Another weekly installment of "How to learn a foreign language in 29,000 painful lessons". Well, This week is Lisbon, or Lisboa, or something. Anyway, tomorrow I'm hopping to night train to Portugal to get the Work Permit stamped in my Passport. Advice to those wanting to work in another country: it's not for the faint-hearted. After all of the hassle of getting fingerprinted, tested, inspected, rejected, and injected in every part, and even getting kicked off of the Group W bench, the final step is that I finally get my work permit. But I can't get it in Spain, I have either to return to the States (which would seem ludicrous for the three seconds it would take to actually receive the stamp) or go to a third party nation. I had my pick of Paris, Lisbon, or London. This is the flip side of the hassle: it's not so bad to get hassled when you're in Barcelona and have to choose between London, Paris, and Lisbon. This is what I call a "luxury problem". (Rachel, when I get a moment on the train tomorrow, I'll try to outline the process for you. Kidding aside, this is worth it. Really.)
Anyway, besides setting up the train trip and everything, I finally got my gas and electric systems inspected and repaired, and I should have hot water pretty soon. I've rigged a manual system to provide me with enough hot water to take a sort of shower (thank god for the Marine Corps: "If it looks stupid but it works, it's not stupid"). The electric system repairman/inspector even provided me with illegal electric power for the week, in a scene strangely reminiscent of "The Cable Guy". I have to sneak out to the power box and giver the breakers a twist before the actual electric system connectors come. Whereupon they will give the breakers a twist in the opposite direction and charge me 10000 pesetas ($66 US) to do it. Yippee, free enterprise comes to a socialist nation. New answer for the "Why did we bomb the Chinese Embassy" question: Because we missed the Spanish one. Incidentally, they *really* think we're either ridiculously stupid, or horribly mercenary, or both, for doing that. Kind of understandable.
Red Cross and Doctors without Frontiers both ended up being non-starters. As it turns out, I couldn't have fit it in anyway, but one wanted a one year commitment, a word I have trouble spelling much less doing, and the other, after an initial animated response, didn't return my call. So I went to the beach instead. Life in any city these days must include some exposure to the great variety of living conditions that people can experience, but it is always, always a bit of a shock to see the haves and the have-nots right next to each other. Rather like taking a walk down Swann street in DC: 600K to Zero in two blocks. Anyway, the beach here is like that. Beautiful, no getting around that, and fantastic, tanned, half naked people with the backdrop of the Olympic village, which is still very impressive. BMWs and Mercedes, and very exclusive Jeep Cherokees line the parking lot. Run twenty yards in the wrong direction down the beach and the standard of living drops drastically. It's incredible that people can actually live without a damn thing-- nothing. Makes me feel pretty fortunate to have my flat with illegal electricity and disconnected gas.
Wow, that was pretty serious. Anyway, not much else to add, and the hour is about to click over. I have made some new friends here, but I miss the heck out of you all, you're all invited to come stay, simultaneously (that *would* be a party). I turn 35 in a month! Now I can really misquote Fitzgerald and say I'm 15 years too old to lie to myself and call it honor. Take care, write me, etc. -Tim
Monday, May 24, 1999