You Deserve a Medal

We have heard many stories in our Spanish visa journey. First, with our initial applications and then with our renewals. It’s always fun! But things are changing with COVID and the visa renewal processes. So I thought I would outline what we’re experiencing here.

First of all, we’ve heard that they’re going to ask for proof of having paid tax in the country for all those who are officially tax residents (reside more than 183 days per year). It’s been loosey-goosey in the enforcement of this fir foreign residents. No more. It’s understandable. With so many out of work and drawing benefits, and with tax revenues down as all the tourists stayed away this year, they need the money. And if you’re going to live in a country, you should contribute to their tax system that pays for the health system, social security, roads, schools, the fire department. Stuff that makes life work, and bearable for the citizenry – especially in times like these.

But we were just notified – outside the renewal cycle – that we need to provide a fresh marriage certificate (apostilled) to prove we are still married. Wait, what? I mean, I know we’ve been locked up together, almost exclusively, for the past 6 months. Have there been tough days? Oh, yes! Some intermittent harsh words exchanged? ‘You changing out of those pajamas this week?’ or ‘Perhaps using a napkin may extend the life of that t-shirt past breakfast.’ Stuff like that. Days when we needed space, but there was none to be had? I knew it was bad when I started eyeing the roof top of a neighboring building and wondered if I timed it just right, and got a running start in the kitchen, if I could make it across the gap.

So, I get it. In the eyes of the Spanish Government there is a good chance that a)We’ve decided to call it quits. Or b)One of us is no longer breathing – and it wouldn’t have been Covid related. But I don’t get how a fresh marriage certificate – all the way from Washington State – would prove that we are, or are not, still together. Especially, since in the US they don’t link your marriage certificate to your divorce papers. It’s not a thing.

However, getting a fresh marriage certificate all the way from over here (stamped and certified/apostilled with a date in the last 3 months) is like finding a four leaf clover in the desert. Sure – you can order the marriage certificate. Wait for it to arrive – in this time of the US post office processing at a snails pace. But then you have to turn around and send it all the way back to the US to the Secretary of States office to get it apostilled. Then wait for the US mail to get it back. That’s a big time suck and we don’t have that kind of time to comply. And I’ve never done that from here before. But this is where the pros help.

Our Spanish lawyer got to sleuthing and she found out from the US embassy in Madrid that we could call one number back home and they would take care of it all for us – although the person on the other end of the phone in the US didn’t know this, and we went round and round for 30 minutes as I explained, repeatedly, that I am in Europe, and having her just mail me the unapostilled certificate didn’t solve my problem. Finally, I figured out that she was concerned ‘it is expensive to have us (the service) do the entire thing for you.’ I assured her that I would mine leprechaun gold at the end of a rainbow, and send it to her, if she did this for me. At long last, after a looong hold, she got it taken care of and we are in business. My advice on paying for good advice, and a good lawyer, in a foreign country is truer than ever before. Believe me.

So now we will get the proper, official docs sent off to satisfy the authorities. We are still legal residents of Spain. We have an apartment in Valencia – and pretty much everything we own is there – so we need to comply. We filed our Spanish taxes in total and on time, so no worries on that front. And, it turns out, we’re still married – after all this time. I’m sure the apostilled marriage certificate will tell us so. If you can survive a pandemic locked together in El Compartimento, you deserve more than a visa. You deserve a medal.

Update: It occurs to me why they may be asking for another certified copy of our marriage certificate. We’ve been asked so many times – at Drs appts, the eye glass place, anywhere we are together and are asked our full names – if we are brother and sister. We look nothing alike but this is because, in Spain, women do not have the same name as their husbands. Upon marriage, they keep all their own names. Their names include their mother’s and father’s last names. Maybe they think we are siblings instead of husband and wife. I don’t know if this is the reason but I woke up this am and it was the thought that popped into my head. You can read about Spanish naming conventions here

Lost to be Found

We got our new bank cards. Whew! And just in time. I had taken out a bunch of cash here – before we knew we were going to be heading back to Valencia the weekend before last. The Spanish bank card fee at the ATM was 9 euros. What?! I didn’t want to have to do it again. But more and more we were running into the situation where shops and services that would normally take debit or credit cards couldn’t process our Spanish or American cards. Not credit or debit.

