Friday, March 25, 2011


In Catalan, volant means flying.  I had no idea until today that it also means steering wheel.  They mentioned it in a news story and in its context it didn’t make any sense as flying, so I looked it up in the dictionary.  All the time I was taking those driving lessons and failing those driving tests, I never knew it meant steering wheel.  Hmmm…..

My new (used) car seems to want to fly.  The engine keeps surging and going VROOM, VROOM, VROOM, to my great embarrassment.  I can control velocity with the clutch in first and second gears (high gears don’t require it), but when idling I want to sink down into the seat so people around can’t see me.  They must think that either I’m obnoxious or I don’t know how to drive.  Or both.  Of course they are completely and totally wrong.  I do know how to drive.  This has been happening on and off since I bought it, and I have yet another appointment with my mechanic on Monday to get this fixed, hopefully once and for all.

Back to words, I also learned a new meaning for the Catalan word grua today.  Grua means crane (or derrick) or a tow truck.  Today, while watching a program about the natural environment, I learned that it also refers to crane, the bird.  In English, the same word (crane) has the same two unrelated meanings.  Now how strange is that?  It’s the same with the word dret or “right” in English.  It means the direction opposite of left, it means political conservatism, it means something that is due to anyone by just claim, legal guarantees or moral principles.  How did the two languages come to have the same disparate meanings for the same word?

Another mystery.  Felix, my cat who I adopted after he had been shot by an obnoxious neighborhood who probably doesn’t know how to drive, has something wrong with him.  I suspect epilepsy or some neurological disorder.  Next week is his one year anniversary with me.  Twice in this year (the latest episode was two nights ago) in the wee hours of the morning, he has torn around like a bat out of hell, knocking into things, making a lot of noise, peeing on the floor, and finally becoming frozen, or perhaps paralyzed.  Both times it happened downstairs, and scared the heck out of Minnie and me.  The first time I thought maybe someone or some cat had broken into the house, but that wasn’t so.  Both times it woke me up so I only got down at the end of the episode, in time to see him frozen.  The first time he was in the downstairs bedroom (which also serves as the cats’ dining and bathroom and my office), under the bed, looking like he had seen a ghost.  He didn’t move for what seemed like ages.  This last time he was also in the downstairs bedroom, lying in a strange position on the floor, partially in his pee, seemingly frozen.  I didn’t disturb him either time, being afraid to harm him in some way.  Both times he came out of the paralysis after two or three minutes and came back to normal after a while.  I just stayed nearby, (after I had cleaned up the pee) to make him feel secure until he seemed pretty well recovered.  Any ideas on what can be ailing my cat?  The vet said that if it happens only twice a year, not to worry about it.  It would be extremely difficult, maybe impossible to ever find out what the problem is. 

Friday, March 4, 2011

Death and the Nissan


About five years ago, soon after we moved from Tarragona to here, beyond the pale, I became involved with a local group of English-speakers.  Their main purpose was to network in order to help each other with mysteries such as how to get internet access or more basically, how to get a phone line installed.  In addition, they intended to have social activities and social and cultural exchanges with the natives of the area.  They had been meeting for a while and were ready to become official.  I helped with the writing of by-laws and, maybe because I was the newest member and didn’t know better, I was elected the first president.  We called ourselves ENet (the English-speaking Network).

Not long after we set ourselves up with by-laws and officers, we had news of a disturbing event.  There had been an elderly couple living somewhere nearby.  She was disabled and in a wheelchair.  One day he died, but she was unable to get to the phone to call for help and was trapped near her dead husband for three days.  This appalling event mobilized our group to organize some kind of emergency help for people in need.  We argued about whether or not it should be limited to people who joined ENet.  We argued about whether people should be charged for the service.  We argued about how far the help should extend.  We argued about what type of help we could offer – after all, we were none of us trained.  We argued about who would carry the mobile phone that would be used as the 24-hour help line.  We finally gave the whole thing up in favor of an I.D. card that had space for the name and phone number of a person to contact in case of emergency.

The Nissan

When my car died, I began my search for a new car with Geroni, my trusty mechanic.  No matter that we had bought the Citroen through him and that it was a lemon from the get-go.  Geroni always seemed embarrassed about that and gave me a reduced price (so he said) on the hundreds of gallons of oil I bought to replace the oil that speedily burned away, leaving great clouds behind me when I accelerated and constant fumes within the car.

