Dancing the lindy-hop in the street in the old center in Valencia (short video)

This dance evolved in the 1930’s in Harlem.  This group keeps it going.  The lindy-hop combines 8 count European partner dances with the improvisational movement of black dances of the time.  The people who live here are spirited and lively, which is one of the thing we like about living here.

I filmed this on December 23rd near our table in El Carmen, the old part of Valencia.  They were having such fun that I got their card and plan to sign up for lessons!

I just had to give you a view of the woman’s heels.  You’ll see who I mean.


Paris Connections

Paris has become familiar.  The first time you come to any city there is so much to absorb and you are rather lost, your nose planted in the skimpy map in the guide book when your eyes are not taking in the sites.  But we’ve been here before and we’re back because it is a beautiful city, with a long history and a refined culture, a great place to be especially when you have time to absorb the vast offerings.

Paris is a city of art as much as it is a town that searches for the egalitarian ideal.  Of the former more in later posts, I am sure.  These days the latter is expressed in the services provided to the hungry- there are meals every day of the week- and lodging, in the tents that line the Seine downtown, a kind of nose- thumbing gesture, so I’ve heard, at the failure of government to provide enough low cost housing, and the velib, the bikes you can use free for 30 minutes with a monthly transit pass.

This time there are more beggars than last, sadly, with an unemployment rate about the same is in the US (around 9%) victims of the job loss that came from those phony investment schemes originating on Wall Street, a scheme to defraud investors disguised by a multiple layers of complexity.   But here they are now, sitting on sidewalks, not just Romas and drunkards but a few otherwise promising young people, men and women alike.  But this is a sadness I can not resolve.  Enough then.  And besides there are fewer here than in my own country.

We shall be living in the 6th for a bit.  We have friends developed from our travels here.  This came about from our time here in 2000.  We rented from Prisca, who had rented to Gaston and Gloria, whom we met through Paul and Vicky, whom in turn we met through a book he wrote in the mid 1980’s and her keeping up with correspondence: she responded to an email from Peg 12 years ago when we were living in Madrid.   From Paul and Vicky we somehow got to Anne and John, whom we got to know well, and then to their friends Chris and Rosemary, whose apartment we will now stay in for a month or two.  From Anne and John I got to know Emoke at the French/English/Spanish conversation exchange at the American Church, where I met Ketty, from whom we will rent for a year beginning in August, her husband having been transferred to Le Havre.   I suppose it all sounds rather complicated, and perhaps it is, but it did not seem so as all this unfolded.

As lovely as Paris is, and as rich is the art, we both think Valencia competes.  The latter has a long parade of “quehaceres,” like free concerts, exhibits, shows and festivals- hardly a day goes by without one.  You can strike up a conversation and become a friend in a moment.  This is a bit harder to accomplish here, but as you can see, not impossible, it’s just that the Spanish are much quicker to smile.  The people you see every day here in the stores are often a bit more dour, as if work were a very unpleasant burden.

The land of jamon

Hispania is the Latin name for the Iberian peninsula.  It means ‘rabbit.”  There were a lot of rabbits when the Romans arrived.  We should change the name to whatever the Latin is for pig (I looked it up- one site said it’s porcus, so can you imagine saying “The Porcus Peninsual?”).  There is a lot of it here- hams I mean.  Don’t take my word for it.  See for yourself.

Museo del jamon, a chain of ham shops

There are huge displays, bigger than this one, in the larger grocery stores in Spain.  There are similar displays of chorizo, but let’s wait to talk about that.

It’s consumed mostly on bocadillo, which are sandwiches made with a baguette (called ‘barras’).   I prefer it alone or with a little bit of bread and a glass of red.  Wow!

There are other ways of using this ham, though I have never tried any of these dishes:  http://www.lopezortega.com/files/recipes.php

Jamon serrano, jamon iberico, Italian pruscuitto  it’s all made in the same basic manner: salted, rinsed and then aged.  Aside from aging hams in this manner, the Spanish also do a foreleg.  Jamon iberico is more expensive.  The pigs are free range and eat acorns both in the fields and during their last few weeks.

The Italians and the French also produce similar products, but nowhere else is a populace so enthused nor the product so popular.  They range in price from about 14-80 euros per kilo ($12 a poung and up).

Breakfast in Valencia

Breakfast is not celebrated in Spain.  It’s a time for a quick espresso and a croissant glazed with a thin sugar coat.  Perhaps cafe con leche (ok any time in Spain but only breakfast in Italy), or a cortado (an espresso and an equal amount of coffee).  Coffee or thick thick hot chocolate and churos I’ve seen in Madrid but not here, at least not much.  Plenty of people order toast (you can buy it in packages in the grocery stores which I think they serve cold) and coffee.  In the bars or at home you can spread a little tomato on the bread and drizzle a little olive oil to boot (it’s a tapa, really, but if they have a tomato they’d do it for you no matter when- they’re very accommodating).  Toast and coffee, toast and croissant, about 2 euros (close to $3 at the moment), add maybe another euro and you can have some orange juice too.

