I suppose it was inevitable that the vacation glow would wear off, but I was surprised by how quickly it happened. The first day back from our trip, the first sunny day of a week that would reach vacation-like temperatures in the ’80s, I got into an argument about my dog with our mail carrier. Of course the argument, and my reaction to it, wasn’t really about the dog or the mail carrier at all.
It was about Change. If you know me or you’ve followed this blog, you know my neighborhood is changing. As the old-timers die off, developers are buying their land and razing their houses, building three and four-unit expensive condominiums in their place. “Chicken coops,” my taciturn neighbor, one of the remaining elderly men on the block, calls them. “Filing cabinets” is the term preferred by one of my colleagues.
My street is a constant construction zone. It’s loud and busy and my dog and I can’t stand it. He barks, which is what upset the mail carrier. I sometimes bark too, but mostly I am full of suppressed and not-so-suppressed rage.
On that first sunny morning, when my dog and I went for a walk, I learned that the neighbors on the corner, who had built the treehouse that everybody’s kids played in, had sold their property and were getting a divorce. My next-door neighbor, a good-natured handyman, who is always kind enough to feed our cats when we are away, told me he was leaving too. And then he offered to come back to the neighborhood anytime we needed him to feed the cats.
So when Jeff told me to let go of the argument with the mail carrier, he was really trying to tell me to stop fighting the inevitable.
Change. Makes a person want to turn around and head right back to Spain. (I had to laugh when I read the snarky comments in response to the article I wrote about the mail carrier/dog brouhaha and destruction of my neighborhood. One of the more vicious trolls, who obviously saw me as an entitled enemy of honest working people, snarkily accused me of vacationing in Spain.)
Yup, I was in Spain alright. Andalusia to be exact.
Carefully constructed around Christmas time, when we were all sick with the flu, this trip was meant to have something for everyone.
A pitstop in London, for British-obsessed Daughter #1 (with a long-anticipated trip to Ottolenghi for me). Windsuring in Tarifa, for windsurfing-obsessed Jeff (with a side-trip to Tangier, Morocco for me). Warm weather, for Daughter #2. Gibraltar, just because. And Moorish history and great food for me.
When you travel internationally somewhat infrequently with your kids, it’s hard to know what will make the greatest impression. You never know what’s going to stick.
The morning of the trip, as I was frantically trying to make sure we had everything together, we realized that Daughter #2 did not have a purse. I know from experience with D#1 that teenage girls are very particular about their purses.
All other options rejected, my eyes fell on a black faux-leather Marc Jacobs shoulder bag that my stylish friend C. gave me when she moved away. “You can use this,” I offered, sure that D #2 would reject it as falling within the fashion domain of a 50-something woman clinging to the last vestiges of style. But D #2 surprised me. “Really?” she asked, her eyes gleaming. “Is that a designer bag?”
“Our boots” flashed before my eyes.
Surprise #1 of the trip was the way in which D#2 and I bonded. We’d been having some tussles and she, far more enigmatic than her sister, rarely let me in on her secrets. Lending (yes, lending) her that purse opened a window. I discovered just how sophisticated her interest in fashion has grown. She discovered that I had a past, one that apparently included more designer swag than she’d realized.
At the airport I told her that in my young, single, traveling days, when leaving a country, I used to take my remaining currency to the duty-free shop and spend it on perfume.
So on this trip, together, we spent all of our airport waiting time in duty-free shops, searching for what she hoped would be her “signature scent.” I spoke with familiarity about Chanel and Dior, Guerlain and Lancome, and she regarded me with a respect for experience that sometimes gets lost in our day-to-day lives.
When, in the last few minutes at the last duty-free shop, despairing of ever finding just the right essence (despite my using my own olfactory history as proof that your signature scent changes, as you change), a kindly British saleswoman (who was clearly one of those “sweet-smelling women,” like those who guided me) took D#2 in hand and helped her navigate the shelves.
No matter that I misread and miscalculated the price of the Gucci perfume we ended up purchasing, only realizing after we returned home just how much we’d spent.
“Our perfume,” I call it. And though she may not realize it, we share it in more ways than one.
Back at home, D#2 and I went on a feminist movie-watching jag, watching the original Stepford Wives, which Jeff rented for us, under the suspicious eyes of the somewhat militant women at the video store, who refused to let him rent the Nicole Kidman remake. (A guy renting a movie like that is the equivalent of a guy buying tampons, which Jeff has also done. Welcome to the domain of women.) and Rosemary’s Baby.
My little girl is growing up.
D #1 looked utterly at home navigating the Tube in London, drinking tea and eating Maltesers.
She wants to study there and I realized that she probably will.
I dug even further back, before my perfume-purchasing days, to the two years that I was an exchange student in Europe, years of glorious poverty.
One of the most interesting things about being a parent as your kids get older, is that suddenly you can remember and relate. The distance between your respective experiences seems to shrink. My Eurail Pass self and my designer perfume self are just under the surface. My girls’ equivalents of those selves are just under the surface too, about to emerge.
But what about Spain? Did they appreciate the Alhambra and the cathedral in Seville and the tomb of Christopher Columbus and the all-you-can-eat paella on the beach?
But more than anything they appreciated eating five times a day, dressing up, wandering around on their own, late night tapas crawls and sips of the drink that defined the trip for me: Tinto de Verano.
Enjoyed more by Spaniards than Sangria (which is apparently for tourists), Tinto de Verano, or summer red wine, is equal parts red wine and lemon/lime or orange soda. It is divine.
In Spain I was probably drinking a mixture of cheap wine and lemon-lime Fanta. At home, I tried to replicate it by mixing wine with Dry brand blood orange soda and a splash of agave and it wasn’t the same. I’m still tinkering. This uncomplicated recipe, from Saveur, is a good place to start.
The wonderful book that accompanied me on this trip was Michael Paterniti’s The Telling Room: A Tale of Passion, Revenge and the World’s Finest Cheese.
Among other things, it’s about change, or rather the push-pull we humans feel as we struggle to preserve history, heritage and our way of doing things, with the inevitable changes that time brings.
Fully back at home now ensconced in real life, with my Spanish sojourn and the sting of having three packs of jamon Iberico confiscated at the airport fading into memory, I can see change on the horizon.
But summer is coming.
As much as possible, I will spend mine trying to replicate our favorite tapa — grilled goat cheese drizzled with honey—cooking from my old favorite Spanish cookbooks, The New Spanish Table, The Spanish Table cookbook (from the wonderful Seattle store of the same name) and my new favorite, Moro, the cookbook, which I learned about one melancholy rainy day from this recipe for spinach and garbanzo beans (courtesy of The Smitten Kitchen), which transported me right back to Andalusia.
When the construction workers have left for the day and quiet returns to the neighborhood, I will lie on my backyard hammock with a good book, a glass of Tinto de Verano nearby.
I’ll try not to worry this summer, as Daughter #1 learns how to drive, reminding myself that change is inevitable.