Friday, October 31, 2008
But as I have continued to draw, making my way across Spain, the light has begun to change, and the colors haven't been as inspiring. I have found the shapes and silhouettes to be what catches my eye of late. I have found myself preferring the stark quality of just using pen. So I am back where I began, sending home the elaborate and amazing set of colored pencils. Using instead a small and economical set of watercolors from Windsor & Newton.
Here are some of my recent black and white drawings.
This is "La Redonda," the affectionate name for the powerful central church of Logorono, Spain. It caught my eye from the moment I saw it. I came pack a few days later and sat in a nice little cafe, listening to french folk music, and drew the doorway.
This is the cathedral of the good pastor, the focal church in San Sebastian. Most people prefer the front of the church (which I posted in my last post), but I really like the back of the church, where this octagonal rear room is really lovely.
Last but not least. Santiago de Compostela. This two-day creation was a great experience for me, giving me lots of time to absorb the sights and sounds of this square. The front of this cathedral is the true focal point of the main square, and provides an amazing backdrop to the whole city.I liked talking with the pilgrims, as they came up to admire my work and tell me about their pilgrimmage.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
I am in love again.
I just spent two days in the coolest city. San Sebastian is one of the most visually interesting cities I have ever seen!
I ended up there on the recommendations of a few people, and I found that there was good reason. I hopped on a bus planning to go only for a day. But once I got there and looked around, I knew a day wouldn't suffice. So I found a Pension (guesthouse) for cheap and then returned to the bus station to change my ticket.
The first day was nothing but rain, which necessitated a quick stop for an umbrella and a dry pair of pants.
Thankfully, though, I had left my large pack with my kind hosts in Pamplona, so I only had my small day bag, making it easier to maneuver around. But despite the persistent state of cloudiness, the rain (day 1) and the bitter winds (day 2), I was in awe. The architecture was amazing, and really stirred one's imagination and creativity. As the seaside capital city of the Basque country in Spain, the older buildings there have a special blend of origins--
a bit of france,
a bit of gothic,
and some from turkey....
All architecture is created intricately, right down to the smallest details on bridges, gazebos, and lamp posts.
One of my favorite things about the city, though, was perhaps just coincidental. The city has an antiqued dull pastel glaze feel to it... a pallet only emphasized by the overcast days. Although it is somewhat muted, the undertones of color are really interesting. It looks like the city exploded in Faberge eggs.
Consequently, my favorite part of the city was an old, seemingly abandoned carousel sitting in the city hall park next to the beach. Its muted colors, enameled surface, and ornate style was in perfect harmony with its surroundings. It was like it belonged there.
I, of course, couldn't resist the urge to climb around a bit...
Now this is only the tip of the iceberg--my favorite places, but I highly recommend you put it on your list of places to see.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
First, and brief explanation. Much like the individual states in the US, Spain has separate regions. Each of these regions has it's own special productions--every region makes a unique cheese, ham, pastry... so when you go in the market, you can ask for a cheese from any one particular region of the country. Further more, in addition to Spanish, there are other langauges spoken here, too. So far I am aware of four. There is Catalan in the Southeast (and into France), Gallego in the Northeast (where I am now), Galician in the Northwest/West (a mixture of Spanish and Portuguese) and in some areas there are still groups of people who speak the ancient language of Basque.
This is my cereal box. The ingredients are listed in four different languages!
Santiago is in the region called Galicia (hence Galician language), so there were specific traditions specific to Galicia. One such tradition is storage houses. Although to me they resemble some sort of tomb, these stone houses are built on stilts to store food. This way they are raised about vermin and excess moisture. Every house has atleast one. Some are new and clean, tiled with terracotta, but I prefer these older ones made with individual stones.
Driving to the northwest tip of Galicia, you will come to a small town called Moxía. Small enough to be missed on a map, it was really good luck that we happened upon it. Although when we arrived there the weather was cloudy and brisk, we dared exit the car and climb a small hill along the water. It gave us a great view of the whole town, but also of some interesting relics of earlier times. The best view was of this Monastery. It's easy to see why this place chosen for contemplation and meditiation.
Now this is my kind of town. A Coruña is a place that I would love to spend more time another day. To begin with, it is just the coolest shape possible. It is located in a northern penninsula. Check out my tourist map.
