International Book Day and Seven MORE Books on Spain

Back when I was a floundering, wannabe guiri, I made two trips a week to my local library back home, checking out every book and DVD about Spain. Reading up on my future home made it easier to transition into the idiosyncrasies of daily life in Iberia – and it honestly helped me get on a plane when I had serious doubts about a year in Spain.

Nearly seven years on, my Kindle is stocked with travel memoirs and books on Spanish history.

Both Cervantes and Shakespeare, considered to be true purveyors of their languages, died on April 23rd, 1616. On the day when two literary greats perished, the UNESCO has declared this day, April 23rd, as International Book Day, giving me all the more reason to stock up on titles related to Spain.

April 23rd also commemorates the Feast of Saint Jordi, patron saint of Cataluña, whose legend has made him an early Don Juan: Saint George slayed a dragon to save a princess, from whose spilled blood grew a rosebush. Nowadays, women receive flowers, and they give their loved one a book. Screw the flowers – take note – and get me a book, too!

Today, I present you with seven more books I’ve read about Spain since last year’s list, or had previously left off the list: 

Errant in Iberia, Ben Curtis

This is a book I really should have read before coming to Spain. Much like me, Curtis took a leap of faith and moved to Spain without much of a clue as to what he was doing (or speaking…or hearing). After finding a job and a Spanish girlfriend, the expat adventure begins.

This really sounds familiar.

Ben and his partner, Marina, explore the ins and outs of bicultural relationships, and are now the broadcasters behind Notes from Spain, which is a great way to practice your listening skills and learn a bit about Spain in the process.

Get it: Errant in Iberia paperback

Inside the Tortilla: A Journey in Search of Authenticity, Paul Read

I had the pleasure of meeting Paul, who goes by the alias of the Teapot Monk, during a bloggers meet-up in Málaga. As he talked about self-publishing several books and his want to break into the American market, I gleefully held up my Kindle and said, “JUST BOUGHT IT!”

In Inside the Tortilla, Read explores the deterioration of Spain’s moral conduct and the search for authentic Andalusia through the ingredients, preparation, layers and consumption of its most universal dish, the tortilla de patatas. Read is a seasoned expat who has lived all around Southern Spain, and his memoir is peppered with anecdotes of life in small-town Spain, long walks with his dog around the countryside and the frequent long meal that provokes questions like, What is tourism really doing to Spain’s cultural front?

I literally ate it up.

Get it: Inside the Tortilla paperback | Inside the Tortilla kindle version

Journey to a Dream, Craig Briggs

What immediately attracted me to this newcomer book was that it is set in Galicia, one my favorite regions in Spain. While most British expats choose to settle near the coast, Craig and his wife Melanie fall in love with the misty northwest corner (along with the wine). Joining lackadaisical real estate agent, the Briggs soon find that their dream house may actually ruin them.

The book is a delightful mix of expat pitfalls, cultural insight and laughable episodes as the family set to make a life in tierras gallegas.

Get it: Journey to a Dream paperback | Journey to a Dream kindle version

El Tiempo Entre Costuras, María Dueñas

I started this book nearly two years ago and have been savoring it ever since. This is the story of Sira, a young seamstress who flees Madrid on the brink of the Spanish Civil War with a man who soon abandons her in Tangiers. Unable to return home and in debt to those who helped her, Sira begins to sew garments for the cities well-to-do. The novel is heartbreaking, but paints a beautiful picture of Morocco, as well as Spain in one of its most tumultuous and fascinating times.

El Tiempo Entre Costuras has received a slew of critical acclaim, and it’s worth the hype – I can’t remember a book more beautifully written, and the Spanish prose rivals some of the greats. The book was also turned into a miniseries earlier this year.

Get it: El Tiempo Entre Costuras in Spanish | El Tiempo Entre Costuras in English

More Ketchup than Salsa, Joe Cawley

Joe Cawley’s book on setting up – or rather, saving – a restaurant and bar in the Canary Islands is a hoot, especially when you understand the bureaucratic mess that is Spain, the existence of Spanish mafia and those oh-so-reliable handymen who never seem to get the message. The read is light and humorous, it’s really a labor of love between a man, a bar, and a dream he refuses to let go of.

Cawley has published several other books in the series, as well.

