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Showing posts with label time. Show all posts
Showing posts with label time. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Mandarins and Siesta

I just dug my thumbnail into the end of a mandarin orange and even before I peeled back the skin, I inhaled the heavenly sweet smell of orange. I have thought of this smell many times, for even at home now in the U.S. I am able to buy mandarinas, and I frequently do,  and I stick my thumb in the skin to peel them for a lunchtime fruit salad, but I rarely smell any scent, even though they taste pretty good.

I ate two mandarins while lying on my hotel bed, watching the reflection of cars moving along the country road in the glass of an open window. Taking it easy and resting from the morning's activities, and gathering energy to speed off to a game of petanca with friends at 5:00.

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, April 6, 2014

Time and Time Again

This week has been a little easier because one of the annoying bugaboos of spring has sprung into place: Europe switched to "summer time" last Sunday morning at 2:00 AM winter time, or 3:00 summer. This places me once again in a feeling of normalcy, because now I can figure six hours time difference between here and the east coast of the United States, as I do effortlessly most of the year, except for the few weeks in the spring and fall when our time shifting times are not in sync.

I was not in Spain when the time changed. We were in Denmark for a reunion of old school friends, and Saturday afternoon brought us back to Copenhagen to a hotel right next to the main train station, a short stop before we took a local train the next day to the airport for a morning flight to Alicante. Planning air travel for the morning of time change days can lead to some unexpected schedule glitches, and I was rather surprised that no hotel personnel, when we checked in and said that we would be skipping breakfast to go to the airport, reminded us that we should be sure to set our watches ahead an hour before going to bed. But we did set them ahead and, as often happens when anticipating a morning flight, we still woke up sooner than we needed to in order to close up the suitcases and get to the airport on time. I was even awake early enough so I could grab my iPad at 1:59 AM winter time and watch the time jump forward an hour on the World Clock app a minute later.

It wasn't until later in the week that I was offered an answer to a question that has been bugging me ever since we moved to Spain: Why is Spain, which lies as far west as Britain when viewed on a map with mercator projections, in the Central European time zone rather than in the Western European time zone with the United Kingdom? There is a one-hour's time difference between Spain and the UK, which is quite noticeable when watching ads for upcoming programs on TV, and it always strikes me as odd that Britain alone is different, whereas every other European country that I have an association with is on the same time zone. For example, I flew southwest from Denmark to Spain for three hours and arrived three hours later by the clock, whereas if I had flown one hour due west from Denmark to England I would have arrived at the time I left.

The story I heard was that during the regime of General Francisco Franco (1939-1975), both the general and the country were allied with Germany in every matter, and that included being on the same time. Franco disappeared from the Spanish scene in 1975, and his legacy is controversial. Streets that had been named for him are now being re-named, many monuments have been neglected or destroyed. One legacy apparently that has so far not been touched is the time alliance. I am glad that we are in the Central European time zone (the main one) and only six hours ahead of eastern U.S. time.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Saving Time

I have survived the first week of Daylight Savings Time this year. To my annoyance, the United States tinkers with its clocks each year a full three weeks before Europe also tinkers with its clocks, changing to "summer time." I hate this period because I have to disrupt my regular routine of automatically picturing the hands of the (analog) clock simply in polar opposite: Most of my contacts in the USA live in Eastern time, the time difference between there and here is an even six hours, so when the little hand points to 2:00 PM here I know easily that it is pointing to 8:00 AM there, and when it is 6:00 PM here and I am preparing for dinner, it is just noontime there and they are partaking of lunch.

Except during the three-week period when they have switched to Daylight Savings Time and we have yet to switch to summer time. Or the equivalent period in the fall, when we switch to winter time and they give up on saving, but I'm not ready to discuss that yet.

All things being equal, I think the phrases "summer time" and "winter time" are better to describe this odd worldwide custom of tinkering with time. After all, what exactly is "saved" with Daylight Savings Time? You spring sprightly ahead one hour in March at 2:00 AM Sunday morning, and that hour disappears until a Sunday in October some seven months hence, when it falls down on you, probably while you are sleeping between 2:00 and 3:00 AM. It is not daylight when you get this extra hour, and of course, you don't really get an extra hour--you simply recoup the hour that you lost in March. You don't get more time, not even a minute more. You get nothing, nada. That is a miserable rate of return on savings, even by today's abysmal bank interest rates.

While I was thinking about saving time, I took the opportunity this week to experiment with the time-saving features of my washing machine. Appliances are, after all, supposed to be time-saving devices. Ever since I have had this Daewoo machine, I had noticed  a button that said Ahorra Tiempo (save time) on the far right of its control panel. When I got the washer I probably didn't know that ahorrar meant "to save" and not "now," which is what ahora means. Pero ahora sí, I know. So I got out the washer instructions from the box of house and appliance manuals I keep on the top shelf of a bookcase in my office and re-read the manual.

It told me that I could save a whopping ten minutes from the routine. Not much on an event that takes an hour and a half or more, but more than you save when you switch to or from Daylight Savings Time. It did not tell me where I was going to save that time, but I experimented with a load of laundry this week by pressing the Ahorra Tiempo button. The washing and rinsing and centrifuging went on almost as usual, apparently (I did not waste time sitting by the machine waiting and watching), but not quite as long as usual. I was able to convince myself that even though I had started the load late in the morning, it finished before the hour when cheap electricity changes to expensive electricity (noontime in the winter, 1:00 PM in the summer). It wasn't until I started the next load, a day later, and went to put the detergent and softener into the little compartments that I discovered that apparently a rinse cycle is what is "saved," as the softener liquid was still sitting in its little compartment. And the socks were stiff as boards.

