Thursday, April 26, 2012

Have I Stayed Too Long at the Fair?

The rain is supposed to be on its way, but it kindly held off so we could visit Feria. San Geraldo and I took the bus. But, the bus got crowded. So we gave up our seats and stood by an open window to get some air. We were still hot and uncomfortable. So, having walked 10 minutes to reach the bus, having spent 20 minutes on the bus, we got off early and walked the last 20 minutes — a total of 50 minutes for what should have been a 35-minute walk. But we now know another bus route and I had the charming company of the infinitely fascinating San Geraldo.

COLOR-COORDINATION?  SEEN ON OUR WAY TO THE BUS.

COLORFUL PERSONALITY.  MEETING SOMEONE AT THE BUS STOP.
SOMEONE WAS APPARENTLY ON "SEVILLA TIME" AND THIS LADY WAS NOT HAPPY ABOUT IT.

The light wasn't ideal for picture-taking (but I took pictures anyway). We passed some of the 1,040 casetas. We saw beautiful horses, riders, and carriages (all were beautiful — not just the horses). The children on horseback were exceptional. Jerry wondered aloud if he would look as good on a horse if he wore the short jacket and hat. I reminded him that he had never met a horse from which he hadn't fallen or been thrown. (He didn't need reminding.)

We strolled through the enormous, excruciatingly loud and noisy midway; ate a good (and healthy) lunch, unfortunately adjacent to the excruciatingly loud and noisy midway; and then walked all the way home (with a stop half-way for a couple of mango frappuccinos and dulce de leche cheesecake — just to give us strength).

BETTING ON A DARK HORSE IN BAD LIGHT.

I DON'T KNOW HOW ANYONE TOOK A CARRIAGE RIDE BEFORE THE ADVENT OF THE MOBILE PHONE.

A PAUSE IN THEIR PROMENADE.

THERE WAS A "MEGA" KANGURO BEHIND ME. A TRULY MEGA-MAXI MIDWAY.

WHERE'S WALDO... I MEAN... GERALDO?
(IN SPAIN, THE "WHERE'S WALDO" BOOKS ARE CALLED "¿DONDE ESTÁ WALLY?)

A STREET PERFORMER IN LOS REMEDIOS, A FEW BLOCKS FROM THE FAIR.
(SOMEONE SHOULD TELL HIM: SEMANA SANTA IS SO TWO WEEKS AGO.)

The Streets of Our Fair (Feria) City

San Geraldo and I plan to head over to la Feria this afternoon. The sun just made a momentary appearance in an extremely overcast sky and rain is predicted for Friday and Saturday. Since the albero (the golden sand) will turn to mud, rainy days will probably not be very pleasant at the fair. Before we leave the house, I thought I'd share some photos taken around the neighborhood over the last couple of days.

ON OUR PLAZA.

CONTRASTS.

WAITING FOR THE BUS.

MOTHER AND DAUGHTER.

A POET AND A ONE-MAN BAND (AS VIEWED FROM MY BALCONY).

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Caseta and a Couple of Cool Cats

THE COOL (AND CUDDLY) CATS
It's been a busy 24 hours. I partied with my wonderful friends Albert and Lola until the wee hours (for me) of the morning. I finally left them at 2:00 a.m. for my half-hour walk home. I was in bed by 3, asleep by 4, and up at 8:30 to get ready for our "inspection." Someone from the cat rescue shelter was scheduled to come by to check us out. It's been as rigorous as adopting a child. They now know more about us than even I normally care to share. But we were pleasantly surprised when they brought along the two cats we're planning to adopt. Although the two cats were pretty much overwhelmed by this major adventure (they're nearly a year old and have only ever known the street and the shelter), it was love at first sight. We have been approved. They all went back to the shelter and Jerry and I immediately went out and bought everything the two newest members of our family will need to move in. The only hold-up now is the fact that this week is Feria, which includes official holidays for many people. Once the veterinarian does the final check-up and paperwork (they're in perfect health, are neutered, have had all their shots, and they're already micro-chipped), these two brothers will be ours. We are elated.

