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Showing posts with label Avda. del Tomillo. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Avda. del Tomillo. Show all posts

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Changes in the neighborhood

We've experienced a number of life-changing events in our neighborhood here in Montebello over the past several weeks.

A lady who lived just a few doors down from us died. It was not unexpected: she had been battling brain cancer for over a year, and by the time the end came, it was probably a blessing for her, for her elderly husband, and for the daughter who had come from England--several times and for long periods--to care for them both. During the last trip the daughter stayed for a few days after the funeral, taking care of details and managing the house for some relatives who had come from abroad for the services and stayed a bit. Then at the end of the visit, she and her father drove a couple of the aunts to the airport so the aunts could return to their lives. And in one of those tragic but perhaps right life-changing events, her father dropped dead of a heart attack just minutes after the aunts had disappeared through the security gate. The poor daughter, certainly shocked, organized and went through the funeral of her father just days after the funeral of her mother.

A happier occasion in our little corner of Montebello was marked at the end of May. On an unusually dreary Monday (Memorial Day in the U.S, but not here, of course) we returned very early from a quick morning run to the post office to find a young man applying jumper cables to his car. Not a happy site except for the fact that the man in question was the husband of a neighbor, a young woman with two teenage sons. Because of the economic crisis,  the husband had been working and living in England for the past two years and visiting only occasionally.

In spite of a dead battery, the man was cheerful, albeit in a hurry. "Not surprising to have a dead battery after many months of not using this car," he said, "but wouldn't you know--I start a new job this morning!" "Here?" I asked in surprise, and he answered, "Yes."  He got the car started, and when I saw his wife a few days later, she confirmed that he had just gotten a new permanent job in Spain, and that the four of them were, once again, a family living under the same roof. I walked around for days feeling joy for them.

A different life change happened at the beginning of June, but it was a positive one, too. This was the start of a new business, or perhaps it is better to say a revitalized  business. When we moved into our neighborhood five years ago, there was an on-site bar and restaurant, Monty's. Then a second bar and restaurant opened. Two establishments were at least one more than the community of 160-some houses could support. The second one closed, and then, with the deepening and apparently never-ending financial crisis, the first one closed. For a couple months Montebello was without any on-site bar and restaurant at all.

Then we got word that new owners had purchased Monty's. They took a couple weeks to gut the kitchen and replace everything, paint the interior dining room, and do some much-needed cosmetic work on the exterior building. Then they opened the bar. Nice, but we are not the type of customer that can provide sufficient support to keep a bar in business. But then, two weeks later, they announced the opening of the kitchen.

We had a pleasant evening dinner at Monty's at the beginning of June, celebrating our not-so-recent triumph in the neighborhood petanca tournament with friends, who happened to also be observing their 44th wedding anniversary. As it turned out, we realized, they had gotten married just two days earlier and two years later than we had. So we had a nice, relaxed dinner luxuriating in our neighborhood, supporting its revitalization and hoping for stability, and being able to walk to and from without getting into a car.

And now we are ourselves engaged in a major life change.  We are planning to reestablish our residence in the U.S. this summer. I will leave shortly and travel to Cincinnati to take possession of an apartment--and attend my customary summer conference of the American Library Association. Johannes will join me later, after his visa papers are in order. Once we are together in the U.S. again, we will stay there for six months.

We are not leaving Spain forever. For now we are keeping our car and our house here, and we know that we will be very glad to get back to the Costa Blanca when it turns cold and dark in the Midwest next winter. But we are going to be gone for a long time, and that means we have been having some sad good-byes. Or some hasta la proxima's, because (the good lord willing and the creek don't rise) we will return in February.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Extra Rinse Cycle

This morning I read in one of the free newspapers that this has been the driest winter in the Torrevieja area in years. In fact, it is said that we only got one-third of the rainfall that we normally get in February.

What rain we did get all seemed to fall on my clean laundry.

Three times in the past two weeks I hung laundry outside to dry in good weather: clear, dry, no sign of rain to come. Three times it received an unscheduled extra rinse cycle from nature before it got dry the first time.

Wet laundry with rainwater collected on the laundry machines container cover
My "laundry room" is the upstairs terrace of our house, which lies between the master bedroom (convenient for collecting the laundry) and my office (convenient for taking quick breaks from desk work to load the machine, hang things on the line, and bring them in again). The washing machine and tumble dryer are housed on the roofless terrace in a large green and tan plastic storage box with two doors: dryer on the left, washer on the right. It was designed and sold to conceal garden equipment, but it works fine for the two electric appliances. My transformation from a died-in-the-wool electric dryer dependent to a steadfast clothesline addict happened five years ago when we moved to a place where it was easy to hang things out and get a little sun at the same time. I almost always run a load of wash in the morning, planning it to make sure that the lengthy 1 1/2 to 2 hour cycle finishes before the changeover from discounted to expensive "regular rate" electricity: noontime in the winter, 1:00 PM in the summer. I rarely use the tumble dryer. For one thing, I would have to start earlier to make sure I was done before cheap electric time finished; for another, the technique of no-wrinkle drying does not seem to have made it to Spain. Then, too, I have grown to enjoy the mild exercise of hanging the laundry and the convenience of getting into the sun and fresh air for a short period of time.

It has happened before that rain has come down on my hanging laundry during an afternoon, but it is rare, since rain showers in Spain usually come during nighttime hours. What I generally do when I leave my desk at the end of the afternoon to collect the laundry before going downstairs to start dinner, and discover that it has rained, is just wait. Let it stay up all night, and by the time that I am out of bed the next morning (which can be quite late, depending on my in-bed reading and iPadding) the sun has returned to the sky and the laundry is dry.

This past Thursday, though, when I glanced at the laundry at 5:30, I was shocked and dismayed. I hadn't heard any sign of rain, and I had been "right next door" the entire time. What's more, I had sheets and comforter covers on the line, and two nightgowns recovering from coffee stains (that happens when you lie in bed of a morning, reading and iPadding) and I had planned to put the linens right back on the same bed for that night.

Looking out at dry laundry the next morning
I briefly thought about firing up the tumble dryer, but I resisted and simply dug out the reserve bed linens instead. And considered myself lucky, as I always do when the extra rinse cycle surprises me, that the rain that day was not one of the ones that comes carrying Sahara sand, which drops dusty particles over everything, usually just after a car has been washed.

But that's another story.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Cold Creeps In

Hardly before the proverbial ink was dry on last week's Sundays in Spain post the weather changed. Actually it was Tuesday. We played petanca as usual on Tuesday afternoon, and stopped at the grocery store to pick up a few items on the way home. As we came out of the store and headed west to home at 6:00, there were heavy clouds on the horizon that looked and felt as though they would open and release water at any minute. We made it home before they did, but the evening was wet.

The temperature dropped with the rain. Wednesday morning when I awoke, I was chilly under my summer comforter and in the bathroom. But the outside was warm again when we went out in the afternoon on errands while the cleaners cleaned. That night, however, I switched from my light summer nightgown to one with long sleeves. I wondered whether I would turn on the infrared heat in the bathroom when it was time for my shower the next morning.

I didn't turn on the heat in the bathroom, but I did put on longer pants (3/4 length--still not full length), and I sat in my office most of the day with a cotton jacket on, and a bufanda (bouffant scarf) around my neck. I did laundry on both Thursday and Friday and relished the opportunity to go outside to hang it up, take it down, and check on it periodically in between--enjoying the warmth of the sun and saving me from turning on my office heat, just on the general principle that artificial heat should not be necessary so quickly in the change of seasons. But when I went downstairs for the evening news Friday evening, I found the living room delightfully toasty. Johannes had removed the silk flowers that fill the fireplace hole during the summer and started the gas fire for the first time this season. Part of the laundry I did this week was to air out both the winter and summer dyner on the clothesline, and I really snuggled in with the heavier comforter (which fits the cover better) last night.

