July 14, 2010 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Madrid, Spain, Traditions

I lay in bed at 3AM on Sunday morning staring straight at the ceiling of my hotel room in Valencia contemplating whether the horns and chanting would ever end. Would they stop at daylight? Sometime the next day? Maybe a week from now? “Yo soy español, español, español” , “a por ellos, oé, oé, oé”….and then at some point I started hearing “Go bananas, B.A.N.A.N.A.S.” and realized that I was no longer actually hearing people outside, but had officially lost my mind after hours of unrelenting horns and cheers celebrating Spain’s World Cup win.

That night my friend Heather had brilliantly reserved us a table for dinner at an outdoor terraza with big screen TVs. In the warm, sticky Valencia evening weather, we watched the game with hundreds of strangers, who felt more like family given how we all rallied behind our team (except for the random Dutch folk who were proudly bedecked in orange). Every few minutes, our small crowd would begin chanting, and when the game was finally won, we all flew out of our seats cheering and knowing that this was only the beginning of the celebration. We headed down to town hall square where what must have been thousands of people gathered, all covered head to toe in red and yellow and fanatically waving Spanish flags of all sizes.

If Valencia was wild, then Madrid would be pure pandemonium. A part of me was sad that I missed being at home with all the madrileños to celebrate the big win. Fortunately, with the team’s return home on Monday, the excitement of the win would be as electric the following night, if not more so, considering the players would be parading through the Madrid streets.

On Monday evening Jacobo and I headed downtown, parking just outside of the city center and then cabbing it about a mile or so to where the parade would be passing. We eagerly sped walked past the famous Puerta de Alcalá and down the middle of the street where we were greeted by the expansive view of the people-filled Plaza de Cibeles and junction of Gran Vía and Alcalá. Walking in the middle of the usually chaotic Madrid streets and seeing those same streets overtaken by more than one million people in red and yellow was nothing short of emotional. I couldn’t help but wonder what in the US could ever possibly unite us in such a way, patriotically or otherwise? All of these people, so proud of their country, so proud to be Spanish…I felt just a little jealous that we don’t come together that way back in the States. Hmm, maybe we need a little more fútbol in our lives.

We weaved our way to the Cibeles fountain (my favorite in Madrid) where the Goddess Cibeles brightened up her outfit of stone with a Spanish flag cape. It is there that we managed to stake out a spot in front of a police van and then devise our plan – when the team’s bus arrived, I’d hop up on Jacobo’s shoulders, bracing myself on the van, and capture it all on video. Genius!

We waited for an hour during which time our friends Manu and Tito arrived and joined us. They came on their motorbikes (the only way to really get around Madrid efficiently), but not without a hitch – Tito’s beloved Spanish flag got jammed in the spokes of his tire, delaying their arrival. Fortunately, Manu was able to represent though – below is a video that Tito valiantly took of Manu during their drive into the city. Thankfully, Manu’s flag didn’t see the same tragic fate as Tito’s.

Despite the wait, the crowd was so full of enthusiasm that the buzz of excitement kept my adrenalin at full throttle the entire time. We watched the junction of Gran Vía and Alcalá carefully, waiting to see when the onlookers would begin to grow more animated, signaling the arrival of the team. Right as we started to see the first police cars parting the crowd, seven fighter jets flew overhead trailing red and yellow smoke behind them. What an introduction!

As the team approached, I climbed (ungracefully) up onto Jacobo’s shoulders and took it all in. The crowd continued cheering, fireworks went off, and confetti burst into the air showering the already red and yellow crowd with flecks of patriotic paper. My heart raced as I balanced filming, keeping my red dress down, and not completely falling over onto the van behind me. Before we knew it the team had passed and the crowd began to separate. Below is the wobbly video I took as I nervously juggled filming vs. tumbling down, or God forbid, flashing everyone.

