He’s Da Man

I’ll be heading on a train to Barcelona soon to hang out with my niece, Melody, for a few days. She’s on her first trip to Europe with her HS German language class, and for the last 10 days has been touring Austria, Switzerland, and Germany. She extending her stay here so she can pass through Barcelona and we can see each other. Melody is one of those people I love hanging out with. She’s smart and wise for her 18 years. And she’s paid for this trip herself, all by working at a pizza place in Oregon. So she’ll appreciate every moment of it.

Ironically, Jeff will be starting his journey home from the US while I’m stepping onto a train to leave Valencia. So he’ll be at home waiting while I’m seeing the sights in Barcelona. But I don’t care so much about that. I’m glad he’ll be there waiting, because we’ve hit critical mass on him being away and I’m sort of stuck without him.

First off, I rented an industrial space while he was gone. Well, it’s sort of a warehouse and office space. I need to spread out so I can paint bigger canvases. And I like higher ceilings and a big roll up door. (maybe I’ll paint the door) And an office of my own. So I called a bunch of imobilarias (real estate agents) and scheduled showings. I found the perfect one, and even a back up plan. Then the negotiations started.

I talked them down on the price a bit. But then I hit a snag. The ‘Ask your husband what he thinks’ snag. Huh? I have all the bank certificates, etc. showing we can pay for the warehouse without effort. But then it came time to determine how we wanted to tranch the contract. There were multiple options. I reviewed them and got back to the agent. I mean, I can’t count the number of contracts I’ve red-lined over the years. I could do it in my sleep.

‘I prefer #3.’ I told her and laid out my reasoning.

‘Well, we will let you review the options with your husband first and get back to us.’ she told me.

I laughed. ‘My husband is in the US. I can tell you now, if I asked him at all, he would tell me to do whatever I want.’ I should have said he would laugh, wonder out loud why I was consulting him, and inquire, with some genuine concern, if I’d been hit by a car sustaining a head injury?

‘Well, we would be more comfortable if you reviewed them with him before deciding.’

WHAT?!? I wanted to laugh, again, but then I realized she was serious. I could tell her how it was going to go:

  • He’ll come back from the US and go to her office with me, where she will ask him what he wants to do.
  • He will turn to me very earnestly ‘Let me ask my financial manager.’ Even he knows he has no clue if we have a penny or a pound.
  • Then he’ll ask me ‘Can we afford this?’.
  • I will tell him ‘Yes’.
  • Then he’ll ask me which option I want.
  • ‘Option #3’.
  • He’ll then turn to her and tell her ‘Option #3’.
  • She’ll smile and we’ll both sign and get the keys.
  • Then we’ll leave and he will again turn to me and say ‘What the hell was that? Why did you need me there?’
  • I’ll point to his crotch (he is THE MAN, after all), shrug and we’ll go have a coffee.

What is it with everyone assuming I have no money or financial savvy because I have a v-jay-jay and breasts? It’s like a bad joke. What if I was gay? Who would play my fake husband then? Hmm…I would hire Ryan Reynolds. He’s not super handsome but he’s hilarious and smart. I’d prefer those qualities in a fake husband. But I digress. So while I’ll drop off the financial documents to her office today, we won’t sign until ‘Daddy gets home’. Ick. Do I sound bitter? Cause I’m a little bitter.

Moving on – our apartment hasn’t been this clean since the day we moved in. In the last week I’ve bought organizers for all the cupboards and categorized and sorted every thing we own in the evenings. I re-potted all the plants and trees on the balcony – stuff grows fast here. After that, I ‘Marie Kondo’d’ all the drawers and shelves in the closets. It was then I knew I might be getting crazy. The neighbors would soon find me in their apartments sorting their Tupperware, so it’s at a tipping point, and Jeff knows he’s coming back just in time.

In the end, I was left with a large lawn bag full of clothes and shoes and other sundry items. Now I needed to find out what to do with them. Donating stuff in Valencia isn’t like in the US, where there are multiple donation bins in every parking lot in the country. Or even in Ireland where there were more charity shops than regular stores on every block in every town. Here? I’ve seen two in all of Valencia. And I don’t know how they source their stuff.

Jeff said he’d seen a red metal drop off bin in a Repsol gas station parking lot in Benimachlet, so I loaded up the multiple trolleys that I’ve acquired over the last year – to bursting. Yes, it’s a little strange that I have multiple trolleys and hand trucks, but I bought them each for a specific purpose. And I’ll admit I have a thing for various sizes of hand trucks – even in the US. Jeff just shakes his head when I buy another one. The right tool for the right job, and all that. So I strapped them together and made my way down to the Repsol. .

