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.

He’s Da Man

I’ll be heading on a train to Barcelona soon to hang out with my niece, Melody, for a few days. She’s on her first trip to Europe with her HS German language class, and for the last 10 days has been touring Austria, Switzerland, and Germany. She extending her stay here so she can pass through Barcelona and we can see each other. Melody is one of those people I love hanging out with. She’s smart and wise for her 18 years. And she’s paid for this trip herself, all by working at a pizza place in Oregon. So she’ll appreciate every moment of it.

Ironically, Jeff will be starting his journey home from the US while I’m stepping onto a train to leave Valencia. So he’ll be at home waiting while I’m seeing the sights in Barcelona. But I don’t care so much about that. I’m glad he’ll be there waiting, because we’ve hit critical mass on him being away and I’m sort of stuck without him.

First off, I rented an industrial space while he was gone. Well, it’s sort of a warehouse and office space. I need to spread out so I can paint bigger canvases. And I like higher ceilings and a big roll up door. (maybe I’ll paint the door) And an office of my own. So I called a bunch of imobilarias (real estate agents) and scheduled showings. I found the perfect one, and even a back up plan. Then the negotiations started.

I talked them down on the price a bit. But then I hit a snag. The ‘Ask your husband what he thinks’ snag. Huh? I have all the bank certificates, etc. showing we can pay for the warehouse without effort. But then it came time to determine how we wanted to tranch the contract. There were multiple options. I reviewed them and got back to the agent. I mean, I can’t count the number of contracts I’ve red-lined over the years. I could do it in my sleep.

‘I prefer #3.’ I told her and laid out my reasoning.

‘Well, we will let you review the options with your husband first and get back to us.’ she told me.

I laughed. ‘My husband is in the US. I can tell you now, if I asked him at all, he would tell me to do whatever I want.’ I should have said he would laugh, wonder out loud why I was consulting him, and inquire, with some genuine concern, if I’d been hit by a car sustaining a head injury?

‘Well, we would be more comfortable if you reviewed them with him before deciding.’

WHAT?!? I wanted to laugh, again, but then I realized she was serious. I could tell her how it was going to go:

  • He’ll come back from the US and go to her office with me, where she will ask him what he wants to do.
  • He will turn to me very earnestly ‘Let me ask my financial manager.’ Even he knows he has no clue if we have a penny or a pound.
  • Then he’ll ask me ‘Can we afford this?’.
  • I will tell him ‘Yes’.
  • Then he’ll ask me which option I want.
  • ‘Option #3’.
  • He’ll then turn to her and tell her ‘Option #3’.
  • She’ll smile and we’ll both sign and get the keys.
  • Then we’ll leave and he will again turn to me and say ‘What the hell was that? Why did you need me there?’
  • I’ll point to his crotch (he is THE MAN, after all), shrug and we’ll go have a coffee.

What is it with everyone assuming I have no money or financial savvy because I have a v-jay-jay and breasts? It’s like a bad joke. What if I was gay? Who would play my fake husband then? Hmm…I would hire Ryan Reynolds. He’s not super handsome but he’s hilarious and smart. I’d prefer those qualities in a fake husband. But I digress. So while I’ll drop off the financial documents to her office today, we won’t sign until ‘Daddy gets home’. Ick. Do I sound bitter? Cause I’m a little bitter.

Moving on – our apartment hasn’t been this clean since the day we moved in. In the last week I’ve bought organizers for all the cupboards and categorized and sorted every thing we own in the evenings. I re-potted all the plants and trees on the balcony – stuff grows fast here. After that, I ‘Marie Kondo’d’ all the drawers and shelves in the closets. It was then I knew I might be getting crazy. The neighbors would soon find me in their apartments sorting their Tupperware, so it’s at a tipping point, and Jeff knows he’s coming back just in time.

In the end, I was left with a large lawn bag full of clothes and shoes and other sundry items. Now I needed to find out what to do with them. Donating stuff in Valencia isn’t like in the US, where there are multiple donation bins in every parking lot in the country. Or even in Ireland where there were more charity shops than regular stores on every block in every town. Here? I’ve seen two in all of Valencia. And I don’t know how they source their stuff.

