Notes From Spain: Things I Miss

The first item on Uncle Brewer’s list of collected wisdom was to avoid making top ten lists. He proceeded anyway. There is family tradition to uphold here.

Some things are difficult or impossible to get in Spain. Our friend Ron misses chunky canned soups. Everyone who travels to the U.S. brings back a stash of goodies. Before stepping on the plane they know which restaurants they are going to visit. Their order has been visualized. Their list is prepared. They are ready to go!

Things I Miss…

#1. Burgers: Pork and breakfast sausage spices don’t belong in burgers. Flaccid disks of meat don’t cut it. Ian swears by the horse meat burger at the local burger bar. That’s never going to happen. I want a charbroiled Angus burger with all the trimmings. The one I want is at the steakhouse five minutes from our West Seattle house.

#2. PNW Salmon: You can get salmon in Spain. It’s usually farm raised Atlantic salmon. It’s pink and mushy. We are spoiled. We have experienced Pacific Northwest salmon. I find myself dreaming about salmon smoked by Tulalip Reservation’s finest artisans. When Dean Pablo posts photos of his smoked fish I know exactly how good it is!

Uncle George and Aunt Dee…

#3. Vegetarian Pizza: We make a monthly run to Beacon Hill’s Bar del Corso for pizza. Their vegetarian pizza might include fiddlehead ferns and chanterelle mushrooms. In Spain they throw frozen corn on their veggie pizzas. It’s downhill from there. We know what we like, and we are picky.

#4. Zyrtec: I thought Spain would cure my hay fever. My itchy eyes and runny nose say otherwise. Zrytec is the only allergy medicine I tolerate. It’s probably available if you ask for cetirizine, but who can remember that? I’m going to stock up on the name brand stuff.

#5. Absorbant Bath Towels: Spanish towels squeegee the water off your body. They aren’t soft. They do the job…sort of. Sandpaper would do just as well.

#6. High Thread Count Sheets: We found bamboo fiber sheets that Donna almost approves of. We bring sheets back from the U.S. every time we come to Spain.

#7. Liquid Smoke: A bottle of liquid smoke lasts forever. Adding a couple of drops to your baked beans, stew, or chili recipes is sufficient. Half a drop in your Bloody Mary is probably too much. You have to mix up a batch. I haven’t found liquid smoke in Spain. I’ve looked!

#8. BBQ Sauce: We are used to having a couple dozen brands of BBQ sauce on the grocery store shelves. In Oliva there’s a store brand that tastes like a store brand. I’d make my own if I could find liquid smoke.

#9. Canned Green Chiles and Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup: These are my lazy cook staples. They don’t make anything that’s actually good. They turn leftovers into some sort of twisted comfort food.

#10. Pants/Trousers: I’ve got thick stumpy legs, no butt, and a variable waist size. The immediate challenge in Spain is finding pants I can get my feet through. If I can pull the pants up, it looks like I’m wearing tights. Even then the butt is saggy, and the waist is too loose. I wind up looking like I’m made out of spare parts. (Brits call their underwear “pants”. They wear trousers on the outside…most of the time.”)

Of course when we are back in the U.S.A. we’ll miss things about Spain. The beach, 2 euro bottles of wine, and sitting in the sun enjoying a 4 euro breakfast for two will top that list.

Granada: A Little Piece of Home

Plaza Larga: 2021, 2018, 2016…

We spent a month in Granada in 2016, and again in 2018. If Paris is where we fell in love with France, Granada is where we fell in love with Spain. Fairytale views from Calle San Luis #12 had a lot to do with that. So did finding our favorite produce stand, butcher shop, and bakery. The Albaicin’s spider web streets surprised and delighted. A cafe, bar, plaza, tienda, or spectacular view might appear around any corner. It took about a week for Granada to feel like another piece of home.

Other adventures led us to happily put down roots in Oliva. Twists and turns in our storyline don’t bother us. Like our friend Marina says, “Problem? Solution!” The twists and turns always take us somewhere interesting. It’s a matter of not allowing problems to create more problems. So, here we are again in the Albaicin. Our produce lady’s pears are beautiful!

We had barely checked into our room at Montes Claros when Donna asked, “Does Granada still feel like home to you?” I was standing on the balcony looking at a very familiar view. In truth it felt like we’d never left. It was like meeting an old friend. Getting reacquainted wasn’t necessary. It was just a matter of catching up.

