Just Keep Paddling

When I write a story for a book it’s always emotional. It’s as though the characters and the story aren’t really conjured by me. More as if they are people I’ve been introduced to, and they reveal their stories while I’m writing, sometimes writing through tears. A truly odd, but remarkable feeling. Like taking dictation. As a writer, I suppose it’s because I am not a plotter. That is someone who lays out a clear outline and takes their characters from one plot point to another. Not me. I am what is known in the trade as a ‘pantser.’ This is a writer who knows what the story is. Knows the ending and the arch, in general. But allows the story to unfold during the writing process. And it will surprise no one who knows me that this is pretty much my life philosophy. It works for me.

While writing my finished novel The Grief of Goodbye, I became attached to the characters. Tess, Pen, Javier and Mateo. Selflessly-kind John and wise Inez. I missed them when I finished the final edits. I wanted to keep writing so I would be able to follow their lives. Finding myself thinking about them as I wandered around Valencia, wondering what they were up to. And my current book The Baker of El Mujandar, with Delores (Loli) and her husband, Xoan. Father Sebastian, and Hector, the village’s evil butcher. The elderly Cordoban baker and his wife have more secrets than loaves of Pan de Alfacar. And the weight of those secrets is heavy as Loli unfolds their story looking back over 50 years.

But when I paint it’s the complete opposite. Putting brush to canvas is never heavy and is always a joy. Yet, in this I am still a pantser. We recently had a friend to stay who didn’t seem to mind the lack of water pressure. Chris looked through my stuff and smiled. ‘You don’t have a definite style.’ And he is correct. Picasso had a blue period. Monet painted water lilies until the cows came home. I just become inspired by something and I paint. I have no artistic school of thought. How it will turn out, even I don’t really know. Sometimes I sketch it first. Sometimes I don’t. Huge canvases. Or small ones – like looking through a window. It’s often complete crap, and I know I will paint over it. Other times, one painting will evolve into something else. Sort of like grafting a tree. If I didn’t paint the first painting I wouldn’t have painted the next part. I have learned not to judge. Often, it requires stepping back for a while. Taking the canvas off the easel and letting it sit. When I’m ready to do something with it, I will. Patience.

Moving into this house in Palas has meant I have walls upon which to hang my work. The turret of the staircase will be perfect for this. I was pretty prolific when I had my espacio creativo in Valencia, before Covid. Producing canvas after canvas. Inspired. But I want to hang only the things that really speak to me. It’s better to have an empty space on the wall than to put something up that you’re not 100% proud of, or connected to.

When Chris was here he spotted a painting I had started three years ago. I modified it over time to its current state. He liked it so much I thought about giving it to him, but he had no way to get it home. Its titled Muxia. If you have never been to Muxia, it is a village on the west coast of Spain in Galicia, on the boiling ferocious seas of the Costa del Morte (coast of death). Known for consuming ships on its rocky shoals for millennia, it’s a stunning place with an energy that is indescribable. The waves pound the rocks, while the froth and foam recede to reveal blues and greens that defy the color spectrum. Standing on the edge of the world is like being inside a seashell. As though the sea is speaking to you visually. And you can feel the vibration of the sound coming up through the rocks in your feet. A truly special place.

My painting, Muxia, had floated around our apartment after we closed up the espacio creativo during Covid. And since we moved here. It’s a wonder it wasn’t damaged as we settled in. Balancing on books on the bookshelf in the entryway. Landing on a shelf by the old fireplace before we ripped it out and replaced it with its current incarnation. Until Chris spotted it on that sunny day in October. And I realised this painting is one of those I am most proud of. It has movement and it speaks to me.

Yesterday, Jeff framed it for me. Then he strung the gallery cable over the fireplace and hung Muxia front and centre. I sit here now and I realize it is the perfect painting for our lives. And, as such, it deserves pride of place in our living room. Our life is an endlessly flowing, beautifully turbulent sea. Hmmm. It turns out my paintings are emotional after all.

As many of you know, Jeff is a water person. He loves nothing more than to be paddling a river. Over the years I have learned many life lessons from him when he has taken me out on the water. ‘If you want to stay upright, always keep one of your paddles in the water. If you do that you won’t go over. And if you hit rough water keep paddling. You’ll want to stop. It will be scary, but you just have to keep paddling.’ Very good advice, and not just when kayaking.

Our last week has been like paddling a raging river. You have no idea what is just around the bend. Or where the rocks might lie beneath the surface of the water. A ten foot drop will invariably take you by surprise. Sputtering and spitting out water. The splashes from the rapids will render you blind. But I hear Jeff’s words. And I sit here this morning looking up at Muxia and I know it will all be OK. ‘You just have to keep paddling.’

Batten Down the Hatches

The Azores anti-cyclone is dropping to the south. And that means storms from Iceland and Scandinavian, or northern Siberia are rapidly bearing down upon Galicia. The weather is wet and wild. And it will become even more so over the next week.

But has that stopped Pilgrims from walking? Heck no. Sure, there are far fewer walkers passing our gate. But they are still coming. Most appear to be long haulers, like this guy.

Taksi from South Korea

Meet Taksi from South Korea. And his donkey, Donkey-ote, (you heard it, right?) who he picked up in Roncesvalles. Walking together 790 kms. Adorable.

We had to drive into Lugo to meet with our banker today. Jeff is buying the tractor and all the implements. (It deserves a post unto itself) He was giddy and hardly felt the deluge and the pea-soup fog that marked our trek into ‘the big city’.

