April 26, 2004

Where Was I?

Oh yea, I was about to go to a choral at the local church. It was a suite of Cataluynian folk songs (sorry folks if my spelling goes bad here, I?m winging it without spell check on the fly). We sat in the pews with the family as the Dad whispered loudly why he?s agnostic (all in Castillian of course, we?re barely hanging on here with the Spanish), whislt his wife Rosa is jabbing him in the ribs.

Afterwards, we went to a bar to watch the game (Madrid vs Barcelona) and we have a beer and sandwiches as teh place goes crazy with every goal and near miss. I don?t have a sports gene, so to me it looks like Madrid has the white Mr. Clean correct professional image thing while Barcelona has the rasta man get down Mr. Funky don?t you like me dreds, man... but boyy isn?t the Barzo goalee good at deflecting the ball. Two cortados later (a cortado is a short cafe con leche), Joan tells us his heart can?t take the suspense anymore, so we have to go for a walk at half time. Later, we hear that Barcelona won by the horns blaring in the streets and the fire crackers going off fr a few hours. Our dog Juno was a bundle of nerves, she hates frieworks.

Today, we went to Girona again to visit Bauhaus again to buy more paint. Our friend Joan offered to take us and we accepted, all they while trying to convey how appreciative we were about his generous help. The kitchen sucked up about 25 kg of goop (a substance between paint and plaster). We bought more of a different type. We fuly expect this task to take the rest f the week.

Where was I?

As I work, the tasks of scraping and painting are simple and require a limited set of routines. My mind wanders as it is wont to do, I think of my friends. I think of Texas, the great people we met there. It was wonderful to have spent the year there. I think of my pals in Chinatown LA, all y?ll folks in the barrio chino ?hood. Nights at Hop Louie, the best bar ever. I remember the folks I taught with at Woodbury University, Geraldine and Stan and the whole team there back in the day. I thought of the guys in San Diego, Jim and Jim and Robin and Ted and Kathy and a whole bunch of others. A big hug to you guys. I thought of the people I met in the early days in LA back in the middle eighties, Rick Corsini and Chuck Crawford and Michael Maltzen and Amy Murphy. Then there?s the Navy days. There?s a whole bunch of others, but I don?t want to get all weepy here and stupid with the list. I just want you all to know Ive been thinking of you.

Where was I? Oh yea, working on the walls, el pared en la primera planta en nuestro casa. We?re taking Spanish classes too. Two days a week here in Tossa. The class is small with three others, two Brits and a woman from Holland. I can undersand much more Spanish than I can summon to speak, a little pathetic. Stephanie can sure whip it out, complete with verb tenses all in place. Of course she?s a lot smarter. It helps to be shameless, and blather forth on a wing and a prayer. Eyes roll and smiles curl. I guess that as I murder Castelleno, the Catalans won?t take it personally.

It may look like we are Richie Rich here with this big house in the middle of town, but this whole adventure is riding on a a multilevel gamble. So, we?ve been watching our money. We figure it takes us half of the cost that food did in the States. Instead of plunking my card down and buying half of the Bauhaus (Home Depot, remember?), buying the equipment to build my panels, I decided to ry out the local carpenter, Ramon. He?s going to deliver the first cuadros this week (100 x 110 cm to start) and I will see if it is better to have the carpenter do the woodshop for me. I still might need a compressor to staple in the canvas. We?ll see. I?ll try to do it the old fashion way and see what happens. I have to get rocking to be on track for the show in August. All I have to do is paint the forst floor first.

Tossa is bursting with new construction. I heard the mayor has mandated a moratorium on building permits. The contractors roll their eyes, they don?t believe it will last. We have a little matter of a roof repair and we got a bid for that and the reconstruction of doors with two side lites that leads to the terrace. The numbers look good, but we didn?t factor that into our budget earlier. Our contractor Kiko will use an elastometric coating that is new here in these parts. I expect that will be the end of the leaks from now on.

