A Different Kind of Christmas

This year, Christmas is unlike any most of us have ever known. Depending upon where we live we might be in strict lockdowns or just wearing masks and social distancing. But none of it is normal.

Poinsettias at Friday Market in Benimachlet

I have friends in the UK who are now under total lockdown with Brexit looming. Not really sure when or if they can get back to Valencia. Its all up in the air. One couple got stuck there for 4 months after their daughter’s wedding in early March.

Visiting our local centro commercial this past weekend gave us a fresh perspective on pandemic Santa-ing. It seems at Nuevo Centro visiting Santa this year involves on child standing in front of a video screen where a digital santa dances and says things before the attendant directs the child to put their heartfelt letter of their deepest desire along the toy line, into the slot. All whilst parents take their own photos. Its no drunken Montgomery Wards Santa experience from my childhood.

There was no sign of the set up for the 3 Kings visits. Melcoir, Balthazar and Gaspar are taking a break this year, it seems. Last year they were bigger than Santa. The big parade for 3 Kings in January isn’t happening this year. Valencia’s being the oldest in Spain, kids will have to perform the ritual of cleaning their shoes and putting them outside after a bribe of milk, water and almond nugget. Hoping one of these guys coughs up the goods without seeing them on parade the night before.

Its no wonder, as restrictions in Valencia are tightest. We are the only province still on perimeter lockdown. And Fallas won’t happen in March, either. According to the newspaper, they’re looking at alternatives – maybe July.

Its not all doom and gloom, though. I have great news! I won the El Gordo! Yes, you heard me. €20 are all mine in the lottery after all the fanfare yesterday. Villages are going bananas after hitting it big in the numbers. My little win didn’t have me breaking out the champagne.

I waited until they’d all been called before unsealing the envelope the lottery lady sealed with a glitter heart and wished me good luck as she handed it over. So I covered my costs. A fair trade for a few days of heightened anticipation.

Spending on the Christmas lottery this year was way down. Its run since 1812 through wars, other pandemics, and plenty of strife. This year people just don’t have the disposable income to burn on the chance to hit it big.

This year might be different but it’s made me reflect on past Christmases, and know that next year, when this is all over, we won’t take anything for granted.

A Good Protest

Protesting. One of the fundamental rights in a democracy. As long as its not accompanied by violence. Gandhi, MLK. Both advanced and advocated systemic change through non-violent means.

In my time I’ve marched for things I care about. And I’ve dragged Jeff and the kids along. Change doesn’t happen if you dont speak up.

Sometimes I’ve watched others protest, and while I don’t always agree with their sometimes truly abhorrent points of view I believe they have the right to express their opinions, the same as me.

Protesting in a pandemic takes a special commitment. Think the BLM protesters after the unjust killings of black people in the US by police. You know the situation is bad if people risk their health to fight for their rights, and those of other people.

Spain is rife with protesting. Its something people do here a lot and I think its great. We generally like seeing protesting. Usually we learn something new. Gain a new perspective or discover an issue about which we were previously unaware.

Yesterday we went for a walk across the Turia and we saw the most socially distanced of protests – the car protest. It keeps those in the same household together in one vehicle and yet allows the cause to continue to roll along. In this case, literally.

This protest was for the new education reform law dubbed the Celaa’ law -after the minister of education. Its a controversial law about language in schools. I’ll try, as a total outsider to this topic, to explain the issue.

The new law protects the rights of the various communities (provinces) to teach their own language in schools. Not just Spanish. Languages like Valenciano, Catalán, Gallego, Basque, etc. ( Not an exhaustive list of languages in Spain). why was this an issue before? I don’t know but it seems there was a hole in the law regarding Cataluñas educational approach. And reform was needed.

Having no children in school we have no dog in this fight and, as foreigners, no real right to an opinion. So if you are Spanish reading this you can feel free to weigh in and educate me. Here is an article giving some background on the issue.

Needless to say, there are some passionate people against this new law and they chose a Sunday morning to let us all know their feelings with signs ranging from small ones printed at home to those painted on the sides of vans. All with the hashtag #StopCelaaLaw.

Not to diminish the cause but we didn’t really care what they were honking and shouting out their car windows.

Jeff laughed. ‘I cant believe I’m going to say this but its just nice to see a procession. I never thought I’d miss it but this has been a dry procession year. And almost no fireworks. It’d be better if they had a marching band.’

If I had been drinking a Starbucks I would have choked. Jeff missing random marching bands? What?!?

But protester-observing beggars can’t be choosers. But he’s right. Valencia without random marching bands, fireworks for no reason, and the spontaneous – never mind the epic- processions is kind of lonely and flat. This city needs noise and a little chaos to make it what it is. The other evening we were sitting in the small park near our house. Church bells were peeling like crazy, and with no other competition for our atención we were happy to sit and listen.

