It was Monday evening, and in about twelve hours, I would be flying to Frankfurt. This wasn’t one of those incredibly satisfying but tiring business trips that I do off and on; this was the fabled trip home. The entire concept of going back to the city I was born in was chocker with mixed emotions: I was looking forward to seeing my sons and their families. I was very excited about seeing my grandchildren. I was looking forward to seeing some very special friends whom I haven’t seen in what seems to be ages. But that was about as much as I could get excited about. Going back was not something I really was keen on doing. But I was going…and to quote something my father said to me many years ago, I would have a good time.
I was struggling to rationalise in my mind the whole flight thing. My tickets would take me from Palma to Frankfurt to Chicago. Now if you paid attention in geography class, you might recognise that Frankfurt is nowhere near a line that can be drawn between Palma and Chicago. But this is where we have found ourselves in this rapidly evolving technologically driven world of supply and demand. It was cheaper and made more sense by far for me to take a two-hour flight headed northeast, switch planes after a two-hour wait, and then fly west for nine hours. As I wrote this I began to seriously have a re-think about this logic. Yes, the delay between flights wasn’t too bad. Yes, I would not have to go through Heathrow, which since this summer has been one of the most chaotic places on the planet, with security rules changing almost as fast as planes could land and take off. Yes, this flight plan was actually cheaper than just about anything else I could find online that consisted of two flights that at least headed in the same direction. But no, it just seemed daft to go northeast just to catch a plane that was headed in the right direction.
The whole flying experience has changed so much since I took my first flight at the age of ten or so. Okay, fine. So even though it was fifty years ago; I can still remember what it was like. You would get to the airport terminal and park out in front. Once in the terminal, which was one big room in a semi-cavernous building; you went up to a counter, gave someone some money; received a hand-written ticket; and then walked out onto the tarmac and climbed up the stairs of the somewhat elegant DC-3 that was waiting, almost looking like a praying mantis, about to spring into the air. Now it is quite a bit different, and this trip has brought those differences smack into my face. I booked my tickets online, and only received an acknowledgement with a confirmation number. I drove to the airport and parked in a multi-story building about a half-kilometre from the terminal, but connected by a moving walkway to the terminal itself. Once in the terminal, you check in and after being quizzed about what you have in your baggage, you get to go through a serpentine trail of chrome pylons, guiding you back and forth until you finally reach the large machine that looks like it will devour your carry bag. That is assuming you are game enough to even try to bring a carry bag with you. Then you get to walk down seemingly kilometres of hallways until you eventually find your gate. And with any luck, you actually then are able to walk through the rectangular metal umbilical tube that connects your plane to the terminal. So if these differences are not enough, there always is the time difference. As I recall from being a lad, you used to be able to get to the airport about 15 minutes before your flight. Now, if you aren’t there about two hours earlier than the prescribed (and hoped for) take off time, you will probably miss your flight. I could rabbit on and on about all this, but as I look at the title of this chapter, it says ‘Going Home,’ not ‘Whinging About Air Travel.’ Sorry about that.
According to the in-flight map-thingy, my trip back to the states has now progressed to the point that I am 10,500 metres above Europe, travelling at 900 km/hour, sitting in the very front of the Airbus turbo-tube-in-the-sky, and all I can think about is being home again. Okay, so this is where you may need to pay serious attention. The entire ‘home’ thing has always been sort of a point of contention with me. Yes, I did live in Milwaukee for over fifty years, but I really did want to move away for the last forty of them. And to make things perfectly clear, one of the reasons I didn’t think about moving until I was twelve was that I probably wasn’t aware that people did move. None-the-less, for a variety of reasons (too young to leave home, in school, locked into an apprenticeship, married, married with children, business responsibilities, business owner) I didn’t leave.
Eventually, I was able to move away. My family and I agreed that the time was right, and off we went; all the way to Houston in Texas. And then a couple of years later, we moved again, this time all the way to London. I was becoming very settled into living in Europe.
