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Showing posts with label Torrevieja. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Torrevieja. Show all posts

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Tons of Salt

The Torrevieja Salt Lakes

We live not far outside the city of Torrevieja, which is located at the bottom left of the map above, but stretches out into the surrounding areas. Our town, Algorfa, is located  off the map at the top right, and the yellow line going diagonally across the screen, the CV-905, is a two-lane highway connecting our urbanization, Montebello, to the city of Torrevieja. It extends for about nine kilometers. Also known as the Crevillente Road, it runs between two sizable lakes, shown on the map. The "pink lake" to the left often has a pink shade due to the crustaceans living in it. The "green lake" to the right doesn't change color. We see both these lakes often, almost daily, as we drive to our petanca, Spanish lessons, shopping, and other social events in the area. Quite often, we see huge piles of salt surrounding the pink lake, because it is still a working salt factory (the green lake no longer produces salt, for some reason that I do not know).

Ever since we have lived here, we have heard that the lake provides salt to melt the snow on the streets of New York City in the winter time. I thought this was probably an apocryphal story, possibly with as much truth as that at one time, salt had been sold from this area to New York. It certainly seems like a long way to ship salt; doesn't northern Europe offer enough of a market?

This week, the Round Town News weekly paper featured a story that confirms the rumor. It reported that, "With the USA experiencing one of their worst winters for decades, and no sign of any major improvements in sight, this week the 'Sakura Kobe' left Torrevieja heading for the U.S. East Coast carrying 30,000 tons of salt." It is the largest shipment of salt that has left Torrevieja for a number of years, and more large container ships are expected to follow.

We were there early in the season. We know you need it. We are thinking of you.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Sunday Morning at the Mall

We usually spend Sunday morning at the outdoor mercadillo near our house, buying the week's supply of fruits and vegetables, picking up the free weekly newspapers, enjoying a café con leche in the sun, and browsing music, clothing, book, and sundry stalls. This morning dawned sunny and warm, but for various reasons we did not need any produce or frutos secos, and I had successfully said "no" to a 3 euro sweater at the market last week that I liked but didn't need, and was not sure that I could withstand temptation again this week. So we decided to give the market a miss, as our British friends say, and headed out instead to the Torrevieja shopping mall, Habaneras. This was a treat in itself, because it is only recently that Torrevieja has been declared a tourist area of sufficient importance that it has the right to allow larger commercial establishments to be open on Sundays--all for the convenience of tourists, mind you.

We parked in the large--and very busy--parking lot at Carrefour, the French superstore that has all sorts of wares in addition to food, but decided against the garden shop there. Instead we walked across the street to the Habaneras mall, where Johannes went in to AKI, the hardware store, and I took a quick trip to C&A, a popular clothing store for men and women. Ten minutes later I walked out, again having successfully said "no" to a couple items I don't need, but my "looking" genes satisfied. We met at AKI, where Johannes had found a garden hose to replace the one that came with the  house when we purchased it five years ago, but which he was sick of patching up. I reminded him that we needed a holder to hang up the hose that has rested, tangled, on the floor of the upstairs terrace since we purchased the house five years ago, and which I was sick of taking pains to avoid tripping over when moving around in my "laundry room" tending to clothing on the line. We bought two holders, upstairs/downstairs, or his and hers.

Sunday morning at 100 Montaditos. © 2014 Johannes Bjorner
Armed with our major purchase, we took the elevator upstairs to 100 Montaditos, the little sandwich place (that is little sandwiches, not necessarily a little place that serves sandwiches) and ordered two mini-sandwiches each and a small glass of wine. There is no roof on the top level of the mall, which can be a problem when it rains, as it does occasionally, but today there was no problem with water. We felt a few rays of warm sun and since we had not picked up the usual free papers, we went over to the newsstand and invested in the Sunday edition of El Mundo. Johannes kept the news of the world and gave me the magazine section. I don't usually read style magazines, but this time I did and found a beautiful leather case for your iPhone, with three-dimensional flowered cut-outs, in several spring colors, all for just 235 euros. Then I browsed through an article about the founder of Spotify, who has an interesting quote from George Bernard Shaw* in his Stockholm office, and I peaked into a story claiming that croquet is on a worldwide comeback and has become a very popular sport in Spain. I played lot of croquet as a child during summers in New Hampshire, though I am not sure that now I can remember the rules. No matter, there is a description in the paper, and reading that would be a very good lesson for my Spanish improvement project.

The sun had moved and it started to get a little chilly just sitting, so when we were finished with our sandwiches and wine but before I was finished learning how to play croquet in Spanish, we packed up the paper and the garden hose equipment, walked back over to Carrefour, bought a chicken for dinner, and made our way home by early afternoon. A pleasant way to do something a little different on Sunday.

* The quote from George Bernard Shaw is this:

"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."

I found it in a November 2013 article in The Guardian, which apparently carried the original version of the interview.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

100 Montaditos: "The True Taste of Spain"

Two or three years ago we discovered a new cafe bar at the Habaneras shopping mall that we go to only occasionally in Torrevieja. It was 100 Montaditos (a montadito is Spanish for a small sandwich). There were 100 numbered selections on the menu, ranging from sandwiches with tuna, to ham, shrimp, salmon, beef and all sorts of good things, accompanied by salad and/or a sauce. Best of all, each sandwich only cost 1 euro, or €1.50 , or €1.80. You selected from the menu, wrote down your choices, and delivered your list to the counter, where you also paid and picked up your drink--most probably a caña of beer for €0.90 or a jarra (mug) for €1.00. A little bit later--well, perhaps longer than you would have wished, but this is Spain--your name would be called and you would get up from your table to collect your little plate of montaditos, which in addition to the sandwiches had a few potato chips on it. Just the thing for a light, interesting, inexpensive and not totally diet-wrecking snack while out shopping. We made it a practice to stop there whenever we were in the area, but alas, that was not often.

