Saturday, June 30, 2007
I say “packing,” and not just packing, for this is a different beast entirely. Because we don’t yet know how long we’ll be staying, we’re taking only the bare minimum—I’ve packed only my favorite summer things, a few books that top my to-read list, the pile of new strappy shoes I’ve bought over the past two weeks (shopping in dollars again is wonderful—no denying that). I’m packing up the rest, all the other clothes and books and stuff I had with me in Spain, but I’m packing it to leave behind; it will all join my other boxes of stuff in my parents’ attic. All my nice things—a black dress I love (but there’s no occasion for it; it stays behind); my favorite cowboy boots (who knows where we’ll be come fall?); the books I’d love to just have on a bookshelf; the nice kitchen things I didn’t throw out when I left Brooklyn—keep accumulating just outside the boundaries of my life. And once again I must whittle down my must-take-with-me’s to the two bags I’m allowed to check on the plane.
We seem to be refining our ability to live out of suitcases; it’s become a kind of art form. Yet I cannot stress the depth of my desire to have all my things in one place—summer clothes, winter clothes, books to read, books long read, bowls and plates, my deluxe Scrabble board, all of them in their own right spot, suitcases shoved into closets or under beds, empty, awaiting their next vacation. Andrew doesn’t share this urgency; he’s content enough with the knowledge that it will happen one of these days. But now that I’m back in the U.S., I’m done with suitcases. I’m done with carefully labeling boxes and hauling them to the attic. I can live without most things if it means I get to live in Spain; living without, say, a tape dispenser or stapler or my fabulous card catalog is perfectly palatable when the trade-off is so glamorous and life-changing and fun. But for me the nomadic lifestyle has its time and place. And this, to be sure, is not it.
Despite my frustration with not having a real home base, I am truly excited to be going to California. We’re westward bound…
Friday, June 29, 2007
I have absolutely no image in my mind about what our life there will be like. I know we'll have a car (from where? what kind? how have we managed to buy it?) and I know we'll likely be living in either downtown Sacramento or Davis (can I walk to the grocery store? is there a cafe where I can sit outside? will there be a Target nearby?) in some sort of rented arrangement (will we manage to find something furnished? will we be sleeping on an air mattress? will the apartment be charming or soulless? will there be someplace outside where I can write?). And the city: is there a downtown? are there cafes? are there nice restaurants? is there a nice park? And if we stay--what are property prices like? could we actually buy a house sooner rather than later? We know nothing. Absolutely nothing.
Strangely, however, we're both getting excited. Now that the move is certain (well, at this point it's about 98% certain), the idea of Moving To California has started--just started--to sink in. Sort of. I guess it's more like the idea is brushing the skin, making its presence known gently, waiting patiently for us to have a moment to actually realize what we're doing. Moving West. We can visit Alaska, Hawaii, Reno, San Francisco, wine country, Seattle. I'll swim in the Pacific for the first time. We'll be earning money again, cooking dinner again, reassembling some semblance of a regular life. It's a nice idea. We're both ready, I think, to get the next stage started. And it will start--how did this happen?--in the West.
We leave in three days.
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
The moody sadness that seemed inevitable has actually been kept at bay by our wedding. Who knew there could be so many details to take care of? Every element—the invitations, the cake, the centerpieces—require a huge roster of decisions. Planning this is time-consuming, to say the least, which means there’s very little time to think about the very big, otherwise overwhelming things that are happening right now. For example, we’re homeless. Our winter clothes and many of our books are in Jacksonville. Our summer clothes and other books, as well as our sheep’s pelt from Romania and our Moroccan ottoman and sundry other objects, are in Connellsville. I, right now, am in Connellsville; Andrew, as of this morning, is in Jacksonville. We have no mailing address, no home base. The florist, the caterer, everyone asks us where we’re from, and we hem and haw and have no answer.
Secondly, we’re moving to California in six days. It’s almost certain now (though we still don’t have plane tickets). This is a huge move. Not as big as moving to Europe; but big in a different way, since this could turn out to be very long-term. Moving there is full of big undertakings—finding an apartment, buying a car. To my surprise, the prospect of California has grown more attractive now that it’s had a little time to settle in; nonetheless, it’s all too much to think about. Much too much.
