Tuesday, April 26, 2011


The day before we went to the coast, April 16, we drove to the Sober wine festival. Our friends, Craig and Melanie, put us on to this festival last April, and we enjoyed it so much, we had to go again this year. Wine merchants from all the wineries of Ribeira Sacra, a famous wine region in Galicia, set up stalls, offering wine tastings and selling their wine all day long, accompanied by music. It’s billed as the Feira do Vino (Gallegan for “wine fair”).

Spaniards love to dance, and, oh, how they can dance! When we arrived, the kiosks were arranged in a large L in the plaza in front of the Sober concello; in the center, a local gaitero band was playing. A gaitero is the Gallegan version of the bagpipe. In this band, there were actually two gaiteros, an accordion, a concertina, 2 drums, and three tambourines. People sang to the music, and several had different kinds of traditional wooden clackers to keep the beat -- one of them a string of castanets -- while others simply clapped their hands. And while they sang, they danced: They danced in couples. They danced alone. Some simply danced in place, their feet moving independently to the beat, while they talked, or clapped, or sipped their wine. In some cases they even danced over to a kiosk and back for a fresh glass of wine.

After the gaitero band finished, an all male brass band played -- two trumpets, a tuba, 2 sets of drums, and for some reason, four saxophones. The players, surprisingly, all wore blue and yellow Hawaiian-print shirts and black pants. But they played with Spanish gusto, a peppy oompah-pah in some mixture of cha-cha or mambo beat that had everybody dancing again.

At little before six o’clock, an orchestra set up. At first we thought it might be a youth orchestra, there were so many young people in it, all smartly dressed -- the young women in black stylish dresses and the young men in suits and ties. But there were also young pre-teen players, and a couple of older men who might be grandfathers. We learned this was the Sober orchestra or band, probably sponsored by the Concello of Sober. They were heavy on brass and reeds and tympani and there weren’t many strings, but they had a fine sound, playing popular American ballads from the fifties and sixties (including “My Way”). There was no dancing, then, only attentive listening from proud relatives and friends.

Still, as we left, we saw the huge stage/trailer being set up for Leticia -- one of the bands that played for the fiesta in Toiriz last September -- a sure sign that the dancing would commence again later, and probably continue through the night.


Last Saturday, the day before Easter Sunday, was the Feira Medieval in Monforte. This was our third time going to it, and this time we went with our friends David and Terri. Each year it is slightly different. Like Medieval fairs in the US, people dress up in Medieval garb. But here they stage all kinds of happenings. (Last year there was a drama and sword fight in the streets. This year a man dressed like a satyr, with goat feet and pointed ears, wove in and out of the crowd, bleating everywhere he went).

Every year musicians in Medieval garb parade through booth-lined streets that wind below the towering Parador. There is usually an archery contest, or individduals shoot arrows for prizes. And every year in the Plaza next to the St. Anthony church, birds of prey are on display. (I saw my first raven, which gave added clout in my imagination to Poe’s spooky poem.) My husband loves this exhibit, and snaps as many pictures of hawks, falcons, and horned owls as he does of the people.) At stalls, people in Medieval dress sell herbal remedies, honeys, liqueurs, pulpo, meat savories, breads, sweets, as well as handcrafted jewelry and traditional pottery. We spent about three hours taking it all in, then went to lunch, and then home.


Later, we met our friends again at the Torre Vilarino for a special dinner the owner puts on each year the evening before Easter Sunday. Two men with guitars played and sang (beautifully, I must say) while everyone ate their dinner. Tables were full, with parties of four, six, even ten. Our table shared a wonderful meal of vegetarian paella (with bits of seafood in addition to the vegetables), gambas al ajillo (small shrimp in olive oil that has been steeped with garlic and red pepper), and chiparones (small, tender slices of calamari, cooked without batter).

