Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Road to Santiago

One of the reasons that I decided to move to Spain was to have the chance to do El Camino de Santiago. This historic pilgrimage marks the way to the entombed body and relic of St. James the Apostle, buried in the famous Cathedral in Santiago...just less than 800 kilometers from the traditional starting point on the French side of the Pyrenees mountains- St. Jean Pied-de-Port.

I had planned to do this pilgrimage sola, but by God's amazing timing and unexpected plan, my dear friend Kaitlin decided to quit her job, join her mom on a brief sojourn in Italy, and then explore the north of Spain with me! She is going to travel with me and do the first two weeks, which will no doubt be the hardest. Kaitlin and I are wonderful opposites in a lot of ways, which makes her the perfect compliment to my journey. I told my dad last night that he could rest easy, I have a faithful perfectionist by my side. We have calendars, maps, itineraries, passport copies, a security belt...all her! I plan to throw it all out the window on our first train, but shh...don't tell.

We are off to Barcelona today, then to Geneva, and across the south of France (Marseille, Bayonne) before reaching the starting point. It's amazing that I had time at all to blog today, and it is no doubt my hastiest attempt yet. We leave in one hour and I am not done packing!!

It's all part of the adventure...

I will be largely incommunicado over the next six weeks, so do not fret if you do not hear from me. Besos a todos! :)

Monday, April 14, 2008

"Sevilla tiene un color especial"

Call Andalusia old-fashioned, unproductive, over-indulgent, if you I sometimes do when the "siesta" cramps my consumer habits, when the "bar creatures" in the Guardia Civil never cease to hit on me when I duck in to use the bathroom, or when I order vegetables and they inevitably come doused in oil or deep-fried...but this week, no one can complain!

At midnight last Monday, thousands of Sevillianos and extranjeros braving the rain and ferocious winds, huddled together drinking rebujitos in one great botellón, for the traditional lighting of the Portada. With a marching band playing rambas and flamencos, the group surged forward to pass through the huge entranceway, newly designed and constructed every year to welcome you to FERIA de Abril!!

For 10 months of the year the Feria grounds are a wasteland and an occasional parking lot for big city-wide events, but two months before this particular week the crews begin constructing row upon row of little houses called casetas, each owned by different companies, member associations, or wealthy families. The casetas are elaborately decorated, inside and out, with wallpaper, antique mirrors, classic Feria posters, furniture, stages, full-service bars, kitchens, and bathrooms. They are arranged in a huge grid that runs more than 7 street blocks, with street names and barrios of their own.

Going to the fair is anticipated all year long. Dirt floor, carnival rides, circus animals, greasy food, bad weather, or dress up for Feria. The women come in elaborate, colorful flamenco dresses, with flowers and dazzling combs on top of their heads and matching mantoncillos around their shoulders. The men traditionally wore bull-fighter style suits (as Feria also marks the beginning of bull-fighting season), but for a long time now have donned a classic suit and tie, unless, that is, they are one of the privileged few who ride a horse to the fair, as this age-old tradition requires the age-old attire!

Feria is one huge flamboyant, clamorous, lively, spectacle...yet, somehow, elegant and refined. The majority of casetas are private, which means invite-only. You must know a member of these casetas to be allowed in. Luckily, between all of us girls, we had plenty of invitations and were usually allowed to bring the group. Mara also brought me along to meet her host families from her study-abroad days in their casetas.

Each caseta is filled with families, friends, co-workers, neighbors, all drinking and eating and dancing the night away. This is a very special moment for Sevillanos, who don't often have the opportunity to entertain all of their gente in one place as the majority of them live in pisos no where near large enough for parties such as these.

Mara and I spent the last two months taking private Sevillanas dancing lessons with a Spanish friend, spending hours agonizing over which dress to buy (they average around 200euro), and carefully choosing our accessories....we were ready. We dazzled the Sevillanos at each caseta we attended with our confidence and ability and were the envy of many the extranjero, who only wished they had the movement in their sangre, as we seemed to have. We were at times mistaken for Sevillanas, which brought immediate grins to our faces and unavoidably betrayed our true identities. We danced until six in the morning the last three nights of Feria and wrapped up the whole experience by eating churros with chocolate sauce in the street, as all of the exuberant Spaniards do in the wee morning hours of Feria.

