¡Hola Madrid!

We took the high speed to Madrid from Valencia for our final days with Emilie before she went back to school. It cuts the travel time in half but still allows for beautiful views of wine, olives and this time of year, sunflower fields by the mile. All along the route it seemed the flowers were facing us with their sunny greetings. And the train station in Central Madrid is a botanical marvel itself.

 

I’ve not spent time in Madrid, other than to fly in and out. We are coastal people and interior cities that don’t boast a large body of water have never held sway with me for vacation destinations. But I must say, I LOVE MADRID!  And now, so does Jeff. And we walked about 30 miles of the streets, parks and museums while we were there. It’s a city so rich with history and culture it nearly soaks into your skin through osmosis.

We stayed near the Prado on the edge of Sol. The neighborhood is old and the streets shady and narrow. Gran Via and Sol are where Earnest Hemingway wrote The Sun Also Rises, drank (ALOT!) and generally soaked up the Spanish way of life he loved so much. Cervantes lived around the corner from our hotel and wrote Don Quixote while living there. Walking the streets, there are quotes from famous residents memorialized in brass in the cobbles. Poets, novelists, musicians.

We spent an afternoon in the The Parque del Retiro. It’s and incredible place, built for strolling on a very hot Madrid summer afternoon. Shade abounds and every turn brings new discoveries. The lake (Estanque grande del Retiro) where boats can be rented reminds me of a family vacation to Versaille. Nothing like tooling around on the water on a summer day.

The park sports a now defunct zoo from Franco’s time. But the cages are still there. And peacocks by the dozens roam free with their babies. I had never seen a baby peacock before but, as Emilie found out, the mother’s are very protective.

Madrid has so many monuments recounting it’s rich history and it rivals Paris for military and artistic exploits, and it’s pride in celebrating them. But Madrid outpaces Paris in the ‘Let’s put monuments and statues on top of buildings’ category. Here, they win every time.

The streets nearby the Botanical Gardens are shut down on Sundays so everyone is out walking their dogs, strollers flying and exercising like it seems is the number one Spanish past time. Again, we need to start running if we’re going to keep up. Literally.

We spent some happy air conditioned hours in the Prado. I had never been and had always wanted to go. Caravaggio, Sorolla – Valencia’s native son, Velazquez, Poussin. They’re all there. Portraits of Charles V and his many wives and all the Bourbons and Infantiles of Portugal. And the statuary is impressive. I have, however, reinforced my feelings about Goya. On my darkest day I don’t think I have ever been as down as the images captured in his 14 painting dubbed ‘The Black Paintings’. My first exposure to him was at The Frick in NY and his work in the Prado did little to change my impression.

Our dinner on Saturday night was to DIE FOR! An Argentine meat place near our hotel called ‘La Cabana Argentina’. We’ve now had the best meal we’ve eaten since we moved to Spain five months ago. The meat was perfectly cooked and the sides were scrumptious. It smelled so good that just walking in we were salivating after a long hot day of seeing the city. The service was first rate and we left feeling like we’d gotten a great deal on dinner after spending more than we have on one meal since we left the US.

Finally, it was time to take Em to the airport. We had a couple of choices. A train for 2.50 from the main train station at Atocha. The Metro for 5 euros. Or a taxi for 30 euros. So we took the taxi. With everything else, I wasn’t up for the stress of trying to figure it all out for the first time, while making sure Emilie got to her flight on time. So Jeff and I took the train back after we checked her in and dropped her off at security. I shed more than a few tears. Emilie was her confident self taking it all in stride. Next time it will be a piece of cake navigating Madrid airport transport.

So now Emilie is safely ensconced back at school (I got her text in the middle of a sleepless night) and we’ve had a great final weekend and cultural excursion in Madrid as a family. And now we know it’s a city we want to see much more of. I guess, like Ernest Hemingway, we are falling in love with Spain more and more every time we turn a new corner.

Fishing for Laundry

There is always a silver lining to everything. Everything is connected to everything else. There are many cliches about this. ‘When one door closes, a window opens.’ Except is so bloody hot here that we’re neither opening doors or windows. It will be 45 here this week.

Usually, that means that we’ll avoid the metro with it’s sweltering subterranean stations, and walking in general, and we’ll take an air conditioned taxi to travel any distance. Except this week, our local taxi cabs are on strike. Strikes in Europe are very common. I’ve experienced many of them in my time traveling to Europe for work. Air France strikes, train workers strikes. Collective bargaining is something Europeans are good at. Generally, I support workers rights and the gentlemen we passed on Colon, who were camped out with about 1000 other taxis, were in good spirits.

No cabs means we will be staying at home getting things done here. And hot weather means that we can do a ton of laundry in one day, because it dries in like 20 minutes. Faster than any dryer I’ve ever owned in the US.

Now, I wouldn’t call myself an expert on the outdoor laundry/drying techniques. I’ve learned from my neighbors on how to hang sheets to get them dry. And I believe they’ve learned from me on the most creative ways to use an Ikea octopus drying thingy. P.s. it’s not just for socks and unmentionables anymore. But there is one cardinal rule that is sacrosanct and must never be broken – Always use the clothes pins. This is not up for negotiation. Except when you’re Emilie.

Emilie doesn’t like clothes pins because they leave a mark. Small indentation that might show when she wears a t-shirt. I don’t see them but they stick out to her like a sore thumb. So all my warnings about using clothes pins when line drying have gone unheeded by her. She does her own laundry so I could impact this not at all. Until two days ago.

