Thursday, December 17, 2009

A bit more from Couso Autumn fest in Galicia

Yeah, I know I said I'd post more about food in Italy, maybe Spain, I still owe some stuff from Brazil!

But this is easy.

Another video from the amazing Festa Outono--Autumn Fest--in Couso, south of Santiago in Galicia, Spain.

This is another of the pandeiretera groups, this time mostly male, which is interesting since I had thought this genre of music was mostly performed by women. This was filmed at 4am, and I'd been holding the camera sideways to get a better angle on this group sitting down. Oh, and after 15 beers, maybe I didn't know the difference???

So, enjoy this music. The more I've heard this stuff, the more I love it....

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

There is more to come, in the meantime...

I've got more to say about food in Florence, Rome and NYC. Since I've been home for two weeks, I've just not had the steam to get back to this. But I'm inspired (by what I have no idea) and will get these things on paper in the next day or two.

In the meantime, I've got a couple of videos of city life. Make that three videos.

First is from the Campo de' Fiori in Rome. I was wandering around late one afternoon when I saw a woman pull out a concertina and a couple of marionettes. Soon, some tasty folk dance music was coming from her corner and I pulled out the camera...I was 50 feet away, didn't want to seem too obvious in my filming, so there are lots of Roman butts interfering with the image of this fascinating street musician. Enjoy the music and figure out how she made the puppets dance!

The very next day after shooting the puppet lady I was in NYC. The day after I was in the new Chinatown in NYC which is in Flushing, out in Queens. The food is amazing, the energy contagious. It feels like China, though I don't know that from first-hand experience. I have been before, and the Picasa photo pages have lots more photos of food, and a future post will outline this in detail. Here's a short clip with a couple of funny images I stumbled upon. I missed most of the peanut vendor's singing, but he was one of the more popular figures on the street....


And one more. This is still in Queens, under the 7 Train at the Woodside stop. We (Michael Irwin, Scott Isler, Laura Picone) had just eaten at an amazing Thai restaurant a few blocks away. More on that soon. Yummmm. Just thinking about their food makes me hungry, and I just finished dinner!!!! This is just a bit more NYC atmosphere.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Galicia: Stay Away From Last Week's Pulpo

(Don't forget, there are lots more photos posted here.

On the final leg of this journey, in a plane heading to Dallas (!), on the return to Portland. Not sure why American routes NY-PDX trips this way, I know they could go through Chicago, but, it is what it is.

I had hoped to do more regular posts, if not every day, then every other. But that was not meant to be. Seemed like there were very few free moments--exploring Santiago, Florence, Rome, visiting with Carlos, Cosimo, Rebecca (and Lidia and Allen in Rome for a couple of lunches) and just being in these wonderful places, there just wasn't enough time. In Santiago, Carlos and I rarely got to sleep before 1 or 2am--it was 5 or later after the Festa in Couso--and I have been literally exhausted most of this trip. Then I came down with an awful cold in Florence which hung out for at least a week or more and that stole whatever extra energy I might have had for writing. I'll try to fill in some gaps over the next few days. Crap, I still have some things from Rio to scribble down.

Ok, the food in Galicia was pretty awful which is pretty funny considering it was food that was one of the primary reasons Carlos and I decided to go there (see the first post on Galicia in the archive). Galcia is Spain's seafood horn of plenty.

When you look at the coastline in the satellite photos on Google Maps, you see row after row of something in every cove and inlet.

Zoom in and you'll see that they are clusters of shellfish "farms" where mussels and other such creatures are cultivated…there are thousands of these floating platforms up and down the coast.

Walk around Santiago's old town and you will see the product of them in every restaurant window, along with octopus, lobsters, crabs, barnacles (called percebes), and all sorts of fish.

Oh, there are also whole beef loins, and other hugh cuts of meat in these refrigerated window displays. Kinda makes you wonder how fresh your food is in any of these since most of the restaurants seemed to be largely empty most of the time. How long has that fish been in that window, señor?

We tried 10 or 15 different restaurants over our week in Santiago, and with the exception of two, all were disappointing and went on the "Don't Go Back" list. We did find a couple of more informal "tapas" places we wandered into more than a couple of times, partly for the food, for me, largely for the beer or wine, and especially, just to soak up some of the local customs and ambience.

Galicia was, and maybe still is, a very impoverished region of Spain. The food still reflects this rather spartan approach to nourishment: lots of boiled potatoes, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, turnip greens, called grelos, and so on. Salt must have been too expensive in the old days, and it doesn't occur much in comida galega. This is one of the reasons why so many dishes tasted so flat. One night I ordered a plate of steamed mussels, and that is exactly what I got: steamed mussels…no salt, no seasoning of any kind, no oil, no garlic….N-A-D-A. Had they been seasoned in the least, they would have been spectacular since I'm sure they were very fresh. But for me, they were blah. I managed to score a bit of salt and used that some, but even that didn't wake them up much. My steamed mussels at home, even made with bivalves bought at Safeway are a million times tastier….

One dish we had several times that is a typical Galician starter was caldo galego, or Galician soup which is a meat broth laced with chopped grelos, chunks of potato and sometimes a bit of sausage. Usually, this dish too benefited from a dash or three of salt. Can't remember which, but one version used a broth that must have been ham or bacon based, and it was quite tasty.

Another ubiquitous offering in Santiago is the empanada, but don't think of little turnovers as we are used to from Argentina, but rather, think of a very thin pie, filled with some type of savory filling, no more than a quarter of an inch thick with the entire pie perhaps an inch to an inch and a half, and sometimes delightfully golden brown.
One morning I saw these being delivered to restaurants from a pushcart loaded with trays of empanadas. Carlos ordered one of thesa at a favorite bar called the Gato Negro and he found it delicious; I think the filling was chicken. On our next visit to this humble place which seemed to only attract locals and was, interestingly, maybe the only non-smoking place we entered in all of Galicia, Carlos ordered another slice of empanada. But, surprise! This time the filling was not chicken, not tuna, but instead, the nasty, ever-present pulpo, or octopus! It was amusing to see him pick out the tiny tentacles, and then nibble on the pastry. Yuk, I would have never have eaten even just the pastry, contaminated as it was with tentacle juice and stray sucker molecules! Brave man.

Our first night in town we stopped into one of at least 30 restaurants along the main drag leading from the cathedral, Rua Franco. This place, Taberna do Bispo was mentioned in some of the reading I'd done on Santiago, so we wanted to sample some of their very appealing tapas displayed across the bar. We picked four or five items and drank a couple glasses of wine.
The food was decent, not amazing. But it was fun to choose from the great variety on offer. The routine seems to choose a few tapas, drink a glass of wine, then head to the next bar on the list. We did this a few nights during our week.

