It’s Coming Together

Did I mention we are excited? Cause we’re excited! All of a sudden, the energy around us has changed, and I know why. We are out of the seemingly endless holding pattern, and have been waved in for a landing. And the weather looks fine.

Well, OK. Today it’s cloudy and rainy in Valencia, but I just take that as a sign the city is giving us a view into what our future looks like. Cooler temps and the threat of rain. We love it!

I know we showed up in Spain with just 4 duffle bags and a suitcase, but we shipped some things here from the US, too. On a ship that took 5 months to arrive. So we had to purchase some duplicate items. And we have some editing to do, after furnishing an apartment, our Espacio Creativo, and an office down the street. Not all that needs to go up north. It’s a good thing we brought all our cold weather gear from the US. We’re gonna need it.

But, while we are boxing up and trimming things down, we’re also spending time dreaming of the possibilities we are finally ready to explore. The whole reason we decided to move forward and purchase this property.

It’s actually 4 parcels of land. And these parcels are broken up into sections, from a land use planning and zoning perspective. Where the house is located, it’s considered urban. Where the barn is situated, and some of the other parcels, it’s considered rural. Did I mention it’s an unusual property? The appraisers had a hard time with it. The banks had a hard time with it. But in our last meeting with our banker she laughed at what came back from the land registry assessment.

‘It’s actually a great opportunity. I don’t know if anyone really knows what a great opportunity this property is. It is very unique. Do you understand what all this means?’

Jeff just looked at me and I could tell he was smiling under his mask.

‘Yes.’ I assured her. ‘It’s why we disputed the first appraisal. We know what we’re able to do with it and all the potential upside.’

The urban portion of the property is right on the Camino de Santiago. More than 350k people walk by our house each year from April to October. That’s decent traffic. This means there are limitations on what can be done with the land. But it also means there are baked in uses that are pre-approved. And, normally, getting approval for other uses of rural property is not easy in Spain. So, this is worth gold to us.

The first half of the biggest parcel is approved for a hotel, and/or a café. We can build free standing structures for these purposes, if we choose. My ex-husband ran hotels, and I lived in one for 3 years, so I understand back of the house hotel and food and beverage operations, and the margins involved. And I know retail. However, this would be a very small scale operation. Nothing fancy. That’s the Camino.

Because the house is on urban land, we are allowed to increase the size of it by 50%, if it’s in service of a our businesses. Meaning I could blow out the kitchen to expand it, and I could create a large office addition on the other side from which to run the operation.

Rural depopulation is a huge problem in Spain. In the past few decades more 40% of the populations in rural areas have fled to the cities. Especially, the young people. The farm country is dying. It’s resulted in farmers becoming a rare and valued commodity in Spain, and there are protests, even during Covid times, to highlight the problem.

Because any business we open will be run by me, and it’s a woman-owned business in a rural area of <5000 residents, we qualify for all kinds of government programs to help us get started.

We are planning on growing things using sustainable growing practices that can help with carbon reclamation. If you want to know more about these methods, and how important these are to the future of the planet, you can see some of it in the Netflix documentary Kiss the Ground with Woody Harrelson. The Spanish government is starting a program to encourage young people to move from the cities, with 3 month paid internships to spend time working on farms, to learn what it is like to work the land as a potential career. And they will pay for us to take in a few of these people each year to help us with planting and harvesting.

How do I know about all these programs? The Spanish government websites and I are besties these days. And it’s easy info to get, if you’re interested in looking. In participating in the program, I think it would be really cool to do our part for climate change using sustainable farming, and help our adopted country to turn their rural depopulation problem around. Who knows? Maybe one of these kids will develop a love for getting their hands in the dirt. We will keep you posted on how it goes.

Just 100 meters from our front gate is the local farm coop. We will have to check out what that is all about, too.

The movers are coming to measure today. This is really happening. Never let anyone tell you that dreams can’t come true. They can. Sometimes, you just have to hang on a little past where you thought you could. I find, that’s usually where it all comes together.

