Feliz, Feliz en tu día!

Today I had on one of those struggle faces. One of those “Don’t-bug-me-or-stand-in-front-of-the-coffee-machine-as-I’m-tired” faces that Refu always points out with a jolly, Seño, tienes mala carilla!

I was tired, overwhelmed by pulling off three Thanksgiving parties for 155 picky children and dreading the workday when Almudena approached me.

“Cat!” she called out from halfway down the hall, “It’s your saint day, felicidades!” with a big kiss for both cheeks. Almudena is the Religion Department chair and always on top of the Saint’s calendar. I made a mental note to buy a small cake for merienda, as is customary on your santo.

As a Catholic, I can name several saints, the century of their coronation and what they are famous for. But when it comes to remembering their feast days, I didn’t even know my own. I had to explain to Almudena that, in my confirmation, I chose Lucy (Lucía in Spanish, one of my favorite names), so I would technically celebrate on December 13th. Nonsense! She proclaimed, we should sing to you!

Saint days in Spain are like half birthdays. You get sung to, your parents bring treats to school. But as Spain is utterly Catholic (without being so), Gonzalo in three years also announced it was his saint and his parents were cooking him a special dinner. Some children are named for the saint whose feast day they’re born on, or some to a special family saint prayed to frequently. I, for one, named my dearfully departed bike Juan Bosco because I christened him on January 31st. There are patrons of cities, professions, and even American States! But since Kike’s family doesn’t celebrate it (though I know it’s July 13th), I have never gotten into the tradition until I came to a religious school to teach and have to recognize children with this song:

Almudena swung my arms while singing it and I laughed for once, not embarrassed but thrilled to have someone think of me on my special day.

Giving Thanks

In a country where pigs trump all, I am thankful that I can eat food like this:

with company like this:
I will forever be thankful that my innate knowledge of English (along with the studies) make me a very desirable candidate, and that my kids DO learn when I teach the babies about America! Seven hand turkey drawings today? And I always thought they were too busy pinching each other to pay attention.
Happy Thanksgiving to all of my loved ones!

San Diego, Bendito!

Diego, abrígate, que hace frío!”

Without a doubt the most overheard phrase in the small village of San Nicolás del Puerto. Diego, dress warmly; it’s cold.

In San Nicolás, San Diego reigns king over the pueblo of 700 farmers in the heart of the Sierra Norte de Sevilla hills. Amidst cork trees you’ll find his white-washed shrine, his photo framed above every living room couch as the family sits around the bracero keeping warm in the winter, and as the given name of the offspring of its citizens. My boyfriend’s great-great grandmother grew up in a house on Calle Hueznár, a house built before my town was founded, a house that lies on the street named for the very river that gives San Nicolás its name as a port, the river that flows through the family’s land and the tributary of the waterfalls that make the village a destination in the natural park.

I feel more and more of an affinity for the village and its people each time I go. Word spread quickly that El Bigote’s son was dating an American, so my pig cheek plate came with a side of a million questions from Murangaños who wanted to poke and prod the Americanita. Each time that first year of dating, I was introduced to a new rincón of the town – from Bar Higinio to Finca los Leones and its hermitage to the town’s patron to the camping with its exquisite migas. I’ve been there for many major holidays – the Romería, Reyes Magos and, most recently, El Día de San Diego.

From this little town came a devout and God-fearing Franciscan monk, a poor and humble man from a poor and humble town. After his burial in the 15th century in Alcalá de Henares (northwest of Madrid), miraculous things began to happen and a saint was born. A statue was erected in his honor in the plaza next to the Church of San Diego, built before Christopher Columbus was born, hordes of Diegos christened, and the equally devout eople of the village come to worship him once a year on November 13th.

My feeble attempt to sleep was made more difficult by the winding roads that snake from Lora del Río up through the Sierra Norte to Cazalla, Alanís and San Nicolás. After my usual siesta in Kike’s childhood bed, I took the main road in to its intersection with the main road out. There, sandwiched between the houses on Calle Diego, next to my favorite bar, was a charranga in full-swing and scores of small Diegos running around. The nearby owner of the camping, Diego (duh), welcomed me with a beer and I sang him the customary saint day song (Many children in Spain also receive gifts on the day the feast of the saint which bears their name is celebrated. San Enrique, for example, is July 13th. To my knowledge, there is no Saint Cat!), taught to me recently by my babies at school. The town was fuller than ever – Inma came from Córdoba to see her mother and ask that her son be baptised in the same church as she and other generations in her family had, and an old friend of Kike’s, María José, brought her small children and husband for the first time. The bailes, typically held on Saturday, were cut short due to the early morning parade to follow the next day.

I wussed out. I mean, all this talk about a big dance, like the one I went to in nearby Cerro del Hierro two years back where we marathon-drank guinda and beer, and I was asleep, fully clothed at 1am.
The following morning was welcome with a band and the parade of the humble saint, bird perched on his shoulder and gaze turned upward. It seemed to pause outside the window, so I drew up the siesta blinds, letting sunlight and fresh air in. The parade returned later and woke me again at 2pm, just in time for Alejandro to serve us some lunch. I spent the afternoon curled up under blankets reading under San Diego’s protective eye while the town marched up and down the streets with him. The celebrations also included the inauguration of his childhood home and a blessing from the cardinal. We met the procession as it came back, trumpets blaring and devotees burying their faces in scarves to keep warm.
I live in a city. I’m surrounded by bullfighting, flamenco wails and machismo daily. But in this small town with their big saint, I always witness that which defines the Spanish character: humility, tradition and devotion.

One, Two, Three

Spaniards consider stepping in dog poop lucky. I’ve had the pleasure of being shat on by birds and small children, but the dog poop I’ve only managed once in three years.
I stepped in a big pile the night I met Kate, who incidentally lived on a street full of poop and in a house with a dog that pooped in every rincón of it. I was on my way to catch the 5 bus towards Prado for a Halloween party being thrown by people I didn’t know well enough to actually want to go. But, I had few friends and love Halloween. As I jogged the last few meters to catch the bus, my leg jerked and slipped and I realized I was heel-deep in kakita. Nevermind, there was beer to be drunk.
Kate and I found out we were both from Chicago, big Cubbies fans and living two blocks away from each other. She was the aggressive “BE MY FRIEND OR BEWARE” type that suggested I be her wingman the following weekend.
Two weeks later, she called with a preposition: “Buy a bottle of rum. I’ll be at your house at 10 to botellón.” I had no choice but to comply. When she arrived, she came with a friend. Bearded, fluent in English and Spanish and wielding his own bottle of whiskey, I ignored him.
I intended to stay in Spain for nine months, move back home and start a journalistic career. Then, I fell in love with orange blossoms, azulejos and a very immportant puppy. Just not dog poop everywhere.
So, Keeks, here’s to a happy three years.
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