What if we ever needed…3/4 of an Inch

Hell froze over today. Well, since it’s so bloody hot and humid I sort of wish it actually did, but our stuff ARRIVED at 1pm today. It actually came with a phone call and three guys who could not have been nicer. I paid for their lunch afterwards. I’m not a person who has ever held a grudge. Don’t have time for it so all that nonsense was in my rear view mirror 30 seconds after the first dolly load crossed our door step.

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They found parking and unloaded in record time. As planned, we had them bring all the boxes and bikes up to our apartment and we put the sofa in our parking space in the garage. We needed to measure it before I schedule the crane service. I was on cloud nine watching them go back and forth. Emilie stayed down by the truck to make sure no one made off with any boxes while the guys were filling the lobby.

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Seeing our things again was like reconnecting with old friends. And unpacking was so much fun!  All my kitchen stuff that was of such interest to US Customs and Border control made it with only one glass pot lid that was shattered.  All my Le Creuset – check. More of my Crate and Barrel dishes – yup. All our flatware and my box of odds and ends kitchen stuff. My beloved Vitamix made it. Jeff checked the amperage (I don’t even pretend to understand it) and it works on the electricity here. We just have to take it to a local place to get the plug/cord swapped out.

My pans are here too! And our golf clubs and bikes. Jeff’s computer stuff and his keyboard that he’s been waiting for. All the tools for his first love – the motorcycle. We spent the day unpacking boxes and washing things. Our bedding from home – sheets and towels that we could have bought locally but we loved them too much to leave behind. Then there were the more sentimental things. The things that, when you surround yourself with them, make you feel like you’re truly home.

Our refrigerator magnet collection from trips we took as a family. Jeff always hated how junky it made it look in an open plan kitchen. I loved the reminder of all the things we did together. Tonight, I put them all on the fridge and he came home and smiled. Emilie and I had fun reminiscing about each one and telling funny stories about where they were purchased and some crazy thing that happened.

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The pictures came. Our wedding photo and some of the art that we had on the walls. Emilie unpacked the boxes in her room and it’s just about like it was in the US – only 5 times smaller. Her books, photos and all the small things that mean so much to her.

I unpacked the vacuum packed bags of our clothes and it seems we brought more than I remembered. I appears my ‘What if we ever…?’ philosophy might have gone a little too far. OK, if we ever go to Iceland again I have my Canada Goose parka and Jeff’s Mountain Hardwear parka. But living here I don’t think there will be a day that we’ll need either of those.

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My most egregious and embarrassing miscalculation was my discovery that I had 5 full boxes of shoes that were just for me. Luckily, Jeff had run an errand when I pulled them out of the pile in the dining room. Yeah, I knew I had a problem anyway but today it was in my face and before Jeff got home I needed to find somewhere for 5 boxes of shoes in El Compartimiento. But where to put them? The only place I had to spare was in the kitchen Gabinete and I knew the minute he got hungry I’d be ratted out. Emilie just shook her head but she wasn’t one to talk. She had 2 boxes of shoes for herself – OK, I’m a baaad influence.

So I started pulling out drawers and cabinets. I was sweating and panicked. What the hell was I going to do? I looked around and then I remembered we have drawers under the bed we bought. And those drawers are mostly covered by the duvet. I knew Jeff was barely using his closet so he wouldn’t even think about the drawers under the bed. Sure enough, they were empty. But as I placed my shoes, boots and sandals lovingly into their new, hidden home, I started counting and, well, I’m just ridiculous. Who needs 5 pairs of high suede boots here? I brought 3 pairs of rubber boots!  What was I thinking?

But that isn’t the capper. Tonight we went down to the garage after I was done unpacking the rest of the stuff and putting it away. I was feeling pretty proud of myself and my ability to cram things in every nook and hidden crannies. Organizing things for easy access later. Winter closet, stored. Yup, I was at the top of my organizational game. I hadn’t over packed afterall. I was a ‘just enough’ goddess.

I got into the elevator with a confident smug swagger that only a truly organized person pull off. Then we measured.

My beloved couch is 43 3/4 inches deep. I don’t care about the height because it passed that test. Our living room window is broken up into sections that are 43 inches. Not 44 inches – 43. And they can’t get any bigger, even if you take the windows out, because of the custom shutters that come down in tracks. So my couch won’t fit. So we went down and took all the wrapping from the move off and I actually talked to the couch.

