A Fresh Approach

The pandemic has forced us all to take a new look at old things. The ways we operate in the world and how view old problems. Sometimes, it’s as though we see them for the first time. There were issues and opportunities all along, but we were too rushed to see them. Or too close to the problem. Covid has slowed us down. And I’m starting to see it first hand here in Valencia.

We live near the Area where FC Levante play futbol (soccer in the US). We shop at the Carrefour grocery store right next to it at the Centro Commercial. In the past year or so we’ve watched the transformation of the stadium. Before the pandemic we have gone to games there. It was more of a venue like a University in the US, than what we had imagined a La Liga futbol pitch would resemble. With their world famous athletes . It was old, with no concessions except card tables in the walk ways around the outside. Kind of down market, if I’m honest. But going to game there was still fun and exciting .

But with Covid, the stadium was going to be empty anyway. And they had already scheduled a major overhaul to bring it inline with other stadiums throughout Spain. It has a cover over the seats now and we’ve watched them erect the new superstructure. Pretty impressive. I like engineering. Watching a crane move things into place is something I could spend an afternoon happily doing.

It’s almost completed and there was an article in the local news about the future of the building and what they have planned. I was struck by a comment at the very end. Something along the lines of the timing of the renovations and, if the architect and the league had it to do again, they might think of the building differently. A space that could be used for things other than futbol. ‘What if it could be designed to be converted into something totally different, if needed? Perhaps a field hospital.’ Interesting idea. I bet if you posed this as a design consideration to this gentleman before, even 18 months ago, he would have scoffed at the need for such a thing. Now the unreality needs to be considered moving forward. For so many things.

I went and picked up my new residence card at the Oficina de Extranjero for the National Police. I’d gone a couple of weeks ago as they directed me to, but it wasn’t ready. They told me they weren´t sure when it would come from Madrid. I should call before coming again. So I called on Sunday and the recording said my lot # was delivered. I caught a taxi on Tuesday and went to stand in the usual line under the tarp outside for those just picking up cards. No appointments needed. I’ve done this several times, with Jeff and alone, both successfully and unsuccessfully, so I know the drill. But the guard shook his finger and pointed to the sign. The process has moved from far outside central Valencia in icky dodgyville, to right in of downtown Valencia.

I was a little ticked off since getting a cab there is not easy, but when I got to the new location I was thrilled. It’s now at Calle Hosptial 32, in the heart of the city, and right at the Angel Gimera Metro station. It couldn’t be more convenient. And the guards at this new location are nice – it seems that the hiring manager vets them on handsomeness and height. I´m pretty sure they had a mark on the wall during the interview process that said ‘You must be this tall to ride this ride’. Not one of them was under 6ft 3. Jeff would have freaked out. ‘This is where they´ve been storing my people.’ He always looks like the jolly green giant, as Valencians are not tall people. Anyway, I shouldn’t care but I find its easier to be scolded by someone who looks like a movie star action hero than some guy who has been yelling at foreigners for way too long past his pull date, and is just inching towards retirement. At the new place, there was no scolding. These young guys had it all organized and marked out, complete with stickers on the ground where to stand, and numbers they pleasantly handed out as you approached, like those sample people at a Costco, so you could look at the monitors that were everywhere and know what window you were supposed to go to.

The old station was a mess. The process was incomprehensible, and you would be yelled at a minimum of 3 times before going inside and being asked for documents that you shouldn’t have had to produce. But this new place? Almost heaven. And it allows for social distancing. Inside looks like it’s in the 21st century. Imagine. And there are almost as many windows to service foreigners as there are at the Jefatura de Traffico (Spanish DMV) one metro stop away. In defence of the people working the 6 desks at the old police station, they were so overworked. It wasn’t right. This new station has more than 40 windows to take care of people, and was fully staffed. The woman who helped me was friendly, and while my new visa status threw her when I handed her my old NIE card and passport, she didn’t freak out on me. She just asked a co-worker to assist her in deactivating my old card and reactivating my new one. Lickety split.

