We had no idea, as we approached the Mediterranean sea for the third time so far on this trip, that we would find ourselves at the site of a major sporting event, the America’s Cup races. All we wanted was a campsite near the water. We descended on Valencia from the northwest and followed the signs to a first campsite. Deciding it was too far from the beach, we headed to another campsite at the south edge of town, passing the immense Santiago Calatrava Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències.
While the campsite was very crowded, we had good neighbors. Most of the campers were from New Zealand, with a smattering of Netherlanders and Swiss, but our next door neighbor, Edi and his ten year old son Lorenzo were Italian. Edi had custom rigged his VW camper:
That’s their laundry, though they did welcome us to use the line as well. Edi’s impressive van, while not as sleek or as fast as our recent model—his top has to be raised manually while in our model you press a button—has a toilet and shower! Edi reworked his with solar collectors, recycling of engine water to provide hot water, and other gismos so that he can go for up to two weeks without needing to settle in at a campsite! We can last for about a day or two.
That evening at dusk we took another good long walk along the Mediterranean. A few other couples were out rambling, clusters of men with several fishing-rods propped up in the sand, the all-but-invisible line reaching far into the water marked by little “neon” lights hanging where the line reached the rod. Mark collected more matching Mediterranean pebbles to give the kids based on Laurie Gross’ matched “blessing” pair from the wisdom of Simcha Bunim of Peshischa, that a person should carry a slip of paper in each pocket:
Sometime around the year 1999, Mark encountered Alba Toscano on Hasafran the Internet email list of the Association of Jewish Libraries. When he started researching Samuel Levinger, he asked Alba (as the only Jewish librarian he knew of in Spain) if she could help. Alba gladly put out all kinds of feelers, but everything turned up negative. When our plans for this trip developed, he contacted Alba. She gladly invited us to a tour.
Indeed you are the youngster [sic!] who was named after a young American Jew who died in the battle at Belchite. And, for whom I called and wrote to everybody and his canine friend to see if I could find something about the fellow with absolutely no luck whatsoever. …. Here in Valencia there’s a park where the winners used to take the losers out and blow their brains out, then bury them in mass graves under what are now the walkways in the municipal cemetery. Very creepy. If you want to learn something about the Civil War when you are here in Valencia, I will be very happy to take you around. It was the last headquarters and the last place to fall (mostly because it was the last place to be attacked). There are no bomb craters left but there is a closed up 1930's “Refugio”.
Don't even think about coming to Valencia without visiting. [Sinagoga conservador/masortí La Javura] meets in a room converted into a sinagoga.
…yes, Mark forgot to put his camera in his pocket that morning.
Needless to say, we took Alba up on her offer. After taking the bus into the train station from the campsite, we met Alba who led us on a day tour that included the local post office. (The following text and photos are borrowed from here, which means, if they change the site the photos will disappear; you can thank Link Rot.)
View of the post office building facade, in the seat of the city council of Valencia, Spain.
It is a building of classic cut, inaugurated in 1923, and restored completely in 2004.
During this last reform, the spectacular show window of the cupola was recovered, and the imposing metallic tower that crowns the building was restituted. It had been removed in previous reforms
The inside is even more special, indeed, intriguing. Alba demonstrated for us that two people can stand at opposite sides of the hall and whisper… and yet hear each other. More than demonstrate for us, she placed Debbie on one side and Mark on the other and had us whispering and understanding each other across the crowded, busy building.
Then to the local Ḥammam, the “Arabic” baths where the introductory video verges on very soft-core porn, but the place is fascinating. We have been to many Roman baths in our travels around Israel, especially to the one on Massada and at Beit Shean, but those have been ancient ruins. This bath was built in the 1400s.
In a sincere effort to exhaust us before Shabbat, Alba also took us to the National Museum of Ceramics.The museum itself is housed in the mansion of someone who’s name I forget. It is covered in marble facing of every conceivable color. Inside are examples of ceramic work from Iberia ranging from the prehistoric to pieces by Picasso. An entire late-medieval kitchen was reconstructed with all its utensils. The ceramic works themselves were quite lovely.
We finished off the day with a cup of chocolate at the local Valor chocolate shop… the first time Debbie and Mark experienced drinking from a Mancerina, a special chocolate cup.