The Gato Negro was a regular stop, as was a more student-oriented place, off the tourist trail, called the Cabalo Branco, one of our other favorites run by an older guy and his son, who was in his late forties, at least. The cool thing about this place was that, anyone ordering a drink was presented with a plate of free munchies which varied from night to night. We had bread and cheese, croquettes, a bit of emapnada, and so on, all pretty good.

Draft beer was amazingly present throughout Santiago, and I'm not sure if that is because it's a university town, or just something common to the area, which, by the way, produces some decent wines, especially whites like Albariño and Ribeiro. I liked 'em both, but I ended up drinking more beer, at least on our bar hops.

The local beer is call Estrella Galicia and is pretty quaffable, a light pilsner-style beer. In the bars, one orders a caña, and I had plenty! The Estrela folks provided bars selling their products with a variety of tap styles. Here are a couple.

The one actual restaurant we returned to twice was Casa Manolo, and, unfortunately, we only found it toward the end of the trip. It is apparently a fairly new place with a very contemporary interior.
The other tradition they broke was providing food that actually had flavor! We had a great bowls of lentil soup, caldo galego, a nice plate of fried chicken, a pork milanesa (think chicken fried steak) and on the last visit, some delicious roasted pork ribs that we missed on our first visit. And the funny thing was, this was the cheapest place we ate at: only eight Euros (about twelve bucks) for a full lunch including soup, meat, dessert and a glass of wine.

Very nice. In Europe these days, that is a real bargain. Our mighty dollar ain't so mighty anymore, but rather, the US is more like a third-world country. Thanks to Bush and his insane war mongering. Idiot.

Santiago is a wonderful little town (about 130,000, with 35,000 students), very special, and, yes, magical. I can recommend a visit to anyone interested in exploring a quaint, well-preserved Spanish town with a fascinating history, and very special music. However, pack a lunch, or stick with tapas. Unless you consider pulpo and boiled potatoes gourmet dining, you won't be impressed with the chow.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

More Couso Autumn Fest: Bring on the Pipers!

This is more video from the amazing Couso Festa de Outono on 7 Nov, 2009. This video features three of the gaita (bagpipe) based groups we saw.

There were at least two others, maybe more. I spent most of the time inside the pig-smoky room watching the tambourine groups (pandeiretera groups) because1) I like that music a lot; and, 2) It was closer to the beer supply!

Carlos was outside most of the time. Considering how much he likes percussion, this was interesting. So there must have been some other motivation for that (other than, for many new to this music, the pandeiretera stuff can get monotonous)????? Oh, and the fact that Carlos doesn't like beer!!!!

The pipes, of course, came with the Celtic settlers who arrived a few hundred years BC and were a huge force there for hundreds of years.

Interestingly, in the past 15 years or so, even the Irish group the Chieftains have gone to Santiago to record with some of the major artists there including the leading gaita player, Carlos Nuñez.

Check it out:

Italians (Spaniards, etc) Are Afraid of the Draft

One thing that truly mystifies me is why many cultures, Italian, Spanish, Brazilian, are so darn afraid of fresh air, at least in "winter". I put that word in quotes because, as I leave Italy--I'm writing this on my flight from Rome to NYC--it's mid-autumn, and the weather has been mostly fantastic. IT HAS NOT BEEN COLD. Highs have been in the upper 60s or low 70s in Rome the last few days, yet, most natives have been bundled up in heavy coats, gloves, hats and sweaters as if a major blizzard were approaching. Plus, I did not enter a single building, be it restaurant, shop, my hotel, cafe, in which the was not blasting hot air, creating tropical conditions more than suitable for raising prize orchids.

Seems like, even though it isn't cold, isn't winter, folks have an automatic "now it's winter" date, maybe November First, after which, even if it's in the sultry seventies, ya just gotta wear your winter duds, crank up the heat, and roast some chestnuts on an open fire. This chestnut thing is not poetic fantasy. Walk around Rome or Florence this time of year and you'll find guys roasting them in charcoal fired contraptions, and they sell these freshly roasted nasty nuggets on the street. I say nasty because, other than maybe eating liver, which I detest, a chestnut is the most vile thing I've ever put in my mouth.

I tried one one (honestly) chilly night in Florence many years ago. Once. One time. I bit into the nut, and PHEWWWWWW…spit it out immediately onto the pavement. It was really disgusting. I can't recall exactly what it was like, other than it was B-A-D. Never again.

I laughed plenty in the last few days in Italy watching Italians saunter around their wonderful cities, totally wrapped up and ready for Jack Frost to bite them on the ass, suck the blood from their necks, knock them down in the snow. Yeah, those 65 degree cold spells are dangerous!

Forget the concept of fresh air. Ain't gonna happen. Seems like a national law that every enclosed space used for just about any human behavior must be stuffy and warm. Don't want that nasty fresh air to hit you and the face and make you gravely ill.

In 1998, I was on a train from Genoa to Milan where I was gonna meet my brother Cris at the airport so we could spend a week bumming around Italy together--I think it was his only real vacation since he'd gotten married. It was chilly out--mid-November--and I had on a sweater and a jacket. But the train compartment was otherwise full of Italians, likewise bundled up. The window, I believe, was open slightly and I welcomed that bit of cooler, fresh air. No sooner had I registered the fact that the window was open, but some heat-starved, draft-hating Italian got up and closed the window, and, I think, also cranked up the heat! It must have already been 80 in there, but that wasn't good enough. Maybe he was trying to sprout some seeds, pop some corn, bake some lasagne, but he wanted any trace of comfort pushed out definitively. And that was that. I think I stripped off my jacket, pulled off my sweater, took off my shirt, and pulled down my pants to get comfortable. Well, some parts of that surely happened. But comfortable I was not to be. Not until the train pulled into Milano Centrale and I could breath fresh air again. And that blast of cold can be as delicious as a glass of cold coca-cola on a hot Texas afternoon.

Flash forward a bit:
Now, funny thing. I'm back in NYC. Got in yesterday afternoon, it was about 60 degrees out. Sunshine to spare. And everyone on the street was bundled up for winter. And the second I entered the hotel (hotel? I'm staying at a hostel for merchant marines run by the Lutheran church, the Seafarers & International House, by far the creepiest place I've stayed on this trip), ok, the moment I entered the hotel, I felt that now-familiar tropical heatwave slap me in the face! This hotel is hotter than any place I was at in Italy or Spain! The lobby could double as the inside of a bakery oven, and my room, which has no thermostat, is equally steamy. The only salvation is that the windows open in the room and I can moderate the temp in that way.

