Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Cuenca, Halloween

Saturday I went to Cuenca, which is a two and a half hour train ride east of Madrid; it's pretty much halfway between Madrid and Valencia, so I made plans to meet up with Julia, the Fulbrighter who's in Valencia writing a dissertation about orange worker labor history (it's called "The Orange Proletariat" and then there's the requisite part after the colon that explains the sassy title.) On Sunday, I didn't go riding because I hadn't picked my bicycle up from the Fulbright office on Friday (since it had been raining); it rained on Sunday, too, though. I considered picking my ride up from the Fulbright office today (Oct 31st) to go for a ride tomorrow (it's a holiday--All Saints' Day, is it?), but it's supposed to rain then, too. NOTE (since I ended up posting this on November 1st): It didn't rain after all; the weather was perfectly autumnal, with a tannin-scented breeze and all. Dammit.

Anyhow, Cuenca is a lovely little city with a big gorge and dramatic views and houses called the hanging houses because they, well, are at the very edge of the cliffside with balconies that cantilever over. It's got a strange little cathedral with a facade that dwarfs the interior, and a nice chunk of city wall (although the entire city doesn't need to be surrounded by a wall because of, ahem, the cliffs.)

After the gently rolling (boring) landscape surrounding Madrid, Cuenca is a beautiful change of scenery. According to Julia, because of the dramatic landscape, it was ridiculously expensive and difficult to transport oranges from Valencia to Madrid until pretty recently (I know that I'm putting this in really precise terms here--I'm not sure if she's talking centuries or decades.)

Have I complained about the pastries in Madrid yet? I think I've neglected to, so I will now: they lack subtlety. And the ingredients are, in a word, crap. I'd rather pay a little more for something delicious than invariably be dissapointed by wax-for-chocolate (as good as prepackaged doughnuts, sold here in Spain in spackages that say "American donuts," are.) Anyhow, in Cuenca, after meeting up at the train station, Julia and I (the train from Valencia to Madrid and the one from Madrid to Valencia meet up in Cuenca, conveniently) stopped for coffee and breakfast pastries, and there the pain au chocolat was absolutely delicious! The pastry actually had flaky layers! The chocolate actually tasted like chocolate, and was evenly distributed throughout the pastry (is there anything more disappointing that having a chocolatey first bite of pain au chocolat to then discover that that was the only bite with chocolate?) Naturally, I wanted to stop by the same pastry shop before the train back to Madrid. Naturally, it was closed. Alas.

Halloween here was alright: I didn't dress up as anything, and I don't think that trick-or-treating exists, but there was an occasional person in costume around. Other than a vampire costume, I couldn't really tell what most costumes were supposed to be. Being as the day after Halloween is a holiday, though (this is a holiday we got off when I was in high school, too, being as it was Catholic school), the Spaniards seem to have assimilated it into their standard retinue of drinking days which, if the opening days of the bar/restaurant downstairs are any indication, are every day other than Sunday and Monday.

Today, I had Indian food for lunch (if a meal at 5 pm counts as lunch; then again, it was my first meal today, so maybe it counts as breakfast. I ate cereal for dinner, though.) I ordered the palak paneer at a place down by the Plaza de LavapiƩs, and the spinach was nicely spiced with no single overwhelming element, really creamy, and overall delightful. The paneer, instead of being chunkc, was little gratings included in the spinach. I would have appreciated actual cubes, since I really enjoy the slight resistance and creamy neutral flavor of paneer, but overall the meal was delightful. The naan was soft and warm, and the chai wasn't too cinnamony (a crime), or too cardamomy. I have a good amount of leftovers, too, since I was planning on going running at seven and didn't want to eat too much. I took a lap around the Buen Retiro park with Evelyn, another Fulbrighter; it was only a 45-minute run, but I'd gotten there before she did and so I did some lunges while I was waiting. I love/hate lunges because I feel like an alien while doing them (that's the love part), and hate them because I know that tomorrow, I will be in pain.


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