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Showing posts with label outdoor markets. Show all posts
Showing posts with label outdoor markets. Show all posts

Sunday, June 15, 2014

What I'll Miss (Lo que voy a echar de menos)

Lo que voy a echar de menos (literally, I believe, "that which I would least throw out") was a Spanish expression that took me years to grasp, but I understand it now, and I am thinking about several things that I will miss during the months that I will be away from Spain.

Friends, of course, first of all. We have been in Spain for ten years and in the Torrevieja area of the Costa Blanca for five, and we have benefited from close association with several people with whom we have shared daily experiences and the adventure of living in a foreign country. In different ways, they have broadened our lives and helped us learn. We are grateful, and we will miss them.

Café con leche, both its rich taste and the ceremony of having a single cup of coffee, served in a china cup, almost anywhere and anytime. I remember once coming through Madrid's Barajas airport early in the morning from the U.S., and having to wait hours for a connecting flight to Alicante. As I sat in the semi-conscious stupor that follows an all-night transatlantic journey I heard a racket that I could not identify until all of a sudden I remembered: it was the sound of coffee cups being prepared and served. Café con leche in Spain is a far nicer experience than Starbucks anywhere.

The Sunday outdoor market, which we have just come from and where we usually go each Sunday morning to buy fruits, vegetables and nuts; to pick up copies of the free weekly foreign newspapers; to look at books and clothing and gadgets of ever-evolving description (this is where I first found a stylus for my iPad for just two euros; today I was tempted by a three-euro cava stopper that preserves the bubbles after opening and is liquid-tight to prevent spillage should the opened bottle land on its side); and, of course, to have a café con leche.

Hanging the laundry. I am aware that in many--perhaps most--parts of the U.S. it is forbidden by ordinance or custom to hang laundry outside to dry; the idea, I guess, is that it is unsightly--though it certainly is energy-efficient. I didn't hang laundry out when i was in the U.S. previously and I didn't hang it out when we lived in a second-floor apartment in Roquetas de Mar. In the two houses that we have lived in on the Costa Blanca, however, I have used the terrace for one of its primary purposes in Spain. I have learned the advantages and disadvantages of wooden and plastic clothespins, the value of hanging garments inside out and changing their orientation from time to time. More importantly, perhaps, I have adjusted to the light exercise of bending and stretching and the joy of using the hanging out and taking in of laundry as a welcome break in computer work or reading. Where we are moving to I will use a tumble dryer, as it is called here, much more often than the once-in-a-blue-moon that I use the one that sits gathering dust beside my washing machine here.

The six-hour time difference.  Before we moved to Spain we lived in the Eastern time zone of the U.S. We are going back to the Eastern time zone, although to its western extreme. It can be inconvenient to make phone calls to the U.S. when there are six hours of time difference between you and the person or office you are calling. We have also had to get used to watching the PBS Newshour broadcast the evening before in the following morning, and the like. But there are some advantages to the time difference, the major one for me being that I could be at my computer in the morning hours and have accomplished almost a full day's work by the time my Connecticut colleagues got to their desks. That gave me a "home court advantage" as well as the freedom to be even more flexible in my scheduling. Life is going to be different when I return to "real time."

Petanca. It is the Danish community in the Costa Blanca that introduced us to the game of petanca, and almost without exception we have played petanca once or twice a week during the time we have been here, if not with the Danes, on our own. There is a petanca association in the U.S. but so far we have not found much promise of a club close to where we will be. We are, however, thinking about places where we can draw a petanca field of our own. And we have determined that we can buy petanca balls--far too heavy to transport--at Brookstone.

The sun. The sun, and the light it brings, is one of the factors that brought us to Spain. We have never been "beach people" who sat in the sun for hours in the summertime, but we did live in New Hampshire and in Denmark, two places where there is far less sunshine than in Spain. We knew what long hours of darkness for days on end do to you psychologically, and we suspected--and have now experienced--what days of light do to you psychologically: they make you much happier, or at least more cheerful and content. What I didn't know was the damage that strong sun can do to your body; now that I have had a long bout with an inconvenient skin cancer and some eyesight damage, I am more cautious about walking outside during the daytime, and a bit of the fun of being in this climate is gone. Still, I can't blame Spain for any of my health problems, as genetics and long years of accumulated carelessness certainly played their part--though I do like to imagine that perhaps I wouldn't have wrinkles in some of the places that I do if I hadn't been here.

