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.

What if we ever needed…3/4 of an Inch

Hell froze over today. Well, since it’s so bloody hot and humid I sort of wish it actually did, but our stuff ARRIVED at 1pm today. It actually came with a phone call and three guys who could not have been nicer. I paid for their lunch afterwards. I’m not a person who has ever held a grudge. Don’t have time for it so all that nonsense was in my rear view mirror 30 seconds after the first dolly load crossed our door step.

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They found parking and unloaded in record time. As planned, we had them bring all the boxes and bikes up to our apartment and we put the sofa in our parking space in the garage. We needed to measure it before I schedule the crane service. I was on cloud nine watching them go back and forth. Emilie stayed down by the truck to make sure no one made off with any boxes while the guys were filling the lobby.

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Seeing our things again was like reconnecting with old friends. And unpacking was so much fun!  All my kitchen stuff that was of such interest to US Customs and Border control made it with only one glass pot lid that was shattered.  All my Le Creuset – check. More of my Crate and Barrel dishes – yup. All our flatware and my box of odds and ends kitchen stuff. My beloved Vitamix made it. Jeff checked the amperage (I don’t even pretend to understand it) and it works on the electricity here. We just have to take it to a local place to get the plug/cord swapped out.

My pans are here too! And our golf clubs and bikes. Jeff’s computer stuff and his keyboard that he’s been waiting for. All the tools for his first love – the motorcycle. We spent the day unpacking boxes and washing things. Our bedding from home – sheets and towels that we could have bought locally but we loved them too much to leave behind. Then there were the more sentimental things. The things that, when you surround yourself with them, make you feel like you’re truly home.

Our refrigerator magnet collection from trips we took as a family. Jeff always hated how junky it made it look in an open plan kitchen. I loved the reminder of all the things we did together. Tonight, I put them all on the fridge and he came home and smiled. Emilie and I had fun reminiscing about each one and telling funny stories about where they were purchased and some crazy thing that happened.

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The pictures came. Our wedding photo and some of the art that we had on the walls. Emilie unpacked the boxes in her room and it’s just about like it was in the US – only 5 times smaller. Her books, photos and all the small things that mean so much to her.

I unpacked the vacuum packed bags of our clothes and it seems we brought more than I remembered. I appears my ‘What if we ever…?’ philosophy might have gone a little too far. OK, if we ever go to Iceland again I have my Canada Goose parka and Jeff’s Mountain Hardwear parka. But living here I don’t think there will be a day that we’ll need either of those.

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My most egregious and embarrassing miscalculation was my discovery that I had 5 full boxes of shoes that were just for me. Luckily, Jeff had run an errand when I pulled them out of the pile in the dining room. Yeah, I knew I had a problem anyway but today it was in my face and before Jeff got home I needed to find somewhere for 5 boxes of shoes in El Compartimiento. But where to put them? The only place I had to spare was in the kitchen Gabinete and I knew the minute he got hungry I’d be ratted out. Emilie just shook her head but she wasn’t one to talk. She had 2 boxes of shoes for herself – OK, I’m a baaad influence.

So I started pulling out drawers and cabinets. I was sweating and panicked. What the hell was I going to do? I looked around and then I remembered we have drawers under the bed we bought. And those drawers are mostly covered by the duvet. I knew Jeff was barely using his closet so he wouldn’t even think about the drawers under the bed. Sure enough, they were empty. But as I placed my shoes, boots and sandals lovingly into their new, hidden home, I started counting and, well, I’m just ridiculous. Who needs 5 pairs of high suede boots here? I brought 3 pairs of rubber boots!  What was I thinking?

But that isn’t the capper. Tonight we went down to the garage after I was done unpacking the rest of the stuff and putting it away. I was feeling pretty proud of myself and my ability to cram things in every nook and hidden crannies. Organizing things for easy access later. Winter closet, stored. Yup, I was at the top of my organizational game. I hadn’t over packed afterall. I was a ‘just enough’ goddess.

I got into the elevator with a confident smug swagger that only a truly organized person pull off. Then we measured.

My beloved couch is 43 3/4 inches deep. I don’t care about the height because it passed that test. Our living room window is broken up into sections that are 43 inches. Not 44 inches – 43. And they can’t get any bigger, even if you take the windows out, because of the custom shutters that come down in tracks. So my couch won’t fit. So we went down and took all the wrapping from the move off and I actually talked to the couch.

