It Goes BOOM!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Effigies and Processions

The last days of Fallas are upon us. It started slow with neighborhood processions – my favorite – that are more homegrown and organic, and don’t possess all the flash of the grand processions with the 100’s of Falleras and Falleros marching to the town hall on floats. Or the one to Our Lady of the Forsaken at the Cathedral square to create her flower cape and dress.

Below are some of the processions that we encountered by happenstance here in Benimachlet. One over morning coffee. Another an evening children’s procession. And then an irreverent adult procession presided over by our local Fallera. Why? Who knows?

Starting on March 11th and running through the 15h, Falla are being erected all over the city by the local groups that raise money for construction, and build them in workshops in every barrio in the city. Designers are hired who have studied this at University. They are the real stars of Fallas, along with their pyrotechnic cousins with degrees in building and blowing up things during the daily mascletas at Placa de Ajunament. Since Jeff is leaving for London to hang with a friend – then on to Germany for a few days – and finally to the US for a couple of weeks, we decided we needed to go out and see what they’ve put together before he flies the coop and leaves me to fend for myself these last few days of Fallas.

I’ve included some of what we’ve seen under construction so far in the following pictures. We’ve yet to tease out the theme for this year but I’m sure as more and more go up it will become obvious. My vote is Women’s Empowerment but some have been confusing so I’m not sure. Many of the larger ones are further along than those of less wealthy areas. Some of them have corporate sponsors and you can tell they were able to hire better designers. But we’re enjoying watching them all go up no matter how intricate.

Each day this week, I’ll head to a different neighborhood and take more photos. I took them from multiple angles as they’re 3 dimensional and have interesting characters on multiple sides. I especially like the Infantils – those small ones that are done for the children. They’re usually very intricate and have a lot more detail than the larger effigies. They seem to go up last, for whatever reason. So stay tuned for those. But until then, enjoy what we’ve seen so far and I promise more to come each day before the judging this weekend.

Fin de Semana Delicioso

A Gorgeous weekend in Valencia. Saturday was windless on the beach. Micro waves, no wind. And it was warm enough to be out and about until the mid afternoon without a jacket. And the water wasn’t too bad after you got used to it.

It’s nice to get back to normal. Or what feels like normal. A little Spain. a little bit of the US. It’s a good combo. Jeff always says if we want to meet people who like to do what we like to do, we need to get out and do it. So we did. And he’s right. It was a weekend of making new friends.

On Sunday afternoon, we joined a group that plays ‘Padel’ every week. We had never heard of this game but it’s big here. The court is like a half sized tennis court, with a plexi-glass back and a tennis net. The balls are like tennis balls only they don’t bounce as much. And the padels are small, and are filled with holes.

Padel Rackets

We had a great time learning something new – rules sort of like tennis and racket ball combined – and meeting a bunch of international people. I played alot of tennis when I lived in San Francisco. I’ve got a mean forehand (the rest of my game is rubbish). I wasn’t sure if it would show up for me after all these years. But it did.

Jeff is really good at Padel. He’s tall, with long arms. The perfect combination for racket sports. He plays a much more well rounded game than I do. We will definitely be back.

After that I walked up to an Indian Cooking class I signed up for and learned to make Emilie’s favorite – Chicken Tikka Masala. The class was great – the food even better. It was right up there with the best CTM I’ve ever had. We made both spicy and sweet. And the mix of people at the class was great. It was low key and filled with mostly other American’s I had never met. One of the participants teaches Thai cooking so I’ll be signing up for her classes too. I came home from my class and Jeff enjoyed the results for dinner, garnering his stamp of approval.

One other important find this weekend in the food department was goose eggs. Finding duck eggs has been impossible this winter, as they rarely lay when the nights are cold. So El Corte Ingles has had no duck eggs and the farm near by hasn’t had any in months. But at Consum in Benimachlet – this weekend they had goose eggs. Big beautiful goose eggs! I can eat a goose egg. They come in packs of 2 and they’re 8 euros.

