Thursday, January 30, 2014

Get Excited About Springtime in Andalucía

Springtime in Andalucía: when the sun shines stronger, when people fill streetside terraces, when festival season starts back up, and when the orange blossom perfumes whole cities. The most southern region in Spain is famous for its sunny stereotype and vivacious residents, but the powerful heat in the summer is legendary—think 40º C (100º F) as the daytime norm. Living in Úbeda last winter, it was cloudy and rainy most days, but once March rolled around, the weather underwent a transformation—and Andalucía came back to life.

Springtime in Andalucía, Spain
Cordoban women wearing traditional trajes de gitana
The sun came out (and I wore shorts, thank you very much), it seemed like there was a festival happening every weekend somewhere in the region, and people flocked to bars and cafés to sit outside and soak up the warm, relaxing atmosphere. Let me share with you why I think the months of April and May in Andalucía are simply the best time to experience this exciting part of Spain.


Springtime in Andalucía, Spain
Streets of Iznatoraf
In Spain’s image abroad, southern Spain is stereotyped as sunny, passionate, and warm; perhaps this is due to Málaga’s claim to fame of 330 days of sunshine every year. However, although temperatures rarely dip below freezing in the winter, few houses have central heating and many people walk to work or to run errands, so you really feel the cold more than you might somewhere else.

Enter the springtime sun: the dreary rain is banished and the world warms up, but doesn’t get unbearably hot. You can walk around without a jacket or appreciate a gentle breeze as it drifts past your hair at dusk. Grandmas pack away their floor-length fur coats, men start unbuttoning the top two, three…even four buttons of their shirts, and women bare their arms in bright, colorful dresses.

Rather than grabbing a quick snack or a coffee at a restaurant’s bar, people instead choose to sit outside in the terrazas and enjoy the warmth of the sun. This custom of going out for an afternoon drink or coffee is so popular in the south that by 6pm it’s often impossible to find a place to sit outside!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Food I Miss From Jaén Province, Spain

I have to admit, I’m extremely spoiled getting to live here in Galicia, the Spanish region with perhaps the best food in the whole country. From fresh, affordable seafood to a variety of cheeses and sausages and even tasty almond cakes, my stomach is certainly satisfied with my decision to move up north this year. However, while living down south last year in the Andalusian province of Jaén, I grew very fond of several traditional dishes and snacks, some unique to the area and others shared across the south. If you’re ever passing through Jaén, make sure to try some of these for me when you stop for a bite to eat, because I miss them a lot!

Lomo de orza

Food in Jaén, Spain
(Source: JJ Merelo)
Pronounced “LOE-moe day OER-thah” [ˈ de ˈoɾ.θa], lomo de orza or pork loin confit takes its name from the large clay jars—orzas—it was traditionally preserved in. Before refrigeration was invented, people would buy cuts of pork after the annual pig slaughter, cook them, place them in clay pots, and cover them with olive oil. Doing so would keep bacteria out for months at a time. Today this tender, flavorful meat is still a popular dish to order for tapas or bring to a family potluck dinner.

To prepare the lomo, cooks first marinate the meat in herbs and spices for two days before they slow-boil (fry?) the meat in olive oil for a couple hours. Once it’s cooked, it’s put into a glass jar (doesn’t have to be a clay orza) and filled with plenty of olive oil. You can find recipes (in Spanish) here and here.


Food in Jaén, Spain
Jiennense comfort food
When I first showed up at my hotel in Úbeda, jetlagged and travel-weary, I asked the server at the hotel’s restaurant what she recommended as really typical, local dishes. She told me to try a town specialty: andrajos (“ahn-DRAH-khoes” [anˈdɾa.xos]), a greenish meat-and-veggie stew. It was the perfect comfort food after a long 24 hours of travel to Spain and made for a warm welcome to my new home for the year. The name andrajos refers to the “rag”-shaped pasta cooked with everything else.

The stew includes a vegetable base that contains a lot of the basic ingredients for paella—garlic, onion, tomato, peppers, and artichokes. You can add all sorts of meat to the tasty broth, including clams, shrimp, desalted salt cod, and rabbit. Check out two Spanish-language recipes here and here.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Photo Post: The Roman-Walled City of Lugo, Spain

Lugo, Spain
Roman walls
Last year when I was teaching down south, I would visit the nearby city of Linares about once a month or so for the friends, the food, and the train station. It had become kind of like a second home when it came time for me to say adios to Andalucía last May; visiting so often made the town much more familiar than others in the region.

