Search "Sundays in Spain"

Friday, August 31, 2012

"Están de Vacaciones"

Quick, while it is still August, I write about August, the month of vacations.

For the past month, almost every daily action has been punctuated by the phrase "Estan de vacaciones." They are on vacation. Most of our friends here in Spain have been away in Denmark, or England, or Germany, or the U.S., on vacation. One reason is to escape the heat, which has been in the high 30 degrees C., or hovering around 100 degrees F. Another reason is simply that most families go on vacation in August, especially if the family includes children who will be going back to school in September.

Meanwhile, for those of us who have not quite achieved full mobility after knee operations,we stay at home in the cool of the air conditioning, venturing out only as a respite to cabin fever and for the necessary errands. Running errands has become even more of an adventure than it usually is. There is a curious mixture of "stores open" vs. "stores closed." Because we live in a tourist area, many establishments are allowed to stay open on Sundays during the summer season, so for a brief three months we can shop for groceries on Sunday mornings or all sorts of products at the Carrefour hypermarket until midnight every day of the week. This open commercialism is counterbalanced, however, by the tiendas, the small mom-and-pop stores and bars and restaurants, that close, at least for the last two weeks of August, for vacation.

We know, in theory, that during August anything is apt to be closed. But we forget. So when we went to the Scandinavian Center in downtown Torrevieja one Wednesday afternoon to replenish our supply of herring, we came home empty-handed, because they were closed for vacation. When we took our new microwave back to the hardware store where we bought it, after it blew out every fuse in the house, we were told as soon as we walked in the door, "The factory is on vacation. You won't get a replacement until September." I read in one of the free English newsweeklies that the city of Elche had printed a brochure listing establishments that were open in August, and I thought that a little extreme and perhaps a waste of money. That was before we drove to La Marina last Saturday morning to check out a kitchen design store with an advertisement in the same newspaper, and discovered, after we finally found it, that it was shuttered because "están de vacaciones."

If the third week of August was lonesome, the fourth became even more so. Just as I was preparing to head out to our favorite specialty wine shop last Monday to buy a bottle of South African wine for a friend, Johannes told me that an email had come through--they were on vacation for this week. The other errand we set out to do that day was to stop at a gestoria to begin the process of bringing our wills up to date, but no one answered the door or the telephone--they were "de vacaciones." Earlier this week and then again today we noticed that even the musicians who normally play and sing outside the grocery stores were nowhere to be found; they, too, are apparently on vacation.

But today is Friday, the 31st and last day of August. Officially in Europe, summer ends with August. In a rare turn of the calendar, the end of European summer occurs this year during the same weekend as that curious unofficial end of summer in the U.S., Labor Day. A few hours ago I finished my last work for the week, month, and summer, and turned my sights toward a leisurely end-of-summer weekend, and even now as I write this, my colleagues in the U.S. are finishing up their Friday before Labor Day weekend work (if they actually happened to go to work today) and preparing for the last summer hurrah. When we all return to work next Monday or Tuesday, depending on where we are, we will be starting in once again on normal life. It will not be cooler here, but at least almost everyone will be back from vacaciones.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Laundered Money

The normal rule in our household is, whoever finds the loose change in the pockets that are going in to the washing machine, or that tumbles out of the washing machine after a load is done, gets to keep it. Since the person who usually does the laundry is the person that writes this blog, that is usually me. But this week we split the laundered money.

Yesterday morning Johannes put on a clean pair of shorts, stuck his hands in his pockets and pulled out a five and a ten euro note. The blue of the five and the pink of the ten seemed a little faded, but the silvery strip on the right end was still shiny. They also were unwrinkled, and I wished that the clothing would come out as unwrinkled as the euro notes did. Since the euros had made it through the washer and the drying on the line and back into the clothes closet without my noticing them, I could hardly claim this laundered money as my own. Coincidentally, I was starting a load of laundry before we left for our morning outing; today was bedding, though, so no pockets to check.

