31 July 2006

Madrid and Homecoming

In Madrid once again, once again (like last year) in the so called "High Tech" Petit Palace.

Last year, I commented on this hotel, mocking the suggestive name. As I said last year, the only thing that I could find to be "high tech" was a slow computer on the ground floor. Oh, and the bathroom doors were transparent.

This year, however, luck has smiled upon me and the other staff members in my group, and we have been given Executive Rooms....Mamma Mia! What glory! What luck! What beauty!

Let me tell you, if you have never tanned while showering, you are most certainly missing out. The shower is out of control, and each time that I step into it, I chuckle a bit, truly amused by the entire mechanism. A small computer screen on the wall allows the user to adjust water temperature and direction, to cause water to splash from all sides, and to (this is no joke) turn on the tanning lights located in one wall of the shower.

The rest of the room is not quite so insane, but is nice. We have a computer and a flat screen television and comfortable beds. The ceiling is purple and there is a balcony. The furniture is dark wood.

Madrid, unsuprisingly, continues basically unchanged. It is still as hot as Hades, the nightlife is still exciting and out-of-control, the bars and restaurants are still aplenty. As far as I can tell, the only thing changed in Madrid over the last year is the number of Starbucks. Quite obviously, this number has risen.

Tonight some of us are going out for dinner and a show.
A show in drag.
A show of transvestites.
I hope that the food is good.

I will be home Wednesday. I hope that all are well.

25 July 2006

Still Here.

Still here in Spain, with little to say and no time to say it...

I hope that everyone is doing well, and please be patient for more postings when time and circumstances allow.

17 July 2006

Just like Gibraltar

My apologies for the sparcity of writing of late. I have been busy here, and the truth is my quotidian activities, while quite fun, are probably not all that exciting for outside readers.

So we headed this weekend to Seville and Cordoba, beautiful towns here in Andalucia, Spain. We left Saturday morning, and within a few hours had arrived in Seville and entered the Cathedral.

Now I was one tired man on Saturday morning, and, being quite familiar with Seville's Cathedral (a beautiful piece of architecture that was once a mosque), I decided to relax while the students walked about. I sat down in the lovely Orange Tree Patio (Muslim) and tried to stay out of the sun.

Within a few moments, a short and spring-stepped man approached "my" bench. He pulled a baseball cap off of his bald head, sat down, and lit a cigarette. One of us commented on the heat. We both commented that we were tired.

With little warning, our conversation left the path of normality and veered sharply, turning onto the superhighway of strangeness.

"How do you like your women," he asked me, "skinny or fat?"

I responded slowly, indicating that I was not sure that I had a definable opinion on the matter.

"In Egypt," he said, "we have nice, beautiful fat women. Women that you can hold on to, women like those over there." He pointed at a group of large women passing by that might have been Egyptian. He called something out to them in a foreign tongue and they smiled back at him.

"American women," he continued, "are all so small...you touch them here (he touched his side, below the ribs) and you are already here (he touched his other side, in the same place)"

The man continued along these lines for a few more minutes, and we were soon joined by his friend, who seemed to have similar tastes for women. I stuck hard to my ambiguous answers, not really sure that I wanted to be a part of this conversation, but unable to stop laughing at his commentary.

"Let me teach you something," he told me, and began reciting what sounded like a poem, or perhaps a song. He indicated that I should write down what he was saying, so I pulled out some paper and a pen and began to transcribe.

It went something like this:

Kul al dunya bahar
urras erri sahar
went udi, went udi?
Aoud alarass eraq

"What does that mean?" I asked him. He began to translate. His translation and explanation went something like this:

All of the world was water
And I was hard like a rock
(He interrupted himself--"the penis, you know, like a rock, like Gibraltar--and I nodded in understanding)
Where shall I sit, Where shall I sit? (asks a woman)
On the rock, where I will bounce and sing!
(He again interrupted himself--"she sit on you, you get it?"--I again nodded in understanding)

Now, needless to say, when this man reached the end of this explanation, I was somewhat perplexed. While my travels have accustomed me to strange conversations, I am certainly not used to learning lurid limericks with Egyptian men in holy sites.

As we continued to talk, and I continued to repeat time and again the Arabic words, learning pronunciation with my new friend´s help, we were joined by more members of his tour group. One woman approached us, a petite woman of around sixty years old, and the man grew excited. "This is my wife," he told me (I balked at her lack of fatty tissue), "repeat for her what I have taught you."

I looked around, confused and a bit worried. "Was he serious?" I wondered. Did he really want me speaking like this to his life partner? I did as I was told, and the woman began to laugh, losing control with every chuckle.

"Do you know what it means?" she asked me.

I gave her my explanation of the translation, adding that I knew that it was an Egyptian text.

"Has he told you that he is Egyptian?" she asked me. "He is crazy. We are Israeli. He is crazy and likes to tell people that we are Egyptian."

More people arrived. I was made to repeat again the odd lesson.

More laughter. More confusion. I had (and still have) no idea where these people were from, Egypt or Israel. Everyone shook my hand and listened as I read. Some people in the group tried to give me advice, telling me "never say that to an Egyptian--they will cut off your head," others telling me that there was no better way to seduce an Egyptian woman.

After a bit more time with my now large group of older foreign friends, I was forced to leave. I explained that I needed to return to my group and continue with our tour of Seville. We said our goodbyes and I left.

