Spain, first of a few.

The lazy person’s credo: If you wait long enough to do a job, often someone else will do it. And lo, it has happened.

OK, not really. But it turns out none other than Neil Steinberg was in Spain at the same time I was — in Madrid, even — and while we didn’t meet for coffee, we did come away with many of the same impressions of the place, including this conclusion:

Spain is a majority-Catholic country where abortion has been legal nationwide for a dozen years. As for trans issues, a court there found that barring transgender minors from gender changes is unconstitutional. Sure, they have their own troubles — police in Madrid feel obligated to cluster around the entrance of their downtown headquarters, brandishing shotguns and assault rifles. We’re not quite there, yet.

So I don’t want to be one of those Americans who goes abroad and starts running down home. America is still a great place to live, despite all the efforts to turn it into a zombie cult. But we are more of a backward-looking nation in the grip of religious fanatics than Spain. Which strikes me as news, and not good news.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The trip was wonderful. I’d only have changed a few things about it. Stayed in more cities, maybe. But we landed on this land-here-move-minimally travel strategy for a few reasons, including:

** Every time you move cities, you lose a day. That was the lesson of Morocco, with its slow trains. Just too much time spent on them, not enough time strolling medinas.

** The point of these trips isn’t to bolt from one tourist draw to the next, but to settle in and try to get a real sense of a place. To live like a local, to the extent that’s possible — to cook on induction hobs, make coffee in their comical low-tech gadgets, to view a rainy day not as a catastrophic disruption to a set schedule, but a good opportunity to read for a few hours, maybe with the terrace door open to street sounds. To try, if only for a few weeks, to be less American. Also, to eat gelato.

It works, mostly. I don’t like induction cooking, but I understand it. Moka pots are pain in the ass, and don’t get me started on the washing machines, which would give even Barbie a headache (“How are you supposed to wash more than one outfit at a time? And why does it take three hours?”). That said, if we go to Italy next year (please recover, retirement nest egg), we’ll do at least three cities, maybe four. And eat lots of gelato.

But the trip had many, many pleasures. We were able to meet up with American friends, twice. We became, if not experts, at least confident users of two urban mass-transit systems. We heard music, went to a rock show (Brian Jonestown Massacre, Barcelona), viewed masterpieces, saw bullfights, walked Barcelona’s civil-war sites on a spectacular history tour, saw lotsa Gaudi, Rubens, Goya, Picasso. Sweated profusely (it’s still summery there, despite the locals shivering in puffer coats), ate one million olives. Broke my gin curse*, which an evil witch put me under when I was in my early 20s and overindulged on the stuff. Oh, and we were burned — lightly, but I have holes in my clothing to prove it — in a native festival, in Sitges:

It was some saint’s festival; there are a lot of those in Catholic Spain. We met some people at a local bar, dressed identically, carrying drums, obviously pregaming. Was something going on, we asked? Why yes, there was a parade starting in a couple hours. There’d be “giants”…

…followed by marchers he struggled to describe in his limited English, but turned out to be what every Detroiter recognizes and calls Big Heads (they’re in our Thanksgiving parade)…

…and then there’d be diablos. Even I know what a diablo is. We stuck around; trains run back to Barcelona every 20 minutes or so until almost midnight, so why not. And after the giants, and the Big Heads, came the diablos, led by groups of drummers like our new friends. They were dressed in burlap with devil-horn heads, and carried sticks with several whirling, spark-spitting, loud-banging fireworks, which showered the onlookers in whoo-ouch-that-smarts stinging tastes of hell:

Others carried figures — a dragon, a lizard — outfitted with their own fireworks. When a shell was spent, they’d reload.

Barcelona has a similar festival around the same time called La Mercé, but getting this close to it would have required the dedication of a Macy’s Thanksgiving hard-core fan. In Sitges, we were able to be right in the thick of it, crouched in a doorway, yelling at each other DO YOU SMELL BURNING HAIR? IS IT MINE? So much fun.

That was the first week. It was a good month.

