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Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Rain in Spain

When I woke up this Sunday morning and swung my feet out to the small fluffy rug that lies between my side of the bed and the sliding glass door to the French balcony, they hit an unpleasantly wet surface! After two straight days of cold and damp air, Saturday at noon the occasional small raindrops had started to descend steadily, and even though it was gentle, it had rained persistently from Saturday noon long into the night. I listened carefully but did not hear any pitter-patter on the roof or outside on the pavement. The rain must have stopped.

It was still too early to expect any daylight to be seeping into the room, so I turned on the overhead light. How much of a leak did we have, and where was it coming from? Only the rug was wet, but it was really wet, almost sopping. The simple white muslin almost floor-length curtains were not moist at the bottom, however. My terry-cloth slippers, safely tucked under the nightstand at the head of the bed, seemed to be dry. The socks I had worn to bed and shed some time in the night--apparently onto the rug that was gathering rainwater--were a bit damp. The stack of newspapers I had been perusing before falling asleep were moist on the bottom. The tile floor around the rug was cold to the touch, but not wet.

The reja--the metal window grille that is raised and lowered throughout the day to let in heat and light or keep them (and the winter cold) out, depending on the season and siesta schedule--was down, and presumably had been down the entire night. The two sections of the sliding glass door were locked with their round disk in the center of the structure, so presumably they had been closed properly throughout the night.

My breakfast appeared, prepared and brought up by my favorite butler, who also investigated the leak and promptly promised to re-caulk the area under the door. 

Two hours later and the sun is shining gloriously for the first time since Wednesday. The reja is up; all traces of water have disappeared from the French balcony floor and the upstairs terrace, where I have moved the bedside rug to air-dry (and rearranged the two sweaters I had washed yesterday and left in the outside laundry shed to dry flat--they were no worse for the rain, but no better). No one is presently looking at the caulking to be done. From my bathroom window I can clearly see the mountains in the distance and and oranges on the trees in our neighboring grove. We are off to the outdoor market to enjoy a sunny Sunday in Spain.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

More Shopping News

I hate to blabber on about another store opening in our area--what a dull life she leads, you must be saying--but a new Mercadona grocery store opened last week only a few minutes' drive from where we live, and I'm happy about it. We have loved the Mercadona chain since there was one just around the corner when we lived in Roquetas. We have missed it here in Montebello, where until now we had to drive about twenty minutes to get to the closest one.

This Mercadona, on the other side of Benihójar, is within our usual driving pattern, and we had been watching signs of its arrival for months. So when they put a banner up saying that it would be Abierto on November 12, I marked the date on my calendar. Due to some other last-minute errands, we didn't arrive until mid-day, and not only the parking lot, but the streets around the large parking lot were full of cars. We found a spot, went in, and were delighted to see wide aisles that were easy to walk through with either metal push carriages or the smaller plastic pull carts, in spite of the large number of people. You could tell it was opening day, though--every checkout register was open and operating. I wonder if that practice will hold?

There has been an improvement in Mercadona of late. I had been disappointed when I first arrived in Spain to discover that fruits and vegetables were almost always sold, in supermarkets, in pre-selected quantities--almost always more than two people need--and encased in plastic. But recently the other Mercadona had installed weighing machines and opened some produce up to the you-weigh-it-yourself system. Only a few selected items were pictured on the scales, though, and much was still only available in the store-decided quantities.

Our new Mercadona lets you select and weigh almost every piece of produce you want. That's an improvement in my eyes, and enough reason as its location to patronize this one. There's another aspect I like, too. The frozen-food bins (and they are all bins, not the standing cases that I see in U.S. supermarkets) are disbursed, so they are located in the section where fresh and packaged foods of the same type are located. Thus, I found frozen vegetables and fruits right next to the fresh produce section, frozen fish in the same area as the fish counter, carne congelada and prepared meals close to the butcher and fresh meat bins, and frozen desserts (an extremely large section) next to the bakery. This layout would probably not work in a humongous American supermarket, where frozen food can thaw by the time you work your way through all the aisles, but with the layout and scale of grocery stores here--even this lovely new, big Mercadona--it works fine.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Gasolinera's Tienda

I never thought I would celebrate the arrival of a gas station in my neighborhood, but that was before I moved to Montebello more than a year ago. I love our house and it is a wonderful neighborhood of some 170 homes, but there are not any stores within walking distance. Two bars and a hairdresser--and I am grateful for them--but everything else you have to drive to. It's not a long drive, just up and over the AP-7 highway to Ciudad Quesada or the village of Benihójar--it can be done in ten minutes. But you still need to get into the car.