Covid – Getting Vaccinated in Spain

More vaccines arrived today from Pfizer. 1.2 million doses added to the 8 million total we’ve already received in Spain. But its a drop in the bucket of the tidal wave needed to get this job done. In Spain, we need 80mm doses to get the entire population inoculated with the required two doses.

The focus here seems to be on the Astra Zeneca version. The one with the blood clot problem. The EU Medicine agency halted its use for a week, and then said the reward outweighs the risks of these weird blood clots in the brain that the Germans, Danes, Norwegians, and even the Brits are seeing. All of whom, now, are limiting the shots to those over the age of 60, because the blood clots show up in people under 60.

If we lived in any one of those countries, we would be happy they had made this change. I had a blood clot in November. I’m truly disinterested in having another one, this time in my brain. But in Spain, they are rolling right along with the strategy of giving it to all people under 65. You will get no choice, because those are the vaccines Spain is getting the most of. So our personal strategy – Jeff’s and mine – might change.

I have been reading more and more about expat Americans that are heading back to the US to camp out for a month and get the full course, before coming back to the EU. They are tired of waiting, don’t want the Astra Zeneca shot, and with force majeure both ways, they can go to the US, get either the Pfizer or Moderna (what we are calling The Good Vaccine in el Compartimento) and come back safely inoculated.

It’s not like we are looking to hop the line. I get we have to wait our turn. But I do not want that Astra Zeneca version, and if I am forced to get that here in Spain we will fly to the US, in double masks and plastic goggles, and make it happen at a Walmart or Walgreens in the first place we land. Surely, by June, it should be a piece of cake to come by.

I read the US will not approve the Astra Zeneca version and yet they have a stockpile of 5mm doses. So they are giving those to Canada and Mexico, who have approved it. I’m no fan of US healthcare, and big pharma has their fingers in the US drug approval process in a big way. This is why it seems pretty clear to me that if the US won’t approve the AZ vaccine, they know something that they are not sharing. But the Germans seems to know it, too.

I’m not an anti-vax person. I’m pro-vaccine, all the way. But I do feel that with all the issues I have experienced in the past year, I want to have a vaccine with the best chance of leaving me healthy after I get it. Why should I take a risk when there are other vaccine options? But, as of today, Spain will not give me that choice.

In the US, their philosophy is just to get the vaccine into arms. They have abandoned the group by group philosophy. The more shots in arms – even just one shot of the two shot series – the better. Everyone we know in the US has either gotten the shot or has an appointment on the schedule to get it in the next couple of weeks. These are people from 18-85. Pharmacies, school gyms, stadiums, convention centres, empty strip mall and airport parking lots, and on and on are operating as vaccination centres. They are leaving most health facilities free to handle other stuff. Actual illnesses – not just vaccines. But in Valencia, they are sticking with directing those who get the SMS message to get the jab, to the neighbourhood health centre. It just creates over crowding and limits the number of shots they can give per day.

The US handled the pandemic terribly. That was down to the Trump administrations terrible messaging and cold calculated disregard for the lives of their citizens. But when it’s comes to the vaccines, the government did what we do best in the US, they threw money at the problem. And they didn’t wait. They funded billions in research and bought up doses before there were even viable candidates. And they didn’t negotiate on price like the EU did. Because, that costs time and the US understood that He who exits this crisis first and opens their economy, wins. And that is exactly what is happening now.

Sure, you can provide amazing support for the population in for form of unemployment benefits. And pay businesses to be closed – as they have done, very well in Spain. But the Spanish economy is based on tourism. That’s the whole ball of wax on our economic engine. Every week tourists aren’t here. Every week that cafes and hotels are in some form of restriction or lock down. Every week that the internal population can’t travel. It’s another bullet to the gut of the economy. So the EU hesitating and signing contracts later than The Republic of Congo, because they wanted to haggle on the price, has cost billions to the economy in many many other ways. Its almost immeasurable. Penny wise and pound foolish.

