Jeff needed to head to Cordoba to pick something up. Something that couldn’t be shipped. And he asked me if I wanted to tag along. Heck yeah! Being an American, and that long road trips are in our DNA, I had my bag packed in 5 minutes and was waiting by the front door at … Read more We Just Popped Down to Cordoba
Today was a day. A monumental day. Jeff got the vaccine. And we did a few other things, too. It started out early, and only 6 hours later we were home again. I like to be early to things. To me, being late is disrespectful and just plain dumb. The early bird catches the worm. … Read more The Beginning of the End
Under the heading of ‘What can go wrong, will go wrong’, the last 12 hours have been interesting. It felt a little like we were Tina Fey and Steve Carell in the movie ‘Date Night’. How can so many things stack up against you? We were spending a quiet evening at home watching ‘Drunk History’ … Read more The Hooker and a Bone Scan
I’ve been told I have a ‘Justice Complex’. But I figure if there is one complex to have, justice is not a bad one. And if there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s bullies and boundary-crossers. People who think it’s OK to intentionally make other people’s lives less wonderful, and sometimes much harder, than they need to be. And I just won’t have it. Read more I’m Probably Going to Hell for This
When we moved to Valencia, everything was different. I felt so bombarded by the differences that any subtlety or shades of grey were completely missed. The things we were dealing with were all primary colors and right in our faces. Now that we’ve lived in Spain for 16 months, I notice other things. Jeff talked … Read more The Power of Disconnection
Hi! I’m Kelli. In 2017, my daughter and I walked the Camino de Santiago from St. Jean Pied-de-Port nestled in the French Pyrenees, 800 km to Santiago de Compostela in A Coruna , Spain. The adventure was transformational and moving to Spain with my husband, Jeff, was the logical next step. Except, well, stop right there! Because it wasn’t that easy. Read more About Kelli
Jeff had a great idea. Recap, succinctly, all the things we learned(so far) in our move to, and settling into, Spain. Not that I don’t want someone to read my entire Blog, but if they really wanted to suss out the pertinent info, it might be a rather time consuming undertaking. Lets face it, some of it is just plain nonsense too.Read more Lessons Learned – Spain
We’ve experienced so many new and wonderful things since moving to Valencia, I thought I would begin to make sense of it all in a ‘The Best of…’ section. Easy to pull out by category and hopefully provide some quick tips, whether visiting Spain (Valencia in particular) or moving here.Read more The Best of Valencia
Family. It’s a loaded word. For me and many others. The past 36 hours have been full of it. In both expected, and very unexpected ways.
Sunday night started with working out how to get the Oscars on our tv here in Galicia. In Spain, it required us getting our old Moviestar subscription back. And that requires cable. We cut cable five years ago, and only had it briefly so Jeff could have internet after we moved to Galicia. Before Starlink. For a four hour tv show once a year, I wasn’t signing a long term contract for cable.
We had given up our US VPN service after Valencia, as well. Embracing Spanish tv. So Jeff set up our global service, again. And we used a server in Melbourne Australia to get their Plus7 channel, which had the corner on broadcasting the Oscars for all of Australia. It worked great. Until I fell asleep at 3am. But before that I got to see my brother, his wife, and their son on the red carpet. And to revel as host Jimmy Kimmel poked fun at Todd when announcing TAR’s nomination for Best Picture. The film didn’t win. But then again, no one but Everything Everywhere All At Once won anything. I haven’t seen it, but apparently it’s about a complicated family relationship. That word, again. Family. Ugh.
And Then It Got Interesante
I woke up late yesterday. Well, more like lunchtime after my late Oscar night. And I had a message from 23andMe telling me that I had a message waiting for me. 23andMe is an ancestry DNA service. Jeff and I did it before we left the US. I’m not sure why. Maybe he got the test as a gift. But we both did it. Over the years, more and more people are added to my family tree. People from all over the world.
A few months ago a guy reached out to me. We are second cousins, according to the DNA svs. He wanted to know if I knew who his Dad was. 23andMe said he is my Dad’s first cousin. But that couldn’t be possible. My Dad would be 94 this year. His aunts and uncles were all dead, or nearly, by the time this man was born. I couldn’t help him. But then, yesterday he messaged me again. He had another family name. And I knew that name. It was my aunt, my Dad’s sister’s married name. And it rang a bell in my head.
My cousin, her son, went to Africa in the Peace Corp after college in the 70’s. And there was a rumor that there was a child. I asked more questions. It turns out that this man is the child of my cousin, and is from Sierra Leone – in West Africa. Our DNA proves we are related. But it took a little longer to determine precisely how. Holy Moly.
We chatted for awhile about family. He said something interesting.
‘Appears we have a lot of writers in the family. You write, your brother writes movies, and I write songs.’
He’s a musician. His music is on Apple iTunes and Amazon music.
I emailed my Mom his details. She keeps in touch with my cousin in Washington State. Then, she passed on the info. And, yesterday this man was able to speak to his father’s sister for the first time in his life. It brought tears to my eyes.
His grandparents, my aunt and uncle, would have happily embraced him. They were world travelers and served in the Peace Corp in Ecuador during their retirement. Sadly, they are passed away. But his Uncle, my cousin, who lives in the Solomon Islands, since meeting his wife during his stint in the Peace Corp there, will be thrilled to meet him.
What a day! Jeff kept coming out of his office for updates, as I spent the day talking to my new second cousin. Amazing. Last night he sent me photos of his beautiful family. I must admit, I could see a little bit of my mischievous Uncle Joe in his smile.
At Thanksgiving, Jeff and I are heading to see Ryan in Washington DC. Then up the Maine to see our Camino friends, Chris and Esther. On our trip, my newly discovered cousin now lives in Massachusetts not far from Maine, and has invited us for a meal with his family.
Jeff was all smiles last night. ‘How do you feel?’ He asked.
‘Good.’ I said. ‘I’m so glad I could finally help him solve the mystery. And to connect him with his aunt and uncle.’
‘You did a good thing. You changed his life.’
I hadn’t thought of it that way. I just know that for the first time in a long time Family turned out to be a positive thing. As I lay there last evening, as sleep eluded me, I thought back to our long exchange. The one from months ago. Then, all day yesterday. How it all finally unraveled in a flash.
I woke up this morning to an obituary in my Inbox. It seems his father, my cousin, passed away on his sailboat in Sausalito, near San Francisco, during the pandemic. After sailing the South Pacific solo for eight years prior. But even though his father has passed, this isn’t the end of the story. For this man’s journey to find his family has just begun, and I get to be a small part of it. What a privilege. The amazing story of a life unfolding, from Africa to America, and beyond.
The year 2014 was a difficult year. One of the most difficult of my life. That January we had to send our daughter to a special boarding school on the other side of the US. Dropping her off that day was one of the worst days of my life. I cried so hard as Jeff drove us away from the school, across the state of Kentucky toward Nashville, Tennessee. So hard that I broke all the blood vessels in my face.
When we left her that afternoon it was 60 degrees Fahrenheit. By the time we reached Bowling Green, Kentucky three hours later it was -1 and a bomb cyclone of arctic air had swept across the Great Plains down from Canada. It was as if the weather reflected our mood. The warmth had been sucked out of the world in the blink of an eye, and my heart felt the same way. We had to stop for the night due to the icy roads. Staying in a retched place, the only room available, not far from the highway.
The next morning, we would not make it to the Nashville airport. We were stuck in Bowling Green. Jeff was worried about me and suggested I take the day to rest, but I couldn’t rest. Across the street was the Corvette factory. I am not a fan of Corvettes but I like factories and engineering. A good distraction for my brain. So, we walked over in the bitter cold and took the tour. The only two people there that day, the receptionist looked at us like we were crazy. Who would go on a Corvette factory tour on a day like that? But one manufacturing line was up and running with employees who made it in. And the Corvette museum next door was open, as well. We toured that, too. The city of Bowling Green is on top of one of the largest cavern systems in the country. A few weeks later we would read in the news that a giant sinkhole had formed under that museum, sucking in priceless vintage cars. I remember telling Jeff that if it had opened the day we were there I would have let that sinkhole take me.
Eventually, we were able to get flights out of Knoxville, Tennessee. I flew to NY for the week for work. Jeff was flying back to Seattle. Sitting on the plane after boarding, my boss called me. She was giving me a huge raise. But I was so numb, my thanks were less than enthusiastic. It was as though I couldn’t remember how to feel. Like a fog had descended upon me and everyone else felt like they were speaking to me through a tunnel. Barely audible. It took the full two hours until we landed in Newark for me to stuff all that into one of the little black boxes I keep for these things. The hard things. It was a lot for such a small space, and the door didn’t want to close so I could turn the key and put it on a shelf beside all the other black boxes in the warehouse where I keep the most difficult moments in my life. In my mind it looks a lot like the vast warehouse of crates at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, except without the Nazi emblems and stamps. Things would go in but they didn’t come out.
When It Rains, It Pours
That summer, my Dad fell across the rocks into the pond in my parent’s backyard. Paramedics had to fish him out. He had broken his thigh bone, amongst others and was in bad shape. I am fairly certain the only reason he lived is that my Mother willed it to be so. Who knew tuna casserole and scalloped potatoes had such power? She brought him food in the hospital each day and fed him herself. And every weekend I drove the 6+ hour round trip to Portland from Seattle. Heart attacks, anaesthesia induced dementia. Sepsis. It just kept hitting him.
In September I had to go to Europe for work. Standing outside the head offices of Christian Dior, my phone rang. It was my Mom. The doctor had told her that she needed to make end of life choices for my father. They recommended hospice. I stood there, as my colleagues waited for me to go inside, and calmly talked my mother off a ledge. It was my Dad’s 85th birthday. She couldn’t imagine making this decision on his birthday. I told her I would be home in a week and would come down to talk about it. We didn’t know then that he would hang on for the next five years. I’m sure it was because he didn’t want to disappoint her.
After the call, I hung up, adjusted my bag, then smiled to my team. ‘Let’s go .’ We had a bit of a contentious meeting with the head of supply chain and logistics, but in the end it was all smoothed out. In the car afterwards, one of our number leaned over to me and said ‘That was amazing. How did you do that after that call with your Mom? There is no way I could do what you just did.’