About a year ago we started driving to La Condomina shopping mall in Murcia, a city about 45 minutes away. This is a much larger mall, but the main attraction was an Apple store, where I was learning how to manage my new computer and where not much time went by before Johannes bought an iPad. We were pleasantly surprised to discover a 100 Montaditos in La Condomina and it became a tradition that every time we went to the Apple store we would get a montadito.

And then we took a trip to Zenia Boulevard, the new mega-shopping center that opened last September on Orihuela Costa. This was a bittersweet expedition, because I am convinced that this grand shopping center was supposed to be "ours." When we bought our house in Algorfa, we were told that the plans were approved for a great new shopping center within walking distance, and that construction would begin soon. That was pre-economic crisis, and the space for which our shopping center was planned is now an empty eyesore. Presumably more money flowed to the developers from the other location than from our town, so there is now a fancy shopping mall just 20 minutes down the toll road from where "ours" was supposed to be. And it's just aggravating that the toll is so unreasonably high that, on the four or five times we've gone to La Zenia, we drive out of our way to go through the free countryside and avoid the tollgate. The important thing about Zenia Boulevard, though, is that it also has a 100 Montaditos.

We made a quick trip to Murcia and La Condomina a week ago. We needed a connector for a new camera bought in Singapore to replace the one that is now resting on the bottom of  Halong Bay. We got that quickly, and we stopped for a montadito. As I scanned the 100 selections, I was surprised to see a few new ones on the menu. (Presumably some of the poorer sellers had been removed to make way for the new). The new were five sweet montaditos (numbered 95-99, all involving chocolate and all on "chocolate bread.") One was with "cookies and cream" and another was with "grageas de chocolate," which looked very much like M&Ms. Well, I didn't indulge in a dessert montadito that time, but I didn't forget them, either.

On Wednesday of this week we went to La Zenia for a very specific purpose: to look at bathroom fixtures at Leroy Merlin to replace a shower and vanity in our upstairs bathroom. We got out of the house early and were at Leroy Merlin just after they opened at 10:00. We spent a fair amount of time there and when we completed our work, we were more than ready for a cup of coffee. Does 100 Montaditos even have coffee? I had become so used to having a meat or seafood montadito and a little beer that I didn't remember if they made coffee. But as we entered, Johannes spied the coffee machine and so we ordered coffee. And I thought one of those chocolate montaditos would be just the thing to accompany coffee.

So that is what I had, a chocolate montadito composed of just-baked, or at least just-warmed, chocolate bread, chocolate cream and a thin chocolate sauce, and several M&Ms. I seldom indulge in such a treat, but chocolate genes run in my family, and every once in awhile, they assert themselves. As I bit into the chocolate montadito, I almost swooned, grinned, and said, "My father would have loved this," for that is where my chocolate gene came from. Until he died, my father enjoyed a little piece of chocolate every day, he told me--just a little piece.

As I was looking for links to the 100 Montaditos site to embed in this post so you could see the menu, I found one that I did not expect to see. In addition to the Spanish menu, I found another menu, in English. It seems that 100 Montaditos has opened in the United States to offer "The True Taste of Spain." There are several outlets in the Miami area, and one has made it as far north as Orlando. In an ironic twist, the 100 Montaditos in Orlando is located less than a mile from where my parents lived for almost 20 years. My father would have loved it.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

"The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming"

Never in all my wildest dreams when I was growing up during the Cold War did I envision the Russians coming to save an economy in trouble.  They probably aren't going to save Spain's economy single-handedly now either, but the new prosperous younger Russians (who were not around during the Cold War) are certainly having a positive effect in tourism and immigration to Spain.

We sat this morning in one of the outdoor cafés at the Sunday market, enjoying sharing a bratwurst and a beer, listening to the voices of what sounded like a Russian couple at the next table, and reading a story in RoundTown News reporting on a group of 30 Russian travel agents that had visited Torrevieja this past week and, apparently, painted the town red. They saw more sights in their week-long junket than I have seen in the four years I have been here! Well at least I have a number of events to put on my "to-do" list--the "floating museums" in the port area being at the top.

There are now almost 5,000 Russians on the padron (the town register), which means that they stand second only to the British as the largest group of foreign residents in the area. Lots of Russians are coming here to make this their permanent home, and lots more are coming to buy second homes--there are reportedly two direct flights each week between Alicante and St. Petersburg during the summer season.

I have never studied Russian and am not really sure that I can distinguish the language from some others, but I may have an opportunity to get more familiar with it in the coming years.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

A Walk on the Beach

Finally it's spring. Really spring. That delightful season in Spain when it's not too cold and it's not too hot.

Of course, to preserve that delicate balance, you need to change clothing at least three times a day. Today I am putting away my winter clothes and getting out my summer garb. I'm hoping this doesn't put the jinx on the weather, as it usually does when we say "This is the last time we'll need the fire" while we watch TV at night. We haven't had a fire for several evenings now, and I am just about ready to plant the white silk flowers that I bought for that purpose in the black square of the fireplace grate for the summer, but I haven't done it yet, because we may just need that fire again some time.

How many times I need to change clothes each day depends on when I get up. I need long pants and long sleeves for the morning and evening,and even during the day if I am inside the house at my desk or in the kitchen, but after wearing long pants to play petanca in the afternoon a couple times this week, and being too hot, I decided that I really needed to retrieve my 3/4 length pants. Yesterday I cut down on the number of wardrobe changes by staying in bed reading until 11:00 AM. That meant I could put on the one pair of pirate pants that I had kept out of storage for the transition season for the afternoon. I also donned a sleeveless laced tank top, one I had purchased years ago at an arts and craft fair somewhere in New England, which has a matching long-sleeved men's shirt with lacy cut-outs and applique--perfect if there are breezes or too much sun. I was a little cold as I sat at the computer in my office in early afternoon, but I was perfectly dressed when we ventured out mid-afternoon for a drive to the Mediterranean, only ten or fifteen minutes away by car.

