Saturday, September 9, 2023

Romp Around the U.S.


Tony James Slater is a funny guy who writes funny books. I’ve heard say he’s a Brit, and I’ve also heard that he’s from Australia. Not being satisfied with either, he is both. He is also one eccentric guy who likes to travel, and if you want to take an eccentric trip while lying on your couch with your dog or cat, then this is the book for you.

Tony says he’s clueless, yet he manages to see past the surface to the core and the humor of things, because things are only really funny when they’re true. Tony sees the U.S. through the eyes of a foreigner, and that means he doesn’t take it all for granted and will point out things you’ve known all your life but never noticed.

A lot cheaper than taking a cross-country trip and paying for the gas yourself, you are invited to join Tony on his.

It's called Alligators Eat Marshmallows (And Other Things I Learned on my 10,000 Mile Road Trip Around The USA!) and is available in print or ebook on Amazon.

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Holy Mother of God

Today is the 15th of August. It’s a holiday here: Mare de Déu d'Agost, also known as Assumpció de la Mare de Déu (Mary’s ascension into heaven) or simply called l’Assumpció.

I’m not Catholic and when I first came to live in Catalonia I was confused by all the Mares de Déu. As far as I knew, there was only one Virgin Mary. Holy Moley! How could they celebrate so many?

They are scattered throughout the year: Mare de Déu de la Mercè, Mother of God of Mercy, in Barcelona in September; Mare de Déu del Carme, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the patron saint of seafaring communities, celebrated in July up and down the Catalan coast. Then there is Mare del Déu de Setembre, better known as Immaculada. That’s when the holy virgin Maria was born. That’s celebrated on the 8th of September. There are others, but I don’t remember them all. In fact, none of my Catalan friends could name them all.

In addition to the holidays, there are the statues. These are referred to en masse as “les maresdedeu trobades” (the found mothers of God). These are antique statues that, legend says, were hidden during the time of the Muslim rule. They would be found by a farmer in the woods or in a field and taken to the local church. Sometimes it would subsequently disappear and be found again where it was found the first time. In some cases this happened several times.

The statues are from the 13th century, the Romanesque period. They are made of painted wood and have the Virgin seated, with the baby Jesus on her right knee often with a ball with a cross in her left hand. Sometimes in her right hand she will be holding a fruit or a bird.

These Mares de Déu would be named for the place where they were found, so there is the Mare de Déu de Núria, Mare de Déu de Queralt, Mare de Déu de Meritxell (not a place name) in Andorra, and the most famous and celebrated in Catalonia, Mare de Déu de Montserrat. There are at least a dozen others just in Catalonia, near me is the Mare de Déu de Mont, and more in other parts of Spain.

These statues are considered to have been born (again) when they were found, and so are celebrated on the same day as the birth of Mary, l’Immaculada.

So many Marys, so many holidays, and it’s so quiet outside. Everyone has their own way of celebrating but it’s August, all the shops are closed, it’s very hot, and everyone is probably at the beach or up in the mountains. I doubt that many of them are thinking about holy virgins.

Saturday, August 5, 2023

Fire, Wind, and War in Portbou

Photo: Emporda Info
Wildfires terrify me. Unfortunately I have always lived in places prone to them. First there was southern California, then northern California, and now Catalonia. These are places that are relatively dry and that get hot in the summer. California gets the hot Santa Ana desert wind usually for a week or two in September. But the tramuntana blows on and off throughout the summer and the rest of the year. That makes summer fire season especially dangerous.

Tramontane is a classical name for a northern wind. The word comes from the Latin for beyond or across the mountains and it referred to the Alps. The word is also used to refer to someone who comes from beyond the mountains or anyone who is foreign or strange. More or less the same word is used throughout the Mediterranean. In Croatia it is called tramontana, in France it is tramontane, and in Catalonia it is tramuntana. There is a saying in Catalan culture (especially in the Empordà) that refers to a person as touched by tramuntana (tocat per la tramuntana) when they behave oddly or seemly lost their marbles. Salvador Dalí was often referred to as someone tocat per la tramuntana in his native Empordà.

