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Showing posts with label multinational Spain. Show all posts
Showing posts with label multinational Spain. Show all posts

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Thanksgiving in Spain

We have just finished an extra-large lunch of the leftovers from yesterday's traditional Thanksgiving dinner with three American (or American-connected) friends. It's hard to celebrate the fourth Thursday of November when you are the odd people out.  Spaniards, and Europeans in general, know that Americans celebrate Thanksgiving and eat turkey, but they don't know exactly when, they don't know anything about the real tradition of it, and they certainly don't stop life on a weekday in the fall for a huge foreign celebration. So since one of our American friends in Spain is a mother with kids in school (from approximately 9:00 to 1:00 and again from 4:00 to 7:00 each day), we have often celebrated our national holiday on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. We have been to restaurants before, but this year I brought the "fixings" in my suitcase from the U.S.: pecans, canned pumpkin puree, and well-wrapped fresh cranberries. I do wonder whether the TSA ever inspected my cardboard canisters labeled dried plums and raisins well enough to know that substitutions had been made.

Turkey roaster filling the oven in my Spanish kitchen.
Finding a fresh turkey is not always easy. I remember one year that I did manage to order one ahead of time, sight unseen; when I picked it up at the market early in the week, it turned out to be almost 40 pounds(!) and I had a hard time storing it in my refrigerator for a few days and an even harder time getting it into my small oven to roast. This year I had to fall back on a frozen turkey crown from Iceland, where the turkeys for the Brits' traditional Christmas dinner are already selling like hotcakes. I was able to gauge the size somewhat better for our small gathering of five, and I was even more pleased when I got it home that it fit in the cast aluminum Wagner Ware turkey roaster that I had been storing on the top shelf of my kitchen cabinets for years, used seldom but with affection, though never before in my ownership for turkey. I had previously ascertained that the turkey roaster itself would fit in the oven. It did, barely, with no room for anything else to either side, front or back, above or below. When Thursday morning came and I started the food preparations, I was disappointed to discover that the two turkey legs (jamoncitos) that I had purchased to add a dark meat selection to the white meat of the turkey crown would not fit in the roster with the crown, so I did them first and then set the crown in a couple hours before my guests came.

We had a leisurely dinner, from spinach square appetizers contributed by one guest to a fantastic pumpkin pie with lattice crust from another guest, and then sat at the table for hours afterwards talking and doing our darnedest to finish the last inch or two out of some of the various liquor bottles that had accumulated on the bottom shelf of the liquor cart over the years. This was a farewell occasion to some of our best friends. We also had another farewell dinner at our house, on Thursday, with other long-time friends, English, who had humored me several times in the past few years by celebrating Thanksgiving with us. This year we agreed to bypass the traditions of Thanksgiving and have roasted pork tenderloin and seasonal vegetables. That was excellent and easy, but I did give in to purchasing a small turkey tenderloin when I spied it in the grocery store, and throwing it into the oven thirty minutes before the rest of dinner was done, and I offered a cranberry compote with custard for dessert, so there was some tradition on Thursday itself.

We played petanca with our usual group this past Tuesday afternoon, and then on Wednesday evening joined 40 or so other members of the Danish Friends Club of Torrevieja for a club dinner at a restaurant in the La Siesta area--a restaurant where we had eaten for our first meal out when we came to explore Torrevieja six years ago, now re-opened under new management. Most of the Danes had heard that we were here to ready our house for selling, and they stopped by to say goodbye and wish us well. Then on Friday I had a lovely visit with my Danish Spanish teacher, that is, the Danish woman who started out teaching me Spanish conversation by discussing books, but who has long since turned from formal teacher into a close friend and fellow reader.

It has been a week of celebratory dinners, and we have been giving thanks throughout for good friends with whom we have shared the joyful, trying, and rewarding experience of living several years in a foreign country.

Tomorrow I pack the turkey roaster to bring it back home to Ohio. As is the custom here, we are selling our house furnished, and in our case that includes cookware and basic dining service, because, frankly, it doesn't pay to ship it home. But not this piece, even though my 15-inch Wagner Ware Magnalite 4265 turkey roaster can be had on eBay for about $80 plus shipping (estimated at $20). My shipping will probably cost that--maybe a little less if you factor in all the small treasures I can fit inside the roaster when I pack it. But even if I were to buy another one, it wouldn't be the same. This roaster is from the town I grew up in, and the company where my father worked during my growing-up years. It is nearly as old as I am--maybe older. And it has cooked some wonderful meals for special friends in various locations throughout the years.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

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, November 10, 2013

The Brits in Spain

Some days I have to pinch myself to believe I am living in Spain. That's because it is all too easy to think I am living in England. Our neighborhood is 90% British, I would guess: mostly English, but with a few Irish, Scots, Welsh, and then Belgian, German, Scandinavian.  Most of the other urbanizations around us in the Torrevieja area have a similar configuration of nationalities, though the proportions change. I spoke with a Dane this week who told me that he was on the board of the neighborhood association, together with an English man, a Norwegian, a Swede, and, I think, a Finn. Most places, though, the Brits predominate.

This week I read some statistics about just how many Brits there are in Spain. The occasion was an interview with the new British ambassador in Madrid. He said there are some 800,000 British people who spend "all or part of the year" in Spain. There are 13 or 14 million who spend holidays here each year (and in a separate report, the Spanish government says that British tourists spent 1.46 billion euros in Spain on holiday in 2012). The ties between the two countries are well developed. Ambassador Simon Manley reported that some 400 Spanish companies are registered in the UK, "making Spain the sixth largest investor in Britain--worth some 40 billion" pounds sterling [2011 figures]. "British companies exported 9.7 billion euros of goods and services to Spain, the UK's eight largest export market." More and more Spaniards are working in the UK, too. I have a neighbor who works in England while his family lives, works, and attends school here--it's a three-hour commute when he comes home. Commuting is not all one-way: elsewhere I read of an English chap who has figured out that he can live in Barcelona and commute to England four days a week at less expense than maintaining a flat in London.

With all this good will and economic interdependence between the two nations, it was still quite a surprise to read the results of a recent poll on the status of Gibraltar, sponsored by the UK Daily Telegraph. The online poll was taken this past August, at a time when tensions between the UK and Spain were at one of the higher levels in the 300-year history of the controversial question of where Gibraltar belongs. The results showed 89.96% saying that Gibraltar should become part of Spain, with only 10.04% saying that it should remain a British Overseas Territory!

Since the results were announced, however, some investigative work by the Daily Telegraph's social media team has determined that 5,000 of the online votes in the poll originated from the Spanish Ministry of Defense…. When the team looked at the results by origin of voting, the numbers supported the more expected outcome: 71.02% of the British-origin votes favored keeping Gibraltar British, and 98.89% of Spanish-origin votes favored returning it to "the mainland." Voters from Gibraltar voted 99.79% in favor of remaining British. I don't think we should plan on consensus any time soon, but I expect that co-existence will continue.

