Search "Sundays in Spain"

Showing posts with label seasons. Show all posts
Showing posts with label seasons. Show all posts

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Another Sunday in Spain

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

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

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

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Saving Time

I have survived the first week of Daylight Savings Time this year. To my annoyance, the United States tinkers with its clocks each year a full three weeks before Europe also tinkers with its clocks, changing to "summer time." I hate this period because I have to disrupt my regular routine of automatically picturing the hands of the (analog) clock simply in polar opposite: Most of my contacts in the USA live in Eastern time, the time difference between there and here is an even six hours, so when the little hand points to 2:00 PM here I know easily that it is pointing to 8:00 AM there, and when it is 6:00 PM here and I am preparing for dinner, it is just noontime there and they are partaking of lunch.

Except during the three-week period when they have switched to Daylight Savings Time and we have yet to switch to summer time. Or the equivalent period in the fall, when we switch to winter time and they give up on saving, but I'm not ready to discuss that yet.

All things being equal, I think the phrases "summer time" and "winter time" are better to describe this odd worldwide custom of tinkering with time. After all, what exactly is "saved" with Daylight Savings Time? You spring sprightly ahead one hour in March at 2:00 AM Sunday morning, and that hour disappears until a Sunday in October some seven months hence, when it falls down on you, probably while you are sleeping between 2:00 and 3:00 AM. It is not daylight when you get this extra hour, and of course, you don't really get an extra hour--you simply recoup the hour that you lost in March. You don't get more time, not even a minute more. You get nothing, nada. That is a miserable rate of return on savings, even by today's abysmal bank interest rates.

While I was thinking about saving time, I took the opportunity this week to experiment with the time-saving features of my washing machine. Appliances are, after all, supposed to be time-saving devices. Ever since I have had this Daewoo machine, I had noticed  a button that said Ahorra Tiempo (save time) on the far right of its control panel. When I got the washer I probably didn't know that ahorrar meant "to save" and not "now," which is what ahora means. Pero ahora sí, I know. So I got out the washer instructions from the box of house and appliance manuals I keep on the top shelf of a bookcase in my office and re-read the manual.

It told me that I could save a whopping ten minutes from the routine. Not much on an event that takes an hour and a half or more, but more than you save when you switch to or from Daylight Savings Time. It did not tell me where I was going to save that time, but I experimented with a load of laundry this week by pressing the Ahorra Tiempo button. The washing and rinsing and centrifuging went on almost as usual, apparently (I did not waste time sitting by the machine waiting and watching), but not quite as long as usual. I was able to convince myself that even though I had started the load late in the morning, it finished before the hour when cheap electricity changes to expensive electricity (noontime in the winter, 1:00 PM in the summer). It wasn't until I started the next load, a day later, and went to put the detergent and softener into the little compartments that I discovered that apparently a rinse cycle is what is "saved," as the softener liquid was still sitting in its little compartment. And the socks were stiff as boards.

There is another button on the washer that I had not yet used: Retraso Tiempo. I looked that up in the manual de lavadora, too. Apparently I had looked it up before, because beside the all-too-brief explanation (Se puede utilizar para aplazar el lavado) I had written "delay." Now it dawned on me that perhaps this functioned like the delay on the dishwasher I had loved and left about a dozen years ago: that you could program the machine to start 2, 4 or 6 hours later, after guests had left and you had gone to bed, for example. Or after you had gone to bed and the cheap electricity was available, for another example.

I tried the Retraso Tiempo button last night, after putting in a load of wash, the detergente, and suavizante. When I pressed it, 1:00 showed. I pressed it again, and 2:00 showed. I pressed it several more times and it increased an hour each time, up to 12:00. It took me a few minutes last night at 7:00 PM to figure out exactly when I wanted to start this machine in the morning, but finally I set it for 10 hours so the wash would start at 5:00 AM and be finished by the time I was awake and ready to hang it out.

I did not hear the washing machine start at 5:00 but Johannes did, he told me later, when I got out of bed to fetch coffee at 7:00. By that time whatever noises it made had stopped, and I have to admit that I went back to bed and read a chapter before getting up again to go out to the terrace to hang the washer contents out to dry. I was the first within sight from my terrace to have laundry up drying on the line this Sunday, Spain's traditional wash day. I did it even before I showered and went to the outdoor market. That meant that it was ready to bring in again as soon as we returned from the market, even before lunch, when often I don't bring in the laundry until late in the afternoon.

At least it seems as though I saved time.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Cold Creeps In

Hardly before the proverbial ink was dry on last week's Sundays in Spain post the weather changed. Actually it was Tuesday. We played petanca as usual on Tuesday afternoon, and stopped at the grocery store to pick up a few items on the way home. As we came out of the store and headed west to home at 6:00, there were heavy clouds on the horizon that looked and felt as though they would open and release water at any minute. We made it home before they did, but the evening was wet.

The temperature dropped with the rain. Wednesday morning when I awoke, I was chilly under my summer comforter and in the bathroom. But the outside was warm again when we went out in the afternoon on errands while the cleaners cleaned. That night, however, I switched from my light summer nightgown to one with long sleeves. I wondered whether I would turn on the infrared heat in the bathroom when it was time for my shower the next morning.

I didn't turn on the heat in the bathroom, but I did put on longer pants (3/4 length--still not full length), and I sat in my office most of the day with a cotton jacket on, and a bufanda (bouffant scarf) around my neck. I did laundry on both Thursday and Friday and relished the opportunity to go outside to hang it up, take it down, and check on it periodically in between--enjoying the warmth of the sun and saving me from turning on my office heat, just on the general principle that artificial heat should not be necessary so quickly in the change of seasons. But when I went downstairs for the evening news Friday evening, I found the living room delightfully toasty. Johannes had removed the silk flowers that fill the fireplace hole during the summer and started the gas fire for the first time this season. Part of the laundry I did this week was to air out both the winter and summer dyner on the clothesline, and I really snuggled in with the heavier comforter (which fits the cover better) last night.

