Wednesday, January 27, 2010

the english teacher diaries

Before I say anything at all, please let me take a moment to make a disclaimer: my job is AWESOME, and I really have nothing to complain about.

Except when sometimes I have to go teach private lessons (this happens three times a week for a total of three and a half painful hours) and they kick me in the ass because although I speak english I really don´t know the first thing about the rules of grammar, and the truth is that I have never in my life passed a grammar test, so really in the end I am not at all qualified for this job because what ends up happening is one of my students is a little too enthusiastic about learning english and comes to class with questions like "What is the difference between past perfect continuous and past perfect simple" and the only response that comes to my head is "What the HELL is past perfect continuous?" but of course I can´t say this so I have to pull something out of my ass like, "The past perfect continuous is used to indicate that there is no definite ending", which is probably the most vague answer I could give the poor man but at least it makes sense, even though really all it does (unsurprisingly) is lead to more questions, such as "So when should I use past perfect continuous?" and this is when I have to actually come up with a concrete answer but of course I don´t have one because I don´t KNOW what past perfect continuous is so I have to beat around the bush in hopes he will in some way evince which verb tense he speaks of, and when I finally get him to come up with the answer (which I´ve been manipulating all along but he has no clue because he was lost long ago in my frantic rambling) I begin to feel REALLY bad about taking this guy´s money, because truly, I am a feces of an english teacher.

(And this is why I love my REAL job at school because I get to play with five year olds teaching them things like "Cows are herbivores!" (science) and "My puppet is here!" (english) and "Please stop running around the classroom!" (art), and this has nothing to do with the god forsaken past perfect continuous tense and everything to do with fun and excitement (hence the !!!))

Monday, January 25, 2010


This weekend I had dinner with a new friend. Here is the story of how I ended up with this guy on a Friday night:

This guy, a friend of Vero’s from high school, is a photographer and after having been thoroughly impressed by an exposition of his I went to in Chueca a few weeks back, I decided that I must have one of his photos. Not only are they awesome, but they are also affordable. They are all different photos of Madrid, done in a most peculiar fashion: he took the same photo three times throughout a cloudy day, and then layered each on top of one another. Thus, they deceivingly appear to be paintings. I chose the one of Madrid’s "rastro"--the giant flee market that goes down every Sunday morning. I am really excited, as this is my very first original work of art I am purchasing for myself.

Anyway, late in the night, checking the time, I asked why he didn’t wear a watch. I don’t normally ask people this, but after spending the evening together I noted him to be an extremely organized person, and was thus surprised to hear that he has never given into this habit (if you can call it that), on principal. He told me to read this story, Instrucciones para dar cuerda al reloj, by Argentine writer Julio Cortazar, and then I would understand why.

So I went to the library, thrilled to use my new card, in search of this piece of literature. I found it in a small collection of Cortazar stories, many of which offer other bits of insight and instructions on life (such as how to cry--an act that, on average, should last 3 minutes). And I suppose I now understand, thanks to the wonderfully poetic words of Cortazar, how my friend feels about this seemingly innocent adornment--that it can indeed morph into a monster. Life is far too short to be a slave to time, counting minutes and waiting for the end to finally come. I particularly enjoyed the preamble, which names the gift of a watch a “tiny flowering hell”—a responsibility that will eventually eat one’s time away.

I wear a Skagen Denmark leather strapped watch (a Christmas gift from my sister a few years back), and I wear it religiously. I like to think that I am not dependent on it, but the truth is—a day that I forget to put it on is like 3 days spent with out sleep: I go crazy. I’ll occasionally glance down at my left wrist, only to feel a twinge of regret; later on, holding the feeble thing, I’ll trick my mind into thinking my constant companion is really there.

But despite this pathetic truth, I defend my addiction, and the following is my reasoning. While I agree with Cortazar, I cannot help but find his theory a bit too drastic. What would life be, if we had no sense of time? I’m sure I would become an existentialist, never knowing when it could possibly end, nor when it began. It was not modern culture who invented the concept of time—it is something that has been a part of nature since the first sun rose and set, before humans were even around to understand it all. How could we possibly appreciate the 10 minutes spent dozing in bed before finally getting up, or at the other end of the spectrum…the fact that it takes nearly 42 weeks (7056 hours if we are talking watch time) for a human fetus to develop and enter the world?

So you get it…time is a wonderful thing. It’s a shame we don’t have more of it, but that’s not the point. The point is, Julio, that only the weak, the unappreciative ones, the ones without the spark of life, can possibly become slaves to an object as endearing as a watch. This is my theory at least.

