The Battle is Over

After battling a kidney stone for a couple of days, I’m on the mend. This isn’t the first time I’ve had them but this time seemed a bit different. Jeff took care of me and saw me through it.  The good news is, I have found an English speaking Dr. who does urgent care too.

It makes all the difference when you’re in a vulnerable position, in a place that is not as familiar as you’re used to, to find a knowledgeable healthcare provider that can help you navigate. Both Jeff and I feel better now and we’re going to go for complete physicals in a couple of weeks..

The older I get, the more I realize how important my health is. I can’t just muscle through things like I used to. Can’t just brush it off or take things for granted any more. Case in point, I suffer from a few food allergies now and, while we’ve been here, I’ve not been as diligent as I should be on making sure I’m OK to eat certain foods. Not wanting to muddle through the communication barriers in restaurants. But mostly, I just don’t like to bother anyone or call attention to it. Even back in the US I felt this way. So I have let it slide. No more.

If we want to enjoy living here, that means being healthy. And a big part of that is just being smart about things. It’s OK not to be invincible. It’s OK to ask for help. And it’s OK to admit that I don’t have it all figured out.

To celebrate my recovery and promote convalescence, Jeff is taking me on a little excursion and while I’m going to take it slow, I’m ready to get out of bed. Life’s too short to spend horizontal. The weather on the Med is getting better and better every day. A day of enjoying the sun is on the agenda and I think it’s the best prescription for a swift recovery.

The Business of Living

I awoke very early this morning with serious stomach pains. My whole left side was in such pain and it hurt to even touch it. Ugh. We have been so busy with other things, like living and working, that we haven’t established a relationship with a Dr. And finding one that speaks English – my preferred medical language in this situation – will prove a challenge. I already know that.

So I didn’t go. I just sat here all day. Yes, I Googled possible symptoms and learned I might have some things that would kill me very soon. Or things that will resolved themselves in a matter of days. Some things recommended no food or liquid orally. Others recommended that I do nothing but drink gallons of water. So I did the only sensible thing on a Friday and I went to sleep.

I slept for many hours today and now that I’m awake and it’s past 5 in the afternoon on a Friday, the time when 90% of the world gets sick (the most inconvenient time) I’m wondering if I shouldn’t have sought medical attention earlier. Pretending this is going to go away quickly isn’t a strategy that is panning out for me right now.

This is the first time since we’ve come here that I’ve felt truly insecure. Medical things tend to do that. When my daughter and I were walking the Camino, she had an allergic reaction on an early Sunday morning in Melide. That was very scary trying to find an urgent care or emergency room to stop the flaming rash from her neck crawling all the way to the top of her head. We got her some prednizone and the Dr. at the ER was very nice.

It’s harder when it’s your kids. If one of mine had awakened with this I would have moved heaven and earth – dialing 112  (911 in the US) or shouting for help in the street if need be – to get them medical attention. But for myself? I tend to take a more laiz-a-fare attitude. But then I thought ‘If I was in the US, would I go to a Dr.?’ and the answer is YES! I would have gone first thing this morning when the office opened. It’s a Friday and if this gets worse it’s an expensive ER visit. Somewhere in the neighborhood of $1200-$1800 for them to look at me in a hospital on a weekend back home.

But I have health insurance here. Full coverage and yet the language barrier is stopping me. I know its because I’m afraid I’ll have the same experience I had in Milan when I dislocated my shoulder and broke my wrist, and the orthopedic surgeon was the spitting image of Mussolini. I think he went the University of Mussolini where they shave the Dr’s heads and teach them to twist broken limbs and shout at patients in Italian. It was like being in the triage in the TV show MASH, only the Korean war tent hospitals in that show seemed better organized.

So, I’ll just wait a bit longer and drink more water. Maybe when I wake up tomorrow I’ll feel better. My fever will be gone, this raging headache will have cleared up, and I’ll be able to stand up straight without pain in my stomach. Between now and then, perhaps more sleep might do me good. There have only been a few, but it’s moments like these that even with as broken as some of our systems and institutions are in the US, I miss knowing how to navigate them. How to communicate what I’m feeling, ask questions and understand the response.  But for now, I’m getting off WebMD, crossing my fingers, and going to sleep.

