the crocus – til she rises

The crocus is a brave, fragile god of a flower on the frontier of Spring, usually trampled by dogs before it has lived more than a few days, or frozen back into submission by a return frost or snowstorm. In many parts of the United States, it is the crocus – not that undependable marmot – whose rise (thank you ED) signals that winter might actually, graciously, be coming to an end.

Alas, I have never seen a crocus in Madrid.  And this month I have been practically looking under rocks for them, so consumed I am for any sign that the cold weather will soon leave us in Spain alone.

All that was required of me, however, was a bit of people watching.  I would have seen the signs of spring earlier if I had just looked around.

The streets of Madrid reveal all.  Women are wearing the odd bit of color – I’ve even bits of last year’s horrific neon trend peeking out from winter coats.  And shop windows, of course, have warm weather clothing on display.

Restaurants and bars along plazas have begun to stake their claim on terrace dining, positioning tables and chairs in the sun. (How odd to think that in just a few months time, they will be wooing customers with the same tables but on the shady side of the plaza.)

But for the biggest hint that Spring is near, I just had to look around at a crosswalk.  (Everything happens while attempting to cross the street.)  Waiting for the light to turn, all the Madrileños are stock still, eyes closed, bodies turned in the direction of the sun.  Faces tilted upwards like sunflowers.  We’ve been missing the sun these past months and it is a vital nutrient to Spanish life.

If the light never changed, I imagine everyone would remain, standing still, soaking in the sun.  Slowly rotating to receive maximum exposure.

But the light always changes and we are always on our way.  Spring will come.

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Notes from a Pastry Shop

Pomme Sucre on calle Barquillo has some of the most beautifully subtle pastries in Madrid.  The layout of the shop, with its sleek, back-lit display cases lining the store’s interior, implies that it was intended to do nothing more than sell delicious sweets.

Reality (as is often the case) tells a different story.  It seems that Pomme Sucre patrons did not want to — could not — wait to leave the shop before biting into their freshly baked croissant or caracol or napoleon, that they also wanted coffee to complement it, and to sit down.  For the shop looks as if the customers themselves simply dragged in tables and chairs off the street and put them unevenly into the corner of the shop.  Continue reading

Your Fortune Is in Another Cookie

The proper way – the only way – to eat a fortune cookie is to eat the cookie first, and then read the slip of paper.

Otherwise, the fortune couldn’t possibly be true or come true.

How terrible when other people don’t know this golden rule — and to watch them happily tear into a cookie and read aloud Someone you know will give you money or True love is around the third corner or Something lost will turn up soon while the broken halves of the cookie lie on the place-mat alongside dirty chopsticks.  Continue reading

Homesick Foods

Despite the hilarious legitimacy of this Huffington Post article about Surviving Whole Foods, I love the place.  And since we don’t have the likes of it in Spain, every time I travel to the US, I must also make a trip to Whole Foods.

Once inside, I am – mustbemustbe – selective.  Airlines have weight policies for luggage, after all, and so does my bank account.  The items that do make it into the shopping cart reveal my homesick foods, the likes of which are nowhere to be found in Madrid: Continue reading

Best Books Read in 2013

As in years past, I have asked a handful of diverse people in my life to recommend the best book they read in the last year. It’s a pressure-free recommendation, as the only rule is that the book had to have made some kind of personal impact.

So, this latest list of  “Best Books” includes titles that might have you reading cover to cover in one sitting, make you cry or laugh uncontrollably, or (simply!) change the way you look at the world or even live your life. Continue reading

A License to Entertain

I step into a random car on line 5 (green) of the Madrid metro and lean against the opposite doors.  There are just three stops until I get off the train.

All’s calm; people seem to be minding their own business, it’s a Saturday during lunchtime (aka 3pm.)

But then, at the next stop, a large man trundles into the car.  He’s pulling some kind of machine behind him.  We did not have to wait long to find out what it is, for as soon as the train starts moving again, he flips a switch and brings a microphone to his mouth.  Music starts.  He begins.  It’s a Bon Jovi song. Continue reading

Tale of Two Federal Cafés

There is this great coffee place in Barcelona called Federal Café.  Well, in truth it is a breakfast place that also serves lunch and smoothies – so it is an eating/coffee place.  If you want delicious coffee – and only coffee – in Barcelona, you should really go to Satan’s Corner, where you order at the window from the sidewalk and then drink your coffee elsewhere.

Anyway, back to Federal.  Right off the bat, Federal Café got me very excited because Continue reading

Madrid’s Mess

Despite research that shows a disorganized environment can lead to creativity, I can’t do a lick of work with a messy desk (or a messy desk in the adjoining room.)

Yes, it could be a matter of procrastination – that old, well-worn excuse that something else more pressing (like paying the bills, doing laundry, knocking off small items on the to-do list) must get done before tackling the big task at hand — the one that will actually sing with significance upon completion. Continue reading

Let’s Get Reading

Flipping through the English version of El Pais last week (I know, I know, but, hey, it arrives inside my International Herald Tri… sorry, International NYTimes) a particular sentence caught my eye… “The situation with Spain is no better, at least compared with its neighboring countries: each Spaniard reads an average of 10 books annually despite having 100,000 new titles at their disposal every year.”

The article was about the recent International Spanish Language Conference in Panama City.  Apparently, book publishing has joined the many industries that aspire to sales over all else.  “The strategy has focused on selling books rather than creating reading habits.”  Who needs customers anyway? Continue reading