Food, Music and Magic!

Monday, March 31, 2014

The weather continues to be changeable. There were strong winds on Thursday and Friday and we had rain on Saturday and Sunday. Today it’s sunny with temperatures in the mid 70’s. It feels like spring in New England.

I have been very busy proofreading the final copy of Juan Tamariz’s The Magic Way. It is the revised and expanded edition that has been translated into English by Rafael Benatar. I am about two-thirds of the way through the process and waiting for the final third to come across my desk late today.

We did a lot of eating out last week. We visited Mood Food on Tuesday, had lunch with Jordi on Thursday and Saturday was a double header with lunch a QTomás and dinner at Cuinar-te.

Friday evening we attended symphony. For a change of pace we sat in the coro behind the orchestra. We were seated in the first row directly behind the percussion section. There were five different percussionists for the first half of the concert and only one for the second part. The acoustics for the most part were fine with the exception of the guitar solos for Nocturnos de Andalucía. The soloist was Pepe Romero and it had been ages since we last saw him perform at the Ambassador Theater in Pasadena ages ago. The gem of the evening was Frank’s Symphony in D Minor, which was given a majestic treatment by the orchestra. Our seats cost us 10 Euros apiece and were a bargain given the marvelous experience we had.

Afterward we went in search of a bit of sustenance, however every single restaurant we tried was booked and only had outdoor tables available. It was too cold to sit outside, so after going 0 for 7 we decided to return home and forage.

Saturday afternoon we headed out to the Palacio de Congresos for a magic gala that was a fundraiser for the Proyecto Lázarus that hopes to find a cure for medullar lesions that confine its victims to wheelchairs. There were over 1,000 people in the audience when the curtain rose at 7:00. We enjoyed the magic of Jandro, Jorge Blass, nacho Diago and Nuel Galán. Brian had joined us for the magic performance and afterwards we went in search of Ofelia so that the four of us could have dinner. We went in search of a restaurant that could accommodate us and we were happy to discover a new restaurant, Cuinar-te, a good choice for a burger or a brochette.

Sunday we just stayed home and did not even manage to get out of our pajamas. We watched an episode of Sherlock and that was the highlight of our day!

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Fallas Finale

Thursday, March 20, 2014

            Fallas have come and gone and the streets and the city have returned to normal.  It is amazing how quickly everything disappears.  The stands selling food and beverages are gone and so are the tent-like structures that house all the mercadillos.  If you came to Valencia today, you would have no idea that Fallas ever happened.

            We headed down to the casal at 9:00 PM yesterday to witness the burning of the children’s falla, followed by tapas in the tent and, lastly, the burning of the main falla. We learned that the children’s falla had cost some 4,000 Euros to build and the main one came in at just under 7,000 Euros.  The money to build these as well as the cost of food and drink during this period comes from dues and a variety of fundraisers.

            One of the most frequent questions that I get is why the fallas, which can be very expensive sometimes running into the hundreds of thousands of Euros, are destroyed.  The simple answer is that is their destiny.  Fallas are built knowing that their fate lies in a fire that will totally destroy them.  To a degree, the fires are symbolic and are rooted in the pagan past.  The fire is meant to fortify the sun and hasten the arrival of spring and one cannot fail to notice that spring arrives today.

            Additionally, a falla is built in such a way that it is temporary and would be subject to eventual decay when attacked by the elements.  The comparison to the Rose parade floats is an excellent one.  Time, effort and money are invested in the building of a float that is pleasing to the eye and meant to be admired.  After the viewing days in the park, the flowers have died and the life of the float has come to an end.

            When we arrived preparations were being made to prepare the children’s falla for its demise.  Holes were cut in the structure to facilitate the burning, as well as to serve as a receptacle for some additional fireworks and/or gasoline.  Fireworks are strung on nearby posts and their terminus is the falla itself and the fuse that will begin the conflagration.  The president of the casal is allowed to keep one of the ninots of the falla as a reward for all his hard work.

            At 9:30 the fuse was lit, the fireworks exploded and the falla caught fire.  Given the fact that this falla has such a low profile the Fire Department does not need to be present for the burning.  There are however volunteers standing by with fire extinguishers just in case.  The destruction of the fallas is a very emotional event for a variety of reasons and as I looked around I could see that many people, both young and old, were in tears.  It took less than twenty minutes for the flames to do their work.

            We then gathered in the tent for the last meal.  One of the guiding principles of this casal is waste not and want not, so tonight’s tapa meal was made up of leftovers from the past few days.  We enjoyed a variety of cold cuts, cheeses, salty treats, tortilla española, ajo arriero and longaniza. When the meal was over, all the chairs were stacked, the tables folded up and the tent at the ready to be taken down by the rental company early next morning.