Jeff said he’d seen a red metal drop off bin in a Repsol gas station parking lot in Benimachlet, so I loaded up the multiple trolleys that I’ve acquired over the last year – to bursting. Yes, it’s a little strange that I have multiple trolleys and hand trucks, but I bought them each for a specific purpose. And I’ll admit I have a thing for various sizes of hand trucks – even in the US. Jeff just shakes his head when I buy another one. The right tool for the right job, and all that. So I strapped them together and made my way down to the Repsol. .

On the way, I’m not going to say that I didn’t look a little strange wrangling all my trolleys across 10 blocks, collecting strange looks and open mouthed staring. But I’m pretty sure my neighbors on the streets surrounding our apartment, if not exactly used to me by now, are just resigned to my strange presence and modus operandi. And sure enough, there was the bin. Ms. Kondo, of Netflix fame, you would have been proud. Yes, during the process I found out I have 5 versions of the same blue and white striped t-shirt, but I’m keeping them all, Marie. Sorry. On the way back I passed the Soul Coffee where the cafe oglers were. I gave them a thumbs up lumbering by with my montage of empty conveyances. Some actually shook their heads and laughed. I’m pretty sure I saw respect.

So I leave for Barcelona a little lighter. Knowing when I get home things will be back to normal. I’ll be able to sign contracts again and getting dressed in the mornings will be a snap! And in less than a week I’ll be moving into my new space. It’s all worth it.

Guest Blog: Feliz Primer Anniversario – El Jefe’s Perspective

We have made it a whole year! I have a lot of stuff filed under “If only I knew then what I know now” and I’ll help Kelli out now and again with a guest blog post sharing my observations of living here in Valencia.

Do I need one of those?

I think living in the US conditioned me to the never-ending stream of advertising telling me that I need this or that.  There are ads on TV telling me that I should consult with my doctor to see if whatever medicine the pharmaceutical company happens to be selling at that moment is right for me.  There is a constant stream of messages telling the listener to be dissatisfied with what they have.  Ooh look at the new version of X! You need a bigger Y.  How have you lived without Z in your life?   The advertising is relentless. 

When we lived in the US I noticed it, but I never thought too much about how it influenced me.  Here in Valencia the only advertisements that I’m exposed to are either the 5 or 6 billboards in the Metro or the daily text message from Vodafone trying to get me to buy something new.  As a result of the absence of marketing I am not feeling like I’m missing out for not having the latest and greatest of everything. 

I had forgotten how much advertising there was in the US until yesterday.  I decided to tune into my old favorite radio station in Seattle by streaming their broadcast over the internet.  Why hadn’t I thought of this months ago?  It was great hearing the familiar voices and even the traffic reports of places I had been countless times.  One thing that really annoyed me though was the sheer quantity of ads.  After listening for about an hour I began to record how much time was spent on advertising.  It works out to about 20 minutes per hour!  It was quite an eyeopener.  Back in the states I would have just assumed that was normal, because it is. Here in Valencia I mostly listen to music on Amazon or we watch Netflix. Very little advertising and I think I’m happier for missing out on it.

Take my money,please!

When I shop, I like to do ample research so that I know exactly what I need.  There have been several examples over the past year where I was sure I knew exactly what I wanted only to find out that the “latest” model available in Spain is 2 years older than what is available in the US.  This is perhaps my biggest frustration shopping here.  Even Amazon fails to fill the void as not all products are available everywhere.

My second biggest frustration is the pace at which the shopping experience advances. Once I’ve figured out what I want, then I need to figure out how to get it.  Where to shop, online or a local store? Even when I’m able to determine that a local store has the item I want, there is a good chance it will not be open when I get there. We are still getting the hang of the holiday schedule here. Some days are still just a mystery as to why everything is closed.  Sometimes even when you arrive at the store on a non-holiday between the posted opening and closing hours the shop will be closed. We have no idea why. This wouldn’t happen in the US.