‘Please couch – I know you’ve been through alot in the last 5 months but I need 3/4 of an inch – that’s all. Please give me 3/4 of an inch.’ I begged and pleaded.

Jeff measured again. I don’t think the couch was very forgiving after spending months in a container ship. It didn’t give up a millimeter. There will be no couch (at least not one from the US) inside El Compartimiento. With every victory, there is also defeat. I had gotten a little cocky with the shoes.

Tonight, Jeff is sporting his Keens, he’s smiling in a fresh pair of shorts and a shirt he hasn’t worn since February. That’s good enough for me.

Tribunal de las Aguas

A while back, I learned of the Tribunal de las Aquas. AKA The Water Board. No, not that kind of ‘water board’. There is no torture, and liquid never makes an actual appearance. But it is all about the water rights of the Valencian Plateau and the ‘Waterlands’ herein.

To recap, this is the oldest judicial body in Europe, dating back to Roman times in one incarnation or another. It’s actually called out in the Spanish constitution, post Franco, expressly and is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Cultural body. And in Valencia, it’s a sacred, beloved institution.

They meet every Thursday, at the Apostles gate at the side of the Cathedral, and convene at noon – precisely. Seriously, when the bells of the Cathedral ring, these guys ceremoniously file over and have a seat in their little ring. Ready to hear the important water cases that will be brought before them. The men represent the water areas controlled by the 8 main canals that draw water off the Turia River. Both from the right and left bank, the arguments are all oral, immediate and transparent. The representative from the water area in question abstains to maintain total fairness. It’s rules and laws are understood by all. And the ‘wisdom’ demonstrated by the Tribunal is sacrosanct.

I had told Jeff about it before, but he had never seen it. And since we were already in Central Valencia (Colon) at 11:30 looking at 360 degree cameras at El Corte Ingles. And since we had time and nothing better to do, we decided to go by the central Catheral, to the Apostles gate, and watch the pomp and circumstance of the institution. And we hit the excitement jackpot because they had a case. It’s not every week or even every month that they get a case. So it was packed.

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We got there early and watched the court bailiff and ceremonial head, set out the chairs. Each chair has the water area’s name embossed in gold on the back of the chair. These are placed behind a metal gated fence to keep out the riff raff – us. Then precisely at noon, the bailiff will lead the members of the synods from the palace across the street dressed in robes and carrying his ‘water staff’.

After they are all seated, he will call out each area twice. In the video, you will hear him use the word ‘Denuncia‘. This is not a legal concept we have in the US. When a person has a problem with another person, or company, or institution, they can officially denounce them. This generally requires them to go to the local police station and file an official denunciation. But to file a denunciation under false pretenses is a serious crime here.

We had a problem with a car rental company a few weeks ago. They never gave us a car and they still charged us the fee. I was so angry and a friend suggested I go to the local police station and ‘denounce’ them. I was clearly confused and he explained that if I did that, I would get a piece of paper with the official record of the denunciation. I could fax that to their head office and see if that would get me my money back.

This sounded scary to me and I asked if there were any limits on it. Can anyone denounce anyone? The answer is yes, anyone can denounce anyone. But again, filing a denouncement under false pretenses is a crime. He said that when we file to renew our visa, we will have to go to the police station and get an official record and it will list any denouncements against us. I understand landlords can make them against you and you can make them against a landlord if there is a problem. Its strange.

Anyway, for the Water Tribunal, the one party – the one feeling like they have been wronged, answers the call when the bailiff calls out and asks for any ‘Denuncia’ for the particular synod. And today, the call was answered. The crowd, like Romans in the Coliseum in Rome, were ecstatic.  A case!

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Jeff and I had become separated. This happens often because I’m usually trying to get to the front because I’m short, and I like to see the action. He’s so tall, he can stand further back, and people hate it when he’s up front blocking their view. We had gotten there early as they were setting up so I got right up front. I looked over and Jeff was a ways away, talking to a tiny little old lady who came up to his belly button, who only spoke Spanish and Valenciano. I gave him a questioning look so he messaged me in WhatsApp.

‘You know I’m always a hit with the old ladies.’ he wrote – reference to our honeymoon cruise of newlyweds and nearly deads. He had been a big hit with the nearly deads at the Bingo games.

