Thursday, September 30, 2010


So much crazy news in the world. On Wednesday Spain held a nationwide strike effectively cutting off almost all of the airline transportation in and out of the country and much of the domestic. In Madrid we still had the Metro running but it was pared down to something like 20% on off-peak hours and 50% otherwise, plus there were problems with the newspapers because a lot of their employees participated, and so apparently did many city workers because the streets were a MESS. President Zapatero's been trying to cut state-employee wages and raise the retirement age from 65 to 67, and the people no likey.

Meanwhile, Ecuador. Here again the President was trying to cut public servant wages so yesterday in Quito the POLICE attacked him with tear-gas and trapped him in a hospital until he could eventually be smuggled out amid gunshots between the police and.. the police. Correa gave a speech later in which he tore his shirt and shouted: "If you want to kill the president, here he is. Kill him, if you want to. Kill him, if you are brave enough." Umm, Correa?? Were you not paying attention the last few hours? Now there's talk of him cutting his Congress and just kind of, you know, doing his own thing when it comes to running the country.

Shake shake of the head.

In happier news I've got a couple trips coming up. One of the girls in my program, Lauren, taught in Hungary prior to this so we're Budapest-ing it for a weekend next month. Carissa's also coming. This girl won my heart when she showed up to class on Tuesday with three bottles of Coke, one for each of us. I took a whiff to find that ain't no simple soda, and it wasn't long before I realized grad class is infinitely better when it includes Cuba Libres. Plus, I can't be blamed because I'm just bowing to peer pressure?? That sneaky girl.

I'm also going back to the BEACH!! for a four-day weekend we have coming up. After being a bit unsure about the concept, I decided to sign up for Couch Surfing and at least check out the website. Who am I kidding. Five minutes after logging on I was signed up for a 20+ person road trip to camp on the beach in Cabo de Gata or wherever there's Mediterranean nearby. I will be in a tent with strangers by night and by day I plan on baking myself to a potato chip consistency of tan.

Yesterday was my first day of being in the classroom and it was .. Hmm.. First of all, all these students are used to hearing Spanish-accented English from their professors or British-English from their audio tapes, so I'm not sure how well they understood what I was saying. They would stare at me grinning then turn to each other and giggle after I finished a sentence. So either they like me, they think I'm a LOSER, or I had a piece of food stuck to my face. It's also really, really hard not to speak Spanish with them. I was trying to explain to one kid what "teenager" meant and I asked him how old he was. "Qué?" Laughter. "Hoowww oolldd arre yooou?" "Qué??" Laughs. "Cuántos años tienes - en inglés." When he got over the shock that I spoke Spanish he told me he was "five-teen." Then later he tells me, "My friend he you say?.. like?.. you," at which point I pretended also not to understand his English.

It's going to be a challenge to be an authority figure with these kids because I'm really not used to interacting with them in that way. I like when kids feel like they can relate to me and be their sick little-kid selves, rather than that they have to behave a certain way since I'm older. I assure you children, I'm not that mature. I saw a girl sneak a candy in class (they're not allowed to have any food) and I smiled at her before I realized I was supposed to be disciplining the little delinquent. The other thing is that some of these classes are SUPER chatty and don't pay attention to their profs very well. They were listening when I talked (briefly), but it could just be the novelty of having an Estadounidense in the school. Then after I sat down and the professor began, I'd hear them asking each other questions about me, but I had to act like I didn't know it since remember I can't speak Spanish.

Funky-fresh, crazy-cool, twisty trees.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Sunflower Seeds

I'm starting to get nervous about starting at Colegio. I've been really - lucky? - to have had the month of September off from teaching, but it's also meant that I've been sitting on my hands for the last several weeks while everyone else in the program jumped right in and became professionals leaving me to carry the Dora backpack.

I think I'm in some kind of mental block because I've been trying to think of ideas for planning a didactic unit and lessons plans in my Biliteracy Curriculum class, and I just keep coming back to topics from AP U.S. History. APUSH?! Why are you haunting me?! My professor wants creative and fun and exciting because she teaches little kids, whereas I'm more inclined to make my older students as miserable as I've been trying to think of a good idea for this project. The other night I was lying awake in bed despairing that the aging process had begun for me because I couldn't remember someone's last name from BU, so that, on top of my inability to design a didactic unit, meant my memory and brain tissue in general was a piece of rotten Swiss cheese and I seriously needed to resume my daily crossword puzzle habit if I wanted to be still functioning by my 24th birthday eleven months from now.

Things got better in the morning, I looked up the name on facebook.

