a wandering woman writes

Monday, August 13, 2007


han·ker (hngkr)
intr.v. han·kered, han·ker·ing, han·kers
To have a strong, often restless desire.

-American Heritage dictionary

It's August in Salamanca.

And I've got a hankering to be somewhere else, a coast maybe. Somewhere. Out celebrating August with the rest of Spain's population.

Lately, I've had a hankering to write in Spanish. A story, an article. A journal. Something. It's a stubborn hankering.

A fabulous pottery exhibit in Caja Duero's gallery off the Plaza de los Bandos has me hankering to play with clay again. Right here at the kitchen table, coiling, if that's how it has to be for now.

I haven't yet mentioned this to the fine clients who pay the rent, but I've got one hell of a hankering to do the Camino de Santiago this fall. Start to finish.

And a sail. A sail. Oh, am I hankering to head out for a sail.

I have a hankering to see three tiny Americans I've barely met since they showed up to live with friends of mine, their parents. That might just be a hankering to make up long, detailed monster stories and head out to the park to climb foot high boulders and howl like we've just conquered Everest.

I've got a hankering to see Asturias and Galicia's Costa de la Muerte. Today.

I'll be back to blog, I promise. Soon as I figure out what to do with all these hankerings.


Sunday, August 12, 2007

I'm with Anatole

It's good to collect things, but it's better to go on walks.

-Anatole France

out for a walk, Prats de Mollo

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Isabel Allende, on living in two languages

Language is essential to a writer. and language is as personal as blood.

I live in California, in English, but I can only write in Spanish. In fact all the fundamental things in my life happen in Spanish, like scolding my grandchildren, cooking or making love.
-Isabel Allende

I often seem to want to punish myself for all the time I spend in English in Spain, working for British or American clients, keeping up with my people in the States, writing this blog......
I liked this look at a mirror image. Hmmmm, maybe I can get my two linguistic selves to coexist peacefully, just by accepting both of them as part of me.


Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The music of time

There is something, a type of memory, I don't quite know what, a background noise, a music, barely perceptible, perhaps, but it is as if in the darkest, most well hidden heart of a house everything that happened in the house has remained there, molded, shaped. As if the house harbored in a musical score the meter of the sobs and of the happy times. The adagio of a lament. The andante of a dream. Now and then the tamborilero of the joys and the laughter. And abruptly, the hard blow. And now and then the silences. Also the silences. You open the door and there it is, the full symphony, and suddenly you let yourself be carried from smell to smell, from sound to sound. From sensation to sensation. The music of time.

The quote is (translated by me) from a gorgeously lyrical book, Utilidades de las Casas, by Isabel Cobo. I loved it when I read it, and somehow my recent trips to little places - La Alberca, Prats de Mollo, Mogarraz - brought it to mind. Small towns have a similar kind of memory, don't they?

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Sunday, August 05, 2007

A wedding in La Alberca

I'd visited La Alberca three or four times, but this trip was different.

Might be that we spent the night - two, in fact. Might be that we stayed at a lovely casa rural poised above the river, a casa rural owned by the mother of a friend in Salamanca. A friend who generously spent her own weekend en el pueblo showing us her home town.

We'd barely dropped our bags when our native guide burst in to tell us us we'd hit the village on a good night. An alborada would leave the Plaza at midnight to wind through the village's serpentine streets and serenade a local couple marrying the next day in La Alberca's church.

After a sunset hike to the crumbling Ermita of San Marcos, we feasted on a cena sent by my travelling companion's typically generous Spanish mother, and headed to one of the Plaza Mayor's bars to await midnight.

When the long awaited hour arrived, we made our way along one of the narrow streets leading out of the Plaza. We soon found ourselves surrounded by a crowd of revelers, young and old, local and visiting, mulling outside an out of the way bar. Some women were dancing to the music of the tamborilero (a one man band of drum and flute) while the volunteer chorus of the night's alborada gathered behind them.

Within a few minutes, the tamborilero started his ascent toward the groom's house with a crowd of 60 or 70 in tow. As we walked, windows opened and animated hands leaped out, waving, some accompanied by a smiling face, when the window was large enough. Doors opened and closed on either side of us as villagers left their homes to join the parade. By the time we reached the lawn below the balcony of the groom's family home, we were 100 smiling faces strong.

The grinning novio and his parents took their places on the balcony, and the music began. While the tamborilero played his drum and flute, villagers and friends of the couple, many with song sheets in hand, sang out a traditional tune with comic lyrics written for the occasion. When they'd finished, the family applauded from above, then instantly appeared below, where they mixed with the crowd, pouring sangría and filling us with tray after tray of homemade sweets.

Before long the tamborilero's steady beat marked the time to move on. The groom and his parents joined the procession as we paraded back toward the center of town. We stopped below a tiny blue-shuttered window in a lovely old traditional house, the same house I'd silently noted as a photo subject for the next day's camera wanderings during our first pass through town. It was a small window, just big enough for the bride's small, esctatic face.

She grinned and her friends and neighbors broke into song. The serenade was repeated from start to finish. When we ran out of verses, we turned back to sangría and sweets. Her grandparents found safe harbor on the stoop of the family home, side by side, quietly watching the festivities. The tamborilero started up another tune and a traditional dance party ensued, a party that was still going strong when we turned to wend out way back to our casa rural a little before 2.

Our native explained that La Alberca is treated to an alborada and at least one wedding almost every weekend during the summer. It is only one of many centuries-old traditions faithfully and (I can attest to this) enthusiastically practiced in this cleverly prosperous village.

