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Sunday, December 7, 2014

Spain in the Past Tense

Today is Sunday, December 7, and my life in Spain is now in the past. We left at 8:00 this morning, on a plane flying out of Alicante to Copenhagen. It felt strange to realize that I can no longer be considered a resident of España; even though I still have a residencia card, I know that I am now, once again, a resident of the U.S.--after all, I voted in person at the election in November, we have a year's lease on an apartment, and we have been actively looking for a home to buy. On Friday we put a Se Vende (For Sale) sign on the iron gate to our property in Spain. We have spent hours and hours sorting, throwing out, and packing up possessions to send back, and then recreating a pleasant environment to greet potential buyers. If I can't live here any longer, I want someone else to come along and have a great adventure in this house, as I did.

Right now, though, we both feel sort of brain dead, as we are tired of physical labor, and tired of decision-making, and tired of the knowledge that we are saying goodbye. We will come back to Spain again, we know, but it will probably not be until the house sells, or until it becomes clear that we need to find another sales strategy.

This afternoon we have been walking around Copenhagen in a cold, light drizzle. Copenhagen is a city that we both know and feel comfortable in, and Copenhagen in the rain is not a new experience at all, nor Copenhagen in the cold. If the people we have spoken with here today knew that we have just emigrated from Spain, they would probably think we were crazy. Even if we told them the truth, which is that we just stopped off here for a few days before proceeding on to our new home in the U.S., they would assume that we were on our way to Florida or California or the Southwest, because they can't conceive of anyone voluntarily giving up daily sun for the type of weather we have experienced today and that we can expect to experience in Ohio.

Pop singer Tini's "You Can't Have it Both Ways (this time)"
We had a memorable evening last night in Torrellano, the town near the Alicante/Elche airport.where w have spent many a night preceding an early plane trip. We drove north at 5:00 in the afternoon; it was still light but by the time w had checked into the Doña Isabel hotel, it was beginning to get dark and cold, so at 7:00 we walked out and found a restaurant close by, a new one for us, where we could enjoy a hot meal. It was a Turkish restaurant, and we enjoyed chicken kebabs with rice  and roasted vegetables and a glass of wine--the red wine was undoubtedly more Spanish than Turkish, we agreed. Then we walked back to the hotel and fell asleep early, and woke up a couple times before our 4:30 wake-up call sounded. We had a final breakfast of ham and cheese tostadas and cafe con leche at the Valor chocolate shop after going through security, and a quick run through the Desigual store--it was a good thing that I had absolutely no more room in my carry-on and no more interest in purchasing clothing after the recent purges. Then we went to the gate and were soon on the plane. The Norwegian airline welcome music played "You Can't Have It Both Ways" as we waited for take-off.



Friday, December 5, 2014

Final Days

We have just two more days in our house. Today we took 23 boxes of stuff to the Mailboxes Etc. Office in Torrevieja to send home. 300 kilos, I think they said, though I would have to check the papers to be sure. Some 1200 euros, and I have already checked my bank statement to verify the $1500 deduction.

Then we came home and did a mad sweep through the house to clean up for the cleaners, sweeping bubble wrap, plastic bags, duct tape (cinta americana here), a few remaining shoe boxes and miscellaneous bags behind the closed doors of the bedroom wardrobes, to reside there until we could sort out that mess. While the cleaners were here working their magic (and getting my oven cleaner than it was when I moved in--I should have asked them to do that before!)we took bags of accumulated treasures to two friends and said our last goodbyes.

It's amazing how clean and orderly and peaceful the house looks with 23 fewer boxes of stuff in it. It's not empty by any means. I still need to sort through my jewelry and some old financial papers, as well as throw out a bunch of papers and magazines and old toiletries, and dispose of pantry items. And then on Saturday I get to clean out the refrigerator...  We had our last evening meal here tonight, I just realized, for tomorrow we have been invited to friends and Saturday we will be at a hotel near the airport.

Tomorrow we endeavor once again to get good directions for accessing our bank account here online--we have tried that with this bank before but never succeeded before the temporary access code ran out--but this time we are super-motivated. Then we do the final sorting and disposing to make the house look attractive to potential buyers, and pack up what we will need for three days in Copenhagen. A couple more final visits and passing of mementoes. It is hard to believe we will be back in our U.S. home a week from tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Packing Up

I sit in a mess of packing boxes, piles of stuff, things on and off shelves, and notes. We are in the second week of packing the most important things from this home of almost twelve years that we want to take back with us to Cincinnati. Monday morning--was that only yesterday?--we took ten boxes down to the Mailboxes, Etc. store to have them sent back to us via FedEx, which we have determined costs no more per box than an equivalent piece of luggage as extra baggage on a transatlantic flight. At the time, we thought we were almost done. Not so. I have since packed four boxes of kitchen and dining articles, winter and dressy clothing, and cookbooks and Spanish books, and I still have three big boxes of summer clothes and bed linens, professional books and papers, and "miscellaneous," I estimate, to pack tomorrow.

