Ancient History

I’m back at my parent’s house and this means I’m surrounded by my history. It’s not just that I’m sleeping in my old bedroom, still sporting the wallpaper I picked out in the 8th grade. Its the whole package. Family lore, family photos, and all the rest.

When Jeff and I moved to Valencia nearly 18 months ago there were things we just couldn’t part with, but also couldn’t justify putting in a box to ship to Spain. Things like every family photo album, high school year books, the kid’s baby clothes, and on and on. We just weren’t ready yet to let go of that stuff. What a difference 18 months makes.

We had filled a U-haul with gobs of stuff and driven it from Arizona to Portland in the middle of January, a month before we flew out, across 1700 miles. That’s just how precious we found some of this stuff to be. So valuable it was, that we couldn’t part with it when we had chucked a whole house full of stuff. So part of my mission this trip was to go back through those boxes I stored in my parent’s garage, and in the big walk-in closet in my childhood bedroom, and ‘decision’ it all (Jeff hates it when I use that word but it’s apt in this case).

I started in the garage this afternoon and swiftly set aside two boxes to be taken to the the Goodwill. Then I moved on. When our kids were growing up we had a large wooden box for each child. In it was stuffed all their art work, writings, scribbling and generally all the things we thought were so precious. Picassos and Hemingways they were, guaranteed! Turns out they didn’t think they were so precious after time to review the contents. And I am no longer feeling it either. So out most of it went.

I went through our wedding albums. All 10 of them. And the tough choices I couldn’t seem to make all those years ago? Yeah, it’s not a problem now. And some of the other photo albums? Who put those together with pictures of deer on some unknown hike we took to some unidentifiable mountain ridge? Gone!

I just threw away two large garbage bags of photos. I’m not sure what I was saving all that for. But I did discover that I wasn’t as chubby in high school and college as I had previously thought I was. Emilie was helping me looking through each pile.

‘You looked pretty good back then, Mom.’ she said surprised.

I’ve decided to take that as a compliment and not ask about any comparison to the current me that she might be using as a yardstick. I left some other stuff up on the shelves. Baby books that they can get later when they visit their grandmother. Then I found the ashes of the two greatest dogs that ever walked the planet – our beloved Golden Retriever, Mr. Perkins and our Newfie, Gus. They will be tucked in my backpack on my flight home as the precious cargo they are.

I’ve winnowed the rest down to what I can carry in two large suitcases. And that’s it. There will be a few family mementos in there but it will all fit. I;ll be heading up to Jeff’s Mom’s house near Seattle the first week in August to pick up a suitcase she’s been storing for us. It contains my wedding dress and Emilie’s adoption books. The dress will be going back with me. The adoptions books will be handed over to Em. She’s old enough now that her history before she showed up at our door is hers to know in it’s entirety, and she’ll be the steward of what happens to those binders.

There is one box that can’t be donated or the contents thrown away. And I don’t have a shredder, so I have a plan. My entire life my parents have had a fire pit. Every summer night we had a fire on the patio and we sometimes roasted hot dogs or marshmallows. Sometimes we just sat around it and talked into the wee hours until the coals burned down. So, between now and my last day in August, I’ll be using our old documents as fire starter. The papers we thought we couldn’t live without. Now, they’ll be going up in smoke as the kindling crackles and the smores are consumed. Poof!

Many, many boxes later, it feels great to let go. But I know we needed this time to get there. What a difference a year makes.

We’ll Always Have DFW

Made it! It was more than 40 hours from the time I got out of bed in Valencia to the moment I laid down again in my old bedroom upstairs at my parents house. Well, I did get that one hour of sleep on the floor at the airport, but other than that it was the longest day ever.

By early this morning at DFW we were all Airport lounge zombies. Every one of the hundreds of people wandering around the gates at 5 am had the same 1000 yard stare. Not able to function properly. Loafing and shuffling as we walked. Most in yesterday’s clothes, except me in my eclectic pajama ensemble. Eventually, I found an airport 7 Eleven and got a large coffee. Jeff and I were in communication at that time. He reminded me to get my free slushie at 7Eleven since it was, in fact, 7/11. But I had no quarter for the mere mortal slushie. I needed to be at top mental readiness if I had a snowballs chance in Hell of getting to PDX. This required American Convenience store Rot-Gut coffee. No tame cafe con leche or cafe au lait would do. No. Just the high octane of coffee that was not just brewed yesterday, but has that bitter taste of overnight fermentation would to get me across the finish line. The drink of early risers, college students and fishermen.

