Monday, May 24, 2010


Alas, the time has come to bid a reluctant farewell to Córdoba.  Our Wild & Crazy Adventure has been an incredible life experience.  It is difficult to put into words the extraordinary things that you experience and learn about yourself when you leave everything that you know behind and plunge yourself into another culture.  You find yourself re-examining perspectives.  Different may not be wrong, it’s just different.  We will miss the people that welcomed us into their homes and hearts becoming our friends and extended family, sharing their culture and teaching us not only how to be “Spanish”, but also, how to be “Andalus.”  We will miss the narrow Old-World cobbled streets that have become all but common place in these past 21 months.  We will miss the “Wow” that we feel every time we wander down the silence passages of a church steeped in art or walk past the Roman Temple excavations.  “Old” can no longer be quantified and you realize that 200 years is a mere scratch in surface of history.  We will miss the tranquil rhythm of life that beckons you to tarry in a quiet plaza and enjoy a cup a something in the shadow of a church.  We hope to bring some of Spain back with us, not only as memories, but in lifestyle.  And so reluctantly, on Wednesday, we will gather these memories and bid farewell to this town that has become a home to us.  Returning to Portland is both exciting and daunting.   A lot has changed in our absence, including us.  But it will be nice to be surrounded by the familiar again and to see family and friends.  The next chapter in our lives, whatever that may be, awaits.  So as we go, to paraphrase Dr. Seuss, we will try not to be sad that our adventure is over, but rather, be happy that it happened at all.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Priego de Córdoba

For our final weekend in Córdoba (sob!), we decided it was time to go visit the pueblo of Priego de Córdoba. This is the home town of José, one of my fellow teachers at Gran Capitán. He had told us about it so many times that I’d have been disappointed if we never saw it. The bus trips coming and going were longer than I’d have liked, but gave us the opportunity to enjoy lots of beautiful Andalucían landscapes. The old town area of Priego is on a hilltop, and enjoys nice views of the surrounding hills. It has a number of pretty Baroque churches, and an elegant fountain dating to the 1500’s. Take a look at the pictures at:

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Écija and Carmona

We’re approaching the end of our time in Spain, but we’re trying not to let the sadness get in the way of enjoying our remaining days. This last weekend, our friends Lola and Eduardo took us to visit Écija and Carmona, two pretty pueblos along the highway to Sevilla. We’d passed by both these pueblos before, since they’re right along the main highway, but hadn’t taken the time to explore. We thoroughly enjoyed them, but it makes me wonder how many other treasures there are that we haven’t been able to see. A human life just isn’t long enough to see everything. See the pictures at:

Écija is one of the ancient pueblos of Córdoba. It was founded in the eighth century B.C. by the Tartessos, a pre-Roman tribe. It came under the control of the Carthaginians, and passed to the Romans following the Second Punic War (that was the one where Hannibal took his elephants across the Pyrenees). In 14 B.C., it was re-named Astigi by the emperor Caesar Augustus. It enjoyed a few centuries of prosperity due to the production of olive oil, exported down the Río Genil to the Río Guadalquivir to the Mediterranean Sea and then to Rome. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the pueblo was under Visigothic rule until the Islam conquest of the Iberian peninsula in the eighth century A.D. The Muslims changed the name to Istiya, and made it a provincial capital under the Córdoban caliphate. It was taken by the Christians during the Reconquista in 1240. Much of the city was destroyed in the great Lisbon earthquake of 1755. Afterward, Écija became the base of operations for a powerful group of landowners, who built palacios that make the city a joy to wander through today. Still, my favorite part was the archaeological museum.

We drove on to La Luisiana (I find that name funny) for lunch. It’s the pueblo where Lola works as a special education teacher. La Luisiana is one of the new pueblos built during the 1700’s to guard the Sevilla highway from robbers. It’s interesting to live in an area where the new places were built in the 1700’s.

The next destination was Carmona, a hilltop pueblo almost all the way to Sevilla. It is quite pretty, with well-preserved Roman walls. The owner of an ice cream shop was proudly showing us how they had built around some ancient Roman arches to construct the shop. We went up to the Parador (a nationally-owned luxury hotel chain) to drink tea on the terrace and enjoy the view of the Río Genil valley. What a very pleasant way to wrap up the day!

Sunday, May 16, 2010


Colored pencils as a rebellion against pessimism.
Colored pencils as a symbol of creativity.
Colored pencils as tools for intervention.
Colored pencils as instruments of participation.
Colored pencils as a song of diversity.
Colored pencils as…

Because we understand that the crisis that invades our lives cannot trap us in pessimism, we present our proposal in images of colors as a symbol of creativity, intervention, participation and diversity. All elements mixed in the painter´s pallet which will help us rise above these moments of so much “grey” news.