The guitarists wound up their program and left. Most diners had finished their meals by then. A few customers left. A few more came in. The wine flowed. One of the hosts who doubles as waiter, master of ceremonies on bingo nights, and master of downloaded music as well, took his post at the amplifier on the small corner stage. Familiar music crept into the restaurant -- favorite songs by a variety of bands. Feet started twitching under tables. An unspoken signal went out, and customers and wait staff alike got up and moved the tables to the periphery, clearing the center floor. The proprietress came dancing into the dining area, along with one of the waitresses, and soon everyone was dancing..., dancing..., dancing!

We had to give up at about two-thirty a.m., but the dancing continued long after we left. If you are every in the area, Torre Vilarino should be one of your major stops for (literally) a night out. You can learn more about them at their website: Torre Vilarino .

Meanwhile, Baile! -- It’s probably the secret of longevity so typical in Spain.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Time Out Until Tomorrow

I will be posting tomorrow about two great Ferias -- the Sober wine festival and Monforte's Feria Medieval (and a great party last Saturday night) but tonight we have dinner guests and I must get me hence to my kitchen. Hasta Manana....

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Favorite Places to Eat in Galicia

No pictures this post, but if you go to the site below for Adega do Carlos, you will meet the host of our favorite tapa/bar.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the places we like to eat when we come to Galicia. Spain is a sociable place, and people love to meet at cafe bars for tapas and late night dinners at the many restaurants abounding in every town and good sized village. We are vegetarians, which initially was a challenge for us, since Gallegans love their meat and poultry. (A friend who visited told us the sausages are marvellous, and my husband read some food critic's article that claimed the best beef is to be found in Galicia.)

Luckily, we do eat eggs, fish, and seafood. Seafood is another Gallegan specialty, and the all time favorite of locals is pulpo, or octopus. (Sidenote: A neighbor in our village walked five miles to Escairon to the feria on market day because the ferias always offer pulpo, and she planned to have some.)

So: Where do WE eat? I mentioned the Parador in an earlier post. We actually go there a couple of times a trip mainly to have a glass of wine and split a cheese sandwich. (My husband has to watch his cholesterol, and the cheeses in Galicia are fantastic, especially Manchego. So he saves up for this experience, reining in his love of cheese during the year until we get here.)

Our all time favorite eatery in Monforte is Adega do Carlos , a popular tapa bar that is always packed. The owner, Carlos, is warm and jovial, with always a welcoming smile. He grew up in a neighboring village; our neighbors know him and say he's "Buena gente" -- "good people" -- which we knew the first time we met him. If you ever come to Monforte, definitely stop by and sample his menu. As for us: our favorites are: bunuelos bacalao (delicious cod croutons); pimientos de padron (fantastic little peppers sauteed in olive oil with salt); champillones (mushrooms stuffed with a garlic-parsley-white-wine paste and then grilled); and tortilla. A Spanish tortilla is not the cornmeal wrap we Californians are used to when we have enchiladas and tacos -- it's a potato/egg omelet that somehow rises to a thickness of a layer cake, and Adego do Carlos offers probably the best tortilla in Monforte. It's consistently wonderful.

Another place we like is the restaurant, O Bon Gusto, though I couldn't find a website for it. The owner spent many years in Switzerland, and she has a varied menu with French and Spanish omelets, every kind of salad you can think of, meat, fish, and other seafood entrees, and a variety of pizzas, as well as a good dessert menu.

Then there is Centro Do Vino, a unique combination of tapa bar, wine store, and wine museum. (I blogged about it last April, so you can read about it here: http://elizabethvaradansfourthwish.blogspot.com/2010/04/great-discovery.html )

There is another little tapa bar called Catanga, where we've had great smoked salmon and breaded mejillones baked on the half shell. Mmmmmmm, good.

In Escairon, the WiFi cafe where we hang out, Circulo do Savinao, offers only meat dishes, so we normally just have coffee or wine. But their cafe con leche is delicious. (I have never had a bad cup of coffee in Galicia.) Circulo Savinao is family owned, and one of the daughters also has a very successful school in Monforte where she teaches English. In addition, the cafe seems to be an art center. One room always has exhibits of local artists, and a couple of times DVDs about the cultural history of Escairon were for sale in the entryway.

