Taking a Break

We’ve had a lot of family stuff going on lately and it’s consumed most of my energy. I’ll be heading back to the US soon to be in the mix. But before that, we headed out to take a little break. It may seem strange since we live on the Med, but stepping back is important during times of stress, and since life varies at different points on the Mediterranean (even in Spain) – thinking north and east – we decided some time away was in order.

Luckily, we didn’t need to go far, since everything in Europe is so close. Mostly, I’ll let the photos speak for themselves. But this trip included some of my favorite things.

  • A Place I LOVE!
  • Ancient history
  • Lots of ruins
  • A favorite beach
  • Introducing Jeff to a place he’s never been

Tarragona is just south of Barcelona, right on the Med. It’s easily accessible by train so no stressful flight delays. This time, catching the train, we did the very Spanish thing and arrived right as boarding began. This means 20 minutes before it leaves (that’s when they assign the track). Highly unusual for us, since we’re always early to everything. (As though a train or plane will come sooner than expected). I was in a ‘I just don’t care, even if we miss the train we’ll catch the next one’ mode.

The other wonderful part of it is that where we stayed had ZERO wifi and the city has terrible cell service. I’m not sure why getting a signal was so touch and go, but it meant we were out of communication for days.

If you’re thinking of visiting – I would recommend visiting the Amphitheater first. There you can purchase an all-inclusive ticket for the main sites in the city. These include the Amphitheater, Forum, Murallas, Circus, Tower (Necropolis) and the Archaeological museum (although it’s under renovation and closed now – luckily I have been before). There are palaces within the walled city and other sites not requiring a ticket. I would highly suggest walking the entire perimeter of the walls around the old city.

The history of ‘Tarroco’ goes back thousands of years. It was a key city in the Roman Empire. Rich, well positioned, easily defensible. The city was a classic Roman city, and since then changed hands many times. Visigoths, Moors, French – it was so important it became a military target where empires invested in expensive sieges, and the very costly occupation of unwilling populations. As we know today in most of our current military conflicts around the world – it will not end well. Winning a war is one thing. Winning the peace is quite another.

No matter how many times I visit a place I always learn something new. Perhaps we filter information differently at different times. Changing our focus. But as an enthusiastic student of history, I’m always looking for new insights. This time when visiting the remains of the Roman circus, there were new plaques. They explained how the chariot races were were staged. How rich Romans paid for the races – gave away tickets for free – and their social standing was based on how many of the poor peasants showed up. Basically, just like today with social media and harvesting ‘Likes’. We are all still the same people we were more than 2,000 years ago. Our reptilian brains haven’t evolved that much. The Kardashians immediately came to mind. No matter how rich, they still need to be loved by the masses.

Another thing we learned about is that the social system in The Roman Empire was all about continually leveling the playing field. Rise too high – become too rich, too influential – and eventually, the state would seize all your possessions. They feared any consolidation of power through money and influence. But social breakdowns started keeping this from happening and the fall of Rome was inevitable as the peasantry rose up.

Jeff has usually, very reluctantly, embraced my historical forays, but as we walked through this history, he was struck by the parallels to what’s going on in the US today. Much like the Romans, we seem to be imploding; hoisting ourselves on our own petard. And walking through Tarragona, you are literally walking ON history. You can’t miss the buildings built precariously on the past. I’m not sure what their building codes have historically been, but some of these more modern structures appear to be perched – ripe for an earthquake to take them out. But so far, so good.

Anyway, it was a relaxing time away. Much needed. Who knows what the future holds. But whenever things get too crazy today, a little visit to the past is what my heart needs.

Mis Amigos

I have 5 new Spanish boyfriends. Well, not exactly. Don’t get too excited. But the way Jeff is reacting to my new crew you’d think I did.

There’s a bar in Benimachlet that I go to in the mornings sometimes. I’ll bring my laptop and write at an outside table over a cafe con leche. They make a mean one. Here, everything is a bar – so no, I’m not drinking booze at 10am. I’m pretty sure the local children’s hospital probably has a bar in it too.