The US will be back, perking right along as tourist season kicks into high gear this summer. Having only taken a brief hit to their GDP. And the EU? We will not be so lucky – as this vaccine rollout drags on through the height of the tourist season. Right when we could have turned a corner, we’ll find ourselves in a blind alley, waiting for help to arrive. Sure, the EU didn’t make the same mistakes of the austerity of the 2008 crisis. But they made other, similar ones. That of being tight fisted in the middle of an economic crisis – whether pandemic related or not – is yet another self inflicted wound.

We will not move back to the US, for a host of reasons. We own a home here, now. But it is hard to watch Europe stumble and struggle to look in the mirror, so they can swiftly pivot. But, swiftly pivoting is not a strong suit. And more and more, the ability to pivot is going to be the key to economic survival. I’m honestly not sure they have it in them.

It is Done

We have pushed away from the dock. Officially. We had to give our 2 months notice on the apartment in Valencia. I did that April 1st, thanking our landlord for renting to two crazy Americans, and woke up to an email this morning from him.

Javier has been a dream. Always so responsive for any issue. A kind soul. When we rented this apartment it was because of him. It wasn’t the penthouses that I had viewed in other areas. But he was so nice and I thought it was best to have a nice landlord when packing up and moving to a new city, far on the other side of the world when we didn’t speak the language. And I was right. Although, at the time I thought ‘One year. Just until we get our bearings.’ It’s been tres anos. How it went by so fast, I have no idea.

His email was heaped with praise for us, as tenants. We always paid early, and sometimes two months in advance, if the exchange rate was good. We knew we could call on him for anything and he would come. He checked on us during Covid lockdown. Worried we might need an explanation of what was being proposed by the Spanish government.

I also gave notice to all the leases we have. So the clock is ticking. It feels strange. Like we are unmoored in Valencia. Just waiting on Dr appointments and the movers.

We met our next door neighbors at the elevator. They told us they had news, too.

‘We are moving. We bought a big apartment in the City of Arts and Sciences. No more duplex. Upstairs downstairs. I am fed up! We are moving in May. We were going to come tell you.’ They looked so sad. ‘You have been the perfect neighbors and we hope we get neighbors like you at the new house.’

But it’s them who have been wonderful to us. Always helpful receiving packages. And helping Jeff when the police called to tell him I had been taken to the hospital. He was freaking out and struggling to understand. They took care of everything and drove him.

But we had news of our own to share. We told them about the farm in Galicia. And they were so happy for us.

‘You need tranquillity, Kelli. To rest and recuperate. Being in nature will help your heart.’

Paula is right, of course. But it’s so hard to leave this all behind. And it’s interesting to see how the timing works out. Our lovely neighbors were moving anyway. Life moves on.

We have told each person they are welcome to visit us in Galicia. Expat friends always say ‘Can’t wait.’ But Valencian friends are more hesitant. They never understood our love of Galicia.

‘I have never been up there in my life. Maybe someday. You know, it’s very rainy.’

A true Valencian needs sun and fireworks.

We are very, very excited to move. And to execute all our exciting new plans for the future. It’s real now. The clock is ticking. But I will miss this place – el Compatimento – our first home in Spain. Yes, the deal is done. Time to look forward. Yet today, over morning cafe con leche descafeinada, I will take a moment to appreciate how lucky we have been to land in such a wonderful place, and to meet so many wonderful people, during such a turbulent time. And to shed a few happy, grateful, tears.

Buying Real Estate – Spain v the US

Attention Passengers: Fasten your seat belts, cause it’s gonna be a bumpy ride. That’s right, boys and girls. Purchasing property in Spain, as opposed to the US, is a very different experience. Very different. Remember that bureaucracy thing I was talking about before? Yeah. That. And, so very much more. Is it achievable? Yes, it is. But it will take every ounce of patience you possess. And if you have a partner or a spouse, it will take every ounce of theirs, too.

If you bought a property in Spain before July 2020, your experience was very different than ours. All the real estate laws changed in July of 2020. Now, they’re so much more fun! And opaquely transparent. Sounds like a contradiction. Cause it is.

