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DAY 196

Oranges are special in Spain. They are even more special in Valencia.  In fact, Valencian oranges are world-renown!

You can’t take a walk into the countryside and not see the orange groves—they’re everywhere! Just walking from Puerto to Sagunto—4 kilometers—you can rows and rows of them.

Now, a quiz. How many oranges does it take to make a decent-sized glass of orange juice? Well, depending on how much you drink—let’s say you’re a thirsty person and you like a big glass—that could take up to 3 oranges! For a glass of juice that you could drink in a couple of gulps.  That’s why commercial orange juice has so many additives—and why the high-end juice is pricy.

I prefer to make the juice myself, actually. Just get a juice squeezer, cut the fruit in half, and squeeze away! Being the frugal gal I am, I usually use 1 plump orange, making a baby-sized glass of juice to brighten my morning.

Now one of the things I love in life is color. The more colourful, the better! I was that kid that colour-coded notes and wrote lists and notes and doodles with brightly colored pens.   I wear bright colours. I can’t stand white walls.  I love brilliant flowers.

So therefore, I love this photo. I love oranges. Of course they taste good, too. Sweet and citrusy and delicious.  But every time I open the fridge and there’s a whole rainbow of colours topped off by the row of smooth, round, brilliant, Valencian oranges…well, then I’m a happy camper.

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DAY 195

“All we do is hide so we can dig, and dig so we can hide!”

§ The Lion King §

Doing the same thing over and over again is one of my greatest fears. Going in circles, doomed to repeat yourself, your actions, your thougts, your life over and over again, is…terrifying.  Hide so we can dig, dig so we can hide…circles, circles…even Disney realised this!

I once had a friend named Thomas. He was a TomTom.  He was a terrible friend.

Never trust a GPS. I’m serious. Oh, they are so convenient, yes…for getting lost, that is.

When my family visited Andalucia (southern Spain) I, of course, wanted to visit them as well.  So off I went. After picking me up from the airport, we tried to figure out how on earth we were going to find the American School of Malaga with a rented car, a whole bunch of signs in Spanish, a confusing set of interlocking Spanish highways and Tom.

Tom took us here and there and everywhere. We had a nice tour of Southern Spanish freeways, which in case you are wondering, are maybe not the most beautiful part of this country.

He especially liked the roundabouts. And when I say “liked,” what I really mean is “they confused the hell out of him but he kept on taking us to the blasted roundabouts.”

“Turn left on the roundabout (umm the whole point of a roundabout is that you can only go one way, RIGHT, as my father was fond of shouting), then take the 5th exit.” I’d bet my life that there wouldn’t even be a 5th exit. Sure enough, there were only 3 exits.

Spain itself has a strange fascination with roundabouts. So does England, for that matter. I can’t stand ‘em. I love driving, I love the flow, the rhythm of a moving vehicle. I love pressing the gas and just zooming along without changing speed. (According to my mother, this love of the rhythm of movement and moving cars started with infancy. I would cry unless in a car or a swing. Still love cars and swings, actually…).  Well, those dang roundabouts really mess up the flow of driving. You have to slow down, jerk the wheel, curve the car around the stinking circle.  Ahh the freedom of roads without roundabouts—one of the few things I miss about the States (along with Cheerios, Reese’s, instructions for cooking things in English, American commercials–the Spanish ones are so obnoxious!–and gas prices).

Well, poor Tom must have forced us to cross about 50 roundabouts (often the same roundabouts, he liked to take us back and forth and back and forth yay circles!), and I think he got it right about twice. Well, odds were with him that he’d eventually get it right.

We spent a lot of time shouting at the thing, cursing Spanish circles, and getting dizzy as we spun around the roundabout a second or even a third time, having a shouting match at which turnoff we should pick.

