Estepa y Pedro Martínez, España (Postre and Aceitunas)

Every time I think that my life here in Spain couldn’t possibly get any better, it does. It happened this past Tuesday when I received a text from Pedro. I will digress. Pedro is, by far, my favorite partner in crime here in Spain. He is totally off his rocker and always in a great mood. He sings and dances to American music while he drives and he likes to eat as much as I do. Pedro has extremely good taste in food, which I believe he gets from his mother. The woman’s palette is impecable. Seriously, this lady only buys and eats the best quality of food. I have learned that by snooping through her refrigerator and cabinets that I save myself a lot of time and money. I do not have to buy 10 of something before I find the best one. Pedro is always taking me to small towns outside of Seville to eat. We once drove to Olivares in the pouring rain on a Sunday night just to buy and eat postres. Anyway, Pedro’s has olives. Huge aceituna plots in his families pueblo. And, almonds. His text on Tuesday told me to pack my bags. We were going to his village!

Food and everything related to it, is my thing. Pedro knows this and takes great pleasure in exploring all avenues with me. So you can imagine my excitement when I learned on Tuesday that I would be visiting the very origin of my delicious Spanish olive oil. 

Spain is the largest producer of olive oil in the world, with Andalucía being the largest olive growing area on earth.  Pedro’s family is from a very small, insanely beautiful, village in Granada named ‘Pedro Martinez’. (This is Pedro’s actual name. I can’t get started on this right now). 

The village is located about 3 hours drive from Sevilla in the Sierra Nevada mountains. We were to make a pit stop in ‘Estepa’ on our way there. Estepa is a town in the south east of Sevilla, above Malaga. This town is well known for its production of Christmas-time sweets.  Estepa has 30 factories and the factories produce 18 million kilo’s of Christmas sweets annually. They are particularly famous for ‘Mantecados’.  Since 2009 the production of these confections have been protected by a ‘protected designation of origin’, Mantecados de Estepa.  A home in Spain without these in December is like a house in the United States without a turkey on Thanksgiving.  This treat comes individually wrapped in crinkly thin paper and is dusted with powdered sugar.  Unwrapping them you are hit with almond, cinnamon, lemon or anise seed. All classic flavors of Spain. When eating, you must either nibble very carefully or pop the whole thing in your mouth because the whole cookie will easily dissolve into a pile of crumbs in your hand. I had sampled one of these treats in Pedro’s home in Sevilla last week and fell in love. It was then that Pedro told me that we could go to the factory and see the old ladies making them.

‘La Despensa de Palacio’ and their exquisitas galletas!

After our visit to the factory, we purchased several bags of treats to share back in Estados Unidos.

The olive harvest takes place in the winter between November and March. And, picking these olives is no easy task.  I started my day on Wednesday witnessing this ordeal. From start to finish, and it was amazing and beautiful. First, nets are laid under the tree so that it can be shaken and beaten-this is done by using poles to dislodge the fruit from the tree. Pedro uses a vibrating machine to shake the olives right off the trees.

Amigo de Abuelo de Pedro, busy at work.
After gathering up the olives, they are brought straight to the factory.  The whole process is fascinating to watch. The olives are first separated from the dirt, leaves, and stones by a series of machines and conveyor belts.

Photos taken at the ‘Zailea’ olive oil factory in Piñar, Granada.

Once clean, the olives are ground to form a paste. The mixture is heated to 89 degrees Fahrenheit. This increases the yield and is still low enough to be considered “cold pressed”.  Next the paste is sent through a horizontal centrifuge, a cylindrical container that is rotated at very high speeds. Next, to separate the solid from the liquid, it is passed through a vertical centrifuge. Once this is completed, the olive oil is stored in huge temperature controlled stainless steal tanks. It is left here to decant naturally for a few weeks, I am told.

Me looking at Pedro’s plots of Olives.

Despues our day in the olive fields, Pedro decided we would go visit a meat factory that he has been telling me about for months.  I mean, could this day get any better?  We drove to a nearby town in Granada called Iznalloz to visit ‘Antonio Titos’ and his Embutidos.  This was a small family operation that grew into a huge enterprise.  He has a small shop open to the public and it was here that we bought some of the best meats that I have had in Spain.

We went back to Pedro’s home and made a fire to warm the entire house. We then spent the rest of the afternoon cooking the different meats over this fire.  Fue un día perfecto!

The next day we woke up early to do more of the same.  We then drove to a nearby village called Piñar to have desayuno and explore.  This castle you see here had been peaking our interests so this was our first stop after breakfast.

Castillo de Piñar.
Pedro is honestly the only man I know that is happy to stop and ask people for directions.  This came in especially handy on Wednesday morning.  Pedro eventually got the car to the top of this mountain and this was no piece of cake (we were literally in stitches laughing the entire time)!  But it was worth it and we were able to enjoy the views from the ‘Castillo de Piñar’.

A few photos of the Castillo.