Maybe my observations of such things in foreign countries is heightened by the fact that I'm in foreign countries. We are not, apparently, so different here. I see the same thing in Portland when it gets down to 60 or 65…the NW weenies can't stand those frigid temps and immediately don their stocking caps, gloves, heavy coats and scarves. And they probably find me odd walking around in a t-shirt.

And they are probably correct....

Thank God There Seems to Be a Vital Folk Scene In Galicia

Earlier on this current trip, I was invited to attend an astonishing demonstration of what appears to be a very healthy folk scene in Galicia. The Festa de Outono in Couso, a speck on the map a few miles south of Santiago. This was an Autumn Festival of music, food, mushrooms, and more music. Carlos and I hitched a ride with a music fanatic and practitioner, Suso, who is a friend of Montse, the woman from the group Leilía who I met early in the trip at Sala Nasa (see that post in early November).

We arrived about 9pm, and things were just getting underway. There was music already going under one of two tents, and people were beginning to fill the place. A stone building was where most were, getting their food and beer, while an iron stove outside, stoked with coals from a fire on the ground, was in use roasting chestnuts. I didn't want to go inside the building because it was full of smoke, and an attractive young woman approached us offering some of her chestnuts. (I know there is potential dirty humor here, but believe it or not, I'm not going to touch them, I mean, it.) We talked about "stuff" and she was astonished that two Americans were going to stay in Santiago for an entire week, and that we had somehow stumbled into the sort of "insider" event that was this Festa.

While I continued flirting, I mean, conversing with Yolanda, Carlos braved the smoke to get us beer. When he came out, he was pleased to report that the smoke was not from ciggies, but rather, from an open grill burning firewood in order to roast all manner of pig parts and rabbits. I drank the beer. Then I drank his.

Soon the music really cranked up.
And it went on, and was still in full form at 4.30am when we left. I lost count, but there must have been five different bagpipe groups and as many pandeiretera groups (the tambourine playing singing groups as illustrated in the following video). Most of the pandeiretera groups were inside, which is where I spent most of my time, but one, featuring our pal Soso, performed outside. I'll be posting more videos from this event as time goes on.

Carlos and I shared a plate of grilled pork ribs and sausage, no chestnuts, thanks.

And I consumed enough beer for myself, Carlos, and about three others...I lost count at 12 glasses. Hey, we stayed until 4.30, and the glasses were small. Once the bartender comp'ed me a beer...not sure if it was the free one after #10, or if he was just being friendly toward one of only two foreigners in the place.

All the music ignited dancing inside and out, on concrete, grass, parking lot and mud. It was fantastic and reminded us of Greek, Irish and middle-eastern dancing. The music is surely related to the second and third categories.

 I'll post dancing as well, and this video includes some of that with the pandeiretera group.

I can't begin to tell you how much fun this festa was and how lucky Carlos and I were to be able to attend. It was the highlight of our visit to this otherwise sleepy part of Spain. Everyone was very welcoming, everyone was extremely animated. It was a very special, magical evening. Why is that these keep occurring for me in Santiago?

More on this festa in future video posts...for now, watch this:

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Rub It, Baby, Rub It!!!!

Right outside my hotel in Florence is the Mercato Nuovo, the new market, which was new about 500 or more years ago. It is now the site of about 30 stalls each day which sell Florentine stuff like leather goods, silks, junk and more leather. Right outside the market loggia is a bronze statue of a cinghiale, or boar made in 1612. But the name is Little Piggy, Il Porcellino. Tradition says if you rub the snout of the piggy and let a coin drop into the fountain below by letting the coin fall from the piglet's mouth, you will get your wish to return to Florence some day. So I've always rubbed the snout. And it's worked so far. This is my 13th or 14th trip to Florence...I've lost count. I'm so worldly! And the Porcellino has a very shiny nose to prove it's appeal to tourists from everywhere.

Oh, my hotel is called the Il Porcellino Guest House or something along those lines.

Anyway, I spent some time watching the action at the Porcellino, and it was constant, until early, early morning. One night I was awakened by some shrill female voices, drunk for sure, and they were out stroking that thang. It was after 4am.

Here is some of the action around midnight last Saturday. Oh, the great sax soundtrack was free that night, and adds great atmosphere:

(on my computer after you press play, you have to press the little sideways triangle in the progress bar as well)

Band On The Run: Gypsies In Florence With a Weevil In Their Meal!

This is part of a group I've seen a few times in Florence playing in different places, different configurations. I am not sure where they are from, maybe Romania? Anyway, they are great and I wanted to share this. Sorry about the photography...I shot this with my little Canon PowerShot camera from over 100 feet away!!!! Didn't want to be conspicuous!! Overall, not bad, some shaky stuff with Dante at the end!

By the way, they are playing an old Brazilian standard from the 30s called Tico Tico No Fubá--Weevel in the Meal

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Don't Touch Me With Your Filthy Lucre

Can't seem to ever have time to write. I've been in Santiago and Florence accompanied by other folks and now, since yesterday, I'm on my own. So maybe I'll be able to update this more often. I still intend to do some things on Galician folk music (I have lots of fotos and videos), Galician attributes, whatever that means, oh, and a more complete rundown on the food. Then I have to catch up with the same stuff for Florence. So many meals, so little time.

Speaking of which, while in Santiago, I actually lost weight, the food was so mediocre and unappealing, though it seemed like we were eating all the time. Now, in less than a week in Florence, I know I've found all that I'd lost, and maybe a bit more.

Another thing, in my Santiago entries, I ranted on and on about the ubiquitous smoke in every restaurant and cafe we entered. Apparently, in most of Spain, such places are, in fact, smoke-free. But Galicia, declared an autonomous regions years ago, still strives to maintain their freedom and disregards what I was told is a national no-smoking rule, and allows folks there to light up at will. From what we saw, I think maybe the law in Galicia requires people to smoke as often as possible, and in as many places as possible!

No celebrity sitings the last few days, we'll see what happens in Rome! As I write this segment, I'm on a EuroStar train to Rome, the trip takes about and hour and forty-five minutes…fast, really. I'm in second class. On all my previous trips, I'd always gone first class, but the prices are so much higher, and for a two hour trip, this is fine. Don't know what I was thinking before.

While I was in Brazil, I noted that guys there have not adopted the shaved head look. Well, in Italy, that is not the case…lots of ugly shaved heads. What ever fashion god decided this was an appealing look certainly had some right strong powers of persuasion. While not as widespread as at home, there are still plenty of 'em here. I had to stare at one last night during dinner. Yuk.

