Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A few tips on blending in

I'm American, proudly so, cue the patriotic music. I can buy as many clothes as possible from Zara (believe me, I try), eat and drink like a local, even use some choice phrases in Spanish, but chances are I'll be recognized as an American when I'm out. And most of the time, I'm perfectly fine with that. 

There are times though that I want to blend in a little more, especially if I'm in a crowded place or by myself, or both. Honestly, I've never had an issue while living here, never felt unsafe, and have only once been hassled for being an American (in Granada, and admittedly the woman was belligerently drunk). I guess part of my desire to blend in is that I don't like sticking out like a sore thumb. Safe or not, it can just be awkward.

 Some things can't be helped. Graham's ginger status means that pretty much the only places he could be mistaken for a local are Ireland or Great Britain. I'm a little better off, with dark hair and eyes, which are very common in Andalucia, and being short (for an American, happily average here). Of course, those things only get me so far, the jig is up the moment I start talking. 

Besides the obvious (ditching the American flag t-shirt or any t-shirt, really) there a few things that help when trying to blend in, like earlier today when I went to the Rota market to walk around. In the crowd, surrounded by cries of ¡todo a 7 euro! and ¡ole ole ole que barato vendo!, here are a few things to remember:

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

First tinto of 2013!

Sunday was sunny. That might not seem that exciting, but after a week nearly full of rainy days and a forecast for even more rain this week, it was noteworthy, an event. Life in El Puerto revolves around being outdoors - the beach, long meals eaten outside, leisurely strolls. When it rains, people are forced indoors, life slows, monotony and boredom set in. Everyone is miserable. Or maybe that's just me, I don't deal well with a lack of sunshine...

So, when Sunday turned out to be gorgeous - in the high sixties, sun shining - I knew we had to take advantage. Sunday was also Domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday) which marks the beginning of Semana Santa, a holiday week for many Spanish. We took the dogs for a 2 mile walk on the beach, passing many people out for a start-of-spring-break seaside paseo.

Later we went downtown for lunch and the feeling was even more festive - families out for lunch, some people still carrying their branches from church, sidewalk musicians playing, flowers blooming, everyone enjoying the weather. We sat down outside at one of our favorite places (Antojito, if you're in the area, go now!).

And I just knew...

Friday, March 22, 2013

Jerez de la Frontera

Last Sunday, because the sun was out after many days of rain, we drove up to Jerez de la Frontera (simply Jerez or "Heresth" with that perfect local lisp). It's a quick trip, only about 20 minutes from El Puerto. We've been many times, since it's a larger town and has more to offer, but usually we're hitting up the mall or Ikea. And I'm guessing you're not really interested in pictures of any of that...

 Of course, we've gone for dinner before and some special events - feria, a flamenco show, we even went there for New Year's Eve. But on Sunday we just walked around, enjoying the weather and the character that Jerez has to offer.

The main plaza, complete with adorable old Spanish man.

Of course, there's a cathedral.

Thursday, March 21, 2013


Yesterday was the first day of spring, wildflowers are blooming everywhere, the sun is shining. I've spent more than a little time the last couple of days sitting on the patio, soaking up the sun, doing some reading. I even painted my toenails, I'm ready for sandal season. 

We picked some of these flowers in our neighborhood, while walking Chloe and Cora. Others are from our casa. In Spanish, the word for backyard is jardin, literally garden. 

Pretty red poppies, yellow mimosa branches, and little white jasmine flowers. They're all lovely, but jasmine to me is what a Spanish summer smells like.

It might seem crazy to be talking about summer already since this is technically only the second day of spring, but it won't be long until it's time for tintos and trips to the beach. And I can't wait!

Anyone else glad that it's spring but really ready for summer?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Little America

Sometimes I think about how (relatively) easy our transition to living in a foreign country has been. Of course, every move has challenges, and moving overseas can be a huge endeavor. But my experience was a bit different...

Unlike true expats, there were no visas to apply for, no jobs to search for, no red tape to cut through. Graham received orders (that we actually wanted!) and within a few months one of our cars was shipped and our household goods were packed, all at no cost to us. Upon arriving, we received assistance in getting our driver's licenses, other identification, and with getting the car registered and renting a house.

