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!

Last Days of Fallas

What I said in my last post about noise? Well, I take it all back. Last night was epic on the noise front. Our local Fallas Associations were in full steam until late. I took the elevator down with several Falleras from our building. Some older ladies who had the sash from long ago with full regalia. And the Mantillas – both black and white. They processed endlessly around and around the block with a hundred other people from just around our building. Oopah! Oopah! Bam! Bam!

I walked into town for dinner Saturday night. Every Fallas organization was marching to converge on Colon (the epicenter of Valencia). Complete with their own individual marching bands. Our eldest son, Ryan, called me on the walk in. I kept saying, ‘Just wait until I turn the corner so I can hear you.’ But every turn brought me face to face with yet another group and their band. It was crazy. I had forgotten about this happening last year.

Another Group heading for Colon

Then Sunday was the HUGE procession for Our Lady of the Forsaken. I took some pictures of her before she was covered by all the flowers the Falleras would bring to her from all over the city. But there was no way I was heading into the square by the church this year. Been there, done that last year.

But luckily I got all my photos of the Fallas Infantils last weeks so I’ll include those here. Some of them are pretty cool.

But what happened last night was the best part of Fallas for me this year. We have a neighbor – I think she was one of the people who called our landlord on me for the Infamous Christmas Cookie Situation of 2018. They see me and barely acknowledge me, usually. I see their son come home for lunch several times a week and he smiles and gives me an ‘Hola’, quietly whispered. He’s grown about a foot in the past year.

Jeff left me with some seriously large fireworks. On the order of those he bought for our wedding reception finale, over the lake where we got married on. So they aren’t just small firecrackers. I don’t like setting these things off alone. It’s like swimming in the ocean – do it in pairs. So yesterday, after getting up my nerve, I gathered my fireworks together and knocked on the neighbor’s door. I don’t think they wanted to answer.

A lot of rustling later – whispers – and then the door opened. The Mom and her two boys stood there. They knew who I was but were clearly uncomfortable. In broken Spanish I explained that Jeff was in London and I’d like to light these fireworks but didn’t want to do it alone. Could she and her boys help me? The boys eyes lit up! Then I offered that if they would light them, and let me watch, they could have them. Well, that changed everything.

So at 8 o’clock last night they knocked on my door (prearranged) and we went out on the street. They had some loud firecrackers, but then they got to the ones I had given them. The first batch was lit and a crowd gathered. Another boy stopped and talked to the kid next door. Our kid (yes, I’m aware that sounds strange) seemed very surprised to talk to this kid. The Mom explained – Surprise! – en Ingles.

Apparently, the boy who stopped is ‘Cool’. Our neighbor boy is not. But this cool kid was very impressed with the fireworks they were shooting off and told our neighbor boy that he thought it was really cool he had such amazing fireworks, and he stayed for the show. We watched her very shy son smile from ear to ear. More lighting of things and blowing up stuff. Afterwards I said my good-nights and they all were very grateful. But it was me who was grateful and I told them so. I found a way to crack the ice that had been frozen for the last year.

So the things I’m learning how to do now are more subtle. The fine motor skills of learning how to fit in. I wasn’t looking forward to Fallas this year – and I’ve not made any secret of it. But it turns out to be a crucial part of my Valencian education. Kind of makes me look forward to next year.

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.

    First Things First

    I have written alot about Spanish holidays. Because there are so very many of them. This country likes to celebrate. It can be fun and it can be confusing. But there is one thing I find so wonderful about the Spanish way of celebrating holidays that I want to celebrate that! Here they celebrate one holiday at a time.

    In August, the decorations and reminders for the Nou d’Octubre celebration weren’t out in stores. Oh no! They were busy celebrating things like Assumption Day and other stuff. This is a very ‘Live in the Present’ culture. Jeff both loves that and laments it. He’ll be doing a guest blog on that very subject right here very soon – stay tuned.

    It didn’t hit me until we went to El Corte Ingles for lunch the other day. That sounds kind of weird with all the other lunch and beverage options in the city we would choose a department store, but their restaurant it really good and the view from the top? We love sitting up there and having a drink and some snacks and looking out over the interesting roof tops with all the church towers. It’s usually almost empty and kind of a secret – don’t tell anyone.

    We walked into the bottom floor and what did we see in mid-October? A Halloween display. One that wasn’t there two weeks ago. And do you know why it wasn’t there? Because they aren’t stupid. They were busy celebrating, first Valencia Day and then Spain Day on October 12th. That space was taken up with other celebration appropriate stuff.

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    I was so struck by seeing Halloween gear that I started looking around. When we were back in the US in September, Halloween (which isn’t until the end of October) was almost old news. The Thanksgiving/Harvest stuff was out. But what really struck us was that every store had their Christmas displays going. All except Nordstrom who refuses to do it until the day after Thanksgiving. But that means their employees work on Thanksgiving – a holiday supposedly devoted to spending time with your family – to put up Nordstrom’s Christmas regalia.

    Yup. Walmart, Fred Meyer, Target and every grocery store had already turned the corner to Christmas. It makes every holiday seem like it lasts forever and isn’t as special any more. Here that would never happen. They seem to look at their calendars and say ‘Well, lets see what’s next up for fireworks and family gatherings and special food’ and then they go to the store and shop for that one thing. Everyone knows what they’re celebrating and they focus on that.

    So there are no Christmas windows that snuck in before anyone else. Trying to complete for the attention of the population for their limited almighty Euro. No. And I love it! The pace of things seems just right.  Do one thing at a time and do it well, then move on.