It makes me wonder what they do with tourists. Or maybe where we’re going these days isn’t tourist central. But it’s got me looking out for differences in payment. Yesterday, we went to the InterMarche. It’s a grocery store and they have a good gluten-free section. Checking out, I noticed the line of machines they had for card processing, instead of the one we’re used to in the US and Europe. One machine for each type of card. One for Visa. One for Mastercard. One for ??? I didn’t recognize it. I’ve never encountered this before coming to Portugal. In any country.

I had forgotten to check the mail. We don’t get much here. I’d been waiting for our banker to call us and tell us the cards were in – like they do in Spain. They don’t mail them to you there. You pick them up at your branch. But he was on vacation last week so I knew we were out of luck. Then Jeff checked our mail box and voila! we are back in business. No more hefty ATM fees. No more ‘Is this a Portuguese bank card?’ Now we’re like everybody else. Walking up to the slot machines at the check out and inserting our Portuguese card into the appropriate slot. Punching the buttons. ‘Come on. Show Mama what ya got!.’ I had transferred money into that account when we opened it, but couldn’t access it. Like looking at candy as a kid through a plate glass window. It was in there. I could see it! So close.

But to ensure I would be good to go, I headed to the ATM in the larger town closest to us. Sure enough, it didn’t work. I went inside to ask for assistance and learned that the ‘validation’ process is like accessing Fort Knox. Lots of typing, bank generated text codes. Then I was walked through how to set up my secure account on a bank PC. Finally, I downloaded their app and entered a 2-party authentication code. Then my phone rang. My PIN code wouldn’t work until I had passed a verbal authentication quiz. Luckily, I was at the bank. The guy there helped me answer some of the questions I wouldn’t have known the answer to. Holy Cow! I dare anyone to access our accounts. I can barely do it, and I’m ME!

I’ve been ill on and off since we’ve been in Portugal. Bronchitis and the like. The Dr here says I need to be patient. ‘We don’t know what the lasting effects are yet. Take it easy.’ But I’ve had 3 good days filled with more energy, so decided to celebrate by running some errands after my bank foray. With more confidence that I can actually buy what I need. And I’m equipped with additional knowledge I didn’t have when we first arrived. There will be a paper number and I will take one.

Since arriving here, I would go into a shop. Sometimes, there was no one in there. I would head to the counter and the person behind it would look past me and then push a button that triggered the digital number over their head to ding. They would shout out the number, I would look behind me, then put my hand up as the only person in the shop. They would point me to the red number pulley thing and direct me to take a number. But I’m the only person in here – I would think. Doesn’t matter. At first I thought this was an anomaly. But then it happened more than just a few times. Process is process, I guess. Yes, I’m a slow learner. Today, I executed this maneuver with the precision of a local who’s able to pay.

But with caution. Cases are rising everywhere now. Even ticking up in Portugal. Yesterday, we had over 300 new cases in the country. Still a fraction of the over 30k reported in Spain with only 4 times the population. I’m very worried for Spain and those I know there. It breaks my heart to read the news. Family doctors are threatening to strike in Valencia. They’re having to see over 100 patients a day. It’s overwhelming them and they’re not even to flu season yet. And now the EMT (transit workers). Essential workers have been pushed to the limits.

Sign in our grocery store forbidding the sale of alcohol after 8pm

The Portuguese government is trying to do everything they can to avoid another national lockdown. We went to our local cafe the other night for Jeff’s favorite beer and a fresh squeezed lemonade for me. It was 19:45. The owner came up and told me its good we came when we did. The new law in Portugal – no business can sell alcohol after 8pm. None. This includes supermarkets – any place that would sell it, can’t after 8pm. They know COVID spreads on these outdoor terraces. They want to stop it by keeping people from sitting outside in the evenings for hours with their friends – like we saw in Valencia. And they’re serious about it. She was upset. It’s her business. But we’re actually happy.