Coffee – A lifesaving brew direct from the Cathedral of San 7Eleven

To achieve this miracle, I did the only thing I could do – the gate standing thing. You go to the gate for the flight you’re hoping to get on. It could be your 4th or 5th of the day, but you go anyway. You look at the board and check your position on the standby list. Supposedly, this list is static. Your position shouldn’t change because they take people from the top. But we found out this isn’t strictly true and our positions were relative to others who were on the list too.

It seems they can manipulate the list and their algorithm also takes into account the class you were flying – both inbound and outbound. Do I understand it completely – No. I do not. But having watched the dance on a previous flight, I knew being in line first after you didn’t make a flight was very important to setting you up for the next flight. It would not only have an impact on your chances of getting on next time, but it was an opportunity to speak to the gate agent before they were completely worn out by all the other passengers.

But on this flight I was number 6 on the standby list. Out of 88. (the board only listed 64 names but I was close enough to the gate agent to hear her tell someone on the phone there were 88 passengers waiting for flights) Nearly a whole other plane. And then suddenly I was number 7. Wait what? I had the lowest number of those in my tribe – so I couldn’t complain. I just needed to wait and see.

They boarded all passengers with a seat assignment. This helps them figure out who is not coming. Then they start the calling out the names. And they did. Veeery Sloowly.

It reminded me of the first time I went to Lebanon on a boat from Larnaca, Cyprus to Jounni, Lebanon. They took your passport when you boarded the boat – supposedly to stamp them all in for Lebanese immigration while on board. I didn’t like it. But there was a war going on so they didn’t want people standing in the ferry terminal upon arrival when it could get bombed.

Just before disembarkation in Jounni they called out each person’s name and handed them their passport with a distracted ‘Awafe ya Shebab. Allah mauk’ Which means basically ‘Hi guys – go with God’ cause you’re gonna need it. It was a little scary. You wanted to get off the boat but it felt weird having this person call you out to come up and pluck your passport from his hands as he stood there in his military uniform in the belly of the ferry. Especially waving my US passport for all to see. And he had an angry intimidating scowl.

Yesterday, it was no different. Well, maybe a little. But the three people in front of me at the counter were from Saudi Arabia and were speaking Arabic, so even the language I was hearing was the same as on that boat from Cyprus. And the agent had that same intimidating scowl.

This time the gate agent calls out a name and waits. If they don’t come on the first try she’ll do it again. If they still didn’t show she moves on. Time is wasting. The plane needs to leave.

The third name on the list didn’t show. My chances were looking up. Others wandered to the counter lost – asking how they could get on the plane. The gate agent shooed them away and pointed to the standby list on the screen.

‘You’ll have to wait until I’m done here. All of these people are waiting to get on this flight.’ she pointed to the pulsing laser-focused crowd gathered. All of them had a ticket that said ‘See gate agent’. None of them had a seat.

Then she called another name. This was a party of 3 and she got them tickets and got them on. My name was next. But then I heard her say ‘I think we’re full.’

The guy next to her said ‘I think we still have x seat’ and she said they need to make a visual check but that she thought it was reserved. Maybe broken. I promptly offered to sit in the broken seat – unless it had knives sticking through the cushion. And even then I was open to negotiations. They went away and came back. I watched her slowly pick up the microphone. Would she say the flight was full? Would she say we would all just need to move on to the next gate for the next flight to Portland – doing this dance yet again? Could the first prediction that I wouldn’t get out until Saturday morning be true?

‘Kelli Feldrg@%*?’ she said – totally butchering my name. Even she seemed confused that all those letters came out of her mouth in that configuration. But she had me at ‘Kelli’

‘That’s me!’ I shouted and leapt before her. I felt like a contestant on the Price is Right! My tribe erupted in the gallery! They were cheering and I turned around and basked in the glow, raising my arms in victory above my head. I had just scored our only goal in the DFW World Cup. I could hear Freddy Mercury’s voice from the movie on the flight from London – We really are the champions! One of us made it out! The gate agent was unimpressed.

‘Come on. I don’t even have time to print you a ticket. You need to get on the plane.’

I crawled under the stanchion with my backpack and wheelie bag. I hugged her when we got to the door of the plane. She just grunted.

They didn’t even wait for me to be seated. They closed the door and pushed back. As though zombies might attack the aircraft before we got away. The flight attendant found a place for my bags and we were taxiing as I put on my seat belt. But I was on a plane – I would have stood on my head the whole way, if required.

When I got to Portland I was so tired I took the moving sidewalk – I never do that. Pro Tip: You don’t want to fall asleep standing up on a moving sidewalk. Because, like Shel Silverstein warned us all as children, ‘the sidewalk ends’ and you’ll fall off. In my head I knew this, but my body was so tired it wasn’t able to react in time. No matter! I didn’t care that others were openly gawking at my inability to stay upright in my own home town. I had made it! Even though I was still wearing my pajamas from my night trying to sleep on the floor of the airport. Nothing to see here, folks! As I popped right back up, a little dizzy.

