Saturday, December 16, 2006

Thanksgiving in Paris
Tristan and Christine

Merry upcoming Christmas, resplendent familiars. I've been about: Paris, Madrid, Sevilla/Matalascañas, Madrid. I'll write about the others later, and about Paris now.

Paris was another alternately fitful and pleasant trip. Happiness in friendship and proximity and conversation and strange beautiful civilization, but fretfulness in that I lost a little money, a little time, a little myself in those twisty underlabeled streets.

The night before my flight I thanksgiving dined with th’ program, and left from the restaurant to the airport. My flight, see, left at 5:45 am, and the metro closes sometime after one and doesn’t open until six am. I thus had to choose between taking a pricey taxi or sleeping in the airport, and since I had chosen said ridiculous flight because it cost less than 40 euro roundtrip, and the taxi would have cost about that much, I opted to sleep in the airport.

I was in good company! Students were sleeping all over the terminal floor, sprawled over their luggage. There were two girls sitting barefoot on their suitcases, a circle of boys playing poker; there were hippies with huge backpacks. I heard snatches of all sorts of conversations I couldn’t understand, as well as Spanish and English in several accents. A friend of mine was taking the same flight, but since his spanish-girlfriend-with-car was driving him, he didn’t arrive until four something. However, amazingly, a girl from my Religions class showed up with a group of friends. They’re from the Canary Islands, and have nice breathy/chewy accents. We talked and napped hard on the floor, and when we awoke, we’d been attacked by leprechauns?

Irish people are the only tourists more obnoxious than U.S.Americans, but because I’m US and they’re them it never bothers me.

Anyway, I took a shuttle to Christine’s pretty neighbourhood—the shuttle costs more than the bus, but it drops you off at your specific address. I mean, it's supposed to. They dropped me off several blocks away, in the drizzle, directionless with my luggage and complete inability to even pronounce the name of Christine's street. Chrstine was in class, thus not answering her phone, and ummmmm I had forgotten what it was like to Not Speak a language and have no translator. In fact, I haven’t really even had that experience. In Germany, Mexico, Spain, I’ve had enough of the language to ask where and when, and to at least be able to pronounce place names, and in France I’d had Hannahla to translate. Here I was just lost.

So I wandered weepily, eventually found a map, and found my way to, at least, the café in front of Christine’s house. It was cosy and lovely, soupy and bready and coffee. Christine called me—oh joy—and fully aware of the adorableness of her own life, told me to kick open the gate and climb in her window. Déjà vu is a french term, mmhm. So I did, and she’d left dark chocolate and loving notes on her bed. I had also brought her chocolate, but I busied myself with her candy and clothes.

Christine’s room, no matter where on earth it is, is always a favorite place of mine. There’s a blurry photo of me, in homage to the one she took of herself the same mirror.

It’s a lovely house, and her host mother and sister (japanese one…didn’t meet the french one) are smart sweet people. We had a wonderful second (for me) Thanksgiving dinner. Christine cooked huge amounts of delicious food, and Tristan provided that traditional thanksgiving chicken. Isabelle, who speaks English and Spanish and I think German and uh French, provided excellent dessert, and (I’ve forgotten everyone’s name, so we’ll go by nationality) Japanese Sister, British Friend and I just ate and radiated light.

The next day Twistan-Chwistine had class AGAIN (they’d already skipped enough that they couldn’t skip to hang out with me, tut tut) so I went the REALLY STUPENDOUS Picasso Museum in Maret or Marat or something like that. It’s gorgeous. I think it contains his personal collection, so, scrumptious.

I then got lost for three hours trying to get back, but I got back. We ate cheese and bread and went to a weird electronica concert along the Seine, v. fun.

The next day we went to Piere Lachaise, the huge famous graveyard, and did not see Gertrude Stein’s grave (or Jim Morrison’s). We talked about death, grief, pomp, piety, fear. We spent too much time in the graveyard and for the rest of the trip I felt like the perpetually blackjacketed parisians were in fact mourning [what? paris past?].

Christine was cute the whole trip

But Tristan and I remained unapologetically unphotogenic

They were good to me, good to me, and I left happy and well fed and dazed and my laptop charger in Christine’s room.

