Sunday, December 19, 2010

Yaaayyayayayya!!! I am in an exceedingly good mood after having impulsively booked my flight to Israel on Saturday! And for getting to spend the week in front of me in Malta! Yayaayyayaa again!

Lately I've been spending an inordinate amount of time on Skyscanner and Sidestep, searching far and wide for somewhere, anywhere to go. As long as it was warm in January and it was located somewhere within the vicinity of Europe, Northern Africa or the Middle East. And I had to be able to afford it, that also was important. Also somewhere I hadn't yet been. And somewhere I could go on my own. Juliet, Carissa and I have been planning Malta for awhile, but I had nothing set for the week and a half in January before school resumes.

To Israel! I think it must be the universe correcting its temporary lapse of judgment, as I had thought prior even to arriving in Spain that I'd like to spend my winter break in the Middle East, but hadn't followed through. I'm really excited and I'm really really excited to be doing a solo trip because my last one where I was completely alone - not counting moves where I was part of a program - was Portugal almost two years ago, and I've been craving a sequel for quite some time. I need to read a book. I need to think quiet thoughts. I need to go on a tour of the holy land. Done, done and done.

Christmas is coming, weirdly enough, as I seem to have no concept of the passage of time or the approaching holiday in general since I'm away from my normal Christmas routine and WEATHER. I tried working winter vocabulary into my lessons but realized as I was trying to explain the words for frost or blizzard, for example, that it's not just the words these kids don't know but the very concepts themselves. It gets cold here sometimes, but right now it's 48 degrees. Minnesota has been in the news here lately for the roof collapse, and a lot of people have mentioned seeing it and are all quite amazed/disbelieving that people can bear the weather. Holla Minnesota badasses.

Monday was the holiday party at school. Each year the first year teachers have to do some sort of performance, so I was among about eight others standing in front of a full cafeteria of staff members, dressed as a shepherd from the nativity and singing Spanish Christmas carols. When I say singing I mean I clapped my hands a lot and occasionally made adjustments to the shepherd scarf tied around my head. Traditional Spanish dessert of chocolate con churros - which look sort of how I imagine deep-fried intestines would appear, after being dusted with a light sprinkling of powdered sugar. Magical.

Thassabout all I have to say about life right now. I'll be back in town for New Years - co-teacher Ana invited me to New Years Eve dinner with her whole family at her parent's house. Example of Spanish time: She told me if I wanted I could just come to dinner and leave when they finish eating around 1 AM, so I'll still be early for any parties. Yeah okay Ana, either that or I'll fall asleep when I'm stuffing my face with grapes at the stroke of midnight, as per Spanish tradition. Word on the street Spaniards eat x amount of grapes in the final minutes of New Years Eve because way back when there was a surplus of grapes and the King was trying to get rid of them so inducted this tradition. Maybe if the grapes didn't have seeds people would have been more willing to eat them before the numbers got so out of hand.

Another cool story Amaya told me is that people from Madrid are called gatos - cats - because at some point way back when the city was invaded and the people fought back by scratching at the faces of the enemy.

Badass, yes, but can they survive a Minnesota winter??

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Sort of a nightmarish week but I've come to the happy realization that it no longer gets to me quite so much. When I first started teaching I would freak out every Sunday morning about the coming week and by Sunday evening would be popping a second dose of anxiety pills like it's hot (I'm neurotic). Now, not even the dysfunction and despair of my worst class can get me down. More or less.

My worst class this week was the same one that's always bad. This was also the first class I ever taught at Colegios Madres Concepcionistas way back when, which ended in my co-teacher bitching them out and putting her arms up in the air while saying - es un desastre -"It's a disaster". Well this week my co-teacher was not there and do you know why? Me neither, at least for the hour I was with this classroom of rabid preteens, although I did get an explanation afterwards. During the class however, the kids would not shut up. NOT SHUT UP. We were doing an activity with a song and listened to it several times in peace before I told them to get in groups and compare the answers they'ed come up with before we filled in any missing lyrics as a class. Groups grouped, chaos ensued. I confiscated two TechDecks and still no improvement. Finally - and I've used this threat a lot but had never had to make good on it - I told them if they couldn't handle listening to the song than they'ed do compositions instead. Well they couldn't handle it para nada, so I tell them all to go back to their desks, take out a piece of paper, and write me a composition. This failed: Students couldn't understand that I wanted a composition - "A competition? What teacher? You want us to write a competition?" This was bullshit, by the way. Composition is composición in Spanish. they knew what I was saying, and if they couldn't understand that, the fact that I had written their punishment on the board. In Spanish. Should have served as a clue.

Minutes pass, they're still not following my directions. One boy in the back of the classroom waves me over and hands me a piece of paper. But what? This boy never does his work and he hasn't been writing. How can he possibly have finished the composition already? Oh no, this is no composition. This is a list of Spanish/English translations, such as "Quiet," and "Pay Attention," and "Please listen class". It seems these kids were shits in the past as well and some native Spanish teacher thought to give them some key phrases they would be hearing throughout the course of their academic careers. Some of the students evidently haven't quite caught on that I speak Spanish and since some of them are rather not in the least bit bilingual, showing me the Spanish commands was his way of giving me a hand and/or rubbing it in my face that this class was an ABOMINATION.

Meanwhile, some of the students have started writing their compositions. Three of them. The problem here is that they were happy about the composition assignment. Happy, wha?? I can't be having happy students?! Normally of course happy is good, but in this case they clearly did not understand that boring individual written work = punishment, meaning my efforts at discipline via said boring individual written work were fruitless. At the end of the class they told me they hadn't finished but wanted to know if they could work on it at home and turn it in for me to read next week. Sheesh.

Class ends. I go to the teacher's lounge and see my co-teacher Ana. Tell her it was una pesadilla - a nightmare. "But where were you?" she wants to know, "Which class?" Third of ESO, I tell her. "Yes, they're the worst class," she says. Then she gets a stricken look on her face. Ana thought it was Thursday. She was a day ahead in her schedule and so she forgot to show up to teach with me. Oops.

Classes weren't all horrible. I had two 12-year-old boys tell me I was very beautiful after they asked me to choose which one was more handsome. "You are equally handsome." What? "Equally handsome." What? "Igualmente handsome." Ohhhh. I also really enjoy my Bachillerato classes because their English is high enough that we can get into more of the nuances, which their other English teachers, who are native Spanish, don't necessarily know. It's like, I'm filling a necessary role! Ahh, good ol' English.

I find this to be a really fascinating aspect of learning a second language, particularly when you speak it at a high level. To me it seems as if there's almost more danger for miscommunication when you speak a foreign language quite well because for all intents and purposes you can communicate, but tiny nuances can throw off the exact meaning of what you're trying to say. There's so many weird little tricky bits to language that don't always translate exactly, but if you do them wrong, can really change how you sound to a native speaker. It's not just vocabulary that makes people who speak different languages express themselves in different ways, and if you just try to substitute words or word orders or even cultural forms of expression, you can get something that's almost right and sounds almost right, but the tiny little bitty bits of the language just take so long to internalize that it might not be there.

