Monday, January 10, 2011


We're very excited about starting our trip, and we are also happy to announce our very own website, which has all the posts we've had here, plus the all our future postings!  We're on the road now (in Morocco), but we'll see you at our new website!

P.S.  Don't forget to become a follower on our new site!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Off to Africa Tomorrow!

It's almost midnight here in Cabanillas del Campo. Our little bags are packed and sitting by the door. We took the last dose of Dukoral, a cholera vaccine. We did not have dinner, because we ate an enormous amount for lunch and then had merienda at my sister's house.

We spent the morning preparing. Bryan sprayed some of our clothes (the ones we will wear at Kruger National Park in South Africa) with mosquito repellant. We packed the hand bag. We cancelled our health insurance here in Spain, via fax. I called about what to do about my Spanish cell phone service (my sister will call them tomorrow and "freeze" my account for three months).

Then we drove to Madrid and saw some friends. We drank some champagne, went to lunch at a very good Peruvian restaurant. We ate ceviche, anticuchos and aji gallina, all excellent. The pisco sours were even better. There was live music and Ricky danced. It was a great time all around. After that, we stopped by my sister's house, and she had set up a beautiful table for merienda: smoked salmon, cakes, tea, chocolate milk for Ricky. We saw friends too, talked, and had a nice time. Sad to say goodbye though.

Now we're exhausted and have to get up at 7:00 to get to the airport.

El Inti de Oro
Calle Ventura de la Vega, 12, 28014 Madrid, Spain
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Guadalajara, Spain: Amparito Roca, A Truly Memorable Lunch

We took a break from our final preparations yesterday to take Ricky out to the park.  He wants to learn to ride a bicycle.  I took off the training wheels, and put the bike into the car, and we drove to a very nice park near the Henares River, in Guadalajara.  There are lots of flat walkways there, and a playground, and it's not a crowded place.  We spent about half an hour with Ricky riding and me running along beside him, holding on to the seat, or his shoulder, as the need of the moment required.  He did fine.  If we spend another few days on it, it would be a done deal.  But we're off to Morocco tomorrow!

After our hard work at the park, we went out for lunch to Amparito Roca, in Guadalajara.  The previous day, we had eaten at a restaurant in Guadalajara for the first time.  Yesterday, we had lunch at what is widely perceived to be the very best restaurant in Guadalajara.

We arrived at 2 p.m., the usual time for lunch in Spain, and there were only a handful of tables occupied.  We were given a nice table in a corner, surrounded by windows, so it was a bright and airy space.  The chairs were large and comfortable, and we were quickly approached with menus and asked for our drink orders.  The chef, Jesus Velasco, came to our table and greeted us.  He asked us what we were having, and Ana asked him about the meal being offered called La Cocina de Siempre.  It consisted of three appetizers, followed by an entree, followed by dessert.  She told him that we liked everything, and asked him to make our selections for us.  He asked what Ricky would like to have, and offered to make him spaghetti, which was particularly nice, I thought, since that was not even on the menu.

While we waited, we were brought olives and bread, as well as our drinks.  The olives were very good, and the bread came in two varieties, a sourdough and a flat, round, fried bread which was very good.  Then the food began to come.  First came a small plate that had croquettes on one side, stuffed with ham and bechamel sauce, and on the other side a small piece of pork with the crispy fried skin still attached.  It was great. The croquettes were wonderful.  Ricky was brought a plate of croquettes, which he ate eagerly.  Then came the first appetizer, which was Gazpacho con helado de oricios y tropezones de salpicon. Gazpacho is a traditional cold soup, made with a tomato base.  It was poured over a tiny dollop of sea urchin ice cream and small greens.  Each spoonful was delicious and refreshing and clean-tasting.  Ricky declined to try it.  He was too busy with his spaghetti, which was perfectly cooked and made with a tomato sauce that was much more Spanish than Italian, tasting strongly of chorizo and pimenton, not of oregano.  Ana and I did not hesitate to try the spaghetti.  It was excellent.   We tied a napkin around his neck, and he went to work at it.

Next we were brought a really fine looking little plate, with a fried egg on it.  Sitting on the fried egg was a piece of truffle, and under it was a bed of thinly sliced potatoes and wild mushrooms.  The whole thing had been cooked in the truffle oil.  The yolk of the egg was more red than orange, and it mixed with the rest of the plate in a delightful way.  It was fine, very fine.  Ricky kept working on his spaghetti, drinking his Fanta Limon.

