23 February 2011

Tis the Season

Although most of my readers will beg to differ, springtime is here! In February and March, the Catalans look up at the ever-blazing sun, admit it’s never really that cold here, and start planning calçotades. I like to translate this as “Festival of the Green Onion,” a calçot, although it is actually akin to a good down-home barbecue. First, stacks of thick green onions are cooked over open flame, so that the outer stem shoots burn to a crisp while the inside steams. The vegetables are then taken off the fire and carried to the table, to be served in a typical rounded clay roof tile. Meat is cooked over the coals as the flame dies down, bread is toasted, and red wine or cava is served. Now, how to eat a calçot: slide the inner part of the vegetable out of its charcoaled casing by grabbing the inner stem shoots; dip in romesco sauce (almonds, pine nuts, roasted garlic, olive oil, sweet red pepper, and roasted tomatoes); and open your beak like a baby bird waiting for a worm. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate spring.

If you’re lucky and have managed to make a few Catalan friends, you will be calçotaded-out by the end of March. I went to my first a few weeks ago, invited by the Rotaract club Vallés which meets at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona and which had their calçotada at a family’s country home complete with an olive grove. The calçots were hot, the romesco sauce was Grandma’s finest, and the day blessed us with perfect sunshine.

I’m on route to attend another calçotada this Saturday with all the Rotaract clubs in the district of Catalunya. We’ll be congregating in nothing short of the homeland of calçots, Tarragona (the Roman town I visited a few weeks ago). Then hopefully the Catalans in my program will succeed in organizing another in a few weeks, north of Barcelona in Girona. By the end of the spring, I expect I will reek of green onion—and be completely full and satisfied.


Catalan countryside excursions have not been my only break from Barcelona: after a month of classes, projects, exams, and intensive Catalan, I was blessed to have a ten-day break. I took the opportunity to visit the most remote corner of Spain, technically separated from the European continent by a three-hour plane ride. Technically located off the coast of Africa. Known for its dogs, birds, whistled native language, and for the highest mountain in Spain: I vacationed in the Canary Islands! A classmate from Colombia accompanied me, and we explored Tenerife’s northern fishing town, Puerto de la Cruz; hiked on 3.7km high Mount Teide, and visited the mountain town of La Orotava, which has several fully-functioning mills and its own brand wine, which I highly recommend.

After a few days in Puerto Cruz, we moved on to Santa Cruz, the capital of Tenerife. It was a short stay, mainly to visit the Natural History Museum and learn more about the islands’ aboriginal inhabitants, the Guanches. They migrated to the Canaries in the BC era, and were largely subsumed into the society of fifteenth-century Spanish settlers, who used the islands as a launch pad for voyages to North America. Columbus himself took off from the island La Gomera, where he apparently overstayed his scheduled stopover due to romantic ties with the island’s governor. Ah, the twists and turns of history.

Sandra and I then left by ferry for Gran Canaria, where we spent an afternoon before flying to Sevilla (budget airlines and moneywise travel do make for interesting sidetrips). Sevilla is the capital of Andalucia, Spain’s southern agricultural region. It’s known for its flamenco music and dancing, its cathedral, and its scorching hot summers. I have visited Sevilla twice before, once last year with Victoria for the Feria de Abril, when all Sevillians put on their expensive colorful dresses and Spanish cowboy suits and head to the fairgrounds to eat, drink, dance, and mingle. This was just a brief stay to visit the Alcázar, or royal Moorish palace and gardens, try to see some authentic flamenco dancing, and enjoy a guided walking tour.

On Friday we made our last stop in Granada, another prominent Andalucian town where Victoria lives, my flatmate from last year. I was thrilled to see her again and visit the city’s Albayzín, the white-washed maze-like Moorish quarter now a center of Bohemian culture. The neighborhood has a view across the valley to the Alhambra, the fourteenth-century Moorish castle that is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Granada was the last Moorish stronghold (the Moors, an Arab dynasty, once ruled the Iberian peninsula for 800 years) and fell to the Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, in 1492 as the last victory of the Reconquista. Moorish architecture is prominent in all of Andalucia as a result.

Granada was a nearly non-stop weekend of tapas and fiesta as we celebrated anything we could think of: a friend’s birthday, Victoria’s C2 (near-native) English grade, another friend’s acceptance to Sweden on a university exchange…everything. By the time Sandra and I got on the plane for Barcelona on Monday, I was tired of vacation! It was a good break from the computer screen, though, which I will likely become re-addicted to within the week as new classes start and projects beckon. I am, however, indebted to the Rotaract clubs of the area, which continuously plan events and fundraisers, stuff me with green onions, and give me reasons to balance study with play.

Photos coming soon!