    It will be interesting to see how they do Halloween here. I have heard that they don’t do tick or treating with kids, but they do Halloween parties so we’ll see how that goes. I won’t lie. It was sort of nice to see all that cheezy crap piled up in that little space at the store. It’s been colder here lately so its starting to feel a little like home. But those masks and the big Harry Potter display did it for me. Time to buy some Candy Corn and Chromecast a fire on the tv from an app on my phone. OK – now it doesn’t feel like home.

     

    Nou d’Octubre – The Day of Valencia

    Every October 9th, since King James the I of Aragon sent the Moors packing south, Valencian’s have celebrated their freedom. OK, well as much freedom as people who still lived under a feudal system for 100’s of years following this conquest could. But the Spanish population, who were mostly Christians (Catholics) went from being the low men on the totem pole to those in power.

    There is no debate here about the role of Charlemagne or Roland in freeing Spain from the Moors, like there is in Navarra. The Valencia’s are pretty sure it was this one guy and his lucky bat, who showed up right as his victory was clinched, that did the trick. You can see the Valencian bat festooned on manhole covers and futbol jersey’s. The Bat is the thing here.

    Nearly 800 years later they’re still pretty happy about it. And like most celebrations we’ve encountered in Spain, if one day of partying is good, six days is just that much better. Nou d’Octubre is the biggest celebration of Valencian pride, and that is saying something since they have a month-long Fallas celebration in March, too.  But Fallas is an internationally renowned party celebrating the art of satirical street sculpture that attracts visitors (and pyromaniacs) from far and wide. This celebration is for the people of the region.

    We had some friends in town this weekend – who brought more friends with them – so our group pf 10 dove in and we got a bit of the flavor of the festivities that actually started on Thursday the 4th. Like all fiestas, there will be people dressed in traditional dress. Women dressed like they were as Fallera, and men in both traditional peasant and in Moorish inspired costumes performing or just walking the streets.

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    There was a Medieval Market on the Serranos bridge leading to the towers of the same name, selling traditional locally made foods, jewelry, soaps and oils and hand made candies. October 9th is also St. Denis’ Day in Spain. It’s the equivalent of St. Valentines Day. Here men give their lady loves a kerchief full of marzipan sweets to signify their affection. Knowing Jeff would forget his clear obligations to me on St. Denis’ Day, I bought myself a beautiful kimono in the old city. When I showed it to him I explained how I’d helped him dodge a bullet on this most important of holidays. He appeared unmoved at my generosity.

    During these celebrations, old palaces that are mostly government buildings now, are opened to the public for just 2 days. Valencian’s like their bureaucracy so they need a lot of places to house them and the old palaces are the perfect spots. Large, open and with big rooms that once might have been used to house men-at-arms, but now hold large conference tables or councils. A gentleman working in one of them explained the hierarchy to us.

    In Spain, there are 17 autonomous regions (like states in the US). Ours is the Valencia Communidad (Community) – a collection of essentially 3 counties (Valencia, Alicante and Castello) – who have their congress in one palace here in the old city. This is like a state legislature. Then there is the Valencia county (I’m not using the right words but that’s what it is) – that has it’s own council. Kind of like a county council back home. Then there is Valencia, the city (Ayuntamiento) – which has it’s own city council and mayor.

    It’s a little confusing since the name ‘Valencia’ is a loaded one, but you get used to it. In terms of Palaces, each one of these government bodies is housed in palaces that are usually closed to the public, unless you have official business before that particular body. But one time per year, they open them up so that the average person can enjoy the architecture and the stunning art that is housed in them. Sculpture, centuries old paintings and architecture is on full display. It’s easy to see how the aristocracy showed off their wealth and power using their homes as canvasses.

    There was music in the square and, of course, fireworks – both during the day and at night. I swear, if someone invaded this country the inhabitants would think any gun shots they heard were associated to a wedding, baptism or a fiesta they forgot about. You think I’m kidding but you almost don’t even hear them anymore when they go off.

    My favorite place we visited, although it’s open nearly every day so it’s not part of this celebration, was the Church of St. Nicholas. I had seen it before but never ventured in. Yesterday, we were walking by it between Palace tours and decided to pop in. For 6 euros (kids are free), we got to see something that was truly amazing. It’s called ‘The Sistine Chapel of Valencia’. And ironically, the restorer of the Sistine Chapel restored it recently so it was visible in all it’s glory.  Pictures don’t do it justice and it’s worth the visit.

    Parishioners, or anyone in Valencia who needs help with a problem, will leave their home on 3 consecutive Mondays, walking in silence to the church to pray to the effigy of St. Nicholas for assistance. St. Nicholas is the patron saint of charity. The legend has it that he used to anonymously give assistance to many in his community during his lifetime. The precursor to Santa Claus. Promoting the ‘charity is its own reward’ type of approach. This appeals to me on so  many levels and the church is clearly a masterwork in celebrating his life.

    Finally, last evening we were just enjoying a quiet time at home when we heard a procession go by. We barely get up and go to the window anymore when we hear a marching band in the neighborhood but it went on for awhile. So random. And the fireworks went off shortly there after.

    So we’re not actually to the real holiday yet and we’ve fully celebrated it. Now we’ll enjoy a few days of no grocery stores being open until we get a brief reprieve before Spain Day on Friday. It will be interesting to see what that is like here in Valencia. Will the inhabitants be fiesta’d out after a week of celebrating Nou d’Octubre? Something tells me there’s a fat chance of that! More music, fireworks and processions coming up!

