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.’  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.

 

 

Getting to Normal

‘August is the loneliest month that you’ll ever do’. Ok, I know there are too many syllables but it’s still true. Not because there are not people in the city. It’s because all our neighbors fled somewhere else. The streets have been clogged with tourists and students from other places. And most of our regulars were away, and our favorite haunts were closed with paper signs that said when they would be returning at the end of August or the first part of September.

This all took us a bit by surprise. Probably because, in the past, we were the tourists in August. We didn’t know that the people we were seeing weren’t from whatever place we were standing in, snapping photos and basking in the ‘real culture’ of the place. We didn’t need to purchase a bike tire or a printer cartridge while on vacation. We had no idea. Now we do and Jeff’s assessment?  ‘August is lonely’.

He’s been grouchy all month. This isn’t open, and that place isn’t open. Ugh! You’d think he can barely find food to eat in this city. Friday Market in Benimachlet is a shadow of its former self. The few vendors who are there have scant inventory. It’s not fun to even go browse. And my browsing buddy is in school in the US:/

Even in Emilie’s last week, when we were lunching and suppering at her favorite places, Google wasn’t up-to-date on the fact that while it said a place had regular hours, ‘ regular hours’ in August are NO hours at all. After walking all the way to her favorite Moroccan place (a couple of miles) we discovered this little tidbit. She wasn’t able to enjoy the little clay pot with the saffron chicken she loves so much.

But things are starting to change. Yesterday, I heard our opera-singing neighbor! Jeff came into the living room from the kitchen to let me know – as though I was deaf and unable to hear him belting out something from Madam Butterfly.

‘Do you hear him?!’  he told me smiling. ‘He’s back!’

I wanted to laugh, since he had complained about the man’s afternoon serenades just a few months ago. And the little boys whose bedroom shares a wall with my office are back too. We can hear them screaming and killing each other on the other side of the wall several times a day. Jeff smiles about that too.

I knew he was having a hard time the other day, when he stood looking out our 7th floor window down at the sidewalk.

‘I haven’t seen Perkins in weeks. I hope he’s OK.’ he said wistfully in a melancholy tone. He was referring to a dog that looks like the twin of the Golden Retriever we had in Seattle (Mr. Perkins) when the kids were growing up. He died of cancer in 2013 and we’ve missed him ever since. Jeff spotted his look alike the first week we were here, back in March, and has followed his exploits from his lofty perch ever since. Once, we saw one of his owners walking him when we were coming home from dinner. Jeff was shy to pet him but he was so happy to see him up close.

Last evening, I was sitting in the living room writing. Jeff stood at the window looking down on the street.

‘Traffic’s picking up.’ He said hopefully. ‘I think people are starting to come back. You can tell by the cars that are parking alot closer together. They need to make space.’

I smiled knowing he is willing things to return to ‘normal’ – whatever that is. And then it happened.

‘There he is! Come see. Perkins is back!’.

I got up and went to the window, and sure enough, there he was. Our fake dog happily trotting down the street with a ball in his mouth.

‘I think the owner’s been out of town like everyone else. I was a little worried there for awhile.’ he said, totally serious.

I had no idea this was even on his mind. But he’s right. Today I can see traffic has picked up. Our building is busier in the lobby now and more of the cafes and shops are starting to open up again. My salon reopens next week – and just in time. I’m feel a little shaggy these days.

We head back to the US in a couple of weeks. We were so looking forward to spending September in the Northwest. But now, I think it will be harder to be away. Now that our new normal is getting back to normal.

¡Hola Madrid!

We took the high speed to Madrid from Valencia for our final days with Emilie before she went back to school. It cuts the travel time in half but still allows for beautiful views of wine, olives and this time of year, sunflower fields by the mile. All along the route it seemed the flowers were facing us with their sunny greetings. And the train station in Central Madrid is a botanical marvel itself.

 

I’ve not spent time in Madrid, other than to fly in and out. We are coastal people and interior cities that don’t boast a large body of water have never held sway with me for vacation destinations. But I must say, I LOVE MADRID!  And now, so does Jeff. And we walked about 30 miles of the streets, parks and museums while we were there. It’s a city so rich with history and culture it nearly soaks into your skin through osmosis.

We stayed near the Prado on the edge of Sol. The neighborhood is old and the streets shady and narrow. Gran Via and Sol are where Earnest Hemingway wrote The Sun Also Rises, drank (ALOT!) and generally soaked up the Spanish way of life he loved so much. Cervantes lived around the corner from our hotel and wrote Don Quixote while living there. Walking the streets, there are quotes from famous residents memorialized in brass in the cobbles. Poets, novelists, musicians.

We spent an afternoon in the The Parque del Retiro. It’s and incredible place, built for strolling on a very hot Madrid summer afternoon. Shade abounds and every turn brings new discoveries. The lake (Estanque grande del Retiro) where boats can be rented reminds me of a family vacation to Versaille. Nothing like tooling around on the water on a summer day.

The park sports a now defunct zoo from Franco’s time. But the cages are still there. And peacocks by the dozens roam free with their babies. I had never seen a baby peacock before but, as Emilie found out, the mother’s are very protective.

Madrid has so many monuments recounting it’s rich history and it rivals Paris for military and artistic exploits, and it’s pride in celebrating them. But Madrid outpaces Paris in the ‘Let’s put monuments and statues on top of buildings’ category. Here, they win every time.