Monday, November 20, 2006

I have eight forms of photo id now, but don't worry! I only carry five of them on a daily basis.

Anyhow, I went to Toledo again this weekend, with a friend whose family lives there. It was amazing to me, because my problem enjoying Toledo the other time was that it felt like Disneyland: made to please visitors; not inhabited. Of course, the other time I'd only been in the historic zone, and Valle and her family live in the modern, but we did wander the olden streets Saturday evening. We sat in the same place in front of the cathedral where Matt and Julia and I had eaten marzipan, only this time we were waiting for Valle to finish her cursed cigarrette. Oh grief I am going to leave Spain with a year of second-hand smoke in my poor baby lungs. Valle, María José, not to mention everyone in Spain. We also passed by the same café Matt and Julia and I had hovered around waiting for seats to empty out, the only cafeteria nearby with a menu in Spanish only..
Valle was an enjoyably terrible guide. We had to find a map, and she didn't know what most of the buildings were for or the statues were of. I was content wondering, but she would point them out and then realize she didn't know. Pretty much like me on the Claremont colleges. I know the layout like the back of this cliché, but uh I don't really go in those buildings, but they're definitely important? It was like that.

Hm. It's true, though. Old Toledo is made for me. During the night, as the kids are drinking under the huge walls and going to the same several bars (it's a small town, really), there are men with huge hoses washing the streets clear of trash and vomit, leaving everything ghost-town clean. There are so many places the cars can't park during the day, so many stores selling suits of armor and other ridiculous things. We're doing something wonderful personally, as tourists, but we're doing harm culturally. I do mean those tacky shops.

It's this, you know? Any culture has to keep changing, rebelling against itself, letting in new things, tearing down. The problem with we tourists is that we come in search of the typical, the most typical possible, usually more of the past than the present, usually more imaginary than not, but stifling any way you look at it. Places like Barcelona which are famous more for being beautiful and alive with art may survive tourism better than places famous for their stone and marzipan.

Well hm. But I take it all too seriously. Valle and I walked through a charming ancient tunnel and she told me her mother's car got stuck there once. Just as much a crime to drive a car through (or half the way through, as it may be) as to insist that cars not be driven through.
What I mean to say is that I really liked my weekend. It's nice to have been asked over; nice, once there, to be asked to stay longer. Good to know that Valle and I do get along outside of class, and that her friends and I like eachother. Oh, and really good to be shown, by Valle and her (adorable) friend Elena, what they claim is a fossilzed chicken stuck in one of the ancient toledan walls. I have a better picture where the claw also shows, but uh please take a look and tell me what that thing is.

Plus! How are yous?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

We all have words which have become instincts. Curses, exclamations. Because they're instinctual, they don't translate. My program director says Wow when you talk to her in Spanish. A lot of U.S. students here drop Likes or You Knows in their otherwise-spanish sentences. We all curse in English when we stub our toes. (Grandma! I've met some nice girls from St. Mary's!) I'm not sure why, because I don't thiiiiiink I said it in the U.S., but when I'm astonished here I gulp out "oh-my-gosh."
I said that a LOT in Granada, which is now on my long useless list of Places to Live Forever.

If you ignore Matt and Julia and I, this is a really pretty picture. If you don't ignore us, um, your loss? Seriously, what awfully ugly kids.

The point is, I have a new photo album website, because flickr let me upload about 4 pictures of vibrant captivating Granada. So here:

All about Granada, oh-my-gosh Granada.

In other news! I am being busy! Tomorrow I spend lunch speaking English of all things with a nice talkative girl from my Islam class. The time after that we'll speak Spanish, and so on. Practical!
Thursday I'm actually tutoring (speaking English, but officially) and getting paid a lot. Awesome!
Friday the police will give me permission to live here all year. This is important, but does not merit an exclamation mark.
Monday I take the final for my so-pleasurable Picasso class and fail or fly.
Thursday morning I fly to Paris on the wings of my triumphant Picasso test taking and spend Thanksgiving in the romance capital of the world. I've had my Thanksgivings in the funniest places, since I left home.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Online photo album:

I wanted a beauuuutiful blog, but I think I'll have to settle for a beautifully written blog (ah ha ha) and a separate-but-beautiful flickr account. I've got too many photos and too many problems uploading them. So here! Photos!