A tapas crawl with fellow expats, Scott and Patty, jogged our memories. A purchase of a beer, wine, agua con gas, or a latte with ice brings meatballs, bread with cheese and onion jam, or eggplant with honey to your table.

Our evening’s final destination was the frequently closed La Polleria. Spain’s new dessert craze is genitalia shaped waffles dipped in a shiny glaze of chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry. The girl behind the counter smiles sweetly and asks, “Dick, or pussy?” It seems as if the former is more popular than the latter. Donna stood outside on the sidewalk shaking her head and muttering, “That’s just nasty.” La Polleria makes an indecent waffle.

The Botanical Garden…

What does a person do in Granada? We wander around. There was breakfast on the Plaza de la Romanilla. While we were eating lunch on the Paseo De Los Tristes a bass player knocked out a killer version of Take Five.

The next morning we had coffee at a cafe with a spectacular view of the Alhambra. Then there was stronger coffee and cookies in the Arab Quarter. Of course we shopped. We also looked for a hole in the wall falafel shop. In 2018 we spent an hour discussing world politics with the shop’s owner. His falafels were better than those claiming to be the world’s best. Falafels and politics are always open to debate though. We never turned the corner that brought us back to his shop.

The corner we turned took us to the University of Granada Botanical Gardens. What we would call a gentle drizzle had locals pulling out umbrellas and wrapping coats around their heads. It seemed like perfect September weather. We peered at kaffir limes, Chinese oranges, hops, mugwort, and prickly pears.

Then we found the Botanico Cafe across the street. The food coming out of the kitchen looked good. The pasta pockets filled with Gorgonzola and pear were even better than expected. The puttanesca with buffalo mozzarella was excellent. That the kitchen baked us a fresh batch of the apple crumble they had just run out of? Perfect!

The old saying is true. “Home is where the heart is!” It’s always a case of following your heart through the twists and turns. Your heart usually knows where you are going better than you do.

Fallas, Valencia 2021

Valencia’s Fallas is said to be the biggest celebration in Spain. It has art, music, pageantry, politics, religion, fireworks, and fires. From an expat’s point of view there are also contradictions. That’s what makes it a human endeavor.

To wrap my head around Fallas I have to look back to the grand community celebrations of my youth. In Seattle the biggest celebration was Seafair. It was an all stops pulled out citywide party!

Seattle’s neighborhoods built floats, crowned royalty, participated in parades, had backyard feasts, and watched the hydroplane races. At night after the races were over we walked down to Lake Washington’s Andrew’s Bay and watched fireworks.

Fallas is a little like that. Neighborhoods build impressive monuments instead of floats. Instead of watching boat races people watch polystyrene monuments go up in flames. The neighborhood parties feel familiar. Fireworks are a constant instead of a grand finale. That’s where the similarities end.

We have been told Fallas was started in the Middle Ages. Artisans and carpenters burned items that were no longer useful to prepare for a new season. At some point that evolved into building monuments to express the outrage politicians inspired. Setting the monuments on fire was a way of saying, “We’d rather burn something big, beautiful, and expensive than pay you another cent in taxes.” That’s a sentiment I can get behind.

Getting this outrage past censors during the Franco era meant being slyly creative and using common archetypes. Politicians who fit neatly into stereotypes are still fair game. It’s a celebrity roast made out of polystyrene. The burns aren’t punchlines. They are incendiary torches and kerosene.

There is a religious component to Fallas as well. It’s where unity is built. In addition to building monuments to burn, a Flower Virgin is created. Thousands of celebrants in traditional regalia make their way to Valencia’s Plaza de la Virgen. They are accompanied by hundreds of marching bands. In the plaza the Flower Virgin is built one bouquet at a time. She is several stories high and magnificent. The Virgin doesn’t get burned.

The contradictions? This year’s Fallas featured monuments addressing the environmental crisis. Seeing them go up in big plumes of black smoke was jarring. Donna hit the internet while they were still burning. Torching polystyrene is not environmentally friendly. Thinking about 2021’s close to 800 burning Fallas monuments had us contemplating environmental impacts very seriously.