Fortunately, there’s plenty of other things to occupy my mind. There was the dress search, for starter’s. I’d looked at piles of bridal magazines and had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted, so I was a more or less decisive bride, dismissing the 50 or so dresses I tried on with relative ease until finally finding the One. There is the quest for the perfect envelope liner for our invitations. There is the quest for the perfect ribbon with which to tie the favors. And on and on. It is definitely fun to plan the big day—but more so now that most of our decisions have been made. And it would be even more fun if I wasn’t trying to make notes and organize papers while squeezing between suitcases, balancing my computer on the rocking chair in the living room, searching for things that have become buried underneath the unwieldy piles that constitute my life at this point. My greatest wishes right now are very simple: clothes in drawers; a broad, empty surface on which to organize and work. What bliss!
Six more days of life on (well, near) the East Coast. Then I’ll be skipping town again.
Thursday, June 14, 2007
Indeed, it was a brand-new life. Long days in the city while Andrew was in class, long walks around Montjuic and then, when we moved in October, down Passeig de Gracia and La Rambla. Those walks made me love Barcelona. For the first time in what seemed like forever I felt inspired, finally in touch with that creative place that had seemed so walled off for so long; I’ve written 170 pages of a novel this year, and I think I have the city to thank. And the traveling: Andrew and I traveled determinedly, insatiably, at least once a month and sometimes twice. Venice. Romania. Southern Spain. My solo trips to Krakow and Galway and Edinburgh. I felt like I was seeing the world, and soaking in it by living here—yet tonight, our last night in Spain, it’s depressingly clear how much more there is to see, how many more places there are to go, and how different our traveling experiences will be from now on since we’ll be so much farther away.
It’s finally sunk in. It hadn’t, quite, until now; I’m not sure why. I think it’s because we have no next destination—we’re still in limbo, waiting to figure out where we’ll be in two weeks, three. I don’t have a next-home, a next-flight, in my mind, and so it has felt like Barcelona is still where we belong. It’s hard to feel like you’re leaving when there’s no clear place you’re leaving to. Yet here we are, our last night in Spain. Our apartment is bare and clean. Our luggage is lined up by the door, a small fortune in overweight and excess bags. This morning we hauled several bags of giveaway clothes to a Salvation Army, where the man on duty gave us the “What are these crazy Americans doing?” look that we’ve gotten to know well. We put a box marked “Gratis!” in our hallway; the porteria (doorlady) found this hilarious, yet she snapped up several books immediately. We loaded down a Spanish friend with our kitchenware and other things; he was horrified that we were giving so much away. Take them, we kept urging. Or else they’re going by the curb.
The things we got rid of didn’t mean very much to us, but it still felt sad to clear out our apartment this way. It may be a bit on the shabby side, with a truly awful bathroom and inadequate kitchen, but this apartment has been a place we’ve loved. It felt like home when we walked in, with its tiled floors and molded ceilings, and the terrace—the terrace has been a little oasis, a quiet nook of our own. This is a place that I’ll feel, rather than remember. I’m actually not quite sure how to leave it behind.
We managed to do a few nice things today even amidst the packing madness. We left the packing behind to have pots of mussels for lunch, then headed once more to the beach. In a few minutes, we’re going to dinner at the Bodegueta, our favorite tapas restaurant. It’s a nice place, with tables on the center walkway on the Rambla de Catalunya, and the food is good. But we chose this restaurant as our final dinner because it was where we had our very first Spanish meal together two years ago, when Andrew moved to Barcelona and I came with him for a week to help him settle in. It was my first-ever meal in Spain, and though I certainly hope it will not be my last, it will be the last for a while.
I am so very, very sad. In many ways, we are ready to go, having come to a natural end to our time here. But it is sad. So very sad. I have loved Barcelona. I have loved living here. I have loved everything about this year, about Spain, about this stolen year outside of normal life. And now it is over. The next steps we’re taking will be good no matter where we are; we’re making our first move together as a couple. But it is not easy to think about tomorrow, flying back on a one-way ticket that will take us a world away from La Pedrera, the sea, claras on our terrace.
