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Sunday, January 13, 2013

Strawberries in January

We get lots of fresh fruit at all times of the year, but there are noticeable seasons. Lemons and oranges have started appearing in large bags at cheap prices (one euro for a dozen or so lemons) at the Sunday Zoco market now, and indeed, we can see farmers harvesting them all around us. We have even harvested a few lemons from our own tree. I realized recently that it had been ages since I had seen a strawberry, but this morning at the Zoco, while I was buying bananas and grapes, the fruit handler was practically forcing a large, ripe strawberry into Johannes' mouth, so before I knew it, we had a few strawberries, as well.

Since I am rarely in the U.S. during strawberry season, I don't know whether American strawberries have gotten as large as those here in Spain. The ones purchased today are about two inches in height (or length--how does one measure a strawberry?). Two were sufficient to dice onto the top of our lunchtime fruit salad. They were delicious, but I think they will be even sweeter as the season progresses.

I wonder about the size of U.S. strawberries, because, coincidentally just this morning I was reading an article in The CoastRider, one of the newsier free weeklies, that said "Spanish robotics firm takes US by storm." The Agrobot company, based in Huelva, reportedly has successfully tested a prototype strawberry picking robot in Watsonville, California "where 40% of the State's strawberries are produced" and now is planning the manufacture of strawberry pickers in the U.S. Apparently the robots are able to function flexibly enough that size doesn't matter. Harvesting costs for "fresh" strawberries are reduced 50% with the robot and 90% for the "industrial" strawberries that are used for purees and yoghurts.

It is wonderful to read about a success for Spanish industry.

New Year - Kings Concert

Last week's concert by the Orquesta Sinfónica de Torrevieja was a joyful and spirited occasion. The printed program, as opposed to the tickets, dubbed it "Concierto Año Nuevo - Reyes" but, in English, just "New Year's Concert." The program was reminiscent of what to the English and presumably German-speaking population is a traditional New Year's concert, similar to the one shown on PBS by the Vienna Philharmonic on New Year's Day, though this orchestra has been playing together for far less time--just four years. Here is what we heard:

I Parte

La Revoltosa (Preludio) ....... R. Chapi
Marcha Española Op. 433 ....... J. Strauss
Danza Hungaras No. 5 ....... J. Brahms
Pizzicato Polka ....... Johan y Josef Strauss
Marcha Persa Op. 289 ....... J. Strauss
Vals de la Bella Durmiente ....... P. I. Tchaikovsky
Tik-Tak, Polka Op. 365 ....... J. Strauss
Auf der Jagd Op. 373 ....... J. Strauss

II Parte

La Dolores (Jota) ....... T. Bretón (Solista: Francisco Moreno)
Tritsch-Tratsch-Polka Op. 214 ....... J. Strauss
Vals del Emperador Op. 437 ....... J. Strauss
Champagner Galop Op. 14 ....... H. C. Lumbye
Vals del Danubio Azul Op. 314 ....... J. Strauss

Plus three encore pieces, whose names I don't know but whose melodies were just as recognizable as most of those above.

The new auditorium at the International Conservatory of Music in Torrevieja is elegant and seemed to provide excellent seating for almost all of the 1400 attendees, though there was a mad scramble to find seats in the three-level facility, since ushers were non-existent and signage was minimal. The orchestra, which was just loaning the facility, was so good that the next day we accepted their invitation to become sponsors, paid our money, and thus will be notified ahead of time of upcoming concerts and special functions. Since we had made our way innocently, while exploring the building, into the champagne reception for members only during the intermission, it was the least we could do. The next concert is scheduled for March, Mozart's Requiem.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Happy New Year - Feliz Reyes

Santa's Job is Finished, ©Johannes Bjorner 2009
Today in Spain is not just Sunday. It is the Twelfth Day of Christmas and the Reyes Magos, the Three Kings, have finally arrived in Spain from the Orient to give children their holiday gifts. True, in today's multicultural Spain, many children get gifts from Papa Noël on the 25th of December as well as from the Three Kings on January 6. Since we don't have children, we don't make a fuss over Reyes but I usually aim for this day as the day to finish removal of the Christmas decorations. One of the joys of living in a country that celebrates Reyes is that you don't have to take down holiday decorations on New Year's Day. That's especially good, since I am usually later than normal in getting them up.