Example: It's Christmas time. You've just finished eating your Christmas meal and now you go into your host's kitchen and offer to help clean up. You're host might say, "Could you clear the table?", or "Would you mind clearing the table?", or "Why don't you clear the table?", but even though you're offering to help and it would mean essentially the same thing, the host probably wouldn't throw out a straight command to "Clear the table."

Just some thoughts..

Monday, December 13, 2010

Should be going to sleep right now.

This week is music week. Two of the teachers at the school asked me to pick a song and give the students lyrics with missing words that they'ed try to fill in while listening. "Pick a song," they said, "Any song you like." Well I did and it was rejected. Song number two as well. "It should be catchy, popular, commercial." We ended up with Britney Spears.

One of the words in this song is "guy". Not to be pronounced "goo-ey", nor to be confused with "gay". Nevertheless one of my students took it upon herself to seize the opportunity to slander some who's-a-who just as soon as the other teacher walked out of the room. Said who's-a-who is definitely gay, according to this girl, because someone saw him hanging out with some other guy. This girl is malicious, I swear to you. First of all this is broadcasted loudly to the whole class, which up until moments before had been quietly listening to me like angels and were now instead scandalized by her obviously doubtless accusation. Second of all she had timed it so perfectly that I didn't even realize the Spanish teacher had stepped out of the room; my first reaction was holy crap I can't believe she said that in front of the professor. And my second reaction was holy crap this girl's good, Ana has stepped out. My third reaction was how the hell do I give a lecture on accepting homosexuality to a class of thirty 15-year-olds? Also nuns live in the building so I think officially they might have some kind of policy on that. Also they're speaking Spanish so in theory I'm not supposed to understand or let them know that I understand them, since I'm the English teacher. I think this girl is evil, she's just like a mean mean girl and she tries so hard to be a shit with me every class I have with her.

Pues, nada. With my private lessons today we listened to Christmas and lots of Michael Jackson since Miguel was trying to decide which one he wanted to memorize and sing in class. He settled on the lyrics to Billie Jean which feature many many repetitions of:

Billie Jean Is Not My Lover
She's Just A Girl Who Claims That I Am The One
But The Kid Is Not My Son
She Says I Am The One, But The Kid Is Not My Son

Ten-year-old Miguel is pretty good at English but I hope not that good. María on the other hand is getting quite talented at avoiding my prompts at English conversation. She told me she'd started writing a new story and would tell me about it when it was finished, but for now "it's a secret." Ah, that's nice I thought, it's like a surprise. Well then today she pulled that line on me several more times. What's the play that you're performing at school about? It's a secret. Why does that boy at school annoy you so much? It's a secret. Are you avoiding my questions? It's a secret.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Back to School

I'm soon to be kicking off the Christmas season with my students in style: Mariah Carey will be providing background music while my students frantically try to decipher the words to her holiday song and I think back fondly to me and Brittaney singing along to Whitney Houston in our London flat. Roughly comparable.

The long break is ovvver. Forevvver. How did that happen? Tomorrow it's back to the old grind and then another three day weekend. My friend Wilfred is flying into town for a few days from Holland. Wilfred was one of the coordinators when I volunteered at the orphanage in Peru. We shall be looking for Pisco Sours and Cuba Libres in an effort to reminisce about our sweet days listening to Tattoo Face, whom you may remember from an earlier post.

Let's see, what else is new. . I started my dissertation. It's four sentences long so far, so I've got a little work to do but I'm feeling strong. Also today is opposite day.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Good long weekend full of drinking games and race discussions.

The latter began with my private lesson on Saturday morning. I find it fascinating to hear what people from other countries have to say about North Americans. U.S. entertainment is the entertainment of the western world, as I've experienced it, so even if you don't know that Mexico is not part of the United States (as was the case of my 17-year-old private lesson on Friday), you can still know that high schools in the U.S. are composed of separate posses of freaks, jocks, goths and variations on the vagina dentata theme: mean girls, beautiful girls, it girls, the "Ashleys", or what have you. Also prom, must not forget prom.

Lately I've been making a very conscious effort to be positive about the States when I'm talking to foreigners. I realize that I prefer being abroad but that's not entirely typical of the U.S. population, so perhaps I'm not the best representative of ye olde Land of the Free. Also irrelevant side note I was telling my student about how in high school my friend tried to teach me how to drive a stick-shift in some parking lot at night, and when I used that word - parking lot - he said he knew of the concept but had never seen one. Isn't that cool?

Anyway, we got to talking about race and he was saying how Spain doesn't have many problems with that. However within this same argument he included points on how: 1.) Chinos (Chinese people) never leave the convenience stores where they work (also called Chinos). And also none of them attend school. Or interact ever with European Spaniards. 2.) South Americans take jobs from Spaniards, and are short. 3.) Gypsies.

To be fair I was the one who brought up gypsies, or as they're actually called, Roma. Currently France is making efforts to expel them from the country (hi Inquisition/Trail of Tears/Simba), and there's just generally a lot of disdain surrounding them, which no one seems to think out of the ordinary or wrong. Fernando's argument was that you can't trust them and they're always stealing and they won't try to interact with Spaniards, although he couldn't tell me when was the last time he'd tried interacting with them. Who do you interact with outside of your race then? Chinos, when I go to the convenience store.

I'm being really mean, he wasn't that bad. This is the fascinating part to me though; people are endlessly capable of rationalizing their thoughts and compartmentalizing them into their "xyz" concept of themselves. Fernando doesn't think he has negative opinions based on race; gypsies are just bad and you can't trust them. What worries me though is that he didn't see any contradiction with these two beliefs until I said something: "Student, you are being racist." Makes me wonder what I'm rationalizing.

Yesterday, then, I got a message on Skype from someone who turned out to be from Morocco. I don't know how this person got my Skype name but whatever. He's Berber aka Amazigh, which is the group of indigenous people who lived there before the country was invaded by Romans and Arabs and the French. Berbers was the term given them from the invaders, and it comes from the word "Barbarian". He said that one time he was out for dinner and he was speaking English, and an Arab woman walked up to him and said "You're just a Berber." What the hell people?

And then I went and played drinking games.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Happy December

Welcome to Puente. Day of the Dead.

I'm in a bad mood right now and I think it may have to do with the fact that my bed has a sagging black hole of negative energy into which I am vacuumed up on a nightly basis, and which results in stooped-in-soreness Grandma posture every morning when I wake. I can't ask my landlord to fix it because he will either think a.) use your imagination, or b.) that girl needs to lay off the patatas fritas. I am not okay with either one of these options.

This Puente aka five-day weekend is actually coming at a perfect time. Most of the crew is in Barcelona or other bits and places, but I'm staying home sweet home and reading my book. Starting some work for school. Bitching about my bed. Hanging out with Jessica. Cosas así. I've lately become aware of the fact that it's my third month in Madrid and it feels simultaneously like I just got here and like I've been here forever - seriously, I was looking at pictures the other day of Derek and José from this summer and it seemed like that place didn't exist. This is a good thing because it means that I'm happy here. Bad because oh crap I have that dissertation to write.

