Saturday, July 31, 2004

wrapping it up

tonight is my last night in salamanca. tomorrow i will take the bus to madrid; i fly out late tomorrow night. i feel like i should make some grand statement of conclusion about my experience in spain but it´s way too much to sum up right now, if ever.

the best i can do is say that this has been one of the great adventures of my life. my spanish is greatly improved, albeit not at the level i want it to be. i can understand and make myself understood in almost all cases and that is no small feat. okay, there are verbs and adjectives lying wounded all around me when i finish speaking, but i feel satisfied that now i have the tools to either say what i mean or describe adequately the vocabulary word that i don´t know.

my attachment to this place is greater than i´d anticipated. it´s strange to find that in just 2 months or so your life has fallen into a pattern that a short time before was so foreign. i have met some wonderful people, mostly young people, from all over the world. with some of the students, spanish was the only language we had in common. that was very cool. i am amazed how cogniscent they are of u.s. politics and how universally worried they are that bush might be re-elected...and we barely know the names of the presidents of each european country. my experience with these students has defied the stereotypes that abound about the french, germans, israelis, greeks, russians, and japanese. hopefully, some of the u.s. students and i have helped dispel the negative stereotypes that so many people here have of americans.

no matter how much i have come to love spain, however, i am so incredibly ready to be going home. i miss barbara fiercely, i miss my children and my friends. i miss mi propia casa--my own house! i am counting on all the people in my life who speak spanish to help me continue practicing. i am looking forward to taking additional classes and do whatever it takes to keep learning spanish. i also am looking forward to going to a doctor and finding out just how much damage i´ve done to these old feet of mine! damn, i have walked a couple hundred miles and my feet hate me but good. other than that, the warm, dry climate has agreed with me. i suspect i´ll need a couple of days to adjust to the sauna that is houston.

well, people, thanks for (virtually) taking this ride with me. i have no regrets--what a great time. the culture, the language, the food and the people are now all mixed into my quirky viewpoint. i would love to hear from any of you. especially if you have questions or are just curious about studying abroad.

by the way, i did really well in my second grammar class. i think it was partially a regalo (gift) from the professor, but godknows i learned a lot.
i actually used the subjunctive a couple of times yesterday.
ì have witnesses.

Monday, July 19, 2004

i´m still here

people, don´t give up on me--even though i have been lousy about entries this past two weeks. all is well here in salamanca. barcelona was incredible and i spent this past weekend in madrid revisiting the museums and that was wonderful. got to try cochinillo (roasted suckling pig) and, though i apologize to the vegetarian and faint-hearted among you, it was absolutely delicious.
now, unfortunately, i´ve got homework that needs conjugating and pronouns that need confusing, so this is all i can do. if you are irritated with me about my apparent blog slacking, you can always add your comments...

Friday, June 25, 2004

post test post

well, it´s official. the subjunctive has kicked my ass. i don´t know how i did on the exam but i am pretty sure i didn´t ace it and half as sure that i didn´t fail.

i´m not even getting a grade and i got all bunged up about it. damn the man. in any event it´s over and all i have to do is get my stuff ready to move and cross off the days before seeing barbara. how do you say sappy in spanish? i´m all that.

i´m in my favorite internet place. my 7-year old friend, michele, is speaking spanish v-e-r-y slowly to me. i just love the kid. his uncle runs the place so he´s always in here playing when there´s free machine. i´m afraid i´m learning more spanish talking with him about vice city than i did from my literature class...of course, knowing how to say chainsaw (cierra electrica) makes me happier than it would most women.

now it´s time for my celebratory coca cola light with lemon. boy do i know how to live. actually, i´m actually going out tonight. for a real drink or two. woohoo.

i once heard an old wives´ tale that eating really late, just before going to bed, would give you nightmares. i´d be a wreck if that were true. we finish our evening meal between 10-10:30pm and i´m usually in bed within the hour. of course the rest of the country is out and about until at least 1am. not me, i am an 8-hour-a-night kinda gal.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

grammar kills

my final exam in grammar tomorrow is (i wish i could say this in spanish) so going to kick my ass. i would be afraid but i´ve crossed over into the place beyond panic and hysteria. (did i use the subjunctive in that sentence?) my only consolation is that i will not be beaten alone...there will be other grammar casualties in the room. this shouldn´t comfort me, but somehow not have a body count of one makes me feel better.

today is mad study day. so i mustn´t dawdle here. just wanted to give you this update.

and also want to say that i ate fetal pigs´ feet last week. and, while i like to keep an open mind, i think i´ve fufilled my lifetime quota on eating anything unborn and cloven-hooved/hoofed [(?) must be that english-be-gone stuff they keep spraying on us]. yep.

finally, my presentation for practical communications has been moved to monday instead of tomorrow. praise the lord. praise allah. praise zeus.

still don´t know what i´m going to say...

