My Adopted Village

Do you have a village? If the answer to that question is yes, you’re most likely Spanish, or—as in my case—an adopted Spaniard. Mario’s village is called Manzanal del Barco, and it has a total population of 156, according to the Spanish Wikipedia article. Now, unlike many Spanish people, Mario does not actually enjoy the village, at least not for long periods of time.

Nonethless, “hay que ir a veces,” at least to show la guiri what true village life is like.


So last Saturday, off we went, as there were several festive activites going on in our beloved Manzanal—even if there was only one real holiday, on May 15: San Torcuato. You see, every city in Spain, big or small, has its own patron saint, and Manzanal’s is San Torcuato (Saint Torquatus in English). And, like any great Spanish party, they extend it so that it goes on all week long!

We went on the 19th to hand out invitations to several of Mario’s relatives, and to see—what else?—the bulls. Now when most Americans think of bulls, they think of “running with the bulls” or bullfights. No, no: this was more like bugging a heifer. Seriously, it was not a bull. It was a vaquilla, or a heifer. A female cow. Actually several female cows, as apparently bothering them for too long isn’t nice, so there have to be more than one.


Not so bothered in this picture.

I won’t say much about the politics of bullfighting, nor this type of spectacle, but it’s not uncommon in Spain, and the whole village came out to see it.


This guy had to escape.


Waiting for their turns with the red flag.


Also on this trip, I learned of another interesting tradition: el mayo (maypole in English), which is a trunk that stands in the main square during the month of May. It’s made by cutting down a tree and then placing it in the main square, where previously a hole is dug so that it doesn’t fall. The also add another branch from a special type of oak tree called an encina. It’s a sign of fertility (oh goody!), because it stands for spring and new life.



Have you ever been to a Spanish village? What did you think?

Shut up, Spain is Better

This post title is harsh because I am angry. (Okay, not really. Just irritated. Sometimes.)

A lot of people romanticize Europe. It’s cool; I did it, too. I used to think of Europe as all cobblestoned streets, cafés filled with a low yellow light, and freshly baked bread carried under your arm. It paints a pretty picture, doesn’t it?


But the reason why I’m – grrr – angry frustrated is that most people, when they think of places they want to go, do not think of Spain. I admit it, I’m jealous. Tengo celos. (I said it in Spanish so you know it’s goin’ down.)

When I say wine, do you think Italy? France? California?…Spain?

I think of Spain, now and forever. It has great wine, and heck, if you’re actually in the country, it’s cheaper than water (the house wine, that is). I never liked red wine until Spain and now I’m very partial to it indeed.

My dad, however, may never really get wine. And that’s okay. But he gets it – Spanish wine is tops.


If I say delicious European food, what do you think of? Italy? France? Greece? … Spain?

You should. I mean that. I know, I know, it’s easy to go to a restaurant with the menu in English that serves you greasy fries and dried out pork. It’s not good. But guess what? That’s not true Spanish food. True Spanish food is fresh, delicious, made from the very best ingredients.

So sorry so yellow. Again, Dad looks odd. Sorry Dad?

If you want the good stuff, I suggest making a Spanish friend (boyfriend / girlfriend works too – ahem) and going to his or her house. Usually, almost always in fact, the food is good. My favorite meals were the simple ones – lentejas being one of them. It was hearty, delicious, and good for you. Cha-cha-ching!

When you think of a beautiful country, do you think of Spain? I do. Spain has it all – the climate in the north is like Ireland’s (rainy and green), the climate in the south is more like the southwest of the U.S. (dry and hot), and in the middle you have a temperate climate like where I’m from, the Midwest. Oh, and you also have beautiful beaches. And some islands thrown in for good measure.

Best Beaches  Canary Island Beaches

When you think of nice people…you should think of Spain.

Now, at first glance you may think to yourself, these people are not so nice (unless, of course, you are in Andalucía where they are a bit more, shall we say, exuberant). They don’t usually say anything as they shove past you in the grocery store. People don’t smile at strangers. Waiters don’t coddle you.

But, but, but…if you take the time to get to know – really get to know them – you have friends for life. I don’t know how I would’ve gotten through the past year without Mario’s parents to take care of me, feed me, worry about me. How would I have known about getting my hair appointment for the wedding? Who would have made me endless bowls of soup and worried way too much about me when I ran outside in the freezing temperatures? I am blessed. But there are so many Spaniards like Pepita and Jesús.

I came off as rather negative at times about Spain this past year and by writing this I wanted to clear things up – it was my problem, not Spain’s. Right now, Spain’s problems do not include any of the following: wine, food, beauty, people, or lack of stupid things to do with bulls.


