Monday, August 24, 2009

Beach Weekend

Córdobans tell us that July and August in Córdoba are the worst… and they are not exaggerating. It is hot! Okay, not as hot as Phoenix is in July and August, and the hills are a golden California brown, so it doesn´t feel as oppressive as the desert. But still, 105 degrees is hot, especially when coupled with a little humidity. The heat is a wee bit easier to deal with in Spain than in the USA, mainly because no one is expected to do anything between about 2:00pm and about 5:00 pm, and generally not before 10:00 pm. I have been managing, but we´ve both been going a little stir crazy, trapped in the apartment because it is too hot to do anything, even at 11:00 pm. Scott suggested that we go south to a beach in Cadíz or Malaga for the weekend, and the idea of getting away sounded lovely.

But… it dawned on me that what appealed to me were my memories of our beach trips in Oregon. Pleasant walks along the sand in comfortably warm temperatures, relaxing in the shade with a book to the sound of the waves, romantic sunset strolls… You get the idea. Lying in the sun has not been my idea of a good time since I was in my early twenties. I am very fair skinned and I burn very quickly. The sun is not my friend. And, my experience with Mediterranean Beaches has not been particularly enchanting. It consists of a day on the French Riviera, in Nice, France when Scott contracted sun stroke and one trip to Malaga in the winter. The Riviera, in my opinion, was a big zero. I loved our hotel in Eze, but the rest… I do not understand all the hype. The Riviera beaches consist of hot stones. Even if I had wanted to lay out in the sun, those beaches are not especially appealing. The beach in Malaga was okay… not Southern California by a long shot, but at least some sand. Still, it is really hot, so maybe the beach would be better. We decided to go south to Torremolinos, just west of Malaga, in the renowned Costa del Sol of Spain. If nothing else, it would get us out of the apartment. Besides, it was our 28th anniversary after all.

And… It was hot… Miserable actually walking to the hotel, and then waiting for a couple of hours for the hotel staff to show us how to operate the air-conditioning, which was not intuitive. But after that, it was fabulous! In the heat of the day, we found a place in the shade by the pool. It is amazing what a dip in cool water will do for your outlook on life. In the very late afternoon, we went for a walk along the very pleasant beach. The beach at Torremolinos is very different from those in California, Oregon or even Hawaii. The beach ranges from fine to coarse sand, to small pebbles in some areas, and slopes quite steeply into the water. We bought some floats and went bobbing in the gentle waves. Floats are a must, and an ideal way to experience the Mediterranean. Like so many places that we have been, I could go back.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Cines de verano

In summertime, with the heat, people in Andalucía live by night. (Like the vampires, I suppose.) One of the many late-night diversions are the cines de verano (summer movies). These are like drive-in theaters, but without cars. You come in with your munchies, or even your dinner if you like, and sit watching a movie under the stars. This week with the Perseid meteor showers, it makes for a nice show. There’s a snack bar complete with alcoholic drinks….the most popular is the “tinto de verano”, sort of like a wine cooler, with red wine and soda water on ice. It creates quite an agreeable atmosphere. The first show is never earlier than 10:00pm, and there’s generally a second show after midnight. Night owls of the world, unite!

One interesting thing with watching movies in Spanish is that they don’t translate the titles directly. A direct translation of a title won’t always work in the other language….for instance, the Spanish movie “Abrazos rotos” by Pedro Almodóvar would translate as “Broken Hugs”, which just sounds odd in English. It’s a marketing decision; you want a title which sounds good to the people who’d be seeing the movie here. Here are some of the more entertaining examples of movie names translated into Spanish:

Animal House => Desmadre a la americana (literally, “Wild party, American-style”)

Blame it on Río => Lío en Río (literally, “Trouble in Río”…notice the rhyme)

Child’s Play (remember “Chucky”?) => El muñeco diabólico (literally, “The diabolical doll”)

Men in Tights => Las locas, locas aventuras de Robin Hood (literally, “Robin Hood’s crazy, crazy adventures”)

Sometimes, the movies also have unexpected surprises. The recent movie of “Che, guerilla”, based on the last days of Che Guevara, had a cameo appearance by Matt Damon as a German priest (or a journalist? not completely clear) in Bolivia. You know, Matt Damon seems to speak pretty good Spanish! Maybe his voice was dubbed, but it sure sounded like him. According to what I read online, his Argentine wife Luciana Barroso has been teaching him.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Feria de Santiago