I noticed I was missing a couple of dish towels and a beach towel. At home, I would not have been able to keep track of something that petty but here we have less stuff. When all the laundry is done I should have the same number. So I went looking on the back balcony off the kitchen where our washer and laundry lines are. Nothing. Then I looked at the accordion thing that hangs out over the edge and it was empty. Then I looked down. Sure enough, there were my towels and some of Emilie’s clothes on the lines of the apartment below us. And upon further inspection, the floor below that. Hmm.

I called to Emilie and asked her where that stuff was. She shrugged. Then I invited her to look over the edge where she discovered some of her things – not just kitchen towels – were on the neighbor’s lines on the 5th and then 4th floors.

‘Did you use clothes pins?’ I asked her – knowing the answer.

‘No. Why?’ She answered in teenage denial – even with the evidence staring us both in the face.

‘Well. Because the dish towels and your beach towel are on the downstairs line. And your stuff is two floors below. Just wondered if you might be curious about it.’

‘How are you going to get it back?’ she asked me.

I laughed. Me? I thought. Me, the queen of clothes pins?! But an idea struck me. Our fishing poles arrived from the US. I love to fly fish and my beloved pole was in with the sporting goods. Maybe I could fish for the laundry down below. I mean, I like meeting my neighbors, but not when we’ve been stupid and hung our laundry irresponsibly so they are inconvenienced. What if I could get it back without them knowing?

Pro tip: A fly fishing rod isn’t good for collecting laundry from your downstairs neighbors clothes lines. If we had a steelhead or trout rod with a decent amount of weight on the line it would work much better. I speak from experience. So it was time for plan B. Writing a note and waiting for the neighbors to respond.

I wrote it and sent Emilie – eyes rolling –  down to knock on their doors or tape it there in case they weren’t home, asking in Spanish that they WhatsApp me and Emilie would come to collect our wayward laundry. The woman two floors below saw me in the lobby and took me up to her apartment and handed me our stuff, including a men’s robe tie that isn’t ours. I tried to give it back to her but she insisted I take it.

Then the guy directly below us came up and rang the bell. Emilie answered and then came into the kitchen with the pile, including some mystery mens underwear that had seen better days.

‘Those aren’t Dad’s’ I told her, picking them up with a pen.

‘Well, he could wear them. They look like they’d fit him.’

I explained that he wouldn’t be wearing those in this lifetime or even the next and that ‘free’ used underwear isn’t ‘free’.

So we got all our laundry back, the taxi strike is still going on and it’s still the temperature of the surface of the sun outside. But at least we’re in clean clothes and the A/C is still working (knock wood) so we can’t complain. And I don’t have to figure out how to fish for our laundry off the back balcony. Until next week…

 

It was just a Birthday Fan

Getting older appeals to some. It doesn’t to me. I haven’t reached the age yet where I’ll wear purple hats and large jewelry. But I’m over 50 now and while Jeff keeps telling me ‘it’s just a number’ he has the luxury of doing that because he’s 1 year and 6 weeks younger than I am. And starting today, he’ll remind me that we’re ‘2 years apart’ in age for the next 6 weeks, until he turns 51. I don’t really love that part.

I vacillate between wanting an over the top birthday celebration (I am a LEO), or keeping on the down low. The older I get, the down low is winning and this year continued that trend. That, and that simpler seems better these days. I don’t need big gifts or fancy dinners. I like simple food, simple experiences and I want to have those things with people I care about.

20180727_092641.jpg

This morning, Jeff and I kicked off my ‘Cincuenta segundos Cumpleanyos’ (PS I don’t have the ‘n’ with the little squiggly thing above it on my keyboard that makes the ya sound so I added a ‘y’ to Spanish Birthday) by finally taking out our bikes that arrived weeks ago from Seattle. His is actually a recumbent trike (sort of biking while laying on your back – good for your core) and that got A LOT of stares on the street and in the Turia. We haven’t seen one here yet, and when we stopped for coffee we got a lot of action circling the bikes, mumbling in Spanish, and checking it out. Jeff is starting to make noises about perhaps riding the Camino on it. His idea, not mine.

We came home and Emilie and I decide to go out and buy my ‘Birthday Fan’ down at Friday market in Benimaclet. Our Market Day happens every Friday. Clothes, shoes, bras, fruit, pots and pans, and the polka dotted fans I had been eyeing for weeks now. We have another market on the other side of the tracks – literally. But that happens on Tuesdays, and since this is my Birthday Fan we were going to our market day.

We had so much fun! We bought more crazy pants that I love to wear (I convinced Em to get a pair too). We got my lovely Birthday Fan for 3 euros because it’s so bloody hot here you have to have a fan with you in every handbag or back pack you carry. Sitting on the Metro is like a fanning competition. And we stopped and got some things I have been coveting for some time now.

wp-1532693794779.jpg

 

You know how certain things make you happy? They’re simple, stupid things that cost almost nothing. They don’t have any real value but then you get them and they make you smile. That’s how I feel about olive trees, lemon trees, pepper plants and my herbs. And today, Emilie and I found our plant guy on Benimaclet Market Day!  It’s my birthday so I told the guy we were taking the lot! He was a happy man and bagged it all up for us, and a few other things besides. All for 20 euros. And I felt like I”d hit the lottery!

20180727_112712.jpg

 

As he handed us the plants, we knew we’d reached the limit of our ability to carry stuff home. I, for one, suspected that perhaps we had surpassed it, but Em was undaunted. We had neglected to bring our trolleys – we were just going for my Birthday fan, after all – so it was the big schlep back home, with more people staring at us on the street. Sure, we looked a little unusual carrying an olive tree, some sort of climbing flowered vine thing complete with trellis, a pepper plants, basil, rosemary, and all the other stuff we got. My lovely Birthday fan wasn’t even being put to good use because it was stuffed in my pocket.