            We all gathered around the remaining falla as it was prepared for its final act.  There was a rapid succession of aerial fireworks and then the string of fireworks that encompassed the falla was lit and up it went.  People gathered round to hug each other and congratulate one another for a job well done on this year’s event.  We felt very privileged to have participated in the festivities as an insider and to see and experience things that others only get to read about.


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La Ofrenda

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

            As soon as I posted yesterday’s blog entry commenting on the dearth of bands and casals passing by the house, the parade began and did not end until well after 11:00 PM.  Today is father’s Day in Spain, El Día de San José, and it is the official end of Fallas.  Tonight is the Cremat when all Ninots will be burned to the ground, with the exception of the two winners that will enter in the Falla Museum.  Things will begin to return to normal for a while and before we know it, Holy Week will be upon us.  Be that as it may, we will enjoy the pause in activity.

            I stayed home yesterday to work on several projects that needed completion and Susan headed off to the casal around 2:00 for lunch followed by a rather intensive photo shoot of the preparation involved in getting the falleras mayors dressed and ready for their participation in the ofrenda. The photos that accompany this brief post will help you understand what is involved in the process.

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Son of Fallas!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

            This year our stretch of Barón de Cárcer is not a formation point for the casals that are participating in the ofrenda.  That means the unintentional battle of the bands that took place outside our windows last year is a missing element in this year’s iteration of Fallas.  In spite of the missing music, the decibel level outside our building is still rather substantial.

            The streets were almost deserted as we made our way to our casal yesterday at 2:00.  Part of the reason is that many people were in place to watch the mascletá, but the more pertinent reason may be that the out of towners have returned home. WE covered the two-mile journey in about twenty-five minutes and arrived a few minutes before lunch was served.

            Yesterday’s lunch was a fideuá prepared with an abundance of seafood.  It was so delicious that I needed to have a second helping.  After coffee we made our way back home to rest up and relax a bit.  We decided that we would take a cab down to the casal for last evening’s event.

            That event was the president’s dinner and it was preceded by a brief presentation that emulated the presentation made by the flight attendants on a flight before take off.  It was funny and well received.  After the presentation we turned our attention to the food, which consisted of a variety of tapas followed by pork chops.  Dessert consisted of fresh strawberries and a variety of homemade pastries.  When midnight rolled around we decided that it was best for us to return home and we did just that.

            Today is the day when the casal participated in the ofrenda and Susan will be taking a number of pictures as the falleras get ready for the event and will then take pictures along the route.  I will share those pictures with you tomorrow.

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Fallas (Continued)

Monday, March 17, 2014

            The forecast for today is sunny and 80 degrees.  Many of the out of town tourists have returned home and walking through the streets last night was a bit easier and that was the case this morning when we went to take a look at some of the nearby fallas.

            Yesterday we passed up lunch at the casal to visit The Ginger Loft.  This is their last week of operation and we knew that the only chance we would have to visit with them was yesterday.  We got to experience, hopefully not for the last time, the best Eggs Benedict in existence, a green Thai curry and a ceviche to swoon for.  We chatted with Mike after our meal and, at the moment, everything is up in the air.

            We made our way to the casal last night at 7:30.  The evening’s events were a tapa fair and a live performance by a rock and roll group.  The concert was scheduled for midnight and that made two reasons to not stick around until late.

            The tapa fair is a fundraiser and all drinks were 1 Euro and tapas were either one or two Euros depending on what you ordered.  It seemed that all fish tapas were two and all others were one.  The selections included tortilla española, salmón, ajo arriero, foie, jamón, bocadillos de morcilla, longaniza y chistorra, calamares, puntillas y pescadito. There was a good crowd on hand and it looks like they made enough money to amortize some of the costs of what is a year-round task.

            Today the ofrenda begins.  Because there are some 44 casals, it is a two-day event.  The ofrenda is an offering of flowers for La Virgen de los Desamparados.  There is a large wooden structure where the flowers are placed and atop the structure is a statue of the Virgin.  The structure when filled with flowers becomes her dress.  It is estimated some 60,000 flowers will be part of the offering. Our street is part of the route to La Plaza de la Virgen and that means that most of the casals and their bands will be passing by our building.

            Lunch today is a fideuá.  It’s a good thing that the casal is two miles away from our place.  At least we can walk off some of the calories.

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Casal Plaza de Jesús

Saturday, March 15, 2014

            The sun has made its appearance and has magically warmed everything up.  It’s in the low 70’s today and it will get warmer the next few days.  Fallas is in full swing and the projected number of visitors is one million.  The tent in front of our building has reappeared and so have their two fallas.  Obviously the noise level outside has increased, as has the number of exploding firecrackers.

