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.

It’s a Mixed Bag

We’ve been up since 2:30 am. When you move to another country – 9 time zones ahead of where your US cell phone number’s area code happens to be – any old reminders for a dentist, veterinarian or prescriptions is going to come to your phone at a time that is based on that old time zone. And not to your new one. UGH!

And in this case, it was for a prescription at Walgreens in Puyallup, WA. We’ve never lived there. I’ve never filled a prescription there. Why they would call me to pick up a prescription from there? I have no idea. But since the area code was from the US we are immediately awake!  Jeff’s Mom is in that same area code. So we picked up the phone. But it was just meds and not even our meds. We both had so much adrenaline running through us we stayed up and Jeff made coffee.

I had turned up the ringer because I had been doing banking yesterday and forgot to turn it down. That’s the only reason I still have cell svs in the US. Banking. Otherwise, I’d just use my Spanish mobile and WhatsApp, like every other civilized human and nation on the planet. US banks don’t support WhatsApp.

So we were up early. Too early. And I had needed a good nights sleep. It has been a busy week seeing friends before the holidays. They’re going away and we’re going away. Baking. And then our landlord came last night with some workers to do some maintenance. This is very unusual in Valencia. Landlords here are notoriously terrible. You pay – they take your money – and pretend you don’t exist. It’s part of why I rented the apartment I rented.

He’s lovely and showed up with his adorable little daughter and I gave them the cookies I had made for them. That’s when I found out we had created a stir in the building – and not a particularly good one. His daughter was thrilled with the cookies and ate them happily in the living room. But he had gotten calls about us giving out cookies to our neighbors. This was some sort of cultural divide that we had traversed and it wasn’t received well. Apparently, you don’t give out cookies to people on holidays.

He tried to explain it to us by using a funeral comparison. Even though Christmas is sort of a birth thing –  he said he had noticed on Netflix that Americans share cookies at the holidays. But in Spain, when people die they just go to the church and then home. He knew in the US that people gather and eat things together when someone dies. So ‘it’s different here’. I know he was being earnest and wanted me to understand. But while I still didn’t get the funeral reference, I understood that next year I will not be making cookies for my neighbors.

Except for the lady across the hall, who was so happy she wrote us a card in Valenciano. It’s in cursive writing and, in Europe, cursive writing is different than what they taught us in the US and we’ve struggled to decipher it. So Jeff is going to take it to his final Beginner’s Computer class before the holiday break and ask for some assistance. I know it was positive because she put a smiley face after signing it.

But the balls were a hit at El Horno. There were hugs and coffee. At El Chino? The guy shut off his Spanish completely and was speaking full on Chinese. Walked in a circle, speaking so quickly, waving at the bag of cookies and finally took it like it was on fire. Then he handed me some wine and waved us out. I’m not sure if I should ever go back. I’m thinking a ‘Secret Santa’ or ‘White Elephant gift’ holiday party would cause so much trauma and mayhem here that they’d need days to recover. It’s Just COOKIES, people! I didn’t hand out uranium!

Today, I was determined to get back into the Christmas spirit so we went down to the big square where they have the tree and the ice rink. I love ice rinks and make sure I skate at the out door ice rink in any city I’m in at the holidays. It’s a must do. 

But it’s 65 degrees here. I went to buy my ticket (Jeff knows his limits and watched from the sideline). It’s cheap. 8 euros for 45 minutes of ice time, including skates. Amazing. But they also charged me 2 euro for gloves as ‘mandatory’. It’s 65 out. I could have been in shorts. But I paid and went up to the melted ice to slog through the one inch lake that was sitting on top of a bumpy rink. It took me two minutes to figure out that this wasn’t going to work but I stayed out there for another 15. It’s Christmas, damn it!

We had lunch and walked home. A little disappointed – if I’m honest. I’m really hoping that when we get to Ireland we’ll feel a bit more like Christmas. Maybe it’s the cookie thing, combined with the waking up in the middle of the night, but I’ve slid out of the spirit of the season. Tomorrow our bags will be packed so we can head to cooler climes. And to a place where at least I know the traditions and how not to step on cultural toes. Jeff, Em and I all have Irish DNA running in our veins. We’re spending nearly 3 weeks in a land where they like to celebrate with food (and drink). Whether its a funeral or Christmas. I bet if I handed a random stranger some cookies there, they wouldn’t be a stranger for long.

Oh well. I’ll get over it. It is what it is. But it did make me a little sad to think that our gesture of goodwill required people to pick up the phone and call our landlord. Like we’re errant children. Maybe next year we’ll head out of town a little earlier in December. Norway or the like. Jeff’s family is mostly Scandinavian. And I know they like cookies so we’d fit right in. And I would skip bringing my US cell phone, too.

Did You Order Something?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A Peek Behind the Curtain

Jeff has a rich inner life. One I’m not always privy to. Periodically, he gives me glimpses into it. More now than in the beginning. Usually, it will start with ‘I’ve been thinking…’ or ‘I’ve been doing some research…’. And it means that he’s been thinking about, and finding ways to solve, whatever it is – for a long time. It will be only in that moment, that I’ll be clued in. I’ve always been supportive of whatever he wanted to do, and these days he clues me in earlier in his process than he used to.