I woke up warmer this morning, and the air outside was warmer, too. It was warmer downstairs than it had been, though whether that was due to a change in the outside temperature or to the fact that we had kept the gas fire on until late the previous evening, I don't know. We sat in the sun for coffee at the Sunday market and again, I was almost too hot with short sleeves. But that was at noontime, and now at 2:00 in my office I have my long-sleeved cotton jacket on again.

We laughed with several friends this week about having to bundle up to go inside the house, but that's the way it is here. The cold creeps in because of poor house insulation--fiber glass and double glazing are unheard of, or at least not readily purchasable. The cold stays in because the floors are tile, with no carpets. We always put away our room-sized (not wall-to-wall) carpets at some point in the spring, and we realized belatedly that we had missed the chance this week to have the cleaners help us get them out and lay them in the dining and living rooms again. If I ever can accept the idea of blasting out and replacing the tiles on our floors (all of which are acceptable and some of which I really like) I'll have electric heating installed under the flooring of some or all the rooms--but especially the bathrooms and bedrooms. It's quite common in Britain and Scandinavia and apparently is not even extravagant after the cost of the initial installation. But I'm not ready for another house improvement project quite yet.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Fall is on the Way

Europe changed from summer to winter time last night at 2:00 AM. It's fall, so the clocks fell back an hour. I could say that I spent the extra hour researching old Sundays in Spain entries, but really I spent the extra hour asleep. It was only this afternoon about an hour ago that I started paging through the October and November posts of the past five years (!) of this blog. I was looking to see what I had written about the progression of autumn over the years, because everyone agrees this year that October has been warmer than usual and that autumn is especially slow in approaching.

What I found out is that I have frequently been out of Spain for parts of the months of October and November. That travel, of course, would color my perception of the time passing. I don't know what the meteorologists will say about the average or median temperature this month, but what I have determined from my reading is that probably it only feels as though fall is coming slower this year. I suspect it is approaching in exactly the same way, and at a similar rate, as past years.

That means that it is not unusual that I am still hanging shorts and sleeveless tops on my clothesline, rather than the 3/4 length pants and short-sleeved tops that I would have sworn I should be wearing these days. We have, this past week, gotten to the point where the wash loads will be increasing in size, because we are at that point where it is necessary to change clothing two or three times a day. It is now cool in the mornings, so if I am headed out early in the day, I wear longer pants. But capris are way too warm for our afternoon petanca games from 3:00-5:00, as I have found out regretfully twice so far. I haven't had the air conditioning on in my office for weeks, though we have occasionally turned it on--like just last night--in the dining room, where it would have been a bit stuffy for our Saturday smørrebrød otherwise. The overhead fans have become the main instrument of temperature regulation, and they require frequent adjustment. I'm still wearing my sleeveless summer nightgown to bed and pulling my very light summer comforter over me--or maybe sticking my legs out--but at some point in the night or early morning I find that the comforter is covering me completely and I wonder whether I should turn the fan off, because the movement of the air is causing a chill. Fortunately there is a power switch right by the night table, but unfortunately the fan only has three power levels, and it is already at the lowest level. If I turn it off, I invariably switch it back on within a half hour.

If I have successfully stayed in shorts all day, I generally find myself a little chilly when I settle down in front of the television in the evening. So far I haven't succumbed to using the blanket that hangs on the back of the chair and protects it from hitting the wall, but I have left a long-sleeved cotton sweater hang over the chair, that I have used only one evening but know I will again. We have gotten lax about automatically turning the overhead fan on and the light off to keep this room cool, and sometimes I don't notice.

The most telling indication that I don't feel fall yet is that I haven't made a single pot roast or cocido or other autumn meal yet. I''m not even preparing soup for lunch--the revolving "soup pot" that I kept in my refrigerator, where I usually put leftover vegetables and cooking liquids to puree with an immersion mixer, turned sour for the first time recently and I realized that I had neglected my routine. My only fall cooking so far has been to roast a pumpkin and make five small loaves of pumpkin bread. It was a success, from an old family recipe that calls for "a can of pumpkin"--something which you can't find here--and baking three loaves in round coffee cans. I only had one coffee can, which I had carefully brought back with me from my most recent trip to the U.S. (you don't buy coffee in a can here, either) so I had to guess on the substitute baking containers, and especially on how long to bake them. I guessed right, and the Friday petanca players and some American friends from our Fourth Friday Coffee get-together enjoyed a moist pumpkin bread this week.

It wasn't until after I came back from the market this morning and prepared lunch that I hung out the morning's wash load. That was only three hours ago, but I just went out to check and the clothing is dry. It is 76 degrees F. both inside and out. But I just realized that it is after 5:00, the  birds are squawking, and the sun is going down. I'm going to bring in the laundry (I won't have to put on sunglasses) and go downstairs to put a pork tenderloin and vegetables into the oven, and then settle down to watch the evening news.  For the last two weeks now we have remarked that we gaze at the pitch dark streets of Copenhagen outside the glass-walled studio of the evening magazine program that airs on Danish TV at 7:00 PM, while if we turn our heads slightly to the right, we can see sun outside our windows here in Spain. No more. Tonight I am preparing myself to see dusk, and it won't be more than a couple weeks before it will be even darker than dusk here at 7:00, or even earlier. Fall is on the way.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Summer Again in Spain

Last Sunday I was packing up a very heavy suitcase--heavy enough so I had to pay extra at the airport check-in and too heavy for the TSA to want to fuss with it, I concluded later--and headed back to Spain. I arrived in Madrid Wednesday morning early, and after waiting a few hours there, I continued to Alicante, where I was picked up and delivered by car to the house. It was good to get back "home" and to my regular routines. The weather, I discovered, was not much different from the heat and humidity that I had left in Cincinnati and Chicago, although there is a notable absence of air-conditioning here.

