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!

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!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

History of a Puerto Palace

One of my new-found projects, fascinated as I am by this incredible place we live in, is to understand more about this house.  House is really not the correct word; the registro where all the archival documentation on Puerto’s houses are kept called this a casa-bodega.   But to me, it’s a palace, and I am its queen!

The queen in her castle

Our palace is known as Casa O’Ryan after the Irish immigrant who built it, Thomas Patrick Ryan.  (At this point he was not “O’Ryan,” just regular “Ryan,” but I guess since he was the grandson of the original Ryans from Ireland, he qualifies with the “O”.)  Thomas Ryan was the son of Irish immigrants to Cádiz in the latter half of the 18th century, when England, via Cromwell, was confiscating all of the property owned by the Irish Catholics.  Stripped of their land and possessions, many decided to come to Spain.

Welcome to the palace

Why Spain?  Surprising for me, there is a deeply-felt connection between Spain and Ireland.  Sometime in the early centuries of Christianity, Ireland was supposedly visited by some Spanish guys.  Both Spanish and Irish legend tell of the great leader from Galicia, Milesian, who sailed with his warriors across the ocean to Ireland, where they conquered (after a time) the Irish population and never left.   Or something like that.  Milesian is the Anglization of Mil Espáine, or from the Latin, Miles Hispaniae, “soldier of Spain.”  Back in the 18th century, both Ireland and Spain were familiar with this legend (although it doesn’t appear to be true), and based on it, King Carlos II of Spain declared that “the Irish in Spain have always enjoyed the same privileges as Spaniards,”  which was subsequently confirmed via decree by King Felipe V and King Carlos IV.  Who knew?

Milesian is getting revenge for the Celtic treachery

So Thomas Patrick Ryan was well-aware of his Spanish roots, and decided to put down roots permanently in El Puerto de Santa Maria.  He built this palace in 1773, after marrying Margaret Francisca Terry MacNamara, the daughter of William Terry of Málaga.  Interestingly enough, the Terry family also has Irish (not British) roots, and the current owner is a Terry, though only very distantly related to Margaret.  The Málaga Terrys were quite rich, so this was a big step up for Thomas Patrick.

The inner courtyard

To further boost his standing in society, Thomas Ryan apparently applied for and received a title: Hidalgo.  He had to submit his lineage from Ireland, which seemed to have impressed the Spanish officials enough to grant him his title.  Maybe that’s when he had the coat of arms made for the house?

The latin inscription reads, "Better death than to suffer a stain [dishonor]"

The house (or palace, as I prefer to call it) stayed in the Ryan family until 1844, when one of the children (or grandchildren?) of Thomas Patrick decided to sell it.  By this time the Irish name had been changed from Ryan to Rian, and one Ignacio Alberto Rian sold the casa-bodega to Don Benito Ricardo y Ricardo and his wife, Doña Catalina Paul y Ymas.  They held onto it for the next 50 years. Doña Catalina sold the palace in 1893 and it was resold in 1895, landing in the Don Ramon Jimenez Varela family for the next 60 years.  Don Ramon bought the house for a paltry 25,000 pesetas, or about $4000. What a deal!

Interior front door

The palace stayed in the Jimenez family after Don Ramon’s death as well as the death of his heir, Don Ernesto.  Doña Rafaela Sancho Mateos, Don Ernesto's widow, subdivided the property, splitting the house off from the bodega.  When she died in 1954, the six children quickly sold the palace off to the Caballero Noguera family, another famous Puerto bodega family.  This time the house sold for 35,000 pesetas, but in today’s money and due to inflation, that would be about $700.   If only I’d been around to buy it then!

Where the keys to the palace are kept

The palace stayed in the Caballero Noguera family for the next 20 years.  I keep running into people who knew the house intimately during those years: my compañera de baile, Isabel, spent her summers in this house with the Caballeros, and I’ve met Carlota Caballero, who grew up here. 

Hallway upstairs to Sasha's room
In 1973, Tomás Terry Merello of the Puerto bodega family Terry bought the house, I’m guessing for his bride Ana Rosa Pidel, and began extensive remodeling on the grand, old, falling-down palace.  He moved the main staircase, added an upstairs to the back wing, and moved the kitchen, among other things.  He used antique tiles and other materials to maintain the authenticity of the palace.   Each bathroom has its own tile color: blue, teal, green, or maroon!

Blue bathroom

Much of the wood for the beams and many of the doors in the house is caoba, a South American hardwood that resists wood-eating insects.   Two of the fountains came from the nearby monastery, and many of the lights, doors,  and other details were salvaged from other palaces in the area.

Caoba shutters in the living room

One of the glories of the house is the fresco in the study painted by local artist Juan Lara.  Juan Lara made his name painting in Mexico, where he is better known, but he is a local favorite here in Puerto, with a school named after him!   The fresco is enormous and gives you the sensation that you are looking back into the past.

The 150-year-old chandelier isn't bad, either

When it was built, the central courtyard was open to the air was and closed in later, although the glass structure is still open to allow heat to escape.  The house was originally a summer house, not intended for winter use (note the lack of fireplaces).  

