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, 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"

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!




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