Saturday, April 29, 2017

Poppies, People and Purchases

As I sit down to write this week's blog I realize that things once noteworthy are now just part of our new normal. For example, the other night we took a walk and the church bells were ringing across the valley but only after a number of clongs did I really hear them as something extraordinary. The views continue to thrill us, but we comment less frequently with amazement that we actually live here. This is certainly home now and I think we will believe that completely when we return from our trip to the States this summer. I have always wondered how expats feel when they return home, from their old home - which feels more like home? I'll be sure to let you know in September.

The poppies are in full bloom up and down the mountain. They began several weeks ago at the lower elevations, but now we have bright red blossoms punctuating our green fields and rock walls. I am thrilled by each bloom; they appear in the morning and then the petals drop off by evening, to be replaced by new blooms the next day. When I walked the Camino de Santiago in 2015 I wondered if I had taken a photo of every poppy in northern Spain. I could not get enough of them. And so it fills me with joy to have poppies here on our property. 
One of our own poppies

Last week we took the drive down to Ferreirola and this time there were fields of poppies where I had stopped to take almond blossom photos back in February. And not only poppies, but a mix of wildflowers arranged more artistically than if they had been intentionally planted. The colorful purple, white, red and yellow flowers are stunning against the broken stone walls of crumbling terraces and ruined Cortijos. 

What could be more lovely?

Wildflower canvas

We have enjoyed several social gatherings in the past few weeks. One would think that living in an isolated location might affect our social life, and it has, but only to make it more active than when we lived in Oregon. Friendships are essential when we go days without seeing anyone but each other, and connecting with people is part of what we have enjoyed most here. 

Two weeks ago we got together with a British friend who we first met in March of 2016 on the day that got this entire adventure started. He had come to the Sierra Nevada for a few days of winter skills training and we enjoyed his company while snowshoeing, and have stayed in touch over the past year. This time he returned to Lanjarón for some hiking and scrambling days with Spanish Highs Mountain Guides and we met up for drinks and tapas one evening with a group of expat friends. Several days later we enjoyed hosting him for lunch here at home; it was fun to show someone around and have him recognize things from what I have shared on the blog; (thanks Stewart for your enthusiastic interest and friendship.)

The day we met Stewart (second from the right) in 2016- Photo credit: Kiersten Spanish Highs Mountain Guides

We attended a lively afternoon barbeque with another group of friends at a home between here and Órgiva. That day our neighbors took their puppy along so that she could visit with her sister, adopted by other friends, and it was fun watching the two happy labs playing for hours. Part of what we notice is the ease of gatherings; everyone contributes food and drink, kids and pets are usually welcome, and the entire group comfortably visits for hours with no one needing to hurry off. 

Puppy siblings with endless energy

Another day we went to a birthday party for a one year old who lives a few kilometers down the hill from us; that day the group ranged in age from the one year old to a couple in their seventies, and one neighbor arrived by horseback. The buffet included British favorites of meat pies, sausage rolls, scones and trifle.

Baby's first birthday

The neighbor's Spanish Water Dog came to the party

Most recently we hosted some neighbors for our first bi-lingual gathering. One couple (and their kids) did much of the translating and the conversation flowed easily. I enjoyed preparing a selection of Spanish and Italian dishes, and it was clear as the evening went on that good food and friendship are a common language.

Good friends in any language

This kid!

We continue to acquire odds and ends; tools and appliances that replace things we sold or gave away in the States. Since arriving here in August we have looked for an outdoor table and last week we found just what we wanted. We needed something large enough for entertaining, and heavy enough to withstand the strong winds that thrash the mountainside from time to time. 

We found the perfect table at AlCampo in Motril and planned to fit it in, or on, our car. As soon as the man brought the boxed table out on a trolley we knew that we needed another plan. It weighed so much that I was useless in lifting it and we quickly asked about delivery. For only 15 euro more they would deliver it to us a few days later. We adjusted our plans and called our gracious neighbor so that he could work out a delivery location for us. Two days later the table was delivered to the carpenter's shop in Soportújar, gracious neighbor picked it up in his truck, and somehow he and Sam managed to carry it to the patio. Now assembled it will remain in the same location for years to come!

Marble tiles make this table very heavy

Sam's latest purchase was a DVD player promised to play U.S. and European DVDs (did you know there is a difference?) The player arrived and we drove to Órgiva to pick it up. Sam opened the box and discovered that the player had a plug for the UK - gracious neighbor provided an adaptor so that we could plug it in won't play U.S. DVDs (we shipped numerous DVDs from the States). We did not receive the player we thought we had purchased so now we need to begin the elaborate process of returning the player.