Such a gorgeous space
There is a second courtyard looking out towards the garden, and a third smaller courtyard off of the study. 

Main outside patio, heading to the garden

Small patio off of the study (Juan Lara room)

The art in the dining room is particularly impressive: the main painting is of the Virgen de Guadalupe of Mexico.  The Virgen appeared to an indigena, later San Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, and ordered him to inform the archbishop to build a shrine to her here at this spot.  The archbishop refused, demanding proof of la Virgen’s appearance.  The Virgen appeared again to San Juan Diego, inviting him to climb up to the top of the hill.  Despite the winter weather and the arid climate, Juan Diego found many beautiful flowers, which he gathered.  The Virgen told him to bring them to the archbishop as proof.  He put them in his ayate or tilma (a cloak used for harvesting).  In front of the archbishop, he opened the tilma to shake out the flowers, and inexplicably, there was the image of the Virgen de Guadalupe imprinted on the fabric of the tilma.

Enough room for everyone, with the Virgen looking on

And the kitchen is enormous.  It is a real pleasure to cook there, with plenty of space and storage, a huge pantry, and delightful blue tiling and country cabinets.  No matter that there’s no dishwasher (we installed one back in the laundry room and ferry the dishes back and forth), we have double sinks!  And Tia and Sasha have become expert dish-doers.

The Joy of Cooking

Finally, we have bedrooms!  And bedrooms, and bedrooms,  6 of them, to be exact, and 6 bathrooms, all gorgeous and light-filled.  There’s something for everyone: Elegant, cozy, fun and kid-oriented, young and hip, and Easter-bunny (that would be Sasha’s room!).  It’s a wonderful house to have guests.   

Our peaceful, sunlit bedroom (dark as night with the shutters closed!)

Tia's sanctuary

Sasha got the servants' quarters and painted it cheerful turquoise

Suzi and Ethan's room, with a view to the garden

The boys' room, AKA The Cuckoo's Nest (this is where Todd hides for siesta)

And we even have a guest room!  Ha!  Ha!  

I was lucky enough to spend some time with Carlota Caballero recently, and we walked through the house together.  She reminisced about her days growing up in this palace, riding on the servants’ backs as they scrubbed the floor, running around under the magnolia in the back yard, and jumping from the trampoline into the pool.  She noted the extensive remodeling done by Tomás Terry, including the relocation of the main staircase (including all the marble stair treads!) and the second-floor edition, but much of the house was recognizable to her, in particular the central courtyard.  It was a delight to spend time with someone who knows this palace so intimately, and to share it with her once again.  Such is my good luck here in Spain! 

Todd loves Smokey the cat

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Let the Fiestas Begin!

Go, Fiesta!
February marks the beginning of the fiesta season, starting with Carnaval and its crazy costumes and lasting through summer into next September.  People here begin dreaming of feria, and the fashion shows up in Sevilla revv up to full speed.  This year I took Tia and Sasha, and we ooohed and aaaahed at the gorgeous dresses.  That’s about as close as I’ll get to one this year, given our retirement budget!

A gorgeous bouquet of gitanas
Checking out the dresses at SIMOF (Salón Internacioal de Moda Flamenca) in Sevilla

And then the fun begins.  Carnaval (literally, “Goodbye (from Latin "val") to the Flesh (carne, aka sins,”)  is the same idea as Mardi Gras and Carnaval in Rio, but lasts from the end of January through the week after Lent begins.  Originally a religious-influenced holiday, with the loosening of Catholic social structures after the end of Franco Carnaval is now a free-floating, long-lasting party that is also one of the cleverest I’ve ever seen.  Groups called chirigotas spend months planning and practicing their songs, and the singing is always surprisingly superb.

Click here, here, and/or here to watch some chirigotas in action in the streets of Cádiz.

Our home-made American chirigota

This year our friends Steve and Laura came to visit us.  Little did they know what they were in for!  They arrived just in time to get dressed up as American football players and cheerleaders.  Of course the men made the BEST cheerleaders.   They even learned a cheer, and we hiked the ball down Calle Luna.  What good sports our friends are!

What did we get ourselves into???

Charming cheerleaaders

Such good sports
We cruised around the bay (Puerto, Cadiz, Vejer, even down to Bolonia) with Steve, Laura, and their boys Isaac and Abe, showing them the best of our life here. 

Ancient beauty by the sea

And we ended up the month of February in two very beautiful Renaissance cities, Baeza and Úbeda.  Gorgeously preserved, they provided a dramatic immersion in history.  This is where the Spanish money moved to during the Golden Age of Spain (think New World gold).  Jaen is also the olive oil capital of Spain, and we toured the Mueso de Aceite de Oliva. 

Renaissance splendor

Calle de Úbeda
Party train

March would have been a quiet month but for the constant practicing of our band.  We are STILL amateurs, but starting to sound not so bad.  We are actually being ASKED to play.  Amazing.  So here’s to gearing up for FERIA, starting at the end of April!!   We hope to be able to play in a caseta again…!

In my dreams...
Loving Olive Oil Country..."A Sea Of Olive Trees"