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.

The Search for the Duck Guy

More than 10 years ago I found out I couldn’t eat chicken eggs, amongst a few other things. Apparently I have developed some sort of allergy. I was born on a chicken ranch in southern California. My parents had 10,000 chickens in a big egg operation, before they packed it in and moved to Oregon. So it seems I was rejecting my roots somehow. My Dr. at the time, told me that he had found some of his patients could eat duck eggs instead, but that I would need to be very careful in testing out that potential. I love eggs, so I did, and I was fine.

Finding duck eggs on a regular basis, however, was a challenge. I went on an exhaustive search and finally found a farm in the mountains east of Seattle that was run by two ex-Microsofties who had decided to cash in their stock options, before the 2008 crash, and use their millions to purchase and mountainside, run a water fowl egg operation, and sell those rarest of shelled jewels to the poshest restaurants in Seattle. I didn’t get how software development translated into the dream of farming, but you see, apparently – as I have learned – the best sous chefs and pastry chefs in the finest culinary establishments in the world use duck eggs to make their creations creamy and fluffy, and their sauces rich. And they’ll pay a premium for the pleasure.

So I reached out to them, drove up their mountain on a scary road, and we had a chat. After hearing my story, they committed that they would keep back two dozen duck eggs for me each month, provided I told no one where I was getting them from. And I would drive out there and pick them up and pay through the nose for them. So yes, I had a secret duck egg dealer of my very own.

But, you see, ducks like warm weather and that means that while in the Summer and early fall, eggs will be plentiful – if you can locate a source. In the Winter and early Spring, not so much. So having a chicken egg allergy in WA State meant that sometimes, because my Microsoftie duck dealers were purists without heated pens or barns, that their feathered friends sometimes wouldn’t lay for weeks at a time. So no duck eggs for the girl at the short end of the stick during coat weather.

In Arizona, I found an Asian food market 30 miles away from our house and I would drive the 60 mile round trip to get a couple dozen, packing them in a cooler so keep them safe and cold for the drive home. I made that trip every month and I was thrilled because they always had eggs, so I never left there empty handed.

Now that we live in Valencia, it’s been over three months since I had a duck egg. I used to make an omelet with one egg each morning, adding a little water to stretch the egg and to fluff it up. I savored that omelet. It was part of my morning routine – for years. But I haven’t found duck eggs here. And I have tried.

Today I went back to the Mercat Central with Jeff. I have been there before searching for my eggs, but I always got there later in the day and the stalls for eggs were picked over. Today, we got there when they were opening up at 7 am. The Mercat Central is one of the largest ‘Open Air’ markets in Europe. Even though it’s covered in a stunning glass and tiled structure that is something to behold. It’s a listed building and is art unto itself. They carry everything a foodie might want. It’s actually an assault to the senses, with the fruit, fish, meats of every type, flowers and spices. I LOVE IT!

We walked the aisles and I inquired at many of the stalls about ‘huevos de pato’ and where we might find them in the market. I was instructed on who to talk to and they sent me deeper into the maze, but without success. We finally bought some saffron and some fresh cardamon I had been needing and went in search of coffee. No duck eggs for me today.

When we got home, Jeff did an exhaustive search online and we may have found a farm south of the city, situated in the rice fields, that has exotic birds, including peacocks, and via Chrome’s translation feature, appears to have duck eggs. Don’t worry, I’m not eating peacock eggs. So I reached out to them and asked if I might purchase duck eggs from them – and commit to doing so – on a regular basis. I’m just awaiting their reply.

Just the very idea of finding another duck egg source has brightened my day. And the 40 km round trip will be worth it every time. I want one so badly I’ll pay a euro a piece for the privilege. I just gotta find a Duck Guy.

Tribunal de las Aguas

A while back, I learned of the Tribunal de las Aquas. AKA The Water Board. No, not that kind of ‘water board’. There is no torture, and liquid never makes an actual appearance. But it is all about the water rights of the Valencian Plateau and the ‘Waterlands’ herein.

To recap, this is the oldest judicial body in Europe, dating back to Roman times in one incarnation or another. It’s actually called out in the Spanish constitution, post Franco, expressly and is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Cultural body. And in Valencia, it’s a sacred, beloved institution.

They meet every Thursday, at the Apostles gate at the side of the Cathedral, and convene at noon – precisely. Seriously, when the bells of the Cathedral ring, these guys ceremoniously file over and have a seat in their little ring. Ready to hear the important water cases that will be brought before them. The men represent the water areas controlled by the 8 main canals that draw water off the Turia River. Both from the right and left bank, the arguments are all oral, immediate and transparent. The representative from the water area in question abstains to maintain total fairness. It’s rules and laws are understood by all. And the ‘wisdom’ demonstrated by the Tribunal is sacrosanct.

I had told Jeff about it before, but he had never seen it. And since we were already in Central Valencia (Colon) at 11:30 looking at 360 degree cameras at El Corte Ingles. And since we had time and nothing better to do, we decided to go by the central Catheral, to the Apostles gate, and watch the pomp and circumstance of the institution. And we hit the excitement jackpot because they had a case. It’s not every week or even every month that they get a case. So it was packed.

