No Passa Nada

I know some people who moved here after we did. They had been reading my blog and told me, on more than one occasion, ‘All we had to do was ask ourselves ‘What would Kelli do?’ and then do the exact opposite’. Sure, I’m pretty clear I’ve made some mistakes, but it’s all learning. That’s what moving to another country, and life, is all about. And in the end, I’m pretty happy with where we’ve landed and the life we’ve made for ourselves in Valencia. So it’s all good. No one else has to agree with it – but then, they’re not me, with my life goals.

The ‘L’ isn’t for ‘Lovely’ – but it should be.

I must have done something right, though, because after 6 driving lessons, today I passed my practical driving exam. That’s right, Valencia – look out cause there’s a new driver on the road and she’s fully qualified on these crazy streets we call call home. I’m about to embrace all the wonderful driving habits I’ve witnessed on a daily basis. Mad Max and his Thunderdome has nothing on these people. And now I’m one of them. Shooting across an 8 lane roundabout without lines, sailing off to my third exit from center lane like a pro, while yielding on a red with a yellow flashing arrow. A total piece of Santiago cake. I’m pretty sure I’ve used up some of that dispensation of sins I got when I picked up my Compostella in Santiago in July 2017. Oh well, I’ll just have to walk another one.

And once again, I am rated ‘Apto’ – ‘Suitable’ in Spanish. And Apto is good enough to drive in The Octagon that is Valencia city. I collected my placcard at the Autoescuela this afternoon. For the next year I will be sporting a large ‘L’ on the back of the car I have yet to purchase. It’s to warn everyone that I’m still a ‘Learner’.  But when I think about it, maybe I should have had that plastered to my ass for the last year to warn others to ‘Look out – she’s ‘learning’ to live in Spain!’ Because moving to Valencia has been a lot like going to school. You start out in Moving-to-Spain kindergarten knowing nothing but how to take naps and eat snacks. Then one day you graduate from How-to-Navigate-Valencian-Bureaucracy High School, wondering where the time went and hoping for an advanced degree in your future.

What I’m most looking forward to is driving outside the city. I can’t wait to get to my first uphill, mountainous, one lane road resplendent with a donkey cart and a cement truck and some random cliff-side road work, so I can test out my knowledge of uphill right of ways in real time. Until then, I’ll stick to the city where I can hone my skills on ‘Las Glorietas’ heading out to Shopping City.

In a week I get my provisional license and within the month my new official license will arrive from Madrid. Now I move on to the next thing. Our visa renewal and then, maybe, just maybe my scooter license. But for today I’ll raise a glass with friends and toast to being an ‘Apto Learner’ Spanish licensed driver. And that feels pretty damned good.

And Now We Wait

This morning I made my way to the Autoescula across town, where I have been taking my driving lessons. At 10 am we went to the starting ground for the practical driving exam. It was time.

On a wall I saw ‘Nunca sabras de lo que eres capaz hasta que lo intentes.’ by Charles Dickens. In Ingles it means ‘You never know what you are capable of until you try.’ I decided that’s all I really was there to do – try.

I agreed to go first. Someone else in the school was taking a motorcycle test there too. But he would go after me. I’m not going to say it was my best day. My usual clutch work wasn’t as smooth at I would have liked. In the US they don’t judge that part, but here it’s all part of the exam points so I’m sure I lost some for that.

I only had one real error and she explained it after. She said that alone wasn’t a disqualifying error, so I am not sure if I passed or not. But I certainly tried. My teacher thinks I still passed but he said we won’t know until noon tomorrow.

In the end, even if I have to take it again, at least I gave it a shot. I was very nervous and you could tell I wasn’t alone. Plenty of other people were pacing and biting their nails. Because, well, driving in Valencia – especially in the area where you take the test, it very difficult. Narrow streets, blind right of ways, zebra crossings aplenty, lights in roundabouts, go-rights-to-go-lefts, and more. My teacher said other people from Spain move here and they take lessons to drive specifically in Valencia, because it’s so crazy.

