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After a 2 1/2 hours train ride at speeds up to 300 kmh you arrive in Sevilla from Madrid. I will be reporting on Sevilla and my experiences here for the next week. But, right now I want to tell you about the thing I am noticing above all else. It is the scent in the air. The air in Sevilla has a sweet, slightly citrus smell. I thought it was just a scent from a store or some over perfumed woman. But, the smell is every where.

I tried to understand where the scent was coming from. Maybe, it was some kind of socialist social engineering program where they sprayed the streets with this scent to get people to forget how miserable they are with universal healthcare. But, it wa nothing so sinister. For I looked up and noticed that orange tress are all over the place. This is in the city center, not a semi-rural arer. And since this is spring they are beginning to flower. I have never smelled anything like it.

I can’t imagine what it is like to live someplace where the streets smell sweet and if I become overwhelmed with the inhaling of citrus I have could be taken to the hospital and not charged.

Published in: on March 30, 2010 at 5:40 am  Leave a Comment  

Semana Santa

More so then any other country Spain celebrates Holy Week. An amazing thing considering that if it was not for the immigrants from South America the churches would be monuments to a long ago past with no future.

Semana Santa begins next week and all governmemt offices, schools and universites are closed. Most Madrilenos seem to heading out of town to various locations in Spain and other destinations not far: Lisbon, London, Paris and Marrekesh.

The heart of the Semana Santa activities is Andalusia; Sevilla in particular. Processions of men dressed in clothing that shared a fashion designer with the Ku Klux Klan (another irony considering the KKK’s take on Catholics), carrying their favorite saint through the streets. All traffic comes to a halt and people pay their respects, or in my case take pictures of this cultural phenomenom.

I will post pictures and shared additional observations when I return.

Un saludo

Published in: on March 25, 2010 at 8:25 pm  Leave a Comment  

Una Cita-Quedamos-Pedir Salir

There is a big cultural difference between the US and Spain regarding men and women asking each other out for a “date”. Actually, linguistically there is no way to ask someone out for a date. You can ask someone for “una cita” or a “quedamos”–both ways of expressing “to meet”. But there is no implication that the people are getting together for anything other then to meet and have an good time. There is no implication of anything to come after the gathering or implications for advancement of “the relationship” to the next step.

This is the norm in Madrid. People meet, hangout, go home and life goes on. I was presented this concept in oppostion to my Spanish professor’s experience in the US. When men asked her out, they never seemed to do so just to gather. She told me that the men always thought they were “on a date” and this caused her issues when she lived in the US. It actually inhibited her ability to have male friends in the US as they did not seem to be able to interact with her outside of the context of “dating” her. She was used to going out with men in Madrid who would meet for cafe, kiss both cheeks, have a pleasant conversation and then go on their way. Not expect to come home with her or ask when they were going to “get together again”.

On the other hand, when it is clear that two people do indeed like each other and are attracted to each other you can “pedir salir” (ask to go out). This is a situation where it is known the people are attracted to each other and are going to hangout. It is not the same as asking someone who you do not know, or barely know for a date. You don’t get to know people through “dating” here. You get to know them by your friends and their friends all going someplace together. I have rarely seem people out by themselves here. They are always with a group of friends.

I am trying to avoid over analizing this different. Trying not to think about the goal directed behavior of people in the US as opposed to just being in the moment. Trying not to consider the implications of men and women being able to be friends with each other without having to deal with issues related to “what’s next”. Trying not to think about being in a society that if a man buys dinner, heck even a cup of coffee, he has not bought “you” (especially interesting in a culture when a man can legally buy a women’s time–but that is another blog).

So to the female readers of this blog, do you have male friends who you can just hang out with. To the male readers of this blog, would you take a female out without further expectations.

Published in: on March 18, 2010 at 11:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

Starbucks in Principe Pio is gone

Just like that! I am in severe need of a chai tea latte and I went to the place where the Starbucks used to be in centro commercial (the mall) at Principe Pio. And it was gone!

I was disoriented. I thought I was on the wrong level. But the elevator was still there and the Imafinarium was in the spot next door to where Starbucks was. Only Starbucks was gone!

This is indicative of how bad the economy is in Spain. There are a dozen or more stores that have “dissapered” since I first landed in Madrid. Stores that served as landmarks. Some I promised to go check out there wares, others I visited frequently. And then one day you walk by or go looking for a chai tea latte and the store is gone.

Unemployment is officially at 20% here. From what I have seen in the increase in people begging from money on the streets and sleeping where they beg, I suspect the government is not telling the whole truth.

