This Friday I took a train to the city of Jaen, a 22 euro fare and a 3 hour ride from Sevilla Santa Justa. In order to get to the outlying towns of Baeza and Ubeda, this seemed to be the best choice. On arrival I boarded a bus to Ubeda with a flood of university students flocking to their pueblo with dirty laundry and empty Tupperware. More on this weekend phenomenon in a later post.
By now the sky was darkening, but the hundreds, thousands, of rows of olive trees were still visible in contrast to the chalky soil. Neat rows of scraggly trees stretched across the countryside heavy with the region’s chief export and claim to fame. I made the decision to travel east because I’d never seen the province of Jaen, one of only two provinces I have yet to see here in Andalucia. A considerable bonus for my visit here was to spend time with a friend native to Ubeda. As with many of my experiences in Spain, the personal touch of a local family illuminates a city from the inside out. And so my weekend in Ubeda began with Rosana’s parents kindly picking me up at the bus station and driving me around the city for a nighttime tour of the muralla and the casco viejo (old city).
To stay in the Crespo family home is to stay in a palace filled with love, laughter and artwork. When Rosana joined us after work, we did the only logical thing: went out for tapas. At a beautiful pub only a few steps away, we settled in at the bar for one of Andalucia’s best offerings: free tapas! As in Granada, each time you request a drink, a plate of food magically appears bearing the most delightful treats: pork loin, ham, seafood salad, and a brilliant grilled asparagus – who needs dinner when you can tapear for the price of a drink? This would be the beginning of a weekend full of “Toma, Kelly” in which I am fed a piece of everything that materializes on the table or at the bar. It’s not long until I collapse under a down comforter in a dreamy haze of wine and good food.
In the morning I am treated to a guided tour of town led by the Artificis group that included the Capilla, the Ayuntamiento, one of the local churches and an informative walk around the old city. Young boys careen around in sailor suits while their female counterparts walk far more carefully to avoid dirtying their miniature bridal gowns – the spectacle that is the First Communion in Catholicism. We encounter a wedding in the ayuntamiento and a crowd of poshly dressed attendants and I am once again floored by the amount of females wobbling across the cobblestones in stilettos. The tour ends at a newly discovered marvel with special significance to the Crespo family: La Sinagoga del Agua, tucked away just off the main street. To give this interesting location its due, I will make a separate post detailing the history of this discovery.
At Ana’s store one can find thoughtful souvenirs and beautiful ceramic pieces from local workshops. The traditional glaze is a startling green: the color of rainforests, springtime and jealousy. From behind the counter, the workers procure a bag of ochíos filled with pisto and I happily munch my way through this snack similar to an empañada. After a tapas stop in a neaby plaza we return to the house to feast on homemade seafood soup and roasted red peppers with fresh bread. Already the Spaniards are wondering “where does she put it all?” There is nothing more satisfying to a Spanish mother than a guest, and an American one at that, who will clear her plate. With an appetite like mine, this is an easy request to fill 🙂
We embark on a siestilla (younger cousin to the siesta) and wake up bound for the neighboring pueblo of Baeza. It’s important to note that both cities fall under the mantle of the prestigious “Patrimonio de la Humanidad” title bestowed on them by the government that inspires a friendly competition between the two. Baeza is half the size of Ubeda (population 15,000 vs 30,000) but no less beautiful. The alleyways around the cathedral conjure images of royalty and peasants making their way to worship (through separate doors of course). Winding through the streets, the sounds of fife and drum can be heard nearby. This is neither fanfare nor celebration but practice, for the rapidly approaching Semana Santa. We make a stop so I can purchase some typical food from the region: a bag of ochíos (crunchy breadsticks from Ubeda) and a box of virolos (puffy pastries from Baeza). Before nightfall I’m able to catch a glimpse of the valley although its mostly shrouded in clouds, and I am rewarded another view of the landscape I traveled through earlier.
Back in Ubeda we meet with some of Rosana’s friends at a local bar. Several boys surround a guitar player and sing songs joking about the crisis and other topics befitting of a chirigota at carnival. Tapas follow – fried artichokes, and french fries with fried eggs (don’t make that face, its a delicious combination). It is only when we make our way to a local club that I hear the first strains of English I’ve heard since Friday morning. It should be no surprise that we encountered several American students from Sevilla on a weekend trip to the province. Defying the stereotype, one boy spoke to me in Spanish for at least ten minutes, something most American students can’t, don’t, or won’t do. So kudos to you, Andrew from Arizona – keep up the good work.
Fireworks sound in the distance when I wake up to my last day in town. I’ve lost an hour overnight, as we have just sprung forward into Central European Summer Time (CEST) here in Spain. I am loathe to lose the hour as today is the day la Iglesia de Santa Maria will open, after almost 3 decades without weddings, baptisms or masses performed within its walls. We will take a long walk around town waiting for the muncipal band to toot its final horn and for someone to please open the doors. Ultimately I will miss this event as we prepare to go back to our respective cities. But as they say you must leave something to come back to. We’ll meet again, Santa Maria!
With a bag of goodies, a book about the synagogue, a lovingly prepared bocadillo and a can of the miracle elixir (olive oil) – I travel back to the land of oranges. Where it will still be light by 8pm and summer is about to settle in for the long haul. By this time next week, it will already be April.