There is another button on the washer that I had not yet used: Retraso Tiempo. I looked that up in the manual de lavadora, too. Apparently I had looked it up before, because beside the all-too-brief explanation (Se puede utilizar para aplazar el lavado) I had written "delay." Now it dawned on me that perhaps this functioned like the delay on the dishwasher I had loved and left about a dozen years ago: that you could program the machine to start 2, 4 or 6 hours later, after guests had left and you had gone to bed, for example. Or after you had gone to bed and the cheap electricity was available, for another example.

I tried the Retraso Tiempo button last night, after putting in a load of wash, the detergente, and suavizante. When I pressed it, 1:00 showed. I pressed it again, and 2:00 showed. I pressed it several more times and it increased an hour each time, up to 12:00. It took me a few minutes last night at 7:00 PM to figure out exactly when I wanted to start this machine in the morning, but finally I set it for 10 hours so the wash would start at 5:00 AM and be finished by the time I was awake and ready to hang it out.

I did not hear the washing machine start at 5:00 but Johannes did, he told me later, when I got out of bed to fetch coffee at 7:00. By that time whatever noises it made had stopped, and I have to admit that I went back to bed and read a chapter before getting up again to go out to the terrace to hang the washer contents out to dry. I was the first within sight from my terrace to have laundry up drying on the line this Sunday, Spain's traditional wash day. I did it even before I showered and went to the outdoor market. That meant that it was ready to bring in again as soon as we returned from the market, even before lunch, when often I don't bring in the laundry until late in the afternoon.

At least it seems as though I saved time.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Fall is on the Way

Europe changed from summer to winter time last night at 2:00 AM. It's fall, so the clocks fell back an hour. I could say that I spent the extra hour researching old Sundays in Spain entries, but really I spent the extra hour asleep. It was only this afternoon about an hour ago that I started paging through the October and November posts of the past five years (!) of this blog. I was looking to see what I had written about the progression of autumn over the years, because everyone agrees this year that October has been warmer than usual and that autumn is especially slow in approaching.

What I found out is that I have frequently been out of Spain for parts of the months of October and November. That travel, of course, would color my perception of the time passing. I don't know what the meteorologists will say about the average or median temperature this month, but what I have determined from my reading is that probably it only feels as though fall is coming slower this year. I suspect it is approaching in exactly the same way, and at a similar rate, as past years.

That means that it is not unusual that I am still hanging shorts and sleeveless tops on my clothesline, rather than the 3/4 length pants and short-sleeved tops that I would have sworn I should be wearing these days. We have, this past week, gotten to the point where the wash loads will be increasing in size, because we are at that point where it is necessary to change clothing two or three times a day. It is now cool in the mornings, so if I am headed out early in the day, I wear longer pants. But capris are way too warm for our afternoon petanca games from 3:00-5:00, as I have found out regretfully twice so far. I haven't had the air conditioning on in my office for weeks, though we have occasionally turned it on--like just last night--in the dining room, where it would have been a bit stuffy for our Saturday smørrebrød otherwise. The overhead fans have become the main instrument of temperature regulation, and they require frequent adjustment. I'm still wearing my sleeveless summer nightgown to bed and pulling my very light summer comforter over me--or maybe sticking my legs out--but at some point in the night or early morning I find that the comforter is covering me completely and I wonder whether I should turn the fan off, because the movement of the air is causing a chill. Fortunately there is a power switch right by the night table, but unfortunately the fan only has three power levels, and it is already at the lowest level. If I turn it off, I invariably switch it back on within a half hour.

If I have successfully stayed in shorts all day, I generally find myself a little chilly when I settle down in front of the television in the evening. So far I haven't succumbed to using the blanket that hangs on the back of the chair and protects it from hitting the wall, but I have left a long-sleeved cotton sweater hang over the chair, that I have used only one evening but know I will again. We have gotten lax about automatically turning the overhead fan on and the light off to keep this room cool, and sometimes I don't notice.

The most telling indication that I don't feel fall yet is that I haven't made a single pot roast or cocido or other autumn meal yet. I''m not even preparing soup for lunch--the revolving "soup pot" that I kept in my refrigerator, where I usually put leftover vegetables and cooking liquids to puree with an immersion mixer, turned sour for the first time recently and I realized that I had neglected my routine. My only fall cooking so far has been to roast a pumpkin and make five small loaves of pumpkin bread. It was a success, from an old family recipe that calls for "a can of pumpkin"--something which you can't find here--and baking three loaves in round coffee cans. I only had one coffee can, which I had carefully brought back with me from my most recent trip to the U.S. (you don't buy coffee in a can here, either) so I had to guess on the substitute baking containers, and especially on how long to bake them. I guessed right, and the Friday petanca players and some American friends from our Fourth Friday Coffee get-together enjoyed a moist pumpkin bread this week.

