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!

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!

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