On the way, I’m not going to say that I didn’t look a little strange wrangling all my trolleys across 10 blocks, collecting strange looks and open mouthed staring. But I’m pretty sure my neighbors on the streets surrounding our apartment, if not exactly used to me by now, are just resigned to my strange presence and modus operandi. And sure enough, there was the bin. Ms. Kondo, of Netflix fame, you would have been proud. Yes, during the process I found out I have 5 versions of the same blue and white striped t-shirt, but I’m keeping them all, Marie. Sorry. On the way back I passed the Soul Coffee where the cafe oglers were. I gave them a thumbs up lumbering by with my montage of empty conveyances. Some actually shook their heads and laughed. I’m pretty sure I saw respect.

So I leave for Barcelona a little lighter. Knowing when I get home things will be back to normal. I’ll be able to sign contracts again and getting dressed in the mornings will be a snap! And in less than a week I’ll be moving into my new space. It’s all worth it.

El Barranc de l’infern

I don’t speak Valenciano or Catalan. These are the local languages of the North and Central coasts of the Mediterranean side of Spain. People say they’re totally different languages, others say they’re the same. To me it doesn’t matter – because I know neither of them. To me, they’re a combo of Spanish and French. I focus on Spanish and when signs are in Valenciano I can sometimes tease out what they’re trying to convey.

Yesterday, I was invited on a hike with some people I know and others I don’t. I jumped at the chance because I love to hike. I was planning on doing the Camino Portuguese with Emilie this summer but with her injured ankle have decided to postpone it. So I am happy when I get a chance to go out there.

I put together my supplies – hiking skirt, poles, small pack, some food and water, a hat for the Spanish sun. I was ready. We started in a town called Fleix – prounounced Flische. It’s in the Alicante province and is a picturesque town high up with views of the Med way off in the distance, and other stunning peaks. They said the hike was called the ‘6000 Steps’ and was of medium difficulty. I don’t know how they measure ‘medium difficulty’ and who read the name of the hike, but it was neither of those things.

this was the first indication that it might have some difficulty

The 18km hike was really called ‘The Ravine of Hell’ in Valenciano and was not ‘Medium difficulty’. To put it in perspective for those who have walked a Camino out of St. Jean Pied-de-port in France to Roncesvalles in Spain (so 2 days in the Pyrenees), it was like that only if you had no flat bits and had to scale rocks straight up. And the down hills – of which there were 4 significant ones to match the climbing, were straight down, over streams coming out of the rock, loose rocks that were like walking on marbles at a pitch that ensured you would fall at some point. There were injuries – and they weren’t mine.

We climbed down to the bottom of the ravine, then got to the first uphill climb and one of the guys who does speak Valenciano said ‘This must be the ‘infern’ part.’ I told him that sounded like ‘fire’ in English. He said ‘No. It just means ‘Hell”.

I looked up – and he was right. It looked like it was going to be HELL!! This is where having walked a Camino came in handy. But it took me that first climb to remember all that I had learned.

  • Breathe
  • Don’t look up
  • Go as fast as you need to
  • Use your poles
  • Watch every spot you put your feet
  • Tuck in your laces so you don’t fall

I was the slowest of everyone on the uphills. Emilie would laugh because she told me repeatedly that ‘You’re the slowest person on the Camino!’ and it wasn’t a compliment. She would often walk ahead of me with other people. So I wasn’t surprised that everyone else was faster. But I also like to hike in a different way.

When hiking, I stop when I’m tired. I rest when I need to. I eat food from my pack and drank water as necessary. When something is beautiful – I take pictures. And because I’m able to keep my head up, since I’m not running, I see a lot. The people I was hiking with yesterday didn’t have this same philosophy. They wanted to be done with it – or so it seemed to me. And we started out at 11am and they didn’t eat lunch until 4:30. Not a smart thing when you haven’t eaten since 8:30 and it’s hot with zero shade.

At one point I got so far behind that I couldn’t see the others up ahead. I was dizzy from so much up and down. I had to stop or I feared I would pass out and fall off the edge. I got out my water and a lovely group of Spanish 20 somethings came upon me. One of them was Spanish military and he gave me some chocolate and salts. Then they all sat down and had lunch with me right there. I knew my group was waiting somewhere at the top of the cliff but I had to eat and drink some water.

