A Political Time Out

With us being Americans, you may think this will be about the crazy political situation in the US. Yes, we watch it from afar and I only read bits of it because it’s too scary and depressing. I felt powerless to do anything about it when I lived there. Now? I can do even less. Yes, in the US we can still vote while we live overseas (unlike other countries) and we can contribute to campaigns. But we won’t be knocking on doors or participating in any caucuses or helping register voters to impact change.

We’ve watched Brexit with horror over the last year. Much like our own politics, Britian’s is broken – so broken. I was chatting with an Irish friend the other day. I told her ‘It’s like the UK fought a war with itself and it lost. And it’s losing the peace.’ She agreed. She has dual citizenship with the UK and can’t believe it’s gotten so bad.

And now, we get the Spanish elections. National elections in Spain are set for April 28th. I’ve taken to watching our local news stations to try to understand what’s at stake. As well as some of the coverage in other areas of the country, and what they care most about. While my language skills are not that great, I think it’s important to try engage in what is important to the people, and to me, it seems to be about a few key topics.

When we moved into our apartment, there was a Spanish flag on the rail of our balcony. It had been put there by the previous occupants and the owner had left it there. He said we could remove it if we wanted. I didn’t care either way until it blocked the sunlight from getting to my herbs. So we took it down over the winter. But that flag matters in Spain and it’s not the same as flying a flag in the US.

In 2017, Catalonya held a referendum to declare independence from Spain. I remember being in Tarragona after my Camino in Summer 2017 and seeing both Spanish and Cantalonian flags flying on nearly every balcony. I didn’t really understand the significance of this at the time. But then we saw it on the news in the US. It was a very big deal when the referendum passed and protests on both sides, and arrests of the separatists started. I don’t know enough to understand all the nuance on either side. But then when we moved to Valencia, we saw all the Spanish flags everywhere and I realized that it was a clear message for unity.

Spain has 17 autonomous regions. They each have their own legislatures, counties with additional layers of local governments, and then cities with their own councils. Each of these regions have their own priorities and very long histories. And the politics of the regions reflect that. Last year, there was a big change in the control of the national government. The Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) took over the government after the People’s Party (PP) lost a no confidence vote after 6 years in control of the government. They had overseen austerity following the financial crisis.

From where I sit, this change in government shifted the commitment of government spending back towards social programs and refocused the government priorities towards national health care, infrastructure and education. Of course, I don’t understand everything so I’m very sure I’m missing something.

Elections here aren’t every X years like they are in the US. We have elections and then must live with the results (good or bad) for 2/4/6 years, depending on what position is being voted for. But here, if confidence in the government is shaken, a new election will be called at any time. When PSOE took over last summer, it’s because they called a no-confidence vote and won. But this election has been forced because one region (Catalonya) blocked the passage of a national budget – some say in protest to the national government’s lack of support for their independence. Again, I don’t understand it all but it’s interesting to watch how it all works and plays out.

Unlike in the US, here there are more than 2 main political parties. What this means is that unless one party get’s a majority in the elections – not likely to ever happen – the one with the most votes must work with other parties to form a coalition to govern. Typically, under this parliamentary system, it means there are parties that are far right, some far left, and some in the center. By having to form coalitions, it keeps extremism from ruling the day. Of course, this isn’t guaranteed but compromise and coalition building means that even small parties can have a big influence. Their support matters.

The region of Andalucia – in the far south of the country – is where immigration and migration seems to be top of mind. It’s the point where many fleeing conflict in Africa try to enter the country. The ani-immigraton party, VOX, is gaining influence based on this platform and they’re expected to be a Major player in the election for the region. In general, Spain has been one of the countries willing to take some of the boats full of African migrants who have found themselves without an actual port in the storm. Valencia has willingly taken several of these ships. I’m a believer that instead of building walls and punishing migrants, we should look at why they want to flee and try to help the with root-cause problems that prompt them to risk so much and leave their homeland. Economics, war, violence, corruption. In the meantime, we owe our fellow humans our assistance and compassion.

One thing that has struck me watching the news here is that people are very engaged in their politics throughout the country. They don’t seem to sit on the sidelines, but are passionate about who is representing them and how. Throughout the year we have lived here we have seen MANY protests just walking through town on any given day. The Bomberos (Firefighters) were protesting one day in front of the regional congress. They were foaming all the streets and shouting about fair pay. Right next to them was a protest for the LGBTQ community – challenging our ears for equal attention on equal rights.

It will be interesting to watch what happens. Of course, like anyone, I have my preferences on outcomes based on my limited knowledge of the situation in Spain. Democracy takes many forms. When I was growing up, we were told we had the best system in the world. But I must admit, I kind of like this multi-party parliamentary system that forces compromise. I know it’s not full proof and can’t stop all ‘brinksmanship’ (look at Brexit). But I feel privileged to live here. And watching this process, I know I have a lot to learn. At the end of the day, healthy debate leads to the best outcomes and I wish that for Spain – and us all.

