The above picture perfectly portrays my dream for the past 6 months:
To reunite with my dearest friend, Beth, in Spain.
I’ve been hanging out with her in Almería, where she’s been living for the past year, for almost a week now and can’t think of a better place, moment, or season to be chilling with my soul friend. Reunion is so sweet a thing! Here’s a tribute to my pal, and a cheers for many more moments to come of silliness, seriousness, advnenture, tranquility, music snobbery, singing with the windows down, understanding, dancing, dressing room sagas, just plain fun, and most importantly: love.
Love ya, ole Betul 🙂
Whelp. Spain has done it once again. She has wooed me another time with her charms and beauty. Above is a picture of Almería, a region in the south of Spain. It honestly is one of the most beautiful places I’ve visited. The capital city of the same name leaves something to be desired. If I had stayed there I would not have much to write. However, the surrounding towns are as charming as can be, quiet and free of hordes of tourists. Being here seems like I’ve stumbled upon one of Spain’s best kept secrets.
Almeria is a desert type landscape with dramatic coast lines and lovely beaches. The June weather has been delightful so far- hot during the day and cool enough at night to require a jacket (my favorite type of weather!).
I’m staying with the marvelous Beth, my dear friend and flatmate when we lived in Sevilla, and her main squeeze, Miguel. We have had such a great time so far hanging out and exploring the neighboring towns such as the cute Rodalquilar and the quaint little beach town, Las Negras. There is a charming (but very DAnGeROuS) boutique with the best clothes! We got caught in there for about an hour and walked out with some new additions for the wardrobe. And we got some deals! Always a plus. Toma ya!
I have to mention this because I just can’t stop thinking about it: I had the most delicious tapa in Las Negras. The special of the day was pulpo a la marraná. This is octopus for you anglophones in a tomato based stew with some potatoes and other veggies. Such a spectacular flavor and the setting was perfect- sitting on a patio overlooking the boardwalk and the ocean. We were maybe 2 of about 20 people in the beach area at that hour.
(By the way, when you order a drink here you get a free tapa, or small plate. They can run from 1.50€ to a little over 2€. So awesome!)
Beth took me to a beach dubbed “El Dedo” because of a large rock protruding out from the water that looked like a finger. I think the proper name was Cabo Rajá or something. To get to this place, we first had to drive on a one lane road around mountains that had a huge drop. It was quite scary! Then we had to walk down a steep climb to get to the beach, cross the hot sand (the hottest I’ve ever felt) and finally arrive at our resting place. It was more than worth it! There were hardly any people on the bay-like beach, and the water was wondrous. Just proves that the best things in life take a little more effort!
Another beach we visited was called Los Genoveses out by the town of San Josè. There were more people here, but that can only be expected with the Pirates of the Caribbean like setting, shallow, clear blue, warmish Mediterranean water, and beautiful hikes on the two mountains guarding the entry to the bay. Definitely worth the rocky road on the drive out there. If nothing else, it provides spectacular views of some of the best landscape Almería has to offer.
Alas, today is my last day in this magical place. We rounded off my little vacay with massages at a nearby spa, lunch at La Goleta in Cabo de Gata, naps, and we’re having a patio barbacoa tonight before Beth and Miguel move to Córdoba next week.
Tomorrow: heading to the town of Brenes to hang with the PAR brothers, José and Manu, and then a visit to my old home, Sevilla!
Sitting on a bus heading south to Fes, watching the lovely Moroccan landscape whiz by, I got lost in nostalgia for this place that seemed, as I said, so familiar yet so new. There were fields of lush green with sprinklings of patches of brightly colored spices and picturesque lakes, farmers, mules, shacks, baskets of harvested vegetables, and kids running around avoiding their daily chores.
Nothing can prepare you adequately for getting out of an enclosed vehicle to what is “Fes”. Nothing except, perhaps, a previous visit. It was sensory overload for all 5 senses. Clusters of old buildings, little shops, people, crowded markets filled with dried fruits, meat, live chickens, nuts, bread, jewelry, shoes, leather… Basically anything you can think of is around every corner. People are always out walking around, most women cover their heads with simple scarves. I found it all extremely fascinating.
Moroccan cuisine is worth it’s own full blog. But as I have proved to be horrible at writing as of late, we’ll cram a bit into this one! As I said, all 5 senses were overwhelmed during my stay, but mostly taste and smell for me. I was greatly impacted by the new combinations of flavors I experienced there. In my opinion, Moroccan cuisine should be #1 in the world! Think amazing tea made of fresh spearmint and loads of sugar, heavy flavors of saffron, cinnamon, honey, almonds and other exotic spices and things. They used crazy contrasts of flavors to create depth in a dish.
One night we decided to splurge and visited the 4 star restaurant/hotel, Le Maison Bleu, in Fes. For about $40 each, we immersed ourselves in a complete cultural experience: they served us pre-dining spirits, appetizers, a few delicious main dishes, dessert, live traditional music, and wine. It was one of the most memorable meals I’ve ever enjoyed. And man, I still dream about that dessert of orange blossom cream and filo dough. Uff… and the famous pastella.. a scrumptious mixture of cinnamon, powdered sugar, and seasoned meats in an empanada style of dough (think chicken pot pie, sort of, but much much better!). I vividly remember the smells and tastes and the feeling of being in the old palace like hotel, a refuge from the bustling city outside.