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We got there early and watched the court bailiff and ceremonial head, set out the chairs. Each chair has the water area’s name embossed in gold on the back of the chair. These are placed behind a metal gated fence to keep out the riff raff – us. Then precisely at noon, the bailiff will lead the members of the synods from the palace across the street dressed in robes and carrying his ‘water staff’.

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After they are all seated, he will call out each area twice. In the video, you will hear him use the word ‘Denuncia‘. This is not a legal concept we have in the US. When a person has a problem with another person, or company, or institution, they can officially denounce them. This generally requires them to go to the local police station and file an official denunciation. But to file a denunciation under false pretenses is a serious crime here.

We had a problem with a car rental company a few weeks ago. They never gave us a car and they still charged us the fee. I was so angry and a friend suggested I go to the local police station and ‘denounce’ them. I was clearly confused and he explained that if I did that, I would get a piece of paper with the official record of the denunciation. I could fax that to their head office and see if that would get me my money back.

This sounded scary to me and I asked if there were any limits on it. Can anyone denounce anyone? The answer is yes, anyone can denounce anyone. But again, filing a denouncement under false pretenses is a crime. He said that when we file to renew our visa, we will have to go to the police station and get an official record and it will list any denouncements against us. I understand landlords can make them against you and you can make them against a landlord if there is a problem. Its strange.

Anyway, for the Water Tribunal, the one party – the one feeling like they have been wronged, answers the call when the bailiff calls out and asks for any ‘Denuncia’ for the particular synod. And today, the call was answered. The crowd, like Romans in the Coliseum in Rome, were ecstatic.  A case!

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Jeff and I had become separated. This happens often because I’m usually trying to get to the front because I’m short, and I like to see the action. He’s so tall, he can stand further back, and people hate it when he’s up front blocking their view. We had gotten there early as they were setting up so I got right up front. I looked over and Jeff was a ways away, talking to a tiny little old lady who came up to his belly button, who only spoke Spanish and Valenciano. I gave him a questioning look so he messaged me in WhatsApp.

‘You know I’m always a hit with the old ladies.’ he wrote – reference to our honeymoon cruise of newlyweds and nearly deads. He had been a big hit with the nearly deads at the Bingo games.

‘Who’s your girlfriend?’ I asked him.

‘I don’t know, but she’s determined that I understand what is going on so we’re using Google translate and she’s fascinated by it. A lot of pulling on my arm to say things and so she can see the screen.’

I look over and I could see her face through a break in the crowd and Jeff explained I was his wife. She said something to him and smiled at me.

‘She says you’re ‘guapa’.’ he said.

‘What does that mean?’ It sounded like Italian booze or that I might be crazy.

‘I don’t know – you look it up. I’m busy trying to keep up with her.’ She was pulling on his arm again.

‘Well, enjoy.’ And I turned back to the action.

We watched the case unfold. The President of the Tribunal had to abstain from this case because the party bringing the grievance was from his side of the river.  The Vice President led the questioning and the verdict was handed down. One party was not happy. The old man who won was gleeful! No documents, completely oral arguments and verdicts. No court record. And the verdict is final – no appeals.

I got out of the crowd and saw the old lady had absconded with Jeff. She led us over to the Water Tribunal museum across the alley, where she kissed us both and told us we were good people – in Valenciano. Then she left. I laughed.

‘You know it surprised me not at all that you attracted the smallest old lady in this square.’

He smiled. ‘Oh I know. She lives in Valencia and I think she just comes down here to watch on Thursdays for something to do.’

‘I think if you offered to put her on your shoulders, she would have done it.’ I said, shaking my head.

‘Definitely.’

So now he’s experienced the Water Tribunal and made a new, ancient, friend – and of course, he got the best one of the year so far. We agreed we’ll go back again in November on a cold drippy day, when tourists are thin on the ground, to watch it like locals. But they do put on a good show.

Good Wine, Good Friends & a Little Kindness

The days seems longer here. I think it’s because they’re so packed with things we’ve never done before. Navigating, learning how to do things and seeing stuff that leaves us in awe.

My day started with grabbing a Valenbisi bike (the best bike service anywhere) and riding 25 minutes to the city center to meet up with some friends, to go out to an area east of the city about 60 miles away. We were going to go for a full day of wine tasting and then lunch – or very late lunch by American standards. I am learning so I ate a very heavy breakfast.

Our first stop was at a winery called Chozas Carrascal.

http://www.chozascarrascal.com/en/la-bodega/our-vineyards.html

It sits on a plateau about 700 meters above the sea. When it’s cold in Valencia, it can be snowing up there. They have 100 hectres of grapes and 20 hectres of olive groves. A hectre is about 2.5 acres, for those of us unfamiliar with this measurement. They make wonderful wine and excellent olive oil. Both of which, I bought. The wines made at this amazing vineyard are unique in that they have varying special designations (Designation of Origin) as all the grapes in their wines are grown on those 100 hectres of land.

It reminded me so much of Napa Valley or even Eastern Washington state that I was homesick for about a minute. The gentleman who took us around asked me where I was from. I told him I had lived in California wine country for several years. He said he had never been there but had hoped to go someday. I told him he was wrong.

‘Look around. This is exactly like Napa Valley used to be 25 years ago. No crowds and a more simple feel. You have the best of Napa Valley right here. You don’t need to go there, you have this.’