I was enjoying my morning coffee one sunny day, when a voice beside me seemed to be directed my way. I looked over and there was a table of 5 older gentlemen and they were pointing at my laptop and speaking to me in Valenciano. I understood, maybe, 3 words. But I answered in my pidgeon Spanish. Thus began a whole new relationship.

It’s well documented that I’ll use any means possible to improve my Spanish. This means I’ve joined groups way above my Spanish language pay grade. You gotta put yourself out there and be willing to make a fool of yourself and fall down – A LOT. I have an abundance of those things in spades. But one thing I hadn’t tried was the ‘Old Man Morning Coffee Klatch‘ down at a local bar

I’ll admit, I had observed these multiple groups from afar. They always seem to consist of 4-5 retired, well groomed older men who meet at the same bar, at the same time, almost daily. They’re usually smartly dressed and cologned. Would I have ever been so bold as to approach them in their natural habitat? Never.

But on that day, one group decided to approach me and now I’m In-like-Flynn – as my Dad used to say. Paco, Jose, Jose, Francisco, & Javi are my new crew in the 75+ crowd at our local bar near the space. At 10am every lunes, miercoles y viernes (that’s Monday, Wednesday & Friday to you and me) they meet up, as they’ve been doing for decades. And now they insist I come and speak with them each of those days.

One of the Jose’s explained ‘We need to improve our Ingles. And you, your Espanol.’ Yes, improving their Ingles at over 75 seems like a just-in-time for heaven kind of strategy. I mean, I’m pretty sure God speaks Spanish – but who am I to judge? Never stop learning, right?

The other Jose proposed marriage today. I told him I thought he had a Portuguese wife. He said ‘No. Today finish.’ And he gestured a karate chop.

‘Does she know yet?’ I asked him

‘If you say YES, I go home and tell her.’

We all just laughed. Silly man. His wife is fierce and he’s 5 ft 2  and maybe 120 lbs soaking wet. She’d run him over with her loaded grocery trolley and take him out. Or maybe pay me to take him off her hands.

Mostly they treat me like their daughter and explain Spanish customs and social conventions. The other day, Paco explained in Spanish that Valencian men are too macho and their wives suffer for this. I have no idea if this is a universal truth but it’s certainly a perspective. I do know learning Spanish through humor and laughter is so much more fun than worksheets and a whiteboard. I much prefer the classroom of life in Benimachlet.

Most of these guys have known each other since they started kindergarten. Here, when children start school they stay with the same classroom, and the same kids, all the way through until graduation. So they’re friends that long. Impressive. One of the Jose’s didn’t move to their class until second grade and they still call him ‘The new guy’ after all these years. But their wives do not like each other.

‘But you, Kelli. You are muey simpatico, I think. You join our group.’

At first I thought I might just be a guest star periodically, but am now appearing in the opening credits. Its a standing 10 am date 3 days per week to intercambio with ‘Mis Amigos‘. And one of them always buys my coffee – which makes me feel sort of strange. I think it’s the macho thing because they fight over who will do it that day. But since coffee is a whole uno euro setenta, I guess they won’t run through their pensions too quickly.

Jeff just shakes his head.

‘Heading out to meet your boyfriends?’ He asks as I grab my keys.

I give him a kiss on the cheek ‘ Not enough Viagra in an entire Costco pharmacy. So no worries there.’

Sometimes I stop and wonder ‘Am I the strangest American in Valencia?’ But then I remember I was strange for an American, IN America. So I probably am. I guess nothing has changed one bit. And you know what? I find I don’t really care.

Quieting the Mind

The last two years have meant constant change for me. It’s been two years since I quit my job in the US. Nearly two years ago I walked my Camino. Fourteen months since we moved to Valencia. But while those are big things, I’ve always believed its the smallest things that make the biggest difference. A click in a new direction can be a watershed moment that changes everything that comes next.

