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.

 

 

Got’em – With a Little Help from my Friends

Before posting on my blog about my allergies, I hadn’t really told anyone here. My friends in the US knew about it because they knew me when I was sick. But after I found out, I would try to not make a huge deal out of it. In restaurants I would order around them. I didn’t want to be ‘One of Those People’ who make a production out of placing an order with a waiter. I was sure people would think I was just pretentious, not actually afraid of what I might be eating. It meant I popped a lot of Benedryl in the ladies room and skipped the wine.

Fast forward – I did the same here when eating out. You kind of start to learn the places that are safe and the food – even though the menu is in Spanish – that works for you. It can be limiting and I know being a culinary pioneer isn’t in my future. But I’m resigned to it and just happy when I find wonderful food I can eat.

But then I posted about it and my new friends here came out of the wood work and mounted a full scale Duck Egg hunt.  Sort of like Easter Bunny angels. The results are impressive. Maria – you found me my first dozen at El Corte Ingles.  I brought them the link you sent me and while we heard the one phrase we hear a lot on a daily basis ‘No, Impossible’, we asked other people in the store and Voila! there they were, on a bottom shelve next to the empty spot for Ostrich eggs.

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And then my English friend, Trish found a store that sells only eggs in Russafa. They have duck eggs! Other people started messaging me too. Sightings around town and Google maps directions to shops where they had seen them.

And finally, the farm got back to me last night. They said they would sell me some duck eggs for a Euro an egg – what I expected to pay. But just this morning, they emailed me back. They had discussed it and decided since it was an allergy and not a preference, they would sell them to me for .50 cents. Now I even have a Duck Guy in Spain. Who could ask for more?

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So I am flush with duck eggs now. Thank you everyone who messaged, commented and WhatsApp’d me. I’m forever grateful. A little onions, garlic, olive oil and avocado, and I thought of you all and smiled when I enjoyed my first duck egg omelet in Spain. It wasn’t the prettiest one I’ve ever made but it tasted like the best one I’ve ever eaten. My life just got a lot better – with a little help from my friends. Namaste’.

The Search for the Duck Guy

More than 10 years ago I found out I couldn’t eat chicken eggs, amongst a few other things. Apparently I have developed some sort of allergy. I was born on a chicken ranch in southern California. My parents had 10,000 chickens in a big egg operation, before they packed it in and moved to Oregon. So it seems I was rejecting my roots somehow. My Dr. at the time, told me that he had found some of his patients could eat duck eggs instead, but that I would need to be very careful in testing out that potential. I love eggs, so I did, and I was fine.

Finding duck eggs on a regular basis, however, was a challenge. I went on an exhaustive search and finally found a farm in the mountains east of Seattle that was run by two ex-Microsofties who had decided to cash in their stock options, before the 2008 crash, and use their millions to purchase and mountainside, run a water fowl egg operation, and sell those rarest of shelled jewels to the poshest restaurants in Seattle. I didn’t get how software development translated into the dream of farming, but you see, apparently – as I have learned – the best sous chefs and pastry chefs in the finest culinary establishments in the world use duck eggs to make their creations creamy and fluffy, and their sauces rich. And they’ll pay a premium for the pleasure.

So I reached out to them, drove up their mountain on a scary road, and we had a chat. After hearing my story, they committed that they would keep back two dozen duck eggs for me each month, provided I told no one where I was getting them from. And I would drive out there and pick them up and pay through the nose for them. So yes, I had a secret duck egg dealer of my very own.

But, you see, ducks like warm weather and that means that while in the Summer and early fall, eggs will be plentiful – if you can locate a source. In the Winter and early Spring, not so much. So having a chicken egg allergy in WA State meant that sometimes, because my Microsoftie duck dealers were purists without heated pens or barns, that their feathered friends sometimes wouldn’t lay for weeks at a time. So no duck eggs for the girl at the short end of the stick during coat weather.

In Arizona, I found an Asian food market 30 miles away from our house and I would drive the 60 mile round trip to get a couple dozen, packing them in a cooler so keep them safe and cold for the drive home. I made that trip every month and I was thrilled because they always had eggs, so I never left there empty handed.

Now that we live in Valencia, it’s been over three months since I had a duck egg. I used to make an omelet with one egg each morning, adding a little water to stretch the egg and to fluff it up. I savored that omelet. It was part of my morning routine – for years. But I haven’t found duck eggs here. And I have tried.

Today I went back to the Mercat Central with Jeff. I have been there before searching for my eggs, but I always got there later in the day and the stalls for eggs were picked over. Today, we got there when they were opening up at 7 am. The Mercat Central is one of the largest ‘Open Air’ markets in Europe. Even though it’s covered in a stunning glass and tiled structure that is something to behold. It’s a listed building and is art unto itself. They carry everything a foodie might want. It’s actually an assault to the senses, with the fruit, fish, meats of every type, flowers and spices. I LOVE IT!

We walked the aisles and I inquired at many of the stalls about ‘huevos de pato’ and where we might find them in the market. I was instructed on who to talk to and they sent me deeper into the maze, but without success. We finally bought some saffron and some fresh cardamon I had been needing and went in search of coffee. No duck eggs for me today.

When we got home, Jeff did an exhaustive search online and we may have found a farm south of the city, situated in the rice fields, that has exotic birds, including peacocks, and via Chrome’s translation feature, appears to have duck eggs. Don’t worry, I’m not eating peacock eggs. So I reached out to them and asked if I might purchase duck eggs from them – and commit to doing so – on a regular basis. I’m just awaiting their reply.

Just the very idea of finding another duck egg source has brightened my day. And the 40 km round trip will be worth it every time. I want one so badly I’ll pay a euro a piece for the privilege. I just gotta find a Duck Guy.

