Friday, April 30, 2010
Traditionally only flowers were given, but in 1923, a Barcelona bookseller began a campaign to celebrate 23 April as the Day of the Book because the death of William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes happen to coincide on 23 April 1616. Since then, books have been added to the holiday and it has become the Day of the Book and the Rose. In 1995, UNESCO adopted 23 April as World Book Day. In Catalunya, more than half of the books sold during the year are sold on this one day.
Friday, April 23, 2010
To get my fingerprints taken in California for my original move to Spain, all I had to do was go to the local police (or maybe county sheriff) and ask for it to be done. But here no police would do it for me. I went first to the Guardia Civil (a national force, something like a cross between the FBI and the army) but they wouldn’t do it. Then I went to the Policia National, who take your application for residency and probably take prints if you need them for a statement of your Spanish criminal record, but they wouldn’t do it either. When I went to the Policia Local, the local police of my village, the office was inexplicably closed in the middle of the morning. Never mind, I could easily imagine how they would shrug their shoulders and look at me as if I were a little weird, and tell me no as the others had.
When I called the American Consulate for help, I found out that although many foreigners need their fingerprints taken, there is no such service offered by any of the several police corps that exist. However, the Consulate has made arrangements with the Mossos where they write a letter for any American that needs it and the Mossos will take the prints. I was happy that the Consulate had made these arrangements for its citizens, but surprised that while the letter took all of a minute for the Consulate to prepare and sign, they charged me 24 euros for doing it, while the Mossos took ten or fifteen minutes to take my prints, walk me to the ladies room through a maze of hallways, wait while I washed my hands, walk me back to the room where I waited while they made photocopies of everything and signed and stamped the prints form. For all this they didn’t charge anything.
Although having to get up at 6 am to take a two-hour train ride to Barcelona to take care of this was somewhat of a nuisance, it turned out to be a much nicer day than the one I had last week when I was too shy to enter the restaurant because I knew some of the other diners and ended up having a lousy lunch somewhere else.
The day started in the dark at 6 am and lightened up when, at the train station, I met up by chance with Julian, our acquaintance who recommended that wonderful restaurant for the calçots, those unique Catalan onions. We walked together from the ticket office to our platform where he found another acquaintance of his, so the three of us (two Catalans and one American) rode together talking about the Football Club Barcelona, how and why Spanish people throw trash on the ground and on the roads and ignore all manner of polite behavior, not to mention actual laws, especially when they drive. Julian related one story about someone who lives out in the campo. This man has been accosted several times on his own property by his neighbor’s dogs that run free and do not have a friendly demeanor. The man complained to the dogs’ owner – a local policeman – who refused to restrain his dogs, even thought it isn’t legal to let your dogs run loose. He remarked to us that if the police set such an example, what do you expect from the public? I didn’t mention the local police that had ignored and driven through the stop sign last week. Could it be the same local policeman who lets his dogs run free, drives through stop signs, and closes the Police office during working hours? And shouldn’t that office be open 24 hours? Julian, who is Catalan, says that Spain is a third world country within Europe.
After a lively train ride, (which did not end at the beautiful 1920s Estacio de Franca pictured above, but rather at Passeig de Gracia, an underground station of no aesthetic value) I went by metro to the Consulate, located in the upscale neighborhood of Sarrià, for my letter. I had an appointment and was taken care of immediately. Because I didn’t know where the police headquarters was, nor did I have a map with me, I decided to take a taxi for the next leg of my errand in order to ensure that I didn’t arrive at the beginning of someone’s two-hour lunch break. But before that, I had enough time to go to the nearby city market to have a morning snack of fresh-squeezed orange juice and a buttery croissant at a small bar that offered the choice of the usual oily croissants covered with a sugary glaze, and the real thing, syrup free and made with butter.
My business with the police – my main business of the day – was carried out quickly and pleasantly and left me with the decision of what to do next. Although I hadn’t known how to get there, there are actually few parts of Barcelona that I am not familiar with, so once delivered by taxi, I knew exactly where I was. I could take the metro to the old part of town – the part I am most familiar with and where I know several restaurants to go to, or walk along the Diagonal, window shop, and find somewhere new (and challenging!) to eat. I chose to walk the Diagonal, a very wide boulevard of corporate headquarters and upscale shops – a little like Wilshire Boulevard at the Miracle Mile -- and had a fine time on a sunny, warm spring day admiring shop windows full of things I don’t need, don’t want, or can’t afford. So I was walking down this rather grand boulevard, surrounded by well-dressed people, and came to wait to cross a street at a red light when a bicyclist came up from behind and stopped, slightly ahead of me at my left. I couldn’t see the man’s face but had a clear view of his naked body and nude behind. He didn’t have on a stitch.
