I know that people always say “The grass is greener on the other side”, but knowing something and fully appreciating it are two completely different things. I could write a whole post about how everyone’s lives seem really awesome from an outside perspective, and that everyone has almost the same highs and lows, and that what seems really spectacular to one person could be boring to another, but at the end of the post, I would still feel like I know a lot of people who are doing something really incredible with their lives, whereas I am just . . . living.


And yet the other day I was chatting online with an old friend of mine, who, in my opinion, is standing on the greenest grass you could ever find. It sounds cheesy, but she is living the life: apartment in the big city, steady job in a field she loves, not to mention all the famous people she manages to meet and post pictures of on Facebook. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not jealous or trying to put down her achievements, because she works hard and is great at what she does, so there’s no question of her living an awesome life that she doesn’t “deserve” (whatever that means). But I definitely think of my life as just life, and her life as LIFE, if you know what I mean. Probably because I have to experience every time I do something awkward while it is happening, but when I tell other people about it, I spiff it up and make it sound funny and/or cool. I’m sure everyone does it, so that’s probably why I don’t have any direct knowledge of, I don’t know, if my friend’s heat ever broke in winter, or if she ever went all day at work with a ketchup stain on her shirt and didn’t know, or anyway whatever boring mundane details of her life that probably happen all the time.


We hadn’t chatted in a while so the conversation was mostly just catching-up, and of course since she has seen me post on Facebook, her first question was how I was liking Europe. I answered that it was fine, that I had just gotten back from Poland, and that I would be in Spain for about another 6 weeks. Her response was, “You’re always travelling, that’s amazing!” Amazing? Really? The idea that I could be amazing from the perspective of someone who meets famous actors on a daily basis is in itself amazing to me. I mean, I guess it’s not amazing really. I also find it amazing that I can just go visit Poland on any given weekend. I think what is amazing is the tone of the comment, the, “I can’t believe you’re doing that, I would never be able to myself.” I don’t feel particularly brave, or adventurous, but there you have it.


So. Two points here. One: You TOTALLY can go live for a year in Spain, or Poland, or, I don’t know, Antarctica (although it will probably be more difficult in Antarctica). It may seem scary or intimidating, but I promise soon you’ll be pointing at menus in unintelligible languages and eating whatever comes out like it aint no thang. And two: I feel incredibly lucky that I have had the opportunity and the support to do so myself. I may seem brave and adventurous, but really hundreds of hands are holding me up. Thank you so much to everyone who owns one of those hands.


Oh, and Poland. Post soon, but for now, here is a teaser relating to perspective.



Just a heads-up for all of you out there in blog-land. My life as of late has gone from easy, laid-back, and tranquilo to jam-packed and insane. I haven’t been in the apartment much for the past week and I won’t be in it much for the upcoming one either, as I’m taking the Labor Day puente to go to Poland. I might even be stretching that absence to 2 weeks depending on what things look like by Friday, so I’m going to be taking a blog hiatus until at least the first third of May finishes up. I hope everyone enjoys the spring weather in the next 2 weeks, and I’ll be back soon.

Semana Santa

Holy Week. I was not surprised at the scope and intensity of the celebrations here in Spain because I’d done a lot of reading and studying about Holy Week throughout my academic career. However, I was impressed to see it all in person. Somehow watching a recording of a procession on a VHS in a high school Spanish class didn’t really impress on me the largeness and universality of Semana Santa.

In the US, celebrating Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, and even to an extent Easter, is a highly religious and personal event. People go to church and spend time with their families. Back in the US, I regularly missed out on even the Protestant parts of Holy Week. This was mostly due to me teaching evening classes. When your choir is singing on Sunday morning, you tend not to have any conflicts, but when they are singing at a Maundy Thursday service which is at 7 pm, introducing my Spanish 204 students to the past subjunctive always wins that scheduling battle. I know that the choir at my last church would always “strip the altar” at the end of the service, which involved taking all the things off of it and draping it in black until Easter morning. I also know that one year someone suggested we do something different and meaningful for Maundy Thursday service.  Turns out they meant they wanted to do a foot-washing ritual, which the associate pastor vetoed with an “Ewwwww” look on her face. Anyway, I digress. In no way had I ever seen anything like the Holy Week celebrations and rituals that went on in the south of Spain.

