Monday, November 30, 2009

some updates

For those of you who are out of it in the world of soccer--Madrid and Barcelona played last night. Barcelona won 1-0. It´s a rather sore subject, so I´ll leave it at that.

The pumpkin pie was for the most part a success. It tasted pretty good to me (even though the damn crust was still dough) and I received many raving reviews. However, some of the professors claimed to like it, but any observant eye would have noticed that they didn´t finish the small slice I gave them (I gave everyone very small slices for this very reason). The apple pie was also a success--but it really had nothing on the AMAZING turkey my friend Rachael made. I could not believe it--her first try!! And stuffing! Oh stuffing--why can´t I eat you every day? I have been dreaming about it since last Thursday. If anyone feels like sending me boxed stuffing (or whatever it is) I will love you forever! This is a serious request:

Carlos Lanza/Renee Christensen
Calle Sirio 2
Getafe, Madrid 28905 ESPANA

Today I bought a bus ticket to Granada for the "puente" this upcoming weekend. We have Monday AND Tuesday off! And since I always have Fridays off--5 day weekend! Who is jealous? WHO is jealous?! I am going Saturday to Tuesday, as the chicos del barrio are having a dinner party of sorts on Friday (parents out of town!!) that sounded way too fun to miss. Plus I really don´t need 5 days in Granada, which is apparently not much bigger than the very town of Getafe I live in.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

happy thanksgiving!

Yesterday was one of the first rainy days of fall--I normally hate rain, but when it comes in such small doses, I can actually appreciate it. Today is just as dreary, and the coziness has really boosted my Thanksgiving morale...

This surge in holiday spirit inspired me to make a pumpkin pie for the teachers at school. I would have normally made apple pie, because it´s easy and it´s my favorite, but this would not be such a novelty to the Spaniards. So yesterday afternoon I headed to the grocery store, where I wasted nearly two hours of my life. Living at home, I never have to do any grocery shopping, and it was a HUGE challenge considering I needed things like nutmeg and evaporated milk. Ay yai yai, what a headache. Oh, and in case you were wondering, canned pumpkin is definitely an American thing--nowhere to be found in this country. So I made the puree myself---which turned out to be pretty easy. Five simple steps: cut the pumpkin in half, scoop out the seeds, boil for 20-30 mins, shell out the meat with a spoon, and puree with a food processor (or with a fork and lots of patience).

Anyway, the whole thing took several hours, as I was making two pumpkin pies (which take an hour to bake--who knew?!) and one apple pie for a dinner party I am going to this evening. During the course of my baking extravaganza, Isabela came down from cyber world (where she spends almost all of her free time) to see what was going on. For whatever reason, this project really excited her, and she spent the rest of the night hanging in the kitchen, not only helping me but also making her own pie with the extra dough. Despite Pilar and I´s pressure to find a recipe, she insisted on creating something completely original, using the following ingredients: tons of nocilla (which is like nutella, except even more addictive if you can believe it), a cup of cacao, a cup of sugar, one egg, and a pureed banana. Then she cooked it in the microwave. It came out looking like a rock (I was sure it was unedible...) but upon testing with a knife, it looked good! She then covered it with more nocilla, and then we all sat down to try it. I cracked up after my first bite, all I could utter was "Que raro!!". The pie crust was definitely still dough, and the actual pie had the consistency of spanish tortilla--which is like quiche. But I have to admit--it wasn´t bad! Well, it wasn´t necessarily good, but I will eat anything with chocolate in it.

As far as the pumpkin pie goes---I have yet to try it. But I am keeping my fingers crossed that it turned out delicious, at least for the sake of my country. Everyone here seems to think that America doesn´t have its own traditional foods (which, I guess, is sort of true) but I am here with my pumpkin pie to prove them all wrong! I´ll update later with results...

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

ciudad de las artes y las ciencias

palau de la musica

el Hemisféric

the back

adventure to valencia

Well...I can´t believe I did that.

I am at school right now--completely cracked out on espreso--having only slept 2 hours last night. My body feels like it was hit by a truck...but spirits remain high.

Rewind to Sunday...not long after I had come to terms with the fact that my ridiculous plan to follow Andrew Bird to Valencia would not be realized--I received a very important phone call from a friend who was just as interested as I in the endeavor. Vaya! We booked the rental car right away, with plans to meet at the Atocha train station early Monday morning.

