30 November 2014

Dispatches from Spain 1 & 2

by Rich Gilbert

[My friend Rich Gilbert and his partner, Sallie Strang, moved to Madrid in October to live there for a half a year.  (They expect to live another six months somewhere else in Europe, but haven’t picked where yet.)  It was a long-planned move and something both of them have looked forward to for more than a year.  This is purely a pleasure jaunt, prompted by the fact that Rich and Sallie have loved Spain—Rich has gone to Pamplona to run with the bulls for decades, ever since he first discovered that event when he was in the army in Germany in the ’70s and ’80s—and simply wanted to return there for an extended experience of the country and its culture.  I can’t say how much I envy them right now!

[I met Rich when we were both stationed in West Berlin during our military service.  (I’ve written about my time there in several posts on ROT over the years now, and I think Rich’s name—or at least an obscure reference to him—has come up once or twice.)  I’d say I knew him for most of my 2½ years in Berlin, though we were in different assignments.  We’d both decided to get out of the army around the same time, and Rich took the Law School Admissions Test in Berlin before he separated from the service and left just before I came home.  He went to Georgetown University Law School and became a criminal defense attorney in Washington, but he decided he’d get more courtroom experience as a JAG lawyer than as either a junior associate in some big firm or trying to start out on his own in private practice, so he re-upped and went back to Germany after graduation and defended and prosecuted criminal defendants in courts martial for several years, traveling in Europe on his leaves, especially Spain.  

[When Rich returned to Washington and set up his own law office, he eventually met Sallie.  They traveled together a lot, including to Spain, I believe, but they also traveled separately.  I don’t recall if Sallie ever accompanied Rich on those trips to Pamplona—maybe she went along once, but that was something he did on his own most of the time.  This move to Madrid probably started as an idea generated back then, but it became an actual project maybe two tears ago or so when Sallie and Rich actually decided to sell their house in Washington, rent an apartment in Madrid, pack up, and actually decamp for the Iberian Peninsula.  

[Rich has been writing e-mails back to his friends and family here in the U.S., and he’s given me permission to run them on ROT, even though Sallie is posting her own blog, Rambling Solo (http://ramblingsolo.blogspot.com.es), which includes photos as well as some of this same material.  Rich sent me the first four reports all in a brief period, so I’m posting them in two pairs now, then I’ll post the new ones, maybe still two by two, as they come in.  I know you’ll enjoy reading about Rich and Sallie’s adventures—and you may feel a twinge of the same jealousy I feel as well.  ~Rick]

Madrid – October 17, 2014

Dear Friends,

Well, we made it. Sallie and I got into Madrid yesterday morning. We mostly got out of the DC apartment (left some work for a cleaning crew), and to the airport on time. Weather delayed our flight to JFK, so that we made it to the international gate as they were boarding. (Here’s a new one –  we sat at the runway at National for 20 minutes while they reversed the landing/takeoff direction.) Anyway we made it, and finally got our 200 lbs of luggage up the three flights of stairs, not to be moved again for at least six months.

Yesterday was spent sleeping (without waking up thinking about what we had to do next), unpacking somewhat, walking around the neighborhood, and eating. We were pleasantly surprised to find several new restaurants which look like they might be nice. Lots of simpler restaurants with reasonable prices. Next project – take on grocery shopping (and learning to use the stove). Project after that – getting phone service down. There is a landline in the house – #xxx-xx-xx-xxx-xxxx from the states [I’ve deleted the phone number and the address below. ~Rick]. The street address is 

            Xxxxxxx xxx Xxxxx
            Passaje de San Martin de Valdeiglesias xx,-x-X
            xxxxx Madrid Espana

Obviously, we have access to the Internet and email.

There are three bedrooms, a modest master bedroom, and two guest rooms. One room has twin beds and one has a double bed. There is not much storage. Since this is Mari del Xxxxxx’s home, she has most spaces filled (unlike a hotel) and we are still trying to figure out where to put our stuff. So if you visit, you may still be operating out of suitcases. You are all still welcome to visit, of course. Just be aware that there is no elevator and we are on the third floor.

