Connecting with the Community

Last night was the first mascleta of Fallas. Even though Fallas didn’t actually start until tonight at Torres de Serrano, last night they shot off the tallest mascleta in history. A mascleta are crazy loud fireworks that go off on a regular basis during Fallas. The history making one last night was in the marina and could be heard for 10 minutes throughout the city. Yes, it’s that loud.

Regular mascletas will go off on a daily basis in the city center at 2pm, and on the weekends they’ll also do nocturna’s at around midnight that will inspire others across the city to light them until the wee hours. Like last year, it will get very old very quickly. But for now, we’re still enjoying watching all the lights on the local streets being strung up in preparation for the local Fallas societies to erect their fallas; large and small. Including the one for infantils. We’ll post pictures of the best ones when they go up.

It’s put us in the community spirit, so when our door bell rang today – yes, we said ‘Did you order something’ simultaneously – but then when we opened the door we found a crowd in our hallway and they weren’t trick or treaters. Our local neighborhood Fallas organization was at the door with mini Fallera and Falleros soliciting donations for all that they do throughout the year. Marching bands, outfits that cost thousands, and those amazing effigies that will start going up in a couple of weeks.

Junior Falleras and Falleros

Jeff and I quickly went through out change dish and gave a hearty donation to the cause – we have bowls of Euro coins we hate carrying in our wallets. And in return we were given two Valencian flags to wave at various parades that will be marching down our streets. Now we’ll have to carry them for the next few weeks just in case we encounter an unexpected procession. There will be many.

Since we’re in the spirit of supporting our local community, it’s good we had tickets to the Levante v. Real Madrid match at Arena tonight. It was sold out ages ago. I had tried to buy them at the box office but the lady just laughed. Then one of the girls on my soccer team has a boyfriend with season passes. He couldn’t use them and she offered them to me. It worked out well because I was sick on Valentines Day, so while Jeff did the flowers, candy and a gift that I love, I gave him the gift of taking care of me. It felt like I could make up for it with these tickets.

We got gear

You can’t go to a game without the proper gear supporting the home team. So with Jeff sporting his new jersey and me with my new scarf, we made our way down to join our fellow Valencian’s to cheer on our beloved (?) home team against the dreaded Real Madrid, 3rd in the league. And we are now rabid Levante U.D. supporters. No doubt about it.

Our team played brilliantly, and that assessment is not because we’re their newest fans. Real Madrid did the usual flopping and whining, and the calls seemed to go their way – A LOT. This only endeared us to our neighborhood team and we booed Real Madrid’s bad behavior along with everyone else, and cheered when we scored the only real goal of the night (Real Madrid scored 2 on penalties that should never have been called – just saying).

It was so FUN! And the experience is more about the game and less about the vendors and merchandise in the stadium. No purveyors of food and drink hawking it in the aisles throughout the match. It was more like a high school football game, as far as vending, than any professional sport in the US. Quite refreshing. And even though we lost, we had a great time. And it doesn’t hurt that we live so close to the stadium that we were home in 10 minutes getting warm.

So some people kick off Fallas in the traditional way. Tonight we kicked it off with fubol along with a few ten thousand of our local friends. I think we chose the right track.

The Visa Renewal

I can’t believe it’s been nearly a year. It flew by and when I look back on all the things we did, and all that we’ve learned, I’m amazed. And if I’m honest, more than a little tired. Perhaps its this roller coaster of the bug that has performed a hit and run on me over the last couple of weeks. I went to soccer practice on Monday and tried to pretend I wasn’t more sluggish than normal, but Tuesday let me know that wasn’t the truth.

So far this year, it’s been a bit of a whirlwind of things to check off the list. I’ve never been one to let grass grow under my feet, but even I am a bit surprised that by February 22nd we’ve ticked so many boxes. And my last box for this quarter is gathering the paperwork for the visa renewal.

You can start your visa renewal 2 months before your visa expires, and up to 90 days afterwards. We didn’t file early and there were good reasons we waited. I think it will pay off. But I do want to file before the Brexit (The UK leaving the EU) debacle happens. If Britian goes a ‘Hard Brexit’ without a deal in a little over a month, that will leave the immigration status for many of the 300,000+ Brits who call Spain home in no-mans-land for immigration status. I’d like to avoid the chaos that is sure to ensue with ‘What do we do about these people’ from a Spanish Government perspective. And the rules and requirement might change.

This year we get to renew our visas for a 2 year period, rather than just the one. So this time next year I feel sure I’ll be sipping Mai Tai’s on a beach laughing at how little work I have to do compared to this year. Yeah Right. And it’s a bit of a different process this time around.

We hired a gestor to walk, and talk, us through it because while it says certain words on the Government website, the reality is quite different. And those words – now that we’re in Spain – don’t mean the same as they did when we were in the US. So a lot of the pre-work I did before meeting with the gestor is a bit mute now. I’m not concerned – we gave ourselves plenty of time. Now I know for next time what we really need.

As a refresher – gestors are like administrators. Some specialize in helping you set up a business with appropriate licensing, etc. Others do tax filing (but they aren’t accountants). Some help with immigration stuff. Generally, they’re the dogs body of the bureaucratic engine of Spain. They don’t review contracts or perform functions that an Abogado (lawyer) does. It’s a different job entirely. They give you advice and fill out a lot of forms on your behalf and file them.

When they say ‘bank statements’ they don’t mean the same thing from the US. And what they’re worried about, as far as documentation, is a little different than what we’re used to. Never mind, Jeff is going back to the US next month so he’ll gather whatever else we need that we can’t get from here. Like another Apostilized marriage certificate that can’t be any older than 3 months since the last version 1000 was issued. No kidding, I have 5 of these of varying vintages from the last 18 months. And the funny thing is – if we were divorced we wouldn’t be living together in Spain! Ugh!

Another thing we learned, for the next renewal we will need to show our Spanish tax documents. Meaning showing that we have filed annual taxes in Spain. Of course, we haven’t lived here long enough yet to file for the first time, but we will have to ensure those are ready to go next go round. Spain and the US have a tax treaty so no double taxing, but I’ve met a lot of American’s here, and most say they won’t bother to file. I hope they aren’t planning to be here for a second renewal cause they’re in for a shock. Eek! We are getting a referral from our gestor on who we need to discuss things with as an expert on US/Spanish personal taxation laws, and said treaty.

I was proactive in getting letters in advance from anyone we pay on a regular basis, landlord, etc. to write that we are up-to-date on paying. This was a good thing, as it apparently goes a long way to demonstrating good citizenship, amongst other things, like you pay your financial obligations without difficulty. And we will be requesting letters from the bank here verifying all sorts of stuff in specific language. It’s so different than last time.

And I learned that one local office for filing is not like other offices throughout the country or even the region. Every one of them can ask for different things and in different ways so it’s more an office by office thing. But we’ll roll with it and cross our fingers.

It feels like time is speeding up. The months are water through our fingers these days. My parents won’t be around forever and this year, in particular,, I feel the pull of home more than usual. I’ve been a little melancholy about remembering my childhood over the last several months, which is surprising because I’m not prone to sentimentality in that area.

We’ll be really glad when this renewal is done. Then we can come and go as we please. And, if the timing works out I can just make it to Portland for my Mom’s 80th Birthday at the end of May – and maybe my Dad’s 90th in September. Sporting my new Spanish residency card without a care in the world. Ha!

It’s Never as Easy as it Looks

When I started taking my practice tests for taking the theory test in preparation for getting my driving license, I was failing ALL of them – miserably. I believed it’s because the translations from Spanish to English for each of the questions/answers is wonky. But I persevered, while complaining bitterly. Jeff listened to my complaints and was less than sympathetic.

‘I took one of those free practice tests online when we first got here. I passed it without doing any reading. I’m not sure why this is so hard for you – you’re making too big a deal of it. I think I could just sign up for the test and pass it on the first try.’

Did that make me feel good? No – it did not. But maybe he was right, I thought. Then I wondered if I wasn’t as smart as I had thought I was. Was my brain calcifying? Was it early onset Alzheimers? I would read some of these crazy questions and even crazier answers out to him and he acted like it was a piece of cake.

‘You just need to read the questions slowly. I think you’re going too fast and you’re missing it when they say ‘Always’ or ‘Never’. Those are the words they tell you to be on the lookout for when taking tests.’

I would look up at him from my chaise – ready to throw a lamp or my phone at him, thinking ‘Patronizing asshole – this joker has not a clue!’ but also ‘Has all the grey matter from my brain disappeared?’

Fast forward to this week. El Jefe is using the same online practice tests I did. It’s the best one out there because they have the actual tests that you could experience when taking the theory test at the DGT office in the rice fields. But driving licenses are in my rear view mirror and I am busy editing my book, so I’ve been super focused on that. When he randomly emerges from the office it startles me.

‘What the HELL?! Have you seen some of those questions? (Is he kidding?) I have to take a break. This is crazy! I missed 6 tests in a row! SIX! It’s like they want you to fail. I think you can only miss 5 questions to pass (actually it’s 3, but who’s counting). Here, let me read one of these out to you. You tell me what you think the answer might be.’

Oh, how I wanted to say a simple ‘I told you so.’ And remind him of his ‘I think you’re making this harder than it needs to be.’ But I just listen to his rant. While my inner dialogue is Gloat, Gloat, Gloating. I want to hold up that piece of paper that I keep in my wallet that says ‘Provisional’ driving license and use it to fan myself. I want to display my giant ‘L’ prominently on the side board, and say ‘Wait – didn’t I already pass this test?’ But I do none of those things.

He reads me the offending question and awaits my response. Without hesitating I tell him the correct answer ‘Animals can only be on the right side of the road.’ I say with total dead pan – returning to my laptop.

He looks stunned. ‘But look at the picture. It shows animals running all over. So clearly they can be anywhere.’

I shake my head without looking up – or I know I’ll laugh. ‘You need to understand. When they ask you something with ‘can’ – what they mean is ‘allowed’. It’s pretty simple once you figure that out.’

He is stunned.

‘Oh, and never, ever go by the photo. That will trip you up every time. The photo has nothing whatsoever to do with the answer.’ And then I return to my manuscript while listening to him make the ‘Eh!’ sound, fling his arms in the air, and then marching back into the office like a teenager.

I’ve never been one to celebrate another person’s lack of success. It’s not in my nature. But this moment – just this moment – I’m going to allow myself that most human of emotions by delighting in what will certainly be his temporary defeat. And whispering to myself, more than a few times ‘Oh wait, I told you so.’

This Old Dog

They say you’re only as old as you feel. But, as I’ve discovered, that’s not necessarily true. You’re actually as old as you are. And there is no way around that.

I have been playing on a women’s futbol (soccer) team here in Valencia. We practice every Monday and Wednesday. It took me a couple of practices to realize that I’m not young anymore. Mind you, I’m not ancient. I’m 52. But I’m not 25 either, and that seems to be the median age of those on my team.

Jeff decided to come to one of our practices. I had warned him in advance. In my time playing teams sports in my teens and 20’s, I was usually one of the better players for most of the sports I played. Not blowing my own horn, it’s just that I loved playing sports. And it’s what I always told my kids; You don’t have to be the most naturally talented, but if you’re the hardest worker it will get you playing time. Hard work beats natural talent every time – Just ask Malcolm Gladwell. I know Emilie took this to heart.

So Jeff joined me at the field to watch. Afterwards I asked him for his assessment.

‘Good News! You’re not the worst one on the team.’ he told me, as we walked back to the Metro. Since I’m the age of most of their Mothers I’ll take it. And I do try to work as hard as everyone else. Even though they’re hardly breaking a sweat on gazelle-like legs while I’m huffing and puffing red faced through all the drills. Its certainly harder than it used to be.

But I do have an ulterior motive for all this, and it’s more than just staying in shape. I’m taking a page out of El Jefe’s book and I’m learning Spanish in the context of something I already know. Yup – my soccer team only speaks Spanish. There is one girl who can confirm if I’ve understood correctly what the coach is saying, but 99% of the time I have to listen and understand ‘Futbol Spanish’. Then perform whatever instruction is given. And you know what, it’s working.

