Castillo San Marcos

Castillo San Marcos
13th-century castle, El Puerto de Santa Maria. That WAS our house to the left and behind the tree!

Friday, September 20, 2013

¡¡Ya Ha Lllegado Mi Hermana!!

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. 

Can we afford THIS palace?  Well...maybe it's a little big.

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.

A palatial vision for rent

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. 

Our palace is the blue-tiled one!  View of our palace from the castle across the street

The upstairs of our palace--perfect!  Even decked out in thrift-shop.

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!

Exploring the streets of Sanlúcar together

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.  

Time tunnel: entrance to the Clybourn house, LA

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.

In the Plaza Mayor of 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.

Laughing with the kids on the streets of Salamanca

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. 

Surfer girls

Idyllic Northern Spain

On the way to the beach

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. 

Outside a typical rock house

The Santillanans must have been dwarfs

Awesome cave formations in El Soplao

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!!

C'mon, Aunt Simone!!!!


  1. Oh how I wish I were Suzi, her life sounds so fabulous. Oh... wait.... I AM Suzi! Yay for me! I LOVE Spain. And I love YOU for getting us here. Can't wait for the other adventures this year has in store for us. xoxo

  2. Such a great description of all you've been doing, and beautiful pictures. Funny how my sister and I (middle and oldest) are living next to each other right now too, while the younger one is further away.

    I know your mom is smiling on you all right now. She's LOVING the blended family, and her energy is shining through each one of you in its way.


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