‘Someone just got married.’ He told me eating his frozen yogurt.

I smiled. ‘It’s a nice sound. I’d almost have another wedding just to get all the bells rung for us.’

That got me a look. We had two weddings. A third might be pushing it😉

We shall see what our fellow Valencians conjure up for safe celebrations this Navidad and New Years. But, if nothing else, we can probably count on a good political protest to tide us over until Valencia can be the Valencia we love again.

A Staycation in Valencia

Jeff is off work for the next three weeks. Normally, we would have gone to the US for the holidays but we are homebound – like everyone in the world right now. So we´re going to socially distance, observe all protocols, and try to enjoy the city where we currently live. Jeff works a lot. So much of the time we´ve lived here he´s been working and hasn´t always been able to take advantage of all that the city has to offer. It´s weird to think that we´ve now been in some sort of lockdown or restriction for 9 months. By March it will be a whole year of the three we´ve lived in Valencia. I think it´s safe to say none of us could have imagined it would last this long

Has Jeff seen all the museums? No. Does he want to see all the museums? No. But there are a few I haven´t seen so we will space them out and go to some while there are no tourists here. Does he want to drink beer in the middle of the day? Yes, yes he does. So we went to some landmarks and sat in cafes in their shadows, and he got to drink his beer like all ex-pat retirees, without a care the world.

It´s funny. The first morning we went out to go to a place he´d `always wanted to go´ and we found ourselves rushing – just like a normal morning. Because usually he has to be back to log into work. Finally, he realized he had no where to be and slowed down. I was grateful. He has long legs and I´m like a hamster on a wheel most days trying to scurry to keep up. It also allowed us to take a breath and look around. See the city as less a series of tasks and more where we can see the little details. Stuff we usually walk by.

Valencia is so lovely. And winter is my favourite time of year here. The sky is cerulean blue, crisp and clear. The air is fresher and the orange trees lining the streets are getting heavy with fruit. It´s hard to believe it´s been nearly a year since the last orange harvest by the farm equipment beast that shakes the trees on our street. Soon the smell of oranges will perfume the air.

We walked a bit too much yesterday as we were so excited to be out at mid-day. It wore me out. Today we had an appointment at the bank and on the way home we thought we would stop and buy our annual Christmas lottery ticket. The lottery in Spain is a huge deal, but the Christmas lottery is the mother of all lotteries. Its the big show. They have jackpots of billions and if you don´t want to pay for your own ticket – it´s expensive – you can buy into a share of a ticket at your local bar or cafe. Then watch to see if their number hits.

Today, on the way home from the bank, Jeff spotted this sign for the lottery on the butcher shop window and he laughed.

`Of course. The butcher is selling shares in the lottery and tacking on €3 euros to go to The Animal Defense Fund. Talk about not being self aware.´

`Maybe it´s guilt money.´ I told him. `Absolution for the rest of their literal bloody year at the butcher shop.´

Jeff didn´t seem convinced. We had an Amazon delivery so we had to rush home. He ordered more filament for his 3D printer and he´s planning on building something – I don´t understand it. He bought the plans for it from some dude in Madrid online. So I have a feeling that the rest of these three weeks will be me saying something along the lines of `Want to go see the silk museum?´ and him saying ´I´m printing something. I should probably stay home in case something happens.´ Like there are 3D printer emergencies. I´ll have to check the website. Maybe the silk museum cafe – because there will be one – will serve beer. Then he can´t resist. Even Superman has his kryptonite.

Beginning Again

Update: We found the light for the car for the new DGT rule about being broken down on the side of the road. It was behind the counter at our local Autoparts store. At €16 its now safely in the door pocket on the driver side door in easy reach and for handy use in case of an emergency. There will be a transition period where the triangles will still be legal and the lights will become required. To give people time to comply. I only had to ask the clerk in español and he knew right away what I needed. I was a little proud if myself and so was Jeff.

And speaking of español, in January I have to start Spanish again. Its long past time. And the signs are getting harder and harder to ignore.

The first sign is my friend from Lugo is getting very serious about me learning and we now have a pact to only text in español. I’m to try to type the correct sentences and I’m not allowed to look it up on a translation app. She will kindly correct any errors and we will continue on with our conversation. I have to give up ‘being right’ and just be good enough that someone could understand me enough to correct me. This is a fresh concept for me.

The second sign was my laptop broke. Completely. Normally I would have been to the US and replaced it. But it didn’t happen this year, so I had to bite the bullet and buy one here in Spain. And yes, it has a Spanish keyboard. This has taken some getting used to and the new letters and configuration are staring me in the face every day. Keys might look similar but they are not and do not work the same much of the time. Function keys, the Alt key. Not the same. Even quotations or apostrophes do not function the same.

