The Dirt

ESSAYS, REFLECTIONS & MUSINGS.

ON THE MESSES I’VE MADE.
THE SHIT I’VE RISEN ABOVE.
AND LIFE’S VEXATIOUS UNDERBELLY.


JULY 13//LOVE LETTER (of sorts)

AN OPEN LETTER TO MY NON-ENGLISH SPEAKING BOYFRIEND ABOUT INSIGNIFICANT COHABITATION-TYPE THINGS THAT WE DO NOT AGREE UPON AND OTHER GENERAL BITCHING.

Dear Boo,

Here are few things I’ve had on my mind that we should evaluate:

  • Which items get hand-washed and which items get put in the dishwasher. Cooking knives that I use every day get hand-washed. You can put them in the dishwasher while you’re hurrying to clean up after dinner, but I’m going to have to remove it and wash it by hand tomorrow morning. So, hook a sister up and swipe it with the sponge tonight, will you? Big pots that take up half of the downstairs rack get washed in the sink. Duh. Coffee cups and silverware, of which we have millions, can get lined up like little soldiers in the dishwasher. Why, why, why are you washing those by hand and not the big pot? And please, turn the fucking sharp knives point-side down. I enjoy my wrist arteries.
  • Using a fan. It’s summertime in Spain which means high-intensity heat. And there ain’t AC in these parts either. We’re talking thighs sticking to chairs, body parts sticking to other body parts and rooms so hot and stuffy it feels like moving through a big fart cloud to get from one side to the other. Know what makes sense during times like these? A little fan action. Some air movement. It’s what people do all over the world, boo. I am not strange for wanting to use one. Please do not ever again suggest that we sleep without a fan in the middle of the summer. You must be out your damn mind.
  • Window God. That is not what you are. I understand that in your attempt to control the temperature within the house, opening and closing windows and doors to take advantage of the sun’s position and airflow is smart. I am so onboard with that, darling, and I will do my best to support you in your daily window routine of racing through the entire house throwing open shades and doors and then later slamming them shut. As if one extra second in either direction would cause catastrophe. I got your back on that and I admire your window heroism. But if I want to crack one open during a non-appointed hour to get a bit of air flow, listen love, that’s what I’m going to do. Whether I have my Window Operator license or not, okay? Because I, too, am able to gauge whether my body is feeling excessive heat and can think my way through an appropriate and helpful course of action. I have an idea! How about using a fan?
  • Kicking like a mule and biting like a crocodile. I have often imagined the moment you were born going something like this: you’re out in the countryside amongst the trees and the vineyards—your true home—and it’s raining. You magically appear, tanned and slick with thick black hair, and you are immediately struck with lightning. The electricity charges you with superhuman life-force energy that will course through you until the day you take you last breath, probably out amongst the trees and the vineyards. Oh, how I admire this intense vigor of yours. And, oh, how I wish you’d ever chill the fuck out. At least while you’re asleep! But no, there’s no turning this thing off. Even in the wee hours when you’re presumably dreaming sweetly, you are creating a heat that permeates the whole bed. Snoring, making noises in your mouth that sound like pots and pans being slammed around, hmm-ing and haw-ing, moving so forcefully that it feels like you’re on your feet, straddling me while jumping up and down, and just generally kicking like a mule and biting like a crocodile. This is not resting, love, this is mixed martial arts.
  • The number of ways there are to accomplish a given task. I am under the impression that you believe there is one, and it’s yours. I am here to tell you that there are many, and at least one of them is mine.
  • What constitutes “being quiet.” If I can identify where you are and what activity you’re doing from the other side of our spacious-enough home, you’re not really being quiet. If you’re being completely silent but I am called to turn away from what I am doing because I can feel that intense energy of yours shifting the atmosphere of the entire house, that’s not really being quiet either. If you approach me while I’m working and whisper because you know I’m seeking quietude, I appreciate the effort, but I can’t hear you. If we’re in bed during sleeping hours and you’re kicking like a mule and biting like a crocodile, that’s not quiet. If I wake up to the sound of you opening the garden door two stories down, you guessed it, not quiet either. I’d request that you turn it down a few notches, but I know we’ve got an all or nothing situation here. And when you’re at nothing, it means you’re miserable and exhausted and really kind of hating the world. So I’ll stick with all.