Carmona, España 

Spain has a lot of holidays. Being a Roman Catholic country, they have their fair share of saints. And, with its history of countless wars and battles over thousands of years, Spain has no shortage of heros. And, fictional heros. España observes a day each year for these reasons and more. Personally, yo pienso, that the Spanish are supremely skilled in milking time off for all that it is worth. Entonces, no tengo escuela el martes o jueves esta semana. 

It has been raining here for weeks. Although I typically welcome anything that forces me to slow down, this still has seriously put a wrench in my moving about. On the plus side, all this rain has allowed me to estudio mucho espanol. Anyway, at some point last week, when I was moaning and groaning about all the cosas I could be doing, Jose promised to take me to Carmona on the next sunny day that he wasn’t working. This past Tuesday was a holiday and the sun came out for the first time in 3 weeks. Needless to say, I was thrilled when he showed up saying “Jamieeeee es un buen día. Vamos!”.  So we were off to Carmona.

Carmona is a beautiflul town located 33 km northwest of Sevilla and they share a extremely close history. Raquel had mentioned this fact to me during my first week of school. And, since hearing this I have been longing to see this town. Although sometimes I think I just crave seeing anything that I haven’t seen before. I’m not even sure that I need a reason.

The entrance to the town is the ‘Alcázar de la Puerta de Sevilla’. It is a spectacular grand fortified gateway.

Alcazar de la Puerta de Sevilla.

Remains have been found dating back to the 14th and 12th centuries BC. There is a plethora of history from Carthaginian, Roman, Moorish, and Christian times. This fortress controlled access along a major trading route. 

We climbed the steps to the top of the tower and clocked the views of the countryside and the towns white-washed houses.

The 4 flags from left: European Union, Andalucía, España, and Carmona.
View from the ‘Alcazar de la Puerta de Sevilla’.
Jose checking out the prisoners Hall and the patio of cisterns. In the foreground you can see the podium of the Roman Temple.
Inside the Alcázar de la Puerta de Sevilla.

We meandered through the old calles visiting churches and other magnificent moorish style buildings.

The 8 pointed star is the symbol of Cármona.
Notice the fountain with the 8 pointed star.
One of dozens of beautiful churches in Cármona.
Gateway door.
More beautiful inglesas in Cármona.

I, of course, had a list of things that I needed to see before lunch, and on the top of that list was the ‘Roman Necropolis’.  

The Roman Necropolis of Cármona was discovered in 1881. It is located very close to the town and only took us about 25 minutes to find it on foot. Of course neither of our GPS’s were working and I had to pull the “Perdona…¿Donde esta Roman Necropolis?” more than once. Y hace color aquí tambian. Pero, we found it. 

Over 900 family tombs have been found.
This is the largest cemetery in Cármona.
This is a representative sample of the typological variety of graves existing in the Necropolis of Cármona.
These tombs date back to 2nd century BC.
Body cremation was the predominant burial rite used in this Necropolis. This fact relates with the particular belief over the transit between the life and the death of Roman society.

Tumba de las Dos Familias.

Túmulos prerromanos tras la Tumba de Servilia.

The Hospital de los Venerables…Sevilla

Okay so I really do wonder quite often if it is possible for me to ever love another place more than I love Sevilla. I don’t think that it is…now I’m not saying that I lack the desire to find out. Let’s just get that straight. However, I do plan to hang here for awhile. Which leads me to my current dilemma of my visa situation.  Now I knew very well that the visa process wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. That being said, I figured, “well I opened a restaurant in Boca Raton” and let’s  just say that a lot of things seem very easy to me after that. I kind of feel sometimes that I can pretty much do just about anything after surviving that experience. 

I could easily write this entire blog post telling you funny anedocts about the things that have happened leading up to now…but the bottom line is that this week I have to take a train to Madrid to obtain a permission slip to authorize the Sevilla police department to take my fingerprints to give to the United States FBI so that they can run a background check. Ridiculo. Allow me to digress for a moment here. Last Monday I asked Pedro to meet me at my school and come with me to the American Consulato in Sevilla. Could I have gone without Pedro? Sure. I will admit that I had an agenda. But everything turns into fun when Pedro is around and I knew I was going to need a few laughs because this entire process is stressing me out.  (And, we won’t talk about the fact that I have to come back to the Estados Unidos to pick up the damn visa). Otra cosa, there is a mean man that works at American Consulato and he always seems way too happy to give me bad news solomente en espanol. Lo and behold, we quickly discovered that the American Consulato will be closed until further notice. Poor Pedro. Needless to say, I was not very happy to hear this news because I knew it meant that I will now have to pay a visit to Madrid. This means spending 6 hours on a train and missing a day of school. Pedro doesn’t know it yet, but I am going to beg him to come with me. I will let you know how I make out. 

After leaving the consulate we went to have some tapas and plan the day. Pedro has taken me to visit some great little villages outside of Sevilla but today we were staying local. We, actually I, decided we were going to visit the ‘Hospital de los Venerables’. 

