Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Things to See and Do in Madrid, Spain

There are so many, many things to see and do in Madrid, and I’m not going to try and reproduce a list of the top sights. Instead, here are some places and areas that I enjoyed that you might not find in a standard guide book.

Map
I used the planopopout maps for both Madrid and Sevilla, and they were excellent. They are compact and easy to open discretely so you feel less like a stupid tourist, fit easily in a pocket, have a firm cover so they don’t fall apart, but fold out to provide a comprehensive map of the central parts of the city. They advertise some stores, which is actually very helpful as it gives you some additional landmarks if you’re not sure where you are.

Neighbourhoods
I only had 3 ½ days in Madrid, but I quickly recognized that I liked some areas better than others. I particularly liked the area around the Palacio Real, extending south into La Latina.
If the weather had been better, I would have liked to spend time in the parks on either side of the Palace.

Don’t miss the string of outdoor cafes from Plaza Puerta de Moros to Plaza de la Paja to Plaza de la Cruz Verde.

I chanced upon the Mercado de San Miguel in the Plaza Morenas, just off Calle Mayor. The indoor market has various up-market food stalls – French pastries and cheeses, free trade tea and coffee, etc. I was there in the rain so didn’t pay attention to the architecture, but apparently the building retains the original ironwork from the start of the 20th century.

The Plaza de Espana is a large, attractive park with a wonderful statue of Don Quixote.
I also liked the neighbourhood around and behind the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia. I would look for a hotel in this neighbourhood or around Palacio Real/La Latina on my next trip.

The Plaza de Santa Ana, near Plaza Mayor, is an attractive square with lots of outdoor restaurant terraces.

I didn’t like the busy shopping area around Gran Via/Hortaleza/Fuencarril. It felt dirty and somewhat sleazy, particularly Calle Montera between Puerta del Sol and Gran Via.

Art Galleries and Museums
I bought a Paseo de Arte which includes admission to the Prado, the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, and the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia. The Prado has an extensive collection of classical works by Spanish artist such as Goya and Velasquez. The Reina Sofia is modern art. The Thyssen-Bornemisza combines the formerly private collections of husband and wife. It’s a huge, excellent collection. The collection of Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza contains some wonderful works by Impressionist artists.

I also enjoyed visiting the Museo Sorolla, which is housed in the former home of Joaquin Sorolla. Sorolla’s artwork is impressionistic and full of light with many paintings of the sea as well as portraits. The house includes a lovely Andalucian garden.

I recommend visiting the Caixa Forum, which hosts concerts, lectures and world-class art exhibits. There’s an interesting gift shop as well as an attractive café/restaurant, and the living wall is outstanding.

I attended a free Saturday lunchtime concert at the Fondacion Juan March of music by Handel played on antique instruments by the Grupo de Musica Barroca La Folia. Check the Foundation’s website for concerts or art exhibits. The concerts appear to be popular so arrive early in order to be sure of getting a seat.

See Also:
Sunday Delights - El Retiro Park, Madrid
Culture in Madrid
Modern Art - Munoz and Vlaminck
Vegetarian Restaurants in Madrid

Madrid 2009

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Game-Changer: Turning Innovation into Routine

“Anything that won’t sell, I don’t want to invent. Its sale is proof of utility and utility is success.” Thomas Edison

The Game-Changer: How you can drive revenue and profit growth with innovation by A.G. Lafley and Ram Charan is a fascinating look at how large companies like Procter & Gamble (P&G), LEGO and General Electric have increased profits by focusing on innovation.

But of far greater general interest is the authors’ assertion that innovation is not a single, solitary creative act but an integrated management process.

Innovation – An Integrated Management Process
As the book explains, “An invention is a new idea that is often turned into a tangible outcome, such as a product or a system. An innovation is the conversion of a new idea into revenues and profits.” They go on to say, “To succeed, companies need to see innovation not as something special that only special people can do, but as something that can become routine and methodical, taking advantage of the capabilities of ordinary people.”