‘Who’s your girlfriend?’ I asked him.

‘I don’t know, but she’s determined that I understand what is going on so we’re using Google translate and she’s fascinated by it. A lot of pulling on my arm to say things and so she can see the screen.’

I look over and I could see her face through a break in the crowd and Jeff explained I was his wife. She said something to him and smiled at me.

‘She says you’re ‘guapa’.’ he said.

‘What does that mean?’ It sounded like Italian booze or that I might be crazy.

‘I don’t know – you look it up. I’m busy trying to keep up with her.’ She was pulling on his arm again.

‘Well, enjoy.’ And I turned back to the action.

We watched the case unfold. The President of the Tribunal had to abstain from this case because the party bringing the grievance was from his side of the river.  The Vice President led the questioning and the verdict was handed down. One party was not happy. The old man who won was gleeful! No documents, completely oral arguments and verdicts. No court record. And the verdict is final – no appeals.

I got out of the crowd and saw the old lady had absconded with Jeff. She led us over to the Water Tribunal museum across the alley, where she kissed us both and told us we were good people – in Valenciano. Then she left. I laughed.

‘You know it surprised me not at all that you attracted the smallest old lady in this square.’

He smiled. ‘Oh I know. She lives in Valencia and I think she just comes down here to watch on Thursdays for something to do.’

‘I think if you offered to put her on your shoulders, she would have done it.’ I said, shaking my head.

‘Definitely.’

So now he’s experienced the Water Tribunal and made a new, ancient, friend – and of course, he got the best one of the year so far. We agreed we’ll go back again in November on a cold drippy day, when tourists are thin on the ground, to watch it like locals. But they do put on a good show.

It’s 5:00 Somewhere

Around here, we mostly notice the differences. The similarities don’t jump out at us, and there are less of those. Like obeying cross walk signs or driving on the right, the’re easy to dismiss. Some differences are subtle, like the fact that you can’t buy laundry detergent that is unscented. Everything is seriously perfumed. That’s not such a subtle difference since we seem to be allergic to every scented detergent and we’ve been itching in one form or another for quite some time now.

One of the biggest things we’ve noticed is that people drink beer at breakfast. Sometimes, on the weekend, we’ll go out to El Horno for a coffee, and a large portion of the patrons are drinking a cerveza.  We’ve taken to calling it ‘breakfast beer’ and Jeff, not one to scoff at another culture’s traditions and idiosyncrasies, has embraced it (on the weekends) to the fullest.

I liken it to the Bloody Mary or the Mimosa in the US. Brunch isn’t the same without them. Except its not like that at all. It’s just a bunch of old guys from the neighborhood smoking, and drinking beer, at 9 am on a Tuesday. It just feels strange.

Today, on our way to Day 3 Escuela de Espanol, I caught Jeff looking longingly at the guys in front of El Horno on our way to class. I sympathized. I could have used a stiff drink before entering the lion’s den. Something to smooth out the rough edges of the knives of incomprehension that were coming our way in mere minutos. But we walked on.

Two hours later and we walked out exhausted, frustrated and confused. We stopped at El Horno for a coffee and Coke on the way home. We needed a moment to review the experience and to come up with a strategy. The one we’ve been employing isn’t working for either of us.

‘Did you catch any of the lesson three?’ I asked him, while thumbing through my notebook.

‘Not a bit. But I figured I just sit that one out. I don’t get how she doesn’t teach us what things actually are. Car, Truck, our numbers, colors, days of the week, telling time. Like how they teach kids in pre-school. They don’t just shout at them. They have pictures and books and they sing songs to learn mnemonic devices. This moves so fast you get whiplash and you haven’t recovered before you’re on to the next thing. ‘

‘You’re lucky she didn’t call on you.’ I told him. ‘When I looked confused she just kept saying something else in Spanish. I don’t understand why we don’t have lists of vocabulary words or any clue what we’re trying to do. It seems like it would be a great idea if she told us the day before what the focus would be the next day, so we could prepare.’ I was whining but I didn’t care.

‘Yeah, that’s not going to happen.’ He had given up on that the first day. ‘I spend so much time flipping back and forth in my notes, I miss her mimes and when look up again, I’m lost.’ He took a drink of his Coke but was eyeing our neighbor’s pre-lunch cerveza.

