Jeff needed to head to Cordoba to pick something up. Something that couldn’t be shipped. And he asked me if I wanted to tag along. Heck yeah! Being an American, and that long road trips are in our DNA, I had my bag packed in 5 minutes and was waiting by the front door at … Read more We Just Popped Down to Cordoba
Today was a day. A monumental day. Jeff got the vaccine. And we did a few other things, too. It started out early, and only 6 hours later we were home again. I like to be early to things. To me, being late is disrespectful and just plain dumb. The early bird catches the worm. … Read more The Beginning of the End
Under the heading of ‘What can go wrong, will go wrong’, the last 12 hours have been interesting. It felt a little like we were Tina Fey and Steve Carell in the movie ‘Date Night’. How can so many things stack up against you? We were spending a quiet evening at home watching ‘Drunk History’ … Read more The Hooker and a Bone Scan
I’ve been told I have a ‘Justice Complex’. But I figure if there is one complex to have, justice is not a bad one. And if there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s bullies and boundary-crossers. People who think it’s OK to intentionally make other people’s lives less wonderful, and sometimes much harder, than they need to be. And I just won’t have it. Read more I’m Probably Going to Hell for This
When we moved to Valencia, everything was different. I felt so bombarded by the differences that any subtlety or shades of grey were completely missed. The things we were dealing with were all primary colors and right in our faces. Now that we’ve lived in Spain for 16 months, I notice other things. Jeff talked … Read more The Power of Disconnection
I’m not sure the genesis of the American expression ‘Boob Tube’ but my Dad used to call the TV that, mockingly when we were kids. Television in our house growing up, wasn’t something that was on most of the time, unless it was the news. And then it was usually news about the Vietnam war or Watergate. I spent most of my childhood up in a tree or building a fort. And I read A LOT of books.
But I grew up knowing who Walter Kronkite was. Or Frank Reynolds or Mike Wallace. If we watched sitcoms it was upstairs, when we got a second TV, with the sound low so my Dad couldn’t hear it. And music? Music wasn’t played in our house because my Dad was hard of hearing. I remember my best friend, Karen Taylor, next door talking about The Scorpions and I had no idea who they were – but I never told her that. She went to concerts I wouldn’t have been allowed to go to and she played actual records and had cassette tapes. Something I never owned.
It wasn’t until I could drive that I listened to the radio and got caught up. But my 1967 Dodge Dart – a hand-me-down car from my much older sister – had only AM radio. So I wasn’t listening to anything that could have been considered cutting edge. And cable TV? We didn’t have that. My parent’s didn’t get cable until we had all left the house, and when they did I am sure it was to watch more news and documentaries. Probably why I was one of the only kids in school who enjoyed the film strips and listened in history class.
As a result, I learned to love all things pop culture after 1984. As a freshman in college I dove into MTV, WHAM!!, Boy George, and anything and everything having to do with alternative music and film. I went to live shows and saw some of the greats! And TV and movies? Well, I became an aficionado. Finally, after a childhood of never knowing what my friends were talking about, I was right in the mix.
So moving to Spain has been interesting. Getting cable TV here isn’t really worth it because most of it’s in Spanish and, let’s face it, my Spanish is just crap. We do get digital TV over the air and when we change the SAP on some channels we can get content in original language. The good news is that we have no pharmaceutical commercials here. So I don’t have to wonder if I need Advantix or Wonderdrugulous. And if something else might be right for me that I’ll have to discuss with my Dr after learning that it will cause me permanent liver damage or turn me temporarily orange or result in ‘permanent death’. Whatever that is.
Our TV in Valencia comes almost exclusively from YouTube, Netflix or Amazon Prime. And we watch the news on the internet and use Chromecast – I guess my parent’s infused me with a love of information. We have HBO and Showtime and a lot of other Amazon channels that allow me to still see all my favorite shows, while enjoying additional content. I can’t miss Billions or Game of Thrones. But sometimes we watch shows we would never have back home, just because they’re available. CBS Sunday Morning is one of these.
It’s kind of like a sedative. Jane Pauley’s voice is melodious and comforting. The stories are like pablum and the content is mostly ‘old news’ in the age of my Google news feed and other apps on my phone. We laugh because they do a weekly calendar which so clearly gives their target audience away. This week they talked about Monday being the start of annual open enrollment for Medicare. And Friday being ‘National Osteoporosis Day’. So we’re the youngsters in the audience. But we can’t look away from it.
Today, I was watching the one from last Sunday. Again, mostly stuff I had seen before on Twitter, like 2 weeks ago. Mindless entertainment. But suddenly I heard the name of a town I haven’t heard on the news in 35 years. The town where I went to HS. There was the coffee shop where I have coffee with my Mom and my niece when I visit them. And it made me smile and tear up a bit.
I’ve always believed that kindness is the most noble of aspirations. In this time of upheaval, a little more kindness is sorely needed and most welcome. So today I thought I would share a little kindness with you all, by way of this heartwarming story from the place I called home while growing up. A place that is not the coolest town in the world (bet The Scorpions still don’t know where it is), and where life runs a whole lot slower. But where, for the right reasons, they’ll scare up a Batmobile and the high school band will still march down the street to celebrate one of their own. Enjoy!
The good news is I’m upright! Actually standing and almost totally vertical. Sure, there is still a little pain but I’m going to take a short walk today because I’m going stir crazy in the house and we’re going to Madrid tomorrow. No one ever accused me of being a patient person. And on that same note, now that I’ve decided it’s time to get my driving license, allowing grass to grow under my feet isn’t an option.
I’ve already read two novels this week. And watched another royal wedding on my phone. If I read one more thing about the political situation back in the US I’ll scream. So I gladly kicked off my journey onto Spanish carriageways and the reglas de la calle.
The encouragement from everyone here has inspired me. And while I can’t take the intensive course until December, in the mean time, I’ve decided to sign up for an online course that gives me practice tests and access to the manual in English. It also tailors some of the tests for my ‘weaknesses in learning’. I laughed when I read it. Their algorithm has no idea who they’re dealing with yet. My weakness in learning is going to break this thing.
The website made it sound so easy and the stock photos gave me confidence that soon, I too will be leaning out of my car window smiling and waving when I drive down the Spanish highways and bi-ways. Except I found out that this is total bullshit because it’s actually illegal to lean out of the car smiling while driving. Driving here is serious business.
In the US, each state has their own manual and traffic laws that are governed by that state. If you move to another state, depending on their rules, sometimes you have to take a test to get your driving license switched out. I had to do this when moving from Oregon to California. Here, the laws are national and the test is a national test. The autonomous regions are not autonomous when it comes to traffic laws. Seems pretty smart, actually.
