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Showing posts with label pétanque. Show all posts
Showing posts with label pétanque. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Mandarins and Siesta

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

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

Sunday, 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, April 20, 2014

Easter Weekend

It's Easter Sunday, and the holiday weekend started early with a traditional tapas run on Friday afternoon. I have written before about  tapas in the town of Los Montesinos and how odd I thought it was that they always have their tapas festival start on Good Friday. It seems somehow sinful to loll around in the sun all Good Friday afternoon, drinking and eating delicious morsels, and not something I would have expected in a Catholic country. But this is modern Spain, and somehow, in what I believe is the fourth time I have participated in this ritual, the sun always seems to be out on Good Friday afternoon in Los Montesinos.

This year we went with another couple and visited seven bars, acquiring six stamps from the establishments (the first bar was the one where we forgot to ask for a stamp, but we soon got in our stride), which qualifies us to vote on our favorite tapa. My favorite was a vegetable-seafood kebab, with three pieces of seafood, including a delicious shrimp, and three or four slices of vegetables, including a button mushroom. The kebab had been grilled with olive oil and came balanced on a nice slice of fresh French bread to absorb the excess oil. It seemed like none of the tapas were as gourmet as they had been in the past, but they were tasty enough and plentiful enough to supply lunch in the four hours that we spent moving from place to place down the central and one side street of town, to the plaza, and then back up another side street. Along the way we discussed the history and politics of southern Africa with our friends (who had lived in three countries in Africa), immigration and emigration, racial relations in several countries, past and current insurrections, resistance, and unrest, and various other problems. We didn't solve any of the world's problems, but we enjoyed sharing viewpoints and our experiences. At the sixth bar our friends met other friends of theirs, and we all moved on to Dos Hermanos, where several animated conversations continued, now with seven people, and we may have achieved the decibel level of the typical Spanish conversational group.

I slept well Friday night, which was good, because we had to get up early to appear on the petanca playing fields for our urbanization's annual petanca tournament. We have participated before and sometimes this can turn into not just an all-day affair, but one going into the night. This year we adapted the rules and played the games of the early levels of the tournament to only 7 points instead of the traditional 13. You had to win two out of three games to advance to the next level. We did, three times, and fortunately we were able to win all those in two games without having to play the third.

By the time we got to the semifinals, however, we were playing to 13 points, and the competition got tougher. The sun was also getting hotter as the hands of the clock rounded 12:00 and then 1:00, without a break for anything more than coffee, water, and chips. We cleared the semifinals and I did take a break to walk home and fetch a different hat--one that would not blow off in the breeze--before we started the final match at a little after 2:00 PM. This round took us all three games, to 13 points. We lost the first game, but we won the next two. Johannes and I are the 2014 champions of the Montebello Petanca Open! Hooray!

Now we permitted ourselves the luxury of celebrating with a beer and more chips while the officials prepared to make the announcements and award presentations. We finally made it home at 4:00, and we were too tired to do much else for the rest of the day. I had hoped to go back to Los Montesinos for another shot at the tapas, but even I couldn't muster the energy.

It was nice to win, and it was even nicer to know that we had gotten some good exercise during the day. And we look forward to using our prize money to purchase a dinner out at Monty's, the local restaurant that had recently closed but is now getting ready to re-open under new ownership and management. Reinvesting the money where it came from;  it will be a pleasure to support our local community.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Petanca Tournament

This past Sunday in Spain I did not write here, as I was otherwise occupied--for much longer than I had planned--in the Danish Friends Club's annual mixed doubles petanca tournament. It had been ages since we had played with the full club, as the day for social petanca has changed to one for which we have another arrangement. So we were glad to go out on a Sunday morning and see people who we have not seen for awhile, and play a game or two of petanca.

Wearing the Bronze
Photo courtesy of Danske Venners Klub Torrevieja 2013

It was much more festive than I had anticipated. When we arrived at the early hour of 9:00 AM I was put to work by the crew that had clearly been there for an hour already. My task was to spread the liver paté that someone else had made onto tiny melba toasts. So much for that contribution. By the time I was finished the others had arrived and we were having coffee and liver paté before the schedules for the first round of games between 38 teams were posted. Three teams were to play two games each in that first round. Then there was to be a second round of playoffs before the quarterfinals and the semifinals. But I wasn't really concerned with those. I was just wondering whether there would be time after we were knocked out of competition to sample a hot dog before we scooted off to the Sunday market that closes at about 2:00 PM.

There wasn't. We played and played and played again. And again. And one more time, I think, though I have lost track by now. We made it through to the quarterfinals and the semifinals, ending with a big surprise--the Bronze Medal for third place.