In the Neighborhood

This morning, after a coffee, we decided to head out and run some errands. But first we stopped off and visited a local tower that used to be the gate tower for the old city of Valencia. If people wanted to enter the town, they had to pass through one of the 12 gates that were built into the walls surrounding the city, first. But this was the main entrance to the city as the road to Barcelona and the road to the surrounding mountains terminated at the gate.

Torres de Serranos

The tower is called Torres de Serranos and it dates back to 1392, when they started construction, and completed it in 1398. The rest of the city walls and towers were torn down in the 19th century but because Torres de Serranos, and a couple of others were used as prisons at the time, they were saved from the demolition.

The opening ceremony for Fallas is conducted on a platform in front of the tower every February. So it is kind of an iconic and beloved landmark now.  And with the 100’s of school children converging on it as we were finishing our 2 Euro self-guided tour, it is clear that it continues to have importance in the educational history of the area.

The views from the many levels are stunning. And I continued to be amazed at how these structures were built with no real technology – as we have today. No machinery. It’s clear why tradesmen were so highly prized back then. Stone masons and their knowledge passed from one generation to another. The precision for setting stone that last for more than 600 years is awe-inspiring.

The stairs throughout the tower have been largely left as they were. Hand rails are optional – even today. One thing we’ve noticed in some of our castle crawling is that the Spanish don’t have the same need to bubble wrap everything that Americans do. The stairs are treacherous – but, Oh well. The ratio of school children to adults is about 25 to 1. The attitude being ‘Don’t jump or you’ll die’. Basically, just have some common sense. We don’t take that tack back home. There would be wavers and a lot of modifications for ensuring safety would be virtually guaranteed.

Another thing we noticed about gathering clubs, whether its school children, groups of adults in the park or just friends, people here gather in circles a lot and hold hands before undertaking something. We don’t have any insight into why but it’s clearly a cultural thing. You don’t see this in the US. Especially with adults. We never hold hands with anyone we’re not dating, especially if they’re the same sex. Maybe it’s our puritanical grounding, but here they communicate by connecting everyone physically and encouraging people to look each other in the face, and talking. Imagine – looking at other people in your group. And they aren’t praying, so it’s not religious. I would be very interested to understand how this started and what this seemingly pervasive ritual is all about.

But it must work, because none of the children we saw, after their circle ritual in the square below, were out of control or jumping on the ramparts waiting to be scolded by an adult chaperone. Unheard of.

So far, we’re loving how we can step out our door into a bit of history while just walking to the Decathalon to return a couple of shirts. It seems strange but we’ve never incorporated a walk through a historical site into a quick shopping trip before. But considering where we live now, I think it’s inevitable going forward. And it’s exactly where we want to be.

Good Wine, Good Friends & a Little Kindness

The days seems longer here. I think it’s because they’re so packed with things we’ve never done before. Navigating, learning how to do things and seeing stuff that leaves us in awe.

My day started with grabbing a Valenbisi bike (the best bike service anywhere) and riding 25 minutes to the city center to meet up with some friends, to go out to an area east of the city about 60 miles away. We were going to go for a full day of wine tasting and then lunch – or very late lunch by American standards. I am learning so I ate a very heavy breakfast.

Our first stop was at a winery called Chozas Carrascal.

It sits on a plateau about 700 meters above the sea. When it’s cold in Valencia, it can be snowing up there. They have 100 hectres of grapes and 20 hectres of olive groves. A hectre is about 2.5 acres, for those of us unfamiliar with this measurement. They make wonderful wine and excellent olive oil. Both of which, I bought. The wines made at this amazing vineyard are unique in that they have varying special designations (Designation of Origin) as all the grapes in their wines are grown on those 100 hectres of land.

It reminded me so much of Napa Valley or even Eastern Washington state that I was homesick for about a minute. The gentleman who took us around asked me where I was from. I told him I had lived in California wine country for several years. He said he had never been there but had hoped to go someday. I told him he was wrong.

‘Look around. This is exactly like Napa Valley used to be 25 years ago. No crowds and a more simple feel. You have the best of Napa Valley right here. You don’t need to go there, you have this.’

They were lovely people and the tasting and tour were generous. At one point after we left, I broke the bottle of olive oil I bought from them (I won’t go into how), they heard about it and they saw that another bottle was brought to me to the village where we had lunch. I was so touched by their generosity and thoughtfulness.

