Friday, April 2, 2021


Today being Good Friday I thought it would be a good day to go for a ride. I was planning to drive to Sant Climent Sescebes, a village about twenty minutes away. Someone posted a photo the other day of a field of poppies at Sant Climent, and since I’ve been dying to see a field of poppies, and since I’ve never been to Sant Climent, now would be the time to just do it.

Cupcake wanted to come. But he hates riding in the car. Well, I figued it wasn’t far and soon it will be too hot to take him anywhere or do anything except the shortest of walks, so he came too.

The ride was beautiful and not far before we arrived at San Climent, I saw poppies off in the distance. There was a village there so I turned off the road and headed in. I rarely drive all the way into the center of a village. They are usually very small, the streets are medieval, very narrow and often one-way, going in every which direction, so once you drive in, it isn’t always that easy to find the way out. I avoid the stress by parking the car at the outskirts and walking in.

The outskirts here had a vineyard. I liked the look of the vines so Cupcake and I walked over that way so that I could take a couple of photos. There was a farmer riding his tractor through the vines, clearing out some of the weeds. I took my photos and then started to walk to the center of town.

Someone was calling. I turned, and it was the farmer. I thought he had been calling to a guy riding by on a bicycle, but no, he was calling me. So I went back to see what he had to say.

He just wanted to talk. I guess he was pleased that someone thought his vines were pretty enough to photograph. We chatted for a while. He told me he no longer took his grapes to the cooperative in town because there were now too few people left and the cooperative in the village had closed down.

Cooperatives are one of the things that stand out about Catalonia and that say something about Catalan culture. One hundred years ago, every town and village had a cooperative. Many of them are still operative and some of the buildings are stunning, built in the Modernist (Catalan Art Nouveau) style, although the one in this village just looked like a plain warehouse.

So he takes his grapes to another nearby town that has a thriving cooperative (I’ve bought their wines), and his grapes get blended with others to get bottled under the label of the co-op. But he does make his own olive oil. His name was Josep. I wanted to take his picture but he wouldn’t let me. So I took a picture of his John Deere tractor instead.

The village was Masarac, population 280. In my meandering, I saw no shop, no cafe, only houses, a winery, the city hall, and something that looked like a castle, everything built of stone. 

At the center there was a small shady, grassy area, and I climbed the few steps to let Cupcake off the leash and wander a few minutes on his own in the shade. The day had become nicely warm, but for Cupcake that meant uncomfortably hot. Up there was a man with a bicycle, maybe the same one who had passed when I was looking at the vineyard. He was a bit scruffy but friendly and started in chatting. He talked about hunting dogs. Twenty of them that he kept. Didn’t sound good to me, but I made no comment. When you go walking on country paths, even the one I regularly walk on, during those times of the year when hunting is allowed, you can sometimes hear the guns. Turned out the dogs weren’t his. He took care of them for someone. He doesn’t live in the village, he lives in Sant Climent. And whereas I thought he said he didn’t eat meat, which I thought was a bit strange for a hunter, it turned out that he doesn’t eat meat on Good Friday, and doesn’t understand how everyone has barbecues that day. I didn’t take a photo of him either.

I wandered around a litle longer but Cupcake was telling me he was wilting and it was time to head back.

Like I said, these villages were built in medieval times and the streets run every which way. This turned out to be a good thing because it allowed me to stumble upon that field of poppies that I had seen earlier. It was actually an olive grove carpeted with alyssum and poppies, and it was just beautiful.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Felix the Cat


Felix was a black and white cat with a very colorful personality. I met him when he was about a year old and one of a colony of about twenty stray cats that a Dutch neighbor was taking care of. She would feed them and when a new cat showed up, she would take it to the vet to have it neutered. When she went on vacation I would feed the cats and that was when I met Felix.

Right away he stood out from the others. My method of feeding the group was to put distinct little piles on the ground at small distances, so each cat would have its own portion and they wouldn’t have to fight over food. And that worked well; each cat would settle at one spot and eat what was there. Not Felix. He would move from one pile to the other, nudging each cat and eating some food at each stop to what must have been the annoyance of the others. Maybe because he didn’t stay long at any stop or maybe because of his charm, there never were any fights. In the end, he would settle at his own spot and eat just like all the others.

