Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Things the US Does Well

It dawned on me yesterday that there are simply things that US does better than Spain. For instance, hamburgers. We make a damn good hamburger, even the novice griller can make one. Spain can´t make burgers. The only one I have had tasted like a falafel. The US also does censorship much better. This can be taken in both a positive and negative light. The average cable company at home won´t ever have German, French, or even British television, but we can manage to keep anime porn away from child consumption.We don´t get real news but you can have a family themed evening with little effort. The US can construct a basic functioning shower. Every shower I have been to in Spain has something a little off about it. Sevilla: super tiny. You can barely stand in there let alone shave your legs, so imagine me not shaving for like a week. Cordoba: no matter what you did water would get every where because the curtain wasn´t wide enough to cover the space. Granada: there is glass piece that is centered on the bath top, but if you go to rinse your head of flowery smelling shampoo, the water shoots over. Why? What´s the problem?

Monday, July 30, 2007

Guadix: Caves say what?

Guadix is about an hour away from Granada by bus and we thought it would be cool to see a town of caves, so we loaded up the children and headed there. Much like the white town that has plenty that wasn´t white most of the town was not cave dwellings. Matter of fact, the bus station is located at the very end of Guadix, if you pass the station you would fall off a cliff and the caves straight up a hill on the other side. It was 2PM solar time (Spain has decided to be 2 hours off of it so clock time is 4PM) the little drops of sweat dripped off and lined our path towards the caves. Now, siesta being siesta particularly in small town, everything was dead, but we walked on.

Pancho and I were dying of hunger so ditched the group and headed for the one bar we saw open on the hike up. Thrilled to be eating and sitting indoors, we didn´t take much time to approve our selection. We ordered drinks and plates of fried food, which other than the greasy after-eat feel was good. It too was decorated with wall hangings and items that came from my childhood. Even a bike that was parked in dining room was bizarrely peach and turquoise. The only conclusion to make is that Guadixians haven´t left their caves in 25 years. I was sure that any moment I was going to witness some kid with one glove on walking backwards.

There was a rather odd bathroom experience at this establishment as well. I went in and there were several cockroaches hanging out. I needed to use the facility and there was no other choice, so I avoided them. I watched them crawl into the crevices of the wall to hide. The only thing I could think of is where there is one roach there are millions. I shoved the thought out of my mind, returned to the 80´s freak room and ate my fried lunch happily chatting with Pancho.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Granada!! Oh and some other Spain things

This week has gone by quickly particularly because my good friend Shelli came to Cordoba and that made that little city much better. We took the students to Malaga for a beach day last week which was not on the original agenda but it was certainly worth getting out of the 104 degree weather and take a dip in the Mediterranean Sea. Being from Florida I am a bit of a beach snob and this one didn´t really score highly on beautiful or cleanliness but nevertheless it was damn awesome to swim in it. The entire Sea is filled with the most amazing looking rocks I have ever seen, well actually you can pick a bag at your local Pier1 for 10 bucks probably. I have no idea what I would have done with the rocks because I really wanted to take them all home.

Today we arrived in Granada. Hands down the coolest freaking city in Spain that I have been too. The streets are filled with young hippies that are called gitanos, every bar looks like it has the greatest vibe ever and for the first time this summer we ate Indian food across the street and saw about a zillion other ethnic food choices. Spanish food sometimes leaves you wanting for little fiestas of tastiness in your mouth, particularly for spicy. The last couple of days we have just been dumping Tabasco on everything pizza, paella, whatever crossed our paths, so you can imagine the excitement.

