Nesting

Fall has arrived – my favorite season. The weather had definitely turned in Spain. This weekend the temperatures have dropped. I got up early yesterday morning to make breakfast and watch the sunrise on the balcony off the kitchen. It was cold and crisp. Time to switch out for the snuggly chenille robe instead of the cute boho one I’ve been lounging around in while drinking my daily coffee.

After rising early, we spent all day yesterday at ‘Shopping City’. Its clear it’s nesting season and time to get some things for the house that we’ve not needed thus far. It was a hot summer so cooking indoors wasn’t a priority. Now I find I’m craving casseroles and homemade soups, and so is Jeff. I made Scalloped Au-gratin potatoes with real American ham. Yum! But I needed some crucial appliances as we hunker down for winter, and shopping city is the place to go for all that stuff.

We power-shopped and lunched and then shopped some more, before a beverage and home. Crock-pot, food processor, toaster oven, waffle iron and much more were on our list. And some indoor lighting. We’ve rented an office space/creative space here in the city so we needed some things for that too. And we got it all accomplished. Whew!

So today should have been a lazy day but with Fall’s arrival it was time for a thorough deep cleaning of El Compartemiento, so we can be ready for any gales that blow through. There have been a few lately. And I assembled my new 3 tier drying rack. We have quite an extensive drying system on our kitchen balcony. And our washing machine is also a dryer. But I find it ‘almost dries’ the clothes and it takes a long time to do even that, so I’ve been hanging things all summer and they dry in a flash – faster than our dryer back home. But with the advent of Fall, our clothes aren’t drying so quickly so I need an indoor system that will not take up too much space off the kitchen, move on wheels, but still allow me to dry 3 loads of laundry on it at once.

I got one yesterday and it’s a beauty. In my cleaning fiesta today I’m taking it for a test drive. We’re becoming fast friends already. And while I was at it, I decided I would whip up a batch of the quintessential American cookie – chocolate chip. It filled our house with the smell of every kitchen in every home we’ve ever owned. It was grey outside but warm and cozy inside and the smell of baking cookies put us squarely into the season. Vanilla ice cream and CC cookies are on the menu for Jeff’s dessert tonight.

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So now all I have to do is start a batch of home-made vegetable beef soup and I’m all set.  Ready to sit outside, smell the scent of the fireplaces burning in the area. and snuggle under a wool blanket. Since we’ve been back from the US, it’s starting to feel more like this is home. It might be the cold weather or it may just be the smell of cookies in the oven, but I’ll take it either way.

It takes a Village

It’s Christmas in October! Carol Joyner – you are amazing! Today, all the way from Spain’s Northwest coast, a package arrived containing the English version of the Spanish driving regulations. And, as we all know, there are a lot of them as evidenced by the thickness of the tome of all things trafico.

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I’m taking the fact that the guy on the cover is holding up an Audi key as a sign to me that passing my ‘B’ permit is in my future. And the book looks well loved. When Carol told me that she had studied it thoroughly for 6 weeks prior to the test, I totally believe her. I’m living it. Because it’s so much information and the rules are so nuanced that it requires dedication, hours of concentration and gallons of coffee to successfully pass the test. And a few vino rosados after not a few sad failures in a row.

I’ve decided not to go to Madrid for the class. I’m taking it online right here in Valencia. And when I need to start practical lessons at an Autoescuela in Spanish, I have someone here from LA who speaks fluent Spanish and he’ll go with me on ride alongs to translate. It should be FUN! Well…maybe not, but I’m doing one thing at a time, so as not to get overwhelmed by the process. And the first thing will be to start reading this book as a supplement to my already growing knowledge of the rules of the road from my epic testing failures of the last couple of weeks. There’s always a silver lining.

Carol, let me know if you want the book back when I’m done. If not, I’ll pay it forward to the next American who is wading into the world of the Spanish driving license. For now, I’m well equipped to prepare for my test and when I do, I will be raising a glass to the friends who helped me get there. Muchas Gracias!!

Teaching the Test

I’m all over this driving test thing. Every day I’m taking the actual Dirección General de Tráfico (DGT) tests online. In the beginning, I was getting discouraged. I was successful somewhere in the 70% range and it was a morale killer. But I have persevered and now I’m either passing the actual tests or coming very close with only 4 mistakes.

I have learned a lot and not just about Spanish traffic laws. I’ve learned that ‘should’ and ‘must’ aren’t the same as ‘mandatory;. And ‘can’t’ or ‘shouldn’t’ isn’t the same as ‘prohibited’. In English, these mean the same things. In Spanish (or the translation) there’s a bit of trickery that will fool you every time until you start to spot these words and realize you’re about to be duped for the 400th time. Damn you, DGT test! You’ll not get me again. Fool me 400 times, shame on you. Fool me for the 401st – shame on me.

And if there are two answers that look, and actually mean the same thing, the one that says ‘but can be modified at any time at the discretion or authority of the police or other authorized persons’, that’s the answer – no matter what other thing you think it might be. Because if the police or authorized persons tells you to stand on your head in the middle of the tracks, with the engine running and a train coming, and livestock on all sides of the road – even though there is no ‘Canada’ sign and other signs expressly prohibiting it – you will do it. It’s ‘compulsory’. No can’s, no should’s. You will follow the authorities.

I’ve also learned a lot about how the pictures in the test have nothing, whatsoever to do with the question. When they show wild horses running all over the road, on both sides, and then ask you if you can encounter livestock on:

a) the right side of the road.

b) the left side of the road.

c) the entire road.

The answer is a). And here’s why. The picture is meant to be a fun bit of misdirection. And you’ll notice the word ‘can‘ in the question. This seems to the layman that, based on the photo and experience, of course you CAN experience livestock on all sides of the road. But you’d be wrong. Legally, you can only experience it on the right side with the flow of traffic. But remember, when you encounter livestock arbitrarily in the road you must yield to them. I plan on shouting at them ‘You’re prohibited from being here legally! The law says so!’ But of course I’d be screaming it in English so they wouldn’t understand me. Anyway – in my experience you yield to things bigger than you.

I’ve learned a bunch of other stuff too. The Spanish driving test cares a lot about depression, fatigue and both prescription and non-prescription drug use. It cares about smoking in the car and GPS use. As I sit here taking tests, Jeff has been looking over my shoulder. Sometimes he’s been helpful, at other times he’s emphatically suggested something that I know is incorrect, because I’ve encountered it before. I just chuckle – how naive he is that he thinks he understands whether you ‘can’ use your fog lights in a light drizzle – silly man. So he’s learning too. But this one particular question threw us both for a loop. Take a look at this picture. Notice there is no D) NONE!!

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Now, I can learn all the facts and figures around when I need to have my car or motorcycle inspected by the MOT/ITV. I can learn right of ways for one lane roads and urban vs. interurban areas. But HOLY MOLY! Driving a school bus after a few drinks? When was that decided it might be a) an OK idea, and after that one bad decision, b) how much they should be able to drink?! This just seems wrong. We both shook our head and then remembered that none of our kids will ever ride a Spanish school bus so that’s one more reason to sleep at night. But then I thought about the driver of our Metro train and took a gulp.

Last week, I found the street in front front of the Jefatura Provincial de Trafico, and it was festooned with places to get my medical/psychological exam to obtain my certificate. I was waiting for Jeff in a cafe and asked the woman next to me about all the clinics that were lining the street. I asked her if it was cosmetic surgery or botox or something. She laughed and explained it was for the certificate to drive in Spain. So now I know where to go. They stand outside in lab coats like hucksters so I’m thinking I can negotiate the cost. And next week I’m getting my new town hall certificate and passport sized photos for my learners permit.

I’m starting to be more sure of myself, but not cocky. There’s no room in this process for over confidence. After a little more practice and gathering my documents, I’ll make the appointment to take the test for after we’re back from Brazil in mid-November. I’m hoping I pass on the first two tries so I don’t have to take an actual course and can spend the rest of my time learning in the car. I’d like to start the new year with my new license and a new car – ready to explore more of the country. Seems like a good way to start the year!

