11th March 2023: Rocks from the land and fish from the sea (Madrid, Spain)

Back in 2018, when going to Madrid’s Geomineral Museum (Museo Geominero), I stumbled upon an event in the Mining Engineering University – something called Expominerales. At the time, I did not have time to explore it, and only later did I realise what I had missed – an international fair for the trade of minerals, rocks and fossils. I made a mental note to check the event out the following year, but something came up and I completely forgot about the whole thing. In 2020 the pandemic struck, and finally in 2023, almost five years to the day, I went back to this event held in Madrid.

Expominerales is held yearly at the working engineering school Escuela Técnica Superior de Ingenieros de Minas y Energía (ETSIME), which offers the bachelor’s degree in Mining Engineering, and the one in Energy Engineering (whatever this last one is). The first weekend of every month, the school organises a “mineral-world flea market”, and the second weekend of March, it hosts an international mineral, gem and fossil fair, with shopping stands and different workshops and activities. After a few cancellations due to Covid, it returned in 2022 and it’s back to its former glory in 2023 – Expominerales XLII, the 42th edition of the fair.

The ETSIME in Madrid. Pink-and-white building from the 19th century, accessible through stairs, with flags hanging over the door

Mining Engineering became a formal education path in Spain in 1777, originally in the town of Almadén, a mercury hub. The school was moved to Madrid in 1835 and a two-building campus was ordered. The historical building in the ETSIME (M1) was designed by architect Ricardo Velázquez Bosco, and decorated by ceramist Daniel Zuloaga between 1884 and 1893. The second building (M2) was damaged during the Civil War, and has suffered several modifications to accommodate classrooms and laboratories. The premises also include a reproduction of a mine, Mina Museo Marcelo Jorissen, however this one is closed for renovation – a lot of that seems to be going on around the university, since part of the decorations of the buildings are also covered.

The M1 historical building has a central cloister with an ironwork colonnade. The building is rectangular, and on the short sides there are two symmetrical wards. One holds the historical mining museum, the other one the historical library. The central cloister is the main area where Expominerales is held, on the ground and first floor. On Saturday, the exhibit opened at 10:00, and we were there a bit later in order to sign up for the first guided visit at 11:00 (3€) – we wanted to take it so we had access to several rooms that would otherwise be closed to us. The idea was being there before families with kids started arriving and the activities became overcrowded – it turned out in the end that most the activities were indeed organised for children, so it did not really make a difference. Furthermore, the visit we feared full only had 6 attendees.

We had one hour before the guided visit that we spent looking at the stands on the ground floor on the M1 building. The guide was a student who might have been partying the previous night, because he sounded a little out of it – forgetting info and words, even things related to his own degree.

First, we went to see the mineral collection, the origin of the historical museum in the M1 building, Museo Histórico-Minero Don Felipe de Borbón y Grecia. The mineral collection was started in 1831, and throughout the years it was increased with new minerals donated by different institutions. It was later expanded to cover palaeontology and historical artefacts related to mining and other earth sciences. Though a lot of the displays are scattered throughout he building, the original museum dates from the 19th century, and it has four sections: the mineral collection, the fossil collection, the cave bear collection and the mining archaeology section, totalling over 10,000 items.

The historical mining museum at ETSIME Madrid. It is a large ward with cedar wood shelves from floor to ceiling, filled with rocks and fossils. The picture also shows some close-ups of rocks, two cave bear skulls, and a cluster of fossilised snail-like animals

Today, the museum is named after King Felipe VI, who visited the museum in the late 1980s after the university reached out to him to propose the name. The then prince came to visit then, and the name “the king’s stairs” was given to the set of side stairs he used – Escaleras del Rey.

We also visited the small hall where candidates read their theses, a little hall with spectacular ceramic tiles by Zuloaga, and finally the historical library, with obsolete but cool volumes. The library also dates back from the 19th century, with the walls covered in wooden shelves, with a small metal staircase to access the upper balcony. Unfortunately both this one and the one in the museum were cordoned off.