There have been a few times where I think I’m being perceived as more trouble than I’m worth to a salesman, rather than to try to understand what I’m asking for.  There is a bike shop around the corner that comes to mind.  Both times I’ve been there I have been turned away without being able to purchase what I need. Maybe it is because I don’t speak Spanish, but I always come prepared with either a picture of the item I need, or a Google translated paragraph of what I am looking for. Both times I’ve walked out feeling like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman thinking “Big mistake, I hope you work on commission” as I end up placing an order online. 

Overall though, I would say that most people that I try to communicate with are willing to give it a try. My broken Spanish and their broken English – usually better than my Spanish – and we work it out.

Today we were out visiting car dealerships.  The steps to the car buying process is like buying in the US.  Visit the showroom, pick out a car, test drive the car, pay for it and go home. I’ve purchased many cars or motorcycles in the US.  I go in armed with all my data and negotiate a fair price as quickly as I can. I mean who wants to spend an entire day at a car dealer? I think my record was when I purchased a Range Rover on Christmas Eve a few years ago. I stopped into the dealer as they were opening on my way to work, and the whole buying process only took a little over an hour and that was because I had to wait for them to wash it. 

The steps are roughly the same here but instead of using a stopwatch to keep track of the time, you had better bring a calendar…seriously.  You need to make an appointment to test drive your selected vehicle.  If you want to drive a few different cars then that will require a separate appointment for each vehicle, hopefully all on the same day but not guaranteed if the cars will be available. Then once you have picked out the one you want it is time to pay for it. Like many things here this next part doesn’t make much sense to us. 

The dealership we visited today told us that we had to finance the car.  It wasn’t a large sum of money but in order to buy the car we couldn’t just pay cash even though I could. The salesperson told us that the upside is that they will give us a discount on the price for financing. (as if I have a choice)  And the punchline was that it would take about two weeks for the finance company to get us approved.  Once we are approved then it will take about another 4-5 days to get our insurance set up. We already have a quote but the turnaround time is so slow in them responding that getting the car attached to the policy is a chore.

So, I’ve learned that it takes roughly just under a month to buy a new car in Valencia. I’ve heard that buying a used vehicle is quicker but that comes with its own set of potential issues. For instance, the previous owner may have some unpaid tickets and somehow, they get transferred to the new owner as if the car was responsible for them and not the owner. I’m sure there are ways to protect yourself from this and I know I still have a bit of learning to do. 

Overall my experience here has been a positive one. From day 1 there has been something new to learn every day. What seemed almost impossible and intimidating just a year ago is now easily accomplished. I’m an introvert but I’m slowly being forced out of my shell due to necessity.  Well, that and Pokemon Go.  (They are fanatical about the game here, but I’ll save that for another blog post) 

Sure, there is still a huge language barrier for me, but context is everything. I may not always know what the cashier at the grocery store is telling me but somehow, I just know what she is asking and can respond accordingly.  “No, I don’t have a loyalty card.”  “No, I don’t need validation for parking.”  “Yes, I’d like a bag.”  It probably sounds a little weird to a bystander.  The cashier talking to me in Spanish while I respond in English, but it seems to be working so far.  And with each day that passes the language barrier is not quite so tall.  Want to order a beverage?  All you need to say is “una cerveza” or maybe “una pinta cerveza” if you are thirsty.  But I’ve learned that ordering a “una grande pinta cerveza” while gesturing with my hands may be a little overkill, as I found out the other day. 

Now that’s a beer

Would I give up all my worldly possessions and move to another country again? Maybe. But one thing I’ve learned is that I don’t need nearly as many things as I thought I did two years ago. I’ve traded them for experiences.

It’s Never as Easy as it Looks

When I started taking my practice tests for taking the theory test in preparation for getting my driving license, I was failing ALL of them – miserably. I believed it’s because the translations from Spanish to English for each of the questions/answers is wonky. But I persevered, while complaining bitterly. Jeff listened to my complaints and was less than sympathetic.