Lunch was in an Italian restaurant where I had a very satisfactory pizza named (as the one was last week) after the restaurant, but this time with a full explanation of what ingredients it would have. I enjoyed the Tagliatella pizza that had caramelized onion, spinach, red pepper, mushrooms, goat cheese, and bacon, and, thankfully, no tomato sauce. AND, I was not the only woman eating there alone; there was another lone woman of a certain age, much like me.
Thursday’s news was dominated by Joan Antoni Samaranch who died on Wednesday. If you follow sports, especially the Olympics, you might recognize him as being the former President of the International Olympic Committee who held that position for 21 years. His civil memorial service, held at the Palau de la Generalitat (Catalan government palace) followed by the religious service at the Barcelona Cathedral and presided over by the bishop was attended by the Catalan government, members of the Spanish government, many sports and business people, royalty from Greece and other European countries, and the Spanish royal family. The Cathedral was full.
Catalans take pride in their soccer team and in other Catalans who have made a name for themselves in the world. And yet Samaranch, as a Catalan, seems to have been an anomaly. He joined the Falange during the Spanish Civil War and later worked in the Franco government as Ambassador to the Soviet Union, among other things. Franco, the Spanish right wing, and especially the Falange, were and are zealously anti-Catalan. Yet years ago, working as a sports journalist, he was dismissed by his newspaper after criticizing Real Madrid supporters in 1943 when Madrid won against Barcelona 11-1 in a game many thought was fixed. I wonder what he said! Many years later, he was instrumental in bringing the 1992 Olympics to Barcelona, no small thing and one that no one here will ever forget, for the Olympics can do much to boost a city and Barcelona, with a rundown infrastructure after more than thirty years of Franco era oppression, benefited enormously.
Catalan national identity is an important issue here and the Catalan language underlies that identity. All Catalans speak both Catalan (which is the language of instruction in public schools) and Castilian (what we call Spanish, but in Spain there are four official languages so you can’t really call one of them Spanish). They say here that if you speak Catalan, you are Catalan. So it was striking that the Prince of Asturias (Prince Felipe, son of Juan Carlos I, King of Spain) gave his address in Catalan, a most remarkable thing for a person in his position to do, what with all the antagonism between Catalunya and the rest of Spain, particularly Madrid, and the waging of the language wars that go on here. But then the Spanish royal family does many things I think are positive. And yet when Samaranch’s son and daughter spoke, they both spoke in Castilian.
I doubt that Samaranch was a beloved figure here in Catalunya but he seems to have been a respected one, being one of the most internationally famous and influential figures in the world of sports, involved not just in one sport, but in all sport. In any case, the Catalans tend to be very proud of their great achievers, sports figures such as Rafael Nadal, Aranxa Sanchez, and Pau Gasol, singers and musicians such as Josep Carreras, Montserrat Caballé, and Pau Casals, painters such as Joan Mirò and Salvador Dalí, and the great architect Antoni Gaudí. If you speak Catalan, you are Catalan and yet I still seem to be a foreigner.
Friday, April 16, 2010
Whether eating in or out, doing it alone can be a challenge. Many people don’t want to think much about it and simply eat the same thing day after day, usually something fairly simple to prepare – like scrambled eggs on toast or baked beans out of the can. I like to vary things so usually, whatever I make, I make enough of it to last several days, because I like to eat more than I like to cook. But when that batch is finished, I make something else. My standard repertoire includes some form of chicken fricassee, lentils, spinach lasagna, a potato, sausage, and spinach casserole and the most recent addition, mashed potatoes with sautéed onion and garlic, tuna, and anchovies. When you cook for only yourself, you have only yourself to please and that can sometimes lead to the satisfying of strange tastes or unusual cravings.
Many people who eat alone don’t want to be bothered to cook for themselves. It seems like too much work and for what? Cooking for yourself doesn’t seem worth it. But if you are on your own for more than just a weekend or a week, and can’t afford to eat out everyday, if you don’t make enjoyable meals for yourself, your daily life is going to be missing one of life’s pleasures.
I have worked out a system where I cook about every five days. If I make lasagna, it lasts for four; if I make lentils, it can last for six and so can my potato, spinach, and sausage casserole, or chicken. I never freeze anything. I make it and then eat it until it is gone, then make something else. The fact that I can be bothered to cook for myself is not a result of any self esteem but rather the fact that for me, eating should be a pleasure. And actually I think cooking is fun, as long as you don’t have to do too much of it or do it too often.
