A Closer?

Dear In Hot Pursuit of Windmills,

        We haven’t talked in some time, and you may think that I’ve gotten new friends to play with since our last meeting; you may be right, but we still have one last leg to finish, so please keep your code in order, and we’ll bring this book of distantly spaced memories to a well deserved close.

-Alan

January blew by in a frenzy of renewed energy and expectation, the trail towards Global Classrooms fresh, my co-teacher entirely new, and the game changed forever. We assaulted global warming with impressive force, practiced speech making and parliamentary procedure (aka “UN-speak”), fielded such tongue twisters as “dioxide” (emphasis on the ox) expertly, and rounded the corner in early February into our first mini. Impressive successes, some surprises, and, finally, unadulterated joy from my teaching experience.

The post-conference celebrations were short, and by the next Monday we were hot on the trail once more: New topics, continued debate, and position papers on their countries and topics, all taught and secured just under the wire. It was stressful; it was challenging;  it was the story of our year. A healthy puente at the beginning of March placed me in Madrid and Pamplona, but, we otherwise pushed, crunched, and heckled our way through six weeks of learning, until March 25, when we began conferences. First, the glitz and glamour of Santander, where I had the joy Director-ing the delegates of the United Nations Environmental Programme; then, a more intimate, dynamic experience as Chair with Global Warming in the General Assembly of Torrelavega. Students who when I first met them had been timid, awkward, and hard-up for an English sentence, spoke, debated and participated: just impressive. It was nice to see them coming out of their shells; I knew they had it in them, and it was great to see them finally believing so as well. I had all but become used to the flow of this crazy, clunky program we call global Classrooms when our Secretary General Luis drew the ceremonies to a close on April 1st. Looking out across the hall at our delegates, I saw we had accomplished much.

Long Awaited Reprieve

But let’s not kid, we felt more than satisfied: we were also exhausted, enough so to warrant a weekend trip to a vaguely tropical volcanic island named Lanzarote (pronounced Lan-za-row-tee if you’re a British radio broadcaster), for a break. What followed were three days of cross-island roadtrippin’, black sandy beaches, semi-legally acquired look outs, volcanic cuaves– and geysers.

The Jallison Roadtrippin' Experience

There's a small waves cresting in the corner

Looking out at the ocean as it takes the shape of a river.

And, of course, cuaves

The students were missed, but nothing quite beat fumbling our way in the dead of night for an apartment where “next to the water” was not in fact a helpful direction, or hitting sandy beaches at regular intervals, and chancing upon a local cafetería with awesome fish sandwiches and a cheerful, relaxed island waiter was definitely one of those unquantifiable charms of life. The weekend was great, and when we finally did return on Monday, we did so with fresh minds and calm souls.

New York–But Mostly Spring Break and a Speedy End

Our return also signaled the beginning–and quickly approaching end– of New York. One student from each school would be heading to the international MUN conference in New York, and I somehow found myself in position of Jedi Master to my Global Classrooms Padawan. It was an excellent experience: we met one on one three times a week until Spring Break, trading ideas, debating, and developing position papers and speeches towards the big event. The experience was surreal, like a tutorial, except I was in the professor’s seat.

We finished our work, and a whimsical Spring Break stole my attention away again (I love that about the Spanish, they really know how to relax, just don’t ask about their job market). Living in Santander and working in Reinosa is a challenging set up, and I tended to feel like I was never quite taking advantage of either place, so, Jax and I decided to stay local for the break and explore the many secrets of the Cantabrian coast. We hit the beach on numerous occasions, and, thanks my co-teacher Patricia, were able to visit some of the other seaside destinations, including Comillas, San Vicente, and El Cueva Soplao. Jax and I also bused our way to Ovideo a for a short but fun-filled day of Asturian sights, sounds, and food, including many things a la sidra.

The break wound down, more rest and relaxation becoming the norm. Then, we slowly, suddenly coasted into May, the end entered sight, and everything felt a roll of toilet paper. The first weekend we spent on a 22 hour trip to Madrid for Cirque de Soleil and a regular visit to Jamie’s house. Unfortunately, while trying to take a picture of a sweet-looking antena array, I dropped my camera through my jacket and onto the sidewalk and broke it–whoops, onto the cell phone camera! (Nevermind the purple photos from the rest of the trip) Cirque de Soleil astounded with deft-defying feats and a multilingual plot, then we returned to Jamie’s to “watch” Pineapple Express, and finally snaked our way back to Barajas for our flight.