Then something equally magical happened. I went down to collect my bags – not thinking clearly enough to realize that there was no way they could have loaded them on the plane when I didn’t know 5 minutes before push back that I was going to actually make that flight. Then I remembered they had told us at the counter when our initial flight was cancelled to check with the baggage guy to arrange to have our bags delivered. So I did. Both my suitcases were on my flight! It was a Milagro de Navidad de Julio! And there they were – coming out of the shoot like they were just regular bags!

At the curb, my Mom pulled up. Emilie had a coffee made especially for me and was playing Andre Bochelli on the in-car entertainment system. Heaven. When I got to my Mom’s she was playing all the culinary hits and she whipped me up a duck egg omelette. So it all ended well. I hope the rest of my tribe got out and are waking up this morning to a cloudy Portland sunrise – just that much more appreciative of being here. But I’ll never forget the night we spent together at gate C11. We’ll always have DFW.

One of Those People

I’ve traveled a lot over the years. And in all those years I was never ‘One of those People’. You know the ones. They’re the poor sods on the news during the holidays. They’re occupying every available space in an airport somewhere across the country in a snowstorm. They’ll be spending Christmas in Terminal X – eating Cinnabon for their holiday meal and enjoying the slowest WiFi that ever existed. Made slower still by the 100,000 poor souls trying to connect to it.

I’d come close in the past. Gotten the last flight out before the airport closed. Somehow securing the final hotel room in Denver when they shut down the airport after forcing us to land in Pueblo on a dirt runway. I wish I was kidding. Of course, that hotel room had ladies of the night working the lobby. Jeff had to push the dresser in front of the door as I advised Emilie not to remove her shoes while laying on the bed where I had laid towels so we wouldn’t touch anything. I never thought I’d miss those accommodations… until now.

Today, I flew from Valencia to London and then London to Dallas Fort Worth. It’s been a long day. My final flight was to be a 3 1/2 hour flight to Portland. Yes, I’d arrive after midnight but I’d be there – with my family. Exactly 20 minutes before boarding was to commence on my American Airlines flight (code share partners with British Airways, who I love – but I dislike AA with the white hot rage of a thousands suns) they cancelled the flight.

Sure, when my London flight landed it was in the middle of thunder and some serious lightening. We landed 40 minutes late as our pilot dodged dark scary storms. But apparently that storm meant our pilot to Portland – and half the crew – never arrived, even though we had a plane and could have taken off. Not good. I volunteered to be a flight attendant on the flight since I still remembered my training working for Asiana in my early 20’s, but I didn’t have any takers.

Luckily, I was just 9th in line to find out what American Airlines had up their sleeves to remedy this total cluster. Turns out, they don’t have any sleeves. And to top it off, they don’t even have a shirt. I’m on standby and they’re saying that it is probably Saturday before I can get out of here – today is Wednesday. Uh – Yeah!

It’s an interesting experiment in the nature of humanity in situations like these. There are the line police who are self appointed. These bold individuals police the line and stop the other much loathed type – especially for those of us at the front – the line jumper. We had just one sort of line jumper who happened to be sitting across from me on the flight from London – so we were familiar with each other. I was well acquainted with her particular style that included invading the personal space of everyone she came in contact with and her never ending attempts to breach First Class. The flight attendant was not her friend after 10 hours of continually bringing her back to her seat. In the line at the airport she became the focus for all the anger that each person had built up – and I must say she earned it.

Then, when it became clear that we weren’t getting out tonight, the search for hotels began. This was a futile exercise – but it took awhile before we all came to the same conclusion. But before that, small cooperatives began to form. 2-3 people Googling, Hoppering, Hotel Tonighting. Sure, I had already looked at Booking.com and Expedia but everything within 20 miles was sold out. NOTHING.

Then the realization that those of us who don’t live in Dallas and can’t just go home, would be sleeping in the airport and not just because of poor planning when we booked out tickets. We were now ‘Those people’. And tribes began to form.

An assessment of resources was needed. Chairs with power nearby was the first order of business. And against a wall where you can store your bag under your seat and it can’t be stolen. Several of us who had been chatting in line grouped together. Other tribes formed too. There were the friendlies – those we would share information with and resources. And then there were those who had already demonstrated they would take care of themselves before anyone else. It’s essentially Survivor. If some guy gets naked I’ll scream.

A mad dash to the Admiral’s Club was futile. It would have been worth the $50 daily pass to sleep on a sofa, but they closed at 10:15. Ugh. I guess even the First Class and Business class passenger is out of luck.

