Wednesday, September 10, 2008

So I made it to the U.S.

I am sitting here in Chicago in C.J.’s apartment doing absolutely nothing and enjoying the fact that it is about 70 degrees for a high today here.

Yesterday, after writing my little blurb on the long and arduous plane flight I tried to sleep a bit and failed, so I settled down and watched the new Indiana Jones movie. I was extremely tired but could not make myself fall asleep as is often the case with me on planes. We arrived a bit late to Philly. I am not sure what time it was in local time. I think it was about four o’clock.

(I am having a hard time writing because the T.V. is on and there is not another room where i can write, so i have to stay in here where the T.V. is. I think i hate the television.)

I was standing around waiting for my bag to pop up out of the luggage carousel and watching all the poor schmucks who were getting pulled aside by the customs officials. So my bag pops up, I pull it off the carousel, and I am immediately met by customs official who asks me a few of the usual questions and asks for my customs form. He scribbled something on it and told me to go to lane four of the hand-search baggage lines.

I went and jumped in line with the rest of the folks. Most were backpack toting comfortably dressed people like myself. It was like a who’s who of the people who look like they might be carrying weed mixed in with the actual random search victims. I found out from the officer who was searching my bag that I was actually pulled out because one of the dogs downstairs that was sniffing bags actually pegged my bag as containing a large amount of money. Yes, they actually have a dog that sniffs for money. I got a pretty good laugh out of that. Maybe dirty clothes folded in a plastic bag smell like money because I definitely had nothing that even resembled money other than perhaps a few books.

The officer was actually really pleasant about the whole thing, which was nice for a change. He actually thanked me for being pleasant as well as I was leaving. My bag definitely suffered from the ordeal… I had perfectly packed the bag over a period of about two hours and ended up having to stuff everything back inside in about 2 minutes. It didn’t all fit of course, so I ended up having to throw a few things in my carry on. Luckily I had room.

I made it to Chicago without incident. I sat next to a really nice guy named Steve who works for a company that created a machine that puts nanoparticles in paint to make it smoother.

After a long string of train and bus rides I made it to the Hopleaf where CJ works. I had some really nice food and hung out for a bit and then got back to CJ’s house and passed right out. He stepped outside for a cigarette and I was gone so fast that I didn’t know when he came in.

It was a great way to eliminate the possibility of jet-lag. (I hope.)

I’ll be home on Friday.


Tuesday, September 9, 2008

on the plane

Sitting on the plane…

They keep coming over the intercom and saying all of the usual crap that they always say. We have made it to customs declaration forms. To me this is the most unpleasant part of traveling… the sales pitches, the advertisements, and the red tape. It’s kind of like commercials on T.V. and having to pay the cable bill. There’s nothing enjoyable about those parts. Except maybe being amuse by a commercial now and then.

I really didn’t come home with much in the way of souvenirs. I guess I’m not a souvenir type of person… that is until I have the money to buy and ship a set of those five-hundred-year-old doors or something like that. Then I will be a souvenir person. I like the sights and the smells and the memories. I tried to look for some seeds on the jasmine and the night queen that blooms every night, but no luck. Either I don’t know what their seeds look like or I couldn’t find them.

I did grab a few seeds for mom off of some flowers that I thought she would like. I rode my bike out to this old farmhouse where they had a few things like that. Actually in the process I broke my bike again. After about a 20 kilometer ride the handle bars were feeling a little shaky again… then when I tried to ride to town fully loaded (45 pounds on my back and about 20 on the front) I broke them off again, all but the bolt. So, frustrated, I walked up to a kid on the street and said “Hey, you want a bike?” He shrugged. I put the kickstand down and said “Well, it’s yours.” And walked away. Maybe he’ll use it, and maybe he’ll sell it for ten bucks. Either way, I don’t really mind.

I walked the 3 miles into Burriana to the café and gave Jorge his keys. He wasn’t planning on picking me up til’ something like 1 am, and I was not ready to wait that long. He felt bad for me I guess because he packed me a lunch and called his mom to take me the last 2 miles to the train station.

I arrived in Valencia sometime around 8. I walked to a hostel that I had seen before called “Indigo” and got their last bed. I should have just asked if I could pay five bucks to put my stuff in their luggage room because I didn’t really sleep. I was sharing a room with two French girls who spoke little English and less Spanish, Sandra and Claudette, and they were in and out all night til’ about 3. Not that I was sleeping anyway, I was reading some British crime novel that I found laying around. I ended up dozing somewhere for about 10 minutes I guess, but I was to keyed up to be out of there.

I went down to the front desk about 440 and asked him to call me a cab. The cab driver took his sweet time getting there so I stood and talked to the desk guy for about 20 minutes. Finally about ten after five I left the hostel. The cab driver, like all Spaniards, drove like a bat out of hell. I guess he knew he was dilly-dallying and wanted to make up for it. After I arried to the airport I realized that there really was no hurry. The place was deserted and it is very small. I walked right in, checked in, went through security and was waiting on my flight to board in about 15 minutes flat.

I forced myself to stay awake in Valencia, but not so in Madrid. I arrived at 7:25, a full half hour early, and went and found a spot that was out of the way with no speaker overhead and became dead to the world until my alarm went off at 11:30. I wandered a very log distance down to my gate just in time to board… and here I am with Spanish version of a young Elizabeth Taylor to my right and some Americans to my left. Listening to their babble, I can already tell that I am going to miss Spain…

Written around 2pm Spain time Tuesday.

Monday, September 8, 2008

One day.

One day til’ departure…

It’s going to be a short one today.

I didn’t pre-write before I left the house because I wanted coffee before I started trying to think. So I am here at the usual café with a limited supply of battery.

“At the usual café?” you say… “I thought you were having to leave your apartment and move to a different house…” Well, that makes two of us. I was instructed to be ready to leave the flat at 12 noon, and round about eight thirty in the evening I got a call telling me to stay another night. Since the new renters, oil refinery workers from Cadiz, arrived at about 4 and moved into the only decently furnished rooms, I slept in a closet size room off the kitchen ( I think it is supposed to be a pantry) where Jorge had Ivan put up a cot. It’s a good thing I actually love sleeping on cots, because I actually enjoyed it.

Today finds me here in the café in the usual chair that I frequent having my usual cortado enjoying the cloudy noontime lull here in the port. I was planning on going to the beach to sharpen up my Mediterranean tan before my six fifty departure tomorrow morning, but alas, it is overcast and about 80 degrees, ah well.

I am considering ditching town on my own and heading to Valencia, getting a hostel, doing some looking around, and catching a cab tomorrow at 5 a.m. Jorge continues to volunteer to take me to the airport… He say “Oh, Crak, I am so berry sorry, I only want you to be happy. For you have make me no problem here. You are the less problem of all my teachers. So if you want me take you I take you. But I am to be berry berry tired of the work until one or two in the morning, but if it make you happy I take you , I want you to be happy because I am happy with you.” He likes to lay it on thick and drive me into the ground until I don’t have time to be mad, I just want off the phone. I am just not sure that I can depend on him to do what he says…Enough of that. I’m not mad or anything, just tired of playing games.