Since then I have been doing the things that I always do to get back into life in Spain. One of the first, and the most fun, was to meet friends in my book group for a discussion of The Angel's Game, which I had finished on the long airplane ride between O'Hare and Barajas. I also cleaned out several science experiments from the refrigerator and in the last several days have gone to three of my favorite grocery stores to replenish the refrigerator, freezer, and cupboards. That meant, of course, that we had a café con leche and half of a tostada at the outdoor café in front of the Benijófar Consum, and when we went the next day to Ciudad Quesada on an errand, we had to have another café at the Halfway House, our usual haunt close to the post office.

I've also completely emptied--in record time--the large suitcase I brought with me, and have put the books, medicines. toiletries, clothing, and paperwork in their proper places, and actually dealt with some of the paperwork (and all of the laundry). I've caught up on some work that was pending, suffering the trauma of transferring files that are supposed to be compatible but aren't always, back to my regular computer. This morning we went to the Zoco outdoor market to buy almonds, prunes and raisins for breakfast, and whatever fruits and vegetables looked good for the coming week, or at least the coming days, because the heat now means that fresh produce doesn't keep as fresh as it does during the cooler months. Strawberry season has definitely gone by, so I was glad that I had had strawberries in Cincinnati,, and though raspberries and blueberries are available here at high prices for tiny portions, they don't taste as good as the ones I enjoyed while away. We sat this morning in a bit of shade with another café con leche and listened to the various languages around us and watched the people all dressed to withstand heat in various ways, while still enjoying their holiday or daily lives.

I am moving slowly and the days seem long because, well, they are. It always takes a few nights to adjust to six hours' time difference between Eastern U.S. time and Spanish time. It's even harder this year, because it's time for the Benijófar summer festival, and that means that just as I am ready to settle down to try to sleep through the night at 11:00 PM or so, the thumping music of a fiesta in action starts up, and it continues into the wee hours--until 7:00 this morning, according to Johannes, but I had finally dropped off to sleep some time after 3:30 and slept peacefully until 9:00.

Tomorrow I will see my Spanish teacher/book discussion partner and Tuesday I will go to play petanca, and by then I hope to be back in this time zone and back into the regular routine of summer, which often involves staying inside in air-conditioned comfort (not central, but effective and quiet on a room-by-room basis) and generally taking it easy and not moving too fast. We have a few weeks before leaving again for a summer vacation together, and I intend to enjoy them in a suitably leisurely fashion.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

A Walk on the Beach

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Spring Signs and Rituals

There was a gentle rain this Sunday in Spain on Easter morning. I didn't even realize it until I went outside to put towels in the washing machine, but then I saw that the pavement tile was wet and, when I raised the lid on the large plastic garden container that hides the laundry, there was a small spill-off of water. I put the laundry in the washing machine anyway, because I have faith that the sun will come out sometime before the day is over.

If a little rain isn't a sign of spring, I don't know what is. This week has been full of signs, and that seems appropriate, especially as we were approaching Easter, although it was a little early this year.

Early in the week as I was hanging clothing out to dry, I realized that I had a line full of warm socks although I didn't have any on myself that day at all. I haven't switched to sandals yet, but I have started wearing my hole-y "air-conditioned" plastic garden clogs (I have three pairs) that I can wear with or without socks and let my feet air out while still keeping them off cold tile floors.

Forgive me for talking about matters of personal hygiene, but I also shaved my legs for the first time in awhile, since I was putting on what we used to refer to as nylon stockings but what are now (still, I hope) referred to as pantyhose, or tights. The occasion was that concert last weekend, and I wore a skirt with natural-colored stockings and let my legs breathe after their winter hibernation.

I had carefully saved a few spring clothes at the back of my closet when putting away summer things last fall, and I was glad because I have been in to them several times now. A friend told me yesterday that they had spent the previous day doing the summer/winter clothing exchange, so all their winter things were now packed away, seasonal donations had been made, and she had a list of clothing accessories they needed to buy in preparation for their upcoming May cruise, but I haven't taken that big a step yet and I don't have a cruise to prepare for.

Spring travel has started. There have been an unusual number of young children at the cafes and restaurants, and the grocery stores, that we have frequented in the past few days. They are here on spring break, with their parents or without, to visit the grandparents. Or the grandparents have gone home to Scandinavia or the UK to participate in the communions and confirmations, and Easter and other festivities of the spring season, even though both those areas of the world are experiencing anything but spring weather.

Our house has warmed up sufficiently so that we have gone several days without turning on the infrared heating panels that were a major investment last year for the upstairs bedroom and bath. They worked well, and we may add them to a couple other rooms later on this year when we begin to think about colder weather again.We have also gone a couple evenings without using the gas-fired fireplace while watching the news and night-time television. Each time we plunk down the euros for a propane bottle--and the number was just increased again this week so we are now paying almost double what it started out to be when we got the gas heater four years ago, but it is still worth it--one of us says "This is probably the last bottle we will need to buy before the summer." Then I say, "Don't bank on it."

When the cleaners were here last week they vacuumed and rolled the two carpets from the dining room and living room that we use in the winter but which we take up in the summer because they would be way too warm. They were able to get one rug into a giant plastic bag for storage, but the other was too large, and it waits, in the guest bath, for a custom-designed plastic bag arrangement before it can go out for storage.

Speaking of storage, I sat with a friend in our downstairs sun room--the one we pass through whenever we enter or leave the house, and the one in which we eat lunch almost every day, early one evening this week, having a glass of wine. All of a sudden I raised my eyes to the ceiling and there was the last one of the Christmas decorations, dangling from a hook in the ceiling that used to hold a hanging plant that died--obviously because we had failed to raise our eyes and a watering can often enough. There is a Danish song that says "Christmas lasts until Easter," and we certainly held up that tradition this year.