Sunday, October 27, 2013


The city of Elche is home to a number of interesting attractions (think thousands of palm trees) but yesterday, its most important attraction for me was shopping. Elche is home to the closest El Corte Inglés, Spain's premier department store, and I had to buy a gift. I was looking for something of high quality, even luxurious, and "typically Spanish," though I had not defined exactly what that might be, other than perhaps it would be something in leather. This was not the sort of thing that I would look for at the Sunday market or the Chinese discount stores or even at one of the nice shopping malls with a range of Spanish and English stores nearby, because I was not looking for clothing or household furnishings.

It took awhile. I spent a long time looking at nicely bound blank books, some in leather, but as it turned out, they were made in Canada. We browsed through the decoración area, and I was not inspired for this particular purpose, although I did find several items of slight passing interest for myself. But I realized how foreign to my current life modern international department stores are, since I am no longer furnishing a new house and my closets are full to overflowing with items that I have little opportunity to wear anyway and cannot locate on the rare occasions when I do.

Eventually I stumbled across what I think is the perfect item, from a Spanish designer, with a touch of  luxury, but I'm not talking about that until after the gift is given. And then we decided we needed a cup of coffee, or perhaps more than a cup of coffee.

We got out of the city first, but decided to stop at a fairly new camping "resort" that we have been driving by for a year or so without stopping in. Camping is one of those activities that the participants in this marriage do not agree on. I had too much tent camping as a child, and while I appreciated the extensive travel that camping afforded our family, I did not like the disruption and extra mealtime chores and toiletry/sleeping discomfort that it entailed. Johannes, on the other hand, camped by himself on many trips through Europe as a student and was free to ignore any chores that he didn't feel like doing and to decide totally by himself on anything he wanted in terms of eating and sleeping. European campgrounds, I have discovered during the course of our marriage, are somewhat more luxurious than any of the ones I stayed in as a child. I daresay that U.S. campgrounds have gotten more luxurious in the decades since my youthful camping trips, too, but fortunately, I have not had to find out.

When we lived in Roquetas and biked to Aguadulce we often stopped at a campground on the beach in between the two towns and enjoyed a coffee at the full-service restaurant. We had also stumbled on a rather elegant restaurant at a campground in Guardamar when we biked there a couple times. So I had no doubt that this campground that I had seen opening to great fanfare in the past couple years would have a restaurant that would be at least adequate and perhaps much better. After all, this campground was advertised as a four-star eco camping resort.

The Marjal restaurant did not disappoint us. Actually, we did not get in to the restaurant; we only were in the bar and cafe. But there was a sign stating the Saturday special of a tapa and a drink for 2 euros, so we made our selections from the platters on the bar and carried them out to one of 50 or so tables outside. We had a pleasant time enjoying the sun and the fresh breeze and watching the other visitors: a Swedish family close by with two small children, a couple of pensioners like ourselves, seated farther away, so we couldn't hear them, some Spanish women enjoying a drink together. Then a large group of young children pranced through the open plaza carrying colored pictures, and I realized they must have been to an art class or some group activity, and we speculated that this must be fall vacation week in some countries of Europe and we hadn't even noticed.

Before going back to the car we took a little walk through the "pitches" to see how the locals lived. We saw camping "caravans" of every size and shape--all with outdoor seating and eating areas and at least one canvas awning to give shade, many with more. The only tents I saw were small auxiliaries on the same pitch as a metal caravan--apparently providing guest quarters, or perhaps just an alternative place to sleep if one didn't feel like sleeping in the RV itself. Clearly no one was undergoing much hardship in the way of bathroom and cooking facilities. I saw one person coming back from a communal shower building, but I am sure very unit had indoor plumbing, refrigerator, and cook stove, if not more. Plus there is a bar and a restaurant just a short walk away.

We cut back through a smaller area with wooden bungalows, and it was here that we happened upon a Dutch couple sitting on their veranda with two glasses of white wine and a tray of hors d'oeuvres. We only asked one question, "Does your little bungalow have a kitchen?" and they invited us in for the grand tour. Two bedrooms, each with closets and an air conditioning/heating unit, a bathroom with shower, a living room and dining area (also with a/c), and an "American kitchen." "American kitchen in Spain means open to the dining and/or living area, but this particular American kitchen met my standards, too. In addition to the fridge, freezer, range, oven, and microwave, there was a dishwasher. Luxury in camping.

This was the third winter season that this couple had spent at this campground, and they told us that this year they had asked for the same bungalow they had last year. Clearly they were satisfied. As the Dutch lady said to me, "This is not camping."

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Cultural Interchanges

Any of the thousands of European immigrants on Spain's Costa Blanca adjusts to the Spanish culture in greater or lesser degrees, but they all retain their own culture, as well; in spite of local community "offices for integration" I see very little true integration into Spanish life. I see co-existence, and that seems to be OK for both sides. The Spaniards are, on the whole, welcoming hosts, appreciative of the economic rewards of accepting tons of retirees and occasional young working families into their commercial life. But I do wonder how it must feel for the first and now second generations born after the closed Franco years to see so many neighborhoods and whole towns turned into advantaged ghettos where residents greet each other in the street and shops in all the European languages except Spanish, or if they manage to get a Buenos días out at the right time, they can't go much beyond that for a real conversation. There must be some resentment, or sorrow, about the invasion, I feel, though it stays well submerged and unexplored. I am aware of no anti-immigration political rhetoric, street demonstrations, or vandalism against the immigrants in Spain, as I see and hear in my own country and in other European countries.

Many of us immigrants love to take part in the Spanish café bar scene, tapas runs, fiestas, and espectáculos during the day or on special occasions, while we retreat at night to our English, German or Scandinavian TV. But the Spaniards also partake of the cultural life and changes that come with the foreign influx. Friday evening this week we joined a large group at the Gran China restaurant for a birthday banquet. We don't eat out often at night, and I was surprised at how large the restaurant was, and how packed it was with both English-speaking and Spanish-speaking guests. What amused me, though, was how the Chinese menu had adapted to the Spanish style of menu del día, offering a choice of first courses (primer plato), main courses (segundo plato), a third course (unusual, but how else are they going to get in the rice or noodles?) and dessert (postre), together with a half bottle of wine or a pint of beer, for a set price--and a very reasonable one, too. The Chinese, of course, are adept at tailoring restaurant menus to the country in which they are located, and it is always a fun thing to take in a Chinese restaurant in any foreign country you happen to be in, just to see the little things that are different from the Chinese restaurants in the country where you usually eat Chinese (assuming that is not in China). The conclusion of our meal, by the way, brought souvenir bracelets for the women, but nary a fortune cookie.