Around the corner is a cafe-bar/restaurant called Avenida that serves probably the best salmon we've eaten anywhere. Also a wonderful dish of mejillones in a tomato broth. I couldn't find a website for them, either, but they are worth a visit.

Now, there are other great restaurants in both towns, and we've eaten at them and liked them. But these are places we return to each time we come to Galicia. We have favorite places in Lugo and Santiago as well, but since we aren't goint to either city on this trip, I'll save those for another time.

Meanwhile, aproveche, as the locals say. It literally means "take advantage", but they say it in the sense of "bon apetit". It's quite charming: If a total stranger in a cafe happens to catch glances with you, nearly every time he or she will say it, and it does enhance the meal wonderfully.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Trip to Fisterra

Sunday our friends, David and Terri, took us for a day trip to Fisterra, a lighthouse town on the coast, almost directly west of Santiago. They picked us up around 9:30, and David drove, since they know the route well. The weather was with us: a warm sunny morning, and a golden afternoon.

We went south to Ourense along a steep road that winds past vine-terraced hills and stretches of gorse and broom and purple heather. After the point where the river Sil joins the Mino (pronounced “minyo”) we continued along the river, smooth as glass: villages clustered on the banks and above reflected like mirror images of stone and red tile and white plaster. From Ourense we took the toll road, going north again, bypassing Lalin, skirting Santiago, and traveling west through verdant countryside to the Atlantic, where we followed a sparkling blue bay. On our right, small villages alternated with pastures or villages edged and splashed with yellow broom. To our left, the blue waters stretched, with occasional white sandy beaches. At harbors, fishing villages were mirrored in the waters, and fishing boats bobbed alongside colorful buoys.

We took a coffee break at a bar in Noia, where “market day” was in full force. and tables and kiosks lined the bustling streets. We continued on through Muros (a lovely village/town with its own lighthouse), and stopped for lunch at a charming harbor town called Corcubion, where we sat at an outdoor table of a cafe-bar called Alborada. Our lunch consisted of raciones. (A racion is a serving less that a full dinner plate, but more than a tapa.) We settled on three: revueltas with championes; calimari that melted in your mouth, and a plate of fresh mejillones (mussels) that had been caught that very day and had a flavor like poetry.

Still, the highlight was our waiter, Jose Antonio Trillo Gonzalez. He had lived in England for several years, and he surprised us by breaking into English with a thoroughly London accent -- and a sly, witty humor to go with it. The website for this cafe, by the way (for travelers to Galicia) is: http://www.mi-bar.es/bar.alborada/

After lunch we proceeded on to Fisterra. The countryside changed to rock face as we drew nearer -- rock-face covered with gorse, creating a golden sheen, like a layer of pollen. Fisterra is in the part of the coast known as Costa del Muerte (coast of death), because in olden days there were so many shipwrecks in its rocky harbors. At the lighthouse itself, you could see the bay on one side, and the Atlantic ocean on the other (the Atlantic in the picture above). Stalls outside the lighthouse sold the souvenirs you would expect: starfish, seashells; seashell jewelry, ashtrays with marine themes, etc. We strolled around, taking pictures, feeling the cool breeze off the ocean (it wasn’t cold at all), and smiling at fellow travelers.

On the way home, we stopped at a cafe in the plaza in Muros, and then headed back, enjoying the drive all over again. By the time we reached Ourense, the sky was deepening to early twilight, and shortly after, sunsetturned clouds a billowy pink, like cotton candy. The last stretch was in late twilight and early darkness. A yellow full moon hung low in the sky, glowing like a Chinese lantern. At the house, we ate food I’d cooked the day before, and sipped wine and recounted our magical day.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Look What Happens When You Leave Town!

