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.

Wash Out

Semana Santa Marinera de Valencia was a wash out this year. Literally. It rained like heaven was crying and wouldn’t stop. All our neighbors had cleared out of town for the holiday and the wind blew so hard it blew the branches off the trees, and then the trees out of the ground themselves. Jeff had a near miss with a branch that was 4 inches across while walking home on a windy night. Many trees were blown on to cars or into the road. The piles are stacked up on the sidewalks waiting for crews to pick them up.

It started on Maundey Thursday. Then the heavens opened on Good Friday so as to stop the Burial Procession on Friday night. I watched the local Valencia news station. While they had hoped that the Burial Procession in the Marina might move forward, it was not to be.

On Saturday we spent the day visiting a friend who was taken critically ill. He spent time in the hospital and we went to visit he and his wife to help cheer him up. We didn’t get home until after midnight, only to discover that our elevator was broken down so it was a walk up 7 flights of stairs in the dark. And then, because it was a long holiday weekend and no one in our building was in town, we had to live with it until today when someone called the elevator company. So walking up and down the length of the building in the dark became our Easter weekend ritual. Luckily all the grocery stores were closed, so no food shopping to carry up the stairs.

Speaking of food shopping, I have taken up the Amish mantle of my Mother. When I make anything now I serve the first course, save the second course for left overs, and then freeze the last. It’s because I only know how to cook for a family of 5. But this served us well this past weekend so we weren’t caught out with no food – like last year when not even restaurants were open. Easter is the longest holiday weekend of the year so 4 days without groceries is quite a stretch when you usually shop daily. The freezer saved us.

An odd thing was that IKEA was open on Sunday – Easter Sunday. And so was Brick-0-Mart. We had some things to purchase for the new space so we headed out there. IKEA was a slam dunk. They’ll deliver on Friday. But Brick-o-Mart was closing right as we got up to the cash register and they refused to check us out. This is yet another ‘Please, Dear God, take our Money’ moment in Valencia. We’ve had so many of these in the last year it would be laughable. Except we actually want to buy this stuff. I guess they didn’t want our 300 euros after all.

The other strange thing about ‘Shopping City’, where IKEA and Brick-o-Mart are located, is that on Easter Sunday the Burger King and McDonalds are packed. Like standing-room-only packed. Not that we ate there but we could see in from the outside. In the US, Easter is fancy spring dresses, egg hunts, big brunches and dinners. Here? I’m not quite sure what Easter Sunday is. The streets near home were empty but the parking lot at IKEA had cars waiting for spots. We sat up stairs and watched the mayhem out the window from above. Plenty of 3 point turns to get a Smart Car into a huge spot – eeek, just barely. I still don’t get how people approach car parking here. Like it’s a semi-truck that requires the whole lot to park – only it’s a tiny European car. Baffling. Jeff does the commentary and I just laugh at the narration.

Easter Monday is a big holiday here – still not sure what that is. And today – Tuesday – all the kids are out of school. Confusing. So hopefully, this week will get back to normal and settle back in. The sun finally came out after 5 days of gloom. I thought I missed the rain but it turns out I like the sun even better. Perhaps it will warm up enough and the sun will stay with us through the weekend to do a little paddle boarding on Sunday. Back in the groove.

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.

A Day Out

Sometimes it’s fun to get out of the city and explore. So I joined a few friends and visited a couple of new places. Neither is on the beaten path. My favorite kind of adventures. It wasn’t a flashy day. But it was filled with learning new things and even making new friends.

We went down south of Valencia towards Alicante. All the way to the town of Moixent, and then up on a hidden hilltop to a site that dates back to the 4th century before Christ. La Bastidas de les Acusses was a thriving town Of 800 (large for the time) overlooking an idyllic valley with a lake at the bottom, that has since dried up and is now covered in vineyards. The town was a walled city of Iberians who traded with both the Greeks and Phoenicians – whose imported technology brought the Iberians from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age. And then in one year they vanished without a trace. They still don’t know why.

The site was discovered in 1909 and has been under one excavation or another since the 1920’s. Much of the town is visible due to the walls ringing the town. And the walls for each of the buildings that made up both commercial and residential buildings of the town. They’ve done a great job of recreating an Iron Age home, complete with the storage vessels, sleeping platforms, and milling stones from the period – back then the mills came from from Morroco.

I’m always impressed by how Spain has been a cross roads for so many cultures over the millennia, through trade, war and migrations. It seems to have absorbed what it needed and discarded what it did not. I especially loved the demonstration of ancient lock mechanism. Not so different than we have today.

Then we made our way to a nearby winery. Cellar del Roure is a boutique winery in the foot of the hills. At the middle of the 19th century a wine blight from American destroyed nearly all the grapes throughout Europe. Spain was one of the last to be infected by the bugs that destroyed France’s entire crops. But by the time the area we visited was effected, a solution had been determined and the Spanish vines were saved.

