Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Apple Juice

15 gentlemen. 3 days. Nearly 300 bottles of apple cider.

Last Friday was Father’s Day in Spain, a national holiday which gives everyone the day off of work and thus a three-day weekend. In order to take advantage of this, two American friends of mine, Matt Walsh and David McCoy, along with Matt’s American roommate Tom from Maine, and 11 of their Spanish friends decided to go to Gijón.

Gijón is a coastal city in the north of Spain located in the Asturius region and is famous for its apple cider, beaches, and partying all night in the streets and plazas. While drinking outside of bars is frowned upon and even against the law in some parts of the country, it is almost a necessity in Gijón because of the fashion in which one drinks the cider. You see, you have to pour about a sip’s worth at a time from the bottle into a glass from holding the bottle above your head, making for about a two and a half foot pour. This will ultimately result in missing the glass at times (especially as the night carries on), so it makes since that it’s encouraged to be drank in the streets instead of the bars.

After a successful Thursday night of introductions to both Matt’s Spanish friends and the cider culture, we hit a bit of a speed bump on Friday morning. You see, Matt and Tom, who teach English in Segovia, have expired visas and had forgotten their passports at home. In hostels, it is standard procedure for everyone checking in to produce an international ID of some sort if you are not a citizen of that particular country. When Matt and Tom had no proper documentation, the police were informed about their illegal status and brought them to the station. However, given that Spain is in a financial crisis and didn’t want to pay for their deportation, they were told that they have 2 weeks to return back to the States. Fortunately, they were released and thus able to spend the rest of the weekend with us.

The weather in Gijón was fantastic, it was actually the first time since I arrived in Spain that wearing a jacket wasn’t necessary, and the warm sun was definitely welcomed. Gijón is supposed to have a really nice beach, but I wouldn’t know, because we never made it there. Instead, we decided to take advantage of the friendly and vibrant culture by hanging out in the streets and plazas all day with boxes full of bottles of cider with guitars and harmonicas in hand, singing songs and striking up conversations with the locals (especially the women, who are beautiful in Asturias).

Each day followed a similar routine: wake up around 1:30, eat lunch, start drinking around 3:00, play music and make up songs, and ultimately bar/club hop until about 5 am. This went on for three days and I must say it was one of the wildest and best weekends I have experienced in a long time. Now begins the countdown to Prague and Vienna for Easter.

Pics will be posted promptly

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Civil Rights and Tasty Baby Lamb

As an appropriate follow-up to last week’s insight into the celebratory mentality of the Spanish population, a couple days ago was a national holiday for celebrating women in the workplace. I’m down with that; all of the female teachers got flowers, we all got pastries during break, and I got to say “congratulations” all day to each of them which is always a psychological mood-booster on a bitterly cold Monday.
Anyway, being that it was day for women to unite as one and celebrate their social status in the modern-day business world, the female teachers at my school all decided to go to lunch at the best restaurant in Autol. That is to say, among the best restaurants in the world. If all of the women were dining together in a non-male environment, then what did the men do for lunch, do you ask?
Well actually, we decided to have our own special lunch party, for men only. Good news: the principal of my school is a man, who happens to have a bodega (wine cellar) underneath his house. And when I say bodega, please don’t picture a modest little room. This was a two-century year old “man’s room” full of art, cultural antiques, local liquors and more bottles of wine you could imagine. The one room had more floor space than the Rent House.
So the 9 of us guys cracked open two, 2-liter crianza (aged) bottles of wine made in my principal’s village; it was one of the best wines I have had since arriving to Spain. Main course: grilled cordero-baby lamb, it wasn’t exactly terrible. Oh yeah, and this was followed by a round of shots of herbal liquor which it touted as being very good for the digestive process. We would have loved to continue with the lunch party, but we did still have two more hours of school to teach so we needed to get back to Autol.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Festival Fever

One of the great things about Spain is that the Spanish love to celebrate and have a good time. They will go to just about any length to find any excuse to party. As a whole Spanish people, despite their religious past (Inquisition, anyone?) are not very religious. In fact, I don’t think I have met one Spaniard in six months who claims to be a stern Catholic or even a religious individual in general. This has led me to conclude that in Spain, people don’t like to practice religion as much as they like to celebrate it.

By this, I mean that Spain has many festivals with traditional religious roots but currently carry very little religious significance; rather, it is an excuse to have a party. Think about the images that come into your mind when you imagine San Fermines, the biggest festival in Pamplona. This festival was originally meant to celebrate Saint Fermine, but has virtually turned into a week of debauchery for locals and international travelers alike, who only practice drinking wine all day and running away from bulls opposed to practicing creed. The fact is, the festival of San Fermine is just a macrocosm of what occurs throughout the country during the spring and summer.

Every city, town, and village, no matter how large or small, has at least two festivals every year. In fact, the town where I live, Autol, home to only roughly 4,000 habitants, enjoys three festivals annually (keep in mind that all local festivals involve bulls-whether it be bull runs or bull fights). And don’t begin to think that the series of local festivals occur at random; on the contrary they are very well coordinated to the extent that in a given region the festivals rarely overlap, but instead occur virtually every weekend for several months. That is to say, if one were so inclined one could attend a different festival in a different city/village/town every weekend for roughly 6 months out of the year.

This past weekend was the festival in Calahorra, a nearby town of about 20,000 people. I was fortunate enough to be invited to a show at the plaza de toros (bull ring) by some locals related to my landlords. I had seen a corrida in Pamplona last year, the well-known event where the bulls are killed by a matador with a sword, but this event was much different. It was not a 'bull fight' where they slay the bulls, but rather a competition among younger, less experienced toreros, men ranging from the ages of 18-26 or so. The way it works is that there are 12 teams of 2 people. One pair at a time, the toreros enter the bullring with only small silver rings in hand (no sword or spear). Once the bull is released, the pair has 3 minutes to try to put as many silvers rings on the horns of the bull as possible. This means getting very, very close to horns. One pair, comprising of a 19 year old and a 21 year old was unfortunate enough to get the rowdiest bull, who in only 3 minutes broke both arms of one contestant and the wrist of his partner, by slamming them into the wall. It was good fun.

Anyway, the point is, festival season has arrived in Spain and I’m loving it.

In other news, my friend David and I are planning a trip to Prague and Vienna for Easter week because we have a 10-day vacation. It should be a really good time, Prague is supposed to be a lot of fun and very cheap while Vienna is said to be among the most beautiful cities in the world. Also, Nick Shirley, who is living in Austria with his wife and teaching English like myself, is planning on meeting us in Vienna and showing us around. It’s a small world huh?