We must have passed this building 5 or 6 times. Which was good for me as I was quite fond of taking photos out the window.  It is really neat—definitely built by the Moors.  Spain is full of strange and interesting ruins—many of which are falling apart, forgotten and uncared for.  The government is already making cuts right and left—who’s going to stop and pay for the upkeep of magnificent old dwellings like this one? I’m glad that, despite my loathing of roundabouts, the one benefit of heading up and down the same roads and highways meant I got to see the scenery several times.  Most of it was fairly brown and dead and unattractive, but this building was worth it. Just wish it was in better repair.  It’s sad.

We managed to get where we were going most of the time (never DID find that dang American School though), but by the end, we were all in agreement. Sometimes, newfangled is unnecessary, sometimes going old school, going back to the basics, is just better. Next time, we were bringing a map.

 

DAY 194

“For in the true nature of things, if we rightly consider, every green tree is far more glorious than if it were made of gold and silver.”

§ Martin Luther §

Spain is, in fact, a desert.   It’s cold in the morning, and you wake up with the covers pulled over your head. It’s chilly enough to want a coat, at least right now. Then it heats up until you are drenched in sweat and you start wondering why they ever invented coats in the first place.  Then the 9 pm rolls around and you go back outside and, what? It’s cold again. Where’d I put that coat?!

For a girl from the East Coast of the US, green is something I grew up with—and I’m not talking about money here.  No, I mean green, you know, nature. Trees, grass, plants.  Rain. Storms. Leaves.  Then I moved to England for a few months and everything was green. Heck, I didn’t even mind the rain, in fact, I rather liked it. It made everything more green than I’d ever seen.

Spain…isn’t so green.  Especially in the towns and cities. Especially in and around my town. Lots of concrete. Then you walk outside and there’s lots of brown.

Yet, still, there is beauty. Still, there are places that, green or not, take your breath away.  Sometimes—not most of the time, but some of the time at least—a deep, rich brown can be beautiful.

Like this here photo. This is taken in Andalucía, the southern region of Spain.  On my way to the region’s gorgeous villages dubbed Pueblos Blancos because of the beautiful white towns–specifically, I was on my way to Zahara–I spent the entire journey leaning out the window, taking photo after photo.  I must say, my camera is spectacular. I took over 50 photos out the window and less than 5 of them have a motion blur.

But anyway.  Spain may have a desert-like climate. The temperature may rise and drop like a freaking pendulum.  The nature might be brown as a slab of chocolate (yeah, I’m a little hungry…).  It may not have anything on England.  But you have to admit—Spain has it’s own deep, intense, chocolate-coloured beauty.

DAY 193

“In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?”

§  William Blake §

Remember what I said about how the Valencians are showy? Yes, well, this is probably the biggest example. Bigger than the modern buildings in the river. This is…well, this is Las Fallas.

Las Fallas is a big celebration in the region of Valencia during March—before Easter.  It is characterized by the exploding of gunshot-like firecrackers by annoying children, girls and women dressed in traditional garb (complete with gold plates in their elaborate hairdos) called Falleras, marching band wake-calls at 8 am (very early for this country) to make sure the falleras are wide awake and ready to seize the day, never-ending churro stands that line the streets and tempt poor souls into eating the dish affectionately dubbed, “obesity on a platter,” and finally, by the hundreds of giant sculptures that suddenly appear around town.

The falleras and their followers log hours upon hours planning, designing and building these massive art projects. They are supposed to tell a story; sadly, not being Spanish, the references and sarcasms and jokes usually escape me, and not being able to speak Valenciano, the helpful signs aren’t so helpful.

But regardless, I could appreciate the structures as pieces of art.

I spent the final day of Fallas in Valencia with my two friends who live in Madrid.  None of us knew much about the city or it’s traditions. The streets were teeming with onlookers—locals and tourists alike. The noise was deafening.  Everywhere, people were eating, people were shouting, people were watching. Street performers were going crazy.  Tourists—including me—were whipping out their cameras. As it grew darker, people started to get rowdier.

