20 June, 2007

Not Like In The Movies

The last 10 days have been about as frustrating as anything I have experienced on the personal front. It has practically nothing to do with being in Spain and everything to do with the so-called "global financial network." Ha. More like the "global marketing blah blah but it's really a country by country system and it would be faster if you wrote a check and sent it by freighter and donkey network"!!! It's sure not like James Bond or Oceans 11 or The Bourne Identity where you push a button and watch it fill your Swiss bank account.

We literally had tens of thousands of dollars that was really our money and we couldn't get access to it because it was being wired somewhere at some point by somebody and we would get it some time. Which, for those of you who read my early post about the fear landlords have here of letting someone rent their property and never being able to get them out, didn't make our first time landlord any more comfortable with the Americanos.

We did move into a new apartment, more about that later with some pictures, and life is getting much better. But if I had written all this last week, it would have been too bitter. With a little distance, it's not funny but it's not as stressful as it was either.

Two great things did happen out of it. First, we were again reminded how many good friends we have who were willing to do a variety of things to try to help. Genuine offers that came right from the heart and did indeed help...sometimes just listening and empathizing was what we needed.

Secondly, while Becca and I were very worked up, the girls continued be the girls (though they did tell us to relax a few times.) One afternoon Becca took them into a church she had been wanting to see. Taylor and Laura Macie were very NOT excited about that little trip. However, once they got in, past the ordinary facade, their jaws dropped. That night, when they usually take a few minutes to say what they're thankful for, Taylor said something that was worth all the hassle and frustration, "Thank you for opening my eyes to knowing that sometimes what is plain on the outside is beautiful on the inside."

It's so good that our kids are smarter than we are.

10 June, 2007

Flamenco Dancing - Way better than I expected!

Becca was committed to doing something this past Friday night with the girls that was more than just dinner and walking around, as lovely as those two things are. Her idea was, to me, the dreaded flamenco dancing show. A necessary stop on the Madrid culture tour but one to be endured more than enjoyed.

The evening started out quite nicely and set the tone for the entire night. The girls dressed up and were excited about such a mysterious word.

We had (mediocre) paella in the Plaza Mayor. Sure, it's a tourist magnet but the outside seating allows for fantastic people watching and there are a lot of people in the Plaza on a Friday night! The girls were totally entranced by a spray paint artist who was simply incredible. Once we move, this week hopefully, the girls want to go back and ask him to create some custom work for their rooms :-)

We finally made our way to the flamenco bar and right away my antennae went up. It was small and dark and seemed ripe for the American in Spain nightmare...audience participation! But I couldn't have been more wrong. Right at show time, the small stage filled with four dancers (three female and one male ), two guitarists and two singers. And from the first note, the stage just exploded with noise and passion and movement. What a fantastic hour we spent.

The photos aren't great (part of what makes flamenco exciting is the exact opposite of good photo conditions) but the evening was another terrific taste of Spain and more fun than any of us expected!

07 June, 2007

Cheese and Honey Tour in Avila

While Laura Macie and I toughed it out at home yesterday, Becca and Taylor took a tour of (relatively) nearby Avila. This trip, led by a fantastically Madrid/Spain-savvy woman named Ann Pinder, was to three artesinal cheese and honey makers. They learned fascinating things about bees, goats and rural life in Spain. The cheese makers live in a village of about 300 people, maybe 100 families, 20% make earn their livelihood in some way connected with the goats!

We are enjoying the great queso fresca de cabra and two different kinds of honey (one from flowers and one from a tree).

Here are a few other terrific pictures from their

04 June, 2007

Expat Community is a Different World

Through some connections Becca has made, we have had the chance the last two weekends to meet several people who are corporate expats here in Madrid. What a different world! We met one lovely Australian woman who has been married 29 years and moved 23 times!!! She considers Connecticut home and kids have gone to university all over the world.

As a group, the expats all speak multiple languages with ease and have interesting perspectives on the world because they've seen so much of it. At the same time, there's a certain fatalism as they often have little control over when and where the next assignment is or for how long.

One French expat talked about living in Seoul, South Korea, a sprawling city of more than 20mm. At the same time there were only 100 French families there so it was like living in a small village (with all the good and bad that comes with that experience) and, in retrospect, a fantastic few years for their family...though living there was very difficult because of the dramatically different language and culture.

This weekend was a little more intimate; dinner with just two other couples but a similar sense of cultural mishmash. The hosts were a French man (different than the one above) married to a Brazilian woman. He works for a French bank, grew up in Africa, the language at home is Portuguese and their English is first rate. And, of course, they live and work and raise a son in Madrid, who uses Spanish on the playground of his French school. Head spinning.

We had a very Spanish day yesterday...late start to the day for most of the family and we didn't go to lunch till 2:30. There are a number of restaurants near our piso (a word we learned this week for apartment), and has we sat outside eating tapas, this was our view. (well, not Laura Macie's as you can see from the top of her head looking at me taking the picture. The phonecam ain't the best)

On Friday, Becca was out meeting a friend at a nearby restaurant when motorcade came screaming by. Turned out to be the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, for an eight-hour visit with Spanish President Zapatero. Not much could have happened in such a short time but this is a "welcome" banner outside of where the meeting happened. Becca also learned that one of the services the US Embassy here (and I think all places) provides is an email alert for when anti-American rallies are expected....hadn't thought about that as a necessary service before.