I Lived with a Very Nice Dog

¡Hola a Todos!

A Spanish girl I had met at an international party I attended in Chicago had, when I emailed every person I knew, suggested Maria and I be roommates. I really liked the girl who suggested this, but I really didn’t like my Spanish roommate, Maria.

Maria isn’t here today. She wrote me a note saying she’d be “out of Madrid” for a couple of days. Freedom and hallelujah! Maybe she took the dog with her, as she didn’t leave him with me, so I don’t know where he is. She wrote something like “be careful with everything,” which could also be translated as “take care of everything,” but I doubt she chose the latter meaning: She’s not nice enough to mean that. She also told me to be sure to “close” the door. Really? I hope she’s getting the therapy she so badly needs.

Let’s back up a bit…

I arrived in Madrid on September 23, and immediately found myself in a quandary: I was a target for thieves in Nuevos Ministerios, a high-traffic train station in Madrid relatively close to the airport and a stop for many unsuspecting foreigners who, like me, have the supreme opportunity to get their wallet and iPod stolen. Oh, the beauty of my first hour in Madrid. Me: A seasoned traveler who, at that point, had already traveled to well over 20 countries and lived in three. Me: A woman who is very careful with my safety and my belongings. Me: A person of the world who was way too trusting of help in a foreign train station because I was incredibly tired, hungry, and disoriented; my back hurt (suffering from lower back pain, which Spain would eventually fix); and I was bogged down with luggage.

When I finally arrived at Opera Station, Maria was waiting for me and came to my financial rescue. Did she really have any choice, though?

The first night we talked some, her telling me her mother had died a couple of years before and how she had lost some friends during the process. I would remember that story as our time together wore on, but my sympathy wore out fast. She gave me some money to get around, I promised I’d pay her (of course, I did) when I got my first check, and she showed me around Madrid one time. Having gotten along with every person I have ever lived with, including my college roommates (a variety of roommates there, one of whom I am still good friends with after 35 years), I had visions of Maria and me making Spanish food together, swilling Crianza, chatting about everything in Spanish and English, laughing a lot, and having a wonderful time. Don’t ever try to predict the future. I learned that in my thirties and forgot to apply my knowledge to my experience in Spain, especially as it related to my roommate. Let me give you a rundown of this person. She…

  • Stares at the TV without acknowledging me when I enter the living room.
  • Excels at making me feel invisible and unwelcomed.
  • Puts my stuff away, although she has stuff all over the counter. Puts my detergent away, my coffee maker back in the cabinet.
  • Watches TV every night for hours on end. I never watch TV.
  • Loves and caresses the dog, but treats me like shit.
  • Opens the kitchen door, lets the dog out of the kitchen, and closes the door again, even though I’m right there.
  • Closes the door every time she goes in the bedroom.
  • Turns off lights when I’m using them.
  • Smiles at me dismissively, when I asked her if she’d seen B at T.
  • Never has anyone over and pretty much never goes out, so I don’t know any of her friends.
  • Never told me anything when the maid broke my coffeepot and had written a note to my roommate. I just happened to read the note, which was lying on the table and in Spanish.
  • Stays here at night: I know because I am often here at night.
  • Sleeps all the time.
  • Never asks me how I am.
  • Responded with “Hallie, no presents!” at Christmas, when I bought her a few little presents. Boy is she ever a killjoy.
  • Dog threw up in 2 big piles, and I left her a note. She asked me about the dog when she got back but never thanked me for cleaning up the mess.
  • Got mad at me because the dog was in MY room and got my rubber band and ate it. Doesn’t apologize, even though the dog ruined my item.
  • Never accepts my offer of dinner.
  • Snapped at me “I TOLD you!” when I was trying to understand the electric bill, which was in Spanish.
  • Asked me when I was going to move out, right when I returned from Christmas vacation. Nice. (“July,” I told her.)
  • Turns off the kitchen light when I’m using it.
  • Uses the clothes hanger all the time, as she is constantly washing loads of laundry, so I don’t have the chance to use it.
  • Never answers my emails.
  • Didn’t have any response about my breakup with a guy (she later claimed she didn’t know we had broken up).
  • Never has told me about the girl we have in common, Loreto, who moved back to Spain.

I was an excellent roommate. Other than the wallet-getting-stolen mishap in the beginning and Maria giving me 200 euros, which I promptly paid back. Here’s a rundown of me. I…

  • Have always paid the rent, electricity, and cleaning woman (we didn’t need) on time.
  • Promptly clean up immaculately after myself.
  • Am quiet.
  • Never use her things or eat her food.
  • Gave her info about Skype and her hp, but she never responded.
  • Told her where I was if I was going somewhere, and she never responded.
  • Tried to talk to her, but it was impossible.
  • Foolishly kept thinking that if I had interacted with her, there was no way that it could be weird or she could be cold and dismissive, but she always was…every time.

What a disappointment she turned out to be. What a bitch. I will never live like this again. I am starting to understand my friends who are unhappy in their marriages and do anything to stay out of the house all day because they don’t want to spend any time with their husband.

Here’s an example of one really enormously fun Saturday. I walked over to the couch and was going to sit down, but she was lying there and didn’t move. We watched TV together for only a few minutes, I pet the dog, and she never offered me a seat at the end. Then to make conversation, which was foolish on my part, I asked her what a particular Spanish word meant, and she said, dismissively, “I don’t know. Something sexual” (she didn’t know?) and proceeded to go to the bathroom, then to her bedroom, saying nothing to me as she passed me on the way, and closed the door. I sat on the couch for about 5 minutes, watching the TV with the dog (much better company than she, though he smelled to high heaven). I kept thinking she was going to come out and finish watching the show, but she never did. Was I responsible for turning off the TV? I didn’t know, deciding to leave it on, and went to my bedroom.

Right before my Swedish friends came to visit me at the beginning of March, Maite told me, “My sister is coming to live with me, so you MUST leave.”

At the end of March 2010, I had the wherewithal NOT to leave the rent money on the table until I returned from Egypt, spending part of my vacation time there looking for un piso (a flat or apartment) in Madrid, as I was eager to flee my living situation the day I returned to Madrid. I arrived at Barajas Airport at 4:45 a.m. and had to wait until 6 a.m., when the trains started running again. I was hungry and bought a bocadillo, coffee, and orange juice and sat and waited. I was ready for the action and ready to change my life. 6 a.m. dawned and I boarded the train with the rest of the early-morning passengers. When I arrived home, I dropped off my stuff, showered, prepared for school, packed more items, headed to school, coordinated my exit with Eva, taught classes. and headed home. Eva came and I summoned her to my room, not knowing exactly who was home: Carlos or Maria. Whoever it was was in Maite’s room and I wasn’t sure what my response would be if Maite came out and after six months of not being interested in talking to me, suddenly decided that now was the time.

Her former roommate, Carlos, was her bedroom — she was at work — and came out to sit at the computer in the living room as Eva and I, bogged down with my stuff, made 3 trips to evacuate my belongings. Carlos and I gave each other a Spanish kiss and spoke briefly, and said “adios” — but I couldn’t concentrate on him: I had too many things to do. I hightailed it out of there with Maria, glad that Carlos hadn’t asked me anything: He probably knew I hated Maria.

There’s one positive thing to say about this experience: I really liked Maria’s former roommate, Carlos — and his dog. Yes, I lived with a very nice dog.

¡Besos!

International Girl in Spain

Hallie Belt, M.A. and B.A., English

halliebelt@beltstyles.com, 312.285.8429

www.beltstyles.com

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Avila Mismaps

¡Hola a Todos!

According to some source I can’t remember, Avila is a medieval walled city that stands about 1,100 metres above sea level. Inside the walls is a city of monasteries, churches, convents, squares, and plazas.

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Moorish prisoners constructed the wall, at Alfonso VI’s orders and after he conquered the city. The wall, almost 1 1/2 miles long, is still in good condition. Fourteen meters high and 3 meters thick, these walls have 9 entrance gates and 90 towers.

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On a cold, sunny February day, I took a train from Chamartin to Avila, a city northwest of Madrid. Once there, I walked around, eventually coming across the tourist office and the famous wall. I approached one of the entrances and climbed the stairs. At the first level, I found several small and narrow passageways, each with approximately 8 stairs leading to a more elevated place for a better view of the city. I was very careful because the steps were narrow and I had fallen down a flight of steps in 1995 at my apartment building in Chicago: I was walking down the steps at 8 a.m., on my way to the gym, and tripped over the cuffs of my blue-jean overalls. I fell face forward down the carpeted steps onto my chest and sustained back pain and a rug burn atop my right wrist, which I can admire to this day. I immediately raced to the gym so that I would be around someone, anyone, in case I passed out from whatever falling down the stairs does to a person…For this reason, I am “old lady careful” either ascending or descending stairs, always clutching the rails. When I see stairs, I not only think of this episode but also of my father, who would always run up the stairs, two at a time, even at 79 years old – and fell one time, as at the time we didn’t know he had a brain tumor.

10171236_10205459746794289_4058497180429153871_n10978535_10205459747874316_1964887529254261957_nNormally, I’m pretty good with maps and had gotten a map from the tourist office, but once inside the wall, I kept getting  very confused about where I was, with all the winding streets. I like to think I’m smarter than all of this or that I’m just having a bad map day or that it all really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things or that I can find my way out of this maze with or without a map, but sometimes I’m not a good guide for myself.