Well, the first thing I learned is that I know almost nothing. You’d think after driving for 30 years I would just be able to hop in a car and strap myself in, turn the key and head out. But there you would be sadly mistaken. The signs here are different. They have minimum posted speeds in little blue circles. They have ‘Yield’ signs with a big black X through them. Do I yield at that. Is it telling me not to Yield? And the rules are not so straightforward.
The signs for entering towns and cities tell you what kind of town it is and that should tell you how fast you can ‘generally drive’. And they require road worthiness inspections that the US should definitely implement. Some of the stuff I saw flying down the road in Arizona should have been scrapped long ago. So it makes sense. It’s not all a foreign concept to me. Well, maybe it is, but a lot of it is logical. Then there’s the stuff that is simply unbelievable.
We live in Valencia but I’ve walked for weeks through rural Spain. The majority of the country is small towns or villages and farmland, so it make sense that a good portion of their manual is devoted to things like ‘On what side of the road may you herd your animals?’. Or ‘How fast can a tractor go on a highway if it doesn’t have brake lights?’. Stuff like that.
And we’ve ridden the bike out to places in the mountains to the west. There are many one lane bridges with funny signs that we were unclear about. And many narrow roads with no striping so it would be easy to get it wrong. Since I have been on these roads I took the practice test without even studying that section. I’m a pro – I know.
Yeah, NO! Turns out there is a long hierarchy for these types of situations and I was naive in thinking I had a smidgen of understanding that a)there even was a hierarchy and b) what it might actually be. Here’s how it goes.
If the one lane road or bridge is flat then it’s the first vehicle to reach it that will have the right of way, unless it’s harder for the other car to back up – they have a greater distance to go. And if there is a dispute about who entered the area first, there is a law that governs this hierarchy and goes thusly:
1 Special vehicles providing special transport
2 Articulated vehicles and tractive units
3 Vehicles pulled by animals
4 Passenger Car with trailer up to 750kg and motorhomes/RVs
5 Collective passenger transport vehicles
6 Lorries/trucks, tractor-trailers and vans
7 Passenger cars and derivative of cars
8 Special vehicles that do not exceed the established mass, quadricycles and light quadricycles
9 Tricycles, motorcycles with sidecar and 3-wheel mopeds
10 Motorcycles, 2-wheel mopeds and bicycles
So when I get my license I’ll be carrying a scale and a measuring stick because so many of the rules of the road require me to know the weight of someone else’s vehicle or trailer or the length of it.
I looked at this list and I pondered. ‘What if a special vehicle breaks down that doesn’t exceed the established mass and a team of donkeys comes by and gives them a tow through the stretch of one lane road where I’m traveling, and while I’m there first it would be harder for them to back up, would I have the right of way?’ I love a good story problem. And then I took the test and there are questions that look similar to my cooped up musings and I got worried. But I read on.
If this stretch of road is not flat, then everything remaining equal, the vehicle traveling up hill has the right of way, unless it’s too hard for the one coming down to back up. Then we’re right back where we started.
Finally, last night I just had to shut it down. I needed a drink. But then I read the section on how much alcohol you can consume while driving. No alcohol should be the answer but it turns out that in Spain, if you’re a new driver you can consumer less than if you’re experienced. Experienced drivers can consumer 70% more alcohol and still drive. I don’t really understand what the litre ratio means yet, but this seems very curious to me. It seems like the more experienced you were would result in the knowledge that drinking and driving is just stupid.
Well, since I’m upright and dressed I’m going for a walk to mull all this over. Jeff’s going to have a field day with it when he starts his lessons. I can just see him turning it all into ‘If, Then’ statements. There will be swearing. But I still don’t know what that triangle with the black X means.
We are home from Morella. Just pulled in after a long weekend of new sights, new sounds and ALOT of ground covered. Morella is north of Valencia by about 2 hours on a motorcycle. I’ve been interested in Spanish prehistoric cave painting for decades and I’ve never indulged in taking the time to seek them out. This past weekend that was to change. The area has sites all around it and they’re UNESCO World Heritage protected.
We headed out to Morella and WOW! What a lovely hilltop fortress town in the mountains east of Peniscola. The road to get there was very winding – Jeff’s favorite kind on the bike. More bridges that only allow one car at a time. I was never so happy to follow a slow truck that choked black smoke all the way up the mountainside because it ensured Jeff went a reasonable speed. Cresting the last hill leading towards the town, the view is spectacular. When Emilie and I walked the Camino we saw so many hill towns with castle ruins that when I would point them out, she would just reply. ‘So what. It’s just another castle.’
Well, even Emilie would have been impressed by this one. I like to put the things I’m seeing here into the historical context I already have. The Castillo de Morella was started in 950 AD. Yup, that’s more than a hundred years before my own ancestors hopped on a boat with William the Conqueror in France and sailed the channel to subdue the English forever.
We rode through the gates to find our hotel inside the fortress. Jeff’s absolute favorite thing is to ride his motorcycle on slippery marble cobbled streets, using a GPS whose maps don’t cover inside the fortress, and try to locate where we’re staying, not on an actual street but up some marble hand carved stairs. After much swearing and a lot of ‘You have to be FUCKING kidding me’s’, I was flashing back to Lleida and the Parador in May.
Here we were staying in an ex Palau de Ram that was built in 1462, 30 years before Columbus decided to head across the Atlantic and pretend to discover America. I needed to put Jeff out of his misery, so I hopped off the bike, put my phone away with the lying devil Google Maps, and got a spry little old lady with a cane to lead me up some steep marble steps to the front door. Even with the cane she was faster than me. Sometimes elderly analog is the only way to go.
The Hotel is lovely and the rooms have stunning views. The sunrise and the fog over the hills in the valley made getting up early these past couple of days a treat. And the quiet? Ah, the quiet. It was deafening. We are so used to city noise that we lay there in bed with the windows open and just listened to nothing.
Jeff is always amazed that I meet random people, get to chatting and then get invited to things. One of my friends here in Valencia calls me a ‘Puller’. I don’t really know exactly if that’s a good thing, but she’s right. I go places and I meet people and then I end up doing something I hadn’t planned on doing 10 minutes before. This trip was no different. After arriving and getting a lovely lunch in the outdoor restaurant at the hotel, I met a very nice English lady in the lobby while trying to get decent wifi reception. She was there with her husband who was doing a sort of cultural exchange choir concert that was sponsored by the village.
The choir is a Chorus Angelorum from Bath and Bournemouth in the UK. And they were singing at the Convent of San Francisco, and she asked if I wanted to go. Well, of course I did. I went outside and told Jeff, who promptly bowed out, and then I met the woman and some others in the lobby and off we went up, up, and then up some more. All the way to the convent at the base of the castle to listen to three Spanish composers sung by a British choir. The entire town turned up for the concert. They were very good – not that I know choir music from a hole in the wall – and I sat front row next to the Mayor and his wife. Afterwards, speeches by the choir director and Senor Mayor. Flowers distributed, then lots of glad handing and back patting.
