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Strangers in a Strange Land

November 08, 2006

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There have been moments where it has seemed like I am on another planet here. It is hard to explain, but there is something other worldly about this place and it has taken us a little while to get our bearings. I remember my friend Carrie talking about the energy in a white village she stayed in years ago after serving in Africa in the Peace Corps. She thought it was paradise on earth and specifically said something about the energy of the land having a very special vibration or something to that effect. I am not sure exactly what that means, but now that I have experienced it here, I understand more about what she was talking about.

An Irish fellow who owns a new village house here is passionate about his mountain view that overlooks
a national park nearby. In a picture it looks just like a nice mountain view like any other nice mountain view, like so  many I have seen. But looking at it in person I experience something very different, like a natural high quite unlike anything I have experienced before. It is not the most beautiful mountain view
I have experienced at all, but there is something tremendously peaceful and pure about viewing it that has a tinge of making one almost dizzy. Somehow I do not have the same experience looking at the mountains nearby with houses on it, but those without seem quite mystifying. DaVinci experienced
the energy too when we viewed it, so it was not just all in my head.

I was almost ill at first having something to do with the energy of this house. It did not bother DaVinci or Mozart, but had a big impact on me. One of the expats here (from Denmark) said it has something to do with the ancient houses and the moisture from the mountain as they were dug into them. I am not sure what it was but it took some getting use to it. For me it felt like a very heavy energy and we even considered switching to a newer apartment for a few days and looked at some like that one that Irish
fellow owns which was one of our top candidates when we were deciding. But I adjusted, we liked so
much about the home we picked and there were also negative points about the new places.

Perhaps some of this feeling is just culture shock or the fact that we are not tourists on the move. It is a bit disorienting somehow to switch our lifestyle to a semi permanent state. We were looking forward to this, but it changed our rhythm. Suddenly too, we have all this stuff to deal with as much of it has been long packed away. Plus we had two boxes of books waiting for us that we sent here via M-bag.

I am not sure why we feel more like strangers in a strange land here and it is more me than anyone. Some of this feeling of course has been with us the whole trip for indeed we are strangers in a strange land, but somehow it is more intense right now. I suppose it is a combination of everything. Certainly the house and the village and the village lifestyle is very different than anything we have experienced before.

One evening we were walking down a long narrow, curvy, cobblestone street in the dark looking for a new restaurant and I realized I felt like I really was on another planet. There is a reason for the streets to be so narrow as that helps in the heat of summer to give shade, but somehow a little mysterious at night alone and filled with new sounds. There are just so few reference points for us here as everything
is different. I do think that is the good news and part of the experience we were looking for, but it is sometimes disorienting, perplexing and thought provoking. I am thinking that it takes a little while to get truly oriented to a life so different.

In that walk, I experienced more of village life than most tourists experience as there were few if any
in the village at that time of night off season. We ended up in a large square by a church with a large restaurant and we were one of the very few eating there on this week night off season. Everywhere Spanish is spoken, but the local dialect seems to have more in common with Portuguese than Castilian Spanish, but we can be understood. As we ate, native villagers went about their business including using
a public fountain nearby to fill pans, sweeping and taking care of their children. The cars or motorbikes going by can be startling especially at night on the narrow streets as they tend to come out of the blue between lulls of only walking noises.

The first night we were here it was All Saints night and the owner of the restaurant we went to suggested that we go to the cemetery to see all the beautiful flowers and candles. We walked and climbed what seemed a very long way in the dark of night and asked repeatedly in Spanish, trying to find it and eventually had success. It is hard to explain the experience, but it told us much about the culture here and how we are outside it as most of the village was there and here we were strangers in the midst of a sacred moment for them.

The people here are very kind and welcoming, even at the cemetery that night where I felt I was invading a private moment. It was an English woman who told me about it and somehow I got the impression that we could observe it from a distance, but we ended up right in the middle of it and the only non natives there. They were honoring relatives who had passed on and it was quite beautiful.

DaVinci can fit in more with his Spanish and his looks. He can actually fit in to much of Europe easily
with looks that could be many things as even at home people wonder what nationality he is and guess everything from Japanese to Jewish and everything in between. I thought he looked like Dustin Hoffman when I first met him (can not see it now) and people have actually mistaken him for Johnny Depp  when he had long hair (I couldn’t see that either). Maybe he has a ink blot face. On one walk we took here that led us into the countryside a bit, we stopped and talked to an old  man going home with a rabbit to cook and he thought he knew DaVinci’s brother! (Funny because he has no brother and odd to be taken as a native).