I moved to Figueres, in the Empordà, in June 2012. Two weeks later in July, there was a huge fire that started in La Jonquera, the last inland town along the major highway before the French border and not far north of here. I could smell it before I knew there was a wildfire. I had my windows closed even before the authorities told us to, making it very hot at home. I was making plans in my head for how to evacuate with my two cats, but in the end it wasn’t necessary.

Yesterday in the late afternoon a fire started near Portbou, the last village on the coast before you cross the border into France. So far it has burned over 575 hectares and caused the highway and railroad to be closed. This means that people who live or are vacationing in either Portbou or neighboring Colera and Llança haven’t been able to enter or leave since yesterday evening. They also have no electricity, water or phone. Those who have been evacuated from their homes or camping sites are being lodged at the civic center, attended to by the Catalan government and the Red Cross. Over 200 Catalan and French firefighters are fighting the fire, but helicopters and airplanes that would drop water can’t fly when the wind blows at over 70 miles an hour, so containment has been difficult.

Portbou is a small village with a big history. Now it serves as a summer holiday spot, but historically it was important during two wars.

During the Spanish Civil War between 200,000 and half a million Spaniards (the number depends on your source) fled Spain within weeks of Franco’s troops taking Barcelona in late January 1939. Called La Retirada (The Retreat), many of them crossed the Pyrenees at Portbou.

Photo: Robert Capra

On 26 September 1940, during World War II and the German occupation of France, Walter Benjamin, a Jewish philosopher, cultural critic, and essayist, committed suicide by morphine overdose in Portbou. Benjamin had been living in France since 1933 and was fleeing the Nazis who the Vichy authorities were cooperating with. Having been helped by the virtually unknown American rescue worker Varian Fry, he had arrived in Portbou by climbing the mountains to cross the border with great difficulty, burdened by a briefcase containing his precious writings that he refused to leave behind. But Franco had suddenly cancelled all transfer visas so once in Spain, the Spanish police detained him and the small group he was traveling with. They were to be sent back to France the next day. Benjamin killed himself that night rather than go back and be handed over to the Nazis. The next day the procedure changed again and his two traveling companions were allowed to pass through Spain into Portugal from where they could sail. The manuscript that Benjamin had been carrying at such cost was never found. There is now a memorial to Walter Benjamin at Portbou by the Israeli artist Dani Karavanhe that sits on a clifftop by the Portbou municipal cemetery.

Photo: Vikipeida

Saturday, July 22, 2023

Sweet Pea

Meet Sweet Pea. I adopted her on Sunday the 11th of June from a shelter in Argentona. Argentona is over 100 kilometers away, about one and a half hours driving and not far from Barcelona. I had never been there. It turned out that my GPS had never been there either. But I found the town in spite of the GPS, pulled up to the cemetery (which I figured, when they asked where are you, would be a better landmark than saying “I have no idea.” The distance and the GPS were not the only difficulties, but where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Of course I didn’t know her at that first meeting but the adoption papers required a name for the chip. Since she was tiny and seemed a sweet soul, I called her Sweet Pea. Catalans can’t seem to say Sweet Pea any more than they could say Cupcake and any more than I can say ocells.

They told me at the shelter she was ten. When I signed the adoption papers they didn’t charge me an adoption fee because she’s a senior. When I took her to my vet two days later he said she was at least 16. He thought they should have paid me to take her.

Sweet Pea has an enlarged heart three times normal size. Her back legs are crooked and she walks funny probably because of a fall many years ago that wasn’t taken care of. She has no teeth and no upper or lower jaw bone probably because of some long ago infection. And because she has no jaw bones, her tongue is usually hanging out. But other than that, she’s in great shape and she’s awfully cute!

I don’t mind her age. Her photo told me she was obviously a senior and clearly not a viable candidate to survive for long in a cage at a shelter. I was lonely after losing Cupcake in early May, and she needed to be rescued. This is what I call win-win.

