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post mortem

So many thoughts, all banal, and the moment you begin the process of reminiscing, you know you've left the actual experience behind.

A few last comments: On Saturday morning we arose at 6:00 AM (that was 9:00 Friday night in California) and Robin drove us out of the mountains to the airport in Malaga ... in the DARK! We flew to Madrid, where we had a longish stopover. At the Madrid airport, we ate our final meal in Spain ... you know what that meant for me: a plate of jamon serrano, a baguette of jamon serrano, and a last Fanta de Limon! (Robin had one last tortilla ... for those who haven't had them, a tortilla in Spain isn't a bread thing, it's a kind of omelet, the standard "Spanish omelet" version being potatoes with eggs.)

From Madrid we flew almost 8 hours to New York, where we had a stopover of almost 4 hours. We ate American food ... I had a cheeseburger, Robin had some chicken/bacon sandwich thing. We got on the plane at about 6:15 Eastern time, still Saturday of course, although now it was 3:15 in the afternoon in Cali. We didn't start for half an hour, and then all we did was taxi for what seemed like another hour ... then finally back in the sky for a flight of about six more hours. By the time we landed at SFO, it was almost 26 hours since we'd arisen in Ronda. But we were home, with Sara to greet us!

This is where I give the Ultimate Meaning of the Vacation speech. Except I'm not awake enough to come up with anything. If you've read this far, you know we are not the most exciting of vacationers ... my fave post of this entire trip was when Robin described our life in Ronda as sleep/eat/rest/eat/rest/eat/sleep. Both Nerja and Ronda seemed like places I could live ... Nerja more crass, more full of Euro ex-pats, but also so beautiful, Ronda different, like living in Grandma's backyard. Of course, when you are on vacation, you have no worries ... those come when you get home and try to figure out how you will pay for what you just finished. If you live in a place, you have to work, and deal with daily life, and so it's impossible to know what "real" life in Spain would be like. It would be a lovely place to go to in our golden years, except Nerja, which is far from the most popular place on the Costa del Sur, is already too expensive for us, and it'll only get worse over the next coupla decades.

Robin may post again, may not ... now that we're home, she isn't sitting right next to me in an internet cafe, so it'll be harder to get her to add anything. But she said something at one point in our trip that I want to mention here. She said that three years ago when we were in Ronda, I seemed to be "at home" there. I had no idea what she meant, but she said it brought out some of the better qualities that I stifle in Berkeley, that I'm usually a hermit, but in Ronda I actually talked to people and left the house once in awhile. Of course I obsessed about this, and wondered about it constantly once we finally returned to Ronda. To be honest, if I was gonna pick a place to live, I'd choose the coast. But I think I know what she means. Even with the language difficulties (and for all the compliments I got about my Spanish, it was v.hard work keeping up with everyone), there was an essential decency and niceness to the people in Ronda. Not just our lovely host, Jose Maria, but the shop owners, and the waiters in the restaurants, and even the police. You are encouraged to extract yourself from hermithood in a place like that.

And so perhaps one last story is appropriate, or rather a couple of stories rolled into one. On our last night in Ronda, we decided to go to a restaurant that had come highly recommended. On our way out, we paid the bill for the hotel, since we would be leaving so early the next morning and wouldn't have time then. As we took care of business, an English woman came into the hotel ... turned out she and Jose Maria were great friends, although her Spanish wasn't much and Jose Maria's English was fascinating in its brevity. She had a house in the area, she said, and she and Robin talked for a bit ... I noticed that Robin was always esp. glad when someone showed up with whom she could have a conversation in English! Then it was time to eat, and to first say our goodbyes to our host, who would be gone by the time we returned from eating. He told us that we always had a friend in Ronda, and it wasn't just hotel-owner talk ... he meant it.

Then we walked out the door, the English woman joining us. As we soon found out, her house was just down the street, and so we walked together, and then she invited us in to see her place. It was lovely, three floors (all small), and we could imagine for a moment a realistic vision of living in Ronda ourselves. This nice lady and her companion, who also lived there, showed us their place for a few minutes, and you'd never know we'd only met a few minutes before that.

And then, out the door to the restaurant. It was early by Spanish standards, around 7:30 or so, and we didn't know if the place would be open, but there was a waiter standing in the doorway, so we took a chance. He said they weren't going to be open for a few more minutes, but what the heck, and invited us in. It was indeed an excellent restaurant, as he promised. Early on he asked where we were from (OK, he asked if we were German ... I felt kinda bad at that one!), and when I said we were estadounidenses, his face lit up.

