Ola Portugal – Channeling Gumby

We haven’t even left yet and already our schedule is flexing. Our favorite house is gone. Someone swooped in and offered full-price on Friday. The owners had to take it. It was French farmhouse-meets-Washington State-meets-Spanish corn crib. We would not have offered sight unseen or before an inspection. Experience has taught me to keep real estate transactions unemotional. There was another house in the same area but the owners aren’t available to show it – pandemic. So that frees us up a bit.

I find often its in the spaces between things that the best things happen. If you think about it -it’s when you have nothing on the agenda that inspiration strikes. When you get the opportunity to re-imagine the future. So I looked at my spreadsheet, after deleting those lines, and thought What should we do on those days? And then it hit me. Duh! – Portugal! Why didn’t I think of this before?

So far, we’ve only been looking at homes in Spain. But maybe we should expand our search to Portugal. We like it there. The people are lovely. And there are other advantages to perhaps having a home in Portugal. So yesterday I reworked the agenda and pointed Jeff in a new direction ‘Go South, young man!’ And he’s running with it. Stay tuned for his take on all that. He’ll be live blogging as we go along. Perhaps we’ll change his corner to ‘Iberian Peninsula’ instead of just Spain.

The perfect ending to a trying day

It must be said that Portugal isn’t the lesser Spain-lite cousin. Culturally, gastronomically, linguistically and in a multitude of other ways, Portugal is very different. It’s the ceramic tile capitol of the world. Where do you think all those wine corks come from? And port – the little-goes-a-long-way of wines, and one of my favorite ways to end a day with some of my giant Jurassic Park papaya. I bought port glasses right when we got here. So it’s practically fate.

Long ago when I was in college, my parents won an all expense paid trip to Portugal. Their faces, when they came back were the happiest I’d ever seen them – before or since. My Dad looked like he’d touched the face of heaven and he’d have packed up and moved there in a heartbeat. I think of their descriptions of the smell of orange blossoms in the Algarve whenever we walk down the street here in Valencia engulfed in the fragrance from the orange trees that line our roads they are in full bloom.

So now, along with our days viewing homes in Galicia, we will be spending a couple of days in our neighboring country to the southwest – checking things out, talking to some local professionals, and seeing what’s what. We will keep you posted with photos and stories. I’m more than a little excited about it. Have I given up on Spain? No Way!! It’s my first love. But you never know what you’ll find when you least expect it. And Portugal is an unexpected last minute twist on our house hunting adventure. Join us and let’s see where it leads.

Cheers, Mate!

Watching the news over the weekend, Spain put more than 200k people on another lockdown due to outbreaks. We’d had it under control. The plethora of US anti-mask videos of those behaving badly in the middle of a pandemic are everywhere. And finally, seeing the UK open their pubs on ‘Super Saturday’ because they’re ‘the heart of British life‘, made me sit up and question who we are as humans. And where the hell we’re all going.

Some punters headed out to their local from 6am, with one man in Manchester describing his first pint of Carling like ‘an angel p**sing on the tip of me tongue’

The metro – UK
Just cause we’re tired – doesn’t mean it’s over

Here in Spain there is fear about the Brits coming now that the border is open to them, and bringing their drinking and love of a pint – or 10 – with them. Boozy holidays and bad behavior didn’t stop after our lock down. So much so, it required them to be hustled onto flights back to their home country to keep the Spanish police safe from their escapades and abuse.

How have we homo sapiens made saving ourselves something political and a culture war? ‘No one’s going to tell me I can’t die for a drink if I want to.’ The creed of the alcoholic or just your every day death cult member. Animals with much smaller brains than humans have more survival instinct. Hell, this virus is better at surviving than we are.

The mask wearing boycotts and grocery store rants do not happen in Spain. These are a special gift the US gives the world. Twitter is littered with these people abusing others in stores and ‘patriots’ spouting speeches from the graves of our hallowed Founding Fathers. As though the US Constitution was another holy book written by men who could imagine the future we live in today.

I said it 4 months ago before Covid decimated the US. And, sadly, its truer today. This is like watching a slow motion train wreck where all the passengers are partying and leaving the heavy lifting to the train driver. But he’s nowhere to be found. Are we really this dumb?