‘I took one of those free practice tests online when we first got here. I passed it without doing any reading. I’m not sure why this is so hard for you – you’re making too big a deal of it. I think I could just sign up for the test and pass it on the first try.’

Did that make me feel good? No – it did not. But maybe he was right, I thought. Then I wondered if I wasn’t as smart as I had thought I was. Was my brain calcifying? Was it early onset Alzheimers? I would read some of these crazy questions and even crazier answers out to him and he acted like it was a piece of cake.

‘You just need to read the questions slowly. I think you’re going too fast and you’re missing it when they say ‘Always’ or ‘Never’. Those are the words they tell you to be on the lookout for when taking tests.’

I would look up at him from my chaise – ready to throw a lamp or my phone at him, thinking ‘Patronizing asshole – this joker has not a clue!’ but also ‘Has all the grey matter from my brain disappeared?’

Fast forward to this week. El Jefe is using the same online practice tests I did. It’s the best one out there because they have the actual tests that you could experience when taking the theory test at the DGT office in the rice fields. But driving licenses are in my rear view mirror and I am busy editing my book, so I’ve been super focused on that. When he randomly emerges from the office it startles me.

‘What the HELL?! Have you seen some of those questions? (Is he kidding?) I have to take a break. This is crazy! I missed 6 tests in a row! SIX! It’s like they want you to fail. I think you can only miss 5 questions to pass (actually it’s 3, but who’s counting). Here, let me read one of these out to you. You tell me what you think the answer might be.’

Oh, how I wanted to say a simple ‘I told you so.’ And remind him of his ‘I think you’re making this harder than it needs to be.’ But I just listen to his rant. While my inner dialogue is Gloat, Gloat, Gloating. I want to hold up that piece of paper that I keep in my wallet that says ‘Provisional’ driving license and use it to fan myself. I want to display my giant ‘L’ prominently on the side board, and say ‘Wait – didn’t I already pass this test?’ But I do none of those things.

He reads me the offending question and awaits my response. Without hesitating I tell him the correct answer ‘Animals can only be on the right side of the road.’ I say with total dead pan – returning to my laptop.

He looks stunned. ‘But look at the picture. It shows animals running all over. So clearly they can be anywhere.’

I shake my head without looking up – or I know I’ll laugh. ‘You need to understand. When they ask you something with ‘can’ – what they mean is ‘allowed’. It’s pretty simple once you figure that out.’

He is stunned.

‘Oh, and never, ever go by the photo. That will trip you up every time. The photo has nothing whatsoever to do with the answer.’ And then I return to my manuscript while listening to him make the ‘Eh!’ sound, fling his arms in the air, and then marching back into the office like a teenager.

I’ve never been one to celebrate another person’s lack of success. It’s not in my nature. But this moment – just this moment – I’m going to allow myself that most human of emotions by delighting in what will certainly be his temporary defeat. And whispering to myself, more than a few times ‘Oh wait, I told you so.’

My Daughter’s Mother

Part of what is hard about living in Spain, so far away from family, is that when they are sick or injured you can do nothing to comfort them or ease their pain. I haven’t felt this helpless since we moved here.

Yesterday, I woke up to pictures on my phone of Emilie’s ankle, and a wall of messages telling me about how she injured it in her basketball game the night before. It looks terrible. It’s huge, purple and angry and she’s on the other side of the world wanting comfort. She’s a star athlete so she’s frustrated that it’s clearly a season ending injury. Tennis and the long jump (yes, she does two sports at a time in the spring season) are now out of the question. She will be in a boot for a couple of months, I’m very sure.

So I spent my day on messenger talking her through it all and speaking to her on the phone intermittently. She’s a tough cookie – she always has been. And she’ll be fine. But it’s one of those Mom Moments that makes me wish I was there, and it wasn’t someone from the school shepherding her to the hospital.

But then she told me that they had taken her back to the school without having determined if her ankle is broken and given her a treatment plan. What?! I had never heard of this and we’ve been to an ER with all the kids for one sports injury or another. Xrays, MRI’s, CT scans, emergency surgery. We’ve been through it all. So I called the school and spoke to them.

