Sunday, June 11, 2017

Upsidedown: From Spain to America Again

It is 4:12 a.m. Sunday morning in America and I am up for the day.  Why?  Jet lag, I'm told.

Yesterday at 4:53 p.m., my friend said,  "it takes a few days to get back into the swing of things and the time change from Spain to America."

I brazenly responded,  "I don't feel any jet lag."   I'm sure he laughed, knowing how wrong I would be.

Three hours later, I was back in bed feeling like it was still the middle of the night, which it was... in Spain.

On Friday morning, I enjoyed handing over both of my heavy bags to British Airlines at the Barcelona airport. What?  No charge for either of them?  Amazing, since it cost $100 to take my second back from Phoenix three months earlier on American Airlines to Spain.  Removing the burden of pulling both of those bags along behind me and walking away with only my electronics backpack (although I felt like a pack animal) and my small carryon bag, I felt light headed with relief.  Neither of which had wheels (never again).  I was very early but I didn't mind because I could people -watch again and jot down notes in my trusty journal.

I began filling the pages with disjointed memories and recollections of my stunning adventure in Spain as I waited inside the airport while others milled around me:

* The COLORS of the Spanish flag were everywhere; yellowish ochre and red on the buildings, cafe fronts, clothing, village walls, the home screen of my mobile phone and splashed across my brain.  The colors are also part of my home decor, a piece of Spain here and there.

* And then there were the ancient buildings, narrow alleyways, cobblestone streets, expansive squares, the ringing of the bells in the churches on so many corners in all the villages and cities.

* The café con leche the color of almonds with the froth on top, edged around toward the corners of the cup.

* The sound of the Metro train barreling toward me as I waited to board and then riding the rails to see another wonder.  Everyone ascends from the train and follows the changeover signs in a swarm like ants chasing after a sugar cube and I'll not forget feeling part of the rush.

* Walking through history; La Alhambra in Granada, La Mezquita in Córdoba,  the Sacromonte in Granada where the gypsies tapped their flamenco in ancient cave rooms, caves carved beneath Gibraltar during World War Two and seeing the pier where my ancestors boarded a ship to sail to Hawaii and the sugar plantations, Ronda where whispers of the Spanish Civil War still studs the great stone walls as they rise up from the river far below the city.  The Seville Cathedral lit up at night and the Torre del Oro (Tower of gold) where my ancestors boarded a small ship to sail down the river toward the Mediterranean before walking twelve days toward the Rock of Gibraltar to board the Orteric in 1911.   Madrid.  Barcelona, churches and Gaudí.  Listening to age-old flamenco guitar music on street corners, in Estepona at a private concert, in Algodonales, the village beyond Ronda. Benagalbón where my Ruiz family lived in a place where the battles of World War Two is still marked nearby in the tunnels.  My mind is awhirl with the historical significance of the country and my notes go on and on.
Photo above: Santa Maria del Mar, taken by Javier Albertos in Madrid.

* The FÉRIA in Sevilla with the frills and Sevillana music and dancing around me where I didn't want to blink and miss anything.  And where I wore a borrowed dress that made me feel like a princess, wishing the custom-made flamenco shoes had arrived from Loli's Shop in Estepona...

* The different FOODS: The grilled fish on a stick newly pulled out of a smoking, ash-filled boat on the sand at a chiringuito (restaurants on sandy Mediterranean beaches).  Thick, creamy chocolate. Hot, deep-fried churros I dipped into the cup of chocolate..holding it in the depths just long enough to soften and swing it to my mouth without dropping a piece into the brew.  Bacalao eaten fried, baked or cold inside a Malagueñan Salad with a touch of orange.  Ensalada Mixta (mixed salad greens with an assortment of vegetables and corn too) eaten inside a cave-like restaurant in Mijas, a village where burros frequent their streets and flamenco dancers entertain in the square on Wednesdays at noon. Pig cheeks!  Cerrigallido?  I can't remember the Spanish name and my translator won't pull it up for me. Salmorejo, the cold tomato based soup that is thick and creamy not quite like gazpacho which is filled with chunks of vegetables.  Tinto verano wine with lemon served chilled and goes down like soda pop.

