Archives for the month of: November, 2010

Flamenco dolls in a tourist shop in Granada

Flamenco. The word is a familiar part of Spain’s image, like paella and bull-fighting. And like these 2 others, flamenco has often been corrupted for the purposes of tourism, but at the same time continues to be a source of Spanish pride and a part of its modern culture. The little shops around the Cathedral near our apartment are crammed with flamenco dolls, flamenco dress aprons and mugs, caps, postcards and you-name-it bearing images of flamenco dancers. Yet, at school, when I asked several of my high school students if they were interested in flamenco, the response was a resounding “Yes!” UNESCO (a special branch of the UN dedicated to culture, science and education) fanned the flames of flamenco’s popularity since it just added flamenco to their World Non-material Cultural Heritage list this month, a decision seen here in Spain as a purely official recognition of something already widely valued.

I think flamenco is a difficult art form to appreciate at first view, kind of like modern art for many. In the performances I’ve seen (which, mind you, belong to the tourist category above) the singer’s voice sounded whiny and the dancer maintained a sorrowful grimace through most of the performance. The timing and flow were a mystery as a majority of the show seemed to evolve completely spontaneously. Flamenco is the opposite of ballet. In place of rigid spines, slender and young girls, classical music and delicate tutus there are rather guttural-sounding plaintive utterances, brightly-colored, polka-dotted, tight-fitting dresses on women who are not necessarily young or slim, loud clapping, and riotous cheers. The effect on an uninformed first-time viewer can produce bafflement about its popularity.

Flamenco performance at a cultural center in Sevilla

Flamenco, Flamenco is a recently-released film that showcases flamenco’s ample variety and beauty. It was entered in the Seville Film Fest which we attended in early November, but unfortunately the tickets were sold out to this movie when we went. Now that it’s in theaters here, we had another opportunity to see it. The film artistically presents one flamenco performance after another, with no voice-over, just dancing, singing and guitar-playing. It unites many talented performers that a typical spectator of flamenco would never get the opportunity to see.

The conviviality among the performers that flamenco’s room for improvisation creates was so clear. They seemed to challenge, inspire and energize each other during a performance. At the same time, some of the dances had been clearly choreographed to a breath-taking effect. The synchronicity between the dancers and musicians produced different results depending on the combination of players, such as tension-fraught love, admiring colleagues or raucous family gatherings. I would definitely recommend it as a means to have a look into this oft-adulterated art form and to understand Spain, and its people that love this thing called flamenco, just a little bit more.

Here is the Youtube link to Flamenco, Flamenco’s trailer…I don’t think it’s scheduled to be released in U.S. theaters, but if you get a chance to Netflix it, you’re in for a special visual and auditory experience!


Today, Julia and I had the privilege of witnessing a Spanish wedding! Or at least a wedding in Spanish. An American couple got married at the church we’ve been attending for the past month, and the whole congregation was invited to come. The wedding took place at the time of the usual Sunday morning services. A truly traditional Spanish wedding would be in a cathedral, and the attendees decked out in their full flair. This church is a much humbler space (although the youth group tricked it out with tulips, ribbons, and a rose petal aisle to make it quite special) and the dress code was pretty casual. The ceremony was very similar to other  services I’ve attended in the States. Though we didn’t know the couple, it was great to get witness their happy day!

The pretty wedding program and a neat little bag of rice to throw! I guess PETA hasn’t caught wind that the Spanish birds are still potential victims of wedding rice!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!!! Hope you are enjoying this special day with loved ones! I’m so thankful for all of you for reading and for all of your encouragement in the Comments section. I feel less far away from you all through the blog:-) Enjoy your turkey and pumpkin pie!!!



PS- Some pics of our Thanksgiving Day sweets…they’re a little unconventional…

On the left: The teachers from my school’s English department gave me this cake today! Such a sweet recognition of my being away from home on a holiday. It looks like a chocolate-chip cake inside-we haven’t tasted it yet, so the full report is to come.

On the right: I was excited to find pecan pie here! However, I’m not so excited that it has come from the Starbucks pastry case, labeled as “Cake of Pecans.” Again, the full report to come- I’m not getting my hopes up too high for this one!

Yesterday, a couple of friends and I took advantage of a sunny day to travel outside of Sevilla to a little town called Carmona. As one of our Spanish friends described it, Carmona is a “pueblo, pueblo, pueblo.” Translation: it’s itty bitty! But it is known for its quality tapas as well as some Roman ruins that were discovered on the outskirts of the town in 1885 that date back to the 1st century BC!!! Here is a photo record of our time in Carmona…

Exploring the ancient ruins…

The ruins included several tombs, as well as an amphitheater where archeologists guess gladiator fights took place! Any statue or pottery remains were inside the little museum on-sight, so the tombs were basically empty pits. Still, it was very interesting to see what’s left and imagine people in that spot over 2000 years ago!

