Tiny Buddha

Isn’t it lovely to get a parcel in the post?

Here is the book I ordered from Amazon in Spain

It took a while to arrive so when I opened it I couldn’t remember what made me want it in the first place.
For a few moments I thought – oh no, another self help book to sit on the shelf and gather dust!
But then I started to read and it is a little gem.

One of those books where you think – OH YES!  every few sentences.
Or I do anyway!

I grew up feeling always a bit unhappy inside.  I felt different and out of step with other people, especially those in my own family. I looked different, I thought different things and I seemed to feel things too much. I tried asking other people if they felt like this and for years, it seemed that they always answered ‘No, not really, not like that’
Of course there were some who knew what I meant. I was always lucky enough to find some kindred spirits.  But I still struggled to find a peaceful happy place inside me. I couldn’t find the magic formula that others seemed to take for granted.

When I discovered the internet it opened up a huge new world of people who could perhaps explain to me why I felt like an extra terrestrial. I sometimes have googled questions like ‘why am I unhappy?’ or  ‘how can I deal with this pain?’ or ‘what should I do?’
Cries from the heart.

Really – of course I always knew that no-one out there would have an answer especially for me but sometimes when you are desperate you just have to reach out and ask.
And the most incredible thing about the internet is that you discover there are hundreds, thousands, millions of other people asking the same questions.
So you don’t feel alone.
In this little red book, the author did something like that – she used Twitter and Facebook and a web site and connected with other people feeling depressed and lonely and lacking self confidence and she started researching big questions about the Meaning of Life  and why we suffer and how to find happiness.
And this book is the story of what happened.
It is uplifting and very wise.
Great stuff.  If you read this and know what I am talking about then I think you could enjoy this book.
If you are in the ‘No, not really, I don’t know what you mean’ group then just ignore me and my next post will be about something different…..probably:)

Here’s a quote that I liked today
‘It’s only in finding the courage to admit our pain that we can lean on each other….why should we shroud ourselves in shame simply for being human?’                        Lori Deschene    Tiny Buddha

Sometimes I feel uncomfortable here

Sometimes I don’t know what to write here. After all it’s not a diary and shouldn’t I be entertaining you?  But if my mood is ‘interesting’  or complicated then I have trouble knowing what to say or how to say it.

If you would like to see something funny that caught my eye tonight then here is a photo of a shrine by the side of the road. I don’t know what came first – the statue or the brickwork.

Here it is….

And if you are here because you like to know what is going on for me then this part is for you. If you prefer to read interesting cultural things then this bit might not be your cup of earl grey tea!

I am feeling uncomfortable in my skin

I don’t like the unsettling cloudy humid weather which spoils our plans to go to the beach or watch Life of Brian in the open air cinema.

I keep crying over little things.

I feel a failure at everything I try to do – I can’t drive like Catalan people, I don’t know how to use the Samsung phone, cooking is difficult, we are getting nowhere with finding a new home with a garden.  The resident adolescent still ignores me.  I can’t speak Catalan, understand Catalan, remember any words in Spanish, wear the right clothes,  look presentable in a photograph, etc etc

I went to a family meal and spent three hours at the dinner table in almost total silence. Half way through I lost my ability to smile and nod. Not much later I lost the will to live as my spirit left my body and floated somewhere up on the ceiling watching my abandoned body continue in some reflex way to lift the glass of cava to my mouth and drink…..too much.

Memories of the school playground

Remember at school those skipping games where you have to run in while the rope is turning, jump a couple of times and then exit without breaking the rhythm?   There were always scary girls who confidently popped in and out without any trouble.   I was not one of them.  I would stand at the entrance for ages, bobbing my head forward and back as I tried to find the right moment to make the move. Then I would chose the wrong moment and catch the rope on my ankles or around my neck.
This is how I feel when faced with groups of people speaking in Catalan in a social setting. The words are fast and constant. You need confidence to get in there.  And if you jump in at the wrong moment, the conversation stops, everyone looks at you as if you are stupid, and you just want to run away and hide.
And if you don’t try to jump in they look at you anyway,  asking ‘what’s wrong with you?’

I am too slow for so many things.

Driving for example. I love driving and taking to the road but I hate having to speed along because that is the ‘right’ way.  The ‘Catalan’ way.   I don’t like overtaking when there is a lot of traffic – somehow the same bobbing head syndrome kicks in and I have to take deep breaths before claiming my space in the fast lane.

