This blue marble

– and yet it spins

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GetariaBusy. Warm. Crowded. Brightly lit. This is a Donostian pintxo bar on a Wednesday or Thursday night, the night of pintxopote. The waiters (all men sweat over the counter (although thankfully not onto the pintxos). Sangria and cider flow, and I am the only solo guest.

I wonder how long I get to keep my corner table. Pintxopote is a bar-crawl tradition from the recent economic recession in Spain, where Basque bars enticed locals to spend money outdoors, by offering a pintxo and a small drink for 2-3 euro. In San Sebastián old town it is on Wednesdays, and in Gros on Thursdays. A “pintxo” is a tapa, usually on bread. A “pote” is a drink in Basque.

The pintxos are good but oil, bread, and cheese are a killer combination for dinner every day. Literally. I wish pintxos would include a side salad. I doubt the Basques eat vegetables in any other form than cooked, grilled, or pickled.

Time to crawl back out into the fresh air to find a nice seaside café for a nightcap.

(San Sebastián, and photo from Getaría, Spain; August 2019)

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Hello San Sebastián

laconchaHello San Sebastián. Last time I visited you the beach was empty. Now you have 1.5 kilometers filled with bronzed bodies. Semana Grande is quite the fiesta here, wrapping up the summer. I intend to leave swimming until the bronzed crowd has vacated back to working life, next week if I am lucky.

(San Sebastián, Spain; August 2019)

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Cante y baile

barcelona-2After 10 years, it was still there. In the vaults of an old building at Placa Reial. Of course it was, since it’s been there since the 60s. Still as fresh and interesting – and a little freshened up as well.

But this time there was not only baile (dancing) but also cante flamenco, singing. And oh, what singing! It was grief, longing, and despair vocalized. Intense pain and saudade shoved through a microphone into the speakers and making the air in the club vibrate and my hair stand on end.

Before we left, the crying turned into an impromptu party: the stage was invaded by a bunch of visitors, kicking off their shoes and joining the show in jeans with bare feet. It turns out one does not need the step-shoes or the frills-dress to put on the airs of flamenco passion.

(Barcelona, Spain; March 2017)

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12 hours in Barcelona

barcelona-312 hours off in Barcelona on a Sunday. What a gift. Even with serious flight delay as the entire Schiphol airport was shut down because of one person getting ill in one plane on one runway.

Bu afterwards, there was sun and a grilled lunch by the Barceloneta. With Spanish wine, a friend whom I’ve never met in the same country twice, and later, digging our toes in the beach sand.

In the evening there was pintxos in the Gothic Quarters and more friends, including another one I seldom meet in the same country twice. And a blues bar with a huge fat tough-looking man who opened his mouth and sang like an angel.

Barcelona, it took a few visits (and one pickpocketing) but now I really do like you a lot. barcelona-1(Barcelona, Spain; March 2017)

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abovespain-3When I think of Spain I never think of mountains. But they are right there, if I would wander deep enough inland. abovespain-2When the rest of the world thinks of beaches and sangria and sun-kissed villages, there is surprisingly much snow up North. Now I understand why the Great Pyrenees dog breed is so white and fluffy. abovespain-1(Above the Pyrenees, Spain; March 2017)


Basque country and pintxos to die for

Sansebastian-4Biarritz is Basque country. San Sebastian is Basque country, too – the heartland of it. Yet Biarritz is very French and San Sebastian very Spanish. The cast-iron balconies with red flowers, the music loud in cars and cafés, the chaotic lunch hour in a pintxo restaurant – it is all so quintessentially Spanish. Where the French are elegantly laid back, the Spanish are loudly casual. Where the French love white and light houses, the Spanish in San Sebastian use more heavy, dark colors to make a town lively, energetic, and a little chaotic, but equally beautiful as France.Sansebastian-1Strolling down the streets of San Sebastian old town (or Donostia as it is called in Basque language), I found it hard to believe that we were still in the same ethnic and cultural country, as so much has changed after the border between France and Spain split the ancient Basque country in two. Sansebastian-7It is a strange thought how insensitively Spain and France divided the country, dividing at the same time an ethnic group in half. Perhaps a little similar to Ireland and Northern Ireland; or when Sweden and Russia tossed the Finnish borders around. Nobody asked the Basques, but they ended up in the middle, without a choice. Their language, food, culture, and way of life was suddenly divided. Families were divided (although EU now allows an open border). And in one way worst of all, the Spanish Basques have, with their sometimes unjustified actions through armed conflict, reached a level of autonomy that the French can only dream of. In France one must become French it seems. Nothing else is really acceptable in the long run. And so nobody seems to care about the Basques – except that they make nice cakes and goats cheese, and pretty colorful striped weaves.  Sansebastian-3But we were simply ignorant day tourists who cared more for the lovely Belle Epoque time architecture, digging our toes into the sand of the La Concha beach, and the pintxos. Oh, the pintxos! I have no idea of what I ate half of the time, but goodness me it was delicious. Although, what can one expect when the San Sebastian night sky is bejeweled by Michelin stars, more than anywhere else on the globe compared to population count. It is weeks since we returned from San Sebastian now, but I can still taste every single pintxo I had that day. Oh what simple beings we humans are. Sansebastian-2(San Sebastian, Spain; July 2016)

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Above dry land

madridSpain was brown and barren already in the end of June. How can so much delicious food and vegetables grow down there? Perhaps this is why most of Spain’s veggies are grown in greenhouses? And perhaps (hopefully not) this will be the view down above Germany some decades for now, if we let climate warming run its course.

(Above Madrid, Spain; June 2016)