My Week 48: Deathly Beets and Weird Road Signs

Wednesday: I do a lot of cooking

You might remember that last week I talked about a crazy dream I had where I started doing math and ended up cooking Cornish hens in red wine sauce. It was bizarre, but it reinforced one important thing–I love cooking. Some people don’t get this, mostly the people who don’t love cooking, but to me, there’s nothing more relaxing than picking out a recipe, getting the ingredients, and spending a couple of hours making something delicious. When Ken and I were first married, my culinary range consisted of Pillsbury frozen mini-pizzas, scrambled eggs, mashed potatoes, and ground beef with prepackaged noodles and sauce. Since then, I’ve had many adventures and misadventures (baking SODA rather than baking powder in the raspberry pie I made for the first time I hosted a family Thanksgiving is the most memorable, and probably the most disgusting), but I’ve steadily improved my abilities over the last 25 years. Although Ken and I have different tastes (and taste buds, apparently), he loves food and he’s usually pretty good about eating whatever I make—mostly because if he complains, he knows the response will be “Fine. Make your own damn dinner then.” And Ken is one of those people who DOESN’T like cooking, so even though he’s really super-picky, he will tolerate whatever is on his plate and just eat around the stuff he doesn’t like, kind of like a toddler. Or, like a toddler, he gets a little whiny. Case in point—earlier in the week, I was doing home-made corn tortilla fajitas with the awesome tortilla press that I bought online. But Ken was all like, “I don’t want corn tortillas! I want regular wheat tortillas! Wah wah!” and he was adamant enough that he actually went out and bought some wheat tortilla shells right before dinner so he could have things his own way. I mocked him a little, of course, but then later I felt bad about it, because if he wants gluey, ‘stick to your intestines’ wheatiness, then who am I to judge? So the next night, I promised him I would cook him beets. While this may not sound like a big deal, the thing you need to know is that Ken LOVES beets. He’s always mooning about how amazing beets are, and threatening to buy some so he can “boil them, slice them, and eat them with salt and butter.” Even saying it makes me feel slightly nauseated. But I had found a recipe for “roasted root vegetables” and figured that if I put the beets in with enough carrots and potatoes, it just might be edible. (Ken planted beets in our vegetable garden this year, but they still haven’t reached the point where they can be eaten, having been overshadowed by the insane cherry tomato plant next to them, which started out very small and is now approximately half an acre wide, much to the delight of Titus, who has discovered that tomatoes are yet another thing he can eat that he shouldn’t).

So on the way home from the cottage, we stopped at a Mennonite fruit and vegetable stand. There was no one around for a couple of minutes and we were just about to give up, when a little girl about six years old flew out of the farmhouse about 300 feet away and came running down the lane in her bare feet. We told her what we wanted to buy—3 cobs of corn, a pint of raspberries and a bunch of beets—and asked how much we owed her. She just stared at us with big eyes. She was adorable but apparently, she didn’t speak English, and couldn’t do math, which made her the perfect salesperson for a small business in Mennonite World. But I shouldn’t be critical. I was as flummoxed by the math as she was, having bought 3 cobs of corn at the price of $4 for a dozen. Luckily, Ken is a whiz at math, and he figured out the total cost with some complex algorithm involving fractions and long division and we were on our way. But I was concerned about the whole strange situation:

Me: What was she, like 6? Is that even safe?
Ken: What do you mean? God, these raspberries are amazing. Can you make cheesecake for dessert?
Me: Well, what if we were in a van? Would they have still sent her out? We could have been kidnappers.
Ken: I’m sure someone was watching from the window. Oh my god, these raspberries! Do you have the stuff you need to make cheesecake?
Me: How could they see from over 300 feet away? By the time someone noticed that she was being snatched, they would be gone! Maybe they have different aged children they send out depending on the vehicle. If it’s a single guy in a van, they send out the 15 year-old with the huge muscles from working in the fields. We’re a couple in a small car, so we get the adorable 6 year old?
Ken: These raspberries will be awesome on cheesecake! I can’t wait!
Me: Sigh. If you keep eating them, there won’t be any LEFT for cheesecake. That’s it. Two more raspberries then the bag goes away. I mean it.
Ken: Aw….

That afternoon, I started getting everything ready—husking the corn, making the cheesecake, marinating the steak—until finally, it was time to tackle the beets. I peeled and chopped the potatoes and carrots first, avoiding the inevitable. Then I pulled the beets out of the bag. They smelled disgusting, like an open grave. I washed and peeled them, and it didn’t help. T was sitting at the counter, and I said, “God, these things smell and taste like dirt!” He said that was because they came from the ground. I reminded him that the same was true of carrots and potatoes but they smelled like they were meant to be eaten, not buried in a tomb. Then I held a peeled beet up to his nose, and he was like “God, they DO smell like dirt! I’m not eating any of that!” At this point, I realized that my hands were now dyed an alarming shade of pink, as was my cutting board, and as I mixed the chopped beets into the roasting pan, the carrots and potatoes started to turn pink as well. “Holy sh*t, the beets are spreading their poison to the rest of the food!” I exclaimed. “What if this is how the zombie apocalypse starts?!”

While dinner was cooking, Ken came down and was using my laptop to research more beet recipes.

