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, December 15, 2015


Time for some Christmas spirit and Christmas cards!

December ushers in the Christmas season, although Spain, like the U.S., has also started its holiday advertising sometime right after Halloween.  And to my delight, a thousand zambombas erupt throughout Puerto, Jerez, and probably in the rest of Andalucía.  (But not in Madrid!  The streets were quiet the first weekend of December when we visited our friends Carlos and Annette, who are now stationed there with the Air Force.) 

Carlos and Annette were fabulous hosts, zambomba or no zambomba!

But December’s weekends here are all about zambombas.   A zambomba is both a musical instrument (see below) as well as a flamenco Christmas party, often outdoors, and  traditionally around a fire.  The streets overflow with song and dance, providing me with multiple forums to dance a pataita de bulerias.   Although I’m still not very good (and I’m realizing, the better I get, that I will NEVER be very good, having started much too late), I seek out every opportunity to dance, unlike many of my Spanish friends, the vast majority of whom are much better dancers, but they just don’t like to show off like I do. 

The Christmas lights are always gorgeous
Click here to see me dance in my teacher Lola's zambomba!

This year I was part of my dance teacher Jaime’s singing class that worked up a bunch of villancicos.  Thus far, I’d learned only popular ones:  Peces en el Rio, La Marimorena, Campana Sobre Campana.  But this group taught me the more ancient and traditional flamenco villancicos: Carita Divina, Azucar y Canela, Los Caminos Se Hicieron.  We learned about 10 new ones in a very short time, and again I fell head over heels in love with the rhythmic harmonies of Andalucía. 

The tubs of water are for wetting down your hands!
Click here to hear La Carita Divina
Click here to hear Azucar y Canela
Click here to hear Los Caminos Se Hicieron

Once we had some of these songs down, one Saturday we took to the streets of Jerez after an excellent lunch in Plaza Platera.  Jerez was an explosion of singing, dancing, and the zumming, thrumming sound of the zambomba, that funny percussive instrument made from a clay jar with a stretched covering with a reed poked through it. You moisten your hands and glide up and down the reed; the resulting zzzuuubbb-zzzzuuuubbb matches well with the most traditional villancicos.

Singing around the fire

 Click here to see me playing the zambomba in Jerez

Every plaza seemed to be throwing its own zambomba, and as we were a group of some 20 strong, we were our own moving zambomba.   Every time we stopped and sang, passersby would stop and join us, until we had a impressive-sized group, all singing, with the occasional dancer entering the center of our circle to whirl and twirl before gracefully exiting.   And so Jaime guided us through the streets of Jerez until we wimped out to go home at 11 pm, leaving the rest of the group to continue until who knows when!

Singing and dancing until the wee hours

And of course I organized my own palatial zambomba.  With my favorite bring-a-plate-of-tapas-and-a-bottle-of-whatever, these parties are easy, and all I had to do was arrange the music and find plenty of chairs.  My friend Jesule and his group led us through villancicos, sevillanas, and of course the bulerias.  (These musicians have stamina during this season, sometimes playing 3-4 parties per day on the weekends!) 

Rumba with Paqui

Time for the bulerias
Jaime bailando: This is what I aspire to...and it will take me another 20 years to get there.

After they left (for their next event!), we began singing and dancing with no need for music other than the accompaniment of our palmas (clapping).   In my premiere, I sang bulerias for the first time in public with the gorgeous copla Mal Alma, much to the amusement of everyone. 

Todd gets roped into dancing--what a good sport!
Begoña and Juan Pablo sing around the fire

Fiesta fun

To my delight, my friend and former student Timothy Hurst came to visit just in time for the zambomba.  I learned to teach at Our Lady of Perpetual Help (OLPH) in Anacostia, Washington, DC, also known to the kids as “Our Little Prison Home.”  Timothy, a young 11-year-old in 7th grade, was in my class my very first year of teaching.  He’d found me through Facebook, as have many former students, and as he was stationed in Crete, Greece, I’d invited him and his family to come stay with us.  It was strange and familiar at the same time to get to know him and his wife Natalia, a strikingly beautiful Puerto Rican, and to play with their two small boys Gabriel and Massimo. 

Teacher and student

We took Timothy, Natalia, and the boys to Todd’s former patient Mr. Suitt’s farm in Chipiona.  Not a zambomba exactly, but we made off with freshly harvested potatoes, carrots, and oranges.  Perfect loot, just in time for the arrival of Suzi, Ethan, Griffin and Ado for the holidays!

Bugs Bunny's dream: Nascent carrot farmers

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