[Note: This is an essay that was recently published in Expatica Spain. The title is the same as an earlier post, but the content is different.]
It seems that no self-respecting, twenty-first century blog can survive without posting an occasional meme.
What’s a “meme?” To be honest, I’m still not 100% sure. It seems to be the blogging-world’s equivalent of a chain letter…but with an important difference. The typical meme involves a series of personal questions, and the blogger who is “tagged” to participate is expected to contribute his own soul-searching ramblings before forwarding it to others.
I’ve been tagged with many memes in my personal blog. And to be honest...I quite like them. Memes are an easy way to produce blog content with a minimum of brain strain.
So...if it’s good enough for my personal blog, then it ought to be good enough for my Expatica blog. Right? I’ve therefore taken the liberty of tagging myself with the suspiciously topical meme below.
WHAT’S THE MOST SURREAL EXPERIENCE YOU’VE HAD WHILE LIVING IN SPAIN:
That’s an easy one. I once spent a weekend in the Mediterranean coastal town of Javea; located between the Spanish cities of Valencia and Alicante. I was there because the Madrid Hash House Harriers held an “Away Hash” that was attended by nearly one hundred participants—some of whom flew in from Germany, Switzerland and England.
Our Saturday run took place near a large orange grove in the middle of nowhere. Before the run began, we gathered ‘round for a briefing and were informed that we would—at one point—be jogging through the scenic grounds of the Fontilles Leper Colony.
“Leper Colony?” I thought to myself. “Ha ha...nice try, but I’m not buying it. It may have been a leper colony a hundred years ago, but I’m sure it’s a Parador or museum or other tourist trap now.”
And so...the run began. Forty-five minutes into it, we passed through an old stone gate and into a large, walled complex of columned buildings, intricate ceramic works and wide lawns. We ran down a tiled walkway and around a corner. And as we rounded the corner, who do you think was there to greet us?
A smiling old man in a wheelchair. Waving to us with his right hand. Which, I should mention, was missing all of its fingers.
WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED ABOUT YOURSELF SINCE MOVING TO SPAIN:
That my talent for written languages doesn’t transfer to spoken languages. No, no, no...not in the least.
IF YOU COULD CHANGE ONE THING ABOUT SPAIN, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
I’d require that stores stay open on Sundays. Yes...I understand that Sunday is supposed to be a day of rest. But a day of rest seems pointless if there’s no NFL American football to watch on TV.
[Author’s note: To be honest, I can’t stand watching NFL football. But the conditions of my US citizenship require that I pretend to love it.]
WOULD YOU CHANGE ANYTHING ELSE?
Yes. I’d forbid all supermarkets from playing David Bisbal songs over the intercom. I suspect that I’m overreaching on this one.
WHAT IS YOUR MOST UNFORGETTABLE DINING EXPERIENCE IN SPAIN?
I’m afraid that it involves...paella. Yes, yes...I know that paella has become Spain’s national cliché. Whenever a tourist returns from a Spanish holiday, he’ll surely rave about the unforgettable paella that he ate there. Then, upon cross-examination, he’ll grudgingly admit that said paella was served and eaten at a Pizza Hut in Benidorm.
Cliché or not...the fact remains that a truly great, authentic paella can be a life-altering experience. And my life was altered twice at family-run a restaurant in Parcent, Alicante called “Restaurante L’Era.”
I was there for lunch. It was one of those typically-Spanish, criminally-inexpensive, three-course fixed menus. The main course was paella; which was the specialty of the house. And when the server laid the pan on the table in front of me, my entire head was enveloped in a fragrant cloud of fresh seafood and wood smoke.
I knew that authentic paellas were *supposed* to be cooked over a wood fire (ideally, one fueled with grape vine clippings), but none of the seven or eight thousand that I’d previously eaten had been prepared in this manner. This was the first, and in a single instant...those previous seven or eight thousand paellas were immediately relegated to Pizza Hut status.
After lunch, the server agreed to let me tour the kitchen. I just *had* to see where this magnificent work of art was created. I opened the kitchen door, poked my head inside and was hit full in the face with what felt like the exhaust of a steel mill’s blast furnace. Running along the length of kitchen wall was a long, open hearth. It was ablaze with wood fire after wood fire—and cooking above each fire was pan after pan of paella. It was a scene more befitting a North Carolina pig roast than a family restaurant in rural Alicante.
I’ve been ruined for paella ever since. Once you’ve had wood, nothing else tastes as good.
AFTER LIVING IN SPAIN FOR SO MANY YEARS, WHAT’S THE ONE THING THAT STILL BOGGLES YOUR MIND?
Water bottles in front of doors! Why do homeowners place water bottles in front of their front doors? I’ve posed this question to countless people, and nobody has provided a rational explanation.
IF YOU COULD GIVE ONE PIECE OF ADVICE TO SOMEONE VISITING SPAIN, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
Don’t miss the opportunity to stay in a Casa Rural. These are bed and breakfast-type places located in rural areas of Spain. There are hundreds—if not thousands—of them scattered throughout the country. They are often large, rustic, centuries-old houses that have been refurbished to their past glories. I’ve stayed at many throughout the years. Quality varies, of course, but most have been very nice. Some were absolutely fantastic! And the prices tend to be incredibly reasonable—often ranging from thirty to sixty euros per night.
ANY OTHER ADVICE TOURISTS?
Yes. Don’t...drink...the Sangría!
Well...I could go on for another fifty pages, but I think that I’ll end the meme here. It’s getting late, and I’ve been typing so much that my fingers feel like they’re going to fall off.
Wait a minute! My fingers HAVE fallen off!
Damn you, Fontilles Leper Colony!!!