They were lovely people and the tasting and tour were generous. At one point after we left, I broke the bottle of olive oil I bought from them (I won’t go into how), they heard about it and they saw that another bottle was brought to me to the village where we had lunch. I was so touched by their generosity and thoughtfulness.

Then we went to the town of Requena. Of course, it has it’s own castle. But we went to taste some wines and to take a walk into the past – the distant past. To the time when the Moors were ruling all of Spain and they utilized the caves below to store grain, (they weren’t drinkers) before the Spanish were storing wine in them. We all know the Moors are no longer running the show so the caves were converted to wine cellars and the rest is, literally, history. On some of the walls, you could see the finger prints of the people who had lined them with mortar centuries ago. Some of it was chipping off but most of it was still there.

In the winery we went to, the caves go back to times when they stored the wine in large terra-cotta vessels, so large we have no idea how they could ever have gotten them down there. We watched a video of donkey’s pulling them in 100 year old photos, but the stairs I went down couldn’t have been traversed by donkeys and there wasn’t an opening large enough to accommodate the immense size of the cisterns. But there they were, the vessels are still down there and you can see them in the pictures. The wine was great too and Anna, who showed us around, was very nice and while she said here English wasn’t good, it was excellent.

Our lunch at Los Cubillos Gastrobar, ( https://restauranteloscubillos.com/ ) right below the castle walls, was a Menu del Dia – of the usual 3 courses, but the food was local and one of the tastiest I’ve had since arriving here in March. The staff was really nice too. And spending two hours to eat lunch isn’t half bad. But if I get asked about American politics one more time I’ll jump off a castle. And here I can make good on that threat!

As lunch ended and it was time to go back to Valencia, my replacement olive oil arrived. I was so surprised. There was no reason for them to do this for me and yet they had – unbidden. I’ll enjoy it that much more every time I drizzle on something or dip something in it. A taste from a special day, with new friends in a place I’ve never been. I’m smiling thinking about it again already.

Elusive Sleep

The last several weeks I haven’t been sleeping well. It means I’m up early or in the middle of the night. Sometimes lying in bed looking at the ceiling. Sometimes sitting in the living room looking out the window watching the sun come up. The sky goes from as black as it can be in the city, to violet then pink. Some mornings it’s bright and sunny. Some days have a marine layer of a beach town, that won’t burn off until the afternoon.

Getting to know a city during the day is only one face it shows to the world. Some cities, like New York or San Francisco, have a whole different life after dark. The seedy underbelly comes out of the shadows. The night crawlers and zombies inhabit the streets, along with some after hours club goers and the odd swing shift worker. Valencias appears to have none of that.

We live in a residential area of the city. High rises, yes. But it’s a neighborhood with schools, sports clubs, a Centro Commercial. We’re right on the tram too. In the US, this might bring a rougher element to the area. Public transport tends to do that there. Not so, here. Everyone rides public transport and there is no stigma about it. Rich or poor. Young or old. They’re all there and it’s very safe. No vandalism of the cars or stations. Lovely.

And night time is quiet. No sirens announcing police activity near by. No screaming 20 somethings on the way home from a late night. It’s blessedly quiet and the streets are deserted.

Looking out the window at night, it’s easy to see the beating heart of the area and understand the priorities of the people who live here. First and foremost, cleanliness. It’s incredibly clean on the street, and early morning, you see the workers out sweeping and hosing and actually mopping, the sidewalk. Street sweepers are plentiful. And recycling seems to be something that everyone is committed to. Each block has their separate receptacles and I watch the trucks come and empty them, not just once a week. Holidays don’t matter. The sweepers and park rakers are out in force.

The one thing that confuses me is the rampant graffiti. It scars the nicest streets. The roll down doors, for even the poshest shops, tends to be their canvases, and no matter how lovely the area, graffiti will be there too. For a city that cleans, shines, scrubs itself on a daily basis like a large cat, this inconsistency stands out.  No one seems to grab a brush and paint over them. It’s like it’s their one blind spot.

I’ll admit, some of the graffiti is true art, but a lot of it is just your average tagging. Walking through the old town, I imagine what these buildings might have been like before spay paint was invented. Their yellowy hues and tiled thresholds unmarred by the messages scrawled on the metal doors that now dot them. But for now, in the dark, I’ll appreciate the quiet and watch, yet again, the city wake up and yawn. Unfolding like a flower turning towards the sunrise.

Making Friends – the Hard Way

Today, I decided to take a tour. This is not my usual deal. I’m more of a ‘go-it-alone’, ‘lets-see-where-the-road-takes-us’ kind of person. But I signed up when I heard about it and I crawled out of bed at 6am.

Nooo! I don’t get up at 6am anymore. That was the old me. The Mom-me. The working me. But the bus was gonna leave Xativa with or without me. And I wanted to be on it. Jeff saw me off, like the first day of Kindergarten. He was going to enjoy a blissful day ALONE. I think he was looking forward to it as much as I was looking forward to seeing more of the area.

Sunrise Xativa

The big red bus traveled south with me and all my expat friends – Brits, Canadians, Americans and the like. It was for English speakers and I learned a lot about how others in my position do things here, the topography of the region, and the history. The rich history. Ahhh. I was in my element. It was like being back in history class in school, where they told you stories that brought it alive. I loved history.