I woke up warmer this morning, and the air outside was warmer, too. It was warmer downstairs than it had been, though whether that was due to a change in the outside temperature or to the fact that we had kept the gas fire on until late the previous evening, I don't know. We sat in the sun for coffee at the Sunday market and again, I was almost too hot with short sleeves. But that was at noontime, and now at 2:00 in my office I have my long-sleeved cotton jacket on again.

We laughed with several friends this week about having to bundle up to go inside the house, but that's the way it is here. The cold creeps in because of poor house insulation--fiber glass and double glazing are unheard of, or at least not readily purchasable. The cold stays in because the floors are tile, with no carpets. We always put away our room-sized (not wall-to-wall) carpets at some point in the spring, and we realized belatedly that we had missed the chance this week to have the cleaners help us get them out and lay them in the dining and living rooms again. If I ever can accept the idea of blasting out and replacing the tiles on our floors (all of which are acceptable and some of which I really like) I'll have electric heating installed under the flooring of some or all the rooms--but especially the bathrooms and bedrooms. It's quite common in Britain and Scandinavia and apparently is not even extravagant after the cost of the initial installation. But I'm not ready for another house improvement project quite yet.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Summer Again in Spain

Last Sunday I was packing up a very heavy suitcase--heavy enough so I had to pay extra at the airport check-in and too heavy for the TSA to want to fuss with it, I concluded later--and headed back to Spain. I arrived in Madrid Wednesday morning early, and after waiting a few hours there, I continued to Alicante, where I was picked up and delivered by car to the house. It was good to get back "home" and to my regular routines. The weather, I discovered, was not much different from the heat and humidity that I had left in Cincinnati and Chicago, although there is a notable absence of air-conditioning here.

Since then I have been doing the things that I always do to get back into life in Spain. One of the first, and the most fun, was to meet friends in my book group for a discussion of The Angel's Game, which I had finished on the long airplane ride between O'Hare and Barajas. I also cleaned out several science experiments from the refrigerator and in the last several days have gone to three of my favorite grocery stores to replenish the refrigerator, freezer, and cupboards. That meant, of course, that we had a café con leche and half of a tostada at the outdoor café in front of the Benijófar Consum, and when we went the next day to Ciudad Quesada on an errand, we had to have another café at the Halfway House, our usual haunt close to the post office.

I've also completely emptied--in record time--the large suitcase I brought with me, and have put the books, medicines. toiletries, clothing, and paperwork in their proper places, and actually dealt with some of the paperwork (and all of the laundry). I've caught up on some work that was pending, suffering the trauma of transferring files that are supposed to be compatible but aren't always, back to my regular computer. This morning we went to the Zoco outdoor market to buy almonds, prunes and raisins for breakfast, and whatever fruits and vegetables looked good for the coming week, or at least the coming days, because the heat now means that fresh produce doesn't keep as fresh as it does during the cooler months. Strawberry season has definitely gone by, so I was glad that I had had strawberries in Cincinnati,, and though raspberries and blueberries are available here at high prices for tiny portions, they don't taste as good as the ones I enjoyed while away. We sat this morning in a bit of shade with another café con leche and listened to the various languages around us and watched the people all dressed to withstand heat in various ways, while still enjoying their holiday or daily lives.

I am moving slowly and the days seem long because, well, they are. It always takes a few nights to adjust to six hours' time difference between Eastern U.S. time and Spanish time. It's even harder this year, because it's time for the Benijófar summer festival, and that means that just as I am ready to settle down to try to sleep through the night at 11:00 PM or so, the thumping music of a fiesta in action starts up, and it continues into the wee hours--until 7:00 this morning, according to Johannes, but I had finally dropped off to sleep some time after 3:30 and slept peacefully until 9:00.

Tomorrow I will see my Spanish teacher/book discussion partner and Tuesday I will go to play petanca, and by then I hope to be back in this time zone and back into the regular routine of summer, which often involves staying inside in air-conditioned comfort (not central, but effective and quiet on a room-by-room basis) and generally taking it easy and not moving too fast. We have a few weeks before leaving again for a summer vacation together, and I intend to enjoy them in a suitably leisurely fashion.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Earth Moved

The earth moved at 5:15 this morning. I was awake. I had already been up and downstairs, as I had heard Goldie getting sick on a piece of grass and went downstairs to comfort her and clean up the floor that had just been mopped clean twelve hours earlier. Johannes was also awake and made coffee. I showed him the Newseum app for his iPad and then took a cup of coffee back to bed with me, upstairs.

I was reading when suddenly I heard a terrible roar and simultaneously felt the house shake. I don't know exactly how long the sound and the shaking  went on. It was long enough for me to feel startled, look up from my book, and then to think with a great deal of certainty, "This is an earthquake." The tremor and the roar stopped, however, before I had a chance to wonder whether I should get out of bed and go downstairs. I looked at the clock; it said 5:15.

The earthquake did not cause us to lose power or our Internet connection, so we started immediately to try to find information about what had happened. A second rumble and tremor came, more distant, at 6:00. It took another 15 minutes before our searches for terremoto España hoy (earthquake Spain today) began to show results from today. The Instituto Geográfico Nacional was reporting an earthquake at 3:18 GMT.  Well, the minute seemed right, but the hour was off. Was what we had felt the first time just an aftershock? Had I slept through the real earthquake?

No, we felt the real earthquake, at around a quarter after 5:00. As the IGN helpfully reminded us on its page, Spain is at GMT+1 hour during the winter, but at GMT+2 when Spain and the Continent move to summer time, because Greenwich Mean Time never changes.

This was not a big earthquake in the realm of possibilities. It measured only 2.7 in magnitude. But 2.7 is definitely noticeable when the epicenter is only a couple miles away from where you are. On the map above, the epicenter is marked with the red star in the town of Rojales, which is where we go to the post office and the banks and the travel agency and frequently for morning coffee. Our house sits on the left side of the yellow highway to the left of Rojales. a little below where the r in Benejúzar is printed.

Fortunately we never heard any emergency sirens after the terremoto this morningBut we'll go out later today and check the house for cracks, just in case. And we'll probably drive over to the hilly area of Rojales and see if there was any damage there.


Postscript on Saturday, June 15: We did drive over to Rojales on Thursday after the earthquake to see if there was damage. We didn't find any, but we talked with some of the artists who lived in Las Cuevas, the caves in the hilly part of the city above the river. Carmen reminded us that caves are one of the safest places to be in an earthquake, and also that it is better to have several small earthquakes occasionally to relieve the underground pressures rather than one big one.

And then we had another one Thursday afternoon at 3:24. Again, I was upstairs, this time in my office at the computer. The rumble was just as loud and the house shook just as it had before. This time I started wondering whether I should go downstairs. But it stopped. This one was centered in Guardamar del Segura, further away to the east of us. Actually it was a little outside Guardamar, in the Mediterranean Sea. At 3.4, it was stronger than the morning one, though I see now that the first one has been upgraded to 2.9 on the Richter scale.

It's been quiet since then.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

"Lay Flat to Dry"

When we lived in our dream house in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, our next-door (across the street) neighbor would often hang her laundry out to dry. Even in the dead of winter, if there were a sliver of sunlight or a breeze, or (rarely) both, she would march out to the square metal laundry line structure with a heavy basket of laundry to hang the clothes out. Later she would retrieve them--at least they disappeared. Last week they emailed us that they had moved from their dream house in New Hampshire and were now living in Florida. I imagine her still hanging out clothing, but she has a lot better weather to hang it out in now.

I never hung laundry out until I moved to Spain. I didn't even hang it out when I first moved to Spain. When we lived in Roquetas we were in a second-floor (third to Americans) apartment, and although some of the apartments had laundry lines strung outside their kitchen/utility window (I did, too, now that I think of it) I never used an outdoor clothesline except for the occasional kitchen towel. I had a clothes dryer, a tumble dryer as it is usually called in English here, in my utility room, and that is what I used to dry the clothes.