But then I saw this video. And it made me realize our current predicament didn’t start with this virus or this political cycle. It’s been going on for decades and we weren’t paying attention. As if the entire post-WWII period was the roaring 20’s, and as long as the stock market was booming, and the champagne flowing, we didn’t bother to sit up and take notice. And now that we’re forced to? As a species, we’re angry. Not at what we should be mad at – but the fact that we have to pay attention. Because distraction is so much easier. We didn’t want to look at the climate crisis, income inequality, or justice and social inequality. That’s too hard to solve. And they tell us there are good people on both sides.

The next 24 months will be telling for our species and our planet. I’ve heard people say it’s all Darwinian and that nature is editing. But that’s not a good enough answer. I’ve seen some of the faces of those who’ve been ‘edited’ so far, and there are many amazing talented people in there. And no matter what you think of me, I’m was almost edited myself.

I call these people ‘The Cult of the Founding Fathers’

Will we rise to the occasion or will we fail ourselves and each other through our selfishness? Before this, I would have told you we would hit the breaks and swerve – even at the last possible moment. But now I’m not so sure. The US was always a symbol to the world of so much promise. The Shining City on a Hill. I hear it every day in Valencia. ‘I always wanted to move to America. The land of opportunity.’ But I think that’s over now as Europe and the world pulls away from us, as we bungle our pandemic response and expose our newly-acquired inability to lead in a crisis. And there is nothing to replace it. Vacuums like to be filled and you can hear the sucking sound of extremism and authoritarianism. Just like in the cartoon video above – the train is speeding up and the tracks behind us are gone. The future of humanity is up to us. And sadly, it’s binary right now. But are we so fatigued by a little mask-wearing inconvenience; will we choose our own survival or just have another pint? Cheers, mate!🍻

Want to buy a lighthouse?

In preparation for next week’s tour through Galicia on our search for our new home I have been scouring the internet listings for anything that holds promise.  In order to stand out among all the competing homes on the market, some listings have descriptions containing flowery prose detailing all the reasons a person would be delighted to own this home.  Each room perfectly staged for its photo. Then each picture is post-processed to ensure sharp focus and color correction.  It can be expensive, but when you are selling one of your most valuable assets, it is worth it to spend a little up front to ensure you are putting your best foot forward and attracting the most potential buyers.  While not always true, I believe that the effort that has gone into the presentation of the listing is probably indicative of the level of care and upkeep of the house too.  A well-manicured yard shows that the owner takes pride in their home and they have most likely taken care of it too.

Sometimes though it seems that the seller either did not get the memo regarding what should be in a real estate listing or that they just got distracted along the way.  I am certainly no real estate pro but I do know a thing or two about selling stuff. So if you find yourself in need of selling a home let me pass along a few pointers to ensure your ad gets the attention it deserves.

#1:  Show the house. Including some extra pictures of the surrounding area and views is nice but don’t forget to also include a picture of your house too.

This listing for a 4 bedroom house only included a single picture of the Tower of Hercules. Pretty sure the Spanish authorities would frown on us moving in.

#2 Show the right house. Make sure the picture of the house is the house that is for sale.  I cannot stress this enough. 

For one of the listings I was initially interested in, it seems the neighbor’s house was more photogenic than the one being offered for sale so the seller used it instead.  I discovered this when I did a Google Streets drive by and saw the address didn’t match the pictures.

#3 Show the freaking house! Once you have taken a picture of your house, make sure you can see enough of it to let potential buyers know what it looks like. Don’t leave it up to the buyers imagination of what the house might look like. If your yard is overgrown with trees and bushes it might be a good time to do a little landscaping and hack it back a bit. (or maybe take the picture from a different spot)

#4 Interior pictures are essential so you might want to clean up or put stuff away.  Try to tell a visual story and allow the buyer to imagine themselves living in this space. Nobody likes housework but…

#5 Avoid weird camera angles.  Sure, a fisheye lens can give the impression of a larger room and sometimes it even makes sense to use one.  But avoid resorting to strange perspectives that don’t add to the visual storytelling.

#6 Stay on topic!  I know you are really proud of your stuff but unless it is staying with the house, please do not include them in the listing.