Of course Seattle’s hydroplanes and the beloved Blue Angels’ airborne maneuvers are hardly environmentally friendly either. We gasp and point with glee. Then we write it off as a once in a year event…a drop in the bucket. High horses are only great if we see things more clearly from our perch. Environmental concerns require all of us to rethink our habits and rituals.

Fallas 2022?

Fallas is usually held in March to celebrate the coming of Spring. Covid pushed it to September this year. Valencia deserves a lot of credit for demonstrating how a massive citywide celebration can observe covid protocols. Streets were closed to automobile traffic. Barricades and close monitoring kept plazas from being overwhelmed by celebrants. Masks were worn and the Civil Guard was quick to remind those whose masks had slipped. None of this felt forced. It was a point of civic pride.

The question remains, “Will we return in March 2022 to experience Fallas again?” My thinking is to see if there is a way to experience Fallas in a smaller way. I enjoyed the Seafair celebrations of my youth. Hydroplane fever was a given, but watching family members and friends participate in Seafair events developed civic pride. Backyard BBQ’s, potlucks, and beach parties were where community bonds were formed. Part of me is saying, “Go small, or stay home.”

Spanish Medical Adventure

Spain’s healthcare usually winds up being ranked as some of the best in the world. The US healthcare system has Norway calling the US underdeveloped. Access and expense are generally cited as the US’s downfalls. I’ve had enough medical adventures in the states to be grateful for very good, although expensive, medical insurance. I remember laying the bills from a single medical misadventure on our harvest table. Every surface was covered. I counted twelve billing entities from one Seattle hospital. Fortunately, access has never been a problem for me, but I shudder when I think about the numbers on all the bills I have received.

The morning we headed off on our Spain by Train tour I discovered a cyst on my back had become inflamed. I figured it was sunburned. Maybe a spider bit me. As is my family’s predilection, I ignored it. It hurt, but I don’t talk about things like that. If I mention feeling sick, I’ve crossed over into sick as a dog territory. I still won’t talk about it.

I blame this on my mother’s Christian Science beliefs. Amateur medical remedies that made things worse and hurt like hell probably has something to do with it too. My kids inherited this unreasonable stoicism. I don’t know why. Watching me be stupid should have persuaded them to take a different course of action.

The inflammation on my back kept growing until it looked like I was growing a breast on my right shoulder blade. Donna hit the dreaded internet for medical answers. You never know what’s going to pop up. Did some hairy Mediterranean spider lay eggs in my back? Could we expect baby spiders to burst forth and scramble towards the nooks and crannies of the room? Donna raised an eyebrow and said, “It’s a carbuncle.

The medical treatment prescribed by Dr. Google was simple. Applying warm compresses four times a day and slathering the area with antiseptic cream would either cause the inflammation to subside, or bring things to a head. The inflammation didn’t subside. Donna watched for red streaks and counseled medical treatment. I didn’t want to spend time in COVID tainted waiting rooms, or search the internet for physicians in the next town. Besides…it was getting better wasn’t it?

Donna tentatively agreed that whatever was happening on my back was getting almost imperceptibly better. She began photographing it to reassure herself. Gradually the lump shrank down to the size of a golf ball. Medical treatment was advised again. My response? “Not until we are back in Oliva.”

In the meantime correspondence with my daughter, Alyssa, revealed one of gardeners she supervises had an allergic reaction to a bee sting. He made a short visit to a Seattle area hospital for observation. It wound up being a $4,000 bee sting. That is outrageously normal.

Donna didn’t wait for me to make a doctor’s appointment when we got back. Thirty minutes after dragging our suitcases through the door she was on the phone. I was going to see a doctor at a local clinic.

I had no worries about getting substandard care in Spain. That’s just something we’ve been taught to think. When Donna had a dental emergency a few years back she visited a specialist in Barcelona. The care was expert, successful, and inexpensive. I’m still blown away by the dentist’s office. It was a BMW compared to the ‘53 Ford station wagon our West Seattle dentist worked out of.

After hiking a mile to the clinic in Oliva we found their sign, but no door. We took a trip around the block and finally asked for directions. A locked door with no signage was the not very promising entrance. We had passed it several times. I was buzzed in and walked up an even less promising staircase. At the end of a dim corridor I found the clinic. It was tiny. The waiting room only had room for two plastic lawn chairs.