We’ve had a good run. And we’ll be back; this is a country we love, a place that feels like home. But for now—this is goodbye, Spain, goodbye.
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
I want to go back to the playa.
Some things are easy to leave behind. Both of us have officially worn out our clothes; as I tossed things into the give-away pile, it was surprising to see how many things I’ve had for upwards of three years. Many things have holes. We are both kind of a sorry sight right now, in desperate need of a shopping trip. Other things are harder to part with, yet it’s necessary: some books, my plants (obviously), some wine glasses I like.
There is definitely something healthy and lightening about making a clean sweep of things every year or so—this is the second time within eighteen months that I’ve pretty much gotten down to zero. It’s satisfying, in a way. But it will be a happy day once all of our books are actually on bookshelves, once we can buy things without the idea that we’ll just be getting rid of them in a couple of months, once we can officially say we will never buy the same Ikea furniture for a second or third time, only to sell it and rebuy it all over again. For now, though, we’re mobile enough to get ourselves back to the U.S. with only a few extra bags to weigh us down. This time, we’ll be those annoying people at the airport tying up the line at the check-in counter, but ah well.
More packing remains.
And today—Wednesday—is packing day. There is so much to do—I feel almost paralyzed by it—and after today the departure is going to be so much more real. At least a messy, strewn apartment looks lived in. A packed-up apartment just looks sad. I actually feel sick. The horrible, hollow feeling of imminent departure has set in, and I feel uncomfortably between places, ghostlike. Perhaps we can put this off for another day and just go to the beach again. Perhaps we can put this off for good and just stay.
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
All this stress is fueling our appetites. Yesterday, Monday, we had lunch at a place we’ve been wanting to try since we moved to this apartment—Bar Mut. It’s just a block up from us, and we’d read about it in the New York Times. It’s a tiny place with an eclectic assortment of seating; there are even two chairs by a piano, with the covered keys serving as the table. They have a variety of tapas and raciones. Andrew and I had gazpacho; small pieces of steak with cheese and a date on each slice; and bites of salmon each draped with a ribbon of mango, a purple flower petal, and three salty orange fish eggs. Everything was delicious, though the presentation was a bit more precious than we generally like—we’re both fans of street food, local places, basic regional dishes, simple, good food.
For dinner, we went to Le Relais de Venice—one of our favorite restaurants in Barcelona (with outposts in London and Paris as well), a birthday gift from Andrew’s parents. Le Relais is a great place. There’s no menu—the only thing they serve is steak frites. When you go in, the only question you’re asked is how you’d like your meat cooked, and what you’d like to drink. We quickly ordered a bottle of wine (Andrew had seemingly broken our only remaining clothes rack right before we left, sending all our hanging clothes sliding to a pile on the floor; stress was at a peak). Then the meal began. The first course: a salad with a mustard vinaigrette and walnuts. And then the steak and frites, perfectly prepared, absolutely delicious. But here’s the best thing about Le Relais: just when you start getting sad that you’re almost finished eating, you’re given another serving of steak and fresh, crispy frites. While you eat the first half, they keep the second half warming on a tray nearby. It’s really the best part, that piping-hot second serving.
For dessert we had a fabulous cheese plate. Amazing, generous portions of cheese. Cheese for me is a true comfort food, with calming qualities that even rival wine. We finished the meal with chocolate-drenched profiteroles. Then we came home to our chaotic mess of an apartment. Just a few days to go…
Monday, June 11, 2007
We had dinner at the Ultimo Agave, a Mexican restaurant we like (nearly impossible to find good Mexican food in Spain) and had to sadly say goodbye to it when we left.
Things are getting very sad. But it’s actually an unstable combination of sad and hectic, both of us on edge in our own ways. I cope with hectic chaos by organizing whatever I can, in whatever way I can; yesterday that entailed separating and counting all our loose change, as well as tearing out blank sheets from a few notebooks so I could put them in the recycling bag. Very useful, I know. Andrew copes sometimes by organizing my organization; yesterday, he was intent on sweeping up the loose bits of paper that fluttered to the ground as I tore out the notebook pages. It’s hard for both of us to have things in this quasi-state; we’re ready now to just do it, to get packed up, to corral things into shape and see where we stand. We’re in the final week.
Sunday, June 10, 2007
Last night, we watched a Barcelona soccer match at a bar—our last one. The Spanish league championships will continue, but we’ll have to read about the matches online. This is very sad. Afterwards, we played poker at our apartment with a friend, then went to the local xurreria for a snack—fries and a hot dog wrapped in a churro (couldn’t resist trying this strange combination).
The calm pleasantness of the day belies the utter chaos we’re in right now. Rather than hone in on a decision, we’re adding options every day; we’ve gone from being fairly certain we’re moving to CA to being not certain at all. Now a summer in Barcelona (perhaps it’s not our last Saturday after all), NYC, and London are all on the table as well; and though NH is a lesser possibility, I hesitate to delete it from the list completely. This week will be telling. At least at this point we can go ahead and sell our stuff—we won’t be staying in Barcelona, even if we wind up tacking on another month in a sublet somewhere.
Things in the apartment are getting strange and sparse. We’ve sold our bed, and it will be gone tomorrow, leaving us with only a mattress on the floor for the last four nights. We’re running out of food, but we don’t want to buy too much at the grocery store since we know we’ll be going out a lot this week; last night, my dinner consisted of part of a frozen pizza, far too many olives, French fries, and a bit of that churro-wrapped hot dog. And we’re also running out of basic stuff—sunscreen, lotion, shampoo, coffee—at just the wrong time. This last week is a limbo week in all regards.
We’re flying to Pennsylvania on Friday—though perhaps it will be I, not we; who knows—and we have no further tickets from there. A decision of some kind has to be made by July 2, at which point we’ll have to move to CA if nothing else has really solidified. I really feel like on July 2 I’m going to be at Pittsburgh airport, at the ticket-purchasing counter, waiting for a phone call from Andrew—who knows where he’ll be?—telling me what ticket to buy. It’s not too far-fetched to imagine that this could come down to a last-second decision, plane tickets purchased and cancelled right and left.
Thursday, June 07, 2007
In keeping with our chaotic mezcla of options and scenarios, we planned the trip haphazardly. Andrew had rented a car last week, but we hadn’t really decided whether or not we’d go; and since we spent Saturday and much of Sunday on the Costa Brava, we were still debating Sunday night about whether we should just cancel the reservation. Monday morning, though, we decided to do it. We got the car, threw some things in the trunk, and set out for San Sebastian, with only the Avis map—a colorful map of all the roads and highways in Spain, with no indication whatsoever about what the names and numbers of those roads might be—to guide us.
We took the long way. As we meandered north, the scenery was some of the most beautiful I’ve seen in Spain—jagged, rocky mountains; lush fields full of sheep and cows; hills covered with trees in every imaginable shade of green. Just north of Huesca, we drove along the Río Aragón and the Embalse de Yesa (a big lake)—a milky turquoise, almost chemical, and stunning when set against the green trees and the vibrant red patches of poppies growing along the roadside.
We reached San Sebastian in the very late afternoon and parked next to a sea wall just outside the old town. Incredible: the ocean looked darker here than I’ve ever seen it before, nearly black as it crashed against the rocks. It was cold and misty, chilly enough for a wool sweater and coat; the seaside buildings were all peeling in that seaside sort of way. We hadn’t booked a hotel, so we found a café and started calling a few places, eventually finding a room in a pension in the old part of town.
There’s not much to do in San Sebastian except enjoy the seaside prettiness and the plentiful pintxos—baguette rounds topped with every manner of seafood, salad, jamon, and tortilla; it’s the Basque form of tapas. We walked along the beach; the view was beautiful, and the pretty buildings seemed much more French than Spanish. We spent the evening strolling from one bar to another, eating a few pintxos and having a glass of txacoli (the local white wine) at each. Unfortunately, we had a hard time sleeping off the wine: our pension, though a steal at 35 euros per night, was neither comfortable nor quiet, as the bed was very small and lumpy and our room was right above a bar.
In the morning, bleary-eyed, we set out for Bilbao to see the Guggenheim. The museum is the city’s focal point—not least because it’s flanked by Puppy, the enormous Jeff Koons sculpture of a puppy made out of live flowering plants. Puppy spent a summer in the plaza of Rockefeller Center—I saw it during one of my first years in NYC—and it was fun to see it here, against the curving titanium backdrop of the Gugg. The reason to go to the museum is the building itself, not necessarily the art. We saw the permanent Richard Serra installation of gigantic steel elipses and spirals, and a temporary exhibition of Amsel Kiefer, a German artist, neither of which was particularly thrilling; but the building is breathtaking. The gallery spaces are huge and bright, and the outdoor spaces are surreal, backed by that titanium “skin.”
The lengthy discussion about the building that we listened to on our audio guide informed us that Frank Gehry has always been inspired by fish, and that the Guggenheim is itself fishlike, with the titanium fish-scales. Gehry, according to the speaker, has been fascinated by fish since childhood, when his mother would bring a carp home for dinner and Gehry would play with the carp in the bathtub before it was cooked. This was all very strange, of course, especially since this explanation was given in the clear, deadpan, superbly enunciated English of the audio guide speaker. Stranger still was the bit we listened to outside, gazing at the building, when the speaker instructed us to touch the titanium skin and imagine Gehry stroking the scales of the carp in the bathtub. This was definitely Batllo-esque in its reverence and hyperbole.
Bilbao itself was a pleasant surprise, full of lovely tree-lined streets, fountains, and a pretty (though very quiet) old town; we’d heard there wasn’t much reason to visit besides the museum, but we left feeling like we’d be happy spending a night there.
From Bilbao, we headed back to the coast to do a little Basque exploration. A Basque friend of Andrew’s had recommended a few villages to visit, and so we set out with no real plan other than to stop in one or two of these and see what there was to see. This drive took us into truly remote areas of the Basque Country—the towns we saw were little more than a few streets set around a small stretch of sand, flanked by rocky mountainsides and deep green forests. The coastal road was dramatic, narrow and curving, the ocean stretching out dark and choppy beside us. We stopped a few times along the way to admire the view—it was so quiet, so peaceful. Another world. We stopped in Bakio; tried to stop in Bermeo and Mundaka but were thwarted by lack of parking; and drove through Guernica, a small, pretty town that seems somehow haunted by its history, regardless of the sun and the charming-looking shops and the bright geraniums spilling from window boxes.
We’d planned to return to San Sebastian for our second night, but instead we decided to head to Getaria, a tiny seaside town that, I realize now, isn’t on any of our maps. Getaria—and the Saiaz Getaria Hotel on the harbor—had been recommended by a couple of Andrew’s friends; Andrew called and booked a room, both of us reluctantly resigned to the fact that we weren’t up to roughing it in another pension. Getaria was a lovely way to end our day of Basque exploration. The hotel was perfectly charming, with wooden beams in the ceiling, pretty antique furniture, a view of the water, and even chenille blankets at the foot of the bed. We had dinner at the Mayflower, a restaurant overlooking the harbor, where we sat outside and had roasted turbot—a whole fish, roasted outside on a large parradilla (an outdoor grill that most of the restaurants in Getaria seemed to have). When diners at the Mayflower ordered their fish, a cook would head inside and reemerge with the fish hanging by their mouths from his fingers. Our fish soup, fried calamari, and roasted turbot were all delicious. There’s something restorative about eating fresh fish and drinking wine by the harbor of a small Basque town; real life seemed far away.
