Happy St. Paddy’s Day!

To celebrate St Patrick’s Day – the day all of us in Canada become a little Irish – I’ll share with you a very moving article I read recently on The New York Times. I first read about it on Rachel’s blog, and then Erin spoked eloquently about it in her own blog.

It’s about music, dance, and the ability of a teacher to inspire her students to believe in themselves.

Continue reading “Happy St. Paddy’s Day!”

Festes de Santa Eulália, Photos pt 1

As promised, here are some of the pictures I took last weekend during the Festes de Santa Eulália. As I mentioned before, the festival was dedicated to children and they were out in great numbers and dressed in various costumes:

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Lining up

This little girl posed for me. When her parents saw me pointing my camera at her they told her “mira la nena!” and they kindly moved out of the frame. Isn’t she the cutest little princess? But try as I might the kid on the right would not look at me…

Little Princess Catalan diversity

These guys were cute too and were getting ready to perform:

Fooling around

Little girl meeting the big head

Cute little girls watching the shows:

 

girls dancing

people watching

And now for the cutest thing I saw all day:

splashing

A backpacker went through the square just before and splashed his face at the fountain. This little girl, who was probably no older than 2, stood at the very tips of her feet, wet her hands and tried to immitate the backpacker. It was tooo cute!

You can see lots more pictures of the festival here. It includes some pictures of previous festivals, but I’m sure you won’t mind!

Paella Day

Thursday is Paella Day here in Barcelona (maybe in all of Catalunya?). Every bar and restaurant that serves a menu del dia (those lovely three-course meals with drink and bread that one can get for as little as 7 euros) has paella on the menu on thursdays. Nobody really knows when/how the tradition started but it’s been around for as long as people can remember.

Paella is one of those emblematic foods that became the gastronomic symbol for a particular country, much like feijoada in Brazil and curry in India. Like the curry it’s a pretty general dish rather than a particular recipe (it basically mean rice cooked in a paella – a wide, flat dish) and like the feijoada, despite being known internationally as the country’s national dish, it hails from a specific region and it is better known (or better period) in some regions than in others. I don’t think I would go for a paella in Madrid (as I wouldn’t go for a feijoada in Manaus), but I wouldn’t miss one in any Catalan or Valencian seaside town.

In Barcelona, there’s paella for all tastes. There are expensive ones at the seafood restaurants around Barceloneta, there are crappy, horrible ones at touristy restaurants across the city (stay as far away from restaurants with a placard in front with several pictures of paellas saying “El Paellador” or some such name), and homey, honest ones at bars & restaurants for lunch. I tend to favour the latter. So on thursdays Alan comes to meet me at the archives, we go over to one of the many bars & restaurants nearby and have lunch together. Today’s paella had seafood (shrimp, bits of calamari, mussels, clams…) and meat. I had a salad to start – they call is a ensalada verde but it resembles very little the green salads we eat in canada; the lettuce (that’s the green part) comes covered in tuna, cucumber, carrots, tomatoes, olives, onions, corn nibblets, bits of pickles, chicory, endives, etc… – followed by the very juicy and fresh paella, acompanied by peach juice and finished with yogurt. All for the modicum price of 7.50 euros. Hmmm, as Borat would say – I LIKE, very MUCH. Long live Paella Day!!

Here’s a picture of Sebastian and Patxi making paella & black rice when we first met:

Chefs at work

I have to get him to teach me how to make it….

My year in pictures…

Here are some of the highlights of 2006 for me.

In January and February I was in Exam Hell so I would rather forget those…

March

March 22nd we left Toronto to Montreal, where we spent a week relaxing and visiting family and friends. On the 29th we left for Paris were we spent 4 days before heading down, by train, to Barcelona…

Our beighbourhoodAlan's brother's farmBenjamin Angus

April

We arrived in Barcelona on April 3rd, and after settling into our apartment, we took a bus tour of the city to get our bearings… The first thing I noticed were the wonderful balconies in the modernist buildings… And the beach of course! And our first Catalan festival – Sant Jordi!

WindowsSant Jordiand more windowsBeach

May

Our first visitors arrived! Pearl and Al came from Toronto to spend two weeks in Salou, just south of Tarragona. We spent the weekend with them and visited Tarragona and they came to spend a few days with us in Barcelona. At the end of the month, Melissa, a Brazilian friend who was spending some time in Porto, came for a weekend.

TarragonaPearl, Al & MeMelissa at Hospital Sant PauCathedral in Tarragona

June

This month I had a conference in Madrid. After the conference we spent a few days in Toledo, and it was really worth it! Despite being early June, the area of Madrid was hit was a heatwave that brought temperatures up to 40! Our retreat in Madrid became the park El Retiro. Loved Toledo!

