NEW RELEASE: Saint-Saëns Piano Concerto No. 2

Some work by a friend of mine. The man has talent. Also, Saint Saëns is phenomenal.


New Year’s Vintner

Don José the vintner showing one of hos bottles. In fact, it is a recycled bottle, he wouldn't spend the money on new bottles when the old ones are perfectly good.
Don José the vintner showing one of his bottles. In fact, it is a recycled bottle -he wouldn’t spend the money on new bottles when the old ones are perfectly good.

On New Year’s Eve 2013 I was in a hostel in Toledo, Spain. Sometime in the day the hostel owner put into my room a Korean father and son. Father has a Ph.D. M.D. and his son is 12. Well, we agreed to get to together to have a New Year’s Eve meal. Sure, I knew that everywhere was gonna be closed because my host had told me so and so had everyone else I spoke with. The Koreans did not believe me. So I agreed to meet them later. When I came back later that day from my I-can’t-remember-what-I-did, we had been joined by a young man from Colorado who, during his off-season, had been living in Madrid. He was, during the season for it, a forest firefighter. He told us that it is fairly boring work most of the time, until you are jumping out of helicopters into the middle of forest fires. But my short story is not about all that or them. It is about the hostel owner’s uncle. José had told me that his parents were going to come to have dinner with him. Well, when we finally got to leaving the two Koreans, the firefighter and I were met with José and his father, his aunt and her husband sitting at one of the tables in the hostel’s dining area drinking wine.

A picture of the group. Note the stern face on José-the-vintner's wife's face.
A picture of the group. Note the stern face on José-the-vintner’s wife’s face.

I approached them simply to say hello, but in that way that some people have, and I suffer from, I got involved in a conversation with the hostel owner’s (José) uncle also called José. This lead to two things. 1, we found out that José-the-uncle makes his own wine and 2, he invited us all for a drink. This did present a number of problems for us, but it was ultimately carried out for 15 minutes or more. The firefighter is a member of AA, the 12 year-old is 12 years old, and to boot, the Koreans (Dr. and son) are, well, Koreans –thus it seems from my experience that they given to cultural shyness. Also they spoke even less Spanish than your average US college student. Well, while there are further details about the conversation, such as the Korean’s falling asleep during the explanation, it is best now that if you speak Spanish, you listen to this man’s little story. It might be pertinent to relate that José-the-uncle is from an area north of Salamanca –if I recall the correct town. He uses the word sollejo to describe the detritus that comes from the production of the grapes. The more accepted word, I found out thanks to the Wikipedia and, is hollejo.

How to make very good, chemical-free wine by José-the-uncle.


P.S. The wine was delicious, I drank half on one there, and a whole one a few days later. José had  José to give me one. It turns out that the hosteller keeps a ready supply in his cellar.

The Windmill Giants of Consuegra

The windmills and castle of Consuegra, Spain.
The windmills and castle of Consuegra, Spain.

Not much to say about Consuegra, a little town that lies just south of Toledo. It takes an hour and a half to get from Toledo to said town, stopping at every town along the way. I lost count at the second or third one, but I am sure that there we hundreds. One little town, Orgaz, had a castle in the middle of it. The road passes through olive plantations, industrial parks. Abandoned villas, vineyards and small hills. Along the way one can see castles dotting near and distant hills.

The little town of Consuegra is not un-pretty and has its centuries old church, complete with dome and hulking wooden doors. The attraction is the set of 10 or so windmills and concomitant castle that can be found on a hill which rises above the town. The windmills have restored by local high school students and artisans. For a mere 4 Euro to can take a self-guided tour of the castle in which you learn such fascinating facts sd: castles were built of stone and then can even in ruins serve to make people money.

The castle at Consuegra.
The castle at Consuegra.

The moderns built a road that connects the ruins to the town. From road, one can hear the whirring, electrical sound of the modern diesel fired mills in the valley below. Judging from the number of mills, oil pressing facilities and the number of wine “warehouses” it is obvious that the down depends on the products of the soil for its livelihood.

From: Don Quijote, Chapter VIII

En esto descubrieron treinta o quarenta molinos de viento que ay en aquel campo; y, assi como don Quixote los vio, dixo a su escudero: “La ventura va guiando nuestras cosas mejor de lo que acertaramos a dessear; porque ¿ves alli, amigo Sancho Pança, donde se descubren treynta, o pocos mas, desaforados gigantes con quien pienso hazer batalla y quitarles a todos las vidas, con cuyos despojos començaremos a enriquecer?; que esta es buena guerra, y es gran seruicio de Dios quitar tan mala simiente de sobre la faz de la tierra.”

A view Southwest at the Windmills of COnsuegra. Not hard to imagine why Quijote was sure they were giants.
A view Southwest at the Windmills of COnsuegra. Not hard to imagine why Quijote was sure they were giants.