We sat down to a lovely dinner of paella. Paella, a dish consisting of Spanish rice seafood or meat, is the most typical, traditional dish of this region. I ordered the mariosco (seafood), which included an unfortunate prawn that was dubbed “Bob”  by my friends. They insisted that the nasty 4-inch spawn of the sea was actually a delicacy, but there was no way in hell I was eating that. I may be able to gone the legs and the eyes on the smaller shrimps or whatever you call them, but “Bob” had to go. I gave him away to the friend who insisted it was a delicacy, and his eyes lit up like a child’s on Christmas morning. Bob was gone in seconds.

Back to Fallas.

Why was everyone gathered outside? Why, to watch them burn all of the Fallas, of course! Yep, that’s right. They spend close to 365 days planning this massive art exhibitions, display them for a few weeks, then set them on fire and gleefully watch them burn. Now, I couldn’t stay in the city; the last bus to my town left at 10 and I had work the next morning. My Madrid friends were leaving on the 3 am bus, so plenty of time to watch the fires!

Never fear though—I still saw them burn. Luckily my town, still being in the region of Valencia, had their own Fallas, and burned their own Fallas.

As sad as I was to see the art burn—you have to admit that there was something wildly fascinating about the fire, about it’s destruction by flames, about that resilient stork there that refused to burn. Fire has that effect.  The destruction is both horrible and fascinating, ugly and beautiful—all at the same time.

I was glad I got to watch it burn.

DAY 192

Let’s talk about food.

Yes I realise that all through childhood, high school, and later, university, I never showed an interest in cooking.  In fact, I abhorred it.  The thought of spending massive amounts of time, energy, and money on food was simply ridiculous. Others were responsible for my meals.  If cooking was unavoidable, there was rice and beans or pasta or grilled cheese and canned tomato soup.  Or better yet, there was cereal. Or peanut butter crackers. Jeez, I was so lazy!

And then I moved out. No, I did one better than that. I moved to Spain. Suddenly, I had to do everything, I had to start figuring out things on my own.  All these new things—rent and health insurance and grocery shopping and paychecks and so many others that I can’t think of right now.  And cooking.

Well, it turns out that cooking isn’t so hard after all. Okay, it may stink when you get home and it’s a quarter to ten and all you want to do is to eat a wonderfully prepared dinner and instead, you have to make it yourself.  But really, it isn’t so hard! All you have to do is follow a general recipe guide, throw in whatever ingredients you have, douse it in whatever spices smell good, then let it cook a bit.  It’s different than baking. With baking, you have to follow the recipe down to the detail or it won’t taste good, but with cooking, well, it’s more like art. You get to do whatever you want, include the things you like, experiment with new foods, new combinations, new spices.

Here, I made stuffed mushrooms.  The guy at the local fruit stand insisted I get the mushrooms, and I did.  Hey, they weren’t expensive, so why not? But then—what to do with them? I don’t even like mushrooms that much, to be honest.  So the googling began.  Okay, so, stuffed mushrooms it is.

You start with removing the stems, and chopping them up.  Then you fry ‘em up (feels a bit like mushroom cannibalism) with some green chilies and red peppers and some onions, maybe a bit of garlic.  You mix the whole concoction with some cream cheese and then plop it into the mushrooms.   Then you put it into the oven until it’s nice and toasty (don’t you just love my unspecific directions?), whip up some couscous on the side, maybe a little salad, and yum. Yum, yum, yum.  And then some tea and a cookie. Yum.

I like food. And now that I can cook good food, well, I am in danger of becoming a balloon.  Food is so good.

DAY 191

 

“The only certain happiness in life is to live for others.”

§  Leo Tolstoy  §

Living in a small suburb with families and elderly people, lacking young people or students and not being able to talk to anyone anyway because you barely speak Spanish—well, that sort of puts a stopper on your friend-making abilities.

