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Showing posts with label Montebello. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Montebello. Show all posts

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Packing Up

I sit in a mess of packing boxes, piles of stuff, things on and off shelves, and notes. We are in the second week of packing the most important things from this home of almost twelve years that we want to take back with us to Cincinnati. Monday morning--was that only yesterday?--we took ten boxes down to the Mailboxes, Etc. store to have them sent back to us via FedEx, which we have determined costs no more per box than an equivalent piece of luggage as extra baggage on a transatlantic flight. At the time, we thought we were almost done. Not so. I have since packed four boxes of kitchen and dining articles, winter and dressy clothing, and cookbooks and Spanish books, and I still have three big boxes of summer clothes and bed linens, professional books and papers, and "miscellaneous," I estimate, to pack tomorrow.

I have moved several times in my life, not always by choice, and I always dread it. But I thought that the decision-making about what to pack, what to throw away, and what to give away would not be too difficult this time. After all, we had decided to sell the house furnished, and not just furnished, but "move-in ready." So we planned on leaving not only furniture but dinnerware, cutlery, linens, pictures on the wall, even books and office articles--sorted, of course, so that only the functional remained and not the sentimental or worthless junk that tends to accumulate through time and neglect. And we had lived in our new home in the U.S. for more than four months, established ourselves and created an attractive and functional home, and bought the practical things we needed, so we certainly would not be tempted to pack the immersion blender, or the plates and dishes, or the sheets and pillows and table linens, or any of many other things, particularly since many of the things in this house are from Ikea and we only live 15 minutes from Ikea in Cincinnati. We would only have to transport back, we thought, those few items that had sentimental value, or that we might not be able to replace easily in Cincinnati...Danish language books and DVDs come to mind.

Well, I underestimated the amount of clothing that I value. Perhaps I underestimated the number of things that I have purchased in a dozen years here, but the greater problem, I think, is that I underestimated the number of items from the US that I have laboriously packed in my checked baggage or carry-on luggage and transported to Spain during my twice-yearly visits back home. I have now packed up a box of 15 pairs of shoes. I have saved  three pair of boots and shoes and slippers out to wear during the homeward journey (via a side trip of a few days in Copenhagen, which presents its special wardrobe challenges) and I am leaving several pairs here. I haven't sorted my handbags yet, nor my jewelry. And it was only today that I approached my Spanish language books and my cookbooks. I awoke this morning and realized that there were ten or more small items of family mementoes that I keep on the shelves at the foot of my bed: art treasures I made for my grandmothers in elementary school, opera glasses of an old family friend, now deceased, the wooden pipe stand my father-in-law made for my father, a box that a friend here brought me from her trip to  Cuba. We want to finalize the shipment boxes tomorrow or Thursday, and the Mailboxes Etc. store has run out of boxes! We have only three boxes left and I am now at the point where they all are planned and I am slipping small items into each as I find space--the normal accounting and valuation for customs has become somewhat lax.

One of the hardest things has been to sort the remaining items. They can stay and be sold with the house, or they can be given away to charity--we don't really have time to sell them via auction or advertisements, except for the car. I find myself confused because I come across an item that so-and-so would love, or that is perfect as a gift for another so-and-so. So I now have several bags  with name labels on them, which I am filling up with steak knives, Christmas decorations, books, small clothing items, or other household decorations that seem right for a specific person, and I just hope that we have the opportunity to see them and deliver the items before we leave on Saturday. If not, I guess, they will go back into an appropriate place in the house, or possibly in a tiny vacant space in our luggage, though those spaces are few and far between. I hope that doesn't happen, as it gives me pleasure to think of our friends using things that they have enjoyed in our home after we are gone, as it gives me pleasure to think that the buyers of our house--whenever they materialize--may enjoy some of the things that made our life pleasurable while we were here.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

It Feels Like Home

We have been away from our home in Spain for almost five months, but we arrived back in Madrid this past Monday, took the cercanias train from Barajas airport to Atocha station, got on the long-distance train southeast out of Madrid, and arrived in an expanded and refurbished Alicante main train station mid-afternoon to weather that was warmer and sunnier than Madrid, and much warmer and sunnier than the Cincinnati we had left on Sunday. From the Alicante terminal we wheeled our suitcases across the street to the car rental place, and soon we were driving the familiar route back to our house in Algorfa.

It has been a busy week of reacclimating ourselves to the time zone--six hours earlier than east coast United States time--and there have been many sleepless nights. But the days have been filled with the little rituals of our life here, as well as preparations for the bittersweet task at hand: readying the house to put it on the market.

This morning we took our traditional Sunday morning tour of the Zoco outdoor market, buying raisins, almonds, and prunes at the frutos secos stand for our breakfast, carefully selecting several small but really red and hopefully fresh tomatoes, scooping up the recent Norwegian free newspapers (we had already rounded up most of the free English papers during the week), and having a cafe con leche and people watching at our favorite outdoor cafe bar. We also saw three of our favorite couple friends from the Danish club and promised to talk more the coming week at Tuesday and Wednesday petanca, which we had not felt energetic enough to go to in the first two days after the transatlantic trip.