We finished off the night sitting on the beach watching the Blood Moon rise over the Mediterranean Sea. It’s been a great Birthday and I got to spend my 52nd celebration just the way I wanted. And that makes it the best kind of Birthday, after all.

 

The BioParc

As we count down Emilie’s last couple of weeks here in Spain for the summer, we have been playing tourists. Not so many museums and more of the organized amusements that someone under the age of 18 might enjoy. Last week was the Oceanographic. Today was the BioParc. Last weekend we had gotten a coupon as a ‘two for one’ when we checked out at the local Carrefour. So it seemed like someone was telling us we needed to include the experience in our end of summer agenda.

I’ve never loved zoos. Even as a small child I didn’t like that animals were in cages instead of where they belonged in the wild. I remember my Mom telling me zoos were good because otherwise people where we lived wouldn’t care about animals in Africa or the Arctic. There is a certain logic there. But it still made me sad to watch animals pacing around in small cement cages in the Portland or San Diego zoo in the 1970’s.

img_7594

But the BioParc in Valencia is something all together different. Yes, the animals are locked up. But the design of the enclosures is masterful. They’re large and none of the animals are walking on cement. It’s designed to mimic their natural spaces from the surfaces to the plant life and each area is replete with animals that naturally live together.

The focus of the park is Africa – such a close neighbor that our discussions immediately turned to planning a trip south as we wandered about. There would be no animals that shouldn’t live at the latitude we are at, or in the climate. When you enter, you cross a bridge that isolates the exhibits. It’s surrounded by water so it requires less fencing and hard barriers. Then you head down into the park and the first exhibit blows your mind. Walking through two separate doors to keep the animals in, you find yourself walking with lemurs.  They are everywhere, in the trees, at your feet, playing on the grass. They come up to you and you have to try very hard to maintain a safe distance.

img_7628

Moving through the exhibits is so seamless, you hardly know where one ends and another begins. The flowing water from the cheetah exhibit filled with crocodiles is the pools where the hippos soak in the hot sun amongst brightly colored fish that swim from gaves into the water around them.

img_7664

The gorillas were amazing. But it still makes me sad to see these incredible animals locked up. Looking into their faces that looks so much like us, it’s hard not to assign your own emotions to them as they look through the glass into your face.

img_7639

Meerkats play and sleep in the enormous elephant enclosure with multiple levels and areas for them to explore. Running water is everywhere and they drink and play in a much more natural environment that other Elephant exhibits I’ve seen.

img_7678

The lone lion pride with his only male lion were mostly asleep until he got up and stirred up the pride. He looked like he’d recently been in a bit of a scuffle and was a little worse for wear.

img_7705

The design of the Rino enclosure was masterful. The Viewing platform had a small fence that gave you the impression that these gigantic animals could come and gore you at any moment, if not for the deep water barrier directly at your feet. That and the baby Zebra was a highlight of the day.

We didn’t stop smiling the entire day. And on the way home we walked through the adjacent park where you can rent swan boats on a day that isn’t 36 degrees. Maybe in the fall.

img_7730

I don’t think we’ll go back again any time soon, unless someone with small kids pays us a visit. But I’m glad we spent the day there as a family today.

In the Swim

Sometimes I still feel like we’re tourists. Yes, we’ve lived here for a while now but we’ve only scratched the surface of what Valencien – or Spain in general – has to offer. There are some top sites for tourists when they visit. All the fruits of the City of Arts and Sciences.  The Natural History museum, The Hemispheric or the Opera house. There is also the BioParc in the North of the city and the Oceanographic – Marine park – that’s a huge draw at this time of year.

img_7385

On the weekend, we walked the river and ended up at the Oceanografic. It’s the largest aquarium in Europe and because we’re residents it’s cheaper for us to enter. My expectation were not that high. I’ve taken my kids all over the place and often, when we’ve been traveling to one city or another, on one continent or another, we’ve visited things that would interest the kids. Things that weren’t museums or historical sites.

Once in Edinburgh, we went to the local children’s museum across from Holyrood house. I think Nick and Em were a bit freaked out by the bloody tales of Scottish Royalty, complete with i;licit lovers and stabbings. In retrospect, perhaps a bit much for children under 10, so they needed a break to just be kids. That was a pretty cool place but I wouldn’t have expected to enjoy it as much as I did.

The Seattle Aquarium always seemed to be under construction and Sea World in San Diego was a very tired place the last time I was there. Thus, aquariums weren’t high on my list of places to visit.

Here, the Oceanographic is a top notch marine life facility. They do conservation, research and education and the aquariums are air conditioned spaces underground – the perfect location for 38 degree day.  Our first collective impression was ‘WOW!’.

Every exhibit was better than the last.  The shark tank experience was impressive with the rays and the variety of sea life. The jellyfish exhibits from around the world – including what we think of as the Pacific Northwest (home) but they call the “Northeast Pacific’. That seemed strange but they’re right, of course. There was an arctic installation and one or each of the Seven Seas. And then we went to the dolphin show.

We’ve been to many many dolphin shows in the US, Canada and Mexico. They’re fun and you expect to get wet. The first part of the entertainment was all about conservation and about climate change. I like that they tied it all together. Of course, the dolphins belong in their natural environment and not in a tank. But something we noticed in many of the exhibits was that many of the animal – of course not all – seems to be rehabbed. There were dolphins whose tails were clearly mangled by something. Sea lions who were missing a fin.

And kids can get up close to the animals via various experiences and learn about where they live and what we can do to help them. Emilie loved it! And so did we. We’re becoming members because this won’t be the last time we go there – it’s made it to the ‘What to do when people visit’ list.

Emilie heads back to school in less than a month. Until then, each weekend we’ve decided to be tourists in our own town. We’re on Stay-cation this summer. So why not! Next outing – The BioParc.

