I kept a blog diary when I first moved to Spain two years ago. Looking back at them I cannot believe how scared I was to do anything without a friend as back-up (though I usually had to in the end). I shall share some of my re-lived experiences with you, here.
Late November 2010
Along with ‘know yourself’, ‘nothing in excess’ was inscribed at Delphi (not the cinema, the ancient Greek place with the Oracle; not the oracle shopping centre or t.v. text service, the soothsayer); this is an adage that I live by. Generally. Except last night, OK and a few hundred other times as well, when I partook of a little too much rosé and danced myself into a frenzy. Brilliant night! Luckily no deadlines to meet today. The freelance work I am undertaking would appear to be run by people who consider 'nothing in excess' when deciding how much they should pay me. I have been paid between $1 for a 300-word article up to the dizzy heights of $1 per hundred words. I am not going to be making my fortune this way. The way I do hope to earn a decent living is through my books. Progress there is steady but slow – I need to give myself a good talking to and get on with it. So you see I do follow the ‘nothing in excess’ line of thought... when it comes to work.
The weather has turned, it is definitely winter. The wind and rain are frequent visitors. As a result of the inclement weather the track to my house has started to deteriorate and the once empty channels labelled arroyo and rio are now full of surging water. Apart from the twice daily dog walks and the odd party, I have kept myself pretty much to myself in my country dwelling. Spanish houses are designed with the heat in mind and with the advent of temperatures falling into single figures at night the log burner has been called into daily action. My landlord was kind enough to supply me with some logs but the stock is now seriously depleted. All over the campo smoke can be seen curling from the chimneys of those of us mad enough to live in the wilds. If they are burning wood at the same rate as me then the Spanish olive groves must be decimated by now. To keep warm the fire needs to be going for at least 12 hours a day – that’s a lot of wood. Maybe my wood consumption is close to being classed as excessive, but surely necessity negates excess?
Another necessity to a decent life in Spain is the ability to speak the language. As my hermit lifestyle provides little opportunity to mix and practise my Spanish I have started having lessons. My first lesson was on Friday. My God, I have an appalling memory! I also seem to have selective deafness – I read the lines, I say the lines, but when my teacher starts a conversation based on what I have just learned I sit there staring blankly at her. I think I’d be OK if nobody spoke to me, if they just wrote letters or held up printed cards.
I need to design and print some cards and flyers to put in the local school advertising extra English tuition. I took my TEFL course for just this reason – time to put it into practice. I can do this legally as well – I have the number which officially identifies me as a foreigner in Spain. I can do a whole host of things now – buy a car or a house, get a job, pay taxes…
Getting the number (NIE) was a saga in itself and what really galls is the unprepossessing, old Englishman who was the guardian of the whole process. He really is an annoying little jobsworth. It is small wonder that someone hasn’t smacked him; I think it is only a question of time. I managed to circumnavigate him on the Wednesday and obtained a number to join the queue. With documentation in hand a bank was sought to pay the €16 required to process. This has increased from€9.80 in the summer when the annoying little man was either enjoying a Spanish fiesta or away from his desk and so I was unable to complete at the cheaper rate. At any rate, I paid the money in the bank to a rather handsome young man and then reluctantly left him to return to the waiting room. My friend advised me to forget my number and just jump the queue and at the first opportunity we slid into the seats opposite a Spanish policeman. He asked to see my ticket, which I held out with my thumb over the number. Little did I realise was that there was an appointment slot indicated between 12 and 1. The policeman pointed this out. It was 11.20. We just looked at him, said ‘Oh’, and I had the good grace to blush as I gently pushed my papers across the desk to him. He looked at them slowly. Then he asked for a copy of the form. I didn’t actually have a photocopy, just another version I had filled in whilst waiting. It was quite evident this was the case. Still, he accepted it, which makes me wonder why they bother with all this bureaucracy when they do not really care. Anyway the forms were stamped and the book filled in – if they used computers it would really help – and I was told to return on the Friday to collect my number.
Two days later I returned to be greeted by the English gatekeeper. Greeted really is too strong a word. He didn’t lift his head as he addressed me, just held out his hand for the form. Ignorant man. Then he wanted my passport. Having retrieved my paperwork he told me I had put my second surname in the wrong box. Really? The box labelled second surname? “Well, the man who checked it was happy”, I responded. “What man”, he asked. “The official”, I almost spat back. At that he handed me my paperwork, passport and I left the building officially recognised as an extranjero. The Spanish do lots of things to excess and bureaucracy is definitely one of them.
As I write I am surrounded by slumbering dogs. A nice walk in the rain, a rub-down, and then a snooze in front of the fire - it’s a dog’s life. Mind you, I had the same experience, except for the rub-down – you can have too much of a good thing.
Nothing in Excess.