During the alborada, our fellow chorus members recommended we try to see the wedding procession the next day, if only to catch sight of the mother of the groom in the famous traditional dress of La Alberca, the traje de vistas. And so, Saturday morning we stood in the plaza by the town's church and cheered on the novios' family and friends while they paraded to the church in traditional dress. Again the tamborilero led the way, this time with a partner drum-and-fifer and the dancing castanet player whose boots you see in this photo. The morning of a wedding the town's musicians lead a procession to the groom's home where they pick up the groom and his family before continuing on the bride's family home and finally to the church.

In the plaza the musicians flanked the main doors of the church, playing their hearts out while the the wedding party paraded through the huge wooden doors. A young charro led the prcoession carrying a small tree decorated with obleas, sweet wafers I've devoured on more than one occasion in the Salamanca home of my La Alberca friend.

The grooms' mother arrived, glowing, in the traje de vistas strung from collar to skirt with silver amulets, reliqueries and long, filigreed chains. When the last of the party had passed through the doors, the musicians wound up their final tune, removed their hats and entered the church, closing the doors behind them.

A little over an hour later, those doors flung open as a crowd of charros and musicians flowed back out into the plaza to celebrate the wedding.

The tamborileros played, the charros danced and a young man tossed the sweets laden tree into the plaze for the town's children, who seemed well trained in the process. They stomped, elbowed and tripped over each other to tear off the sweet obleas, their prize for the happiness of the bride and groom.

After much dancing, greeting and photo taking, the tamborileros led the crowd through the Plaza Mayor toward the wedding reception, which our host, an invited guest, later assured us started with an apertif of exquisite jamón, supplied by the father of the bride's jamonería. The starters continued until it was time to begin the cena, at just about 1130 that evening.

I was told the alborada is a couple's way of inviting the whole town to celebrate their happiness. I have seldom felt less like an outsider. Yet surely all those sangría pouring relatives sensed we were visitors?

In short, my first wedding in La Alberca was enough to inspire vivid fantasies about living in the village, if only on summer wedding weekends.


Saturday, August 04, 2007

And at the end of the path - peace

Sign on a monument at the top of the Peña de Francia

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The Great Spanish Mother meets a peach

I am convinced that every española harbors, deep within herself, a very personal version of the Great Spanish Mother. Absolutely convinced. If you press me, I may concede that one or two manifestations of the Great Mother walk the streets of Madrid in a state of severe repression, but they are fighting to get out, I promise you.

I first met the Great Mother in Sevilla, in the form of my friend Isabel, years before she married and actually became somebody's Spanish mother. As long as I have known her, Isabel has been physically incapable of sending me away without handing me a paper bag stuffed with sandwiches and snacks for the train ride ahead. An hour or two after leaving Sevilla, I find myself following the lead of every other passenger in sight, with the notable exception of the odd travelling extranjero. I set up table on my train tray and enthusiastically sink my teeth into the waiting merienda. A bocadillo, usually. Jamón or chorizo. Straight from the hands of the Great Spanish Mother.

I've met this maternal instinct in many disguises. She shows up every time I walk in the rain without an umbrella, swim without a towel close at hand, or stand for more than 3 minutes with wet feet. She bellows when I wander onto my terraza a la californiana - gasp! - without shoes.

The Great Spanish Mother is younger than me, older than me and just my age. The only sure thing I can tell you about her is that she is invariably female.

If you've yet to make the acquaintance of this generous feminine spirit, I wish you the grace to meet her soon. Spanish mothers selflessly alternate between offering you food and telling you you are absolutely not gaining weight and now that you mention it, look a little thin, hija.

I offer you the latest manifestation, in a seemingly liberated 30-something:

The scene: a restaurant atop the Peña de Francia, the highest peak in the Sierra de Francia.

The adored-friend-who-shall-go-unnamed and I have just hiked, grunted and sweated our way up the stony path that carries the more energetic of the day's pilgrims from the Paso de Los Lobos to the Peña. We are eating an absolutely delicious menú (an ensalada mixta the size of your head, patatas meneadas, and fresh grilled cod, if you must know) after a pleasant walk around the Peña and the monastery it has hosted for five centuries.

I order a peach for dessert. The peach arrives, golden and chilly. It is one of those Spanish peaches - the exquisite yellow beauties that leave me reluctant to wander far from Spain in summertime.

Overcome with desire, I lift my treasure toward waiting teeth... and hear a blood curdling scream from the other side of the table.

I am ordered to wash the peach.

"Don't your think they've done that in the kitchen?", I ask.

Icy eyes meet mine. My travelling companion has suddenly been transformed into the legendarily stubborn and endlessly insistent Great Spanish Mother.

"Wash it."

I struggle to ignore the orders of the foreign maternal beast and push the peach toward my mouth but no! - I am frozen, held captive by the hypnotic rhythm of the Mother's bony index finger, tick tocking left and right in that way only Spanish index fingers can, marking that quintessentially Spanish NO. The beast's head follows the finger in perfect unison. Left, right, left, right.


While I watch, rapt, the adored and nameless friend pours the last of our drinking water over my peach, capturing the waste in the bowl in which the suspicious fruit was served. She hands the dripping peach across the table

"¡Ya!", says the adored voice. "Cómetelo."

Permission to eat is granted.


Friday, August 03, 2007

Después: La Alberca

I'm cleaning up after the end of a long week and will be back soon with tales of La Alberca and the eery silence of inland Spain during the month of August.

While I head out to enjoy an unusually cool night in Salamanca, I'll leave you with a photo. We had the pleasure to watch a traditional wedding in La Alberca a few weekends ago, from Friday's midnight alborada serenading the bride and groom to the ceremony and plaza dancing on Saturday. After mulling and dancing a while in the the plaza outside the village church, the bridal party marched off to dinner. Within moments, this woman had erased every trace of the day's messy festivities.