I didn't know it at the time, but that's
Felix in the center

Felix towards the back, making his rounds

One day, Felix showed up limping. Being alarmed and not knowing what to do, I called around to get some advice. The advice was that I should do nothing and just wait. These things happen and more often than not, whatever is wrong will cure itself. But two days later Felix showed up not looking any better. I had brought a carrier with me just in case, so this time I scopped him up and took him to the vet. An Xray showed that he had a pellet in his leg. One of the neighbors had shot him.

He had been with the vet for about a month when I went to pick him up and return him to the colony. The vet hadn’t done any surgery and said he was fine; he thought it best just to leave the pellet where it was. I would have come to get him sooner if I had known. The vet charged me nothing for the one-month hotel stay, but I saw that he was still limping. I didn’t feel comfortable letting him back out on the street with a disability, so I took him home to let him recover in safety.

And of course I never did put him back out on the street. After being in one of the bedrooms for a few days, I let him out into the house to meet Minnie in her territory.
In no time at all they were friends, playing and resting together. He may have liked her company more than she liked his, but they ended up becoming good friends.

For the next few years they kept each other company. They played a little and slept a lot and were happy. Originally they could go out into the garden (and the neighborhood) during the day but I always had them in at night. 

When we moved to Figueres, into an apartment with only a small balcony as outdoor space, their lives changed as did mine.  Of the three of us, Felix was the one who missed the outdoor space the most.

Minnie and Felix were with me during my divorce and during my move to Figueres where I didn’t know a soul. They were my company and support during all those difficult years. When Felix died it felt like the end of an era.

Felix was a very social cat. He spoke often and filled the room with his presence. His meowing and occasional yowling (that grew more frequent at the end, probably a sign he was in pain) was sometimes endearing but sometimes very annoying. He wanted to play but always more than his sister Minnie, who wanted to play even less over time. He wanted to be near her and I think most of the time she liked that, or at least didn’t mind. Minnie died in the spring of 2019 leaving Felix with no cat for company for the first time in his life and a dog who didn’t like him.

Felix became obviously sick at the end of January 2021 and died on the first of February. He had been with me for eleven years. Soon after I adopted him he developed epilepsy and once the seizures became frequent, I started giving him phenobarbitol. He later developed other health problems, including kidney troubles, then with age, heart problems. But he was strong of body and personality and easy to give pills to, so with the help of medications, he did fine. In the end it was acute pancreatitis that did him in. I was left with the painful decision of trying to cure him but probably just making his suffering last longer, or having him euthanized. I held him in my lap as the vet gave him the first and second shot. He didn’t feel a thing and died peacefully.

First morning without Felix was awful. Of course he wasn’t on the bed when I woke up, no pee or poop to scoop from his box first thing, and there was no meowing as I was getting ready, Strangely, the worst was not having to give him his medication. For over ten years I’ve been giving him phenobarbitol for epilepsy. This treatment has to be done always at the same time of day or they can go into an unstoppable epileptic seizure. It’s basically a matter of life and death on a daily basis. Even when I was ill I was sure to get up and give him his pill at the right time, between 8 and 9 am, usually at 8:30. The only days I didn’t give him his medication was when I was away on vacation and then I had someone come in to do it, usually my friend Judith. If I couldn’t find anyone, I wouldn’t go. Not having him on the bed when I woke up or meowing when I got out of bed, his box not needing to be emptied were all sad and left me with a feeling of emptiness. But after my shower, going back into the bathroom to get his medication and realizing there was no one to give it to was like a punch to the chest.

I buried Felix’s ashes in a small grove of trees surrounded by fields of wheat and corn. He joined Minnie who I also buried in that same place two years ago. It is a pretty spot, out in nature but close to Figueres, just alongside the walking path that is the Cami de Sant Jaume or Camino de Santiago de Compostela in Spanish and that I walk on often. A small part of his ashes (and Minnie’s) stay with me at home. That way my two long-time companions can be outdoors or with me, as they choose.

Final resting place (or playing field!)

R.I.P. My handsome boy

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Dressing Up for Christmas

e in Figueres, on top of the pandemic that affects everyone, have had a new plague upon us. The garbage collectors have been on strike for three days and we are wallowing in rubbish.  I've heard that the strike has now been called off, so it seems there is hope that maybe by tomorrow the mountains of refuse will have disappeared.

