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San Sebastian is very close to Pamplona. Just a hop a skip and a jump. But culturally they are worlds apart. None of the formality of the city, this is a beach town. And the beautiful beaches are tops optional. The boys are very excited to get on the road to our next destination. We have rented a 2 bedroom 2 bath apartment about 2 blocks from the beach for 4 days and 4 nights.
Our drive to San Sebastian is uneventful. Until we get to San Sebastian. Where’s the sea? All I can see is mountains. We drive, counter intuitively inland. It’s where the road that we are on is going. Finally, we see a town. But we still don’t see water. Isn’t there supposed to be water at the sea? The address to the apartment is in the iPhone, but the damn phone keeps changing it. Why? I am driving so slowly even the Spanish are getting upset with me, hey, we are just trying to read the signs, you know, those signs you put on the sides of buildings instead of on the street. Gezzzzz. Finally I pull over and stop. There is a covey of taxis sitting there…taking a cue from a friend who did this in Mexico, I tell Brian, “Go over there, tell the taxi drivers where we are going and hire one of them to take us there”. GREAT IDEA! So he approaches the whole group and tells them the plan, asks how much. One guy bites… he’ll do it for 5 euro; he pulls his taxi around, we pull in behind and follow left, right, a couple more streets, one round-about; he stops, points to his left and there it is; our new home away from home. We do have a garage space along with the rental, but since we are not checked in, no access. I pull onto the sidewalk as we assess the situation. OK…right down there, really really close to the beach, there appears to be parking. Not sure what all these blue lines mean, but we’ll figure it out. So I back up, go down the street, find a space and pull in. Brian sees a pay for parking box and goes to figure that out. After a bit of help from some of the friendly locals we have a space and it’s paid for until 4:00. We are meeting our “landlord” at the apartment at 3 so we are good to go and there’s a hotel right at the end of the street so we are also good for lunch. Actually we are early for lunch. The restaurant is not yet open. It’s Spain, dinner no earlier than 9, lunch no earlier than 1. So we hunker down in the “bar” area and tell the boys we will go and have lunch in about 1/2 hour. Both of them look at us…are we nuts? Topless beach or food? What do you think they chose? They will meet us at the apartment later, much later.
Brian and I have a lovely lunch at the restaurant and then walk over to the apartment to meet Emy, our landlord. Emy is a kick in the pants. A fast talking slender Basque woman who’s grandfather was the former mayor of San Sebastian; she teaches English and loves to speak it to real Americans to help her hone her skills. She is also a foodie. Once we start asking her where the store is to buy food and where are the best places to eat, not necessarily the most expensive, but the most authentic, she gets very animated. “Come” she says, “come with me”. The boys arrive just about that time, we make quick introductions and tell them we are going for a glass of “her” local wine across the street and will be right back. Oh, those words are going to bite me in the ass. Right back. Right back.
We go over to a little coffee/wine/beer/tapas place just around the corner from our apartment. She has the bartender pour us a glass of Txakoli a very dry white wine that is made in the region, high acid – low alcohol, meant to be drunk within a year of bottling. We talk more.
“You really want to cook while here?” she asks
“Yes” I say “I’m excited to try some of the local ingredients and cook.
“Then” she responds “I have the perfect place to cook”
I’m not sure I understand. The apartment? It looks like an o.k. place to cook. It’s got good knives. It doesn’t have much by way of cookware but, it should work out o.k. from what I see. She tells us she has a beautiful garden and she wants to show it to us, as well as her house, and it’s just right up the hill. “OK” I tell her “but I need to move the car first”. “OK…I’ll show you where you need to go”. There is something to this communication thing. It’s much more important than one might think. I go to my car thinking she’s going to show me the way to the garage and the next thing I know I’m going up the hill to her house, with the boys suitcases, still in the trunk of the car. Be right back. Be right back.
Her house is set high up the mountain overlooking the sea. It is a gorgeous view. Her garden is beautiful and plentiful (although she does have a full time gardner). As she is showing it to us, she’s pulling lettuces and herbs from it and piling it in my arms. Then she takes us inside and we see her lovely home; meet the cat, see her wine cellar… totally awesome. But I remember I told the boys we would be right back. Right back. “Can I call the apartment?” “Sure, no problem”. She dials, it rings and rings and rings, no answer. OK…must have gone on an adventure, they have a set of keys. Relax.
“Now” says Emy “I show you where is a place to cook”.
Still not sure what she means, but back in the car we go. We follow her further up the narrow road; up the hill; all of a sudden she makes a hard left into what appears to be a parking lot of a restaurant. As she approaches she pulls keys out of her pocket and opens the door. It’s not a restaurant; it’s a fully stocked, fully loaded professional kitchen that she shares with others in her Basque society. Here they cook meals for friends using an honor system where you just track what shared supplies you use to prepare your food. They share the cost of the space, each “owner” gets a certain amount of time to use the facility AND they pay someone to come in to clean up after so there is no quarreling about someone leaving it dirty. And the view is fantastic. I wish I had my camera.