The next morning we found ourselves doing something that we had promised we would never do again: going to Ikea on a Saturday. Way too many people, and we should be able to arrange our trips during the week, we had said the last time we had the misfortune of attempting business there on a weekend. But we had been looking all week for new towel racks for a renovated bathroom; we had exhausted all the stores in our immediate area and even as far away as the big shopping mall at La Zenia Boulevard, and we hadn't found anything that we really liked or that seemed to offer decent quality at a reasonable price. So off we went to Ikea, the Swedish home furnishings store that does a pretty good job of adapting its wares and its restaurants to whatever country in the world it finds itself in, too. We had timed our trip to arrive at 10:00, when the store opened, and we knew we had to gear ourselves up with a cup of coffee and perhaps a second breakfast in Ikea's incredibly inexpensive cafeteria. So we proceeded down the line, and I had to smile when the Spanish couple in front of us scanned the offerings and ordered dos ingleses (two English breakfasts). The cafeteria server passed them their plates and then turned to me and asked, in English because we don't look Spanish, what we would like. Dos ibéricos, I said, without skipping a beat.

We enjoyed our typical Spanish breakfast of toasted baguettes with tomato marmalade, olive oil, and jamón serrano. I hope the Spanish couple enjoyed their typical English breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausage, and toast. Both are good value here, and it was an amusing cultural interchange.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Afternoon of Tapas

Last weekend the annual Rueda de Tapas in Benijófar took place. We made arrangements with friends to take it in--or at least as much of it as we could hold--on Sunday afternoon. Actually some of us started a little early, at 11:30 Sunday morning, where we were lucky enough to get a café con leche (or for me, an agua con gas) with the featured tapa at the featured price, 1€ for the drink and .80€ for the tapa. That's what we started with, to the left: Pastel de pollo tailandés, con salsa chili dulce (Thai chicken patty with sweet chili sauce). Yes, a Thai tapa. This was at the Plaza Diferente, a Dutch restaurant. It was different from traditional Spanish tapas, but it was light and refreshing, the chicken patty served on alfalfa sprouts and the salsa on some pretty greens, and all on a stylish slate plate.

Furthering the international flavor, we moved on to the bar El Mundo (The World). We opened the place and had our choice of seats on the upstairs deck with a view over the recently created municipal park. El Mundo, run by a Belgian, served Pan con atún claro encebollado y boquerrones (tuna with anchovy). One of us didn't care for quite so much fish, so he was served chicken wings instead, still at the special price. By now it was after 12:00, so I switched to a glass of chilled white wine.

At 1:00 the second couple phoned to tell us they were arriving, so we moved quickly across the street to Restaurante Cambalache, an Argentine restaurant well known to us, and arranged a table for six. One of the newcomers is vegetarian, and we weren't so lucky with a no-meat substitute for the sausages that were the featured tapa here. On to what we thought would be a more vegetarian-friendly choice, but we were out of luck again in terms of the tapa, though the white wine and conversation , both Spanish and English, were flowing nicely. A leisurely walk from Benimar across to the Benijófar plaza brought us to Bar Lucas, a family establishment that was offering sports-themed tapas--at least the Friday night tapa had been named Nadal. Sunday's was Alonso. Here we sat inside for the first time during the afternoon and enjoyed the typical Spanish bar atmosphere.

Next stop was Restaurante El Gusto, which won last year for the best tapa of the festival. We were away and didn't attend that one, so I don't know what they served then, but this year was also good: another elegant tapa of cangrejo con manzana, cebollino y pan con ajo (crab with apple, chives and garlic bread).

And then we agreed that somehow we could manage just one more, so the ladies continued their energizing stroll up the main street of the village, while the men went back to fetch the cars and move them to the opposite end of the town. When we re-assembled at El Granaino we sat outside again to enjoy the sun and the cool breezes that have finally made their way here during this warmer-than-usual autumn. By this time it was getting to the end of the afternoon and the end of the tapas route. I switched to a red wine for the last drink of the day and gave a silent thanks that the restaurantes have seen fit to include non-alcoholic drinks in the regular price of the tapa+drink, because I would have had to stop far earlier if the tapa came only with alcohol, as was the case in the old days. We sat for a long time, We chatted. We laughed. The music wafted out from inside the restaurant, and the chef came out to greet us. I remember dancing with him for a moment, but fortunately no good pictures developed from this once-in-a-lifetime event. We filled out our cards, having carefully gathered a stamp at every establishment we visited, to vote for our favorite tapa, and deposited them in one of the voting boxes.

I am sorry to say that now, a week later, I can't remember the details of all I ate, but I do remember thinking that the quality of the tapas this year in Benijófar was the best of any tapas route that I have been on: more variety, excellent presentation, and a good quantity per serving--more than a morsel, but still light. And the day was a perfect one, with sun, pleasant temperatures, interesting conversation, and comfortable friends.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

International Living

This Sunday marks a week that we have been back in Spain since returning last Sunday from a short week's trip to Copenhagen. We had an even better time in Denmark than we usually do, for the weather was glorious--sunny every day, from before 6:00 AM or earlier, and it was light to well after 9:30 PM. We had to remember to close the curtain in our top-floor hotel room so as not to be awakened too early when the sun made its appearance. All in all the weather was as good as, and maybe even better than, what we had left behind in Spain that week.

There wasn't a lot to write about Spain while in Denmark. We heard a few Spanish voices as we came into town from the airport (the plane, after all, had brought us--and others--directly from Alicante) and as we walked through the city for the next four days. Once we happened upon two couples in animated Spanish discussion about which direction they should go in, and without much conversation we gave them one of our maps and left them to come to some sort of agreement among themselves.

Every year when we go to Denmark we try to do something a little different, and this year it was a canal tour. Amazingly I had never been on one, although I have walked by the canal tour boats in Copenhagen's Nyhavn (the New Harbor) countless times. This one was a guided tour of an hour and a half, and the brochure said it would be narrated in three languages: Danish, English, and "another" language. I wondered how they would choose the third language and what it would be--German, perhaps, or French, or maybe Russian or Polish or another east European language, for there has been much immigration from eastern Europe all over western Europe, including to Denmark. Maybe even one of the Middle Eastern languages, though the immigrants from that part of the world have done a wonderful job of learning Danish, it seems to me. It was none of those languages, though, for as the narration started we were welcomed first with Velkommen, then Welcome, and then Bienvenidos! The first, and maybe the only time in my life when an official tour is conducted in the three languages that I understand. I felt right at home.

The evening before we left on our trip we were in Torrellano at our favorite hotel there, where we often stay when we have a flight leaving or arriving at some ungodly hour (this one left at 6:30 the next morning). A couple that we have gotten to know in Spain came out to join us for a light and early supper, so we could get back to the hotel for a little sleep before getting up at 4:00. It turned out to be a farewell dinner of sorts. We were, of course, off on our annual or (lately) semi-annual one-week trip to Denmark; they were scheduled to leave the following day for two months of touring in the cities and along the rivers of Europe, something they have done every summer that we have known them. But they also noted that this year, they would not be returning to Spain at the end of the summer to live.

