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Our week has been filled with mundane activities to put together the things that are necessary for modern life to run smoothly; visits to furniture and appliance stores, to phone and electric companies (HEY YOU GUYS!), etc. These have been a funny mix of easy-peasy and just too complicated.

For example, yesterday afternoon in the space of 2 hours we got water, electricity, and a phone line. This is nothing short of amazing. Additionally, this was on a Friday afternoon in a Muslim country. (Friday is the Muslim holy day, and in Mauritania, most people didn’t go back to work after a visit to the mosque, so it felt very strange to have a productive afternoon)

We’d heard that the elec/water company was closed till 1. But when we went at 1:10, we found a sign that said it was closed till 2. We live in between two offices, and at 2 we headed to the other, only to be told it opened at 3. Sigh. Without much hope, we headed down towards the phone company. It turned out they were open.

We went back at 3 and stood at the edge of the throng of people waiting outside for the door in the wall to open. At 3 or so, it creaked open a crack, and a man began handing out slips of paper with numbers on them. Those in front of us were most considerate in making sure we got one.

We got into a long conversation with the man who opens the new accounts about accents, around the US and around Morocco. To our amusement, in the middle of speaking French, he said in English, “l’accent Cockney. Bo’l. Bo‘l.” (The word “bottle” with a glottal stop). According to him, those from Fes do something similar with their Arabic. It was a most enlightening conversation, in the middle of which a tiny child wandered up to us, climbed on my knee, and did her best to grab the computer monitor off the desk. She couldn’t have been more than one. Eventually she tired of me and wandered off, and I watched another bystander, wearing the same charmed smile as I had, stop her from breaking a cabinet door. Her mother finished paying her bill and collected her child and they left. I thought again of how safe children are here in so many ways, where everyone just naturally takes their part in corralling and guiding and adoring. In general, Moroccans love children, and one of my favorite sights is a family with a fat dark-curled toddler and everyone fussing around her.

The man initially told us we would have to wait till Monday for service, which didn’t surprise us–it was 4 p.m. on a Friday afternoon. But then he made a phone call, and voila! Service was installed that very night. Impressive.

The furniture shops were a bit more stressful. We went to the local IKEA knock-off (KITEA! Isn’t that a strikingly different name?) and another place and picked out stuff last week. Actually buying those things proved to be more complicated. The items weren’t available anymore, or they only had a very scratched up floor model for full price, or the items could be ordered and paid for but might not show up, or the bill might not match the prices listed in the store. Nothing could be done; so sorry. Sigh. Right now we have the major appliances, already delivered (!!!), but no furniture. The beds were supposed to show up today but didn’t. That’s okay for tonight, but not for tomorrow night, when we will potentially be sleeping on cold hard tile floors. We have no furniture. But we will, and very soon too.

I’m so glad the kids are on vacation now. It’s nice not to have to worry about missed schoolwork and lost books. We are actually mostly moved out of this place, and tomorrow night (assuming at least the mattresses show up) we’ll be at the new place! Can’t wait.

After we left the Children’s Hospital on Tuesday, we went to the Potteries.

potteries

more-potteries

The Potteries is more than just the pottery market, although it is that as well. You can also find metalwork, tile and mosaics, basket and trellis weaving, rugs and of course locally made lamps, plates, bowls, vases, platters, and much more.

endofalley

We were in a hurry. We’d spent more time than intended at the hospital, and it was already late afternoon. We had to be back by 6 so that I could go along to sign the rental contract on our new place. So we were a bit rushed, but it was okay. I was there long enough to get a feel for the place, and know I definitely want to go back.

3tables

A fun atelier

atelier

They make rugs and trellises and shopping baskets, too.

basketweaving

bikeladder

Our new place has a lovely terrace; picture us having our morning coffee out there on this sweet little table. And there’s a lovely fountain rather like the one pictured here (to the back) in the garden, although on the landlord’s side.

ilsatable

Yeah. Works for me too.

Oh yes, she said all casually, we do have a house. At last. En fin. We have keys and a friendly, helpful landlord who lives on the bottom floor and there’s even a daffodil blooming in the garden. My favorite flower. I tried to force them to grow (you know, when you put them in the freezer for 6 weeks to mess with their little minds so they think it’s winter)  in Mauritania for years, without success. We move in Sunday, which is the twins’ 12th birthday. Ironically, on Elliot’s 12th birthday, we left our house in Mauritania. 20 months of being unsettled, saying things like “If I lived here…”, over at last. Ça y est. I must admit enjoying it when life is symmetrical like this.