Made it to the top from yes, the very bottom of several ravines

But the views and the scenery were amazing. And the geology of the area is interesting. It’s easy to see all the caves where prehistoric people probably lived. Spain is known for their cave paintings.

They only had to wait for me at the end for 20 minutes. And it made me realize I need to do more hiking – although maybe with people who enjoy less of the trail-running-type of pace. It really was a fun day, though. I made some new connections, which is always good. And here’s the thing about Hell. When you climb out of it, it’s just that much sweeter.

A Camino Day – For sure

Next weekend I’ll be in Barcelona with my niece, who is on her first school trip to Europe in Austria. She’s stopping by to see Barcelona on her way home. And when Jeff gets back we’re doing a 160km bike ride with a group over 2 days. An old rail line that is supposed to be iconic. So we’ll see how that goes. Never a dull moment.

Love is the Little Things

Jeff popped home to Valencia from Germany, for an overnight (about 7 hours total) before heading to the US. We’ve spent so much time together over the last year – more than any other time in our marriage – it felt a bit strange to have him away. But in the past it was usually me traveling for my work. Now I find it’s easier to be the person traveling than the one left at home. I’ve never really experienced that before. Hmm. But like most things, there’s always a silver lining.

Jeff spent last weekend in London with a friend who had never been to Europe. Some of the best trips are when you get to travel with those who haven’t seen what you’ve seen. Its a special kind of joy watching their reaction and wonder. Like experiencing it yourself for the first time. It’s what I always felt when traveling with our kids. Their excitement was contagious. Perhaps that’s why we traveled with them so much. The smiles, until they were teenagers. Oof!

I went with him to the airport this morning on the Metro. He had already packed his next suitcase before he left for London, so it was just a shower and then off to hop on another plane. He goes armed with a list of to-do’s. Since it’s tax season he has some things to get to our accountant and so much other administrative stuff. And he’ll get to see his Mom and Ryan. But one thing that is different than before is the shopping list. Perhaps I’m evolving.

Before we moved here we stocked up on all the things we thought we needed. Things we were worried we wouldn’t have been able to get here. Slowly but surely we have swapped out US stuff for Spanish stuff. Moisturizer, mascara, medicine. Our medicine cabinets look very different this year, so I had to wrack my brain to come up with things he would need to bring back in his suitcase. I guess we’re like snakes, shedding our skins for new ones.

It doesn’t mean Jeff hasn’t gone prepared. He is staying with my good friend Courtney and he’s been shipping stuff to her house for months. A new wet suit for paddling made for someone who is extra tall. You can’t get that here at the local Decathalon. And a host of other things for someone who is more Norway (giant) than Spain (not). But I was pretty proud of myself that what I asked for could fit into the pocket of a backpack.

I’m getting in a lot of writing time, and painting. So that’s my silver lining. Hopefully I can keep that up when he gets home.

But there is also the downside of him being away. Every morning Jeff makes me my coffee. Often I wake up to the smell of it brewing. It’s a new thing since we moved here. But he makes it just the way I like it. With cardamon in the brew and then a little sprinkle on top. It took him a few months to perfect it and now it’s the only coffee I like to drink. But I don’t know how to make it like he does so my days don’t start quite so perfectly without him.

My attempt at Cafe con Leche ala El Jefe

When I was on the Camino and in Spain for two months in 2017, Jeff missed my foot. Apparently he subconsciously checks in with me at night and taps his foot to mine in his sleep. When he couldn’t find it he would wake himself up. Hopefully he can sleep on this next bit of his trip.

Oh well – it’s a finite time frame, we will both survive. And it proves the old adage ‘Absence makes the heart grow fonder’. And I’m here to tell you that it truly does.

The Sounds of Fallas 2019

I’ve shared a bunch of photos of different things during Fallas this year. Mostly, other than the bands for the processions, it’s been more of a visual feast. But Holy Batman! It’s loud around here and you can’t really appreciate it until you’re there in person. But I’m going to try to help you get a taste.

Today, I did two things I swore I wouldn’t do. The first was to head down to the Ajuntamento and experience the final and largest Mascleta of Fallas. But my Irish friend, Donna, invited me out with friends she has in town. So I went. WOW! It was a visceral experience. Its not just an assault to your ears, but your entire body. The booms go through you and rattle your belly. You feel it through your feet. I can’t really describe it adequately so I recorded it and sent it to Jeff in Germany. He loved it! NOT. I wanted to wear earplugs I brought but those around me told me not to and to keep my mouth open or I would pop my ear drums. It’s just that bad. If you listen to the audio file it’s like a symphony. There is true art to this pyrotechnic orchestra. You’ll also see the Town Fallas – which this year was celebrating women and street art – my fav. Her construction costs about a million US dollars.