I have moved several times in my life, not always by choice, and I always dread it. But I thought that the decision-making about what to pack, what to throw away, and what to give away would not be too difficult this time. After all, we had decided to sell the house furnished, and not just furnished, but "move-in ready." So we planned on leaving not only furniture but dinnerware, cutlery, linens, pictures on the wall, even books and office articles--sorted, of course, so that only the functional remained and not the sentimental or worthless junk that tends to accumulate through time and neglect. And we had lived in our new home in the U.S. for more than four months, established ourselves and created an attractive and functional home, and bought the practical things we needed, so we certainly would not be tempted to pack the immersion blender, or the plates and dishes, or the sheets and pillows and table linens, or any of many other things, particularly since many of the things in this house are from Ikea and we only live 15 minutes from Ikea in Cincinnati. We would only have to transport back, we thought, those few items that had sentimental value, or that we might not be able to replace easily in Cincinnati...Danish language books and DVDs come to mind.

Well, I underestimated the amount of clothing that I value. Perhaps I underestimated the number of things that I have purchased in a dozen years here, but the greater problem, I think, is that I underestimated the number of items from the US that I have laboriously packed in my checked baggage or carry-on luggage and transported to Spain during my twice-yearly visits back home. I have now packed up a box of 15 pairs of shoes. I have saved  three pair of boots and shoes and slippers out to wear during the homeward journey (via a side trip of a few days in Copenhagen, which presents its special wardrobe challenges) and I am leaving several pairs here. I haven't sorted my handbags yet, nor my jewelry. And it was only today that I approached my Spanish language books and my cookbooks. I awoke this morning and realized that there were ten or more small items of family mementoes that I keep on the shelves at the foot of my bed: art treasures I made for my grandmothers in elementary school, opera glasses of an old family friend, now deceased, the wooden pipe stand my father-in-law made for my father, a box that a friend here brought me from her trip to  Cuba. We want to finalize the shipment boxes tomorrow or Thursday, and the Mailboxes Etc. store has run out of boxes! We have only three boxes left and I am now at the point where they all are planned and I am slipping small items into each as I find space--the normal accounting and valuation for customs has become somewhat lax.

One of the hardest things has been to sort the remaining items. They can stay and be sold with the house, or they can be given away to charity--we don't really have time to sell them via auction or advertisements, except for the car. I find myself confused because I come across an item that so-and-so would love, or that is perfect as a gift for another so-and-so. So I now have several bags  with name labels on them, which I am filling up with steak knives, Christmas decorations, books, small clothing items, or other household decorations that seem right for a specific person, and I just hope that we have the opportunity to see them and deliver the items before we leave on Saturday. If not, I guess, they will go back into an appropriate place in the house, or possibly in a tiny vacant space in our luggage, though those spaces are few and far between. I hope that doesn't happen, as it gives me pleasure to think of our friends using things that they have enjoyed in our home after we are gone, as it gives me pleasure to think that the buyers of our house--whenever they materialize--may enjoy some of the things that made our life pleasurable while we were here.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Thanksgiving in Spain

We have just finished an extra-large lunch of the leftovers from yesterday's traditional Thanksgiving dinner with three American (or American-connected) friends. It's hard to celebrate the fourth Thursday of November when you are the odd people out.  Spaniards, and Europeans in general, know that Americans celebrate Thanksgiving and eat turkey, but they don't know exactly when, they don't know anything about the real tradition of it, and they certainly don't stop life on a weekday in the fall for a huge foreign celebration. So since one of our American friends in Spain is a mother with kids in school (from approximately 9:00 to 1:00 and again from 4:00 to 7:00 each day), we have often celebrated our national holiday on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. We have been to restaurants before, but this year I brought the "fixings" in my suitcase from the U.S.: pecans, canned pumpkin puree, and well-wrapped fresh cranberries. I do wonder whether the TSA ever inspected my cardboard canisters labeled dried plums and raisins well enough to know that substitutions had been made.

Turkey roaster filling the oven in my Spanish kitchen.
Finding a fresh turkey is not always easy. I remember one year that I did manage to order one ahead of time, sight unseen; when I picked it up at the market early in the week, it turned out to be almost 40 pounds(!) and I had a hard time storing it in my refrigerator for a few days and an even harder time getting it into my small oven to roast. This year I had to fall back on a frozen turkey crown from Iceland, where the turkeys for the Brits' traditional Christmas dinner are already selling like hotcakes. I was able to gauge the size somewhat better for our small gathering of five, and I was even more pleased when I got it home that it fit in the cast aluminum Wagner Ware turkey roaster that I had been storing on the top shelf of my kitchen cabinets for years, used seldom but with affection, though never before in my ownership for turkey. I had previously ascertained that the turkey roaster itself would fit in the oven. It did, barely, with no room for anything else to either side, front or back, above or below. When Thursday morning came and I started the food preparations, I was disappointed to discover that the two turkey legs (jamoncitos) that I had purchased to add a dark meat selection to the white meat of the turkey crown would not fit in the roster with the crown, so I did them first and then set the crown in a couple hours before my guests came.