What if we ever needed…3/4 of an Inch

Hell froze over today. Well, since it’s so bloody hot and humid I sort of wish it actually did, but our stuff ARRIVED at 1pm today. It actually came with a phone call and three guys who could not have been nicer. I paid for their lunch afterwards. I’m not a person who has ever held a grudge. Don’t have time for it so all that nonsense was in my rear view mirror 30 seconds after the first dolly load crossed our door step.

img_7375.jpg

They found parking and unloaded in record time. As planned, we had them bring all the boxes and bikes up to our apartment and we put the sofa in our parking space in the garage. We needed to measure it before I schedule the crane service. I was on cloud nine watching them go back and forth. Emilie stayed down by the truck to make sure no one made off with any boxes while the guys were filling the lobby.

img_7374.jpg

Seeing our things again was like reconnecting with old friends. And unpacking was so much fun!  All my kitchen stuff that was of such interest to US Customs and Border control made it with only one glass pot lid that was shattered.  All my Le Creuset – check. More of my Crate and Barrel dishes – yup. All our flatware and my box of odds and ends kitchen stuff. My beloved Vitamix made it. Jeff checked the amperage (I don’t even pretend to understand it) and it works on the electricity here. We just have to take it to a local place to get the plug/cord swapped out.

My pans are here too! And our golf clubs and bikes. Jeff’s computer stuff and his keyboard that he’s been waiting for. All the tools for his first love – the motorcycle. We spent the day unpacking boxes and washing things. Our bedding from home – sheets and towels that we could have bought locally but we loved them too much to leave behind. Then there were the more sentimental things. The things that, when you surround yourself with them, make you feel like you’re truly home.

Our refrigerator magnet collection from trips we took as a family. Jeff always hated how junky it made it look in an open plan kitchen. I loved the reminder of all the things we did together. Tonight, I put them all on the fridge and he came home and smiled. Emilie and I had fun reminiscing about each one and telling funny stories about where they were purchased and some crazy thing that happened.

img_7378.jpg

The pictures came. Our wedding photo and some of the art that we had on the walls. Emilie unpacked the boxes in her room and it’s just about like it was in the US – only 5 times smaller. Her books, photos and all the small things that mean so much to her.

I unpacked the vacuum packed bags of our clothes and it seems we brought more than I remembered. I appears my ‘What if we ever…?’ philosophy might have gone a little too far. OK, if we ever go to Iceland again I have my Canada Goose parka and Jeff’s Mountain Hardwear parka. But living here I don’t think there will be a day that we’ll need either of those.

img_7377

My most egregious and embarrassing miscalculation was my discovery that I had 5 full boxes of shoes that were just for me. Luckily, Jeff had run an errand when I pulled them out of the pile in the dining room. Yeah, I knew I had a problem anyway but today it was in my face and before Jeff got home I needed to find somewhere for 5 boxes of shoes in El Compartimiento. But where to put them? The only place I had to spare was in the kitchen Gabinete and I knew the minute he got hungry I’d be ratted out. Emilie just shook her head but she wasn’t one to talk. She had 2 boxes of shoes for herself – OK, I’m a baaad influence.

So I started pulling out drawers and cabinets. I was sweating and panicked. What the hell was I going to do? I looked around and then I remembered we have drawers under the bed we bought. And those drawers are mostly covered by the duvet. I knew Jeff was barely using his closet so he wouldn’t even think about the drawers under the bed. Sure enough, they were empty. But as I placed my shoes, boots and sandals lovingly into their new, hidden home, I started counting and, well, I’m just ridiculous. Who needs 5 pairs of high suede boots here? I brought 3 pairs of rubber boots!  What was I thinking?

But that isn’t the capper. Tonight we went down to the garage after I was done unpacking the rest of the stuff and putting it away. I was feeling pretty proud of myself and my ability to cram things in every nook and hidden crannies. Organizing things for easy access later. Winter closet, stored. Yup, I was at the top of my organizational game. I hadn’t over packed afterall. I was a ‘just enough’ goddess.

I got into the elevator with a confident smug swagger that only a truly organized person pull off. Then we measured.

My beloved couch is 43 3/4 inches deep. I don’t care about the height because it passed that test. Our living room window is broken up into sections that are 43 inches. Not 44 inches – 43. And they can’t get any bigger, even if you take the windows out, because of the custom shutters that come down in tracks. So my couch won’t fit. So we went down and took all the wrapping from the move off and I actually talked to the couch.

‘Please couch – I know you’ve been through alot in the last 5 months but I need 3/4 of an inch – that’s all. Please give me 3/4 of an inch.’ I begged and pleaded.

Jeff measured again. I don’t think the couch was very forgiving after spending months in a container ship. It didn’t give up a millimeter. There will be no couch (at least not one from the US) inside El Compartimiento. With every victory, there is also defeat. I had gotten a little cocky with the shoes.

Tonight, Jeff is sporting his Keens, he’s smiling in a fresh pair of shorts and a shirt he hasn’t worn since February. That’s good enough for me.

Noche San Juan Bautista

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

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

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

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

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

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

img_7294

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

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

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

Weekend Doings

It was Father’s Day weekend in the US – so that’s the one we celebrate here. Back in March, they celebrated Padre Dia on a Monday and it was a bank holiday. But we’re sticking with what we know.

On Friday night, we went to a local bar and watched the World Cup Match between Spain and Portugal. Being in Europe during World Cup is a very different experience to being in the US when this epic battle takes place. In the US, we have football and basketball and baseball. It dilutes the fan base. Here, they have Futbol and they’re all in.