Of course it is just coincidence that in 2013 we changed from "summer time" to "winter time" the night before Easter. That timing didn't make it easy to get to Easter sunrise services, if there were any. Europe always changes to summer time the last weekend in March, and I find it disorienting and mildly annoying that Europe and the U.S. don't participate in this annual spring ritual on the same day, or night.

We participated in my favorite spring tradition yesterday afternoon--we went to Los Montesinos de Tapas in a neighboring town. This is the third or maybe the fourth time we have been to this tapas festival, which is always held on the weekend of Semana Santa, leading up to Easter. This year I remembered it in advance, without even seeing any notice in the newspapers or on posters. As opposed to today, yesterday was warm and sunny and about 90 degrees F. in the sun, and we sat in the sun on the central plaza of Los Montesinos at two different bars, enjoying albondigas (meatballs) at the first and something called La Campesina, a delicious slice of warm ham and red pepper on bread, at the second, with our beers. We thought one more tapa would round out our lunch nicely and were ready to move on when some friends happened by. So we did move on, with them, to another place, where we sat inside because it was too hot in the sun, and talked over a tapa of morcilla (black sausage) on a thin layer of cooked apple, with a hard-boiled quail egg. Delicious!

It's moving on toward 3:30 summer time now. The sky is lightening by the minute but there is still no sun. The clean towels are languishing in the washing machine, and soon I will have to decide whether to move them over to the tumble dryer or hang them on the line. On rainy days in this part of Spain it almost always gets sunny by 4:00 in the afternoon. But does the sun know that we changed the clocks last night? Will it also spring forward so I can make my decision at summer 4:00?

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Morning Concerts

Most mornings this week I have awakened to the sound of birds singing. Apparently they nest, or flit around, in the yucca trees outside the sliding glass door of the full-height window leading to the French balcony off the second-story bedroom. That window is shaded first (outside) with the aluminum reja--standard equipment in Spanish houses--that rolls down its full length at night, and second (inside) with the voluminous, heavy, floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall curtains that we installed a year ago to try to offset the effects of no central heating and less-than-tight construction (also standard in Spanish houses).

Still the sound comes in. It's a sign of spring, because one day it's there--and you probably don't notice it then--but the second day--that's when you notice it! On that second day this week it started a little before 7:00 AM. I am not a birder, so I can't tell you what birds are singing and what they are signalling. They chirp, and whistle, and tweet. There seems to be a conversation, and sometimes you can mark movement of the songsters, but I am still too much asleep to get up and part the curtains and roll up the reja to see what they are doing. And of course it is sill dark out at this hour, so it wouldn't do much good even if I did feel like getting up.

So I lie in bed and listen to the bird concert, a whole cacophony of sound from different species, presumably saying different things, or the same thing, but disagreeing, or the same thing in their own dialect. Who knows? It is a beautiful sound, and it lasts for 15 or 20 minutes and then it ceases.

Ten or 15 minutes later it starts up again. What has happened in the meantime? Perhaps the sun is approaching the horizon and warnings need to be given. Another symphony erupts and I lie in bed, tapping solitaires, scanning yesterday's headlines of my top ten newspapers from the Newseum, or catching up on reading from The Economist or (recently) The New Yorker. And then, a few minutes later, it subsides. A few precious encores peep through, but after awhile I recognize that today's bird concert is over.

This Sunday morning I woke a little after 7:00 and welcomed the concert again. I was entertained with peeps and chirps and tweets and whistles and songs for 15 minutes, and then the music lapsed. I waited through the intermission, stepping out only for a trip to the bathroom and downstairs to pick up a cup of coffee, but then, back to bed for the second part of my morning concert.

It never came. I did hear a fear tweets and chirps, much like stray instruments tuning up in between sets, but when the clock moved to after 8:00, I had to recognize that this morning I had slept thorough the first act and intermission, and had only awakened for the second and concluding set. Part of what makes birdsong so unutterably beautiful, I think, is the sheer unexpectedness of it. Even though I made a mental note to try to wake up earlier tomorrow morning, therefore, the best thing will be if I wake up not thinking in advance that I want to catch the morning concert, but that I just hear it.

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Many years ago I drove to work early in the morning, leaving my house in Massachusetts before 7:00 AM and driving south along Route 3 and then down Massachusetts Avenue to a parking lot in Cambridge just north of the Charles river. Depending on traffic, it took anywhere from one hour and 15 minutes to 2 hours. I could always gauge my progress early because I listened to the National Public Radio station WGBH, and Robert J. Lurtsema would begin his Morning Pro Musica program promptly at 7:00 with bird songs. I don't think this YouTube rendition is exactly the same thing, but it's a decent substitute.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Strawberries in January

We get lots of fresh fruit at all times of the year, but there are noticeable seasons. Lemons and oranges have started appearing in large bags at cheap prices (one euro for a dozen or so lemons) at the Sunday Zoco market now, and indeed, we can see farmers harvesting them all around us. We have even harvested a few lemons from our own tree. I realized recently that it had been ages since I had seen a strawberry, but this morning at the Zoco, while I was buying bananas and grapes, the fruit handler was practically forcing a large, ripe strawberry into Johannes' mouth, so before I knew it, we had a few strawberries, as well.

Since I am rarely in the U.S. during strawberry season, I don't know whether American strawberries have gotten as large as those here in Spain. The ones purchased today are about two inches in height (or length--how does one measure a strawberry?). Two were sufficient to dice onto the top of our lunchtime fruit salad. They were delicious, but I think they will be even sweeter as the season progresses.

I wonder about the size of U.S. strawberries, because, coincidentally just this morning I was reading an article in The CoastRider, one of the newsier free weeklies, that said "Spanish robotics firm takes US by storm." The Agrobot company, based in Huelva, reportedly has successfully tested a prototype strawberry picking robot in Watsonville, California "where 40% of the State's strawberries are produced" and now is planning the manufacture of strawberry pickers in the U.S. Apparently the robots are able to function flexibly enough that size doesn't matter. Harvesting costs for "fresh" strawberries are reduced 50% with the robot and 90% for the "industrial" strawberries that are used for purees and yoghurts.