So our first stop, after a very, very winding (get you super car sick, don’t look down) road – was Guadalest. It’s a hilltop town with a castle at the top – duh. With a lot to see. I walked through the old part and through the manse that the family who controlled the region for 300 years built, had an earth quake and rebuilt, and then lost it in some sort of conflict. I was a bit sketchy on those details.

Guadalest

But it was so fun to walk around the old ramparts, and what did I discover that surprised me? Oh yes, the making of an Indian music video. I wanted to be irritated that they were harshing my bliss, but I kind of liked the music and the choreography.  And the lead singer was easy on the eyes.

Indian Video

Then we were off to Altea. This is closer tot he water and simply lovely. We had a bit of lunch (wine) and a brief walk around the town. Gorgeous views and great shopping. But not as good as the shopping in Gata de Gorgos. It’s a little town with a series of shops where they sell hand woven wicker goods, bags and rugs that are wonderful! So I had to buy a bag, and then a throw for the couch. And then a rug for under our dining room table.

When I walked out of the last shop with the large rug slung over my shoulder my fellow travelers laughed. The wife of our tour guide especially.

Altea

‘I knew it. In that first shop, I saw the look in your eye and I knew. She’s on a mission.’

‘Well.’ I told her. ‘I generally spot what I want right away. And these little shops seems to have many of the items on my list.’

Altea to the South

I put my finds in the hold, below the bus and we made it back to Valencia. The bus dropped us off near the Xativa Metro stop so I hoisted my rug on my shoulder, consolidated a few bags and set off for the metro, leaving my new friends to watch me shaking their heads. Now, you might think they were the last people on my trek home to stare at me and consider my schlepping of a large rug on a subway to be totally inappropriate. But there you’d be wrong.

I was nearly stopped by the man in the booth as I barely squeaked through the electronic ticket stall, and not because he didn’t try, in his sound proof glass box. But I found pretending not to notice him waving his arms at me worked well, and seeing as how he couldn’t seem to find his key in time to open his booth, I just whizzed past and down the two escalators to the platform. The train was pulling in at that very moment, and I want to say I hopped on it but I was lugging a large rug, so I ambled, while balancing it on my shoulder.

The other passengers weren’t as enamored of my home home decor choices as you would think, but like most people here, they said nothing, and I had counted on that. Just stared. I smiled and made sure it didn’t fall on anyone. Getting out of the subway and then walking the half mile home through sidewalk cafes and crowds was quite a challenge, but eventually I made it.

I want to say Jeff was surprised to see me and my rug and the rest of my purchases, but he didn’t bat and eye when he opened the door. He just took it from me and asked me where I wanted it. People in my tour group had asked me ‘what is your husband going to say?’ and I stopped for a moment before answering.

‘He expects nothing else from me.’ I told them honestly. ‘In fact, if I don’t come home with a rug or some other large thing, like an armadillo or a pony; something that requires geometry to get home, he’ll be disappointed.’

I’m a challenge shopper. It’s in my blood. I had so much fun on this tour, I’m signing us up for the next one. The Olive Oil tour. Jeff is not getting out of this one. A whole day pressing olives. And you can buy olive products and the like. Hmmm. I wonder what we’ll be lugging home on the subway that day!

A Place to Lay My Head

We finally got to Valencia late last evening. Our day had been 35 hours long, including a near riot in the Madrid Airport over cancelled flights, perceived line cutting and general injustice by some of the passengers. The general mayhem and lack of anyone in charge only added to the seeming thirst for blood. To say it was a crazy day is an understatement.

I filmed the chanting and fist pounding that gained steam over the hours we stood in line to get re-booked on a later flight. I understood none of the ‘Protest Spanish’ I heard, but I started singing ‘We shall overcome’ under my breath until Jeff gave me ‘that look’ so I stopped.

Spain is an interesting country already.

‘Now this is why we moved here.’ said Jeff with a smile, looking around.

Only he could muster enthusiasm after being awake for 30 hours at that point. Watching the cast of characters with great interest.

Finally, we landed in Valencia and made it to our new apartment. Linda, our savior, was there to greet us with the keys and hugs.

‘How are you still smiling after all this?’ she asked. ‘You truly have had the hardest time with the visa stuff, and now this. Crazy.’

I just laughed. ‘What choice do we have?’  She agreed, we had none.

The airline (I hate American Airlines forever now) had lost one of our checked bags, but at least we had 4 of them, so we got them up to the flat and Jeff got to see where he’d be living from now on. Remember, we came from a house that was 4500 sq. feet. He’s used to manicured lawns, gardening service, a pool guy. His face said it all and he swiftly dubbed it ‘The Compartment’.

‘I don’t think you can really call it an ‘apartment’ cause it’s so small.’

Clearly, he didn’t live where I did in college. But we unpacked and found that our luggage had been gone through by persons unknown. One of whom had left me her old, grungy tennis shoes and made off with a pair of my Louboutins. She should be easy to spot. The baggage handler in the high heels with the red soles. Black soul, more like.