     

    More in Morella

    We are home from Morella. Just pulled in after a long weekend of new sights, new sounds and ALOT of ground covered. Morella is north of Valencia by about 2 hours on a motorcycle. I’ve been interested in Spanish prehistoric cave painting for decades and I’ve never indulged in taking the time to seek them out. This past weekend that was to change. The area has sites all around it and they’re UNESCO World Heritage protected.

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    We headed out to Morella and WOW! What a lovely hilltop fortress town in the mountains east of Peniscola. The road to get there was very winding – Jeff’s favorite kind on the bike. More bridges that only allow one car at a time. I was never so happy to follow a slow truck that choked black smoke all the way up the mountainside because it ensured Jeff went a reasonable speed. Cresting the last hill leading towards the town, the view is spectacular. When Emilie and I walked the Camino we saw so many hill towns with castle ruins that when I would point them out, she would just reply. ‘So what. It’s just another castle.’

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    Well, even Emilie would have been impressed by this one. I like to put the things I’m seeing here into the historical context I already have. The Castillo de Morella was started in 950 AD. Yup, that’s more than a hundred years before my own ancestors hopped on a boat with William the Conqueror in France and sailed the channel to subdue the English forever.

    We rode through the gates to find our hotel inside the fortress. Jeff’s absolute favorite thing is to ride his motorcycle on slippery marble cobbled streets, using a GPS whose maps don’t cover inside the fortress, and try to locate where we’re staying, not on an actual street but up some marble hand carved stairs. After much swearing and a lot of ‘You have to be FUCKING kidding me’s’, I was flashing back to Lleida and the Parador in May.

    Here we were staying in an ex Palau de Ram that was built in 1462, 30 years before Columbus decided to head across the Atlantic and pretend to discover America. I needed to put Jeff out of his misery, so I hopped off the bike, put my phone away with the lying devil Google Maps, and got a spry little old lady with a cane to lead me up some steep marble steps to the front door. Even with the cane she was faster than me. Sometimes elderly analog is the only way to go.

    The Hotel is lovely and the rooms have stunning views. The sunrise and the fog over the hills in the valley made getting up early these past couple of days a treat. And the quiet? Ah, the quiet. It was deafening. We are so used to city noise that we lay there in bed with the windows open and just listened to nothing.

    Jeff is always amazed that I meet random people, get to chatting and then get invited to things. One of my friends here in Valencia calls me a ‘Puller’. I don’t really know exactly if that’s a good thing, but she’s right. I go places and I meet people and then I end up doing something I hadn’t planned on doing 10 minutes before. This trip was no different. After arriving and getting a lovely lunch in the outdoor restaurant at the hotel, I met a very nice English lady in the lobby while trying to get decent wifi reception. She was there with her husband who was doing a sort of cultural exchange choir concert that was sponsored by the village.

    The choir is a Chorus Angelorum from Bath and Bournemouth in the UK.  And they were singing at the Convent of San Francisco, and she asked if I wanted to go. Well, of course I did. I went outside and told Jeff, who promptly bowed out, and then I met the woman and some others in the lobby and off we went up, up, and then up some more. All the way to the convent at the base of the castle to listen to three Spanish composers sung by a British choir. The entire town turned up for the concert. They were very good – not that I know choir music from a hole in the wall – and I sat front row next to the Mayor and his wife. Afterwards, speeches by the choir director and Senor Mayor.  Flowers distributed,  then lots of glad handing and back patting.

    I was introduced to the Mayor who, in broken English, asked me if I had seen their most famous painting. I had not and he said ‘Come’. I followed him to a little chapel where the painting was lit. It wasn’t long before the room was filled with choir members and the Mayor asked me to translate what he was saying to the group. Oh no he didn’t! I wanted to tell him I don’t have enough Spanish for that, but I just said ‘Vale’ and whispered a little prayer to whomever might be on duty listening to pleas from fools that night. He spoke and a miracle happened. An ACTUAL miracle, because I understood what he was saying about the ‘Dance of Death’ and the whole nine yards. And I did as he asked and told the others in English what he said. I even got the word for ‘Prostitute’ right and I had never heard it before. I guess context is everything. No one else was aware of this amazing moment, but that place has something powerful to conjure up that bit of magic.

    I got back to the room and told Jeff that I had met the Mayor and all about my little secret translation triumph. He seemed unmoved at the monumental moment that this was.

    ‘So you like the town?’ he said.

    ‘Well, yes. I mean, I’ve met the Mayor and his wife. And the girl who was one of the princess type people from that Sexenni thing (the festival every 6 years celebrating the Virgin – get your mind out of the gutter). I’ve been here 6 hours and I”m connected now.’

    ‘Good. Cause we’re looking at some properties around here. I’ve walked the entire town while you’ve been out with your new friends. There’s a lot for sale here.’

    I wasn’t surprised. Of course he was already looking at real estate. But I was a little put off by his depiction of me being ‘Out with your new friends.’ I’d been at a convent, for God’s sake. Listening to choir music. So many Hallelujahs and Ave Marias. I wasn’t up the street dancing at the local disco bar. To be fair, it was closed.

    So we set up some appointments and viewed one house that stood out. It was 9 bedrooms and 4600 sq. feet. The cousin of the owners showed it to us and they don’t know how old it is. ’15, 16, 1700’s. We don’t know’. I saw a strange chain hanging over a hook through a small door with a window in the kitchen.

    “Is that a dumb waiter?’ I asked the cousin.