Sunday we went to the coast with some friends (and I'll post about that later this week), so I didn't have time to check email or my blog. On return, I had a nice surprise. Three awards were waiting for me. Aren't they pretty! Rachna Chhabria gave me the Sisterhood and Sunshine awards. T. G. Ayer gave me the Versatile Blogger award. Each of these wonderful writers write wonderful, thought-provoking posts, so I hope you will take a little trip to each site.

In keeping with tradition, I will pass these awards on to other bloggers who have brightened my thoughts with their posts.

There doesn't seem to be a secondary requirement for the Sisterhood or Sunshine awards, but the Versatile Blogger award requires seven revelations. Hmmm. A couple of other awards have used up any mysteries about me that remain to be revealed, but I'll do my best:

1. My favorite breakfast is peanut butter on toast.
2. I love bread. More than chocolate. (Any bread. Any chocolate.)
3. When I was ten, I wanted to be Nancy Drew. To the point that I made up a phony letter asking for help and told my friend we had to track down this person who needed our help. (The ruse lasted about 5 minutes.)
4. When I was older I graduated to wanting to be Perry Mason's secretary and solve all his cases for him.
5. I was in love with Sabu after I saw the movie, Kim.
6. My husband and I met thanks to a cat named Meathead. (After 37 happily-married years, Meathead still holds a special place in our hearts.)
7. I love Irish music, and I have always wanted to go to Ireland. I still want to go to Ireland.

Okay, now... the awards and who they go to: (Drumroll.)

The Sunshine Award goes to the following upbeat bloggers:
1. Richard Hughes whose posts about Paris, art and photography give me a lift.
2. Sheila Siler - always upbeat
3. Ann at Inpots and Quills - interesting posts and SHE GETS TO GO TO IRELAND!
4. L. A. Colvin whose posts are full of a zest for living
5. Carrie at Carrie Keeps Typing whose humorous posts always make me laugh.
6. Kimberly who has taken on the A-Z writing challenge with a unique twist (go and check it out)
7. T. G. Ayer who was an Egyptian princess in her last lifetime.

The Sisterhood Award
1. Rosi Hollinbeck - a valued critique group member who has helped me with many a manuscript
2. Rachna Chhabria - "back atcha, Rachna" who has supported me through writing questions and techie questions
3. Nina Krebs - who was extremely helpful in one of my writing groups, then went on to devote herself to art and has a great website.

There would be more, but Marj, Skeeter, Nancy, JaNay and other valued writer/critique friends alas do not blog. Not yet, anyway

The Versatile Blogger Award goes to:
1. Jayne at A Novice Novelist - always an interesting post with quirky humor
2. J. L. Campbell - posts on various aspects of writing that are always thought-provoking
3. George Erdosh - a food expert whose site contains all kinds of tips and recipes
4. Rosi Hollinbeck (again) - She writes on everything from the writing process to fine book reviews. And by the way, both George and Rosi review books for Sacramento Book Review and San Francisco Book Review. Go and check them out.
5. Jody Hedlund - pithy articles on writing and publishing issues.
6. Julie Musil - great posts with tips on writing.

And that's it for today, tomorrow I'll be blogging about Galicia some more, since every day seems to hold new wonder.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Spring Has Sprung in Galicia

Spring is definitely here, now, and in the countryside that means an orchestra of bird twitter and bleating lambs. Our neighbor's sheep graze occasionally in our little pasture across the path from our gate, and you can hear the lambs' pitiful little wails as they search for their moms. Some tiny little birds -- I don't know what they are -- have a rich repertoire of birdsong, and this morning, they were twittering, trilling, peeping, and tweeting back and forth with such gusto, I couldn't help but wonder how such tiny things could sustain such a chorus. There is such a range of sounds, too, and call and response, I have the conviction they actually have a language.

