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Sunday, October 24, 2010

Your Tax Dollars on Vacation

We were off this Sunday morning to the Moncayo outdoor market, which I've mentioned before as one of the three Sunday markets in our area. It had been a few months since I was there last, and then I had purchased two interesting summer house dresses for three euros apiece. (You can't go wrong with a 3€ dress, I say--you can always use it as a nightgown, chuck it in the clothing recycle bin, or cut it up for rags if it doesn't work out, or if it falls apart after the first washing.)

The Moncayo is just off the N-332 road, a national highway running along the Mediterranean coast, adjacent to the immense Procomobel furniture store that is situated in Guardamar at the intersection of the N-332 and a local byway known as the Lemon Tree Road. One of the reasons that we had not been to the Moncayo recently is because the area was under obras--highway work. We had read that the road was to be completed by the summer ... of 2009. Then we read that it would be done by the summer of 2010. When we were last there, lanes were still in disarray and you took your life in your hands getting just driving through or turning. When we were there this morning, it was still not done.

Nor was there a market. It was "closed for renovation," a sign said. It had been open for less than six months! But the Moncayo market was only part of our destination this morning. We also wanted to go into the Procomobel furniture store, because it was host to one of its many changing art exhibitions, we had spoken with the artist last Friday, and we were interested in seeing her work.

We turned south on the N-332 and prepared to take an immediate right turn into the Procomobel parking lot--made difficult due to the interminable road work. We knew the routine because we had been to Procomobel several times while the road was under construction. But this time that right turn had disappeared! We almost missed the new entrance, which was identified after we passed the store by a sign to Urbanizaciones and underneath a smaller sign to Procomobel.

The furniture store was open, the art exhibit was still there, and a new café was doing business inside the store. We enjoyed a café con leche and media tostada con atún y tomáte while we browsed through furniture magazines and chatted with the proprietor of the café. We asked if she knew when the obras were going to be completed--we had remarked time and again that they must be damaging to the businesses in the area, and by now there had been detours in front of the stores for over a year.

That question hit a chord. She immediately ran and retrieved the newspaper from this past Wednesday. We had missed a great sight. The owner of Procomobel, frustrated with the length of time that it was taking to get this work done--and with the lack of any explanation from the authorities--had taken matters into his own hands, so to speak. At least he had tried to get the show on the road.

He had driven a van bearing a huge billboard to the opposite side of the road from his store and parked it. Pictured on the billboard were the President of the Government, José Luís Rodríguez Zapatero, and the Minister of Development, José Blanco, together with the words: "These are the only two who know how to get to Procomobel."

It was funny, and it worked. The reason that there had been any sign at all as we came by this morning was that newspapers and TV stations had publicized the situation and finally a directional sign had been erected and allowed to remain.

This small and humorous act of defiance, uncharacteristic of Spanish life as I know it, got media attention. I hope the media attention gets the roadwork done. The Información story says that people were told in August that the reason for the stall was that the workers were entitled to vacation. Vacation has now been over for almost two months, and the work is still not done. But it's been less than a week since the billboard and the media coverage. Maybe that will change things. I think I won't wait too many more weeks to check on the N-332 obras again.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Rebate Surprise

Last Saturday afternoon we headed off toward a place called Rebate Restaurant. No, that doesn`t mean that you get your money back if you don't like your main course. Rebate, pronounced the Spanish way, is in three syllables, with the accent on the second, which has a short "a," by the way: re ba' tay.

There was to be an arts and crafts show, and since I had not been to anything billed as an arts and crafts show in Spain, though I have been to many in the USA, it seemed like an interesting way to spend a Saturday afternoon in the fall.

The road to Rebate was worth the half hour or so it took to get there. We drove first to a castle in San Miguel, where we had been to a pétanque tournament and also had lunch by a duck pond once. If we hadn't heard of the crafts show, we may have stopped there at the castle, as everyone, it seemed--at least two hundred cars--had stopped to see a flea market. We'll have to remember that for some other Saturday. We turned right, however, and followed the sign to Rebate, said to be 10.6 kilometers down the narrow road.

Narrow but well-maintained it was, thank goodness, because it twisted and turned and went up and down through the remote countryside for all 10-plus kilometers. And what beautiful countryside! We rode through lemon and orange groves, both old trees and younger, newly planted ones, rows and rows of them laid out in angles on varying axes, depending on the slant of the hillsides and the rays of the sun, I suppose. At this time of year it was all green, and in addition to the citrus trees there were palms here and there. Three times we came upon the outer stone gates of magnificent country estates, fincas, the likes of which I had never seen in Spain. Of course, I hardly saw them now, for the houses were well hidden down the hillside and behind the foliage from the already isolated road--what marvelous views they must have.

