Thursday, January 31, 2013

There's A Fungus Among Us

My brother, Chuck, has this thing about mushrooms. Not a good thing either. He hates them. I always knew he hated them but, until he was in his late 30s, I didn't know he had never even tried one in his entire life. As you should already know, my brother Chuck is "special." As in: He went to "special" schools, he rode a "special" bus, etc. I'd rather just think of him as exceptional. And among his many exceptional traits is his exceptional will-power.

MUSHROOMS IN TRIANA MARKET. I'M PRETTY SURE THEY'RE NOT POISON.

Chuck was visiting us in San Diego, California in the late 1990s. He and I were out enjoying ourselves at Seaport Village and we stopped for lunch. I ordered a bacon and mushroom burger. As I was about to take my first bite, he looked at me in panic and asked, "That's not poison, is it?" And then I understood. Clearly, when he was a child he heard someone say "poison mushrooms." And, if poison mushrooms did in fact exist, how could he possibly know which mushrooms were and which mushrooms were not poisonous?

PLUMP AND DELICIOUS.

The solution? Never eat a mushroom. I explained to him that the mushrooms you get in the supermarket or in a restaurant could never be poison. He relaxed and I was able to enjoy my bacon mushroom burger (although he did seem to monitor me closely for a while). Still, he has never tasted a mushroom. Just in case.

NOT A BURGER TOPPING.
THIS TOPS THE DOOR TO OUR MAIN BATHROOM.

When I think about it, however, maybe there is something to Chuck's dislike of mushrooms. They're a fungus after all. And we've got a collection of fungi growing on our walls right now — no thanks to "F" — that don't look very appetizing. I regularly wash the small bit of mold off a corner of a wall in one bedroom, but I keep my distance from the varieties growing in the halls and bathroom. We'll be out of this place and into our new home on the beach in less than three weeks. We're hopeful the fungus among us won't cause us any serious health problems.




NO NEED FOR MUSHROOM-SNIFFING PIGS. ALL VERY EASY TO FIND.
WE DON'T WANT TO THINK ABOUT WHAT GROWS WHERE WE CAN'T SEE.

Last Tuesday, I delivered a 3-page letter of termination and a 13-page log of events (since the pipes first burst 23 December) to our useless building manager "F." We have, of course, not had a response from "F." The wood-laminate floor in our hallway resembles the ramps of a California skate park. The cats find it fascinating.

ON SECOND THOUGHT, THIS DOES KIND OF LOOK LIKE WHAT'S GROWING ON OUR WALLS.

When I see the fungal growth around the house, I'm not that keen on eating mushrooms anymore. Maybe Chuck was right. Then again, when he was 13, The Dowager Duchess told him that chocolate was bad for his skin. He hasn't eaten chocolate since. OK, he's always had very nice skin, but I don't think it's worth the sacrifice.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Always In Motion The Future Is

Yoda was right. And, speaking of Yoda, San Geraldo and I had dinner with Adela and Paula the other night. We were both a bit wired from all we have going on. So, I was speaking Spanish in overdrive. Or, perhaps I should say, "Overdrive speaking Spanish I was." I kept forgetting the simplest words and I had no idea in which order to put the verbs and adjectives.

DUDO, LAUGHING AT MY SPANISH.
OUR CATS' DISTINCT PERSONALITIES SUMMED UP IN ONE PHOTO.

According to Paula, who found it all very entertaining (except perhaps the conversation itself), I sounded like Yoda. Well, not if anything to say about it I have!

REALLY.  SHOES OR PANTS?
I'LL NEVER TELL.
The Linguist
I met Albert for a couple of drinks Thursday afternoon. He has been so supportive of our decision to move to the beach. He also has told me he's envious. He'd love to live on the beach year-round. Now, I can't really make fun of Albert's English. Albert is originally from Sweden and speaks English, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Swedish (obviously), French, and I'm sure he can get by in a few other languages. He loves speaking in idiomatic English, but sometimes gets the expressions a bit confused.

While talking about the upcoming move, Albert looked at me and said, "Oh, how I'd love to get in your pants!" I'm pretty sure he meant he'd like to be in my shoes. Then again...

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Copy Cat

When Dudo and Moose moved in with us in May, they were not what you would call lap cats. Unless, that is, your idea of a lap cat is one that wails and bares its claws the moment you pick him up. They're both extremely affectionate and gentle; they just didn't like being held. But, lately, they've been easing up. Especially Dudo. I patiently worked with him to get him to voluntarily sit on my lap while I sit at my desk. San Geraldo has done the same thing. It's gotten to the point that he simply steps on without encouragement and even curls up for some sleep (initially, he required nonstop petting to stay in place).

