Most of the time when our guests leave, Big Jim and I are sad, and we spend the next couple of days saying to one another things like, "Oh, aren't so and so such nice people? Wasn't it great to see so and so? Oh, I hope they had as good a time as we had!", etc., etc. And then there are the rare times when as soon as the door is shut behind a departing guest, Big Jim and I immediately embrace each other and whisper into the other's ear, "Thank god they are gone," and sigh deeply to release the days of built-up tension. Twenty rupees if you can guess which scenario played out today. **********************************************
Thanksgiving recap: Trouble started on Thursday morning, when our neighbor advised us that the woman who was to host our Thanksgiving meal wasn't feeling well. R. said we could just set up dishes at both of our houses and serve buffet style. "Sure, fine, whatever," we replied. I first made the cranberry relish, which needed to be refrigerated for at least 5 hours. Then Big Jim started in on his veggie courses. Okay, he went a little overboard---sweet potatoes, roasted potatoes and parsnips, brussel sprouts, green beans, and another roasted medley of peppers and zucchini. My other contribution---maple creamed corn---would be done right before we were ready to eat. Our weekend guest T., arrived thirty minutes before we were to sit down for our feast. I called R. to let him know we were running a little behind schedule. Turns out, he was running even more behind schedule, and our 7:00 serving time was now pushed back until 8:15. I popped open a bottle of wine, and Big Jim and T. dug into the German beer. M.A. arrived at R.'s door at 7:30. He was upstairs in our bathroom having a shower; inexplicably, his water had just been shut off. We invited her (and her Waldorf salad and pumpkin pie) in for a glass of wine. Fifteen minutes later, L.---the woman who was the original host---turned up (empty-handed, not even with the agreed-upon bottle of wine). R. then came down the stairs, wearing his yellow terry-cloth bathrobe, and said, "Oh good, everyone's here. I will go get the turkey and bring it over." "Bring it over? We are all eating here?" I answer, practically choking out the words. "Welllll, yeah, didn't you know?" asked R. "But we only have a table for four people." "That's okay. I can bring over a small table and a couple chairs." And this is how Big Jim and I came to host Thanksgiving without even trying. I think our fingers are still shriveled from all the washing up (our dishwasher packed up about a month ago, and we haven't bought another [will cost 100 euros just to have a serviceman sent out to look at it] because we are waiting to see what happens with Big Jim's job interview tomorrow....depending on the outcome, we may be moving.)
The weekend: I would like to say that the late-notice hosting assignment was the most stressful part of our weekend ("Doesn't anyone have a proper napkin in this house?!" yelled L. from the lounge. "Well, I would have ironed them if I had known I was having dinner guests BEFORE they actually arrived," I fumed under my breath in the kitchen as I slopped corn onto a plate and Big Jim searched for more champagne glasses.), but that would not exactly be true. Over the years, T. has been a frequent guest, so perhaps the odds are inevitably increased that some visits will be bad ones. He originally told us he was coming for a week. Then it was three days. Then he was bringing his friend N. with him. But she could only come for two days. And they would be booked into the hotel. Whatever. Big Jim and I can "go with the flow". We managed to pull together Thanksgiving dinner with 15 minutes notice, didn't we? In the end, though, T.'s arrogance proved to be too much for Big Jim and I to handle. First, there was the disdain that I had used frozen spinach to make their (still delicious by all accounts) spinach, tomato, and goat cheese omelettes. (The self-appointed food critic's own culinary skills consist of boiling some pasta and tossing it with jarred spaghetti sauce, which makes the comment all the more infuriating.) Then there was his comments on the recent vandalism to our car. In the past five weeks, our car has been keyed four times. The first couple times, kids scraped a big X and some doodly dragon-type picture on the hood of the car. The third incident, when a large penis and accompanying testicles were etched into the paint of the boot, sent a furious Big Jim to the local police. Who shrugged their shoulders and didn't bother to even make the short walk to inspect the damage. "We are too busy fighting the drug problems to make a report." Big Jim and I like to think we are reasonable sorts, most of the time, and so we know that vandalism is a universal problem, and "kids will be kids", etc. But what has stuck in my craw is that only two cars in the area are being targeted---our English right-hand-drive Peugeot and a jeep with UK plates. We are being singled out for being foreigners, and this leaves a very bad taste in the mouth I tell you. ANYWAY, as the four of us piled into the graffiti-mobile yesterday to take the scenic drive from Padul down the old road to Almunecar, T. starts in on how we should not be angry about the vandalism...what did you expect moving to a foreign country...this is the price you pay, on and on, etc., etc., etc. Both Big Jim's and my blood began to boil, and eventually, Big Jim told T. he had better be quiet or he would stop the car and T. could walk home. Lovely way to start an afternoon drive.