When the meal was finally done, we went through the endless Spanish process of getting someone to bring us the bill. We paid up, left a small tip (they don't do tips in Spain, we'd leave like 10% and felt we were showing off somehow), and walked to the door. The waiter was there ... waiting! He got our attention, handed us a bottle of wine and a small card, and explained to me that he wanted us to have the wine as his gift, with the hope that when we returned to Berkeley, we could send him a postcard from our home. He pointed at the card, which was the business card for the restaurant, with his name scribbled in so I'd know who to send it to.

And with that, we were off into the night. Someday, we'll drink that bottle of Spanish wine and remember our lovely vacation together.

thanksgiving in ronda

Well, the website seems to be working again, so here goes ... our first Thanksgiving out of the country. You forget ... xmas and Easter are everywhere, but Thanksgiving is American. No one here has the slightest idea what it's about ... I tried explaining about Pilgrims and Indians, and was asked if the native Americans still live on reservations.

We only have one more day after today for our trip, and I think I will breathe a small sigh of relief when I don't have to think/speak in Spanish anymore. I knew I'd reached some important point in all of this when I was playing solitaire on my Palm and I couldn't keep the Spanish and English straight in my head as I thought ... rojo nine on black ocho, that kind of stuff. My brain may explode soon.

The two books I've been reading as we travel are A Short History of Nearly Everything (I think that´s the title, it's on my Palm and the title is truncated) and Kesey's Sometimes a Great Notion. The former is a history of all kinds of science, written by and for the layman; the latter was one of my favorite novels back in the day, but I haven't read it for a long time. From the science book, I'm reminded how big and old the world is, which is worth knowing as we travel through places big and old. From Kesey I'm reminded of how nature is like a character in our lives, something I tend to forget, my idea of nature being Pac Bell/SBC Park ... which is worth knowing as we travel through nature.

As usual for vacation, but perhaps even more true when in a country where the media is almost entirely non-English, I have little idea what´s happening in the world beyond Warren Spahn died, and I bet without looking that Jon Carroll ran his Thanksgiving column again today. I know a lot about soccer, of course ... Real Madrid has been on teevee about ten times in the last two weeks, and Beckham is v.popular here in Spain these days ... last night, he bent it like, well, like himself, as Real defeated Marseille and the entire city of Ronda seemed to shut down for a coupla hours.

Here's Robin:

Thanksgiving in Ronda has been a lot like every other day this week, except we had some salami with breakfast. We get up late, and put on clothes, and go downstairs, and then Jose Maria makes us breakfast. We usually get some the first morning we got a baked peach with honey on top. We get toast, which like every where else in the world, it comes mostly cold. We also get tea, and fresh apricot juice. And we eat, and Steven and Jose Maria talk. This morning he was feeling very relaxed and actually told a joke to us in English! That was the most he had spoken in English since we got here. This morning he had been reading Isabel La Catolica and was telling us about Isabel when she was 7 years old and got betrothed.

After breakfast, we usually go out awhile, and maybe get a little something to eat after awhile, and then hang out some more, and then go back to the hotel. Then we read in the salon, and hang out some more, and then Jose Maria makes us tea, although yesterday we got coffee because he insisted, and then we hang out some more, and then we go to dinner. Then we come back, and take a bath, and then hang out reading some more, and go to sleep. It is a wonderful way to live.

Since it's Thanksgiving, we celebrated by taking the car out today. Hiperdino is now Hipersol, but we went anyway, and then came back, and started the day as usual.

It will be hard to get home, although I miss everyone some. I would much rather everyone was here, though. It would be much better. Then we could all hang out.

Monday I have to go back to work, and then in less than 3 weeks have surgery. It suddenly occurred to me yesterday, and kind of freaked me out. I'd completely forgotten about it. It seems like we live in a world completely apart here. It's kind of like everyone else has stopped doing anything at all while we're away, and when we get back, you will all pick up and continue your lives too.

I'd better quit. My tummy is telling me it's my afternoon snack time.

Steven again ... thought I should say a little something about our host, Jose Maria Orozco. He's one of the reasons our trips here are so nice, and also he gives such a feeling for Ronda itself. He knows the history of the area, and for some reason, he has taken a liking to us, and the hotel isn't v. busy at the moment, so he often sits with us and talks about life in Ronda. Yesterday he told lots of stories about his own life, which I'll not post here, but you feel like you have a friend when you hear those kinds of stories. It makes all the difference.