When I went to hang the sheets out to dry upon our return, I discovered that the spin cycle had gotten stuck, the machine was still full of water, and I couldn't even open the door, since it was mid-cycle. Oh, bother. We had had an electrician at the end of this week putting in a proper outlet for the upstairs terrace laundry, and he had had to move the washer and dryer. The washer probably got unbalanced, I thought--it had happened once before. I fiddled with the switches, and started the load again. Two hours later, when I checked, I was at least able to get the door open, but the machine was still full of heavy, sloshy sheets. I hauled them out, wrung them out as best I could, and got them onto the line. Then we got the washing machine manual out to study, Johannes took a tool to unlock a filter, pulled it up, and out tumbled a bunch of coins--four euros and 50 centimos, when we counted it.

That's the money we used this morning when we went to the Sunday market. I bought almost four euros' worth of red and white grapes, a kilo of potatoes, and a chunk of fresh ginger. Then I spent a euro on a kilo of tomatoes and 55 centimos on a pound of gorgeous large mushrooms. We sat for awhile in the Norwegian cafe, reading the newspaper over a cervesa sin (beer without alcohol) and café con leche. And we walked up and down the aisles to see if we were tempted by anything else. We weren't, so I didn't have to touch the coins in my pockets--one and two-euro coins in the right pocket, centimos in tens and twenties in the left, which is the way I can come up with the small change to pay at individual stalls without going through the trouble of getting out a wallet and revealing its whereabouts to pickpockets.

Upon returning home I immediately emptied my pockets of the small change and replaced it in the ceramic bowl where it will stay safely until next market day. Then I went out on the terrace to check the laundry that I had started before we had gone out for the morning. It was fine. I was able to open the door and feel clothing with its usual pre-clothesline dampness. Seems as though we had found the cause of the washing machine's previous misbehavior. It just doesn't do well at laundering money--at least not coins.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Once in a Lifetime: Johnny Cash in Denmark and Spain

Man in Black: DVD cover from
Nothing connects Johnny Cash in Denmark in 1971 with Sundays in Spain in late summer of 2012 other than the curious twists and turns of a life. Nevertheless I made that connection this week when Danish television, which we pay 300€ annually to view here in Spain (and then it blacks out live Olympic coverage because they say they don't have rights to show it outside Denmark) broadcast a short and surprising program.

"When Johnny Cash Hit Søborg" was the name of the program, and not being an especially strong Johnny Cash fan I was ready to give it a miss, as our English friends here say. But it was only fifteen or twenty minutes in length and came during the time slot between the after-the-news evening issue program on Danish TV and before Charlie Rose on Bloomberg TV, and I was sitting with a glass of wine and had already cleaned up the kitchen after dinner, so why not?

Søborg happens to be the earlier home of the TV department of Danmarks Radio (DR), the public, non-commercial television system. Denmark has commercial competitors to its public TV now, of course, but back in 1971 (a year before I lived there), DR was the only game in town and country. It covered everything of importance, so when Johnny Cash came from America to record a concert in Denmark, an editorial meeting was held in Søborg to determine who should go to the airport in the suburb of Kastrup and interview him. For some reason that I didn't quite catch, it wasn't a music reporter or even a cultural reporter who was chosen. Mr. Cash's prison reputation had apparently preceded him, and therefore it was a young crime reporter, Erling Bundgaard, who was sent out to Kastrup!

During the on-the-spot airport interview--probably one of the smallest media gatherings by which Cash ever was received--he responded to the inevitable question of how much time he had served in prison by saying that he had never been in prison at all other than to give a concert--thus rendering the crime reporter's story a non-story. Cash did not offer the news that he had been in jail overnight a few times, but at one point he asked what station this interview would be on. "The only station," was the response. "Just one station?" he asked in quiet incredulity (and it is true, there was just one station in 1971 and also in 1972--and it didn't even broadcast the entire day, and it broadcast in black and white). "So what program?" Cash went on to ask. "The evening news," came the answer, and Cash seemed astonished that he would be featured on the news of the day on the only TV station in the country.

We next see him in the TV studio in Søborg, where I now realize he recorded a short concert. The funny thing is, he didn't realize he was recording the concert while he was recording it, either. Toward the end of the program I saw this week, he asked when they would start recording. He was quite surprised to be told that they had finished! Presumably he thought that what they had done for the past hour was a dress rehearsal.