Which then brings us to the wine incident: I know many of you are losing patience with this very long rant, but unfortunately some background information is required. So hang in there! :-) Back in May, when Big Jim and I visited with T. in Frankfurt, I bought a bottle of wine that he had requested. He provided the following details: it was called Marquis de something, had a browny red label with gold lettering, and cost about eight euros. The Marques de Caceres basic rioja was the only wine that fit the bill, so this is what I brought him. When I gave it to him, I said I hoped that it was the right one. He then said it was not, and then chastised me, saying that clearly I knew nothing about wine, but "thanks anyway." I had to leave the room, tears burning my face. A few days later, T. took us to a Spanish restaurant in Frankfurt. He flipped through the wine list and said to me, "There! That's the bottle I wanted." It was Marques de Caceres, but the picture was of their Gran Reserva rioja. "But you didn't ask for a Gran Reserva, and there is no way a Gran Reserva would cost eight euros." I will spare you all the lesson I then gave him in the Spanish wine hierarchy, but simply put, a Gran Reserva is the top shelf of a vintage. Back to this weekend's "wine incident", T. had asked that I make a reservation at one of our favorite restaurants, the Posada Meson Mudejar, in a nearby village. Over the years, Big Jim and I have gotten to know the owner quite well, so I booked the table straightaway. Our party was five: Big Jim, me, T., N., and our friend M.A. We settled into a corner table in the cozy back room, and I ordered the two bottles of the Marques de Caceres that T. wanted. (As an aside, I am not sure why T. is so wedded to this brand. It is fine, don't get me wrong, but it is not so very, very special. Even the government-controlled liquor stores in Pennsylvania, not known for their superior stock selection, regularly carry it.) As Big Jim and I chatted with M.A., on the other side of the table, an official wine testing was taking place. Noses were plunged deep into glasses; glasses were then rinsed with the bottled drinking water; wine was swished and held up to the light. "Just pour the damn wine," I started thinking to myself. T. finally announced that one bottle would be acceptable, but the second had to be sent back. "Why?" we ask. "It's no good." The rest of us were urged to sample, and yes, there was a subtle difference between the two, but the "bad" bottle was certainly drinkable. I told T. if he wanted it sent back, he was going to have to tell Serafin himself. Which he eventually did, although T. tried to placate me by telling me that the owner should be happy to replace the bottle, that 25% of red wines are "corked", that relations with the patron only become strained when the fifth or sixth bottle is sent back. Man, would I love to be a fly on the wall some time when T. sends back a sixth bottle of pricy wine. Seriously. As it was, Serafin shared my opinion, and reluctantly opened another bottle. I must add Serafin does know wine. He and his father make their own for heaven's sake. And there was a time a few years ago when Big Jim and I did receive a truly off bottle of wine at the restaurant. It was gladly replaced, and Serafin even gave us another bottle to take home with us, to make up for the trouble. Last night, T. was simply being an ass.
Which brings me to the point: why be this way? Surely, there are places for wine aficionados to indulge their love of fine wine. You go to restaurants with books for wine lists, you get to know the sommelier, you seek out specialty wine shops (if you live in Philadelphia, you make the illegal schlep across the bridge to New Jersey to fill your car trunk at their independently owned liquor stores) to fill your cellar. But a tiny family-run restaurant in a hamlet in the mountains of rural Spain is not the place to launch into wine snobbery mode. There, the food and wine are intended to satisfy but also take a back seat to the companionship and good conversation that is meant to be center stage. As I puttered in the kitchen this afternoon after the guests departed, I looked into the cupboard and refrigerator, still full of the many supplies Big Jim and I purchased in anticipation of T. and N.'s visit. Big Jim and I have always done our best, even when he was out of work and money was tight, to make our friends and family feel very welcomed and to show them the best that this little corner of the world has to offer. And that is why T.'s behavior stings like a slap across the face.
Back to the bird: This morning Big Jim spoke with R. and told him we had given the leftover turkey to Almendena and her family and that he was now making soup from the carcass. This evening the phone rings. It is our neighbor R. Is the soup ready? L. apparently has no food in the house (even though I saw her carrying two bags of groceries back from the market yesterday) and would like some soup for dinner. Big Jim explains he has just added some dried beans to the pot, and it won't be ready until tomorrow. He hangs up and we both cry "UNCLE, UNCLE!" Keep your fingers crossed this job interview goes well on Tuesday, or we may just crack up.
And finally, the End: Just as we were both ready to give up on humanity, Big Jim received an e-mail from Nasir's cousin in Pakistan. Nasir has found work with a friend of Big Jim and is doing well, although he misses Big Jim very much. We have thought of Nasir and his family often since we have returned to Spain, so it was wonderful to hear from them. And after the weekend we had had, the timing could not have been better. Even though every last muscle in our bodies ached with tension and exhaustion, smiles came easily as Big Jim read the e-mail to me, and suddenly the world and all that is truly important came back into focus.