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.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Another Report Card

I think I should make a habit of listing what is going well and what's not. I promise there will be amusing anecdotes soon, so bear with me please :)

What's going well:
-I finally feel comfortable and I have a routine. This has done wonders for my ability to complete homework and actually function during the day.
-Learning Basque. Surprisingly so. I got a 95% on my first exam. Not too shabby. I also can use a few Basque phrases. I pick up on it in the streets and even in my own home.
-Understanding Spanish. I've not really had a problem with that, which is nice, knock on wood. I realize that the reason people just assume my Spanish is good is because I clearly understand. I totally laugh at the jokes at the same time as native speakers. For example, in my art history class, which is taught entirely in Spanish, my very amusing professor asked us why this particular photo of a church you could be sure was in España. We were pointing out architectural features and he was like, nope. He said  you could tell it was Spain because there was garbage on the ground around the church. I was the the only one laughing. The other Americans were just like, wait what? XD (it's true about there being trash everywhere by the way.)

What's improved:
-Talking with my host family has to be the biggest improvement. It's more than just "sí" "no" "está bien" "vale" "gracias" "hola" "buenos días" and "hasta luego" now. I'm having actual, meaningful conversation with my family and this is a very good thing.
-Directly related to the above, my Spanish has gotten so much better since I arrived. I can actually talk and have conversations. I'm slightly afraid of speaking in one class though, because there's two of us Americans and four native speakers. I have slightly less fear now though, but it's definitely still there.
-Getting organized. Who knew just how important having a notebook for every class was? I only brought one notebook with me from the US and I was like, oh I can use this for all my classes and buy a new one when I run out. No. Wrong way of thinking. Buy more notebooks, it will help tremendously.

What still needs work/I don't understand:
-Sleeping schedule. I have three alarms now, but I still think I need more sleep. My first alarm is what time I should get up if I want to have time to check Facebook and read the news. The second is what time I should get up. And the third is what time I absolutely have to get up. I totally still have to fight myself to keep from falling asleep in class. That needs to change. My bus is at 10:30am so it's not like I have to wake up super early.
-I still need rain boots.
-I don't understand why it is acceptable to go to the restroom and not wash your hands after. Everyone at the university seems to do this. It's only ever the Americans washing their hands and we all just look at each other thinking, "Are we missing something?" But that's not something I'm probably ever going to ask anyone about so I may never have an answer. O_o
-Right of way is different here and I haven't figured it out yet. I know vaguely when I can cross or not cross the street. But what I don't quite understand is why cars stop and wait for me to cross the street sometimes but not other times. There does seem to be a pattern to it but I can't quite figure it out. I'm fairly sure it's related to street size and location. It's not nice people v. people in a hurry. People who look like they are in a hurry still stop, albeit grudgingly.

Ok. Report complete.

More traditionally blogging fare commence:

I successfully managed to heat up food today. I know that seems mundane, but it's the first time I've been alone at meal time and not had meals already prepared for me since I've been in Spain.  Naturally, my host mom and sister came back as I was just finishing up preparations. They wanted to finish getting everything for me but I'd already done almost all of that.

I started off really hungry and I ended up really full. I had heat up a pasta and chorizo dish my host sister had told me to eat if I got hungry before they got back. Then as I was eating my host mom asked if I would like some salad to go with my pasta. I did and she made this super delicious salad. It was lettuce, raisins, pine nuts, tomatoes, bacon and fresh goat cheese from Greece. It was so tasty. So I ended up having a bowl of pasta and an equal sized bowl of salad. I am so full now. But it was so tasty. They asked if I wanted dessert. No gracias.

I told my host mom that I was studying Romanesque architecture on the Camino de Santiago and she got really excited. She showed me a bunch of the books that she'd placed in my room that were historical fiction set on the Camino de Santiago. I love historical fiction so I'm pretty excited about this. 

In fact, I'm going to go read one now. (If you're interested/ curious, I'm starting with "El Verdugo de Dios: Un Inquisidor en el Camino de Santiago" by Toti Martínez de Lezea.

Con cariño

Do you hear the people sing?

"Do you hear the people sing? Singing the songs of angry men. It is the music of a people who will not be slaves again..."

Unlike Les Miserables, the Basque people have never been slaves. I woke up with that song in my head this morning and it was oddly appropriate.

I've been checking the news but it doesn't seem like the general strike here in the Basque Country and Navarra were too bad. Disruptive yes. Violent. Not really. I read that in Bilbao 3 were injured and 4 arrested. There were also a couple arrests in Vitoria and another town in Bizkaia.

That's actually kind of odd because the strike had the biggest following here in Gipuzkoa but I haven't heard of any incidents here.

I did see stuff, but nothing too bad. First thing I saw when I left this morning were groups of young men, probably around my age or slightly older, yelling in Euskara and throwing the fliers for the strike at buildings that were open. I had a long walk to school and so I saw lots of these groups. Walking past the beach, I saw an entire line of cars carrying CNT members. CNT is a labor union that exists in all of Spain and has anarchist leanings. They were honking their horns and throwing fliers and they had a loud speaker.

I saw minor acts of vandalism. I mean minor. In chalk I saw written on a bank's wall "AQUI TE ROBAN" which means "here they rob you" but again, it was written in chalk... I mean guys would put CNT or LAB or ELA stickers everywhere, especially on ads, banks and buildings that don't observe the strike, but that's not that bad. LAB and ELA are labor unions that favor Basque Nationalism. The three of those were the main organizers of the strike.

