If a Tree Falls in the Woods…

The good news is I’m upright! Actually standing and almost totally vertical. Sure, there is still a little pain but I’m going to take a short walk today because I’m going stir crazy in the house and we’re going to Madrid tomorrow. No one ever accused me of being a patient person. And on that same note, now that I’ve decided it’s time to get my driving license, allowing grass to grow under my feet isn’t an option.

I’ve already read two novels this week. And watched another royal wedding on my phone. If I read one more thing about the political situation back in the US I’ll scream. So I gladly kicked off my journey onto Spanish carriageways and the reglas de la calle.

The encouragement from everyone here has inspired me. And while I can’t take the intensive course until December, in the mean time, I’ve decided to sign up for an online course that gives me practice tests and access to the manual in English. It also tailors some of the tests for my ‘weaknesses in learning’. I laughed when I read it. Their algorithm has no idea who they’re dealing with yet. My weakness in learning is going to break this thing.

The website made it sound so easy and the stock photos gave me confidence that soon, I too will be leaning out of my car window smiling and waving when I drive down the Spanish highways and bi-ways. Except I found out that this is total bullshit because it’s actually illegal to lean out of the car smiling while driving. Driving here is serious business.

In the US, each state has their own manual and traffic laws that are governed by that state. If you move to another state, depending on their rules, sometimes you have to take a test to get your driving license switched out. I had to do this when moving from Oregon to California. Here, the laws are national and the test is a national test. The autonomous regions are not autonomous when it comes to traffic laws. Seems pretty smart, actually.

Well, the first thing I learned is that I know almost nothing. You’d think after driving for 30 years I would just be able to hop in a car and strap myself in, turn the key and head out. But there you would be sadly mistaken. The signs here are different. They have minimum posted speeds in little blue circles. They have ‘Yield’ signs with a big black X through them. Do I yield at that. Is it telling me not to Yield? And the rules are not so straightforward.

The signs for entering towns and cities tell you what kind of town it is and that should tell you how fast you can ‘generally drive’. And they require road worthiness inspections that the US should definitely implement. Some of the stuff I saw flying down the road in Arizona should have been scrapped long ago. So it makes sense. It’s not all a foreign concept to me. Well, maybe it is, but a lot of it is logical. Then there’s the stuff that is simply unbelievable.

We live in Valencia but I’ve walked for weeks through rural Spain. The majority of the country is small towns or villages and farmland, so it make sense that a good portion of their manual is devoted to things like ‘On what side of the road may you herd your animals?’. Or ‘How fast can a tractor go on a highway if it doesn’t have brake lights?’. Stuff like that.

And we’ve ridden the bike out to places in the mountains to the west. There are many one lane bridges with funny signs that we were unclear about. And many narrow roads with no striping so it would be easy to get it wrong. Since I have been on these roads I took the practice test without even studying that section. I’m a pro – I know.

Yeah, NO! Turns out there is a long hierarchy for these types of situations and I was naive in thinking I had a smidgen of understanding that a)there even was a hierarchy and b) what it might actually be. Here’s how it goes.

If the one lane road or bridge is flat then it’s the first vehicle to reach it that will have the right of way, unless it’s harder for the other car to back up – they have a greater distance to go. And if there is a dispute about who entered the area first, there is a law that governs this hierarchy and goes thusly:

1 Special vehicles providing special transport

2 Articulated vehicles and tractive units

3 Vehicles pulled by animals

4 Passenger Car with trailer up to 750kg and motorhomes/RVs

5 Collective passenger transport vehicles

6 Lorries/trucks, tractor-trailers and vans

7 Passenger cars and derivative of cars

8 Special vehicles that do not exceed the established mass, quadricycles and light quadricycles

9 Tricycles, motorcycles with sidecar and 3-wheel mopeds

10 Motorcycles, 2-wheel mopeds and bicycles

So when I get my license I’ll be carrying a scale and a measuring stick because so many of the rules of the road require me to know the weight of someone else’s vehicle or trailer or the length of it.

