Most of August we spent preparing for the arrival of my sister Suzanne and her family. While going through the stresses of my mom’s illness, she and I dreamed of a time when we would all live in Spain in a palace next to a castle as a big communal family. Now that dream was coming true.
We’d practiced communal living in Los Angeles and were convinced that sharing common Spanish space—kitchen, living room, pool and patio—would be easy compared to the gyrations we went through in LA (moving from the Valley Spring house to the Clybourn house and back, ongoing hospital stays, and the need to change at a moment’s notice). So my sister and her husband Ethan packed up 14 big Home Depot boxes with stuff needed for a year’s stay and mailed them off to us while we searched for a palace.
Turns out we found it right in our own building. The architect-owner of our palacio is currently working mostly up in Madrid during the ongoing financial Spanish crisis, and he agreed to rent us his offices. So we began furnishing this gorgeous space with Rota Yard Sale and thrift shop finds.
And on the 19th of August, they arrived! My sister is here! We are a big extended family living in Spain in a palace! We have a whole year to explore Europe and live as a commune!
My sister’s arrival is a form of healing in the aftermath of grief and loss following my mom’s death. Being in Spain, with the excitement of a new culture, the challenge of a new language, and the welcoming hospitality of friends, has been a balm to me, and now I could extend it to my sister. Suzi had been at the epicenter of my mom’s illness, coordinating her medical care in Los Angeles, and while we all returned to our lives far from this center, she stayed in LA, surrounded with the painful bittersweet memories of those intense eight months and left to pick up the pieces.
And Suzi, being who she is, leapt right into being Spanish, insisting on conversational Spanish at dinnertime, agreeing to attend a bullfight, making friends with the owner of a fancy sherry bodega, and clicking away with her camera to capture this new life.
|El Puerto de Santa Maria at sunset|
|Toro and Tio Pepe greet you as you come into El Puerto|
|Our little castle next door|
After we hit Aqualand (Aqua-fresh-land-ia to my nephew Ado) to overcome their jetlag, we planned our long-delayed trip to Northern Spain. Our friends Sharon and Gidon own a beautiful farmhouse in the countryside of Cantabria which we had rented last summer but never saw due to our emergency trip to California. Now we were on our way in a seven-seater Euro-van, traversing the sunlit Spanish mesas as we’d planned so long ago. First stop: Salamanca.
This was Suzi’s idea, and the sandstone beauty of this medieval university town made it thoroughly worthwhile. Our little pension Los Angeles was on the Plaza Mayor, and we wandered the cobblestone streets for an evening and a morning before heading north.
The farmhouse was even lovelier than the charming website depicted, and we settled into two days of craggy Northern beach surf days before the famous rains set in. Tia and Sasha learned to surf the gentle Atlantic waves, while Griffin and Ado tore it up on the boogey boards. We walked the 40 minutes to the beach through rolling fields and farmland dotted with black-and-white milk cows.
Sure enough, the skies clouded and the temperature dropped 20 degrees; we were glad we’d brought long sleeves, pants, and jackets. But the rainy weather didn’t stop us from visiting the beautiful little town of Santillander Del Mar (narrowly avoiding a thunderstorm) nor the deliciousness of Casa Poli, a sidreria (ciderhouse) just across the border in Asturias. The area is also famous for its spectacular caves; we hit El Soplao and marveled at the crystal formations.
But perhaps the best part of the vacation was the luxury of sharing an ancient farmhouse in the middle of cowfields, apple orchards, and corn patches. We wandered the gravel paths, meandering, picking blackberries, and meeting the neighbors, the kids getting their first experiences with stinging nettles (all part of the bargain). Now the trick will be to get my sister Simone here—soon!!