While waiting I determined this was a four person operation. There was the receptionist, a lab technician, a physical therapist, and a general practitioner. Everyone who came out of a doctor’s appointment made their way to the receptionist and settled their bill. The receptionist was the cashier, and the office’s entire billing department.

Without filling out any forms, showing identification, or providing proof of insurance I was ushered in to see the doctor. She looked at my back and asked, “Is it painful?” I shook my head. Without further discussion the doctor went for it. I was standing in the middle of the room with my shirt around my neck. Then the doctor asked, “Again?” I nodded my head. Yeah, that hurt!

“I am going to give you antibiotics. It’s usually seven days. I am going to give you ten because…”

“Es mejor.”

The doctor smiled and off I went. I stopped at the reception desk and pulled out a credit card. The appointment and the procedure cost thirty euros. Eight days later the lump on my back had gone from convex to concave. There were no signs of infection. I wasn’t expecting a harvest table full of medical bills. There would be no $4,000 bee sting sticker shock. Taking a cat to the vet in the US will set you back more than 30 euros.

What I paid for was medical care stripped back to the basics. I wasn’t paying for several billing offices. I didn’t use my Spanish insurance. So I wasn’t supporting claims departments, managers, or a CEO. I wasn’t paying for a fleet of lawyers, or liability insurance. My antibiotics cost two euros. I am healing, and I don’t feel like I got robbed. It wasn’t the leather seats, wool carpet, and wood steering wheel experience, but I am not complaining.

There is an old saying that assures us we get what we pay for. It has convinced us that paying more surely must be better. When it comes to medical care in the US a new saying is needed. Something like, “They’ll take everything they can get, and a whole lot more!

Ajo Blanco

Ajo Blanco, L’lamber, Barcelona

A translator will tell you ‘ajo blanco’ means white garlic. Ajo blanco is not really white garlic soup though. The recipe calls for a single clove of garlic with the green germ removed. The key ingredient is blanched almonds.

The version we had at L’lamber in Barcelona was what you might call a refined version. That is if you consider adding water a refinement. The traditional version of ajo blanco has the consistency of a smoothie.

I read at least a dozen recipes before attempting my own version. What I found is that ajo blanco pre-dates the introduction of tomatoes in Europe. The recipe has had several tweaks over the centuries. I would add a few of my own.

The restaurant version we tried included smoked anchovies as well as the traditional addition of green grapes. I ditched the smoked fish and the grapes. ( I would have loved to use fresh Dungeness crab like Danny Hook suggested. It’s not available in Spain.) I used clams instead. Then I added Pink Lady apple cubes to the recipe. I used threads of dried mango as a garnish.

What I made was too thick. I thinned it out by adding small amounts of water and splashes of apple cider vinegar. The vinegar cut the sweetness of the apple and brought out the apple flavor.

I chose to cut the recommended amount of bread in half. Some recipes eliminate the bread altogether. That turns ajo blanco into a gluten free option.

I subscribe to the ‘Taste as you go Improvisational School of Cooking’. In this case Donna enthusiastically approved of the results. Nothing beats a cold soup on one of Spain’s simmering summer days.


1 cup Marcona almonds pre-soaked overnight and strained

1 1/2 slices of stale white bread, crusts removed and cubed

1 clove of garlic with the green germ in the middle removed

3-4 tsp sherry vinegar

1/2 Pink Lady apple peeled and diced

1 cup of cold water

1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil

Apple cider vinegar to taste (1 tsp at a time)

Salt to taste (a pinch at a time)

Garnishes: smoked anchovies, Dungeness crab, mussels, clams, dried mango threads, muscat grapes, cubed apples soaked in Cava…


Add 1 1/2 slices of cubed stale bread (crusts removed) to the blender.

Pour the cold water and sherry vinegar over the bread and let it sit for a minute.

Add the almonds, olive oil, cubed apple, and garlic to the blender. Blend until the mixture is milky and smooth.

Chill for an hour before serving.

Add seafood, and garnishes. Drizzle the soup with olive oil.

Tweaking the Recipe: Add salt a pinch at a time. Add sherry vinegar 1 tsp at a time. Add apple cider vinegar 1 tsp at a time. Add water a little at a time to thin. ( I have a heavy hand when it comes to vinegar. I add it one splash at a time to taste. 1 splash = 1 Tbs )

Ajo Blanco Antonio Maura, 8 Style…

Our Pandemic Tour

Bars and beaches are crowded. Diners, drinkers, and bathers aren’t masked up. The people threading their way through packed streets might be wearing masks. Not everyone is. We are seeing a lot more faces than usual.

