If a Tree Falls in the Woods…

The good news is I’m upright! Actually standing and almost totally vertical. Sure, there is still a little pain but I’m going to take a short walk today because I’m going stir crazy in the house and we’re going to Madrid tomorrow. No one ever accused me of being a patient person. And on that same note, now that I’ve decided it’s time to get my driving license, allowing grass to grow under my feet isn’t an option.

I’ve already read two novels this week. And watched another royal wedding on my phone. If I read one more thing about the political situation back in the US I’ll scream. So I gladly kicked off my journey onto Spanish carriageways and the reglas de la calle.

The encouragement from everyone here has inspired me. And while I can’t take the intensive course until December, in the mean time, I’ve decided to sign up for an online course that gives me practice tests and access to the manual in English. It also tailors some of the tests for my ‘weaknesses in learning’. I laughed when I read it. Their algorithm has no idea who they’re dealing with yet. My weakness in learning is going to break this thing.

The website made it sound so easy and the stock photos gave me confidence that soon, I too will be leaning out of my car window smiling and waving when I drive down the Spanish highways and bi-ways. Except I found out that this is total bullshit because it’s actually illegal to lean out of the car smiling while driving. Driving here is serious business.

In the US, each state has their own manual and traffic laws that are governed by that state. If you move to another state, depending on their rules, sometimes you have to take a test to get your driving license switched out. I had to do this when moving from Oregon to California. Here, the laws are national and the test is a national test. The autonomous regions are not autonomous when it comes to traffic laws. Seems pretty smart, actually.

Well, the first thing I learned is that I know almost nothing. You’d think after driving for 30 years I would just be able to hop in a car and strap myself in, turn the key and head out. But there you would be sadly mistaken. The signs here are different. They have minimum posted speeds in little blue circles. They have ‘Yield’ signs with a big black X through them. Do I yield at that. Is it telling me not to Yield? And the rules are not so straightforward.

The signs for entering towns and cities tell you what kind of town it is and that should tell you how fast you can ‘generally drive’. And they require road worthiness inspections that the US should definitely implement. Some of the stuff I saw flying down the road in Arizona should have been scrapped long ago. So it makes sense. It’s not all a foreign concept to me. Well, maybe it is, but a lot of it is logical. Then there’s the stuff that is simply unbelievable.

We live in Valencia but I’ve walked for weeks through rural Spain. The majority of the country is small towns or villages and farmland, so it make sense that a good portion of their manual is devoted to things like ‘On what side of the road may you herd your animals?’. Or ‘How fast can a tractor go on a highway if it doesn’t have brake lights?’. Stuff like that.

And we’ve ridden the bike out to places in the mountains to the west. There are many one lane bridges with funny signs that we were unclear about. And many narrow roads with no striping so it would be easy to get it wrong. Since I have been on these roads I took the practice test without even studying that section. I’m a pro – I know.

Yeah, NO! Turns out there is a long hierarchy for these types of situations and I was naive in thinking I had a smidgen of understanding that a)there even was a hierarchy and b) what it might actually be. Here’s how it goes.

If the one lane road or bridge is flat then it’s the first vehicle to reach it that will have the right of way, unless it’s harder for the other car to back up – they have a greater distance to go. And if there is a dispute about who entered the area first, there is a law that governs this hierarchy and goes thusly:

1 Special vehicles providing special transport

2 Articulated vehicles and tractive units

3 Vehicles pulled by animals

4 Passenger Car with trailer up to 750kg and motorhomes/RVs

5 Collective passenger transport vehicles

6 Lorries/trucks, tractor-trailers and vans

7 Passenger cars and derivative of cars

8 Special vehicles that do not exceed the established mass, quadricycles and light quadricycles

9 Tricycles, motorcycles with sidecar and 3-wheel mopeds

10 Motorcycles, 2-wheel mopeds and bicycles

So when I get my license I’ll be carrying a scale and a measuring stick because so many of the rules of the road require me to know the weight of someone else’s vehicle or trailer or the length of it.

I looked at this list and I pondered. ‘What if a special vehicle breaks down that doesn’t exceed the established mass and a team of donkeys comes by and gives them a tow through the stretch of one lane road where I’m traveling, and while I’m there first it would be harder for them to back up, would I have the right of way?’ I love a good story problem. And then I took the test and there are questions that look similar to my cooped up musings and I got worried. But I read on.

If this stretch of road is not flat, then everything remaining equal, the vehicle traveling up hill has the right of way, unless it’s too hard for the one coming down to back up. Then we’re right back where we started.