They do, however, include unemployment. Boo.

But back to the title – Italy is cool; France is all right; but shut up, Spain is better.

My Top 10 Myths about Spain

What do you think of when I say “Spain” or, even better, “España”? Do bulls, flamenco dancers, and jarras of sangría spring to mind? Do you imagine yourself in a sunny land of jolly ladies wearing typical dancing outfits singing all the while? Well, I got news for ya, kid. That just ain’t true.

I’ve had ample time and opportunity to get to know Spain on a deeper level. Spain has, like any country, several stereotypes and myths that are perpetuated by the media and/or Big Brother, depending on how you see it. I’d like to address some of these myths and stereotypes.

1. The relaxed attitude is refreshing

Not true. It might be nice when you’re on vacation, but when you live here, it’s sometimes frustrating. See my post on the siesta for an example.

2. Sangría is Spain’s national drink

Continue reading

Bulls … Not as Exciting as You Might Have Thought

According to

“Every year from July 7th-14th thousands pack into Pamplona to start Spain’s most famous bull-running fiesta to honour Navarre capital’s patron saint, San Fermin … [on] July 7th, runners (mainly young men) gather at the bottom of Santo Domingo, which is the starting line. Then, as a rocket goes off, a number of fighting bulls are let out onto the streets. A second rocket is then let off to make sure everyone knows the bulls are loose in the street. The bulls run along the narrow street 825 metres (half a mile) to a bull ring. The runners dash along in front of the bulls, aiming to feel the breath of the bull on their backs, getting as close as possible—all whilst trying to avoid getting gored by their sharp horns.”

Bulls are kind of a big deal in Spain. There are even bull silhouettes that lines the highways (which turns out to be a sherry advertisement). There is bullfighting, bull running, and just love for bulls in general. (But ham, ham is what they eat. Don’t let yourself be fooled. Beef will never measure up to a good salchichón or serrano ham.) I had the pleasure, so to say, of experiencing this on Saturday.

I traveled with Mario to Manzanal del Barco, which has a population, according to Wikipedia, of 194 habitants. I would venture to say it’s less than 100 in the winter. Mario’s family has another house there, and his parents like to go there on weekends. It’s very rural, with no grocery stores. No fear, though. There is indeed a bar where you can get tapas/beer/wine/soda. And a truck comes round with bread from the village next door, Carbajales. Carbajales is where the bull spectacle, if you will, was held.

According to its website, they celebrate their patron saint from September 8-10. The best event is called “Espanto,” which literally means “Horror.” Yes, the Spanish like to scare. On the 8th, they release the bulls from the famous cannon corral. A rocket goes off to let the spectators know they have been released. A few dozen men on horseback accompany them, carrying spears, which they use to prod the bulls into action. However, not all of our amateur lancers are filled with courage, as I saw.

Not Brave Bullfighters

Surrounding this are more spectators in cars. We followed in the car and got out when it didn’t seem too dangerous. But the damn bull was quite content to do absolutely nothing. I mean, I can hardly blame the poor fellow. Here he was, probably just hungry and bored under the hot Castilla sun, and there were around a dozen men only pretending to poke him. That’s nowhere near enough to get his hackles up. He just watched, we watched, the men on horseback pretend to spear him … this went on for about an hour.

Bull Watching Carbajales

Then, suddenly, the bull moved. So we followed. I had no. idea. why. I suppose I’m not Spanish enough. I just didn’t get the excitement of seeing a bull trot away from men with semi-sharp weapons. Also, it was hot, dusty, and bright. On days like that, this American likes her air conditioning and drinks with ice. Lots and lots of ice. Did I mention air conditioning?


All this was made better by new friend, María. María is five years old and very verbal.  However, my name, Kaley, was quite the test. She kept calling me, rather inexplicably, Marlin, like the father from Finding Nemo. After a while, I ceased objecting and became, simply, Marlin. (However, the next day María claimed not to know who Marlin was. I was now Kaley.) María vacilated between enthusiasm and fear. When the bull first came near us, she bolted to the car, yelling, “Me first, me first!” Upon closing the car door, she breathed, “I’m safe.” However, at times, she whined and whined to be let out, which was not allowed. I loved learning little kid Spanish from her, which, by the way, is much better than mine. (All language students will understand the amazingness of little children’s language learning. It is, quite simply, a miracle.)

The day ended, of course, with tapas. We ate pinchos (appetizers) standing up, off a stick, amidst a rowdy Spanish crowd. It was a day that could not have been more true to Zamora, to Castilla, to Spain.