Earlier in the day, Emilie and I had gone to do a little shopping at the Centro Commercial and stopped at our favorite frozen yogurt place for a bit of refreshment. They guy gave us our usual pequena sized dishes and toppings and then handed over some ‘Espana’ scarves supporting our World Cup national team, complete with the company’s logo. Now, I’m familiar with the concept of ‘Gift with Purchase’ but these were pretty high quality considering we paid 2,50 euros for a small yogurt.

I’m not sure I’ve ever been so excited about receiving something free in my life! OK, now were were locked in. We had to go to a local Cerveceria and watch the match. And we did. We got dressed in Spanish colors – we have no jerseys (yet) – and made our way to a place that usually shows Bull Fights from Madrid on their outside TV’s. It was a festive mood. The tapas menu was limited and the fans were excited to see their team go up against Cristiano Renaldo – who kicked a PK right out of the gate to put Portugal ahead. I cheered and found out that just because the team is in Red doesn’t mean it’s Spain. Ooops! The old man next to me schooled me in rapid Spanish, complete with arm waving (note: he didn’t flip me off so that was good) and from then on I was a pro.

Emilie dazzled me with her Spanish and Portuguese Futbol knowledge and we enjoyed cheering with the crowd. I learned to hold up my yogurt scarf when they did something really great and it was all good. I’m ready for Wednesday when they go up against Iran at 8 pm local time.

On Sunday, Emilie and I gave Jeff the gifts we bought him. It was an eclectic mix, for sure. We had gone to the American store here and bought him some of his favorite foods. Beef Jerky (the real stuff from home), Clam chowder, pulled pork, chili, his favorite candies and more. We got him a few other things but I think that stuff was his favorite. Our oldest son had sent a card from Colorado so he was happy to see that. Ryan is learning Russian while getting his PhD., so Emilie and Jeff had fun trying to translate his message (and his handwriting).

Then Jeff suggested a ride down the coast on the motorcycle. So we took off for a bit. We only went about 25 miles south but it was a beautiful, warm early evening and a zillion kite surfers were out. We went through several beach towns and had ice cream. Then made our way home through Sunday-night-going-home-beach-traffic and realized it’s the same across the globe. Never go home from the beach on a Sunday night.

But the upside was that Jeff has become a round-about pro. I was dazzled with his prowess as he navigated the hairiest of them going from 3 lanes entering, to becoming 8 lanes while in it, complete with stop lights mid-round about, and then exiting to a street that has only two lanes that rapidly condense into one lane. So fun! He’s decided there are two types of roundabouts. The first is the same number of lanes going in, while in, and exiting. The second is the first one I described. These he calls ‘going into the mixer’. You’ll cross over multiple lanes, while going around, and then a few more while exiting. But his assessment is that most of the drivers on the road her are pretty respectful so he just goes for it and it’s all good.  What a difference a month makes!

We came home and I made dinner. Emilie had bought him one of his favorites last week – Onion rings – so I added them to the mix of ‘Picnic’ dinner I was making while we binge watched Goliath on Amazon. After eating 7 or 8 of them, Jeff announced that they were not onion rings, but Calamari. Emilie promptly spit hers out and threw them away and we all had a good laugh that ketchup seems to cover the taste of almost anything.

So that was our weekend. On to another full week. As I sit here this morning drinking my coffee and listening to my neighbor sing opera at full voice, I’m never sure whats on the docket, but I am very sure it will be interesting.

A Teenage Wasteland

Moving to a new country has a been exciting and challenging in many ways. I’ve chronicled many of them here. But none has been quite the riddle that is moving across the world with a teenager. Yes, Emilie is only here on school breaks, but a 3 month stretch with her parents in a strange location, without friends, without her US cell phone and the daily (moment by moment) hits of technology, (Snapchat) is about more than she can stand.

Sure, she talks to her boyfriend back in the US via WhatsApp on wifi, but it’s not enough. When I venture to ask ‘What’s up?’ I get blank expressionless stares and Spinx-like answers that give me almost no information beyond ‘I’m bored.’ At this point, my head usually spins around and I think, incredulous, ‘How can anyone be bored in Valencia?. There is so much to do and see.’

OK, perhaps me dragging her thru museums in most of the major European capitals when she was small, didn’t endear the experience to her. This past weekend, Jeff and I went to the ceramics museum but gave her a pass to stay home. It’s very cool, btw. A must see and it was free – we aren’t sure why on a Saturday at high season (3 Euros usually). Its in the mansion of a former duke. They have his carriages and the litter they used to carry him around in. And eclectic mix of this and that, to be sure.

But on Sunday, we trekked up to the Pre-History Museum of Valencia and she was made to accompany us. I was in heaven. I absolutely adore museums. History, art, music. It was a museum specifically about the Valenciana region and, well,  I’ll go to anything with the word ‘Museum’ over the door. I enjoy seeing how people lived, what they valued, how they evolved, what they created out of nothing. So I like to take my time.

Emilie was climbing the walls, looking my way with glares vacillating between wanting to kill me with an ancient spear (luckily contained behind shatter proof glass) or falling asleep in one of the many benches. Afterwards, ice cream helped. Like chocolate reviving her after a dementor attack at Hogwarts.

So finding things for Emilie to do has become important. So I did and Voila! Beach Volleyball. Today she starts Beach Volleyball lessons on Tuesdays and Thursdays with other kids her age on Malvarossa Beach. I know she’s excited about it (you couldn’t tell if you saw her in person) except it’s 1 pm and she’s spent an hour in the bathroom getting ready and we aren’t leaving here for 3 hours. Whew! Something she might enjoy, just in time.

To jump start with my project of helping her meet kids her age, I reached out to some of my expat friends. I’ve spent 3 months developing a network here. People from all over the world that we have lunches, dinners, wine, and attend processions with. And they know a lot of people, apparently. People who have teenagers.

