Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Spain Blog

Y'all can relive my mad fall Eurotrip...as posted on myspace... (again, start from the bottom of the post because I'm too lazy to fix it...)

Sunday, December 18, 2005
trapped in denver: weclome to the USA
So I'm spending my first night in the U.S. in a shitty airport hotel in Denver, Colorado....not at home with my friends, family, and boyfriend in Eugene, Oregon. Contintental Airlines SUCKS in every way, shape and form. I haven't slept in 30 hours, I'm culturally shocked, sick of airports, and just want to go home and celebrate Christmas!!!
Why does the U.S. suck soooo much sometimes?
I apologize for the whininess, but MAN, THIS SUCKS!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005
el gimnasio
Three to four times every week, I´ve enjoyed a very underrated sector of Spanish society.
I´d like to say flamenco dancing, cooking classes, or catholic church visits, but no. I´ve found something even better: el gimnasio.
I knew that my señora would continue to shove copious amounts of food down my throat, so instead of fighting with her, i joined a government-owned gym near school so i wouldn´t step off the plane a gordita and maybe improve my running time. Oh, but I would get so much more!
Maybe it´s the old spanish ladies who chat with me in the locker room before heading off to their water aerobics class, or the janitor who vacuums the tile floor. For whatever reason, my frequent pilgrimages to the gym have proved to be a source of physical, cultural, and spiritual reawakening. Not only can I practice my spanish, but I can rock my iPod and a treadmill for an hour and reflect upon mi vida.
I´ve become a regular...the call me reina americana (american queen...an oxymoron i know, but sweet nonetheless) and swipe my monthy pass with a smile and buenos dias.
My favorite gym encounter so far (oooh, it´s so hard to choose only one) occurred a few weeks ago. I was jogging in my purple NYU shorts and a nice old man said hello to me. We chatted for a bit about Zapatero and fascism and then he walks over to get a drink of water. I notice that he´s wearing red short-shorts, which reminds me of home, where it´s socially acceptable to wear shorts like that in public. he turns around, and to my wonderful suprise, i see that they say "caliente" on the butt...yes, they are booty shorts and this man is definitely retired.
I comment that i like his shorts and ask him where he bought them. He replies, scratching his grey chest hair, that his wife bought them for him, just like the rest of his clothing. Now THAT´S an amazing husband.
Tomorrow morning, i´ll make my last gym visit. I´ll say goodbye to the old ladies, the janitor, and yes, even hot shorts man. But it´s all good, because even though i might leave the caliente, the caliente will never leave me.

Friday, December 09, 2005
when in rome
The following represent a fraction of the crazy thoughts which have whirred through my head endlessly in the last week…

Sometimes life just seems wonderful. You doubt it for a while. Then you go to Italy. And you realize why DaVinci, Michelangelo, and Botticelli were so compelled to create beauty: in Italy, it fills the air.

Five days in Rome and Florence: cities strewn with history and artistic inspiration. The whole country of Italy just feels like a never-ending museum. In Rome, you turn a corner and there’s the Pantheon. You turn another, the Coliseum. Around the block, majestic fountains, churches, theaters, and in between, wonderful pizza and gelato stops. Nothing short of paradise.

Italy combines all of the characteristics I love in Spain (crazy people, good food, moderate weather, history, fun language, etc.) with the enigma of the unknown. People really did speak in the sing-songy stereotypical way and throw their arms up in the air in fiery curbside drivers. They drive like maniacs and dress better than, well, let’s just say us Americans got some shopping to do. It’s a country of passion where lovers stroll the banks of the Arno in a PG-13 manner. I’ve concluded that anyone who returns from Italy less than inspired and changed forever has no soul.

It rained, which I actually kind of liked for a change. We stood in awe of the Vatican and the Sistine chapel. We strolled the circumference of the Coliseum by night and basked in the glory of Fontana della Tartarughe by day. Name a sight in Rome or Florence, we covered it.

Cheesy as it sounds, the museums blew me away. I got to thinking about the Renaissance, and not in that shitty memorized art history way (that’s next week). Why can’t I as an individual or we as a society have a renaissance? Or are we in one now and just don’t know it? What would DaVinci say about the internet? Will I or anyone I ever know create something that will change the course of human history? Michelangelo sculpted David from a piece of “scrap marble”…what can we do with our intellectual scraps?