Clearly, the National Police saw what we all saw in our times going out to the old station. It just wasn’t working. And it was a super spreader event for every person who worked there or had to go there. It wasn´t a safe location in a pandemic. And the building was falling apart.

After my trip to the new National Police station, I also learned I really want to be Spanish soooo bad. Our new cards are super cool. I like them better than the old ones. They have all kinds of new security features. But one thing we can´t do with them is turn them into DNIe cards. Because we are not Spanish. And turning your DNI card into a DNIe card unlocks a few things. First, it lets you travel to any country that recognizes a digital passport. So no need to carry the real paper book thing. The little book is now obsolete for travel to and from these places with digital passport agreements. It´s kind of like an enhanced drivers license in the US, but that´s only good for Canada. We always got the additional ´Passport Cards´ for ourselves and our kids when we got our passports. But, again, while fine for ID, they were only good for driving across the Canadian Border. Oh, and getting the student discount at the Valencia Oceanographic for Emilie. But that hardly matters.

People were in a separate lime at the Police office to use the machines to convert their DNI cards and upgrade their lives. I stared with envy. Because other thing the DNIe does is it gives you a digital signature, which is like a digital certificate. Yes, that elusive thing I’m trying to get right now. But I have a line on how I might circumvent the system, so stay tuned for that.

It will be interesting to watch all the innovations that come out of the pandemic. Yes, its been horrific. So many have died or been severely ill. Believe me, I know. People’s livelihoods and economies have been decimated. But out on the other side of wars and pandemics, innovation explodes. New and old problems will be solved in ways we couldn’t have imagined before. Sure, the examples above seem a bit trivial. Trying to focus on the upside if all of this. But I, for one, can´t wait to see what they are.

We´re Almost There

The cavalry is coming! This weekend the Valencian Community government announced the plan for mass vaccinations to begin! Yes, I´m using a bunch of exclamation points today because it´s very exciting!! At last, we know the roadmap out of the pandemic. This one, at least.

Vaccination site as only Valencia could

The City of Arts and Sciences will be transformed into an outdoor, though tented, field vaccination centre. The National Health service will notify people via text and phone as to their date and time for coming in to get the jab. They´ve already done nearly all the people in adult care homes and the staff who care for them. Medical personnel, police, firefighters, etc. are getting it now. Soon, the rest of the adult population will be innoculated.

Our age group will get the Astra Zenika. Jeff is nót happy about this after doing a bunch of research, but something is better than nothing We would prefer to get the Phizer, which is stronger against the variants that we fear so much. But who know? When it comes time to get it they´ll take preexisting conditions into account and we have a handful off those, so we may get Phizer, after all.

The government is estimating that 70% of the Valencian community will be vaccinated by September. At that time, they´ll start doing children so they´ll be able to go back to school like they usually do. Normality is in view!

For those who can´t leave their homes they will go and vaccinated them there. For those with transportation issues, they´ll be providing dedicated buses to outlying areas to come into the city to get it done. And there will be a few field hospital locations for places like Requena and the outlying areas more than an hour away. It´s happening! Its really happening!

Of course, by the time we are due to get the jab in Valencia, we will be moving to Lugo. So likely we won´t be getting it here, but we are happy to know that all our friends and even acquaintances will be protected. Cafe´s will reopen without fear. Strolling and doing a bit of window shopping will take on a whole new level of freedom. No more scurrying outside and scurrying back indoors. I can almost see real smiles again and the feel of fresh air on my cheeks.

We are still in semi-lockdown this week. As of next Monday the closure of Valencia city on weekends will end. They council are considering opening terraces and outdoor service at bars. The curfew for sports without a mask will also end. The third wave is waning but we´re still at level 3 – high risk. Semana Santa (holy week) is coming starting at the end of March. We´re all hoping it´s not like another Christmas that kicked off the third wave. This time the variants are scarier.

With mass vaccinations so close, I hope people will take heed and remember that with a little more sacrifice we can get to the other side. Maybe holding out that Fallas carrot in October might just do it. We´re almost there.