‘You don’t understand.’ I said, frowning. ‘I had no choice.’
I couldn’t cry. I couldn’t be upset. I had to, well, more than keep it together. I had to perform. Just like in NY after taking Emilie to boarding school, I had a job to do. I just needed to keep the hard things locked away in the right box.
That night, as we sat in an ancient wine cellar beneath the streets of Paris drinking wine made with grapes from before I was born, I took a moment to breathe. I didn’t want to be drinking this expensive wine. I didn’t want to fly to London for another week of meetings. I was tired to the bone. Closing my eyes for a split second, I just wanted to go home.
The Hardest Thing
Three weeks after I returned from Europe, on a cold morning at the beginning of October, I got a phone call from my Mom. When I saw her number, I braced myself. It was too early. She was crying. This would not be good news. I thought it would be about my Dad, but it wasn’t. My nephew had committed suicide, his girlfriend had found him in the early morning hours. My brother, Bob, was across town when Kenny’s girlfriend called him with the news. He immediately called my Mom to rush over to his house to beat the Coroner who was driving there to tell his wife. So, my elderly Mom, with my much more elderly grandmother in tow, had to break it to my sister-in-law, Kenny’s mother, in her nightgown and robe while standing on their front porch. I already thought 2014 was an awful year. But nothing could have prepared any of us for the horror of this. I jumped in the car and made the drive south. After so many trips there for my Dad the car could have driven itself. I wasn’t sure how much more my Mom could take. And my eldest brother, Bob, and his wife needed everyone to surround them.
I tried not to cry in front of any of them. Building yet another black box on the drive down, I needed to make sure that they knew they could count on me for whatever they needed. Ordering chairs and tents for the memorial in the park. Any little errand. They just had to ask; I would do it. They should be unburdened of everything because the load they were carrying was too much for anyone.
It started to feel like 2014 wanted to destroy us all. There was nearly three months left in the year. I wondered what horrors it might still have in store for us. Praying 2015 would be better.
One day, a couple of weeks later I was at work. I don’t know what it was. Music playing, someone’s voice, something. Suddenly, I started crying and I couldn’t stop. I went into the closest conference room and closed the blind and the door. At the top of the hour, someone I worked with came in with her laptop. Obviously, I hadn’t booked the conference room. There would be meetings starting. But my colleague turned around and told the people she was meeting with to go find another room. Then, she came inside and shut the door. I didn’t know her particularly well. We were co-workers by sight. I was her senior by several levels. Aware I was being wholly unprofessional by darting inside and crying in this booked conference room, I should have gone to my office. I stood to go. But she sat down, anyway, and she took my hand.
‘What’s happened?’ she asked.
This wasn’t a Bad things happened at work kind of cry. This was My world is falling apart kind of cry. I could barely form a sentence, so we sat there in relative silence. Finally, I told her about my Dad and my nephew. How difficult things had been. That I missed my daughter, and I questioned every day if we were doing the right thing by sending her to that school.
‘Sometimes the hardest decisions are still the right solutions.’ She assured me.
‘How do I know?’ I asked her, wiping my cheeks.
She smiled. ‘You don’t. You just do the best you can.’
Then, she told me she thought that I had Broken Heart Syndrome. What?! That sounded like a made-up thing. I wasn’t a teenager. My high school boyfriend hadn’t broken up with me the day before the prom. But she shook her head.
‘No. It’s when too many very bad things happen in quick succession. When you can’t catch your breath from it before the next wave hits you. It can literally, physically break your heart.’
My heart felt broken. Shattered into a thousand pieces. The glass shards kept sneaking out of the boxes, cutting deep. But I didn’t know what to do about it. I had my warehouse filled with black boxes. I was convinced that I just needed to wipe my tears and make sure the lock on the door was secure so they couldn’t get out.
Nothing Last Forever
The next year wasn’t much better than 2014. Jeff had a terrible motorcycle accident where he nearly died. My Grandmother passed away in November. But everyone has these things, tragedies and trials. As a human, I am not alone in this. And more black boxes filled with grief were added to my warehouse. ‘Get up, Kelli. Just keep going. All you have to do it put another box on the shelf.’ So, I did.
It wasn’t until I decided to walk the Camino with Emilie in 2017 that I seemed to stop putting boxes in – if just for a few months. It felt strange. I had been doing it since I was a small child. There was comfort in it. But, after that first day in the Pyrenees, I opened my backpack and found out I was carrying a warehouse full of boxes on my trek. People talk about packing light. I had packed as heavy as it comes. Everything I thought I was leaving at home had jumped into my pack, like a lead weight. It turned out, I was the warehouse for all of it. If my pack was going to get lighter, I needed to do the work, opening them one at a time, walking with their contents each day. Shaking out a box before leaving it in the dust on the trail, then selecting another. I think it’s why I prefer to walk alone on a winter Camino. I can stop at churches and pray or cry in solitude. Have the place to myself. Sing or dance on an empty trail. Ask the tough questions of God and myself. And feel what it is to feel the hardest things – finally. Sadness and anger is just repressed grief. And the only way out of grief is through it.
Everyone who reads this blog knows a lot about me. For better or worse, I tend to be an open book. But it seems my heart is physically broken, once again. I know the causes, and they are telling me there is a fix. So, I’ll be doing that. But, this time, I’m going to do it differently. No getting back up and shaking things off. Pretending that I’m invincible. I’m going to take it slower. Be kind to myself in my recovery. This is uncharted territory for me. I have no idea if it will work. But I do know that I have learned that a warehouse of heavy black boxes doesn’t work long term. I need to sell the place. This time, I’m going to deal with it – all of it. The pain, the frustration, the grief. Then maybe, just maybe, I can avoid breaking my own heart, once again.
Getting appointments in Galician bureaucracy has become big news of late. Never has a population’s ire been raised to such a fevered pitch. Peasants with torches and pitchforks at the gates of Frankenstein’s castle had nothing on these people.
During the pandemic, all appointments with Spanish bureaucracy- basically anything in Spanish life – required a pre-appointment. Cita previa. They confused me as it translates to prior appointment. This gets muddled when you are making a selection in a drop down on a government website and one of the options is prior appointment. What it’s really asking is if you want to make a prior appointment for an appointment. At first, this felt like I was in an endless loop. No, I didn’t have a prior appointment. I needed to make an appointment so that my appointment would then become a ‘prior appointment.’ But then, I realized that the prior appointment isn’t something in the past. It’s having an appointment before you turn up at whatever office in which you have business to conduct. Dear Lord.
And Then It All Changed…Except It Didn’t
Essentially, the pandemic measure are nearly disappeared. As of last week, all public transport no longer requires a mask. Flying to Valencia, the onboard announcement says it’s required, but none of the crew wore them, and half of the passengers were maskless. On the metro it was hit and miss. I needed a mask for the Drs, but not for the 20 or so farmacias I had to go to to get meds. Life is returning, somewhat, to normal. Except for the cita previa. Prior appointment. And the people are pissed off. So much so they have taken the government to court.
Last week, the Spanish Supreme Court ruled that post-state of emergency rules requiring a prior government appointment are unconstitutional. And limits citizens access to services they themselves pay for. The government works for the people, not the other way around. I’d like to see them rule on all the bureaucratic gymnastics that are an art form here. But I digress.
Requiring a prior appointment, that can only be obtained via a computer or mobile device, is discriminatory. Laws have been passed that have forced banks in Spain to attend older people in person, who A) don’t understand how to use an atm. B) don’t own a computer or smart phone. Or C) if they did, they couldn’t figure out how to navigate thru the maze of ridiculousness for obtaining an appointment. I understand this because I am far from elderly, and I needed an appointment with the Tesoria and could not figure out how to get an appointment online. And it nearly caused a divorce in our house, except that if I wanted one I couldn’t figure out how to get an appointment, so I could get an appointment to schedule it! So Jeff is safe – for now.
Jeff heard me muttering curse words under my breath at the dining room table, banging on my lap top. Ok, not so under-my-breath. Normally, I would be doing this in my office upstairs, but Fergus was whiney and if I went upstairs he would have kicked his separation anxiety into high gear. I needed this appointment because Spanish Social Security hates me. They take the payments out of my bank account, then send me delinquency notices. Anyone who knows me knows that I pay my bills. Early. So, the quickest way to raise my blood pressure is to mess with my money and my credit rating. I’ve divorced people for it. So I was in no mood for user experience friction.
Spanish government websites were designed in 1995, and never touched again. You can almost hear the sound of a dial up modem when they render – s l o w l y. If you go into an actual office they are filled with CRT’s and green screens running DOS. So any UI is just a skin stretched thinly over this dinosaur from the Pleistocene epoch. Sadly, swearing at it does no good. Ask me how I know. Jeff heard me and came out to ‘help.’ Right from the off, this would not go well.
‘Let me see what you’re doing.’ He sighed. ‘If you just have a little patience.’
My eyes narrowed. Mansplaining? After all these years, his answer is mansplaining? Does he have a death wish?
Jeff takes the mouse from me and begins clicking through menus. He frowns.
‘What is it you’re trying to do?’
Ooh. He asked a question. I informed him through gritted teeth. Where is my issues log when I need it? He clicked some more. Then, like any highly trained professional, he rendered his diagnosis.
‘This site is ridiculous. It’s impossible to make an appointment for the department you need. Go see Rubin.’ Not my hair dresser in Valencia, but our accountant/lawyer/miracle worker in Galicia. I’m pretty sure I only want to have service providers named Rubin. I don’t need to hear their litany of qualifications. Or fancy certificates or degrees. Your name is Rubin? Feel free to operate on my heart. I totally trust you. But Jeff wasn’t getting off so easy.
‘Why do you always assume I’m not doing it right?’ I asked.
He opened his mouth. Then promptly shut it tight, and returned to his office. Secure in the knowledge that whatever he might have said would have done him no favors.
And Speaking of Rubins
When I was having my hair repaired in Valencia, Rubin excitedly told me he had married his longtime partner the year before. He was glowing.
‘We went in October to get the appointment, to make an appointment to turn in all the papers so that we could schedule our civil ceremony.’