When he wanted to learn to sew, back in the US, I bought him a sewing machine for Christmas and signed him up for classes at the sewing center in Issaquah. The gaggle of old ladies there were suspicious of him at first, but then he became their mascot or substitute grandson – who liked to sew. They were in heaven.

As seen at our usual Sunday Lunch spot in Valencia – The Black Turtle. Pretty much sums up our life philosophy

So, what happened this weekend shouldn’t have taken me by surprise, but it did. 

I was sitting on our new sofa taking practice test after practice test for my theory exam first thing on Monday morning. Jeff got up and came back in carrying his shoes and a backpack full of stuff. Clearly, he was getting ready to go somewhere, I asked him what was up.

‘I’m going to my class.’ he said – as though I had any idea what he was talking about.

Huh? ‘You’re taking a class?’ I had no clue what and where that would be and when he might have considered this.

‘I signed up for a beginners programming class via MeetUps’ and he kept putting on his shoes.

A beginners programming class? He’s made a career as a software engineer. He can whip up an application or optimize a data base in any language you choose. He’ll build you an app for your i device, tout suite. It’s like a brain surgeon taking Life Sciences 101 at a community college. Jeff hasn’t needed a beginner’s programming class, well, since the beginning of his career 25 years ago. It didn’t add up.

‘I don’t get it.’ I said – eyes narrowing.

‘Well, I gotta go, its an hour to get there, or I’ll be late,’ He leaned over and kissed me, grabbed his backpack and left. Like it was no big deal.

The silence in his wake was deafening. He’s not an ‘Affair’ kind of guy, not the least of which, because he’s a terrible liar. And even if he was, I can’t imagine how he could meet someone – we spend a lot of time together. Granted, maybe too much. ‘Do they have Tinder here?’ I wondered. But he had on an old shirt, and he wouldn’t have needed to take supplies in the back pack. Or would he? I don’t know the rules of etiquette on Tinder (this was the actual thread of my thought process). Maybe in Spain they wear special outfits. But I had to study for my test and I needed to focus on that. While still wondering what he was up to.

Later,I went to a play with a friend, before Jeff got back. She’d already bought the tickets and I did want to see Ken Watanabe in ‘The King and I’. Masterful performance. When I came in, he was sitting on the couch, smiling like a Cheshire cat. OK, maybe it was Tinder. 

‘Hey – how was your beginner programming class?’ I asked – using air quotes. I hate air quotes. Waiting to see if he would spin a good yarn. If he did, I’d know. His lips wouldn’t move.

‘Great!’ still smiling.

‘Learn something new, did you?’ I kept it casual but I was suspicious.

‘As a matter of fact, I did. I met some new people and I’m going back next week.’

Next week? Another beginning programming class? This was too much.

‘Like what? What did you learn?’ I was starting to form some hazy pictures in my mind. A matador costume and a bull mask. This would not end well.

‘Spanish.’ he said proudly. 

Again – huh? We had taken that disastrous Spanish immersion class when we first got here. He had declined the offer to go with me to my tutor, and the classes I took in the summer. But his Spanish was getting better – I had noticed it in Brazil, and since we’ve been back, he’s using what he has when we go anywhere. No longer afraid to stumble to communicate.

‘I don’t get it.’ The bull ring not yet fading from my mind.

‘Well, I’ve struggled to learn Spanish – in a regular language class. So I’m picking up some here and there. But then I thought – I know a lot of programming languages. So if I went to a beginner programming class, I would learn Spanish in the context of languages I’m already fluent in. And there’s context – something we didn’t have in that class we took.’

Huh? Red cape gone – mind blown! Of course he’s doing this. He’s been trying to solve the problem of learning Spanish in a way that makes sense to him, ever since the Spring. And this is what he’s landed on. It’s very Jeff.

‘What did they say when you introduced yourself.’ I wished I had been there.

‘They were a little confused why I was there. Everyone else said they were changing careers or learning to code for fun. I said I was there to learn Spanish and they seemed surprised. But I explained my theory, and I think they got it after halfway through the hour and a half class, all in Spanish, the instructor turned to me and asked if I understood what was going on. And I told him what they were talking about. He seemed pretty surprised that it was working.’

‘Afterwards, I talked to a few people and I offered to help tutor them for free, if they would help me with my Spanish. Kind of like an intercambio for geeks. At first, I think the instructor thought I was trying to move in on his students and poach them. But I told him that wasn’t what I needed. I just want to learn Spanish in my own way.’

I wanted to laugh, but it was such a perfect solution. And it was his solution. Kind of genius, really.

When we got married, Jeff was very firm on adding a pledge that we would always ‘surprise and delight’ each other. It was the only real thing he insisted on. And, after knowing him for nearly 20 years, I’m happy to report, he’s kept up his end of the bargain.

It was a dark and stormy night



Well, it was actually a dark and stormy afternoon. And it was the day that I realized the theme of this week should be ‘The Appointment to Make the Appointment’. We hit the ground running this week.




Our first annual medical exams since we’ve been here – actually, we were way past due before we left so it was time to go get a check up and all the commiserate tests. We’re both over 50 now so the tune up and oil change takes a little more work. Blood tests and ultra sounds. It requires multiple doctors and the process here is a little more round-trip intensive.




First, we go to the clinic to make the appointment because we can’t do it over the phone – being Spanishly challenged. Then we go to the appointment and meet with the doctor. Whichever doctor it is orders tests. We go to where we are going to have the tests. Then they tell you when you can return to pick up the results – they don’t just send it to the Dr. who ordered the tests. Then you pick up the results and return to the doctor to make an appointment to review your results. Etc. Rinse and Repeat.




