Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Stop Los Desahusios

The title is a slogan associated with the strike that just happened. Stop is in English because stop signs are in English by the way. Desahusios is the Spanish word for evictions resulting from the bank repossessing a house. For some reason I can't think if there's an English word that's the equivalent. It's the hot topic in Spain right now. We have an old law that states that if someone can't pay a loan, they lose their property and then still have to pay the bank. Many of the people think that this is inhumane. There's a very sad story that was on the news lately about a woman who lost her house even though she had a good job because she co-signed her brother's loan. He couldn't pay the loan so they both lost their homes, and the sister never told her husband that she co-signed. So when the police came to evict her, well, it didn't end well. Her story has become a bit of a wake up call for the injustice of this law. Even the police unions went on strike, because they don't want to enforce this horrendous law. Things are truly dire in España. There are far too many stories like the one above. And there is no end in sight.

The other slogan is "They have left us without a future." The massive brain drain of highly skilled workers, especially nurses, and students, is quite disheartening. In the school I taught in, I felt the despair the worst. Some of students seemed to project the attitude that since there won't be jobs for them when they get out, so they don't see the point in studying. But they aren't the only ones who feel that way. It's like that at my university too. And my city is relatively wealthy. Our economy is booming in comparison. Being the student of economics that I am, I was looking at figures. The most recent figures I could find on my city were 7,4% unemployment. Healthy is around 2-4%. As a whole, Spain's unemployment is a devastating 25,8% and rising. That certainly paints a bleak economic picture.

Soon I'll write another blog about the Eurozone crisis as a whole. Living here I've learned a lot. The dynamics of the crisis are far more complicated than I could have ever known just by reading about it half the world away.

One Month More

Today is November 14th. My finals are December 12th-14th. I'm leaving Spain on December 17th. Time is passing way too past.

I'm genuinely sad about having to leave my host mother. She is quite an incredible woman. I changed my flight plans to flight out of a nearer airport so she could accompany to the bus station and take a direct bus to the airport, instead of taking a six hour bus to Madrid and then having to get to airport with all my luggage. Both my moms are much happier with my flight change.

To add to the list of many things my host mom does for me, today I had another bad stomach ache and I've unfortunately been having a lot of these lately but my host mom has a bunch of home remedies to make me feel better. My favorite is an infusion of manzanilla, or chamomile, except it's a different blend of things here. My host mom brews it with another infusion, not entirely sure what the second one is. But it tastes good and works well. And I learned the difference between tea and an infusion. Tea must contain tea leaves. If its a bunch of plants but no tea leaves, it's an infusion. I think we just call that an herbal tea in the US.

Also I learned that if you have a stomach ache here, they say you have a sad stomach. That's so much more adorable than having a stomach ache.

I'm endlessly fascinated by home remedies and what people believe helps with common ailments. For example, today I asked for a light dinner that wouldn't upset my stomach further so I had a large cup of my host mom's homemade broth, a plate of finely sliced jamon de york, a piece of bread and an Actimel (a very thin yogurt similar to Middle Eastern kefir). Surprisingly satisfying and definitely helping. Now I'm sitting in the living room, sipping my manzanilla infusion and watching the news about today's strike  with my host mom. This woman takes seriously good care of me.

She's also pretty adorable. Today's a leftover day so originally for dinner I was going to have lentils with chorizo. My host mom had already made the chorizo earlier today and she didn't want it to go to waste so for dinner she had just the chorizo, because this particular variety is very fatty but goes really well with lentils. And she had queso for dessert of course. when the rest of the family saw her eating just the chorizo, they giggled and jokingly scolded her. She was like, I know, this is so good, it's a sin but it would be a bigger sin to let it go to waste. We giggled.

Queso for dessert is something I'm going to have to continue in the US and the Netherlands. I normally have a huge sweet tooth. Not here, oddly enough.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Rememberence Day

Yesterday was Rememberence Day in honor of the victims of ETA terrorism. Flowers on monuments across Spain and the Basque Country. Flowers for the victims.

It's funny how a tiny group of extremists come to characterize an entire group of people. The Basques with ETA. Middle Easterners and Muslims with Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Mexico with drug lords. Even Americans with rednecks. The list goes on.

In this region in particular, the only thing the world at large knows about the Basque Country is that ETA committed terrorist acts in the name of Basque nationalism. It's too small a region to be known around the world, unless the Basque Diaspora has a presence as it does in parts of the western US and  in Latin America, especially Chile and Argentina.

ETA was created to fight against Basque repression by Franco. Franco banned all things Basque, including the language. Oddly enough, that had to opposite effect he wanted. More people can speak Basque now than ever before.

Since Franco's death, the fight for Basque nationalism lessened. Franco gave them a reason to fight, but once he died and they got their autonomy back, for most, that's sufficient. For ETA and other less extreme Basque nationalists, it wasn't. They wanted their own country. But only ETA went so far as to commit terrorism, despite not having the support of the majority of Basques. Terrorism usually occurs as a tactic of a group of minority extremists within another minority. Basques are a minority in Spain. Basque nationalists are a minority among Basques. ETA is a minority amount Basque nationalists. They committed extreme acts to try and provoke a response from the Spanish state and get all Basques on their side. But nothing has unified the Basque people like Franco. And without such a strong unifier, ETA is ineffective. For that reason, it seems as if their ceasefire in November of 2011 will be definitive.

So remember the victims, don't forget the past but realize that the present and future are different.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Pyrenees Mountains and the Caves of Zugarramurdi

Yesterday my program took us on an excursion to Mt. Larrun/ La Rhûne in the Pays Basque and the caves of Zugarramurdi. Both are considered mystic places but for completely different reasons. Larrun is a sacred mountain for the Basque people. From it you can see from San Sebastián to Biarritz and the entire Nivelle River valley. We took the petit cog train up to summit. The view is worth the biting cold and winds that are strong enough to knock you around. I'm pretty sure I took a hundred pictures just there. Sheep, goats and that breed of tiny fuzzy horses freely graze its slopes. The mountain itself is in France but you can see large amounts of the Basque Country. It is incredibly beautiful country, especially in its autumn colors. I just wanted to stay there and absorb the immensity of it all. I almost felt like this incredible beauty was the reason why the Basques fight for their identity.

For all the majesty of the Basque Country, it was not immune to the European witch hunt. Zugarramurdi is as much tied to witch hunts in Spain as Salem is in the US. Witch hunting in the Basque Country was done by the Spanish Inquisition so it's not quite the classic mass hysteria we think of. This was more systematic persecution. To put this in context of Spanish history, Spain had just become a unified country and the Reconquista and all that followed attempted to make Spain a more homogenously Catholic country. And thus, the Inquistion arrived in the Basque Country, a place where women worked the fields and cared for their families alone while the men were away hunting whales off of Newfoundland, Canada, a place where women's head coverings were just a bit too phallic for the Inquisition's liking, and a place where preChristian practices persisted despite widespread acceptance of Catholicism. All of that was a bit too strange for the Inquisition's liking. Add in the symbolism of being apple growing country (Original Sin) and male goats (Satan) being the most important animal for the farm houses (neither of which was common in the rest of Spain) with the fact that the women gathered in caves and actually enjoyed themselves after a hard days work and you have all the evidence needed to start looking for witches.

These Basque "witches", or sorguiñas, were often midwifes and herbalists. People who had knowledge. People who were defenseless but were potentially dangerous. They often held life and death in their hands. They were taken to Logroño, in La Rioja, to be tried. In Latin, no less. When they only spoke euskara... But here's the funny thing: the youngest of the three Inquisitors stopped the witch hunt. He believed that there needed to be more rational, concrete evidence. Talk about forward thinking. Columbus has just discovered America and this guy believes in rationalism. Crazy to think.

The cave itself is quite beautiful and a lot bigger than I thought it was going to be. There is a tiny stream that runs through the cave. If you believe in witches, you might believe that the stream is home to Basque lamiak (lamia singular), which are like the darker version of mermaids but in freshwater. All these mystical beings and places were quite magical and made for a lovely day.

Monday, November 5, 2012


It's certainly an adventure being an American in Spain.