Officially masks, social distancing, and using sanitizer every time you enter a shop are required. On the train anyone whose mask has slipped below their nose is reminded to pull it up. In local markets security personnel are vigilant. Those cups of fresh fruit you just bought are to be enjoyed outside.

Spaniards for the most part are following covid protocols. It’s a mixed bag among tourists from other countries. When you hear accents from some of the big brawny Northern countries, you don’t expect to see masks. (This is not a scientific fact. Louder voices could account for this being more noticeable.)

Just outside of the zones filled with maskless throngs social distancing is possible. We are sticking to that territory. We’ve pulled out our stash of highly rated masks and are wearing them. We pay the 5% terrace surcharges and eat outside. Museums and cathedrals aren’t drawing big crowds and are strictly managed. If we see long lines, we keep moving.

I keep reminding myself that Seattle isn’t just the Space Needle, The Market, and Starbucks. Each of us finds our favorite haunts and they become loosely kept secrets. Some of them stay strictly local. Some of them are discovered and survive with their souls intact. Staying healthy means directing our energies into finding those places. We’ll let you know what we find.

Pintxos San Sebastián…

In the meantime rain and thunderstorms are being forecast. The reaction to the slight drizzle we witnessed has us hoping for thinner crowds. A little thunder should make people scatter.

Poco a Poco

Is that our house above the woman on the right? Next block up???

Every time I grab a paint brush to touch up our Oliva house the neighbor smiles knowingly and says, “Poco a poco!” Donna thinks it’s because my projects cause his wife, Maria, to get after him. It could be, but I don’t think Antonio’s advice is just a method of keeping chores at bay. It’s also a realization that racing to complete every task an old house creates is an exercise in futility.

The test wall on our lower terrace suggests Antonio knows something I don’t. I painted it a year and a half ago and believed I solved the peeling problem. Paint appeared to be sticking to that wall, and I was proud. Then I scraped away a rough spot. Paint started peeling off in sheets. I quickly scraped off everything I could and threw on another coat of paint. The meticulous prep work I engaged in last time didn’t do a damn thing.

“Poco a poco!” has me keeping paint brushes in the freezer. There’s exterior patching compound above the washing machine. Every color of paint I need is stored on top of Donna’s closet. When the mood strikes me I patch walls and paint for ten minutes. So far that’s keeping me even.

There was some catch up though. You can’t leave a Spanish house alone for a year and a half and expect to find everything just as you left it. Someone wrote Indira’s name on the front of our house. Someone else bounced a soccer ball against the wall until the paint wore off. Those two things weren’t going to wait. The outside of the house got another coat of paint. Eventually I tackled the rest of the terrace walls. I’ll give them nine months, and then have another go.

Some jobs require expert labor. When the hot water heater died we called Mi Electro. They replaced it with a larger one. The electrician had to beef up a hollow brick wall with strips of metal. I got to paint and patch that wall again. Longer showers are worth a little bit of work.

Bringing in Oscar and his work crew was always on our agenda. They did an impressive job on our house’s exterior. We’d been creating a job list for them for quite awhile. The back wall in our atrium was slowly crumbling. Adding a shelf in the atrium below the kitchen window would create a pass through for food and drinks. Adding a railing on our interior stairs was deemed necessary. It’s a steep narrow passage. This exchange with my daughter, Alyssa, was typical, “Dad, I was trying not to ask, but you are putting a railing in the stairway aren’t you?” (Honey, that wasn’t really a question.) Then there was the spectacular first step into the main bathroom.

The step was too short. Overshooting it meant launching yourself into the bathroom and desperately trying to regain balance in midair. At least five people besides myself performed that maneuver. Donna admits to an almost. I am the only one who admits hitting the bathroom floor with both knees and sliding to a stop against the bidet.
“No, I’m fine! I’m fine!!!” “If you say so, but I doubt it.”

The thing about Oscar and his crew is that there is no ‘Poco a poco.’ There is a brief consultation and then half a wall gets carried out to the streets in buckets before 10 AM. Cement is spread. Plaster is applied. A marble shelf is installed. A new bathroom step is built, tiled, and grouted. Clean up occurs. Oscar sends the railing guys back to the shop because the railing just isn’t right. It gets installed in a week, and it’s perfect.