As I found out today, labor unions aren't all unified so they compete by calling their own strikes. Um...shouldn't this be a uniting cause rather than a dividing none? The economic crisis is hurting everyone. I mean the situation is pretty bleak for Spain. Just look at yesterday's protests in Neptune Plaza in Madrid. Those got ugly. Weird to think I was there a month ago watching Atletico Madrid's supporters celebrate their Super Copa victory.

The worst I saw was when I was four blocks from the university. I knew something was going down because there were riot police. They were all on the other side of the street so I figured I was ok. I was. The Super Amara in Antiguo was open, despite the general strike. A crowd of about 100+ people had gathered and were yelling. They blocked it off, chanting in Basque until the last customers came out and the supermarket shut down, turned off the lights and brought down the grate.  Can you imagine that ever happening in the US? Super Amara is the major grocery store chain here. It would be like shutting down a Safeway/Savemart/Raley's/insert store name here. And the weirdest thing about it was that the riot police just hung back and watched. The people who were inside shopping were allowed to pass the protestors without incident. The Super Amara employees just got to leave. The protestors moved on, marching down the street and the riot police got in their vans. No big deal. I don't know where any of these people went as they didn't continue to the university as I thought they might.

The Americans were the only ones around. Go figure.

In our Spanish class, outer professor was more than an hour late because of the general strike. Once she did arrive, we just talked about the strike. I basically walked a 3 hour round trip to and front eh university to sit around and talk for six hours. Um why didn't we cancel all the classes again? My art history class, we talked. Lunch, we talked, Spanish we talked. Music history was cancelled and I didn't have work today so I got to a)eat lunch and b) go home early. But still. I learned nothing academic today.

At least I have something to blog about though?

What do you mean it's been a month?

Today I had a pleasant evening. Chatted with my intercambio over coffee and had a pleasant dinner with my host mom and sister.

Rained a lot though.

My host mom pointed out that tomorrow will make a month since I moved in with them. Say what? When did that happen? Weird to think I've been here for a month. Time sure flies when you are having fun.

I felt relaxed for the first time on a school day. This is a most welcome change. I didn't have a lot of homework to do, so I got to sit and chat with my host mom, Pepa, and sister, Elena. They wanted to know how I did on my first exams. Castellano I did ok, but not as well as I should have. Next one I'll do better. Euskara I did way better than I expected. 95% isn't bad at all. Minus half a point for spelling xagua wrong, as mentioned in a previous post. So close, but I can't really complain.

My host mom is still upset that I sat in a stairwell for two hours because I was locked out. No amount of reassurance that I was fine seems to have any effect on her. I really was fine. And yes, next time I will ring the doorbell.

Dinner tonight was croquettas de jamon and chicken nuggets with a vinegary salad and bread of course. I haven't had chicken nuggets since my childhood. I continue to be amused by the fact that they buy me really American foods that I don't really eat back in the States. I don't really eat a lot of peanut butter, hamburgers or chicken nuggets. I haven't opened the peanut butter but I've had hamburgers twice here  and chicken nuggets tonight. I honestly prefer the croquettas over the chicken nuggets. I might be going native. If I don't have bread and ham in every meal, I start looking for them. Almost every dish contains ham and is served with or on bread. There are even ham flavored Lays, no joke.

I also found out why I never met the other two of my host parents' five kids, even though they both live nearby. Elena is the sister who also lives here. Ana is the other sister I've met. Juan stays here often but lives just across the border in France. I've not met María or Iñigo. Turns out that they come over during the week since they are busy on the weekends. I'm gone on schooldays from 10am to 6pm, and I often leave at 7 and come back by 9:30. I don't come home for lunch because I don't have time with work and class. My Spanish class starts at 2:30, which is lunchtime here so my host mom makes me a bocadillo, or sandwich, everyday. Since that's when María and Iñigo come over, I haven't been at home when they come over. Somehow that needs to be changed. We'd all like to meet each other.

My host mom called the program housing director today. My host mom told me they chatted about me. Tito, the director, told her how I ran into him in Egia. She said that they agreed I'm maja. Aww. Cute. (Refresher: majo/ maja is a common adjective here meaning very likable or amicable).

Apparently my boss Joseba told the internship coordinator Cecilia that he is very happy with the work I've been doing for the foundation. That makes me so relieved. I don't know what I'm doing all the time but I do my best and I ask questions when I need to. Joseba is never in the office when I am so for him to tell Cecilia that he is happy with my work is a cool thing. (Usually I show up at the office and Begoñia tells me what they're doing today and/or Joseba calls me.) I realize that this is their passion and the foundation is their baby and I'm just along for the ride. I get to practice my Euskara with them and learn about my heritage. The least I can do is help them facilitate learning about Basque culture for other English speakers since the Basque Diaspora has a decent presence in the US and also in other English speaking countries. Good to know the boss is happy.

Also, I finished all my homework before midnight. This is a first since I've been here in Sanse. That needs to become a regular thing.

Alright, braving the General Strike tomorrow. I'll let you know how that goes.


