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.

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