Catalunya

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This post is an homage to berries–not just berries per se but the kind that just make you stupidly happy, they’re so good.

Maduixot, Catalan for strawberries.

I asked a woman in the market the other day how the word–so exotic looking–was pronounced, and she took great pleasure not only in pronouncing it but also in inviting me to practice it. “Maduixot,” she said.  I heard “mad-wii-zsaht.”  Then she gestured at me as if to say Your turn.  So I said the word in my best accent, which brought a big smile to her face. She pronounced it again with a teacherly nod, no doubt believing that repetition was key. Happy to play the part of the deferential language student, I said “maduixot” once more.  Truly, a beautiful word for a beautiful food coming into season.

Well, we bought some over the weekend, and I delighted in Miss Lavender’s reaction (she is a lover of maduixot–has been since childhood, when her dad used to grow them in the backyard for her). When she took her first bite, her eyes widened in surprise, and she actually gasped at the flavor bursting in her mouth.  I’d never seen anything like it!

The Eleven O’Clock Dad had the same reaction.  “Wow,” he said, with a bewildered shake of the head.

Then it was my turn. I thought, So they’re good, these maduixot, but really, what’s all the fuss?

Then I took a bite.

And I am not lying when I say that the sweetness just exploded on my tongue, a trait that perhaps only strawberries grown here in Catalunya are bred to possess??

Those shameless maduixot have pretty much taken over like they own the place: they found their way into the crepe I made Miss Lavender yesterday; they found their way into the shake she made herself tonight; they have become the new finger food of choice.

But, hey.  You can afford to be cheeky when you have a name that isn’t French but sounds like it, and when you are so scandalously red you look fake (though you’re not!), and when the Eleven O’Clock Clan talks about you with such reverence you might be pardoned for thinking they worship you.

Les maduixes.  Locally grown.  Yes, we’re a tiny bit infatuated.  Especially Miss Lavender, whose nickname, way back when she was scarcely bigger than a berry, was Strawberry Girl.  (And that’s no lie either!)

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Torre de Saportella: How Bronte-esque!

by Becky on January 10, 2013

in Travel

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Sometimes we stumble across such magnificent oldness, for lack of a better word! How can you not feel downright literary when you stare up at the crumbling walls of a once-spendid place, wondering if you saw Rochester (let’s say) ruminating in the garret or if your eyes deceived you. Naturally it would have had to be the Catalan version of Rochester, only slightly less dishy than the English one.

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Goose wanders these old structures with his camera, his imagination running wild as he takes in the heights and depths, or the old stables, for example, where he can picture himself saddling up his horse and riding off into the mists.  Having run, climbed, explored, and photographed, he no longer has any need for hats, jackets, gloves, or anything else his overattentive mother insists he wear.

It’s a fine place, this countryside, for small people with big stories rolling around in their heads.

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Take two siblings–a nine-year-old boy, let’s say, and a fourteen-year-old girl.  Tuck them into the woods behind Rupit, in Catalunya, Spain.  Invite them to run.

Now watch them.

Remember when you could run like that?  With such singleminded abandon?

If you cannot, then study this boy and his sister, their joyful movments the perfect trigger for a capricious memory.

Now do you remember?

I do.

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Eleven O’Clock Road Trip: Rupit

by Becky on December 3, 2012 · 2 comments

in Travel

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From Pruit, we took off for Rupit, a town literally hewn into the hillsides. I felt like I was stepping into a Tolkien novel. All I needed was a proper cape and some (really good) movie make-up.

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Naturally the town’s suspension bridge gave the Eleven O’Clock Kids a round case of the sillies.

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And Miss Lavender found the day quite fine indeed. (If a bit chilly.)

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But what delighted me perhaps more than anything was seeing my camera-shy Zinnia Girl decide she wanted to make friends. (With the camera, of course!) Must have been the knit beret she wore, a legacy from my mother, who wore it to cover her bare head when she was fighting lung cancer years ago. Grandmother giving granddaughter a little nudge: “Let me see your pretty smile,” she might have been saying to her.

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Did you see that, Grandma Lynn? Did you see that girl on the bridge?–the one to whom you were never properly introduced?

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And did you notice how, beyond the fact that she looks quite winning in your black beret, her eyes are unusually warm? Just like yours.

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Ohh, I sure hope so.

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Seems like when you’re on the road, you notice things more.  Like the late fall leaves.  Or maybe they’re extra bright here in Catalunya, which is why they demand acknowledgement!