Ribera del Duero, my new favorite wine from the northern part of Spain with its rich, deep red color and textures.  Large prawns (langostinos) with the crawly tendrils and black, beady eyes. The smaller prawns (gambas) brought to the table still bubbling in garlic oil, almost too hot to eat.  Paella.   Iberico ham spread, similar to paté (I brought a can home) and tomato spread (my cousin, Mercedes, showed me how to make this lovely spread at home.)

* Flamenco Shoes.  I ordered them March 14 with an arrival date of April 14.  Clearly disappointed with no response from the shop, I drove to Estepona mid-to-late April but Loli told me they had not arrived.  Over the weeks that followed, I sent notes to her without a response.  I gave up.  While in Madrid, my cousin Mercedes Trascasas was determined I would have my flamenco shoes and I found some black shoes, delighted and hugging the bag to my chest afterward.  While waiting for my plane to America as I sat in Heathrow Airport in London, I received a text and photo.  My shoes had arrived.  Oh, yoy yoy, as Mercedes would say.  Too late.

* New friends, cousins, stories and speaking Spanish.

I could fill the page but I won't.  Suffice it to say, the Mediterranean diet is astounding.  I was pleasantly surprised that I had not gained ten pounds as I'd imagined.  I hadn't gained any extra pounds at all.  But then again, I'd walked 553,975 steps; 228 miles.  My Vionic shoes are still in great shape and they are the best walking shoes I have ever had before.

And when my friend, R,  picked me up from the Phoenix airport, I found a bag at my feet: A bottle of Sangria and garlic-stuffed olives!  And when I arrived home, Rina had filled my fridge with surprises; more olives, a bottle of red wine, the liquid Dannon yogurt I'd mentioned in my blog while in Madrid, Manchego cheese, milk, cream and small loaves of bread on the counter with plantain chips like we'd eaten in Spain.  I felt blessed with the thoughtful welcome gifts to help transition me back into American culture.
I fell into bed the minute I arrived home, slept for fourteen hours, unpacked, caught up laundry and then pulled out my special welcome-home foods.  Being home again is priceless, but missing all those I left behind is more memorable than I can say.

I had plenty of time to think about my life, plenty of room and silence.  Lying in the lounge chair on my private terrace in Calahonda with Spain's coastal sun whispering over my naked skin, I felt absolutely depraved and alive.   My new mantra that fills my mind after this glorious time in a country that moves slower, enjoys long meals (without the rush of life taking over) and the importance of family life is profound.  At my age, I don't have the luxury of time ahead of me, so I will maintain the Spanish culture in living my life as if it is disappearing tomorrow.  I will lazily drink my own café con leche, flush away the rush in my life and enjoy the rest of it.  A sabbatical is meant to open up our heads and for me, it did exactly that.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

A Gaudí Day winding down in Barcelona

I tried to see it all.  It is, after all, the city where Gaudí left his mark everywhere.  And today, I have ridden the Metro several times.  Thank goodness I bought a ticket for three days because I've practically lived on the train.  I've mastered the Metro, learned that L4 yellow line returns me back to my hotel.  I also learned that not all trains connect to others.  Once I kept looking for the green line and kept landing up on the street... 

The only little, tiny moment(s) of panic happened yesterday.  When you leave a train, there are usually two exits, each marked with the name of the street at the top of the steps.  When I got off the train at my Bogatell Metro stop, I couldn't remember the street name, so I turned the wrong way.  When I stepped onto the sidewalk at the top of the steps, there was a bridge that didn't belong there, a street that had a tapas cafe I'd never seen before and I froze a little.  Since I'd been told not to look at a map while walking down the street because it screams tourist, I've tried to be casual about it.  This time, I was in full-blown panic mode because nothing looked familiar.  I found a doorway, yanked it out, furtively looked around to make sure nobody was lurking ready to grab my purse and looked at the streets.  It didn't help one bit.  So, I started walking.  It couldn't be far, I knew that and told my stomach to settle down.  It didn't listen.  After three wrong streets, I found one I recognized so I was sure I'd found my hotel.  Only it wasn't on the corner where it belonged.  I'd turned the wrong way.  When I twisted around and headed the other way, I saw it and nearly ran the length of the block.  How silly, right?  I know the name of the street now and never will make that mistake again.