Beautiful red cold Burgos.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Family mine,
Sorry for not writing in a million years. I've tried, but had a lot of trouble uploading pictures. Why oh why?

In the meantime, Friends, Elen has a well-written blog, very elegant, will make you want to live in Berlin:

Berliner Bare

So there's that. I just got back from Granada, which was truly lovely, and I promise to tell you how everything is soon.

much love,

Monday, October 16, 2006

Alcalá de Henares

Julieta and I made two trips last weekend, one to Alcalá de Henares, and one to Ávila. I'd like to say I'm sticking around Madrid this weekend, buuuut I'm going to Burgos with SIJA, a university group. I don't really like joining clubs, groups with paid membership, etc, but membership is part of the AYA program. It's probably a good idea, because it will put me in nodding acquaintaince with more Spanish students.

Right. Alcalá de Henares:

The buildings have huge birdnests on top. They are so huge and perfect, placed at the very peaks of the rooftops, secure, absurd. I wondered if the city PUT them there, they are so perfect.

Julia and I then stumbled upon the house Cervantes was born in. There was a room full of different editions of Don Quixote, including one illustrated by Salvador Dali (like the amazing bible in the chapel at Bard. Oh I have thumbed carefully through that, have I ever).

'nother nest.

Not pictured: Julia and I eating fantastic truffles.

Soon to be pictured: Ávila. Then Burgos. Then dinner. I took a photo of dinner once, and now whenever María José makes anything slightly interesting she calls "Sophia, you can take a photo and eat dinner now." Look, I take pictures because I like writing captions, okay? Okay.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Last weekend we "did". Toledo is a big once-holy stone of a tourist trap, and I admit I enjoyed being able to goggle at everything and take pictures without feeling self-conscious.
Toledo has a fascinating history which you can read about on Wikipedia, and many beautiful sights which you can find with a google image search, but I'll tell you this and I'll show you these.

This: Toledo has three cool religious backgrounds and a motto. Islam, Judaism, and Christianity all, uh, chipped in (I'm trying not to use the words "rich" or "melting pot") to make it a great old ancient, uh, place. I mean, nowadays it's very disneylandesquely full of shops selling suits of armor and punny t-shirts, but really, after my experience at Auschwitz* I will never be shocked by touristy tactlessness ever again.

[*My german class stepped off the bus, all grim-faced and ready to tour the worst of the concentration camps, and the first thing we saw?: "McDonalds Welcomes You to Auschwitz." They really, honestly made a sign saying that. Golden arches and all.]

Anyway, despite the plague of people such as me, there were also: really tall walls!

Roman author Titus Livius was the first to write about Toledo. He called it a "small fortificated town." I learned this from The Internet.
Anyway, narrative. We look up!

We walk around the corner and look up and across! Lo! A castle shineth forth! It is on the map, though not in the guidebook!

It is not in the guidebook because it is being used as a youth hostel! One cannot enter the garden without a key!
A youth exits, leaving the hostel door ajar. We trespass!

We look across the way. Why did we leave that beautiful place?

Why, to take better pictures! Right, I'm tired of the narrative! Here are pigeons in pigeonholes.

Toledo, besides being holy, is famous for its marzipan. We ate that box in one sitting, America.

It's about time to mention that the motto of Toledo is, and I learned this from María Jose's sister, "Either you crush the stone, or the stone crushes you."
Catchy! Here's Matt, crushed.

Here's Julia (hoo-lee-yah), fortified by marzipan.

There are two gorgeous 14th century synagogues in Toledo we wanted to go to. We made it to the first, Sinagoga del Tránsito, which contains the Museum of Sephardic Judaism. Informative! Here are the windows of the synagogue not letting you see anything else:

And here they are surrounded by their surroundings. Oh the difference, the difference between one step back and two steps forward:

The garden across the street from the synagogue Santa Maria la Blanca (terribly tragically clos-ed when we arrived), taken from the uh negative space of the wrought-iron fence keeping us out.

And here, the holiest part of Madrid: The Nun Café. We didn't enter, but this is my favorite part of the window display: a Mama Nun freaking out that her little baby nuns have been baked into cookies.

