Saturday, November 13, 2010

Baby Steps

Though I have been away from the blog for awhile, it is not without good reason . . . I AM TIRED! In addition to starting our Spanish instruction this week, Victoria invited me to her Pilates class (taught by a Dutch woman who speaks English, but teaches completely in Spanish), and I am hooked. We are still trying to navigate our way in this intricate city and are trying to get out to explore as much as possible, but we still continue to get lost almost daily. Very simple tasks - like opening a bank account and figuring out how to change the language delivery system on the ATM machine from Spanish to English - seem like monumental triumphs for us!

We are making some headway in our ability to shop in the local markets, but we are never completely sure what we will get when we place our orders. More often than not, when we order food in a restaurant, we are served something totally different than what we thought we were ordering. It is because of this that we are learning to embrace the restaurants that serve a Menu del Día (a set lunch menu, usually about 8-10 Euros). Since we don't know what most of the food is anyway, we don't have to waste time pretending to interpret the menu and we are usually served the best of the restaurant's offerings for that day - it's a great system.

Speaking of restaurants presenting communication issues for us, on Monday we took a day trip up into the mountains to Teruel. It was a chilly, windy day so we spent the majority of our time in cafes and restaurants waiting for our train back to Valencia. We stopped for lunch at a wonderful little restaurant off the plaza. As we were leaving, Caroline needed to use the restroom and asked me to join her. Luckily, the place was pretty crowded so I agreed to go with her (we have been working on letting her go alone if the restroom is within sight). As we tried to leave the restroom, we noticed that the doorknob was broken off the door and we had no way to get out! UGH! Because of the crowd, my door pounding could not be heard and I had to use my cell phone to call Bill, who was waiting outside with Henry.

As Caroline began to panic inside with me, Bill tried frantically to tell the restaurant manager that his wife and daughter were stuck in the bathroom (under stress, it is pretty difficult to recall what you have learned about speaking a foreign language!). We could hear them yelling outside the door - which only increased Caroline's anxiety - as they tried to figure out a way to get the door opened. In what I can only imagine as desperation, the manager decided to kick the door open to get us out, so he had to try to communicate to Bill that he would need to phone me to tell us to stand clear of the door. Fortunately, there was just enough room to move away from the door (most of the public Spanish restrooms are TINY), and after a few strikes, the splintered door came flying in. The manager was extremely apologetic and we left amidst stares and murmurs from the remaining patrons (¡Qué triste americanas!). Such DRAMA!

I can't believe how flippant I was about picking up and moving to a foreign country - where we knew no one, didn't speak the language and knew nothing about the culture and customs. I think we made a bigger deal out of moving from the suburbs to downtown Chicago than we did about coming to Spain! There have been a few days - when the language seems completely jumbled and it feels like someone has moved all of the streets around on us - that I have felt defeated and overwhelmed, but those days are rare. That being said, though, I am very proud of the strides we have made and the efforts we will continue to make. Aside from the obvious benefits of growth and education we are all experiencing, the mental exhaustion is helping me sleep very soundly at night, and that's a wonderful thing!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Spanish Halloween and All Souls' day

Halloween, as we knew it in The States, is celebrated on a much smaller scale in Valencia. In fact, we weren't even sure if there would be any festivities to participate in. According to Anthony and Victoria, the 'day' is more of a 'night,' and instead of kids and candy, it involves adults and alcohol and stupidity. Henry and Caroline, however, were not very satisfied with this description and were determined to don some sort of costumery - even if they were the only people in town to do so! Bill and I have wonderful memories of Halloweens past with our kids, so we were more than willing to assist them in their endeavor. Selections at the local megastore were slim, but the kids managed to grab a couple of things to piece together some costumes that let them feel in the spirit of the day.

Luckily, on the morning of the 30th, Anthony called to invite us to accompany them to a kids' Halloween party with some of their friends - mostly Americans and Australians. Needless to say, Henry and Caroline were thrilled! Most of the other kids were in the 3-5 year age range, but our kids didn't seem to mind. It was bittersweet for me to watch Henry transition from being one of the little kids at the party to being 'the big kid' (a role he enthusiastically welcomed). Fortunately, one of the American dads had some pumpkins for the older kids to carve, so everyone was happy and entertained. It was an early evening, as trick-or-treating has not really taken hold in Spain yet (thank goodness).

The real holiday here is All Souls' Day (November 1). It was a gorgeous day and we spent it at an amazing park with Anthony, Victoria, Isabella and Antonio, as well as one of the families that we met last night. The park was packed full of Spanish families since most business were closed in observance of the holiday.