26 January 2011

Bald Spanish Angel, Ceramic Jesus

Poco a poco, this is starting to feel like home. I only use my map discretely now, and I have mastered the city bus system. More specifically, I have mastered the use of the bus route to and from school, and only this route. I still haven’t found the best bars, though. Last week we ended up at this place in which my two friends and I were three of seven people present. (The thing is, they offered us free mojitos—we’ll take what we can get.) One of those seven people was wearing a white jumpsuit and watching himself salsa dance (alone) in front of a mirror. If that isn’t a freaky enough image, the whole bar was lit by a blacklight, so he was eerily glowing in my peripheral vision the whole time like a creepy, bald Spanish angel. Needless to say, we downed our mojitos and immediately got the fuck out of there, which is probably poor etiquette.
Anyway. The most important thing you need to know about my life in Spain may be this: there is a store next to my apartment building that has the weirdest shit displayed in the window. By “weird shit,” I mean glass owls and eagles, ornate wax unicorns (and other mystical creatures), and ceramic crucified Jesuses (Jesi? What’s the plural form of Jesus?) all on the same shelf.

Classes at the language center continue to progress at roughly a fifth-grade level. Once University classes start I will probably weep daily, though, so for now—no complaints. This is bliss. 

My friend Maura and I are in the process of developing ideas for calendars. So far, our most popular idea has been “Babies in Danger,” which would feature happy, giggling babies playing in dangerous settings, like in a pile of garbage; next to a pack of wolves; holding electric wires, a rifle, or knives; or in traffic. Our second idea is “Crying in Bars”--each month would be a picture of us crying in a bar or club, or at a party-- and our most recent idea is “Constipated in Cafes,” which needs no explanation. I have yet to pitch this idea to Maura, but I also like the sound of “Pregnant in Post Offices,” which would show pregnant women mailing packages. “Puppies Afloat” is another possibility.

22 January 2011

My Greatest Fear

Before I round the corner of Camino de Ronda, I see the plumes of smoke climb into the Andalusian sky, and I smell burning Spanish leather. As I cross the street, I see the apartment building on fire, and Pepita clutching Natalia outside of the sidewalk, looking at me with fierce anger. The gas station down the street will explode at any moment. People are screaming, crying, searching for their loved ones, and with quivering bowels, I think to myself, “Shit. I left the space heater on.”
Apartments in Spain don’t have central heating because it’s apparently stifling hot in the summer, so returning to class to find my apartment building on fire is my greatest fear. There’s a little stove that fits under the table to warm your feet while you eat dinner, and there is a space heater in my room so I don’t develop any illnesses or lose toes in the nighttime por el frio. As soon as I arrived to my first class last week, my tummy fluttered with dread, : surely, I had forgotten to turn off my space heater. I was convinced that when I returned home from class, a scene like that described in the first paragraph would greet me, and I would be jailed, kicked out of school, responsible for third-degree burns and possibly a couple deaths, and taken away from Spain, never to live with another host family again. I would make international news and shame whatever glory Darren Criss, Lucy Liu, and James Earl Jones brought to the University of Michigan combined. I would be put in an asylum and be forced to wear a straight jacket in a room without a thermostat so I couldn’t burn anything else. I would never be allowed in a national park because I may start forest fires. I would not be welcome in any Yankee Candle establishment, Gas station, bookstore, or firework vender. (Though honestly, I wouldn’t have a problem with being banned from any of those places, save for the bookstore.) This fear has propelled me to become obsessed with unplugging the space heater (and all other electronics, for that matter) as soon as I turn it off. This act of responsibility is unprecedented. I’m a changed human. Aren’t you proud?


Well well well, I’ve been in Granada for a little over a week, and so far, so good. I have a forty-minute walk to school, which will be excellent for my legs, heart, and overall well-being, and I see the Sierra Nevada mountains daily.  The Andalusian accent is, well, really fucking difficult. The letters  “s” and “d” have been absent since my arrival, as have several other consonants if they fall at the end of a word. The elderly especially love to use as few letters as possible. What I thought to be Español is E’pañ’o. When my host mom asks if I want more food (to which I usually say no, and she endearingly puts an adolescent male athlete-sized portion on my plate anyway), she does not ask, “Quieres más comida?” but “Quiere’ má’ comi’a?” I would equate the Andalusian accent to Hagrid’s British accent: “All righ’, Harry?”

Meet my Señora, or host mom: Pepita, seventy-year old extraordinaire who gives me obscene amounts of food and constantly yells. “QUIERE MA’ COMI’A? AY, SI, SI COME MA’! UN POQUI’O MA’!” (Translation: “DO YOU WANT MORE FOOD? AH, YES, YES, EAT MORE. JUST A LITTLE MORE!” If I didn’t walk two hours a day, she would make me rather plump. Joining us daily is Natalia, Pepita’s nine-month-old granddaughter. In general, I am not fond of infants, but Natalia is the cutest goddamn baby in Andalucía, y por eso, no pasa nada. The rest of Pepita’s family must share similar sentiments, because they go ape shit over this baby. My first day at the house, Pepita’s two daughters visited, along with her two other grandchildren, and her sister-in-law. With Natalia as the primary recipient of the action and affection, the two grandmothers began to yell in tandem and dance, while the two daughters (who are in their thirties) jumped up and down clapping, and the grandchildren shouted, “Na-ta-li-a! Na-ta-li-a!” while running around. I, the awkward foreigner, sat on the couch smiling politely, not really sure what my role in this family was yet. I still don’t know what my role is, but I held Natalia for a bit today. I’m afraid to talk to her because I do not want to impede her language development by letting her hear my horrid Spanish.  Nonetheless, I eat lunch with Pepita and Natalia and Emi, Pepita’s daughter, every day. Usually Natalia giggles and dances and puts forth a valiant effort in eating wooden puzzle pieces.  