So, tomorrow afternoon, Emilie will take her first Metro ride alone to the station downtown and meet a friend of mine who is taking her to meet a couple of girls in their late teens. One is Spanish, and wants to meet someone she can have coffee with to improve her English for college. The other is English, and like Emilie, is bored out of her gourd. So they should be the perfect disgruntled pair. They can have coffee and moan and groan about their lame parents and their difficult, boring lives. That sounds like teenage heaven to me!

And moi, you might wonder? What will I be doing while she is otherwise occupied? Well, this evening the Royal Ballet is in town and I’ll be seeing Swan Lake with friends while she’s taking the tram back from the beach after her class. And later this week, I’m going to see an Opera. Neither of these activities are Emilie-approved, but now I won’t need to be concerned with that. Everyone will be doing what they like doing and I get to be as lame as I want going forward – which will involve a glass of something refreshing. Summer is shaping up to be just perfect!

Family Matters

Not to get too melancholy, and perhaps it’s because June 5th would have been my grandmother’s 100th birthday (she lived to 97), but every day walking down the street I see old people helping each other totter to the store or cafe, or just a bench. They have canes and lean on each other. But I also see a lot of people helping their parents and grandparents. Here you see grandparents caring for small children. And not just grandmothers. Grandfathers seem to be very involved with their grand children, interacting with them and actively engaged.

All of this is a little foreign to us. Neither of us were raised in multi-generational households. Sure, our grandparents might have lived in a nearby city, but they didn’t live in the same building on the same floor – or at the furthest, a few floors away. In speaking to our lawyer about it he said this was the normal way of living,  he couldn’t imagine moving so far away from family like we were doing. It isn’t in any part of their comprehension of what life should be like.

In viewing the fiestas and different mini-celebrations, all of them include people from kindergarten to very, very old. The culture here doesn’t seem to worship youth like we do in the US. Irrelevancy when the age of 40 is reached. Everyone seems to have a role that is equally important until they die. It’s not flashy but its quietly dependable.

The other day, I was heading somewhere and a young man, maybe in his late teens or early 20’s, was walking with his grandmother on his arm.  She looked like an apple doll. He was very handsome and she was clearly proud of the admiring looks he brought their way. I smiled, thinking how wonderful it was that he seemed so happy to walk at her snails pace. He didn’t get frustrated or try to rush her. She set the meters-per-hour in which they would process.

I wonder what our lives would be like in the US if this were the norm. What would happen if we lived like they do here and saw our families more as partners than burdens? I’m not pointing fingers here. I’ve lived very far away from my family, in other states, since I was 23 – much longer than I ever lived near them. But that is what everyone I knew did. Aspiring to go out into the world and make my fortune – looking for career fulfillment.

But now, I’m on the other side of all that. My kids are pretty independent and it’s normal in the US, not to live in the same state as your kids. I never expected my children would want to live within 100 miles of me. But sometimes I look at my neighbors here in Valencia, sitting on the benches with their grandchildren outside our building, and I think now nice it is that they’re all together, supporting each other. And teenagers actually seem to spend time with their parents and grandparents.

Perhaps the Old World has something on the New World. Maybe, while we were busy inventing the concept of individualism, the people here decided that they had it figured out – Thank You very much. I do know that the grandma seemed very happy with the set-up, as her handsome, patient grandson escorted her down the sidewalk. If I could bottle the way they looked at each other and send it back home, I would make millions. On second thought, it was priceless.

Court Jester

The saying goes ‘In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is King.’ That saying is playing out in our household every day. It seems I have been the anointed one. Sort of. With my horrible Spanish, I am put forward by Jeff and Emilie to ask for directions, make dinner reservations, speak to a pharmacist for medications and all the rest. Clearly, their lives are in my hands – Fools!

Today, I took Emilie to my hair salon. She needed a trim and I had made an appointment for her before she got here last weekend. I brought my grocery trolley so that while they were doing her hair, I could pop over to the Mercadona across the street and get groceries.

We pushed the button to be allowed across the threshold. This is something so foreign to me. Needing to be buzzed into a business so that I may begin my pieced together questions/instructions for Emilie’s beauty experience. In the US, we are always looking for ways to take any little the friction out of doing business. If we had to buzz people in to the lamp store or beauty salon, I think they would go out of business swiftly. But here? Totally normal that the sign says ‘Abierto’ yet the door is locked.

So I said my piece and looked over at Emilie who was rolling her eyes at my broken Spanish and my gesturing. Oh yeah – the light went on in my head – now I remember what it was like to have a teenager around. Since she’s been here, I’ve come out of my room on a daily basis to a look of ‘You’re going out in that?’ even though the words are left unspoken.

The first night, Jeff tried to explain to her about some of the more subtle differences that arise while living in Valencia. So she could be somewhat culturally sensitive. I know she was tired but we got a lot of ‘yeah, I know – I’ve been to Spain before.’ But she has never really lived here, Jeff pointed out, and then promptly gave up.

After growing up in a large home, ‘El Compartimiento‘ has not impressed her. I think it was as much a shock to her system as it was to Jeff’s that first night. But Emilie will adjust, just like he did. And now he likes it because we have just what we need, and no more. He feels lighter and says so. I knew he’d get there.

Sleep has helped Emilie. And a little retail therapy was a temporary balm. But today, at the salon, I got just a little scoshe of satisfaction leaving her there to fend for herself after the eye roll, while I went to forage for food. While I walked the aisles plucking baked goods and meat from the shelves, I wondered if I’d come back and her head would be shaved or her hair would be three colors of the rainbow. Neither of these scenarios would have made her very happy.

