Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Cyber Dowager Duchess

I just realized that blogging as I have come to know it has changed for me for good. When Jerry and I were in New York earlier this month, my mother, The Dowager Duchess, bought a computer. While we were there, her apartment was wired for internet service and we now Skype weekly and exchange email almost daily. At 84, and with only one semester in a computer class a number of years ago, she is managing to read my blog, watch the videos I post, open email attachments, and do so much more than I (or she, I'm sure) ever anticipated. Especially in such a short time. As she says, "All I really wanted the computer for was so we could Skype."

The problem, for me at least, is now that The Duchess is reading my blog, I have to be careful what I say. First of all, no foul language. Fortunately, I never use foul language when I post. But, you all need to be aware that you, too, must now watch your language when you comment on my posts. The Duchess does not like foul language.

Secondly, I need to make sure I have all my facts straight, especially when I write about The Duchess. She will definitely tell me if I've gotten anything wrong. To be clear, when I tell stories about my family, especially The Dowager Duchess, I never lie. I may embellish a bit (no, I really don't but I'm saying that for the benefit of The Duchess who will read this post), but I never lie.

Also, I need to think twice about how much information I share. The Duchess tends to be a bit more private than her eldest son. For example, I probably shouldn't have told you that The Duchess is 84 years old. Oops, I did it again. But, she is. And, at 84, she has purchased her first computer (and printer/scanner/copier so she can do other things) and is using email, Skype, Microsoft Word, Google, and who knows what else. It's admirable and extremely impressive.

The Duchess knows I shared the story about her friend Harriet and the sailors. I showed it to her. She says I embellished. I did not.

The Duchess has read my story about our trip to the cemetery with my Aunt Lilly and Uncle Aaron. I wrote that story years ago. She loved it. Of course, she told me I exaggerated. I did not.

The Duchess even knows I now refer to her as that, The Dowager Duchess. I figured I had to tell her because she was going to see it here anyway. She found it funny. That was a relief.

So, I plan to continue to freely write my blog without second-guessing and worrying about the "truths" I tell. My mother will probably learn quite a lot more about me. Perhaps more than she'd like to know.

And when the day comes that The Dowager Duchess herself decides she would like to have a blog, she can get her revenge by telling all those embarrassing childhood stories she likes to tell about me. Exaggerating, of course, the way she always does.

In the meantime, remember, no foul language.
The Dowager Duchess is watching.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Baking Kake and Shortbread

Jerry baked perfect krumkake the other day and I didn't take a picture before we gave it away to friends on Christmas Eve Day and Christmas Day. Krumkake (which means bent or curved cake in Norwegian) is a waffle cookie made of flour, butter, eggs, sugar, and cream. It's traditionally made for Christmas. Thanks to Wikipedia, I can show sort of what it looked like. The wooden form in the photo is slipped out and you end up with an almost crispy funnel.  Jerry doesn't actually use a wooden form. He uses a metal funnel.  Jerry's krumkake was much prettier than that pictured on Wikipedia. But you'll just have to take my word for it.

Sunday morning, Jerry began to prepare his Christmas kransekake, the Norwegian "wreath cake" of the 18 stacked concentric rings of years past. You may remember, 2009 was a stellar year in the production of kransekake in Jerry's kitchen. Although the flavor was not exactly as remembered from our 2004 Christmas in Bergen, Norway, the tower looked perfect, The 2010 product tasted good but was structurally un-sound and didn't stand the test of time. 

KRANSEKAKE, 2009 (LEFT).  2010 WITH HELP FROM PHOTOSHOP.

Jerry had looked forward with a bit of trepidation to creating kransekake this year in our new Spanish kitchen using our new Spanish appliances and baking in our new Spanish oven with its Celsius instead of Fahrenheit readings, and with ingredients from our new Spanish supermarket. Jerry is used to buying bags of powdered sugar. He couldn't find bags in Sevilla but did find the same product called "azucar glace" in what looks like a large salt shaker. He had all the kransekake ring pans greased and ready, but ran out of "azucar glace" while preparing the batter. That was Sunday morning, Christmas Day. All the stores were closed. So, everything sat on the counter until Monday when I ran over to El Corte Inglés and picked up two more containers of "azucar glace." But, Jerry then decided that he'd really prefer to mix it up in a food processor (since that's what he'd done in the past). That's one appliance we hadn't yet replaced. So another trip to El Corté Ingles, which had plenty on the shelves but none apparently in stock. Our two good appliance stores were closed Monday for Christmas.

