Monday, January 9, 2023


The holidays are over and I’m a little bit sad. It’s not that I do so much celebrating. I don’t go to any parties or dinners; I exchange very few gifts and those are through the mail, and some of those gifts, even when mailed a month ahead, don’t arrive until the holidays are over ... or never arrive at all. The Spanish postal system isn’t particularly efficient, but Spanish customs is a either corrupt or completely incompetent.

But all that isn’t what makes me sad. It’s the ending of the street lights that gets me down. My evening walk with the dog is far more joyful for the six weeks or so that the streets are lit up with lights and decorations. The day after Kings, all that is over. Finished. Zip. Dark.

Speaking of Kings, January 6 is as special here as Christmas, maybe more so, especially for children. Because it isn’t Santa Claus that brings them gifts, it’s the Three Kings. And not only that, but the Kings arrive in town (whatever city, town, or village you live in) the night before, on the 5th, and there is a big parade and they throw candy and stuff.

During the week before their arrival, the Kings’ pages set up encampments where they receive the children and their letters. Kids can also deliver their letters to the post office – the same service that Santa gets in other places. Hopefully those letters get delivered in time, unlike my Christmas presents.

In some towns, especially along the coast where is a sandy beach, and a healthy city budget to pay for it, the Kings might arrive by camel. In other towns along the coast they sometimes arrive by boat, as in Barcelona and Tarragona. In some they come by train and in others by helicopter. But whatever transportation method they use, once there they have a big parade with lots of floats, street performers, marching drum bands, very loud music and through it all they throw candy and confetti.

Figueres made animal welfare a feature of their Calvalcada de Reis a few years ago so there are no longer any of the live camels, horses, or donkeys that used to parade down the street. I suppose that’s good for the animals, although I didn’t think the horses or donkeys were having a hard time of it. Cynical me, I wonder if it isn’t that their clean-up crews didn’t want to have to deal with the aftermath of large, live animals parading up and down the streets and standing in front of the city hall. If it was the loud music that bothered the animals, well hey, it bothers some of the people too and they could just as well have turned down the volume and kept the animals away from that drum band.

There isn’t much that will get me out to stand still for almost an hour on a cold, dark, winter night. Figueres city government has managed to get rid of the starlings that used to do their magnificent ballets in the winter sky at dusk, so now all that is left is the one evening of the Calvalcada de Reis.

On the morning of the 6th children get their presents and adults tuck in to the tortell de reis and cava (Catalan sparkling wine). The tortell is a semi-dry pastry decorated with candied fruit that is traditionally filled with marzipan but can also be found stuffed with whipped or pastry cream. Somewhere in the filling will be two little items: one is a figure of a king and the other a fava bean. Whoever finds the king in his slice gets to wear the crown and whoever finds the bean gets to pay for the pastry.


Wednesday, December 28, 2022

A Catalan Christmas

There are several interesting Catalan Christmas traditions both sacred and profane. First, foremost, and most profane is the caganer – a small peasant figure typically dressed in black pants, a white shirt, and a Catalan peasant cap (a barretina) who appears in most nativity scenes, at least those not in churches – who is squatting and shitting while smoking his pipe or, in a more modern version, a cigarette. Caganer means shitter. There seems to be no documented origin to the caganer, except to say that he has been around longer than anyone can remember. Robert Hughes talks about him in his excellent book about Catalonia, Barcelona, and Joan Miro painted a little squatting figure into his famous 1922 work, The Farm. The caganer represents a natural activity and brings the whole miraculous concept of the nativity down to earth. Nowadays the caganer need not be a traditional peasant. Figures can be found (at Christmas fairs and year round on the internet) representing famous people such as the president of Catalonia or other political figures (loved and unloved), many of the soccer heroes, nuns, priests, the Pope...

Then there is the Tió de Nadal, a Catalan mythological character who also appears in Mallorca, Occitania, Andorra, Valencia, and Aragon. The name means Christmas Log and is related to the German Christmas tree and the British Yule log. But Wikipedia notwithstanding, I have never heard it called a Tió de Nadal; I’ve only ever heard it called the Caga Tió, caga, as in Caganer. Once just an unadorned log, now it has legs, a face, and the same little peasant cap (the barretina) as the caganer. It is a hollowed out log that is stuffed with small presents. On Christmas Eve, after having taken care of it – fed it and kept it warm with a blanket for several days – the children beat it with a stick while singing a song, imploring it to poop the presents it is holding within. These are small presents, candies and little toys. Bigger presents are for Kings.

Shit, tió,
hazelnuts and nougats,
do not shit herrings,
they are too salty,
shit nougats
they taste better.

Shit, tió,
almonds and nougats,
and if you don’t want to shit 
I will hit you with a stick!

I’m not sure I have ever met a Catalan who attends church regularly or who even attends the midnight Christmas Mass. But there are those who do attend the Christmas Mass in order to hear a special Christian liturgical drama sung to Gregorian chant. This is the Song of the Sibyl which has been performed in Mallorca, Alghero (Sardinia), and some Catalan churches almost uninterruptly since medieval times. Nothing of Santa Claus, presents, or shitting, it is a prophecy that tells of the apocalypse. For hundreds of years women were not allowed to sing in church so even though a Sibyl is a woman, the song would be sung by a boy. Now it is sung by either a woman or a boy. It it sung a capella with instruments playing between one verse and the next. The singer wears a tunic, and usually also a cape, and carries a sword which is held in front of his or her face until the song is completed when a cross is drawn in the air.