Our friends' marriage, somewhat like ours, involves two nations, but they have lived in Spain more years than we have, in three different parts of the country. They are not the only people we know who have made a decision to move on because of new financial reporting requirements that have gone into effect in Spain, but they are the closest to us. The new "declaration of foreign assets" requirements put in place by Spain, or the European Union, or just by the fact of modern international living in a post 9/11, post-Economic Crisis of 2008 world, have been making life difficult and uncomfortable for almost everyone in the various expat communities, but especially for those who are living off investment income earned and/or maintained outside of Spain. Which would be most retired people, of course.

 I won't tell you exactly what the financial declaration requirements are, because I don't have a prayer of stating them correctly. Every newspaper and advice column, every financial adviser, and  every government official gives you a different interpretation, and that is a large part of what makes this new reality difficult and uncomfortable.

So the four of us sat together for a couple hours and enjoyed dinner (I had a wonderful salmorejo with jamón serrano) and talked about life and change and travel, and speculated about what country we might be in when next we saw each other.

This morning the two of us made our usual Sunday morning trip to the outdoor market to get fruit and vegetables and frutos secos (almonds, raisins, and prunes) for the coming week. We had missed the market last Sunday, since our plane had not brought us back to Spain until the afternoon.  As usual, we stopped for a café con leche, this time at a different little coffee shop, where we were delighted to discover that we could still get a good cup of coffee--and a big one, though it came in a glass instead of a cup--for just one euro. So we sat in a shaded area with a front-row view of all the shoppers strolling by, and enjoyed watching the different people, residents and visitors--you can often tell the difference by their clothing. We listened to the Spanish bread stall owner next door calling out pan del pueblo, pan de leña, and just buenos días, quieres pan? and to the stream of other voices in many languages. We felt at home.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

"The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming"

Never in all my wildest dreams when I was growing up during the Cold War did I envision the Russians coming to save an economy in trouble.  They probably aren't going to save Spain's economy single-handedly now either, but the new prosperous younger Russians (who were not around during the Cold War) are certainly having a positive effect in tourism and immigration to Spain.

We sat this morning in one of the outdoor cafés at the Sunday market, enjoying sharing a bratwurst and a beer, listening to the voices of what sounded like a Russian couple at the next table, and reading a story in RoundTown News reporting on a group of 30 Russian travel agents that had visited Torrevieja this past week and, apparently, painted the town red. They saw more sights in their week-long junket than I have seen in the four years I have been here! Well at least I have a number of events to put on my "to-do" list--the "floating museums" in the port area being at the top.

There are now almost 5,000 Russians on the padron (the town register), which means that they stand second only to the British as the largest group of foreign residents in the area. Lots of Russians are coming here to make this their permanent home, and lots more are coming to buy second homes--there are reportedly two direct flights each week between Alicante and St. Petersburg during the summer season.

I have never studied Russian and am not really sure that I can distinguish the language from some others, but I may have an opportunity to get more familiar with it in the coming years.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Songs for the 60s

Torrevieja String Ensemble Playing The Beatles ©2013 Johannes Bjorner

Friday was a nice, warm, and sunny day and it was still fairly warm when we left at 5:30 in the afternoon, bound for downtown Torrevieja with three good friends for a round of tapas before going on to a concert at the Palacio de la Música. I had been looking forward to this event ever since I first heard about it on January 6 at another musical performance at the new International Conservatory auditorium of Torrevieja. This was billed as a concert with a string ensemble playing songs of The Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel. Just the nostalgia trip back to the '60s that I would need in March, as I approached a 60s-something birthday, I had thought then.

We had not been to this concert hall before, and though we found an imposing structure, the auditorium for this concert was surprisingly intimate, seating only 240, and perfect for chamber music such as this. We were in the fourth or fifth row on the main floor and we could see and hear everything, including the expressions on the faces of the musicians.

The string ensemble turned out to be a quintet, with four violins (they were all the same size from my vantage point) and a cello. The concertmaster surprised us all by greeting us, first in Spanish and then in English, saying that the five people on stage were to be playing, but we in the audience were supposed to do the singing. We were, of course, a mixed group of British and Germans and Scandinavians and other northern Europeans, in addition to some Spaniards, and we never really broke out in chorus, but I heard a lot of humming.

One thing I had forgotten about musical performances in Spain, or at least in Torrevieja, is that there are no ushers and, perhaps as a consequence, programs are not distributed. We didn't actually find the printed program until we were leaving the palacio after the concert. There it was, on a table beside the door! During the concert we just listened as each song began and even I was able to identify most tunes before we were in to the second or third measure. Here is the program information that we didn't find until later, reprinted verbatim:

If I Fell . . . . . . . . . . Lennon-McCartney
Bridge Over Troubled Water . . . . . . . . . . . Simon & Garfunquel
Lady Madonna . . . . . . . . . . Lennon-McCartney
Hey Jude . . . . . . . . . . Lennon-McCartney
Let It Be . . . . . . . . . . Lennon-McCartney
Killing Me Softly With His Song . . . . . . . . . . Simon & Garfunquel
Yesterday . . . . . . . . . . Lennon-McCartney
Get Back . . . . . . . . . . Lennon-McCartney

And I Loved Her . . . . . . . . . . Lennon-McCartney
Eight Days a Week . . . . . . . . . . Lennon-McCartney
Michelle . . . . . . . . . . Lennon-McCartney
When I'm Sixty Four . . . . . . . . . . Lennon-McCartney
I Feel Fine . . . . . . . . . . Lennon-McCartney
A Hard Day's Night . . . . . . . . . . Lennon-McCartney
Yellow Submarine . . . . . . . . . . Lennon-McCartney

I had been surprised, when I heard the opening bars of "Killing Me Softly," that it was included in this group, but Johannes and I have a special relationship with this song from years past. At one time he worked at a small company in Massachusetts, where he was responsible for developing circuitry to improve sound quality on a recording device (this was pre-digital recording). "Killing Me Softly" was the test song that had been recorded to use as a quality standard, and its strains were heard several times a day by Johannes and the other personnel in the lab for more than a few months, until everyone wanted to kill the project. And then I heard the story of the trials with this appropriate song for many more years. So when "Killing Me Softly" was played at this concert in Torrevieja it surprised me, but it only added to the nostalgia of the evening. Mind you, this morning I spent an hour or so scouring the Internet to find some relationship between Simon & Garfunkel and "Killing Me Softly With His Song," and I have found none, though I did learn, from several sources besides this one at Wikipedia, that its origins are "disputed."

Whether you were or are a Beatles fan or not, another dimension is added when you hear it from strings and see the pleasure on the faces of a group of musicians as they go through the movements to elicit the sounds. The concertmaster said that this performance was something the group wanted to give the "English community," by which I understand him to mean the multinational immigrant peoples that make up about half of the Torrevieja area population, most of whom are old enough to remember the sounds of the '60s as a part of their youth, many of whom may have learned English from the music, and more than a few of whom have already answered the "When I'm Sixty-Four" question in the affirmative.