And you might get sick of me in the next few days. I’m going to try to post every day, so that you won’t even miss me when I go an as-yet-undetermined period of time without internet next week. This will be in between buying everything needed to furnish a house at least minimally, until we can finally get our household items from Mauritania, where they’ve spent the last 20 months in a friend’s garage.

The only thing I bought at the Potteries this time was some clay for Ilsa. For about 50 cents she got an enormous lump of it, and spent the next morning happily making things.

mylittlesculptor

I don’t recommend visiting the Rabat Children’s Hospital when you’re having PMS because you will be transformed into the type of woman you never wanted to be–the weepy kind. (Gosh I am rocking this middle age thing! Zits, wrinkles, and overt emotions! Woo-hoo! Bring it on!)

Since no one had the consideration to tell me this ahead of time, I visited the Hospital yesterday with my friend, who has volunteered there for about 12 years. It was the day they were passing out the Christmas boxes, and she wanted to be there. You might think, isn’t Christmas over yet?, and you would be right of course, but these are boxes that are packed up by children in privileged countries at Christmas, labeled “boy” or “girl,” and shipped overseas. There is a fair amount of administrative detail, planning and shipping and coordinating, that goes into these things.

My friend told me about the first year they passed out Christmas boxes. They took a collection in to a group of children who were having dialysis. The children spent the entire first day just hugging their boxes. No one opened theirs. They just held them. After all, the joy of anticipation is a huge part of receiving a present. It wasn’t until the next day that they opened their boxes, shared out their presents with their brothers and sisters. In subsequent years, the volunteers helped them start. “Someone has to go first and everyone else will wait for that,” my friend explained. I agreed, although we both know it’s not like that in American families.

I loved seeing the amazed smiles on the faces of the children yesterday as they clutched their boxes to their chests. I am not sentimental about third-world children; I have driven through too many villages where the children ran up to beg for my pen and cursed me when I didn‘t give it to them, or threw rocks at our car as we passed by. But the kids yesterday were the stuff of which appeals by children‘s charities are made; shy sweet smiles of gratitude, pure joy as they clutched their boxes to their chests.

The boxes themselves were pretty awesome too. Many were hand-decorated with pictures of Christmas trees and snowmen and candy canes, and most had some version of “Mery Cristmas” on them, written lopsidedly in colored marker.

The Children’s Hospital is not a depressing place. It is bright and freshly-painted in rainbow colours and there’s even a play room on this floor, put in last year, with big windows and a good variety of toys. My friend told me of the many, many changes since she first started coming. She gets frustrated that various volunteer groups have spent money on paint instead of on medicines for desperately-ill children whose families can’t afford their care. I understood her point–who wouldn’t?–but I also pointed out that the feel of the hospital is important. It feels like a place with hope.

At the same time, that hope can be hard to sustain. We saw a tiny apple-cheeked baby, cocooned in the thick polyester blankets ubiquitous in North Africa, just a bright-eyed little face in a wad of material. She was sporting that thing when they’ve got to keep a vein open so they stick a needle in you, plug it off, and tape it in place. I know there is a single, simple word for these in the English language, but I can’t tell you what it is. Hers was in her hand. Next to her, a toddler howled disconsolately; he had a vein-open thing (whatever that word is) in his head, wrapped in purple cloth; his mother and aunt were fussing over him. Ilsa gave him a Christmas box but he didn’t even look at it, just kept wailing while his mother pulled a much-washed-but-clean t-shirt over his head. These tiny ones are already on dialysis. I don’t know the details of their conditions, but I do know that their futures aren’t bright.

At this hospital, a female relative (usually the mother) stays with the child; they sleep in the same bed. On the one hand, that obviously isn‘t ideal in all circumstances, but I can see the appeal of this too–how nice for a sad scared child to snuggle with his mother, enjoying her undivided attention.

We met baby Adam, who was bright-eyed and curious but very thin, in with a kidney infection that just wouldn’t clear up. He sat on his mother’s lap and reached for a blue teddy bear. We met a woman my friend has known through the years, in with her daughter. They have no money to pay so the girl has gone a couple of weeks without her medicine. She lay there on her bed, curled up on one side, absolutely still, her eyes inwardly-focused and unaware of us. In the other bed, a girl of about 10 was getting her dialysis; she also didn’t move but her eyes stared back at us, curious. Next to her on her bed was a Christmas box, opened and spilling forth its brightly-colored contents.

We didn’t stay all that long, but it was hard to leave. People kept coming up to us. My friend has cut back on her hours there and so many people wanted to talk to her, wanted to give her updates on their children, wanted to show her the lists of expensive medicines they can’t afford.