Then came a small plate of rice, which had squid and clams and which was cooked in the squid's ink.  The rice was rich and crunchy in places and delicious all over.  It was caramel colored and we did not speak while we ate this.  It was very special, extremely pleasing.

Then came the main dish, which was bass.  It was simple and great.  It was deboned and baked with slices of roasted garlic on top. Ricky ate a good deal of the bass. 

Desserts then were brought.  Ricky chose to have vanilla ice cream, which was of the highest quality, served just a little bit soft, and very tasty.  I think that it must have been made in the restaurant.  Ana and I were brought one final great dish.  There were two soft white round shapes on a plate, one made of mascarpone ice cream, the other made of cheese.  There was a raspberry sauce.  There was great taste and texture.  I had thought I was full, but I ate all of it without stopping.  It was a great meal.  Friendly service, too, and a willingness to cater to children (the spaghetti was not on the menu, and was suggested as a meal for Ricky).  It was worth coming to Guadalajara from Madrid for this meal.  It is quite possibly worth coming to Guadalajara from New York for this meal.

Amparito Roca, Calle Toledo, 19, Guadalajara.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Packing the Luggage

Ricky asked, since we returned the keys of our rented apartment, whether we were living in the streets now. Not yet: we are at my parents' house today and tomorrow night. Then we're off to Africa. Today, we spent the morning packing our luggage. We are taking three carry-on backpacks and one small bag. We will not check luggage, except as a last resort. Two of the backpacks have wheels.

The backpack without wheels contains: a large mosquito net, three sleeping sacks, a travel towel, insect repellant, a steripen, batteries, a flashlight, two clothing lines (they are small), binoculars, a sink stopper, a sleeping bag, flip-flops for us and Crocs for Ricky, one sleeping bag, one bag with a first-aid kit and another bag of toiletries.  

The first-aid kit is stuffed full. We packed: band-aids, antibiotic ointment, hydrocortisone cream, antiseptic wipes, a thermometer, ibuprofen and acetaminophen (regular and pediatric), pediatric cough suppressant, pediatric amoxicillin and azithromyocin, cipro, Pepto-Bismol pills, hydration powder envelopes (pediatric), a laxative, eye drops, ear drops, nasal decongestant (regular and pediatric), an antihistamine, Dramamine, Malarone (as a prophylactic treatment for malaria), asthma inhaler.

The toiletries we are taking are: shampoo, conditioner, a small bar of soap, a nail clipper, a brush, a comb, children’s shampoo, three toothbrushes, toothpaste, lip balm with sun protection, two bottles of sunscreen, a razor, blades, shaving cream, feminine products, baby wipes, tweezers, two travel-size deodorants, q-tips, dental floss, hand cream, a small mirror, contact lens stuff.

The other two backpacks have our clothing. One of them has Bryan and Ricky’s things and the other one has mine (plus I will stuff some books into mine). For Ricky, we are taking: two and a half pairs of pajamas (odd, I know), socks and underwear, two sweatpants, one sun hat, six short-sleeved shirts, two long-sleeved shirts, two bathing suits, goggles, cap for the pool, four pairs of shorts, two khaki pants (thin, quick-drying), a rain jacket. He will wear jeans, a sweatshirt, a jacket and sneakers.

Bryan has packed a bunch of shirts, both long and short sleeved, and pants and pajamas. I’m not sure exactly what else. For me, I’ve packed nine tops (women’s tops take up no room), one bathing suit, two skirts, one dress, one pair of thin pants from REI, socks and underwear, a rain jacket, a hat, and a pair of sneakers. I will wear jeans and black shoes and a jacket on the plane. I may pack a sweater for me and another for Ricky. I should also pack some detergent, because we’re going to be doing a lot of laundry by hand, all over the world.

Friday, January 7, 2011

A Good Morning & A Great Lunch at Aromas

I started the day early and active.  I got up, got dressed, and Ana's dad gave me a quick lesson in how to fix a hole in the toilet.  He gave me some paste, and some porcelain paint, a hair dryer, and various tools.  I drove from Cabanillas, where we spent the night, to our apartment in Madrid.  It was about a 40 minute drive, and I got there a little before 9 a.m.  Then I set to work on the toilet.  I took a piece of cardboard, poked two tiny holes in it, and threaded some string through it, so I could have some kind of backing to put the paste against.  Then I put the cardboard into the hole, and held the cardboard in place with the string.  I cut a chunk of the epoxy off and mushed it together, kneading it until it was blended.  Then I pushed it into the hole, and tried to smooth it out.  It was kind of a losing battle, because I would be able to get one part smooth and then another part would separate from the hole, and leave a gap.  Eventually, though, it was more or less satisfactory, that is, the whole was covered and the surface was somewhat smooth.

