Jammin. At a ham festival.

Kike’s dad has a dehesa. In other words, a big old farm in the rolling hills of the Sierra Morena full of oak trees whose acorns feed the big, fat, black pigs who live within the fences of Finca Roche. The jamon iberico from these parts is world-famous – and with reason.
I rounded up a whole lot of people to go to Aracena, a pueblo blanco in the hills of the Huelva province, for their annual Ham Festival. This is a product natural only to Spain, and its taste is unique in the sense that the pigs, often called Pata Negra for their black skin and hair, are only fed acorns after they stop weaning. This gives the ham a buttery taste.
I hated ham when I first came to Spain. Seeing an upside-down pig leg with the hoof and hair still intact is a little unnverving, and the insides are bright red and loaded with fat (called tocino). Cuanto más tocino, they say, the better the ham. To me, it tasted slimy and rubbery and I kept seeing the piggies gorging on acorns and I couldn’t swallow it. Sure, I loved secreto ibérico and cana de lomo, and could eat coagulated blood and liver pate, but the pata was different.
But time and an appreciation for the leg has served me well. Perhaps the moment when I realized how big a part of the culture the jamon was when Kike took thirty minutes to select his jamonero, the piece of hardware used to mount the leg at the perfect angle to peels off thin slices of the meat. He later called all of his friends to come over and eat the ham, only to complain when half the thing was carved up an hour later. Or when the chiringuito paid to check a pata negra on a flight to Italy to have some snack food. I mean, paying an extra 20 euros on a Ryan Air flight when the meat itself costs upwards of 100 euros? Qué locura.
So I went and celebrate the art of jamón in Aracena. The bus was packed, and you could practically see the nervous excitement and mouths watering as we neared the town of 7,500 in the Sierra de Aracena in nearby Huelva. The town sits between two peaks, commanded by the ruins of a castle and church at the very top of one, and a huge luxury hotel on the other side of the valley.
We walked around the town after a quick tostada (I saved the ham for later and stuck to just tomato and olive oil), which was deserted at 11 am, save a short old man trying to sell us whistles whittled from thick twigs. The streets wound up and up towards the cusp of the old town and the Plaza Alta. Laundry hung from balconies, warmed by the cloudless day, and the only noise was the occasional camión navigating around the thin alleyways.
The church, Nuestra Senora del Mayor Dolor (Our lady of the worst pain, more or less), looks out over the town with a belltower and sparrows and the makings of a creepy movie set, but from here we could see the valley, the rest of the Sierra and the fairgrounds. We took the scenic route down the mountain, through boulders and mud and trees, that is, and bought tickets to the Gruta de las Maravillas.
Down the other side of the hill was the Recinto Ferial, a cluster of stands selling different pork products, jamoneros and surtidos. Families scoped out tables and lay out their spreads of meats and dishes on top. The patriarch sliced the ham to rousing shouts of, OLE!, as children poked sticks through the gates of the pig stalls. They sat fat and black and lazy in their pens, unaware of the matanza (slaughter) that would take place later that afternoon. Spectators munched on thinly sliced ibérico on plastic plates with bottles of Cruzcampo, passing thru the stands while a man bellowed out the prices for his embutidos. The whole grounds were packed by the time we arrived at 1 pm.
Before we saw the Grottoes, I met with Kate, an American married to a Spaniard from Aracena. They had already knocked back several bottles of wine and half of their pata, so we joined in with our surtido iberico and beers. The tent standing in the middle of the fairgrounds sold other ham products – costillas, croquetas de jamón, carne con tomate, carrillada. I had never been so excited to eat, de verdad, and because Caitlyn was there with no prior exposure to ham, I had to explain how they’re raised and slaughtered and eaten. I’ve certainly learned a lot from Kike!
After a visit to the grottoes and another beer, we headed back to Sevilla, bellies full. I met Jenna later that night for a tapa and a beer and ate, what else? Pork.

The Rain in Spain

Rain in Sevilla may just bring about the Apocalypse.

