Where the Wind is Dry

Alquézar, Aragones, Spain

We stood on the top of the hill and the wind was dry. It was dry and it blew hard. The wind is never this way in the city. It was neither strong, nor noisy; you could not even say it was windy. All you knew was that it was very quiet. Just the burning sun over your head, and the wind that dried the hills in this part of Aragon. The Somontano region. Your skin was being burnt, acquiring the color of the red sandy rocks that surrounded you. The wind blew hard till you seemed to have no flesh left on your face and hands. You touched yourself: skin and bones. And the hot rocks under your feet. This is how the wind was in August in this part of the country. It made you become quiet and not feel anything except respect for this land and its people, it made you be strong.

You walk uphill. Burnt by the sun. The stone paved road to the castle is steep and hurts your feet. You turn again. All you hear is the silence of the dry wind. You want so much to walk this road.

This land is not mine, but I would fight for it. With no emotions, no feelings, no patriotism. I would fight for it willingly, consciously, with precision, like operating a delicate machinery. With passion for living. This is the only thing one can do under this dry wind and the burning sun.

I like to walk the roads that are hard. I do it purposefully. When I hurt myself, I neither complain, nor feel the pain; I appreciate deeper that I live, and learn to walk better. I attached myself to people and things, only to realize that I do not love people and things, I have nothing in common with them. They became a burden. When you walk uphill you know that the only thing one can be passionate about is walking. The dry wind and sun burn your skin; they also burn the grapes in Somontano. The wine carries the silky taste of strength and you are not thirsty or tired any longer.

Years before you came here, you knew you walked in the land where the roads are steep and the wind is dry.

AlquézarAlquézar townAlquézar rocksMonzón castleMonzón towerMonzón castle detailMonzón entranceVineyards in SomontanoPomegranate tree in Alquezar

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On the Road to Spain

“Lorena, Lorena,” the voice was intense and quiet.
“How do you know that my name is Lorena?” she asked.
“I know you. I saw you many times.”
“It is raining,” she observed.
“Do you know that when it rains in Spain it snows here?” he asked.
“Yes,” she whispered.
“And when it rains here it snows in Spain,” he said.
“It never snows in Spain,” she stated in a steady voice.
“Yes. Sometimes it snows in Spain,” the boy insisted quietly.
“It never snows in Spain on Christmas,” she said.
“Spain is the only place where it does not snow on Christmas,” he agreed.
“It does not snow in California on Christmas. California is in America. I used to live in California.”
“My dad goes to America a lot,” said the boy.
“May be he can come to my house in California next time he goes there,” she offered.
“He never stops in America. He just flies the plane there and comes back. He never goes to anybody’s house in America. He flies over the country, that’s all,” the boy observed.
“My dad works in Norway. He also flies there. Then he lives there,” her voice sounded even. She was merely stating a fact. Then she added, “What’s your name?”
“Pablo.”
The whispering stopped and there was silence. The bus was going at a steady speed through the hills of the Pyrenees. It passed green pastures, vineyards, villages with its churches and fields. Fields that were now bright green with patches of red poppy flowers sprinkled along the road.
“Pablo, Pablo,” she whispered.
“What?” he turned to her.
“I was looking for you,” she said.
“I saw horses.”
“I know,” she felt silent and then added, “My dad told me once that if my mom works a lot we will be able to buy a farm in America and five horses. All I want in life is to live on a farm and ride a horse.”
“My dad just bought a new car,” Pablo said in the same low and intense voice.
“We do not have a car here. We get one when we need it. We are going to move to another country soon.”
The bus crossed the Spanish border. Both of them felt silent looking at the road.

Things I did not Imagine about Olive-picking (in Mallorca)

Olives in Cala d'Or

In November we all went to Cala D’Or, Mallorca, Spain. It was not the usual sightseeing trip. I actually talked my friend into letting us pick up olives at her dad’s olive orchid. I always wanted to live through this experience and to know what it is like.

Olives in Mallorca

So, here is what it is like. First of all, once you start picking olives you are amazed at the softness of the touch. You would imagine that olive-tree leaves would be thorny. They are not. Actually, they are exactly the opposite, the olive-tree leaves are smooth, velvety and gentle. You end up wanting the leaves to touch the skin of your hands.

Olives

Olives are also smooth and silky. Being an avid olive consumer, I have never thought that olives on the trees have such a sleek skin. Delicate is the adjective that comes to my mind when sharing my olive picking experience. Olives are strong and not delicate, but the way they treat your skin is delicate. Somehow it felt like they did your skin a lot of good.

Olive trees in Mallorca

In my friend’s olive orchid olives were very big. When you hold one in your hand it looked more like a small plum. My friend told me that those olives were not typical for Mallorca, and that when they took the olives to the press all the locals gathered around and commented on the size of their olives.