I get asked about the election all the time. Who is going to win? Did you vote? For who? The PC American in me doesn't really want to answer but here the culture is different. You can answer honestly and not be afraid of offending anyone. Well, except maybe your fellow Americans. Maybe. When I was in France this happened too. I had a cab driver who loved Obama. But then again, the country that most approves of him is France. With Spaniards, they pay attention to US elections but it doesn't matter to them who wins. I suppose that view makes sense. They have no say in our president but he will have an effect on them, but not enough for them to worry too much about it. They have their own local elected officials to worry about.

Hurricane Sandy is also a big topic. I don't feel like I have a good sense of what happened. If I were in the US, I'm sure every news channel would have the latest updates. Here news isn't widely available so it's hard for me to tell what's really going on. But prayers for those affected.

Being from California in Europe often means you are famous or you know someone famous. Doesn't quite work that way...

Also, I had to complete this sentence in Spanish class today: "If I were president of the United States, but only for one day, I would..."  I went for the American answer. Take over the world, duh.

Took my language exchange partner to a 50s style American diner today. It was super fun. She got to see an albeit stereotypical representation of the US but we enjoyed it. They had working jukeboxes at every table and everything. I had to get a Cherry Coke. We listened to the classic array of 50s American pop and chatted in Spanish. And then when we paid, they gave us pixie stix. I brought one to my host mom's granddaughter. She was pleased.

So yeah. 'Murika!

Sunday, November 4, 2012


After a short but stressful week full of exams, a long weekend was just what I needed. I spent it in Barcelona.

A beautiful city but by far the most touristy city I've ever been to in my life, and I'm a native San Franciscan. I spoke more English and French than Spanish.

First day we took a 7am bus out, 8 hours and a rest stop in Zaragoza later, we arrived in Barcelona. We hit the ground running. Walked down Avenida Diagonal to Avenida de Gracia, which is an upscale shopping district, until we hit the beautiful Plaza de Catalunya and Las Ramblas. We hung out there until it was time for the All Saint's Day mass at the Gothic church Santa Maria del Mar. I'm taking a European Art History class and we were just tested on Gothic art. This church was one of the works we had to study. I admit, it was so pretty I snuck a picture during the mass. After that we explored that part of town and found the oldest Brazilian bar in Europe.The bartender was impressed with how many languages I could thank him in. If you just one thing in another language, it should be "thank you." It comes in handy.

We had no Catalunian food while we were there, oddly enough. There were more Basque restaurants than Catalunyan ones. The most Catalunian thing we had was bread with tomato. Even the guidebooks will tell you that the Basques and Catalans are good buddies, united in struggle against Madrid. I feel I saw much more Basque stuff in Catalunya than Catalunyan things in the Basque Country.

Second day wasn't as fun. We went to the famous Guell Park, where the mosaic chameleon and other Gaudi structures were located. It was up on top of a massive hill so I got my exercise in and got gorgeous pictures of the city. It was crazy crowded and we picked a bad restaurant where they were rude to us and didnt serve us for more than 45 minutes after we ordered and people who had come in after us had been served and had paid their bills and left in that time. Meh. Happens. Safe to say I'm not going back there. At least I got amazing pictures.

We did get to check out La Boqueria/ Le Mercat St. Josep which is a food lover's paradise. Stalls upon stalls of every kind of food you can think of. I was sorely tempted to buy some dragonfruit for the pure novelty of not having seen it since I left California., but I resisted. I did buy my host family a large piece of crema catalana flavored turrón, which is a yummy nougaty type candy made out of eggs and sugar and decadent things like that. 

I had a lot of fun the last day we were there though. We went to the famous Sagrada Familia church, the most iconic structure in Barcelona. It lived up to its unfinished reputation as it was surrounded by cranes and tarps. I think that just makes a better picture because the whole idea is that the church isn't finished.

We also saw the Catalán version of bocce ball. It was pretty cool.

After that, we went to Camp Nou. That name means very little to most Americans. We just don't watch football/ soccer enough for it to. But for crazy fans like me, it's hallowed grounds of the gods of European football-the home stadium for FC Barcelona. On that pitch, artists like Messi and Xavi work their craft. David Villa, Andres Iniesta and the rest of the squad work towards a common goal: winning. Barcelona won their game that day, making for a historic start to the season.  Even Puyol and Pique cheer their teammates on while they recover. Walking around the grounds was an experience for me. Countless times I'd watch games there on tv but to actually be there was indescribable. I even got to see the team bus. I ended up leaving Barcelona with a Xavi jersey, a bracelet in the proper colors and a pin to put on my book bag with my SF Giants Willie the Gnome pin.

After that, we found a delicious smelling Doner Kebab restaurant. The food was amazing and the staff was quite amused to have a pair of American girls in their restaurant. More than made up for the experience the day before in my opinion.

Oh and lest I forget, there was a stand outside Camp Nou, tucked among all the merchandise vendors, that sold nutella filled churros. Amazing. But very glad I had a long walk to Las Ramblas after that.

Found a bar tucked in the Gothic Barrio to watch the game in. The food was good and our waiter was Filipino. When he brought us our food, I thanked him in Tagolog and he freaked out. He couldn't believe I could figure out he was Filipino. I told him I was Filipino too and he didn't believe me. I pointed to my eyes, which are my most Filipino feature and then he grudgingly agreed. I really am part Filipino, I promise.

Ok, probably the most not fun part of the trip was the night bus back. So uncomfortable. The seats were fine, but just being on a long bus ride with a bunch of people for a long period of time in the middle of the night isn't fun. It was impossible to sleep. I just listened to my iPod the whole time. I felt sick and dehydrated the whole time too. When we made it to the rest stop in Zaragoza, I took the opportunity for some fresh air and a cold bottle of water. Glad I did. Made it back here after 7 hours. It was 5am and it felt like it was going to rain. Thankfully it didn't until I was home.

I had fun but I'm really happy to be back in my home in the Basque Country, even though the weather is horribly grey and rainy at the moment. I just want to stay in bed. I technically am still in bed, but in my defense I got in at 5 am, slept until I was frightened awake four hours later by the stereo in my host sister's room deciding to come to life and blast loud American pop music.

Perhaps it is worth mentioning at this point that my host family is still in their second home in France so I've been by myself this whole time.

After trying to figure out if I was still alone and if I should turn off the radio, I was pretty awake. I turned the gas on for my shower for the first time and I remembered to turn if off again when I finished too. I can learn these things, I promise. I needed to go run some errands so I decided to get dressed and do them before it got really rainy. Bad choice. I got drenched. So I put my pjs back on and haven't gotten out of bed much after that. It's also 12 degrees outside. I'm staying here where it's warm XD 

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

This is Halloween!

Or, as I almost titled this post, an economic view of Halloween abroad.

It's been 31/10/12 in my time zone fore half an hour already. All across the US, preparation for the holiday I'm sure are in full swing. Candy is being purchased, costumes are being perfected and decorations are placed in the perfect spot.

What about here in Spain? Well, Halloween isn't the same here. It's kind of just in bars for foreigners. I've seen one costume store, right by the cathedral in the somewhat touristy area dedicated to commerce. Tomorrow I might go to the supermarket to see if there is Halloween candy to be had. I'm experiencing my once a year craving for some ridiculously sweet candy corn.

I might be able to find some because I firmly believe in the economic forces of capitalism, the invisible hand and US soft power. This, like all other things in a free market is a function of supply and demand. Given the large influence of US pop culture, Halloween as Americans celebrate it is known here. Because of this, there is perhaps a demand for things like Halloween candy. If a stable market price can be maintained here, the invisible hand of the forces of supply and demand may see fit to place Halloween candy in stores near me. If so, market price will be determined by the elasticity of demand of consumers. In other words, how much a consumer will be willing to pay given how much they want the good. I imagine as a whole, the market in Spain is rather elastic, except for a few foreigners who may have a much more inelastic demand given their cultural expectations of eating candy on this day in the US. Thus, tomorrow is shall test my theory on the market availability of Halloween candy abroad. :)

 The big holiday here is All Saints Day on the first. I'll be on my way to Barcelona in lieu of celebration then. It's a seven hour bus ride I'm told. Leaving bright and early in the morning too. Glad the station is near where I live. I'm planning to sleep and bring homework and other things to do on the way.