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

reporting back

okay, it´s time to study for finals so i have to make this quick.

first update: the apartment (four floor walk-up) has been exchanged for another with an elevator. saving my knees one flight at a time.

second: carlos´naptime music is actually his uncle´s mobile phone. which makes more sense than a toy but it´s still a little weird to have mick sing your toddler to sleep.

galicia was beautiful, a 4-5 hour drive from here. okay, my friend´s 19 month-old got carsick 1/2 hour outside of salamanca. then the 8 year-old responded in kind (at least he made it into the bucket). after a lunch of tortilla española (kind of like an potato/egg omelet), a croissant and some cheetos for the 8 year-old (which were unavoidably shared with the baby) we were back on the road. one half-hour outside of pontevedra, up come the cheetos. however, in spite of the digestive reversals, the weekend was great. beautiful scenery. i drove up to santiago of compostela. the cathedral there is a pilgrimage site. holy backpackers. the church was magnificent and the city was very appealing. galicia is green rolling hills and farmlands. gallego is the language spoken there--more than a mix between spanish and portuguese but that´s how it sounds to me. i understand more than i expected. in addition, i had some of the most enjoyable and challenging driving experiences that i´ve had so far.

i know that i´ve made language progress because i can read so much better now than when i got here. but it´s like time-lapse photography, you have to speed the pace up to see any changes.

one more fun fact. people here say "venga" when they leave one another. but it means "come". just to confuse the hell out of me.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

random thoughts & the origin of epiphenita

i haven´t blogged in a while. i am afraid i´m experiencing blog know, bloated with unexpelled thoughts.

started to lose my voice last week. wouldn´t that be ironic? i come halfway around the world to learn a new language and then i can´t speak. not to worry--it came back. i can hear the universal sigh of relief, gentle readers.

fluency creeps forward. one preposition at a time. in the meantime, english slips away and i´m in that purgatory between losing one language and not having enough ability in another. lots of grunts and gestures. which makes talking on the phone especially tricky.

i am having fits finding an apartment for next month. however, it has been a test of verbal skills and i´ve found the huevos (don´t pronounce the "h" or the profesora will bite your head off) to use the phone to call and speak in spanish...which, let me tell you, removes the all aforementioned critical grunts and pointing from the equation...

a couple of things i am understanding better here. one, i am so defined by language. i love words and logical, concise communication. so one of the major aspects of how i define and feel about myself is reduced to the now twice-aforementioned grunts and pointing.

ditto with humor. who the hell can understand irony or sarcasm if all you can muster is, "how you say salmon mousse* make me feel ca-ca?" it could affect the self-image of the most stout-hearted. but i´m bouncing back. i just rest on the laurels of my beauty and charm until the language thing kicks in or the game over buzzer sounds. still, i have this writing and it does save me on some days.

there´s way too much graffiti here. most of it ugly and uninspired. however, saw some great graffiti recently: homofobia es fascismo. hurrah for cognates.

they use the same word here for big women as they do for strength: fuerte. that is so fabulous. i´ll never refer to myself as fat again. no, it´s fuerte all the way.

as i may have mentioned (ad nauseum) it´s damn hot here (without air conditioning). but the mornings are blissfully comfortable. some people here think it´s cold in the morning. last week on the way to class, i saw an old man walking around with suit jacket and a muffler. it seemed positively reptilian.

culture out of context:
the couple of stay with have a 2-year old grandson. when it´s time for carlos´ nap, they wind up some electronic music toy for him to fall asleep. one day i paid attention to the tunes and it turns out to be a medley/concoction of the rolling stones´ satisfaction, paint it black and then, what i swear is a snippet of auld lang syne. the rest of the tunes are too hard to identify. it does strike me as odd that a child would associate those blissful drifting off to sleep at grandma´s house moments with a tinny electronic version of mick´s hits.

well, the apartment thing has been resolved. that sentence really deserves about 20 exclamation points after it but i´m plum tuckered out. my good friend maggie worked some magic with her señora and hooked me up. yes, it´s a real damn apartment and it has 3 bedrooms, a bathroom, a kitchen and living room. the major suckage part is that it is a four-story walkup. one of the best parts is that it has a lavadora (a washing machine) and the very best part is that i have an apartment for july...

by the way, this whole epiphenita thing has a story (of course). it´s short, hang on. i was talking to someone in broken spanish before i left for spain. and suddenly, i realized that i would really learn to speak. not an intellectual realization but a gut-level belief that i´d never had before. it seemed an epiphany, only not so dramatic so i said it was an epiphanita. which, with a slight alteration, seemed like a perfectly good new name. so epiphenita it is. that´s all.