Also missing, were some of my kids’s pictures, a bathing suit, some jeans and a few other things, including my thyroid medication and asthma meds. I sat on the ground, because we have not one stick of anything to sit on, and I couldn’t speak. I felt totally violated. This is all we have – until some larger things come on the boat. But this is the precious stuff. And someone rummaged through it.

I managed to get it together, as Jeff talked me off a ledge. We were already missing a bag that never made it out of the Miami Airport. Now this. Jeff tried to inflate the air mattress, but the converters didn’t actually convert and they caught fire. Yes, in the first 30 minutes in our apartment, our beds caught fire! The place was filled with smoke. The cherry on the shit sundae of our day.

‘Screw the air mattresses. We’re going to a hotel.’ And he took me across town, to the place I stayed when I came alone in November, on my scouting trip. We had dinner at 11pm in the hotel restaurant and hit the hay. But I woke up at 2 and couldn’t get back to sleep.

I kept thinking. ‘Why have we come all this way? Why would we put ourselves in a position to be robbed? What the hell are we doing?’

My crying woke Jeff up and he stayed up with me until 5am, before we both fell back to sleep. At 9:30, breakfast and coffee helped get me upright because we had a busy day ahead.

Linda met us and took us, first to register at the town hall. Armed with that paper and some hastily taken passport photos from the train station (not my best face day – Jeff looked like he just got off a Tahitian vacation, damn him!), we went to immigration and applied for our long term visa. The visa they give you at the consulate in LA is only for 3 months. The long term one is applied for here. It will take 3 weeks to get the card and then we’re good to go. But they gave me a white piece of paper that is more precious than gold.

We need the immigration paper to get internet. What?!  Yes, you heard that right. The internet provider wants our immigration paper to decide if we’re really staying in Spain long term – we have a long term lease on a flat – and then they’ll give us internet (maybe next week). This is my first ‘I don’t get it.’ But we have to do it, so we did.

I was a little woozy, standing in line with the other immigrants, but we did it all before noon. Then we decided to truly unpack – headed back to the apartment to face the bags again, get organized (I always feel better after I make a list), make a list of what we need urgently, and headed out to do some shopping. There is a place about 5 miles out of town that has everything. It’s like a giant shopping city. To call it a ‘mall’ is to diminish what this area truly is. It’s massive!

So 4 hours later, and tomorrow they deliver a bed, refrigerator, desk, desk chair (for Jeff), kitchen table and chairs and a few other things. We bought bedding and pillows and kitchen items that will not be coming on the boat in a few months, and we carried them home.

‘Shopping City’ as I’ve dubbed it, has a bus that takes you from the city center out to the big shopping area. IKEA runs it and if you become a ‘Family’ member, it’s free. So we did and actually ate at IKEA before coming back. Free cafe con leche. I’ve never enjoyed a meal more in my life,. Not the fanciest restaurant could compete with it today.

‘IKEA with no sleep, low blood sugar, and after 35 hour day we had yesterday? You’re a brave man.’ I said to Jeff, on the verge of tears for most of our wander through the maze.

‘No. You’ll feel better once we’re settled. We just need to bite the bullet.’

He’s right, and tomorrow – after booking us into the hotel again tonight – we will start to feel like we’re making strides to settle in. So far, we’ve only been yelled at 3 times today for doing things wrong. A bus driver, immigration person, a stranger. We have no idea what they said to us, and that’s a good thing. Perhaps, learning Spanish should be put off for a few weeks, until I feel less fragile. When I wake up and I know where I am and how to get to the bathroom. That’s when I’ll be OK being screamed at in a language I kind of understand.

Last Dance with Mary Jane

The shippers got the moving truck back to our house around 3:30 yesterday afternoon. I almost cried when they left. Our house is empty, except for the life raft (air mattress) in the bedroom and it  echos. Jeff can no longer mutter under his breath on the other side of the house without me hearing exactly what he’s saying. How do I know this? Experience.

All 14 computers are being recycled today and Mary Jane is en route to her new owner. Our goodbye in the garage was brief, but I did acknowledge how much she’s helped us get ready for today. Jeff drove off with the Bill of Sale and the title clutched in his hand. I’ll collect him from his office at the end of the day.

Today, there are only a couple of things I need to get done. A sweep with a garbage bag to open every cupboard, drawer, closet, cubby, and ensure that they’re clear. A guy is coming at 11:30 to take the last of Jeff’s tools, so I’ll let him into the garage to take them away.

Jeff was happy this morning. A man who has spent his entire life gathering stuff, feels lighter letting go.

‘I think everyone should go through this process. It feels good.’ He said at 5 am laying in the dark.  ‘Even if the boat sinks with all the rest of our stuff, I would be OK.’

If there had been any light in the room, he would have seen my jaw drop. Jeff has had a much harder time with this process, than I have. Shucking all he’s worked so hard for. But it seems he’s turned a corner. I relate, because I feel the same way.

Yesterday, I paid our rent for March in Valencia. It made us both feel better that we’re good to go when we land. It’s been a long process, but the time has been necessary. Evolutions take time. Growth can be painful, but it’s always good. We’re ready to go.

The Shippers are Coming, The Shippers are Coming!!

Just like Paul Revere of Revolutionary legend. Yes – we got the word. The shippers are coming today! Everything is ready to go – labeled, numbered, and on the inventory sheet I created. I’ll just hand it to them and off they’ll go.