Now A Coruña's real claim to fame is a lighthouse. Not just any lighthouse, but in fact, the oldest functioning lighthouse. The Tower of Hercules, as it is called, was built by the Romans some time in the second century. It's simple and unassuming, actually, but it does cause the onlooker to comtemplate its construction at a time with no electricity or hydralic machinery.
My favorite part of A Coruña, though, is near the lighthouse in a nice park area. These stone structures create an interesting profile against the stormy clouds.
Sunday, October 19, 2008
Post overload and then nothing for several days. Sorry.
I have honestly been procrasting about this post.
Santiago is an important city to learn about,... but really hard to explain.
Santiago is unlike any place I have ever been to or heard of. Although the town itself actually began earlier, the main part of what we see of Santiago today sprouted up in the 9th century where St. James' remains are believed to be. It is considered a holy city in the Catholic church, but what really makes this place fascinating, is the tradition of pilgrimages that grew around this fact.
The reason I came to Santiago was on the recommendation of JC, who actually did this pilgrimmage on his bike last year, so surely he is a better person to comment on this. Hopefuly JC can explain a bit more about what it's like along the route, and how the pilgrims actually do what they need to, but I can explain what I know.
For centuries, pilgrims have been walking to this small town from their respective homes across Europe, seeking a religious cleansing of sorts. Nowadays, it is a trendy practice in Europe, the number of pilgrims increasing from 2,500 pilgrims a year in 1986 to 100,400 in 2006. The numbers are even bigger in the occasional "Holy years."
There is not one exact route that must be followed. In fact, there are many different paths, each created according to the origin of the people--the French Way, the Portuguese Way, and the Northern Way, for example, are all considered under the larger pilgrimmage called The Way of St. James. Regardless of starting point, the end point is the same. The tradition is that after completing this pilgrimmage, the pilgrim must then burn the clothes they wore, as part of the cleansing and new beginning.
Most people finish their pilgrimmage in the main square of Santiago, the focal point of which is the Cathedral, whose life is as long as the city. The building is pretty impressive, even to a passerby, so I can only imagine how it must be as a pilgrim. It has gorgeous iron gates which serve as the gateway to welcome the incoming masses.
This factual stuff is easy to explain. What makes this post so challenging, though, is that there is something that is hard to name here. There is a very special unnamable something that develops in a place where people arrive after such a long journey, most having walked for atleast 10 days. There is a certain feeling of release, accomplishment and vitality here--constantly replenished by the incoming tide of people. This is especially true in the main square, where the pilgrimmage ends. It is constantly filled with people: pilgrims, tourists, students, street performers and vendors.
While most pilgrims finish their walk in Santiago itself, some continue on to meet the shore in a town called Fisterra, another 80 km away. It's name literally means "the finish of the land," as for centuries it was believed to be the end of the world--easy to see why. Even as a driving tourist, it was quite impressive, and very relaxing. Just the kind of place I would want to end a pilgrimmage.... except it is in the middle of nowhere.... How do you get back?
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
We traveled about 90 minutes to Lugo, Spain, where they were holding a festival of sorts. There were amazing rides keeping all of the children happy. This one was my favorite. The kids were having SO much fun!
They had the usual festival foods like popcorn and cotton candy, but the cotton candy had different flavors like orange and mint... we chose strawberry. Yum!
They also had lots of pastry, in true Iberian form! Look at this stand! It is choc-a-block full of different baked goods!
They also had your standard prize games. You know, the.. knock 'em down, hit the target, throw the dart sort of challenges. My companions decided to try their hand at racing camels. Alas, it was someone else that took home a gigantic pink dog.
All of this was pretty standard. No real surprises here, right? Well, that´s just the start. Mixed in among these ordinary stands were ones I had never seen before. One type of stand was really popular. It was a form of bingo, whose rules none of us could figure out. It was a HUGE stand filled with different prizes, but they were things like kitchen appliances, mops, and household items! It was such an unlikely collection of things to find at a fair, but like I said, it was very popular. The bingo cards were everywhere!
