Le cul entre les deux chaises

An American Spaniard in France or: How I Learned to Make an Ass of Myself in Three Cultures


The Purge

Packing may be my first love, but getting rid of stuff is a close second. The feeling of calm and accomplishment I get from tightly fitting things into a box is different from the slightly weightless tipsy sensation of seeing a pile of things I will no longer be burdened by, but both are very pleasant.

Mid-purge. It ended up taller than me and several feet wide.

Mid-purge. It ended up taller than me and several feet wide.

Inspired by my slightly sad looking towel hanging in the bathroom, I decided to do a mini-purge the other day. Because I am a sinvengüenza, here is a partial list of the things I got rid of in my first pass:

8 pairs of shoes
7 pairs of jeans
6 pairs of pants
5 pairs of gloves
4 scarves
3 dresses
3 jackets
3 belts
2 yoga mats
2 purses
assorted fitted sheets
assorted towels (bath, hand and kitchen)

You might think that it’s excessive that I had all of these things to spare and you would be right, but I do have a legitimate excuse. Being an itinerant expat means that every time I go to a new country or city, I take only the luggage that I’m allowed, usually just one medium suitcase. This means that I’ve had to re-buy most of the things I use every day at least four times in the past decade.

For instance, when I land in a new city, I have a high absorbency towel with me, but I don’t want to use that for the rest of my life, so then I have to go out and buy two new proper towels. (One must always have a spare.) Once all my boxed stuff catches up with me (usually months later), I suddenly have a lot more towels. Ditto yoga mats and big spa bath robes of which I apparently owned THREE. And I’m a person who gets cold easily and I like to bundle so I had SIX full size fleece blankets and three throws. I now have two of each. Add in that US, Spanish and French mattresses are ALL DIFFERENT sizes and the result is that I also owned lots of sheets that likely won’t fit any bed I’ll ever sleep on again.

Purging isn’t for everyone (like my mother who will be pissed that I’m outing her as a hoarder on the Internet) but I do think it’s a good practice and is generally good for society. If you’re daunted by the task, start small, like in the closet and see how it goes.

Le cul’s clothes purging tips

If it’s over 10 years old, OUT
If it’s faded, worn thin in patches or has required repeated button-sewing-on, OUT
If it’s suited to a situation you no longer find yourself in, OUT
If you can only remember one time you wore it, OUT
If you bought it for a specific occasion, OUT
If it was a never-worn gift, OUT
If you have a newer item that serves the same purpose, OUT
If you haven’t worn that size in four years, OUT
If it’s dry clean only, OUT

Following these pretty basic and reasonable guidelines, I think anyone could make a significant dent in the amount of crap they have. Happy sorting!

[Ed.: I haven’t seen THE PURGE because I don’t like scary movies but I know it’s a thing that exists.]


Looking for a Spanish husband

My first week living in Spain, I was determined to get a Spanish husband to replace the one I’d left in the US. I’d lived and slept with that husband for almost a decade and I knew he was Spanish because he’d been my grandfather’s before he was mine. And I couldn’t sleep without him.

As one of the most important things on my To Do list upon arrival, I boldly walked into a place that might have what I was looking for and, in not very good-yet Spanish, asked, “Do you have husband pillows?” and got met with blank stares and possibly bawdy comments. I’m not sure, I didn’t understand what anyone was saying.

Like the husband I was looking for. (Isn't he dreamy?)

Like the husband I was looking for. (Isn’t he dreamy?)

Looking back, there are so many things I did wrong, the first of which was translating directly. Rookie mistake but it was still my first season in the Spanish League so I give myself a pass on that. The bigger error was in not thinking through the acquisition of the original husband. It had been my grandfather’s, but not in Spain, it was from when he came to the US, meaning that my mother probably bought it from one of the hundreds of catalogs that used to flood our house. If I’d come to this realization sooner, I would have known that I was never going to find a replacement in Spain and wouldn’t have made a fool of myself in numerous establishments. Not that I really care about looking dumb/crazy.

So, I gave up the search because questing is awesome if you’re on a hero’s journey, but totally demoralizing if you’re just looking for something that you know you’ll never find.

Of course, the French are more civilized, so it could be that they have husbands here and I should start looking for one again. But I know I’ll always be attached to my first one, so maybe I should just think fondly of the one I loved and lost and make do with my Muji pillows.

