A Matter of Time

In New York City, life moves at lightning speed. Business is conducted every second of the day, subways empty and fill in endless waves of motion, and people barely stop long enough to eat. In New York City, time may still be measured in seconds, minutes, hours but these units of measurement take on new definitions when applied to the NYC lifestyle – so much so that “New York Minute” has become a term to indicate the fast, hectic pace of life in the Big Apple.

As a private chef, David became more than familiar with the term as he often found himself racing against the clock – to get 80 perfectly plated dishes in front of 80 elite guests, to stock the Manhattan apartment with fresh meals while delivering food to the Connecticut estate. However, we grew to dislike the term when David was looking for a job as a waiter (between private chef jobs) and the manager at one restaurant asked him in a condescending tone if he knew what a New York Minute was. Never mind that David had had extensive restaurant experience working in some of the nicest restaurants in Paris and Southern California. In a New York Minute, the manager had decided that David was not quite quick enough for the job.

The hurried pace of life in New York City was exhausting, at times; however, since arriving in Spain, I’ve found myself longing for just a bit more of that speed. It’s not that the days pass slowly here because they don’t. And even though it doesn’t help that siesta time distractingly breaks up the day and delays things from being accomplished, it’s not that that drives productivity to a grinding halt. Rather, it’s just that the overall pace of life is slower. There’s no sense of deadlines to meet or appointments to make. Life happens when it happens, and, try as you might, you can’t speed up the process. We’ve learned that – the hard way.

Upon returning to Spain, David spent days trying to restore our internet at home. Either the system was down or the clerk didn’t want to help or they were missing bank information, but, invariably, the end result was always the same: David would walk away empty-handed, and I’d head to the library for wifi. Now, we’re back to the same stage that we were at when David left for the U.S. We are expecting a call to arrange a time to set up the DSL. We’ve been waiting for that call for about a week now.

But a week or so is just a drop in the bucket when compared to months – three to be exact. Our scooter broke down in October and we haven’t seen it since. We’ve traveled to Paris, we’ve crossed the Atlantic to the U.S., the seasons have changed and still no scooter. And it’s not even close to being fixed. In fact, three months later and we are still just waiting to hear whether the warranty will cover a new engine (the engine went kaput). The guy at the shop tells us to call back tomorrow, but we’ve been waiting long enough. David has screamed, hollered and shouted – but to no avail. There’s not much we can do. And so we wait. And we walk. Or hike rather. Up steep, ever-climbing roads that lead us through Altea’s old town and beyond, lugging bags of groceries and occasionally a 5 kilogram bag of cat litter and a 6 kilogram bag of cat food to our apartment which has good views – for a reason.

With normal life moving at snail’s pace, it’s not surprising that all things bureaucratic nearly come to a dead halt. Since July, David and I have been trying to get my residency (getting my NIE which is the number for tax purposes was accomplished swiftly in the beginning but actually getting my papers to live and work here has proven more difficult) but when David, in exacerbation, complains that it’s been six months since we first applied, the immigration officer doesn’t even blink. “This is nothing!” she says. “Usually, people wait at least a year.” Somehow, that doesn’t make us feel any better.

Things in Spain move so slowly that, sometimes, life can’t wait and just moves on. Being Jamaican, my mom was only granted a visa for 16 days when she came to visit over Thanksgiving. She was supposed to leave by November 30th, but when we had to spend my family’s whole vacation looking for – and moving into – a new apartment, we went to the police station to file an application in order to get her visa extended until December 15th. She left on December 9th. To this day, we still have yet to hear from the police station.

Units of time may be systematically measured in seconds, minutes and hours, but there’s a whole other element that plays a very significant role in the passing of time. Just like youth makes summer vacation seem like a year and a broken heart makes the passing of each day seem like an eternity, culture sets the overall pace of life. New York City barrels along in high speed while Spain moseys along in low speed.

Six months in, David and I are stuck somewhere in the middle. We don’t expect things to happen in a New York minute, but, if we could get our scooter back some time this year, that would be nice.

I've been too exhausted to take a photo of us lugging our groceries, but here's a photo to illustrate just how steep the streets really are. Photo courtesy of Coral Wilson.