The ‘Hospital de los Venerables’ is a beautiful baroque building that was founded in 1675 as a residence for sick priests. It is located in the Jewish Quarter. Upon entering the building, you will find a typical Sevilla Courtyard. I am very spoiled because this sight has become very familiar to me. The Sevilla Courtyard has a stepped central fountain and a gallery of arches around it.

 All the fountains from this period were built lowered into the ground due to water concerns. The church, which was built in 1689, is covered with mural frescos by Valdes.

 The staircase leading to the second floor is beautifully decorated and covered by a Baroque oval dome and plasterwork.

This edificio is now the headquarters where exhibitions, concerts, and seminars are held. And currently there is a special exhibition featuring Velaquez and Murillo-two of my favorite Spanish artists. It is the temporary home to 19 paintings from The Louve in Paris, National Gallery in London, and private collections.

Italica for all you Game of Thrones fans…

I’ve met some amazing people at escuela. Femmie and Jimmy are my new friends from Amsterdam. They just got married and are celebrating their honeymoon first here in Andalusia before they head to the Philippines for a month. They were on a mission to make Thanksgiving special for me and planned an entire day of events. Entonces, I was fortunate enough to have spent Thanksgiving with some really fun gente’s! 

Our first stop of the day would be ‘Italica’. Since I arrived in September,  Italica has been on my ever-growing list in my iPhone notes of ‘things to do in Spain’. The main reason that I haven’t been here sooner is due to the fact that it is the major filming location for Season 7 of Game of Thrones. 

Italica is the ruins of an ancient Roman city only 9 KM from Sevilla in the city of Santiponce. It was founded in 206 BC when the Roman general Publius Cornelius Scipio left his wounded Roman soldiers here after a battle with the Carthaginians. This took place during the Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage. Shortly after this, it quickly became a municipium. A municipium is essentially a Latin term for a city or town with an important status porque it is recognized by Rome. It was one of the primary  cities in the province of Baetica in southern Roman Spain. Italica is the birthplace of Trajan, the first Roman emperor to be born outside of the Italian peninsula in 98 A.D. The city experienced major development during the rule of Trajans’ successor, Hadrian. The population of the city during this time was said to be between 8,000 and 10,000 people.

Beaumont, Ruby, Nyame, Tom, Femmie, Jimmy, Matthew and me at the entrance of Italica.
The Roman Amphitheater that seats 25,000 speculators. It is said to be half of the size of the Colosseum in Rome.
Justa, me, Ruby, Femmie, and Nyame in the pit next to the dens for animals.
Femmie and Jimmy in the entrance to Italica.

This imposing city was steadily abandoned beteeen the 4th and 5th century. The population seemed to have tapered off during this time. However the fact is that we know very little about Italica during this final Roman-Visigoth period.

The Roman villa foundations.

The first official excavations were carried out in 1780 by Francisco de Burna. Then in 1860, a highly trained architect named  Demario de la Rios took charge. With the help of his brother, Jose Amador, a skilled draughtman, the ground-plans of the Amphitheater, houses, drawings of mosaics and the first plan of the city were  at last uncovered. Now, because there was no legal protection for earthly possessions acquired in place at this time, private excavators flocked to the scene. Their end goal was to collect mosaics for their private collections. This list of people included American Archer Milton Huntington who is the founder of the Hispanic Society of New York. In 1911 the law regulating archaeological excavations put an end to this situation.

The Roman villa foundations (and Matt).

Tom and Justa exploring the halls of the Amphitheater.
Beaumont and I exploring the gardens and aqueducts.
This is one of the many perfectly preserved floor mosaics.

Nyame and Femmie statue pose next to Roman Empire Trajan.
We walked around Italica for a couple of hours before heading back to Sevilla for Thanksgiving dinner, stopping for coffee in between. Femmie picked a fantastic restaurant in el barrio la Alameda de Hercules called ‘Al Aljibe’ for dinner. ‘Al Aljibe’ is a ‘market kitchen’ restaurant with amazing seasonal food. We ordered 10 platos and shared everything. It was the perfect Thanksgiving dinner. Jimmy insisted that I said grace before we ate and it was an honor to do so. I don’t think either Matt or I missed pumpkin pie. 

We ended our evening with a Flamenco show at ‘La Sra Pop Cafe’ en la Alameda. I can honestly say that this was the best Thanksgiving that I have had in a very long time! 

