Friday, June 8, 2012

"The worst airport in the world."

You now know that I am back in the US, but I figured I would reflect on my travels home (a week ago).

I decided to fly AirFrance since I refused to associate with Iberia (or anything in the One World alliance that may fly me on Iberia) because as you might know, Spain loves a good strike. And Iberia has been on strikes, no joke, every Monday and Friday of every week for the past couple months (and for a few more months into the future). I didn't want to deal with that crap, so I figured I would do the same route I did from Christmas, flying to Paris then home.

I don't think I mentioned the details of the time I originally took this route during Christmas, but I will mention it now. CDG (Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris) is quite a...trek. You have to be prepared to hike miles to transfer planes. It's a bit ridiculous.

No, this is not a "must just be you" kind of thing. When researching stuff for this blog post, I came across this dandy comment from Bill:

Time it takes from terminal 2G to terminal 2E, departure gate on the L port.
- Bill Bray
For anyone interested, it took me exactly 50 minutes to get from the arrival gate at 2G to the departure gate in Terminal 2E, port L, to get on a flight to Minneapolis. If you already know you leave terminal 2E, that's half the battle. You go through customs in 2E just before you get on a shuttle to get to port L gates. The customs line wasn't long (Monday), and I believe there was an Orange line for those in a rush.

(4 Jun 2012 - 08:00)
Bill, you said it well. I am glad you didn't say it with a huff and puff as many Americans at the airport were so glad to do. I will get to his "half the battle" comment in a moment.

Okay, my plane arrives at 9:05am in Paris. My next flight leaves from the same airport, at 10:30am. Sound easy? Think again...

Friday, June 1, 2012

A hankering for American Food

As you are reading this, I am heading home.

And I am hungry for some American Food. Yeah, I capitalized Food. Because it is that special.

Some of the things I have a hankering for:

Beef Jerkey
Pulled Pork
BBQ sauce (just the sauce...and a spoon)
Pop Tarts
Butterfinger bars
Root Beer

Preferably, all of the above will be waiting for me upon arrival. But I could go with just the beef jerky and Butterfinger bars. Gotta keep it healthy.

Kids at airports

I heard this on a recent SNL episode during Weekend Update...

"A new study suggests that people with children are happier than people without children. The study was NOT conducted at an airport."

We'll see how it goes.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

FAQs part 2

Tomorrow, as some of you may know, I am heading home. My bags are packed...and I mean really packed. Jam packed. More so than before.

But tomorrow I leave, and hopefully travel will run smoothly, as we always hope.

I thought I'd take the time to answer some FAQs that I know I've already been asked and anticipate being asked for the next week or so.

Here we go...

But really, how is that packing going?
I am at the max weight limit for both my bags, and my carry on is holding various random clothing items that didn't fit into the suitcases.
As with studying abroad, I know I had to leave some stuff behind. I am leaving behind some brown boots that I bought here (they are in perfect shape, too! What a shame!) because they were only 20 euros and every pair of socks worn with them bore holes at the end of the day.
I am also leaving behind my short brown cowboy boots that I bought here back in 2010. The seams are ripping, the rubber sole is wearing down, and the inside is just...wrecked. I think they deserve a goodbye. Also, Eric hated them. Maybe he'll be happy they're gone.

I am also leaving behind some miscellaneous stuff, like a 1-euro sewing kit, a Doublemint Gum tin, and lots of magazines. Oh, and bath products. Lots of random little bottles of shampoos and lotions.
And my gold beach sandals. They need to be in the garbage, like, now.

I will be wearing a LOT on my back. It always sucks, because I start sweating while running around the airport, but then the airplane is always SO COLD. There is no balance. You just have to wear a tank top, button up, hoodie, and leather jacket like I plan on doing tomorrow. Then you can sweat sweat sweat then shiver on the airplane. Bonus: you can use your folded up jacket/hoodie to make up for the massive dips in the lower back and seat due to AWFUL ergonomic design.

 I have said it many times, and I will say it again: who the HECK designs those airplane seats? Never ever have I wanted a seat that makes me curve my back so I hunch forward then have so much neck support that I am stuck in a chin-to-collarbone pose for a flight. Every airplane and airline is like that, so clearly there is some major negative groupthink going on right now.

Why are you coming home so soon?
As I mentioned in the previous FAQ, the contract was up after 6 months. The company tried to extend it, but the government program funding it was ending in May, and therefore my pay was ending in May.

Are you excited about coming home/are you gonna miss Spain?
You know, I don't really have a good answer to this question. In all honesty, I am sad to be coming home. However, I don't want to stay here either. There is nothing inherently bad about either place, but I am in this sort of limbo that makes me not want to be at either one.
It is like that feeling of graduating high school or college. You like it where you are, but you don't want to stay out of want to move on. But moving on can be scary and unknown, and that's not something I really look forward to.
That is where I am right now. I can't stay, because there is nothing keeping me here...but there is nothing really drawing me home (that's not to say I don't miss my friends and family).

Why didn't you take a week or something at the end of your stay in Spain to travel or vacation?
Basically, I am rushing home because of our friends' Mark and Lauren's wedding shower that is taking place on Friday. Yes, this Friday, as in five-hours-after-my-plane-lands Friday.
Also, my neighbor who has been like a little sister to me, Emily, graduates high school on Sunday, and is having her grad party that day.

What are you going to do when you come back? What's next?
This answer should really just be "?"
But the long answer is job searching, babysitting, and trying to figure out what I am going to do for the rest of my life, much like how it was after college graduation.

Are you going to continue your Spanish?
I don't have any plans. I don't want to come off as haughty when I say this, but it is really hard to take classes at this level of Spanish at my age. College level courses are what I have already taken, so it would just be repetitive. There aren't as intensive of courses as there are for things like English (adult ESL, for example). However, I am not really looking for classes, either. The only way I have been intensively improving the language was when I was here in Spain, immersed and conversational.
I do plan on Skyping my host family. Hopefully I can call them at least once a month and fit in some Spanish conversation.
But I don't think I will lose it, since prior to Nov 2011 when this trip started, the last time I had used it was in May 2010. It doesn't quite disappear.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Gadget cat.

There is a popular cartoon here imported from Japan called "Doraemon: Gadget Cat from the Future."

It is probably the worst cartoon ever. It's just over-expressive (you can tell by the mouths that take up half the face in the above photo) people interacting with a cat that is gigantic and doesn't do anything impressive. 

It isn't funny or clever.

Did I mention it's from the 70s? I mean, live action TV back then was awful (Batman). Just imagine cartoons, and international cartoons. 

Ugh, and of course it is dubbed, but since these people are so expressive and whiny and annoying, half the dubs are just sound effects of heavy breathing or "ahhh!" or "ayy!" when people are falling over.

It just wastes a half hour time slot of TV while we could all be watching something else. However, Lucas and Lucia love it.

Cristina and Pichon hate it. As did Rocio. Clearly parents hate it all over.

One thing is for sure: Doraemon will NOT be on my list of  "things I will miss when I go back home."

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Sunday with the kiddos

Today Monica and Cristina's parents (Alicia and Pepe) invited me over for lunch with them, Jose Enrique, Monica, Dani and Maria. I already knew it'd be great because Dani and Maria are so entertaining.

Dani asked his parents the other day, "How come Lucas has two mommies?"  referring to me and Cristina.

Sara, Alicia and Pepe's cat, was sitting on a chair near the window and Dani sees me near her and says "Isn't Sara just beautiful?"

Dani and Maria were playing hide-and-seek, and Dani was looking for Maria. We were on the top floor, and I was about to go to the bathroom. I enter the bathroom as Dani says "She's not up here anywhere." As he is talking to me, I am opening the lid to the toilet. I tell him "She might be downstairs." He looks in the toilet, then looks at me with a really confused face, and says "She's down THERE!??!"