We took care of business and made all the arrangements. And we ran some errands. A new Bricomart (Home Depot) is opening in Lugo this Spring. I love seeing cranes working. That means the economy is humming. We are very happy to see the building is nearly finished. In the local news they said 80 new jobs were created. And it is spurring Leroy Merlin (another home improvement store) to gut their old location and expand. Cash is flowing in Lugo!

We were hungry by the end of our long list of errands and it was only 11:30. You can’t get real food at a restaurant or Café in Spain at 11:30 in the morning. We never, ever eat fast food anymore, and I very rarely eat anything but fish on advise of my Dr. But sometimes you just need a Big Mac. And in Spain and Portugal they will make them entirely sin gluten upon request, but it is not on the menu. So we decided to grab a quick bite before heading back to Melide to the tractor dealer.

We went inside and ordered our food from a very nice guy who taught us that a Quarter Pounder with Cheese is Quarto de Libra con queso, and right as he concluded our order he asked for our Covid passports. We were a bit surprised. Yesterday, we drove into Santiago to our favorite restaurant. We had made a reservation with the manager anticipating taking Emilie there straight from the airport. I didn’t want to cancel on them at the last moment, as restaurants are struggling. And their Poké Bowl is to die for . The food is so good. But they never asked us for our Covid passports. Yet McDonald’s in Lugo did. Maybe the regulations changed over night. That does happen in this ever changing Covid environment. Or maybe it’s because they know us.

So now, all indoor dining, no matter the time of day, must require the Covid passport for all patrons in Galicia. We were very happy to show it. Its on both of our lock screens on our phones. We thanked the guy for asking. And we felt 100% better when we took our masks off to eat. Everyone around us was fully vaccinated, too. Or they couldn’t eat inside.

We got home and Jeff went into Melide to order the tractor and all the attachments. I’ll let him tell that story. I stayed home and met with our contractor in monsoon rain, so he could measure for our new Pilgrim bathrooms and showers. And a new septic system. Yesterday was a rough day. But today we are bouncing back and kicking it up a notch. Please don’t tell my cardiologist about that Big Mac. 😉🙏

A Deep Breath

Well that was fun. Not really. After the last 36 hours of extreme drama, Emilie’s feet never left US soil. You heard that correctly. Emilie remains in the US with her boyfriend.

Before you, dear readers, become concerned about us, just know we are in full support of Emilie staying right where she is. And her working through what she needs to. It’s all ok. And so are Jeff and I. Clearly, we are disappointed. But sometimes things happen.

It is said that the reason for so much pain in humans is a lack of acceptance of reality. It causes a conflict within us as we wish it weren’t so. When we accept it, we can move past it over time. Fight it, and we never move on. It’s the grieving process. In this case, Jeff and I just sat here, granted in shock, and immediately said ‘OK. Like so many circumstances, there is nothing we can do. We can only try not to add to furthering the drama.’ And that is just what we have done. You mourn the loss of how you thought it would go. Allow the disappointment to wash over you. Then you move forward. That’s pretty much our last two years. We know how to do it.

I always try to focus on the upside. Sometimes it takes a lot of effort. But we do have a house whose to-do list (other than major renovations) was long. And now? Most of that stuff got ticked off. In preparation of Emilie’s imminent arrival we had gone to town getting it all done so she would be comfortable. And now, we will spend the winter focused on getting our business up and running for Spring. Instead of all the little things that needed our attention, we will refocus.

It’s lovely to believe in fairytale endings. That a theme song will suddenly play to pull at your heartstrings and make everything OK. But that isn’t real-life. Usually, we take a deep breath, or two, and we look forward, towards the horizon. That’s where the future is, after all. And we keep going. In the end, it’s the only thing we can do.

The Countdown

Our daughter, Emilie, will be here in two days. And things are shaping up. I won’t say we didn’t have a bit of a heart attack over this new Omicron variant. Yes, it is not good health news for the world. But I was also worried that it might, at the last possible moment after two years, make it impossible for Emilie to come from the US to Spain. But that is not the case. Less than 24 hours until she steps on the plane.

And actual water pressure will greet her. The new water tank and well pump have been completed. We used to flush the toilet and the porch light would flash. I wish I was kidding. Jeff had to purchase a UPS so he could work. It would switch over to battery back up over 200 times a day. Our contractor said he thought it was a bad electrical and plumbing install when the house was built. Jeff disagreed.

We asked that the well apparatus be moved from a metal box inconveniently located in front of the old shed aka new laundry room, to inside the new laundry room.

They set the date for the work but insisted we didn’t need a new pump. I insisted right back. And, surprise! We were right. Sort of.

It turns out the actual pump wasn’t bad. But when they pulled the old pump out and looked at it (which they wouldn’t have done without us insisting on a new one) they found out that all the wires were messed up and that some were not even attached. The pump was shorting out hundreds of times a day inside the well. Which Jeff could attest to, as the UPS connected to his computer recorded each and every failure. El Fontanero (the plumber) and La Electricista (the electrician) were both shocked. Not literally. Jeff and I were not. When you stand in the bathroom washing your hands and the bathroom lights dim, you kind of figure you have a little problem. And whenever Jeff had an important call where he had to present something to his team in the US, he would warn me to use the bathroom before the call, to go to the Café in the village during the call, or to hold it until he was done. No joke – it was that bad.

