During May, I was fortunate enough to be invited by the Spanish folding society (Asociación Española de Papiroflexia, or AEP) as one of the guests for their 2011 convention.
I took a flight from Manchester on the Monday – being aware of Ryanair’s approach to hand-luggage, I was slightly worried that my box of folds would cost 40 euros, but I managed to sneak it through and met Dave & Assia Brill – since seating is first come, first served, we managed to get adjacent seats and settled down to a brief, if somewhat cramped flight.
On arrival in Madrid around 10pm, we met Juan Pablo Cruz (henceforth JP) and driver Alejandro, who drove us off to the hotel and then to a local bar, where we had our first taste of Spanish food!
Tuesday, the Brills and I wandered to the centre of the city (of 4 million people!) making several drinks breaks on the way – it was really hot, but apparently nowhere near it’s summer peak!One impressive building turned out to be the Ministry of Agriculture, not some royal palace ;)
We were advised to take a siesta around 4 and despite our natural English energy we gratefully did. That evening, the small but formidable Italian contingent arrived, including our fellow guest Pasquale D’Auria. We were to meet the fourth guest, Claudine Pissisale at the convention.
We set off for an evening meal, hooking up with the inestimable Herman Van Gourbergen, who I was delighted to see – he has such a mature origami perspective and a hugely developed sense of originality. An enjoyable evening of food and wine had to be enjoyed. I had rapidly detected that vegetarianism was pretty much a novelty there, but found a combination of “huevos rotas” (scrambled eggs), “patatas bravas” (spicy spuds) and “pimientos de pardon” (grilled peppers) fitted the bill nicely.
Wednesday saw a trip around the nearby Museum Del Prado, apparently containing a significant amount of classic paintings. I was delighted to see the original “Garden of earthly delights” and several Goyas, alongside an extraordinary collection.
To be honest, after a couple of hours, my brain was full of extraordinary imagery, so I went with Dave for a delightful lunch. I went for another siesta, then in the evening the whole posse went to JPs house, where we sat in an inside courtyard and met lots of other local folders, fed to a high standard. I met Juan Gimeno, whose work I have admired since I first started folding.
Thursday saw as decamp to El Escorial, a small village about 40 minutes drive east of Madrid. The scenery we drove through was fresh and inspiring. The village itself was on the foothills of some high hills/mountains, so slightly cooler. As the historical residence of the king of Spain, it contained an extraordinary building, from whence the village took it’s name.
In 1984, UNESCO declared The Royal Site of San Lorenzo of El Escorial a World Heritage Site. It is not surprisingly an extremely popular tourist attraction – more than 500,000 visitors come to El Escorial every year. Naturally the batteries of my camera died as I got there, but it’s well worth a visit if you’re ever in the district.
People began to arrive for the convention towards the afternoon, so JP and his team had to crank into action. This was done with minimum fuss, as was the entire weekend – I was in awe of how professionally it was all handled. I asked JP what time things started that evening, 7, 8 9? His laid-back answer was “yes, 7, 8, 9…”!
We ate at the venue and the meal was excellent – they were aware of my veggy leanings and made sure I got a quality veg-equivalent of every meal offered to the carnivores. I had no complaints. The wine on the table was, according to the Spanish, pretty low-grade, but Dave and I found it very tasty and managed to knock back large quantities. Mercifully, it gave me no hangover all weekend, an indication of the quality, perhaps.
Friday was the official start and I was first in action as one of the three teaching options available. I taught 5 or 6 simple designs, then joined a class led by Fernando Gilgado, who taught a fox he head designed. I felt sadly out of practise for this fairly complex model!
I took some time out in the garden to leaf through the 480 page convention book, immaculately designed and presented. As well as this class book, all attendees were given several packs of paper and an amazing red carrier bag with the convention logo and what looked like a leather cover – quality!
