Ilivetolearn's Blog

March 31, 2006

car headaches continued

Filed under: on the road,Spain — ilivetolearn @ 12:34 pm

Well, almost a week has gone by and we are still in Spanish-bureaucracy limbo with the car. Of course, nothing at all happened on Sunday. Bill had to take a cab to the airport to fly to Seattle and I had to take Phoebe to school in a cab Monday morning. By Monday evening we had determined that the car was still in Cabezuela—the representative of the insurance company said it was slated to be taken to a repair place in Boadilla (near here) “probably Wednesday or Thursday” because they were waiting for a full truckload before moving it–so we rented a car.

Wednesday I called the insurance company to request that the car be taken to a different garage –the one that had checked out the mechanics before purchase and had given us a guarantee. Oh, he said, the car was moved to Boadilla Monday evening. So I called the workshop in Boadilla…no, the car wasn’t there. I began to panic. Where was my car?? Lydia, Miguel Angel, and Pablo (the nice fellow who brought the rental car to us) were all making phone calls on my behalf, and none of them could get any answers either.

Today (Friday) it has been determined that the car made it to Boadilla. I am not insisting that it be moved to the other garage because that would just be an opportunity for it to go missing for another five days. I now have to go to the workshop and sign some papers before they will even look at the problem. But of course I can’t arrive between 2 and 4—siesta. Oy.

March 27, 2006

car headaches

Filed under: on the road,Spain — ilivetolearn @ 12:15 pm

So our trusty 2002 Fiat Multipla, five months after purchase, needs a transmission job. I was at the wheel last Saturday, after taking Pam and Charles to Segovia and Pedraza, when the clutch pedal stopped functioning. Fortunately we were on a stretch of road that had a shoulder and I coasted to a stop in a remote but picturesque location in sight of the top of the castle in Pedraza. It was just getting dark. Bill immediately put on his emergency vest and set up the reflective triangles, feeling very Spanish.

After a few minutes of consternation he had the flash of inspiration to call Lydia, our relocation consultant, who called the number we gave her from our insurance policy—which includes AAA-style roadside assistance. Half an hour later a flatbed truck pulled up and they hauled the car onto it, with much joking about how it was now useless and we would be better off setting it on fire and getting the bomberos (firefighters) to take it away. We also called Miguel Angel, our landlord, who spoke to the towers about where to take the car for repair. This was followed in short order by a comfy Mercedes sedan in which the four of us were transported, following the tow truck, to a town in the middle of nowhere (later determined to be Cabezuela).

The driver escorted us to a bar and told us to go ahead and “tomar algo,” have something, for ten minutes while some sort of business was transacted. We were hungry but we had happened into the only bar in Spain that does not serve tapas. So we had some beer and wine and wondered what was going on…for an hour or so. Then a van showed up to drive us home, leaving us with the impression that the car was to be taken to a Fiat dealer in Segovia (the nearest town of any size). It was after midnight when we finally got to Pozuelo—at which time we had to move the clocks ahead. Daylight Savings starts a week early here.

March 25, 2006

the meat we eat

Filed under: food/groceries,Spain — ilivetolearn @ 10:36 am

Spaniards have a different relationship with meat than we Americans do. We don’t really want to know which animal, or part thereof, we are consuming. The more our meat can be altered in shape or form, tightly wrapped, and stacked in sterile-looking glass cases, the better we like it. Not here. There are whole legs of jamon, complete with hooves, hanging in every establishment, and even in modern supermercados with pre-packaged meats you can’t avoid reminders that the flesh you are about to take home and grill was walking or strutting or hopping around recently.

Conejo (rabbit) is common, and when you see a complete skinned hare stretched out in the butcher’s case there is no pretending it’s not related to the animal we know as a pet or a chocolate-egg deliverer. The lamb section has photos of cute fuzzy white creatures memorialized in nursery rhymes. The whole chickens are more whole than you think—when you unwrap the plastic you find the head tucked under the body. I am not used to having to decapitate before roasting (except for fish, I suppose).

But the prime example of “too much information” is the beef department. Not only is there a wall poster of what Evan calls a “cow map,” with about 20 sections labeled, but also each package tells you specifics of provenance more detailed than that of some art at the Met. Yesterday I bought “Filetes finos de piernas de añojo para planchar o empanar,” (thin filets of leg of year-old calf to grill or coat in breadcrumbs) and was informed by the label that it was nacido (born) in Spain, engordado (fattened) in Spain, sacrificado (butchered) in Spain, and despiece (cut up) in Spain. I’m not squeamish, but “sacrifice” and “dismemberment” are not words I want to have running around in my head while cooking or eating beef. Sometimes I wish I hadn’t learned so much of the language.