I had the discussion with Pilar yesterday. I told her maybe I want to stay in Spain next year. She said they would want me to work with them again. I'm supposed to tell them in JANUARY, though, which hello that's like almost tomorrow. I'm getting slightly stressed out about my options and maybe having more choices than I know what to do with. I haven't even narrowed it down to a continent and it's really difficult to know what my next move is supposed to be. The spoiled brat plight of the native English speaker. Hello? Everyone out there? Do you realize how lucky you are? Do you realize you've been handed this golden privilege just for babbling this ridiculously difficult language that happens to rule the world? There's this weird subculture among English as a Second Language teachers that makes the world seem very small and very manageable and very take-your-pick. Unfortunately if I pick Spain it means giving up Colombia and if I pick Colombia it means giving up Brazil and if I pick Brazil it means . . well let's be honest, Brazil's pretty perfect. Watch me a year from now; I will be living in my parent's basement and spending my lack of tuppence on feeding the birds.

I went to a concert-ish on Wednesday. It was a group called Bloodly Mayor - badass - and was put on by Jack Daniel's meaning free promotional drinks. It was actually really kind of cool because it was sort of a question-answer-lesson session so amateur musicians could ask for insight from the band and a couple volunteered to go on stage and play with them at the end. Super intimate setting - probably less than 30 people there and we sat on beanbags. The bartender did lots of fancy tricks aka made me wait an extra five minutes for my drink while she showed off. Another bartender offered me a cocktail featuring tiny jello cubes and floating white chunks of what appears to have been petrified whiskey. It was covered by a napkin and when I removed it fumes starting floating out so you can imagine my reluctance, but I downed that puppy and I'm here to tell the tale.

Tonight I'm supposed to be reuniending con Jessica y César and a crew of recently arrived North Americans so probably it's time for me to go now. Interesting (to me) sidenote: you are not supposed to say you're American if you're from the United States. Because how selfish is that? Americans are all the way from Canada to Patagonia and every North/Central/South American country in between. When I was in Hungary I told someone I was U.S. American and one of my U.S. American friends joked that we'd lost our ability to speak English since moving to Spain, due to my phrasing of our nationality. U.S. American versus American, get it? Awhile back I was having a conversation with César about learning French and he said he learned the phrase "I am not American," to which I replied butchoo arrre (he's Colombiano). This is the same night I got my head stuck in a strange man's zipper, by the way. In any case he agreed and was surprised that I would see it that way since most gringos do not. In Spanish there's a word for United States-er - Estadounidense - but we gringos don't have any way to say that. American. Unspecific and mildly egotistic and offensive at the same time.

Just thought you should know.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

I'm dark. I'm muscular and strong. I'm Romanian. I'm underage.

I got this note from Sergio today. If you can't read it, it says:

Dear Megan:

Hello Megan. How are u? I'm fantastic because I saw you picture. I think you are beatiful. I'm very tall. I'm dark. I'm muscular and strong. I'm Romanian. I work in the Corte Inglés. I would like to have dinner with you. I think I love you!


Why thank you Sergio, how sweet of you to say so. Sergio is one of Chelsi's students - her worst one, she says. When she was showing the class a photo of the snow in Budapest, my dazzlingly red face and runny nose must have won him over. He spent the rest of the class writing and rewriting the letter three times so it would be nice and tidy for me. Also, as Chelsi points out, he didn't hit anyone that day. Oh Sergio, can this be love?

Perhaps María, an 11 year old to whom I give private lessons, will be able to make something out of this. Monday evening she shared her stories with me, translating them into English as she read. María's favorite things to write are love stories, she told me. The first one was about a Moorish princess and Christian prince who fell in love despite their starcrossed chances and clearly what must have been the disapproval of God/Isabella of Aragon and Ferdinand of Castille. Both ended up dead of suicide but in a very romantic and loving way. Story number two was equally deserving of a windblown Fabio gracing the cover. It starred a guinea pig and the girl who loved him. Is it hot in here or is it just me?

Last night was THE BIG ONE: Real Madrid versus FC Barcelona. I missed the first bit because I didn't finish with lessons until 9, but I certainly saw Sergio Ramos having a pissy fit and being a bitch when they lost 5-0. But man. . . he's kinda hot. That's him in the picture up above; just to be clear he is not the same Sergio as my letter writer.

Pues, I've listened to this song about 18 times in a row and I love it and the video is awesome. My favorite part is with the ink so watch out for it.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Budapest. I'm cold.

I realized as I was touching down in Budapest that it was the first time I'd voluntarily flown somewhere colder than the place that I'd left. Minnesota almost always meets the qualification but I have to go there to see family and old friends, and if it weren't for them you can betcher ass I would be aiming somewhere more along the lines of sub-Saharan African desert. Boston's weather was crap too, but with that I had the whole University education thing I was trying for so again it was rather necessary. Budapest was cold and experiencing its first snowstorm of the winter when we arrived, and I had chosen it. The decision would prove to have drastic repercussions.

Saturday morning we
woke up early and set off for a bakery near Lauren's old apartment for "CAKE!" That's how she referred to it, both that day and in the weeks leading up to the mini-vacation. I had a traditional Hungarian apple tart while they had Black Forest, Raspberry Cream and a rum-soaked bowl of dessert-for-breakfast-madness that when I tried it reminded me strongly of pirate.

Saying goodbye and good luck with the vodka shots to Lauren, who was going to have lunch with an old friend and his mother, we set out for Castle Hill and what should have been Parliament, the Basilica, the Christmas market, and the Synagogue. I made it to Castle Hill and then four hours of Coffeeheaven waiting for my feet to thaw. Listen: Hungary is effing cooold. It's probably not colder than where I grew up, but if I'm in Minnesota between roughly October to May, I'm hibernating in my bedroom with a space heater, electric blanket, and a shot or two of vodka to warm me from the inside. I'm not about to go look at some damn castle.

Back to Castle Hill. We walked around, took pictures, went inside the Cathedral where I stood on the heat vent and cried inwardly. More walking around then I had to break it to Chelsi and Layla: I'm about to go sit in the Basilica for the next six hours. We took the bus back across the Danube River during which time I became slightly delirious and unreasonable and thought I could do the Christmas Market. I did, for about three stalls, then made good on my promise and walk/ran like a nutjob to the Basilica to get my prayer on and plead with the gods of Budapest to shine down on me with a heating lamp. While the other finished at the Market I shivered and rubbed my poor feet in a vain effort to restore circulation. Chelsi comes. We decide to dash to the coffee shop where I plant myself and she manages about half the time before running in and out for cinnamon food monstrosities and various Budapest travel experiences.

Saturday night was dinner with Lauren's friends night, so after transferring to Burger King for another couple hours of warmth Chelsi and I met up with her, tried the mulled wine, and transferred briefly to another bar before calling it a night. Turns out, however, the place we were staying is not the last stop on the bus line, afterall, so when we ended up way the hell who knows where with no one else on the bus except the Hungarian-speaking driver, we were rather lost. Several pointed fingers, confused gestures and a desperate phone call later he dropped us off a half hour from our house and gave us a honk signaling either good luck or his final farewell to the two American girls who were sure to be found dead in a snow bank sometime tomorrow.