Again, this is a prime example of how much communication is key to a happy life. I have been begging them for the last 10 days for the exact date and time window they might be here. Apparently, not knowing is ‘very standard’ in this business, until the truck is leaving the stop before yours, to pick up your stuff.

If they had told me that they wouldn’t know anything until 24 hours before, I would have felt less sick to my stomach, and my nightmares and contingency planning wouldn’t be so far along. But they let me know late yesterday that the crew will be here between 5:30-6:30 pm today to get it all. I just spoke to the driver. Blood pressure, officially lower.

Last night, I picked up a rental car at the airport and today I’m all over the last odds and ends. I have wheels now, so going to the post office to ship some precious photos I forgot, to my Mom’s house is easy. And sending our accountant our tax stuff is a piece of cake. And arranging some banking things? No problem, when you can drive. I’m checking it all off the list.

Last night, before getting a car, we weighed our bags. Yeah. They needed more editing. So we’ve made some tough choices, again. I know they have clothes and shoes in Spain or I’d be freaking out right about now.

The assistant I hired in Valencia is setting up our internet, and we’re virtually looking at plans and megabytes and features together. Thank God for WhatsApp.

Friday, Mary Jane (our old truck) will go to her new home with one of Jeff’s co-workers. Then I’ll drop off some of our cups, vacuum cleaner, etc. at Goodwill. Sunday, a guy named Guillermo is coming to get our last TV, which means I’ll miss the finale of ‘Victoria’ on Masterpiece. Ugh. But for all our scheduling and rescheduling – I’ll take it!

Jeff just remarked how much happier I seem, not being a shut-in anymore, with my one fork and coffee mug, and a desperate need to communicate with him when he walks in the door at night. We’re essentially living in our bedroom now – like we’re college students, minus the homemade white lightening and patchouli. But it’s kind of fun. 5 days from now I’ll be picking him up at his office and heading the airport for leg one of our journey to a new life via LA.

Moving Voo Doo

Ok – My international shippers are giving me acid reflux.  They gave me the estimated window for picking up our stuff about a month ago. Promising to refine the estimate to an actual day, and then further to an actual time. I have neither in my possession right now. I have emailed repeatedly. I’m trying to stay away from my inbox for a few hours to calm down.

Everything we’re shipping is stacked our dining room, so Jeff stops hitting his 6 foot 3 inch head on the light fixture. This includes our bicycles and our couch wrapped entirely in plastic. I lamented that we no longer have anything to sit on, other than our two air mattresses in the bedroom. Our last TV is on a cardboard box in the bedroom until the guy comes to get it on Sunday.

If I had actually met the ‘customer service’ people from our shippers, I would be crafting Voo Doo dolls of them with the old cat hair in our vacuum bag, and some paperclips and old string I found in a drawer. I have no straight pins left, but I found nails in the garage, so I figure this would work in a pinch. Their back pain and migraines would force them towards their inboxes to email the information I require.

Jeff has assured me that we can still use the couch.

‘It’s gonna be moist, but my grandma had her couch covered in plastic for like 40 years, so I”m pretty sure we could sit on it for a few days.’

I declined, since it’s pretty sweaty in Arizona and I’d like to keep the skin on the back of my thighs for later. My confidence in these people isn’t as high as I need it to be. They’re going to be in possession, of all our possessions, for up to 16 weeks. I think my favorite boots actually cried when I closed the box.

I’ve learned to trust strangers on two continents in the last 6 months. I have no choice, I have to. But I don’t have to like it. Those shippers better watch out. I’m a woman with ALOT of time on my hands, until that truck pulls up – please let it by by Friday. And I’m feeling particular crafty in my doll making skills.

Visa Approved!!

Just heard – we are good to go. Its a little surreal. If we hadn’t had to provide one more month of financial statements, it would have taken only 3 days. I love the Spanish Consulate in Los Angeles. Crazy! After all that – it was quick and painless.

Crazy Ideas

It’s strange. Thinking back, when we started this whole crazy idea of doing this – we targeted February 28th as the day we would fly out to Spain. And now it’s going to happen. In the end, I fooled the Gods of Document Hades – I think I wore them out!

I just booked our flights. I’m not sure how it all dovetailed together, but it did and our project planning all worked out. In software parlance, we finished UAT in plenty of time.

I included a photo in this post. Its a book my husband bought for me. He had no idea how may crazy ideas I could really have when he gave it to me. But he soon learned that the sky is the limit as far as my imagination is concerned. So, here we go!

If you could see me right now, you’d see a HUGE smile, that will be celebrated later tonight with the last bottle of champagne I’ve been saving for this occasion. The sound of the cork popping will be like the sounds of the fireworks of Fallas, we will get to experience in a few weeks.

Here’s to dreaming and taking roads less traveled. Here’s to all the crazy ideas and believing that anything is possible. Here’s to living the life you’ve imagined. It can be done. Ask me. I know.

You’ll come and visit, right?

Jeff says it’s stress and that I ran myself down. I don’t know if it’s that or what – but I have the flu again. Started yesterday and now I’m in the fever and chills phase. Cold then Hot then Cold again.

