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Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Special Concert

This is the new auditorium of the province of Alicante. It opened to the public today, and we were there.

No, we did not go to the special invitation-only assemblage of dignitaries last evening, but we were there for the first concert open to the public. It was a "family concert," starting at 12:00 noon on this Sunday in Spain, no tickets necessary. Expecting a long line, we arrived at 10:45 AM. We were not the first, but there were not many people standing in groups around the outside of the building. The parking attendants told us that doors would not open until 11:30, so we went across the street for a café con leche and media tostada con atún y tomate, but we had a front window view and in only 20 minutes we high-tailed it back across the street to find out place in the line that was forming.

A half hour later, the line started moving, and we made our way inside. The Alicante Symphony Orchestra played "El Sueño de Eros," by Oscar Esplá, originally an alicantino, then Mahler's 3rd Symphony, Dream of a Summer Morning, "That Which Love Tells Me." After the intermission, during which I toured the building, there came three Spanish pieces, and then three encores, one of which was vocal. Plus a charming speech by the director, Joan Iborra, congratulating Alicante on the achievement of this cultural icon. And lots of applause.

There is a video on YouTube that shows and explains (in Spanish) the ingenious logo of the auditorium, only part of which you can see in the photo at the top of this piece.  It's a clever musical play on the initials ADDA, Auditorio de la Diputación de Alicante.

It's a wonderful experience to be a small part of the inauguration of a cultural monument.

American Coffee and Old Memories

Until this week I could count the number of Americans I know living on the Costa Blanca on one hand. Now I need two.

It did not happen overnight. But one person knows another person, and that one knows someone else... So when I got an email inviting me to "American coffee" in Algorfa a couple weeks ago, I said, "Sure."  As the email discussion went on, it became clear that non-American spouses were also welcome, so both Johannes and I headed out last Wednesday to our favorite café bar on the Algorfa town plaza, Badulake. It was a bit cold, so instead of seating ourselves at a table on the plaza at 10:30, we ventured inside.

We were the last to arrive. It took no time at all for the others to greet us (I guess we just look American) and we all settled in at two round tables and ordered café con leche--though I heard one request for an américano--and some of us decided this was a good excuse to indulge in a tostada.

Conversation never stopped for the next two hours, and it was probably the first time I have been in a bar in Spain where those in my group were making more noise than those at the other tables. We were an American woman married with a Spaniard, an American man married with a Costa Rican woman who had lived in the U.S. for many years, an American man married with a German wife who had also lived in the U.S. for some years but in Germany more, and this American woman married to a Dane who had lived in the U.S. for many years. We all had in common the experience of being married to "foreigners," and of living in at least one country as a foreigner.

And the Americans among us shared certain of those almost indefinable memories and associations from our growing up years in the U.S. in the 1950s, ´60s, and ´70s. So even though we all had to be told by the proprietor of the bar that "Badulake" is the 24-hour store in the TV show "los Simpsons," we all were able to compare notes on how we experienced Yosemite on childhood trips in various years, we were able to name the actors playing Ben Cartwright´s sons in "Bonanza," and we all could laugh and appreciate Jack Benny´s solution to aging.

Such moments come seldom and are special.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Happy Father's Day

Today (Saturday) is Father´s Day in Spain. I was prepared. I saw ads in the grocery circulars and also in the promotions from the traditional father-like commercial stores...electronics, gardening supplies, DIY. I even noticed a sign last Thursday, St. Patrick's Day, in my favorite grocery store that said it would be closed on the 19th of March.

Father's Day has always snuck up on me in Spain. First, I'm conditioned to not really expect it until June, after Mother's Day has made its appearance. I also expect it on a Sunday, but it has not come on a Sunday in Spain within recent memory. It wasn't until last year that I began to understand why Father's Day always seemed to come on a different day.

In Spain, Father's Day is celebrated on the saint day for St. Joseph. St. Joseph's Day has been observed in many countries on March 19 since the Middle Ages. The day changes, but the date does not. It's always March 19.

Why is Father's Day observed on the day of St. Joseph? That's the real question. St. Joseph, of course, was the husband of the Virgin Mary. I think that the Spanish coincidence of Father's Day with St. Joseph brings a certain nuance to the idea of fatherhood.

On this day, I'm remembering my own father, Robert James Nicklet, and sending thanks to another good father I have known (Ron) and best wishes to a father-soon-to-be (Tim).

Sunday, March 13, 2011


Now that I've had a cataract operation on both eyes, my vision has improved so much that I only need to wear glasses inside the house to see subtitles on the television screen, and outside the house to see long distances and take advantage of their UV-protection and automatic darkening in sunlight. Last Tuesday morning was one in all-too-many cloudy days we had this week, so it was not terribly surprising that I managed to get myself outside the house and into the car for a trip to Ikea without my glasses. Four locked locks (garden gate, sunroom, front door iron grill, and the wooden front door itself) separated me from my glasses, so I just said, "I don't think I'll need them today," and decided I would be a passenger for the day.

