2014 New Year resolution Part Two/Conclusion

I guess I should have titled this my New Year anti-resolution check-in/conclusion. Anyway, the original post is here, check-in part one is here, and this is part two, and actually the conclusion since it is now 2015 and there can be no more check ins.

In June we went to Aragon. A weekend riding little bikes and supermoto at the Motorland track and some site seeing around the old city of Alcañiz, which is a fascinating city. It’s worth reading about.

alcañizgarage2

Little bike in the garage

In July we went to the South of France to catch a few stages of Le Tour (that’s the Tour de France for the uniformed), plus Montpelier beforehand. I’ll admit, I was disappointed in Montpelier. Overall, I found it to be shoddier and dirtier than I expected, and the city relies entirely too much on cars for my taste, despite its overground tram system. It had some interesting historical monuments and relics though, including an enormous aqueduct built in the 1700s.

Aqueduct in Montpellier

Aqueduct in Montpelier

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Next stop was Nîmes, where we spent a day visiting all of the intact Roman structures all over the city. An entire, intact Roman amphitheater stands in the center of town and is used regularly–weekly–for events.

Nimes amphitheatre

GP riding toward his roots in Nimes

The Spanish influence is evident in this city, where local ferias, flamenco and Camargue bullfights (where the bulls are not harmed unlike the bloodthirsty Spanish version) are a regular part of life.

Nimes symbol - a croc leashed to a palm

Symbol of Nimes – a croc leashed to a palm

The ancient amphitheater, built in the the 4th century AD, is still in regular and frequent use. Here they hold the many, many bullfights held in Nimes, and also concerts, recreations of Roman games, city festivals and other big sho

Tour du France juxtaposition

Le Tour juxtaposition

Roman structures in Nimes

Riding around Roman ruins

Nimes river

Downtown Nimes river

Le Tour finish

Le Tour finish

After watching the Tour finish from Nimes, we took the train to Carcassonne, another historically significant city, this time for its intact Medieval city center. We stayed just outside the newer part of town, along with plenty of media and press people, and rode our bikes into town and up to the walled in city for a look around. It was a rest day for the tour and we actually saw a couple of riders touring around the tiny, ancient walled-in city.

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EPO, it’s what’s for breakfast.

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Pushing my bike through the slippery cobblestones of Carcassonne

The next day we saw the start of the Tour stage, then rode along the old horse trails lining the Canal du Midi. These are rooty, tree covered paths built for the horses that pulled the merchant barges from town to town. The trails are now bike and walking paths and the canals, that cover France, are now primarily used by pleasure boaters who like to see the country via the canals. Not a bad idea, actually.

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A boat waits for the water to rise at the lock

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Crossing a canal bridge

The next jaunt was to see the final of the big three bicycle races, the Vuelta de España in August. Taking our bikes by train to Pamplona was our first stop, where we had a day to ride around and found ourselves riding along the Camino de Santiago trail unintentionally but to our great satisfaction.

Camino de Santiago marker

Camino de Santiago marker, the shell

Bike trails just outside Pamplona

Bike trails just outside Pamplona

We had drinks with our neighbor in Barcelona who happened to be in Pamplona for work, then the next day we caught the stage start in a park at the edge of town. The city celebrated everywhere with decorations (though nothing like the Italians decorate for the Giro), including a display of Miguel Indurian’s time trail bike hanging in the Santander bank arches.

Indurian's timetrial bike

Indurian’s timetrial bike on display in the central Plaza of Pamplona for the stage start.

vuelta stage start

GP’s stage start selfie

Alberto Contador Pamplona

The Vuelta leader and eventual winner, Contador

We then headed to Logroño, where the next stage actually started and finished. We stayed in town and hit the famous Laurel street for some serious tapas and pincho eating two nights in a row, and got up close and personal with the riders at the stage finish.

peter sagan

Everyone’s favorite personality, ex-mountain biker Peter Sagan.

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In September I flew out to Rhode Island for a week to see my brother on his historical farm he is renovating, along with my father who met me there. I went to a dance performance on the grounds of one of the mansions out there, and crashed the after party. I had a nice long chat with the wife of the proprietor, a woman from Serbia, about Nikola Tesla, with whom she claimed to be related. I’m not sure I buy it but it was interesting none the less.

