Search "Sundays in Spain"

Showing posts with label celebrations. Show all posts
Showing posts with label celebrations. Show all posts

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Thanksgiving in Spain

We have just finished an extra-large lunch of the leftovers from yesterday's traditional Thanksgiving dinner with three American (or American-connected) friends. It's hard to celebrate the fourth Thursday of November when you are the odd people out.  Spaniards, and Europeans in general, know that Americans celebrate Thanksgiving and eat turkey, but they don't know exactly when, they don't know anything about the real tradition of it, and they certainly don't stop life on a weekday in the fall for a huge foreign celebration. So since one of our American friends in Spain is a mother with kids in school (from approximately 9:00 to 1:00 and again from 4:00 to 7:00 each day), we have often celebrated our national holiday on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. We have been to restaurants before, but this year I brought the "fixings" in my suitcase from the U.S.: pecans, canned pumpkin puree, and well-wrapped fresh cranberries. I do wonder whether the TSA ever inspected my cardboard canisters labeled dried plums and raisins well enough to know that substitutions had been made.

Turkey roaster filling the oven in my Spanish kitchen.
Finding a fresh turkey is not always easy. I remember one year that I did manage to order one ahead of time, sight unseen; when I picked it up at the market early in the week, it turned out to be almost 40 pounds(!) and I had a hard time storing it in my refrigerator for a few days and an even harder time getting it into my small oven to roast. This year I had to fall back on a frozen turkey crown from Iceland, where the turkeys for the Brits' traditional Christmas dinner are already selling like hotcakes. I was able to gauge the size somewhat better for our small gathering of five, and I was even more pleased when I got it home that it fit in the cast aluminum Wagner Ware turkey roaster that I had been storing on the top shelf of my kitchen cabinets for years, used seldom but with affection, though never before in my ownership for turkey. I had previously ascertained that the turkey roaster itself would fit in the oven. It did, barely, with no room for anything else to either side, front or back, above or below. When Thursday morning came and I started the food preparations, I was disappointed to discover that the two turkey legs (jamoncitos) that I had purchased to add a dark meat selection to the white meat of the turkey crown would not fit in the roster with the crown, so I did them first and then set the crown in a couple hours before my guests came.

We had a leisurely dinner, from spinach square appetizers contributed by one guest to a fantastic pumpkin pie with lattice crust from another guest, and then sat at the table for hours afterwards talking and doing our darnedest to finish the last inch or two out of some of the various liquor bottles that had accumulated on the bottom shelf of the liquor cart over the years. This was a farewell occasion to some of our best friends. We also had another farewell dinner at our house, on Thursday, with other long-time friends, English, who had humored me several times in the past few years by celebrating Thanksgiving with us. This year we agreed to bypass the traditions of Thanksgiving and have roasted pork tenderloin and seasonal vegetables. That was excellent and easy, but I did give in to purchasing a small turkey tenderloin when I spied it in the grocery store, and throwing it into the oven thirty minutes before the rest of dinner was done, and I offered a cranberry compote with custard for dessert, so there was some tradition on Thursday itself.

We played petanca with our usual group this past Tuesday afternoon, and then on Wednesday evening joined 40 or so other members of the Danish Friends Club of Torrevieja for a club dinner at a restaurant in the La Siesta area--a restaurant where we had eaten for our first meal out when we came to explore Torrevieja six years ago, now re-opened under new management. Most of the Danes had heard that we were here to ready our house for selling, and they stopped by to say goodbye and wish us well. Then on Friday I had a lovely visit with my Danish Spanish teacher, that is, the Danish woman who started out teaching me Spanish conversation by discussing books, but who has long since turned from formal teacher into a close friend and fellow reader.

It has been a week of celebratory dinners, and we have been giving thanks throughout for good friends with whom we have shared the joyful, trying, and rewarding experience of living several years in a foreign country.

Tomorrow I pack the turkey roaster to bring it back home to Ohio. As is the custom here, we are selling our house furnished, and in our case that includes cookware and basic dining service, because, frankly, it doesn't pay to ship it home. But not this piece, even though my 15-inch Wagner Ware Magnalite 4265 turkey roaster can be had on eBay for about $80 plus shipping (estimated at $20). My shipping will probably cost that--maybe a little less if you factor in all the small treasures I can fit inside the roaster when I pack it. But even if I were to buy another one, it wouldn't be the same. This roaster is from the town I grew up in, and the company where my father worked during my growing-up years. It is nearly as old as I am--maybe older. And it has cooked some wonderful meals for special friends in various locations throughout the years.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Changes in the neighborhood

We've experienced a number of life-changing events in our neighborhood here in Montebello over the past several weeks.

A lady who lived just a few doors down from us died. It was not unexpected: she had been battling brain cancer for over a year, and by the time the end came, it was probably a blessing for her, for her elderly husband, and for the daughter who had come from England--several times and for long periods--to care for them both. During the last trip the daughter stayed for a few days after the funeral, taking care of details and managing the house for some relatives who had come from abroad for the services and stayed a bit. Then at the end of the visit, she and her father drove a couple of the aunts to the airport so the aunts could return to their lives. And in one of those tragic but perhaps right life-changing events, her father dropped dead of a heart attack just minutes after the aunts had disappeared through the security gate. The poor daughter, certainly shocked, organized and went through the funeral of her father just days after the funeral of her mother.

A happier occasion in our little corner of Montebello was marked at the end of May. On an unusually dreary Monday (Memorial Day in the U.S, but not here, of course) we returned very early from a quick morning run to the post office to find a young man applying jumper cables to his car. Not a happy site except for the fact that the man in question was the husband of a neighbor, a young woman with two teenage sons. Because of the economic crisis,  the husband had been working and living in England for the past two years and visiting only occasionally.

