Amanda Bennett: A Year in Zaragoza, Spain

Christmas Eve: Encantada de la Vida December 29, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — psychohistoria @ 7:27 pm

That Spanish expression, which literally means “enchanted of life” or “charmed by life”, is pretty much the only way to describe my emotion upon entering George’s apartment. Heather’s parents had managed to end up staying there due to a correspondence started through Mr. Morse and ending in his friend’s offer of his apartment. The author of Fodor’s Spain and Barcelona titles, he had left us a stack of travel guides (the majority written by him or his wife), a hand-drawn map of the neighborhood, and various notes and tips about the ins and outs of the apartment. The house was incredible: the rooms all decorated with lovely wooden furniture, bookcases and shelves filled with books and movies in Spanish, English, and Catalan, and charming aspects that kept popping up as time went by. Our first mission was to stock up on some foodstuffs, so I went for bread while Heather and her parents found the vegetable shop and the deli. We also bought some Catalonian noodles, shaped like short macaroni with one end closed. The larger sizes are stuffed, but all sizes are popular.

Our doorway looked out onto this plaça in the Sarriá barrio of Barcelona.

George had marked a place that sold prepared food, so we decided to check it out for lunch. We ordered some delicious “espinacas a la catalana” – spinach with pine nuts and raisins, “paella de verduras” – in this case, rice with caramelized onions and artichokes, and pesto tortellini.

Tired from travel, we decided to rest a bit after our epic meal – a perfect opportunity for me to make the batter for the sourdough pancake recipe I’d found, which needed an hour’s rest and then another rest overnight.

George (or Mr. Barcelona, as I took to calling him) had made us dinner reservations at a recommended restaurant, Sagardi, renowned for its Basque food and atmosphere. Seeing as all the food in the País Vasco had been so great, Heather and I were excited. We left with plenty of time to find the restaurant so that we could walk down La Rambla and through the Barrio Gótico on the way. The restaurant was located in the heart of the Gothic Quarter, and about 50 yards from the church where we’d be going to a concert/midnight mass afterwards – another of George’s recommendations.

Since it was Christmas Eve, which is probably a bigger holiday than Christmas here in Spain, just about everything was closed – but the lights and buildings on our walk were gorgeous.

A "Merry Christmas" message - along with the typical noodles - projected onto an Ayuntament building.

For our dinner, I ordered “alubias de Tolosa”, dark kidney beans prepared in the northern Basque style. Absolutely delicious!

After such a wonderful dining experience, we walked over to the church, or cathedral, as I should say: it was the famous Santa Maria del Mar. Since George was good friends with the organist (who happened to be from Texas), he had arranged for us to sit in the organist’s balcony with him. !!!!!!!!!!!! However, when the church came into view, the line to get in was winding around the block. Since we were supposed to meet the organist early, we decided to check for other doors. We found one in the back, and Heather knocked. The woman who opened the door was about to turn us away, but Heather convinced her that we actually were supposed to meet the organist and we were admitted.

What an incredible cathedral!

Santa Maria del MarThe top of the organ points to the wonderful bóvedas which made the acustics of the cathedral spectacular.

And what a view from the organist balcony!

The great view from the organist's balcony.

The programs were in Catalan, but between our Spanish skills and Heather’s family’s Italian, we could understand all of it. The program opened with an homage of sorts to birds, with a traditional Catalonian Christmas carol, an organ song imitating a cuckoo, a Vivaldi piece, and another by William Williams. The next piece was the “Cant de la Sibilla” – song of the Sybil.

The Sybil and the chorus

The Sybil was a traditional Catalonian Christmas character, similar to an oracle, who would warn people of their duties and threaten them should they stray off the good path. However, the Church didn’t approve of the Sybil, and prohibited its representation in churches. Now the Sybil has been reclaimed and is an absolutely beautiful song of bagpipes, drums, a chorus, and a female soloist – the Sybil.

After the Cant de la Sibilla, the organ burst out with “Joy to the World”, or “Joia en el món” in Catalan.

The mass flew by with all the music, and since we were up in the balcony we didn’t exactly have to maintain perfect silence. I learned that the organ was built around 1710 to 1730, and later moved to its current place in the Santa Maria del Mar. It was one of the few organs to survive the Spanish Civil War, and since it was constructed in Spain in the 18th century, it is tuned to a different key than most and only sounds really good playing Spanish 18th century music.

The service ended around 1:30, and since the metro had closed, we had to take a taxi back to our apartment. Once again, the days bled together, and it was Christmas Eve and Christmas at the same time…however, although we had just been to a Christmas Eve mass and listened to organ Christmas carols, since it was actually a “missa de mitja nit” and “nadala popular”, it didn’t really feel like either.


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