Tomorrow we are going to Guadix for a bit which is known for its cave dwellings. At some point we are going to the beach again and of course the Alhambra. Sorry for the lack of pictures but my camera is completely shot. I actually had to throw it out. But I will see what I can do.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Cine a la luz de la Luna (Movies by Moonlight)

If it wasn't super clear before Cordoba is not a happening town in the evenings for youth that are supposed to remain alcohol free, so finding activities that allow them to be out late but not in a bar is sometimes a bit of a struggle. Currently there is a summer series in which movie theaters around town sponsor outdoor flicks in plazas. One prime location is the Plaza de Toros. Normally summer isn't a good season to see bulls being stabbed to their death by a guy in a funny suit, so they put up a giant movie screen, set out some chairs, threw in concession stand and poof! Presto, instant cool venue to watch a really old flick.

Old in US standards, Dejavu came out months ago on DVD because I watched it with my dad. Luckily, I did because the dubbed films are not just funny when it's a Japanese action film with English overlay of voices, but often frustrating because a complex movie such as this Denzel masterpiece is simply rough to follow. I served as the annoying American in the seats talking in order to clarify major plot twists for the students.

One student lean over and said "I think the moon has moved since we have been here."

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Ronda


A tiny little pueblo in the middle of windy country roads usually described as a "white town" not because of its inhabitants (though most are) but because all the buildings are painted in that colored, called Ronda, was our destination for the day. We all rolled out of bed at 7am and met the bus way down the streets because of some silly historic preservation laws set in Cordoba. The two hours jaunt to Ronda was an easy way to catch up on some sleep.

We arrived to Ronda and made a beeline for the tourist office to get our maps. We set the students free to explore and we were off to find some tasty morsels. Sunday in Spain is like Christmas is most of the States. Everything is closed and surely people are at church or with their families, supposedly. Every establishment that we passed was closed and our grumbling tummies were getting louder. As we approached what appeared to be the end of the road a warm, delicious scent crossed our path. With little other leads we decided to play bloodhounds and follow it. A mere two blocks away a small rotisserie chicken place was the source. The decision was easily made to buy a chicken. They cut it up into small pieces for us, threw in some napkins and drinks and sent us on our way since eating in was not an option.

Looking for a shady place to pop a squat and finally ingest some food, a unbelievable view drew us into a dead ended street. Ronda is built on top of a cliff. There is an old bridge near the center that crosses a massive drop into a deep valley. It is absolutely breathtaking. The view was our magnetic so we decided to sit on the side of the road in some shade and what may have been someone's front porch to eat. An older short Spanish man entered the house from the other side and later on exited, as he passed us, giving us a slightly curious look, he said, "Buen approvecho!"

We ate, we drank, we were pretty merry and continued on our tour of Ronda. One of the tour books had recommended free Arab baths. Earlier in the week as a group we experienced Arab baths that were relaxing and quite enjoyable, so we had told the students to bring their swimmies and towels. After our lunch we headed for a relaxing bath. After walking up and down very slippy cobble stone roads we entered the baths to find a group of students sitting in what used to be Arab bath ruins. No baths at all.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Yellow


Usually when I think of yellow I think of sunshines, bananas, sometimes even yellow submarines. It is my mom's favorite color which normally makes me smile, but not once in my 31 years of living have I ever thought about a full meal being yellow until I arrived in Spain. In Sevilla, the residence gave us for dinner one night eggs, yellow rice with corn, and French fries. I figured it was an anomaly but tonight, in Cordoba we had another yellow meal. This time squash soup, pork meatballs in a yellowish sauce and once again, French Fries. Curious this yellow food. Just plain curious.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Oh Dear Cordoba

Cordoba is a small town and to be honest the first 24 hours have been a pain in the ass. In minds eye, it's like the entire city is tapping their feet in a small confined space and if you know me well you know how tapping drives me batty. It has been a series of small issues one after the other. No one is out right trying to be annoying but its the little things that add up. For example, I went to the bank today to withdraw money. The first thing I ask is for them not to give me big bills. No ones accepts them and it makes things difficult. The woman looks at my passport a million times, makes a 3 copies of it and finally approves me for the withdraw. She hands me 2 bills, both 500 and 5 bills of 200. I ask her, " don't you have anything smaller?" She replies, "Well, no." I look at her a second and say, "But you're the bank, if you don't have change who else will?" She rolls her eyes at me and gives me a stack of fifties. It's those little things that have been fairly consistent through the first day or so, but the tides did turn when I found this Tourist shack thing in the middle of a plaza. The guy there was so helpful that even though he was unattractive and much older than I, I still want to marry him. I bought tickets to several different events all at the same place at the same time.