Ken: Hey, check this out. This website says that people “are very passionate about beets. They either love them or hate them”…
Me: Accurate assessment.
Ken: “A lot of people think they taste like dirt”!
Me: That’s because they do. I told you that about half an hour ago.
Ken: You already read this website! You’re plagiarizing Martha Stewart!
Me: Bullsh*t I’m plagiarizing Martha Stewart. Do you think she’s the only one who knows that beets taste like death? EVERYONE knows it. Martha Stewart is plagiarizing ME.

Then I served dinner, making sure that Ken got pretty well ALL of the beets. I had about three chunks, which only served to confirm that I am definitely one of the people who hates beets. But Ken was beside himself with joy, and I felt like I had made up a little for mocking him about the tortillas, especially because the cheesecake and fresh raspberries (what was left of them) were pretty amazing. Then the next day, I was in the bathroom, and I came out and said to Ken, “I think I need to call the doctor. The water in the toilet—“ “That’s just the beets,” he laughed. “Nothing to worry about.” And I’m not worried about it, because I’m never touching one of those zombie death-bombs ever again.

Friday: I’m curious about the Deaf Person Area

On Friday afternoon, I was coming back from our cottage, where I had been trying to weed the garden. But my stamina is not what it used to be, and after 45 minutes, I called Ken and said, “Screw this. It’s too hot and there’s a creepy squirrel hanging around here that keeps staring at me. We need to just get the lawnmower out and cut everything down. I’m coming home.” There are several ways to come home from our cottage, as we discovered through trial and error (which means via Ken’s “shortcuts”), and the most interesting and thought-provoking way is through a tiny hamlet in the middle of nowhere, remarkable only because of the official road signs as you’re entering from either side that reads “Deaf Person Area”. This has been the topic of a lot of interesting conversations between Ken and me over the years. The first time I saw the sign, I was intrigued. Were we going to see a lot of deaf people milling around, speaking sign language to each other, oblivious to the sound of traffic, like a bizarre tourist site? (Come see The Deaf in their natural habitat! See them doing regular people things like mowing their lawns and drinking tequila on their porches!) But no—every time we’ve been through, the place has been deserted. I’ve looked carefully at all the houses, and there has never been any indication that deaf people live in them, although I don’t know how you could tell that anyway—extra big doorbells? But it begs a few questions. First, how many deaf people have to live in one place before it qualifies as a Deaf Person Area? Is there a certain quota, like “more than two”? And what if you get a sign, then the deaf people move away? Do you get to keep the sign, just so you can mess with the people driving through? Because when you see the sign, you have no idea what to do next. It doesn’t say “Drive slowly” or “Drive carefully” or anything—it just seems to be an awareness campaign. Or a WARNING. Maybe THESE deaf people are dangerous and will throw rocks at your car if you’re speeding. Which leads me to the next question: Isn’t it politically incorrect to refer to people as “deaf” these days? Shouldn’t the sign say “Hearing-Impaired Zone” or “Non-Aural Neighbourhood”? And isn’t it a little insulting to the hearing impaired to have signs telling people about their disability? I don’t know—one of my colleagues is hearing-impaired and I’m sure he would LOVE it if there was a sign on his cubicle that said “Deaf Guy Works Here”. And my final question: Why is the sign even necessary? Even if the people in the “zone” can’t HEAR the cars, they can see them coming. It’s a flat road, and if you want to cross it, you can tell if a car’s approaching from about two miles away. I could understand if it was a “Visually-Impaired Area”, or as the government would say, “Blind Dude Place”, and people couldn’t SEE the cars coming—then a warning would certainly be warranted. I guess I could see the sense in it if the sign said “Hearing-Impaired Child Area”, just so drivers would be extra cautious, but frankly, if my child was hearing-impaired, I sure as hell wouldn’t be letting him play close to a road without supervision. Actually, I wouldn’t let him play close to a road in the first place, hearing-impaired or not. But that’s just me. The other day, Ken and I were driving through Norfolk County and we saw a little boy about 5 years old mowing the front lawn of a house on a big-ass riding lawnmower. He was so small that his feet were dangling in the air, and he looked like he was strapped into the seat with some kind of harness. There was no one else in sight. Maybe they were watching from the window, but all I know is that there should be a sign for that: Stupid Parent Area. Now that makes sense.