THIS YEAR'S PORTADA (MAIN GATE).
THE CASETA
I had a beautiful half-hour walk to the Feria last night, arriving around 9:45. The city around us is relatively quiet this week. We see women dressed in traditional Flamenco everywhere, but they are all on their way to or from the fair. Just about everyone is in Los Remedios, the neighborhood that is home to the immense fairgrounds. The closer I got the more dense were the crowds and the more electric the atmosphere.

OUTSIDE THE CASETA AT 11:00 P.M.

The portada (the front entrance to the fair) is a 50-meter-high, brilliantly lit arch that has a different theme every year. This year's portada design is based on the facade of the Church of El Salvador. The fairgrounds are covered with albero, which is yellow sand typical of Southern Spain (and also used in the bull rings and parks). Its color is the symbol of Sevilla. The golden glow is charming but the dust gets into everything and it turns to mud when it rains. Fortunately, it hasn't rained yet this week but my freshly polished black shoes are covered with a layer of gold dust.

THE FRONT ROOM OF THE CASETA, OPEN TO THE OUTSIDE.

IN THE FRONT ROOM, SITTING OUT ONE DANCE.

The caseta that Albert and Lola always join is extremely popular, ornately decorated, and has the best musicians performing day and night. I think six different musical groups rotate through this particular caseta every day. It was hot and mobbed when I arrived. Albert and Lola were standing right near the entrance to the front room to take in the fresh air and escape the extremely hot and crowded main room. After about an hour we headed inside. The room has narrow benches along its length. There's a small band platform and at the very back is the bar. I never got as far as the bar. I was waited on all night either by an actual waiter (these guys maneuvered through the crowd with trays of food and drinks as if they were magicians) or by Albert and Lola. There are white paper lanterns overhead, called farolillo. They decorate the entire fair and are sometimes also in red or green.


SEVILLANA STYLE.

A CONTEMPORARY TWIST.

I was very surprised when I arrived to find Lola wearing an elegant little cocktail dress as opposed to a traditional flamenco dress. She said it's always so hot, dusty, and crowded that she prefers to dress more simply for Feria. I asked her if she had more than one flamenco dress at home and she said, "Yes... Twenty." She said for the annual pilgrimage to Rocio (coming up in May), she changes her outfit three times a day.

INCREDIBLE PERFORMERS. THEY PUT THEIR HEARTS INTO THEIR MUSIC.

THE MAN AT CENTER, I WAS TOLD, IS A VERY FAMOUS SPANISH FLAMENCO DANCER.
(I DON'T KNOW HIS NAME.)

What an amazing night. I am so grateful to Albert for inviting me. He and Lola have each made me feel at home here in Sevilla. As always, I'm grateful for these very gracious, generous, and fun friends. Albert scolds me every time I say "thank you." He says it's not necessary because that's what friends do. He reads my blog religiously (and I'm grateful to him for that, as well). So, I'm going to thank him and Lola here ... and he can't stop me!

HANDSOME ALBERT HATES TO HAVE HIS PICTURE TAKEN.
THIS IS WHAT HE WOULD ALLOW. (CLASSY POCKET SQUARE.)

THAT'S ME (IN THE TIE) WITH LOLA, 1:45 A.M.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

What to Wear?

Feria 2012 has begun in Sevilla. It's the annual spring fair, first held in 1846. I've been invited by Albert to one of the "casetas," private marquee tents owned by a group of friends, a company, or an association. Members and their guests use the spaces for eating, drinking, and dancing. San Geraldo has of course been invited, as well. But we all know a small caseta filled with partiers will not be his idea of a good time. Albert (wise man) suggested I check it out on my own tonight and decide if it's something I think Jerry would enjoy.

A PEAK INSIDE THE DRY-CLEANERS YESTERDAY.

In addition to the invitation-only casetas, there are several open to the public; those are sponsored by companies or by each of the neighborhoods of the city. There are a total of 1,040 casetas this year. One thousand forty!

The rest of the week will be spent exploring the entire fair by day and night — the equestrian displays, the rides, the food, the games (Jerry hopes to find his rubber-frog and catapult game... more about that later), the costumes, the singing, the dancing.

