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Sunday, October 26, 2008

"This is Spain"

We've just come back from the commercial exhibition, "This is Spain," featuring about 150 booths with articles or services of interest to the foreign community in Spain. There was precious little Spanish spoken here--the exceptions were the guys directing maneuvers in the parking lot and the servers in the cafetería, where we had a café con leche and shared a tostada mid-way through our trek around the indoor and outdoor display areas.

I talked with a lot of people (all in English) and picked up a lot of stuff. Most of the offerings had to do with homes and various products needed to run them, business and education opportunities, health services, financial management, and burial plans. Here's a sampling of the info and gimmicks from my bag:
  • One-day pass to the Sophia Wellness Centre with machines for guaranteed inch-loss (women only).
  • One week "siesta" membership (go between 12:30 and 5:00 PM) at Howard's Health & Fitness--they also started me out with a free blood pressure test--99/65 !
  • Brochures from Medcare private total healthcare clinic, total English-speaking, and from San Luis Clinic, treating psychological conditions including "retirement problems."
  • Free samples and a quality demonstration of the Juicing Jack--fast, quiet, and easy-to-clean apparatus for smashing five fruits and vegetables into a daily tasty health drink. Good thing I don't have room on my kitchen counter for this 200€ device!
  • A nutrition analysis shows that I need more potassium and a little more calcium...let's see...a banana milkshake daily?
  • Brochures from IberTech computer repairs and The Post Room mailbox and wi-fi hot spot in Benijófar--always good to have technical back-ups!
  • Intriguing news of a UK proxy server service, enabling me to surf the web virtually from the UK instead of Spain, and incidentally, get UK TV on my computer.
  • A magnetic 2009 calendar from Euro Staff Solutions temporary agency.
  • News from the San Miguel International College of Further Education, offering continuing education in various vocational fields, according to the British system.
  • Best Wishes Spain, a quality stationery shop and English bookstore, with locations of existing stores and the opportunity to buy a franchise--my next career?
  • Gorgeous pictures of Fireside's stylish, closed-system, remote-controlled, gas fireplaces--reading the brochure tells me now that they are made by the American company Heat & Glo.
  • A free window sun shield for our new car, plus news about where to get oil changes and such, now that we no longer just take a car back to the rental agency when it needs service.
  • Notice of Dramatic Licence's next presentation "Key for Two - A Farce," a chance to enjoy theatre in English and support The Alzheimer's Association.
  • News of the next expo: a Christmas Fayre for all my Christmas shopping under one roof...
And the bag...most of my readers know that I have an astounding collection of canvas bags from various trade shows. Now I have one from Spain. Thanks, Costa Blanca News!

Oktoberfest in San Fulgencio

You don't have to read the statistics to know that many regions of Spain, from the Costa Blanca White Coast) in the north, to the Costa del Sol (Sun Coast) in the southwest, are filled with foreigners. You only have to go to the local hipermarket (ours is Carrefour, itself a French company) to hear a babel of languages: Spanish, yes, and English, but also German, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, French, and others I cannot distinguish.

Many of the speakers are permanent residents, a large number of them pensioners or early retirees, who came originally for the sun and perhaps a less expensive standard of living. An increasing number are men and women in their thirties and forties who have left the northern climate to live and work in an area that is warmer in degrees Celsius but also, they say, in spirit. Almost universally people in this group say they are here for the lifestyle: they work hard during work hours, but here, as opposed to where they came from, there is time in the day for themselves, their children, and a social life outside the home.

Last Sunday we ventured out to the First Annual Oktoberfest in San Fulgencio, a small town close by that was recently reported to have more than 70% non-Spanish population in residence. We remembered an Octoberfest that we had been to years ago at Lake Quassy in Middlebury, Connecticut, and looked forward to German music, dancing, beer, and bratwurst with anticipation. Presumably the festival was being organized by the Germans of San Fulgencio. But not much of civic culture in Spain gets organized without the support of the ayuntamiento, or local government. So how Spanish would this be? How German?

