Things Not to Expect in your Spanish Flat

“Oh, yeah, amigdalitis isn’t strep, Cat, it’s tonsilitis.” Immediately visions of guy Rimbey’s tonsil operation in the fourth grade had me queasy again. I asked Kelly what to do.

“So you just need to heat a glass of water in the microwave and then…” Stop right there, chiquilla. I don’t have a microwave. Come to think of it, I have very few appliances, save my olla express, miniprimer hand blender and the unused flatiron grill I got Kike for Christmas last year.
I thought back to arriving at my apartment in Triana not four years ago. Eager to meet my roommates in 1ºD, I didn’t bother to look around the flat to see what it had to offer me. After all, I found it on the Internet and Melissa, who was to become a good amiga, didn’t go into much detail about what we had – or what we didn’t. I just rolled with the punches, you could say.

Taking stock of the appliances and kitchen supplies later, there were: random cutlery, unmatched pots and pans, a paella maker, a low-power microwave, a broken iron and a hot water heater. The TV was a mystery to turn on, but the gas-lit water tank took the cake. Literally, because I had no oven to bake one in.

My piso when I arrived, circa September 2007
Gas tanks, or bombonas, are ugly orange excuses for hot showers or boiling water. Buy one of these suckers and you’re guaranteed four minutes of hot water (we had a shower schedule) if it’s full. We learned to turn off the water while shampooing, respect our shower hours or wash our hair in the biday, use the teeny water heater for soups and tea and deal with lighting the stove.

I came to love that house on C/Numancia, even with all of the broken things and heavy wooden furniture. Our landlords gave us permission to paint, gave us money for new pots and pans and Sanne’s boyfriend brought over a toaster. We even got a sandwich maker, which was used seldomly because it was a PAIN to clean.

Enjoying a lighter and cuter painted salón

Moving into Kike’s house was a treat. He has an oven and an electric water tank heater, so I can take long showers right after he does. But where’s the microwave? And the dryer? I’ve had to make toast in the oven, fry hot dogs and follow the weather forecast in order to have my clothes hang dry on the line outside my fourth-floor apartment.

If you’re thinking of coming to Southern Spain and expect to find everything in condition like your house back home, think again. Here are four things you’d be lucky to find in an older house:

Central Heating

When I tell people I’m from Chicago, they usually remark, “Ooooh, it must be so cold there!” Yeah, sure, it’s a frozen tundra in the winter, but at least we have sensible coats and heat our homes. Because Andalucía gets so warm in the summer, the houses are more equipped for the hot months. this means white walls, tile floors and a thing called a brasero under your living room table. You’re better off buying a big rug and extra throw blanket from IKEA, along with a small space heater. Just don’t leave it on when you’re not around or at night!


When my host mother had to deal with my vegetarian roommate who hated fish, she asked one question: Well, what do I make? Emily suggested simply buying a frozen pizza, but poor Aurora couldn’t even figure out how to turn on the oven! even my boyfriend, a born and bred Spaniard, uses the oven for very few things, relying instead on the stove top.

Automatic Stove top

Yeah, that’s the other thing. As I mentioned above, the whole stove thing is tricky. You need to find the nearest dollar store, buy a bit box of matches and turn on the bombona tank. Then, careful enough not to singe your hair or burn off your fingers, turn the stove dials and throw the match on it. At least, that’s how this anti-pyro did it. These oven are practical to save gas, but they sure suck. I am happy to clean and re-clean my vitro ceramica!

Clothes Dryer
Ains, the crux of my existence. I hate that my underwear gets hung out the balcony for all the neighbors to see, and I hate that line that I have to iron out of shirts. After four years, I’ve mastered how to adequately hang things so that they’ll dry, but I hate the fit and missing that the out-of-the-dryer feeling. My requirement for our next house? You guessed it – a dryer.

Why being sick in Spain sucks

“Cat, you haven’t missed a day of school yet, have you?” Almudena asked me while we all sat and had lunch on Thursday at school. “You must be a really healthy kid!”

I said yes, despite the lingering germs around the school. Being a preschool teacher means more tissues purchased, more trips to the dry cleaners and, generally, more sick days than anyone else in the building.

Then, on Saturday, after spending the day in the sun at the Tío Pepe bodegas in Jeréz, I got suddenly ill. My throat closed up while walking to have dinner before Beth left, my ears started buzzing and I could suddenly not swallow. Chalking it up to allergies, I passed on dinner and went to bed.

The following morning, I had a fever and could barely talk, so Kike took Beth for churros and I stayed in bed the entire day (which, if you know me, is the equivalent to being in hell), hoping to go to school the next morning.