It is wonderful to read about a success for Spanish industry.

Friday, August 31, 2012

"Están de Vacaciones"

Quick, while it is still August, I write about August, the month of vacations.

For the past month, almost every daily action has been punctuated by the phrase "Estan de vacaciones." They are on vacation. Most of our friends here in Spain have been away in Denmark, or England, or Germany, or the U.S., on vacation. One reason is to escape the heat, which has been in the high 30 degrees C., or hovering around 100 degrees F. Another reason is simply that most families go on vacation in August, especially if the family includes children who will be going back to school in September.

Meanwhile, for those of us who have not quite achieved full mobility after knee operations,we stay at home in the cool of the air conditioning, venturing out only as a respite to cabin fever and for the necessary errands. Running errands has become even more of an adventure than it usually is. There is a curious mixture of "stores open" vs. "stores closed." Because we live in a tourist area, many establishments are allowed to stay open on Sundays during the summer season, so for a brief three months we can shop for groceries on Sunday mornings or all sorts of products at the Carrefour hypermarket until midnight every day of the week. This open commercialism is counterbalanced, however, by the tiendas, the small mom-and-pop stores and bars and restaurants, that close, at least for the last two weeks of August, for vacation.

We know, in theory, that during August anything is apt to be closed. But we forget. So when we went to the Scandinavian Center in downtown Torrevieja one Wednesday afternoon to replenish our supply of herring, we came home empty-handed, because they were closed for vacation. When we took our new microwave back to the hardware store where we bought it, after it blew out every fuse in the house, we were told as soon as we walked in the door, "The factory is on vacation. You won't get a replacement until September." I read in one of the free English newsweeklies that the city of Elche had printed a brochure listing establishments that were open in August, and I thought that a little extreme and perhaps a waste of money. That was before we drove to La Marina last Saturday morning to check out a kitchen design store with an advertisement in the same newspaper, and discovered, after we finally found it, that it was shuttered because "están de vacaciones."

If the third week of August was lonesome, the fourth became even more so. Just as I was preparing to head out to our favorite specialty wine shop last Monday to buy a bottle of South African wine for a friend, Johannes told me that an email had come through--they were on vacation for this week. The other errand we set out to do that day was to stop at a gestoria to begin the process of bringing our wills up to date, but no one answered the door or the telephone--they were "de vacaciones." Earlier this week and then again today we noticed that even the musicians who normally play and sing outside the grocery stores were nowhere to be found; they, too, are apparently on vacation.

But today is Friday, the 31st and last day of August. Officially in Europe, summer ends with August. In a rare turn of the calendar, the end of European summer occurs this year during the same weekend as that curious unofficial end of summer in the U.S., Labor Day. A few hours ago I finished my last work for the week, month, and summer, and turned my sights toward a leisurely end-of-summer weekend, and even now as I write this, my colleagues in the U.S. are finishing up their Friday before Labor Day weekend work (if they actually happened to go to work today) and preparing for the last summer hurrah. When we all return to work next Monday or Tuesday, depending on where we are, we will be starting in once again on normal life. It will not be cooler here, but at least almost everyone will be back from vacaciones.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Long Weekend

It's rare when there is an American holiday that falls on a regular Spanish work day, but yesterday, a regular work day in Spain, was observed as Memorial Day in the U.S. In addition to its historic significance as a day to honor soldiers who have given their lives for their country, it has always, in my lifetime, at least, signified the unofficial beginning of the summer season. When I was a child we had usually finished school for the year just before the weekend, and as I recall, the municipal swimming pool opened on Memorial Day. But I also remember marching in the Memorial Day parade--all the Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops marched and participated in the solemn memorial at the town cemetery, where graves of soldiers had been decorated. One year I got to carry the flag. I'm not sure whether parades still exist as a major focus of the day or not. Perhaps they expired when the date was moved to always fall on a Monday instead of on May 30.

I got into the "summer-start" spirit of the long weekend this year, helped by email reminders on Friday from people at work that Monday was a holiday and also by virtue of the fact that Algorfa, the town we live in, was holding its third annual Ruta de Tapas starting on Saturday. I don't know whatever happened to the first and second tapas routes--we never heard about them until they were over, but this year, I got an email notice because somehow (probably by signing up for a Spanish class) I have gotten on to the mailing list for cultural events in town. Saturday turned out to be a beautiful early summer day, and we headed off at 12:30 with friends we had not seen in awhile to explore Algorfa and the ten or eleven restaurants that were listed on the brochure produced by the town hall. This number of participants is "manageable," the four of us agreed, and because the village is an authentic Spanish village and the restaurants are not all located in one strip, we had to walk through the sun for a few blocks as we followed our "route." I shielded myself from too much sun with the Venetian parasol I had won at a silent auction at St. Johns Unitarian-Universalist Church in Cincinnati last November.

We went first to Bar Algorfa, which turns out to be a delightful British-run Mexican restaurant, where we could choose between chicken or beef fajitas and chili with Mexican tortilla chips, and most of us enjoyed a beer. Then on to a real Spanish bar, where it was so crowded we could hardly make our way through to order from a selection of eight or so different small dishes. I can't remember what I had there, but I enjoyed it with a small glass of white wine. Then on to Badulake, our favorite place in Algorfa, because it is right by the ayuntamiento, so whenever we have official business (and often even when we don't) we stop by for a cafe con leche. This time we enjoyed an open-faced sandwich (montadito) of quail egg with shrimp on small pieces of salmon and ham, with cold agua con gas. Then we moved across the town plaza to the Centro Social and finished off with a mini hamburguesa and glass of red wine. We took our time, talked a lot about what had happened in the past month and what was upcoming, and enjoyed the social life of Spain, which is almost always outdoors with family members of all ages, especially on such a beautiful day.