After setting aside the kransekake makings Sunday afternoon, Jerry decided to bake his delicious lemon-raspberry bars. A huge success! The oven worked. The bars were perfection. Teré and Miguel invited us to dinner at the home of friends last night. We brought a plate of the bars and Jerry now, I think, has friends for life. I've included the recipe further down in this post.  Sorry I didn't include the European conversions.  Jerry's got those hand-scratched onto his recipe and I don't want to make a mess of things.

LEMON-RASPBERRY SHORTBREAD PERFECTION.

The kransekake rings sat on the counter until Tuesday morning when we could get over to Casa de Las Planchas to buy a new food processor. Casa de Las Planchas did not have food processors, only blenders. After lunch, I did a web search and found a small appliance store about a 15-minute walk from the house. I walked over. They didn't carry anything bigger than a blender either. So, I hopped on the bus and went to the other El Corte Inglés (in Nervion), about a 35-minute walk from here. I found a great salesman and a great food processor. The box was huge. I planned to take the bus home, but the handle on the shopping bag broke before I even left the store, so I grabbed a cab.

TASTES EXACTLY RIGHT. NOW TO GET IT OUT OF THE PANS AND INTO A TOWER.

Jerry was elated and immediately unpacked and washed every piece so he could finish his kransekake.  In the process, he discovered that one of the most important parts was not in the box. So, now I have to head back to El Corte Inglés. Meanwhile, Jerry made do and mixed up his kransekake batter with what he had available. He baked it and, since we were going to Triana for dinner, he left it in the pans overnight. There was some extra batter, so Jerry baked that for snacking. It was delicious, tasting exactly as we remembered from Norway, but the texture was a bit cake-like. We hoped it would harden more as it cooled or it wouldn't be able to support itself once stacked — just like last year. I was out this afternoon and came home to the messy remains of one ring pan. Jerry had tried to remove the kransekake from the pan and could only tear it apart. At the time I took the above photo, one pan was already soaking in the sink. So much for kransekake 2011.


LEMON-RASPBERRY BARS

Experiment with other flavors of jam such as strawberry or blackberry.

Total time: 1 hour 10 minutes
Hands-on time: 20 minutes

Ingredients:
CRUST
2 cups flour
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

TOPPING
4 large eggs
2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup lemon juice (3 large lemons)

1/2 cup raspberry jam (Jerry uses a lot more)
Confectioners' sugar, for dusting

1. Preheat oven to 350F
2. Make the crust: In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, blend together the flour, 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar and butter until crumbly. With lightly floured hands, press the mixture evenly into the bottom of an ungreased 9 x 13-inch pan. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until light golden brown.
3. Meanwhile, make the topping: In a large bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Mix in the granulatd sugar, flour, baking powder, and lemon juice. Set aside until the crust is done.
4. Remove the crust from the oven and spread the warm crust with the jam. Quickly remix the lemon topping and pour it over the jam. Return to the oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until the top is a golden brown. Let cool.
5. Just before serving, sprinkle the top with confectioners' sugar through a strainer. Cut into 36 bars, 1-1/2 inches by 2 inches.

Makes 3 dozen bars
Each bar has: 144 calories, 5.7g fat (3.4g saturated), 2g protein, 22g carbohydrates (0.2 g fiber), 37 mg cholesterol, 22 mg sodium.


What an amazing evening we had with Teré, Miguel, their friends, Juliette and José (who graciously welcomed us into their home), and Fernando and Nikki. I probably should have changed their names (to protect the innocent?); you'll see why when you watch the videos below. Spanish, English, Greek, German, French, and Russian were all spoken last night — but mostly Spanish and English. The food (everyone brought something) was incredible. The company and conversation was beyond compare. Jerry and I walked home — on air — at 1:30 in the morning.

AVENIDA DE LA CONSTITUCIÓN LAST WEEK (LEFT)
AND AFTER HOURS LAST NIGHT AS WE HEADED HOME.

Miguel and Teré, who have already been way too kind to us, put together "musical" Christmas gift bags for Jerry and me, which included a bottle of anise (which, with the aid of a spoon, makes surprising music), a pandero (tambourine), and a small zambomba. Zambombas are popular Spanish "friction" instruments traditionally used at Christmas. They can be quite large and make an obscene sound (and require the player to have absolutely no shame). The group sang and showed us how to use our gifts. Teré proudly played the zambomba.