That sounds like alot but they’re the size of 3 duck eggs and those are a euro a piece so this is just a bit more. This morning I got up and decided to treat myself to a omelet, complete with the herbs from my balcony garden and avocado, English cheddar, sour cream and salsa. Heaven.

So overall, the last 2 days have been fun filled, with new friends, and delicioso! Just how a weekend should be.

Riding the Wave

Jeff is a water person. We both grew up in the Northwest of the US where mountains, rivers and streams meet the crashing Pacific ocean, and it rains ALOT. So there is water everywhere. His water of choice is usually fresh water, while mine is salt water from summers growing up, spent in Cannon Beach or a house in Manzanita, just south over Neakanie Mountain. It’s wild and the storms are epic.

For much of Jeff’s adult life, his sports have included wake boarding, sea kayaking, rafting, sailing, and white water kayaking. For years he was a river guide for a club and shepherded people through white water rivers in the US and Canada. But he really loves kayaking rivers like the Skykomish, Wenatchee and Snoqualmie in Washington State even more. And watching him surfing on white water waves in the middle of a river was a thing of beauty. Our old house was 20 minutes from the put in. He never said, but he chose that house and I think that’s why.

Surfing a wave on the Sky

When we moved here, Jeff gave all that up and shipped none of his boating or rafting stuff. He chose his motorcycle over his boats. But his face fell when they took the last of his boats and paddles out of our garage in Arizona a year ago. Deep breath. He was silent for a few days. I wondered if that might be the a deal breaker, but he persevered.

There are no big rivers in Valencia and the Med is like a lake – with a few days in the winter when you can get some decent surfing in. There are days I can tell he misses it. We don’t have a ski boat or a sail boat here (yet) and while we like going to Panorama to watch the surfers on super windy days, its not the same as being out on the water yourself.

So to celebrate getting my license, I decided that we need to get back out there. So yesterday, we walked to the other side of the city and we bought a couple of paddle boards and all the gear. Carrying those home 2 1/2 miles, strapped to our backs, might have caused a few fellow pedestrians to look askance, but it’s past time we donned the wet suits and paddle some waves again. Sure, not big waves, but it’s been a while. We need to start small.

Our biggest obstacle to overcome in the short term, prior to a selection of a car with a roof rack, is how to transport watercraft to a beach or a lake. Luckily, I’ve discovered that in Spain they are very clever with the available bike rack configurations. We can get the one for surf boards and install it very easily to a bicycle. So we’ll be able to get ourselves and our boards from here to there without too much trouble. Even I wouldn’t attempt a full sized paddle board on the tram to the beach, and I’ve brought a large dining room rug on the Metro. So either I’ve lost my nerve or I’ve begun to acquiesce to social norms. It would be the first time in my life for either of those things.

If all goes well this weekend, we’ll pick up a couple of kayaks next week too, for some fun maybe a little further off shore. Just to tide us over – haha. But that may force the car purchase sooner than later. No kayak racks for a bike.

Jeff’s ultimate goal is to move north and west in Spain. To where there are real rivers and where the ocean crashes against rocks on the shore. We’re heading up there next month to begin checking out some of the areas where we might want to live, and to look for bigger water. And I’ll be practicing my newly acquired driving skills.

I guess, as we wrap up this first year of living in Spain, it’s time to add a little of the old back in with the new. Sure, embracing change is fun. But weaving the familiar in along with it makes life that much sweeter.

Too Much Junk in the Trunk

You can already tell the days are getting longer. The afternoon light has started to get that honey colored glow. The afternoons are in the 60’s and even 70’s this past weekend. Spring is arriving in January in Valencia.

Even my beleaguered pepper plant – that I failed to bring in all winter – has some new little baby peppers on it. And I’ve already bought a new basil plant. I’ve never attempted basil so early. Even in Arizona.

Another indication is that my laundry dries outside before the next load gets out of the washer. Even sheets and towels. Oh how my life has changed in one years time. My yardsticks for the season changes have completely changed.