Back at our house about a half an hour later, we watched the remainder of the parade (which lasted six hours in total!!!) hardly able to believe our eyes even though we’d seen it all for ourselves.

Today, the Wednesday after the game, Spanish flags still hang from everyone’s balconies (I can count 12 just looking out from my apartment!), and stream from the windows of people’s cars. They are proud to be “campeones,” but even more proud to be Spaniards. I’m so lucky to share in it all.

As many of you may know, I will be getting married to my very own Spaniard next week. My father arrives tomorrow, followed by the trickling in of another 40 American guests. My guess is that I will be signing off for now, although I hope to start posting again from our honeymoon in Southeast Asia. So, until then, adiós and wish me luck! Oh, and que viva España!!!

To see all of the pictures, please visit the La Tortuga Viajera Facebook page.

July 7, 2010 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Spain

A few blogs back I introduced you all to a funny little saying in Spanish about being in the middle of nowhere – where Jesus lost his keys. In English we seem to have only one way, at least that I can recall, to say such a thing, and it is indeed that we are “in the middle of nowhere.” In Spain, however, there seem to be countless ways to express this idea, and each one of them is nothing short of absolutely entertaining and imaginative.

Apparently Christ was rather forgetful when he was off in distant lands given the slew of ways to express his middle-of-nowhere-ness. Jesus wasn’t just losing his keys out yonder in the countryside, but according to one Spanish saying he’s also gone and lost his lighter!?? Yes, “we are where Christ lost his lighter.” Really, it makes no sense to me, but somehow the idea of Jesus hunting for his missing lighter is pretty much beyond hilarious. And Jesus said to his disciples, “hath any of you seenith my lighter or keys?”

In addition to losing things in far off places, I guess Jesus also had time to reject the temptation of the devil three times, according to the saying “where Christ gave the three voices.” Now I’m a bit lost on this one, but evidentally it represents some famous part of the bible that I am not familiar with (as opposed to all the parts that I’m super familiar with…). Long story short, Jesus spent a lot of time in distant places.

Another particularly descriptive one is “where the wind turns around.” There’s something about this saying that seems so poetic and perfectly discriptive to me. I can’t really imagine where the wind would turn around, but I assume it would be in some far off land without a soul in sight. I think it’s fair to say that this might be their most sensible version of communicating how remote a place could be.

This last one is a little (or a lot) vulgar, which is not at all uncommon in the Castilian language. So for this one, Grandma, you can turn off your computer now, or risk thinking me a very crass and un-ladylike granddaughter.

First, a little background. In English when you are really mad or angry at someone you (certainly not me, ha!) can say “go bleep yourself in the bleep.” Well, in Spanish they say something to the affect of “go get bleeped in the bleep.” Soooo, there’s this lovely saying that basically goes “we are where you get bleeped in the bleep.” And seriously, this is an entirely normal thing to say! I do appreciate the creativity and, well, specificity of this reference, but I don’t know, there’s something more pleasant and heartwarming about Christ and the wind….wouldn’t you agree?

When all is said and done, I just hope that Jesus wasn’t around looking for his lighter and keys while people were out there getting bleeped in the bleep. How awkward.

July 1, 2010 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Traditions, Travel, Travels in Spain

I like lots of different kinds of fruit, but I don’t like cherries. There’s something about the texture and ragged little pit that just doesn’t work for me. So when I was told the region we would be visiting last weekend for a wedding was known for its cherries, my reaction was that it mattered a cucumber to me (a Spanish expression meaning that you are indifferent – apparently they don’t care much for cucumbers). Well, ok, I was of course enthusiastic as I always love road tripping around Spain, but the cherry part didn’t get my mouth watering.

So it was off to the community of Extremadura where we first headed to the Monasterio de Yuste, where King Carlos V spent his dying days. Most interesting to me about the small, humble monastery/palace was Carlos’s bedroom located just to the right of the church altar. It is there that he had a window to the altar so that he could be as close to God as possible during his final days when he could not make it out of bed.