It doesn't hurt that we're staying in such a nice place ... and we're currently the only guests, and Jose Maria doesn't stay the night, so when we come home late, we have the whole place to ourselves, and we can pretend we're rich and retired and this magnificent estate is ours. It's a nice vacation fantasy!

more of ronda

This will be a quick one ... I'm typing on the computer of the hotel's owner ... he said it was fine, but I don't want to overstay my welcome.

Weather has improved enough for Robin to do some shopping today. Big event was finding a pastry store that had many kinds of cookies, one of which was called a mantecada (as we pronounce it, mahntaycow), and it tasted much like ours, minus the anise.

More as the opportunity presents itself.

in ronda

We arrived in Ronda yesterday. The weather has finally crapped out on us, second day of rain with more expected tomorrow, but we couldn't have picked a nicer place to be during a rain storm. Our hotel, Jardin de la Muralla, is so beautiful. Our room is pretty large, and the accompanying bathroom is almost as big as the room itself! But there's more ... the "hotel" is really a huge house w/estate, so we can go downstairs and sit in this big lovely reading room, or when the weather improves, there are several beautiful gardens attached. And our host, Jose Maria Orozco, who previously owned the hotel we stayed in three years ago, is still as nice as ever, and his breakfasts, Neal and Sonia and Sara, seem to be just as odd and delicious ... today we got fresh apricot juice, some odd baked peach thingie, and the usual bread and tea.

Here is Robin:

I don't know what to say. Everything is so nice here. We're out walking today, without the camera because of the weather, and a lot of stuff looks familiar, while a lot doesn't. I guess that's what happens when you sprain a knee and don't get to do much. This time I can walk around to my heart's content.

I'm looking for a yarn store. I keep thinking that with as many sheep as they have here, someone must make knitting wool, and I want some. I can feel a sweater coming on while I lay around in December/January. You will all have to come visit over the holidays, because I'm not sure I'm allowed out of the house. I'll have to ask the doctor. It seems much too severe.

Anyway, back to Ronda. Right now there is a lot of greenery, quite different than when we were here in the summer. I guess there has been enough rain to make things grow a bit. There are oranges on the trees, and it looks like the olives might be going to grow.

N, S, and S...we passed a heladeria/ seemed like the place for you three!

Be back later...maybe tomorrow or so!

Steven one last time. My Spanish has been a help in our hotel ... in general, there are not nearly as many English speakers in Ronda, and our host ... well, N/S/S, his English isn't a whole lot better than before. But we talk and talk ... he is so nice to us, he let us come into his kitchen for tea and said he never lets anyone in there, but we were his old friends (he still has the pictures from our last trip on his computer). At one point, we were in the reading room and the doorbell rang ... the second time it rang, I went and answered it, it was a couple from Holland asking about the place, Jose Maria was in the shower, so I showed them around a bit ... they spoke English but not Spanish, so when Jose Maria arrived, I became the translator, if you can believe that!

Oh, and last night, we had the best pork dish yet! A huge tenderloin cooked just right. Neal and Sonia won?t agree, but I'm telling you, it's good eatin' here!

We'll post when we can ... it's a bit of a walk to the internet cafe. Sarie, just a reminder in case the email didn't go through, to mail the mortgage payment. And thanks to everyone keeping an eye on the house and cats and turtles!

there is no conqueror but god

Today we traveled to Granada to see the Alhambra. This is an ancient ... how old do you have to be to be ancient? ... v.old city/fortress/palace within a city. Did I mention it was v.old? The thing about this place is, the Moors made most of it, and they had some thing about God and the one way and a buncha other stuff I don't quite get, but this religious philosophy is reflected in ... not really their art, in their buildings, which all have the most amazing stuff on the walls. Lots of intricate designs, but with a (I have to say it) repeating motif: they love repetition, it seems to bring them closer to God or something, and so there'll be a wall made up of a bunch of tiles, and each tile will have a bunch of small designs, or rather, one design repeated a lot, and then the collection of tiles will also look like it's repeating, and this repeating thing goes on until you look way up at the ceiling and then maybe the ceiling will have it's own repeating thing going. So it's sorta like looking at posters from the Haight-Ashbury circa 1967, except not as colorful since in most places the colors have faded. But you could just pick a wall and stare at it and get lost in it.

And it's not just the walls ... the floors are like that, the ceilings are like that, the gardens are like that, and I wouldn't be surprised if the roads were like that. It's almost hypnotic.