And Ta-Da! Here is the new accumulator and all the new plumbing in the laundry room. We have water pressure in the house! The electrical is to code. Imagine. That big metal lump right outside the door is gone, and we have a new spigot for the hose on the outside. Like humans. They did a great job. But then they always do.

Our daughter will never understand why we are so excited when we crowd together with her to demonstrate the water pressure and hot water in the bathroom upstairs. The Emilie of two years ago would responded with a ‘Duh’ and an eye roll. And now? She will likely think Covid has melted our brains and perhaps she should stay in Spain so she can keep an eye on her ailing parents.

But in advance of her arrival, our Christmas decorations are up. Decorating the tree is always a journey down memory lane. Ornaments that mark the moments in our family. Family adventures and school creations are all there.

Emilie’s Christmas present for us made in kindergarten

And we are hanging family pictures up the freshly painted stairway today. Almost ready. A journey into Lugo yesterday had me buying a large poster board. Emilie will be greeted by a very big embarrassing sign at arrivals at the airport in Santiago. I’m the same crazy Mom she remembers. That will never change. But something tells me, after 707 days, this time she won’t mind at all.

Nothing is Sweeter Than Home

Home. Ahhh. It’s so good to sleep in my own bed. To look out the windows at the trees. Many were green when I left 10 days ago. Now they are all yellow and orange. The emerald green grass is covered with fallen leaves.

It was an interesting weather journey to Galicia from Salamanca. From blue skies to rain. Then snow as we approached Ponferrada. It was coming in sideways. The bus driver didn’t appear to mind and he plowed on down the AutoVia as though it was a sunny day in June.

Jeff met me at the bus station and collected my bag from the belly of the bus.

‘I was going to suggest we grab lunch here, but its snowing so hard over the mountains that we need to get going before it gets dark and we get stuck.’

He said there were a dozen plows on his way over from Lugo and they were also spreading de-ice liquid on the road. He had followed one or another the entire way.

Just out of Ponferrada

As we made our way out of the valley the temperature continued to drop. But we have four wheel drive and Jeff had all-weather tires put on the car the week before we left Valencia. The guy at the shop on the Mediterranean thought he was a little nuts. But who is laughing now?

It is interesting driving through mountains here in winter. Lots and lots of loooong frozen bridges on the AutoVia (freeways). And a detour after they closed the road at one point. We made it home as it was getting dark. It seems Jeff has been very busy while I was away. He had American Thanksgiving off work and used the time to string Christmas lights in the trees out front. And on the new rain gutters. It was a nice greeting after being away.

Jeff bought the light fixtures I wanted, and a gorgeous ceiling fan for the living room. It distributes the heat throughout the house so efficiently that we can use less energy overall. Americans don’t love ceiling fans, but here you can get nearly any type of design. We put one in our bedroom this summer and it’s as effective as A/C for sleeping.

Jeff had other surprises for me. Small things he had taken care of. Stuff that is usually lower on the priority list but makes a difference in livability.

And he strung bumble bee 🐝 lights on our gate, as a surprise for Emilie’s imminent arrival from the US. It was their thing when Emilie first entered our lives. Before she came to live with us she had been placed in a temporary Foster home in Seattle. During the transition to our home as a permanent placement, Jeff would pick her up each day and he would drop her off to sleep at the temporary home. Just until she became used to us. And every day, at four years old, she would tease Jeff in her halting speech.

‘You betta watch out. Der is bees on dat gate. Dey gonna git you.’ She would laugh, wrinkling her nose. This each day, as he pushed open the temporary foster family’s front gate and walked her to the door in the afternoon for two weeks.

We just have a few more things to do before Emilie’s arrival. She sprained her ankle last week playing basketball at the gym and she will be landing here in a boot with crutches. So we will be staying close to home with her. But that suits us just fine. Because Jeff made sure we are ready. When Emilie arrives at home in Palas de Rei this week she will be greeted with strings of bee lights sparkling on our front gate. Courtesy of her Dad, who has never forgotten.

Salamanca- Dinner at Ment

After a very long week of 13-hour days, sometimes you need a little treat. And last night’s dinner was just the treat. After a ramble to see Salamanca’s Christmas lights, a little Christmas shopping (Emilie is coming) and to enjoy an impromptu local band, we settled in for a culinary journey.

We dined at Ment. It’s a restaurant helmed by Michelin-stared Chef Oscar Calleja. The renowned Cantabrian/Mexican Chef has created a sanctuary for food. Spanish chefs are making a splash on the world stage right now, and it is easy to see why. My friend, Donna, remarked that it was like eating in a spa. Chef Calleja’s philosophy of tranquillity and humility is certainly achieved.

The staff were as attentive as those of a spa. But it was the food that was the true star. We enjoyed the Fall tasting menu including everything hunted in the region during this time of year. Wild boar, goose, duck, and Roe deer. Truffles, mushrooms of obscure varieties,and fall berries, it was a wave of flavors drawing from the chef’s dueling heritages of Mexico and Cantabria.

I am no foodie, but I took photos of the entire meal. It was art, after all. Course after course. Each came with a palate cleansing surprise to lead you gently to the next course. The photos don’t really do it justice.

Finally, since I am unable to eat gluten they made us a special dessert consisting of a cotton candy tortilla, which they placed in my hand. Then they added a bar of ice cream covered in gold dust. I was to wrap is as a burrito and take a bite. Amazing. It’s the only word for it.

Donna and I moaned repeatedly throughout the three-hour meal. Inspiring other late arriving diners to say ‘I’ll have what she’s having’. Cotton candy ice cream burritos all around.