So what I knew about the processions before coming to Spain was that they involved enormously heavy floats carried by dozens of people, sporting religious statues that were hundreds of years old. I also knew that the people who participated in the processions would be wearing specific robes (Mom and I referred to the nazarenos as “the KKK” or “the coneheads” all week). But what I didn’t expect was to lean out my window at a hotel in Cádiz and see this.

Holy cow! Is that a tree? Clearly, second-hand knowledge doesn’t even come close to experiencing having two of these (one of Jesus and one of Mary) passing through the streets, accompanied by brass bands and hundreds of people until the wee hours of the morning.

Processions are very popular in the south of Spain; in Sevilla they had over 60 religious brotherhoods participating this year. You can buy a seat for a certain amount of time, so if there is a particular procession you want to watch (maybe someone you know is in it, or playing in one of the bands, or maybe you just like one of the floats over the others) you can have a front row seat. Otherwise, you have to stand on the side of the street, and if you wanted to cross there, too bad, because there are so many people out watching that it is impossible to get by without being rude.

In the north, processions aren’t as big a part of Semana Santa, but when my Mom and I were in Barcelona, we did see one procession . . . with bagpipes! Although I knew that bagpiping was a part of the culture in the north, I had always assumed that this was restricted to Galicia, which is the community right above Portugal. I didn’t know that people (and not just people, entire bands!) played bagpipes in Barcelona, which is on the Mediterranean.

Easter itself (or Resurrection Sunday as it’s called here) seems to be less of a public deal than the rest of Holy Week. Christians in the US get quietly and personally solemn during Holy Week, and then have colorful parties with painted eggs and bunnies on Easter. Here it seems that all the color and excitement happens during the week leading up to Easter, but on Easter here you just go to church and have a family lunch, although there are several processions on Easter as well.

In short, Holy Week in Spain is an intensely emotional and intensely public celebration. At one point as a band passed by, my mother commented, “You don’t even have to understand what’s going on; just from the music you KNOW something ominous is going to happen.” Culturally, it’s pretty awe-inspiring. Religiously, it is very intense, judging by the reactions I saw from people watching the processions. But I think that if you don’t share that cultural or religious background, it can be pretty difficult to understand. I heard some British tourists chatting in Barcelona who found the procession “really weird”, and coming from a culture that doesn’t do these sorts of things, yeah, it is! As for those outside the religious background, I give you this article about a group of atheists who wanted to participate in Holy Week with their own non-believing procession. If you think this is just sour grapes, I’d invite you to take a look at that photo up there, and imagine 60 of those walking by your door for a whole week. The procession was vetoed by the Madrid government, so the group changed to a protest of the prohibition in the Plaza del Sol, which was approved.


After a whole week off, the holidays are coming thick and fast here. We’ve get 2 weeks in school before we have a long weekend for the patron saint of our town, San Jorge (yep, the one with the dragon). I’m going to be heading up to Madrid to visit El Escorial and Toledo. We get a short week (Wednesday through Friday) and then we get another long weekend for Labor Day, which is May 1st here in Spain. I’m going to do some European traveling and go to Poland! I’ve never been to Eastern Europe so this should be exciting.

Spain News Roundup of the Week(s): April 1 – April 14, 2012

While I am formulating my thoughts on Holy Week for a post, I’ve also been sorting through the news. A couple of items on this list I have wanted to post about before, but más vale tarde que nunca, am I right?