It was a lovely evening.

Monday, November 26, 2012

American Thanksgiving in Torrevieja

I don't usually stick an American flag at the top of the pineapple in my traditional Thanksgiving centerpiece, but this year was different, for we went on the Saturday following Thanksgiving to a British restaurant to eat a roast turkey dinner with some Americans we know and some we didn't. There are not many people from the U.S. along the Costa Blanca, but those that there are, I think, are aware of the peculiar experience of being in the minority. That, plus the power of Thanksgiving memories, is probably what brought us all together last Saturday.

This particular group of Americans all seemed to be bi-national or multinational couples. The countries of our spouses and partners included (at least) Spain, Denmark, Germany, the Philippines, Cuba, and UK. We were a fairly diverse group of Americans, too, as separately we acknowledged "home" to be Ohio, Wisconsin, California, New York, New Hampshire, and Maine, although several of us have lived in even more states.
Thanks to one family, we were three generations, with six children and teenagers and a smattering of younger adults; the rest of our group of 20 had celebrated some 40 or more Thanksgivings earlier in our lives.

Since I have lived in Spain with so many British ex-patriots I have learned that roasts of various meats and poultry are the traditional Sunday dinner, with at least four vegetables. Our British hosts at The Courtyard had put individual placemats depicting the American flag on the table, which was an unexpected welcoming gesture. The restaurant put on a fine spread, and the various side dishes that some of us brought were completely unnecessary in filling out the meal, but important for our traditions. I brought the fruit arrangement shown above (the photo was taken on Sunday, so it is a little less bounteous than it was at Thanksgiving dinner). We also had homemade sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie, cranberry sorbet, and a marvelous pumpkin soup.

A Thanksgiving timeline developed by the Library of Congress tells us that the first documented thanksgiving feast in territory currently belonging to the United States was held by Spanish explorer, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado in 1521.  Maybe so, but I still prefer the Plymouth Colony story of 1621, which was a three-day feast. As ours was this year.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Moroccan Lamb and Couscous

Moroccan Lamb and couscous, and vegetables.
When a friend stopped over last week to invite us to a special dinner to celebrate his 75th birthday, he told us we were welcome to choose off the menu Friday evening, but that there were a few special dishes that we would have to order in advance if we wanted to eat those. "Special, like what?" I asked, having already been told that the chef was French. "Well, they do a Moroccan couscous, and I would really like that," he said, but his wife doesn't care for couscous and you have to be two to order the couscous, in addition to ordering it two days ahead. There's got to be more to it than that, I thought, having prepared couscous myself in just five or ten minutes a few times in my life.

Well, there is couscous, and then there is couscous with Moroccan lamb. And then there is couscous with Moroccan lamb and a whole lot more, both my friend and I found out on Friday evening.

We were the only two having the Royal Couscous, as it was named on the menu, and it was immediately clear where we should sit: at one end of the dining table were two auxiliary serving tables, with a warming apparatus and placeholders for hot dishes. The other guests ordered more traditional fare, all with starters, two with French onion soup. My friend and I looked at each other and the size of our serving table and decided that we probably would not need a starter. Shortly afterwards, their soup came, and immediately after that a procession of three, or was it four? people came from the kitchen and filled our serving area. And then the owner filled our plates, first with couscous, then with stewed lamb, then with meat balls (which I realize now were probably not meat), and then the beautiful vegetables you see in the picture above, and finally the whole chickpeas. I had made my way through about a quarter of this when the French onion soup dishes were removed from the table and replaced with main courses, but I was totally unaware of what the others were eating. The lamb, not often on a restaurant menu in Spain, and expensive when it is, was delicious. I tried it without and with the spicy hot thin sauce in the bowl in front of my plate. The sauce wasn't too spicy when I first tried a tiny bit, but it sure got hot when I added more. Still, I had plenty of couscous on my plate. And if I didn't, I could just help myself to more, as the owner/waiter had said when he first placed my plate in front of me.
Serving Moroccan Lamb from tagines© Johannes Bjørner

The colorful and unique serving dishes on the right are called tagines, and they also serve as cooking dishes. I'm not even sure what was in each one, though I do know that the vegetables and garbanzos arrived together in the one on the back left, and the one that my friend is just removing the cover of contained chicken, which I had declined in my first, "starter" course, but went on to when I had cleared some of my plate. I also tried one of the thin sausages from the uncovered platter between the flat warmer and wine glass, and it was different--perhaps also lamb.

Neither my friend nor I needed dessert, though we did pour wine and water rather liberally throughout the evening. I've checked out various recipes for Moroccan lamb and for couscous over the weekend, and I intend to try my hand at Moroccan cuisine, but not immediately. I'll want to start with something a little simpler than the Royal Couscous we had the other night. And just possibly I'll need to go to Morocco to find a tagine or two, and to try some other samples.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Denmark vs. Spain

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 25, 2011

In the Middle of Christmas

Merry Christmas. Glaedelig Jul. Feliz Navidad. It is Christmas Day, and if you think Christmas will be over and done with tomorrow, you have not spent Christmas in Spain. It is a slow and relaxed holiday here, spanning a couple weeks, at least.

We did start Christmas celebrations a little early this year, last Sunday, the 18th, when we were invited to an early Christmas dinner at the home of English friends. They needed to do dinner early because they were going to Benidorm for the holiday itself. As it turns out, they were one of three sets of friends who chose to relocate to Benidorm for Christmas this year. We had thought of that ourselves, but too much travel in November made us change our plans. Perhaps next year will be the year we go to Benidorm.

The real, though unofficial, start of Christmas in Spain is on the 22nd, the day that the national lottery, the Sorteo de Navidad, is drawn. This is the biggest lottery in the world, giving out more money and drawing more participants than any other. It takes four hours just to pick the winning numbers and amounts of earnings; it takes place in Madrid every year on the morning of the 22nd and is televised live throughout the country. The 22nd was Thursday this year, which was also the day that we took a small overnight trip to Alicante city. Our excuse for the overnight was an evening Christmas concert at the Auditorio de la Diputación de Alicante (ADDA), the new theater that opened this year and which we have enjoyed before. We were off to Alicante first thing in the morning, and that gave us time to walk through the unusually fine mercado central building that was just across the street from our hotel, and then sit in the Plaza Nuevo in the sunshine, having a glass of wine and light lunch. There happened to be an office of the lotería just next to our cafe, so we could listen to a young member of the chorus sing each number, and then hear a second member respond by singing the amount that ticket had won. For the first time, I had bought a ticket this year--actually only a décimo, one tenth of a 200 euro ticket--and I was hoping to hear one of the children of San Ildefonso sing "ochenta y nueve, cuatrocientos, noventa y siete" and follow that with a mil (thousand) or so euros, but no one did.

