Sunday, December 13, 2015

A busy month

A whole month has past since the last post -- not because nothing has happened but because we were too busy.  The biggest focus of attention was Ingrid and I finishing our chapter for the Annual Review of Phytopathology, titled The evolutionary ecology of plant disease: a phylogenetic perspective.  Writing an annual review is a huge undertaking, since it is supposed to be an authoritative, insightful, complete review of an area that also helps set the agenda for what most needs to be done next.
Working together was great as usual, dividing some tasks where we are most complementary in our strengths and then working together to craft the ideas, structure, and text.  It was a great chance for us to catch up on literature, clarify our thinking, and be creative in conveying why we think using phylogenetic tools is useful way beyond where they have been used so far.  We both learned a ton, and it will be really useful in our next writing projects coming up in January through June.  We sent that off on 1 December, and now are waiting for reviews and revisions sometime in the new year.  Great thanks to the Jordano lab group at the EBD for all their tremendous support and insightful comments that really helped shape how we presented our ideas.  
I have also been really busy with grad student activities, with Heather and Sharifa finishing up, Juniper doing her qualifying exam, and Jessica and Shannon submitting grants. 

Ingrid and I got to take two field trips with people from the Jordano and Vilà labs to help bring in long-term seed traps and visit and ongoing diversity experiment that we might layer some disease work into.  These were great opportunities to spend good time in the field with the great scientists in the groups plus see some cool regions -- one full of wild olives and laurels and the other seasonal marshes. 
The research sites are too far from Sevilla for a quick visit, but close enough to be able to get in a good day's work. 

There were also lots of great birds coming in for the winter.  

Eli and I made a cheesecake for Ingrid's birthday, and a few days later we had a lovely Thanksgiving dinner with roast turkey and all the usual accompanying dishes except cranberry sauce -- there are no cranberries to be had anywhere.  We shared our dinner with friends from Eli's music conservatory, a Peruvian-Venezuelan-Spanish family of artists, with hours of lively and fun conversation. 

We also experienced two very Sevillian events -- the annual Arabian horse show (with hundreds of thousands of visitors), and yet another parade by our flat -- but this time with Jesus instead of Mary riding the platform. 

Finally, it was time to head back to California for a mid-sabbatical visit.  We discovered that we made flight arrangements for a Wednesday many months ago, but that Eli had that Monday and Tuesday as a "super puente", days off of school.  So we found a great air b-n-b in Madrid and headed north on the super-fast AVE train on Sunday to spend a few days visiting museums before flying out.  Wonderful collections of Goya (here shown, not too happy with the treatment he gets from pigeons), Picasso (really cool to see Guernica in person), El Greco, El Bosco, Velázquez, Dali, and more.  Both El Prado and the Reina Sophia museums were like thumbing through my old art history text books. 
We even got to row a boat around a lake -- Eli's first time rowing! Oh, and really great churros con chocolate -- hot chocolate so thick it verges on warm pudding!


Sunday, November 8, 2015

Tourists at home

We spent this weekend (besides cleaning the flat) being tourists in Sevilla. 
Friday night, while Elias wandered Sevilla quedando with his school class, Ingrid and I had a great date for tapas at the old Las Golondrinas (we've gone to the new one next door a couple times, but this was our first time in the original).  Same great food, older (and beautiful and busy) atmosphere.

Saturday afternoon we walked up the river to the Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporaneo, which was a remodeled monestery (Cartujo), remodeled military site, remodeled pottery factory, and finally, remodeled as an art museum in the 1990s.  The building itself is wonderful, including the chimneys remaining from the days as a pottery factory.   We bike/skate past it every time we go to the EBD, but hadn't taken the time to do more than peak in before.

The displays were really interesting, mostly based around videos.  Some work focused on 1950s French short films by Alain Resnais were great, including one of the National Library in Paris and another on Picasso's Guernica.  Elias was really taken by films from the Occupy movement in various countries by Oliver Ressler, showing footage inside political street protests.  This sparked a great discussion on the way home about protest, civil disobedience, personal responsibility for disobedience, and the difficulties in intervention by powerful countries in problems of smaller countries.  Art at its best to get you thinking. 