This year I’d have to say that the northwestern Spanish city of Lugo has taken up a similar role in my life. Although I’m living in Santiago de Compostela—a two-hour bus ride to the west—I’ve been to Lugo three times already since June and I’ll probably be heading back again at least once or twice this year, too.

Lugo, Spain
Roman walls with remaining turret
The capital of a sparsely-populated province of Galicia, Lugo is most famous for its incredibly well-preserved Roman walls that surround the city’s entire historic core. Within the perimeter marked out by the 2,000-year-old walls, you can find a cathedral that’s a hodge-podge of architectural styles, a grand central square that leads off into streets crammed with lively tapas restaurants, and yellow shells here and there directing pilgrims along the Camino Primitivo route of the Camino de Santiago.

Lugo, Spain
Lucenses dressed up as Romans
It was the Camino that initially brought me to Lugo; I had moved out of my apartment in Úbeda last June intending to walk the final five days of the “Way of St. James” pilgrimage…but I was dragging my 50-pound suitcase and bags with me. Thankfully, Annie—a fellow language assistant I met on the plane ride to Madrid in September—was living in Lugo and graciously allowed me to leave my belongings at her place while I walked across Galicia. What a friend!

When I came back to town after 8 days on the Camino, Lugo had started its annual Roman reenactment festival—Arde Lucus, “Lugo Burns.” Dramatic, I know. In this festival the lucenses chose to dress up as toga-clad Romans or fur-wearing castreixos, the Celtic pre-Roman people of Galicia. For three or four days there was always something going on in the old town, from gladiator “fights” to parades to artisan markets. The Roman settlement of Lucus Augusti felt like it had come back to life, indeed.

Lugo, Spain
Back in Spain for Year Two—this time in Galicia—I heard the rumors that Lugo’s actual city fair, the one dedicated to San Froilán—would be celebrated soon. During the second week of October, a few friends and I braved the carsick-inducing bus and arrived at a warm, sunny Lugo filled to the brim with people dressed to the nines. The San Froilán festival centers around the consumption of pulpo á feira, literally “fair-style octopus” that has been slow-boiled, snipped with shears, and garnished with olive oil and smoked paprika. Never before or since in my life have I had such fresh, tender, and juicy octopus, and I’m anxiously looking forward to going back this October.

Lugo, Spain
A good sobremesa beneath the soportales
What was your favorite picture from this post? Have you ever been to Lugo before? What other well-preserved Roman cities can you think of? Comment below!

For more pictures check out my sets on Flickr here and here.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Hiking Pico Sacro Outside of Santiago de Compostela, Spain

Galicia is (in)famous for being rainy; upon explaining to my Andalusian friends and teachers that I would be moving up north last year, they would almost instantly exclaim how much it rains here. However, I’ve been keeping track of the weather on a small Tumblr you can follow here, and so far it really hasn’t been all that bad. In fact, for five whole weeks (5!) in November and December we had, at most, a single day of rain. Wow!

Pico Sacro, Galicia, Spain
Looking out towards Santiago
During this welcome dry spell, a few American friends in town and I took advantage of the nice weather and made a little daytrip from Santiago de Compostela to hike up a mountain called Pico Sacro. The name means “Sacred Peak,” but I’ll explain the mystical origins of the title below. Only half an hour outside of town, Pico Sacro rears up and gives a grand panorama of the surrounding areas from its summit.

An easy, rewarding hike

Pico Sacro, Galicia, Spain
(Source: José Camba)
Hiking up the mountain wasn’t a walk in the park, but it wasn’t extremely strenuous, either. Just an hour along rural roads and forest paths brought us up to a small parking area, a nice place to stretch and hydrate before ascending the rugged crest. We passed several shell-emblazoned markers for the Vía de la Plata, the southeast-to-northwest branch of the Camino de Santiago, although we didn’t run into any pilgrims since it was the middle of November.

Pico Sacro, Galicia, Spain
Views to the east
The rocky summit really lets you see Galicia in its entirety: thick pine forests break apart to let bright green fields shine through and bridges carry high-speed trains from Santiago down to Ourense, far in the distance. Fog and smoke drift between low hills and villages diffuse across the countryside.