Last night, Jeff suggested we walk down at 7pm to throw them a little business. Normally, they’re the hub of the community. We were one of two tables last night. Safe drinking. It will be a rough winter for them – I fear.

After discovering a local Super El Chino – I was in heaven – I decided to take myself out for a little lunch in Leiria. I’ve missed Indian food. Punching in the address into the devil’s GPS had me on familiar road, initially. Then some swings around roundabouts unfamiliar. Finally, it had me turn down a road below the castle where those standing around looked at me strangely as I executed this maneuver. I would soon find out why. This was the narrowest street I have ever gone down in a car (or on a horse) in my life. No exaggeration. At one point I rolled down the windows and brought the mirrors in. This allowed me to continue, but honestly, I have no idea how. In my rearview mirror was a tiny little car behind me who was taking up all the space I could see. My car is much bigger than hers.

Years ago, when Jeff and I took the kids to Mykonos for the first time we traveled very narrow streets and survived them by pure magic. At the time, Jeff said they called the country Greece because they have to put magic grease on their cars to traverse the country. Today, I was gifted with some more of that magic. I looked out my side window at one point. My door handle had one inch clearance. Holy moly. A cat watched me as I had to navigate around a building that jutted out into the already nearly in-navigable road, but it swiftly ran away. I couldn’t blame her. I didn’t want to watch, either.

One hundred yards of sucking my breath, looking out of just one eye, saying ‘Ooooh’, heart pounding, swearing, talking to myself, and profuse sweating – oh, the sweating – I emerged around a corner into a small square where two men were standing. My eyes were the size of saucers, and theirs were too. They looked as surprised as I was, as I was spat out of the Street-that-shall-never-be-navigated-by-a-large-saloon-car. I’m pretty sure that’s its actual name in Portuguese. One of the men gave me the signal for ‘Roll down your window’. I did.

‘What the actual hell was that nightmare?’ I asked him.

‘How did you come down that road?’ He asked me. ‘That doesn’t seem possible.’ His friend was doubled over laughing.

‘No kidding.’ I told him ‘Your guess is as good as mine. I have no idea. Is my car covered in scratches? I didn’t hear anything but I’ve been hyperventilating so maybe I missed it.’

He looked my car over. ‘No scratches. Do you need help?’

A part of me wondered if he meant ‘mental help’ for driving down that road.

‘If you have a Valium or a Xanax I’ll take it.’ I told him. ‘But I really need parking and a towel.’

‘Its difficult in the old part of the city.’ But he pointed me in the right direction and I found parking. Unfortunately, by the time I arrived at the Indian restaurant it was closed. But because I had no idea what I was doing and got lost trying to find my car I found some of the most amazing shops. My kids will freak out when they visit. Super hip – but sadly, closed in the afternoon, like everything. I’ll be going back very soon to check them out.

I came home and Jeff was waiting at the gate.

‘You look smiley.’ He said.

‘Well I have just survived the narrowest street in the world without damage to our car. I’ve been quadropoly validated by our new bank. And I found the best El Chino ever created. So it’s been a pretty good day.’

I guess sometimes getting lost is the only way to get found.

After the Storm – Discoveries at Low Tide

After the big storm, yesterday and today were exceptionally low tides. We had squalls yesterday so heading down to the beach was a risky business. But this morning was bright and sunny. And low tide was at about 11:30. It was the lowest we’ve experienced since being here.

Coastal erosion is a big problem around the globe and Portugal is no different. As icecaps and glaciers melt the sea levels are rising. There is real concerns for populations living near sea level. Especially those in beach towns and those residing on sandy sea cliffs vulnerable to chemical weathering like rain, wind and water – from above and below. This storm highlighted much of what our future holds as we walked down to survey the damage. It was surprising.