Visually, the wonders also continue: Along roadsides, the Spanish broom has started sending up white sprays of blooms, like lacy fans. The neighbors have been planting potatoes last week, taking turns helping to plant each others' fields. And everywhere the grapevines that have been cut back are starting to put out the shoots that will lead to this fall's wine harvest. In Monforte, the wisteria hangs in long, purple and pink garlands from stone trellises in the park. Usually there are swans on the river, but I haven't seen them yet on this trip; only the geese and ducks -- and their little ducklings.

Mornings are cool, then warmer, and afternoons are downright hot, with a sudden chill when the sun goes down. The skies range from clear blue, to buttermilk-cloudy, to opalescent sunsets, to star-studded nights. And always a slight hint of mist, either lurking low in the grass or vanishing into thin wisps as the day draws on, or drifting in again sometime in the night.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Veiled Galicia

This morning, as I looked out the galeria window over toast and coffee, the front pasture was veiled in mist and fog. This is a typical morning in Galicia, where mornings are misty and afternoons are sunny. Galicia is a land of hills and dales, with ancient villages of stone and winding rivers and streams everywhere. The topography and the proximity to two coasts -- Galicia is the Northwest corner of Spain -- contribute to the ever-changing weather of fog and sunshine (along with fierce rainstorms through the winters). We come in fall and spring, times of magic, when hillsides are lush and green from the wet winters. There always seems a little bit of mist somewhere, and in the mornings a gauzy cloak settles over the layers of greenery, each layer a bit paler, the landscape finally disappearing into dreamlike cloud swirls. I could sit at the window all day; it's an ever-changing scene: the mist thins, then thickens, then thins again, then fades entirely, and the sun spills golden highlights on everything, and then the hills become myriad shades of green.

Galicia has been called "Green Spain." It has also been called "Ireland with sunshine." I have never been to Ireland (although I would love to go someday), so I don't know how sunny Ireland can be. I do know it's often called "the Emerald Isle" because of its greenery. And Galicia does have a Celtic history. Some legends have it that Galicia was settled by Irish long ago; other legends say that Ireland was settled by Galicians long ago. In either case, Galicia has a strong identification with Ireland and there are even cultural exchanges between the two countries. In authentic Galician music, a prime instrument (whose name eludes me at present) is a variation of the bagpipe.

Galicia has its own language as well. Castiliano is spoken all over Spain, including Galicia, but the primary language here is Gallego, a "sister language" (not a dialect) of Portugese. Galicians are fluent in both languages, but lapse into Gallego more often than not, switching into perfect Castiliano to accomodate visitors from other places, including other parts of Spain. Signs in public places are also posted in both languages. (A pleasant offshoot is that a visitor can start picking up Gallego as well as Spanish). Until a few years ago, locals did not speak English, and our neighbors still do not. But, the influx of British ex-pats who have been buying and restoring old houses in so many villages, has created a new interest, and English language schools and classes have sprung up in the towns.

Still, except a phrase or two of English one hears from shop personnel, primary commercial communication is in Spanish. As a result, we are really forced to learn to speak Spanish, a bit of a thrill for us: Six years ago when we started coming, we were limited to the most basic "Como esta usted," with much thumbing through our pocket dictionaries. Now we can have actual conversations -- still limited, but a sign of progress.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Timeless Living

Our first week has flown by. Or rather it has drifted by, both dreamily and quickly.

Our flight was late last Friday evening. Our friends met us at the airport in Santiago, drove us to our area, and then whisked us to one of their favorite restaurants (Torre Vilarino, between Escairon and Eire) for a 10:00 p.m. dinner that turned into dancing until 2:00 a.m. Actually, 2:00 a.m. was when we had to give up, since it had been nearly 36 hours since we left our house in Sacramento. Normally, they would have danced on.

The next day, we walked around the aldea greeting all our neighbors. It is always like a homecoming to see them again. Eva brought us eggs, potatoes, and homemade wine that very afternoon. Later, after bringing in his sheep, Miguel brought us eggs and wine. These good people live with the cycles of nature and the seasons of their crops, and they share their bounty in a heartbeat. To reciprocate, I bake cakes and cook potato croquettes and samosas, but it seems a small reciprocation.