When we moved to the Torrevieja area the first time, we rented a tiny house with a terrace that was larger than the house itself, and there was no utility room. I learned to hang the laundry outside. When we moved to our present house four years ago, the clothes washer was, as often is the case in Europe, in the kitchen, and there was no room for a clothes dryer.

Fortunately the washing machine gave out soon, and I quickly took the opportunity to relocate the laundry to the upstairs terrace. Now the new washing machine and a new tumble dryer happily live inside a large polystyrene structure originally designed for storing outdoor furniture or garden equipment; but a washing machine and a dryer fit in there comfortably, both the top and the front doors open to provide access, and they are out of view when not needed.

But I rarely use the tumble dryer, because I also have a four-line clothesline on the wall above the washer/dryer shed, and I can pull out the lines and hang the laundry on them to dry. I have gotten used to hanging the laundry. I like the break it gives me from my work in my office, the short exposure to the sun and fresh air, the mild exercise of stretching to pull the lines out and hang the clothing. And neither of the two European clothes dryers I have owned--nor any of their competitors that I looked at--have anything that resembles a permanent press cycle anyway.

So I hang my clothes, and over time I have come to prefer wooden clothes pins (pegs to the British) over plastic, because the plastic ones seem to snap and break easily, and I have learned to hang shirts and nightgowns and the occasional dress inside out, to minimize fading in the sun and also in case the wooden clothes pin stains the cloth. I hang pants with one leg on each of two lines--different from any of my neighbors, I realize, but I like it that way. Lest you think I am immodest by hanging pants with the crotch up and open, I assure you that I hang underwear one side up and one side down, behind shirts or other outer garments. I have myself driven down the road when the laundry was out and know that you can't see the line from the street, and the only neighbors who might see the line would have to walk way out to the corners of their terraces to do so. But I still preserve the niceties.

Recently, however,  I have realized that two or three of my favorite old sweaters and jackets have developed extra-long sleeves and are beginning to droop lower down on my hips than they used to. That must be from hanging them on the clothesline to dry, I finally figured out. I had forgotten about that admonishment in the inside label on sweaters in my youth that said "Lay flat to dry."

That's because I never had hung anything out to dry; I always used a clothes dryer. By the time in my life that I might have been paying attention to the "Lay flat to dry" instructions, I usually bought miracle fiber sweaters that dried quite nicely without shrinking in the clothes dryer. If they didn't go in the dryer, they went to the dry cleaners. And then we got home dry cleaning, with bags and a scented cloth for three or four garments at a time--in the clothes dryer, on the gentle or permanent press cycle.

I have enough room on the top of the washer and the dryer in their shed to stretch out a "Lay flat to dry" garment if ever I buy a new one. It's too late for the old ones. I have tried washing them and then putting them in the clothes dryer on hot to try to shrink them. That doesn't seem to work, but I'm not giving up yet, and will continue to dry them that way, or to lay them flat, so they don't stretch out even more. One is a nice white natural cotton pullover sweater that I wear a lot in the spring. The other is a beige and white all-natural cotton cardigan jacket that still has its Vermont Country Store label visible in the neckline. It is older than I care to admit, but I love it, and I have bought two pairs of slacks to replace those that came with it when I purchased it during the days I drove I-91 between Connecticut and New Hampshire to work each week. I can't throw that away.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Spring Garden

Goldie coming out to enjoy the spring sun and to survey her domain from the front step. 
© Johannes Bjorner 2013

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Thistle among the Geraniums

We returned to Spain from a two-week trip to the U.S. this past Tuesday. We returned a day later than planned, after a bonus night at a hotel at Dulles and the next day at the airport in Newark, due to mechanical problems in the plane that had been scheduled to take us from Dulles to Newark on Sunday. That was the worst thing that happened to us in a seven-flight/two train ride/two rental car itinerary during the two weeks we were gone. And we successfully skirted Superstorm Sandy as we flew from Connecticut to South Carolina the last Saturday in October. So we were lucky.

However, we returned to rain in Spain. It wasn't raining when we landed in Madrid's Barrajas airport Tuesday morning. It was a short bus ride above ground--cloudy but dry--from Terminal 2 to Terminal 4, where we caught an underground train to the Atocha station in central Madrid. We didn't go outside there, boarding the train to Alicante on the lower level. The tinted glass windows on the train hid any sign of bad weather as we rode through the countryside, and we were therefore surprised four hours later when we stepped out of the train to catch a taxi to the car park. It was raining lightly in late afternoon and was dark and gloomy; the driver told us it had been raining since morning.

We went to bed Tuesday night, protected from the rain, safe and dry in our own beds at last, and we woke up the next morning to rain. No need to unpack quickly, I said to myself, since the washing machine is on the upstairs terrace and I normally hang the laundry out to dry. I had the day to get a little caught up with desk work and to get to the grocery store in the afternoon, where we racked up the largest grocery bill I can remember. The heavens were still dripping.

Thursday morning it was raining again, or still. Another desk work day. I rearranged some items from my suitcases, at least getting the various types of clothing sorted into the proper dirty clothes containers. Friday morning dawned gray and gloomy, but without any rain in the air, though the remnants of it were on horizontal surfaces. I had run out of warm clothing, so I started the first of what I thought would be three loads of wash. Then I tackled the sight that had been bothering me every time I passed the glass door to the terrace ever since we had returned home: the geraniums.

We have three rectangular planter boxes on the terrace that have been filled with the same geraniums for over a year now. That's something of a miracle in itself--geraniums are a winter flower where we live, and we usually shift them out during the hot summer months. This past summer, though, we were otherwise occupied and never got around to that. So they had gone through various stages of flowering profusely (I discovered my husband's secret recipe for fertilizing them) and then the blooms turning brown--all at once, it seemed. Then I would deadhead them--just twisting the stem seems to do the trick to take off the dead bloom. A few days later they would be full of  developing buds and blossoms. I have a regular schedule for deadheading and watering the plants. I usually twist off a few dead geraniums every time I do the laundry, every four or five days.

Just before we left for our vacation they had reached renewed life again and I was beginning to think that maybe we wouldn't have to replace them with new plants for the winter. Now, however, ever since we returned home, all that I saw was huge masses of green bushy leaves, a few spindly pink blossoms, and a lot of round brown blobs that had presumably been gorgeous flowers most of the time we were away. Every time I passed the door, I wanted to go out and break off the dark, faded spikes. But remember, it was raining.

Now that I had ventured out long enough to start the washing machine, I was determined to remove the spent blossoms from the geraniums. And I did. After filling my hands with the detritus from one box, I dumped it in the bathroom waste basket and brought the basket out with me to do the job on the remaining two boxes. It was when I stretched my hand into a profusion of green leaves in the second box that I felt the sharp spindles of a giant thistle that had nestled itself in among the geraniums. What a surprise! It hurt, and there was no way I was going to get rid of that by pulling it out at the root--the stem was at least an inch wide, the thistle was about a foot high and eight inches across! How could it have grown from nothing in the two weeks we were away?

Lots of sun and then lots of rain, I think is the answer. But we had never had such a foreign plant in the flower boxes before! So it was even more irritating when I stuck my hand into the foliage of the third flower box and found another thistle--slightly smaller, and a bit less of a surprise, but irritating nonetheless. I took the immediate step of cutting them off at the root with a pair of scissors--that's what was closest--as a temporary measure.

When it came time to hang up the laundry, by the way, it was threatening rain again. I put the synthetics on the line and stuffed the underwear into the electric dryer--an appliance that I use so rarely that I always have to read the controls rather than simply punch buttons. I did two more loads of laundry that finished up in the dryer, and late in the afternoon I brought in the clothing that had been on the line--maybe not actually wetter than when I placed it there, but no dryer--then hung it on a stand in my office and turned on the heater.