Since I don't drive without glasses, I was not the one driving when we stopped quickly in a rotary at a crossing for the brand new tram running between the center of Murcia city and the outskirts of town where the commercial superstores are located--though I was the one who noticed that the light had turned red and a tram was approaching. Unfortunately the driver of the car behind us did not see the red light, nor the tram, and he did not stop. Smack! A collision, or choque.

This was our first choque in Spain. Spanish law allows those involved in minor accidents to fill out an accident report and file it with the insurance companies if both parties can agree amicably to the circumstances. Since the other car had plowed into our right rear fender with his left front fender, and both cars were still operable (though our tire was fast deflating) it seemed minor. But we did need to communicate.

The other driver spoke no Spanish, and no English. But we were lucky: he spoke Swedish. Native speakers of Danish can usually understand Swedish, and Swedes can understand Danish. This non-native speaker of Danish and non-speaker of Swedish had a little more trouble, especially when the Swede assumed that I understood everything and could carry on a conversation. I was in no mood to carry on a conversation, actually, and this one seemed to go on for ages. It took an hour and a quarter to exchange names and contact information, take pictures of the damage and license plates of both cars, find the insurance papers (the other driver was only borrowing the car he was driving), call our insurance company to report and verify procedure, fill out the papers (in Spanish), translate them to the satisfaction of the other driver, and get signatures. We parted amicably, though the other driver drove off and we still had a tire to change.

So now we are driving around--at no more than 80 kilometers per hour--on a little donut spare tire until Tuesday, when we meet the insurance adjuster at a car repair shop nearby and get delivery of a free loaner for however long it takes to fix the damage. If it had not been so clear that we were not at fault, we could have been liable for a 250€ deductible, but our insurance company has already told us that we don't need to worry about that. Getting a fully operating car again can't come too soon for me. Even though Spain lowered the maximum speed limit from 120 to 110 last week in a fuel economy measure, 80 kph is very poky indeed when driving along a motorway. In fact, it's almost dangerous. If you don't have blinking lights on, you might even get rear-ended.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies I Ever Made

Long-time readers of Sundays in Spain know that I sometimes pack chocolate chips in my suitcase when returning from the U.S., since the only small bits of chocolate resembling Nestle chocolate chips that I can purchase here--and with great difficulty--are miniatures and way too small to make authentic chocolate chip cookies. I didn't pack any this year when I came back in January (and for the first time, my bags weren't inspected by the TSA--perhaps they had always been attracted by the smell of chocolate).

So when I walked into my nearby Mercadona grocery store this week and saw the sign ¡Novedad! Gotas de Chocolate I almost ran through the store to find them, hoping against hope that they had imported some real chocolate chips.

They hadn't, but it appeared that they had made their own under their Hacendado brand. Gotas de Chocolate "Para Fundir" (chocolate drops "for melting"), it said on a light tan box the size of a 4-inch high 3x5 card. Pictured on one side were all sorts of Sugerencias (suggestions): a chocolate-dripped bundt cake, chocolate sauce melting over ice cream, chocolate drops on a cupcake, chocolate-dipped strawberries, a cup of hot chocolate, and a stack of eight little cakes that looked for all the world like real American chocolate chip cookies. On the other side of the box, life-sized chips of chocolate that looked like the real thing cascaded into a pool of melted chocolate. Both ends of the box showed diagrams and described in text how to melt the novel gotas inside (baño Maria, microwave, or in a cup of hot milk) and the bottom of the box listed the ingredients and carried the essential nutritional information for the 250 grams of cacao and sugar.

I probably could have found the original Nestle Toll House chocolate chip cookie recipe on the Internet, but I had recently had a gourmet discussion by email with a very good friend, which started with tapas and ended with her sending me a recipe for oatmeal-chocolate chip cookies that she had copied from a Quaker Oats booklet. I followed the recipe as near as I could. But was my azucar moreno the right brown sugar? Why did the one cup of butter and the sugar never really get "light and fluffy"? And how was I ever going to get three cups of oats blended into the already stiff dough?

Well, the cookies turned out O.K.  The chocolate chips looked just like the ones that come out of the golden yellow and brown Nestle bag, and I measured about 1 1/2 cups from the 250 grams. The cookies don't look like the traditional ones I made in my childhood--they are flatter, in spite of the fact that I used what I believe is the equivalent of cake flour instead of regular flour, and they are crispier--probably due to the very dense real butter (not margarine) I used. But they taste good, and Johannes says they are the best chocolate chip cookies I have ever made. Of course, they are also the first ones I have made in years. But not the last.

On the other hand, Quaker Oats has at least two chocolate-oatmeal recipes on its website that sound good.

Oatmeal-Chocolate Chip Cookies (credit to Quaker Oats and a long friendship)
1 cup butter or margarine
1 1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3 cups uncooked quick or regular oats
1 cup chocolate chips

Beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy; blend in eggs and vanilla. Add combined dry ingredients except oats and chocolate; mix well. Stir in oats and chocolate. Drop onto greased cookie sheet by rounded teaspoonfuls. Bake in preheated 350 degree F oven for 10-12 minutes.
My cookies would have floated off the baking sheet if I had greased it in addition to the cup of butter in the dough. I used baking paper--something else I never did when I was making these cookies when I was a child. Baking paper makes it a lot easier to clean the pans afterwards, too.