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Monday, August 27, 2007

New Digs

My new corner which shares the same square as the Russafa Market.

New Digs

All good things come to an end. That’s a really dumb statement that seems to have been around forever. Everything comes to an end, at least everything observable. Someone probably got paid big bucks for coming up with that lightweight aphorism yet no one is going to pay me a dime to mock it. I just wanted my displeasure with this insipid phrase to be on the record before I say that I am going to miss living where I do now. Living in this apartment has been a good thing. By Friday my life in this place ends.

I have spent a few agonizing weeks looking for a new place to live after the landlord at his apartment decided he wanted this one back. I use the Spanish equivalent of craigslist called comunidad loquo. That’s how I found this place back in December. It was pretty easy back then even though my Spanish was much worse than it is now. I also have a telephone this time around to make it even easier. I only looked at two other apartments back in December, one which was rather charming, and another that wasn’t bad at all, until I found the place where I now live—at least until the end of this month. I have known for three months that I needed to find a new place, but I didn’t think it would be too difficult to come across another place. It was so easy the first time, after all.

I can’t imagine using classified ads to find an apartment to share in the U.S. It’s been many years since I have shared an apartment, and when I did, it was always with friends. Not only am I asking total strangers to take me into their homes, but I am doing it in a language I speak rather imperfectly. I finally got around to buying a cell phone which made things a lot easier. I bought a prepaid phone for 50€ like you see the little corner kid, drug dealers use in the brilliant HBO series The Wire. You just walk into a phone store, shell out the cash, and walk out with a number and a phone. No questions asked and none answered. I told the gal I bought it from that only drug dealers in the U.S.A. use prepaid phones, or “burners” as the kids call them on The Wire. In Europe they are very common and you can recharge them with extra minutes at just about every business in town.

Armed with my new cell phone and my pirated internet signal at home, I started scouring the ads in earnest about two and a half weeks ago. There are probably at least 50 ads for apartments to share every day online here in Valencia. I was automatically excluded from many of them because they were looking for students or women. This still left a healthy crop to choose from and I started dialing and emailing in Spanish. It was a lot harder this time around even with the powerful tools of internet (which I didn’t have at home last time), a cell phone, and much better language skills.

I came across an ad, complete with pictures, for a two bedroom apartment for rent for only 300€ so I sent an email in Spanish asking for details. In return I received a frantic email in fractured English from a man claiming that his wife had been transferred to Africa for a Christian mission and that he was living in Miami. They needed someone to watch their house who would take good care of it in their absence which was why they were asking well below the going rate. He asked me for some personal information. It wasn’t very personal nor compromising so I sent along. I desperately needed a place to live and I needed it fast.

It was the next email when I was certain that it was a scam. He asked that I wire 900€, or rent for the first three months, via Western Union to Lagos, Nigeria and when he received the money he would send the keys and instructions. Instead of breaking off out new friendship at this point, I decided to play along. I was pretty much stuck to a computer most of the day looking for an apartment anyway. I may as well have some fun.

I told him that I would send the money directly and thanked him. I promised that his house would be in good hands and that I was even thinking of doing some improvements on it because I am sort of a handy guy like that. I also asked him if he wouldn’t mind if I just wired him an entire year’s rent at the beginning or 3,600€. At this point my Nigerian friend must have felt like Santiago in The Old Man and the Sea and that he was about to land the biggest fish of his life. He probably went out and bought a new car using my email as collateral. He started getting a bit impatient with me in the emails when I still had not wired him the money. I asked him if he knew my brother who was the Minister of Finance in Nigeria, and that perhaps instead of sending him the money I could invest the money with my brother, the Nigerian Minister of Finance, and thus double, or perhaps triple his money. Evidently, he had not heard of that particular internet scam and promised that he would meet my brother, Minister of Finance for Nigeria, after I sent him the money, and could I send the money immediately. Isn’t it funny how money sometimes gets in the way of a friendship. I told him as much in our final email exchange.

And I kept looking. I probably looked at a dozen places this time around, all of which were either downright crappy or just dark and dreary dungeons. I couldn’t believe how many terrible apartment floor plans there are out there. Where I live now is incredibly light and airy. I also have a huge deck which opens the place up to infinity. I looked at one new apartment that had only a single window to the outside while the others opened into a shaft running up the middle of the building. I checked out an apartment rented by two young guys that was under repairs and there was a heavy layer of dust on absolutely everything. It was 260€ a month with no additional charge for the black lung disease.

Sometimes I would talk to someone on the phone about a place and have them treat me like I was from another planet because of my accent. If people weren’t nice I didn’t let things go any further. I didn’t like the neighborhoods of any of the places I saw; they were all farther from the city center than where I live now. I became so discouraged that I considered moving to another city. I was looking at homelessness. In fact, I was beginning to get a good enough look at homelessness to be able to describe it to a police sketch artist.

I answered an ad that simply mentioned a room for rent near the center city. I followed up with an email and then called. The woman was nice on the phone. It turns out she was taking an internship in Switzerland and was vacating her room in a flat that she shared with two other women. We agreed to meet the next day so I could see the place.

I arrived early enough the next day to thoroughly investigate the neighborhood. The building shares the same square as the Russafa Market which is one of the major fresh food markets in the city. The rest of the neighborhood is a lot more historic than where I live now. There is also an 18th century cathedral in this same square. The downtown is only a few blocks away and I can walk to the train station. Like any urban Spanish neighborhood, the place is teaming with bars, restaurants, shops, internet cafes, and everything else needed in modern Spanish life. I found a latin grocery store that sells masa for Mexican-style corn tortillas. I liked the neighborhood a lot.

The apartment itself is in a newer building and, once again, the woman I dealt with was friendly and helpful. Nice kitchen, nice bathroom, nice bedroom with a great desk, and then we went into the living room. I almost fainted when I saw that there was an upright piano. I just told her right then and there that I was moving in whether they liked it or not. And that was that.

The only catch is that she doesn’t leave for Switzerland until the 10th of October and I have to vacate this place by the 1st. I have already fixed that problem by booking a room in Barcelona for these ten days. I am moving all of my stuff into the new placeand I’ll leave on Friday. I haven’t been to Barcelona in a long, long time and it will be like seeing it for the first time. I will take my dorky folding bike with me on the train. I need a vacation after these past few weeks of hell

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