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Sunday, March 18, 2012

My Spanish Reading

In a needed and welcome fit of spring cleaning in my office yesterday, one of the things I rearranged was the section of my bookshelves holding the dictionaries, books, magazines, and papers (and more papers) that I have used in the five different Spanish classes in which I have participated over the past six or seven years. Two of those classes each take place once a week now, a private one on Monday and a ten-person class on Friday, the first with a European-certified language teacher who happens to be Danish, the other with native Spanish language teachers, two of them, who share the schedule at various times throughout the year. I have several archivos (files) of papers with exercises, explanations, and photocopies of dialogues or short stories that we often read in the larger class. For the private class, our usual practice is to read a book (at home) and discuss it in class; we look for contemporary titles, with lots of dialog. Sometimes that means what we call young adult literature or women's fiction. I was surprised how many books I had stuffed on my bookshelves. Here is the list of what I have read that is still on the shelf:
  • Como Agua para Chocolate (Like Water for Chocolate), by Laura Esquivel, a Mexican author.
  • Dulces Mentiras (literally Sweet Lies, but titled Bitter Sweets in the original UK version), by Roopa Farooki, born in Pakistan, raised in London.
  • Admiración (originally Tribute), by Nora Roberts, a U.S. author I had only heard about before reading this in Spanish.
  • Pollyanna, by Eleanor H. Porter, a native of Littleton, New Hampshire. First published in 1913, this Spanish version was purchased in a very contemporary edition labeled "Chicklit: Novellas de siempre para la mujer de hoy" in the German low-price supermarket Lidl.
  • Daddy Long-Legs, by Jean Webster; though missing from the bookshelf. Originally published in 1912, we read the Chicklit "classic novels for the woman of today" version.
  • Spanish Stories/Cuentos Españoles; a Dual-Language Book, edited by Ángel Flores. Departing even more from the contemporary criterion, this is a study book comprised of 13 classic or representative works (or excerpts) of Spanish literature, starting with "About What Happened to a Young Man Who Married a Very Wild, Unruly Wife," by Don Juan Manuel (1282-1349) to "The Guard," by Juan Goytisolo (1931-  ). I have only read four of these so far, but I expect we'll get round to all of them in time, with some space in between. Sometimes it's really necessary to read the excellent English translations, too, that appear side by side with the Spanish.
And here are other books that I have not completed yet:
  • Un Burka por Amor, by Reyes Monforte, a Spanish radio and TV personality. Both my teacher and I gave up on this one, because in spite of the fact that it is in its 6th printing, it did not grab either of us in the first 100 pages. Maybe later, or maybe not. 
  • Atravesando Fronteras (Crossing Borders), an autobiography by Jorge Ramos, a Mexican living for 20 years in the U.S. I picked this up at Half Price Books in Cincinnati and have read 50 pages; I do want to continue reading this when I have the time.
  • Historia de España para Dummies, by Fernando de Cortázar, which I found in one of my travels through the Madrid airport. Like many Dummies books, it is easy to dip into this in many places and learn something. I use it for reference, but it would be good to read more parts of it.
  • I should also be reading more parts of the Manual programado del conductor 3, the 244-page driver's manual that I started a couple years ago. As you may expect, it is really boring and much of it is obvious. However, I've looked through it and cannot find anywhere the rules for driving in roundabouts, though I have learned some surprising things, such as that bicyclists are permitted to ride two abreast on many streets.
  • Don Quijote de la Mancha, of course, but this is a Novelas Famosas edition, in simplified language and greatly abbreviated, and get this--several pages in comic-strip format. I think this is definitely the YA version.
  • Mujeres de 60, by Hilda Levy, an Argentine. I bought this book in Argentina before my 60th birthday and perhaps I'll finish it before my 70th. It seems to be part funny and part advice, but not exactly gripping even as I make my way through my 60s.
And now I need to go review for my class tomorrow. We are reading Cuentos de America, a young adult book that was given my husband in Argentina about 60 years ago. It has one story from each of the Latin American countries. So far we've done "Sumé," a legend of Brazil. For tomorrow it is "Las Naranjas," a charming little story from Mexico.

Signs of Spring

Perhaps the most definite sign of spring is the fact that the U.S. switched to Daylight Savings Time this past weekend, upsetting my rule of thumb that to know what time it was in the U.S. I only had to look at the opposite end of the pointy hand on an analog clock: It is 2:00 PM here (after lunch) when it is 8:00 AM (starting-work time) in the eastern time zone of the U.S.; I am beginning to think about supper here when it is noontime for most of my family and associates; and by the end of the work day there, we have reached the end of my day here and I am usually fast asleep, or reading in bed. One hour's change should not make that much of a difference after I figure out which way the clock moved (forward, so now only five hours separate us) but it is a huge psychological difference because it upsets my easy calculation. Besides that, it makes me wonder why it is spring in the U.S. but we don't change to "summer time" here in Spain until next weekend.  I still have another week of unsettled time sense.