My Week 47: Wild Animals, Ken Loses a Book, Growth Mindset

Monday: Wild animals are cute but not in that good way

Lately, the proliferation of adorable animal videos saturating Facebook, Twitter, and the internet has reached epic proportions. It used to be sweet little kittens and puppies, but now it’s every animal you can think of, being filmed doing something that makes people go “Awwww”. And I have a real worry about this—I worry that we are raising a generation of children who will ultimately end up getting mauled by something because they don’t understand that wild animals aren’t “adorable”, they are f*cking dangerous. The escalation of anthropomorphizing animals (isn’t that a fancy term? It means pretending that animals act just like humans, like all intellectual and emotional and sh*t) seemed to begin with the shooting of Cecil, the “beloved” lion from Zimbabwe who was killed by an American dentist. Now, I am in no way condoning ANY dentist shooting stuff just for fun, or doctors, or lawyers, or anyone else who has to replace his penis with an animal head on his wall (newsflash, fellas—it’s cheaper to just stuff a sock down your pants. Or buy a Hummer), but the rhetoric about Cecil himself was interesting. He was famous, a star attraction, a favourite among tourists, and a celebrity in the lion world. And that was all true—until you messed with his lady, or tried to pet his cubs. Then he would probably have killed you, or at least maimed you. Because that’s what lions do, being wild animals and all. And it’s not Cecil’s fault—it just is what it is. But ever since then, I’ve been seeing videos about other wild animals acting all cuddly and human, like the grizzly bear that decided to take a swim in someone’s swimming pool, then relax in their hot tub. “So adorable,” people commented. “Look at him just LOUNGING there!” and “That bear was having a blast!”. But if you google “bear in hot tub”, you also get a link to a news story from a couple of days ago where a bear attacked a man in HIS hot tub. The bear was probably like, “Look at him just LOUNGING there! So adorable!! Adorable enough to EAT!!” And this is the ultimate problem–wild animals LOOK sweet and loving if they’re edited properly and set to charming music, but they are actually pretty mean. Case in point: the raccoon who decided to start a family in our attic. It was all hunky dory, with her looking so peaceful while she fed her babies, until we had to relocate her because she was pooping all over the attic floor, which was not very lady-like. Then she turned into a hissing, schizoid banshee and almost took Ken’s hand off through the live trap, even though we TOLD her that her babies were safe in a box downstairs. Damn raccoons never listen to a word you say.

Yesterday, the national news ran a story about polar bears “frolicking” in fireweed up North. FROLICKING. And gosh, they looked adorable as they cavorted in the pretty flowers. Feel free to approach one and try to pet it. See what happens. It will eat your legs. The fact is that wild animals are dangerous, kids. Never forget that, no matter what they look like. Bears, lions, tigers, sharks, raccoons, skunks, badgers, squirrels, hyenas—they will ALL tear a chunk out of you if you try to talk to them like they’re kitties and puppies. Do you know why? Because they DON’T SPEAK ENGLISH. So instead of putting them in diapers, respect their ferocity. Don’t cut off their heads to use as wall ornaments. And please stop making your dog jog with you. Dogs f*cking HATE jogging. Titus told me so.

Wednesday: Ken loses one of his books

I was upstairs the other day, and Ken was in his office. He called me in, and asked, “Have you seen my little book?”
Me: What book?
Ken: The book that I keep the list of jobs you want me to do in.
Me: You keep a list of the jobs I want you to do!? What does the book look like!?
Ken: Like this one.
Me: That’s a tiny notepad, not a book. But if it looks like that one, and that one isn’t the one you’re looking for, then what IS that one?
Ken: This is a list of websites that I really like.
Me: A list of–ok…well what’s that one then?
Ken: That one is a list of objects that I want to make using different mediums. See, it’s alphabetized. “A” for antique, “B” for barnboard, “C” for cardboard, “D” for door–
Me: I see. But you can’t find the book that has the list of jobs that I want you to do in it?
Ken: No. Did you take it?
Me: Why the hell would I take a book that lists jobs you’re going to do for ME? The fact that you have such a book means that ONE DAY, you might eventually get around to them. Is the kitchen island you promised to make me last May in that book?
Ken: Oh yeah, the kitchen island…
Me: Here’s a thought—instead of making lists about the things you need to do, why don’t you tidy up your desk so you can find your little books?
Ken: Tidying up my desk is in THIS book. It’s called “Chores I Need To Do”…
Me: Sigh.

Friday: Math. I give up.

On Friday, Ken and I were having a discussion about the newest educational fad: Growth Mindset. This is another fancy term, based on “brain research”, that people can learn to do things if they BELIEVE they can do them. So you can see why it’s so fancy and all—pretty complex stuff. And you can also see why Boards of Education are spending money like crazy to teach people how to implement it in the classroom. I’m sure there’s nothing more motivating to a struggling student than telling them “If you can see it, you can be it!” (Growth Mindset sounds suspiciously like the lyrics to an R. Kelly song. He believed he could fly, although I don’t think it worked out for him, kind of like math for me). I wish my high school math teacher had quoted Boyz to Men to me—for sure, I’d be a quantum physicist now, instead of a smartass who can’t figure out what half of ¾ of a cup of flour is (I just eyeball it). Anyway, I was like, “So after years of NOT being able to do complicated math, if I only BELIEVE hard enough that I can do it, I’ll be able to learn it?” Ken assured me that it was true. But that night I had a nightmare where I was trying to do math, and f*cking it up royally. Then suddenly, the numbers all turned into little roasting chickens in their own casserole dishes, and instead of doing math, I was basting them with a red wine sauce that I had made, and worrying that they were going to dry out in the oven. Even my subconscious knows where my strengths are.