Monday, January 13, 2014

What I Enjoyed the Most in Florence, Italy

The first stop on the 10-day tour of central Italy I took over Christmas break was Florence, the capital of the Tuscany region. I’m not naïve enough to think I can write something original about one of the most heavily visited and touristed places in the world, so I’m not going to attempt to put a new spin on this city, especially after only being in town a mere three days!

Florence, Italy
Florence, seen from the Palazzo Vecchio
So instead of trying to write with a unique angle, I’m just going to come out and be honest with y’all: I saw and did the touristy, surface-level things…and really loved it…and I’m okay with that! So in this post I’d like to talk about the five tidbits that I personally enjoyed the most about (touristy) Florence.

The whole Duomo complex

Florence, Italy
Florence Cathedral in the morning
Before I began researching Florence, I knew that the city’s Duomo or domed cathedral was a pretty important monument, but I had no idea it had so much going on!

Of course, first you’ve got the cathedral building itself, a gigantic Gothic church clothed in gorgeous contrasting blocks of white, green, and pink marble. From the main nave to the space beneath the dome, you’re just awestruck by how gargantuan the open area is.

Descending down some stairs in the church floor you can explore the ruins of the old Church of Santa Separata, over which today’s cathedral was built. There’s not much to see…but it helps you comprehend how ambitious the new plan was.

The western façade wasn’t put up until the 1800s in a harmonious Gothic Revival style, which means that all throughout the Renaissance the cathedral’s westwork was left just completely unfinished. How was this okay to the Florentines?

Anyway, the dome itself literally began the Renaissance style (props to you, Brunelleschi!), and spans a diameter just 2 meters shorter than that of the Pantheon in Rome. Composed of an inner and an outer dome, it still holds the world’s record for largest brick-and-mortar dome. It’s an exhausting hike to the top but the views are absolutely perfect. Everybody takes their pictures of the dome from the detached bell tower, which was designed by the famous Early Renaissance painter Giotto…in the Gothic style.

Florence, Italy
Baptistery ceiling
I was completely surprised by the freestanding baptistery, built when the Santa Separata church was still in use. This octagonal structure’s walls are built in handsome white and green marble put into stripes and arches—a very Tuscan interpretation of Romanesque and very different from the simple, unadorned churches I’ve seen in Spain. The interior holds a jaw-dropping ceiling covered in gilded mosaics telling stories from the Bible, with a Jesus in Judgment front-and-center.

The nearby museum was being renovated when I visited Florence, but I was still able to see the so-called “Gates of Paradise” that originally opened to the baptistery’s north side. Designed by sculptor Ghiberti, the doors’ gilded bronze panels depicted biblical scenes with striking perspective and depth; the revolutionary Renaissance had arrived.

The urban setting

Florence, Italy
Arno River at dusk
One of the first things I noticed when I arrived in Florence was the simple yet beautiful domestic architecture. Every road I turned down I could depend upon seeing sand-colored walls accented by green- or brown-painted shutters and dark gray stone around the doorway. Very classy and very Italian.

Florence, Italy
Ponte Vecchio
I got chills, though, when I strolled through the town’s ancient core (part of this may have been the wintry temperatures…). From one street to the next, I could stare down a perfectly-straight course that had endured since the town was the ancient Roman settlement of Florentia. It was eerie, y’all, especially when I made my way to the Piazza della Repubblica in the middle of the historic center. In Roman times it was Florence’s forum, and today it is still a major public square.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

They Speak More Than Just Spanish in Spain

Did you know that they speak more than just Spanish in Spain? Did you know that there isn’t just one Spanish language, but perhaps eight Spanish languages? Until I started studying Spanish in college and came here for work, I had no idea myself. But it turns out that Spain is actually home to quite a few minority languages that make the country a very interesting place.

It makes a lot more sense that the birthplace of español could also be home to half a dozen other languages when you realize that Castilian Spanish began its life as the everyday Latin spoken around modern-day Burgos province in north-central Spain.

During the Reconquista—a 700-year military struggle by the fledgling Christian kingdoms to the north to “re”-conquer the Muslim-ruled (and Arabic-speaking) lands to the south—Castilian emerged alongside Galician, Astur-Leonese, Aragonese, and Catalan, and as the conquerors pushed south into the Moorish states, they brought their respective languages with them.