Library in ETSIME. It is a large room with cedar wood shelves from floor to ceiling, and a spiral staircase.

The visit ended at the lecture hall on building M2, one of the few remaining areas of the original design. It is a marble room with wooden benches and decorated windows that represent the original subjects taught to Mining Engineers. After we were left off, we sat down at the cafeteria for a drink.

Lecture hall in ETSIME (Madrid). It's a marble room, rather dark, with smoked windows representing different subjects of the Mining Engineering Degree

We recharged batteries, and then we had a look at the stands on the first floor of the M1 building, alongside the collection of apparatus that they had. Afterwards, we decided to separate in order to do shopping. Expominerales hosted over 30 stands, national and international.

Expominerales. A view of the ETSIME cloister from the second floor, showing different stands and lots of people peering curiously

I, being the nerd that I am, got myself a tiny slice of iron meteorite (from Geoterra Minerals), a mosasaur fossilised tooth (from Carlos Hammann, who also had amazing megalodon teeth that I will never be able to afford), a decent-sized of recrystallised bismuth (from Rossell Minerals), and a small piece of black tourmaline (from The MineralShop) – all for 51€.

Collage: a fossilised tooth, a bit of mineral in metallic colours, a slice of meteorite with silver orthogonal markings, and a bit of shiny black rock

When we met again, it was a bit past 13:30. There were too many people by then – families had started arriving, so we decided to leave. We had booked at a nearby restaurant for lunch, and they did not mind accommodating us a little earlier. The restaurant, called DeAtún Ponzano specialises in tuna dishes – particularly Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus), sustainably caught in the Straight of Gibraltar.

Before overfishing was even a thing, Phoenicians settled in the south-west of Spain somewhere between the 9th and 7th centuries BCE – the city of Cádiz, credited as being the longest-standing city in Europe, may have been the first port. The Phoenicians observed that the bluefin tuna migrated from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean every year around the same dates, and later they came back to the ocean. These guys came up with a very simple technique – that was later developed further by the Romans and perfected in the Islamic period: the almadraba.

An almadraba is a portable but complex net which is lowered for the migration period. The bigger fish are funnelled into a box-like construction, and the smaller ones swim right through it. Once the almadraba is full, a number of fishing boats lift it in a process called levantada (raising). Expert fishermen walk onto the nets, discard any small specimen that might have been trapped, and choose the tuna that will be sold, generally individuals heavier than 200 kg.

Since the fish are selected on a case by case basis, the amount of both the catch and by-catch is small in comparison to other fishing methods. Both the seasonality and craftsmanship of the whole process make it much more sustainable than others – of course, this also causes fewer pieces in the market, which in turn increases the price. Furthermore, all the fish are wild, hand-picked, and only bled out when they are loaded onto the ship. Thus, the quality is extremely high. Another factor that makes almadraba-caught tuna more expensive is the fact that walking onto the levantada is dangerous. Fishermen have been seriously hurt by struggling tuna, as some of the fish might weigh up to 500 kg.

Working almost exclusively high-quality tuna means that DeAtún is not a restaurant on the cheap side of things. I’ve actually traced down their tuna provider and the prices are rather cost-adjusted for almadraba-caught tuna. There’s another thing to consider, too, which is that the Spanish law forces restaurants to freeze fish that is going to be served either raw or quasi-raw, at least for 24 hours at a temperature under -20 ºC – this is done to destroy a fish parasite called Anisakis, which can cause stomach distress and serious allergic reactions. Apparently, the perfect temperature to keep the tuna properties is -60 ºC. So yay Anisakis-safe almadraba-caught tuna all year round (though it’s true that the freezing law makes it impossible to eat fresh tuna raw).