We walked down four flights of stairs, each one with a different colour stripe (which is brilliant for a clientele that is often illiterate), and out into the warm spring air. “If I break my arm, will I come here?” Ilsa asked me. “No,” I told her. “You would go to a private clinic.” My friend’s daughter chimed in. “Your parents have money,” she told her. “You wouldn’t come here.” And that is the case. In a land where a visit to a specialist costs about $25, we can afford good care if we need it.

The woman whose daughter lay so still? She only needed about $12 to bring back life and movement, at least for a while.

Another way that the French differ from the Americans is in how they celebrate Valentine’s Day. Americans may gripe about it, but they celebrate. Kids take mass-produced Valentine’s to school and eat cupcakes and heart-shaped sugar cookies decorated in pink and red; adults in a relationship are pretty much obligated either to do something to celebrate or to announce that they are not doing anything, and explain why, with “We don’t do Hallmark holidays” being the most common followed by “We couldn‘t get childcare.”

In France, there is Valentine’s Day of course, but it is pretty much for young lovers. A couple with 3 kids and 15 years of marriage under their belts probably won’t do much, except maybe buy flowers, but then they do that anyway.
But we’re American. We always celebrate, Donn and I, usually by going out to dinner. (I’ve been trying to introduce the concept of diamond earrings into the mix, but so far unsuccessfully)

The year we were in France, a family we were getting to know invited us over. I was really happy to accept. They had young kids also and lived out in the countryside, and invited us to spend the entire day. Then I realized it was Valentine’s Day, and we actually had free childcare in the form of a young single friend at language school. I called and asked if we could reschedule. The woman was very polite and formal on the phone, agreed we could reschedule, and pretty much didn’t talk to us after that. It was evident that we’d made a major faux pas, although it was too late to do anything about it.

So when the mother of a kid in Abel’s class called to invite us to lunch on Valentine’s Day, I agreed instantly. We can go out to dinner anytime; the kids no longer need childcare. And so on Valentine’s Day, the flowers were not for me.

We showed up at 2, left after 6, and were still full the following morning. It was a real feast, starting with salads and Moroccan samosas, continuing with roast beef and vegetables and fried fingerling potatoes, which Abel is still talking about, continuing on with cheese, then fruit, then chocolate-raspberry pastries, then coffee. It was all beautifully served and presented, and we had a wonderful time. But this was the first time in years that we’d had to speak French for that long a time, and afterwards we were both exhausted. Fortunately the dad speaks English quite well. It was nice; whenever we absolutely couldn’t think of how to phrase something in French, he could usually figure it out from our English.

He told us he’d lived in Iowa. Iowa??? We said in amazement. Most people we meet who’ve been to the US have either been to New York or Washington DC, with a small but solid majority having been to Disney World in Florida. Turns out he was an exchange student in Iowa City. “What did you think?” we asked, and he laughed. Not much at the time, he admitted. Years later, he worked in New York for a couple of years.

This week, we went out again, this time to the house of a girl in Ilsa’s class. This is my Italian friend that I mentioned before; she invited us for pizza. I don’t know about you, but when an Italian woman invites me for Italian food, I tend to accept with alacrity.

This time the invitation was for 7 p.m. We showed up with a boxful of cakes from the local bakery (which is directly opposite the kids’ school and single-handedly responsible for about two inches round my hips). I had actually spent the afternoon making chocolate chip cookies but they were all either undercooked or burned. I have avoided nattering on and on about how much I hate the oven in this house, which has only two temperatures–125 degrees and 500 degrees. Nothing in between. I know I often exaggerate for comic effect, but this is actually true, and there’s an oven thermometer to back me up. And yet I don’t give up, I keep baking.

We had a super evening. She was very welcoming and casual, inviting us into her kitchen to chat with her while she finished putting the pizzas in the oven. It felt very strange to us, because North Africans tend to be much more formal (not to mention they usually have household help), and we’re no longer used to sitting down in a warm, bright kitchen and watching our hostess, wearing an apron, bustle round preparing supper.

We enjoyed snacking on olives (she’d prepared them herself) and kefta (Moroccan meatballs) and watching her make vinaigrette from lemons from her tree and olive oil pressed by her husband. Again we had a great time. She said at one point, “I’m talking so much!” I felt a little sorry for her. Donn and I, verbose in English, are quieter in French (and I’m very close-lipped in Arabic). But we so appreciate those who are willing to spend an evening being patient with our language skills and getting to know us. And I can’t wait to return the favor, once I’m in a home of my own.

