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Sunday, May 25, 2014

Meaty Morsels from fhe Local Fishwraps

Just when I had decided that I was no longer interested in picking up and reading the local free weekly English newspapers, this week comes and I find three articles of interest and --even more surprising--of some importance. Each one of these articles provides enough material for a Sundays in Spain blog post on its own, but I am going to cover them all in this one post. I don't have time to write about each, and besides, the authors of the articles have already written their stories quite well indeed. And now, after about an hour of investigation, I have found direct links to all three of the stories, so, if you are interested, you can click them and read the stories yourselves.

The first article is "Orwell's bitter-sweet Spanish experiences had a great effect," by Bruce Walbran, in a series called Historically Speaking in the EuroWeeklyNews. I know George Orwell as the author of Animal Farm and 1984. I did not know, or perhaps I did not remember, that there was a Spanish connection. But in 1936 Orwell came, at the age of 33, to Barcelona five months after the start of the Spanish Civil War. He had intended to write newspaper articles, but instead joined the Republican Army. His book Homage to Catalonia, published two years later, details those experiences and the effect they had on him. It sounds like interesting reading, and I also need to put Animal Farm and 1984 back on my reading list for a second look.

In the same issue of EuroWeeklyNews comes a full-page Opinion & Comment piece by Jack Gaioni, who, it says in his byline, is a "US citizen...spending the first years of his retirement in Almeria." I wish I had known about him when I was living in Almeria! He writes of "Colorado's enduring links to mother-ship Spain." Specifically he is talking about the San Luis Valley in his home state of Colorado, location of the headwaters of the Rio Grande River. He tells us that prior to 1821 what is now Mexico was "New Spain," stretching northward as far as Colorado, and serving as a land of opportunity for immigration from the Iberian peninsula. He finds similarities in the geography, language, history, and genetics of the San Luis Valley and areas of Spain.

Finally, though I promised not to write about my own professional matters in this blog, I must mention the Reflections column by editor Paul Mutter of the CoastRider. I have previously been aware of Paul Mutter's thoughtful comments about all manner of subjects, as well as some of the best reporting on issues in this area, and not to mention some interesting recipes. This week he was commenting on the recent ruling by the European Court of Justice that Google must remove links to personal information if the company is asked to do so by the person concerned. This is a controversial and problematic ruling, of course. Mutter does an unusually fine job in "I want to be forgotten" of outlining the issues and implications of the ruling (that affects only Europe, not the USA). While he mentions most of the issues I would expect to see in an information professional's summary of the action, he describes them in language that makes it possible for anyone to understand. And who in this world is not affected by what Google can link to, or not?

Friday Morning in Guardamar

I have never been a person who likes to lie on the beach for hours, and fortunately, my husband does not like it any more than I do. So we have only been to Guardamar del Segura a few times in the five years that we have lived within 15 minutes (according to real estate agent promises) of its "glorious beaches" on the Mediterranean. Our full-year neighbors on one side of us go frequently, especially at this time of year when the weather is sunny and warm, but breezy enough so it is not too hot--and when the beaches are not overcrowded. Off they go in the car in the morning at 10:00 or so, with beach chairs, a parasol, books, and of course sunglasses, hats, and sunscreen. Back they come a few hours later, often while we are having our salad lunch in our front sun room. Sometimes they return later, having partaken of a light lunch at one of the chiringuitos or restaurantes in the town of Guardamar, on the beach front or one block up from it.

This past Friday morning we had no previous arrangements that we had made, nor any particular errands that we needed to undertake at that time, and the weather was beautiful, so off we went at about 10:00 with the goal of walking along the beach. Not lying, not sitting and reading, but walking. We thought we had dressed for the occasion, I with clogs and Johannes with sandals, and short pants and shirts, I with a large scarf and Johannes with a jacket in case it got too windy near the water.

We found our way into the city of Guardamar and headed to las playas. Even before we could see water at the end of the street, mindful of our neighbors on the other side who had gotten a 100 euro parking ticket for parking in the wrong spot near the beaches last year, we turned off onto a parallel avenue and parked on Avenida Cervantes. We headed on foot down toward where we figured the water was, following a man who was carrying an aluminum beach chair and sun umbrella, so it seemed like a safe bet. In only one block we came to a parking lot  (paid parking, with mysterious colors of lines separating the parking stalls, so I was glad we didn't have to figure that out) and then to a wide expanse of sand. Stopping for a moment to look to our right and to our left, and seeing nothing but sand, water, sky, and a few groups of people lounging in various spots to either side, we chose the left and started walking in that direction.

Guardamar del Segura finds its roots in the sea. Since the 8th century B.C.,  Phoenician, Greek, Carthaginian, Roman, and Arabian sailors have arrived, men employed in the most ancient traditions of the Mediterranean--fishermen, businessmen, and pirates--whatever the occasion required.
We soon realized that it was hard to walk in the deep sand with the footwear that we had--hard on his knee, said he of the two-year-old titanium replacement--and we headed farther out toward the water and got to more solid ground. But we were dodging groups of sun-bathers and even though one of us enjoyed a view of one bare-breasted lady, we soon headed back inward and found a boardwalk. And there, before long, we found a nice little restaurant where we enjoyed a cool drink and a tostada con atun, and listened to quiet music--not the usual blaring pop songs that one often finds on the beach.

Since time immemorial, fish has been a food of the greatest importance to the people of Guardamar, whether it came from the river, lagoons, or sea.  
After our light refreshment we continued walking to the left and came to the end of the built-up beach restaurants and bathing area, and wandered one street back, passing the polideportivo with its municipal swimming pool and assorted sports fields. Across the street was an "infant school" and since it was now a little after noontime, we were treated to the site of parents arriving to escort their very young children--some as young as three years old--home from their morning classes. And we also found three large tiled walls along an old canal (photographed above and below), which told the history of Guardamar back through the ages.

