My 18 Hours in Madrid: A Museum, Tapas, and a Protest

Driving into a European city always makes my heart race a little. When you’re used to Manhattan’s West-Side Highway and FDR Drive and the numerical grid system that gets you most places you want to go, the diagonal avenues and alley-way like streets of every European city of note, from Paris to Barcelona, are not only foreign, they’re frightening.

And there’s nothing worse than braving the traffic of a European city only to find the streets you need are closed off with major police activity.

the street to our hotel was completely barricaded, because not only did it lead to the Westin, it lead to the Ministry of the Interior.

Turning off the Paseo del Prado, Madrid’s main drag, onto Calle Mayor, the car came to a complete halt. We had noticed the long line of Mercedes Policzia vans lined up along the Paseo del Prado, but we weren’t expecting to hit a barricade. The last time we were in Madrid it was also October and military planes were flying overhead — they were rehearsing for military day. We assumed this might be something similar.

Indeed, they were preparing to show off their military might, but not for a celebration. An “Occupy” protest was planned for the evening and the hundreds of police milling about were readying the Plaza de las Cortes for thousands of dissatisfied Spaniards.

We were granted access to Calle Mayor and our hotel, but were warned that later we might not be so lucky.

Our hotel was located across the street from the Ministry of the Interior, which explained why the protestors had chosen the location. And explained the extra heavy police presence outside the doors.

Let me pause here and say that the Madrid police are very impressive.

Madrid Police wear their uniforms well.

They wear their uniforms well. They’re athletic. They carry guns on their thighs. Their hats give them a simultaneous air of authority and mystery. A Madrid policeman can come to my rescue any day.

We only had a short stay in Madrid and our plan was to go to the Museo Thyssen-Bornemaisza, my favorite museum in Europe, and then go for tapas at a restaurant around the corner that, 4 years ago, had the best fried anchovies. A little protest wasn’t going to get in our way.

The Museo Thyssen-Bornemaisza is one of my favorite places anywhere

Walking the block to the museum gave us a better idea of what the city officials were expecting: something serious.

A month earlier, a similar protest had turned violent and rubber bullets had been fired on protesters. Several were injured. Many went into custody. Perhaps the one consolation this time round was that many of the protestors would be police officers on their day off.

A herd of police dogs. Mounted police. The ever-growing numbers of armed officers. Flashing blue lights. It was hard not to be a little nervous, especially when staying so close to the center of activity.

Those dogs meant business

But when things get tough, the tough order tapas.

The Estado Puro is a tapas bar on the ground floor of the NH Paseo del Prado. On my last trip to Madrid, this was my daily snack stop. Since then, I’ve made my rounds at other note-worthy tapas bars in Madrid, New York, D.C., and then on this trip, Barcelona, and still concluded that the Estado Puro is as good as it gets.

Fried anchovies, cod fritters, and tempura asparagus. Sure it was all battered and cooked in hot oil, but it was delicious and a perfect pre-protest snack.

The other great advantage to the Estado Puro is that its long windows guarantee great people watching. There were hundreds of police milling the streets and yet the residents of Madrid, and even the handful of tourists about, were moving with no sense of concern.

Caught between wanting to play the part of amateur photojournalist and fearing rubber bullets (the hotel had said the protest was supposed to be “peaceful” but “could not guarantee” anything… comforting), I lingered on the street corner waiting for things to get interesting. But when a group of protestors began to gather at the edge of the Fuente de Neptuno, I decided it was time to hustle  indoors. We flashed our room keycard at a back street barricade and scurried down the street into our hotel, up to the third floor, shut the lights and began to watch as the march began.

First, only a handful of people began to lineup along the barricade. A few signs blew in the cold autumn air, but this group looked generally small and nonthreatening.

“They brought out all this force for that?” we thought, as the first half hour passed.

And then, the deluge.

The police stand at attention as the crowd fills the plaza

Thousands poured in, banging drums, playing instruments, carrying banners, chanting. It felt organized and surprisingly joyful, despite the clear anger and frustration in the crowd.

Spain’s unemployment rate is 25%. Jobs are disappearing at an alarming rate, and the numbers on welfare do little to help the country stabilize. Meanwhile, Catalan is carrying on a succession campaign. The unrest as understandable as it is widespread.

close-ups of the crowd

The crowd was a medley of age groups — it wasn’t just restless unemployed college students. They rattled the barricades, chanting in unison and waving their signs. All the while, the police stood at attention.

In all of the anger, there was a clear sense of camaraderie, which despite the growing tension was comforting. Would they “storm the barricades?” There was a violinist leading a small chamber group — chamber orchestras don’t storm barricades. Or do they?

Police cars began to proceed down the surrounding avenues, closing them off as points of entry for additional protestors. The blue lights pierced the nights. Police directed pedestrians away. Was it about to erupt?

No, violinists don’t storm barricades. At least not in Madrid, not this time. After about an hour and a half, the group began to clear. A few small pods gathered in circles to talk. But the excited And then the street cleaners descended.