I looked at this list and I pondered. ‘What if a special vehicle breaks down that doesn’t exceed the established mass and a team of donkeys comes by and gives them a tow through the stretch of one lane road where I’m traveling, and while I’m there first it would be harder for them to back up, would I have the right of way?’ I love a good story problem. And then I took the test and there are questions that look similar to my cooped up musings and I got worried. But I read on.

If this stretch of road is not flat, then everything remaining equal, the vehicle traveling up hill has the right of way, unless it’s too hard for the one coming down to back up. Then we’re right back where we started.

Finally, last night I just had to shut it down. I needed a drink. But then I read the section on how much alcohol you can consume while driving. No alcohol should be the answer but it turns out that in Spain, if you’re a new driver you can consumer less than if you’re experienced. Experienced drivers can consumer 70% more alcohol and still drive. I don’t really understand what the litre ratio means yet, but this seems very curious to me. It seems like the more experienced you were would result in the knowledge that drinking and driving is just stupid.

Well, since I’m upright and dressed I’m going for a walk to mull all this over. Jeff’s going to have a field day with it when he starts his lessons. I can just see him turning it all into ‘If, Then’ statements. There will be swearing. But I still don’t know what that triangle with the black X means.

 

 

Ring! Ring! The Universe is Calling

I’m a firm believer that when I don’t pay attention to certain things that the universe or whatever you may prefer to call it, sends a message and forces a refocus. Sometimes it’s a minor adjustment, like quitting a job or moving house. And sometimes it’s a major one that knocks you upside the head saying ‘Hellooo. I’ve been trying to tell you something for awhile now and you required a bit more active intervention.’ Yesterday was one of those days.

I woke up. Like usual. I was doing my usual list of things in the morning. Taking care of the housekeeping of life so I could kid myself that I would be editing my book in the afternoon. Both my conscious and subconscious mind knew this was not going to happen, but I was acting like it was. And, I thought, perhaps this would be the day when I got serious about signing up to get instruction on a Spanish driving license.

At one point I decided to go from a sitting position to a standing position and PooF! My back went out. And suddenly my plans were out of my mind in a flash and was a ball of pain on the floor, 10 feet from my mobile phone, trying to breath and crying in frustration. It only took me 30 minutes of pain, fighting to a sitting position and slide crawling across the hardwood floor to get to my phone to type ‘HELP’ and summon Jeff who was out of the house.

He came home and got me situated, pumping some pain meds into me and attaching a TENs device to my back that we got when we were in the US. The relief was slow in coming but it did come. And Jeff’s initial suggestion of ‘Shall I take you to the Dr.’ was met swiftly with the realization that it was the 9th of October. Even bars were closed. Dr. Angeles wasn’t going to be within a mile of his closed office.

So I went from a list of ‘Other more important things to do’ to ‘This is all you can do while laying on your back’. And the two things I could do were editing my book and looking up traffic schools and all the requirements I’ll need to meet to start my classes. I had been kicking these cans down the road for quite some time.

It hardly seems fair. I have been driving forever. I know what do do. And taking a theory test in Google translated English is, I understand, rather difficult and fraught with alot of double negatives. So I’ve been putting it off. But then I looked through the requirements and we couldn’t even start the process until we had been here 6 months and proved that. So I’m not so late in doing this after all. But the rub is that while I would have been able to drive on my International driving license for the first 6 months, I can’t now as of the 6 months and one day. This leaves a gap in our ability to drive – or ride the motorcycle. And our insurance won’t pay if we are in an accident.

So I reached out to some online schools for classes and practice tests. Next I found out I have to get a ‘Padron’ stamped no later than 3 months ago. This is the town hall certificate that says we’re registered in Valencia as residents. Ours is now 7 months old so I found out where we go to get another one. It will require standing in line, paying a fee and getting the same document with a fresher date. Like vegetables in the grocery store.

Finally, I learned I have to be psychologically tested to ensure I’m not so crazy that I can’t drive. Mental fitness. I wonder if I should be worried about this one. If they ask me who the president of Spain is, and the like, I’d fail it. But I do know the day of the week and the year so maybe they’ll give me the certificate. The test must be done at an approved ‘Instituto de Psicologia y Medico de Trafico’. In other words, that’s all these people do is evaluate mental fitness for those wanting a driving license.