After I quit my job two years ago – sure, that’s kind of a big thing – I took a Meditation, Mindfulness and Essential Oils class at the local community college in Arizona. When people think of Arizona they think of either red-necks with truck nuts, old people, or mysticism seekers. So a MM&A class is right in the sweet spot on the mysticism side of that equation. I hadn’t been sleeping well after all the drama of quitting my job and I needed to try to remedy it.

WOW! Life changing. Meditation is all that and more. I had tried it years before but never really got the benefit from it. Quieting the mind seemed too hard with so much to do. This time was different. We practiced mindful eating and using essential oils to quiet the mind and to relax the body. It was just what I needed. I was so relaxed that driving home on those evenings was sometimes a challenge, and I would sleep like the dead.

Fast forward to Valencia in 2019. We’ve lived here over a year and I hadn’t really been keeping up my practice. Rather hit and miss. So much to do and see. But with the Creative Space – as we’ve taken to calling it – I’ve been inspired on many fronts. My writing is benefiting from my painting. And Jeff bought me a hammock so I’ve spent time lolling about – contemplating things. It’s then I realized I needed to get back to my Meditation and Mindfulness practice.

So on Friday I signed up for another class to kick start myself. It’s in both Spanish and English, and they also do Mindful Movement. Not exactly yoga but there are similarities. It was wonderful hanging out with mostly chilled out people. And then Friday night, I again slept like the dead. So there really is something to this.

As luck would have it, I had signed up for a new yoga class on Sundays held in the sun on a rooftop near the Mestalla – Valencia FC’s futbol stadium. Although there was a match on Sunday during the class, there were times I felt like they were cheering me on in Chair pose. Sun salutations are better in the, well, sun. And the class includes some meditation, too. Last night? Slept like the dead. If I doubted the prescription for a restful nights sleep and a peaceful mind I can’t do that anymore. So me and meditation/mindfulness/yoga are back on and stronger than ever.

I was having a conversation with someone in the mindfulness class before it started. She’s English from London and has been having a really hard time coping with the culture of Spain. She’s working here and having 2 hours for lunch is throwing her off.

‘I don’t know what to do with myself? I mean, I’m used to eating lunch in a conference room. I can’t get a coffee to-go anywhere here. And everything they do at work is so inefficient.’

I laughed. ‘I know what you mean. I lived that life. But maybe this is better. No rushing about. Actually digesting your food. Sitting down and eating when it’s time to eat, instead of trying to do more than one thing at a time. So much so that we don’t do anything really well, with our full attention. In the US, we favor efficiency over peace of mind.’

It made me wonder where all this ‘efficiency’ was trying to take us and I flashed back to the Frenchman in St. Jean Pied-de-Port in France at the beginning of the Camino. He pointed at Emilie and told her ‘This is not a race. Just like life, you can not ‘win’ the Camino.’ Although there were days, I swear she tried. But he’s right.

The woman in the Mindfulness course snarled a little. But there was a reason she was in the class. She’s looking for something she knows is missing. The same as me. I couldn’t judge her. I’ve been where she is. And not long ago. And I’ve even done that in Valencia thinking that multi-tasking is the path to happiness. ‘Getting things done’ instead of enjoying the doing of them. We’re all mirrors for each other.

After the class, we were leaving more slowly than when we entered. Kind of like church. Enjoying the feeling of slowing down and connecting to ourselves. And I looked over and the woman from London was smiling.

‘Maybe you’re right. Maybe there is something to all this.’ she admitted.

‘Maybe. You’ll figure it out.’ I told her. She nodded.

So today, I sit here ready to to pursue some of my passions and I need to take a moment and acknowledge how grateful I am that I have this space and this time to pursue them. That finally, I live in a place with people in a culture who appreciate the value to doing one thing at a time. Wait – I think I just heard the click. And suddenly everything is changed. Smiling. Namaste

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.