Palacio de las Dueñas y Jorge Cadaval! Sevilla, España

The past week has just been exceptionally noteworthy, pero cada segundo de mi vida es worthy of mention! Pedro came and got me at school today on his new Ducati motorbike and we spent the whole day together catching up. And, it was so fun! We ate, laughed, went to Vodafone, got helado, laughed, shopped, talked about life, laughed, got coffee, walked, talked, and laughed all day! He spent half the day literally cracking up every time I started speaking Espanol. In truth, Pedro was the very first friend that I made here in Sevilla on the very first day that I was in Sevilla. And, I hit the jackpot because he’s incredibly kind and really great company. He says I am definitely making progress, which I find very comforting and reassuring. Joking aside, this whole ‘immersion’ is definitely taking effect! And, I am definitely ‘immersed’! Yo soy enthralled y engrossed!!! I am the definition of enthralled y engrossed. First I start my day blasting Marc Anthony ‘Vivir la Vida’ into my iPhone EarPods as I  practically dance my way through Trianna and Sevilla on my way to school. From there I study for 4 hours. All of my interacting is done entirely in Espanol. Entonces, something had to give! It was on this past Saturday that I realized that I could communicate at least 50% of my thoughts. Now let’s face it-my thoughts are not all that complex at this time, pero it is progress! My thoughts are the clearest they have ever been in my life! My main concern is food. Actually, that’s a poor example porque my thoughts have always mainly been about food! But, you get the point…

Entonces, Pedro and I were walking through Sevilla Center today and he intercepts while I was telling him a story and says “Jamie, sorry, that’s ‘Jorge Cadaval’ and I have never seen him before in life!”.  I start cracking up because I know Pablo really likes Jorge. (Jorge is an incredible comedian here in España. He’s all over the TV and Radio with his brother Cesar).  Than there’s Pedro, “Jamie come on-you need a picture for your blog!”. And before I knew it, there we were chatting with Jorge Cadavel! My life is so great! 

Jorge Cadaval!!
Jorge Cadaval, Pedro, and me.

I stayed in Sevilla again this past weekend. We had MaryCarmen’s farewell party on Friday night and Gloria’s father Carlos’s 90th birthday party on Sunday. MaryCarmen chose a fantastic restaurant for her party and the food and company were both wonderful. Gloria’s hermana, Nancy, has been here all weekend from London and she is just lovely. Carlos’s birthday party was at Charlie’s restaurant called ‘Bar Aaron’ in Dos Remedios (a barrio near Trianna) and it was a truly great day. Charlie’s wife Maria is another phenomenal cook and the food was amazing!! My mouth is watering as I write this just thinking about it! 

Pablo and I showing off Maria’s Paella.

MaryCarmen is a great travel companion! A really great travel companion actually! She is always doing her research. She searches the best means of transportation to and from our destinations, consults with the trip advisor reviews, etc. She is as diligent about it as I am, only whenever she does the work we spend less money. So last Monday when she told me we were going to a Palace here in Sevilla, I was waiting with bells on! She said we must be at the Palace at 4:00 because at that time it is free to enter. We were on our way and we were making good time until we stopped to chat with Manuel about my beloved Castaña’s.

Manuel has the best Castañas in Sevilla!

I refuse to go to any other vendor for my Castaña addiction. He literally inspects each and every castaña before splitting them open prior to roasting them. If it is damaged in any way, it gets tossed. He cuts and roasts them perfectly so they are super easy to enjoy. In the past, when I  made the mistake of going to another vendor, I regreted it quickly. If the Castañas are not roasted properly, the skins stick to the fruit making it bitter. And Manuel is really super nice and polite to everyone walking by and always in a very good mood! 

At any rate, we arrived at the Museo at 5:00 and we missed the cut-off point. The Museo gives away 200 free tickets to the first 200 people in line. Disappointed, we returned back home. And made a plan that we would shoot for the next Monday. Well we successfully entered this gorgeous palace this Monday after waiting in line for an hour and a half.  I must admit, it was definitely worth the wait. 

This palace was built in the 15th century in the Renaissance fashion with Gothic and Moorish influences. It is currently owned by ‘The House of Alba’, a popular Spanish aristocratic family. 

MaryCarmen and I at the gate to the main garden.
Mudejar Arches.
The Main Patio.
Cayetanas Flamenco dress in the colors of her football team, Betis. Betis is Pablo’s team as well, which also makes it my team.
Cayetana had bullfighters as friends and loved the sport.
The ‘Palacio de Las Duenas’ opened to the public just earlier this year. The infamous ‘Doña Maria del Rosario Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart y de Silva’, 18th Duchess of Alba de Torres, Grandee of España, passed away in 2014. Her son Carlos, the 19th Duke, happily opened to the public to give back to the people of Sevilla. The Dutchess loved the city of Seville, its people, the Sevillian Holy Week and the April Fair. It is at this palace where she spent her final days. You can actually feel the peaceful presence when you enter the gates. 

Duchess Cayetanas led an extremely colorful life. She sounds amazing. Although she was tagged as the ‘Dutchess of Alba’, she held over 40 other hereditary titles! According to the Guinness World Records, she was the most titled aristocrat in the world. She was inducted into Vanity Fairs International Best Dressed Hall of Fame in 2011. Her wedding (which took place in España just after World War II), is considered to be the greatest wedding of European nobility possibly of all time. The New York Times called it “The most expensive wedding of the world”.  Duchess Cayetanas had 6 children with her 1st of 3 husbands. The children are all  endowed with noble titles thanks to their mother-in accordance with Spanish Royal protocol of course. At the time that she was ready to commit to husband numero 3, her wealth was estimated to be between 600 million and 3.5 billion. Her third marriage was to a civil servant 24 years her junior. Her children were in an uproar  and protested this marriage. To please all parties involved, she paid all of the children their inheritance in advance and moved on with her life. And she danced Flamenco in the street on the day of her wedding for the Sevilliano’s and all to see! 