As for tonight, I have been forewarned by Albert (my host and resident expert on everything Sevillano) that:

1) I should be prepared to party through the night (well, I can at least last longer than San Geraldo); and

2) I need to "dress" (sports jacket) or the portero (doorman) will not let me enter the caseta no matter who I know inside.

So, I've got my outfit selected and will even iron a shirt for the occasion. I'm wearing a jacket and tie. But, given what I saw on the streets Saturday, I wonder if 'traditional' flamenco in hot pink would be a better choice. Nope, pink is not my color. Anyway, I really don't think it's what Albert had in mind when he said "dress." Besides, Lola will be there looking stunning I'm sure in her flamenco dress and I wouldn't want to steal any of her thunder.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Dude Looks Like a Lady

I walked over to La Perlita this afternoon to join some of the gang for a pre-Feria (the Sevilla Fair) beer. Feria will officially begin Tuesday and it continues through Sunday. As I neared La Perlita, I noticed a smartly dressed man and woman outside the bar who appeared to be a bit early for Feria. A second look told me there was something not quite right about them. The man's pants and jacket weren't color-coordinated, for one thing.  But I think what really gave it away was the fact that, instead of baring her neck and shoulders, the woman had a T-shirt on under her traditional dress, and the T-shirt was stretched across an overly broad back and shoulders and a slightly thick neck that needed a shave.

AN OLD-FASHIONED BRIDE AND GROOM.

The happy couple were with five guys in white T-shirts imprinted with black neck ties. It was the early stages (they were still sober) of a bachelor party. The "groom" is in fact the groom who will be married tomorrow. The "bride" told me matter-of-factly, "I just liked the dress." They happily posed for a photo after I told them I had never seen such an elegant and beautiful woman in the United States. ("Lady of Spain, I Adore You" works every time.)

I THINK THE PINK HAIR WAS IN EXTREMELY BAD TASTE.

I was about to sit down with my friends when I spotted another duo dressed in their traditional Feria costumes. They appeared to be in quite a rush, so I had to quickly zoom in and snap before they got too far.

It should be another interesting week in Sevilla.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Churros, Chocolate, Cats, and Cardio

I'm in big trouble.

First, I should tell you that we're both very excited because we are soon to get two cats. I've been in touch with a shelter not far from us. I completed and emailed our application. And we are now being evaluated — to see if we are suitable. I am assuming we are.

Late this afternoon, Jerry had a great idea. "Let's go for a walk to Valor for some churros and chocolate," he suggested. It would be a pleasant walk, about 800 meters (or 1/2 mile). And I have been craving Valor's churros and chocolate ever since our failed attempt to get there during Semana Santa.  So, we took off in the slightly cool, slightly humid afternoon air. A half mile there and a half mile back — a very comfortable distance in this kind of weather. We wouldn't even work up a sweat.

Less than fifteen minutes later, we arrived at Valor and sat outside to enjoy our churros and chocolate, which were even better than we remembered them. We ordered two "grandes" (which apparently means "ginormous" at Valor) and two sides of water. We both felt slightly queasy by the time we finished. I told Jerry I would have been fine had it not been for that bottle of water.

From what I could find on the web, the cat rescue center is "very close" to Valor — perhaps five minutes further (about half again the distance from our house to Valor). I thought it would be a great way to burn off some of those churros-and-chocolate calories, but I didn't suggest it to Jerry thinking he'd never go for it. However, the subject of the cats came up as we started for home. I mentioned that the center was "very close" and Jerry said he wouldn't mind the little extra walk just to see what it was like. So, I turned us around and headed toward the shelter, which as I do believe I mentioned before was "very close."


I made a few wrong turns. But I kept telling Jerry we were "very close. It's just a typical roundabout Sevillano walk." I pointed out some beautiful buildings we had never seen before.

"Oh, and look, it's the start of bull-fighting season. Check out all the people."

"Oh, look at the TV camera up on the crane."


"Hey, there's that portion of the old city wall I told you about."

