Monthly Archives: August 2011

Best onions of my life

They said in orientation that man cannot live by bocadillo (basically a sub) alone.  They lie.  Man could totally live by bocadillo alone.  One sandwich is large and cheap enough to save an entire third world country.  My bocadillo makes your $5 footlong look like dog food.  Seriously.

Imagine– thinly sliced deli chicken, layers of brie cheese, a thick coat of fresh avocado, wheat bread (everybody here serves white), and the tastiest onions of my life.  And trust me, it looks better in person.  Plus, there were probably 100 or so options, so you would never get tired of eating the same thing.  

The 30 minute wait was more than worth it, and the two ladies working were nicer than I’ve ever known any employee who suddenly had their empty restaurant overtaken by 40 college students with various levels of proficiency in the local tongue.  

Best part of all this, this excellent restaurant is right off campus.  My 5 Euro sandwich eternally triumphs that ridiculous 40 Euro gourmet meal they fed us on Sunday night.  

On another note, scariest moment here happened tonight.  I had no problem getting downtown, to campus, and back from campus today, but in all of that, I neglected to write down the bus station I live at.  (genius, I know.)  I got on the right bus at Puerta del Sol, but once I got on, it dawned on me that I had no idea where I needed to get off.  

I figured it would be fine, because I thought I would recognize the area.  But on my 30 minute bus ride, it got really dark.  From the bus window, I looked for the metro stop I thought I lived by, which is how I managed to get off at the right place.  However, I had no idea which way to turn to get home from the stop.  I only wandered around for about 5 minutes, but 5 minutes of fighting panic.  I was about to call my family when I found my building.  Once I came inside and they found out what had happened, I got chewed out for not calling right away, so it’s all good.  I really like my family.


Flashback, nosedive, no pavement (yet)

This week has been a flashback to every Spanish 1 exercise.  You know, the ones that seemed really stupid at the time, but now that you actually need them seem invaluable?

Example 1: The telephone conversation.

This skit is an eternal Spanish class favorite.  The task?  Write a phone conversation between two friends.  Arrange a time and meeting place for an event.  Do it memorized.

It seems simple, but when you actually have to do it… ay.  When leaving Santiago today we were all instructed to call our host families and let them know when we would be arriving.  My face drained white as I tried to figure out what I would say.  Understanding Spanish is hard enough in person, trying to do it when you can’t see the person’s face is much harder.  After about 15 minutes of conversation with a couple folks on how we would handle various situations, I just did it.

After going through my spiel, I realized that I wasn’t talking to Claudia (my housemother), but one of her daughters.  She passed the phone off, and I went through it again.  Important information learned from this conversation: a couple people in my host family can speak English.  Claudia said something twice that I did not comprehend at all and after a minute, she translated for me.   This lovely fact isn’t something I’m going to rely on, but is nice to have.

Example 2: Transportation

I distinctly remember airport vocabulary freshman year of high school.  I also remember thinking about how pointless it was.  At 15, I had never even been on a plane.  Today, that airport/transportation vocabulary was invaluable.

After a week of schedules and of being shepherded around in groups, they sent us out on our own today (relatively).  We were given addresses and told to find our own ways home.  I’ve only been in a taxi a couple times in my life, so taking my own taxi in a city I know nothing about, to an apartment I’ve never seen, in a language I barely know, to live with a family I’ve never met was a little intimidating.

I sat in the car thinking that there is no way I could have ever done this even a year ago.

Example 3: Greetings

Unit 1, Chapter 1 of every Spanish textbook is greetings.  It is by far the most-repeated lesson, and now from experience, I can say this is for good reason.

My housemother and her two daughters met me this afternoon.  Introductions were mildly awkward because I couldn’t figure out how to open the door to the apartment building.  I later found out that I really wasn’t that dumb, because the door really was locked.  However, I did neglect to see the doorbell right next to the door, so….

a little bit of home

The apartment is nice and clean, and there is more storage in my room than I have stuff to fill.  I very much appreciate the anti-clutter feel.  After I unpacked, I joined my housemother and her five-year-old daughter for some leftover chinese food.  We chatted for a bit, which helped the whole place feel more familiar.