But then we were walking out of the square and came upon another BONUS!! mascleta that was being fired off by a local Fallas organization and presided over by their Fallera, who would light it. I took some photos so you could see how the fireworks are made (in a local work shop) and how they hang them off the ground. Each one is strung together expertly and they fire in a sequence. And it’s the loudest thing I have ever heard. The bonus mascleta was worse than the one in the town hall square because we were so close. I only recorded a little of it. It went on for 5 full minutes.

We did a few other things like lunch and a tour of my favorite church. Then drinks, and I started for home. Only I realized it was now 9pm and it was time for La Crema – The burning of all the Fallas. The infantil near me was being prepared to light up so I stopped to watch before the smoke got so black I abandoned my spot. It was still a fun gathering of the community – even though I disagree with the environmental impact of it all. And I learned the song of Alboraya that they sang while it burned.

Infantil La Crema

Now I am home. It’s a war zone out there tonight. I am adding one last video so you can hear what is going on outside my home. There will be no sleep tonight – I am very sure. But I don’t care. I ‘did Fallas’ today – like a local. Tomorrow we sleep!

Last Days of Fallas

What I said in my last post about noise? Well, I take it all back. Last night was epic on the noise front. Our local Fallas Associations were in full steam until late. I took the elevator down with several Falleras from our building. Some older ladies who had the sash from long ago with full regalia. And the Mantillas – both black and white. They processed endlessly around and around the block with a hundred other people from just around our building. Oopah! Oopah! Bam! Bam!

I walked into town for dinner Saturday night. Every Fallas organization was marching to converge on Colon (the epicenter of Valencia). Complete with their own individual marching bands. Our eldest son, Ryan, called me on the walk in. I kept saying, ‘Just wait until I turn the corner so I can hear you.’ But every turn brought me face to face with yet another group and their band. It was crazy. I had forgotten about this happening last year.

Another Group heading for Colon

Then Sunday was the HUGE procession for Our Lady of the Forsaken. I took some pictures of her before she was covered by all the flowers the Falleras would bring to her from all over the city. But there was no way I was heading into the square by the church this year. Been there, done that last year.

But luckily I got all my photos of the Fallas Infantils last weeks so I’ll include those here. Some of them are pretty cool.

But what happened last night was the best part of Fallas for me this year. We have a neighbor – I think she was one of the people who called our landlord on me for the Infamous Christmas Cookie Situation of 2018. They see me and barely acknowledge me, usually. I see their son come home for lunch several times a week and he smiles and gives me an ‘Hola’, quietly whispered. He’s grown about a foot in the past year.

Jeff left me with some seriously large fireworks. On the order of those he bought for our wedding reception finale, over the lake where we got married on. So they aren’t just small firecrackers. I don’t like setting these things off alone. It’s like swimming in the ocean – do it in pairs. So yesterday, after getting up my nerve, I gathered my fireworks together and knocked on the neighbor’s door. I don’t think they wanted to answer.

A lot of rustling later – whispers – and then the door opened. The Mom and her two boys stood there. They knew who I was but were clearly uncomfortable. In broken Spanish I explained that Jeff was in London and I’d like to light these fireworks but didn’t want to do it alone. Could she and her boys help me? The boys eyes lit up! Then I offered that if they would light them, and let me watch, they could have them. Well, that changed everything.

So at 8 o’clock last night they knocked on my door (prearranged) and we went out on the street. They had some loud firecrackers, but then they got to the ones I had given them. The first batch was lit and a crowd gathered. Another boy stopped and talked to the kid next door. Our kid (yes, I’m aware that sounds strange) seemed very surprised to talk to this kid. The Mom explained – Surprise! – en Ingles.

Apparently, the boy who stopped is ‘Cool’. Our neighbor boy is not. But this cool kid was very impressed with the fireworks they were shooting off and told our neighbor boy that he thought it was really cool he had such amazing fireworks, and he stayed for the show. We watched her very shy son smile from ear to ear. More lighting of things and blowing up stuff. Afterwards I said my good-nights and they all were very grateful. But it was me who was grateful and I told them so. I found a way to crack the ice that had been frozen for the last year.

So the things I’m learning how to do now are more subtle. The fine motor skills of learning how to fit in. I wasn’t looking forward to Fallas this year – and I’ve not made any secret of it. But it turns out to be a crucial part of my Valencian education. Kind of makes me look forward to next year.