            There are pyrotechnic stores that open only during Fallas and I would imagine that they sell an enormous amount of both ground and aerial firecrackers and fireworks.  You hear explosions, both small and large wherever you go.  The streets are approaching impassible.  It took me close to ten minutes to get to the Mercado Central, which, as you know is a block away.  The number of stands selling typical refreshments – churros, chocolate, buñuelos, hamburgers, hot dogs, French fries and, of course, beer – seem to have multiplied exponentially.  There is a rather large hamburger stand outside of Jordi’s restaurant.  I guess that both can co-exist.  Carosel was filled to the rafters yesterday.  The good (?) news is that the celebration is just beginning.

            For the most part the week has been uneventful for us.  I have just about recovered from my bout with otitis and Susan, for the most part, has escaped the throes of sinusitis.  We have done a good job of keeping the antibiotic industry in business.  Thursday morning we had an appointment with our tax advisor and we made some interesting discoveries.

            Given the fact that we now reside in Spain year round, we are subject to income taxes here in Spain although all our income comes from US sources.  Because of a treaty with the US we are only liable for the percentage difference between our tax bracket in the US and our tax bracket in Spain.  Additionally, the amount we receive from Social Security is not taxable and not considered part of our annual income.  Taxes are due in May and, at the moment we have no idea of how much we will owe.  We are hoping that it will be somewhat comparable to the taxes we used to pay to the State of California.  All of the foregoing came as no surprise.  What did come as a surprise and almost left us speechless was the first question we were asked – “Did we want the taxes we paid to go to the Spanish government or to the CHURCH?” This is the same church that receives a 10 billion Euro subsidy from the government every year. (Smart-ass comment omitted so I do not go through the roof!)

            Fortunately we made our appointment in the month of March because by March 31 we, as well as all residents, must submit to the Spanish government, a list of all our foreign holdings so that we will be sure to pay taxes on all our sources of income.  This is a law that recently came into effect with the discovery of millions of Euros that had been secreted in Swiss and Caribbean banks by politicians and members of the upper class here.  Some politician have siphoned off millions of Euros of public funds to their own personal bank accounts.  The only question that remains to be asked is whether this law will do anything to stop the scofflaws from continuing to under-report their true worth?

            We left our advisor’s office with a bit of homework.  There were a number of questions that had to be answered regarding our holdings beyond how much was in each account.  We need to supply names, addresses, federal identifiers of the institutions, when accounts were opened, as well as the average balance of each in the last three months of 2013.  Susan spent most of yesterday afternoon and evening gathering that information and putting in on a spreadsheet.  Most businesses will be closed next week because of Fallas celebrations, but obviously we will make the deadline.

            Today we returned to the casal where we are falleros de honor.  With the uptick in activity we will be frequent visitors until the celebration has ended. Each casal erects a children’s falla, as well as its main falla.  Since most of the fallas are critical and sarcastic there seems to be a certain similarity to the figures that comprise the falla.  There are some, however, that are noticeably different. Na Jordana for the previous two years have built absolutely unbelievable fallas constructed, for the most part, out of wood.  Two years ago it was an enormous falla that represented the head of Leonardo DaVinci.  Here is a video of it being put into place Last year it was the Trojan Horse .  The fallas of the Casal de la Plaza de Jesús are not your typical ones, either.

            The children’s falla is a coach populated with wizards and spirits who are leaving town because children no longer have or use their imagination.  The main falla is made out of pressed cardboard that has then been sculpted into the shape of a head.  The hair of the figure is tied up in knots.  It poses a question and that question is are you prepared to leave the knots in place and accept all ideas and beliefs that others accept and believe or are you willing to untie the knots and accept the consequences of your questioning?  Each of the fallas has an explanation of their meaning in valenciano, Spanish, braille for the blind and icons for the autistic.

            We visited the casal for both lunch and dinner.  Lunch was a rice dish made with snails, sausages and Swiss chard.  It is a typical dish and something we had never eaten before.  It was delicious.  After lunch we made our way back home for a bit of rest.  Susan headed out again at 7:00 with the hope of seeing the light display at both Sueca and Literato Azorín.  She could not even get close there were so many people so she turned around and made her way to the casal.  I arrived at 9:20 and we sat down for supper at 10:00.  Friends of Maripaz had arrived that morning from Seville and had brought with them an entire ham.  Slices of that ham ended up on our supper table along with the makings for a traditional sandwich of habas y embutido.  Habas are broad beans or fava beans and we each received a link of morcilla and one of longaniza.  Dessert was a tarta de Santiago and then bottles of cava were opened to celebrate the fact that that children’s falla had won two prizes.

            We made our way home at midnight and the streets were filled with revelers.  There was a disco móvil a few blocks away from our apartment and the tent outside our building was celebrating their verbena ­– loud music and alcohol – that the authorities allow to go on until 4:00 AM. And it did.  Fortunately the double doors that seal off the back of our place did a fantastic job of blocking the noise.

