Six months after the fall when I fractured my hip, I headed to Spain. In Albuquerque, the Delta personnel were very attentive and I got to enter the plane second as a slow passenger. Of course I had pulled out my new portable cane and leaned on it from time to time. The Atlanta personnel were more harried and the passengers more hurried. A large family with kids ranging from 12 to 20 insisted on boarding first. I followed them and although I was told someone would help me with my suitcase, it was a passenger who heaved it into the overhead bin so that the other passengers could get to their seats.
My seat mate was a recently retired Spanish teacher from Milwaukee. Her husband was working in Germany and they were meeting in Barcelona for a long weekend. The time went fast chatting and the meal, a shrimp salad, was surprisingly good. The comfort seats don´t seem to have as much room as several years ago. The 20 year olds on the family cruise bounced around and moved the seat back and forth. They reminded me of Arabs in the Middle East back in the 50s who had never travelled in a plane before who would not have been so petulant when asked to be more considerate.
In Barcelona I was grateful for the wheelchair as we zipped past the passport control areas and out to the coffee bar. After my second breakfast, I explored the bus area. I asked the driver of the bus I would take two hours later where to buy the tickets since he was not selling them and he pointed to an area about 30 feet away. It was an automatic ticket machine which would not accept my credit card without a code from the Hife bus line. The bus had already pulled out.
Two hours later the bus returned, but I could not buy the ticket from him. Instead I would buy it from the bus which comes from Barcelona and picks up the airport passengers waiting on the side of the highway. Three and a half hours later I arrived in Benicarló after changing in Amposta at the north end of the Delta del Ebro. We drove through Sant Carles de la Rápita, stopping several times to let passengers on and off the bus, and then at the bus stop in Vinaròs. From my house in Albuquerque to my house in Càlig it was 28 hours.
What could be better than suquet de peix next to the Mediterranean? Friends Carolina Yahne and Bill Zimmer from Albuquerque invite d Fabián Armijo and myself for lunch at Willy’s, an appropriately rustic restaurant on a pebble beach north of Benicarlò.
After a few weeks of cloudy weather, the sun shone brightly temperature in the mid-70s. The sea reflected the clear blue sky, stretching endlessly to the horizon. We could glimpse Peñíscola resting on its rocky base behind us and in front was the mountain called Montsía dividing Cataluña and Valencia, rising up like the in background of a Japanese painting.
The meal began with a Catalan salad with many kinds of sausages and tomatoes and olives, followed by the Suquet with white fish, potatoes and mussels. We ate this Catalan fish dish cooked slowly in a saffron (or tumeric) sauce accompanied with a smooth house white wine. For dessert we had large bowls of crema catalana, a rich custard with a layer of burnt sugar on top.
Afterwards Fabián and I changed into bathing suits and swam in the sea and Carolina walked along the edge. After almost three hours by the sea, we left relaxed and refreshed with memories to calm us in more pressured moments.
I ended last summer’s travel blog writing about the frustrations of using the internet in Spain. This summer began on the same note. Fabián and Martha went to the Cultural Center in Càlig where now there are only two functioning computers. Fortunately, Martha can bring her own and connect. The table is a little high and the wrists become strained after awhile. One is able to visit with people coming to meetings in the Center and with the woman who runs the library-computer center (?). Her son still likes to run around the room with his friends. Fabián easily made friends with the Arab kids who hang out and read or use the computers. One day he even watched stray dogs run around the tables. Somebody asked him if they were his.
When the center is closed (which is all day and weekends), we went to internet cafes in Benicarlo and Vinaros. The coffee is usually good in these places, but the music caters to a younger crowd. Sometimes they are there enjoying being with their friends.
Martha found it difficult to concentrate in these situations and explored other options. The Orange modem from last year was still available for daily or monthly use, but it is slower than the latest dial up she used to use. A friend mentioned Movistar (what used to be Telefonica, the national Spanish phone company). The Movistar cell phone does work in the house, so I contracted for the Movistar. Now if I can get out of it after only a month! However, for the moment it is great and I can even use Skype.
Contrary to most of Spain in yesterday’s elections, Càlig voted in a Socialist mayor, the wife of the electrician who installed the electricity in my house 31 years ago. (He was 16 then.) Ernestina has been the spokesperson for the PSOE (Partido Socialista de Obreros Españoles) for the last four years and has learned to defend herself and her party well. Càlig had Socialist mayors since 1979 until 2007 when the former principal of the school, a member of the Partido Popular, won. He set about trying to undo what the Socialist mayors had done over all those years. To save water, he managed to get rid of lots of flowers and trees that made Càlig a much more attractive village. The last Socialist mayor had a green thumb and I’m certain that something inside him died each time he saw his plants disappear. Since the PP mayor had made many enemies among the different groups in Càlig, like the band and the folk dancers, he received fewer votes. There were lots of other reasons they have been told to me but I won;t go into them all. They now have four seats on the town council. The third party of ecologists, idealists, kept their one seat on the town council. Someone told me that they discredited themselves somewhat because they have several members who are ardent hunters. The Socialists have 6 seats.. and would have had seven, but were 4 votes short. The more ardent members were lamenting that certain people they knew hadn’t voted. We dropped by the celebration afterwards in the Cultural Center where the voting was held. Champagne and goodies for all among the hugs, kisses, tears of joy. It seemed like the Càlig I had known in the 80s at the beginning of the Socialist reign. Let’s see if this spirit can last.
La nueva alcaldesa
For a few years I had dial-up internet in Càlig until I asked for a new phone and then internet service mysteriously disappeared. No explanation was given although I called repeatedly for a few weeks. I resigned myself to nightly visits to the Cultural Center to work on PCs from the 90s for 1 euro an hour. Last year I was able to plug in and use my own computer, but, in July, they had computer classes. There is no internet cafe in Calig and few in nearby towns. At one point I discovered a space in a shopping center with tables and free wifi. The sign is still there but the tables are gone. I began inquiring about portable modems which have gone down in price. The problem is the reception in Càlig is not good and the prices vary for service. I decided on Orange, a French company, because I could get a month for about what I was paying on a daily basis, 35 euros. The modem cost 39 but I reasoned I would have it for other years and in Madrid. The clerk said something about 24 hours.. which I didn’t grasp. When I got home, I couldn’t connect so I called Orange and the voice with a Latin American accent told me I had to pay for the service at the store where I bought it. I go back the next day and the friendly clerk said something about I had 24 hours to buy the service which I did.
It would take up to two hours to see a yahoo message.. and it got slower and slower so I went back to the store several days later. They took the computer and the modem overnight and the following day told me that it wasn’t programmed for Mac although the box clearly said Mac. He worked with someone in Australia and got it set up. 25 euros more. I could now get yahoo in 5 minutes. However after a few days I again had no service. Back to the store and the mild mannered clerk who informed me I hadn’t bought a month’s service rather ten days because I hadn’t called some number when I got home that first day after I paid the 35 euros.
“I told you, ” he said, and it;s in the instructions.”
I said I hadn’t understood (the system more than the Spanish) and hadn’t seen it in the instructions.
I decided against buying more time — I had already spent 100 euros for around 6 days of connections. I am back at the Cultural Center for a euro an hour and wondering what I’ll do next year.
This morning I heard the church bells tolling announcing a death. When I went to the Bar Arayo with two New Mexican friends, my friends from here (Càlig) told me the mother of Mari Carmen, a woman who cleaned for me had died. I recalled how her mother used to sit on the street taking notice of all that happened and barking orders to anyone who would listen. Mari Carmenraised five children in a small house on a narrow street. When they were young, they were always playing in the street and looking into open doors to see what was going on. One daughter, Jessica, excelled in school and went to the University in Barcelona. The funeral was at 11 –in about an hour. “You don;t have to go, Martha,” my friend Maria said. “Just say you didn’t know.”
On the way back to my house, we saw the beginning of the procession. The close relations dressed in black followed the casket up the street toward the church. We left our purchases and went the back way up to the church. The men sat on the right, the women on the left. The priest mentioned the name of the deceased a few times, but spoke more about the cemetery being open all the time, unlike neighboring villages. He also mentioned someone who wanted his ashes left in front of the supermarket so his daughters would remember him several times a week. I was the only one who chuckled. There was mass and communion. Two women took up a small collection. The choir sang beautifully. My friends who are Catholic and Spanish-speaking joined in with the rest of the people. Afterwards the men stood on one side of the door and the women on the other. Mari Carmen and her daughter Jessica thanked me for coming. We left but those who were close to the family followed the hearse to the cemetery and then to the space where the casket was entered. A solemn moment.
Later my friend Ana explained that there was no wake as there used to be. They took the body into the funeral home in a nearby city and placed it in a casket in a cold room. The next morning they returned the casket to the home where the deceased had lived and then the procession began.
In Càlig, a funeral is a time when people of all walks of life and political beliefs come together to show respect for one of their own.
Tuesday has been market day in Cálig for hundreds of years. Women dress up for the occasion and now plan where they will have coffee – before, during, or after shopping. Some days there are more vendors than others, but today was a good day with three different vegetable and fruit stands and probably 7 or 8 for clothing. After a week of travelling, I was ready to stock up on fruit and vegetables. My friend Maria steered me to the “best” one. My eyes bulged at the fresh lettuce – I immediately chose the purplish leaves. Deep red strawberries, bananas from the Canary Islands which seem much richer and firmer than those from South of our border, Bing cherries from a nearby village (where next week end is the feria de la cereza in Salsadella), eggplant, huge red peppers, garlic, onion, yellow potatoes…. I filled my bag so full and so heavy that I had to get the little car. All this for around $10 (8 euros) I returned later on another errand and bought some tasty olives. On the way home I stopped for rice–and a fellow shopper recommended Montsiá. The firmest she said. We use it for paella. I didn;t make paella but did invent a tasty dish of rice, meatballs (already seasoned), eggplant, red pepper and tomoatoes. There have been many changes in Càlig, but market day is always a treat.
There was a time in the late 70s when the pay phones worked too well and international students lined up to call home free or they didn;t work at all. When it was easier to send a telegram than to find a phone that worked. To get a phone installed in a home was almost impossible. I got a phone in my house in Càlig when I was spending a year in the village in 1991-92 by photocopying a letter from the University asking to whom it might concern to assist me in my research. I had asked the University secretary to add a seal with ribbons. I sent the copy with a letter saying I would have to write about the phone company if I couldn’t get a phone. In two weeks I had a phone. I had been told it would be impossible as there were no more free lines that year. I succumbed to prepaid cell phone cards when the pay phones disappeared. I carefully added euros before I left each year so I could keep the same number. When I returned this summer, I learned that the card for Vodaphone was no longer valid and I would need a new one, but the store didn;t have any more cards. “Not until next week,” I was told last Tuesday after waiting in line for an hour. I needed a cell phone for Madrid at that moment. Down the street in another store run by the large department store El Corte Ingles. I did get a more expensive prepaid card from Movistar, owned by Telefonica. I hope I never have to deal with cellphone companies and jet lag at the same time again
I found out today that last winter all prepaid phone card customers had to bring documentation to their cell phone company by a certain date or their card would be invalid. There was a fear of terrorists who used prepaid cards.
Four days in Madrid at the Aparthotel Andromeda on the 7th floor. Lots of space and quiet. An elegant barrio in Madrid. Lots of interesting streets nearby–la plaza de Santa Barbara, Fuencarral, Hortaleza, and Zurbano where I lived as a student in 1961-62. Also good restaurants nearby. The Monet-Abstract Art exhibits at the Thyssen and Caja Madrid are outstanding! Unfortunately they ended yesterday.
I will be in Madrid four days. Hope to visit friends and talk with professors from UNED.