I left it the toilet to dry and went through the apartment.  The refrigerator was full of melting ice, and there were some spots on the floor to clean up, but there was not much to do, really.  I went for a walk, waiting for the epoxy to harden.  After about an hour and a half, I put the ceramic paint on the epoxy, dried it with the hair drier, and then put another layer, and then a third.  It didn't look perfect, and you would be curious about it if you looked into the toilet bowl, but it was serviceable.  I closed the toilet seat and sat down and waited on the stairs for the landlord.

He arrived only 15 minutes late.  He spent 15 minutes examining the apartment, testing the refrigerator and the lamps.  He looked in all the closets, and turned on the air conditioners.  Then he gave me a paper to sign, acknowledging my receipt of the deposit money, and he gave me the money in an envelope.  And we were done!

Then I picked up Ana's sister, and we went to Cabanillas, and then we were all off to lunch.  We had a great meal.  We went to Aromas, in Guadalajara.  Guadalajara is about 50 kilometers northeast of Madrid.  It is a small city, but a very old one, and the capital of the province.  I've been there many times, but I've never eaten in a restaurant there.  Aromas was tucked into a hilly little street, and had a pleasant bar in the front area.  There was a large melon sitting on the bar.  It looked very nice.  We were led into the dining room, where a very nice table was set.  We ate well.  There was steak and there was octopus, and there were croquettes, and there was salad.  There was calamari, too.  Oh, and Secreto Iberico, which is a pork shoulder cutlet.  We ate and ate and ate, and Ricky colored very nicely.  Then he had some cheesecake.

After lunch, we stopped off briefly in the local mall to pick something up.  The mall was packed, just packed.  Today, the day after Three Kings, the stores have Rebajas.   These are large-scale sales which occur a few times a year, and which draw huge crowds into the malls.  You've seen these crowds recently, taking the parking spaces that are way off in the distance, barely in sight of the mall.  We did not stay very long.

Then Ana's parents got ready to leave.  They are going on a trip to Argentina, visiting the southern part of the country, all the way to Tierra del Fuego.  I drove them to the airport, and now we are here, in their house in Cabanillas, Spain.  We are sort of on our journey now, what with leaving the apartment and all, although we have not gotten very far yet.  I suppose we could say:  First Stop, Cabanillas!

Celebration Foods: Roscón de Reyes & Kutia

Yesterday, it was Three Kings Day. Ricky had left his shoes next to the front door at my parents’ house before going to bed. When he got up, there was a pile of presents on top of his shoes. As a child, I believed in the Three Kings too, and I remember wondering how they were able to get in through locked doors to bring gifts. The Three Kings ride camels, so I used to leave a bowl of water and some grass near my shoes for the camels to snack.

There are parades the day before the Three Kings come. My mom took Ricky to the local parade; the three kings rode in a float and threw hard candy to the kids. In Madrid, the parades are incredibly elaborate. We went last year and it was beautiful, but too crowded for Ricky to see much of anything.

On Three Kings day, people in Spain eat roscón de reyes (in Latin America, the same confection is known as rosca de reyes). It is a cake shaped like a ring, made of sweet bread dough, and covered with candied fruit. The shape dates back to Roman times, when people offered the god Janus cakes shaped like donuts. Inside the cake, there is a small toy hidden. It is lucky to be the one who gets the treat.

Bakeries all over Spain sell hundreds of roscones de reyes. Many people order them in advance, and they come in many sizes and qualities. Some roscones are filled with cream, marzipan or chocolate. I prefer the plain one (marzipan is good too).

So yesterday afternoon, we had some roscon with tea at my parents’ house. This particular roscon came from Hipercor, the supermarket at El Corte Ingles, an upscale department store. The roscon was a little dry, so I would not buy it there again.

Some friends of my parents came over for roscon. One of them was Ukrainian, and she told us that it was the Russian Orthodox Christmas yesterday. She brought Kutia, a Christmas orthodox dish for us to try.

