Monday, August 16, 2010

If anyone's been wondering...

Yes, I still have some stuff to post about Germany and Holland. If I decide to get to it. Probably will. Eventually.

This evening, I went to the Trader Joe's where I worked for three-and-a-half years, and had two fairly long Spanish conversations with two former co-workers. Both asked me if I'd been to Spain this summer. Apparently they heard it in my voice. Probably the speech rhythm more than the pronunciation of the words themselves. I don't reaaaally have the Spain-Spanish accent, unfortunately.** One commented on how much faster and more advanced my speech was than last year. I'm not sure it is, but it made me feel good anyway.

**Here is a very good sample of the Spain-Spanish accent. They use a lot of vosotros (familar plural "you"). They also make a "th" sound for every word with a soft "c" or a "z" where other Spanish-speaking countries make a "s" sound. So, the word cerveza, instead of sounding like "sir-vay-sah," in Spain sounds like "thir-vay-thah." Additionally, the "s" sounds that they do hve, carry a twinge of "sh." And god do I love the way it sounds. I love the woman's voice at about 0:36 in the video when she asks the guys what they're doing in the parking lot. To which the guy on the left starts making really weird noises, and the guy on the right answers her with que te caga en la hostia, tía... very, very Spanish. "Just alcohol, alcohol, alcohol..." the guy tries to assure her. Sure, like we buy that. Doesn't look like just alcohol. The guy in the black shirt at about 3:00 will also give you a good idea of the accent.

Oooh, and this lady's accent is fantastic. I wish I could sound like that. Can you tell how much I love it? Maybe just a little.

In my search for a good example of a Spain-Spanish accent to link, I found this: a man singing the Bohemian Rhapsody (karaoke-style) with a Spanish accent. I snorted a few times laughing. You may as well.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Some more Spain...

My last evening in Spain, I managed to do something that I have wanted to do for years: I wrote on a dirty car. My friend documented the process (see image below). Now, to really understand how awesome this is, you need to understand something. In Spain, they don't simply write lávame ("wash me") in the residue and grime, as we are accustomed to doing in the U.S. Oh no, it's much better than that. They write guarro. The first time I saw that written on a car, I remember asking what it meant. My friend told me and it cracked me up for the rest of the day. I then made it my life-long goal to find a vehicle deserving of such a compliment.

Pocket Oxford Spanish Dictionary © 2005 Oxford University Press:
guarro -rra sustantivo masculino, femenino (Esp fam)
  1. (persona sucia) filthy pig (colloq)
  1. (indecente, vulgar): es un ~ he's really disgusting
Here is my handiwork. The layers of atrociousness on this automobile were such that I had to actually lick each finger before writing to cut through to the surface of the car itself. I am not sure if exclamation marks are usually part of the finished product, but I deemed them appropriate for the situation.

I like to think that the car owner was not terribly insulted by my actions, but perhaps... inspired to give the little guy a nice "rinse." Or a scouring.

Actually, one of my Spanish friends who knew about my guarro dream, had earlier that day pointed out a marginally unclean car for me to leave my mark. Only after I had completed the task, did he admit, "That was Alberto's car." Hahahahahahahahahaha. What a dirty little trick (no pun intended). Sigh. Oh, I love it.

On the subject of writing things on public surfaces, I came across quite a funny sign in a Spanish restaurant bathroom:

It reads: "Directed to bathroom painters and artists. If you want to do it, please make it something pleasant, decorative, and original. (1) So that we don't have to paint the door again. (2) So that later they say that these places don't inspire sighs and passions."

I wonder, actually, if the translation of "sighs and passions" might instead be something a bit sarcastic, meant to hint more towards "astonished gasps and feelings of anger and retaliation." I say this only after years of reading the back of many a bathroom door. When people bring Sharpies with them to the john, they generally have an agenda to share with the world as well: Not always a pleasant one, and usually inviting of follow-up commentary. That's the way it works.

Then there are people who bring cameras with them into bathroom stalls. I mean, what's with those people?