The following weekend found us ambling gingerly through Barcelona, admiring how many languages nearly everyone spoke, and visiting old mansion-sized art museums. We also saw some stuff designed by some guy named Gaudi, I think he was a painter or something. Most of our fun was walking through Las Ramblas and enjoying the different kinds of hustle and bustle while visiting some long unseen friends. One more trip, one more week, almost home.

The last two were a blur. Packing, not packing, school, students, goodbyes to teachers, goodbyes to students, goodbyes to Spain? The wait had been so long, my desire to see home so real, but when I looked down at my feet and felt them slightly, but genuinely rooted to this place. I had stopped calling it a trip, and started calling it home. And I slowly began to miss it, and think of all the good things that had happened here. I remembered the challenges, the wine, the learning and the siestas, the insufferable bureaucracy, and the people who had become central to my life. I had finally arrived.

I spent as much of the last weeks of my time walking around Reinosa. This little town had scared me when I first saw it in its isolation and distance; but with two weeks left, I could say honestly that the people in that small town were some of the best I had met in Spain. Without living there, Reinosa almost felt more a home than Santander ever had, so I walked and did my best to take in the trees, the mountains and the clouds flowing over them, as well as the rivers and the small broken flour mill just at its side. I looked at it; I don’t know when, or if, I’ll ever be back. It is surreal to say that.

I’ll skip the goodbyes, the plane rides, and customary flux of changing spaces. I’m in the Bronx once more, at home version 1.0. I’m an adult, technically (so they say), but the realities of it haven’t really sunk in, and the wisdoms of adulthood must be in box somewhere over the Atlantic searching for me. Because, for all the travels, challenges, and joys, all I seem to have now are more questions. The world gets smaller while the scale of its intricate connections grow; my ideas about culture, custom, and the right way to live life grow in context but shrink in absolutism. More than ever, everything is up to question, and the world seems a sea of open but fragile possibilities. I hoped that at the end of this time I would have found something new, some sort of answer or silver bullet to my unprovoked pursuit of windmills. Instead, there is just more to sift through, more thoughts, more experiences, and now even the uncertainty over whether the things I have been chasing were even windmills at all, or in fact real live giants. All I know is my journey is firmly under way, as it’s always been, and that, no matter where it takes me, there will always be questions and passing thoughts to fill the time.

Off I go, and here I stay, to pursue something else from the inner sanctum of my mind.

Until next time–Alan

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No Smokers Wanted

On a day not too many months ago–as stamps upon stamps upon papers collecting in the darkest recesses of the dustiest filing cabinets were exposed to the fluorescent light of day, witnessed by human eyes, closed, then opened once more only to float leisurely into yet another prison, sifting through the infinite expanse of Spanish bureacracy–the people hoped that an end was in sight. On Jan. 2, 2011, their hopes became reality, we Spain officially, and we hope eternally, became a country where smoking is not permitted indoors. As the Brits might say, “The ban is here”–and it is a winter breeze.

During my first months in Spain, nothing quite sucked more than the inescapability of smoke in Santander’s public spaces. I remember my first cigarette moments–sitting at a cafe, enjoying the company of some friends, when, without warning, a stranger—man, woman, or scruggly teenager– would sit down on the stool next to me, innocuously at first, then reach into a leather jacket, jeans pocket or a purse, and pull from it a cigarette, light the match, take a puff, and then exhale gingerly–right in my face. The first few times, I gagged, coughed a little, and dipped my head for pocket of fresh air. Once I even asked a smoker if he could do it somewhere else. He looked at me like I was crazy, as did the bartender and the people around me, chuckled a little, then continued enjoying his cigarette as he told me I could go outside if I wanted. Transport the scene to the Santander night life: bar, club, restaurant, and then replicate it: couples, groups, whole parties in every advisable arrangement, and you have an accurate sketch of the smoky, chalky set pieces that formed the background of Santander night life. In the first few months, I spent my time in silent retreat–first to the air vents–then the windows–soon the spaces outside clubs and bars–and, eventually, to safe confines of my room.

