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Passing Time in Spain

Jan 7, 2013

I'm in Spain for 3 weeks as I have been every 6 months over the past ten years, since I met Rosa. I used to travel to see her.  Now she and I travel together to see her family.  In her parents' home, we sleep, watch TV, eat our meals, read, eat, talk, eat ...

It's a joy to talk with her father about politics, cultures, history.  During lunch, in the middle of a conversation, he might say "Vamos a ver" (Let's see ...), and then widen the historical perspective on the issue we've been discussing:  "Let's see, 30 years ago, during Spain's transition from a dictatorship to a democracy ...".  He has a balanced, easy temperament, and an infectious laugh.  I'm reminded of his laugh almost every day, because Rosa inherited it.  Valen retired at an early age after working for a bank in Barcelona (on the east coast of Spain) and later in its branches in the north-west of Spain.  About 20 years ago, he received an early retirement package, and the family moved back to their hometown, Santiago de Compostela, in the northwest tip of Spain, just above Portugal. 

Rosa's mother has what the Spanish call "un caracter fuerte" ("a strong character") -- that is, she makes her presence felt.  She's practical, concrete, less interested in political issues.  She is sometimes combative, full of rancor. She treats me like a son, lucky for me.  Rosa has her father's gentleness, but it's mixed with her mother's fieriness, like an occasional volcanic eruption bubbling up from  tranquil waters. 

Because her parents are retired, with a home and pension, they aren't directly affected by Spain's economic crisis.  Her brother and sister-in-law live the crisis more immediately.  Rosa's brother has a small business consulting company.  Many of his clients had to close their businesses, and most of those remaining are unable to pay him for the work he continues to do for them.  He takes a very small salary in order not to let go of his one employee.  His love in life, besides his wife, is jazz guitar. He performs with a group about once a month.  If he could, he'd make this his career.

Rosa's sister-in-law has a job that doesn't exactly exist in the U.S. From what I understand, it's somewhere between a lawyer and a paralegal.  There are some kinds of legal documents that can be filed by someone other than a lawyer.  And she does that.  I think.

What I know for sure is that she loves to read travel books.  She recently read a book by a Spanish writer, Elivira Lindo, who lives 6 months of each year in NYC and 6 months in Madrid.  It's interesting to me to read about my home city through the eyes of a Spaniard, to see what's interesting to her.
Elvira Lindo's Places that 
I don't want to share with 
anyone. NYC through the
eyes of a Spaniard.

For instance, she notices the way we stand in line while waiting to buy things from a bakery.  The Spanish, of course, use lines to check-out at the supermarket, the bank, etc. But we treat lines differently.  The author noticed NYC customers in line at the bakery on a cold rainy day.  The bakery was small and the line extended far outside the door.  The customers outside opened their umbrellas and patiently waited for the line to move forward.  In Spain, the customers would have waited inside, and the clerk would have more-or-less attended the next customer.  But we're really good at keeping lines.  If the line gets long, we bend it around, and keep it orderly.  It comes naturally to us.  These kinds of cultural differences are fun to notice.

In Santiago de Compostela, I sit in a cafe' with Rosa, her brother, and sister-in-law.  Rosa's brother has a cerveza, the rest of us drink cafe' con leche.  We talk about Elvira Lindo's book about New York City.  In an hour, Rosa and I will be back to her parents' house for dinner.  Over dinner, we'll tell her parents about having coffee with Rosa's brother and sister-and-law.  And on and on.