Its About That Time

When I lived in San Francisco in the 90’s, there were earthquakes. A lot of earth quakes. Some larger. Some smaller. You took them in your stride. But you started to be able to understand the difference between the various kinds. ‘Rolling’ was better than the ‘Jerk and Snap’. That did more damage to people and property.

But I remember one that happened on a Sunday Morning when I had moved out of the city down to San Mateo on the Pennisula. It was a rolling quake and I could hear the roar – kind of like a lion – coming towards me and it was getting rapidly louder. It came in a wave, shook the house during the loudest bit, and then roared away. When I saw the first Harry Potter and Voldemort’s spirit goes through Harry holding the sorcerers stone – that’s what it was like. I later learned that the sound waves of a quake often precede the shaking.

That’s where I’ve been since last Summer. I’ll be 53 this July, so as a woman I’m at that age when it all begins – or ends, depending on your perspective. The symptoms started like that distant roar from the earthquake. I heard little warnings – but nothing big. Then, starting last Fall the roar has gotten louder and some of the symptoms more worrisome. So much so that I couldn’t ignore it anymore and last week decided to get some medical advice.

Yes, I have a doctor that speaks Ingles, but she referred me to another specialist whose ability to communicate with me is less than what I need right now. And her nurse just points and grunts – not even in Spanish or English. I mean, my ability to speak Spanish under medical stress isn’t where I want it to be, but normally I understand a lot. If they speak more slowly than normal. Otherwise, I’m forced to use my powers of observation. And that’s ripe for misinterpretation.

So I took myself to the specialist appointment yesterday and they were right on time. I must say, the offices are like a nice Spa and there are no complaints with how they do the business of medicine and patient privacy. I was taken back and then told to disrobe. This is where the trouble started.

I’ve encountered it before when getting massages here. In the US we take off our clothes to get a massage – all of them. Here they don’t do that. So the nurse at the Dr. office was taken aback that I disrobed completely – even with the robe for modesty. It’s a freaking doctor! Whatever. I wasn’t the mood for it.

Then as they’re checking my various lady bits, they start making faces to each other and speaking in rapid fire Spanish. The nurse looks at me nervously and then the Dr. says something to her. Now I’m freaked out.

‘Is everything OK?’ I ask the doctor – looking at the nurse’s face.

No one answers me but they keep talking to each other so fast I can’t understand, and still the faces looking at me. Grimaces and wide eyes. Like cartoon characters. There was no mistaking it. ‘Oh that’s not good’ isn’t said out loud in English but their faces are yelling it at me.

‘Seriously? Is everything OK?’ I ask again. Nothing.

Finally I try ‘Hola! Por favor.’

This seems to break their exchange and they realize I’m a human over whose body they are discussing things with faces that look like I’m not long for it. The nurse nervously leaves the room and the doctor smiles at me a weak smile.

‘It’s fine. We are going to order some tests. It will be fine.’ But her face is the one I gave Emilie after a serious bike accident that required hospitalization. I wanted her to remain calm, while inside I was freaking out!

I try to ask more questions but she clearly doesn’t understand me enough to answer in a way that is helpful – for either of us. And then I realized, with everything I’ve overcome moving here – navigating travel/transit, ordering food, driving, getting our visas renewed, etc. – when I need to understand the most important things about my time of life health, I’m lost. And with all the other stuff I’m experiencing, I’m more emotional than normal. So I teared up. This makes her more uncomfortable and she clearly wants me to get out of there as soon as possible.

She tells me to go out to reception to get the information on the scheduled tests right away and then tells me.

‘Next time I see you, you will know more Spanish.’

I asked her when I would be seeing her and she told me right after the tests on Wednesday. I’m not sure if she thinks I’m some sort of language savant or if there is some magic they put in the water they gave me, but she’s in for a sad disappointment.

I’m not going to say I ever loved my doctors in the US, any more than this specialist. It always felt like the Burger King drive thru when you went to your appointment back home. They barely looked at you. But the one thing they could do, when it really mattered, was speak to me in my own language and answer my questions. Because God knows, no one wants me Googling this stuff. Least of all Jeff. He’s made me promise.

I do understand that I’m just at the beginning of this journey. It will get worse before it gets better. And no one knows how long it will take. There are people who tell horror stories (Yes, I mean you Mom) and others who tell me it’s really not a big deal. But no one I know have ever gone through it in Spain, in a language not their own. I guess either way, I can hear the lion and the roar it getting louder. But I can take comfort that it will eventually, after the really strong shaking, roar away.

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.

Salud!

We are not big drinkers. We never have been. It doesn’t mean we don’t go out and enjoy a beverage, or several, with friends and family. But, as a general rule, we drink more water, coffee, iced tea or even Coke than we ever do some form of alcohol.