Then we started helping each other. All the restaurants are closed and American Airlines has done such a poor job helping people or even understanding that communication might help – just a tad. So circumstances required civilians to step into the void. Someone found blankets and I grabbed a bag and handed them out. Then someone else showed up with some chips and drinks telling us that there was a pile of them at a customer service area, so we sent a scout and she came back with some provisions. We’ve watched each other’s bags and electronics and found ways to make things a little less horrible.

We are all getting comfortable enough in our camps to get some shut eye. Who knows what tomorrow will bring. But in the space of less than three hours I’m sleeping with people I hardly know, but who I know have my back. Well, OK, at least they’ll watch my stuff while I go to the ladies room and they’ll make sure I have Doritos and water for breakfast. Today, that’s all it takes to be my BFF.

Colmar France and Heidelberg Germany

The hottest week in Europe – ever – it seems, and we chose that one to ride the bike to Heidelberg Germany to fly it to the US. Of course, we had no idea when we made this plan a couple of months ago that this would happen. Even the week before, the weather forecasts didn’t show 45+ Celsius on the thermometer. It seemed to get hotter and hotter the further east we went.

So our original aspirations of seeing some of the key stops had to change. Remaining flexible, not on the destination, but the path we would take. This meant skipping CERN (I really wanted to go there), and Salzburg Austria. But our strategy of staying two days in places we love wasn’t too hard. And it allowed us to recover a bit from a day of hard riding in blistering heat.

This is pretty much what we wish we’d had the entire way. I’d credit the creator but I don’t know who the genius is – but I laughed so hard when Jeff showed it to me I had to include it.

Colmar

Our final two day layover was in Colmar. It’s a town about an hour south of Strasbourg, on the border of France and Germany in Alsace, and has a perfectly preserved old town center filled with half timbered buildings and Gothic cathedrals dating back to the 13th century. It made us wonder if the set designers for Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley might have paid them a visit while they were conjuring up what those mythical streets might look like.

Canals snake through the town that sits between two rivers – The Rhine and La Lauch. We stayed right on the Little Venice Canal. It’s a lovely area and for 6 euros they’ll take you on a boat ride under bridges, past geranium laden outdoor dining spots that will tempt you for a cool drink after your tippy boat ride.

Little Venice – Colmar France

Walking around town can be a little treacherous, because you find yourself looking up and the cobbles are uneven under your feet. High heeled wedges are not recommended – no matter how cute they look in the window.

We visited the weekly antiques market. I heard an English speaking local tour guide telling his group that these purveyors of local treasures are ‘the real heroes’ with the history on display on their many tables. Chandeliers from old houses, paintings, crockery. I collect blue bottles. It’s just a thing. I buy them in cities we visit and I found a wonderful 19th century blue soda bottle with a sterling silver siphon and had a wonderful conversation with the seller. Most of the stands were run by old men – and luckily for me this one had a granddaughter who could speak Angles.

I love church bells. We hear them every morning and night from our local church in Benimachlet. Colmar is a city with some serious church bells. We were walking by and there was a funeral going on so all the bells in town were ringing. Here is just a taste.

The Bells of Colmar

This church had something I had never seen before. Instead of a sun dial, it had an annual dial. This tells the inhabitants what month it is. It’s not like people didn’t know the seasons – especially those living by the planting and harvesting of crops. But for those city dwellers, it put the church further at the center as the keepers of information.

Colmar is so well preserved with pre-French Revolutionary architecture because they failed to do what so many communities did during the revolution. They didn’t burn the town to the ground, taking all the local aristocracy with it. So Colmar survives until today to show us what it was like to live during the Middle Ages.

Museums abound in Colmar, including the birthplace and home of Frederic Auguste Bartoldi – the designer of the Statue of Liberty. Many of his works can be seen in the home where he grew up, that is now a museum celebrating his life’s work. There are arrows in the cobbles for a self guided Colmar tour and they are all emblazoned with the Statue of Liberty.

Heidelberg

We made it to Heidelberg as the heat of the day was reaching it crescendo. The bike safely nestled in the arms of our exporter, we spent the day with other riders who were finishing their epic rides. Some who had ridden to NordCap – the furthest point in Europe at the top of Norway. Another who had completed a 4500 mile 5 week journey around all of Eastern Europe. And still another who had just decided two weeks in French wine country was enough of a challenge.

All of us were using the same service – http://www.knopftours.com/Web-Site/Welcome.html to help make our lives easier. Stefan has been leading tours for years, but his services are also ala carte. He’ll just import and export your bike where ever you need, if that’s what you want. He’ll make calls on your behalf for a whole host of add ons. And he leads tours in multiple countries – including the US. His workshop is covered in Turkish carpets – he loves bikes just that much. And he’ll provide all the tools you’ll ever need for repairs. I can’t recommend him highly enough.

