Long Short Stories

Long stories short, I’m back in Madrid, I have an apartment, I have internet, I have a job, things are going well.

Long stories long:

I’m Back in Madrid. 

Yeah, I’m back in the city of 100 Montaditos, scaffolding, fountains, and hoop-jumping to get anything more complicated than brushing your teeth done. The flight here was uneventful, except for a brief panic in the airport when my bags were the last ones to roll in on the baggage claim.

I had planned on apartment searching that first day, but I felt like I wanted to take some time to meet up with friends, get over the post-flight jetlag disease, and enjoy some of the spots I had been missing(?) over the past month. After a day of goofing around enjoying all Madrid has to offer, I met up with my future roommate and starting pounding the pavement.

I Have an Apartment.

What an ordeal that was. With about 15 km of explored city streets and 20 E of credit on my phone later, we still hadn’t found an apartment. I had about 15 seconds of a mild anxiety attack until I remembered my auxiliar de conversación mantra: “Dumber people than you have done this before, and far dumber people than you will do it after.” That helped. After the best Thai in the world at the only Thai restaurant I’ve ever eaten at (and yes, it’s in Madrid), I was renewed for another day of searching.

That search was postponed by lunch before it even started. Not feeling hopeful, my friends and I meandered around a neighborhood that I usually only see after dark: Malasaña. Turning a corner, we saw a woman on a balcony bearing a “SE ALQUILA” sign. We yelled up to her, took a look at the apartment, and (without really thinking it over) forked over 300 E to make it ours… 50 E for each balcony overlooking the street. We returned the next day to sign the lease.

Living next to Plaza Dos de Mayo is a little loud at night, but that’s okay. People here drive dirt bikes around on the streets, which sounds like the coming of the apocalypse, but that’s okay. But we didn’t have internet, and that was not okay.

I Have Internet. 

When I went to Phone House to set up our internet, I guess I didn’t really know what to expect. When you get internet in the States, you call the cable company and they come a few days later to set up the system. This also happens in Spain. So why was I so irritated when the woman at the desk told me I’d have to wait for someone to come a few days later to set up the system? No clue. Maybe it was because in the back of my mind, I knew what was going to happen next.

A man comes to my apartment to set up the internet. Awesome! Facebook, here I come! I hear you’ve changed, old friend. What’s happening on Top Chef: Just Desserts? No worries, I’ll find out in a few minutes. Not so fast. The man plugs in a cable, and tells me the wifi router will arrive in a few days. Seriously? I can’t watch YouTube videos NOW? So I waited.

(Usually, in Spain, this is where the …and waited. And waited. And waited… part comes in). The router came the next day. Thanks, Spanish Postal Service. So now, I can blog, facebook, facebook and facebook as much as I want.

I Have a Job. 

I work at IES Vega del Jarama. Today, I showed up and wrote my own schedule. Like my schedule last year, it’s pretty great. The commute is okay, but not ideal (I’ll live). The catch? “Well, hopefully you’ll get lucky and get paid. How do you feel about volunteering?” Hopefully this is just a Spanish yoke.

I might not have to go in tomorrow or Wednesday because the teachers are going on strike. So we’ll see what happens.

Not much to report on the class front, but the English department at my school really likes to do movie days. At least once a week. This week, it’s Love, Actually. I told the teacher that I had to skip certain parts of it at camp to make it appropriate for the students. Her response: “Why?” Oh, brother.

Things Are Going Well. 

Pub Quiz tonight, I’m eating a ridiculous amount of vegetables, I have private classes ready to go (have to leave for my first one in an hour), hopefully I’m not going to run out of money. Payday can’t come soon enough… and I’m not yoking.


Olive and Jude’s Edinburgh Road Trip

Here in suburbia, school has started up again. Which means I have to lower my driving speed to 20 mph when I pass the schools-that-could-be-mistaken-for-shopping-malls that dot the landscape of Mason, OH (better known to the rest of the country as the opening credits of Weeds). It also means that my head explodes every time I go to Target and there are super-low prices on school supplies.

