Today, my suitcase came down from the attic so I can start packing for Spain. I can’t tell you what a thrill it is to type those words. But I feel compelled to follow them with ¡Ojala! — a Spanish term meaning roughly “God willing and the Covid don’t rise.” Not only do Rich and I have a thousand things to accomplish before we go, but to add to the suspense, the Spanish government won’t send us their final entry rules, pandemic regulations, and instructions until 48 hours before our flight.
“I don’t care if they want us to tattoo the Spanish flag on our foreheads,” I told Rich. “We’re doing whatever it takes to get on that plane.”
Rich didn’t answer because, as usual nowadays, he was staring off into the distance, running through mental checklists. Yesterday over lunch he told me he’d had the furnace, air conditioning, and hot-water-on-demand systems serviced and bought something called a battery tickler. I thought this sounded rather exciting, but it turned out to be merely a device to keep trickling energy into the car battery while we’re gone. He also bought a gas storage solution he’ll add to the car’s tank to keep the fuel fresh. What? Gasoline goes bad? I decided not to ask, as my eyes were already glazing over and I felt in imminent danger of dozing off…
I jerked wide awake when he mentioned the skunks.
Oh yes, they’re back. We’d ousted our skunks with non-stop talk radio, then blocked off their den under the shed and saturated the area with ammonia-doused rags, bowls of vinegar, and blood meal, which we’d heard would keep them at bay. But apparently our skunks are made of sterner stuff, because as soon I switched off the radio, they returned. On Saturday friends told us of a service that removed their skunks for $1200.
“Worth every penny!” they said.
“Hmmm,” said Rich. “I wonder how much it would cost to just keep the radio on?”
I looked it up. Running a radio for an hour takes 0.02 kWh, and while I don’t pretend to understand what that is, I quickly grasped the fact it translates to less than a penny an hour. Six months of non-stop radio would cost $43.83.
“I rest my case,” Rich said.
He continued reviewing our pre-launch checklist: the best place to get our Covid test (required by the UK to fly through Heathrow), logistics of transport to SFO (Uber to the shuttle), and weight restrictions on cabin baggage (to be researched). I reported I'd retouched the kitchen cupboards, a task that had been on the to-do list since the day we arrived back from Spain in May of 2020.
Focusing (OK, obsessing) on the details is one way Rich and I cope with the emotional fallout of departure. Going back and forth between California and Seville for 16 years, we've become used to the disruption, but the past 16 months in California are the longest we’ve ever stayed in one place. We’ve gotten pretty comfortable, if not downright set in our ways.
“I always find leaving home difficult, especially after so long,” Rich remarked, topping up our glasses of wine during Sunday lunch in the garden. “There are always some pangs of resistance. But I remind myself that once we close that door, the world will open up to us.”
I, for one, am more than ready to live in a larger world. There are many, many things I’ll miss about America, including family, friends, the astonishing efficiency of online ordering, and of course, take-out burritos. But I am exhausted by the emotional pitch of our nation these days.
For instance, the Republicans are pushing to recall our governor, Gavin Newsom, and replace him with an anti-mask, anti-vaccine, climate-change-denying talk show host from LA. So I’ve been standing at a busy intersection at rush hour, holding up signs urging people to vote against the recall. While most people wave and honk in support, even thank me with tears in their eyes, I always get a few hecklers. Last week, four youths pulled up in a car and began shouting, “Sieg heil! Sieg heil!” Did they mean I’m a Nazi or they are? Another guy berated me for being “unconstitutional.” Hey, freedom of speech is literally guaranteed by the US Constitution, mister!
But while the messaging may be sloppy and ill-considered, it is delivered with full fury. Americans are terrified and they are lashing out. A major survey showed in 2014 American’s top fears were public speaking, heights, and bugs. Today we’re afraid we’re that last generation to inhabit a livable planet, the rest of our lives will be governed by runaway contagion, and democracy could come unglued on our watch. This is terrifying stuff. And if I’ve learned anything during the pandemic, it’s this: fear with a target becomes anger. That’s why people are shouting at me from car windows. And that’s what I won’t miss when I’m in Seville.
One of the things I love about Spain is watching people hotly debate political issues — often with a great deal of leaping up, gesticulating, and shouting — after which they sit down and say cheerfully, “So, another beer?” And chat about soccer and their kids. They consider it their God-given right to criticize the government; 36 years of Franco’s repressive dictatorship taught them the value of democracy and free speech.
Another delightful feature of life abroad is that on the very rare occasions when somebody does yell at me in the street, I can never quite catch what they’re saying. So I always assume they’re wishing me a long and happy life, and I wave back and go about my day smiling.
What else will I be glad to leave behind? My disaster preparedness go-kits. Between wildfires (which have already taken 2 million acres of my state this year, including 44 acres near me), recurring floods in my town, and earthquakes, I live in a constant state of readiness for biblical-level catastrophe. I’ve stocked the Apocalypse Chow Food Locker and packed go-kits with supplies ranging from spare spectacles to rain boots to a miner’s headlamp for digging through rubble at night. In Seville, I’m equipped for any likely scenario if I carry a few euros and a light sweater. A bit more relaxing.
So when Rich hauled the suitcases down today, my heart lightened. Next week I will be back in Seville, an ancient city that’s constantly reinventing itself while remaining true to its essential nature: a vibrant community where family and friends matter more than careers, people sing and dance in the street, and politcial arguments can end in cold beers and laughter. To get there, we’ll pass through London and land in Spain’s coastal city of Málaga, “the land of poets,” one of whom dubbed the city “a martini of the sea.” What does that mean? No idea, but I’m hoping to learn while we overnight there. The next morning we’ll take the train to Seville, stroll to our apartment, and (as we always do after a long absence) begin falling in love with the city all over again. Can’t wait.
Amigos: I won’t be posting in the next couple of weeks, as I’ll be in transit and then running around trying to get my wifi reconnected and my residency card renewed. When possible, I’ll post on my Facebook page, so check there for updates. Wish us luck!
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I'm an American travel writer based in Spain and currently living in California.
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