Jeff got lucky this time because I went to our English speaking family practitioner first. I happened to mention that Jeff would be making an appointment himself to see him. The Dr. felt he would save him some time and gave me all the blood work orders for Jeff too. So he got to skip two steps right out of the gate. When he complained about going to the Dr. after his tests came back I wanted to punch him.




Today, I had an appointment to take the examination for the driving theory test at the Jefatura de Trafico. I made it the week before we left for Brazil online and I have spent every day since doing nothing but studying the book and taking the online practice tests.  OK, that and watching a Breaking Bad marathon but you can do both at the same time. I know I’m ready because I’m passing nearly every practice test I take. But what I wasn’t prepared for was the test of getting to the test.




I had even attempted a dry run. This week I had to go get my psychological/medical fitness certificate. The clinics are across the street from the Jefatura so I knew where to go. It took 10 minutes, during which time they asked if I was depressed, tested my eyes and made me play a video game where I had to keep the two bars on the screen inside the winding road. Twenty six euros later and I had my certificate.




Since I was right across the street, I thought I’d go check out the Jefatura de Traffico and learn the system and ask for the remaining forms I required. Just so I’d be ready today. The security guard is brutal on the ‘taking-of-the-number’ business. I was not getting past him to ask a small question – without the requisite appointment. So no dry run.




Today – test day – Jeff came with me and we went early. I wanted to make sure I had plenty of time. I’d gotten my passport photos at the machine in the subway and I had all the copies that Spanish bureaucracy requires. Everything in triplicate. But getting into the equivalent of the Department of Motor Vehicle early is not allowed. Seriously, you can’t get there early – just at your appointed predetermined time. While I was in line waiting to learn this little tidbit from the militant security guard, I found my Irish friend, Donna, happened to be in line in front of me. She was swapping her driving license out – because EU citizens just exchange theirs with a form and and fee. Me? I have to act like I’m 15 again.




So after our unceremonious booting out of the Jefatura (the guy actually wagged his finger at me and said ‘No!’), we went across the street with our tails between our legs to have a coffee and to wait until the machine, that gives you a number the security guard checks so very closely, will spit out a ticket that gives you the privilege to sit down and wait. And wait. And wait.




Finally, we decided to leave the safety of the cafe to brave ‘El Securidad’ once more, and success! The ticket has 3 letters and 3 numbers. Then you sit and wait, looking up at screens every time the bell goes ‘Ping!’, checking your ticket against the information on the screen. It’s like playing Keno. When other combinations would come up and it had a common letter or number to mine – Jeff would comment on it. When my number came I almost shouted out ‘BINGO!’ but he was on to me and whispered ‘Don’t do it.’ So I held back.




Up I went to the window with my documents and copies in my plastic folder. Just like everyone else here, you go to no official building without your plastic folder full of everything you have ever documented since the beginning of time – this can include your baptismal certificate. The gentleman who helped me was very nice. He looked at what I had brought and then took my Residencia/NIE card back to have it examined by someone else and they had a long discussion about it. I was having flashbacks to the Spanish Embassy in Los Angeles. If I had to conjure bank statements I was going to scream.




Then, he came back and brought forms with him. He typed alot, glued my photos to a form, and more typing. Then he asked me when I wanted to take my test. 




‘How about now?’ I told him. I’m not sure why he thought I was there.




‘Oh no. Today you pay. You take the examination on December 3.’ He looked at me confused that I didn’t know this was ‘the appointment to make the appointment’. The test will be at a place several miles outside of town in a couple of weeks.




What could I do? Storm off? It’s just how it is. But I was a little disappointed. I was ready. I was psyched up. I memorized the manual on two continents and 24 hours in the air. I had asked Jeff over the last 48 hours one hundred times if he thought I was going to pass. I peaked too soon! But now I have a packet of all the forms and everything I’ll need in a couple of weeks. I am resigned. Jeff was less than happy.




We went home on the subway and when we got to the Benimachlet metro stop it was clear that the storm outside had become something of an issue. The water was pouring  down the stairs like a waterfall. I hid my packet of precious stamped theory test documents – including my new appointment time – under my rain coat and made a run for it. I took a video so you could see how much rain we’re talking about.








I had thought about wearing my Hunter boots today. It was raining after all. But I just wore my little green rubber ankle Boggs. My go-to rain boots for a Seattle rain. Today, they were woefully inadequate. I needed fishing waders – no kidding. By the time we got home with the rain coming down sideways, both of us were soaked to the bone. Like someone had sprayed us with a hose for 5 blocks straight.




‘We have to stop!’ I shouted at him half way home from the Metro station.




‘Why? We can’t get any wetter!’ Jeff wisely shouted back. And of course, he was right. But everyone on the street was laughing. Movie rain is like that. We’re all in the same boat, or swimming in the same ocean, I guess.




When I got home, I saw this lithograph I had bought at an artist gathering in Sao Paolo and it made me smile. Something about it struck me at the time and I stuffed it in my already bulging bag for the trip home – Jeff just shaking his head. So today, it seemed appropriate since my own umbrella was in the exact same position. A premonition of sorts.