How can they afford to do this?
Yeah, well, it’s Rose Art, so you might as well give it away.

Basically, it’s making me think about school again. The “new school year” for me starts on October 1st (or, as everyone in the rest of the Western world refers to it: 1 October). I have no idea how my new school will measure up to my former school, although right now, my potential commute is already ridiculous. That’s okay, though: I’m working more hours for more Your-ros. My iCal is chillingly empty right now… the calm before the storm.

After teaching my mini-class at camp over the summer, I’m thinking I’ll get more antsy being a “teaching assistant.” Although it’s really nice to not have to lesson plan [until the 2 AM curfew every night], I’ll probably get anxious not knowing what we’re going to be covering in every class. Although, because I think my focus is going to be natural science, it will go something like this:

  1. Space. The kids were mostly through this by the time I got to the school (awesome!), but we didn’t get too far into it. “Mercury is hard and Neptune is gassy.” Fair enough.
  2. Matter. Solids, liquids, gases. Cool. This was one of those subjects that was covered on a pretty basic level, but then would dip into ridiculous detail for no reason. Like numerical phase transition values. Really, seventh graders should  be taught science on a need-to-know basis.
  3. Living Things. This was the introduction to what ended up taking up a large part of the year. What makes something a “living thing?” Is the desk a living thing?
  4. Plants. The subject in college I despised the most (mostly because my plant biology professor insisted on using the phrase “plants rule, animals drool” six times a lecture). This translated to me NOT PAYING ATTENTION AT ALL DURING THOSE LECTURES. Well, guess what? I was expected to teach leaf structures and other fun parts of plant biology. Bummer.
  5. ANIMALS! This is every student’s favorite subject, always. Reptiles vs. mammals! “Teacher, how do you say [insert weird Spanish animal name here] in English?” I even made the kids make their own evolutionary tree. These three weeks went by waaaay too fast.
  6. Atmosphere. I don’t think I went to any of these classes.
  7. Geology. This is a Spanish seventh-grader’s grand finale to the year: rocks. Seriously? Hardness. Luster. Is this rock opaque or iridescent? “How do you spell iridescent?” Me pretending to be a geologist by saying things like “yeah, that looks like igneous rock to me.” This is the unit that I really, really, really wanted to have a movie day.
Geology 101: A Volcano/Dante’s Peak double feature?

I’m sure this year, they’ll use a different book, and all of the material will be totally different. Sorry for that horrible tangent. But yeah, that was my science class last year. The other classes? Equal parts of “oh, I remember learning this at one point” (Egyptian civilizations, M.C. Escher) and “what? We’re teaching this to seventh graders?” (circuitry, allowing them to use saws).

The English classes were a completely different animal. It’s interesting to watch students learn your language (soap vs. soup, “I have thirteen years,” etc.), but I think the most rewarding thing throughout the entire year was to listen to the listening exercises. Do yourself a favor: go to Barnes and Noble (R.I.P. Borders), buy an English book with a CD, run to the parking lot, and pop that golden disc into your car stereo. Do not pass GO, do not collect 200 dollars. You are about to be treated to recordings of British teenagers making English accessible through “cool” activities (museum gift shop purchases, horse track races, plans for the weekend (which are always ten times more complicated than they need to be), etc.). You will not be disappointed.

What I really wanted from this post was to get myself pumped up for the school year. Now, all I want to do is listen to Olive and Jude argue about what CD to listen to on their road trip to Edinburgh.

“Rebecca Black!” “No, Old Dirty Bastard!” “Olivia, you never want to compromise.”

Buckeye Purgatory

Today, I realized that I’ve been back in America for nearly three weeks. After being gone for nearly eight months, some things seem… a little different.