PEOPLE WATCHING:  I saw two scenes to relate; one yesterday and one today.
Yesterday, I saw a man walk toward the mouth of Las Ramblas as I sat with a cup of coffee while waiting for my friend Janet for our day at Monterserrat.  He had a fist full of burning incense gripped in his hand.  The smoke whirled around his head, which was a matted gob of twisted strands in dreadlocks shooting in all directions.  He was chanting as he walked by me and swinging his other arm around his head as if to ward off evil spirits before walking beneath the canopy of trees.  I shook my head and caught other patron's eyes in shared astonishment.

Today, as I sat inside a pizzeria before visiting La Familia Sagrada, I watched a little girl about four being pulled along by her mother as she struggled to guide the bent straw in her fruit juice into her mouth.  Bounce, bounce, bam!  She almost had her little lips around the end of it when it flipped downward and she lost it again as her mother pulled her forward, totally unaware of the party in her child's head.  It was hard to eat pizza and laugh at the same time, but I was starving and managed to eat most of it.

LA SAGRADA FAMILIA, CASA MILÁ and PARK GÜELL.  My tickets sat on my mobile phone (they don't say cell phone here in Spain and I'm converted I think) and I was ready for my day.  The only problem (I thought) was the times.  10:00 at Casa Milá meant I was in the Metro by 8:30 in case I got lost.  But, that was okay because I found a nice cafe and ordered myself a café con leche right in front so I could sit and gaze at the beautiful facade of this marvelous building.  (It is near Casa Botlló where I visited a few days ago).   

I mention this because inside Casa Milá, there is a replica of the before-building and the after-building in white of the Casa Botlló after Gaudí finished it.  Wow.  This is the colored version too.

While I was drinking my coffee, my eyes followed several people (I have too much curiosity for my own good sometimes).   By the way, I just noticed the little book I write in has the words, "There's no place like home" on the front.  I looked down at it and felt like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz.  She was right...there's no place like home.  But I digress...

My neck hurt as I craned it upward to see the facade and curious artwork of the twisting, wrought iron balconies.  My first glimpse of the lobby area inside the building beautiful and very art nouveau, decor that I have always liked.  The colors, design, shapes and feeling of warmth grabbed at me.  This is a building that was built between 1907 and 1910, and Gaudí's last design for a private residence.  The roof terrace was astounding, but when I walked through the apartment built for the owners in that day and age, I was taken back in time...and again --- to art nouveau.  The floor, ceiling and walls were incredible.  I could move right in.  Each room was beautiful as well as utile.  To think that this residence and building was built about the same time as my ancestors were leaving Spain because they were too poor to feed their families just didn't seem to mesh with the history here.  

When I walked out of the beautiful building, I took part of it with me in my head.  And then I had 3 and a half hours before I could get into the Sagrada Familia, a catholic basilica that has always been magical to me when I've seen photos.  What to do in the interim?  I started walking toward the cathedral where Javier and Conchita had taken me in the Barrio Gótico on Tuesday night.  I found the square and all the old, old buildings.  And a market filled the square with tables overflowing with used items, books, jewelry and other stuff.  But what I wanted to do was find a bench to sit down and gaze up at the cathedral across the square.  So that's exactly what I did until I had to find another Metro and get to the basilica for my 2:30 pm tour.

The outside walls include statues and a door made out of metal that is covered in leaves.  Photos can't tell the story.  Once I walked in the large doors, I was transformed with the stained glass windows that were so different from any I'd seen before.  The sun was shining into each colored glass to take one's breath away.  The center of the top of the cross-shaped structure included a gigantic chandelier that wasn't a chandelier but the nave and... I wondered if others in the huge open church were as dumbfounded as I was.  Were their eyes glazing over?  Their hearts thumping in their chests like mine was?  I found a bench along the wall to watch others as I tried to see their feelings on their faces.  And I saw it on many of them... that look that says, unbelievable, awesome, beautiful, reverent and much more.  I don't think I'll ever be quite the same person as I was when I walked in that door.  Guess you have to see it to believe it.

The third ticket was reserved at 5:30 pm and it was 3:15 when I left the basilica.  Another two Metro rides and I rounded the corner as I followed directions which would lead me to the Park Güell.  I wanted to go there because there are so many sculptures that Gaudí left his imprint on.  The photos have lured me for years.  When I rounded the corner, I saw the ground rise above me like a mountain and I groaned aloud.  I'd walked so far already, but up I went.  After about six blocks upward, I was glad to see a series of escalators (seven of them) and then stair steps (a million of them).  At the top, my heart was beating hard and I was out of breath.  I saw down and joined a few others in my same predicament.  A boy was selling iced water in bottles for one euro.  I snapped it up immediately.