    ‘No.’ he said, like he was speaking to a small child. ‘It’s a bucket. That’s the well in the kitchen.’

    Yes, it has an actual open mouthed well – like you see in old movies – in the kitchen. They have running water but a well? I guess it’s a good back up except I would hate to hear ‘Timmy’s fallen in the well!’ while living there and that seems like an actual possibility. I’d need to immediately purchase a border collie – ala Lassie – just to be safe.

    Amazing. So much potential. It was full of the heads of African animals hunted by the family over the centuries. That kind of freaked me out. I asked the cousin how long the family had owned it. He just waved over his shoulder again and again, said ‘Whew’ shook his head, shrugging ‘Nobody knows. Long time.’ But we’re heading back to the US and I told our local agent (oh yes, we have one of those now – thanks Jeff), that we would visit again after we got back. We need mulling over time.

    We started for home this afternoon. The ride back was going to be filled with thunderstorms and rain we could see from the ramparts of the castle. We were not equipped for this eventuality because when we left Valencia the temperature was on the first floor of Hell. So we traveled in our summer riding gear. But today, by the time we got from Morella to Sant Mateu the heavens opened up. When I saw the lightning and heard the thunder I tapped Jeff on the shoulder, pointed at the church and urgently shook my finger. We headed into the village to try to find a coffee place to wait it out.

    No such luck. We were getting soaked and watching the sky light up. Finally, we came around a corner and I spotted a place filled with people. It had umbrellas and tables outside, so Jeff quickly parked and we hopped off and ran inside. The entire place turned to look at us and went silent. Like 30 people gathered around tables playing cards with characters I didn’t recognize, with a bar in the back. I know we looked like drown rats or deer caught in the headlights – take your pick. The barman broke the tension by waving to us and came around the bar directing us to sit so we could dry out. He got me a coffee and Jeff a Coke. It was then that Jeff realized we were not in a cafe, but in the meeting place for the Order of Montesa. There were flags on the walls festooning the space with the name, with crests and coats of arms. This was their clubhouse.

    I didn’t know what it was so I looked it up. It’s a fraternal military order that dates back to the 1200’s. These guys are related to the Knights Templar. The Knights Templar were all famously slaughtered on Friday October 13th (hence the superstition), but these guys were part of an Aragon branch and were exempted as ‘Innocents’ during the trials that followed. Sant Mateu was part of the kingdom of Aragon before Spain was Spain. But they were still ‘suppressed’ after the purges of their brethren in 1312.

    I don’t know much about it all, but I do know that we were so grateful that they took us in and provide us safe harbor in a lightning storm, until we could get back on the road. We’re home now. Safe and dry and getting ready to pack for our trip back to the US. But nothing like a little adventure before we fly away. Complete with castles, new friends and knights. What more could we ask for?

    Mystery Meat & Other Adventures

    To say it’s been hot in Valencia this summer doesn’t do it justice. So hot that I have no tan. Because it’s too hot to go outside. Sweat dripping and hair plastered to my head holds no appeal on a beach or even sitting in the park. So I have opted for indoor pursuits and waited, and waited, and well, waited some more.

    Today, I was rewarded. The Gods of Hades took a day off from handing out skin cancer and wrinkles to those of us with northern European ancestry. We awoke to glorious overcast skies that look to threaten rain – but none was in the forecast. We were going a little stir crazy – like a winter in Seattle or a summer in Scottsdale – so we decided to take advantage of this brief reprieve and go for a ride on the motorcycle up into the mountains west of the city.

    Jeff mapped out a route and we headed out. A few missteps along the way – his ‘mapping out’ had been more theoretical than actual, so a quick review on our GPS and we re-pointed ourselves in the exact opposite direction and were off! We headed up to an area called ‘Parque Natural Chera -Sot de Chera’. It’s a natural park in the mountains that is protected but dotted with some small mountain villages that date back centuries. There is evidence that Sot de Chera goes back much further to Roman times.

    The castle tower in the center dominates the village of 400 residents – like so many towns in Spain. But here the setting is more dramatic. The mountains rise up above the town on all sides and are are part of what makes it so picturesque, while keeping it from expanding beyond its current borders. We arrived in the middle of the Fiesta San Roque. We have no idea who he was but he has a dog in his effigy – and we like dogs – so we were all in.

    The whole town was out for the various festivities which included decorating every lamp post, tree or railing with crochet bric-a-brac and what not. We walked up the hill towards the square after parking on the other side of the river Sot. The entire town was packed into the square bidding on home made cakes and baked goods with a fair amount of competitive gusto. The winners receiving boos and cheers, paying for their winning bids of 3 euros 80, and then triumphantly making off down the street with their Pyrex pan full of something that looked yummy. We watched from a bar across the street as those who won avoided those who wanted a sample on their way home.

    The town is lovely and the people are friendly. After walking through all of it in less than 20 minutes, we decided lunch was in order so we headed for the cafe by the river. No one in the town speaks English and my Spanish wasn’t at the optimum level today so it didn’t help that everyone who worked in the cafe was boozing behind the bar. But they all seemed jolly and I was able to order for us.

    I know that ‘Hamburgaresa’ is a hamburger. That’s it. That’s what it is no matter where you go. Except in Valencia we have encountered some issues with that recently. Emilie’s last week here involved us trying to order hamburgers at a place called ‘Bim Bim – An American Cafe’. It’s not far from our Metro stop and Emilie spotted it and we decided to go in. We tried to order the ‘Angus Burger’ but were told they were out of ‘Angus.’ That day they only had Zebra, Ostrich or ‘Crokodillo’ (yes, crocodile meat). ‘I’m not eating animals in a zoo.’ She said loudly. I thanked them politely and we left.