In spite of a dead battery, the man was cheerful, albeit in a hurry. "Not surprising to have a dead battery after many months of not using this car," he said, "but wouldn't you know--I start a new job this morning!" "Here?" I asked in surprise, and he answered, "Yes."  He got the car started, and when I saw his wife a few days later, she confirmed that he had just gotten a new permanent job in Spain, and that the four of them were, once again, a family living under the same roof. I walked around for days feeling joy for them.

A different life change happened at the beginning of June, but it was a positive one, too. This was the start of a new business, or perhaps it is better to say a revitalized  business. When we moved into our neighborhood five years ago, there was an on-site bar and restaurant, Monty's. Then a second bar and restaurant opened. Two establishments were at least one more than the community of 160-some houses could support. The second one closed, and then, with the deepening and apparently never-ending financial crisis, the first one closed. For a couple months Montebello was without any on-site bar and restaurant at all.

Then we got word that new owners had purchased Monty's. They took a couple weeks to gut the kitchen and replace everything, paint the interior dining room, and do some much-needed cosmetic work on the exterior building. Then they opened the bar. Nice, but we are not the type of customer that can provide sufficient support to keep a bar in business. But then, two weeks later, they announced the opening of the kitchen.

We had a pleasant evening dinner at Monty's at the beginning of June, celebrating our not-so-recent triumph in the neighborhood petanca tournament with friends, who happened to also be observing their 44th wedding anniversary. As it turned out, we realized, they had gotten married just two days earlier and two years later than we had. So we had a nice, relaxed dinner luxuriating in our neighborhood, supporting its revitalization and hoping for stability, and being able to walk to and from without getting into a car.

And now we are ourselves engaged in a major life change.  We are planning to reestablish our residence in the U.S. this summer. I will leave shortly and travel to Cincinnati to take possession of an apartment--and attend my customary summer conference of the American Library Association. Johannes will join me later, after his visa papers are in order. Once we are together in the U.S. again, we will stay there for six months.

We are not leaving Spain forever. For now we are keeping our car and our house here, and we know that we will be very glad to get back to the Costa Blanca when it turns cold and dark in the Midwest next winter. But we are going to be gone for a long time, and that means we have been having some sad good-byes. Or some hasta la proxima's, because (the good lord willing and the creek don't rise) we will return in February.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

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.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Plaza de Colón, Madrid

We had time to spare last Wednesday, March 20, as we walked along Calle de Serrano in Madrid from the embassy of the United States to the embassy of Denmark, and it was warm and sunny. After locating the Danish embassy we went across the street to the Plaza de Colón, where a number of police or military (it's hard to tell which is which) were standing about. We thought perhaps they were there in preparation for an upcoming political demonstration, as we had previously seen signs in the Metro station that there were planned work stoppages later that day. But no, they said they were there because they raise a large flag one day each month, and they are always there when the flag goes up.

We thought we might as well be there, too, since we just happened to be there on the one day of the month that the flag was raised, and it just happened to be sunny and warm, and there just happened to be an empty table at a cafetería across the street, and we just happened to have plenty of time. So we stopped and had a coffee and a granizado and read the newspaper, and a few minutes after noontime we heard music and saw that an enormous flag was being unfurled. It went up quickly, and then the band marched away and there was no more music. The flag continued flying and every so often was spread out to its full width in a gentle breeze.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

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, February 24, 2013

Car Culture

I don't pay too much attention to car models and features, but I was really impressed last Sunday evening when our friends lifted the hatchback on whatever car they have, which they had backed into the diagonal parking space adjacent to the seaside promenade in the town of Santa Pola. The back seat of their car had been removed or folded down to form a long expanse level with the floor of the trunk, and on this "table" were a single lit candle, a vase holding a fresh red rosebud, a bottle of cava and four glasses, and an assortment of tidbits that I learned later were roast duck breast on homemade croutons. It was the pre-dinner anniversary surprise that our 45-years-married friends had planned not just for themselves, but for us.

The bottle of cava was uncorked in a jiffy; music suddenly sounded--from the car CD-player, probably--and the anniversary couple obliged us with a dance on the promenade in front of the Mediterranean. Spanish passers-by stopped to watch the festivities, and upon being told the story, wished them enhorrabuena. It was a touching and very festive little celebration. This was the ultimate of tailgating, I declared, and I tried to explain to this not-American couple the U.S. custom of tailgating for sports events. I failed, and I know I will never again think of tailgate parties without remembering this one.

It has been a week of thinking about cars. Ours stopped, or rather, failed to start, right out in front of our house early in the week. The starter turned and choked, but it just couldn't start. Well, it could have happened in a worse place; we just went back inside, waited for 15 minutes, came back out, and our Ford Fusion started fine. No more problems for a couple days, but then one morning we stopped to drop off papers, bottles, and containers at the recycling bins on the other side of our urbanization, and by the time we had emptied the bags and climbed back into the car, it refused once more to start. Well, at least we were home in our own development, so this time we pushed the car to the curb, locked it, and walked the four short blocks home.

We had been meaning to get it to service anyway--we knew we needed new refrigerant for the air conditioning--so it suddenly seemed as though making the appointment sooner rather than later would be a good idea. When we went up to the bins after an hour's rest, and once again it started up easily, we drove straight to the repair garage, not wanting to strain our luck for a third time. Alas, no loaner car was available for another week, the following Thursday, and we are, here in Spain, a one-car family. Well, maybe our luck would hold out, we thought. But we have a couple important appointments this week that depend on our getting somewhere at a certain time.
Friday morning we both woke up with the same thought. First we drove to our planned coffee date with the small American group we know here, and then we drove in to Torrevieja to the rental agency where we had been such good customers before buying this car four years ago. I stayed in our car with the motor running while Johannes went in to sign the papers for a rental. What a disappointment, though--there were no rentals available! Fortunately we did not drive very far toward home before we found another rental agency. This one had a car to rent. Again, I stayed in our car with the motor running while Johannes went in to do the paper work. Forty-five minutes later (!) we were on our way again, this time straight to the garage, which was happy to get this job ahead of schedule and has tentatively estimated that we should get ours back on Tuesday.

