Daoism — Inner Family Intermezzo: Doubtful in Valencia

Wednesday, 22 October 2020.

My third full day in Valencia. Tuesday was grey, Thursday was rainy and the Wednesday was sunnily sandwiched in between. At least as far as the weather was concerned.

After arriving on Monday evening, after multiple walks, waits, metro rides and flights, I was glad to unburden my back of my earthly possessions and touch elbows with Jose, the friend of a friend of the AirBnB apartment owners. He showed me the what, where and how of the place and took his leave. There, as they say, I was.

Then came the sadness. It wasn’t so much a washing-over as a sensation of having all cheerfulness pressed out of me by a giant, fluffily gloved hand. Soft to the touch, for look where I was, in this sweet penthouse apartment in Ruzafa, south of the old centre of Valencia, the city where I had spent such an amazing three weeks learning Spanish back in the summer of 2017. A city I had visited as recently as March 2019 with a stellar fella and enjoyed it so much again. Flamenco! Turia! Agua de Valencia!

So soft to the touch…but it clutched my throat, gripped me around my chest and squeezed me like a washcloth until I felt I was going to choke, or at the very least sob, heave and vomit. My inner girl was already in tears. “Why did we have to move again?! We were so happy in Porto! I don’t want to be here, take me back!” Inner boy, who had been none too keen on the plan from the start because, “Valencia? Been there, d0ne that,” but who had agreed to go only because he would get to play the whole new “I’m a writer writing in Valencia”, now looked at his sister and, ever loyal, threw his typewriter out the window—fortunately the one in the back overlooking a dreary, disorderly collection of balconies, aerials and rooftops, where it landed in an abandoned yard filled with sundry other discarded props and plans. He put his arms around the girl and looked up at my inner woman and man.

“Come now,” said the man with a go-getter smile, “we can make this work! Valencia! Running in Turia, gaping up at Calatrava’s cathedrals of modern architecture, drinking horchata and eating a fartón! Valencia! Sunny winter! Tapas and flamenco! Valencia!”

Both children tuned him out with an experienced roll of their eyes and focused on inner woman. She looked at the girl, at the boy, at the man. She looked around at the apartment. Checked the fridge, which was empty. And said, “Who else is hungry?”

The whole family huddled in the shower, which, being of modest proportions, only managed to welcome the four of them by magic, had a change of clothes and went out for pizza. Why pizza? Because the intended pavement taberna where good times had been had in previous years was full and inner woman knew now was not the time to trudge from one eatery to the next, in search of “just the right one”. The pizza place was an instant hit with the boy, because it only serves small ones and you don’t know in advance what the toppings will be. The girl, too, calmed down somewhat when she saw the hodgepodge of chairs, tables and cushions that together succeeded in presenting La Finestra as a place of warmth and welcome. Inner man baulked for a moment at the lack of a set menu but inner woman pointed out that we could order as much or as little as we wanted and have a dessert at the end, so order was preserved, control could be exercised and structure was present.

After the meal, I struck up a conversation with the curly-haired man behind the bar, who appeared to be in charge. He soon revealed himself to be a genuine Italian, who was trained as a designer but due to a lack of work now found himself serving pizzas and salads prepared with both gusto and authentic Italian ingredients. I told him a little of my own travels and he was immediately interested and, apparently, impressed—something that continues to confound me. What is so special about what I have done this year? I still don’t really get it. At any rate, my story, smiles and, I’m sure, my jauntily worn Venetian cap, made him trust me enough to give me a dessert (truth be told, two desserts) to take home: a display of confianza that the next day I would return the glass cup that held the banoffi pudding.

The family went to sleep in relative peace and calm that night. “Let’s give it some time,” inner woman said before lights out, “we can always decide to go back to Porto or go wherever we need to be to feel at home.” But the night was full of interruptions because of a strange bed, a dust allergy that played up and a leaky tap that made enough noise to intrude on this light sleeper’s rest. I awoke tired and with a blocked nose; my eyes felt thick and heavy.

Soon after breakfast, noticing the grey day outside and the dry cough that welled up from my chest, inner boy had seized my phone and downloaded the AirBnB app, for quick and easy reference. Inner girl nodded and instructed inner man to start looking into apartments in Porto. “I miss the fado, I miss the people, I miss the hills,”she sulked, “I miss the friends I had made in just a week and a half, I miss the river, the beautiful river with its seagulls and clean air, oh and I miss the rain.”

“You miss the rain? It looks like it is about to rain here,” inner man said, pointing at the overcast sky beyond the balcony.

“That’s not the same rain,” inner girl said petulantly. “You don’t understand, you never understand. I like autumn there; here it is just…off. Now find us a home overlooking the river, please. Just like the one we had.”

Inner woman let the three of them fiddle look at apartments in Porto for a while and then said, “Okay, that’s enough. On your feet. Let’s see if we can move this table; that should give us enough space to do some taiji in here.” So I did some top-to-bottom adjustments, some qi gong, some taiji. Went to a supermarket, bought enough food to last a week—inner woman and man made sure of that; knowing how much the family care about avoiding waste, they thus ensured I will stay at least another week—had lunch and took a nap. In the evening, inner man and boy were in cahoots to get the family into town, to a specialty running-shoe shop where they sell only barefoot shoes. The shop owner gave me a lecture of an hour, in Spanish, much of which I understood, plenty of which I did not, about proper running posture, cadence and other technical matters. All from the point of view of Natural Running (Youtube it, if you’re interested in running). Another connection was made, then, at least for the hour. And excitement due in the morning, when I would try out the shoes and lessons learnt. All family members thus satisfied, I went home and to bed.