I then started to get quite busy with work so the traveling stopped until the years end (and yes, more or less broke my resolution to not ‘work hard’). We also moved and the new placed needed a LOT of work so that took precedence.

But for the last trip of the year, on December 25th we headed to New York. I had a real haircut in SoHo, visited museums, ate street food, finally saw the 911 memorial, paid way too much for a hotel room for six nights but didn’t am at peace with it because it was planned. (Next time I’ll stay at an AirBnB for half the price, and not in the theater district either!) New Years Eve we boarded a plane to Southern California for a week or two of sun (and dental appointments).

And that, my friends, concludes the 2014 New Year’s resolution updates.

The Hammer

It’s the hottest January I can remember in California. I’m here to visit my mom, which means I will be working. She always has a list of things for me to do, and this time it’s extra long and daunting. It includes (but isn’t limited to):

  • Get computer printer working
  • “Fix the way skype looks” (her computer settings had everything in black and white, including applications)
  • Get phone answering machine working
  • Remove carpet in the art room
  • Change smoke alarm battery
  • Fix broken blinds
  • Figure out why vacuum works but collects no dirt/cat hair
  • Figure out why Roomba works but collects no dirt/cat hair
  • Move mailbox into barrel, move barrel to edge of property line
  • Trim dead branches off backyard plants

The Hammer's list

As we (i) finish these things for her she crosses them off. I have my own work to do, quite a bit and time sensitive stuff too, so I can’t always immediately jump when she is ready for (wants) a new task to be done. But I try to accommodate which means I end up staying up late working after she has gone to bed so i can work uninterrupted.
Which means I’m sleeping late when I go to bed at 2am. Did I mention I’m also sick?
Mom thinks shes doing me a favor when she knocks on the door at 10am: Bam bam bam bam bam bam “Hellllooooo-ooooo” she exclaims in her singsong voice. “Are we going to start any work this morning?” She is sure that I wouldn’t want to sleep the morning away.

I get up. I make a coffee. I’m 1/4 of the way through with it when she starts hovering. She’ll walk in and look at me at the kitchen table to judge how close to finished I am with my coffee. She walks into her office. 2.5 minutes later she walks in to look at me again. I’m now on my iPad, 2/3 through with my coffee. She walks into the garage. Four minutes later she can’t stand it anymore and paces back into the vicinity of the table, exclaiming in a melodic voice (as to soften the request she knows she is making), “Are we about ready to start?”

“Mom,” I say, “Ian i please finish here?” “Oh OK, i just thought you might be ready to start…”

It continues like this until she is standing next to me, looking over my shoulder to see what is taking me so long. I get up, go outside and start cutting dead branches off her giant palms. I’m sweating within 3 minutes.

Every single list item, and some not even on the list, begin in this manner.

Anti-resolutions for 2014

I haven’t made new year’s resolutions in a long time and that’s not going to change any time soon. I would like to take this opportunity, however, to emphasize some things I will be committing to this year. Some things that I like to call anti-resolutions. This year, I will be:

  1. Spending all my money. Everything I make this year I’m going to spend. But not on buying crap, I’ll spend it on plane tickets, hotels, concerts and events. And on my pets so they will be happy. And probably on some expensive beauty treatments so that I can keep my youthful good looks a little longer.
  2. Sleeping in. I’m not a morning person and never have been. Fuck forcing myself to get up early so that I can be miserable all day. I’m sleeping in my blacked out room until my body’s timer dings “done!”. Or until the cat wakes me up, whichever comes first.
  3. Taking shortcuts. I used to think that a person had to pay their dues before ascending to where they really wanted to be–in a career, sport  job, school, transition–whatever. And maybe that was true for me in college or grad-school, though I enjoyed both and didn’t feel like I was ‘doing time’. But I’ve realized that if ‘paying your dues’ is painful, what you are waiting for is probably not worth the effort. And anyway, at this point in my life, I am far past the paying of any more dues. If I find myself in a situation where I have to waste a bunch of time, kiss ass or flounder around to get what I want, I’m taking a shortcut – either with money, other people, or some kind of work-around. Otherwise I’m saying forget it.
  4. Not working hard. I didn’t work hard last year and I won’t work hard this year. That doesn’t mean I don’t do a good job. My work is always excellent and I often find myself going above and beyond the scope of a project, but that’s because I get so interested in the content or solving a problem that I want to do it for the self-gratification I will get, not because I am trying to look good or manipulate what someone thinks of me. I like my job and I’m better than most at what I do, so I don’t need to work hard. I’m keeping it that way.
  5. Making risky investments. I’ve made risky investments before and won big, and I’ve made what I thought were sound investments and lost a hell of a lot of money. The reality is that without insider knowledge, you don’t know what will happen from one day to the next. But if you really believe in something, your investment will be worthwhile, risky or not. So I am going invest in some things I believe will benefit from my support, with the hope they will gain enough traction to be ‘the next big thing’.  Or not. But at least I’ll be able to say “I invested in that!” 20 years from now when it becomes a mark of this decade, much like Pets.com and Webvan.com were for the 90s.