It is intimidating, though, to think of getting up in front of a classroom and not know whether your students will be responsive or hate you. I think, maybe if I dyed my hair blonde I might look more like an interesting foreigner? When I was introduced as the English auxiliar to one of the professors at Colegio, her response was a surprised: "But you're very brown." Plus on Thursday I'm just observing, so when I finally introduce myself on Monday I'll be known as the mute brown girl who sits in the corner brooding. Brown girl, brown girl, what do you see? I see myself needing therapy.

I'm also right now trying to get my butt in gear and turn in an application for teaching in Colombia next year. I'd decided before I came here that that's where I wanted to go next, but now I'm wondering if I might try to stay here. It's been super comfortable living in Spain because it's just so western European and so safe and so first-world, and South America's not like that, at least where I've been. Ecuador and Peru are amazing and wonderful and chévere, but you're not supposed to walk around at night by yourself. Especially if you're a woman. Especially if you're a gringa (so maybe I won't go blonde). On the other hand, I met a lot more people who were actually Ecua or Peruvian when I was in Ecuador in Peru, and that's one of the things I'm kind of wishing I had more of here in Spain. I hang out with people from my Masters program and they're totally great, but it's not as easy to get in with the Madrileños. A lot of that has to do with the fact that Madrid is such an international city and there are people from all over Europe, etc., but seriously, where my Spanish friends at? At the moment I'm listening to Prince and drinking 1 euro wine, donchoo wanna come?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Wednesday Night Wine Night

On Wednesday night a bunch of us met at Montadito's aka my Wednesday night home for the next too many weeks to count. This bar/tapas place is all over the city but the one we went to was in Plaza Santa Ana, and it's things like this - the plaza, the dinner that stretches for four hours, the wine with friends on a weekday night - that people (me?) think of when they think of Europe. We were talking about this as we sipped (ok chugged, sangria tastes like juice) our drinks, and comparing how different it is in the States. Hmm.. Things are different here for sure, but we're also a very privileged bunch who got to come over here, get our Master's degree paid for, and receive a monthly stipend just because we happened to have been born in an English-speaking country. In an earlier post I mentioned that unemployment among people my age-group is enormously high, and it's tough not feeling somewhat guilty that it's so easy for us while other people are really struggling. And as much as I love travel and living abroad, I'm really reluctant to idealize life in a foreign country (or a domestic one, just sayin'). I think it can be really irresponsible for people to drop in on a place, take the best of what the country has to offer, and ignore the fact that theirs isn't a typical experience. That's how a lot of travel is, though. Maybe we ignore it when we're abroad because once we go back to our real lives it's right there staring us in the face.

The next morning I read in a new series on the job situation in Spain, that one particular woman my age had studied English, German and Spanish Language Education, but was unable to find employment. She'd applied for a number of scholarship programs much like the one I'm in and was denied acceptance to all. Take note: I am very very much of the opinion that the simple fact of being born outside a certain country should not preclude you from the opportunity of employment in that country (I'm talking to you, Border Patrol), however, something seems off in the fact that it's so difficult for qualified Spaniards to get available work.

I'm working on a Powerpoint presentation for when I start at Colegio and have the first class to introduce myself and where I'm from - don't worry, I include Goldie Gopher in the Minnesota slide. I have pictures from the other places I've lived, and it's going to be fun explaining how I was in Quito for four months but "the only Spanish I know is 'hola,' 'buenos días,' y 'adiós'." This is what the English professor at the Colegio told me to say if the kids ask, so they don't try to speak Spanish with me. "Party peeps, it's very important that you all learn Spanish. It's so important that I only speak English and know only four words outside of my language." In our grad classes we're learning ways to avoid using Spanish with the students if they don't understand a word. For example, if they don't know the word 'apple,' you can say it's red and it's a fruit, and then hopefully they'll be able to understand you're talking about a manzana. I heard from another girl that she was explaining this technique to her students and had turned it into a game by coming up with words for her students to describe to another student, so she could try to guess based on the description. The first hint the class gave was "It's brown." The student didn't know. The second hint: "It's the perfect substitute for sex."

"Ohh, chocolate."

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Vuelta de España and Sandpaper Cheeks

I took lots of notes in my nun planner today. The professors at my Colegio gave me the books their students would be learning English with, and I learned some useful information, like:

"Everyone in England drinks tea - with milk! It's horrible." (This in the cultural understanding section).

Or, Jason: "What's that on your face?"
Jade: "Oh, it's make-up."

Awkward silence.