I’ll have to remember the lessons of this week when we start our residency renewal in a few months. And allow enough time to make ‘the appointment, to make the appointment’. Hopefully, that day it will be a little less wet.

It takes a Village

It’s Christmas in October! Carol Joyner – you are amazing! Today, all the way from Spain’s Northwest coast, a package arrived containing the English version of the Spanish driving regulations. And, as we all know, there are a lot of them as evidenced by the thickness of the tome of all things trafico.

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I’m taking the fact that the guy on the cover is holding up an Audi key as a sign to me that passing my ‘B’ permit is in my future. And the book looks well loved. When Carol told me that she had studied it thoroughly for 6 weeks prior to the test, I totally believe her. I’m living it. Because it’s so much information and the rules are so nuanced that it requires dedication, hours of concentration and gallons of coffee to successfully pass the test. And a few vino rosados after not a few sad failures in a row.

I’ve decided not to go to Madrid for the class. I’m taking it online right here in Valencia. And when I need to start practical lessons at an Autoescuela in Spanish, I have someone here from LA who speaks fluent Spanish and he’ll go with me on ride alongs to translate. It should be FUN! Well…maybe not, but I’m doing one thing at a time, so as not to get overwhelmed by the process. And the first thing will be to start reading this book as a supplement to my already growing knowledge of the rules of the road from my epic testing failures of the last couple of weeks. There’s always a silver lining.

Carol, let me know if you want the book back when I’m done. If not, I’ll pay it forward to the next American who is wading into the world of the Spanish driving license. For now, I’m well equipped to prepare for my test and when I do, I will be raising a glass to the friends who helped me get there. Muchas Gracias!!

Teaching the Test

I’m all over this driving test thing. Every day I’m taking the actual Dirección General de Tráfico (DGT) tests online. In the beginning, I was getting discouraged. I was successful somewhere in the 70% range and it was a morale killer. But I have persevered and now I’m either passing the actual tests or coming very close with only 4 mistakes.

I have learned a lot and not just about Spanish traffic laws. I’ve learned that ‘should’ and ‘must’ aren’t the same as ‘mandatory;. And ‘can’t’ or ‘shouldn’t’ isn’t the same as ‘prohibited’. In English, these mean the same things. In Spanish (or the translation) there’s a bit of trickery that will fool you every time until you start to spot these words and realize you’re about to be duped for the 400th time. Damn you, DGT test! You’ll not get me again. Fool me 400 times, shame on you. Fool me for the 401st – shame on me.

And if there are two answers that look, and actually mean the same thing, the one that says ‘but can be modified at any time at the discretion or authority of the police or other authorized persons’, that’s the answer – no matter what other thing you think it might be. Because if the police or authorized persons tells you to stand on your head in the middle of the tracks, with the engine running and a train coming, and livestock on all sides of the road – even though there is no ‘Canada’ sign and other signs expressly prohibiting it – you will do it. It’s ‘compulsory’. No can’s, no should’s. You will follow the authorities.

I’ve also learned a lot about how the pictures in the test have nothing, whatsoever to do with the question. When they show wild horses running all over the road, on both sides, and then ask you if you can encounter livestock on:

a) the right side of the road.

b) the left side of the road.

c) the entire road.

The answer is a). And here’s why. The picture is meant to be a fun bit of misdirection. And you’ll notice the word ‘can‘ in the question. This seems to the layman that, based on the photo and experience, of course you CAN experience livestock on all sides of the road. But you’d be wrong. Legally, you can only experience it on the right side with the flow of traffic. But remember, when you encounter livestock arbitrarily in the road you must yield to them. I plan on shouting at them ‘You’re prohibited from being here legally! The law says so!’ But of course I’d be screaming it in English so they wouldn’t understand me. Anyway – in my experience you yield to things bigger than you.

I’ve learned a bunch of other stuff too. The Spanish driving test cares a lot about depression, fatigue and both prescription and non-prescription drug use. It cares about smoking in the car and GPS use. As I sit here taking tests, Jeff has been looking over my shoulder. Sometimes he’s been helpful, at other times he’s emphatically suggested something that I know is incorrect, because I’ve encountered it before. I just chuckle – how naive he is that he thinks he understands whether you ‘can’ use your fog lights in a light drizzle – silly man. So he’s learning too. But this one particular question threw us both for a loop. Take a look at this picture. Notice there is no D) NONE!!

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Now, I can learn all the facts and figures around when I need to have my car or motorcycle inspected by the MOT/ITV. I can learn right of ways for one lane roads and urban vs. interurban areas. But HOLY MOLY! Driving a school bus after a few drinks? When was that decided it might be a) an OK idea, and after that one bad decision, b) how much they should be able to drink?! This just seems wrong. We both shook our head and then remembered that none of our kids will ever ride a Spanish school bus so that’s one more reason to sleep at night. But then I thought about the driver of our Metro train and took a gulp.

Last week, I found the street in front front of the Jefatura Provincial de Trafico, and it was festooned with places to get my medical/psychological exam to obtain my certificate. I was waiting for Jeff in a cafe and asked the woman next to me about all the clinics that were lining the street. I asked her if it was cosmetic surgery or botox or something. She laughed and explained it was for the certificate to drive in Spain. So now I know where to go. They stand outside in lab coats like hucksters so I’m thinking I can negotiate the cost. And next week I’m getting my new town hall certificate and passport sized photos for my learners permit.

