Sh*t Happens

Let’s face it – Stuff happens. Toilets break. The A/C goes wonky. Usually at the most inconvenient times. When we first moved to Arizona, I noticed on the morning news shows they took bets on when the first day of triple digits (temps over 100 degrees Fahrenheit) would be reached for the calendar year. But I paid it no mind. Hot is Hot. Then on that fateful day, in May 2016, the A/C went out. Yeah, not good. Sleep wouldn’t be in my future.

I was in Arizona alone and Jeff and the kids were still back in Seattle finishing out the school year. We were just leasing a house temporarily. So the landlord put me up in a really nice resort on the top of a mountain with amazing views. If you’re ever in the Scottsdale, I can’t say enough good things about the Copperwynd Resort and Spa . But I should have been forewarned when they had a piece of paper in the room telling me not to leave my suit case open or my shoes on the floor, because they ‘couldn’t be held responsible for creatures crawling inside’. I.e. scorpions and snakes that might sneak in.

So when I was told I could come home after 4 days, and a couple of lovely massages later, to a new A/C unit I was thrilled. But what I didn’t realize is that the workers had left all the doors open while they did the install in the walk in closet (where my clothes were kept) crawlspace/ceiling, and it was scorpion hatch season. So when I woke up in the middle of the night a few weeks later, after a searing pain in my finger, I would flick on the light to see my cats jumping on a large scorpion who had been in bed with me and stung my hand. It hurt like HELL! And then then neuro-toxin did its work and it numbed up. But after beating the scorpion with my shoes and a broom at 2 am – all’s well that ends well. No Problema.

And the one thing that I didn’t have to do in Arizona was pay for the A/C install and wait to be reimbursed by my landlord. They wrote the check for the entire thing when the guys were finished, and all I had to do was wait for the scorpions to show themselves. We all have our assigned roles.

But here in Valencia? Well, I think I would rather wait for the scorpions. Our toilet in the guest bath broke. It wouldn’t stop running and after a few days we duct taped it so our water bill wouldn’t break the bank. Getting the tank lid off a European toilet required some YouTube video watching and 3 hands. If one of us lived alone we would have been screwed. The plumber took another week to arrive.

He came today. Our landlord, a lovely man, got caught up in a meeting at work and wasn’t here when the guy showed. Since I don’t speak Bulgarian, I’m going to say he was Bulgarian. So this guy did a lot of miming – I don’t think he’s remotely Spanish and my sad lingo skills didn’t seem to penetrate his ears. He grimaced at me repeatedly, rolled his eyes, and shook his head when I offered him a bucket after one of his lengthy incoherent rants. Apparently, his version of ‘Wax on’ means ‘Oops! I spilled copious amounts of water in the bathroom and I need mucho towels’. Only he didn’t say that in either Espanol or Ingles.

So finally, I figured out he requires more parts and he needs to go out and get them. Fine. ‘Vale’ I told him. ‘No Problemo‘. Pero eso es una problemo. Because he doesn’t have money for the part. Wait, what?

Back in the US, the plumber comes with a van. He has all the parts for toilets, pipes, etc. in the van. He gets the parts he needs by going out into the driveway where his van is parked and getting them From the van. Worse case, he calls someone who brings them. I have nothing to do with the entire process and don’t want to. In the end, he presents me with a bill for whatever he did and I pay it. That’s the extent of my involvement.

Here, they don’t do that. You will be very involved. You’ll be like his scrub nurse during heart surgery. I held the towels and mopped up overspill. I held his wrench and provided a third hand. I turned water on and off regularly. If he had asked me to mop his brow I think that would have been part of my job. And there is another big difference. How the exchange of money goes down.

Here, if there are additional parts required, you dig into your wallet and you hand him wads of cash like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. So you give the guy the money and he leaves for a jaunt down to the hardware/plumbing store (has a coffee/cerveza on the way – I am very sure), gets said parts at the plumbing shop and returns. All within a cool 3 hours, while you wait. Now I know why there are so many of these places near us. They need them close to their clients. And our plumbing superstore is across the street. So perhaps he attended a wedding or a christening on his foray outside my apartment but he was gone a long time. All this while I mopped up and surveyed the toilet carnage that was seeping out into the hallway.

So my new Bulgarian plumber eventually comes back and grunts some more; hands me a wad of change – in the style of a 5 year old who’s been sent to the store for a loaf of bread by their mother. His hand was popsicle sticky and sweaty and it was covered in lint. And I’m not sure it was all there (based on the receipt he gave me). Then he goes back to work.