At times, the problem is that I’m not wearing my reading glasses and the print is exceptionally small so I can’t actually see the street names
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Other times, I don’t feel like looking at a map, and having had to figure out so many things since I’ve been in Spain, I just want to walk around and enjoy the city. And then there are instances I don’t have a clue about what’s going on or what I’m doing. But I’m sure these illegible maps are for foreign tourists, who wind up staying in whatever Spanish city much longer than necessary (and buying more souvenirs) because they can’t figure out how to return to the train or bus station: “Might as well get that I LOVE AVILA tee shirt since I’m going to be here the rest of my life anyway, trying to figure out how to scale the wall.” Despite the street-map traffic in my head, I was able to visit a couple of museums there for free, visit a few churches, take about 1,000 pictures of the wall, and see a lot.

In related news, I had visited Chicago in March of 1996, never having been there, except on college choir tour in the suburbs, where the snow was knee-high, and I was using one of those cartoon-like maps with the Amazon River drawn around the Rain Forest Cafe. I like to think that this drawing was so distracting or enjoyable that I failed to notice I had been holding the city map with Lake Michigan at the north instead of the east. I was frustrated because I couldn’t figure out how the lake could possibly be located at my right since it was way at the top of my ma983854_10205459743434205_6681850869402220022_np.

I guess if I had asked someone for directions at the beginning of my trip, I would have gotten oriented much faster.

However, if you ever visit Spain, you’ll notice that the roads in various cities wind this way and that. For an especially confusing time, visit Toledo. If using a map is way too much trouble, as it was in Toledo, I sometimes tuck the map into my purse and try to, map-less, enjoy the shops and scenes, but then I end up having no idea where I am and pass the same shops and scenes about 40 times and start dwelling on how I can’t believe I can’t figure out something so simple and then start fretting over how I haven’t read up on Spanish history and don’t even know what I’m looking at anyway. Then I wonder how an intelligent woman could be this incompetent, meanwhile hoping no one is following me. What is truly remarkable is that tourists in Chicago and even in Spain come up to me to ask me for directions or other information. I must look as if I have some vague idea about what’s going on.

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Okay, so I’m being hard on myself. Actually, my sense of direction is pretty good and I’m normally quite competent with maps, and I especially have to give myself lots of credit for reading train maps in cities with which I’m unfamiliar, plus I lived outside of Tokyo for three years and read train signs in Hiragana. I used the train all the time in Madrid, understanding the system pretty well pretty quickly. So if I have lived in two foreign countries and could read the language and am still alive today, I guess my map situation isn’t so bad. And despite what I said, I think I can find almost anything. I don’t know why I need to reference this information, as I have driven many places without GPS, as well as found many places in foreign countries (think JAPAN), and everything turned out all right! However, I suppose there are always exceptions to the rule, and Toledo and Avila happen to be two of them, not to mention Sevilla, whose street names on the map were so small I could barely see them, plus I wasn’t wearing my reading glasses at the time.

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I don’t have much more to say about Avila. I figure if you or I want to know the history, we can consult the Internet (Wikipedia, if we’re hard up), or you can just look at the pictures on this blog. They tell a better story than I do, plus I’ve already explored the area, gotten turned around many times, and wasted lots of time, all in an effort to save YOU a bunch of time, trouble, and agony. I hope you enjoy the pictures, and the good news is that to view them, you don’t even need a map.

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¡Besos!

International Girl in Spain

Hallie Belt, M.A. and B.A., English

halliebelt@beltstyles.com, 312.285.8429

www.beltstyles.com

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Home, Sweet Home…sickness

Calle Santiago

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¡Hola a Todos!

Before I lay my homesickness on you, I will relate my goings-on these past several days.

 

On Wednesday and Thursday, I emailed my resume to several language academies, as I’m trying to get a part-time tutoring or teaching job. On Friday, my day off, I dressed for my interview and 316691_2290453142001_73728_ntook the Metro to Ruben Dario station. A Spanish girl with a British accent interviewed me and seemed hopeful about my prospects of working with the company. I was delighted to hear that I could find work in the area where I live and would be tutoring only one or two children (brother and sister, for example) in their home. I like tutoring, so that sat well with me.

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After I came home and wrote in my blog, I prepared myself for a second interview at 4 p.m. I had called an American woman that morning at the International Institute, and she said that even though she had teachers for all her courses, she would meet with me, possibly for January classes. After the short interview, she showed me the downstairs library, which was filled with movies. I told her I would love to check out movies once I get my permanent resident card and a handy extra 10 euros, but since my wallet had been stolen, I couldn’t spend that money yet. In the meantime, I was hoping to go to the public library to check out movies and books for free. Anyway, this place was a nice alternative, as there was also a garden and an area for drinking coffee outside. Later, I went to the Prado Museum, which was free from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday nights, but the line was lengthy, so I went to the museum store located across the street, then to the Thyssen Museum, which was not free, and looked around the gift shop.

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On Saturday morning, all I felt was lonely, forlorn, and isolated for a 317472_2334873412480_1081660831_n-2couple of

 

 

 

different reasons I won’t explain here. Hard as it and everything was, I decided to take my dad’s advice from 1983, when I moved to Austin and was feeling the same way: “Hal, go outside and do something. Go to the library, and stop thinking about yourself.” Sometimes it’s hard not to think about yourself during these times of crisis, but this advice has sometimes served me well over the years. I used my Metro pass, my legs, and my three-surgery feet for nonstop travel that day.

Plaza

First, I went to the Instituto Cervantes (I attended that school in Chicago), an enormous building with a free exhibit on the cosmos, so I viewed that, not absorbing any of the information but just trying to get my mind off the loneliness. Then I went to another free museum and viewed more art. Later, I walked to the free Archaeological Museum and the National Public Library — more free art — and to the bullfight ring, walking around the outside of it. I strolled along Goya Street and hopped on the train to Debod Temple and — along with the many lovers, as well as brides and grooms being photographed in this lovely spot — viewed the setting sun. Yup. Just me, the brides and grooms, and the lovers. Try to imagine the fun I was having.

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I walked over to Plaza Espana, viewed the statue of Cervantes, walked between booths of artisans selling their wares, and then decided to take the Metro back to my station, Opera, as my map was already torn at the creases, and not only did I have difficulty viewing the streets due to the darkness but also due to the fact that my eyes require reading glasses. My forlorn feeling hadn’t yet vanished, exactly, but these adventures helped my state of mind. I had walked so much on Saturday that by the time I got home, I was very hungry and tired, so I ate dinner and went to bed.

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On Sunday, I was emailing my friend in the States and crying while I was typing to her. You can sometimes do everything practical to get your mind off yourself and improve your life, but if your emotions are there, they’re there, and unfortunately, mine were there to hang out for a while.11401563_10206422378739486_4780463268211809348_n

Again, I sought refuge in my dad’s advice, so after taking a shower, I ventured out, once again, to Reina Sofia, the place where I had viewed 10 minutes of a Hitchcock movie the previous Sunday, but I first allowed myself to shop along El Rastro, the flea market I had seen the previous Saturday. There was a huge crowd, and the market went on for what seemed like blocks…and probably was. There were booths of clothes, jewelry, purses, sunglasses, sweaters, art — you name it. I walked through La Latina neighborhood, then walked north on Atocha Ronda over to Reina Sofia, an enormous building. For this free day at the museum, there was a long line for the museum, but it was moving swiftly.

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The museum contained a lot of Picasso, Miro, and Dali, some Goya, and several other works of art. Picasso’s Guernica was enormous, and couples were posing beside it. I always find that humorous: An artist has worked long and hard on a piece, and then two girls, one with her lips almost touching the other girl’s cheek, in a near kiss, were holding this pose for at least 10 seconds before their picture was snapped. This pose seemed so odd against Picasso’s Guernica.

ReinaI walked toward home, picking up a few items at the grocery store, wrote more in my blog, and emailed a few friends. Perhaps trying to cheer me up, my good friend Javier, who lives in San Sebastian (Spain), had sent me a downloaded poster of the Klimt film we had seen a year ago in Chicago at the Gene Siskel Theatre. (While Javier and I had been watching the movie, in English, I kept hoping he wouldn’t ask me to summarize the story, as I had had no idea what was going on. We have both found it rather amusing, ever since, to imitate John Malkovich’s seemingly indifferent responses throughout the movie.)

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1916347_1265071548102_6528230_nAnother source of great amusement is Bob Dylan’s no-musical-range-every-song-sounds-the-same MTV Unplugged, which Javier and I had also viewed a year ago. We had to watch the entire concert, because we were both waiting for the band to play a different song from the first song, but they never did: They played the same song throughout the show: The songs just had different titles, I guess. And Bob Dylan sounded as if his voice could’ve used some WD40. Javier gets a kick out of imitating this: And for my next number, I’d like to sing… [and then he proceeds to imitate Dylan’s monotone, creaky voice. We are much more amused by our imitations of famous people than we are by their work. I’m sure that John Malkovich is better in other movies, and I even like Bob Dylan’s greatest hits double CD, which I gave to my stepmother for her birthday, so I’m not really against either, although I have to admit that John Malkovich isn’t my favorite actor.

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11053557_10206423702412577_5646328091683124427_nMy forlorn feeling was diminishing somewhat on Sunday, plus I had something to look forward to: I was going to meet Ellen, a friend from orientation, at 7:30 p.m. for drinks and tapas. During our conversation, she told me she had worked for the Wall Street Journal for 10 years and had gotten her master’s degree in Spanish from Middlebury College, here in Madrid, so I was calculating that she was at least in her early 30s, which was some comfort to me, considering that most of the group at our orientation were in their twenties. She’s smart, seemingly self-confident, and has a good sense of humor — and it was nice to talk in English with an American, I have to admit.
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1916347_1263731274596_3584768_nEllen and I went to a surprisingly cheap tapas bar she knew about and had a couple of glasses of red wine and tapas. We spent about 3 hours there and had a good time. We talked about going to a movie in English, with Spanish subtitles, not Spanish dubbing. She wants to refer to me a pharmacy student who needs help with her English, so I hope to have another tutee.