My brain feels tired. I feel dizzy and muzzy.  I wake too early and go to bed too late.

I want to go HOME – but I don’t know where home is.

Many people have said to me that they couldn’t do what I am doing.

They couldn’t come and live somewhere different, learn two languages, have a new family and an adolescent step child in a different culture and begin all over again with work and friends and everything. Honestly in many ways it hasn’t been too difficult but….right now…..I’m not sure I can do it either.

I want to – but I am tired of feeling that I am always failing.

Is it because I am not good enough?  Perhaps the task is just too hard!

The swift that I tried to rescue wanted to fly.   Again and again she stretched her wings and launched off   into the unknown only to crash down head first onto the ground.  It was hard to watch but I loved her desire to survive.  Eventually she got tired and had to rest. In the end she accepted this, and let go to death.

She tried and failed and it wasn’t her fault – it was just too hard.   I feel very poised on this edge, facing this question, and although there are helpful hands around me, it is a lonely moment…..can I fly?

Now, for anyone who is still tuned in,  here is a lovely little car I saw on Carrer Corro last night. This is my kind of car, ideal for pootling along enjoying the journey without having to feel bad about not going faster or being bigger or more stylish or a different shape or colour

And especially for Oreneta, Bodhi, Christine, Pearl, Pepsi and all those who leave me messages,

this is for you

Tango in Granollers

Tonight we went to try out the tango in Les Arcades in Granollers. Somehow the fact that there is a class and a milonga right here, not five minutes away in Carrer Girona, had slipped past my tango antennae. It has been going since January – five whole months in which I could have been walking down our road, turning left then right and then straight into a bar with a dance floor at the back and a group of people who dance tango.
Last year we tried to start a tango class here but I stopped after a term as the effort needed to teach in Spanish as well as advertise it seemed beyond my capabilities. Sometimes I feel that the energy I use  to learn two languages, get used to a new relationship, survive being a sort of step mother to a difficult adolescent, drive a car on the right side of the road, try to get health care, worry about my dogs in Cornwall and all the rest……means I just can’t do one more new thing.
Recently I have been feeling very like this.
I didn’t include writing this blog in that list as normally it is something that flows easily and I enjoy enormously. But recently, this too has felt hard. Too many questions like – What am I doing? Who is this for?  Does anyone read it (apart from those three people that I know about -thank you, you know who you are), What can I say and what is better to leave unsaid?
I try generally to write about what catches my attention and what I find interesting about Catalunya and the experience of changing my life. Sometimes it is cultural, sometimes it is personal, and sometimes it is a bit of both. But when I am feeling alien and alone here and struggling with the feeling of being an outsider without a strong support system of friends and family on hand, then the words get blocked. I can’t only write happy thoughts here but it is also a bit frightening to write down my doubts and fears and let them drop into this void.
What is this to do with tango, I hear you think.
Everything for me. This is what took me to tango in the first place and this is what I bring to tango when I dance.  Connection.  Longing for connection. Risking connection.
Tonight my dear man accompanied me to the class and the milonga, He isn’t really interested in tango but came to make me happy. We danced together.  I had a bit of a glitch when the female teacher started to tell me how to do the cross but I remembered my friend Tiffany’s advice and just smiled. The male teacher came and danced with me twice and then, just as I was taking off my shoes to leave, the man with the black and white shoes and fedora hat came up to ask me to dance. When he first arrived in the bar I thought he would be too flashy but actually he was just very good, very attentive, very connected.
It was a good evening. I came away feeling happy.

The people were friendly, the music was lovely, and we were dancing tango in Granollers.

Which made it feel more like home.

Would you like a drink?

There is a blog I like a lot by a woman in Canada, Bodhi Chicklet, where she writes posts called Virtual Coffee.  She invites you to join her for a chat and tells you all the things she might say if you were actually there. I hope she doesn’t mind if just for today I pinch the idea and invite you for a virtual vermut(vermouth).
If you were here sitting with me this evening on the terrace this is what I would tell you

I suppose that if you are a middle-aged British woman who moves to Spain it is unavoidable that sometimes you will have to struggle with the OFU feeling. That means – for those of you who have never been there – Old Fat and Ugly.  Surrounded by young brown dark-eyed slim Catalan/Spanish women it is not always easy to feel good about yourself. Especially when your partner tells you that your (sort of ) step son says you are lletja. This is Catalan for ugly.

