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Nov. 22nd, 2007

happy thanksgiving!!!!

Happy Turkey Day to everyone!   As I am SURE you can imagine, celebrating American holidays when you live in a foreign land can be a bit challenging.  Thanksgiving is a particularly tricky one.   First off, it is nearly impossible to have Thanksgiving dinner on the actual holiday.   Obviously, it is not a holiday here, so you cannot do an early afternoon meal.  But dinner is difficult too.   Spaniards generally are horrified at the idea of eating anytime before 10:00pm.   With the usual variety and volume of food that Thanksgiving dinner entails, this pretty much ensures the meal will break up around 1:00am.   A bit tough when people have to work early Friday morning!

Once you work out the timing of the fest, you have the whole controversy of the menu.  We all grew up with different traditions that we want to foist on, no, I mean share with our friends.   It is extremely difficult to make everyone happy.   What is the saying?   Too many cooks in the kitchen?   It must have been SO much easier when just one woman did the whole thing! (ya, that was a joke, actually)

Take potatoes, for example.   They can cause brutal infighting.   I can take them or leave them, actually.   The plain mashed I grew up with has never held much appeal for me, unless you slather it in butter, and, frankly, I might as well just apply the sticks directly to my thighs, so better not.   But some insist on them.   Then the plain mashed people end up tangling with the garlic mashed hardliners.  These folks are not to be trifled with.   And then you have your radical fringe who cannot imagine Thanksgiving without some representative of the sweet potato family.   And you can so easily get sucked into the whole marshmallow/no marshmallow downwards spiral.

I, personally, need to have some kind of pumpkin product at the meal.  My mother's pumpkin pie is one of my all-time favorite foods.   Takes me right back.   And if the pleasure of compelling my friends to consume my childhood memory is forcibly taken from me, as is the case this year, when an interloper (ok, my friend Alana-I don't sound bitter, do I?) has already called dibs on making the pumpkin pie, I will insist on making Nancy's delicious recipe for pumpkin bread.  Take that!   Happy thanksgiving to ME!

And then you throw in vegetarians with demands for beans, broccoli, carrots, corn and rutabaga.   Ok, yes, I made that last one up.  I've never heard demands for rutabaga, don't even know what it is, frankly.   But seriously, what are vegetarians even doing in Spain, land of the ever present pig?!?!?

And if, after weeks of tense negotiations, you are somehow able to agree on a time AND a menu, you are rudely confronted by the lack of necessary Thanksgiving ingredients in this country.   Canned pumpkin, cranberries in any form, corn, and stuffing mix are ALL thin on the ground in Spain.

Two years ago, for my first Thanksgiving in Spain, I volunteered to make my favorite pumpkin pie for a Thanksgiving dinner I was invited to.   Although I did manage to find canned pumpkin, there was simply NO WAY that I was going to find pumpkin pie spice in Madrid.  I did, in fact, have an entertaining time attempting to create my own.   I found the recipe online (what in god's name did we do for information before the internet?), hand ground allspice with my mortar and pestel, combined the individual spices, and ended up feeling very resourceful and pilgrim-like.

I did, however, make sure that the next time I went to the States, I bought pumpkin pie spice.  And, in fact, I seem to have developed a terror of being without it.   Based on the number of jars of pumpkin pie spice I currently possess, I have apparently purchased one every single time I have gone home!

But, JUST when I think I am on top of things, I find there is something I haven't thought of.   There is a great demand at this year's Thanksgiving dinner (being held on Saturday, natch) for stuffing.   Now I have never made stuffing of any kind.   But, based on the stuffing I remember my Mom making, really, how difficult could it be?  It was yummy, certainly, but seemed fairly simple with key ingredients of elderly bread, celery, onions, and spice stuff.   So, again, I turn to my trusty online friends (just like my brother's TV friends, not to be confused with actual friends).   Today my best buddy appears to be AllRecipes which is offering me a tantalizingly simple bread and celery stuffing which reviewers claim is both "just like Mom made" and super easy.   Perfect.   Except.   Except that it calls for poultry seasoning.  Ya, what exactly IS poultry seasoning?  And here we go again!