I am nearly always late, and this gives me no stress. More often than not, the long hand is reprimanding me, with the punishment of five to ten ticks ahead—but this rarely ever phases me. Sometimes, just to show who’s boss, I set it a few minutes ahead. Then, even though my watch tells me I’m late, I am actually right on time. And that´s how I wind my watch.
Below find the texts, in English and Spanish.
Preámbulo a las instrucciones para dar cuerda al reloj
Piensa en esto: cuando te regalan un reloj te regalan un pequeño infierno florido, una cadena de rosas, un calabozo de aire. No te dan solamente el reloj, que los cumplas muy felices y esperamos que te dure porque es de buena marca, suizo con áncora de rubíes; no te regalan solamente ese menudo picapedrero que te atarás a la muñeca y pasearás contigo. Te regalan -no lo saben, lo terrible es que no lo saben-, te regalan un nuevo pedazo frágil y precario de ti mismo, algo que es tuyo pero no es tu cuerpo, que hay que atar a tu cuerpo con su correa como un bracito desesperado colgándose de tu muñeca. Te regalan la necesidad de darle cuerda todos los días, la obligación de darle cuerda para que siga siendo un reloj; te regalan la obsesión de atender a la hora exacta en las vitrinas de las joyerías, en el anuncio por la radio, en el servicio telefónico. Te regalan el miedo de perderlo, de que te lo roben, de que se te caiga al suelo y se rompa. Te regalan su marca, y la seguridad de que es una marca mejor que las otras, te regalan la tendencia de comparar tu reloj con los demás relojes. No te regalan un reloj, tú eres el regalado, a ti te ofrecen para el cumpleaños del reloj.

Instrucciones para dar cuerda al reloj
Allá al fondo está la muerte, pero no tenga miedo. Sujete el reloj con una mano, tome con dos dedos la llave de la cuerda, remóntela suavemente. Ahora se abre otro plazo, los árboles despliegan sus hojas, las barcas corren regatas, el tiempo como un abanico se va llenando de sí mismo y de él brotan el aire, las brisas de la tierra, la sombra de una mujer, el perfume del pan.
¿Qué más quiere, qué más quiere? Átelo pronto a su muñeca, déjelo latir en libertad, imítelo anhelante. El miedo herrumbra las áncoras, cada cosa que pudo alcanzarse y fue olvidada va corroyendo las venas del reloj, gangrenando la fría sangre de sus rubíes. Y allá en el fondo está la muerte si no corremos y llegamos antes y comprendemos que ya no importa.

Preamble to the instructions on how to wind a watch
Think of this: when they present you with a watch, they are gifting you with a tiny flowering hell, a wreath of roses, a dungeon of air. They aren't simply wishing the watch on you, and many more, and we hope it will last you, it's a good grand, Swiss, seventeen rubies; they aren't just giving you this minute stonecutter which will bind you by the wrist and walk along with you. They are giving you - they don't know it, it's terrible that they don't know it - they are gifting you with a new fragile and precarious piece of yourself, something that's yours but not a part of your body, that you have to strap to your body like your belt, like a tiny, furious bit of something hanging onto your wrist. They gift you with the job of having to wind it every day, an obligation to wind it, so that it goes on being a watch, they gift you with the obsession of looking into jewelry-shop windows to check the exact time, check the radio announcer, check the telephone service. They give you the gift of fear, someone will steal it from you, it'll fall on the street and get broken. They give you the gift of your trademark and the assurance that it's a trademark better than others, they gift you with the impulse to compare your watch with other watches. They aren't giving you a watch, you are the gift, they are giving you yourself for the watch's birthday.

Instructions on how to wind a watch
Death stands there in the background, but don't be afraid. Hold the watch down with one hand, take the stem in two fingers, and rotate it smoothly. Now another installment of time opens, trees spread their leaves, boats run races, like a fan time continues filling with itself, and from that burgeon the air, the breezes of earth, the shadow of a woman, the sweet smell of bread.What did you expect, what more do you want? Quickly, strap it to your wrist, let it tick away in freedom, imitate it greedily. Fear will rust all the rubies, everything that could happen to it and was forgotten is about to corrode the watch's veins, cankering the cold blood and its tiny rubies. And death is there in the background, we must run to arrive beforehand and understand it's already unimportant.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

second week in parla

Hello from the balcony of Parla.