I'm still only in Colegio for brief bits of time until October. And I still only know the names of three teachers, although I've kissed them all at least twice, as per Spanish custom. There's an art to the cheek-kiss greeting. In Ecuador it was only one check: sensible, effective, sweet. Here with the two cheeks you can run into problems. What if the guy's got some stubble? I have sensitive skin, do I risk chafing my face on him? Suppose a woman is made up like the one in the photo. I don't want to clog my pores with that shit. I actually prefer it to the U.S. handshake though. If it's a job interview, sure, but it seems too formal to shake hands most of the time, and too intimate to bear hug a stranger. Cheek-kiss, you always know what you're going to get: a little rug-burn, some residual lipliner, and the perfect entrance into a Spanish friendship.

This weekend was really cool because the Vuelta de España finished its several weeks course here in Madrid. It's basically Spain's version of the Tour de France and it turned out to be awesome. Kind of like an extended parade that circles the city 12 times after having been on the road the past three weeks. First you have the cops coming in on motorcycles (I mean like 20, seriously), followed by the team cars, their roofs laden with spare bikes, then the actual riders, followed by more team cars. There's a whole bunch of strategy that goes into it, like, follow the lead rider to get towed along in his wind stream, and don't brake, it's a race.

Went out with Sydney afterwards to watch the Barcelona game, but ended up talking too much to pay much attention. Monday night was also BOOK CLUB. Brittaney - and Cait too, but Brittaney's my number one and only blog fan - I wish desperately you were a member, but I don't think we can pull this one on Skype. I started this group myself and it's called "Libros y Wine." I showed up to the first meeting with a 2-liter bottle of sangria, and the rest of them had coffee. Next week I think we'll be reviewing the true meaning behind this get-together.

Some pictures...

Sunday, September 19, 2010


I've been waiting for NIC to send me the pictures she took when we were in Poland, but alas she's recently moved into her new bangin' home in Chicago and apparently has better things to do like find a job and go on vacation. Anyway I'm writing about it now, photos to be stolen from google.

Nicole, my grandma and I flew into Warsaw and spent several days there exploring Old Town, visiting the Warsaw Uprising Museum, seeing what remained of the Jewish ghetto, and luxuriating in our hotel's rooftop pool and hot-tub overlooking the whole of the city and the Vistula River to the east. (Actually the pool part was just me, Grandma and Nicole were sampling vodkas at the hotel bar).

Being in Warsaw I had a difficult time separating what I saw in the present with what I knew had gone on there during World War II. The city was essentially reduced to rubble and you can see it in the rebuilt city today: modern highrises neighbor communist-era buildings of expressionless functionality, while the Soviet-constructed Palace of Culture looms arrogant and imposing on the horizon. Old Town exclusively was rebuilt in its original manner immediately following the war, owing, according to a Condé Nast article I ripped out of a doctor's office magazine (shh) a few months back, not to the city's financial capability but rather its lack thereof. Warsaw had evidently been so destroyed that it needed to recreate a part of life from its better days.

Aside from the architecture, I also spent my first few days wondering whether each Pole I passed in the street felt as if he or she had this enormous weight hanging from his or her shoulders made up of World War II and the atrocities that went on in that city. Warsaw is known to me for its significance in World War II and the decades following, and I know the people who live there have a much larger culture and identity outside of those parameters, but I wondered if there's some sense of guilt for not acting sooner on behalf of the Jewish population. The Warsaw Uprising was a major counterattack on the part of the Poles, but even so it came at a time when the interests of the majority - not just the Jewish - were being severely curtailed. By no means did the Poles come out advantageous within this all - countless, not receiving the expected support from the Soviet troops outside the city - died in the Uprising, and the survivors were still under the thumb of foreign militaries at its end, but at the same time there were Jewish people starving to death a block away on the other side of the wall. Nicole very fairly asked me if I felt guilty about the Japanese internment camps in the U.S. She's right that the U.S. has a litany of guilt counts, but what I saw and know of Warsaw is so wrapped up in that horror that I don't think I did a very good job of seeing it for its character today.

We took a train from Warsaw to Krakow and stepped into an entirely different world. Krakow looks much as it has for years prior to the war and is adequately charming and wanderable. We spent a good amount of time near the main square, which was heavily touristy but comprised mainly of visitors from eastern Europe or Germany. I met only a handful of English-speakers during the entire trip, and none who were from the United States (come on people, why don't we travel?). It rained almost daily and the temperature hovered around the high-50s, but the flavored vodka Poland is known for kept us warm. Grandma, Nicole and I spent many nights in the hotel room drinking lemon vodka on the rocks and watching Polish soaps. Telenovelas: a universal unifier.