Ingrid, Eli, and Christopher C.
Sunday we ¡finally! went to the Catedral de Sevilla and the Giralda, the towering symbol of Sevilla.  The Cathedral dates to the 14th century, claim to the be 3rd largest in the world, and houses tremendous art and, among many others, the mausoleum of Christopher Columbus (Cristóbal Colón). 

The gothic ornamentation everywhere was over the top. 

Besides lots of Virgins, gory Jesuses, and even the severed head of John the Baptist, there was some quite impressive art. 

The view from the top of the Giralda (originally a minaret before the fall of Sevilla to the Christians), across all of Sevilla was spectacular.  We picked an unusually warm and sunny day for the season and were well rewarded with the views.


Monday, November 2, 2015


We took advantage of the long weekend for Día de Todos los Santos to explore more of Andalucía, this time to the southernmost part of Spain by Algeciras and the United Kingdom enclave of Gibraltar.  We stayed in an Air B&B in kind of up-scale development south of Algeciras, with a beautiful view of Africa, just a long swim away.
 A big bonus, for Elias, was that the place came with a super-friendly cat.  Not so great for Ingrid (cat allergy), but Negri mostly lived outside, and came in to cuddle with Eli -- especially Monday morning, when Eli woke up with something flu-ish (by Monday night, he was deep in cold-mode but the flu symptoms had passed).

Naturally, it was a rainy vacation weekend.  Saturday, we went for a morning walk at the Botanic Garden and an afternoon walk on trails in the Parque Nacional Alcornoques,  which is a park full of beautiful cork oaks.  And not a few cows and goats.

Sunday, it threatened lots of up to 9 cm (3.5 inches) of rain, but in the morning it looked just blustery, so we decided it wasn't a good idea to hike more in the forest, and that instead we would go visit nearby Gibraltar.  Gibraltar is a big rock filled with limestone caves (including one that was set up for a military hospital and is now a concert hall), and a city of 30,000 British citizens, part of the UK since 1704.

It is also the home of several hundred Barbary Macaques, descendants of north-African Macaques (once ranging as far north as England) but now semi-wild, fed fruits and veggies by the British government since the time of Churchill.
They are completely habituated to tourists, but the £1,000 fine for feeding them keeps them one-step removed from  being pets.

We came down from the rock to city center, and went off in search of some British food at a pub dating from the 18th century -- chicken pie with boiled cabbage, peas, chips, and for Ingrid, brown gravy.  Soon after it started raining, first just rain, then a serious, torrential downpour.  The report is that they had 36 mm  (1.4") of rain in 30 min!

By then we were already wet so we kept walking back toward the border with Spain.  We got to near the stretch where you had to walk across the airport runway, but the thunder and lightening got pretty thick, and the streets were completely flooded.  We decided walking that last bit wouldn't be our brightest moment.

We asked where to catch a bus that last 500m to the border, and it turns out it was just 50m down the street, so we headed there, walking through deep water.  By the time we reached the bus stop, the water had flooded beyond the street to calf-deep, so we climbed up on the bench to be out of the water.

A big garbage can next to the bus stop started floating around in the wake of passing vehicles.  Finally a bus came by, we flagged it down, and it took us to the border, where we dripped through customs, and walked back to our rental car on the Spanish side.
Driving back many streets were flooded, but after about 15 min we had gone up enough in elevation to be out of the flood zone.     Quite a weekend adventure!

Sunday, October 25, 2015


Seems time in Sevilla is zooming past.  Finally feel like there is good progress on the Annual Review, which is good because the deadline is just over a month away!  Learning lots of great things from both the Jordano and Vilà groups, and feel like we've got a great work-life balance going here, doing something fun every weekend, and taking road trips on the long weekends.

One of the things we are all really enjoying is cooking.  Elias has been really digging in, responsible for at least one dinner a week, and being very creative and successful with his cooking.  He's learning lots of new techniques, and applying them in great ways.   Tonight he and I worked together to make home-made pizzas, starting with fresh tomatoes for the sauce and hand-made crusts.  Awesome!

But our finest hour of cooking has been the olives he and I made, starting a month and a half ago.  I bought a big bag of olives, a wooden mallet, and a bucket.  And we got to work.  First we smashed each olive individually to crack open the skin.  