As it turns out my housemother’s mother is also a student host, so another student in the program came over this afternoon because his family (grandparents to the kids in my family) was at work.  Having another student here for a couple hours, helped me feel more comfortable too.

We were given careful instruction on how to find our way to our meeting in the morning and how to get to school.  Then, my family physically took me to the metro station where I will have to transfer to a commuter train to get to campus and the bus station I need in the morning.  (this was really nice).  The five-year-old turned out to be quite the cute, little tour guide, because she explained absolutely everything on the way.

Example 4: Participation/Immersion

That’s what it’s all about, right?  All those awful weeks of forcing myself to come up with something to talk about in Spanish class, so I could earn my participation points are actually coming to mean something.  I have to talk, and I am.

I was a little embarrassed at dinner, because they were asking me which meal I wanted on the weekend. (They provide 2 meals for us each day.  Program provides daily stipend for the other meal.)  I understood what they were asking, but I didn’t know how to say I don’t know yet in a polite way.  They have to plan meals, but I still have no idea what my day-to-day schedule will be like.  I don’t think this is a big deal, because we are going to Toledo this weekend.  I’m sure I can talk to them when I have a better idea next week, but it was still embarrassing.

Guess it’s all just part of the nosedive experience.  Tonight, I hung out with my house sisters watching a little TV before bed.  I was pleasantly surprised to learn that my favorite show, Bones, is on here all the time.  It was fun, because the little girl kept running in and out of the room.  We talked about our favorite Disney princesses, and she pranced around in a fancy dress and her sister’s platform heels.

I think I’m my family’s 5th international student, and I hear that one girl came barely able to speak Spanish and left fluent.  I want to be like that girl…


No foodie here.

Never in my life have I felt like I had to throw up twice in one meal before tonight.  The program pays for occasional fancy dinners (legit 4 star fancy).  Now, I’m not really the steak and lobster type, but, hey, if I have 6 forks in front of me I know which one to use.   Unfortunately,  I didn’t get to show off my utensils selection skills tonight.  Instead, I showed my wild inaptitude and dis-appreciation for the so-called “finer” foods in life.

It started as an unassuming meal.  The table was set with your typical white linens, wine and water glasses, and artsy appetizer and bread plates.  I was impressed by the hot, crispy wheat bread, but unfortunately, I do believe that might have been the best food I ate all night.

The first appetizer was some kind of vegetable toast with something that looked like shiny, flat bacon.  Think of what bacon would look like if it were made of liquorice.   It was probably ham.   The bread it was on had a flavor I couldn’t identify.  As a whole, the dish tasted a little bit like Thanksgiving.  It really wasn’t that bad, just new.

I had no idea what to make of the next dish.  In all of my years of rubber chicken dinners and the like, I’ve never been served a palate cleansing dish before.  I did have the sense to turn to my friend who was a bit more familiar with gourmet food and asked how to eat it.  Apparently it was basil leaves, some kind of cheese, other items I couldn’t identify, and mint ice cream.  I put a small bit on my plate like everybody else, (who by the way thoroughly enjoyed it.)  I took a petite bite, and involuntarily crinkled my nose.  After the second bite, I started crying from the taste and rolling stomach pain.  I traded plates with a friend so I wouldn’t have to smell it, because the scent started making me nauseous.

Appetizer two was some kind of orange potato dish with cheese, paprika, bread crumbs, and a scallop.  It was thoroughly edible, although after commenting that I liked it, I got to thinking.  If I was eating it anyplace else at any other time, I wouldn’t finish it.  It was just good in comparison.

The main dish started with promise, but ended in failure.  It was pork, although it looked a lot like steak. Other than being way too salty, the meat was good.  I was excited when I saw potatoes that looked like potatoes, but they didn’t taste good.  I asked my friend what the flavor on them was and he said it was probably made with duck fat, like all good potatoes.  There was also an applesauce with the meat.