That will be nice, and in addition to diagnosing and fixing the starter situation, they are going to fix the a/c and mount four new tires. We are reminded, especially as we see news of the driving and parking problems in the snow-covered northeast U.S., how little time we spend worrying about our car here--and how little money is spent on maintenance and repairs (not true, though, of the initial cost and gasoline). We never have to think about antifreeze or the effects of salt on the roadways, and even the occasional dusting of Sahara sand that floats over with the rain can be washed off at the one-euro car wash down the street.

For now, though, we don't have to think about washing a rental car, and while we wait for the six-year-old Ford to look and act like new again, we can enjoy the experience of trying out a make that is brand new for me. I would have been happy if we could have rented a smart car, as none of the appointments we have this week involve trips to the airport of carrying friends around, but we didn't have that choice. What was available on no notice was a Tata Vista. That is serving us well, and contrary to what I expected from what I had heard was a "basic" Indian car, this one is at least as large inside as our Ford Fusion. But I am not planning any tailgating party.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Happy Anniversary!

Later today we are going to the seaside town of Santa Pola, to have dinner with Danish friends in an Argentine restaurant run by an Argentine of Danish parentage. It is our friends' 45th wedding anniversary, something that we find hard to believe because they don't seem old enough to have been married for 45 years, but since this year we will also celebrate our own 45th wedding anniversary, if all goes well, I suppose it is possible.

Thursday of this week, which was also Valentine's Day, dawned as a perfect day: sunny, the warmest we have had, and none of the strong winds that have blown through lately. I did a little work and then needed a break from the computer. So did Johannes, so we set out for a drive, and since we knew we would be going to this restaurant later this week but were not sure exactly where it was, we headed the car north to scout out the area.

It's a good thing we did, because Gloria Pérez Sanchez, our GPS lady, seems to have lost her good will and doesn't want to work for us any more. After a couple starts and stops, we found ourselves in the town of Santa Pola, but without any idea of how to find the restaurant. We stopped a couple times to ask directions, and since we were hungry but were nowhere near any restaurant except McDonald's, we ended up having chicken sandwiches at McDonald's for Valentine's lunch. Ironic, since I had not made it to a McDonald's during the three weeks I was in the U.S., and had even held myself back from the one in the Madrid airport, where I am often tempted to have breakfast when I come in from an overnight transatlantic flight and have to wait hours for my flight to Alicante. Here in the Santa Pola McDonald's, we were not alone, and a young couple who knew something of the area directed us to Calle de Mar, taking into account the one-way streets that had always forced us into detours from which we could never escape. We eventually found the restaurant and also the way out of town again, and look forward to meeting our friends there this evening.

It did not occur to me then, but it has since, that this blog, Sundays in Spain, was born in Santa Pola several years ago. I've done some homework during the week and re-discovered my first post, "Al mal tiempo buena cara." That was on October 12, 2008 and spoke of our experience in a small Santa Pola restaurant watching the other diners, one group of whom turned out to be a couple celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary, their boda de oro. Fifty years is just five years beyond 45, of course, and I realize now that I have been writing this blog for nearly five years--225 posts--and it doesn't seem all that long. We just might make it to 50.

In the meantime, happy anniversary to all who have any number of years and any occasion to celebrate.

Sunday, February 10, 2013


Last night much of the world celebrated Chinese New Year, but in Cádiz, Spain, they celebrated Carnaval. It is a vibrant, colorful, noisy celebration that lasts days (and nights), just as Mardi Gras does in New Orleans, and Carnival does in Rio de Janeiro.

Easter, and therefore Carnaval, comes early this year. I was reminded of it by my seatmate-once-removed (blessings abound whenever there is an empty seat between you and the next person on a plane) between New York and Madrid. She was on her way to Cádiz to celebrate and, I believe, speak at one of the events of the carnaval. Her father, an anthropologist, had passed a sabbatical in a town near Cádiz back in the 1950s; he and his family returned several times over the years, and lived there for long periods of time, so this was a homecoming for my fellow traveler.  Jerome Mintz wrote two books about this part of Spain. The Anarchists of Casas Viejas, originally published in 1983, is a classic oral history and analysis of an incident in the small town of Casas Viejas that happened in Civil War-era Spain and the subsequent Franco dictatorship; it was reissued by Indiana University Press in 2004. Carnival Song and Society: Gossip, Sexuality and Creativity in Andalusia, published in 1997, describes, primarily the songs of carnival and how they evolved from the mid-1960s (still under Franco) through to 1990. Both these books are now on my reading list.

You can get a flavor of the 2013 Carnaval in Cádiz and the importance of the satirical songs here in several clips from El Huffington Post.

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.

Monday, November 26, 2012

American Thanksgiving in Torrevieja

I don't usually stick an American flag at the top of the pineapple in my traditional Thanksgiving centerpiece, but this year was different, for we went on the Saturday following Thanksgiving to a British restaurant to eat a roast turkey dinner with some Americans we know and some we didn't. There are not many people from the U.S. along the Costa Blanca, but those that there are, I think, are aware of the peculiar experience of being in the minority. That, plus the power of Thanksgiving memories, is probably what brought us all together last Saturday.

This particular group of Americans all seemed to be bi-national or multinational couples. The countries of our spouses and partners included (at least) Spain, Denmark, Germany, the Philippines, Cuba, and UK. We were a fairly diverse group of Americans, too, as separately we acknowledged "home" to be Ohio, Wisconsin, California, New York, New Hampshire, and Maine, although several of us have lived in even more states.
Thanks to one family, we were three generations, with six children and teenagers and a smattering of younger adults; the rest of our group of 20 had celebrated some 40 or more Thanksgivings earlier in our lives.