March 22, 2006

the waste stream

Filed under: Spain,upcycling/recycling — ilivetolearn @ 9:51 am

I’m not the only one who has mistaken the ubiquitous recycling bins here for port-a-potties, though they are too short for anyone but children. They sit in sets of three all over town—green for glass, blue for paper and cardboard, and yellow for cans, plastic jugs, and “brics”—that is, juice boxes of all sizes. Lots of things come in these “brics”: ultra-pasteurized milk (only Parmalat is sold in the US, but here there are dozens of brands and it is probably 98% of the milk sold), chicken stock, tomato paste, fruit juices, gazpacho, and even wine.

We have three garbage pick-ups a week on our street, but after being the only one in the family to memorize pick-up days for Pennington (Monday and Thursday), Yardley (Wednesday and Saturday), and Mattituck (Tuesday and Friday), I flat out refused to learn another set of days. All I remember is that they come at 1:30 AM Sundays, so the last thing we do Saturday night is trundle the huge can to the street, along with our own yellow container for “latas, brics y plasticos.” The rest of our recycling (lots of junk mail and wine bottles) we carry to the nearest set of port-a-potties.

March 20, 2006

magic on and off

Filed under: food/groceries,on the road,Spain — ilivetolearn @ 3:22 pm

We often remark that our oven is too smart for its own good…it turns itself off if some mysterious threshold of overheating is reached. This makes baking the aforementioned pies a challenge. I basically have to babysit baked goods by sitting within earshot of the oven to make sure it keeps doing its job. At least it’s just a matter of turning it back on at times.

The ceramic cooktop has an even more annoying safety feature…it stops functioning if some water drips in the wrong place or if the control panel gets overheated—an event that accompanies every attempt on my part to make “tortilla,” (which here in Spain is a potato omelette requiring much frying and flipping). Sometimes there are warning flashes and beeps; other times it just goes blank and you don’t even realize you are no longer cooking. Either way, it won’t just go back on like a good appliance…it needs to recuperate. To which I say, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen!”

In the car, we often tune in to the all-news station run by Radio Nacional de España. There is a mute button we use if we are conversing or otherwise not interested in the news. Well, this radio somehow knows when the traffic report is about to begin…and un-mutes itself. Suddenly we will be hearing about the M30 without any dial-fiddling. This is startling, to say the least. Creepy, even. How does it know we are in a car and need to hear about traffic? And can we set it to do auto-weather instead?

March 17, 2006

more holidays

Filed under: Spain — ilivetolearn @ 9:35 pm

This week has three special days (there is always at least one)…Tuesday was, Evan informed us, Pi Day…3.14. This seems to be celebrated only at ASM, and indeed, only in Evan’s math class. It required me to send in an apple pie. Of course I made a second for us to eat. I think Pi Day may make it into the Ross-Carmean calendar on a permanent basis.

Today (the 17th) is, of course, St. Patrick’s Day, and I am pleased to report there is very little hoopla about it—no wearing of green or giant shamrocks. The only observances planned were giant “botellons” all over major cities—a tradition the police are doing their best to stop in which huge groups of kids gather in public parks and drink, usually a 2-liter bottle of soda which has been emptied halfway and filled with hard liquor. Apparently Sevilla won some sort of informal competition last year and held the biggest St. Pat’s Day botellon, so Madrid is determined to outdo them this year. Of course, in the meantime most major metropolises have outlawed drinking in public altogether, and tonight the police are blessed with a chilly rain, so I think (hope) the botellons will fizzle.

And this coming Monday, the 20th, is Dia del Padre…Spanish father’s day observed, since the true day is the 19th, San Jose day. It is a national holiday, which surprised me because it didn’t even make it onto the official school calendar and they had to send out written notices. I spoke to a mom just this evening (Friday) and she wasn’t aware that there was no school Monday. There are going to be a lot of puzzled people waiting for buses that morning.

March 12, 2006

basketball news

Filed under: Spain — ilivetolearn @ 11:46 pm

After our five-day sojourn in Lisbon we were happy to get back to Madrid—the weather is nicer (it’s rainy over there by the Atlantic) and the people more cheerful. Three days after our return, we sent Evan off to London for an ISSA (international schools league) basketball tournament. ASM was the venue for the girls’ tournament this year and given all our extra space, we volunteered to host four visiting athletes from…Lisbon!

Isabela, Paula (both Brazilian), Mia (Danish), and Bo (Belgian), students at St. Dominic’s International School, played great basketball (they were undefeated in the 8-team tournament), ate prodigious quantities of food (we introduced them to bagels and Rice Krispie treats), spoke about 16 languages all told, and were in general delightful additions to the family. They acted as their own cheerleaders, bouncing and clapping and chanting through the preliminary rounds, and psyched themselves up for the championship game by getting up early and dying their hair.

