National Recycling

An example of some of the recycling containers in Spain

I love living in the United States, but sometimes I have a problem with our leaders. They have so much pride in themselves and don’t want to ask or look to the way other nations are accomplishing some of the same things that they are trying to carry out. Instead, they prefer to reinvent the wheel, often ignoring research or forming new committees to do new research, which takes time and money.

Take the issue of recycling, for example. Spain has managed to implement a system of recycling to the entire nation. Not only is there a uniform system, but it is available to everyone, everywhere. From large urban cities like Madrid and Burgos, to suburbs of those cities, to teeny, tiny pueblos. There are receptacles everywhere for glass, paper, plastic and metal.

I have lived in 4 states throughout my life and I have seen a huge difference from community to community of services that are available or non-existent in each. For all the phenomenal advancements we have made  in this country in the areas of medicine and technology, I cannot understand why we are still archaic in our efforts to recycle.

In some communities people still burn their trash and things that are recyclable. In others you have to separate your items and transport them to specific locations around the city. Other communities (I’m thinking of very small towns in Arizona where I lived for a few years) don’t have much to offer at all.

In Chicago, where I now live, there is a system based on location. Blue bins sit next to the trash bins in some neighborhoods and residents can deposit their recyclable items as often and conveniently as their trash. Other residents are not so fortunate. Recycling bins are only available  in public parks, but not all parks. It is often inconvenient for folks who live in these neighborhoods, as they have to travel to recycle and many rely on public transportation to get around. Would you want to keep items in your home or apartment until you could get them to a recycling location? Would you want to haul around your paper towel tubes, peanut butter jars, cereal boxes and soda cans on the bus once or twice a week? I know that I would not. It would be very inconvenient for me, as it is for the majority of people who are in this situation.

Despite being in the news for high unemployment rates and possibly needing  help from the EU to help the country financially, Spain gets it. They understand that if you expect people to take part in a beneficial program, you have to make it easy, accessible and a way of life for them.

Like any new change, a national recycling system would cost money to implement. It would be helpful if there was information distributed explaining the new changes that would affect each community and how the system worked. Of course it would cost money to keep up as well. In the long run, there would only be benefits. One of them would be that there is a unified system for the country. Another benefit would be that each city and state would not have to decide if they have enough money in their budget to start a recycling program, continue a program or revamp an existing program. The biggest payoff of all would be that there would be less trash that ended up in our landfills, parks and waterways.

Don’t you think it’s time for a change?

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Menu of the Day

Restaurante Burgales in the town of Aguilar de Campoos

If there is one thing I love about Spain, it is that food and taking time for the afternoon meal are an important part of the culture. Whether in Madrid or in a small town in a different province, a delicious Menu del Dia (Menu of the Day) is offered at almost any restaurant without breaking the bank. A Menu del Dia consists of  a first course, second course, bread, wine, water and dessert. It is very filling and unlike your typical American lunch. I guess you could say it is more like an American dinner in terms of quantity.

One day we ventured off for an excursion to the province of Palencia. When it was lunch time, we asked for a recommendation of where to dine from a local in the small town of Aguilar de Campoos.  Once inside the quaint restaurant,  the server announced an excellent selection of food for our meal. For the first course: judias verdes con jamon (green beans with ham), ensalada arroz (rice salad), and patatas con cosquillas (potatoes with tiny ribs). For the second course: filete con patatas (beef filet with potatoes), albondigas con patatas (meatballs with potatoes) and lengua con patatas (beef tongue with potatoes).

There were four of us dining that day and between us we tried all the first and second course choices.  Everyone appeared satisfied with their delicious home cooked food, as it soon disappeared from the plates. It was ample enough, as were the bread and wine.  I did have to leave food on my plate as I had enjoyed too much wine with my meal.

For postre (dessert), the choice was even greater: helado (ice-cream), natillas (runny pudding), flan (custard), tarta (cake) and fruta (fruit). Natillas was the favorite among almost everyone at the table. I somehow found room in my stomach for dessert and opted for flan. I was not disappointed. Had the children not been stuffed, I’m sure they would have finished their dessert.

For this luscious spread of ample, home cooked food, one would expect a high price, no? In fact, that’s the beauty of the Menu del Dia. It has a fixed price, yet includes everything from start to finish. The only item that we purchased ala carte was a café con leche (for me of course!)

In total, we spent 37 Euros for a healthy and delicious lunch for four people. The price per person was 9 Euros each, my coffee was 1 Euro. Even though the exchange rate is around $1.45 per Euro, our meal was only about $13 per person. How’s that for a bargain?

Oh, I forgot to mention: the price includes tax and gratuity. It’s too bad the U.S. doesn’t have more restaurants of this type. If the food was delicious and nutritious and the price reasonable, I for one would dine out more often.

What Time is It?

What luck! The bread truck and the frozen food truck are in town at the same time!

I forgot to pack my watch. In fact, I haven’t worn it in at least a month. I had come to rely on my cell phone to tell me the time. I always took it with me when I left the house. It served as my timekeeper after I awoke each morning. It helped me arrive on time, much as a watch would. Unfortunately, my cellphone does not work in Europe, so I now have to rely on other ways to tell me what the time of day is in this little pueblo I am in.

Instead I wake to the sound of the long horn sounding the arrival of the panadero (the man who sells bread), propane, egg, dairy or library trucks. (Yes, there is a mobile library that brings books to the pueblos once a week!) As I drift back to sleep, I know that eventually I will hear the bells of la iglesia ringing. One for each hour, or a solitary bell to mark the ½ hour. Sometimes I hear the shepherd pass nearby, taking his flock out for the day. It is three minutes of cacophony with baas, maas and the jingling of tiny tin bells. Their bleating becomes a distant sound before I fully realize what it is.

