The guys picked these tunas (cactus fruit)


Then I made them into jelly the way a friend taught me to.  But first, we  scooped out the insides:


They are covered with teeny, hairlike thorns my friend calls “itch-all-nights.” I tried to handle the tunas with only tongs and a dishtowel. Dang! those things hurt. The guy used all sorts of equipment, including rubber gloves, leather garden gloves, tongs, and, I think, the witchblade.  I cooked the the pulp, strained the juice, and made it into beautiful magenta colored jelly. 

Then we took them outside for their photo shoot.


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Ya es Sukkot, y’all!!


Sukkot is probably our favorite Jewish Holiday. Very family, very fun, it’s part harvest festival, part religio-historical ritual.

The sukkah, or temporary shelter, is said to have been used by those who worked in the fields for shelter from the sun during the hottest part of the day…
The rabbinic authorities gave this harvest holiday religious significance by saying that the temporary shelter was like that used by the Hebrew people in the forty years of wandering…

Judith Seid, God-Optional Judaism, Citadel Press, 2001

This weekend we started our celebration by eating breakfast tacos on homemade flour tortillas, then building our sukkah while listening to Townes VanZandt and the Fabulous Thunderbirds, all the while cooking up a storm of fall foods (there are beans and stews, challah, and cinnamon rolls in our house now.)

As for the sukkah, well, first, we built the walls;

SukkahConstruction-one wall waiting

then, we added the roof


and anchored the whole thing.


Of course there were breaks  for wine drinking, taco eating, and chilling.
SukkahConstruction, worker on break

We got the Sukkah up,


We like the outdoorsy and harvesty aspects of the holiday, and we’ll spend a good deal of time this week sitting outside, in and around our sukkah, decorating a littte at a time, and eating warm foods (because it is getting coldish out there.) We’ll also try to spend some time thinking about the ethical themes the holiday suggests: scarcity amid plenty, homelessness, the fragility of our home (the earth) and of any of the “constructions” we use to give us the illusion of security (employer provided health insurance?), the plight of refugees and others who are far from home, try maybe to  think about what we ought be doing, if you know what I mean.


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When I rule the land, we will feed the animals….

In Seville, we visited the Real Alcazar.  I decided that , just as soon as I get made emperor or something, I’m moving in.  


Nice front door, huh?  (Click through the picture and look at the big version on Flickr, it’s amazing.)


I loved the buildings, especially the tilework, and the royal photographer snapped a few photos of some favorites for me. 



Here’s a little something I like to call “my covered porch.”



The boy loved the mazes, ponds, gardens and birds,


and he promised to buy the place for me when he grows up if it ever comes up for sale. 

We expect we’ll live very well there.  I know one bird will be glad to see us.



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You can have my Barcelona apartment, when you pry it from my cold dead fingers

view out the window

Dang, I love it here. It’s funny now, thinking about the first few weeks here, how we were confused by the stern sound of the Catalan voices, unfamiliar with the food, lost so much of the time, wondering whether we’d made a teensy little mistake coming here for a year.

But now, we can’t stand the thought of leaving. We just discovered sobressada on bread with quail eggs! We can’t leave now. It’s summer. There are granizados and gazpacho everywhere, and you can get a bit of beer in your lemon granizado. Oh my, that’s good. Kids are throwing water balloons in the plazas, and there are fireworks all the time. And the apartment. A little too hot for just an hour or so in the middle of the day, and then after lunch, a wonderful breeze blowing through that just puts…you…to…sleep, and then the endless afternoon, until it finally starts to get dark around nine thirty, ten.

I won’t go, you know. Some folks say I’m not very good at change. I think I’m just not good at leaving Barcelona.


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It’s better, they say, to be safe…


You can find yourself standing in the middle of the beach at 4 a.m., surrounded by thousands and thousands of people who are throwing fireworks wildly into the sky and at the sand all around your head and feet.

[F]ireworks are more or less illegal in the U.S. cities we call home. On the Fourth of July, fireworks displays are set off by professionals, usually from boats situated well away from any spectators. I, like a majority of Americans, was raised with a simple understanding: if you set off a firework, you risk losing a finger, a hand, a toe, or an eye. Fireworks, like snarling Dobermans or leering men in pickup trucks, are something we are culturally wired to avoid.

From A Fiery Night in Barcelona, by Margo Orlando Littel, Everywhere Magazine

When I was a little kid, we went out all afternoon without any grownups to watch us.  In the summer, we went out all day.  We got cut, scratched, bruised, and burned all the time.

We used to walk to the city pool in our bare feet, but the ground was so hot, we had to stand on a piece of cardboard to keep our feet from burning.  We’d throw it as far as it would go, run to it as fast as we could, stand there for a minute, and then do the whole thing over.  We got sunburned, we went to the pool by ourselves, we ran in the streets.