My takeaway, similar to Neil’s, came during our Spanish Civil War tour, and it’s pretty simple, as befits a simpleton like me: We’re on the same path. But I’ll discuss that later this week.

One final note: I’m writing this on a brand-new laptop. I shut down the old one before we left, and left it on the charger. I’ve been leaving it on the charger all the time, because its second battery is now failing. Got home, booted it up, started to wade through some email and wondered why the track pad didn’t seem to be clicking right. I was about to text Kate and ask if it had been knocked off the desk or something while we were gone, when I noticed the keyboard was bulging up. Googled, and learned that by continuing to use it, I was risking, yes, explosion, an actual exploding battery. Or a fire. Shut it down, unplugged, went to the Apple store.

It was time. The old one gave me eight, EIGHT years of service. (The bulge is pronounced enough that by the time I pulled the plug, it no longer closed correctly.) Now to find a USB B-to-C converter so I can transfer my music and photos. (Also, a toxic waste recycler for the battery.) But there is a takeaway, and this is it: Back up to clouds whenever you can. I was able to start the new machine and, thanks go my iCloud and Google accounts, get to work almost immediately. Our world, it is a marvel.

Now for some coffee and breakfast. Coffee made in a MoccaMaster, as God intended.

Posted at 8:15 am in Same ol' same ol' |

28 responses to “Spain, first of a few.”

  1. alex said on October 16, 2022 at 9:34 am

    Welcome home! Scary news about the computer though. It reminded me of the old show “Mission Impossible” (I think it was) where a cassette tape machine gave directives and then would melt like the wicked witch in the Wizard of Oz in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1… .

    I just went and bought an iPhone 14. Wasn’t going to do it except that my iPhone 11 was out of its case when it decided to slither out of my lap onto the tile floor and the back of it cracked. They still gave me $800 for it on the trade-in so I guess it’s the innards that make it worth their while. That and I had insurance.

    They’ve introduced induction cooktops to the U.S. recently. Sorry to hear it’s not a good cooking experience. We were thinking of replacing my dad’s cooktop because an induction stove stays cool to the touch and wouldn’t be a fire hazard if he forgets to shut it off.

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  2. nancy said on October 16, 2022 at 9:36 am

    Don’t be afraid to do the research. If your dad isn’t much of a foodie, he should be fine with it. The burners stay hot after you’ve cooked on them, but they cool down quickly. And if a pan gets bumped off the burner, it does shut off — important for seniors.

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  3. Jeff Borden said on October 16, 2022 at 10:40 am

    We got new Mac laptops last Christmas as gifts to each other. I found the elimination of the USB ports obnoxious and was required to by an external hard drive with a patch cord that would allow me to move stuff from the old laptop to the new. I liked the old one better, but I’m old.

    Spain and Portugal would be the places we’d return to in a heartbeat. I loved everything about Italy. . .everything. . .but the pace of life on the Iberian peninsula is simply calmer and the food, music, art, architecture are almost as impressive. What really made those countries our favorites were the kindness of the people. We never had a moment’s problem aside from one evening in Seville when were were trapped in a tiny side street as a religious parade went by, creating a serious case of claustrophobia where we literally couldn’t raise our arms to scratch our nose. And, man, Barcelona. If you aren’t happy there, I’m not sure you can ever be happy.

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  4. Deborah said on October 16, 2022 at 10:56 am

    Nancy, did you encounter gas shortages in Spain like we are currently in France. Everyone tells us to fill up every time we see an open gas station because you never know. We are only renting a car here in the south because you have to drive from village to village. Tomorrow we drive to Marseilles so I’m a little worried about that, we have a small car and haven’t driven that much so we should be fine. Finding an open station before we return the car to Avignon on Weds will probably not be fun. We take the train back to Paris then no more worries about gas since we walk everywhere except to the airport next Sunday.

    This part of the trip is very relaxing and the weather is spectacular, so is the food and wine. Rain is expected every day we are back in Paris, but so what, it’s Paris.