            I am finishing this post off on Sunday morning.  We are planning to go the The Ginger Loft for lunch since this definitely is their last week of operation.  There is a tapa festival at the casal at 8:00 this evening and we will be there for that event.  There should be less activity in the streets later today since many of those who have trained here from Madrid will return home to begin their workweek.

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Falla To Be Wise!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

            Well, it certainly has been a whirlwind weekend.  Little by little the streets are becoming more and more crowded and traffic is backing up nicely, thank you.  Since a lot of the action is taking place at the Plaza del Ayuntamiento, many people are making use of Calle Linterna to get there.  Parking is always improvisational in Valencia and it has now become creative. The weather has been holding in the mid-60’s during the day and cool nights.

            Friday we had tickets for the symphony.  It turned out to be a very popular program and there were very few empty seats.  We were at the back of the auditorium for this particular concert, but the sound was excellent.  The program started with Haydn and ended with Tchaikovsky.  It was the first time that we heard the orchestra play an encore.  That’s how good the concert was!

            On the walk back home we stopped at a faux 50’s diner here in Valencia called Tommy Mel’s. Since Mel’s is a copyrighted name they chose the name Tommy Mel’s.  Interestingly enough it is hard to make out the Tommy part of the sign.  I wonder why that is.  The menu is essentially burgers with a bit of chicken and Philly Cheese steak thrown in.  Sakes and sundaes occupy a prominent part of the menu.  Susan and I both had burgers and we shared a side of fries and a side of onion rings.  Susan had a vanilla shake and I had a couple of beers.  We split a sundae for dessert.  The burgers were okay. In truth, I do not expect to find standout burgers here and this was probably my third burger in the last three years.  The bottom line is we had a good time and that’s what counts.

            In a previous post I mentioned that Susan and I had been named falleros de honor of the casal Plaza de Jesús and last night was the opening event.  It took place in a tent erected close by the physical casal and it is one of many tents that populate the city during Fallas.  As a matter of fact, on Monday they will erect the one outside of our apartment building.  Festivities began at 8:00 and it consisted of a series of introductions and acknowledgements of those people who make all the events associated with a casal happen.  Additionally, a number of falleras from different casals were introduced.  After the rather lengthy presentation, supper was served.  There were a variety of cold cuts and cheeses, albóndigas de bacalao, ajo arriero (similar to a brandade), empanadas and individual casseroles of huevos rotos which consists of a base of French fries, various sausages all topped with a fried egg.

            Dessert and coffee were served and a bottle of cava made its way to the table and we all toasted to a successful Fallas 2014.  Next the falleros de honor were recognized and Susan and I received a small gift basket with sweets and a small bottle of mistela.  There was a musical presentation scheduled after the meal, but it was getting close to 12:30 and our energy was flagging.  Juanjo drove us home and we did not get to bed much before 1:30.

            Sunday presented us with a bit of a dilemma. Last night we were invited to witness the paella competition at the casal and taste the results.  That invite came rather unexpectedly.  We had plans to visit with Jerry Lazar. Jerry is a magician from LA who is spending time here in Spain and is currently in Valencia.  We were scheduled to have lunch at Carosel at 2:00.  We did indeed have lunch at 2:00 at Carosel and Susan helped solve the problem by showing up at the casal at 11:30 and taking pictures of the competition.

            The process is fascinating.  First of all the street is blocked off.  It is strange to see a sign that reads, “Streets closed because of paella!” There were twenty-five contestants and each had their cooking space delineated.  A layer of sand is first laid down to prevent damage to the street’s surface.  Next the wood for the fire is placed under a metal stand that holds the paella pan.  All the contestants start with the same ingredients and are then left to their own devices.  The contest brings out a cadre of observers and critics who suggest the cook needs to do this or that.  Most advice is ignored.  When the paellas are done, the judging begins.  And the winner was our friend, Juanjo, who along with Vilma did an outstanding job in order to win the competition.  They stopped by the house later to deliver a generous serving of the winning paella.  It will be tomorrow’s lunch.

            Our lunch with Jerry Lazar was very enjoyable.  Jerry has been involved in the world of print media and television for a goodly number of years.  He is a member of The Magic Castle and a friend of David Groves, a magician whom I know from time spent together at Dean’s Shoppe.  Jerry is spending a week here in Valencia, having spent six weeks in Valencia.  Thursday he is off to Madrid for a week and from Madrid he will head to Seville for another two weeks of magic and fun. We finished up our meal around 5:00.  I will meet up with Jerry tomorrow evening and take him over to the CIVAC so he can meet some of our members.

            The rest of our day was uneventful.  We did watch the third episode of the first season of Sherlock.  I have already downloaded the second season and the third season is on our future download list.  Now it is time for bed.  Goodnight, all!

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