Falling in Love

Let’s get in our Wayback Machine and travel to the moment we fell in love with the farm in Lugo in October 2020. It was early days and we couldn’t get enough of it. I drove up there at the end of October, took out some javalies, crashed my car, got stuck in Lugo Covid perimeter lockdown, and finally saw the farm on my way outta town. But, we couldn’t wait to put a ring on it. The engagement was quick and the owners said ‘Yes!’ to our offer. Great! We were gonna do this thing. An exciting moment when our lawyer in Lugo sent us the signed, executed contract. Now we could get started.

In the US, you would have likely gone through some sort of bidding war to get the property. You will have paid much more than the asking price and might have even waived the inspection (if you’re paying cash) or any contingencies. In Spain, there will be no bidding war. Properties here do not sell super fast – as a general rule – so you have time to negotiate, and leverage. This is Jeff’s job. I’m the money. That’s always been my job.

In the US, we would put down forty to fifty thousand in earnest money and talk to the bank to get a loan going. Easy peasy. In Spain, you put down 10% of the purchase price. That’s essentially what all the taxes and fees (closing costs) will run you, so you’re putting that money down indicating you can cover those fees. Not a problem.

Show Me the Money

Now, if you haven’t already decided how you’ll fund the deal, you’ll get out your calculator and make some determinations. Will you pay cash, do owner financing, or borrow money from a bank? In the US, if you’re getting a loan you will have already gotten pre-approved. It’s easy to do and quick. Just like buying a car in the US. It will happen in hours, especially if you are getting it through your bank or investment house. They know you and how much money you have.

In Spain, even if you have banked with a bank for years, this is not possible. They will not pre-approve you. So you go into the real estate contract with some risk. But you can put language in to protect yourself, as we did in Portugal (Thank God) when the inspection came back and much of the property was not legal. But this is not boiler plate language. You have to insist.

Today, in Spain, the interest rate is based on how much you borrow and how qualified you are for the loan. We could have paid cash for the farm, but the interest rate for us is .77%. You read that right. <1% interest. Basically, it’s free money. We are better off leaving this money in investments in the US, than we are paying cash for the farm. Better to use the bank’s money than our own as it continues to earn. And these days, our mortgage is covered by our investment earnings.

Right about now you’re saying, Duh, Kelli! But that’s not what our bank here said. They didn’t get why, if we had the money, we would want a loan. I explained the time value of money, and while I used my investment account statements as a visual aid, they still didn’t get it.

‘This money.’ I pointed to my last statement with all the graphs and charts in it. ‘is still earning. See my rate of return?’ Then I pointed to the loan amount, and the total interest on the life of the loan in the simulation they had drawn up. ‘This money costs me nothing because,’ and I pointed to the investment statements ‘this money is actually making me more money, which covers the entire loan payment.’

The woman looked confused. ‘But you could pay cash. You have the money.’ She told me pointing to the investment statements.

I took a deep breath. ‘The money pays for the loan in what it earns. If I leave it there, it’s a good thing. It’s like having another job.’

She had to get a supervisor, who seemed to understand. I feel like they thought I was trying to pull a fast one. But we got through it. At a fixed rate o .77% I would be a fool to cash out investments to cover that money. The light bulb never went off, but it flickered.

But Here’s the Catch

In Spain, like the US, to borrow money on a property you have to get an appraisal. Standard. We understood that. But it gets crazy. According to our lawyer, when the pandemic hit, appraisals were automatically cut by 20%. Off the top. They didn’t wait for the market to adjust itself. Nope! The appraisal community (if there is one of those) just did it. But that caused a problem. And it impacts all real estate purchases.

We are considered ‘Residents’ because Jeff has a work contract in Spain and we are on a special visa. So the bank will loan us up to 80%. If we were still on a ‘Non-lucrativo’ visas we would be considered ‘foreigners’ for the purposes of banking and loans. And, if you are a foreigner buying property and getting a bank loan, you will only be allowed to borrow up to 70% of the purchase price. But if the appraisal comes in at only 80% of the purchase price, you can only borrow 70% of the 80%. Our appraisal came in at 60%. The bank went a little nuts after that.