As in Spain, everyone in Italy, especially the women, dress in black. Black shoes, black tights, black pants, black skirts, black sweaters, black coats, black hair. It's crazy. Carlos says it's more practical for city living, and maybe that's true, but come on! Oh, this has been the style in NYC too for many years, so?

Here's a funny observation on Italian bar/cafe habits, maybe anywhere money is given in payment. On the countertop next to the cash register is a little dish or try. Whenever you pay, you put the money in the tray. When the cashier returns the change, it, likewise, goes into the tray. You will NEVER, EVER have a cashier place the money directly into your hand, no matter how outstretched it may be, no matter how impressively large and close and obvious it may be as a receptacle for money coming your way. Forget it. Ain't gonna happen. Likewise, don't even think of trying to put the coins or bills directly into the hand of the cashier. To him or her, you might as well be handing them a fist full of pus, or anthrax powder. They will recoil, resisting any such attempt.

This very thing happened to me the other morning after drinking one of my two morning coffees. The cup was one Euro and ten cents. I didn't hear the amount in cents at first and, after having already placed the one Euro coin on the counter, was confirming the exact figure in cents. He said, "Dieci." Ten. So I pulled out the correct coin and was about to put it into his hand which was positioned over the cash drawer. He grimaced. He nodded downward, For a second, I thought he wanted me to just drop it into the drawer. And then I got it. He was motioning for me to put it on the counter. "NOT IN MY HAND YOU IDIOT," was I'm sure what was running through his mind. So I did the socially acceptable thing and put the damn coin on the counter. Only then was my ten fucking cents safe for him to handle. I guess the marble of the countertop sucks out the kryptonite or those anthrax pustules. Amazing. I wonder if, having been sanitized in this way, the money is safe to put into your mouth. If so, it's one less thing Italian mothers have to teach their kids.

So instead, they teach them about the importance of always wearing black. And that it's ok to eat raw pork in the form of prosciutto, pancetta, lardo, salsiccia cruda. And that, when you eat in a restaurant, you really should order a first course, like soup or pasta, then a second course of meat or fish. And, especially from grandmothers to young women, how to push to the front of the line as if you were the Queen of Italy, and doing so with such aggressiveness and authority--"Of course I have every right to go to the front! I'm a an old woman with power coming directly from god, the king, the queen, and Michael Jackson!!!"---that no one would possibly contest the action.

Yesterday I wasted an hour trying to save time by purchasing my train ticket over the Internets. It seems like an easy and efficient method and the official train website even has an English language version. But you have to register, and that itself is a pain. Then, once you've selected your train, your seat, etc,, it's time to pay. This is where the edge of the black hole begins. Dante, my man! Did you design, or did your Inferno inspire the designers of this website? I punched in my MasterCard number and all the correct data to back it up, a card I use day in and day out for online purchases from vendors all around the world. I had even just purchased an Italian train ticket a few days earlier from a ticket vending machine in Rome. But still, the card was refused. This in itself should not have been a problem, when it happens on other sites, you simply pull out another card, enter the data, and go forward. No biggie.

But this is Italy, and I think the trains are owned by the government. Big problem.

Not only was the card declined by the card processing firm, but because of this, the TrenItalia site told me, not so graciously, that my "account" with them was frozen, and unusable. They were nice enough to tell me how I could reinstate things back to "normal". Here's the helpful email they sent to me, about 24 hours before the train I wanted to catch:

"You can request authorization to re-enable the credit card for making purchases on the Trenitalia website by sending the documentation indicated below, by either fax (06/44104036) or e-mail (
- the content of this email,
- your User ID,
- a contact telephone number including the country code (for example 0039 for italy),
- the photocopy/scan of a valid identity document of the person associated to the User ID,
Within 48 hours you will receive the outcome of your request on your e-mail address."

Yeah, I'll get right on that. Then I remembered this had happened before. What I did then was to create a new account with a new user name, a new email address, and so on. So that's what I did. I went through the entire tedious process again, entering a different credit card number as well. Push "Enter" and then see what happens.

Then, with the tension and expectation one must feel when playing the slots in Vegas, I waited.

Declined. And yet another TrenItalia customer account frozen.

(The ad with the trains: Alta Velocitá means High Speed. This does not apply to their website. The other ad with the mom and kid needs no explanation!)

To get this far, I'd probably spent at least 45 minutes. Slow Internets in the hotel, combined with one of the most frustrating websites I have ever encountered. So I went downstairs to see if my buddy "Irma", the daughter of Annamaria, the owner of the little Hotel Porcellino where I was staying, could help. She was so gracious and agreed that sometimes things in Italy could be very frustrating. "That's why I want to live in the US," she declared. We used her account on the train's website and went through the process. And we went through the process again. And then again. And then again. I tried FOUR different credit cards, all perfectly good. But to no avail. And I felt sorry because this had then frozen her "member's account on the website.

So, after all that, I arrived at the station about 9am this morning, went straight to a ticket vending machine (run by TrenItalia, I'll have ypu know) and bought a ticket--for an earlier train--in about 3 minutes. With one of the offending credit cards, of course. Wacky.

I'll get in a bit earlier than expected and hope the woman will be at the B+B to check me in. Who knows!???? Many of these places in Italy are almost self-serve, with no regular hours for the reception desk. I told her I'd be in about noon, and now it will be about 20 minutes earlier. We'll see what happens. I really don't want to hang out on the street, but it won't be for long if that is the case.

A bit later:

Train arrived early, had a nice taxi ride to the hotel, chatting with the driver about restaurants in Rome. I think he was impressed with my knowledge (who wouldn't be?) and called me an expert! I laughed and said, "Maybe in the future."

Got to the hotel, or almost. I had to walk a bit to find it, and the numbers are not obvious. Oh, and 99 on the street is across from 34, so go figure. Lugged the heavy (with books now) suitcase up 4 flights of stairs, checked in and am getting ready to go out, to start soaking up this great city. Lunch is in a bit over an hour at a tiny hole called Sora Margherita. Will be meeting Lidia Agraz and her pal Allan who are staying in Rome for a while.

The room is cramped. Clean, nice bathroom, but the room is cramped. Very cramped. But it's close to everything and that is all that really matters for me.

Rome is a giant city, dirty, noisy, busy, crowded. But I love it.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A Happy Day...But Who the F-ck Is Henry Winkler?

Damn, I've so wanted to get something new up here since Friday, but...