Article 1 is a story that has been allllll over the news here for several weeks. It is referred to as the case of the “stolen babies” and refers to a movement of women, some who were teenage mothers, some who were separated from their husbands, and some who just had the bad luck to give birth in the wrong place at the wrong time, who are searching for their birth children. All of these women gave birth in maternity clinics run by nuns, and after giving birth the attendants took their babies away, never to be seen again. Some of the mothers were told that the baby would be better off being adopted by someone else, while others were told that their babies had died. In reality, the babies were allegedly sold to adoptive families for hundreds of thousands of pesetas. The most astonishing thing about this case is both the scope of the operation and the fact that it was perpetrated by nuns. The reason the story is in the news now is because one of the nuns, named Sor María, has been charged in court for stealing one baby in particular named Pilar. So far in the case two people have spoken in court, or in Sor María’s case, not spoken, because she claimed the right to not respond to the charges in court. The other person who spoke before the judge was Alejandro Alcalde, who adopted the baby in question and claims to not have paid any money for her.

Article 2 is an update, more or less, on the new Spanish government’s reforms. It’s been almost 5 months since the national elections brought the PP to power, and President Mariano Rajoy promised many reforms during the campaign. One of them is the hotly debated labor reform, which has caused very vocal opposition and the nation-wide strike of March 29th, and which has not yet been brought to the congressional floor.  The other big reform is the “Stability Law” which attempts to address the difficult state of the economy. This law is actually an outgrowth of a constitutional amendment mandating various spending limits that was passed 6 months ago and had the approval of both major parties. However, the law passed with zero support from the opposition party, the PSOE. Among other things, the law sets limits on government debt with the goal being 0% by 2020. This measure was the sticking point between the PP and the PSOE, who wanted to set that 2020 limit to 0.4%. The PP was able to negotiate with several minor parties so that they would at least abstain from the vote, but despite discussions that went to the last minute, the PSOE delegates voted against the measure. It didn’t matter, because the law passed 192 to 116, with 4 abstentions.

Article 3 is also economy-related. Complaining about gas prices is something I think is common to everyone who owns a car, because it is expensive everywhere nowadays. Here in Europe things have suddenly gotten worse after the EU agreed to stop importing oil from Iran as a form of economic sanctions. This is a problem for Spain (and the rest of Europe I’d imagine) because most of Spain’s oil, and therefore its gasoline, comes from Iran. In fact, Spain imports 99% of its oil. So King Juan Carlos took an official trip to Kuwait on April 4th to discuss importing more oil from them to make up the shortage.

Some science for you all. Article 4 is about a recent find in Cantabria, a community in the north of Spain best known for beaches and cave paintings. Now it can also be known for its mineral diversity, because a new mineral called “zaccagnaite-3R” was discovered in a cave called “El Soplao”. Besides being really cool, the mineral is also the first of its type to be found in a cave, as opposed to the microscopic finds of a variety of zaccagnaite in marble located in Italy and possibly Greece. Zaccagnaite has a lot of industrial and health uses, and the variety found in Cantabria has a higher concentration of aluminum than the Italian 2H type. Scientists have learned much about the mineral in general through the analysis of the new 3R variety.

And now for something completely unscientific. Eurovision 2012 is upon us! Every year since 1956, members of the European Broadcasting Union have participated in a song contest, giving the world such hits as “Waterloo” by ABBA. Spain’s entrant this year is a singer named Pastora Soler and a song called “Quédate conmigo” [Stay With Me]. Article 5 gives some information about Soler’s backup singers and choreography for the performance, which will be on May 26th in Baku, Azerbaijan.


That’s all for now, folks. Enjoy your Europop.

Spain News Roundup of the Week: March 25 – March 31

Political news abounds this week, readers. Elections were last Sunday and although the results are in, the future is far from certain.