And then we all started following the cement walkways.  Up, around, up again until I realized I was going somewhere that wasn't the park at all.  I found signs that led me in another directions and I followed it for a long way and overlooked the tops of two obviously-Gaudí designed buildings.  When I saw the entrance gate, I sagged with relief and found a bench to sit on in the shade.  I was two hours early and they wouldn't let me in until my allotted time.  I waited one hour there in the shade and watched people go by, listened to the different languages and just breathed.  I couldn't remember when I was this tired and suddenly I felt myself falling.  I'd fallen asleep and nearly slipped off the bench.  What was I doing?  With a big sigh and a final decision, I got up and decided to walk out again, only there must be a better way.  I hated missing the park, but my body was screaming.  I wanted to walk down, not up to the pinnacle above where I'd entered, so I found another street and walked and walked and walked some more.  When I saw the Metro sign, I walked some more.  

The best part of my day, I must admit, was getting back to my hotel and putting my feet up to rest them on my bed.  I looked at the activity history on my phone.  I'd walked 8.6 miles.  No wonder I was swamped.   

My day is over, my bags are packed, my taxi is ordered for morning and I will be on my way back home early Friday morning.  And I am ready... except that I will miss all the wonderful people I'm leaving behind...

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

In the clouds at Montserrat above Barcelona

Today I stood on a mountain where lofty clouds hung their mist around me.  Montserrat is a monastery about an hour from Barcelona, a train ride away and then up in the gondola/cable car to the top.  

My friend, Janet H. (a WLMer) guided me there and we proceeded to have a day filled with wonder and created memories that will last a long time.  The yellow gondola made me only a little apprehensive as it climbed up, up and up some more to the top of the solid rock mountain.  When it started rocking into "port" at the top it reminded me of when we used to pull the ski boat into its berth in Charles City, Virginia.  No water, just miles of air below me.  I wanted off.

The other gondola passed us by as it descended to pick up the next passengers.  Janet explained that each car's cable pulled the other in some type of balance-and-go process.  The engineering seemed amazing to me.  I can't remember how it is done, I just know it got us up there smoothly and safe.

Despite low wispy clouds blocking miles of the promised view, our exploring began.  It is a unique treasure in Catalonia, a sanctuary as well as an important site for religious pilgrimages.  The mountain houses a huge basilica, a museum, many shops and twelve stations of the cross on the Santa Cova walk.  It first caught my attention when I saw a photo on the internet of a man standing on what appeared to be stone blocks.  Evidently it was real because now the "blocks" are surrounded by a fence... 

Janet and I rode a funicular (train) up the mountain for the views and stood in those clouds.  She told me that the sun would come out at 2:00.  Oh really?  Yes, she promised...the weatherman said it was so.  We joked about it most of the morning and into the early afternoon.  The clouds hung low, the breeze turned into a wind and goosebumps rose on our skin.  Just before 2:00 I was still teasing her as we began our climb to look at the beautifully sculpted statues for the stations... The clouds began to part as we hit station number two.  When the sun peeked out and the clouds separated above us, we looked at our clock.  1:58.  At 2:00 the sun shone brightly above us.  We stared at each other for a hot minute before we laughed and hugged one another in surprised delight.  A mystical magic had descended over us.  Really?  Yes, 2:00. There it was.  

We walked upward, downward, around and through beautiful tree-lined walkways where rocks were etched in cement.  Blackberry bushes, ivy and too many natural bits of green to count littered the walkway as we trudged along, resting several times on our way.  It was mesmerizing to see the mountains tower above us with peaks and channels in the stone on the Sant Joan walk.  The nature museum's folklore explained the history of the monastery which I found very interesting.  The view from there was pretty awesome too.

We were hungry and walked around toward the basilica where the square was filled with laughing and yelling children.  The church bell started gonging above us loudly with a deep, rich sound that nearly knocked us down with its intensity.  

When we found the restaurant (Abat Cisneros) in the Plaza del Monasterio beside the hostal, we knew we were going to treat ourselves.  Inside was shaped like a cave with its concave roof made of stones and murals on the walls.  One entire wall was the rock side of the mountain.  We chose the menu of the day.  The 27 euros would be worth the ambience; with the luxury of linen tablecloths, silver utensils and a view unlike anything I'd seen in awhile.  

