The Thirty Days of Christmas 14

Many of my friends were turning forty this year and celebrating it as if they had no plans of reaching forty-one. On top of that, each and every one had to be greeted with a surprise party to the extreme that my daughter finally told me, “For the next friend, if you really want to surprise him, don’t have a surprise party.”

     Of course, she was absolutely right, but that reasoning was of little good to the rest, and this was the final one of the group, and a Saturday night event was scheduled. My friend’s wife had requested we take a brief video and send it to her so she could put them all together in a large movie. She had begun to remind us a month in advance of the party. She re reminded us several more times till the point at which she said, approximately ten days before the event itself, that she would no longer admit videos beyond this point. I decided to send mine off that morning, of the party that is, with the faint hope that my contribution would be accepted at such a late hour. After all, this was Spain, and things like this were not unknown heard of. Plus, I had been so overwhelmed with work those weeks, I was sure they would understand.

     I also made the most of the morning to try and get some Christmas shopping in.

     I stopped at the corner of Goya and Velázquez, a very artistic meeting point, if you think about it, and gave up. Too many people at the crosswalk waiting for the light to turn green. This can be done at a different time.

     The party had an additional surprise for those of us who were doing the surprise. It was a theme party. A 1970s party, I think, or an amalgamate of the 1970s in the U.S. and the 1980s in Spain. Both equally legendary periods. For Spaniards, the early 80s marked Spain’s big cultural liberation. Actually, it had begun a few years before right after the death of Franco, but things got up and running during the same years Reagan was pulling in the reins and turning back the clock on America. Madrid was in the midst of its now classic cultural explosion known as the Movida Madrileña, which initially refers to the frenetic nightlife that turned the city upside down, but went far beyond that in almost all forms of art and music. The hairdos and funky clothes might be something Spaniards in their 50s and 60s might look back at now and cringe, but once they open their eyes again, they sigh and recall it all with nostalgia.

       I had no plans to dress up, but remembering I had one of those funky white pimp hats at home, don’t ask what it was doing there or why, and, starting there, created a character who would have fit in nicely at Studio 54’s 1979 New Year’s Eve party or played a bit part in the movie Shaft. Though I was hoping for the contrary, it came as no surprise to me that most of the other guests didn’t engage the challenge of the fancy dress motif with the verve that I had. In fact, I have a feeling many didn’t even give it a second thought. And I, being the oldest at the party, came to the conclusion that one of two factors came into play: either I was the only one with a spirit of youth, or the lame crony at the fiesta who no longer had a sense of shame.

      This should have come as no surprise since the Spanish aren’t always willing to go the extra mile for a little laugh of their own dignity. They often refer to this inaction as “sentido de ridículo”, which is used quite often in a derogatory manner to describe their inability to behave foolishly in front of others, but it just as easily be interpreted as a safeguard against acting like an jackass in public. Seeing me at the party pretend I am a member of K.C. and the Sunshine Band merely reaffirmed their faith in this measure of self-imposed prohibition.

      I was comforted by the thought that maybe some of the other males there fidgeted and felt they hadn’t done enough to impress the crowd. Either that or I had suppressed the notion that their wives hugged them on the way home and said with comfort, “I’m sooo glad you aren’t a teacher. Let’s hang out in the living room and watch some Walking Dead.”

      My new guise did no prevent me from performing previously unassigned kitchen duties. I offered, they accepted, and they stuck be in front of the stove and said, “We need you to make some risotto. Now start dicing.”

      Making risotto isn’t necessarily a trying task, as long as you know how to make the dish. I didn’t but made it up as I went, and pretty much got away with it. We actually had two versions lined up. One was a traditional recipe which included all kinds of mushrooms. In Spain they are divided into two groups “champiñones” and “setas”, the latter being the more highly prized, I guess because they grow on higher quality dung, and because they can be picked out in the wild. Apparently there is only one rule that all must obey: use a real wicker or woven basket to ensure the spores of the fungi cant fall out and spread.

      Picking setas is a popular activity in the fall here, and I know dozens of people who engage in it. I don’t because I know I will be the one who picks the kind that kills you within minutes, and no one wants that burden on the CV.

      The other risotto was made with carrillera meat which is a very tender slab of meat. It’s a the flesh off the cheek, which would not make it far in today’s market expressed as such, but that happens to be the truth.

      Both were delicious. Both were a hit.

Shake Your Booty

You have to hand it to the Spanish.  They sure know how to make the most of any festive occasion, even when there isn’t any apparent one to be found.  They pull it out of their asses and turn an otherwise subdued atmosphere into a little shindig.  New Year’s is a fine example.  People often ask me what Americans do on New Year’s Eve, because many think the rest of the world stays at home with the family the way they do and prep for gulping down a dozen pieces of fruit at midnight.  My audience usually consists of people and pets ranging from 5 years to 75 years of age, and so I forego the part about folks drinking to the brink of language impairment and vomiting as a way of ringing in the New Year and address it with a sugar-coated “They go out”. 

            Many parties in other parts of the world rage for much of the evening, which is partially explains why people scream and shout like cowboys and embrace with such fervor before tumbling over and breaking the family glass coffee table.  It also helps me to understand why the Puerta del Sol seemed so subdued compared to cities of similar size.  They were just cranking up, and just as many people from faraway lands were puttering home, the Spanish were out in the streets heading for their first social commitment.  I didn’t show up at mine until 2:00a.m.


            On top of that, they don’t even need a crowd to have a party.  With just six of us at our family gathering, there was more than enough humanity to turn the living room into a makeshift disco, twisting and swaying to some of the 1960s finest one-hit wonders, like “Black is black” (Spain’s first nº 1 in the U.S., believe it or not) or the Shocking Blue’s (a Dutch group, this time) “Venus”, which was revived by Bananarama in the 1980s. These are still no-fail tunes at nearly any Spanish home.  Mostly it was the two older sisters who did the dancing, urging the three men, me included, to join in, which we did, though the elderly mother literally sat out. I secretively envied her because after all these years I just don’t find shaking my booty with four people in an apartment and with all the lights on, much less in front of an eighty-year-old woman that natural, who cheerfully clapped along.  But then again, if KC and the Sunshine Band (who by the way just played at the Rose Bowl) could go on TV donning goofy funky clothes and repeating the same line over and over for five minutes, I guess I could hold out for a gratuitous for the while for the sake of New Year’s merriment. 

     The Spanish love this, and I admire them for feeling so comfortable about expressing their joy without the least bit of worry or care about their image.  It’s funny, they often cry to me that they can’t speak foreign languages because they are too afraid to look ridiculous in front of others.  Then images of middle-aged Spaniards shimmying shamelessly to James Brown come to mind and I just laugh a little to myself.  That’s my Spain!