Sometimes changes of fortune deliver us into good hands. I didn’t expect to visit the Spanish city of Valencia, but my plans to spend a month in Barcelona collapsed when my housing reservation for the final week turned out to be a disaster. After spending one night in a hotel room barely bigger than a shoebox, I boarded a train to Sitges, a seaside community 40 minutes away, to enjoy a less stressful environment. While continuing to swim, rest and do some work there, I looked at the weather forecast in New England. The thought of returning to frigid temperatures and snow made me feel ill so I decided to extend my stay. Many people praised Valencia and, I told myself, anything would be better than being plunged into winter.
Off I went.
I exited the Valencia North station on a Sunday afternoon to the sound of small explosions. My AirBnB host told me that, in the run up to Las Fallas, a mid-March festival that culminates with the burning of elaborate sculptures in most of the city’s neighborhoods, it’s customary for people – even children as young as four – to set off firecrackers almost round the clock, with the intensity and noise level escalating as the festival approaches. As I tried to settle into my room amidst crackles and booms, I wondered if I had made a gross miscalculation. As a highly sensitive person who startles easily, I worried the noise would be debilitating. That evening, the explosions continued until 11pm. Maybe Valencianos and the millions of visitors that descend upon the city for Las Fallas enjoyed the sounds of a war zone, but I did not. I decided to play it by ear (into which I stuffed waxy plugs).
Meanwhile, I contacted Jorge Ferri, a Feldenkrais practitioner, to see if I might attend his group class. He told me the schedule and asked me if I wanted a private Functional Integration lesson. That sounded appealing, given my frazzled nerves. We agreed that I would come at 1:45pm on Tuesday afternoon, in the middle of Spanish lunchtime. I decided to grab a bite to eat first at a local market. First, I went to a cash machine to get money to pay Jorge. The machine spat out my debit card even though I had used it earlier in the trip. I looked at the date. It had expired the last day of February.
I froze and wondered how I could have made such a rookie travel error. Moshe Feldenkrais often said that we act in accordance with our self-image, yet the image I carried of myself is of a seasoned traveler, not someone who stumbles and blunders through foreign countries. Yet, in reality, the trip had been a bumpy ride, despite my preparations which I’d deemed sufficient but not “perfect”. I had either been able to adjust my attitude or plans to adapt to the curve balls, rather than letting them get me down. I would have to do the same with the defunct debit card. Rather than berate myself, I decided to choose compassion and find something to eat.
At a small supermarket I picked out a pre-made salad and brought it to the cash register. Like I’ve done dozens of times on this trip, I inserted my plastic rectangle into the card reader. This time, it didn’t work. The cashier tried my card at several other terminals. No luck. She asked if I had cash. I did not. She told me the problem was with the network but, given the timing, I became spooked. I returned the salad and, with a growling belly and dangerously low blood sugar, left the store. As I walked towards Jorge’s studio, I spotted a shop selling freshly made dishes for takeout. I asked if they accepted credit cards. They did. I held my breath as the owner inserted my card into the mobile terminal. Thankfully it worked, and I enjoyed grilled salmon and vegetables while sitting on a bench.
I didn’t relish telling Jorge that I could not pay him on the spot but I figured we’d come up with a solution (Feldenkrais is about cultivating options!). I went to the address and rang the buzzer for the yoga studio where he teaches. No one answered. As the time of our appointment approached, I wondered what to do. While standing there, a young ponytailed postal worker walked up pushing a wheeled cart stuffed with mail. She buzzed a few occupants and, when one of them let her in, I quietly followed. I rode the elevator to the fourth floor, thinking that’s where I was supposed to go. When I exited, the floor was dark and neither door had a name or sign on it. I pushed a button to turn on the stairwell light so I could message Jorge via WhatsApp. He said he was on the second floor. I quickly walked downstairs. Just before I arrived to his landing and he opened the door, the timed lights in the stairwell turned off. Being plunged into darkness seemed like another bad omen.
After I shared my tale and promising I would pay him before I left town, Jorge asked me what I wanted the lesson to address. I told him I was disoriented from being in a new, extremely loud place and that walking around while glancing at my cell phone for directions had put my body in a poor position. I felt like a chicken with its head cut off, following a frequently errant blue dot on a small screen.The stresses of travel had begun to accumulate. In that moment I felt particularly adrift and vulnerable having lost my ability to easily access cash, even though I only needed it in a minority of instances.
While I have written in more detail about other Functional Integration lessons, I did not try to track it and take mental notes this time. I wanted to give myself over fully to the experience, which felt inspired, fresh, and surprising. Jorge’s choices and decisions as a practitioner left me even more amazed than I already was at the power of the Feldenkrais Method. In a very subtle and creative session, he gently restored my head where it belonged relative to my spine and pelvis. As I walked after the lesson, I no longer felt scattered or shattered. Not only that, he helped me reclaim a regal bearing and a quiet, self-assured sovereignty over myself. I hadn’t experienced that kind of dignified energy, which feels like my true nature, in quite some time. In fact, I worried that I had lost it. That he reunited me with this very elusive and precious quality of being in less than an hour, at such a shaky time, felt like a miracle if not a moment of grace.
Jorge encouraged me to take it easy the rest of the day. I enjoyed a treat at a cafe and walked around one of the city’s parks. I noticed, as I basked in this lovely energetic state (while dressed in practical travel clothes), that a few men who passed me gave me a second look, something that had not happened in a long time. Later that afternoon, with a calm sense of proportion restored, I used Skype to call my bank and credit card companies. I treated those conversations as mini-Feldenkrais lessons: a chance to learn and expand my options. I discovered they could ship a replacement card, wire emergency cash via Western Union, or I could get an advance at an ATM or bank using a credit card (fortunately, I had my PINs with me). Two days later I went to Jorge’s group Awareness Through Movement class to enjoy more Feldenkrais and to pay him. Despite the city’s war zone sound track, I was briefly tempted to stay longer, just to have more lessons. Perhaps I will return another time when all is quiet on the Valencian front.