Just Like Home

It’s been monsoon raining here in Palas. And windy. So much so that our lights have been flickering and our internet hiccuping.

We’ve mostly stayed inside, cozy and warm while smiling out the windows. Being from the Northwest of the US, this is our kind of weather. And we have all the gear for it. When we moved from the US to Valencia, a very warm and sunny place, I still boxed up and shipped all our REI weather gear. We couldn’t let it all go. Perhaps it was foreshadowing.

When I think of the global impacts of climate change and water shortages, I imagine Galicia is a safe bet. Our wells here will not be running dry.

I don’t miss living in the Northwest of the US. Not one little bit. But Jeff and I are still water people. Yes, we like salt water. But we are definitely fresh water people. We had a creek flowing through our property in Snoqualmie. Our kids used to play in it when they were small, and dam it up like little beavers. And when the heavy rains came we would sit out under our covered deck above the forest and listen to the creek rage.

As an avid white water kayaker and rafter, Jeff was always checking the river levels. We had friends who lived on the banks of the river. And I cared about the CFS (cubic feet per second) because our kid’s schools were right on the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie. The biggest fastest flowing stretch. When it came up rapidly after snow melt we would get a call at work that they were evacuating the school. Between river rising alerts and cougar on the playground texts from the school, it made my heart pound being so far away in a downtown Seattle office building. When my kids were 30 miles east being shepherded into a yellow school bus to make for higher ground.

Often we would head down to Snoqualmie Falls just a couple miles from home after a few days of heavy rain. To watch the awesome power of the water go over a nearly 300 foot drop. You could feel the energy come up through your feet.

So this morning over coffee, after days of inches of rain, it was no surprise when Jeff suggested we should head to Portomarin to ‘check on the river.’

‘Lets go see how high it is.’

We drove via Palas de Rei on the N-547. The highway runs parallel to the Camino De Santiago. Hundreds of Peregrinos were walking and getting pummeled by the weather. I am truly mystified how they could see where they were going, it was raining so hard with wind blowing in their faces. And so few open cafes to shelter from the storm due to Covid. Many were using their walking poles to stay upright.

We got to Portomarin and crossed the bridge. Then drove down river to an offshoot where a small river – Rio Loio – meets the main channel of the Rio Miño. The Rio Miño runs south through the city of Lugo all the way to the Atlantic ocean. It forms the natural northern border between Portugal and Spain.

By this time, the never ending rain had turned down to somewhere between sprinkling and a mist. So we got out and walked down to where a small village used to be. The ruins of the houses and stone walls hundreds of years old are still visible. It appears there was a small cemetery or ossuary here, too, as some of the crypts were still visible peeking out above the water line.

A small arched stone and earthen bridge has been built across the river. The water almost covered the arches but we crossed over anyway, and hiked up the other side to look out across the Miño.

A peaceful place on a rainy Monday morning. In summer it’s filled with people swimming and picnicking. Which seems odd to me swimming over a former graveyard.

After our brief adventure we got back in the car to head home. Crossing the big bridge into Portomarin, more Pilgrims were just leaving. Lingering over another cafe con leche, hoping to wait out the rain. And it seems that was a smart bet. The sun is intermittently peeking out. The weather is starting to ease up and will just get better this week. But for now, we will sit inside and enjoy the day. It feels so much like home.

Lipstick on a Pig

First, an update on Jeff. He’s back to his old self again after running a fever with chills for nearly 48 hours. It gives me a window into what I’m in for this Wednesday. And also proves that I just have to take paracetamol, drink water when I’m awake, and sleep as much as possible.

On to more exciting news! We are ditching the masks outdoors in Spain starting next Saturday June 26. Our PM, Pedro Sanchez announced it Friday. This follows much of the rest of the EU, sans Portugal, who have accelerated their vaccine rollouts and are ready to move to near normal due to a positive epidemiological position. We watch with envy on the news as France is already maskless outdoors. The French people look so chic with their faces fully visible walking through the city. We are fast on their heels 👠 .

