San Isidro 2017 Festival in Madrid

Any excuse works for a good long festival in Spain. And most of the time these fiestas come with a public holiday to enable people to disfrutar (enjoy) the celebrations in good old Spanish fashion. Last weekend (12-15 May) was the San Isidro festival. San Isidro is the patron saint of Madrid, so the Municipality of Madrid put together an elaborate cultural programme featuring concerts, exhibitions, light shows, parades, dance events, food festivals, you name it, for the weekend. I usually plan my travels to coincide with long weekends, but I am so happy I stayed in Madrid for this very special puente (meaning bridge or long weekend). It really is impossible to get bored in Madrid, especially during San Isidro.

Now there were so many activities around Madrid for every age and taste, that you could not possibly go to all of them. The best thing about the festival is that all activities were absolutely free! The Spanish people don’t know how lucky they are. Families, teenagers, tourists… there was something for everyone in these fiestas! Considering that I religiously wake up late during weekends, I mostly chose to go to the evening/night activities. And sunset is at 21.30 during spring in Madrid, so these start at around 19.00ish and end at about midnight (just in time to catch the last buses and metro home).

Saturday 13 May

On Saturday, we went to Los 40 Primavera Pop concert in Puerta del Angel. When I saw the lineup, the only artists I knew were James Arthur (from the UK X Factor) and Bebe Rexha. It started at 19.00 sharp with DJs David Alvarez and Oscar Martinez setting the tempo with hits of the moment. Open air clubbing with Spanish teenagers? CHECK!!!

Then the radio DJs introduced the performing artists, most of whom were Spanish pop singers and bands that I did not know, but considering the excitement of the crowd, were very big at the moment. I really liked Taburete, Spanish heartthrob David Otero, not to speak of the several boysband types who really set the crowd on fire. Piso21, a reggaeton number from Colombia (Maluma, J Balvin type) came up for the first time in Madrid and they were awesome, the crowd went wild! And I was just a few metres away from these hotties, my inner teenager is still recovering from all the excitement. James Arthur was cool and sang his most popular songs, including Impossible and Say you wont let go. Bebe Rexha came in last at 00.30, and there was so much buildup that I felt a little bit disappointed with her performance, but that might have to do with the hours of standing up at that point.

Overall, I’m so impressed that such a concert with so many artists was completely free. It’s the second year that Los Primavera 40 concert is free, and I love Madrid for that. For a free concert, the crowd was very well behaved. The interludes were short in between the acts, and they tried to break the record for the biggest balloon in the world (which each time burst after about 10 seconds). A great insight into Spanish pop and a memorable first San Isidro experience for me.





Sunday 14 May

On Sunday, we decided to check out Parque de San Isidro, a park in the south west of Madrid, the very heart of the San Isidro festivities. I was expecting an actual park, not an immense expanse where the whole population of Madrid seemed to have converged! Madrilenas wore the traditional chulapa dress with a red flower in their hair and colourful silk mantillas (shawls), the men’s version is called chulapo and came with a checkered beret. The traditional dance of the chulapas and chulapos is called the chotis. The children were especially cute with their chulapas and chulapo outfits. I joined the hype as well by wearing a red clavel flower in my hair!


The park was filled with long arrays of food stalls selling traditional San Isidro food – rosquillas (some kind of donut), intestinos (intestines) and morcilla (blood sausage). Not to mention giant paellas being cooked on the spot. The slopes of the park were filled with people drinking cerveza (beer) and sangria, having a snack or just chilling listening to the live music. As soon as Despacito or any other similar music came on, couples spontaneously started to dance salsa in the streets. I observed that the Spanish people seemed to hold their alcohol quite well (I mean compared to the British and Mauritians – the only references I have). My friends told me yeah obviously they would, because drinking is such a big part of their culture, they are used to it. Also, they don’t drink to get drunk, but to socialise.







Monday 15 May

On Monday we went to Baile Social – Ritmos Latinos (social latino dance event) in Plaza Sanchez Bastillo, which is the square right next to the Reina Sofia Museum in Atocha. I have had only one salsa and bachata lesson so far, I was definitely not confident, but was curious enough to get over my cold feet, especially to check out the coreografía colectiva (collective choreography), which I thought might help me tick the “participating in a flashmob” item off my bucket list (turns out it was far from a flashmob thing).

