The Weary Pilgrim - Hasta Luego
So it’s time to go home – four months away from my friends, family and pooch is time enough for them to forgive me most of my sins – besides which, I’d kill for a great burger.
Speaking of which, a list of things back home I miss most: decent burgers, decent hot dogs, raisin bran, decent donuts, strangers who pass you in the street and say ‘Hi’, decent cable TV, restaurants that serve dinner at 6PM, and just about anybody who’s reading this. List of things in Valencia I’ll miss the most : – Quiet traffic: it’s very rude to honk your horn – therefore, despite a robust morning commute, the traffic tends to glide around without audible drama. Add to this that most cabs are hybrids, and you get very quiet streets.
– The European double-whammy air-kiss – when you greet a woman, you really do lightly kiss them on both cheeks while holding hands. This makes all women look like they are in an Ingrid Bergman movie, not a bad thing. You keep thinking to yourself, ‘Boy, if the fellas back at the Big Moose Lodge could see me now, …” But they can’t. – The Central Market: long ago when I directed TV commercials, we would talk about Tabletop shoots. This is where you shoot food products close up – the trick is to paint, varnish, and wet down the brightly-lit food. When you walk into the Central Mercado of Valencia, all the booths of fresh vegetables, fruit, fish, and meats look as if they are prepared just like this – but they’re not – they’re just really, really, fresh. And the people who work and shop there are really, really happy. – Slow meals: restaurants don’t turn the tables over – if you have a reservation, the table is yours for the night, and you’re welcome to take your sweet time ordering and eating. Don’t be in a hurry for the check, either – it will come by the next millennium. Maybe. And you are not expected to tip much – 10% is so extravagant, you may be considered vulgar. – People who don’t speak English: I know, I know, this doesn’t make sense, seeing as I don’t speak Spanish. But both Madrid and Barcelona have turned into cities where everybody speaks English, and they have lost a bit of their identities in the process. Valencia is the third largest city in the country, and therefore the last big holdout as far as cultural isolation goes – and I’m all for it. Besides which, you don’t really need to speak Spanish – you just have to pretend to – when you need something, wave your arms a lot, grunt out a few English words with your eyes open wide. Whoever you are talking to will then ask you in Spanish if you want a certain thing – you say ‘Vale’ ( pronounced ‘volley’ ) which means ‘okay’, ‘you bet’, and so forth, and they go off and get you whatever they think it is you want. Nine out of ten times it’s perfect – offer them a 20 euro bill, and you don’t have to pretend to know how much the bill is – nothing is more than 26 dollars, anyhow. I keep checking the receipts, and with the sole exception of petrol stations, I have never been short-changed. This may have something to do with the fact that we never invaded them. Except for those things in Cuba and the Philippines, which don’t count, because they weren’t really Spanish to begin with. Although I never actually brought this up in conversation. – Scooters. Folks, the scooters are coming. Even if we can only use them six months out of the year, they just make too much sense not to embrace. The culture of traffic and driving in Spain makes room for motor scooters, so people don’t get cut off a lot, and I never actually saw a single accident in all my time here. I realize that in the States you need a special motorcycle license to operate a scooter, but now that they have automatic transmissions, anyone can operate the lower-powered ‘motos’ in Spain, and for that matter, all of Europe. They park them on the sidewalk, and therefore relieve congestion in the streets and parking spaces of the city, and save a ton of fuel in the process. I noticed that, for the first time, BMW is selling scooters in the US this year. They’re coming, folks. Thing I gratefully leave behind in Spain: – Firecrackers: these people are seriously nuts. – TV dishes – don’t know why they don’t have underground cable, but the ugly TV dish is the national flower – more beautiful buildings have sprouted these technical warts – they are a pox on the face of the city. – Weird spoon sizes. This one I don’t get: they have two spoon sizes, teeny, tiny, Barbie-doll size spoons, good for absolutely nothing, and then these things that look like they come with a play shovel – I mean, we are talking maxi-load here. What ever happened to the good old table- and tea-sizes? I fear this will bother me for years to come. – No driers. Yes, I know, I know, it’s better for the environment to hang stuff on the line, and it kind of looks cool airing your clean laundry in the back yard. But I’m an old fashioned, techy-type. I like my ‘hot’ settings, just like I like my cable remote, and my Keurig coffee machine. Something I will Never See Again: – English Night at the Portland Ale House. I walked into this bar one Wednesday night for a short meeting with some fellow faculty members. As I got up to leave, a waitress approached me and handed me a voucher card, and then asked me if I would like to stay for a while as it was English Night. I listened to her explanation, and as the gist of what she was explaining sunk in, it was all I could do not to fall into a dead faint. It turns out heaven does exist right here on earth – at least on Wednesdays and Thursdays at the Portland ale House. Are you ready for this? If you speak English, they will pay you. In Beer. And a burger. To sit. And talk. You heard me right, folks. Free beer. Free burgers.Locals who want to learn English come in and sit around a table. Then an English speaking, beer-drinking, hamburger-eating person ( me ), sits down and speaks to them. In English. About anything. Until you run out of things to say ( never ). Or beer ( regretfully, about 11PM ). So, it’s been pretty amazing – the Spanish people have been pretty nice to me – a little different culturally from us, but not really that different. They’re worried about the future, about their jobs, and their families. But all in all, Spain is a pretty great place, just different enough to be fascinating, and just familiar enough to be manageable. The other day I walking back from the market, and it dawned on me that I would miss this place. Isn’t that what we really wish for when we go anywhere? That when we leave, we will miss it. Just as I miss home.