"You see, that's the street called Calle Dos de Mayo, which has nothing to do with our restaurant."

"And there's the place that has the 'best chocolate cake in the world.' Look at all the street performers setting up for the evening. There's that violinist again. God, he plays beautifully."


Wiping the sweat from the back of his neck for the umpteenth time, San Geraldo muttered, "Stop trying to distract me. I know what you're doing. And, by the way, I think your definition of 'very close' is genetic."

Approximately 40 minutes later, we arrived at the address to find no sign of an animal shelter, no inviting door, no kittens in a window. The place doesn't have regular hours; you have to schedule to see the cats. So I guess to discourage people from just dropping in, they don't publicize their location.

HOW TO GET THERE.
HOW WE GOT THERE.

I finished by saying how great it was that we had burned off all those calories. San Geraldo was not amused.

But the minute we got home, he offered to serve me a plate of fruit, cheese, and crackers. The man really IS a saint.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Like Comparing Apples to Canary Islands Bananas

You've probably heard the expression, "That's like comparing apples to oranges." It's used when someone tries to compare two things that cannot be validly compared. An example: What do you like better, bananas or green?

MY 1979 SKETCH OF BANANAS FROM LATIN AMERICA.

Jerry and I were having just such a discussion the other day. I don't even remember what the discussion was about, but we agreed it was like comparing apples to oranges.

The only problem was Jerry said it was "like comparing apples to apples and oranges to oranges," which kind of (kind of?) misses the entire point of the idiom. So, I suppose that makes this Jerryism #6.

MY 2012 PHOTO OF BANANAS FROM THE CANARY ISLANDS.

But this really is just an excuse to tell you that yesterday Jerry bought a package of Canary Island bananas. These are the first bananas we've had in months. The first bananas we've had in Spain. And the first bananas we've ever had that were grown on the Canary Islands. They are exceptionally delicious. We can't say exactly what it is that makes them different from the bananas we've had in the past (from Mexico, and Central and South America). But they are somehow sweeter we think.

Or maybe we just have a bias toward anything from Spain.

AFTERWARD:
Please see Will J's comment below. It turns out it's not my imagination. They really are better. — m

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Missing: 100 Dalmations

San Geraldo watered the plants on our balconies this afternoon. I followed behind to trim dead leaves and flower stems from the geraniums. While I trimmed, I spotted a group of guys in the plaza with their dog — an unleashed, very large, and extremely peculiar-looking Dalmation. I haven't been downstairs, but I sure hope they cleaned up after him.

 
 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

O Sole Mio (Really, Oh Solomillo)

Please do not take away my Gay Card on reading my confession: I am not an opera queen buff. I have never seen an opera performed live. And I don't have much interest in seeing a live performance (obviously, or I would have seen one by now). I've seen several Gilbert & Sullivan operettas and I really enjoyed them, but I'm pretty certain they don't count, especially among opera queens buffs.

SOLOMILLO AL WHISKEY CON PATATAS Y COLES DE BRUSELAS
(PORK TENDERLOIN IN A WHISKEY GARLIC SAUCE WITH POTATOES AND BRUSSELS SPROUTS)

So, although the title of this post might indicate that the subject matter is opera, it's not.  It's about food. One similarity for me between cooking and opera is that, although I will not actively participate, I do respect talent. Jerry can carry a tune — just not very far.

One of our favorite dishes since our arrival in Spain has been Solomillo al Whiskey (pronounced "solo mio"), which is pork (usually) tenderloin in a whiskey sauce. Sevilla is known for it and the dish has become one of our standbys in restaurants and tapas bars around town. Jerry (my personal chef) decided he had to learn how to make it. So, he tried it out on me last night. He was a brilliant success. Bravo Maestro.


'O SOLE MIO STA 'NFRONTE A TE.
(IT'S MY OWN SUN THAT'S UPON YOUR FACE.)

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Don't Cry For Me [Argentina?]