It wasn't until after I came back from the market this morning and prepared lunch that I hung out the morning's wash load. That was only three hours ago, but I just went out to check and the clothing is dry. It is 76 degrees F. both inside and out. But I just realized that it is after 5:00, the  birds are squawking, and the sun is going down. I'm going to bring in the laundry (I won't have to put on sunglasses) and go downstairs to put a pork tenderloin and vegetables into the oven, and then settle down to watch the evening news.  For the last two weeks now we have remarked that we gaze at the pitch dark streets of Copenhagen outside the glass-walled studio of the evening magazine program that airs on Danish TV at 7:00 PM, while if we turn our heads slightly to the right, we can see sun outside our windows here in Spain. No more. Tonight I am preparing myself to see dusk, and it won't be more than a couple weeks before it will be even darker than dusk here at 7:00, or even earlier. Fall is on the way.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Earth Moved

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

It's been quiet since then.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Changing Time(s)

I went for my second One to One training session on my new Macintosh computer on Thursday this week at the Apple Store in Nueva Condomina in Murcia. Last time I worked with Miguel, who spoke excellent English. This time I worked with Maria, who claimed "poco ingles," and I was feeling adventurous, so we spoke Spanish. Maria started me out with the various features in the dock. When we looked at the Dashboard, I realized that the clock still showed Cupertino time. That wasn't useful to either one of us, and Maria quickly showed me how to change it to Madrid time.

I think she mentioned something about an alarm clock function, but I must have missed that and only heard her say that she didn't need a despertador to wake up because she had two cats. This I understood right away, as we have one cat, Goldie, who would never permit any other cat competition in the house. Goldie usually awakens us promptly at 6:00 AM to inform us that it is time for us to open the doors so she can go outside to inspect her fiefdom. "Si, entiendo," I said, laughing, "tenemos una gata y ella nos despertamos cada mañana a las 6:00."

'No," said Maria, "my cats have been waking up at 5:00 lately." And that's when I remembered that for the past two mornings, Goldie also had been making her appearance at 5:00.

I took this opportunity to verify with Maria that it was this coming weekend that Spain changes from winter time, the equivalent of standard time, to summer time, the equivalent of the quaintly named Daylight Savings Time (just how, exactly, does DST "save" daylight, where does it store it, and why does it not increase in value over six months of summer, anyway?)

Yes, Maria and I agreed, the cats must sense that we are about to change time.

And so we did, last night, or rather, this morning, at 2:00 AM. Or at the hour at which we went to bed, which was considerably earlier than 2:00 for me. And sure enough, Goldie let us sleep this morning until 7:00 AM on the clock, which was the old standard of 6:00 AM. How considerate of her!

And just as Maria had told me, the time on my new computer changed automatically overnight. That didn't surprise me--Macs are not the only computers that change time automatically as long as you have the right location built in. (What I'm waiting for is one that automatically adjusts to whatever time zone I am in without me having to tell it that I have changed locations.) I am using the new computer to write this blogpost, but it is slow going. Macs have changed considerably in the 15 years since I last used one on a daily basis, and it is going to take me some time to catch up.

Spring Signs and Rituals

There was a gentle rain this Sunday in Spain on Easter morning. I didn't even realize it until I went outside to put towels in the washing machine, but then I saw that the pavement tile was wet and, when I raised the lid on the large plastic garden container that hides the laundry, there was a small spill-off of water. I put the laundry in the washing machine anyway, because I have faith that the sun will come out sometime before the day is over.

If a little rain isn't a sign of spring, I don't know what is. This week has been full of signs, and that seems appropriate, especially as we were approaching Easter, although it was a little early this year.

Early in the week as I was hanging clothing out to dry, I realized that I had a line full of warm socks although I didn't have any on myself that day at all. I haven't switched to sandals yet, but I have started wearing my hole-y "air-conditioned" plastic garden clogs (I have three pairs) that I can wear with or without socks and let my feet air out while still keeping them off cold tile floors.

Forgive me for talking about matters of personal hygiene, but I also shaved my legs for the first time in awhile, since I was putting on what we used to refer to as nylon stockings but what are now (still, I hope) referred to as pantyhose, or tights. The occasion was that concert last weekend, and I wore a skirt with natural-colored stockings and let my legs breathe after their winter hibernation.

I had carefully saved a few spring clothes at the back of my closet when putting away summer things last fall, and I was glad because I have been in to them several times now. A friend told me yesterday that they had spent the previous day doing the summer/winter clothing exchange, so all their winter things were now packed away, seasonal donations had been made, and she had a list of clothing accessories they needed to buy in preparation for their upcoming May cruise, but I haven't taken that big a step yet and I don't have a cruise to prepare for.

Spring travel has started. There have been an unusual number of young children at the cafes and restaurants, and the grocery stores, that we have frequented in the past few days. They are here on spring break, with their parents or without, to visit the grandparents. Or the grandparents have gone home to Scandinavia or the UK to participate in the communions and confirmations, and Easter and other festivities of the spring season, even though both those areas of the world are experiencing anything but spring weather.

Our house has warmed up sufficiently so that we have gone several days without turning on the infrared heating panels that were a major investment last year for the upstairs bedroom and bath. They worked well, and we may add them to a couple other rooms later on this year when we begin to think about colder weather again.We have also gone a couple evenings without using the gas-fired fireplace while watching the news and night-time television. Each time we plunk down the euros for a propane bottle--and the number was just increased again this week so we are now paying almost double what it started out to be when we got the gas heater four years ago, but it is still worth it--one of us says "This is probably the last bottle we will need to buy before the summer." Then I say, "Don't bank on it."

When the cleaners were here last week they vacuumed and rolled the two carpets from the dining room and living room that we use in the winter but which we take up in the summer because they would be way too warm. They were able to get one rug into a giant plastic bag for storage, but the other was too large, and it waits, in the guest bath, for a custom-designed plastic bag arrangement before it can go out for storage.

Speaking of storage, I sat with a friend in our downstairs sun room--the one we pass through whenever we enter or leave the house, and the one in which we eat lunch almost every day, early one evening this week, having a glass of wine. All of a sudden I raised my eyes to the ceiling and there was the last one of the Christmas decorations, dangling from a hook in the ceiling that used to hold a hanging plant that died--obviously because we had failed to raise our eyes and a watering can often enough. There is a Danish song that says "Christmas lasts until Easter," and we certainly held up that tradition this year.