We eat lunch (yummy meatballs and broth!) and had fresh strawberries (picked from the garden) for dessert. And then, out of nowhere, I get bombarded with unexpected gifts. Monica and Jose Enrique give me a ring and matching pin, and Jose Enrique jokingly says "I picked that one out. I spent all day in the store trying to find the right colors." Dani was by my side, helping me open every gift, telling me before opening each one "It is a SURPRISE!" I open a little box and inside is a personalized piggy bank with a photo of the kids dressed up for Las Fallas. It was from Maria and Dani. Then Alicia passes me a package of beans for when I make paella. She also passes me a wrapped gift, which was an apron and washcloth with a fallera printed on it, along with a recipe for paella. She told me "It's even more for your dad, who will be making the paella. Can you imagine him wearing this flowery apron?!"  Then Monica passed me yet another package, which included little earrings that Marina designed for her brand, Manitas de Plata. I loved them. Then I went around and gave cheek kisses to everyone as I wished them thank you.

Dani was rambling on about me going back to Chicago, and he said "And I am going with her. She'll drive the plane, and we are going straight to New York City."

An hour later, still clearly thinking about it, he told me out of the blue, "I want to go with you on a plane to Chicago."

Me too.

A gorgeous Saturday in Valencia

Yesterday was my last Saturday in Valencia.

My host family is in Munera for the weekend, since one of Pichon's cousins has her communion.

I decided that I would make a trip into the heart of the city and spend all day long shopping, eating, people-watching, etc.

I walked to the metro train near my house, and when I got there, there was an older man (in his 60s) who said "Siempre las más blancas son las más guapas. No te pongas morena!" which translates to "It's always the palest girls who are the prettiest! Don't you ever get tan!"

I got on the train, and at the transfer station (to switch to the more city-centered green/red lines), there was a little toddler playing with a plastic toy on the platform (he was very far from the edge, don't worry). I was watching, along with the lady next to me on the bench, because well, kids are cute. The little boy then jumped, tripped, and launched the little toy out of his hands. It was like slow motion, bouncing, bouncing...and it got all the way to the edge of the platform, bounced, and then FELL. Onto the tracks. It was pretty suspenseful, and I  audibly went "awwww, no!" And the lady next to me turned to me and laughed. The poor kid. The dad, smartly, didn't go after the toy and just told the kid it was too late, and it met it's demise, four feet down on the tracks. How unfortunate.

I got off the train at the Colón (as in, Crístobal Colón, who you might know as Christopher Columbus) stop, and I immediately found the 7 Camicie store I was looking for. When my parents and I were in Portugal, my dad went into this store and fell in love with their snazzy shirts, but they didn't have a particular one (double collar, black and white stripes) in his size. I found out there was another one in Valencia, so after my parents were gone, I checked it out. As I have mentioned, these stores have about 10 shirts in each size. No luck at the Valencia one, or even the Alicante one for that matter. This was my last shot, and THERE IT WAS! I thought there was going to be something wrong. I have been to three stores already with no luck. There was no way I could have found it. But alas, I did. The funny thing is, I have passed this store a million times, since I get off that metro stop a lot. However, I always ignore it because although the pretty colors in the windows catch my eye, I am always like "oh, it's just men's shirts. PASS."

I then went to the Correos, or mail, building in the main city plaza. That building is one of the older buildings of the city, and has a huge main hall with marble columns and three floors looking into the center area, topped with a glass dome. Epic. Cristina's mom worried me on Friday by saying "When [not if] you need to ship stuff home, it will be helpful to know how much it costs. When Cristina studied in Italy, she shipped a lot of stuff home, and it was cheaper than paying for extra luggage." I hope I don't have to ship stuff home. I never had to do that before. Also, I don't think that shipping stuff home will be cheaper for me. I think extra luggage costs like $70, and I found out yesterday that approximately the same size and weight box would cost 150 EUROS ($195) to ship. So yeah, I REALLY hope I don't have to ship stuff. I'll just be that obnoxious person with lots of carry on stuff that just barely works into the limitations. However, if I remember correct, that first plane to France is tiny. I remember thinking that a Harry Potter book in my lap was cramped.

Now that my "stuff I really have to get done today" was done, I was free to roam the city. I dipped into Mercadona, the grocery store, to see if anything looked yummy to grab-and-go. The produce section in this store is like, well, all Spanish produce sections in that you have to weigh and sticker your bag with a price before checking out, unlike in the US, where they do it for you at checkout. Each produce item has a number next to it, so you know what button to press on the scale. If you forget, there is also a sign above the scale with typical produce items and their keycodes. I saw a girl (maybe a couple years younger than me) go to the scale and look really confused. She stared at the fruit, then at the board above the keypad, trying to find her item. She just had this hopeless look on her face, like "I have no idea what I am doing." She found her item on the list, punched it in, then she took a minute finding where the sticker ejects from the machine. Then she slowly grabbed her stuff with this "I hope that's it" look on her face, and immediately bumps into an elderly man behind her. She looked so shaken. I felt like a senior watching a freshman get to class for the first time. "I was you, once."

I didn't end up getting anything because I forgot that they don't refrigerate any soft drinks, so although that 20 cent can of Sprite was calling me, it was room temperature. And who likes that? No one.

I then hopped over to El Corte Ingles, where I spent the next hour and a half. I have mentioned this store before, but if you forgot, it is like a Macy's on steroids. It is a department store, but with SO MUCH MORE! There is a massive stationery section, gift section, tourist gift section, bookstore, music store, makeup area, clothing area, shoe section, etc and the list goes on. These stores are massive and there are THREE on Colón street alone. Their gift section is awesome. They have a purse in the shape of a giant Converse shoe, phones in the shape of hamburgers or high heels, plastic ice cubes in the shape of anchors and ships, magnets that play music, and other random cool stuff. The stationery section is equally awesome, and the epitome of window shopping: there is so much cool stuff to look at, even though you already know you won't buy anything. Is that a Swarovski crystal pencil? Is that a notepad in the shape of a chocolate bar? Are those erasers in the shape of 3D cars that have real wheels? Is that a journal made of Lego bricks? YES, yes, yes yes! Cristina gave me a coupon the other day for "spend 60 euros, get 6 euros back". I could easily spend 60 euros, since I had souvenirs and gifts to buy! However, I came up short, since there was a book in my purchase and the coupon couldn't be used on books. I wasn't going to spend 10 more euros to save 6...that didn't make any sense at all.

On my way to finding food (I already had a crepe restaurant in mind), I ducked in to a couple more stores that I came across. Hey, I have no rush, no plans, just hours and hours to spend doing whatever I please! I went into a store and immediately noticed a wall of American-themed clothing. Ironically enough, I come across the globe to be surrounded by all things American. At Corte Ingles, there were notepads with major American cities but NO Spanish cities! I was thinking "Hey this would be a great gift" but I wasn't going to get a notepad with New York or LA or Seattle on it. I mean Seattle? Really? How do you have Seattle and no Madrid or Barcelona? Do Spanish people even know what or where Seattle is? I doubt it. This one clothing store was obnoxious in its display of USA and red/white/blue clothing. Now I know I should travel to Spain to get 4th of July clothes. They had jeans with a giant American flag painted on them. They had flag scarves. Flag halters. Tops. Skirts, shirts, shoes, socks. Seriously, America is in fashion right now.

I got to the crepe place near the Virgin plaza. I saw it when my parents were here, but we didn't end up eating there. I got a table outside, and there were already tons of people at the other tables and nearby restaurants (it was 3pm). Prime time people-watching. The waiter saw me alone and gave me a bowl of crayons. The tablecloth was paper, so maybe he thought it would be less boring eating alone. I have always felt self-conscious eating alone in restaurants (which is why it almost never happens). You feel like you are always being stared at, and unless you have a book to read, that is all you are doing to other people. However, I was super comfortable here. I had my back against a fence and my table facing outward (so French...if you didn't already know, patio tables at French cafes always have chairs facing the street). There I was, enjoying my goat cheese/raisin/walnut/spinach galette while listening to a street performer play accordion music, watching people walk by. It was perfect.  After the meal, I went inside to use the restroom and I saw the inside for the first time...the bar was made out of a car! Like, the entire shell of a car was used as the bar, and the bartenders peeked through the windows, and also the car was covered in seashells. It was really cool.

