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Archive - Spain Musings

One of the lightbulbs is burnt out in the hallway, and I tried to fix it earlier today, but even on a chair I can't reach the blasted ceiling. Marcos took the reins tonight, with me playing the part of surgical assistant: "Screwdriver. Take the screws. Lightbulb." It was actually another good lesson in how to swear in Spanish, because Marcos' screwdriver rotates when you use it, and he had a hell of a time getting the screws out. My parents put a screwdriver in my stocking this year, and I really wish I'd packed it now. Anyway, the lightbulb I had on hand won't fit in there, so the job's only half done. I sadly still can't see very well into my closet, so dressing will be interesting, hahaha. I got my suitcase yesterday, but I hadn't yet opened it until today. I have to do major laundry again because the stuff inside was all damp (ick). I washed and hung the lights yesterday, but they're still drying, so it will probably take me into next week to finish it all. I hope they don't mildew before then. Perhaps I could just wash them all and string my underwear up all over the apartment to dry like some sort of inappropriate and super early preparation for Valentine's Day.


Funny things I want to jot down:

1. Sometimes we ask the other professors what certain sayings (frases hechos) in Spanish mean, because there's a ton of them, and they rarely translate literally. So I was asking Ricardo what exactly "pasar el arroz" meant. I knew it had something to do with getting older (particularly women, because it seems like it's a crime in almost every society for women to get old whereas it's fine for men), but I still wasn't sure about the context. He explained to me that it means something's passing you by because you're getting older. And then he says "For example," and shouts down the lunchtable at the principal "the rice has passed Maria Jesus for having kids!" (El arroz ha pasado a Ma Jesus para tener hijos), and everyone starts cracking up while she laughs and lets him have it. Apparently Ricardo is only 3 months younger than her, so he's always teasing her about her age. He knows no fear. Definitely something that would be a little more jarring in American culture, but totally normal here. So get in the Spanish spirit! Go make blunt remarks about your coworkers (or better yet, boss!) in front of everyone else.

2. In Madrid, as in Lexington and Cincinnati, as soon as there's any form of precipitation, fog, or unusual weather of any kind, everyone forgets how to drive. It's nice to know panic unites us all. As such, in the wake of a healthy serving of fog on Wednesday morning, there was an accident on the highway, and traffic was backed up monstrously. The bus drivers were chatting back and forth to each other on their radios about how awful the traffic was, and they devised a strategem: tag-teaming in and out of the merge lanes! The system worked like this: both buses would go into the empty merge lane on the far right, and one bus would fight their way back into traffic as the lane gave out. Then they would pause and let the second bus get in front of them. All of this was accompanied by them honking at each other as they passed and cracking jokes back and forth on their radios. It was pretty funny, I have to say, and definitely made waiting in traffic a lot more interesting.

Today I feel like I have a hangover without having drunk anything last night. The one symptom I'm missing (thank goodness) is the nausea. WTF, winter. Stop getting me sick. At least I have Monday and Tuesday to rest up before I go to London on Thursday! :D Woohoo!
Something about the use of megaphones at the school next door to try to keep the children under control at recess makes me crack up. From my experience with working with Spanish elementary school children, I have no doubt they're an effective tool at making yourself heard above the din. Everytime the megaphone starts up and delivers some instructions in a deep, monotone voice, I just know some kid is doing something idiotic to get himself or herself into trouble. The possibilities for misbehavior are endless. I can't actually make out what's being said into the megaphone, but in my head it goes something like this:
*general noise coming from the playground, including screams, shouts, balls bouncing, etc*
*some kid hogs the ball*
"Juan, stop doing that right now. We share on the playground. Children that don't understand the playground rules go back to the preschool class to learn them. Now stop doing stupid things, or you'll stand in the corner."

There's a guy at my coworker's friends' apartment that pulls out a megaphone when they're being too loud. He also talks in a deep, monotone voice. "Por favor, bajad la voz. Bajad la voz, por favor." Basically translates to "please lower your voice," but it sounds funnier to me in Spanish. My other coworker told a story about this crazy guy in his friends' apartment building that threatened to beat them all with a hammer if they didn't get quiet. It seems there's a lot of stressed people here.
For example, there's a guy that occasionally stands across the street from my apartment building that's already snapped. He stands out there and abuses a recorder in a way that recalls 3rd grade music concerts. He doesn't have a hat or anything to put money in, and a residential area would be a rather unprofitable place to do street performance anyway. I think he's trying to hitch a ride from passing aliens. All I know is that when I'm outside at the same time he is, I have to be grateful for the fact that he attracts all the "wtf" looks that are usually reserved for me.

