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!!