And it was an educational evening in more than just learning to understand an Italian woman speaking rapid French. Did you know that green, red and black olives all come from the same tree? Yes. The colour comes from how long they are ripened. Then they are soaked in brine with spices and garlic and other things that give them their wonderful flavour. (Unless you are thinking of the American ones in cans, which is not what I am talking about. Ew.)

My kids think this is so funny. They watch it over and over again. “Yes!” they mutter to each other.

Brian Regan’s description of the cattle call boarding of modern airlines may make seasoned travelers chuckle. (Note: this clip is long and I don’t care if you skip it, although the kids won‘t sympathize. The part I’m referring to is around the 5 minute mark, as I recall) You know how, when the airline personnel says, “Rows 35-49 boarding; if your seat is in rows 35-49 please come up now” and Every. Single. Person who is even in that terminal, much less actually getting on your flight,  surges forward and crowds around the poor flustered airline person? That’s what he’s referring to.

We flew Easy Jet (a misnomer) to Madrid last weekend (okay, so it was the weekend before last if you want to be technical). Easy Jet is a cheap, no-frills airline. It keeps prices down by, among other things, not assigning seats and not including any checked luggage with your ticket. (Aside: this works and their prices are really cheap. Which begs the question–why, then, are so many American airlines now not giving out free snacks or allowing checked luggage while keeping their prices so high? Protest, people, protest. It’s the last resort of the consumer)

We arrived at our gate in the Casa airport and immediately went to stand in front, having been warned by experienced easy-jet travellers. (It’s a cattle call, was how they put it) The woman waved us back, rather irritably. “We board by sections,” she told us. “And the plane is late. Go sit down.” We obeyed, but others didn’t. They crowded round and pushed against each other, until finally we decided to join them.

I have written before, several times, on how much Donn and I are working on being able to elbow our way into crowds and cut people off. We’re really improving, and I’m proud of us for being able to shed our inhibitions, our “oh-this-elderly-woman-was-here-first-and-is-fragile” concerns, our politeness-instilling upbringing. While we still are somewhat reluctant to cut people off ourselves (I actually haven’t managed it yet at all, to be honest, but I’m doing my best!), we are doing well at not being cut off ourselves.

But I was so proud of Ilsa. My tiny daughter just pushed her way into the throng, slipping through tiny gaps and elbowing her way to the front. “Go Ilsa!” I told her, thumbs up. Obviously I had to follow her, couldn’t leave her alone, and people let me through. So we ended up not far from the front of the maddening crowd.

And the lady was right. They did board in sections. Our section was second (first are the people who pay extra for the privilege), because we were traveling with children. And our flight was fine; one might even say “easy.”

I mentioned before the bomb that exploded in Madrid the day we were to fly out. No one was hurt and all it did was snarl traffic and blow out some windows. I assumed that security at the airport would be tighter, but it was still much simpler than, for example, buying a latte at JFK.

Our first glimpse of an easy-jet personnel showed someone in a bad mood. He sized us up and narrowed his eyes at my purse. According to him, I had two carry-ons. I would have to pay.

No problem. I unzipped my carry-on and put my purse in it. He was still unconvinced, and made me put my tiny case into the orange metal grid, where it totally fit although I had to maneuver the handle a little bit. He passed us on through, somewhat unhappily. He was short and snippy, but I chalked it up to stress because of “la bomba.”

Then we went on, through security and everything, up to our gate. (We had a long wait; the plane was late again) Suddenly, everyone sort of rushed the gate, so we joined in. Following an announcement and flashcards, we sorted ourselves into sections. We were in a different section this time (general boarding), but towards the front of our group. The line stretched out behind us.

When we arrived at the front of the line, the woman was curt. She glanced at us and announced that our cases were too big. Without even measuring them, she labeled them and made us hold up the line (you know how you love being the ones to do this) while she fussed about printing out luggage tags. We tried to argue, but to no avail. Our cases were whisked away from us into the bowels of the plane.

We boarded the plane unhappily. How could our carry-ons suddenly be too big, when they weren’t too big before? They were the same size as they had been two days earlier. Not to mention that we were without all the travel amenities we had planned for the flight–my bottle of water, Ilsa’s headphones, book and chewing gum. Another American woman living in Morocco, who ended up sitting behind Donn, had just had the same experience. The easy jet woman was very rude to her and said, ‘Can you read English?’ when the American woman protested that her case had not been a problem two days earlier on the flight. In fact, the easyjet-woman insisted she get out her credit card and pay for the bag then and there, before she would allow her to board.