I’ve already begun unpacking my spring and summer clothes. Not necessarily because I wanted to, but with a purpose. After watching Dr. Oz on the Today Show online, he advised that people who live in yoga or sweat pants are usually 5-10 lbs fatter than people who wear regular pants without any spandex or give in them. I didn’t like the sound of that so I went into the bathroom in front of the full length mirror (in my yoga pants) and turned in a circle. Hmm.

The only jeans I have that have no-give are white pants and they were packed away for the winter. I’ve been living in nothing but pants that are infused with give for the past 5 months. So I dug out the space bags and held up the dreaded white pants with no forgiving give-ness. I didn’t tell Jeff what I was doing and he didn’t ask. He’s used to my weird closet swaps and it wouldn’t have dawned on him that it was January – a little early for Spring and Summer.

But he became aware when I came out of the bathroom. Sure, they buttoned. Yes, I could sit down. But I was very worried I might be risking deep vein thrombosis if I wore them for any length of time. And, if I’m honest, there was a little ‘muffining’ around the top. Not Costco muffins – not that bad. More like mini muffins from the Nothing Bundt Cake shop back home. Again, he hardly noticed. Even when I asked ‘Do I look fatter than I did last summer?’

He looked at me over his glasses and iPad. Hesitating, like a man being questioned by the police and wondering what the right answer would be. Understanding clearly that his life might depend upon it.

‘No.’ And he went back to reading Reddit.

Well, he was lying. Dr. Oz would have told me the truth. I have spent way too much time in yoga pants. Ugh! Something needed to give – literally. So we went on a 20 mile bike ride down the coast. Glorious. the sun was out, the beach was uncrowded and the sailboats were on the water catching wind. Jeff got to use his bike flag that he designed and sewed himself. He was sure people were staring and pointing at his new flag. I was sure it was because he was on his recumbent trike but it doesn’t matter.

Then yesterday, I went to my first soccer practice under the towers at Torres de Seranno. It’s an international team of women from the US, UK, Germany, Brazil, Spain and Bulgaria. And they’re all half my age. But oh well. Its a workout – even though we went for beers afterwards, but I don’t drink beer so I got the full benefit. An hour and a half playing soccer will take it out of you. I slept like an 8 year old last night.

And apparently even our building thinks I could shed a couple of pounds. Our elevator was broken all day. So we had to carry a major grocery shop up 7 flights of stairs. Its fixed now that we’re home with it all put away. But holy moly, huffing and puffing lentils vertically should be part of a cross fit program.

And tonight I got invited to play on another soccer team in the town just north of where we live. Right on the Metro line. It’s just two nights a week but it will go a long way into getting me ready to fit back into those jeans comfortably – without taking blood thinners.

So, as I sit here with bruised shins and sore ankle, with the knowledge that just getting up takes a little more oomph than it did a few days ago, I’m ready to embrace Spring in Valencia. No matter how painful that’s clearly going to be.

Warning! A Rant to Follow

‘People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.’

‘He who is without sin, cast the first stone.’

I’ve heard them all. And of course, they’re true. I’m not perfect. Far, very far from it. And since I’ve heard horror stories of ugly Americans, when traveling, we try to go out of our way to be culturally sensitive and respectful. Do I love everything about living here? No. I miss some stuff, and some of it’s doesn’t make sense to me. We choose to live in Spain because we like it here better than we did back in the US. Jeff reminded me the other day it was his idea, after all.

We’ve lived here nearly 8 months now and I’m fed up. ‘With the Spanish?’ you might ask. But my answer would be an emphatic ‘NOOOO.’ I’m fed up with British and the arrogance I witness, over hear and generally experience from these people every freaking day. It’s very clear many British Expats – or even holiday maker –ย  is under the misapprehension that Imperialism is still an actual thing.

Now, as a caveat, we have some friends here who are Brits. But sometimes even they will say things that make me go ‘Hmmm’.

Today Jeff and I headed to the beach for our morning coffee. It’s been super stormy here and the beach was festooned with mostly locals running. And the waves were huge. The Med is usually pretty calm and flat. This morning it looked more like Manzanita – the small beach town in Oregon where we used to go in the summer when I was a kid. Big angry swells and crashing waves. We watched the Spanish Coast Guard perform a real rescue of a wind surfer.

