I recently returned from a 12-day culinary odyssey to Barcelona, Seville, and Madrid with 11 other delightful people. I took more than 1900 photos, which is a direct reflection of the great time I was having, more than of my photographic skill. I could bore you with endless tales of fine dining, cooking classes, my new friends, and countless memorable experiences. But you don’t have that kind of time.
In the post that I wrote before leaving, I admitted to needing to get away from my normal life for a while and reshuffle my personal deck. I also admitted that my alter-ego, Loretta, was particularly excited about having an opportunity to stretch her legs for once, free from the tyranny of my fairly organized and predictable self.
Most members of the group were within 10 years of my age, either way, so it was easy to make new friends as we cooked, ate, and traveled together. It turns out that each of us was there for our own reasons and by the end of the trip, we each had our own realizations.
Looking back on it, what I noticed most of all was how easy it was to be in present time, or as we call it these days, the Now. We even capitalize it to emphasize its importance. Never once did I wish I were somewhere else, even on an occasional bus trip back to the city during siesta time, when probably only I and the bus driver were still awake. Everything was new and interesting. Nothing about the days resembled any I’ve experienced before.
Even European hotels and their non-standard showers presented an interesting challenge the first time, especially the shower in Madrid with the huge mirror at the end of it (what the hell were they thinking?). Language and cultural differences were not a big problem, although Dorothy put sugar on her fried eggs and Sharin wound up with pepper in her coffee one morning by mistake; they laughed it off.
We were amused to see a variety of wine available at the impressive hotel breakfast buffet in Seville. “It’s hard to fit more wine into our day,” Dorothy quipped. Well said.
The Spanish people seem to be eating and drinking continually. Remarkable amounts of ridiculously good ham were consumed; more than any of us could finish, but it was a crime to leave it behind. The seduction of open-air markets like La Boqueria in Barcelona was not lost on us, as we clamored for saffron and special tins of seafood to cram into our luggage, leaving the now too-small items of clothing and water bottles behind to make room.
I trained my whole life for this trip, with years of eating and drinking well, often, and heartily. I did not shirk from much of anything, other than the steak tartare and some kind of internal organ that had been deep-fried. Loretta and I did our best to be fully engaged, in spite of a bad head cold. I learned that good sherry or vermouth can work wonders when a bit under the weather.
After a few weeks back home and back to work, I’m still basking in a bit of the glow, amazingly. I survived the first work week back, mostly, in spite of all of my passwords expiring while I was gone.
Here’s a huge banner in downtown Madrid that’s been up for quite a while; I’ve yet to see the same sign waving on a building in downtown Boise.
But like any good vacation, there’s always this thought: How do you bring the excitement, wonder, and enthusiasm back home? For heaven’s sake, I don’t have the time or the waistline to eat and drink 6 or 8 or 10 courses of tapas every night. I’m pretty sure I ate my body weight in bread during this trip. Not sustainable.
Anyway, here are a few random thoughts that bubbled to the top of my mind, as I was driving to our local Basque market, to stock up on “Spanish stuff”:
- Twelve days of eating and drinking in Spain can make a person more minion-shaped. While I have often held to a personal theory (aka delusion) that I can only gain so much weight in one day, I now know that this is not true. But I did discover that we have at least one other stomach that kicks in when it’s really necessary. Which it was, daily.
- Olive oil is critical to life, and plenty of it is even better. The good stuff is worth it. Use it with wild abandon and without guilt. Over chocolate ice cream with flaky sea salt is divine.
- You think you know ham? Not until you’ve been to Spain. And I’m not talking the Easter variety here. But even when there were plates of paper-thin-sliced Jamon Iberico Bellota (ham), costing upwards of $90/pound, there’s still only so much incredibly expensive ham a person can eat, day after day.
You know how irritating it is when millennials show you cat videos that relate to every aspect of their lives? Well, that’s how tired of ham we got; although after a few days back home, I couldn’t resist buying whatever semi-worthy cut I could find in Boise and gobble it up.
- Is there a tapas cult? If so, sign me up. Little plates of tapas, combined with a glass of vermouth, sherry, wine, or beer and then repeat…many times in a day or night. It’s inextricably tied to their slower-eating lifestyle and how they socialize. And it works.
- Speaking of drinking, no one thinks twice about a late-morning vermouth before a large lunch or enjoying a caña (a small, lager-style beer) in the middle of the afternoon. They usually were served with a complimentary bowl of Spanish paprika-laced potato chips or, if you’re lucky, a variety of olives. Another really good idea. Better than coffee on a hot day, people.
Maybe I’ll pull out a cold bottle of vermouth before lunch at the office and see who wants to join me. I believe I hear HR coming down the hall now…to escort me out, once and for all. It’s not to get drunk; it’s just what they do.
- It’s possible to make ten new friends in two weeks. Why don’t we do that here? I think back on crazy mealtime conversations about The Big Lebowski, cremation for Jews (who knew?), and Dr. Seuss. And that was during just one lunch.
- It would take me a very long time to tire of seeing the fascinating architecture in Spain.
- It’s hard to come home after being in a bubble of wonder and hedonism without wanting to quit your job and just run away.
- You can almost make a fool of yourself if you’re under the influence of a 12-hour Sudafed while enthusiastically tasting vermouths, wines, and sherries.
- As far as I can tell, there is no kale in Spain. Another point in its favor.
- It’s also not easy to find pasta in in Spain. The first time I saw and ate it was on the Iberian Airways flight home from Madrid to Chicago. How ironic is that?
- Note to Self: Overeating for twelve solid days is easier in comfortable pants.
If you walk over the zero point in downtown Madrid, it supposedly means you are going to return to Spain someday. Some in our group had been here before; a few others, not. Below is Robin crossing the zero point…the gal who said she didn’t like to travel, eat, or drink!
Our two group leaders have been here many times and will be again, so, it’s impossible for them to realize how it feels to have only one shot at this; you’ll probably only be lucky enough to come here once in your life. Only 12 days to absorb, enjoy, experience, and really be there. But I guess it’s a sign of a fantastic trip that I would dearly love to go back.
Yearning isn’t all bad, although mostly it is.
When I got to the busy Madrid airport to catch my flight home to Boise, I had to pick between two immense check-in lines. I picked the one with the nun in it; I took it as a good sign. Once, on the plane, I learned that the Iberian Airlines pilot who was going to fly me over the pond’s first name was Jesus; I took that as another good sign.
I ordered a vermouth on the plane, out of habit, to go with the four movies I had never heard of, while flying back to Chicago. All four movies had the theme of people changing their lives; imagine that.
Gary and the dogs greeted me at the airport in the middle of the night. Big hugs and wet, sloppy dog kisses brought me back to earth and our lovely home in the country. How can I possibly complain?
The fear I had going on this trip by myself was very different than the fear I had coming home. Going somewhere completely new reminds us how robotic we can become in our everyday lives. Work…wine…Netflix…repeat…nope.
With one foot stuck in the past, and the other stretching for the future, it’s hard to really move in either direction.
Spain changed me a little bit; time will tell exactly how. My deck was reshuffled but the cards have not yet been dealt, to keep this silly analogy going.
No matter what; I can’t help but think about this trip and smile. How can you ask for more than that?
Thanks for reading. I know how busy you are.