We got a welcome tapa of boiled potatoes with olive oil and herbs (“papas aliñás”), a favourite from southwestern of Spain, the same area where the almadraba tuna are caught. We shared some European anchovies (Engraulis encrasicolus) “anchoas del Cantábrico” with tomato and toasted bread. These anchovies are salted for at least six months, cleaned, and stored in olive oil. They have a strong flavour, and are not everyone’s cup of tea, but I adore them. We also shared a portion of “ortiguillas” (Mediterranean snakelocks sea anemone Anemonia sulcata, battered and fried), also typical of the south-west – I’ve never been much of a fan though.

Lunch at DeAtún. Collage with a potato salad, anchovies and battered seafood balls

Finally, as my tuna preference is raw, I was wondering whether I wanted sashimi or tartar. In the end, I decided to try a combo (“trio DeAtún”): tuna sashimi (slices), tuna tartar (dice) and tuna tataki (heat-sealed slices), with a side taste of different sauce emulsions – wasabi, kimchi and curry. The tuna cuts used for these preparations (descargamento and tarantelo) would be the otoro or toro Japanese cuts, which are appropriate for raw preparations – technically the best ones, fatty or very fatty meat. I don’t love tataki, thus my original reticence to try this combo, but it was good. My favourite bit was the sashimi though, the tartar was missing a bit of spice.

I was offered chopsticks to eat the dish, and I accepted – easier to handle the fish. That apparently made the maître think that I had been the one choosing the restaurant, because in his words I “seemed to be an expert, chopsticks and all”. That was hilarious – I mean, why offer chopsticks if you don’t expect them to be accepted? For the record, although I booked the table, I did not choose the restaurant – it would have been a little on the “too fancy” side for me. The truth is, there were a bunch of very-elaborated dishes that we decided to give a miss, and we went for the raw tuna.

Lunch at DeAtún. A plate with three tuna cuts. The centre is round, and rose-like, and the sides are extended on a line. The fish is uncooked and it looks dark red. There's a similar dish in the background, with more cuts

Desserts were okay, but not the reason we had chosen this place. The point was eating tuna – raw tuna in my case – and the restaurant delivered. I was however amused by tables around us refusing the raw options even when the chef himself came out to greet them and recommend the dishes (someone over there must have been an acquittance, I don’t really know). Finally, we set back home to compare treasures and plot going back to Expominerales in its 2024 edition – at a time where we can snatch some discounted rocks.

16th February 2019: A day at Japan Weekend (Madrid, Spain)

Having nothing else to do, my sibling and I headed over to IFEMA to spend a few hours in the Japan Weekend convention of “Japanese culture and other stuff” that was taking place in Madrid over the weekend.

First, we attended a matcha workshop / tea ceremony mock-up to mix our own our own matcha. It was carried out by the tea shop Punto de Té. The tea was really good. We did not want to be carrying around stuff all day so we left it for later. Fortunately for the shop, when we came back the had sold most everything!

Then, we watched a kendo exhibit for a while. It was not a competition or anything, but those people were living the fights. That was cool.

One of the things I was most interested in was watching the act of a pair of Japanese brothers who call themselves Kuni-ken: older brother KUNIaki and younger brother KENji. They play traditional Japanese instruments to create modern rock music. It was an interesting act, and afterwards I bought one of their CDs and got it autographed (after a stint with a suitcase that would not open).

Finally, we stopped at AKKOGORILLA’s concert. She is a Japanese rapper who is all about girl power, and moves as if she had batteries or something. I would have bought a CD if she had brought any, so I got a zine for a signature.

I think I’m getting too old and cranky to hang out with the younger crowd though. In the end, I don’t care much about the shops – having credit cards, I don’t need a physical stand at a convention to buy stuff, and I avoid bootleg merchandise… Going to this kind of places for short live music displays… is starting not to cut it.

