“A Spanish friend told me making friends with valencianos is not easy,” I said to the woman at the tourist office in Valencia. “Is that true?” I asked.
“Who told you that?” she asked. “I bet it was a Catalán.” She rolled her eyes.
“Well, is it true?” I asked.
She sighed and shook her head at me in disappointment. “Of course it’s not true.”
She took a pamphlet and a pen, scribbled something down, and pushed the pamphlet across the counter to me. “Now you have a friend in Valencia,” she said. “This is my email address. Next time you’re in Valencia, let me know, and I”ll show you around.”
“But I don’t even know your name,” I said.
“Carmen,” she said with a smile.
“It’s nice to meet you Carmen,” I said. “So, how do people from Valencia make friends?” I asked.
“Fútbol and las fallas,” she said automatically.
“What are las fallas?” I asked.
“It’s lucky for you we’re friends because I belong to one of the oldest fallas in Valencia. In fact, one of the women in my family was the first queen of las fallas.” Carmen went on to explain that a falla, also known as a casal faller, is a group of friends, usually from a specific neighborhood, that hold fundraising parties and dinners all year long with the goal of constructing a giant cardboard and paper-mâché monument. After a five-day party leading up to March 19th, all the monuments except for the very best are burned in the streets.
“Anyone can join a falla,” Carmen said, “because, after all, we’re so friendly.”
“Okay, so if I wanted to join a falla today, how would I find one?” I asked.
“Well, you’d have to know someone,” Carmen said.
“So that’s the catch,” I said. “You need to know someone to join a falla.”
Carmen wagged her finger at me. “You don’t have to worry. You know me.”
The phrase “It’s all about who you know,” is true in most places, but it’s particularly true in Spain. I thought about Carmen this week because my daughter asked for paella for her birthday lunch. I knew I wouldn’t have the time or money to find my daughter an authentic paella prepared hours in advance and served in a paella pan.
I wondered if I could find a place in my neighborhood that served paella to go. So, I tried various Google searches, including Google maps, until I finally resorted to simply asking my friends if they knew of any place that served paella. Sure enough, I had to actually ask a human being before I found a place that I could walk to that would serve paella to go for my daughter to eat over her lunch break from school.
Smartphones and tablets and laptops connected to wifi only get you so far here before you need to talk to someone or make a friend to get the information you want. I’m not sure that’s the case anymore in some places in the world. I like needing people to survive, even for something as simple as finding a place to eat.