Castillo San Marcos

Castillo San Marcos
13th-century castle, El Puerto de Santa Maria. That WAS our house to the left and behind the tree!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Finally, Ireland!

No, this is not photoshopped!

June:  the end of school, the season of sunflowers here in Spain, and the fin de curso de baile for Tia, Sasha and me.   Oh, and wait…the caracoles are here (every restaurant in town has a sign announcing them).   They are for sale on the street, climbing around happily until they get dumped (like lobsters and crabs) into a vat of boiling broth.  I’m not much of a fan, but the Andalucians love them!

Delectable slimyness

And of course, it’s the start of summer vacation.  I have always wanted to visit Ireland, that emerald isle with the saucy attitude, the verdant hillsides, and its tragic history.  I know a good number of Irish immigrants in California—fun-loving and quick-witted the lot.  Since doing the research on our palace, my interest has only been whetted, given the interesting and unexpected connection between my beloved Spain and this very different island to the northwest: Although still not verified scientifically, the Kings of Spain believed strongly enough that the Irish people shared deep roots with Galician sailors and warriors that they granted the Irish immigrants full rights as citizens during the 18th and 19th centuries. 

Irish country lass

Even though the girls’ school didn’t end until June 22nd, we flew off to Dublin on June 13th to meet Suzi and Ethan and the boys to toodle through the lush green (and cold!) countryside of Western Ireland.  Renting a beach cottage in County Clare just a short drive from the famous Cliffs of Moher, we explored the coast while helping each other avoid head-on collisions—driving on the wrong side of the road is nothing if not attention-grabbing!

Looking westward
This is also not photoshopped!

Close to the edge
This made Daddy a little uptight

After the Cliffs of Moher (spectacular drops on the West coast down to a gray Atlantic), we swung through County Kerry, lunching in Tralee and passing through the village of Dingle before returning via Bunratty Castle for a medieval banquet.  

Imposing fortress

Everything was perfect, dining while listening to the harmonies of 15th-century choir songs, until Ado said he didn’t feel so good halfway through the ribs.  By the time we got out to the cars, all those medieval ribs were coming back up the poor little guy.

Bunratty minstrels

Click here to see the Bunratty Singers in action!

But by the next day he recovered, and we headed out to Limerick to St. John’s castle, and on to Dublin.  A fairy-tale dinner was the next event, sharing the strong Irish tradition of storytelling and magic of this shamrock, leprechaun, fairy tree, Blarney-stone-infused culture.  

Castle of St. John
Ghosts and leprechauns

But by the end, Suzi didn’t feel so good.  Nor did Tia.  Looks like it wasn’t the ribs, after all, but a stomach virus that laid half of us low!

In the dungeon

We hung out in our little Dublin apartment, the healthy ones continuing to cruise the city, the sickies resting and recuperating.  I got my fill of fish-n-chips for the year, and Guinness was, of course, the drink of choice. 

Irish wisdom
And then back to Spain we went.  I had a performance with my flamenco teacher, Noelia, in Peña El Chumi.  Ho, hum!  This is getting so common that none of my family showed up to see my next 10 minutes of fame on a stage.  So here it is for you!

Click here to see me dance...aaaaaagain...

Much more interesting, I should say, was the Fin de Curso event for Tia and Sasha’s dance class (as well as mine) with our teacher Lola de Cai.   Tia and Sasha have far surpassed me now in flamenco, dancing an alegria and a garrotin.  I, for my part, danced a hilarious tanguillo complete with the traditional Cádiz fishwife outfit, and then of course strutted my bulerias skills in the fin de fiesta.  

Click here to see me as a fishwife from Cádiz

Click here to see Tia and Sasha dance the garrotin

We packed a lot into these few short days before leaving on our next adventure: Crete! 

Sunflower selfie

Sunday, May 31, 2015

A Bad Feriante

A strong start at the Sevilla feria (it went downhill from there)

What I WANTED to do this feria season!  Oh well, there's always next year...

This year I definitively lost my feriante crown, lured by the excitement of a Spanish-American wedding on the East Coast (our friends Ignacio and Mati have a bicultural son, Alejandro, who was an U.S. Army Ranger and is now a offensive lineman for the Pittsburgh Steelers, for his story see this link!). 