Though the ancient mills are not in use, and their great blades do not turn, it is not hard to imagine their turning because if one looks just to the south, the next hills over are covered in giant, 100 meter tall electricity-generating windmills, the arrogant decedents of these giants that Quijote battled.

We are reminded by placards, signs, mannequins and pamphlets that these are the sorts of windmills that Cervantes imagined that his Quixote imagined were giants. In fact, I inadvertently followed the so called “trail of Quixote” a set of tourist destinations which follow the misadventures of Cervantes’ charismatic lunatic. Continue reading “The Windmill Giants of Consuegra”

Toledo, Spain. December 31st, 2013

Puente de Alcántara
Puente de Alcántara

Let me describe the scene. I had walked across the medieval Puente de Alcántara and then spent two and a half hours walking along road which follows the Tajo. As the Wikipedia on Toledo will do a better job of explaining than I, Toledo is a millennia-old defensive position perched on a promontory cut by the river Tajo.  The views of the acropolis from across the Tajo are phenomenal and the walk is not all that tiring. Perhaps the most annoying thing is the near constant traffic.

Toledo as seen from a little outcrop south east of the city
Toledo as seen from a little outcrop south east of the city

A few of the pictures were taken from this outcropping away from the road where the views are commanding . After walking for 90 minutes I took a nap on one of the rocks warmed by the midday sun. Groggy from my nap, I got up and ambled the rest of the way to the Puente de San Martín. I crossed this medieval bridge and started my way back to the Alcázar which is near to my hostel. On my way up from the bridge, I passed a bar whence came this thumping drumming sound.

A view up-river from the Puente San Martín
A view up-river from the Puente San Martín

It was clear from the crowd of people outside, all merry with food and drink that this was some sort of New Year’s celebration. I walked up shyly, hoping to sneak a recording. I approached from the other side of the establishment, and placed my recorder inside a potted bamboo plant. But the recording was crap. I did strike up conversation with some of the men standing outside. They explained that what we were hearing were called Villancicos.  I eventually mustered up the courage to enter into the heart of the crowd, inside the diminutive establishment. Actually, to be truthful, the Toledanos are so friendly that they were inviting me in. Still, I find these crowds of very local people intimidating.

I made it in, and was met by a bunch of very happy Spaniards. At the bar, I asked if I should wait my turn or shove in, and I was told by a stout and rosy cheeked man “by all means, shove!” So I did, and I came into shoulder-to-shoulder contact with a man who was teleported from 1910 complete with beret and all. He helped me get my Mahou beer, which is always served as cold as the Pyrenees and tastes as good as any main market beer could ever taste.
Continue reading “Toledo, Medieval everything”

There’s More at Crane Creek than Rare Birds.

Crane Creek
Crane Creek

Not all trips need to be taken outside of the US. Some trips can be taken to the extremes of the USian territory. In what is left of what one was one of the biggest marshes on the planet the last wave of spring migrant birds congregate to fatten up before making the jump across Lake Erie –the puddle left behind by last glaciers. This is Crane Creek.  I went to Crane Creek with my Birding Buddy Phil, who is about 42 yeas my senior, a little hard of hearing, but a great birder, a true cynic and a great friend. We stayed three days there, and even ate the best Pho ever in a Toledo, OH ghetto. But this story is about Crane Creek, not racist Vietnamese woman who kicked out men of color after serving them the burgers she sold them, subsequently explaining in what must have been English that all they eat is Fried Chicken. This happened.

Arare Steak Pho'? Incredible.
Arare Steak Pho’? Incredible.

Anyway, Crane Creek is not special just because it represents the last few acres of the once literally 1,000,000 acre marsh known as the Great Black Swamp (also the soggy remnant of a massive glacier which retreated north into what is now Lake Erie) but because the mangrove-like vegetation has a low canopy such that the canopy-loving birds: the vireos, warblers and flycatchers, stalk their chitenous prey at nearly eye level.  The Great Black Swamp represented one of the last natural American obstacles to be ravaged when was drained in the name of human progress in the late 19th century. The power of steam and petroleum turned “useless” water-cleaning, flood-controlling acreage into productive farmland which then yielded –in places–  to the brick, mortar and steel of the American industrial revolution.

Crane Creek, now called Magee Marsh Wildlife  Refuge, is a birder’s haven. Of course, haven is a fun word to use since its original meaning was like that of “harbor” and Crane Creek is a port of call for birds and their voyeurs alike.  In the spring, droves of bird, insect and mammal species make their way north to reap their harvest of insects and plants which bloom plentifully for a short time every year. The taxing voyage of hundred to tens of thousands of miles apparently yields a competitive advantage to these nomadic animals. Humans too, as their endothermic-regulatory systems begin to fail, and provided they have the financial resources to do so, become migratory, wintering in calid climes like Florida and Mexico, slowly making their way to higher latitudes as the sun warms those soils.

Continue reading “There’s More at Crane Creek than Rare Birds.”

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