Feeling better today. I suppose it’s all in a day’s work being in Madrid. It’s another clear, sunny day here. We’ve had this weather almost every day for the nearly 3 weeks I’ve been here.

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¡Besos!

International Girl in Spain

Hallie Belt, M.A. and B.A., English

halliebelt@beltstyles.com, 312.285.8429

www.beltstyles.com

WRITER and YELPER: Resumes, LinkedIn Profiles, Cover Letters, References

BLOGGER: International Girl in Spain, My English Quarters, Dating Till It’s Over (under construction)

AUTHOR: The Search for Order: T.S. Eliot’s Use of Music and Musical Form

VOICEOVER: Hallie Belt’s Voiceover Demo

Español y Yo

Hola a Todos,

I know you’ve all been champing at the bit, waiting to hear my take on the differences and similarities between the Spanish and English languages, the slew of grammar goodies one should take very seriously should one wish to speak Spanish like a native. I am also well aware you’re interested in getting a good laugh out of all my problems communicating with Spanish people, but since you can find the former on the Internet and the latter in practically all of my other posts, I will instead grace you with my simple, yet creative, approaches to learning Spanish:

  1. Watching telenovelas: A great idea, as soap operas are filled with scenes involving the characters staring at each other before the next scene or commercial break, which allows me ample time to process that the evil twin is definitely going to shoot her father-in-law, after she cheats on her husband. I watched telenovelas a few times at the beginning of my stay here and understood some of what was going on but was frustrated that I wasn’t getting a clear-enough picture, so, now that my Spanish has improved some, I’ll watch them this summer. (When I was growing up, my mother forbade us kids to watch daytime soap operas or Peyton Place, because, well, she thought they set a bad example of life and relationships. Forgive me, Mom.)
  2. Studying my Instituto Cervantes book on the train rides to and from work. I did this some, but I found that while my grammar was getting better, my conversation wasn’t — and I needed more conversation, so I try to speak Spanish whenever the mood strikes.
  3. Attending a free Spanish class in Moncloa (Madrid). I signed up for these free CEPA (Centro de Educacion Para Adultos) classes in February and then found out two weeks later that I needed to have an operation, so my progress was impeded by an approved supply of drugs, doctor visits, and recovery time, plus feet that were killing me after I had spent so much of the school day standing and walking through huge train stations. Now that I live in Fuenlabrada, Moncloa is quite far to go to attend a class in which the teacher lives and breathes Spanish dictation.
  4. Speaking with a Spanish roommate. My ex-roommate, a Spanish girl, almost never talked to me, much less talked to me in Spanish, as she spoke English fairly well and, I assume, didn’t have the patience to listen to my Spanish. Why? Let’s put it nicely: Please remind me never ever EVER to live with anybody like this…EVER again. I now have an roommate from Cameroon, so I speak Spanish with him, plus 8 other languages, which he happens to know in case I ever want to attempt that.
  5. Attending language exchange parties in Madrid or talking with others one-on-one, e.g., our cleaning woman. I prefer the latter option, as our cleaning woman knows NO English, so I am forced to speak Spanish with her and can’t lapse into English. Also, I prefer a patient person.
  6. Talking with more people at school in Spanish. A good and obvious idea.
  7. Talking on Skype with people who want to exchange their Spanish for my English. I did this for a few weeks, and it was very good with three people, out of the dozens that contacted me, but there always being a lot of people to weed out, problems with schedules and people constantly changing the times. One girl I was supposed to meet in person said she was having personal problems and cancelled the appointment about five minutes before I was to meet her. For about two months, I didn’t have [my own] Internet connection, so I fell out of touch with the other people. I still might contact one of the guys I was in touch with. He was an excellent teacher and a good student! In the meantime,
  8. Borrowing movies from the libary and watching them in English with Spanish subtitles or in painful-to-listen-to Spanish dubbing over with English subtitles. I borrow movies a lot, partly because I hate to pay so much at the theatres to see a movie I might not like, the library is about a block away from where I live, I like reading the Spanish subtitles, I don’t like sitting with groups of people who either talk to each other or on their cell phones during the film. (I’m talking about Americans because I’ve been to the theatre only once here and the audience’s behavior happened to be excellent.) I went to an interesting performance the other day, and the people beside me talked the whole time. Call it a pet peeve, but I call it respecting the fact that we all paid to watch a show, not hear other people’s conversations.
  9. Trying to understand Hablar por Hablar. This is a podcast in which callers talk to a radio station host about their personal problems. The Spanish goes a little fast, and well, the problem is that I just now thought of it. I haven’t listened to it in a very long time, to tell you the truth, so it’s on my summer list.
  10. Reading free Spanish newspapers like Que? or 20 Minutos. I read them on the train sometimes.

So I have laid out for you all of my ideas for learning the Spanish language, besides, of course, the daily singing of Shakira songs. I would have made much more progress with Spanish had I done every one of these things every day, but I instead spent way too much time recovering from everything that happened tthis year, as well as thinking about the following silly things:

  • How much Shakira has accomplished at 32, including speaking 3 1/2 languages (the 1/2 being Italian, in addition to Spanish, English, and Portuguese), composing hundreds of songs, winning all sorts of awards, being an international superstar. These are the geniuses of the world, even though this one comes in a pretty package with hard abs. They don’t waste time: they get something done. I have accomplished some of what I have wanted to, but I know I have much more to do. (Maybe this isn’t such a silly thought after all)
  • Why, when walking down the street, hardly anyone, except me, moves out of the way. This happens in the States, too, but not with such alarming frequency
  • Why hardly anyone here holds the door for the person behind them or says “perdon” when they push past you
  • Why the saleswomen ignore you as they rush to hang up clothes right in front of you, even if the hook of the clotheshanger is stuck in your eyeball
  • Why Spanish [and AMERICAN] people, in a group, spend an hour talking about where they’re going to eat instead of quickly agreeing on something and saying, “Okay, let’s eat there!” A question I can’t help asking myself is, “Why hadn’t all of this been decided beforehand?” (Of course, what then never fails to happen is that now that I’ve made this remark, I’ll be guilty of debating with myself for 3 hours whether I should eat a Whopper at Burger King or head on over to McDonald’s for a tasty Big Mac. Decisions decisions.) I asked a Spanish teacher about this phenomenon, and she responded, “Because we don’t listen to each other.” I found that highly amusing.
  • Why I’m nervous about speaking Spanish in front of a group and always make elementary mistakes, like saying “Japon” (Japan) for “jamon” (ham)
  • Whether or not Spanish people who see me on the train reading a book in English and come to the conclusion that I’m an English speaker want to practice their English with me
  • If, upon my return to the States, my cats plan only to scratch my eyes out or if they opt for peeing on the new, queen-sized sleeper couch and queen-sized bed I bought for my tenant this past February.
  • Why I did a crazy thing like move to Spain, when this low-paying job is really for people in their 20s, and why I have experienced so many difficulties here and in Chicago. Trouble, simultaneously, on two continents (yeah, yeah, I know I’m an overachiever). Yes, I know age doesn’t matter and it’s a good experience and all of that bull, but for several months, I felt quite old in this position, especially since the other American teachers are in their early 20s. My hangup, definitely, because they don’t do or say anything to make me feel that way
  • How I’m going to be teaching drama at The English School this summer and will probably have a 10-year-old kid in my class whose mother or father taught at The Yale School of Drama and who will be questioning everything I’m doing
  • How difficult it is to find a cute, comfortable, closed pair of shoes (better for wearing my orthotics) here in my size
  • Why Spanish kids in their tweens, teens, and twenties can’t help making out like mad on the escalator, in the train station, or anywhere else in front of a load of people. Two girls boarded the train and proceeded to stand behind me and lock lips, complete with slurping noises. (Can I ask the director of this Spanish film to take me out of all of these makeout scenes or else at least pay me to be in them? My character? The long-suffering American witness to all of the Spanish exhibitionists)
  • How, when I look around the classroom, the kids are way too used to my being there, as if it’s a regular part of their day:

ACT ONE

Interior: Seven-year-old Spanish child sits in bed.

LYDIA

(Expressionless and muttering to herself in Spanish)

Today, I’ll eat breakfast, go to school, have English class with Hallie, play outside, yell a lot, eat lunch, talk a lot, go home, and have a snack.

ACTS TWO AND THREE

Cut to Classroom:

HALLIE

(Looks at Lydia. Furrows her brow. Tears drip from her cheeks, as she picks up Lydia.)

Well, couldn’t you be a little more excited that I’m here? Aren’t you curious about me?

(Lydia throws her pencil at Marta.
Frowning, Hallie sets Lydia back down in her chair.)

Oh, I forgot: You’re only seven years old and light as a toothpick.

Cut to: Hallie in a dark room at home

Hallie sits at the computer and blogs about Lydia.