In the early evening, we walked down to the carretera, or highway, enjoying the peacefulness of the scenery -- layer on layer of distant hills speckled with tile roofs of villages; closer daisy-sprinkled pastures; and the sound of the cuckoo from a nearby woods.

Sunday we went into Monforte, a small city or big town, about twenty minutes away from our village, and had lunch at the Parador (pictured above). The Parador system is government sponsored and utilizes old castles and monasteries, turning them into tourist hotels with restaurants while preserving the old charm of the original structures. In the case of Monforte's Parador, it was formerly a castle of a Count de Lemos, but it has also had a monastery in its history, and its large, ornate chapel is still regularly in use.

The rest of the week has drifted by with trips to neighboring villages to shop, trying to catch up on e-mail and book reviews at our favorite WiFi cafe in Escairon, while my husband works online (he's an engineering consultant).

This is a beautiful time of year to come to Galicia. When we arrived a week ago, it was still chilly for the first two days, and buds were still tightly furled on the fruit trees. Suddenly they have popped out with pink (apple) and white (pear) blossoms, and the wisteria in the park in Monforte has started blooming, along with a remarkable pink-flowering tree that we can't identify. On arrival, the heather and gorse were already in full bloom and will continue so through the summer. The last few days the yellow broom is starting to blossom. Later in the summer the sprays of white Spanish broom will be everywhere. For now, cabbage and turnip greens are bright white and yellow splotches edging fields.

Monforte has had a family of storks nesting on the collegio for some time, but a large, new nest is perched atop the steeple of a church in Toiriz (on the way from our village to Escairon). Almost every day a new marvel reveals itself. Or maybe it's just that in the pace of life here, one has time to notice such simple beauty. Once outside the town, a glance in any direction shows worn, stone building, tile roofs, huge hydrangea bushes or pots of geraniums, vineyards and orchards at every turn. A woman herds cows across the road. A burro stands near the roadside. The vast, blue skies are filled with billowing white clouds. All seems timeless, carrying on the cycle of life as it has gone on for centuries.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

New Book Review: Three Rivers Rising: A Novel of the Johnstown Flood

It's Sunday instead of Friday, but here is this week's book review reposted from Sacramento Book Review. More reviews in every genre can be read at Sacramento Book Review and San Francisco Book Review. (Go take a peek.) Meanwhile, we are in Spain now, and I will be posting more about our visit in a couple of days. (Stay tuned.)

So: the review: This wonderful YA novel is written in poetry (a new reading experience for me.) It's a wonderful book I won't forget.

Three Rivers Rising: A Novel of the Johnstown Flood

By Jame Richards

Knopf Books for Young Readers, $16.99, 293 pages

In this compelling novel, three stories come together, like the three rivers of the title.

Celestia summers with her family at Lake Conemaugh, a reservoir created by the South Fork Dam. She and Peter, a resort worker, fall in love. Her father forbids the relationship. But, Celestia is determined to live her own life. When the dam breaks and floods Johnstown below, she and Peter manage to save each other, surviving disease and a near drowning.

Maura, a young mother with three children, lives on the banks of Little Conemaugh River. She is married to a train conductor. As the waters rush toward East Conemaugh and the towns below, her husband blows his train’s whistle long enough to warn others and save lives.

Kate’s fiancé died in a river accident years before. She has become a nurse, dedicated to caring for others. A nursing job brings her to East Conemaugh in time to help those fleeing the river torrents – including Kate and Peter, Maura and her family, and survivors of Johnstown where the flood wreaks the worst damage.

The lyrical language of this novel written in verse sweeps one into the story and doesn’t let go.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Varadan

Remember, you can read more book reviews at: Sacramento Book Review and San Francisco Book Review