Monthly Archives: March 2014

Is Gibraltar Ready For Us…?

Ever since we got here on Friday night, we’ve been eyeing it up. THAT rock. It’s in groping distance from Algeciras. And we absolutely want to go there.

So, today’s the day. At noon, Maria, her sister Paula and I will head for Gibraltar. I’ve no clear idea what to expect… which is probably best 🙂


Gibraltar from a beach in Algeciras, where Maria and I are staying.

Seems we're not the only ones wondering about it...

Seems we’re not the only ones wondering about it…



Hello Africa!

Yesterday, we stopped off in Tarifa to stare across the Strait of Gibraltar at the other continent. It was a bit hazy, but you can still make out Morocco.

Maria took a pic of me taking a pic. My own didn't turn out so well...

Maria took a pic of me taking a pic. My own didn’t turn out so well…

Andalucía, We’re Coming For You!

I’m enjoying a long weekend down south. Maria and I set off yesterday at lunchtime, and seven hours later, with a few pit stops for food and cake, we arrived in Algeciras, in Cádiz Province. It’s right next to Gibraltar.

I didn’t get a good shot of “The Rock”, coz it was raining when we got here, but it sure looked impressive. Here’s a random Andalucían rock:

Maria singing in the car :)

Maria singing in the car 🙂

We had  "pionono", a local sweet, on the way. Too sweet for me...

We had “pionono”, a local sweet, on the way. Way too sweet for me…

We went out for tapas in the evening - totally delicious!

We went out for tapas in the evening – totally delicious!

Today, we’ll be exploring Cádiz 🙂

Language Matters: Do You Sound Like Yourself?

I whine and I complain. Although I know darn well that there’s no point. The only thing that will fix it is time, patience, and perseverance.

I’m talking about my Spanish.

At this stage, I’m not exactly getting a lot of sympathy either. The consensus among my Spanish friends seems to be that my Spanish is “good”.

That’s certainly very kind of them, I appreciate the thumbs up and a pat on the back just like the next person, but I don’t agree, and it’s got nothing to do with false modesty. What they are doing is comparing their English to my Spanish, and of course my Spanish would be better than their English, because most of my pals have never been to an English speaking country other than for a brief holiday. I, on the other hand, actually live here in Spain and need to use the language on a daily basis. In other words, they are comparing apples to oranges.

I wasn’t really sure how to convey the nature of my discontent succinctly, until, about a month ago, I came across this quote by jazz musician genius Miles Davis:

“Sometimes you have to play a long time to be able to play like yourself.”


Now, I cannot read a musical score, never mind hold a note, but the direct parallel for me as a language learner is quite striking.

What I want, quite simply, is to sound like myself when I communicate in Spanish.

My level of frustration is directly proportional to the discrepancy between what I am able to say and what I want to say. My conversation partners are largely unaware of my internal battle; what they hear coming out of my mouth are (fairly) intelligible sentences. On a good day.

What they don’t hear are all the words and thoughts that died a silent death on the way. I avoid “risky” grammatical constructions, and that great expression I stumbled across in a book last night and which would come in so handy right now, has left the memory banks for good. I sound like I’m cranking up a spluttering, second-hand speech generator by its rusty handle instead of being plugged into the mains.

Those unsuspecting friends of mine remain blissfully ignorant of the colourful diatribes that ricochet through my brain. My unvented sarcasm pools, like congealed blood, at the back of my throat, never reaching the vocal chords. My true personality thrashes around, bound and gagged, in the frayed straightjacket of my linguistic incompetence. Which goes a lot towards explaining, I guess, why people are still willing to hang out with me.

The unnerving – but also exciting! – dimension of this is that I’ve no idea, as yet, what I’ll sound like in Spanish once I do actually manage to sound like myself.

For me, there is no joy in staying on the well-trodden path, in regurgitating prefabricated phrases. What I love is messing around with words. But rather than contorting the Spanish language into a dissonant artifact that is going to grate native speakers’ eardrums to shreds, I’m dying to inject a dash of originality here and there, to break the rules in a way that is only possible once you actually know the rules. To have fun with language is an integral part of my being, and as long as I can’t do that, I’m just not going to sound like myself.

It is difficult to explain this process to someone who hasn’t been through it themselves. Some bi/multilingual people will describe it as “having different personalities in different languages”. This doesn’t quite hit the nail on the head, though. For one, it makes it sound like we have a mental disorder.