She was sweet and quiet from the beginning, and little by little her personality has begun to come through and she has blossomed. She has more energy than at first and can go on longer walks. She seemed not to ever have gone up or down staircases before. She would go down slowly, tentatively, and when we came home I would carry her back up, afraid that, in this heat, the effort would be bad for her heart. Two days ago, without thinking, I did the automatic movement I used to do with Cupcake, I took off her leash at the bottom of the stairs. She just flew up all three flights. When it’s time to go out, she becomes rambunctious and starts to dance around like a crazy person, jumps on me, wags her tail so hard I’m afraid it will fly off or knock her over. She had been at the shelter for over a month. I think she has recovered from her trauma.

Yesterday I ran into an acquaintance at the fruit and veg shop. I met her through her husband who was one of the dog park people. I had told them the last time I ran into them that Cupcake had died. Yesterday I told her that I had adopted another dog – a sixteen-year-old Chihuahua. Sixteen! she said. But she won’t last long. As if she were a used car. Some people just don’t get it. They may have a dog, but they are not dog-lovers.

Since she came, we haven't done much becausse of the heat. I don’t know if she has weeks, months, or years ahead of her. But whatever time we have together, we will make the most of it and be grateful.

Thursday, June 22, 2023

Happy Trails Sweet Cupcake


Cupcake was a little black dog with some tan highlights, a Tibetan Spaniel who weighed seven quilos and who changed my life.

When I came to live in Figueres with Minnie and Felix, I didn’t know a soul. I adopted Cupcake after I had been here for two years and he changed all that. After about two weeks, I took him to the dog park so he could socialize and within a short time we both had a group of friends. Eight years later, some of them are still friends.

I had wanted a dog all my adult life, but there had been reasons why I didn’t feel I could responsibly adopt one. Finally, I owned my own apartment, I had no disapproving husband, and I was free to do what I wanted.

What I wanted was an older dog. For one thing, I was older and didn’t see myself running around, coping with the energy of a puppy. I also didn’t want it to be likely that my dog would outlive me. If so, who would take care of him? Animal groups say that most people want puppies or young dogs and the seniors – the ones who have the hardest time living in an animal shelter and need adoption the most – get left behind. Well not by me. I would take in one of those seniors and make a comfortable home for him or her. As the saying goes, “Saving one dog will not change the world, but surely for that one dog, the world will change forever.”

Canae was the rescue group that contacted me; they had a senior seven years old that needed fostering. My vet later said he was more likely nine years old when they brought him, on the 15th of January 2015, the day of his surgery. He was at a shelter, it was winter, and the group didn’t want him to have to recover in a cage.

We called it fostering, but I knew that if he and the cats would tolerate each other, he would stay. Felix had chronic health problems and the vet thought introducing a dog to the household would be stressful for him and bad for his health. Felix, a gregarious cat, took to him immediately and made a nuisance of himself. Minnie, a bit aloof, didn’t really give a damn and mainly ignored him. Cupcake wasn't a cat fan, but he gave them space and didn’t seem frightened of them. He stayed.

Cupcake was a stoic dog. They had told me that he was a Pekingese mix, but one look at the breed chart at the vet and it was clear that he was a Tibetan Spaniel. No one seems to know that breed here; I don’t think I’ve ever seen another one. Tibetan Spaniels were bred to guard Buddhist temples. They are Zen. Cupcake was Zen.

For the first few weeks he was here, he never made a peep of any kind. I began to wonder if his vocal chords were damaged. But then one day he let loose one bark at a dog that was annoying him. So he wasn’t damaged, he was just very quiet. And he was no patsy.

Our first day at the dog park someone recognized him from the photo the rescue group had posted. Cupcake was famous!

The dog park (pipican, as they call it) became a daily thing. Morning was to the fountain, where he liked to poop on the grass, evening was to the pipican where he sniffed around and ran with the other dogs. Seeing this short little dog running circles around the park with all kinds of dogs including a couple of greyhounds was a sight to behold.

It was at the dog park that I met what became most of my friends. The dog park crowd and the people I met around town while I walked my dog and they walked theirs, are the people who became my community – some became friends, others acquaintences to chat with on the street.

