Friday, July 30, 2010

vanishing 20 degrees

So I'm really really burnt and badly need a shower, so this will be brief! We arrived safe and sound, if somewhat nauseous (me at least, Grace too I suspect), in Madrid yesterday after hopefully one of my last road trips with A's dad at the wheel! He's one of them swervy drivers and 4+ hours of that in the back-seat can bring on the carsick, I tell ya! Poor G-dog still isn't getting the center of gravity thing and spent most of the trip trying to stand and me needing to grab her to keep her from falling off her third of the seat (she was wedged between me and a box).

Of course my loopy tummy might also have been part of a migraine predrome because a whopper hit me shortly after we arrived in our new apartment. Or should I say palace, because the place is riii-diculously large and pretty overall great. More details and photos to follow.

Tomorrow hopefully will start a better streak of luck though. I guess it started late yesterday when I couldn't get into the apartment after Alain & his dad went off somewhere and I was trying to go upstairs with Grace. I waited 40 minutes until the doorman came and showed me the trick (2 locks, the second one needs to be pulled while turning the key, then the door pushed hard). Shortly thereafter the air-conditioner stopped working (the Droga boys were back and I suspect someone pushed some buttons they shouldn't have).

The latter is a bit of a drag just at night since it's been reaching 40C these days, our bedroom faces the street and I'm a light sleeper so windows open at night means sleeplessness. The earplugs nonetheless got me a few hours and this morning we awoke to an unbelievably cool breeze. The temperature drops by almost 20C overnight, it's wild! Tonight we've found two fans to keep us from melting.

Anyway, the last and worst bit of bad luck is that we left the poor G alone for the first time today to go to the bank and she somehow ended up locked in a small dark back bedroom (she must have pushed the I-was-certain-that-door-was-closed door open and it then latched behind her). But that wasn't a good trauma to her already stressed & confused brain. Poor thing doesn't understand this is our new home, and she also must be wondering what happened to the two new pack members she had recently adopted!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

beachy keen

So we went to the beach this morning but dammit there were already a lot of people at 8:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning, so the poor G-dawg had to stay with A and watch me from the seawall as I had a quick dip. (Yes, I chickened out from breaking the no dogs rule, despite the bravado of my last post!)

She seemed very curious and likely would've been very excited to get near the water but the waves were kind of big so I'm not sure she would've gone in very far. The water was nice and warm though and it made me wish we had/could go to the beach more often. Alain and I might take the bus there (we walk enough as it is!) this evening and have a swim when the sun is almost set and the hordes have gone off to start thinking about dinner.

Speaking of food, lunch time is thankfully almost here. Breakfast was a long time ago and the walking works up an appetite. As you can see, Alain even had a snack this morning on our way back from the beach. I held out for my own home made oatmeal-banana pancake!

Friday, July 23, 2010

big ole belly full of bread

So the mutt did it again: she got ahold of some forbidden food and stuffed herself silly. We haven't often left her alone in the past three weeks but late this afternoon the padres were out & A and I went off too. I made sure to shut the pantry/storage room door and the kitchen door too.

But alas, I didn't know the kitchen puerta doesn't click shut: though it seems latched, it easily pushes open and gives an enterprising perra (female dog) access to the bread basket. She had not long before eaten her dinner and also been given half a chew-bone treat as we were leaving - so, needless to say, little Miz G has not wanted to move much tonight.

Hopefully she's feeling better in the morning because, as it is our last weekend here (we leave for Madrid on Thursday), I had decided we are doing the long walk to the beach tomorrow morning and breaking the rules: I want to go swimming and see if she'll come with me. Alain probably won't join me since he's got a huge crack in one of his heels due to the dryness here. Plus he's not much of a rule-breaker anyway!

She's been to the beach twice now and both times she's gone wild, having a FRAP and running in mad circles in the sand. But on neither occasion was she anywhere near the water since San Juan's beach is very deep. I figure at 8:30 a.m. we won't be bothering anyone so no one will bother us if we make a dash for the waves! Anyway, we might have to postpone the plan until Sunday morning if the weather is bad tomorrow a.m. (there is talk of a rare summer storm).