So, basically, my trip to Morocco was more like a gastronomical tour… that’s what every trip ends up being like for me! No better way to get to know a culture than to sample authentic local food. It just amazes me that such simple plants give us delicious flavors in themselves, but when mixed with other plants, spices, and foodstuffs can create a divine, harmonious medley of enjoyment.
Ooohhh, thank the Lord for food and flavor!
It took 35 minutes to cross the gap between the two continents. The Old World as I know it, meaning Europe, just became older. I stepped off the ferry and breathed in the African air before rushing along to find a taxi to get to the bus station. The craziness that ensued after this brief moment of simplicity didn’t stop until getting off the boat again in Spain 4 days later.
Walking along a road outside the port without a map, unsure of where to go or what to do, a taxi finally stopped my friend Stephen and I and offered to do the 3 hour drive at 7pm at night to Chefchaouen for 700 dirham (70 euros/80 bucks more or less). Definitely out of the question, seeing as how the bus was about $3.75/ one-way! He kindly informs us that the last bus to Chefchaouen left (appropriately) at 6:30pm. However, we insist that he take us to the bus station anyways, just thinking, “Ok, if the last bus left, we’ll just stay the night and hop the first one in the morning, no biggie, but it’ll be a way to shake this guy…” So, the taxi driver agrees to take us to what he calls the “bus station,” except that when we arrive it is this tiny, deteriorating shack made of stucco very similar in style to the booths that precede parking lots where you have to get a ticket to pay for your spot. He gets out, makes some commotion about how we did not believe him about the bus, points at the yellowing paper claiming it is the bus schedule, but all the while my clever partner in crime is eyeing this brightly lit building about 300 meters away and saying, “I think that’s the bus station…” We eventually kindly excuse ourselves from the scene and head towards the brightly lit building, which indeed is the bus station.
Walking into the bus station was my first real taste of being in a completely different and predominantly male culture. We march up to buy our tickets, and then are heading outside to await the bus when we pass this huge room full of men looking in the same direction, eyes fixed on something towards the ceiling. We walk in thinking it might be a TV monitor with the bus schedule and promptly discover that it is just all men watching a soccer game. Well, then in walks me, this little blondie girl, in the middle of pure masculinity… hmm… you can imagine my extreme discomfort. I ducked out immediately and shyly covered my head with my scarf, partly wanting to blend in, but mostly wanting to hide my embarrassment.
The bus ride was a beautiful nocturnal journey winding through the Atlas Mountains. I almost fell out of my seat a few times when the driver took the turns a bit too hard. Getting off in Chefchaouen, we were greeted by a 30-minute climb completely uphill to get to the hostel. The room was beyond interesting, with an animal skin hanging on the wall and the bathroom with a shower curtain as a door. You could literally sit on the toilet and shower at the same time if you wanted…
Chefchaouen was beautiful and enchanting. Painted completely blue, it seems like a familiar wonderland; a place you encounter in your dream world. It was surreal, yet as I said, somehow familiar, provoking a distant sense of nostalgia. We were outsiders spying on the daily mundane activities of the townspeople. I liked the slow pace of life, even slower than that of Sevilla. And I loved seeing that on this new continent, humanity maintains the same basic characteristics; people enjoy the same simple pleasures and laugh and work and are humans. It was fascinating. After one day, it was time to move on to the bustle of the city once again.
Ok, the title to this blog actually has nothing to do with the intense Pedro Almodovar film of the same name. Nothing as melodramatic. I wanted to put down some favorite moments experienced in the classroom this year. Have fun!
In math class a couple months ago, while we were reviewing fractions, we were learning the correct pronunciation of fractions. I was teaching how to say one- half, one- quarter, two-fifths, etc. So, to get the students to practice this terminology, I would write a fraction on the board and have one of them tell me how to say it in English. Standing at the front of the class and looking at the students, this is what it was like from my perspective, going down the line of students pronouncing the fractions:
Carlos: “one- half”
(No one else notices (obviously), but at this I start convulsing with chuckles while I try to continue with the exercise.)
Every time I’m with group A of the first years, if there is any possibility of reading, the moment I say “Does anyone want to volunteer to read?” about 15 hands shoot straight up like rockets. The view from the front of the room is spectacular! To see such enthusiasm at such a young age…. Why can’t all my classes be like that?!
This is not my story, but it makes me laugh hysterically every time I think about it:
My co-worker and dear friend Eva helps out with Natural Science classes. One day they were studying the cell and its parts. To learn the vocabulary, she says the word and the students repeat after her. They were going at a good rhythm such as the following:
Eva: “Hmm… let’s try that again, “Vacuole”.”
Eva: “One more time… “Vaaa-cu-ole”.”
Students: “Vuuuk- yuu-alll!”
You can imagine her chuckling inside at the thought of some random English speaker walking by to hear a classroom of kids screaming something so inappropriate.