Maybe it’s that we went through three climate zones in 48 hours, each with differing humidity and 30 degree swings in temperature. But I’m down for the count, except when our translations show up in that overnight envelope I expect today from our translator. Then I’ll be walking a half mile to the UPS store to overnight them to the consulate. That should be fun. I’ll have to warn the UPS store personnel to fumigate their store after I leave.

Yes – we are down to one car. This means Jeff takes it to work and I’m home bound. It wouldn’t matter if I didn’t have to get this important last set of documents to the consulate by tomorrow, but suddenly I realize how much I miss my car. That zippy little thing that took me where I needed to go.

All this is just a reminder how much we’re giving up. It’s all going away. I woke up in the middle of the night and thought ‘Oh my God – in less than three weeks we’re homeless!’ But then I remembered that I have already rented an apartment in Spain. So we won’t actually be homeless. When we push off the dock on this side of the world, we’re rowing to a new dock on the other.

Sure, our stuff won’t get there for a couple of months, but we will have a place to lay our heads and shower, that isn’t a hotel. We will be fine. I know that. But I think it’s actually harder than I thought it would be. This letting go.

Sitting at the consulate on Monday, it hit me. We don’t know how to be anything other than tourists in another country. Suddenly we’re going to have to find out how to be locals. But we know nothing. And we will be at the mercy of new rules and customs, and my favorite boots will be on a boat going through the Panama Canal. If they lose those boots I’m gonna be pissed off.

OK, I’m free associating now, in a downward spiral. Deep breaths. I think Jeff is doing better now, than I am. He had to sell almost all his tools and he had his moment about 2 weeks ago. After spending nearly all his adult life putting together the shop of his dreams, it’s all gone now. I saw how hard it was for him and I’m there today.

Intellectually, we both know we’re going to have adventures, and that is exactly what we want, so that’s not the issue. It’s more the idea of losing control. We visited our friends over the last few months – in multiple states.

‘You’ll come visit us, right?’ I implore them in my most needy voice. I mean, we’re moving to Spain but I don’t want to lose my friends.

‘Well’ they say, ‘Sure, when the kids are out of school or maybe when such and such happens, we can come.’

Now I’m not stupid. My friend’s lives are full and they don’t revolve around us. But sometimes I wish they would just lie. We do have some friends who are already in Europe and we’ll see them right away. And our friends, Tom and Laurie are taking a Mediterranean cruise and will be in Valencia in October. She made me put it in my phone so I don’t forget the exact dates.

This is the intersection between dreaming and doing. We’re committed now but like any cross roads, it takes tremendous resolve and a lot of faith to take the leap at that last moment, believing you’ll be OK. Until that overnight envelope shows up today, I think I’ll take a nap and try to restore my energy for what’s coming.

 

The Slow Roll

The next 30 days – Please, Please, Please give us a visa – has become our linguistic transition period. I’m +Babbeling, and Rosetta Stoning. I’m watching strictly Spanish TV and even trying out some of my new language on Jeff.

‘Let’s Go’ he says, to move me along to the store.

‘You mean ‘Vamonos!’ I say, with a wave of my hand. I’ve begun gesturing with my arms a lot more – like my new favorite Spanish actresses.

He rolls his eyes, but I’ll be the one laughing when we land in Spain.

‘Como llegamos al metro, por favor?’ I’ll say at the airport, to the first official person I see – right out of the gate. Jeff will be confused but follow in my wake – as he’ll have no other choice, being that he hasn’t been studying up for hours a day with La Casa De Papel and Velvet.

For our visa applications, we had to pay an official consulate-approved translator to translate our bank statements – and a host of other documents. So when we went to the bank to get them stamped and signed, the manager suggested that we switch our language preference to Spanish going forward. That way, next year when we want to renew our visas, we can just print them, get then stamped and we won’t be out the $400 to have someone certify that numbers in English are numbers in Spanish.

Seemed like a great idea until yesterday when we got a fraud alert via text on Jeff’s phone. And yes, now it’s in Spanish.

‘What the hell is this?’ asked Jeff, confused. ‘I think it’s telling me there has been some fraudulent activity on our account – but I can’t tell what it is.’ he groaned. ‘Shit! We had that guy at the bank change everything over to Spanish!’

I smiled. Seemed like a good idea at the time. So we logged into our account and Yup! its all in Spanish. Nothing like jumping into the deep end. So I called and got things straightened out, charges reversed and cards cancelled. They’re researching some of the stuff from a couple of days ago and today they sent me an email update – in Spanish. Jeff laughed.

‘See. Now YOU get to decipher what the hell this says.’

‘No problema!’ was my reply. And I sat down and figured it out. Sure, I had to look up a bunch of banking mumbo jumbo (Oh, how Google translate still owns me) – but I did pretty good before I broke down and used ‘the Google’, as my Mom calls it. And, if I’m honest, I’m a little proud of myself.

Not that I haven’t had my doubts about what we’re doing, the closer it gets. Serious doubts about how mad we must be to just up and move across the world. But I feel sure, when the days comes, I’ll do it with a hearty ‘Vamanos!’

 

 

 

Talking vs. Communicating

Communication and understanding are the key to a happy life. I know this from the harsh reality of experience, as I’ve not always been the best at either of these. I guess time grants you wisdom and perspective – if you decide to pay attention.

