Bacalao con Papas & The End of an Era

This post is dedicated to Mr. NATO and all the other men in American military uniform who have missed their babies’ first steps, kid´s first driver’s license, or other important milestone in the life of their child. HAPPY FATHER’S DAY – you are missed.


As God is my witness, June 19 feels like the first day I have woken up relaxed in about a year. And that is after arriving home at 3 a.m. after a party! Friday night I had a little mini-breakdown. My maternal grandmother always said, “If you have nothing good to say, say nothing at all.” This aphorism in the same vein as her other favorite, “Pretty is as pretty does”. I have not been feeling pretty in quite awhile. There are many contributing factors for this. Most would assume that it is because I have gone into early mourning for Thing 1’s departure for college. Not so. My poison pen is collecting the facts before exposing either the lunacy/inefficiency/corruption/snobbishness of the culture in which I am living. Honestly, I can’t decide which to write about first! So many choices!

Two years ago, our family got on a plane and said good-bye to Shanghai, our third foreign home. I, at least, shed a lot of tears. Today, Bea Long and PAL and their families are saying good-bye as well, an act which officially ends an era. In the intervening two years, Thing 1 has completed high school with an IB diploma and a salutatorian plaque, has gotten into one of the nation’s finest universities, we’ve moved houses twice, my parents visited for two months, and we’ve traveled around Europe. We have spent a tremendous amount of time together as a family, which is perhaps the cosmic objective of this expat assignment. But none of us have friends like those we left in Shanghai, Campinas, or el D.F. (Mrs. NATO and Nittany Kitten having abandoned us here in Madrid).

Why is that? you ask. I have plenty of theories but not enough of your interest to lay them all out. The bottom line: Spain is a tough nut to crack and so far, in the expat ranks, my least favorite abode. Quite Franco, in general, the Madrilenos are not fond of Americans.

So, how did I transition, in 36 hours from being the starring actress in Pedro Almodovar’s movie “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” to the most relaxed I have been in a year? Honestly, probably via the prayers of some pink nuns in Philly and a trip to the NATO base for their International Food Festival.

Between the French champagne, German bratwurst, Greek Tzatziki, Italian focaccia, and American brownies, I saw a glimmer of hope in mankind. These international kind of people – normal, humble, working – are my peeps. The barrel bellied hombre with moving his hips and levantando los manos in the Spanish version of the Electric Slide, con “movimentos sexy”, loosened something in me. Thing 2, hard up for cash due to a terrible texting bill, agreed to dance for 2 euros up on the dance floor, next to the abuelas, the teenage girls, and the men hoping to get lucky that night. The Turkish infant seated at our table , with so much hair he looked like he was wearing a wig, crying at the loud music, unlocked my heart. But it was really the Spanish song “Bacalao con Papas” that was the tipping point.

An entire song devoted to salted codfish! Besides rice, bacalao/bacalhau has been the one food staple common to all the countries in which we’ve lived. Our favorite Spanish “caviezel” (refer to earlier post), involved a Christmas bacalao fest. Stacked like rugs in a Beijing market stall, a Mexican grocery store, or swimming in sauce on a Brazilian buffet line, salted cod has been ubiquitous. Even though I am not a fisheater*, this song made me laugh. Hard. Watch it here and decide for yourself if it’s really about cod and potatoes.

Spinning with the fake boobs (refer to video) and botoxed lips at the Reebok club, while a necessary evil, does not fulfill me. A good party with real people, however, puts everything in perspective. Which is why I stayed out ‘til 3 the following night at a 10th anniversary of a 30th birthday party. On Friday, if you had told me that I could get on a plane and leave Madrid for good, I would have rejoiced. As it is, I am here for another year. I think I am going to party like it’s 2012.

And really, I am over the parking issue. I delight in not straightening out my car. Oh, and a big thank you to my father for raising me to believe in the possibility of earthly justice, to my father-in-law for writing one treasured thank you note, and to my husband who really is Mr. Understanding. All are fine men and fathers, simply the best.


Future subjects (please vote on the next topic):

1) why did a certain “international” school take down the Taiwanese flag before graduation during which a Taiwanese citizen was graduating?
2) if you cheat in 10th grade by posting a photo of a test on Facebook, should you be expelled from school? If not, should you be allowed to participate in the honors program?
3)do the Ivy Leagues really want to educate Americans or do they prefer foreigners?
4)if you are female and go into an Emergency Room holding an icepack to your eye, is it safe for the receptionist to assume that your husband beat you and tell you to go elsewhere?
5)how about taking a trip to San Sebastian & Bilbao?

*Question: why do non-fisheaters suffer from a stigma but not those who eat pork?



Filed under Customs, Family, Fine Dining, Folkart, Friends, Life, Moving, People, Spanish vocabulary

6 responses to “Bacalao con Papas & The End of an Era

  1. Raftbuddy

    All of those topics are blog-worthy, but I vote for number 4. Gotta hear the backstory on that one! Thinking of you lots and lots. xoxo

  2. Mrs. NATO

    Muchas Gracias for the Mr. NATO *shout-out* – tú estás una mujer querida y mi BFF de España! Topics #1-3 seem like they could all be discussed in one future blog. But I am most intrigued with topic #4 along with Raftbuddy. I could not access the video (something about its content not available in the US) – typical. Although, I would have opted to see video of Thing 2 bailando for euros 😉

    Ahora, el plan para el balneario español de la próxima primavera!!

  3. MCV was Here

    # 4 or # 5 . . . I’d like to go to Bilbao.

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