Photo credit Johannes Bjorner
We parked at La Mata, a neighborhood in the north of Torrevieja, and got out to walk to the beach. There is a boardwalk that stretches along the Mediterranean for several kilometers, and we walked south toward the city. We had been on a stretch of the boardwalk before, but it was a couple years ago. We passed small cafés and chiringuitos as we followed the boardwalk around sand dunes and beach greenery with the magenta middagsblomster and another blue wildflower that I had not seen elsewhere. It was a perfect spring Saturday afternoon. There were several people sunning themselves in swimsuits or just reading in a beach chair. We saw a sailboat. Other people were walking or biking along the boardwalk. We heard lots of Spanish voices, some German, and a very few English. We stopped for a cup of café con leche, and then walked on, and then we turned back and stopped for a caña and tapa, and we watched some real experts playing petanca before we got back to the car at 5:30 or so.

There had been a breeze along the coast, but I was fine in my sleeveless top as long as we stayed in the sun, which was not difficult. When I got home, however, I disappeared upstairs immediately and changed into the slacks and long-sleeved cotton-knit shirt that were still hanging on the side of the dirty clothes basket from the previous evening. After our traditional Saturday evening smørrebrød we settled down for an unusually good Saturday evening of television. Once in awhile I glanced at the empty black hole under the mantel, but we did not light a fire. I did pull a wool blanket over me as we moved into the second hour of the evening's program, however.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

All Eyes on Center

Saturday evening we went to our second concert of the weekend; this one was at Torrevieja's new Auditorio Conservatorio Internacional, where we had been only once before, to an inaugural concert in January. In true Spanish style, this concert started at 9:00 PM, and I was a little worried about falling asleep at that hour with a "heavy" program of Mozart's Symphony no. 25 in G Minor, K. 183, and the Requiem, K. 626.

I needn't have worried. Symphony no. 25 is the one played at the beginning scenes of the film Amadeus and is quite lively. You wouldn't expect a Requiem to be lively, but the twelve movements provided more variation than I had expected, and the 75-member chorus plus soloists all combined (with the 50-member orchestra) to keep me not only awake but interested. I am learning, too, that it is always entertaining to watch this young but accomplished orchestra directed by José F. Sánchez in the gorgeous and glorious auditorium of the conservatory.

The conservatory itself is brand new and from all appearances no expense was spared in its decoration, except for whatever it would have cost to put up directional signs.With no ushers to direct you, it is really difficult to find your seat, so we planned on arriving 45 minutes early for the hunt. Although we had been there once before, we did not have seats in the same section this time, but I thought that I remembered that when finding our previous D section on the second floor that we had seen the F section nearby.

No ushers, but the ticket-taker at the door did tell us to go to the second floor, on the right-hand side. We had previously been on the left. Oh well, we went up and found our places, Section F, Row 8, seats 24 and 26, without much trouble. Other people were not so lucky, and up until the lights dimmed there were people milling around looking for 14 and 3 and all sorts of other numbers. We thought we had figured out that the even numbers were on the right of the row and the odd numbers were on the left.

We were correct, but what I had failed to notice was the corollary of that rule. If we were sitting on the aisle in seats numbered 24 and 26, and the odd numbers were toward the left, how far left were they? On the opposite aisle, it turns out, for there was no center aisle. And where does that leave seats numbered 1 and 2? In the center of the row, that's where. You can see it on the plan that I have now found, but which I had not located last night. Keep your eyes on the center of the rows to find 1 and 2. Except on the shorter rows, of course, where there are no seats 1 and 2.

Songs for the 60s

Torrevieja String Ensemble Playing The Beatles ©2013 Johannes Bjorner

Friday was a nice, warm, and sunny day and it was still fairly warm when we left at 5:30 in the afternoon, bound for downtown Torrevieja with three good friends for a round of tapas before going on to a concert at the Palacio de la Música. I had been looking forward to this event ever since I first heard about it on January 6 at another musical performance at the new International Conservatory auditorium of Torrevieja. This was billed as a concert with a string ensemble playing songs of The Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel. Just the nostalgia trip back to the '60s that I would need in March, as I approached a 60s-something birthday, I had thought then.

We had not been to this concert hall before, and though we found an imposing structure, the auditorium for this concert was surprisingly intimate, seating only 240, and perfect for chamber music such as this. We were in the fourth or fifth row on the main floor and we could see and hear everything, including the expressions on the faces of the musicians.

The string ensemble turned out to be a quintet, with four violins (they were all the same size from my vantage point) and a cello. The concertmaster surprised us all by greeting us, first in Spanish and then in English, saying that the five people on stage were to be playing, but we in the audience were supposed to do the singing. We were, of course, a mixed group of British and Germans and Scandinavians and other northern Europeans, in addition to some Spaniards, and we never really broke out in chorus, but I heard a lot of humming.

One thing I had forgotten about musical performances in Spain, or at least in Torrevieja, is that there are no ushers and, perhaps as a consequence, programs are not distributed. We didn't actually find the printed program until we were leaving the palacio after the concert. There it was, on a table beside the door! During the concert we just listened as each song began and even I was able to identify most tunes before we were in to the second or third measure. Here is the program information that we didn't find until later, reprinted verbatim:

If I Fell . . . . . . . . . . Lennon-McCartney
Bridge Over Troubled Water . . . . . . . . . . . Simon & Garfunquel
Lady Madonna . . . . . . . . . . Lennon-McCartney
Hey Jude . . . . . . . . . . Lennon-McCartney
Let It Be . . . . . . . . . . Lennon-McCartney
Killing Me Softly With His Song . . . . . . . . . . Simon & Garfunquel
Yesterday . . . . . . . . . . Lennon-McCartney
Get Back . . . . . . . . . . Lennon-McCartney

