In the Still of the Night

The Infamous Garbage Truck…

It’s almost midnight when the garbage truck arrives. It creeps past our house and tears tiles from the overhang above our neighbor’s door. Maria is hanging out of an upstairs window and haranguing the driver. Despite scraping half a dozen tiles off her house the driver is giving as good as he gets. We are in Spain. This is a reminder. Donna and I close the window and laugh.

Spain is not quiet. It doesn’t matter what city you are in. So, you can either enjoy it, or choose to let it get under your skin. There are fireworks at weddings and funerals. There are fireworks for no apparent reason. Church bells ring at all hours. People assure us there’s a pattern, but when all the bells are ringing at once that’s difficult to discern. Dogs bark. Fighting cocks crow. A pleasantly intoxicated person sings a soul song. There’s always a fiesta. Music isn’t played softly. A scene for a teen vampire movie is being shot in Valencia. It requires screaming, and multiple takes. Morning, noon, and night life is punctuated with expressions of exuberance.

Calle San Luis, Grenada

In 2016 we stayed in a house in Grenada. During that month we learned to appreciate the sounds of Spain. We slept with a row of French doors open to the night. It was our air conditioning, and given the fairytale views it was romantic. Near the end of our first stay university students were celebrating the end of the term. It was past 3 AM and up in the Albaycin we could hear singing. Some 30 voices joined together and started heading down the hill towards our house.

It wasn’t the singing of tuneless drunks, although sobriety could not be assumed. The sopranos carried the melody, and everyone else sang along or harmonized at will. It took 15 minutes for the singers to pass by our house, and another 15 to fade away. At 5 AM the baby next door started wailing. Dogs joined in. Two workers waiting for a ride right below our terrace shared the weekend’s gossip. Roosters crowed, doves cooed, someone’s donkey brayed, bells rang. The sun peeked over the hill. We sat up in bed and soaked it all in. When all the things that should bother you don’t, you have probably fallen in love.

Morning in Grenada…

The garbage truck stops a little closer to our house in Oliva these days. Someone hops out in order to fetch the dumpster. They roll it two blocks down to the truck. Then they roll it back again. A dumpster is louder when it’s empty and it’s creeping up to midnight. It makes a surprisingly happy sound. It’s right up there with an intoxicated version of an old soul song. As for the hordes of screaming horror film teens in Valencia??? I think they should have quit after the 35th take. It was perfect.

Hollyblood!!!

Mango, Avocado, and Smoked Cod Ceviche

A visit to La Salvaora in Valencia inspired this version of ceviche. They served a fishless avocado version. It was delicious!

I usually use fresh halibut when I make ceviche. Using a smoked fish simplifies the preparation. There is no need marinate the fish. It’s just a matter of making your citrus marinade, chopping your produce, and adding it to the marinade. You add the smoked fish right before serving. Simple!

Don’t measure! Taste!

Marinade: The juice of two limes. The juice of 1/2 lemon. The juice of 1/2 orange. (Oranges are juicier in Spain. So, 1/4 to 1/2 cup of freshly squeezed orange juice), fine sea salt to taste (I added a small pinch.)

Produce: 1 large mango (peeled and cubed). 1 avocado (peeled and cubed), 1/2 orange (1/4 inch slices, cut peel off, cut into small triangles), 1 Anaheim pepper (roughly chopped), 1/2 red onion (medium dice), green onion (1/8” slices), 1 clove garlic (finely chopped), cilantro 1/4 cup (finely chopped)

Fish: 4 oz. smoked black cod

Garnish: Fried Anaheim pepper rings and thinly sliced red onion to garnish, smoked sweet paprika

Note: Next time I’m going to use smoked halibut.

Prep: Toss the produce into a bowl with the citrus marinade. Chill for 30 to 60 minutes. Gently stir in the smoked cod.

Serve with chilled white wine, and corn chips.

Enjoy!!!

The Inspiration: La Salvaora’s Avocado Ceviche!

Our Spanish Life

Rainy Days and Sundays…

Donna looks around our house on Calle Antonio Maura and exclaims, “Living here feels like camping!” I have to do a few mental calculations to determine if she thinks this a good, or a bad thing. I asked her if she had ever put on a backpack, climbed halfway up a mountain, and pitched a tent. There was a long silence before she answered, “Maybe once.”

