You Say Tomato, I Say Tomato

Jerry and I both say toeMAYtoe and not toeMAHtoe. Here in Spain we have learned to say tomate (toeMAHtay). Then, last week, Jerry bought Kumato Tomates — which in English could be KooMAHtoe ToeMAHtoe or KooMAYtoe ToeMAYtoe. Or even KooMAHtoe ToeMAYtoe or KooMAYtoe ToeMAHtoe. In Spanish, it’s pronounced KooMAHtoe ToeMAHtay. Well, obviously, my brain went into a tailspin.

The tailspin was worth it. Kumatos (Spanish pronunciation) are delicious.

OUR FIRST KUMATO.
A ROSE BY ANY OTHER NAME?
The lowdown, with thanks to Wikipedia for much of this information: The Kumato is a trade name given to the variety of tomato developed in Spain called “Olmeca.” It’s now grown in Spain, France, Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, Canada, and Mexico. Its size and shape is just like a standard tomato, but the color is reddish brown and it’s got a higher fructose content, which makes it much sweeter (deliciously sweet) than a typical tomato. The Kumato is considered a gourmet tomato and has a much longer shelf life than the traditional tomato.

Syngenta, the company that developed the Kumato, has said they will never make Kumato seeds available to the general public, selling the seeds only to licensed growers that go through a rigorous selection process. But no one is stopping you from taking the seeds and growing your own Kumatos at home. That, I know, is what My Mother The Dowager Duchess would do.

COMING SOON: The Christmas Lights of Sevilla

Christmas in Sevilla — In the Afternoon

This afternoon, I saw the Three Wise Men climbing a rope ladder onto someone’s terrace across the street from our house.  And then when I got home, I stepped out onto my bedroom balcony to find that, a couple of floors above those wise guys, there are another three — with Santa filling in for the guy in the middle. Odder still, they all wear capes. Like superheroes.
WHERE DID THEY STASH THE GOLD, FRANKINCENSE, AND MYRRH (AND SANTA’S GOODIES)?

It is beyond ‘beginning’ to look a lot like Christmas around here.  No snow — although apparently some is being manufactured on one of the large plazas in town, along with an ice-skating rink.  But the decorations are up in force.  Some look very similar to what we’re used to, but the streets and shops are still filled with surprises.

THE TOP OF AVENIDA DE LA CONSTITUCIÓN, IMMEDIATELY SOUTH OF PLAZA NUEVA.

There’s an exceptional Christmas market on Plaza Nueva.  Each booth is stocked with handmade items from mostly local artisans.  Beautiful jewelry, scarves, lamps and other home furnishings, and more.  I scouted it out earlier this afternoon and Jerry and I are planning a walk there tonight (it’s only 10 minutes away) to shop together and to see more of the festive lighting around town.  Sevilla’s City Hall (Ayuntamiento) is on Plaza Nueva and it is apparently lit up brilliantly for Christmas.  There’s also a major nativity scene erected on the south side of the building.
PLAZA NUEVA AND A FEW OF THE STALLS IN THE CHRISTMAS MARKET.

THE AYUNTAMIENTO (CITY HALL).  CAN’T WAIT TO SEE WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE AT NIGHT.

EL BELÉN (THE NATIVITY SCENE), WITH PLAZA NUEVA IN BACKGROUND.

And, of course, there are always the processions.  Yesterday afternoon, when we had just finished our cafés con leche at El Sanedrín, we heard drums that sounded like they were perhaps two blocks away. Then came the horns of a marching band.  We headed in the direction of the music and came upon a small and very good youth marching band from one of the local brotherhoods, the Hermandad del Museo (the Brotherhood of the Museum).  This brotherhood was established in 1575 and, in 1577, moved to the Convent of Mercy, which is now the Museum of Fine Arts.  The brotherhood now makes its home in the chapel (built in 1613) next door to the museum. Lola, my language studies pal, and Alejandro (of “Kiss Me Cheenatown” fame) are both very active members of the brotherhood.