They ended up not charging us for checking our bags, but it was still a hassle. And it didn’t make sense. If on one flight your bag is fine and on the next flight that same bag is too big, how can you plan? If boarding easily is dependent on the mood of the person checking you in, how can you avoid being “that family” that holds up everyone else? And, should easy jet change their name? If so, to what? Complicated Jet springs to mind, but perhaps “It Depends” Jet would be better. “It Depends on my Mood” Jet? What do you think?  And what would they do for a logo?

Overall, the weekend in Spain was a disappointment. Since we didn’t have a lot of time, we opted to fly to Madrid rather than taking the train and the always-uncertain ferry, with its fluid notions of scheduling, to Tarifa in southern Spain. The flight is 1 ½ hours and the train ride to Casa a little over an hour, which is much shorter than the 4 hour train to Tanger, the hour-long crossing (they claim it’s 30 minutes and it is if you only count the time on open water), plus however long you sit in port waiting for the 3:00 ferry to leave (up to 6 hours). But we realized that the differences, obvious on paper, wisp away in reality, eaten up by the hours in the airport (we took an early train rather than cut it fine and risk being late; our plane was an hour late) and then spent finding the bus stop and bus information, and waiting for the bus. We left our house in Rabat at 9:40 a.m. and didn’t get to the guest house in Madrid till nearly 8 p.m. local time (an hour ahead).

I’m sure Madrid has many charming facets hidden just below the surface, but we really didn’t find them. It’s famous for museums, but we were only there one full day and didn’t even try. Our main goal for the day was a visit to Carrefour and similar stores, where we planned to stock up on pork products as well as things like socks and jeans for the kids, a new headset for skype since our second one has broken now, and birthday presents for the twins. So on Sunday morning, we caught a bus downtown, got out and wandered round an area looking for breakfast. It always takes a while to acclimate to a strange city, especially when you don’t speak the local language. We eventually ate in the “Juan Valdez Café” –yes THAT Juan Valdez, the guy with the hat from the old commercials. He has his own cafes now, very Starbucks-esque only with more of a fuchsia-pink theme, and we had very good espresso and some pastries. I studied the free map I got at the airport and we found a tourist office, and they sent us off downtown on the metro, where, again we wandered around.

elliotonmetro

We saw statues. We went in some shops. We found the Museum of Ham. Seriously, they have the Museum of Ham in Madrid. At first I was all excited and had warm fuzzies toward the Spainards, these considerate people who not only make excellent ham but have also thought to preserve (HA!) their methods for others to learn from. But then we went in and it was just a shop and restaurant–admittedly a shop with a truly impressive display of porcine products, and a packed and bustling restaurant. We had to eat standing up at the bar, where we had excellent serrano ham and cheese sandwiches and green olives for lunch–for 1.50 euros per person.

museumofham1

This is how the Spainards eat sandwiches. They take a roll of ciabatta-like bread and slice it in half. They put a slice of jamon Serrano and a slice of cheese (I forget the name but it starts with M and is very very good) and then you eat it. No butter or oil or mayo or tomato slices. It’s very good, although I am partial to lots of veggies on my sandwiches.

I’m sure Madrid is charming.

madrid

Have you ever been there? What did you do? Please tell me in comments, so that I can realize what losers we are for not finding the good spots. But after we had wandered the town a bit, visited a big department store having an awesome sale and yet been unable to find anything in our kids’ sizes, dealt with aching feet, it was time to leave. After one last stop that brought much joy to my heart… (so worth the extra foot-related agony, as it was not on the way…)

starbucksmadrid(and yes, I have totally forgiven them…)

We caught a bus headed towards Torrejon. We knew there was a Carrefour on the way. We asked the bus driver to let us off near Carrefour, which he did. I do not believe he was a sadistic man, or in any way anti-American. We said we wanted that stop, so he took us there. It was not his job to ask if we were trying to go to Carrefour or, perhaps, meeting Spanish friends who lived nearby.

Nevertheless, he dropped us off on the side of the freeway. We made our way across an overpass, limping a little on our sore feet, and down the other side. We could sort of see the big Carrefour sign in the distance, and eventually figured out we needed to go further down the freeway. It was probably about a mile. We walked across a river on a tiny little walkway on the side of the freeway, then triumphantly crossed another road and entered Carrefour’s parking lot…

…which was completely empty.A bad sign. We looked and saw the shopping carts lined in front of the door.

Carrefour was closed. It was, after all, Sunday afternoon, and we were in a Catholic country–admittedly in a major city, one where about half of the downtown stores were open.

There was nothing to do. We knew we wouldn’t have time to come back in the morning. Bitterly disappointed, we limped back along the river, across the freeway, and down to the bus stop, where we waited and waited because the buses went to Therathwala, not Zarazuela.