Get it: More Ketchup than Salsa paperback | More Ketchup than Salsa kindle version

Chicken, Mules and Two Old Fools, Victoria Twead

The first in a line of successful books on expat life in Spain, Victoria and her husband Joe leave Southern England to settle in a ruined farmhouse in Southern Spain. 

Like Journey to a Dream, the Tweads’s transition into building permits and Spanish culture isn’t an easy one, but the book is laugh-out-loud funny, and if you’ve lived in Andalusia, you’ll likely be nodding right along with the plot and the mishaps that seem to plague them!

Get it: Chickens, Mules and Two Old Fools paperback | Chickens, Mules and Two Old Fools kindle version

City of Sorrows, Susan Nadathur

This fictional look at the plight and marginalization of the gypsy population in Seville was based on author Nadathur’s own experience living in Las Tres Mil Viviendas, a gypsy enclave near my house. In her debut novel, Nadathur weaves together the lives of gitanos, sevillanos and foreigners who seek an understanding in the wake of an accidental death.

I interviewed Nadathur about her experience in Las 3000, the process of writing and how her upbringing led her to a career as an author early on SandS.

Get it: City of Sorrows paperback | City of Sorrows kindle version

I’ve got several books in my Kindle queue, mostly on expats in India, but I’m looking forward to living my Camino moments with I’m Off, Then: Losing and Finding Myself on the Camino de Santiago.

What are you favorite books about Spain or set in Spain? Interested in last year’s list? You can find it here.

Tapa Thursdays: Eating at a Guachinche on Tenerife

Julie’s plan had only three itinerary stops on my only full-day on Tenerife: Rental car. Teide. Guachinche :)

Eager not to ruin my own surprise, I refused to give into sneaking a peek at what this oh-so-tenerifeño dining experience was. I actually didn’t know it had anything to do with food until after we’d climbed to the peak of Teide on empty stomachs and was promised a mountain of raciones.

Zigzagging down the face of the active volcano through rollercoast roads, I actually think I heard my tripa gurgle. But the excitement in which Julie told me about these temporary, family-run restuarants blew my expectations (sorry, done on the volcano expressions and puns).

“Si esto se llama La Salú para mi madre, que descanse en paz!” 

The small restaurant’s owner, David, was showing us around the various dining rooms, all set around a humble kitchen where family members were peeling Canarian wrinkly potatoes (papas arrugás) and preparing meat at a grill. His mother, a sevillana by birth, married a Venezuelan before moving to the island. When she passed away, her family, who had always loved wine, planted a small vineyard and the guanchinche was born. The name, La Salud, is a homenage to the family matriarch.

We chose seats on the covered patio, watching the clouds roll in over Puerto Cruz. 

Guachinches began to spring up on Tenerife as humble restaurants from which small producers could sell their product. The island’s volcanic landscape lends well to producing young, fruity reds, so we ordered a half liter to begin with. The restaurants operate so long as there is wine to sell – it’s common to find guachinches closed late in the season. 

There were just five dishes on the menu, guaranteeing that everything we tried was fresh – eggs, sobresada and fries (huevos estampidos); garbanzos with a spicy tomato sofrito; chistorra sausage with fries, steak and cheese produced on the island. We ordered all but the steak and an extra half litre of the family’s fruity, fresh wine.

What I loved about the experience (aside from the price – 25€ for everything!), was the personal service we received. Everything was served hot and tasty, and we left satisfied.

Guachinches have started to pop up on nearby Gran Canaria, but the real thing is as tenerifeño as Teide itself.

If you go: La Salud is located in the town of La Orotava on the western side of the island, just east of tourist town Puerto Cruz. The address is Camino de Los Gomez, S/N. They’re typically open from 1pm until 11pm, though may be closed if the wine is depleted. You’ll need a rental car to reach many of them, or a reliable taxi service, as the guachinches tend to be set away from major cities in the north.

Have you ever been to a guachinche, or something similar? Would you eat with locals?

Guiri, Whoa: Buying a Flamenco Dress in Seville

Anda ya! 

Jose Manuel drops his hands in desperation as I paw a gorgeous, pale pink flamenco dress with a cascade of ruffles. No hay quien pueda with this guiri.

