a wandering woman writes

Monday, May 30, 2005

Grazalema, a pueblo in Cádiz, from my hotel room outside town. Grazalema and its pueblo neighbors lie inside the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park. In the mountains to the right, I hiked through a forest of Pinsapo, a fir from the Tertiary fir forests (2.5 million years ago!) which has survived only on the North side of this mountain in Grazalema, and to a smaller extent, in the sierra of Málaga.

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Friday, May 27, 2005

LOST in Andalucia

OK, at this very moment I am not lost in Andalucia, although I now have an impressive CV of BEING lost in Andalucia and finding my way back out through a series of unintelligible conversations with some of the warmest, slowest moving characters I have ever met! (Note to me: Someday I do have to follow all this study of Castellano with a crash course in Andaluz so I can catch every delicious word. Picture slow, colloquial English deep, DEEP, in Mississippi...)

I am back in Sevilla, with just enough time to send off this mini-entry before I hit the pillows for a pre-wedding siesta. The wedding's at 830 at the chapel of the University, and the cena at 1030 in a cortijo (country house) outside of Sevilla. It's been work, but I have to say I think I'll do "my side" proud, as a Spanish friend has explained my sacred nuptial responsibility. Shoes, bracelet, earrings, bag, broche, necklace....whew, I couldn't do it every day but I feel appropriately española-accessorized for this special occasion.

A short list of Things I Learned While Lost in Andalucia:

1. When lost, walk into the nearest bar.
2. When in doubt about anything, walk into the nearest bar.
3. Small European model Fords really WILL fit through the eye of a needle - or streets the size of a small hallway.
4. Just remember to fold in the side mirrors....wandering-woman!! The SIDE MIRRORS!! Yeh, well..
5. Poppies will grow anywhere.
6. Figs go well with anything. Seriously, try it.
7. Ronald Reagan is alive and well and living in a paleolithic painting-covered cave in Southern Spain. (More about this later..)
8. The number of completely different sets of directions you will receive in an Andalusian pueblo (usually in response to a request for advice on how to EXIT said pueblo) is directly proportional to the number of people you ask. Corollary: no 2 sets of directions will ever be equal, even when given simultaneously by 2 Andaluces standing side by side. Yes, it would seem there are an infinite number of ways to exit any of the pueblos blancos.

I'll try to scribble another quick entry from this cafe tomorrow and then post stories and photos when I get back to Salamanca on Sunday.

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Sunday, May 15, 2005

On Spanish Time

I consider the Sunday edition of Spain's El Pais one of life's great luxuries.

Take today's version, for example: 71 luscious pages, not counting the 48 business pages, the 19-page Sunday culture section and the 122-page gem of a magazine. Electic, always well written, often lyrical, heavy on the details....it's downright decadent. Opening this treasure is like walking for the first time into a fabulous used bookstore: there's so much there you don't know where to start. This is a Sunday paper reader's Sunday paper.

Still, I woke this morning and immediately and sternly told my eager Sunday self that NO, NO, NO, this was NOT an El País and cafe con leche Sunday. I had a blog entry to write and a consulting project to finish, and an essay due for my Spanish class on Tuesday.

Then I remembered where I was.

I am so happy to be living in a culture that makes time for things. If there's one thing I admire about my Spanish neighbors (and there are many), it is that they make time. They give themselves time.

When friends are studying for professional exams, I see them radically change their schedules, making that exam their temporary but absolute priority. Girlfriends and siblings and parents take on the shopping or cooking or cleaning until the exam is over. It's a matter of where they draw the line that enough is enough, I think. Most Spaniards will cry "overload!" much earlier than you're likely to see even a mellow American stop taking on new commitments. They just learned a different threshold and learned that any threshold had to leave time for relaxation and family and imprevistos - things that might just come up.

Whatever my Spanish friends happen to be doing - for an hour, a month or a year, they seem to naturally allow themselves time - guilt-free time, space and permission - to do what they are doing and do it well. Sick employees stay home from work and no one thinks twice. "When you are ill", my coworkers keep telling me (as I cough my way through my fifth cold this short year), "let yourself be ill." One of my favorite Spanish customs is the sobremesa - the long leisurely conversation that (inevitably) takes place after a meal. Even on the busiest of days, my otherwise driven boss takes 2 or 3 hours for lunch and always has time to chat with friends he meets in the street on his way back. I've yet to have even a business meal that hasn't extended on to an energetic sobremesa. I've also learned not to interrupt Spaniards while they are doing something, whether that's reading a page what I've just handed them, checking e-mail or finishing up the paperwork of the customer before me. Multitasking is not appreciated, or practiced.