I was introduced to the Mayor who, in broken English, asked me if I had seen their most famous painting. I had not and he said ‘Come’. I followed him to a little chapel where the painting was lit. It wasn’t long before the room was filled with choir members and the Mayor asked me to translate what he was saying to the group. Oh no he didn’t! I wanted to tell him I don’t have enough Spanish for that, but I just said ‘Vale’ and whispered a little prayer to whomever might be on duty listening to pleas from fools that night. He spoke and a miracle happened. An ACTUAL miracle, because I understood what he was saying about the ‘Dance of Death’ and the whole nine yards. And I did as he asked and told the others in English what he said. I even got the word for ‘Prostitute’ right and I had never heard it before. I guess context is everything. No one else was aware of this amazing moment, but that place has something powerful to conjure up that bit of magic.
I got back to the room and told Jeff that I had met the Mayor and all about my little secret translation triumph. He seemed unmoved at the monumental moment that this was.
‘So you like the town?’ he said.
‘Well, yes. I mean, I’ve met the Mayor and his wife. And the girl who was one of the princess type people from that Sexenni thing (the festival every 6 years celebrating the Virgin – get your mind out of the gutter). I’ve been here 6 hours and I”m connected now.’
‘Good. Cause we’re looking at some properties around here. I’ve walked the entire town while you’ve been out with your new friends. There’s a lot for sale here.’
I wasn’t surprised. Of course he was already looking at real estate. But I was a little put off by his depiction of me being ‘Out with your new friends.’ I’d been at a convent, for God’s sake. Listening to choir music. So many Hallelujahs and Ave Marias. I wasn’t up the street dancing at the local disco bar. To be fair, it was closed.
So we set up some appointments and viewed one house that stood out. It was 9 bedrooms and 4600 sq. feet. The cousin of the owners showed it to us and they don’t know how old it is. ’15, 16, 1700’s. We don’t know’. I saw a strange chain hanging over a hook through a small door with a window in the kitchen.
“Is that a dumb waiter?’ I asked the cousin.
‘No.’ he said, like he was speaking to a small child. ‘It’s a bucket. That’s the well in the kitchen.’
Yes, it has an actual open mouthed well – like you see in old movies – in the kitchen. They have running water but a well? I guess it’s a good back up except I would hate to hear ‘Timmy’s fallen in the well!’ while living there and that seems like an actual possibility. I’d need to immediately purchase a border collie – ala Lassie – just to be safe.
Amazing. So much potential. It was full of the heads of African animals hunted by the family over the centuries. That kind of freaked me out. I asked the cousin how long the family had owned it. He just waved over his shoulder again and again, said ‘Whew’ shook his head, shrugging ‘Nobody knows. Long time.’ But we’re heading back to the US and I told our local agent (oh yes, we have one of those now – thanks Jeff), that we would visit again after we got back. We need mulling over time.
We started for home this afternoon. The ride back was going to be filled with thunderstorms and rain we could see from the ramparts of the castle. We were not equipped for this eventuality because when we left Valencia the temperature was on the first floor of Hell. So we traveled in our summer riding gear. But today, by the time we got from Morella to Sant Mateu the heavens opened up. When I saw the lightning and heard the thunder I tapped Jeff on the shoulder, pointed at the church and urgently shook my finger. We headed into the village to try to find a coffee place to wait it out.
No such luck. We were getting soaked and watching the sky light up. Finally, we came around a corner and I spotted a place filled with people. It had umbrellas and tables outside, so Jeff quickly parked and we hopped off and ran inside. The entire place turned to look at us and went silent. Like 30 people gathered around tables playing cards with characters I didn’t recognize, with a bar in the back. I know we looked like drown rats or deer caught in the headlights – take your pick. The barman broke the tension by waving to us and came around the bar directing us to sit so we could dry out. He got me a coffee and Jeff a Coke. It was then that Jeff realized we were not in a cafe, but in the meeting place for the Order of Montesa. There were flags on the walls festooning the space with the name, with crests and coats of arms. This was their clubhouse.
I didn’t know what it was so I looked it up. It’s a fraternal military order that dates back to the 1200’s. These guys are related to the Knights Templar. The Knights Templar were all famously slaughtered on Friday October 13th (hence the superstition), but these guys were part of an Aragon branch and were exempted as ‘Innocents’ during the trials that followed. Sant Mateu was part of the kingdom of Aragon before Spain was Spain. But they were still ‘suppressed’ after the purges of their brethren in 1312.
I don’t know much about it all, but I do know that we were so grateful that they took us in and provide us safe harbor in a lightning storm, until we could get back on the road. We’re home now. Safe and dry and getting ready to pack for our trip back to the US. But nothing like a little adventure before we fly away. Complete with castles, new friends and knights. What more could we ask for?
We are less than a week from our 6 month anniversary of moving to Valencia. In that time, we’ve learned how to navigate public transport. Which super markets and restaurants we like. How holidays are celebrated and that fireworks will be our constant companion. We have started to understand how the bureaucracy works and when we need the help of others and when we don’t. We are expert. We know it all.
And then we spent the weekend getting schooled – again. Sure, we’ve been to the movies before. We can see movies in English at the local Yelmo cines. They have the look and feel of US movie theaters – thinking Lincoln Square in Bellevue, WA. And they even have Oscar Meyer hot dogs and movie popcorn. So it’s a complete experience, sort of, from home.
On Saturday, we walked up to the Yelmo that’s about a mile and half through the park from our apartment. We purchased the tickets to the ‘VOSE’ showing, which means the movie will be in the original language (English) with Spanish subtitles. And got our refreshments and climbed the lucite backlit stairs to the correct theater and sat down. The credits were running from the previous movie but we figured we would just wait with our two hot dogs, two drinks and a large popcorn for a whole 13 euros. But it was not to be.
The cleaner came in and started shouting at us. We were mid bite and had no idea what she was talking about. I find that when I’m shouted at, even in English, I struggle to comprehend what the hell is going on. But in Spanish? I’m completely lost. She could have been shouting my name over and over and I wouldn’t have understood a word. Jeff tried to reason with her. He gave her our tickets and she studied them like the Magna Carta. Then she hand them back, pointed out the door with more shouting and shook her broom at us.
‘I think we’re not supposed to be in here when she’s cleaning.’ I said to Jeff, after reading her angry face and threatening mimery with her broom. So we got up with our arms full of food and drink and left the theater. She followed us out. More shouting ensued and more broom waving. She practically pushed us down the stairs and kept pointing to the other side of the elevators in the lobby. We toddled over there like brainless idiots. We had no idea why.
