Mis Amigos

I have 5 new Spanish boyfriends. Well, not exactly. Don’t get too excited. But the way Jeff is reacting to my new crew you’d think I did.

There’s a bar in Benimachlet that I go to in the mornings sometimes. I’ll bring my laptop and write at an outside table over a cafe con leche. They make a mean one. Here, everything is a bar – so no, I’m not drinking booze at 10am. I’m pretty sure the local children’s hospital probably has a bar in it too.

I was enjoying my morning coffee one sunny day, when a voice beside me seemed to be directed my way. I looked over and there was a table of 5 older gentlemen and they were pointing at my laptop and speaking to me in Valenciano. I understood, maybe, 3 words. But I answered in my pidgeon Spanish. Thus began a whole new relationship.

It’s well documented that I’ll use any means possible to improve my Spanish. This means I’ve joined groups way above my Spanish language pay grade. You gotta put yourself out there and be willing to make a fool of yourself and fall down – A LOT. I have an abundance of those things in spades. But one thing I hadn’t tried was the ‘Old Man Morning Coffee Klatch‘ down at a local bar

I’ll admit, I had observed these multiple groups from afar. They always seem to consist of 4-5 retired, well groomed older men who meet at the same bar, at the same time, almost daily. They’re usually smartly dressed and cologned. Would I have ever been so bold as to approach them in their natural habitat? Never.

But on that day, one group decided to approach me and now I’m In-like-Flynn – as my Dad used to say. Paco, Jose, Jose, Francisco, & Javi are my new crew in the 75+ crowd at our local bar near the space. At 10am every lunes, miercoles y viernes (that’s Monday, Wednesday & Friday to you and me) they meet up, as they’ve been doing for decades. And now they insist I come and speak with them each of those days.

One of the Jose’s explained ‘We need to improve our Ingles. And you, your Espanol.’ Yes, improving their Ingles at over 75 seems like a just-in-time for heaven kind of strategy. I mean, I’m pretty sure God speaks Spanish – but who am I to judge? Never stop learning, right?

The other Jose proposed marriage today. I told him I thought he had a Portuguese wife. He said ‘No. Today finish.’ And he gestured a karate chop.

‘Does she know yet?’ I asked him

‘If you say YES, I go home and tell her.’

We all just laughed. Silly man. His wife is fierce and he’s 5 ft 2  and maybe 120 lbs soaking wet. She’d run him over with her loaded grocery trolley and take him out. Or maybe pay me to take him off her hands.

Mostly they treat me like their daughter and explain Spanish customs and social conventions. The other day, Paco explained in Spanish that Valencian men are too macho and their wives suffer for this. I have no idea if this is a universal truth but it’s certainly a perspective. I do know learning Spanish through humor and laughter is so much more fun than worksheets and a whiteboard. I much prefer the classroom of life in Benimachlet.

Most of these guys have known each other since they started kindergarten. Here, when children start school they stay with the same classroom, and the same kids, all the way through until graduation. So they’re friends that long. Impressive. One of the Jose’s didn’t move to their class until second grade and they still call him ‘The new guy’ after all these years. But their wives do not like each other.

‘But you, Kelli. You are muey simpatico, I think. You join our group.’

At first I thought I might just be a guest star periodically, but am now appearing in the opening credits. Its a standing 10 am date 3 days per week to intercambio with ‘Mis Amigos‘. And one of them always buys my coffee – which makes me feel sort of strange. I think it’s the macho thing because they fight over who will do it that day. But since coffee is a whole uno euro setenta, I guess they won’t run through their pensions too quickly.

Jeff just shakes his head.

‘Heading out to meet your boyfriends?’ He asks as I grab my keys.

I give him a kiss on the cheek ‘ Not enough Viagra in an entire Costco pharmacy. So no worries there.’

Sometimes I stop and wonder ‘Am I the strangest American in Valencia?’ But then I remember I was strange for an American, IN America. So I probably am. I guess nothing has changed one bit. And you know what? I find I don’t really care.

Espacia Creativo

Ready. Set. Create! The movers came yesterday and we’ve been getting the new space all set up. We have desks for computers. Gotta write. A living room for resting from our creative pursuits. We’re having a refrigerator delivered – no one creates on an empty stomach. And more work tables and sundry other items will come later next week. Semana Santa is messing with my delivery schedules this week.

It’s getting there…slowly.