In Galicia, over 70% of those of us over 50 yrs old have had the full course. The health services have been going full steam ahead for days with 3.5 million doses a week. More than 50% of Galicians have received one dose and they are starting to call the next group of 30-39 on Monday. I’m excited I will have my second dose by the time the outdoor mask mandate is lifted after 15 months. But I will need to wait until July 7th before I’m in possession of a full tank of antibodies. Jeff will be 10 days in by the time masks are no longer required on our nightly walks.

For the summer holidays in August (when all of Spain is on vacation) Galicia will allow people outside their home health area to get the jab near their holiday homes. And citizens will be allowed to make appointments to get it done there. This system will also be used for everyone under age 30 going forward. Sergas will still send a summons, but the individual can search available slots on the website and get an appointment on their own.

All school children, who have not already received the vaccine, will get the first dose starting September 1st. With the aim in time for the return to school a few weeks later.

I would not have believed it was possible that Spain would reach herd immunity by Halloween, as even a couple of months ago this seemed impossible. But it is happening. Citizens here are fulfilling their responsibility to each other and turning up, for the most part, when summoned. And it’s great to see. When we go out to eat or meet people in town it’s all anyone talks about.

‘Have they sent you the text.’

‘Have you gotten the vaccine?’

‘Which one did you get?’

‘Did you have a reaction?’

‘When do you get the second one?’

Humans have a short attention span, though. Soon, we will forget all about this. ‘Remember when we had to wear a mask?’ will be what adults who were school children during this time will say some day. ‘Or when we were all locked inside that year? Crazy.’ Sort of like nuclear fallout drills during school in the US in the 60’s and 70’s. ‘Duck and cover’ as we hid under our desks. Fear sears these things from our childhood into our collective consciousness.

Today we headed into Lugo to do some shopping. We discovered a new area and enjoyed a day picking up the essentials. Even encountering a Yelmo Cinema, so movies in original voice are in our post-pandemic future. The mall was full and we treated ourselves to some authentic Mexican food bowls. It tasted like just like Mexican food in the US.

Soon my Sephora lipstick 💄 will say Adiós to the mask!

Shopping gave me the itch now that masks are phasing out. I believe a new lipstick is in order. I’m sure the cosmetics industry has suffered this past year. Who needed to wear make up to go out? Due to all the excitement around imminently not masking outside, I put on some lipstick to drive into town today. The lip impression is on the inside of the mask I put on when we got there. The first time in a year. But soon, I will wear it with abandon. Maybe I’ll spring for a new lip pallet. Something bright that reintroduces my smile to the world! Just to say ‘Hello friend. It’s me! I’ve been here all along.’ What if we all went out and bought new lip color? A way to celebrate the start of better communication. Smiles beget smiles. El Corte Ingles cosmetic section will be my next stop.

After all these months, it feels like the pandemic is rapidly coming to a close in Spain. Long Covid not withstanding. It’s time to start turning our sights to helping the rest of the world. Since the G7 meeting didn’t result in a vaccine funding and distribution strategy for poorer nations, I wish there was a fund or charity we could contribute to that would help pay it forward. Jeff and I would donate to helping those in Africa or South/Central America or India get the doses needed to truly end the pandemic across the globe.

This will not be the last global health crisis of our time. We have an obligation to each other as human beings. I hope we don’t lose that lesson as the day to day of the pandemic fades. It feels like Covid was just a warning shot across the bow. Not such a happy thought.

But today I am going to look on the bright side. This time next week I should be past the worst of the second dose. Maybe sitting in a cafe, maskless, leaving lipstick imprints on a small glass of vino rosado. Laughing like a madwoman. Acting like it’s totally normal. Right now, this little piglet can smile a lipstick 💄 smile, sitting here just thinking about it.

Not So Fast

I guess that theory is blown. I had assumed that because both Jeff and I had Covid so bad at the start of the pandemic that we would be immune from the side effects of the vaccines. Not so.

This morning after I looked up why Jeff is so sick here, it seems a previous bout of Covid means a harsher reaction. The exact opposite of what I assumed. Which just confirms what I had already suspected. I am not an epidemiologist. Nor do I play one on t.v. . Shocking, I know.