This morning, after passing the night walking up from inability to breathe, hot flashes, a runny noise and dry lips, I had my alarm set to 8:30 to call school and tell them I wouldn’t be in. Kike took me right away to the health clinic down the street and I wrote out my symptoms since I couldn’t talk.

The lady handed me a slip of paper that read: Consulta 15 Dra. Mora 18´47.

Yes, I was sick and in need of antibiotics, but had to wait nearly ten hours to be seen by my doctor. While Spain boasts state-subsidized healthcare for all, many opt to pay for additional services through private companies. I thought back on the time where my job as an auxiliar paid for great private insurance, where the doctors knew me, including an English-speaking OB-GYN. With government social security healthcare, there is always backlog and long lines.

I suggested to Kike that I take the bus to the hospital and see someone in the ER right away. He nixed the idea, instead telling me it was better to go home and rest and just go back later. So, it was back to soup and kleenexes (though I did watch Mean Girls and have Kike home to remind me to take my meds).

When I finally got to the doctor and waited for 40 minutes, amidst cold sweats and old people, Dra. Mora told me what I’d expected: Strep. I’ve never had it before, so this is another thing to add to the list of first in Spain.

The upside? She told me I’d probably be contagious tomorrow, too.

A trip to the Pomegranate

My dentist, Dr. Clinton, is the type that has pictures of his kids right in front of the chair, so I get cavities filled looking at all of them. There’s no shortage of years-old People magazines that one can enjoy while listening to Muzak, and Carol, the hygienic, chats you up while sticking instruments in your mouth.

The only reason I don’t dread the dentist’s office is because of Dr. Clinton’s obsession with Spain (ok, and Wally’s milkshakes next door). More specifically, he loves Granada, a city he has a vacation flat in and returns to once a year.

A mid-sized university city, Granada was the last stronghold of the Moorish Al-Andalus kingdom, which fell to the Christians in 1492 (same year Columbus claimed the Americas for Spain. Big year, I’d say). Nowadays, it’s famous for free tapas and majestic Moorish palace, the Alhambra, which stands high above the city.

My best friend in the whole world finally made it to Spain, and there was only one weekend trip I would allow. Not Madrid’s museums, not Gaudi’s Barcelona. I took her to the Pomegranate, one of the most beautiful places in the south. I think she and Dr. Clinton have some words to exchange.

The streets shooting off Plaza Bim-Rambla, near the Cathedral
Frederico Garcia Lorca, Granada’s prodigal son, shot during the early days of the Spanish Civil War 
A study on Moorish arches: The Alhambra
The Lion Court, considered the most intricate and complete example of Moorish art in the world
Sewer cap: the pomegranate city
Give him money, woman, as there is no greater injustice in life than being blind in Granada
Gypsies at the Mirador de San Nicolas, Barrio Albacin
Graffiti that characterizes this southern city

Big words from tiny humans

Since I work at a Catholic school, I’ve been asked to pray with the kids in English. I tried Hail Mary once (diosss, it’s Spain, who else would I pray to?), and the Lord’s Prayer a few times, but the kids seem to like Johnny Appleseed better.

So, every morning after the Hello! song, we sit down and pray, just like I did before snacktime at Girl Scouts. Today, the class charlatón stood up afterwards and said, “Miss Cat, did you know that there was a really big wave in a really far away country named Japan and a lot of kids lost their toys and their mommies? Can we pray to God for them?”

To a nation that sees little natural disaster and to minds so small, I didn’t expect them to know anything. I let Nico get away with chattering the rest of the hour. Pretty might words from a little teeny person.

for ways to help relief efforts in Japan, check out Matador’s guide to donations.

Carnaval: A Photo Essay

Since Katie thinks my photos are ok, Elizabeth already did it, and simply because there aren’t enough words in the world to describe the pre-Lenten debauchery of Cádiz Carnavales. Imagine the entire historic part of Europe’s longest continually inhabited city full of people in ridiculous costumes, toting bags full of alcohol and singing all night. Then, they get up during the day and watch chirigotas, or groups which sing about pop culture and satire in equally amusing costumes.

If anyone knows Catholicism, it’s the Spaniards. But they also know how to party.

Three Blind Mice, Three Blind Mice…
 Hello, you don’t know me, but I’m your period
The Town Hall Square, full of party-goers
Like I said, Spain knows how to be holy and unholy at the same time
Onward and forward, says Jeremy
Crossdressing in Spain is as normal as jamón legs at bars
Costumes for every taste. Really.
Excitement and more people around every corner
Eagleman had to have been one of my favorites
 If Pulpo Paul were to predict how I’d end the night, he’d say the following:
Ciega stands for both blind and drunk.
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