Wash Out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Espacia Creativo

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

It’s getting there…slowly.

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

Painting after a strong G & T

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

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

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

A Political Time Out

With us being Americans, you may think this will be about the crazy political situation in the US. Yes, we watch it from afar and I only read bits of it because it’s too scary and depressing. I felt powerless to do anything about it when I lived there. Now? I can do even less. Yes, in the US we can still vote while we live overseas (unlike other countries) and we can contribute to campaigns. But we won’t be knocking on doors or participating in any caucuses or helping register voters to impact change.

We’ve watched Brexit with horror over the last year. Much like our own politics, Britian’s is broken – so broken. I was chatting with an Irish friend the other day. I told her ‘It’s like the UK fought a war with itself and it lost. And it’s losing the peace.’ She agreed. She has dual citizenship with the UK and can’t believe it’s gotten so bad.

And now, we get the Spanish elections. National elections in Spain are set for April 28th. I’ve taken to watching our local news stations to try to understand what’s at stake. As well as some of the coverage in other areas of the country, and what they care most about. While my language skills are not that great, I think it’s important to try engage in what is important to the people, and to me, it seems to be about a few key topics.

When we moved into our apartment, there was a Spanish flag on the rail of our balcony. It had been put there by the previous occupants and the owner had left it there. He said we could remove it if we wanted. I didn’t care either way until it blocked the sunlight from getting to my herbs. So we took it down over the winter. But that flag matters in Spain and it’s not the same as flying a flag in the US.

In 2017, Catalonya held a referendum to declare independence from Spain. I remember being in Tarragona after my Camino in Summer 2017 and seeing both Spanish and Cantalonian flags flying on nearly every balcony. I didn’t really understand the significance of this at the time. But then we saw it on the news in the US. It was a very big deal when the referendum passed and protests on both sides, and arrests of the separatists started. I don’t know enough to understand all the nuance on either side. But then when we moved to Valencia, we saw all the Spanish flags everywhere and I realized that it was a clear message for unity.

Spain has 17 autonomous regions. They each have their own legislatures, counties with additional layers of local governments, and then cities with their own councils. Each of these regions have their own priorities and very long histories. And the politics of the regions reflect that. Last year, there was a big change in the control of the national government. The Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) took over the government after the People’s Party (PP) lost a no confidence vote after 6 years in control of the government. They had overseen austerity following the financial crisis.

From where I sit, this change in government shifted the commitment of government spending back towards social programs and refocused the government priorities towards national health care, infrastructure and education. Of course, I don’t understand everything so I’m very sure I’m missing something.

Elections here aren’t every X years like they are in the US. We have elections and then must live with the results (good or bad) for 2/4/6 years, depending on what position is being voted for. But here, if confidence in the government is shaken, a new election will be called at any time. When PSOE took over last summer, it’s because they called a no-confidence vote and won. But this election has been forced because one region (Catalonya) blocked the passage of a national budget – some say in protest to the national government’s lack of support for their independence. Again, I don’t understand it all but it’s interesting to watch how it all works and plays out.

Unlike in the US, here there are more than 2 main political parties. What this means is that unless one party get’s a majority in the elections – not likely to ever happen – the one with the most votes must work with other parties to form a coalition to govern. Typically, under this parliamentary system, it means there are parties that are far right, some far left, and some in the center. By having to form coalitions, it keeps extremism from ruling the day. Of course, this isn’t guaranteed but compromise and coalition building means that even small parties can have a big influence. Their support matters.

The region of Andalucia – in the far south of the country – is where immigration and migration seems to be top of mind. It’s the point where many fleeing conflict in Africa try to enter the country. The ani-immigraton party, VOX, is gaining influence based on this platform and they’re expected to be a Major player in the election for the region. In general, Spain has been one of the countries willing to take some of the boats full of African migrants who have found themselves without an actual port in the storm. Valencia has willingly taken several of these ships. I’m a believer that instead of building walls and punishing migrants, we should look at why they want to flee and try to help the with root-cause problems that prompt them to risk so much and leave their homeland. Economics, war, violence, corruption. In the meantime, we owe our fellow humans our assistance and compassion.