But alas, it seemed she muddled through and Pili did a great job at making her look like her. Perhaps in the future, I’ll anoint a new one-eyed king. When it comes to needing to interact, Miss Emilie can use her limited French and broken Spanish and find her way. But I’ll still keep the Pharmacy – I’m no fool.

A Taste of Home

I haven’t missed that much from home by moving to Valencia. Everything here is new and it’s harder to do even small things. But over time, that will fade. I even asked the guy at the grocery store yesterday where the tea was, all in Spanish. So I’m getting there. What won’t fade is the difference in food.  We like spicier, more varied food, and finding that in a restaurant here, with a range of deep fried to deeper fried bland food can be hard. We are done with Bocadillos, pizza and the other pub fare. We aren’t big desert or pastry people either. And Indian or Thai food isn’t near by in our neighborhood.

We are baffled by the actual times restaurants serve food (not tapas or just drinks) and it has proved challenging. We were hungry today at 11:30 am. We tried to go to several places to get lunch but they don’t open until 12:30.  One after another – no go. Finally, we just went home. And don’t get me started on the exceptions with bank holidays that pop up when you can’t imagine why it’s going on. I know it’s a cultural thing but I swear it takes a matrix in excel, and some sort of complex algorithm to determine when there will be an intersection between our hunger, biological clocks, Spanish restaurants opening times/food serving times, and bank holidays. There’s gotta be an app for that!

So, I’m finding I’m cooking more at home. I’ve made fajitas, which I thought weren’t half bad. Jeff wasn’t as impressed but I certainly tried my best. I’ve made Chicken Tikka Masala – but again, it needed more spices and finding those here requires a trip to a specialty store in the Central Market. So no last minute culinary whip-ups out of what they have at the Mercadona.

Last week, I made Beef with Broccoli and Basmati rice. That was pretty good, too. But there are foods from home that just, well, feel like home. And today we made the trek to find them. Comfort foods – foods that ground you in times of stress. It’s the fall back stuff, when you put on your jammies, get a blanket on the couch, snack and watch a favorite movie or binge watch a tv show. Wrapping yourself in the familiar.

Taste of America

Just off of Gran Via is a place called ‘Taste of America.’ Walking in, the first thing that strikes you is that the shelves are filled with things you would NEVER want to buy in a grocery store in the US, if you cared about your children living past high school. Sure they’re American as apple pie but, seriously, Kellogg’s Fruit Loops, or Capt’n Crunch cereal? They have American beer and lots of US candy. And real ranch dressing (honestly, whatever that is) and Jack Daniels bar-b-que sauce. Name brand peanut butter is there too, and the same artisinal jam from Maine that I bought my Mom the last time we were there. It’s kind of a weird thing. I always bring back jam, from where ever we travel, for my Mom. I don’t really know why I do this, but when I go to their house I get to eat it and remember where I bought it. I never bring back jam for myself.

But today at ToA, I mostly just looked at all. It was nice to see familiar brands and logos. But I wasn’t going to buy alot of that crap, whether I was missing US food or not. It was a reminder how terribly we eat as Americans. I didn’t drink Dr. Pepper in the US, and I’m not starting now. But then I went to the baking section. Different story. They had vanilla, semi-sweet chocolate chips. Baking soda and brown sugar. All the things to make real chocolate chip cookies from home. I snapped it all up, not for me, but because I need to start thinking about Emilie’s arrival. She’ll be here in 6 weeks for the summer break, and the first thing she’ll want to do it make chocolate chip cookies.

Then I saw that they had pancake mix and real maple syrup. Homemade pancakes and waffles are in our future. And boxes of Mac and Cheese that will get Em through her first meal. And they had Campbell’s tomato soup. Emilie hates tomatoes but she likes Campbell’s tomato soup. I don’t try to riddle it out, I just buy it. At the end, the guy threw in a free bag of Sea Salt and Vinegar potato chips, so our streak of gift with purchase continues.

And 56 euros later, we made the 8 km round trip back on foot. Jeff carried our bounty  in his back pack and we stopped on the way home and signed up for Spanish classes. So we ‘killed two birds with one stone’, as they say back home. Kind of gruesome, when I think about it.

I’m now looking at the things I bought stacked in our pantry cupboard and I was thinking. When I was a kid, my Mom would let me play ‘Store’ with some of the boxes and cans from the kitchen. And an ancient adding machine with a hand crank that made it seem like a cash register. It’s a bit ironic, because my parents owned an actual grocery store but it seemed I couldn’t get enough of it and played it at home with my friends. Maybe as we use this stuff from ToA, I’ll keep the boxes and just put them back in the cupboard, like when I was a kid. Sure, I won’t have the actual contents anymore, but when I open the door, it will feel like home.

A Place to Lay My Head

We finally got to Valencia late last evening. Our day had been 35 hours long, including a near riot in the Madrid Airport over cancelled flights, perceived line cutting and general injustice by some of the passengers. The general mayhem and lack of anyone in charge only added to the seeming thirst for blood. To say it was a crazy day is an understatement.

I filmed the chanting and fist pounding that gained steam over the hours we stood in line to get re-booked on a later flight. I understood none of the ‘Protest Spanish’ I heard, but I started singing ‘We shall overcome’ under my breath until Jeff gave me ‘that look’ so I stopped.

Spain is an interesting country already.

‘Now this is why we moved here.’ said Jeff with a smile, looking around.

Only he could muster enthusiasm after being awake for 30 hours at that point. Watching the cast of characters with great interest.

Finally, we landed in Valencia and made it to our new apartment. Linda, our savior, was there to greet us with the keys and hugs.

‘How are you still smiling after all this?’ she asked. ‘You truly have had the hardest time with the visa stuff, and now this. Crazy.’