Lentils (serves 4)
This is usually made with chorizo sausage, but I prefer a plainer sausage called botifarra. You can use any good quality fresh sausage (I used to like the Bruce Aidell sausages when I lived in California). For the typical Spanish flavor, you would use a mix of sweet and smoked paprika instead of the cumin and curry, even if you used regular rather than chorizo sausage. All measurements are approximate as I don't measure. And the curry you find here is not hot, so I use lots.
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, put through a press or chopped
fresh sausage, about the amount of three hot dogs, cut into bite-sized pieces
3 tomatoes, chopped
1 potato, cubed
2 carrots, cut into bite-sized pieces
¾ cup lentils
1-1/2 cups boiling water (or more)
1-2 tsp cumin (approx.)
1 tbsp curry (approx.)
Salt and pepper
Saute onion on low heat and after about 10 minutes (or more), when it gets soft add the garlic, then the spices. Cook until blended. Add the sausage and cook until the sausage is no longer raw, about 5-10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook about 5 minutes. Add the potato and carrots and mix. Add the lentils, then the boiling water to cover and a little extra because the lentils will expand. Cook about 40 minutes or until the carrots and potatoes and the lentils are done. Add more water if needed. Season to taste.
Yet one cannot always eat at home. Although I enjoy what I make, my repertoire has its limits and sometimes I want something beyond. At some point I like to go out and have something different – something I don’t make and that doesn’t taste like my own cooking.
The other day I went out to eat but couldn’t get myself to enter the restaurant. Just a little earlier, I had gone to the Ajuntament (city hall), looking for help with what seemed like an insolvable problem. When I arrived at the Ajuntament, by mistake I knocked on the door of the mayor, who told me he didn’t have a moment to speak with me and that I should address myself to his assistant who happened to be at a meeting but would be finished in a few minutes. Forty-five minutes later, after having watched several people going in and out of the assistant’s office (ignoring me standing there in the hallway) and having stopped one who I knew from the library, asking if Rafel would ever be free and eventually being told that no, no time soon , I finally left in disgust.
All that waiting had made me late to start cooking my lunch (lentils!) so I decided to go out to eat. There is a modest restaurant nearby where I had eaten once, that is unusual for its lovely view of the sea, so I decided to go there. When I pulled up into their parking lot, I saw a large group entering, among them the mayor and his assistant, the very busy Rafel. And seeing them, for some reason, made me too shy to park and enter too. It would have been one thing to go alone where I wasn’t likely to know anyone and a whole other thing to go where I had some acquaintance with many members of a group. Why? I could kick myself. It was where I wanted to eat, but I couldn’t get up the courage to go in.
So I ended up driving further, up to Miami Platja, and eating at a place called Rally Pizza that I had heard of from people I know who all seemed to like it, located right on the highway strip through town. The place was decorated nicer than most with pretty embroidered gauze curtains bordered by damask drapes in lovely warm pastel colors of beige, muted pink, green, and yellow. It was a good first impression albeit the view, filtered by the gauze, was of the cars and trucks passing by on the highway instead of the Mediterranean Sea. And although it didn’t have a no smoking sign on the door, there were no ashtrays on the tables and no one inside was smoking, so that was promising as well. The food turned out to be another story.
For my first course I chose fish cannelloni what came bubbling hot to the table. But cutting into them, it was only the surrounding béchamel that was hot. The fish stuffing was cold (and tasteless). For my main there was the possibility of pizza. When I asked what kind of pizza, because on the menu it only said pizza, the waitress told me in a rather scornful way that it was Rally pizza, as if all the world would know what went into it. So I prompted her with, and what is on a Rally pizza? Ham, mushrooms, artichokes. I’ll take it. While eating it I eventually discovered that the puddles of what looked like water sitting on tomatoes were the ham. For dessert I chose profiteroles, always a safe bet. But I hadn’t figured on Rally’s ingenuity. They managed to drown the three custard-filled puffs with so much chocolate syrup that it was actually disgusting.
Going out to eat, much less to dine alone is something I began challenging myself to do many years ago, when I was living in California. I didn’t want to be victimized by not always having a partner or company to go out with. I wanted the freedom of going out when it suited me, whether with company or alone. So I pushed myself. Of course the first time was the hardest, and eventually it became more comfortable, but it never really became easy. I found it much more comfortable to go back to places I had been rather than venture into someplace new, taking a book to read (and hide behind) helped but I don’t like to read while I eat, and I wanted not to feel the need to hide. But whatever I did, it was always somehow a little embarrassing to ask for a table for one and then to sit there, uncomfortable with what people around me might be thinking. Why should I care what they think?
