Donde pongo el ojo pongo la bala.
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A couple of days ago, I was gchatting with George while he was at work. He was having his Zone afternoon snack, and he mentioned how delicious and juicy the Valencia oranges we bought were. The mention of those juicy, sweet, tangy and perfect oranges brought on a whole flood of memories from Salamanca… And here they are, in a stream of consciousness I threw at ‘im in our conversation. Le sigh.

Every bar and café in Salamanca has this machine: you put whole oranges in it (at the top) and it slices them in half and squeezes the juice out, so when you put a glass in the bottom part, you get fresh squeezed orange juice, always served in a glass much like a champagne flute. My favorite part of living there was waking up before class, running to the bar downstairs with a view of the Cathedral, ordering my croissant with cheese, ham, tomato and lettuce — fresh baked, still so warm — my cup of café con leche (basically milk with a TINT of coffee) and my fresh glass of OJ. Sitting there on the terraza (the tables out on the sidewalk), reading the paper, with doves gathering at my feet waiting for a little croissant crumb. Pigeons and doves, cooing on the rooftops. Delivery boys rushing to get all the merchandise to the shops. Shop owners sweeping the entryways to their souvenir stores. People rushing to work. Looking up at the sky and watching a stork fly five feet above your head to his little nest on one of the turrets of the cathedral.

Every morning was like this.

Well, except for the mornings I ordered a cream cheese and raspberry jam (made fresh there) croissant, instead of my regular ham and cheese. The owner of that café would always have my two pastries ready for me, one for brekkie and one for lunch/snack, along with my coffee and my juice. And when I moved, the last two years, to an apartment that was a 30 minute walk from there, I’d still go. For the familiarity. The comfort.

After morning classes, there’d be a break for lunch. The sidewalks are steamy hot: stone warms up a lot in the direct sun. And all of the big umbrellas on the terrazas are open to give shade, and the waiters are leaning listlessly against the frames of the doorways to the cafés, fanning themselves with the notepads they use to take orders, waiting for people to get out of school and work.

Lunch was all tapas: a tiny slice of tortilla española, a slice of bread with jamón ibérico on it, patatas bravas. Nestea iced tea with lemon wedges or grape juice mosto with an orange wedge. And the waiters take your order with their faux, yet very convincing, disdain. They’re glad to have something to do, but they don’t need to earn your tip. They do, however, need you to like them so you’ll keep coming there every day… so they’re a bit abusive with the right dose of flirtatiousness.

People watching and seeing the little old Spanish men with their five layers of shirts in 85º weather, a remnant from the “hard” days, the days of Franco, when they’d wake up in the morning and it would be cold out, and instead of spending hard earned money on turning the heat on, they’d layer their clothing. So there they are, with their layers and their wool, V neck vests and sweaters and their little hats, starting with the drinks a little too early, talking to the young University girls, polite and sweet and sarcastic conversations… with lecherous eyes. And what I loved was that after only a couple months of living there, everyone knew you and said hello. Asked you how your sisters were doing with their cold, or your mom after her surgery. Because they remembered things like that, pieces of random conversations, snippets. They paid attention, they liked showing their concern. Completely unnecessary, but kind, and appreciated.

And it’s amazing: the buildings on those pedestrian streets are hundreds of years old but sparkling clean. Some stained glass windows, some windows that still somehow look original. Some windows on the Rua Mayor with the ironwork in the shape of the Star of David… a remnant of a Spain very long forgotten, intentionally forgotten. There are shoe repair shop on every block because only shoes with pointy heels are fashionable, but cobblestone pedestrian streets are most unkind to them.

And all over the Plaza Mayor, always, always, always? The hippies juggling or the living statues posing or the mediocre violinist who craves attention and acknowledgment playing La vie en rose over and over and over because that’s the only song he ever learned by heart. Or the group of Brazilian boys break dancing to pay their travel around Europe because all they saved for was the plane ticket there and home. Open air art shows along the downtown pedestrian streets. Culture and color everywhere. And there are always mischievous children getting in trouble… for dropping water balloons down on the street during the warm months; they toss them over the balconies and you’d never be able to figure out where they came from if it weren’t for the giggling and the peeking over the railing to see the person who just screamed.

I think I kind of like (and maybe miss) Spain…