Fallas 2021

The fiesta is the thing in Valencia. Life here is marked by each date on the calendar celebrating Saints and the Seasons. An occasional battle. And always there is Fallas. The Fallero organizations throughout the city are the largest fraternal organizations and mark the neighbourhoods and alliances that go back generations. Belonging is important here. I guess it´s like being cave people and the primal feeling of safety in numbers. The group has your back.

During the pandemic, these groups have been shuttered. Unable to meet up. It’s caused massive controversy and depression amongst members. And more than that, nearly 25% of these organizations in Valencia have gone bankrupt. Yet another casualty of Covid. So many young girls have planned, with their families, for years to become Falleras. And the pride they take in this evident when you see them out on the streets during processions or at events, large and small, throughout the city. Last year, the Falleras were robbed of their fame. This year, there will be no Fallera selections in February. All getting ready for the traditional week of the minots and mascletas in the third week in March. Culminating with the crema where each falla is burned overnight on the final night.

The cancelling of another Fallas was a tough pill to swallow for Valencia. We have struggled to cancel the fiestas and processions in the past year. Some have been modified to try to curb the contagion after groups protested that the restrictions were too much. But these usually resulted in spikes in transmissions with political ramifications and recriminations afterwards.

The decision was made a few weeks ago, while we were deep in the third wave, to cancel, again Fallas for this year. It was yet another devastating blow. Now that we´re coming out of the third wave we are focused on how we can keep people from gathering at Easter to stem an inevitable forth wave in April and May. But now that vaccines are looking to be on the way, attention has turned to how we can celebrate Fallas in 2021. Even if it looks very different than normal.

Fallas is synonymous with the mascleta. These are huge day-time fireworks installations, both in the main town centre and in areas around the city sponsored by individual Falleros. Fireworks is Valencia and pyrotechnics is something you can study in university here. During the pandemic, many fireworks workshops have gone under. Valencia is usually a noisy place on any given day. Fireworks are constantly going off. But during Fallas its an artform. And heading to the town square for the largest masletas at 2:05pm daily, and midnight on weekends, from the end of February through the last day of Fallas in March to ring in the Spring Equinox is something you need to experience in person. I´ve only done it once because my ears didn´t like it, but it´s not just an assault to the ears. You´re meant to feel it in your chest. The vibrations assault you and come up from the ground through your feet. People around me told me not to plug my ears or the pressure would blow my ear drums. You can see it here. I was actually at this mascleta. It was the last one I attended. It took my ears a week to recover.

This year, there is optimism that Fallas, in some form, could happen later in the year after mass vaccinations start. A survey ran in the local news asking people to vote on whether a modified Fallas could happen in July, September or October. This seems optimistic to me. But they´re planning something sooner for those who can´t live without a mascleta fix. Each day, starting March 1st at 13:40, they´ll play the ´Best of 30 years of mascletas´ for the three weeks that would have been Fallas. It will run on the local Valencia station and they are encouraging people to tune in and turn up their tv volume to the loudest setting, and open their windows to participate.

Normally, this wouldn´t make Jeff very happy. But this year he´s looking forward to a break from the guy upstairs, who we´re convinced is either perpetually remodelling his flat. Or he´s taken up marble sculpting. Ugh. But, I will admit I have kind of missed the fireworks and all the random processions and marching bands. It´s the life of this city. Coming around the corner and discovering yourself in the midst of a procession complete with priests, a saint or the Virgin Mary carried on a litter, or a marching band has some real appeal right about now.

So we will participate in the faux masletas for our final Fallas in Valencia. Ensuring we´ll go out with a bang before we embrace new adventures up in Galicia. New fiestas, new traditions. But first, it´s time to say goodbye to Fallas.

Mud Rain

I’m not sure many people who do not live here think of the Sahara desert being only a few hundred miles from Valencia. The continent of Africa seems a world away. But we know it’s close because we have migrants that wash up in boats on our shores fleeing war, famine, and a host of other ills that compel a person to leave behind all they know and make a dangerous journey based on the slim hope of a better life.

