10 things I’ve learned I can’t live without

A few weeks ago, I reached an important milestone – both in my life, and in my time lived in Spain: it’s 10 years since I arrived here in Seville. Back in September 2003 I came to this beautiful city – via London and Quito, Ecuador – with no expectations, no idea of what I’d find (I’d never been here before), and a few names as contacts.

A decade later, I have a small, tumbledown house (literally), two dogs and a semi-wild cat, two children and a husband, lots more English-language novels, thousands of leaflets, guidebooks and novels about various aspects of Andalucian and Spain, from the Civil War to flamenco, as well as a decent collection of children’s DVDs. And one of the contacts is still a good friend, and unofficial godmother to my son.

Having read Josh’s reliably excellent post on five things not to forget when moving to Spain (clue: it’s about food, and nursery food at that), it occurred to me that since I’ve been here 10 years, my anniversary would be a great excuse hook for a post on things I’ve learned that I can’t live without. Practical posts aren’t my forte, but this might be of some use or interest to a new, or potential, expat.

So here goes (artwork: Copyright Lola and Zac Flores Watson):

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1) Revo internet radio
If I want to dance, I find some pop tunes on Radio 2; hear the news, Radio 4; remember why I left London, Radio London; listen to some quirky tracks, Radio 6 Music. I go off into my own little world when I’m in the kitchen with my radio on. Some British expats refuse to listen to British radio or watch British TV. Balderdash and poppycock. (Confession: I do listen to RAI in the car.)

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2) Satellite dish
I rarely watch TV, except for the news – once the kids are finally in bed, I’m either working on the computer, eating, or asleep. We don’t even have one at the moment as our sitting room is a building site. But when we do, the reason I value it so highly is CBeebies. Have you seen Spanish children’s TV? Think, the most moronic, sexist, casual-violence American animated nonsense you can imagine, and that’s it. Brain-rot. At least Ballamory has sound ideas on racial harmony. And its theme tune is far less irritating than Sponge Bob Squarepants, FFS.

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3) Girls’ nights out
My best girlfriends are all English. What a cliche, I hear you say. But that cultural familiarity, the unspoken bonds, the mutual understanding of being married to a Spaniard (four of my closest mum mates are) and all the communication challenges that implies. All we need is a bottle of wine (or three) and you can leave us there till the wee hours.

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4) The Week
My wonderful, though sadly aging, Dad gets me a subscription every year to this weekly news mag, which distills the most interesting and important stories from British and foreign media into 60-odd pages – perfect loo or bath reading material. And it gets passed on to one of those mentioned in 3).

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5) Nice soap
The Spanish don’t seem to do nice soap, unless it’s made of honey and glycerin with oatmeal flakes suspended inside and costs 4 euros. Buy a four-pack of normal scented stuff from any English supermarket and you’ll be fragrant for months.

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6) Facebook, especially groups
I don’t understand anyone who doesn’t use Facebook. How else would I know when anyone’s birthday is? Or what their children look like now? Or what embarrassing thing happened to them at work last week? Or which Youtube video’s gone viral? I work at home, so there’s no water-cooler moment, no chat while the kettle boils (do they even have kettles in Spanish offices?) It’s like a mouthy coffee break, getting squiffy cocktail hour, and catch-up chat on the phone, all rolled into one. And the groups are indescribably useful and supportive. I’ve made fantastic contacts, found work, and received (and, I hope, given too) useful advice via Facebook groups.

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7) Extra reserves of patience and tolerance
The I-don’t-understand-you grimace, the “you don’t need that form”, “you only need one copy”, “you don’t need the original”. Ignore, push, insist, ask again, request clarification (you did need the form, four copies, and the original). If in doubt, start again from the beginning. Be firm and try to stay calm. Spanish administration is hell, but at least make sure that the bolshy jobsworth funcionario (civil servant) who’s trying to deny you that essential document – because she wants to go and have her coffee break – does her job properly. (Although in my case, I don’t think they get off scot-free either – I need everything explaining at least four times, which must have its less endearing qualities.) And if they’re being really obtuse, officious or offensive, just picture them in their underwear.

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8) Chutney
Cebolla caramelizada doesn’t quite cut it. In fact, Spanish jams in general are sub-standard. English fruit and vegetable chutneys, however, especially spicy ones, have this strange power of making an ordinary cheese sandwich into a thing of wonder.

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9) Regular trips back to the motherland
We go about twice a year – I need to be among people who speak my language, literally, and may not be as warm or friendly as the Spanish, but who won’t frown at me when I mumble because I’m too knackered to en-un-ci-ate clear-ly. Where supermarket shelves overflow with a heavenly array of cakes, biscuits and naughty puds, and crisps and chutneys (see 8) come in 359 flavours. Where friends who’ve known me for years can tell me what I need to be told. And where I, and especially my children, can spend precious time with aforementioned aging parents.

