This past weekend my hosts Fatima and Ainhoa brought me to Cuero; it is a small pueblo outside of Oviedo where Fati grew up. I’m not sure of the exact ratio between km and mile, but after experiencing a Spanish highway, I am sure that I will never drive while in Europe. The pueblo lies in the shadow of Peñaflor, a hulking inverted cliff that intimidatingly leans over the prado. Cuero is the type of town where everyone knows everyone, with a single centered bar/restaurant/convenience store/post office. The houses lining the cliff are colored in shades of blue, yellow, and white, with thick stone bases. The unpaved roads are lined by orange and lemon trees and at times occupied by mules, horses, goats, and cows freely roaming the territory. The air smells of eucalyptus due to a large grove of trees to the north.
In Cuero I met the abuelos, a well-traveled pair that settled in Asturias 36 years ago after doing a tour of Europe. We went to the childhood home of Fati where her parents reside for bonding time and family talk of politics, the state of social security, and why I shouldn’t go to Morocco (advice which I have chosen to neglect). We also partook in the region’s drink of choice, sidra, a hard cider poured at an arm’s length above your head for the purpose of oxidation. My continual attempts to pour it myself mean that my shoes ooze a persistent smell of sidra. After being poured, the sidra is to be taken at once, and then toss the dregs. My host grandma speaks with a thick Portuguese accent, though I saw qualities reminiscent of my own in her features and interests (cats, meatballs, etc., but less bowling). Grandpa led the way, hand-carved cane in hand, to the heights behind Cuero. The peak offers an amazing view of the Asturian countryside and of the snow capped mountains that mark the region’s borders. The paths behind the town lead to the community centers of the past, the lavadoras filled with fresh spring water where clothes were washed and the wooden sheds for storing firewood.
Europe celebrated Carnaval the last two weeks of February, which meant taking the streets in costume. The Asturian towns claim different weekends for their celebrations, with Oviedo’s celebration having been this last weekend, the 21st and 22nd. Oviedo experienced a large flux in tourism from surrounding pueblos, filling the streets as early as 5 p.m. for a parade leading up to the Gothic Cathedral. By day, the Spaniards crammed themselves full of frizuelos, crepes with marmalade and nutella, and turned the usual short siesta into a daylong event. By night, both the streets and clubs were packed with painted and glittered patrons, atochas in hand. Clowns, pirates, cows, Simpsons, those dudes from LMFAO, and robots ran through the streets singing. At times, I was thrown off by costumes that would be considered non-PC and had to remind myself that I am in Spain. What was truly incredible to me was the age range. Even the oldest of Asturians were dressed in costume, as muskateers, as medieval princesses, with wigs, and with masks. The parks that our parents beg us to avoid were full of the younger crowd; the main line Parque de San Francisco was maybe the craziest jungle of teenage hormones I have ever seen. A twelve year old girl dressed as a beer can and wearing Jimmy Choo’s leaped out of a tree in front of me, cackled, and continued to skateboard down the hill towards the main street. We reconvened in the Plaza de Paraguas, a merry group of 21 Philadelphians treating the occasion like Halloween. Maybe because of the mob mentality, of being in large groups and masked by a costume, or maybe because the crowd was full of people from outside the city, people were friendlier and enthusiastic to speak with us. Generally, it is difficult to integrate into new groups of people in Spain, but the group experienced some general success in nabbing up tandem partners who were eager to correct our mispronunciations.
The next morning, walking to El Fontan for the Sunday flea market, I noticed that there were people still dressed from the night before in the outdoor seating areas of the cafeterias. During my morning coffee, I was seated between Snow White, a skeleton, and the entire cast of Mario Party.