So the arrival of a gasolinera (or petrol station, as most of my neighbors call it) within walking distance, with its attendant convenience store (tienda), is a major event. It's been a slow-developing event over the past several months. We watched progress move along and even drove in to ask for information from the workmen a few times. The gas station has been open for a month now--it opened without notice while we were out of town for the Frankfurt Book Fair--and we have stopped by a few times for gas or washing the car. And for inspecting the tienda.

The big attraction for us was its newsstand. When we lived in Roquetas, we had a well-stocked newspaper kiosk just a half block down the street, and I regularly read the national newspaper El País, and scanned others, both Spanish and foreign languages, in the revolving display stands. Since we've been here and have to consciously drive somewhere to get a newspaper, we often don't buy it. My newspaper reading has gone down, and my Spanish reading has gone down. So the promise of a newsstand again, even though inside a gas station, was enticing.

Newspapers in Spain are distributed to stores much as newspapers in other countries I know. The store orders newspapers through a distributor; what doesn't get sold gets returned and the store doesn't have to pay for unsold copies. It took a week or ten days after our tienda opened before newspaper delivery was functional. And then only foreign papers were available: English. German, Dutch. No Spanish papers. "When?" we asked. "Soon," we were told.

Days and weeks passed, but then, last Monday--a holiday, no less--when we stopped in, the Spanish-language papers had arrived. What joy! Once again I have a stack of partially read newspapers next to my bed. Once again, I can read interviews of interesting people visiting Madrid, try to figure out Spanish politics, and generally get the Spanish point of view on what is important in the world. I am definitely from the newspaper generation--my family had delivery of two daily papers when I was growing up in Ohio--and although I get lots of news through the Internet now, I never get tired of reading good newspapers on newsprint. This paper is not delivered to my door, but it has now moved close enough (and it's a 24-hour gas station) so I will get it regularly. Eventually I might also actually walk to the gas station tienda instead of just stopping by in the car as we go out for other errands.

That may be when I also take advantage of the second main attraction in the gasolinera tienda. Fresh bread. They tell us that we can call in advance, then come in 20 minutes later (about how long it might take to walk) and the baguette will be freshly baked and piping hot. I'll need to take the walk to keep those bread calories off.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

"Si la cosa funciona"

We took the train from Alicante north towards Tarragona, on the way to the Mediterranean Editors and Translators meeting last week. As we settled ourselves comfortably in our coach (gosh, the leg room in comparison with an airplane is astounding!) an announcement came forth on the loud speaker: "We will now be passing out headphones. During the trip we will be showing a documentary and a feature film, 'Si la cosa funciona.'"

"Si la cosa funciona." Literally, that's "If the thing functions." I was clueless, of course. I don't pay much attention to film titles in Spain. All films in theaters and on TV are dubbed, not subtitled, and even the titles are rendered into a Spanish which is not necessarily a direct translation of the English (or French or German or other original) title. Si la cosa funciona. I didn't have any idea what the film might be about.

No matter. The film did not begin. After the next stop, the announcement came again: "During the trip we will be showing a documentary and a feature film, 'Si la cosa funciona.'"

Or maybe that was: "During the trip we will be showing a documentary and a feature film si la cosa funciona." "We'll be showing a film if we can get the machine to work." I had been on trains and buses before when the video or DVD machine didn't work, and the complimentary earphones went for naught.

One more announcement, and then the machine worked. By this time we were well into the four-hour ride, and there was no chance that the film would be able to be played in full before we got off in Tarragona. But I watched and listened long enough to follow the story, and suddenly--it just soaks in--I realized this was a Woody Allen film.

Still, we had to leave the train before the film was finished, and I made a mental note to look up "Si la cosa funciona" on when I returned home.

But I was in luck. On the return trip on Sunday, there was no announcement about a film, but there was a film--the thing worked--and I watched a strange story that I can't even recall the details of now. And then, after those credits crawled across the small screen, the Woody Allen character reappeared, kvetching about his wife and his life. The thing worked, and we were on a local train, stopping at almost every town between Tarragona and Alicante. There was plenty of time to watch the film, listen to the Spanish voices (Woody Allen characters sound good in Spanish!), and read the Spanish subtitles. I've never been a strong Woody Allen fan, but this was an enjoyable Spanish lesson.

Si la cosa funciona is the Spanish version of Whatever Works. If you've seen it, you may agree with me that "If the thing works" is a better title, given all the various things that did or did not work in the movie.