That is, until now.

Thanks to the final passing of the ban, I no longer have to sit at a restaurant in fear of being chased out of my chair by smoking’s most obnoxious subscribers. I can breathe easy. It’s the smokers now who have to mind their space. Just days ago, while walking down Calle Guevara in some light rain, I noticed a crowd of them huddled under an awning, sharing warmth and a lighter. On another occasion, I cut through a circle of teenagers as they passed around a cigarette–some of them totally thought they were being cool, but mostly they looked chilly. At work, I walked towards the cafe during recess and discovered a long line of smokers puffing and shivering outside–and inside found coworkers who verbalized their relief to be breathing so easily.

Slowly but surely, a country is taking health hazard turned trend and transferring it to the depths of annoyance, physical as well as legal. While waiting for the train last Monday, I listened to two people disecting the new law. “So, what exactly counts as under a roof? Is this under a roof? What if I’m next to it? What then?” “Well, I can’t see it or smell it, so–maybe?” I immediately wished that the lawmakers had added an empathy clause. They let out a collective huff, then put down their cigarettes and boarded the train.

Perhaps, one day, smokers will be the exception and not the norm. However, for all the discomfort, cold, and legal confusion, the habit still remains cool and fashionable. Just yesterday, I was walking by yet another cafe and noticed one of the crops of cigarette buds that have recently been sprouting outside building entrances in Santander and Reinosa. Weeks after the ban, I am slightly elated to see it all outside the building, happy to look into restaurants and see straight to the back wall. Maybe smoking will remain popular in Spain, perhaps the culture of Malboro and Lucky Strike is at least currently here to stay. But as long the legal distance between the party and the ashtray holds steady or grows, I will look forward to clear nights out in Santander.

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Goodbye Papa

My grandfather, Angel Leopoldo DePeña, known to some as Don Leopoldo, but to all of us as Papa (Papá), passed away on Saturday, December 11, at approximately 7PM Eastern Standard Time at the age of 91, after a long and well lived life. The picture above was taken about three months ago. By then he loked frail, weak, and could barely hear. The common consensus is not to remember him like this, and why, when there was a time when he was plumper, stronger, mas rabioso, un tigre with an apetite for really sweet café con leche, and legendary pelas? I like this picture, because three months away from his passing, there, underneath the wrinkles and dim lighting, are the subtle outlines of a smile that had the power to charm any person in the room. A few weeks after the funeral, I am prepared to think it was something that made him who he was.

At just before midnight Dec 11th, I was out with friends and talking about sincerely entertaining things that would be mostly forgotten by morning. I was not feeling homesick, which would have made the moment even more ordinary, except that when we finally returned to the apartment, I had the sudden demanding urge to read: GQ, EGM, or anything I could find, as long as it was in English. I read myself to sleep and was reading facebook the next morning when I saw it: “Want to thank everyone for their condolences and prayers for my family. My grandfather will be views monday n tuesday from 2 to 9 at westchester n castle hill ortiz funeral home n burial on wednsday.”

I remember one of the last times I visited Papa in the hospital. I was back from college on spring break, and Jax was with me. We walked into his hospital room, where he was half asleep; I was saying “Bendicion, Papa” getting ready to give him a hug, but he was already awake, and staring at my girlfriend, when he said it, what I knew he would say, but prayed he wouldn’t: “–Y quien es esta negrita fina?” Feeble and sick my ass. I was mortified, Jax was petrified, and all I could squeeze out was a “Papa!” where if I were Damaris I would have continued, “Pero no puede decir eso!” Bright as a light he mused, more to himself than us, “Pero Alan se encontro una morenita…” I couldn’t even ask the man if he felt fine, it would have been too much.

At the funeral home, I saw my family, my whole family. It was like a small Dominican settlement had moved in the Ortiz Funeral Home. It had always amazed me just how many people we were; Papa had 11 children. And, funeral home be damned, there was already sancocho in the lobby.