Since I didn't have to claim a winning, I had time to pass through the gift and kitchen departments of El Corte Inglés looking for small gifts and enjoying the other shoppers (a surprising number of whom spoke Danish, as we had also curiously heard in our hotel). Then after a brief siesta back at the hotel (more Danish in the elevator) it was time to walk four blocks or so (400 meters--we don't talk about "blocks" in Spain) to the ADDA. Since the concert began at 8:00 we were not going to have a chance for a proper dinner before the music, but we were counting on finding a bar and tapas to tide us over, or more likely, substitute for dinner itself. We didn't find that, but that's another story. We did make it, pleasantly full, to the concert early enough to stand in line for a few minutes before the doors opened at 7:30--although the seats are numbered, the tickets never seem to be, so it is first come, first seated (and it helps if you know the layout of the venue, which we do now, because you seat yourself). The auditorium was festive, the musicians and director in good form, the musical selections enchanting, and it was a lovely evening. The next morning we enjoyed the typical Spanish breakfast buffet in our hotel, and finally asked one of our fellow guests what the occasion was. Turns out that there was a bridge club of some 34 members from Denmark, who were off on an annual year-end excursion, which explained a little bit why we had heard nothing but Danish spoken by other guests during our stay.

When we returned home the tiles for our new terrace--our Christmas gift to ourselves--had been laid and the workmen were doing the grouting and cleaning up very well as they went. They finished the job and on Saturday morning, the 24th, came around for the final payment. Over the years we have been in Spain we have had a number of house improvements made in December--new windows, a gas fireplace, and now a terrace--and they never fail to get done, and paid in cash, on Christmas Eve Day. We had just enough time on the 24th to get ready for another Christmas celebration--this time Christmas Eve dinner Scandinavian style, at a Swedish restaurant with Danish friends. The company was wonderful and the food equally so, with the typical cold table buffet of herring, salmon, shrimp, and fish, plus all the traditional hot dishes, including more salmon, and finishing with at least three desserts.

So this morning when Christmas Day, the 25th dawned, it could have been a little anticlimactic, and indeed we took off on our traditional Sunday activity, wandering through the Sunday outdoor Zoco market. I had seen signs the previous week at several stalls that had said they would be there on the 25th. Well, there were a few stalls open--maybe 20 percent. We commented that it was now easy to see who the Morrocan and other Muslim vendors were--they were the ones who were there on Christmas day. Spaniards have their big Christmas celebration on Nochebuena, Christmas Eve, and it consists of a big and long dinner, which starts at 9:00 and lasts at least until midnight, and then there may be extensive sobremesa (after dinner) into the wee hours. The only Spanish voices we heard this morning were talking about the wonderful fiesta they had had the night before.

There were very few English voices at the market--most English here celebrate on the 25th with a big roast dinner at 2:00--but we found two Scandinavian cafes open, and had coffee first at the Danish one, and then the Norwegian one, though the Norwegian cafe seemed to be staffed only with Russians today. Then we took a nice long drive along the Lemon Tree Road to Guardamar and walked the beach, and then continued south to Torrevieja, inspecting road improvements along the way that were finally done, only two years late, but are now quite impressive.

In a few minutes I will go downstairs to prepare our simple Christmas dinner: specially cut inch-thick steaks of Argentine beef (such a thick cut must be specially ordered in Spain), fresh asparagus and mushrooms, Spanish potato bollitos, and a Spanish custard dessert that is a gift from our cleaning ladies. After partaking of cold and hot salmon yesterday, I decided to put aside the salmon first course I had planned. Tomorrow is another day, and even though life gets sort of back to normal before New Year's, Spain doesn't finish Christmas until January 6, when the Three Kings bring gifts to the children. That means, yes, that the stores are still busy and festive. There are indeed twelve days of Christmas, and still a lot of celebrating to do.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Renewing Residencia, Part 2

Filling out the application forms for the renewal of my residencia permit was tedious (see part 1), but I completed them this past Monday morning. As it turned out, my Spanish class was cancelled, so no sooner was Johannes' piano teacher out the door after his lesson than we were out the door and on the way to the ayuntamiento to pick up the promised certificate of empadronamiento. It was ready--not at desk no. 3, where I had ordered it, but at the Informacion desk immediately inside the town hall door. Then we walked across the plaza to the bank to pay the 10 euro and 20 centimo fee required. The bank turned out to be very busy--with Tuesday a holiday, everyone was trying to get their business done on Monday. We continued on with errands and found a bank that was slightly less busy--at least they had time to try to sell me a private health insurance policy while we processed the payment...but I paid the fee, the multipart form got stamped four times, and two copies were returned to me to take with me that afternoon.

Monday afternoon at 3:30 we left for the 4:00 appointment, and arrived comfortably on time at 4:30, having come into Orihuela and to the policia nacional via yet another route and scrambling for a parking place. The room which we had originally approached the week before was the examination room, and every chair along its periphery was taken. We nosed around, trying to find out whether they were calling names. Someone said they were, but I had not heard a single name in more than ten minutes. We asked a woman seated in the periphery what number she was--she was no. 5. I was no. 21. We went across the street for a coffee and a tapa.

Only fifteen minutes later we returned, and somehow they had gotten to no. 31 in the interim! No problem. Johannes went to the front of one line and started translating the official's Spanish to the Irish couple that were petitioning there. For this courtesy, I was promised the next session. And it came quickly, but no sooner had I sat down and presented my papers, my current residencia card, and my passport, than the official said, "No, no! Alicante!"

But my town official told me to come here to Orihuela, I told the official. No, he was wrong. Orihuela is for petitions from people who are European Union (EU) citizens. I am from the United States--estados unidos (EEUU) in Spanish, but not EU. Those who are not EU comunitarias must go to Alicante. Jose, my town official, had made the simple mistake of assuming that I was English, or perhaps Danish, as my husband. Or maybe he just didn't know that there is a separate office for non-EU citizens, since we are in such a small minority.

What with two legal holidays during the week, plus a couple days with a bad cold, it was Friday before we had the strength and the time to enter "bureaucratic hell" again, which is what one American friend terms this type of typical Spanish paperwork. After my Spanish class we jumped in the car with every important piece of paper we have in our files. We were going to be prepared--even if we expected to do nothing more than to find the correct office in Alicante and get an appointment time for a later date.

Luck was with us. Our GPS buddy Gloria Perez Sanchez got us to the right building straightaway and we found parking easily. A guard at the door instructed me to put my papers and purse on the security belt and walk through a metal detector. I passed to a short line and waited for five minutes or so before being greeted by a woman who looked at my papers, performed some unknown triage, and gave me a coded number: M002. Then we got to pass through to the "plaza" courtyard of the building, where I first discovered that there were 50 or so people waiting. By this time it was noontime, and I was grateful that they were still assuming I could be seen before the office closed at 2:00.

