December Monthly Update: Happy Nativity Edition

The first trimester of school has come and gone. Wait…THE YEAR’S A THIRD OF THE WAY OVER??? Cannot handle it. Still, this December was a blast!

Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba, Spain
Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba

Visiting Córdoba

The first weekend in December I took a trip to the city of Córdoba, a two-hour bus ride to the west of Úbeda. I was overjoyed to finally see one of my favorite architectural sites in the world—the Mosque-Cathedral—and to, willingly or not, get lost in the winding streets of the old Jewish quarter. This history major had a heyday hitting up the local archaeological museum as well as some palatial ruins to the west of the city center. And, of course, there was plenty of good food to be had, especially salmorejo cordobés, a cold, thick tomato-garlic soup topped with boiled egg and cured ham.

Festival de Música Antigua

From the end of November to the middle part of December, the cities of Úbeda and neighboring Baeza put on a festival showcasing all sorts of classical music, held in various auditoriums and churches across the region. I got to hear a small ensemble sing Renaissance polyphony inside a Renaissance chapel, another group sing music written by women from the Middle Ages in a medieval church, and even a traveling band from Morocco. It was a real treat to listen to such great music in such historical venues.

Going to Mass for the first time

As a follower of Jesus of the Protestant persuasion, I never really had the opportunity growing up to get a feel for how Christians from other traditions “did church,” so to speak. So I made it one of my goals for living in Spain to go to Mass for the first time. The thought of just showing up at a church on my own as a young, non-Catholic foreigner kind of intimidated me, so I was relieved when one of my expat friends told me she was going to Mass one Sunday and said I could come along. It was a very informative experience but I’m sure it wasn’t representative of all Catholicism; my friend told me that, for example, another church in town sang songs and it was easier to understand what they were saying in the mics. Still, it was cool being able to recognize words and phrases in the Bible reading or the creed reciting.

Going bowling

In the middle of the month a group of teachers and I went out to lunch in Úbeda, explored the town a bit, and played bolera, a.k.a. bowling. Not having played in years, I was a little rusty, but I ended up with around 67 points or so, so not too shabby. Evidently bowling has become a fad for Spain in the past decade, which is so strange since bowling is kind of dying out back in the States.

Feasting at Christmas dinners

Before going our separate ways over the break, our group of language assistants in town decided to throw an expat Christmas party. The resulting potluck/white elephant party went well, and it was fun trying to explain to the Spaniards that attended how the white elephant game would work. I tried to be all Spanish by bringing zanahorias aliñadas (marinated carrots), but they must have been a new “thing” for the Spaniards who were there because they didn’t know what to do with them. But the Oreo balls I made were a huge hit with the Americans, who had shockingly never tried them before!

On the last Monday of the school year there was a huge potluck dinner for all the teachers at school. I was overwhelmed by the amount and variety of food: tortilla de patatas (potato omelet), morcilla con ochíos (blood sausage pâté stuffed in seasoned rolls), jamón y queso (cured ham and cheese), aceitunas aliñadas (marinated olives), empanada (meat baked inside a pan-sized pastry), pan de sierra (country bread), dulce de membrillo (quince jelly), calamares (squid soup), and paté de perdiz (partridge pâté). Yeah, it was awesome. And after dessert, we told jokes and sang Christmas carols (and by “we” I mean the teachers; I didn’t understand a thing!).

Finally, on Wednesday, the parents of my private English class student invited me over to their home for a traditional Spanish dinner. I was so grateful for their hospitality—and the food was pretty good, too. We started off with a course of salmorejo, moved on to pulpo a la brasa (grilled octopus), and finished with chuletas de cordero (lamb chops) and tostadas (toasted bread with grated tomato). I always love talking with them; since they’re from Castilla-La Mancha—the region to the north of Andalucía—their accent lets me understand 90% of what they’re saying…compared with the 20% I get of most people here in Jaén province.

Going to France for two weeks

I wasted no time taking advantage of vacaciones de Navidad (Christmas vacation): the night of the last day of class I hopped on the trenhotel to Barcelona and from there took the high-speed train to France, where I visited Paris, Normandy, Brittany, and the Loire Valley. Back in Spain, I toured the Basque provinces and also spent Reyes Magos (Epiphany) in La Mancha with said family from the paragraph above.

Over the next few weeks I will do my best to upload pictures from Christmas vacation and blog once a week about a different location, although I’m afraid it may drag out for a month…or three.

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