In some sense, a lot of life is made of routines. They can creep up on us slowly, or we can develop them deliberately (I will remember to floss if I try this new reminder…). And there’s nothing like a complete disruption of routine to get you thinking–about where you’ve been, what you’ve been doing, and what you want to do next. This year our family is involved in routine disruption on a major scale.
In January my husband began teaching classes at Berklee College of Music, Valencia Campus, and that gave us the opportunity to move to Spain for half the year. As our one-month mark in Valencia is already a few weeks behind us, I want to get some observations down before the new becomes the new normal, and I’m less aware of what’s different.
The US-to-Spain transition is the obvious culture comparison I’m currently exploring, but it’s possible that the suburbs-to-city switch is just as pronounced, and accounts for a lot of the differences I notice. For example, nearly every time I leave the apartment I’m struck by just how well-dressed people are. I’m tempted to conclude that my Italian friend is right, that Europeans (she was talking about Italians, but I’ll generalize) just do fashion better, but perhaps it is that city-dwellers dressed up for work look more put together. Who am I comparing the Valencians with? When I’m in Massachusetts, my usual schedule and our casual family culture means that I don’t get out much, and the people I see most often may be wearing what they slept in, plus another few layers chosen primarily for their warmth.
Which brings up another point: maybe what I’m seeing has more to do with factors other than fashion sense: in the US I’m more likely to see people through their car windows or, in this season, wrapped up in heavy coats. Maybe all these dapper Spaniards look so fashionable because that narrow cashmere scarf artfully tied is all they need to keep warm when it’s February in the high 50s.
It’s also possible that the way others are dressing is noticeable to me because that’s my only point of contact with these complete strangers. Perhaps I don’t think about fashion in connection with a lot of the people I see in my “other” life because I know them, or at least I recognize them, and there’s more to think about than what they’re wearing. Mitigating factors aside, the prevailing look here is not at all slouchy. Sleek gives some idea.
I’m been interested to notice that the great majority of the people I see are thin, or thin-to-medium-sized. That, too, might be an artifact: I’m seeing people out walking in a city, or jogging along the trails of the lovely city park called the Turia. Maybe the folks who drive everywhere are a little more upholstered. I won’t go so far as to conclude that most Spaniards are slim, but I will say that any folks who rent this apartment would have to be, at least if they want to take a shower. Our shower stall is a corner enclosure that opens by sliding two panels back from the front corner. At its widest that opening is the length of a sheet of A4 paper. I’m on the thinner side, and I have to pay attention to make my way in or out.
A4 paper brings up another category of difference, and this one can’t be traced to a city vs. country life, but is definitely a Europe vs. US thing. There are all kinds of everyday things that are invisible to us until they’re outside the ordinary size/shape/function that we’re used to. None of them is of particular importance, but taken together they mean a pretty consistent stream of reminders that I’m in a new place, experiencing new things. Instead of taking them together, though, I’ll probably take them separately, over a few posts; you’ve already been very patient.
What else is different? Mornings. In Westford my teenager rose around 5 am for seminary, and even if the rest of us weren’t up quite that early, and my husband was the designated driver (thank you, thank you, thank you!) everyone else got rolling on the earlier side. In Valencia I don’t have a clock by my bedside, but often when we first awaken the answer to my sleepy, “what time is it?” is something beginning with 8. I make breakfast (how and what we’re eating is a topic for another day), rouse the kids, and we’re up and launched by 9:00 or so. I’d feel a little guilty if there was any reason to, but there just isn’t. My teenager is repaying her long-standing sleep debt, and we are thoroughly enjoying the slow waking that comes as sunlight streams through our big bedroom windows. The reason I’ve been able to do a little writing this morning is that I broke with routine and got up at 6:20. But I hear stirrings from upstairs, and it’s 8:00. Time to make breakfast.