Friday, 7 December 2018

Unusual friends - Post woman and Courier delivery man

Unusual friends series number 5 - Continuing the series of stories with home delivery people. Post woman and Courier delivery man.

In the post Internet world the post office is not an often visited place. In England the post office used to provide many services such as providing forms for multitude of services such as applying for a driving license or a passport. They even had a shop where you could buy cards and envelopes and all kinds of paper goods. Here in Spain, Correos does provide some services butI find that I need to go into their offices less and less. 

However they do deliver post, even if it is only a few items and not very often. The lady who comes to deliver uses a motor bike of distinctive colour often parked on the road, with a big bag open to the public while she goes up and down the road to deliver. She always has pleasant greeting for everyone and to my knowledge no one has bothered to annoy her by meddling with her motor bike or the bag of post.

What does surprise me is that often mail which has very doubtful addresses gets delivered to the right mail box using any information that can be made out. I do remember often mail being delivered which is missing our building's number or our apartment number. So long it gets to the local post office with my name, I believe I will get it.

The courier services that deliver packages, and we do seem to get a lot of these, (specially the Amazon deliveries) also have their quirks. Very annoyingly they refuse to accurately inform you of their exact time of arrival, and in some cases we have had to call and find out where our package might be if we were not at home.
But there is one company, whose driver has been in their employ perhaps more than is normal, and this man has got to know us. He will often wave to us while driving by us in the street and I believe he might even know our names. At one stage we had our phone number on the delivery address, and he now calls Marisol's mobile phone when we are not at home. Often times we can get back to collect our package. But if we cannot, he will meet us anywhere in town and hand over the package. On one occasion he called and we said we were having lunch at a local restaurant. 'Which one?' he said and came by and delivered to our table!
Now that is a delivery service.

Thursday, 6 December 2018

Unusual friends - Porters, Handymen and Taxi Drivers

Continueing the 'Unusual friends' series. Part 4 with a look at the Porters, Handymen and Taxi Drivers.

Now we have to tread carefully. Marisol is the President of the community in our building for the year 2019, so whatever I say will be under scrutiny. The set of people that fall into the Porters and Handymen category who I know, contain a variety of depths of friendship. In England and also in the US cities the porters were (perhaps still are) sign of a posh building and always to be respected, and when you saw that the apartment you would like to rent was in a building that had a porter, it generally meant that you could double your rental costs.
However in Spain until recently every building had a porter whose job came with an apartment included free of rent or cost and somehow the community charges were always very low. Perhaps they never got paid.
When I first came to visit my Father-in-law back in the seventies I came across this profession because his building had one of these, she was a very pleasant Cuban lady and lived with her family in the building. What she actually did apart from standing in the doorway from time to time I am not too sure.
More recently we came across a couple who are also in this profession and we meet them occasionally in a bar around the corner. However my favourite is a man who works at a building nearby who has become a good friend over the years. I did not know him much until about ten years ago, when he signed up to attending my birthday party in India. Since then I can no longer classify him as unusual and more recently he has been part of our Camino de Santiago group and we have shared a lot of experiences together.

Moving on to another unusual association we come to taxi drivers. Ever since I had this hair raising experience with a taxi in Maracaibo (in Venezuela) where we lived for a while many years ago, I have a lot of respect for the people who run these cars. What happened is that for some reason I happened to catch a cab in the centre of Maracaibo, and just as I opened my mouth, the driver said 'Mire seƱor, usted quiere ir a su casa o la oficina'?
That translates to 'Would you like to go home or to your office'?
I quickly changed what I was going to say to 'Do you know where I live'?
'I know all about you' he replied, or words to that effect.
Since Maracuchos were keen to pull out their guns at the least annoyance, I did not pursue that line of inquiry any further.
Anyway, here in Spain also I would think all the taxi drivers would know that much about me. One in particular has become a family 'friend' and we have used him whenever we have an occasion to use a taxi.
The other day I was ordering a drink in a nearby bar, something that one does often under the general activity of 'tomar algo' (I have friends who could be called Name Tomar Algo Surname, but I digress). Collecting my drink I was about turn around to join Marisol, when a man sitting nearby said to me 'Ah, you do not recognise me'. At this I looked at him more closely and sure enough it was our taxi 'friend'. 'Hombre, we have not seen you for a while', I said.
I then found out that he was retiring and that his son was now taking over his cab and his clients.
Being in the same boat, I wished him all the best and perhaps we will be seeing him more often, if you see what I mean, 'tomando algo'.