After lunch, I noticed some homeless women on the church steps asking for money, so I went to a nearby sandwich shop, got a tuna/egg/tomato bocadillo (sandwich on french bread), and had the waiter cut it in half. I presented the two ladies with the halves, and the latter bothered me because as I was giving the first lady half, she was like "What about me!?" and when I gave her the half, she was like "What about water?!" There are fountains throughout the city. I think you should be happy with that.

I walked toward the Virgin plaza and there was a group of homeless men nearby, one of which hollered at me something about me being pale and needing to get out in the sun more. Then I think he said something dirty. Wonderful! I kept walking and there was a younger homeless guy (no more than 25) walking in the same direction. A few blocks later, I noticed he was still there, even when there were very few people on the street. I quickly ducked into a souvenir shop to get away from the dude, bought a Valencian flag, and he was gone when I got back out. But it made me paranoid for the rest of the day. Normally I wouldn't mind walking down side streets or alleyways at 4pm, but now I was like "He might be there, WAITING!"

My next mission was to find somewhere to grab a coffee and something sweet. I wandered and wandered because I wanted a cute place with lots of people, but also not a touristy part of the city where it'd be expensive. I ended up at the same spot I've been with my parents and Carly and Sarah, on Carrer de Ribera. It's a little gelato shop, and I got a coffee and ice cream and sat and people watched for a good half hour or so. It was nice having no obligations.

I got up and headed over to Carrer de Russafa which has a bunch of cute clothing shops that I saw when I went to the American store a few weeks ago. After my feet couldn't take it any longer, I got back on the train home.

I pulled out Thank you for Smoking and I, Robot (here called Yo, Robot. Yo robot, how you doin'?) from Cristina's uncle's movie collection and watched those, ordering online from Telepizza a BBQ chicken, pineapple and onion pizza. When the delivery man came, I stupidly left the front door open and Gin escaped, leading the next ten minutes to be spent searching in the neighbor's yard for the cat. Luckily the neighbors were home and could let me into their yard. I was so scared that THIS would be the time (Gin's escaped a lot) that he escaped and was never to be seen again, especially when Cristina and Pichon weren't home. "Oh hey, while you were out, I lost your cat." But he was hanging out in the neighbors' bushes, and after the neighbor offered him some ham, I grabbed him and shooed him into our house.

Aw man, it was wonderful. No obligations, no rush, no one to need to talk to/call/email. It was great.

Friday, May 25, 2012

RIP, fishie fish.

Remember how we had a fish in the house?

By causes unknown (seriously, Gin was not at fault), the fish died last week.

Just floating on the top of his dirty little fish tank, mouth gaping open.

Rest in peace, unnamed fish that we completely forgot about.

Cats have dreams, too.

Gin (the cat) often sits in the kitchen and stares out the window. I always wonder what he must be thinking.

"Those birds will rue the day they tweeted at me. YOU HEAR THAT BIRDS? RUE!"

"I coulda been free, ya know? I coulda lived in the streets, with my kind. I coulda been something. But here I am, domesticated."

"I didn't used to be this way. I can be happy and pure, as Rousseau stated. I need to get back to nature. Society is corrupting my ways."

Thanks! the stats

I previously mentioned that I broke 2000 pageviews for this blog.

I thought I'd break that down for you...

That is 11.27 pageviews a DAY since I got to Spain.

That is 19.9 pageviews PER POST!

I have over 139 views on my FAQs post, which is the most views I have on any post here.
2nd place (61 views) My brief host family post (although it´s funny because my host family changed right after this post. But I still found one!)
3rd place (39 views)  My Christmas post
4th place (33 views) My American Night post

This is awesome! Again, thanks for caring/reading/being interested in my ramblings!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Rihanna, the queen of phrasal verbs.

Listening to Rihanna is educational and helps ESL students learn phrasal verbs.

I learned that on Saturday when we got together with a bunch of Cristina's friends (parents of Lucia's friends from school) and one of the women informed me she was taking English lessons from an Australian woman. She started speaking to me in English for some practice.

"The hardest part of English," she told me, "is...those odd verbs that don't translate. What are they called...oh, phrasal verbs."

Being a native in the English language, I had no idea what she was talking about. She asked Angela, another mom who takes English lessons, and they together informed me of the example of "get up."

The first mom, taking lessons from the Australian, told me that her teacher plays Rihanna music for them to find phrasal verbs. "Rihanna uses LOTS of phrasal verbs in her lyrics. Almost all her songs are filled with them!"

Aside from this conversation, I noticed how confusing they could be, when Marta was trying to find the English way of saying "Vete," which literally translates to "leave" or "go." She was trying to lightheartedly use it on her daughter to tell her to go play. I said "go" would be appropriate, or even "get out of here." The "get out of here" drew confused and "that is way too long of a sentence" faces from everyone, so they just stuck with "go."

So yeah, I found a link to a whole list of phrasal verbs, and then I found a link to some Rihanna lyrics. It is very true, especially in the song "Rude Boy." It's a graphically sexual song, although to a non-English speaker, maybe less so, since "get it up" does not immediately imply something sexual unless you know those phrasal verbs!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

I broke 2000!

I just noticed on my trusty statistic monitor of this blog that I have over 2000 pageviews as of today!

Thank you all for caring enough to check out this blog!

Saturday and Sunday in Alicante, spending time with my old host family

This is a continued post (and final one) about my weekend trip back to Alicante...

Saturday morning, we went to the open air market next door to their home. It was huge, just like the other one I remember from my time in Alicante. They have booths selling fresh fruit, veggies, bread, olives, candy, shoes, socks, etc. We bought Dante some new “summer shoes” and some fresh produce. Win win!

We then dropped off the groceries and walked to the city center. I checked my email at a local locutorio because I needed to check the name of a 7 Camicie shirt style that my dad wanted. Let’s dedicate a paragraph to the Locutorio. These places are a technology go-to, like a Kinko’s but with phone booths and pay-by-the-minute computers (checking my email, for 3 minutes, cost 15 cents). There were practically no lights in this one, which added to the creep factor that is already inherent in a darkly-lit computer place. There are video cameras on the computers to use video chat, but I would never have a personal conversation in a public place like this. There were only men in there, and just thinking about men using computers in a corner shop instead of the ones at home just creeps me out, because the only reason you would use a shady place like this in your hometown is for shady business. I used hand sanitizer on my way out.

7Camicie, by the way, didn't have the shirt. All their stores are really small and have about 12 shirts of each size, all in different colors. There is no double of a shirt, even in another size. You like a design but it's not in your size? TOO BAD! That's all they have! What a horrible business concept.

We went to lunch at an Italian restaurant, where Dante went down the hallway where the bathrooms were and claimed there was no men’s room. He came back almost immediately, telling the whole restaurant of people (only with about 6 people at the time) “Mommy! There isn’t a men’s room. There is only a door with the lady in a dress on it.” Rocío just smiled and said “Okay, then go in the women’s restroom. If anyone says anything, just say your mommy said it was okay.” Later, I went to the bathroom and saw the men’s door was wide open, making it hard to see the men’s bathroom sticker on the door.

Then we had ice cream at Pinnochio, then cupcakes at Las Manolitas (and I bought some to bring to Cristina and her family). That cupcake place is so adorable. Though, I think that is a requirement for cupcake places.

We then played at the park, and Dante immediately made a new friend, Hugo. Rocío pointed out a homeless family (she has seen them sleeping on the street) whose mom was pregnant. The mom and dad were surrounded by their five kids. Rocío told me the last time she saw them, they had four kids and the mom was pregnant. She was a bit frustrated that the mom kept having children when she was bringing them up in that situation of living on the street and begging for food. Silly me asked how that woman could even give birth on the streets and have the kids survive, as Rocío informed me that their health system here allows anyone and everyone to enter a hospital for “free” health care (in quotation marks because obviously there is a cost). We then went to the outdoor aquarium (in the middle of a park), then took the bus home. 