Spanish classes. I sorted through many of my Spanish class books and papers recently, which I have accumulated from attendance at five different formal language schools. I am taking a couple books to the U.S. and fully intend to continue studying the language--but I acknowledge that I have said that before. It's a poor language teacher who lets you study language in a vacuum, and I am pleased to say that only one of my schools--and I wasn't there long--failed to enhance language lessons with tons of information about the culture of this country and generous sharing of personal viewpoints. I will miss my teachers, as well as many of the other students.

The international community. In Roquetas we lived in the center of a Spanish town and had a piso in an all-Spanish apartment building. There was an urbanization on the outskirts of town--quite a large one with several hotels and vacation houses. This is where Spaniards from Madrid and the interior would come for holiday, as well as a fairly large number of British people. Here on the Costa Blanca, in contrast, I live in Europe primarily and only incidentally in Spain. Many of the towns and villages number more non-Spaniards than Spaniards in their official residence figures, and often the non-Spanish fail to register. A large majority of the international community are retirees--I call this the "Florida of Europe"--but with (officially) easy mobility from country to country within the European Union, a number of young and middle-aged people come to set up business and raise their children. Though the financial crisis has had a demoralizing effect, the international community remains vibrant, strong, and large. I expected to learn about Spain when I came to Spain, but I didn't expect to learn about England, Scotland, Ireland Wales, Belgium, the Netherlands, Russia, Norway, South Africa, and more. I have.

Finally, food. In addition to café con leche (the beverage and the ritual), there are a certain number of foods, that I will miss. As I think about these, I realize that most of them fall under the category of "convenience foods." Though I love to cook, I do not love to cook every day, and I am a great believer in having something appetizing and nutritious in the freezer for a quick dinner. Here's what I am going to have to find substitutes for:
  • Chicken Kiev: two frozen Kiev bundles; they take just 30 minutes in the oven; from Iceland, the British Overseas grocery.
  • Salmon: two frozen individual servings; even less time in the microwave; from Lidl and Consum, but cheaper in Aldi.
  • Little, round, frozen potato balls; 15-20 minutes in the oven; formerly from Mercadona but discontinued; I finally found a substitute at Iceland. I have also had these pommes noisettes in Denmark, but I have never seen them in the U.S.
  • Creamed spinach, frozen; four minutes in the microwave, and both the spinach and the "cream" tablets come in small individual balls so you can shake out just the number you need from the freezer bag; Mercadona.
  • Frozen chopped spinach without the cream; available anywhere  in small blocks or balls the size of dishwasher soap tablets so you can use just what you need instead of opening a 10-ounce box. I shake out a few to add to rice, soup, omelets, pasta sauces, or just about anything, including adding more spinach to the creamed spinach above.
  • Salteado de patata, or "Spanish biksemad" as we call it in our house. A bag of frozen diced potatoes, Spanish tortilla, ham bits, peas, and red pepper, that you sauté in olive oil for seven minutes, adding mushrooms or other vegetables if you feel like it, and poach an egg for the top. Mercadona.
  • Canned tuna in olive oil. I add this to our lunchtime green salad: no salad dressing necessary. Available in any grocery store in Spain. You can also get canned tuna in water or sunflower oil, but why?
  • Gazpacho. The classic cold red pepper-tomato soup from Andalusia, available only in the summer time, when you can buy it ready-made in the refrigerated section at most grocery stores. I'll have to use my recipes the rest of this season.
  • Snacks for when I wake up in the middle of the night. Dried garbanzo beans are my favorite savory; inexpensive and nutritious. The slightly sweet "biscuits," packaged singly, that are given out as an accompaniment in many coffee shops when ordering just a café con leche, are my favorite sweet. They are tiny and just enough to satisfy my craving.
And though I promised not to take food back with me on this trip, I admit that in my suitcase I have stashed sachets of saffron, a couple envelopes of dried asparagus and cream of nine vegetables soup, two small packages of vegetable and pumpkin bouillon cubes, some of the dried white fava beans for fabada, and a couple spice blends. 

People, atmosphere, activities, food. Although I will miss all these, with luck we will return early in 2015 and encounter them again.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Mothering Sunday

Last Sunday, March 10, was Mothering Sunday in Spain. Or, no, it was Mothering Sunday in the U.K., but given the number of Brits who live in this part of Spain, it may as well have been a Spanish holiday. This year I saw it coming. It seemed like every one of the free weekly newspapers carried big ads, or adverts, as we say here, for special Sunday dinner  menus on Mothering Sunday. No sooner was Valentine's Day out of the way than the adverts started up reminding anyone who cared to think about it that here was another good reason to go out for a sumptuous dinner.