On her way back to pick up her bicycle, Alba put us on the appropriate local bus and told us where to get off so we could meet again in time for the gathering of the community of Jews that Alba has drawn together. A small but emotionally warm and committed group of people gathered to welcome Shabbat. A phone line (with speaker phone) was available nearby for those who are in neighboring communities unable to attend… who sometimes call… and the line is left open. From candle-lighting to the reading of their Erev Shabbat Siddur in Hebrew and Spanish to the weekly Torah portion reading to the wide-ranging Shabbat with a community of people seeking to create a Jewish life in Valencia.
At the end of the evening Alba put us in a cab with instructions to the driver to get us to the campsite. He (and we) miscalculated. It became clear as we passed a few campsites along the road that we had gone too far. Doubling back until we found something familiar we finally returned home to our comfortable van.
We awoke the following morning, ready to have some hot tea with our breakfast and go into town for another guided tour by Alba when Debbie noticed that the fire on the stove would not ignite. This was not a Shabbat strike. The stove had worked every previous Shabbat. We thought that the “ballon” of gas had emptied so Mark changed that (a much easier process this time than in the previous van we’d had). However, still no fire. At this point Mark asked Edi, master van customizer, for help. Edi was more than gracious and ran through a whole set of tests, but, was unable to “light our fire.” No problem, we had a cold breakfast and figured we would have it checked on Monday after we left Valencia. Edi invited us to join him and Lorenzo for a simple hot pasta dinner that evening, we accepted, and they took off on their bicycles to the port to watch the America’s Cup race. We were surprised to pass them on our way into town on the bus.
In town we met Alba as arranged at the train station “Del Nord” which is not in the north of town, but named for the man who paid for the building.
It is quite a structure with fancy mosaic tile work throughout (composite thanks to Nisus Writer Classic).
As we waited (only a few minutes) I noticed a group of young women who looked as though they were going on an outing with “Big Bo Peep”.
They do not seem to have been going on a train ride, as we ran into them a few times throughout the day.
Spain is not known for its breads. In fact, we had very little good bread while there. So, we were a bit surprised to see a Spanish bread/sandwich shop franchise “Pans & Co.” marketing bagels.
Later while researching we learned that at least some of the outlets of Pan… offer WiFi as well as breads. We never entered a single one of the stores.
Alba told us that the city was very grey when she arrived about 18 years ago. Since then a tremendous amount renovating has been done. We’d already learned about the post office (on the left). The building next door to the post office has just begun its process. Alba explained that the entire building will be gutted and then rebuilt.
As indicated in the Wikipedia article linked-to above at the first mention of Valencia, the city was founded by the Romans. While many (if not most) of the streets on which we walked curved and turned, we were able to stand on a point and take a photo facing south and north of where the original Cardo ran. It still runs through the commercial center of town.
We saw other evidence of Roman Valencia, especially in an excellent museum built over an archaeological dig. However, there is one particular item that is out in the open, an ancient Roman dedicatory plaque that was modified by a later generation with different ideas
Alba took us to the building that had served as the medieval “Wall Street,” La Lonja de la Seda, the Silk Exchange. After showing us around the building so we could see all the beautiful woodwork, she made a point of showing us a special stone carving at one the entrances. She also told us to be sure we saw the astronaut at the Salamanca Cathedral.
As Alba had promised, she could show us a bomb shelter used by the Valencia population when it was the capital of Republican Spain during the Civil War. Little did we know that such a collection of posters (see the link) exists at UCSD.
Why the building still stands is a mystery.
Late in the afternoon we entered a lovely bakery and purchased dessert for our dinner with Edi and Lorenzo.
Dinner with Edi, Lorenzo and some other neighbors awaited us… as well as a very delicious dessert.
Alba Toscano is truly dedicated to the development of Jewish life in Valencia. She has been able to bring two Torah scrolls to the community, one of which she has passed along to another Spanish group in need. On our zig-zagging through town, Alba took us by an intersection that has special meaning to her.
The corner in front of which Alba and Debbie stand has a functioning bread bakery oven. The property also includes an apartment upstairs. Among her many skills and experiences in her busy life, Alba was once a baker. There is enough room in the property to house a bakery and a coffee-shop with a bit of a bookstore and a gathering space for a Jewish community. All Alba needs is funding.
Alba took the photo of us that we used as the portrait for that day. We also made sure we had a photo of us with her.
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