But the best part of it all was that it was a gorgeous sunny spring day. My neck is also bronze from the sun.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Fiesta de las Naciones

It's the first Sunday in May, and stores are open in Spain. That's because yesterday, May 1, was a secular holiday (Labor Day) and stores were closed on a Saturday. Apparently no one wanted to shut down commercial activity for two weekend days running. Now on Sunday I had a big choice of activities for the day. In addition to going shopping, I could have gone to one of the two regular Sunday outdoor markets, or I could have gone to the neighboring town, Rojales, to its first Fiesta de las Naciones, starting at 10:00 this morning. According to the Euro Weekly News, Rojales is the second municipality in Spain with the greatest number of foreign residents. Presumably Madrid, or perhaps Barcelona, is the only municipality with more.

Associations, clubs, companies, and other organizations combined to provide plates of food and drinks typical of their home country, which all visitors had the opportunity to sample, with the financial gains benefiting the Caritas charity of Rojales. In addition to food and drink, exhibitions and children's games were scheduled. The councilor for tourism stated in advance that "this important celebration of coexistence...aims to integrate [foreign residents] regardless of nationality, encouraging them to share, learn from and enjoy the diverse traditions, cultures and customs."

But I missed the Fiesta de las Naciones because I was already committed to a mini festival of nations. I played for the Danes in a mixed doubled pétanque tournament this Sunday morning. This is the first year that a Danish team has participated in what is otherwise an all-British league. It was my first time playing in competition, too, and though we didn't do as well as I had hoped, we didn't disgrace ourselves, either. Won one and lost two, with close scores on the two. Our two other Danish mixed doubles had mixed results, as well, though the team with a Spaniard who has lived in Denmark for many years won two and lost only one. But I had another success. I got a compliment for the excellent English I speak...

The tournament festivities included a grilled chicken luncheon, and then, since we didn't need to stay for the afternoon playoffs, my Dane and I adjourned to the hipermercado Carrefour, to do our bit to support the stores-open-on-Sunday movement. I couldn't eat a thing now, but perhaps after siesta I'll get hungry enough to run over to the Rojales Fiesta de las Naciones to see whether they have anything enticing left in their foodstalls. Regardless, any Spanish fiesta includes a fireworks display, so I surely expect to see fireworks from my window tonight.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Fall Is Here, I Think

We had another gota fría this week, on Friday. Just as we were set to march off to our usual morning pétanque game, the heavens opened and the rains came. Five minutes earlier I had remarked about what a beautiful morning sky we had. The storm was totally unexpected. It rained out the morning exercise ritual, but we were sure that we would be able to play pétanque that afternoon at the customary Danish social gathering at El Rancho. At 4:15, after a full day of on-again, off-again downpours, we acknowledged that there certainly wasn't any pétanque at El Rancho at 5:00 and probably not much social gathering, either.

Though long, the rains didn't seem to produce as much flooding as the first gota fría almost two weeks ago, but then, we were on this side of the low spot leading to our community this time, safe and dry and inside. The rains stopped Friday evening, and Saturday morning, I walked around the town of Algorfa in cool but sunny weather. I had made an excursion into the mysterious and long-forgotten depths of the top of my closet on Friday to find a pair of socks from my winter wardrobe stash, and I was glad to have them on again Saturday during my outside walk.

This Sunday morning we were finally able to play pétanque again. The rains had washed some of the sand in our playing fields into the roadway between the recreation area and the orange grove, and our pétanque lane had acquired a solidity and hardness that changed the way the jack rolled and the metal balls dropped. For the first time since we moved here, I wore full-length slacks to play, and that changed my game somewhat, too--I kept hitting the extra cloth of my pants on the backswing.

There is another sign that autumn is here and winter is coming. Even though we want to be out and exercising soon after we get up, we have to delay our game now--it is not light at 7:30 or 8:00 any more. In fact, the light is still dim at 9:00 and the pétanque lane remains in the shadow as the sun makes its appearance. It was only during the third game this morning that the sun moved to a position where it shone on the whole lane. By the fourth game, I had shed my long-sleeved cotton jacket and was enjoying the sun on my arms in a short-sleeved T-shirt. And later in the morning at the Sunday market, when I had switched to three-quarter length pants and an almost-sleeveless blouse, I was still downright hot in the direct sun.

I came home and hung clean laundry out on the line on our rooftop terrace. It will be dry in an hour, unless we get another unexpected rain.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Discovery Day

Today is a national holiday in Spain and in almost all of the Spanish-speaking world. October 12 is remembered by many U.S. citizens of my generation as the day Columbus discovered America. "In fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue," with funding from Spain's Queen Isabella, even though he himself was Italian. Of course, we know now that Columbus was not the first European to discover the Americas: Leif Ericson had built a small colony in Newfoundland 500 years earlier, though it was short-lived. And it wasn't even really on October 12 that Christopher Columbus--or actually Rodrigo de Triana, one of his crew members--first sited land in what we now call the Bahamas. In the 15th century the Julian calendar governed; the world has since switched to the Gregorian calendar, and we should be observing the siting on October 21 instead of October 12.

