30 July 2005

Back in Madrid....

After a most exhausting journey, I have arrived in Madrid along with my 5 fellow staff members and 32 students (we arrived originally with 35 or so, but we've sent home a couple and another left voluntarily...regardless, this is still a very
large group)...

Our last night in Cadiz was a most emotional one...The entire Abbey Road staff and students gathered at the local beach for a going away type ceremony. We all arrived there with plates of food and bottles of soda and attempted to eat food in the midst of a whirling sandstorm. The food was delicious, if a bit crunchy. Near the end of this gathering we handed out yearbooks and t-shirts to the students--parting memories designed by students and some staff....

And then, back to the residence, where we sang songs and took photographs with the residence staff--all of the friends that we have made and whom we will miss terribly. Around 1 or so, everyone began to make their way to the bedrooms to sleep 4 hours before the bus came to take us to the airport. Raul and I, however, were quickly informed by our close friends at the residence that we were not permitted to sleep at all, and that they would remain awake and at the residence until the bus came....And so, after having slept 10 minutes, I embarked on the journey to Madrid in a rather zombie-like fashion...

And here I am at a hotel called the High Tech Petit Palace. It is certainly Petit, and I guess that if by High Tech they mean see-through bathroom walls and skylights that you can close with a long pole with a hook on the end, this place is pretty damn high tech...

Anyway, I hope that this post has not been terribly boring, but I'd like to keep those that care aware of my location and state of mind (which, by the way, is suprisingly positive considered my sleep deprivation, etc.)....

I hope that you are all well....


27 July 2005

Paco and the Mumbling Foot in My Mouth

In one episode of Seinfeld, Jerry is confronted with a mumbling woman that asks a favor of him. He agrees unknowingly, responding in the affirmative, having no idea to what question he is responding. I have had similar experiences before, most often here in Southern Spain, where the Spanish is weird and the people have a tendency to speak rather quickly and with great variation from Standard Spanish.

To give an example: In Standard Spanish (with little regional difference), the word pescado (fish) is pronounced exactly as it appears. In Southern Spain, there is a tendency to "eat" certain letters, among which figure the "s" and the "d" (in an ending like -ado or -ido). With these changes, the word is pronounced "pehcaoh" -- This is just one of many strange changes that the southerners tend to make to "normal" Spanish.
In my days as a novice Spanish speaker, this of course caused a great number of problems. An example of a conversation might go something like this:

Spanish guy: blah blah blah blah
Me: (laughter--following non-verbal cues around me)
Spanish guy: What are you laughing about? I just asked you a question.

This type of conversation repeated itself many times in my early days in Spain. In general, I am now able to avoid such problems, having been linguistically trained in this area. Just two nights ago, however, I stuck myself in a problem of semi-epic proportions.

There is a man that hangs around the student residence where I live. He is semi-retarded and an alcoholic, and speaks with a a mumbled slur that is nearly impossible to understand. This mumbling man, then, apparently asked me the other night if I would like to join him for dinner at a local fish restaurant of which he was a big fan. I responded affirmatively (it would seem), or at the very least I laughed in a friendly fashion. I was unaware of the mere existence of this conversation, being unable to understand a word that this man speaks.

The following day (yesterday), I receive a call from my friend Raul (of whom I´ve spoken, and who will soon grace this page in photograpic form) telling me that this man, Paco, is looking for us. He has shaved (very rare), changed his pants (very rare), combed his hair (very rare) and seems to be looking forward to having dinner with us. I am totally confused (remember, I didn´t even know that we had talked about eating dinner together).

Raul and I struggled through this moral dilemma, not wanting to hurt this poor man´s feeling, but not looking forward to eating with a man that we cannot understand and who basically looks, smells, and acts homeless. All of the workers in the hostel begged us not to go, telling us that he was crazy and that it would be a very bad idea to leave the residence´s confines with him. A very, very bad idea....

And so, with a heavy conscience, we invited the man to a beer and explained that we had an emergency meeting with the staff, and would be unable to join him for dinner. His face betrayed his disappointment, and my heart sank....

There is something ridiculously tragicomic about this whole scene. In one way, I find it hilarious that I stuck my foot in my mouth in such a big way as to make plans without even knowing that I was doing so. In another way, I feel terrible for having raised the hopes of a very sad and lonely man.

Since this incident, I ask Paco to repeat everything at least twice, always frightened that I´m agreeing to some crazy plan while having no idea that I´m doing so....And that´s about all that I can find as a moral to this story....

26 July 2005

I want to be a Spanish Fisherman...