29th & 30th September 2018: Japan Weekend Madrid (Spain)

The “Japanese culture convention” Japan Weekend was held in Ifema, Madrid, over the weekend. The big problem with conventions tend to be the organisers. At some point they bestow on themselves an importance they lack, and decide to either micromanage everything, or act as if they were the reason why people visit. It’s amusing looking back, but annoying when you have to deal with them (such as m mini riff-raff at the Salón del Manga de Alicante). Japan Weekend in Madrid is not an exception to this trend

The reason why I wanted to attend this event was the presence of a Japanese comedian Kazuhito Kosaka characterised as his persona Pikotaro, a “singer” known for his histrionic personality, flashy clothing and a silly song which parodies English teaching in Japan, PPAP (Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen) (I actually have not confirmed that it is such a parody but I’ve heard enough from English teachers in Japan to be quite convinced). After a joke or three among friends, I decided to attend, under the premise that “you wouldn’t dare troll Pikotaro”.

Japan Weekend spanned over the whole weekend. I attended both days, and on Saturday I brought my sibling over. The acts and activities we attended were:

Mitsuru Nagata’s sumi-e show: Mitsuru Nagata is a Japanese-born, Barcelona-living artist who creates pieces of art and calligraphy using traditional Japanese ink techniques (sumi-e).

Wasuta: The World Standard concert: A girl band of cute bouncy girls who aim to “spread kawaii (cute) culture around the world”. There used to be a running gag back when I was young that “cute things kill people”.

ITSUKA (Charisma.com) concerts: A lady-rapper and techno artist with a really strong presence that I really liked.

Pikotaro concerts and Meet & Greets. The whole point of attending the convention were these two events. The concerts were amusing to say the least, though truth be told, Japanese personalities who sing are not the most musically inclined sometimes. There were paper masks handed out, that could be used during the M&G for autographs. There were four or five songs, of course one of them was Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen, Neo Sunglasses (which made me laugh out loud), and Can you see? I’m sushi, which is the one I used for the first M&G. I put some sushi badges and pins on my neck scarf and told him the same. He found it hysterical. The following day I printed out the picture we got together, signed one copy for him and asked him to dedicate the other one to me. Also, shout-out to the translator who remembered me from one day to the other and left me to my own devices.

7th – 9th April 2018: 8º Salón del Manga y Cultura Japonesa. Alicante (Spain)

This was a crazy, crazy weekend that I planned on the go with my friend C*****. It all started when INORAN, from Luna Sea, was announced as guest. She was on the fence as to whether she wanted to come, but not long after that Kenichi Yoshida was also announced, and she was sold. I had already got my tickets and booked a room, but it was fine for two people, so we could bunk together.

I finished work on Friday at around 19:00, made a dash for the local train station and took a commuting train to Madrid, where I took the long-distance train to Alicante, where I arrived at around 23:30. C***** came to pick me up at the station, as she had arrived and already checked in.

The next morning, Saturday 8th, we went to the bus station, and headed off to the venue, the IFA. We found the bus-ticket vending machine and found the deck to wait. We got to the venue and made our plan. We wanted to see the INORAN presentation and his concert, of course.

First thing, we took a walk down the whole space, and got our bearings, specially where the toilets were. The convention was organised in several areas: the commercial stands, the non-commercial ones, and a small “matsuri” with more traditional decorations and shops. After about an hour of walking around (probably even less) we got to “queue” to enter the small hall where the presentation was to take place. We got talking to a group of Japanese girls, including one, E**chan, who was studying Spanish! I met the Japanese me (≧▽≦).

In general, I have to say that the organisation of the event was bad. There were three signing events scheduled, out of which only one ended up taking place. During the presentation we watched the PV of INORAN’s newest song, and he said ‘hola’, and although there was a signing announced for this, it did not happen. The organisation later (after the whole convention was over) said that INORAN had requested two signing sessions to be cancelled. We had brought original material for him to autograph, but there was no chance.