Olives

Olives on the branches look delicious. My friend told me not to bite them as they taste horrible. She was right. I am still a kid. I could not withhold myself, and did try to chew on one. Well…. I like them better once they have been cured or even better as the golden-greenish thick olive oil. Having touched the olives on the trees changes the taste of olive oil forever.

Olives in crates

If you have a chance to pick up olives, do it!

Barcelona, March 3rd 2013

A Day in Barcelona

After having lived in Bay Area (California) for eight years we are back to Barcelona. It is a curious sensation to be walking in a city where you have spent your college years. The bars you used to go still exist, the book stores are on the same corners, the food and wine taste as wonderfully as in the past and the streets might remember the passionate words we used to say after the midnight. And you feel young and happy again, and almost at home.

I took my camera to the city and made some shots of the things that still hold sentimental value for me (and make me smile).

Plaza Catalunya. It is much cleaner now than it was eight years ago. It is still one of the most crowded and touristy place in the city.

The Zara stores where I used to buy a lot of my clothing as a student. Even though I am not captivated by the brand any longer I still like to see its stores as I walk through the city.

The fountain with decorative tiles at Portal del Angel. Always was one of my favorite places.

Pans & Company. First as student, then as recently married, I used to love this place. With friends, roommates or my husband we ate there almost every time we came to Barcelona. My favorite was Normando sandwich (Serrano ham and melted brie cheese). I am not sure whether or not they still offer it.

A toy store with toy soldiers. As a kid I had twelve tin cavaliers on horses. I loved to play with them. The store did not have anything similar to my childhood memories, but I still spent couple of minutes in front of the soldier display every time I passed the store.

Gazpacho & wine! The best lunch ever in Barcelona in summer.

It was a coffee place before, right now it is a restaurant. We used to go there with my husband when we were dating and later on when we just got married. We usually invited our friends to meet us at the bar. We sat there for hours, drunk coffee, talked and made tons of fun pictures in 2000 and 2001. One of the reasons we loved this place is because it was hidden between tall houses, in one of which the painter Joan Miro was born. The place still holds a lot of charm for me. It also has a Custo store in front. I always loved their dresses. Being inside the store feels so much like Barcelona. You are in the middle of the store, you touch the clothing, you see the colors and then you say to yourself “This is Spain!”. And you like how it sounds.

At Custo I liked the dresses and tops and was surprised about the sizing. The sizes run from 1 to 4, 1 being 34 or 36 (size 4 in US) and 4 being 44 or 46 (size 16 in US). I observed something similar at Desigual, where the smallest size the store had was 38 and it only carried from 38 through 44 (6 through 14 in US sizes). Things are changing in Barcelona.

Café de la Opera. Well, the place is always open and we ended many times at its tables in the mid of a night walk or after a performance. Later we have been going there a lot too.

La Boqueria (the city market). This is the first time we entered the place. When you live in the city you do not do your grocery shopping on Las Ramblas (unless you live close by but normally you do not), thus there are mostly tourists on the market. Still it is colorful and beautiful.

Last thing to mention about Barcelona is Barcelona in August. Having lived in USA for the past eight years I forgot how dead Spanish streets look in this last summer month. Outside of the touristic center everything is closed, everybody is on vacations. And it is way too hot for the Spaniards to be on the streets before 8pm. Thus, during the day the city looks like a desert.

with love from Barcelona, August 25th 2012

One Hundred Smiles

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We took a sightseeing tour in Santiago de Compostela. I got to sit with the three kids, my son and daughter and my daughter’s friend. We sat in the small white train that runs through the city for 45 minutes. My daughter and her friend decided to say “Hola!” to the people on the streets. I did not stop them, even though their enthusiastic waving and saluting prevented me from diving into the city´s past. To my surprise almost everybody on the streets smiled at the happy kids and waved back. The waiters, the hotel service workers, the old men sitting on the plaza, the woman walking two small dogs, students on the bikes, a couple with a Great Dane, men and women inside their cars stopped in the evening traffic, the lottery vendor, the beggar, the souvenir vendors, people chilling out at the cafés, people checking out their maps… and everybody else we passed by on the train. They heard the happy “Hola! Hola!” coming from the train, they saw the two five year olds waving and smiling at them and for a second or two they forgot about their own worries and routines. The simple childhood smile rippled through their lips. I think that during our 45 minutes ride we encountered around one hundred people, and all of those who heard “Hola!”, waved back and smiled. The kids enjoyed saying “Hi” to strangers. Their enthusiastic “Hi” was an invitation to share that moment of childhood happiness. Simple, unrestricted, unattached, abstract and light.  It was that unexpected smile that lands on our lips when we are busy with something else and did not intend to smile. It felt good that so many people suddenly smiled back at us. As they smiled their steps became lighter, their words kinder and their eyes looked shinier. I am learning from my kids how to smile openly and say “Hola!” to strangers. And the amazing thing is that people are grateful for that light in our eyes.

