Friday, September 30, 2011

You Can't Have It All

Yesterday as I was watching the news at midday, the electric box switch clicked and the television went off.  I went to look and it wasn’t the main switch, it was the one marked swimming pool, which also happens to include all of the living room and much of the rest of the downstairs, but not everything.  Whoever arranged the switch box was not particularly logical or organized.  They paired the pool with much of the downstairs, but the refrigerator is on a different switch.  Like many things, it is chaotic.  I haven’t made a survey of the rest of the house since it is almost always either the pool or the hot water heater that gives me grief.

I had turned on the pool control earlier in the day when I noticed that the pool was turning green.  I had had a leak and George, who maintains the pool, had come in and repaired it.  It looked like everything was done, paving stones beautifully relaid, but he had forgotten to turn the motor back on.  Well, perhaps it was best that I leave it off until he got back from his short vacation.  How green could it get in three days, and anyway, it wouldn’t work if it kept short-circuiting.

Later, at around 1 am when I woke up to turn over (or maybe a cat woke me up so that he or she could turn over) I heard the switch go again.  But the pool was off.  What could it be now?

Flashlight in hand, I went downstairs to take a look at the breaker box and this time it was the main switch that had plopped down.  Now it couldn’t be the pool because I had turned it off.  Surely this was a mistake.  I flipped the switch back on, tested a light, waited a few seconds, and headed back to bed.

As soon as I got to the bedroom I heard the switch click.  Back down I went, turned off the pool switch, flipped the main switch back on and went back up to bed.  Once again, as soon as I got to bed I heard a click.  This time I decided the switch had won.  I would sleep through the night without electricity, hope for the best with what was in the fridge, and deal with it in the morning.

Morning brought to light the fact that water was dripping, drop by drop, from the hot water heater. A call to my electrician brought him almost immediately.  But unfortunately the part needed to fix it didn’t come today because it’s 7:30 and he hasn’t returned to repair it as he said he would if he got the part in time.  It would be tough to have to go the weekend without hot water, he said.  This is true.

What’s more, the swimming pool was causing a short circuit and the pump had to remain off until Monday at least.  It is getting greener by the minute.

It seems you can’t have it all.  I can have electricity but no hot water for the time being, and I still have a pool, but it’s green instead of blue.  

Friday, September 16, 2011


For the third and last time in my life, I am divorced.  I’ve been on both sides of a divorce and I’ve never figured out which side felt worse.  I also never thought it would happen again.  But it was Manuel who decided that he wanted a divorce, I just filed the petition rather than wait for him to do it.

When he told me he wanted a divorce, I found myself some free counseling help.  I had no idea what to do.  I would probably qualify for free legal help, so I went ahead and applied and got assigned an attorney to take my case – the same woman who had been my counselor at the Women’s Help Center.  It’s apparently a small world over there in Tortosa.

It could have been a lot easier and less painful if we had come to terms at the beginning.  But the two of us met once with my attorney and didn’t come to any agreement, and Manuel got himself an attorney too, but his was expensive.  It would have been standard procedure for his attorney to contact mine and the two would see if they could negotiate an agreement for their clients.  But his attorney never did that.  Instead, he filed a response and the two attorneys put on battle gear.

My two previous divorces in the US were both done out of the Nolo Press Do Your Own Divorce book.  They were simple and no property or alimony was involved.  But this time I needed alimony to survive.  There is no way I could get a job in Spain at my age and in this economy.  And there is no Nolo Press here. 

My attorney is a woman’s rights supporter.  What she doesn’t like to do is explain things.  In the middle of the process I decided to change attorneys and hire someone who would listen to me and would explain when I didn’t understand something.  After all, it’s my divorce and my life and I want to understand what is going on.  But she quickly nixed my attempt to change, saying I would have to pay big bucks to her if I did.  I couldn’t afford that, so I dropped it.  At our next meeting I received a severe scolding and very long lecture on how the client doesn’t need to understand all the legalities and procedures, just as the patient doesn’t need to understand the doctor.  Clients and patients need to leave these matters in the hands of the professionals.  Not a Nolo Press mentality.

Clearly this woman had never worked with an American before.  Since I seemed to be stuck with her and I wanted to get the divorce finished, I did my best to placate her, apologized several times, and eventually we got on with it.