THE 27 DECEMBER PERFORMANCE OF "NOCHE BUENA" ("CHRISTMAS EVE").

JERRY.  NO SHAME.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Musical Streets at Christmas

Strolling around the city during this past week, we have seen some magical street entertainers.  The other night, when we went out to see the lights, there was a man with a marionette and the marionette was playing a marionette-sized grand piano (the classical music was of course pre-recorded).  There was a very serious (and very good) group of carolers, as well as an exceptional jazz combo.

CAROLERS.

MODERN JAZZ.

We came upon a performer in a funny costume that I thought was something I had seen before: a man in costume with a stuffed life-sized doll for a partner.  He danced around a small plaza at the top of Avenida de la Constitución and I was impressed with how life-like the female partner appeared to be.  It turned out, the doll wasn't just sewn or strung to the male figure.  The performer had his feet in the male figure's shoes and his hands in the female figure's boots. He was bent at the waist with his head tucked under her skirts as he flew around the street.  It was wild and very impressive.



While out and about today, we saw a very funky, very talented, and unbelievably energetic jazz troop.  The blues singer we had seen the day we received our residency cards was out again and just as good.

THE PIANO-PLAYING MARIONETTE WAS CHARMING.

A SPANIARD SKILLED AT IMITATING THE SOUTHERN AMERICAN BLUESY TWANG.

The highlight today was an exceptional trio of Russian performers.  They were brilliant, but seemed so sad as they played and even more sad when they completed a set and received warm applause.  Spectators are always generous with the coins they give to performers, but it's not an easy way to make a living.

BRING ON THE FUNK. BRING ON THE JAZZ. EXHILARATING. 

I have videos of almost everything, but don't want to overwhelm you, so I've shared screen captures of many of the videos I recorded and have only included two of the videos, finishing with the Russian musicians we saw today. I might post another video here and there in the future. I wouldn't want you to miss anything!


Friday, December 23, 2011

No Purple Creches... So Far

When I was a little boy living on Long Island in the suburbs east of New York City, we had very good family friends named the Spinellis. Mrs. Spinelli had a thing for purple. Their house was painted shades of purple inside and out. Mr. Spinelli bought Mrs. Spinelli a new Cadillac for her birthday one year and he made the mistake of surprising her with a white one. She made him take it back. So, to say she was obsessed with the color would be an understatement. My sister, Dale, loved our Christmas visits to the Spinellis. She would explore the purple house and I would follow her around.  My parents found it all somewhat peculiar.

Sitting in a space between the Spinelli's purple living room and purple dining room, settled into the purple wall-to-wall carpeting, next to the purple sofa, was a purple-flocked Christmas tree strung with purple lights, and adorned with purple glass ornaments and purple garland. Even I found it to be a bit much. And I was only 4 the last time we saw them. Under the tree, Mrs. Spinelli had placed a large and exceptionally ornate creche. It was elegant and beautifully arranged with all the members of the holy family, the magi, the animals, and more. And it had been spray-painted entirely in purple. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph! I found the purple-faced Baby Jesus especially disturbing.

BEHIND GLASS IN A HALL UPSTAIRS FROM THE SUPERMARKET MERCADONA.

Sevilla is filled with more nativity scenes (called belén) than I have ever seen, but I have still not come across a purple one. I've seen dozens, I'm sure, and the level of detail is phenomenal. Since our arrival in July, we had noticed stores around town that specialize in the components, but we could never have anticipated what it would be like at Christmas. Every church has a belén. Many stores, including El Corte Inglés, as well. And private homes proudly display their own — many handmade.

THE 18TH ANNUAL BELÉN MARKET IN THE PLAZA NEXT TO THE CATHEDRAL.

EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO CREATE YOUR OWN BELÉN.

FINDING A DREAM HOUSE.

On our walk to see the lights the other night, we came upon a large market in the streets next to the Cathedral. It is the 18th Annual Belén Market of Sevilla and 15 different companies are represented with 29 booths. The variety, the choices, the craftsmanship... absolutely phenomenal. There were booths specializing only in animals. Booths specializing in the Three Wise Men (none climbing ladders).  Booths with only trees of all shapes and sizes. Others specialized in stables and architecture. And still others had lifelike mechanical figures.