Nevertheless I forgot on the day itself. Last Sunday morning was beautifully sunny and warmer than it had been for several days. Instead of going to our usual outdoor Sunday market, the Zoco, we headed off toward Guardamar and the market on the Lemon Tree Road for a change. It is bigger, and many say the prices are cheaper, and they have a whole different set of small outdoor cafe bars where you can have coffee, wine or beer, English breakfast, German wursts, or all sorts of other food and drink.

We parked at the edge of El Raso urbanization next door and started walking across the first of two or three dirt parking lots toward the market. I was enjoying the sunlight but looking directly into it, so I saw the solitary man coming toward me but I wasn't focused on him any more than that he was walking straight toward us, carrying his market purchases. He called out to me first, "No, they are not for you!" he said jokingly. I must have been smiling more than I thought.

As we approached each other I could see that he had not one but two huge bouquets of flowers in his arms. One was all day lilies, and the other was mixed stems. I don't think he was carrying anything else, though it had seemed, when I first saw him, that his arms were full. And so they were. "These aren't for you," he repeated. "They are for my wife. It's Mothering Sunday today, in Britain, and I'm taking these home to my wife." He obviously was cheerful and anticipating the pleasure his gift would bring. We acknowledged that they were beautiful, exchanged a few more pleasant words, reveled in the beautiful day and loving sentiments, and then moved on in opposite directions.

Later in the day I kept thinking of his enthusiasm, and silently complimented the Brits on making this a day honoring "mothering" rather than "mothers," presumably paying note to all women, and people, who are nourishers of life, rather than only those who may have given it biologically. And then I thought how appropriate it was that the British day to honor mothering was so close to International Women's Day, which had also been celebrated with many special events in Spain that same week, on March 8.

And then I did a little research and discovered how wrong my assumptions had been. This year  Mothering Day was March 10--the closest Sunday to March 8--but it's one of those floating holidays that depend on the natural  calendar, like Easter. In fact, Mothering Sunday is always celebrated on the fourth Sunday in Lent, and it is because Easter falls so early this year that it happened to coincide with International Women's Day. And that's not all. Mothering Day did not originate to honor mothers or mothering. "Mothering" refers to the "mother church," and the tradition was that on this fourth Sunday in Lent, people who had moved away from the village where they had been born and baptized would go "a-mothering" to their mother church and then enjoy a family visit. The holiday became very important during the years when young people moved from their homes "into service" in mansions at some distance from their homes, and they were given one special day to go home to their families, for they were never given the time to go home on holidays like Christmas or Easter itself. The move from emphasis on Mothering Sunday as a day to go to the home church to a day to honor mothers came about after Mother's Day became a fixture of life in the United States. During World War II, when many U.S. soldiers were stationed in Great Britain, they spread the idea of celebrating their mothers with flowers and cards and remembrance.

Both the BBC and Wikipedia have articles about the origins and current celebrations of Mothering Sunday, but one should also check out the trademarked Mothering-Sunday UK site.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Three Weeks Later

What a difference three weeks makes! I came back to Spain this past Friday and suddenly it is summer. It is not overly hot yet, but when I left the first day of May, I was still alternating between summer and winter clothing, with the result that a box of winter clothes is still sitting in the room that I use for office, personal space, and walk-in closet. When I arrived Friday afternoon I was too warm in my long travel pants, and when I got up Saturday (not until 11:00 AM) I immediately donned the lightest pair of capri pants that I own and one of the lightest sleeveless blouses.  I have not been uncomfortable in comparable garb since, and this afternoon I moved the last of the winter nightclothes to that box, though the box still sits in the room, not yet on its way to the "attic."

This morning at the Sunday Zoco market I was glad for the sun visor I had bought at Meijer while home, and we sat in the sun and enjoyed the breeze and a café con leche, or white coffee, since it was at our favorite Zoco English café bar, where you can still get one for a euro. All the clothing stalls were selling new summer-weight styles, and the produce stalls were featuring cherries, various melons, and other summer fruit, strawberries being almost a thing of the past. The tomatoes are looking and tasting good again, and I found some potatoes that seem acceptable, although the vendor of my favorite French tiny potatoes says he can no longer get them. But I bought only the basic food items and hardly stopped to look at clothing, because what we really were there for today was to meet with the vendor of mosquito netting.

While I was gone, the "mozzie" experts had come out to measure our windows for the metallic frame easy-on, easy-off screens that we are finally going to get this year so that we can open the windows to get a cross-breeze without letting in oodles of flies and mosquitoes. It all seemed doable and not even terribly expensive, but I still wasn't sure how they were going to put a screen on the upstairs terrace door that I would be able to negotiate while carrying a load of laundry in or out. A nice woman demonstrated the divided curtain with weights and said she would be by again this week to make absolutely sure we were in agreement about which ones we wanted, before she cut and finished them.