The toilet is finally fixed. My landlord shows up. There is much discussion, arm waving and writing of many bills. Then the guy leaves and my bathroom is filled with old, broken parts. It’s a war zone that I’m expected to clean up. Yay! I can’t wait until the gas guy comes for the annual check up. That should be fun! I’ll have to make sure I have some tools on me, several hundred euros in my wallet and am at the ready to assist with all my nonexistent natural gas skills, as he sees fit.

I’m starting to wonder if perhaps everyone I come in contact with thinks I’m a little slow. I smile and nod. I run around and present things to them like a golden retriever trying to make his master happy after a long hard day at work. But I know I’m making progress. Every day my Spanish is getting better – and my mime skills too. When our landlord was just here we had a discussion in, mostly Spanish, about the neighborhood, etc. He asked after my Dad and I was able to give him the update in Espanol. I understood everything he said and mostly, I was able to form sentences that were strung together with all the required verbs, adverbs, nouns and adjectives. Perfectly? No way! My word order can be wonky – especially with the placement of adjectives. But he didn’t laugh at me once and seemed to understand me. So it’s coming. Poco Poco. Yo aprende. Someday, after I master Spanish, maybe I’ll move on to Bulgarian. I understand now, it’s all the rage.

Oh Lucy!

It’s crush time on the Utiel-Requena region (Plateau de Requena y Utiel). Prime Valencian wine country. But then growing grapes is something the Spanish have been doing – and doing well – for thousands of years. I love this time of year! I lived in Northern California wine country for several years and September is a special time.

Utiel, Valencia

September is the moment when all the work that was done last winter and spring, and all the waiting through the summer for the grapes to mature, comes to fruition (actual fruit). Its the first step in the long process over the next 18 months to 2 years before we can purchase the results in a store. How will it go? Only the Gods know. But there are early indications on the potential.

Today, I went with my friend Johan and a group of people to the Vera de Estenas winery in Utiel, where we toured the winery and learned all about their history going back to the 19th century.

This year there was hail in Spring. It killed many of the first blooms on the vines. So, according to Eduardo – the grandson of the current iteration of the winery’s owner – this year will be ‘Not so many grapes, but the grapes we have are good quality.’

I asked him, while walking down through the vines, if he thought this would effect the price of his wine and he just shrugged.

‘No. We don’t change the price. We will just make less wine.’

He didn’t seem concerned at all. But then why would he be? He lives in a beautiful place. He works in a gorgeous vineyard. Life is good. Some years more than others. Being a wine maker is being a farmer. You will always be at the mercy of the weather. And some years the fates are with you, and others they’re not. Eduardo understands this.

We went out into the vines and picked grapes. Then we took them up to stomp them in tubs below the courtyard in front of the winery. This is where the trouble started. We loaded our grapes into the tubs and then two by two we would get into the tub and stomp the grapes. Barefoot, of course. It’s nothing like the huge vat that was used for Lucy Ricardo on t.v. all those years ago. But I had dressed for the occasion in loose linen that could easily be hoisted up to avoid grape juice. I was prepared. This was not my first stomp.

It looked straight forward. Piece of cake! So I got in and then another woman got in. We were supposed to hug each other and sort of dance in a circle. Theory didn’t meet practice. After an unsteady start we took a tumble. Damn! Our futures as fully qualified grape stompers slipped through our grasp.

Was it ridiculous? Of course it was. We knew nothing about what we were doing and we had fun not doing it! But that’s not why any of us were there. We were there to have the wonderful lunch and taste some wine.

I’ll admit that my favorite wine is a Provencal French rose’. If I could never drink another type of wine, and just enjoy that wine for the rest of my life, I would be happy. Of course, I would prefer that I was sitting under plane trees with a cool breeze on a sunny day while doing it. But these wines weren’t bad and for people I know who enjoy a Bobal or one of the other wines from the winery, I purchased a few bottles.

What I really love about these kinds of outings is that I get to meet new people. Today was no different. It’s fun to hear the stories of those from places like Turkey and Mexico. Canada and Ireland. One woman who was born in Malaysia but is now a full Norwegian citizen speaking fluent Norwegian. And we had a famous journalist at our end of the long table at lunch.

Living in Valencia is a little like wine making. The experience varies from year to year. You have no idea how it’s going to go. But it’s the people that make it so special. And it requires a little alchemy. But the longer we’re in Spain the more we’re glad we made the leap. And we’re never looking back.

Preparado para el Camino de Santiago – Numero Dos

We’re only a couple of weeks away from leaving Valencia for my second Camino. This one will seem very short compared to the last one – only 114 km from Sarria to Santiago de Compostella. But much of the gear I’ll be taking will be similar to what I ended up with the last time. With a few modifications.

When I say ‘ended up with’ it’s because I started with much, much more. Last time, I read every blog, FB group and tweet about what essentials I MUST bring. And then I brought it all. Emilie and I left St. Jean with everything but the kitchen sink and two very heavy packs. I would begin leaving half of it at Albergues and cafes, or giving it to needy Pilgrims between St. Jean and Pamplona over the following 4 days.