A CHILDREN'S ZOO WITHOUT THE MESS.

MORE THAN WERE ON THE ARK.

Now, as you may already know, I am not religious. As a matter of fact, and I know I've told you this before, organized religion makes me excruciatingly uncomfortable. But, I have been fascinated by the cultural aspects of Catholicism in Spain, and I have found myself interested in their religious traditions, especially since the strong Catholic culture here does not deny me, a gay man, the rights given to all other people living in this country. Jerry and I are a married couple. Unlike in the United States, we are legally recognized as such everywhere in Spain. Unlike in the United States, I and everyone I encounter refer to us as maridos (husbands) and it no longer sounds odd to me when I hear it said. I have never before lived in an environment where I have felt completely safe, comfortable, and — dare I say it — NORMAL. Not even when we lived in San Francisco.

 A LOT MORE EXPENSIVE THAN THE THREE WISE MEN CLIMBING THE LADDER OUTSIDE MY WINDOW.

Yes, I am always aware of the history of Catholicism in Spain. And I am cognizant of the fact that the Catholic culture in Spain developed over the centuries largely out of repression and brutality. But, at least for the present, it is not acceptable in Spain to publicly demean gay people or to deny gay people equal rights (as it is acceptable, and common, in the United States to do).

WE THREE KINGS OF ORIENT ARE.  IN THE WINDOW OF EL CORTE INGLÉS.

But I digress. I will now step down from my soap box and tell you simply that, because I am treated so well in this culturally Catholic country, I find myself much more open to the beauty of the religious traditions. And the belén are beautiful.  Of course, I'm more fascinated by the individual pieces than by the nativity scenes themselves.

THE DOCTOR WAS NOT IN.

While Jerry and I were running errands in the neighborhood this afternoon, we passed an elegant house with a doctor's shingle out front. As we walked by, we noticed through the front grillwork an incredible belén filling the entire foyer. A woman appeared to be closing up for the day and saw us through the door. She immediately unlocked the gate and invited us in to see it. I asked permission and then snapped a quick photo with my phone. We were embarrassed and didn't stay long, but she was so gracious that I'm sure we could have spent as much time as we liked. And I could have spent hours. It looked like someone had reproduced the entire town of Bethlehem. Mrs. Spinelli probably wouldn't have liked it. Very little purple.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas in Sevilla — In the Evening

The streets are filled with holiday shoppers and holiday revelers... along with those people trying to live their lives as they would any other day. The lights are brilliant. The smoke from the chestnuts being roasted is overwhelming at times. Street entertainers are everywhere. I'm saving the music for another post (or two or three). Carolers, blues singers, puppeteers, dancers, chamber musicians, string quartets. You name it, we heard it and saw it last night. We were gleefully overwhelmed by the festivities and the talent. It was one huge street party, and everyone appeared to be sober.

SOME CLOWN ON THE STREET LAST NIGHT KINDLY STRUCK A POSE FOR ME.
ACTUALLY A MEMBER OF THE CAST OF "MUSICLOWN, EL ESPECTÁCULO"
PLAYING AT TEATRO DUQUE - LA IMPERDIBLE NEAR OUR HOUSE.

After having our oven repaired yesterday (it turns out the thermostat was deceased), we headed over this afternoon to the kitchen store to pick up some of the things Jerry needs to start baking his holiday goodies. Somehow, Jerry gave away his rolling pin before we moved. That was unintentional. But he also needed baking pans, cookie sheets, and whatever else struck his fancy. He was like a kid in a candy store. When it was all rung up, Jerry seemed disappointed that he hadn't spent more.

A CHOCOLATE BELÉN (NATIVITY SCENE) HAS REPLACED THE SUGAR GIRALDA
IN THE WINDOW OF LA CAMPANA.

I'm hopeful a sturdy kransekake is on its way this year (as opposed to the delicious leaning tower of last year) along with lots of other delectables. Jerry has a great recipe for lemon bread (just like his mother used to make... because she gave him the recipe). It's not very gourmet — a box of lemon cake mix, a box of lemon custard mix, etc., but it sure is delicious. We doubt, however, that he'll be able to find boxes of anything for that recipe, so it's probably history.