Inoran talking into a microphone

After the signing session, around 14:00 we… had no plans until the concert at 19:00, so we decided to just… wait at the stage, and believe me, we were not the first to think about it. We watched the cosplay contest (and did not agree with the result, by the way) and got all pumped up for the whole thing. INORAN is the guitarist of LUNA SEA, and even if he tried to sing, he is not the best vocalist in the world, truth be told. Other members of the group were u:zo on bass, Yukio Murata on second guitar and Ryo Yamagata on drums. Even if I said before that INORAN lacks as a vocalist, the concert was really good (and hey, by now I’ve seen 3/5 members of LUNA SEA, do I get a membership card or something?). I think it’s really fun when singers try the local language, or at least mangle it. INORAN did so with a very well-rehearsed “¿lo estáis pasando bien?” However, most was Japanese.

Inoran on the stage, playing guitar and looking at the ipad to remember the lyrics

Another note on the organisation. We were the first row, behind the barrier. In front of the barrier sat a bunch of “volunteers”, “workers” and “VIPs” that were there out of curiosity and basically only blocked the view of the fans – two or three rows. Behind the fans there were the curious onlookers. I do wonder what INORAN found himself thinking about the convention.

After the concert came the WTF-organisation moment of the day (it would get even “better” on Sunday though): the autograph signing. We lined for the autograph and we were told that we needed to purchase a postcard (printed by the convention) that INORAN would sign – the workers said nothing else was allowed. And here is when I was mean. I asked the worker if he spoke Japanese so he could ask whether signing anything else was fine by INORAN. And the worker said that he did not speak Japanese – tough luck, buddy.

I paid my euro for the postcard and when INORAN reached out for it, I pulled out one of the CDs I brought and asked him to sign that instead. There was an uproar from the workers, but he had literally zero issues signing my CD. I mean, it was his original material after all (Note to the organisation: you idiots, if I pay you the 1€ and don’t use your postcard, you can use that postcard for someone else who will pay another euro. Seriously). When I was leaving, I asked INORAN to also sign C*****’s CD instead of a postcard, and he smirked. I’m sure that the organisation hated me a lot that evening (again, it would get “better”).

Inoran's autograph

After the signing, we bought some Sumi-e (calligraphy) from the super-talented Mitsuru Nagata (more on that on Sunday). Finally, we went to the non-commercial stands area and C***** bought herself a bunch of things (and some pins for me!), we took a picture with a Mary Poppins cosplayer, and we headed off towards the hotel.

Two Japanese ink drawings. One is a samurai drawing his sword, the other one some bamboo. Also two badges: one reads I speak fluent sarcasm, the other one everything is better with dragons

As we had had a small on-the-go lunch waiting at the stage, we decided to go for a serious dinner. The fun part was that we ended up finding the Taberna El Chapeau, where the band had been the previous night. It was very near our hotel, and we checked the menu for kicks and giggles – it turned out it was not expensive at all, so we ate there! We tried the palm-honey eggplant, a mixture of fried seafoods, a miniburger, and a very sinful brownie for dessert – the lemmon sherbet was on the house.

Dinner. Some fried snacks and a mini hamburger, a pair of lemmon shots, and an ice cream scoop

The morning of Sunday 9th started pretty much the same as Saturday’s morning. We took the bus to the convention centre and walked around. We got to meet with Mitsuru Nagata, and we asked him to take a picture with us in front of his works. Aside from super-talented, he was very nice. He invited us to see his calligraphy demonstration, but we apologised since we were going to see Kenichi Yoshida’s concert. He said that it was a good idea, because he was around more often than Yoshida.

Several hanging rolls of Japanese ink paintings, with samura and a phoenix

Thus, we queued to enter the hall. We actually arranged to queue twice in one go. First we had the Kenichi Yoshida concert, then there was an INORAN Q&A. We made some nice friends at the INORAN queue, so they agreed to “keep our spots” there while we were in the concert, as long as we stepped out – it was fair.