Yet I could also see/imagine some of his relatives in the native peoples here and understand now where he got that “sweeping gene” as he loves to sweep more than anyone I know and so do the people here. As I watch some of these tiny older women walk down the cobble stone streets from the back, I can almost imagine them being his older aunts. They all spoke Spanish as their first language exclusively their early years before school and probably would be very comfortable here and his uncle loved Spain and considered buying a house here.

DaVinci knows enough Spanish that he can carry on conversations here and the Spanish is not so different that he can’t understand it and he and Mozart talk regularly to the shop owners and such. I am pretty much limited to Hola and smiles (and baby talk when desperate) so am at a distinct disadvantage which probably adds more to my stranger-in-a-strange-land feeling. They are adjusting more quickly and Mozart seems to feel at home where ever she is.

You do hear many languages here as the tourists come from everywhere and many nationalities live here, but all the non tourist hours, which is most of the time,one just hears Spanish pretty much since most people who live here are Spanish and the few who are not usually speak Spanish in their daily lives. I can get by with my baby talk Spanish tho (I know lots of words,just not how to put them together well) as the natives are used to dealing with tourists and non speakers. Hopefully we will  all get better and better with time and I am planning to take some classes. DaVinci mainly just needs to learn more verbs as that limits him some.

The people who have immigrated here (and we have talked to English, Swedish and Dutch who have all lived here longer than five years) all say that the Spanish are the most welcoming of all nationalities and are especially friendly in this village. I guess in most societies in Europe, they are much less open to really accepting foreigners and one can live there for years and years and still be an outsider, often  forever thru generations. Consistently and separately, they all say that one of the things they love about Spain and this village is how they have been embraced and thoroughly connected with and part of the community. Of course, they are all people who learned Spanish and speak it fluently and wanted to connect and be part of the community which is different than those in Spain I suppose who keep themselves separate and never learn the language.

Like in any country, there are enclaves of immigrants that don’t learn the native tongue and many English from the UK in Spain and particularly the Costa del Sol and Costa Brava that never learn Spanish
or very minimal. They live separate lives next to the Spanish in a way where they never need to learn
and can have all the fish and chips and things they miss from home. There are probably other northern European communities that do that like the Cubans do in Miami, but I am more aware of the English as I have met many online. So there are many different ways to live in Spain and I have already learned a lot from people who reform (remodel) fincas (farm houses) in the Spanish countryside to those who prefer newly built urbanizations for a community of their particular nationality to those who prefer city life
and many more different choices.

I would think that some of the differences here would be a little easier for a European compared to an American. It is quite different than other parts of Europe of course, but there are some commonalities.
Most everything is different for us from showers to stoves to washing machines and cobblestones, and
from weather degrees, to measuring cups or distances,to money and electricity.

Our home here is fascinatingly different and sometimes that is endlessly charming and other times it’s a pain. Mostly we enjoy it, but sometimes it gets on our nerves like when the toilet broke or the sinks got plugged up. There are lots of steps in the house and not easy steps, so that and many things take more mindfulness and energy. The bathroom is minimal and very European as I have never seen a tub like that or so small and only seen this style of shower in Europe. There has never been a shower curtain, but we can not take a shower without getting lots of water on the floor (luckily there is lots of sun, so we just dry the towels and mats on the terrace for a short while afterwards). Every night we put our garbage in a little bag hooked onto the top of the outside door. The basics are like any home like a bed and table and chairs,but put together unlike anything we have experienced before.

Yes, in deed, we are strangers in a strange land and sometimes it is disconcerting and bewildering as we
try to find our place. Sometimes getting simple things done takes herculean effort that feels like moving a mountain. Still there are enough similarities on basic levels and our needs are more than met, so we are very comfortable on what is necessary in life.

The strangeness is just part of the adventure and exactly the experience we were looking for... something completely different that can teach us things just by being here. But being human, there is always some resistance to the new and challenges, though I really do like how it helps keep one in the now and out of a rut. The biggest challenge here so far has been our lack of internet and how long it is taking us to get connected as that is an important medium for us to stay connected to family and have part of our life with us.

The camping life and camper almost seem like a dream now, funny how quickly one adapts. Perhaps it seems less so to DaVinci and Mozart as they walk by it everyday going to school and he usually starts it up every other day to keep the battery fresh. It might be weeks before we drive any where. We want to get
a good handle on our life here before we go off on short exploring expeditions to see what else southern Spain has for us. It is an exciting, mysterious, stimulating, thought-provoking experience here thus far.

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