I was wearing my Pendleton fisherman’s sweater. It wasn’t warm out. And then a flock of tourists came by. We knew they were tourists before we could hear them because they all had large red beach towels with the word ‘ENGLAND’ emblazoned across it hanging around their necks, like they were part of the same flock of red faced birds, to be observed from afar. Then one of them decided that he needed to take a wee and promptly relieved himself all over a stack of beach chairs where we rent loungers in the summer. To say we were actually pissed off is an understatement! How dare he? But we knew they dared – they’re English, and they told us so!

Recently, Brexit has been a large part of the convo around here. It’s become an obsession since so many British citizens live in Spain. They speculate about it, and rant and rave about their Prime Minister’s botched Brexit job. We aren’t ones to talk. with our own country in such a freaking mess right now, so we usually just listen.

‘Well, I just don’t see why we have to follow all those laws the EU would come up with. I mean we’re not all supposed to smoke in cafe’s now. It’s the law in EU and in Britain we follow the law. But you’ll notice in Spain they don’t. They just ignore what they don’t like. That’s why I voted to leave.’

My eyes narrowed.

‘You voted to leave the EU because Britain is following EU laws around smoking in outdoor cafe’s, and Spain isn’t?’

‘Well, yes.’

I was dumbfounded. ‘First off, you don’t smoke.’

‘I know.’ they said ‘but other people do.’

‘Yes .’ I said ‘But I don’t want to have to smoke other people’s cigarettes while I have a coffee. So it’s good Britain is enforcing it. And secondly, you live in Spain. And you want to stay here, with no guarantee that you’ll be able to after Brexit. So you voted against your own self interest, so that Brits you don’t live near can smoke in Britain, in outside in cafes?’

But the capper for us was over hearing a rowdy group of English (I’m hoping on holiday and not locals) in a cafe we frequent. Now my Spanish is not good. And after being away for a month it didn’t get better. But I do what I can and I muddle through. One thing I don’t do is shout louder in English when I encounter someone who doesn’t speak any of my native tongue. But this group of jolly, rather inebriated, assholes did just that. And when the waitress walked away they said something that is the cherry on the ethnocentric cake that seems all too common with those from the British Isles.

‘Spain would be so much better if there weren’t so many Spaniards.’ Loudly, and then they all laughed and agreed wholeheartedly that yes, indeed, it’s the Spanish that ruin Spain because they’re all lazy and they don’t speak English. We got the check and paid. While walking ever so close to their table to leave I said – not so much under my breath.

‘I disagree – I just think it’s all the fucking assholes who come here and forget to pack the manners Mummy tried, and failed, to teach them.’ And we left quickly before I was tackled by a guy who clearly played a game or two of rugby at school.

This week I saw the article about how Spain will surpass Japan in life expectancy by 2040. Yes, if you live in Spain you’ll live longer than all others in the world. It has the weather, A LOT less stress, and the food is a Mediterranean diet. The best for heart health and cancer prevention. And if you do get sick, the health care here is top notch. Believe me, I know. Next time, I want to hold that up to the British, who are ranting about the people of the country they are lucky enough to be allowed to enjoy by the grace of the Spanish government, and shout.

‘Your culinary contribution to the world was boiled meat! You didn’t discover the existence of garlic until 1975. Suck it!’

I used to be very quiet about telling anyone I was an American when traveling. Our reputation in the world being what it is. But now whenever someone asks me if I’m from Inglaterra I make sure to tell them NOOO! I AM NOT. There’s a part of me that is hoping that some of the English can’t come to Spain after Brexit. They can go back to the UK. You know how the old saying goes ‘England. Not like Spain at all, and without all those lazy Spaniards.’ Sounds like heaven to them. Wonder what their life expectancy in the UK will be in 2040. Oh wait! I won’t really care because I’ll be living in Spain.

OK – I’m done now.

Doing a Little Shopping

Never mind the fact that we are heading to the US for most of September. Jeff is shopping for real estate. Well, why not. We have nothing else going on. We have been married for a long time, so I know him well. For all those years, if there was ever a gap in Jeff showing me properties or market potential, I don’t remember it. So when he started saying things like ‘Look at this’ and the screen showed apartments or maps of available properties, I was not surprised.