After we saw them off for their 8-hour bus ride back to Lisbon, we heard from Evan that ASM squeaked to victory in London, dethroning the International School of Aberdeen, which had won in eight of the last ten years. Several games were nail-biters, literally won or lost by last-second three-point shots. We greeted the team at midnight Saturday night at the airport with a big tacky sign that said, “ASM #1.”

March 6, 2006

last bits of Lisbon

Filed under: on the road,Spain — ilivetolearn @ 10:10 am

All the sidewalks in Lisbon are mosaics made of large cubes of marble…mostly white but some with white/black patterns. They are quite attractive, though uneven, hard to roll luggage on, and (I imagine) hell on high heels. We saw several sections being repaired or replaced…very labor-intensive. The large plaza around the Oceanarium was the most elaborate, with depictions of sea creatures, and the area near the Discovery Center (a large monument right on the River Tagus built in 1960 to mark the 500th anniversary of the death of Prince Henry the Navigator) was covered with a remarkable map of the globe with exploration routes in various colors. Poor Henry never actually left Portugal, but he sponsored lots of naval globe-trotting.

The Oceanarium really was a state-of-the-art aquarium, in contrast to the one in San Sebastian, which didn’t quite live up to the guidebook billing. And the Lisbon Zoo was charming…small enough to walk around without getting exhausted, and full of animals made frisky by the chilly weather. As the Carmeans watched the bears put on a particularly good show, splashing around in their moat and chasing each other, I wandered around a corner and came across a pet cemetery…a huge terraced hillside with mini-graves, headstones, photos, flowers…all in memory of Toto the terrier or Foofoo the bunny. This must be the only zoo in the world where you can visit dead animals as well as live ones.

Bill and I made the kids do one adult tourist thing—see the art at the Gulbenkian Foundation. This is a remarkable collection given to the city by an Armenian immigrant who had pretty much unlimited money to indulge his great taste in art. We saw the first building (old masters up to Impressionists) all together, and then Bill and I went back to see the separately-housed modern art. Gorgeous buildings, set in a park with amazing landscaping. What a treasure for Lisbon.

March 4, 2006

movie night in Lisbon

Filed under: movies,on the road,Spain — ilivetolearn @ 11:55 am

We finally got to see one of the movies up for Best Picture, the night before the awards. All movies in Portugal are shown in the original languages with subtitles, so if we had been paying close attention we would now know how to say, “I wish I knew how to quit you, Ennis,” in Portuguese. They made the title into El Segreto de Brokeback Mountain—a curious combination.

As in Spain, tickets to movie theaters are for assigned seats…there was even a uniformed usher showing us to them. What was different, and surprising, was that there was an intermission! It hardly seemed a long enough movie to merit that. But as no customer in Europe carries food anywhere (waiters do that), including to a seat in a movie theater, the adjacent café had to have 20 minutes to ply its trade. Plus people had to have a smoke. It did make the theater nice and clean and quiet, with no one slurping or crunching or scooching by you ten times to visit the snack bar.

March 3, 2006

Mind the thief

Filed under: on the road,Spain — ilivetolearn @ 10:55 am

Lisbon, like Madrid, has a big pickpocketing problem. Every bus, metro car, tram, and cable car (and for all we know, the ferries…Lisbon has every conceivable kind of public transportation) has a big sign showing a wallet being slipped out of a pocket and “Watch Out!” in about four languages.

We were on the “tourist tram,” #28, which makes a loop around all the most famous sights in town, on our way to the twice-weekly flea market, known perhaps not coincidentally as the thieves’ market, when a fracas erupted. A guy from the back of the bus rushed over to a man near us, gave him a good whack, and hauled him off at the next stop, where he proceeded to make the alleged thief empty all his pockets while the passengers watched and did inventories of their purses, cell phones, watches—a tourist standing next to me had felt the guy’s hand sneak into his coat pocket. So this robbery was nipped in the bud. The English-speaking riders then discussed whether we had already passed the thieves’ market and indeed, whether what we had just seen was worth staying on the tram a little too long. We had lots of questions—was it a citizen’s arrest? Was the guy from the back of the bus a plainclothes cop and if so would he have hit the man? But we didn’t know enough Portuguese to get answers.

The street thieves in Madrid have perfected a trick only used on men with cuffed pants…one drops a handful of coins in front of the intended victim and bends to retrieve them, pretending one has fallen into a cuff and pulling down on the pant leg, while his accomplice stands behind and reaches into the pant pocket. Bill has foiled one or two attempts with this M.O. I am almost ready to chop off all the cuffs of his trousers.

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