‘Bandana? Here, take one – I have 3.’

‘Need a Band-aide? Please choose from the 10 different sizes of the 300 I brought ‘just in case.’.

As we were walking from the Pilgrim’s office in St. Jean that first day, down the cobbled street, we saw a gear shop on the left where we could have shown up in our birthday suits and gotten fully outfitted that morning. And probably with half of what we’d brought from the US.

And so begins lesson numero uno – Less is More. And when I say that I don’t just mean stuff. Less stress in advance. Less worry about whether I can get what I need if I forget anything. I brought so much stuff the first time I could have homesteaded in the Pyrenees or performed emergency amateur surgery with my fully outfitted first aide kit.

This time – 10 lbs of stuff in a 30 liter bag

But they say your Camino starts before you leave home, and I know this is true. It’s when the reasons you’ll walk all that way, and the lessons you’ll learn along the way, start to reveal themselves. Sometimes quietly. Sometimes with a roar. Where you go from total elation at the prospect of adventure, to waking up in the middle of the night asking yourself ‘What the hell am I doing? I have no business going thousands of miles from home, for more than a month, on this crazy trek!’. And when the self-doubt will be fueled by the majority of the people you know.

But this time it will be very different for me. I have walked this route before, so I know what to expect. However, last time I walked it in late June and early July. It was hotter and sunnier. This time I’ll be doing it in October. It will require less hiking skirts and sunscreen, and more waterproof, warmer clothing choices. I know the mud in places between Sarria and Portomarin will make navigation interesting.

And other things will be very different this time. I live in Spain now. The fears I had before around finding what I needed along the way are no longer there. Now I know how to navigate. I know where to go and what to ask for. And more importantly – I know HOW to ask for it. Is my Spanish Perfect? No. But if I can find and inquire about goat butter in Valencia, I can find anything else I might need in the week we’ll be on the trail.

So, it leaves me wondering – how will this Camino be different than my last one? Of course, there will be lessons to learn. Like in life, there always are. But I’m less clear about what they will be. So much of the stress of the unknown is gone and I don’t need to learn to slooow down. I’ve already done that. And I know where to pick up the trail in each village – it’s burned indelibly in my memory along the 800 km route. I know which Albergues to stay in and which to avoid. When Emilie and I went, she looked to me to make all the decisions about where we would stay and how we would follow the map. Keeping us on track and safe was my top priority.

So much of my last Camino was about the people I met and how much I came to value their love and friendship by the time we walked into Santiago. How those I met helped me and how I was able to help them when they needed it. So I’m looking forward to meeting others on The Way again. People who are searching in this life – just like me.

And it gets me thinking – hmmm. Maybe this time its about sitting back and letting someone else guide the adventure. Being on their Camino and not mine. Seeing it through their eyes for the first time and listening to their insights and lessons as it unfolds for them. Perhaps for this Camino the lesson for me is not in the planning or directing, but just in the being there for someone else. And right now that sounds just about right. – Buen Camino

*If you want more insights into what to pack for and helpful hints on the Camino - based on past experience - I'm adding a heading for just such advice. But as always, everyone's Camino is theirs alone, so take it for what it's worth and make it your own.

Valencia Fall

The blazing sun of summer has given way to my favorite time of year – Fall. And the light? The glorious warm light that you can only describe as Yummy!. If light were a physical thing that you could wrap yourself in, this kind of light would be soft and comforting like a favorite blanket at nap time when you were a child.

I could sit at the tables of any outdoor cafe and look at it for hours – dancing along the stone walls of the old city. Kissing the Plaza de la Virgin in the evening. This morning’s walk from Trinidad, across the old stone bridge lined with popes over the Turia, and through El Carmen saw the morning sun peeking down the wet cobbled streets. The temperature was perfect and we lingered for a long time over coffee and pastry. Usually Jeff is ready to get on with the day, but even he seemed in no hurry to get things started from anything other than a sitting position under the olive trees on a shady street. At one point the wind blew and the leaves rained down us like snow, making us laugh.

I can sit here now and see my olive trees on the terrace and their fruit is starting to turn black. Ripe for the picking. My gardenia tree is past flowering for the season, but it did put on a fragrant show in spring and early summer. And my pomegranate tree? I have glorious pomegranates! I can hardly believe it. I love pomegranates. And I seem to collect them in imagery, art and jewelry. Funny how we’re attracted to certain things. These hearty few fruits are the first from the tree I bought on my birthday at Friday Market in Benimachlet last year.