If I could have gotten some extra credit for learning ‘Driving Spanish’ I would have rocked that! Because I know I was the only person there who had to test with a language handicap today. Its amazing what you can understand when you’re stressed out. Suddenly, every direction I was given was crystal clear. It’s like my brain decided to help me out for once. It opened the secret room where it’s been keeping all the Spanish input I’ve received in the last year and decided to give me 25 minutes of free reign, before slamming the door in my face again when the test was over. That’s probably why my clutch work was so bad. My brain can only do 75 things at once. And 76? No, something had to give – the clutch.

Now I just have to wait. Tonight I have try outs for my second soccer team so I’m on to the next thing to focus on. Today is all about just Trying with a capital ‘T’. And just celebrating that. Tomorrow is a whole other day. And I’ll worry about it then. I figure – if I passed, it’s just what Forrest Gump said. ‘Just one less thing.’

The Sun Also Rises

Time smooths out the rough edges of memory. Sometimes it makes the past seem rosier than, perhaps, it really was. We are home from Ireland. We were excited to spend Christmas in New Years in weather that felt like so many holidays of the past. Especially all the years we spent in Seattle. And it did.

But here’s the thing. Being back in Valencia it’s sunny and 65 degrees. And boy does it feel wonderful to be warm again. And Jeff, who really missed winter in Seattle (why, I don’t know) is happy to be warm too. Here, there is no bone-chilling wind. Hats and gloves have been put away. We can have our morning coffee without a coat and scarf again. It feels good.

We’ve hit the ground running too. We found a dentist and Jeff has already gone and seen them. I often hear that ‘socialized medicine’ means long lines and weeks of waiting for an appointment. We went yesterday to a clinic who had no idea who we were and he saw the dentist today. We anticipated it being much more difficult. So one more myth debunked.

This morning, I walked across the city to an Autoescuela that speaks English. Yes, these rarest of the rare actually do exist here in Valencia, like unicorns. You don’t see them and they don’t make themselves known. But my shot gun approach of talking to everyone I have ever met here about needing an English speaking Autoescuela to get practical lessons has paid off. Someone knew someone, who knew someone who once took lessons at a place where the instructor spoke English. And the lady there was surprised I got my theory test taken/passed all on my own without a school.

Next Tuesday morning I will be taking my first hour and half lesson to learn how to drive in Spain on a manual transmission. The woman who signed me up has as much English as I have Spanish (her husband – my instructor speaks English). She asked me what I was most wanting to focus on. I told her ‘manual transmissions and round abouts’. She nodded knowingly.

But at least I’ll be taking all my lessons in daylight. I feel very sorry for this man already and I haven’t even started. He has no idea what he’s in for. But his wife told me – via Google translate voice – that once I’m ready, passing the practical test in Spanish won’t be an issue. I asked her how many lessons she thought I would need. She said her husband would have to determine that, after a nervous laugh. Ugh.

I’ve also started gathering and filling out the paperwork for the residency renewal in March. Nothing like having a few balls in the air at the same time. But it seems like a much less arduous process than the original visa appointment. No Apostles – No background checks. Pretty straight forward. It seems the hardest thing so far is getting the government website to cough up an appointment time. It may require professional help to get it across the finish line.

Coming home to Valencia feels good. While we could speak the same language as the people in Ireland, it didn’t feel like home. It’s nice to be back to our grocery stores where we know we can get what we need. Where to get a haircut and our favorite coffee place. Poundland has nothing on our El Chino. I was disappointed in Derry when I didn’t get a gift with purchase beer upon leaving.

Our flight home was full of Irish students heading back to Universidad de Valencia after the break, and others like us. I think we all breathed a sigh of relief that at midnight when leaving our Metro station near our flat – it was still 55 degrees. Suddenly, the language barrier doesn’t seem so high anymore.

Did You Order Something?

When the door buzzer went off this morning, we did what we always do. We looked at each other immediately and said simultaneously ‘Did you order something?’ There are two reasons for this. 1) The person who did the ordering has to go to the little phone in the kitchen, say ‘Hola!’ and then try to discern the inevitable rapid fire Spanish that will shoot through the phone into that person’s ear, penetrating their brain – while performing a sad translation – recommend a response, tell the mouth how to form said response, and hit the buzzer. And 2) Meet the delivery person at the door (see #1), having their NIE card ready to go, just in case they ask. 