Of course it is just coincidence that in 2013 we changed from "summer time" to "winter time" the night before Easter. That timing didn't make it easy to get to Easter sunrise services, if there were any. Europe always changes to summer time the last weekend in March, and I find it disorienting and mildly annoying that Europe and the U.S. don't participate in this annual spring ritual on the same day, or night.

We participated in my favorite spring tradition yesterday afternoon--we went to Los Montesinos de Tapas in a neighboring town. This is the third or maybe the fourth time we have been to this tapas festival, which is always held on the weekend of Semana Santa, leading up to Easter. This year I remembered it in advance, without even seeing any notice in the newspapers or on posters. As opposed to today, yesterday was warm and sunny and about 90 degrees F. in the sun, and we sat in the sun on the central plaza of Los Montesinos at two different bars, enjoying albondigas (meatballs) at the first and something called La Campesina, a delicious slice of warm ham and red pepper on bread, at the second, with our beers. We thought one more tapa would round out our lunch nicely and were ready to move on when some friends happened by. So we did move on, with them, to another place, where we sat inside because it was too hot in the sun, and talked over a tapa of morcilla (black sausage) on a thin layer of cooked apple, with a hard-boiled quail egg. Delicious!

It's moving on toward 3:30 summer time now. The sky is lightening by the minute but there is still no sun. The clean towels are languishing in the washing machine, and soon I will have to decide whether to move them over to the tumble dryer or hang them on the line. On rainy days in this part of Spain it almost always gets sunny by 4:00 in the afternoon. But does the sun know that we changed the clocks last night? Will it also spring forward so I can make my decision at summer 4:00?

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, June 10, 2012

Hospital Time

I never got back to the Algorfa ayuntamiento to deposit entries into the tapas festival drawing. I got so tied up in the busyness of knee replacement surgery that it slipped my mind until--amazingly--almost the exact hour of the drawing last Friday. At that time I was in a hospital room with the official photographer of this blog, into whose knee a prosthesis had been placed on Tuesday afternoon.

I had no personal experience with knee surgery before, so I cannot offer comparisons between anyone else and the way it went for us, but it has certainly been an interesting and tiring week. When we arrived at the hospital on Tuesday noon, we were shown to a room which was to become home for the next several days. There was one of those mechanically sophisticated hospital beds with all sorts of contraptions, a sturdy chair with movable arms, a long and fairly wide couch, and a private bathroom with toilet, sink, and shower. I've stayed in less well-fitted hotel rooms. In the next two hours various persons came into the room and prepared the patient. Then at 3:00 they wheeled him out in the bed, and at 9:00 that evening they wheeled him back in. Surprisingly and disappointingly, no meal was available at this time, at least for this patient who had been fasting for over 24 hours, so I went out and bought a sandwich for him at the vending machine in the hall. Nurses came in to check various signs and one brought me sheets and a pillow for my couch bed. In the morning, they offered me towels in case I wanted to take a shower.

Time, especially mealtime, is different in Spain than it is in the U.S., but maybe hospital time is more similar across cultures than normal time. Since I have never been in a hospital more than over one night in the U.S. I don't really know. This patient was mighty glad when the breakfast service came in the next morning at a little after 8:00, even though breakfast turned out to be only coffee (decaffeinated) and a choice of bread, donuts, or sweet rolls. Not too substantial, but meriendas came at 10:30: this snack offered fruit drinks, coffee or tea, and cookies. At some time each morning a one-liter bottle of still water also appeared. Lunchtime was served at about 1:30--early according to Spanish custom, but per Spanish custom, comida consisted of a first course, a main course, bread, and dessert. Never what I would call noisy--even when we left the door to the room open, any personnel coming in to attend us would automatically close it on the way out--the hospital became very quiet after lunch. It was, after all, siesta time. Almost on the dot of 4:00 siesta was over, the shift had changed, and the merienda service came by again with its cart of beverages, cookies, and more sweets. The main event of the "afternoon," as this period of time is called in Spain, was the doctor's visit. The first day he came at 7:00 PM; we figured that was probably exactly 24 hours after the end of the surgery. Then at 8:00 (this is more like Spanish dinner time) dinner, or la cena, arrived. Here again there was a first course, main course, bread, and dessert. I left after dinner, so I do not know if meriendas were offered again as a bedtime snack; I doubt it.

When dinner came the first night, we were also presented with a menu for the next day. Three choices were offered for each course for comida and cena, including soup or salad as a first course; fish, meat, or a somewhat vegetarian main course; ice cream, pudding, yogurt, or "fruit natural" for dessert. During his stay, the patient had some excellent fish that was completely boneless, roasted chicken, a French omelet, sliced tomatoes with olive oil dressing and salt (the only time I saw a vegetable as an accompaniment, except for the salad starter), and some delicious cremas, thick "creamed" soup, and one was crema de alcochofa, artichokes, a specialty of this region. He never graduated to caffeinated coffee--I asked--but no one objected when I went down to the hospital cafeteria and ordered two cafes con leche para llevar. I usually ate the individual bread loaf that came with the meal, sans butter, and I also appropriated the "fruit natural" ordered the first day--a kiwi, unpeeled, hard as a rock (which at first I mistook for a baked potato) with only a regular dinner knife to peel it. It's sitting downstairs in my kitchen still, ripening--maybe tomorrow for our lunchtime fruit salad.