In times of crisis, in times of grey… colors, colors, colors…

This is the message from residents of Calle de Imágenes. Each year this neighborhood participates in Córdoba’s May Patio and Balcony Festival in their own special way, decorating not only their balconies but their entire neighborhood. It has been fun watching this year´s display evolve and I find their message particularly uplifting, especially in a country that is currently experiencing an almost 30% rate of unemployment. Definitely food for thought.

In times of crisis… colors.

You can see pictures at:

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Cost of Living in Spain

When Scott and I were researching Spain, I looked everywhere for cost of living comparisons between Córdoba, Spain and Portland, Oregon. I found very little information. So I thought that it might be helpful to someone else if I wrote down my observations. It is difficult to quantify some prices as many prices fluctuate depending on the time of day, volume of business, or whether the proprietor feels he can get away with a “tourist” surcharge. I will try to provide an outline as of April 2010.

We are renting a small furnished apartment, approximately 450 sq. ft. in central Córdoba. The apartment is centrally located, just outside the fashionable older sections of the town. For us it is a great location as almost every bus route stops at Plaza Cólon just across the street. Our rent is 570€ a month and includes water. A note on apartments: An unfurnished apartment in Spain may mean that it is completely unfurnished, no kitchen cabinets, appliances… no sink! Beware! Luckily, we found a place that was furnished adequately and even included standard Spanish kitchen necessities (paella pan, deep fat fryer, basic implements and dishes). The apartment is air-conditioned, but does not have heating. This is not uncommon in Andalusía, winters are generally mild, similar to Los Angeles without the smog. If I annualized the electricity bill over the 18 months that we have rented the apartment, electricity is about 90€ a month. I haven´t noticed any drastic rate increases in the past year.

Telephone & Internet
Basic monthly telephone service costs 14€ which includes local calls. Long distance and calls placed to cell phones are an additional charge. Our phone bill generally runs about 30€ a month. Like in the states, there are lots of different cell phone plans. We have a pay-as-you-go service that averages about 12€ monthly. We have a bundled service for cable television and internet which runs about 55€ a month. As in the USA, you can buy packages of bundled services at better rates but most of these require that you sign a long term contract.

Health Insurance
Medical care is socialized in Spain and far cheaper than in the states. My medical insurance costs just under 70€ a month. Scott’s insurance is furnished by the school, so figure a total insurance cost of 140€ a month. (Compare that to the $1,100/month that we paid in the USA.) The insurance pretty much covers everything, except prescriptions. At the end of the year, we receive a bill for any co-pays that we might have incurred. In 2009, this amounted to 18€ for the year. I have been surprised to find that the care that we have received has been as good, and in many times better, than what we have received in the states. I have struggled with a minor medical problem for over 15 years. My PPO doctor in the USA, and then Kaiser, were repeatedly unable to diagnose the problem correctly. Why? Because on these plans it costs the doctor money if he sends you to a specialist, so many doctors won’t do it unless they have no alternative. My Spanish doctor sent me to a specialist, and the condition was correctly diagnosed and treated… after 15 years. Wait times are about the same, if not shorter. Scott broke his arm and had to avail himself of the emergency room care. They were efficient and again, he received excellent care.

Prescription medications are cheaper, however the selection of available medications is limited. There is a master list of medications that you can purchase. If what you want/need isn’t on the list, it is simply not available. Tylenol is among the drugs unavailable in Spain.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that medical care is a hot button in the United States right now. I am only saying that socialized medicine may not always be bad. Of course, I have been told that in Spain, if you have a major medical problem, you want to purchase a premium policy. I expect that these policies are more expensive. I have also been advised that it is wise to know people that work in the hospitals as this improves the quality of your hospital care, should you need it. (I don’t know how much of this statement is Spanish Culture. In Spain, everything is done through personal connections.) And yes, I have heard it mentioned that sometimes doctors will decide not to authorize medical care in cases where the prognosis is poor (I find this completely unacceptable.) However on the whole, the medical care that we have received in Spain has been excellent. Do I think the Spanish system could be duplicated in the United States? Not a chance. We have too many issues that complicate our medical care in America.

Dental insurance is fairly worthless in Spain. The policies that we have reviewed do not really cover anything. From looking at people’s smiles, dental care is largely regarded as unnecessary.

Basic Cost Rule for other necessities of life: groceries, clothes, appliances, etc.
Most items cost in euros about what you would pay in US dollars. Another words, if you would pay $2.00 for it in America, you should expect to pay 2.00€ for it in Spain. The exchange rate over the past 2 years has fluctuated from $1.30 to $1.50 to 1.00€. At the time of this posting, a euro is hovering around $1.35, so I have used this valuation when I quote exact prices.