On the train and plane ride I wrote oodles. Nothing profound or life-changing, just an attempt to get my thoughts straight. Well, I’ve been trying to get my thoughts straight for 19 years now and foolishly thought that journeying to where the masters flourished would shed some light on it all. But perhaps the genius of the Renaissance lies not in filling in bubbles, but in asking questions. I put down my pen for a moment in repose. Let us query and seek answers as the masters did and let the social, and personal, renaissance will follow.
Currently reading: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance : An Inquiry Into Values (P.S.) By Robert M. Pirsig Release date: By 02 August, 2005

Sunday, November 20, 2005
portugal or my life as a fugitive Current mood: shocked
Last weekend I took an 8 hour bus ride with 4 fabulous friends to Portugal. I figured that while I'm in Spain, I might as well fully rock the Iberian peninsula and get a much-needed view of the Atlantic ocean (I waved to all of my homies on the East Coast). I was a little afraid that being around all of that Portugese might screw up my Spanish, but alas, I packed my backpack and headed west.
Portugal might be the most beautiful, untainted, quaint European country. It's got the Arabic influence of Morocco and Southern Spain, the charm of rural France, and the windy streets of London - and everything is cheap. We were able to speak Spanish to everyone and delighted in the vivaciousness of the Brazillian imports. Everyone was so nice and genuine. The only tourists there were little old Spanish ladies, which are now a cultural favorite of mine (I live with a fabulous one, after all).
So we're walked through this main plaza in Lisbon and see a large stage with colored lights, fog machineness, and hear loud ass music. We stumbled upon the largest portugese christian festival known to man, complete with christian rock. Very strange, considering that around the corner was a packed bar that sold beer for less than a Euro a glass. Such is Europe - the class between the revelers and the religious.
Surrounded by this intellectual warm-fuzziness is when I had the scariest moment of my European experience. I don't know how familiar people are with metro/train systems, but it can be pretty damn difficult - especially in a country where there isn't a straight street or even ticket machines. We walked on the train not knowing where to buy a ticket and thinking that the trolley was just another by-product of socialism (everything is paid for by the government in europe...democrats rejoice). We quietly chatted until the train reached the end of the line (near our hostel) and were pretty excited that in addition to the cheap chestnuts, room and board, and potatoes, that we scored free transport.
That was, until 4 tall, dark, scary portugese men walked onto the now empty tram with angry looks on their faces and train conductor hats. I'm not sure if they were with the transportation authority or the cops, but they were packing heat and not about to show any mercy for four american girls and a half-mexican, half-chinese boy.
They start talking to us in Portugese (which sounds like Spanish pronounced with a French accent) and ask us for our tickets. I have a wrinkled up ball of something in my purse - not a ticket - and play dumb tourist. I tell them that I don't know what's going on (even though I understand every word that they're saying) and look at my friends with a confused face. He asks for our passports. I don't have mine. And even if I did, I wasn't about to risk being deported. I hand him a crummy student ID.
He tells me that the fine for not having a ticket it 70 euros a person...I don't got that bank to spare! I think about putting my gym visits to the test and running out of the train (some pedestrians are now watching us through the windows) but persist with my dumb American routine (speaking spanish...he definitely thought I was on crack or something).
After a while, he gets bored, walks us over to a small ticket booth and forces us to insert some coins in and buy a ticket. He scolds us (flashback to kindergarten) about being irresponsible and how there is no such thing as a free ride. We smile and flee the scene and spent the rest of our pleasant trip feeling like fugitives.
I loved Portugal and dream someday of renting a vespa and going from the Northern border to the Southern, hitting up all of the tiny pueblos along the coast. I mention the vespa not merely for it's classic, Roman-Holiday charm value, but also because it's utterly clear that I've worn out my welcome on the Portugese train system.