It has been a beautiful day in Madrid and I am feeling incredibly happy to be sitting outside (without a jacket!) at my new home. And oh my, am I liking my home.

After a few days, I became accustomed to the cats and their often obnoxious ways (Kratos continues to hate me for denying him contact with his one true love, my pillow). I also got over the fact that Parla is far from the bright lights of the big city, and that it isn´t necessarily aesthetically pleasing. And this has left me, well, surprisingly pleased.

I am actually quite charmed by Parla´s roughness. It is the definition of a working class town, always buzzing with activity--people hanging out in the streets, chatting about nothing, men rolling cigarettes on sidewalk benches, puberty-stricken girls teaching prepubescent boys to dance reggaton. The balcony I presently sit on looks out over a small alley made by my building and the one facing it. When the weather is permitting, it is almost always filled with kids playing soccer, despite the fact that the narrow passage is 90 percent cement. There are at least 10 boys down there right now, and when they aren´t shouting, I can hear other neighbors´conversations--a great way to get some listening practice in.

My favorite neighbors to listen to are the ones who live in the flat above us. It is a family of 5 I believe--two exhausted parents and three very bad boys. The other night Vero and I were sitting around the living room, she on the computer, and I reading. Except I couldn´t concentrate on my book (spanish terror stories) because of the racket coming from the neighbors. Well, the neighbor--it was a one way conversation. The wife was really giving it to the poor husband--who I pictured slumped on the couch apathetically nodding his head while she reeled on and on about the laundry. I don´t think I have ever heard anyone so heated about such a mundane topic. When I commented on the woman´s anger to Vero--she simply replied "siempre" (always). Haha.

Anyway, it´s been a pretty uneventful week. I am finally feeling the pains of adulthood in Spain...I did my first load of laundry on Saturday and hung the clothes outside my window, only to find that it rained Sunday, Monday AND Tuesday. I am not sure whether I am supposed to wash them again or what, but I thought I´d at least give them a chance to dry. They are still out there.

Oh! I painted my room, with the help of my friend Dave, last Friday. No longer is it a blinding lime green, but a soothing deep purple. I have before and after pictures I will post later on.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

quickly--more pictures!

I really like this picture of Cees, one of our wonderful hosts.
Amaaaazing town of Den Bosch.

Phantom Tollbooth car in Paris.

Mandatory tourist shot.

Many of the kitchens in Holland have this thing, and when I buy my first house I am going to get one. The kitchens were so peculiar in Holland! Half of the bathroom (shower and sink) were usually off the kitchen, while the toilet was somewhere else.

Ice skating in Antwerp.


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

part two

Below are some photos from part two of my Christmas travel adventures, and now you will find a brief summary of the rest of the trip...

After we left our friends in Den Bosch, we headed into Amsterdam in search of Postjesweg--the neighborhood where our hosts, Marco and Cees (pronounced case) lived. We had not yet officially met these hosts--as we found them on website that connects travellers with people in their destination cities that are willing to let them in to their home, free of charge, to sleep on whatever they can find, be it a couch, spare mattress, air mattress or floor. In most cases, the hosts on this website are willing to offer more than just a roof over one´s head, as the idea of couch surfing goes far beyond a free place to stay. Marco and Cees were AWESOME hosts--two Dutch guys in their early 20s who could not have been more welcoming. Upon arriving (2 hours late--after getting lost), we were immediately offered hot tea and delicious cookies, and we spent the remainder of the night getting to know each other. Marco and Cees both teach at a community center in their neighborhood, which is on the outter edges of Amsterdam and considered one of the more shady areas of town. In exchange for working in this community center, the government provides them with the pad--a spacious 2 bedroom apartment in a social housing district. Well, we thought it was spacious. But as Marco informed us, almost all of these apartments were taken up by families of usually 6 or more, primarily Morroccan. He seemed to be a bit upset about this--I guess Holland isn´t perfect after all.

The next 5 days were a blur of constant confusion. We were almost always lost, and when we weren´t out roaming the freezing cold streets we were inside trying to figure out where we were going. The one problem with couch surfing is that as a traveller you must be much more pro-active about seeing the sights. In a hostel, the last thing you want to is hang around, but in a warm cozy apartment with your new Dutch friends? We rarely ever left the house before 2, which really limited our sight seeing time considering the sun went down at 5. This keyboard is REALLY pissing me off because the backspace button keeps getting stuck and erasing what I type so I am going to go ahead and try to wrap this up...