  • Also how, when I look around the classroom, the kids are waving at me or looking at me or calling me over to see their latest gadget (I show excitement about a dog in a little basket a little boy I’m sure is gay shows me OR a deck of Hello Kitty! cards a little girl shows me)…or else to hold their hand or to help them with English or to tie their shoes or to hug me
  • How when I have taken something away from or reprimanded a student (e.g., Never throw scissors at other students! OR It’s rude to say “Joder”), the student has already either “forgiven” me or forgotten about the incident…or both. They’ll happily say “Hi, Hallie!” in the hall, as if nothing has happened. That’s the good thing about teaching kids who are seven and eight years old
  • How a guy from Cameroon is an excellent roommate and how he can speak nine languages — seven of which are African languages, which he says are all very different from each other — and how I sometimes can’t even remember a simple phrase in Spanish, like “It’s nice to meet you”

So, as you can see, I’m quite the busy gal, thinking about all kinds of things, real or imagined.

As my father once advised me: “Hal, you should always be able to entertain yourself,” words I have obviously taken to heart because not only did I come to Spain because I got a job, wanted to see more cities here, and have an adventure, I came partly to entertain myself a little more while honing my Spanish language skills. So now occupying my mind is my progress with the language, which, albeit slow, is happening, so while berating myself for not knowing more of the language because I’ve been a smidge lazy and thinking about the ridiculous, I have indeed accomplished most of my goals.

And this summer, Javier and I are going to be teaching each other more of each other’s language — although I can’t help but think that I don’t know either English or Spanish at this point. He wants to be certified for a certain level in English, and I would like to get past “Hola” in Spanish, so we have both have our own books and a structured way of studying.

Perhaps this is one of my not-so-silly ideas.

Besos,

International Girl in Spain

Hallie Belt, M.A., English Literature

Blogger, Digital Ad Agency Editor and Proofreader (15 years), English/EFL Faculty Member (15 years), Book Editor, Writer: Speeches, Resumes, LinkedIn Pages

http://www.beltstyles.comhalliebelt@beltstyles.com, 312.285.8429

Searching for Segovia

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Saturday, Dec1918986_1292384830917_5445064_nember 5, 200

Hola a Todos,

I had decided the morning of to go to Segovia, so I boarded a train from Chamartin, the north part of the Metro map — if taking a trip somewhere were only as easy as merely pointing it out on the map — and headed to Segovia, pleased that I was accomplishing one of my goals here: seeing another city in Spain. However, I was less pleased with myself that I hadn’t researched the trip, unusual for me, and hoped that everything would work out all right — and it did, sort of.

I could’ve sworn that those who had traveled to Segovia had told me that Segovia was only 45 minutes from Madrid, and the map showed it was only a couple of inches away, so I surmised that they couldn’t have been lying!

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However, 45 minutes after I had boarded the train, the ticket collector came by, so I bought a ticket, not having had enough time to get one in the station beforehand. As I was purchasing my ticket, I asked the train ticket collector if Segovia was maybe only a few minutes away at this point, since we had already passed the allotted time and had traveled much more than a couple of inches… Maybe I had misunderstood everybody: Maybe downtown Segovia was 45 minutes away from suburban Segovia. While I have a fantastic sense of humor, I don’t have a fantastic sense of humor about these things, except in retrospect, because I normally have a very good memory and am very good with numbers, even possessing a sometimes advanced ability in math, but right now I have so many other meaningless items stored in my head that I don’t really work hard at doing that. (Music and numbers go together is what people tell me, and even when my classical music professor father was dying of a brain tumor and was garbling his speech, he was still citing statistics correctly. He was very good with numbers and math, my sister majored in math, I got a high score on the GREs in math, etc., so I guess math ability kind of runs in the family.)1918986_1292384430907_8060525_n

19960_1316791641072_7569161_nBut the Mr. Train Ticket Collector responded, “One more hour and 15 minutes” in perfect Spanish — considering he was Spanish. I was figuratively rolling my eyes in the back of my head at myself, wondering how I could’ve gotten the time wrong, except for the fact that I hadn’t done even a speck of research for this trip: I had to live with the fact that I had winged the whole thing. However, before I left, I had noticed that the fast-speed train, the “Ave” (Ah-vay), from Madrid, not the train I was riding, took about an hour, which as I recall is about 15 more minutes than 45, to travel to Segovia, an amount of time that didn’t jive with my traveler friends’ calculations. And I was almost certain that they hadn’t been discussing the fast-speed train with me because they wouldn’t have paid the extra money for it. It was all a mystery.

1918986_1292384710914_7082_nI sat back down, thinking that this type of mixup went with the territory of being a foreigner, especially one who had done no research, and then decided that it all really didn’t matter: I had no other place to be, no other obligations. It’s not as if I had a husband or a child or a boyfriend or even a cat who needed me to be home at a particular time. “Just enjoy the scenery,” I told myself. When you know you’re not a slacker or even a laid-back person (except in some areas, definitely!) — and you think way too much for your own good — you need to tell yourself these things.19960_1316790801051_1192951_n

When I first moved to Japan, I was talking to a Japanese person about a Canadian teacher who was in my teacher program and was one of four other teachers who had accompanied me on the plane to Japan and was going to be teaching at the high school with me. I knew when I met him for the first time at the second round of interviews, merely a formality, that he was going to be a pill, but then he seemed to be chummy during orientation, which caused me to doubt my first impression of him. (And I can usually count on my first impressions.) The Japanese woman’s response? “There’s always one [person that wrecks a situation, no matter where you are],” and absolutely the same can be said about the train: I was sitting there peacefully, having just reminded myself that I’d better enjoy the scenery in Spain (after all, I am privileged to be given this opportunity to live and work here, so, by golly, I’d better have some fun) — and a group of people got on the train and, from that point, never shut up. Shouting, talking loudly — kind of like my schoolchildren.

1918986_1292384390906_1491662_nWhen these types of things happen, I occasionally think, “Hallie, you could go over and ask them about their country” [they weren’t from Spain] “or somehow learn a few words of their language or find out what you have in common with them.” That would be the adult action to take, but all I wanted them to do was shut up. I thought they should’ve at least had the courtesy to read my mind. I was contemplating moving to another train car, but then I knew I’d be exposed to a nonstop cell-phone talker or a couple who couldn’t help sharing their most intimate kisses in front of total strangers. There is always one — or a group.

1918986_1292385150925_7071937_nThe ride seemed so long that I kept wondering if by the time I got to Segovia, it would be time for me to return to Madrid. When I finally reached Segovia, I walked through the train station toward a big “You are here” map across the street. Some Italians came up to me and asked me, in broken Spanish, something I couldn’t comprehend, so I wasn’t sure how to respond to them. I mean, even if I could have understood them perfectly, I didn’t know a thing about Segovia, so how much help would I have been? I didn’t know how to direct them since I had just gotten there myself, so I said, in Spanish, “Soy Americana.” (I’m American, which is a sentence I figured would get me off the hook. They’d either think I didn’t know how to speak Spanish, didn’t have vacations that lasted more than 2 weeks, so I traveled through every country in 45 minutes, or was just plain ignorant.) They acknowledged me with a smile and left, maybe thinking, “Yes, that’s right. Americans speak only one language, don’t they? Ha-Ha-Ha!” I was still recovering from the length of the train ride, but I probably could’ve said something to them in Spanish, and lots of times I can respond to people in Spanish, but at the moment, I can’t come up with the words fast enough, and most people don’t have the patience to wait.

1918986_1292384950920_916623_nI stopped in a bar and ordered a “cafe con leche caliente” and asked the bartender where the tourist office was. It sounded as if it was far away, and it was. As I was walking there, I was wondering if I was missing something, because this part of town didn’t look either cute or beautiful, two adjectives my friends had used to describe this place. A lot of shops were closed, too, and even though it was the middle of a Saturday afternoon, I had heard that a couple of weeks before Christmas, shopkeepers work only in the morning or else close their shop altogether, so I assumed that that must’ve been the case. Surely something would be open, though. Lack of planning aside, I still expected something great to appear on the scene.

19960_1316791681073_961238_nI walked what must’ve been 2 miles, silently apologizing to my feet along the way, and came upon a plaza and a much more beautiful section of town — with cute shops, restaurants, an enormous wall, a castle, churches, and everything I had secretly hoped would magically appear. I stopped in at the tourist info center, got a map, went into the castle, and then walked to the places the tourist worker had circled on the map: the places to see in Segovia. A cathedral, a castle, shops, etc. Segovia was beautiful and scenic!

1918986_1292385270928_2311574_nA few hours later, not having bought anything except a bocadillo, I walked all the way back to the train station, knowing I had about an hour before the next train arrived, so I stopped in a bar to enjoy a glass of crianza…for myself and my aching feet. On my left were three Spanish guys who were thinking up ways to talk to me and becoming a little more talkative the more they drank. I was pretty much having none of it for a variety of well-thought-out reasons and decided to busy myself with deleting the bad photos from the dozens of photos I had taken that day while trying to shield my camera screen from my curious new “friends,” who were way too interested in what I was doing.

1918986_1292385390931_233472_nI walked over to the station, boarded the train, and after about 10 minutes realized that the same group I had traveled to Segovia with had picked the same time and car to return to Madrid. The woman was practically lying on top of the man — along three seats. When you ride public transportation as much as I have in the past 18 years, you are exposed to all kinds of people: the nose-pickers, the nail biters, the kissers, the pushers, the starers, the singers, the cell-phone chatterers, the taking-up-part-of-my-seat riders, the shouters, the attention-getters, the money-askers, the instrumentalists/singers (who then become the money-askers) — and then there’s me, noticing it all, so I can bring it all to you. That’s my job, except if I’m wearing earplugs, studying Spanish, reading a book, or listening to my now-stolen iPod.

