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Showing posts with label driving. Show all posts
Showing posts with label driving. Show all posts

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Coffee to Go--in Spain!

Coffee culture in Spain is, well, cultured. You may be served your cup of coffee in a clear glass or in a ceramic cup or mug, but whichever one it is, it will rest on a ceramic saucer or plate, and you will get a small stainless steel spoon to stir your sugar in, if you take sugar. But before you add sugar, if you are having café con leche, half the cup will be filled with steaming hot milk, rapidly so that a froth develops on the top. If you are in a sit-down cafetería, the combination will probably be made at the table, with the server bringing two pitchers to pour from, one coffee, the other, milk. But even if you are at a stand-up coffee bar, like at a gas station or restaurant along the highway, the barman will likely pour the coffee and the hot milk before your eyes. It's a little ceremony, and it is lovely to drink coffee from a real cup rather than from Styrofoam or cardboard or plastic. And you will drink it where your bought it--coffee to go is just not done in Spain.

On the road to Roquetas, we had driven a half hour after our lunch of tapas and were now ready for coffee, so we pulled off the highway at the sign promising food and drink. The restaurant that we came to was filled--at least the parking lot was overflowing with fifty or more cars. It was, of course, now Spanish lunch time, and we figured that it would take a half hour or more to get served, and then no one would be very happy to give us just a cup of coffee rather than the typical full-course mediodía meal. So we left the restaurant parking lot and drove down the road to the lone gas station, because most gas stations have a coffee bar.

We were out of luck, we saw after walking in: no cafetería, no bar, not even a coffee machine was in view. When we asked the clerk about coffee, however, he apologized for no cafetería and handed us an aluminum can instead. I thought he was going to tell us to pour the contents into a plastic or Styrofoam cup and microwave it, but there wasn't any microwave. He then explained that if we pushed a pop-top on this can and shook it, we would get hot coffee.

Cafe con leche in a self-heating can
This was my first experience with self-heating cans, and I was skeptical. But it was only two euros and we really wanted coffee. It worked almost as well as he said, but fortunately explicit instructions were on the can in Spanish and in English.

1. Remove the bottom lid and press the plastic tab firmly.
2. Wait until the liquid (inside) disappears and steam becomes visible.
3. Turn, shake, and open the can.

We took the can cautiously to the car and followed directions. When we opened it, it was so hot that you could burn your mouth. It would have been nice to have even a Styrofoam a cup to pour it into, but we didn't. The café con leche tasted good, however,. The can stayed hot for almost an hour. I said it was magic, or at least ingenious. Johannes said he knew how it worked and started talking about childhood chemistry experiments. I wondered what chemicals I was drinking. Still , just the thing for camping trips, we said, or just to have on hand in the car for emergencies.

Of course the print on the can was too small for me to read anything, but now I am home and I have read the can and found the website. I am no longer worried about the chemicals and I even know that I can dispose of the can conscientiously in the envases recycle bin. Though drinking coffee "on the street" is counter to the Spanish culture, the Fast Drinks 2GO company says, apparently there is a need, because sales have been good. 2GO gives credit for the idea to an American company, WP Beverage Partners, which it says distributed it through Wolfgang Puck back in 2004. I never saw it there, but I'll check next time I find a Wolfgang Puck at the airport, because this is just the thing to take on board for one of those flights without frills, which they all seem to be these days. You can also purchase in advance from an online store, but I wonder about getting it through security.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

On the Road to Albir

We started out to Albir on Friday this week. It had been a long time since we took a day trip to see something new in this part of the world, and Friday petanca had been cancelled, and I was ready to get out after sending a lot of time at the computer through the week.

Albir is on the Mediterranean coast, north of Alicante and north of Benidorm. We were curious because we knew a lot of Norwegians live there--it seems that every time we read either of the two free Norwegian newspapers, they are always mentioning attractions and services in Albir. We also knew some people who had lived there once, and we wanted to see what it was like.

There is a choice of roads leading north of Alicante, though whether you end up on the free coastal N-332 or the inland toll road, AP-7 (or 70 as it inexplicably is sometimes called on road signs but not on our map), can be a matter of chance rather than choice, at least for us. So it was on Friday, when we suddenly found ourselves at a wide string of toll booths strung across the highway. No matter, we knew we would be driving for another half hour or more, so we didn't mind taking the toll road. Of course, choosing the right lane to go through is always a challenge, because the icons that indicate electronic payment or credit card acceptance or cash or a human attendant are never very clear, especially when they flash in the strong sun. We picked one that looked as though it would have a human attendant, but when we got to the little cabin where we expected to see a human, there was nobody in sight. It took a couple minutes, but then we realized that all we had to do was push a button and take a ticket, just like you do when you enter a parking garage.