I love this hat. I really do. I love it because it uses the abbreviated version of one of my favorite Spanish swears. Joé, qué caló, is what leaves the mouths of native speakers when they say, joder, qué calor. It basically means, "f$%# it's hot out!" ¡Qué calor! = "What heat!" Also, it made me realize that the sound I often hear from Spaniards at the beginning of sentences, a strong "HO" sound from the back of the throat (like a combination of Santa Claus and the French "r"), is actually the beginning of a swear that they don't finish. ¡Joé! or ¡Jo!

If you'd like to read up more on this swear, what is probably one of Spanish's most versitile, you can visit the linked words in this sentence. Or you can visit the Word Reference Forums. The explanations in the forums are, however, in Spanish. And if you don't know Spanish, then, joé, that's not going to help you at all.

Last subject of today's blog entry is one that I had a lot of fun with. This was part of an airplane ride with Vueling airlines. They had an absolutely brilliant page in their in-flight magazine in which passengers from various, sequential flights create a piece-by-piece story. The first sentence was started by them, and then they left a bunch of lines for the rest to be filled out. My Colombian friend and I added to the English side, and then to the Spanish.

Here is the English side:

I wrote the "... but it did..." part, and my friend followed with the "My neighbors..." part.

And here is the Spanish side (translated below):

I didn't think that all the food would go bad in a week.

Passenger in a previous flight:
Who would have thought that a trip of 48 hours would become a week-long odyssey?

My friend's addition:
From the moment I left, I was in a race against the clock to bring the "snack" to its destination.

... and, last but not least...

My addition:
At first, all went well. Apart from being in a hurry, I had my red cape, a basket, and much excitement to see my grandmother.

Ah, yes. I felt clever.

What I wouldn't give to see how the stories ended up...

Friday, August 6, 2010

I'm back!

I am back in Boston, and am settling happily into my apartment. I just got a sad email from my friend Vanessa in Madrid. Let me cut and paste the sad part. Here is the context in case you missed it: Read Story 3.

My friend's words:
Por cierto, el otro día compramos una bolsa de pimientos del padrón en el súper y nos acordamos de ti... creo que nos picaron 4 ó 5 de toda la bolsa (había unos 30 más o menos). Y tengo que decir que ¡pican mogollón! así que los que nos pusieron en Plaza de España debían de ser no picantes o tuvimos mala suerte...

By the way, the other day we bought a bag of Pimientos del Padrón in the supermarket and we thought of you... I think 4 or 5 out of the whole bag were spicy (there were about 30). And I have to say that they are incredibly spicy! So basically, it must have been that either the ones they gave us in Plaza de España were not spicy or that we had bad luck...

To which my response was:
Tendré que ir al bar de "tapas" en Brookline... a ver si venden pimientos del padrón. Espero que--si lo tienen--no sean tan flojos como los mios de ese día.

I'll have to go to the tapas bar in Brookline... we'll see if they sell Pimientos del Padrón. I hope that--if they have them--they aren't as wimpy as the ones I had that day.

By the way, I like that my friend used the word mogollón (bolded in the above quote). I have never seen it befofe, so I'm looking it up right now, but I think it must be interchangeable with un montón (a whole lot).

Yup. I was right (see below).

mogollón m fam
1 (gran cantidad) loads, an awful lot [de, of]: había un mogollón de animales, there were loads of animals
2 (lío, alboroto) mess, racket

Alright. Good to be back. I've got more stories and pictures to post. Stay tuned y hasta entonces.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

From an internet cafe in Düsseldorf

Stay tuned. I may or may not have time to update this before getting back to Boston. But there will be updates. Probably Friday. And lots of swell pictures.

Love from Germany,

Tschüss! (Bye!)

Friday, July 30, 2010

I am in Germany, uh... I mean Holland

Today I find myself in Maastricht, Holland, which appears to be the bicycle center of the universe. I apologize in advance for not being able to show you any pretty pictures in this post. So, the truth of the matter is that my German friend and I (not the one that I went to the theatre with) were going to travel from Dusseldorf to Munich, and weeeeeell... it turns out that a miniscule mistake in online ticket-ordering can prevent you from being able to fly. Even if you already bought the very expensive tickets. In simpler terms, both tickets were bought under the name of the same passenger, and apparently that (a) isn't fixible and (b) doesn't "fly" with the airport staff, pardon the pun.