And while I will miss having my chai tea latte there is no doubt the people who worked at the Starbucks I used to by it from will miss their paycheck more. I guess I will give the 3.75€ to one of the beggars on the street. Perhaps they worked at another Starbucks.

Published in: on March 13, 2010 at 12:35 am  Comments (1)  

Connecting to the world

How did we get to the point where the internet was our life-line? Finally, after 8 weeks I now have ADSL in my piso and I feel like I have been given manna from heaven. Right now I am listening to WAMU 88.5. The station I listen to on my drive to SU from my home. And here I am in Madrid, Spain listening to the same thing! I can now call home on Skype and see faces! I can do research in bed for my book. I can watch TV shows front the US in English!!!

I did not realize how lunch I longed for this connection. However, does being able to connect so easily with things in the US inhibit full engagement here?

Published in: on March 12, 2010 at 10:50 pm  Leave a Comment  

Tiana y el Sapo

Well, one goal I set for myself while here was to go to a movie in Spanish and be able to understand most of what was being said.  I never said it had to be a sophisticated movie.  So, my attendance at “The Princess and the Frog” counts:-) I did not just follow along the sights and enjoy the singing and dancing, I actually understood words being spoken!!!

Let me say this first, if you have not seen the movie and want to see Walt Disney at its best, you need to see this movie! I will see it again in English when I am back in the States when I buy the DVD.  Now, back to Spanish.  I had always heard from people who learned English by watching movies and I never got it.  How do you learn a language by listening to people speak it, if you have no idea what people are saying???  Well now I get it.  Learning a language is not about verb drills. It is placing words within context.  And good actors (even animated ones) place the words within a context that is conveyed even if you do not know the word. And your mind processes the “meaning” of the word not the “definition”.

If you want a practical example of what I am talking about look at the title of this post.  I will wait, go ahead… OK, you’re back.  Now I could place a winning wager that you now know the title refers to “The Princess and the Frog”.  And you would be mainly right with the exception that “Tiana” is the Princess’s name, but now you will recognize “y el Sapo” as “and the frog”. You have the meaning of the phrase, pat yourself on the back. This is how movies help you learn a language even if you where looked at strange when you referred to your daughter as “my little Tiana” when her name is Shaniqua any one who saw the movie would get that you meant “my little princess”.

And I will now end with a phrase you learned from another  movie…

Hasta la vista

Published in: on February 28, 2010 at 5:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

El reciclaje en España

I at first thought the person was picking through the trash. But, I noticed their mannerisms, very deliberate, and the clothes, high quality. Not that with the economic crisis being faced by Spain, official unemployment is over 20% and climbing, that a deliberate well-dressed person could not be searching for food in the trash.

But, then I noticed that it was not a “receptáculo de basura” which was being searched through, it was a small green “reciclaje de papel”.  And the person emerged from the receptacle with a newspaper that someone else had thrown away.  My 10-year-old daughter seeing this was totally grossed out. And summed up her feelings with one of the most versatile of words in English and needed no translation into Spanish: “EEEEEWWWWW!” This was clearly recycling at a whole different level then normally observed in the US.

The paper recycling receptacles are throughout the metro system, both at the train platforms and entrance/exit of every station.  And with Madrilenas (people who live in Madrid) being avid readers of newspapers (there are four newspapers I know of available for free and handed out to people walking by) and most reading the newspapers while riding the metro, it makes sense to have somewhere to deposit the papers when done. And, if you missed being handed a paper, well there was a receptacle to retrieve one from.

And much to my daughter’s dismay and her sense of sanitation I have become one of the well dressed people searching through bins to catch up on the news of the day.

Published in: on February 27, 2010 at 5:40 pm  Leave a Comment  

Today I Told a Joke in Spanish

Well it was not really a joke.  It was a subtle play on words. A commentary if you will, a small input into a political conversation-taking place in Spanish. And I made people laugh; not at me, but with me for a change.

Humour is always tricky.  It depends on context and timing.  Trying to be funny in another language can easily backfire to you being the punch line instead of delivering it. And I made people laugh.  They got it!!!

Why am I being so effusive and sharing this with you?  Because a challenge to living in another country and speaking another language is that you often have to leave behind the “you” you were in your home country, in your native language.   If you where witty, sarcastic, enjoyed discussing movies, heck even discussing the weather; these things become a challenge when you are struggling just to grasp what is being said.  Trying to make a contribution that allows people to see your personally when you can’t find the words is a painful thing.  And I realize this is a small victory and I am a long way from being the person I was in the States.  But…

Hoy en día, le dije una broma y la gente se reía. La gente tiene que ver un poco de mí.