Apparently poultry seasoning is a lot more controversial than pumpkin pie spice.  Everyone seemed to agree on the ingredients there: cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice (preferably ground, NOT in the pellet form I ended up with, thus the mortar and pestel).   But there seems to be QUITE a bit of disagreement as to what exactly goes into a good poultry seasoning.   Sure, everyone starts off with the basic sage, thyme, marjoram, pepper and rosemary (excellent-I have an whole bush of this-wait, damn, it needs to be dried).   But there the recipes part ways.   Some require parsley and some onion powder.   Others insist on celery seed (celery has SEEDS?).  Or cloves or savory (savory? could you possibly be less specific?).  Those mad fools at McCormick even throw in nutmeg!  What IS a girl to do???

At this point, frankly, I don't know how it is going to work out.  I will have to let you know.   But if I survive it, I am thinking next year I will be able to tackle the mighty turkey.   I mean, how hard could that be???

Nov. 6th, 2007

Debbie's trip part III (or what to expect when you visit us)

Sunday, we got up kind of, um, LATE.   For obvious reasons.   Deb had asked if we could go see a bullfight.   UNFORTUNATELY, in late October, the pickings are few,* however, there was a novillada (kind of a junior bullfight) scheduled at the Ventas bullring.  I had never seen a novillada before and did NOT have high hopes.  But we were determined to go.

First, however, we went out for run, past the Royal Palace and up into the park with the 4th century B.C. Egyptian temple and gorgeous views back over the cathedrals of La Almudena and San Francisco.   After that, of course, our TOP priority was getting Deb fed, so we took her across the street to El Arrozal for paella, shrimp salad and alioli on toast.  And wine.  OBVIOUSLY.

The BEST thing I can say about the bullfight that afternoon was that it was not boring.   No, it was NOT GOOD, by any stretch of the imagination, but boring, it was NOT.  It was, in fact, the biggest COMEDY OF ERRORS I have ever seen.   EVERYONE was incompetent, from junior matadors, to their cuadrillas of supporting toreros.   Even the BULLS!   One had to be kicked out and replaced for being lame.   Not one, but TWO of the bulls were so cowardly in the picador phase, that the President authorized placing of the black banderillas, an occurrence which the little old men around us said they had NEVER seen in TWENTY-FIVE years of attending bullfights.
You really have to LOVE the little old men at bullfights.   They are quite THRILLED to share their opinions and insights into what you are seeing. You can get QUITE an education.   I understand this as a simple manifestation of the UNSTOPPABLE SPANISH IMPERATIVE to have and loudly express an opinion.   Plus, they are little old men.   Who ELSE listens to them these days?   They CERTAINLY don't listen to each other!  Jamie, however, INSISTS they just talk to us because we are GIRLS.   I say, whatever works!

Regardless, EVERYONE was incompetent.   ALL THREE junior matadors were caught repeatedly and tossed through the air, as was a banderillero.  TWO toreros tripped OVER THEIR OWN FEET and fell down in front of the bulls.   Luckily, the bulls had NO discernible vicious instincts AT ALL, so the toreros were left unhurt, if a bit embarrassed.   There were so many people flying through the air and rolling on the ground, it was like a CIRCUS.   But, for the first bullfight Debbie has seen in 20 years, at least it was entertaining, in a car crash kind of way....

We kept ourselves sated during the bullfight with the precious jamón ibérico de bellota (the GOLD standard in pig), picos, and the everpresent bota filled with red wine.   Really, how DID we ever make it through American sporting events without a BOTA????

Afterwards, we walked up the Calle Alcalá to our traditional after bullfight "bull bar" where we sampled some fine queso manchego and rabo de toro (which I like to refer to as "bull butt," but is ACTUALLY oxtail stew).   With beer.   Of COURSE.

We had just one more stop on the way home: the truly TERRIFYING Torre de Oro Bar Andalú.  This tiny bar on the Plaza Mayor is not only filled to capacity with giant stuffed bulls heads, but its walls are covered with "what happens when it all goes WRONG" bullfight photos, in all their icky detail.   NOT my ideal spot for a relaxing drink and a tasty bite, but it has its kitsch value.  And Jamie LOVES this place. More beer and tapas.   And I WONDER why I can't lose weight in Madrid!

