Confinement in Spain – Week 3

Random fact of the week:
“Many people confuse Smurf ice cream with the equally-blue Blue Moon, but the two flavors have a key difference: Smurf contains mini marshmallows, to represent the characters’ white hats. It’s popular in France, where locals know it as Schtroumpf ice cream.”

Shortly before confinement began, I joined a writers group on Facebook. The idea was to share some of the pieces that I write as well as also seek out a virtual community where writers could support one another with tips, tricks, and even some old-fashioned encouragement.

The group’s moderator and founder, Nicole B., asks members in a weekly roundup what they’ve been writing and if they’d like to share an example of their work. The one condition is that members who share links to their pieces also take the time to read another member’s post.

As chance would have it, there’s another American in the group who is also under confinement in Spain. Jacquie lives in Nerja, a coastal town along Spain’s southern Costa del Sol that runs alongside the Mediterranean. I read her most recent blog post and was moved by the intricate simplicity of her writing; the way her use of language induced feelings of melancholy and yet, a bubbling sense of hope.

I’ve been guilty over the last several days of not staying completely up-to-date with the ever-changing state of the world. Most of what I’ve consumed recently has been short-form or summarized journalism. The longer articles that I have read have dealt with various other topics, like this essay that appeared in The Cut. While I’ve been filling my days with a multitude of things to keep me occupied, I’ve also realized that a small portion of each day should be reserved for absorbing updates on current events (and not just those stemming from SARS-CoV-2).

My Dad’s Life Story: Last week I began to download and edit photos that that my mom had scanned as part of a planned life story book for my dad, who passed in the fall of 2016. Growing up, I seldom saw pictures of him in his youth or even older pictures of his side of the family, who are Swiss and and still reside in Switzerland. Naturally, spending time with these photos has re-activated numerous memories of my dad. I admit that before starting this project I hadn’t thought of him with the same frequency as I do now.

In many of these older photos, I can see the resemblance between him in those moments and the father that I grew up knowing: Near-identical facial expressions; strong features; even the same, cool aloofness that gave form to his personality and explained some of his decision-making. Undertaking this project, I’ve realized once more that he and I will never share another conversation together, man-to-man. While on the phone with my mom this past week, we spoke about him for some time. One of his mantras was “Do your best.” With little doubt in my mind, I can say that he would be enormously proud of all of us.

It’s only after el confinamiento went into effect and the shops locked their doors that I realized how unprepared I was to pass the time inside. Aside from a small collection of puzzles for young children that had been left in my apartment by previous tenants, I lack any kind of board game or books in the English language. The only books in my possession are a handful in Spanish that I’ve collected or received as gifts. Furthermore, I don’t even have VHS tapes or DVDs to use with the old school TV that came with my apartment! And while I’ve managed to keep myself occupied just fine, oh, how I long for the ability to play a good board game, whether it’s one that’s familiar (Monopoly, anyone?) or has been on my radar for a while (Settlers of Catan; even Pandemic!)

Prior to moving into my shared apartment in Vegueta, the historic district of Las Palmas, I didn’t know the other two people that I was going to be living with during my six month contract. On February 1st I got to meet both of them: Noelia, a college student from Mexico, and Jorge, an up-and-coming digital artist from Tenerife, one of the other Canary Islands. We mainly kept to ourselves before el confinamiento started but, as is the case with many other shared apartments throughout the world, this period of confinement has required us to spend a lot more time around one another. It’s true that we’ve maintained our own routines and personal lives, but we’ve also been getting to know each other in ways that may not have happened without this extraordinary event.

Over these past three weeks, I’ve sometimes thought to myself, Wouldn’t it be fun to sit down with these guys, place a good bottle of wine and three glasses on the table, and spend an evening playing a board game?

Shortly before she returned to London (and before a pandemic consumed the world) my good friend, Sophie, left behind a small trove of parting gifts, including a variety of seeds for me to plant. I was touched by this gift and knew its value, so I set the small baggie in my pantry for another day. Living in the middle of the city, I felt I wasn’t prepared to start a miniature garden in my shared apartment, though I do acknowledge it is perfectly possible.

As the global situation concerning COVID-19 began to unfold and the WHO declared a pandemic, people began to panic-buy — stripping entire grocery stores of food items and other essentials. This behavior led to renewed concerns about how we get our food and the stability of global supply chains in the face of a crisis.

While this was happening, I began to give more thought to the idea of growing a garden — cliché and basic as it sounds! But the seeds of this endeavor were planted while I was young. Growing up, my mom used to keep gardens of various sizes, whether it was a small tea garden under the porch staircase in Tennessee or an abundant, diverse vegetable patch in Northern Michigan.

While I was almost never an active participant in the act of growing, weeding, or maintaining these gardens, I sure enjoyed the fresh, delicious items that they yielded at harvest. My mom also went through periods of time when she would produce dozens of canned goods, which were kept in the kitchen pantry or in the store room — sometimes for years after the fact.

I can still remember the loud pop of a canned Mason jar getting unsealed, and the wonderful mix of flavors that one of them might contain: pickled Kim Chee, far superior to any you might find in a regular grocery store; roasted garden peppers and tomatoes (which go exquisitely with pasta); and all different kinds of jams.

One especially notable example of my mom’s periodic, furious productivity came in the early fall of 2014. I had just moved into a new house in Ann Arbor to complete the final semester of my undergrad studies at Michigan. While getting to know my new roommates, I mentioned in conversation that my mom had prepared, cooked, and sealed 100 jars of jam preservatives.

100 jars of jam?” my new roommate Nick asked, almost incredulously.

“100 jars of jam” I responded, perhaps somewhat casually. I would quickly discover that Nick was a foodie, and that he also enjoyed his herb. I managed to get at least several jars of the stuff from my mom that fall but they didn’t last long in our household that semester.

At one point in either the late 2000s or early 2010s, my parents hired a local cherry farmer to build a root cellar on our family’s property in Northern Michigan. Root cellars typically range in size, from small, humble holes in the ground to actual standup cellars that you walk into. The one in our backyard ended up being roughly equivalent to the volume of a 55-gallon drum, as we used to it to fill the hole for the cellar. A well-built root cellar can keep apples and other hard fruits or vegetables remarkably fresh for months (even upwards of a year) at a time.

While I regret not taking a more active role in the sustainable food projects of my family’s past, I have an appreciation for them now in the present. After my lease ends on September 1st of this year, I envision a few weeks of travel around Europe — assuming it is safe to travel at that time — before relocating to a new home on Gran Canaria.

It’s still too early to know where exactly this new home would be and it will likely depend on a number of factors (especially where I can find work as an English teacher). At this time, I’m in love with the idea of living in one of the numerous, idyllic towns that dot this island. In addition to being closer to nature, there would perhaps be enough space, sunlight, and fresh air to finally begin a miniature garden.

Movies watched
Uncut Gems (2019), Birdman (2014), Awakening (1990), Tiger King (2020)
Reading
I finished Distancia de Rescate, a Spanish language novella by Argentinean author Samanta Schweblin, and began Gilda en los Andes by Spanish author Fernando Marañón.

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