I still live in Europe. I feel very comfortable living here; comfortable to the point of actually becoming a citizen of the United Kingdom several years ago. I had no plans to return to America and knew that Europe was where I needed to be, and due to my weather priorities, I purchased a home in Spain.
Earlier this year, one of my sons told me that he was getting married. And then he said how important it was to both he and his fiancé that I would be at the wedding. I responded with a clear and resounding ‘Yes, of course I will be at the wedding. Where here will it be?’ By here I meant where in Europe. I wasn’t too particular. They could have had their wedding in France, Italy, Spain, or even England, and I would have been there like a good Dad. But they explained to me that there was this little issue of the wedding party and the cost of getting them to Europe as well. Would I be paying for all of them to fly across the ocean? I bought my ticket to America.
So now, literally as I write this, I am winging my way to America. According to the in-flight display, I should be on the ground in Chicago in about 2 hours. Am I excited about seeing my friends and family? Of course I am. Am I excited about being in the city I grew up in? Not really. Do I think I am going home? Not even remotely.
I know that a lot of people hold that where they are from is, and always will be, home. I actually found myself catching the brunt of an ‘I can’t believe you are moving away from your home’ conversation with a friend years ago. It was clear to me that this person’s mental model of home, that I knew that trying to get him to understand why I felt the way I felt would be useless. So instead I went for the stealth approach. ‘So’ I began, ‘you have lived all your life in this city?’ ‘That’s right, I have never even wanted to move away from my home’ he replied, putting that little extra special emphasis on the word ‘home.’ ‘And your parents? They were from this city too?’ I quickly continued with. ‘That’s right again. My parents were quite happy to live in the town they were raised in,’ came sliding out of his mouth whilst his eyebrows arched menacingly at me. I went for it. ‘And their parents? Were they born here as well?’ I already knew the answer, but was hoping to see how the question would be dealt with. ‘Well, no. They moved here from the old country when they were in their 20’s.’ I went for the coup de grace; ‘Oh my. Are you saying that they actually moved away from their home to start a new life for themselves?’ I had made my point, or so I thought. But within minutes I overheard him saying to someone else that he just couldn’t understand why anyone (meaning me) would even consider moving away from home.
I am looking forward to being in America again. I do have quite a few friends and loved ones there. My sons still live there with their families, and I have several aunts and uncles that are still alive and living around the U.S. But regardless of these connections, I will be so happy later in the week when the wedding festivities are over and I can return to my home.
Home to me has always been an emotional thing. It is the place you want to return to after a long trip. It is the place that you feel most comfortable in. It is the place that you believe is better to be in than just about any other place on the planet. To quote the young lady with the ruby slippers, there is no place like home.
so many years ago... David (L) and Matt (R)
the wedding of David and Nancy
...a good reason to visit
courtyard oranges in November - a reason why this is home
a view from the terrace
the roof terrrace
another terrace view
my village plaza on the day I came home
No, it wasn’t Siegfried and Roy. No, it wasn’t Ringling Brothers. No, it wasn’t even Circ du Soleil. This past Sunday was the arrival in Puigpunyent of the Circo Magic. Whoooo-wee baby, the circus was coming to town. Okay, so maybe I haven’t been to a circus since I was quite young, but this one looked like it could be fun. Or so I thought from looking at the fab hand-bills that had been posted all over the village. It turned out that it was about on the same scale as Puigpunyent, but a fun time none-the-less.
The village is settling in for the winter I fear. I suppose I shouldn’t say ‘fear,’ but I have never been one to likes cold weather. I remember talking to someone a few years ago about living in Mallorca because of the weather and he replied, ‘but you lived in Milwaukee for so many years. You surely must become accustomed to it.’ Well I did. But being accustomed to something and liking something are two completely different things. Yes, I do like the change of seasons, but to me a good change of seasons means that in summer we are bathed in sunlight and warmth, with temperatures in the 30’s. My idea of winter is being bathed in sunlight, with temperatures in the 20’s. Yes, of course I look forward to a day of rain every once in a while – after all, I do have plants in the courtyard and on the terrace that simply adore seriously fresh rain-water. But the sun is pretty important to me, and seeing it in the sky on an almost daily basis is a good thing.