I’m not completely set up with my painting area. My canvas tarps haven’t arrived yet. Nor my really big canvases. But it’s good enough to put brush to linen. This one I call ‘Painting after a strong Gin and Tonic’. But I actually kind of like it.

Painting after a strong G & T

The space is in another section of Benimachlet. About 8 blocks from home. An area where we didn’t previously spend very much time. But I like it. There’s a charity shop around the corner – so I’m all over making donations to them. And there is a bar less than 100 feet from the front door. As luck would have it, Jeff likes the Spanish peanuts and olives they serve with beverages. And the beer. They’re overly generous with their G and T pours. So only one for me. I’m not Hemingway or Van Gogh, so I’ll need to keep my wits about me if I’m to be at my optimal creative self.

Now that I have a place of my own to spend a significant amount to time each day, it requires some of the essentials. And I have a new local El Chino that is making it easy. They’re lovely people. I’ve spent gobs of money in there stocking up on outfitting the space so I don’t feel like we have to go out to eat if we don’t want to. Or drink from a glass, or use paper towels efficiently. I left my wallet on the counter as I was juggling bags and my full trolley the other day. When I went back hyperventilating they handed it over with a smile, and all the money and cards were nestled where they should be. Whew! These people have my business for life!

Its no wonder I’m feeling inspired. A burst of creativity is here. I can feel it! 120 square meters will do that for you. Writing and painting and yoga-ing. I’ll be putting it all to good use. Can’t wait to see where it leads.

Contrato Firmado

Yes – we have a signed contract. Because El Jefe is here it’s now a done deal. I clutched the pen with my tiny female claws. Barely able to put pen to paper. But Jeff’s large paws made up for my short fall. Eye roll.

We met at the imobilaria to meet our new landlords, to sign and get the keys. They are lovely people – a father and daughter. They speak zero Ingles, and our Spanish is pitiful but we muddled through. You can always tell about people through their eyes. The father clearly laughed a lot – lots of lines and he was very animated. And his daughter was a very nice person. After we signed multiple copies of the document and the imobilaria explained all the terms to the landlords (and nothing to us), we made our way to the space.

They seemed excited to show it to us. I performed much miming antics and broken Spanish. Finally the father looked at Jeff and proclaimed him ‘Santo’. It means ‘Saint’. I think he was referring to Jeff’s obvious patience being married to me. I laughed and told him my Mother says the same thing. I have referred to him as Santo for the last 24 hours. He seems to like it.

They seemed skeptical at first, us being American and all, but quickly warmed to us when Jeff changed some light bulbs in the high ceiling without using a ladder. He is ‘gigante’ and it does come in handy. I thanked them profusely for letting the space to us and the daughter told me ‘we are in this together’ so I take that as a sign of a good landlord/tenant relationship.

Since we moved here were have heard disparaging comments about Spaniards. People have said they’re lazy and they lack ambitions. I’m sure they don’t understand the culture. And I’m always offended by this and I’m not even Spanish. But let me tell you, since we moved here if we need anything delivered like an appliance or something from IKEA or a service performed, the Spanish outshine anyone in the US and it’s not even a close contest.

Now that I have the new space, I headed down to the local internet/mobile provider to arrange to set up our service. I also decide to switch who we’re using at home and change the house and our cell svs over too. That was at 10;30 this morning. At 2pm the installer called me and they were standing outside the space to install it. Yup! Same Day. Not 3 1/2 hours later. On a cold day in HELL would that ever happen in the US. There, you’d wait for the installer to call. He’d tell you a week from Tuesday between 8-5. You’d take a day off work, or work from home, and he would show up at 4:45 on said day and tell you he didn’t have everything he needed and would have to come back another day. Like installing internet was a mystery to him and he invented it afresh each day. Seriously.

Today these two guys had ladders and put it in the back of the space where I wanted it, after drilling holes in the outside of the building and then running a 100 feet of wire. And they did it all in a hour. Like clockwork.

Tomorrow they’re coming to the house to install it here, and on Monday our mobile phones are switching over. Just that quick. So anyone who wants to tell me the Spanish don’t understand process and technical service delivery is an idiot and has never really lived here. I will defend them vigorously, to any foreigner from now on!

OK – I’m not including Correos or Amazon.es delivery in that, though while quick, they’re wildly unpredictable.