An electric sign periodically flashed numbers and what desks the people holding those numbers should go to. There was a series of I numbers, C numbers, and R numbers. There was also a line showing what numbers had been "recently called." One of those was M-001. It continued showing M-001 as recently called for over a half hour. Finally I saw, and heard, M-002.

A young woman greeted us pleasantly when we got to the private desk, but immediately glanced at the papers and told us we didn't have the petition. Well, we had the wrong petition--we were still carrying  two copies of the petition for EU citizens. She gave me the proper paper, the one for non-EU citizens, and I wondered whether I would be able to fill it out at her desk or whether I would have to go back to the "plaza" and wait for another attendant later today or on another day.

That was the least of my problems, it turned out. Since I am not an EU citizen, it seems, there is absolutely no reason for Spain to grant me permanent residence on my own merit. The "condition" that has given me legal status as a resident so far is that I am married to an EU citizen. I become eligible through my husband. Though this is not welcome to hear, it's not a surprise, either, and we are prepared for it. We have copies of our marriage certificate (from the United States) and of the legal notice showing the change in my name from the one that was used on the marriage certificate to the one I use now (also from the U.S.). We have copies of official records proving that, for a brief time, I lived in Denmark and thus have a Danish "person number." And we have official (costly) translations of these documents from English and Danish to Spanish--we used them all the first time I applied for legal residencia status five years ago and was finally granted it after a couple years. But what we don't have is any official statement showing that we are still married.

We are still married.

But where does one get such proof, I wondered? And why do they think we would be sitting here together in bureaucratic hell if we were not still married, I asked myself rhetorically. The official tells us to go to the Danish consulate in Alicante--apparently there is one--for a statement verifying our marriage status. This seems illogical to me, but I am hoping that it will make sense to another bureaucracy. Regardless, it is too late in the day to start to find the Danish consulate. Besides, as we discover later in the afternoon when we look it up online from home, they are only open until 1:00 PM. So now we have another goal for our next week in bureaucratic hell. I wonder what we need to do to prove that we are still married?

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Foreign Community Speaks English

I always have a stack of newspapers beside the bed for night time reading, and last night just before I dropped off I was reading the latest Spaniaposten, a Norwegian bi-weekly. The article that caught my eye was a short one reporting on another article from the regional (Valenciano) newspaper Información. The subject was the large foreign (non-Spanish) population on the coast immediately south of Torrevieja and the fact that English is the predominant language. It was an interesting article and I will offer my translation from the Norwegian:

The large number of foreigners who live here and their lack of interest in learning Spanish have changed many areas in Vega Baja, especially Orihuela Costa, to more of an English colony than a Spanish area.

So begins an article in the regional newspaper Información. Almost 30,000 foreigners are registered as resident in this area a little south of Torrevieja.

The largest group is the British, followed by Irish and Germans. Scandinavians also make up a large part of the immigrants and vacationers on this part of the coast.

The Spanish paper writes that immigrants integrate themselves here only to a small degree. The majority of foreigners create their own colonies, shopping in stores managed by their own countrymen where they can speak their own language, and they have little interest in learning Spanish as long as the foreign community can communicate among themselves in English.

Local businesses use English to attract vacationers and residents from many of the large developments found in the area. Información writes that the area is full of "supermarkets," "grocery shops," "restaurants," and "irish pubs." [sic] Few establishments use Spanish to advertise their specials. The lack of use of Spanish in the area has made it almost obligatory to be able to speak English in order to get a job in the area, the paper goes on to say.
That is (my translation of) the article in Norwegian describing the Spanish article for its own readers (there are thousands of Norwegians along the entire Costa Blanca, plus many Swedes and Danes, and the odd non-Scandinavian person who can understand one of those languages). My reading suggests that the Norwegian article was offered without judgment or comment.

This morning I decided to find the original Spanish article and see whether it was equally non-judgmental.
Spaniaposten did a good reporting job, I think, but the original article was longer and had a few other tidbits.

To begin with, I like the Spanish title and lead:

With an English Accent
Tourists and residents along the coast of Orihuela hardly know what Spanish is.

The article goes on to say that Orihuela Costa is a small piece of Europe, but more international than many European capitals. In addition to what was reported in Spaniaposten, the original focuses on the need for Spaniards to learn other languages--English at the least--in order to get any job dealing with the public and mentions that a media explosion of periodicals, websites, and radio in several languages is burgeoning. Finally--and one wonders why Spaniaposten does not mention it--several lines were devoted to describing free Spanish courses starting in mid-September in the town of Pilar de la Horadada, on a basic and intermediate level, to promote "faster integration."

Well, integration may be beyond the range of possibilities, but it's obvious that many municipalities are stretching themselves to offer language courses to expose foreigners to even a little Spanish. We don't live on Orihuela Costa, but we live within a half hour of it, and there are probably nearly as many foreigners in our inland area. I'm still waiting to hear from my town about when this fall's language classes will start, even though they are not free. It is true that one has to work to expose oneself to native Spanish-speakers in this part of Spain. A "peculiar situation,"indeed, as Información calls it.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Como en Casa

I've been back in Spain for almost two weeks now, and I am coming to feel very much at home. Me siento como en casa. The jet lag is finally gone and I am sleeping through the night without a sleeping pill. Good sleep is always hard to come by after the transatlantic journey, and especially in summer, when the weather is hot and we alternate between the bedroom air conditioner, which eventually becomes too cold no matter how many degrees we set it for, and the overhead fan, which eventually allows the temperature to creep up to where we need the a/c again. And isn't it a pleasure to be back in the land of good and silent room air conditioners, instead of those noisy things that are still grinding away in too many hotels in the U.S.

This week has been a succession of small rituals that make up our pleasant everyday life in Spain. Tuesday and Friday we had petanca games with the Danes. We were only three players on Tuesday, and I lost both games, but it was still a bit of exercise in the sun, and I enjoyed it. Friday there were 20 people at least, way fewer than normal because many go back to Denmark to visit in the summer, but some Danes also come to Spain to visit, and I played against two visitors--and my team won both games.

Wednesday we went to Almoradí to the health clinic, in the first of several health visits that we hope will find a solution to Johannes' difficulties in walking. Health care could be a near full-time occupation in Spain, or maybe it's only because of our age? We had been to the regular doctor the week before--I hesitate to call him the primary care physician because the only care I've ever seen him provide is to enter data into a computer and dispense appointment papers and prescriptions. Next week's appointment will be the clinic that does blood tests, and then the week after that all the data will be assembled back at the regular doctor's. This is the way the system works when it's not an emergency, and that's all right, because after each appointment we enjoy a cup of café con leche with a media tostada at a local bar. Then I am reminded again of how civilized the coffee ritual is here, where you never see a paper cup unless you go to McDonald's--and you wouldn't do that normally because there you can't see a tostada.