First Things First

I have written alot about Spanish holidays. Because there are so very many of them. This country likes to celebrate. It can be fun and it can be confusing. But there is one thing I find so wonderful about the Spanish way of celebrating holidays that I want to celebrate that! Here they celebrate one holiday at a time.

In August, the decorations and reminders for the Nou d’Octubre celebration weren’t out in stores. Oh no! They were busy celebrating things like Assumption Day and other stuff. This is a very ‘Live in the Present’ culture. Jeff both loves that and laments it. He’ll be doing a guest blog on that very subject right here very soon – stay tuned.

It didn’t hit me until we went to El Corte Ingles for lunch the other day. That sounds kind of weird with all the other lunch and beverage options in the city we would choose a department store, but their restaurant it really good and the view from the top? We love sitting up there and having a drink and some snacks and looking out over the interesting roof tops with all the church towers. It’s usually almost empty and kind of a secret – don’t tell anyone.

We walked into the bottom floor and what did we see in mid-October? A Halloween display. One that wasn’t there two weeks ago. And do you know why it wasn’t there? Because they aren’t stupid. They were busy celebrating, first Valencia Day and then Spain Day on October 12th. That space was taken up with other celebration appropriate stuff.

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I was so struck by seeing Halloween gear that I started looking around. When we were back in the US in September, Halloween (which isn’t until the end of October) was almost old news. The Thanksgiving/Harvest stuff was out. But what really struck us was that every store had their Christmas displays going. All except Nordstrom who refuses to do it until the day after Thanksgiving. But that means their employees work on Thanksgiving – a holiday supposedly devoted to spending time with your family – to put up Nordstrom’s Christmas regalia.

Yup. Walmart, Fred Meyer, Target and every grocery store had already turned the corner to Christmas. It makes every holiday seem like it lasts forever and isn’t as special any more. Here that would never happen. They seem to look at their calendars and say ‘Well, lets see what’s next up for fireworks and family gatherings and special food’ and then they go to the store and shop for that one thing. Everyone knows what they’re celebrating and they focus on that.

So there are no Christmas windows that snuck in before anyone else. Trying to complete for the attention of the population for their limited almighty Euro. No. And I love it! The pace of things seems just right.  Do one thing at a time and do it well, then move on.

It will be interesting to see how they do Halloween here. I have heard that they don’t do tick or treating with kids, but they do Halloween parties so we’ll see how that goes. I won’t lie. It was sort of nice to see all that cheezy crap piled up in that little space at the store. It’s been colder here lately so its starting to feel a little like home. But those masks and the big Harry Potter display did it for me. Time to buy some Candy Corn and Chromecast a fire on the tv from an app on my phone. OK – now it doesn’t feel like home.

 

Warning! A Rant to Follow

‘People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.’

‘He who is without sin, cast the first stone.’

I’ve heard them all. And of course, they’re true. I’m not perfect. Far, very far from it. And since I’ve heard horror stories of ugly Americans, when traveling, we try to go out of our way to be culturally sensitive and respectful. Do I love everything about living here? No. I miss some stuff and some of it’s doesn’t make sense to me. We choose to live in Spain because we like it here better than we did back in the US. Jeff reminded me the other day it was his idea, after all.

We’ve lived here nearly 8 months now and I’m fed up. ‘With the Spanish?’ you might ask. But my answer would be an emphatic ‘NOOOO.’ I’m fed up with British and the arrogance I witness, over hear and generally experience from these people every freaking day. It’s very clear many British Expats – or even holiday maker –  is under the misapprehension that Imperialism is still an actual thing.

Now, as a caveat, we have some friends here who are Brits. But sometimes even they will say things that make me go ‘Hmmm’.