My Spanish is coming back, but we still need to actually do some studying. Sallie is planning an emersion program, while I am buying a Spanish newspaper each day and brought a couple of textbooks. The Castellano (the Spanish spoken in Madrid) is rapid, but seems clearer than the Spanish in Latin America (except of course the Colombians, Miriam). I think I will be able to get it in a little while. Of course that will not help with listening to Mexican wiretaps, but otherwise, I am hopeful of gaining some fluency.

We would love to hear what is going on with you all back in the States, so stay in touch.

Hasta la vista.


*  *  *  *
Madrid – October 23, 2014

Dear Friends and Family,

We have reached the one week mark in our move to Spain. Still getting used to the different rhythms of life here, but we are really enjoying it. We usually go for a long walk to explore the city around our neighborhood.  We are trying not to eat every meal out. We can make a salad and have some bread, ham or coldcuts and cheese at home, sometimes for lunch, sometimes for dinner. Breakfast is usually in. We go out for the other meal.  Lots of little places with good food, not too expensive, often with larger than necessary portions. Last night we just ate free tapas at three places in the neighborhood. The exchange rate is about 4 dollars for 3 Euros, but the prices are not too bad in Spain; it is probably a different story in Germany, for example. The weather here has been spectacular; sunny every day, moderate temperatures (T-shirts during the day). I guess the rain in Spain does not fall mainly in THIS Plain.

The neighborhood is an older, working class neighborhood. Not ancient or historical, but not modern either. The streets are mostly narrow. There is a local modern supermarket a couple of blocks away, which is pretty much like you would expect for an urban supermarket without the room to spread out like a Walmart. There are other smaller grocery stores, and lots of specialty shops selling fresh bread, fruits and vegetable, or meats. There is also a market like the Eastern Market, but only about half the stands are open. We mix up the stores we patronize, but are gravitating to the small shops.

We have found a few local places we like. They are beginning to recognize us at those places. When the Spaniards find out we have moved to Madrid for six months just to learn Spanish and their culture, they are uniformly pleased. This may explain the extra tapas we sometimes get. We have discovered that the closest bar is actually a great place to watch “futbol” (soccer).  Sallie and I are both soccer fans (Go DC United!), so when the Spaniards find out we like and understand the game, they are pleased. It gives us a chance to talk to locals.

Soccer is, as you may imagine, really big here – think the fanbase for baseball, basketball and (our) football combined.  There are three Spanish teams among the best in the world. Two are in Madrid and one in Barcelona. Real Madrid is like the Yankees, lots of money to buy the world’s best players and decades of success. (Their stadium is easily as big as FedEx Field and bigger than RFK.) Atletico Madrid is like the Red Sox, great success but only recently, and starting to accumulate the money to compete for good players. Barcelona is like the Dodgers, on the other coast but also with tons of money and equally good players and success as Real Madrid.  They are holding an annual tournament among the best clubs in Europe and this week all three Spanish teams easily beat teams from Holland, Sweden and even England. They really are very, very good (sorry DC United).  This coming Saturday [i.e., 25 October], Barcelona comes to Madrid to play Real Madrid; they call the matches between these two clubs  “El Classicos,” and it is all the sports pages talk about. Even Sallie and I are getting excited.

We have only been downtown twice. In both cases it was to shop for things we could not find nearby, like a really complete Spanish-English dictionary, and of course, Cuban cigars. We will probably buy a year pass to the Prado so we do not have try and see everything in a day or two. 

Neither of us have started studying Spanish in earnest. We said we would take the first two weeks here to relax and get settled. Sallie is considering an immersion course. I probably will not do that. I have a couple of good textbooks I can study. I have, however, been buying a Spanish newspaper each day. It is expanding my vocabulary (why I need the complete dictionary), but I am also getting a feel for the political situation here. The big papers here are national papers, which is fine since we are in the capital. The biggest news story in the impending referendum in Catalonia, the region which includes Barcelona. There is a strong independence movement. Unlike Great Britain and Scotland, the Spanish government has refused to sanction the vote as having any legal effect, but the Catalans are going ahead with the vote. It is quite confusing, and I do not think that is simply due to my poor Spanish. It does not seem like the Spanish (and the Catalans) really know what will happen or how to proceed.