    So I shouldn’t have been surprised when our ‘Hamburgers’ arrived and they looked nothing like a hamburger. Jeff lifted the bun and asked me what I thought it might be. I said perhaps SPAM, but after one bite I was very sure it wasn’t. He had put the top back on and just started eating it. I gulped a bit and cut into mine with a healthy dose of ketchup and mustard and my eyes closed. You see, I believe I have encountered it before when my ex-Mother-in-law made some sort of tongue. I ate it then, and today, I ate it again. But I said nothing to Jeff.

    A rare photo of Jeff & his motorcycle

    Soon it was time to go and we had decided we would head towards Requena, via the town of Chera. We could see it on the map and while the mountain road looked a bit winding, the views would be spectacular. What we weren’t aware of is that the road to Chera is a one lane paved road that clings to the side of a cliff held on only by grandmother’s wishes and Angel’s tears. I have never been more terrified in my life.

    I had planned on taking video of at least part of the ride out of town and along the mountain, but it was all I could do to keep my eyes open while twisting around blind corners, staring down cliffs, and trying to keep the ‘hamburger’ tongue from coming up. Jeff seemed to believe he was in some sort of race that I’m very sure is hosted by Ferrari or Lamborghini – do they make motorcycles? – and took it as fast as he could. I was squeezing him so tight that if I had spikes on the inside of my knees he would have bled out before we began our descent into Chera.

    I truly was concerned I might lose my lunch but then I thought I’ll just pull up the face portion of my helmet on one of the hairpin turns and take care of it, if need be. It was clear Jeff wasn’t slowing down for anything.

    Later, we rolled into a very small village on another one lane trek (Jeff had mistakenly set his GPS to ‘avoid highways’ Ugh!) and I got some water. Was I a little pissed off at his riding on the cliff and the mountain road we were currently on? Yeah, I was. But I decided to take a different tack.

    ‘So, you seem to enjoy the ride to Chera.’ I said casually, sipping my water and swallowing a lot.

    ‘Yeah.’ he chuckled. ‘You seemed a little scared. You were gripping me like you were going to fall off at any one of the 100 corners. Why so nervous?’

    Deep breath. ‘Oh, I don’t know. I think it might have been the hamburgeresa that was sitting my throat. I was wanting to make sure it stayed there.’

    He laughed. ‘Yeah, it was a little strange.’

    I smiled. ‘Well, since it was beef tongue and not hamburger, that would probably account for the unusual taste, texture and smell.’ I said, taking another swig of water, watching him. ‘The vein down the middle gave it away.’

    Jeff, the least culinary adventurer on the planet, almost spit up his Coca-Cola. And the arrow hit the mark. I smiled. Two can play at that game and we both know each other’s buttons. I knew I could apply more pressure, but since he was my ride home, I decided not to press the advantage. I figured this newfound knowledge might just slow him down on the curves.

    We made it back to Valencia and Jeff navigated us home like a pro, through city streets and construction. Past busses and closed express tunnels. Something he would have struggled to do a few months ago. Neither of us are very hungry tonight, but it’s no wonder. We had our fill of twisty roads and mystery meats.

    Moors and Christians

    Last evening, we traveled to Torrent on the Metro to experience all that a Moors and Christians celebration has to offer. The Moors occupied Spain for 800 years until, over many years and after many battles, they were defeated by Christian armies from across Europe. Charlemagne is a legend in the Basque country for contributing to keeping them out of France and pushing them back south. But down here, the armies of Aragon were apparently heavily involved in tipping the balance of power from the Moors to the Christians.

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    There is a long history and a lot of blood shed involved. One can see the influence of the Moors today. There are Arabic words in the languages spoken in Spain – including Spanish. And there are many, many place names in Valencia that are Arabic rather than Spanish. But no really seems to care anymore. Except when they all get together and celebrate the history and the battle that looms large in their history.

    In the Valencian crest, there is a bat that figures prominently in the identity of the city. The legend has it that James I spotted a bat at the exact moment his army defeated the local Moorish army when he retook the city. The bat is considered good luck here. I was in the subway the other day and a bat was trapped flying around. I ducked as it flew past. The guy next to me gave me a Galic shrug and just said ‘Valencia’. I knew what he meant.

    Valencia city doesn’t have a Moors and Christians parade themselves, so when we heard about the one in Torrent we decided to go. Torrent is a very old town. It has a tower that was built by the Moors well before the founding of the city in the 13th century. It’s church is stunning. Iglesias de l’Assumpcio is very old but is the second church build on the site. The first one was smaller and built when the town started. It’s main alter and chapel alters are awe inspiring.

    We left the church and made our way down to the parade area. We bought some spots on the procession route and before long we heard the bands. The Christians go first. Each group is a local club that spends all year meeting and working on their costumes for the following year. Kind of like they do for Fallas in Valencia City. You can see how involved and expensive these designs are. Every year they start over, and since like most things, the interpretation is in the eye of the artist, they are loosely based on those they’re supposed to represent. There are people in Spain who study this costume design and make a living designing and making the kits for Moors and Christian celebrations and processions.

    The Christians took about 2 1/2 hours to get through their bit. A Lot of showman ship, complete with horses and horsemanship that was truly amazing. I’ve never seen anything like it and they got very close to us on the parade route. But it was the Moors and their costumes that were the superior. If I was a judge, I would have given several of them the awards for creativity and shear Chutzpah.