The old appointment to get the appointment is that extra special trick of Spanish bureaucracy, of which I am well acquainted. When you get an appointment, you can never ever assume this is the appointment. Oh no. Even if your particular operation, at whatever agency should only require one appointment, often they will make you come back. After you’ve gone online to schedule – wait for it – another appointment, of course. But, this time Rubin – that little bundle of positive energy – smiled and worked his magic. How did he accomplish this? I asked.
‘I told them our story. We met nine years ago on December 1st. But this was October. We couldn’t wait four months to get the appointment to make the appointment to schedule our ceremony. I had all the papers. We needed to marry on December 1st or we would have to wait another year. I even conjured some tears.’
I have so much respect for the theatrics, and said so. When it comes to bureaucracy you do whatever it takes.
‘I knew you would understand, Kelli. Anyway, there were three people working there. The woman turned to her colleagues. She couldn’t bypass the process without getting into trouble. She needed them as coconspirators. She shrugged in their direction, but they both put their hands over their eyes I don’t see nothing they told her. So she took our papers and scheduled us on December 1st. And now we are married.’
I had seen in the newspaper it’s a four month wait to get the first appointment, for the next appointment to make the appointment for the civil union. ‘Why four months?’ I asked Rubin.
‘Maybe so you can change your mind. But we have nine years.’ He told me, waving his comb. ‘We are not going anywhere.’
But I think it’s something else, entirely. The first test of the success of your marriage in Spain is your ability to work together to make an appointment with the civil registrar. If the two of you can navigate a Spanish government website together, you can survive anything.
I’m Not Alone
I like to read the opinion section of our Galician newspaper. We were enjoying our morning beverage the other day as I spotted a headline. I Thought I Was Smart Until I Tried To Make An Appointment. The author is a doctor, no less. But he got caught in an endless bureaucratic loop. An online government cul-de-sac from which there is no escape. I read it aloud to Jeff – laughing hysterically as I saw myself in every word.
After the Supreme Court ruling, all prior appointments are no longer required, except where they will still be required. On the government websites that are impossible to navigate, for the operations that are the most vital to people’s lives. Like Social Security. So, I feel sure there is more swearing and mansplaining in my future. But, like hairdressing Rubin and his new husband, Carlos, Jeff and I have a few decades under our belts. And it seems we’re not going anywhere.
My time in Valencia has provided a stark contrast to our quiet life in Galicia. Especially at the start of Carnival.
Sitting in my hotel at night I heard the familiar eee-ooo-eee-ooo of the sirens as ambulances drove past. I haven’t heard that noise in a very long time. And the sound of a random marching band. Living in Valencia every neighborhood- practically every block – has their own marching band. Any given day or night is a good one for pro-cessing. With or without a litter containing a saint leading the way. And fireworks – petardos 🧨. Practically mandatory for any night in Valencia.
Things have changed in the past two years post-pandemic. More and more Americans are moving to Valencia. I heard American english everywhere. A hundred times more than before. I could pick them out on the sidewalk. Americans have a different way of walking. Of striding. They smile more and look strangers in the face. American couples, even in their 60’s and 70’s, hold hands walking together. You never ever see this amongst Spaniards of a similar age. Walking anywhere, with just a glance, I could play American or Not. Then just wait to hear their voices as they passed. I was always right.
I asked friends about it over lunch. Perhaps I was mistaken on my perception that Valencia is being over run by Americans post-pandemic, but they confirmed my assessment.
‘You are not wrong. Floods of Americans are moving here. They’ve sold up their expensive homes in the US and they come here with a lot of money. And the rents and cost of homes are going through the roof. Valencians can’t afford to rent or buy apartments anymore.’
‘Do you think there will be a backlash?’ I asked.
‘It’s already happening. People are angry. They talk about it in the newspaper. They’ve increased the wealth tax here, as other communities lower or eliminate it. The influx will change the way of life in Valencia. And the cost of everything will skyrocket, even more. Young Valencians won’t be able to buy a home.’
Spain is beginning to revaluate the Golden visa scheme. But they are adding a Digital Nomad visa. All this as Portugal just banned Golden visas. This visa allowed people who invested €500k in a business or property to gain immediate permanent residence without any mandatory in-country stays, as required for other visas. Basically, it encouraged wealthy people to come skip the queue. It has made home ownership out of reach for young Portuguese, as wealthy foreigners drive up prices.
We are glad we bought two years ago. We didn’t pay an exorbitant price for the property. It was within the range of average prices for homes of the same vintage with land and a barn. Americans who stopped at the food truck last year would sometimes ask after our farm. The bold might inquire, sheepishly, what we paid for it. They are blown away when I deign to answer.
‘Maybe we should think about moving to Spain.’
I never thought when we left the US that Spain would become so popular with Americans. There certainly weren’t many when we arrived in Valencia five years ago. And in Galicia there are even less. But, it seems Americans have discovered our little corner of the world since la pandemia. And the beauty of living here. I don’t know how to feel about it. Except when my neighbors down the road, who are going to NYC on Thursday, called to ask me today if they could use me as their American contact on their ESTA application. As I rattled off my US details, including my never used US mobile #, it struck me like a ton of bricks. Wait a minute! I almost forgot. As I mull the new tidal wave of Americans in Spain, oh yeah, I’m American, too! Oops! Since I haven’t been to the US in so long, I sort of feel I’m not really anything. Not Spanish, but not American, either. These fresh-off-the-boat new born American immigrants are not me. But, of course they are! I’m just a little more battle scarred than them. Perhaps a smidge wiser. I can call someone on the phone in español. Make a Dr appointment or make a dinner reservation. Talk to the Amazon driver. The lady at the bank or in a shop.
Chatting with my friends in Valencia over lunch, we each recounted the fog of the Covid years. How weird it feels to think of that time. The confinement, especially. How we each coped. The uncertainty and weird bonding we did with strangers on balconies across the road. People we got to know by sight every night, clapping. When a wave or a smile meant you were seen. Lets face it, the Covid years in Spain were like dog years. Instead of living here five years, it feels more like ten. These new people will never know what that felt like. To be a foreigner in the midst of such an overwhelming crises. When you barely knew Spanish, and what to do or how to get help on a normal day. Let alone in a pandemic without the support of family. Especially when a loved one is critically ill. When your neighbors and friends came to mean everything to you. Even if you couldn’t physically touch them or speak to them, they were a lifeline you couldn’t live without. Before the pandemic, the little boys next door would fight in the room next to Jeff’s office. It drove him crazy. But, after the confinement began, he counted on that noise, especially when I was in the hospital. Someone was over there. He wasn’t alone.
‘Let’s face it.’ Said my friend, Donna. ‘We are pack animals. We don’t do well without our pack.’
It’s only five more years and I can sit for my Spanish citizenship test. Then, with a Spanish passport in hand, I can legitimately complain about ‘these bloody foreigners’ just like everyone else😉. Until then, I’m just another American interloper who smiles too much, holds hands with my husband in town, and puts up temporary fences like I own the place – psst…I do. In the meantime, I’m happy to be The American Contact for any ESTAS that our little community needs. My contribution to our local pack. For now, that just will have to do.
It’s funny how certain things evoke memories. Things that spark the senses. A smell or taste. The feel of the air or the light shining a certain way. Here in Valencia there is something around every corner waiting for me. Something that says Remember?, and it makes me smile.
I spent yesterday morning running errands. Since I was not going to miss my favorite gluten-free bakery, I ran them up in my old stomping grounds. I know where everything is up there.
First stop – Santa Amalia gluten free bakery. Usually, I only get the tarta de manzana. But in honor of Carnival starting I got a susu donut roll. Practically a prescription. Decadent heaven.
A Little Shopping
Then, I ran more errands with some unplanned stops. Especially my favorite herbolario in Spain – health store Herbalario Navarra. To check out their new stock. Lovely people. I bought essential oils.
My stops had me weaving in and out of the park. My favorite kind of errand run. The parks of Valencia can be traced back to Napoleon when the French army occupied the city. His second in command found Valencia’s lack of green spaces to be less than sophisticated or civilized. He ordered parks dedicated and planted throughout the city. And the large trees you see are from that time. Hundreds of years old.
After a wonderful lunch with friends at a great new Lebanese restaurant, I stopped at the new english bookstore. My friends read the blog and pointed me there. It’s new. Book Lovers Valencia And they sell both new and used books. I was there when they opened at 4:30. It was filled with Americans by the time I left. Students and retirees. The owner is amazing.
This little gem hosts a Silent Reading For Introverts Happy Hour. And local english author readings. Oh, how I would have loved this place when we lived in Valencia.
Yesterday afternoon, walking back to to the hotel, the light was just right. February sunset. It reminded me about the Spanish Women’s fútbol team I joined in February of 2019. To meet people and improve my Spanish. No one spoke ingles. I learned futbol spanish as the coach shouted commands. We practiced in Almaserra. I took the metro up north and walked through the village to the sports centre every week. Almaserra is a gorgeous little pueblo. I was 52. Every other player was in their 20’s. Jeff came once to watch our practice.
‘How did I do?’ I asked breathless, afterwards, as we walked to the metro.
He smiled. ‘Well, you weren’t the worst player.’
At 52, I took that as high praise. After fútbol I would go home and sleep like the dead. Those girls probably went out and partied all night.
My Dentist, Sofia, told me the other day that I was very brave. ‘You do new things. Even things Spaniards wouldn’t do.’ And I guess she is right. It is a little brave to join a fútbol team in a foreign country at my age. Funny, that feels like a hundred years ago.
In the Hands of the Master
This morning I awoke to a beautiful Valencia sunrise and immediately headed up the park to my hair appointment with Rubin. His assessment of the condition of my hair was almost verbatim to what I predicted.
‘Uf, Kelli. What is this? Call the police. This is terrorism.’ As he ran his hand through my hair.
‘My take, exactly. This is four months of grow out. Jeff told me Go see Rubin.’
Rubin is sad Jeff isn’t with me. I think the other patrons thought I was crazy to have come all the way from Galicia. But they don’t know how lucky they are to have him nearby.
I am in his chair – el maestro’s- as we speak, with foils all over my head. A cup of te in my hand. As Rubin sings to the music playing. This was always Jeff’s favorite part of his haircut. I was right before I came. It really does feel like home.
I am firmly ensconced in a hotel in Valencia. The same hotel I stayed at on my apartment hunting, bank account opening, personal assistant hiring, and lawyer engaging trip back in November of 2017. When I was so naive about moving to, and living in Spain. Like a babe in the woods. But, my experience in this hotel is very different this time.