Being from Chicago, I’ve adapted to severe cold and extreme heat, rain, tornadoes, and everything in between. But now that I’ve moved to a city that sees five times more sunny days than rainy ones and reaches 115 degrees in June, I forget that rain and snow must seem like the world is coming to an end for a normal Sevillano.

I watched the rain spill over Triana from Jaime and Maria’s seventh story piso this afternoon. Uff, como cae, Maria remarked as her mother told me the hour was up and I collected my 14 euros. I wasn’t far from home, but the rain was falling so hard that I couldn’t see more than a few blocks over my neighborhood.

The whole length of their street, Avenida de Republica Argentina, is covered by soportales, or porticos. It’s one of those big, grand boulevards that I usually like walking down, but the businessmen and quiet buzz of traffic was non-existent. I looked for a taxi, willing to pay to be dropped off in front of my house. Every taxi that passed had its lights off. The two buses that went by were so full, that no one was getting on or off.

I had to walk. I dug my umbrella out of my bag and propped it open, heading down Esperanza de Triana. The streets, being as old as they are, have seen a lot of wear and tear, and although Sevilla is flat, my flats soon became waterslides. I jumped from puddle to puddle, barely avoiding water more than a few inches deep. Old women, obviously oblivious to the fact that I was in a hurry, constantly stepped in my path as they dragged their carrito to the supermarket.

After dodging a few spindles of umbrellas, I arrived to Calle San Jacinto, the main artery thru Triana. Cars welcomed me by their usually beeping, not because I’m famous, but because the street construction coupled with the rain and EVERYONE hopping in their cars makes it impossible to pass thru the city in an effective manner. The bus I tried to take had probably moved three blocks, I thought to myself. The normally crowded street was a ghost-town, with Trianeros scrambling to ge underneath awnings or into any cafe that sells coffee. I had no choice but to go on towards home, stepping through the rivers of water on the streets and wishing I would have put on my rainboots before going to class.

I can’t complain much. In the last month, it’s only rained three days and it’s still in the 80s. For October, we call this Veranillo de Membrillo. I call it paradise, rain and all.

de ida y vuelta

I have to admit that I had butterflies in my stomach the entire ride between Toronto (which is, for the record, 7 hours with tailwind, but a broken brake kept us grounded an extra two hours). I didn’t know if I was making a good decision, which was then exacerbated by the delay and the lack of train tickets and the lío of Alejandro telling me he wasn’t going to pick me up because Kike need a lift at the exact same time.

But the second I stepped off the train in Santa Justa, David sent me a text welcoming me back “home” and all that crazy build up of feelings and nightmares just kinda…evaporated. And I feel happy here. I’ve been doing my best to keep Kike at bay, do things my way, look for new opportunities and just be happy with what I’ve got. And despite little problems I’ve had, things have gone well these past three weeks.

Manolito says I seem mas ligera, Melissa swears I’m happier. My Spanish is struggling and I’m always beat. But I’m staring to make sense of the things I want and the things I don’t want (which is always more clear).

My big complaint is my schedule. I’m in Olivares four times a week, and only in the afternoon, so I’m constantly running from one place to another. I have to pay my own transportation and get up even earlier, and with my classes being all the way across town, I’m always looking for a way to shorten the trip or move things around. IT BLOWS not even having 30 minutes to eat and check my email tranquilita. What’s worse is that I want to find time to do something for myself, be it take yoga or volunteer or whatever, and I can’t. Mad at myself.

Butttt I’ve already gotten a little traveling in. I used the Puente de Pilar (Day of the massacre of the indigenous population of the Americas, really) to get to London. I’d been there once before, but my cousin Tom and darling, dearest friend Cat live there, so I was willing to from the 78 euros on RyanAir to spend a few days. Not prepared for the cold or the money spent on transportation (over half of my allowance!!), but a good time with two mostly gorgeous days! I would write more, but I’m beat. Hoping to find more time to actually write anything interesting and up to par…besossss

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