In the meantime, the city, in an attempt at beautification for Christmas, has decorated itself. The decorations are modest – the budget here is modest. But I must say, some of them are really lovely – enough to lift my spirits and want to go out at night

In addition to the expected Christmas tree, there is an unexpected olive tree also dressed in lights. It may not be brilliant, but it certainly is Mediterranean.  Cupcake and I go out each evening now, taking a roundabout route to the center of town to enjoy the spectacle along the way.

Friday, November 27, 2020

Coffee, Confinement, and Foam

On Saturday 14 March 2020 all bars and restaurants in Catalonia closed. This was the first official act in response to the Coronavirus pandemic. I had spoken to my friend Josep early that morning by phone and we had agreed to meet at my usual cafe – the one I went to every day. But when I passed by while walking the dog, they were just closing up and pulling down the shutter. I called Josep and he said it looked like bars everywhere were closing. It seemed that the government had issued the directive just a little earlier. Surprise! 

That was the beginning of a series of measures the Catalan and Spanish governments have taken to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus. There have been many but this is the only date I have marked because I keep an account of all my expenses, and all of a sudden my daily coffee and croissant disappeared from the spreadsheet. Having my breakfast out was a habit I acquired after moving to Figueres – my one small daily pleasure. Before that it was occasional, but at some point I retired all my coffee pots to upper shelves and headed out. 

That same morning I ran off to the supermarket and bought ground coffee, soy milk, and bread for toasting, so I could make my breakfast at home. Little did I know that toilet paper was about to become an issue. But my immediate problem was foam. The foam at the top of my coffee, sprinkled with a little bit of powdered chocolate, is the best part, it is like dessert at the end of breakfast. At home I had two mocha pots, three French press coffee makers of various sizes, but no espresso machine and no way to make foam. 

A day or two later we were all told to stay home. Only those who worked in essential businesses could go to work. Those included health care workers, grocery stores, pharmacies, veterinary services, newsstands, garbage collection, and tobacco shops. (Yes, really.) Hairdressers were originally on the list but they soon got removed. You could go out if you needed one of these essential services, otherwise you were to stay at home. You could also go out to walk your dog. After a couple of weeks the joke was that you could rent your dog out to people who were desperate to get out. Or maybe that wasn’t a joke. I received no offers. 

Dog for rent

You couldn’t walk your dog any old where and you couldn’t do it for great lengths of time. That same Josep was stopped one day, early on, by a patrol car. Where are you going? they asked. He pointed up ahead to where his apartment building was and said he was going home. Where have you been? they asked. He told them he was coming from the park that was just behind him. Ah, they said. But you’ve been to a lot more places than that. We’ve seen you all over Figueres this morning. You are not allowed to go more than 50 meters with the dog. 

Fifty meters? How far is that? I went to Google to measure it on their map. It seemed I was only allowed to walk Cupcake for two blocks, then I would have to come back. Some rules are meant to be broken. 

I figured I would never be bothered. A little old lady with grey hair and a small dog, no police would bother with me when there are all these young people going here and there with no dog and no shopping cart or basket in tow.

And for the first few weeks I was not bothered and those young people were. But my day finally came. Coming back one afternoon from the fountain, a good three blocks from home, a policeman stopped me and asked where I was coming from. The fountain, I told him. And where do I live? Carrer Sant Antoni, I told him, pointing towards home. You’ve gone too far, he said. My dog will poop only at the fountain, I told him. And that was the end of that.

While some of my American friends were driving here and there, and living life pretty much like normal, here the streets were deserted, almost everything was closed, the police cars that drove around were just about the only cars moving on the streets. Except for the lack of foam for my coffee, all this suited me just fine. If there was this horrible virus you could catch, I felt better not having others around when I went out and for the rest of the time, I was happy to stay home and wait it out. All I had to do was buy more books.

Eventually we could go out, but at restricted times: young people from 6am – 10 am; children (must be accompanied by at least one parent and only three children to a parent, or thereabouts) 10 am – 4 pm; elderly 6pm – 8 pm. It went something like that. In fact, it was so complicated that you had to write it down to keep it straight. I didn’t write it down because with my handy dandy dog, I could go out whenever I wanted to walk him.

