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Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Alcazaba in Almería

The Alcazaba in Almería rises high over the city and cannot be missed when approaching Almería from the west, which is the direction from which you drive when coming from Roquetas. We've been to the Alcazaba a few times before and found it to be a pleasant and ever-changing experience. The grounds of this ancient fortress and castle, dating from the 10th century, are well-maintained, with the terracing, water pools, gardens, and patios common to Moorish dwellings. Now that spring seems to be arriving in southern Spain, I was hoping to see some colorful flowers, different from the ones I had seen on previous trips in high summer and mid-winter.

Every time I had previously visited the Alcazaba there were several workmen present doing restoration work, and some areas were off-limits for visits. The only workmen I saw this time were gardeners who were busy pruning the various green plantings--bougainvillea and lavender hedges provided most of the color at this time, but I know that later there will be lots of roses. I hope the current economic crisis has not halted restoration of the Alcazaba, which has gathered much support from the European Union (EU citizens receive free admission, but no one checks passports).

It's impossible to walk the entire grounds in one visit. This time I saw a complete restoration of a Moorish home, with central patio and surrounding salon, bedrooms, and cooking area, all furnished with typical mattresses, tapestries, pots and ceramics, with detailed signage, though only in Spanish. One larger room is always devoted to a contemporary art exhibit, and though I've not yet attended, there are occasional musical concerts within the grounds.

As with most historical sites in Spain, no single civilization can lay exclusive claim to the Alcazaba. Though the structure currently standing was built in the 10th century by the Moors and exhibits mostly an Arab face, the Romans got there first, specifically the Carthaginians. Roman baths were being re-excavated the last time I was there, and last Friday the area had been cleaned up but is still waiting for some interpretation. The Christians laid claim to the area briefly during the 12 century and again later at the end of the 15th century, Los Reyes Católicos, Ferdinand and Isabella, expanded the fortress to defend their faith against the Moors. This visit I made it over to the far side of the monument, where the high stone walls have the usual round holes carved out to let cannon balls through, in case predators attempt to approach. They make good peep-holes these days through which one can view the lovely Almería harbor. But the cross on the top of the cannon hole serves as a good means of reminding modern visitors that it is not the Muslims alone who have waged holy wars.

The Princess of Canton, Ohio

We started out last Friday morning to visit the Alcazaba in Almería city but needed a cup of coffee to strengthen us for the steep walk. At 10:30 AM, folks were streaming in to a dark cafetería on Calle Real near the corner of Calle Infanta, so we joined the crowd, even though we had to wait a couple minutes for a table. There was plenty to look at while we waited. For no apparent reason, the walls were covered with ancient barnboard and pictures of old advertisements from the United States of the nineteenth century.

We found a place at a narrow wooden table that looked as though it once had been a wooden sewing machine base; on the end was a metal plate advertising Sears, Roebuck & Company. But what took my attention while we sipped our café con leche and shared a media tostada con atún y tomáte was the huge poster, composed of five broad barnboard planks, depicting "The Princess of Canton, Ohio."

On a separate poster I read that the Princess Plow Company was the successor to the Gibbs & Ball Plow Company and laid claim to being "Queen of the Turf" and "Pride of the Farm." But there was competition: An adjoining wall showed a much smaller announcement from Plano, Illinois, boasting that "We have captured the Gold Medal at the World's Industrial Exposition. Simplicity of construction. Small number of working parts....Good materials." I could not find the name of the Gold Medal manufacturer, and there was no mention of date or location of the World's Industrial Exposition.

Back at my desk this Sunday in Spain, I've determined that the World's Industrial Exposition was likely that held in New Orleans in 1884-85. The Miami University Libraries have put photos of some Victorian Trade Cards of the Princess Plow Co., up on flickr, and there are others available on eBay. And an Encyclopedia of American Farm Implements & Antiques, by Charles H. Wendel (2004), lists two Princess plows: one from the Carnegie Plow & Mfg Co., of Carnegie, PA in 1905, the other from the Princess Plow Co. of Canton, OH in 1892.

Perhaps the Princess Plow Co. improved on the Gold Medal winner at the World's Industrial Exposition. In any case, I know more about 19th-century farm equipment manufacturers, and Canton, Ohio, now than I did before stopping for a cup of coffee last Friday morning.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Roquetas de Mar

Very careful readers of this blog may have noticed a subtle change in subtitle. I started writing Sundays in Spain when we were living temporarily on Spain's Costa Blanca, near Torrevieja, in Alicante province on the east coast. We have recently moved back to the original place we started living in Spain more than five years ago, Roquetas de Mar. We have a large apartment in Roquetas that we have decided to sell, but like most real estate worldwide these days, it's not moving at lightning speed. Until such time as we sell and return to the Costa Blanca, we decided to settle once again in Roquetas, which is not at all a bad place to be.

Roquetas de Mar is located in the province of Almería, which in turn is a part of the comunidad of Andalucía, that broad region at the south of Spain that extends almost all the way from its eastern to its western border. The capital city of Almería is also named Almería and is a short twenty-minute drive by car or local bus from Roquetas center. Roquetas itself has about 80,000 inhabitants, spread among the villages of Aguadulce, El Parador, Roquetas old town, and the Roquetas urbanization (resort). It sits just next to the desert of Tabernas and in the midst of thousands of invernaderos, plastic greenhouses, which give three growing seasons for the agricultural industry that, with tourism, supports the area's economy.