And then it was home for us all, as Debbie had an early start the next morning.   She went off and traveled around the countryside and returned to us a week later, complaining that nowhere in the country had she eaten and drunk as well as with us!  SMIRK!

On that Monday afternoon, I am PLEASED to say we once again showed Deb our FINEST hospitality.   She arrived at 5:30pm, having just spent 40 minutes navigating tiny Madrid streets to return her rental car and announced that she needed a drink!  Well, she had come to the right place!

Jamie opened a bottle of wine, I put out cheese and picos and we sat out on the terrace in the afternoon sun talking.   We weren't due to meet friends for dinner until 9:30, so we just hung out all afternoon on the terrace, talking and laughing, as Jamie opened bottle after bottle.   CONVENIENTLY, this house came with a built-in 19 bottle wine rack so we are RARELY caught unequipped!

After FOUR hours of this fun, we went to dinner in Lavapies.   Deb's step-son came back home with us, and, we decided, as it was Debbie's last night in Madrid, a dance party was in order.  And so, on a random Monday in late October, we put on music, opened some MORE wine (SEE how handy that wine rack is????) and the four of us danced until the wee hours of the morning.   Ok, not THAT wee-we called it quits at 2:00am.   But ONLY because Deb had to leave for the airport at 9:00am!

So, in the short time we had with Deb, we felt we showed her a GREAT deal.  Of course, there is ALWAYS more to do: the Rastro, the Plaza de la Paja, the Mercado de la Cebada, the Arabian baths at Medina Mayrit, the Casa del Campo, perhaps even the Prado Museum from the inside.   Most TRAGICALLY, of course, Debbie missed out on the Museo de Jamón (Museum of Ham)!   And, it is ENTIRELY possible that, having spent so much of her leisure time with us, Debbie now needs a VACATION!

Anyway, now that you know what to expect, don't YOU want to come visit us?!?!?!?

*NOTE: Spanish bullfighting season runs late March through late Ocotber. if you visit us during November-February, we CANNOT help you!

Nov. 3rd, 2007

Debbie's trip part II (or how to eat & drink your way through Madrid)

So that was FRIDAY.   On Saturday, we had plans to take Deb out for tapas and dancing with friends in the evening.   So we thought that she would enjoy a RELAXING visit to the Retiro park in the morning.  Even though Madrid is the European capitol with the most green space, it is STILL a city and Debbie is used to Vermont!   Morning, as I have mentioned before, is a somewhat FLEXIBLE term in Spain.  It can extend WELL past noon till 2:00pm.   Which is lucky, considering Deb was still a LITTLE on Vermont time.   Which is NOT to say my brilliant anti-jet-lag plan failed!  We organized ourselves and got down to the vast park around 1:00pm.

We strolled around, taking in the endless flower beds, fountains of mermaids and artichokes (why? why?) the boating pond, the Fallen Angel statue, the Rose Garden, and the ubiquitous puppet shows.   And, eventually, sat down at one of the many outdoor cafes to people watch (and drink beer).  SHOCKING, I know.

It is a FAIRLY long and uphill walk back from the Retiro to our place.  Luckily, we can make the journey easier and more enjoyable by stopping by several of the HUNDREDS of bars that line the streets.   We walked out the front gates of the park, past the Puerta de Alcalá, the Palacio de Comunicaciones, the fountain of Cibeles.   We headed down through the gardens in the middle of the Paseo del Prado, past the Prado museum itself, and the Neptune fountain.  (There we go again, falling into the trap of ACTUAL sight seeing!)

At this point, we CLEARLY needed refreshment, so we hit the always packed, always wonderful Ceveceria Cervantes for tostas with alioli and gambas (toasted bread with garlic mayo and shrimp), boquerones en vinagre (sardines in vinegar), and an AMAZING salad with ventresca (yummy yummy tuna).