Just now, I lined up a moving service to get all our relevant stuff moved over by the 16th and then I’ll be up and running in 120 sq meters -Painting,writing, and doing yoga in my own studio. It doesn’t get better than that!

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.

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.

Falles 2019 and the Environment: Shades of Things to Come

No matter how much you love Fallas, and people do or don’t to varying degrees, you can’t help but look at these amazing sculptures carved from hardened liquid Styrofoam, and not understand that burning over 700 of these in one night is an environmental disaster. The chemicals and CO2 released as they melt (The Crema), and the black smoke that will sit in the air for days (unless it rains the day after like last year) means breathing for those with a compromised respiratory system will be a hazard. And not much fun for the rest of us.

I’ll be posting more photos of those in Benimachlet and the surrounding neighborhoods further down in this post, but as we walked around this year we talked a lot about how, while some of them are amazing masterpieces, it’s a terrible waste and a nasty pollutant. Centuries ago, the Falla was a pile of old castoffs from the furniture or arts workshops in the city, that had been produced indoors over the long winter. Someone put some clothes on a few of them to make them resemble people and it started marching towards what it is today. A full blown design major at the local Uni, and an industry unto itself.

But there is hope. I’m not a fan of burning anything – thinking back to our Irish Christmas when burning peat and coal to stay warm made my stomach turn (Ireland is changing that rapidly btw). But burning polystyrene for no real benefit is just wrong. And it seems there are those of like mind this year. Some of the neighborhood Fallas associations have abandoned these unfriendly materials all together and have fashioned their Fallas out of unpainted wood. It’s a small group and they’re pretty cool. So I’m featuring them first, before all the other ones we saw in the last two days.

A full pipe organ built from wood you could get at the local BricoMart. Pretty amazing. And one celebrating the Valencia Fubol Club with their badge and the bat. Yesterday we saw another that would be a dragon when it was done, complete with scales – made of wood. I didn’t photograph it because it wasn’t ready but it’s nice to see that there are those getting creative with non-toxic materials. Sure, they’re still going to burn them – so that’s not so great – but they won’t be doing it with chemicals. Just the thin wooden dowels or cut plywood to create the skin of their creations. Everything is baby steps.

I wonder if next year we’ll see even more of these new fangled, eco Falla. Jeff wondered if maybe they have a new ‘eco friendly’ award category. I sure hope so, as I’ll be spending the night of the 19th as they burn, indoors with the air filter blowing. But still, this year there are some incredible Fallas. And I’m posting them for you to see – even though they’re not all completed yet. I was happy to see that most of the Infantils are up. So I focused a lot on those from multiple angles. More on that tomorrow. Enjoy!

You can clearly see there are three categories that each Falla falls into.

  • The local ones – like in Benimachlet. These have no corporate sponsorships or even local businesses sponsoring them. They’re my favorites because they are made with bake sale money, paella dinners and sweat.
    • The locally sponsored ones – where the neighborhood real estate agent, Abogado, or pub, pitches in some cash for a banner on the Fallas tent housing those working on the erection of the effigy. They’ll be a bit more detailed and larger because of the injection of cash. Their designer will be a pro but nothing like the next bunch.
    • The Corporate Sponsored ones – this is where folks like Coca Cola, Netflix, Mahou and a host of other deep pockets cough it up for something that will actually take your breath away. One we saw had a detailed mini version in plaster so you could see what it was going to be when it was completely assembled. Last years was equally amazing.
  • One other thing we noticed this year is the noise. Its warm at night and we like to sleep with the window open. Last year we couldn’t do that and sleep – at all. Sure, we were up at 4:30 this am due to some errant – illegal – fireworks at the crack of dawn. But we noticed that there are exponentially less booming fireworks this year. And the Mascletas aren’t as big as they were last year. I’m not sure why. We barely hear them in Benimachlet and last year they shook the windows.

    Perhaps it’s a combination of a couple of things. We are used to the noise here. The random procession with the full marching band hardly phases us now. Waking up to fireworks on any given Sunday tells us that it’s either a wedding, christening or a holiday we forgot. Or maybe it’s because we’re becoming true Valencian’s. We know our local Fallas group, who our Falleras are, and the number of days until the next major festival. Yep – that’s what it must be. And I’ll take it.

    Next post will be just The Infantils. This year the theme of those seems to be Love and Acceptance. After what happened in Christchurch this week I think we can use more of that.

    It Goes BOOM!

