UNITED STATES—After lunch, the jetlag, wine, swordfish and potato salad suddenly caught up with me. I was nodding off and falling over onto our driver showing us the lakes and the blue rugged mountains that evoked the Western majesty of the San Fernando Valley. Fernando pointed out one craggy face.

“A lot of mountaineers rappel up that side. A few have failed.”

I was doing my darnedest to keep my eyelids open. After a nap, I woke up refreshed as the day was slowly dying. A table was set up on the balcony overlooking the lakes we’d seen after lunch. Fernando was preparing the meal with great care. The tabloid TV was on. We had another tremendous repast and quiche with asparagus and anchovies and fresh salad with circles of moist cheese, on top of tomato salad on a bed of green leaves shaped like wood shavings piled high.

Later I would learn that typical Spaniards didn’t eat this fresh. I was spoiled. “My cholesterol is in the low range,” Fernando pointed out. “Carmen’s is very high. She likes the fritangas,” the fried things.

Carmen spoke of the case that is riveting the nation, or at least the newscasters reporting on the case of the manada, the pack. They were a group of five young Spaniards who held a teenage woman in a hotel room and forced sex on her. They were sentenced to 15 years in prison.

“One was a policeman, one was a guardia civil,” Carmen said, as if they should know better. This hot summer it would seem both sides of the Atlantic were embroiled in a quest for justice.

For dessert we had sweet watermelon and honeydew, just like they served in Cabrera. We sat on the balcony and saw the sun go down in the west. The aircraft kept coming in on their way to Barajas. We looked at Jupiter through binoculars as the last color faded from the sky above the mountain range. And you could see the automobile lights creeping up the highway north.

We went to bed with some kind of plan to connect with my friends who should already be in the city and went to bed after seeing a Spanish-dubbed “Exorcist.” Carmen had the idea that we would take the bus and stop for chocolate and churros.

Things had a way of working out. If it wasn’t a trip to Toledo one day, it was another city the next. Friday and Saturday passed and the angular pressure to meet with friends, who had assembled in Madrid for a literary event I was to take part in, dissolved. What was here and now 50 kilometers north of Madrid was plenty.

That Saturday morning, we hiked around the housing development and near the entry bar of the guardhouse and local police outpost with very friendly font signage, the same as the relaxing entry area for immigration. The cheerful signage font and colors made it so. It made me reflect on our City of Angels, where eateries are routinely posted with “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.” There’s an institutionalized harshness at home; fortunately, we are immune to it.

Another difference here was a subtle, but deep marker of time. Near the guardhouse are a grove of scrappy black oaks, and on a promontory are the remains of a watchtower built by the Moors. You could see it had been built in three stages, by lichenous stones on the base, and as they went up they fit better and were cleaner. The day was bright and warm. We could see the craggy blue mountains and there was a man with a red shirt and straw hat working a vegetable garden.

“He has bigger tomatoes than I,” said Fernando with envy. There are slopes black with encinas and lots of cultivated squares and rhomboid plots. The stone tower goes back to the Middle Ages, part of a warning system in case forces of invading soldiers were seen and a fire would be lit and alert another town down the road to Madrid.

To be continued…

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Hollywood humorist Grady grew up in the heart of Steinbeck Country on the Central California coast. More Bombeck than Steinbeck, Grady Miller has been compared to T.C. Boyle, Joel Stein, and Voltaire. He briefly attended Columbia University in New York and came to Los Angeles to study filmmaking, but discovered literature instead, in T.C. Boyle’s fiction writing workshop at USC. In addition to A Very Grady Christmas, he has written the humorous diet book, Lighten Up Now: The Grady Diet and the popular humor collection, Late Bloomer (both on Amazon) and its follow-up, Later Bloomer: Tales from Darkest Hollywood. (https://amzn.to/3bGBLB8) His humor column, Miller Time, appears weekly in The Canyon News (www.canyon-news.com)