 

Week 46: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

In a continuation of our Spanish adventure, I’m dedicating this week’s blog to the modes of transportation that I had to endure in order to a) get to Spain b) get around Spain c) get home from Spain:

Planes

I hate the airport. All airports. They’re chaotic, noisy, and there are people there who can strip-search you if they overhear you making a little joke about terrorists. The last time I was flying out of Toronto, I got into trouble because I had a small manicure kit in my purse, and it was confiscated by a very surly security guard. I really wanted to say, “What kind of dumbass terrorist would I have to be to think I could bring down a plane by brandishing a nail clipper?!”, but I didn’t. Strip-search fear, y’all. I guess the paranoia is understandable, given today’s international political climate, but things are still very extreme eg: having to put all your liquids (in no more than 100 ml. quantities) in a clear plastic bag so they can be viewed easily. I would dearly love to know what kind of bomb I could possibly make with shampoo, conditioner, and hand sanitizer. You’ve heard of dirty bombs? I guess this would be a “clean” bomb. It would spray all over you and make you more hygienic than you were before you got on the plane (which is good because planes are gross). Except I have no idea how something like that could be detonated. Mostly because I’m NOT A TERRORIST! And water? God forbid you might want to bring some water through security instead of paying $5 for a bottle once you get into the “duty-free area” (which in Canada, means you’re paying pretty much the same as you would in a convenience store). Personally, I think the easiest way to determine if someone has water or gel explosive (is that even a thing? I have no actual knowledge of bomb stuff) would be to just make the person drink it in front of you. I’m pretty sure that would separate the merely thirsty from the blood-thirsty. Who the hell would swallow something that could blow people up? In the line ahead of us, there was a poor young girl who was having her bag thoroughly searched. Finally, the security guard help up in triumph a small box. He opened it and produced a tiny brooch, which he immediately confiscated. Sorry, Grandma—the souvenir pin I got you in Canada was considered a lethal weapon. Here’s a $5 bottle of water instead.

So, in order to get to Spain, Ken, T, and I had to go through security. I immediately set off the scanner. The female security guard was unimpressed, and demanded that I take off my belt and my rings. I went through again, and it went off again. “It’s that bangle you’re wearing,” she sighed.
“It can’t be that,” I said. “It’s sterling silver. It’s from Tiffany’s.”
“Fine,” she rolled her eyes. “Try again.” The scanner went off again. “Gimme the bangle,” she sighed more heavily.
I gave her the bracelet and this time, sure enough, I made it through.
“I TOLD you it was the bangle,” she said smugly. “You might want to talk to Tiffany’s about that.”

In the meantime, however, T had also set off the scanner and was the lucky recipient of a full body scan. Which, three times in a row, showed that he had something adjacent to his right thigh that was causing a problem. He’d already emptied out his pockets, and they couldn’t figure out what it was. “Sometimes, if there’s something that’s just bigger than everything else, it’ll set off the alarm,” said the male security guard. Ken and I were initially all like “Hells yeah! That’s our son!”, but then the guard said to T, “But I’m going to have to pat you down. Come with me.” At which point, I got really upset at the whole ridiculous thing and said, “You can’t just take him away with you—he’s a minor!” (which is hilarious because he’s 6’1” and has a full beard), so they let Ken go with him. It all ended up OK though—according to Ken, the security guard gave him a few karate chop style pats to the groin area, then winked and said, “You’re good, buddy.” Hells yeah.

Once we were through security though, the real fun began. Our plane was delayed because of lightning, and Air Canada switched our gate 4 times. Without announcing it. Every so often, T would go up to the display board and say, “We’re back to Gate 79” or “They’ve changed us to 81 again.” It was a great distraction though—we never knew when we were going to have to run the length of the airport, dragging our luggage behind us, with all the other passengers on our plane trying to lap us—it should be a new Pan Am sport: The 500 meter Airport Dash. We finally got ONTO the plane well after midnight, but wait—we still couldn’t take off because one of the other passengers was drunk and the flight crew had to make him and his wife get off the plane on the grounds that “we don’t know how you’ll react in the air”, which I assumed to mean “we don’t want you puking up your guts in this sealed metal tube”. But how the hell do you even GET hammered at the airport? I had one glass of wine and it was $15 f*cking dollars! I can’t AFFORD to get hammered at the airport. I just hold out for the free wine on the plane and make Ken get another one that I can drink later. Of course, he gets all whiny like “But I want apple juice. I don’t even like wine,” so I wait until he’s asleep and order FOR him.

The flight itself was extremely turbulent, which made me realize I should NEVER have started re-watching Lost a few days before, and that kicking out that drunk guy was a REALLY good idea, but we finally arrived. Getting INTO a country is pretty easy—well, it is in Spain anyway. No one gave us a second look, and suddenly, we were on our way.

Automobiles

We rented a car, and while the Enterprise rep was going over the details with us, he asked if we wanted a GPS for 6 Euros a day. Ken immediately said no, but I overrode him on the grounds that he regularly gets lost on the way to the cottage, and I wasn’t taking any chances in a foreign country of ending up on some unpaved back road (which happened anyway but that’s another story). The GPS was fantastic in terms of telling us how to get to places, but it had its quirks. First, it was programmed with an extremely posh female British accent. It was comforting and authoritative at first, but we soon realized that although its English was perfect, it couldn’t speak any Spanish, and pronounced the names of streets in a robotic, phonetical way that made no sense:

GPS: At the next roundabout, take the third exit to YO QUIERO TACO BELL! WHEE!
Me: I think that means Calle del Fernandes. Don’t quote me though. Just take the third exit.