Other than the long bus ride, I'm really looking forward to going. Barcelona seems like such a beautiful city. I'm charging my camera tomorrow. I don't think I ever uploaded my pictures from my trip to Pau so I might have to overload my Facebook with photos. I'm going to need space for Barcelona. I'm taking a test on Gothic architecture tomorrow so a trip to Barcelona for the four day weekend seems like a great follow up.

Here's to hoping for a safe Halloween and All Saints Day to all. Besos.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Weirdly awesome day

I've never been more homesick than realizing I won't be able to go to the Giants World Series parade on Wednesday. It isn't the same being far from the fanaticism SF has for its baseball team. But the Giants have their second WS victory in three years. Worth the sleep deprivation that results from sleeping at 5am consecutive nights in a row.

It's still freezing. My host mom, however, continues to spoil me. She put thick blankets on my bed, and came in with a steaming mug of hot chocolate. She even gave me a goodnight kiss. Suddenly the night becomes less cold when your heart is warmed by the kindness and generosity of others. :)

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Brace yourselves...

Winter is coming.

It was 8 degrees C today. That's 46 degrees for you Americans. I'm curled up in bed with lots of layers and a big thick blanket over me and I'm still freezing. It's supposed to be 4 degrees tonight. Sure feels like winter. Makes me really glad I used all that space in my suitcase for my winter coat. I imagine February in the Netherlands is colder than this. This winter is quite possibly the first where I live in snow, rather than just visit it. I will need to buy good winter shoes. I don't think any of the ones I brought are approved for real winter weather. I'll probably need a more waterproof winter jacket too.

That's one thing I didn't do well when packing: packing for cold weather. I thought I brought a hoodie. Nope. Only brought a couple pairs of shoes, mostly for summer weather. I did pack my raincoat and my winter wool coat but not a lot of other coats. I have a sweater and a pullover but that's about it. Might have to go shopping. Winter boots are kind of a high priority but everything else can wait. Winter isn't that bad here.

Ok next post will be more interesting, I promise.

An American Sports Fan Abroad

Last night was daylight savings time here in Spain. At 3 am, the clocks turned back to 2am. I was awake to see it. Why you ask?

Because my Giants are in the World Series. I'm a huge baseball fan and even though the game started at 2am, the time changed, and the game finished at 4:30am my time. It was worth staying up for the entire three and a half hour game. The Giants now have a 3 games to none series lead over the Tigers.   One more win and there will be another parade to City Hall.

The last time the Giants were in the World Series, I wasn't in town either. In fact, I'm pretty sure I was cramming for exams. I did catch the final game of that World Series. I dragged my friends to the sports bar on campus and made them sit there with me for three hours. There are a lot of other Giants fans on campus so when the team won, the place erupted with joy.

From what I hear, SF has Orange Fever again. We never really stopped having it after their 2010 triumph. It's always been a baseball town but even more so with the team's first World Series victory since coming from NY in 1958. You see Giants clothing year round, and orange is always a popular color. The city right now seems to be all abuzz with the Giants exciting postseason so far. Coming back from enormous deficits in both the NLDS and NLCS series and now up 3-0 in a best of seven World Series makes Giants baseball pretty exciting right now.

I just wish I were there in my hometown, rocking my own orange and black and chatting with strangers about how great our starting pitching has been, how effective Tim Lincecum has been out of the bullpen or what defensive wizardry our guys seem to pull off every night.

But see that's the funny thing: there are a surprising number of Bay Area people here in this part of Spain. I have a Giants backpack and it has caused me to meet so many people from around SF. I even met a white haired gentleman who went to the same high school in SF that I did. And of course, everyone here also just wants to talk about the game.

It may not be as crazy as it is back home, but it's sure nice to have that Bay Area feel here.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Is it still a holiday if it only occurs for one year?

So yesterday was a holiday and to make a nice neat weekend, I have today off from school too. Apparently it's a brand new holiday but its not going to exist next year. Why, you ask? Politics of course.

So as I've previously mentioned, the Basque Country has a complex relationship with the rest of Spain. It's an autonomous region within Spain, but there are some who would like it to be its own country. They're called the Basque Nationalists. Their major party (there are many Basque nationalist parties on both sides of the political spectrum) is the somewhat right wing party PNV/EAJ, which translates to Basque Nationalist Party. The left wing Basque Nationalists usually get accused of collaborating with ETA and get banned. They're not banned right now and their current name (or coalition as I believe it is) is EH Bildu, or just Bildu.

The current Basque president is Patxi Lopez, who is a member of PSOE, which is a Spanish Socialist party. He is the first president not from the PNV right wing Basque nationalist party. He is obviously more pro-Spain than the PNV. We have this holiday because of him. It's the anniversary of the Basque constitution. Now you're wonder why didn't we celebrate this before, given that it grants us autonomy. Well, it says the Basque Country belongs to Spain. Basque Nationalists obviously don't think so.

Well, The Basque Country had elections on Sunday.  PSOE will no longer hold the presidency. That means the Basque Country will no long observe its constitution day as a holiday.

Last weekend was 2/3 French

I didn't write about last weekend because of connection problems so consider this one chronologically before the previous one about teaching English. 

I love living so close to the French border. It's 20km/ 12.5 miles away. A round trip ticket to France costs 2.90€ or $3.77 and it's a forty minute ride, with trains leaving every 30 minutes. 

I ended up going to Hendaye/Hendaya/Hendaia (same town, French, Spanish and Basque spellings respectively) twice last weekend. Friday we had a talk about witchcraft in a Basque gastronomic society and afterwards my Basque class went to our professor's house in Hendaia to make gateau basque, which is a French-Basque cake usually filled with either cherry jam or pastry cream. Ours tasted really good. We spent all day there and met all of her family. She is incredibly nice to us. I can't imagine this happening with a big class so the five of us really enjoyed it. 

Yesterday was her birthday but it's a holiday so we didn't have class. So instead, on Tuesday we celebrated her birthday by bringing her flowers and pastries and more pastries. She was pleasantly surprised  but told us it was too much. She is the only female in her family, so I very much doubt all those leftover pastries went to waste. 

Saturday I went over to my host mom's sister's house. I think it's technically their mom's house but Tia Merche does all the cooking. She's also a really good cook. So, so tasty all the time. They're pleasantly surprised that I like all the Spanish and Basque food they cook. I don't really like onions so that's the one thing they really know I don't like. My host dad doesn't like them either. For me, raw is unpalatable but cooked is marginally acceptable. The only things I haven't liked that they served were the onion and pepper salad that accompanied a fish dish (which was when I told them I didn't like onions very much) and some green beans that my host mom, who never cooks with hot pepper, made for me that were inedibly spicy. Other than that, I eat the same as the rest of the family. Pepa might ask me if I like the dish they're having at lunch since I don't have time to come home for that, and she'll save me a portion to have with dinner. For example, they had pumpkin purée as part of their midday meal. Sounded good to me so she saved me some to have before dinner last night. I think it makes Pepa and her sisters happy that I don't require too much extra work. Pepa tells me stories of the students who lived with them before. One boy didn't like any Spanish food so she had to buy him hamburgers and pizzas for every meal. I can't imagine he lost weight while here. And besides, premade pizzas have ham instead of pepperoni and sausage on them. Pizza here tastes very different from in the US. They're not made with Americans in mind, they're made for Spaniards. Hamburgers taste more or less the same. Bread and meat is a little different but not so much that its too noticeable. 

But I digress. Sunday was the Apple Festival in Hendaye. It was pouring rain but we had paid 16€ for an  authentic Basque lunch. Abby and I were the first to get there, but we had gotten very very lost because the map our program had given us wasn't very good. Never have I been more glad of having some French than the times I get lost in France. We made it finally and we saw Manolo, the wonderful Basque man who took us apple picking. We had been told that he was one of the organizers. So I went up to him and said in French that we were the American students and he was delighted we'd come.  He pointed us to the ticket table where one of the ladies spoke English and she helped us get our bearings. For 5€ we could buy a souvenir cup that you could wear as necklace that served as your unlimited cider tasting cup, and a cute little neck scarf that she taught us the Basque way to tie. They had probably 20 types of cider to try. I was surprised at how different they were. Some were sweeter, some were more acidic. Some were light, others very dark. Manolo's lovely wife and his amusing workers were also there. They were all happy to see us again. The feeling was mutual.