Finally, last night I just had to shut it down. I needed a drink. But then I read the section on how much alcohol you can consume while driving. No alcohol should be the answer but it turns out that in Spain, if you’re a new driver you can consumer less than if you’re experienced. Experienced drivers can consumer 70% more alcohol and still drive. I don’t really understand what the litre ratio means yet, but this seems very curious to me. It seems like the more experienced you were would result in the knowledge that drinking and driving is just stupid.

Well, since I’m upright and dressed I’m going for a walk to mull all this over. Jeff’s going to have a field day with it when he starts his lessons. I can just see him turning it all into ‘If, Then’ statements. There will be swearing. But I still don’t know what that triangle with the black X means.

 

 

Nou d’Octubre – The Day of Valencia

Every October 9th, since King James the I of Aragon sent the Moors packing south, Valencian’s have celebrated their freedom. OK, well as much freedom as people who still lived under a feudal system for 100’s of years following this conquest could. But the Spanish population, who were mostly Christians (Catholics) went from being the low men on the totem pole to those in power.

There is no debate here about the role of Charlemagne or Roland in freeing Spain from the Moors, like there is in Navarra. The Valencia’s are pretty sure it was this one guy and his lucky bat, who showed up right as his victory was clinched, that did the trick. You can see the Valencian bat festooned on manhole covers and futbol jersey’s. The Bat is the thing here.

Nearly 800 years later they’re still pretty happy about it. And like most celebrations we’ve encountered in Spain, if one day of partying is good, six days is just that much better. Nou d’Octubre is the biggest celebration of Valencian pride, and that is saying something since they have a month-long Fallas celebration in March, too.  But Fallas is an internationally renowned party celebrating the art of satirical street sculpture that attracts visitors (and pyromaniacs) from far and wide. This celebration is for the people of the region.

We had some friends in town this weekend – who brought more friends with them – so our group pf 10 dove in and we got a bit of the flavor of the festivities that actually started on Thursday the 4th. Like all fiestas, there will be people dressed in traditional dress. Women dressed like they were as Fallera, and men in both traditional peasant and in Moorish inspired costumes performing or just walking the streets.

20181006_1148332041107205771042353.jpg20181007_105947389578008499239226.jpg

There was a Medieval Market on the Serranos bridge leading to the towers of the same name, selling traditional locally made foods, jewelry, soaps and oils and hand made candies. October 9th is also St. Denis’ Day in Spain. It’s the equivalent of St. Valentines Day. Here men give their lady loves a kerchief full of marzipan sweets to signify their affection. Knowing Jeff would forget his clear obligations to me on St. Denis’ Day, I bought myself a beautiful kimono in the old city. When I showed it to him I explained how I’d helped him dodge a bullet on this most important of holidays. He appeared unmoved at my generosity.

During these celebrations, old palaces that are mostly government buildings now, are opened to the public for just 2 days. Valencian’s like their bureaucracy so they need a lot of places to house them and the old palaces are the perfect spots. Large, open and with big rooms that once might have been used to house men-at-arms, but now hold large conference tables or councils. A gentleman working in one of them explained the hierarchy to us.

In Spain, there are 17 autonomous regions (like states in the US). Ours is the Valencia Communidad (Community) – a collection of essentially 3 counties (Valencia, Alicante and Castello) – who have their congress in one palace here in the old city. This is like a state legislature. Then there is the Valencia county (I’m not using the right words but that’s what it is) – that has it’s own council. Kind of like a county council back home. Then there is Valencia, the city (Ayuntamiento) – which has it’s own city council and mayor.

It’s a little confusing since the name ‘Valencia’ is a loaded one, but you get used to it. In terms of Palaces, each one of these government bodies is housed in palaces that are usually closed to the public, unless you have official business before that particular body. But one time per year, they open them up so that the average person can enjoy the architecture and the stunning art that is housed in them. Sculpture, centuries old paintings and architecture is on full display. It’s easy to see how the aristocracy showed off their wealth and power using their homes as canvasses.

There was music in the square and, of course, fireworks – both during the day and at night. I swear, if someone invaded this country the inhabitants would think any gun shots they heard were associated to a wedding, baptism or a fiesta they forgot about. You think I’m kidding but you almost don’t even hear them anymore when they go off.

My favorite place we visited, although it’s open nearly every day so it’s not part of this celebration, was the Church of St. Nicholas. I had seen it before but never ventured in. Yesterday, we were walking by it between Palace tours and decided to pop in. For 6 euros (kids are free), we got to see something that was truly amazing. It’s called ‘The Sistine Chapel of Valencia’. And ironically, the restorer of the Sistine Chapel restored it recently so it was visible in all it’s glory.  Pictures don’t do it justice and it’s worth the visit.

