The Adult Table

There comes a point in life when the only miles stones are the birthdays that end in zero. Having past the big ones of learning to drive, turning 21 or graduating from high school, my miles stones turned to others. My children’s first words or first steps. First days of school and finally graduating from high school. Emilie is the last one to do that and it’s coming up fast.

As a child, and the youngest of 4 kids, sitting at the adult table for family holidays was a big one for me. I had to wait until one of my older sibling left the house to get that privilege, and prove I knew how to put my napkin on my lap and keep my elbows off the table. And then when my eldest brother brought his family back home, while I was still in high school, I ended up back there with my nephews. By that point I didn’t mind. I had learned that they were infinitely more interesting than the adults.

So coming to visit my childhood home held no new milestones, just old memories. A boy I grew up with, and went to kindergarten with, is living back in his Dad’s old house down the street. He’s gutting it and and it’s gorgeous. Yesterday, as I was taking a chainsaw to my Mom’s back garden, he popped down with his granddaughter and chatted for awhile.

And then it happened. My Mom and our next door neighbor, Mrs. Taylor, invited me to sit with them on the front porch in the evening and watch the neighborhood go by. I say ‘Mrs. Taylor’ because she will always be that to me. My siblings started calling her by her first name decades ago, but it seems wrong to me somehow.

My Mom made a phone call and then she came out in the living room and asked me if I would like to sit with them. She explained the rules as we went out to commence our sitting.

‘Regina gets the good chair. I always make sure.’ Letting me know that while I’m an invited special guest to this party of two, I’m not quite a member of this club yet.

Mrs. Taylor came over and we hugged. It was so good to see her and sitting there the years peeled away. I heard about grandchildren and great grandchildren. And then my Mom started telling stories about relatives I never heard of who were hobbyist wooden castanet makers in the 1950’s. Such random stuff she had us laughing until my belly hurt.

Sitting here at the Portland airport waiting to join Jeff in Seattle for our final week in the US this Fall, I’m smiling. I’ve always been a person who embraced change, even sought it out. There’s a never-ending list of new things to see, do and learn in the world. Always new mountains to climb. But these past couple of weeks has been nice. Heading out into the unknown is exciting, but sometimes, just sometimes, taking a moment to touch where you come from is important too. And I think I’m happy I’m still not quite a permanent member at the adult table.

 

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.

Interactive Tapas

Last evening was all about Tapas! I”m not an expert on Spanish food and since we’re surrounded by tapas everywhere, it was time to get educated. Our friends, Nick and Tatiana, organized the evening for us all.  The chef at Ahuevos, Jose’ Simon, and his lovely wife hosted a night of ‘Interactive Tapas’. It was basically like a Tapas Nursery School for those that are Spanishly challenged and yet love yummy food.

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My friend, Pete and Ryan joined the group. They just moved here from Seattle a month ago, and they are also in the infancy stages of learning about everything Valencia has to offer and widening their circle of friends. This was a great opportunity to do both and we had alot of fun.

We started out learning to make Sangria. It’s a pretty simple recipe and was actually the signature drink at our wedding all those years ago. We made it in buckets for all our guests (but we served it in lovely glass wine jars). And I screwed up and instead of putting sugar in them, I grabbed a salt container and our first batches were so bad they’re legendary amongst our friends. My friend Curt laughs every time he tells that story.

Well, if I had used the recipe I learned last evening, I wouldn’t have had that problem because you make a simple syrup in advance and pour that into the mixture. It dissolves faster and helps to masurate the fruit quicker. And we were very pleased with our results. Ryan did all the chopping, Pete did all the selecting of ingredients. And Me? Well, I supervised from afar – or not at all and took some notes.

We also learned how to make seasoned olives of our own creation, and the different types of olives for eating. Jose’ is from Leon and likes a different type of spice than his wife, who is from Valencia. At our table, we liked a lot of the pink pepper, juniper berries, garlic, red pepper, bay leaf and cloves. Jose’ thoroughly approved of our choices. They were so good and like any good cooking class, we got to take some home so in two weeks I’ll let you know how they turned out.

Then it was on to the Aioli. I’ve made it before with just garlic, salt and olive oil. But I learned some new things last night. Jose’ uses an egg yoke in his (I couldn’t eat it) and he doesn’t use olive oil, but sunflower oil. He says that the olive oil in Aioli causes it to break. I did the mixing and the pounding of the garlic and then the egg separation. Even though I can’t eat them, I still know how to separate egg yokes and work a mortar and pestle, for goodness stake.

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Finally, we finished off the night with some horchata ice cream. I’ve been clear on my thoughts about horchata in the past, but this was different. It was wonderful! and with a little dark chocolate sauce it was heavenly. Everyone else got a slice of bread under theirs. It was made from day old bread that they soaked in booze and did some other stuff to, but I didn’t pay that much attention because I can’t eat the bread and I was took enamored of my new found love of horchata ice cream.

It was a fun night and we ended it with drinking from a ‘botijo’. It’s a jug that usually contains wine or water. Last night, the one they offered contained water. Pete braved drinking from it and was rewarded, like me, with water down the front. Ryan drank from it like a Spanish fisherman who has never drank from another vessel other than a botijo, in his entire life. He spilled not a drop.

After our tapas night we are looking forward to learning more Spanish cooking. Jose’ is organizing something out on the farm in Alboraya where they grow the food for their restaurant. I’m really looking forward to cooking food in the field where it’s grown. And Tati is looking to organize a trip back out to Manisis – think Fiesta de la Ceramica – where we can learn how to make a Botijo of our own and perhaps I can sign up for a ceramics course.

A great evening with good friend, old and new, good food and the promise of more to come. It doesn’t get better than that!