Spanish jam

No, despite the title and the picture, this isn’t another post about food. It’s about the jam session that is our life right now. I’m not musical enough to have participated in a conventional jam session, but I know it’s a gathering where musicians come together and improvise. Living abroad, and in a country where the primary language isn’t English, is proving to be similar.

Now, I recognize that improvisation isn’t unique to life in a foreign country. When our kids were little, we rented a cabin in Big Sur for a quiet week in the woods. The cabin came stocked with a crib, which was great, but it didn’t have any pans. Zero. As scrambled eggs were must-haves on our children’s menus, this presented a big problem. And the local store – literally the only one for miles around – wanted $18 for a frying pan! Suspecting a conspiracy between landlord and shopkeeper, I was having none of the expensive pan that would duplicate what was already at home. So we bought Jiffy Pop, took it back to the cabin, popped the popcorn, scrubbed the little pan the Jiffy Pop comes in, and had ourselves a frying pan. Take that, price-gouging conspirators!

Life here has called for that kind of creativity as well. Let me give you an example. We had company over a couple of times last week, so of course we cleaned house. We’ve placed a rug we bought at the local market in our living room (“the lounge”), and it needed cleaning. (A vacuum is coming from; cross your fingers that we ordered correctly and don’t end up with a life-size cutout of Elvis or a case of Drano or heaven only knows what.) Having seen the entirety of Downtown Abbey and therefore being an expert on non-machine dependent cleaning, I decided to schlep the rug out to the balcony and make like Michael Jackson, i.e., beat it. Astonishingly, it turns out that modern normal Spanish household accouterments do not include rug beaters. Hmm. Time is ticking away, company is coming, and a shopping trip for Edwardian utensils is out of the question. So what’s the item in the house that looks most like a rug beater? The answer was the pictured spoon, and it did quite a nice job if I do say so myself. Now, that’s the jamming I’m talking about.

Some jamming does involve machines, of course. On an early trip to the grocery store, I searched high and low for dishwasher detergent. I’d hoped to find a familiar brand, but no such luck. Not knowing the word for “dishwasher” and not yet having a phone that worked in Spain, I asked a store employee to show  me “la jabon para limpiar los platos y vasos.” (That translates, I hope, as “soap to clean the plates and glasses.”) She kindly showed me the liquid detergent meant for hand wash, which was not what I needed. What to do? Summoning all the vocabulary that I had, I told her, “gracias, pero no, quiero jabon para una maquina” (“Thanks, but no, I want soap for a machine”). Blank stare ensues from store employee. Okay, let’s try sound effects: “Quiero jabon para una maquina que limpia los platos y vasos – like, errrr, errrr, errrr (this is me making a dishwasher sound).” Remarkably, this worked, and she led me over to the packages of Fairy dishwasher detergent. What fairies have to do with dishwashers eludes me, but the platos and vasos are now limpia, so it’s all good.

And okay, I said this post wasn’t about food, but maybe a little of it is. As I told you in an earlier post, our oven is rather a diva. This became apparent when I scorched the bottoms of the first dozen cookies I made. The oven and I came to terms and better cookies followed, but what on earth are we to do with all of these blackened cookies? We’re not in a faith community that looks for burnt offerings, and the seagulls here are sufficiently aggressive already that I didn’t want to encourage them. So I crumbled up the cookies and ate them as a totally decadent breakfast cereal. It’s actually delicious, and, as our older daughter noted when we told her about our improvisation, not too far removed from many children’s cereals. Count Chocula, anyone? We ate the last of them this morning, and I’m thinking of burning more cookies accidentally on purpose, which, BTW, is a phrase I learned from our younger daughter after she fell in the pool one afternoon. That’s another story for another day.

Some of our improvisations haven’t worked, of course; witness the rule of forefinger on the oven discussed in a previous entry. But some have actually worked quite well. When we got our bigger bed, we discovered that we did not have any blankets nearly large enough for it. We did, however, have two twin blankets, and they are now happily reposing under our comforter. This one for me, one for Mark system has eliminated nighttime games of bedding tug-of-war (notice how neatly I avoided having to figure out whether “tugs-of-war” is the plural) and promoted both gentle slumber and connubial bliss. That’s a sweet jam all around!

So we continue our Spanish jam, enjoying the small challenges that make our days so amusing. 4dc3b07c-904e-4630-963f-8f7f9f2d7fd3Some things will work, and some won’t. But figuring out this life is fun, and I hope you think, like I do, that it makes for a good story.



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