Moors and Christians

Last evening, we traveled to Torrent on the Metro to experience all that a Moors and Christians celebration has to offer. The Moors occupied Spain for 800 years until, over many years and after many battles, they were defeated by Christian armies from across Europe. Charlemagne is a legend in the Basque country for contributing to keeping them out of France and pushing them back south. But down here, the armies of Aragon were apparently heavily involved in tipping the balance of power from the Moors to the Christians.

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There is a long history and a lot of blood shed involved. One can see the influence of the Moors today. There are Arabic words in the languages spoken in Spain – including Spanish. And there are many, many place names in Valencia that are Arabic rather than Spanish. But no really seems to care anymore. Except when they all get together and celebrate the history and the battle that looms large in their history.

In the Valencian crest, there is a bat that figures prominently in the identity of the city. The legend has it that James I spotted a bat at the exact moment his army defeated the local Moorish army when he retook the city. The bat is considered good luck here. I was in the subway the other day and a bat was trapped flying around. I ducked as it flew past. The guy next to me gave me a Galic shrug and just said ‘Valencia’. I knew what he meant.

Valencia city doesn’t have a Moors and Christians parade themselves, so when we heard about the one in Torrent we decided to go. Torrent is a very old town. It has a tower that was built by the Moors well before the founding of the city in the 13th century. It’s church is stunning. Iglesias de l’Assumpcio is very old but is the second church build on the site. The first one was smaller and built when the town started. It’s main alter and chapel alters are awe inspiring.

We left the church and made our way down to the parade area. We bought some spots on the procession route and before long we heard the bands. The Christians go first. Each group is a local club that spends all year meeting and working on their costumes for the following year. Kind of like they do for Fallas in Valencia City. You can see how involved and expensive these designs are. Every year they start over, and since like most things, the interpretation is in the eye of the artist, they are loosely based on those they’re supposed to represent. There are people in Spain who study this costume design and make a living designing and making the kits for Moors and Christian celebrations and processions.

The Christians took about 2 1/2 hours to get through their bit. A Lot of showman ship, complete with horses and horsemanship that was truly amazing. I’ve never seen anything like it and they got very close to us on the parade route. But it was the Moors and their costumes that were the superior. If I was a judge, I would have given several of them the awards for creativity and shear Chutzpah.

The procession lasted well past midnight and then the fireworks started.  We were lucky to make it back to Valencia on the last train. A very pregnant woman explained to me (in Spanish) what trains we would need to catch and transfer. So we muddled through and got back home in time to get ice cream from our local shop that was open in the wee hours. Of course, you can get ice cream in the middle of the night here on a hot summer night.

Here in Valencia yesterday, there was the Battle of the Flowers. We’ll do that next year. We need to leave something for year two – but something tells me that we’ll never run out of parades and fireworks in Spain.

It was just a Birthday Fan

Getting older appeals to some. It doesn’t to me. I haven’t reached the age yet where I’ll wear purple hats and large jewelry. But I’m over 50 now and while Jeff keeps telling me ‘it’s just a number’ he has the luxury of doing that because he’s 1 year and 6 weeks younger than I am. And starting today, he’ll remind me that we’re ‘2 years apart’ in age for the next 6 weeks, until he turns 51. I don’t really love that part.

I vacillate between wanting an over the top birthday celebration (I am a LEO), or keeping on the down low. The older I get, the down low is winning and this year continued that trend. That, and that simpler seems better these days. I don’t need big gifts or fancy dinners. I like simple food, simple experiences and I want to have those things with people I care about.

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This morning, Jeff and I kicked off my ‘Cincuenta segundos Cumpleanyos’ (PS I don’t have the ‘n’ with the little squiggly thing above it on my keyboard that makes the ya sound so I added a ‘y’ to Spanish Birthday) by finally taking out our bikes that arrived weeks ago from Seattle. His is actually a recumbent trike (sort of biking while laying on your back – good for your core) and that got A LOT of stares on the street and in the Turia. We haven’t seen one here yet, and when we stopped for coffee we got a lot of action circling the bikes, mumbling in Spanish, and checking it out. Jeff is starting to make noises about perhaps riding the Camino on it. His idea, not mine.