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Unusual friends - The waiters and barmen

Continuing with the third of as yet unlimited stories under the banner of 'Unusual friends'..

Now almost two years ago, we (that is us and a couple of friends) happened to be sitting in the terrace of a bar on a brilliant sunny and warm day sipping our drinks and munching calamares, (or rabas as they are known) the local delicacy. The waiter came by and brought us some tapas and I knew that he was Peruvian. The football world cup qualifying rounds were going on and I happened to know that Peru were struggling with a few matches to go. So I made a comment to the guy saying that Peru looked like going out, and he cheered up to know that someone was aware of Peru's progress (or lack of). With a grand gesture he announced that he would take a bet that Peru qualify. I accepted and we agreed to bet on the value of a round of drinks and rabas, about 15 Euros.
The bar in Laredo
My logic was that although I was neutral in what happened in the matches, it would give me and the waiter some common ground for interaction and having some fun. As many of you will know, Peru qualified by the skin of their teeth. We were both very happy that this happened and although I happened to be on travels when the result became known, and the waiter may have thought that I had fled without paying, but I happily paid up my dues when next in town.
A few months later the scene repeated itself and the same waiter offered to repeat the bet if Peru got to the second round. Again I accepted, and this time Peru failed dismally and I won my money back. Perhaps as an exercise in financial gain this was a minor flop, but in terms of making a longterm association I gained a lot. This man is always happy to see me, and even if we pass by without sitting in his terrace, he will still say hello and smile. Also if Peru lose an international game I give him a thumbs down and he shrugs, and if they win its a thumbs up and his face lights up.
There are other bars in Laredo where I find equally friendly faces. Most of them know a bit about me and will tell me that they saw me on the TV or that there was photo of me in the newspaper. This goes for the surrounding towns as well. I have been recognised in Santander and Bilbao bars for being from Laredo, and there is this restaurant in San Miguel where all the waiters and cooks come together and tell me, 'yep, we saw you again' or 'what happened, we have not seen you in the press for a while'.
On another occasion we were in a group driving around Cantabria enjoying a lovely day out, but got late in finding a restaurant to have lunch. Suddenly the thought occurred to me that there was a restaurant in the general area where we were, that I had visited a year or two before and that the people had treated us really well. It was almost 4pm and everyone agreed to give this a shot as a last resort.
So we showed up at the restaurant and as we entered they seemed to be clearing up and looking forward to calling it a day. We were looking for a table for ten, so I could see that it was going to be impossible. And I was right, they said that the kitchen was closing and that they could not accomodate us. I kind of remembered the guy who had hosted us in the past, so on a hunch I described the man to see if he was around. They said yes, he is upstairs and called out for him. This familiar face came down, looked at me and his face lit up. 'Hombre, ya era hora' (Man, about time we saw you around here again) he said and gave me a hug. To my friends he said 'You guys probably dont know how this guy can eat'.
Turned out he was the owner and once he realised what we wanted, he told us to wait five minutes and they set a table and we all enjoyed a late but delicious lunch.
Something similar to this happened to me New York once, where in a similar situation, Sunday, 3pm, a restaurant where we had no reservation and which had a queue outside, and again about eight of us including my sister and her family we decided to chance our luck and I went in and said to the person in charge of reservations and seating 'Hi, do you remember me'?
''Were you not here last week'?
'Yes, it was great and that is why I am back, but I need a table today too and don't have a reservation'.
She shrugged her shoulders and nodded over to the pile of people waiting.
'Please, I have about eight people outside and some children, its late and we are hungry. You have to help me'.
'Impossible', she said.
I hung around a few minutes and she saw me and came over and said 'give me fifteen minutes and I will put together a couple of tables and I will call you'.
I could have hugged her but refrained, but my face probably said how I felt. I came out and gave my folks the good news and we had the most amazing lunch at the Rosa Mexicano, on 58th with 1st Avenue. Those of you who have sampled my Guacamole should know that its based on a recipe from this restaurant.
Rosa Mexicano - 58th and 1st NY

