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

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.

Contrato Firmado

Yes – we have a signed contract. Because El Jefe is here it’s now a done deal. I clutched the pen with my tiny female claws. Barely able to put pen to paper. But Jeff’s large paws made up for my short fall. Eye roll.

We met at the imobilaria to meet our new landlords, to sign and get the keys. They are lovely people – a father and daughter. They speak zero Ingles, and our Spanish is pitiful but we muddled through. You can always tell about people through their eyes. The father clearly laughed a lot – lots of lines and he was very animated. And his daughter was a very nice person. After we signed multiple copies of the document and the imobilaria explained all the terms to the landlords (and nothing to us), we made our way to the space.

They seemed excited to show it to us. I performed much miming antics and broken Spanish. Finally the father looked at Jeff and proclaimed him ‘Santo’. It means ‘Saint’. I think he was referring to Jeff’s obvious patience being married to me. I laughed and told him my Mother says the same thing. I have referred to him as Santo for the last 24 hours. He seems to like it.

They seemed skeptical at first, us being American and all, but quickly warmed to us when Jeff changed some light bulbs in the high ceiling without using a ladder. He is ‘gigante’ and it does come in handy. I thanked them profusely for letting the space to us and the daughter told me ‘we are in this together’ so I take that as a sign of a good landlord/tenant relationship.

Since we moved here were have heard disparaging comments about Spaniards. People have said they’re lazy and they lack ambitions. I’m sure they don’t understand the culture. And I’m always offended by this and I’m not even Spanish. But let me tell you, since we moved here if we need anything delivered like an appliance or something from IKEA or a service performed, the Spanish outshine anyone in the US and it’s not even a close contest.

Now that I have the new space, I headed down to the local internet/mobile provider to arrange to set up our service. I also decide to switch who we’re using at home and change the house and our cell svs over too. That was at 10;30 this morning. At 2pm the installer called me and they were standing outside the space to install it. Yup! Same Day. Not 3 1/2 hours later. On a cold day in HELL would that ever happen in the US. There, you’d wait for the installer to call. He’d tell you a week from Tuesday between 8-5. You’d take a day off work, or work from home, and he would show up at 4:45 on said day and tell you he didn’t have everything he needed and would have to come back another day. Like installing internet was a mystery to him and he invented it afresh each day. Seriously.

Today these two guys had ladders and put it in the back of the space where I wanted it, after drilling holes in the outside of the building and then running a 100 feet of wire. And they did it all in a hour. Like clockwork.

Tomorrow they’re coming to the house to install it here, and on Monday our mobile phones are switching over. Just that quick. So anyone who wants to tell me the Spanish don’t understand process and technical service delivery is an idiot and has never really lived here. I will defend them vigorously, to any foreigner from now on!

OK – I’m not including Correos or Amazon.es delivery in that, though while quick, they’re wildly unpredictable.

Just now, I lined up a moving service to get all our relevant stuff moved over by the 16th and then I’ll be up and running in 120 sq meters -Painting,writing, and doing yoga in my own studio. It doesn’t get better than 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.