The Pants in the Family

Now that Jeff is back from his travels and envious of my Spring cleaning tactics, he’s gone through his closets and tried on all the shorts, etc. to get ready for the season. Jeff has lost some weight recently and much of his old stuff is too big now. And he’s discovered some old favorites including his kilts.

When we vacationed in Scotland with our kids a decade ago, Jeff got his Scottish on and acquired a kilt. Then, when we got home, he decided a few more might be in the cards. Seeing a guy in a kilt and Doc Maartens in Seattle isn’t that unusual. And since it’s the hiking capital of the US, every outfitter in the Washington (including homegrown REI) carries hiking kilts for guys. Jeff’s embraced it.

So today, from the bedroom I hear laughing. He was in there alone – Hmmm. Eventually he emerges and makes his way into the living room wearing his Mountain Hardware hiking kilt and is typing into his phone smiling.

‘Who are you talking to?’ I wondered aloud.

‘Curt. He said the house next to he and Butch’s on Mykonos is for sale. He thinks we should buy it. You remember – the crazy lady with the cats?’

I think about this for 30 seconds. Yes, Curt and Jeff are friends, but he was mine first.
He’s one of my oldest and dearest friends. They spend from March to November on Mykonos every year. Curt was my maid of honor at our wedding. The photos were a little interesting since Jeff is very tall, and Curt is taller still. I looked like a Munchkin from Munchkinland. Curt hosted our wedding at one of his houses on a lake in Washington. He had his rose garden redone for the occasion, and so many people told me afterwards it was one of the loveliest weddings they had ever been to. And that’s down to Curt. He’s family. To our kids he’s ‘Uncle Curt’ and while I think they like visiting us well enough, I’m very sure they’d prefer to go to Mykonos to hang out with him.

‘Why is he texting you about it?’

Jeff looks up from his phone ‘Clearly he knows who wears the pants in this family.’

What?! I’m still a little raw from the contract ‘Ask your husband thing.’ So I point to his kilt.

‘You’re literally standing there in a skirt.’

Then I look down at my painters overall that are huge. I’m in pants with enough fabric to cover us both!

Jeff shrugs and goes back to texting Curt and giving me the lowdown on the woman’s unconventional sales tactics. Not posting it for sale with a realtor or on a website. She just put a piece of paper on the gate and Curt saw it. He said it’s blown away now so the competition for the property shouldn’t be stiff and we could get it for a song. Except we live in Spain. ‘When you buy it’ they promised to keep an eye on it for us – big kiss emojis.

So now we’re looking at perhaps spending some time on Mykonos in the next little while. I wonder if I should reach out to Curt to make the arrangements – as I would normally do. Or if I should let Jeff handle the travel arrangements with his new best friend. Either way, I feel sure one of his kilts is coming with us. Eye roll. Oh well, as usual I’ll have to be the one to do the heavy lifting and wear the actual pants in the family.

Contrato Firmado

Yes – we have a signed contract. Because El Jefe is here it’s now a done deal. I clutched the pen with my tiny female claws. Barely able to put pen to paper. But Jeff’s large paws made up for my short fall. Eye roll.

We met at the imobilaria to meet our new landlords, to sign and get the keys. They are lovely people – a father and daughter. They speak zero Ingles, and our Spanish is pitiful but we muddled through. You can always tell about people through their eyes. The father clearly laughed a lot – lots of lines and he was very animated. And his daughter was a very nice person. After we signed multiple copies of the document and the imobilaria explained all the terms to the landlords (and nothing to us), we made our way to the space.

They seemed excited to show it to us. I performed much miming antics and broken Spanish. Finally the father looked at Jeff and proclaimed him ‘Santo’. It means ‘Saint’. I think he was referring to Jeff’s obvious patience being married to me. I laughed and told him my Mother says the same thing. I have referred to him as Santo for the last 24 hours. He seems to like it.

They seemed skeptical at first, us being American and all, but quickly warmed to us when Jeff changed some light bulbs in the high ceiling without using a ladder. He is ‘gigante’ and it does come in handy. I thanked them profusely for letting the space to us and the daughter told me ‘we are in this together’ so I take that as a sign of a good landlord/tenant relationship.

Since we moved here were have heard disparaging comments about Spaniards. People have said they’re lazy and they lack ambitions. I’m sure they don’t understand the culture. And I’m always offended by this and I’m not even Spanish. But let me tell you, since we moved here if we need anything delivered like an appliance or something from IKEA or a service performed, the Spanish outshine anyone in the US and it’s not even a close contest.

Now that I have the new space, I headed down to the local internet/mobile provider to arrange to set up our service. I also decide to switch who we’re using at home and change the house and our cell svs over too. That was at 10;30 this morning. At 2pm the installer called me and they were standing outside the space to install it. Yup! Same Day. Not 3 1/2 hours later. On a cold day in HELL would that ever happen in the US. There, you’d wait for the installer to call. He’d tell you a week from Tuesday between 8-5. You’d take a day off work, or work from home, and he would show up at 4:45 on said day and tell you he didn’t have everything he needed and would have to come back another day. Like installing internet was a mystery to him and he invented it afresh each day. Seriously.