I too am anxious to swim in the ocean for the first time since our trip to Yoron (near Okinawa) last summer. Plus anything to break up our dull routine, frankly. San Juan, though it has a few tiny pockets that are picturesque, is on the whole quite depressing. See they seem to have been in the middle of a badly urban-planned expansion when the financial crisis hit, so there are many, many empty dusty (dog poo-filled) lots and abandoned sales offices surrounding the heart of the area in which A's parents live, which is San Juan Pueblo. (I see in the Spanish Wikipedia page about the town that in fact the population doubled between 1994 and 2009, reaching 22,000.)

Culturally there isn't much going on, unless you want to include the ever-popular passtime of sitting at the outdoor tables of the "bars" (bistro/cafes) on La Rambla, which is San Juan Pueblo's main street with extra-wide sidewalks to accommodate the 25-30 bars and ice cream joints. (Actually, last weekend we did see a pretty decent jazz quartet on the stage behind one of the town's schools.)

San Juan Playa, the other main part of San Juan is, as I've mentioned, a good half hour walk away. Plus it's basically just a boardwalk, beach and apartment buildings facing the beach with a few restaurants and ice cream shops. Apparently the beach at this time of the year is packed full of people daily, but I've only seen it once in the very quite a.m.

The more interesting and larger Alicante is a half hour bus ride away so we've only been there a couple of times and to the town, not the beach. Tomorrow night we may head there to see a Cuban concert on the beach. And since the padres will be out too (they play cards on weekend evenings), we'll be sure to put the bread in the cupboard!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

we wrecked the oceans

Apologies for reverting to the preaching I would occasionally do on Pinch Me. But... I just watched a very powerful talk and really, really encourage everyone I know to watch it too.

Below are some extracts I typed up. But if you eat fish, have ever wondered what all this "ocean acidification" talk was about, and/or just have a soul, you'll want to hear everything this coral reef ecology expert has to say (and it's all very straight-forward and easy to understand). Spare the 18 minutes.

... And we trawl, which means to take something the size of a tractor-trailer that weighs thousands and thousands of pounds, put it on a big chain and drag it across the sea floor to stir up the bottom and catch the fish.

Think of it as being the bulldozing of a city or of a forest, because it clears it away. And the habitat destruction is unbelievable. This is a typical photograph of what the continental shelves of the world look like. You can see the rows in the bottom, the way you can see the rows in a field that has just been ploughed to plant corn.

What that was was a forest of sponge and coral which is a critical habitat for the development of fish. What it is now is mud.

And the area of the ocean floor that has been transformed from forest to level mud, to parking lot, is equivalent to the entire area of all the forests that have ever been cut down, on all of the earth, in the history of humanity. And we've managed to do that in the last 100 to 150 years.

...So what are the oceans going to be like in 20-50 years? Well there won't be any fish, except for minnows and the water will be pretty dirty, and all those kinds of things, and full of mercury, etc., etc. And deadzones will get bigger and bigger and start to merge. And we can imagine something like the dead-zonification of the global coastal ocean.

The really scary things though are the physical, chemical, chemical, oceanographic things that are happening.

As the surface of the ocean gets warmer, the water is lighter when it's warmer, it becomes hard and harder to turn the ocean over. We say it becomes more strongly stratified. The consequence of that is that all those nutrients that fuel the great anchoveta fisheries, the sardines of California, or in Peru or whatever, those slow down, and those fisheries collapse. And at the same time, water from the surface, which is rich in oxygen, doesn't make it down and the ocean turns into a desert.

So the question is, how are we all going to respond to this? And we can do all sorts of things to fix it but in the final analysis, what we really need to fix is ourselves. It's not about the fish; it's not about the pollution; it's not about the climate change. It's about us and our greed and our need for growth and our inability to imagine a world that is different that the selfish world we live in today.

So the question is, do we respond to this or not?

I would say the future of life, and the dignity of human beings depends on our doing that.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

presto chango & bunnies

I don't know about you, but I am ergo-sensitive. Maybe because of my migraine condition, the muscles in my shoulders & neck can seize up and cause headache & irritability. So, as I've mentioned, finding a computer workspace here in the padres house had been a challenge.

The MiniMac on top of the dresser is okay as I can stand there (doing yoga poses) or perch on my new secondhand stool (which ended up costing 5 euros and is really sturdy with a solid wood seat & nice folding metal frame/legs). But today, in my search for comfort, I have hit upon a hopeful alternative. I put the laptop onto my stool and pulled it over to the bed. This way I can sit in a loose lotus (aka Indian-style) on the bed and my arms on the keyboard are at 45 degrees. Bye-bye stiff neck?

