Monday, April 25, 2011

La Mona Is Not a Doll

La mona a cake? How absurd it sounded to me when I learned a cake called la mona, is dessert eaten on Easter Monday, and from what I have learned, a life time tradition in Catalonia. Yes, it is an Easter cake.

All my life I grew up hearing the word mona, and I knew that word meant a toy that I could play with. It was a toy I could dress and undress, remove all the pretty bows from a doll’s hair, and repaint fading red  lips with a marker. Yes, in my Mexican Spanish, mona was a toy to play with and not something to slice and eat. How did a word I have forever associated with a doll turn into cake here in Spain? The answer involves an Arabic word origin, munna, meaning “provision for the mouth.”

In Catalonia, this Easter cake is given to a godchild from the godfather. I had previously explained that godparents have a responsibility every Easter to give a palma or palmón to a godchild on Palm Sunday and this delicious cake on Easter Monday. This cake is made in other Spanish autonomous communities, such as Valencia and the Balearic Islands.

The cake is decorated with a yellow glaze or chocolate creme frosting, a thin filling in the middle, and toasted crushed almonds on the side. Colorful feathers and a large chocolate egg garnish the top. This tasty cake is a wonderful provision for the mouth for Catholics having observed Lent, but especially for a godchild.

But don’t let the traditional prerequisites of a Mona stop you from buying one at a pastry shop, it did not stop me. 

 Fins aviat!
A pastry shop in the Born area of Barcelona.
Typical mona Easter cake with the chicks, feathers, candied fruit, and chocolate eggs.
This is the one we ate, I did miss the chocolate egg.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Sant Jordi a.k.a. Saint George

Part I—The Present Tradition

In America, as in many other countries, Valentine’s Day on February 14 marks the day for the commercial sale of roses, chocolates, and romantic dinners. A single or a dozen roses is given to a lady friend as a chivalrous expression from a male partner.

In Catalonia, Valentine’s Day is also celebrated, but not by all. Most Catalans refrain from participating on this non-Catalan holiday to celebrate instead Sant Jordi. They wait for April 23rd for an exchange llibres and rosas. It’s a holiday similar to Valentine’s Day involving roses and love, but goes much further to denote Catalan patriotism, being that St. Jordi is the patron saint of Catalonia and Barcelona.

People pour the streets of Barcelona to slowly pace the endless book and rose stalls. Couples stroll crowded streets looking for the perfect book that will please, in this case, a male partner. Book stores from all over the city set up in different locations to sell the latest thriller, best seller, or poetry book. Traditionally on St. Jordi, it is the male figure that receives a book while he gives a red rose to his sweetheart. This exchange of llibres i roses  is not just between els amants, but also between family, friends or anyone you may esteem. Modern times, however, has altered the idea of un home receiving a book; nowadays, the dona also receives one.

There are as many rose stands as there are book stalls. From florists to college students, everyone is out to make a euro. College students hope to raise funds for their university club as florists hope to advertise their flower shop. You will see roses ribboned with the Catalonia flag symbol—four red stripes and five yellow stripes. The rose will also have a wheat spear to symbolize fertility. The most popular street to visit is Rambla Catalunya that begins at the northern end that intersects Avinguda Diagonal, and a few paces away from a dreary looking sculpture of St. Jordi by sculptor Joan Rebull.

You may also visit the 2012 clicking here  St. Jordi 2012 in Black and White

Lovely, velvety roses
Blue roses are an alternative to the innocuous red ones.
Roses and wheat bundles.
Musicians  adding a festive beat in front of a government building.
I know this cigarette smoking man.
Knights selling roses.

Writers waiting to sign autographs.

Rambla Catalunya--so crowded with people.

People sorting through books.

No explanation needed.

Part II—Is He Golden legend or Real?