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Calm before the storm

Accurate description of today. A storm is brewing. Literally, as I'm expecting the rain to start any second now and figuratively, as there's been a general strike called for tomorrow to protest the economic situation in Spain. The Basque Country is particularly ticked off because the economy here is much stronger than any other region. Unemployment rates are half of what they are in the rest of Spain, for example. If you've been following the recent news out of Catalunya, the grievances are very similar. Both regions have been doing better economically than the rest of Spain and have been forced to pay into a fund to help out the economically devastated regions. The major difference between the two separatist regions is this: Catalunya has now fallen on hard times and believes the money it was forced to pay to other regions would have been enough to bail them out of their current woes, while the Basque Country remains the most economically prosperous region of Spain.

Unfortunately, I still have class tomorrow. This annoys me for more than one reason. First, we are a state operated school. Even if we are foreign students attending a private institution, we are in a public school and we will be affected by what's happening on campus. Two, my study abroad program has told us repeatedly to stay away from any kind of political demonstration, not take pictures and walk the other way. How are we supposed to do that when we have to go to classes still? And third, there will be no bus service to get to the university. I live quite far from the university. I will have to wake up two hours earlier to get to class on time, provided the strike hasn't shut down campus, which is actually quite likely. And if that's the case, I get to walk back home, which takes at least 90 minutes. Awesome. At least, I'll get my exercise, I guess. Thank you study abroad program who shall not be named. 

At the very least, my boss excused me from work tomorrow so I don't have to worry about that. 

I've only been learning Basque for two weeks but from what I can read on the posters around school, the university is going to be targeted for picketing. I can read the words "general strike" "university" "closed" "Wednesday" "country" "money" and "struggle". If that doesn't sound like something's happening on campus, I don't know what does.

At least while the Basque Country is known to go on strike every once in a while, it doesn't get violent. 

I'll be sure to update when I get home tomorrow. Until then, enough about the strike.


The Usual

If you were wondering, the now three blog posts in a different, larger font are because I have trouble connecting to blogger on my current device. I type these entries on my notepad and then copy/paste. Well, in the first case, It was because I was flying over an ocean and there's just no WiFi 36.000 feet above the Atlantic. 

And now back to your regularly scheduled programming:

Today was odd in that it finally felt routine and normal. A sleep deprived, busy Monday. You know, the usual. Weird, but nice to finally say that. The usual. 

I didn't have coffee this morning. Mistake. My Art History class is very interesting, largely due to the professor, but today we were looking at actual slides my professor took back in the day when he did the Camino de Santiago (Way of St. James) pilgrimage in the 80s. I totally thought when I saw the slide "Oh wow, the original Instagram." 

I had to focus on not falling asleep. That was bad. Unfortunately after class I had to hurry to catch my bus so I wouldn't be late to work so I couldn't obtain caffeine. ¡Que pena! But I did alright with work. Instead of just merely putting their articles on Twitter, it occurred to me that I should probably be using hash tags to make us more searchable. I totally check the Connect tab to see if anyone is actually reading the posts I write. Not too bad.

I did manage to get a coke before class. Coca Cola is made with real sugar here. Life without sugar tariffs and domestic subsidies is an interesting thing. The caffeine was a most welcome boost. These are the days where I have a hard time imagining kicking my caffeine habit. But back in the States I drank energy drinks. Here it's coke or espresso. I take my espresso solo, without milk or sugar, which is quite the rarity here. Not exactly common back home either but it's not quite as unheard of as here. My lack of need for a spoon with my espresso is quite the topic of conversation here. Go figure. 

Tonight my language exchange partner Idoia took me to one of her favorite places. She said the food was good so we each got a croquetta de jamon. Delicious. 

My dinner was a source of great amusement for my host sister tonight. I had another of those odd pieces of meat that are stuffed with Iberian ham and cheese. They taste good but very, very rich. I don't like to have them often since they are so rich but they're easy for my host sister to prepare when her mom isn't around. Tonight for some reason I could not cut the darn thing with my knife. My sister then gave me the equivalent of a steak knife and I was still having trouble, although less. Eventually I made it through dinner but very slowly. Oh yeah, first course was gazpacho. That made me really happy. I loved gazpacho in the US and even the store bought gazpacho we have is better. It's the one thing my host mom doesn't make from scratch but I'm not complaining. Nice counterbalance to my rich dinner. 

It's getting late and I should do homework. I'll post more

Sunday, September 23, 2012

And suddenly I realize...

...that the sound I hear is actually a pretty decent storm raging outside and rain hitting my window. Weird. Matt's visit was perfectly timed then. Two days ago was nasty, hot, muggy and overcast. Yesterday w clear and beautiful. Today is stormy and windy. I'm very glad I shut my windows before I napped. I was planning to stay in and study anyway but I'm even more glad I'm not out in that.

A Saturday Adventure

My pre departure class professor told us that the ability to laugh at ourselves is a good study abroad survival skill. Never has that been more true than yesterday.

I just had another day in paradise. I pretty much spent all day on the beach, swimming and sunbathing from 12-7, with of course a break for lunch and an adventure to see San Sebastian's famous Peine del Viento statues. Peine del Viento means Wind Comb. I posted a ton of pictures on Facebook. I feel like I'm totally spamming Facebook with updates and pictures. I totally justify my spamming by reminding myself that my family really actually does want to see all my pictures (I hope). 

I got asked by some British tourists "excuse me can you (mimes taking a picture)?" And they were quite surprised to be answered in perfect English. Guess I don't look American?