I told them, HELL NO! And we had a little tussle. They wanted me to come up with 50% down. They told me that getting a second appraisal was Impossible! We never do that.

I had done my own market assessment and there was no way the property appraisal should have come in that low. NO WAY. The sellers were pissed off. My Lugo lawyer said the appraisal was bad and that ‘It’s not possible that this property is this price.’ So he got involved and told the bank they were out of their minds. He suggested we go to a different bank – not our bank- and he hooked us up with a friend of his locally.

All this took time. And the contract is ticking away. You only have so much time to close or you lose your 10%. And I really didn’t want to cash investments to cover this thing. That costs me too much, in the long run.

Mo Money

So, we went to another bank. We showed up to the first meeting and they explained the process of getting a loan. I pulled out every document the woman said I would need. She laughed. ‘You are prepared.’ I laughed ‘You have no idea.’

We went through the spiel and signed and signed. And we were approved in a day or two. But they had to order the appraisal. This is where you sweat in Spain. The appraisal will kill your deal. I know this because of that lake house we liked last year. The one where the owner called me because the sale to another buyer fell through because of the appraisal. And we’ve heard similar stories since then.

Our Lugo lawyer suggested we get a private appraisal. He arranged for someone at an accredited appraisal company to ‘attend the property’ and perform an ‘independent appraisal’. So we would have that in our back pocket.

In the meantime, the first bank came back (our bank where we do our banking) and said they wanted to keep us, and our money, and they wanted to order another appraisal – which they had told me was Impossible and that they never do it. ‘We are bleeding for you.’ was the phrase in the email.

So now we had bank #1 doing a second Impossible appraisal. We had a private appraisal ordered by our lawyer. And bank #2 ordering an appraisal. We have so many appraisals we must surely get one that will tell us the true value of the property. But then it got interesting.

Water, Water Everywhere and Not a Drop to Drink

So, bank #1 knows about bank #2. They had to, since they knew we didn’t like what they came up with in the first round. But I didn’t realize bank #2 didn’t know about bank #1. I missed that somehow. But the sellers were talking to them all because they have to drive from their home in A Coruña to attend all these appraisals. And bank #2 found out that we were sort of still dating bank #1. This caused a stir.

‘Aren’t you committed to banking with us, Kelli?’ they asked me at one meeting. Like indignant lovers.

‘Yes,. I am. But only if it’s a good deal. You’ll have to earn it. This relationship needs to be a two way street. If it’s not good for me, then I’m not bringing my money here.’

They appeared wounded but they got over it. I was shocked that anything to do with money would be emotional in the slightest. But, unlike in the US, in Spain, you don’t get multiple banks working on a home loan. Here, it’s single threaded. And you’re supposed to act grateful they’re even considering you, at all. I don’t operate that way. In money or love.

This is Business, Baby

So, while bank #2 was pushing forward, bank #1 was taking the first and second appraisal back to their higher ups and working on getting approval. We qualified for the loan – this wasn’t the issue. It was the appraisal. It all hinged on that. And then we hit a snag.

Bank #2 got a hold of our private appraisal and things got ugly.

‘Why would you order a private appraisal, Kelli? Don’t you trust us?.’ Again, with the emotional stuff.

‘Trust you? Sure, I trust you. But I need to protect myself. What if I find out the property value isn’t what your appraiser says it is? What then? I needed independent verification.’

They were not happy.

‘By doing this, the loan is paralyzed.’

I don’t know if they were using the English word, or if it’s the same in Spanish but that word got even Jeff to sit up and take notice while sitting in the banker’s office. They used other words like ‘slaves’ and the like. I honestly, didn’t get why this was such a big deal. Money is money. It’s my money, and I’m not about to throw it away by trying to have bankers, at a bank where I don’t even bank yet, like me. I don’t need more friends. I just want their money – for free.