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10) My family
Well, obviously. I’m hardly going to dump them by the roadside and go gallivanting off to the Algarve for a week on my own, now, am I? (Well, actually, there was talk of a girls’ weekend away – see 3) The biggest change for me since arriving in Seville, apart from giving up smoking, designer clothes and poncy cocktail bars, has been having my children. They’re half-Spanish, or half-Andalucian as their Dad would say, bilingual, and comfortable in both cultures, thanks to 2 and 9; and 1 helps too. My husband, for his part, keeps our shoddily-built bungalow standing, tending to plumbing, electrical, structural and countless other problems, and is a bear-ish sort of bloke who is useful around the house and garden (great veg patch) – just as well, since he doesn’t have a job. Anyway, they’re the bees’ knees and I love them to bits. I managed without them for three days recently, on a very nice trip in Andalucia, but that was quite long enough, thank you. I can’t go without hugs for more than three days. Ni pensar.

What can’t you live without?

Weekly Photo Challenge: Round

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Like many bloggers out there, I am thoroughly enjoying Skinny Wench’s A Word A Week - both reading others’ posts, and putting together my own – and I hope you’re liking them too! This is only my second AWAW, but I love these sorts of posts which are quick (my photos aren’t indexed, so it would be even quicker if I got my act together and could locate them using keywords – dream on), easy and fun. Many of my chosen images are Instagram snaps – I am mildly obsessed (@fififlores, if you want to follow me).

The idea of round, for me, denotes smooth, tactile, geometrically balanced; a baby’s soft bottom, a downy peach, a child’s ball. Circular and spherical shapes abound in nature – fruit, flowers, sun, moon… There is something profoundly satisfying about such a complete object, especially when it’s three-dimensional.

Here in Seville, the most ubiquitous incarnation of round are the spots on feria dresses – a key part of one of the city’s most important celebrations.

These round photos are a mix of natural and man (or woman)-made, and are as colourful as I could find:

water wheel at Sanlucar la Barrameda Feria

balloons in a friend’s garden (oval, so a slight cheat there)

supremely stylish football hat worn triumphantly at Euro 12

son with Olympic rings at Stratford this summer

home-baked (and decorated, don’t laugh) Hallowe’en cupcakes

trippy gold mushrooms

friend’s arroz (not paella, strictly speaking)

beer bottle tops

Christmas lights

mad flamenco-painted bread in a sadly now-closed shop

spotty farolillo (paper light) at the Feria de Sevilla

lemon from our tree

brandy barrels in Jerez de la Frontera

window of Seville cathedral, seen from roof

sunflower – a popular crop around these parts

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round, a word a week, weekly photo challenge, lights, tree, Christmas

pan flamenco

round, spotty, feria

IMG_0742 los apostoles

round, window, cathedral, Seville, Sevilla

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Word a Week Photo Challenge: Glitter

Glittery skies in Seville for Christmas.

Glittery skies in Seville for Christmas.

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The Virgin Mary glints in the autumn sun, on our local romeria (pilgrimage).

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This firework is from the UK’s Jubilee celebrations in June 2012.

glitter, pool, Algarve, Portugal, Fazenda Nova

Light refracted off the pool at Fazenda Nova in Portugal is glittery.

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Every week, Sue over at A Word in Your Ear posts a photo theme – colour, texture, or whatever. They always look like fun, and I often think of photos I’ve taken which would be ideal for a post, but guess what – I never get around to doing it.

This morning I saw the glitter-themed post by the wonderful Fieldnotes from Fatherhood, which inspired me to get off my Reyes Magos-knackered arse (today is the second Spanish Christmas, celebrating the arrival of the Three Kings, with more presents, processions and general over-indulgence) and dig out some suitable snaps. After all, what woman can say no to shiny, sparkly stuff? (Not me!)

A couple are a half-inched from a recent post on Seville’s Christmas lights, since these beautiful illuminations are still making the city look so magical, with others from adventures last year in Portugal and the UK, as well as closer to home. The last two are from our Reyes procession which took place yesterday afternoon.

If you’re Spanish, or you live here in Spain, Felices Reyes! And to everyone, Happy New Year. I’ll be doing one of those year-in-review posts everyone’s been popping off soon – I promise to keep it short, though perhaps not quite as short as this one.

Yes, we do get frost here in southern Spain.

Yes, we do get frost here in southern Spain.

Sparkly Ayuntamiento building.

Sparkly Ayuntamiento (town hall) building in Seville, like diamonds.

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Cinderella in her gleaming carriage in the Cabalgata de los Reyes Magos (Three Kings’ procession).

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The first carroza (float) in the Cabalgata for Reyes 2013; La Estrella (the Star).