Kutia is a traditional pudding served on Christmas Eve in eastern Europe. It is served in a single bowl, from which everyone takes spoonfuls and eats. It looks like a porridge with many things in it: wheat berries, cooked apple and prune, raisins, honey, cinnamon, poppy seeds and walnuts. I loved it and had quite a bit of it. I could eat this for breakfast several times a week.

Seriously, I’ll celebrate any holiday if there’s good food attached to it.

Itinerary Recap #1: Off to Morocco on Monday!

Departure scheduled for Monday! First we’re going to Morocco for a week, then to Egypt (southern archaeological sites) for another week, then to South Africa for three weeks. After that, we’re going back to Egypt, where we’re spending three days in Cairo.

Beyond that, we have not bought tickets. Likely, we’re going to fly from Cairo to Cyprus, and stay there for a week or two. After that, we’ll fly to Kuala Lumpur. We’ll stay in Southeast Asia for a month or two at the very least. We’ll visit Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Laos and Cambodia, and maybe other places.

Our idea right now is that, if we find affordable tickets sometime in the spring, we will fly back to Spain for a couple of weeks to see my family and to rest a little. Ricky will miss my parents a lot since he spends so much time with them here in Spain. So in three months or so, we’ll likely fly back here. Then we would resume our trip, possibly flying back to some airport in Asia and then making our way to Australia with low-cost carrier tickets.

You can see more details about our plans for Morocco, Egypt and South Africa in these earlier posts:

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Move Update #6: A Major Glitch, Then, One Apartment, Clean and Empty.

Just when I thought we were all done with the hard work of emptying the apartment, things took a turn for the strange.  We left a small handful of items in a closet last night, and arranged with the woman who cleans the hallways in our building to come early today, and give our apartment a thorough cleaning.  She said it would take about 3 hours, and she would arrive early.  We went to the apartment at nearly noon, and found that she had managed to clean the floor in one bedroom, and was working on one bathroom.  She had not touched the second bathroom, the living room, or Ricky's bedroom.  Most disconcertingly, she had not started on the kitchen.  She said she had been there since 9 a.m.  At this rate, she was going to finish at around 9 p.m.

I don't know why she worked so poorly.  She seemed to have no organization, and no real idea of what she was doing.  She was going to clean the floor in the kitchen before she began cleaning the counters and the stove and the refrigerator.  She took a glass shelf and put it into a bucket of water, and then forgot about it.  Then she dumped the bucket into the toilet, and the glass shelf went right in.  Fortunately, the glass shelf did not break.  Unfortunately, it poked a hole in the bowl of the toilet.  Ana and I worked with her for an hour, during which time she was able to clean the refrigerator.  Finally, Ana told her that we needed to leave soon.  She asked her to finish up in the kitchen, and then go.  At this point, the cleaning woman got insulted, and said that at other places she works, she goes at her own pace.  She refused to finish the kitchen, and we paid her and she left.  An hour later, we were done cleaning the apartment.  Tomorrow I will go there early, fix the hole in the toilet, and meet with the landlord to get back our deposit and give him the keys.  Come Monday, we are in motion!
While the cleaning was going on, we took a break and went to our corner store, called Esquina de Silvano.  It is a combination grocery store, bakery, and bar.  The groceries are somewhat expensive, but they have very good bread.  We had never had coffee there before, but today we did.  The coffee was very good.  Most everything in Spain was closed today, because of the Three Kings, marking the end of the Christmas season.  Children put out shoes, and received presents in and around them this morning.  There is a traditional cake eaten today, called roscon de reyes, and we were given pieces of it by the bakery guy.  I've been to this store about 20 times, picking up eggs or milk or some forgotten item.  It's served us well, and today it came through one last time, giving us a break when it was needed.

Move Update #5

Yesterday was rough. At 9:30 in the morning, the sofa bed left. Then we packed and threw away and ran around. I called to have the phone and internet disconnected. We loaded the rental car and took a trip to Guadalajara to bring stuff to my parents' house, and we had lunch with them. Then we drove back to Madrid.

We continued sorting and deciding. Our bed went to my sister's house. Two movers came, who had been recommended. They were unfriendly and unhelpful. They decided to completely dissassemble the bed frame, which is an IKEA Mandal (it looks like a box with two drawers on each side). I told them we would not be able to put it back together and they said they would help. Once they arrived at my sister's they dropped everything (tiny pieces of wood and a bunch of screws) and they did not help at all. It looked like they had cleaned the back of the truck with the mattress, too.