Camping with Donna means putting a blowup bed in a tent, bringing a down comforter, Pendleton blankets, high thread count sheets, a pop up shower enclosure, and two battery operated shower pumps. When she says it feels like camping it doesn’t mean she thinks we are roughing it. She means that in order to make coffee we have to use a lighter to light a burner on the stove. Hanging clothes out to dry in a Mediterranean breeze reminds her of camping too. It reminds me of my Grandmother’s house.

It is true that we don’t have an “American kitchen”, or a clothes dryer. We wash our dishes by hand. Our clothes are air dried. Upstairs the rooms are heated with portable heaters, and cooled with fans. Downstairs there’s a fireplace, and a single air-con/heater unit. The Spanish real estate agent showed us a house that had a kitchen with no roof. She told us the weather in Oliva is “very soft”. Living in that house would have required a blue tarp to cook under. That would have really felt like camping.

In many ways our current Spanish lifestyle is still informed by our insular Covid19 lifestyle. That lifestyle was informed by Seattle’s own peculiar style. When I was 17 my brother offered some advice about Seattle’s social scene, “If you don’t have a girlfriend by October, you’ll have to wait until April to meet anyone.” Seattle is like that. When you are born and raised there you need someone like my brother to point it out.

Today it’s raining and 61 degrees in Oliva. We could light a fire. We could turn the heater on, but we won’t. We’ll curl up on the couch. Donna will read. I will fidget and think about the best way to make ceviche with the smoked cod we brought from home. It’s a perfect way to spend a rainy day no matter where you are.

Geraniums…

Recalibration

Recalibration was a given. We’d been wrapped in foggy bubble wrap for a year. Life in pandemic Spain has been a burst of color and warmth. Masks are mandatory. Noses are exposed. Life goes on.

One of the American expat sites was subjected to a few obligatory anti-vax rants. In a country where mask wearing is viewed as a personal contribution to the health of your fellow citizens the rants seemed even more juvenile. It’s not Science denial. It’s a fundamental lack of knowledge about how Science works. It’s a full-on embrace of pseudoscience, and crackpot theories. That the rants come draped in jingoistic pride is dismaying.

It’s not a post-pandemic Spain we are experiencing. Schedules, social routines, and the tourist economy are still impacted. When the state of emergency was lifted on May 9th you could almost hear the gears shifting.

We toyed with getting a small studio apartment in Valencia. Until the travel restrictions in Spain were lifted on May 9th leaving the Valencia Region was against the rules. If we couldn’t explore beyond the region, we’d dive into Valencia. Having a bolt hole in the heart of it seemed to make sense.

We retraced old steps, and found out what survived. A few old wonders have disappeared. We got pretty close to being lost, and discovered new wonders. Valencia is worth a deep dive. It’s historic center is just a place to start.

The rental market tested our ability to do business in another language, and within an unfamiliar system. I’d like to say we performed spectacularly. We hit the ground stumbling. We found tiny top floor apartments with dizzying hamster cage stairs that left you breathless. Prices reflected a wish to make up for a year of vacancy, or a hope to finally bring in a modest steady income. When things opened up on May 9th the market was flooded with short term rentals. The long term lease we were on the verge of securing fell through. The reason given was that our source of income is foreign. The owner believed this would make getting insurance impossible. Even the real estate agent was mystified!

The question at our stage of life is always, “What do you want to do with the time you have left?” That’s always been the question, but the realization that time is a finite resource has planted its feet firmly on our chests. Time is looking down at us with a sneer.

My answer to life’s most profound question is simple. “Everything!” We’ve compiled an extremely long bucket list. There are a million things on it we’ll never get around to. That’s freeing! If something doesn’t work out, there are 999,999 equally satisfying choices. It’s not life writ large where the joy lies anyway. Life is in the small moments. Having my locked left hip pop free is a huge pleasure these days. On 22,000 step days it’s a high point.

We tossed out the long term rental in Valencia idea. We secured a place in Valencia for the month of July. Air conditioning, lots of air conditioning and fewer steps were the draws. There’s an Italian gelato shop around the corner that makes an incredible lemon sorbet. All the markets sell cups of chilled fresh fruits.

