Friday Fictioneers: El Festival

Friday Fictioneers window-dressing-janet-webbIsabel felt disappointed in what she saw: one dress. She thought there would be more participation. In her small pueblo of Calzada de los Molinos,  residents displayed windmills in their windows  on the fourth Sunday of May. She thought the dresses would bring a sense of community.

She pushed a stray piece of dark hair from her heavily made-up face. “I’ll do it myself. ”

Isabel hurried to her apartment, gathering  dresses  from her closet. She balanced on  the fire escape wearing four-inch stiletto’s and fishnet stockings. She began to  hang naughty dresses  in the plaza on Red Light Street.

Inspiration and time forced me to take part in Friday Fictioneers again. I like being limited to 100 words because it forces me to decide what is redundant and what is important. I’d love to hear your reaction.

Top 13 Reasons Why I Like to Celebrate Three Kings Day or Dia de los Reyes Magos

Three Wise Men Day cake at Bellpuig.

Finally, another holiday season is over. Is the word finally really needed, you ask? Yes!!!!(extra exclamation points necessary) By this time of year, I have had it with the holidays and everything about them. And if you’re wondering why I am posting this on January 24th, it is because I was sick for one and a half weeks and put away my tree and decorations a few days ago.

In case you have never heard of Three Kings Day, let  me introduce you to the holiday I now prefer to celebrate. It is also known as Epiphany or El Dia de Reyes.  It happens every year on January 6th. The story says this is when the Three Kings brought gifts to baby Jesus. I do not want to inaccurately report the details about the history, so click on the link above to explore if you feel your knowledge of this day is lacking.

So you’re probably wondering why I started celebrating this holiday. Here are my top 13 (why 13? It is the year 2013 and my favorite number) reasons why I like to celebrate Three Kings Day:

1. The Christmas Season is entirely too focused on materialism. Yes, we give gifts on this day, but the hype in our household is minimal and we are not inundated with messages to spend (and spend some more!) for Three Kings Day.

2. There is no set way you have to decorate. We put up a tree (only because I inherited a ton of ornaments from my childhood), but we NEVER decorate with red and green because those happen to be the ugliest two colors you can put together (even on a Catholic school uniform).

3. There are very few songs related to this holiday, thus no need to send your eardrums to the Loony Bin for overkill. Seriously, don’t you get sick of listening to the nine versions of Jingle Bell Rock and Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas when it is not even snowing outside?

4. No creepy, tear-filled, and  scary moments (yet often hilarious looking pictures)   with Santa.

5. Kings in Robes – cool. Fat Guy in a red suit with a big belly – not.

6. I don’t have to rush to get cards in the mail. Our cards say Happy Holidays in English and Spanish and I work on them at the end of December.

7. My husband is from Spain and this is what they do to celebrate the Christmas season. When you marry someone from another culture you have to decide what celebrations you will embrace for your family.

8. I like to be unique. No one else I know here in the States (except our downstairs neighbors, who also happen to be from Spain) celebrates Three Kings Day.

9. AFTER CHRISTMAS SALES!!! Okay, they are not that exciting, but are sometimes helpful.

10. No crazy holiday shoppers to contend with.

11. We get to put our shoes out the night before, as this is where the gifts are left. This year I told my kids I was planning to put out my tall boots. They were jealous because they thought it was unfair I had more space to receive my candy in.

12. No clean up! You heard me.Each gift is left unwrapped next to each family members’ shoes. Wrapping paper , bows and gift tags (*sigh* I kind of like wrapping gifts and sometimes putting a tiny gift in a big box) unnecessary.

13. Eating Roscon de Reyes and chewing each bite carefully.It is tradition to  hide a small trinket  inside the cake for good luck. Although for some reason the bakeries in Chicago hide ugly plastic babies in their cakes.

Have I converted you? Doesn’t this sound better than what has become a typical American Christmas?

And since we just ended the season of “Gift” giving, check in soon for a new post on what sorts of “gifts” I gave myself this year.

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!

Blog Makeover

In my post the other day, I mentioned change. In addition to getting back in the saddle of writing, I am in the midst of trying to find furniture that fits our current lives  (and does not have cat scratches and spit-up stains from the now 9-year-old). I like to change things up now and then (move furniture around, buy new clothes, try a new recipe, etc.) To me, it represents a fresh outlook on things. And because I am in this change mindset, I decided  I was  in the mood to reformat my blog. I guess you can call it a blog makeover.

I was recently inspired by my friend, who is also a writer and a blogger. About a week ago, she gave her blog a makeover and boy does it look awesome. It is so her. If there was a contest for blog makeovers, I think she would win first prize.

I have never been a trailblazer in anything, more like a quiet observer until I am comfortable with making a change. And when I do decide to change (my hair color, wardrobe, musical tastes), it is usually subtle, to the outside world that is. With this blog makeover I plan on changing the theme. I would like to find a theme where I can use more photos in my posts. That would have been convenient for my trip to Spain last summer. And speaking of Spain, I found out last summer that I have a few followers over there. It would be great if my blog could be translated into Spanish. Is that even an option for a blog? I also would like to choose a theme that is a bit more playful.

I haven’t decided when the made-over blog will début. I will keep you posted. I am in the exploratory process. Feel free to pass along advice for great WordPress themes you have used.

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.

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.