We went to my sister's and Bryan put the bed together. Back to our place, it took seven more trips (two-people trips) to the car to load what was left in the apartment. We drove to my parents' and arrived here at midnight. We did not have the strength to fully unload the car.

Now we're off to Madrid to check on how the cleaning lady did, and to pay her. I will also touch up some spots on the wall, with pink paint.
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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Madrid: Asturianos, Amazing Seafood and Cheese Flan

The other night, sick of packing, we got hungry and decided we were not going to cook. First, we called a Korean restaurant we’d heard good things about (the restaurant is appropriately called Korea); they did not have any tables open for that night. So we decided to go out for some tapas instead. It was raining steadily, but it is hard to park in Madrid, so instead of driving (we’re borrowing a car from a friend who’s out of the country), we took the metro.

The place we went to, Asturianos, is an unassuming little bar with four tables for drinks and tapas and a dining room in the back, out of sight, for more formal dining. We took one of the tables by the bar. As the name implies, most of the food in this restaurant is from the region of Asturias, in the north of Spain. Asturias is a great place to eat, known for abundant fresh seafood, bean stews (such as fabada and fabes con almejes, the former a hearty dish of white beans, chorizo and other goodies and the latter, slightly lighter, made of fava beans and clams), and excellent dairy products including great cheese, such as Cabrales. We took a vacation to Asturias in 2008 and loved it: in addition to the insanely good food (and do you need any more reason to go?), it is green, lush, full of orchards, hills, cows, charming architecture and dramatic cliffs looking out over the Cantabrian sea.

Asturianos has a wine list of over 300 wines, including several by the glass. I ordered a glass of Tres Patas, a young red from the Mentrida region, in the northern part of the Toledo province. This wine was a mix of garnacha and syrah grapes, and it was excellent. Bryan had a caña. With our drinks, they brought us some slices of chorizo, which was pungent and full of pimenton, along with finger-sized bread sticks.

We ordered two raciones: gambas al ajillo (shrimp with garlic) with piquillo peppers, and berberechos with garlic and parsley. Berberechos are smallish clams with pretty crinkled white and brown shells. The gambas were very tasty, fresh, full of garlic and made with quality olive oil, with pieces of piquillo peppers on the edges of the plate as decoration. We dipped into the sauce with pieces of big country bread they gave us, so there was nothing left at all on the plate. We were too hungry to take the time to photograph the plate. The second dish, the little clams, were even better: each of them meaty and tasting of garlic and the sea. We took a picture of that one.

Perhaps best of all was the dessert, and it took us by surprise because what can be better than seafood with garlic? We shared a flan de queso (cheese flan) which was a little individual flan, perfectly formed, tasting like the best cheesecake you’ve ever had, drizzled with a little caramel. Yes, we should have each gotten our own flan. The check was 43 euros.

c/ Vallehermoso, 94
28003 Madrid, Spain
915 335 947
(metros: Canal or Islas Filipinas)

Madrid: El Maño and the Spain That Once Was

A visit to El Maño is a trip back to the Spain that I saw when I first visited the country, 20 years ago.  A medium-sized restaurant located in an affluent neighborhood near Arturo Soria, El Maño specializes in seafood and meat dishes from the northern region of Aragon. It also brags of its exquisite cocido which is served on Thursdays.

 We went for the lunch menu yesterday, because it is within walking distance of our apartment, and because we have put away our kitchen things, and no longer can cook at home.  We found the restaurant without trouble, located across the street from a school.  It was very quiet.  This is the busiest shopping season of the year in Madrid (as we get close to the coming of the Three Kings on January 6, when children get their presents) and many people spend their lunch time fighting enormous crowds at the department stores and malls.  Apparently, they cannot be two places at once, so they missed out on a great meal.

We started out on burgundy, but soon hit the harder stuff.  No, just fooling around.  I started out with caldo gallego, a great soup, which tasted richly of chorizo, greens and some white beans. Ana had sauteed cardoons with garlic, which were creamy and delicious.  

 Then we shared the skrei.  Skrei is a kind of wild arctic cod.  It was baked with garlic, and it was very good.  It had a very firm flesh and a mild flavor. It was served with baked potatoes that were covered with the sweetest onions and peppers.