On Saturday morning the sun came up! We rejoiced at seeing the sun in Spain for the first time since we had left 18 days earlier. In fact, we were so glad that we left the house and spent the day doing little errands just to be outside. So that meant that the fourth load of laundry was left for Sunday, and this Sunday morning in Spain, once again, dawned dark, cold, and threatening sprinkles. I have just retrieved the towels from the dryer. They feel better dried mechanically anyway. The thistles await future attention, after the purchase of garden gloves.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

An Impulse Purchase and Its Electrifying Consequences

This past week saw the final episode in a small but long-running domestic drama that has continued over the late summer months. This particular drama has to do with electric current.

In mid-July we bought a new microwave from our favorite hardware store, a mom-amd-pop business in Ciudad Quesada just over the highway from where we live. We hadn't set out to buy a new microwave that day; I don't even remember what small item we had entered the store to purchase, but while there, I noticed a microwave on display that had a grill function. We had enjoyed a combination microwave/grill at our previous home in Roquetas de Mar, but left it behind when we sold that apartment. The microwave in our new home here in Montebello did not have a grill, but it was functional as a microwave. We figured we would replace it at some point in the future, but it wasn't a priority. What we had used the microwave grill for most was to toast baguettes, and it's hard enough as it is to say no to delicious toasted baguettes when we go out--we don't need to bring that temptation into the house to have to resist on home territory.

But here all of a sudden, and perhaps at a weak point, was a microwave with a grill, and equally important, one that looked as though it would fit the space currently allotted for it on the shelf in the corner above the kitchen counter. We bought it. We took it home. We removed the old microwave and replaced it with the new one. We plugged it in and re-heated a cup of coffee. Perfect. The next morning I used it, as usual, for cooking my oatmeal, and I continued using it as I normally use the microwave, which is mostly to re-heat leftovers, pop the occasional bag of popcorn, "poach" two eggs, and melt butter and chocolate on the seldom occasions that I get energetic enough to bake. In a rare success at prompt disposal of unnecessary items, I took the old microwave, a little bit rusty, to the weekly neighborhood auction and said that even if it didn't sell, I didn't want it back. 

We resisted toasting baguettes for a couple weeks, but in August I got a yearning. I scanned the instruction manual to make sure I knew how to use the grill properly, put in the toasting rack, placed the bread on the rack, set the dial to Grill, and turned the timer to a minute. Everything was fine for about 30 seconds. Then the power went out. Not just the microwave power. Not just the kitchen lights, but the lights, fans, air conditioners, and computers, all over the house, as well.

We skipped our planned tostadas, flipped the circuit breaker, and decided to wait until the next day to diagnose the microwave problem. It got worse. The next morning, when I turned on the microwave to make oatmeal,we lost electricity again, and this on regular High, which I had been using all along. We flipped the circuit breaker again and this time, all I did was to close the door of the microwave--without turning it on--and the electricity blew! We moved the microwave to the only available outlet in the dining room. It worked, but who wants to have a microwave sitting on the dining room floor? I didn't even dare to try the grill.

It seems that electricity is always a problem in Spanish houses--there are never enough outlets, they are not in the right places, and there is not enough power coming in to the house, either. We had been saying for some time that we wanted to get an electrician in to examine all the wiring and make a few improvements. Now was the obvious time. The electrician came and we explained the microwave problem. He examined a couple things and said that probably the fault was with the microwave, not the kitchen circuit.  We also walked through the entire house and looked at every switch plate and outlet and talked about what might be better done to suit our needs.

When we took the microwave back to the hardware store where we had bought it, we no sooner got inside when they said, "no, no, nothing can be done until September." True enough, August is vacation month. Factories and businesses are closed, deliveries are interrupted, and nothing much gets done. We left it there, though, and agreed to check again in September. And I managed to make oatmeal two mornings without a microwave before I gave in and bought the smallest and cheapest I could find--and without a grill--as a temporary replacement.

It was more than three weeks later that we got the call from the hardware store, saying that the new microwave had arrived. In the meantime, the electrician had spent two days at our house. Some of the old switch plates had become unstable--that is, they occasionally fell off their wall mounting--throughout the 13-year history of this house. He replaced them all, partly for consistency's sake, and partly because if they were not now iffy, they soon would be. Have I ever mentioned how much I like the Spanish electric switches that are larger (roughly 2 inches square) than the finger-width or even one-inch wide switches in U.S. houses? They require much less physical effort to flip from on to off and back again, making it easy to turn the light on or off effortlessly with your elbow while carrying coffee cups or a glass of wine or a load of laundry from room to room. Now I can move throughout the entire house with things in my hands without knocking a single one of the tired switch plates off its moorings to the floor, because all the tired plates have been retired.
One of the bedside plates with two plugs and a switch.
Photo © Johannes Bjørner 2012.

The electrician also repaired the burned-out wall outlet in my office that had almost incinerated when we plugged a portable heater into it. That was before we learned that some outlets will work with heavy-duty appliances, but most, especially if not in the kitchen or bathroom, are "light" outlets, which only serve for lamps, computer equipment, recharging devices, and the like--not space heaters, or even hair dryers, according to the electrician. Then he installed proper outlets for the washer and dryer on my upstairs terrace, so I no longer have to avoid the extension cord that had decorated the floor around the door frame since we moved the dryer up there a couple years ago. He added an outlet here and there, too, one to the office wall where I used to charge up the portable computer and the iPad and the Kindle, but never at the same time. And even though he looked at me a little strangely when I said I wanted double plugs on both sides of the bed to charge up my devices, he installed the outlets.

What he didn't do, though, was to revise the electric circuit in the kitchen. He didn't think that it was necessary for the microwave problem, and we weren't sure what we wanted done since we are contemplating a kitchen renovation, so we put that off. When we brought home the new/replacement microwave--a different brand from the original one, by the way--we tested it with a little trepidation. The microwave worked fine as just a microwave for a few days. Then last Sunday we bought a baguette at the market. I sliced it and prepared it for a tostada. I put it on the metal rack, set the function dial to Grill, turned the timer dial to one minute, and held my breath.

No lights went out. The grill element performed as expected, though I needed another minute for the perfect tostada. We ate toasted bread three times last week, I gained a kilo, and I did not buy another baguette this morning at the market. But I am satisfied that this new microwave/grill works, and that the electricity in the house works as well as it ever will. I have also experimented and found new home locations for the various items that need to be charged up regularly. So this little domestic drama was coming to a close, and we were better off for it.

The only remaining issue was to figure out what to do with the "temporary" microwave that we had bought for the August emergency. We considered--briefly--moving it upstairs for the easy re-heating of forgotten coffee. But would it work in the replaced "light" outlet in my office? Why tempt fate? We gave it away. If I have to run downstairs to re-heat coffee, that will just use up more calories so I can eat more toasted baguettes.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

How Many Times Does it Take to Buy a Light Bulb?

The light behind my bed went out last week. I don't need this light when I wake up in the middle of the night and use the iPad, but I do need it to read a real book or a newspaper, or even to do a sudoku. I can remember the days when I could replace a light bulb by myself, and almost immediately. It was just a quick trip to the closet where we kept a supply of spares, choose the right one, take it back to the lamp, and screw it in.

That was before the days of energy-saving bulbs--more expensive and generally ugly--nothing you want to keep a supply of, because each purchase of one is an investment by itself, and, if you are lucky, the design might get a little less ugly by the following time you have to buy one. Still, we have two of these lamps in the house, so I was hoping that there might be a spare. The trouble is, I wasn't sure whether that spare would be in the indoors closet (rightly called "Goldie's closet" because the most important things that it holds are her food dish, her litter box (yep, she lives compactly) and all her supplies, plus just a few of ours) or in the outdoors attic/workshop/studio under the domain of the man of the house. So I advised the man of the house and gave him a couple days to check whether there were any light bulbs out there.