Ken drove like a boss, up and down narrow cobble-stone streets and major highways. The car was a standard, which I was incapable of driving, having had an early, scarring experience trying to learn standard on my Dad’s Pinto (“First gear! FIRST GEAR! Ach, you’ve stalled it again!”), so Ken did all the driving. Our only problem was the second day, when we had to back up to get out of a parking space, and Ken realized that he didn’t know how to put the gearshift into Reverse. We tried all the regular, human ways of doing it, but ended up having to call Enterprise, after trying to translate the car’s Spanish user guide, and were told (after waiting for them to find someone who spoke English) that there was a ring on the gearshift that you had to pull up to make the car go backwards. Obviously.

Trains

I already talked about the train we took last week, so I won’t get into it too much again, except to say that the train station was even more chaotic than the airport. You know it’s a problem when there are information booths everywhere, and the line-ups at each one have at least 50 people in them. No one seemed to have a clue where to go, not even the Spanish people. We were finally able to ask an attendant where we should go to buy a ticket, because even THAT was not apparent, and he said what sounded like, “Go past the tropical garden.” But we were inside a train station, and it made no sense so we kept walking to the next information office, where I was required to take a number to be served. My number was B554. The counter was currently serving B778. I’ve never been good at math, but it didn’t seem that I would be getting served anytime soon judging by the number of people who were sitting on the floor since all the chairs were taken. In the meantime though, Ken and T had found machines where you could buy a ticket, and we finally found the place where they keep the trains, which meant another round of bag x-rays and body scanners. We tried to ask the female security guard which platform our train would be at, but she kept looking away from us, mumbling something, and pointing at her eye, which I interpreted as “I can’t see you. You’re not really here. Stop haunting me.”

After a great day in Toledo, we got back on the train and arrived at the Madrid train station. As we were taking the escalator down to the subway level, I suddenly saw a grove of huge palm trees up ahead. Tropical garden indeed.

Planes again

The Madrid airport is a bit quieter and smaller than Toronto, which is weird because Madrid is a much bigger city than Toronto. The biggest difference though was the presence of civilian guards carrying machine guns and questioning people. There was very limited seating, so Ken, T, and I found spots by a gate two down from Air Canada. When we realized the armed guards were confronting people and asking to see their passports, we realized that we were at the gate for somewhere in the Middle East, and I thought it would be better to just stand by the Canadian gate than sit down anywhere else. When I pointed this out to Ken, he accused me of “stereotyping” but I was like “Hey—I’m not the one with the machine gun and the paranoia.” Never a good combination.

It was supposed to be my lucky day–at least that’s what the security guard cheerfully told me as she pulled me aside for a pat-down: “You’ve been randomly selected–it’s your lucky day!” but things didn’t go very smoothly. After a series of bizarre delays—another plane was late so ours couldn’t leave Madrid on time, our luggage was taking a long time to load because of unspecified “issues”, the plane waiting to take off from our spot at the Toronto airport had a “missing passenger” and had to wait until he was found, the bridge which attaches the plane to the airport wasn’t working—I thought I was going to lose my mind. It was probably a 12 hour trip from beginning to end (mostly because Ken insisted that we get to the airport three hours ahead of time, two hours of which constituted trying to find a place to sit and then listening to a very large and overenthusiastic group of twenty-something “camp leaders” discussing their Spanish exploits–“Dude!” “Dude, really?” “Dude! No way!”– the majority of which had less to do with camping or children, and more to do with getting wasted and surfing–turns out they were heading back to British Columbia. They don’t call it the  California of the North for nothing, y’all).

The highlight of the return trip home, however, was when we went through customs and the young guy in the booth looked at our passports, then asked, “What’s the reason for you being here in Canada?” How do you even respond to that kind of stupidity? He’s looking AT my passport, which shows I’m a Canadian citizen, and it shows my address is in CANADA. Why the hell do you THINK I’m here?! But I just politely said, “We’re going home. We live here.” No strip-searches for this lady.

 

My Week 45: Adventures in Spain, My Son Totally Gets Me

Sorry about the delay in this post, but I’ve been on vacation. So the theme of this week’s blog is “Spain And All The Crazy Sh*t We Learned About It”.

Ken and I decided to take a trip for our 25th anniversary, and we had a family meeting. “Where do we want to go?” we asked. T immediately suggested Spain, because he’s taking Spanish in school and wanted to practice speaking to real Spanish people instead of other teenagers who were equally limited in their ability to converse in another language. Ken and I had no real preference, and since we’d never been to Spain, we thought it was a good idea. In retrospect, it was an INTERESTING idea. Mostly because Spain is a very strange place. Don’t get me wrong—it’s a gorgeous country with lovely people, but it certainly has its quirks. So here are some of the more annoying things about Spain, from a Canadian’s point of view. And let me just qualify this first by saying that a) I HAVE actually been to other countries b) we were in 8 different cities across Spain so I’m not just making a sweeping generalization based on one place and c) I realize that foreign tourists to Canada probably think we’re weird too:

