The Spanish Melting Pot

When living in a place, I think it’s important to know something about it. I’ve been to countless museums, historical sites, and prehistorical archaeological sites in Spain. And while it’s been interesting, weaving it all together hasn’t always been easy. I needed a coach.

We aren’t taught much European history when we go through school in the US. Other than the fact that while so many of us have ancestors that hailed from Europe; in America, we wanted to do it our way. But connecting with the history of Spain became even more important to me after having my DNA done last year. I found out I have Iberian, Moroccan and Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry. Yep, this fair skinned, freckle faced, blue-eyed girl has all that. Plus some German, Scandinavian, Eastern European and, yes, Celtic – Scottish, Welsh, Irish DNA (which is what I had always been told I was, almost exclusively).

So, now that I have skin in the Spanish game, I needed to understand Spanish history. To get the ball moving forward, I took a 20 hour lecture series on Spanish history from a professor of anthropology who specializes in the history of the Iberian Peninsula. And in doing so, it’s changed my view of every thing I thought I knew about my own history.

I won’t bore you with all that I learned. I’m well aware that most people would find sitting through 20 hours of anthropological lectures a real snore fest. So I’m just that strange, getting super jazzed before another hour listening to all this rich history that came alive for me in the retelling. And it opened my eyes to not just myself, but how connected we all really are. Whether we want to admit it or not.

Spain has always been a cross-roads of cultures, religions and ideas. It’s position at the mouth of the Mediterranean pretty much ensured that. But it’s also a place with varied terrain and climates, perfect for raising livestock and prolific farming. It’s mineral deposits, and even snow melt from the glaciers in the Pyrenees were shipped all over the Mediterranean and prized by the wealthy in the Middle East more than a thousand years ago. Spain is a literal tapestry of all the cultures who have come and gone over the last 3000 years.

In the US, we think of the Spanish people as dark haired and mocha skinned. But when you walk the streets of any city in Spain you see that’s a stereo-type easily disproved. People here look like those in the US, France or Germany or even Ireland. And speaking of Ireland – when I was in Galicia, the most NW region in Spain – I saw signs of the Celts everywhere. I was told there was a strong connection between Gallegos and those of the Emerald Isles. I had just assumed that Irish mariners had landed on the Galecian shores and settled that area. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Celts came from central Europe in what is now Northern France, Belgium and Germany over the Pyrenees. Their settlements reached far to the south before being pushed back by the Romans and eventually the Visigoths. But it was after that period that they got in boats and ventured to Ireland and Great Britian. So it was the Celts going from Galicia not the other way around. And they brought the bagpipes with them. Yes, the bagpipes, that are the national instrument of Galicia, Scotland and Ireland, didn’t originate from any of those places. It came from Africa where the goat herders used flutes and bags of air made of goat skins to make music. So it’s no wonder I have North African, Iberian and German DNA, if I have Irish DNA. Because the Celts brought it with them when they went from Spain to Ireland.

During this lecture series, covering 10,000 years of history, it started to become clear that you couldn’t tell the history of Spain and not tell the history of the rest of Europe and North Africa and the Middle East. The story even reaches all the way to India and the Americas. And all along the way, there were wars. The conquerors and the conquered. New inventions and technology. New religions and old ones lost to the sands of time. Borders were ever changing and it became hard to keep up with who was in charge of one region or another. Especially in El Anduluz (Spain south of Galica, Asturias, and the Basque Country).

And it got me thinking. Today, we see the rise of Nationalism going on all over Europe and in the US. I hear people from Britian say ‘Britian should be for the British’ and I watch some of the violence against immigrants in Eastern Europe on tv. In the US, the jailing of those crossing the Mexican border trying to escape violence in their own countries leaves me heart broken, as they are treated as sub-human. But if any of those advocating for these ‘nationalist ideals’ took the course I took, they would understand that there is no such thing as pure national identity. If they knew history, they’d know there never really has been. It’s a modern marketing construct with ever moving historical borders. And our DNA is proof.

Riding through Strasbourg, France last year – sure, its France today. But it’s flip flopped so many times that the people there speak their own unique language, a blend of both French and German. This is much like Spain with its regional languages and traditions, whose differences are generally celebrated nowadays rather than viewed with suspicion.

They say America was the ‘Great Experiment’, and there is very real fear that with what’s going on today politically, it’s been irreparably damaged so as never to recover. But after completing this Spanish history course, I think the Greatest Experiment is the European Union (EU). Bringing together so many cultures and sub-cultures. People who had a long history of fighting each other, and a string of wars stretching back millennia. With differing languages and values. But then they figured out they were stronger together. That they had more in common than their differences of the past. And they’re actually DNA cousins, after all. Is it perfect? No, but I pray it survives the current climate.