Reconquista languages of Spain map
(Source: Wikipedia)
Under Alfonso X of Castilla & León (r. 1252-1284), however, Castilian Spanish began to gain the upper hand. Although Alfonso personally contributed a lot to medieval Galician poetry, it was he who first established Castilian as the official language of his courts, replacing Latin. Later on, western Castilla would join up with eastern Aragón when Ferdinand and Isabella got married in 1469, but the two realms remained distinct kingdoms with a single monarch.

After the 18th-century War of the Spanish Succession (a dynastic struggle/civil war), the new king Felipe V issued the Nueva Planta decrees that made Castilian laws universal throughout the country and Castilian the language of government. He did this partly to centralize Spain and partly to punish the regions of Aragón, Cataluña, and Valencia, which had opposed him in the war (and which also spoke Aragonese and Catalan).

The last major threat to Spain’s minority languages came during the dictatorship of Francisco Franco, who led the conservative Nationalists to victory in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). Although he himself was born in Galicia, his ideology of conformity (called National Catholicism) mandated Castilian Spanish as the sole official language of the state; it became a crime to speak Galician in public, for example.

Languages of Spain map
(Source: Wikipedia)
However, after Franco died and King Juan Carlos I initiated la Transición to liberal democracy, the new constitution enshrined protections for minority languages, four of which are now co-official in their respective regions. Today, once critically-endangered languages are making a comeback and Galician, Basque, and Catalan are stronger than ever before in recent history.

In this post I would like to introduce eight Spanish languages other than what we typically think of as “Spanish.”


Galician language in Spain map

Native name: galego

Number of speakers: 3 million

Description and status: I always like to describe Galician as an un-nasalized Portuguese, written like Spanish, and spoken with Italian intonation. Galician and Portuguese are actually extremely closely-related languages (some activists argue that they’re merely dialects of the same language), but after Portugal gained its independence in the 12th century, the two went their separate ways. In the Middle Ages, Galician enjoyed prestige as a language of poetry and law, but the creeping influence of Castilian ousted it before long. Although it historically has been stigmatized in the big cities as a rural dialect, Galician experienced a literary rebirth in the 1800s and is co-official in the modern-day Community of Galicia.

Very similar to Galician is Fala (“Speech”), hidden away in isolated valleys of northwest Extremadura. Its tiny but strong community of speakers can easily communicate with Galician speakers, although they prefer to distinguish Fala as its own language. Fascinating stuff.

Example text: Tódolos seres humanos nacen libres e iguais en dignidade e dereitos e, dotados como están de razón e conciencia, díbense comportar fraternalmente uns cos outros.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Ancient, Whitewashed Village of Carmona, Spain

In late October I caught one of the last Ryanair flights of the season from Santiago de Compostela (where I’m living now) down to Sevilla, which is the capital of Andalucía—the southernmost region of Spain and my former home for a year. The last time I had been in the south was the early morning of June 1st, on my way north and west to begin the Camino de Santiago before heading back home to America. Thankfully I was able to make my dream of returning to Andalucía come true this fall by flying down to Sevilla where I got to hang out with one of my good American friends from Úbeda who is now living there.

Carmona, Spain
Carmona panorama
While I was in town, she and I took a fun daytrip to Carmona, a small pueblo (village) about half an hour outside the city. When I first visited Sevilla back in April, my bus there stopped at Carmona’s bus station, and I was immediately hooked: a lovely, whitewashed village crowned with a huge, ancient stone castle. There was no question—I was going back, someday!

And go back I did—to Carmona, and to Andalucía. This town was the perfect place to return to the south because, for me, it reflects all the elements that make Andalucía the land I fell in love with in the first place.

The Moorish element

Carmona, Spain
Church of Santa María
It’s been 800 years since Christian Spaniards took the city of Qarmuna from the Moors, and over the centuries Carmona became a typically-Spanish village like any other in the country. However, despite the mosques turning into churches and Arabic giving way to Castilian, Carmona still has that Moorish charm to it like many places in Andalucía do.

The Church of Santa María, for example, was built on top of the main mosque shortly after the Reconquista passed through town, but the original ablutions courtyard—the Patio de los Naranjos—still remains, complete with fragrant orange trees and horseshoe arches.

Carmona, Spain
Foggy, post-rain street
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