Monday, June 2, 2014

"El Pueblo"

Let me introduce you to a place where the population grows times 10 on the weekend, where a fifteen year old drinking beer is acceptable, and where the party ends when the sun comes up. It probably seems like I'm talking about some crazy party city on the coast in Spain, but in fact I'm talking about a small Spanish village in the mountains of Burgos.

Spanish villages or "pueblos" represent a lot more here than just a speck on the Spanish map. Spending the weekend in the "pueblo" is an integral piece of the Spanish way of life. Nearly every Spaniard I know has a pueblo or two, which are the little villages that their parents or grandparents originally came from. 50+ years ago the pueblos, although small, were full of families who lived their year-round. A lot has changed in the last half of a century or so and most of those families have moved into bigger cities for job opportunities, better education and convenience factors. However, Spanish people still make a means to stick to their roots, and many Spanish families spend nearly every weekend and a large portion of their summer vacation in the pueblos where they originally came from.

Although the word "pueblo" is used loosely here in Spain, in general it means a small town with anywhere from a 10 to a couple hundred houses in an isolated area of Spain. Pueblos are in every region in every corner or Spain. Because Spain is an older country, the concept of "suburbs" never fully developed here. Although now the suburb equivalent of "urbanizaciónes" are sprouting here and there, the majority of Spain is either big city or pueblos. Every weekend, Spanish families pack up and head out to their pueblo for a couple days. Some families have a short 30 minute drive to their pueblo, and others make 4+ hour journeys, it all depends about how far you've strayed from your family roots. This idea of heading to the pueblo for the weekend is something I would compare to Minnesotan cabin culture, except for the fact that pueblos usually aren't on lakes.

I was lucky enough to be invited by my Spanish friend, Isabel, to spend the weekend in the pueblo with her family. I was extra lucky because she invited me to come on a special weekend for her pueblo, to celebrate the patron saint "San Pedro" of Burgos, the region where her pueblo is.  In this case, the "pueblo" is her father's village, and he and his family of 10 lived there until he was 14 years old. Although he and his eight brothers and sisters have spread out a bit now, many of them reunite for weekends in the pueblo.

We left Madrid late afternoon on Friday because Isabel and her parents wanted to stop in Burgos on the way to the village to show me the city. Burgos is located about 2.5 hours north of Madrid in the Castilla y Leon region. It's a city with a population just shy of 200,000 inhabitants located along a babbling river. The pride and joy of the city is it's beautiful cathedral that dates back to the 11th century. It was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in the 80s, and rightfully so. It's a gorgeous, massive cathedral with beautiful French-gothic towers and tons of detailed work. Isabel and I spent about an hour walking around the city while her parents did some grocery shopping. They warned me that there was no convenience store in the whole pueblo. After our stop in Burgos, we made the 40 minute drive to the village through winding mountain roads that were beautiful but my stomach didn't love. Finally, just after dusk, we arrived in their village called La Pineda de la Sierra, which roughly translates to the pine trees in the mountains. Although it was dark, I got my first look at the stone houses with red-tiled roofs. They told me that during the week, a mere 25 people live there but on the weekend the population grows to about 300. We pulled up to their house and I was quite surprised to see how modern it was on the inside. The house's exterior blends in with the rest of the town, which I later found out is part of a village ordinance that requires all houses to be stone with red roofs to maintain the traditional look of the town. The inside, however, was completely modern with a beautiful granite kitchen and a state of the art fire place. They later told me that they had the house built just a few years before after spending many years in an old rented house. Just across the yard was a bigger and equally beautiful house that belongs to Isabel's aunt and uncle. Between the two houses, they can host the majority of the family.