Beginning in the Middle Ages fishing products were carried by canal to the interior towns. Nevertheless, this fishing village also sold fish in a small harborside fish market, as well as
directly through the streets with live fish jumping in the nets.
And then we made our way back along Avenida Cervantes to our car and headed toward home. The real estate agents are right--the beaches of Guardamar are beautiful and they are only 15 minutes away. We were home by 1:30, in time for me to hang the laundry that had been in the washing machine while we were away, and then to make salads for lunch in our delightful sun room.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Submerged in Words

I have been submerged in words for the past two weeks. For one of my Spanish classes I am reading Claire se queda sola, by Marian Keyes, a Spanish translation of a light novel with the original title Watermelon. It is 551 pages long. For my English readers' book group, I have been immersed in Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook. It is 576 pages long, and it is not a light novel in any sense. And then I have been compiling and editing words about e-books and other literature and reference matter in digital form, from 62 different sources. Though that compilation numbers only about 55 pages, it is 22,500 words according to Microsoft Word's Word Count tool, and those words required more care than just reading in either English or Spanish.

All of these projects have deadlines. The deadline that I have already missed is the Doris Lessing deadline. I was slated to lead the discussion on The Golden Notebook last Wednesday. I did lead it, and it was a lively and interesting discussion, but it is the first time (and I hope the last) that I have ever lead a discussion about a book I had not yet completed. I have pledged to continue reading the last third of the book and will finish it, under less pressure.

The second deadline--for the treatise on e-books and digital products--I met reasonably well--if not exactly at the preferred time, at least without complaints. That is done for now, and almost out of my mind, until it comes back for proofreading after layout in a month's time or a little longer.

The third deadline is self-imposed, but important. I need to finish Claire se queda sola by Tuesday morning at 11:00, because that is the last time this Spanish class meets for several weeks, and it does not work to extend a discussion over months--I can't remember very much that long. I still have 140 pages to read, so that is why there are few words today on Sundays in Spain.

Celebration Times Two

I emerged from my book binge for a few hours last Sunday in Spain to attend a delightful midday dinner with a couple of our very good friends. It's not every day that one celebrates a 65th birthday, though there have been a few over the last several years. And we have also celebrated a few "round" wedding anniversaries among our friends in recent years, too. Last Sunday we celebrated both: the couple was observing their 30th wedding anniversary, and the bride was celebrating her 65th birthday. Yes, they had gotten married on her birthday 30 years ago (and I dare say that the groom has never forgotten the day any one of those years).

It was a very festive time. The food at the Portico Mar restaurant in Guardamar was certainly some of the best I have had in Spain outside of the major cities--all three courses. The atmosphere was exquisite, and the restaurant--clearly a place where celebrations are the norm--made it a very special occasion. Our table was serenaded twice, favored with celebratory cava, and the bride received written proclamations of best wishes--in a scroll from a white rabbit--in observance of the birthday and the anniversary.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Yundi in Girona

Yundi in Girona.            © 2014 Johannes Bjorner

We had perfect seats, in the first row of the lower balcony, and overlooking right center stage, so we could see the hands moving back and forth, commanding the black and white keys, throughout the entire concert. Until he stood up to acknowledge applause, we never saw his face. World-famous Chinese pianist Yundi Li played in Girona last Sunday evening at an unusually early hour for Spain (7:00 PM--early even for us, but really early for the Spanish, as the lady at the Girona tourist office had told us with ojos en blanco (wide-open eyes) the day before). A 7:00 start meant that people would be out of the concert hall again at 9:00, just in time for the Spanish to go to dinner.

But at 9:00, no one wanted to leave. It was a magical evening, with a graceful and skillful performance of a demanding program.

Frederic Chopin (1810-1849)

Nocturne no. 1,  in B flat minor, op. 9 (1830-1831)

Nocturne no. 2, in E flat major, op. 9 (1930-1831)

Robert Schumann (1810-1856)

Fantasia in C major, op. 17 (1836-1838)

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) 

Sonata no. 23, in F minor, op. 57, "Appassionata" (1804)

Sonata no. 14, in C minor, op. 27 no. 2, "Clair de Lune" (1800-1801)

(I hope these works are in correct notation; even with Google Translate and a knowledgeable music student, it is hard to translate the program notes from Catalan to English.)

At the end of the Beethoven sonatas, there were three solemn but touching curtain calls and then Yundi came out a fourth time and played an encore. He announced the piece, but I heard only "Chinese." It was indeed some Chinese music, but I know not what. He obviously was moved in introducing this Western audience to some Chinese music. He finished, stood, and saluted the audience for a final time, slowly surveying the public, thanking us with a bow, and then touching his heart. And then he left. And finally, we did, too.
A week later  and I can still feel the magic. It was an exquisite evening.
Yundi (formerly known as Yundi Li) won first prize at the Chopin International Piano Competition in Warsaw in 2000 at the age of 18 years. He was the youngest gold medal winner in the history of the prestigious competition (which is held only every four years), and also the first pianist to be awarded the first prize for 15 years. 

Last night we watched a DVD of The Young Romantic: A Portrait of Yundi, a film by Barbara Willis Sweete (2008). The film showed a lot about Yundi's early interest in music and his training, and followed practice sessions as he prepared to make his debut with the Berlin Philharmonic and conductor Seiji Ozawa. It's a good documentary and it brings the personality of this young musician to life, as he last week brought the music of the nineteenth century to life for me.