Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Settled In

It's funny how a six minute shower makes you reminisce fondly upon the days when your step father would bang on the bathroom door and exclaim, "Is that Niagra Falls in there!" in his fatherliest of voices because you spent so long basking in the hot water and steam that you fogged the mirror and your fingers pruned. It's not that I've had a change of showering preferences. It has just become difficult to wax languorous when the stream turns to ice approximately five and a half minutes in. Besides my aversion to our small water heater, I find myself settling in nicely to my new Spanish life.
This afternoon after class, I climbed the three flights of stairs to Mabel's apartment and eased the door open. No one in sight, I tiptoed to my room as quietly as my clunky boots would allow as to not wake Mabel, the hellion that is our sleeping lab puppy, or anyone else who may be dozing. I spent the afternoon planning a trip to Barcelona with my American companions and perfecting my procrastination skills. Eventually, guilt drew me out of my room and onto the couch next to Paula.
While Paula studied the 15 verbs her English teacher had assigned her, I used her as a human dictionary for the words I didn't know in my own homework.
"Brogaht," she'd say. Without raising my eyes from my lap, "brought," I'd correct. She'd roll her eyes in an "English is a stupid language with extra letters" kind of way. A moment later, I'd ask "mancharme?" and she'd mime spilling something on her shirt.
When 8 o'clock rolled around, it was time to take the deranged puppy to the dog park. I use this term lightly, as the dog park here is simply a plaza with a low fence where Spaniard canines and their human companions come to socialize. Yorkies sniffed the tails of Pomeranian while French Bulldogs tumbled with terriers, all sans leash. Our Lola, practically their size at three months, remained leash-bound, more for the safety of the smaller dogs than for her own. She leaped playfully at a French Bulldog and caught one of its jowls in her sharp puppy teeth. Part snapping turtle, Lola releases only when she wants to - the reason my sweatpants are torn and the frenchy had her doggy butt kicked by a puppy.
When Lola was good and tired, we headed home for ham and cheese ravioli. Starving by 9 o'clock, I cleaned my plate and mopped the sauce with the french bread we have at every meal. Now I'm sitting contently on the sofa with Paula, writing this instead of finishing my homework. A Nickelodeon show featuring teenagers in all forms of undress and partaking in all sorts of illegal activities plays in the background and Paula is captivated. I don't think the FCC would let the Nick back home get away with this, but vidiot Paula is unfazed.
All in all, I'm getting very settled in at my new home. Paula already saves me a seat next to her at the dinner table, Lola bites me less than the mopey French girl, and Mabel seems genuinely happy to see me in the morning. I'm waiting patiently for the wave of homesickness and Spanish vexation to bring me down, but until then I'm as content as a shrimp on a paella.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Granada Part 1

Do you like fried eggs? Do you like hamburgers? How about fried eggs on your hamburgers? Well thanks to Mabel, I thoroughly enjoy the combination. After a hearty dinner followed by strawberries for dessert, I finally have the gusto to sit down and attempt to fit Granada into a single blog post. Squeezing an ancient Moorish castle, cathedral, discotec and barrio into a paragraph of prose is no easy feat.
After class with Diego and the pocket twins (what we've come to call the Japanese girls since they're almost identical and are dwarfed by large toddlers), a group of 50 Americans boarded a bus to Granada. At our four star hotel, we split into groups of three or four and were assigned rooms together on the first floor. Management would eventually learn that putting that many gringos together in a combined space is equivalent to housing as many monkeys.
Our bags unloaded and our stomachs growling, we had a quick dinner at the hotel buffet and boarded mini buses headed toward the caves. Barreling down "two-way" roads with room for only one-way traffic, I developed a sudden fear of car travel. Apparently in the right hands, a mini bus can corner and handle like any BMW, but I still attest that there should be about four scraped walls, eight side-swiped vehicles, and three people in the hospital after our jaunt up through the city.
Upon reaching our destination, heart racing but car intact, we entered one of three white-washed Flamenco "caves". The rock crevices had been smoothed and shaped on the inside, becoming short tunnels bathed in shades of red, green and blue emanating from strings of lights hung from the walls and ceiling. The walls lined with chairs left little room for the dance floor. A hush fell over the chatty group of Americans as the performers entered. The guitarist began to pick at his strings, and a deep, murky voice began to sing slow Spanish that reverberated off the cave floor and walls. A dark señorita came forward, her face stony, black eyebrows creased. She started to dance slowly, the pounding of her heel punctuating the somber song of the cantor behind her. As the tempo increased, she was joined by a man who matched the passion in her face and feet with masculine moves of his own. The setting was so intimate that the students closest to the stage could see and feel the flying sweat of the dancers as they twirled and stomped. Eventually, the first pair was replaced by another dancer, then another and another. An hour and a half later, our bodies began to defy our captivated minds and a Gringo or two's head lolled on their shoulders. There would be no fiesta en la calle in Granada tonight.
The next morning, we met Cynthia and Armando in the lobby for a trip to a certain cathedral of scant importance. Armando waited until we had all walked there and gathered outside its vast doorway, bell clanging rhythmically overhead, to tell us of its significance. On this very spot, he told us, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand signed the contract allowing Christopher Columbus to search for a new route to India, consequently changing the fate of civilization forever. As we stood in awe, contemplating the magnitude of the event, we realized the meaning of the ringing overhead. The peals marked the death of an Español and we were standing in the path of a funeral march. A hearse rounded the cobblestone corner followed by a procession of mourners. The contrition we felt was immediate, and we felt the need to run from their path. Reverence for the deceased had us walking slowly away, sheepish that we silly tourists had been snapping photos while there were actual lives being led.
After a quiet walk back to the hotel, we had an afternoon free for shopping and preparation for the night to come. The Moorish influence was palpable in the souvenir district, hookahs on every corner, rugs for sale and incense filling the shops with smoke and smell. Shopping successful, we set out to find what the streets of Granada had to offer nighttime wanderers. Successful at this endeavor as well, we stopped at a kebab shop in the wee hours of the morning on our way home. Whether due to our current states or the expertise of the vendor, they were by far the best kebabs we had ever tasted.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Dormir, clase, dormir, comer, salir, repeat

