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3 posts from October 2011


the magic of la tabacalera

DSC_0220Two CIEE Madrid students help to get the massive paella started with the help of homestay host and activity coordinator, Marga

The Magic of La Tabacalera

By: Paul Runge (Macalester College)

By principle, I am not a blogger. Blogs can be… stupid. Especially livejournals. I wish those would all burn. 

The fact is I don’t really want to recount my experiences to you, non-existent reader. It wouldn’t be useful. Documentaries wouldn’t even exist if they didn’t have a point, or if they didn’t ask the viewer to take action. And, really, this blog entry would just be just that: a failed documentary. It wouldn’t have a lesson. 

The nitty-gritty is, I’m worried if I just wrote the minutes of what CIEE: Madrid did at La Tabacalera, I would really kill the magic of it all. Madrid is supposed to be a fantasy. We’re studying abroad because it’s supposed to cure us of something: fear, loneliness, disinterest, or most deadly, boredom. These experiences are meant to change us and incite us to take action. They are the compounding investments we make on the promise that in return we will think bigger, better, broader.  

The idea I’m getting at is that the experience we had at La Tabacalera may have changed us, or led us to do something new (hell, it did for me). But a blog entry that simply recounts things that happened won’t do that for you, reader.   

So I won’t even try. Instead, I’ll just give you two sentences on what we did. Then one of what I did afterword. 

Then I’ll try to do the real heavy lifting: describe some of the fantasy that exists at La Tabacalera, but in the simplest way possible, so to force you to imagine it. Maybe that’ll incite you to visit one day. Or donate. 

Alright, here we go. 

Two weeks ago CIEE: Madrid’s students and coordinators volunteered at La Tabacalera, a community center in Lavapies. We made cheaply priced paella for a generally working class audience, and had access to only the kitchens and cafeteria. 

Paul, along with fellow CIEE Madrid students, prepares the paella ingredients

I responded by returning (really, just by coincidence) to discover that there is much more to the space, and that it is, without doubt, the most magical place I’ve ever been blessed to visit. 

La Tabacalera is an old tobacco production compound, owned by the government until Franco died in 1975, after which it was abandoned. In its hay-day, it was one of the first places that women were permitted to work. Some of those first female workers are still alive today. 

In the early 80s, a complicated process of acquiring the abandoned site began. It started with squatters, mostly artists and homeless kids. Eventually the site was purchased by the neighborhood Lavapies as the site of a new community center. It was cleaned up and made into what it is today: an industrial beauty, a dharma bum punk-stoner hangout, a hedonist temple and a hellish but brilliant hole from which urban art crawls.  

Here are the floor plans. It is a walled city. The walls don’t keep people out, but the energy in. 

It has several bars, a cheap cafeteria to keep the skinny artists alive, a nave to host local bands, caverns dripping with graffiti and modern art, exposition space, an outdoor movie theater, a theater for plays, a skate park, a woodworking shop, a soap factory, urban agriculture, a patio surrounded by murals, a garden, free dance, art, language and literature workshops, a daycare and to top it all, a security office with on-staff guards. 

Entry is free. 

Those are the logistics. I’ll describe one scene and be done: 

A ska band wraps up its show in the nave. The walls have been painted with grey-brown figures that stand well over ten feet tall. Several hundred people are dancing. The bar has run out of beer. An old woman is sitting on the ground near the nave’s exit toward the patio. She smokes a joint with a teenage girl. In a nearby room an artist takes a polaroid photo of the woman and begins to paint her. Now she’ll live forever, even if she dies. Maybe she realizes that, because she finishes the joint, gets up and hugs the girl goodbye.

Contact and donate if you want:


One student's escape to Andalucia

A CIEE Madrid student looking out over Seville's famous Plaza de España

An Andalucian Adventure

By: Sheeva Shabahang (University of Minnesota)

This weekend a bunch of us embarked on a long and tiresome journey to Sevilla. The six grueling hours on a bus, however, definitely seemed worth it when we got there. From the second I got off the bus, I could see the apparent differences between Madrid and southern Spain.


Sevilla’s city center is filled with Medieval buildings that and are surrounded by the Guadalquivir river. Many of these ancient buildings have both Moorish and Christian roots, so the architecture is very unique. La Giralda (pictured above), for example, used to be a tower constructed by the Muslims, but during the Reconquista, it was converted into an enormous Gothic Cathedral. The tower still stands, but church bells and a statue were added to the top. Right next to La Giralda is the Alcazar, an old palace. These buildings, along with the cobblestone streets they sit on, have been restored and maintained very well. In comparison, Madrid also has old buildings, but they are more spread out and are lost within the city’s modern context. Also unlike Madrid’s Manzanares River, the Guadalquivir is the life of the city. You can always find people hanging out in the parks that border it. Sevilla might not have a beach, but jumping into the lake is the next best thing.

All in all, I would have to say that Andalucia has an identity of its own. It is a city with a history of mixing cultures, which can be seen in every facet of life in Sevilla.



It's all about ¡Real Madrid!

Real Madrid1 Three CIEE students getting geared up for the big game! (The sign reads: "American girl searching for a Real Madrid soccer player! Hala Madrid"

It's all About ¡Real Madrid!

By: Gina Borsari (Providence College)

    Last weekend, me and about 10 other kids from the group were able to get tickets to a Real Madrid game. It was their season home-opener versus their cross-town rivals, Getafe. The game started at 8pm but we decided to get there a few hours early to witness the craziness of the fans and the pre-game festivities. It was nothing less than we expected! Imagine any tailgate before a MLB game in the United States; futbol is their “American Pastime”.

    At 7:30pm we eagerly went inside to find our seats. It was a long hike up many stairs and escalators, but when we finally made it and stepped out into the stadium, it was one of the most amazing sites ever. 80,000 people and the greenest turf you’ll ever see…and just knowing that soccer legends Cristiano Ronaldo and Pepe were in the same building…I was in Heaven. The game began. If there were one word to describe the fans it would easily be Passionate. If there were one word to describe the players it would easily be Sexy…and I could find many people to agree with me on that one!

Real Madrid2 

    One thing I noticed was that no fans had signs or anything. Everyone wore their jerseys and they mainly held Real Madrid scarves or flags or just kept blowing their (annoying) horns. Well this made me feel like the odd one out because I had made a sign. It read “Chica Americana que busca a un jugador de Real Madrid!” …I mean I had to try! It obviously didn’t get me any attention with the players (too far away from the field for that!), but I did have a good number of Real Madrid fans ask me if they could take a picture with the me and the sign! Looks like I’ll be appearing in a few extra Facebook albums…make sure you tag me!

All in all, the game was quite the experience that I will never forget and I hope to go to at least one more game before going back to the States. And to make the game even better, Real Madrid won 4-2 so we got to witness some awesome goals (one by Ronaldo himself!) and of course, very happy fans. HALA MADRID!