Each day was long and tedious, punctuated only with meals, exercises, a sponge bath, the room cleaning, various nursing checks, and the doctor visit--typically, everything was quiet until the patient fell into sleep and then someone knocked on the door and came in to do something. And yet, we were only there three days following the procedure. When the doctor came at 5:30 Friday afternoon he was satisfied with the progress and offered the patient the choice of going home that night or Saturday morning. You can guess what the patient chose (and perhaps what his caregiver would have preferred). "The discharge instructions will come from the doctor in 20 minutes," said the head nurse. An hour and 30 minutes later, the instructions came. The patient could go home either in our car or in an ambulance, but he might have to wait for the ambulance. Given the experience of time for dismissal so far, it was our car. They wheeled him down to the main entrance while I fetched the car, and we left the luxury of the hospital to be at home. And that began a different adventure.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Sign of the Times

It's no secret that Spanish time is slower than English time, or German time, or Danish time, or any of the time schedules adhered to by the mass of immigrants in this area. We recently had an appointment at 9:00 AM with a German contractor for the installation of heating panels. Since he was German we expected him at 9:00 on the dot, or possibly even 8:59. What we hadn't realized was that the installation itself would be carried out by a Spanish colleague. The installer came at 9:30.

Formal governing meetings in Spain, such as those of the apartment building association where we used to live, routinely are set for, say, 6:00 for the "first convocatorio" and 6:30 for the second. That means that if a quorum does not present itself by 6:00, the meeting does not take place, but at 6:30 the second convocatorio can take place without a quorum. A quorum almost always shows up anyway--but only at 6:30, never at 6:00.

If you are invited to a Spanish home for dinner at 7:30 PM, you run the risk of finding your host still in the swimming pool should you actually arrive at 7:30. Indeed, a former Spanish teacher once told me that the only time you would show up for dinner at the appointed time would be if you were having paella, which has a lengthy but precise preparation period, and it would be discourteous to be late.

A more recent Spanish teacher tells our class frequently that all Spaniards now realize that "English time" is much earlier than Spanish time--but she hasn't said that Spaniards actually recognize a stated English time as being the proper time to arrive for an appointment.

Therefore it was amusing, but not a surprise, to find the following sign in the local English optical shop this week:

Se ruega que llegue 15 minutos antes de la hora de su cita.
[Literal translation: It is requested that you arrive 15 minutes prior to the time of your scheduled appointment.]
 And immediately below it was the official English translation:
Kindly arrive at the appointed hour for your appointment.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Signs of Spring

Perhaps the most definite sign of spring is the fact that the U.S. switched to Daylight Savings Time this past weekend, upsetting my rule of thumb that to know what time it was in the U.S. I only had to look at the opposite end of the pointy hand on an analog clock: It is 2:00 PM here (after lunch) when it is 8:00 AM (starting-work time) in the eastern time zone of the U.S.; I am beginning to think about supper here when it is noontime for most of my family and associates; and by the end of the work day there, we have reached the end of my day here and I am usually fast asleep, or reading in bed. One hour's change should not make that much of a difference after I figure out which way the clock moved (forward, so now only five hours separate us) but it is a huge psychological difference because it upsets my easy calculation. Besides that, it makes me wonder why it is spring in the U.S. but we don't change to "summer time" here in Spain until next weekend.  I still have another week of unsettled time sense.

But there are some other wonderful signs that spring is upon us, namely, heat and light. It is no longer dark outside at 8:00 AM when I stir from my bed, nor is it dark at 7:00 PM as we sit in the living room and watch the evening news. Last Sunday at the outdoor market all winter clothes were on sale, and I bought two pieces--a pale orange knitted cardigan sweater and a rust-colored microfiber shirt, both to have available to pop over any lighter top I happened to be wearing--for just three euros (not each). I've used both this week, as over the last two weeks I have moved from wearing heavy winter sweaters and/or turtlenecks, with heavy slacks and heavy socks, and more significantly, from three layers to two layers and sometimes, in the middle of the day, to one layer. This morning I separated out warmer socks, underwear and night clothes and moved them to the less accessible part of my closet space.

I didn't put them away completely for the summer yet. It still is cold at night, and it still is colder in the house than outside. We had the gas fire on in the fireplace last night and we probably will again tonight, even though Johannes has gotten into his usual end-of-season mode of saying "This should be the last time" whenever he replenishes the gas bottle. We haven't put away the winter comforters yet, and we still turn on the halogen heater in the bathroom in the morning. And, in an effort to improve the comfort of our house next winter, we spent quite some time this week investigating and finally ordering infrared panels for the bedroom and bath. I sort of hope it stays a little bit chilly so we have a chance to try them out before next winter.

I miss crocuses, daffodils, tulips, and forsythia, but we have already had the almond blossoms and the little yellow flowers that spring from nowhere along the side of the road, and though there are not as many magenta succulents here as where we used to live in Almeria, there is a small patch here in Montebello. Some new thing is blossoming, somewhere, because Goldie has taken to sneezing four or five times several times a day, usually when she wanders back inside--or maybe she just finally caught the family cold that went round and round last month.

Perhaps the best sign of spring: it has been strawberry season for three weeks now, so we are enjoying lots of strawberries in our lunchtime fruit salads, or just by themselves, with cream.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Days of the Week

Even though I have not yet been to the U.S. to pick up American calendars for 2010, I have accumulated several, by gift, newspaper freebies, and purchase. In addition to normal variations in calendar styles (one-page vs. monthly vs. daily agendas; pictures vs. plain text; space for writing vs. just-the-date reminder, etc.) there are a couple stylistic variations between the calendars I am used to from the U.S. and those I find in Spain.