In the meantime I’m writing down useful Spanish sentences. I have found my Spanish reading comprehension to be surprisingly good. I understand most of what I hear. Speaking is the challenge. Questions I didn’t anticipate come up. Words get lost as the context shifts. People think my initial attempts suggest a level of fluency I don’t possess. They start speaking faster and faster. I stand there tongue tied. Then I say something in Spanish that winds up being, “I think Tuesday is an excellent breakfast after midnight. Perfecto!” This earns a look that says, “WTF???” That look doesn’t need any translation. Life is good!!!

The Adventure Continues…

Cafe Life

  1. I wrote this in January of 2020 before we knew what the year would bring. The visual memories the photos bring feel distant to me. I have to add the colors myself. Like all memories I add color at will.
  2. What I missed most about dining out was the ambiance. The food has to be good, but the people around you create the experience. Donna and I can cook. No one is likely to break into song though. In these memories song, and the addition of color, are always possibilities. 

Campo de’ Fiori, Rome

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Tucked into back alleys and narrow streets you’ll find the places making the food Rome is famous for. Around major tourist sites and plazas you will find high prices, indifferent service, and food that’s seen the inside of a microwave. Some cooks never had an Italian Grandmother to show them how it’s really done.

It is possible to find delicious overpriced surprises, but that’s not why you are seated at a table in one of these establishments. You are there to watch people. You are there for the ambiance, and the experience.

Street musicians play and the woman at the table in front of you starts rubbing her partner’s balding head. The hip oldsters have a front row seat. They were there when you got there. They’ll be there long after you leave. The young girl is having lunch with her grandfather. As he listens to the music he moves his hands like a conductor.  He’s correcting the beat the musicians are hanging on to. “Crisper! More fluid!! Like this!!! 

Gandia, Spain

In Gandia there are two similarly named restaurants within blocks of each other. One is the time tested Casa Sanchis La Tulipa. The other is Restaurante Sancho’s. The first time we wandered into Sancho’s there was no signage, and no printed menu. The passion in the kitchen was evident from the moment we peeked inside. Energy flowed and the dining room hummed. Every time we’ve returned the crowd is bigger. The buzz has been sustained. Couples, work colleagues, and families are all gathered to experience a meal that verges on an event.

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On a return trip we found Sancho’s closed for the day. A short walk away we found a crowded Casa Sanchis La Tulipa winding down its lunch service. We were seated at an outdoor table in the sun. Out came platters filled with traditional versions of traditional dishes.

Out back was where restaurant workers from Casa Sanchis La Tulipa and adjacent restaurants took breathers. I was reminded that serving a crowd is intense work. It’s rewarding, but intense nonetheless. 

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Mercat de Santa Caterina, Barcelona, Spain

If you ask me where I want to eat tomorrow, my answer will be Barestaurant L’Univers in Barcelona’s Santa Caterina Market. Give me a stool where I can watch cooks turn market fresh products into my lunch. I’ll be happy!

The Santa Caterina Market is in the Born District. It’s not the easily found and famous St. Josef Market off the Rambla, but it’s my favorite. If Donna and I are in Barcelona, we head to Santa Caterina Market and eat at Barestaurant L’Univers.

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L’Univers is where my attempts to capture the essence of a restaurant began. Pictures of food don’t really capture a place’s “vibe”. Black and white photos of diners seem to capture something closer to that. At L’Univers there is a lot to capture.

Ask me where I want to have lunch tomorrow. The answer is always the same. “L’Univers!”

Sometimes curiosity kicks in though. A few steps away from L’Univers is the restaurant La Torno. It’s the same basic bar stools and open kitchen affair. La Torno has a small table, and there’s a bakery connected to the restaurant. The action is still in the kitchen, and at the stools. If you ask me to choose between these two neighbors, I’ll say, “Go to the place where Grandma is cooking!”

This is where we left off in 2020. The return trip has been sweeter for the waiting! Live Well!

UPDATE: Campó de Fiori, Rome, Italy, Many restaurants around the square are currently open.