From the moment Jeff dropped me off at the airport in Santiago, I have spoken Spanish. This was a distant dream in 2017. Back then, I needed others to do the talking for me. But this winter I have practiced speaking every day. And it is paying off. Is my Spanish anywhere near perfect? Nope. But I no longer care. I just talk. And I listen. And I am getting better.
Traveling without Jeff is helping. I think people hear us speaking ingles, and if they can speaks some they lead with that. Without him by my side, everyone on this trip leads with Spanish. And I respond in kind. At the airport, on the plane, after we landed a half hour early. No problema.
The Valencia airport is completely torn apart. To exit baggage claim you have to go to the far side of the airport. Then walk back to the Metro. Jeff loaned me his Valencia Metro card – I couldn’t find mine – so I recharged it as the train I needed pulled into the station. A half hour later I was checked in to my hotel and standing at the restaurant speaking to a waitress. In Spanish. There was a British guy there paying. He smiled and spoke to me in english. But I was having none of that. I answered him in Spanish. Dude! We all gotta at least try.
After a quick bite, I deposited my luggage in my room. Then walked to my Drs offices. Up the Turia. So familiar. As I got close I realized my favorite antiques place is on the way. We have a huge rug from there under our dining room table. I wanted to check their hours for the following day. But when I arrived they were open. It’s changed a bit. Less huge old pieces. More funky weird stuff. And then, I noticed new rows of shelves of used books. Valencia has many more places for books in ingles than Santiago. Pre-pandemic I bought a bunch of books for charity in support of the maintenance of the British cemetery in Valencia. I don’t remember how much it was but I was so thrilled to have books I didn’t care. It was a project spearheaded by my good friend, Donna. But a used bookstore selling books in Valencia in ingles was a dream wrapped in a literary fog.
In my antique shop I crept through the stacks. The place is like an old barn in the middle of the city. You have to take your time to find the hidden gems. I can’t tell you how much time I used to spend there. They got to know me and my foreign presence. It smells, frankly, like my grandmother’s attic. Eau de old lady. Its a hodgepodge maze. If I had a truck, there were things – odd things – I would have snagged. Cool stuff you will find nowhere else. But, it was the books this time that made my day. An entire bookcase of books in english.
I stood there reading jacket covers – just like standing at The Strand in NYC. Or Elliot Bay books in Seattle. Bookstores are my happy places. I had a limited amount of time before my Dr appointment, so I took all I could carry up to the counter. The old lady rang me up. €15 later and a full Massimo Dutti bag – we chatted about her new trade in english books, the fact that I lived in Valencia for three years and used to haunt this store without seeing one English language book, and that now I live in Galicia. All in español. In my experience, tell a Valencian you live in Galicia and they freak out! They love their paella here, but they ❤️ the food of Galicia. After that, she gave me two books for free.
I carried all these to my Dr appointment. This elicited strange looks in the waiting room. Who brings large sacks of hardcover books to an appointment with their cardiologist? Afterward, I had squeezed in a dental cleaning at my wonderful dentist, Sofia. The best dentist I have ever had. Anywhere. When I arrived the entire waiting room was filled with nuns in black habits. Like Sound of Music nuns. I was the only civilian, so to speak. There is a convent across the street that was built before Cristofer Columbus set sail. These nuns were from there. I texted Jeff.
He laughed. ‘Of course the waiting room is filled with nums. We used to see them all the time.’
Where we live now we don’t see nuns. I wanted to take a photo but it would be disrespectful. In that moment I sort of missed seeing them out and about.
I lugged my books back to the hotel and called Jeff from the taxi. It seems I have to come back here in two weeks for a little procedure. Jeff tried to cheer me up about it.
‘Think of it this way. I’ll be with you next time. And I can carry a lot of books.’
It’s St Valentines Day here in Spain, and around the world. Love 💕 is in the air.
We don’t celebrate Valentines 💘 Day quite on the level we used to. Our first Valentines Day was spent at a Tom Douglas restaurant in Seattle – The Dalia Lounge. It became our tradition. Jeff would meet me there for lunch every year to exchange cards and gifts. We had kids, so going out for dinner wasn’t usually in the cards.
These days, finding greeting cards in english are hard to come by. I gave Jeff his early this year with a new Louboutin wallet. It was in Spanish. But he can read Spanish now. He gave me mine. He had brought a stack of them back with him the last time he was in the US. But he’s out of Valentine’s cards so it was a Mother’s Day card with the Mother’s Day crossed out and Valentine’s Day written in, in the unique script I know so well. Surprisingly, the sentiment still applied. He’s tickled pink we are still humming along after all these years.
Jeff is my soulmate. Although I wasn’t always convinced of that. We are opposites. At our wedding my 6ft 5in maid-of-honor, Curt, told those gathered ‘Kelli and Jeff are proof that complete opposite’s can fall in love and be perfect for each other.’ But even though Jeff and I have the same world view, back at the beginning I wasn’t sure it would go the distance.
I had been through a bad marriage to a complete narcissist. I loved Jeff, but I didn’t trust anyone. And I had a small child. I couldn’t make another catastrophic mistake. So, when Jeff started talking about us moving in together I broke out into hives. Then I did what I always do. I created an issue log and called a meeting to review it. My issue log was just a simple one I had used at work many times.
~ Issue Definition
~ Risk Level
~ Assigned To
~ Proposed Resolution
~ Track Progress
~ Final Resolution and Date
At our first meeting I invited Jeff to add any issues he had with me to the log. A very smart man, he stated emphatically that he had none. But reserved the right to do so in the future.
I ran through my issues with him. Relationship deal breakers. Then I explained that I could not move in with him unless I began to see clear and consistent progress toward resolving them. Right about now you are thinking Kelli, this is insane. If I were Jeff I would have gotten up and walked away. And I understand your perspective. But I needed to manage my love life in a logical fashion. Head over heels is fine on your first time out. But I was a veteran of 💔. If this was going to go the distance we needed a different approach. And we were both familiar with troubleshooting and software application issue resolution. It just made sense. And it worked.
The following year Jeff woke me up at 5am on a Wednesday morning, loading me and my son in the car, he drove us out to a state park in the Cascade Foothills.
‘I don’t know what we are doing out here.’ I told him looking at my watch. ‘But I have a nine o’clock.’
Jeff marched us to a waterfall with a beautiful bridge. Then he got down on one knee and opened the box in his pocket. Inside was an enormous platinum diamond ring flanked by two sapphires. Sapphire is both their birthstone. Before he asked me, Jeff turned to my son standing there holding his pony stuffed animal. It went everywhere with him.
‘Is it OK if I marry your Mom?’ Jeff asked.
The reply made us both laugh. ‘If I can play Nintendo whenever I want.’ He sold his Mom for a video game. I totally understood.
Our life together has had ups and downs. Like everyone. And when the downs were so deep to feel like the bottom of an endless pit, I could count on Jeff to wrap his arms around me and whisper into my hair ‘Hang on to me. We’ll get through this together.’ That, to me, makes every day Valentine’s day.
The Next Generation
As parents, you wonder about how your kid’s lives will pan out. Who will they fall in love with? Who will be the first to marry? Which one will decide to have kids? These days you can do whatever you want without shame. I love that. In one generation all the old norms fell away.
When Ryan started his PhD at barely 22 yrs old, he was living alone in Boulder, Colorado. That first year I asked him if there was anyone special in the picture. Man or woman, I didn’t care. I just hoped he had someone to love who would love him back. But he schooled me in typical Ryan fashion.
‘I did some research on how successful relationships are for PhD candidates. The percentage of those who began a relationship during their Phd. The statistics aren’t promising. So I think I’ll avoid it.’
I loved that, so much. A data driven approach. Jeff and I were thoroughly behind it. But then, in May of 2017, as Emilie and I sat at the communal dinner table at Refugió Orrison, having just walked up the mountain from St Jean Pied a Port in France, a photo came through on my phone of Ryan and his girlfriend, Olga. Jeff had driven up to Boulder to see him, and Ryan invited her to breakfast with them at a local cafe. He had been seeing her for the past 9 months and was ready for Jeff to meet her. I showed the picture to Emilie.
‘They look like twins!’ She said, smiling. And she is right.
They met in the computer lab at the school. The perfect meet cute for two budding scientists. Jeff spent the long Memorial Day weekend with them having fun. Working together to get out of an escape room. Playing brain games. Three genius introverts in their own sandbox.
I got to meet Olga that September for Jeff’s 50th birthday. And they came to Thanksgiving before we moved to Spain. We just love her. So much that we made them both the people who will make medical decisions for us when we are too old to do it for ourselves. A data driven approach to end of life.
When Ryan was here in October last year, he casually mentioned, as only Ryan can, that they were thinking of marrying after 6+ years together. I tried not to freak out and scare him. So much was my excitement for them.
‘Where? When?’ I asked.
‘We don’t know. We’re still thinking about it. We might not even do it. I’ll tell you if we do.’
Then, this weekend they called. At 9am on Friday they are getting married at the courthouse in the county where they live.
‘Is it a significant date for you guys?’ Jeff asked.
‘No.’ Said Ryan. ‘It’s just the first available appointment.’
‘How did you decide to finally do it?’ I asked. ‘Did you do a threat assessment or a risk matrix?’ Being entirely serious. I know who I’m talking to. And, hey, I had my own issues log, with regular relationship status meetings.
Olga laughed. ‘Just a pros and cons list. There are more pros than cons.’
Old school. Simple. I like it. To some, this would seem thoroughly unromantic, but to Jeff and I making emotional decisions using facts and data is the only way to keep yourself out of a ditch. We applauded their approach.
I asked if we should purchase them some monogrammed Mr and Mrs towels but Olga had a better idea.
‘Better if it’s Dr and Dr.’
She’s right, of course.
On Friday at precisely three pm, I’ll head to my favorite church in Valencia, light a candle and pray for their marriage. I know a piece of paper won’t make them closer than the nearly seven years they’ve been together. But it puts positive energy out into the universe. As physicists they can both get behind that. A wish that they will enjoy the happiest life together. And that when the storms come, and they will come as they do for all of us, that they will wrap their arms tightly around each other and, like Jeff and I, hang on until it passes.