*the only thing worse than salmon mousse for lunch is left-over salmon mousse for lunch. i´ll eat almost anything (okay, almost anything, except for organ meat and blood sausage) but the pink cream of fish, asparagus, mayonnaise pudding on soggy bread had me challenged. do i really have no gag reflex? well, evidently not. i forced it down on day 2 without so much as a little cough.

i´m off to galicia this weekend. it´s a five-hour drive and it´s supposed to be beautiful. will report back. i swear.

Friday, June 11, 2004

i rented a car!!!

i rented a car!!!! it´s periwinkle blue. a nissan (model type not sold in the usa, with a name like "minor" or "rollerskate" or something). driving here is challenging because, among other things, you can´t find a fucking street sign anywhere. i mean when you´re walking they have small street signs (periodically) up on the sides of the buildings but when you´re driving and dodging the pedestrians and motorcycles and double-parked cars, it´s nuts. and just try to find a parking space. it´s a great metaphor for navigating the language as well. you´re dodging direct objects and verb disagreement and mixed up gender articles. trying to turn on calle de subjunctive without ending up on a one way irregular street. and just try and find a vocabulary word when you need one.

still, i´m thrilled to have a car!! and it´s airconditioned, praise the lard!!

i managed to find my way over to meet my friend bill near his apartment. only had to turn around two or three times (which almost qualifies me for a magellan award). we decided that i´d pick him up tomorrow morning and we´ll head off to the medieval city of alberca. it´s about an hour away in the sierra de francia mountains.

i also got bill to call a place that i´m interested in renting during july (bill is one of the spanish professors with our group and he can understand the spoken spanish word via telephone--something that will take me ages to accomplish). hopefully the landlord will call me back soon, and hopefully, i´ll understand half of what he says so i can go look at it. it´s in the center of town, near the university. i just hope that it´s not way too noisy or too skanky. but i won´t know, until he calls. i´m crossing my fingers...

no matter where i find a place, i am definitely going to get a fan. it´s hard as hell to sleep in this heat.

i had a dream about mongo (our last remaining, geriatric pet cocker spaniel) last night! strange but sweet. i was carrying him around and he was all sweet and content. must be homesick to start dreaming about the livestock, eh?

now i´m off to do some homework. it´s conditional (the form of grammar, not the decision to do the homework).

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

a little convent

salamanca has a lot of tourists this time of year. today i saw the largest number of diminutive nuns i have ever seen in one place. it was like the order of the short sisters. not a one could have been taller than 5´1". if the word penguin kept popping into my head, you couldn´t really blame me.

today is so much better than yesterday. it´s hard to imagine how i could have gone from incredibly stupid to just a little slow in 24 hours. yesterday i couldn´t put 3 words together correctly in spanish. just couldn´t do it. jeez. today i stumbled through all sorts of challenging tasks...

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

just one word

Subject: A.Word.A.Day--deracinate
Date: Jun 8, 2004

deracinate (di-RAS-uh-nayt) verb tr.

1. To uproot.

2. To displace someone or something from a native culture or

okay, so today´s word feels personal. can´t write much, but i´m feeling (on this fourth day of class) more confused, inept, and plain old stupid than i did a week ago. yes, it´s all good. expectations adjusted, mistakes appreciated. if it were easy most of the world would be bilingual. wait a second, most of the european world is bilingual. ach. anyway, you know what i mean.

tune in soon for a more upbeat post. i´m sure it´s on the way.

Saturday, June 05, 2004


i know that europeans don´t use the m-d-y format, but as far as i´m concerned it´s happy 6-5-4 day!

it´s my first saturday in salamanca. i got to sleep in a bit and putter around. then i met my friend for lunch and did a little shopping (farmacia and papelería for throat lozenges and school supplies) i just finished writing a lovely little blog entry and lost it in preview! i must return to my piso (apartment) and put away my shopping before i run off to the movies. where i will understand about half of what is going on...

will try and fill in the lost stuff later.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

settling in

i am now settled into my little room in the home of rosario and augustin here in salamanca. we live on a little street called regato del anis which doesn´t seem to translate into anything but does reference aniseed/anisette. we are situated between calle de escultores and calle de carpinteros: sculptor´s street and carpenter´s street. if i believed in destiny, i´d say i was destined to be between these two of my favorite professions.

rosario and augustin are probably in their early sixties and retired. actually he is retired, it seems she has been a traditional housewife/mother and continues to keep an immaculate house, cook, and wash the clothing. augustin seems more helpful than the traditional stereotype. they tend their grandson, carlos, aged 2. carlos´ mother is cristina, who is their 32 year old daughter; their son, jose, is 38 and lives at home. rosario and augustin are very sweet and gracious. they, like many salamancans, house students to supplement their incomes. our house (apartment--while salamanca is not a big city, hardly anyone here has a free-standing house. almost everyone lives in apartments.) has four bedrooms, a small kitchen, combination livingroom/diningroom and a bathroom with shower and another small bathroom with a washing machine and a toilet. my room is quite small--maybe 7´x7´, but clean and quiet.