Then we soaked them in water in the bucket, changing to fresh water daily until most of the bitterness was gone.  Our sources said two weeks, but it took us more than three weeks to get to an edible stage.  Then we divided them into six batches, and made several different variations of how we handled the brine, vinegar, and spices.

Some were brined, and then later put in vinegar and spice.  Others straight into a combination of brine, vinegar, and spices.  Some then got packed in olive oil, others just got a sealing layer of oil on the top of the jars.  The spices ranges from very simple to very spicy!

Each version came out delicious and very, very different.  I'm just hoping we can eat through enough of these in the next month so that Ingrid lets us make more batches while it is still olive season!

Here are the recipes we used for the olives.
Pre-prep:  Wack each olive with a wooden hammer until it splits, to allow the bitter oleuropein to leach out.  Put all the olives in a plastic bucket filled with water.  Put a plate on top of olives to keep all submerged.  Change water daily for about 3 weeks, until the the olive taste mellows (I've read that this can be done in a week, but for us 2 wks seems close, and 3 weeks perfect).  Divide the olives into batches for different spices and treatments.  Mason jars work really well for this.

We invented 6 varieties based loosely on different recipes we saw on line.  
1. In Oil.  Cover olives with brine (1/4 c salt + 4 c water), and let soak for a week.  Rinse olives. Place in jar with olives 2 squashed garlic cloves, 1 bay leaf, 1 sprig rosemary, and cover with olive oil.
2. Simple. Place in jar with olives: 2 bay leafs and 2 tsp coriander seeds.  Cover with 1/4 c salt, 4 c water, 1/2 c vinegar.  Layer with olive oil to cover surface.
3. Spicy.  Place in jar with olives: 1 tsp black peppercorn, 2 tsp coriander seed, 2 tsp oregano, 6 cloves smashed garlic, 6 pico-de-gallo chilies, 4 bay leaves.  Cover with 1/4 c salt, 4 c water, 1/2 c vinegar.  Layer with olive oil to cover surface.
4. Lemony. Place in jar with olives: 2 cloves smashed garlic, peel of a lemon (dried first in the oven), 1 tsp oregano.   Cover with 1/4 c salt, 4 c water, 1/2 c vinegar.  Layer with olive oil to cover surface.
5. Plain.  Place in jar with olives: 2 tsp peppercorns.   Cover with 1/4 c salt, 4 c water, 1/2 c vinegar.  Layer with olive oil to cover surface.
6. Romero.  Place in jar with olives: 3 sprigs rosemary, 2 sprigs thyme.   Cover with 1/4 c salt, 4 c water, 1/2 c vinegar.  Layer with olive oil to cover surface.

All six of these recipes produced great olives we enjoy eating.  The Simple and Plain varieties are pretty straight-forward olive-tasting olives.   The In Oil variety is good, but not better that the others packed in brine with a little olive oil on top -- not really worth the extra oil.  The Romero variety is tasty, with that Mediterranean spice flavor in the olives, but still a strong olive flavor.  The two family favorites are Spicy and Lemony.  I like the Spicy best: the olive flavor is still strong but the mix of flavors and touch of hot (mild, but noticeable) from the chilies combine to be the kind of olives I'd go back to buy on a regular basis.  The Lemony are Eli's favorite, which a strong lemon-zest component that is very distinctive and tasty (but a little too dominant a zest flavor to be a strong favorite for me).  The Romero and Simple are great sides to otherwise flavorful foods.

Monday, October 12, 2015

La Alpujarra

It has been a good, busy couple of weeks.  Ingrid and I have integrated more into the labs of Montse Vilà and Pedro Jordano, joining in lab meetings, lab lunches, and getting to know people.  We've also been feeling good about work again, with good progress on paper fronts.  Writing the Annual Review feels like writing pre-qual exams, but with the expectations that we can sound authoritative, not just well informed.  Part of the challenge is figuring out the exact audience we are writing for, because it is both for plant pathologists, most of whom have little background in evolutionary ecology, and for evolutionary ecologists who are interested in diseases, but with less real pathology background.  So there is a lot of framing needed for each group that doesn't really overlap.  Still, as always, being forced to write helps me figure out what I know and don't know,  and points me toward what I need to clarify in my own head.  Such a perfect project for sabbatical.