Once I present these documents and pass the theory test I will hire a company that will teach me to drive a stick shift. This is the part I find so scary. I never learnt. All my parent’s cars were automatic. And, when I got older it was just easier to stick with that. In Europe, everyone drives a stick. And if I get an ‘Automatic only’ license I would never be allowed to drive a manual transmission. So I need to bite the bullet and just do it – no matter how intimidated I feel.

But today I’m still flat on my back, and since this week is mostly a holiday, I’ll be putting it off until next Monday to start the process. But with nothing else to distract me, I’m going to be editing my book for a few days – at least. Maybe in the future I’ll listen to the little messages that are being sent my way to avoid the pain and discomfort that comes with ignoring them. But something tells me that learning to drive a stick will come with a pain all its own. Oh well, no time like the present to put that off for a few more days.

Nou d’Octubre – The Day of Valencia

Every October 9th, since King James the I of Aragon sent the Moors packing south, Valencian’s have celebrated their freedom. OK, well as much freedom as people who still lived under a feudal system for 100’s of years following this conquest could. But the Spanish population, who were mostly Christians (Catholics) went from being the low men on the totem pole to those in power.

There is no debate here about the role of Charlemagne or Roland in freeing Spain from the Moors, like there is in Navarra. The Valencia’s are pretty sure it was this one guy and his lucky bat, who showed up right as his victory was clinched, that did the trick. You can see the Valencian bat festooned on manhole covers and futbol jersey’s. The Bat is the thing here.

Nearly 800 years later they’re still pretty happy about it. And like most celebrations we’ve encountered in Spain, if one day of partying is good, six days is just that much better. Nou d’Octubre is the biggest celebration of Valencian pride, and that is saying something since they have a month-long Fallas celebration in March, too.  But Fallas is an internationally renowned party celebrating the art of satirical street sculpture that attracts visitors (and pyromaniacs) from far and wide. This celebration is for the people of the region.

We had some friends in town this weekend – who brought more friends with them – so our group pf 10 dove in and we got a bit of the flavor of the festivities that actually started on Thursday the 4th. Like all fiestas, there will be people dressed in traditional dress. Women dressed like they were as Fallera, and men in both traditional peasant and in Moorish inspired costumes performing or just walking the streets.

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There was a Medieval Market on the Serranos bridge leading to the towers of the same name, selling traditional locally made foods, jewelry, soaps and oils and hand made candies. October 9th is also St. Denis’ Day in Spain. It’s the equivalent of St. Valentines Day. Here men give their lady loves a kerchief full of marzipan sweets to signify their affection. Knowing Jeff would forget his clear obligations to me on St. Denis’ Day, I bought myself a beautiful kimono in the old city. When I showed it to him I explained how I’d helped him dodge a bullet on this most important of holidays. He appeared unmoved at my generosity.

During these celebrations, old palaces that are mostly government buildings now, are opened to the public for just 2 days. Valencian’s like their bureaucracy so they need a lot of places to house them and the old palaces are the perfect spots. Large, open and with big rooms that once might have been used to house men-at-arms, but now hold large conference tables or councils. A gentleman working in one of them explained the hierarchy to us.

In Spain, there are 17 autonomous regions (like states in the US). Ours is the Valencia Communidad (Community) – a collection of essentially 3 counties (Valencia, Alicante and Castello) – who have their congress in one palace here in the old city. This is like a state legislature. Then there is the Valencia county (I’m not using the right words but that’s what it is) – that has it’s own council. Kind of like a county council back home. Then there is Valencia, the city (Ayuntamiento) – which has it’s own city council and mayor.

It’s a little confusing since the name ‘Valencia’ is a loaded one, but you get used to it. In terms of Palaces, each one of these government bodies is housed in palaces that are usually closed to the public, unless you have official business before that particular body. But one time per year, they open them up so that the average person can enjoy the architecture and the stunning art that is housed in them. Sculpture, centuries old paintings and architecture is on full display. It’s easy to see how the aristocracy showed off their wealth and power using their homes as canvasses.