But everywhere we look, there?s much to do, working on this house. Many years ago, I realised that architecture is a temporary proposition at best (paintings seem more durable by comparison), a building is more like a sail boat. Especially here by the beach. Today, I was on the roof, looking down at the neighbor?s well (we have one too, in our courtyard), and I realised that the water level is not that far below the house. I?m surprised that the walls hav?n?t degraded faster than they have, wicking the water up and foaming the plaster and paint off. I remember seeing the work of that great Italian architect Carlo Scarpa in Verona and I remember the shock of seeing the steel rusting and the conception of his work- so pristine in the coffee table books, so violated by the cracking concrete and the streaks of brown corrosion. And then I see here in Tossa the snails and the spiders, the sea gulls, the smell of the sea and I realize all of these are the forces of nature working to take back the futile gestures of extistence, our fists raised in defiance as we fission back to dust.

...or these gestures are just working to put a coat of paint in a kitchen so we can cook a few meals again.

Posted by Dennis at 1:47 PM | Comments (2)

April 25, 2004

Up, Periscope...

Hello everybody! I/we really feel like a submariner without a dsl connection. We have an internet cafe just a few doors down the street, an African by the name of Hamed runs it. Islam prayer calculators on the counter and groups of Muslim guys hang in the streets at night (we don?t see them much, but when we do it seems they hang together tight), all very quiet. All this mixed with tourists checking emails.

The telephone is due in a week or two (we don?t really know much more than that we are on Telefonica?s waiting list... they say the adsl will be available shortly after), until then, teh weekly reports are all we got.

Last Tuesday, a friend took us to the local Home Depot, or Bauhaus as the the buiding stores are known here. I was bummed out after visiting the local hardware stores here in Tossa since the prices are sky high. After visiting Bauhaus, I realised that we could buy super discounted tools manufactured in Eastern Europe. We blew a few hundred on basics (cordless drill, saber saw, house paintings supplies, an axe, lighting, stuff like that) and off we were to the home improvement races.

I thought that we would spend one day scraping the walls, one day prepping and one day painting. The plan was to get the first floor together... it?s a stone building that?s three hundred years old... and it sits on beach sand, where capillary action draws water up into the walls, causing the plaster and paint to fuzz up and pop off to the floor in a pile of dirt (people here call it "polvo", hay mucho polvo en nuestro floors)...there?s also an old wainscot that skirts these crumbling walls, no doubt to cover the crumble, and it?s perfect for teh old bar/restaurant but nasty for a home, so we began to take some of them off and burn the wood in the fireplace (and the temperature is getting warmer now, guys), hay mucho lena (where,s the frickin?enye key here?), anyway...

Anyway, we?ve been scraping for three days now. I feel like a miner, there?s so much dust. And today, we?ve been painting for the first time. Alll day, and we only got the kitchen done. Brutal. The paint is funny, like a mix of paint and plaster. You have to goop it on in the crumbly places in a certain manner so that the mortar doesn?t slip and give way under your brush.

So that?s been the routine so far. I wish we could get pics on this blog for you all. Later, lots of pics later when we get online. Our TV is from the old restaurant, all old and a little busted. All we get is BBC World and that?s with the cable all twisted up in a pretzel. In other words, not much news. Trouble in Irak, America?s fault. A train blows up in NKorea, America?s fault. And the news is short and repeated all day long.

We watch movies on our laptops at night, rewatching them over and over. Stephanie?s into making paella (a kind of Spanish Risotto with seafood), she?s done it twice now. The food is great... not the variety we have in the States, but lots of character (for example, we?ve been cooking sliced baby artichokes that are home grown), there?s a farmer?s market on Thurdays that?s cool.

Gotta go. We are going to hear our frined Ana sing in a choral here at the inglesia (church) right next to our place. Super cool. Ana is the daughter of Joan and Rosa, mom?s friends. We hear that ther is a big football game tonight, Barcelona vs Madrid... and we can watch and drink cortados in a nearby bar. Oh yea...

I?ll try to get to the internet cafe after the game tonight to reply to some emails. Laters!

Posted by Dennis at 11:26 AM | Comments (17)

April 17, 2004

Pop up Like a Cork

Que Guiy!

Hello everybody! It?s been almost two weeks and finally this is the moment we have been able to get to the place where we can post this entry int othe weblog. We?re in Spain, in Tossa de Mar. So far, so good. We are in the process of settling into our house. We are using the computer and internet connection of family friends here in Tossa, wonderful people.

There?s so much to say, an no time to organize the story into a neat narrative. I think it?s best to to let it tumble out like so:

-As we landed on the tarmack in the Barcelona Airport, we could hear our dog Juno barking in the cargo hold below us.

