May 2016: Adiós Spain


Banner hanging on a Madrid government palace demanding Spain accept more refugees.

Banner hanging on a Madrid government palace demanding Spain accept more refugees.

We are back in Guayaquil this morning, after a 14-hour flight from Madrid with a brief stopover in Quito. We ate three times,I watched four movies – a first for me – and Michael played non-stop games of electronic chess. No sleep, as we were flying w and all was daylight, but today we are awake too early, hungry at the wrong times, and will have to resist going to sleep at about 3:00 this afternoon. Today, after Michael shops at the SuperMaxi (always thinking of the next meal!), we’ll take the bus to Cañar – four hours – and our Spain vacation will be at an end. It has been a wonderful break, but my head is in Cañar already, thinking through all to be done this last month: the visit of an archivist colleague, a photo exhibit to mount in Cañar, a new project with University of Cuenca, a visit to the Fulbright Commission in Quito to present the archive project of the last two years. Michael’s heart is still in Spain, however, as he scratches out his shopping list. He reads it for me: jamón serrano, cheese, bread, fresh tomato, onion, mussels (?), special white tuna, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, pimiento (red pepper), asparagus, anchovies, water, orange, melon. These trips to Spain motivate Michael to new culinary heights previously unknown in Cañar, a great benefit to all who come around, although many of the ingredients can only be had in Cuenca or Guayaquil. Speaking of….P1140224 P1140259

Cuenca, Spain is famous today for its “hanging houses,” built on a solid rock escarpment over an incredibly steep gorge that served as a secure stronghold for the Muslim Arabs when they came in 714. P1140222Then, of course, the Christians liked the place for the same reasons when they reconquered Spain in 11th century. Since then, it’s had its ups and downs with invasions, wars, royal intrigues, the Inquisition, and the economic collapse of 2008 from which Spain is still recovering. (Our young woman taxi driver told us the unemployment rate for people her age, in Cuenca, is about 60%. She is buying her taxi and license – “the cost of an apartment, but what else can we do but invest in our own future? There are no jobs.”  We’ve heard “there are no jobs” many times before  – new university graduates back home living with their parents, unable to marry or start their independent lives.P1140228

Back to the two Cuencas: In 1557, in what is now Ecuador, a Spanish conquistador- ordered the new settlement to be called Cuenca after his hometown in Spain. Nostalgic, and struck by the beauty of the place, it’s three rivers and the barranco, where I suppose he could imagine “hanging houses” a few centuries hence, it appears to me a miniature vision. We had only two brief days in Spain’s Cuenca, but would have liked more. It’s a geographically gorgeous town, with lots of walking trails and serious hikes. An additional highlight for me was a visit to the historical archive, a modern operation in an ancient building that was the 15th-century local headquarters of the Inquisition, where they tortured “heretics, muslims and jews” to become Catholics. Some cells still remain in caves in the foundations – we were not allowed to visit – but were told you can still read a poem scratched into the wall by one unlucky prisoner, repenting and asking for mercy.P1140261 P1140265

caracolesFinally, for those who asked for more details on food, I will say only that we tried a few things we don’t usually eat in Cañar. Strolling the small town of Ubeda, we saw folks in outdoor cafes sucking on little shells served in glasses. When I asked, I was given a serving of caracoles – little snails – which I dutifully sucked but didn’t’ much like. Michael passed.

Another day, in Cuenca, we were given as an appetizer chipirones, fried baby squid in chocolate sauce. Doesn’t sound that good, but was excellent in a small amount (didn’t get a proper photo; below Internet mage of stuffed baby squid).

baby squidAnd the day before we left Madrid, we took refuge from a thunderstorm in a small place near our hotel called El Anchovito and ended up with a lunch of  barnacles, percebes in Spanish. We’d had them once before, in Galicia. These were tasty, and although the waitress said they’d come fresh from Galicia, they didn’t squirt quite as much (I remember we were given bibs in Galicia) and M. says were not as good. But still a treat. When you first see these little elephant feet you can’t imagine how or why or what, but once you manage to get the “top” off, you suck out a little morsel that tastes purely of the sea


Though there’s so much more – I wanted to write about visiting Federico Lorca’s birthplace near Granada; the audiobook Spain in our Hearts, that we listened to while traveling, about the Americans who fought in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939); and the great exhibit on art and artists during and after that terrible time that we saw in Madrid, that has to be it for Spain, 2016. (Though I’ll try for a special entry on books and travel, a funny and frustrating and woeful tale.)