We came home and Emilie and I decide to go out and buy my ‘Birthday Fan’ down at Friday market in Benimaclet. Our Market Day happens every Friday. Clothes, shoes, bras, fruit, pots and pans, and the polka dotted fans I had been eyeing for weeks now. We have another market on the other side of the tracks – literally. But that happens on Tuesdays, and since this is my Birthday Fan we were going to our market day.

We had so much fun! We bought more crazy pants that I love to wear (I convinced Em to get a pair too). We got my lovely Birthday Fan for 3 euros because it’s so bloody hot here you have to have a fan with you in every handbag or back pack you carry. Sitting on the Metro is like a fanning competition. And we stopped and got some things I have been coveting for some time now.

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You know how certain things make you happy? They’re simple, stupid things that cost almost nothing. They don’t have any real value but then you get them and they make you smile. That’s how I feel about olive trees, lemon trees, pepper plants and my herbs. And today, Emilie and I found our plant guy on Benimaclet Market Day!  It’s my birthday so I told the guy we were taking the lot! He was a happy man and bagged it all up for us, and a few other things besides. All for 20 euros. And I felt like I”d hit the lottery!

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As he handed us the plants, we knew we’d reached the limit of our ability to carry stuff home. I, for one, suspected that perhaps we had surpassed it, but Em was undaunted. We had neglected to bring our trolleys – we were just going for my Birthday fan, after all – so it was the big schlep back home, with more people staring at us on the street. Sure, we looked a little unusual carrying an olive tree, some sort of climbing flowered vine thing complete with trellis, a pepper plants, basil, rosemary, and all the other stuff we got. My lovely Birthday fan wasn’t even being put to good use because it was stuffed in my pocket.

We finished off the night sitting on the beach watching the Blood Moon rise over the Mediterranean Sea. It’s been a great Birthday and I got to spend my 52nd celebration just the way I wanted. And that makes it the best kind of Birthday, after all.

 

Interactive Tapas

Last evening was all about Tapas! I”m not an expert on Spanish food and since we’re surrounded by tapas everywhere, it was time to get educated. Our friends, Nick and Tatiana, organized the evening for us all.  The chef at Ahuevos, Jose’ Simon, and his lovely wife hosted a night of ‘Interactive Tapas’. It was basically like a Tapas Nursery School for those that are Spanishly challenged and yet love yummy food.

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My friend, Pete and Ryan joined the group. They just moved here from Seattle a month ago, and they are also in the infancy stages of learning about everything Valencia has to offer and widening their circle of friends. This was a great opportunity to do both and we had alot of fun.

We started out learning to make Sangria. It’s a pretty simple recipe and was actually the signature drink at our wedding all those years ago. We made it in buckets for all our guests (but we served it in lovely glass wine jars). And I screwed up and instead of putting sugar in them, I grabbed a salt container and our first batches were so bad they’re legendary amongst our friends. My friend Curt laughs every time he tells that story.

Well, if I had used the recipe I learned last evening, I wouldn’t have had that problem because you make a simple syrup in advance and pour that into the mixture. It dissolves faster and helps to masurate the fruit quicker. And we were very pleased with our results. Ryan did all the chopping, Pete did all the selecting of ingredients. And Me? Well, I supervised from afar – or not at all and took some notes.

We also learned how to make seasoned olives of our own creation, and the different types of olives for eating. Jose’ is from Leon and likes a different type of spice than his wife, who is from Valencia. At our table, we liked a lot of the pink pepper, juniper berries, garlic, red pepper, bay leaf and cloves. Jose’ thoroughly approved of our choices. They were so good and like any good cooking class, we got to take some home so in two weeks I’ll let you know how they turned out.

