Ch. 34 – Letters To and From Home Dear Claudine…

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Ch. 34 – Letters To and From Home

Dear Claudine,

Sorry about my laxness in writing – I sort of got out of the habit, with you being gone for so long. Guess I should have continued writing, and you would have had a stack of mail when you got in.

I have finally had a few “turn arounds” plus I am working at my new business pretty hard. I may have a job for you when I get things together. There really are a lot of things I’m looking at. How does camouflage toilet paper sound? Don’t laugh!

I have made a “big lick” already this year and I have a chance to continue on this project. My boss and I have bought the royalty under two wells and I am trying to buy some more and the boss is over in Houston trying to get some more money. He is going to try to see your uncle and try to get his brother to come in on this and another deal (your uncle’s brother is rich!).

I am also hopeful that the book business is going to do something. I have talked to people who have one nice hardback cookbook – Louisiana Crayfish Recipes – and they have more than they can handle. They opened a restaurant in the new Catfish Town in Baton Rouge and are thinking of opening of opening another place in Tampa or on the West Coast. They are looking for someone to handle their cookbook business. I am looking at this book and my other goodie, Camouflage Cuisine, and am considering finding a way to buy them and resell them.

Your mom’s car died and she is facing one of the big decisions in life: buying a new one or getting the old one fixed, $350 a month notes, etc. The engine broke. I pray daily for mine and it seems better each day, even with 120,000 miles on the speedometer. I hope to get a new one by the middle of the year, but will drive this one until I have no other choice.

Guess you’ve heard enough about my happenings. I haven’t gotten by to pick up the gift from my daughter yet – not that I don’t think it’s worth the trip but I hope you understand – It’s still hard to go by.

I put $1033.23 in the bank for you yesterday so let me know what and how much you will need. I’ll stay loose and will have it ready when you get home if that’s what you want.

Well, I guess I will get this in the mail. I love you and miss you and am looking forward to working out living arrangements when you get home. My boss has a condo near the club – it is brick with a fireplace. I may be moving in there.

See you! Love,

Dad

Dear Tim and Rita –

I hope you are doing well. Mom said that Rita had an operation – is she feeling better? Is it as cold in Texas as it was in Louisiana? Someone told me that it snowed in West Texas. Well, it sure was cold here! – I fell twice on the ice that was covering the sidewalks and ground over here. Nothing hurt except for my pride, though.

I’m sure you’ve talked to Mom by now and heard about our trip. I has a really great time. I got to spend about ten days in London – it’s a lovely city. I may get to visit again for Easter because I am going to Birmingham to visit my roommate and her family.

I also went with Mom and William to Paris, which is always nice, even though I have been there twice before. Mom had a cold, which kind of put a damper on things – especially for her.

Mom and William seemed to really like Angers even if the snow kept us from renting a car and touring the chateaux. The did get to see the chateau in Angers, and the one in Saumur, though. We also went to Strasbourg and Baccarat. Mom and William bought some crystal and I’m having a catalogue and price list sent so I might choose some wedding gifts – a lot of people I know are getting married this year.

(cont.) Right now I’m on a train headed for Barcelona. I’ve finished my exams (I’m so glad they are over with!) and a friend of mine and I are going to spend this week off that we have experiencing Barcelona and Madrid (with maybe a day trip to Toledo). I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve been boning up on my Spanish but it will not do me much good in Barcelona because they speak Catalan there. Maybe Madrid will be easier. We are planning on taking in everything – flamenco dancers, gazpacho, sangria – I hope it will be warm… The weather, that is – not the sangria.

The weekend after we return from vacation, we (the whole Louisiana group) are going back to La Fleche to spend the weekend with our adopted families there. We have volunteered to make a “typical” Louisiana meal, so I think that we are going to fix red beans and rice, and maybe pralines for dessert.

I also need to find time in my busy schedule to call up a woman in Angers with whom I had dinner a month or so ago. We met through the Family Welcome. I just put my name down and people who want to meet American students are given my name. Anyway, this lady was really nice – she’s a widow with a fourteen year old daughter. When I noticed she had a lot of pictures of trotting horses around her apartment, I asked her about them. She explained that her brother raises and trains trotters and he has a farm not far from La Fleche. She invited me to go spend the weekend there in March or April – after the racing season in Paris is over. I would really like this because I would like to learn more about French trotters (anything to do with horses…).

Two weeks ago, the France-Etats-Unis Association threw a big galette des rois party – complete with a huge cold buffet, a disco, and – of course – Kings Cakes. We all had a really good time.