Boy that's a pretty dull thing to post about. Sorry...

How about Grace? Everyone loves to hear about her! This morning I took her for the morning walk alone, because A took his mom to her medical appointment. I didn't know which way to go because frankly, we still haven't found many pleasant spots. So, coming to one roundpoint that is just past the neglected mostly unkempt, dry and dusty municipal gardens, I let her pick the direction.

I thought she'd head in one particular direction we've walked several times, which takes us past a big empty lot/field where she got loose one day last week when she had a "FRAP" (frenetic activity period). Alain wasn't with me that time either and boy, I was a bit scared at what she would do/to where she would zoom off (she's had fraps outside before but never gotten loose). But it turned out fine as she just ran through the brush at top speed in one huge circle and then came back to me. Luckily she'd worn herself out frapping as I struggled to hold the leash before she got out of her collar!

But nope, she picked a new direction that turned out to be quite interesting and is one we will definitely explore further as it involves big old houses, open fields and scrubby hills, which A & I find interesting/relaxing (photos to come). And dear G is certain to be very pleased to return, as her nose probably led us there for one particular very interesting-to-her reason: there're bunnies in them there hills! I saw one hop off a street into a field (she didn't though, thankfully!) and then droppings all over the place in another field.

Not that we should encourage any hunting instinct in our already wilder-than-your-average-domesticated mutt...

Sunday, July 11, 2010

la vida tranquila

Well, it's Sunday already and our first week is drawing to an end. I have not much to tell, as one might have noted from the sparseness of my posts!

I spent the week trying to catch up on work in the mornings, after taking a long walk with A & G and making/having breakfast. Other than that, a focal point of our day is to help out A's padres (parents) with lunch preparations and clean-up, which is quite a production. lunch here is late (2 or 3 p.m.) and large and the padres don't like to eat out much, so every day there is slaving to be done in the tiny kitchen.

Actually, i should clarify that i rarely help them prepare their food, for wont of space (Alain does though) but i am in charge of whipping up my own vegetarian bits and also prefer to make separate veggies for A and I, as the padres do so love to overcook and overdress/salt theirs! they also seem to favour things I personally would avoid cooking in the summer (and these days, altogether), like roast chicken! Alain has returned to his meat-eating habits, if only to please his dad (both padres consume enough animal protein at lunch to feed 3 people, but no, I'm not judging, just fascinated).

Yesterday we did succeed in convincing them to let us take them out for lunch and 'dios mio' (my god), what a feast it was. We took the course menu that included several rounds of appetizers before the main course and it was way too much food, I couldn't move afterwards! Of course that was my own fault for feeling I had to eat and eat to alleviate the inevitable food waste from our table! I consumed at least half the huge salad and lots and lots of manchego while the rest of them worked on croquettes, fried calamari and jamon de Serrano. My main plate was a delicious seafood paella (an exception from my regular habits), which I made a respectable dent in, eating about 2/3rds. A's dad meanwhile wrapped half his humongous steak in a napkin for "Fraise" (he keeps forgetting G's name but I kind of like his alternate!), so at least it didn't end up in the garbage.

Anyway, apologies for going on about food... It's just such a big deal in this casa!

Aside from that, yesterday G-dog was seen by her first Spanish vet -- by the pool on his patio, that is! The son of a second cousin of A's mom, he advised us on a recurring irritation the poor perrita has on her privates. A very nice and interesting guy, he also volunteers at a chimpanzee refuge near here.

The only other thing I have to say is that I hope tonight downtown in the village of San Juan de Alicante -- where the padres' apt is located -- is quieter than last night. There were dogs barking, car music blaring, people talking loud on the street until 3 a.m. and I hardly slept! Although I just remembered it's the World Cup final tonight so if Spain wins I'll have to catch up on ZZZs on Monday night!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

what's the point of showering?

oh it's a hot one tonight. damn these shutters block out the breeze along with the light! [in-laws don't like to have AC on at night but don't own fans.] and now there're fireworks or something going on outside somewhere - quite loud.