We then went to the mall, where Rocío’s friend works at the kids zone. She met this woman because she also has a pug; hers is named Butch. Lola and Butch are friends. The kids zone area of the mall is like, the greatest idea I have ever seen. It is a play area with a ball pit, climbing wall, table with coloring supplies, TV with cartoons on (with bean bag chair sitting area), etc. You drop off your kid for an hour, free, and pick him/her up an hour later, so you can shop without the “Mommy, I want this!” ordeal that comes with shopping with children. FREE. And there are about five supervisors/nannys that watch the kids. There was also this special area that changes month to month (that way your kid never refuses to go to the play area because there is always something new) and this month it was an inflatable planetarium. It was a giant black dome made out of that inflatable fabric that they make those jump castles out of. And inside it was glow in the dark stars or something. Dante didn’t want to go, but later during dinner, he shared that he was upset that he chose not to go in the planetarium and wanted to go before it was gone.

This is an inflatable planetarium. I wish I knew what it looked like inside.

Meanwhile, Rocío and I walked around the mall, and in Oysho (bra store) they were playing “Million Dollar Man” by Lana del Rey. I love that song. I told Rocío about Lana’s backstory, being that she was well known on the blogosphere before her “coming out” on Saturday Night Live this year, where she was awful and got ripped apart by the critics. But then she made up for it by being much much better at other live performances. So we walk into the next store, Pull & Bear, and they are playing “Born to Die” remix (by Lana del Rey). I was like “Weird, this is the same artist!” We walk out, go into Bershka and “Blue Jeans” is playing (again, by Lana del Rey). Rocío told me they must play this music when I enter any store. I don’t know, but I LIKE IT. I ended up buying two shirts at Bershka. I cannot get enough of that store...I think anything and everything I have bought for myself here in Spain has been from Bershka.

We then headed home and Dante and I watched Cars 2. It was a pirated version they bought on the street, and it was a Russian version dubbed in Venezuelan Spanish. Any and all text was in Russian, so newspaper headlines were just gibberish me. The dubbing was in Spanish, but Rocío pointed out that it was Venezuelan. I asked how, and she said their accents were different and some phrases changed. Like instead of saying “de nada” for “you´re welcome”, they said “eso no es nada.” I find it fascinating that for basically the same language, they dub a movie so many different times for each country. Can you imagine (if we bothered to dub movies, which we usually don’t) having a British English, American English, Australian English, Irish English and Scottish English version? And Canadian English? It seems like wasted effort.

 Then, at dinner, Rocío shared that we were going to the beach tomorrow (Sunday) and, in the cutest and most seemingly scripted event of the weekend, Dante perked up, got out of his chair and ran to Rocío saying “Oh Mommy thank you! Thank you so much!” and smothering her in kisses and hugs. Just for going to the beach. In a town that is located on the beach.

 Later, when Rocío took Lola out for a walk and said “I´ll be right back,” Dante just said “okay” and continued eating his dinner. For me, this was a big deal. Two years ago, when Rocío would leave for just a tiny itty bitty bit of time, Dante would start wailing and running through the house crying for his mommy. Now he is all grown up, not even drifting his eyes from his dinner plate, as he says ”Okay.” I almost teared up right there. There was a box of cookies on the table, and there was a contest on the back to win a trip for four to London for a weekend. Therefore, there was a picture of Big Ben. Dante, very seriously, told me “You know where I got these cookies? There, that city right there. “ “London? You went to London for these cookies?” “Yes. I took a train.” That would be quite the train ride. Before you say that it’s impossible, there is a Paris-London train that goes underwater. Still, it would be a bit excessive. So I said, “Oh really, and what is that clock right there called?” “It doesn’t have a name. It is just a clock.”

Then, as I was reading before bed, I saw a cockroach out of the corner of my eye, scurry across the floor, leading Rocío to spray the entire room with spray, shutting the window (so they couldn’t enter from the garden below the window), and exiling me temporarily to the living room for a half hour while the spray mist cleared. Then I was sweating the entire night with no breeze through the window and in fear of another cockroach crawling on my sleeping face.

We got up the next morning, I packed up my stuff, and we drove (30 min) to San Juan beach where her Brazilian friend lives (she's the wife of a coworker of Rocío’s). Rocío's close friends Lluvy (sp?) and Suyin are both Cuban, and the former is in Cuba temporarily to keep her nationality and Suyin is living in Italy with her German boyfriend. There is a lot of cultural mingling here. Unfortunately, Rocío hasn’t seen her friends in a really long time, leaving her to be a bit lonely. I think she sees this Brazilian friend, Celina, about once a week now. Celina paints as a hobby, so she has all these little art works around her apartment, which Rocío said “is like a museum.” It is just so cool and filled with fun stuff. Every corner of the house is decorated. The hallway has dried herbs hanging from the ceiling, the bathroom has colored soaps and a unique bath rug, the living room has bongo drums and the tiny balcony has three chairs, a rainbow windsock, wooden wind chimes, and a celestial-themed hanging decoration. And a rainbow rooster weather vane. It’s just a collection of the coolest most random things. I love it. Rocío is just the kind of person who has Brazilian museum-house friends.

We went to the beach first, where Dante and I built sand castles and hopped the waves (without going too deep in the water because Dante was scared). By the time we went back to Celina’s apartment, I was starving, and Celina had prepared us homemade gnocchi with homemade pasta sauce. I was ravenous, and this was soooo goood. There was also a big salad with beets and cheese and sprouts and all sort of stuff, and Rocío sprinkled some yellow spice on it which I later found was tumeric. I have heard of it, but I don’t think I have ever had it before. Rocío is just the kind of person who sprinkles tumeric on things to make them ready to eat. And Celina made some kind of mango-mint juice-water which was refreshing and delicious. It reminded me of melon water from Mexico, where they basically liquify a cantaloupe for your taste buds’ enjoyment. Slightly sweet, but not too sweet. We then sat on the balcony and chit chatted while Dante used some cars to have races in the living room. He has upgraded from just lining them up like he used to.

Dante dancin' on San Juan beach

I like the hands-on-the-hips look.

On Celina's balcony

Dante made odd faces in every picture we took. This was the best one.

After that, I went back to the train station. Dante was sleeping in the backseat and didn’t get to wish me goodbye. On the train, my back was a bit sore, but I thought it was from the rough seat fabric rubbing on my back. I got home to find a raging sunburn on the left side of my back (how does this happen, just one-sided sunburns when I was fully accessible to the sun’s burning power?!). Also, on my right foot. Not the left foot. Just the right (?!).

Rocío later informed me, via email, that Dante was crying and upset that he didn’t get a chance to say goodbye.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Friday in Alicante: First impressions, and host family reunion

Here is my continuation of the Alicante trip I took last weekend...

As I mentioned in my previous post, my first day (Friday) was quite busy. Since I knew my teachers and friends at the radio would be working on the weekday, I wanted to be sure I made it out to Alicante for a three-day weekend.

Before you ask why I was selective with my teachers (only two?), I should probably explain that I only had three teachers in my semester in Alicante. I had the internship at the radio station, which counted as a class, but it didn’t have a teacher. The third teacher who I didn’t visit was my conversation teacher. He was nice and really helpful (I loved conversation class because it was so open with assignments and it was basically an hour of open chit chat for a grade!) but I never really made a connection with him outside of class like I did with Carmen (who invited us all to her house for dinner at the end of the semester, and who I wrote after I got my Spanish language certificate) or Lourdes (who helped me, via email, create a Spanish CV, since it was something we practiced in our class as well). I honestly cannot remember his name. I am sure it was José something. Not kidding there, either. I am pretty sure it is José something. Almost positive. It’s a really common name.

My first stop, once I practically ran off the train, was to see Lourdes. She was teaching off-campus at the university branch, near the port. It was the final class before exams, so it was just the seven students and Lourdes sitting around chatting about the semester and home and culture, etc. I came in and Lourdes had me take the floor and just talk about my experience there, how it felt going back home, etc. The latter I didn’t have too much to talk about, since that was my second time abroad and I already had the experience of “boo-hoo I miss Spain so much and wanna go back” after San Sebastian in 2009. After Alicante, it was a calmer transition, and I already knew that it wasn’t impossible to go abroad again and that Spain isn’t some ideal country that is so much better than my home in the states (as many young people feel when they live abroad the first time).. I had moved on from that stage that everyone goes through, and had appreciated each country for their positives and negatives. One of the girls in the class was from Schaumburg (small world, right?) and was like me, where this is her graduating semester and now it’s time to look for a job.

