Home for Christmas

Remember how my first memory is of a tornado ripping right past my preschool in Rockford? Or how I cowered in the staircase at ADPi when the twister flattened half of Iowa City? I am TERRIFIED of tornadoes. And the weather a mere two hours before I left Sevilla to come home for Christmas resembled a tornado warning – wind knocking over trees, freezing sleet.

thankfully my train left on time, my flight from Madrid to Boston was easy and I slept. I got home fine after a four-hour delay in Boston with a friend, though I felt a little like kid from David After Dentist, all head-rolling and stuff. My bags were lost, but I felt so subdued by the lack of sleep that I was patient and calm, helping me to get my bags a mere 10 hours later.

It feels good to be home, snow and all. A little surreal, but almost like I haven’t been gone for the last three months. I mean, we’ve had very little time to do anything but prepare to have guests, eat, cleanup and repeat. Christmas morning was predictable, but we did things backwards and had breakfast first. Something about having your present be a plane ticket kinda takes the excitement out of opening presents Christmas morning…

Matt of Nomadic Matt hasn’t been home for Christmas in four years. I read his post this morning about being away from family during the holidays and couldn’t agree with him more – it’s all about company, food and remembering those who aren’t with you. Read it here. Last year, I spent Christmas Eve at the bar, Christmas lunch at Kike’s mom’s house eating seafood and drinking cava, and the evening at the bar again. It didn’t feel like Christmas, but it was more than enjoyable.

Doesn’t matter where in the world you are. Christmas is a time for celebrating blessings, for remembering those not with you, and living in the moment. Something about the abundance of beer drinking, rummikub and storytelling tells me we had a good one.

Merry Christmas, friends.

Merry Christmas to all!

Escenas Navideñas

Christmas lights outside Plaza de Armas

The coil of churros was so long, the oil sputtering from the fryer started to burn the man.

¡JODER! ¡COÑO! and a long string of explicatives were his reply before fishing the fried batter out of the oil with a long, wooden stick and a pair of tongs and cutting it with a pair of scissors. Pff, Qué aproveches, he said to me bitterly while sliding them onto a plate and pouring me a cup of hot chocolate.

The truth is that I don’t even like churros. They taste like nothing and the chocolate is scalding and when it gets cold, it forms that nasty skin on top so I lose all antojos to eat it. But it’s Christmas time, and with it comes things like churros and the Iberian ham that I had on my toast that morning.

I’ll be the first to admit that Christmas is probably my least favorite time of year. I get stressed, get sent on guilt trips and can’t deal with the snow. Christmas carols make my head spin, lines are stores drive me crazy and the Salvation Army bells make my ears ring.

But Christmas in Spain doesn’t have any of that. Sure, Calles Sierpes and Tetuan are clogged with chestnut vendors, street performers and shoppers wielding birghtly colored bags, but during a crisis, it’s a welcome sight. People in Spain enjoy the best parts of Christmas – good food and good company. It’s quite common to have a big Christmas lunch or dinner with coworkers, groups of friends and clubs – ours is Monday. Cachina (ham, cheese, sausages) before the main course and a LOT of wine!

The Espiritu Navideno hit me pretty hard this Thursday after my churros. At dusk, the lights in Gran Plaza turned on, the blue and white curves of the Feliz Navidad sparkling. The lady who recharged by transportation card wished me happy holidays while the suit-clad man buying cigarettes from her gave me a warm pat on the back and acted surprised when a pale-skinned, red-haired girl with absolutely no pinta andaluza could wish him a merry Christmas al acento andalu. I walked down Avenida de la Cruz del Campo to avoid buying gifts, passing packs of old ladies, arm and arm, in their fur coats and low heels. A group was having their comida de navidad at a restaurant under heating lamps (it was 60 degrees), still well at it at 6 p.m.

El Corte Ingles’s silver and menacing facade was covered with purple and silver lights, creating a fake snowfall with snowflakes the size of a smart car. The whole place was packed – a big Marshall Fields two days before Christmas – so I checked for a present for my beloved Dona Carmen. The crowds and high prices didn’t overwhelm me.

I bought myself a pair of boots at a shoe store I’ve been eyeing for a week. The woman dropped in a few pieces of truffles and sent me on my way. My hands got cold riding the bike towards the dark streets of Santa Cruz, so I stopped in my friend Juan’s bar, Entrecalles, for a drink. His boss and his friends were having their comida (first course beer, second course anise, dessert whiskey-cola, claro) with a round of flamenco villancicos, or Christmas carols. The light and heat spilled out the doors and into the streets.

In search of the famous caganet, I browsed the stalls of nativity sets clustered around the cathedral, gleaming orange against the deep blue sky. The shops hocked everything from teeny tiny eggs for the posada to a six-inch Lucifer, which is common in Italian manger scenes. I bought a plastic, cutre caganet with a little hunk of poop to add to our own at home. The streets were light by the colored lights strung between buildings and people milled about.

Thoroughly pooped, I headed to Gino’s for our own Christmas dinner among friends. Wine, food and friends? Good Christmas.

Read more about Christmas in Sevilla by clicking here

The Spanish Outback

Tita said, “We call it Extremadura for a reason, hija: extre because we’re so far west, and madura because everything here is just more harsh.”