We’d both had the first jab in the past month. And it was no problem. Sore arm. I took a nap and woke up just fine. Jeff is a week ahead of me so he was summoned to get his second shot yesterday, and we toddled on down the road to the HULA in Lugo. In and out in 20 minutes. Just like before. No long lines that we see in the Vaccodromes in the paper.

We’ve been told that the second shot can be worse than the first. Our Ryan was ill for 36 hours or so. So we know people who felt sicker with the second one. I figured our immune systems would say ‘Oh yeah, I remember you.’ And it would just deal with it lickety-split. Not so fast.

Jeff started getting sick while driving on the way back from the hospital. We had an appointment to stop at our new gestoria to sign our tax documents, and by the time we got home he sounded like he had a frog in his throat. The headache and aches started. He’s asleep now after being up all night with a fever and chills, feeling like his bones are going to break.

He got Pfizer and I know there is no virus in any of the mRNA vaccines. But this was like a flashback to what he looked like last year in March of 2020. It’s always harder for me when he is sick than when it’s me. What I’m reading online says he will be fine 24 hours from now. It says that the more severe the reaction, the more antibodies you are generating. After getting the full course of the vaccine and having Covid, Jeff should be topped up with antibodies. Maybe he could sell them on EBay.

I just got the notification for mine next Wednesday at 8:30am. Perhaps it’s good we are a week apart so we can help each other. I know it will be fine but it’s a bit unsettling. A reminder of how much worse it could be if we didn’t have these vaccines. And to appreciate it much more when this whole pandemic is finally over for the world.

We are all so exhausted but in Spain, we are almost to the finish line. As a country we are nearing the 50% mark of people with at least one shot. And in Galicia we are well past that. Approaching 60% of the population. Jeff and I are amongst that group, for which I am incredibly grateful.

Time for his next Paracetamol. And maybe popsicles. It’s a rainy, cold day in Palas de Rei. Like Seattle. Thunder and lightning. The perfect weather to be sick and hold up in bed. Jeff will appreciate it when the sun comes out next week, just that much more. We both will. Just a little further and we’ll all arrive on the other side. Together.

A Hard Bargin

Sunday is Market Day in Melide. We headed into town today and I was happy to see that Pride month has reached our little corner of the world. Our rural community is embracing the times, and all it’s citizens and visitors are welcome.

Melide celebrates Pride

Back in Valencia in Benimachlet, market day was Fridays in the square by the church. We had not been to the Friday market but a couple of times in the past year. Much of that time they were closed down due to Covid restrictions. Or only half the stalls were allowed to be in operation at any one time. We did pop by the Friday before we moved at the end of April and found it was 30% bigger than pre-pandemic days. It was great to to see it bounced back.

In Melide, we have a new set of vendors to learn. Two potato and onion trucks mark the street every Sunday morning. Nothing like buying a 50lb bag of potatoes or onions and using them before they go bad. But people line up to carry them away.

Potatoes in Galicia are a big thing, it seems. A recent headline in the local newspaper announced the arrival of one variety everyone had been waiting for. They cautioned the population to beware of imitations. As if they were truffles. To me, potatoes are brown, yellow, or red. Oh yeah. And big or small. I know nothing of the apparent snobbery of the Galician potato. I suppose I will mention this to my neighbor, Carmen, and she will lecture me about it. Then bring me several varieties from her garden, before quizzing me on their merits.

Today, we walked through the market stalls at a snails pace. I like to peruse. It does Jeff’s back real damage. He prefers a seat outside a café, under an umbrella during my shopping. But today he tagged along.

You can tell what a community values by what they sell in the stalls on market day. The first thing that caught my eye was their vast apron selection. Seriously. Every color and pattern combination. And it wasn’t just one stall. Jeff offered to buy me an apron for every day of the week at a whole 5€ a pop. I will be taking him up on this offer very soon. He’s lucky we hadn’t gotten to the knives yet.

Then we came upon hats. I find one can never own too many hats. And these days I am out in the sun gardening. A wide brimmed hat is essential. I selected one and asked Jeff his opinion.

‘I have no idea how this one is any different than the other 100 hats you already have. But it looks nice.’

I was taking it off to give it another look when the proprietor came over to press the sale.