    Last year when we arrived in Valencia, we felt like we were inundated by sound. BOOMS! and POPS!. People throwing fireworks under the feet of strangers seemed to be common. And when sitting at a cafe you’d be jumping as someone lit a firecracker under your chair and ran.

    We noticed that very small children, maybe 3, also had fireworks and were throwing them. Sure, at that age they were just poppers that burst various colors that made pretty flowers on the sidewalk. But by 5 or 6, kids were carrying around lit ropes with which they could light full blown fire crackers in a crowded square. This usually ‘supervised’ by a man in the family. Of course, there were more responsible Dads or Abuelos in empty tennis courts or parks, but that was rare. Usually they were on the crowded sidewalk.

    Each kid had a wooden box hanging from around their neck that contained the fireworks. I mean really, who wouldn’t put gun powder in a wooden box and light a rope for their kids to walk around with? What could go wrong?

    But I’ll admit, I had box envy. Being self aware, I know I possess the maturity of a 5 year old at times. Only I prefer to categorize it more as a child-like innocence. Never losing my sense of wonder at the world. Ok, I like to blow stuff up every once in a while and I liked those boxes. But last year, by the time we got settled and had a spoon to eat from and a place to sit in our apartment, Fallas was over and wooden fireworks boxes were gone.

    Fast forward to this year and the mayhem has begun to ensue. The pyrotechnic stores are open again and El Chinos are resplendent with fireworks boxes with the red cord to hand it around your neck like a cigarette girl in old movies. And of course, I had to have one. Jeff took me shopping while I perused the selection. It’s taken me less time to pick out a wedding dress than my fireworks box. But now that I had one it was time to fill it.

    We headed to our local shop that has sprung up over night in Benimachlet, selling all things fireworks. They’re pretty much unregulated here so you can get things that I’m very sure could take off a hand or burn our apartment down, but nonetheless we purchased them. Bringing them home, it’s clear they won’t fit into my box. Which I think makes Jeff happy since it’s only little kids who carry these boxes. The adults have outgrown the need for one. If I go out on the street with mine he’ll walk very far behind me.

    Before he heads out on his multi-city journeys, we’ll light these off and enjoy the show. I mean, if you can’t beat’em, join’em. Time to get our Fallas on!

    Effigies and Processions

    The last days of Fallas are upon us. It started slow with neighborhood processions – my favorite – that are more homegrown and organic, and don’t possess all the flash of the grand processions with the 100’s of Falleras and Falleros marching to the town hall on floats. Or the one to Our Lady of the Forsaken at the Cathedral square to create her flower cape and dress.

    Below are some of the processions that we encountered by happenstance here in Benimachlet. One over morning coffee. Another an evening children’s procession. And then an irreverent adult procession presided over by our local Fallera. Why? Who knows?

    Starting on March 11th and running through the 15h, Falla are being erected all over the city by the local groups that raise money for construction, and build them in workshops in every barrio in the city. Designers are hired who have studied this at University. They are the real stars of Fallas, along with their pyrotechnic cousins with degrees in building and blowing up things during the daily mascletas at Placa de Ajunament. Since Jeff is leaving for London to hang with a friend – then on to Germany for a few days – and finally to the US for a couple of weeks, we decided we needed to go out and see what they’ve put together before he flies the coop and leaves me to fend for myself these last few days of Fallas.

    I’ve included some of what we’ve seen under construction so far in the following pictures. We’ve yet to tease out the theme for this year but I’m sure as more and more go up it will become obvious. My vote is Women’s Empowerment but some have been confusing so I’m not sure. Many of the larger ones are further along than those of less wealthy areas. Some of them have corporate sponsors and you can tell they were able to hire better designers. But we’re enjoying watching them all go up no matter how intricate.

    Each day this week, I’ll head to a different neighborhood and take more photos. I took them from multiple angles as they’re 3 dimensional and have interesting characters on multiple sides. I especially like the Infantils – those small ones that are done for the children. They’re usually very intricate and have a lot more detail than the larger effigies. They seem to go up last, for whatever reason. So stay tuned for those. But until then, enjoy what we’ve seen so far and I promise more to come each day before the judging this weekend.

    Fresh Squeezed

    It’s a cool crisp morning here in Valencia. Surprise! We woke up to fireworks. Shades of Fallas – reminding us it’s coming and we need to book some rooms out of town for that week. First, it rained and then the sun came out like it inevitably does. A day without sunshine here, in some form, is rare. It’s why this is the perfect environment for growing oranges. They’re called ‘Valencia’ oranges for a reason. I remember pointing this out to my Mom and she said she thought the name came from Valencia, California. Oh my, we are so American.