Fresh daily, except on Sunday, and cheap. A 30” long loaf of French bread costs 38 centimos or 52 cents (USD).

Fresh Produce
Fresh produce is generally higher quality. It seems fresher, but that may just be that I frequent the smaller Fruterías instead of the larger supermarkets. Fresh fruits and vegetables are seasonable. When something is out of season, you are not going to find it for any price. Produce, if imported at all, comes mainly from the Canary Islands and Western Europe. In winter, you won’t see summer fruits imported from the southern hemisphere. When it is out of season, you are out of luck. This was a source of great frustration to me recently as I searched for fresh basil in late March and April. Pricing generally follows the basic rule stated above, but applied to the prices for organic produce in the USA. Although in many cases, you will not be getting organic produce at this price point.

Meat, Pork, Poultry and Fish
For meat, pork, poultry and fish, it is easier to provide a table for price comparisons. Of course, often times you buy what is available. Generally with enough notice, you can order what you need, but sometimes even that does not work. I ordered 5 kg of salmon from Antonio for the Salmon Feast, but when I went to pick it up, he told me that he had been unable to find any salmon, even after going to 3 different distributors. He suggested that I go to the local supermarket. Luckily, the supermarket had it, but it was more expensive. Be prepared to know where (on the animal) the cut of meat is taken from and what it looks like, often you are ordering from a large slab on meat.
Item                            Price (€/kg)        Price ($/lb)
Ground Beef                   5.79 €                 $3.55
Chuck Roast                   7.99 €                 $4.90
Steak (Rib Eye)             12.99 €                $7.97
Chicken (whole)              3.59 €                $2.20
Chicken Breasts              4.49 €                $2.76
Pork Loin                        3.59 €                $2.20
Anchovies/Sardines      2.90 €                $1.78
Filet of Sole                     6.80 €               $4.17
White Fish Filet               5.60 €                $3.44
Shark Filets                     7.20 €                $4.42
Salmon or Tuna               9.20 €                $5.65

Clothes and Small Appliances
The basic rule generally applies to these items with a caveat: many times there isn’t a mid-range quality. With clothing, expect to pay Nordstrom prices for J.C Penny quality. Alternatively, you can dress very cheaply buying clothing from Chinos or the open air markets, but pay attention to what you are buying. This is like going to a huge garage sale, quality is questionable. Small appliances (this applies to anything small and electrical), if you can find it, prices start at what the high-end price would be in the states, but the quality will be similar to low or mid-ranged priced appliances.

Chinos satisfy the low-end market. These, on a very small scale, are the Wal-marts and K-marts of Spain. They are referred to Chinos as they are run exclusively by Chinese merchants and feature a wide eclectic range of cheap Chinese imports. Think Pic-N-Save, now think cheaper. The items found in a Chino are the equivalent of “third” and “fourth” rate quality goods. However, sometimes the Chino is the only place where you can find what you need. Quality is poor and merchandise is not returnable, but then again, it is very cheap.

Large Appliances and Electronics
We haven’t purchased any of these items, but I have made a point to check pricing as I walk by and they seem to follow the rule. Remember that European CD’s and DVD’s will not play on American equipment. However we have not had any difficulty getting small European computer peripherals (mice, flash drives, etc.) to work with our American laptop. Large household appliances are smaller in general as most people simply do not have the space. Washing machines, dryers and dishwashers start at 350€ (on sale), refrigerators are about 700€.

Automobile Expenses
We do not own a car, but from advertisements and talking with locals, this is what I understand. Cars will follow the basic cost rule with the following note: Cars made in Europe: Fiat, Cleo, Volkswagen will be more economical, followed by Japanese and American imports. Expect most cars to have a manual transmission. Auto insurance for the first year on a basic car runs about 300€ annually. I have been told that insurance premiums decrease over time if you are not in any accidents. The price for a liter of gasoline has fluctuated between 1.00€ and 1.40€ a liter or between $5.20 and $7.28 per gallon. Now before anyone has a heart attack, remember that in most European cities, most people do not need to use their cars like we do in America. We have lived in Córdoba for almost two years, and not owning a car has only occasionally been inconvenient.

Restaurants and Movies
Prices, like everywhere else, vary widely. How much to you want to spend? Where do you want to eat? The first rule for a reasonably priced meal is stay out of “tourist land”. An average cena (dinner) out for four to six people (you simply do not go out alone in Spain) will cost between 50€ to 60€. A quick lunch at a taverna will run about 3.50€ to 5€ a person. Tapas (hors d'oeuvres) hover between 6€ to 12€ per ration which will easily feed 2-4 people. A coffee in a nice plaza is 1.20€, a glass of wine 2€, soda 1.35€. Beware of the tourist surcharge, prices are rarely posted and vary with the time of day. If the server feels that he can charge more, he will. The Spanish do not tip.