I promise (I think) that this is the last Semana Santa blog post (from me). I just have to share images from the final procession to pass by our house. I took most of these from a different point of view. I really had no intention of observing this procession, which went out up the street from us from the Church of San Lorenzo and the plaza of the same name. It shares the plaza with the Basilica of Jesus del Gran Poder.

I LOVE THE SMELL (AND VISUAL EFFECT) OF THE INCENSE.

Jerry and I were watching "Charlie Varrick," the 1968 movie with Walter Matthau, on TV. Neither of us had ever seen it. We were really enjoying it and, since it wouldn't end before the procession was scheduled to arrive, I decided to forego the procession. But perhaps a higher power wanted us to witness this procession (and, no, I don't really believe that). The film ended. We opened a balcony door. And there were the lights of the penitents' candles approaching the plaza.

KIND ENOUGH TO LET ME JOIN... MOMENTARILY

Jerry (San Geraldo) stayed upstairs and watched all from our corner balcony. Below him, the lawyers' office was filled with guests. I didn't realize you could fit so many people (eight) on one balcony. The building is solid, but we still won't try this one at home (you can see them in the next-to-last photo below).

TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT.

One of the traditions of Semana Santa is "spontaneous" singing. As a procession passes, a devout observer may suddenly break into a mournful song (called a saeta) dedicated to the paso. I put double-quotes around spontaneous, because what I've heard (and from what we've seen this Semana Santa), these songs are quite often now pre-arranged to coincide with a convenient stopping point. An ideal time seems to be when the guys carrying the float (the costaleros) need to do a shift-change. 

LA SOLEDAD (THE LONELINESS OR SOLITUDE). TASTEFULLY UNDERSTATED.

The Church of San Lorenzo has only one paso (float). It is of the Virgin Mary and is called "La Soledad" (Loneliness or Solitude). Just before the paso reached our building, a woman on the balcony below Jerry broke into song. The float stopped and was carefully settled on the ground. Sweaty and sore costaleros crawled out from beneath it. The next group, fresh and ready, stepped in. The changing of the guard took 3 minutes. The song lasted 3 minutes and 15 seconds. The singer genuflected and watched them pass.

THE NEXT SHIFT OF COSTALEROS.

There is one final procession today, Easter Sunday. The main difference between this procession and the earlier ones is that it signifies the Resurrection. There's music. And the penitents walk unhooded. They were supposed to pass within two blocks of us around 7 a.m. I decided I didn't need to leave our plaza or even our house to see another procession. I would just sleep in. But at 7:20, Jerry woke me calling out, "Mitchell, quick, there's a procession right outside!" 

"THE TRUTH IS I NEVER LEFT YOU"
SAN GERALDO ON THE BALCONY DOING HIS EVITA IMPERSONATION.

I flew out of bed, threw my clothes on, grabbed my camera, and opened my balcony door. I looked and saw two people walking quietly on the street below. I looked toward the plaza and saw not a soul. I could hear a marching band. Jerry walked in and said, "Sorry. From the sound, I thought they were passing by here. They're a few blocks over."

I groaned. I laughed. I stripped. I left a trail of clothes on the floor as I made my way back to bed. I was asleep within a few minutes and I slept for another two hours.

SAN GERALDO SHARING HIS BALCONY.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Purple People Eaters

I don't know what we were thinking. I take that back. I know precisely what we were thinking. We were thinking of churros y chocolate. What we were forgetting was that there are 2 million people in Sevilla this week. And 61 processions — some with thousands of participants — filling the streets 24 hours a day. Given the relative calm of our own plaza, we were lulled into a false sense of serenity.

GIVE ME MY CHURROS Y CHOCOLATE. I'LL REPENT LATER.

We decided to go out for a healthy walk in the evening, to culminate in an unhealthy dose of churros and hot chocolate. As we began to near Calle Reyes de Los Catolicos, the street that leads to Valor, the café with exceptional churros and chocolate (and also to our old churros stand), the streets grew more crowded. We reached our turn only to find ourselves stuck in the middle of another procession. Except for the corps of Roman soldiers and the thousands of purple-clad penitents, this was nothing new. We've seen two processions walk right by our house. No need to linger long on the float that had just passed bearing Jesus or the one near the end with Mary. Just give us our churros and chocolate.

