Monday, February 1, 2010

La sobremesa

Sunday was one of the best days of my life. 

Around one o'clock I went to find the sunshine and to see things. For most of the day, the sun shies behind the buildings, which are situated very closely together. At any given hour, the sun is lined up perfectly to shine down only a couple of alleys, providing light and heat deprived of the others. You would think they would have calculated a schedule showing which cafés got sun at each hour, for people to reference. I am imagining something like a tide chart.

I walked toward the central market, which reeks of fish. Despite the smell, it is wonderful. Piles of categorized and color-sorted spices, herbs, and sauces. Dried fruit, meat, anything, and who knows. Bartering and bargaining. I spotted a row of tables and chairs filled with people, because it was Sunday afternoon precisely at siesta time. Each person was bathed in warm Valencian sun, exactly what I was looking for. There was one open table! I looked into the café and saw a busy counter and lined with glass cases of stacked fried seafood of all kinds. I went up to order a cafe con leche. I stood awkwardly in the way, but it seemed to be the place to order. "Dime," the guy behind the register told me. His hands were flying in a dozen directions, putting scallops on a plate, punching buttons on the register, handing bills to impatient servers, writing down an order from another server, putting sauce on the scallops, and putting the scallops on a tray already loaded with fried calamari, bread, and several golden glasses of beer. All of this before I got out my order. I sat at a little table beside the bar while it was prepared, watching all the action. People were lined up to order. Waiters were crowded by the small door to the kitchen, where endless amounts of food seemed to come from behind the wall. Still more food was stored in front behind the counter. Mussels, clams, scallops, chunks of meat. Bread in big baskets, and endless beer and wine on display. Jars of olives. The super-human who ran the counter would say out, "Cántame." Sing to me. Someone would list out about five different things, he punched buttons and he would get busy assorting the items on the list. A coffee appeared on the counter and he pointed at me. I grabbed it efficiently and walked outside to find my sunny table. All occupied. I stood around, looking for an opening. No luck. I walked back in to sit at the table by the bar, and, of course, occupied. I uncomfortably sat down at the bar by pulling up a stool in the one opening I could see, squeezed in between an old couple slowly eating some thing featuring salty ham, and two young women rapidly speaking in Spanish. I felt completely like a, what the call, guires. So, so touristy. There’s always next time.

By the time I got back, the group was ready. We were going to the beach! We generally understood which direction the train station was in and, more generally, which train to take once we got there.

An hour later we were there. The Mediterranean Sea.

 That’s right! The MEDITERRANEAN! First sighting made! The water was blue, blue. The sand was very fine, and the beach was expansive. There was a small mountain range to the left, with a small village built onto it. To the right was an industrial looking port. I dipped a toe into the freezing water. The day before I left for Valencia, I was on the beach on Sullivan's Island, thinking about me standing on the Mediterranean shore. And there I was! Very neat.

It is January, thus the beach was pretty windy and cold. No rain, but there were fast moving clouds over most of the sky. Five of us decided to find a little restaurant away from the main beach area and have a quick refreshment and snack before heading back to town.  

Five hours later, when leaving the restaurant, I knew I had experienced something truly Spanish, la sobremesa. 

We had walked right into the middle of the afternoon meal of the family who owned the restaurant. About twelve people were sitting around several tables pushed together. The obvious matriarch was getting up and down and going to the back of the restaurant and bringing out more food. Paella, fruit, salad, drinks and drinks and drinks. She noticed us and waved us to two small tables, which she hurriedly pushed together. She brought out green olives, chips, bread, and drinks. There were five of us and we were the only other ones in the restaurant. They kept eating and bringing food. There were about six dogs running around and laying under the table. An old man handed me something: a tiny puppy! What?! Where were we?! I played with the puppy for the next two hours, as we talked and relaxed, occasionally speaking to the family, and she kept bringing drinks. They asked us if we were going to eat. We said sure. They brought sangria and more bread. Later, salad. Piled high with fresh shredded tuna, olives, tomatoes, and chickpeas, oil and vinegar. 

Then paella and wine. PAELLA! Oh, paella. It came in a huge black iron, shallow pan. Yellow saffron rice topped with pleasantly arranged green beans, red peppers, chicken, and other delicious items. It was unbelievably good. It was heaped on our plates, our glasses filled.  After scraped clean plates, they brought a tray full of ripe fruit. Sliced melon, apples, bananas, and oranges. Oranges so sweet and juicy it felt like a sin to eat. We were blissfully stuffed. 

After dinner, the old man brought over a bottle of light brown liquid, and poured us all a shot, including himself, of a sweet honey liquor. The five of us were in disbelief at our luck! We had stumbled into the real thing. Next, the old man brought over hand-rolled cigars, of tobacco, valenciano puro. He talked and talked, and handed me the puppy again. He gave us more cigars, wrapped in paper, to take home. He kissed our cheeks and the woman made fun of the boys. There were children running around and playing with the dogs.

We were all having the time of our lives, but also getting anxious to see the bill for all the food and drink that had mysteriously and continually arrived at our table. You wouldn't believe that it all cost us somewhere around 15 dollars! Whew!! We were so relieved and so grateful. We were invited back next Sunday, and every Sunday after that. They wanted me to take the puppy home with me and feed us more.

Today is another beautiful day. I am sitting on the roof of our building, looking out over roofs of brown and red shingles. Most churches have blue-domes, which I can see scattered around the city. White walls and green foliage form the grids. There are others sitting on their respective roofs across el barrio. I see the park in the distance. I see the street we walk down every day to get to school. Later I will go take a walk and go get a book I need for school. I am seeing, hearing, and learning so much.

Un abrazo fuerte.

1 comment:

  1. ahhh...So glad you are seeking out the "real" Spain, and soaking it all in, enjoying it so thoroughly. More photos please! Hope you are taking your camera everywhere....