Really, there were 2 highlights of the weekend. One:

starbucksathome

The second was a little Italian restaurant located just round the corner from the guesthouse, the Chacabuco. We went there on Saturday night. The lady who runs the guesthouse recommended it, and pointed in a sort of general way off the balcony. We went in that general direction for some time before we asked someone on the street, who pointed in a different direction. Did I mention it was 8 degrees (celcius) that night?

We eventually found it and entered the warm cozy space with much contentment. While we were looking, we had already inspected the menus of several other restaurants, cringing at prices like 19 euros for beef when we have a teenage boy and two tweens to feed, none of whom had really eaten enough lunch. So we eyed the fun décor and linen tablecloths with some trepidation. Would this place be affordable?

funrestaurant

It was. They did pizza and pastas and offered many pork products in their entrees. After a hostess dealt with our uncomprehending and apologetic smiles and shrugs, she sent us a waiter who not only spoke English but exuded a joie de vivre and a sense of humour. “Ask me any questions you have about the menu,” he told us. “And if it’s too expensive don’t worry–two hours of this big boy washing dishes in the kitchen (nudging Elliot), and the bill will be paid for.” He was a perfect waiter–solicitous without being obsequious or obnoxiously present. I wish I’d gotten his name or his picture but trust me–if you are ever in Torrejon, near Madrid, go to Chacafuca.

The food was delicious; the company congenial. We left sated and happy, so warm inside that the cold night air wasn’t noticeable. It was such a good experience that we went back again on Sunday night, where we had a different waiter but overall the same experience.

interioritalian

(Coming up next; I will finally finish talking about what was actually a really short trip…)

One of the first things I noticed about Madrid was the preponderance of statues. There are statues everywhere. There are two things that pop out to the casual observer: round-points, which occur every block on some streets, and statues and/or fountains, which are often in the centre of those round-points.

The first statue I saw was this Bronze Midas in the airport (note: I named him myself. He and his luggage were both unlabelled). Apparently, this man had also just missed bus 894 on a cold winter Saturday evening, only he didn’t have hyper-animated twins sword-fighting in front of him and bumping into him and climbing on his lap, so he froze. It’s a sad tale, and they set him up as a caution to others. Now, everything he touches turns to ice, I explained to Abel.

bronzetraveller

What amused me most was how he was set up; just staring at a wall. The patron saint of bored travelers? I dunno.

abelandbronzeman

Then, we walked outside to see this lady in all her glory, as my mother would say. I was curious so I went to look at the sign, and explained to Ilsa that this was supposed to be Europa, being carried away by Zeus in the form of a donkey. (Supposed to be a bull but come on; you’re telling me a Spaniard couldn’t do a better bull than that? They do a better rendition in every souvenir shop!)

europa

Ilsa was unimpressed. “I thought Europa was supposed to be pretty,” she said.

“I suppose the sculptor thinks she is,” I said.

“He must be Mauritanian then,” she replied. Which cracked me up.

Driving down the long main street of Torrejon, we passed many round points and statues, one of a torso rising out of concrete waves, another vaguely human in shape and sort of dancing, I would say. All those years of Art History studies weren’t wasted on me!

Of course, downtown Madrid had lots of statues too. This one was a king.

guyonhorsevert

guyonhorse

This is a famous image of Madrid, a bear and a tree. For some reason, I saw fit to snap it with lots of people around it.

bearandmadronatree

We wandered around a bit and saw some churches…

spanishchurch

and some other statues…

statuewithflowers

and the museum of ham.

museumofham

You get the idea.

So why do you think the Spanish are so fond of statues? City beautification? A predeliction for playing with stone? Any thoughts?

I feel that I am getting to know Spanish public transportation. I’ve now been to Spain twice, neither time with a car, although I would like to point out that the entry paperwork I was required to fill out at the Madrid airport included a lot of information about what vehicles I was or was not bringing with me. I found that bizarre. Do a lot of people fly their cars into Spain for the weekend? Or ever? And don’t tell me that Americans have long been famous for their love affair with the automobile–everyone had to fill these out, not just Americans.

Back to the public transportation. Overall, I would have to say that it’s quite impressive. Buses are big, with plushy, comfortable seats, and high, like Greyhound buses in America. There’s a digital display of the time and outside temperature, and a “fasten seatbelt” sign that flashes most of the time, although I didn’t see anyone who complied.