We wandered a few doors down to Taberna de las Dolores for a caña and a couple more pinchos.  Then to Los Gatos, a COMPLETELY kitsch filled bar with lots of bullfight paraphernalia and a mural of Goya's "The Naked Maja" for another beer or two.   When we tried to get the bill and leave, the bartender INSISTED we first have a plate of cheese on the house.  Really, how could we refuse????

We headed up the Calle de las Huertas, LITTERED with bars, towards the Plaza Santa Ana with its magnificently restored Hotel Reina Victoria in all its wedding cake splendor towering above the DOZENS of outdoor cafes.

At around 6:00pm (yes, that makes FIVE hours of walking, drinking and tapeando), with an ENTIRE evening of tapas, drinking, and dancing looming before her, Deb thought it might be best to go home and rest awhile (AMATEURS!)   So we stopped at JUST ONE more place on the way, Bodegas Melibea,

the bar Jamie INSISTS on referring to as the "lesbian bar," for reasons you can, well, SEE.   And, in order to wind down, we had mojitos.  Oh yes, we DID.

And then Ben & Jerry's in the Plaza Mayor, because...well, just BECAUSE.   We're from Vermont, we HAD TO!

We rested for an hour or so at home and, at 9:00pm, headed out to Cava Baja, which is one long street populated WITH NOTHING BUT BARS!   We stopped to Casa Lucas to meet up with Debbie's pseudo stepson from Middlebury who is doing a semester abroad in Madrid.   Casa Lucas is one of our absolute staples: a brilliant tiny wine bar where you can always get a table, hundreds of wonderful wines by the glass, stunning food, and the warmest friendliest waiters and owners.   Osvaldo recommended a gorgeous bottle from the Cariñena wine region, Care.   We indulged in our favorite tosta Alella, which I won't even TRY to describe because words CANNOT do it justice.

We met up with Lena and some friends visiting her from Middlebury College and moved down a few doors to Tempranillo for their tosta de setas (toasted bread with alioli, topped with grilled oyster mushrooms).   And wine!

We ended up stopping by JUST a couple more bars for tapas (and wine, of COURSE) as we made our way down the street, and eventually ended up in a Mesón on Cava San Miguel (along the back side of the Plaza Mayor), where we had tortilla española (potato and onion omelette), grilled setas with ham, and pimientos de padrón (tiny fried green peppers).  And wine, DEFINITELY more wine.   We attempted to stop into Mesón de la Guitarra to see the tunos, but it was WAY too packed.

So at 1:00 am (after only FOUR hours of tapeando), we headed onto our DANCING destination, Palacio Gaviria , a 19th century mansion that, while converted to a disco, retains its grand sweeping entrance stairway, its gilded mirrors, its marble fireplaces, its tapestries, and its velvet couches.  Happily, as it was so EARLY, there was no line and we walzed (salsaed?) right in.

We must have been tired after all that STRENUOUS walking from bar to bar, because we only stayed till 3:30am.  We emerged to find an ENORMOUS line stretching down the street (ah Madrid!). Three AM is really rush hour in Madrid. It is NOT the right time to try to get INTO a club.   It is, however, the PERFECT time to end the night in the traditional Madrileño way, with churros & chocolate at Chocolatería Gínes, founded in 1890.   (I keep pointing out the great antiquity of MANY of these places, lest you think we were not giving Debbie a PROPER tour of the important historical sights and had simply devolved into just wandering into random bars!)  Tune in tomorrow for the exciting conclusion to Deb's trip!!!

Oct. 31st, 2007

Debbie's trip part I (or wendy's guide to preventing jetlag)

Ok, so there were no theatrical happenings, awful or otherwise.   You are SAFE!   We did however, show Debbie a good time.  As is typical with trans-Atlantic flights, she arrived at the UNGODLY hour of 7:30am Friday morning.  Helpfully, she had not really slept AT ALL, having found a cute boy on the plane to keep her otherwise occupied!