When we were first told we had to wear a facemask whenever we left home, we weren’t told that there would be any penalty if we didn’t. There was no policing of it like there had been for the original lockdown; those in charge believed that people would assume individual responsibility. It took a surprisingly long time for the authorities to figure out that there was surprisingly little individual responsibility around and that nothing is mandatory if it isn’t enforced. Here about half the people on the street wore masks and the other half either had them hanging down around their neck or weren’t wearing them at all. But when the police started on their patrols again ready to impose fines, then suddenly everyone wore a facemask. And months later, we all still do.

Since then things evolved and confusion mounted. What you could and could not do changed frequently. These were restrictions based on epidemiological criteria, and also an attempt to consider both public health and the economy. But it wasn’t just the frequency, it was also the amount of details. When you could walk and the radial limit, how far you could travel and for what reasons, whether or not to use public transportation, what businesses could open and if they could open, what time were they required to close, how many people could they accommodate inside... it was (and still is) endless. And what to do when the rules of the Catalan government contradicted the rules of the Spanish government.

The most outstanding rule was issued recently by the city of Barcelona and concerned riding on their urban public transportation. Increasingly, researchers have said that the virus is spread through the air on tiny droplets, in other words, from person to person, through the air, when someone breathes, sneezes, coughs, laughs, sings, or talks. In a country where people rarely stop talking and do it loudly, city officials were concerned, so as of two weeks ago, you are not allowed to talk while on a Barcelona metro or bus. I wonder if that's working.

Besides imposing a curfew (11 pm – 6 am), a few weeks ago we were limited on leaving the county where we lived. And on weekends we could not leave the municipality. This was to prevent people from running off on weekends to their second homes in the mountains or at the beach and taking any possible infection with them to new and unspoiled territory. This peripheral blockade had been done a few months ago in Barcelona when their infection rates suddenly soared. There again, they said you could not leave the city at the weekend and that first weekend tens of thousands of people did just that. After that they had every exit from the city controlled by police on the weekends.

I didn’t think much about municipal restriction because I have no second home and if I want to leave town, I can do it legally during the week. What I didn’t count on was that all those people trapped in Figueres on the weekends would suddenly take to my walking path. Because while you are not allowed to leave in a car, but you are allowed to go on foot and no one guards the path. Suddenly there were hordes of people, families, bicyclists, children on bicycles. It looked like the Rambla of Barcelona. I found it dangerous to let Cupcake off his leash as I usually do and as he enjoys, and it just wasn’t pleasant. I go out there to enjoy the quiet and the views of the fields and far-off mountains. It was not possible to relax. Plus, with so many people around, I couldn’t take off my facemask and BREATHE. So I gave up those weekend walks and went on weekdays instead, where, as is normal, you hardly meet a soul.

On the question of foam, on 24 March I bought a milk frother (on Amazon since all the shops were closed) which came a few days later. Et voilà! Not only can I make foam at home, I can make mountains of it. Now that the bars and restaurants are open again (only until 9 pm), my routine is to have my breakfast at home and go out for coffee occasionally. They say the confinement may change the habits of some people, such as taking coffee to go and walking down the street with it. I will never walk down the street with a cardboard cup of coffee in my hand, but for the present, I am happy to make my own coffee, sit safely at home and enjoy it with all that foam and a touch of chocolate on top.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Coffee for Two

Here in Spain, when you go out for a coffee you have it sitting down or
else standing at the bar. No one walks down the street with a coffee in their hand and you don’t see stacks of styrafoam or cardboard cups by the espresso machine. You drink your coffee from a ceramic cup while you relax, maybe for just the time it takes to swallow the little bit of espresso in your cup, maybe longer for a coffee with milk and a croissant, or maybe for half an hour or more while you sip and talk to friends or colleagues. People who are going to work leave enough time beforehand to sit and chat or enjoy their coffee alone. 

Having coffee in Italy

All bars and restaurants here have been closed for five weeks and will be closed for a few more days. They are closed for seated customers but some have remained open for takeout and you can walk up to the door and order something to go. Not all of them are doing that because taking food or drink to go is not common here so there isn’t a big demand. But some are, and I have noticed that for the first time, there are a few people walking down the street in the morning with cardboard coffee cups in their hands. I wonder if this will end when the restriction ends, or if it will be a new trend.

