Tag Archives: campo

how do you like your leche?

This morning over my coffee I decided I could no longer put off documenting the café con leche experience that has now become so integrated into my life here.  Not only do I ponder it as I make it, it is the first thing I think about in the morning, as I trudge to the bathroom and wash my face (the only activity that gets done before the coffee gets made; everything else can wait), and it’s safe to say that for at least 10 minutes of my 90 minute classes my thoughts are on whether I need another cup, from which cafetería it’s going to come from (I have conducted my own taste test in the barrio as to who serves the best cup ‘o joe) and how much I’m looking forward to the extra energy.

If you had forgotten: caffeine is a drug.

So what follows are my personal notes/thoughts/observations on the coffee culture here, to give you a sense of how integral it is not just to this cracked-out caffeine fiend, but to the Spanish people in general:

-the drink: café con leche (literally: coffee with milk).

  • This should actually read: leche con azucar, con una gotita de café (sugary milk with a drop of coffee).  When I came to this country I was downing daily a triple-shot, iced americano with a dash of skim milk and sweet’n’low. Pretty much as high octane as you can get, as far as coffee orders go.  But the Spaniards serve their coffee (which is actually all espresso) with more milk than anything else, not only brining the temperature of the drink down to what can be best described as “tepid” but lending it a taupe tint that indicates that the coffee is really playing a secondary role.  I even have friends who go as far as calling it their morning leche, which only further proves my point: the Spanish like their coffee weak.

– the acoutrements: magdalenas [SEE POST: huerto-day, gone tomorrow], pan todada, ensamaidas (in short: carbs).

  • This is not an inherently Spanish practice, I’ll admit, but I have a feeling (or maybe I’m the only one analytical enough to care) that your choice of bread product to accompany the morning café does indicate something about your character.  M., for example, likes his leche with 3+ magdalenas straight from their plastic wrap, claiming that this is one of his favorite moments of the day.  I will give him this, the burnt sugar on top is not only surprising for store-bought muffins, but also super yummy. P. prefers her morning cup with pan tostada, drizzling it expertly with fresh olive oil, nixing the optional dash of salt.  In a rare showing of patriotism, I have taken to a bowl of oatmeal with my coffee, though I must say I do this only so as not to be starving in all of my morning classes. It doesn’t actually do the trick.

-the locale: cafeterías, bares, hornos, en casa.

  • I think by now I have frequented every type of establishment that offers the stuff.  Except for the last one (en casa = at home, which for me has included the seat in front of my computer, M.’s balcony looking out onto his building’s courtyard, in front of the fire at R.’s country house, on S.’s couch in Barcelona), every one of these places is sure to be filled with smoke, and is sure to not open until after 9:30/10 in the morning.  What I love though is how ubiquitous the espresso machine is in Spain, allowing for the wide variety of places to get your daily dose.  It could be that smoky bar around the corner, where old men chuckle and grunt from the bar, pulling on their twelfth cigarette of the day, drinking a beer and munching a big sandwich; or that female-run horno (oven, aka: bakery) right by school, where standing up facing the window, you can take in the panorama of Avinguda Blasco Ibañez as the professors and students hustle past on the way to the university; and let’s not forget Luna Luna, where students bask in the all-white decor, gossiping and glaring, talking about last night’s party or this weekend’s soccer game.

And although I wax sentimental, the point remains the same: coffee is not something to be taken lightly, here.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.  And seeing as how it is now pushing 2:30 on a rainy afternoon, it seems like the perfect time for cup number 2.

[shout out to Tyler for the awesome photo!]

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Filed under spring semester, travel

huerto-day, gone tomorrow.

As I write this, the February sun is streaming through my little window, promising a warmer day than it really is, showcasing this beautiful city as it bathes the streets in pure, white light.

but I still don’t want to go outside.

Now, I realize that many of my readers (if there are any others besides my parents) will be perusing this from somewhere along the east coast, USA, and will already be shaking their fists at the screen, or at least shaking their heads, in disapproval; current temperature in Charlottesville, VA: 19° F.