Published in: on February 26, 2010 at 10:03 pm  Leave a Comment  

When Your World Crashes

I had not realized how dependent I had become on it. Of course, there was the normal internet searching we all do with our laptops. But, when you are living overseas this device, which barely measures more then that of a sheet of paper, was not only my access to the world, it gave the world I was in meaning. I used my laptop to find ever more creative ways to prepare chicken. When I received communications from colleagues in Madrid who sometimes used words I did not understand or read Spanish newspapers with stories of interest but grammatical structures too difficult for me to grasp, with a simple click on “Google Translate” their world opened up to me. And of course there was the writing I was doing; the focus of my sabbatical.

Then there are the things that a MacBook makes easy for you: importing and editing photos on iPhoto, producing slick looking presentations in Garage Band and easily seeing family and friends via Skype. And then like all things we become overly attached to it, one day it all went away.  My hard drive refused to function.  And all the joy I had known, feeling like the world was at my fingertips, came crashing down.

I went through all the stages of grief.  I was in shock that a Mac hard drive had crashed and I denied that it really was not going to work again and ran a diagnostic program for four days straight after it was clear no more diagnosing was going on.   I felt pain and guilt that maybe I had somehow abused my laptop by taking it on transatlantic flights. The guilt gave way to anger as I cursed the stupid %$$&&& for failing to perform when I needed it most. Sure it worked when I was in the Sates with lots of technical support, but when I needed it most it up and crashed on me!!! I bargained with it and said that if it would just start working again I would treat it better and use that nice air compressor to blow the dust out.  And then the depression set in.  A long period of reflection about; “why is this happening to me”?  Hadn’t I just suffered a traumatic experience when my PC crashed in April??? Am I destined to be laptop less and disconnected from mobile computing.  Oh, the loneliness of it all. Finally, I begin to adjust to life without my laptop.  I spent a little bit more time at the campuses here and got reacquainted with desktop PCs.  The angst lessened some.  I become more functional. I discover cloud computing. I have the hard drive replaced at an authorized Apple reseller and genius store in Madrid (the only one in all of Spain.  Also, I work with SU (thank you IC) to get a laptop with the proper formatting to allow me to continue on my work. I also realize that I do have a full backup of all data, writings, pictures and music; something I did not have before. The world did crash, but it can be rebuilt.

Published in: on February 25, 2010 at 4:59 am  Comments (2)  

Jamón, jamón en todas partes

I have been asked about the food in Spain.  There are indeed many wonderful dishes here like Pisto Machengo (a dish made of tomatoes, onions, eggplant, green and red peppers and olive oil. It is similiar to rataouille and is usually served warm with bread as an appetizer) and Paella (a dish that gets its name from the pan it is cooked in. The base includes rice, saffron and olive oil and from there you can add seafood, chicken, vegetables, beans or anything else you may be craving). But what stands out for me is the ham!!! No I do not eat it, but it is everywhere.

Apparently Spain is the ham capital of the world with a whole ham costing up to $2100.00 and slices of top grade hams costing over $30.00 lb..  Almost every supermarket, restaurant, tapas and cervezeria, alimencationeria (corner store) has a pig leg hanging in it.  There is even a “Jamón Museo” on Grand Via (a main drag in Madrid Centro).  Spaniards become very offended when you do not like their ham and will insist you “just have not had the right one” and will offer to take you to where you can try “real, authentic” Spanish ham.  Additionally, even things that normally in the states are made with beef (like meatballs) will have a ham mixture.  There is no such thing as turkey or beef bacon (I was looked at with great suspicion when I asked for some).

There are some who have told me this preoccupation with all things pork is not just purely gastronomical.  There may be a dark side to this.  I have heard stories, told in quiet whispers, that part of this fascination with pigs is to ward off other none pork eating religions such as Judiasm and Islam.  Jews were forced to convert or leave Spain during the Spanish inquisition.  A test of that conversion was to eat meals made from pork.  Additionally, I am told that the hanging pig legs serve as a sort of talisman to protect Spain from the Muslims who ruled the country for over 700 years.  There is concern that immigration from North Africa (particularly Morocco) is bringing a challenge to the Catholic Church, which serves as an arm of the Spanish government (the government subsidizes Catholic private schools and most charitable work in Spain is done through the Catholic Church with tax dollars).

But, back to food.  It would be hard to be a vegetarian in Spain as even dishes without meat may be cooked in the grease from a pig.  There is good seafood, but it is very expensive in comparison to what you would pay in the States.  Fruits and vegetables are very fresh with numerous small stores selling frutas y verduras.  Also, chocolate is available in numerous forms including a hot chocolate “drink” that is more like chocolate pudding.

Keep your questions coming

Published in: on February 18, 2010 at 5:10 pm  Leave a Comment