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OCTOBER 31st- MADRID, SPAIN HAPPY HALLOWEEN!
Well, that must qualify for the longest silence on this journal page since it began in 2002. Wow, has it been four years already? Where does the time go? Tomorrow's the first of November, and I've completely missed the month of October...

However, rumours of my death or certain incarceration have been greatly exaggerated. I assure you I am alive and quite well, and am free to leave the confines of my office whenever I please. The fact that I rarely take advantage of that freedom is a matter of priorities. As some of you know, Maria and I are working on a TOP SECRET PROJECT, and our deadline is nearing. In just a few weeks, a privileged few of you will be allowed a preview of the masterpiece about which I am currently bound to silence.

So rather than tease you with something that I'm simply not going to talk about, I'll give you a bit of what else we've been doing, when we're not working on that super-dooper highly classified top secret project. October has been a great month for parties and get-togethers, and there have even been a few visitors to the Savage/Marcelo household.

At the beginning of the month, we had a visit from my cousin Matt and his new wife Alesia, who live in London. In fact, their weekend in Madrid was a celebration of their first wedding anniversary! You may remember it was one year ago that Maria and I jetted off to ROME for a wedding... well these are the happy couple.

.. Left: Matt, Alesia and me in La Latina, Madrid. Right: Matt, Alesia, Maria and me at the Templo de Debod, Madrid. Click on photos for larger image.

My friend Wendy was throwing a barbecue the afternoon that Matt and Alesia arrived, and she said it would be no problem to feed two extra mouths... as long as we brought an esky full of iced San Miguel!! Wendy has the most awesome terrace in all of Madrid - it's almost as big as our previous apartment. And everyone commented at how beautifully her apartment had been RENOVATED!! It was an unseasonably warm afternoon, in fact the whole month of October has been unusually warm. Our German friend Stefan did a terrific job on the barbecue. In the picture, he is grilling some asparagus and mushrooms for the token vegetarians, but prior to that he did the most splendid job of barbecuing German-style sausages. They were more like frankfurts that we would normally boil in water, but Stefan insisted that they are better on a BBQ... and he was right!

.. Left: Wendy and Jamie. Right: Stefan, the best grillmaster this side of Munchen. Click on photos for larger image.

It was a pleasure to meet Jamie, the guy who sent me what has undoubtedly been my most cryptic CHALLENGE, and as always a pleasure to eat more than my share of Candy's chocolate cake!



And you'll be glad to know that I also performed dutifully as the grillmaster's assistant, a crucial but underrated and often unappreciated role...

1. The grillmaster's assistant will, at all times - except for during brief bathroom breaks - remain by the side of the grillmaster, providing moral support even if all others abandon for warmer/cooler/more pleasant surrounds such as the kitchen or loungeroom. (This committment may be voided by heavy rainfall, hail, snow or plagues of locusts.)

2. The grillmaster's assistant will ensure that, at no time during the grilling operation, is the grillmaster's beverage empty.

3. The grillmaster's assistant will offer encouragement and advice. For example, "those steaks are looking good" or "you should move those sausages to a cooler part of the grill now" or "those chops are almost ready to come off"

4. In the event that the grillmaster is in need of supplies, such as plates, bowls, utensils, oil etc, the grillmaster's assistant will either fetch said suppplies, or yell to one of the sheilas to fetch them.

5. In the event that the grillmaster requires a brief bathroom break, the grillmaster's assistant will assume control of the barbecue. Having said this, the grillmaster should ensure that at the time of taking a bathroom break, nothing should actually need to be DONE in his absence. Remember that the grillmaster's assistant is not actually there to DO anything, but rather to facilitate the role of the grillmaster.

6. The grillmaster's assistant will support the grillmaster in the event of any problems/complaints. For example, if the grillmaster receives a complaint that the steaks are overcooked, the grillmaster's assistant will leap to his defence with accusations that the complainant wouldn't know a good steak if they were slapped across the face with it. The complainant actually getting slapped across the face with a steak, while unlikely, is also quite possible, depending on a number of factors, including previous alcohol consumption by the grillmaster's assistant.

7. As the grillmaster will likely be occupied by the task of grilling, it will be the responsibility of the grillmaster's assistant to scope out the chicks, and make sure that the grillmaster is promptly notified of anything that they should be aware of. In the interest of the grill team maintaining a professional appearance, this will be done with a level of discretion only possible through many years experience as a grillmaster's assistant. For example, the grillmaster's assistant may point at the steaks, while mumbling "Over your left shoulder, the girl in the white top has her headlights on high beam".

8. In the event of a technical problem with the barbecue itself, the grillmaster's assistant will crawl underneath the barbecue and poke around with a screwdriver, spanner or butter knife, making seemingly knowledgeable comments such as "looks like the regulator manifold could be blocked, these cheap barbecues often suffer from that problem". This is much less to do with actually fixing the problem than it is to do with removing any possible blame from the grillmaster, since the grillmaster's assistant really knows nothing about the workings of a barbecue. 9. The grillmaster's assistant will ensure that, at no time during the grilling operation, is the grillmaster's beverage empty. The fact that this has been listed twice is not an accident.

10. At the point of the grilling operation reaching completion, and the barbecue being turned off, the grillmaster's assistant is immediately relieved of any further duties, and will return to the crowd as a regular diner. The grillmaster's assistant assumes no responsibility for cleaning the barbecue.

11. Any praise or gratitude expressed by the diners to the grillmaster will also be directed to the grillmaster's assistant, since without him, none of this would have been possible.

..

On the Sunday, our apartment grew even busier, with the arrival of my brother Phil. Phil had been planning a short holiday in Thailand, and he figured well, if he's going as far as Thailand, he might as well come a bit further and see some of Spain! That's him and Maria in Puerta del Sol, in the centre of the city, and on the right I'm teaching him to drink Ajo Blanco, the magnificent cold garlic soup that Maria's Mum makes. Yes, it is one of the recipes in our famous SPANISH COOKBOOK. Once again, click on the photos to view larger images.

The day after Phil left to check out France, we were visited by my friends Glenn and Shirley, from Pleasant Shade, Tennessee. You might remember them, since I visited not just ONCE, but TWICE. (When you follow those likns, scroll down for the journal entries marked 'Pleasant Shade, Tennessee)

That's what happens if you treat me too well when I visit. I come back! After spending a week with them in September 2003, I just had to get back for some of Shirley's country ham and home made biscuits. So when it came time for me to publish my first book, "EVERYWHERE BUT MISSOURI, MATE!", I did my best to find a publisher in Tennessee. And now, another two years down the track, it was my turn to cook for Shirley. So I whipped up a table full of fried herb mushrooms, grilled tomato, scrambled eggs, crispy bacon. I think I did okay. We were certainly all ready to visit a few of Madrid's cervecerias after that feed.



If you're wondering why I put Natalie Portman's eyes on Glenn, it's because the guy simply refused to keep his eyes open for a photograph...

...

I mean, jetlag is one thing, but it was like he'd been bitten by a TseTse fly!!! Oh, hold the bus, here's a shot where he did manage to keep his eyes open for a split second...



So what's up with the guy in the funny clothes, you ask? Well, he's a tuno. Sound fishy? It's not. The Tunas are university student music bands that date as far back as the 1215 with King Alfonso X, the Wise. Mainly the groups were begun by students of not so high birth in order to generate moneys for their studies.

Today, these bands, the Tunas, provide entertainment at parties and in some typical traditional restaurants around the country. With their Castillian costumes, the Tunas are still a big part of the social life of university students. Apparently, many young musicians aspire to become tunos, and where very few are selected.

"To be a tuno is a selective part of university life to which many students aspire. Their general characteristics as described before are their humor and their artistic abilities, but they go beyond that, for even though they may not want to recognize it, a tuno also enchants the young ladies for their hearts. They have a fame to be womanizers and heart thieves; titles which they never own so they say. Their movements and travelling, for even today, tunas travel within Spain and abroad the world, they do so with hardly no money, or as we say in Spanish "a la aventura"(in an adventurous way)."

And that night, Maria and I had a special occasion to attend. Maria's father, after almost fifty years of service to the same company, was finally retiring. He was very proud to be surrounded by his friends and family on such a special occasion.





So, in signing off, I'll leave you with a couple of my favourite recent shots from around Madrid. The first is the San Francisco Cathedral, and the second is the colourful ceiling of the nearby Cathedral Almudena, which adjoins the Royal Palace...