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Postcards from Valencia #8

Of Rainy Days, Repairs and Getting to Know the Neighbors

Forty-two days after our arrival in Valencia, Spain, we had our first rainy day. To set the correct terms, I must specify that a “rainy day” occurs when it precipitates for at least two consecutive hours and at a pace that forces pedestrians to open their umbrellas and not merely carry them.

Valencianos react poorly to rainy weather. Not only has the falling water been known to cancel school field trips, official occasions and some sporting events, prolonged periods of more than one downfall have been known to cancel school entirely, as snow might close schools in other places.

In fairness to the Valencianos, so much of their lovely city’s life routinely takes place outdoors that it’s hardly a surprise that something which forces it back inside might disrupt a lot of plans. Many popular bars, restaurants, and cafes, particularly those that front one of the city’s squares, can lose more than half of their seating capacity on rainy days and some might not bother to open. I’ve overheard business deals being negotiated on park benches as I have walked past, and significant numbers of the city’s “chino” shops or retail bazaars display part of their incredible variety of merchandise on the pavements in front of their broad, garage-sized doors. All that disappears beneath a storm.

It’s also worth remembering that Valencia has periodically flooded in the past, including on the most extreme occasion, sixty-six years ago, when more than seventy-five percent of the city was inundated by the rampaging Turia river and over sixty people perished in the rising water. That 1957 flood so imprinted itself on the city’s life that Spanish engineers successfully diverted the Turia away from the city afterward, leaving 110 hectares of old riverbed available for eventual development into the city’s Turia Park, a ribbon of green running through the city providing recreation and relaxation to roughly seven million visitors each year.

However, I am pleased to report that the falling water did not severely interrupt The Husband and I’s carefully curated routine. We still managed to make the semi-weekly trip to the Central Market before the clouds opened and, despite their mountainous looming, bravely set out to the Mercadona for the dry goods. When we finished checking out at the supermarket was when we discovered the rain had begun and that it was going to be a woefully wet walk home, pulling our shopping cart over and through the inundated gutters.

I confess that it wasn’t fun. Even with umbrellas open, the wind-driven precipitation found its way under the umbrella edge and into the gap between coat buttons, so we felt virtuous as we unpacked and dried our purchases.

***************************************************************************** Fortunately, we were not the only city residents to continue life as we know it despite the weather. Gallego, the gentleman our landlord had hired to repair roughly ten nagging problems in the apartment’s physical plant also arrived, almost on time, despite the atmospheric uproar.

“It’s raining,” he muttered in Spanish as I let him in and pointed to where he could set down his several tool kits and bags, all soaking wet. After accepting my offer of a large hand towel to dry his head and using another cloth to clean the water from his glasses, he set to work efficiently replacing the hinges on several doors so that they closed properly and didn’t drag the floor and lowering the shower head in the Master Bathroom so that the Husband could wash his hair without imitating a circus contortionist. He also repaired a leak in the Master Bath and did something to four of the radiators that, the landlord had assured us, will guarantee their performance into the future.

His work around the apartment also allowed him to eavesdrop on The Husband and me as we worked through our Spanish homework in advance of class later that day. Our subject was Spanish reflexive verbs, many of which are found in the activities that make up one’s daily routine such as waking up, getting up, showering, etc. He never commented, but several times I noticed a little smile trying to escape from the corners of his mouth and later I asked him what he found funny. Only, he said, that our Spanish learning was being infected by his fellow residents’ bad language habits, and he threw out several examples that left me flummoxed because I hadn’t known we had been saying them incorrectly.

“It’s not your fault, everyone is doing it,” he said by way of consolation. “But still, wrong is wrong and why not learn it correctly?”

I resolved to learn the correct forms and chose not to share his comments with The Husband to avoid discouraging him.

********************************************************************************* We have been gradually getting to know steadily more of our fellow ex-patriots who hail from all over the world. We have attended a weekly happy hour sponsored by a group of them on Thursday nights and have been to lunch with others who came from the United States.

We met Kurt and Corey at an Italian place downtown that specializes in little pizzas, called pinsas, that have a delicious sourdough crust and make for great comida when combined with a shared appetizer.

We look up to Kurt and Corey because they proceeded us on about the same path to Spain for a little over a year, so talking to them allows us to glimpse future activities and challenges. The topics of this conversation included Where Can We Find It Here and How Concerned Should We Be About Fallas (pronounced FY-YAS)

Where Can We Find It Here is a common ex-pat conversation starter that can take on a tinge of complaint, but more often involves sharing information on where or how to get something that someone in our families has deemed essential. This version of the conversation involved a large discussion of ingredients since Kurt and Corey are fortunate enough to live with a large Mercadona on the ground floor of their building and are thus something of the Mercadona experts.

They were the ones who told us Mercadona sells fresh pizza dough so we can more easily make pizza at home as well as which butchers at the Central Market will have beef already ground for you and how we can work with vendors to get them to sell us something closer to what we want to buy. They also warned us away from the ground meat in the supermarket since apparently, all Spanish supermarket chains adulterate it with some sort of grain, whether rice, wheat, or something else. (A fact I have since verified). The only reason I can think to do this would be to make the more expensive beef more valuable by padding its weight with inexpensive substances, something which escapes being fraud here because the chains disclose their actions on the meat package label, thus the consumer is alerted.

A lot of the conversation fell to me since this sort of detailed communication usually relies on an increased Spanish vocabulary and I am still battling to expand mine. The other big conversation topic, how concerned should we be about Fallas, fell to The Husband since he has more concerns than I do.

Essentially, Fallas is a bit like Mardi Gras in that it’s a community festival celebrating shared effort and achievement that involves a lot of partying spread over about three weeks. The Husband’s concerns revolved around how much the festival disrupts daily life and whether we should be concerned about increased crime and rowdiness that might accompany the revelry.

Their response was not really. The city authorities do a good job of clearing the streets by around midnight and have a lot of practice in crowd control. We also might be spared most of the noisiest nights because our apartment isn’t in the city’s most popular party districts. Nonetheless, they both thought some earplugs might be a good idea when trying to sleep.

Well, that’s all for now from the City of Oranges. Hope you all flourish as much as we are, and I look forward to writing you the next Postcard From Valencia.

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