There weren't, so I took the unscrewed light bulb with me on our next shopping trip--I have long since learned that I need to take the one to be replaced or I will inevitably bring home a thick-necked one for a thin-necked lamp socket, or vice versa. We stopped at a hardware store, where the proprietor offered personal attention. While she helped Johannes find the light bulb I went off looking for a universal plug adaptor. That was another item I thought would make a great addition to my bedside table area, so I can charge up the iPad or the Kindle or the phone or the laptop and still have the light on at the same time, once I got a working light bulb again. I didn't find the plug adaptor and the proprietor apologized for the low stock--"it's August" and that meant that deliveries were not as normal.

I paid 7€ (about US $10) for the single light bulb. It's a 15-watt "mini espiral" energy-saving lamp, from Barcelona, according to the package. That corresponds to a 75-watt incandescent. On the package there are descriptions for this light bulb in four languages. The English says, and I quote verbatim:
This lamp can substitutes any kind of lamp.
Saves energy: 5 times less than normal lamp.
Long Life: 8 times more than normal lamp.
Do not use this lamp with dimmers or electronic control.
And then only in Spanish, it promises 8,000 hours of life  and affirms that it conforms to IEC norm 969.

Sounds great, and I took it home, hoping for a long and happy life together. But events being what they are, I didn't even think about it until I got into bed that night. I had to climb out again and retrieve it from my bag in my office. Got it out of the package quickly and screwed it in without any problem--that part of changing a light bulb is the easiest.

Well, I could see, but it was eerie. What was wrong? It was such a harsh, white light. Darn! But I could see. Maybe I'll get used to it, I thought. Two days later, though, I gave up, bit the bullet, and said I was going to buy another light bulb. When did buying a light bulb become such a major decision in life?

We were on our way to the Habaneras shopping center anyway, so we stopped--quickly, I thought--in the AKI home improvement store and looked at light bulbs. I had the package, though not the bulb, from my previous purchase. We looked and looked, much longer than I had thought would be necessary. There must have been 25 rows of light bulbs there and those are only the ones that looked like they would fit my lamp. All of them were Larga Duracion (long lasting) and Bajo Consumo (low energy consumption) and all of them were Espiral (spiral). That's what was in large letters. I had to squint to read any other characteristics, and so did Johannes.

It felt like a crap shoot, but finally we spied what I thought was the telling phrase: Luz Calida (warm light). That was in maybe 6-point type, whereas all the other information was in 12 or 14. But that at least addressed the issue that was wrong with the first purchase. I decided to take a chance on that, paid my 10 euros (about US $15) and took it home.

It's right. It's a nice, warm light, but strong enough for reading. 15 watts, which this brand, from Valencia, says is equivalent to 56 incandescent watts. Descriptions of the product on the back of this package appear in 10 different languages, but they are all printed so small (no more than 6 points) that I can hardly tell what the language is, let alone read any of the ones I might understand. In addition to the warm light from this bulb, there is a design advantage: it is shorter than the first bulb I bought and the original one I replaced, so it does not stick out beyond the end of the lamp. How lovely! That must be what "espiral micro" means, as opposed to "mini espiral." But it only promises to last 6,000 hours, rather than the 8,000 of the white-light bulb--six times the life expectancy of a "normal" light bulb.

And what indeed is "normal" in a light bulb anymore? This morning I read that as of September 1 (that was yesterday) it is forbidden within the European Union to manufacture incandescent light bulbs. So what are the packages going to compare their contents to in the future? CFLs (Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs) are the new normal.

Maybe I will remember some of the information I have acquired when the next time comes to change a light bulb. But that should be about 6,000 light hours from now, so maybe I won't. On the other hand, I've been noticing that the overhead light in my office seems awfully dim lately ...

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, July 1, 2012

Key Issues

I've been meaning to write about locks and keys and security in Spain for a long time, but now that circumstances have forced me into being the one in the family who locks the locks, remembers the keys, and worries about security, it's time.

All houses in Spain, I believe, come equipped with numerous locks and keys. There are four locks between the inside of our house and the sidewalk in front, a space that I can traverse in about a dozen footsteps.  First there is the lock for the wooden front door. Then there is the lock for the wrought iron grate, or grille, that protects the front door. On the other side of the grate is the sunroom, formed on two sides with sliding glass doors. There is a lock for one of the sliding doors, too, which needs to be used when leaving the house. Then when you walk down two steps and over the tiled terrace, you pass through the metal gate that separates our terrace from the public sidewalk, where the car is usually parked. That gate has a lock and key, as well. That's four.

We lock all four locks every evening before retiring for the night, and when I am going to spend the afternoon upstairs in my office, I make sure the gate and the grate are locked. The sunroom door has to stand open enough so Goldie can wander in and out, and the front door itself has to stay open or ajar so she can find her way all the way inside the house. Goldie hates to get stuck on the wrong side of a locked door--the wrong side being whatever side she is on.

Goldie leaving for a stroll. Photo Copyright 2012 Johannes Bjorner.
Although four doors are locked at night only three have to be unlocked in the morning, but you can guess who is the first one demanding that the doors be opened. It used to be that we opened the back, kitchen, door to let Goldie out for her morning inspection tour. There we could leave the protective grate shut and locked--we have told Goldie that she can get as fat as she wants as long as she can still squeeze between the bars of the grate. Two petty break-ins in the neighborhood recently encouraged us to have a deadbolt installed in the back door. It's such a pain to unlock both the deadbolt and the regular kitchen door lock that now what I usually do is open the front doors instead. That means unlocking the front door itself and the front grate, as I am not thin enough to slide between its bars. All those locks have to be opened and shut with keys, but the side sliding door in the sunroom can be unlocked from the inside by removing a round center bolt that prevents the two adjoining sliding doors from sliding. I've decided that at 6:00 AM anyone prowling around will probably not notice that the side door is ajar--and if they do, they are probably too big to slide through the bars, too. After Goldie springs out, I can retrace my steps, lock the front grate and push the front door to where it is slightly ajar, and have a cup of coffee or return to bed to read, or both.

What with marble and tile floors, no wall-to-wall carpeting, stucco walls, no insulation to speak of, and tile roofs, there is little flammable material in most houses in Spain, so my fears of having to use four keys to get out of the house in event of fire are somewhat allayed. Still, we keep a second set of keys inside the front door, with the three keys we need to get out (the sun room key only works from the outside, so we don't need an extra for that). This extra set saves me from going up and down stairs a hundred times a day to the purse where I try to always keep my keys, except when they are in my pocket. I don't keep my keys in my pocket all the time because they are too bulky and because, in spite of extreme vigilance and determination for several years, I have still managed to buy a few pairs of pants without pockets, or without serviceable pockets.

Car keys are also a trial. We have two sets of car keys. Since I am usually the secondary driver, my key is the one that does not have the automatic door opener and lock. My key just opens the door--and only the door on the driver's side, I discovered to my dismay--and the trunk. By hand, by inserting key in lock; not remotely. I keep this key on my master key ring, which is another thing adding to the bulk.

Since I've graduated to being major car driver for a period of time, I have appropriated the main car key. This is a separate key ring that contains the key that can be used to open any one or all car doors remotely. There are only three buttons on the remote, but I still hit the wrong one sometimes and lock the car when it is already locked, or open the trunk when I don't want to. Heaven only knows what I would do if we had a device that rolled the windows down or turned on the air conditioning automatically.