Thank heavens for your cute little cue-ball butt that I love so much and all those manly things you can do to impress me. Where would we be otherwise? I have no idea. But wherever it is, will you help me get my Window Operator license? Kthanks.

Love,

Me, tu cosita más bonita en el mundo.

 

***Kick like a mule and bite like a crocodile is a phrase I have robbed from my dad, who’s used it for as long as I can remember to describe how my sister and I sleep. But I don’t believe it for a second.



JULY 7//CAKE

It was Fourth of July, and I wanted to make an American flag cake. You know the one, it’s made an appearance at every Independence Day party you’ve been to in the last 12 years. White cake, whipped cream, strawberries and blueberries. Super simple, and if you make it with a smidge of effort and don’t leave it to melt in the sun at your cookout, it’s cute and festive. A crowd-pleaser. I thought, “this’ll be something easy and charming to show the locals how we do the red, white and blue!” I might not get fireworks or a cooler filled with ice (ICE!) and Miller Lites here in rural Spain, but I can show a little spirit.

I set off at mid-morning to shop for my short list of ingredients, navigating my man’s big truck through the pueblo’s tiny lanes. Getting through our village and onto the main road headed toward town is a 60-second journey, but it feels like an American Gladiator’s challenge. If I can make it that one minute without running over a kitten, an old Spanish woman or scraping the sides of the pickup along the houses closing in around me, I have defeated the odds. I will be sweating and using the Lord’s name in vain under my breath, but I will have succeeded.

My first stop once I got to the bigger village nearby—the closest place for grocery shopping and about 10 minutes from home—was the produce market. Located on the far end of the town, I had to cross through a small tangle of streets and roundabouts to reach it. The place was swarming with activity, far more than usual.

Assholes stepping into the streets without checking for cars. Assholes driving the cars. Assholes standing in doorways, chatting away or looking at their receipt without any consideration of people who might actually want to use the door for its purpose, entering and exiting. It’s true, a Spanish person’s favorite place to stop and do something is in a doorway of any public place, doesn’t matter which.

I didn’t understand all the activity. Did other parts of the world recognize the Fourth of July? Was there some sort of fiesta going on? Or worse, was this just the way it is in the summertime? I asked at the produce stand and the owners informed me that every Monday is market day in town. The plaza mayor fills with vendors and folks stream in from all the nearby villages to do their weekly shopping.

Note to self: do not go to town on Mondays.

I started to unroll a plastic bag off the reel and looked around for the strawberries. There were none. Huh. Then I scanned the colorful mounds of fruits and vegetables for blueberries. There weren’t any of those either. I met eyes briefly with the owner and thought “okay so you’re selling snails in net bags and sardines floating in oil in an open tin can but you don’t have fucking strawberries at your produce stand?”

Well, what about corn. It wasn’t on my list but what’s more America-Summer-y than fresh corn on the cob? Couldn’t find any of that, either. I’d heard it was unusual for Spaniards to eat corn, so I thought I’d ask if they at least carried it from time to time.

“Do you all sell corn?” I asked the owner.

“Yes,” he said.

“Where is it?” I asked.

“It’s coming on the truck now.”

“Okay, so it will be here soon?” My voice took on the edge of a person who is wordlessly suggesting that perhaps it might be easiest to just go ahead and provide all the information in one helpful, organized sentence rather than making me painstakingly extract each morsel individually.

“It should be here in about 10 minutes,” he said. “But then we have to unload everything.”

“Got it. Is it fresh?”

“Yes, it’s fresh,” he said, but it sounded a lot more like “DUH” to my ears. We were having such fun.

“Like natural? Because I’ve seen it pre-cooked in plastic bags before and I’m looking for fresh corn.”

“Oh, no. We don’t have natural corn. It comes in a plastic bag like beets.”

Ah, thank you for that explanation that means absolutely nothing to me.

We shuffled away from one another, bemused and confused and I having not found any of the items on my list. I wound up buying a red bell pepper because, I dunno, it was big and impressive, and some cherries in case my search for strawberries didn’t end well. I couldn’t think of any other blue fruits as a replacement for the blueberries, and I certainly wasn’t finding any inspiration next to the snails, so I headed out to continue my hunt.

An hour-and-a-half, four stores and two parking spots later, I had these perfectly sensible items in my bag: the aforementioned bell pepper and cherries, blueberry marmalade that turned out to be brownish in color, wooden skewers, a star-shaped cookie cutter, whipping cream, a dozen tiny square cakes that seemed to be cupcake-ish in their texture and a baguette.