I think of it in these terms. Its like a person who has been ill. They’ve taken medicine for their illness for a long time and they feel better. So much so that they fool themselves into believing they’re not ill anymore and can stop taking their medication. So they do stop, and they fall ill again, much to their surprise.

This is how we are with history. We know terrible things happened. Wars, genocide, oppression and famine. But it’s been a couple of generations since so many of those things happened in Europe. And in the US, we haven’t fought a war on our own soil since the Civil War more than 150 years ago. It easy to believe things have always been how they are today – filled with relative prosperity and peace. But those things were hard won by people who are no longer here to tell us just how hard it really was. And our collective memory, and our attention span, is short. Like the patient, there is a cure for what ails us, and it’s peace and cooperation. Pretending the solution is the isolationism of the past will only bring disaster.

I was sad when the series of lectures was over. I’m a history geek to my very core. But listening to all that came before, it gave me hope for the future. Sometimes we have to take one step back before we can take a giant leap forward. You see it countless times throughout history. But I truly believe that in the end, we’ll realize that our futures, and those of our children, depend upon our ability to cooperate and to see each other as vital to that future and not an impediment to it. And I hope we do that before it’s too late.

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.

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.

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.

The Sounds of Fallas 2019

I’ve shared a bunch of photos of different things during Fallas this year. Mostly, other than the bands for the processions, it’s been more of a visual feast. But Holy Batman! It’s loud around here and you can’t really appreciate it until you’re there in person. But I’m going to try to help you get a taste.

Today, I did two things I swore I wouldn’t do. The first was to head down to the Ajuntamento and experience the final and largest Mascleta of Fallas. But my Irish friend, Donna, invited me out with friends she has in town. So I went. WOW! It was a visceral experience. Its not just an assault to your ears, but your entire body. The booms go through you and rattle your belly. You feel it through your feet. I can’t really describe it adequately so I recorded it and sent it to Jeff in Germany. He loved it! NOT. I wanted to wear earplugs I brought but those around me told me not to and to keep my mouth open or I would pop my ear drums. It’s just that bad. If you listen to the audio file it’s like a symphony. There is true art to this pyrotechnic orchestra. You’ll also see the Town Fallas – which this year was celebrating women and street art – my fav. Her construction costs about a million US dollars.

But then we were walking out of the square and came upon another BONUS!! mascleta that was being fired off by a local Fallas organization and presided over by their Fallera, who would light it. I took some photos so you could see how the fireworks are made (in a local work shop) and how they hang them off the ground. Each one is strung together expertly and they fire in a sequence. And it’s the loudest thing I have ever heard. The bonus mascleta was worse than the one in the town hall square because we were so close. I only recorded a little of it. It went on for 5 full minutes.

We did a few other things like lunch and a tour of my favorite church. Then drinks, and I started for home. Only I realized it was now 9pm and it was time for La Crema – The burning of all the Fallas. The infantil near me was being prepared to light up so I stopped to watch before the smoke got so black I abandoned my spot. It was still a fun gathering of the community – even though I disagree with the environmental impact of it all. And I learned the song of Alboraya that they sang while it burned.

Infantil La Crema

Now I am home. It’s a war zone out there tonight. I am adding one last video so you can hear what is going on outside my home. There will be no sleep tonight – I am very sure. But I don’t care. I ‘did Fallas’ today – like a local. Tomorrow we sleep!

Falles 2019 and the Environment: Shades of Things to Come

No matter how much you love Fallas, and people do or don’t to varying degrees, you can’t help but look at these amazing sculptures carved from hardened liquid Styrofoam, and not understand that burning over 700 of these in one night is an environmental disaster. The chemicals and CO2 released as they melt (The Crema), and the black smoke that will sit in the air for days (unless it rains the day after like last year) means breathing for those with a compromised respiratory system will be a hazard. And not much fun for the rest of us.

I’ll be posting more photos of those in Benimachlet and the surrounding neighborhoods further down in this post, but as we walked around this year we talked a lot about how, while some of them are amazing masterpieces, it’s a terrible waste and a nasty pollutant. Centuries ago, the Falla was a pile of old castoffs from the furniture or arts workshops in the city, that had been produced indoors over the long winter. Someone put some clothes on a few of them to make them resemble people and it started marching towards what it is today. A full blown design major at the local Uni, and an industry unto itself.

But there is hope. I’m not a fan of burning anything – thinking back to our Irish Christmas when burning peat and coal to stay warm made my stomach turn (Ireland is changing that rapidly btw). But burning polystyrene for no real benefit is just wrong. And it seems there are those of like mind this year. Some of the neighborhood Fallas associations have abandoned these unfriendly materials all together and have fashioned their Fallas out of unpainted wood. It’s a small group and they’re pretty cool. So I’m featuring them first, before all the other ones we saw in the last two days.