The streets nearby the Botanical Gardens are shut down on Sundays so everyone is out walking their dogs, strollers flying and exercising like it seems is the number one Spanish past time. Again, we need to start running if we’re going to keep up. Literally.

We spent some happy air conditioned hours in the Prado. I had never been and had always wanted to go. Caravaggio, Sorolla – Valencia’s native son, Velazquez, Poussin. They’re all there. Portraits of Charles V and his many wives and all the Bourbons and Infantiles of Portugal. And the statuary is impressive. I have, however, reinforced my feelings about Goya. On my darkest day I don’t think I have ever been as down as the images captured in his 14 painting dubbed ‘The Black Paintings’. My first exposure to him was at The Frick in NY and his work in the Prado did little to change my impression.

Our dinner on Saturday night was to DIE FOR! An Argentine meat place near our hotel called ‘La Cabana Argentina’. We’ve now had the best meal we’ve eaten since we moved to Spain five months ago. The meat was perfectly cooked and the sides were scrumptious. It smelled so good that just walking in we were salivating after a long hot day of seeing the city. The service was first rate and we left feeling like we’d gotten a great deal on dinner after spending more than we have on one meal since we left the US.

Finally, it was time to take Em to the airport. We had a couple of choices. A train for 2.50 from the main train station at Atocha. The Metro for 5 euros. Or a taxi for 30 euros. So we took the taxi. With everything else, I wasn’t up for the stress of trying to figure it all out for the first time, while making sure Emilie got to her flight on time. So Jeff and I took the train back after we checked her in and dropped her off at security. I shed more than a few tears. Emilie was her confident self taking it all in stride. Next time it will be a piece of cake navigating Madrid airport transport.

So now Emilie is safely ensconced back at school (I got her text in the middle of a sleepless night) and we’ve had a great final weekend and cultural excursion in Madrid as a family. And now we know it’s a city we want to see much more of. I guess, like Ernest Hemingway, we are falling in love with Spain more and more every time we turn a new corner.

It was just a Birthday Fan

Getting older appeals to some. It doesn’t to me. I haven’t reached the age yet where I’ll wear purple hats and large jewelry. But I’m over 50 now and while Jeff keeps telling me ‘it’s just a number’ he has the luxury of doing that because he’s 1 year and 6 weeks younger than I am. And starting today, he’ll remind me that we’re ‘2 years apart’ in age for the next 6 weeks, until he turns 51. I don’t really love that part.

I vacillate between wanting an over the top birthday celebration (I am a LEO), or keeping on the down low. The older I get, the down low is winning and this year continued that trend. That, and that simpler seems better these days. I don’t need big gifts or fancy dinners. I like simple food, simple experiences and I want to have those things with people I care about.

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This morning, Jeff and I kicked off my ‘Cincuenta segundos Cumpleanyos’ (PS I don’t have the ‘n’ with the little squiggly thing above it on my keyboard that makes the ya sound so I added a ‘y’ to Spanish Birthday) by finally taking out our bikes that arrived weeks ago from Seattle. His is actually a recumbent trike (sort of biking while laying on your back – good for your core) and that got A LOT of stares on the street and in the Turia. We haven’t seen one here yet, and when we stopped for coffee we got a lot of action circling the bikes, mumbling in Spanish, and checking it out. Jeff is starting to make noises about perhaps riding the Camino on it. His idea, not mine.

We came home and Emilie and I decide to go out and buy my ‘Birthday Fan’ down at Friday market in Benimaclet. Our Market Day happens every Friday. Clothes, shoes, bras, fruit, pots and pans, and the polka dotted fans I had been eyeing for weeks now. We have another market on the other side of the tracks – literally. But that happens on Tuesdays, and since this is my Birthday Fan we were going to our market day.

We had so much fun! We bought more crazy pants that I love to wear (I convinced Em to get a pair too). We got my lovely Birthday Fan for 3 euros because it’s so bloody hot here you have to have a fan with you in every handbag or back pack you carry. Sitting on the Metro is like a fanning competition. And we stopped and got some things I have been coveting for some time now.

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You know how certain things make you happy? They’re simple, stupid things that cost almost nothing. They don’t have any real value but then you get them and they make you smile. That’s how I feel about olive trees, lemon trees, pepper plants and my herbs. And today, Emilie and I found our plant guy on Benimaclet Market Day!  It’s my birthday so I told the guy we were taking the lot! He was a happy man and bagged it all up for us, and a few other things besides. All for 20 euros. And I felt like I”d hit the lottery!

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As he handed us the plants, we knew we’d reached the limit of our ability to carry stuff home. I, for one, suspected that perhaps we had surpassed it, but Em was undaunted. We had neglected to bring our trolleys – we were just going for my Birthday fan, after all – so it was the big schlep back home, with more people staring at us on the street. Sure, we looked a little unusual carrying an olive tree, some sort of climbing flowered vine thing complete with trellis, a pepper plants, basil, rosemary, and all the other stuff we got. My lovely Birthday fan wasn’t even being put to good use because it was stuffed in my pocket.

We finished off the night sitting on the beach watching the Blood Moon rise over the Mediterranean Sea. It’s been a great Birthday and I got to spend my 52nd celebration just the way I wanted. And that makes it the best kind of Birthday, after all.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.