And then, 45 minutes later, when we were ready to exit the toll road--at the exit closest to Albir but beyond it, at Altea--we had to once again play the "which lane do we go through? game. We wanted to pay with cash, or if necessary, by credit card, as we don't have an electronic automatic deduction account. We were poised for the lane on the far right--that would be where a human would be, wouldn't it?--but then we saw a car go sailing through, obviously with some sort of sticker being sensed automatically. I looked and didn't see any human--anywhere, in any of the lanes. Oh, well, there was another lane with two cars ahead of us: we would just get in line and watch them closely to see what the procedure was.

The car in front of the car in front of us was having problems. I could see that the driver slipped the ticket into a slot on the left. Then she opened her car door, because apparently she wasn't close enough to reach the money slots, and put a bill in a basket for money on the right side of the toll booth. The basket didn't move. Neither did the lane barrier. Neither did the car. But we did. We backed out...and tried the next lane. I could still see the driver that was stopped. And I thought I could hear a disembodied voice giving her instructions on what to do.

But now we were at the business part of our toll booth. We put the ticket in the slot on the left. Either something flashed or we heard another disembodied voice--I can't remember--tell us that we owed 5 euros and change. Ah, that was the problem, we could see immediately. The other driver had put the 5 euro note into the change basket, which was, of course, unable to sense its value.With the benefit of quite a few minutes of observation by now, we slid the 5 euro note into the slot for bills, which sucked it up immediately. Then we fished around until we found some coins for the centimos that we owed, and threw those into the small basket on the right of the machine. They made a lovely rattle as they went down a chute.

Bingo! The barricade went up, and we never got the disembodied voice giving us instructions, although we did wonder where the voice had come from, whether there was actually a person in one of the ten or twelve lane cabins or whether the voice was completely manufactures. Hopefully we will never have to find out!

Another technological challenge met! We proceeded on our way. But we can't help but think that one way to help the Spanish unemployment situation would be to employ a couple humans at the toll booths.

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, February 24, 2013

Car Culture

I don't pay too much attention to car models and features, but I was really impressed last Sunday evening when our friends lifted the hatchback on whatever car they have, which they had backed into the diagonal parking space adjacent to the seaside promenade in the town of Santa Pola. The back seat of their car had been removed or folded down to form a long expanse level with the floor of the trunk, and on this "table" were a single lit candle, a vase holding a fresh red rosebud, a bottle of cava and four glasses, and an assortment of tidbits that I learned later were roast duck breast on homemade croutons. It was the pre-dinner anniversary surprise that our 45-years-married friends had planned not just for themselves, but for us.

The bottle of cava was uncorked in a jiffy; music suddenly sounded--from the car CD-player, probably--and the anniversary couple obliged us with a dance on the promenade in front of the Mediterranean. Spanish passers-by stopped to watch the festivities, and upon being told the story, wished them enhorrabuena. It was a touching and very festive little celebration. This was the ultimate of tailgating, I declared, and I tried to explain to this not-American couple the U.S. custom of tailgating for sports events. I failed, and I know I will never again think of tailgate parties without remembering this one.

It has been a week of thinking about cars. Ours stopped, or rather, failed to start, right out in front of our house early in the week. The starter turned and choked, but it just couldn't start. Well, it could have happened in a worse place; we just went back inside, waited for 15 minutes, came back out, and our Ford Fusion started fine. No more problems for a couple days, but then one morning we stopped to drop off papers, bottles, and containers at the recycling bins on the other side of our urbanization, and by the time we had emptied the bags and climbed back into the car, it refused once more to start. Well, at least we were home in our own development, so this time we pushed the car to the curb, locked it, and walked the four short blocks home.

We had been meaning to get it to service anyway--we knew we needed new refrigerant for the air conditioning--so it suddenly seemed as though making the appointment sooner rather than later would be a good idea. When we went up to the bins after an hour's rest, and once again it started up easily, we drove straight to the repair garage, not wanting to strain our luck for a third time. Alas, no loaner car was available for another week, the following Thursday, and we are, here in Spain, a one-car family. Well, maybe our luck would hold out, we thought. But we have a couple important appointments this week that depend on our getting somewhere at a certain time.
Friday morning we both woke up with the same thought. First we drove to our planned coffee date with the small American group we know here, and then we drove in to Torrevieja to the rental agency where we had been such good customers before buying this car four years ago. I stayed in our car with the motor running while Johannes went in to sign the papers for a rental. What a disappointment, though--there were no rentals available! Fortunately we did not drive very far toward home before we found another rental agency. This one had a car to rent. Again, I stayed in our car with the motor running while Johannes went in to do the paper work. Forty-five minutes later (!) we were on our way again, this time straight to the garage, which was happy to get this job ahead of schedule and has tentatively estimated that we should get ours back on Tuesday.