On the other side of the lobby, unseen from the place where you purchase tickets and get your refreshments, is another set of stairs where there is a person who tells you that you can go up the stairs. There are monitors that say that a movie theater is open or if you must ‘Espera’. Or wait. So we went up to the guy with our tickets and he tore them and told us we could go up the stairs. We did, walking back to the theatre we were at one minute before. The cleaner lady looked at our torn tickets and said ‘bien.’ We went in to our assigned seats and sat down again. Our eyes were rolling in our heads.
The movie started. We were seeing ‘Alpha’. It’s a movie about a prehistoric clan who leaves a member behind after a buffalo hunt. It opened with Morgan Freeman’s deep voice – in English – telling us about life and the world, 20,000 years ago in Europe. Check! Time for a handful of popcorn. I expected Morgan Freeman and other English speaking actors because it was a North American film shot in Alberta, Canada. Sure, there might be some ‘Aboots’ and other Canadian ways of pronouncing ‘Aluminium’, but I would know what they were saying. Yeah, no.
The tribe in the film spoke only in a language that I’ve never heard. And the subtitles? They were in Spanish. Only Morgan Freeman’s melodious voice in the first and last 60 seconds of the film were in my native tongue. The rest was in a language that resembled languages of the people of the many tribes of North American, but was actually a made up language by a linguist from the University of British Columbia. This was not in the course description (I mean movie description) online. While interesting, I’m struggling with Spanish most days. We had come to the movies for mindless entertainment, and we got a job.
As we left the theatre, Jeff expressed surprise at language deal.
‘Well, I guess the good news is, I’m fluent in movie Spanish now, after reading it for 2 hours straight. But I did struggle a bit with the exact translation from made-up cave man.’
We walked home in the dark discussing the film . Mostly envious of the cold Canadian weather we saw and the fact that the main character was lucky he got to wear a coat.
On Sunday, we got up bright and early and walked down to the beach. The weather was perfect and the sun was out but the breeze was cool. The traffic on the main promenade was way down from peak season crowds. We chose a cafe and sat down.
I ordered a coffee and was promptly told that I was sitting at the wrong table. ‘ Coffee only there.’ The table he was pointing at was literally 2 feet away. So I lifted myself out of my chair and took one step and plopped myself into the chair next to me. The waiter walked the two feet, wiped down the table and asked me what he could get me.
‘Remember me? Una cafe con leche.’ I said.
‘Vale’ he said, as though we hadn’t just spoken 7 seconds before, and went away to get it. Ridiculous.
We finished the coffee. Jeff suggested we stick to what we know.
‘Let’s go out to Shopping City and knock a few things off our list before we fly to the US.’
I agreed and we got a taxi. We were half way to where IKEA is located in Alfafar, and I remembered it’s Sunday. I mentioned it to the driver and he said ‘No stores are open out there on Sunday.’ He had been wondering why ‘tourists wanted to go there’. Ugh.
So we had him drop us off at the Centro Commercial at El Saler. They have a Hyper Carrefour there and I thought perhaps we might have some luck in finding what we were looking for. We walked through their doors and there, like a beacon to school kids everywhere, were all the school supplies Emile and I had been searching for in the first part of August. The rows and rows of them looked just like the displays in every Fred Meyer or Target in the US.
We browsed a bit, but my heart wasn’t in it. I felt like something has been off for weeks now but I couldn’t put my finger on it.
‘I think we need to go home and pull the covers over our heads.’ I told him. ‘Something must be in retrograde because we seem to be missing something at every turn. It’s like I’m either too early or too late. Or just plaim clueless.’
So we did that. We sat and watched some Ray Donovan on Netflix and ate ice cream. Which everyone knows is the cure for almost everything. And since Mercury IS in retrograde, I’m not responsible for any of this.
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.
Last evening, we traveled to Torrent on the Metro to experience all that a Moors and Christianscelebration has to offer. The Moors occupied Spain for 800 years until, over many years and after many battles, they were defeated by Christian armies from across Europe. Charlemagne is a legend in the Basque country for contributing to keeping them out of France and pushing them back south. But down here, the armies of Aragon were apparently heavily involved in tipping the balance of power from the Moors to the Christians.
There is a long history and a lot of blood shed involved. One can see the influence of the Moors today. There are Arabic words in the languages spoken in Spain – including Spanish. And there are many, many place names in Valencia that are Arabic rather than Spanish. But no really seems to care anymore. Except when they all get together and celebrate the history and the battle that looms large in their history.
In the Valencian crest, there is a bat that figures prominently in the identity of the city. The legend has it that James I spotted a bat at the exact moment his army defeated the local Moorish army when he retook the city. The bat is considered good luck here. I was in the subway the other day and a bat was trapped flying around. I ducked as it flew past. The guy next to me gave me a Galic shrug and just said ‘Valencia’. I knew what he meant.
Valencia city doesn’t have a Moors and Christians parade themselves, so when we heard about the one in Torrent we decided to go. Torrent is a very old town. It has a tower that was built by the Moors well before the founding of the city in the 13th century. It’s church is stunning. Iglesias de l’Assumpcio is very old but is the second church build on the site. The first one was smaller and built when the town started. It’s main alter and chapel alters are awe inspiring.
We left the church and made our way down to the parade area. We bought some spots on the procession route and before long we heard the bands. The Christians go first. Each group is a local club that spends all year meeting and working on their costumes for the following year. Kind of like they do for Fallas in Valencia City. You can see how involved and expensive these designs are. Every year they start over, and since like most things, the interpretation is in the eye of the artist, they are loosely based on those they’re supposed to represent. There are people in Spain who study this costume design and make a living designing and making the kits for Moors and Christian celebrations and processions.
The Christians took about 2 1/2 hours to get through their bit. A Lot of showman ship, complete with horses and horsemanship that was truly amazing. I’ve never seen anything like it and they got very close to us on the parade route. But it was the Moors and their costumes that were the superior. If I was a judge, I would have given several of them the awards for creativity and shear Chutzpah.
The procession lasted well past midnight and then the fireworks started. We were lucky to make it back to Valencia on the last train. A very pregnant woman explained to me (in Spanish) what trains we would need to catch and transfer. So we muddled through and got back home in time to get ice cream from our local shop that was open in the wee hours. Of course, you can get ice cream in the middle of the night here on a hot summer night.
Here in Valencia yesterday, there was the Battle of the Flowers. We’ll do that next year. We need to leave something for year two – but something tells me that we’ll never run out of parades and fireworks in Spain.
Last evening was all about Tapas! I”m not an expert on Spanish food and since we’re surrounded by tapas everywhere, it was time to get educated. Our friends, Nick and Tatiana, organized the evening for us all. The chef at Ahuevos, Jose’ Simon, and his lovely wife hosted a night of ‘Interactive Tapas’. It was basically like a Tapas Nursery School for those that are Spanishly challenged and yet love yummy food.