 It was overall a really fun experience being the “show and tell,” as I mentioned before. Lourdes really liked one thing I said, when I stated that going back to Spain wasn’t impossible. Clearly, as my past has demonstrated, it isn’t impossible to go back. Lourdes took that and said “She’s right...we put the limits on ourselves. There are no impossibilities, just the ways we limit ourselves and what we do.” You know, all that, but in Spanish. Then one of the girls said that she was going to cry the entire plane ride home, and I shared that my friends basically had a crying party in Morgen’s apartment one of our last nights. Just sitting in Alye’s room, with the lights off, crying. Mike and I stood outside in the dining room and were like “are we going out to the clubs tonight or not?”

I then rushed to the bus stop and hopped on the 24 to campus. I somehow skipped the stop I wanted, probably because there was a young college-age couple (the girl looked like Selena Gomez) near me that I though would probably get off at the campus stop, but then didn’t. Therefore, when I was looking out the window and saw the soccer stadium (past campus) I panicked, knowing I passed the stop. Which just meant more walking (I walked 1 km from the train to Lourdes, 1 km from Lourdes to the stop, now this was an unnecessary extra 1.5 km). I was thinking maybe they removed the stop right by campus to make me feel less stupid about missing it, but that just doesn’t make sense.

 I went to the new building (USAC is no longer in the control tower on campus) and met Carmen in the hallway. I caught up with her and she asked about my other classmates/friends (Melanie, Sara P, Drew, Scott...) and I said that I will promptly notify them to write to Carmen because she said she loved our class and miss us all very much. I told her Drew finally found a law school, which is what he chatted about all the time in Alicante. “Oh, you go to Loyola? How is their law school? I hear they have a good law school.” Then I told her about how Scott and I missed one another here in Europe when he was in town for a field trip and I had Fallas and couldn’t meet up.

Carmen and me in the new USAC office

 She brought me to the new USAC office, (they moved in Sept. 2010, a few months after we left) telling me it was much bigger and now Luis has is own little office with a door but he hates shutting the door because he’s too outgoing to be stuck in a little corner room. Sylvain is what looks like the new Larissa. Larissa was an American who was living in Spain with her Spanish husband, working at USAC as a secretary and helping us out with finding stuff around town and getting comfortable in our new home. Oh, and Larissa, as Carmen informed me, is now the mother of a one-year-old child! Since I entered the office with Carmen, speaking Spanish, I really have no idea what nationality Sylvain is, since he continued on in Spanish. He also spoke some Valencian when I mentioned Valencia. So, no idea. Also, I thought Sylvain was a girl when Luis and Carmen referred to him in email (and because of the name). But he is a boy, and a very handsome one at that. When I asked Carmen to take a photo with me, she told me I needed to take a picture of Sylvain to show the American girls so that more students would sign up for the program. She was sure it would be a great way to advertise. I think it would be too. Just smack his face on the front cover of the USAC catalog and write “you could spend a semester with THIS FACE” and I think admission would rise 70%. But alas, no photo of Sylvain. By the way, he was in the room the entire time this conversation about his beauty took place. Scott and Drew can tell anyone how Carmen does not shy away from telling men how handsome they are.

You can see Sylvain's reflection on the left. Ooh the mystery!

Then I was off to Radio San Vicente on foot. I switched my shoes at this point, revealing a huge blister. On my way to the radio station, I bought a pack of bandaids. I couldn’t think of the word, so I just used the ole’ circumlocution trick. “Hi, I am looking for those things you stick on your hand when you cut yourself. They begin with the letter T.” She got it. (“Tiritas”)

When I visited Radio San Vicente, it was pretty quiet given that it was lunch time. Adrian was recording Gaspar, and Loly was recording herself in the other sound booth. Soon, Héctor arrived, and he informed me that shortly after my departure, his wife gave birth to a baby boy. These babies are just popping up everywhere! We all talked about a bunch of random stuff, including the economy since one of their guests on the radio show was a government official. This is a municipal radio station, and Loly said they are very privileged to not have had to fire anyone or go even a month without pay. Héctor said that second hand shops are popping up everywhere, and people are selling random stuff to pay for meals, like one chair from a dining set for 10 euros, or a stack of tupperware to get grocery money. A lot of government jobs aren’t paying because the government is in dire straits, and they say it is showing big time.

Then Arena showed up, and both her and Loly told me that they think I speak even better than I did when I was studying in Alicante, saying how my sentence construction seems more premeditated and flows better. I told them I had my doubts, since here in Valencia I rarely communicate with people, since I am at a computer all day, reading and writing in English, and I barely talk to people at lunch because 40% of the time it’s in Valenciano. Even so, they say my Spanish has improved. Arena and Loly then went on to suggest Spanish movies for me to watch and practice the language. They asked me if I liked Almodóvar, but I didn´t know who that was because I thought it was the Volver director, but it was the Abre los Ojos (Vanilla Sky was the American remake) director. I told them I liked El Orfanato and Pan’s Labyrinth (both Guillermo del Toro) but then we came to the conclusion that almost all Spanish actors and directors are going the Americanized route and doing English work (since American blockbusters obviously make more money and have better distribution than Spanish ones). They recommended REC, but that is like the Spanish Paranormal Activity, which I know would probably be too scary. I am a thriller type of girl, not so much for the cheap, jumpy scares. I like the slow build like M. Night Shyamalan movies, not ones where you are just hoping the girl doesn’t open the door to that dark ominous closet because something might jump out.

Loly, me, Arena, Hector, Gaspar

Loly, Me, Arena. Do you think Loly went patriotic for my visit?

 Héctor shared that his friends recently went to Chicago and thought the city was so cool. (I mean, why wouldn’t it be?) He said they were studying at a university near Chicago, but not in the city itself. “There’s only a couple universities in Chicago, right? Or are there a lot?” “Um, a LOT.” I guessed that his friends were talking about Northwestern, but he didn’t know the name. He also said the university had a huge rugby field. I told him it was probably a football field. He asked the difference. I said “no one really knows what rugby is, and everyone knows what football is.” Again, the huge football field made me think it was Northwestern. Although, aren’t all football fields the same? There are regulations...He told me “It was so huge, it was like the equivalent of division one here.” I said Northwestern has a pretty good football team, so again, it was probably that one (if you aren’t familiar with Chicago, Northwestern is in Evanston, which is to the north).

Arena then said how she wanted to Skype me so we could do English/Spanish lessons, and I told her about the unfortunate time difference between Spain and Chicago (which led to her and Héctor looking at my time zone map in my planner and being amazed that one country could span over four time zones), but she said she’d try and make it work on a weekend. I told her I was up for it, so we’ll see how it goes. Andrés contacted me a while back to Skype and do the same, but then it never happened. Héctor told me he is on a sort of sabbatical/break learning more about being a radio technician in London for the Olympics this summer. He’ll be back when it’s over. As I was leaving, Arena entered the recording booth and began her program by saying how their friend Melissa from Chicago was visiting them, “You might remember Melissa’s cultural program from 2010...”

I left around 4:30 and quickly called Rocío, who had to pick me up on her way to get Dante from school. She is such an amazing and friendly person; I was so happy to see her. The first thing she said to me was “You look so beautiful! It’s wonderful to see you!” I told her the exact same thing.

We picked up Dante at school, and he is just so big! My parents kept telling me that he wouldn’t remember me, but after seeing him, it wasn’t so much him remembering me as me remembering him. Two years ago he was a toddler who loved drawing potatoes that looked like scribbles, who played with his toy cars by lining them up and talked loudly when others were having a conversation in which he wasn’t involved, you know, just so you don’t forget that he’s there. Now he’s a boy who has many friends and makes new ones in every public place, who tells us about his day down to every detail, who can write his name and who can read words as big as “Alicante.” This Dante was very different from 2010 Dante, but still very much the same. He still loves his mommy very much, he still squeaks his voice upwards at the end of some sentences (“Es así. Lo VES?”), he still loves grabbing at Lola, the dog, while she squirms and tries to wriggle free. I found myself just staring at Dante during meals, seeing the same boy I knew two years ago, with the cocoa colored skin, big brown eyes and left eyebrow that twists slightly upward, but he’s matured so much.