‘Please couch – I know you’ve been through alot in the last 5 months but I need 3/4 of an inch – that’s all. Please give me 3/4 of an inch.’ I begged and pleaded.

Jeff measured again. I don’t think the couch was very forgiving after spending months in a container ship. It didn’t give up a millimeter. There will be no couch (at least not one from the US) inside El Compartimiento. With every victory, there is also defeat. I had gotten a little cocky with the shoes.

Tonight, Jeff is sporting his Keens, he’s smiling in a fresh pair of shorts and a shirt he hasn’t worn since February. That’s good enough for me.

Viva la France

We arrived in Dijon! It was a rather long ride from Strasbourg but we did it. We rode thru the picturesque town of Colmar, ‘Little Venice’ they call it, with their canals and centuries-old architecture.

We had a long way to go so we set off to go over the nearby mountains through a National nature preserve. Before our climb started, we made a pit stop to see the main square in the village of Munster. I think cheese is a big deal to the Munsters (not the same ones from 60’s American TV) because they have attractions around it.

But what I really wanted to see were the storks nesting on the peaks of the Hotel de Ville and the church. It’s pretty amazing how they build such huge nests on the top of nothing.

We rode twisty mountain roads for 150 km. A lot of ski areas I’d like to come back to one of these days. And I got to see my first alpine ski jump, sans the snow. But it was still cool.

About 30 minutes outside of Dijon we came upon a very old Chateau in the village of Gy. It was built over the course of six centuries and is in a state of delapidated charm. The roof could use some work. I loved it!

Finally, we made it to Dijon. We are staying in the nicest hotel here. Not because I made the selection. I walked the Camino and slept pallets in churches and bunk houses with 50 other sweaty people for 6 straight weeks in the heat of a Spanish summer. As long as I’m horizontal, I can sleep in the top of a flagpole. Jeff? Yeah, not so much. He’s a bedding snob. If the sheets aren’t a minimum of 600 tc he develops a rash.

So, when I was reading off potential hotels at our last stop on the way to Dijon, he nixed anything that didn’t have the word ‘Grand’ in it. That left one possibility and he knew it. It is weird. He’s not picky about much, but of the few things he is, hotels are at the top.

The concierge ran out when we pulled up. To help with the luggage – such as it was – strapped to our bike. Then he escorted Jeff and Precious to the underground garage, where they locked her up safe and sound in an actual cage. I think Jeff felt vindicated for choosing this hotel because of that alone.

Tomorrow is May 8. It’s the anniversary of the end of WWII and the French flags are flying around town. Stunning walk around the old town.

In some places, the building looked very Diagon Alley, rather than Burgundy. But that’s just my own bias.

Next Stop: Toulouse!

My Work is Done

Double checking the list – yup, yup, yup. I ticked all the boxes so I guess I get to go home now. Well, it already said that on my ticket, so I would have left anyway. But it does feel good to know that I came, I conquered, and I left. I’m no Alexander the Great, and I didn’t bring an army with me, but I assembled one when I got here and, together, we did it all!

Good by Valencia

On my final day, I popped into the bank where I opened my account last week. I needed some coaching on wiring money and how they do banking here – needing to pay my new Valencian Landlord and such. The woman who helped me open my account last Thursday was shocked to see me, and more than a little surprised to hear why I was there.

‘You’ve already rented an apartment?!”

‘Well, yes. That’s one of the main reasons I came here on this trip. And a few other things, as you know – like opening the bank account.’

She looked at me thoughtfully.

‘You are…I don’t know the word in English’ (she throws out a few Spanish words I don’t recognize).

My mind races. Thinking of a few things I’d been called in my life. They weren’t as flattering as one might think.

‘Organized?’ I offer with a smile, hoping she’s going to be charitable.

‘No.’ She types on the computer, frantically searching for the answer.

‘Determined! You are the most determined person I’ve seen.’

‘In a good way, right?’

She squints and then smiles.

‘Mmm. Sure.’

Perhaps she recognizes that my ‘bank door entering skills’ have much improved in 5 days! Anyway, this determined girl is going HOME. It will only take me 22 hours from now. Then I get to wake up and host Thanksgiving for our family! Yay! Lets just see how much determination I have left in the tank by then. Or how edible the dinner might be. Hasta Luego, Valencia!! We will meet again!