RetiroGran ViaPlaza MayorWindowsToo hot in Madrid, off to Toledo

Toledo train stationJewish pastToledo's Alcazarwonderful foodwonderful people

July

Summertime! We discovered St Pol de Mar and our friends Gordon, Jean, and Jen came to visit from Montreal.

Sant Pol de MarGordon, Jean, Al & Francesca in SitgesFriends in Sant Pol de Mar

August

The highlight of this month was a weekend in Delta del Ebre with our friends Jackie, Sebastian, Naomi, and Francisca. The month ended with the Diada Castellera de Vilafranca del Penedes, the best castellers event in Catalunya.

Cycling through the rice fieldsRice fieldsBoatsDeltaDiada Castellera

September

Our friends Norbert and Carole came for a visit and we had a great time showing them our new city. Norbert and Carole had been to Barcelona before, but that was back in the 1960s… Barcelona celebrated its patron saint in the week-long festival of La Mercè…

La MerceGetting ready to performLittle Catalan feetNorbert & Carole

October

My parents came for a visit and my little nephew proved to be quite the little trooper ;)

Beach in octoberMatheusMatheus in Paris

November

We visited Vic and our friend Christine visited from Montreal. Together we explored Girona. Ahh, the wonderful autumn colours

The narrow streets of GironaGironaVic MarketVic

December

Lisboa!! what can I say? you’ve read it all before… I’ll end with table setting for a wonderful Chinese meal we had at Jackie’s & Sebastian’s

Lotus leaf

PS: I’ll be touching up the layout and the links during the next couple of days. I wanted this to come out today…

Santa Claus vs the three Wise men

Christmas in Spain has been a nice surprise. Coming from a Catholic country that was colonized by an Iberian state, I assumed Christmas here would be much the same as back home. Or at least more similar, with Christmas being celebrated on Dec 24th, for example.

I couldn’t be further from the truth. At first you think it’s much like in the rest of the wold. Streets, houses and stores are decorated with lights. People run back and forth trying to get gifts. Most flee the city to spend it with their families in their country homes. They all plan on gorging on as much food as possible. Check, check, check, double check!

When you look at it more closely, however, you notice the differences.

Take Santa Claus for example. In the western world, we all assume he is intrinsic to Christmas. Some people complain that we’ve moved away from the original meaning of Christmas as a holiday to celebrate the birth of Christ, to a purely commercial event symbolized by Santa and his gifts. He is even in Brazil, where he looks quite odd wearing his winter clothes in the middle of the summer. But in Brazil he doesn’t arrive on a sledge – how could he? there’s no snow! – but rather on a helicopter! Anyways, here in Spain Santa isn’t very big. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t mean that Spanish kids don’t get their gifts. The exchange of gifts is the same and kids write letters. But not to Santa. They write to the three Wise men (aka the Magi or the three kings) who, according to the Christian story, visited Mary and the baby Jesus bearing gifts.

To be faithful to the story, therefore, the big exchage of gifts doesn’t happen on Dec 25 but rather on January 6th, the day of Epiphany, or Twelth Night. On January 5th most Spanish towns celebrate the Cabalgata de los Reyes, when the three kings arrive in the town and the children go out to see them and ask for gifts. It’s kind of like the Santa Claus parade in Norh America.

Here’s what happens in Barcelona:

“On 5 January every year, the evening before Twelfth Night (Epiphany, 6 January) the Thee Kings (or Three Wise Men of the New Testament) arrive by boat at the waterfront of Barcelona (Moll de la Fusta) to be greeted by the Mayor of the city and conducted to the nearby park of Ciutadella. From there the Three Kings depart in their carriages, the principal part of a grand parade that proceeds slowly through the streets and avenues of the centre towards the Olympic Stadium. The Kings and other participants in the parade throw barley sugar sweets and other candies to the children lining the route. There are many stalls along the way, especially along Gran Via. The days leading up to the parade allow the opportunity for children to inspect the Three Kings’ boat and carriages, and to leave messages requesting gifts, which they (and adults, too) receive, traditionally, on 6 January”

I think it’s a really nice tradition. I mean, it does make more sense and it preserves more of the Biblical story. At least it keeps Christ part of Christmas, because to explain who the three wise men are, you need to talk about Christ. But like everything else that is more local, this is being threatened by globalization as more and more Spanish kids want to get their gifts on Dec 25th… Some do both Santa & los reyes.[update: they’ve just said in the local news that 2 in every 5 Spanish kids get gifts on both dates] I hope they don’t lose their tradition.

Fore more Spanish Christmas holiday traditions see here.

To illustrate the central role of the three wise men within Christmas tradition here, I leave you with a picture of our milk box:

The three wise cows

Stay tuned for a post on a unique Catalan traditions – the caganer & the caga-tio:

Caganers