Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising which tempt you to believe your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires...courage.
-
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Playtime-Schooltime-Some time

So the next morning, the kids all woke up to a beautiful day for playing with their cousins. We had breakfast at our (Melissa's) camp table and got reacquainted with our cousins/nephews. My kids enjoyed playing on a trampoline again...ours broke a while back....and no one fell off the entire time we were there! I say that's a major accomplishment, since there could be up to 5 children on it at any given time. They even added sprinklers (underneath) sometimes to enhance their trampoline experience. ;)

The kids also discovered the game of marbles while in California. We never really played that as kids at our house that I can recall, but Melissa apparently did. She had passed on her marbles to her boys...and a new pastime was born! I think they played at least one game a day. We spent the whole 2 weeks there assuring Logan that we would find him some marbles of his own...eventually. Surprisingly, Walmart did not have them, nor did Michael's. We decided to look at Cracker Barrel, and were unsuccessful there as well. Finally, after leaving California on our road trip home, we visited Wall Drug in South Dakota. After asking a clerk, and checking in three of the little 'shops', the third one had a few bags. So, we bought each of my children a bag. Of course, we had dinner at Cracker Barrel in Sioux Falls a day or two later, and they had some tins of marbles. We went ahead and bought some of those too, because each tin contains 2 shooters, plus 48 marbles, and a guide-book. Now the kids are set for a while....I think they're actually playing now.

While we were visiting, the boys still had to go to school, and my kids had about a month's worth of work to finish too. So while they were at school, we spent time doing school too. We sat at the camp table or on the porch and read our books. For the written work, they did the same. It was fairly flexible, as each kid has a clip board and can work pretty much anywhere. Wayland also had a couple weeks left of work, and he would arrive home each day just before the boys did. We sat around and drank coffee, talking, until needing to get ready for an activity. Both Marshall and Dustin are in swimming and baseball, so they often had practice or a game. We went to a couple of their games while out there, and we enjoyed watching a 'real' baseball game. I think Logan loves the idea of a real clay field, the whole uniform, etc. I told him if we're living in the states during the next year, we will practice and he can try out for a city league next year. It is pretty exciting to watch a game; I remember that from when I played...

Well, I'll have to do another update some other time. We have some packing to do, and I need to clean the house. Karl is taking me to NYC tomorrow, since Mom and Dad are here and agreed to keep the kids for a few days. I'm looking forward to the alone time with Karl, as well as the trip, because I've never been to the city. We're going to see Grease on Broadway...Taylor Hicks is in it too, so that's an extra bonus. :) The rest of the time we're just going to try to find some neat restaurants to visit...and walk around and see some interesting places. I'll try to get back on Sunday to post some more about our CA trip.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Traveling to California

When we left for California, Karl was also leaving for Spain. It worked out really well, because we were able to go to the airport together, and he saw us to the gate. We hired a car to take us there, because it was cheaper to do this than pay for our car to sit in the airport parking lot. (though Harris paid the bill anyway) Our flights went well, and were on time. I was a bit concerned about missing a flight due to our last experience, but that didn't happen. I could just see myself running through the airport, carrying Corbin and two carry-on bags, with the other two running, and lagging, behind with their own bags....not a nice thing to contemplate!:) I'm so glad God knows what I can handle, and didn't make me go through that.

We took lots of drawing and reading material, so the kids were able to entertain themselves in the airports and on the flights. Everyone was very helpful, as far as helping me find my seats, etc. Only one lady got mad at us on the last flight...Corbin was kicking her seat (accidentally while shifting around trying to get comfy; it was past his bedtime) and she wanted me to switch places with him. When I refused to do so, she gave me a dirty look...but I didn't let her intimidate me! ;) And, as soon as he got his drink of water, he was asleep and no longer a problem for her. We arrived in California very tired and travel-worn, but it was a good day. The kids were great, behaving well and getting along. We got settled into the camper right away, and went to sleep. We had a big day coming up playing with cousins!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A Quick Update

I'm not going to go into a lot of detail right now about our trip...I'll need to do that when I'm home and I can organize my thoughts better. :) However, I just wanted to pop in and say things have been going well. We had a great time with Wayland, Melissa, Marshall, Dustin, and Annie while in California. I feel like I know them all a bit better, and we really enjoyed our time there. Our time in the RV has been interesting...we've seen lots of beautiful scenery, and spent some good time with Mom and Dad. Even with as much time as my kids have spent with their Nana and Paw Paw over the years, it's been nice to see the bonds becoming tighter between them on this trip. I'm so glad we've had the chance to do this. It's been close quarters because, though a 21' RV sleeps 6, it's not easy to live and carry enough 'stuff' for 6 without being a bit crowded. I think we've all managed pretty well in spite of the challenges. :)

I have to say, though, that I never want to spend this much time away from Karl again. We haven't been apart this long since he went to boot camp, before we got married! I really didn't know it would end up being this length of time...I've missed him so much and have seen many things I'd have liked to share with him. Hopefully the pictures I've taken will capture the moments enough for him. I'll be glad when we get home and I can give him a big hug and kiss, and have him by my side each night.