More and more I need to actually speak, not just understand what other people are saying. And in real time, not just typing out what I need in advance. Muddling through is a thing of the past. And I can tell I’m getting better after months of brain fog. Slowly I’m making connections again. I think I might just be able to, not only get back to where ai was, but to truly learn to get along in Spanish.

Do I have a very very long way to go? Yes I do. But what seemed hopeless these past few months doesn’t feel so impossible, or as intimidating, now. The mountain won’t climb itself. I have to just put one foot in front of the other. Some days it will be a long slog. Others won’t seem so difficult. But if I have any hope of growing old in this country and having Spanish friends long-term its a must. I just gotta keep going.

And if I can get my Spanish to a decent level perhaps someday I’ll feel comfortable enough to tackle the citizenship test. Wouldn’t that be something? But for now I just need to start up again. One foot in front of the other.

More Adventures in Driving

Filed under the heading of This too shall pass – we are no longer intimidated by driving anywhere in Spain. We´ve traversed the country enough that we´ve seen it all and experienced scenarios that might have felt scary even 6 months ago but are now common place. `Double Snowmen´ as Jeff calls them. Multiple round-abouts that are connected to one another. Things like that. But like everything over the past year, it seems the DGT (Department of Traffic) has decided to have a re-think about some of the rules and they´ve been publishing them in the newspaper so we can get ready for January 2nd. Here´s a list of some of the new rules.

We all have reflective vests in our cars and reflective triangles. If you break down on the side of the road or have an accident you´re supposed to put on your reflective vest (each person exiting the car must wear one) and put out triangles you keep in your car. One behind the bumper and then another further down the road to alert other drivers that there is a vehicle that is stalled. It´s a manoeuvre that is fraught with danger on an auto via or motorway. Many people die each year hit by other cars whizzing by when they are just trying to keep others from hitting them in the first place. So now the DGT is changing the rule. We will not exit the vehicle. We will put a flashing light on the roof – similar to a police vehicle- that attaches via magnet. This will keep the occupants safe while waiting for assistance and other drivers from being endangered. Where do we buy these new required lights? We have no idea. We went to Bauhaus (Lowes) to see if they had them yesterday but no such luck. I´ll keep you posted if we find them.

Going 20 km an hour over the posted speed limit is also not allowed from 2nd of January. No more whizzing by others on the motorway at 140. Nope. If the car in front of you is going 120 and that is the posted speed you will have to stay behind them or risk being pulled over or sent a ticket in the mail from the radar cameras. Highway deaths are out of control and they´re even considering lowering the regular speed limits so hopefully this works and they don´t have to.

Using your mobile in the car with your hand, even when you´re not speaking into it (like for a GPS) will now be prohibited. They want people to stop using their phones. We see people all the time on speaker phone with their phone in their hand. It´s less hands-free and more ear-free speaking. But then again, we see this all the time with people just walking down the street on speaker phone shouting over the noise and hearing whomever they´re speaking to shouting back. On the Metro in a subway car this is annoying. So no more of that in the car. The fines are 200€ and its gone from 3 to 6 points on your license. A serious offence.

Failure to wear a seat belt, or a helmet on a motorbike, will see you fined even further next year. And your penalty goes from 3 to 4 points.

If you´re in town and you´re traversing one of the very small streets you can´t go more than 20km/hr. That´s 12 miles per hour to Americans out there. So very slow. And that´s good because walking in the old city can be hazardous to your health. Now it will be less so.

If the road in town is a bit bigger you can do 30km/hr. But if there are two lanes in each direction you can continue going 50km/hr.

If you think you´re going to cheat in your driving test and use a hidden microphone you should think twice. I can´t imagine how they were able to do this but apparently it was so rampant it required an actual law to curb it´s use. It will cost you a 6 month suspension and a €500 fine.

Finally, skateboards will have to follow all traffic laws. They decided not to make electric scooter riders take a certification test – but we really wish they had. It´s a bit dangerous out there on the red bike paths of Valencia when they´re going 25km/hr on the sidewalk and you can´t hear them coming.

This is not an exhaustive list but it´s the ones we care about. 18 year olds are now allowed to apply for long haul truck driving licenses after they take the course, but since we aren´t 18 and we´re not planning on driving long haul truck I didn´t include things along these lines. All rules are coming into effect as of January 2nd. But the speed changes will be in use 6 months later to give them time to change the signs.

El Jefe only has 45 days to go before the `L´ permanently comes off our car. He´s looking forward to that! It will be interesting to learn how different it is driving cross country on our next adventure with the passing speed changes. We´ll let you know.