Marcelo and Pilar were not too pleased with this plan--though they said nothing, the expression on Pilar´s face was enough to make me feel like a really, really stupid teenager again. It was a combination of extreme skepticism and motherly worry--altogether making for a rather unfortunate and guilt-inspiring feeling inside (considering, I am NOT a teenager, I am an adult, and therefore, the ugly face was as far as poor Pilar could go). But what´s a girl to do? This is the only down side about not living on my own--I have to answer to a whole family of very interested witnesses in the crimes I commit. Luckily Carmen, Pilar´s mom, wasn´t in the room during my proposal. She tends to be much more critical and outspoken.

So I met my friend Carlos at 9 am sharp the next morning to pick up the rental car. The story of Carlos is a long one that I don´t really feel like telling just yet, but I will say that it adds a whole new layer to the adventure of unbelievable randomness and coincidence and fate--considering that aside from seeing him outside the concert in Madrid on Saturday, unable to get in, I had not seen him since I met him during my first days in Spain. Anyhow, we ended up dropping twice as much money as anticipated on the rental car to go as far as Valencia, but we were both willing to make the sacrifice, and by 10 am we were crusing down the highway in our tiny toy Smart car. Hehe.

And it was so beautiful in Valencia! Sunny warm skies greeted us, and we spent most of the afternoon exploring around, making idiotic mistakes that are only to be expected when sincerely flying by the seat of one´s pants. We were rather scarce on resources, such as a map or any other source of knowledge about the city. All we knew was that there was a beach--which I will sadly admit we never found. Haha idiotic.

We had plans to eat some Paella, as aside from oranges, this is the food Valencia is most famous for. But we were both broke after the car rental fiasco, so we eventually opted for the poor man´s dinner in Spain of bread, jamon, cheese and fruit. Complete with a 1 Euro bottle of wine. Yummy. We decided to have our picnic in this wonderful park we stumbled upon, that was set in front of Valencia´s new science and art center. I had NO idea that Valencia had this breathtaking span of futuristic architechture, more or less 10 years old. Designed by architect, artist and engineer Santiago Calatrava, the monuments were intended to celebrate the coming of the 21st century. My most favorite was a giant eyeball that looks as though it is floating in water. It is so insane! From the side, where you can´t see the pupil, it actually looks like a spaceship from which aliens could descend at any time. What!?!! Other monuments were the massive Principe Felipe Museum, a science museum and science center, the L'Hemisferia which houses the Imax theater (as well as a planetarium) and the Palau de les Arts, the beautiful parthenon-like perfoming arts center. At the very edge was Valencia´s aquarium, which is apparently the biggest in all of Europe. I had to tell myself, Next time, when I have more money.

So, we frolicked around this heavenly futureland for a few hours, counting down the minutes until it was time to go see the concert at the very Palau de les Arts mentioned above. If I thought Saturday night´s show in Madrid was intimate--well, I didn´t know what intimate was. We had 5th row seats in this tiny auditorium, where I´m sure the whole entire audience felt as though they were having a cup of tea with Andrew Bird. It was so wonderful!!! The accoustics were insane--my ears could not have been happier. The set list was more or less the same, which was sort of a bummer, but what can you expect from a one man production? And anyway, the delivery was completely distinct. Andrew Bird is an odd fellow. Funny, but awkward, always a little uncomfortable unless he is lost in his music. His heart was on his sleeve; I was not surprised by how obviously nervous he was. The seated audience was calm, I´m sure pleased, but clapped only at appropriate times, offering no other signs of encouragement. His personality was so clearly reflected in the audience´s. In comparison with Madrid´s show, where he was just as light hearted as the 400 or so buzzed fans on a Saturday night, his mood was earnest, stoic even, during the whole of the show. I´m sure his only haven were his songs, which were played with such intesity that I thought he might fall over right there on stage. It was so perfect.

And that´s the end of this story--I will share no more, because the rest of the adventure was a well-worth-it hell. But hey, I made it back in one piece, and now I look forward to tonight´s sleep almost as much as I did last night´s show.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


i spoke too soon.


details to come soon.

ps jack, who are you? where did you come from?


Last night I saw my most favorite Andrew Bird in concert. I will start from the beginning.

One night I was talking on the phone with my pal Marc, and he had a calendar of all the upcoming live music in Madrid--huge, because I have been so out of it in terms of this wonderful source of entertainment. So I had him read off some of the names..and ever so casually, he said "Not sure if you know this one..the 21st of November..Andrew Bird?" That´s when Marc went deaf.

What are the odds?!?! My most favorite Andrew Bird, in Madrid?!?! God loves me. He really, really loves me.