THE CROWD COULD HAVE EASILY OVERWHELMED THE ROMAN SOLDIERS.

We couldn't turn left to get to Valor; that would carry us in the same direction as the procession and the thousands of onlookers. So we turned right, fighting the tide, to reach the churros stand by the river. By the time we got there, the procession had passed and we made it to the crowded counter to place our order. We stood at a tall table and enjoyed our well-earned treat as the skies again threatened rain.


WE FELT LIKE A COUPLE OF SALMON TRYING TO SWIM UPSTREAM.

Afterward, we got off the main thoroughfare as quickly as we could and we wound our way home through the backstreets, sheltering under an awning during a brief downpour. Ten minutes later we were relieved to lock our door to the outside world — especially to the Roman soldiers and Purple Penitents.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Before the Parade Passes By

The procession of Jesús del Gran Poder (Jesus of the Great Power) marched through the night and reached our plaza at 6:15 this morning. It was supposed to be here at 7:31. I set my alarm for 6:45. Fortunately, San Geraldo (aka Jerry) had been up since 5:30.  At 6:10, he peaked outside to see approaching a long, snaking line of hooded candle-lit figures, and he woke me up. I threw on clothes, grabbed my camera and ran out on a balcony.

THIS LITTLE PIGGY...
WALKED FOR MORE THAN EIGHT HOURS ON COLD COBBLESTONES.

The sun had not yet risen, and I was disappointed to realize I was going to have more shots in the dark. I took a couple of quick photos of the unbelievably long line of penitents and then decided to head downstairs (the streets hadn't yet filled) to get a different point of view.

6:30 A.M.  SO MUCH FOR MY BEAUTY SLEEP.

Down on the street, I could get some close-up shots and use my flash. As news spread, the neighborhood again filled with people. The café, El Sanedrín, had stayed open all night and closed after the procession passed. I saw two men drinking large "gin-tonics" at 6:30 a.m. (and, boy, did they look good — the drinks, not the men).

AT FIRST, EXTREMELY EERIE AT STREET LEVEL.

Once I was on the side street, I was within inches of the black-hooded "penitents." It was very unsettling; like being surrounded by executioners. The procession was silent and solemn. When passersby spoke above a whisper, you would hear gentle "shhhhhs" from all directions. The lines of penitents, again two-by-two, stretched as far as the eye could see, with rarely a break for acolytes who carried some special item — a gold crucifix, a sterling silver bible, an embroidered banner.

JUST A LITTLE SPLASH OF COLOR.

I've learned that the men who carry the floats are called costaleros. Since it's such back-breaking work, they have multiple shifts. Our plaza is a good place for the teams to switch. Unfortunately, I wasn't on the plaza — where I might have gotten some great shots of each float as it sat motionless for the few minutes it took to accomplish the well-practiced shift change. I was further up the street awaiting their arrival. The new team had an awful lot of energy and passed me at breakneck speed before adjusting their pace.

JESÚS AND THE CHERUBS. ALL A BLUR AS THE COSTALEROS VERY NEARLY TROT BY.

After the float carrying Jesus passed, there were yet more penitents. Jerry (who watched from upstairs) and I guessed there were somewhere in the neighborhood of 3,000 participants in this particular procession.

STILL MOVING AT QUITE A CLIP.

It took more than an hour for the entire procession to pass my position. The float carrying Jesus required 35 costaleros. Further along came the canopied float carrying María Santísima del Mayor Dolor (Holy Mary of the Great Sorrow), which used 30 costaleros.

HOLY MARY OF THE GREAT SORROW, ACCOMPANIED BY ST. JOHN.

THEY REFUSED TO STOP FOR ME TO TAKE PICTURES.

THE DOWAGER DUCHESS WOULD, AT MINIMUM, APPRECIATE THE AMAZING NEEDLEWORK.

There was another procession, two blocks away, and that one was less somber; I could hear the band playing. Many people quickly ran in the direction of the music. I, on the other hand, headed upstairs and went back to bed.