The aforementioned lunch was quite good. First course was bacalao with tomato sauce and peppers.  Best tomato bacalao and peppers ever. Then was steak and French fries. The steak was the sort of grass fed variety and was cooked the French way, which is a little different from the US way. It's much rarer. Dessert was a magnificent apple tart with a strong Basque cheese and membrillo. There was cafe after as well. Oh and there was unlimited cider (and other beverages but let's be honest, it's all about the cider) during the meal as well. 

We were originally supposed to be 18 but due to the rain and other factors, only 7 of us were there when it was time to eat. Two more showed up soon after but that was still much less than they anticipated. There was a huge block on Nicole, Manolo's wife's seating chart that was marked "Americaines" but we didn't need that space so she moved us to a smaller table and we got seated with this one French lady who spoke no other languages. Most people here speak at least some of the other one (French or Spanish) that isn't their native tongue. I speak some French, enough to tell her we were Americans and that I only spoke a little French. No one else who was there spoke French. We still managed to communicate with her, more or less. 

It was a fun weekend overall.

Here's to always having great weekends :)


Ok, this website makes me sad. I haven't posted a lot because I couldn't get it even give me a new post for the longest time and when I finally did get this new post, I wrote a lot, saved it, came back later and it was blank. All it saved was the above title, "Busy". Well, that's helpful.

Ok, so since last time I posted, a lot has happened. For one, I taught English this week at a school I live a block from. My students are about 14-16 years old. I taught three different class but I had the same lessons for all of them. I prepared a PowerPoint about my life and then I just kind of hold an open forum for questions. My PowerPoint has pictures of me when I was younger, my city, my school, my favorite and least favorite subjects, my hobbies, favorite sports teams, etc. I have a slide about my fraternity and me doing theater as well. They love personal photos so seeing me in crazy costumes really made them giggle.

I really enjoy their questions. They want to know everything from whether I prefer San Francisco or San Sebastián, who's going to win the election, are American boys all cute, what clubs I go to here, how much an iPhone costs, how Christmas is celebrated, what music do I like, etc. I got asked twice what I would do if I were the president of the US. I think my favorite question was actually one I couldn't answer. I got asked if McDonald's is the same here as in the US. Can't say. Haven't been to one here or there. The one time I ate at McDonalds was in France and I had a cafe and a croissant.

I also really enjoyed talking Real Sociedad v. FC Barcelona with the boys in my morning class.  I have both Barça and Reala on my sports teams slide. That got all the boys' attention. I told them I'm a Barça fan but I'm becoming a Reala fan here. They tested my knowledge. They asked who my favorite players on each team were. I told them the young Frenchman, Griezmann, for Reala and it was between Xavi and Iniesta for Barça. They asked if I liked Messi or Ronaldo. Of course I like Messi. But Ronaldo is definitely on my list of least favorites. The guy can play but he's not the greatest and thinking he is doesn't justify his prima dona attitude in my mind. Also, the teacher asked the class who wore number 11 for Reala and I was like, "Isn't it Xabi Prieto?" I was right and she said I knew more about Real Sociedad than they do. I don't think that's true but it was amusing nonetheless.

Also, it was supposed to be a secret that I can actually speak Spanish in order to encourage the students to ask in English. I blew my cover in the second class, the morning one. After the class though. Cover blown, I thanked them in Spanish and said goodbye to them in Basque. Agur is totally my new favorite way to say goodbye.

The funny thing I realized about teaching is that it's very much like acting. My musical theater background was very helpful in teaching English abroad. Teachers almost have to be like clowns to keep interest. I at least have the benefit of being a novelty going for me. I'd heard from others that being from California means in European minds that you are a movie star or you know one. My students definitely thought so, especially after I showed them my theatre slide. Even still, I'm pretty sure my students had a good time. I certainly did.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

God bless America?

Had my first really uncomfortable with being American moment.

In my mythology class, we were talking about the Trojan War. Surely there's nothing scandalous about that, right? Wrong. Very, very wrong.

Just to give a little bit of background, my mythology class is made up of two Americans from SF, four Mexican exchange students and one white haired Spanish gentleman. The class is taught by the coolest professor, Iñaki. He's an old hippie. He's all the students in my program's favorite professor. I'm lucky enough to have him for three classes. The mythology class is a little odd for us Americans because we're not native speakers.

Ok so my professor the old hippie puts up a bunch of theories on war on the board. Iñaki knows that we're both from a pretty liberal town so he's not as hesitant to talk openly about his anti war stance. That was fine. What wasn't fine was the other American , he just said something along the lines of: the Trojan War was stupid, who fights for 10 years over a woman? and the Spaniard in our class jumped on him and was like well your country's wars are stupid and you only went for economic reasons! And look how many people have died because of you! And he was glaring down my fellow American. Whoa. Hold up. Not ok.

After a more than slightly awkward (but mercifully brief) pause, our professor jumped in and asserted that just about all wars are fought for economic reasons.

The class continued on and we talked about much less controversial things, like Ninja Turtles.

So walking to our Spanish class together, he turns to me and asks, so what did that guy in our class say to me? I explained, well, he kind of demanded to know why the US went to Iraq and Afghanistan, but he basically was already decided that it was for greedy reasons and lots of people died. While neither of us were particularly opposed to that opinion, it's just really uncomfortable to be put on the spot because of American foreign policy. I mean, the two of us were in fourth grade when 9/11 happened. What answers could we two possibly give as to why our country is at war? And besides, we were talking about ancient Troy, not modern day Iraq and Afghanistan.

Discussing this episode with other Americans, we came to the conclusion that demanding to know why the US did all these terrible things is like asking a Spaniard why the Spanish conquistadors treated the Native Americans so badly. Or alternatively, why the Inquisition tortured so many or why the Recomquista expelled non-Christians. There just isn't an answer to any of those. Somebody must have thought that they were good ideas at the time. Every country has things in their history they aren't proud of but that doesn't make all the people from that country horrible people. Granted, the US probably has done more terrible things than its citizens are aware of but my fellow American and I are no more responsible for the wars, slavery, segregation, removing democratic leaders during the Cold War, etc. than our Spanish classmate is responsible for the current economic crisis, the Inquisition, the devastation of Native Americans, or the Reconquista.

So a lesson for all: people are not necessarily as you assume them to be.

It just goes to show that you are absolutely an ambassador for your country when you are abroad.

Sunday, October 14, 2012


Ok, the previous post got too long and got cut off. I'll have the rest of it here so read the previous post first S.V.P. as this is a continuation of it. Thanks :)

Catalunya's case for independence is based off of history and current events. I'm not as familiar, I'll admit, with their history as I am with their current situation. It's pretty common knowledge that Spain has been hit hard by the recent global economic downturn. Spain's regions, however, are not affected by the country's struggles in the same way. Catalunya has traditionaly been an economically successful region. Catalunya, like most provinces of Spain, doesn't have power over its own tax revenue. Taxes go to Madrid and Madrid decides how to use them. Taxes aren't equal for all the provinces either. And the taxes from a province aren't necessarily used for the province the taxes came from. The largest issue for the Catalonians is that if they had control of their own taxes, they could have put away savings for times like these where there is less money. The revenues the Catalonians refer to was instead spent on other regions who were not prospering economically. As a result, more Catalonians favor independence than ever before.

The economic situation in the Basque Country is a bit different from Catalunya. The Basque Country was the first part to industrialize, and with its major ports and financial centers, as well as industry and natural resources, have made the Basque Country the wealthiest region of Spain. Additionally, as an autonomous community, they have power over taxation, and only pay Madrid a certain amount. Unemployment as well is significantly lower than the rest of Spain (6-8% as opposed to the 30% nationally). Even visibly, the Basque Country has fewer homeless on its streets than other parts of Spain. That's not to say they don't exist here but in my personal experience, Madrid was the worst, and there were many in Segovia and Toledo as well, I saw one in Bilbao and I see the same 3 in Donostia all the time.

(A side note, but perhaps of interest. The three homeless here are a ragged looking man who sits in the tunnel between the beaches and says hola to everyone that passes. No one gives him money because he looks like a junkie. The other two are Romani women who don't look ragged but they sit on the sidewalk with a cup out. One sits by the park in Amara and the other by the Cathedral. Romani aren't very common here in the north, but it seems like people still are very untrusting of Romani here. I've only ever seen foreign tourists give the one by Buen Pastor money. Most of the homeless and beggars I've seen in other parts of Spain were either also Romani or just people who looke like they've fallen on hard times. Madrid also has the bonus of having refuges camped out on its streets.)