My friend, Pete and Ryan joined the group. They just moved here from Seattle a month ago, and they are also in the infancy stages of learning about everything Valencia has to offer and widening their circle of friends. This was a great opportunity to do both and we had alot of fun.
We started out learning to make Sangria. It’s a pretty simple recipe and was actually the signature drink at our wedding all those years ago. We made it in buckets for all our guests (but we served it in lovely glass wine jars). And I screwed up and instead of putting sugar in them, I grabbed a salt container and our first batches were so bad they’re legendary amongst our friends. My friend Curt laughs every time he tells that story.
Well, if I had used the recipe I learned last evening, I wouldn’t have had that problem because you make a simple syrup in advance and pour that into the mixture. It dissolves faster and helps to masurate the fruit quicker. And we were very pleased with our results. Ryan did all the chopping, Pete did all the selecting of ingredients. And Me? Well, I supervised from afar – or not at all and took some notes.
We also learned how to make seasoned olives of our own creation, and the different types of olives for eating. Jose’ is from Leon and likes a different type of spice than his wife, who is from Valencia. At our table, we liked a lot of the pink pepper, juniper berries, garlic, red pepper, bay leaf and cloves. Jose’ thoroughly approved of our choices. They were so good and like any good cooking class, we got to take some home so in two weeks I’ll let you know how they turned out.
Then it was on to the Aioli. I’ve made it before with just garlic, salt and olive oil. But I learned some new things last night. Jose’ uses an egg yoke in his (I couldn’t eat it) and he doesn’t use olive oil, but sunflower oil. He says that the olive oil in Aioli causes it to break. I did the mixing and the pounding of the garlic and then the egg separation. Even though I can’t eat them, I still know how to separate egg yokes and work a mortar and pestle, for goodness stake.
Finally, we finished off the night with some horchata ice cream. I’ve been clear on my thoughts about horchata in the past, but this was different. It was wonderful! and with a little dark chocolate sauce it was heavenly. Everyone else got a slice of bread under theirs. It was made from day old bread that they soaked in booze and did some other stuff to, but I didn’t pay that much attention because I can’t eat the bread and I was took enamored of my new found love of horchata ice cream.
It was a fun night and we ended it with drinking from a ‘botijo’. It’s a jug that usually contains wine or water. Last night, the one they offered contained water. Pete braved drinking from it and was rewarded, like me, with water down the front. Ryan drank from it like a Spanish fisherman who has never drank from another vessel other than a botijo, in his entire life. He spilled not a drop.
After our tapas night we are looking forward to learning more Spanish cooking. Jose’ is organizing something out on the farm in Alboraya where they grow the food for their restaurant. I’m really looking forward to cooking food in the field where it’s grown. And Tati is looking to organize a trip back out to Manisis – think Fiesta de la Ceramica – where we can learn how to make a Botijo of our own and perhaps I can sign up for a ceramics course.
A great evening with good friend, old and new, good food and the promise of more to come. It doesn’t get better than that!
I couldn’t love our neighborhood more. Seriously. It reminds me of living in San Francisco in the early 90’s and in Seattle’s Belltown in the mid 90’s. In San Francisco in the Haight or in the Aves, you could catch Robin Williams working out new material in one club or another. In Seattle, you could catch Nirvana or Pearl Jam at the Crocodile for nothing when they were working on new songs.
Benimachlet has that same vibe, sans the famous people but I love it nonetheless. I sent Jeff to make hair appointments for us at our local hair salon. I figured his Spanish is good enough to work through it. He sent me a photo of this post it. He is now officially El Jefe (‘The Boss’ in Spanish) and I am just ‘Keli’ since ‘Kelli’ would mean my double ‘L’s’ would be pronounced totally incomprehensibly. So it’s The Boss and Keli.
Tonight, Sunday night, El Jefe and I went out in our neighborhood to have a drink and some tapas. Even on a Sunday evening there is alot going on in the square around our local church. A wedding had just finished and the revelers were in front of the church with their families.
We stopped for some wine at our favorite watering hole. We were there the day they first opened so we try to give them our custom whenever possible. But we got hungry and they don’t have a menu that was commiserate with our level of hunger. we went through the square on our way to another of our favorite tapas bars. On the way, we found a group spontaneously dancing. Not an organized thing, since when we walked home behind the folks with the speaker and the music, it was clear it was just a ‘lets turn on some music and see what happens’ type of deal. The crowd was loving it and readily joined in. Seeing dancers on the street in Valencias isn’t that unusual.
I love our tapas place. The owner is an old hippie and the food is top notch. The price of the cerveca and vino blanco are to our liking, as well. The place is cool and he totally digs us, so it’s fun to go there. The service isn’t typically hands off and it’s easy to get another drink and we feel at home.
On the way home, we went around our summer outdoor theatre in front of the church. ‘Cinema a la Fresca’ enjoyed by all in the neighborhood on a Sunday night. We love the home grown eclectic vibe and the spectrum of folks who gather to enjoy a good film on a warm summer night. Back home, we used to go to Chateau St. Michelle and the Red Hook Brewery in Woodinville, WA with our kids in the summer to enjoy family movies outdoors. These are more arthouse films, but it’s no less enjoyable.
Afterwards, walking back we passed by a shop front with an open door. A group of neighborhood gentlemen were beginning a game of dominos. We see this everywhere in the evenings around our apartment. Groups of older guys playing dominoes for money in cafes or parks. It serious business here. But this group was a fun and friendly bunch who was happy to share a ‘Guapa!’ as I took their photo.
Before we moved to Valencia, I would never have believed we would live in a neighborhood like this. But every day, every time I turn a corner, I’m glad we chose to land here.
When I went to my hair appointment on Friday morning, I had a conversation with my neighborhood hairdresser, Pili, in Spanish. It wasn’t pretty, but she was so surprised at the progress I made, her enthusiasm for my particular brand of Spanish was infectious and made me feel proud of how far I’ve come. And then she threw me a curveball. Benimaclet is a very traditional Valencian neighborhood. People here DO NOT speak English so it’s easy to practice Spanish. But they also speak ‘Valenciano’ – which is another language entirely. Much like Catalan. And Pili is determined that I learn that too, so she’s coaching me. But the biggest compliment she gave me is that my pronunciation is ‘like a Valencian’, which I have been told before, so I’m on the right track. I think we’ve found out home in Benimaclet. And, as everyone knows, there’s no place like home.
Last night, I decided I would take a break from Espanol and do something fun with friends from Ireland and Spain. They had told me about Manises before, and Jeff and I had gone there on a Sunday for one of our ‘Metro Roulette’ outings (more on those later). But like everything in Spain, never go to a new town on a Sunday to learn more about it. Nothing will be open and it will be a ghost town except for a few restaurants around Sunday lunch.