Okay, so I've already told you that you get stares for eating on the street, but especially for eating in the bus or on the metro. Eating in public transport is considered to be very bad manners. So of course on my way back from a bar in Malasana last night, I was thrilled to see a guy succumbing to his hunger and eating a Natilla on the metro. I was shaking so hard from silent laughter that I actually got another guy sitting catty corner to me to start cracking up with me. Laughing with strangers about stupid things is definitely one of my favorite things to do on public transport. I was drunk and slap happy when I got on the last train a little before 2am, and for some reason I found the couple across from me making out to be hilarious. I sat there fighting my great internal merriment and biting my lip until this other guy wandered onto the metro and sat down on the next set of seats down from me. While I had been laughing at the couple, I made brief eye contact a few times with the guy that was sitting on the next set of seats down from them, and kept trying not to laugh audibly. So when the new guy entered with a bag of groceries and started looking around meticulously for the cleanest seat of the four immediately available to him, I started laughing even harder, even though it really wasn't all that funny. I had to look away for a bit to control myself, and then when I couldn't resist watching Meticulous Man anymore (thinking "what normal but strange activity will he be doing now?"), I looked back to find him rummaging through his grocery bag and pulling out a natilla (pudding cup thing) and a spoon, and cracking it open right there for all to see. I also saw my partner in laughing-at-stupid-things-on-the-metro-at-2am basically lose it as we watched Meticulous Man close his eyes in ecstasy as he devoured his natilla in public, one careful spoonful at a time. I seriously almost felt like I had walked in on him and his pudding. Sadly, we reached my stop halfway through the natilla and I had to get off before the natilla-eater could entertain my fellow laugher and I with more mundane activities, but it was the most stupidly funny thing I've laughed at in a long time.

Oct. 21st, 2009

It got cold here very suddenly. On the plus side, it really feels like fall. On the down side, the rain makes it rather difficult to do laundry. There are so many things about the way the US celebrates fall that makes it bitching awesome: pumpkin pie, apple picking, brilliantly colored leaves. The American store is currently out of canned pumpkin, so I really hope they get some before November. Otherwise I'm not sure what I will do. Be warned, pumpkin-shunners. Also, the leaves do change colors here, but the pallate is a rather unexceptional mix of ashy yellows, oranges, and browns.

And with the drop in temperature comes the rise in colds. One of the girls I work with has been fighting a cold for a week, and I finally succumbed to feeling a bit ill yesterday afternoon. I set out to grab a bottle of zinc, orange juice, and thread. I found out at the pharmacy that selling zinc separated into little pills of its own is unheard of in this country, but that they are really happy to sell you any sort of effervescent tablet. I've been dropping them into my orange juice, and they're extremely tasty that way, as they make the juice a bit fizzy and more citrusy. Also, the thread has been successfully used for emergency pants surgery (you can't call it sewing the violent and haphazard way I do it; it's more like surgery circa 1509), and that pair of pants I somehow ripped on a bus seat are wearable again.

The weather has driven me indoors, so nothing really unusual to report outside of Halloween planning. I wonder if anyone I know will bother hosting a Halloween party here? The kids are really looking forward to it (although they don't do anything like trick-or-treating until Christmas), I suspect largely because it means they don't have to work hard and they get candy. They also get the language assistants making asses of themselves in costumes. What's not to love?

They drove me a little crazy today. I've never had a greater urge to give up improving their English and simply translate things into Spanish, nor to rope them all together to a single desk and walk away. Oh, children, children. You outnumber me 20 to 1 and are making exceptional use of your strength in numbers.

Until later.

Oct. 13th, 2009

Well, I haven't been up to much lately, just teaching at the school. The teacher I work with the most was out sick last week, so I was making up the lesson as I went along. The first graders are incredibly active. No one is ever seated at the same time, and it's tricky to work with their short attention span during lessons. The third graders have caught on that I at least speak some Spanish because I was sometimes in the room with a teacher that didn't speak any English. Tricky little devils. I really love my third graders, though. I spend most of the day with them, and I think I'm slowly earning their respect (if not their silence!).