A few weeks ago, our good friend Lola invited us to the Feria de Santiago at her pueblo of El Garabato. Now, we’ve seen the big ferias in Córdoba, culminating in Semana Santa with all the processions through the streets. In addition to the big events, there are myriads of small processions in even the smallest pueblos. People hasten to explain that these aren’t religious events; although they parade the religious images through the streets, they’re mostly an excuse to stay out late and eat and drink and chat and drink and listen to music and drink and dance. Oh, and they drink a bit too.

In the heat of the summer, nothing of importance happens during the day. We arrived in El Garabato after dark to visit with Lola’s extended family and have a bite to eat. Oh, and a little something to drink as well. We wandered out to the plaza (even the small pueblos have a central plaza, though it may be little), where the procession was supposed to start at 9:30. The priest hadn’t yet arrived, but that was no problem. Everyone passed the time chatting and listening to music. Oh, and there was a little drinking.

Around 10:00, somebody called the priest, who actually lives in a larger pueblo called La Carlota. It turned out that he’d forgotten about the procession, and said to go ahead without him. Everyone agreed that this called for another drink. Someone explained that the priests don’t really encourage these processions; for some reason, they don’t think they’re terribly spiritual events. Go figure.

The procession was smaller, and the image was much smaller, but everyone enthusiastically paraded down the streets. There was a small marching band, and fireworks from time to time. Once back in the plaza, we all enjoyed flamenco dance demonstrations from the kids in the local dance schools. The heat of the evening naturally called for more drinks. Around midnight, we went back to Lola’s mother’s house for the real cena. (We still haven’t really become accustomed to these late night meals, but it was quite good.) Then it was back to the plaza for more music and dances and….you guessed it!...more drinks. We finally got home around 3:00 in the morning.

All in all, it was quite a fun excursion. Oh, did I mention that there was some drinking?

Sunday, August 9, 2009


The temperatures have been topping 100 degrees F pretty much every day here in Córdoba, so Tonya and I decided that it was time to visit England and get out of the heat. We have to take advantage of these travel opportunities, because God knows we won’t be in any financial position to do so when we return to the USA. We did escape the heat, but I must admit that I didn’t expect to need sweaters and coats in August. Umbrellas, of course; it is England, after all. You’ll see spots on many of the pictures…. these are genuine English raindrops on the camera lens.

This was a very pleasant trip; it was the first time we’ve been in an English-speaking country since last September. We’d visited the north of England a few years ago (York), but this was our first time down south in London. We had about two and a half days in London, and reached the conclusion that it wasn’t nearly enough. There is a lot to see! Celtic, Roman, Saxon, Norman….all these different cultures, as well as those which came before, have left their marks. On this trip, we managed to hit several (but not all!) of the big tourist draws: Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, the Tower of London, St. James Park, Hyde Park, St. Paul´s Cathedral, Buckingham Palace, and others. We’ll see if we can manage to get back.

We headed west from London to Salisbury, where they have possibly the most beautiful cathedral in the world. Here they have one of the best-preserved of the remaining copies of the Magna Carta. This was the list of laws signed under duress by King John in 1215, one of the first to place practical limits on the powers of the king. It forms one of the bases of Western law to this day.

One of our big goals for this trip was to visit Stonehenge. We got our first glimpse of it on my birthday. This is another of those sites that ended up impressing me more than I’d expected. The sheer size of the stones is overwhelming, and moreso when you consider that all of this was constructed between 3000BC and 2000BC, without the benefit of the wheel or metal tools. We even got to see a group of modern-day Druids doing a ceremony in the middle of the circle.

A bit further north in Avebury is another of the stone circles which seem to abound in the area. The main ring there is a good quarter-mile in diameter, with many of the original stones missing. (Medieval priests encouraged the faithful to destroy the pagan works.) Nobody is completely sure of the purpose of the stone rings. Stonehenge has many alignments with the position of the sun on midsummer and midwinter day, too many to be coincidence….but why? An observatory? A temple? Whatever they were, they were important enough for these ancient societies to devote a staggering amount of manpower to them.