Oh and I had on my SF Giants backpack. Walking by the main bus station yesterday morning I saw a maybe 9 or 10 year old Spanish boy wearing a Dodgers shirt. If you don't know, the Giants and Dodgers are bitter, longtime rivals so this tiny local boy glared at me. I wasn't expecting that. I'm in Spain, not California! So I was relaying this story to my friend as we were on the beach and all tech sudden I hear this guy say (in English) "so I shouldn't wear this then?" And he held up one of the all black Dodgers hats. Ho snap. We both agreed that Spain is neutral territory. "No hate." 

My friend from school back in the States, Matt, is studying in nearby Southern France and his program had a weekend excursion here to my city. Way back when we were sitting next to each other in the very last row of the above mentioned pre departure class, we totally talked about visiting each other given how close our cities are. Having that really happen was really fantastic.

Having someone from school back home is the best thing, especially in Europe. I haven't seen Matt since school ended, so naturally we had to catch up. But also, since we both hail from the Bay Area and go to the same school we have a lot more in common. Most of the people from both of our programs (which are run by the same company) are from Idaho or Nevada, since the program headquarters are based in UNR (Univesity of Nevada, Reno). So Matt and I were pretty happy to see each other. We stayed out until 5 am talking, which is pretty normal on a Saturday here. 

My city is pretty safe but I've come to believe that I should never go against what my host mom says. If says I need a jacket, I get a jacket because she is never wrong. Buses here stop running at midnight 
but taxi stands are very easy to find, are incredibly safe and not horrendously expensive. My host mom had told me the very first day that if come come home after 11, don't walk home. If I come home after 12, take a taxi. This city is very safe but she said it's more for her peace of mind than anything else. She told me what address to tell the driver and how much to tip too. So Matt and I took separate cabs home/to the hotel since they were in opposite directions, but not before him promising to return and me promising to visit his city. I have a long weekend next month so that's a possibility. If we have half as much fun as we did tonight, we'll still have tons of fun.

I got in (btw almost all taxis here are nice Mercedeses) and told the driver the address (which isn't the building address btw). He totally realized that I wasn't from there but he told me my Spanish is very good. I told him I was from California and he, like everyone else here, got really excited and asked me how I liked it here. I love it here so it's no lie when I tell people that. This city is paradise.

But naturally, study abroad isn't supposed to go smoothly all the time. And if you were wondering, yes, I was completely sober when this happened. I get home with my nice taxi driver. I pay the fare and I give him his tip (10% is the norm here) and I walk up to my building's door I get my keys out and there's even an elevator waiting for me and I managed to open the lock without much difficulty, which is a small victory in and of itself. But then I can't open the door itself. I try it again. Then I realize that the door had been bolted. Oh. Uh oh. Hmmm. Now what? It's after 5 am, everyone is sleeping and I can't open the door from the outside. 

I ended up sitting outside the door contemplating the meaning of life and laughing at the silly predicament I found myself in. I was perfectly safe inside my building but denied my bed and sleep. I wasn't really ready for bed anyway but yeah. I just had to laugh at myself. I did all the stuff my host mom had told me about getting home really late at night/ early in the morning. But life likes to throw curveballs. Before I knew it it was 7am and I remembered my host mom says she wakes up about this time everyday. I tried knocking. No answer. Then it occurred to me the thing I thought was a light switch (because people actually turn off the hallway lights themselves here) was actually a door bell. 

My host mom was horrified that they'd left me locked out. I thankfully can keep myself entertained. And I'm a pretty easy going person. She gave me a hug and told me next time just ring the doorbell, regardless of the time. I just went in my room, put on my pajamas and went on Facebook and the internet to read about my beloved Giants clinching for a bit because I still wasn't quite sleepy. I could not stop laughing at myself. When stuff like this happens to me, my reaction is usually laughter. I couldn't help myself. I'm still giggling about it.

As I found out this morning, my host brother had come back late and just assumed everyone was home, especially given that I don't usually stay out until 5am. I had a good giggle with my host sister about the whole affair too. Apparently this is not the first time this has happened to students who have stayed with them. If it happens to me, I'm ringing the doorbell next time. 

I had shut the blinds all the way and turned off all my alarms but I woke up at 11. I didn't get out of bed until 12. Took a cold shower (by choice). I realized when I went into the kitchen that no one was home so I poured myself a glass of juice and a bowl of cereal without incident. Life goes on.

I did notice for the first time that the box of cereal I've been eating for the past few weeks is in French. I can read it just fine so i guess somehow it never sunk in that it was French. 

My host family came home and we had a huge lunch maybe an hour after my cereal. Because it's Sunday, it was a two course meal. Three hours later, I'm still full. I did some homework but I just got sleepy so I took a nap. I was woken up by what sounded like a baby crying. This confused me until I listened to the yelling. The granddaughter was trying to get her way by crying like a baby but when you're seven, that only succeeds at ticking off your family. So naturally I ended up blogging about my life. And here we are.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

¿Cómo se dice "hot mess" en español?

Today I learned a multitude of ways to say "hot mess" in Spanish. Quilombro/quilombera, estoy echo un desastre, or for particularly bad cases, desmadre. Ask Facebook and you shall have answers.

Today was the first day of exams. I found out my program mandates exam days for our classes. The professors would prefer to have more time to finish chapters and such but the program demands they test us today. And because they clearly love us so much, they decided to spring a placement exam on us today too, just to make sure we're in the right level of Spanish. Seriously? So I had three tests today. Not so fun.