On the other hand I am very happy with my new mixer. We bought it from a small appliance shop in Órgiva. The man took the mixer out of the box, plugged it in to show me how it worked, and then demonstrated how to release the beaters and finally he carefully repackaged the whole thing. Perhaps we paid a few euros more than we might have at the mega Media Mart store in Granada, but it was satisfying to support the local merchant and his attention was worth the extra cost. 

I get a silly joy from having European appliances. Each time I plug something in without an adaptor I am that much more settled into my life here. 

It is little things that bring us smiles throughout our simple days. 

Life is good.

I love this village house

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The course of time is not controlled by the lives that leave ripples in it. day Pooh and Piglet and Rabbit and Roo are all standing on the bridge playing Poohsticks. They all drop their sticks in the water when Rabbit says "Go!", and then run across to the other side of the bridge to see which stick is the winner. 
-The House at Pooh Corner   A.A.Milne

When my kids were little, Poohsticks was a favorite game. We would often take walks to a high bridge near our home and when we got to the bridge the kids would each pick out a stick, drop it off one side of the bridge and then run across to see which stick floated out first. Sometimes only one stick emerged, sometimes neither made it under the bridge to the other side. But the water kept flowing regardless of what kept the sticks from making it through.
In a river, small objects get caught up in the current and are moved further down stream before settling again, large logs wedged against a boulder divert the water until the river seemingly follows a new course; small pebbles are buried under silt, and sticks left spinning in an eddy will eventually rot and disintegrate. But all the time, the water just keeps flowing. 
Waterfall on a recent hike

I have been thinking recently about the flow of time. Much like a river, time just keeps moving along. 
Living so far away from family and lifelong friends forces me to recognize that time for us, and for those we "left behind" does not stand still. While the relationships are alive in our hearts and minds, the day-to-day activities of life demand forward movement. The physical space that we once filled is now filled by others and likewise, new friends have settled into the flow of our lives. 
This summer we will welcome our first grandchild, and we will be in the States when she is born. Another ex-pat friend was just in the States to meet her first grandchild and I know that she left part of her heart there when she finally needed to return home to Spain. I recognize that we will also experience the ache of saying good-bye to our granddaughter when autumn arrives and we return home.
In the years ahead, friends and family will pass away and we will not be there in the final moments. In time, Sam and I will have injuries and illnesses, and no family will be near to help care for us. These are some of the more painful realities of choosing to live in another country. 
But there are others who fill in those spaces left empty by our move to Spain.
Last night we babysat for two delightful neighbor kids, and as I watched Sam "gallop" around the table during a rousing game of "Pony-opoly," it was clear that we are filling the role of grandparents to these kids, as their actual grandparents live in the UK. 
On a walk with one of our British grandkids.

Another neighbor is temporarily without a washer and I have done several loads of laundry for her; she said that it makes her Belgian mother happy to know that someone is helping out her daughter; and I hope and trust that others will be there for our kids in the same way when it is needed.
Laundry delivery

When we return to the States this summer there will be many changes, some more obvious than others. Everyone we see will be one year older, as are we. There will be new houses where last year there were only trees. Roads will be recently widened; favorite shops and restaurants may be gone. All reminders that time moves on. 
The course of time is not controlled by the lives that leave ripples in it. 

Meanwhile in Spain we continue to enjoy each day. Sam is working hard cutting back the spring growth of weeds, but he stops and looks around and tells me, "I love it here." 
Loving our view

We wake each morning when the sun comes in our bedroom window and I frequently comment, "Oh look, another beautiful day." 
The actual color of the sky most days.

Each night this past week we fell asleep smothered by the light of the moon as it shone in the same bedroom window.
Full moon shining in the bedroom window (the lights of Bubion in the distance)

Time flows on, but all we have for certain is this moment, and we remind each other regularly to stop, take in the moment, let go of the things we cannot control, or that simply don't matter, and accept the calm that our peaceful surroundings offer.
A poppy growing out of one of the walls.


Saturday, April 1, 2017

A Hike, A Festival, Official Residency and an Injury

We have enjoyed a full week of beautiful weather. Early in the week we went in search of poppies. I've been told of a particular area that will dazzle me with fields of red poppies, and I don't want to miss that. We drove up through Pampaneira, past the turn-off to Bubion and Capileira and on to Mecina. The narrow winding road down to Mecina recently rewarded us with fluffy pink almond blossoms, and now those trees have all leafed out, but we were too early for the poppies.