There are ways to tell when winter is approaching in the village. Some of the trees lose their leaves – a normal thing. The winds pick up and the temperature drops considerably at night – also a normal thing. And, we of the village, begin to dress appropriately. This means long pants and jumpers on most days, with the spectre of needing to wear a jacket in the evening…assuming I actually leave the house. I have found that staying home in the evening works quite well for me. Of course, staying home in the evening, especially in winter, means having the heat on and to ensure that this winter La Antigua would be warm as toast, I had a new heating and air conditioning system installed last week.
When I was contemplating this work, I had to think long and hard about the benefits v. the expense. Since living here, I really haven’t used the central air system at all. Yes, in the middle of summer, the temperature in the village does reach up to, and often hits, 40c. But when it becomes that warm (notice I refer to 40c as ‘warm’ and not ‘hot’), I would simply go inside. The almost metre-thick stone walls of La Antigua are the best temperature barrier known to man and inside the house is always a nice temperature. But last winter, I was colder than I wanted to be. Every night I would have at least one of the fireplaces cranking away, providing not only a marvellous environment, but warmth in the living room and kitchen (where the two fireplaces are). Of course, last year I also went through 2-½ tons of firewood, and I thought that this year I a new, more efficient and effect heating system would be a good thing (and probably save a forest someplace on the island).
I was a bit concerned about finding a contractor who would do the work, however. There is some business-cultural thing on the island that goes like this. You ring up a contractor and make arrangements for him to come out to scope out the project. He doesn’t show up. You ring him back, reminding him of the set appointment. He doesn’t show up. You ring him again. He shows up, but rarely when he says he will. After finally setting out the job plan, he doesn’t show up to do the work when he says he will. At this point, you have a choice: A) get incredibly frustrated with the lack of business drive and customer service on the island, or B) realise that this is Mallorca and things are done differently here. The key word here is ‘tranquillo,’ which roughly translates to ‘calm down,’ or in an even more appropriate translation for those of us from the UK, Australia, or America who are used to other business cultures, ‘get over it.’ Then there is the way that most contractors get paid. The proposal I was given said that the payment schedule was 30% deposit upon the acceptance of the proposal, followed by another 30% when the workmen arrived on-site the first day, and the balance upon completion. Due to many of the horror stories I have heard about island contractors, I said that the proposal was fine, but I wouldn’t pay the first 30% until the workmen showed up with the new system, and then I would pay the balance upon job completion.
I have experienced the Mallorquin way of doing business in the past, so I was prepared for arguments about my idea of how to pay, and a long wait from before my new contractor would appear, but he came when he said he would; his workmen appeared on-site when I was told they would, and the work they did was high-quality, on budget, and on-time. Actually, the on budget part was even more interesting because no one asked for any money until the job was completed, and I had to ring the head of the company to see if he wanted to get paid.
I made it a point to hang around for the three days the men were here doing the removal of the old system and the installation of the new system. None of the three workmen spoke any English (nor did the owner of the company who I had dealt with), so this seemed like a good opportunity to practise my Spanish. And it was. Of course, it also made me realise that I am sorely lacking in certain phrases like, ‘are you sure you should be standing on the top of the ladder on one foot?’ Apparently the term 'Health and Safety' is not something that translates well into Mallorquin.
So now I have a new heating/air conditioning system firmly in place (which works like a dream), enough firewood to make it through the next month or so if I use the fireplaces, and am sitting writing this chapter with the doors and windows open…apparently summer has not given up quite yet.
whooo-wee, the circus was coming to the village
so to speak
the village, getting ready for winter
yes, this is the onset of winter in the village
installing the exterior compressor-thingy
does this look safe to you?