We swam every day that we could, except no one “knew” how to swim.  Even so, we jumped off the diving board.  We got browner and browner, with our skin eventuallygetting a sort of blue-gray cast over the chocolate brown, and our black hair turned red-orange.  We were fierce. 

We rode on the back of pick up trucks and jumped off of buildings.

We did all sorts of foolish things, but we didn’t have too many fireworks.

My best friend’s father was a firefighter, and my mom knew someone her age who’d lost his eyesight in a firewords accident.  We never had any real (up in the air)  fireworks, but even my family had sparklers and spinners.

But tonight we’re going to light up the sky.

It is the Berbena de St Joan’s (the eve of  St. John’s feast.)  It is also midsummer, solstice, and it is a major celebration in Spain, and especially in Catalunya.  It’s supposed to be an insane fire-themed party here in Barcelona.  They have big official fireworks shows, and everybody does their own, too.  It’s all legal.  The city has a website telling you what the celebration is about, where to get fireworks, where to find a bonfire where you can burn your discarded furniture, and where to find an all night celebration in your neighborhood.  I went by one neighborhood park and saw an announcement that their neighborhood celebration would run from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m.. 

We used the website to find our local fireworks shop.  People have been stocking up for weeks, but I guess they must have used some up (there have been stray fireworks all week) because the fireworks shop down the street warned us to get there early today to beat the lines.  The boy said he wanted to be there before it opened at 10. We were there just a few minutes after 10, and there was only a short line.  

We’ll go to one of the big celebrations tonight, watch the big guns, fire off some rockets, sparkle some sparklers.  Papa got him a big flare thing that shoots red blazes into the sky and some “tracas” (40 cracks per!)  Boy got a dragon that shoots fire out of its mouth.   We got gold and multicolor sparklers, and two  fountains.  A friend gave Samuel the big rocket. 

Maybe we’ll see a bonfire, too.  The ones where people toss their old furniture.  It’s part of the cleansing ritual related to solstice and the big fires are supposed to fuel the sun as it begins to wane.  The city website tells you where to find the bonfires, too. 




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Home is….

Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
They have to take you in.

The Death of the Hired Man (1914), Robert Frost


Today is the first day on which everyone, including U.S. citizens must show a passport (or a special drivers’ license) to enter the United States by land.  The U.S. has been tightening documentation requirements for some time, but this move, the one that requires citizens to have a passport to step into the states from either Canada or Mexico, really bothered me. 

I grew up on the Texas/Mexico border and remember many car trips “across” to visit family and friends, to vacation, to shop, to eat, to attend weddings and baptisms.  Our cities (Laredo, Texas and Laredo, Tamaulipas) were more like one city with a bridge in the middle than like two cities.  Other than the long wait, leaving and re-entering the states was not a big deal.  When we drove back, border officials asked us two things, “what are you bringing back?” (any alcohol, cigarettes to declare?) and “U.S. citizen?”  My parents taught me to look the border guy straight in the eye and answer “U.S.  citizen.”  I learned to anticipate it, to announce my citizenhip and be admitted without waiting for a question.  It was like magic.  It always worked.  It worked also for my grandmother, a little, brown, barrel shaped lady who spoke no English except “U.S. citizen.” 

I wondered why our Mexican friends and relatives,  even the schoolchildren, carried I.D., why I didn’t need any, why my mother didn’t have any.  (She didn’t drive for most of her life, and never had any I.D. card until she was well into her 60s. )  Our country, My parents  told me, always welcomed her own.  Our word was good enough, unless their was some very good reason to doubt it.  My grandmother’s thick accent as she spoke the magic words was not a good reason, nor was my own dark brown skin.  They did not speak, nor did they especially think much about, the evils of national I.D.s, but it would have outraged them to think that my father, a D-Day vet, would have had to prove to anyone his right to walk on American soil.  He was one of those guys who got his mother to lie about his age so he could serve, one of those guys who always cried when he told about his trip home-not home-Texas, home-the U.S..   Told me how soldiers were jumping overboard when they caught sight of the  the statue of liberty, how they couldn’t wait to get home.  

I grew up, of course.  Realized that the truth was not so simple, that the magic words didn’t always work, and certainly didn’t work for everyone.  Learned that border police sometimes hold guns to little boys’ heads, and that even white English speakers sometimes have trouble at the border.  Later, I learned all of that.  I think in my heart, I always believed she’d always welcome her own.

The stories of our childhood shape the way we see the world, our relationship to our community, our place.  For me, the belief  that Ionly needed to claim my birthright to gain entry always meant something:  that I was not a subject here at the nation’s pleasure but a citizen; that she was mine as much as I was hers, that this was home.