Since I have lived in Spain with so many British ex-patriots I have learned that roasts of various meats and poultry are the traditional Sunday dinner, with at least four vegetables. Our British hosts at The Courtyard had put individual placemats depicting the American flag on the table, which was an unexpected welcoming gesture. The restaurant put on a fine spread, and the various side dishes that some of us brought were completely unnecessary in filling out the meal, but important for our traditions. I brought the fruit arrangement shown above (the photo was taken on Sunday, so it is a little less bounteous than it was at Thanksgiving dinner). We also had homemade sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie, cranberry sorbet, and a marvelous pumpkin soup.

A Thanksgiving timeline developed by the Library of Congress tells us that the first documented thanksgiving feast in territory currently belonging to the United States was held by Spanish explorer, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado in 1521.  Maybe so, but I still prefer the Plymouth Colony story of 1621, which was a three-day feast. As ours was this year.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Beat Goes On...

Did I say last Sunday that, even though we have all-night fiestas with loud music that goes on until 6:30 in the morning, that at least the music only comes on the weekends and never during the week? Yes, I did, and I was wrong.

I found out I was wrong on Wednesday morning. When I woke at a little after 6:00 AM I heard the music again. I had not heard it start and I was not awakened by the music, but it was clearly there after I awoke. Where was it coming from? This time I got dressed, unlocked the front door system, and went out to explore.

I walked along the east side of our development, up toward Monty's Bar. It was closed up tight. When I turned toward the west and passed slightly up the hill toward Bistro Alex, also closed, the music got dimmer. So it wasn't coming from the motorcycle hangout way past the Zoco market in this direction, I figured. I turned north and came down the hill toward our house and by then I could hear faint strains again. But soon after this, the music stopped.

Later on that morning we stopped for a cafe con leche and tostada at La Cata in Benijófar. I asked casually whether anyone there lived in town and had heard the music. "¡Si!" said the bartender; and it turned out he lived in the street right next to the source of the music, which he assured me was in the park next to the colegio [elementary school] in Benijófar. He said the music that morning had continued until 8:00, which was probably about the time that he had to get up to go to work. But he had not been out celebrating, and he told us that the festivities would still be going on for a couple days, and he was moving to his girlfriend's for the duration.

Wednesday, according to my Spanish-Norwegian calendar supplied by the Norwegian newspaper Spaniaposten, was the festival of Santiago Apóstol, the Apostle St. James, who happens to be the patron saint of Benijófar. That had been the reason for the festivities on the night of Tuesday going to Wednesday. As we left La Cata and drove through the plaza toward our home, we heard the church bells ring and saw that the church door was open, a rare occurrence. Apparently by noontime the celebration had shifted toward the more solemn spectrum. We should have stopped to see the inside of the church, which has never been open when we were near it on foot. Alas, we were no longer on foot, and there is no parking place near by, so once more we missed seeing the inside of the church. But we did learn that Benijófar is protected by its patron saint, St. James.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Fiesta Season

It's fiesta season. We don't have loud music and partying every night of the week--only on weekends. Last week the Virgen del Carmen fiesta kept me awake Saturday night. This weekend, the party started Friday night. I didn't really notice it until I woke up at 3:30 Saturday morning. Even with windows shut, I could hear the throb, throb, throbbing of the drums through the loudspeaker of the fiesta that was going on across the highway in Benijofar. I knew it was Benijofar, because we had been there Friday afternoon for a nice luncheon at La Cata, a new restaurant run by the proprietors of Magica Gourmet, and verified that this town's local fiesta began this weekend. We thought it started with a parade Saturday evening, but obviously we were wrong.

By yesterday morning at 3:30 I had already slept several hours, so it was really hard for me to get back to sleep with all that racket going on. At one point I seriously thought about getting up and joining the party, only ten minutes away. However, I just read, and after an hour and a half I felt myself drifting off again at 5:00. The next time I woke up was at 7:00 and all was quiet. Not so this Sunday morning, when I came to consciousness at 6:00. The sound was faint, but I could hear the throb, throb, throbbing of that drum again. I had left the windows open Saturday night in order to catch some cool breezes. There had been no noise when I went to bed, but who knows when it started? The miracle, I guess, was that I had not awakened earlier. At any rate, the sound of the fiesta was much dampened Sunday morning. Had someone pulled the plug on the loudspeaker, or just cut the decibel level in half, or a quarter? Or was this only an echo from the previous night? Or was I just reliving the Friday night party in a dream?

No, the sound was definitely there, though quieter. And it stopped shortly after 6:00 AM, which must be curfew time for all-night fiestas. No wonder Sunday mornings are always ethereally quiet where we live. People have just then gone home and toppled into bed.

There are some who wonder how a country that is in such economic crisis can afford municipally sponsored all-night festivities in every village and hamlet throughout the summer season. And there are those who answer that it is precisely because the country is in economic crisis that the townspeople need to hang on to their traditions by throwing a grand fiesta to honor the local patron saint one weekend each year.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Virgen del Carmen

Tomorrow is the festival of the Virgen del Carmen. It's a holiday that is celebrated in many communities along the Costa Blanca, and we were made aware of that last night, or rather early this morning.

There were no signs of celebrating when I went to bed early last night, at 9:30, to read in peace. But just as I was thinking of turning the light off and getting some sleep a little before midnight, the fireworks started. And then the music started. At first I thought the music was from one or both the bars in Montebello, just a regular Saturday night party, though we don't usually hear signs of nightlife in our house five short blocks from the commercial area. 

But the noise went on longer than those bars are open. It was still going on at 2:00, and at 3:00 and even at 3:30. That's the last time I looked at my clock before I thankfully finally fell asleep. When I woke up this Sunday morning at 8:00, it was to blessed sounds of silence.

