The Sun Also Rises

Time smooths out the rough edges of memory. Sometimes it makes the past seem rosier than, perhaps, it really was. We are home from Ireland. We were excited to spend Christmas in New Years in weather that felt like so many holidays of the past. Especially all the years we spent in Seattle. And it did.

But here’s the thing. Being back in Valencia it’s sunny and 65 degrees. And boy does it feel wonderful to be warm again. And Jeff, who really missed winter in Seattle (why, I don’t know) is happy to be warm too. Here, there is no bone-chilling wind. Hats and gloves have been put away. We can have our morning coffee without a coat and scarf again. It feels good.

We’ve hit the ground running too. We found a dentist and Jeff has already gone and seen them. I often hear that ‘socialized medicine’ means long lines and weeks of waiting for an appointment. We went yesterday to a clinic who had no idea who we were and he saw the dentist today. We anticipated it being much more difficult. So one more myth debunked.

This morning, I walked across the city to an Autoescuela that speaks English. Yes, these rarest of the rare actually do exist here in Valencia, like unicorns. You don’t see them and they don’t make themselves known. But my shot gun approach of talking to everyone I have ever met here about needing an English speaking Autoescuela to get practical lessons has paid off. Someone knew someone, who knew someone who once took lessons at a place where the instructor spoke English. And the lady there was surprised I got my theory test taken/passed all on my own without a school.

Next Tuesday morning I will be taking my first hour and half lesson to learn how to drive in Spain on a manual transmission. The woman who signed me up has as much English as I have Spanish (her husband – my instructor speaks English). She asked me what I was most wanting to focus on. I told her ‘manual transmissions and round abouts’. She nodded knowingly.

But at least I’ll be taking all my lessons in daylight. I feel very sorry for this man already and I haven’t even started. He has no idea what he’s in for. But his wife told me – via Google translate voice – that once I’m ready, passing the practical test in Spanish won’t be an issue. I asked her how many lessons she thought I would need. She said her husband would have to determine that, after a nervous laugh. Ugh.

I’ve also started gathering and filling out the paperwork for the residency renewal in March. Nothing like having a few balls in the air at the same time. But it seems like a much less arduous process than the original visa appointment. No Apostles – No background checks. Pretty straight forward. It seems the hardest thing so far is getting the government website to cough up an appointment time. It may require professional help to get it across the finish line.

Coming home to Valencia feels good. While we could speak the same language as the people in Ireland, it didn’t feel like home. It’s nice to be back to our grocery stores where we know we can get what we need. Where to get a haircut and our favorite coffee place. Poundland has nothing on our El Chino. I was disappointed in Derry when I didn’t get a gift with purchase beer upon leaving.

Our flight home was full of Irish students heading back to Universidad de Valencia after the break, and others like us. I think we all breathed a sigh of relief that at midnight when leaving our Metro station near our flat – it was still 55 degrees. Suddenly, the language barrier doesn’t seem so high anymore.

Salud!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stop Whining

OK. I had my pity party. I missed home on the 4th of July. Seems like that’s a good day to mope when you’re so far from neighborhood fireworks and bar-b-que with friends. But like one of those blow up clown dolls with the sand in the bottom, you gotta pop back up.

And some really good things happened yesterday. First off, Jeff found he had run out of his blood pressure meds and that he could put off no longer going to the Farmacia near our house for a refill. He took a deep breath and took the bottle down there and explained what he needed. His old prescription was $30 a month. The new one? 3 euros for a month supply and no prescription needed. They just handed them over. He was giddy and now no longer intimidated by going to speak to a pharmacist.

I went to my Spanish lesson yesterday and it went swimmingly. Well, maybe I felt like I was swimming because I was in the blistering heat with dripping wet humidity. But my teacher felt I’m making good progress. We’re meeting up again today to keep the momentum going.

Then I took Emilie to have her sports physical so she can be cleared to play when she returns to school in the US. I swear it’s a racket, these sports physicals, but Jeff and I had found a clinic where there was a rumor that they had a Dr. that spoke English, so we could explain why the hell he needed to fill out this form with a bunch of weird questions like ‘Do you feel safe in your home?’ and ‘Are you ever sad?’. Things he’s supposed to ask her so that he can determine if these might impact her playing basketball or hitting a tennis ball.

So we went – they require no appointment – and muddled through in my lame Spanish at reception. I was feeling more confident after my lesson so I tried out a couple of new words and phrases. More on that later. Then we went and sat in the waiting room. A Dr. came out and we heard English. Like American English. I turned to find him chatting with an American couple who had just arrived and needed some medication.

He finished with them and then called us to his office. He spoke to me in Spanish and I answered him back. We waited outside for him to finish with another patient and then he came out and ushered us in. We sat down and he asked why we were there in Spanish and I told him, in English, and he asked if I was Spanish. I told him ‘No’. He said he was so surprised because my accent was so good he thought I was Spanish. Well, can I just say I LOVE THIS DR. He could be the worst Dr. on the planet but his compliment went a long way yesterday. I sat up a little taller after that.