Amazingly we did make it home, and it only took one extra phone call for an explanation of the keys before we figured out how to open the door. By then our host Bela had left to pick up our other host Magda when she got sick at the bar, meaning we had done all that misery and could have instead just waited a bit longer and gotten an easy ride home. No worries. The next day was the thermal baths and life and blood circulation was good again. Hungary has a bunch of really amazing natural hot springs - we saw one lake that was all steamy and spooky and cool - and the baths have been around forever for people to go and turn to raisins in peace. They have indoor and outdoor baths at varying temperatures, and would you believe it, I even tried the one outside. Snow is on the ground, and I am floating like a dead fish in an amazing toilet bowl of heat.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

London. You suck and are gray.

Today fue el penultimate day of my becoming a full-fledged legal immigrant in Spain, at least for the next ten months. I have my meeting tomorrow morning to get my NIE papers and none too soon because on Friday I'm off to Budapest for the weekend. I know very little about Budapest - pronounced "Budapesht," one thing I do know - but Lauren taught there for a couple years prior to this and that was all I needed to hear to invite myself to the homecoming party.

I'm actually exhausted and slightly concerned about how this is all going to work out. Usually I neeed to do some prepping on the weekends because they ain't no spare time Monday through Thursday. Today I started at the Colegio at 9, taught until 230, rushed home for a twenty minute badly needed coffee, back to school at 3, on the Metro at 305 for an hour-long private lesson, back on the Metro to get to my next 1.5 hour long private, back on the Metro for my next 1.5 hour-long private, and then couldn't bear to get back on the subway so made the 45 minute walk home in a record 35 to walk into my flat at 940. Bienvenida.

This is typical and if I weren't enjoying teaching I don't know how I'd survive, but damn it, I just love my bratty little students. Today I had a lesson with the 4th graders for the first time and ohmygodIlovethem!!! Mostly I just think it's very self-actualizing when nine year olds love you. Like hello, I'll take your gratuitous kiddie affection and wallow in it. I realized I may never be able to teach in the States because when they had to leave the classroom one girl gave me a hug and I kissed her on the top of the head because I mean come on she was just so damn cute! And then about seven or eight more students lined up for me to kiss them. It was adorable in a sort of never-ever-allowed-in-a-U.S.-classroom sort of way. They also called me muy guapa and said I had a beautiful name and one told me his father owns a pastelería - a cakeshop - and I'm thinking about having this crew of babies follow me around everywhere to say other such beautiful things.

Also on the drama docket was Oooh, Ana met a boy! I was giving an English lesson to the music teacher, Amaya, when Ana came into the room and asked if she could use the computer to check Facebook. Seems she had sent a message to some guy (although the "met a boy" choice of words was her initial phrasing), and she had to check if he'd written back, but didn't want to do it in the main room with the other teachers. She was very nervous. It took her a good five minutes to get her email address correctly typed in. Amaya and I had continued to talk while waiting for her to show us pictures and when we looked over several minutes later she was pecking wildly at the keyboard, desperate for entrance to the website. The night before had been even worse, as she had accidentally sent the message before it was finished and had to send a follow-up one explaining herself ("Hi, it's me again!").
Me enjoying London.
Ana's awesomely awesome and so is Amaya. They both warned me very severely to watch out for Latin American men - "You need a nice Spanish boy!" - and Ana also asked me to come with her to England this spring. The 3rd or 4th of ESO students go there for a week and the other English Assistant, who is a father of one of the students at the school and is Spanish, had said he wanted to go. "But Megan if he goes, I am not going. I cannot do it." Ana the poor girl has some problems with him because he's very imposing with his schedule and with what he thinks the students need, but she doesn't want to create tension by addressing it. Uhh.. Anyway, she has to talk to Madre Martina about whether I can go, but I think it would be fun. Imagine that, me, England, fun who knew.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving in El Escorial.

Yesterday morning I had to wake up early for a rescheduled private lesson after my student forgot about the one we were supposed to have the night before. Hour and a half commute for nothing, and then it meant that on Saturday I had to run around like a crazy person to fit in the class and be back in time for the hour bus ride to the Thanksgiving Meal of Death. Absurd amounts of green bean casserole and brussels sprouts and pumpkin pudding and apple pie and wine and creamed spinach left me prostrate and moaning for several hours on the couch, and the loan of Lauren's sweatpants, Juliet's Grinch socks, and hot tea with lemon did little to assuage my misery, nor did my decision to hug and love the roommate's cat when I turned to that fluffy, whiskered allergen in a fit of lonely discomfort.

One of the great things about an expat Thanksgiving is that it necessarily means you're celebrating with people with whom you haven't spent Thanksgiving before and are therefore privy to their unique and twisted holiday traditions. This means that if Carissa is accustomed to jello shots at her Thanksgiving, by god we're having jello shots. If someone else wants Spanish-style Calimocho cocktails, well then we're just going to have to bust out the wine and Coke. And if Megan doesn't want to cook at her Thanksgiving, she's just not going to cook and can man the Calimocho table instead. Everyone's happy.

This morning I went to the Museo de América and saw some shrunken heads. I'm quite familiar with shrunken heads, but the image of two sets of mini noses and eyes and ears and mouths made me realize my ignorance when it comes to the subject. What is a shrunken head, and how did it get that way? Dryers were not invented at the time these were created, and I know of know sort of retinol cleanser that is that effective on facial pores. Turns out it's not the whole head but merely the covering, as the skull is removed before the victim's mug is wrapped around a ball and boiled in water with herbs. It's kind of like tea, with the flesh of the enemy's head bobbing around in the same way as a sugar cube might do. This is an important thing to know about America.

The other day in class I had to have a chat with my students about North American stereotypes. They were convinced that everyone in the U.S. is just like the people they see on American television shows. Also we are all lazy and don't play sports - or really get off of the couch, for that matter. We eat obscene amounts of food, whether for Thanksgiving or otherwise, and Snooki's just your average girl-next-door.

"But they're American tv shows, that must be how people are," my students insisted. I pointed out how the Spanish program Aguila Roja featured just your average schoolteacher who at night transformed into cape-wielding ninja-sort determined to avenge the death of his wife. Is that how Spaniards are?

"That's different, that show's set in the past." The other tv program I know here is called El Internado and is about a boarding school with some spooky shit going on, two-headed rabbits,
and the like. The bachillerato students on the show rallied together to stage a sit-in protest when five of their classmates faced expulsion, and while an excellent example of civic disobedience, the murder, portals to hell, and supernatural intrigue strike me as less than convincing. But is that how Spaniards are?

I'm not sure my students were convinced by my arguments. After all, we do have a lot of McDonald's. But ever the patriotic American, I shall continue to rail against the misguided outsider's impression of the gym, tan, laundry cultural practices of the United States. Viva la America.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

I need a nap.

Busy busy busy.