Nicole and I also went out to the bars a time or two but were met with some odd receptions. We tried going into a bar to watch the football game and it was one of those slow-motion-turn-your-head-and-stare-in-silence occasions when we got in the room. Turning around. Next spot a guy came up to us with a menu tucked into the neck of his shirt, planted himself a foot away from Nicole and I, then stared. Didn't say anything, just opened his eyes reeeal wide. Turning around. The next place finally stuck, but I don't know if people are just a little more contained with their relationships in Poland or what, but we made no friends. :(

On one of our last days we made the hour bus-ride to Auschwitz-Birkenau. It was the strangest experience because it felt like the camps were too much to take in, and yet what I was trying to take in wasn't even the first of it. It is unbelievable to walk through the buildings and see the photos and personal items of the victims and try to grasp that it's real. How can it possibly be real? How can we as human beings be capable of that? The Holocaust is such an atrocious stain on our history but I can't help but think that we wouldn't care so much if it hadn't happened in the western world. There are enough examples of genocide today to suggest that people as a whole don't really care. And what's my role in it? Tourist? Pretty saddening..

Friday, September 17, 2010


Yesterday was my first day of work. I went to the school where I'll be teaching - Colegio Madres Concepcionistas - and met the teachers with whom I'll be spending the year. Pilar, one of the English teachers, told me neither Spanish nor miniskirts are allowed, then gifted me with a school planner featuring a cartoon drawing of a nun. Pilar was wonderfully nice and told me I'd be in secondary (ages 12 to 15), and bachillerato (ages 16 and 17) classrooms, along with two hours a week giving English lessons for the teachers, most of whom speak little or none.

Quick explanation of the Spanish school system: Secondary education was only recently made mandatory and bachillerato is elective, meaning class sizes drop quite a bit at this level. (PS. Did you know that in the States something like 30% of 8th graders don't graduate high school?!) In Spain if students finish bachillerato they have to pass a test to go on to university, but the uni culture in Spain is such that (according to one of my professors) higher education is part of a trend towards modernization, and many students aren't necessarily doing it for personal or professional reasons. In any case, unemployment in Spain is somewhere around 20%, - 42% among people in my generation! - so a university degree doesn't guarantee much (hello? America?). I also read in the paper yesterday that the current crop of young people is known as the "ni ni" generation. As in very many ni (neither) work, ni (nor) are students. Read this (in Spanish):

Another big difference with school here is that mandatory education begins at age 3 (!) or 2 (!!!), if the kid's birthday is sometime before the end of the first semester. That means that some of the other people in my program have been assigned to "teach English" to a classroom of thirty toddlers, sometimes without any other professional teacher to assist. Say whaaa??

I don't go back to colegio until Wednesday so I'm on a mini-vacation in which I will never sleep past 8 am. I found out Monday that the interior courtyard of my building becomes recess during the school year, and I've been taking creepy zoomed-in photos from my bedroom window. Also learned in my Biliteracy class that Spanish rooster's go "Quiquiriquiquííí". My professor then asked us: "What sound does your cock make?" I plan on working this into my first lesson with the Madres.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Thoughts on Hostels

I'm a big hostel traveler. I think they're great. Cheap and instant foreign friends. Young, travel-hungry people who couldn't afford better all come together for a few shared nights in closet-sized rooms full of bunk beds. Cozy.

Laura and I, charmed by the 4 out of 5 star cleanliness reviews, had booked our hostel in Málaga some hours before leaving Madrid, and arrived at 8 am to a pot of coffee. Possibly still sitting there from last night. I was grateful also for my bowl of Corn Flakes, which I held before my nose during a conversation with an Argentine, when I learned that he and I had different cultural understandings of personal space.

We ended up spending more time at the hostel then expected, after "El Levanto" - some crazy sandstorm shit that peeled off about 8 layers of my skin while we were at the beach - forced us to seek shelter. No worries, the hostel owner set us up with some hookah, which we shared with our roommate, a 45ish man who's been living at the hostel for two months and who told me he and his mother are on bad terms because she was an addict when she was pregnant with him. I knew he was the one we'd be bunking with because I'd seen a prosthetic leg lying in the middle of the floor earlier that morning, and now he was asking me to make beers runs for him so he wouldn't have to wobble over himself.

As night set in another hostel employee attempted to set up the projector so we could watch the Spain v Argentine game, during which time his slide show of anti-United States images kept us entertained, and another employee offered me some of his weed. Igor, his name was, told me he was into the truth, like: "Someone might call this a glass, for example, and someone else might call it un vaso, but only one is the truth. Oh, I'm not making sense. Want some weed?"

I went to bed that night to the pitter-patter of little feet scurrying through the walls (please don't be a rat please don't be a rat), and woke to eat my breakfast among several burly Hispanics already sidled up to the courtyard bar. That thing in the picture above was also napping in the hallway. Is it a couch? Is it a mop? Is it the thing that was scurrying through the walls last night?