That will be nice, and in addition to diagnosing and fixing the starter situation, they are going to fix the a/c and mount four new tires. We are reminded, especially as we see news of the driving and parking problems in the snow-covered northeast U.S., how little time we spend worrying about our car here--and how little money is spent on maintenance and repairs (not true, though, of the initial cost and gasoline). We never have to think about antifreeze or the effects of salt on the roadways, and even the occasional dusting of Sahara sand that floats over with the rain can be washed off at the one-euro car wash down the street.

For now, though, we don't have to think about washing a rental car, and while we wait for the six-year-old Ford to look and act like new again, we can enjoy the experience of trying out a make that is brand new for me. I would have been happy if we could have rented a smart car, as none of the appointments we have this week involve trips to the airport of carrying friends around, but we didn't have that choice. What was available on no notice was a Tata Vista. That is serving us well, and contrary to what I expected from what I had heard was a "basic" Indian car, this one is at least as large inside as our Ford Fusion. But I am not planning any tailgating party.

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.

"Can I Help You?"

This blog post is dedicated to the lady who appeared suddenly, unnoticed by me, behind my back in the Consum parking lot yesterday morning, offering help in getting a wheelchair, which I had just--for the first time--succeeded in disassembling according to plan, into the trunk of the Ford Fusion.

I turned toward her, startled, and her eyes said it all. "I've been there, too," she said. "My husband had a stroke and I had to learn about wheelchairs and everything suddenly. He's better now, he can walk again and has a "rollator" with a seat. But no one understands how tiring it is to move this stuff around--and no one ever thinks about the caregiver."

At least she said something like that. I may well have gotten the details wrong, because I am, admittedly, very tired from my unexpected care giving duties and I find it increasingly hard to focus and remember all the things I need to remember. Not that I didn't anticipate that this summer would feature a lot of fetch and carry--of course I knew that a knee replacement patient would have a hard and painful recovery, with lots of exercises to concentrate on in order to regain full use of the leg. We knew that driving was off-limits for six weeks and that he probably wouldn't be able to handle stairs for a long time, so we had prepared a downstairs bedroom and explored options for an in-tub chair, since the downstairs bath does not have a free-standing shower. But we also had talked with everyone we knew who had ever had a knee replacement--or knew someone who had--and they all told us that within 24 hours they were expected to be up walking with assistance, that strenuous therapy began immediately, and that one soon moves from a walker to crutches, to perhaps a cane. And that it is important to do the exercises!

So it came as a complete surprise to us both when the surgeon explained that for this procedure, the patient could not put any weight on the operated leg for a minimum of six weeks. Not only did that restriction delay the recovery period considerably, it changed it completely. I put away the crutches and cane we had acquired and rented a wheelchair. By using a Zimmer frame stationary walker and a 5-wheel rolling office chair, the patient can make his way around the first floor of the house fairly well; the walker and wheelchair--and someone to manage them--are necessary when leaving the house. And it was necessary to leave the house almost immediately, for trips to change the dressing, for doctor's appointments, and just to get out in the world to maintain sanity.

The man in the rental store showed me quickly how neatly the wheels and foot rests come off the wheelchair, and then with one upward hand motion, the seat comes up and the chair folds in two and can be placed easily in the trunk of the car. Yes, watching it and doing it, and then doing it again, and alone, are two different things. I wasn't even able to get the chair from the trunk of the car into the house without getting grease all over my pants and shirt the first time. Reassembling the chair that first evening was not difficult, but when it came time to take out the four movable parts and whack the seat upright, I had lost the secret. I am not mechanically inclined, and the subtleties of design of a black-on-black apparatus are beyond me. Fortunately my husband is mechanically inclined and can see the various working parts. With practice over the past two weeks, we have slowly gotten to the point where we can do a chair-to-car transfer of both patient and chair in five or six minutes and without too many visible sighs of frustration on my part.