Much of yesterday and today I spent in the office part of my room, but I sure didn't need the heat that I had turned on occasionally up until the last week before I left less than three weeks ago. It's too early to need the air conditioning system, but I was mighty glad for the overhead fan that, on the lowest setting, provided just enough air movement to feel fresh. And it didn't hurt that I got up periodically to tend the washing machine on the terrace outside my office. The geraniums that have flourished all winter on the terrace are now on their last legs, and the pansies are looking quite leggy, too, and soon we will have to take a trip to the vivero to find something colorful that tolerates Spanish summers. In the meantime we have hibiscus and oleanders, and the bougainvillea are going mad, as always. My herbs survived my absence, though there are blossoms on the chives and the parsley is going to seed. But the big surprise is that the horseradish that I buried in a pot, which had not even sprouted by the time I left, is now a handsome potted plant of six or more inches. Now I just need to figure out how one harvests horseradish, or, at least, maintains it.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Signs of Spring

Perhaps the most definite sign of spring is the fact that the U.S. switched to Daylight Savings Time this past weekend, upsetting my rule of thumb that to know what time it was in the U.S. I only had to look at the opposite end of the pointy hand on an analog clock: It is 2:00 PM here (after lunch) when it is 8:00 AM (starting-work time) in the eastern time zone of the U.S.; I am beginning to think about supper here when it is noontime for most of my family and associates; and by the end of the work day there, we have reached the end of my day here and I am usually fast asleep, or reading in bed. One hour's change should not make that much of a difference after I figure out which way the clock moved (forward, so now only five hours separate us) but it is a huge psychological difference because it upsets my easy calculation. Besides that, it makes me wonder why it is spring in the U.S. but we don't change to "summer time" here in Spain until next weekend.  I still have another week of unsettled time sense.

But there are some other wonderful signs that spring is upon us, namely, heat and light. It is no longer dark outside at 8:00 AM when I stir from my bed, nor is it dark at 7:00 PM as we sit in the living room and watch the evening news. Last Sunday at the outdoor market all winter clothes were on sale, and I bought two pieces--a pale orange knitted cardigan sweater and a rust-colored microfiber shirt, both to have available to pop over any lighter top I happened to be wearing--for just three euros (not each). I've used both this week, as over the last two weeks I have moved from wearing heavy winter sweaters and/or turtlenecks, with heavy slacks and heavy socks, and more significantly, from three layers to two layers and sometimes, in the middle of the day, to one layer. This morning I separated out warmer socks, underwear and night clothes and moved them to the less accessible part of my closet space.

I didn't put them away completely for the summer yet. It still is cold at night, and it still is colder in the house than outside. We had the gas fire on in the fireplace last night and we probably will again tonight, even though Johannes has gotten into his usual end-of-season mode of saying "This should be the last time" whenever he replenishes the gas bottle. We haven't put away the winter comforters yet, and we still turn on the halogen heater in the bathroom in the morning. And, in an effort to improve the comfort of our house next winter, we spent quite some time this week investigating and finally ordering infrared panels for the bedroom and bath. I sort of hope it stays a little bit chilly so we have a chance to try them out before next winter.

I miss crocuses, daffodils, tulips, and forsythia, but we have already had the almond blossoms and the little yellow flowers that spring from nowhere along the side of the road, and though there are not as many magenta succulents here as where we used to live in Almeria, there is a small patch here in Montebello. Some new thing is blossoming, somewhere, because Goldie has taken to sneezing four or five times several times a day, usually when she wanders back inside--or maybe she just finally caught the family cold that went round and round last month.

Perhaps the best sign of spring: it has been strawberry season for three weeks now, so we are enjoying lots of strawberries in our lunchtime fruit salads, or just by themselves, with cream.

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.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Day Trip to Calasparra and Caravaca

On Wednesday this week we took a coach tour to two interesting towns in Murcia, the province to the south of Alicante. Calasparra lies in the mountains in the northwest part of the province, and it was a pleasant one-hour drive through lots of lush green farmland after we finished our pick-ups along the coast just south of Torrevieja. We saw fields of melons, lettuce, and cucumbers, we were told, though I would have been hard pressed to point out which was which. It was easier to identify the orange and lemon trees--oranges are turning from green to orange now. Peaches and apricots are also grown in the area and preserved by one of the largest fruit processing companies in Spain. The other important crop of Calasparra is Calasparra rice, a short-grained rice prized for its super-absorbent properties--the better to soak up delicious broth in a paella.