Monday, November 07, 2005
pass the dutchie and dam the amster
Amsterdam: hookers, weed, canals, clogs, windmills, tulips.
All of the above is true.
The “Red-light” district is a neighborhood where women, prostitutes (they’re not only legal, but they’re unionized and make more moolah than I probably ever will) stand under blacklights in store windows. They’re scantily clad, not that attractive, and all look utterly bored. Flocks of tourists wander about, mostly older men, and ogle, even at the ones who talk on their cell phones and file their nails. With a 50 Euro minimum, few actually purchase. But when her curtain is drawn and the blue light (as opposed to the red light) shines in the window, it means that somebody well, you can fill in the blanks.
The weed is not smoked on the streets, but rather in “coffeeshops.” They are forbidden to sell alcohol in the same place as weed/shrooms/peyote/etc. So people sip on sodas and coffee, roll joints and pass around a hookah-esque objects. Most of these coffee shops have several different flavors and experts on hand to aid in making the correct choice. The place reeks of Eugene (in fact, I ran into a kid from Bend, OR, in a coffeeshop), but most Dutch people aren’t stoned out of their minds. It literally is just about as exciting to them as sipping on a cup of coffee.
The entire city of Amsterdam feels as though it could just float away. Canals act as streets, complete with paddleboats (wwaaaayyy too much fun!) and flocks of bikers along the narrow sidewalks. In fact, I’ve never seen so many bikers in one place in my entire life. Hundreds of them, either in motion or tangled up with each other in a puzzle of metal, locks, and tires. The water and the dozens of twinkling bridges are pure eye-candy but can make for a chilly evening. This is how I imagine Venice: a city that is anchored by the energy and passion of its residents.
I take a lot of heat for being half-Dutch, but I didn’t buy any clogs. I saw a few people walking around in them, but for the most part, people in Amsterdam dress like any other trendy European. It was a little strange how everyone looked like they could be related to me somehow. I’ve never felt so ethnically in place in my life.
I didn’t see any windmills in the city, but I didn’t care. The Van Gogh Museum (a European must-see) and the flower market Sunday morning made up for it.
I could and should write a whole blog about my experience in the Anne Frank house – I’ve never felt so eerily moved by anything in my life. I’ll leave it at that because it really deserves a thorough discussion and deep thought. It’s worth going to Europe just for that museum. Read her book. It will change your life, or at least it changed mine.
As I sat on the plane home, I try to think what it was about Amsterdam that drew me…was it that every man on the street looked like a relative? The Oregon-esque liberalism? The fluttering pedestrians a la New York? The European quaintness of Madrid? Amsterdam literally is all of my homes compressed into one, and for this, I’m glad I found my little spiral of canal coziness: it’s nice to know that home has existed long before I ever set foot upon its soil.
Currently reading: Pride and Prejudice By Jane Austen Release date: By 01 December, 1983

Sunday, November 06, 2005
prague blog
They don’t celebrate Halloween in Spain, so I did what any red-blooded American girl would: I fled to Prague for the weekend.
Okay, so I went to Prague the weekend before Halloween (Oct 28-30), didn’t wear a costume, nor was there any Czech Republic trick-or-treating to speak of. But I had to drown my sorrows somehow.
It’s becoming a pretty common story now: Mary knows nothing, Mary goes to country, Mary learns a lot, Mary returns with a more expanded world view, Mary churns out a blog some time later that fails to capture her sentiments. But I find that the more I travel, the old cliché remains true: the more we’re different, the more we’re the same.
My experience in Prague was a strange hybrid of my Russia trip and my German trip: cheap beer, strange language, colder climate, stunning architecture. We stayed at this sketchy hostel downtown full of Brits, a bachelor party, and a random Chinese family. My housemate had a couple of friends who were studying at NYU’s Prague campus, so we met up and had the experts show us the town.
Prague is TINY. It’s smaller than Portland and the most beautiful parts of the city are along the river, which is crossed by several small, quaint bridges. Throughout most of the city, including the more obscure areas, I saw more tourists than Czech folk, but thankfully our guides showed us some less touristy bars, restaurants and hangouts.
I just HAD to stop at the Museum of Communism, which didn’t disappoint. It’s strange that only 16 years ago, the Czech Republic was on the last legs of communism. Unlike Russia, Prague has completely transformed into a thriving capitalist society. No Lenin statues, more smiles, less of a sense of complete overwhelming. In fact, I would even say that at times, Prague seemed rather perky.
That was, until we went to the Jewish neighborhood. It’s the area where Jews have lived for centuries and was occupied by Nazis during WW II. The museum is mostly a bunch of synagogues and artifacts which left me stunned. I couldn’t believe that so many synagogues remained after all that Prague has been through. They had this exhibit featuring pictures that children drew during World War II while living in the closed-off, occupied neighborhood. There’s something about seeing a child’s interpretation of their home as a prison that tears at the heart. There’s something even worse about knowing that it’s true and still happens.
My trip to Prague teetered upon this, contemplation of the deepest and often most harrowing kind, and frolicking around a city with a nightlife that doesn’t quit.
I feel like Prague is truly one of the world’s greatest cities. I’m kind of sad that millions of other tourists feel the same way, but in spite of this, no one can take away the Czech charm.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005
french folk really do have funny laughs
Although it was less than two weeks ago, I feel like it’s been too long since my trip to Paris.
I’d been to Paris once when I was sixteen and found myself (and this time again) completely captivated by the passionate romantic pull of the city: the squabbling Frenchman, overtalented and unemployed artists, and of course embracing couples. Paris is romantic in the broadest sense – one does not feel merely the livelihood of interpersonal relationships, but the centuries of art, history, and culture as well. Being in Paris made me wish that my smiles were brighter, tears were colder, and anger was hotter. People are so beautifully aware of their emotions and not afraid to let them go.
Me and three lady friends flew on Air France (shameless plug, but quite easily the best airline ever!) and landed on a Thursday night. We paid a tragically high amount for a cab to our hostel, but as soon as we got downtown, we wasted no time journeying into the heart of the city.
Paris is split into two by the Seine: a canal of a river that glitters at night with party boats and the reflections of café’s candlelight. Although throngs of tourists would later drive me batty at the Musee D’orsay (I know I’m butchering French, but bear with me) and the Louvre, not even they could destroy the blissfully cliché magic of the city of berets.
The other hostel we stayed in was kind of in the ghetto. I was actually kind of excited about this because it exposed me to a part of Paris that I otherwise would have overlooked. It was kind of a throwback to my Morocco experience: so much Arabic being spoken. It was odd to go to the poverty of a former French protectorate and then to France in back-to-back weekends: talk about contrast between East and West.
We ran around the tiny streets of the Latin Quarter, climbed the Arc de Triomfe and the Eiffel Tower, stood in awe of Notre Dame’s stunning stained glass, and pretty much rocked the city out of it’s socks. We heard KILLER jazz at this charming jazz club in a less touristy part of town and delighted in the Nutella crepes (if you do not know the magic of Nutella, I must educate you upon my return). I can’t explain the Paris attitude, but there’s something about it that I just can’t get enough of.
By the end of the wonderful, but tiring, excursion, I was a little heartbroken by how much English I heard. No wonder French people hate us (Americans): we crowd their cafes and take flash photos of their masterpieces. Contrary to the common U.S. stereotype, if anyone was rude in Paris, it was the Americans. Kind of embarrassing.
On our last morning, we climbed this hill near our ghetto-fabulous hostel to see the Bascilque du Sacré Coeur, a beautiful church with a stunning view of Paris. At the base of the hill, we spot a true Frenchman wearing a beret and feeding pigeons a baguette and muttering something in French.
Hemingway is right: Paris truly is a moveable feast.