The Baile Social included sessions of salsa, bachata (slower paced) and Kizomba (a more sensual, slower version of reggaeton). Now salsa is a completely different dancing animal to what I am used to (I am used to mostly normal clubbing dancing where you can dance socially with a partner or with friends). For salsa however, you have to dance with a partner, preferably male. And you have to let them lead. So the way it works, men walk around, check out the dancing of possible female partners and ask them to dance. It’s kind of stressful to tell you the truth, if you don’t get picked, or if you don’t feel very confident. But nothing that practice and a few glasses of sangria cannot help with, I’m told. Salsa is very trendy in Spain, and most people don’t mind putting in hours of practice in dancing schools to be able to dance the night away in the numerous salsa bars. I find it extremely difficult to follow a dance partner I am not used to, so I would advise anyone considering taking up salsa to learn the steps with someone you know and who you would be willing to go to salsa bars with. That way, no risk of not getting picked up and less chances of stepping on their toes! I have seen well-coordinated couples dancing salsa and it looks amazing – great for couple teamwork!


After the Baile Social we went to see the Espectaculos Piromusicales in Retiro Park. Basically that means music with fireworks, but it also included light shows on the Retiro lake. The park was packed with people, but the fireworks were totally worth it – a spectacular ending to the San Isidro festival.



Overall – Great San Isidro weekend!

Once again, I think the Spanish government got it right in terms of offering free cultural events for its people. It is so common now that it’s embedded in the Spanish lifestyle. Granted, it takes an efficient mix of tax money and sponsorships, but the benefits are enormous – tourism, sense of belonging, national pride, well-being of its people. I would much rather contribute towards well organised fiestas than towards expensive tomahawk missiles or ministers’ office cars and police patrols. Food for thought…

Madrid Diaries – First few months in Espana

Image result for madrid

It’s been four months since I moved to Madrid. I’ve never fallen this hard for a city before. It’s a weird feeling. Most of it is personal, I feel that Madrid is my very own, carefully packaged, personalized gift from the Universe. It’s like at 31, it’s the answer to my eternal question “So is there more to life than this?”. It’s no secret that 2016 had me dealing with a huge, life-changing blow which annihilated all my life plans and had me questioning everything – divorce. On the bright side, that ordeal made me realize that I had a rock solid support system made up of my family and friends. It also made me re-discover spirituality through meditation. And it forced me to tap into my inner strength, and re-invent myself as a person. There is nothing as powerful as the willingness to rediscover happiness. And just like that, Life gave me a silver lining – a job in Madrid.

I did Learning Spanish 1 at university 10 years ago. At that time, it seemed like an easy way to get good grades and understand Shakira songs. And I absolutely loved tapas and paella. Little did I know that these would actually come in handy 10 years later. With my biligual English/French, and some Hindi speaking skills, I never found communicating in foreign countries particularly difficult, until I came to Madrid. It was strange to realise that there was a whole world out there, about one third of the world’s population according to locals, who did not care the slight bit about hablar Ingles or speak English (Speaking English was discouraged under the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, so many people from the older generation speak zero English). So, out of need to make myself understood in the bus and in the supermarket, and out of respect for the culture, I am seriously learning Spanish. Even if mi espanol es muy basico ahora (my spanish is very basic at the moment), one of my goals for 2017 is to considerably improve it. It may be close to French but Spanish people speak very quickly and have an accent. And some of the letters (“v”, “c” and “j”) are pronounced differently. It’s lovely to listen to, but without practice it’s hard to adopt. A few useful words I have picked up so far, which Spanish people use often is Vale (OK) and Claro (Of course). Oh and particularly useful for ladies visiting Spain, Guapa means “Pretty” or “Beautiful” 😉 .The best way to learn is language exchange groups where you speak English for some time for those who want to learn English and the rest of the time they help you with your Spanish. I have never realized it before, but it took me 15 years of classes, reading, movies, television, and speaking to master English and French. Picking up a completely new language at 31 is proving to be hard, but it’s a welcome challenge. I’ve been telling myself that watching Narcos helps, as half of it is in Colombian Spanish. I don’t think I will be using La Puta de tu Madre anytime soon in my everyday conversation, but it’s fun to decipher the Spanish words in the series. I’ve also resorted to reading to improve my vocabulary and grammar (yes the verbs and tenses are as bad as in French) – bilingual Spanish-English books are very helpful. But the best way is to just go out there and speak to people, and not care about the risk of making a fool of yourself. Spanish people are very nice anyway.