I’ve even put some of my ‘Driving Spanish’ to good use. La Derecha. Izquierda. One thing building on another. And I’ve also found that in Spanish, I’m not directionally dyslexic like I am in English. I’m not sure what that’s about.

Our last practice, I didn’t need any help with my Spanish. And I’m finding real dividends in everyday life. Because I have to quickly understand and respond on the field, it’s helping me to do that in restaurants, grocery stores, the optometrist – all sorts. Yesterday we went to lunch and my entire interaction with the waiter was in Spanish. And I didn’t even have to stop and ponder what he had said. I just knew it and responded. Some of it wasn’t the usual. And last week when we went to look at mattresses at El Corte Ingles it was the same.

So playing on this team is helping me in multiple ways. But like learning a new physical skill, combining that with learning Spanish is creating a muscle memory I can draw on without having to think about it.

Maybe with a little (OK ALOT) of hard work, this 52 year old dog can learn some new tricks.

A Ticket to Ride (well… Drive)

Now that I am legal to drive in Spain, and Jeff is knee deep in studying to take his exam, it’s time to start looking at cars and understanding the car buying process. SHOPPING. It’s my one and only super power!

I know foreigners in Spain – even without the NIE – can purchase cars under certain conditions. But once you are a resident with a license you can purchase a car the same as any Spaniard. At least this is what we have been told by a few car dealerships. I have been advised to purchase new because if you buy a used car in Spain, it may have encumbrances like violations or missed payments by the previous owner, that you don’t know about and have no way of finding out. The new owner takes all these on when they purchase the car. I want none of that nonsense.

The process of looking at cars is fun. I actually like this part. But if you want to test drive the car you must make arrangements 24 hours in advance. In other words, they will chat you up in the show room. They’ll let you sit in the car. They’ll give you brochures and water or coffee, like in the US. But if you want to take it out for a spin so you can start the negotiations? No. This must wait until the following day. You must make an appointment. It’s the ‘Appointment to make the Appointment’ all over again.

We were surprised they would let a fish off the hook so easily. What is the chance we wouldn’t come back? Probably pretty high due to my limited attention span and penchant for chasing other shiny objects. But in the US, this would never happen. If you went to ‘just look’ at a car, you will be there FOREVER – its Dog Years. They will let you, your husband, your 10 year old drive it (OK, a bit of an exaggeration, but they’ll give him a toy car to drive) all so you don’t leave. It’s just shy of hostage taking. And it’s Jeff’s least favorite thing. He’s their target in the negotiations because he’s worn down hours before me. The last time – Audi Scottsdale – he actually left me there. He couldn’t take it. Luckily, I knew I’d have a car to drive myself home after wearing down the sales manager.

And speaking of negotiations, here you negotiate the price, etc. So that’s fine. But in the US, if you walk in with a check book and say you’ll be paying cash, you have all the leverage. They can’t use the ‘Well your credit is excellent but we really can’t give you our best rate due to some other piece of nonsense we just made up’. Then they start drawing the four boxes. Idiocy. No, with cash it goes right to price and perks. They hate that.

But in Spain, they give you discounts to finance the car. Of course they’re getting your 8+% interest (it’s super high here), but I guess I don’t really get why they wouldn’t want to get their money up front = Time/value of money. So while we have the money to purchase the car in cash, we will most likely finance it for 12 months so we get the lower price and then make larger payments to pay it off early (but I need to check if there is an early payment penalty). Either way we’ll come out ahead.

We’re also educating ourselves about cars here. So many brands either weren’t sold in the US, or they were pretty rare to see. I’d like to stick with the old stand by – Audi. Any of ours never did me wrong. But I’m not sure I can talk El Jefe into that. We passed one parked on the street on the way from the Peugeot dealer. He just pointed to its scratched, dented bumper and grunted.

But I’m going to thoroughly enjoy the process. We’ll take however long we need to take to get the right car. We have a bunch of travel coming up next month (Fallas refugees) so if we don’t find something before then, it will have to wait until April. But how wonderful that we live in a city like Valencia where the transit is so good that the urgency for our own wheels isn’t was it was in the US.