Where’s Spain?

I didn’t realize it until recently, but Spain is relatively unknown to most Americans as compared with France or Italy, because people don’t know it is a European country.

I am not even kidding. Consider the following occurrences, all within the last 2 months:

A client of mine I’ve been working with for over a year, who knows I am sometimes in the states and sometimes in a place called Spain, responded with “Oh wow, have fun in Europe, what are you doing there?” after I informed her over the phone that I was no longer in the US but was calling from Europe in that moment.

Now remember, she knew I lived in Spain. And yet was asking me what I was doing in Europe, as if it was an exciting new trip.

Confused at first, the question does she not know where Spain is…? creeped into my head, so I tested her with “Well, I live here sometimes, you know that”. Sure enough, the response was “But I thought you lived in Spain?…”

long pause

“OH! Gosh, I thought you were in South America somewhere. I don’t know what I was thinking.”

Another fine example: A woman I worked with last year contacted me the to see about my availability for a project, and asked me to remind her where I live. I said Europe, and she responded, “Oh yes I remember. Brazil, right?”

Yet another: In a peer meeting/interview for a project via Skype, the interviewer asked me (rather haughtily I might add), “So you live in like, Mexico or something?” when she saw that my city of residence is Barcelona.

Sigh

And don’t even get me started on the responses I get from random people in Starbucks and in shopping malls.

It sure stands in stark contrast to the replies of “OOOOH you are sooo LUCKY!” when I lived in Italy. But that is a whole different story.

A little while back, the Huffington Post contacted me…

A little while back, the Huffington Post contacted me and asked if I would like to join a panel of American expats around the world for a live broadcast.

The live interview was to be conducted through Skype and aired online as well as recorded for later viewing. Now, I am not a Huff Post reader in any way shape or form, but I thought: “Why not? I’ll get to blab about where I live and they’ll announce and publish my blog address (spainexpatblog.com), which my advertisers would like very much.” So I replied in the affirmative, provided my phone number and received a call almost immediately.

A young and caffeinated assistant (coordinator? intern?) introduced herself and thanked me for my willingness to participate. I could hear newsroom noise in the near background as she supplied me with the basics of the broadcast–time, theme, number of panel members, length, etc. She was chirpy and cheerful and made small talk between firing off questions that would verify my depth of expatdom.

Satisfying all her initial questions, she moved into some directed questions, beginning with what did I like about Spain, what does a normal day look like for me, and then she asked why I left the US. This was the first tip off as to what this expat panel was to be about. Usually, people don’t ask me why I left the US. The (more logical) question is always why did I move to Spain?

It then continued down a predictable Huffpost path. This hyper fresh journalist (junior editor? screener?) trying to steer me into the answers she was expecting to hear, needing to hear to fit the panel’s agenda. What did I think about public healthcare in Spain? Did I have health insurance in the US before? What about the unemployed here, did they suffer like they do in the US? How about retirees, are they properly looked after? I answered all of her questions, elaborating on ungodly wait times for appointments and procedures through public healthcare–throwing in a few (true) stories of bloodstained sheets and lack of basic provisions like water for patients in hospitals–the reasons for the 50% unemployment rate among under 25s (indefinite welfare from the government and the cultural belief that children and young people should not work), ridiculous pensions, the unproductive and archaic manner most businesses are run (nepotism, zero recognition or reward for performance, the high value given to the appearance of business), in short, all of my usual complaints.