I walked to his casket, trying to prepare myself for what I was about to see for the latest time. He was 91 Alan, he was 91 is all I could say in my head, Just be prepared. But before anything I noticed a picture next to him. It was old, he must have been in his 20’s, a real guapo wearing that trademark fedora that had become his family calling card. I remembered the way he would don that hat and his windbreaker when he used to pick me up from preschool, or on the increasingly rare trips he used to take to the bodega. I smiled.

But that’s when I looked down past the photo to him now, or rather, not him now, not really anything, or at least not anything familiar. I had packed my bags overnight, taken a transnational train, flight hopped across two countries, hoped, hell, personally willed them faster and faster across the ocean between us, taken the barest shower I could muster in good service and dressed how I thought was right, and slept a mere nothing the whole way. But, it wasn’t until I took that first look that I realized once and for all that, it was not going to be that kind of game. He had already gone, he had not waited for me this time, and that is how he had been since the moment I had cracked open page one on Saturday night. I was not looking at Papa; I was looking at his shadow, his giant sign that said “Papa was here”. Had been, was no longer. I kneeled and prayed.

The next day we buried him. The parlor owner directed us to ride in a single file through the Bronx, to the church, where we would do services before taking him past his home one last time and finally to the graveyard. 19 cars started their engines in unison and followed through the Bronx. As we snaked our way under subways tracks and through traffic, I looked back at the row of warning lights blinking into the next block.  Outside the church, I walked past my father and uncles and saw them exchanging and consolidating money for the services: one last duty in a long list paid to their father. I walked with Ma up the stairs and into the church. There, we stood and I looked around the room, the columns the priest, Destiny preparing to serve the alter. After a moment, I looked back at the entrance again and saw them: Stephanie, Roger, Joey, Erica, Angel, Milton, Stevie, Chino, El Pidio, Margie, Bennie, Damaris, Mario, Christina, Alfredo, Pa. There they were, and more quietly shuffled in, a mass of Arias’s, either by birth, marriage, or time: carpenter, banker, electrician, architect, truck driver, beautician, marketer, nurse, pharmacist, college student, real estate agent, cop, teacher, a litany. Half a century later, after first setting foot on this country, after struggles, challenges, hardships, racism, gangs, successes, education, more struggle, long hours, parties, and the long and persitent carving of a way of life that was not Dominican or American but distinctly our own, time stood still. There they were, waiting behind him, our progenitor, our own personal Dominican Adam. We remembered, what he gave us and did not give us, what he was and was not, what we loved about him and also hated, in short, everything: he was ours, and that was all that mattered. It was worth one more photo with him.

And then it was time to send him off.  The priest said one thing that sticks with me, translated: he was ready, he had left a family.

Then we started the final procession. Chino called to me as we were leaving pews. “Alan, we need strong men to take him back down. Go over there and help.” I walked over and we each grabbed part of the handle; it was cold and I made the decision not to put gloves on. I wanted to walk him with bear hands, however far he needed. If that gesture could mean anything, even the tiniest anything in the world, then it was worth everything. The motorcade started once more. While making way to Mama and Papa’s, we cut onto the Bruckner Expressway, where every type of car, van, and heavy truck went on its way through the Bronx, and found tío Chino using his Jeep as a three lane barricade with him inside it. I don’t think he looked at any of the drivers. We passed 720 Coster Street one last time, then back to the Bruckner, where this time El Pidio played human shield. We rolled into the cemetery and parked just off the grave. There, where the plot sat, just off the Long Island Sound, the winds blew against us. We marched forward and, as a family, watched the casket. As the cemetery workers started the final lowering, Chris motioned to his girlfriend in the car. Out of his van sounded, Viejo Mi Querido Viejo by Piero. And then little bits of dirt sprinkled into the grave, Angel tosses one yellow rose, hands as it lowered, then, finally, it was done.

We drove back to Chino’s house, for the reception. It was quiet for a few minutes, but then my dad turned to me. He said, “remember Papa’s cafe con leche. It was sweet, right?” And he smiled at me, and I remembered, and thought about it, and smiled too, before I agreed a whole bunch. My mother says that we Dominicans “tenemos la sangre caliente,”–we’re hot blooded– and as such, we know that nothing heats the soul quite like roast pork and a good drink. So we ate, we drank, and reminisced. A line slowly snaked from the kitchen, until it was almost out the doorway, baby cousins ran faster and faster through the house after unsuspecting pets, we joked, we stopped ourselves from cutting the line and told everyone about it; we drank the wine, ate the rice, and everyone, including Mama, did a shot. Before we knew it, it was a celebration, a memorial to life as it was: boisterous, unhinged, uncensored, and more often than not, lovingly inappropriate. Rosie and Chino’s house burst with us and his legacy. More than anything, it seemed right.