I stayed up really late and woke up really early to study. I made flash cards and everything. My tests were on Basque and Spanish so I wanted to do well. I'm really out of practice with verb conjugation (haven't had a Spanish class since junior year of high school...) and Basque is pretty difficult to learn. I even made flash cards to study from, something I never normally do. I think they helped. Except for one that I made incorrectly. I misspelled the Basque word xagua (meaning mouse) as xagat on my flash card and consequently spelled it wrong on my test. Oops. In my defense, it was after midnight when I made the flash cards.

We had to write a composition as the second part of our Spanish test. The topic was our first day here in San Sebastian. In preparation, I went back and read my blogs from around that day. They aren't very long because I didn't do much that first day. I wrote more about the day before and the day after I got to San Sebastian. The day before I had been in Toledo, and upon returning to Madrid, I went to the Reina Sofia Museum. The day I arrived in San Sebastian, I kind of just rested in my hotel room. The day after that though I met my amazing host family. That was a good day.

Today was decent. I survived my exams and I think I did well. I had absolutely no brainpower left after that but since I don't have class tomorrow, I don't need it. Although I did have a minorly embarrassing episode where I simply could not open the door with my keys. I normally do not have trouble with it but today it was the impossible task. My host dad heard me fumbling around and he opened the door for me. I hadn't even imbibed anything that would even remotely impare motor skills. Coca cola and cafe. But nothing of that nature. Hence the hot mess. Lack of sleep+ lack of brain function= inability to do simple tasks. Q.E.D. Hot mess.

Oh, and my friend Abby may point out that after class we had coffee together and afterwords I dragged her through an entire grocery store just because I wanted to see what they sold. I was nerding out on the variations of Coke they sell. They apparently sell Coke without caffeine. What is this new devilry?

I took a nap before going out with my intercambio (language exchange partner). I desperately needed it. We chatted for a couple hours entirely in Spanish. No English this time around. The only time I really speak English anymore is with my friends. Just about all my classes are in Spanish and my family here of course always speaks Spanish. It's weird to think I left the US on August 28th, arrived in Madrid the 29th, got to San Sebastian the 2nd of September, moved in with my host family the 3rd and now it's the 20th. I'm getting so much more comfortable with my Spanish.

My intercambio gave me a booklet on the best pintxo bars in the city. I'm totally trying every one of them before I leave this city.

I saw a horrible car accident on my way back. A car had hit another and flipped over right in front of the cathedral. I dont know the extent of the damage or injuries but flipping over isn't good. Thursday nights are just as crazy if not more crazy than Friday nights. Most university students don't have class on Friday so there are a lot of cheap drink specials. Don't drink and drive. Just don't.

There was traffic because of that accident and so I arrived a little late for dinner. My host sister and I had a simple but tasty pasta salad. It was pasta, tomato, cheese, and tuna in a balsamic vinegar and olive oil dressing. My host sister pointed out that her mother had started preparing bacalao. I'm ridiculously excited about this. Bacalao is one of my favorite foods. It's a very traditional Basque preparation of rehydrating dried mackerel in milk and/or water so it becomes a creamy paste that you can either fry into croquettes or make into salad. My host mom is planning on the salad route, a traditional Navarran salad made with red peppers.

Can't wait.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

It's Only Rock and Roll But I Like It

It's a good day when you start your school day with John Lennon and end with Elvis.

City buses here, and I'm told taxis too, have tv screens. They show anything from the current exhibit at the local museum, how to get a bus card, ads for English classes, the weather forecast, etc. Buses also play music. Usually random American music and pop. I've heard everything from Aerosmith to One Direction on the bus. Today it was John Lennon's "Imagine." I like that waaaaay more than some lame boy band.

Also, waiting for the bus to work, four classic cars drove by. Beautiful 1920s cars. Just cruising around San Sebastian. No big deal.

My music history class started today. It's called, "From Elvis to Rap: 50 Years of Music and Culture" and it's taught by the same very interesting professor I have for Art History and Myths & Legends. There's 16 students in the class, easily making it the largest I have. Huge right? Half the students are American, half are European. Some of the UPV students aren't from Spain, but from other schools in Europe, studying abroad with Erasmus.

It makes for a very interesting class. The class is on, well basically American culture and a bit of US and world history. I almost titled this post "Quien es Rosa Parks?" because that was totally asked today. Americans hear about her every February from the time they enter school. I can't imagine that happens in Spain so asking who she is is a totally valid question. It just goes to show you that you can't take for granted that people have the same references as you do. This class is a marvelous example because the American students have heard of all the things discussed in class but they may not know much about them. For many of the European students, it's all new. It's going to be a fascinating class.

One last anecdote before I go study for my two scary tests tomorrow in Spanish and Basque: I often eat cereal for breakfast because well, I like it and I don't want my host mom to make extra dishes for her to wash because she makes me an omelette practically every morning. Anyway, today I had cereal, which my host mom always has laid out waiting for me when I get out of the shower. I had finished and I was clearing up my dishes kind of while my host mom was in the shower. My host dad told me not to worry about doing that but I at least insisted on putting my own napkin in the composting and the juice carton in the recycling. My host dad picked up the cereal box and he was looking in the cabinet for where it went. He tried putting it on the apparent space for it but the box didn't quite fit. In that moment, I felt slightly better about myself because I have that exact same problem every time I have cereal for breakfast. So right now I'm home alone for the first time since I came to San Sebastian. First thing I did? Looked for where my host mom really puts away the cereal.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Moms can fix anything

I'm fairly convinced of this. I had a bit of a lame day, as you may have noticed from my previous blog post. My language exchange partner had to cancel so I ended up with time to nap for an hour before starting to study. So I was sitting at my desk and my host mom comes in and stands behind me, puts her hands on my shoulders and asks about my day and what I'm doing. Just chatting with her and that very maternal gesture made me feel so much better. I sent an email to my mom to tell her about that.