Anyway, I arrived in Germany on Wednesday, after a very nice last couple of days in Spain that I still need to write and post pictures about. So far, I have had a surprisingly smooth transition between countries. Allow me to explain.
  1. Upon arriving, I located a Spanish girl from my flight (who had been living in Germany for a year) and she helped me buy my ticket to Dusseldorf from the Cologne airport train station. Spanish.
  2. She introduced me to another person who had also been on our flight: a guy from Brazil who had been living in Spain for several months. He was taking the same train as me. More Spanish.
  3. On the train, we began speaking to two Colombians (in Spanish, obviously) who were living in Germany. They asked me if I was Spanish, and then, upon finding out that I was a gringa (American girl), they started (good-naturedly) making fun of my Spain-Spanish accent.
  4. As soon as I saw my German friend, we launched into full-on discussion... in Spanish.
  5. Once I had dropped off my things in her swanky apartment, she took me to a tapas restaurant. Where the titles for the menu items were in... you guessed it, Spanish.
  6. I would like to take the time to remind anyone reading this that I was in Germany... in case the trend of events was beginning to inspire doubt.
  7. The next night, we hung out with a group of Spanish-speaking Germans, a girl from Colombia, and a girl from Argentina... at the despedida (goodbye party) at a Mexican resturant for a girl about to live abroad in Latin America for several months.
  8. Am I in Germany? Really?!
  9. Oh no, wait. I am in Holland.

It is time for my friend and I to go eat. We are hungry.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

It's my last full day in Madrid

FIRST AND FOREMOST: If you'd like to leave me a comment or say hi, I'd highly encourage it. I like writing for an audience and enjoy knowing who my readers are. :)

Leaving this city always makes me sad, tanto por la gente como por la ciudad en sí (1). I have no doubt that I could stay here (working) for quite a long time and be happy. I have a certain level of comfort here that I don't have in any other "foreign" location, and perhaps that is why I love to return so much. It's fun for me to feel like I fit somewhere where I don't actually belong.

(There are numbered footnotes at the bottom of the post... because I like footnotes.)

I am not leaving with quite the same level of expertise in spoken Spanish that I was hoping for, and here's why:
  1. The focus of this vacation was much more on it being a vacation, on experience, on travel, and on spending time with good people, no matter what language they were speaking.
  2. I didn't have a job like I did years ago that forced me out of the house and into an all-Spanish, sink-or-swim environment. That's what I would want next time I'm here... something to do daily that requires me to get up and go somewhere, and grab a newspaper en route.
  3. Because I had no job, large chunks of the day were spent either at home, watching dubbed TV, or out, meandering the streets by myself. Neither of those situations is particularly good for practicing speech unless I happened to be very inclined to talk to myself outloud in Spanish for hours on end (and correcting myself) or extremely adept at engaging strangers in conversation. I actually happen to be pretty good at both of those things, but for some reason, it really wasn't a great avenue to take this trip.
  4. I was not here long enough or consistently enough to conseguir a Spanish-speaking novio (2), which I know from primary sources and a tad bit of personal experience is the number one way to buy myself a one-way ticket to Fluentville. So since that was not the reality of things this time, Boston it is then. Any takers? I'll be accepting applications for the position upon my return. Persons with low threshold for human error need not apply.
Why not all hope is lost: Strangely enough, I might wind up getting better at my Spanish while traveling through Germany. Say what?! you ask. Well, as it turns out, the chica I will be visiting is the very same girl that I lived with three summers ago in Madrid. She lived for years in Spain, and has since become fluent. I suspect that she speaks rather accurately (and at the very least, much better than me) since she spent quite a while studying Spanish grammar as part of a degree she earned in Spain. Her default language with me is Spanish because it is easier for her than English. I plan to use that to my advantage.