Some cake and coffee later, lunch was 23.90 euros for the two of us.

El Maño, Carril del Conde, 65, Madrid

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Move Update #4

The sofa bed appears to be sold! Tomorrow at 9:30 am, the same guy who came to see it the other day is coming with a moving van and crew to take it. I’ve spoken so many times on the phone to this man: he’s like an old friend. There were many others interested in the sofa bed: a soft-spoken guy, who bought a weekend house in Cuenca and needs to furnish it, a friendly woman named Esperanza who is ready to come see it if the guy who is supposed to come tomorrow does not.

Then tomorrow afternoon, at around 6:00 pm, some other movers will take the bed to my sister’s house. Ricky’s bed broke while pulling it apart, so we left it on the curb and in the morning all the pieces were gone.

I emptied our bathroom. The other bathroom has very little in it. Our room is nearly done. We have our three carry-on backpacks sitting in a corner, nearly all packed.

The living room has a few scattered piles, including a few things of Ricky’s, which we have to decide what to do with.

Bryan painted Ricky’s room yesterday. It looks better than when we moved in.

The kitchen is still pretty full. We will work on that this afternoon. My dream is to finish today with most of it, so tomorrow won’t be so strenuous. Tomorrow, the furniture will be gone and I can spot-fix the little stains on the wall of the living room (I have the paint for it already). Tomorrow we will sleep at my parents’ in Guadalajara and then come back in the morning because a cleaning woman is mopping and cleaning the bathrooms and kitchen so we don’t have to.

Tomorrow, I hope I have time to call to cancel the gas, electricity, telephone, water.

Morocco, here we come!
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On How Moving Smashes You in the Head

As I take a break after clearing Ricky’s room, I’m thinking about how much it shakes me to move. Even this move, which is easier than previous ones, is starting to really sting. Suddenly, we’ve reached a point where chaos has shown its ugly head. You know what I mean if you’ve ever moved: the bags of stuff in the hallway, the piles of linens in the living room, nothing good to eat in the fridge, furniture missing, things you need in unlikely places, a feeling of uncertainty.  In three days, we’ll be out of this apartment and in one week we’ll be chilling in Morocco, so I try to think about that so I don’t panic.

As a child, I moved with my family from Argentina to Spain. We brought very little with us on the plane, and shipped nothing. I have blocked out most of the preparations that led to our moving to Spain. That enormous shift gave me a feeling of extreme loss, of things and people and places. Plus, five years before the relocation to Spain we had gone from Buenos Aires to Tandil, from the big city to the middle of nowhere, where we knew no one. It was a wonderful place, our house in Tandil, with forests and dogs and cats and clean air. The move from the city to the country I’ve mostly forgotten, fortunately. I just remember the fear, the excitement.

I just asked my dad, who was here to bring us supplies to paint Ricky’s room, what the moves were like for him. He said he liked moving from Buenos Aires to the country with two big trucks of stuff, but did not like leaving Argentina five years later with six suitcases. I asked what we did with all the stuff we did not take with us. “We sold some, we gave away most, we threw away a lot, we burned a little,” he said. Minus the burning, it’s similar to our current and previous experience moving.

I went to college in the US, lightly, with a couple of suitcases. When Bryan and I moved in together, we just accumulated things. Our first move from one apartment to another, we did not get rid of much. We just rented a u-haul truck and transported our second hand furniture. That was hard, physically, but not a move which made us think.

When we moved out of Tivoli’s School House right after college, we suffered. My sister lived with us that year, and the three of us (Bryan, my sister and me) stayed up all night cleaning the apartment and putting things into boxes. We got rid of a lot of books, which we put outside our building for people to take. It felt good to give away books so others could read them, to liberate them into the world.

We left almost all our things in storage then, and took off for California with the trunk full with suitcases, and more stuff in the back seat. Our friend Andrew who came with us on the trip had to sit in our Mazda with a blender between his feet. We lived in Los Angeles for twelve years, eleven and a half of those years in the same place.

In 2009, we moved out of Los Angeles. It was not fun. It took weeks of sorting and going to Goodwill to donate items and cleaning and finally, just leaving a mountain of furniture and assorted items in front on the sidewalk in front of our house for people to take. As if finding a home for all our things was not enough, we had forest fires and awful air quality during our last days in Hollywood. Our friend Tracy took Ricky out during the day for the last couple of days, so he would not have to see us emptying it all. Jeff, our friend and next door neighbor, also helped by entertaining Ricky in the yard and in his house with long pachinko games while we discarded almost everything we owned.