In the car, Rocío asked if he remembered me.
 “Remember the book Goodnight Moon that you read at bedtime?”
“Well, Melissa gave you that. Remember Clifford, the big red dog that goes all through the city while his owners are out of town?”
“Melissa’s parents gave you that book. You know your book with the doors that open, about the yellow dog Spot, who gets lost?”
 “Well, Melissa’s parents gave you that book. Remember your Mater truck and the cow print car from the movie Cars that you have?”
“Well, Melissa’s parents gave you those cars. You know your socks that have Lightning McQueen?”
“Well, Melissa sent you those for Christmas from the states. Melissa has given you lots of gifts.” 
Seeing this color-change car that my parents gave Dante 2 years ago be all worn down and "well-loved" made me tear up a little. It feels like yesterday, but this car shows that time really has passed. 

I wasn’t there for the past two years, but my presence and influence was, in little memoirs and trinkets in their home.

 We went and got horchatas, then ate dinner at home. They’ve moved apartments since Carlos now works/lives in Torrevieja (an hour away) and they didn’t need all the space. They moved very recently, in September or so, but Rocío likes it here. There is a park nearby, and there is a huge open air market on Thursday and Saturday mornings right next door to them. They also live right next to a Día (grocery store), which is really convenient. When we went up to their apartment, Lola greeted me and everyone else with snorts and a wagging tail and antsy little paws trotting around in circles on the tile floor. She is more in shape than she was last time I was here, since she wasn’t “battery shaped” as Carly would say, but instead more lean in the mid-section. I think she’s been lifting weights.

Dante and Lola. We commented on how Lola looks like a lion with her skin gathered up all around her face like that.

Dante and Rocio

 Lola was just as perky as I remember her to be, and she even peed on my shoes (while I was wearing them, mind you). Luckily they were cheap flip flops and not my brand new boat shoes, so I really didn’t care. Rocío was super apologetic, but what are you gonna do? Dogs gon’ be dogs. Also, Saturday morning I stepped in a urine puddle in the kitchen that Lola must’ve left the night before, soaking through my socks. Rocío told me that Lola must have been super nervous or something, because she’s never peed in the house, ever. Oh, dogs!

We ate a delicious Rocio-cooked dinner, with curry. She played bossa-nova and merengue music while cooking. She is the kind of woman who wears a red summer dress, long curly hair down to her waist and wedge shoes, listening to South American music while cooking curried chicken. It’s just so RELAXING being there. I missed her food, and I told her so.

[More to come in another post!]

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Let's do the time warp...again!

I have been writing a post about my trip to Alicante all week. Still not finished (don't worry, it's not a novel. Maybe a novella at best), but I figured I'd release it in snippets. Here is the first part to set the mood for the whole weekend.

I got back from Alicante on Sunday, and it was quite an experience. Emotional, confusing, fun...

 Let’s start with the train ride. It’s a short ride from Valencia, since it is in the same province. It only took an hour and 45 mins. As I was arriving in the Alicante train station, the weirdest feeling swept over me. I have had it before.

It’s a bit hard to describe, but I’ll try my best: it’s a form of confusion of where you are in time and place. I know, it sounds pretty abstract. But when I came into the Alicante terminal, I was confused for a moment (or more) regarding where I was, what was home, where I am in my life, etc. It’s like I was traveling in time, and I was really there, and it all looks the same, so it washes over you for a minute that two years haven’t passed by and that I was still there, Spring 2010, studying abroad in Alicante, living with my host family, hanging out with my friends Carly and Sarah and Scott and Drew etc. It is really confusing and strange because you can’t remember where your “home base” is. Is this a vacation? Am I back “home”(as I would call it when I was abroad in 2010)?

I am familiar with this feeling because I have had it before when going to the states back in March 2009, when I went home for my Nana’s funeral. I was back in the states after only been gone for a couple months (the semester began early January). The feeling wasn’t as intense as other times I’ve had it, but it was the first time it ever happened. Was I done studying abroad? Was it summer already? Was I ever in Spain in the first place? Although I had the answers to all the questions, the whole place/time confusion messes with your perspective and you really aren’t sure about the answers anymore. It happened again when I went home (to the states) for Christmas just a few months ago.

And it happened again in Alicante this past weekend. My friend Sarah experienced the same sort of thing after returning to Iowa from being in Chile for almost six months. She felt like when she returned home, the whole Chile experience felt like a dream. Contrary to Sarah’s experience, I have never felt that way when I finished my semesters abroad. If you have never studied abroad, this is something they tell us in the orientation about returning home: it is a sort of reverse culture shock, resulting from the change you feel inside versus the relative non-change you see in your home in the states. It’s like time stood still for them, but it flew by for you.

But I never felt this time warp feeling when returning home. Yes, there is homesickness (of your non-home in Europe, strangely) and jet-lag, but I never was confused. I think it is from the closure you get at the end of the semester. You say goodbye to your host family, your teachers, your friends. You see your friends go away in their buses, you experience packing your bags with souvenirs, and you think the whole plane ride home about home and what you miss and what you cannot wait to see/do once you arrive. But when I made these short excursions to the states and Alicante for less than a week each, the “goodbyes” are more like “see you soons” to my host family, so you don’t get the closure that allows you to move on to the next setting.

 Now that you know about the whole time warp feeling, you can imagine how strange it was for me during the entire weekend.

(more to come in a future post)

Judging by your movie collection...

Cristina informed me recently that after her uncle passed away, she got to keep his entire movie collection.

He has a massive movie collection, and I just spent yesterday and today going through it all.

How many, you ask?

Well, he keeps them in those little paper CD sleeves, and they have four shelves, 20 inches wide, filled with DVDs. Each row probably has over 70.

I picked out movies that I want to watch, and I noticed a pattern. See if you can guess by my picks:
Across the Universe
I, Robot
Young Frankenstein
The Prestige
Marie Antoinette
Walk the Line

Figured it out yet? Well, about 70% of those movies either are biopics about musicians (Ray, Walk the Line), are musicals with real rock songs (Across the Universe, Tommy), have kickass soundtracks (Twilight, Marie Antoinette and Watchmen) or feature musicians (that's trying to fit I, Robot in the mix here with Will Smith). Then Young Frankenstein is thrown in for good measure, and The Prestige and Aviator because maybe I didn't want to go too girly in my choices?

But seriously, if you haven't heard those movie soundtracks yet, GET ON IT.
Twilight: pop, emo, punk music
Marie Antoinette: mixes new wave punk music with classical
Watchmen: All over the place, but it made me think My Chemical Romance could do more than emo, and they used Bob Dylan in the opening credits and it was amazing, as well as making KC and the Sunshine Band sound so cool during a flamethrower scene. Yes, disco and flamethrowers.

I was going through the DVDs, and I could only make a stereotypical assumption of her uncle based on the following finds:
Pink Flamingo (created by Roger Waters, of Hairspray fame. The movie starred a transgender)
The entire Roger and Hammerstein collection (And Oklahoma! starring Hugh Jackman)
Several unknown romantic comedies about homosexual couples
Several movies I didn't know the plot of but used any circular letter to display gender symbols
Moulin Rouge!
Marie Antoinette
Several Andy Warhol movies
To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar
Like, any movie starring Ginger Rogers or Fred Astaire or both

When Cristina came downstairs, I was like "I have a question, and I do not mean to offend if I am wrong. But was your uncle gay?"

"Yes, yes he was."

I knew it.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Alicante, here I come!

As you are reading this, I am on my way to Alicante (or already there).

You may recall that Alicante is the second city where I studied abroad (in 2010), and it is located in this province so it's not too far. Only a 1h 45m train ride. 