Lovely weird painting of Toledo by th' Greco. Off center because there was a tall man with his arms crossed Experiencing it for the whole twenty or so minutes I spent in that little room.

You see, kidsl, we have to leave beautiful places. That's the other half of traveling.

"Bye, Toledo."
"Bye, man. Come by sometime, see the synagogue, you know."

Thankfully, there's an AYA trip to Toledo next semester, when I'll be the fluentesque cosmopolitan member of the group, instead of the one who's only had one year of Spanish and always loses her keys.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Madrid is a great city in which to be carless. The metro is clean(-er than restaurants, bars, my hair), brightly colored, and easily navigable. There are cheap flights, bright green buses (other colors also available), comfortable trains, and oh, oh, ten minutes walk from my house there is the Atocha train station. Or rather, there is the forest inside the Atocha train station.

Really lovely, larger than it looks here, turtles in the pond, and, this week, an exhibition of photos and biographies of women rebels, titled "Women in Jail." Women who resisted Franco, women who fought on the battlefield, English suffragettes. I didn't have to time read most of it (see the blue thingums that the people are reading from? That's the beginning of the exhibition, which continues twisting through the "jungle,") but there was a lovely foreward which I photographed (in Spanish, so I won't put it up here), which talked about how rarely acknowledged most of this history is. It contained one of the many references to the gender system of the Spanish language. One of the many lies I was told about Spanish was that nobody thinks about the genders of the words. This is absolute nonsense. Even on that vapid American Idolesque show I watch with Maria Jose, it's come up. Male is the default for words that go both ways, such as the martyrs* of the resistance to Franco, and the thesis of the exhibition was that historians, like the Spanish language, tend to ignore the contributions of women.

I was there yesterday, waiting for an hour (Madrid is a terrible city in which to be carless) to get three train tickets to Toledo, where I felt very litte, but took lots of pictures. I will post them! I'm doing well.

*That is, if you are speaking of a male martyr, you call him "el mártir." A group of male martyrs is "los mártires." A female martyr is "la mártir," and a group of female martyrs is "las mártires," but a group of male and female martyrs would be "los mártires," every time.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Pictures taken by me . . . of me! For you!

The cheap pants! The jacket! I'm blurry!

The new sweater! (me wearing white?) (me looking very sweet?)

The new jacket! I've a very superior expression in this picture because I was thinking how greener-than-grass my jacket was. However, the lighting in my room is vicious and it looks blah green.

The new attitude! This is a picture of my FEELINGS.

Love yous!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

So, as I promised, I didn't take any pictures of La Noche en Blanco, but I'll tell you what. Didn't see the damn puppets. Nor the circuses. Nor did I get into any museums- the plan (my plan) was to finish the morning-side of night wandering blearily around the Prado, perhaps collapsing on a bench in front of something gorgeous to shock my eyes open while relieving my poor feet. However! The museums closed at 3:00. Matt, Julia and I spent most of the night shouldering through street parties in search of people-we-might-be-meeting? and I-think-there's-an-outside-concerts, and we did eventually meet up with people-we-might-be-meeting?, and they were ducks. Look, I know I don't say "ducks," much, and nobody does, but their just isn't a word in Spanish like "duck." I have to write it here and mouth it to myself. It is a solace.

Back to all La Noche etc.: We actually didn't have an officially sanctioned Cultural Experience until the v. early morning (la madrugada), about 7ish, but (I am typing with one hand so I can entertain (torture?) the cat by whapping her big pink ribbon around with the other. Remember the way the girl in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" swordfought while sipping her tea? That way. Just as Ninja Miss Manners taught us) it was worth it (oho! forgot I was in the middle of a sentence, did you? Go back and read it again!). Or maybe it just felt like it was worth it because we were all so exhausted. Well, I felt happy, and I'm not sure one can have felt happy without having been happy, as happiness is a feeling an' all. Anyhow, there was music in the park as the sun came up, and even though we were exhausted we hippie danced a little. I mean, barely. I tried, but ooh, tired, sore, chilly. Hey, they say "chill out" in Spain. "Cheel out," really. It's a style of music.