A full pipe organ built from wood you could get at the local BricoMart. Pretty amazing. And one celebrating the Valencia Fubol Club with their badge and the bat. Yesterday we saw another that would be a dragon when it was done, complete with scales – made of wood. I didn’t photograph it because it wasn’t ready but it’s nice to see that there are those getting creative with non-toxic materials. Sure, they’re still going to burn them – so that’s not so great – but they won’t be doing it with chemicals. Just the thin wooden dowels or cut plywood to create the skin of their creations. Everything is baby steps.

I wonder if next year we’ll see even more of these new fangled, eco Falla. Jeff wondered if maybe they have a new ‘eco friendly’ award category. I sure hope so, as I’ll be spending the night of the 19th as they burn, indoors with the air filter blowing. But still, this year there are some incredible Fallas. And I’m posting them for you to see – even though they’re not all completed yet. I was happy to see that most of the Infantils are up. So I focused a lot on those from multiple angles. More on that tomorrow. Enjoy!

You can clearly see there are three categories that each Falla falls into.

  • The local ones – like in Benimachlet. These have no corporate sponsorships or even local businesses sponsoring them. They’re my favorites because they are made with bake sale money, paella dinners and sweat.
    • The locally sponsored ones – where the neighborhood real estate agent, Abogado, or pub, pitches in some cash for a banner on the Fallas tent housing those working on the erection of the effigy. They’ll be a bit more detailed and larger because of the injection of cash. Their designer will be a pro but nothing like the next bunch.
    • The Corporate Sponsored ones – this is where folks like Coca Cola, Netflix, Mahou and a host of other deep pockets cough it up for something that will actually take your breath away. One we saw had a detailed mini version in plaster so you could see what it was going to be when it was completely assembled. Last years was equally amazing.
  • One other thing we noticed this year is the noise. Its warm at night and we like to sleep with the window open. Last year we couldn’t do that and sleep – at all. Sure, we were up at 4:30 this am due to some errant – illegal – fireworks at the crack of dawn. But we noticed that there are exponentially less booming fireworks this year. And the Mascletas aren’t as big as they were last year. I’m not sure why. We barely hear them in Benimachlet and last year they shook the windows.

    Perhaps it’s a combination of a couple of things. We are used to the noise here. The random procession with the full marching band hardly phases us now. Waking up to fireworks on any given Sunday tells us that it’s either a wedding, christening or a holiday we forgot. Or maybe it’s because we’re becoming true Valencian’s. We know our local Fallas group, who our Falleras are, and the number of days until the next major festival. Yep – that’s what it must be. And I’ll take it.

    Next post will be just The Infantils. This year the theme of those seems to be Love and Acceptance. After what happened in Christchurch this week I think we can use more of that.

    It Goes BOOM!

    Last year when we arrived in Valencia, we felt like we were inundated by sound. BOOMS! and POPS!. People throwing fireworks under the feet of strangers seemed to be common. And when sitting at a cafe you’d be jumping as someone lit a firecracker under your chair and ran.

    We noticed that very small children, maybe 3, also had fireworks and were throwing them. Sure, at that age they were just poppers that burst various colors that made pretty flowers on the sidewalk. But by 5 or 6, kids were carrying around lit ropes with which they could light full blown fire crackers in a crowded square. This usually ‘supervised’ by a man in the family. Of course, there were more responsible Dads or Abuelos in empty tennis courts or parks, but that was rare. Usually they were on the crowded sidewalk.

    Each kid had a wooden box hanging from around their neck that contained the fireworks. I mean really, who wouldn’t put gun powder in a wooden box and light a rope for their kids to walk around with? What could go wrong?

    But I’ll admit, I had box envy. Being self aware, I know I possess the maturity of a 5 year old at times. Only I prefer to categorize it more as a child-like innocence. Never losing my sense of wonder at the world. Ok, I like to blow stuff up every once in a while and I liked those boxes. But last year, by the time we got settled and had a spoon to eat from and a place to sit in our apartment, Fallas was over and wooden fireworks boxes were gone.

    Fast forward to this year and the mayhem has begun to ensue. The pyrotechnic stores are open again and El Chinos are resplendent with fireworks boxes with the red cord to hand it around your neck like a cigarette girl in old movies. And of course, I had to have one. Jeff took me shopping while I perused the selection. It’s taken me less time to pick out a wedding dress than my fireworks box. But now that I had one it was time to fill it.