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Me estoy volviendo loca

The summer of 1982 must have been a rainy one on the farm. It was the only year that I remember watching any TV while visiting my grandparents and something must have driven me to the sewing room where the TV was mounted on a high shelf in the corner by the door, much too high to make for comfortable viewing. The house was located between the sea and a forest in a low valley off the coast so the reception wasn’t good. Not that it mattered; there was only one channel, TVE.

The best Spanish album of all time, imho.

The best Spanish album of all time, imho.

The weather really must have been dire as I spent many days, possibly a few weeks, watching la Vuelta a España, the Spanish version of the Tour de France. It’s the premier cycling competition in Spain and I might have forgotten all about it if it hadn’t been that TVE had chosen Azul y Negro’s “Me estoy volviendo loco” [I’m driving myself crazy] as the theme for that year’s race. It was used as the bumper music in and out of commercial breaks, was frequently the bed music under shots of cyclists riding and accompanied the commentators while they spoke. It was my first ear worm and I had to have it for myself.

That was why 1982 is also the only year that I remember making multiple trips to towns and cities. Normally, I would settle into my routine of running around in the woods with the dogs and taunting the pigs or the chickens and would ride in a car maybe six times total. Two of those trips being to and from the airport. But that year, I went along whenever anyone was going to a town big enough to have a record shop because only I could scat the tune well enough to hope that someone would recognize it, know what it was and put a copy of it in my hot little hands.

In retrospect, it’s good that I was both so young and am a sinvergüenza [shameless] because it’s not the easiest song to replicate with just your voice. It’s all electronic and TVE never used any of the parts that had lyrics so I would stand in front of people and launch into my imitation:

“do, do, do, do, do, do-do, PSH! do, do, do, do, do, do-do, PSH! do, do, do, do, do, do-do, do-do, do-do, do-do!”

Finally, one amused guy knew exactly what I was talking about and handed over a cassette of DIGITAL, the first (of two) Spanish albums I would ever buy in my life.

[I just watched the “official” video for the first time today and it’s so 80s, so Spanish and so bad that I won’t subject you to it. Instead, watch this version, oddly scoring scenes from Woody Allen’s SLEEPER for reasons I do not understand.]

Decades later, my mother sent me the double CD set reissue of Azul y Negro’s greatest hits and I finally retired the tape I’d lugged around with me almost my whole life. As soon as I got the CDs, I ripped the tracks and threw the whole thing onto my first iPod and hit the DC trails, riding to the best biking music that ever existed. Seriously. If you or someone you know loves to clear their heads while riding at a punishing pace, this is the soundtrack for them.


Great word: pyjamas

Bananas in Pyjamas is a thing that makes me & my BFF laugh.

Bananas in Pyjamas is a thing.

I was sitting at an outdoor bar near the beach in Barcelona on a sunny day like any of the hundreds I spent while living there. This particular day I was staring intently into the pint of beer in front of me, willing myself to drink it before it got warm or I threw up.

I was achingly hung over. My head hurt, my liver ached, my kidneys were screaming in protest and the air was starting to heat up like an oven. Throwing up was a very real possibility. Instead, I took a sip. It stayed down, so I took another. Feeling no additional ill effects, I gulped the rest of the beer down and felt many degrees better. Hair of the dog always does the trick, if you can stomach it.

Feeling the world come into focus again, I looked up from the table top and saw that Franc, my friend’s husband, was staring at me oddly. I met his look with my own contemplative one and he finally exploded: “Are you wearing pyjamas?!”

I was and I didn’t care who knew it. “I barely slept, I’m hungover, it’s hot as hell. It’s a miracle I showered today, so, yes, I’m wearing pyjama pants.” I considered the matter closed, but when my friend Melissa returned from the bathroom, Franc incredulously told her I was attired in sleepwear. “Oh, that’s a good idea. I wish I’d worn pajamas,” she said. Franc is South African and sometimes misunderstandings cropped up between our cultures. “What’s with you American girls?” he asked us. “You’re never embarrassed about anything!”

The truth is I’m not embarrassed very often, but it’s not because I’m American. It’s because, like Rhett Butler, I just don’t give a damn.

Think about something

Pyjama (my preferred spelling) is a unique word because it’s the same in my main languages: pajamas (US), pyjamas (UK), pyjama (FR), pyjama (ES). ORIGIN: early 19th cent.: from Urdu and Persian, from pāy [leg] + jāma [clothing.]

And, just for fun