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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Getting Our Kicks

One of the most satisfying feelings that comes from living in the British community here in Spain is that they often prove that it's not just Americans who display certain less attractive qualities abroad. Chief among those is the seeming inability or unwillingness to learn foreign languages--It's not just those from the U.S. who have trouble with learning--or have given up trying to learn--Spanish. It's not only Americans who can be exuberant--or loud and boisterous--in public. And, I learned after our dinner at Route 66 in Benimar last night, it's not just Americans who value large helpings of food.

I didn't expect gourmet from a place that has a full-sized statue of Elvis out front. And I wasn't expecting that the restaurant owners and staff would have U.S. connections, either--and they didn't. But I was thrown into a pleasant aura of nostalgia immediately upon coming in and seeing the 1950s era diner decor, the obligatory photos of Marilyn and Elvis and other icons on the walls, the jukebox at the side, and the red, white and blue over all, including the overhead lamps. The menu was truly U.S. At least nine different burgers--I believe named for each of the states that Route 66 passes (or passed) through. Ribs by the whole or half rack. Buffalo wings. Dixie fried chicken breast. Chili. Two at our table selected chicken, another chose an order of ribs and wings, and I spent far too long trying to decide among the burgers--I finally settled for the Missouri burger, with cheese and mushrooms.

It's American in style, but it's not fast food, so we had plenty of time to start our bottle of wine while we waited. It became apparent pretty early on that one of us was unexpectedly celebrating an early birthday--that's what happens when a wrapped gift suddenly appears at your plate. And that occasioned  a complimentary bottle of chilled cava and four glasses, so as it turned out, we didn't get too far into that bottle of red wine right away.

In due course our food came, in the stereotypically huge portions that others in the world have obviously experienced and remember from their trips to the U.S. The "jacket potatoes" as the British call baked potatoes, were as large as my two fists. My American french fries filled half my plate, and my plate was larger than the laptop I am writing this on now. In addition to the potatoes and the entrees, we each had a serving of cole slaw and a red leaf lettuce salad, both of which were surprisingly fresh, attractive, and good tasting. The others had a piece of corn on the cob but I guess the mushrooms on my burger constituted my additional veg, and they were indeed huge. We all enjoyed the food, and we talked about doggie bags but did not actually ask for them. I managed to get through my hamburger, but left at least half the bun on the plate, together with 90% of the french fries that had arrived. And we all decided that the next time we come, we'll order one dinner for two people.

What was truly surprising, though, was how busy this restaurant was. My back was to most of the dining area, but judging by the noise level, there were lots of people there, and I saw servers carrying food upstairs. Our dining companions had made an advanced booking, which we thought was unnecessary but it seems it was advisable. When we left I could see that indeed, every table and every chair was taken. I cannot remember the last time I saw a completely full restaurant in Spain. Perhaps I never have.

This afternoon I've looked for a link, but Route 66, the restaurant, doesn't seem to have a web site of its own. There are lots of pictures on its Facebook page, and an incredible number of recommendations on Trip Advisor (that's where I really learned that the Brits liked the large servings). But it was on the Facebook page that I read that Route 66 is already completely booked for November 28. Thanksgiving Day.

The Brits in Spain

Some days I have to pinch myself to believe I am living in Spain. That's because it is all too easy to think I am living in England. Our neighborhood is 90% British, I would guess: mostly English, but with a few Irish, Scots, Welsh, and then Belgian, German, Scandinavian.  Most of the other urbanizations around us in the Torrevieja area have a similar configuration of nationalities, though the proportions change. I spoke with a Dane this week who told me that he was on the board of the neighborhood association, together with an English man, a Norwegian, a Swede, and, I think, a Finn. Most places, though, the Brits predominate.

This week I read some statistics about just how many Brits there are in Spain. The occasion was an interview with the new British ambassador in Madrid. He said there are some 800,000 British people who spend "all or part of the year" in Spain. There are 13 or 14 million who spend holidays here each year (and in a separate report, the Spanish government says that British tourists spent 1.46 billion euros in Spain on holiday in 2012). The ties between the two countries are well developed. Ambassador Simon Manley reported that some 400 Spanish companies are registered in the UK, "making Spain the sixth largest investor in Britain--worth some 40 billion" pounds sterling [2011 figures]. "British companies exported 9.7 billion euros of goods and services to Spain, the UK's eight largest export market." More and more Spaniards are working in the UK, too. I have a neighbor who works in England while his family lives, works, and attends school here--it's a three-hour commute when he comes home. Commuting is not all one-way: elsewhere I read of an English chap who has figured out that he can live in Barcelona and commute to England four days a week at less expense than maintaining a flat in London.

With all this good will and economic interdependence between the two nations, it was still quite a surprise to read the results of a recent poll on the status of Gibraltar, sponsored by the UK Daily Telegraph. The online poll was taken this past August, at a time when tensions between the UK and Spain were at one of the higher levels in the 300-year history of the controversial question of where Gibraltar belongs. The results showed 89.96% saying that Gibraltar should become part of Spain, with only 10.04% saying that it should remain a British Overseas Territory!