We finally walked over to Plaza Nueva (and beyond) last night to see everything lit up for Christmas. The pictures should speak for themselves. I am definitely overusing the word "magical" since arriving in Sevilla.

AYUNTAMIENTO (TOWN HALL).

LA GIRALDA (CATHEDRAL BELL TOWER) IN BACKGROUND.

JUST ABOUT TO HEAD DOWN AVENIDA DE LA CONSTITUCIÓN.

Every street welcomes you in with its own style of holiday lighting.  The following photos were snapped all around our neighborhood. I THINK I remember where each picture was taken. If I've mislabeled anything, I know you'll forgive me.

CALLE DE VELÁSQUEZ.

WE WALKED THIS STREET EVERY DAY BETWEEN THE HOTEL AND THE APARTMENT.
ON THE WAY, IT IS CALLE ALMIRANTE APODACA, THEN CALLE IMAGEN,
THEN (HERE) CALLE LARAÑA, BEFORE BECOMING CALLE DE ALFONSO XII (ALL IN 10 MINUTES).

CALLE ORFILA. (THAT'S "MY" VODAFONE STORE ON THE RIGHT.)

CALLE CUNA (OF PINK PALACIO FAME.  OUR ALMOST-HOME).

CALLE SIERPES. SHOPPING.

CALLE SAN ELOY.  MORE SHOPPING.

And of course, we had to stop for a treat. Once we passed the cathedral, we took the first seats we found at a café across the street. The menu was impressive. The prices were cheap. The service was the pits. Perhaps the waiter had simply had it with all the tourists. Most of the tables were empty and yet he took forever to finally get over to us. We ordered a gourmet pastry from the menu. He told us they were all out of that and then walked away never to return, never giving us a chance to choose something else. But, it was just as well. We didn't need dessert. We hadn't yet had dinner. At least we had already ordered something to drink before we were left high and dry. We had our first ColaCao — very popular here. It is simply a brand of hot chocolate (and simply delicious). I've seen it served some mornings at El Sanedrín. We were given mugs of steamed milk and packets of ColaCao. Very un-gourmet.  We had to open the packets and mix it in ourselves. So, yes, I had to "cook." But it was another exciting new experience.

COLACAO.  I MADE IT MYSELF.
http://mitchellismoving.blogspot.com/2010/12/leaning-tower-of-kransekake.html

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

I Know What You're Getting For Christmas

The holidays can be emotionally wrought times for most people. I try to focus only on the joy and special memories of family and friends. (At moments, I even succeed.) And any time I need help focusing on completely sweet memories, I think of Jerry's mother, Alice.

Alice lived for Christmas. Well, that's an oversimplification. Alice lived for the joy of living — as well as for her family, her children, her grandchildren, her friends, and her neighbors. She also lived for carousels (she couldn't pass a carousel without hauling you on for a ride). But, she did absolutely relish Christmas.

MEMORIES. MADE FOR ME BY JERRY. CHRISTMAS 1982.

Alice began her Christmas shopping in July.  Some years she also completed her Christmas shopping in July. When she died in 1999 the Tuesday before Thanksgiving (Thanksgiving is the fourth Thursday in November), we arrived to find her house entirely decorated for Christmas (and, let me tell you, she went all out). All her Christmas cards were completed, sealed, and sitting on the dining room table waiting to be mailed.  Jerry and his sisters honored her by mailing them. We all met up to spend one last Christmas at Alice's house that year, opening the presents that had been left under the tree for us, and crying a lot, which is — oh, crud — what I suddenly find myself doing right now. Enough of that!

MADE BY JERRY (AND SAVED BY ALICE) IN SUNDAY SCHOOL WHEN HE WAS 4.

Around 1981, in Jerry's family, a tradition was begun whereby each of us drew a name, one name only, and that was the person for whom we were to buy a nice Christmas gift. We could buy gifts for the kids in the family, but we were only allowed to buy for the one adult whose name we drew. We all followed the rule to some extent.  But not Alice. Her way around the rule was to simply send a boatload of presents with gift tags that said they were from Santa.

"Alice," we'd say, "You're not following the rules."

"Well, I don't know what you're talking about," she'd insist. "Those aren't from me. They're from Santa."

When Jerry's father, Jim, would draw one of our names, Alice would of course go out and buy the present "from Jim."  I remember one Christmas day calling Jim to thank him for my gift and laughing as I heard Alice whisper before he took the phone, "You bought him a sweater."