Lunch was well up to par, then I joined some of the informal classes held down in the main exhibition room. There were tables all round the room, overflowing with models. I managed to find some space in the corner for my efforts. A short siesta led to the evening meal (at 9pm – way later than I was used to) and I managed to last until after midnight before retiring, taking a last glimpse of the mountains from my room window.
Saturday was spent enjoying other classes (I have already forgotten most of the details) but I managed to complete Brilly’s dolphin”, much to my satisfaction, and gave him encouraging comments throughout ;) after lunch I ran a wet-folding class in the garden (where we were all bitten mercilessly by mozzies) and tried my best to explain my thinking using about 39 words of Spanish. It seemed to go down well ;)
I chatted with old friend Vicente Palacios and more recent friend Halle, a delightful chap in all respects. He gave me a boxed, Spanish translation of my “Pub Origami” which I was unaware of. The supplies room had a great stock, although I didn’t buy anything, due to lack of funds. The t-shirts and bags from previous conventions were given away free(!) but I dutifully took just 2 items. I queried JP about the financial aspects of these gifts, but he said they’d rather give them away than carry them back and forth for the next 8 years.
That night saw Manchester United taking on Barcelona in the European Cup final, and I was invited down to the local “Bar13” to watch. I dutifully trundled down, but when I saw the screen was in a hot, darkened back room full of “tired and emotional” Spaniards, I sneaked back to the venue! There was much to see and do during the evening – as well as the range of informal classes, there was a presentation of a historical pageant featuring the Pajarita.
Frankly, I hadn’t the slightest clue what it was about, but people laughed their socks off, so I guess it wasn’t too serious. All those who were attending for the first time were invited to “sing” the lyrics of a song, so I joined in. Once again, they mean very little, but the whole crowd joined in the chorus, which was accompanied and conducted by a wizened old man with his harmonica. To end, he led us in a kind of Spanish conga, dancing round the room. Utterly crazy but utterly brilliant fun!
I tried to sneak off to bad around midnight, but was “persuaded” by some younger folders to hike up to a bar in the centre of town for a drink. There, I discovered I had “swapped” bags with Saadya Sternberg, who had wandered off with mine. Sadly, he hadn’t left any “dinero de la cerveza” inside. As the sole surviving Englishman, I felt duty-bound to perform this gesture, but have to confess, energy was draining rapidly, so I said farewell to Herman, Donatella and the rest around 1.30am and sauntered back down the hill. Naturally, the main folding room was still full, but I had to admit defeat.
Next morning saw lots of folders with the well-known “Sunday morning” look, but after a relaxing breakfast, the folding began again. I think I did some teaching, but honestly can’t remember! This is the problem with writing reports 4 weeks (and another convention) after an event. After lunch, people began to make their weary way home and there were lots of cuddles and emotional farewells.
Brilly went of to Saragossa for another weeks’ fun, but I hung around helping the team tidy up. Just when I thought we’d go back to Madrid to relax, JP and Alejandro drove up to the exhibition in town again to open up for the night! We sat for 2 hours, they talked to visitors and I made some giveaway models.
At the end, they made a start dismantling the exhibition, no small task! By 9, even this indefatigable paid of veterans needed some refreshment, so we sat outside a bar and had some food and drink. We got back to JPs flat around midnight, where his son graciously slept on the settee so I could spend the night there.
Tuesday morning saw JP head back to El Escorial to finish dismanlting the exhibition, but I chose to have a final wander around the older part of Madrid and enjoy lunch in the sunshine, before heading off to the airport and back to blighty. The end of a fabulous week with hospitality and friendship second to none. My eternal gratitude to the AEP team for their invitation and to JP and his family in particular, for making everything come together with seemingly minimal stress. A visit to a Spanish convention is highly recommended if you ever get the chance.
I’ve deliberately not focussed on the models in this report, there are plenty of images out on the web. For me, the visit to Spain was also an opportunity to get to know Spanish culture and the wonderful people, I hope this is reflected above!
I’d like to thank everyone involved with the AEP the invitation to attend as a guest, I had a fabulous time – it was certainly one of the best conventions I’ve ever attended.