Today these two guys had ladders and put it in the back of the space where I wanted it, after drilling holes in the outside of the building and then running a 100 feet of wire. And they did it all in a hour. Like clockwork.

Tomorrow they’re coming to the house to install it here, and on Monday our mobile phones are switching over. Just that quick. So anyone who wants to tell me the Spanish don’t understand process and technical service delivery is an idiot and has never really lived here. I will defend them vigorously, to any foreigner from now on!

OK – I’m not including Correos or Amazon.es delivery in that, though while quick, they’re wildly unpredictable.

Just now, I lined up a moving service to get all our relevant stuff moved over by the 16th and then I’ll be up and running in 120 sq meters -Painting,writing, and doing yoga in my own studio. It doesn’t get better than that!

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.

El Barranc de l’infern

I don’t speak Valenciano or Catalan. These are the local languages of the North and Central coasts of the Mediterranean side of Spain. People say they’re totally different languages, others say they’re the same. To me it doesn’t matter – because I know neither of them. To me, they’re a combo of Spanish and French. I focus on Spanish and when signs are in Valenciano I can sometimes tease out what they’re trying to convey.

Yesterday, I was invited on a hike with some people I know and others I don’t. I jumped at the chance because I love to hike. I was planning on doing the Camino Portuguese with Emilie this summer but with her injured ankle have decided to postpone it. So I am happy when I get a chance to go out there.

I put together my supplies – hiking skirt, poles, small pack, some food and water, a hat for the Spanish sun. I was ready. We started in a town called Fleix – prounounced Flische. It’s in the Alicante province and is a picturesque town high up with views of the Med way off in the distance, and other stunning peaks. They said the hike was called the ‘6000 Steps’ and was of medium difficulty. I don’t know how they measure ‘medium difficulty’ and who read the name of the hike, but it was neither of those things.

this was the first indication that it might have some difficulty

The 18km hike was really called ‘The Ravine of Hell’ in Valenciano and was not ‘Medium difficulty’. To put it in perspective for those who have walked a Camino out of St. Jean Pied-de-port in France to Roncesvalles in Spain (so 2 days in the Pyrenees), it was like that only if you had no flat bits and had to scale rocks straight up. And the down hills – of which there were 4 significant ones to match the climbing, were straight down, over streams coming out of the rock, loose rocks that were like walking on marbles at a pitch that ensured you would fall at some point. There were injuries – and they weren’t mine.

We climbed down to the bottom of the ravine, then got to the first uphill climb and one of the guys who does speak Valenciano said ‘This must be the ‘infern’ part.’ I told him that sounded like ‘fire’ in English. He said ‘No. It just means ‘Hell”.

I looked up – and he was right. It looked like it was going to be HELL!! This is where having walked a Camino came in handy. But it took me that first climb to remember all that I had learned.

  • Breathe
  • Don’t look up
  • Go as fast as you need to
  • Use your poles
  • Watch every spot you put your feet
  • Tuck in your laces so you don’t fall

I was the slowest of everyone on the uphills. Emilie would laugh because she told me repeatedly that ‘You’re the slowest person on the Camino!’ and it wasn’t a compliment. She would often walk ahead of me with other people. So I wasn’t surprised that everyone else was faster. But I also like to hike in a different way.

When hiking, I stop when I’m tired. I rest when I need to. I eat food from my pack and drank water as necessary. When something is beautiful – I take pictures. And because I’m able to keep my head up, since I’m not running, I see a lot. The people I was hiking with yesterday didn’t have this same philosophy. They wanted to be done with it – or so it seemed to me. And we started out at 11am and they didn’t eat lunch until 4:30. Not a smart thing when you haven’t eaten since 8:30 and it’s hot with zero shade.

At one point I got so far behind that I couldn’t see the others up ahead. I was dizzy from so much up and down. I had to stop or I feared I would pass out and fall off the edge. I got out my water and a lovely group of Spanish 20 somethings came upon me. One of them was Spanish military and he gave me some chocolate and salts. Then they all sat down and had lunch with me right there. I knew my group was waiting somewhere at the top of the cliff but I had to eat and drink some water.

Made it to the top from yes, the very bottom of several ravines

But the views and the scenery were amazing. And the geology of the area is interesting. It’s easy to see all the caves where prehistoric people probably lived. Spain is known for their cave paintings.

They only had to wait for me at the end for 20 minutes. And it made me realize I need to do more hiking – although maybe with people who enjoy less of the trail-running-type of pace. It really was a fun day, though. I made some new connections, which is always good. And here’s the thing about Hell. When you climb out of it, it’s just that much sweeter.

A Camino Day – For sure

Next weekend I’ll be in Barcelona with my niece, who is on her first school trip to Europe in Austria. She’s stopping by to see Barcelona on her way home. And when Jeff gets back we’re doing a 160km bike ride with a group over 2 days. An old rail line that is supposed to be iconic. So we’ll see how that goes. Never a dull moment.