Sometimes, getting there is Half the Battle

OK – I couldn’t resist. We took separate flights to Sao Paolo – for reasons I won’t go in to, the consequences of which I’m still paying for. But we did get here. I knew it was going to be interesting when I saw a Franciscan monk get on the plane in full robes and a 3 foot cross embroidered on his chest. When he passed by my seat praying, I didn’t take it as a good sign. Then as they were closing the doors a woman ran on waving a lamp shade. Not a small one either – a VERY large lamp shade. And it’s not like she didn’t have two pieces of hand luggage and a roller bag with her. I just shook my head.

After take off, the English guy in the seat across from mine got into a serious argument, and almost fisticuffs, with the Spanish guy sitting in front of him over some perceived slight. I just thought ‘This is what that monk was praying about’ and just a little bit of ‘Where’s the lady with the serious lamp shade when you need her? Cause I’d like to hit this British guy over the head to shut him up so they don’t turn this flight around’. But she was in the back somewhere. Finally, his co-travelers settled him down. With the help of the flight attendant, they explained that just like your Dad told you and your siblings fighting in the back seat of the car ‘Sir, we will turn around and head for home if you two can’t get along.’ No one wanted that.

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We both landed in our respective planes in Sao Paolo – different terminals, of course. My flight went straight south from the Iberian Peninsula. Jeff’s flight went over Africa most of the way and crossed over the Atlantic at the narrowest possible point between Africa and South America. But we met up and got into an Uber. I mean, how long can it take to get from the airport to our hotel? Well, in a city of 12 million people (and 32 million in the greater Sao Paolo area) it can take 2 hours. No kidding – TWO HOURS.

But we were lucky and got Denis, the most amazing Uber driver ever, who drove us in his red Chevy Celta (Never heard of that model before? Me either). Denis regaled us of tales of Sao Paolo and Brazil in general, it’s history, it’s politics, the best places to go. He told us where we might ‘or most probably would’ get killed if we walked at night, and how to hold our wallet, purse and cell phones so as not to be victims of muggings or the like. He informed us how not to get ripped off by taxis, shops or restaurants. We loved Denis –  we actually formed a bond with him. But you can’t argue with the price $27 for a two hour Uber ride for two people. Unbelievable.

Then we pulled into our hotel, with a guard at the gate of the long driveway, into one of the most beautiful hotel drives I’ve ever been to. The grounds are amazing and I would pit the service and ‘that special something’ the staff has – it’s a spark of magic – against any 5+ start hotel in the world. Truly exceptional. Sure, you see pictures on a website when you book a place, but you don’t really know what it will be like. This place lives up to the photos. Check it out if you’re ever staying in Sao Paolo. Jeff’s hotel snobbery has been fully assuaged and tomorrow should be nice so we can have breakfast on our terrace. I’m almost forgiven for his air travel experience (or lack thereof) and the class he flew today as a very tall person.

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And then my ‘Only you’ moment came as I knew it would. But it’s good I got it out of the way early. Whew! Jeff sent me to get him a Coke – I still owed him for the flight. We were jet lagged and I had already drunk all the still water in the mini bar. So down I went to the lobby. But then I got stuck in the elevator after the doors made a terrible metal grinding noise, not quite closing. I started pressing buttons.

‘Surely, it’s been hours I’ve been stuck in here’ I thought, sweat pouring from my brow as I looked at my cell phone for validation on my rising stress level. It had been less than a minute but it seemed like more than an hour. I looked at the bell on the panel, but thought I’d give the frantic-random-button-pressing one more try before pushing the actual panic button. It worked after a few minutes. The elevator made a horrific sound and then dropped a foot. I wanted to scream but it was only me in there.

Then it started going down and finally, the doors screeched open on the bottom basement a few floors down – the hotel laundry. I got off the elevator and I wasn’t getting back on. Pushing the buttons for the other elevators didn’t work because this broken devil one was just sitting on that floor, like a goalie. I crept down the hall, looking for an exit or stairs, when I heard voices. ‘Hola?’ I called out tentatively – luckily it’s the same in Spanish – cause I looked it up on Google translate on the plane.

I could see myself from the outside. This is the point in a horror movie where the guy in the hockey mask with the ax comes out of a cloud of steam. The one where the audience is thinking ‘What’s she doing? Don’t go down there!’ Finally, I saw a door and heard voices. When I walked in they looked at me like I was an animal at the zoo. A gazelle who wandered into the lion’s cage – I didn’t belong there.

‘Ingles?’ I asked. They pointed to one guy. I explained that I had a problem with the elevator and asked if he could help me get back up stairs. He took me through the parking garage, the spa and finally to another elevator. My blood pressure had finally dropped. I got to the room and Jeff had taken his shower and was looking refreshed. Clearly, I seemed out of sorts and had no beverages in my hands. I told him my tale. He shook his head.

‘So I guess I’m not getting a COKE.’ was all he said,

‘Don’t you get it? I could have been killed.’ I was aghast at his lack of empathy – no matter what seat I put him in on that flight.

But he was unmoved. ‘You’ve been gone less than 15 minutes.’

So I decided a nap was in order. Being awake for 28 hours and learning that not only could I be killed outside these gates, but by the elevator in the hotel, was just too much for me. Where’s a fully robed Franciscan monk, muttering under his breath, when you need one?