If ever in Salamanca, you must try this restaurant. And when you do, enjoy whatever seasonal tasting menu Chef Oscar Calleja has conjured up. You be very glad you did.

Salamanca – Numero Dos

Back in Salamanca for the night. And it’s lovely to be welcomed in the Hotel Don Gregorio so very warmly. It’s a five star boutique hotel nestled in the old historic center, near the university and the Cathedral. Although, Salamanca is a very walkable city. Everything is close.

Hello, welcome-to-the-hotel glass of champagne. I have missed you. A blessed respite from a very long week. But I met some wonderful incredible people over the past eight days. Laia and Letizia. Maria gave my friend, Donna and I a ride from the resort into Salamanca on the way home to Madrid. So we had the entire day in the city before I head home tomorrow. And we made the most of it.

My new hat purchased from a village shop in La Alberca

I had toured the Cathedral last week but apparently I missed the cloisters, and that ended up being the best bit. Here are a few pics from the building from the 12th century.

Then we hit the Art Deco Museum. Photos aren’t allowed but we took some photos in the small cafe filled with art. The light was amazing.

I can not recommend this museum enough. It’s the largest collection of art from the Art Decco period I have ever seen. They have an amazing exhibit of the art of Toulouse-Lautrec I have ever seen in one place. The stained glass in the atrium alone will make you cry.

A wonderful catch up with my Irish friend, Donna, who I first met in Valencia nearly four years ago. Time has flown by since we moved to Galicia. Too long, by half.

Its time for siesta before a Michelin- starred dinner at an appropriately Spanish hour of 9:30. I must say, it’s wonderful to be surrounded by Spanish again. I missed it. Like a favorite song playing in the background of my life now. Galicia is hours away, but I already feel like I’m home.

La Alberca – Numero Dos

Yesterday, we took a field trip into the past after a snowy walk through the woods to La Alberca. It was nice to have a bit of a break.

Credit: photo by Johannes

The Spanish students needed to rest their brains. And I needed it because I am tired of the sound of my own voice. It was a lovely walk and we all learned a lot and enjoyed the day.

Entering the town from the woods is a different experience. The lintels over the doors and those holding up the corners of many buildings are carved stone. And some of them have significant meaning. Most homes mark their construction date. And perhaps other information key to communicating it’s purpose, or the rank of the inhabitants centuries ago.

One building stands out as a place where torture during the Spanish Inquisition occurred. The carving in the lintel depicts a cross with an olive branch and a sword. The message is clear. Convert to Christianity and enjoy peace. Don’t convert, and torture and death will likely result. There is a tunnel that runs from the torture chamber in the basement of this building to the town church.

Many people were, of course, tortured for other reasons. Witch craft. Women were especially targeted. But some Muslims and Jews ‘converted’. And in an effort to prove their loyalty to their new religion they would gift the town with a pig – an animal considered unclean by both religions.

To commemorate this practice, the town releases a pig each year into the town. The rule is that if the pig is at your door during the day you must feed it. If it shows up at night you must bring it inside, feed it dinner, and allow it to sleep there. Apparently, you can see neighbors as sundown approaches shooing the pig away. No one wants a pig as a houseguest. A statue of the pig has been erected next to the church. On certain fiestas there is a legend that if a boy rubs the pigs bollocks at midnight he will ‘get lucky’.

The church, like so many towns in Spain, is the heart of the community. It has all the requisite alter pieces. And the arched ceiling. But the carvings are remarkable.

The ossuary for poor people is attached to the outside of the building. It allowed those who could not afford a burial in the church to be church-adjacent.

Every night a bell is rung on every corner in this town. It is a tradition that dates back centuries and is passed down thru families to the eldest daughter from her mother. Families take turns by taking an entire month of ringing the bell throughout the town on each corner of the village. And they do not miss a night. No matter the weather. The bell calls the souls of the poor to rest.

There is a legend that a few centuries ago, a young woman was the assigned bell ringer. But a storm blew in and she decided to skip the bell ringing that night. The next morning she was doing her chores in the village and people congratulated her for keeping her commitment to ringing the bell in such bad weather. More and more people came to praise her dedication. They had heard the bell in the midst of the storm. But, it seems the bell had rung itself. Since that day, no one has ever missed their bell ringing responsibilities.

The town is not large. The Plaza Mayor is simple and contains the requisite stone cross. But it also houses the tourist office, now located in the old town jail.

I’ll add a few other random pics. The rain gutters are interesting, too. Animals and art.

And finally, completely unrelated but for my Camino friends. The storm that blew snow and cold down from Siberia on us yesterday in La Alberca, also landed snow at O Cebreiro in the Lugo Mountains on the Camino Frances. I saw this photo in the newspaper and thought you might enjoy it. Imagine hiking through a few feet of snow on your way down to Triacastela. Winter in Northwestern Spain.

There Are No Unicorns

We like to think we are all unique. Individual unicorns. One of a kind. But we are not.

No matter where we are from we are all the same. And this week has proven that to me, yet again. There may be language barriers. Perhaps cultural differences. But, in the end, we all care about the same things. We have the same hopes and dreams.

During this program I have hours of one-on-one ssessions with Spanish students practicing their ingles. Both speaking and listening. Most of the students are younger than I am. A few are the same age. But no matter the age, we see ourselves in others. They are mirrors back to us.