It was also pretty tiring walking around, because the roads and floors are all made up of tiles and bricks and rocks, so there's hardly any place where the ground is exactly level, and then you go up and down hill, and eventually you get to the towers where the lookouts would stand many centuries ago and wait for the evil christians to come and wipe them out. I went to the top of one of the towers ... it was way high, and after that, I told Robin I was ready to sit in the car for a long while!

Hey, Joe Lockard, I know you're reading this ... thought about you while I was there, since I had read your description of being at the Alhambra with your family, before I left Berkeley for Spain.

Now it's time for Robin to explain all the parts I just got wrong :-).

So I took a minute to look up what was written all over the Alhambra ... "There is no conqueror but God" ...that is what is repeated everywhere, written in an old language I don't understand a bit of. But this line is carved into the doors, the walls, the window ledges ... and it is that repetition that says everything they wanted to say.

The Nasrid Palace seems to be the most beautiful place ... it has high windows with carved coverings to keep the light out but let the breeze in. You can just imagine walking through there on a hot day and feeling the cool tiles under your feet and feeling very at peace with it all.

There is a lot of water running everywhere. I don't know if it runs all summer too, but it runs in little gutters, and little gulches carved into the ground, and into the fountains that feed one another all the way down the hill. The whole place is built over several hillsides, but all come together within the walls. It's hard to describe. We'll post pictures later. You'll see from the number I took that I was pretty enthralled with the whole thing.

Did you know Moors are Muslims who converted to Christianity?

Steven again:

This may be our last post of the trip ... probably not, but we're leaving tomorrow for Ronda, and won't know until we get there how easy it will be to access the Internet. Here in Nerja, we've had it made ... the place from which I am now typing is across the street from where we are staying. I'd make a link, but as I mentioned awhile back, I can't find the necessary characters on the keyboard ... but it's

Hi to everyone who is actually reading these missives ... you can always send me an email, ya know! BTW, the weather held up for us one more day ... it was supposed to rain today, but remained dry, if kinda dreary. Tomorrow, rain is forecast again, but maybe it will hold off long enough for us to get to Ronda.

getting back on the horse

robin goes to the beachToday we went to the beach here in Nerja ... not to do any beach-y things, really, we just ended up down there while we were walking around. Robin decided she wanted to take off her shoes, roll up her pantlegs, and see how cold the water was, which she proceeded to do. This isn't a v.interesting story, I know, except that it was the first time Robin went into the Mediterranean since that fateful afternoon more than three years ago when a BIG giant wave crashed her knee into a pulp! So she gets the Brave Star Girl of the Day Award!

Today I decided the hardest part about the bilingualness around here is that I'm not comfortable with it, that is, if I have to speak Spanish, I have to also think Spanish ... Robin says when I'm thinking to myself in Spanish, my lips move like I'm practicing what I'm gonna say next. I don't know how people do it, flowing back and forth easily between two languages. I know that once in awhile I forget exactly who I'm talking to, and I'll see something and call out to Robin "mira" because I am thinking in Spanish. It's hard work, but I guess it's good for me ... glad to know all those years of listening to sports in Spanish has paid off.

Geoff, we have been looking for scarves ... it's unlikely we'll get to a match, Malaga plays on Sunday which is a travel day for us as we go to Ronda ... no luck so far, not even a Nerja scarf (they seem to have a lower-division team). There are lots of cheap jerseys of Beckham (natch, esp. given the Brit ex-pats crawling all over the place, but also because Real seems to be the national team the way the Yankees might be for us).

Tomorrow we are driving to Granada to go to the Alhambra. Granada is a big city, I think, so I'll be paranoid until we're actually there, and then it'll be dark on the way home, so I'll be paranoid until we get back.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, here she is, Robin!

When I die I'm going to come back as a giant sea tortoise that didn't die when it was young. And then Steven will see me swimming in the sea and say "es mi esposa!"

P.S. from Steven:

When Robin told me the above while we were sitting looking out at the sea, I tried real hard to think of what animal I would come back as. But I had to be honest and say if I came back, I'd want to come back as a computer, so I could know everything.


Today we drove to Estepona, where one of my grandparents is from ... we think my grandfather, but could be wrong. It was about an hour and a half drive from Nerja, not a problem now that Robin has reverse down! We pulled into a dark and tiny parking garage and wandered around looking for a police station, the rumor being that the police would know where a horse stable owned by the Rubios could be located. We couldn't find the station, so we talked to an officer who was sitting in his car. He knew nothing of grandfather, but told us how to get to the police station, and so off we went! Once there, I explained in my infamous Spanish that we were from the USA, that my grandparents were from Estepona and Ronda, that they had come to America in the mid-1900s, and that we understood there might be a stable where Rubios still worked and lived in Estepona.

