Getting On With It

Times are a changin’ in Valencia. And I know this because I’ve watched it first hand, from a medical perspective. Before lock down, we were going to medical appointments for other stuff and we watched as measures slowly got more stringent. By mid March, double masks became all the rage at the doctor’s office, and finally gloves and colorful lines on the ground and hazard tape indicating the patients to stand back from reception.

And then the pandemic hit in full force and, as you all know, we made that fateful trip to the hospital. The hospital was like an armed camp, only the soldiers were medical staff. People in puffy yellow suits with the helmets and tubes, like astronauts, leaning over you and trying to communicate through a little plastic window. I will admit it was very scary.

I’ve been back for many follow up appointments over the last few weeks, and while measures are still much more stringent than they were before, things are starting to return to more normal. Before, you couldn’t enter the hospital complex without going past the guard. All the gates surrounding it, which were normally open before the pandemic, were locked up tight. Today, the gates are all open and you can enter via any entrance and go right through to reception. Are face masks required? Uh – yeah. But they trust that you wouldn’t be at the hospital, while we’re still in Phase 0 of a pandemic, unless you had medical business that couldn’t be postponed.

This morning was raining cats and dogs when I arrived. Umbrellas aren’t used in Valencia except for maybe two weeks out of the entire year. It just doesn’t rain here much. But when it does the heavens open up. Today its a lovely 16 degrees, so I rummaged through the coat rack on my way out and got my favorite Hudson’s Bay umbrella from our last shopping trip to Vancouver BC in Canada. Their signature cream background with red, green, blue and yellow stripes. If you saw it on any street, anywhere in the world you’d recognize their brand.

When I got to the hospital they had bins for umbrellas. I had never seen this before so I shook out my umbrella outside and wound it up. Then I made to carry it with me, walking past the receptionist to head to my appointment. She was having none of that and vehemently pointed to the umbrella stands. Surveying them, they were full of black umbrellas that all looked the same. I would be lucky because no one would mistake mine for someone else’s. But then I noticed they all had names, either engraved on the handles or taped to them. But I was still concerned that someone might take my very cute – irreplaceable at this point – HB umbrella. I pointed this out to Jeff and he just laughed.

‘Why does this surprise you? No one is going to take your umbrella. Valencian’s are pragmatic people.’

I didn’t get what he was talking about.

‘All of these stands are below hand sanitizer.’ He assured me. ‘There is probably more danger of someone slipping on a wet floor than getting the virus from the handle of their umbrella being stored with everyone else’s. The hospital wouldn’t take unnecessary risks. And they wouldn’t have you leave your umbrella if they had a problem with people stealing them.’

I wasn’t as convinced. ‘Well, I hope it’s not that ‘leave a penny, take a penny’ thing like they do in grocery stores in the US. Or at Bellevue Square with the shared umbrellas. I’ve seen them in people’s houses with the Belle Square logo – and these are people who can afford not to steal mall umbrellas. I don’t want anyone taking my umbrella. I love this thing.’

He made a face.

‘We’ve had almost no experience of thievery since living here. I dropped 20 euros on the sidewalk and a person ran half a block to give it back to me. People are very helpful, and pretty honest.’

I guess I’m less trusting after my phone was lifted at the bowling alley last year.

‘It’s like the car thing outside the Soul Coffee.’ he reminded me. ‘People double and triple park on that little narrow street. The driver knows they just need to leave their parking break off, and their doors unlocked, and someone will take care of whatever they need to take care of to move it out of the way. If they don’t steal your car, they won’t take the umbrella. It’s gonna be OK.’

He’s right – we have spent many hours enjoying a coffee watching musical cars on the street. As those boxed-in push each other’s cars out of the way by hand so they can leave. Jeff has actually participated in this many times by assisting others when they can’t get one of the blocking cars moving. It’s a point of pride for him. He’ll point out a car driving by on the street while we’re out walking. ‘I know that car! I pushed it the other day.’ Invariably, I’ll have never before seen the car he’s pointing at. Sometimes, I swear he has a secret life.

And we’ve seen the cops help push cars too. The whole deal is a fascinating process, not on any DGT test I took, and completely on the honor system. You just have to trust that a stranger won’t crash your car, rolling it into someone else’s car or into traffic. Apparently, Jeff sees the umbrella stand at the hospital in the same way.

‘They’re very practical in the way they live here. It’s less ego and more just getting on with it.’ He said – like he can’t believe I wouldn’t see it exactly the same way.

So I left my umbrella at the stand and did all the tests they ordered. There are a lot more people in the common areas of the hospital now (like 12 instead of zero), so social distancing is more challenging. The army of cleaners are out in force washing down surfaces, nobs, walls, and the staff are militant on making sure patients are following protocols. It makes me feel good that even as they will ease restrictions, in a medical setting they’re still maintaining strict health practices.

After all the poking and prodding, and ‘Speak-n-Spell’ (which is what I call Google translate now) I returned to the umbrella bins and there was my favorite umbrella – waiting for me – as predicted. Of course it was. I decontaminated it, and myself, with a shower of Purell before heading outside. Jeff’s right – maybe it’s time to be more like the Valencians. Less afraid; just get on with it.

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