When we went on our little mountain excursion a few weeks ago, he pulled up Fotocasa and we sat in a cafe in a micro village and thought about the commute, vacation rental potential and charm factor. I am resigned to it. It’s just how it’s going to go.

So this past week, when he’d set up an appointment with an agent here, I didn’t bat an eye. He’s ready to start the process of finding a home. I guess I should take that as a good sign that we’re staying in Spain. I don’t say ‘Valencia’ in particular because he’s looking at things in other parts of the country too. But this first appointment was local.

Jeff knows my weird adoration for Benimaclet. I can’t explain it, but he’s willing to go with it. We have talked about buying something and doing ‘Reformas’ or remodeling. I have dreams of finding something old and gutting it. Breathing new life into a forgotten gem. Improving the neighborhood and setting down roots. Kind of giving back. Jeff is ok with my romantic dream. But he sees the financial upside and the possibility of ALOT more space than El Compartimiento can provide.

The first property was the top floor of a three story building over a cafe. It’s 5 bedrooms and it has a nice large kitchen terrace. But what makes the property so appealing is that we get the entire roof with a 360 view of the area. Well, maybe blocked by a couple of buildings at certain points but we could entertain up there 8 months out of the year. The downside – holy moly, the roof had leaked and it is a total mess.

So now we’re doing research on the costs of ‘Reformas’ and gauging our tolerance for ‘disaster recovery’ as I am now calling it. Jeff showing me this property is challenging my stomach for construction project management and just plain waiting – not my strong suit. How many walls can you knock out and how long will it take? But I’d get to work with engineers. I love engineers!

The agent had lived in LA for 5 years. He seemed to be a keen study in human nature watching me walk around and examine the leaking roof and peeling paint.

‘I have another property. It’s a 15 minute walk and has been completely reformed. We can go now if you like.’

So we walked. And it was gorgeous. Already done up and in a secure building with a 24 hour doorman. The complete opposite of what we were thinking and it’s not in Benimaclet. I touched the shiny fixtures in the two large bathrooms. And stood on the terrace looking down at the lush courtyard with the fountains and the blooming bougainvillea.

We walked home and on the way we stopped in at our local El Chino for a few things. He’s been closed for some of August and he greeted us with a smile. We’re good customers. At check out, I got my ‘Mystery Gift w/ Purchase’ as he often includes. This time it was Tomato Sauce. So random.

And then it hit me. If we move out of Benimaclet, I wouldn’t have this El Chino. It’s like a coffee shop in Seattle. When you move to a new neighborhood, you think you’ll go back to the one near your old house, since they know you and call you by name, but you won’t. It’s not convenient. You find a new one you can walk to. And I’d never again get cans of free anchovy stuffed olives that I’ll never eat. Or a random can of beer.

So now I have some thinking to do and luckily we’re leaving town soon so I’ll have a month to do it. But that doesn’t mean I won’t hear ‘Look at this’ as I’m trying to go to sleep in one hotel or another over the next 4 weeks. Jeff is on the case like a bloodhound, and I have a feeling that by the spring, where we call home here won’t be same as it is today. I need to decide if that makes me happy or sad.

In Thru the Out Door

We are less than a week from our 6 month anniversary of moving to Valencia. In that time, we’ve learned how to navigate public transport. Which super markets and restaurants we like. How holidays are celebrated and that fireworks will be our constant companion. We have started to understand how the bureaucracy works and when we need the help of others and when we don’t. We are expert. We know it all.

And then we spent the weekend getting schooled – again. Sure, we’ve been to the movies before. We can see movies in English at the local Yelmo cines. They have the look and feel of US movie theaters – thinking Lincoln Square in Bellevue, WA. And they even have Oscar Meyer hot dogs and movie popcorn. So it’s a complete experience, sort of, from home.

