No Sketches of Spain this Summer


Spain (Photo credit: NASA Goddard Photo and Video)

Last summer while on vacation I continued blogging across the ocean. To be specific: in Spain. I hoped to start an annual summer tradition writing about  tidbits of my time in Spain and experiencing the Spanish culture. This summer we decided not to go. In lieu of Sketches of Spain, I will be adding posts about my take on other things (theme related of course). I have yet to decide what it will revolve around, but I have a few ideas percolating. Stay tuned for it!

P.s. If you are new to my blog, look at the posts from June and July  of 2011 to read what I wrote about!

More Books, Please

My vacation books

When preparing for vacation, I always spend as much time deciding which clothes to pack as I do on which books to bring. I am an avid reader. To be without a book to envelope my self in would be like a chef who found all her ingredients used up, yet hungry for something to eat.

For my recent trip to Spain, I chose 5 books: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, A Moveable Feast, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson,  Uncle Tom’s Cabin and  The Street of a Thousand Blossoms, by Gail Tsukiyama. I tried to think of how much free time I would have for reading. Aside from a few set obligations, like The Colacho Festival and  my nephews baptism, our plans were pretty open. Of course we try to plan time with friends and family while we are visiting. But as usual,  plans fall through and other times they surface out of nowhere.

Upon arrival, we stopped at our local destination for a few days before setting off to the pueblo. I left 3 of my books behind, as we had planned to stay for only 5 days. I figured I would be fine, as there would be so much to do and so many people to catch up with. Well, of course things changed and not only was I half way through my second book, but we had decided to stay a few extra days and go on a few small outings in the region.

I began to panic. What would I read when my remaining books  were well read and digested? My husband suggested I read a novel in Spanish. WHAT? I can read children’s books and get the gist of a newspaper or magazine article, but  my reading capabilities in Spanish are not such that I am ready for that type of challenge. Reading a novel in Spanish would take the enjoyment out of reading altogether. It would be like college where I filled my margins with underlines, question marks and a list of words that I did not know the meaning of. “No, thank you,” I told him, “I’m on vacation.”

Instead, I talked to our cousin to get a recommendation for a bookstore in the big city of Burgos, about 25 minutes from the pueblo. We had planned to go to Burgos after lunch in a few days. I was once again content that all would be well for my inner bookworm.

The day arrived, the store was in sight, yet the lights were out. It just so happened that it was a holiday. Some stores (mostly souvenir types), bars and restaurants were open, but others like this bookstore had closed in observance. I tried to hide my disappointment and kept a lookout for other bookstores while we walked around the city.

It wasn’t long before I found one, but lo and behold, the bookstore did not sell any books in English. Sigh. I vowed to keep my chin up. Maybe I would try  to read a book in Spanish after all, if that’s what it came down to. I felt desperation creeping over me like a grimy blanket.

Then I saw another bookstore, Espolon. And YES, they did sell books in English, in a section just past the guitars for sale on the wall. On a rotating stand with German and French titles were a few books in English.

I spun the carousel and hoped I could find something worth reading. I had decided not to settle for just anything and mentally tossed the blanket of desperation away. I immediately ruled out books about vampires, cave women, shopping and mystery.That left me with a choice between a British hubby-wife marriage falling out book or a memoir.  I chose the memoir.

It turned out I didn’t need the book after all. Our days and nights were suddenly and delightfully filled. I decided to save it for the many flights needed to return home. At least I would not  go hungry.

Speaking of home, now that I am back, I will have to round-up some new books for my nightstand to keep me company for the rest of the summer. I would love to hear some recommendations!

Readers, what are your thoughts on a book or two that I should have on my “must read” list?

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?

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.