In my petition for divorce, my attorney asked for a sum much larger than I knew Manuel could afford and more than I had originally asked him for before I started the legal process.  I thought it made me look greedy and assumed it was a bargaining ploy.  Manuel’s response (probably dictated by his attorney) was that he would agree to no alimony at all.  No alimony would also mean no Spanish widow’s pension later if Manuel were to die before me.  In addition, the response said that although we had been married 12 years, we had never actually lived together.  This came as a shock.  Surely the judge wouldn’t believe that.  If my attorney made me look greedy his made him look dishonest.  Too bad we couldn’t just speak for ourselves.

Our hearing was scheduled for 18 July, but at the last moment was postponed.  In Spain, they don’t do divorce (or any civil suit) in August.  Except for the criminal courts, judges are all off on vacation for the month.  No new date had been set, but it certainly wouldn’t be before September. 

Months before, as soon as she had filed the petition, my attorney gave me strict instructions never to talk to Manuel about the divorce and never to agree to anything.  If there was to be any negotiating, it had to be done via the two attorneys.  But I was fed up, and the attorneys had never spent one minute negotiating.

When summer was over, I called Manuel and suggested that we meet and talk about the divorce.  It didn’t take us long to come to an agreement.  This negotiation should have taken place a long time back.  It would have saved a lot of money and a lot of bad feeling.  I don’t know if we had gone to court if the judge would have favored me or Manuel in his decision.  What I do know is that Manuel offered a sum he was comfortable with, and I proposed an additional ten euros, to round off the number, and he accepted that.  It’s less than I had originally asked him for, but it’s an amount he feels is fair and so he won’t resent it for the rest of his life.  I’ll figure out how to make it work.  Selling my house is key.

Before we actually signed the agreement, his attorney told mine he wanted changes.  My attorney called to tell me and warned me not to talk to Manuel about it.  Why not?  It seemed to me that we did much better talking than not talking.  And besides, this was our divorce, not theirs, so why should they make up the agreement ignoring what we had agreed upon?  I told her I wouldn’t call and then hung up and called Manuel.  And I was right.  His attorney was demanding things he had not discussed with Manuel.  Once again we ironed it out and finally, after several days of delay, we signed this Wednesday.  The judge decreed it final the next day.  I’ve been a third-time divorcee for one day now.

Friday, September 9, 2011

More Castells

Castells – the human towers that the Catalans make -- are so special that I think they deserve another mention here.  Castells are unique to Catalunya.  As an expression of Catalan culture, they stand for working as a team, making an effort while enabling the spirit of personal achievement.

A team (called a colla, which means a group) might have dozens and sometimes hundreds of members.  The members vary in age from about 5 to over 80.  It is one of the very rare activities, outside of family gatherings, and probably the only sport, that brings people of such disparate ages together.

There are 7000 castellers (people who make castells) belonging to 54 colles.  Altogether they make 16,000 castells in a year.  The groups compete starting in spring and running through summer.  They perform at the festa major (the festival honoring the patron saint of the town) of their own town or village and are invited to perform at festes majors in other towns as well.  Every time a team performs, it is competing.  The teams get points for the difficulty of the construction and how well they pulled it off, that is to say, whether they succeeded in building it all the way up, and then were able to dismantle it without falling apart.

The large base upon which the rest of the tower is built is called a pinya (which also means pineapple).  To fer pinya (make the pinya) has come to mean to work together in Catalan, an expression that originated in this sport and has become part of normal speech.  It is usual to see people from other colles helping make another team’s pinya, thus enlarging upon the meaning of cooperation.  You can tell from the colors of the shirts at the base when other teams join in.

It’s the small children who climb to the top.  This top can be as high as nine or ten storeys in the best of the castells.  One of the videos below shows what that looks like if you’re up there looking down.  From my perspective of standing on the ground looking up, I have to say that seeing those people, with the small child as the final climber, reach the top and lift his or her hand with four fingers up (representing the four bands of the Catalan flag) it quite simply takes my breath away.

As someone who is not happy past the second rung of a ladder, I can’t imagine standing on the shoulders of another person, who is also standing on the shoulders of another person, etc. on the eighth storey of this living tower.  How do they do it?  They practice and practice and practice.  And either they are fearless or they overcome their fear.  They also practice falling and, those below, how to receive the falls.  