Now, the menu.  I'll skip the starter, the tapas and go straight to the main dish because I still cannot believe it.  Since I arrived in Spain, I have eaten food never before tasted.  One of my favorites has been pig's cheeks.  So, when I saw pig on the menu with snails, I ordered it.  When it arrived, I saw Janet's eyebrows shoot up as my stomach took a lurching move south.  What had I done?  I forced myself to taste the pig's foot...and I even swallowed it (what else could I do?)  My stomach lurched again... and I ate the snails as I picked them out with the accompanying toothpick.  I will never (obviously) order this again...  I was so glad when they took away the plate.  Oh, and I washed it down with my red wine and water and more water after that.  Pig's cheeks are lovely.  This, although a delicacy Janet told me, will never sit in front of me again.  My stomach rolls as I think of it.

At the end of the day, we both agreed it has been a fabulous jaunt together.  We walked down the long cement walkway to the train that would take us back to Barcelona with a crowd of others.  Delighted to see the train waiting for us, we hopped on.  Unfortunately, every seat was taken by mostly young people and not one of them offered us their seat.  So, we chatted standing up for the hour ride back to Barcelona and prided ourselves on staying upright...

We weren't ready to say goodbye, so we stopped at a cafe and had a cold drink before we separated ways after heartfelt hugs and kisses on each cheek.  Janet to Sants Train Estación and me toward the abyss of the Catalunya Metro.  

Un buen día (a good day).
Here is a link to the monastery if you would like to read about this mystical place.  

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Magic of Barcelona


The words, pictures cannot describe, rattled in my head today because they truly cannot describe the wonder of Gaudí's buildings, the colors, the spires that look like someone decorated it with colored icing on a cake.  They can't describe the depth of the buildings or... That's just it.  It was distracting to see cranes above La Familia Sagrada, but my first sight of this glorious work of art when I turned around at the top of the stairs from the Metro was heart thumping.  It jumped out at me and snagged me by the throat.  My breath caught and I started grinning --- thinking of my granddaughter, Frankie Christina, and the longing she has to see this place.  I wish she'd been standing beside me to feel the thrill rumble through us.

I followed the crowds and backed up against a stone wall to gaze upward until my neck hurt.  People all around me were awestruck, as was I.  Tickets!  I needed one.  When I walked around the entire building to be told at 10:00 a.m. that tickets were available for 5:45 pm tonight, I was dismayed. For just a moment...because I have a lovely dinner date with friends at 7:30.  I will go back on Thursday at 2:30, because Thursday will be ALL Gaudí since my friend, Steven A. told me about Casa Mila.  And then I found Parque Güell.  On Thursday!

I found Casa Battló and just sat and gazed at the beauty from a bench among the trees and birds.  And Las Ramblas!  Trees arched above me in a canopy as I walked (rambled...) the length of this notable walkway where shops, cafes and people surrounded me.  I noticed there were a lot of loners like me, so I fit in with all the lovers, seniors, teens and sellers too.  Artists lined the paseo with pen and ink  or with colors.  Like Montemarte in Paris (only different).

 I was flagging by 11:30 and decided to have a sit down with coffee, but when I found a covered area where birds flit back and forth and people lingered at tables, I saw a woman with chocolate and churros.  Yes!  And it was my turn.

Afterward, I headed toward the Mediterranean where I knew a monument to Christopher Colon stood tall above the roundabout.  I couldn't stand back far enough without dancing in traffic to take a photo of the entire statue.  The immensity surprised me and I remembered there is also one in Huelva... he is everywhere in Spain.

By now, my legs were crying.  I needed a Metro station and food.  I found a great little cafe on a side street as I followed the Metro signs to take me back to my hotel.  They warmed up a sandwich for me para llevar (to go) and as I rounded another corner, I saw the signs to the Picasso museum.  Should I go?  I'd seen the exhibition in Madrid and how could any of them beat the Guernica?  Maybe I'd see the old man with the guitar painting on the front of the artwork for my book, Wine, Vines and Picasso?  Off I went.  And waited in line for 30 minutes but musicians had everyone dancing in line even though the sun was hot on our heads.  Once inside, there were so many Picasso paintings, my head ached and my eyes blurred.  No guitar man painting and by now my legs screamed louder and my bocadilla (sandwich) was getting cold.