I could start by telling you that this famous knight slew a people eating dragon in Montblanc in the province of Tarragona some 100 kilometers south of Barcelona or I could tell you he really existed some 2,000 years ago. Jordi or George was the son of Gerontius, a roman solider from Cappadocia and Polychronia, his Palestine mother from Israel. George was born in Syria Palaestina somewhere between 275 AD and 285 AD. Both parents came from noble Christian families and consequently raised George as a Christian. When his father dies, Polychronia returns to Lods, Israel with little George in tow and gives him an outstanding education. George, however, decides he wants to follow in the footsteps of his father and becomes a soldier.
He goes to the imperial city of Nicomedia, which is presently called İznik in Turkey, and applies to be a soldier in Emperor’s Diocletian’s army. He gladly gives George the job as soldier having remembered George’s brave Roman father Gerontius. As George matures into his 20s, he proves to be a mighty fine soldier and is promoted to Imperial Guard. Everything seems to go in George’s favor until Diocletian issues an edict to persecute all Christians. George/Jordi bravely declares to Diocletian that he will not kill Christians, openly declaring that he is also a Christian.

Diocletian is stunned and maybe a bit guilt ridden that Gerontius’s son will face death if he does not renounce his Christian beliefs for pagan worship. Diocletian tries to persuade George/Jordi with land gifts, money, and slaves. But none of those material gifts sway George/Jordi to give up his Christian beliefs. Knowing his mortal fate will soon be over, George gives away all his wealthy possessions to the poor.

Diocletian decides to slowly torture George, perhaps hoping that George will give up his Christian beliefs and become a pagan. George, however,  is eventually decapitated in front of Nicomedia’s city walls on April 23, 303 AD. It is here that martyrdom for Saint George begins, his body is returned to Lydda in Palestine for proper burial. Christians begin to venerate him as a martyr and a church is eventually erected in his honor during the reign of Constantine I. The basilica is destroyed in 1010 AD and subsequently rebuilt in honor of St. George by the Crusaders. Veneration for St. George extends to the West by the Crusaders and that is why this popular saint is patron to countries such as Portugal, England, Russia, Greece, and many others. 

Forlorn looking St. Jordi by Joan Rebull.

If you were a princess, would you trust this knight to save you?
St. Jordi sculpture by Eusebi Arnau on the facade of Casa Amatller by architect Puig I Cadafalch.

St. Jordi on the facade of the Palau de la Generalitat; sculpture by Andreu Aleu. This patron saint is an ever present figure on buildings throughout Catalonia.

Part III—Montblanc Legend

Tuesday, January 13, 756 AD
Flames, flames, flames. Lots of red fire licking flames in my village of Montblanc by that ever persistent dragon that cannot keep his belly full. Everyday this beast comes out from its cave and pounds the earth with his weight, letting us know that soon he will be at the gates of our village, bellowing his cry until a feeble villager throws an animal at this continually famished beast. His tail pounds the ground, shaking homes made of mudbricks and thatch. The quakes sometimes upset rooftops and send chunks of straw to the muddied ground below.

All the villagers are out of chickens, goats, and only a few sheep remain. The remaining few will be given to the dragon today tied to a post outside the village walls.

Saturday—March 10, 756 AD
I feel the earth tremble again. The dragon will be at the gate again. The villagers met last night at the cavern and have agreed to give up their livestock to the dragon. We will be left without milk and meat soon with this new implication. Already the village suffers from the want of eggs, goat’s milk, and sheep wool. Farmer Bernat has the largest stock of cattle, and has agreed to tie a cow every third night at the gate. The village men do not know how to rid the mountain side of the dragon. They ploy ways to trap the dragon and kill him, but none so far have been set out to rid our people from this greedy dragon. The weather is still miserable outside and we feel hopeless.

Thursday, April 20, 756 AD
Terrible, sad news has reached all the villagers, including me. There are no more cows left to give to that raging beast that torments us. There are no more animals left to sacrifice. I never thought that I would have reason to fear for my life behind the castle walls that protect my family and me from danger. I have watched the village grow in togetherness for fear of the dragon. But my father, the king, has agreed with the villagers that a human sacrifice is presently needed to quell the dragon's hunger until a solution is found to slay him. The name of every villager was written on paper, including my family's. The first name drawn was mine. My knees weakened and I swayed in fright as my nursemaid held me up when my father told me of this abhorrent news. My father wept on his throne when he told me that I would be the first maiden sent to the dragon for sacrifice. News of my cruel destiny reached other villages as far as Balaguer and La Seu d’Urgell, and knights have come to my father’s castle with a promise to slay the dragon. If they succeed in slaying the dragon, my father has promised my hand in marriage. 