Before long, I was bound again for Spain, albeit unwillingly in a way like never before, and here I am. In the weeks since then, I have been thinking, about family, about travel, and my place in the grand scheme of it all. I have spent many, many years hustling and bustling; and increasingly, home, which has always been the return base, is becoming more of a temporary stop in my travels. It’s not a bad phenomenon, I would even call it a part of growing up, but, with Papa gone, I have to think: maybe it’s time to be home for a while. After all, time is short, and that applies to family time as well, perhaps even more. Perhaps it is time to take a minute, or a few, and reconnect. Time will only drive forward, and, once this whole Fulbright thing is done, it may be worth appreciating some time, until I am once again doing Something Else. Maybe Papa would have liked for me to do that.

One last moment sticks in my mind before I draw this eulogy to a close. We were in the funeral home, just before the motorcade, when the owner began to direct us: “Good morning ladies and gentlemen, I am the owner of the Ortiz Funeral Home, and would like to let you know how we are going to start today. First, in a line everyone will pay their respects, then, turn and walk up the other aisle and out the door. There are many flowers, but unfortunately, we will not be able to lay them with him; if you would like, you can take them home. He will be buried in a new style grave that unfortunately does not allow for roses or dirt, so please do not throw any. The first car will be the casket, and the second a limosine for the sons and daughters…” But I was already crying. The grim realization struck me, that, try as I might I would never be ready to really say goodbye. Not in the way I wanted. To the bingo, walks from La Peninsula, really sweet café con leche, the way you wore pajamas and a slightly irritated but tolerant smile when we woke you on New Years, what I knew as “la carsa”, but might have been “la carcel”, la coreita, Dominicans in New York, real tomatoes, many, many Dominican babies, orange peels, hello at Christmas, goodbye at New Years, hello at school, goodbye at college, hello at home, goodbye from hospital beds: goodbye to goodbyes. It was not for me to say goodbye. As he lay in the last moments at six fifty something and counting in his hospital bed in New York, the choices were up to him. It was his show, and I wonder how he went through it. Most likely, cool, calm collected, perhaps happy and content, as I had always hoped he would be in his last moments. Goodbye would have been for me; his death was for him, I just hope that my last goodbye many months ago counted.

Instead, in minutes and hours and days since his burial, I have been looking and noticing something, playing across the room and photo albums from that year and years past, something subtle, almost hidden, perceptible under all the wrinkles and dim lighting for all of time, capable of charming any and therefore every person in the room, because it always did, and always would, as long as we were ready to see what we had inherited.

Hasta ahorita, Papa.

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What I saw on the way to school this morning

 

-A

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Madrileño Days and Nights

Finally to real life, no? That honeymoon period, which was really part honeymoon, part chaos, all novelty, has given way to a strangely stable, if busy existence in Santander. Rhythms develop, schedules accumulate, and the flow of life takes its own shape, from Santander, to Reinosa, to meal cooking, house cleaning, dancing and occasional nights on the town. But that is today. Two weeks ago, I was still on honeymoon with Spain, and the power of flux was still in full swing as I landed in Madrid.

I had slept a grand total of four hours the night before, and therefore slept through all of the blaring advertisements on my RyanAir flights, and then again as soon as I arrived at Jamie’s house. I made the pretense of going to a game conference, Spain’s Gamefest, the first of its kind in Madrid or even Western Europe, but quickly my limbs grew weak, and not even the most compelling Halo: Reach replicas

Noble Team

could stir my imagination. I eventually returned to the conference on Sunday with Jamie (If you’re interested, there will be a full convention post HERE), but for that moment I returned to Jamie’s apartment, shared some conversation with her roommate Fiona, and then quickly abandoned consciousness.

When I awoke, lo and behold, but it was none other than the illustrious, long lost Jamie Havlin, standing at the entrance of her room, where I was barely conscious in her bed.