I’ve also been ice skating twice – I may make a habit of it. It was nowhere near as difficult as I thought it would be. Mind you – I’m not good, but those years and years of roller skating didn’t hurt at all. I can skate both forward and backward with no trouble at all – that is, unless the occasional small child gets in my way. I sustained a rather nasty tailbone bruise last week. It still hurts a little now, but it will be healed by the time I skate again.

I got to talk to Elaine and Chad both for Christmas and when I called for Chad’s birthday (it wasn’t really for his birthday – I was calling to leave a message for Dad on the day that just happened to be Chad’s birthday.). I’m really looking forward to coming home and being in the wedding. I hope that the bridesmaids’ dresses are nice. Mostly, I hope that the reception will be fun. I certainly am looking forward to seeing you there and all the cousins that will be able to make it. After being away for so long, I will be ready for a family reunion.

I hope that you will write me and tell what’s going on in the big town of Fort Stockton. Things are doing well here in France and I’ll send you a postcard from Spain.

Hasta la vista!

Con todo carino,

Claudine

P.S. – Thanks again for the Christmas gift. I bought the neatest kilt and matching scarf in the family dress tartan pattern. Now I can wear the family colors with pride!

P.P.S. – Enclosed is a photo taken of me in September at St. Malo – a resort town we visited on the way back from Mont St. Michel.

And another one from Pablo: (another sentimental card)

A smile is a light in the window of a face that signifies the heart is at home and waiting. – Henry Ward Beecher

Sending you a smile today, until you’re back to get one in person!

Hope it’s soon.

Dear Claudine,

Here I am, back on the track one more time. This is a different card. I’m reading the first card I was planning to send and cannot understand my own handwriting. Like I mentioned to you, I live now with Chico and Victor (his younger brother). So far, so good.

I was glad we had a chance to talk. It was a while since the last time. I like to give my sincere thanks for my presents Today I saw Elaine and Chad, it is his birthday and your sister is going to take him to dinner and something else – a surprise gift.

It must be exciting to be able to go to Spain and all of those other places. Try to have a wonderful time and enjoy yourself while you are there.

This weekend, I will be working and studying. I have so many things to do. Well, my special friend, I will be receiving your letters soon and I will be answering immediately, okay? In the meantime, be good, study hard, and have a good time.

Love you,

Pablo

Ch. 35 – Lovely Barcelona

2/3/85

Gosh! Here I am in Barcelona – what a gas! I’m lying on my bed at the Casa de Huespedes Marie Luz – an address straight out of my Let’s Go guide to Spain and Morocco! – and it’s just 6:30 PM. I have had, at most, 10 hours of real sleep in the past two days.

We had a party the last day of classes, and I got up and ready bright and early the next morning at 7:00 AM (despite not getting to bed until 2:00…). Sandy and I got to the train station at 8:15, only to find out that the train that usually leaves at 8:31 for Nantes doesn’t run on the weekends. We went out and had a croque monsieur and headed back to the dorm, because the next train did not leave until 10:45.

As it happened, I was lucky that we took a later train. I got a chance to check my mail. Joy of joys, I had a letter from Pablo, and Dad sent me a 500 franc bill with his letter. Pablo’s card was brief, but it was warm and he signed it “Love you” this time. I once read in an astrology article on Geminis that they fall in love with their minds first, then with their bodies, and finally, they give their hearts. I’m working as hard as I can to capture his mind right now – I’ll worry about the rest later.

It was a long day of train travel. It only took an hour to get from Angers to Nantes, but then we had a two hour wait for our next leg. We went to a Chinese food restaurant for lunch, and I sat and listened to Sandy prattle on about Tim, this guy she has a crush on. Many of us think that he is gay, but I haven’t told her that. I am not complaining (yet) – I shared a little bit about Pablo, too.

Our next train took us from Nantes to Toulouse, and it was a seven hour trip. It was 9:00 PM by the time we got off the train, so we decided to spend the night there. We found a hotel across from the gare (train station). While the hotel looked pretty clean, our bed was supported on one side by a stack of bibles (talk about having faith!), and the room reeked of new paint.

We spent quite a while searching for a place to eat at that late hour. Not much was open, and at one place, we sat down for a while and were ignored – so we left. We finally ate and got to bed at 11:30. Our train was to leave at 5:00 AM. Sandy got sick twice during the night – probably because of the paint fumes and the rich food. We got up early, however, and made our train.