To me, fully integrating another language feels more like having a new module, a powerful processor, the mother of a mega-chip, hardwired into your PersonalityCPU. As the new part gradually comes to life, it starts to fuse organically with the existing linguistic units. Once the process is complete, they are quite capable of running independently of each other, while, at the same time, forming a multidirectional information superhighway so much bigger than the sum of its constituent parts. If this sounds like a paradox, that’s because it is. It leaves you forever changed, yet it’s still the same you.

When I look back at the first two monolingual decades of my life, it seems like I’d been cramped into a titchy hovel. Then Project English came along, adding not only a swish kitchen, but a whole new storey to the building.

Right now, I’m constructing a verandah, a conservatory, a patio, a pool – I’m landscaping an entire garden, in fact. As we all know, building works are a messy affair. There’s piles of rubble, mountains of dust, and raw, ploughed-up earth that is going to need smoothing over and planting.

But I’ll get there. In a few years’ time, I’ll be watering my lush flower beds and munching on my freshly harvested strawberries, while chattering to my Spanish neighbours across the fence. And I’ll sound just like myself.


You may also be interested in my specialist language blog, see here:


El Rastro. And “Peruvian” Food Afterwards.

I’ve already mentioned in a couple of posts that, a week ago, my friend Maria and I spent the day in Madrid. We meandered through El Rastro for hours, with the sun on our faces and the crowd thronging.

El Rastro is an enormous open air flea/artisan market held every Sunday in a part of town called La Latina. It’s crammed to the rafters with rusty old junk (aka “antiques”), delightful trinkets and arty stuff.

I’ve finally managed to go through the pics, and here’s a selection:



I’d not be surprised if a quite a few of those opened random doors in Toledo!


Tin Cars

Flamenco dresses

Eeeeeek… that’s me first thing in the morning!

Lamp shop

The Rastro is fun, but what’s missing, in my opinion, is food stalls. In the UK or in Germany, they’d have filled this glaring gap (and quite a few ravenous punters) by now.

No matter. While waiting for a bunch of Maria’s friends to join us, we stumbled across an interesting restaurant not far off the market, serving ‘Peruvian fusion’ cuisine. We had to wait for ages to get a table outside, and the service was excruciatingly slow, but the food was worth waiting for.

Deep-fried wontons and sweet and sour vegetables. ten out of ten for taste, and ten out of ten for photogenicity :)

Deep-fried wontons with sweet and sour chicken, vegetables and mango. Definitely more “fusion” than “Peruvian”. Ten out of ten, though, for taste, and another ten out of ten for photogenicity 🙂

We had to order Peru's signature dish, of course: ceviche. You'll find variations of this marinated fish and seafood dish all over Latin America.

We absolutely had to order Peru’s signature dish, ceviche. You’ll find endless variations of this marinated fish and/or seafood dish all over Latin America. This one was delicious!

Beef stir fry. Also pretty tasty.

It sure was a colourful day :)

It sure was a colourful day 🙂

My Friday Treat: Cheesecake!

And without further a do, here it is:

The actual cheese part was divine... not so keen on the base, which was a bit soggy, nor was I sold on the caramel sauce, although it looked pretty on the plate.

The actual cheese part was divine… I was less keen on the base, which was a bit soggy, nor was I sold on the rather strong-tasting caramel sauce, although it looked pretty swirled all over the plate.

While I was indulging in the above, something amusing happened at the table behind. A couple had ordered the apple pie, which I absolutely love. Some of you may remember my apple pie post (click here, if you’ve missed it), where I mentioned the fact that it always arrived on the plate looking like a total train wreck:

Apple pie

The apple pie casualty

Said customers behind me were so taken aback by its appearance, that they felt compelled to enquire whether the pie had been subject to some kind of an accident. The waitress duly rushed back into the kitchen, emerging, a few seconds later, with an entire specimen, in order to illustrate to the dismayed diners that the pie crust didn’t lend itself to being sliced up and retaining its integrity.

I took the opportunity to take a pic of the ‘virgin’ pie:

Entire Apple Pie

Aw, so beautiful… and so delicious!

The couple, by the way, greatly enjoyed eating their apple pie after they got over the shock 🙂

Look Up Look Down: The Legs Of La Latina

Spotted on Sunday in Madrid. There’s always something going on in La Latina! Perfect for travelwithintent’s Look Up, Look Down challenge, I thought 😉

What is this monstrosity, you wonder...

What is this monstrosity, you wonder…

Now it makes a bit more sense. Or not...