Photo: Johannes Bjórner
PhotoBut we were not in Calasparra for the rice. Instead our goal was the Sanctuary of the Virgen de la Esperanza (Virgin of Hope). I wasn't sure just what the "sanctuary" (santuario) referred to. The small church itself was one of the most beautiful I have ever seen, with stone walls adorned with a relatively modest amount of gold paint and stained glass windows. This sanctuary was built into a stone canyon by the banks of the Segura River. The entire walkway from the bus and car park area to the church and its accompanying restaurant (there is always a good restaurant and bar next to a church in Spain) was a beautiful natural area of stone, green shrubs and trees, flowers, and the bubbling river waters. We were visiting, coincidentally, on a big Spanish holiday, the Fiesta de la Inmaculada Concepcion, and even though there were lots of people, the surrounding natural area was still as much of a peaceful sanctuary as the sanctified one.

Our afternoon visit went just twenty minutes away to the town of Caravaca de la Cruz, surprisingly one of the top five holy cities of the world, according to the Catholic Church. This has to do with the vera cruz (true cross), which reportedly is the same wood as the cross on which Jesus was crucified, and which later was part of a miracle that continues to be celebrated here each year on May 3. Caravaca de la Cruz celebrates a prilgrimage year every seven years, and 2010 is one of the pilgrimage years. But we were not in Caravaca to see the vera cruz or as pilgrims, either. Rather, our aim was the medieval market, a huge outdoor market with stalls of handmade crafts and local foods for purchase, as well as musicians, camel rides for the children, and much more entertainment. We spent three and a half hours there and were sorry that we had eaten so much in Calasparra, for there was little room for the delicacies we encountered in the market. By the time we had to board our bus for the return journey, the glorious sun of the day had disappeared and twinkling lights had come on, lighting the small stalls and illuminating the castle of Caravaca in the distance, but not quite strong enough to reveal the camel droppings in the cobble-stoned roads.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Your Tax Dollars on Vacation

We were off this Sunday morning to the Moncayo outdoor market, which I've mentioned before as one of the three Sunday markets in our area. It had been a few months since I was there last, and then I had purchased two interesting summer house dresses for three euros apiece. (You can't go wrong with a 3€ dress, I say--you can always use it as a nightgown, chuck it in the clothing recycle bin, or cut it up for rags if it doesn't work out, or if it falls apart after the first washing.)

The Moncayo is just off the N-332 road, a national highway running along the Mediterranean coast, adjacent to the immense Procomobel furniture store that is situated in Guardamar at the intersection of the N-332 and a local byway known as the Lemon Tree Road. One of the reasons that we had not been to the Moncayo recently is because the area was under obras--highway work. We had read that the road was to be completed by the summer ... of 2009. Then we read that it would be done by the summer of 2010. When we were last there, lanes were still in disarray and you took your life in your hands getting just driving through or turning. When we were there this morning, it was still not done.

Nor was there a market. It was "closed for renovation," a sign said. It had been open for less than six months! But the Moncayo market was only part of our destination this morning. We also wanted to go into the Procomobel furniture store, because it was host to one of its many changing art exhibitions, we had spoken with the artist last Friday, and we were interested in seeing her work.

We turned south on the N-332 and prepared to take an immediate right turn into the Procomobel parking lot--made difficult due to the interminable road work. We knew the routine because we had been to Procomobel several times while the road was under construction. But this time that right turn had disappeared! We almost missed the new entrance, which was identified after we passed the store by a sign to Urbanizaciones and underneath a smaller sign to Procomobel.

The furniture store was open, the art exhibit was still there, and a new café was doing business inside the store. We enjoyed a café con leche and media tostada con atún y tomáte while we browsed through furniture magazines and chatted with the proprietor of the café. We asked if she knew when the obras were going to be completed--we had remarked time and again that they must be damaging to the businesses in the area, and by now there had been detours in front of the stores for over a year.

That question hit a chord. She immediately ran and retrieved the newspaper from this past Wednesday. We had missed a great sight. The owner of Procomobel, frustrated with the length of time that it was taking to get this work done--and with the lack of any explanation from the authorities--had taken matters into his own hands, so to speak. At least he had tried to get the show on the road.

He had driven a van bearing a huge billboard to the opposite side of the road from his store and parked it. Pictured on the billboard were the President of the Government, José Luís Rodríguez Zapatero, and the Minister of Development, José Blanco, together with the words: "These are the only two who know how to get to Procomobel."

It was funny, and it worked. The reason that there had been any sign at all as we came by this morning was that newspapers and TV stations had publicized the situation and finally a directional sign had been erected and allowed to remain.