Due to its relative economic prosperity and its control over its own taxes, the Basque Country is far more willing to accept the status quo than Catalunya. They are always more radical people, but the general feeling is that things aren't quite that bad. People aren't happy, but it's not extreme enough to make independence seem like the only option. The Basque Country has autonomy. Not the same as independence, but it still puts them in a better position than Catalunya for dealing with the economic situation. The simple fact is that the majority of Basques more or less accept the status quo and believe they can work within the existing system to get the changes they do want.

Additionally, the demographics of the Basque Country have shifted dramatically. Many Spanish families came to the Basque Country because of their advanced industry so there are many, many people in the Basque Country that are not Basque. Also, Franco's ban on Basque expression cause euskara to lose some of its ground, in terms of territory it is spoken in. And without Franco now and autonomy and expression restored, the Basque no longer have an extreme unifying factor. Franco was the reason the terrorist group ETA formed and even for a time had the support of the majority. Those days are gone and the ETA has called what seems to be a difinitive ceasefire to their armed struggle.

Couple those factors with the difficulty of fully uniting the seven provinces, and you have the reason why it's far more likely Catalunya will become a separate country than the Badque Country,

The Basque Country/ Pays Basque, Northern Spain and Southern France

The region of the world I'm living in at the moment is a fascinating place. I'm really enjoying living here. It's provided me with an opportunity to reflect on the reality of life in the Basque Country, Spain and France.

I recently found out that the Basque nationalists don't even like to refer to Spain or France. The Spanish Basque provinces of Nafarroa, Gipuzkoa, Bizkaia and Alavá, located in the north of Spain, are the Southern Basque Country. The French Pays Basque, consisting of Lapurdi, Behe Nafarroa, and Zuberoa, are in Southern France and are referred to as the Northern Basque Country. Confused yet?

It gets better. The officially recognized Comunidad Autónoma Vasca (CAV, or Autonomus Basque Community) consists only of Gipuzkoa, Bizkaia and Alavá. Nafarroa is another separate entity, and is much more pro Spanish as the Basques only have a strong presence in the province's north. The Pays Basque, which is Lapurdi, Behe Nafarroa, and Zuberoa, is not a separate political entity. They are part of Aquitaine and the Atlantic-Pyrenees Department in France. Furthermore, euskara is not as widely used/displayed in France. I certainly heard it but I saw less of it.

As a slightly related note, Biskaia is the province that I've visited that seems to display the most Basque. I've heard this is because the unified Basque language, euskara batua, is heavily influenced by the Gipuzkoan dialect and Bizkaia believes this to be unfair and fights harder for their particular dialect to be preserved. 

Also interesting is the uses of Euskadi and Euskal Herria as the name for the Basque Country. It's widely agreed that Euskal Herria is the Basque Country as a whole. Herria is town or country and euskal is the combing form of euskara, the Basque language. Euskal Herria is usually the more formal, offical name used. Euskadi is a little more complicated. Euskadi has meant different things at different times, but can still refer to those meanings. It now refers to both the seven provinces as whole and also the CAV. When the CAV came into existence, Euskadi became attached to the collective of those three provinces, when it had previously referred to all seven provinces. Today it is not incorrect to call the seven provinces Euskadi, but it is usually used in reference to the CAV.

Another interesting factor in the dynamic between the Basque Country and Spain and France is, of course, the economy, and the political implications of such a dynamic. I study international political economy so it was only a matter of time until I got to writing a blog post on this topic. In France, the three Basque provinces have very little automous rights. They are not given any special treatment as it were. Basque is not really an official language. The three provinces do not have their own government or representation. Furthermore, France wishes to hold on to these provinces because of the population they give France more power within the EU. For Spain, this is even more important. 

Spain is a medium sized country in terms of EU representation and power. There are strong calls for independence in many region of Spain, but Catalunya and the Basque Country are the most vocal about it. 

A common misconception about Spain is that all the people only speak Spanish. They all speak Spanish because its the official language but there are many languages in Spain. There's euskara in the Basque Country, Catalan in Catalunya, valenciano in Valencia, bablé in Asturias, Gallego in Galicia and andlé in Andalucia. Some are more official than others. Euskara is the most linguistically fascinating because it is unrelated to any other language in existence. Catalan has similarities to French and Gallego to Portuguese, for example. Euskara is not similar to anything.

If separatist regions are allowed to separate from Spain, Spain will lose power within the EU as they will have a smaller population. Madrid has its reasons for keeping hold on its indepence-minded regions but I think it's more interesting to look at the cases for indepence, especially in light of Spain's financial woes in the Eurozone Crisis.


French Weekend

The Pyrenees might just be one of the most beautiful places on earth. The rural Basque Country is so, so gorgeous. 

Had the craziest weekend ever. Good crazy. Saturday we were going to catch the 11:15 metro to Hendaia, then the 12:30 bus to St. Jean de Luz, come back to Hendaia to catch our 5pm train to Pau. Most of that did not go according to plan. My friend had to put money on her phone, which took way longer than she thought. Not having a working phone, I didn't know she wasn't on the train. We get on a different stations. So I was in Hendaia by myself for two hours. I used my French skills to buy un pain au chocolat avec un cafe au lait. Best croissant I've ever had. Fresh out of the oven too. First one I've had in France. :)

By the time my friend I was going with got to Hendaia, there was no way to get to Sainte Jean de Luz and get back in time to get to Pau. Hendaia, as I discovered, is rather boring, so we went back across the border to Irun and had yummy lunch there. Standard Spanish cafe fair. Sat around and did nothing til our train to Pau. Half hour layover in Bayonne.

My friend in Pau met us at the station. He took us to our hotel, which was by his university. When we got there, they didn't have anyone working. Glad he was with us to speak French (and guide us). We had to call this number and they told me my room and that the key was inside the room o_O um ok. Worked out ok. Room was way nicer than I expected. 

Oh yeah, on the bus from the station to the hotel, two very intoxicated French guys and one girl heard the three of us speaking English and came over to talk to us. One of the two guys was very good at speaking English. He had Elvis hair lol. This amusing young Frenchman made my visit to Pau very interesting within the first five minutes of arriving. We parted on friendly terms and once we were off the bus we busted out laughing. 

Did some mini nighttime sight seeing. Ate Italian food. Went out with my friend's friends. It was terribly cold, colder than expected. I did check the weather but I did not pack for 10 degrees. My visit also made me appreciate the night life in my city way more. It is so lively. Pau isn't. They don't even have good entertainment. they we showing replays of Spanish soccer games everyone already knew how they ended. No wonder all the Americans in Pau go to the same places. They all miss the nightlife in my city too lol. I had a lot of fun thou. company is far more important. My friend very sweetly took the taxi with us to our hotel to make sure we got back ok and then took the taxi from our hotel to his place (which was really not on the way).

He'd left his scarf in our room and was able to pick it up before we left to I told him I was holding his scarf captive until he came back to my city. He was perfectly ok with this. 

I ate at McDonalds for the very first time. But I was in France. I had a cafe au lait and a macaron. It was the only thing open.

I was convinced we could walk from our hotel to the train station in plenty of time. We ended up following the signs to the train station instead of going with our gut. Took us on a crazy walking tour of Pau. We made it to the train station 20min before our train left when we had left our hotel three hours before. Nothing like a little stress to get you going XD. Uneventful train ride. Although our train did have compartments and we felt like we were in Harry Potter lol. Poured rain the closer we got to the Basque Country. Nasty rain in Hendaia to run though. Had a delicious hot mini quiche for lunch. Yummy, authentic French food lol. Ran through more rain. Took the metro to Anoeta. Shivered the whole time. Ran through more rain. Made it home. Changed. Dried my hair. Now sitting in my pjs catching up on the Internet world.

It is absolutely storming outside. Glad to be back. :D

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Observations, updated

I realize I've posted things that I now know more about. A chronicle of the progression of my discovery of norms here, as it were. Plus I will add some new stuff that's come up as I haven't been blogging as often because of my terrible cold. 