1) Everyone in Spain speaks Spanish

While this might seem like an obvious statement to make, what I mean is that very few people speak anything OTHER than Spanish. In a country renowned for its tourist industry, I was expecting that people who regularly worked WITH tourists, like waiters, hotel staff, and souvenir shop owners might be capable of speaking a teeny bit of English, or French, or anything else for that matter. But out of 8 cities, which were all tourist-y destinations, it was amazing how few people were able to say or understand the most simple English words. Like the cab driver in Madrid, who regularly takes people to the airport, but who was unable to tell us the cost of the trip or ask what terminal we were going to in English. I’m not Anglo-centric by any stretch, and I certainly don’t assume that everyone in the world should all speak English just for my convenience, but it struck me as odd that people who rely so heavily on tourists make so little effort to communicate with them. It worked to our advantage though—by the end of the trip, I knew more Spanish than most Spaniards know English, and I could say all the important stuff, like Uno vino blanco, por favor (one white wine please), Uno mas (one more), Quande questo… (how much…), Donde esta el bagno? (where’s the bathroom), and several other handy phrases. Spanish isn’t that hard actually, and once you realize that Spanish people don’t pronounce words even REMOTELY like our phrase book told us to, we were all good, saying Grathias instead of Gracias, and substituting “th” every time a word had a “c” or other random letters like “z” in it. Our phrase book wasn’t much help at all, actually—it seemed like more of a joke book, or like the guy who wrote it, Rick Steves, just enjoys f*cking with tourists. For example, under the “Ordering Food” section, the last entry was “Solo como insectos”, which means “I only eat insects”. In what possible world, or restaurant, would you EVER say that?! He also gave translations for things like “This is better than sex” (when a waiter asks you how the food was, which didn’t happen very often because they really don’t seem to care), “Can I buy your hat?” (to a police officer who has pulled you over for speeding, and who will most certainly find you endearing and charming when you say THAT), and many other bizarre statements and responses that might just get you thrown in a Spanish jail. The best part was that the word for “pickpocket” was in almost every section of the book, and I had to wonder if maybe Rick Steves was all pissed because he got his wallet stolen in Spain and this book was his revenge.

2) The Spanish schedule is insane

As I said before, for a country that relies so heavily on tourists for its income, Spanish people seem to have very little interest in accommodating them. In fact, the Spanish schedule seems deliberately designed to discourage tourists. In every city we visited, this was the typical day: nothing opened until 10 or 10:30 in the morning, everything closed down for “siesta time” at 2:00 pm until around 5:30 (or until people FELT like re-opening), and even then, the vast majority of restaurants wouldn’t serve FOOD until 9 pm. People eat dinner in Spain at 10 o’clock at night! Thousands of tourists roaming around, and everything locked up tight. I don’t know how they get anything done, or make any money, but they seem very happy sleeping and drinking all afternoon while the rest of us wander around, starving and lonely. We spent our first two days in Toledo, an absolutely beautiful place, but it’s a ghost town until at least 8 o’clock at night. We couldn’t buy food on the first day because the grocery stores were closed, and the vast majority of restaurants (like LITERALLY hundreds because it’s a tourist town) don’t serve food after 2 in the afternoon. I discovered that Doritos and pistachio nuts really ARE the breakfast of champions—and quite often, also the lunch of champions.

3) The Spanish Diet. Whut?

I can’t believe that Spanish people aren’t regularly dropping dead in the streets—they’re like heart attacks waiting to happen, based on the stuff they eat. Cured meat, eggs, and fried potatoes—I could feel my arteries hardening after three days, and after 6 days, I started craving broccoli. Seriously. I have never seen so much meat in my life—every city we went to had an even more bizarre kind. In Toledo, every restaurant had a deer leg propped on the bar. If you wanted cured venison, a guy would slice you off some. From the deer leg. On the bar. WITH A HOOF. As we got further north, it was like each city was trying to outdo each other in terms of what disgusting things were on the menu. There was a phrase in our Rick Steve’s Guide to Spain that at first seemed like a joke—“I don’t want anything with eyeballs”—but no, it was actually legit. Suckling Lamb. Suckling Pig. Tripe. Pork Cheeks. Whole Rabbit. Bull Testicles. Fried Cow Foot. In Avila, I ordered “Plate of cold assorted cured meats and cheeses”, just to try it, thinking it would be chorizo, or prosciutto—something normal. After eating one of the two meats on the plate (neither cold NOR assorted), I realized I was eating someone’s brain. (Ken said I wasn`t, but it tasted and had the texture of what I imagine a brain to be, and then I started to worry about mad cow disease, or becoming a zombie). Of course, the big thing in Spain is something called “Tapas”, which apparently means “small dishes of animal parts with maybe some cheese from a sheep”. It was rare that there were any actual vegetables on the menu, and if it said “vegetables”, you had to be careful, because it didn’t always mean ACTUAL vegetables—the menus were very loosely translated into a pseudo-English, and the servers mostly didn`t know what you were ordering unless you pointed at the English and tried to find the corresponding item on the Spanish menu. In Segovia, I ordered a dish that came with “steamed vegetables”—by this time I was seriously in need a carrot, or SOMETHING without feet or eyeballs, but when it came, it was just a limp mound of shredded onion and cabbage. So I ended up eating a lot of fried potatoes, or tortilla, which isn`t actually a tortilla, but a kind of quiche with eggs and more potatoes. We DID have some really good meals though, but mostly in Italian style restaurants, or places that specialized in grilled beef. Plus, the wine was either super-cheap, or actually came WITH the meal, so after a while, you didn`t really care what you were eating and the eyeballs started to look rather friendly.

