One Man’s Graffiti…

It’s true, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And art is a subjective thing, determined by personal preference. I wasn’t always a fan of the ‘Graffiti Arts’. Those who wield a spray can in pursuit of the perfect surface on the street. Mostly, it’s just seemed unsightly or a scourge on an otherwise lovely neighborhood. But that has changed.

When you move from an area of the world that is new, always scrubbed and more suburban sprawl than urban grit, you expect everything to be shiny.  You can’t wrap your head around why anyone would take up a can of spray paint and write their initials on a wall near your home. Or on the roll down doors of the shop where you buy your fruit. It takes too much effort – and I’m essentially too lazy. Or perhaps just not artistically talented.

Sure, there’s Banksy in London. I’ve gone to Brick Lane to see some of his stuff. And there’s the artist in Paris, Invader, who does the tile art hearkening back to the 70’s and 80’s video games. But those are of a more elevated, celebrated ilk. The average street artist is a true stealthy pioneer. Laying his message through images and graphics that are unique to him, or her.

img_7298

We’ve lived here for 4 months now. And that’s long enough to begin to notice that we have a new graffiti artist. The person has a decidedly different style than our previous artist in residence. Jeff pointed it out right away when we were walking to the store recently. Then we started seeing their stuff on a few other doors.

Graffiti in Spain is just a thing. Especially in big cities. And it seems that the shop owners have decided to embrace the inevitability that their roll down doors – the eyelids of the city – will be tattooed with some sort of image. So many of them have hired their own graffiti artists to create messages that more closely reflect their brand. It looks cool and it fits in with the aesthetic.

My favorite is this one. The exterminator whose images of pestilence and message referencing ‘The Plague’ seems particularly on the nose. No ambiguity here.

img_7308

Some of the images can be seen across the city. The woman with multiple sets of eyes is everywhere. Sometimes she’s just a floating head. Sometimes attached to a griffin. That artist gets around. And the bird decrying ‘Street Art’ is also a frequent visitor to buildings in the old city.

The little guy with the telescope is everywhere on the bottom of buildings, sort of secretly placed there, just watching. He, along with some ‘little houses’ are messages I’ve yet to decode.

img_7309.jpg

Then there are those that seems to be expressing a preference for a certain lifestyle. These tend to be more detailed so the viewer can’t miss their meaning. They’re less traditional graffiti and more traditional art – in my mind.

And finally, in the school of the greats – there seems to be this guy. He’s everywhere here. The stealthy robot artist who is sometimes seen spraying at other people’s work or attacking a political figure with his spray can. But he’s always got his big artist’s heart right in the center.

img_7311

My appreciation for street art has gone up exponentially since I’ve lived here. Much like my appreciate for the work of a great tattoo artist. Perhaps its because I possess neither of these talents and I appreciate the rogue raw nature of their work. And while I love going to art museums and seeing the master works of fabled painters, it’s nice to know I can walk out my door for coffee and enjoy someone’s artistic expression in my own backyard.

I Just Gotta Do It

In an effort to continue my journey in the Spanish language, and to make things easier, I have acquired a new Spanish tutor. He’s British but he is a fluent speaker. I’m pretty sure he will help me get back up on my kindergarten bicicletta with the Espanol training wheels.

I had fallen off after our horrible non-intensivo, intensivo class. And I had avoided getting back up. Sure, I have labeled everything in our house with their corresponding Spanish words. The delivery guys have found this amusing when they came in to deliver various things and pointed at my visual prompts taped to walls, light switches, chairs, windows – and laughed. But it’s working for me in a passive sort of ‘learning without trying’ kind of way.

But even I knew it couldn’t last. I would eventually have to jump back into the river (yeah, I’m mixing metaphors) and swim in Spanish language waters again. My new tutor seemed like a good choice since he spoke no Spanish 3 years ago and is now teaching Spanish to several people I know. I’ve watched their impressive progress, so we met and started off our new working relationship.