First, corrections.

Dogs aren't unleashed because they are well behaved. Dogs are not on leashes because their owned don't give a fig about leash laws. 

Or really most Spaniards don't care too much about laws in general. I found this out because in a practice for Spanish class, I noted that it surprised me how no one waits for a green to cross the street. The professor responded by asking me if I'd seen Pirates of the Carribean. Say what? She was getting at the great pirate line "they're more like guidelines than actual rules" because that's how it is here. It's easy, as an American to forget that democracy is new here. Spain was under Franco's dictatorship until his death in 1975. And yes, he is still dead. I know, I visited his tomb. Everything was prohibited under Franco so when he died, everything was more or less permitted. They didn't want to be reminded of anything Francoist. 

Can't really blame them. Many, many people here have some kind of memory/experience of Franco times. Here in the Basque Country we don't talk about him a lot because he was especially loathed here for his ban on all things Basque. The Franco regime is also the reason why Spaniards eat bread with every meal. There wasn't ever enough bread, and what their was was black or yellow and not at all appetizing. Without Franco, the Spaniards now consume enough bread to make up for missing out during all those years of dictatorship. I've also heard that the reason why more women than men smoke in this country is because they were banned from smoking under Franco. Crazy. 

On a completely different note, it's nasty hot here and over dinner I was chatting with my host mom. She said she was going to sleep on top of the covers with the window open. She asked if I did that and I told her I don't sleep with the window open because of the mosquitos. She was horrified that I get mosquitos in my room and plugged in a mosquito deterring device. This being the first time I've lived where there are mosquitos, I am unfamiliar with this device. I figured it just made a noise at a frequency I can't hear but mosquitos can and it drives them away. Nope. As I was writing this blog, I naturally got a mosquito in my room because I have my window open. I was just like, "really?" And then it went toward where the mosquito deterrent was and then I understood how it worked. It attracts the mosquitos and then they get to close to the device and zap! They are incinerated. I am slightly horrified by this...

Still sick...

This the first time I've been sick in Spain and my body decided to compensate by getting really sick during a nasty period of changing weather patterns and high humidity. Needless to say, having a severe head cold in this weather is quite miserable and makes not want to do anything.

Everyone is sick. Especially the Americans. Once one of us catches something, pretty much all of us have it. But in my largest integrated class everyone was sick, not just the Americans.

I'm hoping yesterday was the worst of it. My friends told me that I looked like I was dying. I told them I was. It was really hot and I had so much pressure in my sinuses that I couldn't hear and I had a headache. I also couldn't talk because my throat hurt so much. Not a good day.

Today I can talk and the sinuses aren't as bad but I'm not out of the woods yet. I have developed a cough and runny nose to accompany my sinus problems, headache and sore throat. At least I can hear. That is a definite improvement.

It's oddly helping me learn Spanish as well. I used up all my tissues that I had brought with me so I went to the super today to buy pañuelos (tissues). People don't have tissue boxes here. They just have what we would consider pocket packs. So, being an economics student, did per unit price evaluations to pick my best deal on tissues. 15 packs for 1,37€. And I was pleasantly surprised that they do not feel like sandpaper on already irritated nose. I have a rather inelastic demand for Puffs right now (meaning I would be willing to pay just about any price for them) but Spain is apparently not even on the demand curve (meaning they are completely unavailable in this country).

Continuing with the educational theme, in castellano class today we were studying verb tenses when describing the function of an object. Fascinating I know, but useful when you don't know the word for something in Spanish and have to describe it instead. So our professor asked us to describe something we would like to know the word for in Spanish. I described cough drops. My classmates were mildly amused. That is definitely something I need the word for because I sound like, as a friend described once, like I kissed the wrong kind of frog prince. The past three days have been really bad. My castellano professor can't even hear me because of my terrible throat. Monday she called on me and no words came out. Tuesday I had the faintest of rasps for a voice. Today it's not quite normal sounding but she could kind of hear me today. Turns out cough drops are "caramelos de la garganta." Throat candies. Makes sense.

Sunday, October 7, 2012


So for the second time since I've been in Spain, I wish I knew more technical medical Spanish. I know enough to figure things out. Additionally, Spanish words for medical things are often close to formal medical names. Example: pulmonary disease is related to the lungs and pulmones is the word for lungs.

So when I woke up with a terrible sore throat I knew how to say "me duele la garganta" but I resorted to pointing to my tonsils and sinuses when my host mom and sister asked where else. My host mom keeps checking if I have a fever. At the moment, I don't have one. I have done a lot of sleeping. I estimate that thorough all of Friday-1pm Sunday, I've been awake a total of 10 hours this weekend.

My host family is quite amazing though. I got crazy lucky with them. My host mom dropped everything to take care of me. From the beginning she's made sure I've felt like one of her own children. Never has that felt more true than last night. There is nothing quite like a mother's worry over a sick child. My host mom checks on me every hour, making sure I don't have a fever. She told me that if I needed her in the middle of the night to come wake her up immediately. She gave me all the throat medicine they had and promised to take me to the farmacia today. She sent me back to bed with the entire water pitcher.

One of the more interesting things about this whole event is finding out about Spanish home remedies. Back home, it's tea, soup, orange juice and sleep. Home remedies here are slightly different. Nothing too hot or too cold. So my host mom made me warm milk with farm honey. That works so well. And it tastes really good. Then lots and lots of tap water. I've had four pitchers of tap water since last night. Helps keep my throat from getting nasty dry and painful. This morning my host mom made me a plain omelette and a concoction of fresh squeezed orange juice, lemon juice and cane sugar. Works crazy well. I added my own vitamin c supplement and I'm feeling significantly better today than last night. But home remedies here are amazing.

Saturday, October 6, 2012


So I learned that, big surprise, there is a big misconception about partying in the US and partying in Spain. There's even a vocabulary difference.

An American party is usually a bunch of people in a house having fun together. That will never ever happen in Spain. First, most people live in apartments so there isn't space for a party. Second, you are supposed to be quiet at home. In urban areas, population is incredibly dense so people just made it so you are quiet at home but you can party as loud as you want in the streets. And that's not called a fiesta. A fiesta is more a holiday than what Americans would call a party. And since the American type of parties don't happen, partying in the street is just called going out with your friends.

Another thing: Spaniards stay out so much later than Americans. For example, I came home at 2am and I was all ready to sneak in and such. Didn't need to. Everyone was up and all the lights were on. 2am is actually pretty early. Clubs don't open until 3am. And by the way, a fair number of clubs are free for females, sorry guys. It's a different lifestyle for sure.

Our castellano professor even told us the other days that it is very, very "ugly" to buy someone a drink here. You only do that to, uh, people you can buy. So yeah. Not a good way to chat up a local. Also, she told us that if you aren't interested in a guy, don't smile at him. Americans, we just smile a lot, especially when people are talking to us. She says that she likes to tell her foreign students these things because its just not something you will find in a guidebook. And Americans in particular tend to have trouble because we are much more comfortable with talking with strangers than Spaniards are and that can lead to problems.

She brought up and interesting point about that too. Spaniards stay in their groups with their same friends for most of their lives. They do the same things. They like to be safe. It's very hard to make friends outside of your group because you need an excuse to talk to people. You can't just go up to someone. It almost horrifies her that Americans are so trusting of strangers, as she put it, especially since she pointed out that it's very easy for people to get guns in the US and there are just so many around. How do you know the person you are talking with isn't crazy and has a gun, she had asked us. We just kind of looked at each other and thought, huh, never thought of it that way.

A huge cultural difference, no?

Friday, October 5, 2012

"Los vascos viven para comer, no comen para vivir"

That is, " The Basques live to eat, not eat to live."

My host family isn't Basque but they do love good food. I don't see how you couldn't, living here in the Basque Country.

A lot of my stressed out nights this week were made so much better by dinner with the family. My family here is full of warm, happy people and they just make a lot of things better. I got so lucky with my family.

My host mom is also a fantastic cook. Last night we had a healthier dish that's pretty standard fare here in this house: pasta salad with cheese, tomato and tuna, dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The night before we had tortilla de patata. And the night before that we had anchoas. It's Friday so were having fish. My host mom knows I love seafood. Especially since its so fresh here.

