Amanda Bennett: A Year in Zaragoza, Spain

Madrid: Lunes 9 hasta Viernes 13 | Thursday November 20, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — psychohistoria @ 8:26 am

Luckily the Senate building was close enough to the hotel that we could walk. It was our first stop on Thursday morning, and the fresh air woke us up. In Spanish, the word for government, “gobierno”, doesn’t refer to the entire political body that governs the nation, but only the executive branch, consisting of the President (chosen from the senate by the senate) and his ministers (what we might call his “administration”, as in “the Bush administration”). The whole shebang is called “el Estado”, the State. The Senate is one of the two houses in the legislative branch, the other being the House of Representatives. Representatives at least (we haven’t studied the Senate in Political Sciences yet) are voted for party, not by name. If I wanted to support, for example, the Partido Social Obrero de España (PSOE), I would go into the voting booth and mark “PSOE”, not “Juan Riviera” or “Luisa Goya”. Say the number of seats in the Congress available for my autonomous community is 30. Before the election, the party would have drawn up a list of 30 candidates for spots as representatives. If the party then wins 50% of the vote, the first 15 candidates on the list will become representatives.

The daily routine of a senator is actually quite busy, filled with meetings and conferences, and every week or two a grand meeting with the President and ministers to find out first hand through questions and answers about what the executive branch is up to.

After the Senate, we boarded the metro for a 30-minute ride to the outskirts of Madrid where the publication offices of El Mundo, probably the second or third most read newspaper in Spain, are located, along with other publications such as Marca (a sports newspaper which is the most-read Spanish language publication) and Económica (an economics weekly). Right in front of the place where the tour began was a glass office where a meeting of the editorial board was convened, deciding the layout and choosing the articles for the day’s paper. A few journalists were at their desks, but most were absent, out doing field work. The work on the day’s newspaper begins at 8 or 9 in the morning and doesn’t end until the wee hours of the night, or more technically the morning of the next day. The building also sported an audio recording room, mainly for purposes of El Mundo’s website, and a radio station. I was surprised that everyone works so close together – I figured that the Scroll had such small quarters simply because we were stuck in a basement, but even in El Mundo everyone works side-by-side, and each paper is a true team effort.

After we left the offices, we boarded the metro to head back downtown where we dispersed throughout the city for lunch. I found a great vegetarian restaurant, and although I once again ate alone due to lack of interest from the others in a vegetarian place, the food was so good that it kept me company. Before a meeting of the political science class at 5 o’clock, I had time to stop back at El Prado to visit the wing I’d run out of time for the day before.

Our class met in a Moroccan tea place, where we all ordered different types of tea which each came in their own individual silver teapot with a small glass cup. We discussed a future project, a poll to discover the public opinion of politics in Spain (what a huge goal for a small class in a tiny school!), and brainstormed some hypothesis: the people feel disconnected because they don’t know the names of their representatives, young people are uninterested and uninformed because they aren’t educated about the political system, the media portrays politics as a dishonorable and lazy vocation…grand sweeping statements to hopefully be disproved by a public survey at some point in the future.

As we drank the last drops of our tea and adjourned the meeting, I asked Antonio (the political science teacher) the way to the Museo de la Reina Sofía, Madrid’s more modern art museum. He walked me and a few other interested students almost all the way there, where I stayed until the closing time of 9. A couple of the exhibits were a bit too abstract for me to enjoy, but I loved all the Picasso, his masterpiece “Guernica”, and the Joan Miró and Dalí as well. The building was gorgeously designed, with glass elevators looking out over a plaza and a giant glass library. I will definitely have to spend some more time exploring the museum, library, and café when I return to Madrid.

Looking forward to the crepes and cheese waiting in the hotel room, I decided to walk back to the hotel, detouring slightly to walk through the Plaza Mayor, which was lovely lit up at night. I arrived at the hotel around 10-ish, but not before stopping at a wonderful looking panadería I’d passed many times and finally had a moment to stop in to. The loaves were sold by the whole, half, or quarter, with each loaf being probably a foot and a bit more in diameter. As soon as I saw the sign for sourdough rye, I knew what I was getting – the first sourdough I’d found in Spain, and by far the best bread I’d eaten yet! I managed to resist consuming the whole glorious piece right there and saved the majority of it to pair with cheese for lunch the next day.

With a great pressure to finish off the eggs, I made another few batches of crepes for my roommates and friends, and we popped some popcorn as a wonderfully American accompaniment.

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