It’s probably a good thing. I’ve always been a lightweight. I know this because one or two glasses of wine is fine. The third glass? Well, I’d give you the location to a treasure map, reveal my darkest secrets, or the launch codes to the whole arsenal. I’d have made a terrible pirate, and it’s probably why I’m not President of the United States. Right?

Jeff doesn’t drink wine so if I open a bottle it will take me two weeks to drink it. Even then, I’ll invariably end up throwing out the last bit in the bottom. So moving from a country where people don’t drink Breakfast beer, or put a ‘little something extra’ into their morning coffee at the local cafe, to one where alcohol consumption is a daily thing  can feel strange at times. But we’re not Amish. The Spanish must know something because they enjoy record breaking longevity.

We just had our annual physicals and the Doctor suggested Jeff drink more liquid on a daily basis.

‘Now, it doesn’t have to be just water.’ He assured him (I was sitting right there or I wouldn’t have believed this) ‘You can mix in some beer too. As long as it’s light in color. No dark beer. And you can drink vino blanco, but no vino tinto.’

Jeff turned to me with the smile of a child on Christmas morning. The Dr. looked confused so I explained.

‘You’ve now become his favorite physician, EVER. Maybe even his favorite person.’

When we were walking home from the appointment, Jeff had a spring in his step.

‘Finally, a Dr. who has common sense and gets me.’

I knew there would be an unlock to moving here. I just didn’t know it would take the form of his annual physical to do it.

We walk in the Turia a lot (the old riverbed like Central Park) . There are ball fields for every kind of sport you can imagine. Rugby, Soccer (futbol), Baseball, Cricket. If you can throw something or swing something – you’ll find it there. And there is always, always a game going on. We like to stop and cheer people on periodically. Especially the semi-pro baseball teams.

And we’ve noticed a pattern. When the kids are little, the Dad stays at the field, with the other Dads, and watches the older kid in their chosen sport. The Mom is in the adjacent play field watching the younger child climb things, with the other Mom’s. Then, as the kids get older, the parents retire to the cafe/bar that is connected to EVERY sports field, and they watch both kids from there. And those bars/cafes have full bars in them. You can get lit with the other parents while your kids battle their rivals ‘The Bumblebees’ or another viciously named team, for league dominance.

When our kids were younger and played team sports, there were parents who brought hot toddies to early morning games, or margarita’s to summer baseball. But those were for a small clique of the hard core and it was all on the down low. Those parents would be freaking out to see how open people are here while cheering on their 6 year old on the futbol pitch. 

Back home, we bought booze for pool parties or Halloween or holiday parties. Afterwards, it just sat there, until the next get together. And before we moved, we threw a ton of it out. But I’m sure we’ll restock for our new friends in Valencia. G & T’s are all the rage here. But that won’t change a thing. I’ll still be a lightweight. But now that Jeff has been prescribed beer as a substitute for water? Who knows. He’ll probably live to be 120. 

Ring! Ring! The Universe is Calling

I’m a firm believer that when I don’t pay attention to certain things that the universe or whatever you may prefer to call it, sends a message and forces a refocus. Sometimes it’s a minor adjustment, like quitting a job or moving house. And sometimes it’s a major one that knocks you upside the head saying ‘Hellooo. I’ve been trying to tell you something for awhile now and you required a bit more active intervention.’ Yesterday was one of those days.

I woke up. Like usual. I was doing my usual list of things in the morning. Taking care of the housekeeping of life so I could kid myself that I would be editing my book in the afternoon. Both my conscious and subconscious mind knew this was not going to happen, but I was acting like it was. And, I thought, perhaps this would be the day when I got serious about signing up to get instruction on a Spanish driving license.

At one point I decided to go from a sitting position to a standing position and PooF! My back went out. And suddenly my plans were out of my mind in a flash and was a ball of pain on the floor, 10 feet from my mobile phone, trying to breath and crying in frustration. It only took me 30 minutes of pain, fighting to a sitting position and slide crawling across the hardwood floor to get to my phone to type ‘HELP’ and summon Jeff who was out of the house.

He came home and got me situated, pumping some pain meds into me and attaching a TENs device to my back that we got when we were in the US. The relief was slow in coming but it did come. And Jeff’s initial suggestion of ‘Shall I take you to the Dr.’ was met swiftly with the realization that it was the 9th of October. Even bars were closed. Dr. Angeles wasn’t going to be within a mile of his closed office.

So I went from a list of ‘Other more important things to do’ to ‘This is all you can do while laying on your back’. And the two things I could do were editing my book and looking up traffic schools and all the requirements I’ll need to meet to start my classes. I had been kicking these cans down the road for quite some time.