On Saturday, we walked up to the Yelmo that’s about a mile and half through the park from our apartment. We purchased the tickets to the ‘VOSE’ showing, which means the movie will be in the original language (English) with Spanish subtitles. And got our refreshments and climbed the lucite backlit stairs to the correct theater and sat down. The credits were running from the previous movie but we figured we would just wait with our two hot dogs, two drinks and a large popcorn for a whole 13 euros. But it was not to be.

The cleaner came in and started shouting at us. We were mid bite and had no idea what she was talking about. I find that when I’m shouted at, even in English, I struggle to comprehend what the hell is going on. But in Spanish? I’m completely lost. She could have been shouting my name over and over and I wouldn’t have understood a word. Jeff tried to reason with her. He gave her our tickets and she studied them like the Magna Carta. Then she hand them back, pointed out the door with more shouting and shook her broom at us.

‘I think we’re not supposed to be in here when she’s cleaning.’ I said to Jeff, after reading her angry face and threatening mimery with her broom. So we got up with our arms full of food and drink and left the theater. She followed us out. More shouting ensued and more broom waving. She practically pushed us down the stairs and kept pointing to the other side of the elevators in the lobby. We toddled over there like brainless idiots. We had no idea why.

On the other side of the lobby, unseen from the place where you purchase tickets and get your refreshments, is another set of stairs where there is a person who tells you that you can go up the stairs. There are monitors that say that a movie theater is open or if you must ‘Espera’. Or wait. So we went up to the guy with our tickets and he tore them and told us we could go up the stairs. We did, walking back to the theatre we were at one minute before. The cleaner lady looked at our torn tickets and said ‘bien.’ย  We went in to our assigned seats and sat down again. Our eyes were rolling in our heads.

The movie started. We were seeing ‘Alpha’. It’s a movie about a prehistoric clan who leaves a member behind after a buffalo hunt. It opened with Morgan Freeman’s deep voice – in English – telling us about life and the world, 20,000 years ago in Europe. Check! Time for a handful of popcorn. I expected Morgan Freeman and other English speaking actors because it was a North American film shot in Alberta, Canada. Sure, there might be some ‘Aboots’ and other Canadian ways of pronouncing ‘Aluminium’, but I would know what they were saying. Yeah, no.

The tribe in the film spoke only in a language that I’ve never heard. And the subtitles? They were in Spanish. Only Morgan Freeman’s melodious voice in the first and last 60 seconds of the film were in my native tongue. The rest was in a language that resembled languages of the people of the many tribes of North American, but was actually a made up language by a linguist from the University of British Columbia. This was not in the course description (I mean movie description) online. While interesting, I’m struggling with Spanish most days. We had come to the movies for mindless entertainment, and we got a job.

As we left the theatre, Jeff expressed surprise at language deal.

‘Well, I guess the good news is, I’m fluent in movie Spanish now, after reading it for 2 hours straight. But I did struggle a bit with the exact translation from made-up cave man.’

We walked home in the dark discussing the film . Mostly envious of the cold Canadian weather we saw and the fact that the main character was lucky he got to wear a coat.

On Sunday, we got up bright and early and walked down to the beach. The weather was perfect and the sun was out but the breeze was cool. The traffic on the main promenade was way down from peak season crowds. We chose a cafe and sat down.

I ordered a coffee and was promptly told that I was sitting at the wrong table. ‘ Coffee only there.’ The table he was pointing at was literally 2 feet away. So I lifted myself out of my chair and took one step and plopped myself into the chair next to me. The waiter walked the two feet, wiped down the table and asked me what he could get me.

‘Remember me? Una cafe con leche.’ I said.

‘Vale’ he said, as though we hadn’t just spoken 7 seconds before, and went away to get it. Ridiculous.

We finished the coffee. Jeff suggested we stick to what we know.

‘Let’s go out to Shopping City and knock a few things off our list before we fly to the US.’

I agreed and we got a taxi. We were half way to where IKEA is located in Alfafar, and I remembered it’s Sunday. I mentioned it to the driver and he said ‘No stores are open out there on Sunday.’ He had been wondering why ‘tourists wanted to go there’. Ugh.