    We headed to our local shop that has sprung up over night in Benimachlet, selling all things fireworks. They’re pretty much unregulated here so you can get things that I’m very sure could take off a hand or burn our apartment down, but nonetheless we purchased them. Bringing them home, it’s clear they won’t fit into my box. Which I think makes Jeff happy since it’s only little kids who carry these boxes. The adults have outgrown the need for one. If I go out on the street with mine he’ll walk very far behind me.

    Before he heads out on his multi-city journeys, we’ll light these off and enjoy the show. I mean, if you can’t beat’em, join’em. Time to get our Fallas on!

    Back From Bilbao

    We are home in Valencia again. It’s nice to sleep in our own bed. But we did see some really cool stuff and Bilbao is a place we’ll go back to. Like so many cities you visit, you just scratch the surface on a weekend trip. It takes multiple visits at varying times of year to really get a sense of the place. But this first visit left an impression.

    The Basque country, where Bilbao sits, is unlike other place in Spain. Not only do they speak a completely different language – the etymology of Basque has yet to be cracked – the culture and traditions are different too. Comparing Valencia to Bilbao is like apples and oranges. Valencians seem much more low key. And drinking here is not a sport. In Bilbao, it seems staying out all night on the weekend and getting plastered isn’t a rare occurrence. More like just a Friday AND Saturday night. So sleeping in an area with a fair few bars was a challenge. I never thought I’d miss Falles. We walked around to other areas of the city at night. It was going on all over – younger and older people staggering down the street. We don’t see that here. Water trucks were out every morning spraying the sidewalks and streets. And it’s no wonder because the remnants of the previous nights partying is all over. You have to step over it if you go out for a morning coffee. Still, it’s very clean. Sometimes I wish they would water down the streets and sidewalks in Valencia more often – especially in summer.

    But both cities are big on architecture. Valencia’s modern marvels are most uniform in nature. Bilbao’s more eclectic. If I had to sum up Bilbao in one word it would be ART. I use the term in the broadest sense. Yes, there are plenty of examples of fine art. Painting in the various museums, sculptures/monuments. But there is also architecture and costume. Even their infrastructure is done with an eye to the artistic. Below you’ll see some examples of what I mean.

    We took a boat ride from the heart of Bilbao to the port town of Portugalete. It’s a two hour round trip that gives you a sense of what it was like to live and work along the river over the last 300+ years. And it’s undergoing a massive renaissance and revitalization. New housing and refurbishment of historic buildings, and warehouses to use as housing. An award winning Iraqi/English female architect – Zaha Hadid – won the bid to implement multiple phases of her bold new plan for Bilbao. It includes new bridges, an island development and much more. Sadly, she passed away in 2016, but her vision continues to play out in Bilbao and will live on.

    The government has also invested over a billion $ over the last 30 years to clean up the river after so many centuries of industrial pollution. Today, it’s got a healthy oxygen rate in the water to support the fish, and wild life have returned to the estuaries. And speaking of water – sports involving water are all the rage. We saw regattas and loads of sea kayaking and rowing. Sail boats are everywhere in Portugalete. Jeff was in heaven.

    This small town boasts a ‘Hanging bridge’ that is like a ferry in the air for those wanting to traverse the straight. It takes cars and people back and forth across the divide. There are only of few of these in the world and they’re all in Europe. We didn’t stop in the town but we will next time. There is a lot to see and do in the area.

    Back along the river in Bilbao, you can see all the new award winning buildings that have sprung up on the river bank. The new futbol stadium that houses Athletic Club de Bilbao – the local La Liga club. A new convention center. All along the river there are walkways and sculpture littering the path.

    When we returned to the city there was a procession going on – of course. What was this for? Who knows? And when I say that I mean it. We asked around. No one knew what it was for. They were just processing. But it was cool.

    Random Bilbao Procession

    One of the days we drove up through Mungia to Mirador San Juan Gaztelugatxeko. If you’re a Game of Thrones fan you’ll recognize some of the photos, as this is where Daenerys Targaryen’s Dragonstone Castle is located. In actuality, it’s north west of Bilbao by about 35km and is worth the steep hike down and the hike up the causeway and stairs. The views are amazing and you can ring the bell at the church. The hike down and then the eventual very (it seemed much steeper on the way back up) long climb back up to our car was a little more challenging.

    You can stay at the inn at the top where the parking is located. And the pinchos in the bar is not to be missed. Each one is huge – like a meal unto itself. But the best thing about staying there are the views. Priceless.

    Just as in Ireland where we watched the Irish sport of Hurling on tv, we watched handball in Bilbao. I remember from walking the Camino Frances that every town, village, hamlet in Navarra, no matter the size, had a handball court. Handball is the thing in Basque country. I’m including a video so you can see what I’m talking about. I can’t imagine smacking that hard ball with my hand over and over.