“Jamie!”

And there the weekend began. Stormy skies and the impending threat of rain were no deterrent; into the Madrileño afternoon me marched, where it soon started to pour. Jamie had a trusty Williams umbrella, and I soon found a five Euro rainbow umbrella (later to be lost in Toledo) at the “Dutch Chino Bazaar.”

We essentially walked, from the bazaar to an Arab history museum (open but empty), through the park Retiro,

The autumn leaves are showing

Fiona is Fierce

past a Spanish church that had been moved from France,

Notice the orange bricks, very French

and to the Grand Plaza.

 

 

 

 

 

Mickey Mouse was there.

From the plaza, we briefly crossed into the La Latina, saw the oldest restaurant in Madrid, and walked onward. The skies had been clear throughout, especially as we neared the Royal Palace, where architecture from the 15th and 16th centuries spoke to each other across an old drainage system. While meandering, we chanced upon a convent bakery store, home to delicious walnut candies (interested parties should visit Jamie’s Blog). We emerged from the shop delighted and pleasant, and then noticed the clouds. We were able to raise umbrellas in time for another round of rain, and started running for the nearing Metro station, taking sneak peaks at the palace as avoided tiny drainage rivers.

Back to Jamie’s apartment. Comida, siesta, cena all the way into the night; salad, homemade tortillas, and the value of bread. Lesson of the meal: pan es essential.

Saturday, to the train station at the heart of Spain, Atocha. Here, as Jamie and I purchased tickets for Monday trip to Toledo, I looked across her shoulder and saw, out of the corner of my eye, Nicole Fernandez, who I hadn’t seen in over four years.

“Nicole”

A moment of attention, turning to stunned recognition, with just a hint of mutual confusion. We talked, we hugged, we’ll probably hang in the near future. On the way back to Jamie’s, I tried calculating the odds, and decided that there was something magical about Spain, that I was suddenly looking at my past from the bus ride home. There must be something in the air.

Sunday, Gamefest Part II, revitalized and with Jamie.

Doesn't she make everything better?

The games came to life with a friend; sharing the experience with another person produced room for conversation, shared history, and contextualized the experience for me in a way that showed me that games aren’t just about games. They are about the people who play them too.

Eventually there was dinner, and following dinner, there was joy:

A trendy pan-asian suggested to us by our Spanish professor

Then, there was sleep, and on the fourth day, there was Toledo, and it was good.

Welcome to the ancient city

Just a thirty minute ride by high speed train, entering Toledo is like entering a different time, space, and cultural universe all at once. Roman, Moorish, and Spanish architectures stretching across centuries converge on one hillside landscape. They converse; like this serval times converted mosque, they embody ages of cohabitation,

Once more under construction

and from the top of the city’s Jesuit church, the view is as stunning as it is all embracing,

We visited the museum of the Knight’s Templar, examined the horrors of the city’s torture museum, purchased baked goods from the nuns who make them (They do that in Spain), and walked into at least one weapons retailer.

We gained entrance to Cathedral, and took a moment to attend mass, where we probably cut the mean age for attendees in half. Afterwards, I walked around the inside of the Cathedral and felt infinitesimally small compared to the universe and God, just as the building’s original architects had most likely intended. Soon enough, we were walking down the hill once more, to the train station, where we stopped for a coffee, mistakenly jettisoned a rainbow umbrella, then headed back to Jamie and Fiona’s.

Tuesday, vacation day the last. The Madrid Fulbrights were returning from excursions throughout the country, and I had the chance to see a few of them. Hannah Birdsall, teacher and very smart person extraordinaire, showed Jamie and I around La Latina and Lava Pies. Lava Pies is considered the “bad part of town”, but, as is normally the case, when people say “bad”, they really mean “ethnic” and “recently immigrated.” Instead, what I found was a thoroughly pleasant neighborhood, where people worked despite the puente, (Hannah: It’s a Spanish holiday; they don’t consider it their holiday), local markets sold a variety of foods, and the mood smacked of constant beginnings. We toured the streets, and eventually Hannah showed us her apartment, and her tiny bunny! I shall call him Señor Conejo.

We ate lunch at an Indian restaurant, and were served by a man who was more comfortable speaking English than Spanish. It was strange, but the food was delicious.