We still didn't know exactly which town the loud music had come from, but we were pretty sure it had come from a municipal fiesta rather than a private party. Every town has a fiesta during the summer, and we had seen signs in Benijofar this past week that its fiesta was coming up. But this morning after we made our usual Sunday purchases of frutos secos and vegetables from the Zoco market, we drove along the roads of La Finca golf resort to our small town of Algorfa, thinking to enjoy a cup of coffee in the refreshing coolness of the morning breeze.

Assembling for the Virgen del Carmen Parade in Algorfa. ©2012 Johannes Bjorner.
Our timing could not have been better. As I made my way through the narrow streets of the town, I suddenly came across signs of a procession. People--old and young--garbed in traditional costumes and carrying flowers, were assembling in the streets. We parked quickly, got out of the car, and followed the parade.

Flowers from all. ©2012 Johannes Bjorner.
We didn't have long to wait. It was a small parade, but festive. First came the musicians (two of them) and then townspeople, some--especially the children--decked out in red, black and white, and bouquets of flowers everywhere. I had read this week that IVA, the value-added tax, is going up on flowers, but that didn't stop the florists this morning from doing a bang-up business.

Algorfa, like other communities, was celebrating the Virgen del Carmen festival. But the Virgen del Carmen happens to be the patron saint of Algorfa, so the celebration here is especially festive. First the parade this morning, with musicians and children carrying flowers to the church. We followed the parade down two blocks, then it turned toward the plaza, and crossed the plaza to the church.

These musicians led the parade.
The musicians stopped outside the church and people proceeded inside to lay the bouquets in front of the statue of the Virgin, I imagine. Another parade, with carriages and a local queen and princess, will take place this evening, and tomorrow at 9:00 PM the statue of the Virgin del Carmen will be brought out of the church and carried through the streets of Algorfa in a solemn procession.

Perhaps her first Virgen del Carmen festival.
We did not go into the church, but we joined lots of other people refreshing themselves at a cafe bar in weather that by now had begun to turn hot. There were lots of townspeople on the church steps, and we heard the sounds of the organ playing various hymns. It wasn't just foreigners who skipped out of the mass, though. Lots of children who had laid their flowers and shown off their finery were now playing in the plaza while their parents chatted with friends and family. We sat for awhile and enjoyed their enjoyment, and then walked and wheeled back through the streets to find where we had parked the car in haste when we first saw the signs of this celebration parade.
Playing hide-and-seek in the plaza outside the church. ©2012 Johannes Bjorner.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Semana Santa

Quick before we reach Easter Sunday, I need to write a bit about Semana Santa, Holy Week. Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday, of course. I really got into the spirit of Palm Sunday two weeks ago when we were in Alcalá de Henares. As we wandered through the old town on Sunday morning, we suddenly heard the sound of tambor (drum) and corneta (cornet) music, and when we followed it, we came upon a cofradía practicing the special procession that is carried out in many communities in Spain on all the days of Semana Santa, the week between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday.

Each community is different. Some put on very elaborate and expensive floats and parades; others are more humble. Generally the processions are held at night in celebration of the various events in the life of Jesus during Holy Week. Each float and procession is sponsored by a brotherhood (cofradía) and there may be more than one procession each day, leaving from different points in the city and following different routes. Domingo de Ramos, Palm Sunday, is the first procession and the parade is a triumphant one, depicting Jesus entering Jerusalem, with people waving palms in welcome. Here is a small picture of the procession as it is celebrated in Alicante, with palms from the nearby city of Elche, which are uniquely white.

Torrevieja is the closest city to where I live. This is what its Easter procession schedule looked like:

Palm Sunday, April 1
10:00 AM: Solemn Blessing of the Palms and Processional Parade
11:30 AM: Blessing of the Branches and Procession

Monday, April 2
10:00 PM: Solemn Procession of Lunes Santo (Holy Monday)

Tuesday, April 3
10:00 PM: Solemn Procession of Martes Santo (Holy Tuesday)

Wednesday, April 4
10:00 PM: Procession of Our Father Jesus, the Sentenced
10:00 PM: Solemn Procession of the Meeting in the Via Dolorosa

Thursday, April 5
10:00 PM: Procession of Silence
11:00 PM: Solemn Procession of Silence
12:00 Midnight: Solemn Procession of the Descent into Calvary

Friday, April 6
10:00 AM: Stations of the Cross
7:30 PM: Solemn and Great Procession of the Burial of Christ

Saturday, April 7
10:00 PM: Easter Vigil

Those are just the processions, not the expositions, masses, and lectures. You can see a gallery of pictures of the parades here.

I admit that I do not attend the processions. But two weeks ago in Alcalá, on Sunday morning, we heard the sound of cornets and drums and came upon a small cofradía practicing the walk for the following week. That is the picture you see at the top of this post. Twenty-four men were walking slowly, bearing this particular float on their shoulders. The ornate statues cannot be seen in advance of the day, of course, so the bags on the platform are filled with sand to simulate the weight of marble statues. A leader walked to the side, observing carefully and telling each practicant when he needed to step a centimeter farther to the left or right. Later we came across three or four more cofradías practicing. As we watched one disappear behind a metal gate into what must be a church storage yard, a bystander told us that they practice every Sunday morning between Epiphany (January 6) and Palm Sunday. They practice several hours, in silence and in dedication. You have to admire that sort of commitment.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Expat Love

I've never really considered myself an expat. I don't like the word, as to me it implies a rejection of one's native country, sort of like one who used to be patriotic but is no longer. I have never rejected my country, though politically speaking, I do get the opportunity to reconsider that stance from time to time. My condition of living outside the United States is simply that--a condition. I happen to be living outside the U.S. because my European husband, after living in the U.S. for 35 years, wanted to move back to Europe.