Moms rock.

First low

I'm starting to get that overwhelmed culture shock feeling. Not the "omg I hate this country I want to go home" kind. Definitely not. I love it here. I'm just having that "omg what was I thinking taking 20 units in a foreign country and only one of my classes is in English. Why do I have to be such an overachiever?" feeling.

I'm not quite in a routine just yet and my studies are taking the toll. I don't want that to become the routine. More specifically I'm having a bit of a hard time with my Spanish class. It's a pretty intense class. Two or three hours everyday four days a week. And being a language class, you have to keep up. I'm finding it difficult to focus on my homework when I get home from a busy day.

But I'm figuring out how to adjust. Like now, for example, I'm giving myself until 6 to blog and Facebook and such. Half hour rest. Then I have to do an hour of homework until I leave.

I still need to buy shoes that are acceptable for rain. It's been raining all day and the one pair of closed toed shoes I own don't seem to have very good traction on the streets of San Sebastian. That's something to do this weekend.

On a better note, I was introduced to a cool Basque band called Ken Zazpi. Ken Zazpi has songs in Basque, often about love but sometimes also political songs. That's not a name by the way. Ken is "taken away" and zazpi is the number seven. It's a tribute to the seven friends of these band members who were arrested and taken away for political reasons. It's a huge issue for the Basque people. It's not uncommon to see black and white flags with the map of the Basque Country and red arrows and Basque words demanding the return of Basque political prisoners to the Basque Country. In the US, these flags are mistakenly associated with the terrorist group ETA. That's not the case at all. Doubtlessly ETA supports this plight of the Basque people but it is not an ETA flag. It's just calling for political prisoners to be incarcerated in the Basque Country so their families can visit. I suppose  Basque and Spanish politics seem trivial to Americans but it's a big issue here. Every Friday there is a protest for this cause as well.

Monday, September 17, 2012

A Case of the Mondays

Even though I have a three day weekend every weekend, I still feel like I don't have enough time in the weekend to do things I want to do and still have energy to do everything I need to do. After my action packed weekend, homework was the last thing I wanted to do. I just did not have the energy to focus on reading difficult literature in a foreign language. I woke up early to finish my homework from the weekend. And today I'll probably have to do the same thing.  I don't finish class until late and it takes me a while to get home. On days I see my language exchange partner, which is most school days, I have an hour at home before I have to leave again. It is relaxing though to have a coffee and chat for a while. I usually come home just in time for dinner. After dinner, it's after 10pm and I'm exhausted. Especially on work days because I have to hurry to and from the office so I'm not late to work or class. I also ended up walking almost everywhere today too. During dinner my host mom even pointed out just how tired I look. Unfortunately a good nights sleep is not likely to be on the agenda for tonight. Too much homework.

On a side note, my host mom made a delicious dinner of pan fried fish and vinegary lettuce salad. Super simple but amazingly delicious. I could eat that almost everyday. I'm glad I'm living in a coastal city because the seafood is quite tasty. Can't beat freshness.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Just another day in paradise

I took a siesta this afternoon. I could get used to this.

After that I went to the beach. The waves were a bit large. I was swimming fine for a while until two consecutive extra large waves knocked me around. Decided that was the time to go back to the shore and dry off a bit. The waves only got larger after that so we picked a good time to leave.

After that we went and got ice cream/gelato. It is way too good here. There's so many new flavors to try too. Dangerous. And no sad styrofoam cones here.

Tonight there's a game at Anoeta, the stadium here. I can hear the game from here. Every time there is a goal, you can tell just from the sounds of the crowd. When Real Sociedad scores a goal, there are two fireworks each time. Twitter tells me the attendance was almost 24.000 people.  Game just ended. 2-0 Real Sociedad. Happy fans tonight.

On a side note, I'm very much considering dipping myself in bug repellant before I go to sleep. I left my window wide open so I could hear the game but now I'm seeing bugs I've never seen before. And they're in my room. I don't know if they bite. :/ I tried escorting them back out my window but that's only resulted in me now not knowing where any of them are. Not so cool.

Una tarde de un domingo (a Sunday afternoon)

My host brother made amazing paella today. They apologized that they didn't have the right pan because the other brother is supposed to bring it but it didn't matter. It was delicious. Super flavorful.

Given my eventful weekend I wanted to sleep in and then study. Slept until eleven. Woke up mildly sore from the previous day's labor. Attempted to read Pio Baroja's short stories for my Spanish class. I needed to look up some words I didn't know on Google Translate. One in particular gave me back a word I didn't even know in English. Spalling. Apparently it means to splinter or break apart. Learn something new everyday. I had statused about that particular mildly disheartening moment on Facebook. A bit later I heard my host sister giggling in the next room. She came over to me and pointed out the very large English-Spanish dictionary they'd placed in my room. I might use it next time. May even be better than what I've been using.