This past month we, in Valencia, have been reminded, yet again, about just how close Africa and the Sahara are to us. We’ve spent the better part of the month with ‘cloudy’ brown skies. We have had sunny days. But even these are seen through a mist of sediment blown up to us on the winds from Africa. My washing machine on the kitchen balcony is covered with it, and it’s sticky. Jeff was so concerned about the air quality and my health, he bought a bunch of air filtration units for every room in el Compartimento. Yesterday, we opened them up to look at what they’re collecting after owning them for just a few weeks. Yuck! The three filters in the chamber were gross. We cleaned them based on factory recommendations, then Jeff just hopped online and ordered back ups. So we’re good to go. But this weekend things are going to take another turn.

Mud Rain. Have you ever heard of that? No? We hadn’t either. It’s when the sands of the Sahara blow up and over the Iberian Peninsula and the timing coincides with a spate of fog. We’ve been having fog for the past week. The sand becomes suspended in the fog at 100% humidity. Then a big rain storm comes through over the top and it hits the sands suspended in the fog. Voila! Mud Rain.

At least we have that to look forward to! You can read about it here. It means that the streets and cars will be covered in the stuff. And walking outside would have your umbrella coated in sediment. But the good news is that the dust will be out of the air, and going to the store will no longer be dangerous for vulnerable groups with breathing issues.

As he is want to do, Jeff has been tracking all this for a month. He likes data and trends. Some people obsessively track weather. Jeff has no interest in that. But everyone has a hobby. One of Jeff’s many is tracking air quality at certain points around the globe. Usually, Valencia is between 2 and 15. In the green zone. These days it’s been in the 60-160 range. We´ve had points when we were in the red. That’s not good. Now that we´re moving to Lugo he’s added that to his global tracking. We still track Seattle and Phoenix, and some other points he feels are indicators of air crises. I’m sure Valencia will be a permanent member on his list.

I’ve been researching plantsand trees that hold the most carbon year-round. We can all add them to our gardens, no matter how small, to help out the planet. Its why I’ve been so interested in any tree or plant restrictions up in Lugo. They wouldn’t help with this Saharan dust, but in digging deeper we have discovered that our bad air is currently full of other things, too. Generated by local factories and plenty of human generated pollutants. Carbon trapping plants would help with that, too. There are some interesting suggestions from the Royal Horticultural Society that we will definitely look at when we start planting hedges at the edges of the property.

Today, Jeff will be doing laundry and hanging it indoors. Usually, we only have one month a year where we can’t quickly line dry our clothes outside. Very environmentally friendly. I love it. But while normally February would have us hanging our clothes off the kitchen balcony on the line, this year with the dust we have had to bring it to the kitchen where Jeff has set up his custom laundry system of a six-sided 3-tiered drying rack with a fan/heater and dehumidifier. He can dry one load an hour this way, including denim. Equivalent to the one load an hour I get in summer on the line.

We will spend today indoors – having laid in provisions so we don’t have to leave the house until Tuesday to restock. We’ll enjoy our last dusty sunset before the Valencian mud rains comes. Watching it from inside as Mother Nature cleans out our air with 3 straight day of rain. We’re looking forward to it! Maybe there will be lightening and thunder with our Mud Rain, as there so often is here. We’ve watched almost everything on Netflix, Hulu, Tubi, Pluto, and Prime. Spending the day looking outside and watching it rain sounds like a meditation. And we will be starting March in Valencia with clean air.

Administrivia

With an eye towards future-proofing, if you’re in Spain or planning a move here, you’ll want to consider getting a digital certificate upon arrival. What’s that? You may well ask. Trust me. It’s a good thing.

In the US, we have a certain amount of governmental paperwork we need to fill out to get things done. Some people think the government should be smaller. I actually think the government is supposed to be us helping to facilitate the smooth running of our lives. They should keep roads up, provide fire protection, and make sure we can live in comfort and without fear for our health. As a result, the government should be robustly performing duties that make our lives safer and easier. Regulations aren’t always a bad thing. Just ask the people without power, heat or hot water in Texas right now. Sadly. Small government and Freedom is mighty chilly with your AR-15 as cold comfort, cause it won´t cook your dinner for you or keep you warm when icicles are hanging in your house. Hopefully they have a dog!