But there are some other wonderful signs that spring is upon us, namely, heat and light. It is no longer dark outside at 8:00 AM when I stir from my bed, nor is it dark at 7:00 PM as we sit in the living room and watch the evening news. Last Sunday at the outdoor market all winter clothes were on sale, and I bought two pieces--a pale orange knitted cardigan sweater and a rust-colored microfiber shirt, both to have available to pop over any lighter top I happened to be wearing--for just three euros (not each). I've used both this week, as over the last two weeks I have moved from wearing heavy winter sweaters and/or turtlenecks, with heavy slacks and heavy socks, and more significantly, from three layers to two layers and sometimes, in the middle of the day, to one layer. This morning I separated out warmer socks, underwear and night clothes and moved them to the less accessible part of my closet space.

I didn't put them away completely for the summer yet. It still is cold at night, and it still is colder in the house than outside. We had the gas fire on in the fireplace last night and we probably will again tonight, even though Johannes has gotten into his usual end-of-season mode of saying "This should be the last time" whenever he replenishes the gas bottle. We haven't put away the winter comforters yet, and we still turn on the halogen heater in the bathroom in the morning. And, in an effort to improve the comfort of our house next winter, we spent quite some time this week investigating and finally ordering infrared panels for the bedroom and bath. I sort of hope it stays a little bit chilly so we have a chance to try them out before next winter.

I miss crocuses, daffodils, tulips, and forsythia, but we have already had the almond blossoms and the little yellow flowers that spring from nowhere along the side of the road, and though there are not as many magenta succulents here as where we used to live in Almeria, there is a small patch here in Montebello. Some new thing is blossoming, somewhere, because Goldie has taken to sneezing four or five times several times a day, usually when she wanders back inside--or maybe she just finally caught the family cold that went round and round last month.

Perhaps the best sign of spring: it has been strawberry season for three weeks now, so we are enjoying lots of strawberries in our lunchtime fruit salads, or just by themselves, with cream.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

A One-Pound Lemon

What can you say about a one-pound lemon? This is the lemon I used to make citron fromage, a Danish dessert, for some invitados to a light luncheon this week. The lemon is shown resting on my kitchen scale--because, of course, as a cook in Spain, I have a scale that is at least as important as teaspoons and measuring cups to follow various recipes. If you have very sharp eyes, you might be able to see that the weight indicator on the bottom right says 458 grams, or more properly, .458 kg. Or maybe it says 453 grams, as I also had a picture of it when the digital scale flashed that number. Whatever, it is just about a pound, depending on how the lemon rolls.

Perhaps the most important thing about this lemon is that it came from the lemon tree in our front yard. Not the one we bought shortly after we moved in, the third we have cultivated, without much success, since we lived in Spain. It came from the tree we discovered the second summer we were here, after clearing out a lot of brush that perhaps had covered up the tree for a year--though I don't think there were any lemons on it to cover up. My personal theory is that it wasn't until we brought in the new lemon tree we had purchased that this lemon tree got pollinated and started to produce lemons. Or maybe it felt threatened, or motivated? Not much to feel threatened about, as the lemon tree that we bought is now smaller than when we bought it, with fewer branches and, so far, no new lemons. Maybe the pollen only blows in one direction.

My best recipe for citron fromage is from Danish Cooking, by Nika Standen Hazelton, published by Penguin Books in England in 1967. When I got it, from a dear friend as a wedding gift, I was just beginning to understand about the great divide in publishing English-language books, i.e., that there are books published in the United States, and there are books published in the UK, and the rights for one geographic area do not extend to the other. The publishing history of my "Penguin Handbook" shows that it was "first published in the U.S.A. by Doubleday in 1964" and that it was "Published, with revisions, in Penguin Books, in 1967." Those revisions, I now know without a doubt, had to do with conversion of the measurement of ingredients to the metric system, as well as revising spelling from American to British, and otherwise adapting from American to UK ingredient names and kitchen practice.

So I have always "translated" when using this cookbook. My recipe contains a penciled note, "1/2 cup," next to the listing for "4 oz. sugar" and a red ink "1 envelope" next to "2 dessertspoons unflavoured gelatin."  I must have always had measuring cups showing ounces, because there is no notation next to "2 fl. oz. cold water"; and "5 eggs, separated" seem to be separated the same on both sides of the Atlantic, though I'll wager that the size of eggs has grown in the past 45 years. The other ingredient that normally would not need any special notation is "juice and grated rind of 2 lemons."