That unrehearsed concert is available from Amazon on a DVD that was released in 2006, and judging from the customer reviews there it is pretty good. At least one reviewer remarks that Cash and company seemed particularly at ease, as well they might, considering they were only rehearsing. And one comment verifies that at least part of an exchange that I found astonishing and charming made it to the concert tape: that was Johnny Cash speaking--in Danish, tentatively and slowly, but understandably and from memory--thanking for the welcome, and saying he found the city of Copenhagen and the country delightful. (One wonders how much he had experienced of the city and country before saying this, but no matter--he bothered to say it, in Danish.)

So that is my once-in-a-lifetime experience for the week. I am probably one of the few Americans in the world who has ever heard Johnny Cash speak Danish. And definitely one of even fewer who understood what he was saying. And in all likelihood, the only American in Spain to have heard him and understood what he was saying.

Blacked Out
I guess I'll have to buy the DVD, because when I went to the Danish TV website to find out when the program I watched would be re-run (most everything is re-run during the week following original broadcast) I found that what I had seen was the re-run--the original program had been broadcast a week ago. But there was a notice saying that the program could be viewed in its entirety online until August 31, and I rejoiced, because I would have like to see it again to check some facts for this post.

But when I clicked, I got the message: "Because of copyright law," they don't have rights to make it accessible outside of Denmark.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Exploring San Miguel

Today is not Sunday in Spain, but it is a holiday--the festival of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. This is one of those rare occasions when we knew ahead of time that there was going to be a holiday and that the stores would be closed on Wednesday. There had been articles in the free newspapers to warn us, and I had read the articles in time. We were a little discombobulated, however, when we saw a sign in the Consum grocery store last Saturday stating that not only would it be open all day on Wednesday, the 15th, it would be open until 10:00 PM, which is 45 minutes later than its normal closing time of 9:15. I think perhaps that means that there will be festivities in the evening and that we should be prepared for loud music and fireworks starting shortly after 10:00.

Anyway we drove out at about 11:00 this morning, following Johannes' piano class, because, well, just because it is good to get out of the house and do something during the day. We did not need groceries, so we headed away from our usual route and drove inland, between orange groves, to San Miguel de Salinas, a town that we had driven through several times, but in which we had rarely stopped. It seemed like a nice day to explore the main street and old town on foot.

Indeed it was, and made even easier because, due to the holiday, we were able to find a parking place right on the main street. We got out and walked slowly up the street, past several cafes. My half-serious goal was to locate an establishment called Bargain Books, where a couple of the women in my book group had purchased English language editions of three of the titles we have read. We did get there--it was right where they said it was, close by the plaza, across from the church. And conveniently, across from two cafe bars where lots of people were sitting out and enjoying coffee or cold drinks and a talk.

We found an empty table and sat and enjoyed our usual: cafe con leche and a media tostada con atun y tomate. And it was then that I realized that I was in witness of a rare sight in Spain. We were seated in between two tables of groups of women enjoying leisure time out. Women only--there were no men. That doesn't happen too often, as women in Spain have a rigid schedule, even if they don't work outside the home. But it can happen on a holiday, and it was lovely to watch ten middle-aged women enjoying each others' company, the good weather, and freedom from the daily schedule.

One group disappeared, though, as the town clock struck 12:00, probably to make their way home to prepare the afternoon dinner. The other stayed around awhile longer, and just before we began to make our way back toward the car, I noticed a funny thing about the cafe. The proprietor had begun setting out more tables, presumably for the dinner or afternoon crowd, whereas there had been only five for the early morning coffee customers. Each of those five tables was shaded from the sun by a large umbrella. Four of the umbrellas had bright red backgrounds with small Coca-Cola bottles in white splashed across them. The one odd umbrella had a white background. But when I looked closely I saw that it had a single Coca-Cola bottle marking it. That was a bottle of Coca-Cola Light.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Summer Doldrums, Looking Up

It is August and I am in the doldrums of summer. Energy is at a minimum. The weather is particularly hot and still along the Costa Blanca. No evening breeze drifts in now when we open the windows, so we don't open them. I turn the bedroom air conditioner on for a few minutes before I retire for the night, then zap it off and rely on the always-on overhead fan to move the air just enough so that it doesn't settle heavily over my outstretched body. At some point in the night I usually wake up, fumble for the remote and turn the a/c on again for a few minutes, and then off, and that lasts until I regain consciousness--often stimulated by the aroma of coffee--again at 6:00 or so in the morning.