This week I need to fly down to Valencia. For a few medical appointments. I love going there this time of year. Valencia from May to October is a sweaty misery. But in February it is pure heaven. A light jacket or even shirt sleeves by lunchtime.
Jeff and I were talking about Valencia last evening over dinner. In many ways, when we think of ‘back home’ we think of Valencia. Jeff feels more comfortable going back there than returning to Bellevue. ‘At least I know my way around in Valencia. Where to get things. In Bellevue it’s changed so much it’s unrecognizable.’
In between appointments, I’ll see my beloved, Rubin, the hairdressing magician, who will look at the grown out mangy version of the hack job the salon gave me back in October and give plenty of ‘tut tuts’. He will make me a cup of tea and gluten-free biscuits, rework what is left and give me a color refresh. Sitting in his chair will feel like being home.
I’ll do a little bit, or a lot, of shopping. I’ll visit my favorite antique market. Taking a long browse of any new treasures they might have acquired since I was there last.
My favorite cafes, my old haunts and walks. Taking in the honey colored light on the golden stone of the old city. Visiting my two favorite churches. Ones tucked in side streets with hidden doors, and without tourists. They’ll be empty in the afternoon as the priest reads a newspaper. One has a Virgin Mary that I like to chat with. I used to visit her every week. She’s got great advice in times of trial.
Best of all, I get to see my lovely friends! A good catch up over a long lunch. Perhaps a nice glass of French rosé as the sun goes down on a rooftop terrace. A deep breath.
When we left there, Valencia was tainted for me by the pandemic. I associated it with fear and dread. Too many unexpected health crises. Too much had happened in a short time. I wanted to flee, as if going somewhere else could cure what ailed me in an instant. But I don’t feel that way anymore. The PTSD of long Covid and Valencia are no longer associated for me. I see her in a different honey colored light now. And suddenly remember those pre-pandemic days. The fun I had discovering that beautiful city and how to live in Spain.
Right from the airport, I’ll use my old Metro card and tool around without having to think about it. Slipping down old shortcuts and narrow alleys. Walking the Turia. The Mercat Central and Mercat Colon. And Benimachlet market day. A cafe con leche at my favorite cafe. Will they remember me? My Spanish is definitely better. As I get excited about going, Jeff has made me laugh.
‘You’re probably going to go <here and there and there>’ he said smiling. I think he kind of wishes he was coming along. But I’ll be fine on my own. I know where the Drs are. If anything comes up he can be there lickety-split.
While I’m away, Jeff and Fergus will enjoy some them-time. Two bachelors getting up to who-knows-what in the barn while working on a long list of projects. The best of friends. I can hear Jeff outside talking to Fergus, as this little mutt looks up at him with pure adoration. Never roaming far from the barn.
Its been very sunny in Galicia the past couple of weeks. No rain, just like this time last year. But the sun in Valencia is a bit warmer and very familiar. So I should be topped up on my Vitamin D in no time. My favorite Virgin Mary is waiting for me. And I’ll enjoy every single moment of my week in a city I had forgotten I loved so much.
There are good people in this world. Salt-of-the-earth types of people who would do anything for you with a simple phone call. And then, there are other types of people who, with reflection, systematically and purposefully make life more difficult – drip by drip. I removed myself from these types of people long ago.
But, most of us fall between these two extremes. And we are not perfect. An inadvertent comment here. A thoughtless remark said in passing. But these are arrows, too, that can sometimes they can hit the heart.
Get different cultures together and offenses can stack up. In the words of George Bernard Shaw ‘England and America are two countries divided by a common language.’ Things the English find offensive means nothing in the US. And things Americans find offensive are common in the UK. The word ‘fuck’ is just an adverb on tv there. In the US, this is the worst of swear words. You have to have cable or streaming to hear that word on tv. ‘Bloody’ in Britain is a serious adverb. You don’t say it lightly. In America, we never use it unless there is real bloodshed.
I remember crossing my legs sitting on a sofa in the Middle East. The person across from me got up and left the room. Feet are a thing there. You don’t show the soles of your feet to other people. Its extremely rude. And NEVER, EVER touch your feet in front of other people in Damascus or Dubai. You’ll never come back from that, socially.
Since moving to Spain, we have learned many things not to do. The Spanish are a circumspect people. Not overly effusive. And within Spain, regions have their own sub-cultural norms. I’m not sure we will ever learn the subtleties of all of those. But there is another component at work in our lives now. Spanish Farm etiquette.
Taken Out To The Woodshed
Back in November of 2020, when I toured the farm with the daughter of the previous owner, we went through the house and the barn. Then, we walked the fences. There weren’t really any fences. Just this white tape strung between stone fence posts. It has flexible wires woven in it that can be hooked up to a car battery. Instant electric fence!! Our neighbors in the field next door would hook up the battery every time they rotated their cows into the pasture. I would see her lugging it out across the field in her apron and rubber boots. When I was walking with the daughter that day, to decide if we would purchase the place, I mentioned fencing the entire property, but she schooled me on the etiquette of Galician farms.
‘You must leave a gap or a gate, so someone could get through. Hunters, or others who must move livestock if your field is between their fields.’
She is correct. Hunters were in our field just yesterday. But now, Houston, we have a problem.
We are opening a campground and cabins for Pilgrims. And for a campground we must fence the property. No free pass for livestock. No hunters chasing javalies in the back 40. People staying here have to be protected from all that – by law. So, we included it in our project design and are waiting on one of the layers of the bureaucratic lasagna to give us the go ahead. Something our neighbors are not entirely aware of. Yet.
As readers of this blog are aware, we recently got a dog. And, as you can see, he’s growing like crazy!
Fergus is getting brave and has a penchant to roam. His ‘Fergus’ Apple AirTag on his collar is proof of his adventures in visiting the cow field next door. He can then go through their field and slip out under their ancient barbed wire fence into the road. But they made it even more difficult last week. They started spreading slurry on the field in preparation for planting. It’s a toxic combination of the liquified cow 💩. A truck from a local dairy spent two days with countless tanker trucks spreading it on like a thick layer of chocolate frosting. But it is not sweet. It smells like the odors of hell are on our doorstep. Luckily, they don’t do this very often.
Jeff has begun putting up temporary fencing to keep Fergus out of the road. But its a big job, even with an auger to dig post holes. And Fergus has taken full advantage of the gaps in the temporary fencing, running to the freshly slurried field and rolling around in it. His previously warm showers in the bathroom upstairs have become a very chilly hose off in front of the pump house.
We Mean No Offense
Ironically, its not the shit spreaders who are at fault in this fun new experience. It’s us. Yes, our little temporary fence has caused a grave hullabaloo in our little community. And it has been hotly debated at the bar in the village. Luckily, the cultivation of my neighborhood spy network is paying off. But likely, I would have known something was up before this.
Fergus and I went for a walk to see the progress of the A54 AutoVia (freeway in western American parlance). As though we can will it to be completed quicker. It is two kilometers away, and when it is completed in 2024 it will mean we can get into Santiago in a half hour. No more driving over hill and dale on winding, twisty country roads. Our little section will be done this fall. Meaning we can be in Lugo in 25 minutes by Christmas time. Can you tell we are excited?
On the way I passed our neighbor, Luis, on his tractor. He is always smiley with me. I waved and stopped to say Hola! But he turned away. Then, I saw his mother walking in her rubber boots and apron, carrying a stick and a bucket. She just grunted. Curious. I took my walk, then came home. I had something for a neighbor friend and later I took it over to her. She petted Fergus, then gave me to low down. We have offended people with our little temporary fence. Yes, they know we have a puppy. But, we should do what everyone else does and keep it in a kennel, not free to run so we need a fence between farms. We are seen as strange letting such a big dog in the house.
To say I was shocked doesn’t cover it. ‘But they have some barbed wire fences on their land. We have to keep him out of the road. ‘
She understands. She knows us and she loves Fergus.
‘They are saying that Americans think they own everything.’
I frowned. We do actually own this farm.
‘But we will have to fence it for the new business.’ I reminded her.
She knows and she nodded. ‘I think that is the real problem. Luis and his mom own the cafe in the village. They are not happy about the food truck. When you have everything completed it might get difficult for you here. For awhile. The fence is just a reason to be mad, right now.’ She patted my hand. ‘Do not worry. I know you are not trying to hurt anyone.’
I came home disheartened. Sometimes you wonder why you try so hard to do something. Something different. But then, something different isn’t really done in rural Galicia. Especially by foreigners.
Last night, Jeff and I do what we always do. We went to Ruas Duas in Melide for dinner. We eat there every Saturday night. I have the same gluten free meal. Jeff mixes it up a little more. Finally, last night the owner came to our table after the meal. She brought us flores.
At this time of year, in celebration of Carnival and before the start of Lent, people make fried donuts or these flores. Both are sprinkled with sugar. A decadent treat to indulge in before the deprivation of lent leading up to Easter. It was kind of her. She wanted to learn more about us, personally. She had heard about the Americans.
‘Do you know this one house after the little stone bridge near you?’ She asked – of course, already knowing where we live. ‘That is my grandparents house.’
Jeff smiled. ‘We saw your grandmother giving your grandfather a haircut in the courtyard one day walking to Melide. They are very friendly.’
She smiled, proudly.
‘They have cows and a milk truck in the barn, right?’ I asked.
‘Yes. My mother drives the milk truck.’
Jeff enjoyed the flores, then we paid and turned to go. ‘See you next Saturday.’ She shouted from the bar, waving.
Apparently, the Great American Fence Offense hasn’t yet reached the 7 kms to Melide. Maybe, by the time it does we will be installing a real fence mandated by the Concello and turismo. But something tells me this will not be the last thing we do to offend people around here. And just like a bad Google review – I think we’ll survive.
It’s been said before, many times, thar moving to Spain is like going off to . The first year is difficult. Until you figure out how to be so far from home, make friends, and buy bigger sweats. Because you’ll put on the dreaded Freshman 10, eating on the dorm meal plan. But then, you meet them. The person who’s parents let them bring their car to school. You can go to real grocery stores further away. And everything changes. Fir the people we know, we are the kids with the car.