Back at home after the tapas. Photo c2012 Johannes Bjorner.
The weekend continued on Sunday with our traditional trip to the Zoco market to get fresh fruit and vegetables, and the free Norwegian newspapers, and there we read about a new Danish restaurant opening in Torrevieja. It was still early in the day, so we decided to drive into the city to locate it for future reference. With the excellent location information in the Norwegian newspaper announcement and the detailed map of Torrevieja that resides in our car, we found Restaurant Danmark easily enough, even though it was on the beach in a part of town that we do not know at all. We greeted the proprietor, who previously had run a Danish polser stand at the other Sunday market on Lemon Tree Road, and discovered that he had only been open for 16 days. We settled down for a beer and ended up by enjoying the menu del dia, which today was a delicious shrimp cocktail, a gently sauteed whitefish filet with more shrimp and remoulade sauce, and aeblekage (apple cake) and ice cream for dessert. All for ten euros apiece, which makes it a very good deal. Our outside table provided a leisurely view of all the beach activity on a Sunday early afternoon, and cool breezes.

By this point in the weekend I thought I would use the Monday holiday to write my traditional Sunday blog, but that turned out to be a busier day than I had envisioned--it was, after all, not a holiday in Spain. But more on that later. This was a very pleasant beginning-of-summer weekend.

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, November 20, 2011

Seasons of Life

It has been a long time since I wrote, and that usually means that I have been out of Spain. This time was an unscheduled trip, because I have been home in the U.S. with my birth family as my mother, Mary, passed from this life, and for two weeks afterwards. Those several days that we (four sisters) spent together reliving our earlier lives growing up and renewing our commitment to each other as a family were precious.

Part of the reason I first started this blog was to share my experiences here in Spain with my mother. She was nearing 80 when she "got onto the computer" in order to keep in touch by email with her wide-spread family and good friends from across several decades of her life. She learned to use many functions, even though she never distinguished between the hardware, software, email, and the Web--it was all "the computer." Later as her eyesight diminished she had to stop using the computer herself, but in the early days of Sundays in Spain, I tried to keep posts short enough so they could be printed out on a single page by one of my sisters and read to her. I have gotten rather lax, I am afraid.

In 2005 when I had to tell my mother that I was selling my house, which I had recently bought in Indianapolis in order to be within a couple hours' drive of my parents, and moving to Spain full-time, I was distressed and scared. My mother at that time was facing the daily challenges of living with the increasing effects of the Alzheimer's with which my father had been diagnosed a few years earlier. I felt guilty leaving them to be so far away "just" because my husband was ready to return to Europe during his retirement years.

My mother fully supported my move. I was near tears as I struggled to tell her that we would no longer be coming home to the U.S. for half the year, but she immediately said, "Oh! It's just like when your father and I went to Florida!" Indeed, they had left Ohio and moved to Florida for their retirement years at a time when she was just about the same age as I was moving to Spain. They spent 20 years there before returning to Cincinnati for the last years of their lives. Never in all those last years did she ever express displeasure or encourage guilt that I had moved to Spain. She even made a trip alone to our home in Roquetas de Mar in 2006 at Christmas time to see how we lived.

In some ways my life here in one of the "Floridas of Europe" is like my mother's life during the happy time my parents spent in a retirement village in Orlando. In many ways it is different. I try to write about the similarities and the differences, and I try to live each day happily.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Continued Sunny Skies

This Sunday in Spain dawned clear and cool and I drove Johannes up to the cave art exhibit at 9:00 and then returned home for a shower, an hour and a half of work, and some little maintenance jobs pertaining to the house and my person. Then I headed over to the Sunday morning outdoor market close to our house. One of the wonderful features about this and most outdoor markets here in Spain is the offering of rotisserie-grilled chickens. They give a captivating aroma to the market grounds throughout the morning, and people line up to purchase one or two before leaving the market. I think that most people in Spain must have grilled chicken for Sunday dinner--you can even buy thin French fried potatoes to go with the chicken.

View from the Rojales Cave
I stocked up on raisins and almonds for our breakfast cereal, and tomatoes and bananas for our lunchtime salads, and then on my way out I bought one of those chickens. I had previously packed some cherry tomatoes, sliced carrots, and cucumbers into a cooler, and I drove straight to the caves for a little picnic. It was a peaceful fall morning. Four Norwegians were looking at paintings as I arrived, and two Spaniards arrived before the Norwegians left, and we had interesting conversations with both groups. So it was after 2:00 before we were able to enjoy our little repast, and we sat in peaceful solitude broken only by the strains of Chopin from the CD player and cock-a-doodle-do from a neighboring rooster. Later we packed up and made our way down through Benihofar--and the Wheel of Tapas was still going on, so we stopped at an English bar and had a tapa of Spanish tortilla (my favorite) and a tidbit of serrano ham and tomato.  This particular bar was in a part of the village which we had not explored before, and right down the strip from Route 66, allegedly an American restaurant. Unfortunately they were not open until later, so we will have to return some time in the future to see whether there really is an American connection there.

We wanted to make a reservation for dinner later on in the week at a restaurant in town, and when we stopped  we were greeted by an English friend who had brought a Spanish lady friend out to see "how the English live." For those of us who have been married to the same person for eons, it is amusing and inspiring to see others of our age (or almost) who have never been married but who have not given up trying to meet someone, and particularly when they are living in a foreign country. We had a lively two-language conversation with this chap and his new compañera and hope to see her again. She spoke good English, but I was able to communicate with her mostly in Spanish, and that is gratifying indeed.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Signs of Autumn

Someone mentioned that the British use "autumn" while Americans use "fall" to denote the season that comes after summer. I haven't really observed that yet in my verbal encounters with the Brits here in Spain, though my Diccionario Cambridge Klett Compact confirms that the translation of the Spanish otoño is "autumn, fall (Am)." I have always preferred "autumn" because "fall" seems so, well, happenstance. Autumn is a destination--you don't just fall into it when summer gets tired. One thing is sure: we are all tired of summer now, at least those of us who have been here for the past several months. Those who escaped to northern European climes for July and August and are now returning to the Costa appreciate the still-high temperatures, since they have been experiencing cold and rainy weather for much of the summer. But I'm not here to talk about climate change.