During our delicious paella lunch, we watched the Davis Cup on tv. The Spanish tennis player, David Ferrer won of course. Spain owns the Davis Cup, with or without Rafael Nadal, whom my host mom described as majo. Thankfully I'd learned that word earlier this week. Extremely likable or amicable. I'd say that applies here.

After the match was over there was a commercial for the local soccer team's match tonight here in Anoeta, the stadium right across the street. My host brother quickly realized that with the home game, he had parked his car in a lot they reserve when the team is home. He went out on the terrace to see if he'd been towed. Thankfully his car was still there, but it was the only one in the lot. He had time to move it before the game.

Going to the beach later but siesta first. :)

Saturday, September 15, 2012

My Day Apple Picking in Pays Basque, France

I left my house at 7:30am to get to the bus to go to the airport to get picked up and driven to France to pick apples. Completely worth it.

As a side note, I discovered my local carniceria (butcher shop) is open earlier than my local bakery on Saturday mornings.

A group of nine of us students took the 8 am bus from the Plaza de Gizpukoa to Hondarribea where we were met by our study abroad program's contact/ friend, Manolo. We were told that he was a fantastically Basque man and we were not disappointed when he drove up and we saw that he was wearing a beret. Fact: really Basque men wear berets. His van fit all of us and we had a pleasant and scenic drive across the border into France. We eventually arrived at what I would call their home base. We hung out there for a while, waiting for Manolo's workers to arrive.

Manolo speaks Spanish. French, Basque and a decent amount of English. Super awesome. Just about everyone else spoke French of course, a good amount of Basque, some Spanish and very little if any English. I got to use my very limited  French. I managed pretty well. Used my few Basque phrases too.

With out the nine of us students, it would normally have been just the six of them picking apples. No wonder they we so grateful for our help.

The first order of business once everyone arrived was to get a delicious cup of coffee at a local cafe. They paid, saying that it was the least they could do for our help. We hit the road again and saw more of the beautiful rural Pays Basque and the Pyreenes Mountains. When we finally got to the farm, it was quite beautiful. We weren't entirely prepared for our adventure though. When we got to the orchard, it was on the side of a very large hill and was incredibly steep. Not to mention, full of many different type of bugs. Really pretty shiny green spiders, crickets, grasshoppers, praying mantises, beetles, ants, moths, etc. We found a praying mantis and Manolo picked it up and put it on my shoulder. Good thing I'm not squeamish. It hopped away after hanging out with me for a bit. It was cool.

The second field wasn't so bad. It was less steep and less full of bugs. I found a lizard too. It crawled up my leg (on the outside of my jeans thankfully) and hung out there long enough to pose for pictures. Apple picking isn't so bad when you're being entertained at the same time. One of the workers spoke very little English or Spanish but his physicality was very humorous. His job was to climb the trees and shake them. He loved clowning around with the Americans but he seems like that's just how he is. Also, his shirt for some reason said "dip me in beer and throw me to the drunk chicks." People in Spain wear a lot of t-shirts in English and most of the time I wonder if they know what they mean. More often then not, they say somewhat inappropriate things.

The third orchard was the steepest and we could barely get around. But we learned about the two different species of bees in the area and how chestnuts are grown. We got to try grapes and black berries grown there too. Least we weren't directly under the trees this time. Getting pelted by falling apples was virtually inevitable. I have at least a couple apple shaped bruises developing right now.

Having cleared three entire fields, we accomplished our mission. We had basically a tailgate picnic, Basque style. We had tortilla español snadwiches with our beverages of choice. Once we found out that the cider was the one from this very farm we'd been working on all this time, we all elected to try it. It was amazing and delicious. As is traditional in the Basque Country, they poured it really high. They also offered us pâté and sardines and peppers. Dessert was of course a selection of local cheeses. They were all fantastic.

After our nice leisurely lunch, they drove us to the nearby town of Espelette and bought us another coffee. If the wage for a few hours of apple picking is two coffees, delicious lunch and whatever drinks I want, I'm in. That is not a bad way to spend a Saturday. They even drove us back to San Sebastian so the only money I spent was the €2,25 for the bus ticket. This is an experience that I wouldn't have been able to have on my own so kudos to my study abroad program.

After getting back to the city, most of us went out for arroz con leche ice cream. They top it with real cinnamon. Fantastic.

Life is very, very good.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Three day weekends are awesome

And every weekend here is at least three days for me. And official holidays are usually on Thursdays or Fridays so often get four day weekends.

I just counted the days. I left the US 18 days ago. That's weird to think about. It doesn't feel like its been 18 days.

I'm beginning to think its impossible to have bad food in Spain. Even in the most touristy areas and the most random cafes, food is fantastic. Everyone I've talked to who's been here says that they miss the food most. Not difficult to see why.

I love just going into pintxo bars and just getting whatever looks good. If I don't quite know what it is, I'm game to try it. Today I had one that was Iberian ham topped with a rice patty wrapped in the Iberian delicacy, black ham, further topped with brie cheese and a fig jam. Delicious. Didn't know what it was until I tried it but it was fantastic. Not the most inexpensive pintxo I've had but certainly very, very good.