That said, I would like to liven this post up with a couple of pictures and stories.

Story 1: I went to El Rastro after not having been there for years, and mulled around, looking for this and that and hoping to find a few bargains (which I did). In my meanderings, I came across this man. He was playing the guitar with one hand.

I watched for a while at first and then started to walk away, but then I thought, "Geez, this sort of thing doesn't happen too often. I've gotta talk to the guy." So I waited until he was done with song two, marched myself right over, and introduced myself. "I'm really impressed," I told him in Spanish. "You play well." Then I showed him that I too had only one hand and he nearly jumped back in surprise. "No way!" So we talked awhile, I bought his CD, and before leaving, I shook his left hand with my right, and was back on my merry way with a smile.

Story 2: I was hanging out with some good friends of mine (an American guy and a Spanish gal) who were giving a tour of Madrid to a girl from Finland. This was another day of nearly all English, but fantastic nonetheless, because of the wicked (3) awesome people I was hanging out with. Here are a couple funny signs:

This sign should read: "[Red do-not-enter symbol] Excepto vehiculos autorizados (except authorized vehicles)"
Instead it reads: "[Red do-not-enter symbol] Excepto culos autorizados (except authorized butts/asses)"

I love word-play vandalism.
This Plaza de España sign comes first in Spanish. Then underneath, the Spanish is translated to English. Can you see the difference? No? Look. Look harder. Still no? Keep looking (4).

Story 3: While hanging out with aforementioned group of wicked awesome individuals, we stopped for some food. Below, you can see Los pimientos de Padrón, a famous Spanish dish in which the saying goes unos pican y otros no (some bite and some do not). According to this website that I am linking to here about Los pimientos de Padrón, about ten percent of the peppers "bite" or you could also say "are spicy." This was not my experience. I kept a running tally (see below).

As you can see, early on in the game, I was not encountering any spicy ones. Now, according to the approximate 10 percent, one would expect a spicy one somewhere in the next three. Perhaps my standards for what I considered to picar and what I considered to not picar were too high. Perhaps my tastebuds are made of steel. However it went, though, of the forty-one peppers on my plate (forty-one!!!), my friend Vanessa claims that the one she tried did, in fact, picar. That would be my luck. She seemed like she had to think about it a bit before reporting that it was spicy. Was it, then, actually that spicy, or did the spiciness not hit her until a few seconds later? I will never know.

The interesting thing about these peppers, is that they naturally occur this way. Some are naturally hot when you eat them. Neither the color, the form, nor the size tell you whether it will have bite. Interesting. Veeeeeeery interesting.

Story 4: If you will please note below that I have taken a picture of ice cream and some signs:

This is not just any ice cream, though. Oh no. This is the ONE PLACE IN ALL OF MADRID that I have EVER found that SELLS SOY ICE CREAM!!!!! Sorry to assault you with caps. Soja sin azucar is "soy without sugar." Now, I don't care much for the "no sugar" aspect. Really, me da igual (5). But I looked at the guy with a suspicious smile and asked, "Seriously? Is this ice cream made without milk?" And he answered, "Yes, and all of these as well," with a sweeping motion of his hand, indicating nearly half of the flavor selection. "The cinnamon, too?!!" I asked, barely able to comprehend what I was hearing. "Yep, the cinnamon, too." For a few seconds, I was without words. He asked me if I was okay. "Yes, it's just... it's like a half-miracle. I... I almost can't believe it. I haven't found soy ice cream anywhere else in Madrid. Heck, I can't even find it in ice cream places in the US usually." He looked at me and smiled, "Pues, chica... aprovéchalo (6). What flavors can I get you?"

The best part of this conversation was that I got to use my new favorite language construction: medio + noun/adjective. It makes me feel like I know what I'm talking about. Medio milagro = half-miracle.

"I can't even find ice cream places that sell soy ice cream in Boston!" I exclaimed to my friends when I made it outside. "Well, I guess you'll just have to move to Madrid, then," one told me. I guess that's as good a reason as any.