The German-Spanish coalition got it "spot on," as our British friends say. The tent, with a capacity of more than 800, was not completely full on Sunday afternoon, but there were enough people there to keep the two entertainers very busy playing música típica of Bavaria, singing in German, and generally stirring up the enthusiasm of the crowd in Spanish and German. We seated ourselves at one of the wall-to-wall picnic tables, scanned the German-Spanish-English menu, selected our salchichas/sausages, and made a slight dent in the 50,000 liters of typical German beer that had been promised for the week-long festival.

At the table behind us were two German-speaking older couples. I bumped butts with one of the gentlemen (dressed very unlike my idea of a German, in cream-colored dress pants and a salmon-colored shirt) as we swayed to the music with our glasses lifted high. The table in front of us was occupied by two young Spanish couples, each with a young daughter. A stroller sat at the end of the table, but neither girl was in it--they were crawling all around the table and benches, dancing and clapping to the music. We exchanged lots of smiles but no words. I don't think a soul at the Spanish table understood a word of the German, and I'm pretty sure the Spanish phrases just flew by the Germans at their table, but both parties were having fun.

So did we. I don't understand much German, either, but I recognized the music and I can lock arms, sing la-la-la-la, and sway with the best of them.


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Mediterranean Motion

I'm up early this morning because I played six games of pétanque yesterday. 

Usually we play on Friday afternoon, with a large group of members of the Danske Venners Klub, the Danish Friends Club. But this week the Danish friends held their Fall Fest on Friday evening, and pitching pétanque balls in the afternoon would have cut too deeply into the time required to don dress-up clothing for the "do."(I did, after all, have to put on stockings for the first time in months). 

After a full evening of gustatory indulgence on Friday, it seemed like a good idea to get out in the fresh air for a little motion (the very apt Danish word for exercise). Pétanque offers the perfect opportunity for some moderate bending and stretching. You bend slightly and stretch to toss the "pig" or "jack" onto the playing field, and then to throw out your three metal balls--each weighing more than a pound and less than two--trying to land them strategically and as close as possible to the pig, or at least closer than your opponent. (Wikipedia, I discovered this morning, has a good entry on the history, rules, and strategy of pétanque.) Then you get more exercise when you bend down to pick up your balls prior to continuing with the next play, and if you are lucky, or skilled, you may bend down to collect stones to line up in a row to record your points. There are, of course, some who make it too easy for themselves, by using a magnet on a string to pick their balls up so they don't have to bend down...but I think this defeats the charm of the leisurely, measured motion that sneaks a little bit of exercise into an afternoon in the sun.

Usually we play doubles with the Danes, and they have developed an ingenious way to match up teams and lanes so that you take your lumps on different fields each week and play with and against different people. Since only Johannes and I showed up for motion Saturday morning, we played singles against each other. Singles games go quicker--it takes less time to throw six balls than twelve--so we played six games instead of our usual three.

So we got double the exercise that we usually get. But we paused after three games for a little refreshment and a delightful conversation with another couple who had dropped by El Rancho in Los Montecinos to check out the playing fields. So who knows which way the scale tipped on the exercise-eating continuum? No matter. I think pétanque is a perfect complement to the Mediterranean diet, and a perfect antidote, as well.

And after all that exercise and fresh air, I went to bed early last night and therefore woke up early this Sunday in Spain.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Good intentions / Buenas intenciones

...or, why does this blog exist?

This is the third and last blogpost today. Don't think that there will be three blogposts every day! There won't even be one post every day. I've called this blog Sundays in Spain for a reason. I intend to write once a week, probably on Sunday.

What I write may have to do with what I do on Sunday. My husband, Johannes, and I are having a lot of fun exploring the diverse area that we live in, and we now have a car to get out and about. (Living for five years without owning a car is a topic for another blog.)

Or it may have to do with other things that have happened throughout the week, and that I take some time to muse about, and then write down on Sunday.