An observation about shopping for food: supermarkets are where you buy packaged foods (such as cartons of gazpacho) and packaged milk (no fresh milk here, it's all TetraPak), your everyday wine/beer (liquor stores are only if you want something for a special occasion or a gift) and your household goods (toothpaste, shampoo, razors, etc). You buy bread everyday from the baker, meat from a butcher, fish from a fish market, cheese from a cheese shop and fruits and vegetables from a fruteria. There are several in every neighborhood so you don't have to go far to do your shopping. My host mom takes a pull cart basket thing with her and she goes to the bakery, butcher shop and fruteria in our plaza and the across the street to Super Amara and the fish market. And my host mom is like a celebrity, everyone knows her and her life story. But that's kind of all the customers. Everyone's neighbors and they've all been shopping at these stores for years.

A bit different from the US no?

People also have their regular bars where they have a drink before going home and it's often right by home. For pintxos my family goes to this place across the street. For just drinks there's a bar in our plaza with open air seating.

I'm really enjoying the different lifestyle. And the food.

I definitely liked Spanish food back in the US and I can even cook some Spanish dishes but its hard to compare to the real thing. The ingredients just aren't the same. Take chorizo for example. We have chorizo in the US but it's more likely to be Mexican than Spanish and Spanish chorizo is really different. It's flavorful but not spicy. It's very smoothe and easy to eat. It isn't full of fat and it smells so good. It can be eaten as a snack with red wine. In fact, that's often offered as a pintxo here.

Cheeses here are also fantastic. Here in Sanse we're 20km from the French border so we get Spanish, Basque and French cheeses. Also, Dutch and Swiss cheeses can be bought (in the supermarket) so we get a lot of variety. Since we have a package of membrillo (the apple jelly thing we've been having for dessert), we've been having it with cheese and wine for dessert every night.

Food lover's paradise right here. And the nice thing is that with a lot of walking, the good food doesn't go to your hips. America take note.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Can't win them all

It was midterms week.

That alone should tell you what kind of week I've had. Stressful. Five tests in four days. Not fun. At least I now have a three day weekend to decompress. This is probably going to be a long post because a lot has happened since I last blogged. 

The exams went well. Some better than others, naturally. But overall, I felt pretty good. Hopefully worth the lack of sleep. 

But having a week long marathon of lacking sleep inevitable leads to problems. For example, I kind of broke a computer at work the other day. In my defense, the default language is Basque and I don't read enough Basque to decode the error message that flashes for two seconds before the computer dies. And naturally, the big boss was in the office that day. It was only the second time that he and I have been in the office at the same time. Great impression no?

Also today my Basque class finished late so I knew I was really late to my Mythology class. I got to the building and my teacher was in the hallway. Uh oh. I'd previously told him that my class before is far away and that makes it just about impossible to to be on time. He knows the teacher and the class so he kindly permits me five minutes of leeway. But today I was way more than five minutes late. But, being Basque himself, was very impressed I managed to say, "barkatu berandu iristeagatik. Nire klasea berandu bukatuda." Which in English is, "sorry for arriving late. My class finished late." 

There's been a call for a student strike a week from today. We'll see how that turns out. Likely the program director will call for us to continue class but I'm not so sure the university will be accessible with a student strike. Today they had a press release and so we could barely get in the building and it's not even the day yet. More on that when I know more.

I got a huge cut on my leg walking home today. A small child on a bike ran over another small child who stopped for no apparent reason. I was distracted by this while a third small child holding a dog leash walked around me and the dog went the other way before coming back to the child, making a loop around my leg and then the dog tried to run after the crashing small children and the leash tighten around my leg and cut it. The parents were completely horrified. They made me sit down and drink water and have me a bandaid. They were really sorry about their kids and sorry about the dog and sorry about the bandaid not being big enough. I was four blocks from home and I was just like I want to go home but I smiled and reassured the parents it wasn't a big deal. Accidents happen and whatever.

This was maybe five minutes after I had extreme difficulties with the post office. The stamp vending machine ate my money and I was really frustrated. Then I completely fail at telling the postal workers what happened. But that got sorted so it was ok. Then a woman came in with a stack of postcards and made some weird gestures. I must have given her a pretty puzzled look because she reverted to English and was like "I need to send these. Can I use this machine?" I actually startled her when I told her in English the machine I was using just for selling stamps, not sending mail. Then I had to admit the somewhat embarrassing fact that I don't actually know where you mail stuff in the post office itself, despite being here for a month. I told her that I actually just use the post boxes in the street. There was an ad featuring one so I pointed to it and told her that's what they look like. My mom got the one postcard I have managed to mail so I'm going to assume that worked. 

Also, there is absolutely no running water in the entire building and quite possibly the entire block. I got home and my host sister told me that if I wanted water for drinking or washing my hands or brushing my teeth to use the large bottled water in the kitchen because there wasn't any. She had asked some neighbors and none of them had water either. Naturally.

But it's just not been my week.

At least my host family is comprised of the coolest people ever. They make everything very bearable. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Mucho estres pero no te preocupes

I had two tests already this week and I'm going to have two more. My week is only four days long. One a day. Can't wait for this week to be over.

I just love how every time I have a moment of "oh my god, what am I doing? I'm doing to too much. I can't handle this," real life comes and tells me "tranquila, you live in Spain, c'mon."

Tonight my calming moment was dinner with my host family. We watched Barça win while we ate anchoas for dinner, accompanied by red wine and followed by cheese and apple puree cake (ok, bad description. It looks like a cake but its made of dehydrated apple puree and formed into blocks.) for dessert. Futbol, fish, vino, fruit and cheese. What's more Spanish than that?

It's kind of hard to be stressed out after such a pleasant dinner.

I also finally revealed that I'm a huge Barça fan to my host parents. My host mom was like, ok but you're a Reala (Real Sociedad, the local team) fan now right? And I'm like of course. You have to cheer for your local team. I even bought a Reala scarf. There are few better ways to blend in with the locals than to support the local sports team.

And to steal a line from one of my favorite athletes:

And that's what's up.

Monday, October 1, 2012

October already?

When did that happen? Unfortunately for me, my October begins with a ton of tests. One in every class. So I shouldn't really be blogging right now, but oh well. I'll be fine.

So now that I've been in Spain for over a month, I want to record more of my impressions and observations. My perspective on life in España as it were:

Yes and no are used the opposite as they would be in the US. I was warned about this by my cross cultural training teacher. Here if a Spaniard asks you for example, "you're not hungry, right?" And you aren't hungry so you as an American would say, "yes" meaning yes, that's right, I'm not hungry. But the Spaniard hears "yes" meaning, well yes I actually am hungry. So the correct answer would be "no" as in no, I'm not hungry. That took some getting used to.

Also, in España if it your birthday, you're the one expected to pay for drinks. People don't buy you drinks because it's your birthday here. So be cautious telling people it's your birthday here.

If I leave my door open when I'm doing homework, my host mom or sister will come in and see what I'm doing. This may include picking up notebooks/ books on my desk and going through them. This is weird to Americans but they just are interested and want to help. I am ok with this. For my test on myths and legends my host family lent me mythology books. Cool.

Apparently my host mom read the entire odious Baroja book for the last student who lived here. I would never inflict that on anyone.  That's just evil. It's kind of like reading Nathaniel Hawthorne. Lots and lots of crazy syntax and description and not a lot of action. Actually, Hawthorne eventually has action. There is no action in Baroja. A lot of his short stories are nothing but description. Uff.

I wrote an essay on the relationship between poverty and development in Spanish today. Not sure if I should be please with myself for remembering enough from my classes in the US or if I should be horrified I attempted such a technical essay in a language I'm still learning.

I'm also beginning to assume that all bugs bite. I'm very glad I have organic bug repellant. There are nasty biting bugs other than mosquitos here.

Today my Spanish teacher taught our class all the bad words in Spanish. Not to use, she claims, but so we can understand better. Haha, sure. Our class could not stop laughing when she was using her teacher voice to tell us what these words meant in English. Interesting class today. Good topic for a Monday.

Also, my boss was actually in the office today. First time he and I have been there at the same time. He makes me nervous because I cannot speak castellano around him. He corrects me because I told him I need to learn. At least he says my pronunciation of Euskara is good. xD

I sang Rocky Horror and The Clash songs to my intercambio. A fairly decent Monday.