I’m starting to be more sure of myself, but not cocky. There’s no room in this process for over confidence. After a little more practice and gathering my documents, I’ll make the appointment to take the test for after we’re back from Brazil in mid-November. I’m hoping I pass on the first two tries so I don’t have to take an actual course and can spend the rest of my time learning in the car. I’d like to start the new year with my new license and a new car – ready to explore more of the country. Seems like a good way to start the year!

The Boob Tube

I’m not sure the genesis of the American expression ‘Boob Tube’ but my Dad used to call the TV that, mockingly when we were kids. Television in our house growing up, wasn’t something that was on most of the time, unless it was the news. And then it was usually news about the Vietnam war or Watergate. I spent most of my childhood up in a tree or building a fort. And I read A LOT of books.

But I grew up knowing who Walter Kronkite was. Or Frank Reynolds or Mike Wallace. If we watched sitcoms it was upstairs, when we got a second TV, with the sound low so my Dad couldn’t hear it. And music? Music wasn’t played in our house because my Dad was hard of hearing. I remember my best friend, Karen Taylor, next door talking about The Scorpions and I had no idea who they were – but I never told her that. She went to concerts I wouldn’t have been allowed to go to and she played actual records and had cassette tapes. Something I never owned.

It wasn’t until I could drive that I listened to the radio and got caught up. But my 1967 Dodge Dart – a hand-me-down car from my much older sister – had only AM radio. So I wasn’t listening to anything that could have been considered cutting edge. And cable TV? We didn’t have that. My parent’s didn’t get cable until we had all left the house, and when they did I am sure it was to watch more news and documentaries. Probably why I was one of the only kids in school who enjoyed the film strips and listened in history class.

As a result, I learned to love all things pop culture after 1984. As a freshman in college I dove into MTV, WHAM!!, Boy George, and anything and everything having to do with alternative music and film. I went to live shows and saw some of the greats! And TV and movies? Well, I became an aficionado. Finally, after a childhood of never knowing what my friends were talking about, I was right in the mix.

So moving to Spain has been interesting. Getting cable TV here isn’t really worth it because most of it’s in Spanish and, let’s face it, my Spanish is just crap. We do get digital TV over the air and when we change the SAP on some channels we can get content in original language. The good news is that we have no pharmaceutical commercials here. So I don’t have to wonder if I need Advantix or Wonderdrugulous. And if something else might be right for me that I’ll have to discuss with my Dr after learning that it will cause me permanent liver damage or turn me temporarily orange or result in ‘permanent death’. Whatever that is.

Our TV in Valencia comes almost exclusively from YouTube, Netflix or Amazon Prime. And we watch the news on the internet and use Chromecast – I guess my parent’s infused me with a love of information. We have HBO and Showtime and a lot of other Amazon channels that allow me to still see all my favorite shows, while enjoying additional content. I can’t miss Billions or Game of Thrones. But sometimes we watch shows we would never have back home, just because they’re available. CBS Sunday Morning is one of these.

It’s kind of like a sedative. Jane Pauley’s voice is melodious and comforting. The stories are like pablum and the content is mostly ‘old news’ in the age of my Google news feed and other apps on my phone. We laugh because they do a weekly calendar which so clearly gives their target audience away. This week they talked about Monday being the start of annual open enrollment for Medicare. And Friday being ‘National Osteoporosis Day’. So we’re the youngsters in the audience. But we can’t look away from it.

Today, I was watching the one from last Sunday. Again, mostly stuff I had seen before on Twitter, like 2 weeks ago. Mindless entertainment. But suddenly I heard the name of a town I haven’t heard on the news in 35 years. The town where I went to HS. There was the coffee shop where I have coffee with my Mom and my niece when I visit them. And it made me smile and tear up a bit.

I’ve always believed that kindness is the most noble of aspirations. In this time of upheaval, a little more kindness is sorely needed and most welcome. So today I thought I would share a little kindness with you all, by way of this heartwarming story from the place I called home while growing up. A place that is not the coolest town in the world (bet The Scorpions still don’t know where it is), and where life runs a whole lot slower. But where, for the right reasons, they’ll scare up a Batmobile and the high school band will still march down the street to celebrate one of their own. Enjoy!

If a Tree Falls in the Woods…

The good news is I’m upright! Actually standing and almost totally vertical. Sure, there is still a little pain but I’m going to take a short walk today because I’m going stir crazy in the house and we’re going to Madrid tomorrow. No one ever accused me of being a patient person. And on that same note, now that I’ve decided it’s time to get my driving license, allowing grass to grow under my feet isn’t an option.

I’ve already read two novels this week. And watched another royal wedding on my phone. If I read one more thing about the political situation back in the US I’ll scream. So I gladly kicked off my journey onto Spanish carriageways and the reglas de la calle.

The encouragement from everyone here has inspired me. And while I can’t take the intensive course until December, in the mean time, I’ve decided to sign up for an online course that gives me practice tests and access to the manual in English. It also tailors some of the tests for my ‘weaknesses in learning’. I laughed when I read it. Their algorithm has no idea who they’re dealing with yet. My weakness in learning is going to break this thing.

The website made it sound so easy and the stock photos gave me confidence that soon, I too will be leaning out of my car window smiling and waving when I drive down the Spanish highways and bi-ways. Except I found out that this is total bullshit because it’s actually illegal to lean out of the car smiling while driving. Driving here is serious business.