Article #1 is about the elections in Andalucía, my current home. It has not been a good election cycle for the PSOE, Spain’s socialist party, which we saw on a national level when the presidential elections went to the PP by a large margin. Here in Andalucía, the PSOE has been in power since Franco’s death and the creation of the new constitution and the autonomous communities, but the prediction was that the PP would gain power here for the first time ever. With only 61% of the electorate voting (11% fewer than in the last local elections), the PP won 50 seats in the Parliament of Andalucía, the PSOE 47, and the IU (United Left) 12. 55 would be a majority, so no one party is in power. This means . . . coalition! The news now is about the discussions between Griñán, the current president and head of the PSOE-A (PSOE of Andalucía) and the IU on the coalition they would make.


In addition to Andalucía, the Community of Asturias also had regional elections last Sunday. Their Parliament has 45 seats, of which the PSOE won 17, the IU 5, the PP 10, and Foro, a local party, 12. This means that the left-leaning groups, the PSOE and the IU, have exactly as many seats as the right-leaning groups, the PP and Foro. Who governs? Well, that depends on that last seat, which was won by the UPyD, a progressive and socially liberal party, and if the left-leaning parties can make an agreement with them. The second article discusses an interesting facet of the Asturias election, which is that the 17th seat was won by the PSOE only due to the ballots of emigrant Asturians, that is, people who can vote in Asturias’s elections, but no longer live in Asturias.


Those two elections have taken the wind out of the PP’s sails a bit. They were riding high after their resounding victory last November. And right on the heels of these two setbacks came the first general strike in Spain since 2010. I don’t really have much personal experience to recount about the strike, since here in Alcalá it was mostly business as usual, although many stores were closed and there were fewer students and teachers at school. But the news from the bigger cities was that the strike was more disruptive. Protesters blocked roads and driveways to keep buses from running and deliveries from happening. There were also clashes between protesters and police, especially in Barcelona. Despite all this unrest, which bubbled up over the labor reform and austerity measures, the government according to article #3 has vowed to continue with their original plans. No way is this over.


All in all, it’s a tough time to be the president, PP’s Mariano Rajoy, nowadays. 2 lost elections and a nationwide strike, and on top of all that he turned 57 years old this week, according to article #4. He didn’t even get to celebrate with his family or in his own country, as he was in Seoul for the Nuclear Security Summit at the time. I would find that to be a bummer, but hey, he at least got to meet Obama.


Article #5 made me smile and bookmark it right away, because it talks about bread, and I never even knew until I started studying Hispanic culture how important bread could be. Before coming to Spain, I studied abroad in Mexico, and it seemed like in every single one of my classes that semester, we talked about bread. In my Mexican Culture class, we read a whole book called “Que vivan los tamales” that analyzed Mexican culture in relation to its food. Bread, as opposed to corn tortillas, was discussed as representing European civilization. We even read a short story by Ibarbuengoitia that satirized Latin America’s obsession with bread. For example, have you ever noticed how many expressions in Spanish have to do with bread? If something is very simple, you don’t say “easy as pie”, you say “like eating bread”. Nails aren’t the solution to every problem when you are a hammer, at least not in Spanish. Instead, you say that when someone is hungry, they will naturally think about bread. Well now, according to the article, there are a bunch of mini-companies springing up that deliver freshly baked bread to your door. In fact, the article has another expression concerning bread: the company’s recipie for success is as basic as bread.


Hasta la próxima, readers. Hope your day isn’t “as long as a day without bread”.

Adventures in Spanish Cooking: Tortilla Española

A friend of mine and I used to joke that we should start a cooking show where everything goes wrong, because we were hopeless in the kitchen. I’m proving this fact over and over with this “Adventures in Spanish Cooking” feature, because so far I am 3 for 3 on messing up Spain’s edible patrimony. First, I made terrible brava sauce for my patatas bravas. Then, my polvorones fell apart and got slightly burnt. Now I’m messing up tortilla española, a dish that contains no corn or flour whatsoever, and does not turn into tacos or fajitas. Tortilla española is basically a potato quiche without the crust, named “española” to distinguish it from the Mexican kind that contains neither potatoes nor eggs. My feelings on potatoes are pretty strong so it’s no surprise that my next choice of recipe was tuber-based (In fact, you can even get a tortilla española SANDWICH here in Spain. You know, in case you wanted to put some carbs on your carbs). Tortilla española is probably one of the easiest recipes I’ll be attempting to make, and yet somehow I managed to screw it up. The ingredients are simple: eggs, potatoes, onions, and olive oil. The preparation is simple: Peel potatoes. Boil potatoes. Beat eggs. Add potatoes. Cook. So what went wrong?