    I bought a pair of navy blue shoes at a village market today for 15 euros, they’re almost identical to a black pair I bought in Santa Fe for $100. Of course both are probably made in China.

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  5. nancy said on October 16, 2022 at 12:48 pm

    We didn’t drive anywhere, so gas prices were a not-our-problem.

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  6. basset said on October 16, 2022 at 1:19 pm

    Dunno about the Mona Lisa, wasn’t aware till just now that there’s more than one. The sparks and horns pic reminds me of a Molly Hatchet album, though.

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  7. Sherri said on October 16, 2022 at 1:24 pm

    I switched from gas to induction and am very happy. Cleanup is easy and the heat is responsive. The downsides are that aluminum pans won’t work (pans have to be magnetic) and that the burners don’t look different when they’re on, but the burners themselves don’t get hot enough to catch anything on fire and don’t get hot if there isn’t a pan on (because the burners are only getting hot because of transferred heat from the pan, rather than the other way around.)

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  8. jcburns said on October 16, 2022 at 2:33 pm

    Sorry about your MacBook battery, Nancy. Glad you have a fancy(?) new machine. Glad you both are planning future travels.

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  9. Heather said on October 16, 2022 at 8:03 pm

    One of my old Mac laptops literally emitted a puff of smoke when it died.

    My AirBnB in Lisbon a couple years had a washing machine I wanted to use but I couldn’t make head or tails of the icons. I posted a photo on Facebook hoping one of my expat or European friends could help but they were all just as stumped.

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  10. basset said on October 16, 2022 at 8:32 pm

    Same thing happened to me on the first morning of my last job before retirement. Standard-issue, low-bid Dell desktop… sat down, turned it on and just as it started to boot up a little smoke came out of the vent and that was the end of it, IT came and carried it away.

    You’d think that would be a bad sign, but no… stayed eleven years there with mostly good folks and mostly positive experiences.

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  11. Julie Robinson said on October 16, 2022 at 9:43 pm

    So an induction stove is worse to cook on than regular electric? I was hoping to find something better than the ceramic cooktop this house has. After a lifetime of gas, I find electric horrible.

    We put our daughter on the plane for Nairobi this afternoon, or more precisely we put her on the plane to Newark, Frankfurt, and then Nairobi about a day and a half later. She got every shot available, took one med ahead for typhoid protection, is taking another daily for malaria, sprayed permethrin on her clothes, got a Berkey water bottle with a purifier, and so on. I think all the precautions even made her gulp a bit. For sure, Mom & Dad did.

    After that we went to a concert in a (huge) chapel on the 18th floor of a retirement center. It was Scandinavian design with Chagall-influenced stained glass, and an organ with 84 ranks. It was a vocal concert and wonderful but oh I’m itching to hear that organ.

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  12. A. Riley said on October 16, 2022 at 10:29 pm

    Wonderful travelogue, Nancy.

    So a week or so ago, Wirecutter ran an article about hearing aids & the like, and they listed some free apps to test your hearing. Since my husband has started mumbling lately (yes, he has), I figured it couldn’t hurt — and the app showed a mild to moderate hearing loss. Huh!! Let’s have a professional check that — and yup, the app was right. (It’s called Mimi.)

    So I’m getting hearing aids! You could have knocked me over with a feather.
    Hearing aids are amazing little pieces of tech — bluetooth, rechargeable, who knows what else! I’m actually kinda looking forward to getting them next week.

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  13. Dexter Friend said on October 17, 2022 at 3:03 am

    Very entertaining report, thanks. The battery explosion I endured was in my old Chevrolet pickup truck. We went to a Fort Wayne Wizards baseball game , maybe 1999, and after the game I turned the key and blammo! Got a tow and a new battery.
    Those diablos were more realistic than Ol Scratch who appears every year at Le Tour de France. That guy is sorta cleaner and more Halloweeny.
    My coffee pot conked out Friday morning and I posted how I got myself a new Mr. Coffee, and a guy from the old days criticized my choice because he is a dedicated Bunn guy. I don’t know what a MoccaMaster is. I do remember a doctor in my army unit who only drank his java with chocolate milk and he called it mocha. If someone absconded with or used his chocolate milk in the refrigerator he’d cuss like…well, an enlisted man. But damn, by being in my secret society in which coffee is ever-present, I can make coffee out of damn nearly any contraption. I even make ‘cowboy coffee’ at home for fun sometimes with my campfire pot which utilizes boiled water shooting up the stem into the basket.

