Like a hunter on the prowl, I armed myself with a Spanish-English dictionary and resolved only to return home with answers to my questions. To remind you, my quest was simple: what is fall in Zamora, Spain?
Spanish culture is quite new to me, and in learning about a different culture, I cannot help but compare it to the American lifestyle I grew up with. As expected, the leaves are changing colors, but what else is happening at this time of year? I have learned that a dearth of fruit pies and hayrides does not signify an absence of the season, but that I must forage deeper into this country's heritage and customs. Knowing that I would not just stumble upon answers in the street, I set out to engage some Spaniards themselves.
Fortunately I didn't have to wait on a busy corner with a clipboard, pulling strangers aside for a brief interrogation. Alberto, one of the English teachers I work with, is a lifelong resident of Zamora and invited me to one of his favorite coffee shops to chat between classes. Old enough to remember the country's striking transition from Franco's dictatorship into a democracy and capitalist economy, he proved a great resource for explaining traditions.
As we ordered cafes con leche, I eyed a pile of steaming churros, and mentioned my interest in Spanish seasons.
The conversation went something like this:
Allie: So, Alberto, can we speak in English? I have some questions about the cultural aspects of the season fall, in Spain. I mean, what do people do to embrace this time of year?
Alberto: Hmm, you mean like apple picking? I remember picking apples in September when I visited Buffalo, New York. I just loved it. And we picked pumpkins.
Allie: Yeah, I'm looking for those kinds of activities, but that are specific to Spain.
Alberto: Well, you know, many of the traditions are closely linked to the harvest and food and especially preparing foods for the winter months. Many of these activities were common when people lived in small villages. But people moved to the cities after Franco died, searching for better jobs and lifestyles. As a result, the customs began fading from our lives. For example, during one weekend in November, villagers gather to slaughter pigs to prepare and cure hams and sausages for the year. Now that few people live in small towns, few people value this activity.
(I thought to myself, "Surely there are some more popular fall celebrations, but more importantly, how can I get to one of these pig roasts?")
Allie: That sounds great. It reminds me of Thanksgiving.
Alberto: Yes, there is another activity. You may have seen people walking in the parks or the forest. They are looking for chestnuts and setas ... I forgot the English word. Oh, mushrooms, I forgot.
I asked my teacher friend if he knew how to prepare the nuts, or if I could eat a typical chestnut treat somewhere in town. He didn't know, apparently he's not the culinary type.
The hour was up and I was satisfied with the answers. The school bell was about to ring and I had to hustle back to my classroom. On the way I passed a woman in the park, studying the ground. On further inspection, she had a bulging pouch and was reaching for a fallen nut. Finally, I'd found it: collecting chestnuts is one of Zamora's fall traditions.
Photos: Allie Taylor