    Basque Handball

    One other random thing we saw on Bilbao tv in a bar was just more confirmation that driving in Spain is not easy. They have an actual show where they pick up people and drive them around quizzing them on Spanish traffic laws. They win prizes if they answer correctly. Like ‘Cash Cab’ filmed in NYC but in that case its random trivia. In this case it’s just the law. Sadly, most people failed.

    The flight home was touted at a hour 15. In reality its more like 45 minutes. An easy quick weekend getaway from Valencia. We realized we need much more time than we allotted for exploration. We will be back.

    Hola Bilbao

    We are in Bilbao. Fallas Refugees. We’ve met so many people lately who are Fallas Virgins. They can’t believe we are leaving to escape ‘All the Fun!’. I’ve been called a ‘fuddy duddy’ and a ‘buzz kill’. But they’ll learn the closer we get to March 19th when all hell breaks loose. I heard from an experienced expat that they passed a new law this year; now they can’t shoot off sanctioned fireworks between 2:30 and 7am. Whew! A whole 4 1/2 hours of sleep coming right up. It’s really that last week when it’s non-stop and the entire city goes nuts, and ‘sanctioned’ isn’t really the issue.

    So we fled. And boy are we glad. Full nights sleep and a lovely vacation to Northern Spain. Bilbao is a city on the north coast, right on the Bay of Biscay and the Atlantic Ocean. Its the beating heart of the Basque region. Culturally, and culinarily, it’s very different than Valencia. And Basque is a language that is nothing like Spanish or Valenciano.

    I fell in love with Navarra when walking the Camino, so it feels wonderful to be back in the region. The Camino Frances doesn’t go through Bilbao. You have to walk the Camino del Norte if you want to do that. And just like so many other places in Spain, the flights from Valencia to Bilbao were cheaper than one way train tickets from Valencia to Barcelona. Who can pass up 7.99 euro airline tickets? Not me!

    We are staying downtown near the Guggenheim Art Museum, It’s look alike cousin in Seattle, the famed EMP, (Experience Music Project) means that its architecture is something familiar to us. We will spend a day exploring their current collections in a few days.

    The architecture in Bilbao is part 20th century Spanish, part 18th and 19th century cross European, blended with 21st century creative genius, and up on the surrounding hills they look more Swiss village. It’s wet, green and cold with dappled sunlight. Jeff is in heaven. One guy told me this time last year they were under feet of snow. Hmm.

    The signs are in Spanish and Basque. Sometimes in Ingles too. Driving here is A LOT easier than in Valencia. Wider roads that makes sense. Imagine! Getting from the airport to town took maybe 20 minutes door to door and I’m happy to report even with me driving there was no swearing, tears or recriminations. When we arrived we saw that Valencia isn’t the only city in Spain to celebrate the Spring equinox. There is a festival in town and marchers for international Women’s Day. Lots of people out and about and rides with the requisite Churroteria to make the celebration that much sweeter – and deep fried.

    We haven’t scratched the surface of the area yet but the blend of old and new has our attention and we are ready to hit the ground running exploring and, of course, looking at real estate. So far so good.

    The Sun Also Rises

    Time smooths out the rough edges of memory. Sometimes it makes the past seem rosier than, perhaps, it really was. We are home from Ireland. We were excited to spend Christmas in New Years in weather that felt like so many holidays of the past. Especially all the years we spent in Seattle. And it did.

    But here’s the thing. Being back in Valencia it’s sunny and 65 degrees. And boy does it feel wonderful to be warm again. And Jeff, who really missed winter in Seattle (why, I don’t know) is happy to be warm too. Here, there is no bone-chilling wind. Hats and gloves have been put away. We can have our morning coffee without a coat and scarf again. It feels good.

    We’ve hit the ground running too. We found a dentist and Jeff has already gone and seen them. I often hear that ‘socialized medicine’ means long lines and weeks of waiting for an appointment. We went yesterday to a clinic who had no idea who we were and he saw the dentist today. We anticipated it being much more difficult. So one more myth debunked.

    This morning, I walked across the city to an Autoescuela that speaks English. Yes, these rarest of the rare actually do exist here in Valencia, like unicorns. You don’t see them and they don’t make themselves known. But my shot gun approach of talking to everyone I have ever met here about needing an English speaking Autoescuela to get practical lessons has paid off. Someone knew someone, who knew someone who once took lessons at a place where the instructor spoke English. And the lady there was surprised I got my theory test taken/passed all on my own without a school.

    Next Tuesday morning I will be taking my first hour and half lesson to learn how to drive in Spain on a manual transmission. The woman who signed me up has as much English as I have Spanish (her husband – my instructor speaks English). She asked me what I was most wanting to focus on. I told her ‘manual transmissions and round abouts’. She nodded knowingly.