 

 

 

 

The Lion’s Den

We are off to Sao Paolo, Brazil. Our friends and family are of two camps about this trip of ours, due to the election there this past Sunday. Brazil has a new president that they’re calling ‘The Donald Trump of Brazil’, even in Brazil. There has been a lot of energy around this election – much like in the US, and half of the people we know are A) very worried about us going. Or B) they had no idea there even was an election in Brazil and/or where to find the country on a map. Let’s face it, most American’s believe that our country is the center of the known world, and the world we don’t know doesn’t really matter. This is sad but true.

I’ve had calls, WhatsApp messages, and texts from friends questioning if this is a good idea. There are news reports of rioting and civil unrest. But I’m not too worried. I’ve been to Lebanon during a civil war. We were in Athens during the economic crisis with the protests there; with tear gas and clashes with police in riot gear, near the Parliment in the shadow of the Acropolis. Even in Seattle, when the WTO protest went on for days, my office was right in the thick of it. So I think we’ll be just fine if anything happens. We just need to be smart about it.

One thing I’ve learned about these things is that usually the stories on the news are an exaggerated view of what’s actually going on. Images recorded in such a way to make the crowds seem larger or they show the video of just those that are not peacefully protesting, Because peaceful protesters don’t help ratings. It’s not inaccurate reporting, just a thin slice of the reality on the ground. I’m hoping that’s all it is.

But we are looking forward to spending some time South American and learning something new. We speak Portuguese, not at all, but we’ve gotten used to misunderstanding, and being misunderstood, for the last 8 months so we’re in the perfect frame of mind for yet another foray into the unknown. The country looks to be stunning and the Brazilian’s we know here are wonderful people. Although I’ve been asked by them ‘Why do you want to go to Brazil?’. Seems they like living in Spain a bit better.

And I’m taking my trusty Trafico bible with me, so I’ll be on track to take my theory test when I get back. It’s my constant companion now and I’m sure Jeff appreciates me randomly peppering him with obscure facts on things like traffic circles, the phrase ‘As a General Rule’ and so much more. His eyes only glaze over every so often now, and lucky him, he can continue to enjoy learning in the Southern Hemisphere. And I met someone the other night at a tapas party. He offered to teach me to drive a stick shift in their family car. And his wife offered to teach me all the basics in Spanish of ‘Right, left, straight and Dear God! – Stop this car immediately!’. I figure that’s pretty much all I’ll need for my practical exam.

I haven’t decided completely, but I don’t think I’ll be blogging while we’re there. There will be a lot to see and do, and I’d like to be present for all of it. Jeff is looking forward to confirming that toilets flush water in the opposite direction. But I’ll be back with pictures and non-toilet related stories when we return. The world will keep turning while we’re gone, so we’ll see you on the other side. Cheers!

Nesting

Fall has arrived – my favorite season. The weather had definitely turned in Spain. This weekend the temperatures have dropped. I got up early yesterday morning to make breakfast and watch the sunrise on the balcony off the kitchen. It was cold and crisp. Time to switch out for the snuggly chenille robe instead of the cute boho one I’ve been lounging around in while drinking my daily coffee.

After rising early, we spent all day yesterday at ‘Shopping City’. Its clear it’s nesting season and time to get some things for the house that we’ve not needed thus far. It was a hot summer so cooking indoors wasn’t a priority. Now I find I’m craving casseroles and homemade soups, and so is Jeff. I made Scalloped Au-gratin potatoes with real American ham. Yum! But I needed some crucial appliances as we hunker down for winter, and shopping city is the place to go for all that stuff.

We power-shopped and lunched and then shopped some more, before a beverage and home. Crock-pot, food processor, toaster oven, waffle iron and much more were on our list. And some indoor lighting. We’ve rented an office space/creative space here in the city so we needed some things for that too. And we got it all accomplished. Whew!

So today should have been a lazy day but with Fall’s arrival it was time for a thorough deep cleaning of El Compartemiento, so we can be ready for any gales that blow through. There have been a few lately. And I assembled my new 3 tier drying rack. We have quite an extensive drying system on our kitchen balcony. And our washing machine is also a dryer. But I find it ‘almost dries’ the clothes and it takes a long time to do even that, so I’ve been hanging things all summer and they dry in a flash – faster than our dryer back home. But with the advent of Fall, our clothes aren’t drying so quickly so I need an indoor system that will not take up too much space off the kitchen, move on wheels, but still allow me to dry 3 loads of laundry on it at once.

I got one yesterday and it’s a beauty. In my cleaning fiesta today I’m taking it for a test drive. We’re becoming fast friends already. And while I was at it, I decided I would whip up a batch of the quintessential American cookie – chocolate chip. It filled our house with the smell of every kitchen in every home we’ve ever owned. It was grey outside but warm and cozy inside and the smell of baking cookies put us squarely into the season. Vanilla ice cream and CC cookies are on the menu for Jeff’s dessert tonight.

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So now all I have to do is start a batch of home-made vegetable beef soup and I’m all set.  Ready to sit outside, smell the scent of the fireplaces burning in the area. and snuggle under a wool blanket. Since we’ve been back from the US, it’s starting to feel more like this is home. It might be the cold weather or it may just be the smell of cookies in the oven, but I’ll take it either way.

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!