Because Alice was always ready for Christmas months in advance (which drove us crazy since she would ask for our Christmas lists in June), she loved nothing more than phoning us as early as possible to say in a sing-song voice, "I know what you're getting for Christmas." In 1995, she took it a step further and sent us an "anonymous" letter pieced together from magazine clippings and taped to a piece of brown paper bag.

ALICE HELPED ME DECIDE THAT, WHEN I GROW UP, I AM NEVER GOING TO GROW UP.

STILL TO COME: The Christmas Lights of Sevilla

You Say Tomato, I Say Tomato

Jerry and I both say toeMAYtoe and not toeMAHtoe. Here in Spain we have learned to say tomate (toeMAHtay). Then, last week, Jerry bought Kumato Tomates — which in English could be KooMAHtoe ToeMAHtoe or KooMAYtoe ToeMAYtoe. Or even KooMAHtoe ToeMAYtoe or KooMAYtoe ToeMAHtoe. In Spanish, it's pronounced KooMAHtoe ToeMAHtay. Well, obviously, my brain went into a tailspin.

The tailspin was worth it. Kumatos (Spanish pronunciation) are delicious.

OUR FIRST KUMATO.

A ROSE BY ANY OTHER NAME?
The lowdown, with thanks to Wikipedia for much of this information: The Kumato is a trade name given to the variety of tomato developed in Spain called "Olmeca." It's now grown in Spain, France, Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, Canada, and Mexico. Its size and shape is just like a standard tomato, but the color is reddish brown and it's got a higher fructose content, which makes it much sweeter (deliciously sweet) than a typical tomato. The Kumato is considered a gourmet tomato and has a much longer shelf life than the traditional tomato.

Syngenta, the company that developed the Kumato, has said they will never make Kumato seeds available to the general public, selling the seeds only to licensed growers that go through a rigorous selection process. But no one is stopping you from taking the seeds and growing your own Kumatos at home. That, I know, is what My Mother The Dowager Duchess would do.




COMING SOON: The Christmas Lights of Sevilla

Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas in Sevilla — In the Afternoon

This afternoon, I saw the Three Wise Men climbing a rope ladder onto someone's terrace across the street from our house.  And then when I got home, I stepped out onto my bedroom balcony to find that, a couple of floors above those wise guys, there are another three — with Santa filling in for the guy in the middle. Odder still, they all wear capes. Like superheroes.

WHERE DID THEY STASH THE GOLD, FRANKINCENSE, AND MYRRH (AND SANTA'S GOODIES)?

It is beyond 'beginning' to look a lot like Christmas around here.  No snow — although apparently some is being manufactured on one of the large plazas in town, along with an ice-skating rink.  But the decorations are up in force.  Some look very similar to what we're used to, but the streets and shops are still filled with surprises.

THE TOP OF AVENIDA DE LA CONSTITUCIÓN, IMMEDIATELY SOUTH OF PLAZA NUEVA.


There's an exceptional Christmas market on Plaza Nueva.  Each booth is stocked with handmade items from mostly local artisans.  Beautiful jewelry, scarves, lamps and other home furnishings, and more.  I scouted it out earlier this afternoon and Jerry and I are planning a walk there tonight (it's only 10 minutes away) to shop together and to see more of the festive lighting around town.  Sevilla's City Hall (Ayuntamiento) is on Plaza Nueva and it is apparently lit up brilliantly for Christmas.  There's also a major nativity scene erected on the south side of the building.


PLAZA NUEVA AND A FEW OF THE STALLS IN THE CHRISTMAS MARKET.

THE AYUNTAMIENTO (CITY HALL).  CAN'T WAIT TO SEE WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE AT NIGHT.

EL BELÉN (THE NATIVITY SCENE), WITH PLAZA NUEVA IN BACKGROUND.

And, of course, there are always the processions.  Yesterday afternoon, when we had just finished our cafés con leche at El Sanedrín, we heard drums that sounded like they were perhaps two blocks away. Then came the horns of a marching band.  We headed in the direction of the music and came upon a small and very good youth marching band from one of the local brotherhoods, the Hermandad del Museo (the Brotherhood of the Museum).  This brotherhood was established in 1575 and, in 1577, moved to the Convent of Mercy, which is now the Museum of Fine Arts.  The brotherhood now makes its home in the chapel (built in 1613) next door to the museum. Lola, my language studies pal, and Alejandro (of "Kiss Me Cheenatown" fame) are both very active members of the brotherhood.

