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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Spanish Bureacracy and the Coffee Break

A friend sent this link to a short YouTube video about Spanish bureaucracy. It is hilarious and shows a situation that is only slightly exaggerated. My sole quibble with the film is that I have never seen a public functionary (or any other office worker, for that matter) enjoy a cup of coffee from a thermos at his desk. No, I wrote back, they would not drink coffee at the desk; they would leave the desk, disappear to the corner café, drink their coffee and perhaps enjoy a tostada, and then return to their office 30 minutes or so later.

And we proved it this week. It was time once again for Johannes to go to the local health clinic, the centro de salud, to get a renewal of a prescription. He dropped in at about 10:00 on Tuesday morning but came home later without the prescription. He had not gotten beyond the front door, he said, because the receptionist wasn't there--she was out on a coffee break. No sign saying she would be back in fifteen minutes, or 30. Nothing. But the other people waiting in the room reported she had gone out for desayuno, the light breakfast that many Spaniards customarily eat out, because they usually leave their house in the morning having had only coffee and/or juice).

Wednesday morning he tried again, a little later. Not enough later. She was still gone, or gone again. Again he came back with no prescription. I reminded him that the centro de salud opens at 8:30 or maybe 9:00, and it might be better if he got there earlier, rather than later.

Bingo. Thursday morning he was off at 8:30 and home again by 9:15. He had managed to catch the receptionist before she disappeared for coffee, and this time he had been lucky enough to get the prescription, not just for one month, but for the next three. So that little aggravation of planning a trip to the doctor's around someone else's breakfast can be postponed for another three months. Hopefully we will remember then that the time to go is 8:30.

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Royal Wedding

What country am I living in? You may well ask. This house down the street surprised me yesterday with this display in anticipation of the royal wedding. That's the event today uniting in marriage Kate Middleton and Prince William of England. Now, it's not surprsing that there was a flag at this house--the owner displays a flag every day of the year. But the owner of this casa is not one of the million Brits that live in Spain for all or much of each year. He's German. The man flies a different flag almost every day--Spanish, European, German, and many that I don't recognize. But usually only one. But now there are three! In honor of a royal wedding important to his neighbors, most of whom are British.

He's not the only one celebrating. At 11:00 I'm going to watch the festivities at the home of an English friend who gets all the local English TV channels, not just BBC World, as I do. But before I go, I'll take a look at our Danish TV, which starts coverage at 8:30 this morning. The town of Rojales is having a giant outdoor fair, with food and entertainment, to be opened by the mayor. The celebration is scheduled to go on until midnight. Bars and cafes have all announced special events throughout the day, and widescreen coverage, and they are surely open until midnight at least.

I understand that the Americas, too, are celebrating. Jon Stewart tells me that U.S. television, and specifically NBC, has gone over the top with its media coverage. The Friends of the Library in the town of Muskegon are sponsoring a very early morning breakfast to provide coverage and make money for the children's department, and my sister-in-law in Argentina informs me that she will be up at 4:00 AM her time to watch the festivities on television.

All the world, it seems, loves a wedding, and hope.

Sunday, April 17, 2011


We had long wanted to go to Valencia city, the capital of the comunidad of Valencia, which is the comunidad of which Alicante province is a part. So when a couple we know from the U.S. were coming to Spain, having previously been to Madrid and Barcelona and with plans to proceed on this trip to Granada, it seemed the perfect place to meet before driving farther down the coast to Alicante and our little town of Algorfa. They came in on the recently-opened high-speed AVE train from Madrid, a journey of only one hour and forty minutes, and we drove by way of the inland route, and that only took two and a half hours.