I''ll post some pictures when we get home. For now, take care, and check back over the weekend.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Last Night in Madrid

We wrapped up early Friday afternoon, so I went back to the hotel for a much needed afternoon nap. Antonio was traveling to an adjacent city for the day, but had said before he left that he would join us for dinner at around 9:30. I knew that meant more like 10:30, so I had plenty of time to sleep. He called at about 7 and said that he had just begun the 3 hour drive back and that he would meet us at Plaza Mayor at 10:30. Did I call it or what? But now that meant we would be meeting closer to 11.

Hero and I caught a cab at 9 to Plaza Mayor, but realizing that we had some time we had him take us a little farther to Puerta Del Sol to walk around a bit and take some pictures. I had been professional all week and not walked around with a camera, so I figured I could allow myself to be a tourist on my last night.

I'm told that this sign was taken down several years back, but public outcry caused it to be re-erected shortly thereafter. Not sure what Tio Pepe is, but people seem happy to have their sign back.
Although I did not see it, I believe that in front of this clock tower one can find the kilometer zero marker, that essentially designates this spot as the center of Spain. if I understood correctly, it marks the starting point of 6 major highways that span the country, and all distances on those roads are measured from this spot. Following are a few more shots from around the square.



From here we did not make a beeline to Plaza Mayor, instead choosing to explore some of the back alleys before turning in the general direction of our destination. This part was truly fascinating. So many disjointed streets intertwined with pedestrian only alleyways between buildings. They came in from all directions with no real regard for north south east or west. On many of the alleys are these small little restaurants with outdoor seating. Note the apartment space above.


The weather was perfect, the sun was setting, and with every corner I turned I wished Wendy were here with me. It really is a very romantic city.

We finally found our way to a major roadway and turned east to Plaza Mayor. There is a lot of history in this place. The Current construction dates back to the late 1700's but the Plaza has existed on this spot as the main public square in Madrid since the late 1500's. Apparently many of the public executions during the Spanish inquisition were staged here. It is now both a residential and tourist area with shops ans restaurants occupying the ground floor and corners, and apartments on the upper floors. We ate at one such restaurant; Las Cuevas de Luis Candelas. It is located in the southwest corner of the Plaza, and was very unique in construction. the seating areas were a maze of tunnel-like hallways that led to more tunnel like hallways. Very claustrophobic. Here we are near our table on the 2nd level.
As always, dinner was very good, but vegetables were hard to come by. I must say that this was a fine cap to my final evening in Spain... or should I fine start to my last morning. Once again, I hit the rack at about 2:30. Good times. Hopefully if I'm able to make it this way again I will be accompanied by that special someone ;) See you soon sweetie.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

A new appreciation

I must confess, when I first got to Madrid I was not entirely impressed. We were staying at the north end of the city, very close to the office of our dealer. It is a little newer section of town with a few high rises going up and various flats for housing in most directions. Nothing wrong with the place, just fairly un-interesting. It seemed more Mexico than Europe. Nothing that I haven’t seen before. As a matter of fact, one thing that stood out to me was not Madrid itself but the drive from Madrid to Zaragoza that we made Monday afternoon. It was eerily similar to the drive I had made just a few months earlier from San Diego to 29 Palms in California. We left the city, drove through a winding mountain pass, and as we exited the mountain range… a windmill farm! I mean, seriously, the drive was almost identical.

But that is neither here nor there. The point is although I didn’t realize it I really hadn’t seen Madrid until the last few nights. It really is a beautiful and very old city. On Wednesday evening I took my first trip to a historic section of town when Antonio took us to a restaurant that he designed using the ground floor of 2 adjacent 1800’s era buildings. When he started it was 3 separate shops and a vacant space, and is now an upscale Mediterranean restaurant doing very well for the owners. He was obviously beaming with pride earlier in the day when he told us where we would be going that evening. The staff treated him (and by extension, us) as family upon arrival. As we were walked back to our table he pointed out a few architectural challenges that he faced during the renovation. Joining the two building seemed to not be a major issue other than permitting. He seemed irritated that he was required to install sprinkler heads on the 200 year old beam that was running along the ceiling, but did admit that it was a structural beam that held the weight of the five floors of apartment space directly above. The beam is running along the right hand side of the picture below, supported by the iron columns (the columns are not original). We were sitting at the second table from the back on the left.He also told how he was delighted to find, upon removing layer upon layer of wood plaster and paint, the enormous slabs of granite and very old brick work that can be seen in the second picture. Apologies, as I did not bring my camera and these were the best pics that I could find on the web.