We found a compartment, which a kind lady evacuated so that we could each lie down on a bench and close the blinds and sleep some more. We managed to sleep a little bit, although the benches were not very comfortable, and there were loud, drunk men in the compartment next door, laughing and carrying on.

After the sun rose, we got up and opened the blinds on the windows so that we could watch the scenery. The sun shining on the snow-capped foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains was spectacular. I wish that I had had film in my camera! When we got near the ocean, we kept walking from one side of the train to the other to catch glimpses of each spectacle: the majestic peaks, and the vast Mediterranean Sea. The sky was clear, and it was a gorgeous day.

We finally made it across the border to Spain, where we had a two hour wait at Port Bou. We made our pass through customs, and then decided to go outside for a while. We bought a wedge of cheese, and sat on a bench near the beach. I would not have called it hot outside, but it was warm. Compared to the frigid weather in Angers, it felt fantastic – I actually was down to only two layers of clothing!

A final three hour trip brought us to Barcelona. We didn’t have much trouble finding a room, because we took a taxi, and there was space available at our first choice from the guidebook. The price was right: $9.00 for a room with two twin beds. The showers and bathrooms were down the hall, but, for $4.50 a night, I wasn’t going to complain.

After we got settled, and I took a shower, we set out to find something to eat. It was like trying to find our way through a maze – the streets are narrow and the walls are high. However, we managed to find our way out, and walked along the portside waterfront to the statue of Christopher Columbus. He is high atop a column, looking out to sea. The weather was so mild that I was able to take off my sweater. We saw a copy of the Santa Maria, as well as an old German battleship that was anchored in the harbor. There was a teleferique (one of those cable cars that glides from one high point to another) that crosses the harbor, but Sandy didn’t feel like riding it just then.

We walked down the Ramblas – the famous boulevard that begins at the Plaza de Catalunya. Sown the center of the Ramblas is a promenade with a flea market atmosphere – there are all sorts of vendors and musicians. Some little boys were drawing pictures on the sidewalks in colored chalk (just like that guy in Mary Poppins!) – for a price, you could take a picture. They were quite talented. One little girl was dancing in Spanish costume to flamenco music. There were sleazy parts of the street, but I loved the things I saw so far!

We ate at a restaurant off of the Ramblas. It was hard to find something that was open on a Sunday, but I was determined that we wouldn’t eat a McDonald’s meal as our first one in Spain! Sandy had paella – saffron rice with seafood in their shells, chicken, and sausage – but she didn’t eat much of it because she said it was too rich. I had the Ensalada Catalunya – lettuce, onions, and tomatoes with an assortment of cold cuts. It was delicious, and would have been a meal on its own, but I also ordered pulpitos – baby octopi. They were boiled in a bowl of butter and served with crusty bread. They were so good, and I had the added pleasure of shocking Sandy by piercing them in their heads and eating them whole! I soaked up the butter with the bread. I was absolutely stuffed when I was done. There was a television in the restaurant, and we watched Inspector Gadget and Fame in Spanish while we ate.

Then we went back to the hotel and hit the sack. I can’t wait until tomorrow! If the weather is as nice as it was today, then I’ll walk outside all day!

2/5/85

Well, we walked and walked and walked – I’m tired of walking! Yesterday morning, we woke up at about 9:00 and set out at about 10:00. We stopped at a pastisseria and got these big round pastries that looked like pizza, except that they were topped with apricot jam, raisins, walnuts, and almonds. We saw the Catalonian version of the Arch de Triomphe and headed for the Templo de la Sagrada Familia – Guell’s unfinished masterpiece.

After that, I decided that we could make it to Montjuic on foot and then take the funicular (teleferique) back down to the port. After several wrong turns, and a couple of hours of wandering, we found ourselves at the foot of the Montana Pelada, which was not a good looking part of town. I don’t know how we got there. We ended up taking a taxi back to the hotel. We bought a bottle of cava (Spanish sparkling wine) and ran cool water over it while we rested.

We asked Marie Luz, the proprietress, to recommend a good restaurant nearby, and she told us to go to Casa Jose. She also recommended Los Tarantos, a club nearby that had a great flamenco show. I put on my red dress, ready for a night on the town. Casa Jose was down a dimly lit alley, and we were a tad nervous, but Marie Luz had been careful to draw us a map, and even warned us about certain streets to avoid. I had the paella that time, and it was good and very filling. This time, we watched an episode of Get Smart in the television.

