Friday, May 29, 2009

May in Córdoba

May is party month in Córdoba. Once the renewal was confirmed, we could relax and enjoy ourselves a bit. The parties come one after another; first Las Cruces, then the patios, then the feria. In between are the horse shows featuring the pure-blooded Andalucíans. Of course, Tonya and I managed to get ourselves a little bit sick, so we haven’t been able to take full advantage of the festivities. Also, the weather is beginning to warm up, so we’re not quite so active as we’ve been. Still, after all, it’s been a fun month.

Las Cruces is still another excuse to get together and drink and dance and eat snails. At various locations in the city, large crosses are set up in the street, decorated with carnations. They’re pretty, I guess, but nothing particularly spectacular. People have hastened to tell us that there’s nothing particularly religious about Las Cruces, and they’re right. To really enjoy the crosses, you need to go see them with a group of friends after dark. There are awning-covered bars with all manner of eatables and drinkables, and usually music playing (either live or recorded). With sufficient alcohol, you get right into the spirit of the street party.

The Patio Festival is a uniquely Córdoban event. Many Spanish houses are built around a central patio. I’d always thought of this as a Mexican style for houses, but it makes sense that they were following a Spanish tradition. With the climate here (and in Mexico, if you think about it), an open central area allows more airflow through the house. I’d always thought that the patio houses were for rich people, and it’s true that many elegant homes are built with that floorplan. However, the more common case is the “casa vecina”, or the neighbor house. A number of itty-bitty family apartments are built around a central courtyard with a shared well, kitchen, bathrooms, and washtubs for laundry. It was a housing style for very poor people who couldn’t afford their own homes. According to our friends, this was still a very common living situation as recently as twenty years ago. In a situation like that, I can see how you’d come to really love or really hate your neighbors. Anyway, it’s a point of pride in Córdoba for people to dress up their patios for the annual competition. Take a look at the pictures at:

The month culminates with La Feria, which developed from the old livestock fairs, like the county fairs in America. So far, I have to say that La Feria hasn’t seemed like much. There are the normal carnival rides, complete with American cartoon characters (although here, Tom and Jerry are known as El Ratón Vacilón y El Gato Comilón). Of course, there’s a Spanish twist on it; many of the women are in traditional flamenca outfits, and you see riders here and there on their Andalucían horses. The real attraction of La Feria is the casetas, little awning-covered displays set up by many different groups: the cofradías (religious brotherhoods), the political parties (including the Socialists and the Communists….yes, there are quite prominent displays promoting solidarity with Cuba, complete with the inevitable portraits of Che Guevara), and local businesses. Again inevitably, they include bars with eatables and drinkables and music. We went out with a group of teachers from my school on Wednesday afternoon. It was fun, but way too hot. Some of the casetas have ceiling fans, but they’re not adequate when the temperatures get up to 100⁰F (and yes, the temperature got that high….summer is going to be interesting here). We had a better time the next evening; we went out much later with some other friends. Once the sun gets lower, it’s not so bad. And after the sun goes down, it’s positively comfortable.

We had an interesting experience last week. One of our friends here had some American guests (his brother had spent some time in America on an exchange program many years ago, and they still have a cordial relationship with the host family). We all got together for a Córdoban cena. Our friend only speaks a bit of English, and the Americans spoke almost no Spanish, so I was doing some translating. What struck me is how much we’ve acclimated over the last year. Things which seemed delightfully foreign to the visitors seem commonplace to us now. We have to be careful not to stop seeing the wonderful things around us! I took a look back at some of the pictures we’d taken when we first arrived last September, and found myself thinking, “Now, why did we take a picture of that? It’s just a street!”

So that’s May in Córdoba. And now, we’re off for the great summer vacation!

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