“I saw a bank that said ‘24-Hour Banking,’ but I don’t have that much time,” comedian Steven Wright once joked. Ha! To hardened veterans of the Spanish banking system like us, 24 hours sounds laughably swift. Rich and I have been trying to untangle an issue with our Seville bank for over a year, and last week was our final showdown.
The trouble started in January of 2021, when Rich and I were in the US and our residency cards were on the verge of expiring. Knowing this would cause our Spanish bank to freeze our account, we transferred all our money to an international bank, leaving 10€ in our checking account, and somehow just a single centimo (one cent) in savings. Last week, thinking we ought to tidy up our affairs by closing those frozen accounts for good, we made the 45-minute trek to the only local branch of our bank. There I explained that if they’d give us ten euros, we’d sign the closing papers and be on our way.
The clerk looked at me as if I’d asked him to hand over his wristwatch — or possibly his firstborn child — to settle the account. “Cash? We don’t handle cash. Transfer only.”
No cash? In a bank? Apparently it all happens online now. Don’t get me started.
Unfortunately we didn’t have our international bank’s transfer details handy, and a sort of discreet pandemonium ensued. After fifteen minutes of furious keyboard activity, the clerk announced he could transfer the money to UNICEF. Fine with us! I naively supposed the charity would also wind up receiving the savings account’s final penny, but no. The clerk explained in order to do that we would, inexplicably, have to reopen our account, a process which would involve a second visit to the bank within 48 hours. At the look of horror on my face, he took pity and offered this wise advice: “Just walk away.” And so we did, leaving our penny behind to fend for itself.
I love nearly all aspects of living in Seville, but I have to admit I’m glad to be done with the Spanish banking system. Rich and I will soon be heading to the US for the rest of the spring and summer, and as always in the run-up to departure, we’re reminding ourselves of the petty annoyances we’ll be happy to leave behind. These include line-dried towels that are stiff as boards no matter how much fabric softener I lavish on them; having to huddle over space heaters on chilly nights (yes, we get them here!); and the endless dust that comes from living in an old building in an ancient city filled with new construction projects.
Seville is in a flurry of preparations for the floods of visitors expected soon for the spring festivals, Holy Week and Feria. Paint cans, tarps, and tools litter the sidewalks as hopeful owners spruce up store fronts, restaurants, and hotels, restoring them to their pre-pandemic glory. The atmosphere is one of cheerful bustle, and I often hear workmen singing as they push carts filled with beer barrels and grocery deliveries through the streets.
In the midst of all this normality, it’s hard to believe that just 2500 miles away, another European country is at war with Russia. Sevillanos have been holding demonstrations of solidarity, chanting “Ucrania es Europa”(Ukraine is Europe). Measures large and small are being taken to poke the Russian bear in the nose. Zara’s parent company, Inditex, closed 502 Russian stores. Spain’s Royal Opera House canceled the Bolshoi Ballet. The Mobile World Congress in Barcelona dropped the Russian pavilion. I expect any day now to hear that the Spanish are changing the name of Ensalada Rusa (the potato-based, mayonnaise-laden Russian Salad) to Ukrainian Freedom Potatoes.
A few nights ago over dinner, a friend asked if I thought nuclear war was coming. No, I don’t (touch wood!). But it’s certainly less absolutely inconceivable than it was a month ago, and that’s making everyone justifiably jittery. Fortunately for my ability to sleep at night, military experts are saying it’s highly unlikely that nukes will be deployed. More selfishly, I’m reassured by the fact that Seville is 2500 miles away from the action. Rich and I don't feel any immediate need to brush up on the duck-and-cover skills we learned as kids, although I do find myself eyeing my Ikea desk and wondering how it would hold up in a bomb blast. Let’s hope we never have to put it to the test.
This week I’d originally planned to write a lighthearted post about International Happiness Day, which is coming up March 20. But right now that doesn’t seem to strike the right note. I’m reminded of the words of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, a woman who knew more than most about life’s joys and sorrows. “Don't wish me happiness,” she said. “I don't expect to be happy; it's gotten beyond that, somehow. Wish me courage and strength and a sense of humor — I will need them all.” And so will every one of us in the days ahead. But if we’ve learned anything in the last two years, it’s that we can cope with challenges that five minutes ago were unthinkable.