I finished my rant–I wanted to make a point by going against her assumptions–and listened to the chirpiness in her “mm-hmms” fade away and even produced some long pauses, in which the newsroom bluster behind her rose loud and clear through the mouthpiece of her phone. I attempted to then bow out, explaining I’m not the driod (ehrm, representative) they were looking for, but the clever little trainee (apprentice? indentured servant?) saw her angle and dug in her heels.The cadence of her speech quickened and her twittery tone returned as she explained that a variety of experiences would provide a great forum, and that I would give contrast to the panel. I considered it for a moment, and, still with a “what the heck, I like new experiences” attitude and of course thinking of the exposure my blog might receive, said OK. Chirpy was ecstatic. She told me I would be hearing from so-and-so and would receive emails the next day in preparation.

Sometime during the following day, I realized that what I would be getting myself into was not going to be a fun new experience, but an annoying debate against expats who left because, in a nutshell, the US government doesn’t support them and their families enough. I thought about what an asshole I would come across as, and the snarky comments I would receive on my website and have to respond to. I’m not a (total) asshole–I donate a percentage of my income to good causes, I recycle, I pay taxes (in both countries)–but there are certain things I appreciate about my country and don’t take for granted, and get really annoyed dealing with those who do. So I canceled my participation.

While on one hand it might have been satisfying to share my experience and point of view, I realized there is no debating with super liberals (I know, I was one!!!) especially in the form a major media outlet like the Huffpost.

The current rage in “lifestyle design” blogs

Is anyone else sick of the hundreds of blogs out there that are about “How I made six figures by quitting my job and doing what I love”?(Variations of this theme include: living simply, remote working, be your own boss, etc.)?  The dude who over enthusiastically proclaims his office is the beach in Brazil/Mexico/Asia/Indonesia and how YOU TOO can quit your job and build a blog and hit the road just like him and, oh yeah, make a hundred grand a year writing about nothing.

I am not talking about running an actual virtual business or remote worker – last year I worked remotely and as long as I had an internet connection, I could (and did) work from anywhere, which allowed me to live where I wanted and travel when I wanted and blah blah like all these guys blather on about. These blogs don’t actually have any business behind them-they are just selling themselves!

For example, the writers who create “Live your dream” blogs where their dream is to work for themselves, living where they like and traveling when they want, with no other aim. So essentially, they write about how to quit your job and make six figures, going on and on about how free they are and where they travel… by blogging about quitting their job and writing about it online.  It’s way too circular, and the community of people writing them, all of whom must be commenting and guest posting on each others sites to get the kind of traffic they do, won’t be able to support itself with the circular argument that most of the location independent lifestyle are spouting.

In fact, I think it might be getting harder already, as some of these blogs are resorting to annoying hard sell tactics to sign up for their newsletters about nothing, download their buzz word filled ebooks, sign up for their online or email courses, with headlines like “How to Live Anywhere & experience Ridiculously Extraordinary Freedom”, pop ups, long and detailed posts about dollars made each day/week/month through passive income they allegedly make…by describing what you are experiencing yourself on their site and how to set that up for yourself and generate the traffic to generate the “six figures” they are pulling in…

Certainly the next generation in the US, and even the current generation in the workforce over the next decade, will not be able to support themselves in this manner, because everyone will know about SEO and Adsense and link building to their blog. The workplace is changing, and while it may be a brave new world for some of us, it won’t be for those growing up in the internet age. And then this strange phenomenon of self reflected blogging about basically nothing to get ad traffic and trackback links will settling itself into the history of the beginning of this century, for us to remember fondly as a short lived way to make easy money.

This phenomenon has not yet hit Spain, and I doubt it ever will. Americans are fiercely independent and working for yourself is held in very high esteem. The culture here does not regard “working for the man” as necessarily a bad thing, especially not when you get a full month of vacation (which employers are required by law to give you), plus 14 paid holidays a year, the average working day like I talked about in this post, which changes in the summer to an abridged work schedule called horario intensivo, where employees work non-stop from around 8:00 or 9:00 until 15:00, not to mention something like a year’s full pay if you get laid off. Plus, if you work for yourself, you have to pay far more into the social security system than someone paid by an employer. AND – if you have two business entities, you have to pay the SS tax twice each month! It is kind of ridiculous actually, and also why there are not so many entrepreneurs here…and not a lot of people clamoring for ways to break free from the clutches of working for someone else.

