La memoria del fuego, ii

2 November 2008

The rain & the cold has arrived: Blustery wind, common in Jaén, wrack the trees lining the Paseo de la Estación, once called the Avenida del Generalissimo, in honor of Franco, & their leaves fall in ones & twos. I can hear the wind rattling the windowpanes at night, and through some trick of acoustics in the narrow streets it often makes a sound louder than should be possible, almost vocal, a humming.

In the pueblo, where the school can be colder inside than it is outdoors – the walls seem to conserve the previous night’s chill – I can see snow topping the peaks of the Sierra Máginas, even on warm days. I keep my scarf on indoors. The Spanish do not like to spend money on central heating. It rains fitfully – late at night, in mid-afternoon, early in the morning. North African street merchants sell umbrellas wrapped in plastic, laid out in rows on the Plaza de la Constitución.

As in California, Spanish homes are not built for winter – the glass isn’t doublepaned, the walls indifferently insulated – and so in the morning I shiver my way to the shower, exactly as I did in boarding school. My dueña came by this weekend – her novio is a block captain, and is doing a headcount for the election – and replaced our coffee table with a much taller something, from Ikea, that the novio put together with a power drill. As tends to happen in Spain, I helped carry things inside and didn’t know exactly what was going on until after it’d happened – “This is typical Spanish,” she said to me in English. “Típica de España.” There was a wooden cutout frame beneath the table, a thick tapestry or blanket laid over the table, a pane of glass over that – and finally, an electric brazier, which slotted neatly into the wood stand underneath the table & was lit & glowed a cherry red.

In the evening, when it gets colder, you sit down to la cena around the high brocaded table, tuck your legs underneath & enjoy toasty warm feet, and have manzanilla, a kind of sweet vanilla infusion, or milk warmed on the stovetop with powdered coffee stirred in. On and around the Día de los santos, there is also quema, which is served hot, and gacha, served chilled – a kind of custard made with cream, cinnamon, nutmeg, anise, & topped with little pieces of sweet fried bread, ideal autumn food. I bought a little foil container of fresh gacha from the bakery down the street on a whim & had it for desert last night.

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One Response to “La memoria del fuego, ii”

  1. John B. Says:

    Jim,
    Good to hear from you, if only in this way, and very good to know you’ve not yet given up on this blogging thing.
    Spain sounds wonderful. A Last.fm friend of mine has been introducing me to flamenco; a colleague of mine just came back from spending a couple of weeks in Madrid and Barcelona; and now these posts of yours . . . Un dia de estos, ojala.
    I’ll soon post a link to you.


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