So we had him drop us off at the Centro Commercial at El Saler. They have a Hyper Carrefour there and I thought perhaps we might have some luck in finding what we were looking for. We walked through their doors and there, like a beacon to school kids everywhere, were all the school supplies Emile and I had been searching for in the first part of August. The rows and rows of them looked just like the displays in every Fred Meyer or Target in the US.

We browsed a bit, but my heart wasn’t in it. I felt like something has been off for weeks now but I couldn’t put my finger on it.

‘I think we need to go home and pull the covers over our heads.’ I told him. ‘Something must be in retrograde because we seem to be missing something at every turn. It’s like I’m either too early or too late. Or just plaim clueless.’

So we did that. We sat and watched some Ray Donovan on Netflix and ate ice cream. Which everyone knows is the cure for almost everything. And since Mercury IS in retrograde, I’m not responsible for any of this.

 

 

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.

Weekend Doings

It was Father’s Day weekend in the US – so that’s the one we celebrate here. Back in March, they celebrated Padre Dia on a Monday and it was a bank holiday. But we’re sticking with what we know.

On Friday night, we went to a local bar and watched the World Cup Match between Spain and Portugal. Being in Europe during World Cup is a very different experience to being in the US when this epic battle takes place. In the US, we have football and basketball and baseball. It dilutes the fan base. Here, they have Futbol and they’re all in.

Earlier in the day, Emilie and I had gone to do a little shopping at the Centro Commercial and stopped at our favorite frozen yogurt place for a bit of refreshment. They guy gave us our usual pequena sized dishes and toppings and then handed over some ‘Espana’ scarves supporting our World Cup national team, complete with the company’s logo. Now, I’m familiar with the concept of ‘Gift with Purchase’ but these were pretty high quality considering we paid 2,50 euros for a small yogurt.

I’m not sure I’ve ever been so excited about receiving something free in my life! OK, now were were locked in. We had to go to a local Cerveceria and watch the match. And we did. We got dressed in Spanish colors – we have no jerseys (yet) – and made our way to a place that usually shows Bull Fights from Madrid on their outside TV’s. It was a festive mood. The tapas menu was limited and the fans were excited to see their team go up against Cristiano Renaldo – who kicked a PK right out of the gate to put Portugal ahead. I cheered and found out that just because the team is in Red doesn’t mean it’s Spain. Ooops! The old man next to me schooled me in rapid Spanish, complete with arm waving (note: he didn’t flip me off so that was good) and from then on I was a pro.

Emilie dazzled me with her Spanish and Portuguese Futbol knowledge and we enjoyed cheering with the crowd. I learned to hold up my yogurt scarf when they did something really great and it was all good. I’m ready for Wednesday when they go up against Iran at 8 pm local time.

On Sunday, Emilie and I gave Jeff the gifts we bought him. It was an eclectic mix, for sure. We had gone to the American store here and bought him some of his favorite foods. Beef Jerky (the real stuff from home), Clam chowder, pulled pork, chili, his favorite candies and more. We got him a few other things but I think that stuff was his favorite. Our oldest son had sent a card from Colorado so he was happy to see that. Ryan is learning Russian while getting his PhD., so Emilie and Jeff had fun trying to translate his message (and his handwriting).

Then Jeff suggested a ride down the coast on the motorcycle. So we took off for a bit. We only went about 25 miles south but it was a beautiful, warm early evening and a zillion kite surfers were out. We went through several beach towns and had ice cream. Then made our way home through Sunday-night-going-home-beach-traffic and realized it’s the same across the globe. Never go home from the beach on a Sunday night.

But the upside was that Jeff has become a round-about pro. I was dazzled with his prowess as he navigated the hairiest of them going from 3 lanes entering, to becoming 8 lanes while in it, complete with stop lights mid-round about, and then exiting to a street that has only two lanes that rapidly condense into one lane. So fun! He’s decided there are two types of roundabouts. The first is the same number of lanes going in, while in, and exiting. The second is the first one I described. These he calls ‘going into the mixer’. You’ll cross over multiple lanes, while going around, and then a few more while exiting. But his assessment is that most of the drivers on the road her are pretty respectful so he just goes for it and it’s all good.ย  What a difference a month makes!