In the US, each state has their own manual and traffic laws that are governed by that state. If you move to another state, depending on their rules, sometimes you have to take a test to get your driving license switched out. I had to do this when moving from Oregon to California. Here, the laws are national and the test is a national test. The autonomous regions are not autonomous when it comes to traffic laws. Seems pretty smart, actually.

Well, the first thing I learned is that I know almost nothing. You’d think after driving for 30 years I would just be able to hop in a car and strap myself in, turn the key and head out. But there you would be sadly mistaken. The signs here are different. They have minimum posted speeds in little blue circles. They have ‘Yield’ signs with a big black X through them. Do I yield at that. Is it telling me not to Yield? And the rules are not so straightforward.

The signs for entering towns and cities tell you what kind of town it is and that should tell you how fast you can ‘generally drive’. And they require road worthiness inspections that the US should definitely implement. Some of the stuff I saw flying down the road in Arizona should have been scrapped long ago. So it makes sense. It’s not all a foreign concept to me. Well, maybe it is, but a lot of it is logical. Then there’s the stuff that is simply unbelievable.

We live in Valencia but I’ve walked for weeks through rural Spain. The majority of the country is small towns or villages and farmland, so it make sense that a good portion of their manual is devoted to things like ‘On what side of the road may you herd your animals?’. Or ‘How fast can a tractor go on a highway if it doesn’t have brake lights?’. Stuff like that.

And we’ve ridden the bike out to places in the mountains to the west. There are many one lane bridges with funny signs that we were unclear about. And many narrow roads with no striping so it would be easy to get it wrong. Since I have been on these roads I took the practice test without even studying that section. I’m a pro – I know.

Yeah, NO! Turns out there is a long hierarchy for these types of situations and I was naive in thinking I had a smidgen of understanding that a)there even was a hierarchy and b) what it might actually be. Here’s how it goes.

If the one lane road or bridge is flat then it’s the first vehicle to reach it that will have the right of way, unless it’s harder for the other car to back up – they have a greater distance to go. And if there is a dispute about who entered the area first, there is a law that governs this hierarchy and goes thusly:

1 Special vehicles providing special transport

2 Articulated vehicles and tractive units

3 Vehicles pulled by animals

4 Passenger Car with trailer up to 750kg and motorhomes/RVs

5 Collective passenger transport vehicles

6 Lorries/trucks, tractor-trailers and vans

7 Passenger cars and derivative of cars

8 Special vehicles that do not exceed the established mass, quadricycles and light quadricycles

9 Tricycles, motorcycles with sidecar and 3-wheel mopeds

10 Motorcycles, 2-wheel mopeds and bicycles

So when I get my license I’ll be carrying a scale and a measuring stick because so many of the rules of the road require me to know the weight of someone else’s vehicle or trailer or the length of it.

I looked at this list and I pondered. ‘What if a special vehicle breaks down that doesn’t exceed the established mass and a team of donkeys comes by and gives them a tow through the stretch of one lane road where I’m traveling, and while I’m there first it would be harder for them to back up, would I have the right of way?’ I love a good story problem. And then I took the test and there are questions that look similar to my cooped up musings and I got worried. But I read on.

If this stretch of road is not flat, then everything remaining equal, the vehicle traveling up hill has the right of way, unless it’s too hard for the one coming down to back up. Then we’re right back where we started.

Finally, last night I just had to shut it down. I needed a drink. But then I read the section on how much alcohol you can consume while driving. No alcohol should be the answer but it turns out that in Spain, if you’re a new driver you can consumer less than if you’re experienced. Experienced drivers can consumer 70% more alcohol and still drive. I don’t really understand what the litre ratio means yet, but this seems very curious to me. It seems like the more experienced you were would result in the knowledge that drinking and driving is just stupid.

Well, since I’m upright and dressed I’m going for a walk to mull all this over. Jeff’s going to have a field day with it when he starts his lessons. I can just see him turning it all into ‘If, Then’ statements. There will be swearing. But I still don’t know what that triangle with the black X means.

 

 

Yup – It’s Purple

They say never do anything at the last moment before you travel or have an important event. I was once at a Spa in Chicago and there was a woman there getting a facial the morning before her afternoon wedding. She came out looking like she’d been beaten up and was crying. She hadn’t told them before the treatment that she was going be be photographed that same day. It was bad.

A few years ago, Jeff decided to go on a dirt bike ride with his friends a few days before we were leaving on a trip to Europe. He ended up in a trauma unit and it put a crimp in our plans. He’s wizer now. I know this because he did nothing right before we moved to Valencia at the end of February. He didn’t want to tempt fate again. But I think his caution has worn off.

We had both made hair appointments so that we’d be ready to go before we left for September. Mine was right when they got back from their long summer holidays. Jeff’s was Tuesday. The last thing he needed to do before we flew away. He wanted me to go with him but I figured he’s a big boy. Anna knows him now and he doesn’t need me to help translate what he wants.

He was gone a long time. Two hours is too long for a men’s haircut. Usually, if she does all the manscaping she normally does it’s about 30 minutes tops. But that day? I knew something was up. Finally I heard the door open and then the bathroom door close. Hmmm… I wonder…

Jeff is an adventurous sort. He’s been going grey rather rapidly over the last year or so and he’s been showing me photos of what he thinks his hair will look like when it’s totally grey. I dyed his hair blonde one Halloween in our kitchen in Newcastle – to match his costume. He didn’t love it, so I wasn’t concerned he would head down that path again. Then he came out of the bathroom.