Instead of less sand it seems the storm has deposited more on our beach. In some places there are almost dunes against the cliffs. And the cliff where our house sits is on rock. Yes, some of the rocks and sediments are now on the beach but it weathered the storm very well. I think our house is safe in our lifetime at 130+ feet above the beach.

The extremely low tide exposed just what’s under the sand on our beach. A lot of rock. Basalt rock like those in Ireland at the Giant’s Causeway. As it breaks apart it’s honeycomb design is visible. But in the ocean it is covered with sea weed, kelp and other sea life, like muscles. People were out in the rocks dressed in wetsuits and the like, gathering muscles in bags tied to their waists.

It also made for epic beach combing and my pockets were full heading home. Jeff said I sounded like a dancer as the shells and rocks I gathered clicked against each other walking back. The music of the ocean. Perhaps I’m part Mermaid. But I found the most amazing, intact scallop shell peeking out of the sand. Lovely. You can see the story of the life of this animal in the layers of the shell. Like rings on a tree. Jeff smiled when he saw it. ‘Its a Camino Shell’.

As we made our way down the beach the crowds started to come. For the first time since August the parking areas along the coast were filling up as people came down to fish and gather easy seafood for a Sunday lunch boiled in a pot with fresh butter and garlic. Yum.

We climbed the stairs on the cliff and walked home on the Estrada Atlantico – the beach road with views of the sea. This path and road runs the length of Portugal and there were cyclists with all their gear heading south. And plenty of what I would describe as pilgrims with their backpacks and staffs heading north with a hearty ‘Bom Dia’. A Perfect Sunday morning.

In This Moment

Something woke me this morning at 4am. I put on my flannel robe and came downstairs in the dark. It’s been stormy here for the past 24 hours. Sustained winds of 85km/h. Our windows rattled and the sea boiled. But it wasn’t the winds and rain coming from the ocean that were so bad. It was the storm coming from over the mountains east to the sea that really hit us hard. We were battered on all sides for hours.

The house shook nonstop. Like any home in Spain or Portugal, there are metal roll down shutters and Jeff closed them all as some of our outer windows bowed and shook. The furniture on the terrace was swept across and would have flown down the cliff and into the ocean if not for the railing that caught them. Jeff ran outside and grabbing them just in time and wrangled them into the sunroom. Our neighbor’s next door were not so lucky. It ripped off their awnings and threw their chaise lounges into the pool and some over the rail. Their front garden was decimated. It rained so hard there was inches of standing water outside.

You an hear the sound of the rain

Our front garden, facing east, was hit hard when we woke up this am. The overgrown pine trees were whipping around yesterday afternoon and Jeff had to lean out one of the bedroom windows to cut some branches to keep them from breaking the windows. Some of the potted trees I brought from the terrace in Valencia were thrown around and broken. I’ll need to repot them when the weather clears.

I now know what it’s like to sit in a house during a tropical storm. You can hear the waves roar. The wind whistle and howl. The rain coming down in torrents. You sit in your house and hope nothing comes flying at you. When we first looked at this house we noticed these big metal doors on the outside of each set of French doors. It seemed like overkill. But after the past 24 hours I think we may use them more than we might have thought.

Back to this morning. Coming down the stairs in the dark. Wishing the weather would leave and sleep would come. Then I looked at the news and my heart sank. Ruth Bader Ginsberg has passed and as I read it I cried. What a lion of the court. What an amazing life of fighting for those who had no political currency. Those who couldn’t fight for themselves. A woman who never saw limitations, just opportunities for justice. She was a master jurist and humanitarian. The world is worse without her.

Somehow it felt appropriate there would be such a huge storm yesterday, the day she left this world. Because The Notorious RBG’s passing has created a storm. A wave of grief, and pledges to fight to continue her legacy. Yesterday, my Overseas Voter ballot for the 2020 election arrived from King Country Washington. Which seems ironic that the election has already started and yet they’ll try to replace her before the election. But I gleefully filled it out, signed it and sent it in. Because in the middle of the storm – weather, political, or human rights – we all must do what we can. And this year, in this moment, what we do counts more than ever. Democracy hangs by a thread. We can never take it for granted again.