Speaking of transatlantic, I enjoyed discussing the book TransAtlantic, by Colum McCann, with my book group buddies on Wednesday morning. We had a longer and deeper discussion than many we had had in the past. I will really miss these women, individually and as the group they have become and will remain even though I won´t be present. On Friday we met other friends for coffee in Algorfa center at Badulake restaurant after their weekly Spanish class, the one I used to also attend, and where one of my classmates had happened to mention casually a couple years ago that her husband was American...and we have enjoyed each other ever since. On Monday evening we had a meal with good friends and neighbors in our Montebello community, taking pleasure in their company and the fact that Monty´s is again open under new management, with an excellent chef--and working Internet, which we also took advantage of. Our own Internet connection, we discovered, was dangling by a thread (of microwave antenna) after a severe storm last month, but it got repaired on Wednesday within 24 hours of reporting it and we were once again able to send email and load web pages--and live normally.

We did much more during the week, and we had the interesting experience of feeling that there had not been many changes, and that it seemed like just yesterday or last week that we had also been here. It still feels like home, or it again feels like home. We will really enjoy seeing more of our friends and remembering the wonderful experiences we have had living in this area for more than five years. And now, off to lunch with some friends who we also knew in our first home in Spain, in Roquetas de Mar, ten years ago. We have a lot to talk about.

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.

What I'll Miss (Lo que voy a echar de menos)

Lo que voy a echar de menos (literally, I believe, "that which I would least throw out") was a Spanish expression that took me years to grasp, but I understand it now, and I am thinking about several things that I will miss during the months that I will be away from Spain.

Friends, of course, first of all. We have been in Spain for ten years and in the Torrevieja area of the Costa Blanca for five, and we have benefited from close association with several people with whom we have shared daily experiences and the adventure of living in a foreign country. In different ways, they have broadened our lives and helped us learn. We are grateful, and we will miss them.

Café con leche, both its rich taste and the ceremony of having a single cup of coffee, served in a china cup, almost anywhere and anytime. I remember once coming through Madrid's Barajas airport early in the morning from the U.S., and having to wait hours for a connecting flight to Alicante. As I sat in the semi-conscious stupor that follows an all-night transatlantic journey I heard a racket that I could not identify until all of a sudden I remembered: it was the sound of coffee cups being prepared and served. Café con leche in Spain is a far nicer experience than Starbucks anywhere.

The Sunday outdoor market, which we have just come from and where we usually go each Sunday morning to buy fruits, vegetables and nuts; to pick up copies of the free weekly foreign newspapers; to look at books and clothing and gadgets of ever-evolving description (this is where I first found a stylus for my iPad for just two euros; today I was tempted by a three-euro cava stopper that preserves the bubbles after opening and is liquid-tight to prevent spillage should the opened bottle land on its side); and, of course, to have a café con leche.

Hanging the laundry. I am aware that in many--perhaps most--parts of the U.S. it is forbidden by ordinance or custom to hang laundry outside to dry; the idea, I guess, is that it is unsightly--though it certainly is energy-efficient. I didn't hang laundry out when i was in the U.S. previously and I didn't hang it out when we lived in a second-floor apartment in Roquetas de Mar. In the two houses that we have lived in on the Costa Blanca, however, I have used the terrace for one of its primary purposes in Spain. I have learned the advantages and disadvantages of wooden and plastic clothespins, the value of hanging garments inside out and changing their orientation from time to time. More importantly, perhaps, I have adjusted to the light exercise of bending and stretching and the joy of using the hanging out and taking in of laundry as a welcome break in computer work or reading. Where we are moving to I will use a tumble dryer, as it is called here, much more often than the once-in-a-blue-moon that I use the one that sits gathering dust beside my washing machine here.

The six-hour time difference.  Before we moved to Spain we lived in the Eastern time zone of the U.S. We are going back to the Eastern time zone, although to its western extreme. It can be inconvenient to make phone calls to the U.S. when there are six hours of time difference between you and the person or office you are calling. We have also had to get used to watching the PBS Newshour broadcast the evening before in the following morning, and the like. But there are some advantages to the time difference, the major one for me being that I could be at my computer in the morning hours and have accomplished almost a full day's work by the time my Connecticut colleagues got to their desks. That gave me a "home court advantage" as well as the freedom to be even more flexible in my scheduling. Life is going to be different when I return to "real time."

Petanca. It is the Danish community in the Costa Blanca that introduced us to the game of petanca, and almost without exception we have played petanca once or twice a week during the time we have been here, if not with the Danes, on our own. There is a petanca association in the U.S. but so far we have not found much promise of a club close to where we will be. We are, however, thinking about places where we can draw a petanca field of our own. And we have determined that we can buy petanca balls--far too heavy to transport--at Brookstone.