#7 The money shot. The most important tip I have is to make the first picture of your listing the most appealing and descriptive one.  This is your chance to make a great first impression, don’t blow it with a picture of a corner of a closet door. I can not tell you how many times I have scrolled past pictures of homes that looked like this.  This house turned out to be pretty nice but I had skipped over it several times before I decided to take a closer look.

With a little careful planning and prep work, you can take real estate pictures yourself and avoid the cost of a professional photographer.  A picture is supposed to be worth a 1000 words, make them count.

I have learned that when it comes to searching for real estate in Spain, there are no shortcuts.  You need to be prepared to spend a lot of time sifting through nonsense before finding a gem.  Even when you think you have identified the perfect house, you still have to verify it is actually the one that is for sale and not just some stand-in model. We have a full week planned with several realtors and I’m sure we will see lots of nice houses. I’m hoping that it will be time well spent and not just time spent. With all the turmoil in the world right now it is a buyer’s market. Next week is going to be very interesting indeed.

The Aftermath

Valencia is in the news back in the US. When I was a kid, it was fun to see Portland on the national news on TV. Like we were famous by proximity. And today this was interesting watching Playa de la Malvarrosa on CNN. Mainly because we’ve yet to venture to the beach since our lock down was officially lifted more than a week ago.

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Playa de la Malvarrosa at sunrise

Malvarrosa beach is just a quick trip on the tram down the way from where we live. A few stops on any given morning and we would be walking along the promenade watching the sunrise. But, of course, those were pre-pandemic days. Now, we avoid crowds. And the tram feels a little too confined, even with mandatory masks on all transit. Sure, we could walk down there but it’s getting hotter in Valencia. It will be 31 today. This summer we may just sit this one out. Let other people enjoy the sand.

If we do go down there it will be just to sit at Panorama Restaurant outside on the terrace, far from others, to enjoy a beverage at a safe distance on the pier.

After having lunch with friends they other day, I was struck by the varying attitudes about what we’re still facing with Covid in Spain as new outbreaks pop up. There were those in the group planning house parties for their country homes in July – extending invitations for us to attend for a long weekend. We’ll be in Galicia, but even if we weren’t there is no way Jeff would go to anything like it until there is a vaccine. There seems to be this ongoing misapprehension that if people are your family and friends they’re totally safe to be around. The virus can’t penetrate your bubble. This is how outbreaks start. The other night we watched the building across the way host a party in the penthouse apartment. More than 30 people mingling under the fairy lights on the terrace drinking wine. It looked like very dangerous fun.

Still, there were other people at lunch who had been out and about quite a bit in the city, getting together with friends for drinks and lunches since phase 2. They seemed less concerned about the possibility of catching this monstrous thing. Mostly, I think everyone was surprised that we’re as cautious as we are – still. Oddly, while we may have some immunity, we’re more afraid of it than those who have not wrestled with the devil. I guess experience is a great teacher. We never want to go through that again. And we wouldn’t want to wish it on our worst enemy.

I find I don’t like talk about what we went through with other people. When I do, it makes me emotional and I cry – which I don’t like. Spontaneously. Maybe it’s PTSD or something. People like to tell you what they know about the virus, and stories of celebrities who’ve had it. I’ve heard ‘You’re lucky you’re not…so and so.’ It might sound heartless but I don’t give a damn about the recitation of it from gossip magazines or headlines. This virus as social currency seems obscene to me. Then, some seem unsatisfied when you can’t remember everything they think you should about those weeks in April. When I answered one person’s question about something, they said ‘Yeah, I already saw that on t.v.’ Like my information wasn’t fresh and new enough to matter – like it was an episode of an old reality show, instead of something I experienced in my real life. One person in the US said to me ‘Well, it can’t be that bad if you survived.’ I wish I was kidding.

I can imagine it’s similar to anyone who has come through a health scare and people pepper them with everything they’ve read about it, but never experienced themselves. ‘I have a cousin…’ or ‘I know someone, who knew someone, who said they…’ Even discounting your experience when it doesn’t align with what they think they know. ‘That’s not what I heard them say it’s like.’ As if you should realign the details, to appease them. It appears some are so freaked out about what happened to you, they can’t deal with it emotionally. No wonder since there are so much conflicting information and evolving stories in the news, and humans don’t like uncertainty.

