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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Settling In

I ambled around Barcelona for 11 days without once getting disoriented. I got lost in my neighborhood yesterday walking two blocks from my apartment. The streets run circular, perpendicular, crosswise, and a few ways that streets are not really made to run; it’s almost obscene. It’s like a labyrinth made up of Middle Eastern kebab joints, internet cafes, beauty parlors, ethnic grocery stores, Hilal butcher shops, and bars—lots of bars. Thank God for that. I missed the market yesterday which closes at around 14:30H so I was looking for a green grocer. Since the market is right in the middle of this labyrinth, there isn’t much need for a green grocer. That’s like bringing coals to Newcastle.

Stumbling around looking for some bananas, onions, and tomatoes really illustrated how bizarre the streets are in my new hood. I’m glad that I live right next to the Ruzafa Market as this is a landmark big enough for even a newbie cab driver to find some night when I’ve been out too late. I couldn’t find my way back home if I lived on some of these streets with a GPS and a pack of bloodhounds. I just discovered the Spanish spelling of “Ruzafa” (and Spanish pronunciation). I’m relieved because the double “s” of the Valenciano version, “Russafa,” just wasn’t sitting well with me—it’s incredibly un-Spanish. I guess that I’ll just have to live with the wacky urban planning of this area.

There must be some provision in the Spanish constitution that states that every neighborhood must have access to a wonderful market for produce, meat, seafood, fresh flowers, olives, and everything else that Spanish people eat, drink, smoke, and generally use to adorn their table tops. I used to go to the Algirós Market which was about six blocks from my apartment. Now I could jump out of my window and land on the Ruzafa Market. I will probably tell horror stories to little kids around here about how I used to walk SIX BLOCKS to go to the market. Those were hard times back then.

I think that I still have to go to the Mercado Central downtown to buy my olives. There is a stall there that has the best ones I have found so far in Spain—and I look everywhere. Besides that, the two gals who work there are totally hot. It’s like the Coyote Ugly of olive stalls.

The Ruzafa Market is really beautiful. It is super clean and even has a cool little café inside for those of us who can’t afford to get too far away from an espresso machine. The seafood section is in its own little closed-off corner of the market, I guess to keep the seafood smells smelling like seafood and the other smells left on their own.

I bought a couple of chicken breast for a dish I am making and the woman I bought them from spent at least a minute extolling the virtues of these two particular chicken breast. They were pretty nice, I must admit. I asked her if there was a place in this market where they sell Latin American food items. She got on the intercom and asked around for me. There isn’t an intercom so she just yelled across to the vegetable stall next door to her stall. They asked me what I was looking for and a I told them that I needed jalapeños, among other things. It turns out they sold jalapeños, or something that looked somewhat similar. The smelled like they had a bit of heat to them. I also bought a bunch of cilantro.

The day previous I stopped into a Latin grocery store in my neighborhood run by a woman from the Dominican Republic. They have pretty good corn tortillas that aren’t too expensive. I used to go into joints like this in the States, more than anything just to get a feel for being in a Spanish speaking country. In the places State-side, I just felt like the gringo who spoke a bit of Spanish. Now my Spanish is good enough that I was having a fairly involved discussion about the ingredients necessary to make certain Mexican dishes. I was looking for hominy, or maiz blanco as the Mexican call it. The Spanish don’t eat much corn so they don’t call it anything. She showed me some dried corn. “No, that’s what Mexican feed to their chickens. I’m looking for the soft, fresh corn that usually comes in a can.” She got a laugh out of that. I found some hominy but she said that it wasn’t the soft kind of corn. I haven’t tried it yet but I think she is mistaken.

I am just getting to know the Ruzafa neighborhood but so far I like what I see. I found two used book shops—something I had never seen in Valencia. I bought another novel by Manuel Vicent for 1€. Across the street from one of the shops is a great little Horchatería with a lot of nice sidewalk tables. I sat down in the empty café to get a coffee. A server asked me what I wanted. “Un café americano, cuando puedas.” A coffee, whenever you can. I told her I was never, ever in a hurry. She said not being in a hurry was a real luxury. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

It looks like I will be making enchiladas for a sort of international potluck dinner tomorrow that I am attending with one of the roommates. I went out in the hood during the evening with her and we ran into almost everyone who is going to be there tomorrow. It’s like the Valencia United Nations. Along with meeting a lot of great people I also became aware that Ruzafa is the best kept secret in Valencia. There are dozens of really cool bars and restaurants that I would have never discovered without an insider showing me the way. They are all way off the tourist trail and you won’t find any of them in the Lonely Planet Guide.

After nine months I finally feel like the locals are opening up to me. I hope that my enchiladas are a hit at the party tomorrow.

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