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Wild and found food

The mulberries
The mulberries.

We spent the day yesterday in the Montseny National Park, hiking, eating, sitting, chatting and foraging.  Montseny is woodsy, waterfally, swimming holey, and what-all.  We took the train and didn’t carry a camera or much else, other than water and a little food.  The train stops at a little town, Figaro, on the edge of the park, and you just walk through the town, to the trailhead, and go.  As we walked we ran into groups of schoolkids, old married couples, groups of teenagers, old folks, young folks, families.  We were feeling chatty, and they were mostly friendly and chatty, too.   We learned some new foraging tricks out there.

We love foraging. Back home, we gather cactus fruit and wild berries and eat them  raw or turn them  into jam; we eat the corbezzolo (strawberry tree) fruit (although some consider them inedible.)  We’ve eaten thimbleberries in the Sierra, huckleberries in Canada, wild blackberries anywhere we can.   Yesterday, however, had to be one of the best foraging days ever.  First we found a mulberry tree absolutely loaded with ripe berries right at the start of our walk.  Next, we ran into three small, gray-haired Catalunyans gathering twigs and harvesting wild asparagus.  We’ve been seeing wild asparagus in the markets for a few weeks, but hadn’t really realized that it actually grows wild around here.  They had a good bundle of the asparagus and showed us what to look for.  There were also teeny wild strawberries along the paths, some ripe, some still green.  The teeny strawberries you can buy at the market, too, they are used in special local desserts.  We only got a few of the asparagus stems, but it was such a treat!  Plus, somebody little and determined got lots of strawberries.  We walked and walked, past wild plums and figs and blackberries, just starting to set fruit.  after a while, we met a family chewing stalks of something.  When we asked what they were gathering (that’s what we asked almost everyone that day, well, that and “which way?”) they told us they were gathering fonolles (fennel) and that it quenches thirst.  They showed us how to peel the tough outer layers, leaving a crisp, refreshing stalk you could eat right up. 

Today, we started out at home, but about mid-afternoon, the menfolk went for a bike ride.  They rode to the edge of town, where they found another loaded mulberry tree, this one “short.”  They brought back a good harvest, and we had a nice mulberry tart for dinner.  We’ve got enough left for one more tomorrow.Making the Mulberry tart

Making the tart

So all of this has me thinking about foraging, and nature, and how and what we use and use up, and what it means for public land to belong to everyone.

When we first arrived in Barcelona, in autumn, it was mushroom season.  The markets were overflowing with all kinds of beautiful and ghastly mushrooms, some with medieval sounding names:  Trompettes de la mort (trumpets of death,) or pie de rata reina (queen rat’s foot.)  When we went out to the Parc de Collserola, we saw the locals out gathering their own bolets,  carrying cute mushroom gathering baskets.  It was a little surprising at first, people out harvesting in the park.  The attitude toward using the parks seems so different.  In the states, we are so convinced that the only way to value and preserve wild public spaces is to “take nothing but photographs; leave nothing but footprints.”  Nature you can really use becomes a luxury for those who can afford their own little slice of it.  For the rest, nature is a “look but don’t touch” space.  There are exceptions: campgrounds that allow us to gather firewood, public lands we can fish, but the overwhelming attitude (one I’ve certainly mouthed myself) is that we are not to touch, cut, take, etc. anything from the woods.  “After all, if everyone took one…..”   It was at first surprising to see the Catalunyans out gathering, picking, and cutting freely from the woods.  Of course, we forage back home, but it often has this slightly prohibitted feeling, unless we happen to be foraging for things no one wants.  I realized that I had come to believe that the woods belong to everyone, so no one should use them–a curious thought.  My neighbors here seem to believe that the woods belong to everyone, so everyone should use them.  It shows in their approach to “gathering” stuff from the parks:  One of the ladies who lives in our building is growing flowers she got from Monserrat; we walked through Colserolla and saw a young couple showing their children how to split pine cones for pine nutsand digging up little plants they place in two little plastic buckets to take home;  at Monserrat, I saw a woman carrying a  rosemary plant home.    

It’s not just that you can take things, either.  I can see a different relationship to parkland in their transportation planning:  Trains and buses  take you to major parks, rack railways make remote, otherwise inaccessible mountains available for daytrips from the city.  Up on Vall de Nuria, or Monserrat, you’ll see Catalunyans of all ages doing what they do everywhere:  walking, eating, talking, smoking a cigarette, having a glass of wine.  I keep thinking that back home, I’d have to be in a car or be some kind of super athlete to see places like these.  Here,  I can ride up for the day, have a sandwich, walk around, listen to the birds, come home.  Of course you should be able to get there:  it belongs to everyone.

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