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El Primer Pueblo Pitufo del Mundo

1 May

Scattered throughout the hills, its hard not to miss Juzcar

About a year ago, if you mentioned the pueblo of Juzcar, you probably wouldn’t get much of a response. It was just one of many white towns scattered in the hills and mountains of Andalusia. Although beautiful in it’s own right, there was nothing distinct that set the town apart from any of the surrounding villages.

But then something happened. And some very little people made some pretty big changes.

All thanks to one movie: the smurfs.

In honor of the opening of the new movie in Summer of 2011, Juzcar got a bit of a make-over with a thick coat of blue paint.

The official plaque of the first smurf town

No building could escape. From dilapidated houses to the church and from the library to the cemetery, everything became, well, “smurfed.”

And after the paint came the surfs – painted on balconies, poking out from behind walls, and even leaving their footsteps in paint to lead you to the best tea shop in town. (Let’s be honest it’s probably the only tea shop in town. This place is tiny!)

There was no denying the “smurfiness” that Juzcar had achieved and on June 16, 2011 it officially became the “Primer Pueblo Pitufo del Mundo”: the First Smurf Town in the World.

Word of the Day: Pitufo (n.): Smurf, as in: “How many pitufoscan you spot in the following photos?”

The old church with a new makeover

Seafood and Canis and Beaches, Oh my!

6 Nov

The elusive puente, (for those of you who have never gotten the pleasure of experiencing it for yourself) occurs when the Spanish working citizens decide to “bridge” the gap that occurs between a random holiday and the weekend.

Take for example All Saints Day (November 1st) which fell this year on a Tuesday. Now what fun would it be to go to work on Monday just to have the next day off? Why not take off Monday as well? Personally, I could just go for all week, but that would be more like the Golden Gate Bridge then I suppose.

So this most recent puente was stretched for two days, making a total of a four-day long weekend. (Five if you’re a lucky auxiliar who doesn’t have to work on Fridays).

So for this puente I found myself along the southern beaches of Spain, where several key lessons were learned:

1. When they call you a d***, they really mean friend. No, seriously – they do! Slang is all relative, I suppose. Where I’m living it’s “tio” (uncle) if your chatting with a friend. In Mexico its “wey” (man). And in the southern region of Cadiz, it’s a not-appropriate-for-this-blog word referring to something only men have. And we’re not talking about mustaches, if you get what I’m saying. Although it may be a little shocking at first when overhearing passing conversations, it’s really not meant to be offensive.

2. Always get gas before the light comes on. Especially if your driving along curvy 2-lane roads at midnight and all the gas stations are closed. Such situations may require you to stop and ask directions and then spend the next nerve-wreking 15-20 minutes heading back in the direction you came from hoping to find the one gas station that “may be open.” (it was!)

3. Jersey extends farther than the shore. And all the way to Spain. But here the word “guido” can be substituted with the spanish word “cani” and “blow-out” for “feaux-hawk”. Although we did have a lovely time drinking down on the docks of Barbate while the Cani’s kindly supplied their rave-like beats from the back of their suped-up rides. Yes, I can assure that the experience was even weirder than it sounds.

4. When by the sea, go for the seafood. There’s enough variety to please even the most finicky palate. From deep fried shrimp tortillas and calamari to roasted tuna and swordfish, you really can’t go wrong with seafood near the coast.

Today’s Word: puente (n.): bridge/extended-weekend; as in “No matter how you look at it, puentes were meant for traveling.”

A fería like no other

26 Oct

In a land not so very far away, there was a magical place where Cruz Campo flowed just as freely as the olive oil and the tapas were almost certainly free. It was a place where olives outnumbered the people, most of whom walked fearlessly through the streets, unafraid of the ghosts of bygone Lizard or Tranvia. Yes there, at the base of the Santa Catalina Castle, in the looming shadow of the cathedral, lay the city of Jaén. And every October people flocked from near and from far – from Madrid and Malaga; Ohio and New Jersey – just to observe what the locals fondly referred to as “la fería.” Yes, my friends, it truly is the most wonderful 10 days of the year.