We had a leisurely dinner, from spinach square appetizers contributed by one guest to a fantastic pumpkin pie with lattice crust from another guest, and then sat at the table for hours afterwards talking and doing our darnedest to finish the last inch or two out of some of the various liquor bottles that had accumulated on the bottom shelf of the liquor cart over the years. This was a farewell occasion to some of our best friends. We also had another farewell dinner at our house, on Thursday, with other long-time friends, English, who had humored me several times in the past few years by celebrating Thanksgiving with us. This year we agreed to bypass the traditions of Thanksgiving and have roasted pork tenderloin and seasonal vegetables. That was excellent and easy, but I did give in to purchasing a small turkey tenderloin when I spied it in the grocery store, and throwing it into the oven thirty minutes before the rest of dinner was done, and I offered a cranberry compote with custard for dessert, so there was some tradition on Thursday itself.

We played petanca with our usual group this past Tuesday afternoon, and then on Wednesday evening joined 40 or so other members of the Danish Friends Club of Torrevieja for a club dinner at a restaurant in the La Siesta area--a restaurant where we had eaten for our first meal out when we came to explore Torrevieja six years ago, now re-opened under new management. Most of the Danes had heard that we were here to ready our house for selling, and they stopped by to say goodbye and wish us well. Then on Friday I had a lovely visit with my Danish Spanish teacher, that is, the Danish woman who started out teaching me Spanish conversation by discussing books, but who has long since turned from formal teacher into a close friend and fellow reader.

It has been a week of celebratory dinners, and we have been giving thanks throughout for good friends with whom we have shared the joyful, trying, and rewarding experience of living several years in a foreign country.

Tomorrow I pack the turkey roaster to bring it back home to Ohio. As is the custom here, we are selling our house furnished, and in our case that includes cookware and basic dining service, because, frankly, it doesn't pay to ship it home. But not this piece, even though my 15-inch Wagner Ware Magnalite 4265 turkey roaster can be had on eBay for about $80 plus shipping (estimated at $20). My shipping will probably cost that--maybe a little less if you factor in all the small treasures I can fit inside the roaster when I pack it. But even if I were to buy another one, it wouldn't be the same. This roaster is from the town I grew up in, and the company where my father worked during my growing-up years. It is nearly as old as I am--maybe older. And it has cooked some wonderful meals for special friends in various locations throughout the years.


Sunday, November 23, 2014

It Feels Like Home

We have been away from our home in Spain for almost five months, but we arrived back in Madrid this past Monday, took the cercanias train from Barajas airport to Atocha station, got on the long-distance train southeast out of Madrid, and arrived in an expanded and refurbished Alicante main train station mid-afternoon to weather that was warmer and sunnier than Madrid, and much warmer and sunnier than the Cincinnati we had left on Sunday. From the Alicante terminal we wheeled our suitcases across the street to the car rental place, and soon we were driving the familiar route back to our house in Algorfa.

It has been a busy week of reacclimating ourselves to the time zone--six hours earlier than east coast United States time--and there have been many sleepless nights. But the days have been filled with the little rituals of our life here, as well as preparations for the bittersweet task at hand: readying the house to put it on the market.

This morning we took our traditional Sunday morning tour of the Zoco outdoor market, buying raisins, almonds, and prunes at the frutos secos stand for our breakfast, carefully selecting several small but really red and hopefully fresh tomatoes, scooping up the recent Norwegian free newspapers (we had already rounded up most of the free English papers during the week), and having a cafe con leche and people watching at our favorite outdoor cafe bar. We also saw three of our favorite couple friends from the Danish club and promised to talk more the coming week at Tuesday and Wednesday petanca, which we had not felt energetic enough to go to in the first two days after the transatlantic trip.

Speaking of transatlantic, I enjoyed discussing the book TransAtlantic, by Colum McCann, with my book group buddies on Wednesday morning. We had a longer and deeper discussion than many we had had in the past. I will really miss these women, individually and as the group they have become and will remain even though I won´t be present. On Friday we met other friends for coffee in Algorfa center at Badulake restaurant after their weekly Spanish class, the one I used to also attend, and where one of my classmates had happened to mention casually a couple years ago that her husband was American...and we have enjoyed each other ever since. On Monday evening we had a meal with good friends and neighbors in our Montebello community, taking pleasure in their company and the fact that Monty´s is again open under new management, with an excellent chef--and working Internet, which we also took advantage of. Our own Internet connection, we discovered, was dangling by a thread (of microwave antenna) after a severe storm last month, but it got repaired on Wednesday within 24 hours of reporting it and we were once again able to send email and load web pages--and live normally.