“You want to use?” she asks me. Well sure, if I knew 100 people or even 10, but I think for the 4 of us the apartment will be adequate. She shrugs her shoulders not quite understanding why I would not want to take advantage of her gift. As she is showing us the kitchen she tells us that San Sebastian has not one but three 3-Star Michelin rated restaurants; and of course she knows the chefs of all of them. “Could you maybe possibly get us a reservation for lunch or dinner in one of them? ” Brian asks hopefully. These restaurants are usually booked out 3 months or more in advance, and since I was planning on cooking I hadn’t even done any research on restaurants. “I will see what I can do” she replies.
We return to the cars; big hugs, we are now best friends. Brian and I take off back down the hill to the apartment; we park the car and walk inside to well, let’s call him, unhappy…mad…angry…livid…Trevor.
“Where the $#%@ have you been?” he demands. “I’m sitting here with no clothes, in wet trunks, I’m hungry and you are out and about”. Remember what I said about you wouldn’t like Lindy hungry, Trevor trumps Lindy by 10.
I try to explain what happened, and how it happened, and how innocent it all was and how we tried to call them but they didn’t answer.
“I did answer the phone” he snarls “it just keeps ringing”
“OK son” I say as I refrain from saying you must not have hit the little talk button, “Go get dressed now and let’s go get something to eat.” I don’t know how Evan is feeling because he is being totally invisible. We take them to the little coffee/wine/beer/tapas bar where we had gone with Emy and GET SOME FOOD into these boys. That’s what they get for wanting to look at tits rather than eat, but I don’t think now is the best time to point that out to them. Food first, logic second.
Fed and clothed, they (meaning Trevor) are now much more reasonable. We walk together to the grocery store to get some supplies and figure out what to have for dinner. The store is just a couple of blocks away; very convenient. It’s a big store, with a fish counter, a meat counter and a poultry counter. Since I have lettuce, I figure a salad, with some baked chicken stuffed with all the yummy herbs Emy gave me. With that I got some broad beans, potatoes, onions and bacon to make a side dish, one pot, since pots seem to be scarce in the apartment; I couldn’t even find a skillet. I’m not sure what I’m going to cook the chicken in either. I send Brian off to find me a disposable aluminum pan. He comes back with an earthenware casserole, “they don’t have anything in the aluminum family” he tells me. (This is another thing that sort of puts Spain ahead of us when it comes to being “green”. They don’t sell disposable pans, so they don’t expect or use them. Everything is durable.) This earthenware dish is only 7 euro, so what the heck. It’s a good solution. (It did come home with me and is a proud part of my home kitchen, it reminds me of San Sebastian each time I use it, what more could one ask for in a souvenir?)
While Brian was off finding me my casserole, I was picking out the chicken. There were two kinds, and as far as I could make out in my very limited food talk Spanish, and the counter girls very limited food talk English, one was organic and one was not. And the organic one she kept saying is “of the farm”. Not sure of the meaning of that, but I’m thinking “free range” so I tell her to wrap it up, but please to take the feet off of it first. Transaction complete. We go to the check-out, some of our items were “specials” you know, just like they have at Safeway and other markets where you use the card and get discounts. So we signed up for a card. It just makes sense to get the discounts. We are now ready to cook.
The apartment is supposed to have wireless, but we can’t get that to work. I try to call Emy because I can’t find any skillets and we need more towels, but I can’t get the phone to work. This strange sounds just keeps coming out of it whenever I dial the number on her card. I do have a home number, but she said she was going to be gone until about 8 so I figure I’ll call her after that. The boys are frustrated because they need to get onto their social media and IM all their friends about what they saw at the beach and they can only hard plug one computer at a time. The code on the bottom of the modem doesn’t work, it won’t connect, boo hoo hoo. After we try, for about the 20th frustrating time, I look at the code…then look at it some more…maybe that 0 (zero) we are putting in is actually an O. Try it with an O. Yay! Connected!
I’m baking the chicken and the house fills with the most wonderful aroma. The fresh herbs permeate the air. I saute a little bacon in a pot, then add the potatoes and beans and let them cook together, when it’s done I add some fresh chopped herbs. I toss the fresh greens with a homemade simple vinaigrette and we sit down to eat. “Has anyone ever tasted chicken like this?” I ask. It is so full of flavor it doesn’t even taste like chicken. It tastes like a herby, tender, scrumptious pieces of loveliness. It’s then that I realize, their “of the farm” means this chicken was raised on a farm. Not commercially in the same way our “free range” chickens are, which means that they get to see a smidgen of sunshine, while being fed commercial grain to fatten them up (even if it’s organic grain); these Spanish chickens get to go and grub for food, eating grasses and herbs and weeds and worms and whatever else they can scratch up. They taste different. They taste better. If I had the heart to kill a chicken rather then just gather the eggs, I would raise them. It was a delicious meal, and we have some left-over chicken for another day.
OK…there’s only one person I can think of that would be calling, and that’s Emy. So I call her home number and it connects. (We found out later that her card with her business number had the county and city code on it and we didn’t need to dial those as we were in the same county and city as she was, another thing that is nice to know). She answers. She got us into Akelarre the next day for lunch. For two is what I assume. It’s for 4. “Holy crap” I think “that’s going to be an expensive lunch, maybe we shouldn’t take the boys”. But it’s vacation so we decide to give them an option; when I mention to them that they might be missing some prime “beach” time if they take 3 – 4 hours for lunch, they tell me they have plenty of time for the beach. This is an experience that they want to share with us. So what could I say? “You have to dress nice”.
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