In the latter half of the 20th century, most Spanish wineries had abandoned the Spanish varieties – those unique to the area – and converted all their grapes to what the world wine market was clambering for. Cabernet, Savignon Blanc, Surahs. But Cellar del Roure went a different way. They built their vineyards and reputation on the old vines. They went looking for them and discovered them in old forgotten vineyards and abandoned fields. Grapes like Bobal and Albarino, and more uniques to Spain. And then in 2006 they moved to their current location and discovered something that would change how they made their wine going forward.

In the bottom of an old building on the site, they opened a sealed door and found the caves where wine had been aged in tinajas (terra cotta jars) since as far back as 1614. While they still use the French white oak barrels for some of their wines, the majority are now aged in this traditional vessel, buried deep in the ground to slow the fermentation & aging in the cool underground temperatures – even in a hot Spanish summer. The result is more fruity and less oaky. Better for me.

In the photos you can see the tinajas – both buried and some of the new ones that are being stored in the warehouse waiting to be buried in a new cave, The method for filling the buried vessels is ingenious. It’s a series of aquaducts (‘wine-a-ducts’) that funnel the juice from the crushed grapes into the vessels to facilitate fermentation and aging. And the vents in the caves have chimneys that jut out of the ground on the surface.

Venting the cave

The wine is thoroughly drinkable and the people who make it remind me of those I knew living in Napa and Sonoma in the early 90’s. No flash. Just farmers looking to make ambrosia without the glitz and polish that is experienced there today. We were in Napa a few years ago. I didn’t like the change and hope that this need for a sanitized Disneyland type experience never makes it to these little Spanish wineries.

It was a fun day out and lunch at a local restaurant was just right with its simple fare of lentil soup and roasted rosemary chicken with potatoes. The best days are those where the fuss is at a minimum and the friends are at a maximum.

And Just in time too. Starting tomorrow is Semana Santa. Holy Week! Everyone is off work and the processions will be thick on the ground. I’ll be posting some sights and sounds from the run up to Easter. Stay tuned for that.

The Pants in the Family

Now that Jeff is back from his travels and envious of my Spring cleaning tactics, he’s gone through his closets and tried on all the shorts, etc. to get ready for the season. Jeff has lost some weight recently and much of his old stuff is too big now. And he’s discovered some old favorites including his kilts.

When we vacationed in Scotland with our kids a decade ago, Jeff got his Scottish on and acquired a kilt. Then, when we got home, he decided a few more might be in the cards. Seeing a guy in a kilt and Doc Maartens in Seattle isn’t that unusual. And since it’s the hiking capital of the US, every outfitter in the Washington (including homegrown REI) carries hiking kilts for guys. Jeff’s embraced it.

So today, from the bedroom I hear laughing. He was in there alone – Hmmm. Eventually he emerges and makes his way into the living room wearing his Mountain Hardware hiking kilt and is typing into his phone smiling.

‘Who are you talking to?’ I wondered aloud.

‘Curt. He said the house next to he and Butch’s on Mykonos is for sale. He thinks we should buy it. You remember – the crazy lady with the cats?’

I think about this for 30 seconds. Yes, Curt and Jeff are friends, but he was mine first.
He’s one of my oldest and dearest friends. They spend from March to November on Mykonos every year. Curt was my maid of honor at our wedding. The photos were a little interesting since Jeff is very tall, and Curt is taller still. I looked like a Munchkin from Munchkinland. Curt hosted our wedding at one of his houses on a lake in Washington. He had his rose garden redone for the occasion, and so many people told me afterwards it was one of the loveliest weddings they had ever been to. And that’s down to Curt. He’s family. To our kids he’s ‘Uncle Curt’ and while I think they like visiting us well enough, I’m very sure they’d prefer to go to Mykonos to hang out with him.

‘Why is he texting you about it?’

Jeff looks up from his phone ‘Clearly he knows who wears the pants in this family.’

What?! I’m still a little raw from the contract ‘Ask your husband thing.’ So I point to his kilt.

‘You’re literally standing there in a skirt.’

Then I look down at my painters overall that are huge. I’m in pants with enough fabric to cover us both!

Jeff shrugs and goes back to texting Curt and giving me the lowdown on the woman’s unconventional sales tactics. Not posting it for sale with a realtor or on a website. She just put a piece of paper on the gate and Curt saw it. He said it’s blown away now so the competition for the property shouldn’t be stiff and we could get it for a song. Except we live in Spain. ‘When you buy it’ they promised to keep an eye on it for us – big kiss emojis.

So now we’re looking at perhaps spending some time on Mykonos in the next little while. I wonder if I should reach out to Curt to make the arrangements – as I would normally do. Or if I should let Jeff handle the travel arrangements with his new best friend. Either way, I feel sure one of his kilts is coming with us. Eye roll. Oh well, as usual I’ll have to be the one to do the heavy lifting and wear the actual pants in the family.