Soon, we parted ways with Hannah, and ventured upon again, this time to see Danielle, Kathleen (who is now, and forever shall be Katia), and Shalini. As Jamie and I walked down the road, I noticed Danielle waving us in from her balcony. Through the door, up the stairs, a big hug from Danielle, another from Katia, a moment to let my shoulders drop, and, soon enough, back to the streets for more food. By the end of our excursion, I had consumed a falafel, some bits of tart pastry, and strawberry topped gelato, all at Danielle and Katia’s suggestion. The whole of that day left feeling two things; first, delightfully fat, and second, strangely like I was coming home, not Home, but more like a home just begun, that was slowly growing and changing as I was growing and changing. It was seeing close friends who I had barely met, knowing them more closely but differently, and being different as a result.

Finally, Wednesday, I reboarded RyanAir and flew home. I exited the airport, retrieved a Cantabria bus card from my wallet, looked at the sky, noticed the sun high, caught the smell of exhaust that is always discernible in this air, and boarded the bus home.

It is a week later, I go to school three days a week, I plan lessons on the weekends and on Wednesdays. I participate twice a week in a language exchange with a Chinese professor at the University of Cantabria who wants to improve her English. Each meeting we spend an hour in English, and an hour in Chinese. Today, I return to flamenco classes Mondays and Wednesdays. I cook meals with an eye towards speed, or if not speed then leftovers or visits from friends. On the weekends, we hang around Rio de la Pila and close the night with a trip to Zambo Bollo, my Spanish equivalent of the Williams College Snack Bar. I have not been to Expressate in several days, and show no signs of relapsing, and my familiar itch for writing on video games has finally returned with a vengeance. Routine enters, flux once more becomes a personal choice and not a fact of life, and learning continues in renewed forms. It was also Wednesday

7:45

–A

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Connections

I pursue windmills.

I like to think that I am like Don Quixote: strange, eccentric, adventurous, and prepared to stand down a floating giant whether real or imagined.But since I have arrived in Spain, that feeling has evaporated into something different, both an acute understanding of what it feels like to be both stable and floating in the world. The past week I felt the beginnings of it might feel like to live in Santander. I walked the streets with some real familiarity; thanks to a surprise meeting with an English speaking Columbian, I was able to see La Magdalena, Ferdinand and Isabela’s Summer Estate in Santander; and, last Friday, I was finally able to loving gaze upon my shiny, new internet router. It’s the little things. I also had my first days of school with my super enthusiastic, expressive segundos, and if the size of their hearts and potentials are any indication, it’s also the big things.

Monday, September 27th: No internet connection, the rest is haze.

Tuesday, Sept 28th: My first day at IES Montes Claros. In two hours, I explained Global Classrooms to my acting coordinator, made sure that I was not starting or meeting the kids until Thursday, met the entirety of the Bilingual department, took a tour of the school, and was thrust in front a wide eyed and curious batch of segundos. Surprise!

Wednesday, Sept 29th: While chatting over Skype with Jax, I am shaken by a loud crash at 12:47AM. Rachel, who is on the scene with Jill, says it is canon fire care of the strikers. I am strangely comforted. The following morning, my internet hunt continues. Except the Spanish labor unions are striking, and even Expressate closes early. Two snapshots of the day:

A Spanish Right

No Telecom for You!

I passed these guys in the Ayuntamiento. Their faces were almost celebratory.

Later that afternoon, we learn Spanish bowling just off San Fernando. While walking, we spot the huelga protestors on our trajectory. They are occupying the whole city block, which has become a sea of green and red. Just to my right, a loud crash goes off. Shaken by air and sound waves rippling through my chest, I start into a dive. In my peripheral vision, I see Rachel, Jill, Danny and some Spaniards leaping into the air, and I’m suddenly proud to be from the Bronx. The sound turns out to be a small, exploding flare, but really it’s a small bomb with a six inch explosive radius. We walk at a distance as more go off to cheers and shouts in the background, and swift turn onto the next side street. Spanish bowling is fun, but very different:

Throwing the ball

Do I know what I'm doing? Define know.