And then there’s the music. Oddly enough, it’s 80s music; all 80s music. “Thriller,” “Maniac,” “Because the Night Belongs to Lovers.” I find myself, as each new song starts, thinking, “Ok I recognize this…it’s…uh…” and then my brain starts singing along. All these songs from jr high and high school, burning their way inexorably into my brain. “We are the world  (we are the world); we are the children (we are the children),” I found myself humming today, 3 days later. Spanish scenery rolls past the window to the sounds of Madonna and Michael Jackson and George Michael and Blondie. It’s odd to think of the soundtrack of my adolescence playing itself out, endlessly, as the Spanish buses roll round and round their assigned routes and my life goes on in quite another direction.

We took buses a lot this weekend. We also discovered the Madrid subway system. Again, impressive. All was clean and bright and punctual, including our fellow passengers. No one was drunk, or swearing, or muttering, or had open sores. (I used to take Portland public transportation a lot, in case in you can’t tell. I did wonder what a Spanish person’s reaction would be to Tri-Met bus #19, Division St., which Donn and I took last year, on which we saw some scary people. Donn said to me, “It makes you wonder about democracy when you realize that these people can vote!” Luckily for the future of the free world, chances are good they forgot their medication on election day.)

We even discovered the elusive “every half hour” bus that we‘ve been told about on both visits. Apparently it is ready and willing to be caught Mondays through Fridays, or “lunes” through “viernes” as they like to put it. (It‘s like those Spanish have a different word for EVERYTHING.) (stolen and adapted from Steve Martin).

Our guesthouse was in a place called, I believe, Zarazuela. We didn’t realize that it needed to be lisped, just like “thinco” and “Barthelona.”  As a result, although we KNEW we needed bus 224, the driver was convinced that we didn’t. No, he didn’t go to Zarazuela, he was sure of it. If only we’d realized that we wanted to go to TharaThwala, we could have spent less time sitting, bereft and depressed, and of course cold, by the side of the freeway. (More on this later)

We took several Moroccan trains too. I have written before of the Moroccan trains, and the curious fact that they have not seen fit to adequately label their stations. I think they feel that everyone already knows this is Ain Sebaa, or Sidi Kacem not Sidi Yahyia, so why bother put up a big sign? Perhaps they feel that would be showing off. So when the train stops at Ain Sebaa, and actually cuts the engine, the only people left on the upper level of the second class car are the Nomad family and 2 other Americans, all of us looking at each other and saying, “Do you think this is it?” It must be, I pointed out. All the Moroccans have already de-trained. The only ones left are foreigners.

Sitting backwards, I startle as the ground falls away in front of me. I see a cliff face looming downwards towards a gorge by the time my brain has registered the fact that we are halfway across a narrow bridge. I watch, slightly nauseated, as sheep and cows and green fields and buildings appear and instantly dwindle to nothing. Around me people sleep and chat and stare into space. From a passing food trolley, I buy a packet of chips for Elliot , whom I happen to be sitting next to on this leg of the trip. It’s 3:30 by this point (4:30 Spanish time), and we haven’t had lunch.

We left on a cold rainy Saturday and returned on Monday afternoon to brilliant sunlight and warm air, which have continued through today. When we come from the train, we walk a block to one of our favorite chwarma restaurants. Even though it’s 5 p.m., we enjoy a late lunch in the crisp afternoon air. It feels like spring.

I’m getting to the pictures…

A bomb exploded in Madrid on Monday morning. I have never been in the same city at the same time as a bomb before, and I have to say the experience was profoundly peripheral. I wouldn’t even have known about the bomb if I hadn’t been sitting, shortly after 9 a.m., eating bacon and eggs in a little café in the suburb of Torrejon, staring at a wall TV and wondering if “una bomba” meant bomb or something else, something more boring everyday, possibly to do with firefighting. (I had just learned “bombero” the previous day when a fire-engine wailed by). It kept scrolling along the bottom of the screen, “estella una bomba” or something like that, “blah blah blah Juan Carlos I.” I didn’t even have a phrase book with me.

Perhaps I shouldn’t begin my story at the end. “Begin at the beginning,” the King tells Alice in Alice in Wonderland, “go to the end. Then stop.” So I should perhaps go back a bit, to a rainy Saturday morning in Rabat. The kids are grumpy at not being allowed to sleep in, and I’m already regretting my decision to wear light-colored pants as I notice a mud splatter on the back of my calves. The children are shocked and amazed at how light we are packing, but we are flying the misnamed “easy jet” (heretofore to be known as Complicated Jet…I’ll get to that), and they only allow you one carry-on per person. Since we are planning to do a fair amount of shopping in Spain, we take one change of clothing, our toothbrushes, and not much else. Ilsa is stunned to be told she can only bring one book; she brings a 750 page book and frets the entire time that she is nearly finished, although she isn’t.

