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.

The Pueblo

Kike is a redneck.
His hero is Robert E. Lee and he says his heart is in the state of Alabama (he’s never been). All of this became a bit more clear to me last year when I visited the town where his father lives, San Nicholas del Puerto. Situated about 95 kilometers north-east of Sevilla in the foothills, this town counts more sheep and acorn-fed pigs than people. There’s a road in and a road out and that’s about it. Seven-hundred inhabitants, acre upon acre of farmland and still more bars than my hometown of Wheaton, Illinois.

C/Tineda of San Nicolas

San Nicholas is the birthplace of Saint Diego, a well-known saint. It’s also in the foothills leading to the province of Badajoz, which is why it can be called a port (a small river runs through the town). I’d been a few times with Kike to visit old friends and attend a local festival, but this time we went en plan emboracharnos. Read: We went to get drunk and little else. Since the town is small, there isn’t much else to do.

Upon arriving, we went to the bar owned by his friends Ede and Kike’s parents. The bar is a bit shabby, but it’s always full of people because the food is the best you’d find anywhere. There’s little on the menu besides pig meat and potatoes, but the utilize every part of the cochino – intestines, flank, ears. I chose secreto iberico this time, passing up my beloved carrillada (cheek) in tomato sauce. Spain’s famous jamon iberico comes from this part of Spain, where the black-footed pigs feast on acorns and live quite comfortably. You’ll also find sheep, toros bravos and Andalusian horses grazing the gentle hills when you drive in, fenced in their fincas. After washing it all down with a few Cruzcampos, a few miuras (a cherry-flavored liquor from nearby Cazalla de la Sierra) and a coffee, we headed to the finca that Kike’s dad owns, Finca Roche.

Entrance to Finca Roche

When Kike calls himself the Lord of San Nicolas, he says it in all seriousness. His dad owns something like 75% of the land that constitutes the town and has become a famous farmer. He took us to the farm through the back way, high above the highway that cuts and curves through the sierra. Passing through a hole in the fence, we passed an abandoned lightbulb factory (which seriously looked like something out of a horror film) and crossed over a stream by a fallen plank. Crawling down through boulders and brush, we came upon the rest of the stream and a gorgeous waterfall. We stopped and rested on the boulders until it was too dark to see anything and used our cell phones to guide us back to the car.

Resting on a boulder by the waterfall

We had dinner a bit later outside of town at a campsite. Kike grew up with the head chef, who has been studying in Bilbao in the Basque Country, which is famous for its cuisine. We ate well – plates of enormous croquetas, ratitouille, flank steak, country mushroom omelette, potatoes. Dogs ran around outside, coming into the restaurant to beg for food and warm up next to the stove in the corner of the bar.

After dumping our things at Kike’s dad’s house on the main street, we drove to a urbanizacion called Cierro del Hierro, a famous iron mine. There’s a few houses (AND CELL PHONE RECEPTION!) just right off the highway and a few kilometers south of San Nicolas, and one of Kike’s buddies was having a party to raise money for the local children’s group.

The party took place in an abandoned building that had just the shell remaining – exposed bricks, some scary-looking and crumbling columns. Teenagers had built bonfires and sat on top of their cars drinking straight out of the bottle. Inside the building, completely absent of bathrooms or chairs, a three-member band was playing old Spanish pop and Sevillanas, a type of light flamenco that’s accompanied by a four-part dance. I felt like I was in a frat party-turned-quinceñera. Everyone held plastic cups full of alcohol and danced to the band. Kids played tagged, running through the crowd of about 100 people of all ages. At three euro a piece, we drank enough to give us the courage to request songs from the band, to which they happily played. Kike requested one early in the morning for his “novia la guiri” that I didn’t know, but the chorus rang, “Que contento mi corazon” – my heart is happy.

The party in Cierro del Hierro

The cavorting continued until we had exhausted all of the bottles and our feet. We got back to San Nicolas and slept until 2 or 3 p.m.

I love being in the country, but I really am a city girl.

Media Española?

Kike told me this weekend that, to him, “Cada día, me pareces más española.” Everyday, you seem more Spanish to me. Finally. Although I will forever be a guiri, or anyone of Anglo descent, I think my mannerisms and lifestyle have adapted so much. Nancy told me I was a whole new person.
That was kind of my intent, and if I’m gonna be something else besides American, I might as well be Spanish. After all, Spanish women are sassy and know what they want. I got the sass down, and I’m trying really hard to figure out what I want. I did call the Ministry of Education, the government entity that runs my program, to ask about renewal. I pretty much just have to sign a sheet saying I want to stay in Andalucía, and another to say I want to stay at the same school. So I guess it’s settled. I’m staying here next year.I really REALLY felt Spanish this weekend. After visiting the chicas in Huelva on Thursday night, downing tequila shots with my roommates and their friends and boyfriends on Friday night and then going to a discoteca, I went to San Nicholas del Puerto, the teeeeeny town Kike is from. Though it’s picturesque, with skinny streets, donkeys wandering around the pastures and hills surrounding the town and waterfalls close by, I can imagine that the people think going to the bar to have a Miura Linda is about the most exciting thing. Regardless, we ate and drank well with the 700 other inhabitants. Kike knew everyone, and I think he was one of the only people who decided to move away from San Nicolas. But I was the only native English speakers, thus forcing me to express myself in Spanish.
It’s still difficult for me with certain people, and I find I forget vocab words I’ve known for years. And despite my best efforts to read and watch TV in Spanish and only speak in Spanish when I’m with Kike and his friends or Melissa, I feel like I’m on the short bus or something. In five weeks in Valladolid, I was a Spanish rockstar and was even dreaming in Spanish. But I’m really adapting to the lifestyle here. I find myself buying things I wouldn’t DARE to in the States – colored tights being one of them. I no longer wait for cars to stop before I walk out into the pedestrian crossing. I wear my sunglasses when it’s dusk. I’ll stay another year to become REALLLLLLY Spanish I think. That or marry Kike and be forced to stay here for another ten years. Ha, kidding. But seriously, I think it’s pretty hot that my boyfriend is a combat pilot.

Again, I have not put on a ton of weight. I’m back down to my normal size. Anyway, David, Susana, Kike, Alfonso y yo a las Cascadas de la Sierra. I clearly have a beer in my hand.

Below, my new roommate Sanne. Did I mention I have a new roommate? Eva left to go back to Germany, and was replaced by Sanne, who is another auxiliar in Tomares, from northern England, and suppppper nice. She, Melissa and I at Madruga for flamenco.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...