Following our tour of the monastery, we took our chances and headed in the opposite direction of home (the hotel) to find ourselves a pueblo (read: we wanted to fill our stomachs with some local cuisine). Sure enough, nestled in a little valley, we came upon Garganta la Olla (translated as throaght pan….I don’t even know what I could possibly conclude from this). Arriving in the town it was obvious that its cherries took center stage. Apparently this whole region within Extremadura is known for its amazing cherries – the region is called “La Vera” and many of the cities within its limits are named something “de la Vera.” The streets were speckled with discarded cherries and pits as if the evening before there were some sort of big cherry party, when, in reality, every day during this time of year is a cherry party. Each shop proudly displayed its freshly picked cherries, and cherry picking trucks dominated the narrow streets. In one shop they were sampling their juicy little gems – I hesitated, but given my grumbling tummy, I succumbed and tried one. Perhaps I never gave cherries a fair shake, but let’s just say that the two us now have a beautiful relationship. Since then I’ve been woofing down cherries and contemplating all the magical things I could make with them in the hypothetical world in which I love to cook. So far, I’ve just added them to my morning oatmeal, which I’d like to pretend is very, very creative and culinary of me.

That evening we made our way out to Plasencia for the wedding, which was held in the city’s grand cathedral. After the ceremony, and after finishing my workout for the day (standing, sitting, and standing and sitting some more through the whole Catholic ceremony), we headed to the ranch where the outdoor reception would be held. During the whole 20-minute-plus drive, ominous clouds were hovering overhead. We knew what this meant given the warm June evening in Spain – heavy wind, followed by lightening, thunder and torrential downpours, and then about 30 minutes later the skies would clear and all would be right in the world again. So would it rain, or would the weather gods give us a reprieve considering that there was ZERO back up plan for the outdoor dinner and reception? It didn’t look like we would be so lucky. We arrived as the wind continued to howl, passing the cocktail hour with signs falling over, the towering flower arrangements being removed from the tables and all of the wine glasses turned on their sides so that they would not be swept away. The storm was imminent and seemed to be waiting right until we were seated to unleash its furry.

We sat for dinner while the wind swirled around us and yet still not a drop of water had fallen. As the sky darkened and we took in the view of the expansive valley below, we could see that rain was pouring in just about every direction, with strikes of lightening bursting across the valley. For me, the rain wouldn’t be such a big deal – after all, I didn’t bother going to the hairdresser to get a fancy hairdo like many of the Spaniards (for some reason I always seem to feel severely under-made-up for these occasions – you know, no long Oscar-like dress, nor any glamorous headpiece). The lightening on the other hand has always troubled me – with these darn metal rods in my back I’m somehow convinced that I’m a human lightening rod just waiting to be struck! I watched the valley wearily, ready to take cover at the strike of any nearby lightening.

Before we could even be served our first course, however, the wind suddenly died down, signaling that the storm had somehow passed and completely missed the ranch! With that the party really began. In my effort to detox prior to my own wedding (and by detox I mean not eat like a cow nor drink like a fish), I spent the evening drunk on caffeine until 3:30am when my feet finally told me it was time to call it a night. Apparently shortly after our departure, many of the guests, including the bride and groom, ended up in the pool (which reminds me – thank goodness there will be no pool at my wedding).

The following day we took the scenic route home, passing through all the “de la Veras” and finally stopping in one little pueblo called Oropesa where we visited the Parador (a famous line of hotels in Spain that are typically located in historic buildings) and did a little grandpa site-seeing (one of my favorite pass times given my fascination with pueblo culture and particularly the sweet little grandpas). The best part of the drive was the massive box of fresh cherries in the back seat which sustained us during the two-hour trip home.

This whole experience reminds me that there are just THREE weeks left until my big day! And I am nerviosísima! Following the big event, La Tortuga will be heading to Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand for three weeks, so expect a change of reading scenery soon!