Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Big Ol' Blog

‘Ello, ‘Ello. From the land of Joan Miró, Antoní Gaudí, Manu Chao and that lady who said she was a 9/11 survivor but wasn’t, we greet thee.

Please share in a collective moment of thanks as we once again have the internet, in the form of a strong free wireless signal pulsing through two rooms of our home. Now we can call people via Skype (to land lines even!), read the news, listen to NPR and BBC radio, and just generally communicate with the world beyond that which lies within our skulls.

We’ve actually had this internet connection for two weeks now, the length of time we’ve been in our new place….it just took me that long to find time to write anything.

So below is a big ol’ blog regarding logistical challenges we have faced in the last month. I have a lot of further bloggin’ to do on topics such as:
- The quarter-life crisis I am going through that makes me cry (both happy and sad tears alike) about once a day when I a) think about my childhood or b) wonder what the hell we’re going to do with our lives
- Leeann and Violet, a British mum and her daughter who is exactly Lily’s age, who we met at the park and now hang out with. They’re fun.
- Lily’s development. She’s so cool!
- How I went through (and probably will continue to go through) unexpected culture shock and hated Barcelona for a while there and really wanted to tell Catalan people to stop telling me how to do things and looking at me like I was a freak
- Me being an at-home mom now and doing all the things that Oli’s mum and my mom do…and wanting to perhaps not be working at all anymore

So, the amazing flat I wrote about weeks ago didn’t pan out because the little old man who owns it was afraid of foreigners as he went through a long court battle with the last tenants, and if the same were to happen with us, the court battle would take twice as long.

While all the paperwork was pending on that place (before we were told no), I found us a short-term rental for three weeks in a duplex in Barceloneta, the zone along the beach, so that Oli and Lily could come out to Barcelona in time for Oli to begin work. This duplex had been rented by a girl from Toronto and a guy from NY. The girl would be in Toronto for a few weeks and the guy wasn’t finished with his previous place, so they both wanted to sublet for the month of October. The place was just finishing being rehabbed. When I saw it, it was still under construction, but the girl told me the agency had guaranteed it would be complete by Oct 1, and we would move in on Oct 2 or 3. Being Spain, I highly doubted it would be ready on the 1st, especially when the girl added the word “guaranteed,” but I was desperate for a short-term rental that wouldn’t cost me my first born and I figured what wasn’t complete in the flat would be finished soon. Boy, was I surprised when on the 3rd it looked hardly complete and had no furniture.

Acually, the IKEA bed and wardrobe in our room had been assembled. By our second day in the place, a table and credenza had been pieced together in the kitchen, and IKEA dishes added. The kitchen chairs were to arrive within a week, but never did materialize in all the time we were there, so we always sat on a manky mattress on the floor that we stole from the IKEA fold-out couch on the second floor of the duplex. We learned that furniture is really important, especially when you have a child you’re trying to feed. Thank God we had Lily’s little booster seat with slide-on tray.

In addition to the lack of furniture, there were men from Mexico who came at 8am each morning for a week to finish the work, but all they finished was painting the staircase leading up to the flat, using a very nice rag-roll effect. While they were doing that, we were noticing that none of the doors that opened to the outside (the balcony doors and main entrance from the building stairwell) closed completely, that the washing machine leaked water across the kitchen during the spin cycle (we became accustomed to mopping the floor being part of the laundry-doing process), the air conditioner hadn’t been installed (large pipes protruding from the ceiling were the first clue), and that the hot water only worked for about 5 minutes (no side note needed).

On top of these odds and ends within the flat, it seems I had failed to notice on my preliminary visit that two buildings on that small street were under construction, meaning that at 8am each day, hammering began, and that at 2:30, immediately after Lily would go down for her nap, men would begin hoisting a bucket up on a pulley in the building next door yielding a horrible repetitive squealing noise. After a week of this, construction of some sort began in the flat below ours, producing hammering each day at exactly 2:35pm. In our last week in the place, scaffolding was erected in front of a third building on our street, and further work began there. Between this nearby construction and that which had taken place within our duplex, the grooves in the modern gray clay tiles of our flat were perpetually filled with a dust that we could not eliminate with all the sweeping and mopping in the world. Thus, our feet were perpetually filthy and the floor perpetually covered in dirty shmeers, particularly after running the washing machine.

Yet, when we moved, we knew we would miss Barceloneta. It has lovely old buildings and a great big market for buying fresh food. When you’re in your apartment, sure, you can hear everything happening in the street and see other families making dinner in their places just across the way, but it was kind of nice to always have signs of life around. Heck, all Oli had to do to get the current football score when we had no TV was hang his head out the window and ask the boy Alex who lived across the street and up two floors. In the road we quickly made friends with our favorite old ladies who would call up , “Mi vida, mi vida! Cántame algo!” to Lily when she would sing on our balcony. And, we were five minutes from the Mediterranean. Ah.