The accompanying music is always the same, played by two or more gralles (shrill-sounding wooden flutes) and a small drum.  If I hear that music, even from another room when the television is on, it brings tears to my eyes.  It seems that some people cry in response to things they find very beautiful, and I’m one of those.

Last year (2010) Catalunya succeeded in its bid to UNESCO to have Castells entered on its Intangible Cultural Heritage list.  Flamenco and the Chant of the Sybil from Majorca were also included on the list that year.

Any performance is always more moving in person, but if you can’t get here to see one, or if you’ve seen it before and just want to see it again from the comfort of your own home (like I sometimes do with operas) use the links below.  Don’t forget while you’re watching that the pinya, the foundation, is on ground level and isn’t visible through the crowd.  If you’re counting, don’t forget to include it! 

If you want to read or reread my earlier post on Castells, here’s the link for that.

Video Links of Castells:
This video, from the UNESCO site, was prepared by the Generalitat de Catalunya (the Catalan government) as part of their application for Intangible Cultural Heritage status in 2010.  You have to scroll part way down the page and the click on “video” to see the film which is almost 10 minutes long.  After a minute, before the narration beings, the cap de colla (head of the team) is shouting out to his group saying they’ve done it!  They made a 4 by 9, which means the tower was of four people on each level and the whole castle was 9 storeys high.  It’s only at the end with the credits that you hear the music that always accompanies the performance.  Actually, the music begins after the pinya is made (sometimes there is a second smaller pinya atop the first called a folre, and for the tallest and heaviest, sometimes even a smaller third called les manilles), and the cap de colla decides he has a viable structure going.  So, if you watch the video and want to hear the music and get the sense of the whole thing, watch it to the very end! 

Filmed by Mike Randolph, the 3-minute video below has no narration, but the music is there and it shows some of the castles falling apart. Shot in Tarragona in the bi-yearly competition held in the bullring, it’s a good place to shoot because at the festes you stand on the ground and can’t get the same good angles as from the stands.  My best photos are also from that bullring (the only time I’ve ever entered a bullring!).

This 5-minute BBC production was filmed in Vilafranca in 2010 before the UNESCO decision.  It begins with an advert and then goes into the program in which there are some errors in narration, she has no idea which team is which, (the green team is not the green team, it’s the Castellers de Vilafranca, always one of the top three teams and number one this year) but it’s a good video overall and allows you to get a good feel for the music.  My favorite shot is of the middle-aged casteller with the cigar!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Home Again

I liked living in the village this summer.  Not that I had much choice; I had to rent out my own house in order to earn some income that would help with my mortage and ongoing living expenses.  I had one other option that friends had offered, but that would have meant staying even further away and being more isolated than where I usually live.  In the village at least I was in the center of things.

Not that there was much to be in the center of.  But I was able to pass many days without having to use my car.  I could simply walk out the door and do my shopping and many routine errands.

On the way to the closest city trash/recycle containers, located in a pretty spot overlooking the port, there would always be a group of people, usually older men, seated under the trees chatting or just enjoying the shade and the view.  Some even brought their own chairs.  They were there morning, noon, and evening.  I thought of them as the local committee and suppose they took a break to go home for lunch.

In addition to this regular group, I also noticed men who would carry small buckets or plastic bags full of tiny fish.  Sometimes they dropped one or two for the street cats they passed.  These little fish were sardines, caught during the night by fishermen who have lights affixed to the back of their boats.  These men had bought the fish to take home or sell informally on the street blackmarket.  It doesn’t surprise me that people would go for these healthy little fish that come cheap.  Buying fish in any of the village fish shops is exorbitant.  If you don’t fish or don’t have a friend who does and you live in L’Ametlla, the biggest fishing port in the area, you drive to the inland village of El Perello or go to one of the bigger supermarkets in the area to buy your fish rather than be ripped off in the village fish shops.

The cats are ecstatic to be back home, back in their garden where they can go explore and sniff to make sure their territory is secure.  If they sniff anything threatening, they come in and stay in the house! 

I’m happy too.  I don’t particularly care about the garden, I just like being in the place that I know is mine and surrounded by my stuff.  But I know I want to sell the house as soon as possible, so rather than put everything I’ve stored away back out, I’m looking to see what I might get rid of in flea markets.  The house has been shown by realtors quite a bit this summer, so I’m hoping it will actually sell this fall.  I may be back home only for a short time before I move on.  I hope so.