We drove on to the tiny village of Ferreirola and parked the car there. This is the village where we stayed when we first came to the Alpujarras in 2008 and we return frequently for the short hike to the old mill at the Río Trevélez. Each time we walk to the river we discover plants that we hadn't seen before.  It was October when we first visited Ferreirola and the chestnut trees were full of burrs, bursting open and ready to drop. We have walked there in winter when the landscape is barren, and now in Spring there are wildflowers, fruit and nut trees in blossom, and brilliant green young leaves unfurling on the trees. It is a place that fills us with joy.

Happy on my hike outside Ferreirola

Thursday we went into Órgiva to take care of some business. Traffic was backed up and it took three changes of the light to get us through town. It turns out that this weekend is the BIG religious festival for Órgiva; El Dia del Senor, the Day of the Lord. 

On Thursday the statue of Al Señor de la Expiración, Our Lord of the Expiration, is taken down from the wall behind the alter in the church while out on the street there are thousands of fireworks exploding. We arrived just in time to hear the fireworks and afterwards I went into the church where many people were waiting for their turn to kiss the statue (crucifix) of Jesus. Apparently the crucifix was carved in 1599 and this festival has been going on for over 400 years.

Inside the church in Órgiva with Al Señor de la Expiración

On Friday of El Dia del Senor, the statue is taken out of the church at 6:00 pm and paraded around the town throughout the night. We missed that, but we were able to hear the on-going fireworks echoing up the valley.

Yesterday we picked up Bea (a local woman who has helped us with translation) and we drove to Motril where we had an appointment at the Comisaría de Policía Nacional, National Police Station, for our residency application. This process can be cumbersome, but we were well informed about all that we needed to take with us. Our folder was full with multiple copies of our passports, both Italian and USA, the paperwork from Pampaneira showing that we have registered at the town hall there, our NIE documents (like a Social Security Number), our proof of private health insurance, and our bank statements demonstrating that we have the required income of 550 euros each per month, and passport-style photos. 

The room was packed but our wait was very short. We were greeted by Peter Garcia and he scanned the paperwork and seemed satisfied that all was in order. But he was puzzled about why we would leave the USA to live in the tiny mountain village of Pampaneira. I said, "One word: Trump," and he said, "Ah, sí!" 

Soon we were off to the bank to pay the fee (for some reason they do not take money at the police station so a trip to the bank is always part of these procedures.) We enjoyed the walk into town and were fortunate to be first in line at the bank.  A quick stop at the Fotocopy store to make even more copies off all the documents and then back to the police station. In less than 90 minutes we accomplished the entire task of attaining legal residency status.  We now have cards that are good for 5 years and when we renew them, it will be good forever! 

Bea and Sam on our walk to the bank in Motril

Afterwards we took Bea for a celebratory lunch at a seaside restaurant where we enjoyed fresh sardines, lightly breaded and grilled to perfection.

Seaside lunch spot

Today we were up early and Sam was off before 8:00 for week #3 of the acequia cleaning effort (see last week's blog). 

A beautiful start to the day

He took his shovel and rubber boots because with the warm weather, the water is flowing and boots are necessary for the hours of working with snow-melt flowing over your feet. 

After a few household chores, I settled at the outdoor table with a mug of hot chocolate and a book. The birdsong was the only sound I could hear and the sun took the chill from the morning air. 

Settling into a peaceful day

Before the mug was empty I had a text from Sam telling me that he had fallen and hurt his shoulder and could I please drive up the mountain to pick him up. I knew he would need to ice his shoulder immediately so I threw some frozen peas into the insulated shopping bag and took off up the track to find him. I parked as close as I could and then started to walk towards where I knew he would have been working. I walked for several kilometers before finally meeting Sam who was making his way back out along the acequia with his backpack and shovel. 

Walking in the clean acequia on my way to find Sam

I traded one of my hiking poles for his shovel and we continued back towards the car. At one point there is a steep downhill and Sam lost his footing, falling again onto the injured shoulder and his wrist. It was painful to witness and I knew how discouraged he felt. Apparently he had dislocated the shoulder with his first fall but popped it back into place on his own and then tried to continue working before admitting that he really needed to take the day off. 

Finally we made it to the car and back down the mountain to home. A kind neighbor shared a "miracle ointment" and we strapped a variety of frozen vegetable bags onto his shoulder throughout the afternoon. A few ibuprofin and hopefully he will get some rest tonight.

We ended the day out on our rocks - just beyond the fence line, and right at the edge of our property. The view up the valley to Mulhacén and down to Pampaneira is stunning. 

Relaxing on our rocks

I shared a photo on Facebook and someone commented that I am living her dream. I realized that those are the exact words I used to tell friends who had moved to Spain or Italy and it hit me that actually I am living my dream