Restaurante Sancho’s, gastroranking 9/10, Calle Rausell, 17, Plaza del Prado, Gandía, Spain. (Open)

Casa Sanchis La Tulipa, #67 of 348 restaurants in Gandía, TripAdvisor 4/5, Carrer del Forno, 9, Gandia, (Open)

Barestaurant L’Univers, Mercat de Santa Caterina, TripAdvisor 4/5, (Open)

La Torna, Mercat de Santa Caterina, four square rating 7.8/19 (Open)

Note: Covid19 has been tough on the restaurant business. Support your local restaurants! Tip the staff generously!

Back to Spain, Part 1


Unless your world was already desperately small, the global pandemic whittled it away until all that was left were furtive trips to the grocery store. Donna and I planned on an ongoing ninety day rotation between Oliva, Spain and Seattle. Tickets had been purchased. We were scheduled to arrive in Oliva in April of 2020. A trip to Utah in March was cut short by the upcoming toilet paper shortage and imminent lockdown. Our plane tickets were put on indefinite hold. So were everyone else’s. The global pandemic had its way with us all.

Getting back to Spain involved getting a non-lucrative residency visa. It’s an open ended invitation to stay in Spain as long as we like, if we continue to do the required paperwork. At some point we’ll sit down and share the steps involved in getting a passport with “Residencia” plastered on it. There’s a fat folder waiting around for that occasion. I don’t want to go near it.

I will say, no matter what anyone tells you the residency visa process is… it will change. It will change, and anything anyone tells you will be specific to a particular consulate. The American expat sites are full of delightful bickering. They are also invaluable tools to help you navigate the necessary paperwork, timelines, and pitfalls of getting your residency visa. Or, you can dip into your savings and have a professional guide you through the maze. Donna’s advice is to take it one step at a time.
The beach in Oliva.

Once our Residencia was approved getting back to Spain meant navigating the Hunger Games lottery system established during the early days of vaccination. Countless hours were spent searching for appointments that disappeared as soon as you found them. Finding two appointments at the same time at the same place was impossible. We eventually found appointments two weeks apart. One was an hour south of Seattle. The other was an hour and a half to the north. The northern version came with its own snafus. Fifty two phone calls and hours of being put on hold sorted them out. We were fully vaxxed.

I haven’t said anything new here. The point is once we had our vaccination cards filled out no one at the airports in SeaTac, Amsterdam, or Valencia cared to see them. Getting on a jet to anywhere was dependent upon having a negative Covid19 test that hadn’t expired. No one took our temperatures. We didn’t have to take our shoes off. Short lines and damn near empty planes await as long as you have your test results in hand.

Your travel window starts dwindling the minute someone swabs your nose. We had 72 hours. This is important. If you get your PCR test done the day before flying, results aren’t promised until midnight the following day. That is too damn late. No one is going to let you board a plane unless you have test results to show them.

If you get the test done two days before you travel, you are burning up your travel window. I did some quick calculations in line at the testing site. We could have easily been one flight delay away from being stuck at the airport in Valencia. We opted for the RT-PCR test that delivers results in an hour.

Suited up for travel.

Getting tests that promise rapid turnaround seems like common sense. They cost more, but frustrated travelers in Seattle and Amsterdam were stopped at the gate over and over again. People who relied on emailed results were scrambling too. They were also responsible for holding lines up. A paper copy of results was more reliable.

Once we arrived in Valencia a survey we filled out and printed at home was presented. Our QR codes were scanned. We picked up our luggage and headed out the doors. Two security guards directed us to the proper line. In twenty feet we were officially back in Spain!

The view from our terrace.

Steve Weber: Holy Modal Rounder

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Steve Weber died on February 7, 2020. His obituary appeared in the New York Times almost a month later. Weber wasn’t a musical luminary. His contributions to the music scene don’t put him in the company of Bill Withers, or John Prine. Weber resided deep in the weeds, an accidental hallucinogenic pulled up and ingested. Following his path would get mere mortals killed. Steve Weber lived to be 76.