So Segovia is a trip I highly recommend, and just remember that you heard it from me: From Madrid’s Chamartin, the ride is about 2 hours…or something like this. I honestly can’t remember anymore: I’m researching my next trip.

Besos,

International Girl in Spain

Hallie Belt, M.A., English

Blogger, Digital Ad Agency Editor and Proofreader (15 years), English and EFL Faculty Member (15 years), Book Editor, Writer: Speeches, Resumes, LinkedIn Pages

http://www.beltstyles.comhalliebelt@beltstyles.com, 312.285.8429

Before the School Bell Rings

Hola a Todos,

On Sunday, my roommate (Maddy) and I went to a huge flea market located in the La Latina neighborhood, a 10-minute walk from our condo. Lots of people were sitting outside restaurants, drinking and eating, and many had had the same idea to find bargains at all the booths along the street. We walked along, scanning the items, talking all the while, her showing me this and that, and then we went into an antique shop and furniture store. She knew the owner in the latter and chatted with him.

Then we returned to the condo to use the ladies’ room (okay, I speak for myself here), and I decided to venture out again by myself, with the map but not really looking at it, thinking I could find the place again. I did eventually, but not without some effort. More exercise for me, I suppose. I wanted to go because I hadn’t gotten the opportunity to look at all of the jewelry, clothes, paintings, drawings, etc., not that I had planned to buy anything because of obvious reasons. There was a small drawing of a female flamenco dancer that I liked, so I’m keeping that in mind for payday. Well, maybe a few paydays from now.

Next, because Maddy and I had seen only the outside of it the previous day, I ventured into a big white tent located in the middle of the huge Plaza Mayor. The exhibit? Argentina in Madrid, so of course, I was interested in seeing what Argentina has to offer — and this experience might help me bypass actually having to travel to Argentina. Inside was jewelry, belts, furs, food, and drink. There was a line which aroused my curiosity: I discovered that everybody was waiting to be served about 2 drops of, red wine from, I assume, Argentina. Actually, it was more like 2 tablespoons, but I didn’t think it was worth it. I swear, people love anything that’s free, even if it is only 2 drops. The tent was hot, so I left.

I decided to do what seems to be my new hobby: go to the grocery store. So far, Maddy has given me 150 euros, and I have spent it on groceries for us and still have some to spare. I forgot to tell you my other new hobby: washing the dishes. I admit that I normally hate washing the dishes at home in Chicago. I have several friends who know my dismay at washing dishes; however, here, I immediately wash, rinse, dry, and put away every dish I use. I haven’t lived with anyone for 17 years, so I want to ensure I’m a good roommate. I don’t ever want Maddy saying to her friends, “Yeah, well you should hear about my roommate. What a pig. She leaves the dishes out, never makes her bed, watches TV all the time. I’m ready to kick her out of the country.” She might say something else, but she’ll never be caught saying that.

On Sunday night, after Maddy and I had eaten dinner, she wanted to watch a famous show about 4 couples called something like “The Beautiful People Have Lots of Problems, So Tune In”…in Spanish. I never figured out the real title of the show and didn’t really care what it was, as I couldn’t understand what was going on, but I can’t understand these shows in English. Although the acting looked good (funny how, even though it’s a different language, you can usually tell whether or not the acting is good), I gave up and went to bed.

Besos,

International Girl in Spain

Hallie Belt, M.A., English

Blogger, Digital Ad Agency Editor and Proofreader (15 years), English and EFL Faculty Member (15 years), Book Editor, Writer: Speeches, Resumes, LinkedIn Pages

http://www.beltstyles.comhalliebelt@beltstyles.com, 312.285.8429

Scarier Than Halloween

Hola y Queridos Todos:

If we knew how scary life can sometimes be, we might never want to experience anything. I have had my share of scary experiences, listed here in no particular order:

  • Climbing Mt. Fuji. I think I thought this climb was either going to be an elevator ride, a walk in the park, a day at the beach, or a little climb up a paved driveway — in other words, something akin to a cinch — so ill-informed was I. For two weeks after my climb (it rained, it snowed, it was sunny, it was hot, it was crazy), I suffered from a very sore body, wincing in pain each time I walked up or down Tokyo’s subway stairs.
  • Being 21, moving to Austin, and living at the “Y” for six months. I was afraid to break the lease because it would have cost me $15. The Y was a “dump,” a friend later informed me.
  • Both of my parents having brain tumors and dying. The worst and scariest thing ever.
  • Teaching for the first time, at 28 years old. What if I tripped and fell?
  • Flying into Singapore by myself. Michael Peter Fay, then 17, was the American who lived there and was caned a few months before I went. I visualized it: I’d be caned for chewing gum in the airport or anywhere (a major no-no, and somehow I was sure I’d wind up with a wad of it in my mouth, despite the fact that I rarely chew gum) or commit some other misdemeanor, and the police would high-tail it after me, and I’d wind up in Singapore’s prison system forever. I was sure I’d slip up somehow.
  • Singing for the first time on stage at open mike.
  • Gaining 35 pounds after having three foot surgeries…and not immediately losing the weight.
  • Renting a car and driving out to Algonquin, Illinois, for my first voice-over/acting job for Wal-Mart. I drive maybe once a year, so driving sometimes frightens me, and I had no idea where Algonquin was until I had to drive there. Also, my appointment was at 10:30 p.m., and I was trying to envision how light or dark the inside of Wal-Mart would be at that time, as well as the guy I was supposed to work with.
  • All of the research and editing involved in writing my thesis. Although the process was very interesting and I was graced with a fabulous thesis advisor/editor, slap me hard if I ever decide to get a Ph.D.
  • Driving (no planes that week) from Chicago to Baltimore for my father’s memorial service on September 14, 2001, the National Day of Mourning for the September 11 victims. Why was that scary? Well, I think you already know the one about how I don’t drive on a regular basis. Then there’s the part about driving in and out Chicago, topped only by my being on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, surrounded by 18-wheelers at rush hour. The thought of it sends shivers down my spine.
  • Realizing I was truly alone after I had just moved to Austin. I was living at the Y and heard a cricket under my bed. I knew that my father wasn’t going to get me out of that one–and instead of screaming, I actually had to do something about this creature.
  • Speaking Spanish in class at the Instituto Cervantes. Everybody else launched into three-day stories about their weekends, and I didn’t want to say anything. I realized this fear, my typical style, wasn’t limited to Spanish class: I normally don’t say much in group/classroom settings. Creepy behavior if one wants to practice and learn a language.
  • Signing my life away by buying a condo. I had nightmares.
  • Being in the Swiss Alps, accompanied by my fear of heights.
  • Wasting any time thinking about people who, I’m sure, are not thinking about me.
  • Getting laid off for the first time, and then getting laid off three more times. Well, actually, the fourth time, I responded, “Okay,” as if it were no big deal and left. First, I hated that job, and second, I hated that job. And I knew that somehow I’d get something. Perhaps the fourth time was the charm because I’m now in Madrid.
  • Moving to Japan and staying there for three years. I needed to get my head examined. An emotional rollercoaster ride.
  • Going out too much in my twenties. I could have been home studying Spanish.

And the list goes on.

So what has haunted me most this year? Well, I knew I might be moving to Madrid, but whether or not I was, I had to ensure I found a place for all of my stuff, preferably outside of my condo. Since I was unemployed, I thought, “What if I don’t get this time off again? I want to make really good use of it so that I can look back on this period of my life and know that I accomplished a lot.” And the reason I wanted to do it is that owning all of that stuff was making me wildly unhappy and scaring me, because instead of writing or singing or taking a dance class or becoming really good at Spanish conversation or doing anything creative, I was becoming a vessel for arranging, ordering, getting rid of, going crazy over, and being haunted by my stuff.

Now, I admit it: I like to shop if I can buy something or if I’m in a foreign country and am just looking around to see the wares, but at this stage of my life, I am typically in and out of the place quickly since I know what I do and don’t like. And I’m really careful with my money. Although I like clothes and have a good eye, I am not a fashionista, but I do, probably like a lot of people, feel some sort of satisfaction at buying something cute, fun, interesting, or different, thinking that it will somehow, magically, transform my life and solve all of my problems, but do I need loads of these things? And who is keeping tabs on whether I have this much stuff or not? After visiting perhaps a dozen temples while in Thailand in 1994, I came to the conclusion that no one cared if I had gone to the 13th temple. It’s not as if someone back in the U.S. is going to quiz me about which temples I’ve visited. There was even a huge chance that they wouldn’t have cared that I had gone to Thailand in the first place.

I couldn’t help but think of a show I had seen about how children in an African village were sleeping on the ground, wearing tattered clothing, and surviving on a diet of bugs. Of course we have all seen and probably been moved by these images, with some of us donating to charities, but this image haunted me for a long time. Here I was with 20 tee shirts, several dresses that I couldn’t fit into because I had gained at least 35 pounds after having three foot surgeries, 20 pairs of shoes, 20 lipsticks, 20 pairs of tights, 20 this, 20 that. Why?