And I Loved Her . . . . . . . . . . Lennon-McCartney
Eight Days a Week . . . . . . . . . . Lennon-McCartney
Michelle . . . . . . . . . . Lennon-McCartney
When I'm Sixty Four . . . . . . . . . . Lennon-McCartney
I Feel Fine . . . . . . . . . . Lennon-McCartney
A Hard Day's Night . . . . . . . . . . Lennon-McCartney
Yellow Submarine . . . . . . . . . . Lennon-McCartney

I had been surprised, when I heard the opening bars of "Killing Me Softly," that it was included in this group, but Johannes and I have a special relationship with this song from years past. At one time he worked at a small company in Massachusetts, where he was responsible for developing circuitry to improve sound quality on a recording device (this was pre-digital recording). "Killing Me Softly" was the test song that had been recorded to use as a quality standard, and its strains were heard several times a day by Johannes and the other personnel in the lab for more than a few months, until everyone wanted to kill the project. And then I heard the story of the trials with this appropriate song for many more years. So when "Killing Me Softly" was played at this concert in Torrevieja it surprised me, but it only added to the nostalgia of the evening. Mind you, this morning I spent an hour or so scouring the Internet to find some relationship between Simon & Garfunkel and "Killing Me Softly With His Song," and I have found none, though I did learn, from several sources besides this one at Wikipedia, that its origins are "disputed."

Whether you were or are a Beatles fan or not, another dimension is added when you hear it from strings and see the pleasure on the faces of a group of musicians as they go through the movements to elicit the sounds. The concertmaster said that this performance was something the group wanted to give the "English community," by which I understand him to mean the multinational immigrant peoples that make up about half of the Torrevieja area population, most of whom are old enough to remember the sounds of the '60s as a part of their youth, many of whom may have learned English from the music, and more than a few of whom have already answered the "When I'm Sixty-Four" question in the affirmative.

It was a lovely evening.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

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!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Torrevieja Tapas

I had a very busy week at my desk last week, focused on one particular project, so by the time Friday afternoon, November 30 rolled around, it seemed like I deserved to get out of the house to do something to clear my mind. It was a sunny day, and that is not something that we have been able to take for granted this particular November, which has had record cold and record number of gray days. But Friday morning was crisp and light, and after working for a few hours, we decided to go in to Torrevieja to check out the Tapas Route.

This was not the first time we have been to Torrevieja Tapas, which has a promotional "tapas trail" twice a year, but I think we missed it last spring. Many communities in the area promote these events throughout the year. Various restaurants of a town promise to offer a drink and a special tapa at a low price--usually a euro for the drink and another for the tapa, they prepare the tapas in quantity as much as possible while holding them fresh, and wait for customers to come by, try the tapa, and then move on to the next restaurant. It's a competition, you see. Customers get a stamp from each restaurant they visit, and then at the end of their tapas run--if they accumulate 10 stamps--they can enter a vote for the best tapa of that particular competition. There may be prizes for the winner, but the big benefit is the exposure all the restaurants get.

We were a little early--it starts at noon and by now it was still only 1:00--and wandered through several narrow streets of Torrevieja without finding a single bar participating in the event. We eventually happened by the Glorieta Cafe. It looked like a tea shop, and after we were invited inside (it was on the shady side of the street) we were told by the server that it is indeed a tea shop--all of the teas in canisters on the shelves were for sale in whatever quantity you want measured, as well as specialty sugars, coffees, and various decorative implements to make or serve your beverage. Just the thing for a little gift for the new lady friend of a male friend of ours who I have not yet met but will at Christmas, I thought. But in the meantime, we had a vino tinto and non-alcoholic beer, and nibbled on two different tapas. The beauty of the Torrevieja festival is that each restaurant makes a "traditional" tapa and an "innovative" tapa. According to the brochure, we were eating sarten de solomillo y foie and pimiento verde preñado. Both were excellent, although I cannot describe them more than as "sauteed tenderloin with pate" and a delicious soft something--possibly a small green pepper--with a wonderful sauce (preñado means "full" or "pregnant.").

We went on in fairly quick succession to Cafeteria Valdes, where we tried tentaciones Valdes--but I really need to start writing down detailed descriptions while I am on the "run," because I can't remember everything. The next place was Puerto Rico, and I remember these: the pelota de "Purisima" was a single large meat ball suspended in a flavorful broth, not elegant, but delicious. Puerto Rico also offered an escalope de queso con patata rellena de sobresada, three slices of potato with cheese, covered by the Mallorcan red pork spread. We decided we needed one more to fill out "lunch" before heading for home and fortunately we found Meson La Huertica on the way back to the car. Although we had sat outside for the middle two places, we were once again on the shady side of the street, so we entered the inviting old-style pub, almost, with dark wood and small tables at various heights. By now (circa 2:30) it was full and we were lucky to get a seat. Johannes ordered one of the tapas and I the other. Then we ordered a second round and reversed who got what. These tapa descriptions are too long to fit comfortably on the allotted space in the brochure. As near as I can tell it was huevos de corral rotos con patatas, foie y jamon iberico (free-range eggs with potatoes, pate, and Iberian ham) and minihambuerguesa de angus con rulo de cabra cebolla caramelizada en cama de crep de sesamo y pasas (mini-hamburger of beef with caramelized onions in a crepe bed of sesame seed and raisins).

Then we descended into the depths of the parking garage, retrieved our car, and drove toward home. We had said that we would stop at the grocery store on the way home to pick up a few necessities. Following the common advice of never shopping on an empty stomach, we did stop, bought what we needed, and did not splurge on anything that looked tempting. After all, we had already succumbed to tentaciones.


It was while we were sitting outside at Cafeteria Valdes, on the corner of two of Torrevieja's very narrow streets, enjoying our drinks and tapas, that our eyes were drawn to the car that was parked on the sidewalk next to our table. This was only our second small drink--tapas festival drinks are smaller than normal, just like tapas are smaller than entrees--so our eyes were to believed.

