Castillo San Marcos

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

Monday, March 31, 2014

Carnaval en El Puerto de Santa Maria

Cádiz is king of carnaval here in Spain; the chirigotas illegales on every streetcorner continue to charm and enchant me (click here to see my first carnaval post).  (A  chirigota is a singing group, like the guys below, who wander the streets in outlandish costumes and, well, sing.)

A chirigota rollercoaster that sings

Unfettered from its catholic origins (carnaval is originally, like Mardi Gras, the last big blowout before the six somber weeks of Lent), carnaval extends beyond Ash Wednesday and into the weekends on either side.  A combination of singing, music, political satire, street party, and Halloween, the Andalusians don’t just dress up in any old costume to hit the streets.  Instead, groups of friends get together and dress up around some sort of theme.  Puerto has its own carnaval, lower-key but right down the street.  Perfect!

Creative and irreverent: A hilarious version of the flying nuns

When I got the message from my friend Angeline that we were supposed to wear white with a red bandana and be from San Fermín, I could sort of imagine it, but I had to do some research on Google first.  San Fermín is the patron saint of the July festival in Pamplona, that crazy place where locos run with the bulls; this famous and dangerous free-for-all event included, one year, my cousin Dean, and usually involves some 200 injuries each year and even the occasional death as runners/revelers (usually alcohol-fueled) get trampled at some point, either by the bull or other runners. 

Watch out for that bull!

What a great idea!  How hilarious!  Suzi and I got out our whites, our friend Montse provided us with red bandanas, and we found red sashes to match.  Now…what to do with Todd and Ethan?

Pamplona, here we come

Neither husband had white pants or anything red.  “I’m going in my gorilla suit,”  Todd announced.  “Oh, what a shame we don’t have anything to make Ethan into a matador,”  Suzi sighed.  But wait!  I had the perfect matador jacket in my closet, just a little too big for me!  And kulats!  And pink tights from Tia!  And a pink apron that could double as a cape!  Our friend Asun came through with a matador hat, we stole Griffin’s new toy sword, and a matador was born.

Olé toro!

Now..what about that gorilla?  How about…horns?  In a flash, horns were sewed to the gorilla’s head, and the first Bullrilla ever came into existence. 

Just as scary as the real thing...maybe more so

Fueling up to run

Why can't we be friends?

Ten runners dressed in white with red neckerchiefs hit the streets of Puerto that night, highly amused by the bull-and-torero combination.  Just to ensure that no one got hurt, four good sports dressed up as beautiful nurses and volunteered to follow us with the hospital (aka beer) cart down the street. 

Saving us from the bullrilla, one nurse down

And off we ran, making a grand entrance into downtown Puerto and followed by the Bullrilla who was himself chased by the matador.

Our grand entrance

Click here to see us run into Pamplona...I mean Puerto...

The bullfight was amazing….

The introduction...

An attempted matanza...

And the bullrilla scores! 

Luckily, no one got hurt—well, maybe just a little, but nurses were on-hand to prevent any permanent injury.

Lovely ladies

And the biggest hit of the night?  The Bullrilla, of course.  Everyone wanted to dance with him!

Now the big question is:  What do we do for NEXT year?

Friday, February 28, 2014

Rocking Bar Milord

One of the best things about having my sister here is all of these experiences I have that I wouldn't have had otherwise.  For example, the Canary Islands have never been high on my list of travel priorities.  But Suzi, with her high-energy, go-go-go approach to life, asked Ethan and me if we wanted to run a marathon on her birthday.  After all, there was one going on in the Canaries!

Go, Mom, you can DO it!!!
So off we flew, leaving Todd behind yet again with the cats (Todd claiming that the furthest he could run was a 5 k).  Alas, injuries beset us, and only Ethan completed a measly half-marathon in a respectable 1:41 and change, with Suzi, Daisy, the kids and me as his cheering squad. Still, Las Palmas and its restaurants were a welcome celebration, although the kids could have lived without two visits to La Champiñoneria (The Mushroom House).  We found it fungilicious.  And Las Palmas, the capital of Gran Canaria (a name, by the way, that comes not from birds but from the dogs found on the islands by the first European explorers) was quite beautiful in a pastel baroque way, with a wonderful museum dedicated to Cristobal Colón.  We took a day to drive through the island's interior, reminiscent of the dry side of Maui.
On the edge: the interior of Gran Canaria
Who is Daisy, you ask?  Yet another benefit of living with my sister was the opportunity to have Daisy come stay with us for three weeks.  A combination mentee/adopted daughter, Daisy has been part of Suzi's family for the past decade or so.  She and I bonded over flamenco; I enrolled her in my bulerias class for two weeks (which she picked right up!) and took her to the Jerez pasarela (fashion show) where we oooohed and ahhhed at the amazing dresses for this year's ferias.  One of my many segundo mano dresses fit her to a T, giving her a fancy souvenir from Andalucia.  

Gitanas through the ages
Daisy fit right in: Clowing around at Suzi's birthday party
Skiing is another adventure made easier by the melding of two families.  It's easier to get a ski house for 8 and pack all the gear into one eurovan, even if it turns out that high wind speeds close the mountain for two of the three days you are there to ski.  The Spanish Sierra Nevada is usually more dependable than this, they are quite good about refunding your lift tickets and rentals, and the kids were marvelous at inventing ways to amuse themselves in the snow outside our front door.  

At least the slopes were bright for ONE day!
It's lucky we couldn't ski much, anyway.  Suzi and I had packed a guitar and bass into the overloaded Espace (eurovan), and we practiced for hours while the kids built a dangerous sled run off the wall and through the trees.  We left it to Ethan to supervise between soccer games at the pub, while we played Surrender, Back on the Chain Gang, and Country Roads until the kids begged us to stop.  After all, our big premier at Bar Milord was only a week away.