The happy couple (for comparison's sake, Maddy the bride is over 6 ft. tall)
Set, as many weddings are, in the spring month of May, it overlapped perfectly with the Puerto feria, my favorite.   Decisions, decisions!  Friendship trumped showing off to the music of bulerias, and we also had the added bonus of meeting Suzi and Ethan in D.C. for this most memorable of wedding events—the meshing of American and Spanish cultures and families!

What I missed: The portada or entrance gate of the Puerto feria.   ¡Óle Toro!

Nevertheless, we had a smashingly successful pre-feria fiesta in our palace, complete with farolillos that turned our interior patio into a mini-caseta.  Thanks to the skill of Enrique (the cantaor) and Jesule (the guitarrista), our courtyard became a swirl of dancing and clapping for several hours. 

A caseta inside our courtyard!

Spooling up for feria

Dancing the sevillanas

A whirl of dancing and fun

Jesule and Enrique with some buenas feriantes

Tia takes center stage

And before flying off to D.C. we did hit the Rota feria with my cousins Stephan and Kristen, who had come to visit during the month of May.  Perfect timing for them, too!  

Feigning a fight in the sevillanas

And the best was dancing the sevillanas with the 15 or so people I’d taught over the last few months—teaching is in my blood, I guess, and I got an extra kick out of sharing this wonderful dance with first-time feria goers as well as those who’d always wanted to learn the sevillanas (Brent and Lynn!!).

Lynn dancing the sevillanas!!  

¡Óle tu, Brent!

Bouquet of beauties
The wedding was an all-weekend event; we were very courteously invited to the rehearsal dinner at bride Maddy’s parents’ house, a gorgeous place alongside the Chesapeake Bay.  

Fun on the Chesapeake

Post-party ops at the hotel
The main event was celebrated at a lovely church, American-style with bridesmaids and Spanish-style with selected readings in Spanish.  The reception rocked the house in a nearby winery, the newlyweds cutting the rug on their first dance that initiated a non-stop, beautifully organized party for the next 5 hours.  

With the bride, Paloma and Carmen (sisters of the groom), and the ever-present Angeline

Fun with my sister

I of course had to make up for lost feria time by organizing a special bulerias routine with the Spanish contingent at the reception.  It got a little lost in the shuffle, but hey, ¡buen intento!

Bulerias in America

Back in Puerto, we were in time to catch the Jerez feria, although the heat kept me out of the feria dresses.   Tia and Sasha were big hits with the Jerezanos!

Jerez is the best

Family selfie

Stephan and Kristen were the ultimate perfect houseguests—super easy, extra enthusiastic, great fun to share this beautiful country with, and game for just about anything.  We traveled to Algodonales to see the re-enactment of the 2 de mayo battle in Algodonales, an event in which our friend Alberto is dressed up, as are many of the Algodonales villagers, as either French soldiers or 19th-century village rebels. 

(photos, video)

And we also took them north to the countryside of Alburquerque, to our familiar hotel rural with its chozos and a horsebackride around the lake, and then off to the spa at Alange outside of Merida, where the radioactive waters have been recognized for decades as a healing source.  My greatest regret is a lack of battery power for my camera as Todd and Stephan got facials, complete with shower caps! 

The old Roman wall of the Alange balneario

We ended up the feria season in Sanlúcar as usual, dancing the night away in this center-of-the-city feria.  Next year will be my last feria season for a while, and I’m determined to regain my crown!

Ignacio and Mati in full feria mode

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Semana Santa In Puerto, Florence, and Venice

Romans and Jesus in El Puerto de Santa Maria
This year, instead of celebrating the entire Semana Santa in Puerto, we decided to see what Semana Santa in Italy would be like.  Todd had never been to Florence or Venice, April is a great month to visit those cities (summer is too hot and crowded), and we’d moved, giving up our front-row balcony seats of our old house for the Puerto processions.   Sara and Dave Durkovich had also moved to Puerto with their two boys, Olsen and Aden, who get along great with Tia and Sasha.  It was a perfect combination.

Still, we managed to squeeze in a couple of processions before leaving. These rituals are so charming to me, I was sad not to be here, and I insisted on running down the street to catch the beginning from nearby Parroquia San Joaquin.  The way that the whole town comes together, the young guys preparing to carry the floats on their backs, the families crowding the sidewalks, the tolling of bells and scent of incense, all stir me with their ancient routine. 