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14 responses to “A Matter of Time

  1. I know what you mean. I always move at a fast pace and people here look at me like I am crzy. I am so isolated from any real life. Everything here is fairy tale feeling, like a movie, or vacation, just not real life. I try to move slow for most of the time, I love it here, but sometimes even the Americans move slow too and I really hate to wait for things. I swear I am getting better. If I had to wait for internet I would die. I teach online so I needed it. I can;t track down wifi here at 12 am. I did ask them to rush our set up and it worked. I hear from everyone else that we just got lucky. I hope it all works out for you and you get the internet set up and settle into a nice life in your new home.

    • I imagine that we’re experiencing very much the same thing, Melinda! I’m glad that you were able to get a rush on your internet! You were lucky! 🙂 Let us both work on our patience in 2010!

  2. Although, the lifestyle might be relaxing, it also sounds quite frustrating. I hope you get your everyday luxuries of internet and scooter back soon. But, you must be getting a really good workout in the meantime!

    • Johanna, you are absolutely correct about the workout and that’s a very positive outcome of our broken down scooter. We’ll make sure that everything’s in working order when you, Dave and Amaya come for a visit!

  3. Extremely frustrating – I can barely stand it! I was looking forward to taking a spin on your scooter…. and esp when internet is out drives me nuts!

    • Coral, since you’ve been in Burma for the last couple of weeks, you haven’t had to suffer! As of two days ago, the internet’s finally up and running – just in time for your return! Jack’s Back!

  4. The rigid set of rules and regulations – combined with the slow lethargic government behind them, moving at a snail’s pace, oblivious to the needs of the ordinary citizen – remind me of the characters in Kafka’s novels. His book, The Trial, in particular comes to mind.

    A sad commentary on a sad state of affairs. But I digress…

    • Dad, nice plug for your libertarian beliefs! Kafka’s fictional tales may be turning into non-fiction, after all!

  5. I can’t help but think that when the agent at the police station urged us to submit my application for a visa extension and it would end our troubles she knew that indeed we would never hear back. The application would simply stand in a pile to the end of time. This provokes the thought that in fact, time doesn’t exist and it is man that divides it into increments to suit his lifefestyle. I can’t help but think of the Haitians who keep begging for more rapid relief to their suffering. To them life must seem at a standstill although the world is scurrying to their aid.

    • The agent must have been laughing under her breath! Those poor, optimistic foreigners who don’t have a clue how things work in Spain! Very thoughtful and accurate statement of how the perception of time can change with the circumstance – especially the situation in Haiti where the Haitians are still waiting…

  6. Sara I am so sorry. You probably think I am a bad reader BUT I actually did post a comment yesterday but for some reason it isn’t here. My darn crackberry has been messing up!! What I said was that I understand your feelings of shock at adjusting to a much slower pace. I felt that way when we first moved to NC. People and things move quite slow here, like there’s not a care in the world! It is frustrating to say the least, but we have adjusted as you guys will too. I must say your whole scooter situation is maddening, especially seeing the steep hills you have to walk along just to do your daily errands. Goodness, before its all over and you get your transportation back you both will have great cardiovascular health! So I guess there is a positive to every situation ;0)

    • Amy, I will give you the benefit of the doubt because I know that you are a most faithful reader! Here’s to both of us adjusting to a different pace of life! I guess you don’t have to move to another country to experience culture shock! 😉

  7. OMG Sara! I was born and raised in Latin culture but after NYC I’m having a hard time with the way things get done, or rather get eventually done in Latin culture. So I offer you some comfort in knowing you’re not alone in frustration! From having to snail mail everything in Paris (even forms that need to be filled out online for crying out loud) and going into the 9th waiting month for paperwork from Brazil that were due in 1 month, I feel like I’m going to go crazy and want to cry sometimes–especially as I’ll need to go deal with Italy next! You’re a brave anglophone trying all this. Have you tried bribing? Kidnapping the mechanic’s mom? Flirting with the mechanic and telling him how hot it is to see a mechanic fixing your scooter in 1 hour or less? In any case I certainly hope you have a backpack in which to carry your groceries up those steps! Good luck in this sluggish world that is Latin culture!!!

    • Ana, I know that you’re dealing with exactly the same thing! It sounds like France is only prepping you for what’s to come in Italy! They definitely live by a there’s-always-tomorrow attitude! As for the scooter, I don’t know if I have the ability to flirt the mechanic into action. Perhaps when you come to visit, you can turn on your Brazilian charm? David and I would be most grateful!

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