It's now Sunday, well, actually, Monday at 12:39am It'ly time, and I'm zonked. I'm hung over from lunch, and hung over from dinner, and I'm tired, totally worn out. But I have to get a short note in here now because it's too funny.

I'm in Florence, have been since late Thursday, and I've been hanging out with some very old friends from my early Austin days, Cosimo and Rebecca Lucchese who currently live in Germany. We've been plotting for years about getting together somewhere in Europe, and finally, here we are. Cos is of Italian heritage, in case the name doesn't give it away and he loves all things Italian. Interestingly, though they come to Italy often, they don't know Florence or Tuscany the way I do, so I've been planning most of the meals and food excursions. We'll hear more about the cultural stuff later, but I've got a funny food related tale to tell. Though maybe the food is tangential.

Cosimo is the last male in the line of Luccheses from San Antonio who created the very famous cowboy boots. They used to be only custom made footwear, and folks like LBJ, Gary Cooper, The Andrews Sisters, Bing Crosby, and a whole slew of other famous folks would regularly have Cos's grandfather make boots for them. Did I say famous?

One of the places I visited on my last trip in 2007 was an interesting restaurant that is more ongoing social and artistic experience than an actual restaurant, but the food happens to be spectacular. And it happens to be ALL MEAT. And that is the name of the place, Solociccia. It's located about 20 miles or so south of Florence in the beautiful Chianti countryside. Did I say beautiful?

Solociccia is the brainchild of a guy purported to be the most famous butcher in the world, Dario Cecchini. And I now believe that claim. He's known to all sorts of celebrities around the globe, has been featured on TV in the states many times, was one of the subjects of the NY bestselling book Heat, and has been featured in newspaper and magazine articles everywhere.

His butcher shop is across the street from the restaurant and it is sort of social center for residents and tourists in Panzano...he gives out generous samples of his meats, as well as bottomless glasses of his family's wine. The restaurant is a relatively new development and features two seatings for dinner with a prix fixe meal/menu on three nights, and again for lunch on Sunday. It is a grand, merry affair in which Dario shows off his butchering skills with six courses of meat dishs...a few token vegetable dishes are thrown in for some weird reason! It's all delicious.

Before the lunch we hung out in the butcher shop, like almost everyone else in Panzano, and had lots of free wine, some great nibbles, and plenty of laughs from Dario, who likes to play opera and jazz at loud volume in his shop which has been in his family for generations, well over one hundred years.

At some point we start talking to him and Cos tells him about his connection to the boot makers or yesteryear. Dario flips.

At some point we start talking to him and Cos tells him about his connection to the boot makers or yesteryear. Dario flips. Turns out he LOVES Lucchese boots, owns four pairs! So the two of them have a love fest and exchange hand signals, as do all Italians in animated conversation, and we wait for the lunch hour of one to arrive.

Before that actually happens, some dude strolls up who people, including Dario and his American girlfriend, and the woman who runs the front-of-house of the restaurant across the street seem to recognize. I look at him hard, he seems a bit familiar, but I can't possibly place the guy. Some Americans strolling toward the restaurant look at him with obvious recognition, and I overhear them talking about wanting to get a picture with him. So as they walk toward him, I say, "Hey, that guy seems to be someone famous, but I'm pop-culture starved and I have no idea who he is. Can you tell me his name?"

They look at me as if I were from Mars and respond, "That's Henry Winkler!!! Didn't you watch Happy Days??"

Well, in fact I've never seen the show, but I do know about it, and I do know he was The Fonz. So sue me.

The American woman gets her picture taken with him, and as she does, I also shoot a picture from a distance. It looks like this:

But it doesn't end there!

And it gets much, much better....

Stay tuned......

Okay, I'm back about 8 hours and some sleep later.

After this siting, we all went into the restaurant to have an amazing 3 hour lunch which just went on and on, meat course after meat course. There were about 11 of us, all American, sitting around a great round table. It was an "All Meat Sunday" featuring bread covered with a dryish meat sauce, a plate of fried vegetables with fried meat chunks (meatballs, breaded pork cutlets) scattered in, a plate of marinated, mostly raw, meatballs, a bowl of white beans and garbanzos, a plate of beautiful sliced roasted beef, some meltingly tender braised beef and a salad of vegetables with a different kind of meltingly tender beef chunks. Yes, it was all delicious, and yes, we had lots of wine. Then there was coffee and a modest lemon cake....AND, three different kinds of herb liqueurs. And, yes, they were yummy.

For all these food shots, go to the gallery posted on Picasa:

There was lots of conversation, plenty of laughter, and at least for 3 hours, some new friends were made. One of the guys was a urologist from Connecticut who happened to know the Doc whose clinic did my vasectomy many years ago in Austin...Dr. Richard Chopp! Yes, that is correct, Dr. Dick Chopp, doctor of, well, you get the picture.

As we lingered around the table digesting and taking our coffees, Dario's gal is ushering Henry Winkler around the restaurant, letting him interact with the people around the tables--each table occupies the entire room in which it is placed--so they were going from room to room.

He came into ours, the American ghetto, and began asking folks where they are from. He's obviously a ham and trying to interact with everyone. Of course we all yelled out "Texas!"

A bit into his schtick, I decided to have some fun.

I said something along the lines of, "Excuse me, but I honestly don't know who the f-ck you are!" That cracked up the room, including Winkler. I said, "Are you Woody Allen or something?"  And he replied, "In spite of what Texans think, not all Jews from New York are Woody Allen!!!"  More laughs all around!  Then he said, "Whether you know who I am or not, I mostly want you to remember that I've written some great children's books. You might really enjoy getting some for your grandchildren." Since we had a urologist at the table and we'd been talking about vasectomies and reversals and so on, I said, "Darn, I gave my son a vasectomy for his birthday, so we won't be having any grandchildren!" More laughs.
I can't remember now where else the conversation went, but he seemed to enjoy the teasing. And he was more than accommodating for all photo requests and many of the people at the table had pictures taken with him. He is clearly a decent, nice guy.

He was there because it is his wife's favorite restaurant in the area...he'd been in Rome doing what he does: acting. Oh, and he didn't hesitate promoting an upcoming show in Liverpool to the British guy at the felt a bit like he was on the couch of the Tonight Show, promoting books and upcoming performances.

It was a great way to end a totally amazing meal.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Holy Smoke, Pilgrim!

I'm currently in the Santiago airport, no Internet, so this will be posted when I get into Florence. It was an easy morning, though I had to be careful packing because I'm flying RyanAir to Rome and they have a strict weight limit on checked bags= 30 kilos and I knew my bag was a bit over 14…I'm carrying a sweater with me to help ensure I'd not go over! Silly. They charge 20 Euros per kilo over the limit, that's 30 bucks!