Nearly two hours into a search for the perfect flamenco dress, I was more undecided than ever. I got the last one in 2011 and knew immediately it was the right one for me, but this year has my head spinning. Jose Manuel dutifully pulls one dress after another, then hangs them up once I’ve ruled them out.

This flamenco dress business is a big deal.

When the Novio’s mother announced she’d be floating the bill for my traje de gitana this year, I jumped at the opportunity to design my own. I sketched out what I wanted – a one-color, sleeveless dress with three volantes and encaje around the bust and waist to make my boobs smaller and accentuate my small cintura.

I called Taller Los Príncipes to ask about pricing, trying to find something for less than 300€ so that the Novio, his mother and I would all pay 100€ each. The woman started asking me a flurry of questions. How tall was I in centimeters (….uhh…..)? What kind of ruffles did I want? Would I bring my own fabric? 

I politely said I’d call back. But I was way in over my head and with not a single seasoned guiri around to help me. In the past, I’d always bought my dresses off the rack and had them taken in (or out) as needed.

A bit of vocabulary so that you understand how confused I was.

A flamenco dress is known around these parts as the traje de gitana, or simply a traje. They’re worn during local festivals like the ferias and romerias such as El Rocío and can cost anywhere from 100€ to 500€, or ever more, especially those that are tailormade.

The dress is composed of a body, sleeves and a train of volantes, or ruffles. Made of tela, you can get high-quality fabric or normal and the detailing is called encaje. Lace is especially popular this year. The seamstress, called a modista, assists you in designing your dress and then sews it for you. The most traditional sort of fabric has lunares, or polka dots, but they can also me liso (one color) or with pattterns.

Next to the academy where I work, there’s a flamenco dress shop that’s only open from January until June. The first day I heard the heavy reja go up, it was a sign. I peered in the windows, lights off, when I opened the school and saw the exact dresses I wanted – lisos, con volantes graduados, encaje por un tubo. One color, big ruffles, details in all the right places. Either a deep magenta, turquoise or a pale green.

Later that week, I eat a light breakfast and showed up at Marqués Diseño de Trajes Flamencas. Jose Manuel is on the phone but immediately introduces himself as he hangs up (on his mother, oops!).

I fumbled for the words to tell him what I wanted. Tú no eres de aquí, verdad?

Stupid accent always giving me away as a foreigner.

He ushers me over to the racks of dresses, each slightly different from the next. Grabbing my arm, he shows me the sale dresses, available for just 175€ – una ganga, if you ask me. They are bold – bright reds and blues – but I shy away from wearing something so loud. Jose Manuel assures me that a pale, blue-eyed person would need something crazy to call the attention away from the Andalusian beauties.

So, verde agua is out. 

I show him my sketch and tell him I am dead-set on a single color, to which he scoffs. “Those are dresses for women who have nothing better to do during the fair but sit pretty in a horse carriage and look bored in their casetas.” I laugh, and admit that I am far more likely to drop greasy fried fish on my dress than abstain from eating and drinking so as not to get dirty.

Jose Manuel hands me traje after traje, zips me up, and leads me to a full-length mirror with each one, quick to judge the styles that make me look anything but fabulous. Easy-to-move-in cañastera ruffles are ruled out, as is the encaje that call too much attention to my chest and belly. I soon accumulate a pile of half a dozen dresses to discard (as well as my original design).

As it turns out, Jose Manuel da en el clavo: I am extremely traditional when it comes to flamenco dresses. I need color, lunares, volantes, a classy dose of cleavage and tight in all the right places. After narrowing the field down to two thanks to the miracle of whatsapp groups and my American friends, trying them on with a shawl and pulling my hair back to get the full effect, I make a decision before even asking the price.

It’s the tronillo design (pictured on the left and only 220€!) and in a size smaller than I usually get, and we set to the task of selecting the colors. What sets many dresses apart, even with a similar design, is the color chosen and the small details in the encaje. I already have a celestial blue dress with cream and coral accents, so I wanted to go bold.

Choosing the color palate for the dress takes nearly as long as trying them on. I hold up square samples of color, searching for the right combination, peruse back through the racks for inspiration. The smaller lunares, called lentejuelas, are better for big busts because they draw less attention to that area, so I stick with the pattern combination of the original dress I tried on and decide on turqoise. I momentarily consider a paisely, but Jose Manuel’s side eye when I mention it sets me back in place.