Geroni found me a Renault Clio that a client of his was selling.  Eve took me to see it and our impression was that it was a heap, albeit a far smaller heap than the Citroen Xsara that just died.  It was a 1994 Renault Clio with 114,000 miles on it that ran on gas (the Citroen ran on diesel, as most cars here do) and reeked inside even when the car wasn’t running.  I figured the owner had a big, smelly dog.  Another customer who began schmoozing with me said he knew the Clio’s owner who lived in the village and who used this car only to go back and forth from his tros (a piece, used to denote a small tract of land that is farmed but not lived on.  Around here the usual crops from these parcels are olives, apricots, and carobs.).  He used the car to carry carobs.  He does not now nor ever did have a dog.  Maybe dog odor would have been better.  The dogless Clio owner wanted 1500 euros which seemed a lot for his stinky little old car. 

Carol and Lino said to look for cars on the internet and helpfully recommended a couple of websites.  There I found two other Clios that were cheaper --  one for 999 euros (newer but with more miles), and another for 1200 euros (older but with half the miles).  The Carob Clio seemed even less of a good buy.

On the internet I also found other cars of interest.  There was a Citroen Saxo (gas) for 1500 euros, a Nisson Micra (gas) for 990 and a 1998 Ford Ka KA for 1000 -- not an auspicious name.  Then there was this used car lot out in Montblanc that had Audis, Mercedes, a Saab, and lots of higher end cars for bottom of the barrel prices: there was a nice-looking BMW for 1190, a 1995 Audi for 1750, a 1998 Audi for 1290, a 1995 BMW 520i for 1190.  I wondered where the owner, Mr. Petrov, got his cars and if the whole business was legal.  But without a car of my own, it was too far to go to investigate.

What I really wanted was a car with some character – a Citroen 2cv or something else ancient and interesting.  One that ran.  But fanciful old cars that run are more expensive than nondescript second hand cars.

Eve took me to auto row in Tortosa where everything turned out to be very expensive.   One of the dealers recommended a used car lot called Autoscheca in L’Amposta that would have cars that were more economic (they favor the word economic over cheap).  We headed there.  They had some nice cars and some heaps, but even the economic heaps were beyond my price range.  Juan told me to come back Thursday when he would have received a new truck load of cars.

Eve had noticed what looked like a small used car lot on the way out, so on the way back we stopped at the outskirts of Aldea, probably Spain’s ugliest town, to see what they had.  Like the town, it was a sad-looking place.  Inside the office we found three disreputable-looking men, one of whom came out with us and showed us what they had.  It wasn’t much.  Car lots here don’t post prices or any details about the car, but I’m not too shy to ask.  One after another, the cars I asked about were either too expensive or already sold, until we came to a small Peugeot with a smashed windshield that otherwise looked about right for me.  Our man said they were asking 2000 euros.  He told me that the windshield would be replaced Monday or Tuesday.  I told him it was beyond my budget.  He said maybe they could do 1800.  When I told him I had a Citroen that didn’t run that I would like to trade, he said maybe we could do a deal.  I would have to talk with Djani, the boss, when he was there during the week. 

By the time I got hold of Djani, I had found another car but I still wanted to sell the Citroen.  Djani wanted to speak English.  He told me his father was French, his mother Croatian, he grew up in Italy, his forebears were Jewish, and he loves Elvis.  Djani was a wheeler-dealer in the age-old tradition.  Have I got a car for you!  Next time, I promised, over and over again.  I told Djani I wanted 100 euros for my Citroen that didn’t run.  He seemed pleased with that.  During the course of the deal – coming to see the car, coming back to get it, and my going to his office to sign papers – he repeatedly grumbled about how he didn’t know how much he would have to pay the tow truck and he didn’t know what he would be able to do with the car.  When he towed the car away he gave me 50 euros.  When I came to sign papers, I asked for the rest.  He managed to find two twenties in his pocket and I settled for that.  Truth is, I was glad I didn’t have to pay a junk yard to tow it away.

I was sad to see the old Citroen loaded onto the tow truck.  Would it go to a garage to be given a new lease on life, or would it serve as a part donor for more fortunate Citroens?  I hope Djani will fix it up and sell it (for lots of money, why not?) rather than dismantle it for parts.  As Jane posted on this blog in April 2010, a car takes you on wonderful outings, takes the kids to school (OK, I have no kids, but it took my cats to the vet), helps run errands that would be hell without it, and generally becomes part of one’s life.  I sincerely hope the Citroen will be resurrected and continue to enjoy happy trails, hopefully cured of the black smoke and noxious fumes that we suffered together.

I couldn’t buy any of Djani’s excellent and economical used cars because I had gotten entangled with a 2002 Nissan Primera (gas).  This was a sedan, about the same size as my Citroen, larger than I really needed, and probably a gas-guzzler.   But it looked good, and the asking price was better than economic.  The only problem with it was that it wouldn’t start.  My friend George had told me about the Nissan.  His friend Eddie was selling it.  It had belonged to Eddie’s brother John, who had died.  John had died five years ago and his wife, May, had been trapped there in the house next to him for three days, unable to call for help.