  • Grocery store shelves. Can’t we, as a society, decide that it’s probably unnecessary to have about 18 feet of MOUTHWASH SHELF SPACE at Target? I’m all for capitalism, but there’s just too much choice involved. Other absurdly giant aisles: toilet paper, chips, ketchup/hot sauce/tomato sauce (this one is about 30 feet long).
    Wait… am I in a mustard museum?
  • 45-second commercial breaks. Although I’m really enjoying having commercial breaks timed to the shows (instead of cutting the program off mid-sentence), I’d love it if I could watch Batman and Robin (and yes, I did, last night) without the movie cutting out every 6 minutes to show just 2 commercials. I want to hear more ice puns delivered by the Governor of California, damn it!
  • Food commercials. While we’re talking about commercials, how many food commercials can a person watch in one day? It’s bad enough that I know that Taco Bell is open 27 hours a day, and that they have the Crazy Cheesy Gordita Crunch Nachos Supreme for 58 cents, but I don’t really need to be reminded every three minutes (after all, I’m trying to watch Batman and Robin!).
    “Gordita”: Spanish for “little chubby girl.”
  • Random new movies. I like to think that I’m plugged into American pop culture, even when I’m overseas. I read almost every HOUR, for crying out loud. There are still some movies in theaters right now that I have never heard of. And most of them star Jason Bateman (Really, this guy has to get some PR going for his movies. A press junket, a pamphlet… something.). How is this possible? I know that Anthony Bourdain is having a feud with Paula Deen. I know who’s beating up who [verbally] on the Real Housewives (a series that I only watch when I can’t find the remote after Top Chef). This is some cinematic Twilight Zone bullshit going on here, folks.
  • Free refills. I was looking forward to this, but it’s kind of irritating when you’re on Diet Coke number three. Just… stop.
  • People kind-of-sort-of being nice while driving. I don’t remember this happening before I left, but people are being weirdly nice to me on the road (maybe it’s the recession?). I don’t think I have a Sims-esque green diamond above my car that signifies that I haven’t driven in 8 months, but whenever I forget to change lanes, or need to perform some crazy driving maneuver, everyone around me is generally okay with it. It’s freaking me out.
  • Dryers. Hallelujah.
  • Prices being different from the actual price. Tax, tip, etc. I enjoy knowing exactly how much something is going to cost. Extra costs mess that up. Also, wouldn’t it be great if when you buy one thing, the total comes to $2.50? Or $1.25? This “99 cent item actually costs $1.07 bwa-ha-ha-ha” business is ridiculous. American pennies are worth LESS than Euro pennies. I don’t want either of them in my pocket.
  • Cincinnati smell. Madrid smells different than Columbus, which smells different from Madrid. Not good, not bad. Different.
I guess that’s the way I feel about being here. It’s different. Not good, not bad. An Ohioan purgatory. Going from 60 (summer camp) to 0 (constant Teen Mom reruns) is really getting to me. And so, I’m off to count the bottles of Heinz in the ketchup aisle. See you in six years.

Nothing Tastes Better

After a year of working (usually less than) 16 hours a week, I had a lot of free time on my hands. Most of this time manifested itself into fringe TV show obsessions (Top Chef Canada? Extreme Couponing?), copious amounts of siestas, and kitchen experiments (bored? Try to make a pizza from scratch). I also really got into reading blogs, mostly by expats who had made a home for themselves in Spain (and doing the same thing I was doing).

Sometimes, these blogs would drive me nuts. For some posts, there would be a subtext of “Look at me—I’m doing something you’re not.” A few would glorify the mundane (“I had a sandwich today! Nothing tastes better than a Spanish bocadillo!”). Then, there would be the few that actually came from a place of honesty. The ones that would refrain from over-using italicized español. The ones that, unlike so many others, didn’t seem like they were using a megaphone to elicit awed comments from stateside family and friends. The ones that didn’t end a post with a wink that might as well have (and I think, in one case) said “Jealous?”.

So, here we go. Blog #X. My attempt at “genuine.” Insert clichéd promise to update monthly/weekly/daily (that will be broken once I get back to Spain, and I don’t have to fill up my afternoons with endless Silent Library reruns on MTV) here.