Cupcake loved the dogpark. After a while he ran less and sniffed more. It didn’t take long before he discovered that some of the owners brought treats with them. So he began to hang out more at the benches where the treats were. Eventually he only hung out at the benches. When new people started to come with big dogs, some of whom were aggressive, we stopped going.

When I first moved to Figueres I looked for where I could take a walk from my home into the countryside without having to use my car, and I found a path that went from Figueres to the nearby village of Vilabertran. From home it was about an hour’s walk to the village. I did that walk by myself from time to time. Soon after I adopted Cupcake I took him. He was a small dog and a senior, so I wasn’t sure if he could do it, but he had no problem. Two hours of walking and he didn’t want to come home. He loved it.

Soon after we started walking that path, I was invited to join two of the men from the dog park. They regularly did that walk with their dogs. The six of us soon became a regular thing. Josep and Keti the border collie, Jaume and Pluto the schnauzer, and me and Cupcake the Buddhist monk. We would do the walk together three times a week, and Cupcake and I would do it on our own a fourth time on the weekend. They were the ones who convinced me that I could let Cupcake off his leash. He might explore a little bit, but he wasn’t going to go anywhere, Josep said. The first time off leash he was off into the fields. I almost had a heart attack. I called and called, I was frantic. But he came back after a few minutes and I never had another problem. I guess he was just celebrating his good luck.

Eventually our little walking group fell apart, but Cupcake and I continued. He couldn’t do the walk in the summer when it was too hot, but we did it the rest of the year and as he got older and walking was more difficult, I would drive to a closer starting point so we could cut out the city part and just enjoy the country path where he could go off leash.

Cupcake was unique in several ways, not least of them his being the only Tibetan Spaniel in town. With the few exceptions when some other dog wouldn’t remove his nose from you-know-where, he never barked. He also didn’t wag his tail very often. He didn’t give kisses, but he snorted like a horse; that was his way of showing pleasure.

Cupcake’s greatest pleasures were walking, especially off leash in the country, going to the beach, and eating treats. He didn’t like the car, but he came to understand that it was necessary in order to get to what he did like. He hesitated, but he never complained.

In 2019, when he was about 13, he started to have noticeable back, shoulder, and joint pain. Medication helped, but there are side effects to pain killers and I didn’t want to rely on that long term. My friend Marc suggested acupuncture. There was a vet in Girona who specialized in acupuncture for dogs and cats, so he drove us to see her.

Once again Cupcake’s stoicism won the day. He would sit calmly while Laia applied the needles and continued to calmly wait (more or less) until it was over. The monthly acupuncture sessions helped a lot. Homeopathic medicines also helped so that although he still had some pain, it wasn’t acute and I judged that his quality of life was good.

Except during summers, during his last two years we kept doing abbreviated walks where he could go off leash: along the Muga River, visits to the beach, and most often, the Vilabertran walks. That path is one branch of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. Cupcake loved walking out there; he was my little pilgrim.

Although summer heat limited activity, we could go to a park and poke around in the evening shade – a change of pace from our evening walks in town which had become boring because he couldn’t go far. I would drive us to one of three close-by parks and let him sniff all he wanted and socialize with other dogs if he felt like it.

Cupcake developed congenital heart disease, dementia, and the ongoing back and joint pain, but he never complained. But from the way he walked, I could tell he was having a hard time. Towards the end the acupuncture no longer seemed to make much difference and neither did those homeopathic medicines. He was still eating and enjoying treats, he still wanted to go out, but once out, he had a hard time and no longer even sniffed much as he walked, as if he needed to concentrate just on putting one foot in front of the other. I live on the second floor (would be the third in the U.S.) and there is no elevator. Stairs had become difficult for him, but I was no longer in condition to carry him up and down.

Cupcake’s acupuncturist had given me a canine quality of life form that I used for measuring his quality of life, and this time it came out poor. He wasn’t ill. I knew he could still go on, but at what price? I had made a promise to myself that when the time came I would let him go. I had learned from other pets the mistake of holding on for too long for my own sake. 

We were together for eight years. He brought me more joy than I can say. He was the most beautiful dog. I never got tired of looking at him. I took thousands of photos; we took thousands of walks. He was my best pal. He was the perfect dog for me.