Parishioners, or anyone in Valencia who needs help with a problem, will leave their home on 3 consecutive Mondays, walking in silence to the church to pray to the effigy of St. Nicholas for assistance. St. Nicholas is the patron saint of charity. The legend has it that he used to anonymously give assistance to many in his community during his lifetime. The precursor to Santa Claus. Promoting the ‘charity is its own reward’ type of approach. This appeals to me on so  many levels and the church is clearly a masterwork in celebrating his life.

Finally, last evening we were just enjoying a quiet time at home when we heard a procession go by. We barely get up and go to the window anymore when we hear a marching band in the neighborhood but it went on for awhile. So random. And the fireworks went off shortly there after.

So we’re not actually to the real holiday yet and we’ve fully celebrated it. Now we’ll enjoy a few days of no grocery stores being open until we get a brief reprieve before Spain Day on Friday. It will be interesting to see what that is like here in Valencia. Will the inhabitants be fiesta’d out after a week of celebrating Nou d’Octubre? Something tells me there’s a fat chance of that! More music, fireworks and processions coming up!

 

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.

wp-1532689909508.jpg

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.

20180726_183653.jpg

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!

 

 

 

A Teenage Wasteland

Moving to a new country has a been exciting and challenging in many ways. I’ve chronicled many of them here. But none has been quite the riddle that is moving across the world with a teenager. Yes, Emilie is only here on school breaks, but a 3 month stretch with her parents in a strange location, without friends, without her US cell phone and the daily (moment by moment) hits of technology, (Snapchat) is about more than she can stand.

Sure, she talks to her boyfriend back in the US via WhatsApp on wifi, but it’s not enough. When I venture to ask ‘What’s up?’ I get blank expressionless stares and Spinx-like answers that give me almost no information beyond ‘I’m bored.’ At this point, my head usually spins around and I think, incredulous, ‘How can anyone be bored in Valencia?. There is so much to do and see.’

OK, perhaps me dragging her thru museums in most of the major European capitals when she was small, didn’t endear the experience to her. This past weekend, Jeff and I went to the ceramics museum but gave her a pass to stay home. It’s very cool, btw. A must see and it was free – we aren’t sure why on a Saturday at high season (3 Euros usually). Its in the mansion of a former duke. They have his carriages and the litter they used to carry him around in. And eclectic mix of this and that, to be sure.

But on Sunday, we trekked up to the Pre-History Museum of Valencia and she was made to accompany us. I was in heaven. I absolutely adore museums. History, art, music. It was a museum specifically about the Valenciana region and, well,  I’ll go to anything with the word ‘Museum’ over the door. I enjoy seeing how people lived, what they valued, how they evolved, what they created out of nothing. So I like to take my time.

Emilie was climbing the walls, looking my way with glares vacillating between wanting to kill me with an ancient spear (luckily contained behind shatter proof glass) or falling asleep in one of the many benches. Afterwards, ice cream helped. Like chocolate reviving her after a dementor attack at Hogwarts.

So finding things for Emilie to do has become important. So I did and Voila! Beach Volleyball. Today she starts Beach Volleyball lessons on Tuesdays and Thursdays with other kids her age on Malvarossa Beach. I know she’s excited about it (you couldn’t tell if you saw her in person) except it’s 1 pm and she’s spent an hour in the bathroom getting ready and we aren’t leaving here for 3 hours. Whew! Something she might enjoy, just in time.

To jump start with my project of helping her meet kids her age, I reached out to some of my expat friends. I’ve spent 3 months developing a network here. People from all over the world that we have lunches, dinners, wine, and attend processions with. And they know a lot of people, apparently. People who have teenagers.

So, tomorrow afternoon, Emilie will take her first Metro ride alone to the station downtown and meet a friend of mine who is taking her to meet a couple of girls in their late teens. One is Spanish, and wants to meet someone she can have coffee with to improve her English for college. The other is English, and like Emilie, is bored out of her gourd. So they should be the perfect disgruntled pair. They can have coffee and moan and groan about their lame parents and their difficult, boring lives. That sounds like teenage heaven to me!

And moi, you might wonder? What will I be doing while she is otherwise occupied? Well, this evening the Royal Ballet is in town and I’ll be seeing Swan Lake with friends while she’s taking the tram back from the beach after her class. And later this week, I’m going to see an Opera. Neither of these activities are Emilie-approved, but now I won’t need to be concerned with that. Everyone will be doing what they like doing and I get to be as lame as I want going forward – which will involve a glass of something refreshing. Summer is shaping up to be just perfect!

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.