Somehow I didn't think that two jumbo lemons of a pound each were necessary or even advisable. Fortunately I have The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, of about the same vintage as Danish Cooking, but from the U.S. side of the Atlantic. I found a whole section "About Lemons" in its chapter on fruits and fruit desserts. It said that "The juice of 1 lemon makes about 1/4 cup, but yield varies considerably." OK, so I was looking for a half cup of lemon juice, and I didn't really have to be exact.

When I cut my lemon open it looked more like a grapefruit than a lemon. Whether it was authentically a thick-skinned variety of lemon or just overgrown, I don't know. One does not normally give lemons a taste test as you would an orange or mandarin or even a grapefruit. It did have a thick skin and it was large enough that I needed to juice it using the attachment for oranges rather than just the normal lemon juicer. I got 3/4 cup of lemon juice from my one-pound lemon, but that included a couple tablespoonfuls of lemon pulp, so I took out the pulp. Grating the rind of the giant lemon was a bit easier than grating the rind of two normal lemons, but I must say that lemon zesting is not my favorite activity no matter how large the lemon. 

Our guests loved the citron fromage, or Lemon Delight, as it is translated in the Danish Cooking book.  I was pleased with the result myself, especially since the lemon-gelatin mixture did not separate from the whipped egg whites and settle itself in the bottom of the glass bowl, as it can easily do. We still have a few more giant lemons, though our guests took one home for themselves. It filled up about half the space that the bottle of wine they brought us had occupied.

¿Sabías que...?

After I left my fingerprints at the policia nacional last week as the next-to-last step in getting my residencia renewal, we went for a cup of coffee and a tostada at the café bar adjoining the parking lot right next to the police building. Going for coffee is a nice little frequent celebration in Spain. One of the lovely things about drinking coffee here is that you sit down at a table and drink your coffee from a real china cup or a clear glass cup, on a saucer. For café con leche, the coffee may come with the hot milk (and it is always hot milk that is mixed with the coffee) already in it, or occasionally, and especially at nicer places, the server comes to the table with a steaming pot of coffee and a steaming pot of milk, and pours each into your cup (usually milk first) to create the delicious and comforting drink. Whether you drink it from china or glass, it sure beats fastening your lips to the styrofoam or flimsy plastic with a hole cut out in which U.S. coffee is often delivered.

I don't drink sugar with American coffee or with the morning coffee I get in bed here in Spain, but I almost always add a bit to the strong café con leche I invariably order here when out. The sugar comes in oblong packets that are often placed on the saucer beside the spoon when serving. Sometimes two packets are placed on each saucer, though I think this hardly necessary, considering the fact that each packet holds 8 grams, and I know from an article in the Wall Street Journal that I read this week that 8 grams of sugar is roughly equivalent to two teaspoons. I know that from experience, too, as my compañero and I customarily share just one packet of sugar for both our coffees, and we may not even use a whole one.

On Tuesday this week, however, at the police station café, we got two packets of sugar each. Many sugar packets carry the brand name of the café or restaurant in which they are served; others carry the brand name of a sugar of coffee supplier. Occasionally they carry a brief quote from well-known authors or other famous people; more than once I have been amused to read the words of William Shakespeare, John Lennon, and Woody Allen in Spanish. This time the Oquendo-branded sugar packets each carried some factual information that started out ¿Sabías que---? (Did you know...?

  • Did you know that the structure of the Statue of Liberty (Estatua de la Libertad) is copper with a covering of steel? "The copper has a weight of 31 tons, the steel, 125 tons. And the cement weighs 27,000 tons!" No, I didn't know that either, and although the Spanish tonelada translates in my Cambridge-Klett dictionary to "ton," I would have to look up the real weight of each and calculate the metric equivalents to see whether this statement is accurate, and from whose point of view.

  • Did you know that Broadway is the longest avenue in New York, with a length of 33 kilometers? Its name is derived from the Dutch breede wegh, which means "broad road," the sugar packet tells me. I'll bet there are a lot of Americans who wouldn't know the metric length of Broadway, and that a lot of Spaniards reading this have no clue that this major U.S. city was formerly known as New Amsterdam.

  • The third packet also talked about word origins.  Did you know that the Spanish word pijama (English "pyjamas" or "pajamas") comes from the Urdu "paejamah," which signifies a garment for daytime? This clothing is really a daytime outfit. It became night-time garb in England, back in the 1880s, when it was worn by colonials who returned to their homeland.

Without more research, I can't vouch for the veracity of any of these statements, but each one does provide a little curiosity to think about and talk about while sipping coffee and watching the policemen on their break. And for some, I discovered later, the little sugar packets have provided "memories of paper."