The student residence that has been my home for the last month is connected to a bar. This bar is frequented by those staying at the residence, outsiders, residence workers and their friends. One of these friends is named Ismael.
Ismael (a fitting enough name for the story to come) is an 18-year old gaditano (a native of Cadiz) with a Southern accent thicker than molasses and a penchant for fishing. He is a wonderful young kid, welcoming to all of us and excited by the opportunity to teach (learn, as he says...as in, "I´m going to learn you how to fish") me and others about the Cadiz culture, fishing customs, tide patterns, etc. He is also constantly trying to make me get together with a Bolivian girl that is twice as tall and three times as wide as I am. I´m not sure I understand this last project of his, but his local knowledge is always welcome, and I consider myself an apt pupil.
So, last night, Ismael invited me to go fishing and crabbing with him and his friend. I invited along Vanessa, a fellow teacher here, and off we went at 1 am for a gaditano fishing adventure. Now, for those ignorant non-fisherman out there (as I was until last night), let me detail a few things of interest and importance:
1. Oftentimes one fishes at night because of tide patterns. Last night the plan was to fish off of certain rocks along the beach. These rocks are only exposed when the tide is very, very low. This occurs around 2 am.
2. When fishing at night off of rocks, one needs to make sure of the following things. First, you must have working flashlights. This is very important, as the rocks are filled with treacherous pitfalls and deep crevasses. Secondly (and this one seemed really weird to me)--you apparently need to wet your feet before going into the water. This might just be some weird Spanish thing (in Spain they still think that you can get sick walking barefoot in the house, and sleeping in a room with plants is considered dangerous). I´m not sure. The explanation given to me was in this way your body gets used to the change in temperature. Third--regardless of the state of your sneakers, you must wear a pair of socks over your sneakers. I was suspicious of this at first, thinking that the locals might just want to laugh at my expense. Oddly, the socks really do help to avoid slippage on the algae-covered rocks.
3. Fishing is a sport here that involves patience (as it always does) as well as a willingness to accept defeat and change your location. We moved three or four times last night (not just a few feet or so, we are talking about at least a 10 minute walk) until we finally caught a fish.
4. Glow sticks stuck in the bobber (is that what the floating thing is called?) help fishermen to see where their hook is and when a fish has taken the bait.

Okay, so with this information out of the way, I continue with the story. We left the residence and arrived at the beach, moving constantly to find a good place to fish. When we had finally settled on a fishing location that seemed to offer good catch, Ismael and I left Vanessa and Santi (Ismael´s friend) to fish while we headed off in search of crabs. Now, I have crabbed before, but my experience had always involved a large, non-pointed hook, a hot dog, and a net (i know, it sounds weird, but this works) and had never actually had to touch a crab. Here, the method of catching crabs is particularly effective, albeit rather primitive. Basically, you find a crab, reach down, grab him tightly holding the big claws in towards his head, and throw him in a bucket. After Ismael had caught 4 or 5 crabs, I finally had my chance to prove my manliness by sticking my hand directly on top of an animal that is born to use claws to inflict great pain. The crab I had found was small, but a mean little bugger he was, and I grabbed rather ineffectively, basically letting him grab me (instead of me grabbing him) and then flicking him like a booger into the bucket beside. Regardless of my method, I had scored a crab, and Ismael was proud, repeating time and time again that for an outsider, I really had a way with crabs...I am not lying when I say that my heart swelled to hear this.

After a few more minutes of practice (grabbing crabs already in the bucket in order to learn how to do so), Ismael and I headed back to the fishing rocks, joining up with Santi and Vanessa. Soon after we arrived Vanessa decided to go home, and Ismael offered to accompany her across the slippery rocks.
As soon as they left, I casted with Ismael´s fishing rod, watching the bright glow stick glide through the air and fall into the rough waters. Within a minute or two, I felt the pull of a fish and watched the glow stick disappear under the water. I pulled back hard, reeling in the little sucker and pulling up on the pole. He was big--I could feel his strength. We fought hard, and the battle was epic. In a few short moments, however, I had beaten my slimy nemesis and found myself holding onto a damn big fish.

My elation was obvious, as I stood there yelling and screaming "HOLY S--T this is a big sucker," letting the world know that I, an OUTSIDER, had caught a damn fine fish. My teachers were proud, and let me know it. I had caught myself a BORRIQUETE, known in English as a "rubber-lip grunt" *see above photo

Soon after, I decided to leave, figuring that my exhaustion the following day (today) would outweigh my excitement if I didn´t call it quits soon. Nonetheless, I consider this mission a success, and I´m looking forward with glee to frying up my nemesis this evening and enjoying every last delicious bite of my first Cadiz catch.

25 July 2005

I got a Monkey on my back...

After visiting Gibraltar and straining my eyes through fog and mist (found in all British territories, colonies, and protectorates), I decided to stop this long-distance African silliness and make the short and safe trip across the Strait of Gibraltar into Moroccan territory.

This past Saturday morning I departed Cadiz at 6 am with two friends--Raul and Joel. Raul is my roommate here--a tall and dark Spanish man that all the ladies seem to love (bastard!) and Joel is the son of a missionary pastor that spends his year running Christian-themed trips around the world (bastard!). I am jealous of both of them, yet they are both now good friends and fine traveling partners.

And so the three of us took a bus from Cadiz to Tarifa. Raul and I both slept the entire way, recovering valuable hours of rest stolen from us by Spaniards that demand our company into the wee hours of the night, singing, laughing and playing guitar. Once in Tarifa, we ran to the ferry, and were joined along the way by a Moroccan man and a Belgian man, both hippies.