 Nearly all with whom I email have spoken to me with pleasure of cooler days and that wonderful crisp feeling in the air that autumn brings. It's cooler in the morning and later in the evenings here too, now, and it's dark in the mornings until 8:00 and gets dark again less than twelve hours later. But temperatures still register in the 90s F. at lunch time on the thermometer in the shade outside the sun room. My office air conditioner is broken, sending out hot air instead of cool, and I waited several days last week for the repairman to fit us into his busy schedule, and then he didn't come on Thursday afternoon between 5:00 and 6:00 as promised--or on Friday, either. So I do not yet feel like fall, but I am definitely looking forward to autumn.

There are signs. The returning northern Europeans, for a start. Our petanca games are filling up with people again compared with the sparse participation in the summer. Other social activities are starting up and the calendar is getting lots of notations. And I wondered this morning whether the grocery store would be open today (it's allowed to be open on Sunday during the summer only) but then remembered that I can count on today and next Sunday, through the month of September.

The surest sign of autumn for those of us who live on the northern side of the equator is the beginning of school, and school has started. First come the vuelta al cole ads in the circulars and large placards in the stores, announcing special prices on supplies, clothing and whatnot for the return to colegio, which is primary or elementary school--not college--in Spain. And then comes the start of school itself, September 8 according to one friend with two youngsters who attend, but it must vary a little bit from town to town.

Last Monday I happened on to a small colegio in Rojales at 12:25 PM. About 20 people were standing around the gated entrance. A few men, many women, some young and fashionable, a couple older, in Spanish grandmotherly style. Two women in light-colored abaya street-length cloaks and hijab headscarves. They were all waiting for their children to be released from school for the day, and within a couple minutes of my walking back to stand on the other side of the street after we parked the car, here they came. Tiny, happy children, with big smiles on their faces, walking out two by two through the school courtyard and each one greeted by a parent or grandparent or other caregiver. I asked and was told that yes, indeed, this was their very first day at school. They couldn't have been more than four years old. They soon walked off with their escorts--there were only a couple waiting cars--and that was the end of this first school day. They had had an exciting time, and there was still a long afternoon to enjoy in the sun.

Every day this week I have heard the reverberations of the big school bus that transports a few children from our neighborhood to and from their colegio in the center of Algorfa, a few miles away. It comes at precisely 1:25, on its return-from-school trip. I have not heard it yet on its regular afternoon run. Afternoon school sessions only start when cooler weather comes, presumably in October.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Spring Clothing

Well, it has been almost a month of Sundays in Spain since I wrote here, and in the meantime Spring has arrived.

Spring came in on Saturday, March 26, when we were scheduled to drive into the country and have a special luncheon with friends at Rebate, a country estate with a restaurant and gourmet/organic food shop about 40 minutes away. What to wear? I finally settled on a turquoise blue and green floor-length cotton skirt slit up the sides, giving my legs a chance to get the sun they had been insulated from all winter. A cotton jacket, though, as well as a scarf wrap, because we didn't know yet whether we would sit outside or in. We settled finally on inside for luncheon and outside for coffee afterwards on the terrace, where we watched ducks in the pond and an ostrich wandering in the greenery.

The next day at the Sunday Zoco market I bared more leg, donning beige 3/4 length pants (piratas, here) and sandals, which I also wore to the brand new Alicante air terminal. This third largest airport in Spain had opened just four days earlier after six weeks of beta testing. We had not volunteered as beta passengers, but we did want to know how to get to the new terminal, where to park, and what facilities there were there before we had to arrive for a flight, or pick someone up, the first time. I was warm enough in my piratas--even too warm sometimes in the terminal building--though I felt under-dressed in comparison to my regular traveling clothes. I really got too warm when we were trying to find the exit in the parking garage and could not see any down ramps--only up ramps...But that's a story for another time, and it's exactly why we wanted to check it out before we needed it.

Monday was another mid-day luncheon for a friend's birthday, and I went even farther: I wore an above-the-knee brown and orange-colored summer skirt and sleeveless orange blouse. We sat inside for lunch but I enjoyed the sun on my upper arms while we were walking to the restaurant and standing and talking afterwards.

Later that last week in March I went on my first bike ride of the season, wearing piratas again and a short-sleeved cotton top, and carrying a long-sleeved top that I never put on. We were out for about four hours with some of our new American friends, biking first to Benijófar for coffee and scones and then to a campground resort in Guardamar for tinto de verano, red wine thinned with gaseosa, over ice, and lots of conversation. When I got home and undressed that evening, it was clear that I had forgotten about the strength of the sun, for I was red around the neckline of my top, and on my outer arms up to where the short sleeves had ended.

It's been sunny and warm almost every day since the end of March, and my red epidermis has turned brown. Some days I have conscientiously worn sleeveless tops in an effort to get my upper arms to match my lower arms in color. Hasn't happened yet--I may have to give up and just lie face up and arms out in an awkward position on the terrace for a couple hours. And I've been too busy to put away winter clothing and bring out the real light summer clothing, so getting dressed in the morning, and getting dressed all over again later for the afternoon or for the evening is an adventure and challenge. Friday night I put on long white slacks and a sleeveless/long-sleeved sweater set to go to an evening event at 8:00. But I added my winter white long wool cape against the evening breeze at the last minute, and I used it. And though I sat outside at the Zoco market for a bratwurst and beer this afternoon at 1:30, I was almost ready to turn on the gas in the fireplace while watching TV this evening at 8:00. It's still changeable spring weather here on Spain's Costa Blanca.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Almond Trees in Bloom

Photo by Johannes Bjorner 2009
In Spain the almond trees trees usually blossom in the month of February, and I couldn't let February go by without a photo of this beautiful sight. The picture to the left is from Almeria and is two years old, but earlier this month we took a day trip to the Jalon Valley and viewed beautiful fields of almonds there. Then last week we took the back road up to our village of Algorfa and discovered a whole field of blossoming almonds almost on our doorstep.