My host mom made a delicious dinner tonight. The local white tuna here is called bonito. My host mom prepared it with peppers and a type of tomato sauce. It occurs to me this is what she was preparing while I was eating breakfast. I had just assumed, given how late I woke up today, that she was starting on lunch. Nope. Cooking for a big family is a full time job, not to mention everything else she does for everyone. It's an interesting change from the US. I cook from scratch myself so I appreciate how much effort goes into meals but generally I cook portions for about two people. Cooking for more would be so much more work.

Tomorrow I'm going to a tiny town in the French Basque Country (Pays Basque in French, I think) to see how cider is made. Should be fun. Never been to France before. Have to wake up horrendously early on a Saturday though. xD

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Basque language

For any one who is unfamiliar with the Basque language, euskara, they aren't kidding when they say it's difficult. To give you an example and comparison, today I learned the verb izan, which is similar to the Spanish verb ser in meaning. They both mean to be. Here's what to be looks like conjugated in English, castellano y euskara.

English        Castellano         Euskara
I am.             Yo soy.             Ni naiz.
You are.       Tu eres.             Zu zara.
S/he is.          Él/Ella es.        Bera da.
We are.      Nosotros somos. Gu gara.
You all are. Vosotros sois.    Zuek zarete.
They are.     Ellos son.           Haiek dira.

Boy, that sure looks easy to learn doesn't it? At least it's not a gendered language. It's going to be an adventure nonetheless.

First full week finished

Every weekend is a three day weekend for me. Considering how busy my schedule is, this is a very good thing. Everything is back to back for me. I barely have 10 minutes to eat my lunch. At least I'm making the most of my time here. I'm still waiting for that moment of culture shock when it all becomes overwhelming. I mean, I'm pretty much gone from 10 am to 9pm. Then it's dinner time and after that I do my homework. I stay up pretty late, but at least I don't have to wake up early.

Today was nice, except for the rain. I'm getting really good at the Spainish language as spoken in Spain. I already knew vosotros forms but I'm starting to drop my very Madrid accent and speak like people here in Northern Spain. Present perfect is becoming part of my daily vocabulary instead of preterite.

Additionally, I'm starting to pick up on Basque. Our professor convinced the photocopiest here to practice our Basque with us when we bought our books. We all showed up and he said something in Basque we had not learned and we all just looked at our professor. She laughed at us and told him to stick to the script she'd given us because he was throwing us off. Luckily not too many people were around to witness our fumbling in Basque.

Tomorrow I'm going to the San Telmo Museum. The day after I'm going to a farm in the French Basque Country. It's apple harvest time. Apparently this is an authentic Basque experience so I'm in. Should be an awesome weekend. Real Sociedad is also playing in Anoeta this Sunday. Considering that I live across the street and it's right outside my window. I'm not so sure I want to spend the euros on tickets but I might find a sports bar or something to watch it in, if I can't watch it on tv here.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A Report Card of Sorts

So tomorrow will be the end of my first full school week here. I've been in San Sebastian since the 2nd. I left the US August 28th and arrived in Spain on the 29th.

At this time, I just wanted to recap what I'm doing well and not so well with right now to have a reference point in the future.

What I'm doing well at:
-the bus system: I can successfully get to and from school, the boulevard, work, and home using buses. I even know when they stop running and their frequency. Yesterday I even managed to successfully transfer buses instead of waiting half an hour for one. As a bonus, the bus is a great place to observe culture and norms. Oh and I explained the bus system to a British family and they thanked me and told me my "California accent is quite lovely." Cool.
-Additionally, I can find my way on foot very well now too. I even know how long it takes me to walk places if I don't want to pay for the bus.
-Successfully navigating the two major traps of conversation being an American abroad
1. "How do you like it here?" I can honestly say I love it, which is what they want to hear anyway. San Sebastian's been treating me very well so far.
2. Politics. It seems to me that at least the Spaniards I have talked to, are perhaps more knowledgeable about US politics than most Americans. I've so far managed to keep conversations civil and fairly unheated. I've also spoken more about the general functions of the US political systems rather than had to defend US foreign policy, thankfully. It's really interesting to me to hear comparisons between the Spanish political economy and the US's.

Things I've gotten better at:
-Not getting lost: I got so lost my first day here, my first day of class and my first day of work. Much better now.
-Understanding more of the Spanish spoken here in Northern Spain. Admittedly I've only scratched the tip of iceberg but I now understand slightly more of what people are saying.
-Also getting better at communication with my host family
-Remembering to not have my window wide open after dark to avoid mosquitoes, because, well that's important.

Things I definitely know I need to work on:
-Figuring out the post office. I bought a stamp but I haven't figured out how to send my mom a postcard yet. I will totally ask someone soon. The fact that it's all in Basque doesn't really help a lot.
-Not getting water all over the floor when I shower. Silly I know but important when you live in someone else's house. I've only done that twice but I'd like to figure out how that happened so I can not do that in the future.
-Getting into elevators with other people. People here are so friendly but I only understand half of what they are telling me and I don't want to be rude. Making small talk in the elevator is probably one of the hardest things I've had to do here. I live on the 9th floor. 10th if you count floors like an American. I have the longest elevator ride in the building. Inevitably I end up sharing an elevator with someone. Sometimes I manage to chat and it's all fine but other times, like coming back today, I end up so confused that the gentlemen trying to kindly converse with me just asked me, "English?" and when I answered in the affirmative, he just kind of smiled regretfully at me. Sorry. I normally can understand Spanish pretty well but whatever is normal to talk about in elevators is usually beyond me. Some day...