NEXT TO SAN GERALDO'S COPIER.  FOR 7 MONTHS, DUDO'S PERSONAL SPACE.
RECENTLY, MOOSE (IN BACK) MOVED IN.  DUDO, AT FIRST, WAS AS STUNNED AS WE WERE.

Two nights ago, a milestone was reached. San Geraldo picked up Dudo, sat down on the sofa, and encouraged (forced) him to settle down. He did. Contentedly.

DO THEY PLAN THESE POSES? MOOSE (LEFT) AND DUDO.

Last night, while I sat in the living room, Dudo surprised me by jumping right on my lap without a moment's hesitation. He stayed for well over an hour, until I finally had to move him so I could go to bed (at which point he simply followed me).

DUDO ON SAN GERALDO'S LAP MONDAY NIGHT.

Moose is keeping a wary eye on the proceedings. He tends to copy everything Dudo does, eventually. He was, initially, the good cat. He didn't claw the furniture, didn't eat the plants, didn't climb on the balcony railings, didn't sit on the dining room table. Dudo did all that and more. After a few weeks, we started to catch Moose in the act. He, however, responds more readily to the word "no" than does Dudo. Dudo gives us a look that seems to say, "Oh, really? I can't do this either?!? Really?"

A HAPPY DUDO ON MY LAP TUESDAY NIGHT.  LOOK AT THAT SMILE.

We're hoping, though, that Moose will also copy Dudo's lap habits. At least he no longer yowls when I pick him up. He even lets me nuzzle his face while I hold him. No claws bared. I think he, too, will be a lap cat one day.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Yo Ho Ho For An OREO

When San Geraldo and I traveled around the USA, no road trip was complete without a package of OREO Cookies. I found them being sold in the train station in Málaga, and I of course bought them for our rail trip. We must be home.

"PLEASE DON'T FIDDLE WITH THE OREO MIDDLE...
'CAUSE THERE'S NOT ANOTHER MIDDLE LEFT TO FIDDLE WITH."
SPANISH OREOS COME WITH INSTRUCTIONS. I WONDER IF AMERICAN OREOS DO THE SAME.

A new plumber was here yesterday. We have two working toilets, three more holes in our walls, and no more water running down the wall (at least not right now). That's as far as we've gotten. Still loads of mold. I'm getting out the hedge trimmers. No thermostatic control on the water heater and no technician in sight. But we just fantasize about our move to the sea (while we prepare all our documents for our departure from our apartment in Sevilla). No complaints (well, none worth listening to).

OUR NEW ROOMS WITH VIEWS IN FUENGIROLA.
STANDING THURSDAY ON SOON-TO-BE-OUR TERRACE, LOOKING IN ALL DIRECTIONS.
The train ride home, as I mentioned, was a pleasure. I was frustrated by the fact that I couldn't open a window or get outside to take pictures (not that I would have any realistic expectation of that being possible). However, when I downloaded my photos, I decided shooting through the reflecting train windows produced an oddly abstracted, animated, impressionistic, expressionistic, surreal look. So, I'm happy.

WAITING FOR THE COMMUTER TRAIN (CERCANÍA) TO TAKE US FROM FUENGIROLA TO MÁLAGA.

DOWNWARD DOG AT A STATION ALONG THE WAY FROM MÁLAGA TO SEVILLA.

OZ-LIKE.

SUCH BEAUTIFUL COUNTRYSIDE.

AN ABANDONED OLIVE OIL REFINERY.

Monday, January 21, 2013

By The Seaside, By The Beautiful Sea

The downed palm tree in the plaza has been cut up, chipped and hauled away. It was a huge, noisy job that lasted about eight hours. And it was performed overnight! Understandably, with the narrow one-way streets, there's no way to bring in a truck and do a job like that during business hours. But I think, between us, San Geraldo and I may have logged 47 minutes of sleep.

ERODING CHRISTMAS SAND SCULPTURE ON SOON-TO-BE OUR BEACH IN FUENGIROLA.
... OR MAYBE IT'S THE REMAINS OF OUR APARTMENT IN SEVILLA.