After an early siesta, I was ready for my dinner date with Javier A. and his wife, Conchita.   He'd mentioned a nice long walk before dinner at Barrio Gótico near the 4 Gats (4 cats) Restaurant.   Even though I'd already walked nearly 13,000 steps today, I was in the magical mood of Barcelona once again.  And I won't even mention getting lost in the Metro...

When I first saw Javier and Concheta in the lobby of my hotel, we stumbled over our words a bit but with each minute, it was easier.  This is a man whom I've exchanged emails with over the years, a friend who has written books about Estepona history.  They were kind to invite me to dinner, but first a mini-tour of the antigua area of Barcelona that included two churches, a museum, narrow streets that made me feel like I was alone in another time warp.  He is evidently a photo aficionado because he kept taking photos of me in all the places they introduced me to... In and out of mazes and finally to the restaurant.

The Els Quatre Gats or less formally call the 4 Gats is a cafe that famously became a popular meeting place for famous artists throughout the modernist period, including Picasso and Casis.  The inside is decorated in time period, ornate and ageless; the food was good, live music and lots of noise, which made a struggling Spanish linguist have even more trouble than usual...

It was a delightful evening and on the way out, Conchita bought me a small poster of the popular painting that takes up one entire wall.  And once in the small alley-type street, she took a photo of me and Javier.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Goodbye Madrid, Hello Barcelona

Just because I'm a wordsmith, doesn't mean I always have the words.  Today is one of those days.

As I prepared to leave Mercedes Trascasas and her husband, Janero Costas in Madrid today, I felt a bit detached, worried about my train trip with all these (extra) bags and leaving my cousin.

What I had not prepared for was seeing both of them pull my bags down the street, hail a taxi for me and then hop into the car.  These sweet people not only treated me like a princess for a week, but they also led me out of their city every step of the way...with my bags.

When we passed a huge shop named Casa de la Malletas (house of suitcases) I pointed it out to Mercedes.  Her eyebrows shot up and she shook her finger, "No mas maletas..." and she laughed as she motioned that I already had a backpack on my back and a backpack purse on my chest.

When the taxi driver stopped at Atocha Estación, they didn't miss a beat...or let me pay for the taxi!  Janero pulled the big red (new) bag, Mercedes pulled my normal bag and I was swaddled in two backpacks.  Into the station and up to the security gate.  Nope, of course they couldn't go in with me.  After big hugs and kisses, they disappeared and this mountain of baggage was now my party.  It was probably the biggest challenge (except driving El Carro) and that challenge followed me down the ramp, into the train and then out again.  But of course, there was a nice gentleman on both ends, so I am not complaining.  I am just saying...TAKE ONE BAG AND STICK TO IT.

The AVE trains here in Spain are efficient, quiet, clean and comfortable.  Everything about the train trip was great and I complement the Spanish transit system with five stars.  Watching the vistas change from farmland to mountains, trees and small villages along the way made the time slide by.  And then of course I fell asleep off and on, only waking up when my head fell and it shook me awake. Hopefully, I didn't snore and if so, maybe others did too.  It was relaxing and fast traveling at 300 km per hour unless it slowed for a stop to drop off and pick up other travelers.  The Renfe trains are also efficient and not speedy like the AVE trains. During my stay in Spain I have traveled on both types of trains and the bus as well.  I have never been disappointed.

I had nearly three hours to contemplate my visit with my Trascasas cousin(s) and one of the highlights of the visit was the camaraderie that Mercedes and I had with one another.  She had so many papers with Spanish to English words and I had my little book.  On our car trip, both ways, she'd study hers and ask me and Janero questions and I studied mine.  I smile every time I think of our anxiety to learn the other's language and the help we gave to one another.  One of her favorites was "one moment."  I will always remember the lilt in her accent and her twinkling eyes when she knew she'd said the words correctly.  I will miss her.

AND THEN I WAS THRILLED TO ARRIVE IN BARCELONA.  The plan was for me to meet Cristóbal NP inside McDonalds.  He suggested two options.  I knew I'd recognize the yellow arches, so of course, I chose that one.  However, I'd only seen photos of him in a hat and when I got there, nobody had a hat on and I was stumped.  Rolling all the baggage into the place to look for him was impossible, so I planted myself at the door and that is where he found me.  When he and his son grabbed my bags, I was a happy girl again.