We took her home and suggested she get just a couple of hours of sleep to refresh herself.   It is one of the MAJOR potential pitfalls for Americans coming to Europe-you get off the plane completely exhausted and disoriented even if you HAVE slept for a few hours because it is 3:00am (or worse) according to your body clock.   It is KEY to get a COUPLE of hours of sleep right off the plane, but, you have to be very careful to not over do it!   If you sleep for TOO long, you won't be able to get to sleep when it is nighttime in Madrid and it can throw off your WHOLE TRIP.   I have found it best to rest a bit and then get RIGHT on the Spanish clock.  You need to get out and just POWER ON THROUGH until it is bedtime in Madrid.   Which could be, frankly, 5:00am the following morning!

So that was our plan for Debbie.  She was only going to be in Madrid for three days and we didn't want to overwhelm her with museums and palace tours and such.  We wanted to hit the most IMPORTANT sights.  By which I mean, of course, the incredible BARS.

We decided to introduce her to one of our favorite Spanish customs: the TAPAS CRAWL.  The idea is to wander from bar to bar meeting friends and having a drink or two and a few bits of whatever food the bar specializes in.   Unlike in the States, however, there is NO lingering in tapas, in fact, there is rarely SITTING DOWN!  The tradition is to get in, stand at the bar, have your caña (small beer) and your tapa or pincho (small serving) and then MOVE ON to the next bar.  You keep moving, keep socializing and you also keep eating and drinking.   Really, WHAT could be better than that?!?!?  Of course, should we HAPPEN to wander by some historic sights on the way, so much the better!

So Deb, Jamie and I headed out.   FIRST, we had to stop at La Casa Revuelta.  It is an HISTORIC old Madrid bar that, in typical fashion, does one thing REALLY well: deep fried cod.  No, REALLY.   I didn't think I was going to be all that impressed by fried fish either.  You have NO idea.   All I can say is there is a reason this place is packed all the time!   So we crammed into the tiny space with a mixed crowd of young hipsters and little old men and women getting their daily cod fix on their way home. After a beer and some fried cod, we were ready to sight see.   Conveniently, the Plaza Mayor was just up the street.

From there, we wandered around through the winding little streets near the Puerta del Sol to the Casa del Abuelo, a 100 year old shrimp bar which makes the most amazing gambas al ajillo I have ever had.  Also delicious grilled shrimp.   And shrimp croquetas.   And shrimp tempura.   But really, it is the al ajillo that is my favorite.   With a caña or Rioja it is the perfect meal!   In traditional Madrid form, though it is a tiny bar, it has huge plate glass windows that slide up in order to extend the bar outside.  Large wine barrels cover the sidewalk and spill into the street to provide additional tables to stand around.

After ALL that standing up and walking, Debbie was feeling that sitting down would be a good idea.   We didn't want to wear her out too much on her first day, so we took her to El Rocio for our favorite mussels.

Here, we did break the cardinal rule of tapas-we sat down and LINGERED.  Not really all that surprising actually.   Jamie and I, along with various guests have often been ENSNARED by this place and have spent many happy hours, sitting outside in the brilliant Madrid sunshine, drinking beer and chatting.   After the mussels, Debbie and Jamie tried the paella, and I just stuck to wine (dieting, don't you know).   Debbie engaged in some flirtatious banter with our Romanian Patrick Swayze look alike waiter, Florian.   SIX HOURS off the plane and she's already flirting in another language!

After SEVERAL bottles of wine (ya, you can TELL by just looking at the pictures, can't you?) we took her by two of our other favorite hood hang-outs: Soberbia (Arrogance) , the bar of the seven deadly sins and Venta, el Buscón (dubbed the "Naked Wendy bar" by Jamie because of a pen and ink drawing of a woman that he, um, likes).  Also, the Cervecería La Taurina, but REALLY just to see all the giant stuffed bull heads on the walls.

Aware that it was getting late and sunset would be soon, we headed through the Puerta del Sol, past the Tio Pepe sign, the famous bear and strawberry tree statue that is the symbol of the city, past kilometer zero, from which all distances in Spain are measured (hey LOOK, we're actually sight seeing) and straight on into the over 100 year old (note historical significance) pastry shop La Mallorquina.   I dashed in, BEAT BACK crowds of little old ladies, and emerged triumphant bearing a chocolate truffle for them to try.