So, I had been anxiously awaiting last night´s arrival for two weeks. I met up with Marc for a few beers with our favorite Euro couple, Lorenzo (Italian) and Gloria (Spanish). I am not sure what it is I love so much about Lorenzo and Gloria--but in due time I suppose I will find out. After that we headed to Marc´s cousin´s to say hello, as he lives near the concert venue. He is a butcher slash artist slash computer chess addict, a bit intimidating at first, but a really cool guy in the end. Maybe too cool..Marc and I were enjoying his company so that we lost track of time, and thus were late to the concert. That´s okay though. Not many people know who Andrew Bird is here, so we ended up finding an awesome spot on the balcony where I was put into a trance for the next two hours.

Yes! He played for two hours! And I have to say, it was a much more magical experience than the previous times I have seen him, which have always been at outdoor music festivals. It was much more intimate, a one man show. He would begin by picking a simple ear pleasing lick on the violin, and then loop it just to begin another to layer onto the first. When the show was supposedly over, he of course came back out, this time with Jessica Hoop (who opened) and they did a few Bob Dylan covers together, such as "Oh, Sister". Good god. It was amazing. I finally was able to understand a one Kaitlyn Greer and her obsession with a one Jack White. I think I am in love with Andrew Bird.

And that´s when I decided, just as the show was ending, that I had to see him again, because true love has no limits. I had read that he was also playing in Barcelona... the wheels started turning, and by the time we were outside the venue after the show, all I could say to Marc was "I´m sorry, I have to go home. I can´t spend money tonight, and I need to plan."

But dreams this spontaneous rarely ever come true. First of all, the show in Barcelona is on Tuesday, and Tuesday is a no-go because I have an important meeting for my residency early Wednesday morning. So it would have to be Monday night in Valencia. I would need to drive, because any other form of transportation would require missing two days of school, and I can really only live with lying to my school for one. So, I would need to rent a car, and I would need to drive home promptly after the show Monday night to make it to school in time. Which means I would need a friend, because I am not about to drive 5 hours alone in the middle of the night (mom--don´t worry...I may not be that responsible, but I am surely smarter than that!). I swear I have friends, but none that are obsessed enough with Andrew Bird to screw Monday´s duties and Tuesday night´s sleep to go see him with me.

So I´m not going :( But that´s okay, the way I look at it, it wasn´t meant to be. I´ll survive, I suppose.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

RENEE ANDREW BIRD BARCELONA ironic the last post just became. more on this later.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

no pasa nada

Translation: no big deal.

This is my, along with probably the rest of Spain´s, favorite spanish phrase. It is so wonderful! It can be used in so many different situations! It can serve as a response to so many questions! When in doubt--no pasa nada!

What I really love about it, actually, is how much the Spaniards truly embrace the meaning of this phrase. Of course--it´s not THAT surprising. This is a laid-back country, where we have 2 hour lunch breaks, where it takes a month and a half to get a bank card, where 90 % of the population goes on vacation in August. So it only made sense when...

Okay, this is a long story that I should probably start from the beginning. My friend Nicole (who is teaching in this program in Sevilla) and I have been trying pretty much since we got here to plan a Christmas vacation extravaganza (reason number 435247 that I love my job--2 and a half weeks paid vacation in December and January!!). Our struggles with planning date back to our days in Buenos Aires (where we met studying abroad)... many trips went untraveled, because we totally SUCK at planning. Well--we had been debating for some time as to whether to go south to Morroco, or North to roam Europe. We decided in the end that Morroco wouldn´t be able to offer a very "magical" Christmas, and thus opted for the latter. We would begin with a weekend in Barcelona and exit the country by train from there. Nervous that we might miss great flight deals if we didn´t act fast, we bought two plane tickets to Barcelona in haste for the 19th of December. We chose the 19th because Nicole´s last day was the 18th, and she would need time to travel to Madrid. Note: this is NICOLE´S last day. Not mine. SO STUPID. I have school until the Tuesday the 22nd, a small detail I failed to note. This wasn´t the only hiccup we realized just days after purchasing the non-refundable tickets. Nicole found tickets from Sevilla to Barcelona for even cheaper, and that would mean that she wouldn´t have to buy a 30 Euro bus ticket to Madrid (nor spend 6 hours on a bus). No excuses--we are idiots.

But throwing away 65 Euros (the cost of both of our tickets) was just too painful. We had to figure out a way around it. So I went to Crazy Carlos. I wish I knew what Crazy Carlos´s position was in the school but I really don´t, all I can say is that he is the most ridiculously absurd 50 year old Spanish man that deals with the English assitants at my school, among other things, and I promise, more on him later. I asked him for advice..what should I do? Could I maybe try to make up the hours? Will I miss anything special? This question sparked something in my mind though, and I answered it myself. I was going to miss the Christmas nativity play and party! But before I could express my regret aloud, Carlos bellowed out--No pasa nada!!!! And continued with a brief speech in extremely broken English (he insists on speaking to us in English--because, as he says, he has a lot of doubts--which I believe means he wants to practice) about how I must be prudent, and not tell anyone about my travel plans, as I will have the flu on that Monday and Tuesday. Hahahahahahaha.