...UNTIL I REACHED THE ROOM I'D RENTED through Airbnb.  I flew into panic mode, Cristóbal soothed my feathers, fed me, made phone calls and nearly three hours later, I was in a nice hotel with his Barcelona map in my hand.  I shudder to think what would have happened if I'd taken a taxi and had been dropped off at this awful place with all my bags and... But enough.  All is well.  We had a good visit and big hugs.  I will be forever thankful to have him as a friend --- I've known him over the internet since 2009 as we are involved in the Hawaiian Spaniards transcriptions of ship manifests and finding Spanish relatives of descendants like me...This was our first personal meeting.  At last.  

And I met his nice son at the same time, which was a good idea as he was our translator.  Although I understood many of Cristóbal's words, we would have had trouble without young Cristóbal.  It ended up to be a wonderful day...  

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Walking through Toro and Tortilla Española

A red rose from Janero's garden began my day after café con leche shared with Mercedes in Toro.  He is so proud of his garden and gave us both one to remember this weekend by.  Today, we return to Madrid.  So, today I knew I must walk the village streets alone and say little goodbyes in all of its wonderful corners.

First, I walked just one block to the museum that was once the church where my Trascasas family attended mass for many years called San Sebastián de los Caballeros.  When I walked inside, I was enthralled with the open area, the small size and murals on the walls dating back so many years that everyone has lost count.  It relays information on John the Baptist (San Juan Bautista) and I spent time wandering inside wondering if the ghosts of my Trascasas family was smiling just a little.

From there, I chose a narrow street (they are all narrow...) and headed in the direction that I knew the clock tower stood and it would take me to Santa Maria, the church that towers over the cliffs above the rio Duero at the end of the paseo.  I'd been there before and have a photo of me overlooking the valley below.  My brother took my picture then.  This time I was alone, as I've been on much of my journey, so I took a selfie like I see everyone else do around me.  The valley stretches toward Fuentesaúco and el campo, where Jenaro and Mercedes' vineyard farm lies.  The beauty is astounding and I said little goodbyes as I walked there and all the way back also.

Janero had the Mercedes waiting and we filled up the trunk for our 2-hour drive back to Madrid.   We help each other with our language skills.  Mercedes laughs when she tries to pronounce an English word that is so foreign on her tongue.  And she helps me with my Spanish.  She has several pages of sentences and words just like my notes.  When I saw the words, puh-tri-she-uh to practice pronouncing my name correctly, my heart squeezed.

Rain slashed at the windows half way back and he called it a la tormenta.  I told him the good news was the windshield would get clean.  Windshield?  Oh, ventana --- car window.  By the time Madrid's buildings rose above us, the clouds were nearly gone, rain had stopped and it was beautiful again.

During the drive, the conversation changed to food.  I mentioned how much I liked Tortilla Española and Mercedes promptly told me she would make it for me tonight.  It continues to amaze me how much these people have enveloped me into their home, lives and heart.  Complete strangers and we are now friends and family.  It is a beautiful feeling to be wanted and enjoyed.  Here, they are so eager to please and will not let me pay for anything.  I slyly paid for coffee once and another time I had to talk my way into paying for our wine and beer, but that is all.

The main meal of the day was langostinos (large prawns).  Janero cooked them, dropped them in ice water to chill and then Mercedes cut up some meat she called Solomillo.  I looked it up on google and saw it is pork tenderloin.  She sliced it thin and gently fried it in olive oil.  A plate of sliced tomatoes, bread and we were ready.  The meal was excellent and the aroma filled the house before our first bite.

Then, siesta time again (I love this culture with the siesta in the afternoon).  I fell sound asleep.

And then the cooking began!  Browning onions.  Peeling and chopping potatoes.  Oil.  Eggs.  A large pan and a large plate.  I watched carefully and had such fun listening to Mercedes as she cooked (and sang) that I felt like I'd made it myself.  She's a wonderful cook and seems to thrive with happiness when she's in the kitchen.

