19 July 2010

World Cup Madness & Family Reunion in Nerja

We arrived in Nerja, a short drive from Granada, just in time to watch the final game of the 2010 Copa Mundial and then celebrate Spain's first-ever championship with just about everyone in town. A few dejected Dutch fans (see below left) were the only exceptions to the jubilant crowds parading through the streets and - in some cases - fountains dressed in red and yellow and wrapped in and/or carrying the Spanish flag.

Lots of photos from that memorable evening. Days later we were still hearing spontaneous bursts of creativity from the bar down from our wonderful rental apartment (thanks Frans & Nuttee), as inspired Spaniards burst out with new songs commemorating the campeones del once de julio.

Nerja, located on the Costa del Sol, is an old town that caters more to tourists from other European countries, unlike than the newish resort of Oropesa del Mar, where almost everyone seemed to be Spanish. It is also the birthplace of Kurt's great-grandmother on his mother's side. Angustias Centurión, mother of his maternal grandfather, was born here in the 1880s, moving as an infant to Cuba, where her military father was stationed to help stifle rebellious initiatives. Angustias later immigrated with her husband to Tampa, Florida, where "El Boy" Fernández (Kurt's mother's father) was born. Meanwhile, the Centurión clan has continued to prosper in Nerja, and Kurt has many distant relatives there.

In our first trip to Nerja in 2000, we met three elderly nieces of Angustias and some of their children. Ten years later, the ladies had passed on, but we reconnected with Loli and Miguel, children of Dolores. Together, they still operate the "Bar Italica" in Plaza Cavana, near the Balcón de Europa. We also met Linda, another Centurión, born in England, whose grandfather was the eldest uncle of Loli and Miguel. Family photos here.

We also got in some serious beach time, along with the usual culinary adventures. Our best find was Jaipur's Indian restaurant, a short walk from the apartment. Jaipur's serves a special wine - named Balti - blended to complement various categories of spicy Indian foods. In the small world department, the blend of chenin and chardonnay we selected comes from Mendoza, Argentina. When we get back home, we're going to track it down. The Argentine connection continues.

13 July 2010

We're Out of Argentina, but Argentina Isn't Out of Us

The evening of July 5th, we headed north to escape the coming Argentine winter. About 36 hours and many many valuable Continental miles later, we landed in Barcelona, Spain, where we picked up a rental car and started off for a 3-week vacation in the sun.

Our first stop - fortuitous, since it was the only one not planned in advance - was Oropesa del Mar, along Spain's eastern Costa Azahar, about a 3-4 hour drive south of Barcelona.

The Marina D'Or resort complex there was a wonderful place to get some beach time after the long trip from Buenos Aires and then watch Spain beat Germany to advance to the final game of the World Cup. In the ensuing jubilation we gained lots of little-while friends and learned some valuable chants and songs, such as "Soy español, español, español; soy español, español, español." This easy to remember and quite manageable ditty came in handy the night of July 11, a date now forever etched into the hearts of españoles everywhere. But more on that in a later posting. More photos from Oropesa here.

Next stop: the Alhambra in Granada. Ever since her first visit in 2000 to this grand complex of mainly Moorish architecture and landscaping with Reyes Católicos overlays, Linda had wanted to stay on the grounds for a few nights. The Hotel América, an economical alternative to the Parador next door, more than adequately served the purpose. We had purchased tickets in advance for a day-time visit of the gardens and post-Moorish structures and a wonderful night-time tour of the Nasrid Palaces, built in the 14th century. Photos of the grounds here; photos from the night tour of the palaces here.

What we didn't know was that the 59th annual music and dance festival also was going on. Featured performers the days we were there included Rodolfo Mederos, famed Argentine bandoneon player whom we have heard twice in Buenos Aires, and Daniel Barenboim, Israeli-Argentine pianist and conductor, whom we will see directing the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra (coincidentally based in Sevilla in southern Spain) at the Teatro Colon in August.

But the biggest surprise was running into Argentine president Cristina Fernández (no relation), stopping by briefly on her way home from an official visit to China. We knew something was afoot when we saw a security detail (obvious from the earplugs) casing the restaurant of the Parador, accompanied by officials using such typically Argentine phrases as "chau chau" and "besitos." We returned after dinner time for a glass of wine and, despite security attempts to block us, were able to snag a photo of the presidenta without her trademark heavy make-up and wearing eyeglasses. Even presidentas suffer jetlag.

04 July 2010

Music & Human Beings

Last week our destinies connected with those of some wonderful people from very different backgrounds, all thanks to our daughter Belén, and we are now part of a larger effort to bring to Buenos Aires UNESCO Artist for World Peace Marcel Khalifé. Marcel learned to play the oud growing up in Lebanon and has composed numerous lyrical and orchestral works incorporating both Arabic and western instruments. His compositions have been performed around the world, in such venues as the Kennedy Center, Royal Albert Hall, Sydney Opera House, La Scala, and more.

Mustafa Habib, Marcel's manager based in Houston, had graciously given Belén permission to use one of Marcel's compositions for the promotional video of her book Coffee with Hezbollah. When we learned that Mustafa was trying to arrange a Latin American tour showcasing Marcel's new symphonic works, we volunteered to help out however we could in Buenos Aires. Shortly thereafter we attended a program in the National Library put on by the Argentine - Arab community celebrating Palestine culture, with a special focus on poet Mahmoud Darwish, many of whose poems Marcel has put to music. At the reception following the program, we approached a young man who had accompanied with the oud a recitation of a Darwish poem. Thus we met the Attar family, five generations of Argentine Lebanese who speak Arabic as well as Spanish and English and who promote Lebanese and Arabic culture through a variety of organizations. Immediately, the Attars signed up to lend their considerable good will, talents, and resources to bring Marcel and his work to Argentina.

Mustafa flew to Buenos Aires last week for a whirlwind of meetings with community leaders and embassy and city officials organized by Daniel Attar. The response has been overwhelmingly positive, and the planning is continuing for a 2011 concert in Buenos Aires. We tagged along for several of these meetings as well as quite a few social occasions, including watching Argentina beat Mexico in the World Cup at the Attar house.

We have been impressed not only with the talents and graciousness of the Attar family but also their genuine respect for all human beings. To commandeer a favorite saying of Daniel, we thank our God for our new friends. (Above right, Mustafa and Daniel at the Attar house; above left, meeting with the Buenos Aires Cultural Office.) More photos here.