Today is gonna be a busy day: As soon as I arrive, I am walking straight from the station to the off-campus classroom by the port to see Lourdes (my business Spanish teacher and Carly's Spanish grammar teacher). I have her to thank for my knowledge of Inditex (talk about big business...Zara, Bershka, Women's Secret, pretty much half the stores in any given Spanish mall) and Spanish resumes and business plans etc etc. She invited me to come to her class, saying it would be nice to have her students see what people can do after studying abroad. I feel like "show and tell" and it feels awesome.

But I won't have too much time to spend because then I will be hopping on the bus to campus at the University of Alicante (UA) to see Carmen (my teacher for the class prepping me for the Spanish language certificate). I have her to thank for preparing me for my DELE exam which got me the B2 certificate in the Spanish language. She was amazing, and at the end of the semester invited us all over for dinner at her apartment (funny story, I remember Scott popping open the champagne out the window and the cork flew in the neighbor's pool). 

Seriously. There was a lotta booze.

But again, not too long there. As soon as Carmen goes on her lunch break I am off to Radio San Vicente, where I will see Loly (the radio director) and the whole radio station crew. Hopefully I will grab some to-go lunch and have it with Loly at the office.

Then, I will head back to the UA to meet up with Rocio, and we will drive to go pick up Dante from school.  Did you know he is now four. FOUR! Did you know kids grow older over time? I sure didn't. I bet he talks all the time now. I wonder if he remembers me. I wonder if he still has the toy cars that my parents bought him two years ago. 

And then Saturday and Sunday are free for me to enjoy with Rocio and Dante, since Rocio invited me to stay with them in their home. I am super excited.

I also plan on grabbing some cupcakes, too...OF COURSE.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Pulled pork and Budweiser.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I have photos from American night. I didn't go overboard this time, and only took several. 

Click on any picture to blow it up full screen.

I just love this picture because Lucia is at the end of the table wearing a leotard, looking super serious as Maria and Dani listen intently to whatever she is saying. "...And that is how the Union won the American Civil War."

This photo (and Lucia's facial expression) make it a lot more believable when I tell you that Lucia wore the skirt UNDER the leotard instead of on top. And she wore it allllll night.
You can see the chips and guac and cocktail meatballs in the foreground.
Left to right: Maria, Monica, Lucas, Lucia, Maria, Dani, Marina, Mayte.

Cristina and Mari Carmen. Here you can see the punch bowl!

Mashed potatoes, baked mac and cheese, punch, green beans, Caesar salad, iced tea, pulled pork, hot's like HOME!

That's Laura peeking in on the left, and Mari Carmen's husband holding up his pulled pork and Budweiser. Pichon and Jose Enrique are standing up.

Marina, Miguel (Mayte's BF), Maria, Josep (Maria's BF), Lucia, Dani, Maria, myself

Oven baked smores. Mmmmmmm....

I know, there weren't a lot of close ups of food. I figured faces were more important.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

"I always thought the white stuff was cheese!"

So here was my menu for American night, and a rundown of the reactions to the various foods.

Chili Dip
Cocktail meatballs

Arnold Palmer

Mashed potatoes & gravy
Green beans
Baked beans

Main Courses
Chicago-Style hot dogs
Meatloaf & gravy
Pulled pork sandwiches
Baked mac and cheese
Chicken pot pie turnovers

Ice Cream pie with Oreo crust
Chocolate chip cookies
Peanut Butter balls

I know it sounds like a lot. There were 14 people including myself, and I wanted to make some food I know they probably haven´t had before, so I got a random sampling of stuff that I thought was very "American," and therefore went a little overboard. Yes, there were leftovers.

Let´s start at the beginning. I felt very much like my dad on Thanksgiving, with food already in the oven before people came over, and a list planned out for the "schedule of events" aka "when to put stuff in the oven and take it out." I also felt very much like my dad, shooing people out of the kitchen while trying to be a friendly host at the same time.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Dancin' in the Kitchen

So I am in the midst of making my American Night meal for Cristina and her fallas friends. Let me share with you some of the process I have gone through to make this meal possible.

One of the appetizers I am making is my mom's chili dip. Super easy: cream cheese, can o'chili, then cheddar cheese. Pop it in the microwave and it is gooey, heart-attack deliciousness.
Cream cheese was easy. They even have Philadelphia brand. And Light! So that heart attack will be minor.
I got the can of chili from Carrefour, which is pretty much a Target/WalMart on steroids. They have an international food section where they had English food, American food, Asian food, Mexican food and Tex-Mex. Tex-Mex apparently is very distinct. The Mexican food section was composed of all Old El Paso brand products, which is an Americanized Mexican brand that sells taco kits and "nachos" (which is what they call tortilla chips here). I grabbed some "nachos" for my dip and a trusty can of chili con carne.

Just now I was prepping the chili dip for later by putting the cream cheese and chili in a bowl. When I opened that chili...well, it was a wondrous smell. And I know that canned chili looks like dog food...or worse...but it smelled like home. A good smell, don't worry. I even tasted a little from the lid, which sounds disgusting and totally is, but it was great. I even broke out into song from the future excitement of eating this dip, the song "Put your hand upon my hip, when I dip, you dip, we dip."

In the mean time, I cooked some meatballs in the oven for my mom's meatball appetizer recipe (sweet chili sauce and jelly on meatballs). There were 24 in the pack, and there will be 14 people, so I wanted 28 meatballs. I made 4 extra from the meatloaf meat (pork and beef mix) which is different from the pre-made meatballs (pork). It's really obvious which ones I made. PS, pork cooks pink, which just looks gross.

Speaking of pink meat...

Hot dogs, Chicago style, is on the menu. Okay, not exactly Chicago style. There won't be sport peppers (too "spicy" for this crowd) and no celery salt (really hard to find). No poppy seed bun (hard to find) and no Vienna beef dogs (ew, pork pink meat! Though they are Oscar Meyer, which is American, which has to count for something). BUT don't you worry because I am stocked up on sweet green relish, pickles, tomatoes, onions, and yellow mustard so it will be partially "dragged through the garden."

"Wait, can someone call the dude in the helicopter? THE SPORT PEPPERS ARE TOO SPICY!"
More posts about dinner to come soon...

Monday, April 23, 2012

Fallas Video!!!

Just a few random moments/memories I wanted to share about Las Fallas:

Almost everyone in the group lost their voices, starting on day one. The second morning of Fallas, Marina, Cristina(not my host mom, but her friend), Maria and Josep slept over at the apartment we stayed at (it was an extra empty apartment owned by Cristina's parents). When I woke up, Marina was on the mattress across the room in her sleeping bag. She whispered loudly in a gruff voice (like I said, she lost her voice), "MELISSA. MELISSA. DO YOU HAVE A KLEENEX?" Maria was laughing because I didn't hear her, and Marina said "Guys, will you please help me over here?" referring to how they needed to gang up and shout to me because Marina couldn't do it alone. Then, about 15 minutes later (we were all still laying down), she said "I'm really hot." Cristina told her to take off her sleeping bag, and Marina replied, "I can't. I am not wearing any pants."

One of the nights over dinner, the conversation turned to the USA and cultural differences. Laura and her husband got married last fall and took their honeymoon on a road trip to the southwestern US. She was telling me about things she encountered, such as:

  • "They had ice machines in hotels! They have these little tubs with lids in your room, specifically for ice! You go to the machine (there is one on every floor), and you fill it up with ice to keep in your room! We had one of our hotel rooms near one of those machines, but we didn't know how noisy it would be in the middle of the night! It was a learning experience!"
  • "They like ice...almost every restaurant gave you ice in your water. I always had to ask for an extra cup because I like my water room temperature, so I always took out the ice."
  • "What are those bags called for extra food from restaurants? Doggy bags? I love that phrase!"
Everyone at the table was as amused as she was by these American wonders. I asked her what the weirdest thing she ate was, and she said Beef Tartar. I have heard of it, but I didn't know what it is. She told me there was raw meat in it, so that is probably why I've never had it.