There could not be a better name for this Spanish outback, which seems to encapsulate all things salvaje, or wild: the sky is equally cloudy and empty, stretching out for miles towards, well, nothing. The towns here, with names like Saint Anthony’s houses (pop. 700) and James’s Sword, are few and far between. And the harsh wind that blows across the plains hardened conquistadores like Pizarro and Cortes.
Despite being one of the poorest regions in all of Spain, Extremadura has a rich past. Rich, literally, because all of the gold brought from the New World was unloaded in Sevilla and sent up towards the capitals of Toledo and Valladolid via Ruta de la Plata (Silver Route), which recently christened the national highway that begins in Sevilla and ends in Madrid. Because of this, lavish palaces grace the countryside, many in ruins, and ornate monasteries huddle in the stark countryside.
In these lands, Franco was proclaimed head of the Spanish state following the civil war, the first Native American was baptized and Luisitania reached prosperity. Thanks to the holiday celebrating the Spanish National Constitution, adopted a mere 30 years ago, I have five days in which to see some of Extremadura, which until now was only seen through the passenger window of Kike’s Mercedes. A land of harshness, yes, but with treasures touting its former glory days.
Christene, Alfonso’s girlfriend, and I headed up the Via de la Plata early Sunday morning towards Merida, where her boyfriend is from. After a filling extremeño lunch full of fat and meat (bones still intact, claro), Christene took me around the city. We seemed to be in accordance that NO ONE was on the street, being a Sunday and a national holiday, counting a mere 13 people between Alfonso’s residential barrio and the main shopping streets. Boarded up bars and boutiques abounded. There were few buildings taller than three or four stories, making the city seem both stunted and devoid of any beauty, power, wealth, etc. Hard to believe this was once the center of the Iberian Roman world.
Then, out of nowhere, pops the Temple of Diana, wedged between a beauty salon and a restaurant. Further down the hill, passing by meat shops and tourist stands hacking authentic Roman busts of Trajan and Augustus, stands the only thing that has made Mérida famous: The amphitheatre and coliseum, which now form part of the UNESCO World Heritage sites. After a quick jaunt through the beautifully constructed Museum of Roman Art (free entrance, thanks to the Spanish Constitution!), we traversed the crowds.

The theatre, made up of two stories of marble columns, stands in near perfection, commanding an orchestra and crumbling stands. During the summer, it creates a backdrop for the national theatre festival. It´s astounding, really, much more than its neighbor, the coliseum that just looks like a heap of rocks. No doubt the climate, with its blustery winds and scorching sun, had contributed over centuries to its demise
Said wind continued to blow through the hilly town, so Cris and I loaded up on some chucherías and wandered towards the Guadiana river. The Alcazaba, a fortress built at the end of the longest Roman bridge in existence, was a Moorish structure built to protect Luisitania from invaders. It´s just off John Lennon street, full of bars and bocadillo joints, which seems a strange contrast to the high stone walls and grandeur of the Alcazaba.
Fed up with the cold, piercing wind and our tired bodies, Christene and I trekked home to the brasero to warm up and enjoy some of Petri´s cooking.
The following day, rain ruined our plans to be up early to explore Cáceres. I was determined to not let the day go to waste, so I convinced Alfonso to take us in his powder blue car to the UNESCO World Heritage city, which sits about one hour north of Mérida. The fog had engulfed all of Mérida, as well as the whole Guadiana valley, making the drive slow. But the cows were out, grazing amongst old stone walls and ruined estates, so we, too, could brave the rain.
The medieval part of Cáceres, known as the ciudad monumental, is chock-full of Aztec, Arabic and múdejar styles, all enclosed within a stone wall. The whole place is adorned with Renaissance flags, and the business located within it take you back to the day. The rain made the stone streets slick, and the tourists packed into such a small place was a little overwhelming, but it was easy to see what made the city amongst the richest in Spain – since all the riches from the New World passed through this town, it swelled in size and became a jewel. We traversed city walls, arches, staircases, towers and had a filling lunch of calamari and chicken. Later, as we watched an unfunny version of Supertroopers in Spanish, it was clear that either Alfonso’s sick family or the abundance of olive oil had made us both a little sick. I slept like a rock on the rock that is the guest bed.
The following day, after seeing the surviving parts of the Aqueduct and the remains of a weird devil worshipping clan, and after Petri’s special of meatballs, Pepe took us to the bus station. In Extremeño style, he stuck around until we shooed him away. Christene’s seat was in the last row (you know, the one where she’s stuck in the middle of five seats and can’t put her seat back), so the driver let us take the two front seats, so long as we didn’t bother him. We grooved to 90s music as the sun set over the empty extremeño sky.

The Difference Between Niños and Niñas

Yesterday, relieved that both Santiago and Nuria were sick, I took the three little ones to the kitchen for a lesson in likes and dislikes. I let little Ramoncito, who is four, color a picture of Santa and a Christmas tree while the older two, Clara and Paloma were given two magazines each to cut out and paste three things they like and three things they dislike.

The girls chose things like babies, purses and chocolate to add to the “likes” column. Ramon sat at the end of the table farting.

They learn these gender roles so early in life, don’t they?

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