I took forever to peel the potatoes because for some reason I had bought the teeny tiny potatoes at the store, and I don’t have a vegetable peeler. So there I was, painstakingly removing all the skin with a knife while the onions browned in a pan. Once finished, I decided that the potatoes were small enough that I could just quarter them before boiling, and they were done in no time. After a short wait while the onions and potatoes cooled (if you put them into the eggs warm, they’ll scramble the eggs! Thank you, Ina Garten), I added them to 4 beaten eggs, along with some salt and pepper.


OK, so instantly clear was the fact that quartered was not small enough, because the lumps of potato in my bowl looked far larger than any potato chunks I have ever encountered in my tortilla. It was a bit late to fish it all out and chop some more, so I figured, eh, what the hell, and into the skillet it went. I spread out the egg mixture over the coating of olive oil at the bottom of the pan and waited. Once the eggs started bubbling and didn’t wiggle around so much, I decided it was time to flip. Out came the paella pan, which I put upside down over the skillet, then picked up the skillet . . . and FLIP!


I could tell right away that the tortilla was still in the pan even though the pan was now upside down. Gravity was not helping at all, so I gave the skillet a few taps to encourage my dinner. Nothing happened. What followed was a series of embarrassing attempts to free my tortilla, ending with me turning over the skillet to discover that the whole thing was stuck to the bottom.


Plan B was, stir it up quickly before more of it sticks, and have scrambled eggs española for dinner instead. Le sigh.

Let’s all go to the lobby and get ourselves some snacks!

I promised this post a long time ago, like right after Christmas. But I never wrote the post and then I felt stupid going back to an idea that was several weeks, and then several months old. But then I got a chance to have the same experience again, and since that experience is fresh in my mind, here comes the long-delayed musings on THE MOVIE THEATRE IN SPAIN!!!

As of currently, I have seen 2 movies in the movie theatre here in Spain. One was back in December when I went to visit my friend who is living in Rota. We went with her Spanish coworker to see the Justin Timberlake movie In Time. It was definitely a second choice (I wanted to see Puss In Boots, but it wasn’t in theatres anymore) but to tell you the truth I just really wanted the experience of seeing a movie in Spanish, no subtitles. The second movie was last Saturday, when I went to the mall in Jerez and saw The Muppets (also a second choice. I wanted to see The Hunger Games but we get most movies several weeks to months later than in America. I was hoping for an exception but no luck).

Things that are (or can be) the same between movie experiences in the US and in Spain:

  • Stadium seating. The theatre in Jerez was pretty nice. The seats were comfortable and it was easy to see. The theatre in Rota didn’t have stadium seating, though, as it was a little older.
  • Really enormous (and enormously priced) concession snacks. I was actually surprised to find this similarity because Spain doesn’t really do the whole “super size” thing. When you order a Fanta Limón in a restaurant, you get a 12-ounce bottle of Fanta Limón, and if you want another, you buy another. Also, the maximum price is one euro, and often cheaper. But at the theatre in Jerez, I ordered a medium Fanta Limón, which was probably 32 to 48 ounces (there was no small size), and it cost me 2.90. I had gotten so used to portion-sized sodas since being here that I couldn’t even finish the whole thing, and by the end of the movie, I felt like I had corn syrup running through my veins.