Other than that, we saw Harry Potter last night and it's true that everything is funnier in Spanish. The movie was a hit with the students and with me. I can't help it. I admit it freely, I love Harry Potter.

We also found a local pool that we are going to check out this afternoon which will be nice because the heat is fairly significant. We found out at some point that Spain has some wacky time change thing, so solar time is actually 2 hours off. Therefore, when it is 7PM here and the sun is beaming down upon us it's really 5PM in traditional non-daylight savings time. I don't know the reasons but it is what it is.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Bull Fight

Witnessing the slaughtering of 4 bulls is quite an impact on the psyche. At first I was doing pretty well distancing myself from the battle on the perfectly circular yellow sand. My banter distracted me from the violence. When in doubt always make funny voices and pretend to be the bull or another tactic is mocking the Easter egg colored super tight outfits (there is no way these people are wearing any underwear) with sparkles that the idiot waving the red flag at the big ass bull wears. Both equally successful.

There was the one bullfighter while I was there that was flipped upside down by the bull. He couldn't get on his feet. The bull was charging for him but the team of folks that dress up and taunt the bull first jump in to help. The guy wobbled to his feet and decided to continue fighting. Idiot. Occasionally you could see him rubbing his eyes, I am assuming because he was trying to focus. (There may be a video added to this part. The flip was impressive.)

The last run that I witnessed before getting my fill of this spectacle, the bullfighter just sucked. When it came down time to kill the bull, he just couldn't do it. The bull would fall. The fighter couldn't hit the spot. It was awful. After being repeatedly pierced, the bull slowly walked along the wall of the ring. He went to his knees. He put his head down. It was over.

Cadiz

My boyz here in Sevilla encouraged me to take a day off and go to Cadiz where my good friend Shelli is working her ass off. Cadiz is the small coastal city where I spent all of last summer and its quaint nature provides a strong feeling of home. I woke up early in the morning and arrived a short two hours later. Shelli and I spent a great day catching up and chatting with persons that are working with other programs. We were being oddly watched by pigeons for a long time. Apparently the pigeon community is not particularly happy with Shelli because of some traumatic issues in Manhattan and the ones in Cadiz have gotten word.

We had a lush dinner with the president of the company, the web designer and one of the new program directors. The visit was great. I decided to stay the night and leave very early the next morning to be in Sevilla before 10am.

I set the alarm for 6:30 am. It gave me enough time to roll out of bed, call a taxi and brush my teeth with my finger and toothpaste since I hadn't originally anticipated staying the night. I made it to the train station and hopped the 7:40 train to Sevilla. I love the train. I think it is the best way to travel in this country. It is easy, smooth and dependable. You don't have to do much. There are beautiful landscapes to gaze off to in southern Spain.
I read for about 2 seconds and fell asleep warmly in the fetal position in my seat and the one adjacent to me. The train jolted a bit and I was awakened. I glanced up and just as if I was in a bad movie I look out the window and see the sign that says "Sevilla, Santa Justa" fading before me. I asked the woman behind me, "Was this THE Sevilla stop?" She nodds. I curse. In both languages. A lot. I call my buddy to tell him what happened and I was about to lose it. He just laughed at me which made me feel infinitely better.

At first I thought that the next stop would be Madrid, which is pretty freaking far but luckily it was Cordoba which is only 45 minutes away. I arrived in Cordoba bought a ticket on the next train back to Sevilla. I managed to run into a tourist office which was handy because we will be there for two weeks as of Sunday, had a coffee and headed to my original destination managing to be very alert the entire trip.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Grrrr Portuguese!!!