Ok, time to study.


Sunday, September 30, 2012

Saturday lunches

My host mother's mother has extended an open invitation to dine with the whole family every Saturday. I very gratefully accepted. Weekend lunch with everyone is the most fun.

My host mom's mom is 92 and loves having guest over. Having an American is a special treat. She doesn't travel anymore so she loves seeing me so I can tell her about the US.

It's no wonder my host mom is so adorable. Her mom and her sisters are adorable too. They are all very kind to me.

Lunch is always delicious. This time it was sausages, hard boiled eggs with bacon, toast with pâté, and peppers stuffed with ground meat and covered in a velvety tomato sauce. Delicious.

I got to try pacharán too. It's a blueberry and anise liquor made here in the Basque Country.

Basque Derby!

Every sports team has its rivalries.

Here the local futbol/ soccer team is Real Sociedad. Their rival is the other Basque team, Atletico Bilbao. The rivalry game is called the Basque Derby. Bilbao has traditionally owned the derby but this year Real Sociedad is supposed to be much improved. 

Final score: Real Sociedad 2, Atletico Bilbao 0.

Both goals were scored in the second half. I was in a bar with a bunch of other Americans (one of whom was celebrating his 21st) watching the game. So much fun. I had bought myself a Real Sociedad scarf to support my local team. Good decision.

I totally look like I should be a local. I ge asked for directions every time I go out. Adding the local futbol team's scarf to my wardrobe only adds to that misconception. 

After the game, some drunk señorita was yelling something at me. Not entirely sure what she was saying but she was wearing a scarf pretty similar to mine. I just smiled and continued on my way. It's study abroad. Sometimes you just have to smile and carry on.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Gernika and Bilbo

For clarification: Bilbo is the Basque name of Bilbao and Gernika for Guernica.

Today we had an excursion to the Basque province of Biskaia (Viscay in English), where Gernika and Bilbo are located.

I knew it was going to be a good day when I left the apartment and I got to meet my next door neighbor. He figured out I was the American living with Paco and Pepa pretty quick and switched (unexpectedly) to English on me. And he's from England so he had an accent. Whoa. I had kind of assumed the people who lived there were Basque because their mat outside their door says "Ongi etorri" which is welcome in Euskara.

Also slightly surprisingly was that our bus driver today was the same lady we had on our Madrid tour. 

I feel like Bizkaia is more Basque than Donosti, where I live. All the signs on the autopista seemed to have San Sebastián removed but Donostia untouched. Very, very Basque there.

First we saw Gernika, the Basque town that was infamously bombed by the Nazis in support of Franco in the Spanish Civil War. It inspired Picasso's famously haunting painting of the atrocities of targeting civilians in war. 

Ok, tiny history lesson. The Basques have always valued their autonomy. They created a set of laws, known as the fueros, which are the oldest democratic code of laws. They predate the Magna Carta by more than a century. These laws were created in the shade of the great oak tree in Gernika, the original center of the Basque Country. King Fernando, of Christopher Columbus fame, got the Basques to agree to be part of his kingdom if he would swear under the Tree of Gernika that he would uphold the fueros. Basques become part of Spain but retain autonomy and everyone's happy. Fast forward to the Spanish Civil War. The Basques are very anti-Franco and Franco's buddy Hitler wanted to try out his new planes. They choose the market town of Gernika, likely for its symbolic value to the Basque people, as their target. The Nazis unleashed incendiary bombs, leveling nearly the entire city but the Tree of Gernika survived. 

The trunk of that particular tree has a place of honor on the grounds. Oak trees live over a hundred years so there is a direct descendant of the original tree always growing. The current Tree of Gernika is only about 26 years old and has been the Tree since 2004. 

I felt very moved by this tree, being Basque myself. The Tree of Gernika (Gernikako Aretxa) is the symbol of Basque freedom. Not even Hitler could destroy that. Franco tried but he didn't succeed.

After that, we saw a demonstration of pelota vasca, the Basque's most famous sport. It is a type of handball played against a wall. There's many variations, including jai alai as its known in the States, cesta, which is played with the long pointy baskets at high speed, pala, which is played with a type of bat and more. Pelota is played with a type of padded bandage applied directly to your hands. There are also two types of courts. Unless it's cesta, there usually isn't protection worn. Well, in pelota/pelotari they protect their hands. We had a guy explain to us everything. Then he and three others played a short game to 15 instead of the usual 21. When a team is one point away, that's when you should clap. And you don't have to win by more than one. Also, lines are bad and make a scary noise when struck because they're metal. 

I had so much fun because we got to tape out hands and play too, granted with the soft and light kiddie ball but still. I tried out my Basque with the pelota players and they were really impressed and surprised. There's another guy in my program who is Basque and knows a bit of the language. He got really animated during the game because he had made a bet and surprised the players by yelling encouragement (or perhaps it wasn't quite encouragement...) in Basque at them. I did try hitting the harder ball meant for people my age. It would hurt if you had to do that regularly and you weren't used to it. No wonder they gave us the ones for 8-9 year olds. 

After that we had lunch at a cafe in Bilbo. It was three courses. First was a huge plate of vegetable paella. We were all starving so we inhaled it. It was tasty, but my host brother makes better paella. Second was chicken and French fries in gravy. Dessert was a yummy apple cream cake. We were so full we didn't want to move after all that.

But we had to walk very quickly to the Guggenheim to meet our reservation. There was much complaining. Worth it when we got there but you can't expect us to eat all that food and then be able to move quickly. That just doesn't happen.

The building was I think my favorite part of the Guggenheim. The building is quite amazing. The Puppy sculpture outside is quite cute too. It's a two story puppy made out of a metal frame and flowers. The Puppy was our meeting point for going home and our very adorable internship coordinator, Cecilia, came on the trip and she was telling us to meet at the Puppy. The only problem was when you say "puppy" with a Spanish accent, it sounds like "poopy" and that just doesn't work. We were trying not to laugh because we all really like Cecilia, but she kept telling us to meet at "the poopy". A few giggles did escape us. XD

There was also an exhibit that was done entirely from a iPad drawing app. Makes for an interesting philosophical debate on how technology is creating entirely new issues for the art world. If a work of art is created digitally and is then printed, theoretically millions of copies could be produced. Is there an original work of art? And say, someone commissions an original work of art that is produced digitally. Do they have the right to request that the file be destroyed once they have the only print? Or is that destroying a work of art? Can you have an original anymore? Odd questions to ponder on art, originality and intellectual promptly rights.

There was also a room (the largest room in the world that is not supported by columns I'm told. It's supported by flying buttresses if you were curious.) in which a artist from my hometown back in the States has an installation of large shapes you can walk through. They are painted to appear to be wood, but they're not. Walking through these constructions really distort your perception. You can also go up a few floors and view them from above to see a different illusion. Also, if you view the outside of the museum from above, it appears as if the river estuary and the museum pond are part of the same body of water, thanks to the placement of the bridges. 

We had a bit less than an hour to explore the museum and meet in front of the Puppy. I was pretty tired by this point so I went to the cafe and downed a coffee in less than a minute so I could get to everything else I wanted to see and the gift shop. Never skip museum gift stores.

Especially if you are missing a textbook. I had already purchase my Basque textbook, which is a cultural look at the the Basque Country. The book was translated into English by our professor. And it just so happened to be in the Guggenheim gift shop at about the same price as it would have been in the official bookstore. Two of my classmates were very happy about this. 

After all that, we came back to Donostia. I finally got to meet the other brother, Iñigo. And his Australian girlfriend, Angela. So now I've met 4/5 of my host parents' children. I still haven't met María. Little by little, I'm getting there.

My host dad is back from the hospital, which is a very good thing. In plenty of time for the Basque Derby too, just like he promised. He is a huge Real Sociedad fan and the Basque Derby is the most important rivalry game of the year. You just can't miss that.

On a slightly random note, I think I've finally outsmarted the mosquitos. I don't always remember to shut my window after dark so I'm still getting mosquitos in my room. I saw one in my room but I couldn't get it. So it occurred to me I had organic bug repellant. It smells like pine, tea tree oil and lemons but that is a small price to pay in exchange for remaining mosquito bite free. Mosquitos and I are tied at 1-1.

I also got to Skype with my mom. Good day.