17 September 2008

Settling in

So I know that I was supposed to be writing subsequent blog entries about our trip this summer but several factors have conspired against me. First, we remain internetless. From time to time, at unpredictable moments of the day, I am able to pick up a neighbor's wifi signal. But this signal is likely to fizzle out after a few minutes and be maddeningly slow. We have signed up for high-speed service, but according to the guy at the store, there's some problem with the "central system" and our request hasn't yet been uploaded. Once that happens, it can take a month to actually be installed.

Second, I have been preoccupied with getting comfortably dug into life here in Barcelona. Summer, as a result, seems like a distant dream. I'm loving--LOVING--being here. As the fourth person in a row complemented me on my Catalan today, I realized how handy it is to actually speak the language of the place where you're trying to settle in. Being my shy self, I probably, if subconsciously, avoided taking as much advantage as I could have of being in Brussels, due to my fledgling French. And the Belgiums, even if I had spoken superb French, don't so much do the complement thing.

The one ongoing disagreement I have with a friend of ours, a Catalan girl, who we met in Brussels and who now lives in Barcelona, is over the relative merits of each city. She pines for Brussels and makes what I think are erroneous claims about how much nicer it is there. Isn't it self evident that sunny boulevards, tree-lined beaches, and tapas are much better than grey, grey, and more grey? For me, there's also the hands-down superiority of a seafood-based cuisine vs. a ham-hock based cuisine. We had a reunion of sorts with her and other friends in Brussels for the Beer Festival two weekends ago, and although it was great fun, and boy they make good beer, it wasn't enough to make me wish to move back there.

Sure, there are things that are difficult about living in Barcelona too. Red tape and general administrative unhelpfulness abound (see above re: internet), and I'm still getting the hang of how things work. We finally received our libro de familia--the official Spanish document confirming our marriage--over TWO YEARS after our wedding. And now I'll be jumping through all sorts of hoops about residency and health care here. But it feels like putting down roots, so it's worth it, even if it all happens poc a poc.

Plus, I love our neighborhood. Around the corner: the metro stop, the market for fresh fish and fruit and vegetables, the cinema with good movie selections, and a plaza where children swarm over the playground and old folks sit on benches. The demographic seems to be predominantly families with little kids and retirees. Down our street or one over: the video store, my new gym (I just joined yesterday!), my hair salon, the grocery store, the greatest little wine shop ever, and a number of other tiny shops that are perfect for odds and ends. If I need to do more serious shopping, there's a Corte Ingles (Spain's major department store) and a whole fancy mall a ten-minute walk north. Most of the time I don't have to go up there, though. A ten-minute walk south, there's the train station, which can take me to the suburbs, where the Mister's family lives, to the airport, or anywhere else I feel like going!

The Mister's 93-year-old grandmother lives a couple of blocks over, and not only does she invite us over for delectable lunches, and tell me exactly where to go for anything I need, she also explains the history of this neighborhood. Strolling through it with her is like a walking history lesson. Through her eyes, I see this barri when it used to be a town on the outskirts of Barcelona, smell the smell of the chocolate factory that used to be here, hear the tram that used to pass where the four-lane road is now, and see the view of the Tibidabo hill from the fields that used to border the buildings (now, if I lean off our front balcony, I can just see Tibidabo's church lit up at night). Through her eyes, I see how the ladies in their fancy dresses used to gather at the town center for dances. As a little girl, she grew up in the apartment where we live now, and tells us about how she shared our tiny bedroom with a whole bedful of siblings.

Speaking of the house, we're getting it in shape slowly but surely. Still missing are a washer/dryer, a coffee table, and various other odds and ends, and we have yet to put anything up on the walls, but we finally bought a couple of area rugs that I'm really happy with, and I'm enjoying working in the office. I've been doing a much better job of writing for solid stretches of time every day, despite running around to get life in order.

The Mister is in Brussels during the week, but I much prefer having him to myself on the weekend rather than on weekdays. Plus, he's usually able to fly in on Thursday and leave Monday, so that's a nice long stretch. So far, so good. We'll see if I'm still singing the same tune in a few months! In any case, unless the unexpected happens, this arrangement will just be for another year, and then our lives will be one big question mark. Question marks are scary, so for now I'll concentrate on getting settled in here!


maitresse said...

sounds so lovely... I have such good memories of barcelona. I was there a decade ago and only for a couple of days but it was beautiful there.

I can't imagine preferring bruxelles! except for the food part. I'll take frites meat and beer over seafood any day :)

Caitlin said...

Robin, I know I'm a little late to the party on this one, but I feel so strongly compelled to comment anyway!
This was so, so beautifully written, and made me pine away even more for Spain. You've captured it so well, and brought back lots of memories of the year I lived en Sevilla.

I love that you are so close to your husband's family and that his grandmother is acting as tour guide for you: That is an absolutely priceless tool to have, in terms of both usefulness, and grounding you in your new city. And oh my, I can just imagine the lunches at her place!

I loved the pace of life in Spain, but the bureaucracy & slowness of the systems used to drive me bonkers. Then someone gave me a great piece of advice, which I still mull over now and then: The thing you love most about a place will also be the thing that drives you most nuts (It's greatest strength is it's greatest weakness): The slow & leisurely, no-pa'-na' pace of life is wonderful except when translated to trying to get your internet connected!

And PS - I miss Corte Ingles!!!