In thinking of our preparation for moving to Spain, we joined several Facebook groups for Expats already living in our chosen city, and some specifically for Americans moving to or already living in Spain. It’s been eye opening and in many cases invaluable. But sometimes, it’s been ugly.

Hearing how some of my fellow countrymen speak about people in their chosen country of residence hurts. The harsh reality when they’ve discovered that the culture in Spain isn’t American. Surprise! They do things differently there and the people who run the country won’t bow down to ‘The American Way’. In reading their posts, I sometimes wonder why they don’t just go back to Kansas, or North Carolina or Virginia if they find it so hard to deal with.

It also made me examine myself. When I was still working, I did business with people from other countries, notably France, and decided it was a good time for an ‘Intercultural Communications’ class. It wasn’t because I couldn’t talk with the people in La Ciotat, France – where the other company resided. They spoke English. It was because we couldn’t communicate effectively, and I couldn’t figure out why.

We would have a daily call at the beginning of our day and then end of their work day. We would ask for things and they would always agree to do them. But then, they started missing dates on projects and their people were clearly stressed and working ungodly hours to meet our demands. I couldn’t figure out what was going on. So I flew to France.

Meeting with them face to face, I learned that in France – The Customer is Always Right – even if I was wrong, they would never tell me ‘NO’. In developing software, this is the killer. In the US, I would make demands of my engineers and they would tell me ‘You’re crazy if you think we can do that in that amount of time.’ I would ask them to help me be more realistic and they go away and think about it and come back and we would negotiate. My job was to push, their job was to push back. We both understood our roles.

The French team just said ‘Yes’ to every idea I had. But soon, I realized I had to give them permission to tell me I was ‘Full of it’. It made them uncomfortable at first, but we started working well together. And on that trip, I got to hear my team on the phone, from the perspective of the team in France. I was able to see their faces as my people in Seattle spoke, and how it landed 7,000 miles away. It wasn’t pretty and I went back home and we changed our approach.

So taking the ‘Intercultural Communications’ class was eye opening too. I learned that different cultures have different power hierarchies and power distances, and dynamics that are not ever discussed but are ingrained since birth. It’s the subtle things that govern how people interact. And it’s the agreed upon method of communication that everyone, except outsiders, understands.

So, when considering moving to another country, it’s imperative that we learn how to communicate effectively. Its not just being able to order a cafe con leche in a cafe in the right language. Or asking for directions. It’s the subtext and context that’s most important. And it’s cultural sensitivity and empathy.

We are the way we are in the US, because of our Puritanical roots and our cultural belief in manifest destiny and some sort of divine right. We’re taught that in school and by all the cultural cues we receive subliminally. But in Spain, the people are also a collection of their history and experiences. A history that stretches much longer than our Anglo-Christian view of the world. The Spanish people of today are a result of those experiences, just like us.

Jeff and I’ve had a lot of discussions about how, at times, we just won’t get it.  And we will trip and fall. But the most important things is, we need to approach it without judgement. And we need to stop, take a deep breath, and try to understand it from their perspective. With intercultural communications, there is no ‘right way’. There is just empathy and willingness to understand. Its the only way to get along in this life, even in our own country. And we’re committed to it.

And just like that…

I just picked up our translations from the Post Office. Of course, I had to make two trips because I was so excited, I forgot my wallet and they wanted ID to pick up a signature required package. But that’s OK. I went back home and on my way back to the post office, I got the Money Orders for the visa application fees and the tax.

documents

Just now, I sat here putting them all in order for each of our packets, according to the consulate check list.  I just need to make copies and it’s done. Finished! Just waiting to go to LA and apply for the visa at our appointment on Feb 5th.

Our original appointment was for a week from today – but I moved it out because I had no idea when our apostilles would come back from the State Dept. or if the government shut down would impact us. With my document karma, I felt sure we were in jeopardy. But we have crossed back over the River Styx. The ferry man in Document Hades is rid of me, at last. So long – suckers!

Here we are – a with a week to spare, but I’m not sorry I pushed it out. We have a bit more time to get things done. Like this morning when I signed the contract for our overseas shipper. They will pick up our stuff from the house the week of the February 19th. So that’s locked in.

My assistant in Valencia is shopping for internet service for us – so we’ll be ready to hop online when we get to our new home. She’s been at a squash tournament in Portugal for the last week or so, and is back and ready to make our transition go smoothly.

We’re living out of suitcases now – not as fun as you might think –  and I’m going to start shutting the house up, room by room. Just so we don’t miss anything and to make sure everything is ready for our garage sale this weekend. I posted pictures on some sale sites and I had people over the weekend leaving written notes on our front door, wanting to jump the queue to buy our stuff early. Crazy.

But right now – I’m going to celebrate this milestone. I’m making myself another cafe con leche, and I’m going to watch Episode 3 – Season 2 of Las Chicas del Cable. That Carlos – Grrr. And Marisol and naive Pablo? Don’t get me started.

Oh well. Guilty pleasures aside, I must admit, it feels a little strange to have it all completed. I wonder what I’ll do with myself now. Oh wait – I’ve got plenty to do. But no more Document Hades.