Sometimes I watch the Eleven O’Clock Crew and think, Silly me, that I can’t seem to abandon my Highly Serious Life long enough to connect with my inner Leaf Tosser, who is no doubt tisk-tisking at my lost opportunity. We all have one, don’t you know?–an Inner Kid dying to sweep up greedy armfuls of Everything and pitch the goods as high as they’ll go. Could be that the litmus of our youthfulness is the relative excitement with which we bound through the courtyards of old monasteries, foraging for things either to save (acorns) or throw (big, dry leaves).

You ever think about that?

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At home in the states, each of my kids has his or her own orbit, complete with school, activities, friends, sports, and what not. Here, in contrast, it’s mostly the “what not,” which generally means exploring the country, something we do a lot of.  What Not has its advantages.  I mean, how often, when you’re seventeen, do you spend the day zigzagging the countryside from one castle to another?–most of them hundreds of years old?

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From kindly old gentlemen who function as self-appointed tour guides, you learn about the feudal system of goverment and how it functioned in Northern Spain. From younger siblings who want to scale the walls of every old fortress your family happens upon, you learn patience. From the undulating hills, everywhere flecked with medieval towns, you learn that life before the Twentieth Century really existed and that it was by turns violent and peaceful.

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Sans your American Life, what do you do?  You travel.  And you learn to see!

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This morning, in a small town in Catalunya, in an old church high up on a hill, Miss Zinnia sang for a man of mature years who took the time to give us an impromptu tour.  He showed us through the church, rebuilt after the Spanish Civil War.

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By European standards, it is brand new.  But the gorgeous art work on the walls dates to the 1500’s.  And the sarcophagus, to the 1100’s.  He was proud indeed of his church, this gentleman, and, after telling us the story of its reconstruction and contents, he needed to be thanked properly.  So I suggested to Miss Zinnia that she sing for him as a gesture of gratitude.  When she agreed, I explained that my daughter had a gift for him–a short song.  Immediately he sat down, ready for her music.

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Hearing a young person sing in a stone church with a vibrant echo is a near surreal experience.  When that person is your child, the experience is sublime.  So thought our fine gentleman, too.  When he rose at the conclusion of Pie Jesu, he had tears in his eyes.  “I have become emotional,” he said in Spanish, clearing his throat.  He explained that he had a granddaughter just Miss Z.’s age.    Clearly, he missed her.  And clearly, he felt he had been duly thanked for his time.

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It may not be practical to break into song each time a kind person needs to be thanked.  But in a country church frequented by few people, a song was perfect.

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Eleven O’Clock Road Trips

by Becky on November 20, 2012

in Travel

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Years ago we lived in Carmel, California, a place so beautiful you could only otherwise imagine it on the front of a postcard. Colliding with all the tourists there always made me smile. Inevitably, they’d wander down to the bottom of Ocean Avenue, content to put their feet in the sand at Fourth Street. I always admired the folks who hiked all the way down to the River Beach, the place the locals owned.

We’re River Beachers today, heading up toward the mountains to poke around in the spots the locals claim. But they’re marvelous sharers, these Catalunyans. So gracious, and always eager to give us little tours when we ask questions. I could learn a thing or two from them.

I’ll be back with stories.

Hasta pronto!

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The Poblet Monastery, a UNESCO world heritage site, is what you might call A Place of Serious Historical Importance.

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This girl, standing outside the walls of the monstery and ready to toss a handful of yellow leaves to the winds, is what you might call A Young Woman of Serious Historical Importance (if for no other reason than that her smile looks rather fetching in a conspiratorial way). Which of the two things do you imagine is more likely to prompt me to say, “Oh my!”

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I bet you’re right.

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I saw these smiles today, and I wanted to eat them, just swallow them down to see if having three big, toothy grins rolling around inside me would pump up my own smile.

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I decided that if there’s ever a time that I can look at these photos of our day in the Catalunyan countryside and not burst out laughing, I should check to see if I have a pulse.

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Just before I said goodbye to my older son nearly three months ago, I challenged him to smile big, everyday, for a whole year, just to see how it felt. He immediately warmed to the idea, and we decided to call the effort 365 Smile. Sometimes we exchange stories about the people we trade smiles with. I actually still remember some of the faces those smiles belong to.

Man, it feels good to watch people get their smiles out.

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Feels just as good to remember that I have one too.

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