But now it’s the next day, we are back in Cañar, and as I write this I see the silhouette of a hummingbird on the bedroom curtains, fluttering around the fuschia and calling me back to this world.

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9 thoughts on “May 2016: Adiós Spain

  1. Welcome home (your second home)! I share Michael’s cravings for Spanish food. Ever since savoring incredible cuisine across Spain, I have been dissatisfied with Portland’s self-congratulatory restaurant scene. Spain’s Old World genius creates honest, delicious, and high-quality food sans pretense, hyperinflated prices, or preening wait staff. In Ecuador, I think you and all guests are fortunate to dine at Chez Miguel Jenkins, one of the hemisphere’s finest and most authentic eateries.

  2. I love barnacles, and also snails. In the Azores we couldn’t eat the snails because people put bait in their gardens to keep them from devouring their food. The squid looked awesome!

    Welcome home. We are looking forward to your return to your other home, but sad that you will miss my mother’s visit for Soren’s graduation. Tell Michael that I was proud of myself for repairing our toilet myself–I replaced the supply line and the other innards, a job he used to do for us. His retirement is empowering me 🙂 Thank God, he was not a brain surgeon.

  3. ¡Oh! España siempre está en mi corazón. And it`s the same with me, I always miss the food. Angela loves chipirones and Antonio “cepias”. We love sea food in Spain and “jamón ibérico de bellota” and streets full of life, the beauty and magnificence of the rugged landscapes of Castilla or the greenery of Galicia and all the Cantabrian. I really loved all this. I really enjoyed all the travel notes and photographs.

  4. We took a picture of the same sign, welcoming refugees, but didn’t see any. A big ick to those little snails, I could only eat one, but later, in Salamanca, had the large variety, with lots of garlic and cooked over a wood fire, quite good. Still in Portugal, avoiding the salted cod!
    Maybe we can meet up in PDX in August?

  5. I too am so sorry we’ll miss Soren’s graduation, and Megan’s visit. I think I told you we’re changing our schedule, but not until 2017. So we’ll be there for his next graduation. And Cosmo’s. And Zane’s.
    Snails: I didn’t get the taste, but will try again. People sucked out all the creatures floating in the glass, then drank the liquid. I forgot to mention the wonderful anchovies and sardines we ate almost daily.
    We’ll be home before you know it – on July 3 – anxious to connect with our Portland family again.

  6. absolutely! We’re be back in Portland in August and look forward to meeting up. We’re thinking of Portugal next year, so you have to tell us about your favorite travel places.

  7. I think you were travelling west, not east, home to Guayaquil. We just back today from Vancouver over Iceland and have the jetlag too, after a super trip to a seaside house on the Sunshine Coast, then a rock art conference in Nlaka’pamux country in the desert behind the Cascade Mts. Richard, Liv, and soon, on to Japan for a conference.

  8. you are so right – (west, not east). Embarrassing mistake I’ve corrected. And it’s you and Liv you have been flying east. Will you be back in BC this year? I hope so, we must try to get together.

  9. Hello Judy
    I met you and Michael at Angelina and Joel’s holiday party a couple of years ago.
    I was in Ecuador about 3 years ago now and had hoped to get to Cañar but didn’t have time, so I’m returning next year. I’ll arrive in Quito Jan. 27th, having just 2 weeks in Ecuador before going on to Peru and Bolivia. Last trip I got as far South as Guamote, a very small town with a fascinating Saturday market of the indigenous groups from the mountains near by.
    I would love to hook up with you in Cañar if possible. I live very close to you in Portland; perhaps that might work out also.
    I loved your two books.

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