At the fall of night on the very first day, the fair citizens of Jaén (and those from farther away too) descend upon the fairgrounds. The path marked with bright lights leads these citizens safely to the fairgrounds, much like the lit path of the airport runway guides planes onto the ground. And these fairgoers are about to have the layover of their lifetime.

Passing though the ‘big white castle’ of an entrance, the fair’s sights, sounds and smells assault the senses. You want a purse? a scarf? maybe some candied almonds for the trip down? how about a nice pair of shutter-shades with the Spanish flag?

– Why yes! I’ll take three, thank you!

And turning the corner, with the smell of sweet churros wafting from the nearby tent, the fair unfolds like a scene from a movie. Down the hill you go. Past the botellón spot on the left, where money-consious youth bring their own previously-purchased bottles (the country is in crisis, after all!). Down. Past the circus tent on the right. Down. Past the numerous carnival games. Down. Past the stands selling baked potatoes. Down. Pausing only for a mojito from the gypsy man. Down. Until you have arrived.

And you will know for certain when you have arrived because you will no longer hear the person standing next to you over the noise of the nearby tents. But alas, against the better judgement of your ears (which will be ringing for days), you follow that music into the nearest tent. And there it begins. From tent to tent you hop, pausing for food, for an occasional trip to the bumper cars or on the giant viking ship. You don’t stop until you can take it no longer and then it’s back up into the real world you emerge. Although, may it be advised that this trip is best made during the light of day as the sun slowly creeps up over the mountains.

And there it is. Much like the instructions on the back of a shampoo bottle (wash. rinse. repeat.) Rather this time it’s more like: sleep. dance. eat. repeat. And repeat as many times as you can before the final Sunday. Afterall, the fair only comes once a year!

Word of the Day: basura (n.): garbage, as in “The fair is still a lovely place despite the fact that it often is covered in and smells like basura.

La Romería

10 Oct

Maybe you’ve heard that religion isn’t as strong as it used to be in Spain. And ok, maybe Saturday at the club is more crowded than Sunday morning mass. But one thing is for certain when it comes to religion: these Spaniards take it very, very seriously. Example numero uno: La Romería

A romería is basically a religious pilgrimage that consists of a trip to a certain sanctuary or hermitage. These pilgrimages come in all shapes and sizes (as do their pilgrims) and usually last about a day. Some romerías are more famous than others – such as Nuestra Señora del Rocio and Virgen de la Cabeza, which are both in Andalucía.

However, this past Sunday took us to a little place called Cabra. (For you Spanish-speakers: yes, the city is named “Goat.”) Located only 8 kilometers from Lucena, the charming white-washed town is surrounded by – you guessed it – olive trees and mountains. And right atop the tallest peak around lies the Santuario de la Virgen de la Sierra — The Sanctuary of the Virgin of the Mountain. The sanctuary is supposedly on the spot where the Virgin Mary herself appeared in the cave some hundreds and hundreds of years ago.

The statue of the Virgin lives up on the altar of the sanctuary’s church for nearly the entire year with the exception of September when she makes her big appearance in town for the fair.

And how, you might ask, does a Virgin get from the top of a mountain to the center of town? Well, let me just tell you that she does not have a drivers license nor would she fit behind the wheel of a car, for that matter. She, of course, is carried down from the top of the mountain on the shoulders of her faithful citizens in Cabra.

For nearly a month she enjoys her place in the city and makes an appearance at the fair being held in her honor before it is time yet again for her to return to her place overlooking the city. That’s where the romería comes into play. They same faithful (and strong, I might add) citizens carry the Virgin back up the mountain to her rightful home.

Not wanting to miss a good opportunity for a little fiesta (we’re talking about Spain, after all) people from all over come to bring the Virgin back to the top of the mountain. Some walk on foot, some ride horses and others still take the winding road by car.

Wanting to get the full effect we found ourselves hiking – rather, struggling – up the side of the mountain for what may have been 2.5 of the roughest hours of my life. And I wasn’t even carrying a Virgin! But atop the hill we were rewarded with stunning views of the province of Córdoba, a visit to the Virgin Mary and a heaping plate of paella prepared by the good people of Cabra. All in all, a good Sunday.

Today’s Wordmontaña (n.): mountain; as in “I’m exhausted after hiking straight up the montaña to see the Virgin Mary.”