Friday, January 31, 2014

at a temple of sherry

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Back to business. School's been tough, as usual; the academics, I can (more or less) deal with. The other stuff? An absolute waste of time. Why can't we just go about our business, put all the self-righteousness aside, and stop judging others? Evidently a difficult concept to grasp, even for (some) MBA's. We're a silly, boring, unimaginative group. I'm sad to say that Jose's opinion of us is very justified.

Who's Jose? I have to first back it up a bit. It's been a while since I wrote - travelling photos don't really count. We want to think that what we're writing has meaning, has depth, has soul. We're allowed to have our delusions of grandeur - thank you, dear reader, for indulging this wino for so long. What do I always say about wine? What do I always say? The great wines are the wines that speak not only to your tongue, lips, and head, but also to your heart ... your spirit. I've been thinking about this for a long time, because the owners here aren't too crazy about being written about, but I have to share it with you. More than the wines here, it's the soul of the place that left my head spinning and my heart racing.

La Venencia, a magical little sherry bar in Madrid. Named after the traditional wine thief used to draw a measure of sherry out of the bota. A friend of a friend took us here, and stepping inside was a step back in time. Old wood everywhere, dusty posters from what looked like the early 1900's, dark barrels along one wall, and the distinct feeling that a bar full of (Spanish) eyeballs were suddenly starting at this group of 4 Asians and 1 Venezuelan. Crowded and noisy and local. My kind of bar. We sort of half squeeze, half push our way into the middle, where there stood (I swear) a dead ringer for John Malkovich. Darker hair, moodier, but an absolutely uncanny resemblance. They apparently purchase sherry by the barrel here, filling up their own bottles to pour. There's a selection for each style - fino, manzanilla, palo cortado, amontillado, and oloroso. Who cares about producer. Who cares about vintage. The manzanilla and amontillado were simply stunning. They mark your order in chalk right on the wooden bar, where you stand, adding it up when it's time to pay. The tapas is good too - the cecina was excellent, as were the olives, but what was most surprising (and delicious to my Japanese colleagues) was the cured cod roe, above. Yeah, those huge orange strips. Cured in huge blocks (not unlike sopressata salami), it's from Andalusia, and per Jose, one of the owners, not even the Spanish really know about it, much less eat it. And I can see why. It's fishy like you wouldn't believe, and the sticky texture certainly doesn't help. Wow, does it have length.

This place is such a one-off. From the ambiance to the curmudgeons behind the bar (who will warm up to you if you're nice), this place is authenticity and honesty. The second night we were there, the bar was a bit quieter ... just a bit quieter. So we had a chance to talk with Jose. He's one of those characters from another time, when people seemed more sociable, more jovial, more relaxed, more human. Quotable, even in another language, he complained that speaking in English makes my throat itch. He explained the solera system (pictured above), he talked about cecina de vaca, he talked a bit about why sherry was an interesting wine, to a point (I don't believe in counting the age of wine ... it can have a teardrop of a wine of 15 years). But man, we went deep that night ... deep and real heavy.

We went all philosophical. Jose has this rule that you can't take pictures inside the bar. Everything else seems to be laid-back, free for all. So why no photos, why do phones need to be put away? The answer turned out to be simple, really. It's a matter of principle, of the deep belief that Jose and his comrades have - that the most important thing of La Venencia isn't the wines or the food, or even them for that matter. The only thing that matters and is worth protecting is something he likes to call the soul of the place. Allowing photos and other incivilities robs such a beautiful place of that indefinable quality.

Why is it important, this whole notion of soul and spirit and principle? Is it even a real thing? We met one of his regulars, Javier, who coincidentally is also an IESE graduate. He put it simply - look at this place. There is no business model in the world that can explain why it is success. It makes no sense. But now that you are here, you can see it for yourself. This place is alive, where people can take a sherry and talk with friends, and enjoy life. Jose has a unique perspective on his bar, business-wise. He told us, I'm no worried about customers. We do fine. That's why I don't want people go to computer, type type type, and all other people come. Poor business sense? Narrow-minded and stuck in the past?  Spanish? Perhaps. But we need more people like Jose ... dreamers, hedonists, artists, and idealists. We need them to protect these noble ideals, to preserve imagination, courage, and authenticity in wine.

You MBA's? No, I won't explain to you. You don't understand.

DF

Thursday, January 30, 2014

新年好!

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It's the new year! As you can see, buried in cases, Spanish classes, and other (fun) school-related activities. Fun-tivities. Something simple for dinner, away from family. Some pork ribs I had in the freezer, some rice. But I had to drink something that reminded me of wine, as cheap and borderline drinkable as it was. So, a Shaoxing wine normally reserved for cooking. More a symbolic gesture, really, but it worked. Looking forward to big things in the year of the horse!

DF

Fuente de la Amapola

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The Fountain of the Poppy, in Sacromonte, Granada. As local legend has it, drinking from the fountain brings you kisses from centuries of people who've walked the narrow alleys, climbed the sacred mountain, gazed upon the Alhambra. And, as our lovely guide Rosa told us, it makes you 10 years younger too. 
DF

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

the Moor's last sigh

As the Reconquista of the Reyes Católicos claimed the last Muslim stronghold in Spain, Muhammad XII, former lord of the Alhambra, led the royal party south, towards exile. Legend has it that as he reached the last overpass that afforded him a view of Granada and his beloved palace, he reined in his horse, gazed down into the valley for the final time, and promptly burst into tears. His (formidable) mother proceeded to say thus ...