Anyway, I spent an hour or so just walking around the city snapping some shots I'd missed somehow, like the market, fashion glasses, and so on. I tried to go to lunch about 12.30, but the place I wanted to go didn't open until 1pm, so I had to kill some time. I headed for the Cathedral where I figured I could get a seat and wait out the rain. Got a rear pew, and sat for a bit. But then something very excited happened.

And it had to do with more smoke. What else? We're in Spain!

But it was a very special smoke and a very special smoke dispensing device.

Botafumeiro is the name.

And it's a giant censer, no, not the kind that fines people like Janet Jackson, but rather, the kind that's been used in churches for millennia. An incense burner, technically called a thurible. The name translates into something like "smoke putter-outter". But this one is silver plated and weighs 170 odd pounds, standing about three or four feet high, at least, and burns eighty pounds of charcoal and incense at a time. It was supposedly designed to add a more pleasing scent to the air of the church which, typically hundreds of years ago, was filled with pilgrims who slept inside the church and probably hadn't bathed for months. Talk about your stink to high heaven!!! I'm sure they got to heaven through their long journey in at least this sense! And then with the help of incense...yes, incense was considered to be a sort of offering, or prayer to god, like burning sheep on an altar, which I'd assume would be tastier.

So the bishop had this giant censer constructed, and though these days it is usually used only on weekends and feast days, for some reason they cranked the sucker up today. And, damn, did I feel lucky. Shot a bit of video which you can see here. It's a bit iffy since the crowds filled the best places to shoot. Had I known it was gonna fly at the end of mass, I would have gotten closer earlier. But, it is what it is.

Watching that thing swing through the church was truly amazing, something I will never forget. I could smell the incense, but it was not as intense as I'd assumed it would be. As a former altar boy (now an altered-boy…not that way, dummy, attitudinally and mentally), I know this stuff first hand. A normal censer can produce enough resiny smoke to fill a normal sized church in a very short time.

Apparently they have a few of these things which alternate. One is called the alcachofa, or artichoke! Smoked artichokes, now there's a heavenly idea!

Jazz Monkey Echoes In Ancient Stone Arches

Music is what drew me to Galicia in the first place, just as it was the siren that sucked me into all things Brazilian. And though most of the attraction was the folk stuff mentioned in yesterday's post, and the ancient (is 800 years old ancient?) Cantigas de Santa Maria, some other music popped up on this trip that I found very interesting, very enjoyable, and quite surprising.

Nearly every morning, up to the lunch hour of 2pm, right outside our hotel door we've been treated to some mighty fine jazz guitar playing. At first it was a little irritating, for who wants to hear jazz guitar in the 1000-year old stone streets of Santiago, the holy city? But the more I listened, the more I found the guy to be truly talented. He played a variety of jazz standards and a handful of Brazilian tunes.

Who could this guy be, and why was he playing on the street?

And then….

We didn't notice at first, but then…

Something wrong with the guy?

He was wearing a black mask with lips sticking out of the mask, holding a cigarette. Whoa! It looked like maybe he was a burn victim, the lips appeared scarred from a distance, and we assumed he wore the mask to not scare folks too much…he relies on tips for his income, so you don't want potential contributors to be too spooked in what is already a risky proposition as far as striking it rich is concerned.

But after a day or two of passing him several times each morning, it became clear that he was in costume, and it looked like he had on some kind of monkey mask. Whoa! again. How cool. What a concept! Takes a lot of balls to do something so radical in such a socially and culturally conservative town. A smoking monkey-masked dude, dressed in black, playing some tasteful jazz guitar. Wow.

He reminded us, because of the premise he established with the mask, of a musician who used to live in Austin, Adam Bork, aka, Earth Pig, the son of our pals from many years back, Albert and Kathy Bork. So we began referring to him as Earth Monkey, as a sort of tribute to the long-lost musical aardvark.

Then, a few days ago, we walked by as he was packing up to call it a day, 2:30pm. His mask was off, he looked normal. I think we stopped and said hello, that we liked the music, and we noticed he was selling CDs out of a brief case. I made a mental note to return the next day to buy a couple.

But he wasn't there on Tuesday. No Earth Monkey anywhere. We actually looked around other public places, but he was nowhere to be found. I was disheartened. What if he'd left town, having worn out his welcome. I sure wanted to learn his story, to get a CD and to fill in this funny, mostly blank page in the musical portrait of Santiago.

But as we approached our hotel yesterday morning, we heard his guitar. Wow, I was joyful! Carlos has found my fascination with Earth Monkey strange, but ya gotta understand how out of place he is here. So I have lots of admiration for him, especially because he's obviously a talented player.

And it turns out we know some of the same people in Brazil!  What????

I took a few photos from a distance, then we walked up and I began looking at the CDs. He said, "Texas, ¿verdad?"  We had gotten that far in our brief chat the other day. I said yes, and we embarked on a 15 minute chat about his music, his time in Santiago, and, since I was speaking Portuguese, his two or so years living in Rio back in the 1980s. We threw around some names and it turns out he's worked with, or knows, many of the people I know in Brazilian pop music, including Toninho Horta (on whose Diamond Land LP he did some singing or maybe playing), Milton Nascimento, Helio Delmiro, Hermeto Pascoal and others. I think he was impressed when I told him I'd hosted Toninho for nearly a week at my house in Austin back in 1983 when he had several gigs there.

Turns out he calls himself Jazzman. Jazzman de Compostela ( ). He's from Uruguay. His real name is Quique Azambuya. He's been here nearly 12 years, and he loves it, but now, he told me, he's about ready for something new. "It's been a personally spiritual time here, but something is telling me it's time for a change."  The magic of Santiago gets to lots of folks.

And the mask? Well, it's his Jazzman persona. And it's not a monkey. It's Louis Armstrong, or Lightnin' Hopkins or Al Jolson. Totally non-PC in the USA, but obviously not a problem in Spain. He's sold more than 20,000 CDs in 10 years, and I can assure that that number is huge for any jazz player in the States, save Diana Krall or someone of that ilk.

I picked out a couple of discs, paid and retired to the room. A bit later, like 15 or so, I resolved to go down to talk more, maybe go to lunch with him. But in the meantime, from the open window of the room, about 50 feet from his chair, I heard him play a Toninho Horta song. Very cool.

When I got down to the street again, he was sans-mask and packing up for the day. The reason he was absent the day before was due to a cold he was developing, and his throat was hurting, so he was cutting short his Wednesday. We talked for another 20 minutes or so, very enjoyable. He's a great cat, as they say, and we will definitely stay in touch.