    But at least I’ll be taking all my lessons in daylight. I feel very sorry for this man already and I haven’t even started. He has no idea what he’s in for. But his wife told me – via Google translate voice – that once I’m ready, passing the practical test in Spanish won’t be an issue. I asked her how many lessons she thought I would need. She said her husband would have to determine that, after a nervous laugh. Ugh.

    I’ve also started gathering and filling out the paperwork for the residency renewal in March. Nothing like having a few balls in the air at the same time. But it seems like a much less arduous process than the original visa appointment. No Apostles – No background checks. Pretty straight forward. It seems the hardest thing so far is getting the government website to cough up an appointment time. It may require professional help to get it across the finish line.

    Coming home to Valencia feels good. While we could speak the same language as the people in Ireland, it didn’t feel like home. It’s nice to be back to our grocery stores where we know we can get what we need. Where to get a haircut and our favorite coffee place. Poundland has nothing on our El Chino. I was disappointed in Derry when I didn’t get a gift with purchase beer upon leaving.

    Our flight home was full of Irish students heading back to Universidad de Valencia after the break, and others like us. I think we all breathed a sigh of relief that at midnight when leaving our Metro station near our flat – it was still 55 degrees. Suddenly, the language barrier doesn’t seem so high anymore.

    It’s a Mixed Bag

    We’ve been up since 2:30 am. When you move to another country – 9 time zones ahead of where your US cell phone number’s area code happens to be – any old reminders for a dentist, veterinarian or prescriptions is going to come to your phone at a time that is based on that old time zone. And not to your new one. UGH!

    And in this case, it was for a prescription at Walgreens in Puyallup, WA. We’ve never lived there. I’ve never filled a prescription there. Why they would call me to pick up a prescription from there? I have no idea. But since the area code was from the US we are immediately awake!Β  Jeff’s Mom is in that same area code. So we picked up the phone. But it was just meds and not even our meds. We both had so much adrenaline running through us we stayed up and Jeff made coffee.

    I had turned up the ringer because I had been doing banking yesterday and forgot to turn it down. That’s the only reason I still have cell svs in the US. Banking. Otherwise, I’d just use my Spanish mobile and WhatsApp, like every other civilized human and nation on the planet. US banks don’t support WhatsApp.

    So we were up early. Too early. And I had needed a good nights sleep. It has been a busy week seeing friends before the holidays. They’re going away and we’re going away. Baking. And then our landlord came last night with some workers to do some maintenance. This is very unusual in Valencia. Landlords here are notoriously terrible. You pay – they take your money – and pretend you don’t exist. It’s part of why I rented the apartment I rented.

    He’s lovely and showed up with his adorable little daughter and I gave them the cookies I had made for them. That’s when I found out we had created a stir in the building – and not a particularly good one. His daughter was thrilled with the cookies and ate them happily in the living room. But he had gotten calls about us giving out cookies to our neighbors. This was some sort of cultural divide that we had traversed and it wasn’t received well. Apparently, you don’t give out cookies to people on holidays.

    He tried to explain it to us by using a funeral comparison. Even though Christmas is sort of a birth thing –Β  he said he had noticed on Netflix that Americans share cookies at the holidays. But in Spain, when people die they just go to the church and then home. He knew in the US that people gather and eat things together when someone dies. So ‘it’s different here’. I know he was being earnest and wanted me to understand. But while I still didn’t get the funeral reference, I understood that next year I will not be making cookies for my neighbors.

    Except for the lady across the hall, who was so happy she wrote us a card in Valenciano. It’s in cursive writing and, in Europe, cursive writing is different than what they taught us in the US and we’ve struggled to decipher it. So Jeff is going to take it to his final Beginner’s Computer class before the holiday break and ask for some assistance. I know it was positive because she put a smiley face after signing it.

    But the balls were a hit at El Horno. There were hugs and coffee. At El Chino? The guy shut off his Spanish completely and was speaking full on Chinese. Walked in a circle, speaking so quickly, waving at the bag of cookies and finally took it like it was on fire. Then he handed me some wine and waved us out. I’m not sure if I should ever go back. I’m thinking a ‘Secret Santa’ or ‘White Elephant gift’ holiday party would cause so much trauma and mayhem here that they’d need days to recover. It’s Just COOKIES, people! I didn’t hand out uranium!

    Today, I was determined to get back into the Christmas spirit so we went down to the big square where they have the tree and the ice rink. I love ice rinks and make sure I skate at the out door ice rink in any city I’m in at the holidays. It’s a must do.Β 

    But it’s 65 degrees here. I went to buy my ticket (Jeff knows his limits and watched from the sideline). It’s cheap. 8 euros for 45 minutes of ice time, including skates. Amazing. But they also charged me 2 euro for gloves as ‘mandatory’. It’s 65 out. I could have been in shorts. But I paid and went up to the melted ice to slog through the one inch lake that was sitting on top of a bumpy rink. It took me two minutes to figure out that this wasn’t going to work but I stayed out there for another 15. It’s Christmas, damn it!