Spain is a world in itself, with rich cultural history. There are many Latin American people in Spain, the obvious consequence of Spain having previously colonized these countries. People love and hate Christopher Columbus, depending on the region.Spain has its very own ski resorts, beaches, party islands, mountains, parks, you name it. Most people have no idea where Mauritius is. And there are not many Indian people in Madrid. So I mostly walk around feeling very exotic, which is something I never felt when I was living in the U.K.

In terms of political history, Spain has got its own issues for example with Basque and Catalan separatists. The country has been “run” by a fragmented parliament for the last couple of years (and has still been able to achieve economic growth). One of the biggest problem the country is having to tackle is the high unemployment rate (20% in 2016). And that is despite the fact that Spain has got many award-winning universities and that the average Spaniard seems to be well educated. According to locals, this is mostly due to the Spanish lifestyle.

“For Spaniards, work is just something that needs to be done in between tapas”. This is something I read in El Pais newspaper, in an article about youth unemployment. True and not true, in my humble opinion. By the way the siesta is a myth, which does not happen in Madrid work life. Madrid is far from a financial capital. Banking may be big, but it’s nothing as compared to a place like London. For those with office jobs, work starts at about 09 00 – 10 00. Lunch is at 14 00 – 15 00 (still getting used to that), and depending on work loads, finishes at 18 00 – 19 00. Then Spaniards usually have a light dinner at 22 00 – 23 00 then go to bed at about 00 00 – 01 00. Madrid is a nocturnal city, going out, having drinks and tapas is an essential part of the lifestyle. The metro is very clean and efficient and runs till 01 00 and even later on Friday and weekends.

Football is a big part of the life of Spaniards, especially Madrilenos. Most people prefer to support Atletico de Madrid or FC Barcelona over Real Madrid as the latter is the obvious winner and it’s no fun to support such a team. When there is a match, roads are closed, the Guardia Civil oversee the crowds on horseback and the atmosphere is electric.

Madrid has a rich cultural scene with an impressive number of museums, the entry to some of which are free on certain days. Drinks are cheap with a the price of a glass of wine, sangria or cava (sparkling wine) ranging from EUR 2.50 to 5.00. Drinks are meant to be had leisurely with tapas (small portions of food or starters) before the actual dinner. Most of the time the tapas by themselves make me full, so no need for dinner. Free concerts, exhibitions, street artists are everywhere. It is a great place for those who are on a budget and culturally curious. This is why Spain is a favourite tourist destination for lower middle class / middle class Europeans. It is a relatively cheaper destination, and you still feel a real change of scenery.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that Spanish people are very serious about deportes (sports). Parks, gyms and running tracks are everywhere. Spaniards pay special attention to their grooming and physical appearance. I’ve realized that Spanish people have dark hair and chiseled features because of Arab influences. Eye candy everywhere :)) The average Spaniard invests a considerable amount of time in their hobby, whether it is skating / surfing, bailar (dancing, especially salsa), hiking or playing a musical instrument.

Spaniards also love their pets and take them out for walks three times a day. I’ve seen all kinds of dogs from dalmatians, Chihuahuas, huskies (my personal favourtie) and St Bernards. Madrid Ayuntamiento or City Council is very well organised in terms of recycling and cleaning, being one of the justifications of the high rates of local government taxes.

Many people fall in love with the Spanish way of life, explaining the phenomenal number of expatriates in Madrid – Europeans, Americans especially, looking to flee their stressful home cities for a better, more balanced lifestyle. After four months in Madrid, I have to say, I totally get it.

Birdy Concert 6 Nov 2016


So last night this happened… very first concert in Madrid!!! There is nothing like live heart-renching, husky vocals, haunting lyrics and great acoustics to awaken the romantic indie teenager in me 😀

The concert opened with Dan Owen, a guy with messy hair (obviously!) from our dear old England. We were waiting patiently in the Sala Riviera concert hall, which was decently packed (mostly with people younger than me; but then again at 31, most of the cooler kids are inevitably younger), and this unassuming guy with messy hair and a guitar comes onto the stage alone and starts singing with the huskiest, gorgeous voice. His voice is so riveting that it took only a few seconds to win everybody’s attention! My favourite of his set is a song called Moonlight, a “campfire” ballad as he described it. You’re the moonlight in the darkness, making my skin hate the sunriseeeeeeeee… And then he did got his harmonica and did a faster track called Red Rooster, the crowd loved it! This guy is going to go places. One of the best opening acts I’ve experienced.