Sounds in the kitchen across the yard tell me that la abuela, the grandma is preparing food for lunch. The hot sun on my shoulders as I cross the open patio on my way back to the house from lunch tells me that it is too warm to take the children to the park. As I settle in with a book for la siesta, the footsteps and murmuring of voices on the sidewalk below tell me of the people coming and going to the little bar down the street.

Shouts of children playing in the street and chasing one another with enthusiasm let me know that I can finally say to my children, “Yes, we can go to the park now.” The falling shadows and goose-bump inducing wind arrive to send us back in again for baths and evening preparations. The waning daylight suggests that it is time for la cena (dinner). After the meal, teeth brushing and enough time to get lost in a book, it is time to end the day.

Maybe watches are over-rated. All I need is the sounds of el pueblo for me to know what time it is.

Are You Thirsty?

The children getting a drink from one of the many fountains in the pueblo.

In small villages throughout Spain there are fountains everywhere. I’m not talking about decorative fountains, like Buckingham Fountain in Chicago. I am referring to drinking fountains, but not like the kind you would find in a hospital or school.

These fountains bring fresh water to all who are thirsty. The water is cool, clean and refreshing. Just the thing on a hot summer day.

No bottle required.

El Colacho

El Colacho


The Colacho is coming! Can you hear him? The atabalero announces his arrival while he beats the drum in a speacial rhythym. The beats are faint as first, then they grow louder as the Colacho approaches. He repeatedly starts and stops like an engine. He circles back to the Cofradia dressed in black, tapping his stick in time to the drum before setting off in a sprint again, this time hoping to make contact with his cola del caballo. Then he cirlces back around the calle again ready to charge at those who follow him.

Curious? Repulsed? The story of the Colacho will be continued.

Un Pueblo

Casa in the Pueblo

While it seems that small town America is dying, los pueblos of Spain are alive and well. During the summer, children, grandchildren and often great-grandchildren come to visit these villages that still retain the flavor of life from generations ago.

It is often in these small communities where unique festivals take place annually.

Some of he homes on each street are more than one hundred  years old. The beginning of one and the ending of another can only be discerned by examining the stone surrounding each set of doors and windows and of course by the number above each door. As in typical Spanish tradition, the names of las calles (the streets) are found if you look up at each corner, high on the wall.

The doors of the houses are wooden. Some of the windows have iron bars while others have more modern windows and shades. In the summer,  doorways have plastic ropes hanging close together in the front as a sort of screen to keep the flies out. Small balconies are filled with terra-cotta pots of geraniums and petunias. Rose bushes climb the walls like the magic bean from the children’s classic,  Jack and the Beanstalk and fill the streets with colored blooms in the summer.

The streets are narrow and some do not allow the passage of cars. Locals and visitors walk along the paths, sometimes reuniting with one another after years apart. During holidays and special festivals, the paths are filled with people on their way to la iglesia. Even if the people do not regularly attend church, the pews are filled during mass out of respect for the culture and the traditions of the region.

Castrillo de Murcia, the pueblo  I visit each year has changed very little over the years in some ways. The more than 400 year old church stands tall behind the homes. Its stone interior and ornate alter decorations take my breath away each time I step inside.

It is a pueblo populated by the aging. If it weren’t for the modern cars parked nearby, I would certainly think that I was visiting another era. Old women are often found playing a game of cards at a table set up outside. None of them wear pants. They are all in long dark skirts that fall to their mid-calf. They wear blouses that button up and are of a solid light color or of a fine, delicate print. If there is a coolness to the air at all, they will have a sweater fastened around their shoulders. Their faces are filled with wrinkles that tell the stories of their long lives in this pueblo. Their bodies fill the church unfailingly for every mass.

The old men sit in groups on benches to warm themselves in the sun if the North wind is blowing down. Upon their old heads perch berets and they too  dress in trousers, shirts and sweaters. Some have  canes in their sun darkened hands. I often wonder what they talk about after living together in the same community for so many years. I know that some of them are old enough to have been alive during the Spanish Civil War, perhaps young boys. Some of them never learned how to drive a car because they didn’t need to. Life was different in the pueblo back then.

For as much as these residents seem to remain the same, little by little there is change in the village itself. I notice new homes each time I come back to visit. Some of them are more grand or modern in style than the original homes. Some are on the property of their families in the space that once housed the farm animals. Many are summer homes for middle-aged children who left the pueblo long ago, but still feel connected to their roots.

The local park adds  new swings or climbing structures as needed. As benches become worn and rusty,  new ones replace them, courtesy of  Caja de Burgos  (a local bank)  All who live here and visit use the park, depending on the time of day.

If I stand at the entrance of Castrillo, which now has new benches, a fountain and a map of the area, the view is still beautiful. I can see an archway to the original village, terra-cotta roof tops, the towering church and up on the hill Santa Barbara. It is a little piece of Espana that I feel belongs to me too after all these years.

La Iglesia


La Iglesia in Castrillo de Murcia is over 400 years old

The only church I feel connected to in all the world is thousands of miles away in a little pueblo (village) 3 hours northeast of Madrid. It is here that I was married. It is here where my children were baptized. It is where I go to la misa (mass) where I cannot understand most of the message. It is where I feel at peace listening to the voice of a priest and watching a people who have sat in this centuries old stone house of God for centuries out of tradition and respect for all that it encompasses. It is here where  I se beauty as I  take part in the traditions of the people of this pueblo.