Even better was the ham stand. Although I could not tell what you needed to do to win, this HUGE stand was filled with chunks of proscuito as prizes, and the man was singing some chant about jamon (ham) that none of us could understand. Unbelievable! I couldn´t imagine walking around all night carrying a cow thigh!
Ok, of all of this still pales in comparison with the last detail.
As we walked around the fair we all started getting hungry. As we walked, the most delicious smell wafted through the air. We followed our noses, and this is what we saw.
There was stand upon stand, one after the other selling exactly this... nothing else! They had enormous barrels full of steaming, delicious broth, full of these guys. They reach into the barrel with a long hook and lift one of them out of the brew, slopping it onto the cutting board. Then they actually use sheers to snip each tentacle into little discs, throwing the head (and other extraneous parts) back into the water. The finishing touch is to season with salt and pepper and a spiced olive oil. Stick some toothpicks in it andit is ready to eat!
I couldn´t believe it. But you know what, Pete?
It was delicious (it rather tasted like chicken!).
Monday, October 13, 2008
Overall, I really enjoyed Portugal. It has a ceratin rugged reality to it that really appealed to me. Places with alot of tourism just have more of a glitsy, cleaned-up and contrived feel.... but Portugal doesn´t try to pretend to be something it isn´t. It feels real, lived-in andfull of history, rather than like a presentation.
These are a few small anecdotes about daily life in Portugal, through my eyes.
- With such a long history, there are centuries of amazing buildings... too many, in fact, so many are falling into disrepair
- A strong preference for very small cars, like the smart cars
- Being a pedestrian is risky--narrow streets, windy roads, and fast drivers
- Pharmacies are really just that there--they don't have all the snacks and convenience items we do
- Post offices also sell books
- The schedule of businesses is different, usually closing for an hour or two in the afternoon
- All of the main cities have the same stone streets that I first posted about--it is a Portuguese tradition
- Daily schedules are completely different. On any given day people are going out to dinner between 10-midnight! Clubs start getting busy around 3am, and on a night out, they usually go home around 6 or 7 am
- Yay automatic lights! They are everywhere, and really save on electricity waste
- In general, I think the food is pretty gross. Lots of bread, fried foods, and scarce produce.
- Fresh fish is fabulous, easy to come by, and cheap
- Espresso and beer are the most common beverages
- Snack bars are every 30 feet or so, and they tend to carry pastries, espresso machines, chips, and beer
- As a country, they seem to really have a sweet tooth, with no stigmas around eating candy, or having ice cream any time of day (now that's my kind of people!)
- Known for delicious pastries
- Olive oil is used as a condiment, as freely as one might use salt- especially on the fish Bacalou, since it was once dried
- When you get a "coffee", or what we call an espresso, or a pastry at a cafe, you eat it standing right at the counter
- Food is very, very salty
- Grilled chesse (and ham) is easy to find, but they always use just one slice of cheese, and one slice of ham
- Dog poop is everywhere! Truly. It's unbelievable. I stepped in it twice in one week before I just learned to always watch where I am walking.
- Stray dogs abound, but they are very chill, just hanging out without bothering a soul
- At cab stands, when one cab leaves, the others move up... but they push the cab, rather than start the engine!
- Low incidence of crime--I saw people leaving their bags in the station as they walked around!
Sunday, October 12, 2008
But seriously, Porto is the home of Port wine, so what trip to Porto would be complete without learning about it? I spent a couple days visiting wineries, doing tastings, and even visiting the source! Here is what I learned about Port wine (I realize for many of you this may be old information, but it was all new to me)!
Porto is home to about 20 different wineries. They are very proud of this fact, displaying the old boats once used to transport the wine in the Douro river (which divides the city in half) as well as flags for each of the companies that produce wine in Porto.
The city itself only houses the wine for the last part of their aging process, but their life really began in the Douro valley. This map shows all the different winery locations along the Douro river.
To begin with, the vines themselves actually grow in rock--schist. They have to dynamite holes in the rock before they can plant the vines. It takes about 2 years to prepare the land and plant the vines before a vineyard can yield enough grapes to produce wine.
The Douro valley is very hilly; the vines themselves form terraces up the steep slopes. Whats more, because the vineyards were created hundreds of years ago, the vines are very close together, so there isn´t room enough for machinery. The entire harvest is done manually. Women cut the grapes and load them into large baskets (which weigh 75 kg when full!!!) and men carry them to the tanks using straps on their heads! Like this.