He also has a Valencian girlfriend – I’ll call her Marta – who is a chef. Her English and my Spanish are, if not equally as bad, they’re living in the same dodgy neighborhood. So she and I met with another friend of mine to do an ‘intercambio’. They have these little meet ups all over Valencia – usually at a bar – and they advertise for native English and Spanish speakers to get together over drinks and alternate speaking in each other’s languages. The theory is that everybody will get better.

Now I haven’t dated in decades. I never really knew how to do it anyway. Meeting a stranger, finding something to talk about, going to the bathroom and calling a friend asking them to call your phone in 10 minutes with some sort of emergency, and finally leaving. But at least it was in a language you knew. The attendance of one of the general ‘bar intercambio’ seemed too much like a speed date, but much, much harder. Finding a topic to discuss with someone you can barely communicate with over drinks in a dark location, then sifting through the your terribly limited vocab, stringing together sentences like a toddler and them moving on to the next person. And struggling to do it all again.

So Marta and my other friend and I decided to form our own group and avoid the bar scene. The upside of this is that Marta comes right from work and brings food. Amazing food. And she brings bags of it. So I got home last night after our intercambio bearing gifts. Jeff is starting to see the upside of my new found commitment to my Spanish studies.

We spent the first 15 minutes speaking Spanish – or my version of it. And then we did 15 minutes in English. I learned how to have rudimentary smack talk in Spanish about Germany losing in the World Cup. Adding to my vocabulary for things like ‘perdedor’, ‘juego’, ‘presumir’ and much more. And Marta learned how to talk about driving and parking in Valencia, all in English. She learned new words and phrases like ‘Son of a Bitch’ and ‘asshole’ and ‘line hugger’. Things that will stand her in good stead if she decides to drive in Los Angeles at rush hour, or tries to park her car on the street in San Francisco.

We’ve decided we’ll meet every Wednesday and help each other. Sure, I’ll learn a bunch of stuff and the meet ups are tasty. Perhaps I’ll even bring Emilie with me for a few of these get togethers, because I think she could use it too. Just now our apartment buzzer rang and Emilie answered it in the kitchen. After moment she held out the hand set to me and in a bored-teenager-tone said ‘It’s a Spanish person’. I was so astounded at her need to tell me that  – and her apparent surprise that the person on the other end of the phone would be anything other than that – I broke out laughing.

But it’s not really funny. We need to be able to communicate much more effectively. And I think it’s time I took Emilie on the journey with me. Clearly, her new beach volleyball friends aren’t pushing her to use the little vocabulary she possesses. My goal is to be able to go to the Doctor with an interpreter and to get a newer version of our Padron in preparation for our driving license tests. If I can speak enough Spanish to accomplish that it will be major milestone. Or un hito importante!

The Home Stretch

At looong last – after over 4 month since they picked up our stuff in Phoenix, our only worldly possessions have cleared customs in Rotterdam and are making their way to the moving company’s storage in Alicante. That’s only two hours from us. It hardly seems real.

When I reached out to our shipper in late April asking for an update, they told me our stuff would be here in Valencia by May 23rd. But I just found out that it didn’t leave the US until May 3rd, so it would have been a miracle if it had. Then when they missed that by a week and I asked for another ETA they said June 12th. On the 12th, they emailed me and said it would reach Rotterdam on the 19th. It did but with some hiccups and holds.

In my typical fashion, our stuff had been ‘randomly selected’ by customs (or the Universe, I swear it!) and we had to pay $450 to get it out of ‘on hold status’. Making this payment proved a challenge since our US shipper (agent of origin) is a complete bunch of nincompoops (always wanted to use that word and, in this case it’s too appropriate not to). It took them two days to figure it out. Eventually, I just paid the customs clearance guy in Holland and got it done.