In other news, Rich and I depart for the US a week from Thursday. No, we are not fleeing Europe one step ahead of the Red Army; our tickets were purchased weeks before the invasion of Ukraine. As my regular readers know, Rich and I always spend part of the year in the US, and we arranged this trip to see family in New York and friends in Arizona, making up for visits too-long postponed due to the pandemic. We plan to spend the summer in California and return to Seville in September. We’ve renewed our Spanish residency cards and continue to cherish this city as our home.
But there’s a lot of wisdom in the old Yiddish adage Mann tracht, un Gott lacht (Man plans, and God laughs). The last time I organized a short visit to the States, back in May of 2020, it was 16 months before I could return to Seville. I don’t presume to know the mind of God, but I can tell you one thing for sure: that old trickster has a few more surprises in store for all of us. And you can take that to the bank.
I'll be on the road for the next few weeks, so I won't be posting on this blog.
Check out my Facebook page for updates on our travel adventures in NY, AZ & CA.
And hey, stay safe out there, everybody!
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3/8/2022 07:03:40 pm
Safe travels, Karen and Rich!
3/9/2022 07:58:20 am
Thanks, Nancy. From your lips to God's ear.
3/8/2022 09:00:10 pm
Viajes seguros and enjoy family and friends!
3/9/2022 07:59:54 am
Gracias, Trish. It will be great to see people after so long; Rich and I are really looking forward to catching up with everyone.
Paul O’Neill & Sue
3/9/2022 04:39:46 am
Karen & Rich,
3/9/2022 12:47:13 pm
Great to hear from you, Paul! It would be wonderful to see you and Sue again one of these days. Unfortunately our short visit is packed with family stuff in New Jersey and Connecticut, so we really don't have a spare moment. But we'll keep you two in mind if we swing through NYC again, and if you're ever in San Francisco during late spring and summer, let us know. In the meantime, enjoy Savana!
3/9/2022 04:57:10 am
Bob and I look forward to welcoming you and Rich to the Sonoran Desert soon. Traveling mercies.
3/9/2022 12:49:42 pm
Thanks, Dorothy! Rich wants to know if he should buy a 10-gallon hat for the occasion. I assured him 5 gallons would be enough. Looking forward to seeing you, Bob, and the Sonoran Desert soon! We have so much to catch up on, that's for sure.
3/10/2022 05:28:05 am
Courage, strength, and sense of humor is what we need. And I would like to add positive vibes and prayer for people of Ukraine.
3/12/2022 09:59:01 am
I'm with you, Faye. "Gifts from the Sea" was an important read for me, and I've always admired Anne Morrow Lindbergh's wisdom. I just downloaded what looks like an intelligent commentary on her work: "Gifts from the Spirit: Reflections on the Diaries and Letters of Anne Morrow Lindbergh." It starts off with this lovely quote from AML: "When one finds a person who has the same thoughts as yours you cry out for joy, you go and shake him by the hand. Your heart leaps as though you were walking in a street in a foreign land and you heard your own language spoken, or your name in a room full of strangers." What an amazing writer and thinker she was!
3/12/2022 04:46:25 pm
Thanks Karen. I’m looking forward to reading it!. Totally and absolutely agree with that quote!....its like coming home!
3/28/2022 11:54:50 am
My wife and I listened to you and Rich on a podcast on our flight home from Maui. It was so engaging and charming. And you and Rich seem like wonderful partners in life. We had a similar feeling about Sevilla as you described in your interview (Retire There), so we're just thrilled to hear your experiences. We are starting to think about this part of our future and we're delighted to find you both. Thanks so much for sharing your story!
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TO I'm an American travel writer based in Seville, Spain.
Wanderlust has taken me to more than 60 countries. Every week I provide travel tips and adventure stories to inspire your journeys and let you have more fun — and better food — on the road
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