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  14. David C said on October 17, 2022 at 6:04 am

    We switched from gas to electric about five years ago and my indoor allergies are so much better. I real later that there’s a lot of crap in natural gas that isn’t particularly good for us.

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  15. Marie said on October 17, 2022 at 6:13 am

    I also have an induction stovetop and I love it. I did a kitchen remodel and was going to switch to gas, but at a relatives cooking on gas I remembered how HOT it is, especially with a few burners going at once. I’m a big foodie and cook and I like it a lot. Most of my pans were already stainless steel, I just had to buy a couple on non stick frying pans that were induction compatible, as often those non sticks are aluminum. Induction boils water extremely quickly, and it has a lot of very low settings if you need to slowly simmer or even keep butter warm. Keeping it clean is the easiest part of all. I have never had such a clean stovetop.

    In the European washer dryer department, this summer we traveled to Finland, where they are extremely environmentally conscious. At our rented cabin there was a dryer that we didn’t realize was actually a heat pump dryer…you must empty out the water after every load. We found out the hard way after the 3rd dryer load when it started leaking water! And in Helsinki, there was a machine that washed and dried in the same drum, but somehow we didn’t do it correctly and water was pouring out of the underside of the whole machine! So much for traveling light and washing along the way.

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  16. alex said on October 17, 2022 at 7:55 am

    I changed from electric to gas during a kitchen remodel about seven years ago, but the recent barrage of warnings about gas stoves and interior air quality has given me second thoughts about it.

    So I’m finding the positive reviews here of induction stovetops encouraging. Whatever we install in my dad’s house will eventually be mine and I’m a foodie. I’m sort of disappointed at the limited choices though. A while back I read great reviews about certain LG cooktops, but then found that these were available only in Australia.

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  17. Suzanne said on October 17, 2022 at 9:38 am

    I have always had electric stoves and the bad press lately about gas stoves makes me glad. My mom has induction and she likes it but she never liked to cook and now, at 87 doesn’t any more, so I am discounting her opinion. I imagine by the time I need a new one, the flat surface kind will be all that’s available.

    As far as hearing loss goes, a number of years ago, I goaded my husband into getting a hearing test because he seemed to not hear what I said. Hearing test said he had no hearing loss so I knew that he flat out wasn’t paying attention. He still doesn’t. Makes me wonder how I will ever notice if he does lose his hearing!

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  18. JodiP said on October 17, 2022 at 9:56 am

    Really appreciate the travel stories! It’s great you were able to see the festival.

    We are also considering an induction cooktop for our kitchen. I realized yesterday that my Moka pot won’t work on it, and I use it nearly every work day for a mid-morning treat. And a 5-seocnd search reveals, that of course, Bialetti has made an induction-friendly model. I am going to get it in red!

    Why induction? I didn’t know until a few months ago that methane gas affects air quality. Also, if our electricity ever becomes green, that’s a positive. I have read enough that it will be fine to cook on. We’ll have to get a quite few new pots–most of ours is Calphalon that I’ve had going on 35 years.

    Fun fact: all of the Netherlands’ trains run on wind-powered energy.

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  19. basset said on October 17, 2022 at 10:41 am

    Nancy, say more about that three-hour wash – how do those machines work, or not?

    Been using the same Moka pot for over twenty years and didn’t know what they were called till this thread.

    My most important activity this week is raising pledges for Parkinson’s disease research, the national fundraising walk day is Saturday.