Donna will tell you it’s no surprise I have adapted to the ‘Poco a Poco!’ lifestyle so quickly. It’s what I have always done. You could ask my sister, Martha. At home it gets called procrastinating and puttering. Of course at home we like to believe “putting your nose to the grindstone” improves your looks and sense of smell. It does neither, and lacks the measured dignity of moving so deliberately it makes all the rush around types want to scream. Sometimes they do, but in the long run it has never made me move any faster. ‘Poco a poco!’ suits me fine.

Don’t Hurry, Be Happy!

Call it Romantic

It isn’t necessary to travel halfway around the world to find magic. It helps though. Placing the familiar in the middle of foreign creates the soft lighting old cell phones capture. Somehow we managed that trick. Of course it would be easy to credit the Negroni served in a fish bowl with one ice cube for the mood…that wasn’t it.

The restaurant we were headed to was closed. Mondays and Tuesdays are days off for a lot of Valencia’s restaurant workers. That means if a restaurant is open it’s fully booked. Reservations would have been a good idea. We passed a well-rated place a couple of blocks from our apartment, and then circled back. It was either going to be Restaurante Shiraz, or takeaway pizza from the Italian restaurant below our place.

After consulting with Restaurante Shiraz’s staff we were shown an outside table with one chair. Another chair was found and brought over. This was followed by an apology for what was going to be slow service. The party of nine seated next to us had booked a tasting menu with elaborate wine pairings. Our second thoughts were interrupted by the waiter asking what we wanted to drink.

Slow service isn’t typically promised right up front. It’s usually something you discover after a long wait. When it is promised and a waiter actually shows up at your table, it makes sense to be decisive. I ordered two Negronis.

A Negroni is a good drink to mull over a menu with. I’ve had them served in Cocktail glasses, a teacup, jelly jars, and Old Fashioned glasses. The fish bowl sized glass was unexpected. The single ice cube looked lonely. We asked for more ice. It arrived in minutes. This was slow service I could get used to.

When the staff member running the front of the house came around to take our dinner order she brought a bowl of hummus and pita bread. We ordered the Pear and Gorgonzola salad, Bottarga Spaghetti, and a swordfish pasta dish and settled in for the wait.

It was a great wait. The waiter gave elaborate dissertations on the wines he was serving. It was all Spanish, but I got enough to know he was talking about each wine’s country and region of origin, the barreling process, and the type of cork used. Down at the end of the street buskers were performing Spanish versions of Chuck Berry songs. A group of young women was clapping along flamenco style and dancing. The salad arrived. We had barely touched our Negronis.

As our main courses arrived the party of nine broke into song. It seemed they were celebrating a special Saint’s Day. The streets in Spain tell you there are a lot of saints. The waiter said something that sounded like St. Ricci. I looked it up. It wasn’t her day.

Donna was fascinated by the wine presentations. When a heavily praised wine was served, tasted, and applauded Donna asked the waiter if she could get the name of the wine. He brought it to our table so we could take its picture. The gentleman at the head of the table insisted we taste it. Glasses were brought. The wine was poured. It was delicious.

We thanked the gentleman, and the celebrants. Then the waiter brought the bottle back as a gift from the table. It was a 2013 Malbec from Argentina. It paired nicely with the homemade brownie and ice cream Donna ordered for dessert.

At the end of the meal we thanked everyone again. They responded with a warm and genuine welcome to Spain. It was a celebration of good health and St. Catherine de Ricci. St. Catherine is the Patron Saint of fighting against illness, and of the sick. With Spain cautiously opening up after the pandemic it was a fitting celebration. In a very Spanish way good fortune was being acknowledged and shared.

On the way home I took photos of graffiti. One piece exhorted women to never apologize for being powerful. Others represented a communal process. As we turned down the street to our apartment several women were taking turns showing off their skateboard skills. Somehow all the evening’s random events felt inevitable. We kissed on the doorstep. Call it romantic!

July’s Apartment: Valencia

Our plan to rent a bolt hole in Valencia for a year was put on one our back burners. Renting an apartment in Valencia for a month was the consolation prize. Oliva is still home, but it was always meant to be a comfortable place to begin our explorations.

