Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Day Four - more bliss in Madrid

Back in real time (late June, Utah) I start teaching classes again today so I may not get as much detail into these travelogues as I wish. This is good news for everyone since I fear my rambling gets boring. I plan to rely more on the journal of odd notes I took on the trip. It's a bit raw and disorganized but maybe better than the over-processed stuff.

I wake up early, way before anyone else in my family, as I do every day of the trip. When I'm home, if I wake up early, I just crave more sleep, but in Spain, every second is like the finest gelato you've ever tasted--you can't imagine wasting even a drop before it melts.

In Madrid, we're on the top floor of a five-story apartment building and we have two balcony patios (which turn out to be very handy when we start washing laundry later). I walk out on the upper patio and watch the sky lighten. There are clay and stucco roofs all around me -- flat layers and different levels of terraces for every apartment building. The balconies have pots of geraniums and the occasional string of laundry. The swallows are crazy around here -- hundreds of them, sweeping in masses and spiraling above the roofs, eating bugs I assume. They are noisy! Like giant crickets chirping in thick swaths across the sky.

Below on the narrow cobblestone street, a few people walk by, motorcycles and tiny cars work their way down the street. A dog is peeing on a stone berm and then, instinctually, he tries to scratch and kick his hind legs against the cobblestones as if burying his pee in the dirt that isn't there.

I can smell baking bread and diesel fumes.

When the kids are all up, dressed and fed, we walk to Retiro park to catch the "Madrid Vision" bus. This is an incredibly touristy thing to do and my sister (who planned the whole trip, bless her stressed-out little heart) was a genius for arranging it. Really, the tourist bus a great way to see the whole city, all its plazas, incredible architecture, crowds, traffic. It takes a while for us all to work our way up to the top of the double decker bus where we can see well, so once we finally get up there, we have to stay on the bus or lose our seats. We ride around the loop a second time, then get off near the Palacio Real.

McKay on the Bus (say goodbye to that hat; it was McKay's favorite and it's the only casualty of the trip. I still can't figure out at which point it got lost)

We eat lunch at a Turkish restaurant. If I'm not mistaken, this is the only time we eat anywhere that wouldn't qualify as "Spanish Food." We have instituted a strict ban on anything remotely American. I eat a salad that tastes amazing after days and days of bread and meat.

We tour the Palacio Real, which by the way was the former residence of the monarchy and is one of the many places on our trip where they forbid the use of cameras, even without flash. This is irritating and manipulative (we suspect they want to boost sales of their books and postcards) but as we have already had one encounter with a snotty guard (who was ticked that our group has smuggled in deadly baby carriers and diaper bags, even though we got permission at the front gate to bring them) so I obey the rules and take no photos. I wish I had broken the rules. Now I can only say things like: Wow! Opulent! Over-the-top! and Regal. If I can track down the guidebook that I bought (see? It works) maybe I could scan in some pictures.

The Palacio Real is simply another symbol of the overwhelming wealth the royals had during Spain's Golden Age. They had so much money, they really didn't know what to do with it other than commission rooms made entirely of Oriental porcelain. Or surround themselves with nude portraits of themselves as heroes of mythology.

Gabie, who ever since his introduction to Percy Jackson has been infatuated with everything Greek or mythical, is in heaven. He recognizes many of the figures painted on the ceilings. Hercules seems to be a favorite of the Spanish Kings. We see him (and his various labors) many times today.

The armory is surreal. The Spanish kings treated these suits and shields and swords like ceremonial relics--all inscribed with scenes from mythology and elaborate decoration--each a work of art. And they were for war?! It shows you how today's trillion-dollar Military Industrial Complex is just a modern version of an ancient industry: preparation for battle.

What seems funny to me is that the ornamentation does not make the armor more effective in battle; it just makes the wearer more convinced he is powerful, worthy of victory, bestowed by God with special authority to lead and fight. It reminds me of all those lines in Homer's Iliad about Achilles' shield. He describes in detail the sculpted scenes of a city at war and a city at peace (and the peaceful one gets more attention) but in the end, it's just a weapon. These kings had to bend over backwards (or at least their craftsmen did) to justify and ceremonialize their love of war. It's almost like a huge, elaborate distraction from the truth that war is about blood and gore and loss of life. If you can make your armor pretty enough and tie your actions to Hercules and Poseidon, you won't have to worry so much about the troubling consequences of conflict.

End of rant :)

Outside the armory, we see a couple of peacocks resting in the ledge of a window. Appropriate symbols of royalty and not a "No Photos!" sign to be found. Finally.