‘Quince.’ He told me after I asked the price. (Fifteen euros)

‘No’ I shook my finger. ‘Diez.’ (Ten)

The guy grabbed another and shoved them together. Two for thirty. As if this were some sort of deal. Was he saying I have two heads?

I shook my head and told him I didn’t really need a hat after all, and we made to leave. He put the other hat down.

‘Vale. Vale. Quince.’

Again, I said ‘No quince. Diez‘

The guy shook his head and I turned to go. Finally he acquiesced. ‘Ok. Diez.’

I paid the man, and with my new hat in hand we progressed.

Next up was bread. As most of you know, I can’t eat bread. Or bread with gluten. But that doesn’t stop me from ogling it with mouthwatering longing when I see it. Galician bread is glorious. Pure Artistry. No pretty French baguette. It’s often misshapen and has a little black bit from perhaps too much heat from the oven. Or having been baked in coals from a wood fired brick oven. It costs nothing, and I could eat it all! If it didn’t make me sick.

Bread is my recent obsession since the story I’m currently writing is about a village who hires a new baker, who is not exactly who he says he is. Then a long ago murder surfaces secrets best left buried with the dead.

So I bake A LOT of stuff in my head. Where I can eat gluten to my hearts content.

You can cut it, slice it or dice it

The final booth was something we never saw on market day anywhere in Valencia. Farm implements. I’m pretty sure this is where the Spector of Death shops for his scythes. But these are real tools used every day here. Instead of an electric hedge trimmer, I watched my neighbor expertly square up her boxwood hedge with one of these. If I try it I will need to call the Urgencia in Palas to reserve some units of blood and a bed before my first swing. Jeff told me there was no need for me to purchase one today. Apparently, we have ten of them in the barn. And a stone on which to sharpen them. It scares me a little that he knows that.

We are back home. I’m in my new 10€ hat getting ready to take the clothes off the line. Sadly, I did not take Jeff up on his apron offer so I’ll have to do without the pockets to hold clothes pins. Jeff is somewhere in the back forty in rubber boots plowing something. I waved to him earlier as he drove by with a huge smile on his face. Another perfect Sunday.

What a Difference a Year Makes

I must say, I’m totally digging the new Covid digital certificate issued by Sergas Galicia (Galician Health Service). They sent us texts about it yesterday. I just logged in, and now it’s on my phone ready to whip out upon request whenever it’s needed.

The EU member states have agreed to issue Covid and vaccine certificates that act as a passport to skip the line for any quarantine, or in leu of proof of a negative PCR test for those who want to travel to, or within the EU. And they are extending it to those from outside the bloc, too. Hopefully, when Emilie comes we can take her up to the HULA in Lugo and get her one, too.

Bravo to the Spanish government for being an early adopter. The certificate is issued in all three languages – Gallego, Castillano, and Ingles. If you have passed the disease, as I have, it will show in your health record. But if it was more than six month since your last negative test they recommend you get the full course for the vaccine to boost antibodies. And use the vaccine certificate as your proof of immunity.

The document shows I have had 1/2 required shots to obtain the full benefit. Halfway there. Having the vaccine certificate show up in my Sergas health record feels like a bit of a security blanket.

I know there has been controversy about ‘vaccine passports’ and government tracking throughout the pandemic. Vaccines in general seem to have taken on a political life of their own in recent years. But I have no such qualms about any of it. Due to mass vaccination programs, medical breakthroughs, and improved nutrition, life expectancy jumped from living only into your late 40’s or early 50’s in 1900 – to your mid 70’s by the year 2000 in the US. Science works. I’m thrilled to able to bet on that.

Inoculating my kids against preventable childhood diseases that might have killed them a century ago, always seemed like a happy day to me. Sure, sometimes they might run a temperature but the brief discomfort was worth it. They could toddle off to preschool safe.

Contagion is dropping here like a rock, as more and more people get the jab. Every day there is talk that outdoor masks will shortly be a thing of the past. Just under 55% of us in Galicia have received one dose. And nearly 35% have the full course. Almost 10 points higher than the national average. Jeff gets his second shot this Wednesday. Mine should come the following week. Then, just like our kids, we will be able to toddle through our summer safely – along with the rest of Spain. Vaccine certificate in hand. What a difference a year makes.