She died in the Palacio de las Dueñas at the age of 88. Her funeral was held at the Sevilla Cathedral.

Sentenil de Las Bodegas, Cádiz

So MaryCarmen and I were village hopping through Malaga and Cadiz on Tuesday and this is how we accidentally found ‘Sentenil de las Bodegas’. 

The Village ‘Sentenil de Las Bodegas’.

‘Sentenil de Las Bodegas’ is a small village set along a narrow river gorge. It is a town that has been carved out of rock by river erosion with houses built under the eroded cliffs. Amazing. Talk about being between a rock and a hard place! This is an entire village that actually lives under a rock.

This village gets it name from the Roman Latin idiomatic expression ‘Septem Nihil’, which translates to ‘7 times nothing’. This name came about during the final years of the Christian Reconquest. At this time the Catholic rulers tried to take back this territory from the Moors seven times prior to succeeding. In 1484, the Christian forces besieged the moorish occupants using gunpowder artillery and captured their castle. There is an old wives tale that says that Isabella of Castile had an abortion during the siege and than erected the shrine of San Sebastián as a tribute to the dead child, who was named Sebastian.

The full name of ‘Sentinil de las Bodegas’ presumedly dates back to the 15th century because of the flourishing wineries and Bodegas. However, there is refuting speculation that states the village name came about from people storing products in the caves using it as a warehouse or ‘bodegas’. I am giving up on trying to get to the bottom of this particular chronicle of history.

It was lunch time when we arrived in Sentenil and every single restaurant was packed! There are quite a few restaurants built under and into the rock and we finally managed to grab a couple of seats at the bar of one of them. The owner of the restaurant had a grill set up in the street outside of his place and was diligently preparing beautiful chorizo and other cuts of cerdo (pork). It should go without saying that this, of course, is what we ordered. It was simple, natural, high quality, unaltered food. And, this is just the way I like it. But, here again, this is indicative of España. I eat very well here. In addition to the beautiful ‘cerdo filetes’ and chorizo, we ordered an ‘ensalada mixta’. My life is just so good. 

MaryCarmen and I in ‘Sentenil de Las Bodegas’.

We didn’t eat Castañas but we did visit the Smurfs!

Well it has been another amazing week here in Andalucia. Tuesday was ‘Dia de todos los Santos’, ‘All Saints Day’, so I did not have school. And, MaryCarmen turned in her thesis last Friday so we decided to take advantage of this self determining time. We went around Sevilla on Monday and found a monestery that sells cookies-just like the one we found in Granada. The nuns at this monestery are from Mexico. That being so, they were especially kind to us upon hearing MaryCarmens accent through the lazy Susan in the wall.

MaryCarmen chatting with the Mexican nuns at Monastery in Sevilla.

There is a magazine that comes out at the beginning of every month announcing all the special festivals, concerts, activities, classes, etc going on all over Andalucia. We read through this magazine a few weeks ago and discovered that a ‘Castaña Feria’ was going on in ‘Pujerra’. ‘Pujerra’ is a very small village located in the mountains in Malaga. It is about a 30 minute drive from  ‘Ronda’. I am OBSESSED with Castañas and I have really been looking forward to going to a festival! The only detail that I knew was that all the food at the Féria would be made using Castañas. That’s all I needed to know. AND, this village, according to the magazine, would be moving their Virgin at 7:00 at night. We were thrilled about this as well. MaryCarmen secured us a blah blah car and we meet our driver bright and early on Tuesday morning. Two hours later we arrived in Ronda. And, I was so car sick! Our blah blah car driver had a very small car and driving through and around mountains for 2 hours had put my stomach on a collision course! We had planned to take a bus from Ronda to Pujerra but soon discovered that this was not possible. There were no buses running because of the holiday! Now how were we going to get to the Castañas? 

Me at the bus station in ‘Ronda’. This is my 3rd time to this tiny bus station and I have some good stories that occurred here.
We walked about Ronda for over an hour trying to decide what to do. At one point we were talking about renting a car and at another point I suggested we rent bikes. Thank God my bicycle idea did not fly because we would have collapsed in the mountains somewhere. After carefully weighing all of our options, we decided to take a cab to Pujerra. We were very lucky and found a really nice cab driver and were soon on our way. He spoke slow and clear Espanol in the taxi so that I could understand. This was refreshing because everyone speaks muy rapido. He made a few stops along the way showing us the lay of the land. We even got to get out of the car and pick Castañas off the tree’s. And, we stopped for a visit with some black pigs and had a short photo shoot with them.
The beautiful Black Ibérico Pig.

