Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The waning days / Los días menguantes

It's starting to feel real.

I'm quickly approaching my last days here in Valladolid. As difficult of a relationship as I have with Pucela, leaving this town is bittersweet. Big upheavals in life are always difficult, and leaving the place where I've lived and loved and worked and bled for the past ten months won't be any exception.

There have definitely been cold nights and times where I wanted to feel something familiar. And of course, the cultural peculiarities - more often than not the little things - really me tocaron los cojones sometimes.

Above all the great people I have gotten to know in this city on the Pisuerga will be tough to leave behind. Moreover, tomorrow is probably the last day I'll be going to my instituto to see the kids I've spent the whole year with. That will be hard. Apart from the beautiful, thoughtful gifts they've given me throughout these past two weeks, the times I've had with them I'll never forget. Never.

If you're reading this, guys - and you should be, because I've taught you English for the past ten months - I want you to know that I am going to miss you very much and that I will always remember the classes we shared together. Sometimes, I think you taught me more than I taught you, and that's not just because a lot of you don't study! (Joke.) (Sort of.) But you really helped me learn a lot of things about the world and about myself.

We're not so different, you and I.

And I know I told you all not to cry the other day, but I know that I might have a hard time following my own rule soon. I really will miss all of you. Even the bad ones who don't study.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Santurtzi / Santurce

Finally, after trekking through a mountain of savagely inefficient bureaucracy, I just got my placement in Spain for next year. My top three choices had been Cataluña, Valencia, and the Basque Country, in that order, but because the former two comunidades are going belly-up (or patas arriba, "paws up") I'm going to be up north living with the vascos for the next year.

Specifically, I've been placed in a town called Santurtzi/Santurce, which are its respective names in both the native Basque language and the dominant Castillian Spanish. I think I explained earlier in a blog post about all the crazy languages that Spain has within its borders. Of these twisted tongues, Basque is surely the most distinct and difficult to learn.

But enough about linguistics.

Santurtzi is part of the Bilbao metropolitan area. Bilbao might ring a bell for some of y'all because it's the home of the famous Guggenheim Bilbao Museum. I went there once, and here is some evidence.

¡Qué susto, macho!

I know what you're thinking: that's one big spider. And you're right. It is.

It's art.

Anyways, Santurtzi is about 9 miles northwest of Bilbao, at the mouth of the river that flows into the Bay of Biscay. I think. Go look at a map. 

A is Santurtzi. B, appropriately, is Bilbao. The A for Santurtzi is not as appropriate, although "A" is the second letter of its name.
So as you can imagine I'm really excited to start wading through another bog of meaningless and drone-like paperwork so I can obtain my visa for the next year. I'm also tickled pink about cleaning my apartment and not getting any of my security deposit back!

A general representation of my sentiments.
But seriously, I couldn't be happier about my placement next year. 

Sometimes, I worry too much about logistics instead of enjoying the moment. I think I might be the only person in the world that does that. Right?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

El camino de Bruselas / The Brussels Walk

A few weekends ago, my partner in crime David A. Palmer and I went on a small jaunt to an equally small country called Belgium. While there, we went on an interesting, and also small, walk through the city of Brussels. You may know it for its famous sprouts, or perhaps for its Euro regulation.

Anyways, the aforementioned Dave and I though it would be pretty cool to each write a thousand words about the walk we took and see how differently it turned out. We also decided, in a shameless and selfish gimmick, to each post our pieces on the other one's blog.

So without further ado, here is David A. Palmer's version of "The Brussels Walk". You can find mine on his blog at http://wheninespana.wordpress.com/2012/06/14/the-brussels-walk/ .