Over the next day, I told the story of our meeting many times, amazed to have had such a great, strange time in the Cathedral, amazed at how a place that had become so familiar to me could become once again new.

The next day, already in Cordoba, I heard someone call my name as I stepped down from our private bus.

"CHRISTOPHER!" sounded the voice. I turned in the general direction of the yell, and saw, once again, the wife of my strange Egyptian-Israeli teacher of dirty rhymes. She gave me a huge hug, yelling "You are the best! You are number one! My husband has gone to make pee-pee!"

The students looked at me oddly, the people around looked at me oddly. I reached into the pocket of my short trousers and pulled out a now wrinkled postcard. I turned it over and read from the back, in a now confident accent, "Kul al dunya bahar..."

When I had finished, I hugged the woman again, waved goodbye to the crowd, and continued on my way, wading through the traffic amidst sounds of car horns, Egyptian (Israeli?) laughter and the puzzled mutterings of my students.

On a final note: I return to the USA on August second or third, and within a few days will be leaving for a cross-country trip with my good friend Jason "Sturd" Weinstein. Along the route, I will be posting regularly, and if all goes well, Sturd and I will be working on a regular PodCast as well. I hope that all are well, and thank you for reading.

08 July 2006

All Quiet on the Western Front

Things continue in a state of calm here in Southern Spain, in the city of Cadiz.

What I have lost in freedom has been made up in tranquility, and the days glide by in classes, excursions, cultural education and endless cups of strong, delicious coffee.

Yesterday we headed down to Tarifa with the entire group of thirty five students. Tarifa is the southernmost city in Spain, and on a clear day someone with good eyes can see all the way to Morocco.

Tarifa is famous for its wind, and as a result, also for its windsurfing. This is all good and well unless you enjoy sitting on a beach. The famous winds of the Strait then become a terrible hassle, blowing sand that stings the skin and upsets the eyes. Yesterday, I fell asleep for fifteen minutes on the beach and woke to find myself half-covered in sand.

Last night we went to a Celebration of Carnaval Music here in Cadiz. Cadiz, like Rio de Janeiro, Venice and New Orleans, is famous for its Carnaval celebration, and in the week before the start of Lent, the city becomes the stage for a hedonistic, bachannalian festival. People dress up in matching costumes, drink copious amounts of all sorts of alcohol, and fill the streets with urine and vomit. The city, while filled with disgusting smells, is beautiful during Carnaval.

One of the most important aspects of the Gaditano (from Cadiz) Carnaval is the music. Groups of people, dressed in amusing costumes, sing songs of criticism, humor and protest, accompanied by drums and guitars. For one week, the air of the city is filled with the sounds of songs that have taken a year to write and practice. As soon as one year´s Carnaval ends, people begin to prepare for the next year. Events like last night are a chance for these groups to perform outside of the small February time frame normally reserved for their music.

And that is that. The students have been great, although there have been (as there always will be) a few incidents that have required discipline and seriousness...but that is to be expected. For the most part, they have been wonderful, and their presence is really what makes this job so easy and such a pleasure.

That´s it. More to come soon.

06 July 2006

La Plaza Candelaria

The little fat kid in the plaza needs a good kick in the head.

Sometime in the last year, for unknown reasons, many members of the Cadiz youth were transformed into roving gangs of annoying, obnoxious, rude little bastards.

The Plaza in front of the student residence is the favorite playground of many of these punks. The kids in our program have been taunted by these kids, who sometimes curse at them, try and look up their skirts, throw water balloons at them, and generally annoy the hell out of everyone.

They are harmless, but as I said before, they need a good kick in the head.

Some of the girls in the program have a plan. They are going to carry a pair of scissors with them from now on, which they will use to cut off the mullet or rattail of any offensive little boys.

I think that it is a fine idea.

Besides the presence of these ankle biters, Cadiz is much the same, and just as attractive as always. Locals continue to lisp their way through the Spanish language, and still call each other by the same strange and friendly terms as last year.

Walking the streets, caressed by the sea breeze that flows through the city, one hears the shouts of "oye, picha" and "que pasa chocho?" Truly, what could be sweeter than referring to your friends with vulgar terminology for male and female genitalia?

Nothing, as far as I am concerned.

My friends from last year are all still here, and work in a cafe right around the corner from the residence. Nearly every free moment that I have is spent sipping coffee with these guys and planning how exactly I will get the beautiful Moroccan waitress to fall in love with me.

My friends Raul, Vanessa and Natasha have returned to Cadiz this year, and we are joined by two newbies, Raquel and Christy.

OK. That's it for now, duty calls. Back to work I must go. I hope that all are doing just fine.

04 July 2006

Work Work Work

What a change....

I am in Cadiz, here in Southern Spain (Andalucia), working with the Abbey Road Study Abroad Program as a Spanish teacher and chaperone to young kids.

Things are super busy, and they are working me like a pretty well paid, very lucky qnd extremely privileged slave. Still, it is strange to be working again, to be responsible again, to be not quite so free as I have been for quite some time now.

With the amount of work that I have, I do not even have time at the moment to write too much. I will, however, continue to post regularly and keep all informed of my travels and mini-adventures.

I hope that everyone is well, and thanks again for reading.