He was running his hands through it and looking at me sheepishly.

‘Is it purple? Can you see it?’ he asked me, like the mirrors in the salon, the windows in every shop, the mirror in our bathroom and his own eyes might have been deceiving him. I was stunned.

Yup – it was purple. Kind of old lady purple-rinse purple. I was speechless.

‘Yes, it’s purple.’ I confirmed.

‘I knew it. They did my hair just like the lady behind me.’

I shook my head. ‘How old was the lady behind you?’

‘About 100.’

Yup – purple old lady hair. Time for some intervention. It’s not like I’ve never screwed up my hair before but this was a little extreme. You could sort of see the grey he was going for below the purple.

‘I was trying for a more silver.’ he assured me. ‘I don’t think I said I wanted purple.’

Ah, the dangers of not studying your Spanish. Karma. But I had no time to gloat. We were in full on emergency measure now.

‘Get in the shower and wash it 10 times with those left over crappy hotel shampoos we have in the bathroom. It hasn’t had time to set in yet and you can strip some of it out if you do it now.’ I advised.

‘Can’t you just fix it? We can get some dye and put it back.’ He looked so naively hopeful I hated to burst his bubble.

‘No we can’t. Do you remember your colors in Kindergarten? Mixing them isn’t good. Yeah, these people actually go to school to learn what colors layer on and chemically react to other colors. You’re purple now. We could make you green and not even know how we did it. Go in there and shampoo with the cheap stuff. And don’t come out for a long time. Use HOT water.’

He did as he was told and then came out. Well the good news is, it wasn’t purple anymore. It was just light baby blue. And more of the grey was showing through – like I think he wanted.

‘Is it better?’ he asked me hopefully. ‘It’s better, right?’

I sighed. ‘Yes, it’s better. You’ll now only get pulled out of the security line in the airport about half the time. And you look less like a serial killer.’ It was getting dark by then. ‘But you sort of glow in the dark.’

He went back in the bathroom. After shampooing it over and over, it’s now Anderson Cooper white. It actually looks kind of good on him. We’re trying it out on the population of Paris first. Though he might be scaring people since he looks a little like the albino monk in the DiVinci Code. I can’t wait to see the reaction of our friends and family back in the US. But he’s lucky – at least it’s not purple anymore.

 

More in Morella

We are home from Morella. Just pulled in after a long weekend of new sights, new sounds and ALOT of ground covered. Morella is north of Valencia by about 2 hours on a motorcycle. I’ve been interested in Spanish prehistoric cave painting for decades and I’ve never indulged in taking the time to seek them out. This past weekend that was to change. The area has sites all around it and they’re UNESCO World Heritage protected.

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We headed out to Morella and WOW! What a lovely hilltop fortress town in the mountains east of Peniscola. The road to get there was very winding – Jeff’s favorite kind on the bike. More bridges that only allow one car at a time. I was never so happy to follow a slow truck that choked black smoke all the way up the mountainside because it ensured Jeff went a reasonable speed. Cresting the last hill leading towards the town, the view is spectacular. When Emilie and I walked the Camino we saw so many hill towns with castle ruins that when I would point them out, she would just reply. ‘So what. It’s just another castle.’

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Well, even Emilie would have been impressed by this one. I like to put the things I’m seeing here into the historical context I already have. The Castillo de Morella was started in 950 AD. Yup, that’s more than a hundred years before my own ancestors hopped on a boat with William the Conqueror in France and sailed the channel to subdue the English forever.

We rode through the gates to find our hotel inside the fortress. Jeff’s absolute favorite thing is to ride his motorcycle on slippery marble cobbled streets, using a GPS whose maps don’t cover inside the fortress, and try to locate where we’re staying, not on an actual street but up some marble hand carved stairs. After much swearing and a lot of ‘You have to be FUCKING kidding me’s’, I was flashing back to Lleida and the Parador in May.

Here we were staying in an ex Palau de Ram that was built in 1462, 30 years before Columbus decided to head across the Atlantic and pretend to discover America. I needed to put Jeff out of his misery, so I hopped off the bike, put my phone away with the lying devil Google Maps, and got a spry little old lady with a cane to lead me up some steep marble steps to the front door. Even with the cane she was faster than me. Sometimes elderly analog is the only way to go.

The Hotel is lovely and the rooms have stunning views. The sunrise and the fog over the hills in the valley made getting up early these past couple of days a treat. And the quiet? Ah, the quiet. It was deafening. We are so used to city noise that we lay there in bed with the windows open and just listened to nothing.

Jeff is always amazed that I meet random people, get to chatting and then get invited to things. One of my friends here in Valencia calls me a ‘Puller’. I don’t really know exactly if that’s a good thing, but she’s right. I go places and I meet people and then I end up doing something I hadn’t planned on doing 10 minutes before. This trip was no different. After arriving and getting a lovely lunch in the outdoor restaurant at the hotel, I met a very nice English lady in the lobby while trying to get decent wifi reception. She was there with her husband who was doing a sort of cultural exchange choir concert that was sponsored by the village.