In other news, I had a great time last night. I was sitting on my porch reading a book that I don’t really care for at about eight forty-five when my phone rang. I was in the middle of being irritated and sullen so I answered the phone with an irritated sullen “ho-la.” It was Dino my Brazilian friend from the café. He was calling to invite me to come eat at his house; he had cooked some Brazilian family-style food (aka “in a big pot”) and was wondering if I’d like to try it. I rose up out of my funk, put on some clean clothes and wandered down to his house, which is in building 24 on the fifth floor on the same street as my building.

We had some cucumber appetizers and then fell to on the real meal. It was rice with a crazy chicken, carrot, potato, garlic, and onion curry-ish dish with mustard in it. And it was absolutely fantastic. I found out Dino comes from a family of eleven of which he is the youngest, so cooking is never done in small portions, and leftovers never last long. I got ridiculously full.

Dino on the terrace.

Afterwards we sat on the terrace which overlooks the harbor like mine, but which has a much better view because it is on the 5th floor, and talked about his life in Brazil and politics and such. Then we went wandering around the port because we were both much too full to sit still. I’m sure it was amusing to the Spanish people we passed to over hear the mix of Spanish, Portuguese, and English through which we communicate as we walked along.

The harbor view from the fifth floor

I went to bed a bit early last night, hoping to get some rest stored up for my travels tomorrow… I’m not sure if it worked or not. I guess time will tell.

Well, I am off to the house to gather up my things and decide what to do next.

Hasta pronto


Saturday, September 6, 2008

Three in a row.

Three days in a row…

I guess I am making up for lost time. And my senses are on high alert because I know that my days here are drawing to a close.

I went down to the beach today. It is really interesting how as soon as the calendar turns to September, it is like a switch flips and no one goes to the beach and every one leaves the “port” part of the town. All of the people who usually live in Burriana move back from their “beach” houses and the patio furniture gets moved inside and the inside furniture gets covered with sheets until next year. Today on the beach I think I saw about 20 people total… counting the lifeguards. It was completely deserted. The water is colder, it’s cloudy in the afternoon, and the sounds are only the sounds of the sea instead of the sounds of flocking humanity. I enjoyed it.

I walked out into the water up to my neck and shivered for a bit under the cloudy grey sky. I spotted a jellyfish floating about ten feet away so I eased toward the shore. Once there I asked the lifeguards who were walking up the beach if there were jellyfish out here. They said there were, but they were all dead because the water is too cool for them. I don’t know if a person can be stung by a dead jellyfish or not, but I wasn’t taking any chances. I sat on my towel on the empty beach for a while, and then decided to go for a walk. There is really something magnetic about walking along the side of the ocean and contemplating the massive body of water that is caressing your legs and feet. I walked along and thought of nothing mostly, just letting my thoughts wander like I do in bed in the minutes before I fall asleep. Just random thoughts, incomplete, flitting through my head as I stared of toward the horizon and occasionally down at the sand. Something about the sea makes me do that.

I think I bear definite marks of my genetic heritage in the desires and urges of my guts. I love a cloudy day, a windy sea, and green rolling forested hills. It’s almost as if my DNA still remembers fondly the British Isles, although I have never been there.

I am realizing that I have missed out on some things by living rather isolated outside the small town of Alquerias. I am truly enjoying interacting with the people who live near me here at the beachfront. I have met more people and spoken more Spanish than I would have believed possible just two weeks ago. I spent al of last night with a Brazilian named Dino who showed me around a bit here in the port. We went to some local hangouts and met some of his friends and just walked around and chatted for about 4 hours last night. He speaks little to no English, and supposedly poor Spanish, but between the two of us we talked about everything from fishing, to our homes, to political policy in the Americas. It was a good time.

I was awakened at about 11 this morning (yes I was still sleeping) but a banging on the door… In came Jorge, my boss, Ivan, the repairman, and a cleaning lady whose name I do not know. They proceeded to turn the house upside-down cleaning and moving things around. They tried to rook me into helping, but I locked myself in the bathroom for a shower, locked myself in my room to get ready, and then left for some lunch and some coffee by about 1. Not least of all because I was a bit put out about the invasion of privacy. I ate a leisurely lunch at “A Bordo” or “aboard” just down the street. They have a daily menu of two courses with bread and dessert for around 7 euros. Today I had an asparagus salad made with pickled white asparagus and a fish stew that I think was made from mackerel, shrimp, mussels, and other related things. I wanted to make sure I gave Jorge and company enough time to finish so I stopped in at Tony’s L’arctic café for a café cortado and read the Spanish futbol paper. I arrived back at the house at around four and rested from all of my hard labor…ok, I just rested because I could. Then I rode my bike the half-mile down to the beach… and that was my day. Now i'm sitting on the balcony watching it rain...

I have to say, it was pretty nice.


A "MAN" brand truck

I'd drive one of these if they had them in the States.

Jorge, Katie and I cheezing for the camera at the old house.
Jorge as he usually looks.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Day is done

The day is done.

That phrase sparked a new thought in my head this evening. It is a sentiment that I have felt, but have not put into words since I have been here. I have realized that what I miss most in my basic day-to-day understanding and use of this new language is the innate poetic feel and connotation of a phrase. I am lucky to get away with understanding the gist of an entire conversation. There is absolutely no way that I could feel the poetry of this language while by brain is occupied with basic understanding.

So to say “The day is done” imparts a certain flavor or feeling to the end of the day, at least for me, and the ability to invoke in the mind of another human the selfsame sentiment that I am feeling with a simple phrase is something that I miss.

New topic:

In these last couple of weeks I have been jerked around more than a five-year-old at a family reunion.

First I was living in a house where full on remodeling was taking place for five days, then I actually packed my things and moved to a different place, upon my arrival I pulled beds and desks and chairs out of storage to try and make a cozy habitation for myself for the last 10 days or so of my stay, next I learned (yesterday) that I will have to be out of this place by Sunday at noon because other renters to whom Jorge has promised a place to stay are moving in then, (I’m beginning to feel a little unimportant at this point.) so today I was awakened by the incessant ringing of the downstairs front door buzzer. This apartment building is not truly soundproof so I hear other people’s buzzers ringing all the time. After about the fifteenth time I got up and answered the buzz. It was Ivan. Ivan is Jorge’s personal handy man and go-to-guy for moving furniture and fixing things. So as I got ready for work this morning Ivan, who is Ukrainian, and his assistant were moving in couches and chairs and things to make this apartment habitable for someone who is paying to have an apartment. So Sunday I have to leave. I don’t know where I am going. Probably Jorge’s house or some perhaps some crappy unfurnished place where I will be given a closet and a blanket.

Yesterday I got paid for the first time as well. The entirety of my earnings in one lump sum was very unimpressive. Monica (the business manager) told me that I have been the teacher who has given them the least amount of problems… perhaps I just take too much crap from people. I have learned, at least in this situation, the only way to get what you want, what you need to survive, is to make a noise long enough and loud enough that they cant stand it any longer and give you what you need so you will shut up. Kind of like a 3-year-old would. I saw the other teachers demanding and nagging to get what they wanted from these people that I have been working for, but that is not my style. Evidently it should have been. Jorge had all of the accoutrements to make this little house livable all along, I just didn’t nag him enough for him to have it brought down here. I think in the future when I am faced with a similar situation I will just dissociate myself from the people that behave this way.

All in all they are very happy with me as an employee. I taught all the classes I was given, I went everywhere I was asked, and all of my students were satisfied with their classes. And I will write truthful reviews for Los Naranjos on all of the English teaching forums. I’m sure the lure of Spain will still bring people here, but they should at least arrive informed.

As for Spain… I think I will come back sometime. How soon or late depends on what happens with life at home, but I have not seen nearly enough of this country. I had high hopes of traveling around the whole of the country and seeing the cities and the mountains and the Basque country, but it was not to be. If I wake up early enough I may hop on a train to Barcelona tomorrow… perhaps.

The bike man did me a good turn today. I have been kind of down on the bike man since I have been here. I think he just didn’t like Jeff and since I always went in with Jeff I was cast in the same mold. But yesterday my handlebars on my bike broke off… if you have ever had this happen it is not too bad once you are moving because you can ride with no hands, but if you are trying to start or stop with just a nut and bolt between you and the ground or a car… well lets just say it can get a little peligroso. So I rode/walked my bike to the bike man’s shop in Alquerias today and showed him my problem. He said joder! Which is the common slightly vulgar form of disgust used here, and said that he could get me a new part or he could hacer un punto which is “make a point” I had no idea what he meant, but he had me follow him to the back of his shop. He pulled this ancient looking thing off of the wall and while I was still trying to figure out what was going on he started welding my handlebars on. No mask, no hood, no nothing. POW! “There you go, that’ll cost less” he said. I asked him how much he wanted for his one-minute weld… He made the right move and said I could pay him nothing or whatever I wanted. Always the best move with me. He probably meant it was free, but I gave him a five euro note and rode out happy.

So, here I sit at a little café half a block from my house.

And the day is done, and my work here is finished, and I’ll be home in a week, and, for different reasons, I am looking forward to it. Although I am sure I will long for the simplicity of being ecstatic just to have understood an entire conversation, and before long the ability to go into a store and get just what I want or to have small talk with anyone I please will wear off.

Maybe Ross will buy a house here instead of just talking about it, and then I can come visit more often.

I know this post has a bit of a feeling of finality, but I am not stopping writing just yet; that just happens to be how I am feeling right now. (Doggone it I should have saved a sunset picture for this post)


Thursday, September 4, 2008

it's been a while...

Tonight is Wednesday night; September has begun. Today was the fourth. I just returned a while ago from dinner with Vicente and his wife Rosa. I apologize to all of you who check my blog often enough to realize that it has been a while since I have written. I have been in a state of flux here with moving to a different house and such. I have had no internet connection near here and my phone has been out of range/ out of minutes.

It is very different for me living here in the port. I am right on the main drag that runs along between the port and the rest of the town. There are lots of little cafés and ice cream shops here on this street and a lot more people than in Alquerias. For the first time since I have been here I am quite alone and surrounded by people who speak very little or no English. (except for Vicente´) It has helped immensely already with my confidence in Spanish. I have found that I now can make some small talk when I go to buy lunch or have a coffee, and lately I feel compelled to do so.

I was strolling along the waterfront last night (I think), and a waiter came out of one of the shops and was trying to hustle me into a seat. I was in the mood to be hustled I guess because I let him. I told him I had just moved to the beachfront and had been living in Alquerias. I watched as he took stock of me and my accent; then he asked me if I knew Nanny Congorno, which I do. His name was Tony and it turns out he was the owner of the place and we have a friend in common. I ended up sitting and talking to him for an hour or so about random stuff before he closed for the evening. It was very cool. Today I stopped back in and had a coffee at his place rather than any of the others. Evidently he is pretty well known for being an all-around good guy because his place is paked every afternoon and well into the evening. I think I’ll be a repeat customer until I leave.

As I’m sitting here writing, I am realizing that quite a bit has happened since last I filled you all in on my daily doings… All last weekend I had two flat tires on my bike. I ran off the road a bit and into the grass and dirt as I was trying to put away my camera, answer my cell-phone, and dodge a car all while riding with no hands. Yep. Bad idea. The picture turned out pretty good I guess, the phone call was successful, I dodged the car, and got two punctured tires in the process…I ran over about a hundred sand burrs that just filled my inner tube with holes… So I walked the last 2 miles home in sandals… that was Saturday I believe.

We were supposed to be out of the house on Sunday, technically. We didn’t really get out until Monday afternoon/evening though. I had to load all my things in Katie’s van to bring them out to the port, and I also had to wait for the bike man to decide to be open so I could buy some new tubes for my tires. The owner was very cool about it all. He was in and around the house all weekend working on things and painting for the next renters. Katie and I were in and out of the house and always joking with him about something… It was all in Spanish…so, at least I think we were joking. He told us that if we ever wanted to come back to this part of Spain, we were always welcome to stay in one of his houses.

Katie made it out of here on Monday afternoon sometime, headed for Sevilla. The las I heard from her, she was a few hours away and had just finished swimming in a clear cold river… I am sort of wishing that I had given my notice and ridden south with her. Ah, well.

I was a bit under the weather on Monday, but since I have been fine. I have no refrigerator here in this apartment, which Jorge, my boss said he would remedy… but nothing yet. So I have been eating fresh bread and fresh fruit, and only buying enough for each day. I guess it’s not really a problem, come to think about it. There is a corner grocery all of about half a block away… Its just nice to have a cold drink occasionally and not have to walk and get it.

The weather has changed here. It is pleasant and sunny during the early part of the day, changing to quite hot for about an hour just after noon, and then the afternoon has been a bit cloudy with a stiff breeze off of the water. I have been working in the mornings this week. It is nice to be out in the cool part of the day, but the time I would usually go to the beach has been cloudy and windy. No sunbathing for me. I was hoping to show back up in the states with a tan so dark that my mother wouldn’t recognize me… but it looks like I’ll just show up looking like I did when I left… minus about 10 pounds.

I want to know more about the passive heating and cooling of Mediterranean architecture. I have no air conditioning, but the house is never hot, and there is nearly always a breeze. Perhaps I should ask Vicente’s wife Rosa, she’s an architect.

I’ve got lots more to talk about, but I feel sort of like someone who keeps saying things just to keep you on the phone.

I have quite a bit of time to myself these days so I might write a lot. You just might not get to see it until I find some Internet.

Until then

Fran Pretending he is shy.

With Nando his brother in their house.

the good ol' T.N.A. ambulance.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

What a difference a day makes

Just yesterday I was on the phone with my mother telling her that I would have bought a ticket to leave here early if only it would not have cost me an extra two-hundred and fifty dollars. Tonight I am ready to stay for another month.

I received a call today about 6 o’clock from Jorge, my boss, telling me that I had a new class. “Great…” says the little guy in the red leotard on my left shoulder “…just what we need.” I am to have a class at eight thirty on most every night at the beach until I leave. Eight-thirty, a twenty minute ride from the house, almost every night for the remainder of my time here… But next he tells me that starting sometime this weekend that I am moving to an apartment at the beach-front, and that the class will be only two floors above where I will be staying… Ok, sounding better… And next he tells me that I will be working with an adult practicing English conversation and eating dinner with his family afterwards. Awesome.

Today I got Katie (whose big nice camper van is back on the road in preparation for moving to Sevilla) to take me down to the beach about eight thirty. I walked up to the apartment building and pressed the button for the fourth floor. “Si?” says the voice on the intercom. “Soy un Profesor.” I say. “Ah..” is the reply. I took the very small elevator to the fourth floor. (all of the elevators in apartments here are tiny.) I knocked on the door just as it opened. In front of me was a very nice looking Spanish couple with big smiles and outstretched hands. I shook hands with Vincente and his wife, and was ushered through their very comfortable and well furnished apartment onto the balcony which overlooks the harbor and the Club Nautica at the port. Vincente immediately began speaking to me in excellent English inquiring about basic personal info and exchanging pleasantries. I learned that he is a businessman who works in a very specialized field and travels all over Europe and occasionally in the U.S. with his work. I will not go into the details of his work, but it is related to bio-chemistry. He often converses over the phone and at conferences in English and wants to increase his conversational skills and simply practice his English. He has a conference in Birmingham coming up in September, hopefully I can be helpful in the short time we have together. It was very enjoyable, sitting on the balcony talking about whatever came to mind, and I look forward to continuing to do so over the next couple of weeks.

Then came dinner with the family. Vincente has two sons and a daughter. I met his two sons, Pablo (17) and Vincente Jr.(19), who drifted in from soccer practice about nine thirty or so. I have not yet met his daughter (14). Dinner was absolutely great. I started with a warm chicken soup, followed that with salmorejo (which is a chilled tomato and garlic soup native to Cordoba), next came the lomo de cerdo or pork tenderloin with an apple reduction sauce, cauliflower, and, of course, bread. We sat and had some fresh fruits after dinner, peaches, grapes, and plums, and chatted some more. I spoke mostly in English to them and Vincente graciously translated. Hopefully as I become a bit more comfortable, I will use a bit more of my Castellano with confidence.

Vincente Jr. and Pablo took me home after dinner in Vincente’s blue and white Mini Cooper. It was the first time I have ridden in one.

It was a great evening and I am anticipating more evenings like it in the next couple of weeks. It definitely helped get me excited about being here again.

I really should be preparing for my classes tomorrow… I have class starting at 1030 and I only have a one hour break until 630… and I am not yet prepared, but I had put down some words while the evening was still fresh in my memory.

Thank you

Friday, August 22, 2008

A short note


Another week down.

Another room mate gone on Sunday.

Jeff has been packing bags and getting rid of non-essentials today. He is heading back to Florida on Sunday... Madrid Barajas Airport is abuzz right now with camera crews and investigators as a result of the crash this week that killed about 150 people. So flying out of there should be interesting.

I had no classes until 5 today so i just laid low around the house until i had to go to Burriana. Yesterday he and I went to Valencia after our classes so that he could buy some touristy junk for people back home. I guess i should do that. Although i am tempted to try and find some unique things as opposed to the red shirt with the black bull silhouette that says Espana!... Although most people would probably would rather just have the shirt than a Spanish mortar and pestle for their kitchen.

Valencia was cool. It is the first time I have really been there in the daylight. The bustle of a city of 1 million people has its appeals. Although honestly it doesn't feel like a city that big. It looks that big from the window of the train, but it's like any older large city. It was once a collection of smaller villages that just kind of linked up around a central square or harbor. The personality partially reminded me of an East-coast older city. Although the "Older" in Valencia is much older than in the States. It is the type of city where you don't have own a car or even leave a four block radius to get the essentials for the week.

The architecture was very interesting as well. From the stone paved plazas to the enormous towers that used to be part of the city wall... It was nice. I am definitely going to have to go back and do a bit more exploring.

I went in the cathedral there as well. It was awesome. I am always blown away by the size of old cathedrals and the workmanship. I wasn't even going to go in, but Jeff came back out and insisted that i needed to see it. It felt good inside. It was nothing like the touristy Duomo in Florence. It had a very positive "vibe" for lack of a better word. I wandered around for a bit and looked at the vaults and the alcoves and paintings and things... And then i saw what is supposedly the left arm of St. Vincent the Martyr... Yep. Sitting right there in glass and gold case under a really beautiful relief sculpture in alabaster there was an arm. Although if it was his left, then the thumb was on the wrong side, or his fingers were bent backwards.

Supposedly St. Vincent was imprisoned and tortured in all kinds of heinous ways and killed in 304 under the emperor Diocletian. Then they tried to feed him to the vultures but a crow defended him. Then they tried to throw his body in the ocean but it kept coming back to the shore. Eventually an old woman buried him, and somehow parts of his body ended up in Saragossa, Portugal, Valencia, and Paris... I think Martyrs might have had more than one body for all the parts they spread around...

But the fact remains that there is most certainly an arm in a gold and glass box on the back of the church in Valencia.

I haven't uploaded my pictures to the computer yet... and I forgot to bring my camera cord to the office with me.

So pictures will be forthcoming.

But you can click here if you want to see the arm.


Monday, August 18, 2008

the new eyes

Lets see, my last post was Wednesday of last week. So I’ve got a bit of catching up to do… What has happened since then…

Ah, yes Thursday. Thursday of last week I was abruptly awakened at 10:30 by a phone call. I went to bed rather late I think, although I don’t actually recall. Nevertheless I was sleeping in. My alarm had gone off at 10 and as is my custom, I punched snooze or turned it off or something. So I got a call at 10:30. I half expected it to be someone from back home who was up really late and decided to call, but no, it was Monica, one of my bosses asking if I remembered that I had class at 10:30. I told her that I did not. Evidently she had told me when I was sick the week before and I had very little recollection of the conversation. So I showed up at 10:45, having just woken up and looking like it, to teach an eight-year-old. He was pretty easy because I had luckily printed out worksheets for another class the night before, then I had his mother in class at 11:30. She is an English teacher in Castellon, so it was not difficult to communicate with her or teach her because she mostly wanted practice speaking English, then another at 12:30 with Jose, my Madrileno student. So I got a break from 1:30 to 3 and had to roll out to the beach for a 3:30 class, Then back to Burriana for my 5-6:30, then to the grocery for some veggies, then back home just in time to teach another student at 7:30. All that to say Thursday was a busy day. Luckily, Friday was a very chilled out day. It was a national holiday; and nothing was open; and we had no classes.

Friday Katie and I went for a ride around the surrounding area, invaded some old abandoned house places and explored a bit, found a broken down pomegranate tree and some date palms, picked some grapes off of an unattended fence around an old house called “La Salmantina”, trespassed down a long driveway to check out a cool old houseplace and stumbled on fields of artichokes and tomatoes hidden in the midst of the orange groves, and just generally looked around a bit. I had no idea that artichokes turned into bright purple flowers when they are actually mature. I have eaten quite a few since I have been here. I think that I will try and remember to plant some in next years garden.

It was a good day. I covered lot of ground, got a little dirty and little scratched up, and got a bit of the good kind of tired. That night I taught Katie and refreshed Jeff’s memory on how to play Texas No-limit Hold-Em’… We had a few hours of hanging out on the patio and playing with pennies, and I got my butt kicked by two people who never play poker. But you know what they say…You teach a man to fish and he might strangle you with the line…

Saturday, after sleeping in until some embarrassing hour, I got up and pretty much just lounged around the house, cooked some good food, and watched the Olympics. I don’t get to see a whole lot of the games unless a Spaniard is competing, but it’s still fun. Saturday night was a lunar eclipse here. I don’t know if it was back in the States or not. Katie and I went out walking about dusk with Jenn the Canadian, who lives in Alquerias with her husband Nanny, ( I mentioned them a few weeks back) and her daughter Sira who is about 18 months old. We walked around until the eclipse peaked about eleven o’clock or so. It turned about ¾ of the moon a dark purple red color. I took some pictures, but they are not much to look at. Sunday was Jeff’s birthday. He turned 24. So I stayed up until after midnight to wish him “feliz cumpleanos”. I broke out a busted classical guitar that will not stay in tune and played Happy Birthday in English and Spanish along with a few other requests. It was a pretty good day.

Sunday was good too. Saturday night while we were walking around with Jenn we arranged to head to the mountains on Sunday. I have been dying to get to the mountains ever since I have been here. I can see them there every day looming on the horizon only 15 kilometers away. I could get there in under an hour, but then I would not know where to go. But Jenn has a car… ah yes.

We took off about 11 and headed up through Onda toward a town called Ayodar. Onda is a sprawling industrial city with tons of factories and warehouses and such situated right at the foot of the mountains. Ayodar and Fuentes de Ayodar (fountains of Ayodar) are right in the midst of a bunch of hills that look a bit like the Rockies in New Mexico but on a bit smaller scale. I think most of the mountains are between 2500 and 3500 feet, but after coming up from 0.0 feet at sea level they are impressive. What we were hunting was a waterfall that Katie had visited before with her boyfriend Miguel… we actually found the place where the waterfall had been, but Katie had been there about 2 months ago, and now there was no water. I was a bit uneasy about wandering around searching for this waterfall because we were obviously just on a little dirt track road that was surrounded by someone’s well kept orchards and gardens and I felt like I was trespassing. I think that trespassing is a bit different here than at home. Pretty much I think everyone just goes wherever they please until they see a sign that says they should stop.

We made our way to a public spring place called Fuentes los Chorricos. It was nice… but not really what we were looking for. By this time we were getting hungry so we headed back to Ayodar for some food. We went to a local bar/cafe/ restaurant and ordered up some fresh olives along with a potato and fish dish for lunch from a waiter who looked like he had had a long night on the previous evening. We learned that there had been a festival in town that had culminated the night before with Toros in the streets and a Discomovil that didn’t start til’ 1 am. I am guessing he had gone to bed about 7 or 8 and had to work at noon. There was not a soul at the bar when we sat down on the patio.But people began to filter down the steep steps to the bar, which was on the lower valley side of the mountain village, one by one until it was more or less full by the time we got our food. I think everyone was probably just getting up. It was about 2.

I have noticed that usually when I am doing something in Spain I am the only one. When I wear pants, everyone else has on shorts. When I wear a hat, no one else wears a hat. When I drink coffee, everyone else is drinking beer. Sunday was no exception. I was eating a big meal of fish and potatoes with an ice cold Fanta at about the usual Spanish mealtime, and everyone else was sipping coffee or brandy. And not one of them was eating anything. I think it would take years to truly get into the rhythm of this place.

After lunch we went to another fountain, the Fuente Larga, just outside of town. Everyone comes here and fills up water bottles with this cold clear water. There are 6 pipes just coming out of the mountainside into a white tiled basin that is overhung with fig trees.

Seeing water made us hopeful that the river above the spring might have some water in it. We were really really wanting to go for a swim by this point, so we started following the path up the dry river bed. We walked for about a mile or so and that is all it turned out to be… a dry river bed. We did, however, find some nice blackberries along the way. I ate several and was shocked that they did not taste like the blackberries back home at all. You’d think I would have learned by now that I am in a new place and things are different.

We continued on our search for a swimming hole. Jenn stopped the car at a bridge and she and Sira went for a dip in a small but clear pool near the bridge. Katie walked up the river to look for a swimming hole, and I wandered around in the shade and kept an eye on the car. Katie found a promising looking spot so we all grabbed out gear and walked up to check it out. I could see a couple of people from a distance already swimming in the pool. I was leery about disturbing them, but I was hot and parched and ready to swim. As I was about to get in the water I noticed that the two people were a couple of my former students Daniel and Ana. We were a good 30 kilometers from my town and out in the middle of nowhere, and we just happened to bump into two of the thirty people that I know in this country.

The water was cold cold cold. It was fed by an underground spring and was about 15 feet deep and crystal clear. I thoroughly enjoyed swimming and floating around in it. I sat and talked to Daniel and Ana for a bit about the festival the night before, but when a van laden with about eight teenagers and four parents showed up Daniel and Ana took off. We stuck around for about an hour getting in the cold water and climbing out again to dry in the sun while Sira made friends with practically everyone.

A town called Ain that we went past.

The ride home was a very contented ride. We had satiated our desire to swim in water that was not salty. We took a scenic route home through some truly amazing little mountain villages. The older members of the population, true to form, were out on their evening paseo. I think they start a bit earlier in the mountains because it gets darker and cooler in the mountains much sooner than on the plain near the beach where I live.

The more I put my feet in the dirt of this place, and get scratched by its thorns, and smell its air, and see its trees and birds, the more I realize that I am not at home. Yet I can understand the people who love this place as their own. I can fathom being connected to the mountains by an invisible thread of familiarity and love. I am captivated by a desire to put my feet on the ridges of those hills and to follow the streams to their sources.

It was a good weekend. Perhaps the best that I have had since I have been here.

I hope this week is as good.


Thursday, August 14, 2008

Wednesday the 13th

Wednesday the 13th, 9:30 p.m.

Things have been a bit different this week. I started three new classes for the month of August, and they are trying to dump more on me because I am going to be here for the entire month. Luckily, not all the classes will fit. But for now I have class at 12 noon every day in Alquerias, a break from 1:15 to about 3, and then I have to jump on my bike and ride out to the beach-front area for a 3:30 class, at 4:45 I have to jump on my bike and hustle to get back to Burriana for my class at 5 and at 6:30 I am done. So that is what my days look like for the rest of August. I am sure there will be a few more odds and ends tacked on as the other teachers start to fade out.

The exodus has already begun. Today, Joe from Ohio left. He is going to Bordeaux for a few days and then home to Columbus via London, I think. He will be returning in a month or so to Bordeaux to study French and teach some English on the side. If one has the wherewithal to be able to flounder for a bit, I think this type of work would be much more lucrative for a person working independently.

I have been trying to go to the beach more. I enjoy swimming in the ocean, but for some reason recently I have been neglecting to find my way down to the beach. Joe and I went down there about 7 or so in the evening on Monday. It is the best time to go if you are not interested in getting a pre-skin-cancer tan in about 30 minutes. But usually it is still quite warm and sunny, but not overly so, and the water is not cold. When we got there Monday evening the beach was under a “bandera roja” or red flag. These folks here are used to such tranquil water that when they get a bit of wind and waves over 5 feet tall they shut down all swimming. So I just sat and looked at the water for a while and felt the wind in my face. It was a bit too cloudy for the Spanish folks.

The sunset on the way home.

I actually ended up going alone to the beach yesterday afternoon, kind of on accident. I was told by my boss to be at a lesson at 1:30 at the beachfront, which was a bit of a stretch because I had a class in Alquerias until 1. I hurried home, grabbed some materials and headed out as quickly as I could. I made it with a minute or two to spare… but I was sweating a bit. It was 43 degrees Celsius… with a heat index of 48…that is somewhere around 109 with a heat index of 119… It was hot, especially at 1 in the afternoon. However, It turned out that somewhere along the way, I got the wrong orders. I was not supposed to be there until 3:30. So I went out to the beach, swam a bit, and baked myself dry. I think it took about 15 minutes to go from completely wet to completely dry. Then I went and sat in a café and had an orange Fanta (which I love here in Spain) and a baguette pizza. I then ordered a café cortado or cut coffee (espresso with milk). The girl at the café repeated my order back to me “CafecortadoSi?” and I agreed. She came out to my table carrying one espresso shot and one espresso shot cut with milk. I then realized that she had said to me “Café y cortado, Si?” … “Coffee and Cut, yes?”, and then I remembered, the café cortado is usually just called a cortado. Ah well. Five bucks for lunch and two coffees isn’t so bad. So I went to my 3:30 class ready to rock…

The 3:30 Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday class is a tough one. I have two girls, 12 and 13. They are painfully shy and timid. I sometimes forget how tough it was to be that age. I can’t imagine what it is like for them… 12 and 13 learning English from a stranger at your own dining room table, and the stranger is a foreign man with a beard that always shows up looking like he just rode 10 kilometers on a bike to get there (which I do) and his breath usually smells like coffee… Yikes.

The girls names are Mar and Paloma… Sea and Dove. (Mar is a very popular name around here.) I got them loosened up a bit today (after trying to get them to learn some boring adjectives) with a reading of the book Stephanie’s Ponytail in English. It was loaned to me by a friend back home that knows a heck of a lot more about teaching than I do, and true to her word, it was a big hit. We didn’t finish, which is good because it gives us something to look forward to tomorrow… And if everything goes well we might just play some UNO at the end of class. That is my reward for the younger ones. We goof off for the last fifteen minutes or so of class. The parents seem to fully understand, and it’s their Euro… so if it’s good for them, then it’s good for me. It always cracks me up because my students, who of course are learning English, always say “ONE!” instead of UNO. I like it.

I was told by one of my other new students, an eighteen year old from Madrid who is living in Alquerias for the summer, that the reason Spanish people don’t have beards is because beards make people look dirty. I said “Well, thank you,” and he just smiled and said “You’re welcome.” It’s no fun to be ironic or satirical in someone’s second language. That is unless you are one of those who likes to be the only one who gets the joke. If you are, you would have a great time as an ESL teacher. Not me. I like a bit of reciprocity. Entiendes?

Did I mention already that all of the new native English-speaking teachers are going to be Irish? Well, they are. They should begin to arrive in a couple of weeks, about the time that I am intending to be winding down. It should be interesting. Maybe I can brush up on my Irish accent before I head home.

This is a festival week for Spain… Something like the festival of the Mother of God I think. There have been fireworks intermittently throughout the nights and days recently… but that could also be a marker of every time that Spain scores a goal or wins a medal at the Olympics… who knows. I do know that it is a national holiday on the 15th, which is Friday. They are having bulls in the streets in a lot of towns around here. It is the usual fiesta behavior in most towns with enough money. Pamplona just gets all the press. If you want to see something really ridiculous and a bit uncool look up “toro embolado” on Google. I think it mostly means “bull on fire”. They tie some kind of sparklers or other flammable thing to the ends of the horns and then let the freaked out bulls chase people around with flames on the ends of their horns… I they are doing that here Friday. I have been told by several of the Spanish with whom I have chatted about bulls that someone who is not Spanish could never understand the “toro” culture… I must admit, at least for now, I think they are right.

I got side tracked, sorry. What I was going to day about the 15th of August is that it is supposedly the turning point when summer begins to wane here… In my experience back home the 15th of August is when the proverbial “mierda” hits the “ventilador” when it comes to heat… But I will take their word for it, and hope for the best.

Today was cloudy and a nice 24 degrees…(about 76 I think.) It was really nice for a change, although the Spanish here seem to prefer the oppressive heat and endless sun to a cloudy day. Today there were people wearing long sleeves in some places… I think they must have just been over exaggerating to make a point… Surely.

That’s all for now…

This sign is how i know i am getting close to home when i wander. The land is so flat between the mountains and the beach that you can see it for miles.


Sunday, August 10, 2008

the 10th

The self-portrait on the way here... Just to let you know I haven't changed much and that i am really here...

 abandoned old convent on the corner near my house

Sunday August 10.

Since my last post, I have had my first bout with illness in this country. I came down pretty heavily with a ear/sinus/chest infection with fever and chills and the whole bit.

When I got back from Italy I was feeling a little tickle-pain on the left side of my throat that is usually a precursor to any kind of sickness I get. I was a tad worried, but I continued to take my vitamins and such. By Wednesday I couldn’t talk, couldn’t hear out of the left side of my head, didn’t want to walk, and was coughing deep heavy chest coughs with unsavory results. I paced around the house in my oversized lounging pants with a towel draped over my head and shoulders for most of the day. Finally, about 7pm, Dori, Katie’s Spanish teacher, showed up to teach Katie. She and Katie conspired to get me to a doctor who is the mother of one of Katie’s students. Health care here is not something I know much about, but I do know if you don’t have a government health I.D. card, it might be a little more difficult to find a doctor and get medicine. Luckily this doctor was home. She was off work and at her house, but she said that we could stop by. Dori drove me over there and stuck with me while the doctor (she was actually a pediatrician, but I wasn’t splitting hairs) checked me out. She told me I had a big serious ear infection that had decided to descend into my sinuses and chest. She said it looked like I had gotten some water in my ear and it had caused my infection. Thank you Italian swimming pool. She gave me some anti-biotics and some good pain/fever reducers. I am to call her when I finish my drugs for a check-up.

So I have been somewhat under the (extremely warm and sunny) weather. I only taught one class last week. Yesterday, for some vitamin D therapy, I went to the beach. It was surprisingly not too crowded. Although I did go a bit early in the day for beach-going. Usually the folks don’t go to the beach here until about 6 in the evening. It is just too hot. I got there about four o’clock I guess. I could only get out in the water up to my neck because the doctor told me not to get my ear wet. So I bobbed around for a while in the pleasant water and then walked up and down the beach until I dried. I still haven’t gotten myself any little European man-trunks. I think everyone might wonder why I was wearing my underwear over what looked like a pair of white thigh-length shorts… like superman…

The water has started getting warmer here, and as a result they are beginning to have problems with jellyfish coming nearer to the beach in the warm water. A few people have been stung here in the Burriana area. I am keeping my eyes peeled for anything colorful and bubbly… but so far I have seen nothing to speak of.

This is a huge piece of sculpture that is sitting by the side of the road in what looks like a scrap yard that is on the way to the beach. One had is rusty metal and the other is stainless steel. i like it.

I am getting a bit restless here on this fairytale working-vacation summer. There are a number of reasons for it.

I am only teaching about 10 or 15 hours a week… Not that I mind a light work load, but I have a 50 hour bond before I get paid… and lets see… I truly started teaching the first week of July… and it’s the first week of August… and 10 hours a week… Yeah, I have not been paid yet. I will be getting paid starting this week, but 70 euros a week is not much of a bankroll. Enough to eat on, yes, and I don’t have to pay rent (for now), but I won’t be coming home with much extra.

The teaching is not really what I expected. I am more or less thrown in with students for an hour or more a day for an undefined number of lessons and somehow expected to asses their knowledge, decide what they should learn, and improve their English. I feel as though the “Academy” that I work for is not very concerned with whether or not the students learn anything. They are simply concerned with hoodwinking the parents for a month or so with the guise of a “native English speaking teacher” and taking some of their hard earned money. In certain cases the teachers are nothing more than glorified baby-sitters making usual babysitters wages. The “Academy” charges anywhere from 18 to 30 Euros an hour for our services and pays us between 6 and 8 Euros an hour. In certain cases, though, a native speaker is all that is needed. Some teachers have students that are high-level business executives and simply need help with conversation and pleasantries in a business setting. Some teachers help college students understand English literature and assist in proofreading and editing theses for graduate students. And some teachers sit in a room with a class full of four year olds and try to keep them in their seats and occupied until their mothers get back from grocery shopping and then have to answer questions in a second language from angry mothers who want to know why little Elena is not speaking English fluently yet. It’s a bit like being thrown to the proverbial wolves… and being told to teach them something.

The wonderful housing situation that I have enjoyed up until this point is about to cease to exist. The owner of the house has begun to come by with other prospective renters to look at the property, and there are big “Se Alquila”(or For Rent) signs in front of our house. Jorge, our boss, has decided to stop paying the rent on the “casa de las giris.” (a Giri is like saying gringo but it’s Spain’s version, it literally means tourist, I believe.). Therefore, at the end of the month, I am not sure where I am going to live. I am sure like all renting situations that we are to be completely out of the house with no vestiges of our presence remaining by the first of September. In which case I will have just over 10 days to flounder around, but floundering can be expensive and possibly unpleasant if one is not well prepared. There is a possibility that my room mate Katie might be touring around the mountains in her big old camper van at the beginning of September which would make things easy for me; I would just tag along. If that doesn’t work out, the “Academy” is renting an apartment for classroom space down on the beachfront, and I could possibly negotiate a short stay there. But my current companions are fading out one at a time over the next 3 weeks… Joe is out on the 17th, Jeff is leaving on the 24th, Katie is done on the 31st, and I am here until the 10th of next month; so even though I still have right at a month left, I feel like I am already getting ready to leave.

Many of the businesses here are closed, closing this week, or partially closed for most of the day until September, which makes riding around town a bit strange. Luckily the grocery stores do not usually close. Although, this week is a fiesta week for the entire country I think. So who knows…

I am missing shade, and fresh water, and clouds, and thunderstorms, and certain people… And when I get home I will probably miss the ocean, and the sea breeze, and bakeries, and markets.

Time and distance and separation really help a person appreciate the things and people that they truly enjoy and love. Everywhere I’ve been I glean something new from the culture and the people and the lifestyle that I will keep with me when I leave. If I am able to continue traveling and absorbing, as I grow older, I can’t imagine what kind of lifestyle I will lead as an eighty-year-old man. I’m sure my grand-children with think I am “nutters” (that’s a nice Aussie term I think I’ll use.) They’ll laugh at my stories and my silly attempts at trying to teach them Spanish; but maybe, in one or two of them, I will see the spark of interest ignite in their eyes…the desire to seek truth and beauty and knowledge and wisdom… the desire to travel and to see and to experience… the tendency to dream. They will be the ones who had to touch the stove to know that it is hot...

I hope when the time comes that I can be a part of a good solid base to jump from as I have had.

So I’m a bit disenchanted and a bit sentimental today.

Thanks for bearing with me.

Exactly one year ago today... In Montana.

day on the creek last June

espere ...hasta lo suficientemente pronto


Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The City of Flowers and other things.

A story always begins at the end.

There is no other way to tell a story.

Not the ultimate end mind you, all stories have tentacles that reach out in every direction past, future, and linear, through characters and objects, side to side, but a semblance of the end nonetheless.

The end of this story finds me back in my house in Alquerias a day later than I intended after a delayed flight, a missed train, and a lucky break or two.

The flight was to leave Pisa at 6:55 pm and arrive in Valencia two hours later. Arriving in Valencia at around nine would have allowed Jeff and I to catch the metro to the Valencia Nord train station and arrive somewhere around nine-thirty or nine-forty-five. The last train leaves the Valencia station going north toward my house at approximately ten-thirty. However, the departure of the flight was delayed by forty-five or fifty minutes, and we departed Pisa about eight o’clock rather than near seven…strike one…


We arrived at the airport and as soon as we could disembark we began running (as much as you can run in a busy airport) toward the Metro station, which luckily, much like O’Hare in Chicago, was inside the airport at the far end. We had checked no baggage so we had only our carry-ons, which facilitated our rapid movement toward the Metro. We arrived before the subway left for the train station. Jeff had a ticket for the gate already, but I had to stop ad purchase one. Before I could buy my ticket and get through the gate the subway left. Nine-fifty-five… strike two.

The next one pulled in around ten and we waited and waited and waited… It finally left about four minutes after ten for a near half-hour ride to the station where we needed to arrive and purchase a ticket before ten-thirty. Ten stops between the airport and the train station seemed to take forever. Jeff got caught in the gate as we exited the Metro which subtracted a few more precious seconds from our time. We then ran up two flights of stairs to get above ground, across five lanes of traffic,(which was thankfully sparse on a Sunday night) and into the train station. We shouted to the ticket counter as we ran up that we needed two tickets for the last train north. He made the sign for “Cut off” and yelled back that it was on track one if we wanted to try and catch it and buy a ticket on board. We turned in unison to look toward the tracks just in time to hear the air-brakes release and see the train begin to move forward…strike three…

The next train headed north was at 5:55 the next morning. We either had to find somewhere to kill seven hours or had to find a place to sleep. We wandered around aimlessly for a bit trying to think of the best course of action. Cab fare for 45 or so kilometers was over a hundred Euros and was out of the question. We had no way to know where to find a hostel or a cheap hotel. Both of us use prepaid cell-phones over here, and we were both out of minutes so we couldn’t call anyone… Cell phones… I had a thought. I decided not to bring my laptop because of the weight and the possibility of theft, but for some reason I decided to bring my Iphone on the trip (which I have not been using and has no service here) in case I wanted to try and use the Wi-fi feature. I dug down in the bottom of my euro-man-purse and found it. Now our quest was easier. We would walk around until we found an unsecured network and look up directions to a hostel, which we did. Thank you technology. Usually I would consider my self not to be someone who is dependant on technology, but it sure is nice when it helps you in a pinch.