Today Jeff and I headed to the beach for our morning coffee. It’s been super stormy here and the beach was festooned with mostly locals running. And the waves were huge. The Med is usually pretty calm and flat. This morning it looked more like Manzanita – the small beach town in Oregon where we used to go in the summer when I was a kid. Big angry swells and crashing waves. We watched the Spanish Coast Guard perform a real rescue of a wind surfer.

I was wearing my Pendleton fisherman’s sweater. It wasn’t warm out. And then a flock of tourists came by. We knew they were tourists before we could hear them because they all had large red beach towels with the word ‘ENGLAND’ emblazoned across it hanging around their necks, like they were part of the same flock of red faced birds, to be observed from afar. Then one of them decided that he needed to take a wee and promptly relieved himself all over a stack of beach chairs where we rent loungers in the summer. To say we were actually pissed off is an understatement! How dare he? But we knew they dared – they’re English, and they told us so!

Recently, Brexit has been a large part of the convo around here. It’s become an obsession since so many British citizens live in Spain. They speculate about it, and rant and rave about their Prime Minister’s botched Brexit job. We aren’t one’s to talk with our own country in such a freaking mess right now, so we usually just listen.

‘Well I just don’t see why we have to follow all those laws the EU would come up with. I mean we’re not all supposed to smoke in cafe’s now. It’s the law in EU and in Britain we follow the law. But you’ll notice in Spain they don’t. They just ignore what they don’t like. That’s why I voted to leave.’

My eyes narrowed.

‘You voted to leave the EU because Britain is following EU laws around smoking in outdoor cafe’s and Spain isn’t?’

‘Well, yes.’

I was dumbfounded. ‘First off, you don’t smoke.’

‘I know.’ they said ‘but other people do.’

‘Yes .’ I said ‘But I don’t want to have to smoke other people’s cigarettes while I have a coffee. So it’s good Britain is enforcing it. And secondly, you live in Spain. And you want to stay here, with no guarantee that you’ll be able to after Brexit. So you voted against your own self interest so that Brits you don’t live near can smoke in Britain in outside in cafes?’

But the capper for us was over hearing a rowdy group of English (I’m hoping on holiday and not locals) in a cafe we frequent. Now my Spanish is not good. And after being away for a month it didn’t get better. But I do what I can and I muddle through. One thing I don’t do is shout louder in English when I encounter someone who doesn’t speak any of my native tongue. But this group of jolly, rather inebriated, assholes did. And when the waitress walked away they said something that is the cherry on the ethnocentric cake that seems all too common with those from the British Isles.

‘Spain would be so much better if there weren’t so many Spaniards.’ Loudly and then they all laughed and agreed wholeheartedly that yes, indeed, it’s the Spanish that ruin Spain because they’re all lazy and they don’t speak English. We got the check and paid. While walking ever so close to their table to leave I said – not so much under my breath.

‘I disagree – I just think it’s all the fucking assholes who come here and forget to pack the manners Mummy tried and failed to teach them.’ And we left quickly before I was tackled by a guy who clearly played a game or two of rugby at school.

This week I saw the article about how Spain will surpass Japan in life expectancy by 2040. Yes, if you live in Spain you’ll live longer than all others in the world. It has the weather, A LOT less stress, and the food is a Mediterranean diet. The best for heart health and cancer prevention. And if you do get sick, the health care here is top notch. Believe me, I know. Next time, I want to hold that up to the British who are ranting about the people of the country they are lucky enough to be allowed to enjoy by the grace of the Spanish government, and shout.

‘Your culinary contribution to the world was boiled meat! You didn’t discover the existence of garlic until 1975. Suck it!’

I used to be very quiet about telling anyone I was an American when traveling. Our reputation in the world being what it is. But now whenever someone asks me if I’m from Inglaterra I make sure to tell them NOOO! I AM NOT. There’s a part of me that is hoping that some of the English can’t come to Spain after Brexit. They can go back to the UK. You know how the old saying goes ‘England. Not like Spain at all, and without all those lazy Spaniards.’ Sounds like heaven to them. Wonder what their life expectancy in the UK will be in 2040. Oh wait! I won’t really care because I’ll be living in Spain.

OK – I’m done now.