Then the conversation drifted to my American experience aka: my life, and more specifically, high school. Some of the questions asked:
  • "Did you have cheerleaders at your school!?"
  • "Did you have Prom? Who'd you go with? Did you get one of those wrist flower things? (corsage) Did they have PUNCH to drink at the prom?! Did people really pour alcohol in the punch bowl!?"
  • "Did you have LOCKERS!?"
  • "Do people really get rejection letters from universities when they apply? Is it really that big of a deal?"
They were so amused by these things and the responses. Everything they were referring to, of course, was something they had seen in a movie. So some were accurate, and some were not (like spiking the punch...since our school just had pop cans). 

One of the nights was costume night, and Marina left right after dinner to meet with a friend, then came back for the dance part (after dinner, the casal turned into a private night club--fallas people only!). So she had to take off her costume, which she was wearing over street clothes. However, she decided to "change" right next to the table, so one of her friends made a comment that she was doing a strip tease (again, she was fully clothed underneath) next to us. In response, Marina took off her costume's belt and started swinging it around her head in this jokingly-sexy way, and almost hit three people at the table behind her. It was hilarious.

That night, during costume night, all of the men at one of the tables dressed up as the Village People. Then, later during dance time, the DJ played "YMCA" and "In The Navy." I thought it was great that people gestured the wrong letters during the YMCA, just waving their hands in a general upwards direction if they weren't sure (the letters are obviously said in English, which many don't know). 

Mayte had a fairly new boyfriend, who wasn't in the casal, so she was constantly calling him on her cell, then sneaking off to chat for an hour. One of those times, she came back downstairs where we were eating after being gone for nearly an hour, and our whole table (my host family's friends) start singing the Spanish equivalent of "K-I-S-S-I-N-G. First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes Mayte with the baby carriage..." She was a little embarrassed. 

Anyways, the moment you've all been waiting for: The video for Las Fallas.

Some explanations of on-screen stuff...
0:00-0:31 La Mascleta--The noisy firecracker show they did every day at 2pm March 1st until the end of Las Fallas. Marina, Maria Carmen, Maria, Lucia and Pichon are all there with me.
0:31-0:37 Fallas monuments and lights throughout the
0:38-0:43 Nachete (Maria's nephew), Lucas, and Dani running around the casal when they were bored.
0:43-0:45 Dani, Maria and Lucia staring at our giant falla monument.
0:46-0:56 The DaVinci fall monument. It was huge.
0:57-1:02 Hospital-themed falla (the large falla of the casal that Marina made her falla for)
1:02-1:19 Various fallas monuments from throughout the city, including the AWESOME lights for the France-themed falla.
1:20-1:33 Photos. See my other post for descriptions.
1:34-1:41 Pasacalles with our casal faller.
1:42-1:48 Marina's carousel falla monument that she designed, painted and constructed. You can see the awards it won, also (3rd place in special section, 2nd place for cleverness and humor).
1:49-1:50 More pasacalles of our casal faller, this time in the morning.
1:51-2:00 Lucia, Lucas and Maria throwing firecrackers and poppers.
2:01-2:17 Various fallas monuments
2:18-2:21 Pichon made paella one night, and that's Jose Enrique trying it out.
2:22-2:27 A casal faller heading to the ofrenda in the morning, view from our apartment's balcony. Notice the bobbing dresses dancing to the music...
2:28-2:51 Laura, Maria Carmen, Mayte, Marina, Jose Enrique and Pichon, everyone dancing. Jose Enrique and Pichon reenacted the dance scene from Dirty Dancing when the DJ played "I've Had the Time of My Life." To be honest, they knew more about the dance than I did (I only remembered the jump-into-his-arms part)
2:51-2:58 Some other costumes in the casal on costume night. Yes, that is a man dressed as Snow White.
2:59-3:00 You can see some of the "Village People" dancing in the background...
3:01-3:02 Every night, before dinner, the fallera mayor descended down the stairs as everyone stood up and applauded. Then we all took our seats when she took hers.
3:03-3:14 The kids' costume night: Sherlock Holmes, cute kitty cats, Dani as a fireman, Maria as Minnie Mouse, and Nachete as a pirate. It was really cutely organized: The kids got to the stairs, were asked their name and costume on the microphone, then they walked down the "runway" to the front, where they got a pair of spring-loaded googly eye glasses.
3:15-3:17 Marina getting her prize with the little falleras from the casal that she designed her falla monument for. They go up on a stage in the town square, pose for a picture, and pic up a flag/banner to carry around town in pride.
3:18-3:19 Dani with Lucas's and his school mascots, Peca y Lino. Lucas had them over the weekend to take pictures of to put in Peca and Lino's journal, like the traveling gnome.
3:20-3:25 More pasacalles with our casal faller. Like our very own marching band that followed us.
3:26-3:33 Monday night there was a random Christians and Moors parade.
3:33-3:37 The giant virgin Mary statue, whose dress is made of flowers from the Ofrenda. It is huge, as you can see.
3:38-3:42 More of our pasacalle
3:42-3:49 Skirt fluffing, bandana tying, dancing, flower grabbing, veil arranging...all steps for the big Ofrenda! Marina is the one getting her veil arranged by Cristina's mom. To be honest, her dress was my favorite of the whole group.
3:50-4:02 The Ofrenda.
4:03-4:39 Monica lighting the wick (for the kids to go off and light firecrackers), Lucia's school's falla monument, kids from the casal setting off fire fountains, fireworks from the falla monument burning, our fallera prepping to set our falla monument on fire, Dani looking on in his fireman's costume, our mini falla monument burning all the way to the ground, as the music from our marching band plays on.

The falla from Lucia's school took three minutes to burn. The kids made it, and it was mostly paper and cardboard. The professional falla infantil from our casal took over 15 minutes to burn (it was the same size). The latter was made with styrofoam and wood.

Yes, it smelled bad.
Yes, I probably took 3 years off my life from being in attendance.
Yes, ash flew into my hair.

Yes, it was amazing to watch.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Grease is popular here, too!

First off, I want to say that YES I finished editing the Fallas video and YES it will be on here soon. I am uploading it to my Youtube AS I TYPE THIS.

While you wait for that, I wanted to share this raw clip of a night during Fallas, where the DJ played a remix of Grease songs, and everyone (kinda) knew the words!

PS: We are wearing costumes because it was costume night, and we are dressed up as Peter Pan/Robin Hood. (The men dressed up as sumo wrestlers)

Friday, April 20, 2012

"You're so dumb that..."

At work yesterday, Isis pulled out her phone at lunch to show us a new app.

It is an insult app. All you do is type in a person's name, and it spews out an insult at random. It was this weird robotic female voice that would read the person's name, then direct an insult at them.

It was hard for me, language wise, because of two factors: the robot voice and the slang. The voice, and hearing things through a phone's speakers, makes it quite hard for someone who isn't native in the language. (Those phone speakers are the worst. Seriously. We have touch screens but still have fuzzy phone voices? Priorities, people.) The slang made it equally, if not even more, difficult to understand what the insult was. Isis would play one and the whole table would roar in laughter, and I would laugh along because I really had no clue what was being said, but it seemed to be enjoyed by everyone else!

Some were  stupid, like "You are a son of a *****." or just "You're fat."

But then some were pretty clever, but the clever ones were lengthier and required advanced vocab/cultural knowledge.

I was really proud of myself that I understood this joke:

"Eres tan tonta que fumas galletas porque se llaman Maria." 

Translated, it means "You are so dumb that you smoke cookies because they are called 'Maria.'"

See what I mean about cultural clues? You have to understand a couple things to get this joke:
1. Maria cookies are known by their name, like Oreos. They are a graham cracker-like cookie that is so famous that any similar cookie, whether it is of the Maria brand or not, is called a Maria cookie.

2. Maria is slang for marijuana, like Mary-Jane is in English. (Before you worry about how I know this, just know that after walking down Las Ramblas in Barcelona for five minutes you will learn more drug slang than you could ever imagine from the street peddlers.)

So I would like to write this off as an accomplishment, since I understood it, and know how to insult someone in Spain Spanish (Maria cookies are a Spain thing, unfortunately).