We are living in a university dorm which is luxurious to traditional Spain standards because there is air conditioning and television in every room. It is divine. All of the adults are in rooms next to each other on the top floor and the students are randomly placed on lower levels. We have the Spanish version of Ralph Kramden as the night watchman which means there is no way these kids are sneaking out. The meals have been great (this evening there was a yellow theme to the meal: eggs, french fries, rice mixed with corn.) The only negative thing is the Portuguese.

Since we are sharing this building with college students there is a small group of Portuguese people that must seriously be the loudest individuals to walk in the streets of Sevilla. They sit and smoke in the marble stairwell and the sound echoes up and down the building. Now my Spanish blood gets a little annoyed at the fact that this occurs during siesta, because damn it is a necessary and sacred ritual as far as I am concerned, but nevertheless it is the middle of the day and there is little that can be done. At three, four, or five in the morning when they arrive from "la marcha" there is a literal vein in my neck that explodes except I hate confrontation and I am way to lazy to get up and complain or bitch at them. So I lay there and pray to the sleep angels to make it go away.

My room is pitch dark but around the Portuguese arrival time, there is a slight glow that comes though the shade and curtain that blocks my window. Last night, I popped up and I saw Ralph pacing the center corridor of the building; ready to pounce on any Portuguese college student that dares threaten the peace of the Santa Ana residence.

There are many other descriptions of these folks that I could provide but some would be derogatory and I refuse to further any stereotypes of slurred speech smelly Portuguese young adults.

We did manage to take the kids to the most amazing Flamenco show that I have ever seen in all my life. It was unreal. I am not really a huge fan. I just can't usually get behind the singing. The guitar is great. The clapping thing I can take or leave. But tonight it literally was an unbelievable narrative played out between a female and then male dancer took you into another world. The Portuguese don't have anything that noteworthy.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Overseas Chaos

Overseas programs suffer sometimes because no matter how hard the administrative offices work there are a few crazies that sneak through the multi-level interview process and background checks. This summer is not any different and it seems that the Spain programs are the ones that are feeling the hit.

An instructor for Barcelona apparently lost her marbles when she arrived at the airport. She was stopped by the "guardia civil" (which is like the national police) and she refused to show them her passport. She then tried to kiss them and finished off the show by dancing on a pile of her clothes. She is now in a mental institution in northern Spain and her parents aren't coming to get the young (23 year old) co-ed. The director of this program, who has a PhD in Spanish refuses to teach the class that is missing an instructor. She really can't be bothered. (Who are these people?)

The coordinator of another program ended up being the dictator of the program and after a ton of conversation and interventions, she was fired for her inability to be a team player. Not to mention that in the same program, another teacher fell down a flight of stairs and broke her arm, she admitted later that she is very accident prone and has frequently broken bones.

Luckily, our program is solid as a rock (knock on wood, pull your ear, whatever superstitious ritual you would like to do to help the cause.) Major props go out to my girl that is coordinating the entire country because it has certainly been one thing after another.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Sevilla

Sevilla is hot as hell. It is close to 100 degrees everyday and by 3pm it is unbearable to be outside. No wonder the Spaniards nap for so long. The students arrived yesterday and so far things have been going well.

The night before they arrived Pancho and I went out to dinner along the river where we had some Albanian guys make us the best tabouli I have ever had. We walked back checking out a couple of things and stopped to eat some ice cream. As we were enjoying our tasty desserts we crossed through a plaza and noticed this really young kid who appeared unconscious. We exchanged a look and decided to eat our ice cream and see if anything changed in his condition. It did not.