Monday through Thursday I have about two seconds total to take a breath and then it's bedtime. This week was slightly lighter because I got out of Colegio an hour early today. The school celebrates.. something? the next two days so instead of having classes they all dress up in costume, perform skits and dances, play games, etc. Amaya told me it's actually a Jewish holiday which I'm somewhat confused by because our school building doubles as a nunnery and is adamantly Catholic, but c'est le vie. It means I got to watch my bachillerato students perform a musical for which they chose music, wrote dialogue, and choreographed, and which featured the males of the grade in leotards and tights. Pink.

I'm really really happy because I found a used bookstore last week and bought Kafka en la orilla for 4.95 euro! Books here are super expensive - the last I bought was Los hombres que no amaban a las mujeres aka The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and I paid 17 for it. Say what? Anyway it means I'm not getting any sleep because I'm up at night reading. The author is Haruki Murakami and he's really creative and a little bit what-the-hell-in-a-good-way, so I'm enjoying it.

Also we finnnnally settled on our Christmas plans. Tuesday evening I impoverished myself by booking a flight to Chicago for Nicole's wedding in May, and another flight to MALTA! for winter break. I'm skipping my last day of school for the semester and hopefully they don't mind because tiny little island country in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea is beckoning.

In the meantime we have Thanksgiving, which will be celebrated in El Escorial. Originally it was going to take place at my apartment but there was a conflict of interest with serving turkey under my roof, as well as the fact that my neighbor's appear not to like people or speech in general, so we reconsidered and are heading north. I will be cooking nothing.

New round of classes started Tuesday, and I think (hope) I'm going to like these ones better. They're in Spanish, which is nice, and the subjects are linguistics and writing techniques - mejor que la enseñanza. I'm really starting to like teaching but I think I'm just not liking learning about it so much, so I'm glad these classes aren't geared in that direction. Also I get to write a paper on Ecuador. :) I miss South America and think I'm going to have to do something about that one of these days...

Sunday, November 14, 2010

In which I parlez me un (muy muy) poquito de français.

Yay!! Yessica is here!

Jess and I met in Ecuador and she's a Boston University grad from Bermuda. She's going to be doing a month of prep classes and then begin teaching English at a language company about twenty minutes from my apartment. It's her first time in continental Europe, after having visited the U.K. when she was nine, sooo, enhorabuena a Yessica.

Yesterday we visited a couple of apartments in the area, hoping to find one she can move into in the next little bit rather than on the first of December. House hunting is weird here. Or maybe everywhere and I've just never had to do it anywhere else.. You call up the person who's listing you're interested in and ask if you can come in and take a look. Normal. So you go check it out, yada yada, it's nice, me gusta, ah qué buena la terraza, etc., and at the end the apartment dwellers tell you that they'll talk it over and let you know in a couple days. It's kind of like an interview or audition and I'm sure really nerve-wracking if you're on the receiving end i.e. the homeless person. Jess hasn't spoken Spanish in about a year either, and the Spanish that she's used to is South American, so I'm having to do a lot of the talking and the poor girl just looks terrified. I have high hopes, though. We saw a really nice one yesterday where two 25-year-old students were living, and they were listening to Radiohead and cooking something edible and one's studying Bellas Artes (cool), so all things point to not-psychotic. We're going to check out some more later today, too.

Of course Jessica needed a drink afterwards so of course we went to Dublin. Sign of how I spend far too much time in this bar: it was the second visit of the day. Sign two: the bartenders knew we'd be back so they told us not to close the tab out after round one. Jorge's going to make us Pisco Sours on Tuesday, too, which is great because that's when las chicas and I have decided to get together and book our tickets for Christmas break once and for all, and what better way to celebrate than with raw egg, liquor and cinnamon?

Last night my new new roommate moved in. Alexandra the short-lived French girl left sometime over the weekend without mentioning it to me.. I found out from the doorman when he told me Lorena from the Canary Islands would be taking her place. Perhaps this was a good thing because my apartment was becoming decidedly Frenchifreaky what with two French roommates always twittering about in their
French way. I thought maybe I'd absorb some of the language by osmosis and there must be some truth to that because when I picked up my roommates Parisian magazine the other day and read the headline Les éjaculateurs précoces sont-ils égoïstes?, I knew exactly what it meant, although I'll leave it up to you to make your own decision about that one.

I don't entirely get the fascination with France. When I was
in London it seemed like they had a major inferiority complex with the French, but if you ask me Sarkozy's a nutter and I don't like french fries anyway. On the interesting side, if you do a good image search for 'French,' you will get an image that was also included in my slideshow presentation on the Minnesota State Fair. Mira: the "Fry Dog". It's a corndog covered in french fries and it makes me kind of light-headed if I look at it for too long. It actually kind of looks like Spam tartare on the inside; another unlikely pairing of France and Minnesota.

Speaking of us, this is from the Culture Focus article I read my students in class today: "Studies in the USA show that today's children are fatter than they were before. When they're watching TV, American children eat and eat!" Thank you blatant stereotypization.

Let us all raise a symbolic Fry Dog to that. Cin-cin.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Snow Day!!!

Not really but we have the day off from school. Yesterday my students told me that Monday also should have been a holiday because a nun died on Sunday. Since my Colegio has a bunch of nuns living on the top floor, if one of them dies we're not supposed to have school and then the next day I think is the visitation/burial. Unfortunately this doesn't always work for young students as one told me last year the nun had been laid in her coffin and set in one of the rooms of the school for everyone to come see and say a prayer. "But she was yellow!" he told me. "All yellow! And I couldn't help it. I started laughing and I couldn't stop." When I asked how many nuns live upstairs his answer was "Less and less every day, they're dropping like flies." A sensitive boy.

I can't believe it's already the 9th of November. It's getting COLD and I don't like it. This weekend I was out walking in a T-shirt; the weather was beautiful and hot and sunny - and when the sun shines here, it's strong. Then yesterday it dropped I think probably into the 40s. I know I shouldn't complain compared to Boston/MN, but I'm complaining. I was worried before I came here that I would be freezing from October to roughly April because I knew that Europeans don't generally heat their homes as much as North Americans, but I'm finding that for me it's 50-50. The heat in our apartment turns on I think around 4PM and once it gets going my room is a sauna - as in I have to open windows because it's so hot. But during the mornings and probably starting around midnight there's no heat and it's really cold. It's gotten marginally better since I switched the end of the bed on which I sleep so my head is closer to the heater - it's one of those space heater things attached to the wall versus a vent. I had to do this when my bed broke, anyway, so that I wasn't lying with my head six inches lower than my feet, but it's had a happy side-effect.

Yesterday was a big mess of panic for about an hour when I couldn't find my passport. I have about three possible hiding places in my room since I came with one suitcase and one backpack, so there's no extra whatevers for it to be buried under. I looked for a good long forever it felt like then took a chill pill and decided to have some peanuts, so I reached into the plastic grocery bag when what to my wondering eyes should appear but my passport. Don't know how it got there, but I sure did enjoy those nuts.

