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Sunday, October 30, 2016

Sunday's Sardana

We finished our week in the Torrevieja area, where we used to live, and rode the train to Barcelona from Alicante yesterday afternoon. We could have flown back home to the U.S. this morning, but instead we delayed our departure by a day just to see the sardanas in front of the Cathedral in the old part of the city of Barcelona.

I first wrote about the sardanas in 2009, I've just discovered by searching this blog. We were in Barcelona for our first visit, centered around a meeting of the Mediterranean Editors and Translators. On Sunday morning we happened upon what seemed like an impromptu folk dance in the plaza in front of the old cathedral not far from our hotel. It is, in fact, anything but impromptu. It happens every Sunday, from 11:15 to 1:00 PM, we have learned, and it is a celebration particular to the Catalunya autonomous community of Spain.

We arrived early at the plaza, in time for a café con leche, and when we made our way around the cathedral, we came to the front, where sixteen or so chairs were set up and roped off on the steps in front of the cathedral. Slowly, musicians appeared within the roped-off area and took their seats. They unpacked instruments: a piccolo, clarinet, other woodwinds, but we were standing right behind the man who lugged in a bass, and we watched him place bandages on his fingers, then he sanded the strings of the bass, ran a lit pocket lighter along them ("Don't try this at home," he told us), and then rosin. No director appeared, but at precisely 11:15 (and this the morning of the change from summer to winter time in Europe) the piccolo lead with a couple bars and then the rest of the instruments joined in, and then one, then two, and three circles of dancers formed on the pavement below, and the slow, ritualistic melody and movements combined in the weekly celebration of the old Catalunyan tradition.

The Catalunyan flag was waving behind the dancers and in front of the musicians, not the Spanish flag. Some may look upon this as a weekly political protest, and there is surely some truth in that description. You can also see it as a hallowed, weekly acknowledgement of a culture, and of the idea of vibrant individual cultures within states. We spied an old man dancing who could barely keep up with the movements and during a break asked him how long he had been dancing sardana in the square. Thirty years, he said. We made a date to come back and see him ten years from now, at which point we know he will either be on the square in front of the cathedral, or he will have danced his way into paradise.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Mandarins and Siesta

I just dug my thumbnail into the end of a mandarin orange and even before I peeled back the skin, I inhaled the heavenly sweet smell of orange. I have thought of this smell many times, for even at home now in the U.S. I am able to buy mandarinas, and I frequently do,  and I stick my thumb in the skin to peel them for a lunchtime fruit salad, but I rarely smell any scent, even though they taste pretty good.

I ate two mandarins while lying on my hotel bed, watching the reflection of cars moving along the country road in the glass of an open window. Taking it easy and resting from the morning's activities, and gathering energy to speed off to a game of petanca with friends at 5:00.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Another Sunday in Spain

This morning I woke up in Alicante city, the capital of the province in Spain where I lived dozen years until two years ago. We had a delicious breakfast in the elegant old style (pre Crisis of 2008) in the NH Rambla hotel (Spanish tortilla, cheeses and cold meats, including jamon serrano, several breads and sweet cakes, at least five fresh fruits and six fruit juices, and eggs, bacon, and sausages cooked to order). Then we had a couple hours free before we were to pick up our rental car, so we walked down the Rambla toward the harbor and along the Esplanade, watching people, browsing the small white tent-shops with handicrafts, and pausing for a tinto de verano at one of the sidewalk cafés, because the weather was sunny and warm enough so I was comfortable just in light slacks and a three-quarter arm length blouse. Not even a scarf.

Everyone was out, as is typical of a Sunday morning in Spain. Children playing, vying for balloons. Young couples, some pushing strollers. Young women in pairs. Men in groups playing cards and chess. Single old people walking with a crutch or a cane, or riding a motorized scooter. People carrying lightweight folding chairs, on their way to or from the beach. Musicians and impromptu dancers. Tourists and locals. Everyone was enjoying the sun, a gentle breeze, the opportunity of leisure, and the experience of sharing common space in a city by the Mediterranean. It was a perfectly ordinary autumn Sunday in Spain.

I first saw Alicante in May of 2003. We had come to Spain for a week's vacation from our summer cottage in Denmark, with the idea of finding a place where we could live for six months of the year. We traveled then from Alicante clear over to the Costa del Sol and ultimately chose a spot in between those two, but even that wasn't until the following year. What I remember from that first glimpse of Spain was the Esplanade in Alicante with its wavy tiled pavement, and that a feria de libros was taking place in the white tents. I didn't buy any books then, but I remembered the tiles and the walkway and the water and the palm trees.