Tostada con tomate, and those awful, waxy napkins

I’ve not seen anybody eating fruit for breakfast.  It’s more of a desert thing after big meals.  If they wanted to, there would be plenty to choose from.  The figs just came in (it’s June 2011).  They are large and soft, very good if not perfect.  Of course the oranges, now selling for as little as 1 euro for 3 kilos (6.5 pounds).  At this price some of them might be a bit dry but mostly they are sweet and juicy.  We’ve had very few we would consider bad, although the locals might have much higher standards.

The grocery stores all sell cereal in boxes, so apparently people eat it, I assume for breakfast, but I’ve never actually seen it done.  There is one high fiber cereal around.  No hot cereals, unsurprisingly.

Breakfasts here get you going, but they don’t last long.  You’ll need a tensy.  That’s what the Spanish do!  You might have churros, perhaps an apple tart or any number of sweets, or a bocadillo (a bit of baguette with a slice of jamon serrano or some manchego), smeared with tomato if you wish, or a bit of “ensalada” as they call lettuce and what not even when applied to bocadillos.  The choice are seemingly endless, including the famous tortilla española .  It’s a thick omlette with potatoes is the most traditional, but there are variations and variations upon the variations, such as with shrimp.  You can have a plain omlette too in some places.  It would not be unheard of for lunch or dinner, here, in France or Italy where it’s called a fritatta.


They may not celebrate breakfast here, but nonetheless there’s a richness to it, and something for everyone.

New friends and another paella

We met Nuria (young woman with black hair in the photos below)  at the language group which meets at the Portland bar every Tuesday.  She claimed her mother made the best paella during one of our discussions.  I’d asked about paella in an effort to broaden my understanding of what constitutes ‘paella’ in the land of paella.  More of this below.

Nuria’s parents invited us to their house for paella one afternoon.  They are very warm and friendly.  Her mom, who runs a small clothing factory in the basement employing  5 (down from a peak of 12), loves to cook and has a great kitchen.  In fact the house is great.  It was remodeled not too long back.  It was her parent’s house, which she inherited I assume.  There are 3 floors and about 3 bedrooms, tiles floors and baths, quite Spanish in look and feel, and modernized as well.

She offered to teach Peg how to make paella.  But I am the paella chef so I looked on.  (continued below the slide show)

[slideshow id=12 w=400 h=400]

She used a traditional paella pan.  This is a flat pan about 2-3 inches deep.  To get a wide flame, so the heat is not just in the center of the pan, they buy a big ring which they connect to bottle of gas.  Sometimes they cook outside.  She just put the gas ring on her gas cooktop and fired away.

She told me that you put in enough olive oil to cover the pan bottom to within about 2″ of the edge.  Then you add the chicken and rabbit.

After the meat is cooked, you cook the onions, garlic and a bit of pureed tomato- it may have been sofrito, which is garlic, onion and tomatoes cooked in olive oil.   When the onions are slightly brown you add the stock and the paella spices.  She did not measure anything.  Since there is no cover on the pan you need more than a 2/1 ration of water to rice.  She add broad green beans and the garrafon, large white beans.  Her recipe is pretty similar to another of our local friends.

Before dinner there was plenty to eat.  Nuria’s father sliced smoked ham off a leg (complete with hoof).  This kind of ham is generically referred to as ‘serrano ham.’  The Italians call it prosciutto.  It’s in the same family.  There was some strong cheese, probably sheep.  Manchego cheese is made with sheep’s milk but other varieties are too.   There was some fine wine, too, while we waited.  In the meantime Sari and I chatted while she cooked.

The paella was lovely and once again better than what we’d had in restaurants a few months ago when we arrived.

Figs grow in Spain and there are several right close by.  The first issue of the fruit each year is very large, perhaps twice the size of one harvested in the second round.  They weren’t ready yet so we could not have them for dessert.  But the other dessert was wonderful, toron ice cream.   Toron is made from almond paste, egg whites and sugar.  It makes that dense candy that you might have seen or tried in the US.  It is also found in Italy.  Fabuloso!

They rolled me down the steps when it was time to go.

Some new friends

We met Nuria at the language group which meets at the Portland bar every Tuesday.  She claimed her mother made the best paella during one of our discussions.  I think I’d asked about paella in an effort to understand what constitutes ‘paella’ in the land of paella.  I learned that paella contains only rabbit, chicken, large white beans called garafons, and I think also wide green beans.  There are many rice dishes also made with safron, but they do not call them paella.  When made with seafood, for instance, it is called El Señor or something like that.  There is a black rice version made with the ink from the squid.  You can check out the many variations in Penelope Casa’s book, The Foods and Wines of Spain.

Nuria’s parents invited us to their house for paella one afternoon.  They are very warm and friendly.  Her mom, who runs a small clothing factory in the basement employing  5 (down from a peak of 12), loves to cook and has a great kitchen.  In fact the house is great.  It was remodeled not too long back.  It was her parent? house, which she inherited I assume.  There are 3 floors and about 3 bedrooms, tiles floors and baths, quite Spanish in look and feel and modernized.