Yesterday, a friend in Santiago who has a new apartment in Santiago, spent the day in A Coruña furniture shopping. And we had a blast! Frequent readers of this blog know that buying furniture is my greatest joy! As a kid I built forts in the woods near my parents house. As an adult, I like furnishing my fort.
My friend had been struggling to find nice furniture in Santiago. There are so few places there with really cool stuff. So we caffeinated ourselves for the drive north to Marineda City – a massive shopping complex built to celebrate the big retail gods. And we were happy to kneel at the alter.
Of course, IKEA is there. But the mall has an enormous El Corte Ingles outlet. A Maison du Monde. And, since Inditex headquarters is in A Coruña, the Zara Home store is at least three times the size of one anywhere in the world. And the Maison du Monde is a paradise. We stuck our noses into the furniture trough and kept feeding like gluttons who had been lost in the desert for 40 days. By the time we lifted our smiling, glassy-eyed faces up to the sunlight the station wagon was packed to the gills. But that’s not all.
Just like that first year of college when you are living so far from home, a care package arrives with all your childhood favorites. And suddenly, the sky is a little bluer. Inside the Marineda City mall is an American market, so I introduced my friend to it’s many joys. The look on my freshman friend’s face was of pure joy. It was worth the hour drive from Santiago.
‘Oh my God.’ She exclaimed, eyes wide. ‘Look at this stuff!’
It was all the brands from back home. And all the stuff from when we were kids. The prices seem exorbitant. But with inflation in the US being so high, they probably aren’t off from what we would pay were we back there. I bought Jeff some beef jerky at €7. And some of his other favorites. Sloppy joes – today’s lunch. Campbells Clam Chowder – I’ll wait for a rainy day, then go to the bakery in Melide for a rough Galicia round loaf, then serve the chowder in a bread bowl with a Caesar salad. Jeff’s all-time favorite lunch. He will probably cry.
For me, I got All-Spice. The only place in Spain I could find it was in Valencia in the pods. Then had to grind it myself with my mortar and pestle. And butter cream frosting. Cupcakes coming right up!!
Its amazing how much food takes you back through your life. Like a time machine. The other day we found four pieces of string cheese in a little package at the Gadis. I thought Jeff would cry. They were a million dollars. Our kids used to live on these as snacks when they were little. We’d buy them in packages of 25 or 50 at Costco. So, we bought the little pack to see if they were the same. We each got two string cheeses, sitting on the sofa. A big event. And they tasted exactly the like we remembered. I am very sure that upon our next Gadis shopping trip we will be spending ten million dollars on little packages of string cheese.
Our final stop yesterday was Starbucks on the top floor of the mall. I ordered my grande soy chai extra hot no foam. Rattling it off so fast, like muscle memory from 20 years in Seattle, that the girls behind the counter had their eyes spinning in their heads. Slowing down, I repeated it in Spanish. The girl made me laugh.
‘My english is good but you speak so fast.’
I apologized. I know how she feels.
We sat down with our giant mugs. And my gluten-free muffin. It was already nearly 6pm and we had been shopping so much we forgot to eat. That’s when you know you’re in the zone. Starbucks doesn’t put coffee drunk in the cafe in paper cups, anymore. Something I completely agree with. But it’s been so long since I’ve been to a Starbucks I have no idea when this change occurred in the past three years.
We drove down the A-9 back to Santiago to unload, which was a neat trick as my friend’s new apartment is in the historic center and I don’t have a permit to drive on those streets. But, luckily, as I have learned, the best place to park illegally with your flashers on in Spain is in front of a police station. The driving license exam expressly forbids this, but over the years, experience has taught me that driving law enforcement is contextual. And flashers give you a lot of latitude.
Then, I drove home in the dark, smiling. What a wonderful day. Jeff and Fergus greeted me in the driveway like a hunter returning from a successful hunt. And to assist with unloading the bounty in the back. When we were all put away, I broke out the elusive beef jerky and watched Jeff’s face transform into a big smile. And now that I know where to get it, I’ll happily drive more than a two hour round trip just to see him smile, again and again.
I’m a strange person. No one needs to tell me this. It’s good to be self aware. But sometimes strange pays dividends.
Trolling the Xunta
During la pandemia I began reading every Spanish newspaper online. It was the best way to gain a well-rounded perspective on the situation. Especially since the pandemic was so highly politicized around the world. The politicization of science. Almost unthinkable. I read everything. Every study. Every link to an infographic. I certainly had the time.
Economies around the globe were decimated. But the EU did something they wouldn’t normally do. Instead of austerity, they decided to borrow and spend their way out of the economic impacts of the pandemic. To pump money into the economies of the countries hardest hit by it. Countries like Spain and Italy. Spain took that money and distributed it to the Autonomous communities, with a few criteria they would have to follow to award aid amongst their populous. Spain, like the EU, is using these funds to transform their economy to a green economy. The acceleration of which has only been super charged by the war in Ukraine and Europe’s loss of Russian natural gas and oil. Much of the EU natural gas supplies now come from North Africa, via a Spanish pipeline. Making Spain key to Northern European heating this winter. When Eurosceptics whine about sovereignty I laugh. This is precisely why the EU, while imperfect, works. And it will be interesting to see how Africa continues to transform as an economic powerhouse in a post-colonial era. China is spending billions to ensure they have influence and access. And Spain and the EU are doing the same to have a seat at the African continental table.
But What About Us?
So I used the pandemic to learn a lot about Spain, and the EU. As well as our local province – especially Galicia. And buried at the end of each if these articles was a reference to the various schemes the Xunta de Galicia was creating to make these funds available to businesses and common folk – like me. So, I clicked through, and lo and behold, there was a list of projects eligible for EU pandemic funds dedicated to Spain – and, more specifically, Galicia. So, I clicked in, again. To each and every one of them. Sure, it was tedious. But also interesting and educational. Nothing tells the true story of legislative priorities as much as when politicians put their money where their mouth is. It was then that I spotted it. Green energy.
We want to install solar panels for our home and business. As well as wind power. We had a bid from a solar contractor and we were waiting for permission from the Concello, and the Patrimonio for the Camino de Santiago. The deadline for applying for the solar panels was rapidly approaching last year, so I filled out the grant form and applied for the EU funds for our project via my digital certificate. Though not Spanish citizens, we are full fledged tax paying residents. We pay tens of thousands of euros in taxes here every year. Whether they would give the grant to us is one thing, but we qualify for the funds.
In the meantime, I read how Spain was in a bit of trouble with the EU. They were struggling to hand out the funds. Firstly, because of the famous Spanish bureaucracy. But, secondly, because they wanted rigorous checks in place to avoid fraud, like all those PPP loans in the US during the pandemic that went to cronies of politicians and did nothing to help struggling people. So the process was slowed.
My perpetual bureaucracy rash since moving to Spain didn’t even bother to itch over this grant money. I knew it was a long shot. I was more proud of myself for even finding the list and applying for it. There are other incentives, too. Women-owned businesses. And on and on.
Last week I was disappointed to learn my food truck, that didn’t need a license, was denied a license by the guy who told me exactly this time last year that I didn’t need a license. Yeah, I know. Read it slowly. There’s math involved.
As a result of this, Fergus and I walked into town to meet face to face with our contractor so I could better understand where we are at with the three agencies that make of the lasagna of opening a business on the Camino de Santiago. The Concello. The Turismo. And, finally, the Patrimonio. Kind of like Cristofer Columbus on The Niña, The Pinta, and The Santa Maria, this has been a journey into the unknown. Uncharted waters, even, in some cases, for our contractor, Diego. Here is where we stand.
~ The food truck license has been denied by the Concello. Even though they said a food truck needs no licence.
~ But, to get around this, the food truck has now been bundled into the larger Albergue project. And that project has been, provisionally approved by the turismo. Can you hear angels singing right about now? Because I can.
~ The approved plans have been filed and approved with the Architectural College in Santiago.
~ The entire project has been reviewed by the Patrimonio, but we don’t yet have a decision. Likely, some time this month ‘But we don’t know, Kelli. However, because they have reviewed it, when 30 days go by without a decision I can begin shouting.’
~ The Patrimonio will go with what tourism says (and tourism has provisionally approved it) except I must comply with the Patrimonio’s architecture standards.
~ If the Patrimonio and turismo approve the over all project, that will pressure the Concello to reverse their decision and grant me a license that they told me I do not need.
~ Once the construction is completed, the turismo will come out and sign off. Then, I can open.
After all that, this week Diego will go to the ayuntamiento (town hall) of the Concello and show them the Architecture College’s approval, and the turismo’s approval. And he will ask for a provisional license for the food truck based on these trump cards, and to begin construction on the bathroom, laundry room, and water system (yes, we still don’t have that). There is a glimmer of light through this long dark winter. And then, he had more good news.
It’s Not All Bad News
That solar grant from last year. That rando thing I applied for nearly a year ago? Yeah, that. It was approved! And the Xunta is giving me – or the business- money for our solar panels. What?!? 😁Happy doesn’t describe it.
Tomorrow the solar panel people are coming out to determine placement and ground prep, and to lay out the plan for trenching. The work is supposed to begin shortly after that. And the plumber is coming with Diego to talk about the first phase of work on our planned laundry/bathrooms, after speaking to the Concello.
I hardly know how to feel. Or what to feel. In the beginning I thought it was a linear process. We do step 1-10. But, its a long and winding road of opacity, misdirection, and confusion. We might be nearing a finish line, of sorts. Or, it might all be just beginning. But, either way, I got my solar grant, and my Pilgrims will have unlimited hot water and heat/AC in their cabins, at zero cost to us or the environment. After waking up to a dusting of snow ❄️ this morning, that’s all I needed to hear.
It’s rapidly nearing the five year mark since Jeff and I stepped off that airplane. First, to a rioting crowd in the Madrid airport due to bad weather and cancelled flights. Then, on to Valencia on a cold and stormy night, just seven hours late. It’s hard for me to believe so much time has gone by. And that we have lived through all we have. The ups and downs. But here we are.
I See You
If I have learned anything from moving to another country, its that there is one thing that makes all the difference. Feeling seen. And I am not alone in this.
We take being seen for granted where we live in our home country. And the power that has on us. We are seen in our jobs. In the school community that surrounds our children. In our local neighborhood. All of this lets us know that we matter. But, even in our home country, progressively over time, our seen-ness begins to fade. Our children get their own lives. We retire and rarely see those with whom we once spent 10-12 hours of our waking day. Our world and our seen-ness begins to shrink.
You wouldn’t think we would feel this in our early 50’s, but moving to Spain accelerated that for us. Suddenly, we dropped into a place where our presence was noted purely as a curiosity. But, not a requirement. And there were days we struggled to understand why this was so hard.
Sure, over time, we learned to get the things we needed to set up house. And how to perform the required administrivia to function in Spanish society. But, there was something always missing. And, it finally dawned on us.
Finding friends was a top priority. Meeting people with who you can find a common purpose or common interest. But it was the day to day interactions, the small stuff, that made all the difference. Especially to Jeff.
We tended to frequent the same places. Not because they were the finest establishments. But because they were close. And within our small zone of comfort. Some proprietors embraced us. Usually, those who were immigrants themselves. But it took awhile to be embraced by our Valencian neighbors. And, then, one day a waiter asked us if we wanted our usual. And this was the day everything changed for Jeff. As we walked home after dinner that night he threw his arm around my shoulders and smiled.
‘Did you see that? They know us now.’
We had proof that we were seen in our adopted country. It sounds small, but small things matter when you uproot your entire life and move to another country. And are linguistically challenged.
Small Things Are Everything
I read recently that a study found people who have pets, especially dogs, live significantly longer than those who do not. Especially the elderly, and I believe it. You are constantly moving when you have a dog. Feeding them. Throwing a ball. Letting them in and out. Going for walks. Though not the first to do so, Winston Churchill used to refer to being stalked by the black dog for his depressive episodes. But our Fergus is black and this little dog’s impact on Jeff’s and my serotonin levels has had the exact opposite effect. Dogs see us as no other animal does. There is a reason they call them man’s best friend.
My grandmother had dogs the entire time I knew her and she died at age 97. A dog was always in her lap. The only time she was ever without a dog was the final year of her life in a care facility for dementia, and she couldn’t bring her dog, Mandy. Mandy saw my grandmother when she became just an invisible old woman to the rest of the world. But, I would posit that the healing power of dogs isn’t just relegated to the elderly.
When Emilie first came into our home through the Foster care system at four years old, she was terrified of men. And with the abuse she suffered it is no wonder. Jeff could give her food or drive her in a car, but he couldn’t pick her up or even hold her hand to keep her from running into the street. If he did she would wail like a wounded animal. Or freeze and completely check out. Disassociate. Like she wasn’t even there. So we worked closely with her trauma therapist to develop strategies to help her overcome some of these imbedded fears and anxieties. I have pictures of very shy Jeff, asleep in a chair in our living room with his face covered in make-up applied by Emilie. All this as she was smiling while putting pony tails and barrettes all over his head. And glitter. He grew his hair out just so she could do this. Positive touch is what they called it. On her terms. But none of that would have happened with out our wonderful Golden Retriever, Mr Perkins.
Emilie was under-weight and under-height when she came to us. At 4 1/2 she wore toddler size 3 clothes. Her feet were the size Nick wore at age two. So she stood nose to nose with Perkins. One day, we were standing in the kitchen when curious, gentle Perkins came right up to Emilie and gave a little bark – tail wagging. At three years old he just wanted to play with her, but Emilie was terrified. She climbed Jeff like a tree in seconds. He held her above the dog and held his breath as she looked down.
‘That dogs a-woofin.’ She said in her funny way of speaking back then.
But from then on Emilie had two new protectors. Jeff and Perkins. She loved to be swung high in the air, but when Jeff would oblige her Perkins would go crazy barking until his little pup was safely back on solid ground. Perkins followed her around for a few years, until she grew bigger. Desperately protecting her from danger. I had forgotten about all that, until the other day Fergus was on the front porch barking at a passing car. Jeff laughed. ‘That dogs a-woofin.’ An Emilie phrase we will never forget.
Fergus and I had to walk into Melide last week. I needed to meet with our contractor about permissions from the Patrimonio, turismo, and the Concello – more on that later. And I needed to meet with our gestoria to straighten out my social security spaghettini mess.
We walked a well worn path we have walked many times. Pilgrims walked with us. And, we saw all our little old men, in flat caps and black berets, with mandatory sticks walking their dogs. I have seen these men in prior years, but since we have Fergus I stop and the dogs sniff each other. Usually, I am walking into town and they are walking the other direction. At the very least I get a chin nod. For those who have seen me and Fergus multiple times I get a bon dia.
Sometimes we see Modesto and his dog. Modesto, if you remember, would come by each afternoon last summer for free white wine at the food truck. And, to dispense sage business advice. Recently, he stopped to chat with Jeff as he was constructing our temporary dog fence. And he asked when we were opening up again. When Jeff told him the Concello has denied our license and we are appealing, Modesto was more than a little disconcerted.
‘Where will I get my free wine?’
Which gave Jeff a chuckle.
Fergus and I walked over the newly refurbished Roman bridge to Feruelos. They took the opportunity during the pandemic to save it from the hand of time. Now, its a smooth stone path where ancient boulders and mud used to make the bridge decking a hazard on the best of days. The new bollards make it hard for Jeff to get his trike past when he rides into town. But walking over this bridge is a joy now.
Then, we made our way up the hill towards Diego’s office. On the way I met a man with his dog. We have seen each other before. Then, Fergus attracted the attention of two gentlemen, one of whom it turns out lived in Miami and Portland, Maine in the US for more than 30 years. He is back living in Melide.
‘I am sure I will see you again.’ He assured me. I know he is right about that.
An hour later, after I was done with all my business in town, which included Fergus being made over like the celebrity the he is by everyone in our gestoria, Jeff drove into town to meet up with us. Fergus was asleep at my feet in the cafe. Walking all the way back home with him was not in the cards. We drove to the grocery store to get something for lunch, leaving Fergus to sleep on his bed in the backseat. As we walked the aisles of the grocery store we saw an older gentleman who nodded our way. Then, at the checkout the man in front of us gave me the Galician chin nod.
Jeff looked confused. ‘Who’s that guy? He gave you the chin nod.’
‘Of course. These are my dog walking guys. Fergus and I see them all the time. They know me.’
The Fountain of Youth
After all that, I’m pretty sure the study about the link between have a dog and longevity is spot on. Fergus gets us up every morning, greeting us with unbridled enthusiasm. Thrilled we are with him for another day. And we feel the same. Because he sees us. And because of Fergus we are seen and recognized by strangers in our community. With him we are constantly on the go, and he deserves only our very best. Jeff assembled his new dog house in the pristinely clean chicken coop.😉 But not before I gave it a little Fergus flair. After all, we need to protect our wiggly fountain of youth. Because, according to science, this little being will see to it that we live a long and happy life. Together.
I was awake in the middle of the night last night. I’m not sure why. But it was a good thing, too. Some friends in the US, who also have a house in Galicia, messaged me at midnight from the east coast. No worries. I was not going to sleep any time soon.
In Valencia, we had become used to the noisy night. Horns, parties, yelling teens, or fireworks. In the early morning hours there was always the click click click of suitcases on the tiles of the sidewalk. Hitting every seam 5 centimeters apart. Over and over. And don’t get me started about the entire month of Fallas. Ugh.
It was so noisy in Valencia that the farm in Galicia seemed like a deprivation chamber by comparison. At first. Soon, we could hear the neighbors dogs barking at things in the night. Javalies (wild boars). Deer. And, just each other. We understood that these are the nocturnal noises of farm life. And then, something changed.
We first noticed that something was wailing on the metal wood shed a few months ago. Like they have a sledgehammer, and are trying to take it down after midnight. But in the morning there is no damage. Then, the holes began appearing all over the property. And when I say holes I mean that whomever is digging them are trying to a) dig to China. Or b) they are digging a grave. It’s weird. Javalis do damage. But they don’t dig that deep. And then, it got weird.
A Sixth Sense
We all know animals are more sensitive than we are. They can smell, hear, and see things we can’t. Every day things. Fergus barks and let’s us know Pilgrims are coming when we are out front. Long before we ever see them or hear the click of their poles. And LuLu can see a mouse in the dark and pounce on it. No problem. But inside the house, they both began acting funny.
LuLu started jumping up onto the bookshelf by the fireplace and clawing at the wall. Whining. A sound we had never heard her make. And no matter how many times Jeff took her down she would jump back up. We looked for spiders, or other insects that might be attracting her. We vacuumed the whole area. She still does it. Then, Fergus began his thing.
In the early morning and every evening Fergus goes to another corner and stares with his hair on end. He will growl and whine. Very rarely bark. No matter now many times I reassure him he goes back there. But there is nothing there. Or so I believed.
Clean Up This Mess
Yesterday, our new armoire for the entry way arrived. Before this our coats and shoes were hung on a coat rack. And on shelves below. Which was fine before the arrival of a shoe-loving chew-thief. But now, we needed to be able to shut our shoes and coats safely away.
It was nearly a week late in arriving, but they had phoned the day before to tell me they would be delivering it between 9 and 10am the following morning. So I moved all the coats and shoes. Vacuumed and mopped the area thoroughly so we could put it in place and refill it quickly. Thus, exposing our clothes to Fergus and his shark-like baby teeth as little as possible. I call it ‘mitigating risk.’ Jeff calls it ‘Kelli is just getting extra excited about buying more furniture.’ Either way, the result is the same. So I touched everything that was moved from the coat rack. Every piece. And I put them all into the new armoire. Every coat, shoe, handbag, hat, umbrella. Everything. It’s even large enough to store the vacuum cleaner. Which means my new wine fridge fits perfectly in the space the vacuum used to occupy. Like a puzzle, everything fit together nicely. Except…
This morning I let Fergus out and noticed this stick by the door. I know it wasn’t there yesterday because they had to open the sidelight to get the armoire in the house. I asked Jeff if he had brought the stick in and he didn’t know what I was talking about.
Right about now, you are saying to yourself Kelli, what’s your deal with this stick? But it’s not just a stick. Every person over the age of 65 walks around here holding a stick. Its a thing. And the stick becomes worn around the top where they are held. From the hand of their owner. You see them up close at the drs office, the cafe, the grocery store. Walking the dog. This stick was not fallen from a tree in a recent wind storm. Its well worn at the top and the bottom where it has supported the weight of its owner. This is clearly a person’s well-loved stick from a chestnut tree. It doesn’t belong to either Jeff or myself. And it was not in this house yesterday. Let alone sitting where it is by the door. And then, the weirdest thing of all happened this morning.
