I walk into the kitchen to make myself something to eat, and when I sit down I look at the clock. It’s 3pm. Earlier in the day Lyon and I had met up for almuerzo, that bocadillo-centric, brunch-time meal that Marc helped me get straight. Without realizing it, I have shifted to a Valencian meal schedule.
Physically, we arrived two weeks ago. But mentally, we have just now really landed.
If you’re slow traveling, like we prefer to do (when life allows), I’ve always thought that two weeks was the amount of time you needed to settle. To really and truly kick any jet lag. To find the grocery store. To buy necessities like spices for cooking, bicycles for moving, and a stroller if you have a whiny four year old. To figure out what button to push to signal a stop on the metro and (important) how to open the doors. To figure out the meal schedule and where to get the strongest cup of coffee. To begin seeing the same people around town at the same cafés and walking on the same mourning routes as you.
Signs That We Have Arrived
The other day two middle-aged ladies with a tourist map flagged me down on my bicycle and asked me in English for directions. They were surprised when I answered them in English, and I was surprised that I was actually able to direct them.
That same evening, while waiting for the train with Jojo to go to the beach, a couple gave up on staring blankly at the ticket reader with no slot for a ticket. How, they asked me in Spanish, do you swipe your card before getting on the train? I showed them the stand with the flat, circular top painted with red and white arrows. “Se deliza aqui,” I explained, and waved my hand over the arrows. Maybe they thought they’d gotten info from a local.
When Bilingual Baby gets on the back of either my bike or Lyon’s bike, she snaps herself into the seat, and snaps the straps on her bicycle helmet by herself (no one else is allowed to do it).
The other day Lyon forgot to let me know he would be home later than usual because he was having a beer with people from his co-working office. That felt like the mistake a typical husband might make on a typical workday, not some tourist mistake (not like the time he accidentally ordered six pizzas instead of the #6 pizza on the menu).
Yesterday we bought flowers at a stand in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento and the lady selling them asked us what they were for. Jojo explained, “Son para mi maestra porque mañana es mi último dia del cole.” The flower lady smiled sweetly and then asked if she would be going on vacation anywhere. Jojo looked to me for help. How to answer this question? We smiled because we both knew we had just gotten here and it would be silly to go anywhere else. I realized that the lady thought Jojo was from Valencia, and like so many other families in Valencia, might be going out of town for August.
And, finally, we are now on smiling and winking terms with the five or six regulars at the restaurant beneath our apartment. Our door opens right up to the tables on their patio, and in the evenings, most days of the week, you can find this group of old ladies just hanging out. Dressed in practical shoes, tan hose, black skirts, silk shirts, beads, and interestingly-shaped hair, they hang their purses on their walkers and then drink and gab for hours. When Bilingual Baby makes her exit from our place in the afternoons, often wearing her pink tiara and pink polka-doted Sevillana dress with matching high heels, they all whistle, and ooh and aah, and ask where they can buy her outfit and where she’s going and whether they are invited. Jojo smiles and waves.