Mothers with young children who are missing them. They talk of the mother’s guilt of working so much and we share photos of our kids as they express themselves in a language that is not their own.

Fathers who tell you about their parents and families, before telling you about their high-powered job. Defined more by those they love than by how they earn a living.

Then, there are young people, just starting out and finding their way. We have all been there.

Over the course of the past five days we have all bonded. I think humor breaks down barriers. Self consciousness is the killer of language fluency. And all the egos have begun to fall away. Silliness has been very effectively used to get us all to lighten up and not take ourselves so seriously. Alcohol helps.

Last evening we had a Queimada. It’s a Galician tradition made in a clay pot with 100 proof alcohol, a few pounds of sugar, cinnamon sticks, coffee beans, and a large lemon rind. Then it is set ablaze. As the alcohol burns off, incantations are recited to ward off bad spirits and negative energy. When the flames turn green it’s ready to drink. One sip turned my head inside out. But it was great fun. I realize I have one of these bowls in the kitchen at home in Galicia, left for me by the sellers. I had no idea what it was until now. Thought it was a punch bowl. I am anxious to experiment.

Woke up this morning and it had snowed over night. A beautiful sunrise. Enjoy.

Hola! La Alberca

Wow! Just Wow. What a gorgeous area, and what a beautiful little village. La Alberca is a medieval town nestled in the mountains an hour+ south of Salamanca. And that hour changes everything.

From high plains of agriculture to rolling hills and mountains.This town is a time capsule and looks much like it did in the 1500’s. It sits at 3600 feet above sea level and the fall colors on the trees this time of year are reminiscent of the Smokey Mountains of eastern Kentucky. Looking out over them from my hotel gave me a flashback. So beautiful.

The timbered buildings with the mud chinking are all original. About 1000 people live in the area perched up here.

I am staying at Abadia de los Templarios. It’s an amazing property, complete with a petting zoo. The gentleman at the desk in the fortress castle-like hotel upgraded my room to a beautiful suite and I enjoyed a wonderful dinner and a massage. The best way to end a long day of travel. The spa here is warm, encased in a solarium with soaking baths from natural hot springs.

Here are some of the photos from the hotel and grounds. Including a friendly hotel goat wandering through the villas, and sunset and sunrise.

I’m volunteering with PuebloIngles. It’s an organization that teaches various languages using native speakers, and total immersion to help students learn in one-on-one situations, and group activities to get over the hump learning to listen and speak without fear. My only job, besides soaking up the beauty, is to speak english for the next 7 days to Spanish people sent here by Spanish companies and law firms. I can do that.

If you’ve ever done a corporate team building or off-site retreat, this is like that. I call it adult summer camp. Already, you can see the usual suspects emerge. The clowns, the shy ones who will take more prodding to participate. We have volunteers from 40’s – 80 (I think). And students from 30’s to 70. Most were sent by their companies to brush up their ability to communicate so they will be ready to accept promotions and help the business expand in the post-Covid era. All the protocols are being followed. And everyone is vaccinated.

I’m paired with a nice woman, who is also my room mate in a two bedroom villa. We will be spending a lot of time talking. She has good understanding of English but I will encourage her to practice speaking and will pepper her with questions to overcome her shyness. Already, she is doing great! She will be very tired when this is all over. But then, so will I. Correcting someone’s English does not come naturally to me. But it’s what I am here for.

Back to the property and the area. It will snow here over the next week. I’m crazy, but I can’t wait to see the flakes falling. So, for normal people, visiting in September/October is your best bet. Or late Spring. People often say they are looking for something to do at the end of their Camino. Especially people what have been to Spain many times. There are all the usual places – amazing tourist locales. But I have never heard of anyone coming to this hidden gem of an area in Salamanca. For natural beauty, hiking, river rafting, wine tasting and just poking through shops in a village, I can’t recommend La Alberca highly enough. A couple of days, post-Camino, spent relaxing at this spa would be the perfect ticket before re entry back into real-life.

Hola! Salamanca

Getting to La Alberca was a long day. But so worth the 1 1/2 hour car ride, 3+ hour bus to Salamanca, 1 1/2 hour lay over, then an hour to the small medieval village of La Alberca.

But first things first. After pulling in to Salamanca bus station, which is very nice as bus stations go, I only had an hour or so to kill before getting in line and purchasing my ticket to La Alberca. It was very cold, and windy but a cerulean clear blue sky. So I hopped into a taxi and had them drop me off at the Cathedral. I am unsure what time I will get back to Salamanca after this week of helping others learn ingles, and my bus back to Ponferrada leaves at noon the following day. And since the Cathedral closes quite early I might miss seeing it. The dash to the Cathedral with my luggage was well worth it. It didn’t disappoint. A small fee of €6 and a QR code scan, you have an audio guide and are off to the races.

Salamanca is known as the City of Wisdom. There are two patron saints of Spain. St James and St Teresa. St Teresa is buried in Salamanca. St James in the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. The Cathedral in Salamanca, built in the 1500’s, is considered the ‘new’ Cathedral. I’ll leave these pics here for you to see. It’s enormous and breathtaking. You’ll notice I take a lot of photos of ceilings in churches. I guess that’s the point of a church. To get you to look inwards, then look up towards the heavens. This church does it’s job on both fronts. As usual, I lit candles for my whole family. And for peace in the world.

Unlike most church renovations over the centuries, they didn’t tear down the old and use the stone to build the new. The ‘old’ cathedral is still here. They just built around it. Here are a few pictures, after lugging my suitcase down the stairs to reach it. Mass was being said so I was stealthy.

