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Sunday, April 26, 2009


When I asked for gazpacho one of the first times I dined out after moving to Spain, the waiter looked at me, horrified. That's because we moved here in November, and I asked for gazpacho in the winter. Gazpacho is a summer dish.

There are probably as many recipes for gazpacho as there are Spaniards. This Spanish food site has a decent recipe, and an even more interesting history of the dish. It claims that gazpacho originated at the time the Romans were building aqueducts throughout Spain. That, of course, was before Columbus sailed to the New World and brought back many culinary staples for the first time, one of them being the tomato. Gazpacho existed without tomatoes? That was a different kind of gazpacho.

This week on Tuesday, we joined about 20 friends for one of the monthly English-speaking club luncheons that we have enjoyed over the years that we have been in Roquetas. And I enjoyed this season's first gazpacho. I like the way that El Bodegón serves it, with very finely diced onion, pepper, and cucumber to sprinkle on top, so the gazpacho truly does become a liquid salad.

I'm looking forward to many more gazpachos this summer.

Layers for the Sun and April Showers

We have had such splendid summer-like weather this week that by Friday I was ready to pack away my spring clothes (light-weight, long-sleeved) and replace them with the really light summer garments that I change into and out of four times a day during the hot summer months.

It's a good thing I have mastered the art of procrastination.

The nice weather at the begining of the week built up to temperatures in the mid 80s on Friday. We brought our folding bikes (unfolded, standing upright) down two flights in the three-person elevator and rode toward the village of Aguadulce. Almost immediately I realized that the shallow V-neck, cap sleeved T-shirt I had on was too warm. More importantly, it was going to leave me with sun-tan marks that would be visible when I switched to the slightly more revealing tops that I have finally gotten used to wearing in Spain, after living most of my life more covered up in New England. When I returned home, I could see that the two-hour bike ride in the sun, broken only by a few minutes for an agua con gas and half a tostada, had defintely left their mark.

Later in the day, before we set out to walk the twenty minutes to the local shopping mall, I scoured my underwear and lesser-wear drawers to find something in which I could open myself up to the sun and try to blur the lines. Of course, I also needed to grab a light cover-up to push into my bag. While I have finally learned to stride almost nonchalantly through city streets dressed in clothing that is more revealing than my nightgown, that does not mean I can be comfortable wearing the same thing when walking through an indoor shopping mall, where I might actually make eye contact with another person.

We prepared for another bike ride and sunning expedition on Saturday, but rain had descended through the night, leaving cars and our balcony windows streaming with the muddy splotches of Sahara sand that blows over the Mediterranean periodically. The temperature had dropped twenty degrees F. and a startlingly heavy wind was blowing things this way and that. No bike ride that day, but we did make a cold trip to the car wash.

This Sunday morning in Spain was pleasant again. Our wind gauge (the palm tree across the street, viewable from our second-floor apartment) showed no movement. I put on a moderate sunning-shirt, we took the bikes down again, and headed in the opposite direction from Friday, toward the resort Urbanizacion southwest of the "old town" where we live. We stopped for a drink and tapa mid-way beyond the old Castillo and the Urba, but as we lounged and watched the passers-by on the paseo, it began to rain. We scurried out and drove the three mikes back to the apartment in record time. This time I was glad for the warm cover-up I had stashed in my backpack, an ancient favorite Green Cotton original, from Denmark by way of Garnet Hill in Franconia, New Hampshire.

It is too early to pack away the spring clothing. But not too early to bring down that last box of summer clothing from the high shelf of the wardrobe.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Road Signs

Well, I haven't done very well with my intention to spend the winter learning to drive in Spain. In fact, I barely cracked the book that I finally bought from an autoescuela until this past week. When I did open the book, I kept getting bogged down in Chapter 1, which has colored pictures of almost 40 different vehicles, from a bicicleta to a tren turístico. The idea here, I gather, is to be able to recognize the ones that require a driver's license to drive (not needed for the bicicleta, and I'm not about to try for the special license for the tren turístico or tractor de obras, either).

So this week I finally just skipped over to Chapter 2 (of 18): Road Signs. This is the first mention of anything that really has anything to do with how to drive, or how not to, as the case may be. I have noticed, of course, that some road signs follow international norms of which I am already aware, but others are not very familiar to me. And I'm looking forward to reading an explanation of what one is supposed to do when navigating through the hundreds of roundabouts (rotondas) that Spanish roads use to manage many intersections. They look like the rotaries that are common in Massachusetts, but the Spanish drivers don't seem to get in and out of them in quite the same way that Massachusetts drivers do.