It turns out he was born in Valencia but grew up in Tallahassee, Florida. He went to FSU and then moved back to Valencia to be near his parents. His wife is Valencian and he has two daughters who don’t want to live in the US. So Tallahassee’s loss is our gain.

We finished up with the sports exam and then met some of our friends who moved here last week from Seattle. We had worked together at a previous employer and they had been planning to move here with their daughter before we ever made our plan. Neither of us aware of what the other was plotting. So it all dovetailed nicely. And ironically, we met at the Portland Ale House on Salamanca, which is a mecca to all things Portland Ore. in the US. I grew up in Portland, and so did Pete, so we recognized all the photos and the marque outside.

They have great burgers and beer and it was fun to be surrounded by University of Oregon flags, Timbers paraphernalia, and old street signs and license plates I recognized. The owner is from Portland and he’s done a great job in bringing a little of it to Valencia. My family should get ready because when we visit the US in September they’re all getting Portland Ale House t-shirts. Seems right.

The burgers made Jeff’s day – best burger and fries in Valencia so far. And it was fun to hear about Pete and Ryan’s adventures in getting settled. They’re off and running, and loving living here too.

So I bounced back from my whining 4th of July. And it just goes to show you that the universe is listening. It knew it needed to throw me a bone yesterday and it threw me a whole handful. It’s time to get back to work.

Sometimes

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

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

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

Sometimes:

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

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

Noche San Juan Bautista

I’m all about the good vibrations. And generally, I’ll try anything once – as long as it’s not going to potentially kill me or result in legal action. There hasn’t been one second in my life that I’ve thought I had all the answers. I’m always in awe of deeply religious people who truly believe they have it all figured out. How wonderful that would be to live in a state of certainty. Me? I’ve always been a skeptic but I think there’s something to energy that connects us all. I just have no idea how.

Last week, we heard about the Noche San Juan Bautista (St. John the Baptist Eve) from the guy who owns the local motorcycle supply shoppe. We were there picking up some stuff that we weren’t able to get in Germany last month and we got into a conversation with him – truly one of the nicest guys. Turns out he lives near us in the same area and is a native Valencian. He told us all kinds of local history and advised us on stuff we should do in the area and things we needed to experience. Some of which – when pressed – he admitted he’s never personally tried, like the festival of Tomatina. And that’s when he told us about the Eve of St. John the Baptist.

We’ve been to every festival since the day we arrived here, so it seemed that we should be open to this one too. The Eve of St. John is always held on June 23rd. It’s about the summer solstice (and the birth of St John) and it’s essentially ‘Out with the Old, In with the New’. A healthy sweep of all the bad energy collected over the winter, and making wishes and prayers for all good things. It’s huge in Catalonia and Valencia.

The way I look at it, it’s about leaving behind what you don’t like and asking for transformation. Well, I’m all in on stuff like that. I love transformations – especially when I can achieve that on my own – not to mention enjoying watching other people rise from their own personal ashes. So when he told us about this we made plans to be there.

I went to meet my new Spanish tutor Friday afternoon. My tutor, Rob, told me about it too and asked if we might like to join he and his girlfriend, Claudia, to experience it ourselves. It involves going down to the beach and waiting until midnight. Bonfires are set about every 10 meters and people write the things they want to leave behind on papers and then burn them in the fire. They also write their deepest hopes and also, burn them in the bonfire.

Then they go out into the water and jump over either 7 or 9 waves (it has to be an odd number) and make three wishes. The fire and the water are cleansing and restorative and the wishes will be granted. Some people walk on the hot coals but I figure they must be pretty drunk to do that. There would be fireworks at midnight – it’s Valencia so duh. Then people make sure they are awake when the sun comes up because the first rays of the sun on St. John’s day are a blessing. Seemed pretty straight forward, so we made plans to go and ‘Get there early because the beach will be packed’.

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Jeff and Emilie and I went down to Patacona beach and staked out a spot in the location we were advised to. The beach was full and the police, fire department, and street cleaners (who outnumbered the other two combined) were already out in force. And it was very hot. And then, it was even hotter. Jeff started not looking well and we went up to a beach side cafe to get him something to eat and drink and he got very sick. Finally, I was concerned with the direction it was all going and I packed us up and got him home on the tram. Thank God it was air conditioned.

After a very cool shower and cold Aquarius water, he was doing better and wasn’t violently ill or alternately bright red and then grey anymore. And today, he’s just resting. So we didn’t get to experience Noche San Juan Bautista with the bonfires, except hearing the fireworks at midnight – but that’s every Saturday night here. We didn’t get to leave behind our papers in the fire or jump over the waves. But I didn’t want to risk reaching for something new at the sacrifice of Jeff.

So we’ll save Noche San Juan for next year. I mean, we’re going to need something new to experience in year 2 – right? I’ll throw salt over my shoulder or burn some sage or something. That will have to do in my nod to San Juan for this year. But I feel sure he’ll understand.