    When Jeff and I arrived here last year on the first of March, the trees that line all the streets in our neighborhood had some oranges on them. We thought ‘Wow! Oranges. How amazing our neighborhood trees aren’t oak but orange.’ And all summer we would walk down the street at night and hear oranges falling on to cars. These had kept growing and were huge. Sometimes when a particularly large one hit the hood of a car it would make us jump.

    But the oranges we saw on trees last spring and summer were left over from last year’s harvest. And we started to understand that, after the fragrant orange blossoms early this fall turned into actual oranges on the trees. First green and small, like limes. Then orange and ever growing.

    As the days go by the trees get heavier and heavier with fruit. Jeff is tall and he has had to duck under the trees or risk getting hit in the face with a branch of oranges. Everything is perspective and, to us, it looked like it was a bumper crop this year. We’ve speculated on how many people could be fed with these city oranges. It seemed a waste just to let them rot on the vine.

    Then, the other day when we were heading out to do some shopping during siesta time, we saw how wrong we had been just last year. A crew of workers were out with this amazing machine harvesting our street oranges. We stood and watched them do their work. The machine shaking the tree of all it’s fruit, right into a hopper. Of course some of them don’t make it the first time and the workers were cleaning up after it. And the air? Oh the air was thick with the scent of oranges. Like some giant was grating orange peels and you could almost taste the oil from the peel in the air. It was so fragrant we weren’t alone in people stopping and taking deep breaths of the perfume.

    We watched them for a bit. We can tell where they’ll go next as they have signs and tape up for the next section so cars won’t park there. But we shouldn’t have been surprised. The public works department in Valencia is amazing. They’re constantly sweeping and cleaning and generally tidying up. Go to any park here on every day of the week and they’re raking and pruning. And the oranges are a resource that can be utilized, while being a symbol of the city. Win Win.

    Now our orange trees still have some oranges at the top. Maybe 5% of what they had before. Just like they did when we arrived last year and thought how amazing it was that we had orange trees in our neighborhood with actual oranges on them. But now we know just how many there were before the street harvest. And we’ve learned something equally valuable. When we get our car, we will not to park under an orange tree if we don’t want a dented hood in July.

    Remembering Why

    It struck me a few months ago that I had gotten off track. Moving to a new country came with a lot of things to do. And meeting new friends and having new experiences – which was great. But I wasn’t myself. I felt like I was tagging along, too many times, with other people to where they wanted. Going places and doing actiities that aren’t me or why I, personally, wanted to move here.

    It’s easy to do. You are immediately out of your comfort zone in new town, let alone a new continent. And since humans, usually, are tribal beings (although Jeff would dispute this, in his case) moving somewhere without good local language skills and connections can be isolating. So you tend to gravitate towards people you can communicate with easily. Even if those people aren’t your usual crowd. I did this. They’re perfectly nice folks, but their lifestyle and interests weren’t really aligned with why I wanted to live in Spain in the first place. 

    Then we had a bunch of guests for the month of October. It was great to see friends and I enjoyed every moment catching up. But winter is coming. Everyone we know from back home is in the US tucked snug in their houses. We’ll see them next year. So time to get back to it.

    Jeff helped me get there in the end. He is an observant guy. He knew I was struggling with my inner compass and one day he said so. He’d been feeling it a bit himself, so he bought a new sewing machine to make all the bags for his recumbent trike. He had a machine back in the US but the electrics wouldn’t work here so it had to go. Our reorienting conversation was a good one and I had to recommit myself – finding a balance. My passions tend to be solo, more introverted pursuits. I can get social overload if I’m not careful. Hence my writing, and after our talk, I kicked it into high gear. 

    But I also wanted to start painting when we moved to Valencia – and so far, I’d done none of it. I’ve dabbled in it for awhile – off and on over the years. I’m no good but I love it, and like anything else you start doing, it takes time, focus and practice. I’ve found that Valencia is very artist friendly and there are amazing art supply places all over that are unpretentious and the opposite of intimidating. The one I love is near the Torres de Serrano and the owner and his family are so helpful and down to earth. They’ll encourage you go in and look, examining brushes and all the mediums you’re dreaming of – many times – before you decide to take the plunge. Reminded me of walking into the old hardware store in downtown Snoqualmie – sans the plumbing supplies. The selection is top notch and their service matches it.