The biggest difference is that the week in Spain, and in most of Europe, starts on Monday. So the weekly and monthly view of a calendar shows days as Monday, then Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and finally--at the far right--Sunday. I always have to look twice and check myself when verifying which day a date falls on, to make sure I am not automatically assuming a Su-M-T-W-Th-F-Sa orientation. Of course, I should look at the top grid letters, and remember that when it starts L (for lunes, Monday) and proceeds through M-X-J-V-S and concludes with D for domingo (Sunday), I'm on the Spanish calendar. Fortunately, most Spanish calendars use red ink to indicate Sunday and holidays, so all that red ink on the right side of the calendar page is another clue.

My primary calendar is a plain-looking, black book calendar, which I use as a daily agenda of what I am supposed to do, and a journal of what I actually did. I've bought one of these for only two or three euros every year that I have been in Spain. If I remember, I can look ahead to see when the holidays are coming, as each day shows the saint associated with it. Last year's had month names in five languages, including English, but this year's only has the four official Spanish languages. I had a hard time finding a Spanish version of this agenda this year--I ran into a lot of English-only editions, but if I were to buy a British version, how would I be able to find out about the Spanish holidays?

My primary picture wall calendar this year is the H.C. Andersen kalendar 2010 from Denmark, each month showing a colored reproduction of a painting by Svend Otto S. from various of Andersen's fairly tales. The Danish week also begins on Monday and ends on Sunday, and this particular calendar has another special feature that I had to look closely to observe. Each Monday there is a number showing which week of the year it is. This is very useful, as it is quite common for Danes to tell you they will be on holiday in week 19, for example, or that their summer house is available for rental from week 24 to week 25.

I have an assortment of one-page, full-year calendars--essentially advertising pieces for local newspapers or companies--that I have placed throughout the house for checking dates. My keyboard calendar is from a multilingual company that produces signage "made to measure." Its weeks begin on Monday but the days are labeled in Spanish (LMMJVSD), although the month names are only in English. The first half of the year is on one side, with a centimeter rule, and the second half is on the other side, with an inch rule.

The Costa Blanca News gave us a calendar that is a mash-up between Spanish and English. Each month is a vertical row of days, and though days and months from this British newspaper are in English only, Spanish  and British flag icons indicate holidays important to people of both countries, and holiday names are in the language of the holiday. Now I am wondering why England has three Boxing Days in 2010...maybe because Christmas falls on a Saturday?

An alliance of Scandinavian businesses in Alicante gave us a handy calendar in Spanish (the calendar is way too small to get all the Scandinavian languages on it) and this wall calendar also has numbered weeks. I find it disturbing, however. According to this calendar, we are now (on January 6) in week 2, whereas my Danish calendar shows this date in week 1. Of course, it all depends on whether the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd of January started out as the first week of 2010 or finished up as the last week of 2009.

Back to my Spanish agenda, where I notice that there are very small and light letters indicating the week number. According to this one, week 1 of 2010 started on Monday, January 4. January 1, 2, and 3 comprised the last week of 2009--week 53.

There is an amusing, if little-known, short story by Hans Christian Andersen, about the Days of the Week. You can read an English translation here.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

An Ikea Weekend

It's been an Ikea weekend again. Friday, on the drive back from a short visit in our former home town of Roquetas, we stopped at the Ikea in Murcia, in a never-ending quest to fill up just a little more wall space with books and bookcases.

Our timing was not good. We reached the highway around Murcia at 2:10 in the afternoon, just as thousands of people were headed home for Friday luncheon and siesta. Or so we thought. When we got into the Ikea parking lot, and then the store, we knew where they really went for siesta. Not sleeping in the furniture display as reportedly done in Beijing, but definitely passing the afternoon time of day.

Though we have practically memorized the downstairs warehouse location of Billys and Bennos, we still had to go upstairs into the exposition part of the store because there was one new (to us) model that we had to check out and get the stats on. A half hour later we were making our way through the warehouse, picking our packages, and then we spent several minutes in line before paying. No recession here! People were buying. Out to the parking lot gymnasium, where strange contortions are often evident as people (including us) struggle to get heavy packages into or onto the car or truck.

We managed to position four units inside our Ford Fusion and then returned to the second floor café for our traditional snack of canapé de gambas (open-faced shrimp sandwich) and cervesa sin (beer without (sin) alcohol). No siesta here! It seemed as though everyone in the store had assembled in the restaurante and were all eating, talking, and laughing with family. One more stop-off at the well-equipped tienda sueca to pick up arenque (herring) in various glass jars to take home for our Saturday smørrebrød. Arenque must not be as popular with the Spanish as the albóndigas and other hot dishes and desserts in the restaurant--they had lowered the price to a euro a jar!

Sated for now, and prepared for the next meal, we drove home single file, i.e., passenger behind the driver, as the bookcase boxes were spread on the entire right side of the car, from trunk through the front seat. On Saturday the man of the house magically turned cardboard boxes into standing bookcases, and the woman of the house prepared a smørrebrød with four kinds of herring. And today, we are emptying boxes under the bed and filling new bookcases in our offices and bedroom.

Monday, August 3, 2009

If It's Tuesday...

Tuesday this past week was the day we set out to be at the office in Orihuela early to go through the trámite of getting my social security number. We didn't make it quite by the 8:30 opening time. Just as well. When we arrived at 8:40 there were already people outside the door, standing, some smoking, most talking, waiting their turn. We hurried inside and picked up our number: number 105!