Sunday, October 23, 2005
Morocco = magnificent
If you ever get a chance to visit and Islamic country, do it.
Two weekends ago, I participated in a 5-day exchange to Morocco, a country that lies on the Northern coast of Africa, but just a strait (of Gibraltar) away from Spain. I was to travel with a small group of students, see the rural and city life, and live with a family. Sounded pretty standard for a student trip. I expected something; I didn’t know what...anything could happen.
Not to wax too political here, but it seems like in the months after 9-11 I read/watch/was bombarded with news item after news item about radical Islam, how oppressed the women are, the terrorism of the East. Poor Muslims was pretty much the attitude of the American media and I couldn’t help but agree. I was (and still am) pissed at Democrats, Republicans, and everybody else out there. Unfortunately, there are radical Muslims out there, women are oppressed, and terrorism is a very real thing. But there are also radical Americans (remember when the term “terrorism” was used to describe the Oklahoma City bombings, the unibomber, and mass-murderers on the home front?), Europeans, Africans, etc. What the hell do any of these terms mean anymore?
I’m the first to admit that I am not an expert on world religions. On the 8-hour bus ride to the strait, I took a crash-course in Islam. I read about how peaceful the religion is: the prayer rituals, how it is considered crass to eat with the left hand, the rites of passage, how hospitality is key, etc. I also would be traveling in the middle or Ramadan and was warned that most people would be fasting and very conservatively dressed. Arabic and French are the two most spoken languages there, and although Moroccans have an amazing aptitude for languages, I knew that with my English, Spanish, blonde hair and blue eyes that I would be more than out of place.
We spent most of our time in Rabat, the capital city of Morocco. An amazing family (only the sister spoke English) took me and two other students in, fed us, clothed us, did extensive henna designs on our hands, showed us their Ramadan traditions, and made me feel like I always belonged there. They lived in the medina, this tiny little labyrinth of un-drivable streets, white and blue Arab homes and mosques, men selling raw fish, and Aladdin-style fabrics hanging everywhere. Since it was Ramadan, the medina came to life at night: children playing, families out, everyone knew everyone, smiling, laugher, the works.
I read statistics about Morocco – the poverty, the illiteracy (60 percent on average and that number is higher for women), the political situation, etc. – and my heart aches. Never before in my entire life have I felt like such a welcome outsider and so obligated to share and listen to knowledge. After all that they’ve been through, they welcomed me, an American, with open arms and wanted nothing more than to have a real, genuine conversation with me. My sister tells me that she and her family cried when the two towers fell because they were so disappointed in what people had done in the name of jihad (which is almost always poorly interoperated and taken out of context in the Western media).
But in Morocco, I felt no anger. Just hope.
We took an hour long hike off of a dirt road to visit a village with less than 100 families. I saw 4 generations of women, complete with a 19-year old with her baby strapped on her back, backing bread in a clay oven and getting well-water for us. A girl on our trip comments that “they have nothing,” but I couldn’t disagree more. They have everything: family, food, satisfaction, love. They don’t have all of the things that we clothe ourselves with in the Western world to hide the truth (money, fashion, movies, blah blah blah) and they maintained a deep sense of satisfaction that I have yet to see in America or Europe. I could go on forever about Morocco…
We talk with a man who is the first in his village history to go to college. He tells us, in perfect English, about how he can’t find a job, nor can he leave the country. I cross the border into Spain and see thousands of Moroccans, recently deported trying to cross illegally. With our U.S. passports, we were ushered in quickly, past the scarf-wearing mothers with children, starving men, and ailing elderly. I want to massify the message of the amazingness I felt. Within minutes, I see ads for Spanish tourist resorts and McDonald’s and experience a earthquake of culture shock. Where were the smiles? The Arabic? The dates (yummy Moroccan food)? Where was my sister who eagerly showed me around her neighborhood?
I arrive back in Madrid, feeling like the girl who expected anything and realized from people who had everything that when you really get down to it, nobody has just nothing after all.