Elias is well settled into school now, and has regular Friday outings with the gang of kids from his class.  He is also very busy with the conservatory, which just got busier because he was accepted into the "external" orchestra, which plays at various places around the city, and includes another 2h/wk of rehearsals.  He is very excited to be playing so much.

This was a long weekend for the Fiesta Nacional de España (odd that it coincides with Columbus Day), so we managed to find an airB&B and a rental car and headed to the mountains.  We went to the southern part of the Sierra Nevada, called La Alpujarra, and stayed in a lovely old town, originally settled by Berber from Morocco.  All whitewashed buildings made of slate and chestnut, with defensively labyrinthine pathways through the town. 

We spent a lot of time hiking the trails through abandoned farms (it is a decidedly vertical existence there, a bit of a challenge after the flatlands of Sevilla), but such a wonderful, green escape from the urban life.  It was also a chance to try out my new Lumix FZ1000, which was a birthday replacement for my aged Nikon.  Fun chance to see what I could do with it. 

On the drive up we marveled at the clouds draped across the tops of the mountains, and it turned out that we were in those clouds most of the weekend (sometimes with rain, sometimes not).  But it was wonderfully cool and fresh and wet.  

We hiked hard for hours on Sunday, learned some plants and fungi, took some pictures, ate local cheese and bread,  and made friends with a wandering gang of local residents along the trail.  They don't talk much, but are cute.

Getting chestnuts ready for roasting
Collecting chestnuts
There are countless ripe chestnut trees and a lot of walnuts and rose hips to munch on too.  We collected over 100 chestnuts in about 10 min, roasted and ate a bunch, and brought the rest home.  Had some other great food too -- Eli and Ingrid shared a jabalí stew (wild boar). 
We stopped in the Arabic section of Granada on the way home for lunch, and then arrived back in Sevilla just in time for the festivities for the holiday.  Of course another virgin parade past our house, with marching bands, candles, and lots of incense.  We have prime seats from our balcony. 

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Pisos y Paredes

This was a project I've been working on slowly throughout our travels through Denmark, Istanbul, Athens, Ydra, and Sevilla.  I love the brick and stone work in walls (paredes), floors (pisos), streets, and sidewalks; some ancient, some new.  It was hard to narrow it down to just 24, but these are my favorites.  Can you guess where they are from?

Friday, October 2, 2015

Off to work we go

Ingrid and I have a wonderful commute to the EBD.  Ingrid even lets me carry her school bag.  I think she likes me.  ☺️

Monday, September 28, 2015

On to real life

Ingrid on her way to work
Now that Elias is in school and almost all home repairs and bureaucratic paper shuffling is finished (we still have a few weeks before we are residents, and then some bank business), we can get back to a regular work schedule.  Ingrid and I are both working on finishing up some separate projects (I just finished long-overdue fixes of my and greggilbertlab web sites - should be live today or tomorrow!), but are now more seriously tackling writing up our chapter for Annual Review of Phytopathology, due in December.  It is an exciting time that feels a little like being a grad student again -- we are expected to read deeply in the literature, synthesize it, and say something reasonably intelligent.  I hope we are up to the task!

On top of the Torre de Oro, with La Giralda
in the background, where Columbus
is supposedly buried.

Fortunately, we still have the flexibility to plan our own schedules, including a visit to the Torre de Oro, where the riches coming back from the West Indies in the 16th and 17th centuries all passed.  The 16th century drawings of rows of dozens of ships in the port just down the block where we live are remarkable. 

Yesterday morning we took a 2-h bike / in-line skate trip through eastern Sevilla to the Nervión district, where one of two stores in the city sell essential Chinese food products, like tofu, black-bean sauce, and wasabi peas.  Sevilla has really done bike/skating lanes right!  

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Superbloodmoon eclipse

What a view from our azoteo at 4:00 this morning
By 7:00 the moon was back

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Back to school!

