Feeling Gratitude

It’s Thanksgiving in Galicia and we are the only first ones who know it. The storms of the past few days have passed and its a calm morning. But storms are visibly brewing on the horizon.

We’ve met so many people since arriving here over the weekend. People who have been generous with their time and patience. So if Im grateful for anything this American 🙏 Day its for this. And for the education in the home searching, buying, permitting and building process.

When viewing a home here the owners will invariably be there to give you the tour – unless they don’t live within an hours drive.

We’ve had to climb over high walls and fences to view some homes and properties. So I learned to be grateful for locks and gates that function properly on a stormy day. We have met the aged and seriously ill – so I learned to be grateful I’m still in my 50’s and nimble. And I’ve been reminded that a kind word and a smile goes a very long way to brightening someone’s day, as one homeowner proudly pointed out the heavy matching woodwork and her decoupage artwork that ‘stays with the house’.

We are all the same. We take pride in our homes and want others to see value in what we value. Perhaps validating for a moment that where we’ve arrived has all been worth the effort. The houses we have seen are, after all, the culmination of many of these owners life’s work and they deserve the acknowledgement. So we refrained from asking, in front of them, if walls could be taken out or kitchens gutted. Especially after one elderly owner talked at length of designing the tiles herself, so many years ago.

We’ve been assisted by one translator, brought along by an agent, who became so enthusiastic about helping us she called snd arranged for a family member to pick up her kids from school to feed them lunch. And an engineer who told me ‘No’ a lot and didn’t sugar coat the limits of either permitting nor structural integrity. I like people who tell me ‘No’ when I have gone beyond the edge of sanity.

Jeff’s assessment? ‘People are so nice here!’ After we bought some groceries at a Hipercor and the bag broke on the street going back to our car, spilling the contents on the sidewalk, a woman reached into her purse and got out a folded plastic bag and started scooping up our things, handing it to Jeff.

I left my phone at a coffee shop and they had it for me two hours later when I went back, sweating and a little frantic.

So to our American family and friends, no matter where in the world you are celebrating. Alone or in a crowded kitchen with a turkey in the oven. Happy Gratitude Day 🙏

I think our new friend, Angela said it best. ‘People must help each other. We are all human, after all.’ It seems to encompass the spirit of Galicia. And today, thats what we are grateful for, most of all.

Dateline – Galicia

We are in Galicia this week. I should have asked the regional government to issue a warning ‘Attencion! Kelli is Aqui! DRIVING. Protect children and animals. Stay in your homes. I repeat! Stay in your homes!’

We arrived in the dark on a stormy night. It was late and the car rental at the station was shuttered after our train arrived an hour late, So we had to take a taxi to the airport to pick up our car. I had reserved an automatic because, well, ‘qualified’ doesn’t equal proficient, and its been a long tine since I drove a stick. Why tempt fate? But since the only automatics they had were a BMW 5 series or a Mercedes C class I was going to be driving das boat on Galician roads. Not roads as scary as Ireland but narrow nonetheless.

Ah yes! And my old friends las glorietas galore! Roundabouts on a dark and stormy night. Jeff is resting comfortably after the seven heart attacks he had as I navigated us thru as many roundabouts and crazy turns. Streets so narrow I had to do three point right turns. Good news! His stress rash has almost cleared up and he’s no longer hyperventilating as we head the down the road.

We stopped in Ares for lunch. Its a lovely little pueblo on a cove with its own marina. As I parked das boat, the town came out to watch. Jeff got out of the car after my 8th attempt on the narrowest street in the world, to ensure my behemoth German driving machine wouldn’t block others from getting by.

‘So the whole town knows the Americans are here.’ He told me as we walked to a waterfront eatery.

‘How’s that?’ I asked him.

‘Well, I think it might have been your swearing with your window rolled down. And the fact that parking doesn’t come natural to you here.’

‘I hardly think was that bad.’ I said defensively.

He laughed. ‘Are you kidding?! The bar emptied out and the mayor came out of the town hall. People were pointing and I’m pretty sure there were bets being placed on your chances of success. You’re infamous and we don’t even live here. I think your picture will appear in the next issue of their newspaper under the headline ‘La Idiota!’

‘Remind me.’ I said. ‘Who has her Spanish driving license? Oh yeah, now I remember.’ I smiled proudly.

Ok, so he’s broken out his secret Spanish, and I’ve mostly, been impressed. He knows more than I thought – chatting with a waitress at the seaside cafe.

And I must toot my own language horn after getting a compliment from an architect about my comprehension skills. I may not have all the words at my disposal to conjure a real time rapid fire conversation about plot sizes, easements, permitting, etc. But, by some miracle, I found I was able to understand what our agent, the homeowner and the architect were talking about and translate it for El Jefe in real time. Jeff’s jaw dropped at one point. Even I was surprised and it wasn’t a onetime thing. I got an actual ‘Impressive’ from him after confirming it with the architect. This is good news because these days there are times I can hardly remember what I went to the grocery store to purchase. So apparently my brain is still functioning.

The views here are breathtaking and the beauty is wild, much like western Ireland. When this week is over we will be sad to leave. I think we found where our hearts will reside in optimal happiness. Nothing but a little driving practice, and infamy, is standing in our way. And in the grand scheme of things, that’s a problem easily solved.

I’m adding some photos. Just a small sample of the raw beauty and uniqueness of Galicia. For us, the most beautiful of the provinces of Spain. Enjoy!!

Spanish Innovation

When most of us think of innovation or entrepreneurship, we think of places like Silicon Valley, California. The birthplace of Google, Twitter and Apple. So many huge technology and product innovations that started in the valley from graduates of Stanford, and others that migrated there for tech jobs in the 80’s and 90’s when HP was the big dog, and Oracle was coming on strong. But SV isn’t the only place where people are thinking differently.

I’ve heard many times how behind the Spanish are in their embrace of new ways of doing things. After reading about the history of the country from the Civil War until the early 90’s that is an understandable perspective. Under Franco, Spain remained separate from the rest of Europe after WWII. So they didn’t benefit from the economic booms as the post-war European economies recovered in the 1960’s. But times are changing.

We saw this sign on a wall in El Carmen right before we discovered the event.

It used to be part of my job to find innovative companies and people who were thinking differently to solve problems. And innovation and forward thinking is booming in Spain, and Valencia in particular. There are a signs of it everywhere. You can see it in architecture and the country’s thinking on tackling climate change. So, when we were out for a walk on a Sunday morning I was thrilled to see this in the Ayunamiento.

A Start-Up weekend underwritten by the Generalitat de Valencia had taken over the streets in front of the town hall. Start ups, both big and small, were showing their wares and making their pitches. Bespoke chocolate and ice cream makers. A shoe makers who is using grain alternatives to rubber to manufacture athletic footwear. Innovative manufacturing for 3D printing homes. Micro lending start ups and those trying to disrupt the personal services market. Even a team from the Universitat de Valencia showing their design for a global contest for the future of clean high speed rail. They’ll be traveling to the US to compete in 2020 with other university programs from across the world.

A few are looking for angel investors to expand their concept. Others have already received tens of millions in investment as they look to solidify their positions and expand beyond the border of Spain and Europe. I find this incredibly exciting! Jeff laughed as I made a b-line for the event.

‘I just want to look and have a chat.’ I told him, as though I was shopping for a new hand bag. But it was great to hear these entrepreneurs talk about their products and ideas. Some pitches were more refined and polished than others, but they’re all learning and growing as founders. That’s what’s important.

So Spain might have been late to the game in comparison to the rest of Europe, but they are swiftly catching up. And it’s nice to see. Those coming up are ready to compete on the world stage for market position and investment capital. And while its not my business anymore, I’ll be watching and cheering them on.

What’s Your Story?

As we prepare to head up to Galicia, I’ve been working with 3 different real estate agencies to line up houses to view, and multiple appointments. I like a schedule which will allow us to bake in enough flexibility to see additional properties that will, invariably, come up. ‘Well, we do have this one that might be going on the market.’ Things like that.

We’re taking the train this time to reduce our carbon footprint. Yes, it takes more time, but we will get to see the country along the way. Jeff and I both love trains and he told me last night he’s glad we made that choice for this journey. So, everything is now lined up and ready to go.

For each of us, whether we buy or rent, our homes are the story of our lives. Jeff and I have generally been nomads. We did live in one house for 10 years while raising our kids, but we like to shake it up. And when you move, you get to sort through what’s important to you, and discard what isn’t. I always feel lighter afterwards. Moving to Spain meant we got rid of everything, except what really meant something to us. So if you walked through our apartment today, you’d definitely be able to read our history. The art and photos on the walls. The books and souvenirs from important events and travels. The things that mark the moments of our each of our lives; both before we got together and since.