One activity that I am not back to is my weekly Spanish lesson, because my teacher has houseguests and will until the middle of August. That's typical here--we break for visitors, who arrive frequently from the north, or when we ourselves travel, of course. So in spite of the fact that I have a private class and my lessons don't have to follow the usual Spanish pattern of pausing for the summer from June until September, they will, this year at least. There is a reason these patterns develop.

Thursday evening we visited the home of a Spanish-American couple we have come to know,  and enjoyed dinner and conversation with them on their beautiful terrace overlooking the pool and the lights in Torrevieja on the other side of the salt lake. By this time of day there were cool breezes and no flies or mosquitoes. We chatted over a drink and hors d'oeuvres from 7:30 until twilight fell, and then sat down to a simple dinner of pork roasted with vegetables, and grilled zucchini and tomatoes. Spanish recipes, my friend assured me, and we were definitely eating at Spanish time, which the two of us cannot normally manage. Suddenly we noticed that the clock stood at almost midnight, and we had no idea of how it had gotten that late.

Yesterday we skipped our usual Sunday Zoco market--the one close enough to us that we could walk to it but never do because we don't know how much we might buy and have to carry home--and went instead to the "lemon market," which involves a drive down Lemon Tree Road toward the town of Guardamar. It is much larger and some say "more Spanish" than the Zoco. Maybe so, and we certainly noticed that the prices of produce were far cheaper than at the Zoco. But that may be because we are in the midst of the plenitude of summer, and they were almost giving away tomatoes and plums, and even the grapes were less costly than usual. I was amused by a man demonstrating a wonderful fruit and vegetable slicer with three different blades--and could understand the "as seen on TV" promotion in Spanish even though I didn't catch every single word.  The utensil would have been perfect for our lunchtime salads and would not even have taken up very much storage space, but the price, which of course only comes out at the end, after tons of vegetable slices and curls have piled up in front of him, was "only" 25 euros.

After such a demonstration we just needed to sit down for a cup of café con leche, but we weren't able to find a place for a tostada at this "more Spanish" market. Instead we settled at one of the many "English breakfast" establishments, where we indulged in English bacon, sausage, an egg, toast, tomato, and an enormous cup of tea. Coffee would have been extra, so why not do as the "natives" do?

And that is multicultural Spain as I know it.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Europe Day

Today (May 9) is Europe Day, and we will celebrate this evening at the Concierto de Europa at the new Auditorio de la Diputación de Alicante (ADDA). Europe Day was established at the Milan Summit of European Union leaders in 1985 as a recognition of the Schuman Declaration of May 9, 1950. On that day, just five years after the end of World War II, Robert Schuman, the Foreign Minister of France, read a declaration asking France and its recent enemy, Germany, to pool their coal and steel production. "The solidarity in production thus established will make it plain that any war between France and Germany becomes not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible."

What started as a limited economic measure has grown over the last 60 years to much more, resulting in economic, political, and social cooperation among 27 countries. The European Union is not and will not become a "united states of Europe," and it suffers from complaints of "too much regulation from Brussels." But it nevertheless offers a framework for revitalization and growth for millions of people from the intercambios (exchanges) of its diverse member states. And that makes this young Europe an exciting place to live.

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Royal Wedding

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 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.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Rebate Surprise

Last Saturday afternoon we headed off toward a place called Rebate Restaurant. No, that doesn`t mean that you get your money back if you don't like your main course. Rebate, pronounced the Spanish way, is in three syllables, with the accent on the second, which has a short "a," by the way: re ba' tay.

There was to be an arts and crafts show, and since I had not been to anything billed as an arts and crafts show in Spain, though I have been to many in the USA, it seemed like an interesting way to spend a Saturday afternoon in the fall.

The road to Rebate was worth the half hour or so it took to get there. We drove first to a castle in San Miguel, where we had been to a pétanque tournament and also had lunch by a duck pond once. If we hadn't heard of the crafts show, we may have stopped there at the castle, as everyone, it seemed--at least two hundred cars--had stopped to see a flea market. We'll have to remember that for some other Saturday. We turned right, however, and followed the sign to Rebate, said to be 10.6 kilometers down the narrow road.

Narrow but well-maintained it was, thank goodness, because it twisted and turned and went up and down through the remote countryside for all 10-plus kilometers. And what beautiful countryside! We rode through lemon and orange groves, both old trees and younger, newly planted ones, rows and rows of them laid out in angles on varying axes, depending on the slant of the hillsides and the rays of the sun, I suppose. At this time of year it was all green, and in addition to the citrus trees there were palms here and there. Three times we came upon the outer stone gates of magnificent country estates, fincas, the likes of which I had never seen in Spain. Of course, I hardly saw them now, for the houses were well hidden down the hillside and behind the foliage from the already isolated road--what marvelous views they must have.

Each kilometer was marked with a well-painted stone, but when we passed 10 we almost missed the discreet entrance to the Restaurante on our right as we rounded a corner. Making our way through the narrow driveway (we had to wait for a car to come out from the other direction) we parked and first came to a charming country chapel. The door was open and recorded music was playing--no service going on today, but there was a sign inviting interested parties to make their wedding plans here. Farther up the path we found a large building and a note saying that coffee and drinks were being served on the terrace. Around the back on an upper terrace we quickly placed an order and were served cafe con leche, and then we realized that people at other tables were enjoying cava and tapas.

The cava was inside, said our waiter, and indeed, that is where the crafts were laid out. How nice of the restaurant to offer a glass of bubbly as people browsed the stalls! The show was small by my standards--only a dozen or so tables were set out, but most every one held a different ware, and each area was staffed by the person who did the craft. Some lovely silk flower arrangements were selling like hotcakes. There were also drawings, watercolor paintings, some very interesting three-dimensional "framed" works displaying large flower shapes, candles, plush teddy-bears, even clothing. But I spent much of my time at the woodworking table, which had a lovely selection of ceiling lamp and fan pulls, pens, bowls, and other small objects in various woods, most of which the proprietor brought from England--all the artisans were English, I believe. I also spent time, and made purchases, at the handmade greeting card table--making your own greeting cards is a popular craft among the English, I have learned here in Spain, and I love the colorful, multi-layered, and one-of-a-kind cards that can be found.

My friend bought a pair of the three-dimensional framed flower works for her spare bedroom, and then we moved back out to the terrace, with a second glass of cava and some snacks provided by the restaurant. But as we moved around the side of the restaurant toward the parking lot, we were blocked by two flamenco dancers who were entertaining the diners seated on another large outside patio. We paused, of course, and enjoyed three or four songs, and the male dancer even got several of us bystanders to come out and clap to the distinctive music and heel-stomping.

We picked up a menu brochure when we were finally able to make our way beyond the music and dancing and waiters crossing the roadway with delicious-looking entrees. Rebate would be a lovely place to come back to for a leisurely and elegant dinner in any season, I suspect.