The sun. The sun, and the light it brings, is one of the factors that brought us to Spain. We have never been "beach people" who sat in the sun for hours in the summertime, but we did live in New Hampshire and in Denmark, two places where there is far less sunshine than in Spain. We knew what long hours of darkness for days on end do to you psychologically, and we suspected--and have now experienced--what days of light do to you psychologically: they make you much happier, or at least more cheerful and content. What I didn't know was the damage that strong sun can do to your body; now that I have had a long bout with an inconvenient skin cancer and some eyesight damage, I am more cautious about walking outside during the daytime, and a bit of the fun of being in this climate is gone. Still, I can't blame Spain for any of my health problems, as genetics and long years of accumulated carelessness certainly played their part--though I do like to imagine that perhaps I wouldn't have wrinkles in some of the places that I do if I hadn't been here.

Spanish classes. I sorted through many of my Spanish class books and papers recently, which I have accumulated from attendance at five different formal language schools. I am taking a couple books to the U.S. and fully intend to continue studying the language--but I acknowledge that I have said that before. It's a poor language teacher who lets you study language in a vacuum, and I am pleased to say that only one of my schools--and I wasn't there long--failed to enhance language lessons with tons of information about the culture of this country and generous sharing of personal viewpoints. I will miss my teachers, as well as many of the other students.

The international community. In Roquetas we lived in the center of a Spanish town and had a piso in an all-Spanish apartment building. There was an urbanization on the outskirts of town--quite a large one with several hotels and vacation houses. This is where Spaniards from Madrid and the interior would come for holiday, as well as a fairly large number of British people. Here on the Costa Blanca, in contrast, I live in Europe primarily and only incidentally in Spain. Many of the towns and villages number more non-Spaniards than Spaniards in their official residence figures, and often the non-Spanish fail to register. A large majority of the international community are retirees--I call this the "Florida of Europe"--but with (officially) easy mobility from country to country within the European Union, a number of young and middle-aged people come to set up business and raise their children. Though the financial crisis has had a demoralizing effect, the international community remains vibrant, strong, and large. I expected to learn about Spain when I came to Spain, but I didn't expect to learn about England, Scotland, Ireland Wales, Belgium, the Netherlands, Russia, Norway, South Africa, and more. I have.

Finally, food. In addition to café con leche (the beverage and the ritual), there are a certain number of foods, that I will miss. As I think about these, I realize that most of them fall under the category of "convenience foods." Though I love to cook, I do not love to cook every day, and I am a great believer in having something appetizing and nutritious in the freezer for a quick dinner. Here's what I am going to have to find substitutes for:
  • Chicken Kiev: two frozen Kiev bundles; they take just 30 minutes in the oven; from Iceland, the British Overseas grocery.
  • Salmon: two frozen individual servings; even less time in the microwave; from Lidl and Consum, but cheaper in Aldi.
  • Little, round, frozen potato balls; 15-20 minutes in the oven; formerly from Mercadona but discontinued; I finally found a substitute at Iceland. I have also had these pommes noisettes in Denmark, but I have never seen them in the U.S.
  • Creamed spinach, frozen; four minutes in the microwave, and both the spinach and the "cream" tablets come in small individual balls so you can shake out just the number you need from the freezer bag; Mercadona.
  • Frozen chopped spinach without the cream; available anywhere  in small blocks or balls the size of dishwasher soap tablets so you can use just what you need instead of opening a 10-ounce box. I shake out a few to add to rice, soup, omelets, pasta sauces, or just about anything, including adding more spinach to the creamed spinach above.
  • Salteado de patata, or "Spanish biksemad" as we call it in our house. A bag of frozen diced potatoes, Spanish tortilla, ham bits, peas, and red pepper, that you sauté in olive oil for seven minutes, adding mushrooms or other vegetables if you feel like it, and poach an egg for the top. Mercadona.
  • Canned tuna in olive oil. I add this to our lunchtime green salad: no salad dressing necessary. Available in any grocery store in Spain. You can also get canned tuna in water or sunflower oil, but why?
  • Gazpacho. The classic cold red pepper-tomato soup from Andalusia, available only in the summer time, when you can buy it ready-made in the refrigerated section at most grocery stores. I'll have to use my recipes the rest of this season.
  • Snacks for when I wake up in the middle of the night. Dried garbanzo beans are my favorite savory; inexpensive and nutritious. The slightly sweet "biscuits," packaged singly, that are given out as an accompaniment in many coffee shops when ordering just a café con leche, are my favorite sweet. They are tiny and just enough to satisfy my craving.
And though I promised not to take food back with me on this trip, I admit that in my suitcase I have stashed sachets of saffron, a couple envelopes of dried asparagus and cream of nine vegetables soup, two small packages of vegetable and pumpkin bouillon cubes, some of the dried white fava beans for fabada, and a couple spice blends. 

