explains that you can place mosaics on any shape or surface, meaning the possibilities in form, structure and style are endless. Indeed, Livia’s long run passion comes across, as she begins to tell us the story of trencadís and its place in Catalan history. 

Livia has had her studio for more than 25 years.  It is here that she prepares her restorations for many of Barcelona’s modernist masterpieces.  “It’s more complicated to restore a mosaic than to do it new,” she tells us, “you must do an investigation into the artist”. Livia is currently working on restoring the floor of Palau Montaner, a UNESCO World Heritage Site housing Madrid’s Government Delegation in Catalonia. It was designed by and named after another Catalan Modernist architect, Lluís Domènech Montaner, the man responsible for the striking mosaics on the Palau de la Música.

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Livia Garreta working on a contemporary design / Sharmeela Harris

As Gaudí has become more popular, mosaics have become more visible.  Indeed, it is Gaudí’s kaleidoscopic dragon in Parc Güell and the façade of Casa Batlló that are made using the trencadís method.  Trencadís, however, was not created by Guadí and has over 5,000 years of history, amongst many other methods of making mosaics.  A few years ago Livia was handed responsibility for restoring parts of the mosaics in the crypt of the Sagrada Familia, Barcelona’s most iconic building.   

Livia originally trained in Fine Art in Barcelona and specialized in mosaics in Italy. Along with Gaudí, she sites Josep Maria Jujol as a strong influence.  She then points to the poster on the wall of the mosaic artist Lluís Brú, one of the best and most influential artists.  He trained under Montaner and was responsible for the mosaics in the Palau de la Música, as well as countless other pieces in Catalonia.  In turn, Livia has trained with the grandson of Brú.

Evidence of trencadís can be found on or inside virtually every modernist building in Barcelona. Buildings sparkle with their mosaic finish in the sun for the eight million tourists that visit the city every year. The art is so revered that trencadís recently gained the status of one of the 116 icons of Catalonia.

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Livia Garreta cutting tiles for trencadís / Sharmeela Harris

The 1980s saw many modernist buildings undergo massive restorations, and since then their place has been protected by the city’s strict preservation code.  This code has warned off property developers looking to knock down any modernist buildings, and has subsequently encouraged global brands to accept their importance.    Livia has work in the Museu del Modernisme Català in the centre of the city.  Even the McDonald’s next to the Sagrada Familia commissioned a large Garreta mosaic - a nod to the iconic decoration of Gaudi’s cathedral. 

There is a myriad of terracotta and clay patterned tiles on the left-hand side of the studio.  Sourced mainly from Spain, they generally serve as material for private projects in homes and restaurants, as well as large-scale murals and restorations. Livia also makes original pieces.  She uses other materials commonly found in trencadís mosaics, such as glass. On one side of her studio hangs an array of fish mosaics, subtly coloured with crushed glass to give a startlingly life-like scaly appearance.

Livia mostly works alone, designing and carrying out all the work herself.  She holds regular workshops in her studios for people of all ages and nationalities, receiving students from all over the world to learn the art.  Spending only a few days with her we soon see the close-knit community of artisan workshops that populate the area: sawdust drifting out of a small opening two doors down and people popping in from nearby tallers to say hello or exchange stories and products. Artisan workshops and independent stores are at the core of Gracia, and Livia’s work illustrates how important these trades are for the city and its identity.  Although Barcelona honours the region’s historical commitment to mosaics in its museums and galleries, the tradition continues to thrive. Through the work of contemporary artists like Livia Garreta, mosaics maintain a strong place in the image of the city. 

Coauthored by @christopherjfinnigan and Sharmeela Harris.  All photos are the property of Sharmeela Harris

For further information about Livia Garreta see her website www.liviagarreta.com She can be contacted at mosaics@liviagarreta.com

Surviving Madrid Fusión

Por: | 18 de febrero de 2015

10:00am

Drinking starts early at Madrid Fusión.

First up delegates slam espresso at the Cafés Baqué booth. Then, as the day rolls on, the hours are marked by the change in beverage. Coffee gives away to cañas, beer evolves to wine and finally everything dissolves into fishbowl G&Ts. It’s all free of course, the drinks – and plenty of food – dished out by businesses who’ve paid for a stand to push their products to the posse of international chefs, industry pros and press who descend annually on this internationally-significant gastronomic conference and trade show.

This year’s theme is “Cocinas Viajeras: Una aventura por el conocimiento”. It’s one of those phrases that translates unhappily – Travelling Cuisine: An Adventure Through Knowledge? – but that suggests the fusion vein at the heart of today’s high-class cooking, particularly in Spain where international tastes and ingredients (especially Asian and South American) are de rigueur.

Last year I spent the three full days at the conference, and managed to suck out the marrow. I attended a bevy of talks, saw a surfeit of show-cooking and ate my weight in free stuff. But this year, with only one day, I’m doomed to flail about.

And my sense of dislocation is aggravated by the venue, the Palacio Municipal de Congresos. Like an Escher woodcut, it’s fiercely challenging to navigate. Wandering the building reminds me of shopping at El Corte Inglés – you always seem find yourself at the escalators going up when you want to go down.

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11:00am

First up, a wine tasting put on by the people from DO Ribera del Duero. While I have a professional interest in wine, it’s taxing tasting 15 at 11am with a straight face.

Initially I use the spittoon conscientiously. But after eight glasses I woozily wonder if the alcohol is seeping through the roof of my mouth. Then a dilemma – the tenth wine is a €100 bottle. Obviously I swallow.