His compound in Heidelberg has the feel of a Spanish Albergue. The accommodations are simple and packed with bikes from all over the world. But the feeling of camaraderie between those beginning and ending journey’s is all Pilgrim. There was a group of Kuwaiti guyS who regaled us with stories of their Norwegian adventure. We heard stories of riding through Eastern African from an American guy from LA. And stories from the Silk Road from Mongolia and through the ‘Stans’ and Turkey. I guess ‘Caminos’ mean something different for each of us.

I was a little jealous of Stefen’s wife’s car. Mainly that she has a car at all. But this old original Fiat 500 in cool mint green is pretty sweet.

A dinner at a pretty obscure place nearby – but is a must eat when visiting Stefan.

Me – in my sweaty French gas station shirt but at least it was clean

http://www.restaurant-dufke.de/

Swiss Alps

1000 miles later and we’ve flown away over the Alps we didn’t get to visit on this trip, but it’s just inspired us for the future. Although next time, I think we’ll be driving on four wheels with the AC and the music going. Fully hydrated and ready for adventure.

100 years – The Treaty of Versailles

We’ve been in France on holidays and historic days before. We spent Bastille day in Paris with our kids when they were much smaller – to celebrate Emilie’s actual adoption. And last year Jeff and I were here for VE day. Marking the day WWII ended in Europe with local celebrations, remembrances and parades in every town we rode through.

Today marks another one of those historic days in France, and yet again we are here for it. The 100th anniversary of the signing of The Treaty of Versailles- the official end of WWI. My grandfather fought in the war, but that’s not why I find this to be such an important moment in the history of the world.

The Treaty of Versailles would set up all the dominoes that would fall around the world from that point on. Yes, it’s echoes are felt even today. It would tee up WWII and everything that has happened in the Middle East, Asia and beyond.

On this historic anniversary, going thru it completely is too much ground to cover in a little blog like mine. But I read this article recently and I’m including a link in case you’re interested in learning more about not only the treaty, but all the activities that went on surrounding the negotiations. It’s an eye opening tableau.

https://www.cnn.com/2019/06/25/opinions/treaty-of-versailles-shapes-our-world-andelman/index.html

The lesson for me here is:

  • Revenge never pays off
    Diplomacy beats sabers every day of the week
    Never negotiate something so important in a place called the ‘Hall of Mirrors’ – cause that’s just too on the nose, and it won’t end well
    Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it
    Karma bites hard – and it has a long tail

We will be spending this day sightseeing in Colmar, so more pics. But as we walk around so much history, I think it’s important to reflect on how we got here. And 100 years ago today was where so much of it began.

Bah! Americans!

As Americans, we generally respond to the glance down a French patrician nose by adjusting our clothes, touching our hair and checking that we don’t have toothpaste in the corner of our mouths. And it doesn’t have to be the aristocracy either. We’ll let any Frenchman make us feel like the peasants he surely believes we are.

Today’s ride was like sweat yoga, except it lasted for more than 6 hours. We left our hotel north of Leon early, and what was supposed to take 3 hours, required 4 stops to cool down and drink water. In what is another far superior French highway invention, the toll road lay by.

This little slice of heaven will have AC, multiple cafeterias, some sort of Art exhibition, and you’ll be able to learn a new skill on your trip.

Cooking, Acupuncture, a new language? It’s all there. A place where you can tell the French know coffee by the 20 auto-coffee machines that spits out a latte that puts Starbucks to shame.

And they sell traditional French mime clothes too. Did I buy one of these at a gas station? Yes. Yes I did. When I came walking back to the bike smiling broadly carrying my new gas station attire Jeff asked where I thought I might put this acquisition.

‘You’ve done more shopping on this trip than I’ve done in a year. Now you’re buying clothes in gas stations. How are we getting all this home on the plane?’

I shook my head. Does he know who he’s married to?

‘Collapsible suitcase in the side pannier. What? Do you think I’m an amateur?’

He knows better than to mess with my packing skills. And bonus!

‘When I bought it, apparently I didn’t do it right, so that lady at the counter started shouting at me in French.’

Jeff knows better than to question my glee at this experience. But, I couldn’t help smiling when she did this. She didn’t realize that everyone had been too nice to me since crossing the border from Spain on Saturday. I had been waiting for this moment,

When I said aloud ‘Ah, there it is.’ She just said ‘Bah! Americans!’ And waved me away from the counter. If she had spit on the ground it would have been even better.