People, atmosphere, activities, food. Although I will miss all these, with luck we will return early in 2015 and encounter them again.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter Weekend

It's Easter Sunday, and the holiday weekend started early with a traditional tapas run on Friday afternoon. I have written before about  tapas in the town of Los Montesinos and how odd I thought it was that they always have their tapas festival start on Good Friday. It seems somehow sinful to loll around in the sun all Good Friday afternoon, drinking and eating delicious morsels, and not something I would have expected in a Catholic country. But this is modern Spain, and somehow, in what I believe is the fourth time I have participated in this ritual, the sun always seems to be out on Good Friday afternoon in Los Montesinos.

This year we went with another couple and visited seven bars, acquiring six stamps from the establishments (the first bar was the one where we forgot to ask for a stamp, but we soon got in our stride), which qualifies us to vote on our favorite tapa. My favorite was a vegetable-seafood kebab, with three pieces of seafood, including a delicious shrimp, and three or four slices of vegetables, including a button mushroom. The kebab had been grilled with olive oil and came balanced on a nice slice of fresh French bread to absorb the excess oil. It seemed like none of the tapas were as gourmet as they had been in the past, but they were tasty enough and plentiful enough to supply lunch in the four hours that we spent moving from place to place down the central and one side street of town, to the plaza, and then back up another side street. Along the way we discussed the history and politics of southern Africa with our friends (who had lived in three countries in Africa), immigration and emigration, racial relations in several countries, past and current insurrections, resistance, and unrest, and various other problems. We didn't solve any of the world's problems, but we enjoyed sharing viewpoints and our experiences. At the sixth bar our friends met other friends of theirs, and we all moved on to Dos Hermanos, where several animated conversations continued, now with seven people, and we may have achieved the decibel level of the typical Spanish conversational group.

I slept well Friday night, which was good, because we had to get up early to appear on the petanca playing fields for our urbanization's annual petanca tournament. We have participated before and sometimes this can turn into not just an all-day affair, but one going into the night. This year we adapted the rules and played the games of the early levels of the tournament to only 7 points instead of the traditional 13. You had to win two out of three games to advance to the next level. We did, three times, and fortunately we were able to win all those in two games without having to play the third.

By the time we got to the semifinals, however, we were playing to 13 points, and the competition got tougher. The sun was also getting hotter as the hands of the clock rounded 12:00 and then 1:00, without a break for anything more than coffee, water, and chips. We cleared the semifinals and I did take a break to walk home and fetch a different hat--one that would not blow off in the breeze--before we started the final match at a little after 2:00 PM. This round took us all three games, to 13 points. We lost the first game, but we won the next two. Johannes and I are the 2014 champions of the Montebello Petanca Open! Hooray!

Now we permitted ourselves the luxury of celebrating with a beer and more chips while the officials prepared to make the announcements and award presentations. We finally made it home at 4:00, and we were too tired to do much else for the rest of the day. I had hoped to go back to Los Montesinos for another shot at the tapas, but even I couldn't muster the energy.

It was nice to win, and it was even nicer to know that we had gotten some good exercise during the day. And we look forward to using our prize money to purchase a dinner out at Monty's, the local restaurant that had recently closed but is now getting ready to re-open under new ownership and management. Reinvesting the money where it came from;  it will be a pleasure to support our local community.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Pomegranate Pearls

Last year at about this time, a neighbor came over with a small dish containing a mass of red, jellied pearls. She had harvested several pieces of fruit from her pomegranate tree, she said, and this bowl represented the fruits of her labor peeling one of them. I believe this was the first time in my life that I had seen pomegranate fruit in the raw.  It was a very small bowl. I sensed that it had taken more than a little time to retrieve the pomegranate seeds, and I thanked her. After dinner that evening we devoured the unaccustomed dessert with about two bites apiece. It was a strange but pleasant combination of sweet and tart tastes, with an unusual texture. Nice, and I wondered whether the tree in our backyard that we had recently discovered was a pomegranate tree would ever bear fruit.

A year and a severe pruning later, there are no signs of pomegranates on the tree in the back yard. So I was pleasantly surprised this week when another neighbor, while walking home from book club, asked me if I liked pomegranates. She had been given a whole bag of them and there was no way she could use them all. Just the thing for our lunchtime fruit salad, I thought. A few minutes after I returned, there she was again, with three pomegranates for me. She just peeled them in strips, from top to bottom, she said by way of advice, and then scooped the seeds out. She agreed that they would be a nice addition to fruit salad.