I awoke shortly before the sun rose and looked out on the plaza, which glistened as if it had rained — all traces of the protest, from sidewalk chalk scrawled statements of unrest to the banners that had covered the barricades were all washed away.

As the sun began to peak over the buildings to the east, I began to make my way West, homeward-bound for New York.

And with that, the lights dim, and she takes her exit, leaving Spain and Europe behind her

 

Fencers Step Out to Save Lives

On September 17th, members of the Fencing Masters NYC team joined forces with Esmeralda Williamson-Noble to raise awareness about suicide and to promote mental health and well-being. At the inaugural Get Your Wellness On! fair fencing was presented as a form of “alternative healing” — a sport that strengthens both the mind and body while also providing a supportive community people can turn to in times of need.

Members of Team Fencing Masters NYC at the Get Your Wellness On Fair (Kathleen, Kurt, Tim, Daria, Melvin)

Inspired once again by Esmeralda’s endeavors, Fencing Masters NYC stepped out on the town on October 28th to use the sport of fencing to help save lives.  After losing their infant son Alexander to SIDS, Esmeralda and her husband Hugh began the Windflower Charity Ball as a fundraiser for First Candle. Over a decade later, the well-attended Charity Gala, with its live and silent auctions, is the organization’s major annual fund-raising event.

To help First Candle in its efforts to unite parents, caregivers and researchers nationwide to advance infant health and survival, the Fencing Masters NYC co-chairs (Tim Morehouse, Daria Schneider, & Kathleen Reckling) donated 2 VIP tickets to our Hammerstein Ballroom event on November 17th. To compliment the auction winner’s introduction to fencing, Olympic Silver Medalist Tim Morehouse donated an hour fencing lesson.

Tim poses with the auction item winner! His 5 daugthers can't wait for their fencing lesson with Tim or to attend Fencing Masters NYC on Nov. 17th

The total package was valued at $750… and as the night began, Tim and Kathleen crossed their fingers! Please! Someone! Bid on us!

Do we have $500? Yes!

How about $1,000? Yes!

Can we have $1,250? Sure!

What about $1,500? SOLD!

At the end of the night, we had met several former fencers and children of fencers — a neat reminder that everyone does in fact know someone who fences. The most exciting parts of the evening? Seeing the Fencing Masters NYC donation become one of the few lots to exceed its estimated value and watching the sport of fencing raise $1,500 for First Candle and SIDS research.

Tim & I were honored to be the Williamson-Nobles’ guests and were proud our donation was able to support First Candle”s mission to “provide every baby with the best possible chance to survive and thrive.”

For those of us working on Fencing Masters NYC, there is nothing more invigorating than sharing fencing and using it to serve others. The auction results are a testament to the power sport has to do good in the community — an athlete doesn’t have to be a Peyton Manning or a Lance Armstrong to raise awareness for a cause, they just have to be ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work.

Rumble in the City: Taking the Sport of Fencing to the Streets of NYC

I remember the first time the elevator doors opened onto the New York Fencers Club. I could hear the fencing before I could see it. The clangs and clacks of the blades, the thuds of people lunging, the John Cage-esque random boooop of the scoring machines — you could feel it; it was electric.

This past June, while the FIFA World Cup was raging in South Africa, another World Cup was underway here in New York. Olympic medalists. National Champions. Champions in the making. Yes, the best and brightest fencers in the world converged on the Brooklyn Marriott, only a short subway hop away from downtown Manhattan, and you missed it. An opportunity to see Olympians in action and fulfill your inner-child’s Star Wars/Robin Hood/Three Musketeers fantasies, and you missed it.

Fencing Masters NYC comes to the Hammerstein Ballroom Stage on Nov. 17

But have no fear, fencing is back for the New York public in a BIG way. The Olympians are coming, and  they’re doing it up for you in style.

On November 17, 2010, the Hammerstein Ballroom will be home to a landmark fencing event. Featuring the living-legends of the sport, Fencing Masters NYC is a celebration of fencing’s history, honor, and athleticism. Olympic champions from around the world will square off against members of Team USA in a quest for the title of Fencing Masters Champion. The event will include dinner, cocktails, an interactive expo, and special performances. The producers of Fencing Masters NYC have pulled out all the stops to make this an elegant, high-quality, memorable event. It will be a night of top-caliber fencing, special tributes, and above all, fun and excitement!

Spearheaded by members of the fencing community, Fencing Masters NYC is an important and much needed event for the sport. For too long, fencing has stood on the margins of professional-caliber athletics. Those who have taken up an epee, foil, or sabre already know what a dynamic and engaging sport fencing is, and the aim of Fencing Masters NYC is to broadcast these qualities to the public on a national scale. Indeed, Fencing Masters NYC has single-handedly changed the way the media looks at the sport! For the first time since 1980, fencing will be televised outside the Olympics. The event will be syndicated to 14.5 million homes in the tri-state area thanks to a partnership with SNY, television home of the NY Mets.