There were too many clothes in the drawers, too many heavy photo albums under the bed, too many books I had already read or hadn’t even cracked, CDs I never listen to anymore, stacks of paper containing my writing that I didn’t want to leave lying around or even in a file cabinet, clothes I needed to give away, etc. It sounds like a lot, but if you have seen my place, you know that I am not a hoarder, nor am I messy or dirty: In fact, my place looks pretty cute and clean when I have a party, but it’s small, so keeping its contents in order is difficult. Therefore, I:

  • Donated some of my never-worn clothes and shoes to Fourth Presbyterian Church
  • Went through all my files, ensuring my writing was stored safely in a computer file; I then recycled the paper
  • Sorted my nails, screws, brackets, etc., and gave the extras to the head maintenance guy in my condo building (and he was happy to take them)
  • Gave used clothes to the Mt. Sinai Hospital Resale Shop on Diversey
  • Gave CDs to friends and about 100 books — and CDs to the Newberry Library for tax write-off purposes. Javier had put all of my music on my iPod (which was stolen my first hour in Spain…One fewer thing I have to deal with, I guess…Thanks, robbers)
  • Waded through all of my photo albums and threw out meaningless pictures: bad pictures of me, pictures of people I don’t know, duplicates, fuzzy pictures, etc. I tossed about 500 pictures and gave away about six empty photo albums
  • Provided my manicurists/pedicurists, 1/2 block away, with all kinds of stuff.
  • Gave my DVD burner and over-sized 13-year-old TV to one of the maintenance men of my condo building (his cousin needed a TV); I’ll buy a flat-screen when I return to the States
  • Gave 12 boxes of stuff for my college friend to store in her house in the suburbs
  • Loaded, in two trips, probably 15 boxes of my possessions into my friend’s van
  • Assisted a friend in selling our stuff at her garage sale

So if you ever find yourself scared silly by all of your stuff, here’s what I recommend: Either know, in fact, you are moving to Spain OR pretend you’re moving to Spain or any European country…or any land mass not connected to the U.S. (neither Canada nor Mexico will suffice) and you have to rent your furnished condo. Suddenly, you start focusing on exactly where all of your stuff should go, whereas before you couldn’t decide if the candlestick should go on the end table or the breakfast bar. If you can’t actually force yourself to live in a foreign country, merely use your imagination to travel there — and get rid of your stuff so that someone else can use it … if they’re foolish enough to take it off your hands.

I’m very proud of myself for facing my scary stuff head-on. Ironically, though, now that I have cleaned out my place and moved to Madrid, I still haven’t actually rented out my place, part of the reason I was cleaning my stuff out in the first place. Now I’m paying my rent here in Madrid and my mortgage in Chicago. I’m going to be destitute: I just know it. Another frightening story to add to my list.

Internationally yours,

International Girl in Spain

Tangier and Asilah: No Guides Necessary…

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December 31, 2009

Hola a Todos,

After Chicago friend Margaret and I left San Sebastian on December 30, having spent 2 days there with Javier, we set our sights on spending December 31 until January 3 in Tangier, Morocco. Don’t ask me why.

However, we were going to spend one night back in Madrid, and as I was approaching the condo, I realized that maybe my ex-roommate hadn’t yet left for her vacation, as I knew that the airlines had changed her return trip from Argentina, so her flight to Argentina would be after Margaret and I arrived back in Madrid from this trip to San Sebastian. Translation: She’s still at the condo. Life is not perfect, we all realize by now.

So Margaret and I went to a nearby bar and enjoyed a few glasses of Crianza and a big, delicious salad. We returned, and I slept out in the living room on the couch, while Margaret slept in my bedroom. My Spanish roommate had been very frugal about turning on the heat since electricity is so expensive in Spain, so our place was cold most of the time during the winter. And this particular night was very cold, but Oliver the dog, with whom, frankly, I had never slept, jumped on the couch near my stomach and sank into the back of the couch, a pairing which was, I admit, kind of cozy, although he sometimes smells to high heaven. Ugly as sin — even his owner, my ex-roommate’s EX-roommate, says he’s an ugly “creatura” — Oliver is a sweet baby, and I truly love him, though I think his main interest in me revolved around any food I was about to eat or eating — and our taking long walks near the Royal Palace. Since he loved me and my now ex-roommate (the Spanish girl), he obviously wasn’t very discriminating. Had he snubbed her, I would’ve given him much more credit.

The next morning, I woke up early, knowing Margaret and I had to leave by about 9:30 for Barajas Airport. Unsure as to whether my suitcase might be a smidge big for EasyJet, I packed only my backpack, adding sandwiches I had made that morning, oranges, and bottles of water. Margaret packed her small suitcase, which I had hoped would meet EasyJet’s measurement requirements — and did.

At that point, December 31, I still didn’t have my Spanish ID permanent resident card, which meant that if I ever wanted to use a credit card to purchase anything in Spain, I had to carry my passport. So I went out to find a copy machine to copy the important papers to take on my trip, as my work visa had expired in the beginning of December and I wasn’t going to get my permanent resident card until January 18. I didn’t want to wind up stuck in Morocco, all because I had forgotten to copy a few papers that proved my legal status in Spain.

Once Margaret and I arrived at the airport, we went to the checkout counter to get our tickets and ensure that our baggage met EasyJet’s requirements. I asked the reservationist, “Do you speak English?”

He responded, “Of course I speak English. Don’t I look like I speak English?” He wasn’t Spanish, and he wasn’t being funny: he was being snotty.

I responded, “How would I know?” It’s not as if all Spanish speakers have dark hair and all foreigners don’t. He continued his snotty behavior, but I ignored it. He informed us we could take 100 ml of anything liquid, and Margaret had several bottles of all kinds of stuff, which added up to more than all of that, so we were trying to figure out the math, but then decided to forget about it. This was Spain: it wasn’t as if anybody was going to do anything about it, and, in fact, when Margaret passed through Security, nothing happened.

We sat near the gate, awaiting our flight, which ended up departing about 1/2 hour late. We boarded the plane, equipped with all of our EasyJet jokes:

  • If you get sick: QueasyJet
  • If the windows are open: BreezyJet
  • If the flight attendants are lower than low: SleazyJet
  • If the passengers are playing board games: ParcheesiJet
  • If the plane leaves late: Not-so-EasyJet
  • If you’re George Jefferson or have asthma: WheezyJet

And the list went on, with me giggling every time, making desperate attempts to invent more names.

Margaret sat next to the window and I sat in the middle, which I admit I don’t like because I like easy access to the restroom but I’m not big either on being bumped by the flight attendants, who should know better, or the other passengers. The [I soon enough discovered] Moroccan woman in our little row’s aisle seat looked anxious. I was, of course, trying to figure out if she was stuckup or unhappy. Burdening myself with her problem, I was creating all kinds of scenarios for her little life.

I soon found my answer: As we started experiencing turbulence, Ms. Morocco was gripping her armrests and trying to breathe deeply. I asked her if everything was okay, and she said all she wanted was to get off the plane, asking me why the pilot didn’t return to Madrid, because by this time we were hovering for about 20 minutes over the Mediterranean Sea, waiting to land. I have to admit that the hovering situation was a bit disconcerting, even though Margaret and I were telling her flying was the safest form of travel. She asked Margaret, “Are you scared?”

Margaret responded, “No.”

Ms. Morocco said, “I will never fly again. Never!” while holding my arm. She even got up to talk to the flight attendant, who told her to return to her seat.

I couldn’t help wondering, “What if I die like this, right in the middle of the Mediterranean? What if I die? Here I am comforting some Moroccan female stranger in my last seconds of my life…” Like her, I wanted to return to Madrid and forget altogether about visiting Tangier.

Margaret and I spent about 20 minutes encouraging Ms. Morocco, who breathed a big sigh of relief when the plane finally landed safely — and then everybody clapped for the pilot. When we stood up and edged our way into the aisle, I was behind Ms. Morocco, who was now thanking Margaret for her help. She didn’t say a thing to me — and I thought I had been pretty supportive of her flight plight.

Margaret and I walked into the small airport and decided to take a taxi to our hotel. On the plane, I had calculated that 70 dirhams equalled $1. Throw the euro in, and you’ve got a physics equation. Actually, I like math, so I was enjoying the conversion part, but not the constantly holding onto my purse and figuring out if someone was trying to pull the sheep wool over our eyes or the Moroccan rug out from under us. The cab ride was something like 700 dirhams, or about $10, and after Margaret and I got into the cab, I started wondering if this, indeed, was a legitimate cab or just some guy who had come to the airport to pick up foreign women, never to be heard from again. But Margaret wasn’t as nervous about this. I am all for adventure, but with men in foreign countries, I’m not a big risk-taker, especially in foreign countries I know absolutely nothing about, except I dated a Moroccan guy once while I lived in Texas, and he was one of the most handsome men I have ever seen, which was little help to me now.

Fortunately, Margaret and I arrived safely to the hotel, no catastrophes along the way. We checked in and went up the elevator to our room, which was adequate but nothing special. However, our window gave us a nice view of the Mediterranean Sea. I rested my feet for a while and made a great attempt at reading, but trying to flip the bedside table lamp switch involved a lot of finesse: you had to balance the switch in the middle, not let it go to off or on. As I was able to position the switch almost immediately, I was pretty satisfied with my motor skills, until later when I couldn’t easily do it. I played with it for so long, I soon forgot why I had wanted to turn it on.

Margaret and I showered then decided to go to our hotel bar on the ground floor. Even though I live in Spain and nothing has been as convenient as it would have been had I stayed in Chicago, I’m a woman who now likes convenience. Maybe it’s my age or maybe it’s because I have done so many things that have not been convenient, like living in Japan for three years and trying to figure out the language and well, everything — or living in Texas, which was, for me, almost like living in a foreign country for nine years — that I appreciate when everything is easy.

For example, I liked that my hotel bar in Morocco was in the same building; I like that my grocery store in Chicago is only 2 blocks away; I love going to the huge gym inside my condo building so I don’t have to walk outside in winter to get to it. (However, since I got laid off, I cancelled the gym membership fees, an even more convenient situation, as now I don’t have to go at all: I can just sit on the couch and criticize Suzanne Somers’ incorrect use of the English language as she talks with Larry King about the latest book she has written.