-Three of our suitcases didn?t land with us, and British Airways sent them to us a day later (the same thing happened in the last trip).

-Driving out to Tossa in the rental car ("not the minivolumin", but a "fulgonetta"), the car rental people (Olimpia car rental, a very good company here) met us at the airport to hand the car over to us. They led us out into the direction of Tossa. Now, there are two routes north, freeways both. We have been used to driving on the inland road in the past, and this was our expectation... so imagine our confusion when the car rental people led us out on the coastal road which went through Barcelona (a route my folks have advised us against in the past, and we imagined that it would be utterly confusing and have us stranded, circling in the roundabouts of Barcelona forever!). After we were led through the city, our guides waved us on and sped off in thier accustomed breakneck speed. The sun was dissapating at the end of a sunset, our dog Juno was in the crate in the back of the fulgonetta, the brakes were touchy, questionable (the idiot lights were on and the the slightest touch sent us lurching forward), and we diddn?t have enough map on us to figure the way to Tossa exactly. After finding a gas station and buying a map, we plotted our way through the toll freeways and the towns South of Tossa: Blanes, Lloret, others I now forget.... we arrive closer to Ten at night, a full moon rising. Beautiful. Mom an our friend Rosa had swept out the house a day before (the walls become permeated with moisture in places and fester with plaster dust onto the floors) and Rosa?s husband Joan built a fire that had glowing embers as we entered. Mom was waiting at her apartment across teh city (a ten minute walk...we haven?t timed it yet) Dinner at Mom?s, sausage and salad, cheese and bread. We end the night walking Juno back to our house throught the empty streets of Tossa, pinching ourselves in disbelief.

-I can?t emphasise enough how challenging it is to have all your coordinates changed. Every little thing is daunting. Making a telephone call, finding food, communicating to your banker, figuring out what the availability and pricing of building materials are... doing this once or twice is fun, being challenged at every turn requires fortitude.

-Weather: high fifties, low sixties that fluctuate all day long. Yesterday, we had a storm (tormenta) that was probably mild by local standards, but by our newbie mentality, it was hellacioius. Juno?s taken the habit of pooping out on the river shoal, so we went out to the playa to check the surf out and it was roiling, brown big and angry. I wondered if my surfer friends stateside would have considered trying this one out. The river that drains the local ecosystem here was extremely high, almost to the street (they rout the river round the beach to the sea). Later, soaked, we dried out clothes in front of the fireplace.

-The fireplace. We own a small building in the center of town, four stories. It?s cold by our thin blooded Californian standards. On the first floor, there is a wainscot detail that is mas feo, we want to tear it off one day. This detail extends out into the little courtyard, and this is where I began to tear it off and use the wood as le?a, firewood. We have been making a fire in the morning and evenings, during breakfast and dinner. Our kitchen is primative since we tore out the restaurant that was once here from the previous owner. We kept nothing of it since the equipment was aged and in bad condition, probably twenty years of grease and bad repairs. So now, our kitchen consists of a two burner hotplate, a refrigerator (a gift thanks to Stephanie?s mom from our last visit), a sink cobbled together by our contactor... it only has a hot water faucet, all the dishes from the restaurant, one skillet, two pots small and large... and that?s it.

-Mom took us out to Barcelona to show us the ropes on how to navigate the old city, where the bargain places were. She treated, buying us two electric heaters and a stereo (wow, thanks, mom). She asked the vendor where the best place to have lunch, and there we went to have a fabulous multicourse meal, several coffees and desert for fifteen euros. Muy deliciouso.

-Did I tell you about the leaks? Our terrace leaks and it sits above the bedroom. We?ve had pots and pans out all night, drip, drip. Our contractor Kiku gave us an estimate for the repairs, not cheap, but not out of our expectations.

-Kiku took us out to dinner in the first few nights we were here. He?s about my age, and he looks a bit like Pierce Bronson with galsses (gaffas). A heaping tray of seafood, among the crabs and shrimp and mussels was percebes... barnacles from Galicia. You pull they little heads off and eat their necks. Muy delicioso!

-Gotta go, gotta wrap this up. We?re getting an internet connection... in three weeks. Fingers crossed. We still don?t have the eleven boxes sent from Texas mid March. It might be a bit crazy to get them... not till the end of the month yet.

Posted by Dennis at 5:46 AM | Comments (7)