Hopefully, having drummed up enough courage to go eat out – on occasion even dine out – alone, in the future, I will be able to manage to go to the restaurant of my choice and not be frightened off by the idea of what kind of impression I might make on people I don’t know. I will think of the lady in Girona.
If the topic of eating and dining alone interests you, I recommend reading Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant: Confessions of Cooking for One and Dining Alone, edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler. Contributors include Laurie Colwin, Nora Ephron, MFK Fisher, Marcella Hazan, Haruki Murakami, Ann Patchett, and Paula Wolfert among others.
Friday, April 9, 2010
Mostly I’ve been surrounded by people who came to spend Setmana Santa at their vacation homes having barbecues, tidying up their gardens, and catching a little bit of sun. This year Passover coincided with Holy Week, and I found it odd that the definition for pasqua in my Catalan dictionary means first of all Jewish Passover, and secondly Easter. Yet I didn’t celebrate either. No Passover, having no context for a seder, and of course my celebrating Easter was out of the question. But even the idea of going as a tourist to attend a procession of what to American eyes looks like a parade of the robed and hooded Ku Klux Klan, did not really appeal.
I did watch a couple of processions in the past. The first, about nine years ago, was a very small one made up of only one confraria (brotherhood) that went up La Rambla in Barcelona. Actually, I think when I saw them they were only rehearsing. The second was more of a major production, five years ago in Tarragona. I mentioned in an earlier post that Tarragona feels more Spanish to me than Catalan. One reason for this is the huge petro-chemical industry that borders the city and the thousands of Spaniards from poorer parts of Spain who have moved to Tarragona for the employment opportunities that these businesses such as Dow, Basf, BP, DuPont, and Repsol afford. Even after a generation, these Spanish immigrants maintain their southern Spanish traditions (including one of only two remaining bull rings in Catalunya), language (choosing not to speak Catalan), and even the very strong accent that their children, born here, continue to speak with.
But this year I finally undertook to become enlightened. First you have various titles that Mary enjoys such as Blessed Mother, Virgin, Madonna, Our Lady, Notre Dame, Queen of Peace, to name a few. Then, there are Marys who are named for various apparitions that are said to have occurred at various times around the world, such as Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of Guadalupe. Or the name might refer to an attribute: Our Lady of Sorrows, Our Lady of Hope. Geography might come into it, as in "La Macarena", the title given to "Nuestra Señora de la Esperanza" (Our Lady of Hope) in the Macarena neighborhood of Seville. Catalunya holds the Virgin of Montserrat very dear and many girls are named after her (including the most famous, Montserrat Caballé). Is it any wonder I was confused? But what is even more interesting than all these names is the fact that at some of the processions people compete and argue over whose Virgin is the best. I wonder what the Queen of Peace would think of that.
Setmana Santa is comprised of several commemorative days with one of the early ones being El dia de Rams (Palm Sunday). Ram, in Catalan, means a broken off branch or a bouquet of flowers. This is the day that Jesus entered Jerusalem. Children here are given palm fronds or laurel branches by their godparents which they carry to church, that is, those that go. Eventually the palms end up decorating the balcony balustrade.
Whereas processions don’t, the culinary elements of Easter do tempt me. Bunyols, much like donut holes but with a hint of anise, are made during quaresma, or Lent, and I always make it a habit to have some. As unhealthy as they may be, they are good for my soul. The mona (a special sweet pastry made for Easter) is given by the godparent to the godchild. Mones may be a ring pastry decorated with eggs, iced cakes also decorated with eggs and little chicks, or far more elaborate constructions, usually of chocolate, depicting cartoon characters, soccer stars, great architecture, anything really. Having no godparents, I had no mona this year (I’ve bought them for myself in previous years, but have gotten tired of the whole thing). Mona, by the way, besides being a special sweet made for Easter, also means monkey.
For many, both Easter and Passover are holidays that mark the beginning of spring. The Haggadah includes a beautiful mention of it from the Song of Songs:
For, lo, the winter is past,
the rain is over and gone;
the flowers appear on the earth;
the time of the singing of birds is come,
and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land;
the fig tree putteth forth her green figs,
and the vines with the tender grape give a good smell.
Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.
Friday, April 2, 2010
After almost a month’s stay at the vet’s (for which they didn’t charge me a penny), Felix (aka Bobby) is now in my empty upstairs bedroom on indefinite R&R. Although they said I could let him back out on the street, I brought him home instead, hoping that Johanna, the cat lady, who had just returned from several months in The Netherlands, would adopt him. When I told her what had happened and described the wounded cat, she of course knew which one he was (the friendliest of the bunch) and told me his name was Bobby. Well, his name is Bobby if she decides to keep him!