From the outsider’s perspective, I’d dare to say that I looked like a woman who had her shit together. I was wearing a flowing sundress. My hair was recently highlighted and on-point. My straw shopping basket looked idyllic with the loaf of bread peeking out of the top and the impressive red pepper shining from within. Only the finest, most natural ingredients for this gal! I was bumping into the abuelas from my village, successfully making small-talk in Spanish and thanking them with sweet eyes as they told me how pretty I looked. What a vision!

The truth is, though, that just under the surface I was a wild-eyed woman standing at the precipice of a blatantly immature, completely unnecessary breakdown.

Underneath my dress sweat drizzled down my legs. My thighs were chafing and the collection of golf-ball-sized mosquito bites from my shoulder blades down to between my toes screamed to be scratched at with angry fingernails. My shopping basket (filled with shit I didn’t come for) dug into my wrist and the voices of my frustration tore through my mind like that bitch on the train who’s talking too loudly on her cell phone. Who you’re trying to ignore but you can’t.

“REALLY?! NO STRAWBERRIES?! ARE WE IN FUCKING ANTARCTICA?”

“THIS STORE LITERALLY SELLS THE MOST RIDICULOUS COLLECTION OF USELESS GARBAGE THAT I HAVE EVER SEEN!”

“MOVE.THE.FUCK.OUT.OF.THE.DOORWAY.”

I longed for Publix, where all the items you need for the flag cake are already on display at the entrance of the store and the strawberries are two-for-one. Where the parking lot is spacious and organized and the icy air conditioning blasts you as you enter. I wanted to go to ONE familiar store and mindlessly check off my entire shopping list, not to seven mangy little ones with smelly fish departments and absolutely no consideration for the traffic flow of shoppers.

I wanted home.

But then I thought, “You better check yourself, woman! You’re uncomfortable, but that’s okay. This is where we grow, amidst moments of challenge and frustration, pushing our sweaty bodies through doorways clogged with thoughtless people.”

I reasoned with myself, “Here are your choices: pitch a fit like a spoiled, First-World-cry-baby-bitch, or chill the fuck out and adapt. Who do you want to be?”

Forever aiming for self-evolution, I opted for the latter. I searched for the charm in the situation, telling myself:

“You can glance over your shoulder and see the Pyrenees. That’s pretty awesome.”

“Isn’t it a blessing to have these two sweaty, healthy legs to carry you back and forth through town?”

“That flag cake is generic anyway. Getting creative with brown blueberry marmalade is fun!”

And then I went home and made an unattractive, only mildly tasty cake that looked nothing like a flag or anything to do with America for that matter.

Later on, after my enthusiasm for preparing a bunch of cutely-presented food items had morphed into thinly-veiled, self-imposed stress and disdain (one of my favorite and most adorable patterns), my man and I joined a group of friends down by the community pool for a barbeque. Poolside barbeque, by the way, not being what probably comes to your mind when you hear those words side by side. Charming? Hell yes. American? Not even a little.

Firstly, the grill doesn’t run on gas or have a cute domed lid to cover a mound of charcoal. It’s a small brick building with a concrete counter inside, upon which we make a fire out of grapevines and wood and place a grill basket directly on top of. I’m not complaining, just noting the difference. The pool itself looks like it’s straight out of the Sandlot, complete with AstroTurf and a retro vibe that is super Instagram worthy. A patchwork of neat green rows and proudly cared for gardens is to the west of the pool and Abuelo’s almond tree orchard rustles to our north.

We were a group of five Americans, a German, an Australian and several Spaniards. We ate Spanish food attempting to be American, drank our homemade wine and pacharán and sang along to my friend’s guitar. Someone draped a faded American flag towel over the chain link fence, and at one point, Toné was called away to help plow the fields. We were markedly well behaved, enjoying the easy conversation and togetherness.

The pink sunset turned into a black sky and heat lightening flashed overhead. I was having a nice time and was grateful for the beauty around me, in the form or nature, people and life in general. But as the air of an incoming storm grew denser, a slow ache pulled at the back of my throat and twisted down into my heart. Loneliness inflated inside of me like a balloon and I realized that I no matter how much I wanted to recreate home, even just for a moment, it wasn’t possible. Home would have to take on a new definition, starting with a place that resides within the confines of my very own skin.