“Maybe all one can hope to do is end up with the right regrets.” — Arthur Miller
The best discovery about Spain so far is that Mr. Clean is called “Don Limpio.” (The second best is that they sell skim milk in Spain. I have never, ever, EVER been able to find it anywhere else in Europe. I almost cried in the supermercado the first time I saw it. Then I bought out the aisle.) The third is the “fun stopper” (at least that’s what people here call it.) This is a little plastic insert in the top of a liquor bottle, mandatory for all booze sold in Spain. It’s to keep from pouring it out too fast.
There’s a lot to love. The sun rises over the Mediterranean to our left (clearly visible each morning through our bedroom window), and then sets in the evening to our right, going down over Granadella Park and Calpe Mountain. Our area of Spain is actually quite mountainous with the centerpiece being the spectacular Montgo, which at 753 meters high, dominates the skyline in a dramatic, yet remarkably reassuring way, and glows in different colors depending on the time of day.
A short walk in almost any direction takes us to a variety of Jávea Miradores (beautiful overlooks) — 15 official ones, but many more equally awe-inspiring that didn’t make the list.
The closest to our house are Ambolo and Cap de la Nau, the former overlooks a nudist beach; the latter is a point with a lighthouse. On a clear day from either spot you can see Ibiza (which I’m still learning to say with a “th”) 56 miles offshore. Today, March 20th, was the first day it has rained since I arrived a month ago and since Tom arrived two months ago (our garden couldn’t be happier – nor could my sinuses — the pollen was getting pretty intense!). Otherwise it’s been brilliantly sunny, breezy, and low humidity. We are a short walk to a number of neighborhood bars, restaurants, cafes, and little markets and a quick drive to the little downtown area with shops, restaurants, larger grocery stores, and the main sandy beach known as the Arenal. We have a couple local haunts and have met a number of new friends, many of whom are within walking distance. There’s a lot of forested areas with wild boars who forage in them at night — we almost always see evidence of them in the freshly dug holes in the earth each morning on our daily runs or hikes. Most of our hikes start off through these woods, which teem with succulents, palm bushes, wildflowers, rosemary, and lavender, also pines and hollies, the latter of which make me extremely happy and less homesick for my mid-Atlantic flora.
There is a Medieval city center (“the pueblo”) with narrow, labyrinthian streets filled with restaurants and shops on the street level, and charming apartments above and a beautiful church at the center. At night the pueblo is lively with music and people, many of whom dine al fresco at a much later hour than most Americans are used to. One of my favorite things is seeing how little age segregation there is. Families gather around tables, grandparents, parents, siblings, and children. Kids stay up late and don’t seem to suffer in the least for it.
One of the big draws for us moving here is that Jávea is known as a cycling town. Cyclists are everywhere — everywhere — and in all ages, genders, shapes, and sizes. While most are kitted out in streamlined lycra, many are “civilians” who pedal in street clothes and no helmets. A number of pro teams train here off-season but even the best amateurs can get dropped by an elderly man in street clothes and a too-low saddle, pedaling up one of the many steep hills in a granny gear, with a bag of oranges or other comestibles bungeed to the back of his bike.
We have also learned to adjust to differences, even those we knew about in advance but to which we still had some hiccups adapting. For instance, most shops and businesses, except the really big ones, shut down in the afternoon between 2:00 to about 6:30. No more procrastinating running errands! (The upside is one can get a doctor’s appointment at 6:00PM in the evening, even on Fridays). Then there is grocery shopping. It often takes going to a few different supermarkets to find everything we want and need (which, to be fair, was also the case in D.C.). Some of the supermercados, like Lidl, have in center of the store, large bins filled with a random assortment and ever-changing offering of cheap, surplus stuff — anything from bed pillows to small fire extinguishers to drill bits to ski gloves to women’s pajamas to car seats to floor lamps. In addition to Lidl, we also shop at Mas y Mas, Consum, and Mercadona. Some of these tiendas (like elsewhere in Europe) still require customers to weigh produce first and print out a price tag to bring to the checkout; a process I kept forgetting to do in my first few weeks, but the clerks and patrons behind me in line were endlessly patient about it. Shoppers tend to bring their own bags and we are glad we made this a practice long ago at home for environmental reasons as Spain, again like a lot of Europe, in a policy I wholeheartedly support, charges shoppers for disposable plastic bags. I also now remember to keep a euro coin with me at all times. It is the cost of “renting” a shopping cart and is refunded upon the cart’s safe return. It’s a great strategy for preventing cart theft.
In spite of the abundance of grocery stores and markets we have still been unsuccessful at finding tortilla chips, jalapeños, or cilantro, although I’m told they can be found if one knows where to look. (As my mom reminded me: stop confusing Spanish cuisine with South American!) We’ve planted two out of the three as a workaround. The upside is we have an organic farmers market located in the nearby orange groves, about a 15-minute drive from our house. It’s run by a lovely Spanish couple, Elvira and Oscar. Each Wednesday starting at 9:00AM, they sell a wide variety of produce from their gardens (spinach, turnips, carrots, parsnips, onions, garlic, artichokes, eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, leeks, fennel), plus fresh free-range eggs from their hens (whom you can visit, along with the roosters!). They also also sell organic foods they do not themselves grow, such as strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, dried fruit, nuts, seeds, and a number of interesting flours.
Then there is the postal service and trash/recycling. In much of Jávea, there isn’t door-to-door postal delivery. Instead, we pay a fee of 50 euros a year to rent a box about one kilometer away in our urbanisation (neighborhood) where the community center and volunteer fire department are also housed. To mail a package or letter, we take it to the post office, in the pueblo, or to a Mailboxes, Etc. down by the Arenal, which is closer and the owners are English. Nor is there curbside trash/recycling pick up. We pay an annual fee of 100 Euros to walk or drive our trash, recycling, and compost to any number of local “ecoparks” — neighborhood areas with bins broken down by plastic, paper/cardboard and glass, plus all other trash, plus yard waste/compost. Metal can be placed in with the plastic or, even better, we take it to a certain ecopark where the metal collectors park trucks or vans. We either hand them metal or leave it in their vehicle if they aren’t around. One of the nearby ecoparks even has a spot where people can donate any items they don’t need but which are still in working order; a brilliant idea in my opinion. We donated a shelving unit and happened to drive by an hour later and it was already gone. While at first walking or driving to pick up mail and drop off waste seemed like a burden, we’ve actually realized it’s a gift. Not only does it give us extra exercise (as we try to choose walking over driving) but it makes us, and I’m sure others, much more aware of our consumption habits.
The biggest challenge, frankly, is being diligent about learning Spanish. Jávea is very international, especially in terms of English, Germans, Dutch, and Belgians. The default language tends to be English and it’s easy to go whole days without speaking anything else. Until I get enrolled in an official language class, I try to be faithful to my Duolingo daily practice and I push myself past my fear of looking stupid and inept and dive into my just-slightly-below-toddler-level-Español. But the native speakers are super game about it all, patiently enduring my butchery of their language and gently correcting me when I make a mistake. (Mme. Leis, if you’re reading this, I partly blame your excellent skills as my French teacher from 7th grade all through high school – I doubt I will ever learn to roll my “Rs!”) It helps to keep in mind Annie Lamott’s comforting words, “Perfectionism is shallow, unreal, and fatally uninteresting.”
So all in all, so far so good. I’ll keep you posted.