A Stranger in a Strange Land

Staying in Portugal, every day we peel back the onion of life here. We have to relearn lessons and navigate. Days are frequently filled with the unexpected. Not bad, just surprising.

The first thing we noticed is that being an American gets you to the front of the line. Why? We don’t know, but it just does. I can’t even fake Portuguese, so I can’t prevent this from happening. I have to self identify my lack of local linguistic skills and tell them I only speak english. It’s just easier for everyone. But it does trouble me when I go to the Dr. and they take me – with no appointment – ahead of everyone. I say ‘No. No. I can wait.’ and they say ‘Its OK.’ And then if other people in the waiting area say something, because they know I got there last, the person who is escorting me say ‘blah blah blah American’ and everyone nods as if to say ‘Oh, well then that’s OK.’

This scenario has played out so many times it’s no longer an anomaly. The bank. Stores. Government offices. It’s weird and disconcerting. I want to say ‘Don’t treat us better than yourselves. We aren’t better. Have you seen the dumpster fire of our country right now? We’re awful. Please feel free to go ahead of me – every damn time.’ But there is a halo effect of Americanism that I hope will someday wear off. Or we’ll learn to pass for Portuguese and will no longer rate the deference. Then, when an American is escorted past me in an office I’ll say ‘Uh, sorry, my friend. Me and my Portuguese mates were here long before you.’ Then I’ll address the person escorting them. ‘He’s happy to wait. Believe me.’

Speaking of health care. Our private Spanish insurance is only good for emergencies here. We will need to purchase a policy – eventually. But in the meantime, it’s a $40 flat fee to the go to the Dr here. That includes the smorgasbord of tests they will perform. MRI, x-ray – anything. Yup – you heard me. Forty dollars. But you have to pay cash because of the other thing we’ve learned. About 50% of the time you can not use your Spanish debit card in Portugal. It will not work in their machines. We have run into this at the health food store, farmacia, and the Dr. office or hospital. We asked the banker about it when we opened our account. He explained that this is very normal in Portugal. We must be prepared. Hopefully, by Monday our Portuguese debit cards will be ready to be picked up at the bank.

As to farmacias – I picked up some new prescriptions at the local farmacia on the way home. They are incredibly helpful and they print instruction labels in english, without me asking, and do the US-style pharmacist consult of explaining the meds, when and how to take them, etc. Very helpful. Made me feel much better about accurately following the instructions. But their machine didn’t like my Spanish debit card so they grabbed one they keep in the back for EU foreigners and took care of me, which was good because the Dr. office got all my cash. But something that would have cost me quite a bit of money back in the US was 15 euros. She apologized that I was ‘paying full price’ since I’m not on the Portuguese Health System yet as we haven’t filed our immigration papers until our move is complete. I told her not to worry and how much I would have paid in the US. She started speaking rapid Portuguese and told all her colleagues who came over to check if what she was telling them was accurate. After I assured them it was, one of them said ‘I bet you’re glad you are here.’ I laughed ‘You have no idea.’

Yesterday, we had the person out to the house that does the inspection so that the sale can go through. They have the papers filed with the local town hall and also the original house plans. I walked them through each room and the property as they took photos. It seems the land is bigger than they thought – as well as some other anomalies. So I’m hoping it will still go through. You can’t sell a property with any unpermitted improvements, so it should be interesting. The person asked me at the end ‘Where are you from?’

‘We’re American’s.’ I told her. ‘But we have been living in Spain for 2 1/2 years.’

‘Americans? Well, maybe it will be OK.’

I don’t want our American-status to be the thing that pushes this sale through. It doesn’t seem right. We want to live here but I want to do it the right way – just like everyone else. For some it might feel like a privilege. For me it just makes me feel like we’re strangers in a place we want to call home.