Teri takes the kids to the park next door and the adults walk through the pharmacy (shelf after shelf of porcelain containers with a million odd ingredients, whale sperm being our favorite). We sit down in the park for a while and watch the kids play. They have made some Spanish friends already (who needs language skills?).

We walk to the Plaza Mayor and on our way wander through a fancy market place. The hanging legs of jamon are pretty typical. I just wish I could also convey the terrific smell of the market: eau de dangling meat, baked goods, fish and more fish.

At the Plaza Mayor, my sister Anne buys me an early birthday present: churros y chocolate for my family. I'm having one of those moments again where I can't believe I'm here. It seems too perfect, like a movie set, the scene where the heroine sits with a whole group of relatives out in the most famous of all famous Madrid plazas and dips her crispy, sugary churro into a cup of thick chocolate.

Then some of the kids start chasing pigeons which infuriates Gabie, protector of all creatures great and small, and the spell is broken. I do take one of my favorite photos from the trip.

Do you think they pose here behind the statue on purpose? I just love the symmetry of the three horses' rear ends.

Some of my family head off to the airport to pick up Anne's husband Scott. Some of us head to the Plaza del Sol (where we see the zero kilometer mark that indicates the center of Spain). Then into the Corte Ingles, which when I lived in Madrid as a teenager was one of my favorite places. Corte Ingles is the largest chain of stores in Spain; they are EVERYWHERE. And the one in Sol is huge--8 stories of everything you could possibly want, from groceries to camping gear. We pick up some food: fruit, eggs, bread, magdalenas, Danup, Nocilla, Natillas, fresh milk (not easy to come by). These are the best food prices we've seen yet so we load up. The only flaw in this plan is that we then we get to carry all our bags back to the bus stop, onto the bus, and up the block to our apartment. Exhausting, but worth it for just a taste of that natillas.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Day Three, in which I become a food blogger

I woke up early and ventured out with McKay to find something for breakfast in Barcelona. No luck. The Ramblas, which the previous night was flowing with thousands of people, was totally deserted. The stores were all closed and the only living souls out were either cleaning the streets or making deliveries. I asked a few people for suggestions on where I could find some food and they each gave me the same look: Dumb tourist, don't you know where you are? Spaniards are not early risers!

We made do with leftover bagels (I knew we saved them for a reason) and two apples I had been hauling around in my backpack since Salt Lake. Note to self: buy breakfast food when you're out and about with the rest of the townsfolk at 10pm the night before. We caught our fourth plane in four days (enough already!) and headed to Madrid. On the plane, I made a list of foods I had to eat before we left Spain. These are mostly memory foods, things I loved as a kid.

Danup (very runny drinkable yogurt)
Bread (real Spanish Pan)
Good cheese (Manchego!)
Fanta Limón
Arroz con leche
Paella (of course, though I never liked the seafood kind)
Tortillas (the Spanish kind with potatoes and eggs)
Pechugo de pollo (breaded chicken)
Churros y chocolate (the thick kind that's like pudding)
Sugus candy
Gummi candy
Nocilla (pronounced no-THEE-uh, a chocolate and hazelnut spread)
Tofe Nata
Horchata (almond drink)
Ensaladia (potato salad)
Real White Chocolate

I'm happy to announce that by the end of the two weeks, we had consumed every one of these foods (plus lots of other yummy things besides). My conclusion on several of them (including paella, pechugo de pollo, arroz con leche, and ensaladia) is that my Mom--whom we ironically left behind in the U.S.--still makes the best Spanish food I've ever tasted).

We settled into our Madrid apartments (I'll have to write about these in detail later; they were fantastic and perfectly located within walking distance of the "Gold Triangle of Spanish Art"). We met up with more of our group (My brother Jim, his wife Julia and daughter. My sister Anne and her baby. My brother Thom, his wife Robin and their 3 boys).

These are the kids (so far; we'll gain a few more in a couple of days when my brother Steve's family arrives).

Then we hit the Reina Sophia, the first of the three world-class art museums in Madrid (thus the Golden "Triangle"). The most famous resident of the Reina Sophia (and essentially the reason this museum was built) is, of course, Picasso's Guernica.

Seeing Guernica in person for the first time was definitely a highlight of the trip for me. No, I didn't cry. But I was in a sincere state of art-lover's ecstasy for a while. The thing is HUGE. Even bigger than I had assumed from all the pictures I've seen. Sure, I knew it was 11 feet tall and nearly 26 feet wide, but these dimensions don't sink in until you see it looming on the wall in front of you. Some of the figures, even the partially-severed ones, are far bigger than lifesized. I know this because I could compare them with the guards standing soberly on either side of the canvas. Four more guards strolled around the room reminding people to put away their cameras and step back from the painting if they were even within 3 feet of it; I've never seen security like this in ANY museum. It speaks to the volatile history of this painting and its power as a political symbol. I teach all of this in my classes but what a privilege it was to see it in person.

We wandered through the Reina Sophia for at least another hour as a group until the kids had really had enough. Some of the adults (thank you!) took the kids to Retiro park so the rest of us could see more art. I have to confess, as much as I enjoy Dali and Miró and Picasso, once you've seen Guernica, everything else in that museum is a step down.

My second favorite painting was probably Antonio Saura's Shout (1959). I have certainly had days like this, haven't you?

I especially loved the detail of the shouting person's fist dripping paint down the canvas like blood.

We met up with the kids in the park just in time to see a spectacular sunset. I cursed myself for not following through with my goal to become a fantastic photographer (or at least understand how to use half the features on my fancy camera) before the trip. This is my best shot. Sorry.

I did snap one more picture on our walk back to the apartments, one that captures the flavor of Madrid (and all big Spanish cities) quite well, don't you think? Tiny cars, even tinier parking spaces. I mean, how's this guy ever going to get out?

Ken and I and the boys ate dinner on our own at a little restaurant called Los Rotos. Gabie was so infatuated with everything about this place that he saved the placemat and taped it into his journal. We ate pan (of course) croquetas (blah), patatas (meh), Gaspacho (the best we had in all of Spain), Fried chicken strips with a honey sauce (delicious!) and, since Ken was brave, a scrambled egg dish called Pistos with all kinds of mystery foods in it that was quite good. The second time we ate here on our last day in Spain I think we decided that one of the mystery foods was eggplant. I think one of the others was some kind of fish. Yeah, I make a great food blogger, don't I?

We ate dinner, by the way, at 10pm. This is pretty standard for Spaniards and became a regular routine for us as well. It doesn't really get dark until after 9pm and who wants to eat early when there's so much to see?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Spain, Day Two –The day that never ends. . .

At this rate, it may be Christmas before I catch up on our trip. But in my defense, this was by far the LONGEST day of the whole thing. You'll see why...

We spend the night with Toni at her home on Long Island. We wake early and eat Real New York Bagels for breakfast. We spend a while hanging out with a Real New York Family (Toni’s husband and kids) then pack up our backpacks and head back into the Real New York City. The kids marvel at everything: the traffic, the buildings, the traffic, the miniature villages beside the freeway that turn out to be cemeteries, the traffic...

In New York, we walk around for a while like the tourists we are and visit Rockefeller Center and Times Square. We watch Toni light a candle in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, a lovely ritual that marks each of my trips into Manhattan with my Catholic friend. Eventually, we make our way to Central Park where the kids eat pizza and climb the rocks and trees; they are finally in their element.

Central Park is definitely the highlight of the city for my boys. I do love how, if you get deep enough into the center of the park and can’t see the buildings poking out above the trees, you can almost forget that you’re in the middle of a sprawling metropolis. We walk past a little-league baseball game that strikes me as funny. Can you imagine playing your regular, scheduled baseball games in CENTRAL PARK? It’s just such an ordinary thing in an extraordinary place. I think each game would be worthy of a full-scale camera crew, or at least an accompanying Simon and Garfunkle soundtrack.

Toni drives us back to the airport where we begin the process of visiting the Dude with the Closet to pick up our luggage (whew! still there) and checking through security. We reach the first gate and meet a Real New York Nasty Airport Security Officer. She takes our passports, and one by one goes through them, saying, “This passport is NOT valid…this passport is NOT valid…this passport is NOT valid…” My heart sinks. This is it. I knew some big catastrophe would keep us from getting to Spain!

The she tells us in a very condescending tone that we have neglected to sign our passports (which she seems positively delighted to have been the first to discover). My heck! Does she revel in giving people heart attacks or what? We sign them right away. Then we find a line as far away from the This Passport is Not Valid lady as possible.

We wait for three hours at the airport (because aside from neglecting to sign our passports, we are obedient travelers and we have followed instructions and arrived half a day before our actual flight leaves). We eventually run into Teri (my sister) and her son Sawyer who are taking the same flight to Barcelona. Or at least we think it’s going to Barcelona. What no one at Iberia Airlines has actually told us (and what it says NOWHERE on any of our ticket info) is that the flight will land in Madrid, we will be asked to switch planes, wait around some more, and then fly to Barcelona. By the time we get there 9 hours later, we are exhausted. None of us, including the kids, have really slept much on the flight. How can you sleep? They provide you with pillows and blankets but then interrupt constantly with various announcements, pings, movies, and 4 separate trips of the meal/beverage carts. By the time we land, the sheen has rubbed off the novelty of air travel, even for the boys.

Okay, Barcelona in three works: impressive, expensive and exhausting.

We take a bus to the Plaza that shall not be named (because I can’t remember it), find our Hostal and check in.

A word here about the Spanish floor numbering system. They skip the ground floor. This means if the nice lady running your Hostal says she’s just up on the 2nd floor, you can expect to drag your suitcases up THREE flights of steps. (This also means when you get to see the Mormon temple on your last day in Madrid and you run into the Temple President and his wife and they kindly invite you up to their apartment on the 7th floor of the building next door—thankfully in an elevator—you will be looking out the window from 8 stories up and you will be pretty much eye level with Angel Moroni, which is very cool).

The Hostal is cramped and old and consists of a few bedrooms with shared bathroom, but it’s clean and quaint and, oh yeah, IT’S IN SPAIN! so everyone is totally thrilled. It’s also in a great location, right off the Ramblas, which is the most famous tree-lined street in Barcelona. (This is the view from our window).

We take a stroll, check out the shops and street performers (you see them all over Spain; they paint themselves in metallic colors and sit perfectly still like statues until you drop a coin in their bucket; then they move slowly, like they’ve been wound up with a key, until they wind down again and freeze. It’s worth the coins to watch and far better than the beggars who you also see all over Spain but they don’t do anything but look pitiful).

We eat our first bag of Magdalenas with Danup (because we're finally IN SPAIN! and these are tasty Spanish foods I've missed for 25 years) and make our way to the waterfront. There’s a monument to Christopher Columbus there but the kids are far more interested in the carp who are competing for crumbs with the seagulls. (This is major motif in my Spain pictures: everywhere we went, the kids made a beeline for the water).

We take the subway (another cool first for the kids, not cheap at 2 Euros a person, but worth it because we're tired.

We ride to the neighborhood of the Sagrada Familia cathedral (which costs over 100 Euros for us, but is worth it and the main reason we made this whole side trip to Barcelona).

Sagrada Familia is impossible to photograph, as all good cathedrals are. It’s outrageously tall, outrageously disorganized and resembles something you’d make if you had a beach full of runny sand and a hundred years of free time. We pay extra for the audio tours and wander around the interior (under construction since 1882) and the exterior (also under construction since 1882). This building is a world wonder. The best part is our tour of the East towers (for which we also pay extra to ride up the elevator). Here’s a photo of our little group near the top.

Please note that, yes, most of us are wearing the same clothes we had on in NYC. We have now been awake for nearly 30 straight hours. We have heard that the best way to fight jet lag is just to push your way through the first day with no napping. Then your body will adjust to the new time zone. This is great advice (and I confess, actually works) but at this point we can hardly keep our eyes open. Every time we sit down on a bench we all begin to nod off and tip over onto each other’s shoulders. We form little heaps of bodies against the wall just inside the cathedral door and on the wall in front of the cathedral.

After the cathedral we eat. We walk many, many blocks to the Casa Batlló by Antonio Gaudi.

It is stunning and crazy and another 100 Euros to enter. All my kids probably remember is the various surfaces they plopped down on to rest as we wandered through the tour like zombies with audio guides.

We ride the Metro again (cha ching) to Montjuïc to watch the famous fountains. (And if you’re noticing, by the way that these words do not seem like Spanish, it’s because they aren’t; the first language of Barcelona is Catalan. To the Catalonians, this is a source of great pride. To a sleep-deprived traveler who owns a sister who speaks fluent Spainish, this is a rude, ethnocentric, politically radical, and entirely inconsiderate tradition.)

The fountains are fantastic, though I must note that the music is mostly American Pop. Where’s your Catalan pride now you Barcelonians?

The fountains don't even start until 9pm. Gabie doesn't make it that long. He clearly has reached his melting point.

We don't even make it through the whole fountain show. We're just way too tired. We vow to visit the Bellagio soon to make up for it and then ride the Metro one more time back to our Hostal and fall into bed around 11pm. We have survived a marathon of 34 hours without sleep. But guess what? We’re in Spain! No wait, we’re in Catalonia. Soon we’ll be in Spain!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Spain, day one – On the surreality of travel

“It’s too good to be true!” Gabie says as we load into the van and again as we pull up to the airport curb and again as we wait at the gate to board the plane. He’s been looking forward to this imaginary thing called “Our Trip to Spain” for months. I’ve been looking forward to it for years and must agree with him. It is too good to be true. I keep waiting for something catastrophic to drop between us and the trip. But here we are, the first to board the plane (how nice that they let travelers with children go first; I vow to always travel with children). The boys are fascinated with everything about this flight. The sizes of each plane they can see from the giant windows in the waiting lounge, the baggage-loading process, the ramp, the seats, the lights, the air circulation, the screens on the back of the chairs, it’s all unfamiliar and thus completely thrilling. They have all flown before but don’t remember much (especially Gabie, who was in utero the last time and he keeps insisting that flying while in mom’s belly totally does not count).

Flying is surreal, even to me. Sure I’ve had the physics of thrust/lift/drag explained to me multiple times but as far as I’m concerned it still must take magic/faith/catchy show tunes to get this oversized Chitty Chitty Bang Bang into the air. I can see the water and freeways and the skyscrapers as we take off and bank over Salt Lake City. It always seems foreign from this perspective. Not so to Gabie, who presses his whole face up against the oval window and announces, “Wow, it looks exactly like Google Earth from here!”

It’s a good thing the kids find the novelty of flight so attractive because we’ll be flying in 6 planes total before we’re through. We land at JFK mid afternoon and have to take an airport train from one terminal to another. We have already planned to stretch out our layover in New York to 24 hours so we can visit my friend Toni and see the city. This means storing our luggage at the airport. I have done the research and know there is a place for this. I have pictured a big counter with loads of shelves, something classy and official-looking, like a department store layaway office except with signs clearly stating "JFK Baggage Storage." In fact, it takes us forever to find the right place, and by right place I mean the barely marked hall where we get to leave our bags with a skinny Hispanic guy in jeans and a t-shirt who stands in the doorway of a walk-in closet. There are maybe 20 or 30 other suitcases crammed in there besides our own. I had forgotten how New York City is a crazy blend of How High can you Go? and How Much More can you Possibly Squeeze into One Spot?

Toni picks us up outside the airport and drives us into Manhattan. Toni was my roommate for two years at BYU. She has always been beautiful and petite—she falls somewhere in the middle of my kids in height—but has the energy and tenaciousness of the mother and nurse and Italian-blooded Catholic BYU graduate that she is. She talks like a New Yorker. She drives like a New Yorker. She has a red minivan which she weaves expertly though traffic, one hand on the steering wheel and one on the horn (it’s not a myth). We find a parking place near Battery Park (and anyone who’s ever been in NYC can appreciate the elaborate back story behind the simple phrase “find a parking place” but I’ll leave it to your imagination because I have better things to talk about). It’s a Friday evening and there is surprisingly little going on in the park. We wander. We snap photos of the Statue of Liberty from a distance and a sign on the grass that makes us laugh.

What, precisely constitutes “No Active Recreation” we wonder. Tossing a frisbie? Rolling on the grass? If you accidentally start walking too fast do security guards rise out of the bushes to take your blood pressure?

We make our way to Wall Street and the site of the World Trade Center which is nearly impossible to access. It is full of cranes and fences and concrete foundations and much evidence of construction but little hope of completion any time soon. It’s like a wound left deliberately open to delay healing.

Whenever I visit either place (and I’ve done this 4 or 5 times now with each) I can’t help but compare walking in Manhattan to hiking in the valleys of Bryce Canyon National Park. In both, you’re down inside slot canyons, surrounded by impossibly tall, beautiful formations. True, one is formed by nature and the other by man, but the feeling is the same to me. The way the wind squeezes between the cross streets is the same. The way you find yourself craning your neck to look up is the same. The way all the light is on top and the shadows and sounds fall to the bottom in unpredictable angles is the same. It’s like you’ve found yourself on another planet entirely.

Which brings me to compare both (in what I hope is not too annoying of an interruption here) to a De Chirico painting I studied in grad school. In the painting, the walls of two tall buildings form a narrow canary yellow street that cuts diagonally down the middle of the scene and leads to something open and bright and totally unknown just around the corner. The buildings almost overlap each other as they recede into the distance, but not quite, leaving a gap where a figure casts a shadow in our direction. All the odd shadows, the open doors to what looks like an abandoned circus cart, the arcades that retreat at different speeds, the geometry that seems precise until you look closely and then it’s totally improbable and broken like cracked lenses, it all creates a sense of claustrophobia. But it’s not a creepy kind of claustrophobia. It’s a good mystery, albeit one that you’ll never get to solve. In short, it’s a typical Surrealist painting.

