Thursday, March 25, 2010

what you thought was easy

Today marks my 5th month here in Spain, which means I only have one month left to use my US driver´s license (supposedly it is only valid for six months). NOOOO!

Good thing I don´t have a car.

But really...good thing. Because getting a driver´s license in Spain is one royal pain in the ass, and something I will NOT be doing, despite the fact that I will be here for at least another year. Goodbye, Eurocar rental agency...hello, planes, trains and...buses.

If I had the extra cash, I would probably go through the process just for the experience, and so that I could truly document the absurdness of it here on my blog. But my account will be limited to what well-deserved Spanish license holders have told me.

From what I understand, if you want to get a driver´s license in Spain you´d better have at least 1000 Euros cash in your pocket. Yep, that´s right. No 16 year olds here will be strolling into the DMV with mom´s minivan, only to walk right out and crash it a month later while headbanging to the Cranberries and driving like a bat out of hell in a residential neighborhood.

This scenario is unimaginable here, because a) one must posess at least 18 years of age to obtain a license, and b) it is obligatory to take at least 20 classes of practice and theory at a driving school. These classes cost, on average, 40 Euros an hour, depending on where you are in Spain (everything is cheaper down south).

So do the if the sum wasn´t already jaw-dropping, you should also expect to shell out another couple hundred for matriculation, doctor (a physical and eye exam are required), and exam fees. Bam--you´ve spent over 1000 Euros, and if you´re lucky, that will be the end of your money-blowing days.

But not all are so lucky. The theory test is apparently quite difficult, and many people fail on the first round (Vero, for example). In this case, you must take a minimum of five additional classes, AND pay a re-application fee, which is supposedly even pricier than the original.

Once you have obtained your driver´s license, it´s a whole new ball game. This game involves 12 precious points that you are automatically awarded (and rightfully so) upon taking out your license. If you break any traffic laws, you will lose points (a fender-bender could cost you up to six) and once you hit zero, you are no longer an eligible driver. As far as I know, the only way to regain lost points is by buying them on the internet from other, more qualified drivers who have have enough to spare (and of course, need the money).

As stated by the new title seen above, I don´t have the cash. Or the need. But who day I might.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

hello from madrid

So Tuesdays are cool because we have art class in the 1st grade. In honor of St. Patrick´s day, we made rainbows with pots of gold...using potato and carrot stamps and...paint. This is quite the colorfully messy medium, but hey, t´was fun indeed.

Other updates... I am back and half alive from Sevilla. This week has been rough.. I am looking forward to a chill weekend in Madrid. This Friday is Father´s Day, and because it´s Europe, and since we are ever-so-Catholic here in Spain, this means long weekend (maybe Halmark invented this one--but they smartly coined it Dia de San Jose). It´s supposed to be really cold and rainy this weekend which is lame, because today was wonderfully spring-y. More reason to seriouuusly chill. Still trying to decide what to do over semana santa...Murcia? Canary Islands? Any votes?

Saturday, March 13, 2010

ahhh sevilla

Just a quick hello...from here in Nicole's bed on a Saturday morning in Sevilla. A few old friends from Memphis are here on their last leg of an Andalucian tour, so I thought it only necessary to make the trek down. I visited Nicole back in October, but we were aching for a beach so only stayed in Sevilla for one night. On top of that, she had just moved here and was still looking for a place to live. One afternoon we were strolling around the university campus and saw an ad for a room for rent in an international home in Almeida, so we decided to check it out. Now, 5 months later, she lives in an incredibly antique, insanely large (three floors and a terrace) Sevillian house, with 15 other people from all over the world. I have to admit that in certain aspects I am a bit envious. In others, though, not so sharing a kitchen with all these people plus their constantly rotating visitors. It's super cool though, a fun place to hang for a weekend.

Monday, March 8, 2010


Happy Monday!

This weekend I went with Raquel and her friends from the university to Daimiel, a town in Ciudad Real, Castile-La Mancha, where Raquel´s family is from.

The concept of the Spanish "pueblo" is very curious. From what I understand, Spain seemed to lag behind a bit in the urbanization process that the rest of Europe experienced around the end of the 19th century. During the first half of the 20th century, the majority of Spain´s population lived in small towns or villages that more or less made up the whole country. This, obviously, is no longer the case.

Now, young people (whose grandparents probobaly came to the city some 50 years ago) go back to their families´ pueblos, where most of them still own ancient and slightly abandoned houses. Every Spaniard I know has their own "pueblo" that they visit every so often to get away, visit with distant cousins, or just eat.