After the run, on sunny Wednesday, however, I gradually descended into a slump that allowed for re-bingeing Dexter but not much else.

Being ruo shui, I did not fight it. Went into town again that evening, this time for a runner’s belt that will hold my phone instead of my hand, and to call my mother. It is hard for her and many others in the Netherlands, at the moment, and I understood that she felt disappointment at my decision to postpone a return or visit to my motherland; she, in turn, understood my reasons for doing so. Reconnecting like that felt good, of course, but sad as well. More even than on the way over, as I walked back I felt beset by the many people, the traffic and the noise of the city that Valencia is outside the historic town centre. It reinforced my notion that I was—am—not in the right place at the right time.

Today, then, after another bad night (the dripping had accelerated and was now accompanied by a whining pipe in the boiler), coughing more and feeling drained all day, I spent almost all my time draped on the settee, with Dexter and several sighs of surrender. Waiting to inhale. Next door, a dog had started barking whenever I coughed. Also when I did not. A plumber came by to replace the tap; I made a cooked lunch. I let life happen.

At some point, I sensed quite naturally that I had watched enough Dexter for now and, without thought, simply got up and started playing the flute. I find there is such a heart-and-mind-moving power in playing an instrument and, I may have said this before, even more so in playing a wind instrument. To be able to make melody with just my qi, breath, to me is truly magical. I just played and played. Finally showered. Poured myself a glass of wine. Sat down at the dinner table and wrote this.

It is nearly eight o’clock in the evening now and I am not hungry, which I am thankful for, because this way I can go to bed on a nearly empty stomach; this usually helps me sleep better than if I have a full meal in the evening.

My point in mentioning that, as in relating most of the above, is that things work out. By giving in to what happened naturally, I rested, I cooked, I ate, I enjoyed music, I wrote and I have a better chance of a good night’s rest. This is how I am dealing with the trough in which I currently find myself, which inevitably had to follow the peak that was my time in Porto. Instead of pushing and pulling and arranging and changing, as was my long-time custom, I am applying what I learnt in the mountains. Dao follows nature; by following nature myself, I can accept what is and let go of the drive to strive.

As for Valencia?

Time will tell, dear family. Boy, isn’t it exciting to see where the river will take me? Girl, aren’t I blessed with the ability to connect to people through conversation? Man, thank you for setting a new target for tomorrow’s run. Woman, you know best, for you see the whole as well as the parts; you will feel what we need and when we need it.

Together, we will know what to do and when to be.

5 comments On Daoism — Inner Family Intermezzo: Doubtful in Valencia

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    Beautiful piece Eli. I love the inner family – the characters and conversations feel very familiar.

    It’s good you’re allowing time to adjust after a big change – the arrival in a new place is always the hardest. Not many things/relationships to hold onto to stay balanced. Trust yourself friend!


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    What is so special about your year? Brother, either you have some false modesty to work on or some perspective you need to gain, if you have to ask that. Assuming the latter, allow me:

    For most people, lately the world has only become smaller and more fearful, while you are personally demonstrating the opposite. Just that you are merrily travelling southern Europe is something few of us right now can even imagine. Added to that, all of this is because of a virus from China, where you spent most of this year – not just anywhere, but in the very province it originated. Your lockdown was on a mountaintop in the very epicenter of where it all began, and yet now you are doing what most of us can only dream of, serenely and – mostly, to the external observer – happily. Who would not be impressed by that experience? Never mind the whole part where you rebooted your life, sold your house and left a successful career behind – again something that many fantasise about, but rarely feel is attainable, much less actually do. I’ll just skip mentioning becoming a taichi master, mastering yet another instrument, writing a book or any of your other creative endeavours.

    Perhaps all of this is not impressive to you, as it is just a series of steps and changes, the next one following the previous one as predictably as water running downhill, but those steps still needed to be taken, decisions needed to be made – not so easy ones from the outside perspective. You are not pursuing the familiar, and that by itself is impressive to those for whom the familiar is the default or even only option. Doing that with the equanimity you are exhibiting only adds to that.

    I suggest it is high time you allow for the idea that some of the things you do are sufficiently different from the things others do, that it is quite normal for them to be perceived as special.

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    Beste Eli,

    Een heel mooi en eerlijk verhaal over jou en Valencia nu.
    Heb met je te doen, jouw leven is niet altijd makkelijk, evenmin als het mijne.
    Veel herkenning dus.
    De vorm – de innerlijke familie – spreekt je kennelijk aan. Mogelijk expliciteert dit je gevoelens makkelijker.
    Het beste verder, probeer ook te genieten van je
    Een fijne en veilige tijd gewenst,

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    ‘D’ wrote down everything perfectly that came up in my Dutch, Amsterdam-based mind while reading your post. Nothing else I could add to that beautiful comment, except that I miss you down here. All the best xxx

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    “There, as they say, I was.

    Then came the sadness”.

    Eli, thats one of the most simple but powerful endings of one paragraph and the starting of another as i’ve read in a bit.

    Cant explain fully why, but it hit me.
    Great writing.

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