Emilie’s school is in the deep, deep South of the US. They ‘Tawk reeal sloow’. Not because they’re stupid but that’s just their cultural linguistic heritage. But it also means that when I call them it takes them forever to get down to the point and my cell phone bills are enormous. Bottom line, they said that this is ‘normal’ for the local ER they take kids to. And they would just wait for the results to be called to them – maybe by Monday. That seemed outrageous to me to release a patient with a clear sign of serious injury without a diagnosis or a treatment plan.

‘Well, we have her laying down and we’re giving her the ‘Mama treatment’. They assured me. I was not assured.

When I got off the phone Jeff looked at my face and said ‘Uh Oh’.

I told him what they had said. ‘Mama Treatment?’

‘I don’t know what kind of mama’s these people had, but mine would never have stood for leaving an ER with no answers. And this mama isn’t going to stand for it either.’

So I looked on Google maps and found the closest ER to the school and I called them up, explaining the situation. I’m 5000 miles away and my poor daughter was seen there with a clearly seriously injured ankle. Yada Yada.

Well, the first two people I spoke to, after 10 minutes of failing to get to the point, finally told me they couldn’t help me ‘Due to all those laws about patient privacy and such’. The upside of these long conversations is that I did get a kickass peach cobbler recipe and we’re now invited to a 4th of July bbq with ‘the best sweet tea in the South’. And I was able to calibrate my speech cadence and local nomenclature. It would come in handy.

So I called again. This time I asked for radiology. They were the ones who ran the tests in the first place. I had learned from my other two conversations not to go at it head on. You sort of sneak up on it, so as not to scare your prey. I told my same story but in a more round about, subtle way. I threw in some local colloquialisms like ‘Til the cows come home’ , ‘A hill of beans’ and ‘If I had my druthers.’ I was gonna try to work in ‘That dog don’t hunt’ but that takes some Olympic-level southern tawk, and I’m an amateur. I told them I was in Spain and couldn’t sign that crazy form to get information about my own child’s health in a crisis such as this. I said ‘One parent to another, I’m sure y’all can understand.’ It was a shot in the dark but Scarlet O’Hara had nothing on me. In the end, the person said they really wanted to. Really, really wanted to but they couldn’t help me or they’d lose their job.

When I hung up Jeff was smiling. ‘What?’ I asked him.

‘That’s quite the accent you’re sportin” He laughed.

‘Well you know how I get when I talk to someone from there. I lose all the ‘g’s’ at the end of all those words. And one syllable becomes 4.’

‘Oh, I know. I figured if you came to bed in a hoop skirt, the transformation would have been complete.’

I was frustrated. ‘Well clearly it didn’t work. I almost had it too. They wanted to tell me but I didn’t get it across the finish line.’

Just then, my phone rang. It was the area code for that town. I picked up and a frantic person told me – with no Southern hemming and hawing – that they were in the parking lot on their personal cell phone. They understood my plight as a mother and they gave me the information I needed – including the results and the treatment plan.

‘You don’t know me and we never spoke’ they said.

‘I couldn’t pick you out of a crowd in the Walmart parking lot’. I promised. Then they hung up.

I called the school. Because I’m her parent and the medical results hadn’t reached the school via pony express yet, I get to dictate what they do for her. So I read out the instruction I had been given by deep throat in the ER parking lot and told them to follow them to the letter. They agreed of course. No body wants to get sued.

The final gem was my phone ringing at 2:30 this morning. The health coordinator at the school had finally gotten the results – hours after my covert medical records operation had born fruit. She related everything I already knew and told me they were going to do exactly as I dictated to them hours earlier.

So after little sleep, I’m happy Emilie is getting the care and treatment she needs. But I still wish I was there to take care of her. I’d make her up some peach cobbler from that new recipe and maybe a little sweet tea. That’d fix her up but good.

Ugh. Now I need to go out and speak to some Spanish people so I can’t stop tawkin’ like this.