Saturday, April 22, 756 AD
My father cannot bear to see me tied outside our village fortification, right outside the portcullis. So I have decided I will walk up the mountain at first light and meet the dragon in his cavern. My father and mother will be spared the agony of watching that cruel beast snatch me with his powerful jaws and devour their only child.

Sunday, April 23, 756 AD
I am alive! I had almost reached the cave when I heard the sound of hooves approaching. I looked over my shoulder and  saw a young knight bearing a long and gleaming sword at his side. He wore a white tunic with a red cross, like the ones I have seen crusaders wear when they stop for rest at our castle. He asked my name and immediately knew of my royal title. His knight name is Jordi, but he did not identify for whose lordship he battles. When I explained why I was climbing up the mountain he cast me aside and told me to hide in the woods. I did as he said, and kept a fair distance from him as he rode up to the dragon’s den.

The alert dragon immediately stepped out from his dwelling and without delay blew fire from his mouth. The quick and agile knight held up his shield and protected himself from the fire. This happened a few times as Knight Jordi held his shield up to the flames to keep from scorching. Upon the third fire breath, the knight dropped his sword unable to hold onto both the sword and the sizzling shield. He swiftly claimed his sword again and ran beneath the dragon’s belly; the dragon lolled his long neck from side to side looking for the knight. A few tree tops were scorched as the furious dragon spewed forth his flames thinking the knight had run to the woods. I could feel the remaining heat from the tree cinders, as I was not too far away from the dragon and the knight.

The brave knight regained his strength, and when the dragon twisted its neck back trying to look for him, Jordi came out from under the dragon’s belly and plunged the sword straight to the dragon’s heart. The dragon’s limp neck hung forward looking for the knight. The beast opened its jaws again to breathe fire or perhaps to devour Jordi. The knight removed the sword from the dragon’s heart and swung it at the dragon’s head, creating a second pool of blood.

The dragon’s head crashed to the ground almost crushing the knight. Seeing that the dragon was almost vanquished, the knight struck the dragon’s heart a second time.  Blood poured steadily from the beast’s heart to the ground, until its last beat made his entire body collapse lifelessly. I neared the exhausted knight and everything in me surged with relief and excitement—our village would no longer suffer. I neared Knight Jordi and planted on his cheek a kiss of gratitude. He appeared surprised at my gesture and faintly smiled at me. I felt something underground push my feet upward, making my feet slip sideways. I held on to the knight and he immediately set me aside. He stared at the ground in disbelief, as did I. A long stem began to sprout from the ground where the dragon’s blood coagulated. The stem quickly turned into a stalk and when it reached the height of my waist, a rose bloomed. 

We stood there in awe of such unexplained phenomena. When the rose stopped growing the knight cut the rose from the stalk and gave it to me as a gift to commemorate the dragon's death. 

Live action
Which Holiday Do I Prefer?

Cigarette smoking man and blogger.

Both. I appreciate the focus of love on Valentine’s Day with the romance of dining at a restaurant. I also like Sant Jordi because of the romantic legend behind the celebration, the passionate search for the right book, and of course the rose. 

I decided that I would give my home (man) a book by Paul Auster, Sunset Park, to get him out of his preference for high fantasy epic books. He on the other hand decided to give me a book by Catalan journalist Pilar Rahola. Fins ara and petonets!

p.s. don't forget to check out Sant Jordi 2012

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Diumenge de Rams or Palm Sunday