Many suited-up people gathered and talked over each other while standing in front of the computer monitor, pointing. Jeff and I just looked at each other over our masks and rolled our eyes. I heard the word ‘Impossible’ thrown around like confetti. But, as I have said before, my blood pressure doesn’t rise when that word is uttered anymore. Impossible means nothing to me. My brain just hears Whah Whah, Whah Whah Whah Wah .

A Race to the Finish Line

The banks were neck and neck. Neither of them were happy to be in the race with each other. But it was working for me. And here is where the new laws that went into effect in July 2020 come in. Before, you could get a loan on any property. The building or the land might not be legal. It might be tied up in some sort of litigation with the builder. We have heard from our lawyer stories of mayors of villages who developed land illegally and gave out ‘stamps for money’. This put the buyer’s claim to the property in jeopardy. But it didn’t matter. If you wanted to protect yourself, you needed to hire a lawyer in Spain to do a serious search of property records and make sure the property was a ‘freehold’ and all the permits had been filed and registered with all the stamps.

Now, if you get a bank loan, even a small one, the bank must do all this for you. We’d already had our lawyer in Lugo do it before we made the offer. We learned a lot in Portugal. But the bank must do it, too. It’s like a title search in the US. There, this takes days. But in Spain, this will take as long as it takes. And I’m of two minds about it.

I know my lawyer got this done in a couple of days, but he’s up in Lugo where the land and the buildings would be registered. He knows people at the land office and it’s not his first rodeo. But the bank took weeks to get this done. Our loan was approved but the title search by the gestoria inside the bank, was FOREVER. Property records being what they are in Galicia, means many properties are not registered correctly. But ours is, and we even had our lawyer send over the stamped copies he had gotten for us. It included the paid property taxes, because if you buy a property and don’t check the tax rolls, you will be liable for years of the sellers unpaid property taxes. It’s crazy. But the process now protects the buyer.

Bank #2 was in the homestretch when bank #1 messaged me. Their management were having a hard time reconciling why the first appraisal came in so low, while the others came in near the purchase price. They just couldn’t understand it and it felt ‘risky’. We weren’t risky customers, they assured us. It’s just that the first appraisal was throwing them off. Even though the other appraisals did a very thorough competitive analysis. Madness. They said they would need more time to ‘study’ the issue. It has already been months.

Throughout all this, Jeff just shook his head. We’ve bought and sold many homes in our lives. And we have never seen anything like this. Here, we had to get 2 contract extensions approved by the sellers to close the deal. At one point, I had to get bank #2 to issue a certificate for the sellers promising that this thing was going to go through – for sure, Kelli – but we were waiting on the gestoria to complete the paperwork and start the 10 day clock. What’s a 10 day clock? It’s a new, fun twist in the ‘How many hoops can we make them jump through to buy a farm in Lugo?’ game.

Down to the Wire

After the gestoria has gone into the cave of the Oracle at Delphi, and asked the eternal questions about life and existence, and taken weeks and weeks to do so, he comes out and sees his shadow. Which adds 6 more weeks to the loan process. Finally, after your hair has turned grey and your grandchildren are heading off to college, you get the call. The paperwork is ready from the gestoria.

So, we were finally ready to sign with bank #2. But, even there it was tricky. In many states in the US, if you get married without a prenup, your union results in community property. Washington State is like this. So, anything we earn during our marriage is community property. Buy or sell real estate. Community property. Here, married couples often keep their money separate.

In this way, Spain is much further ahead than the US. Here, everything is individual unless you have a paper, signed, stamped, and registered with the state that says you hold your assets communally. Getting married doesn’t do that automatically. I guess that makes sense because, in Spain, a woman doesn’t take her husband’s name. After the wedding she’s still who she was before. She may have assets she inherited from her side of the family. Or a previous marriage. These are not automatically assumed to be the property of her husband. Divorce laws here are very interesting. And I, frankly, like them better than the US.

