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!

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"

Saturday, January 31, 2015

A New Year

Happy 2015!

2015:  Already??   After our disco-themed New Year’s bash, a knock came at the door at 11 am, just as we were all stumbling out of bed.  There was our friend Ignacio, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to pay off his debt to Todd.  He had bet Todd that, during our visit to the Spanish side of Rota’s base, Todd could not land vertically in the Harrier jet’s flight simulator.  Now, a Harrier is not your average fighter jet:  It has the capacity to rotate its jet engines downward so that it can land like a helicopter on an aircraft carrier.  But Todd, with his dual fixed-wing and helicopter licenses, nailed it the first time, much to Ignacio’s surprise.  Ignacio lost the bet and found himself obligated to do all the dishes from the party!

Todd gets some well-timed advice
Click here to see a Harrier being landed; it's not so easy!

Of course, on the first day of the New Year you have an obligatory dip in the ocean to wash off the sins and troubles of the old year and start fresh and clean.  So after we cleaned up (with Ignacio at the helm it went quickly!), we headed out to Las Redes beach for a swim.  Then a delicious lunch of leftovers at Montse’s house.  Only the most hardy brave these cold waters!

Into the water...OUT OF THE WATER!

All clean, all fresh, all good

Non-swimming sinners

Of course, Suzi’s arrival meant that the band was back together, and so we booked ourselves a gig at our first-ever locale, Bar Milord.  Juan, the owner, was delighted to accommodate us, and all our friends assured us that we sounded “the best ever.”  We love our fans.  Watch for a return appearance sometime at the end of June this year.

Touring soon in a city near you

January 6th and the Dubrows’ flight from Party Central was approaching much too fast.  We needed another party.  Ado’s birthday, coming up on January 12th, was the perfect excuse to have a farewell birthday bash at friend Kell’s house.  Kell scared up a clambake, and we celebrated Ado’s 7th year with a scavenger hunt and a kooky piñata.

A scary Aunt Steph Special

So the Rico-Dubrows left, and the house again became very quiet.  We stripped the beds, straightened up, and headed out to Bádajoz and Alburquerque to our friend Isaac and Paloma’s finca (country house) to celebrate the matanza.  Again, it was a lovely time, but rather subdued due to Paloma’s mother’s death, which came on the heels of a sudden pancreatic cancer diagnosis.  Which I understood only too well.   We brought the girls this time, and they loved the peculiar chozo that we stayed in. 

Making chorizo the old-fashioned way

Hanging in the chozo

Speaking of mothers, Todd got a surprise trip to Boston.  His mother, Linda, seemed to be worsening.  Linda has had an ongoing, very slow degenerative brain disease over the last 30 years.  She lives with Mark, Todd’s brother, outside of Boston in Westford.  She was having difficulty eating or drinking, so Todd flew out Space-A.  But she recovered nicely (a virus, perhaps?) and Todd had a great visit in snowy New England. 

Linda's 75th birthday

To wind up the month, we zoomed off to an impromptu ski vacation while Todd was in Boston.  The Spanish Sierra Nevada was having the best snow season in years, and we were itching to ski.  So off the girls and I went with our friends Mati, Trev, and his daughter Narissa, and skied our hearts out.   A beautiful day with excellent snow and the worst traffic jam I’ve ever seen getting off the mountain! 

All bundled up

Thank goodness Todd got home, because I came down with the worst sickness I’ve had in years.  The day he arrived, I landed in bed for several days, getting up only to practice for a small gig we’d booked.  It took me two weeks to recover.  Here’s to a healthier Spring! 

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Suzi Returns!

What I really wanted for Christmas was to have my sister move back and live with us again, at least until summer.  We’d gotten our visas, and the year of living together had been so—emotional—that I wanted it to continue.  Not to mention that, before she’d left last July, we’d gotten wind that this fabulous palace would be available, and that it was absolutely perfect for our two families together.

We MISS  these little guys!! Come back!  
But life has a way of making its own plans.  Once back in the States, Suzi’s book took off, Ethan found projects, the boys LOVED being back in their friendly Franklin Spanish immersion school, and…well…they came for Christmas.  Better a little than none!

Touring the Spanish side of the Base Naval Rota with our friend Ignacio and family
All together again
We threw a big zambomba before they got here; Suzi claims to be a “small party gal” now, unlike her glory days where she could light up a room of 300 partygoers.  So we invited everyone we knew to our new palace.  30 people had responded the day before the zambomba.  Oh, a small party!  I thought.  But 150 people showed up, with all sorts of fabulous food, and we laughed and ate and drank and danced until the wee hours.  The palace’s central courtyard was, again, a simply fabulous setting.

Christmas zambomba in the palace

Dancing bulerias

Tia ourclasses her mom in every way

Sasha has by far the most "arte!"

Band practice after the zambomba (by popular demand)
Singing with friends

Then we had a non-stop series of events.  Cheryl, my cousin Dana’s best friend from waaaaay back, came to visit, and I whirled her around Puerto and southern Spain, even sending her off to Morocco!

Cheryl the Adventurer

Then Ebru and Greg, the heads of the base at Rota, had their Christmas party, a gold-themed shindig.  Between visitors, parties, and cleaning and organizing the house in preparation for Suzi and Ethan’s arrival, I kept myself (and the happily-retired Todd!) busy.

Gold is mandatory

And finally, they were here!  They arrived, along with the winter cold.  Our palace is a SUMMER home, mind you, and it was a trick figuring out how to heat the place.  We dragged butane heaters from room to room, sanded down doors so that they could close off rooms, and wore lots of sweaters.

Big enough for all of us!

We put all the leaves in the huge dining room table and invited friends to welcome them, and went exploring the zambombas out in town. 

Friendly welcome
Street zambomba

 They arrived right in time to practice the Christmas songs for Advent, along with my Aunt Paige and Uncle Hans and cousin Sophie from Germany.  The central courtyard was actually heatable, and the acoustics awesome.

Practice makes perfect

In the midst of this whirlwind, Christmas Eve arrived.  The kids, under Sophie’s direction, put together a corny interpretation of the equally incomprehensible Spanish villancico (Christmas song) “Los Peces en el Rio.”  The main refrain is:  “Beben y beben y vuelven a beber, los peces en el rio, a ver a Dios nacer.”   This translates to:  “They (the fish) drink and drink and drink again, to see God born.”   Go figure.

All the actors and actresses take a bow

It was awesome  to have our German family here for Christmas.  Sophie is a mix of cousin, daughter, friend, and sister, all wrapped up into one lovely bundle.  She lived with us for a year in Imperial Beach, and I’ve been extremely attached since.  The damp and humid weather in addition to the lack of heat drove my aunt and uncle to the cozy Hotel Monestario down the street, but we got Sophie!  

Father and daughter

Next on the line-up:  New Year’s.  Suzi asked for a small party, but, as parties tend to do here, it morphed into a family monster-sized event, with equal parts oldies and youngsters discoing under the palacio’s crystal dome.  Ignacio officiated during the Grape Ceremony, which was aided by the TV Ethan and Todd had strung from the ceiling. 

Ignacio officiates the countdown

Steph and Todd can still dance

Even Ethan and Ignacio dance!

Happy New Year! ¡Feliz Año!

We had a fabulous time dancing in 2015.  My only sadness: that our time together as a big ol’ family was coming to an end.  But I shouldn’t worry, they will be back for more come the end of June!!

The Queen in her palace