Good thing I found it, anyway, because I've got a couple of trips coming up. Budapest is in two weeks? three weeks? and I think I'm off to Barcelona the weekend after that. I was in Barcelona a couple years ago, but we have Monday-Wednesday-Friday off and so a couple of us are going to head on over to the Basque country. The Basque region's weird because it's kind of like Montreal in the sense that it speaks a different language and has grand visions of separation, but here in Spain they also have a terrorist group called ETA that occasionally bombs Metro stations and the like in order to get independence from Spain. A teacher I work with, Amaya, told me they talk about la raza pura - the pure race - and are disturbingly freaky like that. Her family's from that area and apparently there's a certain blood type that "good Basques" have, which she's got as well, but she's a "bad Basque" because her last names aren't of the region but are instead Spanish. To Barcelona!

After that it's a couple weeks until winter break and I think I'm going to Algiers for this one. Flights to northern Africa are really cheap and it's the bomb. Thennnn.. I'm currently considering moving to Brazil next year. Teach a little English, tomar un poco sol, plant my bum on the beach... sounds good to me. Juliet, Carissa and I came up with this idea when we were supposed to be working on a school project Saturday night but instead got a little wine-happy. They taught me the "Sorority Squat," which I demonstrate for you in the picture on the right. The night ended when I got rather too wine-happy and had to peace out on the evening a bit early. At least I woke up to thoughts of Brazil...

Friday, November 5, 2010

Los Delinquentes y Tomasito

I went to this really frickin-ass bomb concert last night with Los Delinquentes and Tomasito. The second guy's kind of flamenc-ish and the first is sort of a rumba-rasta mix of cool. This is them:

I didn't know anything about the two so I've been using it with my students. "I'm going to a concert for Los Delinquentes, but I don't know their music. Can you tell me about them...?" My private lesson on Wednesday told me they were kind of "hippie," so I asked him what he meant by that and when he said it was in the lyrics I told him to sing them to me in English. I only let that stand long enough for him to get really nervous and then I asked him to tell me what they meant in English. He began to recite "El aire de la calle" which includes the phrase fumando flores - smoking flowers.

At this point I made him level with me. "Did you get nervous about English again and smoke weed before our lesson?" It was very obvious he had but perhaps fortunately it wasn't out of fear of the class. Continuation of English lesson: "What's the stupidest thing you've done while smoking?" His answer was swimming in a canal in Amsterdam. That counts. Anyway I ran into him at the concert and he tried to get me to smoke with him - "Just one teacher?" (He didn't really call me teacher). Ay dios mío. No thanks.

Hmm, qué más.. I'm liking Colegio more and more mostly probably because they like me and I'm a sucker for approval. I picked up another private lesson for a girl who's trying to do a year exchange in the States and needs help with the application process and with prepping for the interview. It's kind of strange the way apps work here in Spain. Students in bachillerato who want to go on to University take a test for selectividad, and then based on those scores they go to the corresponding school and subject of study. So I think the highest scores can do medicine and architecture, or anything beneath that, but if you're lower you have to stay in your bracket and can't move up. In any case there are no application essays, no tell me about yourselves.. it's just whether or not you have the number that determines if you're in. Needless to say this girl was not prepared for the United States-style application novel with essays and recommendations and an interview and the works.

The whole system of test points determining what you can study was a surprise to me though. Down in Ecuador the President was trying to pass University reforms that would set quotas on how many people could study a given subject, so again top scores got top choice. It was an interesting debate and a lot of people at my University got really upset. School was canceled so that students could go protest. I found the whole idea to be somewhat scary - that the government was just taking away the right to choose your life course via a career. My host-sister, however, who was 32 and jobless after having studied Art Restoration, finding employment, quitting her job to study further for a year in Italy, and then not being rehired, thought the law had some merit. Her belief was that 22-year-olds don't know what it's like to be unemployed, and the job situation in Ecuador is such that a large number of people are. It would have been better in her mind to have a job, any job, than to have arbitrarily chosen a concentration that doesn't lead to a career (Hello? Art History?). Not really. I still have my soft spot for Art History and if I had chosen something else it would have been at least as arbitrary and fruitless. Which is fine because I am able to go off and be impractical and study an impractical major and live my life in an impractical way, and then one day suck it up and face my inevitable doom in the United States. (Just kidding guys kind of). Anyway, though, I might feel differently about it all if in the end I really didn't know if I'd ever be hired. Granted the job situation back home isn't great either, but... there will always Bebop's.

Monday, November 1, 2010

He Threw it on the Ground

I can't sleep so I'm up chewing gum and trolling for videos like this one on Youtube.

Weekend's over. We Halloween partied. It rained. I was a half hour late for a private lesson because I walked up and down the block for 45 minutes trying to find the apartment and when they came and found me I found out it was the next block over. My bed broke but I fixed it and reminisced on how in 12th grade Physics class my chair broke while I was on it. Inertia means that objects are resistant to a change in their motion unless a new force acts upon them, but I had been sitting in my chair a full half hour before it collapsed, and I hadn't made any sudden movements or changes in force. So I quit Physics and signed up for Film Studies instead.

Got to talk to JOE yesterday before he took off for a week in Laurentian this morning, and I'm very proud of him for being named the only goalie on the 'A' team. This summer when his baseball team made it to the State tournament he asked if I'd come to Pennsylvania if they made it to the Little League World Series, and when I replied that I would be in Poland at the time, he asked me, as if I wasn't thinking clearly, "You wouldn't skip Poland for the Little League World Series? It's a once in a lifetime opportunity!?"

No one watches baseball or hockey here anyway. Just football, and I'm convinced it's not popular in the States because they don't break for commercials. Can you imagine ESPN devoting 90+ minutes to a sport without any time for advertising? Nuh uh. I got a phone call today from some guy who I didn't remember and he asked who I was - huh? - but we must have met because he knew of my love for football. I'm feeling deprived because the only football-watching I've had for over a week was a half hour Saturday night when Carissa and I went to my nearby bar as we were waiting for all the stragglers to show up to my apartment. When I walked in I thought I saw one of my students watching with his dad - Oh crap! My student sees me in a bar! - but I thought if I acknowledged him it would be better at least. So I waved and he waved back, but later on he came over and it turned out he was a good six inches taller than me and not the 7th grader like I had thought, and he spoke neither Spanish nor English so that conversation ended pretty quickly.

Adios amigos.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Ittt's FRIDAY!

Four-day weekend, boo-yah.

What started out to be somewhat of a rough Sunday evening improved considerably as I surrendered some of my control-freakiness in the ensuing days. I've been struggling with the fact that when I go into the classroom a big part of the functionality of the day depends on the students, and I couldn't ever know exactly what I was going to get when I arrived in school. I teach 18 different classes in a week, meaning continuity is really tough, along with name-memorization, but by this week (I think my third or fourth?) I felt like I had developed a rapport with a lot of the kids and could interact with them more on their level. Crucial, I think, when you're teaching a foreign language because, guess what, it's intimidating. Imagine going up to a person and doing something that you know you can't do as well as he or she can. Now imagine that that person is six years old. Because that's what it's like when you're learning language número dos: you suck, for a very long time. Plus any kindergartener without a lisp or stutter or other obvious language-inhibitor is almost guaranteed to have better pronunciation and sentence formation and overall ability than you, at least if your language experience is limited to the classroom, as is the case for most of my students. I had a private lesson on Wednesday where the guy asked if I minded if he smoked, and proceeded to light and let burn three cigarettes throughout the course of our hour and a half lesson. I asked him if he always just let his cigarettes burn without inhaling them and he said he forgot to because he was speaking English, and that he rarely smokes but the English language makes him nervous.