Our expertise in Andalucian bureaucracy continues to grow, and now with some successes! Monday we finally got word of Eli's acceptance, and Wednesday he started at the Triana Music Conservatory.  It has taken us a while to figure out exactly how it works, but it looks like it is going to be a super music experience.   He was accepted for clarinet (he had to choose between that and piano for audition -- this was a great chance to focus on clarinet, and was equally good because a lot of the people who auditioned for piano were not accepted), but the program is much broader than a focus on one instrument.  Each week he'll have 2h of theory, 2h chorus, and 30 min private clarinet.  Wednesday the  clarinet teacher asked him to audition for the orchestra next week, and if that goes well, he'll add another 2h of orchestra a week.  Everything is between 5-8 p.m., which fits pretty well with our newly adopted Sevillan eating patterns --  desayuno a las 7, merienda late morning (optional), almuerzo a las 2:30, cena a las 8:00-8:30.  So we are a little early on the dinner side, but Eli and I both start melting down by 9.

Hunger strike. Father fighting for the education of his son.
We've been waiting for weeks for Elias to be assigned a school by the Delegación Educativa de Andalucía;  this was frustrating because Eli couldn't enroll in school until assigned by the Delegación, and school started on the 15th!  We, and the local school director, have called repeatedly, and were always told nothing could be done, just wait until they called us.  Finally, Thursday morning we got the call, I zipped across town to the Delegación  to be greeted by a big sign from another frustrated parent, and got the enrollment assignment -- to the wrong school.  They said there was no room at the school we requested, so they put him in the next closest school, which had instruction in Spanish, English, and French (not classes to learn French, but teaching subjects in it).  This would have been an interesting challenge, but even the Directora thought this was silly.  So once more we went to visit the Directora at the IES Vicente Aleixandre, where we expected Eli to be admitted, and she was so fed up with the Delegación that she enrolled Eli on the spot, complaining loudly that yes, there was space in his year, ¿what was the Delegación talking about?    So Friday Eli started his first day in ESO 2°  (Obligatory Secundary Education 2nd level = 8th grade), and had a great time.   He was a little surprised when in math class he and another new kid were each asked to go to the board and work out prime factorization in front of the class (apparently they had learned it earlier in the week), but that was followed by the teacher reviewing addition of whole numbers for the class, which he said he'll never get over.  But he came home happy and apparently automatically cool among all the kids who wear Hollister and California Surf shirts to school.  

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Two miracles in one day

We had two miracles yesterday in Triana.   First, my new computer arrived!  It has been a long time on iPad and a borrowed machine, and I'm excited to be setting up my new MacBook Pro.  As always, that takes a lot of doing, but it is actually great timing to do some serious housecleaning on the computer front.  The path to getting it was not without significant hiccups, but so far it has been great, and it will make blog posting (not to mention work) so much easier.

The Virgin out for a walk in Triana!
The second miracle was much more Sevillanista.  We went out for tapas dinner last night -- three really differenting types of great little fishes to eat whole, and Ingrid and Elias split some apparently extremely tender and delicious pork jowls.  Oh, and a great baked soft cheese (Rulo de Cabra) with a chili jam and a caramelized onion jam on the side.   But that wasn't the miracle, just another night of interesting tapas in the neighborhood.  On leaving, and walking the block and a half to our flat, we saw the street was completely blocked off with hundreds of people.  Friday they had decorated two of the nearby side streets, but we had no idea why.  Ingrid had also heard a marching band while Elias and I were out, but we hadn't seen anything. Then all of a sudden was this giant crowd of people.  We could see some priests and their monaguillos, and further up a large marching band, but mostly just people milling around.  Since the crowd was all gathered in front of our flat, we went in and upstairs to our plant-filled 2nd-floor (3rd floor in US terminology) to watch.
Costaleros waiting to take over carrying the Virgin
There were the hundreds of people hanging out, talking, and smoking, including a dozen or so costaleros, weight-lifter shaped men with cloth belts and head scarves that nearly cover their eyes then drape down their backs.  Suddenly, the miracle!  The Virgin was out for a walk!  Not sure which of the churches she strolled out from, sitting on a huge, silver platform and surrounded by flowers, carried by costaleros hidden under the platform.  The priests waved their incense, both bands played, and they marched on, with the Virgin stopping just below us.  There the tired costaleros were replaced by fresh ones, and after a bit, the party moved on.