So, it only made sense when Carlos threw his hands up in the air in complete and utter apathy about my missing school two days to go party in Barcelona. No pasa nada.

So am I still going? The answer Just as Carlos did--I threw my hands up in the air and said no pasa nada to the 34 Euros down the drain. I wouldn´t miss my school´s Christmas party for the world, much less a silly plane ticket to Barcelona.

Friday, November 13, 2009

it´s friday night again

At the end of every week, I am so amazed by how fast it flew by. Which really scares me...this is going to be over way too soon.

I stay pretty busy Monday through Thursday. Although I only work 16 hours a week at school, I actually spend about 25 there, thanks to a daily 30 minute ¨breakfast¨ at 11 a.m. and a two hour ¨descanso¨ between 1 and 3 in the afternoon. Every day after school, I have private english classes...which pay bank but are a huge pain in my ass. Compared to what I do at school (pretty much just show up)--the private lessons are much more taxing, as I have to actually plan enough lessons to fill up the whole hour or hour and a half. Two of my students are classmates of my cousin Alex--10 year old girls who are easy to please with games and treats. However, my other students are adults, and this gives me a lot of stress. I am pretty sure one of them is expecting miracles out of me--which is so ridiculous considering she was my first adult student, and thus my guinea pig. My rates are very low due to lack of experience, so I don´t know where she is getting this idea that her English will be perfect after three classes with me. Oh well, I do my best.

Today I spent most of the morning in bed reading Nueva Luna. I am so addicted! I decided to finally start writing down the new words that I look up as I read, so that I will actually remember them after finishing the sentence. So it´s taking me a much longer time to read the second of the series, but I think it will be worth it in the end. This afternoon I went with my neighbor friend Sergio to Madrid because he needed to buy a book for a class he is taking. We went to this amazing store, FNAC, near Sol--aka tourist central. FNAC is sort of like Borders, except a million times bigger and better, complete with a 5% discount on everything in the store, year round! Afterwards, we walked around a bit before needing to head back for my paddle lesson. Sergio educated me on quite a bit of history--like how many of the streets here are named for the city they lead to (good to know) and the history of the new years celebration that happens in Sol (wouldn´t youuuu like to know?! I have to save that for a new years post). On the train ride back we were talking about the Atocha terrorist attack, and it was really interesting to hear about it from another young person--how he was in high school, how with each class, a new teacher would come in with a new death count. Although such a tragedy, the people of Madrid were lucky in so many ways--as the attack was intended to kill many more than the 192 that it did. Sergio was explaining that there were only two college students who died that day--as the universities were having a demonstration and thus all students were advised to not attend classes that day. Wow.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

hicimos botellon

So much for a quiet Friday night...

Later on in the evening I heard from my neighbor friend Sergio that he and his friends were going out in the ¨center¨ of Getafe. It´s rare that I ever have going out plans that don´t require 4 different forms of transportation, so I thought why not? They were going to do botellon, and then head to some of the bars in the area.

And now it is time for a brief history on one of the most recent social phenomenons of Spain--botellon.

Although its exact roots are unknown, most would probably agree that botellon is yet another unfortunate offspring of the economy. In recent years, young people have begun to gather around outdoor spaces to have drinks, as this is a much more affordable option than buying them in bars and clubs. Europe has never had a problem with public intoxication, unlike America, where I once received a 100 dollar ticket for standing literally two feet outside the bar with a beer in my hand. However, things have begun to change, in Madrid at least, as a result of botellon. In 2002, a new law was passed that forbade drinking on the streets, because the kids were getting way too out of hand. Thanks to a large handful of immature young folk, botellon is now illegal in Madrid (but not in other places, like Sevilla). However--the young people here have no reservations, nor do the police--who generally turn a blind eye to botellon. Nonetheless, if you are out botellon-ing and happen to get unlucky, the fine is 300 sadly spent Euros.

Anyhow--last night was pretty innocent. We each had a few drinks before heading to the bar, and the whole thing was very tame. Nobody was getting wasted, making idiots of themselves, or wrecking havoc around Getafe. Just simply a few friends hanging around and enjoying a cool atumn night. So all in all, I don´t feel too guilty about taking part in this ¨verguenza¨ of Spain.