When I was a young boy living in Milwaukee, I longed for springtime to arrive. I had this red jacket that my mother would let me wear to school, but only if the temperature would reach 50 degrees fahrenheit. In Milwaukee, it normally didn’t reach that lofty temperature until April or May, and red-jacket day was a sign that spring was finally coming. Now, bear in mind that 50 degrees Fahrenheit is the same as 10 degrees centigrade. It is mid-December here in the village, and whilst the temperature still hasn’t fallen to that level, I find it terribly cold. As I was sitting in my living room today, kitted out in my long pants, socks, and jumper, I actually contemplated turning the heat on – today’s temperature will only reach the mid-teens. Whilst doing so, I started thinking about how, when I was young, I thought 10 was great, and now, at age something-or-other, I shudder at the thought of it being anywhere near 10 (or even 15c). And yet, it is winter and with winter comes cold weather, regardless of what you consider cold to be. Because you really can’t rely on the temperatures that are reported online as they often miss the mark by more than five degrees, and I know that some of you do use the various weather websites to see what the temp’s are here, I will set the record straight. It is cold here. Bloody freaking cold (well by my standards at least).
In another day, it will be the shortest day of the year, and the shortest day means that the darkness of winter will finally stops its increase and once again the skies will stay brighter longer. At least, that is my wish. The shortest day of the year also means that Christmas is less than a week away. I really can’t remember when I found out that Santa Claus was just a good story to explain the gifts that appeared under our tree at Christmas, but I know that at the time, the sudden and sad understanding that Santa Claus wasn’t the one bringing the pressies was dispelled quickly as soon as I realised that the presents would still be there. It took me quite a while to understand that the ‘miracle’ that was Christmas had nothing to do with the presents at all.
Since being in the village, I think I have increased my understanding of what miracles can look like. To be able to wake up in the morning at all, is pretty much of a miracle. But to be able to wake up to the sun and warmth that usually blankets the village is a very special miracle to me. Yes, whilst growing up there was the miracle of snow, gently falling from the sky on Christmas eve, with each flake bringing the feeling that something magical was happening. Whilst it would be pretty nice to see snow on the nearby mountains that surround the village at this time of year, I have become more of a snow voyeur than one who actually wants to run out with a couple of bits of coal, a top-hat, and a carrot and build a snowman.
To be able to live in a community where people actually talk to each other is another miracle. I just love the fact that everyday I am in the village centre – you know, where the two stores are – I run into people whom I may or may not have met, but it doesn’t make any difference. We all say hello to each other. Balthazar and Guillem, the two brothers who own the little market, always ask how I am…and they really mean it. Antonia and Kati, the women who work at the other shop in the village, tell me about the various events planned in the village and help me feel welcome at them. This village has been a miracle for me, and I know that had I not moved here, my life wouldn’t have been as full as it is.
To be surrounded by friends who actually are concerned about you is seriously big in my book. Yes, of course I miss my family and loved ones that live in America, England, and Australia, and I wish that we could be together more often. Whether I am able to talk with them every week or not, that doesn’t mean I don’t miss them terribly. But the miracle of family and friends is that no matter where you or they are on this planet, just knowing that they are there and thinking about you and knowing that you are thinking about them is the best miracle of all.
Now if I would just spend less time writing and more time thinking, I might be able to come up with some way to keep La Antigua enveloped in sun and warmth all the time. That would be a real miracle.
a winter morning in the village
view toward Galatxo
testing the miracle solution
The year is almost over. Yes, 2006 has come and (almost) gone. And because my father always taught me that there were numbers in everything, it seemed to me on the way back from the airport (I had gone to Berlin to see my brother for Christmas) that this might be a good time to reflect numerically on life in the village.