The best part of this story is the part when we arrive in Pujerra only to discover from one of the village elders that the castaña feria is over! It was a misprint in the magazine! You can’t imagine our disappointment. Now what are we going to do? We were in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere. Daniel, our taxi driver, was very kind and offered to drive us to a few of the surrounding villages to do some exploring. And, this is how we arrived in ‘Júzcar’. 

‘Júzcar’ is a very small village in the mountains in the province of Malaga. It is considered to be ‘one of the white towns of Adalusia’. The ‘Pueblos Blancos’ are a series of about 25 villages in the northern part of Malaga and Cádiz, here in the South of Spain. I have been to quite a few of these beautiful villages and I thought they were painted white on purpose to reflect the heat. Apparently, the reason they are white is due to a chemical reaction as a result of the limestone that was used.  

In 2011, Sony arrived on the scene here in Júzcar and painted everything in the village ‘smurf blue’ in preparation of the ‘Smurfs’ movie. Sony offered to paint the town white again, but the village citizens elected to keep it painted blue. I am guessing that they arrived on this decision because in the first six months of this paint job 80,000 tourist visited Júzcar. Normally the village would see 300 tourist a year! The village now adverages 250 tourist per day! 

MaryCarmen and I in the village of ‘Júzcar’.

Trianna, Azulejos, and Susona’s Skull…

You may recall from previous posts, my scraps of information on ‘azulejos’. Essentially, ‘azulejos’ are beautiful ceramic tiles made here in Sevilla. They can be found inside every home, on the streets, inside the churches, and sold in stores all over town. And, Sevilla has been celebrated for the creation of azulejos since Roman times. When and if I stop this globetrotting and settle in one place, I’d love to decorate with these beautiful tiles.

I live in ‘Triana’ which is a fasinating, historical barrio (neighborhood) in Sevilla. There is a museum located in the old tile factory here and MaryCarmen and I decided to meet there on Saturday for a visit. The Museo, formally the ‘Santa Ana Factory’, illustrates the ceramic making process using the four elements: Earth (the mud), water, fire, and air. The Santa Ana Factory opened its doors in 1870 and was a staple here until 2014. It gets its name from the patron Saint of Triana. Also, inside the Museo, is a room devoted entirely to Triana. 

 The people with deep roots in Trianna are called ‘Trianeros’ and they strongly identify with their barrio! Sort of like myself when I tell people I am from ‘Cranston’.

 Trianna is also considered the spiritual heart of flamenco. Pero, Sevilliano’s have their very own dance and it’s called the ‘Sevillana’ dance. This dance is vivid and full of turns and is so super fun to watch! I’m pretty sure I am the only person in this entire town that does not know how to do this dance. But, I am pretty confident that I am going to learn in time. On Friday night MaryCarmen took Manuel and I to a place to watch this dance. It was really fun! I am totaling drifting off the subject…

Raquel grandfather was a skilled potter and worked all of his life in the Santa Ana factory. The name for this job position is ‘alfarero’. These people truly amaze me. Inside the Museo, they play a black and white movie showcasing these workers giving their commentary of their life working in the factory. MaryCarmen and I sat and watched this short, very moving, movie. 

MaryCarmen inside ‘Centro de la Cerámica de Triana’.

We spent hours in the museo learning about the history of the azulejos and Trianna. Then, just as we were getting ready to leave, we hear ‘the music’. They were moving a Virgin! This music always coats both of us with goosebumps! We love it! The night before Manuel told us that they would be moving a Virgin today, but I had lost track of time. We heard the music, took one look at each other, and immediately starting searching a way towards the vicinity of the band. We pussyfooted our way onto a balcony and closed the door behind us. Now we had a prime spot and it was fantastic!

They view from the balcony at the ‘Centro de la Cerámica de Triana’. We were watching the band and Virgin.

We stayed and watched the band and took it all in for several minutes. And then, at the same time, we both realized that we should physically proceed OFF of the balcony of the Museo before we got caught. So we did. And, we left and made our way through Trianna to get home for dinner. 

On Sunday we went on another adventure to ‘Susona’s Street’. This came about because I have a never-ending, constantly growing list on things to do in my iPhone notes. I literally have enough material to keep this blog going for the rest of my life-not including all the stuff I still will see! It panics me to think about it actually. It really does! There is just so much to see and so much good food to eat and so much to learn in this world that I can’t even stand it!! 

Sevilla has a lot of legends and I love to learn about them! One of the most tragic, and Raquel’s favorite, is ‘la fermosa fembra’. And, it goes like this…

Susona, a beautiful Jewish Sevillian girl, had a secret romance with a Christian man. The legend transpired in the 15th century and Jews were going through incredibly grueling times in Spain. The Jews were being coerced to convert to Christianity. And, in an effort to give the Christians a taste of their own medicine, the Jews called a meeting to plot their revenge. One of the leaders of this conspiracy was Diego Susón, the father of Susona. It was at his house that the Jews met to sort out the details of their vengeance. Well, Susona heard their entire plan. She ran to her lover and in fearing that he could be killed, she divulged everything. As a result, Susona’s father and his entire crew of Jewish leaders were executed. 