I’m glad I didn’t let him out on the street, because when I took him upstairs and let him out of the carrier, he couldn’t walk. Really he seemed almost completely disabled, and I couldn’t understand how the vet could say he could go directly back to the street. Later that afternoon I drove back to the vet to ask about it. (It is one thing to have a discussion in Catalan on the phone, and another to have a discussion with a vet in Catalan on the phone, with no opportunity to use one’s hands, point, and mime.) And actually, even with visual aids, I still don’t understand, because they continued to say that he could go straight back on the street while they also said that it will be about a month before he can walk somewhat properly.
About a week after telling me he had a pellet in his leg, they decided to operate. But in the end, for some reason unknown to me, they didn’t. He will never regain normal movement because the pellet is still there, the bone is displaced, and one leg, they told me, is now longer than the other. But the bones are fusing, so eventually the leg will be functional, even if his movements may no longer be as graceful as they once were. However, I simply can’t turn the critter out until he is better, although I also wonder if, once he is mobile, he will be better off (and/or happier) returning to his old haunt and his old cat friends, rather than being adopted by someone and cooped up.
The Dalai Lama has come out in support of the proposed ban on bullfights in Catalunya, saying that the public torture of bulls is unnecessarily cruel and joining other famous people such as Brigitte Bardot and Doris Day! In other parts of Spain, there is a move on to have bullfighting legally recognized as a cultural tradition and thus ensure its continuance. Esperanza Aguirre, the right-wing President of the Community of Madrid, one of the regions promoting this move, refers to the works of Picasso, Goya, and Hemingway as proof that the tradition has value and should continue, in the same way, I suppose, that paintings of slaves would be support for the reinstatement of slavery. I don’t really follow her logic. But then, I’m in there with the Dalai Lama, Brigitte, and Doris, against torture and biased in favor of the bull.
Tuesday’s news told that the mayor of a town in Osca has come to police headquarters in Reus, where the Riudecols booty has been stored, to inspect a piece of the knight’s stolen goods, believing that it had been stolen, many years ago from his cathedral. The plot thickens.
Driving in Spain:
This morning, when, headed into the village I came to the “Stop” sign within my urbanization, there was a car coming towards me – a police car. He was in no obvious hurry, driving at around the 30 kilometer speed limit. Most drivers here don’t stop for Stop signs, and treat them instead as a Yield. But he sailed right through, not even slowing down or glancing in either direction to see if the coast was clear. He simply passed the Stop as if it wasn’t there. I was so stunned it took me a minute to resume driving, after having come, as is my custom, to a complete stop.
Cars and Nostalgia:
I was hoping, this week, to encourage you, the readers, to participate more in the blog and post a comment. Several people wrote to me privately after the classic car post: to say that they remembered that beautiful Mercedes, to talk about the Studebaker Lark that Shellie, her sister, and her mom drove, Jerry wrote to tell me about an incident with police when he and Uri were out test driving (that is, HE was driving and Uri talked them out of a ticket), and Manuel S, my stepson, wrote to tell me he wanted to sell his car and be car-free.
I didn’t actually start out to write about the Mercedes we had, nor about my father and how I missed him. The fact is that while I enjoyed the heck out of that classic car show, I didn’t really have anything to say about classic cars or the show. When I sat down to try to write something, all these other things came out. Maybe some of you also have cars of your dreams or cars that trigger your memories and you’d like to share that?
Do you have a dream car – one from a TV show, film, or a book? Although I mentioned The Saint and his Volvo P1800 in the earlier post, I actually prefer Columbo and his raggedy 1959 Peugeot 403 Cabriolet. I have fond memories of many cars of my friends: Shellie’s Lark, Dena’s little Renault, the Rover that Uri once fixed up, an elegant car with (of all things) a cigar rack at the driver’s left hand. Now how cool was that? There was Ami’s Comet that broke down a lot and that we called the Vomit, my old buddy Sheila’s VW bug, the only car I ever heard of with an automatic stick shift – that is, I think, a stick shift without the clutch, the Volvo 122 Bonnie had when I met her, that was a kind of yucky green, and that she said was actually a pretty color when she bought the car, in Sweden, where the quality of light was different.
If you’d like to reminisce, please do it here. You can use the comments feature at the end of this post (if you don’t have or don’t want to set up an ID, you can comment as anonymous and then sign or not sign your name). If you want to include a photo, you can put your comment and the photo in an email to me (I don’t think the comments feature allows for photos) and I will add it to the end of this post. Please take a moment to share your memories or dreams with the rest of us.
Comment from Jane, 4 April 2010: