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.