The French have a word for back-to school that perfectly sums it up: la rentrée. Re-entry. A word I have long used to describe the transition period from summers in America to real life in a foreign country. The return to abnormal normalcy. Painful and chaotic in the beginning, rhythms are eventually established for the rest of the year: sports, after school activities, book clubs, bible studies, the gym, finding a new house. After a spate of houseguests, I am finally (!) achieving re-entry. Lest you think I am complaining, au contraire. These guests have gotten me over the hump, back into the swing, energized for round two of Spain.
La Lopez and her Thing 3 visited us this past weekend, making a pit stop in Madrid on her way home to Chile after a work trip to Portugal. I spent the weekend cracking myself up, telling my Thing 2 “Go ask your mother,” whenever he had a question. A glimpse at what it will be like to be a grandmother. Abdication of power! Not responsible for results! For those who do not remember or are new to my blog, La Lopez was mistakenly given my baby at the ABC Hospital in el D.F. de Mexico. She kindly returned him to the nursery. La Lopez, a seasoned traveler and UN worker, is always full of fascinating insights on the Third World (specifically Haiti – bad, bad, bad), the demise of Mexico, and the disturbing antics of college students. It had been four years since we had seen each other but it felt like yesterday. Plus, it was delightful having a tourist friend for whom I did not have to translate (but don’t let this dissuade the rest of you from coming).
During our visit, we had two perfect days of sight-seeing. Our first stop was a shop on Calle de las Huertas which sold antique engravings. For map afficionados, it is a MUST see. I could have spent all day in there as the wares were fascinating and the owners were actually pleasant. Then it was on to the alpargateria (espadrille shoe store). A hole in the wall off the Plaza Mayor, the line of customers was out the door. We waited patiently amongst the locals, the French, and the other nationalities vying for recession-proof, affordable, authentic footwear.
Later in the afternoon, we met up with Mr. Understanding and all the Things for a visit to the house/museum of my favorite Spanish painter, Joaquin Sorolla, lunching afterwards at El Espejo (The Mirror) terrazza on Paseo de los Recoletos.
The next day took us to the ancient walled city of Avila, home of the sainted Theresa. In a room off the gift shop her dessicated finger relicario (reliquary – a fancy container for sacred objects) was on display in a room off the gift shop. Her fingers were so long, she might have had Marfan Syndrome (but then again, they might have popped the finger off somewhere in the hand – hard to tell). St. Theresa, who was known to levitate, wrote many books on the interior prayer life and founded the Barefoot Carmelite nun order. The city itself is extremely well preserved, clean, and easy to roam around in a day. In the winter, one woman told me, people ski on top of its walls*. We just took a walk.
Do I like Spain any better this year? The jury is still out. My house still has issues, the surly people still park poorly and growl in the grocery store, but there is Mrs. Nato to entertain me, visitors, Sorolla, and new places to visit. Oh, and I am off to Paris on Friday** to see Maria The Dentist, Banana Jo, and Madame Julien for a Brazilian reunion on the Seine. My kind of rentree for sure! Estoy devuelta.
*Don’t be dumb and take small children here.
**Thank you, French air traffic controllers for striking and delaying my r<em>endezvous and disrupting the plans of millions just so you can make your point. Only you would demand more $$$ in these troubled times.