The inside office was packed, but it was air conditioned. Needless to say, the few seats were already taken. We stood at a counter-top desk along the far side of the room and worked on a sudoku. After a few minutes, we checked the sign that told what number was being served. It was number ten.

At 9:30 we went outside for a little air. We walked around the corner and found a cafetería with tables in the sun. The air was still fresh, and we sat out with a cup of coffee. There was a kiosk down the street, and we added a morning newspaper to the paperwork we had with us to pass the time.

Back at the social security office, we checked the number sign again. As in offices everywhere of this nature, there were multiple desks--at least six--and as in offices everywhere, not all of them were working. I saw three in operation, and we calculated that the numbers were moving along at the rate of about 30 per hour.

More sudoku. More newspaper reading. More watching the people as they came to the intake desk to get a number. And then we noticed that no more numbers were being given out. It was only 10:30, but the "appointments" for the day were filled. The lady at the reception desk simply said that there were no more numbers: "Mañana. Come back tomorrow." This was small comfort for the multitude of people--Spanish, English, a few German--who were coming in to an office that is open from 8:30 to 1:30 and who had expected to be served that day. It's not an unusual state of affairs in Spain, and most Spaniards took it philosophically. Some English were a bit more panicked. One woman explained that she had been there before and never seen it so busy, but now she was going to England on holiday at the end of the week, and needed the European card that extended her healthcare rights out of Spain and throughout the EU. Some new EU regulation had revised procedures and required the issuing of new cards.

We went out for another coffee and a tostada, this time at a cafetería in the shade. Thus fortified, we returned for our final wait. At 11:30 we passed the 100 mark and began to inch our way toward the front of the room where the consultation desks were staged. For the first time, I saw that the room was much larger than I had noticed before, and there were many more seats toward the front. But they were still all filled. Finally, number 105 was called for desk number 6.

We explained to the young woman at the desk that we had moved our residence from Andalucía, that I had to exchange my previous health card for one valid here, that we had completed empadronamiento, and that we had been sent here by the Almoradí centro de salud. My heart sank as I heard her explain that, since I am not a European citizen, I qualify for the health card only through my husband, who is a European, and could she please see our marriage certificate. We had gone through that process before, when I originally got the card in Roquetas. It involved finding the original of our Ohio marriage certificate, going to Denmark, establishing the fact that we had indeed been legal residents there long ago, and getting an official translation (to the tune of 300€) into Spanish of the marriage certificate and the Danish residence papers.

Presumably we have that paper in our files somewhere, but it had not occurred to us to take it with us this morning, because I did have my Spain residence card and the prior health card, which I could only have gotten after showing those marriage papers. Too much logic! But in time, we convinced the young woman that she didn't need to see those papers once again. At noon time we left the office, a signed and stamped letter authorizing me to receive health benefits in hand.

Wednesday, we took that valuable piece of paper back to the centro de salud in Almoradí, where it took a relatively short time (a half hour, but that's another story) to get my health card.

We had intended to have a day out and play tourist in Orihuela after getting the paper, but by early afternoon, we had energy only to find our way to the tourist office, pick up a map and brochures, and retire to a cafetería for a bit of lunch and leafing through the literature. Seeing more of Orihuela than the 50 meters around the social security office will have to wait for another day.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

It's 8:03 A.M. Do you know what time it is?

For the last several months at 8:03 A.M. every morning, a clock has sounded with the words, "It's eight oh three A.M.; it's eight oh three A.M.; it's eight oh three A.M.," and on and on for an entire minute, unless I get to the Off switch to shut out the mechanical voice.

The clock is the one on my pedometer, a freebie trinket from the National Library of Medicine booth at a trade show many years ago, which has proved very useful in measuring my steps while walking and even biking. But several months ago, I managed to set the alarm, unintentionally, and even though I (finally) located the printed instructions, I have not been able to undo it.

This Sunday morning in Spain I was not disturbed until 9:03 A.M. That's because this morning, Spain--and all of Europe--finally switched clocks to Daylight Saving Time, or Summer Time, as it is known here. Spring forward, fall back. What had been 8:03 now is called 9:03--except by my pedometer clock.

The last three weeks have wreaked havoc on my sensibilities. I am used to the U.S. east coast being six hours later than we are here in Spain. It's an easy switch. Around the time of my lunch at 2:00 P.M. here, people are going to work at home. When I settle down for the evening news, they are beginning to think about their lunch. And if I am still sitting at my computer at 10:30 P.M., they are just closing up work for the day.

But since the U.S. changed its clocks on March 8, and we didn't change until last night, we were, temporarily, only five hours ahead of U.S. time. I was late for my usual telephone call to my mother on Saturday afternoon. I failed to check my email at a computer in Connecticut before the office opened at 8:30 A.M.--though I only had to wait up until 9:30 P.M. my time (instead of 10:30) to check the end-of-day messages at that office. And my New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Jim Lehrer Newshour, and Katie Couric emails have been coming in at hours that I did not expect. In short, I have been totally disoriented.

Since they both do shift time twice each year, spring and fall, I have never been able to understand why the U.S. and Europe don't change on the same date. Now, after an afternoon of research--made even shorter by that hour I lost this morning--I still don't know why. But I do know that the changes are embedded in their respective laws. Before 1996, countries in Europe changed to summer or winter time, as the case was, at different times. The European Union standardized the time switch, and since 1996 European Summer Time has been observed from the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October. The United States, which first adopted DST during WWI, then abandoned it until WWII, started regular observances with the Uniform Time Act of 1966. There have been periodic revisions since then, and starting in 2007, Daylight Saving Time begins the second Sunday morning in March, and extends until the first Sunday morning in November.