I'm sure this traditional pace is changing in Madrid and Barcelona - I've read more than one opinion column lamenting the "speeding up" of Spanish life - but here in Salamanca, my fellow citizens live their lives one page at a time, spending their energy at any given moment on the one thing they are doing at that moment, indulging themselves in every meal, every paseo, every conversation.

Maybe that's why they produce newpapers that take hours to read. When you read a paper, let yourself read a paper.

Anyway, there you go. I got that blog entry done after all, despite two delectable hours at Cafe Ave this morning, soaking in coffee and news.

As for the consulting project and my Spanish essay, I'll think about those tomorrow.

I've got a newspaper to finish.

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Saturday, May 14, 2005

Saturday Shopping

Today I headed to do what I almost never do, in any country -- shop on a Saturday afternoon.

I have a wedding next week in Sevilla, however, and while by some miracle I managed to find a both dress and a seamstress who could alter it (on one quick Friday night outing), I still need jewelry and shoes and a handbag and whatever other perfectly matching accessories I may run across if I hope to even come close to Española wedding chic...and my days are numbered. I leave for Sevilla Friday afternoon.

So today I headed out through the Plaza Mayor to Calle Toro, one of Salamanca's busiest shopping streets.

Calle Toro was packed with shoppers and walkers and folks simply out for a paseo on a bright sunny spring day by the time I arrived, about noon. I had to dodge groups of two and three and four, many accompanying a stroller or two, to make my way down to my favorite shoestore while cutting back and forth across the street to give something to the street musicians (today a bagpiper, a talented violinist, and the 2 regular accordionists, plus a new accordionist I haven't seen before.) I doubt they made much this afternoon; it was hard to hear the music over the din of the crowd. I have grown to love the roar of a Spanish crowd flowing down one of Salamanca's narrow streets, voices rising, hands flying, cheeks meeting as friends greet friends. The wave of sound bounces off the walls of the sandstone buildings on either side and spreads down the connecting alleyways and in and out of the open doors of the bars along the way. You can't help but be swept up in the energy, and you soon find it's a crowd in which all is forgiven: You're bound to come dangerously close to bouncing into other people as they swurve and cut and stop suddenly to check out a store window - but nobody seems to mind, even when the chaos leads to collision.

The roar was another story inside the stores. Sfera looked like it had been hit by a hurricane. By the time I arrived at Zara, it was 1:30, dangerously close to closing time (2 pm), and the shoppers were in full panic mode. I have never seen people who enjoy shopping quite as thoroughly - perhaps the word is viscerally - as the Spanish. They don't necessarily always buy a lot - although the Zara checkout line wrapped around the whole first floor by 1:45 - but they crowd into stores, pick things up, carry them around to show friends or see next to another piece, throw them into other bins, and reach over you, around you or through you to get at the miniskirt hanging by your head. Shopping in Spain is physical activity. I often feel the lack of good(???) old American "personal space", but never more than in a store. Any store, any day.

Although I'd say the true center of Spanish shopping is the escaparate (store window.) It's not unusual for a merchant to display more stock in his windows than he keeps inside the store. And the window is often larger than the store, as I discovered when I tried to find my perfect shoes as the 2 o'clock deadline approached. Thinking there must be something for me in a zapatería (shoestore) with 3 huge windows stuffed with shoes (although not in my chosen wedding color), I ventured inside in only to find myself elbow to elbow with 10 or 15 fellow shoppers in a store the size of a small California walk-in closet.

I didn't find my shoes or bag, although I did pick up the perfect bracelet to match the broche the dress seller talked me into on Friday. Looks like I'll be hitting the stores again during the week, when, hopefully, I'll be able to navigate my way to the handbags without arousing my Don't Fence Me In American claustraphobia.

By the time I turned toward home, it was almost 3, and the streets were silent except for the chink chink of glasses in the bars, as Salamanca flowed indoors for the Saturday comida.


Sunday, May 08, 2005

Ciudad Rodrigo

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Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Photos from a day playing tourist

Caught one of my storks atop the steeple of San Esteban's. Why do these guys fascinate me?

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Tortured Souls

A few of the tortured souls peering down from the columns of the cloister at the Convent of Las Dueñas. These second floor carvings overlook a meticulously manicured garden, silent and still, the now quietly public inner sanctum of a cloistered monastery.

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More tortured souls....

Convent de Las Dueñas

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