I was already late for lunch that day, so it wasn't until the next noontime that I tackled peeling the first pomegranate. And it was only after I did so that I truly appreciated the gift from my other neighbor the prior year. Even I, who normally slices peaches, nectarines, apples and more into fruit salad, skin and all, knew that I didn't want to eat the skin of the pomegranate. I tried to make a slice to enable removal of the skin, but I found it hard to penetrate. So I ignored the advice to peel the skin and simply cut the round globe in half vertically, crown to foot.  In each half, it seemed as though the skin was holding about a thousand barley-sized seeds, all nestled tightly in a red gel in three or four compartments separated by white pith. I assumed that the pith was inedible, and set to digging out the seeds with a little, tiny coffee spoon. It was time-consuming to scoop out the seeds, separate them over the fruit bowls, and pull out the white pith. The pomegranate was only the crowning fruit in the salad that already had chunks of banana, pineapple, red apple, golden plum, and red and green grapes,  so I put away half for the next day and gave us each a quarter of the seeds.

We enjoyed the salad, but the pomegranate's sweetness was distinctive, and the next day I only used half of the remaining half. That provided a nice garnish to the salad, and left the last quarter for Saturday's salad. This Sunday morning, as I contemplated starting to tackle the second pomegranate, I thought, there must be a better way. There is, supposedly. A 2006 NPR story advises slicing the whole fruit into quarters under water, then scooping out the seeds with your hands, still under water. The seeds will sink to the bottom and the peel will rise to the top. You pour off the water and peel, and there you have the pearls of pomegranate, presumably with a little extra diluted pomegranate juice.

That NPR story also mentioned a chicken-walnut-pomegranate main course, Khoreshteh Fesenjan, that is also one of the recipes from the Pomegranate Council, provider of the pictures here. That recipe sounds adventurous, and just maybe I'll use one of my remaining pomegranates to try that. Pomegranates provide three different antioxidants and are one of those superfoods, according to the Pomegranate Council. And after my experience with harvesting the seeds, I can fully understand why pomegranate juice is so expensive in the market.

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, March 10, 2013

Morning Concerts

Most mornings this week I have awakened to the sound of birds singing. Apparently they nest, or flit around, in the yucca trees outside the sliding glass door of the full-height window leading to the French balcony off the second-story bedroom. That window is shaded first (outside) with the aluminum reja--standard equipment in Spanish houses--that rolls down its full length at night, and second (inside) with the voluminous, heavy, floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall curtains that we installed a year ago to try to offset the effects of no central heating and less-than-tight construction (also standard in Spanish houses).

Still the sound comes in. It's a sign of spring, because one day it's there--and you probably don't notice it then--but the second day--that's when you notice it! On that second day this week it started a little before 7:00 AM. I am not a birder, so I can't tell you what birds are singing and what they are signalling. They chirp, and whistle, and tweet. There seems to be a conversation, and sometimes you can mark movement of the songsters, but I am still too much asleep to get up and part the curtains and roll up the reja to see what they are doing. And of course it is sill dark out at this hour, so it wouldn't do much good even if I did feel like getting up.

So I lie in bed and listen to the bird concert, a whole cacophony of sound from different species, presumably saying different things, or the same thing, but disagreeing, or the same thing in their own dialect. Who knows? It is a beautiful sound, and it lasts for 15 or 20 minutes and then it ceases.

Ten or 15 minutes later it starts up again. What has happened in the meantime? Perhaps the sun is approaching the horizon and warnings need to be given. Another symphony erupts and I lie in bed, tapping solitaires, scanning yesterday's headlines of my top ten newspapers from the Newseum, or catching up on reading from The Economist or (recently) The New Yorker. And then, a few minutes later, it subsides. A few precious encores peep through, but after awhile I recognize that today's bird concert is over.

This Sunday morning I woke a little after 7:00 and welcomed the concert again. I was entertained with peeps and chirps and tweets and whistles and songs for 15 minutes, and then the music lapsed. I waited through the intermission, stepping out only for a trip to the bathroom and downstairs to pick up a cup of coffee, but then, back to bed for the second part of my morning concert.

It never came. I did hear a fear tweets and chirps, much like stray instruments tuning up in between sets, but when the clock moved to after 8:00, I had to recognize that this morning I had slept thorough the first act and intermission, and had only awakened for the second and concluding set. Part of what makes birdsong so unutterably beautiful, I think, is the sheer unexpectedness of it. Even though I made a mental note to try to wake up earlier tomorrow morning, therefore, the best thing will be if I wake up not thinking in advance that I want to catch the morning concert, but that I just hear it.