The Spanish papers cover Ebola (there was a case in Spain who is apparently cured), the fight with the Islamic State, Ukraine, and, of course, European economic news.  Almost no coverage of U.S. elections, although I am sure they will cover the actual results.  I have been trying to follow things through the Washington Post online, but it is funny how when you get away the details become less important. I am not saying the elections are not important, but I gather it looks more and more like two years of even more divided government nationally.  (Guess we will have to host an election night party in 2016.)

For those of you we have not seen or spoken to before we left, the last couple of months were an ordeal. Sallie sold her house the first weekend it was on the market for considerably more than the asking price – which is good. However, getting there and then getting out was very stressful. Remember we were going from a three story townhouse with a furnished basement apartment to – nothing, except a Mayflower container and a U-Haul storage room. We sold, gave away, even just threw out so much stuff. Plus I had to wind up my cases (I still have a few open appeals), which involved moving my office out of the house to a temporary office then to two more storage rooms. I tell you this only to explain why we were so hard to stay in contact with and to explain how liberating it has been this first week in Spain.

We are still planning on staying a year in Europe. Our current lease runs out in May, and we are not sure what will do after that.  We will likely push a lot of our travel, such as to Greece, into that period. We may try to travel the entire time, find another city or even country to stay for a couple of months, or find another place in Madrid. We are not sure what we are doing when we come back to the United States, but will undoubtedly settle back in Washington, D.C., hopefully on Capitol Hill again. I plan to restart my practice.  I will probably have to come back to the States on at least two occasions to argue some cases before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and to see my specialist at Johns Hopkins. I am not sure of the dates yet. Sallie has no plans to come back before the year is up.

There is a landline in the house – #xxx-xx-xx-xxx-xxxx from the states. I know it works because I have gotten one call already. My cellphone number xxx-xxx-xx will only be forwarded to my office, so do NOT use it. We plan to get some local cellphones, but have not done so. Amazing how liberating being without any phone connection is. The street address also works, as we have gotten a package. It is 

            Xxxxxxx xxx Xxxxx
            Passaje de San Martin de Valdeiglesias xx,-x-X
            xxxxx Madrid Espana

It will be expensive, however, so, since we obviously have access to the Internet and email, that is the best way to reach us in an emergency or just to stay in touch.

Hope to hear about anything important in your lives while we are away.


[For readers who’re not from the Washington area, the Eastern Market to which Rich refers above is a cooperative food market in the Capitol Hill area near where Rich and Sallie and lots of young office workers live in D.C.  It sells both fresh produce and prepared food, and is very popular and often crowded, especially at the lunch hour and with breakfast- or brunch-eaters on weekends.  Sallie, by the way, is not only a soccer fan, as Rich observes, but she played on a team in D.C.  I wonder if she’ll find a woman’s futbol team with which to hook up in Madrid.

[FedEx Field is the (American) football stadium in Washington, home of the Washington Redskins.  RFK (for Robert F. Kennedy, for those too young to remember) Stadium is a multi-purpose athletic field in D.C., home of the DC United soccer team Rich and Sallie root for.  The Prado which Rich names above is one of the world’s most prestigious art museums, located in downtown Madrid, the counterpart to New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art or Paris’s Louvre.

[The vote on Catalan independence to which Rich refers above took place on 9 November.  It was not a sanctioned vote, so the results are no more than an unofficial referendum.  Rich is right that it’s complicated because it wasn’t just a yes-or-no proposition on Catalan independence. Voters were asked to decide if Catalonia should be a state, but then also to vote their opinion on whether that state should be independent.  There were essentially three choices a voter could make: Yes-Yes, Yes-No, No.  80% of the voters (about 2.3 million) voted Yes-Yes, another 10% voted Yes-No, 4.5% voted No, and a little over 1.5% voted either Yes-blank or blank altogether.  (I don’t know how to account for the missing 4%.)

[The specialist at Johns Hopkins Rich mentions has to do with a personal medical issue which I won’t detail. As you all see, I’ve edited out some of Rich’s personal details such as telephone numbers and street addresses to maintain some of his and Sallie’s privacy.  (Remember, these e-mails were originally intended for friends and family, not necessarily you lot!)]


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