This past weekend I spent some time in one of the huge and beautiful parks here, El Retiro, and stayed out until 7:30. We had yesterday off for Columbus Day, which is also the Saint's Day for the town where I teach. For them, the day is less about the discovery of the America's than about Spanish pride and achievement.

I ran out of cereal, so it was imperative that I restock my groceries yesterday (I'm a cereal addict). In regards to cereal in Spain, they don't have the kind of variety I've become accustomed to (i.e., they have Honey Nut Cheerios, but not the regular kind), but they do have every kind of Special K imaginable. In their favor, they make it better. Red berries actually includes more than one kind of red berry, and in fact is a scrumptious combination of dried cherries, raspberries, and strawberries. On my way to the store, I was amused to realize that the woman sitting next to me on the metro was fanning herself vigorously while reading a Scottish Highlander harlequin romance. Apparently the sexual appeal of the kilt is universal.

Oct. 2nd, 2009

Well today has been a day full of minor annoyances. It seems I can't open a bank account at the BBVA near me without a NIE or a NIE application stamped by the police, neither of which I have, because our program collected all our documents to apply for our NIEs in a nice big group so we could get appointments faster. I have no idea when I'm going to get my NIE, nor how to figure out how to access information on how the application is going. I know we won't get the little NIE cards until December. The program requires us to open a bank account, however, within 30 days of teaching so they can start depositing our paychecks. Supposedly, we should be able to open a temporary bank account at Santander or at BBVA with just a passport, but the guy at the branch near me apparently didn't get that memo. I guess I'll go to the BBVA up on Gran Via to see if I get a different response.

I was dumb at the grocery and could barely carry it all back. Stupid, stupid, stupid. At least I got some good deals on some things, and I have a hair dryer again.a

And I discovered I have no idea how the washing machine works. I can read everything on the machine fine, but I have no idea what the units mean. I have options for Cotton 90, Cotton 60, Cotton 30, etc, but I know from what Marcos told me that those are not directly correlated with time or with temperature (even in Farenheit). I picked a setting, and it kept washing with no apparent end in sight. So I went over and manually tried to rinse, spin, and drain it. I seriously doubt if all the soap is out of my towels, and I have no idea why the machine won't do these things automatically. Surely Marcos would have mentioned something when I asked him the other day? It's a good thing I tried it out on towels, let me tell you. However, it also is not doing much to solve the problem that I haven't done laundry for almost two weeks, and I'm getting a little low on clothes. You don't dry your clothes here, you hang them, so I need ample time to get the laundry washed and hung before I can wear it.

Andrea has been here all day, but I don't know if she's working from home or what. She's been in her room talking on the phone, and I'm afraid to go in and ask her to fix this infernal machine for me.

There's not even a real language barrier going on here (a little bit at the bank), and I'm irritated. Work, clothes washer, work! I am about to commence yelling at inanimate objects.

Sep. 27th, 2009

I am so pathetic. I keep looking through photos of the people I miss and sighing. When did I get so dull?

On the plus side, I bought presents today! Ooooooh!

Okay, so it's been a semana. Whut.

Hi there! I've been in Spain for a week, and haven't updated here. (Sorry!) To be fair, I have been writing things up on my laptop since I moved into my landlady's house, and it doesn't have a wifi connection here. Before that, I was running around looking at apartments, so nyah. Let me break down what I've done so far for you, bypassing the overly detailed account I've been writing on that other machine.

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Sep. 10th, 2009

Oh right! So I'm going back to Spain in a week to teach little children English for 8 months. It's sort of slipped my mind to post it here, and a little bit in my non-virtual world. I haven't packed anything yet. I haven't even made a list. I've only compiled a few of my childhood videos to entertain little childrens and see if they're still using VHS in the classroom. Also, my program does not handle housing, and I won't know where I'm living until I call strangers up who have posted ads for roommates once I'm there and scurrying about hostels. Glorious adventure!

Aug. 25th, 2009

Livejournal,were it not for your flashy little icons and pretty layouts, you would be dead to me. But I have to have an excuse to use these things. Damn! Damn you.