Then it was on to the Aioli. I’ve made it before with just garlic, salt and olive oil. But I learned some new things last night. Jose’ uses an egg yoke in his (I couldn’t eat it) and he doesn’t use olive oil, but sunflower oil. He says that the olive oil in Aioli causes it to break. I did the mixing and the pounding of the garlic and then the egg separation. Even though I can’t eat them, I still know how to separate egg yokes and work a mortar and pestle, for goodness stake.

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Finally, we finished off the night with some horchata ice cream. I’ve been clear on my thoughts about horchata in the past, but this was different. It was wonderful! and with a little dark chocolate sauce it was heavenly. Everyone else got a slice of bread under theirs. It was made from day old bread that they soaked in booze and did some other stuff to, but I didn’t pay that much attention because I can’t eat the bread and I was took enamored of my new found love of horchata ice cream.

It was a fun night and we ended it with drinking from a ‘botijo’. It’s a jug that usually contains wine or water. Last night, the one they offered contained water. Pete braved drinking from it and was rewarded, like me, with water down the front. Ryan drank from it like a Spanish fisherman who has never drank from another vessel other than a botijo, in his entire life. He spilled not a drop.

After our tapas night we are looking forward to learning more Spanish cooking. Jose’ is organizing something out on the farm in Alboraya where they grow the food for their restaurant. I’m really looking forward to cooking food in the field where it’s grown. And Tati is looking to organize a trip back out to Manisis – think Fiesta de la Ceramica – where we can learn how to make a Botijo of our own and perhaps I can sign up for a ceramics course.

A great evening with good friend, old and new, good food and the promise of more to come. It doesn’t get better than that!

 

 

 

El Jefe y Keli

I couldn’t love our neighborhood more. Seriously. It reminds me of living in San Francisco in the early 90’s and in Seattle’s Belltown in the mid 90’s. In San Francisco in the Haight or in the Aves, you could catch Robin Williams working out new material in one club or another. In Seattle, you could catch Nirvana or Pearl Jam at the Crocodile for nothing when they were working on new songs.

Benimachlet has that same vibe, sans the famous people but I love it nonetheless. I sent Jeff to make hair appointments for us at our local hair salon. I figured his Spanish is good enough to work through it.  He sent me a photo of this post it. He is now officially El Jefe (‘The Boss’ in Spanish) and I am just ‘Keli’ since ‘Kelli’ would mean my double ‘L’s’ would be pronounced totally incomprehensibly. So it’s The Boss and Keli.

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Tonight, Sunday night, El Jefe and I went out in our neighborhood to have a drink and some tapas. Even on a Sunday evening there is alot going on in the square around our local church. A wedding had just finished and the revelers were in front of the church with their families.

We stopped for some wine at our favorite watering hole. We were there the day they first opened so we try to give them our custom whenever possible. But we got hungry and they don’t have a menu that was commiserate with our level of hunger. we went through the square on our way to another of our favorite tapas bars. On the way, we found a group spontaneously dancing. Not an organized thing, since when we walked home behind the folks with the speaker and the music, it was clear it was just a ‘lets turn on some music and see what happens’ type of deal. The crowd was loving it and readily joined in. Seeing dancers on the street in Valencias isn’t that unusual.

I love our tapas place. The owner is an old hippie and the food is top notch. The price of the cerveca and vino blanco are to our liking, as well. The place is cool and he totally digs us, so it’s fun to go there. The service isn’t typically hands off and it’s easy to get another drink and we feel at home.

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On the way home, we went around our summer outdoor theatre in front of the church. ‘Cinema a la Fresca’ enjoyed by all in the neighborhood on a Sunday night. We love the home grown eclectic vibe and the spectrum of folks who gather to enjoy a good film on a warm summer night. Back home, we used to go to Chateau St. Michelle and the Red Hook Brewery in Woodinville, WA with our kids in the summer to enjoy family movies outdoors. These are more arthouse films, but it’s no less enjoyable.