It hardly seems fair. I have been driving forever. I know what do do. And taking a theory test in Google translated English is, I understand, rather difficult and fraught with alot of double negatives. So I’ve been putting it off. But then I looked through the requirements and we couldn’t even start the process until we had been here 6 months and proved that. So I’m not so late in doing this after all. But the rub is that while I would have been able to drive on my International driving license for the first 6 months, I can’t now as of the 6 months and one day. This leaves a gap in our ability to drive – or ride the motorcycle. And our insurance won’t pay if we are in an accident.

So I reached out to some online schools for classes and practice tests. Next I found out I have to get a ‘Padron’ stamped no later than 3 months ago. This is the town hall certificate that says we’re registered in Valencia as residents. Ours is now 7 months old so I found out where we go to get another one. It will require standing in line, paying a fee and getting the same document with a fresher date. Like vegetables in the grocery store.

Finally, I learned I have to be psychologically tested to ensure I’m not so crazy that I can’t drive. Mental fitness. I wonder if I should be worried about this one. If they ask me who the president of Spain is, and the like, I’d fail it. But I do know the day of the week and the year so maybe they’ll give me the certificate. The test must be done at an approved ‘Instituto de Psicologia y Medico de Trafico’. In other words, that’s all these people do is evaluate mental fitness for those wanting a driving license.

Once I present these documents and pass the theory test I will hire a company that will teach me to drive a stick shift. This is the part I find so scary. I never learnt. All my parent’s cars were automatic. And, when I got older it was just easier to stick with that. In Europe, everyone drives a stick. And if I get an ‘Automatic only’ license I would never be allowed to drive a manual transmission. So I need to bite the bullet and just do it – no matter how intimidated I feel.

But today I’m still flat on my back, and since this week is mostly a holiday, I’ll be putting it off until next Monday to start the process. But with nothing else to distract me, I’m going to be editing my book for a few days – at least. Maybe in the future I’ll listen to the little messages that are being sent my way to avoid the pain and discomfort that comes with ignoring them. But something tells me that learning to drive a stick will come with a pain all its own. Oh well, no time like the present to put that off for a few more days.

Sometimes

Moving to Valencia was made easier, I’m convinced, because we left Seattle two years earlier for Arizona. I had taken a new job knowing it wasn’t the end of the line. So we were out of our comfort zones for quite awhile before we packed up and moved across the world.

Arizona wasn’t politically our favorite place. We moved there in 2016, and all the guns, truck nuts and the like were not part of how we saw ourselves. Driving there was scary because you never knew who was packing and they might pull a weapon on you going 100 miles an hour on the freeway. But then everyone drove at least 80 mph on the 17 or the 101 freeway, so 100 wasn’t that much faster. It happened to Jeff while he was in the carpool lane on his motorcycle a couple of months after we got there. That incident started the clock on when we would move.

But even with all of that I still knew how to operate. How to find the Department of Motor vehicles, the paperwork I would need to get my license. Call a Dr. for my daughter and get an appointment. Nothing big but I didn’t have to think about it. I understood the bureaucracy. The System’. I’m thinking about it now.

Sometimes:

  • I wish I had a whole day where I ‘just knew’ and could easily figure it out.
  • I would like to get up in the morning knowing that going outside wasn’t going to present challenges the moment I interacted with other citizens.
  • I’d like to go to the grocery store and find my favorite foods. In the same packages I’m used to.
  • I’d like to get my mail from our US forwarder without paying for a FedEx envelope.
  • I’d like to be able to call on an old medical bill that finally reached me without the hassle of the time difference and the cost before I even get anyone on the phone.
  • I’d like to not have to pay .20 cents a minute to call my bank because they’ve denied a charge on my credit card or an ACH on my bank account because I’m still not in the US even after I’ve asked them to put notes on my account
  • I’d like to just get our stuff from that freaking boat we paid so much money to bring our things from the US – because they’re still not here!
  • I just want to go to that breakfast place we used to go to on weekends in Issaquah – where they knew us and we didn’t even have to order – they just brought it with unlimited coffee refills.
  • I’d like to not feel completely stupid trying to get small things done, being the only person in the room, store, office, that can’t express themselves like I want to.
  • I just want easy, familiar, normal, comfortable.
  • Sometimes…

And then I remember. I love living here. But sometimes it’s still hard. On those days we don’t leave the apartment and we just binge watch NetFlix. Shows filmed in LA or NY. Places we are familiar with and feel comfortable in. It’s like we’re recharging from home so we can go out again tomorrow and tackle it. We’re committed to living here – we’re not moving back. But Sometimes…