Monday, March 5, 2012

Surprise (come along for the ride)!!

So, I really want to get back into this blogging thing. Life has changed quite a bit in the last 21 months but life as an expat is still just as interesting. Will you check back in on me from time-to-time as I get my blogging legs again?

Ah, and to ask even more of you, you'll have to follow me over on wordpress instead, as I decided to make the move. Check me out at my new digs.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Breath of Fresh Air

Air. Glorious air. Glorious cold air.

Who, in their right mind, lives in a house without air conditioning in a city where it frequently hits 100º in the summer? Well, we do. Scratch that. We did. The icey breath of salvation finally reached our apartment this week. Or at least half of it…

You’d think that with the high summer temps in Madrid everyone would have air condition. Otherwise you simply melt. But the truth of the matter is that air conditioning is definitely not a foregone conclusion in Madrid apartments and in fact, in probably 90% of the Madrid apartments, AC is not really even needed but for a few weeks out of each year. The northern exposure for half the city, the insulating factor of other apartments above and on either side of you and the cooler night temps mean that it’s not all that unbearable to live in Madrid, in the summer, without AC.

What IS unbearable is living in an 8th floor attic apartment with a big terrace and larger-than-average interior patios on each side. That makes for no “neighbor insulation” on 2.5 sides of the apartment and no cover from the direct sun hitting the roof. In other words, our apartment gets hot in the summer. Despite that, we actually managed to survive in a solid state for over a year. But this summer is a hot one. Temps are high – pushing past the 100º mark on multiple occasions so far – and night temps are not dropping as they should. So we begged our landlord to put in AC. We pleaded with him. We threatened to leave permanent sweat stains on his nice hard-wood floors. But he was a born negotiator and was un-phased by our plight.

Eventually we agreed to pay a portion of the installation. Two days ago we got half of the installation in – our bedroom is now a nice cool sanctuary and our TV watching has dropped dramatically. If they don’t come to install the living room unit soon I expect Nacho will be dragging our TV into the bedroom by the weekend. Would we sell our souls for air conditioning? Probably not. But we’d sell just about anything else!

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Onion 1; El Mundo 0

April Fool’s Day isn’t for another month. And the Holy Innocents was back in December. So it looks like El Mundo, one of the biggest Spanish newspapers, has absolutely no excuse for not checking their facts and sources a tad bit more…

Yep, they’ve written a short story about how Obama uses playback on his speeches. They’ve taken the Onion video as fact. And it’s being passed around Spain. As fact. And people are already up in arms criticizing Obama for “getting too big.” Comments on the El Mundo web site include categorizing Obama as “pathetic” and a “hipocritical puppet” as well as stating, “this is how Hugo Chavez got started.” It’s clear that plenty of people are sitting back just waiting for the chinks in Obama’s armor to appear.

Real time update. The newspaper has since taken down the video. And surely fired the intern responsible for putting it there in the first place. This will unquestionably be on the news tonight…

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


A mainstay in the Spanish shopping culture is the “Chino,” as the shop owned and run by Chinese people is so simplistically called. Years ago these shops were stocked almost exclusively with foodstuffs. In Spain back 10 (or even 5-6) years or so ago there were just two kinds of stores that could open on Sundays – those that sold food and those that sold newspapers. It’s not surprising, then, that the original “Chino” was a 7-11 type joint. It’s just the sort of business that fits perfectly with the nose-to-the-grindstone mentality exhibited by immigrants the world over – be they Indians at the Kwik-E-Mart, Pakistanis at the Corner store, or Chinese at the “Chinos.”

In true entrepreneurial fashion, many shop owners decided to monopolize on their being the only place open on the day of rest to also stock such emergency items as toilet plungers, tin foil and greeting cards. No one can say for sure where the leap occurred but at some point a new kind of Chino started to pop up. And this time they sold all of the random junk – knock-off colognes, shirts, shoes, underwear, Tupperware, fake flowers, shower curtains, light bulbs (you get the drift) - and no food. And the word “Chino” as a store designation came to be synonymous with a dollar store – alternatively, and still to this day, called Las 100 Pesetas or Los 20 Duros (twenty 5-cent peseta coins).

But, like all successful industries, the Chinos weren’t done there. After yet another facelift, the clothing Chino has emerged. This time sporting names such as, Sassy, Pretty Lady, and, yes, it’s true, Crassy, the Chino of today courts women of all ages with their hip clothing and shoes at rock bottom prices.

Now just because a new kind of Chino has appeared doesn’t mean that the others have faded away. After all, each kind of store fills a different role.

The food store attracts the 7-11 clientele; open late – think 1am – and selling cold beer and sodas, individual bags of chips and bulk candy.

The “dollar store” offers a bit of everything at a reasonable price. The only true competition they have could perhaps be the megastores like Carrefour and Alcampo, neither of which are easily found in the city center, or Corte Ingles, which most certainly sells everything but at a much higher price.

The clothing shops rarely close during the siesta and, although the quality is cheap, the offerings are plenty and the prices are low (I got boots not unlike these for 12€ on Saturday).

All of that means that, generally speaking, the Chinos are doing pretty well in spite of the general state of affairs. And it’s not at all uncommon for a neighborhood shop to close under the weight of the recession and for a Chino to open in its place. In the 3 blocks between my street and the next biggest street there are 8 Chinos – 2 food stores, 2 dollar stores, and 4 clothing shops.

And so I finally get to my point. Yesterday I saw a sign in the window of one of those 8 shops.
“Liquidación por cierre.”

The Chino was having a going-out-of-business, everything-must-go sale. This reminds of the Imponderables book I had when I was younger.

When a Chino closes, what opens in its place?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

No lie.

Just popped into the lunch room here on my floor to heat up a quick cup of tea and the conversation I overheard was definitely one of those “only in spain…”s. About 12 people talking about the various ways to make tortilla española.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Me llamo...

Over the Christmas holidays we headed up to Edinburgh to be with the family. While waiting on the bus for our trip from the plane to the baggage claim I caught part of a conversation between a man and a Scottish-Spanish family comprised of a Scottish mom, Spanish dad, and their two early-teen kids. We had quite the wait and the mom had time to tell the chatty man everything about their familial situation and what they were doing living in Madrid and why they were visiting Scotland and how the kids spoke both languages and which language they spoke at home and a million other things the guy wanted to know. Finally the man turned to the kids and asked,

“So, do you have Spanish names?”

The kids looked at each other and then at their mum and just shrugged their shoulders in the universal gesture of “I dunno.”

Mum answered for them, “Well, this one’s Daryl, so that’s not really Spanish. And my daughter is Andrea, which could be either language.”

I think this little interchange was pretty representative of their situation as a whole. For an outsider it’s seems pretty interesting – bilingual families, kids fluent in both languages from birth, etc. But for the kids it’s just what they’ve always known. Those are their names. And while Andrea certainly could be either Spanish of English, there is no doubt that Daryl comes from the English side of his progenitors. I would have thought that the boy would at least have realized that his name was not common in Spain but clearly it’s not something he’d ever really considered. For him, whether he says, “My name is Daryl” or “Me llamo Daryl,” the important part is who he is and not the language.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Rain rain go away

I have a number of things that I want to write about over the coming days - reflections on my recent trip to Edinburgh and the holidays with the families (Christmas with my family and New Years with my in-laws). For the time being, however, I'd just like to know when hired a psychic. 100% at 7pm? Really?