Fencing Masters NYC is first and foremost a vehicle for garnering financial and moral support for 2012 Olympic hopefuls. Fencing, while amateur in the United States, is a professional sport. American athletes striving for London 2012 pursue full-time training schedules and drop thousands of dollars annually on travel and related expenses. Despite historic medal wins in 2004 and 2008, fencers still lack major corporate sponsorship to support their Olympic dreams.  As a not-for-profit organization, proceeds from the Fencing Masters NYC Hammerstein event will go to sponsored fencers on Team USA.

Interested in joining us? You should! Check out the Fencing Masters NYC website for a complete roster of competitors and ticket information.

Click here: Fencing Masters NYC

Newfoundland Stories of the Day (Aug. 2)

It’s whale-watching season on the east coast of Newfoundland. Humpbacks have been spotted from Twillingate down to Trepassey Bay, and while we don’t usually have much luck when we go whale watching (a 4 hour hunt on the Saint Lawerence several years ago turned up not a single dorsal fin), we thought we’d try our luck on the Atlantic. Shipping out at 10:30Am aboard the Gatherall’s catamaran and headed into open waters to search for whales. Man, did we luck out…

a humpback whale breeches and gives us a show

a whale's tail

The tour took us to Witless Ecological Reserve where we also saw 100,000-some birds, mostly puffins. Gatherall’s, like many of the other touring companies, launches from Bay Bulls. A few miles north is the fishing village of Petty Harbour…

Petty's Cove

a fisherman fillets a freshly caught cod.

Petty Harbour is a neat stopping point on the way to Cape Spear — the eastern most spot on North America. Here the winds can pick up so high that children have been lifted out of their parents’ arms. Today, we spotted whales off the Cape and watched the fog roll in off the Atlantic as we climbed the stairs to the lighthouse…

the family stands at the eastern most point of North America

the lighthouse overlooks the Atlantic... can you see Greenland just over there?

We ended the night at Shamrock City Pub, where we listened to a couple of live sets, including Anthony MacDonald. I now know all the words to “The Islander” — I guess that makes me a Newfoundlander now.

performers at Shamrock City

Newfoundland Stories of the Day (July 31)

With a 710km/440mi of road lying between us at Gros Morne and our destination of St. John’s, yesterday morning was a frenzied scene of packing, breakfasting (warm scones with patridgeberry jam), and car-loading-jigsaw-puzzle solving. It was a typical Newfoundland day — every possible seasonal weather variation passed overhead in a matter of hours. There are few to no services along the Trans Canada Highway once you leave the area near Deer Lake. 200 miles pass with few signs of life besides the cars that periodically appear in your rear-view mirror.

A thick, New England Clam Chowder-like fog hit us as we crossed onto the Avalon Peninsula, slowing us down to a crawl 150km outside of St. John’s…

I'm sure the landscape to either side was interesting... if only I could have seen past the hood of my car

Finally, around 6:30PM, we rolled into town. The drive down Duckworth St. offered us an introduction to the low-story clapboard buildings that characterize the city architecture.

Hungry, we decided it was time to sample some of Newfoundland’s famous fish and chips. Just as we began to head out into the city, the sky lit-up in reds and purples and a rainbow sprung from Cabot’s Tower atop Signal Hill.

the sun sets over St. John's clapboard-lined streets

a rainbow welcomes us on our frist night -- Newfoundland is friendly

Newfoundlanders will argue over who serves the best Fi n’ Chi’ in their capital city, but Ches’s is a St. John’s landmark and most residents agree their battered and fried cod is close to tops. It might look like a hole-in-the-wall kind of joint, but it’s been serving since 1951. 50+ years later, Ches’s is still a family-owned and operated business. Indeed, I’ve never had a fried piece of fish so fresh and so well-cooked. I’m sure it was good for me… I mean, tons of omega in all that cod oil, right? And of course the locally-brewed Quidi Vidi (pronounced: kiddee viddie) Honey Brown Ale is the accompaniment…

the exterior of Ches's, a St. John's institution

real, authentic, delicious Newfoundland Fi n' Chi'


Apologies

I’ve been a terrible blogger.

I’m weeks behind on my artwork of the week. I’ve not updated you on life as an intern on MoMA. I have slews of rants about what the under-20 crowd in New York thinks is appropriate attire for a night on the town, tons of new insights into the challenges of being a homeowner, pages of gushing praise for my beloved New York Yankees, and a tome of stories about a weekend in Chicago. Well maybe not tons and tomes, but certainly lots. Things have been crazy of late and I’m behind on several projects I’d like to have done. If I do have any loyal readers, fear not! I will make time in the upcoming nights to get back on track.

cheers,
K

I’m on Flickr

Yes, it’s true. I’m now on Flickr! One more online thingy to distract me long into the night. So far, I’ve uploaded a few select photos from South Beach, some rambles around Manhattan and some adventures in Canada. More to come in the near future.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: