There are five cities – Artana, Valencia, Lleida, Barcelona, and Madrid. Our Spanish trip begins in Artana, where his family lives. We had left Paris to enter Barcelona by train, where Iker’s parents wait to pick us up. From there we enter the small town by freeway, which looks like any freeway in the States. As soon as we exit, the streets grow narrow. The sidewalks and even the stores look barren. The only thing full are the rows of dotted orange trees. I roll down the window and I can smell the sweet citrus in the air. Trees here are green and plenty. But for the empty town, I think ‘siesta,’ but it is Saturday at six pm.
We wind through one lane streets and drive through a few traffic circles, which are quite common in Spain. The town’s buildings are sparse and square in design. Mainly remnants of 70’s apartments, local grocers, and neighborhood bars. We wrap around and up some hills toward his parents house, where all the homes have their own private gate entrance. The streets are even more narrow. They remind me of homes on the Pasadena hills. We park in the driveway, cut the engine and the soft sound of birds and squirrels greet us. There are two stairwells on either side of the house leading up to the front porch. As I get to the door and look down the hill, I can see the newer house built right in front – the house Iker’s parents complained about. The house that blocked their view. A full theatre with the biggest guy sitting right in front of you.
After settling in, we head out to dinner to the family’s favorite restaurant. A mom and pop’s joint where the interior is nothing fancy, but you know the food is good by looking at the crowd. When we enter, the owner’s greet Iker and his parents with a joyful embrace. A warm welcome back into town. They direct us upstairs. An open balcony table for ten, where Iker’s friends are already waving us up with anticipation. I am the only Asian in town, and all eyes seem to be on me, or is it my paranoia. But all this is relieved as I meet the friends who greet me with kisses. This is what I love about this culture. So much kissing to go around. If anything, it forces that uncomfortable barrier to break. He or she no longer a stranger but a stranger that you’ve put your lips on – the most intimate gesture. My comfort zone no longer exists. Everyone is in as I am in with them.
One of our many conversations were about the comparisons between a Spaniard and an American (and when I say American I mean the North). A Spanish friend, who travels and freelances to the States regularly, observes that Spaniards seem more direct and more up front with their opinions and comments than an American. Whereas as someone like myself may tend to “sugar-coat” their remarks as to avoid offending easily. When I think about the kissing custom, it reminds me of this conversation because kissing a stranger is a very “in-your-face” action (forgive the pun). People in the States, specifically the men, need to fist bump or hold a gripped handshake in front of their chests when coming in for a quick embrace and a slap on the back. Forbid if the chest come into contact, let alone nipples. Don’t rub the back for it may lead to sexual harassment or even be a little gay. There is much to be said on this topic of culture and the people being shaped by it. One thing I realized from this European trip is that the Americans have a lot to be afraid of. (And if you’re offended by this remark, it just proves my point. Go visit a European country.)
Going back to the dinner. There are quite a few like these. I am the new wife. Old high school, college, and work friends sit around the table speaking Spanglish as well as they can, for my sake. My attempts to relearning Spanish is beyond repair. My poor husband is wonderful as he makes sure to fill me in and translate between conversations. Embarrassing memories and photos. News of new children, pregnancies, jobs, politics, and of course gossip. And good Lord, tapas and beer. My first experience of tapas is a glorious one, always paired with a shot of something lemony and sweet. I’d name a few plates, but we’ve had several to drink, and I have to admit, was not too concerned with their names at the time. Plenty of roasted potatoes with garlic and chive mayo. Sea salted anchovies with olive oil and tomato spread. Shrimp crab cakes. My first “real” paella, which is a running debate among many Spaniard friends here in the States, about what defines a “real” paella. Delicious carajillo. My father-in-laws every after-meal drink of coffee, whisky, and anisette or rum. In fact, it is my opinion that we get along so well despite our language barrier due to our love and respect for alcohol. We pour shot after shot around the table until my mother-in-law is loose enough to speak good English. Yes. We understand one another. We sit beside each other, arms around each’s shoulder, talking about life and love. After all, isn’t this what life is all about?
As much as I’d like to talk about the beauty of Spain and its architecture, which there is plenty and I’ve posted photos to prove it, I’d like to say that Spain to me and perhaps my husband as well, was more about family. The ones you can and can’t choose. When someone opens their home to a stranger, prepares a meal for a stranger, they are lending you not only their home, but their heart. When I look back at London, Paris, and Spain, as amazing as it may be, it wasn’t the location that awakened me. It was the people that made all the difference. And it made me realize that home is not about where but it truly is about with whom. Everyone that I’ve met on this trip are people that have significance in Iker’s life. This trip didn’t relinquish or retain any expectations that I may have had, it only confirmed that I married the right man.
Here are some things I loved and some things I found worth naming about Spain and probably Europe in general:
- Coffee should only be ordered after a meal. When I ordered coffee with my breakfast, they found this quite puzzling and strange. Usually a cafe con leche or a cortado (my fav: more coffee than milk) is served strong and short with dessert. But I will have coffee whenever I please. ;)
- Among European rooftop obsessions, I was somewhat obsessed with their toilets.
- The European restrooms do not offer toilet seat covers. Are we too cautious/paranoid and environmentally irresponsible? This makes me think back to my previous comment about Americans having more fear than necessary.
- The toilets use significantly less water. They have two buttons – a small button and a larger button for the amount of water needed, respectively. Here, in a land where water is running dangerously scarce, we use far more water during a single flush. Which goes to say that their water level is very low. I was concerned every time I had to go number two.
- The police officers do not carry a gun. Only special forces/departments carry them. Again, how did it become necessary here in the States?
- Motorcycles park on the sidewalk. Some sidewalks in the Spanish cities are very wide.
- It is not common to own a dryer with your washing machine. If you buy a washing machine, you get a dryer to go with it right? Nope. Everyone hangs their clothes outdoors to dry. We stayed with Air B&B during our trip and none of the European amenities included a dryer. Energy efficient, but not time efficient. We had to consider the time to dry our clothes.
- And last but definitely not least, JAMON. My goodness. I feel like I wasted a third of my life not having had this as part of my regular diet. It starts now.
Thanks for reading! :)