PS- Done with midterms on Tuesday...yeah!
Currently reading: A Man in Full By Tom Wolfe Release date: By 30 October, 2001

Monday, October 10, 2005
barcelona barbarians. dumb ashton kutcher. Current mood: chipper
Went to Barcelona this weekend with some friends...amazing weather, architecture and a bounty of things to do. We toured the Gaudi cathedrals (one of those "you must do this before you die" experiences) and partied it up on the beach and downtown.
I think that our hostel was run by a con-artist. Not only did he charge me two euros for a crummy towel that left little cotton balls all over me, but we saw him hustling some people in the lobby and lying about how many vacancies he had. You can be we´ll be posting on hostelworld.com about this one! He even had the bed of chest hair poking through his shirt. It bothers me how people assume that because I´m Amerian, I automatically can´t understand a word of spanish. I´m learning some swear words now for my arsenal of comebacks.
Other than that, life was fab. We read that Ashton and Demi were honeymooning nearby, but alas, no sightings. News of the Boy George drug bust has made me sad, but I know that it´s a lie! Will follow news closely...
Sunday morning as we strolled around Las Ramblas before our bus, we saw dozens of barbarians walking around (see profile pictures). I think that they were filming a spanish made-for-tv movie or something. At any rate, we stood for an hour or so, dumbfounded by the hairy spainards with their spears and shields. Some were on cell phones and smoking. Gotta love those historical discrepancies.
Back in Madrid...the examencitos, the ensayos, school...the agony! The beauty of these little weekend excursions makes normal life seem dull. But then I wake up and hear the racist yelpings of my señora, spread some nutella on my morning toast, and know that life here in Europe is pretty darn amazing.