It's the evening after day three of Spanish class with Professor Diego y los Japoneses. Every day, we gringos take the bus to the University for our three hour intensive Spanish class. Ours is composed of five other Americans and four Japanese students. Yuko and Kaori,the pocket twins as we've come to call them, are two pint-sized prodigy who whisper Spanish without any trouble pronouncing their "r"s and "l"s. Talking to the Japanese students, we find it strange to only be able to communicate in a language foreign to both our cultures, wanting to substitute an english word when you get stuck but met with only wrinkled brows. The class tends to drag toward the end of the third hour but our mid-day break for bocadillos (sandwiches) and juiceboxes that our mothers pack for us provide both kindergarten nostalgia and a welcome recess. When the school day ends, we take bus 24 home and either explore our neighborhoods or curl up for siestas. Our choice of activity depends heavily on whether we were out at Carpe Diem and Mulligan's until 4 in the morning the night before. According to my host mother, Mabel, this is simply a good start to my evening explorations. Until I surpass the 8 a.m. mark she's unlikely to be impressed. Apparently this Americana needs to acclimate herself with the Alicante sleep schedule since, three hour siesta included, I'm more than ready for a good night's sleep. Hasta luego.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Fiesta sin siesta = muerte

With my belly full of fish, rice and chocolate mousse, day three is graciously drawing to a close. I'm lounging in my 8x12 foot room and sitting on my bed that smells like wet socks and stale cigarettes. The walls of my cozy quarters alternate bright hues of orange and yellow with a window looking out onto the street two stories down. Down the hall are three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen, a dining room and living room, all vibrantly painted like my room. After walking over a mile from the hotel, (dragging my enormous suitcases behind me) I arrived at la casa de Mabel.

My host mother is an eccentric 52-year-old dressed in a belted purple sweater dress, leggings, and leather boots, her wavy hair framing her bespectacled face. With the deep rough voice of a long-time smoker, she speaks without the classic Spanish lisp. Her daughter, 13-year-old Paula talks like a minnie mouse version of an auctioneer, baiting her mother and poking fun at the other foreign students, especially when they don't understand her quick tongue. I adore her already.

Tomorrow is our first day of Spanish class from 12-3 so I'll take bus 24 from the stop across the street to the University 15/20 minutes away. After coming home from the barrio at 7:30 this morning, I'm in dire need of rest before meeting my first Alicante professor.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Ocean, Olives and Eyelids-A First Day in España

This is the plaza across the street from our hotel, the Porta Maris. If you look closely you can see the castle on top of the cliff in the background. After our afternoon arrival we took a city bus (with our massive suitcases, backpacks, etc.) to the hotel. Our growling stomachs immediately sent us out into the city looking for victuals. A chilly ocean breeze whipped our scarves on our walk to a cafe. A cerveza, olives and a bocadillo (sandwich) later, we succumbed to our drooping eyelids and took power naps. After grudgingly dragging our sleepy sleves out of bed, we met Cynthia and Armando for a group dinner in a local restaurant - green beans, pork, and ice cream. The idea of going out to play was broached, but the group decided to conserve our strength for a real first night tomorrow. Now we've all retired back to the Porta Maris, ready for our first tour of the city tomorrow!