The word “interesting” registered in my mind when I first saw the long palm staffs young children held in their hand on Palm Sunday here in Barcelona. I admit that I was fascinated with the stark difference in celebration of Palm Sunday here in Spain with that of my experience of it in California. Growing up in a small unremarkable city, we made palm chains in catechism class at St. Benedict’s. We were given palm strands to weave into chains or fold to make a cross. Meanwhile, adults attending service would receive palm strands outside church doors that were blessed afterward during mass by the priest waving his aspergillum. My family would come home with palm strands, and we apprentices of palm weaving at Sunday school, would bend the fronds with care and attention to duplicate the weaves learned in class to make braids.
Those hand held works of apparent art made back home appear diminutive and dull compared to the palmón and palma that young catalan children hold in their puny hand on Palm Sunday. Not only are these palm creations twice the size of the little person holding it, but is decorated with ribbon and sugared goodies. It is quite the tradition for families to attend church and participate in a mass blessing of the palms outside the church by the priest waving his aspergillum as custom dictates.

Some families may attend for religious purposes. They attend mass to celebrate Jesus’ triumphant arrival in Jerusalem, who rode upon a donkey as crowds flung palm fronds and cloaks to the ground for him to tread on, an act reserved for people regarded in the highest honor. Other families are there in celebration as an outing for children to enjoy. So I ask myself, who gives these palm staffs to children? The response to this inquiry is the child’s godmother. If you are asked to be godmother to someone’s child, it becomes your responsibility to gift your goddaughter/son with a palmón or palma. Boys get the long palm staff with a ribbon tied to the top part and girls get a short hand held palma that is intricately woven in plaits to create different latern style forms with hearts and crosses. Some may have more than one tier of braided or curled palm fronds. When my mother-in-law was a child, caramel rosaries hung from the palmas. I instead saw popular candy; packs of kid craze rubber band bracelets and plastic whistles hanging from them.

A different type of branch was on the scene, hand held branches of laurel leaves by women. After they are blessed, the leaves are dried and used in the kitchen for cooking. As for the palmones and palmas, they were once hung on the balconies until the following year. I assume nowadays they are thrown out when the novelty has worn out.

Side note: I love this word, aspergillum. I am fascinated by this hand held object dunked into the aspersorium, so that the little sponge inside it becomes soaked with holy water. 

Sant Cugat Monestary--My intention was to drive into Barcelona and witness Palm Sunday at the Cathedral, but lower back pain kept in my town. Secondly, I forgot to recharge the battery to my camera. I only shot about 15 pictures before the camera died. 
Elderly lady holding laurel branches. 
As the priest blesses the palms, children pound the ground with them. These little girls are hitting the floor with their palmas.
Palma stand for those who have yet to purchase them for their godchildren.

These palmones are not very embellished.
Little girl fascinated by her brother's palmón. See the candy below the ribbon?
"Domingo de Ramos, quien no estrena algo se le caen lás manos." On Palm Sunday, those who do not wear something new  will lose their hands. But I'm sure this little boy won't lose his hands even if he might not be sporting a new outfit.
The swaying of palmones, palmas and laurel leaves as the priest waves the aspergillum at the crowd to sprinkle holy water .
Priest officiating Palm Sunday.

All church goers present were invited inside the church for the official mass, but David and I hopped back onto the moto to return home to give my back a rest. Fins després!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

One More

I’m just one more person wanting to share my opinion with the world about issues that buzz around in my head. My subject matter is mainly about my life in Spain and all things wonderful and aggravating about it. This summer I will sum nine years of living abroad in my adopted country. I swore after two years that I was through living in Spain when my then boyfriend now husband flew to California to visit me in August of 2003 and proposed. It’s taken me nearly seven years to finally feel settled here after longing for my California sunsets with violet orangey skies.

So this blog is my therapy to celebrate all the wonderful reasons I have to live in a country renowned for food, art, and celebrations. It’s a way to be thankful for what life is all about here, in a small town outside of Barcelona, as a reminder to myself that missing home and liking my new “home” is absolutely OK--and yes I know seven years is a long to be missing my native Los Angeles. It's time I stop whining and enjoy life as I have it before me. I will post the first celebration that is happening this month, which is St. Jordi's. It's a celebration that involves a dragon slaying legend, books, and roses. This popular annual celebration happens every 23rd of April. Until then, Adéu!