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.

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.

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.

Good Wine, Good Friends & a Little Kindness

The days seems longer here. I think it’s because they’re so packed with things we’ve never done before. Navigating, learning how to do things and seeing stuff that leaves us in awe.

My day started with grabbing a Valenbisi bike (the best bike service anywhere) and riding 25 minutes to the city center to meet up with some friends, to go out to an area east of the city about 60 miles away. We were going to go for a full day of wine tasting and then lunch – or very late lunch by American standards. I am learning so I ate a very heavy breakfast.

Our first stop was at a winery called Chozas Carrascal.

http://www.chozascarrascal.com/en/la-bodega/our-vineyards.html

It sits on a plateau about 700 meters above the sea. When it’s cold in Valencia, it can be snowing up there. They have 100 hectres of grapes and 20 hectres of olive groves. A hectre is about 2.5 acres, for those of us unfamiliar with this measurement. They make wonderful wine and excellent olive oil. Both of which, I bought. The wines made at this amazing vineyard are unique in that they have varying special designations (Designation of Origin) as all the grapes in their wines are grown on those 100 hectres of land.

It reminded me so much of Napa Valley or even Eastern Washington state that I was homesick for about a minute. The gentleman who took us around asked me where I was from. I told him I had lived in California wine country for several years. He said he had never been there but had hoped to go someday. I told him he was wrong.

‘Look around. This is exactly like Napa Valley used to be 25 years ago. No crowds and a more simple feel. You have the best of Napa Valley right here. You don’t need to go there, you have this.’

They were lovely people and the tasting and tour were generous. At one point after we left, I broke the bottle of olive oil I bought from them (I won’t go into how), they heard about it and they saw that another bottle was brought to me to the village where we had lunch. I was so touched by their generosity and thoughtfulness.

Then we went to the town of Requena. Of course, it has it’s own castle. But we went to taste some wines and to take a walk into the past – the distant past. To the time when the Moors were ruling all of Spain and they utilized the caves below to store grain, (they weren’t drinkers) before the Spanish were storing wine in them. We all know the Moors are no longer running the show so the caves were converted to wine cellars and the rest is, literally, history. On some of the walls, you could see the finger prints of the people who had lined them with mortar centuries ago. Some of it was chipping off but most of it was still there.

In the winery we went to, the caves go back to times when they stored the wine in large terra-cotta vessels, so large we have no idea how they could ever have gotten them down there. We watched a video of donkey’s pulling them in 100 year old photos, but the stairs I went down couldn’t have been traversed by donkeys and there wasn’t an opening large enough to accommodate the immense size of the cisterns. But there they were, the vessels are still down there and you can see them in the pictures. The wine was great too and Anna, who showed us around, was very nice and while she said here English wasn’t good, it was excellent.

Our lunch at Los Cubillos Gastrobar, ( https://restauranteloscubillos.com/ ) right below the castle walls, was a Menu del Dia – of the usual 3 courses, but the food was local and one of the tastiest I’ve had since arriving here in March. The staff was really nice too. And spending two hours to eat lunch isn’t half bad. But if I get asked about American politics one more time I’ll jump off a castle. And here I can make good on that threat!

As lunch ended and it was time to go back to Valencia, my replacement olive oil arrived. I was so surprised. There was no reason for them to do this for me and yet they had – unbidden. I’ll enjoy it that much more every time I drizzle on something or dip something in it. A taste from a special day, with new friends in a place I’ve never been. I’m smiling thinking about it again already.

Elusive Sleep

The last several weeks I haven’t been sleeping well. It means I’m up early or in the middle of the night. Sometimes lying in bed looking at the ceiling. Sometimes sitting in the living room looking out the window watching the sun come up. The sky goes from as black as it can be in the city, to violet then pink. Some mornings it’s bright and sunny. Some days have a marine layer of a beach town, that won’t burn off until the afternoon.

Getting to know a city during the day is only one face it shows to the world. Some cities, like New York or San Francisco, have a whole different life after dark. The seedy underbelly comes out of the shadows. The night crawlers and zombies inhabit the streets, along with some after hours club goers and the odd swing shift worker. Valencias appears to have none of that.

We live in a residential area of the city. High rises, yes. But it’s a neighborhood with schools, sports clubs, a Centro Commercial. We’re right on the tram too. In the US, this might bring a rougher element to the area. Public transport tends to do that there. Not so, here. Everyone rides public transport and there is no stigma about it. Rich or poor. Young or old. They’re all there and it’s very safe. No vandalism of the cars or stations. Lovely.

And night time is quiet. No sirens announcing police activity near by. No screaming 20 somethings on the way home from a late night. It’s blessedly quiet and the streets are deserted.

Looking out the window at night, it’s easy to see the beating heart of the area and understand the priorities of the people who live here. First and foremost, cleanliness. It’s incredibly clean on the street, and early morning, you see the workers out sweeping and hosing and actually mopping, the sidewalk. Street sweepers are plentiful. And recycling seems to be something that everyone is committed to. Each block has their separate receptacles and I watch the trucks come and empty them, not just once a week. Holidays don’t matter. The sweepers and park rakers are out in force.

The one thing that confuses me is the rampant graffiti. It scars the nicest streets. The roll down doors, for even the poshest shops, tends to be their canvases, and no matter how lovely the area, graffiti will be there too. For a city that cleans, shines, scrubs itself on a daily basis like a large cat, this inconsistency stands out.  No one seems to grab a brush and paint over them. It’s like it’s their one blind spot.

I’ll admit, some of the graffiti is true art, but a lot of it is just your average tagging. Walking through the old town, I imagine what these buildings might have been like before spay paint was invented. Their yellowy hues and tiled thresholds unmarred by the messages scrawled on the metal doors that now dot them. But for now, in the dark, I’ll appreciate the quiet and watch, yet again, the city wake up and yawn. Unfolding like a flower turning towards the sunrise.