He had always said that he wanted to move back when he got old. Of course, when he first mentioned this some thirty or forty years ago, I knew that we would never get old. So it was a considerable surprise to me when, about ten years ago, he informed me that the time had come. We started investigating places to move, and settled on Spain, which, we acknowledged, was a "neutral country" for us both.

We had moved through our multinational marriage (he from Denmark, but having grown up in Argentina, and me from Ohio) trying not to fall into the "my country--your country" trap. That would be the trap of  accepting one as better than the other, and blaming each other for the sins of our countries, or if not sins, the policies, customs, or less agreeable aspects. We have learned that neither of us is responsible for, nor can influence very much, what our respective country is or does, but we can create a life that is comfortable and meaningful for us with the background and wider world of both countries.

So about eight years ago we added a third country, Spain. Many Americans who have lived much of their lives in the north (and we lived for most of our years together in New England) move to sunnier climates when they retire, and many Danes (and Norwegians and Swedes, and Germans, and Brits, we have discovered) also move to sunnier climates when they retire. Think of the Costa Blanca as the new Florida, from a northeast U.S. point of view.

Earlier today I checked the term "expat" in OneLook Dictionary Search. "Primarily British," it says, which is curious, and an abbreviation for "expatriate." Now, "expatriate" can be an adjective, or a verb, or a noun. "To expatriate" is particularly negative, with synonyms of to expel, banish, renounce, quit, and the like. The noun form from Macmillan is more benign: "someone who lives in a country that is not their own country." Well, that is innocuous and certainly describes me. 

But there is also "someone who is voluntarily absent from one's native home or country." Uh-oh. Bringing the question of "voluntary," or choice, or free will into the issue certainly complicates it. When was it that I chose to live outside my own country? As a Valentine's Day special, a UK newspaper with a strong expat column featured three expats who had left their native countries and moved abroad, apparently voluntarily, "for love." All three stories had to do with young love, where the individuals involved made the move soon after they met each other and became a couple. Good stories, but they did not speak to my situation of "voluntarily" moving abroad after several decades.

The truth is that I would not have voluntarily chosen to move to a country brand new to me as I approached retirement years. I did it--and many of the women I meet here have done the same--because my husband wanted to do it. Is my life richer for this decision? How can one tell? One cannot compare the reality of a life with what might have been. I do know my life is rich. I cannot say that I chose voluntarily to leave my country, but I do choose every day to live here in Spain, strengthening my love, as an expat.

Happy Valentine's Day.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Moroccan Lamb and Couscous

Moroccan Lamb and couscous, and vegetables.
When a friend stopped over last week to invite us to a special dinner to celebrate his 75th birthday, he told us we were welcome to choose off the menu Friday evening, but that there were a few special dishes that we would have to order in advance if we wanted to eat those. "Special, like what?" I asked, having already been told that the chef was French. "Well, they do a Moroccan couscous, and I would really like that," he said, but his wife doesn't care for couscous and you have to be two to order the couscous, in addition to ordering it two days ahead. There's got to be more to it than that, I thought, having prepared couscous myself in just five or ten minutes a few times in my life.

Well, there is couscous, and then there is couscous with Moroccan lamb. And then there is couscous with Moroccan lamb and a whole lot more, both my friend and I found out on Friday evening.

We were the only two having the Royal Couscous, as it was named on the menu, and it was immediately clear where we should sit: at one end of the dining table were two auxiliary serving tables, with a warming apparatus and placeholders for hot dishes. The other guests ordered more traditional fare, all with starters, two with French onion soup. My friend and I looked at each other and the size of our serving table and decided that we probably would not need a starter. Shortly afterwards, their soup came, and immediately after that a procession of three, or was it four? people came from the kitchen and filled our serving area. And then the owner filled our plates, first with couscous, then with stewed lamb, then with meat balls (which I realize now were probably not meat), and then the beautiful vegetables you see in the picture above, and finally the whole chickpeas. I had made my way through about a quarter of this when the French onion soup dishes were removed from the table and replaced with main courses, but I was totally unaware of what the others were eating. The lamb, not often on a restaurant menu in Spain, and expensive when it is, was delicious. I tried it without and with the spicy hot thin sauce in the bowl in front of my plate. The sauce wasn't too spicy when I first tried a tiny bit, but it sure got hot when I added more. Still, I had plenty of couscous on my plate. And if I didn't, I could just help myself to more, as the owner/waiter had said when he first placed my plate in front of me.
Serving Moroccan Lamb from tagines© Johannes Bjørner

The colorful and unique serving dishes on the right are called tagines, and they also serve as cooking dishes. I'm not even sure what was in each one, though I do know that the vegetables and garbanzos arrived together in the one on the back left, and the one that my friend is just removing the cover of contained chicken, which I had declined in my first, "starter" course, but went on to when I had cleared some of my plate. I also tried one of the thin sausages from the uncovered platter between the flat warmer and wine glass, and it was different--perhaps also lamb.

Neither my friend nor I needed dessert, though we did pour wine and water rather liberally throughout the evening. I've checked out various recipes for Moroccan lamb and for couscous over the weekend, and I intend to try my hand at Moroccan cuisine, but not immediately. I'll want to start with something a little simpler than the Royal Couscous we had the other night. And just possibly I'll need to go to Morocco to find a tagine or two, and to try some other samples.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

In the Middle of Christmas

Merry Christmas. Glaedelig Jul. Feliz Navidad. It is Christmas Day, and if you think Christmas will be over and done with tomorrow, you have not spent Christmas in Spain. It is a slow and relaxed holiday here, spanning a couple weeks, at least.

We did start Christmas celebrations a little early this year, last Sunday, the 18th, when we were invited to an early Christmas dinner at the home of English friends. They needed to do dinner early because they were going to Benidorm for the holiday itself. As it turns out, they were one of three sets of friends who chose to relocate to Benidorm for Christmas this year. We had thought of that ourselves, but too much travel in November made us change our plans. Perhaps next year will be the year we go to Benidorm.