So I kind of digressed into left field from my original rant-like post. Just for giggles, google location independent lifestyle and have a look at some of preposterous headlines and shameless self promotion that seem ever more like those of pyramid schemes.In fact, you might agree that the tactics are designed to appeal to just the kind of people who will enviously compare their cubicle life to the blog-dudes beach fren, most likely, never achieve the lifestyle dream these sites are selling.

Moving On: Part II Searching for a Place

So here I am, living the last few weeks in my house with my dogs. I’m going to work, to the dog park, the dog beach, riding my bike around the neighborhood, riding my scooter, watching some junk TV in my overstuffed leather chairs, trying new restaurants, visiting with neighbors. That’s the good stuff. Meanwhile, I’m sorting through boxes and drawers and a garageful of things. Working, doing the paperwork for a loan, for my taxes, for my bank accounts and vehicles – and looking for a smaller place to buy. (Incidentally, I found myself wondering why I wasn’t also signed up for a class to improve my Spanish or Italian.  Why don’t I allow myself time to breathe?)

Which brings me to the topic of this post. House hunting hates me. I’m not joking. Three out of four places I attempt to view downtown are either not actually on the market or impossible to get inside to view.

Let me elaborate. Today my realtor and I spent an hour trying to get to a key in a lockbox, it’s whereabouts unknown other than “in the garage”.  The building had three garage levels, internal entries only. The push button lock code to enter the building didn’t work. So we opened the lockbox of an office unit on the ground floor with an external entry, entered with a key and went into the building through that unit’s internal door (yes, we basically snuck in). We did not have a key card for the elevator to the first garage level, so we waited to follow on the tail of some resident, then we jumped in after him. In the garage, I had to hold the door to keep it from shutting, lest we get locked inside (apparently this happens). No lock box in the garage. The realtor called whomever and was assured there was a lock box, but we had to enter on the ground level inside the lobby, to a level that was there but not indicated anywhere. So back down we went (fortunately the elevators did not require a key card to go down). We wandered through fire doors and hallways, and eventually found the garage passage from the lobby (but only after calling for assistance again). Again, I held the door so we didn’t get locked in. The realtor finally found the lock boxes, of which there were around ten. Not all of them were marked with unit numbers. Another phone call, and several tries finally located the correct lock box. My realtor opened it. There was no key inside. No, we never got in.

And that was only one of the units we attempted to visit today. We attempted to see 8 apartments, and we saw 3.  Unmarked lock boxes, missing keys, unreturned calls for appointments, and listings that we “no longer on the market ” (but showed up as updated or new listing just this morning). And I’m not even looking at the short sales (where people aren’t really moving out, just camping mortgage free and putting the house on the market over and over to buy time).

The places I did see weren’t anything I liked at all. One place had amazing views, but not one appliance. The previous owner stole everything, you could see where they ripped the microwave off the wall. This place also had a shower in the kitchen area and a toilet and sink in the bedroom closet. You’d think I was in Barcelona with that kind of craziness.

Other adventures today included an old dude from a neighboring apartment building with a big knee brace, trying to talk his way coming with us to view a unit because he was interested in it  too. He spent 15 minutes telling us all about the place as he remembered it from the one time he had seen it, as we struggled with a lock box and phone calls. He actually tried to hobble behind us into the apartment. I nearly gave him another knee brace.

Then there was the young, clueless office attendant with the 5 inch heels and the wrong pair of jeans for her bubble butt who showed us a developers unit. She seemed to be preoccupied with our reactions to her “tour” which consisted of traipsing us past the pool and showing us the gym and presenting them both with a flourish of her arm like the ladies on those late night TV commercials for some super vegetable chopper thing. Or 20 knives or superglue or something. Then this chick would  glance nervously over to our faces then look away every 3 seconds while scrunching up her tiny mouth.  After her performance and showing us one place,  she let us walk out the door without showing us the other 3 or 4 available units we later learned about when the manager called to follow up. So I have to go back again. Did I mention  I got a ticket there? Yeah, not  really looking forward to returning to that place.

Something better turn up quick. I have 2 1/2 weeks left in this house and I need somewhere to put my overstuffed sofa and chairs. And I’m not too keen on peeing in a closet and showering with a stove and dishwasher.