Los Tarantos, the flamenco club, was nearby on the Plaza Real. The show started at 10:00 PM. We got there on time, only to attract two Japanese guys. I supposed that they recognized us as fellow foreigners, and they followed us inside and sat down at the table beside ours. We made polite conversation, and they went so far as to ask us if we wanted to go with them the next day to the Picasso museum. We made non-committal answers and turned to concentrate on the show.

The night was wonderful and the dancers were marvelous. There were three women dancing, and the took turns performing. While one of them danced, the others sang and clapped. The show lasted four hours, and I got up and went to the bathroom frequently to stretch a bit. I was able to talk to our waiter a bit in Spanish – he, of course, could tell that we were Americans. Sandy, the Spanish major, actually was timid to speak. I had been counting on her to do the talking for us, but it looked like that wasn’t happening. Besides, the more wine I drank, the better my Spanish became!

The next morning, we rose at 10:00 and walked to the port to finally take the funicular to Montjuic – it seemed the only way not to get lost! We had a wonderful view of the city, and it made us aware of just how huge Barcelona was. This time, we landed in the right place, but it still took us a long time to locate the Poble Espanol. This was a group of buildings erected for a world exposition some years before. The buildings were in all different styles, meant to represent the diversity of architecture in Spain. I really enjoyed the walk. The weather was great, and Montjuic was like a big park – covered with trees and trails. Sandy showed signs of tiring, though.

We passed by the Castello and the amusement park and even a riding school before we finally found the Poble (Pueblo in Catalan – it’s a very interesting language. It is sort of a mix between French and Spanish and maybe Gypsy dialect). It reminded me of La Villita in San Antonio, but it was larger and more extravagant. There were a lot of shops selling artisans wares and souvenirs, so we had a great time shopping there. I think that Sandy finally admitted it was worth the walk.

We took a taxi to our next destination – the Parque Guell. Antonio Guell was a famous architect from Catalunya, and he designed many of the buildings in town – as well as the church of the Sagrada Familia. His designs were very organic, with lots of curves and natural shapes, and he seemed fond of tile mosaics and intricate ironwork. The park was lovely. As Sandy said, it looked “just like gingerbread houses” – with all of the red clay walls and the “icing” of tiled mosaic roofs. The park was on a mountain, as well, and the integration of architecture with nature – there were many trees –was astounding. I decided that Montjuic and the Parque Guell were the most beautiful parks I had ever seen.

I loved Barcelona so much, and was sad to leave it. I bought a red University of Barcelona sweatshirt with the bold red and yellow coat of arms of the city on the front, as well as many stickers with coats of arms on them. We decided to take a night train to Madrid, with the hopes that we could sleep on the train and arrive in the morning. We went back to our hotel, and packed up, and I had to ask Marie Luz how to get there, since Sandy took too long to compose sentences in Spanish. I didn’t care about being perfect, so I would just blurt something out, then have to explain that I didn’t speak Spanish when the inevitable torrent of answers came back. I asked her to call a taxi to take us to the train station.

Suddenly, a distinctly American (male) voice called out from a side room, “Why don’t you take the Metro, you guys. It’s easier.” We had actually avoided taking the Metro because of some irrational fear that it would be difficult to make out the signs in Catalonian. We also were taking advantage of the lovely weather, and staying above ground. Still, I didn’t think that this was the time to take our first ride on an unknown system. I called back in a deliberately whiney voice, “Because we are afraid…” As it happened, the guy – a law student from Maryland – was on his way to the train station himself, and offered to accompany us there.

We managed to find a train that was leaving at 10:30 PM. Jay, the law student, had been very helpful and friendly, and we gave him the phone number of our dorm in Angers. We told him that he was welcome anytime, and then we parted so as not to take up more of his time. I really hoped that he would come to visit – he was extremely cute. In fact, I knew that he was out of my league. Interestingly enough, we met again as he was going to his train, and he called out to us one more time and he actually gave me a kiss goodbye! Sandy was pretty impressed, because he did not kiss her – I say, I was pretty impressed, myself!

We shared a compartment with a Catalan gentleman and his son, and they took a fancy to us, too. They offered us soft drinks and some of their food. Even thought I wasn’t hungry, he practically forced bread and sausages on us, so I accepted. We actually managed to talk to them for two and a half hours – in Spanish! I got him to write something in Catalan on my postcard to Pablo. It was fun, but we got very little sleep, and we were exhausted the next morning when we arrived in Madrid.

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