We came home and I made dinner. Emilie had bought him one of his favorites last week – Onion rings – so I added them to the mix of ‘Picnic’ dinner I was making while we binge watched Goliath on Amazon. After eating 7 or 8 of them, Jeff announced that they were not onion rings, but Calamari. Emilie promptly spit hers out and threw them away and we all had a good laugh that ketchup seems to cover the taste of almost anything.

So that was our weekend. On to another full week. As I sit here this morning drinking my coffee and listening to my neighbor sing opera at full voice, I’m never sure whats on the docket, but I am very sure it will be interesting.

A Teenage Wasteland

Moving to a new country has a been exciting and challenging in many ways. I’ve chronicled many of them here. But none has been quite the riddle that is moving across the world with a teenager. Yes, Emilie is only here on school breaks, but a 3 month stretch with her parents in a strange location, without friends, without her US cell phone and the daily (moment by moment) hits of technology, (Snapchat) is about more than she can stand.

Sure, she talks to her boyfriend back in the US via WhatsApp on wifi, but it’s not enough. When I venture to ask ‘What’s up?’ I get blank expressionless stares and Spinx-like answers that give me almost no information beyond ‘I’m bored.’ At this point, my head usually spins around and I think, incredulous, ‘How can anyone be bored in Valencia?. There is so much to do and see.’

OK, perhaps me dragging her thru museums in most of the major European capitals when she was small, didn’t endear the experience to her. This past weekend, Jeff and I went to the ceramics museum but gave her a pass to stay home. It’s very cool, btw. A must see and it was free – we aren’t sure why on a Saturday at high season (3 Euros usually). Its in the mansion of a former duke. They have his carriages and the litter they used to carry him around in. And eclectic mix of this and that, to be sure.

But on Sunday, we trekked up to the Pre-History Museum of Valencia and she was made to accompany us. I was in heaven. I absolutely adore museums. History, art, music. It was a museum specifically about the Valenciana region and, well,ย  I’ll go to anything with the word ‘Museum’ over the door. I enjoy seeing how people lived, what they valued, how they evolved, what they created out of nothing. So I like to take my time.

Emilie was climbing the walls, looking my way with glares vacillating between wanting to kill me with an ancient spear (luckily contained behind shatter proof glass) or falling asleep in one of the many benches. Afterwards, ice cream helped. Like chocolate reviving her after a dementor attack at Hogwarts.

So finding things for Emilie to do has become important. So I did and Voila! Beach Volleyball. Today she starts Beach Volleyball lessons on Tuesdays and Thursdays with other kids her age on Malvarossa Beach. I know she’s excited about it (you couldn’t tell if you saw her in person) except it’s 1 pm and she’s spent an hour in the bathroom getting ready and we aren’t leaving here for 3 hours. Whew! Something she might enjoy, just in time.

To jump start with my project of helping her meet kids her age, I reached out to some of my expat friends. I’ve spent 3 months developing a network here. People from all over the world that we have lunches, dinners, wine, and attend processions with. And they know a lot of people, apparently. People who have teenagers.

So, tomorrow afternoon, Emilie will take her first Metro ride alone to the station downtown and meet a friend of mine who is taking her to meet a couple of girls in their late teens. One is Spanish, and wants to meet someone she can have coffee with to improve her English for college. The other is English, and like Emilie, is bored out of her gourd. So they should be the perfect disgruntled pair. They can have coffee and moan and groan about their lame parents and their difficult, boring lives. That sounds like teenage heaven to me!

And moi, you might wonder? What will I be doing while she is otherwise occupied? Well, this evening the Royal Ballet is in town and I’ll be seeing Swan Lake with friends while she’s taking the tram back from the beach after her class. And later this week, I’m going to see an Opera. Neither of these activities are Emilie-approved, but now I won’t need to be concerned with that. Everyone will be doing what they like doing and I get to be as lame as I want going forward – which will involve a glass of something refreshing. Summer is shaping up to be just perfect!