She offered to teach Peg how to make paella.  But I am the paella chef so I looked on.  (continued below the slide show)

[slideshow id=12 w=400 h=400]

She used a traditional paella pan.  To get a wide flame they buy a big ring which they connect to bottle of gas.  Sometimes they cook outside.  She just put the gas ring on her gas cooktop and fired away.

Connections to a video

In March we went to the Consulate to get a document notarized in connection with my effort to obtain dual citizenship.  Someone had posted a notice from a bar where you could exchange English and Spanish.  We went to that bar.  There we met Husan.  Husan had learned to the play the piano after moving from Korea as a 10 year old to the Canary Islands.  The Canary Islands did not fall into the sea so therefore Husan could finish her training,which took her to Vienna.  Therefore she was able to take a job in Valencia 18 years later.   She invited us to see one of her students perform.

Here is the video:

Husan Park accompanies Carmen Romeu, soprano.

This is Carmen’s last performance at the school.  She is already working and should become successful as an opera singer.  This is a highly competitive field and relatively few people find steady work.  She has a fighting chance.

Spanish cuisine- tapas

What is the Spanish cuisine


Tackling this topic is difficult because of the immense breadth and depth of the Spanish cuisine.  There are regional dishes and variations, ingredients galore and a long history.  But I’ll be taking my cue from what you encounter as you walk around Valencia.

Probably the first thing you notice are the tapas.  Tapas (the word for cover or lid) are everywhere in bars and restaurants.  More than anything else, this is what Spaniards order when they go out.  The servings are modest in size so you can eat multiple varieties in the course of an evening.  Not that it’s a cheap way to eat anymore.   Let me give you an example or two.

Peg and I went out with a group a couple of weeks ago.  We went to a nearby spot.  They decided as a group what to order.  In a while, out came chicken croquettes (always deep fried), marinated mushrooms, patatas bravas (potatoes in a  mildy spicy red sauce, about as spicy as anything gets here), some sort of chicken fingers, and a couple of other dishes.   You can get slices of manchego (sheep cheese) marinated in olive oil, anchovies, calarmi frito (fried), red peppers, green peppers, tortialla española (potato omlette), patatas alioi (potatoes in a garlic mayonnaise sauce), various ways of stuffing eggs eg with tuna.  The list is endless.   These are run between 3.50 ($5.00) and 8.00 euros ($11) a pop.  Our modest repast with our friends cost us 20 euros ($28) including beer, which runs about $5 a pint.  It is not exactly a cheap night out and we were not exactly full either, but was fun- it is always fun. Another night went to a bar near our first apartment (we call it the green bar, near the Torres Serrano) and we spent 40 euros for 4 although this included a bottle of wine for 8 euros ($11).

We remember it being cheap in Madrid when we were living there, late 1998-May 1999. They’d give you some olives with your beer. The beer was maybe .75, now over $2.00 for a caña, which is about 8 oz so, very small, and $5 a pint.  I am talking ordinary beer, nothing fancy.  And at that time in Madrid you could get an order, una raciòn, of say patatas bravas for maybe $1, as much as $2 in a fancy place.  In one place where we used to go for a beer in Madrid they gave you a small plate of paella.  We do not get much free here, although there are a few such places still.

Tapas are a bit more vegetable and seafood type of item, though there are meat based tapas here, for example those ham croquettes.   You get serrano ham on bocadillos, which are basic sandwiches, so they aren’t tapas though you could order them at the same time.  Montaditos are more in the tapas area.  They are “Things mounted on a piece of bread.”  You could  get a montadito with chorizo, for example, a bit of chorizo (dry sausage in the pepperoni family) .  But its more veg and seafood here, and there is cheese, too, very good, strong cheese.

Tapas and the cuisine in general are heavy on the olive oil and often on the garlic as well (noticeable but never biting).    There are a lot of deep fried items amongst tapas, but less so in the other meals.

Croquetas de Jamon - Ham Croquettes (c)

Because we are close to the sea here, there is perhaps a greater prevalence of seafood.  In the tapas bars you see gambas (shrimp), bocarones (small fish) and sardinias (you can figure this one out) and octopus usually in a vinegar based sauce but perhaps fried also.  These days you find fish all over Spain, even fresh, of course, but there is more and greater variety on the coasts.

Tapas are about having fun as much as eating.  You sit in bars, outside on the sidewalk as much as inside, for the weather permits outdoor seating year round.  Your friends join you and you talk about your week, the economy, politics.  Or whatever.

St Vincent Ferrer’s day parade.

Processions on St. Vincent’s day feature an effeminate Vincent flinging his index finger skyward.  Curates in procession wore the bishop’s red or plain black for the rank and file.   Women joined in, dressed in black, middled aged and older women, with veils and a little rigid curved piece on the back of the head from which fell more black lace.  They looked quite somber and dignified.  A military contingent marched in goose step and bands played.  Sparse crowds watched as the city’s patron saint rolled pass, some clapping as he went by.  How odd, i thought, to clap for a statue.  I guess if you can believe in magic bread you can clap for a statue.