Amsterdam was amazing. And this is saying a lot, because it was SO SO SO cold, cold enough to ruin a vacation. But I still loved it. Because there is just too much to say, and not enough time to say it--I will highlight one particular worthy night: New Year´s Eve.

We were six people sleeping at Marco and Cees´s apartment at this point (long long story) and on New Years, all in Postjesweg, far from the happenings in the city, we had 3 bikes. Dutch styling--Marco, Cees and Dave chauffered us ladies on the back of the bikes to the party, nearly 25 mins away. One would think that this would be miserable, with the cold and all. But alas, no! The men riding the bikes stayed more than warm with the exercise, and we ladies sat prettily, side-saddle of couse, completely and comfortably blocked from the wind. The streets were full of festive Amsterdamers on their bicycles--and it could not have been a more lovely way to enjoy the beautiful city.

And the party was SO AMAZING! In a huge student housing building, 5 of 6 floors had open-door parties, with a different DJ on each floor. The apartments were made for about 20 students each, and faaaaar cooler than anywhere I lived in college. The walls were covered with all sorts of paint designs, not a single one was bare. The best part: on the roof top of this very tall building was the biggest party of all, and we arrived just in time to see one of the most incredible firework shows I have ever seen. A 360 degree view of fireworks, the whole city was exploding. Unbelievable.

some travel photos--holland

me, looking homeless, at a park near the place near marco and cees´s apartment (their story to come later)
new years! in the end--our large crew plus some random girl at the party: cees, nicole, dave, me, janelle and marco

hippy horse in cees´s hometown, albcolde.

freezing but beautiful amsterdam

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

first day back

It´s Tuesday and because of the heavy snow that fell on Sunday evening, it is our first day back at school. I am still shocked by the amount of snow I have seen this winter in Madrid. I really wasn´t expecting it, but I am pleasantly surprised.

Anyway, I have officially moved to Parla, one of the towns furthest south in the province of Madrid, with my "cousin" Veronica and her roommate Raquel. It´s only been a few days since I´ve been staying there but so far things are great. Parla is a rather ugly little working-class town, but it´s nice because it really has a city feel. My window looks out to a sea of other apartment windows, probably less than 20 yards away, and for whatever reason it feels good to be in such close proximity to strangers. There are two cats, which I was very excited about..but as it turns out, not all cats are as cool as a one JoJo Christensen. Their names are Curro and Kratos, and I believe they are quite young. The first is fatter than Garfield, with an embonpoint that screams luxury (Veronica came home the other day to find him draped over the laptop keyboard, as if waiting for someone to feed him grapes). But I like him...I think his obesity prohibits him from being so annoying. The latter, Kratos, likes plastic bags, and LOVES my pillow. Which is rather unfortunate, because this means I have to keep my door shut all the time. I hate to be antisocial when I am in my bedroom, but I really don´t feel like having cat dander all over my face. Literally the minute I crack open my door, he is in there humping the pillow. I am trying to teach him that my bed is off-limits, but how does that phrase go..? You can´t teach any cat, young or old, any tricks?

Anyway, I am excited about the prospect of living on my own, even though a part of me already misses my family in Getafe.. particularly Pilar. She is so wonderful. My new roommates are cool though. Veronica is a makeup artist for television series and the like, and Raquel is a teacher in a private school.

I have pictures of the apartment but of course I can´t figure out where to plug my camera into this computer. Will have to wait until later.

Monday, January 11, 2010


Who knew it snowed so much in Madrid?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

where do i begin?

Dear friends and family--

I will begin with an apology for being so neglectful in keeping you up to date. As it turns out, I hardly have time to brush my teeth while traveling, much less find a computer and organize my thoughts into an open diary.

And now I REALLY don´t feel like doing this, because how could I possibly sum it all up? Let´s see, where did I leave off?...

So I arrived to Paris on Christmas day, which was sort of disorienting not only because of the holiday, but because I hadn´t realized until I stepped foot outside the airport that there is one very large language barrier between the French and myself. I guess I had grown accustomed to being in Europe and easily communicating, but that is because I hadn´t yet left Spain. Nicole was in a town outside of Paris celebrating Christmas with a French friend she knows from Sevilla, so I had about 6 hours to kill. Of course, it took me nearly 3 to figure out how to get to the center of the city, and once that was done I was happy to find that all the bars and cafes were open. Once Nicole came back to Paris, we had a lovely home cooked dinner at our friends´ apartment, which we had to ourselves, the three French roommates all at their respective homes. The next day was filled with touristy things like going to the Eiffel Tower and eating crepes on the street. Later on in the evening we hopped on a bus to Antwerp, where we ended up staying that night and the next day. This is a long story that I won´t go into, because we had never planned on going to Belgium. But there we were, in the center of chilly Antwerp ice skating! The only thing I really knew about Antwerp beforehand was that it was an industrial city, so I was not expecting it to be so beautiful. I have to admit, it was a nice little pitstop before heading into Holland..