Oftentimes, I don’t want too many people in the mix: I want to do something that doesn’t involve going to a huge event and bringing all kinds of stuff, getting on the train, and coordinating with everybody in Chicago about where to meet, all to enjoy some music in a venue where everybody is talking: I’d much rather watch the event on TV. The same can be said of my Shaki Shakira. I went to see her at the United Center with my friend Giulia, and Shakira started at 9:30 instead of 8:00, so we were waiting and waiting, and she didn’t sound good because in the U.C., well at least for this concert, all the sounds mix together so that the concert was like one big sound. I’m glad I saw her, and even though she’s one of my favorites, I have no desire to go again: I’ll just stay home and watch her DVD.

Okay, so like the rest of the universe, I’m not all one way: I make things very complicated when, for example, my birthday comes around and I bake about 3 cakes and 5 kinds of cookies from scratch, as well as various other dishes, clean like mad, and run around for items to decorate my place that no one in their right minds, except me, notices. But I’m learning how to make things a little simpler…sometimes.

At the hotel bar, Margaret and I enjoyed music videos on the TV at the top center of the bar wall. Only a few men were seated at this very small bar. I had even brought a scarf along to put over my head, just in case of…well, I wasn’t exactly sure where I was supposed to wear it, but it was kind of like my legal-status papers: I had it just in case. The bartenders were very nice to us and treated us respectfully, and even though we were women, we didn’t cause too much of a disturbance to the men-filled place.

After the relaxing time at the bar, watching music videos, especially Diana Krall — I hardly ever watch TV in Spain and, of course, love music, so this was a treat — we went out for an inexpensive dinner at a nearby restaurant called The Comedia, which the rude front-desk hotel guy had recommended. (That night was New Year’s Eve, and the meal deal at our hotel restaurant was fixed and expensive.)

Our waiter at The Comedia was very nice and smiled at us incessantly. And I love to laugh and found his incessant smiling very amusing, which, of course, egged him on to smile at us even more. We were served at least 2 cups of couscous and chicken tanjine, which was very good. Our happy waiter started talking to us in a mix of Spanish and English and then asked us where we were staying. “Oh boy,” I thought to myself, disgusted. We just said a nearby hotel, and then he pointed to Margaret, to me, and to himself and to the distance, as in “Let’s all get together and go back to your hotel room.” I said, “No, we just want the check.” Everything had been going so well, except for the near plane crash, the questionable cab ride, the barely tolerable hotel room, and the now-icky waiter.

Margaret and I were the only women in this restaurant, save a few men and perhaps a foreign couple who had ventured in later. We decided to play it safe and return to our hotel bar and have a drink there. We were tired from our big day, so we went to bed. As Morocco is one hour behind Spain, we had an extra hour, but I didn’t care if I rang in the New Year or not.

The next morning, we showered and ate breakfast at the hotel restaurant: prunes, a couple of types of bread, cereal, mandarins, coffee, and yogurt. Okay, but not great — but we had a nice view of the Mediterranean Sea.

After breakfast, Margaret and I decided we would venture into town, guide-less and equipped with an illegible hotel map, neither of which would serve us well. I was trying to imagine us two women in the middle of a guy-filled Tangier street, holding a map up to our faces, looking at it perplexed, then desperately looking around to see if where we were on the map was even close to the city of Tangier! So I asked for some basic directions from the now-nice hotel receptionist, a different guy. Some Moroccans not only spoke Arabic and French but also some English and Spanish, but the hard part was when you did speak either of the latter two languages to them, it was hard to understand their pronunciation in either, so it was a partial linguistic nightmare/comedy.

Basically, I understood that we were supposed to walk to the French Embassy, turn right, keep going into town, run into the old market, and then happen upon the new market. We dressed modestly (covered up) and walked toward the market. It seemed as if we were about the only women on the street.

As Margaret and I approached the market, some guy came up to us and kept pestering us to show us around. “Please leave us alone,” I said.

“I’m not a guide, Madam. I’m just trying to help you. I don’t want money, Madam.” I adamantly said that we wanted to be left alone, but he kept following us. We ducked into stores, went this way and that, and he managed to show up at the next winding street corner, popping out of nowhere. I was getting so angry, I wanted to scream, and then another guy was doing the same thing. “I’m not a guide, Madam” both of them kept saying. “I don’t want money.” But of course, they were trying to take us somewhere and would probably be paid off by the place where we showed up. I started to hate both guys, as they wouldn’t let up, and the streets were winding this way and that and we were confused about how to get out of there. We were alone in this annoying city: it was only Margaret and me, our illegible map, and the two or three men who were bothering us. It was becoming very clear that we should have gotten a guide from the hotel, but I have never been pestered so much in a foreign country.

Margaret and I finally returned to the main street, having been exposed to all kinds of animals, people, spices, dirty goods, small and dirty shops, and everything else imaginable. We had clearly been on the wrong side of town and don’t think we ever saw the “new” market, or if we saw it, we didn’t know it. I was glad to have found a nice shop with really good cafe con leche (au lait), so we relaxed there for a while, away from all of the so-called guides ready to pounce on us. I was trying to calm down from being followed: I even hate being followed around by salespeople in, for example, The Gap or The Limited who exclaim, “That would look really cute on!” This vacation was stressing me out.

We went out again, heading toward The Casbah. I didn’t have any idea what the song from the 1980s “Rock the Casbah” meant, as it was a song I hadn’t given much thought, but we had to see The Casbah anyway. We walked uphill on the main street, where we were two of only a handful of women, some foreign, some Muslim, and ventured into shops to look around and to lose any of our “guides,” but doing even that had its price, as the store owner would inevitably follow us around, urging us to buy something, which made me want to exit the shop even sooner. Listen up, all salespeople in The Gap, The Limited, or stores near The Casbah: Leave us shoppers alone, and we’ll want to buy something from you; badger us, and we’ll be out of there faster than I can ask, “Why am I in Tangier?”

Margaret and I finally reached The Casbah and were then accosted in a plaza by a group of boys, one in particular who kept hounding us about taking us to the nearby museum. “I’m from here. I’ve lived here my whole life. I know where everything is,” he said, but I kept telling him that we didn’t want or need his help. This comment had absolutely no visible effect on him. Undeterred, he continued to follow and pester us. I was going to need an institution’s help by the time I was done with this outing.

“We don’t need you,” I responded.

His response was the same: “No problem. No problem. Don’t worry. Be happy.” This 1988 Bobby McFerrin song reference sounded ridiculous to me, especially in a foreign country — but mostly because I was now worried and unhappy — and angry.

I think I’m quite a nice, usually diplomatic, delightful, generous person most of the time, but I have no patience for people who pester me, and although I am very nice to salespeople, waiters, you name it, I’m not terribly nice when they start hounding me about things or want to sit with me while I’m eating, as was my experience with a waiter at Bennigan’s in Chicago. He was one of those overly friendly waiters who wants you to call him by his first name if you ever need anything: “Hey, Casey, can you bring me a fork over here? How ’bout some mustard, Casey? Thanks a lot, man!” No, that’s not me.

One of my good friends always talks to the waiters or waitresses when we go out for a drink or dinner: she chats with them all in good fun, and they always like her a lot, but I’m there to talk to the people I’m with, not chat with the waiters, although I chat with them a little bit, sometimes. My take on it is that I hardly get an opportunity to see my own friends, so why should I spend the little time we have together talking with other people? However, once again, I’m very nice and respectful to them because you can bet I don’t want them spitting into my food, plus I know they have a hard job.

Anyway, I was growing more annoyed with this little scene. I don’t like to have chummy conversations with everybody in the world, including everybody who lives in Morocco or Chicago.

At some point, Margaret and I had some peace on this overly stressful vacation, and then another guy (perhaps one of the first men; they were all starting to look alike) found us. By this time, I was ready to explode, and I did: “Shit!”

“You don’t call my country shit!” was his enraged response. You can bet I had definitely pushed the wrong button and didn’t know what kind of trouble I had gotten us into. On the other hand, who was he to involve himself in our vacation when I had made it clear, several times, that he had never been invited?

I said, “I didn’t say that about you! I said it because I’m tired of you following us!” We quarreled a little more, and then Margaret and I just walked away. Here he had been, continuing to intrude on our time together, an unwelcome stranger who kept badgering us, and he wanted me to be happy about it, when I had made it very clear, several times, that we wanted him to leave. No means no, not yes.

I was trying to calm down, exasperated with our morning in Tangier, but I still took many pictures, and then we happened upon a Moroccan guy and his American girlfriend, both in their mid-20s. The girl, who happened to be in the same program as I in Spain, wasn’t particularly nice, but her boyfriend was, plus he spoke English really well, and they helped us walk back to our hotel.

The boyfriend related he had lived in a few different countries because his father had been a diplomat. He said he felt like a stranger in his native country, his parents having decided to settle in Tangier. He kept telling us that the people we were complaining about wouldn’t do anything to us and that we were safe, but he’s a guy and generally doesn’t have to worry about these things the way we women do. At any rate, I was glad we were in their presence, and told them I didn’t want to interfere in any way in their “romantic” time together, and they said they couldn’t even really easily hold hands in public, so their response was, basically, “What romantic time?” Once we were near our destination, we thanked them, and decided to eat lunch at a restaurant close to our hotel, a good place for people-watching.