So I was at a loss as to why they thought this place so special. Last night, I found out why. In July every year, Manises hosts the Fiesta de la Ceramica. Manises is one of the most well known hand painted ceramic producers in Spain. Sure, Valencia is known world-wide for ceramics in general. We have many museums and schools that teach it. I’m looking to take classes myself. But Manises is the pinnacle of artistry when it comes to all those beautiful tiles around doorways and the bowls and dishes that make eating already scrumptious food, just that much better.
They’ve been making ceramics in Manises since the Middle Ages when the Moors were still ruling most of Spain. In the museum in the town, you can see representations from every period. But even if you choose to skip the museum and walk the town, you’ll see it in doorways, parks, benches, EVERYWHERE. And it’s gorgeous.
And on the Wednesday night during the festival, every year, they have a parade. Wait! Oh yeah, this is Spain. And not just any parade, but the Cavalcade de Ceramica. Now, a cavalcade might seem overstated but it’s not. Because this parade is unlike any other. Sure, they have the bands and the effigies. They have the dancers. But at this parade they have truck after truck handing out, dropping, tossing ceramics to those in the crowd. And it’s lovely stuff and it creates a feeding frenzy like feeding sharks at the Oceanographic. And it turns out I’m not immune to it myself.
So I met my friends at the train station. I had totally overestimated the amount of time it would take me to get there. Like most things in Valencia, they’re 20 minutes away. So I took some photos and waited. Finally, we made our way to the parade route and found a cafe where a grouchy owner allowed us to take over two tables on street. I had no idea what was going on but it became apparent this would be our base of operations. We ordered wine to lubricate our ceramic-getting muscles and then we heard the music and saw the flashing lights. It was starting.
This video doesn’t exist
We watched from the sidelines and saw the usual suspects of any Spanish parade. And then the trucks came and it was all out WAR! People climbing over each other for the best stuff. Those handing out the ceramics were in complete charge of who got what. They were drunk with power – even the little kids – I’ve seen it before at elementary school field days and free t-shirts. But that stopped no one.
I lost track of my friends, as you do when it’s every man for himself. Luckily, I had brought a backpack and I began stuff it with ceramics. Pretty, ugly, practical, completely impractical? None of that mattered. It was like a sample sale – You don’t EVER hesitate. You just take home what they have!
My back pack was full so I looked around like any good improvising MacGyver would, and I saw a box and some stuffing that someone in one of the trucks had thrown over. I grabbed that and began filling it with more items as they came to me. OK, perhaps ‘came to me’ is not really the accurate term. Perhaps it was more like ‘Ceramics I procured after crawling over other people and small children.’ I did say it was a feeding frenzy.
At one point, another woman and I grabbed the same three dishes at the same time. The person on the truck had all three in her hand and I’m taller than most Spanish people so I went for them. A hand from the back of beyond reached out and grasped them seconds after me. I was a little surprised but undaunted. I looked down at my competition with the incredibly long arms. ‘Who did this person think she was dealing with? I’ve fought the sample sale wars in NY. These three dishes are mine!’
But then I looked into her eyes. She was determined but clearly a novice at guarding her loot. But then a voice said to me ‘Do you want to go to heaven?’. So I gave her one of my three dishes. I’m not a monster. But sadly, I felt no shame for crawling over children while free ceramics were being pitched from a truck on the street – hence the ‘perhaps not going to heaven’ part.
Sweaty and with a diminished capacity to carry, stuff or otherwise convey even one more piece of ceramics (they were in the pockets of my overalls at this point), I made my way back to my friends. They were gathered and sorting their bounty on the tables. My friend, Donna was amazed at how much I had gotten.
‘This is not the first time you’ve done something like this, I think.’ She eyed me suspiciously.
‘What do you mean? I’ve never knocked people down on the streets for free ceramics before.’ I said innocently, while appearing distracted with a woven bowl.
‘Hmph.’ Her eyes narrowed.
But she’s right. It wasn’t my first rodeo in the social science experiments of free stuff and crowded spaces. I found some more boxes to organize it all, and we had some tapas and more wine. I think our grouchy restaurant owner was impressed with my ceramic hauling technique, because I turned around in my chair and he had brought his two sons over to me. They were carrying more ceramics and they held them out for me to take. He stood behind them, proudly telling me they were his boys. I took the baskets from them and kissed them both on the cheeks. They turned red and he looked proud – I wondered how the heck I would get them home, But, of course, I found a way.
I was a little tired as the adrenalin left my body so I made my way home carrying my boxes and loaded back pack on the Metro. Jeff and Emilie were waiting for me when I got home with my loot. Neither surprised that we now owned two full sets of egg cups, when neither of them eats soft boiled eggs. But no matter.
I’m already developing my plan for next year. I’ll be better prepared, from the container perspective. And I told both Jeff and Emilie that their attendance will be mandatory since Jeff is tall with very long arms, and Emilie possesses the perfect temperament and attitude as the guard for our loot. Too bad it’s 364 days until the next Cavalcade de Ceramica, when we can do it all again!
Some of this post will be in Spanish. It might not be perfect but now that I’ve been studying Spanish for 9 whole days, I think I’m ready to try to convey my deepest thoughts in my new-found language. I must first apologize to my Mom and Mrs. Taylor, who has lived next door to her for 50 years and was my second Mom as a kid. Ladies, you’ll have to use Google translate, or the like. to decipher the paragraph below to gain all the wisdom of the universe. Yeah, I know that’s a long shot. Well, let’s see.
Ultimamente, por nueve dias he hecho estudies Espanol. Pasado semana mi professor ensenar en una bar cerca en Benimaclet. Gradualmente soy aprender. Actualmente, todos los dias soy en clase en Benicalap con Britanico expats. Hoy ser divertido y mucho informativo.
Pasado semana, he hecho el colapso. Miedo mi nunca aprender Espanol. Una dia yo estar no capaz de Espanol. Como hoy yo se hecho apriender algunos verbo conjugation y numeros desde una a mil.
Estoy en limite de Epanol. Muchas gracias por paciencias.
Whew! Ok, that took everything I had. I don’t have the correct accents and the little Spanish ‘n’ with the wavy thing over it on my laptop keyboard. And I am totally sure it was mostly crap since my present perfect and past v. future-tense is still in a state of continual flux. Not to mention that on a daily basis I forget about 90% of what I learned the day before. But, I’m really trying.
Today, after class the other students were grumbling. Even with my terrible Spanish, the consensus is that I’ll fly past the rest of the students any time now. I asked them why they thought that since mostly I just barely muddle through.
‘Because you actually want to do it. You’re focused, and you study.’