Getting ready to leave the house for morning errands or an outing has become an activity that can take several minutes. First I have to make sure that I have both sets of keys--the house keys and the car keys. I go out to the car and move it to the optimum curbside position, where the walker can stand steady at not too much of a slant. The weather has been hot, so I generally leave the keys in the ignition, power down the front windows, and turn on the air conditioning. Then I return to the sunroom and help the patient with his walker out the door, across the terrace, and into the car. Fold up the walker and stuff it in the back seat. Return to the house with my own set of house keys and shut the front door, lock the front door, shut the grate, lock the grate, shut the sunroom door, lock the sunroom door (but leave the side door open for Goldie), and shut the gate and lock the gate. Then I get in the car and try to remember to stop at the recycling station with one of the bags of bottles, containers, or paper that I have previously stuffed into the car.

Photo copyright 2012 Susanne Bjorner.
Returning, there is also a procedure, with the addition that we usually stop first at the mailbox, where I use one key to open the master mailbox area for the community, and a second to open our private mail box. Then I park along the curb, leaving the patient in the car until I open the gate, the sunroom, the grate, and the door--where all too often I find that Goldie has gotten herself locked on the wrong side of the closed door. Then the patient hops in, and I go out to move the car, lock the car, close the gate, lock the gate, leave the sunroom open for the cat, and close the grate and lock the grate. We usually leave the front door open until after we have had lunch, and then we push it to just ajar, turn on the air conditioning, and settle down for work or siesta. We have had our outing for the day. Goldie is the only one (we hope) who can elude the locks and come and go as she pleases.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Heavy Lifting

Most marriages or other partnership living arrangements, I suppose, evolve in time to a point where each of the partners has his or her own household duties. Some partners talk about the issues of who does what for the common good and make decisions, I am told; others just drift into it. We may have been in the first category at some time--it's been so long I can hardly remember--but if so, we are certainly also in the second.

That's why, when I am suddenly called upon to assume the duties of the other partner because of temporary disability, I find myself in the ludicrous position of not knowing basic things. In which of the five or six grocery stores that we frequent is it possible to buy his favorite gaseosa drink? What about his Caesar salad dressing? Is Goldie (the cat) going to accept any old brand of moist food and kitty litter, or do I have to buy that special brand? Where, by the way, do I actually find the two different kinds of waters that we drink, once I have nailed down the right store? We usually split up when we go in to a grocery store, each with a list of our specific items, and meet at the checkout counter.

We each have our separate duties, and the shopping questions are managed mostly by talking them over. Others are not resolved quite as quickly. The first two bags of kitty litter that I bought sat for several days before it finally dawned on me that I had better empty the old and put out the new. The other major issue is driving out to stores; when we first moved to Spain we downsized to no car, because we lived in town and could walk everywhere. Now we live in a neighborhood in the country and we have to drive, so we have a car, but it is one car. And guess who drives it most? Well, he is not able to drive it for a few weeks after the operation, so I am doing the driving. Driving is not a problem for me, though I really don't like having to manually shift down and then up going through the numerous infernal rotaries that we have in Spain, and I am one of those people who doesn't mind driving around the block to avoid making a dangerous left turn.  But it's the parking that is the real problem. I don't like the tiny parking spaces; I don't like parallel parking, especially when the available space is on the left side of the street, and especially when it is on a hill. And I don't like dark, underground parking garages.

All of these little adventures are presenting themselves to me now, and guess what? I am mastering them. But the interesting thing is how many of them involve heavy lifting.Those kitty litter bags are really heavy. So are all the agua con gas one-liter bottles for me, and the gaseosa one-liter bottles for Johannes, and the one-liter milk brick packs. And not only is each of these items heavy, it used to be that we were two to carry in the groceries, but now we are just one. Plus it's not just carrying in groceries, it's also carrying them out, in the form of recyclables. I have a lovely six-bottle canvas bag from Meijer that we use to recycle the wine bottles, herring glasses, and occasional other containers, so that doesn't get too heavy. The Cambridge nylon bag that we use to stuff plastic beverage, salad dressing, and other envases in doesn't get heavy. And the bag that we use to collect paper doesn't get very heavy. But I found myself at the neighborhood recycling station this morning with a very sturdy carton that had held six bottles of wine. and I realized that there was no way that I could break down that carton without breaking down at least one finger nail. So I brought it home again. Johannes broke it down with five strong swipes of his hands, and I deposited the sides and bottom in the bag that I will eventually take back up to the paper recycling station.

Then, of course, there is a certain amount of additional lifting, of extra laundry, of rolling up the carpets when they were in the way, of moving things from upstairs to downstairs, of the walker, and chairs in the house, and the wheelchair, and even occasionally of the person. And did I mention  the watering can and hose that I use to feed the upstairs and downstairs gardens at least every second day--never a job that was on my list before.

Which all goes to show that it is easy to forget those tasks that the other person in a partnership performs on a regular basis, simply because they get done on a regular basis, by habit, and they don't get announced. So now I can say thanks, dear, for taking care of so many things that I never realize that you do.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Three Weeks Later

What a difference three weeks makes! I came back to Spain this past Friday and suddenly it is summer. It is not overly hot yet, but when I left the first day of May, I was still alternating between summer and winter clothing, with the result that a box of winter clothes is still sitting in the room that I use for office, personal space, and walk-in closet. When I arrived Friday afternoon I was too warm in my long travel pants, and when I got up Saturday (not until 11:00 AM) I immediately donned the lightest pair of capri pants that I own and one of the lightest sleeveless blouses.  I have not been uncomfortable in comparable garb since, and this afternoon I moved the last of the winter nightclothes to that box, though the box still sits in the room, not yet on its way to the "attic."

This morning at the Sunday Zoco market I was glad for the sun visor I had bought at Meijer while home, and we sat in the sun and enjoyed the breeze and a café con leche, or white coffee, since it was at our favorite Zoco English café bar, where you can still get one for a euro. All the clothing stalls were selling new summer-weight styles, and the produce stalls were featuring cherries, various melons, and other summer fruit, strawberries being almost a thing of the past. The tomatoes are looking and tasting good again, and I found some potatoes that seem acceptable, although the vendor of my favorite French tiny potatoes says he can no longer get them. But I bought only the basic food items and hardly stopped to look at clothing, because what we really were there for today was to meet with the vendor of mosquito netting.

While I was gone, the "mozzie" experts had come out to measure our windows for the metallic frame easy-on, easy-off screens that we are finally going to get this year so that we can open the windows to get a cross-breeze without letting in oodles of flies and mosquitoes. It all seemed doable and not even terribly expensive, but I still wasn't sure how they were going to put a screen on the upstairs terrace door that I would be able to negotiate while carrying a load of laundry in or out. A nice woman demonstrated the divided curtain with weights and said she would be by again this week to make absolutely sure we were in agreement about which ones we wanted, before she cut and finished them.

Much of yesterday and today I spent in the office part of my room, but I sure didn't need the heat that I had turned on occasionally up until the last week before I left less than three weeks ago. It's too early to need the air conditioning system, but I was mighty glad for the overhead fan that, on the lowest setting, provided just enough air movement to feel fresh. And it didn't hurt that I got up periodically to tend the washing machine on the terrace outside my office. The geraniums that have flourished all winter on the terrace are now on their last legs, and the pansies are looking quite leggy, too, and soon we will have to take a trip to the vivero to find something colorful that tolerates Spanish summers. In the meantime we have hibiscus and oleanders, and the bougainvillea are going mad, as always. My herbs survived my absence, though there are blossoms on the chives and the parsley is going to seed. But the big surprise is that the horseradish that I buried in a pot, which had not even sprouted by the time I left, is now a handsome potted plant of six or more inches. Now I just need to figure out how one harvests horseradish, or, at least, maintains it.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Spanish Street Names

It has been twenty years since I opened a paper that I was presenting to an international conference by speaking in Esperanto. I don't quite remember the exact point I was making, or the quotation that I had gotten translated into Esperanto (through a call for help to a forum on CompuServe, a pre-Internet online service) but it had something to do with electronic networking and standards, and the fact that even if standards are developed, it doesn't do much good unless everyone accepts them more than in name only--they must learn them. Aside from the point of my conference paper, I believe in the value of a language that can be used as a second language by native speakers of any language of the world to overcome communication barriers. Rather than Esperanto, though, I have come to believe in a type of international or global English. But this is a topic for another post.