The movers delivering all of our worldly possessions at our first casa.

The Mini in España and complete with (obscured) Euro-plates.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Una Cerveza

In España, when you are out and want a beer, all you have to do is say "una cerveza, por favor." A beer, please. There's no need to ask for a menu or check to see what's on tap, as most places offer just one brand. The most choice you typically get is whether you want a pequeño or grande, though that is nothing like the giant mugs that are so popular in the States. 

Estrella on tap and tapas in Granada.

Here in El Puerto, what's on tap is normally Cruzcampo, which is brewed in nearby Sevilla. Depending where you are in other parts of Andalucía, you may get a Mahou, Estrella, or an Alhambra. Though some people claim to have favorites, and Cruzcampo is somewhat a source of regional pride, most Spanish beer is generally the same - light, pale, pilsner-style, with very little flavor or body.

Friday, March 8, 2013

El Faro de El Puerto

It's been a bit of a slow week - the rain has kept everyone indoors and cabin casa fever has set in. My riding lessons were cancelled, but I did have sevillanas (feria dancing) lessons and I started a conversation language class, so those are keeping me busy and feeling sufficiently Spanish. The sun has finally come out and I'm hoping that it stays for the weekend, or better yet, until next winter. I know I've said it before, but I am more than ready for summer. 

Graham and I don't have any big plans for tonight, probably just a walk with the dogs (they desperately need a trip to the playa to run off some of the crazy) then dinner at the casa, maybe a bottle of vino, and a movie or catching up on some tv shows. We're not always so boring...

Last Friday night, we went out to celebrate a friend's birthday. Since it was a special occasion, we put on our fancy pants (actually, a dress for me) and hit one of the classiest restaurants in town, El Faro de El Puerto. If you are in the area and you want to celebrate a birthday, anniversary, or just indulge, this is the place.

The restaurant is surrounded by a gorgeous garden, but since our reservation was for 9 (early by Spanish standards), it was dark and I have no pictures. Good excuse to come back this summer, when the sun will still be out at 10 pm. Oh, summer, where are you?!

Not to worry, the inside was just as lovely. The decor - elegant and sophisticated. The service - topnotch. Waiters in tuxedos, attentive and friendly, were quick to visit our white-linened table when needed and quietly out of the way when not. Perfect. They were happy to answer questions, make suggestions, accommodate one of our friend's gluten-free diet, and even heated up baby food for another friend's child. 

That would be considered excellent customer service in the States, in España, it's almost unheard of. 

El Faro means "the lighthouse".

Monday, March 4, 2013

Weekend + Moroccan Vegetable Soup

First, thank you to everyone who sent messages and kind words regarding my last post. It is truly appreciated. Graham and I are doing well, attempting to focus on all the wonderful parts of our life (there are many!), while trying to make peace with those things that are out of our control. 

Anyway, how was your weekend? We went all out celebrating a friend's birthday on Friday night, which made for a lazy Saturday, catching up on television shows and indulging in quality couch time with the pups. The weather was gross almost the whole weekend, so we didn't feel that guilty. Sometimes you need a weekend that makes you relax.

On Sunday, we snuck in a walk on the beach and an afternoon coffee date while the sun made a brief appearance. Back at the casa, Graham typed a paper (he's working on another master's program!) while I made this simple Moroccan soup for dinner.

I learned the recipe in Marrakech at a cooking class through Ateliers d'ailleurs that was recommended and set up by the owners of the lovely Riad Le Clos des Arts. The day started with a trip through the markets with a local woman and a guide, who also served as our translator. After gathering the ingredients, we went back to the woman's family home to learn how to make several dishes. When the meal was complete, we all sat down together to enjoy. It was the perfect way to learn about not only the food that is typical to Marrakech, but the culture, language, and private family life that you would not normally see. An amazing experience and something I would encourage anyone visiting Marrakech to do.

This soup transported us back to Marrakech, one of our favorite adventures so far...

Here's the recipe, perfect if you're looking for an easy (and inexpensive!) way to experience a little bit of exotic Morocco: