Meeting our Neighbours

We had an eventful few days. Exploring our neighbourhood and getting to know people, the free-range chickens, and the cat that visits me each evening for a little tuna. It’s monsoon raining all this week. But we had a bright and sunny Friday and Saturday, and we made the most of them.

Friday night we walked up to our local café to enjoy the evening twilight. And who did we encounter? Our new friends, Carlos and Mar, had beaten us to it. They were happy to see us and we had barely sat down when the owner began to usher us all out. It was the last night of curfew and bar closing restrictions. So they quickly invited us up to their house to enjoy a glass and the view. And it turns out, the setting couldn’t be beat.

They live in an old stately manor house, turned Albergue. But, with all the Albergues closed in the area, we had the entire place to ourselves. The home was built in the 1500’s and the stone U-shaped building with stone courtyard comes complete with the family crest carved over the door with the coronet. This denotes a family with royal blood. It’s an impressive building, but it’s the setting that really set it off. They are a short 15 minute walk from the local castle. I’ll post some pics from there after the rain stops in a week.

We sat outside with their big mastiff, Bela, who took a liking to us both and did what mastiff’s do best, drool, while relaxing on the upper terrace and watching the sun set. It seems everyone here has a mastiff to keep the wolves and the javalies away. Carlos and Mar love to cook and they served us so many delicacies of the area we left stuffed. And they kindly offered to introduce us to the makers of the cheese, the owner of the dairy, the bakers of the bread, and a guy who can advise us on getting fishing licenses for the local river. And she is going to help me get my business set up with the right suppliers and licenses, etc. They’ve been locked away in their empty 15 bedroom manse for the past year, so we felt pretty safe since our area here has some of the lowest infection rates anywhere.

But it was at the end of the evening when we all experienced a strange occurrence. A line of bright lights flashed in the night sky. We watched as they stretched across the horizon from west to east. Mar commented that perhaps it was the end of the world and we were being invaded by aliens. It was very strange. We went home thinking maybe it was that Chinese rocket breaking up over Galicia, but then she sent me this article from La Voz and it all made sense. Elon Musk is launching his new Starlink satellite internet service and Spain is one of the first place who will be eligible for it. Jeff signed up for it awhile ago, waiting for it to get up and running. You can read more about it here.

The next day we took a trip up to A Coruña. Melide is the geographical centre of Galicia so everything is about an hour to an hour and a half away in any direction. We had a list of things we needed for the house and Leroy Merlin (it’s like Lowes in the US) was our first destination. It was a fun day of shopping to get gardening supplies and a few other things, but we found out Melide actually has a better supply of Agricultural stores and suppliers of the equipment we need to maintain our property. Yes, it requires us to go to multiple shops, but we get to meet more people that way. So we came home with less than we thought we would.

The mall where we went was one we visited on our house hunting trip back in November of 2019. What a difference 18 months has made. It was packed because restrictions ended here on Saturday. If we had known that we might have skipped such a crowded place. But one thing stood out. The El Corte Ingles was nearly empty. Of both customers and product. It looks like a store on the verge of going out of business. El Corte Ingles is the Nordstrom of Spain – plus a little bit more. A real department store in the old school style. The pandemic has hit them hard too. Jeff came home and ordered what he had planned to buy there, but online. We’d tried to make all our purchases in-store, but more than half of what was on the list simply wasn’t in any store. Inventories are dangerously low.

The front yard

Today, our new contractors came to solve the first of many problems with the house. After our trip to the mall, while Jeff happily mowed 3 acres around the house, I threw a load of laundry in the washer. My laundry is in the barn, in case you didn’t think I am a real farmer now. I believe this solidifies my bona fides. I marched back into the house and swiftly learned that I had thrown a breaker. What? How is the barn controlling the electrical in our house? Am I to go without hot water and clean clothes? Soon we will become a smelly spectacle in the village. People will shun us! I refuse to become the Pig-Pen of the community.

So, three men showed up today to take care of the water pressure and the hot water. They arrived in the middle of what I am sure was rain falling at a rate of an inch every 5 minutes. They did their inspection in the house. Turning on faucets, inspecting pipes and then we all marched out to the barn and did the same. Then they inspected the well pump and found a way to increase the pressure. This temporarily solves my problems around hot water and water pressure. But not the electrical, or the other 100 items on my ever growing list. I finally decided we must look at this entire thing as a larger project. And I told the head guy just this.

‘Here are all the things I want done. Some are large and some are small. My goal is to ensure we can eliminate as much redundant cost and disruption as possible. I don’t want to rip anything out twice. So we are on the same page, I have managed very large, multi million dollar high risk projects. Many of them. I like a project plan. I like risks and dependencies. I like contingency plans. And, above all, I like honesty. Never tell me you can do something that you think you can’t. If you tell me you can’t do something, and I know it’s possible, we will discuss it. But I would prefer that you under promise and over deliver. That way you’ll manage my expectations. I expect this should be a very collaborative relationship. But if you think I am asking for something crazy, I insist you tell me so. And feel free to tell me ‘NO!”

Needless to say, if he hadn’t been wearing a mask his mouth would have hung open. He laughed. I asked him why.

‘I have never had a client say this to me before. I wish they were all so straightforward. No one accepts ‘No.’

It was my turn to laugh.

‘I won’t pretend to like it. But I don’t want you to promise me something and then disappoint me, when you knew from the beginning you couldn’t do it. Just so I don’t get upset. We are all adults. I’m inviting you to be honest. Then we can remain friends.’

Diego is in full agreement on my approach. We would have shaken hands if it weren’t for Covid.

Our electrical problem will take more redesign. But I can mitigate it by unplugging everything during my laundry doing, and avoid blow drying my hair or watching tv while it’s in a spin cycle. Likely, they will trench while they are putting in the underfloor heating, isolating everything and putting in a much larger breaker box in both the house and the barn. They confirmed a lot of what we already thought was going on. It was all in Spanish, but they have my full confidence.

I tested out the relationship by asking if I might need a few other things like a home water filtration system. But they said ‘No. This is not necessary. It’s an additional expense. Your well water should be really good, but we will test it to make sure you feel comfortable with the purity.’

So far, we could not be happier. As Mar (a fellow Valencian) said to us on Friday night. ‘Galicia is a special place, isn’t it? It’s like there is something here.´ She rubbed her fingers together. ‘Magic or something. The people are special, too. I think you know it, or you wouldn’t have moved here from Valencia.’ And she raised her glass ‘To our new American friends, who are valiente. To move all the way to Spain, and then move again. But, I think, now, you have found your home.’ And I quite agree.

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