They also have a show on the model of American Idol, "Operación Triunfo." Operation Triumph, to put it vulgarly. The first thousand times I heard it mentioned I thought people were talking military politics.

Oh, yeah, La Noche en Blanco. I did take one picture. Not of the crowded boozy streets, nor the monuments lit startling colors, no, nor the park nor the sunrise over the lake, nor the musicians, nor the dancers. Nor the chocolate with churros we ate at 8:00 in the morning, in a café full of similarly cheerful all-nighters, though I'm sure we were a sight to see.

I DID take a picture of one of the buildings across the street from me, one block down. It's a newish, boring building, but the sun at 8:00 am is a grace, and it gives you an idea of my neighbourhood.

Too bad these color-coordinated chicas aren't walking toward it this second. Though really, it's not my building, and I'm one of them, so we'd have to be pretttty confused. Also, I don't want a big ugly New York City street cutting through the buildings in this new-but-cosy corner of Madrid.

This morning M.J. promised to throw me out if I keep being deaf, and (many minutes later) to throw the cat out if she keeps getting fat. In Spanish those adjectives rhyme (sorda, gorda), and I was spooked that she could repeat a threat, rhyme it, and not notice. People do often think in nursery rhymes. Violent, illogical, ultimately charming for virtue of their repetetive musicality and familiarity. Well, our thoughts don't always achieve musicality, but violence, illogic, repetetition . . .oof, time for bed.

Also, here they say "uf."

Friday, September 22, 2006

Th' Language

Spanish people use the phrase "the whole world" to mean everyone in the room, both in conversation and in print. They also use "for the best" the way we use "for the worst;" this can be scary.

Spanish speakers are as heartless as Americans about their language. "Limphogar" is my favorite worst business name: limpiar/hogar: to clean/house: housecleaning. Limphogar. Hideous, even considering that the "p" is hard and the "h" silent.

The slang and the Bad Word, called "tacos," which is stupid, are very enjoyable, though. Very expressive.

"Porfa-please" M. José said to me the other day. "That's Spanglish."

La Noche en Blanco

Tomorrow night should be really fun. On the bread-and-circuses model, Madrid is having a night of free cultural attractions. Museums open until seven in the morning, guided tours of theaters, circuses. No bread, I lied about the bread. We might not even have time to eat dinner if we go to what I want to see, which is "Merma nuncamuere," a homage to Miró using giant puppets he designed. I will definitely not take pictures, but someone will, and they will post them on the internet, and I will link you up.

Also I miss you all very much.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

In The Land of the Kuchen-Eaters

Leetle Jaya is doing some awesome German blog rocking, too,
french press

Beautiful Christine has started her year-in-France blog, though she be in Dover so far.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Hi, duckies. María José called me a "gansa" today, and if I must be a goose you must be ducks.

Anywez, as I was not saying before, I had nice tourist day in El Escorial, with Anna-Julia-Matt-my memories. The people of El Escorial built a statue of a robot with a camera to mock me.

The castle, which is not actually a castle, at El Escorial is sort of ugly on a gray day, so I'm not going to show you what it looked like. This isn't a blog about the truth, it's about the beauty. Speaking of beauty and truth, here's a good illusion for you.

It's not a door, it's part of a panel of a door. Flat, smooth, but made of different wood tones to create this lovely door-on-a-door affect. To adorn this door with more door. Forgive me. It's beautiful, I mean. One panel of one door. Click on it, I encourage you.

I start my fake classes tomorrow. That is, the classes with only american students, the "high advanced" (re:intermediate*) language class, the Spanish Lit. course.

*Really, I feel so schmoozed. There are five levels, the lowest of which is Intermediate. To give you an example of the schmooziness of that: I have been taking Spanish one year, know only about 3/4 the verb forms and am constantly transgendering my nouns, and am in the middlest level, "high advanced."

The way my schedule is in my mind, I'll be taking those two classes, two humanities classes (Islam, Contemporary Poetry of Spain), and one regular, requirement-fulfilling history class. Three Carlos III credits are four Bard credits. All my classes but the History class are worth three credits; the history is worth six. That's 24 Bard credits of Spanish-language courses in a country without grade inflation. Aaaaaaacch.