These are the rules. We don’t make them up, we just abide by them. If the person who did the ordering is in the bathroom when the buzzing happens? Well, they will owe the other person until the end of time for this grave inconvenience. Jeff is seemingly very adept at psychically determining when a delivery person will come, and slipping into the bathroom. I am very sure he’s hiding in there, and not just from the delivery guy. Today, no such luck.

We both looked like deer caught in the headlights. Its a holiday here – nothing is open outside. What?! But he grudgingly went to the little phone and heard his name. Then he buzzed.

‘I can’t imagine what it is.’ He told me as I was making breakfast. But he waited by the open door as the man stepped off the elevator, then came back into the kitchen with the box.

‘It’s my amp. It wasn’t supposed to be here for a week.’

Jeff has decided to learn to play guitar, so he’s been buying things related to that. But his frustration with the delivery situation has been my own experience, as well. Back in the US, when anyone quotes you a delivery date, time, window – it will usually be somewhere in there. Especially if you order on Amazon,com. They have that down to a literal science. There are algorithms and AI involved.  It will be there at the appointed hour, on the appointed day. Count on it.

Here, not so much. But it’s kind of a weird, predictable unpredictability, mostly. In our experience, if we order on Amazon.es, they will quote us something will be here in X days. Sometimes, they’ll tell us the item isn’t available and won’t ship for a month. It’s kept us from ordering some stuff, if we are going to be traveling during that time. But here’s the thing – it’s all a lie.

In Spain, you never need to choose next day delivery or even 2 day shipping, because in our experience, that thing they told you was not in stock and wouldn’t ship for a month, will be here exactly tomorrow – even on a SUNDAY or National Holiday! And if they told you it will be here in 10 days – NOPE! It will be here tomorrow or maybe, just maybe, the next day. Jeff is convinced the Amazon fulfillment center, in Spain, is in the bottom of our parking garage.

‘But they never sent me an email saying it shipped!’ You may lament after getting back from the grocery store or having a coffee or taking out the trash. Ha! Silly fool. You’ll get that after they’ve delivered it. But before that, you’ll get a notice that tells you ‘Hola estupido. We were at your flat trying to deliver that thing we told you wouldn’t be here for a month -TODAY ! – as per usual. Lo siento. We’ll try again tomorrow – maybe. Or the next day. Just stay home and wait for us.’

And then that’s what you’ll do. You don’t wanna miss that person twice or they’ll send it back. To where? Who knows! But you don’t want that. We have been hostage to delivery people here more times than I care to count.

I didn’t write about this a couple of weeks ago when my sofa was supposed to arrive, because even I’m tired of that saga. But it didn’t arrive when they said it was going to – I waited 3 whole days for it – like a hostage. Yes, I called and said some pretty nasty things to the person on the phone after the second whole day when they assured me on the phone, after the first day, that they would ‘100%’ deliver it the second day. There is a healthy gypsy population here in Valencia – I considered contracting a curse on the company, and said so, after that second day. Surprise! My sofa made it on the third day. I guess the evil eye is a powerful thing. I had started to wonder if this El Compartimiento didn’t want a sofa in here. I think it heard me threaten the curse. Funny, it seems tranquila about the it now.

Jeff just let me know his new guitar is supposed to be here by the end of next week. So that means we’ll have to stay home all day tomorrow. You might think this strange but in Spain, Amazon.es bends time. Tomorrow is next week, or any date they’ve told you in the future, in their world. Oh well. I’ve got things to do around the house. And when Jeff goes to the bathroom, I’ll know the package will be arriving any moment. Our own, very accurate, ‘delivery alert system’.

 

You Got This

The first day on my Camino – walking out of St. Jean, in southern France at the foot of the Pyrenees, I had no idea what I was in for. I had not really trained. But within an hour it would be abundantly clear to me I was in over my head. I stood at the foot of a very steep climb, the first of 100’s I would make in the next 5 weeks, up and out of the valley towards Honto. 

I remember looking up and I couldn’t see the top and was already winded from the hike out of the village. Others were sitting down on stumps at the side of the road – breathing hard, resting before they started up. I said out loud, to no one in particular ‘You have to be fucking kidding me. I can’t get up that!’ Those who heard me nodded in agreement or just kept going. Then I started to kind of hyper ventilate. But I also knew I couldn’t stay there. I had to start going up too. So I did.