There is something to be said for a long cool Margarita waiting at the bar of a hotel, where you arrived after a long flight from London and then a two hour drive down Interstate 78, something that I used to do on regular intervals when working for a company in Pennsylvania. The barman used to be given advanced notice of my arrival!
It pays to have some emotional intelligence and appreciate what people do (and show it) and you get more than you invest back as a reward.

Sunday, 2 December 2018

Unusual Friends - The mentally challenged group

Continuing the stories relating to unusual friends, here is the next instalment about the mentally challenged group.

Now picture this. (I am sorry that I cannot provide a photo here)
A couple of men (possibly brothers) come walking down the road in my direction. They pass scores of people without a sound, but as soon as they spot me, they smile and greet me with a 'buenos dias' and a wave. I always wave back, smile and repeat the greeting. I know of these men and know that they are not all totally there (if you know what I mean). 
What is it that I have which the rest of the population does not?
Happens to me all the time. 
There was this one time at ARCO (The famous art fair) in Madrid and we were told by one of the gallery people that there was a cocktail that evening (by invitation only) and wondered if we were going. I had no knowledge of the event. 
Later when we were on our way out through the elaborate security systems at the exhibition centre, in a big throng of people because it was closing time and slowly making our way to the exit. There may have been a couple of hundred people.
Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a man coming down some stairs and surveying the crowd, and upon seeing me, began to make his way towards me through the crowd. As he got nearer he waved to me to stop for him. When he got to me he handed me something and said 'We are having a cocktail event this evening, and here are couple of tickets. please join us.'
So, as I said, I do attract attention, but not as much as with the people who feel marginalised.
There is one such man in town, avoided by most people, who is aware that I am from India, so every time he sees me he might shout 'vamonos a Ganges, me cago en diez', which translates to 'lets all go to the Ganges, profanity'.  My reply to him is usually 'why not' and a smile.
Another set of young men (also brothers) are our neighbours and they have severe Autism and Tourette syndrome between them. 
The one with Tourette normally avoids contact but can be seen doing peculiar things as he walks, like avoiding certain areas, or counting steps forward and backwards, or touching every tree three times.
The one with the autism is to be found walking all over town and nearby towns at all hours of the day and night. He also gathers masses of information (from reading at the library I presume) and is likely to engage people in conversation with a dump of all he can think of.
With me he is usually more focussed and I get the 'India' related dump.  If I am with Marisol or friends, he will ignore them and talk only to me while walking alongside.
Something along the lines of 'Did you hear about the holy men gathering on the banks of Ganges, millions of them, 28 got trampled and another 418 are missing, and the city of Cochin has banned fishing with the nets, and the president is visiting the flooded areas of Assam. Did you know that pollution in Amritsar has delayed the trains and the farmers are staging a protest in Kanpur.'
This one way conversation can go on for ten or fifteen minutes, with me nodding or saying 'really?' and trying to find a way of politely ignoring him and get on with my own conversation with whoever I maybe with.
Finally he is likely to get the hint and might end with a 'OK, I will leave you now but can you spare me a Euro for a cup of coffee.' Poor chap.
I wish I could employ him to do some research for me occasionally. 
I can make up a list of topics that might just get him started in the right direction.