    The procession lasted well past midnight and then the fireworks started.  We were lucky to make it back to Valencia on the last train. A very pregnant woman explained to me (in Spanish) what trains we would need to catch and transfer. So we muddled through and got back home in time to get ice cream from our local shop that was open in the wee hours. Of course, you can get ice cream in the middle of the night here on a hot summer night.

    Here in Valencia yesterday, there was the Battle of the Flowers. We’ll do that next year. We need to leave something for year two – but something tells me that we’ll never run out of parades and fireworks in Spain.

    Fiesta de la Ceramica

    Last night, I decided I would take a break from Espanol and do something fun with friends from Ireland and Spain. They had told me about Manises before, and Jeff and I had gone there on a Sunday for one of our ‘Metro Roulette’ outings (more on those later). But like everything in Spain, never go to a new town on a Sunday to learn more about it. Nothing will be open and it will be a ghost town except for a few restaurants around Sunday lunch.

    So I was at a loss as to why they thought this place so special. Last night, I found out why. In July every year, Manises hosts the Fiesta de la Ceramica. Manises is one of the most well known hand painted ceramic producers in Spain. Sure, Valencia is known world-wide for ceramics in general. We have many museums and schools that teach it. I’m looking to take classes myself. But Manises is the pinnacle of artistry when it comes to all those beautiful tiles around doorways and the bowls and dishes that make eating already scrumptious food, just that much better.

    They’ve been making ceramics in Manises since the Middle Ages when the Moors were still ruling most of Spain. In the museum in the town, you can see representations from every period. But even if you choose to skip the museum and walk the town, you’ll see it in doorways, parks, benches, EVERYWHERE. And it’s gorgeous.

    And on the Wednesday night during the festival, every year, they have a parade. Wait! Oh yeah, this is Spain. And not just any parade, but the Cavalcade de Ceramica. Now, a cavalcade might seem overstated but it’s not. Because this parade is unlike any other. Sure, they have the bands and the effigies. They have the dancers. But at this parade they have truck after truck handing out, dropping, tossing ceramics to those in the crowd. And it’s lovely stuff and it creates a feeding frenzy like feeding sharks at the Oceanographic. And it turns out I’m not immune to it myself.

    So I met my friends at the train station. I had totally overestimated the amount of time it would take me to get there. Like most things in Valencia, they’re 20 minutes away. So I took some photos and waited. Finally, we made our way to the parade route and found a cafe where a grouchy owner allowed us to take over two tables on street. I had no idea what was going on but it became apparent this would be our base of operations. We ordered wine to lubricate our ceramic-getting muscles and then we heard the music and saw the flashing lights. It was starting.

    We watched from the sidelines and saw the usual suspects of any Spanish parade. And then the trucks came and it was all out WAR! People climbing over each other for the best stuff. Those handing out the ceramics were in complete charge of who got what. They were drunk with power – even the little kids – I’ve seen it before at elementary school field days and free t-shirts. But that stopped no one.

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    I lost track of my friends, as you do when it’s every man for himself. Luckily, I had brought a backpack and I began stuff it with ceramics. Pretty, ugly, practical, completely impractical? None of that mattered. It was like a sample sale – You don’t EVER hesitate. You just take home what they have!

    My back pack was full so I looked around like any good improvising MacGyver would, and I saw a box and some stuffing that someone in one of the trucks had thrown over. I grabbed that and began filling it with more items as they came to me. OK, perhaps ‘came to me’ is not really the accurate term. Perhaps it was more like ‘Ceramics I procured after crawling over other people and small children.’ I did say it was a feeding frenzy.

    At one point, another woman and I grabbed the same three dishes at the same time. The person on the truck had all three in her hand and I’m taller than most Spanish people so I went for them. A hand from the back of beyond reached out and grasped them seconds after me. I was a little surprised but undaunted. I looked down at my competition with the incredibly long arms. ‘Who did this person think she was dealing with? I’ve fought the sample sale wars in NY. These three dishes are mine!’

    But then I looked into her eyes. She was determined but clearly a novice at guarding her loot. But then a voice said to me ‘Do you want to go to heaven?’. So I gave her one of my three dishes. I’m not a monster. But sadly, I felt no shame for crawling over children while free ceramics were being pitched from a truck on the street – hence the ‘perhaps not going to heaven’ part.

    Sweaty and with a diminished capacity to carry, stuff or otherwise convey even one more piece of ceramics (they were in the pockets of my overalls at this point), I made my way back to my friends. They were gathered and sorting their bounty on the tables. My friend, Donna was amazed at how much I had gotten.

    ‘This is not the first time you’ve done something like this, I think.’ She eyed me suspiciously.

    ‘What do you mean? I’ve never knocked people down on the streets for free ceramics before.’ I said innocently, while appearing distracted with a woven bowl.

    ‘Hmph.’ Her eyes narrowed.

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    But she’s right. It wasn’t my first rodeo in the social science experiments of free stuff and  crowded spaces. I found some more boxes to organize it all, and we had some tapas and more wine. I think our grouchy restaurant owner was impressed with my ceramic hauling technique, because I turned around in my chair and he had brought his two sons over to me. They were carrying more ceramics and they held them out for me to take. He stood behind them, proudly telling me they were his boys. I took the baskets from them and kissed them both on the cheeks. They turned red and he looked proud – I wondered how the heck I would get them home, But, of course, I found a way.