The band was marching around the neighborhood collecting money for the needy.  I was about to snap a picture and was immediately approached (nearly run down) by a very serious teen girl from the brotherhood selling either cheeses or candies.  It was very difficult to tell.  The band was on the move and I wanted a picture.  I said no thanks, but reached to quickly pull some change from my pocket anyway.  A woman approached a moment later, carrying a similar tray of cheesy looking candies or candy looking cheeses, apologized for how pushy the girl had been, and laughed and commended me for paying for the privilege of taking a picture.

GOOD MUSIC.  SAY CHEESE... OR MAYBE CANDY.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Me, I Want A Hula Hoop

THE SANTA COLLECTION.  GIFTS FROM OUR NEPHEWS (AND THEIR PARENTS) OVER THE YEARS.

What would Christmas be without Alvin & the Chipmunks?  Before leaving California earlier this year, when I thinned out the ranks of our CD collection (yes, I know it's an ancient technology), I apparently included in the "donation pile" my "Christmas with the Chipmunks" CD.  I was probably considering Jerry when I decided to get rid of it.  Their "Christmas Song" drives him up a wall.  A few years back, I willingly got rid of Elmo & Patsy singing "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer."  Even I tired of that one.  But, the Alvin & the Chipmunks Christmas Song is one of my favorites.  Fortunately, there's YouTube.  I've already listened to the song at least half a dozen times today.  I just didn't get to listen to it yesterday when we did our decorating.

SOME SWEET MEMORIES.  I LOVE UNPACKING THE ORNAMENTS.

After living in New England for years (until moving to San Diego in 1993), Jerry and I were really spoiled by being able to buy or cut down our own Christmas tree every year. The trees were so fresh that they rarely even dropped a needle after three weeks in the house.

EARLY AFTERNOON BEFORE WE HEADED DOWNSTAIRS FOR OUR "MORNING" COFFEE.

When we moved to San Diego, we bought our first "fresh" tree in a tree lot and lost half the needles before we even got it to the car. So, the next year, we gave in and bought an artificial tree. It was a major adjustment, but once you've covered a tree with 750 little white lights and more than 350 ornaments (which is what we used to do... the lights were so bright they'd blind you if you tried to look directly at the tree) , you really can't tell what's underneath anyway (except for the fragrance... or lack thereof).

THE BALLET THEME.  TO HONOR OLGA CHICKABOOMSKYA.

When we had the hotel in Palm Springs, we bought a wonderful large, fake tree, pre-strung with lights. Talk about easy. The "branches" folded down into place with the lights perfectly positioned. All we had to do was plug it in. But, in moving to Spain, with its different electrical requirements, we couldn't bring our pre-strung tree with us. It also didn't seem to be a very practical thing to haul across the ocean.

NO DROPPING PINE NEEDLES, EVEN IN THE SEVILLANO SUN.

A couple of weeks ago, Jerry had the inspired idea to buy three smaller trees instead of one large one and then to place them in front of each of the three balcony doors in the living room. We bought three excellent quality 5-foot trees. OK, they're still fake and I really miss that rich evergreen smell, but I have adjusted. We then bought strings of 280 lights for each and plant stands to raise them up a bit. We unpacked and decorated while playing our Christmas CDs (Willie Nelson, Celia Cruz, the Los Angeles Gay Men's Chorus, the South Dakota Acoustic Christmas). Next up is "Peter, Paul, & Mary" and their holiday celebration (they've got Chanukah songs, too). So our first Christmas in Sevilla should be OK. Even if Alvin and the Chipmunks aren't here.


Friday, December 16, 2011

Silver Spoons and [Aluminum] Tins

After spending a week with The Dowager Duchess (my mother) at her apartment, I am pleased to report that I did not return to Sevilla with any of her old Tupperware (the worst of which has already been thrown in the trash). I did, however, return with incredible art supplies (water color crayons, water color pencils, and artist's markers); a fuzzy, nubby, zippered sweatshirt The Duchess bought more than 10 years ago in San Francisco — even though it was my size and not hers — because she was cold; a dreamcatcher keychain she received as a gift for a donation she gave to a Lakota Sioux school in South Dakota; and a sterling silver spoon with a windmill (that actually turns) that my uncle Harry gave her more than 30 years ago to give to my sister (who had a silver spoon collection).