While all grapes were once crushed by foot, now that process is reserved only for the special vintage wines that are produced only after an exceptional harvest. Most of the other wines are produced by a machine that crushes the grapes by mimicking the same process of being tread on by feet. They say the wine is just softer when tread by foot, rather than crushed in steel tanks.
After this, what remains of the skins is removed from the liquid and they can begin the fermentation process. Table wine needs about a week to ferment, the natural bacteria feed of the natural sugar of the fruit, turning it from sugar, to alcohol. Port wine on the other hand, is very sweet (and strong--20% alcohol!) and is best with dessert. To get this sweetness and strength, the wine does not ferment completely. Rather they stop the fermentation process prematurely (after about 2 days) by adding brandy to kill the live bacteria (hence the high alcohol content). By doing so, there is no longer the live agent to convert the natural sugars to alcohol, so you are left with the natural sweetness of the grapes.
Once they have ended the fermentation process, the wine begins its aging process. They manipulate the flavor of the wine by controlling a few different things: contact with oxygen, exposure to light, temperature, and container. The first three (light, air, and temperature) all cause the process of aging to go more quickly. They limit these factors, so that the process can happen slowly to build the right character of the end product.
Containers however, directly shape the flavor of the wine. First of all, if the wine is put in small barrels, two main things happen to shape the flavor of the wine. Due to the higher wood to wine ratio, this wine will take on the layers of flavor of the wood, usually described as nuts, cinnamon, vanilla.... Furthermore, the pores of the wood allow oxygen to get in; more wood surface area, means comparatively more oxygen is in contact with the wine. This changes not only the flavor, but also the color, usually producing the lighter wines--Tawny´s.
On the other hand, wine put into large holding barrels, have much less contact with wood and less oxidation. These keep the deep reds of Ruby wines, and maintain the flavors of fruits and berries.
I will finish with a fun fact. The Portuguese actually have the British to thank for Port wine. The British always got their wine from France, but after a diplomatic fall out, they needed to find another source of wine. They purchased some from Portugal, carrying it back to England in small barrels in their sailing ships. But because of the long journey, the salt air and the extra moisture, the wine was ruined when it arrived. The next attempt, they decided to add brandy to preserve the wine. It worked! They liked the flavor enough, also, to transform the industry entirely!
Friday, October 10, 2008
It began with a few hours drawing. I have been in Porto for 6 days now, and there is a specific view that I have been wanting to draw since I first walked into town with my large backpack. Yesterday, the weather finally cooperated, and I went to the riverside, settled into a nice seat on the cement wall, and started in. I have to admit this is my favorite so far.
That done, I headed back up the hill, and sat in a little cafe, treating myself to a grilled cheese sandwich and an ice cream for lunch. Next, I decided to take the bus out to the westernmost tip of Porto, and explore the shoreline. So my afternoon began.
The first thing I saw was one of the relics of years past. A decaying edifice that I am sure was once glorious. I think it is really beautiful as it is now.
Just a bit further along the shore was the Castelo do Queijo-one of the preserved forts that once protected their coastline from invasion. I have to admit I was uninspired by the building itself, but the gathering outside was fabulous. I call it the Old Man Brigade. Most parks have a section where old men gather to play chess, this is the largest of such gatherings that I have seen to date.
I continued along the beach, stopping for a while to write, and explore the smooth stones that covered the beach. Most of them are marble, so the are smooth, hard, and cooold.
The boardwalk is lined with little cafes just like this one. It would be a fabulous place to spend the afternoon. I liked passing each one, getting a sense of their style, and the atmosphere... different music, the decor, and the clientele. I was window shopping the cafes, really!
Finally, I decided to treat myself to dinner. I went up to the roof of the Hotel Boavista. On the fourth floor, I had a lovely view of the whole shoreline. I ordered a small bottle of wine, and decided to hang out until the kitchen opened for dinner. As luck would have it, that waiting time was a breeze, with this gorgeous sunset!
What made this view even better, was that I was overlooking another of the old forts--Castelo de Sao Joao do Foz.
I think I could get used to this!