    I was a little tired as the adrenalin left my body so I made my way home carrying my boxes and loaded back pack on the Metro. Jeff and Emilie were waiting for me when I got home with my loot. Neither surprised that we now owned two full sets of egg cups, when neither of them eats soft boiled eggs. But no matter.

    I’m already developing my plan for next year. I’ll be better prepared, from the container perspective. And I told both Jeff and Emilie that their attendance will be mandatory since Jeff is tall with very long arms, and Emilie possesses the perfect temperament and attitude as the guard for our loot. Too bad it’s 364 days until the next Cavalcade de Ceramica, when we can do it all again!

    Fiesta de la Sweat!

    It’s been hot here. Really HOT! So hot that even going to the beach is a fools errand. You hardly see people out on the street. Spaniards aren’t stupid. Screw the siesta. The entire month of July and August deserve siesta. Just laying down and going into some sort of suspended animation – like a bear hibernating – except instead of a cave in winter its on the surface of del Sol.

    Now I know heat. We spent two years in Arizona in the Valley of Death. Not Death Valley – a proper name – the Valley where Phoenix and Scottsdale sit where you’ll actually die if you go out at mid-day for more than about 10 minutes without shade. We used to do our daily walks in the summer there at midnight or before the sun rose in the morning. That was fraughts with animals that would like to kill you and eat you, on top of the heat cooking you from the pavement beneath you.

    Here it’s just as bad right now – perhaps worse with the humidity. Yesterday I decided to take the Valensibi bike to my Spanish lesson. It’s on the North side of the city near the IMED (Four Seasons of Hospitals) so I have walked up that way many times. I know how far it is. But I was running a little late and thought I would use my GPS to pinpoint it and then ride so I wouldn’t get there after the other students. I’m having an intense group class with other Expats I know – just this week – so I didn’t want to be the last to arrive and recite my homework. That was a grave mistake.

    I swear the route doubled itself since the last time I went out there. I rode and rode and rode some more. It was awful. I found the back side of the building and then went in search of where I could drop my bike off at a Valenbisi bike station. The closest one was like a mile away. OK – I rode over there and had to stop 2 times on the way to hydrate while cooking in the sun at lights.

    Then I had to make my way back to the school and what did I see? Oh yes, the tram that runs blocks from my house in Benimaclet runs right in front of the school. WHAT!?! Other students were getting off looking refreshed from their air conditioned ride, hopping into the school to greet the receptionist. I was like a melting popsicle who just flowed through the door and left a wet spot on the chair. They all looked at me like I was crazy – they actually told me I was crazy – for riding a bike in this weather.

    I was telling a friend last night about it after coming home from the Mercadona having had to purchase a cooler from the El Chino next door to it before attempting to purchase ice cream. They don’t have A/C in their apartment and they’re dying. I told her I believe we are missing a festival here.

    ‘Fiesta de la Sweat’! Come on, it will be fun! I riffed some ideas last night but I’ve had time to mull it over and I think I’ve got the details worked out.

    • The Patron Saint of Fiesta de la Sweat would be San Sudor – He would be carried around in effigy having been carved from an iceberg brought in from our sister city in Northern Greenland. We don’t have a sister city in Northern Greenland, you say? Well we need to get one with all sense of urgency! It’s a festival, damn you!
    • Much like during Fallas when small innocent looking children would throw lit firecrackers under our feet as we walked down the street – under the complete supervision of their adult parents, I might add – in Fiesta de la Sweat, we would all throw water balloons and crushed ice on unsuspecting passersby off our balconies. Come on, it will be fun. And anyway, what are those people doing out on such a bloody hot day anyway. They deserve it. I mean, they deserve the refreshment. He He. And they’ll be dry by the next block anyway.
    • Chocolate would be banned during festival time. Children on the tram wouldn’t have melted chocolate covered hands and faces ready to wipe on you as they passed by to the only open seat when there are 20 elderly people standing with walkers and canes.
    • The official Fiesta de la Sweat drink would be Gin + Tonic, because as every sweaty Brit on holiday will tell you, it’s a restorative and it just works in every weather.
    • There would be no fireworks because no one wants to go outside to light them – Thank GOD and San Sudor for make that happen!
    • There would be the ‘Running of the Cubes’ where people would race each other in the street with large ice blocks over their heads while it melted down on them. They would sign up gladly as the winner is the one who can keep it aloft until it melts completely. Entrants would pay a fee of 100 euros just so they would have access to the ice. Nevermind having to run around with it down the street in the sun.
    • And finally, there is no Fiesta de la Sweat worth it salt (ha!) without a parade. This parade would only include people who I have actually seen, who don’t appear to sweat at all. Honestly, it’s like they don’t have sweat glands or something. Their faces aren’t red like mine, they aren’t fanning themselves, no sweaty bandana pulled out to dab their brow – NOTHING. In human, really. For the Fiesta de la Sweat parade, these people will march in colorful bathing costumes of their own creation (there will be judging). We will clap and wave at them from under our sweaty umbrellas or from our balconies. Then we’ll throw buckets of water on them or hook a hose up to the kitchen sink and spray them with water. They’ll love it!

    Of course, I’m in the early stages of planning for next year’s Fiesta de la Sweat – I’ll keep you posted on the exact dates. Oh wait! Or you could just watch the temperature gauge. When it hits 35 – that’s opening ceremonies day. Mark you calendars in advance.

     

    Noche San Juan Bautista

    I’m all about the good vibrations. And generally, I’ll try anything once – as long as it’s not going to potentially kill me or result in legal action. There hasn’t been one second in my life that I’ve thought I had all the answers. I’m always in awe of deeply religious people who truly believe they have it all figured out. How wonderful that would be to live in a state of certainty. Me? I’ve always been a skeptic but I think there’s something to energy that connects us all. I just have no idea how.