Steve Weber was a member of The Holy Modal Rounders, and for a time a member of The Fugs. His musical career was a product of The Village in New York City. I was introduced to The Rounders by some freight train hopping hippies in 1969. A scratchy piece of vinyl was played on a portable record player. The songs recalled a distant backwoods porch, and captured the spirit of an amphetamine fueled anti-war protest. Peter Stampfel and Steve Weber were The Holy Modal Rounders, and by any reasonable musical standards they provided a horrible, but somehow bright, moment.

Stampfels’ vocals were enthusiastically nasal. His fiddle squawked and squealed. His banjo playing threatened to veer off track. Weber on the other hand was a proficient guitar player.  The songs Weber contributed were brief tossed off gems. The Rounders were a folky psychedelic version of Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin. Stampfel displayed the hyper attention seeking neediness that might earn you genius status in France. Weber had the easy charisma that comes with good looks and being comfortable in the briar patch.

The Rounders’ high point was having The Bird Song appear in Easy Rider. Fugs fans might recall Weber’s Boobs A-lot. A careful listen to The Fugs First Album and Virgin Fugs reveals The Rounders musical contributions to those early excursions. At one point playwright Sam Shepard played drums in an incarnation of The Holy Modal Rounders. There was a television appearance on Laugh-In. The Rounders were a band on the verge. Soon enough brushes with notoriety had Weber taking a dive. Artistic differences and lifestyle choices had accusations of sabotage flying around. Stampfel  stayed in New York. Weber headed to Portland, Oregon. The heroin was cheaper.

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In Portland an electric folk rock version of The Holy Modal Rounders flourished as a touring bar band. I was lucky enough to see them a couple of times in Seattle. Here’s the thing. I’ve seen Dylan, The Stones, Neil Young, McCoy Tyner, Dave Brubeck, The Talking Heads, Prince, Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell, Janis Joplin, and Jimi. The list doesn’t stop there. Steve Weber’s West Coast Holy Modal Rounders were hands down the most fun.

The Show

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We headed up to the Hill to see The Holy Modal Rounders. We were stuffed into the back of my ex-mother-in-law’s pink Cadillac. It must have been in ‘73, or ‘74. Viv was freshly separated from her husband, and on a tear. She could veer from 1950’s rigidity to hippy chick with alarming speed. She was channeling a beatnik vibe. Her passengers were suitably stoned.

I was expecting the Stampfel and Weber version of the band. What we saw was pure Weber. It was a hybrid folk rock ragtime jug band with a fiddle, acoustic bass, mandolin, full drum kit, electric guitars, and a guy who played two saxophones at the same time. The spirit was stuck between improvisational jazz and punk rock. Weber was more ringmaster than band leader. A nod of his head might unleash a mandolin solo, saxophone break, or a strangely melodic drum solo. It was seamless chaotic fun.03D188E9-4CA9-417B-A3A4-64620EE7254F

Weber was simultaneously flirting with five women. Everyone in the bar bought their own pitcher of beer. We were linking arms in a drunken folk dance. Couples danced on tables. Pitchers clinked in mid-air. A few of them shattered. By the end of the evening we were splashing around in big puddles of beer while barmaids swept up glass. Sure, there was probably a contact high, but even the barmaids were grinning. We were in on an outrageous secret. All I remember about coming home is how close Viv came to sideswiping parked cars as the pink Caddy swooped down Madison Street from Broadway.

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The Lesson

Weber was onto something Bill Withers discovered when he walked away from the music business in 1985. A lot of professional musicians say they “play” music. They don’t. They “work” it. It becomes a factory job. The bass player is never good enough. The lead guitarist is too temperamental. Someone is under the influence. Someone else is fighting to maintain control. Record companies have pre-set notions about product. Withers walked away. Stampfel says Weber did the same. Until a bitter attempt to document a reunion in 2003 (Bound to Lose) that just wasn’t true.

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After leaving New York Weber played. He embodied a lot of the traits that break bands apart, but fought to keep things loose enough to create magic. He kept playing until it stopped being fun. Until his habits got in his way. At his best he could stand off to the side and make chaos dance. Steve Weber was comfortable in the briar patch.

You’ve probably never heard of Steve Weber. His recorded legacy is sparse and spotty. I’ve seen legends perform. The only thing they had that Weber didn’t was the burden of fame. Somewhere in the afterlife there’s a glorious ruckus going on. It’s probably not in Heaven.  There’s beer on the floor, and everyone’s dancing!  RIP, Steve Weber!