Practice makes perfect
Yes, we now have a band.   Our clever name, Vale That, joins the omnipresent Spanish word vale, as in "Sure!" or "great!" or "Got it!" or "yeah, yeah, yeah" with the military/aeronautic "Roger That" airspeak to make a joke that almost no one gets.  "Is that 'Vale That," like over hill and dale?'  a friend of mine asked.  

Oh, aren't we clever?
Nevertheless, practice we did, and despite Ethan's doubtful face, the kids assured us that we sounded great.  The microphones fed back, the guitars untuned themselves, and we forgot some of the chords, but we'd packed the bar with our friends, complete with a fan throwing her black bra to the singer, and a good time was had by all.  Consider yourself invited to the next gig!

The sisters rock

Todd rocks

We rock the house...or at least Bar Milord
Packing up and going home post-party
Watch us perform!!  Click here

Next up in our Spanish adventure:  Carnaval in Cádiz and El Puerto de Santa Maria spools up.  We are officially entering the party season, which starts with carnaval, rolls into Semana Santa, picks up speed with the start of feria season, and rocks along through the summer.  ¡Olé!

A chirigota, or singing group, in Cádiz.  Hilarious.  AND they sing! All night long.

Friday, January 31, 2014

A New Year, a New Adventure

2013, as predicted, turned out to be quite a year, although not in the way we’d hoped.  But my mom’s death, while difficult, taught us a lot and brought Suzi and me together to live in Spain with an unexpected intensity that lets us heal.

Healing house:  At Isaac and Paloma's casa en el campo

I will always be grateful to Spain and to the amazing Spanish friends we’ve made that have helped this healing along.  New Year’s Day arrived after a lovely dinner party at our house and a 3 am visit to Los Milagros, the swanky discothéque down the street.  That morning we got a mysterious invitation from my friend Angeline, our local social director:  “Time to wash off your sins and start the New Year clean!”  Huh???

Brave souls

This seems to be a recent tradition, although there are Polar Bear Plunges from New York to California to Canada, the Dutch are crazy enough to swim in the North Sea January 1st, and the wild Italians dive off of bridges into the freezing (and shallow) Tiber River to celebrate the new year.  Apparently the Portuenses (people from Puerto) also love to freeze their butts off.  So we hopped into our little Eurovan and drove up to the beach at Las Redes to take a quick dip.  Icy, but fun!

We did it!  And we're still alive!

Another piece of lore from Spain:  the poor Spanish kids have to wait until January 6th—two weeks after Christmas!!—to get their presents.  That’s because presents in Spain come from the Reyes Magos, or Wise Men, who followed the star to Bethlehem with presents for Jesus.   It took them that long to cross the desert and get to the manger to lay gifts at the new baby’s feet.  So Spanish kids, too, get their presents on January 6th to celebrate. 

Baltazar, the most beloved of the Reyes Magos

The night before, there is a huge parade to welcome in the Reyes Magos.  Puerto’s Reyes Magos started at the castle next door to us, mounted on horseback (not camels) and at some point transferring to huge floats pulled by tractors.  They wound through the streets for four hours before getting to the Church to pay homage to the Niño Jesús and kiss his little foot.  They then made their way back to the castle, and along the way threw HUGE quantities of candies to the waiting crowds—some 15,000 kilograms (that’s over 30,000 pounds!) of candy.

Literally raining candy

What is incredible is that in each city and town, there is a Reyes Magos parade, and usually a spectacular one at that.  At the castle, villancicos blaring through the sound system, we made our way home, tired but happy with a huge bag of loot.  Suddenly fireworks blasted away from the interior of the castle.  We ran to our terrace and stood directly under a joyful display to celebrate the Magos.

So close

Then for the adventure: our friend Isaac, a Spanish surgeon, and his wife Paloma invited us up to their finca (property in the country) for a traditional matanza.  Todd and I left the kids behind with Aunt Suzi and Uncle Ethan, as we knew matar means “to kill” and we weren’t sure what to expect. 

Gorgeous countryside, delicious animals

Isaac and Paloma’s finca is in western Spain, 8 kilometers from the Portuguese border, and studded with encinas y alcornales, trees with the famous bellota acorns that feed the even more famous black pigs from which comes the world-renowned jamón ibérico bellota. 

We love jamón

We arrived on a Friday evening in a small town called Alburquerque (yes, the “r” is supposed to be there, our Albuquerque (New Mexico) is named after the Duke of Alburquerque, just like  this little town, but we dropped the “r” sometime in the 19th century).  Isaac met us at the charming rural turismo or tourist hotel, and led us out to his finca.  There we watched the production of chorizo (we’d missed the butchering of the five magnificent black pigs earlier that day) and ate freshly grilled tapas made from various pig parts. 
Chorizo in the making

Chez Isaac y Paloma

Then out came the guitars, and we sang and danced until Isaac made us go to bed, insisting that there was plenty of work and play coming up the next day.  Todd and I danced a spirited round of sevillanas, and back to the turismo we went.

Piggy celebration

Saturday was all about salchichon (sausage).  I learned how the filling was prepared, how the intestines were cleaned, and—most importantly—how to fill them, tie them, and tighten them to make the delicious links we’d grown to love.  Todd became an expert salchichon hanger; I was a little too short, but I did learn to tie a mean sausage.

Todd's taller

Not as easy as it looks

After hours of work came the feast:  everything pig for starters, then a delicious rice seasoned with—what else—pig meat.  We would have stayed longer, the food was amazing and the company even better, but my nephew Ado was having a birthday and we had to leave that afternoon.  We got a royal send-off!

Rustic guiso (stew)

All in all, a wonderful way to start 2014.  Looks like that ocean dip was worth it!