We made to to Colmar, where we will stay for two nights before the final push to Heidelberg. I’d almost made it out of France before being dressed down as the peasant I will always be. I’m so glad that didn’t happen.

Eating Crow

They say that revenge is a dish best served cold. I don’t know if that is even possible this week in Western Europe as temperatures are going to be record breaking across our entire route.

Jeff has demanded satisfaction after my post from the other day, about our first days ride. No, he did not strike me on both cheeks with his leather motorcycle gloves and insist upon pistols at dawn; but a retraction and an acknowledgment that his lack of planning or ‘total Agile traveling strategy’ is what had us eating at the restaurant at our hotel last night, during which we were openly moaning.

It started yesterday morning. We were packed up and ready to head out. I decided to have the breakfast they serve. Jeff, not a breakfast eater, actually joined me. Yum! It was perfect. The food, the service, the setting. Provençal apricots so juicy they dripped down the chin. Fresh pastries, whose heavenly smells tempted even Jeff. Chocolate lava cakes. Fresh cherries and raspberries. And the cheese? Don’t get me started on the cheese.

‘I wish we could stay another day here.’ I said, eating my fourth apricot.

‘Why can’t we?’ Asked Jeff. ‘Let’s see if they have our room available for another night.’

They did so we stayed. We were not disappointed. Another day of Avignon is not hard time.

The restaurant at our hotel is closed Sunday and Monday so we would not have been able to enjoy dinner there had we left yesterday. But staying another day remedied that. I’ve been to more than a few Michelin starred restaurants, in several different countries over the years. The best ones are unpretentious and unexpected. Where it isn’t about how fancy it looks. It’s just about the food – glorious food. La Treille hits all of those notes.

La Treille got their star last year. And it’s chef, Jean-Michel Leclerc, did his best work last night, taking into account the unseasonal heat that did break some of his sauces.

In the decades I’ve known him, Jeff has proudly worn his meat and potatoes mantle. Last night he shrugged it off and jumped in to French cuisine with both of his size 49’s.

Please Note: This photo montage is dedicated to my good friend, Josephine Lee in Seattle. Her amazing daily food photos on social media used to force me to take an early lunch.

Gazpacho started us off with fresh tomatoes, basil, fennel.

Oops! I was so excited seeing the langoustine w legumes, I dug in before I realized I’d forgotten to take a photo of the plating and presentation.

The tenderest veal, caramelized onion and a reduction of ambrosia with a roasted garlic root vegetable on the side, to accompany its delicious friends, woke up my sad 21st century tongue.

Finally, a selection of cheeses and riot of frozen brandied cherries with chocolate, in all its various states, with a dollop of frozen creme fraise.

We ate in silence. Like we were in church. With a little moaning thrown in. Savoring the flavors. Jeff raised his glass of perfectly chilled rose’ as I shoveled in more deliciousness than I’ve tasted in a long time.

‘You know, if I had over planned this trip and not taken such an Agile approach (referring to a SW methodology from both our careers) we wouldn’t be here now enjoying this amazing meal. Outside under the trees. We would have had to move along down the road.’

I tried to pretend I hadn’t heard that. But he went on.

‘I think a retraction is in order.’

Hmmm. Well, perhaps he’s right. This detour on our itinerary was so welcome and it wouldn’t have been possible if we had planned, reserved in advance, and stuck to our itinerary.

Today, after another scrumptious breakfast, we will move North in scorching heat. But not before I officially eat cold crow. Jeff is right. Some of the very best things in life are the unexpected. And some of the tastiest too. So here you are, Sir. Please enjoy, with my compliments, an official retraction for one.

If you’d like to enjoy La Treille – the restaurant. Or even better, stay here too – here is a link to their website.

https://www.latreille-avignon.fr/en/

Carcassone and Avignon

We have spent the last couple of days in Occitanie – the prefecture that covers France from the Pyrenees in the south thru to its border with Provence-Alpes and Côte d’Azur. I’ve spent a lot of time in the latter but this is the first time I’ve spent much time in the Languedoc-Occitànie.

Like so many other places in Europe, there is a local language spoken traditionally by those who grew up and still live here. Some call it Provençal. But we were told by a local they refer to it as Occitàn and it’s got ties to Cantalan spoken across the border in Spain. So using our Spanish, with some limited French mixed in has served us very well. I’ve been quite surprised.

When checking in to our hotel in Avignon, there were other Americans shouting to be understood. The owner of the hotel smiled as I handed her my Spanish residence card and tried out my French ( I’ll admit sprinkled with Spanish). She leaned over.

‘I will give you the best room. These people? Meh.’

We were all Americans but we were the only ones trying to communicate. I don’t understand why people travel but don’t learn just a few words. Even linguistically shy Jeff is pulling out all the stops. He was laughing over lunch yesterday when the waiter walked away.