This seemed like a curious indictment. But they are right. I do study alot and I am actively engaged in the class, whether it’s being held in a bar (not as uncommon as you’d think) or in a classroom. Just FYI, the wine helped when the verb conjugation got a little harry. And the ‘arse’ verbs are exactly what they sound like. Every day, after my daily lesson I would head to the bar to pay and the bartender would ask me how my Espanol was. More than once, after a tough session, I wondered why he had to ask since there were times I saw him actively grimace. Sometimes, almost sadly he would give me an encouraging thumbs up. Out of pity.
But I will crack this Tiger Nut. I am the most annoying patron of any bar or restaurant. If the waitress asks me something in Spanish, I repeat what she just said to me and then I answer her back. At first, they seem concerned – like I suffer from some sort of brain anomaly – but then they realize I’m trying to learn the language and they help by correcting me and sometimes going out of their way to provide other opportunities to learn new words.
Mostly, I just shake off the shame of looking like a fool. Tonight, I’m transcribing my notes and building some new tables to help me better remember from one lesson to another. Later, I’m going to treat myself to a Spanish movie. I guess my fellow students are right – I will do this. No existe nada que pueda parame!
It’s been hot here. Really HOT! So hot that even going to the beach is a fools errand. You hardly see people out on the street. Spaniards aren’t stupid. Screw the siesta. The entire month of July and August deserve siesta. Just laying down and going into some sort of suspended animation – like a bear hibernating – except instead of a cave in winter its on the surface of del Sol.
Now I know heat. We spent two years in Arizona in the Valley of Death. Not Death Valley – a proper name – the Valley where Phoenix and Scottsdale sit where you’ll actually die if you go out at mid-day for more than about 10 minutes without shade. We used to do our daily walks in the summer there at midnight or before the sun rose in the morning. That was fraughts with animals that would like to kill you and eat you, on top of the heat cooking you from the pavement beneath you.
Here it’s just as bad right now – perhaps worse with the humidity. Yesterday I decided to take the Valensibi bike to my Spanish lesson. It’s on the North side of the city near the IMED (Four Seasons of Hospitals) so I have walked up that way many times. I know how far it is. But I was running a little late and thought I would use my GPS to pinpoint it and then ride so I wouldn’t get there after the other students. I’m having an intense group class with other Expats I know – just this week – so I didn’t want to be the last to arrive and recite my homework. That was a grave mistake.
I swear the route doubled itself since the last time I went out there. I rode and rode and rode some more. It was awful. I found the back side of the building and then went in search of where I could drop my bike off at a Valenbisi bike station. The closest one was like a mile away. OK – I rode over there and had to stop 2 times on the way to hydrate while cooking in the sun at lights.
Then I had to make my way back to the school and what did I see? Oh yes, the tram that runs blocks from my house in Benimaclet runs right in front of the school. WHAT!?! Other students were getting off looking refreshed from their air conditioned ride, hopping into the school to greet the receptionist. I was like a melting popsicle who just flowed through the door and left a wet spot on the chair. They all looked at me like I was crazy – they actually told me I was crazy – for riding a bike in this weather.
I was telling a friend last night about it after coming home from the Mercadona having had to purchase a cooler from the El Chino next door to it before attempting to purchase ice cream. They don’t have A/C in their apartment and they’re dying. I told her I believe we are missing a festival here.
‘Fiesta de la Sweat’! Come on, it will be fun! I riffed some ideas last night but I’ve had time to mull it over and I think I’ve got the details worked out.
The Patron Saint of Fiesta de la Sweat would be San Sudor – He would be carried around in effigy having been carved from an iceberg brought in from our sister city in Northern Greenland. We don’t have a sister city in Northern Greenland, you say? Well we need to get one with all sense of urgency! It’s a festival, damn you!
Much like during Fallas when small innocent looking children would throw lit firecrackers under our feet as we walked down the street – under the complete supervision of their adult parents, I might add – in Fiesta de la Sweat, we would all throw water balloons and crushed ice on unsuspecting passersby off our balconies. Come on, it will be fun. And anyway, what are those people doing out on such a bloody hot day anyway. They deserve it. I mean, they deserve the refreshment. He He. And they’ll be dry by the next block anyway.
Chocolate would be banned during festival time. Children on the tram wouldn’t have melted chocolate covered hands and faces ready to wipe on you as they passed by to the only open seat when there are 20 elderly people standing with walkers and canes.
The official Fiesta de la Sweatdrink would be Gin + Tonic, because as every sweaty Brit on holiday will tell you, it’s a restorative and it just works in every weather.
There would be no fireworks because no one wants to go outside to light them – Thank GOD and San Sudor for make that happen!
There would be the ‘Running of the Cubes’ where people would race each other in the street with large ice blocks over their heads while it melted down on them. They would sign up gladly as the winner is the one who can keep it aloft until it melts completely. Entrants would pay a fee of 100 euros just so they would have access to the ice. Nevermind having to run around with it down the street in the sun.
And finally, there is no Fiesta de la Sweatworth it salt (ha!) without a parade. This parade would only include people who I have actually seen, who don’t appear to sweat at all. Honestly, it’s like they don’t have sweat glands or something. Their faces aren’t red like mine, they aren’t fanning themselves, no sweaty bandana pulled out to dab their brow – NOTHING. In human, really. For the Fiesta de la Sweat parade, these people will march in colorful bathing costumes of their own creation (there will be judging). We will clap and wave at them from under our sweaty umbrellas or from our balconies. Then we’ll throw buckets of water on them or hook a hose up to the kitchen sink and spray them with water. They’ll love it!
Of course, I’m in the early stages of planning for next year’s Fiesta de la Sweat– I’ll keep you posted on the exact dates. Oh wait! Or you could just watch the temperature gauge. When it hits 35 – that’s opening ceremonies day. Mark you calendars in advance.
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.
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.
OK. I had my pity party. I missed home on the 4th of July. Seems like that’s a good day to mope when you’re so far from neighborhood fireworks and bar-b-que with friends. But like one of those blow up clown dolls with the sand in the bottom, you gotta pop back up.
And some really good things happened yesterday. First off, Jeff found he had run out of his blood pressure meds and that he could put off no longer going to the Farmacia near our house for a refill. He took a deep breath and took the bottle down there and explained what he needed. His old prescription was $30 a month. The new one? 3 euros for a month supply and no prescription needed. They just handed them over. He was giddy and now no longer intimidated by going to speak to a pharmacist.
I went to my Spanish lesson yesterday and it went swimmingly. Well, maybe I felt like I was swimming because I was in the blistering heat with dripping wet humidity. But my teacher felt I’m making good progress. We’re meeting up again today to keep the momentum going.
Then I took Emilie to have her sports physical so she can be cleared to play when she returns to school in the US. I swear it’s a racket, these sports physicals, but Jeff and I had found a clinic where there was a rumor that they had a Dr. that spoke English, so we could explain why the hell he needed to fill out this form with a bunch of weird questions like ‘Do you feel safe in your home?’ and ‘Are you ever sad?’. Things he’s supposed to ask her so that he can determine if these might impact her playing basketball or hitting a tennis ball.