When I came across this street sign on one side of the main plaza in Callosa del Segura this week, I was overjoyed. Calle del Idioma Esperanto means "Street of the Esperanto Language." The made-up, idealistic language of Esperanto lives, at least by being honored with a street name in a small city in Alicante province in Spain.

Spain honors so many people, ideas, and causes in its street names that it can be a joyful learning experience just to drive through various neighborhoods and see the street signs. (It would be a good idea to have a 3G device with you to Google the names, though, as it is not likely that you will know them all off the top of your head).

Before we moved to where we live now, we seriously considered buying in a section bordered by the Avenida de la Opera. There we could have had our choice of living on Calle Enrico Caruso or Calle Maria Callas or the streets of other opera stars. I have a friend who lives proudly on Emmeline Pankhurst street, surrounded by streets with the names of other important female political figures. There are numerous Dr. so-and-so streets in the business section of Ciudad Quesada where I often look for parking places when I go to the post office, but since these are Spanish-surnamed doctors and the screen on my phone is too small to access the Internet, I have yet to find out who these doctors are.

A few evenings ago I noticed that the main street of one of the major residential areas through which we drive when going to the hospital is the Avenida Asociacion Victimas del Terrorismo. I am all for honoring the victims of terrorism, but I really don't think I want to be reminded of terrorism and its victims every time I give my street address, or every time I come out of my house. So I am glad that I live in a development where the street names were chosen to honor the nature that surrounds us. We have Olive Street, Jasmine Street, Mimosa Street, Eucalyptus Street, Oranges Street (inexplicably the street farthest away from the orange grove), Geranium Street, Mint Street, Lavender Street, Carob Tree Street, and another street called Galan de Noche, a plant I can't find in any Spanish-English dictionary. But they all sound more exotic in Spanish anyway. And we have two avenidas: Avenida del Romero (Rosemary Avenue) and Avenida del Tomillo (Thyme Avenue). Perhaps if we expand we can add some Parsley and Sage.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

A One-Pound Lemon

What can you say about a one-pound lemon? This is the lemon I used to make citron fromage, a Danish dessert, for some invitados to a light luncheon this week. The lemon is shown resting on my kitchen scale--because, of course, as a cook in Spain, I have a scale that is at least as important as teaspoons and measuring cups to follow various recipes. If you have very sharp eyes, you might be able to see that the weight indicator on the bottom right says 458 grams, or more properly, .458 kg. Or maybe it says 453 grams, as I also had a picture of it when the digital scale flashed that number. Whatever, it is just about a pound, depending on how the lemon rolls.

Perhaps the most important thing about this lemon is that it came from the lemon tree in our front yard. Not the one we bought shortly after we moved in, the third we have cultivated, without much success, since we lived in Spain. It came from the tree we discovered the second summer we were here, after clearing out a lot of brush that perhaps had covered up the tree for a year--though I don't think there were any lemons on it to cover up. My personal theory is that it wasn't until we brought in the new lemon tree we had purchased that this lemon tree got pollinated and started to produce lemons. Or maybe it felt threatened, or motivated? Not much to feel threatened about, as the lemon tree that we bought is now smaller than when we bought it, with fewer branches and, so far, no new lemons. Maybe the pollen only blows in one direction.

My best recipe for citron fromage is from Danish Cooking, by Nika Standen Hazelton, published by Penguin Books in England in 1967. When I got it, from a dear friend as a wedding gift, I was just beginning to understand about the great divide in publishing English-language books, i.e., that there are books published in the United States, and there are books published in the UK, and the rights for one geographic area do not extend to the other. The publishing history of my "Penguin Handbook" shows that it was "first published in the U.S.A. by Doubleday in 1964" and that it was "Published, with revisions, in Penguin Books, in 1967." Those revisions, I now know without a doubt, had to do with conversion of the measurement of ingredients to the metric system, as well as revising spelling from American to British, and otherwise adapting from American to UK ingredient names and kitchen practice.

So I have always "translated" when using this cookbook. My recipe contains a penciled note, "1/2 cup," next to the listing for "4 oz. sugar" and a red ink "1 envelope" next to "2 dessertspoons unflavoured gelatin."  I must have always had measuring cups showing ounces, because there is no notation next to "2 fl. oz. cold water"; and "5 eggs, separated" seem to be separated the same on both sides of the Atlantic, though I'll wager that the size of eggs has grown in the past 45 years. The other ingredient that normally would not need any special notation is "juice and grated rind of 2 lemons."

Somehow I didn't think that two jumbo lemons of a pound each were necessary or even advisable. Fortunately I have The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, of about the same vintage as Danish Cooking, but from the U.S. side of the Atlantic. I found a whole section "About Lemons" in its chapter on fruits and fruit desserts. It said that "The juice of 1 lemon makes about 1/4 cup, but yield varies considerably." OK, so I was looking for a half cup of lemon juice, and I didn't really have to be exact.

When I cut my lemon open it looked more like a grapefruit than a lemon. Whether it was authentically a thick-skinned variety of lemon or just overgrown, I don't know. One does not normally give lemons a taste test as you would an orange or mandarin or even a grapefruit. It did have a thick skin and it was large enough that I needed to juice it using the attachment for oranges rather than just the normal lemon juicer. I got 3/4 cup of lemon juice from my one-pound lemon, but that included a couple tablespoonfuls of lemon pulp, so I took out the pulp. Grating the rind of the giant lemon was a bit easier than grating the rind of two normal lemons, but I must say that lemon zesting is not my favorite activity no matter how large the lemon. 

Our guests loved the citron fromage, or Lemon Delight, as it is translated in the Danish Cooking book.  I was pleased with the result myself, especially since the lemon-gelatin mixture did not separate from the whipped egg whites and settle itself in the bottom of the glass bowl, as it can easily do. We still have a few more giant lemons, though our guests took one home for themselves. It filled up about half the space that the bottle of wine they brought us had occupied.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Febrero Frío y Resfriados

At the outdoor Sunday Zoco market this morning, there was a stand selling off the last of its winter sweaters for one euro apiece. I couldn't even get close enough to see whether it was worth trying to get closer. It was a gorgeous sunny day. The breeze was gentle and even though I still had one of my warm winter sweaters on with my long knit slacks over "tights," as the English call panty hose, I had removed the neck scarf that I had donned as a precautionary measure, even though my sweater had a high collar.

Earlier this season I promised myself that I was not going to write this year about the winter temperatures in Spain, where there are uncomfortably cold house interiors, caused by no insulation, no central heating, and the use of tile and marble flooring throughout, instead of wall-to-wall carpet. That promise was easier to keep back in the unusually warm December and early January we had. But that was before an arctic freeze descended over Europe, even down to Spain, in the first week of February. Reportedly this gave us the coldest winter in sixty years, which certainly makes it the coldest I have experienced in Spain. In fact, it seems as cold as many I previously spent in New England, where we had super insulation, central heating plus a wood stove, and wall-to-wall carpet in most parts of the house--but it still felt cold, by my standards then.

So I am not writing about the cold (frío) this year in Spain, but I will note that my husband and I are just now moving toward what we hope are the last stages of the third cold (resfriado) that we each have suffered in less than a single month. Just as we thought we were out of the woods with each of the first two, another came on. This third resfriado has been the worst, with a hacking dry cough and debilitation to the point requiring multiple-day bed rest.