Have you got the picture now? Are you in mode, to follow the Nomad family on yet another trip? A friend kindly drops us off at the station, and we take the train to Casablanca, scattering ourselves throughout a crowded car so only two of us are sitting next to each other.

At the airport, everything is fine. We’ve arrived in good time. The train station is located at the airport, which I think is brilliant–it’s so convenient. We buy sandwiches in an airport café but the kids are still hungry.

Boarding the plane presents no problem. At first I like “easy” jet. The plane is new and clean and orange and white, with average leg room. I don’t mind them not providing any snacks because they have low prices; you can fly Casa to Madrid for less than 30 euros, for example.

“I hope the plane lands and then bounces and then lands again,” announced Abel, but he was sadly disappointed. It was a quick, uneventful flight. We made our way through the Madrid airport. We had arranged to stay in a guesthouse on the outskirts of Madrid–a suburb called Torrejon–and we knew we needed to take a bus. It took us a while to find the bus stop, and then we bought and devoured a pastry so that we’d have change for the bus. Eventually we went out and settled ourselves at the bus stop.

It was 8 degrees celcius.

Last time we were in Spain, we heard of the elusive “every half hour bus.” This time, yet again, we were told by the lady at the guesthouse of a bus that left every 30 minutes. But it was Saturday. The bus comes once an hour on Saturdays, it turns out. Of course we’d just missed it! You know us by now! We sat there on the cold concrete bench for 55 minutes before that nice warm plushy bus arrived. Meanwhile, a slew of other buses, going other places, came every 5 minutes…

…to be continued.

Everyone: Hi, Nomad.

(takes sip of tepid coffee from Styrofoam cup, thinks longingly of dark chocolate and espresso from old life)

It’s obviously become a problem. At first I thought I could take it or leave it, preferably leave it. I grew up in a family that moved a lot. My dad was a school teacher, but somehow we moved houses and cities and even countries fairly regularly. “I’ll never do this to my own children,” I vowed with 10 year old intensity.

No, I’m not blaming my parents for my problem, but thank you for that suggestion. I’m just trying to give background, explain how I got started. Some kids have parents who model drink or drugs and teach their kids to steal; mine modeled cardboard boxes and new schools and the wide-open vistas of the highway, and taught me how to sit on suitcases to close them.

In 2001 when our oldest was five, we moved to Mauritania. When he was eight, we went to France; when he was nine, we spent a summer in the US and then went back to Mauritania. On his 12th birthday, we moved out of our house and then back to the US; when he was 13 and 2 months, we came to Morocco.

On August 3rd, we pared our life down to 10 suitcases (don’t be TOO impressed; we left a lot of boxes in storage) and began a life of nomadicity in earnest. With that in mind, we have moved 6 times in the last 5 months.

I only realized how addicted I was becoming to this lifestyle with the last move. I didn’t even worry about what was left behind. I packed up in a mere afternoon. We moved for 2 weeks with only 2 carloads, and that included food items. Can’t find your hairbrush? No problem; use your fingers. Going to school in dirty jeans? Who will even notice? Just say you fell on the way, trying to dodge a taxi or something.

But is it a problem, or just a lifestyle? Am I unable to stop? I offer this for your consideration: this afternoon, I unpacked and packed at the same time. We’re going to Madrid this weekend (required by visa issues) and we’re flying easyjet, which means one carry-on per person and no checked luggage. Piece of cake.

I began to be concerned when I noticed how my black Levi cords are fitting. Or not so fitting, as the case may be. I notice that I justify copious amounts of chocolate for myself at times like this. And I wondered, am I moving so often just so that I can eat guilt-free? We arrived back at our current house-sitting situation to find a half-eaten tin of Almond Roca and a note: Enjoy.

No, it was really a command, wasn’t it? “Enjoy the Almond Roca,” said the note, rather hypnotically actually. So I did.

I enjoyed rather a lot of it, actually. Also the Starbucks French Roast (the house smelled HEAVENLY this morning) and the molasses. I made cookies. I made spaghetti and garlic bread. And, what with all the moving, not to mention all the rain, I didn’t go to the store this week, so we had no fresh stuff for salad. Just carbs, no vegetables or fruit.

Perhaps I’m trying to make myself so big that I no longer move? (Puts fingers together, purses lips, nods thoughtfully) That’s possible. Very possible.

(blinks meaningfully) But I’d  like to be able to just stop. And I will, promise. I just have two more bars of chocolate to get through, and the cookies to finish.

You know, I really could quit anytime.

This doesn’t really qualify for “Very Funny Friday” but I’m posting anyway in a pitiful attempt to be close to Sue, who really is very funny.

February 2009
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