Tomorrow (Monday), I ride the AVE (fast) train to Barcelona and leave these lovely people behind.  But I will always remember their kindness, open hearts, welcoming spirits and the sense of family they have given to me.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Trascasas: The Lost Cousins and a Bodega

A reunion of cousins called TRASCASAS in the courtyard behind Mercedes and Jenaro's house in Toro today.  Mercedes made the plan and they came to meet their "lost cousin" from America.  I was touched through the heart with their humble welcome, smiles and kisses on both cheeks in the Spanish fashion, one that I have come to love in this country.  Each cousin I met had a special quality and personality that will cling to my memories in the days to come.  Each cousin was proud of their Trascasas heritage, as I am.
From left to right front: Josefa, me, Pilar, Mercedes
In back: Rafa, Domingo and Tomás.  One cousin was missing, Marcelina.  I hope to meet her tomorrow.

When Mercedes brought out my books, The Girl Immigrant and Historia de una niña emigrante translated by Consuelo Mellado from Madrid, the world seemed to change.  They were enthralled with the books, the story, our family tree and liked hearing about the Spain to Hawaii to California history.   We exchanged email addresses and I hope we stay in touch with one another.  I know that Mercedes Trascasas and I have struck a bond of friendship that is another gold bar to my heart.

BEFORE THE PARTY, Jenaro had taken me to his bodega (a small house he'd converted into his wine-making haven) where he wanted to get some of his home-made wine for the party.  When I saw the red door, I was enchanted.  When he showed me the inside, I could hardly believe it.  He'd managed to create a facility that was efficient and I liked seeing all the wine bottles both empty and filled with white wine (malvasia) and red wine (tinto de Toro).

Me:  Why don't you have your own wine label on your bottles?
Jenaro:  Oh, I just make it to enjoy.
Me:  I think you need a label.
Jenaro:  Oh?  He laughed.
Me:  I think a good name is Puerta Roja (Red Door) since your bodega has the beautiful door.
Jenaro:  I like it.
Who knows, maybe this kind man will actually have his own label and use my suggestion?  He seemed to like the idea and repeated it to others.  How fun that would be!

Behind their house is a very old granada (pomegranate) tree.  The debris and falling pieces make a terrible mess, so I helped them clean it up, sweeping, scrubbing, pulling a few weeds and generally getting ready for the family party to be held about 8:00 pm tonight.  The gardens are beautiful and Jenaro brought in several fresh artichokes.

And then we went shopping for today's meal and the party.  When I followed them into the carnecería (meat market), I was in for a surprise.  There were hams hanging all over the place, chorizo on one side hanging with signs telling me it was sweet or not.  And then another store where I saw garbanzos in a bag to buy by the pound (Fuentesaúco is the queen of garbanzo towns where my abuelita was from just 20 miles from Toro) and then another meat market.  Why?  Because the first one didn't have conejo (rabbit).  When Mercedes pointed to the rabbit she wanted, the woman took it onto the chopping block and bam, bam, bam with a knife the size of a machete and poof.  It was wrapped and we were walking out the door.  My head was still in a jingle.

When I told Mercedes about the document I had for my great grandmother's sister's baptism and that it listed the name of the street where the Trascasas family lived... on Calle Doctor Olivaras, Janero and Mercedes drove me there and I felt my heart flip.  

And then Janero drove us to el campo again where Mercedes created another big lunch called la comida.  This time it was conejo (rabbit) with arroz (rice) and mushrooms.  And again, it was delicious.    And again, when it was siesta time, I grabbed my green chair and Mercedes grabbed her pink one.  We snoozed in the shade for about an hour and then she began to read Historia de una niña emigrante.  She peppered me with questions and then told me it was very interesting.  I think she liked reading about her Trascasas ancestors in the story.   I spent time reading the book Jenaro bought for me today, which was a picture book about the history of Toro.

After the cousins left about 10:15, Mercedes turned to me and asked if I was tired?  No, not really. She grinned and asked if I wanted to walk into town?  Without a beat, I agreed.  Janeiro had left to watch the fútbal game where Real Madrid was playing and won!  On our way, we met him coming home again... so he turned around and bought us a glass of wine at the new favorite bodega bar called Casa del Cabildo.

Just before midnight, we walked back home after I told them if I didn't get back by midnight we would turn into pumpkins (yes, it took some translating to get that across to them).  I will certainly miss these gentle people, but my head was awhirl after all the Spanish during the family party and all I wanted was my bed.