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