La Santa Maria Leaving San Joaquin Parish

Even now, these white gowns and capirotas still startle me

And then off to Florence we went.  We landed first, the Durkovichs two days behind us as our Spring Breaks didn’t overlap.   And we dove head-first into the land of gelato, pizza, and pasta, all so ubiquitous and delicious.  We grazed our way through the streets, crossing the Ponte Vecchio with its designer shops, the Uffizi with its miles of Medici plunder, and strolling the banks of the Arno.  In a tiny plaza we met a Guatamalan priest; this was his first assignment, he told us, not bad!  The tiny Chiesa de Santi Apostoli even had its own processions in the equally tiny Piazza de Limbo, but that was the week before.

Petting the Lucky Pig in Florence.  If a coin you put in his mouth drops down the drain, you will return!

On the banks of the river Arno

Chocolate bunnies for Easter were a hit!

As we chatted, the father’s English nearly perfect from his training in Denver, he remarked that he’d also trained in California.  Where? I asked.  Oh, in a town called Cupertino, in a seminary on San Juan Road….which turns out to be the very street where I grew up, and I’ve visited that seminary!  Serendipity at work again.  The church itself is lovely and subtle, in keeping with its 11th-century origins, and one of the only churches left that retain its Middle Ages character. 

The Guatamalan Padre from Cupertino!
A beautiful little church, a great first assignment!

A new tactic we developed this trip was to watch documentaries of the places we were visiting.  A fascinating one that both families watched together was the building of the famous Florence Duomo.   The city began construction in 1296 on the Duomo with the goal of outdoing the great cathedrals of Pisa and Sienna, but their ambition outstripped the technology available at the time.  For over a hundred years the cathedral sat without a dome, open to the heavens and a big black eye to the city fathers.  

Ouch, that hurts.  How to fix it?
Desperately they sought a solution to how to construct a dome of that size.  The problem was that the dome was so huge and so high that is was impossible to erect wooden scaffolding to hold the bricks in place until the keystones were placed.  Somehow it had to be constructed so that the bricks wouldn’t fall off as the slope of the dome increased towards the peak.  

The Duomo truly does tower over the city

Brunelleschi finally solved the problem, although he was extremely secretive, sharing the details with no one and burning all computations, so it’s still somewhat of a mystery how he accomplished this amazing feat.  It’s a great story; the Duomo remains the largest brick-construction dome in the world.
(Watch the documentary here)  

Secret brickwork design by Brunelleschi
How DID Brunelleschi figure out how to build that dome??

Friends with a view

Still not too old to ride a carousel

Four days were too short to see Florence, especially since we spent one day in Pisa climbing the Leaning Tower.  Closed for over ten years to the public, we happily climbed up  the leaning staircase and out over the charming city of Pisa.  One more for my bucket list!

Whoah, that looks dangerous!

The Duomo was meant to beat out this beauty of a cathedral

Beautiful and Bella (ha, ha)

Helping out

We saw as much as the kids could stomach of the Uffizi, gawking at the Greek and Roman art the Medicis had accumulated; the kids knew lots about Greek and Roman mythology from the Rick Riordan book series.   Then a quick trip to the Galileo museum to pay homage to the great scientist, and off we went to Venice.

Italy: Beautiful women...

...and handsome men!
Venice was packed this Easter weekend, and with just two days there, we saw the Piazza San Marcos, went glass shopping in Muriano, and of course ate well.  But the highlight again was the documentary explaining just how Venice had been constructed on the soft, swampy ground that the early Venetians fled to in order to escape the maurading Gothic and Hun hordes.  

The Venetians constructing their hideaway
To create a platform strong enough to bear the massive weight of something like the Cathedral San Marcos, they took long, narrow poles from the nearby forests and sharpened the tips, then drove them down into the muck.  Do this many thousands of times over, and voila!  You have a foundation steady enough to build on, including the immense churches that dot these islands. 

Skirting the rising tide in Piazza San Marco

Unfortunately the tides and sea level seem to be rising, as well as some sinking going on; Venice’s long-term future is uncertain.  We noted the standing water in Piazza San Marcos which rose and fell with the tides, and the kids were not persuaded by the explanation of waste from houses being flushed by the tidal flow.  But then, they loved the gelato!

One of the best things about Italy

Once back in Puerto, we started gearing up for the feria season, even though I already knew that the wedding we would attend in May meant missing the whole Puerto feria.  Oh well, there’s always next year!

Viva la feria!