Living in a foreign country can be scary. Typically, you’re entering an environment where language, culture and beliefs are much different than what you consider normal. People look different, sound different and even act different. It’s bizarre and at times can be somewhat lonely and isolating. Adapting is not easy, but is essential if you plan on enjoying your new surroundings.
Though this season has been an adjustment for many different reasons, I’m blown away by the hospitality I’ve received from the Spanish people. For the first time in my 4 seasons abroad, I’m finding most of my friends are not necessarily basketball players, but everyday individuals. It’s quite…refreshing.
Ferrol is a fairly small city and it’s obvious I don’t belong. I stand out with my light hair and eyes, tall stature and style of clothes. Whether it's because of these characteristics or the fact that I’ve become somewhat recognizable, many of the locals have taken a keen interest in me. I’ve had people stop me on the street offering congratulations after a good game, received absurd amounts of friend requests on facebook and am consistently presented with saved photos or newspaper articles from a bartender whose bar I visit weekly for a pre-practice café. It’s humbling. Today I walked into my favorite bar where I was greeted by the regulars and given the thumbs up by a few who follow the team. Pulling out my wallet to pay for my morning café, I was waved off and told it had been taken care of by someone who had left. Wow. It’s these little acts of kindness that go a long way.
It’s hard to express how thankful I am for the generosity I’ve encountered. The Spanish people continually go out of their way so that I (a visitor), am able to enjoy and experience the country they are so passionate about.
Just when I thought I had seen it all, I was completely dumbfounded by how a friend (visiting from Seattle) and I were treated Monday afternoon. Consulting my Spanish amiga Laura (who speaks zero English), I gave her the mission of finding a restaurant where Daesha (who came to visit after attending a professional showcase camp in Germany) and I could experience a genuine Spanish meal. Never one to disappoint, she had just the place in mind. Hopping on the bus (which Laura paid for, refusing to let her ‘guests’ spend a dime), we traveled 10 minutes outside Ferrol to Narón, where we made our way inside Casa Vicente. As soon as we walked in the door, I nodded in appreciation. With jamón hanging from the ceiling, pictures of historic Spanish events covering the walls and not an inch of wall, shelf or table space available, I knew we were about to have an amazing afternoon.
Sitting down at the bar, we were immediately served Spanish cider, white wine and warm empanadas. Not looking at the menu, the owner decided what we would eat, constantly returning with tapas and keeping our wine glass full. Once settled, we were introduced to the owner’s partner (a gorgeous Spanish man, who also happened to be a police officier) who was directed to give us a tour of the place. No argument from me! Grabbing our full glasses, we were led to a back room where a table had been set for four. Following José, we were led into a massive wine cellar, home to a collection worth well over 1€ million euros! Seriously. There were thousands of bottles from every country you could imagine. Some dating back to the 1800s! Apparently the owner’s father was a good friend of Franco during his regime, explaining why the cellar contained numerous bottles emblazoned with the general’s personal seal.
Eventually picking our jaws up off the floor, we were taken to the backyard which was filled with geese, pigs, chickens and a turtle! Learning a little more about the wine collection and history of the restaurant, José took us back to our private dining area – where the first course was waiting. Sad to see him leave, he said he’d be back to check on us. Phew! ☺ I won’t go into too much detail about the food, but will say it was amazing. We were served 4 courses, followed by desert and cafés. Not to mention the bottles of wine and liquors that seemed to continually find their way to our table. The owner and his gorgeous partner consistently checked in on us, making sure the food was ok and our wine glasses were always full. After eating and drinking as much as humanly possible, we slowly began our departure. Thanking the owner numerous times while pulling out our wallets, he insisted that we were his guests and that our meal (worth well over 50€/person) was gratis (free). Unable to comprehend how someone we just met could be so generous, we literally had to fight with the man for close to 10 minutes, before he begrudgingly accepted the 20€ each we stuffed in his pocket. It was unbelievable how kind the man was. He kept insisting that ‘Montreal’ (even though I told him numerous times I was from Vancouver) and ‘USA’ should enjoy a free meal in Spain. What a sweetheart.
Of course we weren’t able to make it out of the restaurant until we shared a flute of champagne with the men, tried the owner's favorite beer and downed yet another aperitif liquor ‘for digestion.’ And, if you can believe it, Daesha and I didn’t leave empty handed. He gave both of us numerous bottles of liquor ‘as a gift to remember him by.’ It was amazing! This was the first time we had met the man! Mentioning we had to leave to catch our bus, the owner grabbed José (the policeman ☺) and ordered him to drive us back to Ferrol. Not batting an eye, he opened the doors of his Mercedes for a smooth ride back to Ferrol. Writing this now, I still cannot put into words the generosity I’ve experienced from people here thus far…only halfway through the season and I am already grateful for what I’ve been able to see and experience here in España.
Returning to my apartment with a full stomach and red cheeks, I’m pretty sure Daesha will have something to talk about when she gets home!
Basketball Update: Though nice to have a friend in town, it was a terrible weekend for my team. Losing an extremely important road game to a team we’re better than really hurt. Up 14 and in control for 30 minutes, we completely fell apart in the 4th quarter. I can’t even describe what happened. We were slow and unfocused. Despite my non-impressive stat line (5pts, 6rbs), I thought I played well. My defense was tough and I hustled on every play. Saturday my shots just wouldn’t drop (I only took 6). This was my worse statistical outing in Spain thus far. Though frustrating, we have to move on. We must win this weekend before the holiday break. Currently, we have only 8 players and 2 are injured right now (both our point guards!). Despite our lack of bodies and injuries we still are practicing twice a day (with conditioning!) and have 2 hour night practices. It’s crazy! I’m tired and run down. I know the other girls are too. I don’t want to use it as an excuse, but I do think fatigue was a factor in last weeks game. I really hope there is enough left in the tank for this weekend…
Sidenote: The blog will be on hiatus while I'm at home in Vancouver for the Holidays. Here's wishing you and your loved ones a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Please come back and visit in 2011!