Yesterday, our first full day started with waking up in our new home. And it involved an assault on our senses. Not all of them bad.
It’s still cold up here. This morning its clear and sunny. 7 Celsius outside. A cloudless sky. We are still learning the heating system so we had to draw straws on who would get out of bed to remedy the situation. I lost. It was 18C in the house.
But before we got up, we noticed some other changes. It’s quiet. Sooo quiet. We don’t hear babies crying or dogs barking. No neighbors waking up upstairs. No rumbling tram going by or cars honking during their commute. No ambient noise. Just the sound of nothing.
Then, off in the distance a rooster crowed. I would have slept through it if I wasn’t already awake. The rooster woke up the baby lambs in a neighbor’s field, as they let out a chorus of bahs to urge their mother’s on their feet for breakfast.
We needed to get up and start the day, too. It was padrón day. If you remember, every citizen must register with the town hall where they live. No padrón and you don’t exist in Spanish bureaucracy. We are in the catchment area for Palas de Rei, even though we live just 100 meters from the Lugo/A Coruña border. Melide is the closest town to us with nearly 16,000 residents, but they are in another province. So we had to go the the Concello de Palas de Rei.
Locals just call this town (really a large village) Palas. We drove there and parked. Moving boxes the day before had me bent over like an old woman. I was one headscarf away from the complete look. My dwindling supply of Advil didn’t make a dent. Jeff helped me from the car and up the granite steps of the three floor stone building in the center of the town. It houses the Correos (post office), local Policia National station (one dude at a desk), and the tourist office for Peregrinos. On the top floor is the administrative office and there is no elevator. My back was not happy.
After climbing the stairs, I was hunched a little more. The one bench for waiting was swiftly cleared by the 4 guys who got there before us. There was a line and I called out ‘ultimo’, as I have been trained to do. So I would know who I was behind. When the administrator came out of the door to take the next person (we were sin cita – without appointment) the men stepped aside for me. My stooped back had cleared our path to preferencial administration. It felt wrong, but they insisted.
We approached the desk with my plastic folders. I had it all typed out in advance. First we needed the padrón. I had all the documents Valencian bureaucracy had ever demanded of me. You can watch a documentary of my typical experience in Valencia here. I was locked and load, ready for bear. I would dazzle them with my preparation. But I would be disappointed. It couldn’t have been easier. The guy spoke ingles. He asked us for our Passports, but when I said we had NIE cards he said that was fine. He just needed copies. I filled in a form with our old and new addresses, and that was it. I was almost disappointed. No wrangling like back home. Just simple. What?!?
I was so surprised by the ease of this transaction, I almost forgot to have the council taxes and garbage/recycling put into our names. The man performed this with ease and told me we should return in one day to pick up our padrón. But taxes are not due until July. We are paid up until then. I acknowledged all this but waited. There had to be something else. What agenda must this guy have? Lulling me into a false sense of bureaucratic security. What trickery could this be before he finally pounced with a demand for more documents? We stared into each others eyes, because that is all we could see over our masks. But there was nothing forthcoming. Jeff stepped in.
‘We can go, I think.’ He whispered to me tugging at my arm. But I just stood there
The man just looked at us like we were idiots. He indicated we could go. We turned and the line of dudes stared at us, confounded. They had heard the entire exchange. I’m pretty sure the news of the new Americans in town, who are more than a little slow, has reached to cafe shop circuit by now.
‘You should have seen them, Pilar. They hardly understand their own language. Never mind español,’
After our less than ten minutes at the town hall, we went to the Centro de Salud. This is the local medical centre. We needed to register with the health department to get the vaccine. In the local news they are saying our age group may be called in the next two weeks. We don’t want to miss out.
Again, I had it all typed out and ready to go. If you remember my last National Health experience. It didn’t go well. So I, again, had all the documents in the plastic folders. But there was no need for any of it.
‘We all speak english here, if that is easier for you. We see a lot of foreigners because we are on the Camino.’
So I abandoned my translation and they couldn’t have been nicer. The only thing we were missing was the padrón, and ours will be ready today. Then they will register us. We thanked them without the awkward silence at the town hall.
I was feeling cocky now, so we went into Melide to get signed up for internet. In Valencia we had to bring a bunch of documents for this operation with either Vodafone or Orange. At minimum I should have a utility bill for the house in my name, and the padrón. I was sure it would be the same here. But no. Just a Spanish bank account and our NIE cards. She even had Jeff come around to use her computer to find the house on a map. Nothing could have been easier. And the prices here are less than half of what they were in Valencia for unlimited everything
I just got a text that the internet company are coming with the equipment to set us up less than 24 hours after signing the contract, so we are off to a great start. I had assumed that living in the country in rural Spain would be more difficult than in a larger city. But, so far, it’s much easier. It’s more of face to face neighborly relationship based. We are less of a number here.
Martina told us over lunch that first day, ‘In the town, when they know you live here, you will be part of the family. Wait and see.’
Looking out the windows, it’s green everywhere. And Jeff and I agreed over coffee this morning, it already feels like home.