Random Crap

Everyday I learn new things. Most of them are small but this one was sort of large so I thought I would pass this and some of the other stuff we’ve gleaned lately. Because when things are different, it helps to know about them in advance so as to avoid confusion and delay.

I went for my follow up with the surgeon last night, after having the tests in the morning. In the US, the test results are automatically sent to the Dr. who is authorizing and requesting the tests. In Spain, that is not the case. You are sent the results – just like in the US – but you are expected to print the results out and take them to the Dr. He doesn’t have access to your test results for privacy reasons, unless you give him the hard copy.

So Emilie and I went to the appointment and waited – they squeezed us in – and found that I had no way to access the information and that the Dr. was expecting me to bring a hard copy. I was his last appointment of the day so going home to get my ID and password wasn’t an option. So I’ll have to go back for another appointment.

Of course, they apologized to me for my own mistake. The nurse and Dr. felt terrible about it all and I learned something new that I’ll never forget. So there was goodness all around. I told them not to worry.

Today, Jeff and I tried a new grocery store. I have never lived in city with so many different grocery stores so close to our house. In NYC, Chicago, or SF you’d have one choice of grocery store, and it would be very small and very expensive. In Seattle, living in the city was a desert of grocery stores. Although I know that’s changed a bit now with City Target moving in, and some others.

But here is the SuperCor, Carrefour, Super Carrefour, Mercadona, Super Mercat, and now we discovered the Consum. We started noticing Consum’s around the area and they looked like small stores. But while the entrance may look small, there is a HUGE store lurking behind. So we did a big shop there today.

We walked the aisles and it’s now become our favorite store. Why, when there is so much choice in grocery shopping would we choose Consum upon which to bestow our custom? Well, there are a couple of considerations here. Consum wins the award for best layout most resembling a Safeway or QFC (Kroger store) in the US. Things are just where you would expect them to be. That’s a novelty in every other store we’ve shopped in. You might remember my near ‘bleach v. laundry detergent debacle’ of mid-March.

Jeff likes that they have shelves and shelve of different kinds of tostadas. Those little toast things that you use as a tapas delivery system, or in his case, to dip into olive oil grown from ancient trees, for a mid-day snack. He’s become an olive oil and tostada snob, apparently, and shaking up his tostada selection is a top priority. He was in heaven.

They also win the award for most brands I recognize (Kikomon low salt soy sauce) and an ethnic food section that contains stuff I really, really like. Mexican foods, Indian foods, Japanese foods. They’re all there and some new things I’ve never tried. They had us at ‘Ethnic Food’ section. And they have paper towels that resemble the ones I could get back home. Yes, it’s the very, very small little stupid things that matter.

Finally, they win the award for nicest checkers, and since they have an in-store Coffee bar – with really nice staff, too – it’s doubly wonderful.

We came home and Emilie is thrilled that I found Golden Grahams cereal that is one she recognizes too. So we’re all happy. I’ll be adding this to my ‘Lessons Learned’ section under ‘Looking for a little bit of comfort’. Cause right now, familiarity is a high priority on my comfort scale.

In the Neighborhood

This morning, after a coffee, we decided to head out and run some errands. But first we stopped off and visited a local tower that used to be the gate tower for the old city of Valencia. If people wanted to enter the town, they had to pass through one of the 12 gates that were built into the walls surrounding the city, first. But this was the main entrance to the city as the road to Barcelona and the road to the surrounding mountains terminated at the gate.

Torres de Serranos

The tower is called Torres de Serranos and it dates back to 1392, when they started construction, and completed it in 1398. The rest of the city walls and towers were torn down in the 19th century but because Torres de Serranos, and a couple of others were used as prisons at the time, they were saved from the demolition.

The opening ceremony for Fallas is conducted on a platform in front of the tower every February. So it is kind of an iconic and beloved landmark now.  And with the 100’s of school children converging on it as we were finishing our 2 Euro self-guided tour, it is clear that it continues to have importance in the educational history of the area.

The views from the many levels are stunning. And I continued to be amazed at how these structures were built with no real technology – as we have today. No machinery. It’s clear why tradesmen were so highly prized back then. Stone masons and their knowledge passed from one generation to another. The precision for setting stone that last for more than 600 years is awe-inspiring.

The stairs throughout the tower have been largely left as they were. Hand rails are optional – even today. One thing we’ve noticed in some of our castle crawling is that the Spanish don’t have the same need to bubble wrap everything that Americans do. The stairs are treacherous – but, Oh well. The ratio of school children to adults is about 25 to 1. The attitude being ‘Don’t jump or you’ll die’. Basically, just have some common sense. We don’t take that tack back home. There would be wavers and a lot of modifications for ensuring safety would be virtually guaranteed.

Another thing we noticed about gathering clubs, whether its school children, groups of adults in the park or just friends, people here gather in circles a lot and hold hands before undertaking something. We don’t have any insight into why but it’s clearly a cultural thing. You don’t see this in the US. Especially with adults. We never hold hands with anyone we’re not dating, especially if they’re the same sex. Maybe it’s our puritanical grounding, but here they communicate by connecting everyone physically and encouraging people to look each other in the face, and talking. Imagine – looking at other people in your group. And they aren’t praying, so it’s not religious. I would be very interested to understand how this started and what this seemingly pervasive ritual is all about.

But it must work, because none of the children we saw, after their circle ritual in the square below, were out of control or jumping on the ramparts waiting to be scolded by an adult chaperone. Unheard of.

So far, we’re loving how we can step out our door into a bit of history while just walking to the Decathalon to return a couple of shirts. It seems strange but we’ve never incorporated a walk through a historical site into a quick shopping trip before. But considering where we live now, I think it’s inevitable going forward. And it’s exactly where we want to be.