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Renewing Residencia, Part 4

Today was the day to go to Alicante to get finger-printed--the last formality before I could get my renewed card for continued legal residency in Spain. I had received a letter in the mail giving me the address to go to (Policia Nacional and Guardia Civil, on Calle Campo de Mirra), plus the list of papers I should bring with me: this letter, two photographs of a certain size, shape, and color (carnet), valid current passport, old residencia card, certificate of empadronamiento (my legal address), and stamped form verifying I had been to the bank to pay the residencia fee. For good measure, a new three-part form for the fee was enclosed. But I had previously paid a fee and had a copy--would that be good enough?

When we checked with the bank, they said there should only be one fee for one tramite, and I had paid it way back at the beginning of this tramite, when I went to Orihuela in November. The same cannot be said for the certificate of empadronamiento. These certificates are only valid for three months, and the one I had gotten at the beginning of these proceedings ran out, very inconveniently, less than a week before today. So last Thursday we dropped by the ayuntamiento in our town, with a copy of the escritura, our house deed, to request a new certificate of empadronamiento.

No problem, and since this was the second time we had requested one (it was actually the third, but who's counting?) the woman at the town hall told us we didn't need the escritura. We just needed to pick up the copy on Monday--it takes two days.

So yesterday we picked up the certificado de empadronamiento at noon, checked and re-checked that we had all the papers needed, and investigated how to get to the Policia Nacional in Alicante. The designated time--it would be too much to call this an appointment--was between 9:00 and 2:00. I set the alarm for 7:00 AM, which is a somewhat unusual occurrence in this household now, but I woke up at 6:00 and used the extra time to find the Policia Nacional on my iPad. The directions sounded correct, and when I viewed the location using Google Maps, I knew it was right--the static picture showed a line of people waiting outside a boring looking building, so it must be a police station. I also found the address on a paper map of the city, to get a better idea of the larger picture than I can find on a screen, and when we got in the car at 8:00 my trusted driver found it on the GPS.We listened anxiously to Gloria Perez Sanchez as we drove off, wondering whether she would agree with Google Maps on the iPad.

Forty-five minutes later, we knew that she did, and shortly thereafter we drove into a parking lot next to the police station. Only about 20 people were in line in front of us, and the line was moving. As we got to the front, a police officer checked my papers and directed me through a door to the inside of the building. But no, my husband could not accompany me into the building--no compañeros during this procedure--he had to wait outside.

I went inside with the number I had been given: no. 26. Five rows with about 20 seats in each comprised the waiting room, and I was directed to a seat in the third row. The number machine showed that we were on no. 4.

The line moved surprisingly quickly. By 9:20 we were on no. 13, and at 9:30 my number 26 was posted. I went through the glass doors, waited again,  and eventually was directed to one of the six or seven desks handling these affairs. I had all my papers in my hands (and all my back-up papers from the previous excursion in a folder in my bag). The clerk looked first at my proof of payment and laid it on a stack. Whew! Then she looked at the computer screen, my passport, former card, and the letter. Then she took out a unique square-shaped set of scissors and cut out two photos from the set of three that I had given her. She pressed some keys on the computer and out came some papers. I had to sign my name in two places, she asked if I understood Spanish, and when I said "si, un poquito,"  she told me in Spanish that I could pick up my card in a month in Orihuela, and gave me my old card attached to a paper indicating Orihuela. Then she directed me to the fingerprinting office immediately behind me.

I was pretty sure they wanted my right forefinger, but I was not prepared for the fact that I could not press the finger onto the inkpad or the receiving paper myself. No, the officer had to guide me in that, because there is a very special way to roll the finger horizontally from right to left. We did that twice, on two separate sheets of paper--one for the files, I suppose, and one for the card that I will pick up in Orihuela a month from today. After I rolled my finger--or rather, after the officer rolled my finger--I got a little paper to clean my hand. ¿Listo? I asked. Listo, said the officer. Hasta luego. Well, not any time soon, I thought to myself. I'm going to Orihuela in a month, not back here. I don't expect to be back here for the next ten years, which is when this card will expire.

As tramites go, this one was not traumatic.We stopped at the cafe bar on the way out and had a cafe con leche and media tostada con atun y tomate. And we were finished with that by 10:00 and had the rest of the beautifully sunny day to enjoy ourselves. Since we were in a part of Alicante that was new to us, we decided to continue on a different route and see something new before we left the city and went back to our area to do banking and go to the grocery store. We did pursue a different route, and we did see something new, though not what we had planned as we sat with our cafe con leche. But that's what happens when you go joy-riding in a new part of the city without listening to Gloria Perez Sanchez. Since we hadn't turned her on, she couldn't warn us about what roads not to take. But at least we didn't get caught while going down the ambulance- and taxi-only lane in an otherwise one-way street next to the hospital. I guess we were far enough away from the police station by that time.