Mature people intimidate me. Greatly. I am thrown aback by their seriousness and feel like a child talking to a busy grown up who does not have time for my words. I nod to their assumptions because they are so secure of the stability of their own words and their rightness. And with years I became good at this game of grown ups. I make a serious face, follow up their thoughts with a nod and do not interrupt them with abstract question weather or not they like butterflies and what color of the butterflies’ wings they are attracted by the most. Nope, I don’t collect butterflies. I shiver at a thought of it. But I like the lightness of their flight and the transparency of their wings and their ability to color the fields in spring. It was well after midnight and I was talking to a friend of mine in a small bar in Santiago over a pitcher of Sangria. And we were talking like grown ups, about life, people and thoughts. About work and travel and money, and everything else that mature people normally talk about. And somebody overhearing our words would be sure that we were two grown ups having a night out over a pitcher of summer fruity alcohol drink. But I knew that butterflies were not out of question. Should I start talking about butterflies, stars or dreams, I would be heard, understood and smiled back at. The conversation would not stop there, and it would take an amazing new turn. But it was late, we were the last people in the bar, the waiter had already cleaned the floor, put all the stools on the tables and was occupying himself with something just not to disturb us. We paid the bill and left.

The nights in Santiago are cool, a breeze maneuvers through the narrow streets and lightly nudges you on the back. Its good that old houses protect you. You and your silence and the unspoken words on butterflies. Only knowing that you can also talk about butterflies, you suddenly become a nice mature person for an hour or two on a cloudy night in Santiago.

I do not like street music. I mean, I do not notice all these people who play their guitars, accordions, flutes and violins on the streets in front of the restaurants. They do not annoy me generally, but they do not make me smile either. Yesterday we had lunch in a nice white restaurant out of the touristic downtown. The food was good and cheap. You always know that the restaurant in Spain is good when it does not look polished and expensive. The best food I had is in those cheap and busy places, where the waiters are always running pass your table. Still they remember your order and start by putting a ceramic pitcher of wine and rough Galician bread on your table before asking the food order. In these places the word “drink” includes wine too, whether you ask for water or wine the price is the same. We just had ordered the food when we heard the music. It was gentle and nice. It had no vulgarity among it sounds and when the food was served, I could not eat it. It felt like eating in a music hall. If I hear music I like I can´t do other things except listen. And so I listened. Two men played an oboe and a guitar on a corner of a nearby plaza. And I stood up and crossed the plaza and put some money in their guitar case (they did not have the hat or bag for collecting money in front of them). They smiled kindly back at me. And somehow I felt very grateful. It was a gift to hear that music. After a while they moved closer to our tables and to my surprise played my favorite music piece, the Turkish Rondo. They played it in a very unusual way. Instruments talked gently, like the most humble person I know, and even humbler than that. The sound was so light that it barely touched you. The music, like a gauze cape over your shoulders did not protect you from anything, did not keep you warm, had no weight. But you, like everybody else, felt the essence of beauty that lay within the folds of its transparent weave.  It radiated light akin to a child´s smile and to the flight of a butterfly.

When you land in Barcelona at night the runway looks like a field ready for some magical game. Red and green lights signal awkward rules to the unknown players. Whether we know it or not, we are a part of it. And I was wondering if others also see the runway in the night as a field ready for some magical, unfair, unrestricted, unknown, but still amazingly beautiful game.

There are certain things that we do not forget easily. And so I will carry these hundred smiles that our children provoked, the midnight Sangria talk and the unasked question about butterflies and the gauze cape weaved by the oboe and guitar “improvising” on the Turkish Rondo. And earthy thick wine in a terracotta pitcher and the rough bread, all done by sunburned and kind hands of village people on Galician fields.  The simplicity of it all sneaks into your heart like a child´s smile. And the moment later you turn the corner and carry it with you for the rest of your life. And you give back. And you give it away. As it would be impossible and too painful to save all these feelings just for oneself.

Santiago de Compostela, July 22nd 2012

Flying over the rim of the clouds

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At 7:35am our airplane almost landed in Santiago de Compostela airport. The unexpected low fog over the northern part of the runway prevented the landing at the last moment. When everybody was ready to feel the light shock of hitting the ground, the plane suddenly roared and pushed us back into our seats. It made a sharp take off and went back into the sky. We did not land. People inside the cabin talked uneasily in a “shh” mode. The plane went straight up and stabilized once we were above the fog and the clouds. We were sliding along the horizon line.

Flying over the white bed of clouds, almost touching them is like dreaming: it is never-ending. Clouds are whiter than snow, thicker than dreams. You know the sky does not end when you stop seeing it. Clouds are like dreams: thick, beautiful, white, strong and amazing. 40 extra minutes in the sky over the rim of the clouds are a gift.

You land, but you never lose the feeling of flying. You get back to your everyday life, but you never forget how to dream. I am glad there was low fog on the northern part of the runway in Santiago de Compostela this morning.

Santiago de Compostela, July 19th, 2012