I figure I have seven months before my time is out of synch again. And I hope that by that time I will have figured out how to change the talking mechanical voice on my pedometer.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Twelve Days of Christmas

In Spain, the real Christmas holiday begins on Nochebuena (Christmas Eve) and doesn't end until the Epiphany on January 6th, also known as Three Kings Day, and the morning on which children may open the gifts brought to them the previous night by the three wise men. That's why, when I stopped by Carrefour yesterday, the place was still bustling, and not with returns. There were big signs indicating 20% descuentos on toy purchases, and kids were there in force, trying out video games, Wii, and other amusements that I don't need to know about.

Adults were around, too, still buying heavily in the gustatory entertainment sections, whether for gifts for others or for themselves. There were plenty of magnums of whisky and other liquors available, as well as huge Iberian hams, often sold together with their hanging apparatus. The line--well, it wasn't a line, but a large crowd--at the fresh fish counter was noisy and cheerful, despite considerable waits.

I rather like the distribution of the holidays over several days. For years all the planning and preparation for the season was a weight: Buying gifts, wrapping and mailing them, writing the holiday letter, sending it, feeling guilty that it arrived late. Planning food, shopping, baking, cooking, hoping that everything turns out OK. Calling far-flung family members on the holiday itself. I felt that I always missed Christmas in some ways, being so busy getting things done that it was here and gone by the time I got the spirit. Now my Christmas spirit generally makes an appearance at several points during the twelve days of Christmas.

Our Christmas began this year on Christmas Eve, as it usually does, but this time we had dinner at the local Danish restaurant, where Anita prepared the traditional roast pork and duck, with red cabbage, white and caramelized potatoes, and delicious gravy. Shrimp cocktail Danish style for the starter, rice pudding for dessert. We had music, Secret Santa gifts, good conversation, and even a magic show--I came away with both arms intact even after one was "sawed off."

Christmas Day itself (first Christmas day) brought very warm and sunny weather again, and we sat outside with no coat or jacket for drinks and snacks with new friends before another traditional Danish Christmas dinner. Time just flew and before we knew it, it was too late to take that walk around the neighborhood.

Second Christmas day we played pétanque and enjoyed more perfect weather. The third day of Christmas was still dry (I'm speaking of the weather) but slightly less sunny. It was time to catch up on sending Christmas greetings by email to friends at a distance, and to telephone some family. I've also been enjoying the fruits of my limited Christmas cooking this year--my family's favorite chocolate cookies and Johannes' favorite American casserole, both of which become luxury foods due to their reliance on specific American ingredients.

Today is a little cloudy, but still a healthy 60 degrees F. outside. My goal today is to get downtown to see the traditional Spanish Belén scene at the plaza in Torrevieja. Or if not today, maybe tomorrow. By my count, we still have eight days.

Happy fourth day of Christmas!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Changing to Winter Time

Europe changes time the last Saturday in October. For some reason that I cannot fathom, it's a week before the U.S. switches back to Standard from Daylight Savings Time, which they did just last night. I cannot keep track of this and each year I go through a week of disorientation when I have to think twice about what time it is where.

On Thursday morning we had coffee with a couple of people from Denmark who were here on a ten-day vacation. They had arrived the preceding weekend and we were all meeting up with the Danish Friends Club at 9:00 to embark on a day visit to Cartagena. We were a little early, but they were a lot early. Spring forward, fall back here, too--though the expression is not so nuanced. They had arrived before 8:00, because they had managed to live in Spain for five days and nights without becoming aware that Spain, as Denmark, had shifted time. Exact time is not important here, we agreed, when you are on vacation, or retired. Or working flextime, I added to myself.

Here we are now in what is called Winter Time, and winter has indeed arrived, more-or-less congruent with its set schedule and just as suddenly.

On Wednesday we woke up to 13 degrees Celsius. That's cold--about 55 Fahrenheit--especially when you are used to almost constant 80 degree F. temperatures, and especially when the wind is blowing, as it does frequently in a coastal climate. It was still pleasant in the sun, but the sun doesn't extend everywhere, and especially not to the coldest place in Spain. That would be inside the house.

In our part of Spain, at least, central heating in homes is rare. Neither in the house we are currently renting nor in any of the houses we have looked at for purchase have we yet seen central heating. Until recent times, I imagine people simply did without added heat in the winter time. Now, however, nearly everyone has one or more of the marvelous aire acondicionadoros mounted high on the wall of their living area and/or bedrooms. In the summer they cool with freon and in the winter they warm with electricity, all regulated with the same remote control device. They are not at all like the noisy window air conditioners I knew in the U.S. in the old days. They are wonderfully efficient in the small rooms and small houses of Spain, and quieter than a whisper.

But as always when the weather first turns cool, and whenever that may be, it is deemed "too early" to turn on the heat. So on Wednesday morning early, out came the early signs of winter:

First, slippers to cushion my feet against the cold marble and tile floors ubiquitous throughout the house. Nothing holds the cold like tile and marble!

Then, socks for the first time in months, and I put away my open-toed sandals and unearthed real shoes that cover my toes. Full-length slacks instead of the 3/4 length that I normally live in, and a long-sleeved shirt instead of one of my countless sleeveless tops. And then a neck scarf, because all my turtle necks are still packed away someplace else.

This is for inside the house. When I go out, I may grab a light jacket, but more than likely it will end up in my carry-all. I'll probably even have to push up my sleeves and stuff my scarf in my bag when I am out in mid-day. Especially if I'm walking on the sunny side of the street.