The worst "practice" session was in the basement parking garage of the Habaneras shopping center, curiously unlighted, where I could discern no handicapped parking spots and so was panicking that a car would pull in to the "empty" spot next to our car where patient and chair were situated far too long in various stages of assembly. Of course I'm not sure whether we legally qualify for a handicapped spot during this temporary situation and don't really have time to investigate that, but on the way out of the shopping center, I left the patient in his chair at a well-lighted, extra-wide, "pre-mama" parking space, went and retrieved our car, and drove it into the expectant mother's slot--clearly one that we were not authorized to use. But it worked, and no one criticized or hit us.

A couple days later when we went to the grocery store, it wasn't busy and there were lots of parking spaces, and lots of light in the ground-level parking lot. I had no trouble at all assembling the wheelchair, and we both went into the coolness of the air-conditioned Consum to do our shopping. Leaving some time later, I discovered that a motorcycle had parked smack dab in the middle of the regular spot next to me, so there was plenty of room to get the patient into the car and dismantle the wheelchair. This time it only required a couple extra motions, and no swear words passed my lips. It was just as I went to lift the chair into the trunk that the nice lady hailed me. So she didn't need to help me lift the chair in--or worse--dismantle it. But she helped, just by understanding and sharing the experience. Some things you can understand, appreciate, and sympathize with in theory, but some you really can only understand by living them. Our brief talk, and hearing her story, lightened my load. She also pointed out a handicapped spot closer to the store, for next time.

There was one thought I did not share with her, because apparently I am a lot luckier than she was. My friends do think about the caregiver--almost all the people who have written and asked about our patient have also asked me how I am doing. So have the visitors who have made it to the house. That is very comforting, and it also helps lighten the load.

The patient improves a little more every day, conscientiously does his bending but none-weight-bearing exercises, and is counting the days until the end of the six-week prohibition. And the caregiver is hanging on.

Sunday, March 13, 2011


Now that I've had a cataract operation on both eyes, my vision has improved so much that I only need to wear glasses inside the house to see subtitles on the television screen, and outside the house to see long distances and take advantage of their UV-protection and automatic darkening in sunlight. Last Tuesday morning was one in all-too-many cloudy days we had this week, so it was not terribly surprising that I managed to get myself outside the house and into the car for a trip to Ikea without my glasses. Four locked locks (garden gate, sunroom, front door iron grill, and the wooden front door itself) separated me from my glasses, so I just said, "I don't think I'll need them today," and decided I would be a passenger for the day.

Since I don't drive without glasses, I was not the one driving when we stopped quickly in a rotary at a crossing for the brand new tram running between the center of Murcia city and the outskirts of town where the commercial superstores are located--though I was the one who noticed that the light had turned red and a tram was approaching. Unfortunately the driver of the car behind us did not see the red light, nor the tram, and he did not stop. Smack! A collision, or choque.

This was our first choque in Spain. Spanish law allows those involved in minor accidents to fill out an accident report and file it with the insurance companies if both parties can agree amicably to the circumstances. Since the other car had plowed into our right rear fender with his left front fender, and both cars were still operable (though our tire was fast deflating) it seemed minor. But we did need to communicate.

The other driver spoke no Spanish, and no English. But we were lucky: he spoke Swedish. Native speakers of Danish can usually understand Swedish, and Swedes can understand Danish. This non-native speaker of Danish and non-speaker of Swedish had a little more trouble, especially when the Swede assumed that I understood everything and could carry on a conversation. I was in no mood to carry on a conversation, actually, and this one seemed to go on for ages. It took an hour and a quarter to exchange names and contact information, take pictures of the damage and license plates of both cars, find the insurance papers (the other driver was only borrowing the car he was driving), call our insurance company to report and verify procedure, fill out the papers (in Spanish), translate them to the satisfaction of the other driver, and get signatures. We parted amicably, though the other driver drove off and we still had a tire to change.

So now we are driving around--at no more than 80 kilometers per hour--on a little donut spare tire until Tuesday, when we meet the insurance adjuster at a car repair shop nearby and get delivery of a free loaner for however long it takes to fix the damage. If it had not been so clear that we were not at fault, we could have been liable for a 250€ deductible, but our insurance company has already told us that we don't need to worry about that. Getting a fully operating car again can't come too soon for me. Even though Spain lowered the maximum speed limit from 120 to 110 last week in a fuel economy measure, 80 kph is very poky indeed when driving along a motorway. In fact, it's almost dangerous. If you don't have blinking lights on, you might even get rear-ended.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A New Traveling Companion

We've had house guests for a week, good friends who we have known and loved for more years than we could imagine when we first met them the year after we got married more than four decades ago. That means we have taken them to some of the traditional sites in this part of the Costa Blanca: the palmeral of Elche and the Huerta del Cura, the discount shoe factory, and an all-day bus trip to the Jalón Valley to see the almond trees in blossom.