    We had lunch and walked home. A little disappointed – if I’m honest. I’m really hoping that when we get to Ireland we’ll feel a bit more like Christmas. Maybe it’s the cookie thing, combined with the waking up in the middle of the night, but I’ve slid out of the spirit of the season. Tomorrow our bags will be packed so we can head to cooler climes. And to a place where at least I know the traditions and how not to step on cultural toes. Jeff, Em and I all have Irish DNA running in our veins. We’re spending nearly 3 weeks in a land where they like to celebrate with food (and drink). Whether its a funeral or Christmas. I bet if I handed a random stranger some cookies there, they wouldn’t be a stranger for long.

    Oh well. I’ll get over it. It is what it is. But it did make me a little sad to think that our gesture of goodwill required people to pick up the phone and call our landlord. Like we’re errant children. Maybe next year we’ll head out of town a little earlier in December. Norway or the like. Jeff’s family is mostly Scandinavian. And I know they like cookies so we’d fit right in. And I would skip bringing my US cell phone, too.

    Fa La La La La…

    Chopping nuts with my Great Grandmother’s nut chopper. Listening to the greats – Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra – singing the Christmas songs from my childhood about Santa, drummer boys, and SNOW!! Flour and powdered sugar everywhere, and cookies on every surface. It must be Christmas!

    Mom’s recipes and GG’s nut chopper

    Finding some of the ingredients have been a bit of a challenge. You can always tell how many recipes here might use certain things based on the size of the package. Finding powdered sugar at the local Mercadona was very difficult. Finally, I found it in these small bottles and the instructions show that it’s mostly just shaken on Santiago cake or the like. In the US, we buy powdered sugar by nothing smaller than a pound. Usually, I would buy it at Costco in 3 pound bags. When I took 3 pounds worth to the check out the woman actually stopped and looked at me before shaking her head and scanning the many small containers. She didn’t even bother trying to find out what it was for. I could almost hear her thinking ‘No wonder American’s are so fat.’

    Powdered sugar in Spain.Β 

    Here, powdered sugar comes in 300 gram containers. I have had to buy a food scale here to measure things. It’s a pretty common thing to use a food scale here.Β 

    Baking the cookie recipes that have been made in my family for generations at Christmas is not optional. I’d be letting down the Field Family side if I attempted to get out of it. Jeff wouldn’t have cared, but I would know. So my traversing the length of Valencia, multiple times, for ingredients and supplies has been met with a ‘We need to go where now?’.

    But he’s come along to carry the 10+ pounds of things I needed for the best cookies on the planet from the Taste of American store. As I said, I had already found my powdered sugar and then the guy at Taste of America just threw in 3 pounds of American powdered sugar for FREE. At that point I didn’t need it – now I have too much.

    ‘Why would he do that?’ I asked Jeff, who was schlepping it all home.

    ‘Are you kidding me?’ He said genuinely surprised, I was surprised. ‘You bought a carpet knife yesterday at El Chino and the guy gave you a free beer. It’s you. You get free stuff without asking.’

    He’s right – I do. But I don’t need anymore powdered sugar- and we don’t need more random beers.

    So I’m set. Now that I have all the ingredients I can bake the three mandatory cookies for the holiday season. Raspberry thumbprint cookies (Scottish shortbread with sesame seeds and jam), Russian tea cookies with pecans. And finally, the pis de resistance – the Chocolate Peanut Butter balls. People my Mom hasn’t really spoken to for decades – except a letter at Christmas time – know that staying in touch gets you chocolate peanut butter balls at Christmas.

    Raspberry Thumbprint cookies – shortbread.

    At our house, my Mom had an assembly line. My Dad is a perfectionist so he rolled and my Mom dipped them each in chocolate. We transferred and swapped out cookie sheets so they could keep going. Every surface in the kitchen and dining room would be covered in wax paper so that, night after night, they could do the balls and she could ship them all over the country before Christmas.Β 

    Our kids ask for them every year and last week, my Mom shipped the balls out via FedEx. I can’t supply them to my family in the US from Spain, but will be sharing them with our neighbors and friends here. They don’t know what they’re in for. Eating them is like heaven. But making them with my kids was always the best. Ours were never as pretty as my parents but they tasted just as good. I don’t get to experience it with my kids anymore, but the smell of the ingredients coming together takes me back.