So, the bank was confused that we wanted to purchase the farm as community property. They wanted all kinds of documentation and to have our lawyer draw up papers and register this. We were able to get around it because we have a will from the US giving each other all our money and assets, but it was a hiccup at signing.

At long last, you read through the documents. You sign it. You feel a sense of elation and relief. It’s done. You’ve bought the farm! You hear the music from the first ‘Rocky’ movie playing in the background. But no. It’s not the end. That’s when you hear a faint tic tock, and it’s getting louder. What could it be?

It’s the clock that starts after you sign the papers from the gestoria. It’s the 10 days you will wait until you can sign at the Notaria. The signature at the Notaria will be when you really own the property. When you get the keys, so to speak. It’s not 10 business days. It’s 10 ‘Natural Days’ as they informed me when I asked when this nightmare ride would finally be over. ‘It must be 10 days.’ due to the new law from last July. Yay!! I guess it gives us a chance to come to our senses – as if the weeks and months previously wouldn’t have done that.

It’s Just the Beginning

And now, we’re farmers. I will be wearing aprons and wellies with a head scarf. Very, very soon. By this time next month we will be living in Lugo. I’m afraid to say that because today is April 1st. Will someone pop up and yell, April Fools!? But I think not. We earned our way through the Spanish Real Estate purchase. Our first one. Sure, we’re battle scared, but wiser now. And something tells me, this is just the beginning.

Breaking Some Eggs and Solving for X

I am a big fan of so many things about Spain. But there is one thing that drives me bananas. Spanish Bureaucracy. Every time I have to touch it I think ‘Why?! Can’t someone here see that this is like doing business in the 19th century?’

I’ve been reading in the papers about the Education minister of Valencia saying they need to change after the pandemic. They need to breed innovation in Universities and change how they think. But it will be an epic up hill climb. Quick sand bureaucracy is too imbedded culturally. And people are used to how it works now.

Change is difficult. In any culture. But here, it will be more so. I am told things are ‘impossible’ every single week here in Valencia. Go to the Apple store at Colon and ask for a product you know is available on the Apple website. ‘Impossible.’ Try getting your health card in one day. ‘Impossible.’ I hear it so much, I can’t hear it anymore. I just ignore it and continue to push. If someone in the US ever told me, at the phone store, the bank, a government office, that something was ‘impossible’, they couldn’t do it with a straight face. We’d eventually just laugh at each other and they’d say, ‘Yeah, I’m full of shit. You want to see my manager, don’t you.’ And I would, and they would give me what I needed. Americans know that nothing is impossible. That’s what the whole country is founded on.

Walking by the City of Arts and Sciences this weekend, Jeff and I both commented on how lovely it looks. And how empty. There is no work being done to set up infrastructure for the supposed mass vaccinations that are promised to be starting in April. Before the Valencia Marathon every year, there are weeks of workers setting up for it. Platforms, tents. Media stations. But this weekend, it looked like they aren’t planning for anything. And then I read the paper today and I know why.

All the vaccine doses are going to the US and UK. That’s a fact. Only 2.5mm people out of 46mm people in Spain have been fully vaccinated since December. Only 50% of the over 80 population has been given the jab. And there has been no communication as to when those other 50% of over 80 ‘s waiting are going to get it. They’ve interviewed many of them in the park and they say they have heard nothing. All while police and teachers are being vaccinated. And, of course, front line workers. But there are very few vaccines to be had. The companies are supplying English speaking nations first. So we sit here and wait.

But that isn’t the full story. The government, even yesterday, said that 70% of the population will be vaccinated by July 14. Today, they’re saying it will be closer to September 23rd. And this poses a special problem.

In Spain, everyone takes a vacation in August. Everyone. The country shuts down for business. Never try to get something done in August. You will be wildly unsuccessful and have ripped all your hair out by Labor Day. Most families have second homes in villages outside the cities where they live year round. And they go there, sometimes for the entire summer. It’s often cooler there. But that means that these people are not where they are registered in their primary homes. And where they are registered is where their health care is administered. And this is where they would get the shot for Covid.