Having experienced it, in all it's authentic, joyful, glory...I will now dare to say, there is nothing I love more about Sevilla than Feria! Hasta el proximo...Ole'!

A glossary for my readers...:)

"Sevilla tiene un color especial" ~ title of popular song (and expression)
extranjero ~ foreigner
rebujito ~ traditional Feria drink of Manzanilla (sherry) and 7up
botellón ~ gathering and drinking in the street, think "tail-gate"
portada ~ façade
feria ~ fair
caseta ~ stand, stall
barrio ~ neighborhood
mantoncillo ~ flamenco shawl
gente ~ people
piso ~ apartment
Sevillanas ~ regional version of flamenco dancing
sangre ~ blood
Hasta el proximo ~ Until next time

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Alpujarra Adventure

I think I have become more of an outdoorsy person than I was before moving to Sevilla. I have always enjoyed a numerous amount of outdoor activities, but I'm talking outdoorsy, like escape to a mountain town, spend hours without a soul in sight (unless you believe animals have souls because there were plenty of those), not showering for days, woodsy kind of "outdoorsy." I crave the outdoors like I never have before and only there do I feel free, at peace, and refreshed.

That's what last weekend was. I took a bus to Granada (a beautiful city with a
Moroccan/Berkeley feel to it that I will describe more another time) and hitched another bus a few hours later to La Alpujarra. This is a region in the snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountains with tiny pueblos blancos nestled up into the hillside, home to many an ex-pat of the fruit and nut or British mutton eating varieties. Unbeknownst to me, I had booked a hostel for the night in the farthest town possible, which meant a three and a half hour windy bus ride through all the villages. I am so glad for this hasty travel blunder because it meant that I got a 6euro tour through the quaint and pristine countryside.

Arriving in Trevelez much later than I expected, I hiked (seriously, it was a 20 minute straight up hike) to my hostel in Barrio Medio and pounded on the caretakers' door just as twilight faded over the hills. I was greeted by a boisterous bickering British couple, who ushered me in, lit my heater, showed me every function and every nook and cranny of my little apartment, teasing each other mercilessly in the process, and thoroughly entertaining me. I was sad to let them go.

After getting settled in I went up the hill to Barrio Alto to have a look at the whole town and then popped in to a bar where I sat and had a beer and free tapas (courtesy of this region of Andalusia that has yet to commercialize the tradition) and then up to the restaurant for a lovely meal. I was surrounded on all sides with middle-aged British couples and realized in the process just how strange it feels to hear English as the common language in a public place.

The next day I woke up early, packed a bag with fruit and nuts (I'm not the mutton eating kind...;) and head up into the hills. I could see snow at the top of the mountain above me and decided I was going to touch it, which is actually quite silly because it was way further than it appeared as I found out as I reached the first crest. My disappointment quickly dissipated as I came face to face with a handful of wild horses...or what I thought were wild until the next surprise visitors appeared. Well, actually, I heard them before I saw them. Clink clink, clink clink. A curious sheep stuck it's head up and stared me down, the big bell around it's neck silencing for those brief moments of examination. The sheep quickly became disinterested in me and went back to its grazing. I walked amongst them for some time and sat on a rock outcropping for a while taking in the expansive valley, still hazy with morning light and dew.
I could hear church bells from down in Trevelez and realized it was Sunday. Since moving to Spain I have often missed worshiping in church as I did at home, but today, I decided to do it, with no one but God and the animals listening. The wind stole my voice and pressed at my body as I stood on the precipice looking out over "all the mountains and the valleys of the earth." I couldn't imagine a better service. I finished up with a scary yoga-balancing act and continued on my way.

As I walked back down the mountain I began to follow the canals of water that the town had created to direct the run-off from the mountain snow. It led me all the way back to where I started at a community fountain, with crisp, refreshing, mountain spring water. One of the cool things about the town was that everywhere you walked in the streets you could hear the sound of running water under you. It was so awesome to see a natural life-sustaining process.

I left Trevelez completely refreshed, in more ways than one. And, an added benefit...I gained a new smell! The funny thing is, I don't know what it is. All I can describe it as is "mountainy" because I can't place it might be a tree, or an herb, but whatever it is, it's nature and I was so happy to smell it! :)