It was parked kitty-corner between the main and the cross street. It was white. It was small, but it was a car. Johannes got up to inspect it, and as he approached, I saw a young man eye him warily. "¿Es coche tuyo?" I asked, and he rushed over to Johannes to answer his questions--and brag--about his car, a Toyota iQ.

Photo courtesy of Toyota
Even I, one who cares little about cars, got up to look. He had bought it second-hand a year ago, he said, and on 5 euros of gas (about $6.50) he could drive 100 kilometers (62 miles). I circled the car, which appeared to have four seats, not two, though there was something that looked like a bicycle in the back seat. There was also a trunk, though it seemed as though, if you put groceries in the back area, there would be no room whatsoever for any passengers.

Later I investigated the Toyota iQ (great name for an alternative to the more-prevalent Smart Car) and learned that it was introduced in Europe in 2009 and in the U.S. in 2011. Online Conversion tells me that, according to the young man, it gets around 62 miles per gallon, though a USA Today article reporting on Consumer Reports' bad review of the iQ says the U.S. version only gets 34 mpg. How can this be?

Regardless, my current measure of a car is: 1) Can you use it for shopping around town? 2) Can you use it to get you and your luggage to the airport?, and 3) Can you use it to pick up visitors and their luggage from the airport? Yes to number 1 and 2, I determined, without further ado, but absolutely no to number 3. A fine second car, should we ever become a two-car family again, but not a first one.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Torrevieja Tapas Trail 2010

We seldom go in to the city of Torrevieja, which is the largest seaside city in our area, for anything other than shopping. The western part of town is the commercial area, where we find Carrefour, the largest hipermercado, which supplies us with everything from computer paper and cartridges to canned atún en aceite de oliva for our lunchtime salads. Right next door is the Habaneras shopping mall with most of the small specialty shops and department stores popular in Spain, and nearby is the favorite bricolage (hardware store) of the project master of the house, and Iceland, the British Overseas Market supermarket that I use to fill my food freezer on occasion. But we rarely venture beyond this shopping area into the old part of the city, with its narrow streets, tall buildings, and wide open seaside promenade.

So last Wednesday morning, when we and our Danish guests had been holed up in the house for two days straight competing in a coughing and sneezing marathon, and the sun came out briefly for the first time since Sunday, we drove in and parked along the promenade and took a cautious walk along the harbor. That lasted less than a half hour before we decided we needed to replenish the supply of cold medicine, an item not available from any of the small white tents along the waterfront offering crafts, copies (probably illegal) of music and videos, and other merchandise. A postal carrier pointed out the closest farmacia, and that's what made us walk through a side street just two blocks in from the water. We also found a delightful hole-in-the-wall Taberna Tipica where we warmed up with a cup of café con leche at the bar. It was just after noontime, and we watched the bar staff preparing huge casseroles of delicacies for the tapas and lunchtime trade that would commence in a couple of hours.

I thought of that bar yesterday when once again, finally, the sun came out blazing and I remembered that this was the last chance for the special tapas marathon in Torrevieja, running this year from Thursdays through Sundays only for three weekends. Our house guests had gone home, fortunately making it out just prior to the wildcat strike by Spanish air traffic controllers and after piles of snow had been cleared in Denmark. But we picked up English friends, once again a little after noontime, headed into town, where we were lucky enough to find a legal street parking place just across from the café bar where we had drunk coffee earlier in the week. The interior was still dark with rich wood furnishings and hams hanging from the ceiling. But we ate outside, because today there was an empty table in the sun among one of the four or five in the street, which is where Torrevieja establishments customarily place them on good days, which is most days.

The idea of a special tapa trail, or marathon, or festival, is that various establishments, usually within walking distance, offer a tapa and a drink (wine, beer, soft drink, or water) for the bargain price of 2 euros. You go from bar to bar, sampling, and getting your tapas card stamped to show that you were there. If you get nine stamps, you can vote for your favorites, and the establishment and you might win a prize.

At the Taberna Tipica, we had poached white fish and boiled potato in sauce, served in the typical round clay tapas dishes, all carried out on a single plate, with the traditional chunks of a baguette. Perhaps we should have stuck around for a second one, which I realized later would have been the innovative tapa, as opposed to the traditional one. Instead we walked a half block to another place on the corner. By this time it was cool enough to go inside, and we clustered in a large wooden booth after the server explained that we could have either of two tapas for today, or we could try the specials featured last week, too. Our first, a meat tapa, came on individual small, square, white plates, with knife and fork. Serious eating, and it was good enough that we ordered a second. This one, also a knife-and-fork tapa, was one beautiful large shrimp, resting on its side on soft bread, spiced and sauced nicely, with a few gulas as a garnish. I had to look up gulas in the dictionary, and it wasn't there, which was just as well, since I was able to enjoy the baby eels (they looked like spaghetti) without thinking about baby eels.

Our server told us that the restaurant that had won last year's contest was just around the corner, so off we went. By now business was picking up, the bar was crowded, and we had to stand next to the wall counter that so many Spanish bars have--just wide enough for a glass and a small tapa plate. My friend and I looked at each other and agreed that the vino tinto that we had been drinking was just a little taste in a very large glass, so we could continue, though our driver by this time had switched to Sprite. I'm not sure what I ate here--I pointed to something round that had a fried quail egg on top, but when the tapa came it had morphed into what appeared to be a mini Scotch egg covered in another delicious warm sauce.

Around the corner once more to an ultra-modern, glass-surrounded bar, with high tables and high stools. Two of us ate the traditional tapa here, a substantial one with a bite of rabbit, pork, chicken, and duck, and the other two had the innovative one, which turned out to be a mini apple dumpling in milojas (puff) pastry. The bartender told us that cava was available in addition to the wine, beer, etc., so I finished off my tapas trail yesterday appropriately with dessert and Spanish champagne.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Torrevieja Summer

You would have to be crazy to drive to downtown Torrevieja on a Saturday in the summer. The streets are narrow, forming a grid between tall buildings that block out the light. Almost all are designated one-way, with no pattern that I can discern except that invariably the designated way is opposite to where you want to go. Cars are parked on both sides of each street, not necessarily facing the lawful direction, and the interminable line of parked cars does not stop at the intersections--it must take a special skill to parallel park around a corner. It certainly takes a special skill to see around the obstacles when driving and trying to sense whether you will meet oncoming traffic at the intersection.

But we were out of our favorite Jubilaeums Akvavit for Saturday evening's smorrebrod, and the only place--or at least the only place we knew--to get it was at the Scandinavian Shopping Center grocery in downtown Torrevieja. So we ventured forth, worked our way through the criss-cross of streets, and miraculously found a parking place in the middle of the block on one of the streets surrounding  the Center, only to discover that the Swedish grocery Scandigo had moved out of the Scandinavian Center.

Fortunately it had only moved across the facing street, to larger quarters. It had relocated recently, because some of the shelves were still bare. But we made our purchase and had a cup of coffee at the adjoining bar/cafe, all decked out in modern Spanish/Scandinavian design. A new Norwegian grocery is coming in to fill the space formerly occupied in the Scandinavian Center, we found out. I'm hoping the competition will lower prices a bit.

Johannes suggested that we drive along the Torrevieja waterfront, as close as we could get to the promenade, as long as we were here. It had been months (last Christmas, I believe), since we had done any touring in Torrevieja. I agreed, as long as we could stay in the air-conditioned car. The sun was bright and glaring, and it was around 100 degrees F. even before noontime.

We had to double-back through the maze of one-way streets a few times, but eventually we got down to the street that heads north closest to the center city beaches, or playas. There was still one city block between the car and the beachfront. As we approached each intersection, we slowed down to look east out from the dark city shaded by tall buildings to the sun and the blue of the Mediterranean. It was pretty enough to make you feel as though you should stop the car and walk out. But there was no place to park and you would have melted in the sun.

Suddenly we escaped the city buildings and were driving along the northern stretch of Torrevieja without anything between us and the sunbathers lolling on the playas. Thousands of them, all grouped under brightly-colored sunbrellas that were packed tightly in endless row upon endless row, only enough space between them to walk single-file to the water. It looked exactly like a picture postcard from the middle of the last century, which was when Torrevieja grew from a sleepy fishing village to a metropolis for tourists, both Spanish and foreign.

It was Saturday, July 31. Summer vacation time had arrived.

Another View of Immigration

I spied a poster announcing the Dance of the Nations (El Baile de las Naciones) in the window of the Scandigo grocery store, and for once, a poster was not advertising something that had already passed. Indeed, the festival at the Plaza of the Nations was happening that very day. So we stopped at the pleasant urban Parque de las Naciones on our way home from our shopping trip and tourist jaunt along the playas of Torrevieja.

Noontime is early for a fiesta to get under way in Spain, and it was not in full swing yet. But we watched young Bulgarian women, most of them dressed in national costumes, doing traditional dances while we shared a cervesa and empanada from an Argentine refreshment stand. Johannes spoke with argentinos who knew people that he knew years ago in Argentina. Then we walked around and enjoyed an art stall, watched swans in the pond, and admired some very good petanca playing in the 1st Open Internacional de Petanca de Torrevieja. I found some shade and watched seven young people dancing hip hop; one young man danced as well on his hands as on his feet, and they were all energetic (in such heat!). A flyer told me the hip hop dancers were from the School of Tae Kung, and maybe they were only practicing, because they were not really due on until 6:30 PM.

We hung around for an hour or so, and somehow I knew we wouldn't come out again in the cooler weather of the evening even to see all the entertainment that was promised. But we spent some time talking to the people at the ASILA stand. I was attracted by a sign stating simply "El compromiso de integracion" (the compromise of integration). ASILA started out as the association for Latin American immigration in Torrevieja. They were sponsors of the event, which was a bicentennial celebration of the independence of Latin America--from Spain, of course.

ASILA has now dropped its original "Latin American" designation from its name and serves all immigrants. Its primary aim is to fight against unemployment, and it provides courses to enable immigrants to integrate fully into work, and thus the life, of their adopted land. Not everyone comes to Torrevieja to retire or enjoy the sun.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Microsoft Research Center in Torrevieja

For two weeks, the free foreign newspapers in the southern part of Valencia Community have been buzzing with the news that Microsoft was considering establishing a health research center in Torrevieja. Details in most of these papers are usually sorely lacking, and this time has been no exception. Since most of these newspapers are weeklies, it's been hard getting a straight and up-to-date story. Not only was Torrevieja in the running for the Microsoft center, but also the larger cities of Alicante itself (the provincial capital) and Valencia (the Community capital). But the latest round of the free press seems to be saying that the new and very modern Torrevieja hospital has won out over the the capital cities.

Now the national paper, El País, is lending credence to Torrevieja's win. Yesterday's newspaper carried a story saying that Bill Gates had received Community president Francisco Camps at Microsoft headquarters "in the American state of Washington" (which was more likely than some of the reports that said the meeting had occurred in Washington, DC). But El País still reports that Camps had gone to lobby for the Valencian Community--specifically one of the capital cities. Apparently it is Microsoft that prefers Torrevieja, based on a successful installation of Microsoft's "Florence" medical system software that has helped reduce the average waiting time for emergency intakes by 50%--from an hour to a half hour--over the past year.

It's not clear to me that the Microsoft research center is going to do anything more than research even further improvements in software development. The 300 square meter facility is supposed to employ ten people and cost the Community, Telefónica, and CAM bank 800,000 euros over two years. But the story is getting a lot of play locally, as just the latest in the accolades accorded to the very modern and efficient Torrevieja hospital since its establishment in 2006. So far I've only driven past the huge campus less than half an hour from my home, but I suspect that at some point in the future I'll have need of its services. So it's nice to know that the computer systems will be up to date.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Tomato Country and More

During the brief time that I lived in Indiana, my sister introduced me to Red Gold, a small but excellent canner and processor of tomatoes grown northeast of Indianapolis. We enjoyed finding and purchasing the local brand whenever we had need for tomato sauce, canned tomatoes, tomato juice, or any other tomato something from their extensive brand and product list.

Now, totally unexpectedly on a visit to a rural hardware and building supply store near our Montebello home, I have found my local Spanish equivalent to Red Gold. The huge warehouse had a good-enough supply of kitchenwares that I browsed through while the other half of the family talked wood and a building project with the lumber people. But back in the corner I found a section promoting locally grown products. And this is how I found out that it's not just lemons, oranges, mangoes, and olives that are grown in this area. They also grow tomatoes.

I came away with a 390 gram can of tomate al natural pelado (peeled whole tomatoes) and a 400 gram can of tomate al natural triturado, categoria primera (tomato sauce, first quality) for a euro each. A smaller jar (300 grams) of Dulce de Tomate Extra (tomato jam) was three euros. There was a variety of brands and labels in the store, but I noticed after I got home that all three of my purchases were labeled Conservas Almoradí. Almoradí is a town only six or eight kilometers up the road from our home in Montebello--we had previously been there to get our health cards and to buy a few familiar but hard-to-find-in-Spain items at a British EuroStretcher warehouse store.

The two cans also bore a Gómez y Lorente, S.L. mark. When I checked out the Gómez y Lorente website at home, I found that in addition to tomato products, they do alcachofas (artichokes), pimientos (peppers), cebolla sofrita (onions sauteed in olive oil), brocoli, and habas (baby lima beans, also in olive oil). I only saw cans of various tomato products and the onion sofrita, but I look forward to trying the other local products as they become available. I might even try to like artichokes.

I purchased one other local product from the hardware store: Salt. We knew that they still mine salt from one of the two inland salt lakes in Torrevieja--we can sometimes see mountains of salt as we drive by on the road from Torrevieja to Montebello--but I had been completely unsuccessful in finding local salt from any grocery store in the area. Now I have it: Chaco refined sea salt for the table and cooking, packaged by Rocamora Hnos. in Torrevieja, 40 euro cents (about 60 US cents) for a kilo. But salt is a subject for another Sunday.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Menú del Día

On Wednesday morning this week we left the house sooner than anticipated, because we got a sudden telephone call saying that Johannes' new glasses had arrived at the optician and were ready for pick-up. And was he ready to have them! We had intended to go out to Mercadona, one of the many local supermarkets we patronize, to buy the week's supply of heavy stuff: wine, two kinds of bottled water, and kitty litter. We limit our trips there to once a week or so, because it's a little farther away than we usually need to drive, and there are at least four other branded supermarkets between here and there.

Mercadona is on a direct line between our house and the optician's, so we rushed off to the optician's and planned on stopping at Mercadona on the way home. But the optician is right next to the large Habaneras shopping mall in Torrevieja, so we stashed the car in the coolness of the underground parking garage at Habaneras. did the business at the optician's, and then, since we were there, took a trip through AKI looking for wood for new shelves in the kitchen, and through the next-door Carrefour to try to find a suitable folding kitchen stool, and then, somehow three hours had gone by just like that. And we were hungry! And you know what they say about doing grocery shopping on an empty stomach.

So we did something that we hardly ever do--we went out for lunch. Our normal Mediterranean diet lunch consists of a mixed vegetable salad, with a fruit salad for dessert. But today we wanted more than a quick stop for a late-morning tostada or early tapa, and it was now well past 1:00, so we could be sure that restaurants were serving menú del día.

Menú del día is the best way to eat a meal in Spain that offers you choice and plenty of food, and does not bring you a surprise when you get the bill. Offered only at lunchtime--the main meal of the day for most Spaniards--it customarily allows you to choose from among three or four selections for your first course, main course, and dessert. A single beverage (wine, beer, or water) is often included in the fixed-price menu, but sometimes not--check so that you don't get surprised at the end of the meal. Prices (usually somewhere between 8 and 11 euros per person) and the selections for the menú del día are normally listed on a placard outside the restaurant.

We stopped at a place called The Dining Room, which we had noticed near the Mercadona on a previous trip, and were delighted to read on the poster that their menú del día could include only two courses for 6 euros, and we could choose either a starter or dessert in addition to the main course. I quickly decided on the grilled chicken for main course, though I was tempted by the lasagna. Beverage was clearly not included in the six euro price, and we were hot, though we had a table in the shade and a breeze occasionally blew through, so we ordered tinto de verano wine coolers (with ice!) and awaited our main courses.

Not too long a time passed (but enough so we ordered a bottle of water with more ice) before our plates appeared, each with three(!) small breasts of chicken, grilled, plus the usual french fries, plus a bonus of lettuce, tomatoes, and onion that was more than a garnish--at least a one-serving vegetable. This was an English bar and restaurant, but that's not why we got the chips--I have discovered that French fries are the usual accompaniment to fish or meat courses in Spain.

It was very filling, but we concluded our tasty lunch with dessert of watermelon for me and ice cream for my companion. Much more than we usually have for lunch, but thus fortified, we proceded on to Mercadona to accomplish that weekly purchase of wine, water, kitty litter, and a few more items. And then home to put away the purchases and fall into bed for one of those Spanish siestas.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Summer Shopping Sundays

Summer Sundays in Spain are different from winter Sundays, at least on the coast. During July and August people from the north of Spain flock to the southern and eastern costas, and people from the interior parts of the southern and eastern provinces also flood outwards to the beaches. Locals who live year-round on the coast sigh and moan about the lack of parking spaces, but they know how their bread is buttered, or more precisely, adorned with olive oil: tourism.

I have another reason to look forward to the thousands of tourists who come during these weeks. The arrival of tourists to an official tourist region means store openings on Sundays. Yes, Spain still lives most of the year with Sunday being a "day of rest" from commercialism, as long as you don't count the busy Sunday outdoor market or the hundreds of restaurants, bars, and cafeterías that do big business on the "day off." But for Sundays in December and the summer holidays, the larger grocery stores and entire shopping centers that are located in tourist areas are given special dispensation to stay open on Sunday to cater to tourists.

Everyone, I think, loves it. You do not hear just English, German, French, and Scandinavian voices comparing prices and value in Carrefours, Lidl, Consum, and Eroski on Sunday. You also hear Spanish, and you see lots of Spaniards pushing gigantic shopping carts filled with clothing, shoes, electronics, and food. The entire Gran Plaza shopping center had been open on summer Sundays when we lived in Roquetas, and we had noticed that nearly every grocery, hipermercado, and large hardware and building supply store that we have entered here on the Costa Blanca also carry signs advising that they are open on Sunday in July, August, and the first half of September.

Which is why we skipped our usual visit to the local outdoor market this morning and headed to the Ikea in Murcia. They had been out of the shelving we need for the kitchen on our last visit, and their online site now showed that stock had been replenished. We have gone so often to this Ikea that we know the shortest and easiest way, and we have it down to just about a 45 minute ride, only the last five minutes of which are heavy with traffic.

But today we noticed that there was practically no traffic during the last five minutes, and when we approached the parking lot in less than five, we realized there were no cars--none at all--in the parking lot. Sure enough, the sign on the door listed the Sundays and festivos that Ikea is open, but there was a big blank next to the month of agosto. We drove around to several other big box stores, and even parked and went into a shopping mall, to see whether there were any signs that anything might be open in the next few hours. A few other cars were doing the same thing, and the voices of disappointment we heard were Spanish.

Giving special tourism dispensation is a local prerogative. Obviously the officials who are authorized to make this decision in the province and city of Murcia have chosen not to allow Sunday opening during the summer months. Oh, the frustration! I had already been anticipating my favorite treat from Ikea's cafeteria for lunch. But that was counting my shrimp before they had nestled down on an open-faced sandwich.

Back in the car we turned again toward Alicante province and home. I remembered years ago when we lived in northern Massachusetts--still under blue laws at that time, but no more--and we would drive across the border into New Hampshire to shop on Sunday. We even bought one of our cars one Sunday in New Hampshire. Now we passed by our house in Montebello and the open-air market, which was still going strong and tying up traffic, and proceeded on to the Habaneras shopping center on the outskirts of Torrevieja. Everything was open. I noticed that even McDonald's had a sign out saying they serve breakfast from 9:00 until noon (previously they never opened until 11:00). I wonder if that is permanent, or summer-time only.

We spent an hour in the AKI home DIY center, and came out with above-bed lamps, energy-saving bulbs, and the electric cable and switches to install them. So not all was lost. At least we got something for the house, and we still had time left to do a home project on this Sunday in Spain.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Los Belenes - Ancient Worlds in Miniature

It's the eleventh day of Christmas. Since last Sunday in Spain we've managed a few other festivals. The Day of the Innocents is a sort of Spanish April Fool's Day. Las Moragas in Roquetas de Mar is a giant beach-front afternoon and evening picnic, where groups light bonfires and cook fish in honor of the town's past life as a fishing village. Of course, we've also observed New Year's Eve and Day. Also during the week we went downtown in Torrevieja to view the annual municipal Belén, literally, Bethlehem.

The Belenes, which appear in every town during the Christmas season, are in the tradition of nativity scenes, but much more. A Belén shows not only Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in the stable, not only the shepherds watching their flocks by night, not only the Wise Men coming from distant lands to Bethlehem. Belenes are small-scale reproductions of entire towns in ancient times. So you will see common houses with cooking facilities and laundry hanging on a clothes line, a bakery, the outdoor market, perhaps a school, carts and animals, and always something unique to the town in which the particular Belen has been constructed.

The Torrevieja Belén filled more than a third of the area of a city block in the plaza in front of the church and town hall. The landscapes and buildings, with bonsai-sized vegetation and miniature human figures, were mounted on waist-high tables in a long rectangle. Some observers proceeded in an orderly fashion through the entire story around the rectangular block. Others milled in and out to view specific scenes, which were not necessarily in historical sequence. The Torrevieja Belén showed more religious history than I have seen before in a Belen, or perhaps I recognized more because scenes were labeled: the tax decree, Mary visiting her sister Isobel, the couple asking for lodging at the inn, the announcement to the shepherds, the three kings on their travels, Jesus at the temple, the flight to Egypt.

Each town has its own Belén, and part of the tradition is to celebrate the daily life of the specific municipality itself in ancient times. Torrevieja got its industrial and commercial start from its two salt lakes--the industry continues and people tell me that Torrevieja still supplies salt for the removal of snow from New York City streets. So the Belén showed laborers hacking out salt and loading it up for transportation. Especially in the eastern areas of Spain, I learned this year, at least one scene is created to connect the spiritual with the mundane. The Torrevieja Belén showed the consternation of a driver of a horse-drawn cart, fully laden, that had just lost one of its wheels, and in another scene, someone had slipped on steps and was tumbling head over heels. A nearby town, I understand, offered a young man relieving himself behind a tree.

You can find Belenes in many places during the holiday season: department stores, hotels, restaurants, offices, senior citizen dwellings. The largest and most elaborate Belén in each community is sponsored by the local government--not the church. No concern about mixing church and state in this regard! Since the death of Franco (1975), sentiment has grown against Catholicism and the Church, which was complicit in his dictatorship. Spain has officially guaranteed its citizens religious freedom since the 1978 Constitution. But no one demonstrates against the Belenes. In fact, there are competitions and museums to highlight the best. The Belenes show history, and Spaniards acknowledge, respect, and hold in affection the common history of mankind as they see it in the Belén.