I was thrilled to have the art supplies.  They are all either unused or barely used.  The Duchess bought them for various art classes over the years and then didn't enjoy the media.  The sweatshirt fits me perfectly and is a deep, rich shade of green.  I wore it several times while in New York and I wore it today in Sevilla.  It will get great use.  The silver spoon is charming.  The Duchess suggested I could sell it (as if I could find someone to buy it).  The keychain is interesting.  I'm sure someone in Sevilla will enjoy having it.

My mother doesn't easily get rid of things.  Her apartment is loaded with stuff, more stuff than Jerry and I ever had.  Art supplies; fabrics; yarns; books; stitchery and creativity magazines; projects from art classes; stacks of paintings and sketch pads; polished and unpolished rocks (my parents were rock hounds); polished rocks mounted in jewelry settings; sea shells (buckets and buckets of seashells); photos (in albums and loose, dozens and dozens of loose photos propped up on shelves); a mortar and pestle collection.  It makes me a little crazy. So, now when she offers me things, I usually accept — if only to get them out of her house.

Around 1999, I was sitting with The Duchess in the bedroom that is basically her crafts and projects room.  She looked around and said, "Oh, I really have to start getting rid of things."

DREAMCATCHERS ORIGINATED IN THE OJIBWE (CHIPPEWA) CULTURE (BEFORE THE KITSCH VERSIONS).

Ten years earlier, in 1989, a couple of years after my father died, Jerry and I took The Duchess and my brother to South Dakota with us to visit Jerry's family.  In Mitchell, South Dakota, at the Corn Palace, my mother bought a burlap sack filled with individual bags of microwave popcorn.  She gave each of her sisters and her brother one bag of microwave popcorn.  She kept the empty burlap sack for herself.

In response to The Duchess's comment that she needed to start getting rid of things, I grabbed the burlap sack from where it lay on the desk and, tossing it into the little garbage pail, said, "Well, you can start with this."

The Duchess flew out of her chair, pulled the sack from the trash, crushed it to her chest as if she had just saved its life, and gasped, "No!"

I looked at her incredulously and asked, "Why not?"

She said calmly, "I might be able to use it for a project."

SLIGHTLY USED.  FROM THE DOWAGER DUCHESS THRIFT SHOP.

So, I gave up.  Until a little over three years ago.  The Duchess was in the hospital having been hit by a car when she was crossing the street to catch a bus (her sisters were furious with her for taking the bus and not using her car service, but I suggested that she could just as easily have been hit crossing the street to meet the car service).  It was a frightening time but she was an amazing patient and was also fortunate to recover after two months of hospital and rehab.  While she was at her worst, and before and after visiting hours, I spent a lot of time alone in her apartment. The only thing that kept me sane were phone calls with Jerry, until he joined me — and obsessively cleaning and organizing her apartment.  I cleaned closets and cabinets, I dumped musty old linens and army blankets, and expired medicines and canned goods.  But I did not throw out that burlap bag until she was well enough to give me permission.  She did, and she also gave me permission to get rid of a lot more, although not as much as I would have liked.
 
SOME TINS.

Since the early '70s, The Dowager Duchess has been saving tins of all sizes (from candies, from chocolates, from teas, from cookies and shortbread).  Some of the tins are quite nice.  Others look like, well, tins that held candies and chocolates and teas and cookies and shortbread.  Most of the tins line the upper shelves of two hutches in the bedroom I use when I visit.  The remainder are atop the hutch in the "crafts room" (the room Jerry uses) or scattered here and there around the house.

SOME MORE TINS.

A few years ago, I counted the tins — I suppose just to be a bit of a smart ass.  There were 87.  There may be more now; she may have added some without telling me.  Those tins make me crazy.  She has gotten better about getting rid of things, but (admirably, I suppose) she insists on donating everything to local charities rather than just taking things down to the trash in the back hall and letting the neighbors who like to pick have at them.  Out of respect, I behave myself and do not sneak any away with me to discreetly toss.  It's tempting. I always feel like they're going to hurl themselves down on me while I sleep.

A FEW MORE ATTACK TINS. SEE THE VICIOUS LOOK IN THE EYES OF THE SHEEPDOG?