At my usual cafe there is a group of four women that comes and sits outside every morning except Sundays. Telly, who owns a nearby jewelry store uaually arrives first at around 8:30, often 20 or more minutes before the others. She tells me she likes to come early, relax, have a cigarette and coffee before her friends come. The others come one by one and they stay until sometime after 9 when Telly goes to open her store, one of the others goes to open her florist shop, a third goes to her yarm store, and the fourth? she doesn’t work and I don’t know where she goes except that I did see her once at about 10 am at another cafe with another group of people.

When I was in Avignon some time back, I couldn’t get a room in my usual hotel so I was staying in a new one across town. That meant finding a new bar to have my coffee and croissant. I was quite happy with the first bar I found and went back there each morning. When I came back from that trip I wrote the following:

There were two days when I went in quite early for my coffee, and both times there was a group of eight or ten men sitting together at several adjacent tables.  This was a small café and they were taking up about half of it.  At first I thought they might be work colleagues having an early morning meeting even though some were dressed in business clothes and others were dressed casually.  But they didn’t all leave together.  And not only did they leave at staggered times, I noticed that some didn’t pay on their way out, so I asked the friendly waiter about them.  He told me they were friends who met before work every day.  The first man who left had paid for them all.  Apparently they take turns.  What a nice way to start the day – so much nicer than taking your coffee to go in a styrofoam cup and drinking it alone in your car.

Coffee for Two, watercolor by Jill Rosoff

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Tuesday, November 10, 2020



Stolperstein in Venice
Photo Credit: Christian Michelides

A Person is Only Forgotten When His or Her Name is Forgotten (from the Talmud)

Have you heard of Stolpersteine? They are small plaques, 10 centimers (3.9 inches) square, made of brass and set into the pavement of a sidewalk. Inscribed with the name and life dates of victims of the Nazis, the plaques are installed before the last home or place of work of each victim. The majority of the Stolpersteine commemorate Jewish victims of the Holocaust, but there are also many gypsies, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, members of the Christian opposition (Protestants and Catholics), members of the communist party, Freemasons, and members of the Resistance, among others. Hitler’s list was long.

Started in 1992 by the German artist Gunther Demnig, The Stolpersteine Project is the world’s largest decentralized memorial. The first plaques were installed in Germany in May 1996; there are now 75,000 Stolpersteine (literally stumbling stones because they are not completely flush with the pavement) around the world, in Germany as well as in Austria, Belgium, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Hungary, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Moldova, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, Ukraine and as far as Argentina.

Stolpersteine are small and you might not notice one except that they rise slightly above the pavement level to catch your attention. The destruction brought on by the Nazis is so immense that it sometimes seems to be just numbers, much like the deaths caused now by Covid 19. At first it was alarming that 30 people, then 100 people had died. Now 1000 die per day and people are not terribly moved or don’t even notice. So then the Stolpersteine, when you trip over one, brings your attention to the fact that in the house or the shop in front of you lived or worked a victim of Nazism, a real person, and here’s the name. Some of the victims weren’t killed but were forced to go into exile or committed suicide.

Most of the countries where the Stolpersteine are placed are countries that were occupied by the Germans. In some cases, the person lived in a non-occupied country but fought in an allied army or in one of the resistance movements and was captured by the Germans.

Figueres recently installed 11 Stolpersteine for people who were sent to German extermination camps. There are now 230 of these in Catalonia. Spain deported 9161 people to German camps. Mostly they were Spaniards who fought Franco to maintain the Spanish republic, or who came from other countries to fight Spanish fascism with the International Brigades. There were also those politically opposed to Franco. The Spanish government, headed by the dictator Francisco Franco, was an ally of Hitler, although Spain didn’t enter into the war. But allies they were and it was German planes that bombed the town of Guernica, an atrocity made famous by the painting by Picasso.

I found one of the newly installed Stolpersteine at one edge of the Plaça de l’Ajuntament (City Hall). Its commemoration reads: Here Lived Vicens Gené Llanet, born 1888, deported in 1940 to Mauthausen where he was murdered on 7 December 1940. Another of the 11 persons from Figueres was Martí Bosch Planas who lived two blocks up on my street. He was also sent to Mauthausen but was liberated at the end of the war. I’ll have to go and see if I can find his plaque.