Of course he didn’t expect this to be repeated to me but it was and so I have to deal with it.  When you are 16 anyone over the age of 20 will probably be lletja but…..and this came on a day when I already had chickened out of the gym because I couldn’t face a roomful of muscley men.
And next weekend I am invited to a family birthday party where the ex wife will also be.  As she normally walks past me without speaking on the street it doesn’t seem a very tempting invitation. But you are expected to go to family things here – you seem strange if you don’t.
Anyway, I spent the afternoon cleaning a room that was my late mother-in-laws workroom – just brushing the floor and tidying things into piles, and thinking about her. Remembering another day when I had the OFU blues and went to visit her.  She had called me upstairs – as her flat is above ours she could wave and call down from her kitchen window – and vulnerable as I was on that day I ended up bursting into tears on her shoulder.  What a lovely woman – she confided that she had never felt pretty and, lovingly as always, she told me how much she liked my face, my smile and my energy in the house.  Goodness I miss her!
Then our house was 50/50 women and men.  Two of each. Now it is just me and the boys.
Working my way around her room, seeing her flower arranging equipment, her painting gear, her stained glass tools, I wished once again that we could have spent more time together. All the times that I was too busy to go in for a cup of tea came back to haunt me.
I found some lovely old cooking magazines that were priced in pesetas.

Afterwards I brushed her patio and reminded myself that I must water her plants more often now that it is getting hotter. It’s so pleasant to be up there almost talking with her.  Everything is still as it was when she was here – and yet it’s not.

Her table and chairs have recently migrated down to our terrace and this is where we can drink our vermouth and listen to the swifts. It’s nice to have a comfortable place to sit for the first time and I love the cushions – aren’t they nice? She probably made them like so many other things in the house.

But I’d so much rather she was still upstairs waving from the window and calling me in for a chat

How to Beat the Alien Blues

There’s no doubt that living in another country sometimes is lonely. There are so many things that are easier to do when you speak the language, know who to ask, can make a phone call without having to practise first.

Things I have found challenging but which I have succeeded in doing include
•  buying cheese from a cheese counter and asking to taste first
•  going to the dentist for an emergency filling
•  having my hair cut and coloured
•  visiting a gynaecologist
•  teaching tango classes in Spanish
•  driving the car alone around town

Things I still find challenging so have put off doing include
•  sorting out my liability insurance so I can practise acupuncture
•  phoning the appropriate agency to find out why I have not been given a health card
•  opening a bank account
•  looking for somewhere to rent out of town that has a garden
•  driving a bit further afield alone – to the beach for example

Perhaps these things seem silly – you wouldn’t find them tricky – or maybe you would have other sillier things that would stump you. But in the end it comes down to confidence and sometimes when you are feeling a little alien it can be the small things that get to you. Like today the little girl laughing and pointing at me when I passed on the bike – I felt the wheels wobble along with my sense of belonging.

So what to do?
1. Accept
Yes I am different. Here amongst all these brown-eyed dark haired people I look like an alien. I can’t hide it so better to walk tall and proud.

2. Keep it in Proportion
When something shakes you, don’t let it bring down the whole building. Maybe I looked funny that moment on the bike, big bag of Catalan books on my back, frowning as I tried to weave between all the children and parents coming out of school. It doesn’t mean I am a total freak – old, fat and ugly!

3. Remember there are people who love you
Today I was feeling alone and vulnerable but there are people in my life who like me, who smile when they see me, who want to spend time with me. Without this backup support it is normal to feel fragile.

4. It is Normal
In a new life, living in a different culture, surrounded by voices speaking another language it would be strange if you didn’t sometimes feel like an alien. The important thing is not to take it too personally – there will be days when everything lifts and excites you and others when there seems a conspiracy to defeat you. In some ways I AM different. I have had to change some habits, to modify the way I behave. After all it is my choice to live here and….when in Rome….
The good thing is that here I have an excuse for feeling like an alien – when this happens in the UK perhaps it means that I really do come from Mars!

5. Find a Cake
Today I wobbled on into the town centre, noticed all the people meeting and greeting friends and family, decided not to run for home, went into a cafe and ordered a coffee and a cake. I didn’t have my camera so can’t show you how delicious and beautiful it was but…..it was soft and sweet, on top was a layer of yellow creamy custard and the woman who served it started to chat with me about learning Catalan. I cut it into small pieces and ate it slowly, remembering how lucky I am to be here.

PS For the sake of the blog I went back next day and took a photo of the same cake!  Before eating it.

What things do you find a challenge in another country?