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Afterwards, walking back we passed by a shop front with an open door. A group of neighborhood gentlemen were beginning a game of dominos. We see this everywhere in the evenings around our apartment. Groups of older guys playing dominoes for money in cafes or parks. It serious business here. But this group was a fun and friendly bunch who was happy to share a ‘Guapa!’ as I took their photo.

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Before we moved to Valencia, I would never have believed we would live in a neighborhood like this. But every day, every time I turn a corner, I’m glad we chose to land here.

When I went to my hair appointment on Friday morning, I had a conversation with my neighborhood hairdresser, Pili, in Spanish. It wasn’t pretty, but she was so surprised at the progress I made, her enthusiasm for my particular brand of Spanish was infectious and made me feel proud of how far I’ve come. And then she threw me a curveball. Benimaclet is a very traditional Valencian neighborhood. People here DO NOT speak English so it’s easy to practice Spanish. But they also speak ‘Valenciano’ – which is another language entirely. Much like Catalan. And Pili is determined that I learn that too, so she’s coaching me. But the biggest compliment she gave me is that my pronunciation is ‘like a Valencian’, which I have been told before, so I’m on the right track.  I think we’ve found out home in Benimaclet. And, as everyone knows,  there’s no place like home.

The BioParc

As we count down Emilie’s last couple of weeks here in Spain for the summer, we have been playing tourists. Not so many museums and more of the organized amusements that someone under the age of 18 might enjoy. Last week was the Oceanographic. Today was the BioParc. Last weekend we had gotten a coupon as a ‘two for one’ when we checked out at the local Carrefour. So it seemed like someone was telling us we needed to include the experience in our end of summer agenda.

I’ve never loved zoos. Even as a small child I didn’t like that animals were in cages instead of where they belonged in the wild. I remember my Mom telling me zoos were good because otherwise people where we lived wouldn’t care about animals in Africa or the Arctic. There is a certain logic there. But it still made me sad to watch animals pacing around in small cement cages in the Portland or San Diego zoo in the 1970’s.

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But the BioParc in Valencia is something all together different. Yes, the animals are locked up. But the design of the enclosures is masterful. They’re large and none of the animals are walking on cement. It’s designed to mimic their natural spaces from the surfaces to the plant life and each area is replete with animals that naturally live together.

The focus of the park is Africa – such a close neighbor that our discussions immediately turned to planning a trip south as we wandered about. There would be no animals that shouldn’t live at the latitude we are at, or in the climate. When you enter, you cross a bridge that isolates the exhibits. It’s surrounded by water so it requires less fencing and hard barriers. Then you head down into the park and the first exhibit blows your mind. Walking through two separate doors to keep the animals in, you find yourself walking with lemurs.  They are everywhere, in the trees, at your feet, playing on the grass. They come up to you and you have to try very hard to maintain a safe distance.

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Moving through the exhibits is so seamless, you hardly know where one ends and another begins. The flowing water from the cheetah exhibit filled with crocodiles is the pools where the hippos soak in the hot sun amongst brightly colored fish that swim from gaves into the water around them.

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The gorillas were amazing. But it still makes me sad to see these incredible animals locked up. Looking into their faces that looks so much like us, it’s hard not to assign your own emotions to them as they look through the glass into your face.

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Meerkats play and sleep in the enormous elephant enclosure with multiple levels and areas for them to explore. Running water is everywhere and they drink and play in a much more natural environment that other Elephant exhibits I’ve seen.

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The lone lion pride with his only male lion were mostly asleep until he got up and stirred up the pride. He looked like he’d recently been in a bit of a scuffle and was a little worse for wear.

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The design of the Rino enclosure was masterful. The Viewing platform had a small fence that gave you the impression that these gigantic animals could come and gore you at any moment, if not for the deep water barrier directly at your feet. That and the baby Zebra was a highlight of the day.

We didn’t stop smiling the entire day. And on the way home we walked through the adjacent park where you can rent swan boats on a day that isn’t 36 degrees. Maybe in the fall.

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I don’t think we’ll go back again any time soon, unless someone with small kids pays us a visit. But I’m glad we spent the day there as a family today.