Daimiel is home to a national park called "Las Tablas de Daimiel"--so called for the wooden planks that cover the giant wetland that lies there alongside the Guadiana River (which is cool in and of itself, because in some places it submerges under ground and you cannot see it until it comes out the other side). But I am confused by this wetland situation, because everyone speaks of the dry, arid earth of Castile-La Mancha. A wetland can exist in such circumstances? Mom? Oh, wise expert of wetlands?

Anyway, we went to this park for a total of one hour, I think just to say we went (we were a large group, none too interested in bird-watching). Life in Spain, I´ve begun to realize, revolves around food, and we needed to get back to prepare. If one is not eating, one is planning for the next meal. I can´t complain, because I myself quite like to eat, drink and be merry. We made paella for the 12 of us, and by we, I mean a one Vincent from Valencia. The rest of us drank beer and held a ping-pong tournament.

Raquel´s house was SUPER cool. It belongs to her grandmother, who lives in Madrid now, but raised her 16 children there. It was HUGE, old, and wonderful. There were 3 floors and a terrace, all centered around closed-in courtyards with glass cubed floors (it was quite luminous). There had to be at least 20 beds in the house, although we used less than half (it was really, really cold at night). The coolest part: a secret door that led to a secret passage-way which led to a secret room with a cot, a wooden chair, and a picture of the Virgin hanging on the wall. Creepy.

Sorry all the pictures came out on top, but rearranging on this thing is a real hassle.

Friday, March 5, 2010

hello hello

Hello from a Friday afternoon in rainy Madrid.

Why is it that the whole world doesn´t enjoy three day weekends?

The truth is I don´t have much to say. I have been feeling more and more like I live in the real world, despite the fact that I live abroad and have a rather interesting job (stereotype of the real world: interesting jobs don´t exist). I suppose it is the routine I have settled into in Parla. I am actually quite busy these days, as I have picked up one more English student (three hours a week with an adorable 17 year old political cousin, like 10 times removed. In other words, not at all related. For fun: my mom´s brother´s wife´s sister´s husband´s sister´s son). Also, it´s been about a month since I began logging in 4 hours a week at CEPA--Centro de Educacion para Personas Adultas. I am taking one of their Español para Extranjeros classes--and I love it. The center is run by the Madrid Ministry of Education, and there are over 40 centers in the community--all which offer a plethora of free classes for adults, from high school education to foreign languages to technology ed. Students don´t pay a dime. The one in Parla happens to be a few blocks away, and this large brick building on the corner of Calle Galilea also happens to be one of my favorite places in town. It probably has something to do with my excessive yet healthy nostalgia for being a student, but I can´t get enough of the atmosphere. The walls are covered with educational decor, bulletins announcing all sorts of opportunities, and loads of people, there to learn loads of different things. My teacher is from Getafe--a 55 year old man who is rather old fashioned and quite difficult to understand. Especially considering that beyond the language barrier he must cross with his students, he also faces an even wider cultural one. The majority of the 12 (give or take a few) are from Morocco. The others are from Romania, France, and Nigeria. They were all quite baffled when I showed up to the class.

This makes me think of this conversation I was having with a girl one night out at a bar (which makes me think of another strange bar conversation a friend was telling me about between she and a "Mod", which I will touch on later). She was talking about Parla´s chunga-ness (frequent topic of conversation when it is brought up that I live here). She asked if it was dangerous, and I told her that I actually felt quite safe here. This led to our discussion of the large Moroccan immigrant population here in Madrid (and I suppose all over Spain), and I think we had quite different points of view on the topic. She told me one thing that was borderline offensive, despite the fact that she probably meant for it to be a compliment: "Tu eres una extranjera. Ellos son inmigrantes"--You are a foreigner. They are immigrants. Sheesh.

I find this sentiment frequently surfacing in many of the people here in Madrid. It´s difficult to put your finger on...their strange manifestation of racism (although I suppose all forms of racism are strange in and of themselves..) In Spain, it´s as if it is born from a complicated iferiority complex towards the neighboring European countries. One of my private students once told me, during a conversation exercise about Madrid, that he would like very much to live in a neighborhood or town with people from many different cultural backgrounds, but really only if the people were from countries like France or Switzerland. I asked him why (my most frequent question during conversation excerises) and he told me because they have more in common, and could more easily relate. This doesn´t make sense to me...isn´t it all about enjoying each other´s differences?

Argh, this is a complicated subject that I have no present time for. Perhaps on to Ciudad Real this afternoon to visit Raquel´s pueblo for a few days. Have a good weekend, friends!