‘Well, we used French, Spanish and English in that interaction (he was a full on participant, I might add), now you need to pull out some of your German and we’ll be all set.’

Carcassonne

This small city with its castle, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, is simply stunning. Nestled in the foothills of the French Pyrenees, it has been important to the region for more than 1000 yrs.

The Cathars (a Christian religious sect – sort of like Buddhism, seriously) ensured the city’s prominence at the beginning of the last Millennium. You can see how this might have angered the Pope and the Catholic Church. It all went south from there with the Pope declaring a Crusade on the entire area of the Languedoc, to root out the wicked Cathars. Sieges followed. Lots of deaths. It was really what kicked off what we call ‘The Inquisition’. So it’s a historical place and a rich time period.

Luckily, none of that is going on today. Cathar castles and keeps dot your descent out of the Pyrenees to Carcassonne. Especially along the twisty winding roads we took. But nothing compared to Carcassonne.

A rare picture of me. Helmet head didn’t stop me from enjoying the wine.

Unlike some castles we’ve been to, within the castles walls people still live and work – although tourism is the main industry. I love being able to see the historical strata on castle walls and Carcassonne didn’t disappoint. It’s easy to see the original fortress built by the Romans and each period where it was continued after. Layer upon layer.

The Cathedral is beautiful with its stained glass. The sign asking visitors to be silent shows its remaining bitterness to Catholic oppression. Alas, as I stood and lit candles for my family – it’s been a tough stretch for my parents – the sign didn’t stop a family of American tourist from opening a loud bag of caramels and then loudly debating which were the best ones. I gave them my best ‘Sil vous plait’ in my most accenty French accent complete with Gallic shrug and pinched fingers. It was a movie like charicature I knew they would understand.

The people of Carcassonne are very friendly and welcoming, even though they are over run in the summer months, with tourists from around the world.

Avignon

We headed up the coast yesterday to Avignon in the region of Provence-Alpes-Côte. Heaven must surely be exactly like this little town. When I learned that Popes of the 14th century quit Rome and moved here, I felt a little better about their judgement. The Palais Des Papes is the palace they built for themselves and is the largest Gothic edifice in the World.

We checked into our hotel – Auberge de la Treille. Surrounded by Plane trees and nestled on Ile Piot – an island in the Rhône river – it is the perfect oasis from the hot sun and a 10 min walk across the bridge into the old city. I’m pretty sure God was listening when I lit a candle for this stretch of the trip, because after a very a hot ride it was truly in heaven. The owner is lovely.

We got cleaned up and walked into the city for an afternoon of sightseeing, food and drink. And maybe a little glacé. Followed by a farmers market that smelled like the ambrosia of Provence. Lavender, olive oils, tomatoes like cannon balls, fresh herbs, local honey, and rose’.

Do I want to leave here? Never! I am happy to sit under the Plane trees planted by Napoleon and forget there is anything outside of the water of the Rhône rushing by. There are no motorcycles needing to get to Germany. No hustle and bustle of daily life. I could paint here in perfect light, as all the impressionists did. And write my stories. Melting into the life of Provence – as I feel sure we were all meant to do.

The Frady Cat

I’m a big believer in facing your fears. Generally, I subscribe to the ‘if you’re afraid of it, you should do it’ school of thought. That’s why I am on this motorcycle trip from Valencia to Heidelberg. I hadn’t been back on the motorcycle since our accident a little bit ago. I hadn’t written about it here.

We had been up in the mountains in Alicante, riding home towards the sea when we hit a nothing slick spot and the bike’s back wheel slid and we went over. We were geared up so Jeff had a bloody knee, and afterwards, I felt muscles I didn’t know I had. But the thing that freaked me out was hitting my head so hard on the pavement I didn’t know where I was. I’ve had a bunch of migraine headaches since then.

Jeff was unbothered by it. I think because he almost died in a motorcycle accident nearly 4 years ago. So our little spill was tame by comparison. The bike hadn’t fallen on us and broken our legs, so in his book we were batting 1,000. He was ready to hop up and ride again.

At that point, I had already promised Jeff I would go with him to take the bike to be shipped – that decision was made. But getting back on it took everything I had that day and I hadn’t ridden since. We’d had to buy me a new helmet and new gloves. But I was set.

2 days before we left, I broke out in hives. I didn’t sleep that night. I communicated and assumed the well planned route wouldn’t include hours of hair pin turns on cliff hanging mountain roads without a center line, uneven rutted pavement, and oncoming traffic. But it would. I was sweating when we pulled out of the garage in Benimachlet.