I would not call this a traditional restaurant. The dishes were quite imaginative. Hiro had some sort of duck in (no joke) sea urchin sauce. I tried a bite and if there was duck in there you would never know it. The urchin was that overpowering. I told Wendy later that I may as well have taken a sip of seawater from the docks where I used to clean fish as a boy. I had ostrich, prepared medium, with some sort of steamed squash. It was much better than you would think. Surprisingly enough it tasted very much like beef. I would definitely have it again. Traveler tip: The customary waiter tip in Spain is apparently much less than in the US. At the end of the meal Antonio, quite embarrassed, asked if we would mind supplying the tip. He was completely out of cash. Hero and I were both short, but were able to pool our resources for what would have been about 18%. “No, that is too much.” We were told by Antonio. We asked how much was appropriate, and he said about 5%. So Hero put his cash back and I put in the appropriate amount. We continued to talk a bit and as I looked at my measly few euros in the tray I began to feel more and more guilty. Our waiter for the evening had been one of the best I have had in quite some time. I asked Antonio if it would be insulting or bad form if I tipped more than the customary amount. Believe it or not in some cultures it is. “No, not at all. It just isn’t necessary.” As I put the rest of my cash in with the tip I told him that I had been observing local customs the entire week, so I didn’t feel guilty about being true to my own just for tonight. I mean, really, he suggested the proper way to order my ostrich for crying out loud!

It really was a great experience to eat dinner with the architect of a restaurant in one of his favorite creations. As I walked down the street to the car, looking up at the history in mortar and stone around me, I couldn’t help but think that I was one of the luckiest men on the planet.

Next up, my last night in Madrid.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

An interesting way to make a living.

While this trip is for work, I have really enjoyed my experience here. First off let me say it has definitely been work. Our schedule has us getting up each morning between 6 and 7 and getting back to bed at between 1:30 and 2:30 the following morning. We then get back up at 6 or 7 and start the whole thing over again. Like most people, I can keep late nights if I need to, but lack of sleep will really catch up to a person after a while. We can all feel ourselves getting a little more dense with each passing day, but the customers don’t know this. There is absolutely no excuse for nodding off during a presentation that you have seen twice a day for the past week, even if you are only going on 3 hours of sleep. For each customer it is the first time they have seen it, and if it is not interesting o keep our attention, why should it keep theirs?

But why do I enjoy it? Because I don’t feel at all like a tourist. I feel more like a guest in someone’s home. I have really gotten to know many of our hosts at RFE and a few of the customers. When we go to lunch or dinner we don’t have to struggle with the language and wonder what we’re ordering. We have a guy to translate for us and tell us that the item we’re trying to read on the menu is actually the head of an octopus in sea urchin sauce. When we meet someone new we don’t have to introduce ourselves. We’re introduced by our hosts, and instantly we are viewed by those we have just met as something other than a stranger.

The owner of our host company is Antonio. He is an architect by training and still runs a firm here in Madrid along with RFE, which he bought from a friend several years ago. One of my favorite meals during this trip was a simple lunch that we prepared ourselves in the office. After one of our presentations Antonio came in and said he would like to offer us a small treat for all our hard work so far. He brought some plates and knives into the small conference room we had been using during the week, along with several varieties of cured meats and cheeses. He gave hero and I each a knife and asked if we would cut up the meats and cheeses to be served. As we prepared each we snuck a bite or two while he told us the name of each food and what is was and where it came from along with the history of the particular area from which it came. He of course spent the most time on the items that came from his home town, or village as he called it. Every now and then he would urge us, “thinner, thinner, cut it very thin.” He sliced up the cheeses himself, warning us that they were very strong. Little did he know my appetite for strong cheeses. :)

Antonio was obviously proud of his home town and the goods it produced. As everyone sat down he brought out a bottle of wine “from my village”, he said, near LaMancha. This prompted a discussion regarding the uselessness of the letter X in both of our languages, as we were reminded that we may be familiar with LaMancha from the story of Don “Quick-so-tee”, in another “would you like more jam?” incident.