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  20. nancy said on October 17, 2022 at 11:20 am

    I’m exaggerating a little — a full cycle takes 2.5 hours. And I don’t know why that is; I do know that all European appliances are energy-efficient to a fault, and made for very small spaces. (If you Google “why do European washers take so long,” the answer is usually “because they’re so awesome!!!”) So most places we’ve stayed have a Barbie-size washer and no dryer. In Barcelona we had an outdoor clothesline, in Madrid and France, an indoor drying rack. They do have a “rapido” setting, which is insanely rapid — like 15 minutes or less. But it was enough for clothes that were just sweaty and needed a refresh.

    And yes, they all were almost incomprehensible to figure out settings. (The one in Iceland might as well have been a piece of sculpture.)

    The Paris apartment had one setting that included drying, but it took half the day and yielded terrible results. American dryers have large drums because clothes have to tumble. In those tiny little Euro washers, it’s like putting a wad of wet clothes in the oven at 300 degrees for 40 minutes — they came out dry, but so wrinkled it was comical.

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  21. Little Bird said on October 17, 2022 at 12:50 pm

    I bought a new stove a couple years back (with one the stimulus checks) and it’s a standard coil electric. I’m used to cooking on electric though I do miss a gas range. I like the look of the glass top, but my cookware is almost exclusively Le Creuset and very heavy, so coils it is. If the building had the ability to have gas, I’d love to go that way, but it’s not an option. You should see the ancient stove/oven at Deborah’s place in Chicago. Even the microwave is operated by the dials on the range!

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  22. Julie Robinson said on October 17, 2022 at 1:32 pm

    New York City has banned the installation of new gas stoves because of the air quality issue. I still like them best for cooking, but it’s moot because we could only get LP gas hereefi, and we’re definitely not going down that route!

    Why don’t the places with goofy washers have instructions for non-Europeans? They are catering to the tourist trade after all. Just having a dryer is a perk, to my understanding most Europeans have those tiny washers and drying racks. Our daughter said they just wear their clothes wrinkly. I hang out our laundry whenever possible, but I like to tumble it at the end for 15 minutes to shake out wrinkles. After D retired I gave up ironing.

    Sarah says Americans are obsessed with cleaniless and that in most cultures daily showers are unheard of, also washing clothes so frequently. I guess I’ve been indoctrinated.

    Speaking of Sarah, we never heard if she made her third flight after the second one was delayed. We’re hoping that no news is good news.

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  23. Jenny Derringer said on October 17, 2022 at 5:00 pm

    For me, the most entertaining lines of the entry were “DO YOU SMELL BURNING HAIR? IS IT MINE?”


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  24. Deborah said on October 17, 2022 at 5:11 pm

    We made it to Marseille and back no problem. Marseille was very interesting, especially the old port. Smelling the sea air and feeling the breezes were refreshing sensual experiences. I had never been there before. Our artist friend and her musician husband and their gorgeous young son provided a delicious picnic at her studio which was envy producing. It was a good day.

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  25. Julie Robinson said on October 17, 2022 at 5:35 pm

    A good day here, also. Our girl made it to Nairobi and is staying at the Desmond Tutu Conference Center, which seems a good omen for their work. It’s 84° and we enjoyed a swim this afternoon; reading accounts of snow flurries across northern Illinois. Up north I would already be having my winter depression.

    Re: hearing aids, we aren’t there yet but the paying attention thing is key. I’ve learned I have to get eye contact and hear it repeated back to me, then put it in writing. The struggle is real.

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  26. SusanG said on October 17, 2022 at 6:27 pm

    What’s the problem with induction stove tops?

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  27. LAMary said on October 17, 2022 at 9:39 pm

    What I used to call cowboy coffee was made by putting the coffee grounds in a thing that looked like a sock on a handle and pouring the coffee through it. That thing with the stem in it is a percolator pot, isn’t it? I’ve been a pourover person since the seventies, way ahead of the avocado toast types. I’ve got a chemex and so do my sons.The in house Brit hates it and uses the electric drip pot that I shun.

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  28. beb said on October 18, 2022 at 2:36 am

    Micro Center at 14 Mi and I-75 will dispose of electronics for $40. They will also have any type of connector you want.

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