    Compact Easel

    So, this week, I bought myself a new easel (one I can easily take to the park, as it folds up small), and paint box with new paints and brushes. And I bought a few small (already gesso’d) canvases to start. Then, Jeff went to El Chino and got me an apron to protect my clothes from the paint. It’s pink and emblazoned with the phrase ‘Soy tu Unicornio’, with said animal emblazoned upon it. He thought it was appropriate and I agree. I will wear it with pride.

    Be the Best Unincornio You can Be

    This next chapter of my life is about creative pursuits. I spent too many years chasing expectations and priorities that were not mine. It feels good to stand in front of a canvas, brush in hand, starting where all paintings start – after a little sketching. With the first brush stroke. And who knows. If I have any particularly inspired works, and am feeling brave, I’ll post pics here. Suddenly, finding that balance doesn’t seem so hard anymore.

    A Fresh Perspective

    The change of seasons blows in new ideas and new ways of looking at things. It’s never the big stuff that makes the difference. It’s always the small, subtle things that push us – sometimes kicking and screaming – in a new direction.

    Our new furniture arrives tomorrow. So it required a little re-thinking our layout. And with the addition of our Christmas tree, well, it would have happened anyway. But now I find myself looking out a different window from my chaise. In a completely different direction than I did before. And I see different things.ย 

    No more dog park and palm-tree lined tram way. I no longer look out across to the balcony of the guy we have called ‘Captain Underpants’ for the last 9 months. Guessing if today would be a ‘boxer or brief day’. I’m looking down the road to Alboraya now. More Spanish flags hanging from balconies. More established terrace gardens that are still hanging on, late in the season.

    Before we left for Brazil, I insisted we hang the tapestry we got in Greece many years ago. It is quite large and used to hang on 20ft. high staircase heading up to our bedroom in the Snoqualmie house, so we hung it sideways here. But until today, my chair had its back to it so I didn’t really get to appreciate how lovely the design really is. Now I can look at it while I write – or continue to practice my driving tests online.

    Our Christmas tree I shipped from the US is up. All our family ornaments are on it and, as is tradition, I have only knocked it over once and broken one ornament – so El Compartemiento is well and truly christened, like all our other houses (I used to blame it on the cats!). Hanging the ornaments brought back so many memories of Christmases past. Things made by our kids in kindergarten, or just because. Trips we took, or some made by my sister-in-law during lean years when those were the only gifts that were exchanged. Some from when I was a kid – so they’ve been on more trees than I’d like to count.

    Benimachlet Christmas

    We have been lured out by some of the Cyber Monday deals. I finally have a good bread knife and a sharp paring knife. And a counter edge bamboo cutting board that covers my entire counter top. I even bought a KitchenAid mixer to replace the one I left behind in the US. El Corte Ingles and I are fast friends this holiday season. Let the Christmas cookie baking begin! Our neighbors will soon find family cookies on their door steps of all my Mom and Grandma’s recipes – with ‘Feliz Navidad’ notes (+allergy warnings in Spanish).ย 

    So today, I’m looking in a new direction. But also back. To the traditions and memories that make up our lives – no matter where we live. And at this moment, I’m glad I shipped that stuff from back home. This non-traditionalist is pretty happy to be celebrating some traditions right about now. Maybe that’s the fresh perspective I needed after all.

    Nesting

    Fall has arrived – my favorite season. The weather had definitely turned in Spain. This weekend the temperatures have dropped. I got up early yesterday morning to make breakfast and watch the sunrise on the balcony off the kitchen. It was cold and crisp. Time to switch out for the snuggly chenille robe instead of the cute boho one I’ve been lounging around in while drinking my daily coffee.

    After rising early, we spent all day yesterday at ‘Shopping City’. Its clear it’s nesting season and time to get some things for the house that we’ve not needed thus far. It was a hot summer so cooking indoors wasn’t a priority. Now I find I’m craving casseroles and homemade soups, and so is Jeff. I made Scalloped Au-gratin potatoes with real American ham. Yum! But I needed some crucial appliances as we hunker down for winter, and shopping city is the place to go for all that stuff.