I can hardly believe that our things are on European soil. Sure they’re several countries away but they are making their way south, across the continent. I’m crossing my fingers that bandits don’t hijack the truck, it doesn’t catch fire in a lightening storm, it doesn’t roll off the mountainside in the Pyrenees (why they would go that way I have no idea), or one of the other disaster scenarios that keep me awake at night.

It sounds far fetched. I mean, how could any or all of that happen to one little shipment, for one little person – me? It’s because I’m me, that’s why. If all our stuff has been invaded by the dreaded ocean going water termite (yes, I made that up) it wouldn’t shock me in the least. So now we have other stuff to concern ourselves with.

Once the stuff gets to Alicante, they will call me and arrange a date of delivery in early July. I will then reach out to a guy I know here in Valencia who will – crossing my fingers – go with me to the town hall and arrange for a permit where I block off the sidewalk of cars for 48 hours in preparation for my delivery. I will not yet arrange for the crane until the couch is actually here. We will put it in our parking space in the garage, measure it 10 times. Then measure our living room window on the 7th floor 11 times, and then either call the crane company, or locate some storage and move it there.

What will I be happy to see in all those little boxes? Well, all my summer clothes that I thought would be here (yes, they promised me they would be) two months ago. I’d like some variety and some other shoes. Jeff is looking forward to wearing more than just the two pairs of shorts he currently enjoys. He wears one, I wash one. Ugh.

I’m looking forward to pictures. Photos and a couple of paintings. We may have actual art on our walls. Towels and summer sheets. Our bikes and sports equipment – golf clubs. An omelet pan! It’s all coming! It will be like Christmas in July – literally JULY!! I’m chewing a little glass over that.

But we’re in the home stretch and our focus will shift to the one final thing we need to tackle before winter. Getting our driving licenses. But Jeff is on the case – I can only worry about so many things myself. And he’s located a couple of schools in English in the area so we can investigate further and get legal before October 31st rolls around.

But before that, I’ll be unpacking boxes soon. Hugging my precious shoes and handbags, saying a lot of ‘Oh yeah, I forgot I had this’ and ‘Why the hell did I bring this?!’. But it’s all good. I figure it’s a lot like having a baby. Once it’s here, you forget about the pain, the swelling and bloating and just enjoy your 325 square feet of joy. And with any luck, I’ll be sitting on part of it in my living room enjoying a cold glass of sangria very soon.

Noche San Juan Bautista

I’m all about the good vibrations. And generally, I’ll try anything once – as long as it’s not going to potentially kill me or result in legal action. There hasn’t been one second in my life that I’ve thought I had all the answers. I’m always in awe of deeply religious people who truly believe they have it all figured out. How wonderful that would be to live in a state of certainty. Me? I’ve always been a skeptic but I think there’s something to energy that connects us all. I just have no idea how.

Last week, we heard about the Noche San Juan Bautista (St. John the Baptist Eve) from the guy who owns the local motorcycle supply shoppe. We were there picking up some stuff that we weren’t able to get in Germany last month and we got into a conversation with him – truly one of the nicest guys. Turns out he lives near us in the same area and is a native Valencian. He told us all kinds of local history and advised us on stuff we should do in the area and things we needed to experience. Some of which – when pressed – he admitted he’s never personally tried, like the festival of Tomatina. And that’s when he told us about the Eve of St. John the Baptist.

We’ve been to every festival since the day we arrived here, so it seemed that we should be open to this one too. The Eve of St. John is always held on June 23rd. It’s about the summer solstice (and the birth of St John) and it’s essentially ‘Out with the Old, In with the New’. A healthy sweep of all the bad energy collected over the winter, and making wishes and prayers for all good things. It’s huge in Catalonia and Valencia.

The way I look at it, it’s about leaving behind what you don’t like and asking for transformation. Well, I’m all in on stuff like that. I love transformations – especially when I can achieve that on my own – not to mention enjoying watching other people rise from their own personal ashes. So when he told us about this we made plans to be there.