There was music in the square and, of course, fireworks – both during the day and at night. I swear, if someone invaded this country the inhabitants would think any gun shots they heard were associated to a wedding, baptism or a fiesta they forgot about. You think I’m kidding but you almost don’t even hear them anymore when they go off.

My favorite place we visited, although it’s open nearly every day so it’s not part of this celebration, was the Church of St. Nicholas. I had seen it before but never ventured in. Yesterday, we were walking by it between Palace tours and decided to pop in. For 6 euros (kids are free), we got to see something that was truly amazing. It’s called ‘The Sistine Chapel of Valencia’. And ironically, the restorer of the Sistine Chapel restored it recently so it was visible in all it’s glory.  Pictures don’t do it justice and it’s worth the visit.

Parishioners, or anyone in Valencia who needs help with a problem, will leave their home on 3 consecutive Mondays, walking in silence to the church to pray to the effigy of St. Nicholas for assistance. St. Nicholas is the patron saint of charity. The legend has it that he used to anonymously give assistance to many in his community during his lifetime. The precursor to Santa Claus. Promoting the ‘charity is its own reward’ type of approach. This appeals to me on so  many levels and the church is clearly a masterwork in celebrating his life.

Finally, last evening we were just enjoying a quiet time at home when we heard a procession go by. We barely get up and go to the window anymore when we hear a marching band in the neighborhood but it went on for awhile. So random. And the fireworks went off shortly there after.

So we’re not actually to the real holiday yet and we’ve fully celebrated it. Now we’ll enjoy a few days of no grocery stores being open until we get a brief reprieve before Spain Day on Friday. It will be interesting to see what that is like here in Valencia. Will the inhabitants be fiesta’d out after a week of celebrating Nou d’Octubre? Something tells me there’s a fat chance of that! More music, fireworks and processions coming up!

 

The Adult Table

There comes a point in life when the only miles stones are the birthdays that end in zero. Having past the big ones of learning to drive, turning 21 or graduating from high school, my miles stones turned to others. My children’s first words or first steps. First days of school and finally graduating from high school. Emilie is the last one to do that and it’s coming up fast.

As a child, and the youngest of 4 kids, sitting at the adult table for family holidays was a big one for me. I had to wait until one of my older sibling left the house to get that privilege, and prove I knew how to put my napkin on my lap and keep my elbows off the table. And then when my eldest brother brought his family back home, while I was still in high school, I ended up back there with my nephews. By that point I didn’t mind. I had learned that they were infinitely more interesting than the adults.

So coming to visit my childhood home held no new milestones, just old memories. A boy I grew up with, and went to kindergarten with, is living back in his Dad’s old house down the street. He’s gutting it and and it’s gorgeous. Yesterday, as I was taking a chainsaw to my Mom’s back garden, he popped down with his granddaughter and chatted for awhile.

And then it happened. My Mom and our next door neighbor, Mrs. Taylor, invited me to sit with them on the front porch in the evening and watch the neighborhood go by. I say ‘Mrs. Taylor’ because she will always be that to me. My siblings started calling her by her first name decades ago, but it seems wrong to me somehow.

My Mom made a phone call and then she came out in the living room and asked me if I would like to sit with them. She explained the rules as we went out to commence our sitting.

‘Regina gets the good chair. I always make sure.’ Letting me know that while I’m an invited special guest to this party of two, I’m not quite a member of this club yet.

Mrs. Taylor came over and we hugged. It was so good to see her and sitting there the years peeled away. I heard about grandchildren and great grandchildren. And then my Mom started telling stories about relatives I never heard of who were hobbyist wooden castanet makers in the 1950’s. Such random stuff she had us laughing until my belly hurt.