Thursday, October 06, 2005
solar eclipse Current mood: peaceful
Monday I sat in my spanish lit class around 11 a.m. I noticed that no one was there...it started to get dark outside. A couple of other people walk in at 11:15 and tell me to go outside.
In the courtyard, dozens of students are wearing cardboard glasses and staring at the now darkened sky. People in neighboring buildings pop out of windows and more on the street stand paralized.
A 90 percent solar eclipse hit the Iberian peninsula (Spain, Portugal, northern Morocco). There won´t be another one until 2028. I don´t know which was better: seeing the sun going back to bed in mid-morning or all of the madrileños stop dead in their city tracks.
Sometimes, nature just kicks ass.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005
here's to soggy leiderhosen! Current mood: ecstatic
I think we’re all pretty familiar with German stereotypes: big, blonde, leiderhosen-wearing, beer-drinking, David Hasselhoff-loving krauts. Trying to be culturally sensitive, I left these preconceived notions at the Madrid airport. But in my first hour in Germany, I saw HUNDREDS of Uter (the exchange student on “The Simpsons”) look-alikes and a “Baywatch” marathon on the TV in our meager hotel. Not to mention the plethora of beer ads and angry-sounding German conversations. Culture shock? Maybe. But I fell in love with Munich, Germany, faster than you can say “Kazuntheit.”
Amber and I booked our Oktoberfest weekend as soon as we heard that there were spots still available. This weekend kicked my pocketbook in the arse a bit, but it was worth every penny. Our generation tragically lacks a Woodstock-like event (sorry to the oregon country fair fans), but Oktoberfest, the largest festival in all of Europe, proved to be a once in a lifetime event.
The festival lasts for three weeks, but we could only go for three days this weekend (damn class!). We checked into our hotel after major culture shock in the airport and in the metro. The complete and utter state of confusion reminded me of being in Russia, or New York City for the first time. What the hell did all of these signs say? Why is everyone so tall and wearing hiking boots in the city? Is that really a small child engulfing a bratwurst the size of my arm? Why is everyone named Hansel?
To get to the center of the action (where we would spend the majority of our three days), Amber and I went to the “grounds” – a huge field that’s sole purpose in life is Oktoberfest. I saw a map of the grounds before we left: 10 beer tents and some carnival rides. Sounded kind of touristy and hoaky.
But what nobody told me is that each of these tents holds 10,000 (!) people, an amazing polka band, and festivities straight out of a movie. The first tent we walked into, we saw thousands of decked-out Germans swinging beer steins (they serve beer by the LITER) singing drinking songs and dancing on the tables. Each tent had a certain magic to it – we sat with complete strangers and conversed with Italians, Germans, and Austrians using our English and Spanish. It was pouring the entire time, but nothing could dampen the festivities.
Sure, we ran into some sleazebags (the Italians who offered us “spaghetti and sex” come to mind…we fled ASAP), but the overall awesome funtime award belongs to a group of Bavarian college kids (one was studying to be a carpenter…I didn’t know that people our age still wanted to go into that) who traveled from their hilltop village to attend their millionth Oktoberfest.
We told them about America, they told us about Bavaria – the songs, the dances, and hell, even the leiderhosen. They explained to us with honesty and humor how the waitresses could carry 12 steins of beer at a time (“German women are bigger…evolution”) and the best places to go in Europe.
Politics came up on numerous occasions and for the record, Europeans really do hate George Bush. One of the Germans I talked to was in the army and went to Iraq for six month. Although his English wasn’t the best, he explained to me the horrors of what he saw and how upon his return, his girlfriend (“a beautiful girl”) found a new boyfriend. Talk about someone who could use a pretzel and shashlik. But his attitude about the whole thing seemed relatively healthy: “It’s okay. I’m here now with my friends and a new and different future.”
People can say what they want about Oktoberfest, but for me (here comes the cheesiness) it wasn’t about the beer, the carnival rides, or the bratwursts, it was about hundreds of people from around the world getting together with the common goal of having a good weekend.
Three days passed far too quickly. I hope that someday I’ll return to Germany – a land which swept me off my feet only to re-plant me on firmer ground. But until next Oktoberfest, I can only nibble on my German chocolate bar and listen to really bad techno. Sigh.
Currently reading: Three Lives and Q.E.D. (Norton Critical Edition) By Gertrude Stein Release date: By 01 November, 2005

Sunday, September 25, 2005
sex, sangria, and salamanca!
I have seen more churches in the last 50 something hours than I can believe. So much Catholocism here, odd considering that people here are totally down with gay marriage.
Our group went to Salamanca for an "academic excursion" (people were soooooo grumpy and hungover on the bus ride back today) which consisted of lots of tours with an actually amazing tour guide and roaming around charming spanish towns. I think I want to retire here.
The sex referred to in the title was on FIVE of the twenty TV stations in the hotel room (porn that I think would be illegal in the U.S. was playing right along the cooking network during broad daylight). Let's just say it involved the ass, plastic objects, and german...needless to say, little mary was slightly traumatized.
The sangria refers to the pitcher that little Pantea, my friendly Persian friend downed, resulting in her giggling the rest of the evening. Twas pleasant to be around a jolly little tipster. We went out for hot chocolate at 1 a.m. that was unlike anything I've ever drank. Heaven.
And Salamanca...another town which displays the utter beauty and charm of Spain. The winding streets, the bocadillos, the people...sigh. It's quite wonderful, even if I did stumble upon some raunchiness in the hotel.
Next week: OKTOBERFEST!!! (Munich, beware...)