This small and humorous act of defiance, uncharacteristic of Spanish life as I know it, got media attention. I hope the media attention gets the roadwork done. The Información story says that people were told in August that the reason for the stall was that the workers were entitled to vacation. Vacation has now been over for almost two months, and the work is still not done. But it's been less than a week since the billboard and the media coverage. Maybe that will change things. I think I won't wait too many more weeks to check on the N-332 obras again.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Salad Days

Photograph printed by permission of Tony Jurich.
You may be thinking, "ah, the salad days of summer," but truth be told, nearly every day is a salad day for us in Spain. That's because our standard lunchtime meal is a vegetable salad, followed by a fruit salad for dessert. It doesn't get boring.

I start with a crunchy lettuce (iceberg or romaine or the small, firm cogollos), mixed with fresh spinach, though spinach doesn't last long in the heat of the summer, so I've omitted that for a few weeks now. Onto this base goes carrot, either shaved with a vegetable peeler or sliced thinly. Then thinly sliced mushrooms and a handful of corn kernels. Protein comes usually in the form of tuna, out of a small can of tuna packed in olive oil (I use the oil for my dressing, and Goldie cleans the can before it goes to the recycling station). Protein may also be garbanzo beans, hard cooked eggs, or the occasional leftover chicken from dinner earlier in the week. A diced tomato forms the outer circle on our salad plates; tomatoes are especially delicious at this time of the year, though they are often good even in winter, even though they may cost a little more. Frozen peas, rinsed under the water tap to thaw, for color and potassium.

Those are the staples, but there is almost always some more: diced red, green, and/or yellow pepper, red radish, cucumber, onion. Green beans, judias verdes, Brussels sprouts, or whatever vegetable is left from dinner the night before. And herbs--I haven't had much luck in keeping herbs alive for very long, but at present I have some thin chives, parsley, thyme, and a red sage--and sometimes I resort to dried hierbas de provence or treat myself to a good sprinkle of Penzey's Sunny Spain seasoning.

This month I have been adding chunks of alpicoz, the funny-looking light-green vegetable pictured at the forefront above. A friend of a friend, a high-school student, took this picture at a market when he was visiting Valencia earlier this year. My friend sent me the photo and asked if I knew what the strange snake-like vegetable was called. I had never seen it, but I went to the Benijofar Tuesday morning market and found a vendor, who consulted with his whole family and told me they thought it was alpicoz, a type of cucumber. Back home to do some research on the Internet and then the following Sunday I found one at my Sunday market. It is indeed a "fine" cucumber, more delicate than a regular English cucumber, and without the dark green skin. It tastes refreshing cut up in small chunks for the lunchtime salad, and also was a wonderful addition to the chicken-grape-almond main dish salad I made last week from a traditional family recipe. I have yet to try it in the Gazpacho Extremeño recipe I found on the Internet.

Or were you thinking of the traditional meaning of "salad days" when you started reading this post? In addition to enjoying summer salads, I also have been thinking back to the "carefree innocence" of my youth. My high school reunion was held this past weekend, and even though my body spent this Sunday in Spain, my thoughts were in Sidney, Ohio, with the friends who had gathered there, and those who had not, who I knew from way back in my "salad days."

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sunday Markets and Pashminas

The last thing we need in this area is another Sunday outdoor market. We already have two.We can walk to the Zoco market (a redundancy, since "zoco" means outdoor market in Arabic, I am told) but we rarely do so, because if we went by foot, we would be too tired to walk around all the stalls to do our shopping and looking. We can also drive on Sunday mornings to the "Lemon-tree" market, so-called because it's down the road to Guardamar known locally as the "lemon tree road," due to all the lemon orchards along the way. But last night while reading the Euro Weekly News before bed, I found out that there is indeed a new open-air market in the area--just a little farther down the "lemon tree road" behind the huge Procomobel home furnishings store on the N-332 running north of Torrevieja.

So off we went this morning to explore the new market, because, well, because it is there. We were on the lookout for pashmina scarves to buy as small gifts for our upcoming trip to Denmark. We didn't find them at this new Moncayo Mercadillo. But we did enjoy a walk in the sun, running into a friend from the kitchen store, buying some grapes and carrots, and then a leisurely caña and tortilla while being serenaded by a Mexican mariachi band.

We left in time to catch the tail end of the Zoco market. It's really late in the season to find pashminas, I thought. There's much more interest in selling bathing suits now than in soft neckscarves. But I had seen a lady wearing one just last week; it still can be quite cool in the evening and a pashmina is the exact right thing to have with you if you are out after dark. We each started at opposite ends of the rows of stalls, promising to buy pashminas if we saw any--you can never have too many pashminas.