Given the possibility that a plumber might be arriving late this morning to, again possibly, do some repairs in the apartment, we gave up on sleep and showered earlier than usual. In the past month, no plumber has ever arrived before 11:30. Plenty of time for breakfast.

DRAMATIC SKIES AS SEEN FROM OUR HOTEL TERRACE TUESDAY EVENING IN FUENGIROLA.
LOOKING EAST IN THE DIRECTION OF MÁLAGA.

New plumber today. He's an early riser and arrived at 9:15.  One of us has to be here at all times and I'm the one that speaks. So, I sent San Geraldo off to Los Niños Del Flor for a quiet breakfast with the International Herald Tribune. He returned with a tostada and café con leche for me.

 A WINTER WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON ON THE BEACH.

No word on the oft-promised, never-delivered "tecnico," the expert who's supposed to inspect/fix/replace the water heater and the thermostat in the hall.

EXCELLENT ENGLISH FISH & CHIPS (AND MUSHY PEAS, BLECH! I HAD SALAD) IN FUENGIROLA.
SERVED BY AN ENGLISH WAITRESS. SAN GERALDO SPOKE IN SPANISH!

I now have a 13-page log of events, both in English and in Spanish, since the initial flooding before Christmas. San Geraldo has a letter (in English and Spanish) laying out the rules for "F" (we leave with no penalty payment; he pays, as promised, all our recent expenses — or — our lawyer will be contacting him). San Geraldo also included two documents from two Spanish government health organizations detailing the dangers of mold.

THE SUN RISING THURSDAY MORNING OVER THE MEDITERRANEAN SEA.
SOON TO BE OUR VIEW.

After spending more than an hour knocking two new holes in the walls, Danny the Plumber, is off buying parts. In his absence, Dudo and Moose are inspecting his work. Dudo just gave me a thumbs-up. Well, I think that's what he meant. He might have been giving me "the finger." Hard to tell.

NO THUMBS.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

If A Tree Falls In The Plaza

We had some rain last night. And quite a bit of wind. I didn't open the shutters to see what was going on, but the windows rattled for a while. This morning, San Geraldo, opened the living room shutters and thought something looked different on the plaza. He noticed the palm tree on the corner had a tremendous curve to its trunk. Odd for an old palm tree that had stood vertically for such a long time. Palm tree trunks tend to bend in the wind and return to their original pose

THE PALM STILL STANDING LOOKS A BIT LIKE A TRUFFULA TREE (FROM DR. SEUSS'S "THE LORAX").

Still, there was something else odd about the plaza. And then San Geraldo got it. Another palm tree was no longer where it was supposed to be. The trunk had been snapped and the rest of the tree lay on the plaza, having smashed a bench on its way down.

A STRANGE SIGHT.

I've never seen a palm tree snap. Even during an earthquake in Santa Barbara, California, I watched huge palms sway until their crowns touched the ground only to bounce back up to their original positions. No harm done.

SOMEONE HAS ALREADY SCAVENGED THE BENCH SLATS.

I don't believe in signs or omens, really. My feeling is one can read whatever one wants into just about anything. But, if I did believe, I would say maybe someone is telling us it's time to move on — before someone drops a tree on us.

I wonder — since I was asleep and wasn't "there" to hear it — if the tree still made a noise when it fell.


Friday, January 18, 2013

I'll Take Manhattan ... in Andalucía

We are enamored, San Geraldo and I, with the public transportation system we've so far experienced here in Southern Spain. We took the train (called RENFE) from Sevilla to Málaga and then hopped on the commuter train (Cercanías) from there to Fuengirola. The commuter train let us off just a few minutes walk from our hotel on the beach.

BEAUTY ALONG THE LINE.

The trains and stations are modern, immaculately clean, easy to navigate, punctual (to the minute, in our experience — although we were two minutes late on our return to Sevilla), and well-traveled by locals and tourists. The scenery along the way is breathtaking.

ANOTHER RENFE TRAIN.

I saw a flock of wild flamingoes. I think it's called a "flamboyance." The train was moving too fast for me to get a photo, so you'll have to take my word for it. San Geraldo was in the bathroom at the time. Oddly, he was in the bathroom the first time I saw wild flamingos when we were vacationing here two years ago and took the train to Málaga. So, he has to take my word for it, too. But, really, I did see wild flamingos. And they were flamboyant.

OLIVES, OLIVES, EVERYWHERE.
UNTIL WE GOT CLOSER TO THE SEA. THEN IT WAS CITRUS, CITRUS, EVERYWHERE.