I have been collecting the different items from various rooms for the past two or three days, washing the linens in preparation for packing them away until next year, making the decision to throw out a couple that no longer amuse me or that have gotten torn or broken, and generally assembling them in one place, ready to put in boxes. Later today I will put them in boxes, but I won't put the boxes away just yet. I still need to wait a couple days, looking high and low, literally, to find those that have escaped my glance even though I tried to be systematic about collecting them--and seeing what comes up in the laundry over the next day or two.

We are celebrating the day this year, however, by going to a concert, a Concierto Extraordianario de Reyes, performed by the Ars Aetheria orchestra in the auditorium of the new Conservatorio Internacional de Música of Torrevieja. We will hear Strauss, Tchaikovsky, and Brahms, according to the announcement that we saw this morning in one of the Norwegian free newspapers. If all goes well, we will also hear a Danish classic, The Champagne Galop, by Hans Christian Lumbye, which begins with the sound of a champagne cork being released from a bottle. That must be why the foreign press is announcing this concert as a New Year's concert. The tickets, however, say it is a Reyes concert. The Spaniards won't fight a battle over this, because any day is a fine day for  hearing the pop of a cork from a bottle of good Spanish cava.

Here through YouTube is Champagnegaloppen played by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.
Feliz Reyes and Happy New Year!

Happy Books

Inside Happy Books, ©Johannes Bjorner 2012
One of the unexpected pleasures we had in Barcelona was stumbling upon a store called Happy Books. Given the name and the bright colors of children's books and cookbooks on display in bins out front, I thought at first that it was a bookstore for light reading only. The store was crowded (this was the Sunday before Christmas) but we made our way in to browse, and then we went farther and farther in. True, I found a good share of light reading (pizza cookbooks in a circular shape, for example) and young adult books (YA classic editions of literature from around the world, including Lazarillo de Tormes, a Spanish classic that I had read part of). As I got farther in, however, through room after room leading to the next, I found many forms of enlightenment. The clean, modern architecture gave way to older, more historic, and beautifully restored stone and brick arches--but still with excellent lighting. We browsed for a long time, and we stood in line to make a purchase. As we left I asked if the store was open tomorrow (Christmas Eve day). We were happy to hear that it was.

But we never got back to Happy Books, because later that evening we discovered Casa del Libro just a few steps down from our hostal on the Rambla. Another large bookstore, with sections for English and French and German books, in addition to Spanish. By this time it was ready to close, so we went back there the next day. Twice, as I recall--once early in the morning and then again later at night. We are obviously starved for the ambiance of large, well-equipped bookstores, and I am glad that by now in my stay in Spain I have gotten to the point where I can browse and buy comfortably in Spanish. We left eventually without all the books we wanted--size of luggage being one consideration, but also the realization that while some things look compelling when on holiday with loads of time looming, they too often lie languishing when you return to everyday life and have lots of other things to do.

Yesterday, however, we were suddenly "in need" of a travel book, or at least in need of browsing some travel books. Lo and behold, and thanks to the Web, we found that Casa del Libro has many casas, and one of them is in Alicante city. It was a beautiful, warm day for a drive, so off we went. As we approached our destination we found a parking lot with no difficulty and dived in--the rule in Alicante being to "park first, then walk."  We set off on foot for the store and found it with only a little backtracking. We browsed for an hour, and limited ourselves to one selection. "Should it be wrapped?" I was asked at the cashiers, because everyone else was buying gifts for the Reyes Magos to deliver that evening. The Three Kings bypassed our house last night, and that's just as well, because we have already had a very full holiday season, planned and unplanned. One of the unexpected pleasures of the new year is the discovery of a good multilingual bookstore within an hour's drive of our house. And close to a fine little restaurant we had seen during the walk from the garage, where we treated ourselves to the menu del dia, a larger-than-normal luncheon for us, which made the day all the more enjoyable.