You enter via a room with a marble baptism font. Then, descend stairs into the old cathedral. I loved the worn fresco on the wall.

With zero time to spare, it was a walk to quickly find a taxi. The city is getting ready for Christmas, like most cities and towns in Spain. A walk from the Cathedral to Plaza Mayor was packed with people at 12:30 on a Thursday.

Tomorrow, I’ll focus on La Alberca itself. It deserves a post of it’s own. Until then, I’ll stay bundled up and happy. Snow ❄️ is coming!

Cleansing the Palate with a Little Adventure

It’s been a weird few days. Another one of those days. Things being harder than they really need to be. Dumb stuff.

We went to the ITV in Lugo to get the new hitch inspection, They failed us saying the reverse lights don’t work. But we got home, before taking it back to the mechanic, and it turns out they work just fine. Ugh. Another 80 km round trip into Lugo next week.

But I’m ready to shake all this off. In philosophical terms I look at it this way. When you plant a garden you get dirty. Soil under your nails. Muddy knees. All because you have faith that the seeds you are planting, with proper care, will blossom into beautiful flowers, or fruit into crops that will feed you. You have no evidence of this. Just faith that it will all work out. These last few days have been the muddy knees phase of our vision for all that Happiness Enterprises will become over the next year. With proper care and feeding it is all possible. Gardening, like so much in life, is about patience.

As part of my changing focus and redirecting energy, today at 5:30am Jeff drove me over the mountains to Ponferrada. So I could catch a bus to Salamanca and then another to a resort two hours south of the city in the mountains.

I have the bus all to myself.

Pre-pandemic, we traveled a lot. And packing was second nature, after all the travels I did for years for work. But it felt strange last night getting a suitcase down from the barn and filling it up. Like muscles that hadn’t been used in a long time. But soon, my mental checklist from before kicked in. I got it all covered. I will spend the next 9 days helping Spanish execs learn Ingles, just like we speak it in the old country – Seattle. I am to bring all my colloquialism and silliness. Tell jokes and help them understand subtleties. Wait! That’s not my strong suit. But I will do my best.

It is a frosty morning. -1c here. I pulled out my Canada Goose Expedition coat from super secret coat storage 😉. Haven’t worn it since very cold Iceland in 2016. Not much call for Canada Goose in Valencia in the past four years. It will snow where I am staying in the mountains next week. I’ve got my FairIsle wool hat I bought in Dublin from our Irish Christmas pre-pandemia. And my sheepskin gloves. I should be warm and toasty.

The sunrise driving on the winding roads through the mountains around Ponferrada was beautiful. Clear and cold. Passed through Astorga.

I have one day alone in the resort before my compatriots from other English-speaking counties all arrive tomorrow. Ireland, New Zealand, UK, Canada and the US. So a solitary day. Jeff, my introverted husband, gets ten days alone. The first time in two years. Who knows what he will get up to while I’m away. It will be good for both of us to miss each other without a hospital being involved. And good for me to have a new view and some fresh experiences. Reminding ourselves how lucky we are to be living here.

Just One of Those Days

Between you and me, in my opinion, Melide is not the customer service capital of the world. Jeff describes it as All or Nothing. It’s either the best experience you’ve ever had, or the worst. And for me, it’s completely head scratching at times.

Today was one of those days. I had to go to the Correos office (Post office) to check on a package sent from here to a German friend. She has never received it, and it’s been a month. I also had a pocket knife she left at our house and I was mailing that to her, as well.

They looked up the first package and told me they knew nothing, except it is in Germany – somewhere. So much for package tracking in the year 2021. Then I said I wanted to mail her the Swiss Army knife she left at our house. The man looked horrified.

‘You can not mail a knife!’ As though I’d been dropped on my head as a child. ‘Its going on an airplane.’

This seemed curious to me. It’s in a padded envelope. ‘It will be in a container with other packages in the cargo hold of the aircraft. Where people with checked suitcases have their Swiss Army knives. The Flight Attendant isn’t carrying it in her apron.’

Surprise! This comment got me nowhere and didn’t endear me to the Correos guy. ‘You will have to find another way.’

‘And what would that be?’ I asked him. ‘I’m completely serious. Perhaps finding another German Pilgrim who is walking the opposite direction from Santiago, back home to Dusseldorf?’ Madness. I just shook my head and texted my friend. She will pick it up in the Spring when she visits.

Then I went to the bank. A new bank since ours has closed it’s branch here. We were not unhappy about the closure. The guy was so expertly rude every time we went there, he would stand outside smoking while a line formed inside, and he was the only person working in that bank branch. So I asked friends for recommendations, but none of them live in or near us in Galicia. I need to open another personal account, and then a business account in January when we begin buying things, etc. for our business. I had gone to the new bank once before but they turned me away without all the requisite documents I needed. I had gathered them today, so I went to get it done. This was my first mistake.

I went in and waited for the Director. In Spain, there is more of a hierarchy to things. I had to speak to that guy. To me, it’s like pantomime. Lots of posturing. If the dude is in a suit he will preen like a peacock. Other workers will defer to him like he’s the Oracle at Delphi. It’s weird to us Americans. Our important people and billionaires don’t wear suits. If you are important in the US you wear whatever the hell you damn well feel like. Even at work. Hoodies, old t-shirts, ripped jeans, pajamas and a pair of Louboutins to the grocery store. I’m not kidding. Dealer’s choice. In Spain, they look at you like you’re homeless.