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Many years ago I drove to work early in the morning, leaving my house in Massachusetts before 7:00 AM and driving south along Route 3 and then down Massachusetts Avenue to a parking lot in Cambridge just north of the Charles river. Depending on traffic, it took anywhere from one hour and 15 minutes to 2 hours. I could always gauge my progress early because I listened to the National Public Radio station WGBH, and Robert J. Lurtsema would begin his Morning Pro Musica program promptly at 7:00 with bird songs. I don't think this YouTube rendition is exactly the same thing, but it's a decent substitute.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

First of March

March came in like a lamb where I was in Spain last Friday. It was a big change from the day prior, when I had been sitting calmly in the morning writing a lengthy stream-of-consciousness email at my desk while downloading thousands of emails onto a new laptop at my side and hardly noticing that the pitter-patter of light rain had intensified to a heavy downpour. And then I heard a clap of thunder so sudden and so loud and so near that I looked around to see if we were having an earthquake! We were not, but more earth-shattering thunder followed and then I heard the sound of hail on the roof and the terrace floor outside. This was just at the time that Johannes' piano lesson was finishing, but it would have been inhospitable to send anyone out with ice balls falling and water gushing down the street and overflowing the drains, so I went downstairs and joined Johannes and his teacher for a hot cup of coffee while we waited for the rain to stop, or at least let up enough so she could step out the door to her car.

We sat in the living room with coffee, warming ourselves inside and out with the sight and flames of the gas fire when all of a sudden another clap of thunder came and squeezed out the lights. And as the lights died, so, of course, did all electricity and my heart sank as I felt the email that had been on my desktop screen upstairs flow out into the world of no return, because I had been writing on the hard-wired computer instead of the battery-operated laptop. The gas fire stayed on, but my world was a little dimmer than it had been before. I still have not been able to resurrect the consciousness that had been streaming so prodigiously as I wrote while downloading all those email messages from the past three weeks that I didn't really want, but didn't know how to stop the flow.

The piano teacher did go home within the hour, and Thursday afternoon the weather cleared and waters receded enough so we dared drive out to inspect our surroundings (that low spot in the pavement on our access road that we always forget about until it rains must have been overflowing with water when she tried to drive through it). And on Friday morning the sun rose, and the sky was blue, there were no clouds, and no wind.

At 4:30 Friday afternoon it was a glorious day and I drove out alone to meet an American girl friend for a coffee and a long-overdue chat. We had our choice of cafe bars in the plaza of Los Montesinos but we decided to sit inside at Carl's, because the outside tables were in the shade and we wanted to be in this location so that my friend could easily catch her son when he came down that lane from his music lesson. But we sat at a table just inside the open door and next to a window, so we could watch the afternoon fade and the activity in the plaza while we talked. We had a lot to catch up on, and the conversation didn't stop until 6:30, when I needed to leave to drive home to assemble the dinner menu that I had left at the latest possible stage of pre-preparation. My friend is American, but she keeps a Spanish household, so she could have gone on for another hour and a half before going home to start her dinner preparations.

As it turned out, I left at a very good time. At 6:30 or so I made my way out of town with parking lights on, but as I drove the secondary roads toward home, I flicked on the regular driving lights. The sky changed from cerulean blue to shades of orange and red as sunlight found its way around enormous white clouds and then the sun itself slipped behind a cloud and I turned in another direction, and when I drove into Montebello and parked in front of my house, the beautiful early evening sky was replaced by two-story houses, though the view probably extended for several more minutes out in the countryside.

It was a lovely conversation and a lovely drive home.

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, July 29, 2012

The Beat Goes On...

Did I say last Sunday that, even though we have all-night fiestas with loud music that goes on until 6:30 in the morning, that at least the music only comes on the weekends and never during the week? Yes, I did, and I was wrong.

I found out I was wrong on Wednesday morning. When I woke at a little after 6:00 AM I heard the music again. I had not heard it start and I was not awakened by the music, but it was clearly there after I awoke. Where was it coming from? This time I got dressed, unlocked the front door system, and went out to explore.

I walked along the east side of our development, up toward Monty's Bar. It was closed up tight. When I turned toward the west and passed slightly up the hill toward Bistro Alex, also closed, the music got dimmer. So it wasn't coming from the motorcycle hangout way past the Zoco market in this direction, I figured. I turned north and came down the hill toward our house and by then I could hear faint strains again. But soon after this, the music stopped.

Later on that morning we stopped for a cafe con leche and tostada at La Cata in Benijófar. I asked casually whether anyone there lived in town and had heard the music. "¡Si!" said the bartender; and it turned out he lived in the street right next to the source of the music, which he assured me was in the park next to the colegio [elementary school] in Benijófar. He said the music that morning had continued until 8:00, which was probably about the time that he had to get up to go to work. But he had not been out celebrating, and he told us that the festivities would still be going on for a couple days, and he was moving to his girlfriend's for the duration.