We met 45 minutes later at the English book store. One of us arrived with four pashminas, purchased as remnants at two different stalls, plus some salted almonds, plus bananas and plums for our weekday lunches. The other arrived with a new caulking gun and a used DVD for evening entertainment.

I'm sure you can guess which of us found the pashminas.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Sunday in Madrid

This Sunday in Spain I am still enjoying the memory of last Sunday in Madrid. I took the Renfe (national) train to Madrid last Sunday noon to meet a friend who was arriving from Morocco and had to spend a night before continuing on to the US. Riding the train was a treat for someone who is more used to air travel--twice as much room for my feet as on an airplane, free earphones and audio-visual entertainment, and a cafe/bar car that you can walk to and actually congregate in for as long as you want--the food is not great, but the coffee is fine. No paying for the toilet yet, either.

I did have a little trouble getting on to the Metro in Madrid once I arrived. I couldn't get the ticket machine to accept my coins, and eventually I found out that it was because I was trying to buy a Metro (city subway) ticket at the Renfe Cercanías (regional transport) machine. Of course, on Sunday afternoon, there was no human being working anywhere in sight in an official capacity. Thank goodness a young Spanish woman pointed out the reason for my problem, and after that, I had no trouble buying tickets and finding my way to the hotel, and then out to Barrajas airport, Terminal 4, to meet the plane. With luggage, we took a taxi back to the hotel, and then, past 8:30 PM and still sun shining, we set out on foot to explore the area around us on Gran Via, one of the main streets through Madrid, which incidentally is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.

I must confess. In several posts I have reported that stores are generally not open on Sunday in Spain--exceptions are made in the summer in tourist areas and in December for Christmas. Well, Madrid is the big time, and stores all along the Gran Via were open--all the Spanish department stores and specialty shops, everything--and our concierge assured me that yes, they were open every Sunday, but only until 9:00 PM. So we did not take advantage of this opportunity, but instead followed the music we heard down a narrow street on the side of the hotel, back toward a church, where we found a medieval market in process. It was enchanting to walk through the open-air stalls, sampling cheese and sausages, examining the handicrafts, and even buying a couple paper star-shaped lanterns. All the stall tenders were dressed in middle-ages costume, and we saw the period band playing at one point.

But we got hungry, so for one of the few times in my life, I followed the Spanish tradition of eating late in the evening. We were directed by our sweet English-speaking concierge to a restaurant down the street, where we climbed up to the first floor and got a window table so we could observe the life on the street--vibrant at that hour, even though it had gotten a little cold when the sun went down. We ordered a bottle of wine (well, we ordered two glasses, but they brought a bottle) and a Valencian paella, and settled in for a long chat. Soon, at about 10:30 PM, activity commenced nearby as several tables were pushed together to accommodate a crowd of 10 Spaniards, men and women, who were having some sort of celebration or get-together. They ordered first and second courses, but we finished our dinner while they were still eating their main course, so we have no idea how long they sat there or how much they ate. We left at 11:30, pleasantly full, and went back to our hotel for a good night's sleep.

Monday morning started later than I am accustomed to: we got up at 8:30 and had the hotel breakfast buffet, sitting there with a hot breakfast, cold cuts, and fruit for almost two hours. Strangely, somehow we managed to sit in between a Danish-speaking table and a Hebrew-speaking table--each of us could understand one of those languages. Then we walked out in the city again, down a pedestrian street to the regional government building, where we saw a memorial to the victims and helpers in the March 2004 subway bombings. More walking and window shopping, and then back to the hotel, where my friend got a bus to the airport, and I hiked off to the Metro and then to the Renfe station for my four-hour train trip to Alicante. Home again on Monday evening in time to check email and begin the work week just a trifle late on Tuesday.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Week of Holidays

It's been a very active week of holiday-making here at our house. Last Sunday was one of two national secular holidays in Spain, Constitution Day. Since it fell on a Sunday this year, I didn't notice much of a holiday atmosphere, although the outdoor market on Lemon Tree Road seemed busier than usual. But that was probably because people were stocking up their larders for the big religious holiday just two days later. Tuesday was La Inmaculada, the day of the Immaculate Conception. That is an important family day, demanding a big dinner and firecrackers, not necessarily in that order--the firecrackers start in the morning and can be heard sporadically throughout the day and evening.

