Second Holiday, Spanish Style
In Navas de San Juan, instead of tapear (going for tapas) we ligar. The literal translation is flirt, but the small town, where the accent is thick and the slang incomprehensible, entertains the tradition of afternoon tapas and drinks. Born in Navas, Mari Carmen was my tour guide and my host. She also decided if I get baptized (because it’s surely blasphemous that I haven’t been) she will be my Godmother as well.
Mari Carmen teaches Geography and History at IES El Fuerte with me. When she invited me for Noche Vieja (Old Night) I gladly accepted, eager to participate in a Spanish family tradition. Mari Carmen helped me plan my entire winter trip, she took extra clothes for me to Navas, picked me up at the train station, and brought me into her family’s home. Her father, Pedro, is a florist, with big brown eyes and a happy smile. His wife, called Mari Carmen as well, is strikingly beautiful and she enjoys when the house is full of the kids. Her parents, Domingo and Mari Carmen, live there, and Pedro, the crazy energetic teenager of 24, is in and out of the house.
Never Hungry in Navas
Meals in other countries are events. Everyone sets the table, sits down, and eats together. The time is dedicated to eating and talking and visiting. No computers, cell phones, television. We eat. I like that.
Mari Carmen’s mother’s cooking was delicious, especially the lentil soup with chorizo (who would’ve thought I’d actually like chorizo). She made rice pudding for dessert, and papajotes (homemade doughnut/churros) for breakfasts. It is true when they say the Spanish mothers only want to feed you. Mama Mari Carmen insisted on serving me seconds, thirds, and always dessert. For fear of offending her cooking, I ate it all—even potato chips smothered in olive oil, ground pepper, and sardines.
The rain prevented us from doing much, but the day I went in for a Spanish hair cut—“Oh, just the ends and some layers”—was exciting as it ended in my bouffant stylish cut that the whole family agreed was much better, and much more Spanish. I also enjoyed Mari Carmen’s educational tour around the mountains and the area’s reservoir. We were lucky to spot deer and some storks. I was lucky to get to speak so much Spanish.
Bringing in 2011
My favorite night in Navas de San Juan, however bittersweet, was New Year’s Eve. Luisa, Mari Carmen’s aunt, hosted us all for an elaborate dinner of crab legs, gumbo shrimp, pork chops in champagne sauce, and homemade tiramisu. The celebration was very much like a Noche Buena (Christmas Eve) party at my mother’s house—everyone talking, loud laughs, hands reaching across the table, pouring wine, playing music. Eugenio, Pedro’s dinner guest, entertained us with his professional Flamenco dancing and we sang traditional holiday songs. Luisa had wrapped our New Year’s grapes in festive holiday bags with curled ribbon and we counted down the New Year popping soft green grapes into our mouths, laughing at each other, trying to get all 12 down without choking. Everyone hugged and gave kisses when the broadcast announced that we had entered 2011.
Americans do not eat grapes on New Year’s Eve. Most of us don’t dance Flamenco in the living room, nor do we drink light beer with our dinner, but we celebrate with family and we love to love.
Ten year old Mateo laughs as his 78 year old grandfather attempts to cut the pork chop with his pocket knife. Andrés keeps the Flamenco rhythm, tapping his fork against the wine glass, and Pedro puts his arm around his wife to kiss her. We have different customs and different traditions, there is no doubt, but being together, with loved ones, celebrating life and living in love, is what we are born to do and what keeps us going. New Year’s Eve was the hardest night away from home thus far, missing my mother, my family, the Happy New Year! text messages and having my best girlfriends at my side. But I wouldn’t trade my experience in an instant. The Parrilla family welcomed me and loved me, showed me their family and shared more with me than I can ever hope to repay them. And I know my Spanish New Year’s Eve will be remembered forever.