As we approached the kid, his pulse was hard to find but he was clearly breathing, reeking of alcohol and perspiring a cold sweat. We tried several times to wake him but to no avail. Pancho called the equivalent to the US 911. We quickly learned that the emergency vehicles are in no real hurry. It took about 40 minutes and two phone calls from additional passersbys for them to arrive. As we waited, a crowd began to form. Young kids trying to smack the guy, one kid even kicked him, two older women went threw his pockets and found his passport. We learned he was Russian and about 24 years old. People mumbled about not knowing any Russian so there would be no way that he could understand us anyway. They returned the passport to the front pocket of his shorts just as a girl´s parents arrived to pick her up. She called over her father who apparently is a doctor. The doctor leaves his car running in the middle of intersection and comes to do the first evaluation of this drunken character. This entire time the guy never indicated that he was conscious. The circus clowns continued to surround him (add appropriate music here.) Some left, others stopped to add their two cents.

Finally, the ambulance arrived. They approached the guy and they began to punch him in the chest. The Russian only then began to stir. They did nothing. They decided that he didn´t need to be taken to the hospital. They waited. For what? For the police to arrive which took another 25 minutes after the arrival of the paramedics. (Spain is not the place to need speedy assistance in any area of life.)

The police arrived and it was a female and male partner team. Immediately, the female cop clearly had something to prove because she went right into his face and started yelling at him tell him to stand up. "Stand up! Don´t make me tell you again. I said stand up!" The guy barely was able to sit up, let alone stand up. She takes out her baton! And makes like she is going to swing but she places it under is arm and lifts him up. The male cop helps her hold him and they toss him into the ambulance for questioning.

The "Good" Samaritans wandered back to the hotel.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Frankfurt

Mother f@#^@ing airports man! So I arrive to Germany, this time with a nice slumber in the air. They push us onto a bus, which always gets my feathers ruffled then through a weird doorway that leads up a set of stairs. When you arrive at the top there is a security terminal attempting to check more than 100 people at this point and I glance at my watch to notice that I have about 45 minutes to get through this, go through passport control and find my next gate so I can catch my flight to Madrid.

The cracker jack team here only has a guy with a set of wands and one security thingamabob that looks into your baggage, just as I am approaching the front of the roaring grumbles of the crowd some small airline woman ushers in a small Indian family. First of all, it wasn't like she nicely explain their circumstances, she is German afterall, but I can't help if they are racial profiling this family as well or if they are diplomats of some kind and if they are, why are they in this line?

After getting felt up, I made a mad dash for my connecting gate since it was on the other side of Guatemala and it was about to leave and all just to encounter another security check point. What the hell were they thinking? I bought the water bottle bomb from their airport quickie stand! As I make it though I realize that I have 5 minutes. 5 precious minutes to Madrid and I must get on that damn plane if it is the last thing I ever do in Germany, that is. So I sprinted. I sprinted as I was about to be killed or desperately trying to take down a striker headed towards the goal. On my last breath, I made it. I made it to the gate only to learn that the plane had been delayed by an hour. I sat and had a smoke. I love Germany.

Finally, I am in Sevilla now after planes trains and automobiles. All is well. More soon.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

The End of Prague

I am sitting in the tiny laundry room waiting for my cab to arrive to take me to the airport. It is 3 AM my time and it has arrived. More later.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Stupid American

A stupid American story starring...me! I ventured out a bit today on my own because I was feeling a little introverted and wanted to explore some of the real Prague, or at least at was the goal. I set out south of my hostel because we usually travel north also with expectation to find a major city park that was depicted in the guide book. After crossing the equivalent of I-275. the park I found was shady to say the least. It was built up on a hill and every 50 yards or so there was a large set of concrete stairs that would take you deeper into the park. Since my gut was tell me that it was probably best not to trust the blind man and the cracked out looking woman that I had passed I retreated back the area that I began this journey only after spending about 45 minutes exploring this particular park.

Upon my return I noticed a nice enclosed park that had many of shady benches which would be perfect for sitting and reading. I look around and all the benches seemed taken, so I walked through some giant engraved doors attached to a building that in my Czech reading abilities said it was the Police Museum. And in fact it was exactly that. The inner courtyard had charming fake streets with vintage street signs and old cop cars displayed proudly. I found a bench and sat. A while passed and I noticed that it was about to be 5pm on a Sunday and surely a museum would be closing at any moment. Not to mentioned that there was no one else in there. So I got up towards the same door I had entered only to find that it was tightly shut. I tried the handle and to no avail, I was trapped inside the museum.

