The first week of living in a new place is somewhere up pretty high on the list of things that don’t get any easier with practice. Like a new anything, after the initial infatuation wears off, what’s left is this: the realization that what worked before is no longer valid here. Here, in a new place, we are confronted with what we seem to be most naturally resistant to: change.
So it is with a tinge of reticence we set off to see about developing new methods for accomplishing the tasks of living under a new definition of ourselves within the unknown environment surrounding us. This means getting lost, losing precious time and generally being hard on ourselves to find a pace equivalent to what we once knew. Previously simple tasks that were quickly accomplished now require inordinately huge investments of time by comparison. Add to this a language component and we’re talking about a serious commitment to even the most basic objectives, such as acquiring groceries. Everything must be undertaken with a strong focus on patience and not getting down in the face of the adversities that present themselves on a seemingly constant basis.
This is the real stuff. The moments that move us outside of our comfort levels and force us to face our weaknesses in spite of our better judgment.
At least, that’s what we keep telling ourselves as we step lively into the streets of the unknown ; )
Such is the case for yours truly, who admittedly hasn’t had much of any other experience in this life other than nearly constant change. Let me share this earnestly with you: for someone who’s had as much practice as anyone, change simply does not get any easier with practice. It continues to challenge, it continues to humble and it continues to push me to being open to the process of learning in all of its tough, wonderful and hidden manifestations.
This, of course, does not mean to imply that it’s always a barrel of laughs.
Take, for example, the luxury in which people live in the US. Particularly: hot water. Most of the people living in the States take this single resource for granted far more than they realize. Hot water is in abundance there, even in the less-refined regions of apartment living. Folks rise in the morning, evacuate their bladders and promptly prepare for the day ahead with a shower of the stuff. Each time they approach the shower, turn it on, they are accustomed to waiting no more than a few moments before the warmth of it is doing what it does to invigorate, cleanse and get them ready for the day. It runs freely over heads, arms and legs while washing away the sleepy night and down the drain it goes for as long as deemed necessary. It’s given nary a thought.
Such extravagance is what is known as “double-glazing” (taken from the wise comments in this clip from Creature Comforts (@ 1:40 in)
Take, for example, my shower this morning: the size of the shower is taken into consideration here because in my experience in Barcelona, apartments all have showers half the size of what used to exist as phone booths. Half. The. Size. The hot water supply follows in kind. There is so little of it, that a person must ration if off during the course of a shower like oxygen would be should one ever find themselves trapped in a disabled submarine at the bottom of the ocean for an indefinite period of time.
Prior to entering the shower, one must first ensure that there even IS any hot water available. If there is, I don’t let it run too long during testing. I’m hip to the possibility that a short blast of what is left can be an illusion, which means upon entering the shower and reactivating, one must prepare to potentially be blasted with an equally-awakening, though, heart-stopping-ice-cold pulse and the risk of cardiac arrest before the day even begins. Should there actually be any remaining hot water, a quick blast to wet the head is priority one. My father always taught me to wash a car from the top down in order to ensure that we work with gravity to maximize the cleaning process. The same rules apply here to maximize effectiveness of our hot water rations. After a quick douse, proceed with suds-ing of the hair.
Now, mind you, the water is OFF at this point, right? If you’re not used to the sound of washing your hair WITHOUT the accompaniment of running water, this can be a rather, let’s say “odd” sound. I say it’s a bit on the sad side. I dunno why it’s a sad sound but it is to me. Perhaps because it is being faced with a RADICALLY different experience than the years of conditioning I’ve had doing this while listening to water running and warming my entire body while doing so. In this case, not only is the water not running, but my body, freshly warmed by the quick douse to wet the head, is beginning to cool rapidly: yet another strange sequence out-of-tune with what has been expected since birth.
For those of you who know me, you are aware that I am of of above average height and size. This makes the process one of even greater comedy. Anyone watching or listening to this would wonder what is the matter. Standing flush up against the inside of this glass box, a fella my size is at risk for breaking the thing, inflicting deep flesh woulds from the broken glass (here I should mention I can only just barely get the doors closed and am required to finagle myself extensively in order to succeed in doing so). The same is true for most restrooms found in restaurants in this part of the world. I can barely enter them, let alone contort myself enough to do what it is I usually desperately need to do at once, as I typically avoid these spaces vigorously until the last possible moment, which has often enough led to even more profound instances of bumbling foolery.
This is how the process continues: a quick rinse, followed by proceeding to wash whatever body part is next-highest in relation to gravity that has not yet been washed, a rinse, and so on, until the job is complete. All the while, the rest of the body shivers in the cold morning, wondering where the feeling of circulation-stimulating hot water is that it’s so used to after all these years.
One can imagine, though, how much water this actually saves compared to letting so much of it run down the drain while we’re washing or, even more gluttonously, just standing in it while dreading the idea of yet another day filled with unproductive meetings.
On the upside, successfully completing a shower while maintaining a successful balance of safety and hot-water-usage prepares one for the day better than transcendental meditation.
This is all to say that space, hot water and the double-glazing is all very easily taken for granted. In a week I will be in Dakar, Senegal, where this, too, will be deep-dish luxury by comparison.
I welcome the contrast. Returning to Barcelona will then be its own, new flavour of double-glazing that I can then in turn continue to take for granted as I have been so well conditioned to do.