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The Christmas Dinner Experience

0970ADCA-91B7-4761-BA3F-572A1A42D555In ancient times people made pilgrimages to Rome. We flew here, but logged in three 8 mile days in a row. The Christmas Market in Piazza Navona was a daily destination. We saw the official opening being filmed by a television crew, and shared a glass of celebratory champagne. That was on Monday morning. Electrical problems delayed the opening. We made the trek again on Christmas morning. It was gloriously open. We strolled through. Then we visited small churches and shops for the rest of the day. By the time Christmas dinner rolled around we were hungry.

The Fork gives Casa Coppelle 9.1 points out of 10. It’s easy to see why. It’s probably the most elegant restaurant Donna and I have ever eaten in. We were tucked into a romantic corner featuring a black velvet settee, black and gold fabric wall coverings, classic portraits, and a black leather table cover. A glass of champagne was in order.

While we sipped champagne we decided to order the fish based Christmas Dinner with wine pairings. Eating  in Rome is about the food and the hospitality.  Casa Coppelle’s wait staff is charming, engaging, and comfortably attentive. You feel like a guest instead of a customer. Within minutes after ordering we were served a mini portion of thinly sliced veal with micro pea vines. We were hungry and inhaled it without taking a photo.

A generous pour of dark pink rosato was served next. Then out came the octopus served with a leek purée, and what was by my count five peas. We were hungry and sopped up every last bit of that purée with deliciously crunchy crusted Italian bread. 4CDE06FE-86B8-4EF9-BF5F-BD6E57C7118C

At Casa Coppelle when it comes to the food it’s quality over quantity. When it comes to the wine parings it’s quality and quantity. I really would have liked five more peas with my octopus.

The next course was mussels served with bean 76278737-7618-440F-AA41-A55268394EACfilled ravioli and a bean based sauce. Donna thought the sauce was delicious. I remarked that it tasted like Heinz Pork ‘n Beans, or Beanie Weenies in the vernacular of the day. I could have easily counted the mussels, but knew crunchy crusted Italian bread does an admirable job of pairing with Beanie Weenie sauce.

The wine kept flowing, and we were having B8B2B2A9-3B7E-4C18-8BAC-608E496BADF6fun. I banished thoughts of the photo of lasagna stuffed with Italian meatballs Emily Hudon taunted me with. I sipped a delicious white wine while waiting for the main course. It was a bouillabaisse served in a cooking bag. The sauce was as rich and delicious as any I’ve tried. Thank goodness for that Italian bread.

Dessert was served with a generous pour of sweet wine. The Christmas menu offered a choice of Mont Blanc, or Mont Blanc. The chef was offering to go off menu and make substitutions. We ordered a Mont Blanc and the wild card. Donna thought the plate the wild card was served on contained a pool of dark chocolate. It was a hole in the plate. We laughed!

The meal was rounded out with strong Italian espressos and an excellent limoncello. It had more zest and less Lemon Pledge I think. The server gave Donna a handwritten list of the wines we’d been served, and we strolled back to Trastevere. Seconds after Donna hung up her coat she was pulling off a big piece of Panatone declaring, “I’m still hungry!” We laughed again! It was a very Merry Christmas!!!

 

 

Christmas in Rome

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As bucket list items go returning to Rome and Romulas “luxury suite in Trastevere” was right up there at the top of the list. At Christmas with tickets to the Basilica Vaticana with Santo Padre Francesco presiding??? This wasn’t even in our wildest dreams.

Our hosts in Rome, Romula and Claudio, moved Heaven and Earth to find tickets for us. Their efforts alone were blessings. This is Rome and great cities are first of all made by great people. The history, the architecture, and the food are all products of human endeavors. Ahhh! The food!!!

The first bite of the mussels at Osteria Der Belli had me saying, “This is Italy!!!” right out loud. The broth was a perfect balance of sharp saltiness backed by heat and rounded off with garlic. The signature dish at Der Belli, tagliarini of sea bass and cherry tomatoes, was as good as the sample we had the first time we were in Rome. The pasta is homemade and in Donna’s opinion, “The best I’ve ever had!” The proprietor’s sisters make it in a nearby shop.