The book identifies the elements that drive innovation within an organization, from budgeting and funding, to enabling structures and systems, to outreach and leadership. Each of these elements is explored in depth with concrete, real-life examples. For example, business units at P&G have innovation-based budgeting. The budget outlines their sales targets and identifies the innovation projects that are expected to provide the new revenue. In addition, companies like P&G and Hewlett Packard have innovation funds to help new projects get off the ground and have established systems for reviewing projects and helping them to stay on track.

The Consumer is Boss
Scientific research often operates in a void – scientists invent new processes and products, but they are not linked to an established market or purpose. Lafley and Charan insist that the consumer must drive the innovation process.

Nokia could see that there was a huge potential market for mobile phones in India, but they didn’t simply market the same phones that they sold in Europe and North America. Instead they researched consumer needs. India is hot, dusty, sweaty, and electricity is scarce. As a result, they developed a dustproof phone with a better grip, a polarized screen and a built-in flashlight.

P&G worked directly with lower-income women in Mexico to understand their laundry detergent needs. They learned that Mexican women spend more time on laundry than on the rest of their housework combined. 90% of them use some kind of softener; however, water is in very short supply. As a result, they developed Downy Single Rinse, halving the number of steps and the amount of water required in the clothes-washing process.

Get Out of your Silo
The focus on the consumer is further reinforced by ensuring that research and development is integrated with production and marketing. Innovative projects don’t get derailed when they move out of research and into production and marketing; inter-departmental project teams ensure that the focus continues to be on the consumer through every stage of bringing the new product to market; and new projects can be launched much more rapidly.

Large companies are frequently very insular, relying on in-house research and development. As CEO of P&G, A.G. Lafley set an ambitious goal to partner with outsiders on 50% of the company’s innovations. The company now works with technology entrepreneurs and retirees, licenses innovation from competitors, and partners with their retailer customers and suppliers. Not only did they work hand in hand with Walmart to develop a seamless supply chain; they also ran with Walmart’s suggestions for new products (e.g. Crest mouthwash and Swiffer on a pole to clean blinds and ceiling fans).

Be Prepared to Fail
Not every project will be successful. Tom Watson of IBM advises that, “If you want to succeed, double your failure rate.” IDEO’s motto is “Fail often to succeed sooner.” The authors emphasize that you must have a process in place to appraise and priorize projects and to kill the ones that aren’t working out. They stress the need for a balanced innovation portfolio with a mix of low- and high-risk and short- and long-term projects.

And people shouldn’t be punished when they fail. Instead, you need to treat failure as a teacher. A story circulates around P&G about a big project that collapsed. The project leader offered to resign, but his boss refused to accept his resignation, saying, “I’ve just spent a lot of money on your education.”

Managing Risk as a Routine
Lafley and Charan insist that, “The company that fails to innovate consistently, and elegantly, will fail. Every leader, therefore, must make innovation a driver of her unit’s strategy. That means building an organization that supports innovation as a goal and a social process that delivers it. Done consistently over time, the company with these characteristics delivers better results than otherwise by being comfortable with managing risk as a routine. Like the power of compound interest, the innovations that ensue – both small and large – accumulate year in, year out, to create ever-increasing distance against the competition."

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Slumping Curves and River Bends

My sister, Clare, and I went for a walk at Beaver Creek this morning. Summer in Saskatchewan is a delight. The grass comes alive with tiny flowers – prairie rose, flax, scarlet mallow, vetch – and the air is perfumed with wolf willow blossoms.

Wolf willow always reminds me of WallaceStegner’s book of the same name about his childhood in southwestern Saskatchewan. Wolf willow has silver leaves and yellow blossoms with a very distinctive scent. They grow abundantly in Saskatchewan. According to the Alberta Plant Watch, Blackfoot Indians used the yellow-and-brown-striped seeds to create necklaces and the bark to make berry baskets.

Beaver Creek Conservation Area, 13 km south of Saskatoon, is one of the few uncultivated short grass prairie sites in Saskatchewan. The land slumps in gentle curves towards the river, and the creek meanders its way around and about. There are beavers and deer and room to breathe.