Writing is a large part of what I do professionally. But this blog, as a weekend project, exists mostly to tell my family and friends what's going on with my life. Anyone else who wants to read along and follow the thoughts of an American woman living on the Mediterranean coast in Spain is welcome. I'll focus on where I am and tell what I'm learning about Spain and Spaniards and all the other Europeans who have chosen to make the costas of Spain their home.

One of the reasons for doing this, of course, is discipline. I am of the opinion that the simple discipline of reflecting and writing is beneficial to the writer. I look forward to writing something outside of my professional interests. A lifelong researcher (I practiced as a librarian for many years) I will feel the demand to check my facts before clicking the Publish Post button. And I'm compulsive enough to make sure that I check and double-check the Spanish phrases that have to creep in to these pieces. And, oh yes, to keep it looking good and interesting for you, it will also force me to learn a few things about blog software and formatting and images, and so on...

So, I have the best intentions. Con la mejor intención. Check back next week.

Hasta la próxima.

Roman Villa in Santa Pola

Aside from our experience in the cafetería/cervecería Azahar (Orange Blossoms), the highlight of our short trip to Santa Pola was seeing the ruins of a Roman house right next to a lovely park lined with palm trees, "El Palmeral."

The historic marker was in at least four languages and told us that the villa was owned by wealthy people in the 4th century AD. It was quite large--you see only a couple of its seven or so rooms in this picture. There were beautiful ceramic tile floors. Both the tile work and stone walls were in good condition--well preserved or restored? I don't know, and though I thought I could go home and look this site up on the Internet to find a reproduction of the historic plaque or more detail, I haven't been able to find out much more about the villa.

There is more to investigate on another day.

Al mal tiempo buena cara

"Al mal tiempo buena cara" was the hand-printed sign on the blackboard in the small cervecería just off the town square in Santa Pola this afternoon, where we enjoyed 6 assorted montaditos (small sandwiches of chicken, sausages, and cheese mounted on pieces of delicious baguette).

"You have to look on the bright side of things," my Cambridge Klett dictionary says in translation. But I like my own better. In bad times, (put on) a good face. Or stronger: Face up to the bad times.

Not bad advice as we ended the worst week in Wall Street history, a week in which all world banks were straining and people everywhere are nervous. Where the parting wish Friday afternoon from a business colleague was, "Have a nice weekend and don't think about your retirement investments."

Not a bad thought either given the weather we have endured for the last six days in not-so-sunny Spain. I had delayed laundry all week because it was overcast and it's no fun to hang clothes out to dry if you can't do it in the sun. When I finally washed and put them on the line yesterday, I had to run out for rescue after a half hour--the strong wind had whipped the tendedero over on its side and rain drops were threatening.

But Sunday morning dawned and the sun was occasionally successful in peeking through the clouds, or was it fog? We drove north from Torrevieja for 40 kilometers, up the coast road through Santa Pola and some very isolated coastline area to Gran Alacant, and then back again to stop in Santa Pola. That's where we found the small Azahar cafe and had our snack. It was noisy and cheerful, with several men at the bar, five or six other small tables of Spanish couples devouring their substantial midday dinner, two waiters bustling around, and the usual two television sets dueling for attention.

But the unexpected pleasure was the larger table of a dozen or so people of all ages over on the far side of the restaurant. It was obviously a multigenerational family celebration of some sort. Must be a wedding, I thought at first, as I saw one of the waiters place a large flower arrangement next to a cake with what looked like figures of a bride and groom on top. But no, that young teenage girl at the far end of the table--a little too young to be getting married, and she had on a pink dress. Maybe a confirmation or first communion? No, too late in the year, and she was too old for those occasions. We finally gave up and asked the waiter when he brought our check.

It was a wedding celebration, he assured us. A golden wedding anniversary. Bodas de oro. Ah yes, that would be the handsome older man who I had seen (but couldn't hear) making a toast a few minutes earlier. And his bride of 50 years, she was right beside him, but hidden from my view behind a post. But her eyes shone as I smiled and caught her eye in congratulations as we rose to depart.

They both had probably lived through some mal tiempo in the past 50 years, I thought, but they both showed buena cara today.