I've written previously about the underground tunnels below Almería, and you will no doubt hear more about Almería, Roquetas, and Andalucía, in the weeks ahead.

"Tu Papel es Importante"

One of the first public phrases that I thought I understood in Spanish was the polite "Tu papel es importante" sign on the paper recycling container, reminding all that "Your paper is important." In other words, please place your used paper here, not in the general trash bin; recycling is important, and you can help.

Recycling containers of all types are ubiquitous throughout Spain. On practically every block you will find a long string of large containers in the street. Yellow containers are for Envases, including plastic containers for soft drinks; the heavy-duty tetra/brik boxes for milk; tin and aluminum food cans. The blue-accented "Tu papel es importante" containers are for most clean papers: newspapers, magazines, office paper, cereal boxes, cardboard, and carton. Green containers are for glass: wine bottles, beer bottles, glass jars that formerly held olives, condiments, and other prepared foodstuffs. Finally in the lineup come the "Other" containers, the army-green dumpsters for whatever else you may have to throw away--encased in a plastic bag, of course--which often means garbage, otherwise known as basura, from uneaten food, etc.

Signs often limit the dumping of basura to 8:00 PM to 10:00 PM at night, for sanitary purposes, especially in the hot summer months. In truth, this admonition is not always observed, and in truth, it may not be so important that it is. Invariably, an army of trash collectors descends on the common trash containers every single night, lifting the contents into a huge container truck and returning the container itself to its proper place in line. A battalion of uniformed foot soldiers follows along, tidying up any spills and leftovers that the careless public or a strong wind may have left outside the container. Depending on where you live, trash collection occurs usually between midnight and 2:00 AM--you can set your clock by it. There seem to be no holidays for the trash collector army--they are there seven nights a week and on Christmas and New Year's and every other of the many Spanish fiesta days.

There are disadvantages to having so many trash and recycling bins in so many prominent places throughout metropolitan and village spaces. Pretty they are not, even when they are well-maintained. It's hard to see around the lineup to find out whether a bus or cars are coming down the road. And they take up far too many parking spots.

But the advantage is that, with a bank of trash and recycling containers within walking distance of everyone, no one can make the excuse that recycling is too hard or too inconvenient. No one has to drive a car to the recycling center or the town dump. The containers are a visible, convenient, and ubiquitous reminder that we all dispose of stuff and should do so responsibly.

Which brings me to the double meaning of the sign on the paper recycling container. As I developed my Spanish, I learned that papel is not just paper; a papel is also a role, or a part in a play or theater piece. Participation.

Tu papel es importante. Your paper is important, Your role is important.

Greetings from the TSA

Every time I return to Spain from the U.S. I bring two crammed-full suitcases. Every time when I open them on arrival, one bears a now-familiar Notice of Baggage Inspection from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). It is usually the larger of the two suitcases that has been inspected, and I never--until this time--have seen evidence that the second piece of luggage was inspected.

I've often wondered what the TSA officials think when they see the hidden treasures I choose to bring back. I know that some people think that placing dirty underwear at the top of the baggage will ensure privacy. I doubt that and anyway would not waste space and weight on such trivialities. My limited baggage space is reserved for small family mementos, work and personal records that cannot be sent digitally or trusted to postal systems, books in English, a mini drugstore, and the odd comfort item that cannot be bought easily in Spain, or at all. Here's a selection of what may have raised eyebrows at the TSA this time:
  • A box of Betty Crocker Dark Chocolate brownie mix, perhaps to be shared with dinner guests (and perhaps not)
  • Kroger brand Crunchy Peanut Butter, a brand presumably not on the recall list
  • Valentine candy hearts, from Necco, the New England Confectionary Company
  • A five-month supply of generic multivitamins, calcium, and vitamin C and E supplements--generics don't seem to exist as an economic alternative in Spain
  • A couple bottles of a vision supplement--Ocuvite can be purchased here, but at a much higher price
  • An incredible number of Tums peppermint antacids and Extra-Strength Excedrin, for the man who presumably finds it rather trying to live with me
  • A total of five 2009 calendars, three where the week starts on Sunday, and two (from OCLC and Wolters Kluwer) where it starts on Monday, as calendars do in Spain
  • The Book of Sent Sovi: Medieval Recipes from Catalonia, which I intend to give to an academic library in Catalonia
  • The New Spaniards, by John Hooper, a book I can't recall buying but I think it's time for me to read

The TSA looked at all my stuff this trip. My original flight was cancelled, and I had to collect my baggage and repair to an airport hotel before the next day's rescheduled flight. Even though my carry-on would have sufficed for the night, I couldn't keep myself from sneaking a peak at my bags at the hotel. Sure enough, the TSA notice was already in the larger one. I simply replaced it, resisting the temptation to add a clever note. And when I got home in Spain and opened the bags again, there they were: this time a TSA flyer in the small bag, too, and a second flyer right by the first in the larger bag. The TSA didn't pen any clever note to me, either.