Anyway, now for the explanation of why it is so hard to get up and do ANYTHING: I left my heart in the huerto.  This weekend we (me, P., and our newly found friends) whisked ourselves away to the Valencian countryside, where we stayed with our Spanish friends (and strangers) in R.’s “country home”, a villa set smack dab in the middle of the family orange orchard (huerto).  We arrived by train in time for supper, a gourmet meal (prepared for us by someone who was already staying at the house) of sausage, tortilla española, salad, tofu and tomato sauce.  We spent the rest of the evening touring the house (a beautiful, nineteenth century home with three stories, what felt like a bajillion beds, and eclectic decor acquired in Morocco, India, Japan) and warming ourselves by the fire, talking and singing and unwinding from the stress of the week.

The next morning we were kicked out of bed at the ungodly hour of 12:30pm, given the daily ration of cafe con leche and magdalenas (the most dinky excuse for a muffin I’ve ever seen) and plopped into the cars that would take us to the mountain we were scheduled to climb that day.  When I heard that the weekend included a hike I was of course elated, having missed so much the Blue Ridge mountains I’ve grown up with.

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So the day started in high spirits, the sun shining, fresh oranges in our bellies and hands (the amount of citrus I consumed is a staggering figure) as we walked to the start of the trail.  I probably should have known something was up when the equivalent of a park ranger came out and asked us all for names and cell phone numbers, “si acaso os perdáis o algo…” (“in case y’all get lost or something”, followed inevitably by the phrase “¡no te precupes!”).  Before the excursion really took off even, we stopped for a photoshoot at the monastery in ruins, the deciding it was the perfect moment to do some impromptu yoga, led by V., a multi-national, multi-lingual, multi-talented friend we met at the house.  With a fresh set of endorphins flowing through us, we started the trail.  It was a simple gravel path winding up the mountain, like any other unsuspecting hike, but the incline was for sure a challenge for this out-of-“practice” (read: out-of-shape), self-proclaimed mountain woman. I don’t remember the moment when I knew there was much suffering ahead, but at some point this fact became very clear to me.  We were suddenly on the side of the mountain, with no lovely gravel path in sight, just a mountainside covered with thorn bushes and an occasional fern.  Shortly after starting this portion of the hike, the lovely boulders painted with trail markings disappeared as well.  With the Spanish boys up ahead shouting to the American girls puffing behind (“c’mon pilates! let’s stop whining and start hiking!), you can imagine the tension that was slowly crystallizing.  To make a long story short (I think we spent an hour and a half traipsing through the non-trail, hacking at gnarly branches and trying not to trip on rocks), we finally reached the summit of the mountain (called Creu del Cardenal, located at 1700ft, a distance of 3km from the starting point) to take in the view: a panorama of the gorgeous Valencian countryside; the valley down below us to the left, and the Mediterranean ocean lapping gently against the coast to our right.  Legs “temblando como un flan” (literally: “shaking like a flan”, the Spanish equivalent to “shaking like a leaf”), we refueled with more muffins and ensamaidas (the point of this description is to remind you that we had eaten nothing but coffee and carbs some 4 hours before), and I tried to hold back tears caused by the beauty of the place, the love I felt for these people I was with, and the fears that were gnawing at this happiness, asking me what I would be doing with my life in 4 months.  I also just wanted to know how the hell we were going to get down from up there.

The slide down the mountain (I call it a “slide” and not a descent because I think I did more falling, tripping and slipping than actual walking) was relatively uneventful, since we managed to follow the trail the whole time.  But here is where you get an explanation for the lack of images in this post: I dropped my camera.  My beautiful, month-old, “sexy” black camera was eaten by the Creu del Cardenal trail.  And after being wildly upset with myself and with everyone in the world, I started giggling with the thought that when I received it in August, I had no idea it would end up abandoned on the side of a mountain in eastern Spain, after a five hour day in the mountains.  But please, rest assured, I’m still horribly upset.

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That evening was spent with more (new) friends (like C., the guy they kept referring to as “the surgeon”, with a tone of wonder and gravity that suggested he performed all his operations on the moon) cooking and creating (we ate in the in-house art studio, where after dinner we painted a massive collage) and most importantly: RELAXING. I haven’t felt so at ease in months.

Which is why the return home was so brutal; the past few days I’ve wandered around my barrio half-asleep, seeing but not processing, looking but not appreciating, wishing myself back in the huerto.  But with the sun finally back to stay, and the knowledge of what I’d be doing at home right now, it’s safe to say I’m finding contentment, even in the now old-hat routine of classes, meetings, clubs, etc. Because before I know it, I’m huerto-day, gone tomorrow.

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Filed under schmoozing, spring semester, travel, Valencia