Málaga was a nice little excursion. The Mediterranean, at least when we were underwater, was bliss, and I was content to split a jar of sangria with Laura instead of sitting in the sand when El Levanto attacked. We wandered the streets and listened to Christmas music on the bus ride home, but all in all, I'm happy to be back in Madrid.

Monday, September 6, 2010


Okay, seriously, can we please just all marvel at this picture. Sunset in Puerta del Sol. It was even better in person. This was before we went over to Kristin's apartment and made an authentic Spanish dinner.. I mean, there was chorizo for the meat-eaters as well as a kind of Spanish/Italian/American/French bruschetta. Our kitchen turned into a knock-off Thriller video when the oven began smoking uncontrollably (we somehow also managed to break off both the fridge and freezer doors when we tried opening it). Anyway, cooked our bruschetta up in the pan french toast style, put on some cream cheese (??), piled on the veg, and enjoyed. Another wonderful part of this country is the 1 to 2 euro bottles of wine, which accompanied our olive-oiled madness.

I had the "the perfect moment" earlier in the day when I was
walking through Plaza de España and saw that they were setting up for the Spain v Greece game later that night. Was very excited until I found out it was basketball, but the deejay playing the Pixies (say whaa?!) made up for it. I met an interesting/odd old man who asked me if I saw myself married in ten years and what I was running from in the U.S., then invited me to a language exchange meeting. He's a psicoanalista and said I could tell him about mis problemas mentales. Bahahaah, err, umm.. See you at 7:30 Javier! I'm hoping for a good story.

Last night was meant to be salsa but the 95 degree weather and lack of air conditioning killed it. Laura and I went to the park and read, people watched, and were serenaded by a harpist. Ahh yeah. We're taking off at midnight tonight for Málaga, which is a city on the Mediterranean coast about 7ish hours south of us. Mmm. Sunshine. Beach. Mermaids. Qué buena la vida.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Hijo de Puta

So my plane was about an hour late out of Dublin and I didn't get to my apartment until around 11:00 - two hours after I'd arranged to meet the doorman and get my keys. Complicating matters was the fact that I wasn't exactly sure of my apartment number so I had six floors of two apartments each to choose from in the hopes that one would buzz me in. Much buzzing ensued, but from no one's end but my own. I spoke to one guy who listened to my story, then told me "Lo siento" (I'm sorry), and hung up. It was one of the moments where you think to yourself, this isn't really happening to me, is it? It can't really be happening, right? This is too bad to be real, please? someone? anyone?

Some of you may know this story already (Mom I may have screened it from your ears), but I had a similar experience down in Peru when I oopsforgotmykeysinthecab. My cab driver dropped me off outside my apartment, which is walled in with a locked gate to keep out the hoodlums. Good idea, except that it also meant knocking on the door would only mean that my pitiful attempts at SOS would be sent to an empty courtyard. Not helpful at 2 o'clock in the morning, not helpful for a gringa in a place that kinda has a reputation. (See why I didn't tell you, ma?) THIS ISN'T REALLY HAPPENING TO ME, IS IT? IT CAN'T REALLY BE HAPPENING, RIGHT? THIS IS TOO BAD TO BE REAL, PLEASE? SOMEONE? ANYONE? My cabdriver showed up with my keys a few minutes/an eternity later.

Anyway, back to Spain. Finally my hand has arrived at the buzzer belonging to floor six, and the merciful fool in apartment number 11 lets me in. To sit. In the foyer. Waving my arms wildly every five or so minutes to turn the motion sensor light back on. Then the gods smiled upon me. My roommate Henrique came back to the apartment around 12:30 (btw, isn't this the city that never sleeps? why was no one else up and about?). He let me in the apartment and showed me around. Bienvenidos a Madrid.

My bedroom window faces a charming brick wall and my mattress has stains on it the likes of which I've never seen, pero es mi propia preciosa habitación! I have a suitcase full of things to unpack, so of course I took off immediately and walked around for most of the day yesterday. Last night I met three people in my program and am feeling much better about being a stranger in a strange land. Two for one daiquiris and birthday gelato (preceded by birthday frozen yogurt), improved my moods considerably. When I got home I actually met the guy who had refused to let me in the previous night while he was walking his dog. Damn thing looks like an ottoman in a cute way (the dog), making it difficult to hate the man entirely (a little bit). I have yet to meet two of my roommates and am wishing desperately that one of them will (surprise!) turn out to be Nic, but in the meantime I'll just continue to peer pressure her to visit me for Christmas. Miss you!!