The real, though unofficial, start of Christmas in Spain is on the 22nd, the day that the national lottery, the Sorteo de Navidad, is drawn. This is the biggest lottery in the world, giving out more money and drawing more participants than any other. It takes four hours just to pick the winning numbers and amounts of earnings; it takes place in Madrid every year on the morning of the 22nd and is televised live throughout the country. The 22nd was Thursday this year, which was also the day that we took a small overnight trip to Alicante city. Our excuse for the overnight was an evening Christmas concert at the Auditorio de la Diputación de Alicante (ADDA), the new theater that opened this year and which we have enjoyed before. We were off to Alicante first thing in the morning, and that gave us time to walk through the unusually fine mercado central building that was just across the street from our hotel, and then sit in the Plaza Nuevo in the sunshine, having a glass of wine and light lunch. There happened to be an office of the lotería just next to our cafe, so we could listen to a young member of the chorus sing each number, and then hear a second member respond by singing the amount that ticket had won. For the first time, I had bought a ticket this year--actually only a décimo, one tenth of a 200 euro ticket--and I was hoping to hear one of the children of San Ildefonso sing "ochenta y nueve, cuatrocientos, noventa y siete" and follow that with a mil (thousand) or so euros, but no one did.

Since I didn't have to claim a winning, I had time to pass through the gift and kitchen departments of El Corte Inglés looking for small gifts and enjoying the other shoppers (a surprising number of whom spoke Danish, as we had also curiously heard in our hotel). Then after a brief siesta back at the hotel (more Danish in the elevator) it was time to walk four blocks or so (400 meters--we don't talk about "blocks" in Spain) to the ADDA. Since the concert began at 8:00 we were not going to have a chance for a proper dinner before the music, but we were counting on finding a bar and tapas to tide us over, or more likely, substitute for dinner itself. We didn't find that, but that's another story. We did make it, pleasantly full, to the concert early enough to stand in line for a few minutes before the doors opened at 7:30--although the seats are numbered, the tickets never seem to be, so it is first come, first seated (and it helps if you know the layout of the venue, which we do now, because you seat yourself). The auditorium was festive, the musicians and director in good form, the musical selections enchanting, and it was a lovely evening. The next morning we enjoyed the typical Spanish breakfast buffet in our hotel, and finally asked one of our fellow guests what the occasion was. Turns out that there was a bridge club of some 34 members from Denmark, who were off on an annual year-end excursion, which explained a little bit why we had heard nothing but Danish spoken by other guests during our stay.

When we returned home the tiles for our new terrace--our Christmas gift to ourselves--had been laid and the workmen were doing the grouting and cleaning up very well as they went. They finished the job and on Saturday morning, the 24th, came around for the final payment. Over the years we have been in Spain we have had a number of house improvements made in December--new windows, a gas fireplace, and now a terrace--and they never fail to get done, and paid in cash, on Christmas Eve Day. We had just enough time on the 24th to get ready for another Christmas celebration--this time Christmas Eve dinner Scandinavian style, at a Swedish restaurant with Danish friends. The company was wonderful and the food equally so, with the typical cold table buffet of herring, salmon, shrimp, and fish, plus all the traditional hot dishes, including more salmon, and finishing with at least three desserts.

So this morning when Christmas Day, the 25th dawned, it could have been a little anticlimactic, and indeed we took off on our traditional Sunday activity, wandering through the Sunday outdoor Zoco market. I had seen signs the previous week at several stalls that had said they would be there on the 25th. Well, there were a few stalls open--maybe 20 percent. We commented that it was now easy to see who the Morrocan and other Muslim vendors were--they were the ones who were there on Christmas day. Spaniards have their big Christmas celebration on Nochebuena, Christmas Eve, and it consists of a big and long dinner, which starts at 9:00 and lasts at least until midnight, and then there may be extensive sobremesa (after dinner) into the wee hours. The only Spanish voices we heard this morning were talking about the wonderful fiesta they had had the night before.

There were very few English voices at the market--most English here celebrate on the 25th with a big roast dinner at 2:00--but we found two Scandinavian cafes open, and had coffee first at the Danish one, and then the Norwegian one, though the Norwegian cafe seemed to be staffed only with Russians today. Then we took a nice long drive along the Lemon Tree Road to Guardamar and walked the beach, and then continued south to Torrevieja, inspecting road improvements along the way that were finally done, only two years late, but are now quite impressive.

In a few minutes I will go downstairs to prepare our simple Christmas dinner: specially cut inch-thick steaks of Argentine beef (such a thick cut must be specially ordered in Spain), fresh asparagus and mushrooms, Spanish potato bollitos, and a Spanish custard dessert that is a gift from our cleaning ladies. After partaking of cold and hot salmon yesterday, I decided to put aside the salmon first course I had planned. Tomorrow is another day, and even though life gets sort of back to normal before New Year's, Spain doesn't finish Christmas until January 6, when the Three Kings bring gifts to the children. That means, yes, that the stores are still busy and festive. There are indeed twelve days of Christmas, and still a lot of celebrating to do.

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Royal Wedding

What country am I living in? You may well ask. This house down the street surprised me yesterday with this display in anticipation of the royal wedding. That's the event today uniting in marriage Kate Middleton and Prince William of England. Now, it's not surprsing that there was a flag at this house--the owner displays a flag every day of the year. But the owner of this casa is not one of the million Brits that live in Spain for all or much of each year. He's German. The man flies a different flag almost every day--Spanish, European, German, and many that I don't recognize. But usually only one. But now there are three! In honor of a royal wedding important to his neighbors, most of whom are British.