The band was marching around the neighborhood collecting money for the needy.  I was about to snap a picture and was immediately approached (nearly run down) by a very serious teen girl from the brotherhood selling either cheeses or candies.  It was very difficult to tell.  The band was on the move and I wanted a picture.  I said no thanks, but reached to quickly pull some change from my pocket anyway.  A woman approached a moment later, carrying a similar tray of cheesy looking candies or candy looking cheeses, apologized for how pushy the girl had been, and laughed and commended me for paying for the privilege of taking a picture.

GOOD MUSIC.  SAY CHEESE… OR MAYBE CANDY.

Me, I Want A Hula Hoop

THE SANTA COLLECTION.  GIFTS FROM OUR NEPHEWS (AND THEIR PARENTS) OVER THE YEARS.

What would Christmas be without Alvin & the Chipmunks?  Before leaving California earlier this year, when I thinned out the ranks of our CD collection (yes, I know it’s an ancient technology), I apparently included in the “donation pile” my “Christmas with the Chipmunks” CD.  I was probably considering Jerry when I decided to get rid of it.  Their “Christmas Song” drives him up a wall.  A few years back, I willingly got rid of Elmo & Patsy singing “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer.”  Even I tired of that one.  But, the Alvin & the Chipmunks Christmas Song is one of my favorites.  Fortunately, there’s YouTube.  I’ve already listened to the song at least half a dozen times today.  I just didn’t get to listen to it yesterday when we did our decorating.

SOME SWEET MEMORIES.  I LOVE UNPACKING THE ORNAMENTS.

After living in New England for years (until moving to San Diego in 1993), Jerry and I were really spoiled by being able to buy or cut down our own Christmas tree every year. The trees were so fresh that they rarely even dropped a needle after three weeks in the house.

EARLY AFTERNOON BEFORE WE HEADED DOWNSTAIRS FOR OUR “MORNING” COFFEE.

When we moved to San Diego, we bought our first “fresh” tree in a tree lot and lost half the needles before we even got it to the car. So, the next year, we gave in and bought an artificial tree. It was a major adjustment, but once you’ve covered a tree with 750 little white lights and more than 350 ornaments (which is what we used to do… the lights were so bright they’d blind you if you tried to look directly at the tree) , you really can’t tell what’s underneath anyway (except for the fragrance… or lack thereof).

THE BALLET THEME.  TO HONOR OLGA CHICKABOOMSKYA.

When we had the hotel in Palm Springs, we bought a wonderful large, fake tree, pre-strung with lights. Talk about easy. The “branches” folded down into place with the lights perfectly positioned. All we had to do was plug it in. But, in moving to Spain, with its different electrical requirements, we couldn’t bring our pre-strung tree with us. It also didn’t seem to be a very practical thing to haul across the ocean.

NO DROPPING PINE NEEDLES, EVEN IN THE SEVILLANO SUN.

A couple of weeks ago, Jerry had the inspired idea to buy three smaller trees instead of one large one and then to place them in front of each of the three balcony doors in the living room. We bought three excellent quality 5-foot trees. OK, they’re still fake and I really miss that rich evergreen smell, but I have adjusted. We then bought strings of 280 lights for each and plant stands to raise them up a bit. We unpacked and decorated while playing our Christmas CDs (Willie Nelson, Celia Cruz, the Los Angeles Gay Men’s Chorus, the South Dakota Acoustic Christmas). Next up is “Peter, Paul, & Mary” and their holiday celebration (they’ve got Chanukah songs, too). So our first Christmas in Sevilla should be OK. Even if Alvin and the Chipmunks aren’t here.

Silver Spoons and [Aluminum] Tins

After spending a week with The Dowager Duchess (my mother) at her apartment, I am pleased to report that I did not return to Sevilla with any of her old Tupperware (the worst of which has already been thrown in the trash). I did, however, return with incredible art supplies (water color crayons, water color pencils, and artist’s markers); a fuzzy, nubby, zippered sweatshirt The Duchess bought more than 10 years ago in San Francisco — even though it was my size and not hers — because she was cold; a dreamcatcher keychain she received as a gift for a donation she gave to a Lakota Sioux school in South Dakota; and a sterling silver spoon with a windmill (that actually turns) that my uncle Harry gave her more than 30 years ago to give to my sister (who had a silver spoon collection).