Part of the strangeness of New York City is that you just can’t take it all in. You’re in this corridor of space and you know these crowded streets go on for miles in every direction and these tall buildings are full of millions of people with millions of distinct lives. You’re trying to soak it in but you know you’re catching the tiniest clue of an enormous mystery. I guess it’s all about perspective. Linear perspective for sure. But also the sense that our personal viewpoints severely limit us. It’s why flying (or Google Earth-ing) can be so fun: we don’t know how things look from above until we get up there and then it all seems so foreign. And isn’t this why we travel? We are taking this trip to Spain to show our kids a totally different part of the world. It’s important for them to hear another language, to eat new foods, to see another side of history. We want to expose them to a huge variety of new things but we also want them to understand what a tiny piece of the world they have known up to this point.

We eat “real” New York Pizza (according to Toni) at a joint named Dave’s and walk up Church street for at least 10 blocks, finally catching a taxi (another new experience for the kids, and yes, all 6 of us squeeze into one taxi with poor Toni practically squatting on the floor, good thing she’s petite) uptown to the Empire State Building. Here we all enjoy another lesson in perspective.

And here the comparison to Bryce Canyon ends because everything from that height screams “manmade and proud of it.” There are no trees or landforms. The rivers are only distinguishable by the gaps they make in the carpet of lights and the bridges that span across them like chains wrapped around darkness. Millions of people below us. Millions of tiny glowing lives. I’m resorting one last time to the term surreal because it simply does not seem possible to be up this high and in this mythical city and on the first leg of a trip that has been a fantasy for so long. Surreal: adj. over or above reality. The height is dizzying but the view is worth the climb.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

You know you’ve been in Spain for the last two weeks if…

You wake up at 4am Utah time and wish you were half as tired as you were last night at 8pm when your body thought it was 4am Madrid time.

Having vowed to maintain the European habit of walking everywhere, you decide to walk to the supermarket, reusable bags in hand, to buy a few things for the day. This is a brilliant plan right up until you have to walk back home with a jumbo pack of chicken, two bags of grapes, one bag of carrots, a head of lettuce, one cucumber, one carton of strawberries, a large container of yogurt, a dozen eggs, and (what were you thinking?) two gallons of milk. You understand for the first time exactly why Spaniards do not share your family’s addiction to fresh milk.

On your walk from the store, you are downright intimidated by all the giant cars and trucks on the road. Were they always this HUGE?

Your daughter, whom you left home with her grandparents for the last two weeks, keeps referring to you as “grandma-I-mean-mom.” You hope this wears off soon as you already have a serious guilt-complex about the desertion.

Your son spends his first morning home in the sandbox digging a Metro system, complete with accompanying schematic map of the various train lines, color-coded and linked by a central hub. (This is Gabie, of course, and he has named his system the “Getro”).

You spend your first day home doing laundry and you find yourself sniffing everything as you put it into the washer, trying to store up the last whiffs of Spain before wiping them out with Cheer and fabric softener. Most of the clothes have that musty, moist smell of the Gypsy caves where you slept for two days in Granada, but every once in a while, you catch the Madrid scent—an unmistakable mix of cigarette smoke, diesel fumes, fish, olive oil, urine, and lemon cologne—a scent that you love and recognized the instant you stepped into the city again after not having visited for 25 years.

You resolve not to get so emotional about your laundry.

You fry up some pechugo de pollo for dinner and use at least a cup and a half of olive oil in the pan.

You eat said dinner at 8pm and this seems rather early for a Spanish meal which often starts around 10 and lasts for over an hour. But your kids are so tired they are tipping off their chairs.

You agree with Gabie when he says “I wish we could live in Spain, but just stay in our own house.” You’re happy to be back in your own bed, with your own stuff, in a house with an energy-inefficient clothes dryer and giant water heater and toilets that are no mystery to flush (more on this later). But you’re also a bit depressed to be back in the land of big cars, sensible shoes, beige carpet, and boring cheeses. You promise Gabie (who cried on the flight home because he was afraid we would never again visit Spain and never again taste the nectar of the gods that is Natillas) that you will go back. Somehow. You’re not sure how this is going to happen and you realize that this trip was 10 years in the making and you know you’ll be paying it off for at least a year. But somehow you’ll have to do it again.