The New World

It’s funny. My whole life I’ve been taught that the US is the great experiment. My country is where the term ‘Melting Pot’ was first coined. Mass immigration in the late 19th and early 20th century from the rest of the world – namely from Europe and Central Asia filled the US with new blood, new ideas, new traditions. And the cultures that were landed on our shores are what made us who we are today. Here in Spain, I feel the same way.

I walk down these streets and I see people from all over the world. I hear languages and smell food cooking that is distinctly not Spanish. The people here seem to embrace or certainly tolerate those from other countries. I’m not saying there is not skepticism. Certainly, me being from the US has caused some people to pause. I see them look at me like ‘Why are you moving here?’ and sometimes it requires me to provide additional documents. Some assume it’s because of our current political situation in the US, and they tell me so. But overall, the people I’ve met that are both Spanish, and from other countries, have been welcoming and hospitable. They just want to get to know me. And I find I want to get to know them.

The Schengen agreement in the EU means that there are people in Valencia from all over Europe. The PA I hired is Latvian. She speaks many languages but her Spanish has been invaluable in helping me navigate. I’ve looked at apartments that are owned by Iranians and others who are not from here. All of this is the international soup that makes me feel like we could make this home. We won’t be the odd man out, because so many are from other places around the world.

It is interesting, though. I’ve traveled all over the world. But I was always going to go back to the US – that was home. So even if I was in a country for an extended period of time, I knew that the US is where I would return, eventually. But it will be different now. We will be the ones coming to a new place – to build our lives. Living with people whose language we are terrible at speaking. Trying to navigate a system we don’t really understand.

It makes me stop and think back. Have I always been patient with others who have come to my own country from the outside? Have I had expectations that they ‘Should just know’ how our system and culture works? That they should be able to communicate effectively and jump into the flow at the same pace as the rest of us who were born into it?

Coming here has held up a mirror for me, and given me a different perspective on how we treat outsiders in the US. Maybe we could be more patient. Maybe we could allow those who seek a different life amongst us, to reshape us and make us better, more compassionate people. Maybe the New World isn’t a place, but a state of being. The State of Kindness.

Shall we Dance?

DATELINE VALENCIA – In the last 36 hours, I have hired a lawyer, a Personal Assistant, opened a bank account, secured a second round of insurance that covers pre-existing conditions – because the first one didn’t, and toured 7 apartments. I’m a little bushed. But I have learned a lot about how things work. The biggest thing I’ve learned is how to dance. And not the Flamenco. There is a cadence to how things work here and I am starting to appreciate the pace and elegance of it. But it requires stamina.

Flamenco

ME: ‘I need a xyz – elephant, rental car, health insurance. Can you help me get any of these things?’

OTHER GUY: ‘No No No – this is impossible. There is no way we can do that. No way.’

ME: I look dismayed but am undaunted. I need this guy.

We talk a little. I explain who I am and that I have kids – this is real grease in Spain. I found this to be true in Greece and Lebanon too – so I pulled it out and used it liberally. I asked about his children or grand children, and thanked him profusely for even agreeing to meet me; expressing how sad I am that I won’t be able to do business with them. But I appreciate him taking the time.

THE OTHER GUY: ‘Well, maybe we could do something – but I don’t know.’

ME: ‘No, I don’t want to put you out. I totally understand you don’t want to take the risk with Americans. Even though we must prove financial stability to get a visa to live here, but of course, you have to protect yourself and your family.’

THE OTHER GUY: ‘No, I think I know someone who can help you. He has a xyz- elephant, rents cars and sells health insurance. I will call him.’

He gets on the phone. I recognize some of the words ‘Elefante’ and ‘coche’. Lots of rapid long conversation. He hangs up.

THE OTHER GUY: ‘He can’t come for 3 hours. Can you wait?’

ME: ‘Of course I can wait. You’re doing me a huge favor in helping me. I’ll stand right here. I won’t move.’

THE OTHER GUY: He frowns and sighs heavily. ‘Let me call him again.’

More rapid Spanish. Some walking around while gesturing. He hangs up.

THE OTHER GUY: ‘He is coming now.’

OK, maybe I don’t need to rent a car, and the elephant is a bit of a stretch, but you get the idea. Everything in the world is done based on relationships. But I have never lived anywhere that is as important as it is in Spain. Building a network, not just of other expats, but of Spaniards from every walk of life, will be key to living here and being happy. Good thing I like to dance.