One of the prettiest pictures I have seen this year is this one that appeared in Spaniaposten, a free Norwegian newspaper that provides current news and geographic, historical, and cultural stories about life on the Costa Blanca. In addition to several other nice images available on page 22 in the PDF of the printed newspaper, Spaniaposten also had a nice informative story about almonds.

Nuts are called frutos secos in Spanish, dried fruits, and the almond is indeed dry, but botanically speaking, it is not a nut. It is the seed of the almond tree, which grows inside a hard and inedible shell. Spain exports lots of almonds but keeps enough in the country so that they are a frequent aperitif or snack in natural, toasted, salted, and/or fried forms. as well as being used in cooking. We buy toasted almonds almost every week at the Sunday market to add to my breakfast oatmeal--4 euros for a quarter kilo. Almonds are high in protein and fiber and are low in fat and carbohydrates. They also contain vitamin E, which supports the immune system, and magnesium, which is good for the heart and blood pressure. The almond tree came to Spain with the Moors from North Africa and is also native to Iran, northwest Saudi Arabia, and western Jordan, Lebanon, west Syria and southern Turkey. The Norwegian paper also pointed out that almonds are an essential ingredient in marzipan and kransekake, a festive confection throughout Scandinavia.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Crevillente on a Sunny Saturday

When I looked outside my bathroom window yesterday morning, there seemed to be snow on the mountains in the distance. Not surprising, since we had had two days of very cold and damp weather. But Saturday morning itself was bright and sunny, so we hopped in the car and drove toward the mountains to investigate.

But we never actually got to the mountains. Instead, we veered off to the town of Crevillente, 26 kilometers up the AP-7 highway from our neighborhood of Montebello. Whenever we drive home from our nearest city, Torrevieja, we drive west on the Crevillente road (or Crevillent, as it is properly named in the Valenciano dialect). But we had never been to the town for which our main highway is named, and today seemed like a good time to do so.

Crevillente paseo viewed from the mercado de abastos
We easily found the center of town and even a parking place on the main paseo, from where we walked up the hill toward what we thought was the church. It wasn't a church, we discovered when we got there, but instead the mercado de abastos, an indoor market, and a very well-equipped one. We walked through the stalls of fruit and vegetables, meats, fish, olives, cheeses, and bread and exchanged pleasantries with two of the women vendors. They directed us farther up the hill and to the right, to the church and town hall. Then we found a papeleria and bought some watercolor supplies, and the clerk there directed us to a large municipal park. Somewhere along the line we stopped, of course, for a cafe con leche and split a tostada con atun y tomate, in a small bar that would have been smoky before the no-smoking ban was put into effect this month, but which was a joy now.

It was a glorious Saturday morning in Crevillente. The weather was warm--though I was in a sweater instead of a coat, I really didn't need the long sleeves--at least when I was in the sun. Everyone was out walking, buying, having a drink and a bit of food in the smoke-free bars, or practicing choral music, as we heard from a room at the top of the mercado building. On the way back to the car a couple hours later, we passed a beautiful fern tree. Its leaves looked like the ferns that I used to see along the backroads in New Hampshire, but this was a tall tree, and it was the delicate yellow-green of a promising spring. I know we will have cold weather again, and I will need long sleeves and a jacket, but then I will remember this spring-like January day in Crevillente.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Rain in Spain

When I woke up this Sunday morning and swung my feet out to the small fluffy rug that lies between my side of the bed and the sliding glass door to the French balcony, they hit an unpleasantly wet surface! After two straight days of cold and damp air, Saturday at noon the occasional small raindrops had started to descend steadily, and even though it was gentle, it had rained persistently from Saturday noon long into the night. I listened carefully but did not hear any pitter-patter on the roof or outside on the pavement. The rain must have stopped.

It was still too early to expect any daylight to be seeping into the room, so I turned on the overhead light. How much of a leak did we have, and where was it coming from? Only the rug was wet, but it was really wet, almost sopping. The simple white muslin almost floor-length curtains were not moist at the bottom, however. My terry-cloth slippers, safely tucked under the nightstand at the head of the bed, seemed to be dry. The socks I had worn to bed and shed some time in the night--apparently onto the rug that was gathering rainwater--were a bit damp. The stack of newspapers I had been perusing before falling asleep were moist on the bottom. The tile floor around the rug was cold to the touch, but not wet.

The reja--the metal window grille that is raised and lowered throughout the day to let in heat and light or keep them (and the winter cold) out, depending on the season and siesta schedule--was down, and presumably had been down the entire night. The two sections of the sliding glass door were locked with their round disk in the center of the structure, so presumably they had been closed properly throughout the night.

My breakfast appeared, prepared and brought up by my favorite butler, who also investigated the leak and promptly promised to re-caulk the area under the door. 

Two hours later and the sun is shining gloriously for the first time since Wednesday. The reja is up; all traces of water have disappeared from the French balcony floor and the upstairs terrace, where I have moved the bedside rug to air-dry (and rearranged the two sweaters I had washed yesterday and left in the outside laundry shed to dry flat--they were no worse for the rain, but no better). No one is presently looking at the caulking to be done. From my bathroom window I can clearly see the mountains in the distance and and oranges on the trees in our neighboring grove. We are off to the outdoor market to enjoy a sunny Sunday in Spain.