And he'll always be Earth Monkey to me. PC or not.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Smoke gets in your eyes, or the smoke in Spain falls mainly EVERYWHERE

It's late, I'm tired and tomorrow I'm traveling to Rome by plane, then Florence by train. Hope to make  a train that will get me to Florence by 9.30pm so I can meet up with friends for pizza around 10.30.

And since it's late, I'll finish this in the morning (it's 12.30am now, 3.30 Pacific time). Carlos flies out in the morning, my flight is at 4. So I'll have some time to write while waiting around the hotel to catch my cab about 2.30pm.

The good news is, we actually had a decent lunch today. But more on that soon.

Gotta shoot up my drugs and hit the hay.

It's a few hours later now, and Carlos has gone to the airport. The jackhammers outside the hotel are rolling since it's nearly 9am. They are fixing some stones in the pavement. Not sure why, since each stone is about 12 inches thick and they have to work half a day to get one out of the street. But they do, then mess with it, then put it back. Hmmmm. Shovel-ready projects indeed. Guess stimulus money is hard at work in Santiago.

Regarding the smoke. Spain is the only country I've been to in the last 10 years that still allows smoking everywhere, at least in Santiago. Ten years ago it was disappearing in Italian restaurants, and just recently, the no-smoking thing has taken hold in Rio, maybe in all of Brazil, I'm not sure. But it sure has been nice to go into restaurants in Rome, Florence, Rio, and not have to come out smelling like nicotine-bacon.

Spain, on the other hand, is giving smokers all the liberty they want, plus, since Santiago is a university town (35,000 out of about 130,000), seems like 8 out of 10 people smoke, and smoke a lot. Chain smoking. We have been in only a couple of places that had no smoking signs. But even first thing in the morning, the cafes we go to are filled with smokers. It never fails that, when we search out a table, or place at the bar, where no one is smoking, within a few seconds, someone arrives, takes their place and lights up. My eyes are still burning this morning from an hour in a smoky bar that had live music. I couldn't stand it any longer and had to leave, just as the band really got going...bagpipes, accordion, two fiddles, etc, doing Celtic Galician music. But the smoke beat me, as much as I wanted to hear music.

Smoke sucks. And though every pack here, and every cigarette machine carries a label that says "Fumar Mata": Smoking Kills, they keep sucking on those ciggies.

Now, something I've noticed here, mostly among the students, is that it's very trendy to roll-your-own. Last night at the bar, I saw five or six kids rolling cigs within 10 feet of me. I've seen it every where, every day.

Seems like it must be the cool thing to do, and, it seems to me, that, even more than at home, it is VERY important to be up with the latest trends here. Rolling cigarettes. Michael Jackson. And fashion glasses (a topic I meant to explore from Rio, but never got around to it. Be assured that everything I say here about Santiago hold true for Rio.)

Fashion glasses are everywhere here. Any one worth his weight in coolness factors has 'em. And that means anyone who isn't impoverished. I guess I need to shoot a photo of someone in the glasses I'm referring to, but I'll try to describe the ones I see most often.

They feature somewhat rectangular lenses, not very tall, in which the arms of the frames are as tall as the lens, so it looks a bit like a futuristic space goggle. But not very tall. The arms of the frames taper very slowly, maintaining their width most of the way back. The frames in front, I think, are a bit thicker than they need to be, and so the glasses become much more obvious than they need to be. Maybe that is the idea. "Hey, look at me. I'm a member of the club too...I have fashion glasses. See??????? So, know that I'm hip, with it and with the pack."  There are variations, but this seems to be the most common. And the frames can be in colors, various colors, or black, brown, but I have yet to see white. Every time I see someone with these glasses I have to hold back the chortles. Kinda like the piercings and tattoos in Portland and Austin. All "Look At Me" affectations.

Celtic Galician music? Yes. The Celts were everywhere. They had a strong presence in Galicia, neighboring Asturias and Portugal. We're talking before the Romans were here, back to the Iron Age, and up to the early AD years. I suppose the most obvious link in Galician music to Scottish and Irish musics is the bagpipe. It's heard quite a bit here, and you can often run across pipers playing on the street. I'll try to post a video of one here.
The bagpipe based music is lively and powerful since it was meant to propel dancers at festas, celebrations and so on. I'll be posting photos, descriptions and videos soon of a fantastic autumn fest Carlos and I attended last Saturday, but that will probably have to wait a day or so.  But the tunes sometimes seem very similar to Irish/Scottish tunes, and the dancing certainly seems familiar as you'll see when I post the party stuff. It's very cool. And since it's so green and rainy here, with the music, I suppose it seems like being in a Spanish-speaking corner of Ireland.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

More Rain, More Spain. More Beer and Wine and Bad Food...And a Presidential Visit!

Going back to the title of the previous post: Rain in Spain in Galicia, etc...I just read that Galicia, or Santiago, gets 75 inches of rain per year!!!!!  Austin maybe gets 30 or so inches and rainy Portland "only" 37. So imagine more than twice those numbers! Ireland indeed.

This has been a week (almost) of walking 6-7 hours a day, sometimes a bit less, others a lot more. My legs are dying, but my endurance is fine, so, though it's about 7:45pm here right now, we'll be going out soon to do a bit of "tapas" hopping which has been the norm for our evening meals. And we usually hit 2-3 different places, all with slightly different styles, some offer free nibbles with drinks, others not. Sometimes we'll order a small plate or two of something, sometimes not. We found a great place last night which was just barely a hole in the wall which must have been someone's kitchen a few hundred years ago.

There was a fireplace at waist level with no screen and a small fire going right in the room. The owner used it as a trash can when she cleaned tables: tossed paper and other stuff right in. She included two pieces of cheese, and four pieces of bread topped with dry chouriço (see the foto here for the fire and the plate!)  We're gonna  go back tonight. Another place we like is the Gato Negro right around the corner from the hotel.
It is definitely a non-tourist place, mostly locals who know each other. They have three large wooden wine barrels from which they serve local, probably family produced, wines. I had a glass the other night and it was surely "new" wine, white, unfiltered and cloudy. And not bad. I'll have more tonight there also!