I turned and followed a couple of Czech voices. There were two young individuals that were in the process of cleaning up the concession stand which clearly they had been working for many hours. I approached the baby-faced lad and asked him where the exit was. He replied, "We are closed." I said, "Yes see that so I was hoping to leave?" He said, "You wait." I really didn't have much of a choice so I sat down and waited. The girl that was actually cleaning and throwing out the trash was yelling at baby-face with anger in Czech.

I kept telling myself that it had nothing to do with me, but I have no idea. I just sat there and tried not to stare, so I looked at the ground which was only inches aways since I was sitting on a tiny curb that lined the walkways. In my gazing towards the earth, I noticed a tiny black and red bug that I had seen before elsewhere that must be kin to our ladybug but it was slightly different. I almost took out my camera but I feared that if the Czech bitching had something to do with me that I better sit still and not aggravate the situation by documenting Prague bugs in that very moment.

Suddenly the girl locked up the ajar doors and stomped over to sit on a bench. Baby-face grabbed his laptop bag, backpack, bag of tomatoes, two packages of Sam's club like cheese, a spindle of cds and a magazine that featured a prominent zippo advertisement on the back. He shuffled over and sat next to her. Both completely ignoring the fact that I am sitting inches away looking at bugs. He says something to her and she gets up and stomps away. He gathers all of his things and I look at him and say, "I am so sorry." He saids, "It is OK. We go now to exit." I am thinking why didn't you tell me where this was to begin with but instead I smile and nod my head.

The girl that is a few yards away makes it through the first set of doors but is stopped when she reaches the second because of a giant pad lock. She is still angrily ranting in Czech as she walks towards a building, to get a key which I assume. Baby-face sets everything down again and follows her as I once again am standing not knowing what exactly I should do in yet another part of the closed Police museum. Suddenly, an old man sporting a silk white shirt that is open allowing his large beer belly to breath comes through the first set of doors. He is carrying a trash bag and looks at me, rightfully so, with a "who the hell are you?" expression.

I call out to baby-face and say, "hey!"
He turns and asks, "a man?"
I say, "yes."

At this moment, the girl return and baby-face speaks Czech to the man who simply walks over and releases us all. I thank them profusely and return to the safety of my hostel.

A bit more Prague

In light of some new laptop issues I write once again without visual aides, so you visual learners forgive me and keep your fingers crossed that at some point I will be able to add those. These photos here were borrowed from the internet.

Today marks a week that I have been in Prague. Even though, I have enjoyed the city a great deal and my travel companions along the way, I am feel rather ready to go on to the Spain. I have 4 days left in the Czech Republic and all that is left for me to see is the spectacular Castle district which I have reserved to do on the first full day free after the class is over.

There is much to process about this art course and I suppose one of the greatest triumphs is that I have been writing nonstop. It has been a long time since I have allowed my imagination to take me into the world of created characters and place them in stories. Yesterday (after skipping out of class early in a huff, which is a totally different train of thought that you may enjoy at some point) I sat at a cafe for 2 hours, sipped on a cappuccino and sketched and wrote vigorously. Matter of fact, I can't even remember the last time I wrote with pen and paper.

Anywho....

Last night, my friends and I went to the Blacklight Theater which is a huge thing here and saw a show called the "Aspects of Alice" based on Alice in Wonderland. Parts of it were sorta creepy, others were mind blowing and some may be considered pornographic by Southern Christian conservatives. The imagery was a philosophy teacher's wet dream. There is no dialogue only music and was described in our reflection conversation as "Old World" like. In the image on the right, Alice (a live actor) is flying over the life size city that illuminates the entire stage.