Wednesday, April 14, 2010

14/4/10: Quirky Madrid

Visiting Madrid but sick of following those well-worn paths to the same old tourist traps? Here’s our alternative guide to the off-kilter gems of this one-of-a-kind city.

Visiting Madrid but sick of following those well-worn paths to the same old tourist traps? Every guidebook you read will mention the art museums, the palace, the bull ring and the tapas restaurant that only absolutely everyone visiting the city will know about, but what about the sights that make it truly unique? Here’s our alternative guide to the off-kilter gems of this one-of-a-kind city.

The turtles in Atocha train station

 Atocha Station's Tropical Garden

(Almost) as good as going to the Madrid Zoo, the oldest part of the city’s Atocha train station has been provided with an indoor tropical garden and nature habitat following its redesign by architect Rafael Moneo. At the front of this garden area there’s a pool which is filled to the brim with turtles swimming in the water, crawling on the rocks, or more often than not sitting extremely – almost disturbingly – still. Whilst their health is frequently debated (you may find yourself wondering if some of them might in fact be, well, dead) this hasn’t stopped people gathering to observe them whilst waiting for their trains.

Apparently all the turtles in the pond have been brought there by the people of the city so whilst this could be a case of ‘a turtle’s for life, but someone else can take care of it after Christmas’ it has, at least, provided otherwise neglected turtles with an alternative habitat in this landlocked city.

Chamberí Metro Musuem

Olde Worlde charm at the Chamberí metro station

Or as you might be tempted to call it: the ghost station. Located on metro line 1 between the Bilbao and Iglesia stations, the Chamberí metro station closed in 1966 when the Ministry of Public Works realised they couldn’t modify the platform to accommodate modernised trains. It fell into disrepair and then decay though the track that ran through it was maintained because of its position on the metro line.

In 2008, 42 years after its closure, the station reopened as a public museum designed in the style of the train stations of old to commemorate the metro’s past.  Entry is free and the station is open from 11am every day except Mondays. Whilst by no means a large place (the majority of the museum lies along the platform), it’s full of character, with old-style advertisements and original features giving visitors the curious sensation of being separated from reality and out of sync with the modern world. As the trains that whizz past get only a fleeting look at the station hopefully someone is looking out wondering if they just imagined you….

Cine Doré

Another restored gem of the city is the Cine Doré, one of Madrid’s first cinemas and still where the Spanish National Film Library’s archives are screened. Its three screens offer an eclectic line-up of films in their original language as well as seasons dedicated to a specific director or film movement.

The beautifully maintained main auditorium, with its connected cafe and bookstore, is the best place to experience the theatre but its rooftop bar comes a close second – outdoor screenings are held here throughout the summer.

The cinema’s website is updated monthly with their programme; film tickets cost less than three euros.

The ‘Heavies’ of Gran Vía
Punk rockers and 'political activists' (!) Emilio and José

Madrid’s principal street Gran Vía is celebrating 100 years of existence this year but nothing on this famous street has made a deeper impression, locally at least, than the infamous ‘Heavies of Gran Vía’.

The 41-year-old twin brothers Emilio and José Alcázar have dedicated the past five years to standing outside the Bershka clothing store on Gran Vía every evening. Why you ask? Well, Bershka occupies the site where their favourite hangout, music store Madrid Rock, used to be. To keep the memory of the store alive they spend every day on the pavement outside the entrance. Think David engaging in a benign protest against the global Goliaths of homogenisation – in this case Spanish clothing chain Inditex – and you’ve got the idea.

Now as much a part of the landscape as the famous Schweppes sign that looms nearby, the brothers have a facebook fan page and Madrid tourism are asking for tourists’ pictures with the brothers via their social networking sites. Weird yet wonderful, and only in España!

14/04/2010: Cinematic CV – Audrey Tautou

Often touted as the next Audrey Hepburn and always associated with her quirky interpretation of the adorably eccentric Amélie, Running in Heels examines the cinematic CV of enigmatic French actress Audrey Tautou.

First major films: Venus Beauty Institute and Amélie
Most recently released film: Coco before Chanel
Significant acting awards to date: César award for Most Promising Actress (1999)

“It was a passion, of course, but I thought I would give myself one year, and if at the end I hadn’t done what I wanted, I would do something else.”
Audrey Tautou, 2005

Audrey Tautou may be one of France’s finest actresses but she could have just as easily have been something completely different if things hadn’t gone her way. Fortunately, she didn’t have to confront the possibility of failure for long though – she won the ‘Most Promising Actress’ award at the Césars (the French equivalent of the Oscars) for her very first major film role.

Early Work in French Cinema

Tautou’s role in Venus Beauty Institute (1999) garnered her industry acclaim but she was catapulted to worldwide fame courtesy of her role as the title character in Amélie (2001), the adorably quirky tale of a young waitress in Montmartre who dedicates her life to bringing happiness to others.

It’s interesting – almost frightening, even – to think that Tautou was not director Jean –Pierre Jeunet’s first choice for the role: he had originally written the part for Emily Watson, who eventually withdrew from the role. Having spotted Tautou’s face on a poster for Venus Beauty Institute, he took a chance in casting this still relatively unknown actress as Amélie. Ultimately, her portrayal of the wide-eyed and eccentric Amélie was instrumental in the film’s success, as she captured the heart of filmgoers worldwide.

In the years following the success of Amélie, Tautou seems to have chosen to remain beneath the radar, shirking big budget movies and the high-profile offers which surely must have come her way.

 Definity more pretty than dirty in dirty pretty things

She did take her first English speaking role in gritty drama Dirty Pretty Things (2002), during this period although she seems to have preferred to stay within the French film market. Another film she acted in during this period is cult Erasmus favourite Pot Luck  (L’auberge Espanole – 2002) - a brilliantly funny take on the year abroad experience.

Her next major success in a film role came courtesy of a second collaboration with Amélie director Jean–Pierre Jeunet, in A Very Long Engagement (2004). Whilst many wrongly presumed the film would by ‘Amélie 2’, it too achieved much success garnering Tautou nominations for Best Actress at both the César and European Film Awards.

Oozing Gallic Glamour as Chanel

Hollywood Calls!

Given Tautou’s apparent penchant for smaller movies, her presence in The Da Vinci Code (2006) came as a surprise to many, not least the actress herself; ‘I really didn’t think I was right for it either… it’s certainly not my dream to drop everything for Hollywood’ . This, her first Hollywood production, did not win her any industry acclaim but it did mark her first steps into the big leagues playing opposite Tom Hanks in the film version of the bestselling novel by Dan Brown, making her more recognisable among film audiences worldwide.

Whilst more French movies followed her foray into Hollywood, Tautou choose to remain in the spotlight taking on the role of leading lady Coco Chanel in the biopic of the fashion designer Coco Before Chanel (2009). Whilst it by no means clear where Tautou will go from here, it’s safe to say her acting career will be one to watch over the coming years.