I went to meet my new Spanish tutor Friday afternoon. My tutor, Rob, told me about it too and asked if we might like to join he and his girlfriend, Claudia, to experience it ourselves. It involves going down to the beach and waiting until midnight. Bonfires are set about every 10 meters and people write the things they want to leave behind on papers and then burn them in the fire. They also write their deepest hopes and also, burn them in the bonfire.

Then they go out into the water and jump over either 7 or 9 waves (it has to be an odd number) and make three wishes. The fire and the water are cleansing and restorative and the wishes will be granted. Some people walk on the hot coals but I figure they must be pretty drunk to do that. There would be fireworks at midnight – it’s Valencia so duh. Then people make sure they are awake when the sun comes up because the first rays of the sun on St. John’s day are a blessing. Seemed pretty straight forward, so we made plans to go and ‘Get there early because the beach will be packed’.

img_7294

Jeff and Emilie and I went down to Patacona beach and staked out a spot in the location we were advised to. The beach was full and the police, fire department, and street cleaners (who outnumbered the other two combined) were already out in force. And it was very hot. And then, it was even hotter. Jeff started not looking well and we went up to a beach side cafe to get him something to eat and drink and he got very sick. Finally, I was concerned with the direction it was all going and I packed us up and got him home on the tram. Thank God it was air conditioned.

After a very cool shower and cold Aquarius water, he was doing better and wasn’t violently ill or alternately bright red and then grey anymore. And today, he’s just resting. So we didn’t get to experience Noche San Juan Bautista with the bonfires, except hearing the fireworks at midnight – but that’s every Saturday night here. We didn’t get to leave behind our papers in the fire or jump over the waves. But I didn’t want to risk reaching for something new at the sacrifice of Jeff.

So we’ll save Noche San Juan for next year. I mean, we’re going to need something new to experience in year 2 – right? I’ll throw salt over my shoulder or burn some sage or something. That will have to do in my nod to San Juan for this year. But I feel sure he’ll understand.

Got’em – With a Little Help from my Friends

Before posting on my blog about my allergies, I hadn’t really told anyone here. My friends in the US knew about it because they knew me when I was sick. But after I found out, I would try to not make a huge deal out of it. In restaurants I would order around them. I didn’t want to be ‘One of Those People’ who make a production out of placing an order with a waiter. I was sure people would think I was just pretentious, not actually afraid of what I might be eating. It meant I popped a lot of Benedryl in the ladies room and skipped the wine.

Fast forward – I did the same here when eating out. You kind of start to learn the places that are safe and the food – even though the menu is in Spanish – that works for you. It can be limiting and I know being a culinary pioneer isn’t in my future. But I’m resigned to it and just happy when I find wonderful food I can eat.

But then I posted about it and my new friends here came out of the wood work and mounted a full scale Duck Egg hunt.  Sort of like Easter Bunny angels. The results are impressive. Maria – you found me my first dozen at El Corte Ingles.  I brought them the link you sent me and while we heard the one phrase we hear a lot on a daily basis ‘No, Impossible’, we asked other people in the store and Voila! there they were, on a bottom shelve next to the empty spot for Ostrich eggs.

img_7287

And then my English friend, Trish found a store that sells only eggs in Russafa. They have duck eggs! Other people started messaging me too. Sightings around town and Google maps directions to shops where they had seen them.

And finally, the farm got back to me last night. They said they would sell me some duck eggs for a Euro an egg – what I expected to pay. But just this morning, they emailed me back. They had discussed it and decided since it was an allergy and not a preference, they would sell them to me for .50 cents. Now I even have a Duck Guy in Spain. Who could ask for more?

img_7288

So I am flush with duck eggs now. Thank you everyone who messaged, commented and WhatsApp’d me. I’m forever grateful. A little onions, garlic, olive oil and avocado, and I thought of you all and smiled when I enjoyed my first duck egg omelet in Spain. It wasn’t the prettiest one I’ve ever made but it tasted like the best one I’ve ever eaten. My life just got a lot better – with a little help from my friends. Namaste’.