La Pineda de la Sierra
The first thing they did when we arrived was switch on the heating because it was FREEZING. We're talking like, 40 degrees. I know that doesn't sound so cold to you Minnesotans, but after weeks of 70/80 degree weather in Madrid, it felt cold. As the house warmed up, Isabel's parents prepared a simple dinner of Spanish tortilla, angulas (best described as mock eels), and cold fried sardines (don't knock it til you've tried it!). After that, Isabel took me into town to meet her friends. She took me to a building she called the "chamizo" which is building donated by the town government as a place for all of the young people of the village to hang out. Although it's basically just a garage, the jóvenes (young people) have put a lot of work into it to make it their own. The garage has black lights, a laser, smoke machine, disco lights and a bunch of speakers hooked up to the wall. Isabel introduced me to all of her friends, which required me giving "besitos" to 20+ people. I quickly learned through the introductions that nearly everyone was related to someone else somehow whether it was siblings, cousins, second cousins or cousin of a cousin.  The chamizo is the gathering place for everyone ages 15-30 in the village. Usually they just sit around on the plastic bar chairs, listen to music and have drinks. Beyond this building, the only other community places in the city are the church and the two bars in town, so hang-out locations are limited. After a few hours of chatting with her friends, we called it a night.

After breakfast on Saturday morning, we went to mass with the rest of the village. Usually the mass on "San Pedro" weekend is held out doors but unfortunately it was raining. I have to say, it's the first time I've ever seen a church packed with people for a mass, but I think it was because it's really more of a social event for the people of the village. After mass, everyone is given a GIANT sandwich filled with tuna, anchovies and roasted red pepper on olive oil bread, which is traditional to eat on San Pedro. We took the sandwiches back to the chamizo and ate them with the rest of Isabel's friends. Soon after, the drinking festivities began. Isabel recommended that we save the drinking for later considering the party would last until morning hours, and it was only 2pm at this point. We spent the afternoon in the chamizo playing games and watching some of the younger kids (15, 16, 17 year-olds) drink lots of alcohol, which apparently in the village is totally acceptable.  Later in the afternoon, we went up to a bar that's a short 5 minute drive away and further up the mountain. At this point, the younger kids were all sufficiently drunk and finally got the courage to talk to me in English, which was pretty funny because up until this point it was all Spanish. Their English was a little rough, but I was glad they tried. After a drink at that bar, we headed back into the village to go to the two bars there. I met some of the adults of the village who were very friendly to me. Isabel told me it's not common to have an outsider in the village, let alone an American, so naturally I attracted attention wherever I went.

Around 10 o'clock we went back to Isabel's house and prepared dinner. In typical Spanish fashion, dinner was served at around 11 at the aunt and uncles house with about 15 family members. After a delicious dinner of mussels, wild mushrooms, rabbit and cured ham, everyone headed back to the main plaza of the village for the "disco mobil" which is basically a truck that converts into a stage for two live DJs. Luckily the rain had stopped by then, but the weather was still freezing so everyone had their winter jackets on.  The whole town was there (children included, even though it was after midnight) to dance to the music. The type of music is what I would imagine Spanish wedding reception music is like considering they were songs every generation seemed to know and most of them had specific dance moves that coordinated with the song (including doing the "electric slide" to a translated version of "Achey-Breaky Heart" haha).  They played music from 12-3am, then there was an hour-long break, and more music again from 4-6am. I'll admit, there was a point around 4am that I thought about calling it a night, but I was determined to stay awake with the rest of the Spaniards! Most of the adults and young children didn't come back for round two of the disco mobil, but the jóvenes were going strong! After the disco mobil ended, the party continued in the chamizo with lights, music and dancing.  Finally, around 7am, the sun was up and Isabel and I called it a night.  Others stayed out to 9am. I don't know how they do it! The way Spaniards celebrate and party here is inhuman to me. Although it was fun to do it for a night, I much prefer the American party schedule.

Dancing at the Disco Mobil
Sunday we slept in and then enjoyed a delicious Spanish BBQ for lunch. After lunch, Isabel and I met up with some of her friends outside the church and just spent the afternoon hanging around there and the bar. We finally headed back to Madrid around 9PM.  I feel so lucky to have experienced a weekend in a traditional Spanish pueblo and to celebrate a special holiday with everyone.  I can definitely see why the pueblos are so beloved by Spanish people. It's time to spend with friends and family with tons of great conversation and great food. These people have grown up together and share a special bond with each other and the village. There's not a lot to do in the town, but that doesn't matter to them; all they care about is good company. It's something that I think Americans could learn from; rather than spending tons of money on activities to keep each other entertained on the weekend, just enjoy one another's presence and have a good time :)

P.S. I'm very behind on my blog entries! Coming soon: Basque Country, Champions League Final and Top Chef BBQ

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