    Last week, we heard about the Noche San Juan Bautista (St. John the Baptist Eve) from the guy who owns the local motorcycle supply shoppe. We were there picking up some stuff that we weren’t able to get in Germany last month and we got into a conversation with him – truly one of the nicest guys. Turns out he lives near us in the same area and is a native Valencian. He told us all kinds of local history and advised us on stuff we should do in the area and things we needed to experience. Some of which – when pressed – he admitted he’s never personally tried, like the festival of Tomatina. And that’s when he told us about the Eve of St. John the Baptist.

    We’ve been to every festival since the day we arrived here, so it seemed that we should be open to this one too. The Eve of St. John is always held on June 23rd. It’s about the summer solstice (and the birth of St John) and it’s essentially ‘Out with the Old, In with the New’. A healthy sweep of all the bad energy collected over the winter, and making wishes and prayers for all good things. It’s huge in Catalonia and Valencia.

    The way I look at it, it’s about leaving behind what you don’t like and asking for transformation. Well, I’m all in on stuff like that. I love transformations – especially when I can achieve that on my own – not to mention enjoying watching other people rise from their own personal ashes. So when he told us about this we made plans to be there.

    I went to meet my new Spanish tutor Friday afternoon. My tutor, Rob, told me about it too and asked if we might like to join he and his girlfriend, Claudia, to experience it ourselves. It involves going down to the beach and waiting until midnight. Bonfires are set about every 10 meters and people write the things they want to leave behind on papers and then burn them in the fire. They also write their deepest hopes and also, burn them in the bonfire.

    Then they go out into the water and jump over either 7 or 9 waves (it has to be an odd number) and make three wishes. The fire and the water are cleansing and restorative and the wishes will be granted. Some people walk on the hot coals but I figure they must be pretty drunk to do that. There would be fireworks at midnight – it’s Valencia so duh. Then people make sure they are awake when the sun comes up because the first rays of the sun on St. John’s day are a blessing. Seemed pretty straight forward, so we made plans to go and ‘Get there early because the beach will be packed’.

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    Jeff and Emilie and I went down to Patacona beach and staked out a spot in the location we were advised to. The beach was full and the police, fire department, and street cleaners (who outnumbered the other two combined) were already out in force. And it was very hot. And then, it was even hotter. Jeff started not looking well and we went up to a beach side cafe to get him something to eat and drink and he got very sick. Finally, I was concerned with the direction it was all going and I packed us up and got him home on the tram. Thank God it was air conditioned.

    After a very cool shower and cold Aquarius water, he was doing better and wasn’t violently ill or alternately bright red and then grey anymore. And today, he’s just resting. So we didn’t get to experience Noche San Juan Bautista with the bonfires, except hearing the fireworks at midnight – but that’s every Saturday night here. We didn’t get to leave behind our papers in the fire or jump over the waves. But I didn’t want to risk reaching for something new at the sacrifice of Jeff.

    So we’ll save Noche San Juan for next year. I mean, we’re going to need something new to experience in year 2 – right? I’ll throw salt over my shoulder or burn some sage or something. That will have to do in my nod to San Juan for this year. But I feel sure he’ll understand.

    Corpus Christi

    This weekend was the culmination of the fiesta of Corpus Christi. It represents the 60 days after Easter and is chock full of traditions that are ruckus and confusing. We have no idea what so much of it means or why they’re doing it at all. Luckily, some of it was described to us while it was happening. But some of it was just experienced. We have no clue what that part represents.

    Around noon, we walked through the square near the church and discovered a large crowd. Some of the people were crowded around a woman dressed in a fancy white dress. She wore a mask, so her face was obscured, and her head was covered in a veil.  Sort of like a scary bride in Phantom of the Opera.

    A bit out in front of the church was a group of children dancing in various costumes depicting both the moors and others. We watched their performance (apologies for my short arms so the video is as good as I could get) and then saw the crowd surge down the street and lots of shouting. Of course, I had to follow the noise and plunge in.

    Looking up, there were people standing on balconies. Over the heads of the crowd, I could see men waving clubs and shouting at the people on the balconies. Then the people on the balconies began shooting water at the men with the clubs and dumping large buckets of water on them and the crowd. Shouting and cheers were going up as the water hit home. Madness.

    Then the men with the clubs, dressed in sack cloth and with their heads covered in leaves and their faces and bodies painted, passed by me and I was conked on the head as I recorded their trek. Why was all this going on? Again, no real idea. But it was really funny and the people seemed to love getting wet.

    Later that evening was the procession. They put up chairs lining the route and you can pay 3,50 euros to claim a front row seat. We chose this as the procession is a long one. The man sitting next too Jeff explained some of what we were seeing. Again, the woman in the bride costume showed up and was accompanies by 7 men with black veils. These are the 7 deadly sins that tempt.

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    The procession included the Eucharist carriages we had seen last week pulled by costumed ponies, and ALOT of little girls in white dresses marching in commemoration of their first communion. I’m surmising that the woman in the veil with the 7 deadly sins have something to do with being a physical manifestation of what can happen if one’s heart doesn’t remain pure and temptation creeps in.

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    We met some new friends at this parade. Some we’ll keep in touch with. I’m excited that we have been able to participate in so many fiestas so far and it makes us feel more part of the community. And many of these happen on the weekend that it makes it easier to participate and enjoy.