I was thrilled to have the art supplies.  They are all either unused or barely used.  The Duchess bought them for various art classes over the years and then didn’t enjoy the media.  The sweatshirt fits me perfectly and is a deep, rich shade of green.  I wore it several times while in New York and I wore it today in Sevilla.  It will get great use.  The silver spoon is charming.  The Duchess suggested I could sell it (as if I could find someone to buy it).  The keychain is interesting.  I’m sure someone in Sevilla will enjoy having it.

My mother doesn’t easily get rid of things.  Her apartment is loaded with stuff, more stuff than Jerry and I ever had.  Art supplies; fabrics; yarns; books; stitchery and creativity magazines; projects from art classes; stacks of paintings and sketch pads; polished and unpolished rocks (my parents were rock hounds); polished rocks mounted in jewelry settings; sea shells (buckets and buckets of seashells); photos (in albums and loose, dozens and dozens of loose photos propped up on shelves); a mortar and pestle collection.  It makes me a little crazy. So, now when she offers me things, I usually accept — if only to get them out of her house.

Around 1999, I was sitting with The Duchess in the bedroom that is basically her crafts and projects room.  She looked around and said, “Oh, I really have to start getting rid of things.”

DREAMCATCHERS ORIGINATED IN THE OJIBWE (CHIPPEWA) CULTURE (BEFORE THE KITSCH VERSIONS).

Ten years earlier, in 1989, a couple of years after my father died, Jerry and I took The Duchess and my brother to South Dakota with us to visit Jerry’s family.  In Mitchell, South Dakota, at the Corn Palace, my mother bought a burlap sack filled with individual bags of microwave popcorn.  She gave each of her sisters and her brother one bag of microwave popcorn.  She kept the empty burlap sack for herself.

In response to The Duchess’s comment that she needed to start getting rid of things, I grabbed the burlap sack from where it lay on the desk and, tossing it into the little garbage pail, said, “Well, you can start with this.”

The Duchess flew out of her chair, pulled the sack from the trash, crushed it to her chest as if she had just saved its life, and gasped, “No!”

I looked at her incredulously and asked, “Why not?”

She said calmly, “I might be able to use it for a project.”

SLIGHTLY USED.  FROM THE DOWAGER DUCHESS THRIFT SHOP.

So, I gave up.  Until a little over three years ago.  The Duchess was in the hospital having been hit by a car when she was crossing the street to catch a bus (her sisters were furious with her for taking the bus and not using her car service, but I suggested that she could just as easily have been hit crossing the street to meet the car service).  It was a frightening time but she was an amazing patient and was also fortunate to recover after two months of hospital and rehab.  While she was at her worst, and before and after visiting hours, I spent a lot of time alone in her apartment. The only thing that kept me sane were phone calls with Jerry, until he joined me — and obsessively cleaning and organizing her apartment.  I cleaned closets and cabinets, I dumped musty old linens and army blankets, and expired medicines and canned goods.  But I did not throw out that burlap bag until she was well enough to give me permission.  She did, and she also gave me permission to get rid of a lot more, although not as much as I would have liked.
 

SOME TINS.

Since the early ’70s, The Dowager Duchess has been saving tins of all sizes (from candies, from chocolates, from teas, from cookies and shortbread).  Some of the tins are quite nice.  Others look like, well, tins that held candies and chocolates and teas and cookies and shortbread.  Most of the tins line the upper shelves of two hutches in the bedroom I use when I visit.  The remainder are atop the hutch in the “crafts room” (the room Jerry uses) or scattered here and there around the house.

SOME MORE TINS.

A few years ago, I counted the tins — I suppose just to be a bit of a smart ass.  There were 87.  There may be more now; she may have added some without telling me.  Those tins make me crazy.  She has gotten better about getting rid of things, but (admirably, I suppose) she insists on donating everything to local charities rather than just taking things down to the trash in the back hall and letting the neighbors who like to pick have at them.  Out of respect, I behave myself and do not sneak any away with me to discreetly toss.  It’s tempting. I always feel like they’re going to hurl themselves down on me while I sleep.

A FEW MORE ATTACK TINS. SEE THE VICIOUS LOOK IN THE EYES OF THE SHEEPDOG?