In Spanish each letter has a single pronunciation, always, in all circumstances. Realizing that we pronounce Mexico “Mek-see-ko” and not “Meh-he-ko” as they do, and in another attempt to speak “proper” English, they spoke of Don Quixote in a manner that they thought would be more familiar to us.

“No, no.” we replied. “We say Don “kee-oh-tee” as well.”

“Not quick-so-tee?”

“No, it’s kee-oh-te” for us too.”

“Really?”

“yup”

“How do you say Meh-he-ko”

“Mek-see-ko”

“but…”

“Don’t ask”

Ah, cultural exchange at it’s finest. Thank you Antonio for a great meal, and a fine wine.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Would you like more Jam?

So after 4 days in Spain, (Madrid and Zaragoza) I have yet to see the first vegetable. They love their Meat. Mostly pork and lamb. A major delicacy here is something called Jamon Iberico and is a salt cured ham from the hind leg of an Iberian Black Pig. It is served room temperature in paper thin slices (sliced by hand, amazing). Just like any other delicacy, it is available in several different grades, the most expensive being Jamon Iberico de bellota. This is the same breed of pig, but it lives free range somewhere near the French border and eats nothing but bellota (a type of acorn).
The first time I tried this stuff I really didn’t like it. It tasted good enough but it would leave a strange film in my cheek for about 30 seconds after each bite, and almost felt like that section of my mouth had gone numb. Then just as fast as it showed up it would disappear. Very disconcerting. But when in Rome, right? (or Madrid in this case) They kept serving it, and I kept eating it. The second day that I ate it, it didn’t seem as bad. And by the third day I was asking where I could get some to bring home. I have never in my life acquired a taste for something as quickly as I did with that ham. I am seriously hooked on that stuff.
Funny story. Part of the entertainment with traveling to a different country is the language barrier and all the problems it presents. In Spain the "J" in Jamon is pronounced… well I don’t know how you would put the sound in print. Think of that phlegmmy sound that an Arabic speaker uses when saying the name “Achmed”. In any event it is closer to the sound of H than J. One of our hosts on this trip is called JM. He’s the General Manager of our agent in Spain. His English was much better than my Spanish, and as such he knows that the English pronunciation of “J” was different than his. Not knowing the spelling for Ham in english, and so in trying to communicate in my language, he kept asking me “how do you like the jam?” “Ah dis is veddy good jam, no?” “Would you like more jam?”

“No, no. It’s ham, JM. We also say Ham.”

“Si, Si, veddy good jam.”

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Ole'!

I found out that Madrid is currently celebrating the festival of san Isidor. One thing that is closely tied to this event is the Bullfight. Madrid is famous for its bullring, the Plaza del Toros at Ventas. This ring hosts bullfights form I think May through October, I believe every Sunday, but the period from the end of May through the first week or so of June attracts the most famous and apparently skilled Matadors in the world. And when do I just happen to end up in Spain? The Last Sunday in May. Seriously, who really thinks I’m letting that opportunity pass me by? A new friend of mine, Hironori, or Hiro for short, arrived early in the afternoon. He is a sales manager for one of our products that we will be demonstrating throughout Spain this week, and up until this evening I have only really spoken to him once, and that was about the business of this trip. He sent me a text when hip plane landed to let me know that he had arrived, and I immediately replied with “I’m going to a bullfight, care to join me?”

“Seriously? Sounds like fun” It was also his first time in Spain

When Hiro arrived we hopped on the Metro to Ventas and got to know each other along the way as we tried to navigate the tunnels. Hiro is a native of New Jersey and grew up just across the Hudson from NYC. He is very much American and sounds and acts lake any other New Yorker but he does speak Japanese, as his father was an immigrant from Japan.

Two things about this event that stood out to me in such stark contrast to each other were the simultaneous pageantry and brutality of the event. When these 3 mules were led into the ring at the beginning of the event I couldn’t help but wonder what logical purpose they served at a bull fight other than to be “pretty”.

It turns out they do serve a very important purpose, but I will leave it to the reader to determine what it is.

This guy was apparently the headliner in the event and seemed very popular with the crowd.


He did not exit the ring as confidently as he entered.

He took a horn in his leg and had to be carried off. I assume that this is a rare occurence, but after he was removed the contest resumed with another matador. Hero and I spent just as much time reacting to the crowd as we did trying to figure out what was going on in the ring. Whistling appears to be the crowd's method of showing thier displeasure with the matador's performance. The entire event lasted about 2 1/2 hours. And strangely enough, by the time it was over we kind of understood what was going on and found ourselves cheering for good performance along with the rest of the crowd. We never could bring ousrselves to whistle though.


All in all it was a remarkable experience, and one I’m glad we took the time to explore.