In Spain, according to the Spanish-language Wikipedia, October 12 is observed as a day commemorating the beginning of contact between Europe and America, which culminated in "a meeting of two worlds" that changed visions of the world both for Europeans and for Americans. Its observance is not without controversy here any more than in the Americas--the Wikipedia entry has been edited six times since I first checked it this morning. But I continue to hold fast to the idea that encounters between the peoples of the two continents can enhance visions both in Europe and America, and at this writing, those words have not been excised from the article.

Since 1987 this day, formerly known as El Día de la Hispanidad and El Día de la Raza, has been officially called La Fiesta Nacional de España and is one of two national secular holidays (the other is Constitution Day). The day began like most fiesta days in Spain--with fireworks. Our regular 9:00 pétanque game was punctuated by sounds of firecrackers from surrounding towns and villages; rarely a minute passed without some observance of the day. Stores and businesses are closed throughout the country--our gardeners called last night to postpone their usual tidying up of our yard, saying they would be liable to heavy fines if they worked on the national holiday. And even I have given myself a day off from work to write this short post, to contemplate and celebrate connections between Spain and the Americas, and to be on the look-out for new visions.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Greatest Sandbox

On most mornings, we head out of the house at about 8:00 to walk to the play area in our Montebello urbanization to get in three or four games of pétanque. The recreation area includes a soccer field (in the foreground to the left), a children's playground with slide and swings, two pétanque lanes, and a handball court. It's all "paved" in fine beige sand.

This morning as we went out the door and locked the gate, Goldie refused to come inside and wait for our return. Oh well, she could wander in our street for awhile, and she could even jump the fence and find a shady place to wait for us to come back an hour later.

We walked the block down the street, and then another block past the orange grove, over to the recreation area. We were just at the point of throwing out the first ball when who should appear but Goldie, who had followed at a discreet distance. She nosed around the pétanque lane, discovered that the red "pig" ball was not some of her dry cat food, occasionally chased one of the metal balls, and wandered off to inspect the other recreation facilities and the adjacent orange trees.

And then, sure enough, she reacted to the largest sandbox she had ever seen and used it just as she would her litter box at home.

The next time Goldie comes with us to pétanque, we'll bring a plastic bag.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Mediterranean Motion

I'm up early this morning because I played six games of pétanque yesterday. 

Usually we play on Friday afternoon, with a large group of members of the Danske Venners Klub, the Danish Friends Club. But this week the Danish friends held their Fall Fest on Friday evening, and pitching pétanque balls in the afternoon would have cut too deeply into the time required to don dress-up clothing for the "do."(I did, after all, have to put on stockings for the first time in months). 

After a full evening of gustatory indulgence on Friday, it seemed like a good idea to get out in the fresh air for a little motion (the very apt Danish word for exercise). Pétanque offers the perfect opportunity for some moderate bending and stretching. You bend slightly and stretch to toss the "pig" or "jack" onto the playing field, and then to throw out your three metal balls--each weighing more than a pound and less than two--trying to land them strategically and as close as possible to the pig, or at least closer than your opponent. (Wikipedia, I discovered this morning, has a good entry on the history, rules, and strategy of pétanque.) Then you get more exercise when you bend down to pick up your balls prior to continuing with the next play, and if you are lucky, or skilled, you may bend down to collect stones to line up in a row to record your points. There are, of course, some who make it too easy for themselves, by using a magnet on a string to pick their balls up so they don't have to bend down...but I think this defeats the charm of the leisurely, measured motion that sneaks a little bit of exercise into an afternoon in the sun.

Usually we play doubles with the Danes, and they have developed an ingenious way to match up teams and lanes so that you take your lumps on different fields each week and play with and against different people. Since only Johannes and I showed up for motion Saturday morning, we played singles against each other. Singles games go quicker--it takes less time to throw six balls than twelve--so we played six games instead of our usual three.

So we got double the exercise that we usually get. But we paused after three games for a little refreshment and a delightful conversation with another couple who had dropped by El Rancho in Los Montecinos to check out the playing fields. So who knows which way the scale tipped on the exercise-eating continuum? No matter. I think pétanque is a perfect complement to the Mediterranean diet, and a perfect antidote, as well.

And after all that exercise and fresh air, I went to bed early last night and therefore woke up early this Sunday in Spain.