Our compatriot in all that duplex and Barceloneta had to throw at us was Georgia, a Romanian girl doing a master’s in English studies here in Barcelona. She, too, was subletting while looking for a longer term apartment for her and her boyfriend Mirce who would come out to join her at the end of Oct (Mirce is a successful events/concerts organizer whose last thing to organize before coming out to Barcelona was a Beyoncé concert sponsored by Coca-Cola. He just took Georgia to London for the week to meet up with some agents, see the Cinematic Orchestra, see Sigur Ros play live before seeing their documentary, then head out to the VIP party to meet the band.). She, too, suffered in that duplex, had little time to look for a new place, and was well loved by Lily, so when the agency we were working with showed us a flat we liked enough to take with time running out on us and all, we invited her and Mirce to come rent our third bedroom.

So, now here we are in a modern flat on the 11th floor, the top floor, of a giant building, with a balcony looking out to the sea. We’re very near to where Oli and I used to live, but more centrally located in this barrio/zone. It’s a very family-friendly area, but most of the city is as the city planning here is excellent; that’s Catalans for you (except when it comes to immigration; see below). You’re basically never far from a library, park, market, or civic center and each zone of the city has guides available that tell you all the activities and resources the city and other private organizations have available for residents to utilize in that area. Right behind our building is the train station that takes one down to the cities south of Barcelona, which have great beaches. On the other side of our building is a giant park with a lake filled with ducks and fish, a grassy tree-covered area, sporty area, and playpark complete with coffee bar for the moms. While we weren’t expecting to live in a modern-ish apartment, we’re getting happier and happier with it and are really enjoying the area we live in.

On the other hand, we’ve noticed a few things don’t work in out flat. The washing machine floods the back utility balcony it is on, and water spills on to the utility balconies of the flats below. I didn’t know this and the first and only time I used the machine, the result was furious ringing of my doorbell by two separate neighbors while Lily was napping and I was desperately trying to mop up the water faster than it could escape onto others’ balconies below. I always think of such clever things to say to rude Spanish people ten minutes too late. In English I have that margin down to five minutes. Anyway, other problems include: two of the burners/hobs of the stove don’t work, the bidet doesn’t work (we don’t care), and if you turn on one of the heat/aircon units, the electricity in the apartment goes out. The toilet also began to leak at the base today……

So I emailed the agency about all this and a week later, they called me (there was a two-day holiday in there, so in reality, it only was a four-day delay). Basically, the typical Spanish repair process has begun and in about six months, we might have one or two things repaired. Our friend Timo has been trying to get a leak in his bathroom repaired for nine months. Once every three months the lampista that works for his flat’s managing agency will come out, peak through the little hole he made in a tile and grumble about not being able to figure out the problem without a better view. Timo once suggested the lampista take off a few tiles, but he said that was ridiculous because then he’d have to put them back up. On the last visit the lampista did figure out what the problem was. So maybe on the next visit he’ll fix it?

In addition to flat trials, I’m still trying to sort out my immigration status. I went at 7am to wait in line with the other immigrants last week and when the doors opened at 9, I immediately got to go see someone….who instantly told me my American marriage certificate wouldn’t do, that they needed something from a British authority recognizing our marital union. The woman suggested I take my American marriage certificate to the British consulate and get a letter written saying we were married. This was good enough she said. Hm, this letter written by Jemma Smith of Pikey-ville, UK would do, but not my stamped and water-marked marriage certificate…. I repeat, hm. Having been througb Oli’s immigration process in the US, I knew this was crap and that consulates don’t do such things, but I called the British consulate just to check. I was right, so now I have to start over and call the Catalunya immigrant hotline to find out what exactly they want from me. Mind you, none of this is written anywhere and no one ever knows what to expect when they go to any public office here. You kind of start at the office where you pick up the application, then just ask people who may or may not know where you go to process the application and present documents, that you may or may not know you need. Personally, I just think the immigration lady I spoke to that day was on her period.



Maiasaura said...

Whoa, that is quite an update! Sorry to hear about all the irritating flat stuff. Hope you can get it addressed by the time we come to see you in the spring. I can't stay anywhere without a working bidet.

Glad to hear you're enjoying SAHM-dom... hope that continues.

The only other thing I have to say is, Pictures, please!

Take good care of your peeps. We love you all and are thinking of you. Keep the updates coming, if you can.

Colin said...

miss you so much!
I can't say I read the entire blog post, but I totally got the gist of it. I think.
Big kisses from me to all three of you.