For those not so mature--botellon is a different story. Here is a picture my friend Nicole took when we were in Sevilla--on our walk home one night we stumbled upon a desserted botellon war zone. Imagine--this is in front a church.

Friday, November 6, 2009

here i am on friday night

As if Friday nights couldn´t get more´s 8 pm and already I´m in my pajamas typing away on my blog. Who´s jealous?

You see, I missed my general Friday night activity--which is paddle lessons with Pilar. I was on my way in from Madrid to make it back just in time, but of course the trip took longer than expected (always) and I didn´t make it. But that´s okay. I arrived still dressed in what I was wearing yesterday afternoon, reaking of cigarette smoke from a Thursday night out, and frankly, feeling quite tired.

For those unaware, because I had never heard of paddle before I came here, it is an extremely easy version of tennis. It´s played on a smaller court, with smaller yet thicker rackets that do most of the work for you. Although still frustrating for someone as unathletic and uncoordinated such as myself, it is relatively easy to get the ball over the net with out exerting too much effort. The majority of the calories I burn while playing are probably from laughing at how ridiculously terrible both Pilar and I are.

Anyyyyyyway, I decided to go out in Madrid last night and it was a fun time indeed. We went to this place that had live music, something I had never seen in a club, and I was very excited about this prospect. However, I quickly realized that the band was HORRIBLE--if you can imagine, a spanish version of the Jonas brothers. It was quite painful to listen to, and dancing wasn´t even an option. But, who cares about my opinion--the Spaniards were loving it. Which is fine. I waited paitently for the band to finish (at 3 am) and we danced the rest of the night away.

Today I woke up and decided to meet up with an old friend from college who I just connected with last week. His family also lives here and he has been in and out of the country for the past couple years teaching English (illegally). For anyone interested--apparently the customs people at the airport are very relaxed here. If you want, you can just hop right on over and make a killing teaching English, and cross your fingers that you don´t get unlucky when you finally decide to head back to wherever it is you came from. Anyhow, it was a really beautiful crisp autumn day, and I mosied around the city with Marc while he filled my brain with random tidbits about Madrid, traveling, and life as he knows it. We eventually ended up at Retiro park--the most wonderfully fantastic place in Madrid. I am obsessed with this place, and spent all day cursing the Spanish mail system for not having yet delivered the camera my Aunt Carol and Uncle Kent sent me nearly two weeks ago. The trees were every shade of fall, and I was feeling so inspired by the sheer beauty of nature within the city. We roamed over to the Palacio de Cristal--this huge greenhouse that apparently used to shelter the ¨phillipine lillies¨ (does Marc make things up sometimes? Maybe) but is now a space for vague modern art--one display being a jar of asparagus sitting in the center of a compass, topped with a piece of poo and a metal rod balanced on this peice of poo. I didn´t get it. Nonetheless, this greenhouse was beautiful and it made me think of my mother, who would appreciate it more than anyone else I know.

Well, I must be off. Tonight Isabela and I are going to watch Twilight, as I just finished the first book (in Spanish!!!) and this week the second movie of the series will come out in Madrid. If anyone is interested in reading an easy book in Spanish, I highly reccommend this teeny bopper series. It´s 500 pages, and I finished in a week.

Monday, November 2, 2009

halloween redux

After Saturday night--only thought it necessary to finish off the holiday right.

I went to a party in Chueca--the gay district of Madrid--at an international apartment belonging to American, French, Brazilian, and Spanish inhabitants. Despite the fact that over half the guests were not-so-friendly French girls, it was still a good time. I enjoyed scoping out the costume scene. Across the international board, all the girls got the memo to wear as few clothes as possible--mostly clad in bunny, cat, or evil seductress get ups. The striking difference, however, was in choice of costumes. It seems as though the Spaniards are the only ones who celebrate Halloween in its true form--that is, in honoring death and its morbid friends. Since when did Halloween become an excuse to dress up as whatever the hell you want in America? This is OUR holiday! We should do it right! However, I have to admit that the host did make a fabulous Lady GaGa, and when I saw that guy ¨on a boat¨ in his flippy floppys and all, I nearly peed in my pants. I guess you can´t help pop culture invading every corner of our existence.

Anyway, I have decided that Halloween is in fact one of the best holidays, after celebrating it in Madrid. Especially in the gay district. The streets were packed with absurdly frightening yet flamboyant witches, jokers, exorcist girls, and demons, and people were going absolutely nuts. It was quite a scene, and I only wish I had photos to document. Guess I´ll just have to stay for next year´s celebration :)