MY BIRTHDAY, THANKSGIVING, AND ASTHMATIC BRONCHITIS

January 24, 2010

Hola a Todos,

November has always flown by for me in the United States, and in Spain, November’s speed was no different. My birthday occurs in the middle of the month, and I am usually very busy pre- and post-celebration, as well as the day of, but this year was different: nothing special happened on my birthday, except that my age changed and I was in Spain. What good could I find in being 48? I found my consolation: the two handsomest men in the world, George Clooney and Barack Obama, are 48. So what if one has a girlfriend and the other is married and I’ll, most likely, never meet either? They’re out there, and they’re my age. That’s what matters.

I know I have my health and my friends, but there is something very dissatisfying (if I were satisfied with everything, this would just be another run-of-the-mill “I did this; I did that” blog now, wouldn’t it?) about being this age and having everything turn out much differently than I had planned for myself. Okay, maybe it’s better in some ways, but it’s definitely worse in others. For example, I don’t have George or Barack — and life would be a lot better if someone would tell Oprah about these blog entries: I’d quickly get my book published and be the last guest on her last show. Think about it, please.

In the morning, my roommate gave me Belgian chocolates and a mug on which was a cartoon-like flamenco dancer and the word “Madrid.” In Spain, or at least at my school, the birthday teacher is supposed to bring his or her own sweets/cake to school. This is probably a very good idea, because then you won’t get angry with anybody but yourself for having forgotten your birthday. So it’s basically, “It’s my birthday. Here are the sweets, and everybody kiss me on both cheeks now.” I made cookies for the other teachers and myself, plus I brought a box of assorted cookies.

The special part of my day? I received “Chocolate a la taza” chocolate — reputedly the best kind — to make a chocolate drink. This gift was from a generous, thoughtful, interesting teacher with whom I have a Spanish-English exchange. She had remembered that I’d never drunk this particular drink or eaten churros, which accompany it, and I had told her I was very curious about trying it and was planning to treat myself to this special drink on my birthday. Her gift saved me from having to go out and spend more money: I ended up making the drink at home (chocolate and milk heated up in a saucepan). Very sweet of her.

I didn’t do anything special that night, as I really didn’t know anybody at that point, except for the teachers and a couple of others, but I don’t think I know anybody at this point either, and it’s almost February. I had Thanksgiving to look forward to — and I knew that Javier’s visit to celebrate both occasions would be guaranteed fun, which I needed.

I decided to make Thanksgiving into a big deal. Neither Javier nor my roommate had ever eaten Thanksgiving dinner, and I was excited about preparing it, although it was a lot of work. I went to Taste of America — a store that sells mostly American items — to get the cans of pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce, as well as the Stove Top stuffing. I couldn’t easily find cloves and allspice in the regular grocery stores in Madrid, but this American store had several spices — cinnamon, cloves, allspice — mixed together in one little bottle, so I bought that to make the pumpkin pie. I made sure I had gotten these items at least the week before because I knew that if I waited even 2 days before, the store might run out of everything — and I was right, because I went back to Taste of America 2 days before the big day, and they had no cans of pumpkin pie left.

Appetizers consisted of homemade salmon pate with crackers. I served red or white wine or beer, chicken instead of turkey, real mashed potatoes, gravy (some British brown crystals you add water to and heat up), “Stove Top Stuffing” (added chestnuts and mushrooms), cranberry sauce, canned corn, and homemade pumpkin pie and crust topped with butter-pecan ice cream. I had bought coconut chocolates, and my roommate had bought truffles, so we definitely had enough food.  

Along with Javier, my friend Maria and her boyfriend Derick were my guests — and my roommate had invited her friend Carmen, who lives around the corner from us, so there were six people around a small table. Of course, if you know me well, you know I would’ve wanted to make the meal much more elaborate, but I’m just not equipped with either the time or money here to do that.

The timing for Javier’s visit was perfect in a way because I was home sick from school with a bad case of asthmatic bronchitis, which I had gotten a week before Thanksgiving. I went to the health center a few blocks from my school, and I spoke to everyone, including the doctor, in Spanish. “Bronchitis Asmatica” was the diagnosis, and he prescribed me pantomycin and mucasin, which I got from the pharmacy in Madrid. The pharmacist wasn’t particularly nice, and I apologized to her, saying that I had been in Madrid only a couple of months so I couldn’t speak super well yet. Of course, then she perked up and faked being an understanding person about my Spanish. Yeah, right, as if I’m going to buy that, but I usually get that reaction of understanding if I give them that [true] line. Nothing like dealing with pissy people who can barely be bothered to help you when you are standing at the counter waiting for 10 minutes to be waited on, as they sit there and look in every direction but yours. Yes, I know we have our share of them in Chicago.

Javier left Friday morning, and I was invited to a Thanksgiving dinner that Saturday: that of around-the-corner Carmen. So my roommate and I went to her place for dinner. I brought homemade cookies, cranberry sauce, and chestnuts. Carmen had invited about 4 other people: an American-sounding girl who had a Spanish father and a British mother, a freelance professional Spanish musician, two not-with-each-other gay guys (one of whom had lived in Ireland for six years and was very nice to talk to), and an American girl she team-taught with and who had the especially important task of bringing a delicious turkey to the dinner. I spent a nice time there but decided at midnight that my asthmatic bronchitis and I had better go home, which I was thrilled was around the corner.

I had difficulty sleeping for three weeks, not being able to breathe through my nose, but I sounded much worse than I felt. In fact, apart from not being able to breathe (and having problems with my feet, which are unrelated to my asthma but always need mentioning), I felt fine and I thought that my wheezing laughter deserved to be on laugh track and I should be paid handsomely for it. Javier was joking with me that I sounded like a truck revving up. It’s hard to explain just how feminine that comment made me feel.

I called the Chief of Studies from my school to tell him that, again, I wouldn’t be coming to school, and to make me laugh, an activity he revels in, he said, “Oh, no, Hallie. You have a hangover? Okay, don’t come to school.” He knew full well I was sick because I had been at school around him and all of the teachers, and it’s kind of hard to fake that congestion — plus I had given him the note from the doctor so that my absence was official. The Ministry of Education had told us that we would need a doctor’s note if we were sick, but I honestly think our school doesn’t care one way or the other. I gave them the official note, though, because I didn’t want them to think I was taking off because of Javier’s visit and Thanksgiving.

Anyway, I ended up missing about a week of school and had bronchitis for about three weeks, though I was diligent about taking my medicine, which finally worked.

And that was the speedy month of November, which leads me to write about the month of December… in my next blog entry.

Until them, as always, I am…

Internationally yours,
Hallie

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