I’ve been quizzed by people about tests and the meds I’m taking, told they’re completely wrong (based on no medical training at all) and then advised to start on a concoction of vitamins and herbs they recommend. Which my Dr. told me was dangerous and utter nonsense. Laymen are experts on the aftermath of a virus that even medical experts aren’t experts on yet. So, I find it’s best to just nod, keep it to myself, and just listen to them talk. Maybe that’s what they’re looking for anyway. Maybe they’re just afraid and trying to process their own fear. I don’t really know. But I do know this terrible club Jeff and I joined against our will in 2020 is a lonely one, at times. We have each other to talk to when we need to process something about it because we went through it together. But that’s rare these days. If we talk about anything it’s more about the aftermath.

Today is our wedding anniversary. But we’ll stay at home to celebrate, just us. And we’ll watch the Valencian beach on CNN. It’s a small price to pay and I think we’ll be glad we did.

Mercadona Saga – Chapter 137

We were up at 3am. Why? We don’t know. But by 9am we were hungry and it was time to venture forth out into the wider world. And what we required for this Tuesday lay nestled safely in the dreaded – wait for it – Mercadona. There was nothing for it – we had to go.

Jeff slowly put on his shoes and prepared to leave the apartment. Like a man beaten. I gathered all the recycling – why make two trips out into contagion – and we set out. After a stop at the recycling bins on the street, we made our way down the block through masked traffic. Those not wearing one were given a wide berth. Luckily, it’s sparse on the sidewalk these days and most of the people out on the street were over the age of 75. These are not people debating masks. Their lives depend upon it.

We arrived at the Mercadona and immediately noticed something different. No hall monitor was directing and sorting customers at the door in the vestibule. The lone sad torn-open bag of plastic gloves lay in the window sill by the hand sanitizer dispenser, like a dead fish in the Valencian sun. I took my life in my hands reaching into it to pull out four sets of gloves – including a pair for Jeff – as we pre-slathered, then post-slathered ourselves in hand sanitizer. I started to wheel the trolley into the store and Jeff stopped me, concerned.

‘You can’t take that in there.’ He cautioned. During the State of Alarm we had to park it at the trolley stand. Too much risk.

‘Look at that lady down the aisle.’ I told him, boldly. ‘She has her’s. There’s safety in numbers.’

He shook his head and hung back. Knowing danger was lurking around every turn of the aisle. The Scolder was surely here somewhere.

We went to the fruit section and I picked up everything I needed. Like the professional fruit bagger I am. SuperMercado be damned! After perusing the entire store and filling my food stroller we approached check out. This is the most dangerous time in the Mercadona experience. It’s when bad things, very bad things, can happen. And this time, it’s where Jeff bailed out on me.

‘I’ll go stand at the front. I don’t want to get in trouble for having two people from the same family in line.’ And he walked away – leaving me to whatever fate awaited me in the belt loading experience. My hero.

As I waited until directed forward, I watched the checker watching me. She beckoned. At the last possible moment I turned my food stroller around and positioned it appropriately with the handle forward. After unloading my cart I looked up and the checker smiled. Actually smiled at me. I could see it in her eyes. And she inclined her head.

‘Bien.’ She said.

I beamed like a kindergartener who’s received her first gold star for finger painting. You just wish your mother was there to see it.

We had no further chit chat other than her asking me if I needed my parking validated or wanted to purchase a bolsa.

Packing the trolley, I paid, then made my way to Jeff.

‘Did she say ‘bien’ to you?’ He asked – shocked beyond belief. We haven’t been smiled at by a Mercadona checker in months.

‘Yes, she did.’ I said proudly. ‘I wanted to to tell her ‘This isn’t my first rodeo’ but I didn’t know the word for ‘rodeo’ in Spanish. Come to think of it, maybe ‘rodeo’ is a Spanish word that means rodeo.’

Jeff laughed. ‘You could have tried ‘No es mi primero matador.’

Huh? ‘I’m pretty sure you just said ‘This isn’t my first bull fighter.’ And I’m not sure that would have been well received. By either of us. We have a tenuous enough detente with one checker at the Mercadona, now. Let’s not get cocky.’

But I will say we walked home a little taller. Today we won the Mercadona. Maybe things are getting back to normal. And I’m pretty sure I need to buy a lottery ticket to celebrate.