Now it makes a bit more sense. Or not…

La Latina is also the part of town that host an enormous market, El Rastro, every Sunday. There will be a post coming up on this shortly.

Bread Flowers

On my way home from lunch today, I spotted this original bread display outside the local bakery:

Flower bread

Reminds me of giant daffodils, spring has arrived! But… who’d want to break those works of art?!

And here’s an angled view, so you get a better sense of proportions, as well as a glimpse of the bakery’s interior:

Bread shop

I mentioned lunch, didn’t I? Here is what I had:

A delicious vegetable moussaka :)

A most delicious vegetable moussaka with hummus on the side 🙂

Now, before anyone comments, “What, no cake??”, let me assure you, I DID have cake for afters. It just wasn’t very photogenic, and, sadly, not overwhelming in the taste department either. Sigh. I’ll just have to wait until they start making their courgette cake again… now THAT was good.

A Cake Rant: Strudelgate

Apple strudel. It’s a simple concept. You roll out some pastry as finely as you possibly can (it may be flaky pastry or non-flaky strudel pastry, we don’t want to be too fussy here), you spoon on the apple filling, and then you roll it up into a foot-long tube shape. In the oven it goes, and plated up, a decent slice should look something like this:


See the swirly whorl?

“Strudel” is a German word that can mean any of following things: whirl, swirl, whorl, whirlpool, vortex, eddy. If you look at the pattern of a strudel slice in cross-section, it’s quite obvious why this delectable dessert item bears this name.

There is a point to all of this pastry preamble, as you’ll see in just a tick. The actual story goes like this:

On Sunday, Maria and I were out and about in Madrid, desperately hunting down some exciting cake after a fabulous luncheon (more on this in a subsequent post). Now, Maria isn’t normally all that much into sweet stuff, but *somebody* has been a very bad influence on her…

Eventually, we located a promising café. It happened to have apple strudel on the menu. As you can probably imagine, I was as surprised as I was delighted, and promptly ordered it. But then, this arrived:


Exhibit A: Does this look like strudel to you???

You don’t need to have an advanced patisserie degree to know that this ain’t no strudel, this is streusel. Apple streusel cake (Apfelstreuselkuchen), to be exact. “Streusel” comes from the German verb “streuen”, which means, of course, to “strew” or “sprinkle”.

The evidence speaks for itself: This thing the waitress shoved under my disbelieving eyes and flaring nostrils was all streuselly and not even a bit strudelly.

Granted, streusel and strudel have a fair few letters in common, but so do duck and dick. Not at all the same thing.

I was getting myself ready to stomp into the kitchen and give the chef’s streusels a bloody good strudelling, but gluttony got the better of me. Before the forensics team had any chance of bagging the evidence, my fork had invaded the crime scene, and a great big chunk of the offending article was making its way down my gullet.

And… it turned out to be a really fine piece of streusel, dammit!!!

Maria ordered a brownie, which was also pretty good

Maria ordered a brownie, which not only looked like a brownie and tasted like a brownie, but which was, indeed, a brownie. And a pretty good one at that.

Got any pastry impostor stories you care to share…? Or other menu items that were sold as one thing, but turned out to be something else entirely?

[Here’s a pic of my favourite kind of streusel cake 🙂 ]

My Friday Treat: Dulce De Leche

Imagine my outrage: I walk into my habitual Friday afternoon café here in Toledo (i.e. the one with the best cakes) looking forward to delicious torrijas. And…no torrijas!

The last two have just been sold. I turn around and give those two cackling bitches customers, who are gobbling up MY PRECIOUS, seemingly without a care in the world(!), the most evilest glare I can summon from the acrid depths of my displeasure.

Scanning through the cake display, I settle for a dulce de leche cake, which I have had before and quite liked.

“Dulce de leche” (doce de leite in Portuguese) is what you get when you boil sweetened/condensed milk for long enough for it to caramelise. It’s a really popular component of all manner of sweets and desserts across Latin America.

Dulce de leche

Ironically, the actual dulce de leche part of this cake is the glossy top layer, which I don’t like, and I just peel it off. It’s not the flavour that I find disagreeable, but the fact that it’s like a rubbery film that instantly fuses with the roof of your mouth.
What lies beneath, though, is glorious – a caramel-infused mousse followed by a creamy vanilla custard layer and a slightly chocolatey biscuit base… heaven 🙂

As much as I enjoyed it this with my cup of Earl Grey, I do hope there’ll be torrijas again next week. The torrijas season is short, and I’ve not had my fill of them yet. Here they are again, if you missed that post.