Monday, September 19, 2005
the M.J. zombies of San Sebastian, Spain Current mood: scared
Every country in the world should have a San Sebastian. Well, I guess that’s one of the things that make Spain España, but nonetheless, I think the world would be a much better place if by a train ticket’s whim everyone in the world could travel to a conch-shell shaped beach where the streets are narrow, the tapas are cheap, and feel like a movie star, even if only for a weekend.
That’s where I was last weekend. Three of the ladies here in Madrid and I embarked on a 6-hour train ride (the voyage there was much more pleasant than the return trio) with swimsuits, Euros, and cameras in hand. We needed a break from our not-so-difficult classes and were yearning for the beach like nothing else.
We arrive at our hostel, supremely located in la parte vieja (charming downtown) and assume our respective rooms. Me and Sara's room is full of dusty Spanish volumes covering such topics as “Conspiracy Theories,” “The Truth About Assassinations,” and “UFO’s Explained.” Amber and Grace’s room has a samurai knife hanging on the wall, a dozen crucifixes, and a bookshelf full of ominous religious paraphernalia (figurines, crucifixes, Jesus stuff, etc.)
The skies were slightly cloudy, but that didn’t stop us from swimming in the immense waves. As we left the beach, we saw a crazy woman get towed away by the cops and a husband-wife duo building a sand castle roughly the size of a car. And this was BEFORE we read about Cuba Gooding Jr. and Wilem Dafoe being in town for the film festival.
Speaking of the film festival, much of downtown had red carpet rolled and the streets were brimming with artsy-fartsy film people. It’s like they transplanted the most arteestic coffee shops of Greenwich Village to this European oasis. Lots of berets (no joke), cigarettes, and tight, black shirts.
We scored tickets to the film festival’s screening of “Bad Lieutenant,” a Harvey Keitel movie that made me realize just how messed up the 80’s NYPD was. We found ourselves at the theater very early and sojourned to a touristy bar nearby…a bar which I will never forget.
It was called “Rock Star” and inside, we hear Tom Jones playing. My heart skips a beat and we hit the PACKED dance floor only to realize that we are the youngest ones in there…by about 30 years. Middle-aged people shook their booties and moved their hips in ways that I never though possible, no matter what age. Most of them were American (fat, balding, poorly dressed, rich) and oddly enough, sober.
They teetered between my karaoke-singing father and the zombies in the “Thriller” music video. Cheesy, but oddly alluring.
The next morning, we boarded the train for Madrid with our heads hung a little lower than before. We were out danced by middle aged people. Maybe I’ll return to that bar in San Sebastian someday – a little wrinklier, wiser, and nerdier – and outboogie those damn young exchange students who meander in. But until then, I’ll just have to practice my tootsie roll pelvic thrusts.
Currently reading: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Perennial Classics) By Betty Smith Release date: By 18 January, 2005
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
bull about bullfights Current mood: crazy
Going to Spain and not watching a bullfight would be like visiting France and not munching on a baguette. (Insert snotty Frenchman laugh here.) Sorry to all of those animal rights activists out there, but I just HAD to go. I’m here. Bulls are here. They’re going to die whether or not I watch it, and for whatever it’s worth, the bulls here are raised just for the purpose of being used in bullfights, so there aren’t any little baby bulls roaming the wild wondering where mommy toro is. And after they kill it, they use the bull for something, so it’s not a total waste. I also read that bullfighting employs nearly 500,000 people. So I’m helping out the economy!
Now that I’ve fully justified myself, I can explain why the bullfight was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen. We got kind of screwed by a scalper (we paid 10 euros for 2 euro tickets, but we didn’t really have a choice) but it was well worth it. The arena is huge – could seat about 20,000 easily. However, our señora informed us that this is the off-season for the toreadors, therefore the quality of the fights would be lower. It’s kind of like asking for Tom Cruse and getting Tom Selleck instead…well, even the Tom Selleck of toreadors has a good moment or two, so we decided to go anyway.
The arena was maybe a quarter full, but that didn’t mean that there was any less pomp and circumstance. They kill 6 bulls in 3 hours. One toreador (you know, the really cool guy with the tight pants, Mickey Mouse hat, and sequins) per bull. But before each toreador, five practice ones come out and warm up the bull. They had pink capes and the main guys have the traditional red ones. There’s a pseudo-referee on a horse who prods the bull with a long white cane after he’s run around the capes for five minutes or so.
I don’t know who out there has seen a bull in person and who hasn’t, but let me tell you, these toros were HUGE. Even though their fur was black, you could see the shiny spots where they would start to bleed. They had these huge horns that would race past the toreadors stomachs, coming within only inches. It’s like seeing a crazy naked hippie. You cover your eyes because it’s wrong, but peek anyway because you can’t really believe what you’re not seeing.
There’s a pep band (one drummer and three trumpeters) who play little suspenseful diddies throughout the whole thing. Then three of the little mini toreadors come out and each stab two, shorter, brightly colored prods into the bull. It looks painful, but the bull keeps running around with as many as six of these things dangling off of his back. To me, it was amazing how much all of them could take. The rule of bullfighting is that either the bull or the man must die. The entire time, I wasn’t really sure who the audience was rooting for, adding to the strangeness. Last night, the bulls lost. Part of me wonders if it’s like pro-wrestling and fixed, but at least this has a degree of majesty to it.
So after all of this, some cape waving and maneuvering by the toreador, he approaches the bull slowly with a 3-foot long sword in his hand that one of the pink guys hands him. He walks in front of it, and by now, the bull seems too weak to charge at the man who is literally in his face. The bull pants heavily and lifts his head to see the sword slowly come down upon him and dive into his massive body. Only one of the toreadors we saw actually did this “correctly,” getting the sword’s blade all of the way in. The bull twiches (more like convulses), then slowly the movement stops. One of the pink matadors takes a smaller sword to his head, to ensure that he’s really dead, and twists. We sat so far away, but the popping sound seemed so loud, clear, and the most dramatic part of it all.
The toreador takes a victory strut around the stadium, the band plays, and the people stand and cheer. The bull is dragged away by a team of three horses and his blood streaks the dusty ground behind him. A guy walks by to offer you popcorn, beer, or coke.
I don’t really know what to make of all of this. It sounds a lot more gruesome and touristy than it really was, but I’ve just never seen straight up man vs. beast action. And think, bullfighting is considered tame compared to some of that ancient Roman and Greek shit. I think of Hemingway (sigh), carnivores, and vegetarians. I don’t know what to make of it all, and I don’t know if I ever will. Spain…