That night, we went out to a wonderful restaurant and had a delicious meal, returned and went to the hotel bar, where we felt safe, and talked with a slick Moroccan man who spoke English pretty well. He was educated and seemingly had a very good job working for a cell phone company, which required that he travel. He started to tell us about how he had cheated on his wife with certain woman but that he really respected his wife “a lot…a lot!” Yeah, I bet. No one else could speak English as well, which is why we talked to him, plus he was interesting and we learned more about the culture, but ick. We said our good-byes to him and then just went to bed.

The next day, we went to Asilah, a small town located about an hour away. The hotel found us a taxi driver who would also be our guide in Asilah, or at least that was the plan. The ride was about 45 minutes with not much of a view along the way. Our driver was nice and respectful, and he wasn’t trying to get anything out of us, except our money, and the round-trip cost us the equivalent of $50. Once we arrived in Asilah, a city which the few people we had met in Tangier had raved about, I thought, “Well, everybody has a different idea of what’s pretty, I guess,” but it was certainly better than Tangier.

After we ate lunch, which again involved at least 2 cups of couscous apiece, our driver was waiting and introduced us to our tour guide around Asilah. We flat-out told him that we didn’t want to pay any more and that we had thought he was going to be our guide in Asilah. I suppose he had planned to give our tour guide part of the money he made from us because he assured us that the guide wasn’t asking for money.

The guide, a reed-thin, weathered fisherman, spoke English, French, Spanish, and Arabic. Of course, we spoke English with him. I was interested in checking out the buildings and the shops, stopping every now and then to look at the items. I love doing this, and even if it’s a cheesy shop, I still like to look: I don’t want to miss anything. I was somewhat comforted that this particular guide seemed trustworthy and kind and wasn’t badgering us about anything.

I had been casually looking for a rug, so he took us to a big rug shop, and the owner spoke English fairly well and kept throwing down rugs for me to look at. It’s hard for me to shop with anybody looking “over my shoulder,” in this case the owner, so although I indicated that I liked a particular rug, I told him I wanted to come back. The rug itself was actually quite reasonably priced — I am a very cheap shopper (it’s the teacher salary in me; the advertising salary occasionally balances this) most of the time and wasn’t about to carry anything big or expensive back to Madrid or Chicago.

Well, as you can imagine, they wouldn’t let up. I told them I didn’t have any cash with me, which was the truth, and that I had to go to an ATM to get some cash, which I had planned to do. So, in all their brilliance, they sent a boy and the guide with me to ensure that I indeed knew where to get the money and that I indeed would get the money. As I recall, I was to give the boy the money — he had a brown paper bag for it — and return to the shop for the rug. The boy and the guide waited for me while I retrieved my money from the cash machine. Yes, it was all very strange. I was growing tireder of everybody by the second. I did like the rug and didn’t want to barter anymore with the guy. Where were The Gap girls when I needed them? It would have been a greater pleasure to have dealt with them instead.

I returned to the shop, the owner waiting for me, and bought the rug, the little boy standing there with the money in the bag. Okay, it’s done, and everybody is happy. We walked away from the place, and the shopowner called me back. I returned, and he gave me a blue-stone necklace, which I happily took because it was pretty, but it ended up scratching my neck and I can’t wear it. I realized he was pretending to throw in something to sweeten the deal, but I knew that the necklace wasn’t anything fabulous: it was just to make me think he was a great guy.

The next day, Margaret and I had a wonderful dinner at a highly recommended Italian restaurant several blocks from our hotel. Then we returned, and I found a CD shop where I could buy the Moroccan CDs the cheating husband had recommended. (The music turned out to be lousy, so I gave it away.)

Each day, we had breakfast at our hotel, and this was our last breakfast, for which I thanked Allah, and we left for the airport. This time, when we returned to Madrid, my roommate would not be there — she would be in Argentina — for which I thanked Allah once again.

Thanks be to someone I’m in San Sebastian now, enjoying life with Javier, ready to return to my country in about 6 weeks. San Sebastian is a breathtaking city, and we’re enjoying beautiful, sunny days with temperatures in the 70s and low 80s. I had a great appreciation for living in the U.S. before, and not to sound smug, but I feel very lucky I was born and grew up there. It’s the best place for me. And, of course, Barack Mo-ROCCs.

Love,

Your International Girl in Spain
http://www.BeltStyles.com: Buckle up for the perfect look and fit.
Copyright 2014. BeltStyles, LLC. Chicago, Illinois.

MIGHT AS WELL BUY THAT “I LOVE AVILA” T-SHIRT

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February 20, 2010

Hola a Todos,

According to some source I can’t remember, Avila is a medieval walled city that stands about 1,100 metres above sea level. Inside the walls is a city of monasteries, churches, convents, squares, and plazas. Moorish prisoners constructed the wall, at Alfonso VI’s orders and after he conquered the city. The wall, almost 1 1/2 miles long, is still in good condition. Fourteen meters high and 3 meters thick, these walls have 9 entrance gates and 90 towers.

On a cold, sunny February day, I took a train from Chamartin to Avila, a city northwest of Madrid. Once there, I walked around, eventually coming across the tourist office and the famous wall.

I approached one of the entrances and climbed the stairs. At the first level, I found several small and narrow passageways, each with approximately 8 stairs leading to a more elevated place for a better view of the city, and I was very careful because the steps were narrow and because I fell down a flight of steps in 1995 at my apartment building in Chicago: I was walking down the steps at 8 a.m., on my way to the gym, and I tripped over the cuffs of my blue-jean overalls. I fell face forward down the carpeted steps onto my chest and sustained back pain and a rug burn atop my right wrist, which I can admire to this day. I immediately raced to the gym so that I would be around someone, anyone, in case I passed out from whatever falling down the stairs does to a person…For this reason, I am “old lady careful” either ascending or descending stairs, always clutching the rails. When I see stairs, I not only think of this episode but also of my father, who would always run up the stairs, two at a time, even at 79 years old.

Normally, I’m pretty good with maps and had gotten a map from the tourist office, but once inside the wall, I kept getting confused about where I was, with all the winding streets. I like to think I’m smarter than all of this or that I’m just having a bad map day or that it all really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things or that I can find my way out of this maze with or without a map, but sometimes I’m not a good guide for myself.

At times, the problem is that I’m not wearing my reading glasses and the print is exceptionally small so I can’t actually see the street names. Other times, I don’t feel like looking at a map, and having had to figure out so many things since I’ve been in Spain, I just want to walk around and enjoy the city. Still other times, I don’t have a clue about what’s going on or what I’m doing. But I’m sure these illegible maps are for foreign tourists, who wind up staying in whatever Spanish city much longer (and buying more souvenirs) because they can’t figure out how to return to the train or bus station: “Might as well get that I LOVE AVILA t-shirt. I’m going to be here the rest of my life, trying to figure out how to scale the wall.” Anyway, I was able to visit a couple of museums there for free, visit a couple of churches, take about 1,000 pictures of the wall, and see a lot, despite the street-map traffic in my head.

In related news, I went to Chicago for a visit in March of 1996, never having been there, except on college choir tour in the suburbs, where the snow was knee-high — and I was using one of those cartoon-like maps with, maybe, the Amazon River drawn around the Rain Forest Cafe illustration. I like to think that these types of drawings were so distracting or enjoyable that I failed to notice I had been holding the city map with Lake Michigan at the north instead of the east. I was frustrated because I couldn’t figure out how the lake could possibly be located at my right since it was way at the top of my map. I guess if I had asked someone for directions at the beginning of my trip, I would have gotten oriented much faster.

If you ever visit Spain, you’ll notice that the roads in various cities wind this way and that. For an especially confusing time, visit Toledo. If using a map is way too much trouble, as it was in Toledo, I sometimes tuck the map into my purse and try, mapless, to enjoy the shops and scenes, but then I end up having no idea where I am and passing the same shops and scenes about 40 times and start dwelling on how I can’t believe I can’t figure out something so simple and then start fretting over how I haven’t read up on Spanish history and don’t even know what I’m looking at anyway. Then I wonder how an intelligent woman could be this incompetent, meanwhile hoping no one is following me. (Note: It is truly amazing how many people come up to me in Chicago and even in Spain and ask me for directions or other information. I guess I look I have a vague idea about what’s going on.)

Okay, so I’m being hard on myself. Actually, my sense of direction is pretty good and I’m normally quite competent with maps, and I especially have to give myself lots of credit for reading train maps in cities with which I’m unfamiliar, plus I lived outside of Tokyo for three years and read train signs in Hiragana. I used the train all the time in Madrid, understanding the system pretty well. So if I have lived in two foreign countries and could read the language and am still alive today, I guess my map situation isn’t so bad. And despite what I said, I think I can find almost anything. However, I suppose there are always exceptions to the rule, and Toledo and Avila happen to be two of them, not to mention Sevilla, whose street names on the map were so small I could barely see them, plus I wasn’t wearing my reading glasses at the time.

I don’t have much more to say about Avila. I figure if you or I want to know the history, we can consult the Internet (Wikipedia, if we’re hard up) — or you can just look at the pictures on this blog. They tell a better story than I do, plus I’ve already explored the area, gotten turned around many times, and wasted lots of time, all in an effort to save YOU all of the time and trouble. I hope you enjoy the pictures (located below my blog posts below), and the good news is that to view them, you don’t even need a map.

Besos,

International Girl in Spain
http://www.BeltStyles.com: Buckle up for the perfect look and fit.
Copyright 2014. BeltStyles, LLC. Chicago, Illinois.

International Girl in Spain is my humorous and real take about the year (2009-2010) I spent teaching English in Spain, as well as my travels to different cities and countries while I was there.