Wednesday in our household was the birthday of the photographer of this blog, and since this was a "round birthday," i.e., one ending in zero, we had more festivities to mark the occasion than usual, and went out for a delicious Argentine dinner at the Patagonia Steak House close to us. Thursday I was a bit under the weather, but by Friday I was well enough to go into the nearby city of Torrevieja to attend the intercultural "Carols in the Square" Christmas sing-along, sponsored for the sixth year by the ayuntamiento of Torrevieja and the CoastRider, one of the English-language  newspapers serving the Costa Blanca. A small orchestra, at least five choral groups, and various dignitaries from the town welcomed hundreds--maybe thousands--of people to the town square, the Plaza de la Constitución, just in front of the church. We all sang several English-language carols and a few well-known Spanish villancicos. Afterwards we moved through the lines to view the various scenes from Torrevieja's large and impressive Belén nativity scene.

And so, the Christmas season has begun. Saturday the mercado de abastos (indoor food market) in the nearby town of Rojales was turned into a mini Christmas market, with handicrafts, decorations, gifts, and refreshments (mulled wine) made by various of the town's immigrants--German, Swedish, and English were easily identifiable. It was a relatively warm and sunny day, and many Spanish families had come to view the stalls and the many drawings that school children had done that were on display, and to sit with a glass and watch their children draw and play in the outdoor activity area. This morning, the Sunday Zoco market had more specialty food stalls than usual. The English butcher was taking orders for Christmas turkeys, the Danish baker for kransekage, and a Spanish food specialist had samples of various sausages and ham serrano, olives and olive oils, and many other good things. The English cheese shop was giving out small samples of very aged Cheddar, as usual, and today I permitted myself to buy a pound to savor later.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Zoco Market

On Sunday morning we usually spend an hour or two at the Zoco market, a huge open-air bazaar or mercado that is only a couple miles from our house in Montebello. It's not exactly true that you can buy anything there, but you can buy an awful lot of different things. There are hundreds of stalls in a dozen or more aisles, selling various types of clothing (outer and inner), books, DVDs, ceramics, hardware supplies, kitchen utensils and cleaning supplies, window glazing, outdoor furniture, indoor furniture, flowers and plants, personal care items, and food.

Oh, the food! Vegetables and fruits, locally grown. Two weeks ago every fruit stall suddenly had figs, and that was how I learned that figs were in season (and they were gone the next week). Frutos secos (nuts), where I usually get the whole almonds I add to my morning cereal. Olives. Beans. Spices. Cheeses and more varieties of embutidos (sausages) than I knew existed. Bread. Cakes and pastries. Roast chicken on a spit, and paella, to take home with you in case you don't feel like making Sunday dinner. And it wouldn't be a market, or Spain, if there weren't lots of places to sit down and enjoy something to drink and eat on the spot.

We usually drive, because who knows what we might have to carry home? But this morning we decided we needed some walking exercise, so for the first time, we struck out on the short walk to the entrance of our urbanization, then down the country road going parallel to the highway, around the highway exit roundabout bringing cars from north and south, and up the path to the huge parking lot. It only took us twenty minutes from our door to the spot where we usually park the car, and then another five minutes through the lot to one of the entrances to the market, where hawkers were busy as usual, offering free day trips to a blanket factory somewhere in the area--"no purchase necessary."

After walking for a half hour in the sun we were ready for our ritual visit to the Danish pølsevogn at the back of the market. In addition to the traditional Danish hot dog, with all the trimmings, this hot dog stand also offers a fresh copy of today's Extra Bladet newspaper to read while you devour the dog and sip the Carlsberg.

Thus refreshed we made quick work of our shopping. Johannes found two DVDs to watch this week, and also a loaf of pan gallego, a delicious crusty bread that we had enjoyed for the first time as the base of a tostada in Alicante a couple weeks ago. I picked up fresh green beans and apples that I need for the Mediterranean salad and American apple cake I'm planning to make for overnight visitors this week. And then we decided to treat our visitors, and us, to a Danish pastry wienerbrød stang for breakfast, and shouldn't we also reward the man who consistently offers us delicious sharp bits of cheddar cheese each week--which we gladly accept but decline to purchase huge chunks of, for cholesterol reasons? Yes, we left the market with a five euro chunk of cheddar for our English friends, and for us.

By now we had enough to carry, so we headed out, stopping only to buy the Sunday El País, a former daily staple but now, due to rising newspaper prices and the lack of a corner kiosk, an occasional treat. The trip home took twice as long as the walk to the market. By 11:30 it is really hot and sunny, and we had to stop at Monty's, our local air-conditioned bar, for an agua con gas and café con leche to help us make the last few blocks to our house on Tomillo street.