Beaver Creek jun09

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Joyously, Drunkenly, Divinely Aware

It's far too easy to sleep walk through life and to be completely self absorbed. I am always grateful to street musicians who bring subway tunnels to life.

There is such happiness and joy on the faces of the people watching as 200 dancers bring Antwerp train station to life. And watching the video started my day off with a smile and a song on my lips.



"The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware." (Henry Miller)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Things to Do and See in Baeza and Ubeda, Spain

The following notes are logistical footnotes which may be helpful to fellow travellers. They accompany earlier blog postings (see below) written when I was in Andalucia. Don’t hesitate to contact me if you would like additional information.

Baeza
I spent 4 nights at the Hotel Fuentenueva (Calle Carmen, 15) in Baeza. It’s an older building that has been renovated with a very modern look, which was fun. The ceiling in my room ascended two stories over the bathroom, and I had a wonderful view from my window over the tiled roofs and churches of Baeza. There is free wifi and an attractive lounge/library if you want a quiet place to sit. The hotel is midway between the downtown core and the bus station, which was very convenient as I took buses to and from various locations every day.

I had two, excellent meals at Antica Roma, an Italian restaurant (Calle de San Francisco, 39). There was an elaborate décor with Roman statues and frescoes. The pastas were excellent, and there were various vegetarian options. The tiramisu was very good, and the glass of red wine was large.

I particularly enjoyed visiting the art gallery – the Museo A. Moreno (Antiguo Cuartel de Sementales, Calle Tres Fuentes, 2). There are two large, well-laid-out galleries. One showcases the work of local artist, Antonio Moreno, while the other displays travelling exhibits (works by Raquel Bartolome Robledo when I was there). Both exhibits were of good quality and very interesting; it’s a shame I was the only person visiting when I was there.

There are panoramic views of the surrounding countryside from the Paseo de las Murallas/Antonio Machado, even though access from downtown was difficult due to construction. The Paseo can be reached from various points around town – if you reach it from Cuesta de Prieto, you arrive at some seats, and there is a road downhill if you want to walk among the olive groves and farmyards on the plain.

Ubeda
There are buses almost every hour between Baeza and Ubeda. Ubeda is larger than Baeza and has some wonderful examples of Renaissance architecture.

Don’t miss the Hospital de Santiago or the Capilla del Salvador – they are both outstanding examples of Renaissance architecture. The Plaza de Vasquez de Molina is surrounded by attractive buildings. I recommend visiting the Casa Mudejar (Calle de Cervantes, 6), a 14th-century Jewish home that has been restored and now houses a small archaeological collection. As in Baeza, the walk around the town walls – Redonda de Miradores – is very pleasant.

Additional Blog Postings:





Sunday, June 14, 2009

Reflections of a Wine Merchant

I greatly admire small business owners and freelancers. They have a passion for their business and an energy and determination that I strive to match. Neal Rosenthal, author of Reflections of a Wine Merchant (2008), opened a wine store and wine importing business in New York in the early 1980s. He imports wines directly from small vineyards throughout Europe. Many of his suppliers have been with him for over 30 years, and he has established a deep, enduring relationship with his partners.

The book describes Rosenthal’s relationships with some of his suppliers, and he does an excellent job of painting a picture of these individuals who have devoted their lives to growing grapes and making wine. For example, “Monsieur Forey was in his early fifties when I met him in 1982. He had a round red face and a gentle demeanor that made him appear less physically imposing than he actually was. His wines mimicked him, impressing more through delicacy than through power.”

Rosenthal has some very strong beliefs about what makes a good wine: “I believe first that fruit is only one aspect of wine; that wine, when it is truly complex and interesting, gathers its elements from the soil and atmosphere in which it is grown; and that the smells and flavors should, and must, express far more than simple fruitiness. Second, to cleanse wine of its impurities lacks merit as a goal; taming the beast may lead to comfort and commercial success, but it comes at the expense of the quirky, the extreme, and the uninhibited. It makes for uniformity that, ultimately, is boring. I am not arguing for flawed wines. I am saying no to a form of eugenics in wine that creates high yields and brilliant colors but fails to capture the essence of place, that purifies wine to the point that it becomes monochromatic, and that imposes a standard of beauty that limits our personal choices.”