So we went – they require no appointment – and muddled through in my lame Spanish at reception. I was feeling more confident after my lesson so I tried out a couple of new words and phrases. More on that later. Then we went and sat in the waiting room. A Dr. came out and we heard English. Like American English. I turned to find him chatting with an American couple who had just arrived and needed some medication.
He finished with them and then called us to his office. He spoke to me in Spanish and I answered him back. We waited outside for him to finish with another patient and then he came out and ushered us in. We sat down and he asked why we were there in Spanish and I told him, in English, and he asked if I was Spanish. I told him ‘No’. He said he was so surprised because my accent was so good he thought I was Spanish. Well, can I just say I LOVE THIS DR. He could be the worst Dr. on the planet but his compliment went a long way yesterday. I sat up a little taller after that.
It turns out he was born in Valencia but grew up in Tallahassee, Florida. He went to FSU and then moved back to Valencia to be near his parents. His wife is Valencian and he has two daughters who don’t want to live in the US. So Tallahassee’s loss is our gain.
We finished up with the sports exam and then met some of our friends who moved here last week from Seattle. We had worked together at a previous employer and they had been planning to move here with their daughter before we ever made our plan. Neither of us aware of what the other was plotting. So it all dovetailed nicely. And ironically, we met at the Portland Ale House on Salamanca, which is a mecca to all things Portland Ore. in the US. I grew up in Portland, and so did Pete, so we recognized all the photos and the marque outside.
They have great burgers and beer and it was fun to be surrounded by University of Oregon flags, Timbers paraphernalia, and old street signs and license plates I recognized. The owner is from Portland and he’s done a great job in bringing a little of it to Valencia. My family should get ready because when we visit the US in September they’re all getting Portland Ale House t-shirts. Seems right.
The burgers made Jeff’s day – best burger and fries in Valencia so far. And it was fun to hear about Pete and Ryan’s adventures in getting settled. They’re off and running, and loving living here too.
So I bounced back from my whining 4th of July. And it just goes to show you that the universe is listening. It knew it needed to throw me a bone yesterday and it threw me a whole handful. It’s time to get back to work.
Moving to Valencia was made easier, I’m convinced, because we left Seattle two years earlier for Arizona. I had taken a new job knowing it wasn’t the end of the line. So we were out of our comfort zones for quite awhile before we packed up and moved across the world.
Arizona wasn’t politically our favorite place. We moved there in 2016, and all the guns, truck nuts and the like were not part of how we saw ourselves. Driving there was scary because you never knew who was packing and they might pull a weapon on you going 100 miles an hour on the freeway. But then everyone drove at least 80 mph on the 17 or the 101 freeway, so 100 wasn’t that much faster. It happened to Jeff while he was in the carpool lane on his motorcycle a couple of months after we got there. That incident started the clock on when we would move.
But even with all of that I still knew how to operate. How to find the Department of Motor vehicles, the paperwork I would need to get my license. Call a Dr. for my daughter and get an appointment. Nothing big but I didn’t have to think about it. I understood the bureaucracy. ‘The System’. I’m thinking about it now.
I wish I had a whole day where I ‘just knew’ and could easily figure it out.
I would like to get up in the morning knowing that going outside wasn’t going to present challenges the moment I interacted with other citizens.
I’d like to go to the grocery store and find my favorite foods. In the same packages I’m used to.
I’d like to get my mail from our US forwarder without paying for a FedEx envelope.
I’d like to be able to call on an old medical bill that finally reached me without the hassle of the time difference and the cost before I even get anyone on the phone.
I’d like to not have to pay .20 cents a minute to call my bank because they’ve denied a charge on my credit card or an ACH on my bank account because I’m still not in the US even after I’ve asked them to put notes on my account
I’d like to just get our stuff from that freaking boat we paid so much money to bring our things from the US – because they’re still not here!
I just want to go to that breakfast place we used to go to on weekends in Issaquah – where they knew us and we didn’t even have to order – they just brought it with unlimited coffee refills.
I’d like to not feel completely stupid trying to get small things done, being the only person in the room, store, office, that can’t express themselves like I want to.
I just want easy, familiar, normal, comfortable.
And then I remember. I love living here. But sometimes it’s still hard. On those days we don’t leave the apartment and we just binge watch NetFlix. Shows filmed in LA or NY. Places we are familiar with and feel comfortable in. It’s like we’re recharging from home so we can go out again tomorrow and tackle it. We’re committed to living here – we’re not moving back. But Sometimes…
We’re Spanish now. At least during the World Cup. Our team has made it to the top 16 and we’ve been with them the whole way. We haven’t watched any of the matches in the same place twice and experiencing the spectrum of venues from gritty to a little more swanky, and the crowds that frequent them, has been fun!
Last night we went to San Remo on Carrer de Salamanca. It’s a little more upscale and they had TV’s in the windows so we could sit outside and watch Uruguay v. Portugal. I must say, I took great pleasure watching Cristiano Renaldo stopped from interfering with our road to World Cup glory. Yes, I know it’s a long shot for the Spanish team, but Portugal tied us in the first game so I’m happy to seem them go. And Uruguay’s play was impressive.
Afterwards, we went around the corner and ate at our favorite Mexican restaurant, Guacamole, so the evening couldn’t have been better. Today, it’s a different story. Spain is playing Russia at 4pm CET local time. Normally, I wouldn’t care so much who our opponent was. I mean, we just need to beat them. But then I got a WhatsApp message from Ryan, our oldest.
Ryan lives in Boulder and his girlfriend is Russian. They’re both studying for their Phd.’s and we really like her alot. But this is sports, after all. All bets are off in the World Cup. He asked who we were going to cheer for. I told him ‘Spain, of course.’ And I indicated in the strongest possible terms that he should consider doing nothing other than that himself – even though the person who shares his house, and his heart, is on the other team (so to speak).
He asked me if we couldn’t just be happy that both teams had gotten so far in the tournament and celebrate that? I laughed – OMG! Who did he think he was talking to? This is the World Cup. There will be no quarter given. OK, I did make one concession. I agreed I will not shout expletives at the TV when Russia fouls us or fakes an injury – like I did during the Portugal game in a crowded bar – much to Emilie’s chagrin.
Her embarrassment will be kept to a minimum today. We are going to watch the game today from home. We have snacks, drinks and are ready to go. The marching bands in the neighborhood will start around 3pm. The pre-game fireworks are assured. Counting down to the moment of glory when we will crush the Russians! Well, just beat them in the final 16, anyway. But if Spain makes it to the quarter finals the city will go crazy. And in investment of a jersey might be in our futures.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sailaway from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ~ Mark Twain