Which is what we did the next day. Nicole has two friends from Sevilla who are from a town called (for short) Den Bosch, about an hour outside of Amsterdam. These two happy Dutchmen, Bart and Pieter, home for the holidays, picked us up from Antwerp on the 27th and brought us to their wonderfully charming town. We were so lucky to have this experience, as it seems that most of Holland is quite different than Amsterdam, which was become a hugely international city. Den Bosch was the most quaint, picturesque little town, while at the same time very posh with trendy restaurants, bars and shops. After eating a giant meal of "snacks" (Dutch fast food--never again), we went to our first coffee shop, where we shared our first legal joint with Bart and Pieter :) We then headed to Cafe Cordes, the bar Bart works in (aka Bart´s Bar)--where I literally felt like I could have been in San Francisco. It was sort of a hipster scene, except waaaaay cooler, with an incredible DJ. We realized on this very night that the Dutch like to drink A LOT. They also like to buy each other drinks. Because Bart worked at the bar, we were drinking free all night. But people still insisted on buying all 4 of us drinks, just for the joy of it. Sometimes I would run into Bart holding 3 beers between 2 hands, just because he was so loved.

Okay, that´s all you get for now because I have to go soon, and I would like to recap what´s been going on since I´ve been home, because it´s been an awesome couple of days...

Yesterday was Dia de los Reyes, which is basically Spain´s Christmas--when all the gifting goes down. I really like this idea for several reasons, the first being that it extends the holiday season for a whole week. Secondly, I like how it actually ties the whole gift thing in with what we are actually celebrating during the holiday season. Who the hell is Santa Claus, and where did he come from? The three wise kings, however, have a written history, and of course they probably would have brought the gifts on the actual day Jesus was born if they had had flying reindeer and a sled. But, back in those days a camel back is as good as it gets, so they were a little late for the holy celebration.

Anyway, the best part of all this is that I live in a house with children, and thus it is a very exciting day. Alex has been trying to get to the bottom of the Santa Claus (my cousins are lucky--they get BOTH) and Reyes mystery---do they exist? We have sort of decided that he knows what´s up, but thinks that if he admits it, he won´t get any presents. He still asks though, and we still lie.

On "Reyes eve", Alex never got dressed. His excitement was at such a high level that all he could do was wait until it was time to get back in bed and wake up to a new day. Something about this small detail, that of Alex being in his PJs all day, changed him into a new person. Or rather, a younger person. He is a very cool 1o year old, not like most boys at his age who tend to be quite obnoxious. But that day--he reverted back to his infancy, driving everyone nuts. Especially Pilar, who had come down with a cold and was not in the mood to put up with his shenanigans (at one point, because he would not leave the room where Isabela and I were preparing his gift, she had to drag him out by the ankles).

So that night, once it was all quiet, I heard Pilar going down the stairs. Then I heard her open the front door, and without shutting it, push the unlock button on the keypad to the car, sounding it in the small carport attatched to the house. Then I heard her open the trunk and drag in sevearl noisy plastic bags. The front door is adjacent to the staircase, which leads right into all four bedrooms upstairs. It was loud. I quietly chuckled to myself, and went downstairs to help out, thinking--"There is no way Alex doesn´t know".

The next morning all the family came over, and all the cousins received their gifts from the Reyes while the adults exchanged "amigo invisible" gifts. I had Mario, Pilar´s sister Maria´s boyfriends, and because he only wrote "sorpresas" in the wish list book, that is what he got--many surprises from my trip. I think he enjoyed them. Pilar was my amigo invisible, and she gave me some warm clothes, because it´s far colder than I had imagined here, as well as some nicely scented warm pillow things. I will be cozy this winter. For lunch, we ate a meal called Gachas, which Pilar´s father Dimas made as it comes from his town in Toledo. It is basically like a flour puree that you dip bread and meat in. It comes in a giant bowl, and nobody has plates, because everyone is dipping from this giant bowl. Apparently it is a peasant meal, but it´s delicious so we eat it anyway.

Ahh gotta go! Vacation update part two coming up. And..PHOTOS!