Dessert looked like mashed up chocolate cake with dulce de leche in the shape of seashells.  It tasted fine, but it was quite rich, and by dessert my stomach couldn’t quite take anymore.

The worst part of all of this, everyone else was calling it the best/one of the best meals they’d ever eaten.  I know I don’t have particularly refined taste buds (this is obvious if you know me), but I do appreciate a savory, elegant meal and the many forms it can come in.  This one just didn’t do it for me.  My evening at the restaurant concluded with a stomach clutching, not-so-elegant sprint to the ladies room.

I have a family!

We received our housing assignments today.  As always, a lot of people requested a family with kids.  There are never enough families available to accommodate our requests.  The other housing options are living with 1) a (usually retired) couple 2) a widow.   Any of the options would have been fine, but I was really hoping to have kids to practice my Spanish with, and I do.

I am living on the north side of Madrid with a couple in their mid-30s, their 16 year and 5 year old daughters, and a puppy.  And several of my friends live within 15 minutes of me 🙂   I move in tomorrow.

If God made earth this beautiful,

then what must heaven look like?

I spent the afternoon admiring the countryside, listening to Spanish Opera in the streets (I went for the bagpipe guy that’s always there, but the singers were even better), and sitting in the Cathedral.  The imagery inside the church is very aggressive, but the thought that people have been worshipping there since before the Reformation was overpowering.  I also finally walked through the (supposed) crypt of James, disciple of Jesus, which was so cool.  I heard it was there, but I’ve been at the Cathedral several times and hadn’t seen it.  I was starting to think that Wikipedia lied… 🙂


Took orientation class finals today, and I would just like to say that my history essay was amazing.  With its clear, yet complex theme, I would have considered it a good essay if it had been written in English.  That exam is proof that I actually can learn in Spanish.

First goes the jackhammer

Then goes the saw.  Wait for it, yes, and then the rushing, loud water.  -All playing like a symphony that can’t keep time.  It started during class.  Then it went through class.  Then it went through my nap…and for every daylight hour.

It was a loud day.

Maintenance.  Besides the outside work, they disconnected the internet.  Then they cut the electricity for about four hours, and we didn’t get to watch the movie on Franco in history class.

Other than that the jackhammer going all day right outside my window, I’m not really complaining.  It was just kinda funny.  I mean, how often can you say you couldn’t hear in class because the jackhammer was too loud?

Afternoon walk in a local park

Must be something in the food

because I am having the weirdest dreams here.  Maybe it’s the whole long extended nap during the day thing or something.  I am still very much not used to going to bed late (1-2 am), starting class at 9am (meaning I’m up at 7:30am to finish homework), and then taking a three hour nap in the afternoon.  That afternoon nap makes it feel like everyday has two mornings.  Since we are still in orientation, there isn’t much flexibility in this schedule.

On the bright side, at least I’m dreaming in Spanish.  A couple days ago, I dreamt that all of us were preparing to go on a pirate game show.  It was kinda funny though because it was like the audio and visual track didn’t completely match, because my brain was trying to come up with the Spanish while the visual progressed.  Today, I dreamt that everyone went to a local parade and a bunch of people were on a float singing.  The mood was lighthearted, and the people on stage were throwing apples at us.   I threw one back, got pulled on stage, was given a vocabulary quiz, and was then tied down for not knowing the answers.  [It sounds so much weirder than what it was when I actually write all that down.]

My limited ability to communicate is still annoying. I actually think that that might be why I am dreaming in Spanish.   Not sure what to make of my comprehension skills, because just as soon as I’ll be really confused in a conversation (inevitably with a professor or native speaker or something), I’ll be able to carry on extended conversation (albeit with lots of grammatical errors) about a heavy topic.  I would be lying if I said that I still was not really nervous about starting my home stay next week.

interior photo of a (massive) funky modern library designed in a Guggenheim-esque fashion we visited today


Who knew that crepes could be something besides dessert?  I had no idea.  Guess what I had for dinner?