We continued down the newly pedestrianized Calle Arenal past the Opera House into the Plaza del Oriente to find the Royal Palace spread before us with the sun just beginning to set behind it in the West.  Oh yes!

I quickly scooted them across the bridge to the outdoor cafe at El Ventorillo which has a beautiful view back over La Almudena Cathedral.  We ordered more wine and some potato chips and sat and chatted as the sun went down over the Guardarrama mountains in the distance and the lights came up on the Cathedral.

Finally, when it started to become a bit chilly to sit out in shirtsleeves with sun gone, we decided to head home.   But NOT before stopping at La Panza es Primero, our favorite Mexican place for their fabulous frozen margaritas and nachos.  

NOTE: not ACTUALLY a photo of my belly, but I understand the confusion.

So about TEN hours after we had headed out, we stumbled up to our flat and let Debbie COLLAPSE into bed.   All evil effects of jetlag SUCCESSFULLY avoided!

Oct. 30th, 2007


I just got word from my lawyers (yes, I have more than one) that I have been approved!   The Spanish Labor Ministry has decided that I am worthy of being granted the authorization to work and live in Spain.   Apparently they believed the company's argument that I am so TAILOR MADE for this job, that there is NO ONE in Europe who could do it and they HAVE to import me!   A reasonable belief, frankly, considering that I wrote the job description based on my resume!   YAY! No more illegal alienness!!!

Oct. 29th, 2007

athletic activities....

So Jamie and I are becoming runners.   No, really, I'm serious.   We have been fairly diligent about running three times a week since he moved here this spring. Now HE keeps talking about wanting to run a marathon.   I, FULLY aware of my limitations, am just focused on keeping us running for at least 30 minutes.

And I am TOTALLY in love with my Nike+ Ipod running kit that actually allows us to track not only our time, but our distance, speed and calories.   (thank you Molly!)   As a result, I am able to KEEP pushing us-a little farther, a little faster.   And, when you do a REALLY good job, Lance Armstrong comes on your Ipod to congratulate you. What is better than that?!?!?   Ok, I guess if he gave me a beer, THAT would be better, but the technology is new.   I am sure they will get there.

Anyway, despite the fact that Jamie is really enjoying running (as much as one can enjoy something that unpleasant), he keeps trying to convince me to spend more time on other "athletic" activities.   His latest attempt:

Jamie: You know, I read that having sex burns up TWICE as many calories as running for 35 minutes.
Wendy: Really, where'd you read that?
Jamie: Um, I wrote it on my computer and then I read it.
Wendy: Ya, thought so.

A comic genius is my Jamie.

Oct. 18th, 2007

the return of Debbie

Our friend Debbie is coming to visit us this weekend.   From Middlebury, VT, Debbie has been a close friend of mine since seventh grade.   And, an ex-girlfriend of Jamie's (and really, who HASN'T been?).  Debbie is returning to Madrid after 20 years. 

See, my family REALLY took to Debbie way back when we were in junior high (yes, at the dawn of time).   As a result, we invited Debbie to come along with us on a series of trips.   Why her father, an eminently rational and salt of the earth kind of guy ever agreed to let her go with my crazy family gallivanting around the world, I will NEVER know.  But he did.   I know why MY father invited her.   She was charming, smart, easy going, adaptable, intrepid, tremendous fun, and a pleasure to be around.   Sadly, the same could NOT be said of me at 13.   Frankly, I am sure my parents would have effectuated a trade if they could have!

The most memorable of Debbie trips was surely when we were ending up our seven month sojourn in Madrid.   We were heartbroken to be moving away from Madrid (well, my mother and I were, anyway) and my father thought he would ease the blow by a four week travel extravaganza around Europe.   So Debbie flew over to Madrid to join us for a few days in Madrid before we took off to Rome, Athens, Corfu and not one but TWO Mediterranean week long cruises that took us to Venice, Portofino, Tunisia, Istanbul, Rhodes, Crete, Mykonos, Santorini, back to Corfu, Malta, and Dubrovnik (remember Yugoslavia?) only to end with a long weekend in London before going back to Vermont.