The admission price for a first run movie is 7€. In the summer, the late night “Cines de Verano” admission price is 3.50€. You bring your dinner, sit under the stars and watch a movie projected onto the side of a building. Quite the Spanish experience.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Salmon Feast

As a “thank you” for making us feel so welcome in Córdoba, I wanted to prepare an American dinner for our Córdoban friends.  Many have already experienced a Thanksgiving, so this time, I wanted to prepare an everyday meal.  At first, I had thought to make a pot roast as that goes straight back to my southern roots.  But finding a pot and oven large enough to accommodate a roast for 26 proved problematic, so I decided to focus on the Pacific Northwest and prepare a Salmon Pesto.   (I know, many of you will tell me that “pesto” is Italian and I do not dispute that fact.  But Scott and I have traveled over a good portion of Italy and I have never seen Salmon Pesto prepared anywhere other than at McCormick’s in Portland.   As you simply cannot get more “Northwest” than McCormick’s, I felt that this recipe fit my requirement.)

Of course, this is Spain and I did not realize the difficulty that I would have finding fresh basil in April.  It is spring after all.  But this year has been cold and rainy.  We have actually been experiencing weather closer to that of Portland.  There was no basil… anywhere.  I think that my Spanish friends have a good laugh when I go off on one of my food quests.  But after weeks of searching, I finally found some very small basil plants.  I bought 14, and proceeded to pamper them.  Luckily, basil grows very quickly.  The plants doubled in size in two weeks, even though it was quite grey and cloudy and after 3½ hours of plucking leaves late Saturday night (I do not recommend this method…) I am happy to announce that there was sufficient basil to make the pesto.  

Preparing this meal also underlined some basic differences in belief about food storage.  In America, we refrigerate many dairy products that are normally left out in Spain.  I am aware of this.  So when my friend stopped to pick up the food Saturday afternoon, I pointed out the creamed spinach, the cheeses, the homemade Ranch Dip packaged (and labeled “Ranch Dip”) in an old butter container and a few other items, and asked that she put them in her refrigerator.  Unfortunately, there was a miscommunication.   She refrigerated the spinach, but looked at the rest and decided that it was more important that we have cold beer.  Cheese will survive a night on the counter, but mayonnaise and yogurt (the main ingredients in Ranch Dressing) spoil.  It was an honest mistake, the Ranch Dressing was in a butter container.  Even though she speaks very good English she didn’t see my label.  Who refrigerates butter in Spain?  Luckily, I had brought most of the ingredients with me to make some fresh dressing and had had the foresight not to send my 3 dozen refrigerated eggs the day before.  Cultural differences are an adventure to navigate.

So the meal began with basic party hors d'oeuvres, Veges & Ranch Dip, and Potato Skins and some other favorites.  The Spanish reaction to the food was interesting.  They looked at the raw vegetables, taken aback and said:  “You eat the vegetables raw?”  I explained that the vegetables were meant to be eaten with the Ranch Dip.  I had prepared more than 2 cups of Ranch Dip (fresh that morning).  It was gone in less than 15 minutes.  Likewise, the Potato Skins disappeared.  When asked for the recipe, I explained that you start by baking the potatoes, which baffled my friends.  “You just put them in the oven… nothing else?”  It is always fun to share food.  

Needless to say, the meal was an enormous success and a good time was had by all.  This may actually have been the first Spanish event that we have attended without Iberian ham, goat cheese and olives. 

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Translation of an actual article from a newpaper in Andalucía:

A resident of the village of San Roque has solicited compensation for the death of a cow, while it fled the sexual harassment of a burro owned by the municipal government. The owner of the cow alleges that the donkey entered his property chasing his animal with dishonest intentions. The cow, trying to escape, fell down an embankment, and subsequently died.

The story began when the village of San Roque decided to acquire a burro for a live Nativity scene that is staged every year at Christmastime. The burro spends the rest of the year on a local farm, which borders on that of the owner of the deceased cow, who dedicates himself to the production of milk.

The farmer’s lawsuit states that it was the burro that entered his property sexually stalking the cow, while the Ayuntamiento (local government) considers that the cow provoked the donkey. Jose Lara, councilor for the Ayuntamiento of San Roque, explains his version of the deeds: “This is about a strong young burro, and of course, when the cow came out completely naked, with her udders exposed, the animal exceeded himself and attacked.” (Note: the word ‘tetas’ can be translated into English as ‘udders’ or ‘tits’, which may add to your enjoyment of the story)

Now it will be the legal services of the Ayuntamiento that will have to decide if it was sexual harassment on the part of the burro.