Rosenthal is concerned that consumers and retailers place too much emphasis on the point value assigned to a wine by a critic. He feels that it is more important to respect the individuality of each type of wine and its terroir. He says, “Much of what has gone on lately in the wine world reminds me of the steroid scandals in sports. The goals are to be the strongest or the fastest or, in the case of wine, the most powerful and flamboyant. Yet the heavens are made beautiful not just by the brightest and biggest stars but because of the infinite array of stars, some twinkling, some shimmering, some only occasionally visible.”

Rosenthal discusses universal issues such as loyalty, consistency, endurance, and honesty in business. His respect for the land is an important message at a time when we are finally realizing that humanity is dependent on and cannot survive in isolation from planet earth.

Note: This review is also being posted on Library Thing where I have started maintaining a record of the books I have read or want to read.

Other reviews of books about wine can be found at: Favourite Books of 2008, Wine - Expensive, but does it taste good?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Dead Aid: Why aid is not working and how there is a better way for Africa

We Meant Well
More than US $300 billion of foreign aid has been sent to Africa since 1970, and yet sub-Saharan Africa remains the poorest region in the world. And it’s not improving. Between 1981 and 2002, the number of Africans living in poverty almost doubled.

Dambisa Moyo was born and raised in Zambia, obtaining degrees from both Oxford and Harvard universities. She has worked for the World Bank and Goldman Sachs. Her 2009 book, Dead Aid: Why aid is not working and how there is a better way for Africa, examines why aid isn’t working and proposes alternative ways for African countries to improve their economic and social infrastructure.

Outlined below is a summary of her key ideas.

Aid Is Not Working

African governments view aid as a permanent, ongoing source of funding. They may get their fingers slapped for misuse of funds, but the money keeps flowing so there is no incentive to develop alternate sources of economic support. Moyo demonstrates that aid does not promote investment, nor does it foster entrepreneurs and the development of a middle class. Aid money is concentrated at the government level so it doesn’t trickle down to the population as a whole where it could be put to work in building businesses or improving living conditions. Instead, it promotes and supports corrupt governments. It may even promote conflict which is born out of competition for control of resources.

Aid can work. It worked in Europe after the Second World War, and it has worked in Ireland. But in these cases, the aid was for a limited time only, to countries which were not completely dependent on aid, and to countries with established legal and civil institutions.

So why do we continue to provide aid? And what are the alternatives?

A World Without Aid

African countries do need money. They do need to establish economic structures that will move Africa out of poverty. Moyo outlines a variety of financial tools that can be used to help. These include: international bonds, private venture capital, direct investment, and increased trade. All of these options would reduce corruption as the lenders would demand a return on investment. She looks at ways that countries could work together by applying jointly for bonds or developing integrated economic zones similar to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Moyo focuses attention on the increasing investment by China and its potential implications. She also recommends various methods, such as micro finance (including Kiva), for promoting small business and entrepreneurs.

Making Development Happen

Moyo believes that developed nations must stop pretending that foreign aid will generate sustained economic growth and turn off the flow of money.

“What would happen? Would many more millions in Africa die from poverty and hunger? Probably not – the reality is that Africa’s poverty-stricken don’t see the aid flows anyway. Would there be more wars, more coups, more despots? Doubtful – without aid, you are taking away a big incentive for conflict. . . . What do you think Africans would do if aid were stopped, simply carry on as usual? Too many African countries have already hit rock bottom – ungoverned, poverty-stricken, and lagging further and further behind the rest of the world each day; there is nowhere further down to go. . . . Africa’s development impasse demands a new level of consciousness, a greater degree of innovation, and a generous dose of honesty about what works and what does not as far as development is concerned. And one thing is for sure, depending on aid has not worked. Make the cycle stop.”