He's not the only one celebrating. At 11:00 I'm going to watch the festivities at the home of an English friend who gets all the local English TV channels, not just BBC World, as I do. But before I go, I'll take a look at our Danish TV, which starts coverage at 8:30 this morning. The town of Rojales is having a giant outdoor fair, with food and entertainment, to be opened by the mayor. The celebration is scheduled to go on until midnight. Bars and cafes have all announced special events throughout the day, and widescreen coverage, and they are surely open until midnight at least.

I understand that the Americas, too, are celebrating. Jon Stewart tells me that U.S. television, and specifically NBC, has gone over the top with its media coverage. The Friends of the Library in the town of Muskegon are sponsoring a very early morning breakfast to provide coverage and make money for the children's department, and my sister-in-law in Argentina informs me that she will be up at 4:00 AM her time to watch the festivities on television.

All the world, it seems, loves a wedding, and hope.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Special Concert

This is the new auditorium of the province of Alicante. It opened to the public today, and we were there.

No, we did not go to the special invitation-only assemblage of dignitaries last evening, but we were there for the first concert open to the public. It was a "family concert," starting at 12:00 noon on this Sunday in Spain, no tickets necessary. Expecting a long line, we arrived at 10:45 AM. We were not the first, but there were not many people standing in groups around the outside of the building. The parking attendants told us that doors would not open until 11:30, so we went across the street for a café con leche and media tostada con atún y tomate, but we had a front window view and in only 20 minutes we high-tailed it back across the street to find out place in the line that was forming.

A half hour later, the line started moving, and we made our way inside. The Alicante Symphony Orchestra played "El Sueño de Eros," by Oscar Esplá, originally an alicantino, then Mahler's 3rd Symphony, Dream of a Summer Morning, "That Which Love Tells Me." After the intermission, during which I toured the building, there came three Spanish pieces, and then three encores, one of which was vocal. Plus a charming speech by the director, Joan Iborra, congratulating Alicante on the achievement of this cultural icon. And lots of applause.

There is a video on YouTube that shows and explains (in Spanish) the ingenious logo of the auditorium, only part of which you can see in the photo at the top of this piece.  It's a clever musical play on the initials ADDA, Auditorio de la Diputación de Alicante.

It's a wonderful experience to be a small part of the inauguration of a cultural monument.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Rebate Surprise

Last Saturday afternoon we headed off toward a place called Rebate Restaurant. No, that doesn`t mean that you get your money back if you don't like your main course. Rebate, pronounced the Spanish way, is in three syllables, with the accent on the second, which has a short "a," by the way: re ba' tay.

There was to be an arts and crafts show, and since I had not been to anything billed as an arts and crafts show in Spain, though I have been to many in the USA, it seemed like an interesting way to spend a Saturday afternoon in the fall.

The road to Rebate was worth the half hour or so it took to get there. We drove first to a castle in San Miguel, where we had been to a pétanque tournament and also had lunch by a duck pond once. If we hadn't heard of the crafts show, we may have stopped there at the castle, as everyone, it seemed--at least two hundred cars--had stopped to see a flea market. We'll have to remember that for some other Saturday. We turned right, however, and followed the sign to Rebate, said to be 10.6 kilometers down the narrow road.

Narrow but well-maintained it was, thank goodness, because it twisted and turned and went up and down through the remote countryside for all 10-plus kilometers. And what beautiful countryside! We rode through lemon and orange groves, both old trees and younger, newly planted ones, rows and rows of them laid out in angles on varying axes, depending on the slant of the hillsides and the rays of the sun, I suppose. At this time of year it was all green, and in addition to the citrus trees there were palms here and there. Three times we came upon the outer stone gates of magnificent country estates, fincas, the likes of which I had never seen in Spain. Of course, I hardly saw them now, for the houses were well hidden down the hillside and behind the foliage from the already isolated road--what marvelous views they must have.

Each kilometer was marked with a well-painted stone, but when we passed 10 we almost missed the discreet entrance to the Restaurante on our right as we rounded a corner. Making our way through the narrow driveway (we had to wait for a car to come out from the other direction) we parked and first came to a charming country chapel. The door was open and recorded music was playing--no service going on today, but there was a sign inviting interested parties to make their wedding plans here. Farther up the path we found a large building and a note saying that coffee and drinks were being served on the terrace. Around the back on an upper terrace we quickly placed an order and were served cafe con leche, and then we realized that people at other tables were enjoying cava and tapas.

The cava was inside, said our waiter, and indeed, that is where the crafts were laid out. How nice of the restaurant to offer a glass of bubbly as people browsed the stalls! The show was small by my standards--only a dozen or so tables were set out, but most every one held a different ware, and each area was staffed by the person who did the craft. Some lovely silk flower arrangements were selling like hotcakes. There were also drawings, watercolor paintings, some very interesting three-dimensional "framed" works displaying large flower shapes, candles, plush teddy-bears, even clothing. But I spent much of my time at the woodworking table, which had a lovely selection of ceiling lamp and fan pulls, pens, bowls, and other small objects in various woods, most of which the proprietor brought from England--all the artisans were English, I believe. I also spent time, and made purchases, at the handmade greeting card table--making your own greeting cards is a popular craft among the English, I have learned here in Spain, and I love the colorful, multi-layered, and one-of-a-kind cards that can be found.

My friend bought a pair of the three-dimensional framed flower works for her spare bedroom, and then we moved back out to the terrace, with a second glass of cava and some snacks provided by the restaurant. But as we moved around the side of the restaurant toward the parking lot, we were blocked by two flamenco dancers who were entertaining the diners seated on another large outside patio. We paused, of course, and enjoyed three or four songs, and the male dancer even got several of us bystanders to come out and clap to the distinctive music and heel-stomping.

We picked up a menu brochure when we were finally able to make our way beyond the music and dancing and waiters crossing the roadway with delicious-looking entrees. Rebate would be a lovely place to come back to for a leisurely and elegant dinner in any season, I suspect.