If we were in an interview right now, and you asked me what my greatest challenges have been, I would respond the following way: Adjusting to the accent, adjusting to the eating and lack-of-sleeping schedule (Spanish days do not end—instead, they melt into one another continually), learning my way around (If you’re wondering where I am at any given point, I’m probably lost), and using the shower in a way that does not flood the bathroom (self-explanatory).

I’ve already addressed the accent issue, but furthermore, I need to stop writing and speaking English with my American counterparts. My Literary Quote of the Day on iGoogle once was, “To be fully alive in the present moment, you must die to every other moment.” (Or something to that affect.)  Here, to be fully living and learning Spanish, I need to let English die. I need to quit cold-turkey. Murder it in cold blood. Or do something else using some other metaphor that involves cold temperatures. I need to let it go. The Spanish language is my one true love, and I am cheating on it with English-- that minx.

12 January 2011

In transit, indefinitely

A glimpse of the city. Note the mountains en el fond
After two days of transit, I am in Granada and it smells good and there is sunlight and I have spent the day exploring ancient cobblestone gypsy streets. This place is beauty itself. The transition here was not so beautiful, but thrilling in its own way. I nearly pooped my pants (twice) on the way to Chicago, then found out my flight from DC to Madrid was cancelled. I ended up flying directly to Frankfurt, Germany from Chicago. Never before have I woken up one morning not knowing I would be in Germany by the day's end. Life's great like that.

The flight to Frankfurt was unquestionably the longest goddamn eight hours of my life, though I would like to commend non-U.S. based airlines for giving away wine like breath mints. I also had the fortune to sit next to someone who abruptly turned to me three hours into the flight to show me pornographic German music videos. Read in German accent: "You hear of Rammstein?" "No..." "Oh you're missing out! They're the most famous German band! Want to see?" "Um, okay." "This song's called...pussy."
Oh yeah, and there was a woman on the plane dressed from the shoulders down in pristine white fur. She looked identical to an albino baby chick. Not that I've seen many of those.

I and two others battled the Metro in Madrid, bused across the country, and arrived to our hostel shortly after midnight. We promptly dropped our bags, deodorized ourselves thoroughly, and went exploring. We ended up in an Irish pub where everyone was American and the bartender didn't even try speaking Spanish with us. (In our defense, it was the only place open.) Today, in the sunlight, we meandered through winding streets uphill, no plan, no time limit, no goal except to feel and be alive, and sit in Tapas bars in the afternoon.

We encountered a man tonight who stopped in the middle of the street in search of the moon. I trust those who stop to see the moon. I love not seeing English words anywhere, but men with dreadlocks everywhere. Already I can the feel this life without scheduled restaurant hours seeping into me. And bleu cheese is abundant. Thank god.

06 January 2011

Ready? OK!

Journal #1: Wonder
Alright, so I'm not actually in Spain yet, but I have another preliminary note to discuss: Journals.
Journals are perhaps the most essential part of any journey. I take them very seriously, and therefore I take great care to find journals with blank covers so I can adorn them as I see fit. There is something so satisfying, so thrilling, about filling a journal with words, perhaps because it's the same process as raising a child, minus the mess. It is creation at its finest, its most primitive. Throughout my childhood, I was obsessed with notebooks. Notebooks, bags, and dogs.

My Spain journey will be broken up into three different journals, each with a different theme. Since Wonder is maybe the most important thing on the planet, it takes the lead. I would like to extend a special thanks to the following: Robbie, for providing the string with which the journal is tied; a 1968 National Geographic, from which I extracted the cover picture; 709 Lawrence's coffeetable, from which I took the National Geographic; and the year 2008, which was a prolific time for scrapbooking, and provided me with many fun paper patterns. (See Journal #2)

On a side note, I've barely begun to pack, and my greatest concern right now is what books to bring that are both light for packing and quality in content. Justin Beiber's Autobiography and the Left Behind series are out of the question, but I'm open to other suggestions. Therefore, dear reader, what do you suggest?? Right now I plan on bringing my Lonely Planet guidebook, and an anthology of humor writing from the New Yorker that I stole from my brother's bookshelf, which he was reading in early high school, but I was too much of an asshole to appreciate then: I was spending my Friday nights on the sidelines of my high school's football stadium doing back handsprings that made my palms bleed and doing toe-touches until my navy blue spankies began to chafe uncomfortably at my panty line. 

Three more days. Ready? OK!
Journal #2
(Back Cover)