Today dawned dangerously warm and sunny, and after buying local potatoes, tomatoes, raisins, a few very expensive grapes, and a whole kilo of ripe, red strawberries at the market this morning, we sat in the sun with a cafe con leche and caught up on what was happening in the world outside our sick house by browsing a week's worth of free English and Norwegian newspapers. Then we considered whether we should go on to the "This is Spain" home show and expat exhibition that was being held this weekend, I have written previously about these annual or semi-annual shows, and we knew that there we could explore the latest in gas, electric, halogen, etc. space heaters and other gadgets to pump a little heat into the frío of Spanish houses. But we said  "no," since we knew we were at the dangerous point of our resfriados, when it was all too tempting to stay out and enjoy the weather, but that we would probably get over-tired and pay dearly for the false notion that we were cold-free.

Besides, we had already done one big project this year to beat the cold (installing heavy insulated curtains and carpeting in the bedroom) and experimented with one of the halogen heaters to toast up the bathroom (it works but will require rewiring to be really efficient). But speaking of the bathroom, the best thing we did to improve daily warmth was a simple and inexpensive purchase that we had first learned about in New England. We replaced the regular toilet seats with real wood seats. There is not much as uncomfortable as lowering yourself onto a cold toilet seat in a cold room. (Stepping on to a metal bathroom scale gets close, but no one has to do that more than once a day, and not even that often if you don't want to.) The real wood is noticeably warmer, and it's one of those cheap improvements that you remember and appreciate every time you use it.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Denmark vs. Spain

Denmark played against Spain in the semifinals of the European Masters in handball on Friday. It's hard to know who to cheer on when you feel a part of both countries, but the advantage in that situation is that you will be happy for the winner, no matter who it is. I don't think that handball is a major sport in Spain, but it is in Denmark. I learned about it even before I met the Dane who became my husband and adopted the country by default over the years--I had a Danish gymnastics teacher my freshman or sophomore year at college, and she taught us Danish handball. Everyone at the Danish club petanca games on Friday was talking about the upcoming match, and we curtailed our last game so that we could all get home and watch the match on TV.

But which TV? We get Danish television at our home in Spain and have ever since we moved here. Seven years ago we started paying a little less than 300 euros annually for the license for the two public stations in Denmark, DR1 and DR2. This is about what Danes in Denmark pay for the same service, though there are now a few commercial stations, with advertisements, that they get for free. Our service in Spain does not offer the commercial stations or the regional stations, and it would be nice to have those, but by and large, the two public stations are enough to help me maintain my Danish language ability, keep us informed about what is happening in Denmark, and provide a known European perspective on what is happening in the rest of the world. What started as an affordable luxury has become a somewhat more expensive necessity, however, as the charge has risen to over 350 euros per year and the dollar (which is what my income is paid in) has decreased in value. I would feel better about the increase if we had access to the main commercial channel, which is the one that was carrying the handball game, of course.

Spanish television also carried the match, but we are still "sorting out" our access to Spanish TV, as our English neighbors say. It has now been over a year since we were advised that by law, all urbanizations in Spain had to provide access to Spanish-language TV, even if only foreigners lived in the houses in the neighborhood and even if they did not want Spanish TV. We did want it, and we have been advised that the cable already in the street carries the signals. But something has gone amiss in the cable in our street or between the street and our house, and the person who can presumably figure this out is not coming until next week. So we get only a couple regional Spanish stations (of poor technical quality) through the main satellite we have, the one that brings us BBC World, Bloomberg, CNN, MSNBC, and a whole host of German stations.

So we watched the game on German TV. You can understand most sports programs even without understanding the narration, but it was a little irritating to hear the German voiceover drowning out Danish and Spanish when the mike was allowed into the respective teams' strategy confabs. It was an exciting match, and very close. Denmark won by a single point. Later Friday evening, in a match that showed the evolution of the new Europe, Serbia won over Croatia. Denmark meets Serbia in less than an hour, and we will be watching again on the German station.

Postscript: Denmark beat Serbia in Serbia for the world championship of handball!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Requiem for a Palm

We lost a palm tree this week. It's the one in the center of this picture, just outside the sunroom where we eat lunch each day. It looks like what may be called a pineapple palm in the U.S, due to its rough, triangular-shaped pieces of bark and trunk that look like a pineapple. Like thousands of other palms of its type here in Spain, this has been attacked by a red beetle, or weevil. It had been on the danger list for over a year, with regular observation by a palm specialist from Elche, the nearby city of palms. This Tuesday when he came at noontime, he told us he would be back after siesta to take it out.

The beetle eats the trunk from the inside, but it takes months before outward signs of the disease appear. Yesterday our palm specialist encircled the trunk in his arms and shook it--and was able to move the trunk from side to side as much as if it were shaking in an earthquake. It was obvious it had to go.

We went out to do some shopping in the afternoon, planning to be back by the 6:00 hour that he had promised to return. When we drove into the street at 5:30, however, a huge truck and crane were in front of the house, and they were just lifting the tree off its shaky mooring, over the balustrade, and loading it, roots and all, into the disposal truck. The truck had a logo on it: Esperanza (hope).

We have been doing a lot of pruning and thinning out of the vegetation around our house since we bought it. It had been landscaped from bare nothing by a wonderful English gardener when first built 13 years ago. But that's one piece that we didn't want to thin out. There is a hole there now, and though the space is not large and can be replaced with something else, it can't be replaced with that particular type of palm, and I will miss it.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Decorating for Christmas

It's hard to decorate for Christmas when you have two masons with all their equipment building an arch in the main downstairs area of your house. Before the arch came there was an incongruous plywood board at the top of the wall in the ten-inch deep passageway between the dining room and living room. Painted a brownish orange color, the board extended about a foot in each direction beyond the five-foot wide passage and was about ten inches in height. The same construction appeared on the "other" side of the passage; that is, you could see it from both the living room and the dining room. It was boxed in at the bottom. Maybe it was meant to look like a rough natural timber in a timbered ceiling. It didn't. Nor did it serve any functional purpose, we were convinced, as it sounded hollow when we knocked on wood.

We investigated other houses in our neighborhood and they all had such a structure. The aesthetics didn't seem to bother anyone we talked with. Some houses had a wallpaper border at the top of the wall, just below the ceiling, leading to and from this construction, and that made it look less out of place. Probably our living and dining rooms had had the same trim when first constructed, but any remnants of a border were long gone, and our walls were a clean, cream-colored "drop" paint finish from floor to ceiling.

In late fall our holiday-only neighbors had some construction work done on their basement, and they asked us to observe the process and report by email, as the builder could only do the work while the owners were scheduled to be at home in England. That was how we found our master builder, an immigrant from Bulgaria. It turns out that he has worked on an awful lot of the houses in our neighborhood in the ten years since they were first built and since he has been in Spain.

Christo assured us that the passageway box was empty, not load-bearing, and he liked the design that Johannes had planned for replacement: a curved archway built of and supported by brick. He could do the work any time, but we had house guests in November and early December. So that is how it came to be that only ten days before Christmas, instead of arranging Christmas decorations, we were draping plastic over the chairs and television in the living room, removing bookcases, tables, and lamps, and generally making a mess. The displaced furniture had to go somewhere, and the men had to have space in which to work, so that pretty much rendered the dining room useless. They came at 9:00 Thursday morning, removed the old structure, and placed the brickwork on either side of the doorway. Friday they built the temporary white support for the top arch, and put in the arch itself. The whole thing needs to dry over the weekend, and Friday evening we carefully uncovered two chairs and two small tables so we can sit in the living room and enjoy some weekend television, a glass of wine, and the gas fire, which we need for warmth.

Tomorrow they are supposed to show up to do the final mortar work between the bricks, "drop" paint the wall area above the archway, remove the three steel rods and white plywood that currently are holding up the top bricks, and clean up. I think it's more than a one-day job. I figure that by Wednesday, the 22d, I'll be able to get my Christmas decorations in order in those two rooms. I'm scouting around for an archangel.