One thing that has struck me watching the news here is that people are very engaged in their politics throughout the country. They don’t seem to sit on the sidelines, but are passionate about who is representing them and how. Throughout the year we have lived here we have seen MANY protests just walking through town on any given day. The Bomberos (Firefighters) were protesting one day in front of the regional congress. They were foaming all the streets and shouting about fair pay. Right next to them was a protest for the LGBTQ community – challenging our ears for equal attention on equal rights.

It will be interesting to watch what happens. Of course, like anyone, I have my preferences on outcomes based on my limited knowledge of the situation in Spain. Democracy takes many forms. When I was growing up, we were told we had the best system in the world. But I must admit, I kind of like this multi-party parliamentary system that forces compromise. I know it’s not full proof and can’t stop all ‘brinksmanship’ (look at Brexit). But I feel privileged to live here. And watching this process, I know I have a lot to learn. At the end of the day, healthy debate leads to the best outcomes and I wish that for Spain – and us all.

A Day Out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Venting the cave

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

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

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

The Travel Bug

I was bitten by the travel bug even before I ever traveled on my first train ride. It started by receiving gifts from my Uncle living in Japan for my birthdays. And from my Grandmother who was a ballsy lady who traveled the world on her own in retirement. Neither seemed to be afraid of anything.

Then, when I studied German in high school I had a pen pal who sent me photos and described her life in the city where she lived. I wanted to go there so bad and vowed one day I would. It would have never occurred to me not to take my own children with me on adventures. I wanted them learn to love seeing other places, cultures and people as much as I did. I wanted them to have a passport filled with stamps and a heart filled with memories.

Fast forward, my niece Melody started expressing an interest in seeing the world. So when she traveled to Europe I knew we would meet up. And I just got home from spending a few days with her in Barcelona. We’re similar enough – of course she’s 18 and I’m an ancient 52 – but from the moment I collected her at Terminal 1 at BCN, we never stopped talking. It was like no time had gone by since I had last seen her. And did we have fun!

We walked Barcelona from one side to the other. Indian food, Moroccan food, wine, cheese, ice cream, we ate it all. She declared Spanish coffee and croissants the finest in all the world (Shhh, Emilie thinks so too but don’t tell the French).

We went to Sagrada Familia and saw Gaudi’s epic imagination still being realized over 90 years after his death.

We hiked up to the Teleferic de Monjuic (the funicular that takes you up above Barcelona to the Montjuic Castle).

We enjoyed street music and toured La Boqueria Mercat with the food stalls and colorful creations.

We went to Placa de Espana and admired the views from the Cascadia water falls.

We wandered the old part of the city and hit the Zoo. Yes, we did all this in about 48 hours. And through it all we talked and walked and talked some more. And barely slept. It was like a slumber party for 2.

And we shopped a little. She couldn’t take much more home after packing her suitcase with souvenirs and gifts for those back home. But we did pick up her graduation dress and shoes. And all the stuff she’ll need for Prom next week. Like Emilie, no one will be wearing the same thing at prom this year.

Then Melody expressed an interest in getting a tattoo. To mark her first trip the Europe, but also as an expression of her independence. She’s 18 now – for a whole 2 months. And she’ll be graduating high school in 2 more. She chose a parlour, based on the reviews online, and we went down there. She had already identified the art she wanted. A sprig of lavender – symbolizing peace. She said she remembered how much my Mom would plant it in the garden at her house, so she settled on that.

She was scared to do it but also excited. I was just there for moral support. It was her show. But it looks great and she’ll always remember she got her first tattoo with me on her first visit to Spain. That made me smile.

I dropped Melody off early this morning at the airport – she’s still en route and has definitely caught the family travel bug. My work is done! Then I hopped on a train to Valencia. Jeff met me near the station for lunch. So great to see him after a few weeks. It had taken him 37 hours to get home. His flight from Malaga to Valencia had been cancelled so they put him on a bus for 7 hours, and then promptly lost his luggage. He was smiling big when I saw him standing there, so no worse for wear.

We both had adventures and got to connect with family – Jeff was so happy to see his Mom and Ryan – the best kind of trip. But it’s nice to be home in Benimachlet where we belong. Travel is great, but Dorothy is right clicking her ruby slippers. There really is no place like home. And for me, that will always be where ever Jeff is.