Lucky A's already snoring but i don't see sleep ahead anytime soon for me since that nice local vino at dinner (which was just 2 hours ago) went down a tad too smooth. don't know if i'll be accompanying A & G-dawg on their morning walk to the beach again tomorrow.

meanwhile, mini mac is also set up and now all i need is a stool so i don't have to stand for hours on end as i work. saw one in the window of the 2nd hand shop just downstairs. must go back in the a.m.

mañana is another day, amigos...

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

window on my new world

Standing in front of the window, open onto this narrow street of low sun bleached houses, I work on the laptop perched on a waist-high dresser. There is no desk in my padre-in-laws' apartment and the kitchen and living rooms are their noisy domains, so this morning I have decided to practice yoga poses as I edit and type here in our bedroom. Not sure if this will become a permanent routine. Our new temporary life here allows me creative freedom and the license to decide that later.

Grace lies on a makeshift bed on a rug by our bed, looking up only when a dog barks down the block. Birds chirp, buses and motorcycles pass by, rough Spanish ladies' voices shout out. It's 10:30 a.m. and the sun's heat begins to build. Concentration will be a challenge for me in San Juan de Alicante.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

here in the spanish summer sun

So we've been in Spain for almost 3 days now and are obviously still adjusting. Surprisingly, it seems G-dawg is the one who's found it easiest! She's already quite attached to her grandpa (who today took her out alone for the first time) and grandma (who talks non-stop to her when she thinks no one else is around to hear it!) and is being permitted access to whatever sofa, chair or bed she desires to sleep on.

We are so proud of how brave she was during the long voyage. I have a feeling she must've slept some once our Tokyo-Munich flight took off since we made sure to wear her out the day before (not to mention the stress of the last two weeks, what with so many strangers traipsing in & out of our house, from movers to embassy properties people to party guests). Plus frankly I think the in-flight part must have been way less scary than the hour plus ride to the airport, during which she insisted on looking out the window most of the time, and the hour plus between the time they wheeled her kennel off to load her and the actual scary-noise filled take-off. Not to mention the transfer from that plane to the Munich-Madrid flight.

Anyway, when we finally landed in Madrid she was thirsty (the still quite-full level testifying to how she never mastered drinking from her kennel bottle, no matter how hard we tried to train her on it, with peanut butter even) and the grateful recipient of a huge handful of cookies before we even got her out of the airport. I think airline staff did give her water between the flights, evidenced by the odorless wetness of her blankets directly under the water bowls hanging from the kennel door, and that is thanks to our friends Stephan & Erin for helping make a great sign to stick on her cage, but 20+ hours is a long time to go without food. So as soon as we arrived at our hotel, where her grandpa met us, she snarfed back a huge bowl of the batch of food he had prepared for her.

She didn't love the hotel that night and was still nervous around her grandpa the next morning when we all got into the car for the 3.5 hour drive to Alicante. She was tired I could tell but the situation wasn't ideal for her to sleep in the car since she & I had to share the backseat with a big box. She curled up but couldn't feel stable as she was too close the seat edge. So I finally took A's knapsack, stuck it on the floor right in front of her seat & put folded newspapers on top so she could have a shelf to rest her head on, which she gladly did & proceeded to sleep for the whole trip!

Our routine here seems to please her. A & I both wake up quite early and take her out for a long walk. We're still exploring, looking for green spaces where she is allowed (most people don't pick up dogpoo here so dogs are banned from the nicest parks). It's not too hot in the morning, as it's quite dry here and though the sun is strong and the day soon starts to heat up, the morning (and night) breezes are cool. On the way back, we stop for café con leche (café latte) and then head home for breakfast.

Noontime walks are short as the sun is really strong and so she hangs out in the cool apartment with whomever of us is around (we've yet to all go out together and leave her alone). Her afternoon/evening walk is later than in Tokyo because of the heat too, with the sun only setting around 9:30 p.m.! I want to take her to the beach one day soon but it's quite a long walk and she's not even allowed on the sand (only the boardwalk/path) so I'm not sure it's worth it. Maybe we can find a place she is permitted and get grandpa to drive us. I want her to meet the sea!

Meanwhile, we have yet to get internet access a la casa so I'm at a cafe at the moment, but we hope to find a USB prepaid modem thingy tonight when A goes to a different branch of the store as the local one has run out and waiting for a shipment. When we do get hooked up, I'm going to be breaking away from Pinch Me & starting a fresh blog for Spain. I'm still kicking around names for it, but welcome suggestions. Am currently leaning towards "somos caracoles" (we are snails).