A few minutes after Dan’s last song, Birdy and her crew got onto the stage and she sat at the piano and opened with a track called Shadow from her new album Beautiful Lies. So wherever you go, I’m your shadow / Desert to ice flow, I will follow… That part of the song is still stuck in my mind since I first heard it.

Birdy is a great live act, and she looks like an angel. Seriously. The whole set was great, with my favourite parts being Wild Horses, Wings, People Help the People, and of course Skinny Love, which obviously gave me shivers. She also did a pretty cool version of Placebo’s Running up that Hill. And for the Otra (“Encore” in Spanish), Birdy called the “wonderful” Dan Owen for a love song called Let it all Go, which was pretty magical.

All in all, it was much better than I expected going to the concert knowing only 3 Birdy songs – I’m a fan! I totally recommend seeing Birdy live.

Movie Review- Captain Fantastic


You know the feeling when you go into a movie with zero expectations and end up being so moved and intellectually provoked that you feel the need to write about it? These are the best kinds of movies!

This movie is so not mainstream that I walked into the theatre expecting to watch a superhero movie. The movie opened on the breathtaking landscapes of the forests of the Pacific Northwest. All in all, if you love nature, are a hippie at heart and reject the notions of capitalism and organised society, this is THE movie to watch. But, other than the main theme of a family living autonomously, led by a “fantastic” patriarch, Ben Cash (very convincingly played by our very own ex Aragorn Viggo Mortensen) in the forest, away from civilization, the most interesting aspect of the movie is the director’s take on the notion of family. How parents shape their kids – the way they think, feel, behave, judge, act. In the movie, the kids undergo regular physical training during the day, learn how to subsist in the forest, hunt and skin game for food and take care of plants. More interestingly, they are home-schooled from scratch, and in the evenings, they read about quantum physics, mathematics, philosophy and literature. The children are also treated like real adults, being allowed to drink wine, to swear and are not cushioned by lies, but are told the bold truth because their parents trust them to be able to handle it well. The movie had really innovative notions about education – for example, when reading a book, they were discouraged to use the word “interesting”, instead they had to really critically analyse the way the text made them think and feel.

Training to make your body strong during the day, hunting for food, reading to feed the brain, and making music to bond as a family. Who needs anything else, really? It seems like the director Matt Ross made a movie about his dream way of best raising up his kids. Being able to wholly influence your kids in the “right” direction, with the right values, ways of critical thinking, right music, books, philosophies – this must be every parent’s fantasy.

Now for the matriarch. The movie starts with the news that the mother, Leslie, was bi-polar and could not be treated, even in the best facilities, and ended up ending her life. The six children are devastated – they want to attend the funeral. So they inevitably have to take their bus from their home to drive to New Mexico where Leslie’s parents were planning an elaborate funeral for her – when she wanted to be cremated. The scenes of the Cash children dealing with civilisation are hilarious, and each of the six children are extremely charming in their own unique way.

Well, however, like with all escapism stories (think the Beach movie), their underlying philosophy are put to test by the notion of physical and mental “safety”. Ben starts to blame himself for Leslie’s disease and for putting the children at risk. The movie has a mushy ending which almost (Ok, it did!) bring tears to my eyes, especially with this song which means so much to me already (this version is sung by the cast): Sweet Child of Mine

In fact, the whole movie soundtrack is epic, it makes me feel like I am actually in the Pacific Northwest forests in a bus called Steve. The soundtrack features the likes of Israel Nash, Sigur Ros, Jonsi and Alex, really, music for the soul. Whole soundtrack listing can be checked out here:

Anyway, a must watch – for parents, for wannabe parents, for families, for hippies, ex-hippies, those fed up with predictable movies, for those who want to be moved, for nature lovers, for a change – please watch it!

Best movie quote:

Rellian (the most angry and rebel of the 6 kids) :“If you assume that there is no hope, you guarantee that there will be no hope. If you assume that there is an instinct for freedom, that there are opportunities to change things, then there is a possibility that you can contribute to making a better world”.

Rating: 8.5