I haven't come across the rule of the rotonda yet. But the first thing I found in the Road Signs chapter was the five different types of road signs. They are:
  1. Signals and orders from Traffic Agents (these are humans)
  2. "Circumstantial" signs that modify normal traffic signs (as for road work or emergencies)
  3. Traffic lights (of the red, yellow, and green variety)
  4. So-called "vertical" signs, the metal ones that are anchored vertically to the ground on the right or left side of the road
  5. Signals painted on the pavement
Now I've spoiled the surprise by giving them to you already in priority order, but the first, mind you, the first sentence in the chapter says, "When the signals are contradictory, you must obey the sign that has the highest authority."

I'm sure I would have guessed that special "circumstantial" signs took precedence over normal road signs, and that if a human traffic agent told me to do something, I'd better follow that order rather than whatever any inanimate sign said. But all the examples show situations in which the lower three priorities of signs are contradictory! Now why would someone deliberately erect a traffic light, or a vertical metal sign, or paint signals on pavement and make them contradictory with what was already there?

And why, I wondered as I got deeper and deeper into contradictory road signs and what to do when I encounter them, did the book go into such detail about the proper course of action when it had not yet even introduced me to the meaning of all the individual signs themselves?

I'm only on page 38.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Spain's New Christians

I'm not a theologian, but I would guess that it's correct to say that Christianity started 2009 years ago on Easter, when the Resurrection of a Jewish man named Jesus caused some Jews to revise their faith. They became the first "New Christians."

Spain had its own New Christians in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. They were moriscos, Moors, who were forced to abandon their faith and officially become cristianos nuevos, New Christians. After years of fighting, the Moors had been finally defeated by the forces of los reyes católicos, Ferdinand and Isabella, at Granada in 1492. Many fled, but those who remained in Spain converted, at least on the surface.

Ironically in this week preceding Easter, Semana Santa to the Spaniards, I read that it was the 400th anniversary of the expulsion of the moriscos from Spain. In 1609, on April 9, Felipe III signed the decree authorizing the greatest exodus Spain has ever known. About 300,000 inhabitants were sent out of their country, which figures to be 4.3% of the population of the time. The same percentage today of Spain's nearly 46 million inhabitants would put the number at approximately 2 million people.

Spanish historians are reexamining the record of this great expulsion and note that on the same day Felipe signed a truce with Dutch Protestants in the Twelve Year War. They say that Felipe was telling the world that even though Spain had compromised with the heretical Protestants, it was still Catholic enough to deport more than four percent of its own population.

Today, with modern immigration, there are once again Muslims in Spain, and many of the customs of the early moriscos are alive in the country. One of the ways that 17th-century Christians were able to detect moriscos was through their bathing habits: Moriscos washed themselves once a week, on Friday, while Christians of the time limited their baths to twice a year. Other morisco habits were cooking with olive oil instead of animal fats, eating many vegetables and fruits, using perfume, and dressing in colorful clothing. In such ways does the culture of the vanquished live on.

Already a hundred years after the expulsion, in the eighteenth century, the deportation was regretted and called "the ruination of Spain." Today Spain is preserving its Moorish culture with pride. The 400th anniversary of the expulsion was noted, but not celebrated.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

My Three Countries

It's been anything but a quiet week in this place so far across the Pond from Lake Wobegon. It's been a week of politics, intervention, mediation, and reconciliation.

President Obama went to London on Monday for the G20 meeting, reportedly wanting more stimulus money from European countries for the economic crisis. Germany and France, on the other hand, wanted stricter financial controls. Who did British Prime Minister Gordon Brown call in to mediate between Merkel, Sarkozy, and President Obama? None other than José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, president of Spain.

Further into the week, many of the same leaders moved to Baden-Baden to celebrate the 60th anniversary of NATO. This time the disunity was between Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who was aspiring to become the next General Secretary of NATO, and Turkey, which was upset over Fogh Rasmussen's handling of the Muhammad cartoons published by a Danish newspaper in 2005. Who mediated the conflict this time? President Barack Obama.

Fogh Rasmussen was successful in his bid to become head of NATO. He spent today, Sunday, in audience with the Queen of Denmark, resigning his post and passing the Danish government over to Lars Løkke Rasmussen (no relation except political) and will appear in Istanbul tomorrow to speak to the Turks. Then he'll move on to Prague for the European Union meeting, where President Obama spoke today to huge crowds about nuclear non-proliferation.

Reportedly, Obama and Zapatero held a 45-minute private meeting in Prague today.

It's been a week of diplomacy, in which the heads of state of all three of the countries which in some sense are "home" to me played major roles. And they each did a creditable job and took actions of which I approve.

That's a first.