Wednesday, according to my Spanish-Norwegian calendar supplied by the Norwegian newspaper Spaniaposten, was the festival of Santiago Apóstol, the Apostle St. James, who happens to be the patron saint of Benijófar. That had been the reason for the festivities on the night of Tuesday going to Wednesday. As we left La Cata and drove through the plaza toward our home, we heard the church bells ring and saw that the church door was open, a rare occurrence. Apparently by noontime the celebration had shifted toward the more solemn spectrum. We should have stopped to see the inside of the church, which has never been open when we were near it on foot. Alas, we were no longer on foot, and there is no parking place near by, so once more we missed seeing the inside of the church. But we did learn that Benijófar is protected by its patron saint, St. James.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Fiesta Season

It's fiesta season. We don't have loud music and partying every night of the week--only on weekends. Last week the Virgen del Carmen fiesta kept me awake Saturday night. This weekend, the party started Friday night. I didn't really notice it until I woke up at 3:30 Saturday morning. Even with windows shut, I could hear the throb, throb, throbbing of the drums through the loudspeaker of the fiesta that was going on across the highway in Benijofar. I knew it was Benijofar, because we had been there Friday afternoon for a nice luncheon at La Cata, a new restaurant run by the proprietors of Magica Gourmet, and verified that this town's local fiesta began this weekend. We thought it started with a parade Saturday evening, but obviously we were wrong.

By yesterday morning at 3:30 I had already slept several hours, so it was really hard for me to get back to sleep with all that racket going on. At one point I seriously thought about getting up and joining the party, only ten minutes away. However, I just read, and after an hour and a half I felt myself drifting off again at 5:00. The next time I woke up was at 7:00 and all was quiet. Not so this Sunday morning, when I came to consciousness at 6:00. The sound was faint, but I could hear the throb, throb, throbbing of that drum again. I had left the windows open Saturday night in order to catch some cool breezes. There had been no noise when I went to bed, but who knows when it started? The miracle, I guess, was that I had not awakened earlier. At any rate, the sound of the fiesta was much dampened Sunday morning. Had someone pulled the plug on the loudspeaker, or just cut the decibel level in half, or a quarter? Or was this only an echo from the previous night? Or was I just reliving the Friday night party in a dream?

No, the sound was definitely there, though quieter. And it stopped shortly after 6:00 AM, which must be curfew time for all-night fiestas. No wonder Sunday mornings are always ethereally quiet where we live. People have just then gone home and toppled into bed.

There are some who wonder how a country that is in such economic crisis can afford municipally sponsored all-night festivities in every village and hamlet throughout the summer season. And there are those who answer that it is precisely because the country is in economic crisis that the townspeople need to hang on to their traditions by throwing a grand fiesta to honor the local patron saint one weekend each year.

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, 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.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Local Elections

Sunday, May 22 is election day in Spain. As in many European countries, elections are held on Sunday so it is easier for people to find time to vote. I had been looking forward to this day for almost six months, which is when I found out that, as a legal and registered (empadronada) resident of Spain, I was allowed to vote in the local elections. At the time we registered, we were told to check in January to make sure our names were on the voting rolls, just in case.

So in January we took a trip to the ayuntamiento to make sure we were listed. Well, the voting rolls were not up yet. Try next month. In February we tried again, but no lists. In March we asked again when the voting list would be up. "Probably in April," which was a month before the election, and conveniently after the deadline for registering.

At some point around then we gave up worrying about whether we were on the list, because we realized that we had inadvertently scheduled ourselves to be on vacation out of the country on election day. I didn't even dream of going through the rigmarole of pursuing an absentee ballot. I just opted out of the election.

But last week all the free foreign papers carried articles about how to vote on Sunday, and I'm sorry that I will be on a plane before the polls open at 9:00 AM. You go to your polling place (probably the closest school, but if not, check at the town hall and ask your way from there). Once inside, select the paper ballot of the party you wish to vote for. That's right, you don't vote for individuals; you vote one party line. Of course, variety in Spain comes with the number of parties; I have seen ads for four or five, though the two most powerful parties are the PP (Parti Popular) and the PSOE (the Socialists). Foreign residents are only allowed to vote in local elections, which are white ballots. Pink ballots are for the autonomous comunidad election, in which only Spanish nationals can vote.

Once you have selected the paper ballot of your chosen party (and you may have brought one with you that the party had dropped off at your house earlier), you must be very careful not to make any mark on it. No X's, no pen or pencil marks of any kind--if there is a mark, the ballot will be invalidated. You place the unmarked ballot in one of the white envelopes and proceed to an official table, where you present your identity documents: a picture ID, which may be a passport, driver's license, or national identity card (though newer national identity "cards" no longer have a picture on them--go figure).

Your name will be checked against the official voting register for that polling place, and if it is there, you may drop the envelope with the unmarked ballot in the transparent urn on the table. That's it. Polls are open until 8:00 PM.

Our local community has been run by the PP for the last many years, I am told. They did some door-to-door convassing this week and dropped a ballpoint pen and a fan off, together with a sixteen-page glossy brochure voicing their commitment in English to community betterment. We also got one of those pre-ballots in the mail, and on both Thursday and Friday nights a cavalcade of 15 cars, with honking horns and blaring loudspeakers, drove by, exhorting us to vote PP. Almost enough to turn you socialist, or green. It will be interesting to see, when we return from vacation, who has won the election in our small town, and whether much change occurs in municipal services.