The Director at a bank branch makes what a person working at McDonalds in the US makes. Except he is in a suit and doesn’t get a free meal with every shift. But it doesn’t matter. I needed him to open an account. They all ignored me. Almost to the extreme. Looking around me to help other customers. The bank manager gives me the once over. I sit down at his desk and refuse to leave. He sees my documents and he is forced to help me.

‘Well, I think it will be a problem for you. Maybe not today. But when you want to open your business account in January you will need to deposit €3,250. That’s the rule.’ Then he waited for my reaction.

‘And?’ I asked, confused.

‘It’s a lot of money. Do you have that much money?’

You could have knocked me over with a feather. I held up my Celine tote I was using to cart my documents to the bank and I shook it. Sure, usually I carry a €2 Decathlon mini-backpack around town. But not today. I got nothing. No reaction. Clearly, Mr. Bank Manager is no connoisseur of $3,000 handbags.

‘I think I can manage it.’ I assured him.

But he looked skeptical. ‘And where would that kind of money come from?’ He asked over his mask. Like I was going to have to rob my children’s piggy banks.

I laughed. He was serious. ‘From my account in the US.’

‘Can you prove it?’

I smiled, but he couldn’t see that. ‘Yes. I can prove it.’

‘Well.’ He told me. ‘It’s a lot of money. Perhaps you should think about it and come back.’

‘I don’t need to think about it.’ I told him.

‘Go speak to your husband and come back if you want to proceed.’

The dude was serious.

‘My husband will not be on this account. Based on the advice from our Spanish accountant.’ I told him.

‘Still. Speak to him.’

I was aghast. It was like a bad joke. A very bad joke. I rose, gathered my documents, walked outside, dialed Jeff, then regaled all of Melide with what the word ‘Fuck!’ sounds like in American ingles, in all it’s many forms. His hair blew back through the phone. ‘Fucking joking!’ ‘Fucking idiot!’ ‘Fucking patronize ME in his cheap-ass fucking suit?!’ I played all the hits for the old men with their canes on benches in the square as I marched my way to the car.

So now, I will head into Lugo tomorrow to go to my ITV appointment. I have to get our newly installed trailer hitch inspected and added to our ITV certification. And I’ll go to the bank there and see if I can get an account opened for myself. Jeff says I should go back to the bank with my statements after I open a new account in Lugo, and pull a Pretty Woman on Mr Bank Manager. ‘Remember me? I was in here before and you wouldn’t help me. See this number? <pointing to the balance> ‘Big mistake. Huge!’ <Swirling out the door, with a wave> ‘I gotta go shopping.’ But for now, I just hope and pray tomorrow is not another one of those days.

The Village Boogeyman

As children, we are all afraid of The Boogeyman. He hides under beds. In closets. In plain sight, camouflaged to jump out and ‘get you’ when you least expect it.

When we are older, we laugh at our younger selves and those fears. But wake up in the middle of the night, when shadows fill the room, a branch scratches the windowpanes, and you find yourself right back there. What’s that sound? Did that shadow move? It’s easy to freak ourselves out over nothing, all over again.

The boogeyman takes many forms, as Hollywood knows. It’s made billions off all of them. In the movie Fatal Attraction they made the other woman the boogeyman. Nothing is as scary to us as the unknown. And it’s easy to build things up in our minds. People become larger than life. Perhaps they may do us harm – reputationally or otherwise. But it’s not the reality – it’s the idea that gets us.

So Jeff and I were surprised while standing out by the barn on a sunny Saturday, when in through the open gate drove an old car. Nothing fancy, it parked on the lawn. We watched and we waited. Out stepped a short, balding older gentleman who walked slowly towards us. This is when Jeff and I both sort of panic. My español rolodex begins to spin.

‘Who is that?’ Jeff asked me, shading his eyes.

‘How do I know?’

‘You know everyone in town.’ He countered.

‘No I don’t.’

‘You know more people than me. I’m always working.’

This meant he expected me to take the lead with this unknown character. Hitching up my big girl español pants, I did my best. And it turns out – wait for it – <queue the scary music> Dun Dun Dun. Enter, The Scoundrel. Yes, that previously unknown dude who is <she whispers the dreaded word> d-i-v-o-r-c-e-d from the nice lady we bought our house from. The guy shacking up with the other woman in an apartment in the village. The scandal of scandals. I will admit, after talking with our roofer and learning the scoundrel lived in town with his lady friend, I would look at people and wonder if any of them was that couple.

He looked nothing like I thought he would. I had expected more George Hamilton, or Rico Suave, than an older version of George Castanza from Seinfeld. But he was just a regular older guy. No Don Juan. In fact, nice and shorter than me. He looked around, told us he used to live here. Went out to the barn with Jeff. He said he heard we were doing work on the place and he complimented us on our maintenance and upkeep. Then he departed, after shaking Jeff’s hand.

Jeff laughed after his car pulled away. ‘That guy is causing all the stir?’

It was my turn to laugh. ‘Maybe he’s a sexual dynamo. It’s a slow burn. He builds up to it after the Viagra kicks in. Maybe all the older gentlemen of the village fear his powers in the bedroom. They hide their wives. People always worry infidelity and divorce is contagious.’

‘Yeah.’ Said Jeff. ‘Maybe he get’s going after he’s had his lunch and a nap. That’s probably his peak performance time of day. Buenos tarde!’ He shook his head. ‘It’s crazy what passes for scandal here.’