The Virgin takes a rest right in front of our flat. 

Now just waiting for two more miracles.  For my shipment of supplements to be released from customs and for the Delegación de Educación to finally decide which school Elias can attend (so far he as missed 3 days of school, because the school can't admit him until the Delegación says so). Maybe tomorrow is another day of miracles?  At least I'll be able to unlock my iPhone and Elias can enroll in the conservatory, but those would be minor miracles, at best.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Settled into Sevilla

It has been a long time since updating the blog, delayed by the business of settling into Sevilla and the demise of my beloved MacBook Pro.  I'm hobbled until my new computer arrives, but able to piece together productive time on borrowed time on Ingrid's computer and from my iPad.

We arrived in Sevilla as planned on August 26, and settled into our museum-like apartment on Pagés del Corro in the historic district of Triana.  Triana is west of the rest of Sevilla, across the eastern branch (the "port") of the Guadilquiver River, but east of the main branch of the river, on what used to be and island (but now is more like a really long peninsula.  Our flat belonged to the owner of one of the main ceramic tile factories here (Santa Ana; Triana is the center of production of "azulejos"), but has been closed up since his death 6 years ago.  The family decided to clean it out and rent it, and we are the first to do so.  It is filled with old, dark-wood furniture, old-fashioned vases, tea sets, statues, and portraits, plus some really stunning tile work -- including a surprising tile portrait of Simón Bolivar.  We've been very busy working with our wonderful landlords to get everything back up and functional after 6 years of disuse, but it is a wonderful -- and huge -- flat.   It is much more urban than any of us are used to, and there are two tapas bars just a few steps away (and two floors down) from our bedroom window.  Since Sevilla life is 9:00-2:00 and 6:00-2:00 and in the street, we are entertained nightly with lots of happy voices, some singing, and an occasional "¡Ole!" from the tapas bars, and motorcycles zooming past on our narrow street.

The wonderful Triana Mercado (Market) is a couple blocks down a cobblestone street, and filled with little stands -- cheese and jams; fish; chicken, eggs, and rabbit; fresh pasta; bakery; fruits and veggies; tapas bars -- where we do most of our shopping.  There is also a grocery on the corner, and two bazars across the street which have just about anything, if you can find it.

We are a few buildings away from the intersection with Calle San Jacinto, a pedestrian-only street with lots of shops, ranging from banks to cell phones to pastries to tapas to shoes to roasted chickens to ice cream to pharmacies to ...,  which ends at the Triana Mercado and the bridge across to the rest of Sevilla.  We are within a 30min walk, bus ride, bike ride, or roller blade from pretty much anywhere in Sevilla, and really within 15 min of almost everything we need.
We've spent much, much too much time dealing with Sevilla's bureaucracy.  Sevilla shuts down for the summer, and most things don't open again until 1 September.  And most things require a chain of papers.  To get a cell phone you need a bank account.  To get a bank account you need either residency or proof of non-residency.  To get residency you need an empadronamiento, which requires an appointment, and the first one is two weeks out.  To get proof of non-residency you need a letter from the bank to take to the police office and then take that back to the bank.  To register for school you need the empadronamiento (not available until 9 Sep) to take to the Delegado de Educación, which then takes "unos días" before being able to register or even know which school, but school starts on the 15th...     I'll write up a guide on all this soon for future Sevilla immigrants.

The arrival at the Estación Biológical Doñana (where Ingrid and I are doing our sabbatical) was much smoother.  Montse met us with keys in hand,  signed the necessary papers to get our building passes, showed us to our office (with great windows!), and incorporated us into the group.  Pedro and his group has been traveling to meetings, so I won't be able to join with his group for another week or so.  

PhotoWe've been getting to know Sevilla, taking in a great flamenco show at the Museo del Baile Flamenco, biking (or roller blading, depending on preference) around the many bike paths throughout Sevilla, the tremendous gardens of the Real Alcázar, and with Montse and family to the beach.  We've eaten lots of great tapas  -- the most unique was huevas de maruca, which is very thinly sliced ovary of ling-cod.   Think chewy potato chip that tastes like smoky fish.

Finally getting to start some work again, mostly catching up on emails and such.  All of us are very ready for more regular schedules and productivity.