I paid for dinner with my credit card, and when the waiter brought the slip for me to sign he said, “You are Spanish, yes?” I said no. “But your name is Spanish,” he said. I agreed that Orlando is Spanish. “You are a New Yorker?” he asked; I’d handed him my driver’s license along with the credit card. I said yes, that I’d lived in Brooklyn. “Paul Auster lives in Brooklyn,” he said. “I love Paul Auster. I love New York. I’ve been there three times; I will go again with my wife.” I asked what his favorite Paul Auster book was; he said Moon Palace. I thought about the waterstained, jacketless copy I have in my boxes at home and felt kind of amazed at how the tiny threads of people’s lives can flutter together like this, just briefly—a few words exchanged about a much-loved distant city, a favorite book.
After waking up to church bells in Getaria, we hit the road again, in the direction of home—with a couple of stops planned for along the way. First, we stopped in Pamplona—home of the running of the bulls and famous Hemingway stomping ground. Sanfermin—the running of the bulls festival—is supposed to be absolute madness, so it was a pleasant surprise to see that Pamplona is actually a lovely little town, and very quiet on an ordinary Wednesday afternoon. The bulls’ running route is clearly marked, and we walked along it, seeing where the run begins and ends. The run is shorter than I imagined it, and the streets are so narrow that it’s hard to believe that onlookers and runners and bulls can fit.
Here, unlike in the Basque Country, the sun was hot, and Pamplona felt quintessentially Spanish with its large bull ring, cobbled streets, and wide, dusty avenues. We had a bite to eat at a café, and from the window we spotted a few pilgrims with bandaged feet and scallop shells on their backpacks—Pamplona is on the Camino de Santiago.
The afternoon was waning; we left Pamplona and drove for another hour or two, then made a final stop in Tudela, a small, surprisingly chic little town in the Navarra region. It was siesta time, so there was no one on the streets and all the shops were closed up tight; but we had a drink on the main square, where we saw several storks' nests tucked into the roof of the nearby cathedral, and wandered around just a bit, enough to get the sense that this would be a lovely place to visit again, if we happen to find ourselves out on the road.
And so our Trip of Denial and Rebellion came to an end; the past three days were a little respite from the world we’re about to face. Indeed, the Basque Country seems like a different country from the Spain we’d left behind (it is of course home to ETA, which operates on just that principle), with its lush, hilly landscape and its strange, unpronounceable language full of z’s, x’s, and k’s. The language alone is intriguing; it has no identifiable linguistic origins. Andalucía, Catalonia, the País Vasco—I’m continually amazed by how vastly different the regions of Spain are from one another. It was one of our reasons for making the trip—to get to know a part of Spain neither of us had seen before. And now…and now. The end begins.
Sunday, June 03, 2007
Yesterday, we avoided all thoughts of packing and plans and took a train up the Costa Brava to a small town called Flaça, about an hour north of Girona. We’d been invited to stay the night at the seaside home of a married couple (the husband was a classmate of Andrew’s); he’s Swiss-German, she’s Catalan and six months pregnant. We arrived Saturday afternoon, and, after enjoying the view of the sea from their terrace, we drove to an absolutely beautiful coastal town called Calella de Parafrugell, full of hills and flowers and white-washed homes. There we met a Portuguese couple (another MBA friend, the wife also six months pregnant) for lunch at Tragamar, a lovely seafood restaurant overlooking the sea. It was an amazing meal: almejas (clams), anchovies and red peppers on toast, and a delicious rice stew full of mussels and squid and langostines and shrimp (this stew was different, we were told, from paella, in that it’s more liquidy). Delicious, all of it, and pleasant to drink wine and have a leisurely meal in a sunny room, the sea washing up on the sand right outside.
Later, we took a walk on the beach, though it was so windy that the sand pelted our ankles painfully.
Today, before we caught a train back to Barcelona, we visited Empúries, an extensive site of Greek and Roman ruins, with some Roman mosaic tiling amazingly in tact. Again, lovely to wander around the ruins in the sun, the sea within sight between the various Roman columns.
Almejas…Roman ruins…Two weeks. An apartment still full of things, a million decisions to make, a veritable wheelbarrow full of things to do before we leave. There's nothing to do now but...take another trip. We're off tomorrow to the Basque country, determined to squeeze the very last drops from our time in Spain.