I had Cupcake put to sleep on 8 May 2023.  I held him in my arms as he fell asleep and then as he passed away.  He didn't feel a thing, but I suffered one of the greatest pains of my life.  And yet it wasn't that hard a decision.  I knew the time that I had been dreading had come. 

I buried some of his ashes near the Vilabertran path that he loved; the rest I have here at home with me together with the ashes of Minnie and Felix. I imagine his spirit is out there somewhere taking lovely walks and being quiet, calm, and happy. 

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Catalonia Today review of No Regrets: A Life in Catalonia

At the age of fifty-two, I took my cat and flew off from the San Francisco Bay Area to a new life in Barcelona. I had gone salsa dancing, met and married a Catalan, and we were going to live in his hometown.

The adventures began before we even left, with the purchase, sight unseen, of an apartment in the Barri Gotic, and subsequent horrible discovery in a guidebook of what went on in that street. Then there was the shock of the deed arriving in the mail with a different price – a much lower price – than what we had paid.

Once there, things didn’t work out as planned and that set off an even greater adventure than I had bargained for. Things that should be normal weren’t: buying bedding, keeping drunks from peeing under our balcony, buying Chanukah candles in a country where there have been essentially no Jews since 1492.

"Autobiography is a notoriously difficult genre, whose authors often slide into rampant egocentrism or report details that may have mattered very much to them but are of no interest whatsoever to anyone else. Happily, Dvora Treisman has avoided such pitfalls and has produced an entertaining if sometimes melancholy memoir about her life in Catalonia, full of episodes which might appear trivial at first but in fact deftly push the narrative forward so that the reader is, more often then not, left wanting to find out what happens next."  From the review by Matthew Tree, in the June issue of Catalonia Today. You can find the review here.

You can purchase the book on all the Amazon sites, Barnes & Noble, Casa del Llibre, Come In Bookshop in Barcelona, and most brick and mortar bookshops in the U.S. and Britain.

Saturday, May 6, 2023


The garbage strike started last Friday – over a week ago. The garbage collectors don’t work for the city; they work for a subcontractor. I don’t know what difference that makes, but it seems they are not happy with their working conditions or salary. The end result is that the city seems to be stymied in getting the strike settled and garbage has been collecting on the streets. The piles are huge; wherever the containers are located (about every other block all through the city) the garbage started spilling over after the first day and now it takes up the whole sidewalk so that you can’t walk past. It’s obviously not sanitary. People say there are rats.

People also say “Paciència,” patience. That’s the Spanish way. I’ve tried, but it’s hard to get it to work when you don’t have it.

Just now, coming back from walking the dog, I saw signs of life in the world of garbage (no, it wasn’t rats). The street had been closed off, there was a huge backup of cars, police, two huge trucks, and a crew of men dressed in white jumpsuits with dayglow stripes carrying shovels. Finally. They mean business. Patience or not, it’s finally over.

I may not have much patience, but I know of someone who does: King Charles III. He’s 73. How long has he been waiting to become king?

I watched part of the Coronation ceremony and then the procession back to Buckingham Palace and I have to say I was very moved. I kept looking at him during the ceremony in Westminister Abbey and thinking, my goodness, you’ve waited a very long time for this.

The whole thing was a great spectacle. It wasn’t a legal proceeding. Charles became king when his mother died. It was a spectacle that carried meaning. It followed a historical script with some modern additions and changes. It is long-standing British heritage and we have nothing like it. It’s not gold-plated bathrooms.

Many Americans I know are opposed to monarchy and proclaim for democracy. But Britain seems to me to be as much a democracy as the U.S. They have a constitution, a parliament, and their voting system is not some obscure electoral college where you can win with a minority of votes. And if they want a monarch as their head of state (instead of, say, a Donald Trump), that’s their business.

One thing you have to say for the new king is that he looks like he takes his responsibilities seriously. You could see it in his face. Much of the ceremony talked about duty and responsibility. And service. The priviledge of power and the duty of service. Now there’s a notion some of our political leaders could ponder.