I have been living in Mallorca now for 3-1/2 years, which as I am sure you all know, is something like 1277 days. I bought La Antigua in May 2005, which means I have lived in the village for 570 days. In that time, I have learnt that some things take longer than others; that having patience whilst waiting for contractors to arrive can be a good thing; that whilst my Spanish has improved tremendously, I will probably never master Mallorquin; and that moving here was the right thing for me to do at the time. 570 days…whew, and it only seems like a year and-a-half.
Amelia came into my life about 500 days ago. Another good decision on my part I think, as she has provided me with faultless transportation ever since I bought her; well, with the minor exception being the time that I picked someone up at the airport and one of those highly-technological-electronic-engine-doo-wahs had prevented her from starting. But hey, that is just one little thing…over all, Amelia has been a great car to use to get around. Which brings me to the next numbers.
When I bought Amelia, I set the odometer ‘trip distance’ counter to a big fat zero. Today, on my way back from the airport (Amelia has been working fine since I replaced the doo-wah thing), I noticed that the odometer trip distance counter said 11,500 kilometres. Obviously, I have driven that many kilometres since owning the car, which is fine; but it did cause me to wonder, ‘how did I manage to crank up that many kilometres when it is only 14 kilometres to Palma, and the entire island is only 3.640 square kilometres in area?' It would have been like driving over the entire island, making sure I drove through every bloody square kilometre three times, and I know I haven’t done that. I don’t know how many kilometres of roads there are on the island, but I do know that I have never even driven to Pollenca (POI-YEN-SA) on the north-east coast (which by the way is 72 kilometres from Puigpunyent according to a map). Obviously, I have made quite a few trips into Palma. The phrase ‘quite a few’ must represent almost 400 round-trips, which in itself seems odd as I only go to Palma once or twice a week. It appears to me that either, A) I do leave La Antigua and go places on the island more than I would have thought I did, or B) Amelia is driving around the island on her own.
Right about now, some of the metrically challenged readers of this chapter might be wondering how to convert kilometres to miles. The formula (that we all would have learnt in school if we had been paying attention) is Miles = Kilometres X .6 (more or less). Okay? Back to the rest of the numbers …
According to some pretty anal website I found, in the year 2000, Mallorca had more than 11,000,000 visitors. Although there isn’t any more current data on this marvellously fascinating statistic (B-O-R-I-N-G), I am sure that the number has increased considerably in the past six years. Part of my evidence of that new and even more exciting fact stems from the fact that when I flew back to Palma today, I was able to experience the fact that the Palma airport is recognised as one of the busiest in the world, with 53 airlines having flights in and out of the island, and today I think they were all landing at the same time.
The Island divided into 53 administrative districts, with Puigpunyent being rated as the best one of all…okay, this rating is mine, and it might be a bit skewed, but as this is my Letter from the Village, you can accept this as fact.
Mallorca does have seasons, with the temperatures ranging from an average high in June through August where the average temperature is 27º c (our high, or best season) to January and February of 15º c (our low, or as we call it, the shit season). Now in all fairness, I must admit that these published temperatures don’t reflect my experience on the island. In summer it has hit 40 more times that I have body digits to count on, and in winter…well, I try not to go outside in winter so I just assume that the published numbers are pretty accurate.
We seem to have a plethora of holidays on the island. Whilst some of them are ‘Spanish-national’ holidays, we also have Mallorquin holidays. Many of the Mallorquin holidays seem to follow some unknown mystical plan that says that everything should close down at least a couple of times per month, and if for some strange reason we miss one, then we usually have a holiday that whose name translates to, ‘ the holiday that exists because we haven’t had one in a few weeks,’ or something like that.
Other interesting but apparently random numbers include:
I probably could go on and on with more painfully useless numbers, but even I have a life. Besides, the only number that really is important is the next one that we all will encounter…have a fab 2007.
the courtyard, on a December morning
eggs, melons, and tomatoes for sale
a dry-stone wall in the village
mist in the winter morning
a narrow village path
a narrower village path
a neighbour's drive entrance
along the village high-street
copyright 2005, 2006, James B. Rieley