The chant was originally sung in Latin, later adapted to Provençal, and then to Catalan by the end of the 14th century. The Song of Sibyl was abandoned throughout Europe when it was forbidden by the Council of Trent (1545-1563). But it was restored in Mallorca in 1575 and there it still has the strongest presence although it is also becoming popular now in Barcelona and other towns in Catalonia. The performance of the Song of Sybil in the churches of Mallorca was declared an UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2010.

Performance in the Barcelona Cathedral.

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Searching for Chanukah Candles

 An excerpt from my new book, No Regrets: A Life in Catalonia has been published in The Jewish Writing Project.  This is a story called The Chanukah Candles Challenge and is about.... well, yes, trying to find Chanukah candles in an area where there are no Jews.  

You can find the story here.

You can find the book on Amazon, at other online retailers, or order it at your favorite brick and mortar bookshop.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

No Regrets: A Life in Catalonia

I've written a book!  It's a memoir that begins when, at age 52, I moved from the Bay Area to Barcelona and then goes on to recount further moves and adventures.  First to Tarragona. once a Roman capital.  I was living in Tarragona when I read Maguerite Yourcenar's Memoirs of Hadrian and could look out my window and see the old town atop the Roman wall where he would have walked. I lived outside L'Ametlla de Mar, a small fishing village near the Ebro River, and finally Figueres, near the French border and hometown of Salvador Dali.  After the sagas of getting a phone and city gas installed, I go on to talk about Catalan culture, learning to speak Catalan, getting a Spanish divorce, getting a Spanish driver's license, adopting pets, making friends, and participating in the Catalan independence movement.  In other words, more adventures than I initially expected.

The book is titled No Regrets: A Life in Catalonia and is available at Amazon (all the Amazon sites, not just the US), Barnes & Noble, Book Depository, other online retailers, as well as your favorite brick and mortar bookshop. link

Book Depository link

Barnes & Noble link

Monday, November 21, 2022

The Forgotten Soldiers

In his day, Robert Capa was said to be the best war photographer in the world. His first published photograph was of Leon Trotsky making a speech in Copenhagen. His first war work was during the Spanish Civil War where he spent some of his time traveling with Ernest Hemingway, who was working as a journalist, and who later wrote the book For Whom the Bell Tolls about that experience.

Capa was born Endre Ernő Friedmann to a Jewish family in Budapest, Hungary on October 22, 1913. He fled Hungary at the age of 18 when he was accused of being a communist, and he later fled Berlin when the Nazis came to power.

I recently went to the Memorial Museum of Exile in La Jonquera to see the Robert Capa exposition titled 18 March 1939, The Forgotten Army at the Camp of Argelers. This refers to the soldiers in exile who had been fighting for the Spanish republic against the Franco insurrectionists who had overthrown the elected government. One of the French internment camps was in Argelers, a small beach-side community in the south of France, just 37 kilometers (23 miles) from the Spanish-French border. Some of these men stayed in this and other French detention camps for a year or more. Some were sent to be killed in German camps, and some left or escaped and joined the French resistance.

A mother visits her son

Prisoners made their own shelters

Prisoners cooked their own food

Musicians from the Barcelona Philharmonic

Farewell to the volunteers of the International Brigades
Barcelona, October 28, 1938
Photographs by Robert Capa

Capa was the only civilian photographer who landed with the troops on Omaha Beach on D-Day. General Eisenhower awarded him the Medal of Freedom in 1947 for his work photographing World War II and that same year he founded Magnum Photos in Paris. He died at age 40 on May 25, 1954 when he stepped on a landmine in Vietnam.

Sunday, July 24, 2022



The Bandidos is an international Harley Davidson motorcycle riding club. I ran into some of them this morning when I was at the seaside resort of Empuriabrava buying some cookies and marmalades and went to my favorite cafe for a coffee and croissant (in 90 degree weather). They were scattered around the terrace, sporting their tatoos and motorcycle club t-shirts and vests.

I approached one of them to ask about the club and where he was from. He was from Andalusia and the club is international he told me. I approached another and he told me the club originated in Texas but is now international with thousands of members including members who have come for this event from Australia. He was from France. Upon further questioning I discovered he was from Nice. I've visited Nice several times and told him that my parents had come to Nice after WW II and my mother became pregnant with me there. You were made in Nice! he exclaimed.

I didn't take any photos -- I felt too shy (a missed opportunity, I know). But I did find their club on the internet when I got home and this video. It is their formal club motorcade entrance to Empuriabrava the day when they arrived. In fact, they came whatever way they wanted from all parts of Europe, and it seemed that this was their last day and they would all be headed home.

Monday, July 18, 2022


When I was a kid we used to sing this song on the bus headed for summer camp up in the San Bernardino mountains. I was reminded of it when I started putting together the photos for this post, which consist of various pairs I saw at the wetlands. There were couples, mother and child, siblings, and oddballs, maybe you could call them twosies.

Rise and shine and give God your glory, glory!
Rise and shine and give God your glory, glory!
Rise and shine and (
clap once) give God your glory, glory!
Children of the Lord.

The Lord said to Noah, "There's gonna be a floody, floody."
Lord said to Noah, "There's gonna be a floody, floody."
"Get those children (
clap once) out of the muddy, muddy!"
Children of the Lord.

So Noah, he built him, he built him an arky, arky.
Noah, he built him, he built him an arky, arky.
Made it out of (
clap once) hickory barky, barky.
Children of the Lord.

The animals, they came on, they came on by twosies, twosies.
The animals, they came on, they came on by twosies, twosies.
Elephants and (
clap once) kangaroosies, roosies.
Children of the Lord.

Husband and wife

Mother and child