Let's talk about food instead. I finally had a café bombon, which is espresso with condensed milk. Aiiiee, la leche, I'm telling you. Do we drink that? Seattle's Best Coffee doesn't sell it, and that's my only coffee expertise. (Confession: I tell people I worked "in a coffee shop," and let them add the little tattoos to my shoulders. SBC, and in the middle of Borders, too. SBC, which is OWNED by Starbucks).

Bocadillos are lunch, sandwiches made with french bread and meat and oil only. We had them for dinner yesterday, to eat in front of "La Importancia de Llamarse Ernesto," and M. José was somewhat doubtful of my choice to slice a tomato onto my bocadillo, rather than simply cutting it in half and wiping the bread with it. I'm just to old and set in my ways to convert into a proper Castillian wench.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

My Crazy European Adventure

If you'd like to see pictures of Madrid, Segovia, Matt+Julia+me, and read heart-feelable descriptions of what it's like to be living abroad, Julia has this above blog.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

My room and company.

Here is María José! I like here a lot. Someday I will tell you a lot more about her, and it will be a treat for us both. For now, know only that she lives alone with her cat and a student (me for now), and that she wears pajamas around the house and very chic formal clothing everywhere else (see above), which is very Spanish of her. The home is absolutely sacred and private (and here I come with my bags and packages), and the street is social.

So this's a terribly dull post about me being alive and disoriented in Madrid and also having a room.

My room is a silly mixture of María José's things and my stuff. Things and stuff just don't mix well, you know? That's her stuffed pink bear gurgling in my coffee bag. Mama, so you know, that's the necklace you bought me pinned up over the Jolie Holland postcard, which, Hannah, so you know, is from the show we went to. Also to Mama: the long colorful postcard is a Henry Darger print which, Rachel, so you know, is the one I bought when we went to the Folk Art Museum the gither.

The Statue of Liberty snow globe, bald porcelain doll head, fan, etc., are not mine - nor is the bag of foodstuffs, which, Mama, so you know, I ate instead of giving to María José. The bag of candied ginger is taking me a while, but by gosh, she's not getting a pedazo. Well, okay, maybe a pedazo. Just because I get to lisp the "z" as I offer it.

I don't actually feel utterly lost in a foreign land yet, but we'll see what happens when classes start. One thing I've already learned from landing here is that I am not the empty collapsible kid I was. Yet. I know the difficult stage of living away is coming, coming, coming.

I know I tell you nothing about Madrid in this post, and sorry. I promise I'll take more pictures, now that I have my camera, and that the things which seem or are so damn quirky about Madrid will eventually be related.

The food is delicious, though repetitive. We were in despair about the lack of vegetables (sandwhich here means fried meat or tortilla between two pieces of french bread, without vegetable or condiment) (tortilla means incredibly delicious omelet) until Julia had the brilliant idea of ordering Gazpacho, which is cheap and delicious and healthy. Now we all eat a lot of Gazpacho.

Matt's a vegetarian, so Spain is a bit difficult for him. His current line is that the only vegetable you can get anywhere in Spain is ham. It isn't really a funny line, but it's true. There's ham pretty much everywhere you look----since I made fun of Matt's joke I'm not going to add any of my own to that.

I can't format anywhere in the world, but here are Matt and Julia (HOO-lee-ah, since we're pretending to be spanish) eating hot chocolate on Julia's birthday. By "eating" I mean eating, and by "hot chocolate" I do actually mean hot melted actual chocolate. Really, come to Madrid.

I know that the main vice of tourism is cuteness, but we're Not Tourists, so it's okay for them to be that. Cute, guys, I'm calling you cute.

Julia studies literature and is going to Oxford next semester. Normally she goes to Catholic University. She is a wonderful girl. Matt studies psychology at Harvard, and is returning next semester. He is a wonderful boy. We eat together all the time, because eating alone/while walking/less than five times a day is not allowed, and we speak only Spanish to each other. This has made us pariahs among the many other U.S. students at Carlos III (about which more much later), and that's probably really good.

Someone asked me today (someone, who knows who) how long I had been in Madrid, and in truth, I had no idea. Only two weeks! Ridiculous + I don't believe it.