With the Retiro it’s not Goodbye, it’s Hasta Pronto

I recently moved away from my favourite place in Madrid, the Parque del Gran Retiro, a green oasis in the heart of the city.

There were reasons, and some justifications, too. The new apartment was bigger, with nicer floors, and lots of storage space. Those things can eventually become non-negotiable. Plus we got something of a deal on it because my cousin Jaime lived there until he decided to move with his family to Switzerland (that’s another story, and I’ll get to that sometime). Had we not taken it over the rent would have gone up but the point is, it’s a beautiful apartment in an old building in Chamberí, right downtown. Besides, we were ready for a change.

The problem was leaving the Retiro. It’s not like it’s far, you can walk there in 45 minutes from the new place, but it’s not just outside your door, either. At first Miss A and I tried to justify it by saying, ‘we’ll still come here all the time, it’s not that far’ but eventually we stopped pretending. On an average night when we just want to get out of the house we’re not going to the Retiro. We’ll miss having it so close, but that’s how it goes when you move to a different neighbourhood. You prefer some things, and miss others, hopefully in the right proportions.

The Retiro is relaxing not only because it’s a beautiful park with lots of trees and birds and away from the chaotic traffic of downtown Madrid, it’s also relaxing because that’s where other people relax. It’s catchy. There’s the young couple canoodling on the grass near the fountain, the old, well-dressed man reading the paper on the bench, smoking his pipe. On the promenade the inline skaters slalom through tiny pylons on one foot, dogs chase and sniff each other, and senior citizens languidly turn the pedals on stationary bicycles. There are cafés throughout the park, and they’re almost always busy, either with people sitting quietly, maybe reading a book, or groups of friends having beers. Everyone has a great time. It’s hard not to.

Images ©Mike Randolph, All Rights Reserved

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Party in Pamplona

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The party gets underway at the Café Iruña in Pamplona. Click to see larger.

Pamplona’s Fiesta de San Fermín, the fiesta to end all fiestas, is underway again. Hear about all the insanity in my latest podcast.

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Jamón, The Podcast. Part One

mike-randolph-spain-animated

My good friend Graham Roumieu, a very accomplished visual artist, made the above illustration for my podcast cover art. (And this one blinks every five seconds. Cool, eh?) I think it’s perfect. Funny but also elegantly simple and incisive. Thank you Graham!

In this first of a two-part series about jamón Iberico de bellota, I talk about the history of pigs and pork with author Mark Essig. If you are a fan of food and history, buy his book (see the affiliate link below). It’s impeccably researched and written in a plain, clear prose style, making it both enjoyable to read as well incredibly informative.

Get a taste of it by hitting play on the podcast link below. I hope you enjoy and thanks for listening!


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Mallorca: Lost and Found

The GR221 trail is easy to follow, but only in some places.

My friend Guillermo and I are hiking the GR221, a trail that follows the northern coastline of Mallorca. At least we hope we are. We’re definitely hiking the coastline of Mallorca, but whether we’re on the GR221 is impossible to know. What is incontestably true is that we’re in a densely wooded valley and not where we want to be. It’s been a long day. We want to be in a town. Any town. Any town with a bar, I mean. One that serves cold beer and hot food and has a patio, preferably with a view of the Mediterranean since that’s why we came here, after all.

Instead of finding a town, however, we find yet another mountain. Worse, our mystery trail goes up it. We’re tired and sore and sweaty and so the thought of yet another uphill slog—there have been many—can only properly be described in language that I never use in public, but you get the idea. The only upside is that we must be fairly close to where the trail meets the road.

It takes us an hour to trudge up the mountainside. When we finally reach the top we can hear the traffic on the road–so close!–but there is one very big, very disconcerting problem. There’s a giant gate blocking our way, about twenty-feet-high and framed by two stone pillars equipped with a thicket of barbed wire.  Continue Reading →

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