At times there are olive orchards for as far as the eye can see. Young trees. Gnarled, ancient trees. It's about 2-1/2 hours by train from Sevilla to Málaga. You pass through the Sierra Nevadas and then you begin to see citrus groves. For as far as the eye can see.

I HAVE NOTHING TO ADD.

There's a very famous rock climbing area near the village of El Chorro (which means the stream) about 50 km (31 miles) north of Málaga. The train cuts right through part of it. It's a massive limestone gorge. The views are magnificent. And the climbs are frightening. You can travel the paths with trained guides; it's only for skilled trekkers and climbers. There are old wooden "catwalks" and bridges running along the cliff faces. They were in disrepair but funding was set aside for their restoration. I don't know if any can be used at this time. Even so, you wouldn't catch me on one. From the train window, I spotted two climbers scaling a vertical wall. San Geraldo was again in the bathroom. We zipped into a tunnel, so you and San Geraldo will, again, just have to take my word for it. I also saw a Unicorn. Trust me.

CLICK TO TERROR-SIZE
AND SEE THE "CATWALK" RUNNING (CENTER) ALONG THE CLIFF FACE.

THE STATION AT ALORA.
WHERE TO GET OFF THE TRAIN IF YOU WANT TO RISK LIFE AND LIMB ON THE CLIFFS.

Oddly, along the way we passed the Hotel Manhattan. I think it's a possible place for climbers and hikers to stay. They don't have to scale anything, like the Statue of Liberty, to get there.

THE MANHATTAN SKYLINE?

So, now we're back home in Sevilla. I emailed "F" on Monday and told him, given his lack of attention to the problems in our apartment, we would begin looking for a new home. He didn't respond but, Tuesday, he sent his secretary up (his office is on the floor below) with an unidentified man to look at the problems. He said we needed a plumber. Doh! Or, as they say here, "¡No, ni, na!" I said they were just going to have to wait for us to return from our trip. Then, when we got off the train in Fuengirola, my phone rang. It was the plumber. He was at our door and wanted to fix the leak. A half hour later, "F" phoned. He began to berate me because I had been demanding repairs and now I wasn't here to have them done. I yelled back indignantly, repeating all that had transpired, until he backed off. He then said he would have the plumber come back when we returned. I said, "And what about the expert needed for the water heater?" He said, "Well that's working now, correct?" That's when I really lost it. He said he would have a technician here Monday as well. I doubt it.

MOLDY MOLDING.  TWO-DAYS WORTH. I MAY STOP SCRUBBING AND START MOWING.

We'll be leaving anyway. I won't dwell on this annoying little blip. Can't wait to tell you about our new apartment on the beach. Lots more good news to come.

FACING FUTURE.
CLICK TO SEE THE VIEW FROM FUENGIROLA.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

What Matters

It's already been an interesting, eventful year. All two-plus weeks of it. Broken pipes, moldy walls, and hotel rooms. A mild flu or bad cold. A joy-filled, heart-warming visit with our nephew and niece-in-law. Dinner parties. Light shows. Three Kings. City walks. Public markets. Music in the streets. A trip to the beach to look for a new place to live.

Before it all started, we had begun to plan our next move. We love Sevilla. I could imagine living in the city forever. Well, that's a stretch. I have never imagined sticking with anything forever — except San Geraldo! But, I do love Sevilla and have no emotional or mental need yet to move on.

The thing is, San Geraldo and I have never in the past been very good at making decisions based on practicalities and planning for the future. Good health (mental and physical), happiness, and adventure have always been more important to us than financial security.

We've learned during our first year and a half living here in Spain that we don't have quite as much disposable income as we had hoped. We had big plans for roaming Europe. We had big plans for visiting family in the States regularly, but in our first year those costs had nearly doubled. Right now, there are some better rates, but we're already well over budget. We also have accepted that, as you may have noticed, we like to eat well. That costs money. So, we realized that we would have to make some changes. Sevilla is the most expensive city in Andalucía. Not only that, we chose an expensive neighborhood, an expensive plaza, and an expensive apartment. We can get a comparable apartment elsewhere in Andalucía for half the price (and be closer to the beach). Presumably an apartment with two working toilets, no leaking pipes, and a water heater that doesn't have a mind of its own. So, that's what we decided to do.

Not So Fast
Then, someone from my old company (someone I loved working with — at the company that nearly killed me) contacted me. The executive team had changed. There was talk of getting me back. Would I be interested in considering it? No way!