Susona had immense remorse and shame for what she had done. Some people tell me that Susona hung herself. Some people tell me that Susona never left her house again. Some people tell me that she lived the remainder of her life in a convent. However, regardless of how she spent the rest of her years, her final wish stands true. Susona’s last will in her testament was to have her skull placed at the door of her house. And, it was here that the skull remained, well into the 18th century.

The Jewish Quarter in Sevilla.
The plaque on ‘Susona’s Calle’ and the spot where the skull was kept until the 18th century.
Me under ‘Susona’s plaque’.
MaryCarmen at the top of ‘Susona’s Calle’.
MaryCarmen and I at the fountain in the ‘Jewish Quarter’.

Casa de Pilatos…una tarde de miércoles en Sevilla.

Today Raquel and I visited the ‘Casa de Pilatos’. This is a palace and it was declared as a National Monument in 1931. The ‘House of Pilate’ was built by ‘The First Marquis of Tarifa’ between the 15th and 16th century and is currently the permanent residence of the ‘Dukes of Medinacelli’. The ‘Dukes of Medinacelli’ is a title of Spanish nobility created by Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand. (‘Nobility’ is simply a social class ranked immediately under royalty).The ‘Marquis of Tarifa’ is an ancient title of Spanish nobility that dates back to the Middle Ages. This palace is said to be named after Pontius Pilate because it looks like his home in Jerusalem. (Pontius Pilate is known as the authority that ordered the crusafiction of Jesus Christ). The ‘Casa de Pilatos’is considered to be the prototype of the Andalusian Palace. Oh and the movie ‘Knight and Day’ with Tom Cruise and Cameron Dias was filmed here.

The palace is a combination of Italian Renaissance and Spanish Mudejar, which is a quite the integration!’Mudejar’ is the name given to Muslims who remained in Iberia after the Christian Reconquista but did not convert to Christianity. The Italian Renaissance style is beautifully proportioned (literally). Everything is balenced with orderly arranged columns and semi circular arches. The Spanish Mudejar’s elaborate plasterwork and complicated tiling patterns make this palace a perfect example of Mudejar architecture as you can see here…

Azulejos-beautiful Spanish ceramic tiles.
There is a rooster in this wall…
‘The Chapel of Flagellation’. This is the alter. The mosaics make it look like a mosque. Notice the Roman statue on the alter.

This staircase is decorated from the ceiling to the floor with beautiful azulejo. Azulejo’s are beautiful Spanish ceramic tiles. This style is all over Sevilla and most places in Andalusia. There are little shops everywhere selling these beautiful tiles. I plan to go to a factory that makes them next week so I can see and learn how it is done. 

Beyond this gate is a elegant Andalusian courtyard with a large fountain in the middle. All around the walls of the courtyard are marble busts of Spanish Kings and Roman emperors, most of which were delivered straight from Naples. There is a large georgeous statue of Pallas Athenea the Greek Goddess. She is the goddess of wisdom, courage, mathematics, war and strategy, and she is known for her calm temperament because she moves slowly towards anger. She would never fight without a purpose. She seriously reminds me of my friend Frani.

There is a rooster that is built into the wall and a legend that goes along with it. I am still trying to get to the bottom of this and the virgins!! In the bible, Jesus predicts at the last supper that the apostle Peter will deny him three times before the rooster sounds. I think someone brought back the ashes of this rooster and put them in the wall, according to this legend. I need to ask Raquel about this.

In one of the rooms upstairs, there is a wall of ‘frescos’. Frescos is a technique used to paint a mural on wet lime plaster so that it actually becomes an integral part of the wall. These particular frescos were painted by Francisco Pacheco, the father in law and teacher of Diego Valázquez. Valázquez was a very important Spanish painter during the Baroque period. 

It was another great day. I came back home and made it to my 8:00 spin class. Edgar made us pork chops for dinner and they were delicious! These people sure do love their pork! 

I going to visit my good friends in Belgium this weekend and am really looking forward to it!