A week later, Jose Manuel raps on the window of the academy and asks if I could step out to OK the color patterns and pay a deposit on the dress. The original color I had in mind was not available, so he chose a shade darker, a bit more towards a green hue. I sign the receipt, paid 40€ and quickly scamper over to the academy (those ruffles start at the knee and make it hard to move swiftly) to have María José give me the thumbs up.

Jose Manuel hands me my receipt and says, “un mes largo” for the dress to be ready for its first fitting. Starting three months ahead of time means I’ve got a buffer for those extra weeks in a long month, but true to form, it is five weeks to the day. Nervously, I pulled the fabric over my hips and zipped it into place. It needs to be taken in a bit in the stomach and hips (success!), but it’s perfect.

Chicas, have you ever bought a flamenco dress in Spain? Need help with your complementos? Click here for a guide to buying accessories! 

 

Spain Snapshots: The Carnavales de Cádiz

If andaluces are considered Spain’s most affable folk, it’s believed that the gaditanos, those from Cádiz, are blessed with the gift of wit. At no time in the year is this trait so celebrated as during the Carnavales de Cádiz.

Based (very) loosely on Venice’s extravagant Carnivale, this pre-Lenten festival is a huge tourist draw in Andalucía in which choirs, called coros, entertain city dwellers from flatbed trucks around the historic center. There’s also a song competition between chirigotas, or small, satirical musical groups who compose their own verses about whatever happens to be controversial each year.

But because it’s before Lent, why not add a pagan element to the festivities? Cádiz’s city center fills with young people who dress in costumes and carry around bottles of booze on Saturday night.

My first Carnaval experience was insane – partying with my Erasmus friends from Seville and Huelva, dressed up as an Indian with a kid’s costume I bought for 8€, endless amounts of tinto de verano and strong mixed drinks. I even ripped my shoes up on the broken glass that littered the streets.

Returning home at 6am and pulling into Plaza de Cuba just before 8, I slept the entire day, waking only for feul and a groggy Skype date with my parents.

Carnaval, you kicked my culo (but I blame the cheap tinto de verano).

For the next few years, I happened to always be out-of-town for the festivities (though I did make it to Cologne for their classed-up Carnival). In 2011, I joined a few friends, this year dressed for the weather and better rested.

The serpentine streets that wrap around town hall, the port and the cathedral held even more people than I remembered, pre-crisis. Like the chirigotas, revelers dress in sarcastic guises, or something that pokes fun at politicians or current events.

In 2011, everyone was hasta el moño with the government limiting freedoms, like pirating music and driving too fast on the highway. My personal favorite? When costumes are scandalous and obnoxious. Case in point: 

Being smarter this time around, we spent the night making friends and reliving our college days. No broken glass, lost friends or cold limbs!

Interested in attending the Carnavales?

March 1st and 8th are the huge party nights in 2014. Be sure to reserve travel and accommodation as far ahead as possible, as the city of Cádiz is quite small and everything gets booked up quite quickly. It’s not advisable to go by car, as parking is limited. You could also get a ticket with a student travel company and stay up all night.

Bring enough cash, as ATMs will run out of small bills, and you’ll probably be tempted to buy something to snack on from a street vendor. Dress for the weather – the nights will get chilly along the coast.

You can also consider attending a less-chaotic carnival in other towns around Spain, like Sanlúcar de la Barrameda or Chipiona. Plus, the choirs and chirigotas are a treat, and there is plenty of ambiance during the daytime.

Love festivals? Check out my articles on other Spanish Fiestas:

Spain’s Best Parties (Part 1) // The Tomatina // The Feria de Sevilla

Rebajas 101: How to Survive Spain’s Shopping Madness

To any Christmas-hating consumerist like myself, the most wonderful time of the year is what follows right after the holidays – SALES. I got a teaser when in Central Europe for 10 days, as the stores were already slashing prices and shoppers were laden with sale bags (yet somehow, we had days of closed shops, much to my mother’s disappointment).

Spaniards wait until after the Reyes Magos come to town, and the government officially mandates that the winter sales period begin on January 7th and last until the end of February, called rebajas.