Sadly, we learned nothing. I'm not sure, it might have been my Spanish ... they never got around to telling me about the stable, they just asked if grandpa was born in Estepona ... when I said I didn't think so, they said they wouldn't have any record of him. They asked what his "full name" was ... I said I didn't know, in America, we only use one last name, then Robin remembered it was Pena, Rubio y Pena, but there was nothing with that name either, and so our adventure ended. We didn't find any Rubios, but I got to speak Spanish to coppers, which was pretty terrifying, if you ask me!

Now you can hear/read Robin's version:

We had a very fast drive down the coast...part of the way on a good road, and then along the scary coast road because Steven didn't want to pay a toll. Then I had to listen to him huff and smash his foot down and grab the door handle. Eventually, we got to Estepona.

It is a lovely beach town, although the main beach road is torn up so we had to divert ourselves into town itself. That really scares Steven. He's sure we're going to die any minute. We found a place to have some more jamon serrano and tortilla espanola, along with mineral water for Steven but a Fanta de Limon for me!

After a lot of talking to the police officer, we got our car out of the garage and went down the road some more. We finally came to the really BIG local police station, and there Steven talked some more. I don't really know for certain that Grandpa was Rubio y Pena, but I seemed to remember someone had Pena in their name. It was a fruitless search, but an adventure just the same. The sun was out, the sky was blue, and the Mediterranean looked beautiful, so it wasn't actually a wasted trip.

Now we've had some time to relax and read and we're headed out for a snack before we head out for dinner. A lot of time is taken around here with deciding what we're going to eat when. It's very strange.

Saturday we're going to the Alhambra.

Steven writes a P.S.:

I just wanted to note that while Robin is correct that I said "take the crappy road, why pay a toll," the part where I was holding on for dear life makes me sound like a wuss, but this wasn't just any old crappy road, if you look in the travel guides, it is the WORST MOST DANGEROUS ROAD IN THE WHOLE WORLD! Like, 100 deaths a year! So I was right to be scared, and Robin was right for taking the toll road on the way back!

Also, last time I posted some bragging about my Spanish ... a few minutes after I posted that message, I realized I'd lost our hotel room key, so there goes my pride. You see, here in Spain and maybe in Europe in general, when you go out, you leave your key at the front desk. But I didn't do that, I put it in my pocket, and it fell out, and now I have been yelled at in Spanish, because the lady at the hotel was pretty mad at me. Luckily, we have since found the key.

Anyway, I'll tempt fate once again and point out that we didn't merely "come to the big police station," we followed the directions the policeman gave me in Spanish that I actually kinda understood! Believe me, this building was nowhere near the center of town, and I doubt we would have found it without my burgeoning language skillz. Of course, I didn't understand 3/4 of what they told me about Grandpa once we got there, but I gotta take my props where I can get them. I seem to be cursed with a decent accent, which means everyone talks to me like I know what they are saying, and I nod my head as if I do and then when they leave, we get out the Spanish dictionary in my Palm and figure out what the hell is going on.

Robin wants to PPPS to Neal, Sara and Sonia:

I just wanted to note the good news of the day...since the beach road in Estepona was closed, we didn't go to the beach, and I am still walking upright.


We actually drove the car around today ... went to the Caves of Nerja today, v.impressive, I'd insert a link here but the keyboard is missing the necessary characters, so look it up on google. We just parked the car in a lot ... 8 euros a day ... and I did all the talking, one of the few times since we got here that English didn't seem to be an option. I am proud of myself, which I probably shouldn't be, but what the heck.

I get anxiety at night ... I don't know why, maybe I'm just eating too many carbs ... but it's kinda weird.

Meanwhile, the travelogue continues at a boring clip ... another beautiful day out, another day eating pork, another day doing nothing at all!

Here's Robin:

Doing nothing at ALL???? The caves were really cool! We walked down into the earth, and when we came to the first big stalactite-stalagmite, Steven asked if that was the big one, and they just laughed at us. So we kept walking, and dang! There WAS the big one. Wait until we get home with the pictures.

We actually had to drive around a bit first and figure out where reverse was on the car, or Steven was going to have to push me back every time we had to get out of somewhere. We just forgot about the little part you have to pull up on the gearshift to get into reverse. Now we know, and I feel like we can go anywhere we damn well please!

So, a big trip tomorrow is definitely in the offing.