    We’re heading out to spend the holidays with Emilie in Ireland. But, before we go, I’m glad I got to experience a little bit of tradition again this year. And to share it with our neighbors who have been so nice to us. Our coffee lady at El Horno on the corner. the people on our floor at home. Wonder what the guy at El Chino will do when I walk up to the counter and give him his box of cookies. It’s not a Cerveza Navidad, but after he eats these cookies, I’ll be getting a free 6 pack with my next purchase. I’m pretty sure about that.

    Tonight, our house smells heavenly. It couldn’t feel more like home. It just goes to show you that the Christmas spirit isn’t in stuff we buy. Its in traditions, and family and friends. The most important ingredients of all.

    Did You Order Something?

    When the door buzzer went off this morning, we did what we always do. We looked at each other immediately and said simultaneously ‘Did you order something?’ There are two reasons for this. 1) The person who did the ordering has to go to the little phone in the kitchen, say ‘Hola!’ and then try to discern the inevitable rapid fire Spanish that will shoot through the phone into that person’s ear, penetrating their brain – while performing a sad translation – recommend a response, tell the mouth how to form said response, and hit the buzzer. And 2) Meet the delivery person at the door (see #1), having their NIE card ready to go, just in case they ask. 

    These are the rules. We don’t make them up, we just abide by them. If the person who did the ordering is in the bathroom when the buzzing happens? Well, they will owe the other person until the end of time for this grave inconvenience. Jeff is seemingly very adept at psychically determining when a delivery person will come, and slipping into the bathroom. I am very sure he’s hiding in there, and not just from the delivery guy. Today, no such luck.

    We both looked like deer caught in the headlights. Its a holiday here – nothing is open outside. What?! But he grudgingly went to the little phone and heard his name. Then he buzzed.

    ‘I can’t imagine what it is.’ He told me as I was making breakfast. But he waited by the open door as the man stepped off the elevator, then came back into the kitchen with the box.

    ‘It’s my amp. It wasn’t supposed to be here for a week.’

    Jeff has decided to learn to play guitar, so he’s been buying things related to that. But his frustration with the delivery situation has been my own experience, as well. Back in the US, when anyone quotes you a delivery date, time, window – it will usually be somewhere in there. Especially if you order on Amazon,com. They have that down to a literal science. There are algorithms and AI involved.  It will be there at the appointed hour, on the appointed day. Count on it.

    Here, not so much. But it’s kind of a weird, predictable unpredictability, mostly. In our experience, if we order on Amazon.es, they will quote us something will be here in X days. Sometimes, they’ll tell us the item isn’t available and won’t ship for a month. It’s kept us from ordering some stuff, if we are going to be traveling during that time. But here’s the thing – it’s all a lie.

    In Spain, you never need to choose next day delivery or even 2 day shipping, because in our experience, that thing they told you was not in stock and wouldn’t ship for a month, will be here exactly tomorrow – even on a SUNDAY or National Holiday! And if they told you it will be here in 10 days – NOPE! It will be here tomorrow or maybe, just maybe, the next day. Jeff is convinced the Amazon fulfillment center, in Spain, is in the bottom of our parking garage.

    ‘But they never sent me an email saying it shipped!’ You may lament after getting back from the grocery store or having a coffee or taking out the trash. Ha! Silly fool. You’ll get that after they’ve delivered it. But before that, you’ll get a notice that tells you ‘Hola estupido. We were at your flat trying to deliver that thing we told you wouldn’t be here for a month -TODAY ! – as per usual. Lo siento. We’ll try again tomorrow – maybe. Or the next day. Just stay home and wait for us.’

    And then that’s what you’ll do. You don’t wanna miss that person twice or they’ll send it back. To where? Who knows! But you don’t want that. We have been hostage to delivery people here more times than I care to count.

    I didn’t write about this a couple of weeks ago when my sofa was supposed to arrive, because even I’m tired of that saga. But it didn’t arrive when they said it was going to – I waited 3 whole days for it – like a hostage. Yes, I called and said some pretty nasty things to the person on the phone after the second whole day when they assured me on the phone, after the first day, that they would ‘100%’ deliver it the second day. There is a healthy gypsy population here in Valencia – I considered contracting a curse on the company, and said so, after that second day. Surprise! My sofa made it on the third day. I guess the evil eye is a powerful thing. I had started to wonder if this El Compartimiento didn’t want a sofa in here. I think it heard me threaten the curse. Funny, it seems tranquila about the it now.

    Jeff just let me know his new guitar is supposed to be here by the end of next week. So that means we’ll have to stay home all day tomorrow. You might think this strange but in Spain, Amazon.es bends time. Tomorrow is next week, or any date they’ve told you in the future, in their world. Oh well. I’ve got things to do around the house. And when Jeff goes to the bathroom, I’ll know the package will be arriving any moment. Our own, very accurate, ‘delivery alert system’.