In the meantime, on the national scale, young people have been protesting against the current national PSOE government, and perhaps government in general, in Madrid. Now demonstrations have spread to most major cities and captured the attention of news agencies worldwide. The demonstrators are primarily young, because, in a country where more than 20 percent of people are unemployed, but 43 percent of young people are unemployed, they obviously have the time. No doubt I will not need to return to Spain to find out the results of the broader comunidad elections, nor the progress of the demonstrations.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Gasolinera's Tienda

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Settling In

I was home again to our house in Montebello by Tuesday noon this week. The clear and sunny sky that greeted me at the Alicante airport disappeared soon, and we had two gloomy and cold days, and I missed the central heat of houses in the U.S. But on Friday morning the sun came out and warmed the rooftop terrace to above 70 degrees, so I did some laundry and hung it out to dry. When I came home from our pétanque game and a wine-tasting preview that evening, I started another load of clothes in the washer so I could be the first person within view of my rooftop to hang clothes out on Saturday morning. It proved worthwhile--Saturday was as beautiful and warm as Friday had been, and I did two more loads of laundry.

This Sunday morning I opened the bathroom window to enjoy the view and listen to the birds as I prepared for the day. We walked by the orange grove--oranges still on the trees, and brighter orange than a month ago--to our own pétanque playing field in Montebello, and I won two games out of two. Then we went to the outdoor Sunday market (Zoco), which was very crowded today with people out enjoying the sunny weather. Strawberries are coming into season and every produce stall had them, but I'll wait for a week or two until the price comes down and they look a little more ripe, and in the meantime be content with the sweet and juicy mandarins that smell like spring as soon as I thumb one open for our fruit salad at lunchtime. I was comfortable in sandals without socks and just a thin undershirt and linen open-necked blouse--maybe I can put away the turtlenecks and heavy socks I brought back from Ohio with me.

We sat in our sunroom for soup, fruit salad, and two big rundstykker rolls from the Danish baker at the market. Goldie rolled around on the tile floor catching sun rays, and we enjoyed the view of our trumpet plant that is once again blooming, now for the third time since last May. And tried to fathom that people are digging out from 28 inches of snow or more on the mid-Atlantic coast.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Gota Fría

At the end of September, Monday the 28th to be exact, we experienced our first gota fría in the Alicante region, and, according to reports, the worst in this area in twelve years. A gota fría, literally translated, is a cold drop (as in drop of water). In this context it refers to a weather phenomenon in which a cold front meets the warm air rising over the Mediterranean and dumps muchas gotas of agua onto the land below.

When we get rain here, which is not often, it almost always comes very conveniently at night. This time it started on Sunday mid-morning, and continued on and off all that day and night. Monday morning during a temporary "off" period we went out to the grocery store, since the rain the day before had kept us away from the local Sunday market. We bumped into friends at Lidl, decided to go for a cup of coffee, and sat too long inside talking as the rain poured down.

When we left we drove through rain-filled streets with water up to our hubcaps. We made our way slowly towards home, which thankfully sits on higher ground than the surrounding area, but we still had to get through that lower surrounding area. At the roundabout leading from the highway toward Montebello, we encountered more water, a couple cars coming toward us very slowly, and another abandoned on the side of the road. As we rounded a curve, we saw a car up ahead stalled in water up to the windows. We turned around and headed back to Ciudad Quesada, the closest commercial area, to find a more comfortable place to wait until the water went down.

El Bancal restauante was the first dry spot we came to--though the downstairs ladies room was flooded so the mens on the upper level became unisex. We warmed up in the restaurante with a tasty goulash soup and glass of wine. After ninety minutes or so we ventured out again, but only because a man there spoke on his cell phone with a friend in Montebello, who told him that the roundabout at the highway was now cordoned off but we might be able to get in by driving north to the town of Algorfa and then back south to come in "the back way." We did, holding our breath for much of the half hour it took to follow this detour, and arrived at our Montebello entrance intact and with motor still running.

Our house and most of the develoment were weathering the torrent with no problems, though the following day we discovered that a wall surrounding the green rubbish dumping area--adjacent to the back road by which we came--had caved in with the force of the rushing water.

Subsequent newspaper reports said that the torrents brought 100 liters of water per square meter in just four hours. If you don't know exactly how much that is, you are not alone. It is a lot! Hundreds of drivers abandoned their cars, and dozens of people had to be evacuated from their homes. But amazingly after the rains stopped, the water receded rapidly. By the next morning, when we had a 9:00 appointment to have the car inspected prior to its official inpection, we were able to drive out the front road, but the appointment was postponed as garages had more business than they could handle rescuing and cleaning mud-packed vehicles.

The news reports that this was the worst gota fría in twelve years. Also that it was only the first one of the season.