Sitting here at the Portland airport waiting to join Jeff in Seattle for our final week in the US this Fall, I’m smiling. I’ve always been a person who embraced change, even sought it out. There’s a never-ending list of new things to see, do and learn in the world. Always new mountains to climb. But these past couple of weeks has been nice. Heading out into the unknown is exciting, but sometimes, just sometimes, taking a moment to touch where you come from is important too. And I think I’m happy I’m still not quite a permanent member at the adult table.

 

Yup – It’s Purple

They say never do anything at the last moment before you travel or have an important event. I was once at a Spa in Chicago and there was a woman there getting a facial the morning before her afternoon wedding. She came out looking like she’d been beaten up and was crying. She hadn’t told them before the treatment that she was going be be photographed that same day. It was bad.

A few years ago, Jeff decided to go on a dirt bike ride with his friends a few days before we were leaving on a trip to Europe. He ended up in a trauma unit and it put a crimp in our plans. He’s wizer now. I know this because he did nothing right before we moved to Valencia at the end of February. He didn’t want to tempt fate again. But I think his caution has worn off.

We had both made hair appointments so that we’d be ready to go before we left for September. Mine was right when they got back from their long summer holidays. Jeff’s was Tuesday. The last thing he needed to do before we flew away. He wanted me to go with him but I figured he’s a big boy. Anna knows him now and he doesn’t need me to help translate what he wants.

He was gone a long time. Two hours is too long for a men’s haircut. Usually, if she does all the manscaping she normally does it’s about 30 minutes tops. But that day? I knew something was up. Finally I heard the door open and then the bathroom door close. Hmmm… I wonder…

Jeff is an adventurous sort. He’s been going grey rather rapidly over the last year or so and he’s been showing me photos of what he thinks his hair will look like when it’s totally grey. I dyed his hair blonde one Halloween in our kitchen in Newcastle – to match his costume. He didn’t love it, so I wasn’t concerned he would head down that path again. Then he came out of the bathroom.

He was running his hands through it and looking at me sheepishly.

‘Is it purple? Can you see it?’ he asked me, like the mirrors in the salon, the windows in every shop, the mirror in our bathroom and his own eyes might have been deceiving him. I was stunned.

Yup – it was purple. Kind of old lady purple-rinse purple. I was speechless.

‘Yes, it’s purple.’ I confirmed.

‘I knew it. They did my hair just like the lady behind me.’

I shook my head. ‘How old was the lady behind you?’

‘About 100.’

Yup – purple old lady hair. Time for some intervention. It’s not like I’ve never screwed up my hair before but this was a little extreme. You could sort of see the grey he was going for below the purple.

‘I was trying for a more silver.’ he assured me. ‘I don’t think I said I wanted purple.’

Ah, the dangers of not studying your Spanish. Karma. But I had no time to gloat. We were in full on emergency measure now.

‘Get in the shower and wash it 10 times with those left over crappy hotel shampoos we have in the bathroom. It hasn’t had time to set in yet and you can strip some of it out if you do it now.’ I advised.

‘Can’t you just fix it? We can get some dye and put it back.’ He looked so naively hopeful I hated to burst his bubble.

‘No we can’t. Do you remember your colors in Kindergarten? Mixing them isn’t good. Yeah, these people actually go to school to learn what colors layer on and chemically react to other colors. You’re purple now. We could make you green and not even know how we did it. Go in there and shampoo with the cheap stuff. And don’t come out for a long time. Use HOT water.’

He did as he was told and then came out. Well the good news is, it wasn’t purple anymore. It was just light baby blue. And more of the grey was showing through – like I think he wanted.

‘Is it better?’ he asked me hopefully. ‘It’s better, right?’

I sighed. ‘Yes, it’s better. You’ll now only get pulled out of the security line in the airport about half the time. And you look less like a serial killer.’ It was getting dark by then. ‘But you sort of glow in the dark.’

He went back in the bathroom. After shampooing it over and over, it’s now Anderson Cooper white. It actually looks kind of good on him. We’re trying it out on the population of Paris first. Though he might be scaring people since he looks a little like the albino monk in the DiVinci Code. I can’t wait to see the reaction of our friends and family back in the US. But he’s lucky – at least it’s not purple anymore.