‘Well, give them the opportunity to sign up in another town or village on a website, or something.’ you’re probably thinking to yourself. But you’re thinking like we would think in the US. We’d whip up a website and dole out appointments based on zip codes or address. And we’d keep track of these people’s health number and deduct them from the master list of those who need to get the jab. Seems easy enough. Or we’d just say, come down and get vaccinated and forget everything else because the jab is the thing and almost no one will try to get extra vaccines. But no. It’s not that easy.

Here, everything is done a specific linear way. 1-2-3-4. Go outside of that and there will be shouting. I will admit I don’t love illogical bureaucracy. And rule following? Eek. I’m bad at that, too. I have been the recipient of this shouting. And I have done shouting myself. But, because the mass vaccinations (if they actually happen) will likely occur this summer, instead of Spring, means that the entire system is thrown into chaos.

Jeff is convinced that true innovation at scale can not work in Spain. He doesn’t see a way for it. And after running an innovation lab in the US, I am in agreement with him. In our house, we are all about thinking of different ways to solve old problems and have always had a whiteboard in our bedroom. You never know when you’ll want to run a new idea by each other at 2am. ‘Take a look at this and tell me if I’m crazy’ has been a common phrase in our marriage. Not many people have their spouse review process flows looking for gaps.

Sure, there are small pockets of young people in Spain leading start ups. Cool stuff. But young people are largely out of work here. They are not injecting new ideas into the system. And innovation requires a bias towards action. Results over process. Rule breaking and embracing failure as a learning tool. That isn’t something you ever see here. Failure is avoided by the function of mind bending bureaucracy. Assigning blame is an art form. So learning on the fly, and quick redesign doesn’t take place. Redesigning a process is such a foreign concept that when it happens it stands out like a sore thumb.

I can promise you that if I was in charge of the vaccine acquisition in Spain, we’d have a whole shitload of vaccines, and I’d keep’em coming. Sure, there would be shouting at suppliers, but that’s why the Americans already have them. The squeaky wheel gets the grease and people give you stuff to shut you up so they don’t have to deal with you anymore. You need a bull dog in this fight, not Mary Poppins. Sure, it’s not a recipe for a long term love affair, but that’s not what matters here. Lives hang in the balance. And I LOVE optimizing a good supply chain.

So back to the Mass vaccination plan in the summer. Everyone in Spain will be on vacation far from the cities. And so will the medical staff that are entitled to much needed holidays. Breaks from carrying the burden of the pandemic. But there has to be another way. In France, they’ve certified that all pharmacies and veterinarians can administer the vaccine. They are looking for ways to get it out to the population, no matter where they are. But, I fear, Spain will work the plan they have already decided upon using the national heath service. Mass vaccinations in one location in the city, and people who have appointments will just miss them because they won’t be in town. And people who are in town will not get vaccinated as appointments slots are now taken up by those who are not even here. They won’t be able to flex.

But to be fair to Spain, even Emmanuel Macron, President of France admitted that a lack of imagination was partly responsible for the slow rollout in the EU as a whole. Their experts had never seen a vaccine come to market in under a year. So they didn’t believe it was possible. That inability to try something, or believe in something that had never been done before is part of a systematic problem in the bureaucracy of Europe in general. You can’t solve a problem in new ways if you don’t believe it’s possible. Bottom line.

We will soon be in Galicia. Valencia is not our problem. But that doesn’t mean I don’t care about the people in this city. And it makes me crazy to know that every extra day it takes to get the population inoculated, it’s one more day people will get infected and some will die, needlessly. I know. I just have to breathe. But that’s easy to say from the US or the UK, where they will open mass vaccinations to anyone over age 16 by May 1st. I don’t usually love living in the US, and much prefer living in Spain. But sometimes, my American sensibilities kick in. That ‘you gotta break some eggs to make an omelette’ philosophy. And I wish, somehow in Spain, that philosophy could be used to get this thing across the finish line.