The English lessons are actually good for me too I think because I usually pick up a couple new Spanish words along the way. Cutre, for example, means "shabby" or "run-down" (in reference to South America, sorry S.A.), and I learned from the drawing of una gamba that it is neither a bean nor a crab but rather a shrimp. My bachillerato class yesterday also taught me that payo pony is used for Sudamericanos because they're short. Like a pony. Probably this is not entirely racially sensitive, fyi. I can't remember the name for Brits (guiris?), but it comes from the fact that when they come to Spain they drink a lot of beer and their skin turns red. Which is pretty much my same reaction to drinking white wine but in my case it's not due to sun-burn. We ran out of time in the lesson for them to tell me all their cultural stereotypes, but they left happy when I told them we could finish next week.

Pues, this weekend I have to prep for two presentations next week as well as celebrate HALLOWEEN. People in Spain don't celebrate but of course we're going to do it up Estadounidense-style and do the same thing we do every weekend only this time we'll be wearing cardboard cat-ears and the like. Interesting United States fact: U.S.ers create 40% of the world's garbage while only representing 5% of the world's population. Think I'll be making my ears out or recycled cardboard this year. . .

This kind of makes me want to throw-up when I look at it/reminds me disturbingly of your average corset, but it's actually just a poor little turtle with a plastic ring of trash around his middle.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The pig kill him, with a knife.

I love these guys and I wish I were a groupie in 1960s Brazil. When I was down in Peru I saw a Bossanova band playing my first
night there and then I went to see them again just about every night that followed until I left. On my last evening in town the lead singer pulled me under the bar-rail and into the back of the kitchen where he told me to close my eyes so he could give me "a present". He had a tattoo on his face and I called him Tattoo Face (in my thoughts).

Yesterday I went and heard some live music here at this really cool little bar that's mostly underground with crumbly brick walls that come off in your hands when you brush against them. It looks like a crypt and it's small and intimate and there really weren't that many people at the show which made it even better. The band was playing a combination of flamenco and I think some salsa beats and other things I'm not probably qualified to identify, but they were good. Also I got my hair stuck in some guy's coat zipper when he walked past while I was sitting on the steps. Contrary to what I would have expected it didn't just rip out the hairs but instead dragged me along a foot or two before the guy noticed the human head attached to his jacket and set me free.

This past week has been BUSY and I can't believe how exhausted I get from teaching. Well plus grad classes. And the private English lessons I give. And going out to watch the football at night rather than staying in and sleeping. I have my Fridays off from Colegio which is great, but Thursday evenings are tough and this week I fell asleep rather than make the 45 minute trip to Las Suertes for grad class. As luck would have it I woke up in time for football, and met my first Couch Surfing rando from Israel. I don't host people overnight in my apartment because I don't have the space or the time or the balls to commit to it, but my profile is set so that if travelers to Madrid want to meet up for coffee or a drink or whatever, they can get in touch with me. It's a pretty cool system but would be a lot cooler if I had endless free time and no homework or responsibilities and could do it more often. I'm supposed to be working on the lesson plan presentation for my Biliteracy class tonight and it is not being fun because hey guess what I've been teaching for two weeks and I don't know what to do for a unit's worth of lessons. I changed my topic just a couple days ago to the State Fair and so far it's mainly photos of enormous pigs and enormous Americans eating fried foods and a dwarf swallowing fire.

That will be my task for this coming week along with HALLOWEEN! Halloween isn't really celebrated here like it is in the States, and what is celebrated is just due to U.S. influence rather than it being a Spanish thing. In my English lesson for the teachers, one of them told me people celebrate by throwing eggs (which everyone else denied), and the day after Halloween (which they have off) is spent visiting the graves of relatives. On Thursday I read my class the beginning of a Halloween story and had them come up with their own endings. The story was about a sister and brother who are out in their family's barn and they hear a loud scraping noise coming from the loft and they get SCARED! This is one of the endings I got from a 15-year-old student (bear in mind it's a second language):

"The girl was so afraid so she stayed just near the door. The brother go upstairs to investigate what was really happening. And suddenly, Michael saw their farm animals hung, and crying because of the pain. There was a pig who was still alive, so he tried to help it but when he was so closed to the animal, the pig kill him, with a knife. Then Michael's sister heard a noise (her brother's one), she found him. (IT ISN'T FINISHED!!)"

Kinda makes you want to be a vegetarian, huh? Huh?

Monday, October 18, 2010

En el País de las Maravillas

I just got back from an hour of watching/teaching two little Spanish kiddos and they are so crazy cute I can't stand it. Monday evenings the professors at my school (excluding me) have a meeting and a couple weeks back one of them asked if I'd spend the hour-long meeting with her 5-year-old son Carlos and another teacher's 4-year-old daughter Leyre so that they could hear some English and I could pick up some extra cash. Back to back Monday holidays, however, meant that I had a bit of a wait until I began, and I didn't realize how much my older-kids classes had starved me of the young ones until I walked in the room today and saw those charming little muffins.

While the three of us drew pictures of dinosaurs, vampires and princesses, they asked me if I had a boyfriend and when I returned the question, Carlos happily said yes. "Her name is . . . how do you say 'Paula' in Spanish?" Carlos also assigned names to the two wolves I drew for him and the smaller one that trailed behind, which was the work of Leyre. Mine were "Sangre" (Blood) and "Muerte" (Death), and Leyre's was "Torpe" (Awkward). Ceeewwwt!

I was exhausted in Colegio today though because last night was the "First Official Dinner of Piso 5B", which obviously since we're in Spain started around 10 and ended Dios sabe cuando. I think we weren't allowed to do this until we were all on speaking terms or something, and this wasn't actually happening for us with the recently departed Marta. To be fair: I did talk to Marta on two occasions. The first was two weeks after I moved in and walked into the living room to find her there. I knew there was a mythical third roommate but I assumed she must be traveling or something because I hadn't seen a trace of her since my arrival, so I assumed this girl was perhaps a friend of Henrique's? Surely she can't be a tenant because my apartment listing had said "No smokers" and the living room . . . and the kitchen . . . and the hallway . . . and my bedroom were drowning in smoke. But alas, the girl was Marta, and she said so.

Episode two of conversation: The doorbell rang while she had a friend over and she told me it was for me. (It wasn't for me).

This is idle mean gossip until . . . well long story short our landlord came in from Brussels to tell her she had to leave the apartment and she did so, not nicely, and then she came back with four of her big male friends and harassed the doorman and the new girl a bit and then we changed the locks. One of these guy friends now wants to hang out with me and I'm thinking maybe we'd better not.

So anyway we all sat down to tarta de tomate and wine last night and I think we're going to try to make it a weekly thing, which is great because two of them are French and aside from knowing French recipes they're also good at picking out wine.