So it was interesting today when one of the agents WhatApp’d me and told me that there was one house we would not be able to go into, but could just tour the grounds and view from the outside. She said it needed total reformas so going in wouldn’t matter. I pushed back, of course. Sure, it’s right on the Atlantic ocean and we love the location. But I’m not paying for a house I’ve never entered. Jeff said the same thing when I told him what she said. We went back and forth and then she agreed to send me photos of the inside. And then my heart broke.

The man who owns and lives alone in the house, is very very old. He is in some of the photos the agent took. He is also very ill with age-related illnesses. The house is filled – top to bottom – with everything he’s ever owned in his life. But what struck me more than all ‘the Stuff’ was the story of his life. Sure, the place is a mess. A disaster, really. But the walls and many of the surfaces are festooned with old photos. One, I’m pretty sure, is his younger self with his bride on their wedding day. And pictures of his children’s births and weddings. All the important things. The people he loves and who have loved him.

There are books everywhere. Acting as his side table by his chair where he sets his mug. And his walls are lined with shelves to bursting with books. A kindred spirit. But the fireplaces were also filled with books, so either he ran out of shelf space or he’s getting ready to heat the place this winter.

This gentleman was born before the Great Depression, and before the Spanish Civil War. He makes mis Amigos at the cafe round the corner in Benimachlet seem young. Perhaps he remembers a house without indoor plumbing – like my Dad as a kid. Or the excitement of the first car in the family. While he may not know what he had for breakfast today, I feel sure he knows what hunger and deprivation look like. That generation had their share.

I looked through photo after photo. The agent suggested ‘You must imagine it empty’. But I’m not sure that’s possible. This man lived his life in that house. He was married and raised his family there. Imagine it empty? I couldn’t do that. It’s a place filled with all his memories. Things a bin man couldn’t cart away; nor money can buy.

It seems he’s unsteady on his feet, and perhaps blind. To be expected in your 90’s. There are knotted ropes tied to various walls and furniture so he can navigate his way through the house, from the kitchen to his chair, and then his bed and bath. I imagine leaving will very very hard for him, and tear up thinking about it. If we buy this house, I wish there was a way to let him know he should not worry. The bones of the house are solid. We would breathe new life into it; love it and take care of it. These two nomads plan on settling up there for good. The ghosts that surely inhabit it are welcome to stay. And hopefully, if we live into our 90’s in this hulk on the side of a cliff overlooking a frothing sea, someone younger will come along someday and do the same for us.

Giving Back

Since we moved to Valencia I’ve looked for volunteer opportunities. I think it’s important, no matter what city in the world you choose to live in, that you find ways to give of yourself. We’re all on this planet for such a short period and each of us show up with unique gifts that can benefit our world. Whether animal, vegetable or mineral.

When the ships of migrants were docking at our shores, I signed Emilie and I up to volunteer with the local Cruz Rojo (Red Cross). It’s just down the street, a few blocks from our house. I figured my rusty Arabic, and her French, might come in handy with the speakers on the ship from North Africa.

But for those who read this blog and are native English speakers, there is another organization that I’ve discovered that presents a unique opportunity. I’ve signed up (I’ve been approved, but not yet participated) so we’ll see how it goes. But for English speakers who want to come to Spain (at nearly no cost to you) and help native Spanish speakers to learn English, this might be something you consider exploring.

https://www.diverbo.com

Diverbo does week-long sessions in Spain for Spanish speakers trying to learn English, for all sorts of reasons. Work, School. It doesn’t matter. And they need people who are willing to come speak native English to them. They want your slang and regional accents. And your adventurous life stories and hobbies. It includes free room and board at hotels in the towns where they are hosting the classes. You just have to be willing to talk, A LOT! For me – Surprise! It’s not a problem.

For those trying to learn Spanish – they have programs for that, as well. I’m actually thinking of signing up for one of those sessions, too, but I’ll do the English volunteer one first, and see how it works. They also have volunteer opportunities in Germany.

I’m hoping this will give me an chance to see an area of the country I haven’t seen before, and to meet Spanish people from across the spectrum – students to professionals. And I’ll get to help someone in their linguistic journey while I’m doing it. Check out their website and see if a linguistic adventure in Spain is right for you. Who knows? We might end up in the same village, the same week! And then I’d get to hear your stories for a change😉