Tough Nut to Crack

Sometimes things take us longer to accomplish than we might like. It’s been a month since our stuff arrived and even with all my whining that it took so long to get here, I still hadn’t hung the pictures, art and asundry other things that should have long since adorned our walls by now. I’ll blame the heat.

And after my birthday plant shopping extravaganza – I’ll admit the volume and timing of my purchases wasn’t ideal – I needed to repot them. Since we’re traveling most of September and part of October, we also needed to divine a solution for watering them all while we’re away. Putting off things because of the weather isn’t a luxury I have anymore. So we headed to AlCampo.

Our local ‘Hypermart’ Alcampo is in Port Saplaya. It’s a sort of fake village on the beach north of Patacona in Alboraya. It’s not that far from our Apartment and we don’t even have to get on the expressway to go there. It’s too far to walk through the farm fields but the motorcycle is great – unless I overshop. Riding the motorcycle keeps me from doing that (kind of). Mostly it’s Jeff just saying repeatedly ‘Are you kidding? How are you proposing we get a hand truck home on the bike?’. It usually works, although he’s been Christmas shopping with me in Seattle driving a two seater Spider. I had purchased so much stuff we had to drive home with the top down while it was snowing. So he does have to be explicit.

Today we ventured out to the Hypermart and the Leroy Merlin (think Fred Meyer/Home Depot) and I got the pots I needed. And two different watering solutions. One is watering bulbs, and the other is a watering gel that we had never heard of before but bought plenty of. It’s supposed to last for 30 days and provide non-toxic hydration to my herbs, olive tree, trellis flowers of indeterminate origin, and the other stuff. Jeff is itching to try it out, I can tell. But we have to wait until we are ready to leave.

We also found picture hangers that I thought we would have to wait to get in the US. They don’t require drilling or maring the walls in any way and they’ll come off easily when we move. Now we are surrounded by our family photos, a water color of the lighthouse in Stanley Park (Vancouver B.C) that we bought on our honeymoon, and other art, some made by the kids. Only one more thing to hang and El Compartimiento already feels more and more like home.

We’ve been here nearly 6 months now. Both of us realized it last night when we went out for our evening walk. The air was the perfect temperature with lower humidity, and the sunset was lovely. We left the building and immediately saw the elderly folks that gather on the benches under the big palm tree on our block. I see them every day, usually in the late morning on the way to Spanish, and then again in the evening.  And every time I see them I wave and greet them with ‘Buenos Dias’ (or similar) or ‘Hola’.

But for 6 months now, they have just stared at me with dead eyes but followed my movements down the street, while talking to each other clearly about me. Think mean girls in the school cafeteria. I could never figure it out since, when I pass other bench areas packed with old people in the evenings in Benimachlet, and I nod to them or greet them, they answer politely. But the benches in front of our building hold geriatric chufa nuts that are tough to crack.

So when we went out last night, I knew it would be no different. I was resigned to the fact that 5 and a half months of residing in this building just isn’t long enough to break into this corner of the block. And then it happened. I waved and greeted them – because I’m stubborn and they’re human beings. The eldest of them stared directly into my eyes, per usual, and then she did it – the head nod. Her eyes almost smiled and her mouth was more up than down. And then the woman next to the oldest lady (her number one henchman) spoke to me. It nearly stopped me in my tracks but I tried to keep my composure. I nodded, too – the brief choreography of acknowledgment – and we continued down the road for our walk. I have my pride too, I suppose.

It’s a good reminder that some things just take longer than others, like settling in. But if you keep at it, you can wear down people who are set in their ways – including yourself.  I’m not sure why it meant so much to me that I finally broke their icy veneer, but it did. I even thought about it while I was drifting off to sleep. Just one more thing that says ‘It’s OK. You belong here.’

El Jefe y Keli

I couldn’t love our neighborhood more. Seriously. It reminds me of living in San Francisco in the early 90’s and in Seattle’s Belltown in the mid 90’s. In San Francisco in the Haight or in the Aves, you could catch Robin Williams working out new material in one club or another. In Seattle, you could catch Nirvana or Pearl Jam at the Crocodile for nothing when they were working on new songs.

Benimachlet has that same vibe, sans the famous people but I love it nonetheless. I sent Jeff to make hair appointments for us at our local hair salon. I figured his Spanish is good enough to work through it.  He sent me a photo of this post it. He is now officially El Jefe (‘The Boss’ in Spanish) and I am just ‘Keli’ since ‘Kelli’ would mean my double ‘L’s’ would be pronounced totally incomprehensibly. So it’s The Boss and Keli.


Tonight, Sunday night, El Jefe and I went out in our neighborhood to have a drink and some tapas. Even on a Sunday evening there is alot going on in the square around our local church. A wedding had just finished and the revelers were in front of the church with their families.

We stopped for some wine at our favorite watering hole. We were there the day they first opened so we try to give them our custom whenever possible. But we got hungry and they don’t have a menu that was commiserate with our level of hunger. we went through the square on our way to another of our favorite tapas bars. On the way, we found a group spontaneously dancing. Not an organized thing, since when we walked home behind the folks with the speaker and the music, it was clear it was just a ‘lets turn on some music and see what happens’ type of deal. The crowd was loving it and readily joined in. Seeing dancers on the street in Valencias isn’t that unusual.

I love our tapas place. The owner is an old hippie and the food is top notch. The price of the cerveca and vino blanco are to our liking, as well. The place is cool and he totally digs us, so it’s fun to go there. The service isn’t typically hands off and it’s easy to get another drink and we feel at home.


On the way home, we went around our summer outdoor theatre in front of the church. ‘Cinema a la Fresca’ enjoyed by all in the neighborhood on a Sunday night. We love the home grown eclectic vibe and the spectrum of folks who gather to enjoy a good film on a warm summer night. Back home, we used to go to Chateau St. Michelle and the Red Hook Brewery in Woodinville, WA with our kids in the summer to enjoy family movies outdoors. These are more arthouse films, but it’s no less enjoyable.


Afterwards, walking back we passed by a shop front with an open door. A group of neighborhood gentlemen were beginning a game of dominos. We see this everywhere in the evenings around our apartment. Groups of older guys playing dominoes for money in cafes or parks. It serious business here. But this group was a fun and friendly bunch who was happy to share a ‘Guapa!’ as I took their photo.


Before we moved to Valencia, I would never have believed we would live in a neighborhood like this. But every day, every time I turn a corner, I’m glad we chose to land here.

When I went to my hair appointment on Friday morning, I had a conversation with my neighborhood hairdresser, Pili, in Spanish. It wasn’t pretty, but she was so surprised at the progress I made, her enthusiasm for my particular brand of Spanish was infectious and made me feel proud of how far I’ve come. And then she threw me a curveball. Benimaclet is a very traditional Valencian neighborhood. People here DO NOT speak English so it’s easy to practice Spanish. But they also speak ‘Valenciano’ – which is another language entirely. Much like Catalan. And Pili is determined that I learn that too, so she’s coaching me. But the biggest compliment she gave me is that my pronunciation is ‘like a Valencian’, which I have been told before, so I’m on the right track.  I think we’ve found out home in Benimaclet. And, as everyone knows,  there’s no place like home.