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.