We were sitting on the sofa. The dog was asleep for his morning nap. The cat was outside. All of a sudden our vacuum cleaner switched on. Jeff looked at me ‘What the hell is that?’ Like I had any more information than he did. I hopped up and went to check it out. Opening the cabinet, the lights on the vacuum were glowing. No kidding. And it was making the sucking sound. But it wasn’t plugged in. Fergus had followed me and was barking at it and growling. His hair standing on end. Then, he hid behind me, whining like the ferocious protector he is. I reached out and hit the off button and it stopped. The lights went out like normal. Hmm…
And the moral of this story? How should I know? Except I’ll be cleaning my house top to bottom today. To assuage our spectral roommate. As I’ve been talking about hiring a housekeeper/personal assistant, perhaps Must be good with ghosts will be added to the job description. And I think Gaspar (seems like a good name), the friendly Galician ghost, couldn’t agree more.
Sunny and cold. That’s the best way to describe the last week. Or mostly. A little unexpected spitting rain. The wind is coming down from Siberia rather than Greenland from over the Atlantic.
In France they call this Le Mistral. In Greece they are known as the Meltemi. Creating havoc in the Aegean Sea in summer or winter. We were on a ferry boat from the island of Paros to Mykonos with our kids one summer. The winds were so bad and the seas so highs, we thought the boat would capsize. They shut down the ferry after we docked. Emilie slept through the whole thing in Jeff’s arms. He looked terrified. Nick and I clung to each other and prayed. So this icy wind is no joke. Fergus and LuLu don’t want to spend much time outside without us.
Our farm is flat. The sub-zero wind cuts through you the moment you leave the house. Doing laundry in the barn is a frosty undertaking. But we have chores that need doing and we couldn’t put them off.
With all the record breaking rain we have had over the last four months, our ground is so saturated it can’t take another drop. Pools were gathering on flat land. Time to drain the field. So, Jeff got out the tractor and the furrower. His first time using this attachment. Then, he made some long passes from north to south towards the creek. Water immediately filled the deep furrows and flowed like streams to the creek. The standing water problem is no more. The test holes he dug to monitor water levels show it dropped significantly in the 12 hours after he created the drainage ditches. And it just goes to show you can learn to do anything these days on YouTube.
Jeff got up before the sun came up, like a real farmer, and did it early. Then, he came back to the house to tell me to ‘come look.’ I threw my Wellies on and a heavy coat. Fergus at my heels, we made our way out to the field abd appropriately ooo’d and awww’d at Jeff’s handiwork. And, then I saw them. The worms I need for my organic composter!
Cold as a well digger’s nose, as my Dad used to say, Fergus and I walked along the furrows and collected worms from the freezing water. With bare hands. Then, I deposited them in the compost bin. Everyone knows that the fastest way to good compost is worms.
Our neighbors drove by on the back road. Surely, they asked themselves what the hell that American woman was doing in her pajamas and rubber boots with handfuls of mud and her dog rolling around in it. But, to that I say ‘pishaw!’ I was in my element. As a little girl I loved the mud. I was probably five years old when, one summer I had my friends covered me head to toe with it in the woods near our house. They all followed me home, waiting on the driveway as I rang the doorbell. My mother laughed harder than I have ever seen her laugh when she opened the door. Later, she said she could only see the whites of my eyes and my smile of missing teeth. So, my neighbors here don’t have a clue that it could be so much worse than handfuls of mud and worms in my pajamas.
Fergus is getting Big. We needed to tackle some of the mounting problems of a curious four month old puppy, and his maniacal cat nemesis, LuLu. Fergus has chased her from the moment his paws entered out house. At first, she hid. Then, she learned how to antagonize him. And finally, she entered the final stage of grief in losing her spot as the #1 pet in the house. Acceptance. Well, of a fashion.
LuLu has been plotting her revenge, which includes showing Fergus he can chase her out under the hedge to the road, where cars drive rather fast down our tree-lined country lane. And heavy tractors and farm equipment traverse back and forth all day long. Fergus is black as midnight. You can’t see him in the dark. They would hit him before they saw him.
Six months ago we applied to put up a fence around our property and to replace our front gate. A fence. Simple, right? Wrong. The Patrimonio for the Camino De Santiago moves in geologic time. Even for a fence. Jeff doesn’t get mad easily. But when he does I just sit back and watch. He bought all the temporary fence building materias on Saturday, and laid it out.
‘Let them come and tell me I have to take down a fence to keep our dog from getting hit by a car. If they do, it will mean they are actually reviewing our 20 ridiculous applications for this stuff.’
Then, he went to work. He’s right. Maybe our temporary fence behind our hedge, that will interrupt no Pilgrim’s authentic Camino experience, will be a red cape to the bull (s*#t) that is the bureaucracy of the Patrimonio. Can you tell I’m fed up with bureaucracy right about now? This week the Concello denied our food truck a license after they told me (and our contractor, Diego) that a license isn’t necessary for food trucks because they are ‘temporary.’ And why did they deny me? Because the food truck is temporary. <cue the video of me swearing profusely and beating my head against the wall> 🙄
While Jeff was digging post holes with an auger, I was mucking out the former chicken coop. First, with a shovel. Then, with a pressure washer. The previous owners built a series of out buildings surrounded by six foot fences. This particular one is perfect for a dog run for Fergus, with a place he can get out of the weather – it has electricity and water so we can even heat it, if need be. And, it is a 20ft x 60ft outdoor space with two trees for shade. Safe and escape-proof as the fence line is ringed in foot-deep concrete.
Mucking out a chicken coop is messy work in a confined space. By the time Jeff came to see how it was going I was covered head to toe in, well, god only knows what. Fergus, my loyal curious companion was covered in it, too. Jeff shook his head.
‘How can you be this dirty?’
‘You tell me how you would have kept yourself clean pressure washing, even the ceiling, of a 1×2 meter disgusting chicken coop. Then, next time I’ll do that.’
He had no answer. He toddled off. I resumed my work.
We needed to get this taken care of. Since Fergus has arrived we have taken him nearly everywhere with us. Luckily, Spain is a dog friendly country. Fergus can even go to the mall. But, he’s getting bigger now. We need to be able to leave him, and not in his crate. Somewhere he can run around. And besides, we couldn’t take him with us yesterday. Dogs aren’t allowed in movie theaters- even in Spain.
I wrote last week about likely needing to go to Madrid to see my brother’s movie. We were making plans. Then, lovely Maria Seco of SpanishfortheCamino.com fame messaged me. She lives in Pontevedra but found a theater in Santiago playing Tar on Sunday in original voice – voce. I immediately bought tickets for us and our friends, Patti and Leigh.
It’s a 40 minute drive into Santiago. We had never been to this mall before. As Canelas. You can see it when you are walking on the Camino Frances, a few kilometers before you reach the Cathedral. It’s big. Finally, I can go to a place with some of my favorite stores without going all the way to A Coruña or Valencia. And, I can get a chai tea latte there. Heaven.
We all met up, got our snacks. They give you so much popcorn and a liter of soda here for next to nothing. Crazy. We wondered how we would eat it all. Jeff and I haven’t been to a movie theater in more than three years. It felt weird, but familiar walking into that nice space. Theaters in Spain are very nice and mostly newer than the US. But, back home we always went to movies at an iPic or similar. Where you sit in fully reclining barco loungers with a blanket. And a waiter serves you from a menu throughout the film. You can order a Manhattan and they bring it to your seat. I ordered VIP seats for our movie experience yesterday, but it was nothing like iPic. Yes. The seats were bigger. With more legroom for tall Jeff. Maybe they have something like iPic in Madrid.
The movie was a slow burn. Very slow. Todd’s signature pacing. I know the music and the sound were characters unto themselves. But it was the silences where I found the tension. And the winter gray scale felt heavy. Like a lead weight on all the characters. There were parts that were Fellini-like. Dark. Otherworldly. But, sometimes whimsical. My friends were speechless coming out. They were blown away by every detail. The set design. And the lighting. But also, the long shots and the tension. We went for lunch afterward, to discuss the film and so much more.
‘It wasn’t a horror film, but there moments I felt her fear.’
Lydia, or Linda as we later learn, is an imposter, a genius running from her past and the worst of her nature. And her sense of unchecked entitlement that disgusts even her. In the end, she find herself completely alone. My two favorite scenes are, first, at the beginning when the tailor in New York is making her custom clothing. Only the best will do for Lydia Tar. But it’s also her armor, like a knight going into battle. The second is when she goes home to the shabby house where she grew up. She climbs the stairs to her old childhood room and we see the boxes in her closet. Precisely labeled with her priorities. Cash, My IRA, etc. Things most children wouldn’t think about. Her mother hasn’t touched a thing since she left home, and shed her ‘Linda’ persona. Then her brother catches her unawares on the stairs and seems less than impressed by her return. ‘Mom said you were coming.’ There is Todd in Lydia. But he’s the writer, and her creator. It couldn’t be any other way.
When we exited the theater, we discovered Maria and her family had driven up from Pontevedra to see it. So kind of them. I think her two lovely daughters were shell shocked. This isn’t your typical film for teenagers. As Jeff said.
‘I would know it was Todd’s movie even if no one had told me beforehand. Watching it was like talking him. You could hear his voice.’
I have friends all over the world messaging me telling me they went to see it. But afterward they had to go for a walk, or a run. Maybe get a drink to process it. My friend, Carolyn, in Atlanta told me she couldn’t stop thinking about it. ‘It’s like no film I’ve ever seen before. It sticks with you.’ I agree. It’s haunting.
There are plenty of Easter eggs in the film. Things I noticed that Todd placed there. Intentionally, of course. The significance of which will go unnoticed by audiences. And I laid there last night, sleepless, mulling it all over in my head. Right at the start, so quick you could be forgiven for missing it, it was the film’s dedication that made me tear up before it even began. For WF. Our Father. Willam Field. As always, he would have been so proud of his son for this film. This achievement. And so am I.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sailaway from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ~ Mark Twain