New York’s Home But It Ain’t Mine No More

Thanks to Neil Diamond and his song, “I Am, I Said,” for the title of this post even though the grammatical errors make me a little crazy — but, admittedly, “New York’s home but it isn’t mine anymore” is not as poetic… and it would be even more of a mouthful for singing.  I will momentarily forgive his grammar because Neil Diamond went to my high school (Abraham Lincoln High School on Ocean Parkway) and his aunt owned a beauty parlor on Brighton Beach Avenue (appropriately called “Diamonds”) where she proudly displayed his photo in the window.  And, while I’m on the subject of the song, “I Am, I Said,” I’d like to thank Jerry for making the trek back to New York with me just so we could see my mother and brother and for, more than 30 years ago, not “leaving me lonely still.” I don’t even want to imagine what my life would have been like without San Geraldo.

WE MOVED HERE FROM LONG ISLAND IN 1964.
(GRAY SCAFFOLDING AT GROUND LEVEL; IN THE MIDST OF BRICK REPAIRS AGAIN.)

We are back in Sevilla, happy to be home and with a bad case of jet lag. My mother, the Dowager Duchess, surprised us yet again by deciding that, at the age of 84, she wanted to purchase her first computer.  She said she was inspired to get one so we could do video Skype calls every week.  So, our first day in Brooklyn, we took her (along with my brother Chuck) to Best Buy where I helped her select a laptop with a large monitor.  She then decided she’d also like to have a printer. I called the cable company to install a line for her and they were able to do so the day before we left.

FROM THE AGE OF 10, I LIVED 17 FLOORS UP (6 FLOORS FROM THE TOP)l

Since the modem needed to plug into her phone and since the newest of the four phones in the apartment was 25 years old (one phone has a rotary dial), I had to run down to the store (luckily, there’s a Radio Shack across the street) and buy new phones while the installer was running the cable.  I had a lot to try and teach the Dowager Duchess in our last day and a half.  Computer, printer/scanner/copier, phone with digital answering machine.  I wrote up around 10 individual pages of instructions, such as “How to Turn On/Off Computer,” “How to Read Email,” “How to Send Email,” “How to Create a Microsoft Word Document,” “How to Skype,” etc.  Jerry suggested we get her some type of “Computing for Dummies” book.  She hates the series simply because she doesn’t like to think of herself as a dummy and she finds the title offensive, but I told her how helpful the books are, so we’re going to order one for her.

ON THE WAY TO STARBUCK’S ON BRIGHTON BEACH AVENUE, OUR LAST MORNING IN BROOKLYN.

I am a Mac user.  My mother bought an HP PC.  I used a PC at one job for a few years, but I’m much better with a Mac, so figuring things out and then teaching my mother was challenging.  I’m a good teacher but not when I’m clueless.  The Dowager Duchess took a computing class in college about 10 years ago, so recognized some things, but hasn’t had any practical experience.  She doesn’t want to take another computing class now at the college because she said they go into much more technical detail than she wants or needs.  So, she thought she’d take the computing class offered at her local Senior Center where she goes weekly for a painting studio.  Ironically, the Center’s computers got attacked by a virus and the class has been canceled.

OUR LAST VISIT TO STARBUCK’S FOR A WHILE.

I hope it all doesn’t overwhelm the Dowager Duchess and I look forward to our first weekly Skype video call this Sunday.  Chuck, with his learning problems and limited reading skills, is amazing with technology (and a lot of other things as well).  He intuitively knows how to work the Duchess’s mobile phone (and once at my request showed her where to place it in relation to her ear so she could actually hear me when I called).  Chuck is an ace at his Nintendo games.  I have a feeling he’ll figure out the computer and printer without the help of any books.

THE VIEW FROM THE KITCHEN JUST BEFORE WE LEFT FOR THE AIRPORT.
THAT’S THE OCEAN WE WERE ABOUT TO CROSS.

Considering my concerns, I was amazed to find — when we landed in Barcelona last night and I turned on my smartphone — an email message waiting for us from the Dowager Duchess telling us she missed us and welcoming us home to Spain.  She’s just full of surprises.

A VERY DIFFERENT VIEW OF THE WORLD.
JERRY AND MARGARITA, SEEN FROM OUR LIVING ROOM IN SEVILLA.