it is strange to be living in someone else´s house after so many years of being on my own! but there is no doubt that living with spaniards (who speak no english whatsoever) and not having a roommate definitely forces me to speak more. i am alternately frustrated with and proud of my verbal progress. one of the many cultural differences i have been taught is that we americans tend to say thank you, i´m sorry, you´re welcome, and excuse me constantly. the spaniards do not and it is not a sign of rudeness. i was told today in class that it makes them uncomfortable to constantly be told thank you and i´m sorry by americans. it reminds me of my reaction to southern gentility when if first arrived in texas...i kept thinking that all that politeness was annoying and insincere. but of course, it is just a cultural trait, like the ubiquitous ma´m!

a couple of other observations. they call the (computer) mouse rato which amused me. but their word for rat is rata which is almost the same. because they are so much the same--why do we make such a distinction? we see the mouse with affection but demonize the rat...when they are essentially the same kind of creature. see what living in another country has done to me? suddenly i´m defending the honor of rats.

another thing is that they use the expression vale (BAH lay) all the time here. it was confusing when i tried to figure out what the hell they were saying because it´s not really a word...i mean it could come from another word but it doesn´t have consistent meaning. it´s used like okay or that´s right or cool (with more enthusiasm, i might add).

while i´m still getting used to all the walking and heat, my knees and feet are better and my homesickness has abated some. being in school is very good. i have more hope today that i will learn to speak fluently over the next two months. however, i am not sure about learning the vosotros (informal plural for you that is used here in spain and no where else) and the correct use of the subjunctive is still hazy.

how do you say, blah, blah, blah en español, i wonder...

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

if it´s martes this must be salamanca

it is strange to blog. it´s so public and i´m afraid i´m going to edit out the truthful, however catty, remarks that i make everyday. and lose something in the process. one more self-conscious remark: i normally do not write in lowercase but getting used to european keyboards and the desire to set my writing apart during this 10-week stay in spain has me giving in to this method. it feels lazy or trendy for me. my inner puritan harps on me to go the extra mile and use the shift key, else my pinkies like the rest of me will become slothful.

the predictable summer/travel cold has found its way into my throat. and predictable feelings of alienation and the ever present barbara-sickness have combined to give me a dose of "nostalgia" which seems too wistful a translation to describe my homesickness.

tomorrow we are tested for placement in a level of spanish. hope i don´t freak out during testing and forget everything i´ve learned and find myself in the calle de sesame clase.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

madrid saturday

I´m not sure I´m doing this quite right, but here goes.

It is Saturday in Madrid, and this is the second-to-last day of our 12 day excursion in Spain. Tomorrow we go to Salamanca with a several hour stop in Segovia.

The smell of Madrid is a mixture of good food, cigarette smoke, early summer air and car fumes. The past three days have been wonderful. I have ventured out on my own, spending hours in the museums, eating fish and seafood soup at a cafe, and navigating the metro system. I´ve ridden in the open air upper deck of one of those excursion buses--hokey, yes, but the sun was shining and I got to see large parts of Madrid that I would have otherwise missed on foot. Not to mention all that I learned from the British-accented (sorry folks, my Spanish is not quite ready for audio only) English taped guides. My only question is: How hard would it be for the Brits to learn to say Don Quixote correctly? Don "KWIX-oat" grates on the ear!

I was tempted to believe that Madrid had more blind people than any major city I have ever seen, but that wouldn´t be logical, would it? The services for the blind here are just much better than most places, I guess, and certainly more visible (forgive the unintended pun). There is an organization for the blind here with the acronym ONCE, which spells "eleven" in Spanish (I have no idea if that has a deeper meaning) that provides jobs, like selling lottery tickets, for the visually impaired.

I´m sitting in an internet cafe across from our hotel (El Hotel Gaudi, which contrary to its name has no architectural features relating to that marvelous architectural style) that calls itself Carribean. They have platano and queso sandwiches here (platain and cheese) that I tried a few days ago. Not very good--they use sweet platanos and added sugar. Yuck! However, it has cheap internet connections and it is very close. Right now I´m being drawn in to help the American tourists navigate the internet. Yikes.

My favorite foods here so far include gazpacho and tortilla española. The ham is exceptional and the desserts (particularly the bread pudding/flan and helado) are fab. The red wine is particularly good--and cheap. My fellow travelers complain constantly about how much weight they are going to gain (which makes me want to forcefeed them blubber) but we walk so much I can´t imagine they´re going to have any problems. Suddenly it seems as if all of the United States is one large white mass sitting on a couch or behind the steering wheel. That´s, of course, when the entire country is not on a treadmill or out jogging. Or buying the latest fad diet supplement. What a contrast...

Well, it´s off to get something to eat and maybe a glass of that lovely Spanish wine.