While I don’t anticipate rebajas like I would the last day of school, I definitely start making a list and checking it twice before heading out, and I normally make a plan. Rebajas is my marathon, a time to stock up on essentials and buy myself something capricious simply because it’s on sale (I may drive the Novio out of his closet in the near future). I’ve snagged my flamenco dress for cheap, blazers for half price, an Adolfo Domingo bag for less than 50€. I dig until I find what I’m looking for, carry cash on me for faster transactions and even prefer to shop alone (gasp!).

But it is not for the faint of heart – shopping in Spain during the rebajas is a test of faith, halfway

between a sidewalk sale and a full-blown Black Friday at Best Buy. Here are five tips I’ve compiled to get you through a day of shopping till you drop (or need another café con leche).

Wear the right clothing.

Since the dressing room lines are long, I tend to wear clothes that are easy to get on and off: a pair of comfy pull-on boots, jeggings, a light sweater with no buttons or zips and always a cami underneath. That way, I don’t have to waste so much time pulling things on and off, and having wardrobe staples means I get a better idea of how a billowy shirt fits me when I wear it with my standard jeans (usually, in case you’re wondering, the proportion rule doesn’t work too well on me).

If you’re busy buttoning up a shirt in the dressing room when there’s a line as long as the San Bernardo cofradía of people waiting to do the same, I will likely judge you.

Eat a good breakfast.

If breakfast is the most important meal of the day, it’s even more so when you’re power shopping. Hours on your feet, overheated locales and having to deal with other shoppers means you’ll need your morning tostada and coffee more than ever. I often eat a full breakfast before I go and throw a mandarin orange or two into my bag. Trust me, when the hunger pangs kick in and you’re only two people away from the check out, it helps.

In fact, shop during your lunch hour.

I know the urge to chow down on the delicious smelling adobo at Cerrillo Blanco is about as hard to resist as a half-price dress at Zara, but chances are the stores are a bit more cleared out if you go between 2 and 4pm. I use this rule at weekends, too.

Have someone else do the shopping for you.

When I worked at the Colegio From Hell we were once given an institute day on the 7th while the kids got to stay home and play. While I did curriculum planning, all of my coworkers shopped online or sent friends out to buy for them. It sounded like the Tickle Me Elmo frenzy all over again – I NEED THE WHITE SHEETS FROM ZARA HOME BEFORE THEY RUN OUT! PLEASE PLEASE WAIT IN LINE FOR ME!

Idiots.

DO NOT, under any circumstance, GO ON A WEEKEND

Going to Calle Sierpes on a weekend with the intention of actually shopping during rebajas season is like trying to fanagle your way into the fanciest caseta at the Feria. Not gonna happen, so there’s no use trying. The other option, of course, is to just not go. Remember that there’s a formula: the longer you wait, the cheaper the prices. Yes, you read that right. This, of course, means you run the risk of the sizes S-M-L being nonexistent, so it makes a great time to buy accessories and or even shoes.

 Besides, one less body in line is great.

Do you shop at rebajas? Have any tips on surviving the shopping crush, or anything you want to buy? I realize this is extremely tongue-in-cheek, especially as someone who has an extreme impulse buy habit.

Seville Snapshots: The Cabalgata de los Reyes Magos in Triana

If you’ve ever dreamed of candy rain (circa the Candy Coated Raindrops song from the 90s), you have a date with destiny today: The Cabalgata de los Reyes Magos. The Three Kings Epiphany parade has got to be one of the goofiest but beloved traditions for the expat community in Spain, where enormous floats laden with kids pelt candy and small, plastic toys at bystanders. 

There is hardly a trace of Santa Claus in Spain, as children believe that they receive their toys from the Three Kings who brought the Baby Jesus his gold, frankincense and mirth. Coming from the Orient by camel, Gaspar, Melchor and Balthasar parade through the city on the eve of the Epiphany. After binging on Christmas sweets, families then gather to eat Roscón de Reyes, a flaky fruitcake laced with whipped cream.

I usually stick with a gin and tonic and ride out the candy storm, venturing out with an overturned umbrella to catch a few sweets for me and the Novio.

If you’re interested, the Cabalgata through Triana begins at 5p.m. this evening, a day later than normal. You can find the schedule here.

Want more? I wrote about Triana’s cabalgata last year, when my friends convinced me, on a candy binge, that it was a good idea to stay out until 6am. Jerks.

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