Now, all this leads me to the food in Santiago. Well, it mostly sucks. We have had 6 or 7 restaurant meals and finally, yesterday, we found one we want to return to. But more on that down the line. Galicia is known of it's seafood, most of the seafood Madrid eats comes from here: clams, mussels, octopus (pulpo), many kinds of fish, razor clams, and of course, scallops. Remember the scallop shell is the symbol of the Caminho de Santiago (usually the Camino de, but I use the Portuguese spelling to be different, I suppose; the local Galego spelling is Camiño, but that is a "spanishized" spelling that derives from the time when Franco outlawed all the local dialects and tried to make them more Spanish, but that's another blog entry).
And because of the rain, vegetables here look fantastic. Pork and beef and dairy products are also renowned here. But the problem is, this was a very poor area, and they still cook like it. They don't use salt. They don't use much seasoning of any kind. And so, when they cook these lovely things, the flavors fall flat, they are unexciting, boring, tedious, insipid.

Get the point?

I ordered some steamed mussels the other night. And that's exactly what I got. A plate of steamed mussels. No nuttin' in them except water. I make steamed mussels, but I first saute some garlic in olive oil, maybe add some red pepper flakes, then throw in some white wine, some Italian parsley, maybe a basil leaf or two, then the mussels and steam them for 3 minutes or so. Oh, yes, salt and pepper. The result is delicious, flavorful and rich. The broth from the mussels combines with the wine to make a yummy liquor to sop up with bread. In Galicia, forget it. Bland. Salads are mundane. Meats are mundane. Cooked vegetables are mundane. Now I did have a nice bowl of lentil soup yesterday, and two out of three bowls of the ubiquitous caldo galego, a soup with turnip greens, potatoes and white beans, cooked in meat broth of some sort have been ok; one had NO salt whatsoever and I had to keep adding it.

But I first had to ask for salt, and I'm sure the waitress thought I was insane adding salt like I did. But screw it! I wanted to bring out some flavor, something they know nothing about. Oh well. I'm off to Florence in two days and will eat well for 10 days there and in Rome. (So stay tuned for those fattening episodes!) Yes, I've lost weight here. Thank gawd. Now I won't feel so bad about eating lunch twice a day in Italy!

And to that end, I've already made reservations at a handful of restaurants in Rome, Florence, Bologna and Panzano in Chianti. I did most of these from Portland since Vonage now offers free long distance to 60 countries as part of their $25 a month service. Very cool.

Now, I mentioned in the first posting from Santiago that I'm here for this week with my pal Carlos Femat. Carlos and I have known each other since 1981, nearly 30 years. We've had our moments, we've worked together on freelance graphic design projects, we've had a couple hundred meals together, mostly in Austin, some at my house, some at his, some in restaurants good and bad. And now, mostly bad, in Santiago.
Carlos is from Mission, Texas, got his degree in studio art from UT-Austin, and has worked mostly in the field of graphic design and marketing. He now works for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Whatever that is!!!!  Anyway, we share a very similar sense of humor, love many of the same films, much of the same music and, well, I'll leave some things to the imagination. No, not that.  We shared an office space for a few years when I quit my ad agency job in 1993 and then tripled my income. But this is the first time we've traveled together, well, except for a great trip to New Orleans in 1993 which had screwy consequences for us both. Stories untold. At least here. Our inspiration for that trip was to hear a great Haitian band, Tabou Combo, that was playing over my birthday weekend that year for free at the Creole Tomato Festival. The tomatoes were nothing special. Tabou Combo was. We had good food, some laughs and we're still paying for that trip today. Stories untold.

It's great for me to be here with Carlos since I now live 2500 miles from Austin and I used to be able to have lunch with him two or three times a week. Or more. Yep, we've shared about 10,000 laughs here. And really haven't pissed one another off---pissed off one another. (I'm supposed to be the writer.)  Tomorrow is our last day together (not counting the wee hours on Thursday when he leaves for the airport) and last days are always weird. Not sure why. I'll see him again in February when I go to Austin to work on Carnaval; I'll stay at his place, so we'll have lots of time to catch up. More laughs. More meals. I like Carlos. I have a nice handful of friends, but Carlos is one of the best because we share so many things, we can poke at each other, and we can mostly shed each other's crap. I'm really glad he made the time to make this trip with me. Made it very special. Thanks, bro-mano.

We arrived here a week ago tomorrow morning after a crappy experience in the Madrid airport. I will only say that this is the only airport I've been to, probably ever, where the gate assignments are made less than an hour before flights are scheduled to leave. We had no idea what gate to go to, and that after a nine hour flight from Dallas, dead on our feet. So we stood in front of a screen, and when the plane we were to take arrived at whatever gate, they posted the info and everyone scattered. Yes, dozens were left at our screen, and hundreds more around the airport at similar screens around the airport waiting for gate information. Primitive, Madrid. Primitive. Oh, and the ONE ATM in our part of the airport was out of order, half dozen guys trying to fix it, so we could not get any money. This is a major airport, people. Get with the mid-20th century. Soon.

Speaking of 20th, now 21st century in Galicia, the first morning I awoke in Santiago, I saw a newspaper in the hotel which had a picture of Martin Sheen in front of the Cathedral. What the?  The article covered a film he was shooting (well, his son, Emilio Estevez wrote it and was directing) in Galicia. Interestingly, it is a film called The Way and is the story of an American pilgrim following the Caminho/Camiño de Santiago. Not sure of further details, but Martin stated that after shooting, he was going to walk part of the Caminho. I've read that he's a pretty devout Catholic, so this should be no, his dad was born in Galicia, so it all comes together.

The article said they had two more weeks to shoot around here, and that they would be shooting inside the Cathedral that day; significant because it is the first, yeah, only time anyone has been allowed to shoot a film inside the church. Wow. I guess having been President of the USA, Marty has some pull.

So, as Carlos continued to snore, I sojourned off toward the church (after getting my first cup of crappy coffee in Spain...all subsequent ones have been equally crappy, but more later). I went inside the church just in time because they soon thereafter roped off the stairway to further visitors since they were about to shoot the scene where Marty, as the Pilgrim, first walked through the door of the Cathedral at the end of his trek. I hovered about trying to get a good photo or two and managed to snap a couple that are ok. The wranglers or whatever  you call them who police the film location were might vigilant about preventing too much activity too close to the action.

So I went outside where I knew it'd be safer, and I knew Marty (my new buddy) would have to start the action for this scene, walking INTO the church, after all. I stood on the landing outside the door waiting for the shot and Marty came near, waiting for his cue. I was SO tempted to scream, "Mr. President, your shoe is untied," which it was, but I didn't...why? Not sure. He was a few feet away, I really could have whispered, and his shoe WAS coming untied.

Hope he remembers to check his laces when he really gets out on the trail, hate to read about an accident in People magazine. "Pilgrim President Pfalls After Pukey Pfood in sPain."