As the doors opened for the concert, we had yet another riff-raff with so-called workers and organisers, as part of the rules were that the hall had to be emptied between activities – as the hall only sat 200 people, this was made to prevent people from “saving” seats and preventing others from attending talks and conferences. Unless you were “friends with the organisers”, then you could just… ignore that – basically, as we queued outside, a group of people stepped out, then jumped back in and claimed “they had emptied the hall”. I called them out and the guy was all indignant. Apparently, he had been asked to translate as a last-minute thing or something, and had brought his friends along.

Before the concert started, we were told that after the concert, Yoshida would be signing postcards – just like INORAN the evening before – but that there were only twenty of them. We were very annoyed at that because, yet again, C***** and I had our own material. Yoshida came along percussionist Yuki Tsuchida, leader of the band Cross Groove Premium. The Yoshida brothers use the shamisen for a fusion of modern and traditional sounds for a very cool result.

Kenichi Yoshida playing shamishen, with his percussionist on the right

Okay, and here comes the… embarrassing part. After enjoying the concert, my friend C***** and I decided that we would try for the autograph… somehow. So instead of “hunger-gaming” for the postcards we… took after him. As Yoshida was climbing up the stairs along the drummer and the manager I caught up with him. I… very respectfully… tried to tell him in Japanese that there were too few postcards and that my friend and I had brought the original CDs, and if he would mind signing those for us.

To my eternal surprise, he said yes. The manager ushered me up to the second floor as C***** went to hold the place in the queue, and I got the CDs signed, along with a sticker. Shaking like a leaf, I went back to the queue. In the end, it turned out that there were enough postcards for all the fans, so we tried again! Yoshida was nice enough to take a picture with us and sign postcards again.

Yoshida's autograph

Then we went to the hall again to see INORAN’s last appearance, the Q&A, which did not have a signing either. The event was carried out in Spanish, English, and Japanese. After watching the PV, the questions came. They focused on INORAN’s thought on Spain, and whether he knew about how popular he is in Spain. Some fans and “press” asked interesting questions about his career, experience and collaborations with different artists and bands – Hide, Tsuchiya Anna, LUNA SEA, Fake? and so on. He was asked how to become ‘big in Japan’ particularly as musicians and he said ‘working hard’. And then I lost it when he called the ‘young’. That almost made me roll on the floor laughing.

Inoran sitting on a chairm with a hat, a scarf, and his jeans rolled up

After the Q&A we headed back towards Alicante, and in the bus I exchanged Lines with E**chan to stay in contact. C***** and I picked our things up from the hotel and walked to the station, where he had a super-late lunch.

Burger, fries, and a glass of coke

We had a shared train-ride to Madrid, and we spent most of it in the cafeteria chatting up. We also got to see a pretty rainbow as it rained on the way. After we made it to Madrid, we separated for the last leg of our journeys, happy to have met up once more for yet another fun adventure.

Dark clouds and a rainbow

3rd – 5th July 2015: Japan Expo in Paris (France)

I went back to France rather unexpectedly because VAMPS announced an appearance at Japan Expo, a Japanese Culture convention held in Parc des Expositions de Paris-Nord Villepinte. I flew in on Friday and as I had time, I decided to go to the Louvre museum. I discovered the automatic ticket selling machine, so my queue was unexpectedly short once I was out of the security waiting area. I geeked out to my heart’s content and I reflected on how I had got used to geeking out alone and how comfortable I felt compared to my first time alone in a museum, back in the Dark Ages when I was 14.

Different exhibits of the Louvre: bronze sculptures, Egyptian sarcophagi, sitting scribe, Babylonian bulls, a marble, bathtub, Venus de Milo, Eros and Psyche, Victory of Samothrace

The following day I met up with some friends at the Japan Expo for the VAMPS concert act that had been organised. Japan Expo is one of the biggest European conventions about manga, anime, Japanese culture and everything in between, including concerts, food stalls, merchandising, and so on. The concert in itself was all right – one of the shortest ones I’ve attended, but in the end it was “just” an act in something bigger. I wish they had talked about the Sunday autograph possibilities earlier, though, because I could not attend due to my flight being in the morning.

Vamps promo claiming they were the guests of honour