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And by the twelfth my tasting notes are on the fritz, my attention wandering. Up front, a boffin from South America keeps asking wandering, poetic questions about oak. A bullish bald American pulls rank, complaining too fiercely that the waiters aren't pouring sufficient wine for him to accurately adjudge aromas. And a sweaty journalist dashes in mid-tasting, sits beside me, sips at a glass, makes three notes in his notebook, eats all the bread sticks and leaves.

He is clearly trying to pull off the classic Madrid Fusión feint - be in two places at the same time. I feel his pain. Concurrent with the wine tasting, I’d also wanted to see chef Paco Morales' talk entitled “The Fingerprints of Al-Andalus in Haut-Cuisine”, followed by Mallorcan chef Andreu Genestra’s “Journey of a Spice Merchant” (when giving a talk, enigmatic titles are essential – I hope to catch a later presentation called “A Day on the Island of Jeju: Diving with the Haenyo Women”).

12:30pm

The tasting done, I meet up with my colleague Lauren Aloise over a glass of obscure Mallorcan white wine. She was at the talks I missed and brings me up to speed, as well filing me in on a presentation by an American chef that involved eating live jellyfish. I don’t really catch the gist.

But my ears do prick up when she mentions that several Spanish tourism bodies are serving free food on the ground floor.

1:00pm

Free food, or rather the hunt for free food, is a Madrid Fusión institution. It’s also a depressing site to behold and a demeaning act to engage in.

Coming down the escalator, I spot the seething mass. Like ants swarming around a dead bug. I swallow my pride and dive in, foraging up an excellent plate of migas, a tasty bowl of judiones and something that looks like a cigar. I also knock back a pisco sour from the Peru stand and wait patiently for a crunchy wafer filled with piquillo pepper cream from the Repsol Guide booth. The piqiullo pepper thing smells good, but the wafter snaps as I bring it to my mouth and the amuse-bouche shatters on the marble floor.

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1:45pm

The feast continues on the trade show floor and companies are magnanimous in their offer of freebies. I try watercress that tastes of coriander, Alaskan salmon, candy-sweet jamón ibérico de bellota and a chilli dip with chef Albert Adrià’s face on the jar. And I notice the Madrid stand has lunged into culinary man's land by handing out Rodilla sandwiches. That'll show 'em!

2:30pm

As I’m digesting in the press room Ximena from the press department comes over and invites me to dinner the following night at the Ritz. I think she’s joking.

3:00pm

I finally reach the auditorium. This dark, studied space is Madrid Fusión’s holiest of holies, the event’s intellectual and creative nerve centre. It's where chefs prepare dishes, unveil techniques and launch projects – where gastro-prophesies are told.

And if one feels dirty after wading through the gastro-zoo outside, one comes here for purification.

Catalan superchef Joan Roca (from El Celler de Can Roca in Girona) talks about how he upped and moved his team to Latin America for five weeks, cooking, tasting, learning and teaching in Peru, Colombia and Mexico. And the crowd goes silly when he shows a video of his elderly parents eating his creations. It’s all very moving and inspiring, and I seem to recall him showing an equally moving and inspiring video featuring his mother last year.

There is, however, a stain on this place. Inside the auditorium people don’t fight for food. They fight for photos of food. Which is worse, and more violent. When a chef completes a dish it’s brought to the side of the stage, cueing a frenzied huddle of photographers, press and bloggers to leap in from the shadows, pushing, shoving and clawing to get a clean shot. I was one of them last year, but lacked the animal instinct and got few useable shots (see below). This year I keep my seat.

Madrid Fusión - 138

Madrid Fusión - 184

6:30pm

I begin to zone out. Sibling chefs Sergio and Javier Torres (of restaurant Dos Cielos in Barcelona) are doing some good looking food on stage. But as my attention drifts I become more fascinated by the man sitting in front of me who is filming the entire event on his iPad. His arms must be exhausted, his battery herculean. I message my wife to say I’ll be home soon.

The next night

9:00pm

I walk through Huertas to the Ritz. In the lobby, rich tourists sip cocktails and sink further into the plush sofas. The restaurant – Goya – is all Louis XV-esque chairs, deferential waiters and gentle piano. A softly-spoken Filipino woman approaches and shakes my hand. She is Verna from the Filipino Tourism Board. And dinner I learn will be an elaborate Filipino tasting menu, cooked by Margarita Forés, one of the Philippines’ top chefs.

Over three hours we move from fabulous Filipino ceviche to king prawns to the most righteous nugget of roast pork. Verna quietly explains each dish and the Dutch Master of Wine sitting beside me chooses what we drink (amid some handwringing on the Dutch Master of Wine’s part – the specially-printed menus are in Filipino, hamstringing his ability to pair).

The dinner is to celebrate that the next Madrid Fusión will not be in Madrid. It will be in Manila, this April. The connection makes sense: the country is a former Spanish colony (it’s named after Philip II), and the gastronomic overlaps are tantalising.

What’s more, like the Pompidou Centre being built in Malaga and the Guggenheim Museums that are being built everywhere, the name – Madrid Fusión Manila – deftly cements the event as an international brand independent of Madrid itself. And rather frustratingly for me and my sweaty journalist friend, it suggests that at Madrid Fusión you can, after all, be in two places at the same time.

James Blick
@theSpainGuy

Authors (Bloggers)

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of Andalucia.com and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at korenhelbig.com.

Jessica Jones. Hailing from the north east of England, Stockton-on-Tees native Jessica has had a passion for all things Hispanic from an early age. She has lived in and written about France, Chile, Spain and Germany and has been contributing to the Trans-Iberian blog since 2012, when she moved to Madrid after graduating from Durham University. @jessicajones590

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Spain-Holiday.com. Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check: www.lookingfordrama.com.

El País

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