I just laughed. ‘What choice do we have?’  She agreed, we had none.

The airline (I hate American Airlines forever now) had lost one of our checked bags, but at least we had 4 of them, so we got them up to the flat and Jeff got to see where he’d be living from now on. Remember, we came from a house that was 4500 sq. feet. He’s used to manicured lawns, gardening service, a pool guy. His face said it all and he swiftly dubbed it ‘The Compartment’.

‘I don’t think you can really call it an ‘apartment’ cause it’s so small.’

Clearly, he didn’t live where I did in college. But we unpacked and found that our luggage had been gone through by persons unknown. One of whom had left me her old, grungy tennis shoes and made off with a pair of my Louboutins. She should be easy to spot. The baggage handler in the high heels with the red soles. Black soul, more like.

Also missing, were some of my kids’s pictures, a bathing suit, some jeans and a few other things, including my thyroid medication and asthma meds. I sat on the ground, because we have not one stick of anything to sit on, and I couldn’t speak. I felt totally violated. This is all we have – until some larger things come on the boat. But this is the precious stuff. And someone rummaged through it.

I managed to get it together, as Jeff talked me off a ledge. We were already missing a bag that never made it out of the Miami Airport. Now this. Jeff tried to inflate the air mattress, but the converters didn’t actually convert and they caught fire. Yes, in the first 30 minutes in our apartment, our beds caught fire! The place was filled with smoke. The cherry on the shit sundae of our day.

‘Screw the air mattresses. We’re going to a hotel.’ And he took me across town, to the place I stayed when I came alone in November, on my scouting trip. We had dinner at 11pm in the hotel restaurant and hit the hay. But I woke up at 2 and couldn’t get back to sleep.

I kept thinking. ‘Why have we come all this way? Why would we put ourselves in a position to be robbed? What the hell are we doing?’

My crying woke Jeff up and he stayed up with me until 5am, before we both fell back to sleep. At 9:30, breakfast and coffee helped get me upright because we had a busy day ahead.

Linda met us and took us, first to register at the town hall. Armed with that paper and some hastily taken passport photos from the train station (not my best face day – Jeff looked like he just got off a Tahitian vacation, damn him!), we went to immigration and applied for our long term visa. The visa they give you at the consulate in LA is only for 3 months. The long term one is applied for here. It will take 3 weeks to get the card and then we’re good to go. But they gave me a white piece of paper that is more precious than gold.

We need the immigration paper to get internet. What?!  Yes, you heard that right. The internet provider wants our immigration paper to decide if we’re really staying in Spain long term – we have a long term lease on a flat – and then they’ll give us internet (maybe next week). This is my first ‘I don’t get it.’ But we have to do it, so we did.

I was a little woozy, standing in line with the other immigrants, but we did it all before noon. Then we decided to truly unpack – headed back to the apartment to face the bags again, get organized (I always feel better after I make a list), make a list of what we need urgently, and headed out to do some shopping. There is a place about 5 miles out of town that has everything. It’s like a giant shopping city. To call it a ‘mall’ is to diminish what this area truly is. It’s massive!

So 4 hours later, and tomorrow they deliver a bed, refrigerator, desk, desk chair (for Jeff), kitchen table and chairs and a few other things. We bought bedding and pillows and kitchen items that will not be coming on the boat in a few months, and we carried them home.

‘Shopping City’ as I’ve dubbed it, has a bus that takes you from the city center out to the big shopping area. IKEA runs it and if you become a ‘Family’ member, it’s free. So we did and actually ate at IKEA before coming back. Free cafe con leche. I’ve never enjoyed a meal more in my life,. Not the fanciest restaurant could compete with it today.

‘IKEA with no sleep, low blood sugar, and after 35 hour day we had yesterday? You’re a brave man.’ I said to Jeff, on the verge of tears for most of our wander through the maze.

‘No. You’ll feel better once we’re settled. We just need to bite the bullet.’

He’s right, and tomorrow – after booking us into the hotel again tonight – we will start to feel like we’re making strides to settle in. So far, we’ve only been yelled at 3 times today for doing things wrong. A bus driver, immigration person, a stranger. We have no idea what they said to us, and that’s a good thing. Perhaps, learning Spanish should be put off for a few weeks, until I feel less fragile. When I wake up and I know where I am and how to get to the bathroom. That’s when I’ll be OK being screamed at in a language I kind of understand.

Wait – What?!?

The truck showed up at 7:15 pm tonight and then they told me – ‘Yeah, sorry, but we don’t have enough room in the truck for your stuff.’ Am I kidding, you ask? No. Were they kidding, I asked? Sadly, No. Deep breath.

They promised – after spending two hours wrapping our couch and bicycles and inventorying our boxes – to be back ‘Some time tomorrow after we drop off a ‘big load’ 15 miles away.’ Aka – They have no idea what time they’ll be coming back.

I just stood there and looked at them. What can I do? Nothing. I have to let them go away with their big truck and pray they will come back. How this happened, I have no idea. But I did have an indication that it just wasn’t my day.

Jeff got home while they were wrapping our couch. He was late getting home from work and was hungry and ready to go eat. But we had to wait until they left. Finally, we headed down to pick up some Kung Pao chicken and came back to the house to eat off our paper plates.

I dished it up and then I decided to look at my fortune in the cookies in the bag. My philosophy of eating desert first kicked in. I reached in and selected one and SURPRISE!! there was no fortune in mine. Nothing. Apparently, my future is a blank slate upon which, I can write whatever I want. OK, I made that up, but I’m trying to remain positive about everything.

I reviewed my contingency plans, but ultimately, when I wake up tomorrow we will have just 4 days before we fly out. I know it will be just fine, because it has to be.