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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

New Crib for the Turtle

New Crib for the Turtle

When I first came to Valencia I made the usual sweeping generalizations about gypsies as do most people here. I figured that anyone occupying the the lower levels of society here were gypsies, or gitanos. What I have come to understand is that there are few real gypsies in Valencia (50,000 in the whole community), that even the term gitano is often used derogatorily, that the whole issue of gypsies is rather complex, and that most of the people that who I thought were Spanish gypsies are Romanian. Whether the Romanians I see in the street are ethnic gypsies is another matter. I have read very little about gypsies since I have arrived in Spain. I read an investigation into the gitano culture of the southern Andalusian city of Málaga last year in El País. Come to think of it, that's the only thing I have read about Spanish gypsies as far as in depth investigations into their lifestyle.

A common sight in the streets of Valencia is someone pushing a shopping cart laden with items pilfered from the refuse receptacles. I labeled these shopping carts as “gypsy pick-up trucks” back before I was aware of the ethnic origin of the folks driving the carts. I wasn't trying to be derogatory, in fact I feel a certain kinship with other people who rummage around through items that other people have cast off. They don't have thrift stores in Spain, at least none that I have seen. Wandering thrift stores was a very important part of my life back in Seattle. I have filled the thrift store void in my life by keeping an eye out for what Spanish people put out to the curb for the trash men to take away.

It has always amazed me the kind of stuff that other people simply throw away. It was my contention that there is a fortune to be made by reselling the stuff that average Americans toss in the trash. After I got to Spain I realized that there wouldn't be a huge market here for used items. From what I have seen it seems people here don't really get too excited about buying second hand merchandise. The last time that I moved here in Spain I asked my old roommate if he was going to try to sell some of the stuff that he wasn't taking to his new apartment. He basically told me that Spanish people don't really do that; they just throw it away. Their loss is sometimes my gain, especially lately.

I cover a lot more of Valencia on my bicycle every day than my Romanian and gypsy counterparts do in the dog-eat-dog world of...for lack of a more delicate phrase, garbage picking. But we aren't really competing if you want to know the truth. The professionals with their gypsy pick-up trucks are mostly after scrap iron, although they will grab anything they find that they can sell or use themselves. I don't route through the bins, I just pounce on targets of opportunity which are sitting out on the sidewalk. I have nicked a couple of really nice wooden folding chairs, a bookcase, and a little shelf for my desk. I have often come across furniture items that were definitely worthy of adoption but either I wasn't in the mood to schlep them back home, or I was just too far away from home base, or the items were too large to haul, or both.

The prize possession in my street booty is the huge new aquarium and table that has become the new home for my pet turtle. I found the tank one day when I was out on a bike ride. It was really far from my apartment and it was a huge pain in the ass getting it back home. I had to hoist it up on the seat of my bike and balance the other end on the handle bars. It's a miracle that I got it home in one piece. I put a coat of silicon around the edges just in case it had any leaks. Cost: 2.50€ and a lot of hard work.

Ever since I found the tank I have been on the lookout for something to put it on. I was walking home from the train station at Plaza de España last weekend when I happened upon the table. I was just recovering from a long weekend I spent out in the country at the home of some friends and I really didn't feel like hauling this monster the two or so kilometers back to my flat. But after I thoroughly checked it out, I decided that it was the perfect size. If I didn't grab the table I would regret it later. I shouldered the thing and Sherpa'd it back home. Later I cleaned it up, sanded it a bit, and threw on a coat of varnish. Cost: 7€ for the varnish and a hell of a lot of work.

Before I filled the tank I had to get some gravel for the bottom. Yesterday I rode to the beach on my bike and filled my pack with pea-sized gravel. My pack must have weighed 20 kilos. I also picked up a few handfuls of sea shells just to make my turtle's new home a little more pleasant—not that he will give a shit about aesthetics. The rocks and shells were free but I had to buy a filter for the tank which cost 18€.

I have the tank right next to the television so you can either watch TV or watch the turtle. The turtle is more entertaining than about 90% of Spanish TV. I need to find something to put in the space below the tank where there was a drawer. I am keeping my eye on the trash containers.

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