Our hostel was a long ways from downtown Brussels.  And I don’t meant just spatially.  Sure, it was at least a solid half-hour walk.  But the neighborhood also looked a little rough.  Especially after arriving in Brussels from Bruges.  Bruges is the fairytale town of Belgium.  Brussels: the reality. It was like walking out of Harry Potter and into Hemmingway.
            Alex and I left the hostel around 8:45 p.m. on a Saturday evening and it was still fairly light outside.  8:46 found us walking alongside a hulking square, white, Godiva Chocolate factory.  It looked more like a warehouse than a wonderland producer of delightful sweets.  All the chocolate retailers in Bruges had been tiny, picturesque little shops with names like Confiserie de Clerck and Dumons Chocolatier.  But not here in outskirts of Brussels.
            As we walked by the Godiva behemoth Alex and I discussed the group of three cute Canadian girls we had met at the hostel.  They had promised to meet us downtown at 10:30.  First, they wanted to cook and eat dinner.  Then have a few drinks in the hostel. And then get ready.  By the time we agreed that there was about as much chance of Ryanair handing out free milk and cookies as there was that the girls would show up on time, we had come to the main road, Boulevard Leopold II. 
            Turning onto Boulevard II, we passed the Simonis Metro stop, where we had emerged hours earlier on our way to the hostel.  There were still several groups of younger to middle aged men hanging out, smoking and talking amidst the construction and heaps of trash and in front of the station. 
            Boulevard Leopold II was a wide swath of a road, six lanes across at its widest point, and the difference between it and the neighborhoods of Bruges could not have been starker.  It was a lived in neighborhood, and it was an immigrant neighborhood.  There were teahouses, bars with signs in Arabic and electronic shops.  We also noticed that virtually everyone around us was dark-skinned.    When I think North African immigrants I think southern Spain and Italy, not Brussels, yet here we were.
            As we passed one particularly crowded teahouse our discussion turned to existentialism.  There were large clumps of middle-aged men sitting at tables along the sidewalk, drinking a strange-looking brown drink with lots of small green leaves, out of glasses.  “So it’s just the idea that we exist to exist?” I asked bemusedly. 
            We walked over puddles pooling in cracks on the sidewalk and under construction scaffolding.  Alex made the point that while existentialist philosophers make some excellent points, they are inclined to ramble.  Which led us to the topic of writing in general: the proliferation of meaningless blogs and the endangered state of real journalism.  The danger the New York Times faces in being the only major newspaper behind the firewall, and their lack of other real options.
            We ducked across the busy street, into the shadows of the buildings.  Taxi drivers were relaxing on this side, sipping beers as they waited for fares.  The concept of botellon, drinking on the streets, was very much alive in this district.  A middle aged man with dark skin put down a half finished beer next to a tree and called out to an acquaintance up the street in a strange tongue.  The rough appearance of the neighborhood was making us a little nervous.  It reminded me of the neighborhood around Marseille’s train station, with its packs of guys drinking on the streets and homeless on virtually every step. We began to debate the intelligence of walking home along this road later that night.   
            We soon came to a wide canal.  We had just about made it to downtown Brussels.  I started looking for some medieval looking walls, or ancient but majestic buildings.  Almost every European city has walls and edificial history.  But all we saw were car dealerships and office buildings. 
            Here we came across a family, also heading downtown.  The parents were tugging on the hand of a little girl, urging her along.  Just then a woman crossed the street and walked past them, heading downtown as well.  She was wearing bright pink high heels and extremely tight pink pants, but had an old face, too old to be dressed up like that.  The little girl stared with interest at her as she walked by.  Just then Alex made a noise of recognition.  As the woman moved off he turned to me.  “Dude, that was a prostitute.”  Oh. 
            We kept walking.  The buildings got taller, but they were still all glass and offices. And standing on every street corner here were more women with high heels, tight skirts and fish-net leggings.  The traffic on the roads was fairly busy here, but there were very few other people sidewalks.  Except for the prostitutes.  In Brussels.
            The buildings, more glass and industrial, started to tower over us, the shadows a bit more menacing than they had seemed before.  It was like Munich, the efficient German city, without the cleanliness and order.  Or maybe Barcelona without the crowds and street performers.  Finally we were spit out onto Boulevard Anspach Laan, the main road that cuts through the heart of Brussels. 
            It was like poor man’s Time Square.  There was an electric Coke-a-Cola sign hanging on a stone building.  Alex took a picture.  Supposedly the sign was famous.  I could only compare it, and not favorably, to Boston’s historical CITGO sign near Fenway. 
            We were hungry and needed to eat soon, just in case the Canadian girls did get their act together and meet us at 10:30.  To our right was a Chi-Chis.  Good old fashioned Mexican-American chain restaurant.  We both looked at each other and had the same thought.  Brussels had been awful so far. Disappointingly, maddenly, ugly.  We’d eat at Chi-Chis. It would be our fuck-you to Brussels.