We found directions to the nearest hostel which was only a kilometer or two away. The Indigo Youth Hostel was fully booked when we arrived, but the young lady at the desk was very nice and called and reserved us two beds at another hostel another fifteen minutes walk away. She even drew us a map. So we arrived at the Valencia Center Hostel at about fifteen minutes til’ 12, but the cash box was locked until the next person arrived for their shift at midnight… So we stood outside and talked with some Germans, Italians, and a carpenter from Quebec. Even though we were tired, we lost track of time (travelers tales are fun.) and stood outside far past the shift change that we were waiting for. We did finally get a room for twenty-two euros each. Seeing as how we were already stuck for the night, we decided to go walking around with the Italians, Germans, and the carpenter from Quebec. We were near quite a lively part of town, and managed to stay entertained until about 3, which is when the little pubs and shops close and only the discotheques are open. I decided that was late enough for me and I headed to bed.

We bought our tickets around eleven the next morning for a twelve-twenty departure, and we arrived back in Alquerias about one or thereabouts not too much worse for the wear. Except for the fact that somewhere on the long long Sunday my throat decided to hurt and my nose started to run…and I began to get the same kind of summer tonsil/sinus crud that I get about once every 2 years. So now I am sitting in bed with a fan on me writing and taking my vitamins and a drug or two. (Thanks Doc.) It sucks to be sick when its over a hundred outside and you live in a house with no A/C.

Thus goes the end of the story.

As for Florence, the City of Flowers, it was fantastic. If I am to go again, I would like to practice a bit of Italian. I could get by with speaking Spanish and English, but Italian is hard for me to understand. It was very warm in Florence. There was not much of a breeze that I can recall, but the parks full of big old trees and the narrow streets surrounded by the high buildings gave shade for the largest part of the day.

the view from the hostel roof

The hostel that I stayed at was like a 4-star hotel that just happened to have seven beds in every room. That is a bit of exaggeration, but by hostel standards it was obscenely nice. There was A/C in every room a separate room each for the sink and toilet and for the sink and shower. The beds were clean, the sheets were crisp, there was a balcony on my room even though I was on the first floor… what else… a roof top bar and café, a basement bar and restaurant with pool tables and ping pong, an indoor pool with a steam room and a sauna on either side, and a staff that was very multi lingual and very nice and helpful. Not bad for about twenty four euros a night…

I met a ton of cool people. I hope I can remember and find all of the email addresses. English, Irish, Canadian, Colombian, Kiwi, German, Spanish, Cameroonian, Americans, and of course Aussies… Lots of Aussies. Everyone was coming from somewhere and going somewhere else (go figure on that one), all traveling around Europe for the summer. It was fun to swap stories and learn new things and look at pictures, and most of all have someone to pal around with while doing all of these things and exploring a new city.

I took a tour of the Chianti region around the Florence area. I just love the country more than I do the cities… I can’t help it. The countryside was all like a painting. I don’t know if I saw a piece of wasted space in the entire region. Over the last few thousand years they have become pretty adept at cultivation and use of space, I guess. Everything looked like a manicured lawn. And no doubt I was seeing through the rose colored glasses of a tourist, but nonetheless it was Tuscany, and it was beautiful.

Will the Aussie having chocolate and lemoncello gelato

We visited a couple of vineyards and tasted some wines and olive oils (Truffle olive oil is awesome.) We had a lunch of Italian cold cuts and bruschetta under some olive trees, and then visited Sant Gimingiano for some world famous gelato and a view of the surrounding area from the top of the hill. All of the towns in the region are located historically at the top of hills for better view of the surrounding area and better protection as a result of the time when the area was filled with warring city-states.

San Gimingiano tower.

I visited the famous art galleries that are filled with the works of many painters and sculptors from Italy, obviously the most famous being the David of Michelangelo. Personally I preferred gazing at the unfinished sculptures of Michelangelo. There was something so raw and lifelike of the figures emerging from the block of stone as if they were being born into the world full-grown but were trapped and petrified in stone for eternity. The chisel strokes were still there on certain parts, which made the finished parts of the statues even more unbelievable. Of the paintings, I am not sure that I liked the ones that I was supposed to like. I did see many unbelievable works of art though. I have no idea what could possess a man to endeavor to paint a canvas that is thirty feet tall and twenty feet wide with any hope of completing it. Likewise for the cathedral domes and ceilings which were all exquisitely decorated. I think the painters liked their demons better than their saints though. The demons on the Dome are much more lifelike and interesting than the images of the saints.

Ah, yes the Dome of the cathedral of Santa Maria Del Fiore, The Duomo, the 3rd or 4th largest cathedral in the world. It is hard to believe that such a thing was built by the hands of men. The exterior façade of the church is all red, green, and white marble and is truly unbelievable.

The obligatory "I was here." picture in front of the cathedral.

I paid to climb to the top of the dome. One must ascend flights and flights of stairs something like 464ft. to the top. There is a very narrow corridor constructed of stone not meant to be traversed by people more than six feet tall. As a person who is about six feet tall, I hit my head more than once. The corridor is packed with people, and the stairs are steep, and it is hot, and the line only moves as fast as the slowest person, and there is no room to pass. The view was definitely breathtaking, but the bell tower is free and there is more room and it’s only a few feet shorter. If you go to Florence, climb the bell tower.

The View of the bell tower from the top of the Duomo.

I spent most of the time running around with Jeff or a couple of Aussie blokes. I had Italian food, Thai food, and went to a hookah bar. I saw the markets where the famous leather goods are sold. I was taken in by a shop-keeper who said he would give me a good deal because I had a beard like him. He hypnotized me with his broken English and many uses of “My Friend.” He practically sang to me about the quality and the durability of the jackets he was putting on me… I understand how people end up buying things they don’t want… But I let him sing his siren song of sales to me because I knew I was only carrying about 10 euros. I told him that at the beginning. Thirty minutes later when I had tried on everything that he wanted my to try on and I actually showed him that I was only carrying a 10 and would not be buying anything you would have thought he was going to cry.

I walked around Florence at about every time of day. I think I liked evening and night the best. Less people and cooler weather. All day and night, though, tourists tourists tourists. At least in the summer, Florence exists for the tourist. I wonder how long it has been that way. A traveler definitely gets gouged on the price of even the smallest things. I forgot that a one liter bottle of water does not actually cost 2 euros (about $3.20). Here in my town I buy 9 liters for about 1.20 euro.

My flight home was from Pisa. So naturally we visited the tower and all that jazz. I think Pisa out away from the touristy areas was very nice. We walked a few blocks either side of the tourist hot spots and found some very cool piazzas, gardens, and older buildings.

A nice public building in a piazza in pisa. The red cross at the top is the symbol of the city.

I bought a small painting from an artist who was sitting on the street selling some works done by her and her sister. Daniela and Silvia Pedretti I believe were their names, and she gave me some tips on how to see the real parts of town.

It was fun for sure. I wouldn’t want to do it every week, but I enjoyed it. I think I put on a few pounds thanks to the Italian food, but I’ll be back on the bike and going to class again this week.

As always thanks for reading.

I like graffiti.