ابك اليوم بكاء النساء على ملك لم تحفظه حفظ الرجال
Thou dost weep like a woman for what thou couldst not defend as a man


And so, that pass was forever called Puerto del Suspiro del Moro - Pass of the Moor's Sigh. The Spanish love telling that story.

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DF

Sunday, January 26, 2014

it's in the details

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Every room, every courtyard, every hall of the Alhambra seems to be filled with hidden surprises ...
DF

shapes and patterns

The geometry, the symmetry, the intricacy, the design. The Alhambra is full of surprises. In the Islamic context, they signify the visualization of the infinite nature of Allah, extending past the visible, material world. The motifs, done in tile and stucco, are undergoing a massive restoration, as the palace suffered from centuries of neglect. The inscriptions are significant too, with the motto of the Nasrid Dynasty given most prominence - 'There is no victor except God'.
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Saturday, January 25, 2014

the courtyards of Alhambra

The Calat Alhambra, the grand palace that served as fortress and court of the Nasrid Dynasty, the last Muslim rulers in Europe. Described as 'a pearl set in emeralds', it was used by Christian rulers after the Reconquista. Overlooking the city of Granada, set against the Sierra Nevada mountains, Alhambra is a stunning sight. Majestic yet filled with the most amazingly intricate architectural details ... the photos simply don't do it justice.
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Thursday, January 23, 2014

the bright lights on the hill

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We had yet another career workshop today. She started off with 'how many of you are interested in finding a job?' Not a great start. Did I find the rest of the session useful? In a word, no. Maybe it's her style, maybe it works with her corporate clients, but at the very least, I think we deserved the courtesy of a proper powerpoint presentation. Stylus-drawn Paint documents are cute and all, but analogies drawn in Paint of 'good managers are like tall trees, and bad managers are like bushes' don't exactly rouse enthusiasm.

I found both Sevilla and Granada to be absolutely stunning at night. They light up the buildings in an amazing amber light. Combined with the dark, starry night sky, it's all very imposing, majestic, all those grand words. Alhambra is especially beautiful at night. High up on the hill, bathed in light. Like the Queen of Sheba laying eyes on King Solomon's palace for the first time, there's a sense of wonder and other-worldliness to Alhambra. From another age, as splendid as it was all those centuries ago.

DF

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

How do you prepare a business case?


I'm so excited to share this - towards the end of our first term at IESE, my team - #TeamB5 - was approached by the MBA Office about participating in a new video describing the case study method. A film crew would film one of our Analyzing Business Problems classes and our team meeting, and conduct individual interviews with the members of our team. An easy yes. And now, the finished product. I hope that it helps whoever is researching, or deciding on business schools to learn more about the case study method, and feel the energy of the class and of our team. So incredibly proud of my teammates. Out to celebrate tonight!

DF

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

beat, and then we turn the corner ...

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I am utterly and totally exhausted. Not proud of it, but I nodded off in class today and was caught by my professor. Shameful. My bad. But I've been working my ass off, preparing 3-4 cases a night, as well as keeping up with Spanish class. Modulo 4 finals in 2 weeks. Will I finally feel caught up? Maybe not - maybe for this entire MBA I'll feel out of breath, running on leaden feet. So we learn to find pleasure in the little things.

From Sevilla, we took a very, very early morning train to Granada. Worst idea ever. You can't go out late at night, so that night is wasted. You lose sleep catching the train, so by the time you arrive at the destination, all you want to do is nap. So this whole idea of let's get to the next place early so we have more time to explore is nonsense. Travelling isn't a race to hit as many guidebook must-sees as you can. So, that afternoon, still groggy from illness and lack of sleep, we wandered up to Albayzín. There wasn't much to see, most of the cafes were closed, and it was just an absolute labyrinth of tiny alleys and uneven cobblestone roads. And then we turned the corner, arriving at the Mirador San Nicolas. I sat down, taking in the view, the air, the sun. Not bad, Granada. Not bad.

DF

Monday, January 20, 2014

on broad, stone shoulders

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The grand cathedral of Sevilla, the Catedral de Santa María de la Sede, its construction on top of a former mosque spanning from 1402 to 1517. Holding the (still disputed) remains of 'The illustrious and excellent man, Don Colon, Admiral of the Ocean Sea'. Local legend says that members of the cathedral chapter proclaimed, 'Let us build a church so beautiful and so great that those who see it built will think we were mad'. And mad they were. Travelling around Europe jades you in all its cathedrals and basilicas and chapels, but this is really impressive. Epic, even. Puts the fear and awe of god in you, whether you're a believer or not. From the massive pillars to the naves, to the ornate carvings and of course, the incredible Giralda ... simply an amazing testament to faith, perseverance, commitment, and purpose. As I climbed up the Giralda, the former minaret of the mosque that stood here until Muslim rule, I kept thinking those words. Sure, business school makes you a bit cynical (ie. yet another example of the power and influence, both financial and political, of the Catholic Church), but there's also vision here. There's artistry and craftsmanship. It has endured the test of time. The gardens were beautiful; I was especially interested in the stone tiles built around the orange trees. And of all the views of the cathedral, my favourite was at night, when it's lit up. Against a starry night, moon bright and shimmering ... the facade indeed takes on an ethereal glow.
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Sunday, January 19, 2014

flying down south, gazing at grandeur

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I jetted down south to Andalusia, landing in Sevilla in the early morning. After taking a much needed nap, strolled out into the bright sun and stumbled into the Kingdom of Wadiya. The Plaza de España, built in 1928 for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929. The Renaissance Revival style of Spanish architecture in all its grand, stony glory. The bridges, the tower, the alcoves ... a monument to Spain. 
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DF