4) Spanish Tourist Sites

The one thing we noticed about a LOT of tourist sites was that, although the admission prices to everything were WAY cheaper than Canada (7 Euros to get in to the Royal Palace, which is absolutely stunning, was built in the late 1700s and houses some of the most priceless Spanish treasures, versus $30 to get into Ripley’s Aquarium in Toronto, which has fish) there was incredibly high security that you had to go through in order to see them. It was bad enough that we had to ALL show our passports to every hotel concierge in order to register for a room, but the museums and art galleries were all really heavily guarded. To get into a lot of them, you had to have your bag x-rayed, then go through a body scanner. It was especially bad at the Museo del Prado in Madrid, where there were cops and army guys on the streets all around it, carrying machine guns. Yes. F*cking MACHINE GUNS. For an ART GALLERY. Did it make me feel safer? No. It did not. Of course, most of the artwork is very heavily religious, with a multitude of depictions of Jesus—baby Jesus, crucified Jesus, haloed Jesus, and of course our personal favourite, Giant Badass Jesus (from the Toledo Cathedral)—but also some very weird paintings of the Virgin Mary, who apparently had tremendous aim and could launch her breast milk across a room at people, according to several paintings we saw. I don’t know if that’s a legitimate superpower, but I could totally see her in The Avengers.

5) Spanish Toilets

All I’m going to say is “Newsflash, Spanish Ladies. The rest of us learned a long time ago that you can’t actually catch diseases from toilet seats. If you REALLY don’t want to sit directly on it, please just line it with toilet paper like the rest of us, rather than crouching above it and peeing all over it, which just makes things nasty for everyone, or putting the seat up and peeing right into the bowl, which means now I have to touch the seat WITH MY HANDS to put it back down.” Enough about that topic. Public bathrooms are gross no matter where you live.

Overall, it was a fantastic trip—we saw some amazing things, met some great people, ate weird food, learned to function in a foreign language, and it all made us appreciate being home so much more. And at 2:15 today, I’m going grocery shopping. Just because I can. I love you, Canada.

Monday: I realize that my son is the best son in the world

On Monday, Ken, T, and I decided to take the high speed train from Madrid to Toledo for a day trip. Anyone who knows me well knows that I always plan for the worst case scenario, and because I’ve heard of instances where high speed trains derail and kill everyone on board, I spent the first few minutes on board coming up with a solution.

Me: I have to tell you something.
T: What?
Me: If the train starts to derail, you need to turn around in your seat, wrap your arms around the headrest, and brace your feet against something. That way you won’t be thrown around the train car, which is how most people die.
T (looks up at the headrest): OK.
Me: Aren’t you going to make fun of me for worrying about it?
T: Why would I do that? It’s good to have a plan for everything.

Yep. I raised him right.

My Week 44: Raven Goes To The Vet, The Neighbours Battle It Out

Thursday: Raven goes to the vet

On Thursday morning, around 10:00 am, Ken suddenly said to me, “Have you seen Raven? I haven’t seen her all morning.” And it was weird because I hadn’t either, and normally, she’s around doing her usual routine, eating, pooping, then sleeping in a sunny spot on a chair, or jumping into your lap when you least expect it or have shorts on. So we started going around the house, calling for her in the high-pitched soft voice that she likes. Normally, she answers right away, and comes to see what we want, but this time we went all over the house, and there was no sign of her anywhere. Ken wondered if she could have gotten outside, and he reminded me that I might have left the door open very early that morning when I went to get my shoes from the middle of the front lawn (I may or may not have had a couple of drinks), but I reminded HIM that there’s a screen door that swings shut, so no. Plus Raven HATES the outdoors. The only time she ever accidentally got out, I found her sitting on the front step looking longingly back at the door, and when I opened it, she ran right back in. Regardless, I threw on some clothes and started walking around the neighbourhood, calling for her and looking under bushes. To the untrained eye, I probably seemed a little unhinged, but I was starting to panic. What if she got out of the house, and some random stranger saw her and took her? While the joke would be on him—two litter boxes and a tendency to pee on bathmats and antique rugs—she’s a beautiful purebred Persian, and would tempt anyone. But worse, what if someone kidnapped her and held her for ransom? Ken would never agree to pay—as we all know, according to Ken, paying kidnappers just encourages them.

When I got back to the house, I was initially relieved when Ken said he’d found her. But he found her hiding under the bed in the guest room, and she wouldn’t come out. When we finally managed to pull her out to make sure she was OK, she took off downstairs and hid under the piano. One of her eyes looked weepy, and she wouldn’t go near anyone. She spent the rest of the day under OUR bed, and wouldn’t eat or drink anything. She also didn’t use the litter box all day, which, for little Miss Poopy Pants, is highly unusual. So at 6 o’clock, I insisted that Ken call the vet. We took her in a little while later and guess what? Absolutely nothing wrong with her. So when we got home, we had a somewhat heated conversation. Raven and me, that is.