    We power-shopped and lunched and then shopped some more, before a beverage and home. Crock-pot, food processor, toaster oven, waffle iron and much more were on our list. And some indoor lighting. We’ve rented an office space/creative space here in the city so we needed some things for that too. And we got it all accomplished. Whew!

    So today should have been a lazy day but with Fall’s arrival it was time for a thorough deep cleaning of El Compartemiento, so we can be ready for any gales that blow through. There have been a few lately. And I assembled my new 3 tier drying rack. We have quite an extensive drying system on our kitchen balcony. And our washing machine is also a dryer. But I find it ‘almost dries’ the clothes and it takes a long time to do even that, so I’ve been hanging things all summer and they dry in a flash – faster than our dryer back home. But with the advent of Fall, our clothes aren’t drying so quickly so I need an indoor system that will not take up too much space off the kitchen, move on wheels, but still allow me to dry 3 loads of laundry on it at once.

    I got one yesterday and it’s a beauty. In my cleaning fiesta today I’m taking it for a test drive. We’re becoming fast friends already. And while I was at it, I decided I would whip up a batch of the quintessential American cookie – chocolate chip. It filled our house with the smell of every kitchen in every home we’ve ever owned. It was grey outside but warm and cozy inside and the smell of baking cookies put us squarely into the season. Vanilla ice cream and CC cookies are on the menu for Jeff’s dessert tonight.

    20181028_1720304005982202474404882.jpg

    So now all I have to do is start a batch of home-made vegetable beef soup and I’m all set.ย  Ready to sit outside, smell the scent of the fireplaces burning in the area. and snuggle under a wool blanket. Since we’ve been back from the US, it’s starting to feel more like this is home. It might be the cold weather or it may just be the smell of cookies in the oven, but I’ll take it either way.

    Doing a Little Shopping

    Never mind the fact that we are heading to the US for most of September. Jeff is shopping for real estate. Well, why not. We have nothing else going on. We have been married for a long time, so I know him well. For all those years, if there was ever a gap in Jeff showing me properties or market potential, I don’t remember it. So when he started saying things like ‘Look at this’ and the screen showed apartments or maps of available properties, I was not surprised.

    When we went on our little mountain excursion a few weeks ago, he pulled up Fotocasa and we sat in a cafe in a micro village and thought about the commute, vacation rental potential and charm factor. I am resigned to it. It’s just how it’s going to go.

    So this past week, when he’d set up an appointment with an agent here, I didn’t bat an eye. He’s ready to start the process of finding a home. I guess I should take that as a good sign that we’re staying in Spain. I don’t say ‘Valencia’ in particular because he’s looking at things in other parts of the country too. But this first appointment was local.

    Jeff knows my weird adoration for Benimaclet. I can’t explain it, but he’s willing to go with it. We have talked about buying something and doing ‘Reformas’ or remodeling. I have dreams of finding something old and gutting it. Breathing new life into a forgotten gem. Improving the neighborhood and setting down roots. Kind of giving back. Jeff is ok with my romantic dream. But he sees the financial upside and the possibility of ALOT more space than El Compartimiento can provide.

    The first property was the top floor of a three story building over a cafe. It’s 5 bedrooms and it has a nice large kitchen terrace. But what makes the property so appealing is that we get the entire roof with a 360 view of the area. Well, maybe blocked by a couple of buildings at certain points but we could entertain up there 8 months out of the year. The downside – holy moly, the roof had leaked and it is a total mess.

    So now we’re doing research on the costs of ‘Reformas’ and gauging our tolerance for ‘disaster recovery’ as I am now calling it. Jeff showing me this property is challenging my stomach for construction project management and just plain waiting – not my strong suit. How many walls can you knock out and how long will it take? But I’d get to work with engineers. I love engineers!

    The agent had lived in LA for 5 years. He seemed to be a keen study in human nature watching me walk around and examine the leaking roof and peeling paint.

    ‘I have another property. It’s a 15 minute walk and has been completely reformed. We can go now if you like.’

    So we walked. And it was gorgeous. Already done up and in a secure building with a 24 hour doorman. The complete opposite of what we were thinking and it’s not in Benimaclet. I touched the shiny fixtures in the two large bathrooms. And stood on the terrace looking down at the lush courtyard with the fountains and the blooming bougainvillea.

    We walked home and on the way we stopped in at our local El Chino for a few things. He’s been closed for some of August and he greeted us with a smile. We’re good customers. At check out, I got my ‘Mystery Gift w/ Purchase’ as he often includes. This time it was Tomato Sauce. So random.