We had an AMAZING time.   Truly.   Not only were the places we visited like a fantasy to us, but, given a good deal of freedom to be on our own on the ships and in the hotel complexes (Corfu in particular), Debbie and I had tremendous fun flirting with Greek waiters.   Nuff said about THAT.

And then there were our theatrical endeavors.   This is back in the days when passengers on cruise ships largely made their own fun.  Of course, there were the cruise ship singers and the odd magician who performed, but much of the entertainment was provided by the actual passengers in talent shows and costume competitions.   My mother, ever the teacher, encouraged our FULL participation in this.  Limited supplies, of course, meant that our creativity was severely taxed.

On one of the cruises, my brother, Debbie and I concocted three nights of entirely different costumes based largely on our BEDDING.   The first night we were a bullfighter and bull.   Clad in black pants & jacket, a white shirt and a rose between my teeth (why? why?), I performed passes with the capote we were taking home, while Jimmy and Debbie formed a white charging bull with the help of some construction paper.   The next night, we were a sheik and his harem.   All three of us wore harem pants made out of our sheets and shoes with upturned toes from Turkey.   Debbie and I were in our bathing suits with napkins covering our faces from the nose down and my brother wore his bathrobe open over his bare chest, a black mustache and a fez (our small green plastic trashcan upside on his head with my rope belt hanging off).   And the third night, we were Raid and the bugs, with my brother as a giant construction paper can chasing around Debbie and me, the bugs, with the sheets tautly draped from our chests, through our legs to our backs where they secured the carapaces made of pillows.   And yes, there ARE pictures of all of this!

On the other cruise, Debbie, my brother and I, participated in the talent show by engaging in a theatrical performance extraordinaire.   We were greatly encouraged by the earlier success of a performance of Robert Service's "The Shooting of Dan McGrew" on an Alaskan cruise.   On that occasion, my mother had enlisted a cast of thousands, ok, more like thirteen fellow passengers for a pun ridden performance to accompany her dramatic recitation of the unintentionally campy poem from 1907's "The Spell of the Yukon."  It was a huge hit due largely to the star turn of my little (at that time) brother, almost hidden beneath a ten gallon hat, wielding large cap guns, a cowboy swagger, and a dangerous attitude.   Also, the incessant silliness of accompanying lines like "While high overhead, green, yellow and red, the North Lights swept in bars," with Debbie and me, swaddled in green, yellow, and red tissue paper, gliding across the bar with push brooms in our hands.   Yes, well, as I said, this was back before there was major PROFESSIONAL talent on ships.

Anyway, thus inspired, on THIS particular cruise we chose a Mediterranean theme, and, again, accompanied by my mother as narrator, participated in the talent show by performing, I kid you not, the ODYSSEY.   Oh yes, we did.   My brother was Odysseus and Debbie and I were, well, everything else.   His sailors, the Sirens, the Scylla and Charybdis, the Cyclops, the pigs, all of it.   As a short form play, all of three of us singing snippets of songs to properly dramatize each moment.   All I can say is that you had to be there.   We spent almost the whole week writing it up and practicing.   We practically missed Malta entirely because we chose to stay on the ship and rehearse.   We were DEDICATED.   Ah, youth.   What can I say?   We were 15, we didn't have alcohol then!

Needless to say, Debbie was left with some FABULOUS memories of Europe, and, even though she still lives and works in Middlebury, she has wanted to return, and this weekend, is finally doing so.   With the same intrepid spirit that allowed her to fly from Vermont to Madrid by herself at age 15, she is coming to Spain to spend two weeks traveling around, largely on her own.   And we are hoping to show her a good time.   SLIGHTLY different than the last time she was here, but good none the less.   So now you know our history.   Campy theater and ridiculous costuming could break out at any moment.  Consider yourself WARNED.

Sep. 29th, 2007

the year of the fiesta!