Our tapas trail began when 2 girls from the group were brave enough to approach a gang of older men, tricked out with newsboy caps, tweed and Ray-Ban sunglasses (the elderly man uniform of Spain), to ask for a recommendation. They pointed us to a place near-by.

Another older man greeted us at the restaurant, and helped us arrange tables for our larger group. Then, he proceeded to go inside, return with a glass of red wine, and plant himself in a chair in the sun facing the plaza, letting a younger man working there take care of our table. What a work day!

We had a tapas sampler that was beautifully presented and had some stand-out dishes- the calamari and the Russian salad (cold potato salad) were very good.

After basking in the sun a bit, we moved on to Round 2 of our Tapas Trail experience. The second place was closer to a typical tapas experience- no fancy presentations, just simple platters of food. Their croquetas*, fried potatoes and bread were all amazing. Plus, the tables of the cafe sit in the shade of a part of the ancient city wall!

Papas bravas= fried potatoes with a “spicy” sauce (in Spain, their heat tolerance is generally very low, so when you see “spicy” on the menu, you should translate that as mild to perhaps not spicy at all), and a generous amount of mayonnaise (also a note on Spanish mayo- the quality of Spanish mayo is much better than the US. Many people grew up here with their mom’s homemade mayo, and so they don’t accept gloppy stuff that tastes like Best Foods)!

A close-up of some croquetas and fries.

*Croquetas= a cooked filling (like ham, cheese, spinach, etc.) mixed with bechamel (a French white sauce), coated with breadcrumbs and fried. There are many variations on croquetas in Spain, and a lot of them are delicious! Also, their fries are no McDonalds fare- they’re often fried in olive oil, which I think gives them a less greasy and crunchier exterior. Since they’re freshly made, they also taste more like an actual potato.

I would recommend Carmona to anyone who visits Spain and is interested in seeing a little town outside of the big cities. It was such an easy day-trip from Sevilla. We had plenty to do for the afternoon, and returned to Sevilla with our bellies very satisfied! Ending the trip with some ice cream was the sweet ending to the day…



Last weekend, Julia and I had a massive picture exchange (she has over 600 photos from our time here so far!!!) and I thus came into possession of some photographs she took of our apartment the day we moved in. We probably took them for security reasons- in case our landlord claims that we’ve run off with all of his most valuable items when June rolls around- but they’re coming in handy now to give you all a look at the place where we pass a lot of our time. Without further ado, The Dos Jotas Mesón!

The dining room

The living room

My bedroom- sans decoration!

Julia and I in the kitchen with our keys on our first day in the apartment! Yes, that is a clothes washer underneath our counter:-) And our little 2-burner stovetop!

Our front door, or what my dad likes to call our Fort Knox locks.

Why the nickname “El Mesón Dos Jotas”? There is a bar nearby called the Mesón Cinco Jotas, which roughly translates as the Five Js Table. So, Julia and I decided to christen our little apartment the Mesón Dos Jotas, or Two Js Table. We even found these tiles for our kitchen to make it more official…

Oh! And I can’t forget the view from the roof…

View of the Giralda, the Cathedral’s bell tower and formerly the minaret of a mosque. The structure is an iconic symbol of Sevilla. It’s a lovely thing to look at when we’re hanging up our laundry to dry!

Hope you’ve all enjoyed the virtual tour!!!



The prospect of our long weekends here in Sevilla from the perspective of Thursday night can seem a bit daunting in figuring out how we will fill up the many hours without deadlines, commutes and early bedtimes. After our initial “hallelujahs!” at the end of the work week, we turn to pondering this “problem.” Since our social circle is still small, this can seem especially challenging.  Here is how this weekend unfolded…

FRI.: A little bit of culture…

Chilling in the museum gallery.

At the moment, there is an exhibition of a wildlife photographer’s work near the Alcázar. Julia and I went to take a peek. The collection is titled “A Zebra in My Bed.” Though there were no beds to be found in her pictures, there were lots of incredible nature shots. The exhibit is organized around 6 high-def TV screens set to slide-shows of the photos. Each TV screen represent a a “theme” of wildlife that the photographer focused on: Intelligence-looks, love-maternity, beauty-black and white, connection-pairs, fascination-birds and power-action and the photographs were grouped accordingly. It was impressive! Here is a link that shows just a few of her photos:

That night, we also attended the European Film Festival that’s been in Sevilla for the past week with one of our neighbors. We saw a film which was an hour and a half of interviews with a 91-year old Spanish woman! It was certainly a linguistic challenge for Julia and I.

SAT.: Deep sea encounters…

Pulpo a la gallega

On Saturday, a friend from our program was in town, and so went to lunch…around 3pm of course! Julia was brave enough to order the pulpo (translation=octopus) a la gallega, which involves a drenching of olive oil and a showering of sweet paprika. The dish was a bit intimidating, especially without the cooked potatoes that sometimes accompany the octopus. Needless to say, there were a couple of tentacles left on the plate when we left. Perhaps it’s an acquired taste!

SUN.: Rain, rain, rain…

Riding the tranvía

We found a church in an outer neighborhood of Sevilla (Protestant churches are few and far between here in predominately Catholic Spain), and it’s a bit of a public transportation adventure to get there for Sunday morning services (not that Julia and I have any lack of experience on public transpo thanks to our commutes!). Here’s a pic Julia snapped of me on the tram outside of our apartment.

Today was the first really rainy day we’ve had here. This meant 2 things…

Julia at the Starbucks across from our apartment. No peppermint mochas and eggnog lattes here- Starbucks decided that toffee nut lattes and praline mochas are more to the Spanish taste.

Holiday drinks at Starbucks and…

Santa penguin socks!!!

Have a jolly pre-holiday day!



A couple more exceptionable culinary experiences from Granada…

Granada is known for its Moroccan foodthe falafels are the most talked-about, but its other offerings such as couscous tagines are also worth mentioning.

Spain is all about pork products- they’re pretty impossible to escape. At La Oliva gourmet food shop, there is quite a variety to sample!

In the afternoons, market stalls are set up alongside the main cathedral in Granada. The baskets are filled with piles of spices, and as in the case of this picture, whole-leaf tea blends. The aromas are amazing!

Come fall, the smell and smoke from roasting chestnuts fills the air in Granada, as well as Sevilla. The nuts are very filling, with a starchy, potatoe-esque texture and taste. We took this pic in the Mirador San Nicolás, which has the grandest view of the Alhambra, a continuous stream of street performers and chestnut roasters always near-by.

With gray skies and a chilly wind, today seems to mark the end of the fabulous fall weather we’ve been having in Sevilla. I’m crossing my fingers it doesn’t rain since I have laundry drying on the roof!!! I hope everybody has a good day and stays warm!



Granada!!! It is such an enchanting city with a mix of exotic winding streets in the Moroccan quarter and charming plazas in the center, resting in the shadow of the stately Alhambra and snow-capped mountains of the Sierra Nevada. I studied abroad here 2 years ago, and the trip felt like a kind of homecoming.

Julia and I interspersed foodie missions with explorations of the city, in the process re-visiting some beloved favorites and discovering new ones. Welcome to Granada…

1. Chocolate y churros in Plaza Bib-Ramblas at Bar Alhambra

By far the thickest drinkable chocolate I’ve ever tried- when the waiter plops the cups onto the table, its contents barely budge. The greasy churros make for very indulgent complements. The advisability of eating this is questionable- for me, it resulted in a headache and a long series of strange dreams that night. However, if it is drugged, which is entirely possible given it’s addictive quality, the Granadinos don’t seem to mind- if you glance at the surrounding tables, every single person is partaking in the same guilty pleasure!

2. Flamenquín from Braulios

Though Americans may claim deep-fried Twinkies, Spaniards can claim flamenquín- a dizzying combination of cheese and serrano ham rolled in a pork chop, fried to a crisp and served with fries and mayonnaise. Another stomach-whopper like the chocolate and churros, the flamenquín is an excess in protein as the chocolate is in sugar. It is a traditional dish from the city of Córdoba, but is also a special of the classic restaurant Braulio in Granada. Worth trying  at least once!

3. Cookies from a convent

There are lots of nuns in Granada, and they include baking cookies with their religious duties! Delicious cookies at that. Securing some nun’s cookies involves placing an order through an intercom system, laying some money on a large lazy-susan type apparatus that protects the nun from being seen, and receiving in turn a box of tightly packed cookies. The cookies tend to have different kinds of ground nuts. Others are like jelly candies coated with coconut. And yet others are like butter cookies. Fantastic fuel for hiking up to see the Alhambra.

4. Piononos

The pionono is a pastry indiginous to a little town outside of Granada. It consists of a very thin rolled cake, saturated with a sugary syrup and topped with a little crown of caramelized pastry cream. They are served cold, and have a very pleasing medley of textures and not-too-cloying sweetness. They’re an awesome local specialty.

Of course, this list does not include everything we had to eat, like afternoon snacks with Carmen (the lady I stayed with during my study abroad), amazing vegan food from The Piano, or a home-cooked lunch of hake and potatoes and salmorejo (a cousin of gazpacho) made by Francisco, a foodie friend who owns a gourmet shop, La Oliva, in Granada.

Wishing everyone a happy and delicious rest of their day!