Yesterday, in Carcassonne, I was feeling better. The city is beautiful and we’ve seen it all. It’s a place I’ve always wanted to see with the history of the Cathars that fascinates me. And the castle that has such a storied history. (See next post)

But it’s nearly 3am and we are leaving to head down the road in the morning and I haven’t slept at all. Jeff is snoring away and I’m wide awake. I’ve got to get back on that bike in a few hours and I’m sick to my stomach.

Sitting here, I remember my first bike accident. It included an ambulance ride and I messed up my back. I had a nasty concussion that took about a month before I felt human again. It took me years to ride again. This time between accident and riding wasn’t a half hour. We had to go home and it was an hour and a half away. But I realize now that I have some residual feelings left over from it and I’m not sure how I’m going to get from here to there.

Riding on the back of Jeff’s bike has always been a challenge for me. I’m putting my safety in his hands. It’s why I’m a nervous flier. But this time, it’s more than that and I can’t put my finger on what’s bothering me. Maybe I’ll figure it out by the time we get there.

We did figure out how the gps, not only miscalculated the time to Carcassonne but also why it put us on those terrifying roads. So that shouldn’t happen again.

Generally, I’m a pretty fearless person. The one thing between me and my goal is usually just a plan. But not for this. I don’t seem to be able to put my finger on it long enough to develop one. And I’ve noticed my riding fearfulness has unnerved Jeff a bit. He counts on me to just say ‘Sure, let’s do it!’ And this time I’m just not there yet.

Next stop is Avignon. I’ll write a post of the two Cites’ combined when we get there. For now, all I have to do is breathe for 244km.

Pulling Back from the Abyss

Jeff has decided he will ship his big motorcycle back to the US. It’s been in Spain for a year now, and while we’ve enjoyed many adventures, a decision was required to a) properly license it, like now, or b) send it to it’s homeland. He chose b, for multiple reasons.

But to fly it to the US, we need to ride it to Heidelberg, Germany so our importer can export it. A road trip was in order. I need to go back to the US again, but I promised Jeff I would take this ride with him.

We left this morning 3 hours later than I wanted. Why? Don’t ask. But Google maps said it was a 7ish hour long ride to our first overnight stop in Carcassonne France, via the small principality of the country of Andorra. Trouble started right out of the gate.

I like to plan things and be on time. I like a schedule, and I appreciate accuracy. Not perfection, but still an effort towards a realistic representation of a plan. Today was not my day. Half way to Carcassonne, the gps calculated it at 11 hours door to door. Wait what?!

The disagreements started somewhere around Tortosa. By Lleida? It was open hostility. By the border of Andorra? It was war! We have headsets in our helmets so we can speak to each other as we ride. Usually its pleasantries about what we’re seeing. We laugh. It’s fun! But today? This was perhaps our Achilles heel.

At first, the lack of planning was just a minor irritant. But over time there were words spoken, I won’t say by whom. I’d had only had one coffee and neither of us had eaten anything. We didn’t stop because ‘we were making good time’. It progressed from there.

Initially, it was just about the trip. Then it became centered on old grievances. We broke up in the foothills of the Spanish Pyrenees. I tried to call a divorce lawyer after Andorra but then realized we were in France, and that could get hairy.

50km outside of Carcassonne I stood on a hilltop overlooking vineyards and beauty to die for; with a numb backside, totally dehydrated, ranting about how in less than an hour I would be at a bus station buying a ticket to Perpignan, and then promptly hopping the first southbound train home to Valencia. I’m pretty sure I quoted Abraham Lincoln and The Gettysburg Address. I’ll admit, there was a lot of pacing and arm waving.

For his part, Jeff offered to pay for my bus ticket and wave me off with a hearty double middle finger. The upside was that it was the first thing we’d agreed on all day!!

We got to Carcassonne and I had prepaid for our hotel weeks ago (someone planned) which is risky considering my track record with hotel bookings and Jeff’s hotel snobbery. But this time, as luck would have it, he liked the large room at the top of the turret. I could tell because, after riding for 11 hours the corners of his mouth quivered, just a bit.

I changed out of my sweaty riding clothes and agreed to join him for food before my long night on a bus and a train began. A scrumptious charcuterie and two glasses of rose’ later, followed by filet de boeuf, and things were looking up. And he’s smiling now. Eye roll.

After riding 423miles today in the hot Spanish sun, we have decided we are staying an extra day in Carcassonne to see the sights, to rest our weary backsides, and our egos. I’ll post some of the photos from here and some of the other stops on the itinerary- including CERN to see the Supercollider outside Geneva Switzerland. It can only get better from here.

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.

Mis Amigos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Does she know yet?’ I asked him

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeff just shakes his head.

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

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

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

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.

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.