But they have returned to Denmark and now when we drive out for a morning or afternoon trip, it's just the two of us and our new traveling companion, the Spanish lady that lives inside the GPS system that we acquired at Christmas. Yes, we were probably the last people on our block to feel the need for an electronic gadget to tell us which way to drive, but we were exposed to this new toy when other visitors with us earlier last year brought theirs, and we saw the conveniences. Truth be told, I saw the value of shifting back-seat driver observations to an objective, anonymous, and infinitely patient persona that sits on the dashboard instead of the front-seat passenger side.

The first decision to make was, how big was our world? We could buy a GPS that covers the Iberian peninsula (Spain and Portugal), all of western Europe, all of Europe, north Africa, and parts of the Middle East. I didn't see any in the stores that promised coverage of North America, so we decided to limit our sights to where we may drive without a major trip across the Atlantic. I believe the one we bought covers all of Europe.

The second decision, however, was what language to use for directions. We first selected English, since we most often speak English in the car, but neither the primary driver nor I could understand what the woman was saying! Of course, she spoke British rather than American English--but we have come to understand many dialects of English English pretty well. But when she pronounced the names of the streets and roads, she gave them a British intonation, which all too frequently places the stress on the wrong syllable, and pronounces some consonants very differently from the Spanish name. Fine for communicating with other English people about the Spanish environment, but not for our non-English household.

So we switched her over to Spanish, and this has become an excellent opportunity for me to learn certain Spanish phrases that I may never otherwise have the opportunity to hear, as describing entering rotaries and taking an exit are not the sort of conversations that make compelling Spanish lessons. It provides especially good practice for imperative mood verbs (commands, or requests), which are formed by adding the "opposite" vowel to the root word instead of the normal indicative mood vowel. Entra (from the infinitive entrar, for example. means "he enters" the rotary, but entre tells you to enter it. In 20 meters, for example, entre en la rotonda y tome (not toma) la segunda a la derecha. And then, 19 meters farther down the road, entre en la rotonda, and gire a la derecha.

We marvel that the methodical and patient GPS lady always tells us to turn right out of the rotonda. Perhaps that's a holdover from the English version, where users may need to be reminded that one comes out of a roundabout on the right in Spain, not the left.

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.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Road Signs

Well, I haven't done very well with my intention to spend the winter learning to drive in Spain. In fact, I barely cracked the book that I finally bought from an autoescuela until this past week. When I did open the book, I kept getting bogged down in Chapter 1, which has colored pictures of almost 40 different vehicles, from a bicicleta to a tren turístico. The idea here, I gather, is to be able to recognize the ones that require a driver's license to drive (not needed for the bicicleta, and I'm not about to try for the special license for the tren turístico or tractor de obras, either).

So this week I finally just skipped over to Chapter 2 (of 18): Road Signs. This is the first mention of anything that really has anything to do with how to drive, or how not to, as the case may be. I have noticed, of course, that some road signs follow international norms of which I am already aware, but others are not very familiar to me. And I'm looking forward to reading an explanation of what one is supposed to do when navigating through the hundreds of roundabouts (rotondas) that Spanish roads use to manage many intersections. They look like the rotaries that are common in Massachusetts, but the Spanish drivers don't seem to get in and out of them in quite the same way that Massachusetts drivers do.

I haven't come across the rule of the rotonda yet. But the first thing I found in the Road Signs chapter was the five different types of road signs. They are:
  1. Signals and orders from Traffic Agents (these are humans)
  2. "Circumstantial" signs that modify normal traffic signs (as for road work or emergencies)
  3. Traffic lights (of the red, yellow, and green variety)
  4. So-called "vertical" signs, the metal ones that are anchored vertically to the ground on the right or left side of the road
  5. Signals painted on the pavement
Now I've spoiled the surprise by giving them to you already in priority order, but the first, mind you, the first sentence in the chapter says, "When the signals are contradictory, you must obey the sign that has the highest authority."

I'm sure I would have guessed that special "circumstantial" signs took precedence over normal road signs, and that if a human traffic agent told me to do something, I'd better follow that order rather than whatever any inanimate sign said. But all the examples show situations in which the lower three priorities of signs are contradictory! Now why would someone deliberately erect a traffic light, or a vertical metal sign, or paint signals on pavement and make them contradictory with what was already there?

And why, I wondered as I got deeper and deeper into contradictory road signs and what to do when I encounter them, did the book go into such detail about the proper course of action when it had not yet even introduced me to the meaning of all the individual signs themselves?

I'm only on page 38.