The primary attraction of Valencia was the City of Arts and Sciences, a mammoth complex of art and science museums, the largest aquarium in Europe and the second largest in the world, and stunning architecture, some of which was visible from our hotel window. We only walked through the grounds and one of the buildings that first afternoon, and two days later when we returned to go to the Oceanográfic aquarium, we discovered that we hadn't seen the whole grounds at all. It reminded me of Disneyland in its size, and in its prices for the various components. We spent two hours wandering through the displays in several buildings of the aquarium, and somehow we managed to miss the restaurant...reason for another visit, for sure. You would need a week to see the whole City of Arts and Sciences.

We didn't have a week this time, and we also spent a day in downtown Valencia, touring the Cathedral, walking through the distinctive Central Market, enjoying a lunch of paella Valenciana (chicken and rabbit) and fish at an outdoor table near the Silk Exchange, and then later walking along the inner harbor, through a fabulous hotel, which I think was the Las Arenas, and then along the promenade.

We had a wonderful time with friends on our initial exploration, but Valencia is definitely worth a second visit, and on our next trip we will plan to spend more time.

Spring Clothing

Well, it has been almost a month of Sundays in Spain since I wrote here, and in the meantime Spring has arrived.

Spring came in on Saturday, March 26, when we were scheduled to drive into the country and have a special luncheon with friends at Rebate, a country estate with a restaurant and gourmet/organic food shop about 40 minutes away. What to wear? I finally settled on a turquoise blue and green floor-length cotton skirt slit up the sides, giving my legs a chance to get the sun they had been insulated from all winter. A cotton jacket, though, as well as a scarf wrap, because we didn't know yet whether we would sit outside or in. We settled finally on inside for luncheon and outside for coffee afterwards on the terrace, where we watched ducks in the pond and an ostrich wandering in the greenery.

The next day at the Sunday Zoco market I bared more leg, donning beige 3/4 length pants (piratas, here) and sandals, which I also wore to the brand new Alicante air terminal. This third largest airport in Spain had opened just four days earlier after six weeks of beta testing. We had not volunteered as beta passengers, but we did want to know how to get to the new terminal, where to park, and what facilities there were there before we had to arrive for a flight, or pick someone up, the first time. I was warm enough in my piratas--even too warm sometimes in the terminal building--though I felt under-dressed in comparison to my regular traveling clothes. I really got too warm when we were trying to find the exit in the parking garage and could not see any down ramps--only up ramps...But that's a story for another time, and it's exactly why we wanted to check it out before we needed it.

Monday was another mid-day luncheon for a friend's birthday, and I went even farther: I wore an above-the-knee brown and orange-colored summer skirt and sleeveless orange blouse. We sat inside for lunch but I enjoyed the sun on my upper arms while we were walking to the restaurant and standing and talking afterwards.

Later that last week in March I went on my first bike ride of the season, wearing piratas again and a short-sleeved cotton top, and carrying a long-sleeved top that I never put on. We were out for about four hours with some of our new American friends, biking first to Benijófar for coffee and scones and then to a campground resort in Guardamar for tinto de verano, red wine thinned with gaseosa, over ice, and lots of conversation. When I got home and undressed that evening, it was clear that I had forgotten about the strength of the sun, for I was red around the neckline of my top, and on my outer arms up to where the short sleeves had ended.

It's been sunny and warm almost every day since the end of March, and my red epidermis has turned brown. Some days I have conscientiously worn sleeveless tops in an effort to get my upper arms to match my lower arms in color. Hasn't happened yet--I may have to give up and just lie face up and arms out in an awkward position on the terrace for a couple hours. And I've been too busy to put away winter clothing and bring out the real light summer clothing, so getting dressed in the morning, and getting dressed all over again later for the afternoon or for the evening is an adventure and challenge. Friday night I put on long white slacks and a sleeveless/long-sleeved sweater set to go to an evening event at 8:00. But I added my winter white long wool cape against the evening breeze at the last minute, and I used it. And though I sat outside at the Zoco market for a bratwurst and beer this afternoon at 1:30, I was almost ready to turn on the gas in the fireplace while watching TV this evening at 8:00. It's still changeable spring weather here on Spain's Costa Blanca.