Each kilometer was marked with a well-painted stone, but when we passed 10 we almost missed the discreet entrance to the Restaurante on our right as we rounded a corner. Making our way through the narrow driveway (we had to wait for a car to come out from the other direction) we parked and first came to a charming country chapel. The door was open and recorded music was playing--no service going on today, but there was a sign inviting interested parties to make their wedding plans here. Farther up the path we found a large building and a note saying that coffee and drinks were being served on the terrace. Around the back on an upper terrace we quickly placed an order and were served cafe con leche, and then we realized that people at other tables were enjoying cava and tapas.

The cava was inside, said our waiter, and indeed, that is where the crafts were laid out. How nice of the restaurant to offer a glass of bubbly as people browsed the stalls! The show was small by my standards--only a dozen or so tables were set out, but most every one held a different ware, and each area was staffed by the person who did the craft. Some lovely silk flower arrangements were selling like hotcakes. There were also drawings, watercolor paintings, some very interesting three-dimensional "framed" works displaying large flower shapes, candles, plush teddy-bears, even clothing. But I spent much of my time at the woodworking table, which had a lovely selection of ceiling lamp and fan pulls, pens, bowls, and other small objects in various woods, most of which the proprietor brought from England--all the artisans were English, I believe. I also spent time, and made purchases, at the handmade greeting card table--making your own greeting cards is a popular craft among the English, I have learned here in Spain, and I love the colorful, multi-layered, and one-of-a-kind cards that can be found.

My friend bought a pair of the three-dimensional framed flower works for her spare bedroom, and then we moved back out to the terrace, with a second glass of cava and some snacks provided by the restaurant. But as we moved around the side of the restaurant toward the parking lot, we were blocked by two flamenco dancers who were entertaining the diners seated on another large outside patio. We paused, of course, and enjoyed three or four songs, and the male dancer even got several of us bystanders to come out and clap to the distinctive music and heel-stomping.

We picked up a menu brochure when we were finally able to make our way beyond the music and dancing and waiters crossing the roadway with delicious-looking entrees. Rebate would be a lovely place to come back to for a leisurely and elegant dinner in any season, I suspect.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Signs of Fall

Autumn has always been my favorite season. I was one of those children who liked school, and while I remember with fondness long afternoons at the community swimming pool during the summer, an almost-annual car trip to New Hampshire for vacation, and a formative final summer week at Tar Hollow church camp in southern Ohio, I was still glad when September rolled around. The day after Labor Day always brought a return to the freshness of a new school year and lots of extracurricular activities. It may have also helped that September brought the new television season (we had distinct TV seasons back then, with 39 weeks of new programs each year, followed in the summer by only 13 weeks of re-runs--now that ratio seems to be reversed).

Later, during the many years I was living in New England and working year-round, without the summer off, I still appreciated fall. Certain professional and social activities started up again after their summer respite to accommodate various vacation schedules, and the air took on a crispness and clarity that had been missing in the summer. And then there was the glorious foliage and the perennial joy of visual splendor, always for an undetermined but brief time, depending on whether or not the wind and rains came to wash the red and orange and yellow leaves from the trees before they dropped naturally and shriveled.

Here on the Mediterranean coast of Spain the autumn starts later, but now we are in October, and the signs are evident. The first thing I noticed was a few weeks ago, when I woke up early to let Goldie out onto the upstairs terrace, and the air was actually cold! Soon I began to realize that occasionally I would awaken in the night feeling chilly from the draft of the overhead fan. (So did Johannes, apparently, because sometimes I would awaken stifled to find out that the fan had been turned off.) It has now been three weeks or so since I turned on the air conditioning in my office, or the bedroom, or the downstairs living-dining area, but I find myself jumping up and down frequently to adjust the fans.

It is still warm, even hot, during the day. We eat our lunchtime salads in the downstairs sun room, and if the awnings are not pulled out and two glass panels open to catch a cross-breeze, it is too warm. While I am comfortable in capri-length pants inside the house, they get a little too hot even in the short period of time it takes me to hang out one load of laundry on the outside line. Going out for shopping and definitely for petanque, I still need shorts and a skimpier top than I ever would have worn inside or out in New Hampshire. It will still be some time before I need to remove the white silk flowers that earlier this summer I arranged in the living room fireplace insert to brighten up its black hole, so we can start the gas fire.

Fall activities are also beginning. Summer holiday-makers with children have gone back to England and Denmark or wherever they need to go to get the kids in school, and have been replaced by pensioners who have enjoyed the cool weather in their native lands and now return to Spain, at least until Christmas. Our Tuesday petanque group has burgeoned from two or three to 16 or more, and the Friday group has swelled from its low of 8 to almost 80. The Danish club has announced plans for its fall excursion and dinners for the fall holidays, I saw Christmas cards on display at the English card shop this week, and in what I now, in my second year here, recognize as a tradition, our homeowner association has scheduled its annual meeting on the fourth Thursday of November.