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Archive for November, 2008

Perspective From the Other Side

I’ve been meaning to write about this for a long time… almost three weeks have passed and it’s still the main subject of conversation around here.  I am constantly asked about my thoughts on the new president-elect and, consequently, a lengthy conversation always follows in which the opinions of other nationalities are expressed.  It’s interesting to hear all the thoughts from a different perspective, outside looking in.

November 4 was not only an historic day for the US of A, but also for the world.  I don’t think there are any doubts as to who the rest of the world supported, and being in the socialist nation of Spain, it was definitely made clear the preference of the people.  I will say that it was interesting to see how important the elections were on a world scale.  The whole night of the elections was broadcast in Spain non-stop, covering places like Chicago, Washington, DC, and Phoenix.  I don’t know about the rest of the world, but here, some Spaniards stayed up all night until 6 or 7am waiting for the results.  I went to bed at 1:00am…. so much for patriotism!

Since then, everyone has had their “nugget” to share, be it either excitement for the change not only in the US but also in regards to our international relations, or criticism, as always, on the Bush administration and the way our country functions.  At times it’s difficult because many of these criticisms are attacks from people who know nothing about the goings-on of my country, and may I dare say, of their own.  I end up defending everything I know about my government and confronting harsh judgment, and all the while trying to also be understanding of a different culture and how things may seem to an outsider.  It inevitably becomes tiresome, but such is the environment in a politically charged country and continent.  Discussing politics is the main dinner conversation at night in many homes.  Sometimes I think it is good for people to be exposed to this at such a young age.  We are held in a safety blanket in the US and it is often considered taboo to talk about politics.  Do any of us even know when the elections of other countries are happening?  To the rest of the world, this might have been one of the biggest events of the year. Just for starters, it received more coverage than Spain’s own elections in March 2008.

I will say that I am excited about what’s going to happen in the next 4 years.  Everyone addressed the fact that there needed to be change in many aspects of our government.  I’m eager to see how Obama comes through and uses his intelligence, charisma, and power to improve our country and the processes and systems within our government.  Although my hope for ultimate global change is not in the government and I don’t think they can give a solution for everything, I do think that this could be a stepping-stone (hopefully) to something great and good starting in that little corner of the world.

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Un masters en la pobreza

We found a flat!!!!  We officially have our own place!  Hooray!!!  It’s a cute, little, old-timey Sevillian apartment on the ground floor with funny miniature furniture, a tiny patio, a mini-doorway for the bathroom, and an arch for a bathtub (I’ll post photos later).  After exactly 3 weeks and 6 days, we finally signed the contract and will be moving our stuff in this week.  YAY!!  Hooray for a place to live!!

Last week we called to set up an appointment to see the place.  The guy in charge of renting it for the owner is a lawyer named Juan.  He’s a quirky old man, very jovial and gregarious.  The day he showed us the flat, he was 30 minutes late, was wearing a coat that resembled something that a used cars salesman would wear (an old houndstooth plaid blazer), pretty petite, with glasses and smiley eyes.  The minute he walked up I knew he would be kind and helpful to us- refreshing!  A couple days after seeing this apartment, we went to his office to drop off our papers and documents to make the contract.  When he looked at what we make per month, he said,
“This isn’t enough to pay for the flat… are you sure you can pay?”  Luckily, he was only looking at one of our checks, between us both and with our private classes, we definitely can.  But I’ll be honest; our salary leaves much to be desired!

Then he began to tell us how it’s good to be frugal, and that it’s conducive to earning a “masters en la pobreza” or a masters in being “poor.”  There’s a saying here: Para apreciar el paraiso, hay que conocer el infierno (To appreciate paradise, one must pass through hell).  While we’re definitely not in “hell”, and we’re definitely not poor either, our light pockets have helped us learn to budget more and be a bit more conscious of our spending habits.  I loved that he was talking to us like this and being honest.. so many of the people we had met searching for the flats had been shady and seemed like they were trying to take advantage of us.

After this lecture, we started talking about the economy and how it’s been getting better over the past 15 years in Spain.  He said that right now, during this crisis, it’s the time of the “vacas flacas”, or the skinny cows, or the “cinturones apretados”, tightened belts.  He then began to recount the story from the Bible of Joseph in Egypt and how he interpreted the dreams for Pharaoh.  The “7 vacas gordas” meant that there would be 7 years of prosperity in Egypt back in the day.  And the “7 vacas flacas” signified 7 years of shortage.  It was so interesting that this big time lawyer was telling us a bible story in his office as we were making a deal to rent an apartment.  Coincidence?  I think not.  We left very sure that we were making the right decision, and Beth and I both had a little bounce in our step.