Yesterday in class we played a spin-off of “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?”. It was a detective game using the atlas. The kids really enjoyed it and got into the mystery of it. So today in class, my favorite Javier says to me in a detective-like voice in Spanish:
“Ahli, (that’s how they pronounce my name), what were you doing yesterday after recess?”
And I said, a little perplexed because I didn’t know if I had done something stupid, like trip and fall, “Hmmm… I went out for breakfast…?”
Then Javier states, in a very matter of fact tone: “Because we saw you from the window of the high school, and you weren’t in the high school.”
Me (still perplexed) “Well, I…I….”
Then, before I could say anything else, he looks at me and does the “I’m watching you” motion with his hands pointing from his eyes to me. And he adds, “I’m the detective, now!”
I’ll keep adding moments as I remember them or as they occur in the next month. These were my favorites, so far. I’ll also add to this list all the random moments that they have made me laugh uncontrollably with the faces they make when they think the teacher (or me!) is not looking. I’ve had to hide behind papers or turn my back various times to compose myself!! It’s great fun, working with adolescents :).
Caution: The following may seem as unbelievable as “The Never Ending Story”, and it really did seem like the never-ending story at some moments. However, please note that all of the events truly happened. This is just a recounting of real events.
It started out as a normal trip to the grocery story. We had our grocery bags, we had our wallets, but we forgot the list. Upon going back to get the list, I stick the key in the lock and turn it. At the precise second of starting the action I felt something a bit off, but continued to turn the key anyway. When I reached the point at which the door should have opened, I pulled. Nothing. I tried it again. Still nothing. I looked over at Beth- “it won’t open…”. Try again… you can guess what happens. Nothing. So Beth takes the key and tries. No dice. What the heck is wrong with the lock?! The key was fine- it entered and came out with no problems. But it was like the lock was stuck.
Thoughts started racing through my mind. “I don’t have my cell phone!” “Where do we go at 8pm at night? Nothing’s open!” “What the hell do we do?!” “”Who do we call? And how do we call them?” “I don’t even know how to begin to explain this in Spanish!” “This can’t be happening. It’s just a dream.” Well, it did happen. And it was happening. At 7:43 at night on January 27, 2009.
We stood there, perplexed by our situation, still wanting to believe the door would open. The only thing I could think of was to try and find a locksmith asap. Doesn’t Spain have Triple A? Apparently not. So we walk to our little neighborhood tool shop to talk to the nice, little, old man there that Beth met last week. Luckily he remembered her. But how the heck do you say “locksmith” in Spanish?! Stumbling through our description of the problem we start to get a little more panicked with each passing moment. The man and his wife finally understand we need a “cerrajero” or locksmith, but they say “Good luck trying to find one at this time of night… everyone’s gone home.” Blast.
I think it was the desperate look on our faces, but whatever it was, he decided to follow us around the corner to help us try to open the door. His face was as surprised as ours was when it didn’t work. Then, a ray of light! As we were standing there, the old man suddenly turned from our ground floor apartment door towards the street and yelled “Guapa!” (Pretty girl!). Beth and I looked and saw a hunch backed, rustic man in his 40’s coming out of the building across the way. “Guapa! Vente pa’ acá!” (Pretty girl, come over here!) We realized then that the “pretty girl” was actually the man who was walking towards our building.
“Este es un cerrajero.” (This man is a locksmith.) WHAT?!! You’re pulling our legs right? What a coincidence! Actually, I know it’s not deep down, but seriously, this man literally just appeared out of nowhere, came out of the woodwork. The old man leaves us with our new helper. He takes the key and tries, then dashes out the door and yells up to someone in the window upstairs. He runs back in with some tools and gets to work. Then another guy comes in and they start talking back and forth in fast, slurry Andalusian accents.
They run in and out a few more times to set up shop outside our door. For the next two hours, brothers Fali (nickname for Rafael) and Jaime (HI-may) completely manhandled the door using tools I never knew existed and long railroad-like stakes to drive the middle of the lock out.
All the neighborhood was out in the street watching the foreign girls get their door beat down. Since there was only 1 lock and 4 of us, Beth and I ended up talking with Jaime most of the time while Fali worked the lock. This little man ended up being the neighborhood gossip, catching us up on all the inside scoop, from the lady that lives in their building who likes cats and feeds the wild ones in the city, to the “girl who was a girl, and wasn’t a girl” that lived in our apartment a while before us.
To ease our desperation, Beth and I decided to bring back some beers and sandwiches from the bar across the street. Entering the bar full of all men, we knew that they already knew what was going on… however none of them came to help us. We got some beers in plastic cups, told the barman to put us a variety of little sandwiches on a plate and promised to bring the plate back when we finished. Then, back to the “shop”, where we enjoyed conversation, sandwiches, and beers with our new friends. Man, only in Spain.
2 hours later they had made a little bit of headway, but still could not get the lock out or the door open. Finally, Jaime took the hammer, knocked the lock, and it went loose! HOORAY!!! They performed quite a job on the door and surrounding plaster walls. So when we finally walked in our house with a newly found appreciation for it, moldy walls and all, we found pieces of plaster and lock all over the floor. But who cares!! Home sweet home!
Now we just have to communicate all this to the landlord….