Me: What the hell was that all about?
Raven: Don’t even get me started.
Me: I thought you were sick!
Raven: More fool you, then. Did it ever occur to you that maybe I was a little pissed about the way you acted this morning?
Me: This morning..? You mean when I caught you drinking out of Mishima’s tank?
Raven: You yelled at me.
Me: You were drinking out of the FISH TANK! It’s disgusting!
Raven: Disgusting? I’m a CAT! Everything I DO is disgusting. I poo in a box, I throw up hairballs, I lick my own ass. Suddenly we’re drawing the line at drinking out of the fish tank? Give me a break!
Me: Well, you were scaring the fish.
Raven: Bullsh*t. That fish isn’t scared of anything. You should hear the way he talks. He was in ‘Nam.
Me: No, he wasn’t “in ‘Nam”! God, I wish he would stop telling people that! I looked all over the neighbourhood for you—people thought I was nuts.
Raven: Serves you right. Besides, my day was no walk in the park. How would you like to have a thermometer shoved up your ass? And “subcutaneous fluids”? Did you know that means a needle in the vein? I thought for a second that it was the end. I was so freaked out that I peed all over the table! It was very undignified.
Me: I can’t believe that I just spent $229.00 at the vet’s because you were sulking… Raven: Now we’re putting a price on love? You could at least thank me for the free urine test.
Me: You’re a jerk.
Raven: Come here and give me a cuddle.
Me: Screw you….oh, all right.

She’s fine today, back to her old diva-ish self. And from now on, if she wants to drink out of the fish tank, I’ll let Mishima deal with her. Apparently he has combat experience.

Friday: The neighbours go crazy and the cops don’t mind

Last night, Ken came in from walking Titus around 11 o’clock and said, “Some of the neighbours across the corner on main street are having a screaming match. It’s been going on for a while and it sounds pretty serious.” T and I had been watching Aliens (with Sigourney Weaver), and there’s a LOT of screaming and explosions in that movie—about half an hour too many to be honest—so we hadn’t heard anything, but sure enough, when I turned off the TV, I could hear a lot of commotion, and by commotion, I mean people screaming F*ck at each other A LOT. So we did what any reasonable people would do—we watched and listened out the windows. We couldn’t really see much, the two houses involved being a good 200 feet away and partially blocked by trees, but we could see there was a bit of a crowd. And we could DEFINITELY hear what was going on. Namely two guys (we know who they are, but you won’t, so we’ll call them Gas Station Kid and Restaurant Daughter’s Husband) going at it in grand style, while onlookers (mostly female from the sound of it) screamed at each of them, thusly:

Kid: This is why your f*ing wife left you!
Husband: Get the f*ck off my property!
Kid: You’re a f*ing asshole!
Husband: Bring it on, mother*cker!
Woman: You shut the f*ck up!

And so on. It was kind of amusing at first, but then it got a little scary, as things started to get more heated and seemed to be moving from posturing to actual violence, at which point, I said to Ken, “Do you think we should call 911?” Just as I said it though, there was a tussle, a girl screamed, someone was yelling Help!, a child started crying, and one of the onlookers yelled, “Call 911! Call 911!” so I figured THAT was taken care of. While we waited for the police to arrive, we gleaned from the continued screaming that one of the men, not sure which, had hit one of the female bystanders who, according to the guy, had come at him and hit him first, so it was technically self-defence, and that he had “never done anything like that in his f*ing life” (hit a woman? hit anyone? annoyed his neighbours? It wasn’t clear). Then we saw lights coming, and were initially relieved, but the light was green and mounted on the dashboard of a pick-up truck, which means only one thing.

“WTF!” I said to Ken. “They’ve dispatched a VOLUNTEER FIREFIGHTER to this mess?!”

I could only imagine the poor schlub behind the wheel, thinking he was going to check out a potential accident or fire, and arriving at THAT scene. Needless to say, he stayed in the truck—who could blame him? It was definitely above his pay grade, being a volunteer who didn’t actually GET paid and all—and his presence had no effect AT ALL on the street war. After about ten minutes of more screaming, door slamming, and threats like, “How’d you like it if one hundred f*cking Harley Davidsons pulled up to your door?!” (was it a noise threat? because those things are LOUD), we saw more lights. Could it finally be the police? But no. This time it was a firetruck. A single firetruck, a tanker truck to be more specific, which drove past the scene, past our house, then turned around and parked at the corner of the main street. “What do you think the plan is?” asked Ken. “Are they going to water cannon them?”

The firetruck seemed to be a little more intimidating though—and I say FIRETRUCK as opposed to FIREFIGHTERS, because, just like the volunteer vehicle, no one got out of it and it was just SITTING there—the crowd began to disperse, and people started to disappear into their respective houses. Within a few minutes, the street was silent, the only movement the flashing red lights of the fire truck. After another ten minutes, during which Ken and I had gone to bed, we could hear the firetruck leaving, so Ken went to see if that meant the police had finally shown up. Nope. Now don’t get me wrong—I have tremendous respect for the police and what they do, but in a case like this—two hours of screaming and swearing, at least one assault, children crying, and threats being made— I would have hoped the cops would be the FIRST to be dispatched to the scene, not a volunteer firefighter from town whose job is most definitely NOT breaking up mobs of angry, violent people. This morning, everything is calm, mainly because it’s early and no one is up yet, but who knows what the day will bring. One hundred f*cking Harley Davidsons, maybe.