We did much more during the week, and we had the interesting experience of feeling that there had not been many changes, and that it seemed like just yesterday or last week that we had also been here. It still feels like home, or it again feels like home. We will really enjoy seeing more of our friends and remembering the wonderful experiences we have had living in this area for more than five years. And now, off to lunch with some friends who we also knew in our first home in Spain, in Roquetas de Mar, ten years ago. We have a lot to talk about.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Hasta la próxima!

Sundays in Spain will be taking a siesta for the next several months, as our life in Spain is also taking a rest. We have moved on to a new residence in the city of Cincinnati, state of Ohio, country of the United States of America. We will return to Spain for the winter, si diós quiere, and I will post here again at that time.

In the meantime I have started a successor blog, Sundays in Cincinnati, where I will continue to write weekly, usually on Sunday, but this time about my life in Cincinnati. Please join me there.

Hasta la próxima!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Changes in the neighborhood

We've experienced a number of life-changing events in our neighborhood here in Montebello over the past several weeks.

A lady who lived just a few doors down from us died. It was not unexpected: she had been battling brain cancer for over a year, and by the time the end came, it was probably a blessing for her, for her elderly husband, and for the daughter who had come from England--several times and for long periods--to care for them both. During the last trip the daughter stayed for a few days after the funeral, taking care of details and managing the house for some relatives who had come from abroad for the services and stayed a bit. Then at the end of the visit, she and her father drove a couple of the aunts to the airport so the aunts could return to their lives. And in one of those tragic but perhaps right life-changing events, her father dropped dead of a heart attack just minutes after the aunts had disappeared through the security gate. The poor daughter, certainly shocked, organized and went through the funeral of her father just days after the funeral of her mother.

A happier occasion in our little corner of Montebello was marked at the end of May. On an unusually dreary Monday (Memorial Day in the U.S, but not here, of course) we returned very early from a quick morning run to the post office to find a young man applying jumper cables to his car. Not a happy site except for the fact that the man in question was the husband of a neighbor, a young woman with two teenage sons. Because of the economic crisis,  the husband had been working and living in England for the past two years and visiting only occasionally.

In spite of a dead battery, the man was cheerful, albeit in a hurry. "Not surprising to have a dead battery after many months of not using this car," he said, "but wouldn't you know--I start a new job this morning!" "Here?" I asked in surprise, and he answered, "Yes."  He got the car started, and when I saw his wife a few days later, she confirmed that he had just gotten a new permanent job in Spain, and that the four of them were, once again, a family living under the same roof. I walked around for days feeling joy for them.

A different life change happened at the beginning of June, but it was a positive one, too. This was the start of a new business, or perhaps it is better to say a revitalized  business. When we moved into our neighborhood five years ago, there was an on-site bar and restaurant, Monty's. Then a second bar and restaurant opened. Two establishments were at least one more than the community of 160-some houses could support. The second one closed, and then, with the deepening and apparently never-ending financial crisis, the first one closed. For a couple months Montebello was without any on-site bar and restaurant at all.

Then we got word that new owners had purchased Monty's. They took a couple weeks to gut the kitchen and replace everything, paint the interior dining room, and do some much-needed cosmetic work on the exterior building. Then they opened the bar. Nice, but we are not the type of customer that can provide sufficient support to keep a bar in business. But then, two weeks later, they announced the opening of the kitchen.

We had a pleasant evening dinner at Monty's at the beginning of June, celebrating our not-so-recent triumph in the neighborhood petanca tournament with friends, who happened to also be observing their 44th wedding anniversary. As it turned out, we realized, they had gotten married just two days earlier and two years later than we had. So we had a nice, relaxed dinner luxuriating in our neighborhood, supporting its revitalization and hoping for stability, and being able to walk to and from without getting into a car.

And now we are ourselves engaged in a major life change.  We are planning to reestablish our residence in the U.S. this summer. I will leave shortly and travel to Cincinnati to take possession of an apartment--and attend my customary summer conference of the American Library Association. Johannes will join me later, after his visa papers are in order. Once we are together in the U.S. again, we will stay there for six months.

We are not leaving Spain forever. For now we are keeping our car and our house here, and we know that we will be very glad to get back to the Costa Blanca when it turns cold and dark in the Midwest next winter. But we are going to be gone for a long time, and that means we have been having some sad good-byes. Or some hasta la proxima's, because (the good lord willing and the creek don't rise) we will return in February.