It took me an hour to go no distance at all. I thought about camping out and sleeping there. If only I had known then, by the end of my Camino – 36 day’s later – I would be able to run up this little piece of nothing, backwards, with my fully loaded pack and my weekly grocery shopping,. But on this first day, I was panicking. And I also learned something about myself. Looking up and trying to gauge how far I had to go was unhelpful. It was UP – that’s all I needed to know. And the only way I was going to get to the top, was to put one foot in front of the other.

I also realized it was my feet that were going to get me over the mountain – or the hill. It was my brain that was getting in the way. I just needed to make sure I kept taking a step – not so hard. I also made a deal with myself. When I encountered these obstacles, I would allow my eyes to look up just once from the bottom, letting that panicky feeling wash over me. And then I’d look at my feet and not look up again. Asking ‘how much further’ was a fools errand. It was as far as it was going to be – and I had gone as far as I had, so far.

‘OK. We got this.’ I would say out loud. And then I would take the first step.

I am sitting here remembering this today, because some of the things I’ve had to figure out since, even before we moved to Valencia, have felt like that first climb up to Honto – and then on to Orrison, to collapse and get a bed for the night. Wondering what the hell I was doing. I’ve taken them each, one at a time. Sometimes it’s seemed like what we need to do is so daunting, confusing and never ending – and I’ll never figure it out. And then I remember that day. Being a big believer in talking to myself – out loud if need be – usually my self talk goes ‘You just gotta break it down. One step at a time and start at the beginning.’

I had been putting off getting my driving license. Driving in Spain seemed hard and scary. As an American, I’d heard from so many people it was a huge deal and an epic hassle and it was going to take forever – if I ever got it. I read so many forums and the requirements seemed impossible to fulfill. A medical/psych eval? Where do you get that? And where would I start to figure out how to make the appointment with the scary, unhelpful guard at the Jefatura? And even if I got one – how am I going to communicate? And the documents and forms required and all the copies? The rules are crazy with double negatives, and back flips, and if you don’t stick the dismount…? Yup – I’m mixing my metaphors. But don’t get me started on practical drivers training in Spanish.

Then one day – NOT driving, was getting harder than it seemed these tests would be. And on that day, I sat down – not on FB forums or expat websites where they tell you you’ll never be able to do it – and translated the ministry website. Guess what –  it wasn’t really that big a deal if you break it down. Then I signed up for practice tests online – and that was really helpful. Suddenly, rules that seemed Greek to me a few weeks before, started making sense. Carol sent me the English manual (Thank You!) and it all came together. Just like my Camino – one foot in front of the other.

And I’m happy to say that, while I’m not at my final destination (EU license in hand), I’ve climbed the first hill. Early yesterday morning, I took the taxi out to the trafico office in the middle of rice fields, with my appointment, and my plastic folder, and I took that test. Drum roll please…I passed my theory test! My result was ‘Apto, or Suitable! I’ve never been so happy to be just ‘Suitable’ in my life. Just 2 mistakes. I had one as a buffer for good measure. Now I can sign up for the driving instruction classes, and then take the practical test. Did I hyper ventilate a little before answering those 30 questions out of a possible 3500? Sure. I was less nervous taking the SAT’s. But once I started it wasn’t so bad. Just read and re-read one question at a time.

And I just conducted the official ceremony handing over the ‘English Driving Manual’ to El Jefe. He was happy I passed, but he seemed less than enthusiastic that he’s up to bat now. My fate in this life is to be the guinea pig, the crash test dummy or the canary in the coal mine. Take your pick. He will draft in my wake on this one. But his competitive spirit will kick in any day. I feel sure when he takes it he’ll strive to beat my 2 small mistakes.

There were a lot of lessons on my Camino – Em and I are doing the Portuguese this June, and I’m sure they’ll be many more. But I think the most important was the first one, in the first hour, of the first day. And like most things on the Camino, each subsequent one came at just the right time. At the moment of the lowest ebb, where you think you’re going to break. And then you don’t, and you find out how strong you really are. 

Challenges in life are big and small. Looking back, it’s been more than a year since we started this journey and the lessons of the Camino still ring in my head. Giving me small reminders every day ‘You got this’.