We arrived in Tangiers in the early morning (oddly, there is a two hour time difference between Spain and Morocco). We were greeted at the port by Youssef, our tour guide for the day, the man who would sneakily lead us into sales pitches and pre-planned lunches. I am convinced that every stop that we made was a chance for him to earn a commission. Nonetheless, Youseff was a good guide and behaved well with us. We all learned much from our conversations with him about Islam and life in a land where 95% of the population is Muslim.

Some highlights of the day included seeing a middle aged shop owner smoking hash on a chair in front of his shop, being harassed for ages by a carpet salesman (friend of Youseef), eating delicious ¨pastelas¨ , which are sort of like chicken filled egg rolls, deliciously spiced and topped with powdered sugar and cinammon, listening to the call to prayer rolling through the city like thunder, and buying Coca-Cola with Arabic writing on the label.

Unfortunately, my plans to buy a great deal of loose-fitting, comfortable trousers was foiled by reality, and I ended up buying no clothes. I did however, buy a very small rug (the last of a long line presented by the man with the sales pitch) that will probably help me not at all, a strange rock-type jazmine perfume, a natural skin cream, some totally crazy compact discs, and some Morocco stickers. Oh well, there is plenty of time left to find loose-fitting trousers in my life. It is just that I had thought that the search was over.

And now, having touched on another continent, I find myself with a great desire to explore it more, having only barely tasted those mysterious lands that grace the far side of the Strait. OH, and before I forget, I got to ride a camel...That was cool. More photos to come.

20 July 2005

Cadiz oh Cadiz

Life has been extremely tough lately, and it just seems like the difficulties I´m experiencing will never be resolved.First, I´m stuck in Cadiz, Spain, a absolutely charming seaside city in Andalusia, Southern Spain. This city was originally started by the Phoenicians, conquered at some point by the Romans, then others, then Moors, then Christians....I´m sure that you can all imagine the opressively historical feel that pervades this place. I´m not sure how long I can last here.To make matters worse, I am employed by a company named Abbey Road, which organizes trips abroad for highschool students. They have contracted me as a Spanish professor (irony of ironies...white boy in spain teaching spanish), a position which involves an extremely tough schedule highlighted by the entire hour that I usually have to teach in the morning....The rest of my days are spent in a blurry haze constructed of trips to the beach, doing flips off of 20 foot high bridges into azure ocean waters, eating delicious food, and sipping adult beverages while being blinded by beach sunsets....All of this, and I haven´t even mentioned that I have to eat free food at the University residence where we´re staying, sleep in a free bed, and get paid.....I do say, things are going terribly and I feel cursed by fate herself....

Okay....even I´ve gotten sick of the above tone, so if it is all the same to the rest of you, I´ll drop it....Things are going quite well, and I´m happy here, so happy in fact that I surprise myself and can´t help but give in once again to the dream of moving here and living here for a long, long time, making little money but going to the beach every day and eating delicious food in packed outdoor cafes at midnight, with beautiful children running between the legs of old folk...There´s a lot of unemployment here (the beaches are packed at all times of the day), but people seem to get by, and everyone has enough money for a bit of cured ham and a cold, cold beer in the afternoon....And even those that work don´t seem to work, and people don´t seem to ever stop joking....You need to be on your feet at all times to get by here, with innuendos of all types flying by you with a constancy that is alarming....And the food (I´ve mentioned this, I believe) is so good--tapas--all the rage in cosmopolitan cities around the world, but nothing like the real deal....these delicious small bites are an old tradition here in Spain, and were ´invented´ in the 1800´s. Basically, barmen would put a small saucer on top of a glass of wine being served to a customer. They did this in order to keep the flies and mosquitos out of people´s drinks. Over time, the plate began to seem rather empty, and was filled with a small bite to eat--usually a piece of bread with an anchovy, or some meat, or something along those lines. Over time, this has developed into an entire way of eating, the portions have gotten bigger, the types of food have become more varied, and a verb has even been spawned -- ´tapear´ -- which basically means to go around eating tapas....beautiful....and so i´m enjoying....and the beauty of it all is that you can get a tapa and a glass of wine for around 2-3 euros....not bad....More interesting news (at least i think so)--The whole ¨Europeans are so skinny because of the Mediterranean diet¨ business seems to be sadly going the way of the dodo....This city, to speak rather frankly and with a bluntness I´m fond of, is really fat. Today, when a group of girls walked past us at a museum, one student commented to me, ¨There are more fat girls in that one group than in my entire school¨. I did not argue, because I think he was right...Oddly, all of the young guys are skinny....Frighteningly skinny....anorexic skinny....like when i became a vegeterian skinny.....very strange.....And so, not much else to share at the moment....For those unaware, I will be living at least one more year in Brooklyn...I´ve been offered a position (1 year to start) at Fordham University, which means that i´ll be a bit more of a straphanger this year than last, but that´s okay....They pay a whole lot better and it will be nice to hang out with the Jesuits...Maybe I´ll even start going back to church. Or maybe not. We´ll see.I hope that this finds you all well and safe and healthy and happy....Take a lesson from the Spaniards. Start eating out more. Eat outside more. Skip work more. Sick days are there for a reason--think of them as sickness prevention days....Love,Chris