I stagger downstairs and fetch a cup of coffee and then retreat upstairs to lie abed with a book, an iPad, or a paper-based sudoku for an hour. Then back downstairs to make my breakfast, which I usually eat upstairs again, while in bed or at the computer for another hour. It is only after checking email and the state of the world that I think about taking a shower and dressing. Getting up is a long affair--we don't usually leave the house for morning errands until at least 10:00, and now this summer it has more often been 11:00.

Errands--shopping, medical appointments, coffee out, and more shopping--are the height of the day's activity now. Most of the people with whom we share a face-to-face social life are away, back in the UK or Denmark or even the U.S. I received a dictum from the doctor that I should avoid the sun ("zero sol") pending a few weeks' treatment to clear up a potential trouble spot on my skin, so I skipped the weekly petanca game this past Tuesday and avoided the outdoor market this Sunday morning. Neither of my Spanish classes is meeting: the town-sponsored class won't start again until October, and even my private class teacher has decided to take August off.

If I didn't have the work and writing that I can do at the computer during the afternoons, in the quiet and comfort of my silent office air conditioning with overhead fan, and the frequent emails dropping into my inbox from numerous family members and friends far away, I would feel very despondent indeed. Work and people--responding to them, thinking about them, reaching out to them--provide the interest and internal activity that keep me active. Not focused, because the hodgepodge that draws my attention on any given day is anything but focused, but mentally active and outward-looking, making me suddenly wonder whether I am more extrovert than I had ever thought myself.

But this is not a permanent condition, I know. It is the summer doldrums and will be dispelled when normal life resumes. That was always after Labor Day when I was growing up, but it is somewhat later now. In the meantime, this mid-August Sunday morning in Spain, I decided to try to find out how to say "summer doldrums" in Spanish.

I went first to the Diccionario Cambridge Klett Compact that I keep on my main computer in my office and which is the CD-ROM version (yes, it's that old) of the paper companion that resides in the bedroom bookshelves and which is falling apart. These are my basic Spanish-English dictionaries, the ones I use as look-ups for all my Spanish homework and any word or phrase I find in a newspaper or other publication that I just have to look up. The CD-ROM version, of course, has more flexible searchability than the paper. It failed me this time, however. "Doldrums" does not appear as an entry or within any other entry.

Then I went to Merriam-Webster online and found an entry. I ignored the first meaning (zona, feminine, de las calmas ecuatoriales), which sounded like a real wild goose chase.  "To be in the doldrums," it said further on, was estar abatido (when talking about a person), or estar estancado (a business).  But then I looked up the verb abatir back in my Cambridge Klett to see what that said. It turns out to be one of those reflexive verbs (abatirse), which was given as a synonym for desanimarse. Yes, un-animated sounds right, but it was translated as "to become dejected," which sounds a little strong for the "disanimation" I am feeling.

That was nothing, though, in comparison to the first translation I got when I typed "I am in the summer doldrums" into Google Translate and clicked Spanish. I found out I was in the "crisis of summer"! I really didn't feel like this was a crisis! With Google Translate, of course, you can now click on a word and get shown alternative meanings, and then substitute one of those. I did that, and I found a milder word. I think it was a form of abatir, but I paged away from that translation before recording it. 

I went off to pursue Collins Spanish Idioms, a new phrase book of mine, and got lost for an hour in looking for and at various English (UK-style) and Spanish idioms. I could write more about that escapade, but I am running out of time before needing to go downstairs to make lunch. (Regular events for which you are responsible are important when you are in the middle of summer doldrums). 

While finishing up this description, however, I went back to Google Translate once more. Google claims that its Translate tool "learns" with input, and it appears that it had learned from its (or my) morning lesson. This time when I entered "I am in the summer doldrums" into the translate box, I got Yo estoy en la inactividad del verano in translation. The inactivity of summer. Yes, that is it.