Things that are (or can be) different between movie experiences in the US and in Spain:

  • In Spain, when the movie says it is going to start at a certain time, that’s when it STARTS. At the theatre in Rota, we settled down into our chairs at 9:58, and at 10:00 the movie started rolling. And I don’t mean previews either, at 10:00 pm the film studio’s logo flashed up on the screen, followed by the opening credits. It was kind of nice, to be honest. At the theatre in Jerez, though, we got one commercial and 2 previews, plus a little pre-movie cartoon with the Toy Story characters (did you guys get that in America too before The Muppets?)
  • Speaking of seats, I had an assigned seat for The Muppets. It was kind of wild, to tell you the truth! I didn’t really know what the woman at the ticket booth was talking about when she asked me if the 6th row was ok, but then she turned her computer console to show me the seating layout of the theatre. I was in seat F2, for those who were wondering. Rota didn’t have assigned seats though.
  • In Spain there is a conspicuous lack of warnings when you go to the movies. At neither theatre did I see an “In the event of an emergency” announcement, and the previews I saw in Jerez weren’t preceded by any information on the appropriateness of the preview or the movie, like they are in America. The movie posters themselves don’t have ratings on them either, and only at the ticket office do you see guidelines. These guidelines are “Apta para todos públicos” (which is like the US’s G rating), “No recomendado para menores de 7” (which is PG), and “No recomendado para menores de 17” (which is R).
  • The names of the movies themselves. The movies I went to don’t really illustrate this, because “The Muppets” is “Los Muppets”, and “In Time” was “In Time”. It is just as common to have an exact translation (“La Dama de Hierro” for “The Iron Lady”) as it is to have a name that fits the spirit of the movie, but not its original name (“Un Lugar Para Soñar” [A Place to Dream] for “We Bought A Zoo”). Sometimes though the name is so off-base that you wonder where it came from. I reference the Steigg Larson trilogy; “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” was in theatres here this past winter. Except it wasn’t called that, it was called “Los hombres que no amaban a las mujeres” [The Men Who Didn’t Love Women]. This is also a problem with the books because that’s where the titles come from: books 2 and 3 are called “La chica que soñaba con una cerilla y un bidón de gasolina” [The Girl Who Dreamed Of A Match and A Can of Gasoline] and “La reina en el palacio de las corrientes de aire” [The Queen in the Palace of Air Currents], respectively.
  • The language! Movies here are dubbed into Spanish by Spanish voice actors, which means that after the credits, there is another set of credits letting you know who voiced whom. I didn’t have problems following the Spanish either time, which was nice, but I’m still not getting every single word. It was worse in December; when we discussed the movie afterwards, I was explaining some of the plot points to my friend, but my friend’s Spanish coworker had to explain some things to me that I had missed. With the Muppets, I only missed maybe one or two jokes, and I think that was because I was spending too much time trying to decide what the joke had originally been in English, because there was no way the translations could have been exact. Example: One of Fozzie’s jokes was “Why do they call it a store (una tienda)? Because there are always people there to assist (atienden) you!” Clearly that wasn’t the original joke and you can’t really lip-read Muppets, so while I was puzzling it out, I missed entirely one of Statler and Waldorf’s heckles. In the Muppets all of the songs were translated as well, except for two popular songs that were in English, one of which I legitimately didn’t recognize until it was almost over. After 90 minutes of Spanish, I couldn’t understand why the Muppets were all of a sudden singing “Hello” instead of “Hola”, and I couldn’t really understand the rest of the song – what were they saying, “entertain us”? Only after a character remarked (in Spanish) “You’re ruining one of the greatest songs in the history of rock!” that I thought, “Wait, do I already know this song???” 5 seconds before they finished I realized – “Smells Like Teen Spirit!!!” I felt like my adult English students, who hear the words “in the world” and ask me, “What are they saying? Inner wool?”

Fewer commercials and lack of warnings-creep, but still serving you a vat of popcorn big enough to swim in? I can get behind that, Spanish movies.