We have thus declared it.   It sounds crazy, but since Jamie moved here last March, we have not left Madrid.   Not once.   Oh, yes, we have left Spain.   We have been to Paris, to Berlin, TWICE to Provence, to Vermont, to Rhode Island, and spent an ETERNITY in Newark Airport.   But, actually getting around the Spanish countryside, THAT we haven't done.   And, while we definitely do want to hit all the highlights that any visitor to Spain would do (Sevilla, Granada, Cordoba, Segovia, Toledo, Avila, Santiago de Compostela, ok, MAYBE Barcelona, etc.), we are PARTICULARLY interested in experiencing those teeny tiny village fiestas that happen constantly all over Spain.

We got our first taste of small town fiestas shortly after coming back from vacation this summer.   We were to attend the wedding of Candy and her Match man, Alfonso in Candeleda.   For those of you keeping track at home, that makes three weddings in three countries in the past five months!

Anyway, Candeleda is Alfonso's family's village.   All Spaniards have a village.   The entire family may have lived for the PAST THIRTY YEARS in an apartment complex in Madrid, but they always have an ancestral village.  And, as Kinga said "they ALWAYS go back to the village."   So, after years of hearing about Alfonso's village, we were finally to see it.   And it was worth the trip.  

Nestled at the foot of the Sierra de Gredos in Castilla y León, Candeleda is a wonderful little village gifted with lots of natural beauty and abundance (we went home loaded down with fresh figs from Alfonso's family's farm) and a truly shocking night life for such a small country town.   And we were in luck, because not only was the wedding taking place in and around Candeleda, the happy couple had thoughtfully chosen their date to coincide with the town's annual fiesta!

Though largely occupied with the wedding festivities (BBQ, gorgeous wedding, dancing at the reception till 5:30am when the churros & chocolate showed up!), we did get to experience a bit of the village festivities.   We visited the portable bullring put up in the town's small Plaza Mayor.   As we walked towards the Plaza through the small winding streets, I started noticing that all the house windows were covered with sheets of plywood and every street corner had large metal gates ready to close them off. Suddenly I had the startling realization that we were actually walking the route of the encierro (running of the bulls) that would happen later.   Having a healthy respect (ok, fear) for the Spanish toro, I couldn't help shooting repeated nervous glances over my shoulder to make sure we were NOT being snuck up on.   And, we spent a lovely afternoon in the world's loudest bar sampling the local award winning tapa of morcilla (yummy blood sausage!)

Most fun, at 1:30am each night of the festival the village would light three "toros de fuego."   Honestly, we had NO IDEA what "bulls of fire" meant, but we KNEW we wanted to be involved.   We were all ready to choose a nice centrally located spot on the sidewalk to watch the fun and be in on the action.   But Alfonso's mother insisted that we go up to the balcony in their apartment to watch because it was safer. Safer? What EXACTLY had we gotten ourselves into???   Yes, well, it is tricky to explain the toro de fuego-but, helpfully, I have a video!!!

So that was our first experience with the village fiesta.   And now we are DETERMINED to have more.   There are wild boar festivals, pulpo festivals, roasted green onion festivals, wine harvest festivals, there even are Moros & Cristianos festivals (you don't want to know).   There are HUNDREDS every year.   And we must try them ALL!

May. 13th, 2007

yes, well....

Ok, yes, I know.   It has been an eon since I have posted.   All I can say is that my life has become EXTREMELY busy.   Work, friends, travel, moving in with Jamie-all very very good.   All very VERY time consuming.   And, I have to tell you, I don't see it slowing down till at least, well, July or so.   So, sadly, I wouldn't expect any major updates here till then.   I will however, leave you with these two charming photos of what Jamie and I have been getting up to.   And if you want more details about WHAT exactly we have been doing, check out his blog!

Mar. 23rd, 2007

I will always hold your hand

he said.   We were on the metro last night, coming home from a fun wine and cheese tasting event at Mary's Planeta Vino.   We had spent the evening with a bunch of Americans, and, after being here in Spain for a few weeks, Jamie was surprised how little couples touched each other, even sat near each other.   "I just want you to know," he said, "even fifty years from now, I will always hold your hand."   Yup, that's the kind of guy he is.  How lucky am I?

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