Thursday, Sept. 30th: Today, I officially introduce myself to the segundos. Apparently, the teacher who is supposed to be my coordinator, Begonia, is out and will be for another two months at least. My acting coordinator tells me I’m flying solo, and I tell her I have my introductory powerpoint. As the students stream into class and I try to fix the last computer cables, a man and woman enter. He is from the consejeria de educacion, and she, the substitute? I introduce myself to her, and she looks about as dazed as I was on Tuesday. Surprise! But the class goes well, my students are animated, they ask questions, in their eyes, I’m pretty much from a different country, so their attention is easy enough to hold, but we are together learning the value and power of attentive listening.

Friday, Oct 1: Internet! There will be pictures.

Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday: A weekend out in Santander, a trip to the breathtaking Magdalena, Rio de La Pila, finally some dancing, Roger finally convinces me to swim at the Sardinero beach, its one of the chilliest but best decisions I’ve made so far, I order a television on Saturday for delivery Wednesday, a twelve hour day from start to finish on Monday, first flamenco lesson in the evening, burning in the quads and forearms, a better, shorter Tuesday with the segundos, the bus back, the keyboard in front of me.

I have barely studied for the GRE’s, grad school applications loom on the horizon, the future floats for the moment, not without some certainty. Being in a place is not about the physicality of standing on one piece of land versus another, it is about the connection of having a stake in the lives and events that are local and specific to that place. One week, one strike, a few bars, dancers, awkward european sports, enthusiastic students, and at least three times a week, coffee at the local cafe chain. It’s a good start. And the television just arrived.

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23 Days Later

So…what can I say for myself? It’s been a while. Fact of the matter is I am still in Spain and will be for a while. Staring out my living room windows, I have a view of the church, local flea Mercado, and that street corner where I bought my second Spanish umbrella just three days ago–bits and pieces of this hilly, mountainous, beach-sparkled metropolis I am slowly beginning to call home.

But not without some incident. To bury the hatchet and keep things short, I’ll only say this: I may have eaten some bad ham my last night in Madrid (September 7), I may have had a rough train ride the next day (September 8), Roger, Danny, and I almost certainly had some trouble finding our way to the hostel keeper, Carmela, and when she found us, she definitely thought we were Italian.

The ham wreaked its havoc, I wore plaid pajamas and a peacoat to the hospital, my doctor looked like a Spanish younger George Clooney, Roger managed to sleep some while we waited, my fever broke, and then I spent two more days in Carmela’s hostel, where the sweet lady tended to me whenever I wasn’t sleeping, feeding me white rice and bananas–which the Spanish call platanos, go figure–and Danny brought me a bottle of Gatorade. Carmela was definitely sweet, but maybe she was also having fun–I mean, you can only walk into my room and ask, “Te mueres aqui?” then leave so many times before I hear you snickering to yourself in the hallway. Unnecessary jests aside, she was very good to me in those two days, and since leaving that Saturday (September 11), I intend to visit her soon.

Next stop: Reinosa! 82 minutes by train, outside my windows, everything was mountainous, green, and expansive. Reinosa itself is beautiful, filled with pleasant pedestrians, the walkways were made of cobble stone, and the air carried a brisk chill that reminds me of Williamstown. It was small, and though I decided not to live there, it’ll be a delightful place to work and visit. I even caught a glimpse of my school!

Monday, September 13th: return to Santander. My first order of business, a bank account. Student discounts, swish. New hostel, pension madrid, check. Apartment search, go. I was prepared for a long, semi-expensive search, but was saved when Rachel and Tori offered up their extra room while I looked. It was a surprise blessing; the first night, when Tori told, “esta en su casa,” conjuring every childhood grandparent memory on record, I was more than a little moved. For the first time in a little under two weeks, I felt familiarity. My shoulders came down from my forehead to my ears, and I felt a little like this could be my home.  It was a good feeling to have.

Between then and now, more things happened. I looked at apartments, cooked dinner with friends, trained for Global Classrooms, lived through a week of the city’s casual, but diverse rhythms, and eventually found a place to call my own, from which I can see passing cars, glowing streetlights, and a church in the not so far off distance. Sitting in the living room, borrowing internet from my generously unsuspecting neighbor, so that I can finally write to you on a  Saturday night, I think I might finally be here.

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