Rome is a city to consume on your feet. The French couple we shared a table with at Enzo’s agreed. “I walked 9 kilometers yesterday, and 8 today. I can no longer feel my feet!” We use a different measurement system, but my body feels every step of the 126 floors we climbed in two days.

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Window shopping and visiting neighborhood churches consumed most of our time. Well, that and trying to choose which beautifully atmospheric cafe was most likely to serve the best food. The one with thick steaks displayed in a refrigerated case and candles on every table got Donna’s vote.

I had always known the Pope held a Christmas Eve service in front of The Basilica. That communal experience was attractive to me. To experience Christmas Eve mass inside The Basilica with Pope Francis presiding was never a consideration. Donna, with the kind assistance of Romula and Claudio, had other ideas.

Having experienced this mass I can only tell you I was surrounded by overwhelming beauty. To hear what is a very simple and universal story in that setting will take time to sort out. I arrived and left with the same thoughts.

Every mother deserves to hold her child for the first time with joy in her heart, and eyes full of hope. Every father who looks upon his child’s face deserves to know the pride he feels will extend into a limitless future. If we close the door on Joy, Hope, and Potential, it really doesn’t matter what beliefs we profess.

I heard the sounds of many languages being spoken inside The Basilica. Within that vast lavish testament to faith Pope Francis carried a newborn Jesus through the throngs and placed him in a manger. The wonder was undeniable.

Every night a child is born. Mothers and fathers experience that primal joy. They hope, often against all odds. They dream of an unlimited future. They pray for safety.  If we have any sort of faith in anything at all, we should join them.

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New Year Review: Before and After

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We are almost a year into our Spanish home adventures. With the New Year coming up it’s time to review what we’ve been up to. We’ve been busy!

The first time we viewed our house in Oliva I knew the mop water white tiles and stained grout in the living and dining room wouldn’t survive. They were the first thing on our to do list. I tried to resurrect the grout, but it wasn’t grout. The stuff wouldn’t budge. A conference with my daughter, Alyssa, a former flooring estimator, convinced me starting over was the best option. The other option was buying a skill saw and a special blade and grinding between every sickly white tile. My knees, back, and Donna thought that was a stupid idea!

Malcom Burt was hired to put new tile over the old stuff. A trip to Manises to buy decorative tiles was all that was66DC834D-9EE3-4D8E-9FEE-0A2870B8FCAE needed. Our living and dining room are completely out of square. Putting in a tile floor that looked right would be a challenge. Malcom surveyed the room and knew exactly how to proceed. The results exceeded expectations.

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In the middle of installing the tile in the living and dining room, Malcom discovered a leak in our main bathroom. The leak was repairable, but the lead pipe was old. Leaks could spring up anywhere. The lines were buried beneath tiles and plaster. The cold water line was near the floor. The hot water line was waist high. Replacing the lines without gutting the bathroom was the challenge.

Google searches brought up photos of externally mounted copper pipe. We decided to copy the best examples we found. Copper  would become a design element. From there replacing damaged tiles with large copper toned tiles started to make sense. The trick was to make the repair solutions look intentional.

We came back to Spain with a suitcase full of secondhand store copper objects. It’s either our new awareness, or copper is making a comeback. Keeping the copper bright will require making a paste out of salt and vinegar, or investing in a commercial copper cleaner.

An added bonus of exterior mounted copper plumbing is that it retains some heat after you take a shower. It’s just enough to take the edge off, or give you warm socks on chilly mornings.

Painting the exterior of the house presented the biggest challenges. Permits took forever to go through Oliva’s idiosyncratic system. A long history of water intrusion problems created blowouts in the plaster. We thought it was confined to the lower portion of the front of the house. The entire front of the house was compromised. The plaster on the side of the house looked solid. It wasn’t. Scraping the house down to bricks revealed doors that were no longer doors, the house’s original roof line, and windows that had been hastily filled in. Everything, including a roof drain that was connected to air, had to be repaired.

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Turning a 150 year old former horse stable into habitable living quarters has involved three owners so far. Our contributions have extended the building’s life. It’s also made the house feel like home! It’s been a wonderful year!!!

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