    And then it hit me. If we move out of Benimaclet, I wouldn’t have this El Chino. It’s like a coffee shop in Seattle. When you move to a new neighborhood, you think you’ll go back to the one near your old house, since they know you and call you by name, but you won’t. It’s not convenient. You find a new one you can walk to. And I’d never again get cans of free anchovy stuffed olives that I’ll never eat. Or a random can of beer.

    So now I have some thinking to do and luckily we’re leaving town soon so I’ll have a month to do it. But that doesn’t mean I won’t hear ‘Look at this’ as I’m trying to go to sleep in one hotel or another over the next 4 weeks. Jeff is on the case like a bloodhound, and I have a feeling that by the spring, where we call home here won’t be same as it is today. I need to decide if that makes me happy or sad.

    Getting to Normal

    ‘August is the loneliest month that you’ll ever do’. Ok, I know there are too many syllables but it’s still true. Not because there are not people in the city. It’s because all our neighbors fled somewhere else. The streets have been clogged with tourists and students from other places. And most of our regulars were away, and our favorite haunts were closed with paper signs that said when they would be returning at the end of August or the first part of September.

    This all took us a bit by surprise. Probably because, in the past, we were the tourists in August. We didn’t know that the people we were seeing weren’t from whatever place we were standing in, snapping photos and basking in the ‘real culture’ of the place. We didn’t need to purchase a bike tire or a printer cartridge while on vacation. We had no idea. Now we do and Jeff’s assessment?ย  ‘August is lonely’.

    He’s been grouchy all month. This isn’t open, and that place isn’t open. Ugh! You’d think he can barely find food to eat in this city. Friday Market in Benimachlet is a shadow of its former self. The few vendors who are there have scant inventory. It’s not fun to even go browse. And my browsing buddy is in school in the US:/

    Even in Emilie’s last week, when we were lunching and suppering at her favorite places, Google wasn’t up-to-date on the fact that while it said a place had regular hours, ‘ regular hours’ in August are NO hours at all. After walking all the way to her favorite Moroccan place (a couple of miles) we discovered this little tidbit. She wasn’t able to enjoy the little clay pot with the saffron chicken she loves so much.

    But things are starting to change. Yesterday, I heard our opera-singing neighbor! Jeff came into the living room from the kitchen to let me know – as though I was deaf and unable to hear him belting out something from Madam Butterfly.

    ‘Do you hear him?!’ย  he told me smiling. ‘He’s back!’

    I wanted to laugh, since he had complained about the man’s afternoon serenades just a few months ago. And the little boys whose bedroom shares a wall with my office are back too. We can hear them screaming and killing each other on the other side of the wall several times a day. Jeff smiles about that too.

    I knew he was having a hard time the other day, when he stood looking out our 7th floor window down at the sidewalk.

    ‘I haven’t seen Perkins in weeks. I hope he’s OK.’ he said wistfully in a melancholy tone. He was referring to a dog that looks like the twin of the Golden Retriever we had in Seattle (Mr. Perkins) when the kids were growing up. He died of cancer in 2013 and we’ve missed him ever since. Jeff spotted his look alike the first week we were here, back in March, and has followed his exploits from his lofty perch ever since. Once, we saw one of his owners walking him when we were coming home from dinner. Jeff was shy to pet him but he was so happy to see him up close.

    Last evening, I was sitting in the living room writing. Jeff stood at the window looking down on the street.

    ‘Traffic’s picking up.’ He said hopefully. ‘I think people are starting to come back. You can tell by the cars that are parking alot closer together. They need to make space.’

    I smiled knowing he is willing things to return to ‘normal’ – whatever that is. And then it happened.

    ‘There he is! Come see. Perkins is back!’.

    I got up and went to the window, and sure enough, there he was. Our fake dog happily trotting down the street with a ball in his mouth.

    ‘I think the owner’s been out of town like everyone else. I was a little worried there for awhile.’ he said, totally serious.

    I had no idea this was even on his mind. But he’s right. Today I can see traffic has picked up. Our building is busier in the lobby now and more of the cafes and shops are starting to open up again. My salon reopens next week – and just in time. I’m feel a little shaggy these days.

    We head back to the US in a couple of weeks. We were so looking forward to spending September in the Northwest. But now, I think it will be harder to be away. Now that our new normal is getting back to normal.