Adventures in Mushroom Picking

“Those aren’t “níhcaloh,” José commented matter-of-factly in his thick Huelvan accent as he pointed out his collection of orange fungi skewered on a stick.

“But you said they were orange, these are orange.” I replied.

And they were. But they weren’t “níhcalo”, or in proper Spanish, “niscalos”.

Ok, ok.. let me rewind a bit…
Saturday, Beth and I went with our friend José to the “campo” (country) to have a picnic while he did some measurements of a lot in the “bosque” (forest) for his job. Upon arriving, José- a very simple, no-nonsense wilderness type- simply said, “You two go pick mushrooms.” So we did! Autumn is mushroom picking season here, so we were excited to find our little niscalos.

Now, a few things deserve to be pointed out:

A) We found it quite amusing that 2 Southern girls were in the middle of a forest in Spain,
B) Picking mushrooms,
C) With our friend who we finally realized while in the forest was a Spanish Lumberjack (more or less..)

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Pretty hilarious! I would love to say that these were our níscalos, however Beth and my endeavors were unsuccessful and we only found tiny white ones that were inedible. Go figure… We had fun, though, and it was refreshing to leave the city and be in the country, finding out about nature and breathing in fresh air. It was the day of 20 million questions as my curiosity about the forest, the pine trees, the plants, and other things was soaring.

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Our friend cuts down pine trees to make paper, tables, pallets, and other wood related goods. He was explaining that in order to let the new pines grow, it’s necessary to cut down the older ones that are crowding the space and keeping the light from reaching the new trees below the forest canopy. The pines were really tall and majestic- something we don’t see much of in the areas around Sevilla since it’s flat and desert-like. Sad to think the old trees will soon vanish, but new life will last longer than they will, and the cycle will continue

So, all in all, a great day in the country, picnicking, skipping around, hunting for mushrooms, and expanding my inner collection of pretty-useless-but-somewhat-interesting knowledge. Such as: Spanish farmers kill American ducks that appear in Spain because if they mate with the native Spanish ducks, that species will disappear since the American duck’s genes are the dominant ones. Or, you don’t put níscalos (or other mushrooms for that matter) in a plastic bag, but rather in a basket so that the spores can spread while you’re picking them.
“Eh… It’s just something I know…”

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Coffee with a Stranger on Halloween

I’m coming up on my third week here, and we’re still looking for a place to live.  The search has been pretty difficult as most apartments and flats have been rented already by the students that came in September for the school year.  We’ve got a few prospects but the pickings are slim.  However, just because we don’t have a place to live doesn’t mean life stops!  Here are a few things that have happened:

Beth and I have booked tickets to London to go see Ryan Adams in concert on November 20.  If you haven’t heard the new album called “Cardinology”, get your hands on it NOW- it’s an incredible disc and will definitely be in my “Most Played” list of songs by the end of the week.  While in London, we’ll be staying with my dear, dear friend Marco from Italy whom I met studying in Santander 3 years ago.  I love reunions!!  It’s gonna be awesome!  We’ll be there for 3 days, hopefully cramming in some touristy activities (and meeting Ryan so we can hang out after the show! HA! Hey.. you never know!)

Yesterday during our tour of the city looking for “for rent” signs, we ran across a homeless guy who was asking for money to eat.  He was minding his own business and listening to his radio, so we asked him if we could get him something.  What started out as an awkward attempt to lend a hand turned into a lovely thirty minutes sipping coffee in a nearby plaza with a very interesting, well-traveled, soccer crazy German cook who has had an unfortunate turn of events in his life that landed him on the streets in Sevilla.  So many timesI have been unaffected by people’s status on the streets- walking by them desensitized and apathetic of their situation.  I am tired of that and hate that it has become such a habit of mine.  So, in an effort to acknowledge their existence and ultimately that they are human and have feelings and needs, too, I have felt more led to smile and show them that I at least see them and know they are there. And occasionally drop a coin or two.  Or invite them to coffee 🙂  It made me more aware of the things I don’t need and the things for which I should be thankful.  Things as simple as warm food on a cold day, a pillow, or even a scarf.  Cheers to you, Jorge.  And may Betis win on Sunday!

Yesterday was Halloween (Halowin according to a poster we saw announcing a party in Sevilla!) and I had my FIRST trick-or-treaters EVER stop by since being on my own.  Sad to say- I was not in the U.S., but in a foreign country, and I was completely unprepared! We had no candy or treats to pass out to the ghouls and vampires that stopped by our apartment!  It was neat to see the kids all dressed up though- a little bit of home away from home 🙂

Well… There’s that!  Not much to say at the moment, but hopefully we’ll find a home soon and I’ll finally be able to unpack my suitcases!