Then we went to the town of Requena. Of course, it has it’s own castle. But we went to taste some wines and to take a walk into the past – the distant past. To the time when the Moors were ruling all of Spain and they utilized the caves below to store grain, (they weren’t drinkers) before the Spanish were storing wine in them. We all know the Moors are no longer running the show so the caves were converted to wine cellars and the rest is, literally, history. On some of the walls, you could see the finger prints of the people who had lined them with mortar centuries ago. Some of it was chipping off but most of it was still there.

In the winery we went to, the caves go back to times when they stored the wine in large terra-cotta vessels, so large we have no idea how they could ever have gotten them down there. We watched a video of donkey’s pulling them in 100 year old photos, but the stairs I went down couldn’t have been traversed by donkeys and there wasn’t an opening large enough to accommodate the immense size of the cisterns. But there they were, the vessels are still down there and you can see them in the pictures. The wine was great too and Anna, who showed us around, was very nice and while she said here English wasn’t good, it was excellent.

Our lunch at Los Cubillos Gastrobar, ( ) right below the castle walls, was a Menu del Dia – of the usual 3 courses, but the food was local and one of the tastiest I’ve had since arriving here in March. The staff was really nice too. And spending two hours to eat lunch isn’t half bad. But if I get asked about American politics one more time I’ll jump off a castle. And here I can make good on that threat!

As lunch ended and it was time to go back to Valencia, my replacement olive oil arrived. I was so surprised. There was no reason for them to do this for me and yet they had – unbidden. I’ll enjoy it that much more every time I drizzle on something or dip something in it. A taste from a special day, with new friends in a place I’ve never been. I’m smiling thinking about it again already.

Sights, Scents and Sounds

Yesterday, we decided to go the other way on the river. Usually, were heading towards the City of Arts and Sciences. Or to Colon to go shopping. But what lay the ‘other way’, we weren’t sure so we decided to find out. What a fun day!

The upper park is less Hollywood and more neighborhood. Its part of the older city and there are museums and parts of the old walled city that we’ll go back and explore. Stone bridges and towers from the 1300’s, and sculptures of popes and saints that festoon them.

We watched kids of all ages in organized rugby matches. Something I would expect in Manchester, not Valencia. We understand the rules, not at all, but it was fun watching the kids and the crowd getting into it.

We had a wonderful lazy lunch and then enjoyed a semi-pro baseball game. It seems that some of our US pro teams have farm teams here and the play was really good and FREE. It was nice to watch a sport where we know the rules and can cheer at the appropriate times.

Dr Seuss Trees

In that section of the park, found new types of trees that we have never seen before. Jeff calls some of them Dr Seuss trees. They have thorns on their bulbous trunks and they lean over under their own weight with large pods that look like larva for some terrifying bug, but are really filled with seeds and soft downy flax that protects them. In fact, there are a lot of trees here that have pods.

And we discovered a type of tree that looks like many leafy trees back home. Except it is covered with the most unusual lily-like cluster flowers in bright orange-ish red. Again, we have no idea what type of tree it is. Both of us have found this frustrating and I’m going to see if they have a tour of the river park by an arborist who can explain what they all are and where they originate. Or maybe there’s an app for that.

Lily tree

On the way home, we discovered there is a horse club near our house – right in the city. If I decide to take riding lessons I’m good to go. And speaking of animal friends, we are overrun with dogs here. Jeff stands at the window and watches them a lot. We can’t have a pet because we want to travel, but it doesn’t stop him from following some of our neighbor’s dogs and getting to know their habits.

One dog, a golden retriever I have dubbed ‘Rodriego’, is a regular. He looks exactly like our dog, Mr. Perkins who passed away in 2014. Jeff recounts Rodriego’s exploits in the dog park across the way and admires how he carries his owner’s newspaper home from a local bodega. Today, when we woke up, Rodriego was out and about and we had our coffee, charting all his idosyncracies – just like Perkins. Golden Retrievers are wonderful dogs and we’ve ‘adopted’ this one from afar.

I’m not sure we will ever get used to the persistent scent of orange blossoms everywhere we go and the sounds of church bells. I know I love that we are still making new discoveries in our adopted city and, I like that I can count on them to be a part of my day, every day.