The days are still warm but the nights are cool and sleeping with the windows open and a breeze blowing means that we’re sleeping like babies. Better than with the A/C blasting. But it also means I have to sweep more. The wind carries the sand and dust up from the Sahara desert and North Africa. So my washing machine is perpetually covered with the sandy grit on my laundry porch off the kitchen. I’m sure we’re wearing it every day in our ‘clean laundry’.

The fruit in the stands at the Mercat Central are bursting with all sorts of fresh local verduras. Tomatoes the size of cannon balls. And my favorite Herbalista has fresh herbs that smell heavenly, and freshly dried dried ones we can’t get anywhere else.

I’m very sure this time of year is the best time to visit Valencia. The weather is good and there are an abundance of fiestas coming up in October – if that’s your thing. Otherwise, you can just meander, spending the day walking the city or an evening stroll at the beach. Enjoying the abundance that this beautiful city has to offer.

Carbon Footprint

We have not owned a car now for more than 18 months. When we moved here to Valencia getting my driving license was a very high priority. I mean, we’re Americans. You can take the Americans out of America, but you can’t take the America out of the Americans. Well, it turns out you actually can.

Sure, we had Jeff’s motorcycle shipped over. And we used it here and there for a few adventures. But the bike mostly sat unused. We walk everywhere and we use public transport or ride share services. We haven’t really needed a car. But that hasn’t stopped me from looking. It’s just been hard to justify while living in Valencia. If we need to go outside the city we take a train – usually. And on a very rare occasion, when where we want to go can’t be reached by train and then a taxi, we can rent a car for almost nothing. We don’t pay car insurance unless it’s for a rental.

But it’s more than that. This summer has been the hottest on record, all over the planet. The Amazon is on fire and the glaciers around the globe are melting at an alarming rate. As humans, we should be very afraid of what is going on. Jeff and I were just talking about our trip to the Arctic Circle on his motorcycle in Alaska, over coffee this morning. The Boreal forests, and the permafrost holding up the Alaska oil pipeline as we rode up the treacherous Dalton Highway north of Fairbanks. Well, this year that permafrost is melted, and the tundra and those pine trees are on fire. Unprecedented.

I’ve been holding off on buying a car because I wanted to ensure that we were as responsible as possible. Sure, I looked at our old standby Audi. My little TT. But Audi doesn’t have a good alternative fuel and I just can’t pull the trigger – I wouldn’t feel good driving it. But the real question surrounding purchasing a car was if we really needed one. Now that we’re looking to move – mostly permanently – to Galicia, it’s not really a choice. The answer being ‘Yes’; the second questions is more about how we might go fully electric and the viability of being able to get across the the country.

Luckily for us the EU, and Spain in particular, is ramping up their charging networks and stations on major highways by the end of 2019. Iberdrola is leading the way and soon they will complete a network with a station no more than every 100km. We’ll be able to criss-cross the country on electric power. So going fully electric is getting more viable.

Electric Charging Stations in Spain

But what about charging at home? There are no facilities to charge a car in our garage here in Valencia. So a plug-in electric/hybrd or, my preference, a fully electric car isn’t possible while we live in our flat in Benimachlet. But looking at the future, I can’t imagine purchasing a solely petrol powered car. Pumping the same old carbon into the air – like we did with all our SUV’s in the US. In this day and age it seems irresponsible to inflict that on our friends and neighbors when we have so many alternatives. And they’re wildly affordable in Europe – unless we go Tesla or the like.

But what about the rest of our carbon footprint and plastic waste? Now we’re looking at other things in our lives that are large contributors to carbon emissions. I’ve cut nearly all the beef from our diet. Jeff used to eat A LOT of beef and pork. We’re shifting to chicken and more sustainably raised protein/meats. And it’s healthier anyway.

Then we started looking even more closely at the small stuff. When you buy vegetables in a supermarket here, you put on a plastic glove to pick up the apple, potato, whatever and place it in a plastic bag. So the waste adds up. When I go to buy cheese at the cheese monger – he wraps it in paper and seals it before putting it in a plastic bag. But then I found these and they’re only one of a dozen alternatives:

Reusable produce bags

We are bound and determined to avoid buying things that are made with plastics. Sure it means we’ll be taking our grocery trolley to the store more often because plastic packaging is lighter than glass. But we’re willing to make the switch, whenever it’s possible, to make that choice.

We’re not perfect eco-warriors, but we’re doing what we can, when we can. So it seems I’ll wait until we are set on where we’ll be living up in Galicia and then we’ll make our decisions on a car. But in the meantime, it feels really good to know that in the last 18 months, we’ve significantly, and consciously, reduced our overall carbon footprint. Now we just need to find a way to get back to family in the US with the least emissions possible. Covered wagon – here we come!! At least our luggage would get there when we do.