El tiempo pasa muy rápido!

Where did the time go?! One day I arrived a stranger in a strange city and the next day I turn around and soon I will depart what has become familiar.

I don’t know exactly when the transformation occurred. Somewhere over the past 17 weeks I went from being the person who asked where everything was and was barely understood and even less understood the answer; to being a person that people ask where things are. The other day a woman asked me: ¿Dónde puedo coger la línea 10? The shock to me was I understood her and even more shocking to me I told her where to go to catch the train and she did not look at me like I had just spoken Greek. I helped a tourist who could not figure out how to pay for the Cercania line (a suburban train system) and told him where to wait on the platform. Random people speak to me, as well as the bus drivers I see every day on my way to SLU or Pozuelo. I know people’s names and the regulars on the bus sit and “charla” with me for our 20 minutes together. I read “20 minutos” every weekday and weekends we visit with friends in the park.

I have not gone half the places I wanted to or accomplished as many goals as I have set out for myself. My book has languished, but I have presented research in Spanish and next week I present a research paper in English in Valencia related to my book project. I am not fluent in Spanish, but I feel confident in my ability to handle situations in the language and I have even debated emotional topics like Gay Marriage, Plastic Surgery, Taxes on the Rich, Religion and Private versus Public Education (more about this one in a future blog) in Spanish.

Most importantly, I have made a few friends. The pictures of the places will be there for the viewing. But holding people in your heart who have helped you navigate the system; invited you to lunch to extend your contacts; shown kindness to your child; made sure that you had something to do on a weekend when you had no idea what to do; shared a box of grits (if you don’t know, don’t ask); allowed you and your child to hang out and watch some TV in English, provided an emergency number “just in case” and patiently conversed with you in Spanish as you developed your communication skills; these are the things that have made my time here special.

And yes, quite frankly, I am ready to come back to the States: to family, to the familiar. But, as I look ahead to the things I want to do in my time that has passed to quickly here I know that there are things and people who I will miss in Madrid.

Published in: on May 28, 2010 at 7:43 pm  Leave a Comment  
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San Isidro y 100 anos de Gran Via

San Isidro is the patron saint of Madrid and the public holiday, which coincides with this festival, was on 15th of May. The festivities started the week before and ended on Sunday, 16th of May with the cooking of an enormous Cocido Madrileño (Madrid’s most traditional dish). Additionally, San Isidro marks the start of the bullfighting season in Madrid.

On the day of May 15th many Madrileños dressed in traditional gear head for Plaza Mayor where there is traditional dancing and open air concerts. Casa de Campo, the large park to the south west of the centre hosts rock concerts during the fiestas and there are varied events throughout the city.

A interesting anecdote regarding Madrid’s traditional dress; In Spanish if someone is described as “chulo” it’s quite a derogatory term meaning that they’re full of themselves. Madrileños are often described as “chulo” by people from other parts of Spain. The name of the traditional Madrileño costume is a “chulapo” which comes from the word “chulo”. Unfortunately, I did not capture pictures of this typical dress with the men wearing a flat check cap, waistcoat and handkerchief around their necks and the women wearing elegant dresses, a head scarf and a shawl, although you can see some in the attached video.

This year, San Isdro coincided with the 100 year anniversary of Gran Via, a large theatre and shopping district that connects Plaza de Espana with Calle de Alcalá.  The street is always busy, any time of day or night. In honor of the 100 year celebration they closed the street down, put down blue carpet and turned the entire district into one big party.  I have been in New York’s Time Square and I believe there where as many people or more on Gran Via the 15th.

The videos shows a concert taking place at Plaza de Espana and the official birthday cake and Broadway show excerpts that honored the theaters on Gran Via. All is was caped off by fireworks at midnight, when most Madrileños just begin to come out to party.

Published in: on May 20, 2010 at 4:15 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Los niños en España son mimados

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The children in Spain are spoiled!!! I know this broad statement is going to get me flack in Spain and the US, but I have overwhelming empirical evidence (I am a professor after all) that children in Spain are indulged to the extreme.  Know let me be clear, “overindulgence” of children’s behavior is tied into all sort of socio-cultural-economic assumptions regarding what is “proper” behavior for a child and parent to engage in, especially in pubic spaces.

I being a Black American of a certain age come from the perspective of “spare the rod, spoil the child”–otherwise known as child abuse in the US now. But, I also understand that the way Black Americans born during the era of enforced segregation and pre-Civil Rights legislation engaged in child rearing practices designed to keep their children alive when they left the house and encountered White people in social situations.  Because incorrect behavior around White people could get you slapped at best and killed at worst (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emmett_Till).  This reality resides in my DNA, my wife’s DNA, and the DNA of all Black parents I know over 40.

It is a little different for White people in the US, who Blacks often look upon as being “overindulgent” with their children (see the comedy routines of most Black comedians, especially Bernie Mac—may he rest in peace).  In fact, their was one incident when my wife and I were coming back from the Tom Joyner cruise several years ago and the child of a White parent was engaging in loud obnoxious behavior on a morning we had all stayed up the night before enjoying the festivities.  Finally, the mother swatted the child on his rear and the entire line (several hundred strong) broke out in applause!

But, even by normal US White people standards, whom believe in “timeouts” and maintaining children’s “self-esteem”, Spanish kids are spoiled.  On the metro, at a restaurant, in the supermarket children can be seen “wilding” and the most they will receive is a smile not only from the parent, but too from the adult the kid almost knocked over.  I see parents walking their kids to school in the morning and THE PARENTS ARE CARRYING THE KIDS BACKPACKS! Dominique asked me once why I did not carry her backpack and I gave her one of those looks that quickly told her “don’t even think about trying to go there with me”.

I have noticed an extreme patience with children and Spaniards seem attracted to children, even when they are not thier own.  Countless people (strangers) have reached down and touched Dominique’s cheek, looked in her eyes and said; “¡Qué guapa!” Yes, as a person from the US I wondered where their hands had been and why they where touching my child. But, I have adjusted and come to understand unless I want to invest a fortune in hand sanitizer and cause an international incident that I needed to let it go.

Also, I have noticed that children in Spain feel “safe”.  They routinely walk up to strangers and have no fear of exploring their world.  I set on the train and starting with the 6 year old on my left and spreading to her 8 year old sister and eventually involving the 12 year old friend who was being cool in a seat across the aisle, we began playing peek-a-boo for 6 train stops.  When the seat on the other side of me opened up one 8 year old came and set on the other side of me.  And the 12 year old began to mimic every move I made.  The whole time we where giggling and laughing the mothers did not raise an eyebrow; there was no pulling the beautiful “fair skinned” girls away from the “scary brown man”. There were no looks of disapproval.  Not once were they told to sit in their seats and behave; even when they began to sing songs for me in Spanish that I was suppose to follow along with.

OK, just for minute I want you to engage in a “thought exercise”.  Try to imagine three beautiful White girls playing with a 50 year old Black man who they do not know and is obviously some sort of immigrant on a public train and everyone acting like this is the most normal thing in the world.  Exactly!

So maybe this is a result of  “spoiling” children in a country where children do not fear for their safety, nor are they afraid of “the other”.  They have come to trust themselves and adults.  They have real self-esteem, not the artificial one induced when we give trophies at soccer games for just being on the team.  These kids here feel loved and that the world is theirs—and they act like it.

Maybe, I will carry Dominique’s backpack to school Monday.

Published in: on May 9, 2010 at 4:27 pm  Leave a Comment  
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