So now that we’ve met the village boogeyman we can relax. He’s a very nice guy and not the looming shadow he was made out to be. Like most things, its never the reality. It’s how you build it up in your mind. Turns out there really is no village Boogeyman, after all.

In Other News…

Slowly but surely, I am wrapping up painting the upstairs. It’s funny how a coat of paint can change the feel of a house. Suddenly, we don’t feel like we are living in someone else’s home. The energy has completely changed. Even down to our new mailbox.

Since moving here, we have encountered mucho delivery hiccups. This is due to many things, not the least of which is the fact that we have anywhere from 10-15 different delivery companies, Correos (the mail service), Correos Express, and taxis delivering our online orders. No kidding. Taxis deliver our last-mile Amazon packages with some frequency. And we order a lot of stuff, because we are outfitting a farm and a larger home. But there are times when they cannot find our home after calling or WhatsApping, asking me for gps coordinates. Suer is the worst. They change our town from Palas de Rei to Areixo in their system automatically. And they won’t allow us to fix it. My Thai red chili paste took two weeks. The package was destroyed when it arrived. Whenever we know Suer is delivering a package here it will always be a problem.

Señor Búho 🦉

So I decided to make our mailbox – where the address is located – and our house number, unforgettable. Sure, our weird hyphenated name is already a head-scratcher. I would have thought that would be enough. But my newly painted mailbox should seal the deal. Meet Señor Búho – or Mr Owl. In honor of Emilie, who loved owls as a little girl. The owl represents knowledge, and was the familiar of Athena. She is goddess of wisdom, courage, inspiration, civilization, law and justice, strategic warfare, mathematics, strength, strategy, the arts, crafts, and skill. All things I need these days to open my business. Athena sprang from Zeus, after a blinding headache. Seems appropriate. Now, when they ask me which house it is I can tell them it’s the white house on the right. The one with the owl mailbox. Jeff had me make the house number twice as big and bold as I originally planned. So no one would miss it. You can tell I’m leaning in hard to this Strange Americans thing. What do they say in show biz? The only thing worse than being talked about, is not being talked about. I figure the delivery drivers and taxi drivers can have fun with it. And they won’t soon forget our house.

Cooped Up

We have stared getting the garden area ready for winter, in anticipation of Spring planting. It’s an area 160ft long and 45ft wide. Surrounded by an 8ft metal fence and a cement barrier a foot below the surface. To keep critters, both big and small, out. We had heard the previous owners kept pigs and hunting dogs. The grass was very high in there and we got here too late in the Spring to plant anything. So we just left it. And we couldn’t get the gates open as the grass and weeds were too high.

This was fine by me. It needed work and we had other priorities. And it has some sheds in there. Creepy looking sheds with holes at the bottom. One was supposedly where butchering and jamón smoking took place. I wanted to be the one to open those doors, not at all. But, suddenly it’s Fall and we want to grow a garden next year. And I also needed a greenhouse during winter inside the fence for my citrus, olives and pomegranate. They would not survive a Galician winter.

So Jeff got out the weed wacker and cleared the gate area. Then he tackled the beds. And he opened the first shed. This is one where he will replace the roof with clear plastic roofing so I can use it as a potting shed. But it seems it wasn’t used for dogs or pigs. We have a chicken coop!

Clearly, it wasn’t a large egg laying operation, and now this shed doesn’t seems as creepy as before. But there will be no chicken eggs. I’m allergic.

Jeff put up the new greenhouse, while I used our tractor picker-upper attachment (a technical term) to collect chestnuts and leaves. Then we moved all our vulnerable plants that were happy in Valencia heat, into the greenhouse. Although, I think my trees have done much better here than on our balcony in Benimachlet. The air here is cleaner.

And Finally…

I walked to the industrial area to pick up our car today, after hearing nothing about the progress of the hitch installation last evening and messaging them several times. Communication isn’t our new mechanic’s strong suit. When I got there it still wasn’t done. ‘Dos horas mas.’

Ugh. There were no cafe’s in the industrial park. Which is crazy because there are cafes everywhere, including the local Tanatorio (funeral home), and people go there for coffee or a beer. It freaks me out. I try to avoid having drinks with death, if I can help it. So I had two hours to kill – pardon the pun – until the hitch was done. I walked into Melide, learned our bank no longer has a branch in town, toured the tractor dealership and met the wife (yes, I’m that person now, too), and got a coffee (not at the Tanatorio).

Finally, I took a taxi back to the mechanic, picked up the car and called Jeff from the car, sure he was worried about me because I had been gone so long. But no. He was not interested in my goings on. ‘I have news! Better news than the hitch being finished.’ That’s simply not possible, but I listened. ‘The trap caught a mouse in the barn!!’ He was ecstatic. ‘I told you it would work!’

I could have been injured, laying bleeding on the side of the road. Would he have come looking for me after three hours? Only to tell me about his mousetrap.

‘Well, congratulations. But you can forget about getting my winnings back. I just spent it on the hitch.’

Jeff is up in his office as we speak, shopping for utility trailers. Ironically, we have no outstanding Amazon or Leroy Merlin orders to be delivered. So Señor Búho the mailbox will have to wait to make his impression upon his first delivery driver. But I feel sure our local mail carrier will get a kick out of it. And Marie Carmen is like a blood hound. She sees all and will be over to check it out very soon. So it should be a fun weekend.