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)...

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Nic the Human Goddess

Me + Nicole = Wait, how did this happen?

Yay! Nicole arrived in Madrid early yesterday morning, just thirty-ish hours after having impulsively decided to peace out on Chicago for the weekend and buy a ticket to Madrid instead. Isn't she cool?

On top of that she checks her email after I go get her at the Metro station and she's got a JOB!! That girl quit her job and moved with Mike from New Jersey to Deep-Dish-Pizzaland at the end of August, almost immediately left for a week and a half with me and Grandma in Poland, back to Minnesota for State Fair Foolery, home to Chicago, and now she is already Chicago's freshest new adoption Social Worker out to the change the world, with a brief vacation in Madrid before beginning Tuesday morning. Applause.

Of course we celebrated. First with a nap for Nicole while I ran to the
bank, then with several hours wandering to various outdoor markets, Plazas, perfect little streets, and the Palacio Real. Nic tried Spanish tortilla - kind of like a quiche with egg and potato - and we had frozen yogurt at llaollao. I have to mention something about this: llaollao lets you pick between various toppings for your yogurt, and one of these is a typical Spanish candy called "Conguitos". These little guys are peanuts covered in chocolate, and the package features a little brown man with big lips and a strategically placed label over his nether-regions. Conguitos means "little Congos," as in people from the Congo. Make of this what you will.

Onward. After picking up a bottle of Tinto de Verano Nic and I headed off to Plaza de España for several hours of dog-watching, drinking, and conversation, followed by a visit to the bar Dublin, where everybody knows my name, to catch the Spain v Lithuania game. How awesome is Dublin? We ordered two drinks and a diet Coke for sleepy Nic. We got I think six drinks as they just kept refilling. Plus five plates of food - think wings, potatoes, meat-somethings, and then when Jorge asked why I wasn't eating and I told him I was vegetarian, an enormous plate of grilled mushrooms, another of potato chips, and another of the "Chino" mix - corn nuts, peanuts, salty and sweet somethings. Chino mix means Chinese mix. Explain that one to me as well. Total bill: 6.30 euro.

That is one thing you will find in Spain: women are taken care of. I was talking to my doorman Julio the other day about someone who lives in the apartment and neglected to pay for a month of rent. Julio told me he's had problems with her since the beginning, but can't address it very assertively because "In Spain the man must always" - and then he bent his knees to be a foot shorter than me. I don't know if this is really true for everyone, but it seems to be the case when I'm out to pubs or diners. Yesterday at the diner where Nicole ordered her tortilla, she was charged less than half price and the bartender brought us each waters even though we told him we didn't want anything to drink - ps. it's not like in the States where waters are sometimes automatic, plus waitstaff don't really make tips here. (Although if you come here and they're like this for you, come on, throw in a couple extra euros).

On the agenda for the rest of the weekend are the Prado and Reina Sofía, possibly a house party tonight at the home of a guy I met from Brazil, and certainly more looooovve for my big sis.

She is the bomb.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


I've run through my Powerpoint introduction probably about sixteen times now, but I'm constantly amused by the responses from my students. Having finished the presentation for one of my classes today, I asked the kids if they had any questions about what they'ed just seen.

"What do you think of the Spanish men?" one twelve year old boy wanted to know.
"Do you have a boyfriend?" another asked. The other teacher, Pilar, interrupted.
"That's a personal question. We are not asking personal questions, we're asking interesting questions."
"I think it's interesting," thirteen year old Javier interjected.
"She doesn't have to answer that, Javier. Sergio, what's your question for Megan?"
"Have you got a boyfriend?"

My favorite part about this exchange is that Sergio wasn't being insolent, he just didn't understand any of the English that had just been spoken by his teacher. It's amusing as hell and I love it.

I find it fascinating also to see how United States culture has infiltrated the Spanish lexicon. Mentioning Lady Gaga, for example, seems ubiquitously pleasing. One student asked me, as if I knew her personally, "Is she actually a man?"

And yet another guarantor of shocked murmurings is my being vegetarian. "That is very funny because my idea of Americans is that they are all.. all.." (They think we're all fat. I tried to spread some of the blame by telling them the U.K. was number two - I possibly read that somewhere, but in any case I'm okay with dissing England.) One class seemed quite concerned upon hearing the news: "But are you getting your vitamins?" The fifteen year old in the front row had assured me he was normal when he moved his backpack to sit in the front-middle row, but later Pilar also told him he wasn't allowed to talk to me anymore. I appreciated this kid anyway, though, because when I told them my first day in Madrid was my birthday and I hadn't known people at the time, he immediately broke out singing "Hoppy Bartheday to yooo," with which the rest of the class soon joined. A concerned girl in the backseat also passed a dragonfly band-aid up through four rows when she noticed I had a hangnail.

Another thing people love is when I show the picture of Machu Picchu ("Machu Picchu! HAHAHA"), and the most psychotic image of Joe I could find in my collection of freaky photos. I promise you, Spain, this is tame compared to some in which I've been the star figure, but perhaps you just can't hack the Marcouiller Mania.

Okay but seriously, I'm starting to hallucinate.. can't hack it either.

Also had my first two teacher lessons - intimidation: leading a lesson for teachers. We spent the higher-level class discussing immigration and the economy and the strike. One teacher told me very adamantly: "The problem is this: Spanish politics." He then asked me how one would go about getting citizenship in the United States, so that's on my agenda for next week's lesson. My question is, if I set him up with a free-pass to the United States by marrying him, do I then also have an automatic free-pass to Spain? Worth considering..

Monday, October 4, 2010

Mi Hermano Day-reek

I'm in!!

I worked very hard putting together a nice little Powerpoint about my life and where I'm from and where I've lived, etc. Had I anticipated the reaction to this photo I would have dedicated far more of the presentation to my baby brother.

My first few classes actually went more or less how I expected. I introduced myself, showed my pictures, they asked me questions about the States and places I've traveled, what I think of Madrid, who my favorite footballer is, whether I have a boyfriend - ooohh!! - and the like. Then comes my 12-year-old class and their apparent love of older men: sharp intake of breath and a "Qué fuerte!" was their response to this one.

"In English, please."
"Your brother, he is.. very pretty." This only from the girl nearest me, as the others had dissolved into a sea of giggles and excited whisperings. I had lost their attention, but earned their respect.

"Your brother, how old he have?"
"Your brother, his name what?"
"Your brother, can I see the picture again?"

I spent the first half hour with one half of the class, then there was an eager shuffling of the students in group two as the girls tried for spots in the front row.

"Can we see your brother?"
"We'll get to it guys, take a seat."

And then at the end of the class, from my co-teacher who apparently had spoken to group number one after I'd finished with them:

"How did it go? They said you have a handsome brother. Do I get to see his picture sometime?"

Hey guys, it's nice to meet you, too.

It's good to be on a schedule again though.. although it's coming a little bitterly. I got an email this morning from some Brazilians I met traveling through Madrid on Friday. They're moving onto Salamanca and Barcelona and Valencia and invited me to travel with them. Are you there fate? It's me, pissed. I will have to wait until my death-by-camping trip in two weeks before I travel, and I'm already getting really antsy to get going on it. I have no reason to complain about Madrid but I do spend an inordinate amount of time searching inter-European flights everyday. Perhaps I can squeeze something in over Halloween...