¡Holy Jamòn! A day in Aracena, España

When Raquel and I had dinner after the Museo on Friday, we concocted a plan to go to Aracena for the ‘Jamòn Ibérico Feria’. Now I have come to realize that if anything characterizes Spain, it is the wide variety of traditions and festivals spread throughout the territory. Aracena is a very small village located 47 miles northeast out of Sevilla in the province of Huelva. And this town is seriously devoted to the production of Jamòn Ibérico! Jamòn Ibérico is a delectable cured meat that is from Black Iberian Pigs. These pigs roam oak forests along the border between Spain and Portugal eating only a acorn diet. And, occasionally olives. The hams are categorized by the pigs diet and the percentage of Iberian ancestry. In compliance with Spain’s Denominación de Origen Rules on food products these pigs need only be 50% Ibérico. The outstanding, superior, and premium is Jamòn Ibérico de Bellota (acorn). And this grade is broken down into two categories. The black label recognizes 100% Ibérico pure breed Iberian pigs fed only an acorn diet. The red label distinguishes Jamòn Ibérico de Bellota from free range pigs that are not pure breed but have also fed exclusively on acorns. The percentage of Iberian ancestry must be specified on the label. The next grade is the green label Jamòn Ibérico Cebo de Campo. This ham is from pigs that are pasteurized and fed acorns and grain. And, lastly, the 3rd type and final grade is a white label called Jamòn Ibérico de Cebo or simply Jamon Ibérico. These pigs are fed only grain and cured for 24 months. Moreover, the word puro  can be added to any of the above when both the mother and the father are pure breed and they are both registered. Also, in addition, the term Paleta refers to the front legs, Jamòn to the hind legs, and caña de limo referring to loin cuts. The curing process is anywhere from 12 months to 48 months. I’d love nothing more than to continue this discussion and to more extensive lengths, but I will get back to the feria. 

Raquel and Manuel picked me up at 10:00 on Sunday morning and the three of us were off to Aracena! And I could not be more excited! It was a beautiful road trip and these two familiarized me with everything from the ‘Encina tree’ and  ‘Belotta’ to the ‘Rio Tinto River’ (a river that literally looks like red wine was dumped in it), and even NASA presence in this region (Manuel says that the dirt is similar to the dirt that is on Mars!). 

The Fountain of Tears.
The Town of Aracena.
Our first stop in Aracena was ‘The fountain of Tears’. We immediately whipped out the selfie stick and went to town (yes, Jan, a selfie stick)! The legend at this fountain says that the daughter of a Christian King fell in love with an Arabic man. This upset the King so deeply that he buried his daughter alive. She cried so many tears from being lovesick that they came through the earth-hence the fountain.

Advancing along, we were headed down the road en route to the feria. 

The town of Aracena.

We stopped in a beautiful little gourmet store to do a little cheese tasting. And we bought some cheese to take home.

The goats that produce this incredible cheese are fed an acorn diet as well.


We had arrived at the feria and it was astonishing. Really truly extraordinary.

Jamon Iberico from ceiling to floor.
Papas fritas!
Aceite de Oliva Tortait is amazing!
This is ‘Dulce de Membrillo’ which is a sweet thick jelly made from the pulp of the quince tree.
Mermelada de Castañas-it is so delish!!!
Granada (pomegranite), Almendras (almonds), and mi Castañas (chestnuts).

Manuel and Raquel ordered our Ibérico ham and we walked to the bar with our plate of Jamòn. We than ordered Miga’s and pimentos fritos. Miga’s are quite possibly the best thing I have ever ate in my life! I had seriously died and went to chorizo heaven! I was so thirsty that I must have drank a gallon of Fanta limón. We ordered little pork sandwiches called ‘montaditos de lomo’and more Miga’s. We just walked around eating all afternoon and it was marvelous! There were massive tents set up and people cooking everywhere I looked!!! The chorizo has an ancient, unaffected origin as it is closely linked to ‘the slaughter of the pig’. This is a gastronomic, festive, cultural, and religious tradition in most rural villages of Spain. And, here was the very best chorizo that I had ever had! Needless to say when Raquel spotted a booth selling 10 quality links for €10, we all pitched in and brought some home! We also brought home many other items from leche frita, to miel with piñon. 

The village of Aracena.

Aracena is also known for ‘La Gruta de la Maravillas’ or ‘The Cave of Wonders’. It is a limestone cave located under the ground in the old center of Aracena. The length of this cave is over 1 kilometer (.62 mile), and has 3 levels and 6 lakes. There is even a room that looks like a Cathedral!

The water in the lakes is naturally this shade of blue.

I was very interested to learn how caves like this are formed so Manuel gave me a little science class. And here it is in a castaña nut shell: Stalactites, which comes from the Greek word “to drip”, is a type of formatiom that hangs from the ceiling of caves. Stalagmites is the formation that comes from the ground. Stalactites form from the deposition (deposition occurs when sediment (sediment can be any naturally occurring material that is broken down by a process. Por ejemplo, weathering and erosion) are added to a landform (a landform is a natural feature of the solid surface of the Earth. Por ejemplo, hills and the sea)) of calcium carbonate (common substance found in rocks), and other minerals, which is precipitated (creation of a solid from a solution) from mineralized water solutions (a mixture compose of two or more substances). The solution travels through the rock until it reaches an edge and if this is on the roof of a cave, it will drop down. The average growth is .13 mm a year! 

The cave tour took about an hour. And, lastly on our way out of Aracena we stopped and visited the Medieval Castle and Priory Church of la Senora del Major Dolor. 
You can see the castle in the background of this picture of Raquel and I.

I think this was my favorite day so far in Spain! Everything about it was amazing!!! I had the creme de la creme of friends for company, delectable food, a cave that was millions of years old, historic castles, a selfie stick, and Ibérico Jamon! So I ask you, what else could a girl ask for?