Since the results were announced, however, some investigative work by the Daily Telegraph's social media team has determined that 5,000 of the online votes in the poll originated from the Spanish Ministry of Defense…. When the team looked at the results by origin of voting, the numbers supported the more expected outcome: 71.02% of the British-origin votes favored keeping Gibraltar British, and 98.89% of Spanish-origin votes favored returning it to "the mainland." Voters from Gibraltar voted 99.79% in favor of remaining British. I don't think we should plan on consensus any time soon, but I expect that co-existence will continue.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

All Saints and Souls

Officially Halloween is not celebrated in Spain, and there is no trick or treating that I am aware of. But the commercialism of what is called an American holiday has made it here as well as throughout other countries of Europe, so I have seen pumpkins and costumes galore these past two weeks.

The real holiday in Spain is November 1. All Saints' Day, or Todos los Santos, as it is stated on my calendar, is a big holiday, also commercially. More flowers are sold here during the week preceding Todos los Santos, and taken to cemeteries, than in any other week of the year. The city of Torrevieja, I read, operated free and frequent bus service from various places in town to the municipal cemetery all week, so that everyone could get out to eat and drink at the location where their dear departed were buried. Johannes drove with friends through some of the smaller towns in the Vega Baja region on Thursday and reported bunches of people walking to the cemeteries. Those stores that have permission to be open on holidays were open Friday morning, but when we went out to the ATM in the afternoon, the grocery store near the bank had closed at 2:00. It was very quiet in town.

I was surprised, when a friend gave me The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady to read this week, to see that Edith Holden, in her year's calendar, showed November 1 as All Saints' Day and November 2 as All Souls' Day. I had thought they were different words for the same day. The verses, notes, and drawings that Holden recorded in her diary in 1906, though delightful, gave no more information about the two days, so I had to go to the Internet to research my misconception. Wikipedia has informative entries for both All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day, and the latter includes a sentence that may explain the cause of my confusion:
In the Methodist Church, "saints" refer to all Christians and therefore, on All Saints' Day, the Church Universal, as well as the deceased members of a local congregation are honoured and remembered.
I was raised as a Methodist, so with this theological distinction, it makes perfect sense that I would think that "all saints" and "all souls" are synonymous. What I find less understandable is how the Roman Catholic tradition in Spain has managed to combine the family visitation, which I would consider an observance of All Souls (Nov. 2), with the day of All Saints on Nov. 1.

The Birmingham (Alabama) News, an unexpected source, offers some descriptions of the similarities and differences of All Saints, All Souls, and Halloween. But a blog post at the National Catholic Reporter provides the words of Pope Francis, as well as an explanation for the sequence of the two celebrations. The second celebration, I now see, is on my Spanish calendar as Conmemoración Fieles Difuntos (Commemoration of the Deceased Faithful, or All Souls' Day).

The Cold Creeps In

Hardly before the proverbial ink was dry on last week's Sundays in Spain post the weather changed. Actually it was Tuesday. We played petanca as usual on Tuesday afternoon, and stopped at the grocery store to pick up a few items on the way home. As we came out of the store and headed west to home at 6:00, there were heavy clouds on the horizon that looked and felt as though they would open and release water at any minute. We made it home before they did, but the evening was wet.

The temperature dropped with the rain. Wednesday morning when I awoke, I was chilly under my summer comforter and in the bathroom. But the outside was warm again when we went out in the afternoon on errands while the cleaners cleaned. That night, however, I switched from my light summer nightgown to one with long sleeves. I wondered whether I would turn on the infrared heat in the bathroom when it was time for my shower the next morning.

I didn't turn on the heat in the bathroom, but I did put on longer pants (3/4 length--still not full length), and I sat in my office most of the day with a cotton jacket on, and a bufanda (bouffant scarf) around my neck. I did laundry on both Thursday and Friday and relished the opportunity to go outside to hang it up, take it down, and check on it periodically in between--enjoying the warmth of the sun and saving me from turning on my office heat, just on the general principle that artificial heat should not be necessary so quickly in the change of seasons. But when I went downstairs for the evening news Friday evening, I found the living room delightfully toasty. Johannes had removed the silk flowers that fill the fireplace hole during the summer and started the gas fire for the first time this season. Part of the laundry I did this week was to air out both the winter and summer dyner on the clothesline, and I really snuggled in with the heavier comforter (which fits the cover better) last night.

I woke up warmer this morning, and the air outside was warmer, too. It was warmer downstairs than it had been, though whether that was due to a change in the outside temperature or to the fact that we had kept the gas fire on until late the previous evening, I don't know. We sat in the sun for coffee at the Sunday market and again, I was almost too hot with short sleeves. But that was at noontime, and now at 2:00 in my office I have my long-sleeved cotton jacket on again.

We laughed with several friends this week about having to bundle up to go inside the house, but that's the way it is here. The cold creeps in because of poor house insulation--fiber glass and double glazing are unheard of, or at least not readily purchasable. The cold stays in because the floors are tile, with no carpets. We always put away our room-sized (not wall-to-wall) carpets at some point in the spring, and we realized belatedly that we had missed the chance this week to have the cleaners help us get them out and lay them in the dining and living rooms again. If I ever can accept the idea of blasting out and replacing the tiles on our floors (all of which are acceptable and some of which I really like) I'll have electric heating installed under the flooring of some or all the rooms--but especially the bathrooms and bedrooms. It's quite common in Britain and Scandinavia and apparently is not even extravagant after the cost of the initial installation. But I'm not ready for another house improvement project quite yet.