One of the French girl's family was supposed to be in town but it ended up only being her dad because of the strikes in Paris. They're protesting the same kinds of things as did the Spanish a couple weeks ago - the raising of the retirement and pension age - but theirs has been going on for quite awhile. Some of the oil companies, for instance, have halted work for two weeks running, so gasoline is getting more and more expensive throughout Europe. Luckily it's Europe. I read a travel forum awhile back where someone was asking for the best walkable cities, and this was someone's answer: "Typical question from Americans who see walking as some kind of sport whereas for Europeans its a mode of transport. Europe is not LA." It's kind of worrisome to see how they look at us sometimes; the walking thing, that's not that bad, but people are not exactly fond of our politics and it's in the papers daily. This morning I read an article in ABC about the Tea Party movement that likened it to "the 'Mad Tea Party' de Alicia en el País de las Maravillas." (And you know Alice in Wonderland was some mad crazy shit).

Is that to scale?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Wemoweh, wemoweh, wemoweh, wemoweh..

Holy mother crap.

I hate applications but I just submitted mine for teaching in Colombia next year. I started it.. probably last semester? May? It's a biggun and so I thought I'd stretch it out until two days before it's due. Gahhh.. I hate applications.

I've never been to Colombia but my past week has been Colombia-filled. The parade with Nicole, the randos I met at the bar last night, this awesome, yeah yeah, awesome photo from Carnaval in Baranquilla that I found when looking for photos for a lesson plan. I also drank coffee every morning which although it's the "Kahve" brand of the instant variety, and not actually from Colombia, could be interpreted as a distant relative of their famed beans. Nescafé was all I ever drank in Ecuador even though they share a border (a dangerous one, FARC) with the Colombia Coffee Kingdom. Host Pops told me that drip coffee is really expensive in Ecuador and I think a lot of parts of South America because all the good strong stuff gets exported. Groceries were surprisingly - relatively - pricey down there too because again, so much gets shipped out. My host parents told me that they get the reject bruised fruits and such so that rich foreigners can have the shiny ones available at their local McWalmarts or what have you. (But I'm sure we have a nice personality). Moral of the story is I want one of those animal-head costumes.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Yesterday was so great and cool and fun and then... TODAY HAPPENED.

Jorge the Bartender called me yesterday around noon to come meet up at Plaza del Sol with two other girls in my program so that he could cook us lunch. Holy crap, this guy was not kidding. We showed up to his apartment to find out it was an entire family affair complete with parents, cousins, siblings, nephews, three dogs, and a cuy. The family's Peruano and they mean business when they have their family dinners. Ham, cheese, dried corn, wine, bread, and potato chips graced the coffee table in case we couldn't wait until mealtime. Chips, by the way, and such things like it, are one of my favorite quirks of Peruvian/Ecua food. Families spend hours preparing home-cooked feasts, and yet they somehow want the most un-food food on top of it. Like ketchup. Like mayonnaise. Mayo was the nectar of the gods to my Peruvian host family - and host Padre was a professional chef.

Anyway, when the meal arrived it was somewhere roughly around 18 courses with the best ají I've ever had in my life. It's this really spicy sauce that seems always to be on the table in South America, but last night's version is the first that I really fell for. Dinner accompanied by Pisco Sours all around. I tried this drink in Cuzco and it freaked me out because it's pisco (a Peruvian liquor), cinnamon, something, and egg white. It's good as soon as you stop thinking about the salmonella. Finished the day watching Spain beat Scotland 3 to 2 and all was well.

Then today. Back to school and my students do not want to listen to me at all. One of my Wednesday classes is impossible I found out. The other teacher told me so: they're "un desastre". Now I'm going off of these textbooks, and dude, they're boring. The English teachers tell me what to teach and we follow the curriculum, but the material just isn't interesting. And I'm partly griping because it's true and partly because what if I'm doing it wrong??!?!? What if a better teacher could make the audio tape where we count Rosa's and Luisa's siblings interesting?? Can't we talk about Machu Picchu and my pretty brother again?

The school day ends. I go to one student's house for her private lesson and get locked inside the courtyard when it's time to leave. I can't escape. I escape. I come home. My doorman tells me we need to talk.

Ooops. Sunday night I had invited a couple people over (read: 4) because the Belgian wanted to hang before leaving Monday morning. An hour and a half later there are maybe fifteen or twenty people sitting on the dozen unmatching chairs and bare mattress of my beautiful living room. I love my living room. It's nice and big and fits people and it's located in my apartment down the hallway from my bedroom and about a twenty minute walk from the center of the universe ie Sol. Though I've never used it my guests have also marveled at the oven we have. Although not exactly in the living room, it is merely steps away meaning Thanksgiving has already been assigned to Calle Rey Francisco, 7. Don't worry, though, this evening I was not playing music or participating in the tequila shots, and along with threatening Bertolt's life if he didn't get Juliet home safely, I made sure everything was shipshape and not too loud like the good hostess and apartment dweller that I am.

Julio the Doorman tells me the upstair neighbors thought not. And I'm kind of annoyed by this because hey, I live here too, and we were not that loud. And it was a Sunday before a Monday holiday and a lot of people left in the 12.00s to catch the Renfe and the remaining angelitos were perfectly behaved and calm. Julio thinks I didn't do anything wrong and these neighbors complain about everything, but I don't want it to happen again so I guess that means I will be canceling tomorrow evening's plans. I considered inviting the neighbors but that might not go over so well.

Guess what Dora the Explorer is in Spanish: DORA la ExploraDORA.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Y así se fue..

Quick as a flash Nic is gone and I am left once again to drink my sangria sans siblings.

After waking up at a blissful 1.45 pm we set out yesterday for Parque del Retiro and the Prado. The museum was a bust when we arrived and saw that the line was a good billion meters long, but los Jardines Botánicos made up for it. Today I'm suffering the consequences as I look back guiltily on the cactus I accidentally killed this summer, but the flowers in this garden were HUGE and COOL.

We (me) had been complaining about the loud music going on outside
the garden walls during our visit, but when we walked out we saw it was a PARADE!! We watched as groups from different South and Central American countries came through dancing, playing music, and swinging
their hips like it's hot. It was hot. I felt so homesick for South America and am seriously tempted to drop out of life and become a Colombian salsa dancer instead. Never mind that I have no rhythm; when I was in Quito a friend told me I danced like a gringa but I was good for salsa because I was easy to push around. Thanks dude.

Last night we returned yet again to the bar Dublin, where music videos of Savage Garden and other '90s highlights kept us rapt. Jorge the bartender told me one of his friends was coming later and asked me not
to mention that a couple of friends and I are going to his house tomorrow so we can learn some cooking skillz. Umm.. We also scored some free hats from a bartender at another place and rocked them proudly. (But who wouldn't?)

And then it was time to go home. We said goodbye to our new friend Faysal from Brussels, made some plans for Monday-Funday Night, and Nicole's madcap Madrid experience was coming to a close; it had only just begun.

Back to reality. Which means for me, homework. I have to write a couple essays for my bachillerato students so they can have an example when they write their descriptions of a person in English. How's this: "Nicole is my sister. Nicole likes wine. She rocks funky fresh hats. Her eyes are green and she has trouble with the Spanish lifestyle as evidenced by Saturday night." (You can ask her about that yourself)...