Then, thinking practically and like a mature and responsible adult, I had second thoughts. It would mean decent income. It would completely change our immediate financial situation. It would enable us to sock more money away for retirement. How could I say "no"? So I didn't say "no." It seemed to make perfect sense.

A day later, I had so many doubts and dreads that I decided to make a list of PROs and CONs. After five minutes I had a list of 5 PROs and 22 CONs. And San Geraldo and I reminded ourselves once again of what really matters.

What Next?
So, we're back to making plans for our move to the beach. Back to living on less. Back to being happy. Our thought had initially been to move in early fall. Given the recent disappointing response to the problems in our apartment, we're thinking of moving sooner. The explorations have begun. We took the train south Tuesday and we think we've found the place. Nothing grand, but right on the Mediterranean Sea. We should be back in Sevilla Thursday, at which time I will start sharing more news and photos of our latest little adventure. I'll also get caught up on all my blog reading!

So — along with San Geraldo, Dudo, and Moose — it looks like Mitchell is Moving... again.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Good Gravy!

Last night, San Geraldo made a delicious dinner (unless you're a vegetarian) of pork roast and gravy (and of course two side dishes). He followed the delicious dinner with two desserts — one for himself and the second for us both. His first dessert? Cold gravy from the pot ladled over a hamburger bun. He was in heaven. The second dessert? Shortbread cookies coated in dark chocolate. We were both in heaven.

SAN GERALDO'S JUST DESSERTS... BLECCH!

Our boys Dudo and Moose continue to settle in to life with us. We have become a solid family, all tolerant of each other's needs and habits. Moose has lately been horning in on spots previously claimed by Dudo. They each have their own beds (among all the other beds they claim in the house). However, Moose waits for Dudo to leave his and then takes his place. Sometimes, he doesn't wait for Dudo to leave. The other day, as I sat at my computer, the boys cuddled sleepily nearby. I turned to see Moose stretch in his sleep, unknowingly putting Dudo into a strangle-hold. Dudo looked up at me pathetically, but didn't move. He clearly didn't want to disturb Moose's sleep. He wretched momentarily and then settled back down. I've done the same at times for San Geraldo I'm sure.

THE SACRIFICES WE MAKE. CLICK FOR A CLOSER LOOK.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Macro Matt, Music, and Miscellany

Our nephew Matt discovered a new obsession while he was wandering the streets of Sevilla. The macro lens. Lindy (our niece-in-law) is an exceptional photographer and she long ago perfected her close-up skills. She has even enlarged some of her images onto canvas, creating some truly incredible "abstract" art. After all this time, the Macro bug finally hooked Matt. The Dynamic Duo from Dakota (South) roamed the streets, zooming in on birds, leaves, flowers, bricks, shadows.

ZOOMING IN ON MACRO MATT AS HE ZOOMS ON A HIBISCUS.

I'm more the storyteller type of photographer, so I only got hooked on the macro lens temporarily. My favorite subjects to zoom in on, however, were Matt and Lindy.

LINDY GOT SOME FASCINATING VIEWS OF BRICKS. MATT DECIDED TO TRY IT.

I wish our roving photographers could have stayed all winter (or longer). I drowned my sorrows (in two tiny beers) this afternoon with Albert and Lola. We haven't gotten together since before the holidays and spending a few hours in their wonderful company definitely helped. Street musicians outside the main post office are also a great distraction.

AN AMAZING PARTNERSHIP.

SELECTING A PAINTING OUTSIDE THE MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS.
(LINDY: IF IT DOESN'T FIT IN THE SUITCASE, I'LL CARRY IT FOR THE REST OF OUR TRIP.)

A GROUP OF WILD PARROTS IN MARIA LUISA PARK.
THEY'RE ALL OVER TOWN, BUT NEVER FOR A CLOSE-UP.

NO STORY. JUST A CLOSE-UP OF A HIBISCUS.

NO TRIP TO SEVILLA WOULD BE COMPLETE WITHOUT CHURROS Y CHOCOLATE (FROM VALOR).

GRAFFITI ON A WALL ALONG THE RIVER IN TRIANA.

And another day goes by with no progress on the leak and assorted problems at home. I did however speak with the insurance rep. He promised to see to it personally tomorrow. Ha! I followed up this afternoon with a very kindly yet clearly worded ultimatum email to "F". We'll get there... Sooner or later. In the meantime, I'll keep on stopping to enjoy the music.