Monday, September 12, 2005
An encounter with the Spanish mafia

Every penny I spent, all of the language classes I’ve taken, all of the burritos I’ve consumed, all of it paid off last night at a quirky little sports bar near La Plaza del Sol.
First of all, sports bar doesn’t mean what it does in the U.S. Soccer is a RELIGION here and even bigger than football or basketball combined in the U.S. The fans get into brawls regularly and people travel around the world to see their favorites play.
The main team in Madrid (there are three), RealMadrid, is very competitive (and Beckham plays for them. Wowza) and the world stops when a televised game is on. I’m not a huge sports fan, but soccer (futbol) is near the top of my list of sports worth watching, largely in part because of the crazed fans. So three other people and I go out for tapas (really yummy Spanish food…more detail later) and then mosey to the nearest place we can find that is playing the game. Given the national obsession, it didn’t take long.
So we’re sitting there, watching everyone smoke, laugh, and watch the game when I feel a gust of cold air. The door opens and in with the cool, night breeze, come three of the most glorious specimens of human I’ve ever seen. Think Madrid Vice. Greased, long black hair, white blazers, gold necklaces, shiny black shoes, the whole deal. The pants were pressed, the pelvises thrusting, and my God, the chests were gleaming. Combined, the three of them probably weighed 300 pounds.
They walk in and start playing some electronic gambling machines, curse a bit, and strut like I’ve never seen anyone strut before. I’d heard of Eurotrash before, but I didn’t anticipate my ability to smell these guys over the smoke and chaos of a sports bar. It reeked of L.A. Looks 80’s hair gel and, well, does amazing have a smell? The walk in and out of the bar (drug deal in the bathroom maybe?), laughing, smoking, and running their hands through their long, black tresses. Amber and I can’t keep our eyes off of them. Was this really happening?
The Spanish Mafia left after an all too short time in my life. In one moment, I the term “mafiosos” was redefined for me and my jaw never hit the floor quicker. Perhaps as I stroll through the city, our paths will cross again. But until then, all I can do is cherish the memory of the Don Juan/Don Johnson hybrid. Sigh.
Currently reading: The Razor's Edge (Vintage International) By W. Somerset Maugham Release date: By 09 September, 2003

Wednesday, September 07, 2005
Housemoms and lost roommates

She stands about five feet tall and looks at me through eyelashes clustered with mascara. Before I can finish precariously stepping out of the taxi, she opens her arms to their full span. “Mi hija!” she exclaims, affirming her desire to be the Spanish mother I never had.

I’ve never seen this woman before. She’s never seen me. I’ve spent the last day and a half on planes and in airports, trying to focus on crummy magazine articles and horrid in-flight movies, but instead staring out the window lazily in a state of insomnia. I couldn’t believe that here, in the middle of this bustling city, could someone offer hospitality and tranquility.

María Luisa sweeps me away to her large 8th floor apartment, complete with a large terrace which overlooks Madrid’s cozy business district. Churchbells ding and dong in the distance as she shows me her quaint European home, complete with miniature appliances, a parlour and modestly furnished guest rooms. “Mi casa es tu casa,” she says, smiling and offering me towels. My house is your house. Neither my housemate or my roommate has arrived (as of Sunday night, over 24 hours from her expected arrival, my roommate is still absent) and María Luisa’s excitement overwhelms my tired and rusty Spanish conversation skills. She seems so genuine.

Hospitality – it’s a concept that I’ve been forced to redefine these last few years. But María Luisa rolled out the Spanish red carpet for me. And pardon the shameless “Jerry Maguire” reference, but she had me at “Hola.” Here I am, thousands of miles away from my friends, my family, my love, my native language. I hope that María Luisa’s determination to make this fall fabulous proves contagious.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005
problemas con las computadoras
Current mood: blank
I´m here, I´m safe, and I´m also without internet on my laptop. For the last couple of days, I´ve had limited access to those silly standing computers. All in all, things here are faboo and hopefully tomorrow I can actually post something halfway insightful and/or descriptive. Damn those university internet time limits to hell!
Besos a todos!