It’s a powerful message backed up by solid proposals for replacing aid with internal economic growth and development. I was born in Africa, and I have a keen interest in seeing Africa thrive – as well as a heavy dose of guilt for my colonial heritage. Moyo’s book helps to explain and confront the issues constructively.

Postscript

We need to ensure that alternate economic development tools benefit Africans. I was disturbed to read in The Economist about the large chunks of land that are being purchased in Africa to grow food to export to rich nations that have a shortage of arable land.

“. . . a group of Saudi investors is spending $100m to raise wheat, barley and rice on land leased to them by the government [of Ethiopia.] The investors are exempt from tax in the first few years and may export the entire crop back home. Meanwhile, the World Food Programme (WFP) is spending almost the same amount as the investors ($116m) providing 230,000 tonnes of food aid between 2007 and 2011 to the 4.6m Ethiopians it thinks are threatened by hunger and malnutrition.”

Is it morally or intellectually justifiable for Saudi Arabia to lease land in Ethiopia to grow food for export when the local population is dying from starvation? How do African countries ensure that they benefit through education, employment, resources when they share their land with other nations? How do we ensure that policies and practices are tested to ensure that they benefit all nations, not simply powerful nations? How do we prevent greed and selfishness – on any level – personal, national, or global?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Building Cities for People, not Cars

European cities are so much more compact than North American cities. England, despite its enormous population, still has green areas. In northern France, cities like Lille and Amiens had pedestrianized downtown shopping areas with parking lots around the periphery. People shop and work and walk their children to school in downtown Cordoba. In contrast, most North American cities sprawl for miles in every direction, and you need a car to go almost anywhere.

So I really enjoyed this 3-minute video, which was the winning entry in the 2009 Congress for the New Urbanism video contest. It’s fun and positive and does a great job of promoting the idea that the greatest threat to our planet is not aliens or nuclear warfare – it’s cul de sacs and urban sprawl.

(courtesy of Presentation Zen)


Sunday, June 7, 2009

Vegetarian Restaurants in Madrid, Spain

I loved Spain and Andalucia, but I found it hard to find satisfactory vegetarian meals. By the time I arrived in Madrid, I was craving whole grains, fruit and vegetables. Fortunately, Madrid is a large city, and there are some great vegetarian restaurants. A quick Google search provided me with a variety of options. As the reviews were fairly dated, I was concerned that the restaurants might not exist any more. But that wasn’t the case.

El Estragon, Plaza de la Paja (metro La Latina)

This was my favourite of the three vegetarian restaurants I went to in Madrid, and I would have happily returned day after day. There are lots and lots of imaginative vegetarian main dishes with lots of vegetables and a variety of protein sources. It was tasty, nourishing and attractive. And the chocolate cake for dessert was very good! The service was good as well.

In addition, Plaza de la Paja is part of a chain of small plazas that are alive with restaurant patios and crowded with young people. It’s a really fun place to sit and have a drink and watch the crowd. El Estragon has both outdoor and indoor seating and appeared to serve food all day long.

El Granero de Lavapies, calle Argumosa 10 (metro Atocha or Lavapies)
This is a simple restaurant with great food. The décor is basic, and you may end up sharing a table with other people – or lining up at the door to wait as it’s very popular. They offer lunch from 1 to 4 (no dinners), and everyone appeared to be having the set menu. For 10 euros, I had a bowl of gazpacho soup, bread, a choice of entrees, a simple dessert (I had a flan), and tea or coffee. The food is really good; the service is excellent; and it’s a perfect place to have lunch after visiting the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia.

La Galette, 11 calle Conde de Aranda (metro Retiro)
This is a small, busy restaurant in a ritzy shopping area on the edge of Retiro Park. It serves both vegetarian and non-vegetarian food. The food was very healthy but plain (would have benefitted from spices or sauces) with a heavy emphasis on carrots. The apple tart was excellent, and I wished the neighbourhood stores had been open as it looked like an interesting area to window shop. The restaurant was okay, but El Estragon was much better – better food and better service.