The question always comes down to, “Why?” Strip away all the rationales and it’s, “That’s what we do.” A change of venue might change the nuances of an act, but it doesn’t change the performers. Our unspoken motto is, “If you want to keep moving, you have to keep moving.”

July’s apartment is a five minute walk from Valencia’s world renowned Central Market. We have already scoped out a bakery that makes the bread I’ve been looking for. We have never gone wrong at any of the produce stalls.

Donna found a gourmet shop on the way to the market. It carries several dozen varieties of olive oil. A bottle of spicy extra-virgin Cornicabra now graces our kitchen counter.

My personal quest was for a bottle of hot sauce to doctor up any paella I am persuaded to try. This is a horrifying notion to Spaniards. Even 5th graders I met were shocked by the notion that paella could be improved with a little heat. I was assured by a South American stall owner that a bottle stuffed with Malagueta peppers from Brazil would do the trick.

Valencian Restaurants:

We have favorite restaurants in Valencia. They are tried and true, but adding to our list is part of the quest. It might be the real quest. You can get me to go to a museum once. I am usually ready to find an exit half way through. A restaurant? If we find a good one I want to go again tomorrow, and I’ll stay for dessert!

We used to make fun of El Encuentro’s sign. It says the restaurant has been around since 1994. That’s a blink at our age. Pre-COVID we ate at the bar and watched the finishing touches being put on everything coming out of the kitchen. That experience made believers out of us.

We tend to show up at lunch when the restaurant caters to the business crowd. Drinks are perfectly made, and the food is good enough to let a client know you mean business. Take the waiter’s suggestions seriously.

A few years ago the concierge at a fancy hotel we lucked into gave us a handwritten list of restaurant recommendations. He let us know his list wouldn’t help us find tourist fare.

La Salvaora was fully booked the first few times we tried make reservations. Our persistence paid off. When you wake up in the morning wanting another bite of last night’s meal, you know you have been fed well. The avocado ceviche we ordered on one of our return visits has inspired several dishes in our home kitchen. Even departures from the original are getting encores.

The Plaza de La Virgin in Valencia is full of frozen food restaurants that cater to tourist crowds. Saora’s tables are always reserved in advance. That’s the first hint that this place serves food that’s a cut above the rest. If you are in the mood to people watch in a historic location, Saora is your best bet.

Kukla was an accidental find. We just finished viewing an art exhibition at the Carme Contemporary Culture Center (highly recommended, air conditioned, & free) and it was 90 degrees outside. We turned a corner and Kukla looked inviting. All of the outdoor tables had toy animals with notes that had someone’s name on them. An inside table next to an open window was available.

Kukla’s vermouth is house made. The falafel took me back to my University of Washington days when Cedars of Lebanon first opened on the Ave. It’s tough to beat your first falafel. I’ve had quite a few that brag about being the world’s best. Kukla’s and one from a hole in the wall in Barcelona are better. It’s like Texas BBQ though. The debates are fierce. I know for certain we are going back to Kukla tomorrow. Donna swears their eggplant sandwich is the best she’s ever had!

Clochinas are only available from May through August. They are small firm fleshed mussels that pack a briny punch. Our preference is for broth that’s rounded out with enough garlic to keep vampires at a safe distance. We order clochinas every chance we get.

At this writing the clochinas at Palacio de la Bellota are the standouts. Eating the mussels is only part of the experience. Sopping the broth up with bread is the real test for me. Three fist pumps is my highest score so far. The broth at Palacio de la Bellota was on the verge of earning four. If bread had been served at the same time the mussels were, earning four fist pumps would have been a breeze.

La Pilareta is known for its clochinas. On crowded evenings boxes are supplied for customers to chuck their shells into. La Pilareta’s mussels delivered a walloping dose of brine. Garlic would have smoothed out that wallop. The paprika in the broth was too faint to counteract the Mediterranean’s saltiness.

El Encuentro’s clochinas balanced the flavors of garlic, salt, lemon, and mussels. Nothing overpowered the dish. Bread was a timely and pleasant accompaniment, but it wasn’t necessary. Scooping up the broth with a spoon, mussel shell, or bread all worked fine. I wound up giving their preparation two fist pumps, and that’s probably not fair. I can actually remember what their mussels tasted like. It’s just tough to beat Bellota’s broth!

And the winner is yet to be determined!

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.