The choir is a Chorus Angelorum from Bath and Bournemouth in the UK.  And they were singing at the Convent of San Francisco, and she asked if I wanted to go. Well, of course I did. I went outside and told Jeff, who promptly bowed out, and then I met the woman and some others in the lobby and off we went up, up, and then up some more. All the way to the convent at the base of the castle to listen to three Spanish composers sung by a British choir. The entire town turned up for the concert. They were very good – not that I know choir music from a hole in the wall – and I sat front row next to the Mayor and his wife. Afterwards, speeches by the choir director and Senor Mayor.  Flowers distributed,  then lots of glad handing and back patting.

I was introduced to the Mayor who, in broken English, asked me if I had seen their most famous painting. I had not and he said ‘Come’. I followed him to a little chapel where the painting was lit. It wasn’t long before the room was filled with choir members and the Mayor asked me to translate what he was saying to the group. Oh no he didn’t! I wanted to tell him I don’t have enough Spanish for that, but I just said ‘Vale’ and whispered a little prayer to whomever might be on duty listening to pleas from fools that night. He spoke and a miracle happened. An ACTUAL miracle, because I understood what he was saying about the ‘Dance of Death’ and the whole nine yards. And I did as he asked and told the others in English what he said. I even got the word for ‘Prostitute’ right and I had never heard it before. I guess context is everything. No one else was aware of this amazing moment, but that place has something powerful to conjure up that bit of magic.

I got back to the room and told Jeff that I had met the Mayor and all about my little secret translation triumph. He seemed unmoved at the monumental moment that this was.

‘So you like the town?’ he said.

‘Well, yes. I mean, I’ve met the Mayor and his wife. And the girl who was one of the princess type people from that Sexenni thing (the festival every 6 years celebrating the Virgin – get your mind out of the gutter). I’ve been here 6 hours and I”m connected now.’

‘Good. Cause we’re looking at some properties around here. I’ve walked the entire town while you’ve been out with your new friends. There’s a lot for sale here.’

I wasn’t surprised. Of course he was already looking at real estate. But I was a little put off by his depiction of me being ‘Out with your new friends.’ I’d been at a convent, for God’s sake. Listening to choir music. So many Hallelujahs and Ave Marias. I wasn’t up the street dancing at the local disco bar. To be fair, it was closed.

So we set up some appointments and viewed one house that stood out. It was 9 bedrooms and 4600 sq. feet. The cousin of the owners showed it to us and they don’t know how old it is. ’15, 16, 1700’s. We don’t know’. I saw a strange chain hanging over a hook through a small door with a window in the kitchen.

“Is that a dumb waiter?’ I asked the cousin.

‘No.’ he said, like he was speaking to a small child. ‘It’s a bucket. That’s the well in the kitchen.’

Yes, it has an actual open mouthed well – like you see in old movies – in the kitchen. They have running water but a well? I guess it’s a good back up except I would hate to hear ‘Timmy’s fallen in the well!’ while living there and that seems like an actual possibility. I’d need to immediately purchase a border collie – ala Lassie – just to be safe.

Amazing. So much potential. It was full of the heads of African animals hunted by the family over the centuries. That kind of freaked me out. I asked the cousin how long the family had owned it. He just waved over his shoulder again and again, said ‘Whew’ shook his head, shrugging ‘Nobody knows. Long time.’ But we’re heading back to the US and I told our local agent (oh yes, we have one of those now – thanks Jeff), that we would visit again after we got back. We need mulling over time.

We started for home this afternoon. The ride back was going to be filled with thunderstorms and rain we could see from the ramparts of the castle. We were not equipped for this eventuality because when we left Valencia the temperature was on the first floor of Hell. So we traveled in our summer riding gear. But today, by the time we got from Morella to Sant Mateu the heavens opened up. When I saw the lightning and heard the thunder I tapped Jeff on the shoulder, pointed at the church and urgently shook my finger. We headed into the village to try to find a coffee place to wait it out.

No such luck. We were getting soaked and watching the sky light up. Finally, we came around a corner and I spotted a place filled with people. It had umbrellas and tables outside, so Jeff quickly parked and we hopped off and ran inside. The entire place turned to look at us and went silent. Like 30 people gathered around tables playing cards with characters I didn’t recognize, with a bar in the back. I know we looked like drown rats or deer caught in the headlights – take your pick. The barman broke the tension by waving to us and came around the bar directing us to sit so we could dry out. He got me a coffee and Jeff a Coke. It was then that Jeff realized we were not in a cafe, but in the meeting place for the Order of Montesa. There were flags on the walls festooning the space with the name, with crests and coats of arms. This was their clubhouse.

I didn’t know what it was so I looked it up. It’s a fraternal military order that dates back to the 1200’s. These guys are related to the Knights Templar. The Knights Templar were all famously slaughtered on Friday October 13th (hence the superstition), but these guys were part of an Aragon branch and were exempted as ‘Innocents’ during the trials that followed. Sant Mateu was part of the kingdom of Aragon before Spain was Spain. But they were still ‘suppressed’ after the purges of their brethren in 1312.

I don’t know much about it all, but I do know that we were so grateful that they took us in and provide us safe harbor in a lightning storm, until we could get back on the road. We’re home now. Safe and dry and getting ready to pack for our trip back to the US. But nothing like a little adventure before we fly away. Complete with castles, new friends and knights. What more could we ask for?