In Europe, and in Spain, the administrative state is an art form. Getting a degree or certificate in Government Administration is an actual thing. This allows you to perform tasks that are government related for every day citizens. And you get paid for it. Why wouldn’t people just do their own paperwork? Because its not easy. Even if you speak the lingo and understand the system. It can be crazy making. My approach thus far has been to mostly appear wildly confused and stupid. Its easy to pull off because when it come to the Spanish bureaucracy I am both of those things. It worked for me for awhile. Now when people learn I’ve been here three years they realize this is my permanent state, and their patience is perilously thin.

These days, its even more difficult with the pandemic. Offices are closed. Staff is reduced. Many offices require appointments now, when before they allowed walk ins. But the catch is that there are no appointments to be had. More crazy making.

Enter the Digital Certificate. If you got one of these before the pandemic you are good to go on many, many things. Most of governmental interactions require paperwork and stamps, but with the digital certificate (where your identity has been certified) you can do most things online electronically. Want to notify the DGT (DMV) of an address change or a lost license? With your Spanish digital certificate you can do it online. Want to register with Social Security? Yup! It works for that too.

The national government uses a digital system called Cl@ve, and you can access this system only if you have first acquired a digital certificate at the lower level of the the Spanish bureaucracy. In the US, there is a lot of emotion around a national identity card. I’ve heard people quote the Bible to me about the mark of the beast from the book of Revelations. Not kidding. Too big brother for them. But here it works on many levels. Identity theft is very difficult – if not impossible – if you have to get a digital certificate with multiple documents with your photo, and stand in person to prove you are who you say you are.

But in the days of Covid, its nearly impossible to get a digital certificate on your own. Not because its a hard process but because you can’t get an appointment in person to verify your identity in person. I am thru the step of all the online forms and getting the verification codes so we can take them, and all the documents in my plastic folder, to the office to get certified. But we can’t get an appointment due to Covid. However, you can go to a gestor and have them request it on your behalf. This costs, of course. A couple of hundred euros. But it will make life infinitely easier, even post Covid. Fewer trips to a DGT or Social Security office. You can even submit your Padron (townhall re-registration required by foreigners every 3 years) using your digital certificate. No longer relying on a friend to accompany you to the various offices so you can navigate the language or complexity. You can do it all from the comfort and contagion-free safety of your own home.

Our three year anniversary of moving to Spain is coming up. We have to re-register with the town hall. Are there appointments to do that? Nope. Ugh. Perhaps I’ll let it expire and just do it up north.

Due to Covid restrictions, and my ongoing convalescence, I have a great deal of time on my hands to wander aimlessly through the governmental websites learning all sorts of new things. Watching videos on how to navigate the bureaucracy. Yes, there are people who take the time to record these from their apartments and post them on YouTube. I bet Tik Tok has a few, too. Perhaps incorporating more music and dance. Its a governmental maze I’ll admit to getting lost in. Some people wander down rabbit holes for conspiracy theories like that weird QAnnon thing. I’m more interested in the legal setbacks for opening a business, trimming my trees, or farming restrictions while living on the Camino De Santiago.

Its kind fun. I’ve learned that I must not cut down trees within 3 meters of the edge of a road where pilgrims walk or I could get jail time. They need their shade on hot days. Or if I want to open a business it must be related to ‘fostering the spirit of the Camino’. For instance, if I opened a dog grooming salon it should be for dogs walking the Camino with pilgrims. I will admit to meeting pilgrims who could use a little grooming, too. Maybe that would be allowed. The Xunta de Galicia and the Ministry of Culture shall be my guide via this 32 page document posted online. As long as I don’t violate rules, and ask for permission before building, I can avoid a lengthy prison sentence. Good news trickles in every day.

So it seems up in Lugo I will be submitting plenty of paperwork, and this digital certificate will come in handy there, too. Nothing is impossible. We just need to hang in there a little longer. And get a digital certificate.