Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Barcelona: Banks, the Beach, Beer, and a Brother

There were lots of interesting things in Barcelona.  But two stand out.  The first is our US bank will NOT bank in Spain.  Under any circumstances.  Even if you are stranded there without cash and three kids.  My suggestion, to anyone traveling, is to check with your bank before you go to see what school yard fights they may be involved in.  Trust me, it is a GIANT pain in the ass when you find yourself without access to credit cards or debit cards. 

Luckily for me, I have a father who doesn't seem to mind being woken up at 4 am, by his daughter begging for money. By lunch. 

The other was the elevator in the building we were staying in.  It was tiny, designed to hold 300kg and it bounced when you got in. It reminded me of the 'cage' elevator in an apartment building in San Francisco my brother lived in.  Equally small. Equally rickety. But the door to his elevator was a swirl of painted gold ironwork, much prettier.  It opened to his beautiful apartment in the heart of San Francisco. Perched on a hill, the apartment was airy and light with high ceilings and huge windows.

I was 19 when I went to visit him. He was only 21.  But had been living there a couple of years already.  As soon as he graduated from high school, he packed his bags and left.  Found a friend there and starting making his way. 

Unfortunately, his way included beer. A lot of it. And before he probably knew it, he had a huge problem.  He would fall asleep with a beer in his hand and wake up to have another.  His refrigerator was barren except for a few condiments.  We had a good week though. He took me everywhere.  The Sutro baths, the wharves, Alcatraz, the shop he worked at.  He worked in a toy store that sold a lot of very deluxe kites. He got really good at flying them and one way or another we all ended up with a kite or two.

He must have been good at this job because his boss asked him to open a store in Hawaii.  He packed and left San Francisco.  But he took his drinking problem with him.  Where it got worse. 

His life on Hawaii came to a screeching halt when he ended up with a traumatic brain injury after a drunken brawl.  Three weeks in the hospital and a parental escort back to the US mainland.   This time he not only brought his drinking problem but also seizures as a result of the TBI.  Life grew even more complicated.  He tried though.  Worked.  Bought a truck.  Lived in an apartment on his own.  Enrolled in a few classes. But he was sick.  Drinking, seizures, and now thyroid problems.  He tried to deal with all of those things but it's hard when you're unwell, have lousy insurance, and only accept help sporadically.   Then he had a major heart attack.  Followed by three more. 

The fourth was too much. He died while out walking. On a street he was familiar with and had walked many, many times. Only two blocks away from where he grew up.  His cup of tea still on the porch.

That is why on the beach in Barcelona, when a guy came through selling cervesas at 10 am, I talked to my two oldest kids about alcohol and drugs and all the damage that can happen. We went through their family tree. I laid things bare.  They listened.  I hope.

I took the elevator after that.  Still reminded me of Dan but maybe that's not such a bad thing.  Sometimes it's good to be reminded.

23 comments:

  1. Jen, I am so glad that your Dad was there for you guys!! I think the kids will heed your warnings, if for no other reason other than you ARE a very good mother and they have ALREADY experienced more great times and traveled more distance than most any 100 adults...collectively!! PLUS they are good kids to begin with. Love Pearl

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  2. Have I told you lately that you are amazing? Cause you are. First, I have never heard of a bank that would not allow you to use their credit card in another country. How outrageous! Pray tell us what nefarious institution left you begging in Spain? I think I might have dissolved into a puddle at that moment of rejection.

    Second, I admire your honesty with your kids. This was not an easy story to live through or to share. When people you love are hurting and struggling and there is not a damn thing you can do to help make a change, it is very frustrating. I hope Dan knew he was loved. You are a good sister and your kids have a fantastic Mom. Each day a new challenge. Hang in there!! <3

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  3. We love the person we hate the behavior and you definitely knew the difference and loved him very much. I believe your kids will learn from your story but also take away from it the good memories that you had with Dan. Life happens and some of us deal with it differently. Jen, your kids have two loving parents who are together this makes a world of difference in a childs life without a doubt you are on the right track bumps will happen but together Mom and Dad will be up for the challenge.
    Ps
    I have fond memories of staying with you all and your Mom in Hartford :)

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  4. Wow I am sorry about your brother. I know what its like having a family member with a drinking problem. One of my uncles could easily put a brewery out of business and still be able to walk home. Even when his poor organs took him to the hospital that was not enough of a sign to stop. I hope your kids kids to listened as this is not the way to live life.

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  5. In almost every family bad things happen and it´s brave you talk about it here. Hopefully your kids will remember what you told them.

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    1. Some stories should be told. Thanks Christina,

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  6. What a sad story. I know from experience how difficult it is to deal with a family member who has an addiction. The best you can do is tell your kids the risks of alcohol and drugs and let them know that you'll be there if they ever need help.

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  7. Wow so much detail and sadness to someone close and you can't control the outcome, what a story to tell your children while on vacation - it really sinks in.

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  8. What a terrible tragedy... I can't imagine losing a family member to that and I pray I never will. It's something that will change your life forever in everything you do. Hopefully your kids will remember it as well and keep it in mind when it comes to making life choices as they grow up.

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  9. That's a harrowing story.. I'm so sorry to hear it, but also it's great that you can instill different values into your children.

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  10. That wasn't what I expected when I stared reading this post...Since I live in Barcelona, I was imagining a nice beach holiday iincluding Sagrada familia and Gaudi...But God, what a story...Im so sorry for your brother! And you are telling it in such a beautiful way...
    I know those elevators...

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    1. Elena- we loved Barcelona! So many beautiful places. Gaudi was something else.

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  11. Hey Jennifer, what a tale. Really heartfelt. It is amazing what you have done for your kids, not many people would have the courage to be so honest about their family.

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  12. Hi Jennifer, I'm sure this was not an easy post to write. It's an important story to pass on to others, so thank you for sharing in the hopes that it does.

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  13. Unfortunately there are most likely too many people in this world that can relate to your story. Alcohol is a game changer in many lives but I'm glad that you still think about your brother. Family is important and the experiences they have will impact other family members for generations. I love that you shared this story with us and especially with your kids. It may not stop them from ever taking a drink but I'm confident they will remember and love you more for being open.

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  14. Wow, hard story to share - so sorry you had to go through something like that. Totally agree that honesty is the best policy when it comes to kids, that's the kind of story that would make me take alcohol seriously. Hope you enjoyed Barcelona in spite of the bad memories and the banking problems - I adore that city!

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  15. It is interesting the associations to memory and experience we can make on the road. Sorry to hear about your brother.

    As someone else already asked, which bank doesn't allow you to use their ATMS or credit cards in Barcelona? That's ridiculous. Glad you managed a fix.

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    1. We bank with a credit union, I just think they are ill equipped to respond to travelers in Europe. Was so crazy!

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  16. The association almost reminds of Pierre, the older brother in a novel I just read called "The Lover" by Marguerite Duras.

    A bitter-sweet memory, but with much wisdom behind it. Thank you for sharing it with us.

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  17. So sorry about your brother. I hope your kids listened carefully to the story. (And what is it with your bank... that's ridiculous!)

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  18. It is a sad story. I'm really sorry to hear that. But I know that drinking is a really huge problem in many countries and it has a really big impact on the families. On all the family. It's good that you've told your story to children. Hopefully they will think in the future before they touch the alcohol.

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  19. Sorry to hear about that! It's well worth educating and creating the awareness amongst the kids about addiction.

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  20. This isn't what I expect to read on a travel blog, interesting/sad post though, great work for writing something different!

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