So when I was on facebook the other night, lazily scrolling through newsfeeds of people I no longer knew and I suddenly saw a new album full of photos of Valencia, I sat up straight.  And lo and behold, there was my old roommate from Barcelona from the year before! And she’d been to Valencia.  I contacted her and it turned out she was here for a business trip. I had literally nothing to do this weekend besides grade tests, do research about the Cambridge exams I am trying to teach, and watch re-runs of every American crime drama ever invented, so I proposed we meet up in the city.

Thank goodness I did. I really needed it.  I still don’t know anyone here besides my workmates and my students here.  I have a couple of friends scattered across the continent—Madrid, England, etc—but at the end of the day, I live a pretty quiet life here on the coast of Spain.  So meeting up with my former roommate in Valencia sounded perfect.

Valencia isn’t a huge city but it’s big enough for someone who’s only gone a few times and inherited her mother’s uncannily terrible sense of direction (sorry, mum….).  Regardless, after a lot of wandering around, a few stops to ask for directions (a topic I can actually understand. Hell, if I knew my way around, I could probably even give directions in Spanish!), and several wrong turns, we ended up getting to La Plaza de la Virgen by literally the longest possible route.  No matter.

There is something wonderful about sitting on the steps by the cathedral eating a caramel crepe, chatting with a Dutch man and taking photographs; something fantastic about catching up with old friends. I wish I could that more often.  I hate losing contact with people.

I have friends spread out across at least 8 countries—and spread out within those countries. Everyone is always busy, always caught up with the present, with the immediate future, that no one wants to relive the past. No one has time to set aside, no one has time to go out of their way. Just because I moved away, I don’t want to lose my friends. So I am going to take this into stride and try to do better with reuniting and keeping up with old friends—while trying to figure out a way to make some new ones here.

At the end of that day, I was just glad that I did something, saw someone, had a lovely evening in a beautiful city with an old friend.

DAY 190

Okay, I haven’t blogged in a long time.  Over two months. I know, it’s terrible.  But I have a good reason! Well—sort of.

I moved to Spain. There. Not a bad reason, eh?

I moved to a small city-town-suburb-thing 25 km (15 miles for my Americans) outside of Valencia. I am an English teacher at a small academy. I teach 10-12 classes, and I have over 60 students, the youngest being five and the oldest—retired.

It’s been a lot of things—at times fun, exciting, terrifying, difficult, painful, scary, challenging, adventurous, crazy.  Of course I’m glad I’m here—but the same time, I feel a bit lost, like I don’t know what I’m doing or where I’m going.  I love my kids—well, most of them. Some I want to strangle but that’s beside the point—and as for my adults, well, I like them enough. I prefer the beginners, they are so eager! And I can practise my Spanish with them.

Speaking of Spanish, well, I’m not so great. But I DID have a breakthrough not too long ago, and I suddenly realised that I could speak a little, that I could understand even more.  The kids talk to me in Spanish and I respond is English before I realise that I just understood them!

So I am returning to my blog. It will be different than before. I will try to post once a day like before, but it won’t be a photo that I took that day. The town I live in is modern with little beauty in it—for the most part, not very photogenic. But I have a huge arsenal of photos to choose from. So I will choose a photo I have and blog about it and relate it to whatever’s going on with me.  It might be here in Puerto or Valencia, or it might be off in some other corner of Spain—could even be in England.  We’ll see if I can make it work!

This photo is of the beach with the pier in the background.  I am not a beach girl; in fact, I strongly dislike beaches. They are boring, unchanging, all the same. Girls with few clothes on lying in the sun getting skin-cancer and reading the worst books ever written. But since it’s here, I might as well experience it a little. I took a walk to the beach and stared at the waves for a long time and read my book (I can tell you mine was better than the average beach-read as it was a collection of stories in French).  I didn’t feel the need to “get tanned” or run around screeching like a little girl while splashing in 6-inch waves. I just sat there by myself for a bit reading until I got up and walked along the path on the beach’s edge, taking photos and pondering the draw that beaches have for people.

That said, I love the way this photo turned out. And if I got a good photo from it, then the trip was worthwhile!