‘I’m going to develop some cheat sheets. I need to have my basics at my finger tips. I’ll spend the afternoon typing up what I have and you can review it and add what I missed. Tomorrow we’ll be ready.’ I feel better with a battle plan.

So that’s what I did today. It’s 4 o’clock and we got home at noon after out El Horno bitch/strategy session. My notes are typed up. Tables for pronouns, verbs, adverbs are completed with what we’ve learned so far. I’ve got sections for ‘Compare and Contrast’ vocab, and just plain random vocabulary. Numbers from one to one thousand are also in there, and grammar rules that include a host of exceptions. ‘Measures of Time’ will now be at my finger tips so they can roll off my tongue. Days, Weeks, Months, Seasons. it’s all there.

When El Chino reopens after siesta, I’ll head down there to get some index cards and make us up some flash cards. Sure, I can’t just rattle that stuff off yet, but when she asks us to say something, I’ll be able to conjure something up. Wait! Who am I kidding? She’s goes so fast I’ll still be fumbling. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll embrace a ‘breakfast beer’. Honestly, it couldn’t hurt and maybe I wouldn’t care so much. Except I don’t love beer and I haven’t seen anyone drink wine for breakfast. Perhaps they have to draw the line somewhere.

Spin It!

Day 2 of Spanish went a little better – for Jeff – than Day 1. After yesterday, I had lectured him on ‘keeping and open mind’ and just ‘going with the flow’. So we walked down to our class again and he grumbled the entire way.

We got to the escuela and were the first to arrive. Jeff staked out his spot and the class ended up being about a third of the participants as the first day. Kind of like college. It was pretty clear that the rest of the students decided to bale. My supposition is that they got their parents to pay for a ‘Go to Spain and Learn Spanish’ trip, and after one day they were at the beach.

Day 2 started much like Day 1. The instructor came in and started speaking to us all again and we barely understood 2 words. Then she wrote some things on the white board and we, again, fumbled around. The others in the class were struggling too. Jeff was stoically silent. I didn’t think it was going well. Perhaps I would find him on the beach with the other students by Day 3.

Then, about 3/4 of the way through the class,, the instructor directed her attention to Jeff. She fired a question his way and he rattled off a full sentence in perfect Spanish about how motorcycles are much louder than bicycles. Huh? The instructor praised him loudly and explained to the rest of us why it was perfect. or I think she did. He beamed like a prize Pomeranian and looked over at me, smiling slyly, then went back to taking detailed notes – clearly trying not to laugh at my incredulous expression.

Then she asked me a question that I understood but stumbled in my answer because of the revelation that Jeff was better at learning Spanish than me. It’s not a competition, but tell that to my husband while walking on the way home. He was glowing. I was chewing glass.

‘I was just ‘keeping an open mind’ and ‘going with the flow” he said, ironically.

‘Yeah? Well, how did you spew out that lengthy sentence. None of us could have done that.’

‘Listening. I sat there an listened to what she was saying and what other people were saying and I figured it out.’

Ugh! We went home and since I have signed up for the gym, I decided to walk the mile and half down there and burn off some steam. I got to the club and they did the initial check in and took my picture and gave me my pass. Then I went up and found an open elliptical machine and got on it, firing up my usual work out playlist. I haven’t worked out at a gym since we’ve been here so it felt good to hear the music and do something I’m good at.

The personal trainer came over and after determining I couldn’t understand her, she went and got another guy who explained how it all works and told me there was a spinning class in 15 minutes. So I did the elliptical for 15 minutes and then went to the Spin class. I had no idea what it would be like but I thought I’d give it a try. It was a killer and it was in Spanish.

The guy kicked my ass, while ensuring I am clear I do not understand ‘Spinning Spanish’, and an hour later I stumbled back the mile and a half home. 2 litres of water later and I was asleep. This means I missed yoga – which I’m pretty sure is the antithesis of why I went spinning in the first place. But no matter.

I sit here tonight content. I’m drinking a glass of wine, I know Jeff will not be skipping Spanish class with the others, and I’ve been studying my notebook. He’s in for it tomorrow. I’ve got 3 sentences queued up and ready to go. But only if she asks specific questions. But I’ll worry about that tomorrow.