A real move breaks and strengthens you both. You suffer, you make decisions, you move on. You emerge a slightly different individual.

Part of what makes moving so hard is that we get attached to things and don’t want to let go, even though we have little use for a lot of what we store. But afterward, it feels good: once the things are gone to a friend’s house or to the curb, I feel for the most part a huge sense of relief. I feel lighter, freer. And the best part of moving: soon it’s over and most of the trauma will be forgotten. The brain does that to protect you. Cheers to that thought.

Madrid: Lunch Menu at La Vegana

We had a hectic day of preparation, painting Ricky's room and disassembling furniture and neither of us particularly felt like cooking lunch, so we went out.  We also didn't feel like going very far, so we picked a spot in our neighborhood that we'd been to a couple of times.  It was only a few minutes walk, just up the hill from the Lycee Francais, and it serves traditional Spanish food.

It is called La Vegana, but it is not a vegan, or even a vegetarian, restaurant.  They have three lunch menu options.  A word now, a brief digression, if you will, about the lunch menus of Spain.  Most restaurants in Spain offer a lunch menu.  The traditional Spanish lunch time in the middle of the day is long, and allows time to eat a full meal.  The idea of an hour for lunch is shocking to the Spanish sensibility, and the thought of only a half-hour is, quite simply, beyond the pale.  Most restaurants, therefore, cater to the lunch crowd not by offering some sort of "express meal," where they guarantee that your food is thrown in front of you within five minutes, but by offering a full, fixed price meal of several courses.  These typically include an appetizer, like legumes, a salad or a soup, followed by a main course, followed by dessert or coffee, plus bread and wine (or beer or a soft drink).  These vary in price from the low end of about 8 euros to fancier meals costing twice that.  There are places, of course, where you can spend as much as you want. 

The room is decorated in Restaurant Clutter style, in which every flat surface has been covered with some unusual item, and the walls are hung with interesting, if not obviously related, photos.  There are old typewriters on ledges, sitting next to cigar humidors, with empty beer bottles from years past behind them.  The photos on the wall show scenes of Madrid from 100 years ago, next to old advertisements.  The tables and the chairs are wooden and sturdy.  The staff are attentive and friendly.

I ordered the lentils and chorizo to start with, while Ana got the mixed vegetables.  For the main course, I got the fried breaded cod, while Ana chose the steaks.  A bottle of wine was brought to take table, along with a pitcher of water and a large basket of bread.  The wine which is served with many cheap menus in Madrid is not very good.  The traditional way of drinking such wine is to mix it with casera, a sweet, colorless soda.  I'm not fond of this beverage.  At La Vegana, the wine is fine to drink without such adulteration, which generally improves the spirit of the meal.

A broad, shallow bowl was set before me, and a tureen was brought out.  The waitress spooned lentils in a brown broth into the bowl, and asked if I wanted more chorizo in it.  When the bowl was full, she asked if that was good, and I said it was.  Ana was brought a plate of mixed vegetables had been steamed or boiled.  The lentils and the chorizo were great.  They were like a hot stew, and it was perfect for the cold January weather.  It was filled with the strong flavor of the chorizo, and had a rich smokey taste.  Ana shared it with me, and she liked it, too.  The mixed vegetables were a bit overcooked.

Then the main courses were served.  I had a big piece of cod, fried with a light breading, accompanied by a pile of fried onions and peppers.  Ana had two big, thin slices of steak with french fried potatoes.  The fish was very good.  It was not greasy at all, and it was not overcooked either.  It was fresh and made for a good lunch.  Ana's steaks were still pink inside, despite their thinness which was kind of an impressive achievement.  They had a gravy on them, and they were very good.

A peculiarity of the menu in general (to me) is that it offers dessert or coffee, not both.  I generally would like both, but one must make choices in this life.  Ana and I both chose coffee, because the dessert option was canned pineapple, which did not sound very interesting.  The coffee was very good, though.  It was a great break from the work, and a good meal, and I'm glad we've been to this fine place.

The lunch for two was 19 euros.

La Vegana, c/ Moscatelar, 1-5, Madrid,