Ha. Just kidding, Mom. Juuuuuust kidding.

Kristy Spanglish/Other Translation Guide
(1) "as much because of the people as because of the city itself." Is it weird that I can't figure out how to accurately phrase that in English?
(2) conseguir = find, obtain; novio = boyfriend
(3) I've been teaching the entirety of the non-English-speaking world about the word wicked and our love affair with it in Boston/New England.
(4) There is no difference.
(5) I couldn't care less.
(6) Well, girl... take advantage of this.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Eres un bombón...

I've heard a lot of funny pickup lines, but this one really made me laugh. Two nights ago as I was walking home at (I know, I know) 4:30 in the morning from the Metro stop, this Spanish dude pulled towards the sidewalk and rolled down his window. I realize that it's not spectacular to talk to strangers, but at first I thought he was going to ask me for directions (which I would have answered with, "Sorry, I don't know the area that well"). But instead, he asked me where I was going. A casa, I told him, starting to walk away. Eres un bombón, he told me, and then held up a joint and asked if I'd like to hang out with him for a smoke. I politely declined the invitation, said goodnight and continued on my way. I enjoyed being called a "chocolate candy," however.

Doesn't Ricky Martin have a "shake your bombón" song? He might, now that I think about it. No, wait, it's "shake your bon-bon." My mistake.

Below, is a picture of me in all of my "bombón-ness" underneath a Magnolia tree in Madrid. Apparently they are living fossils. They evolved before bees were around. I had no idea these things were so genetically solid. Way to go, Magnolias!

Also, I'm quite excited by this Metro ad (below). It makes me smile every time I see it: "Alicia. Teacher of young children. She's always the first to arrive to class."

That's me. Also, this chica has some seriously awesome style. She's gotta be the cool teacher. Some of the other ads show her very, very cool lace-up boots.

Lastly, I was pretty dang psyched to find the same advisory warning on a Spanish cigarette box that I saw on one in Italy. I wanted to compare the two. As you can see, they are very similar. I would undoubtedly find it (1) very easy to understand written Italian if I started learning it, but at the same time (2) terribly confusing to try to remember the which words belonged to which language, once I had to produce something.

I am off today to try to buy some things in the "Taste of America" store. As gifts, that is. I think it may be the only place in Spain that you can buy rootbeer. Or peanut butter. Or Jelly Bellys. :)

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Venice Beach Ultimate

Finishing up the story of last weekend: Once I took the train to Venice, I took one of the canal boats to this island called Lido. That's where the beach tournament took place. As the Spaniards I hang out with already had all of the slots filled for their team, I was on the pick up team, which consisted of a couple of American (USA) girls, some dudes from France, a guy from Belgium, at least a couple of Italians, and probably someone else that I am forgetting. This was my team.

How we were able to communicate at all was semi-miraculous. It was largely thanks to the great lengths that Europeans go to to learn English. It makes me feel very fortunate, mostly. At first, we had to get used to each other. Then, little by little, we started feeling and playing like an actual team. The rest of the teams we played against had two main advantages: (1) the advantage of having played together for awhile for months or years and (2) the advantage of all speaking a common language. Cheers and instructions from our sideline came in many colors and languages. At the end of one of our games, our elected "speech giver" was asked to give the end-of-game speech in French. I understood about ten percent of it. Or less.

This is what Lido looked like (partly), with cute, windy roads:

Most of us rented bikes and rode around the island like that, ringing little bells. Of course, they were old 1950's-style bikes with giant baskets in the front and reaaaaaaally bad brakes. The good news about the bad brakes is that the bike rental did not come with the option of a helmet rental. Everytime a car passed me in transit, I held on tight to the handlebars and sucked my breath in a little bit. Here is me on a bike.

Below, you can see the gorgeous beach we played on. The sand was amazingly soft. Stepping in the sand was like walking through granulated silk. Scorching hot granulated silk.

Did I mention how suffocatingly hot it was in Venice last weekend? I don't believe I did. I just asked one of the guys I'm staying with how many degrees it was when we were there, and I really loved his answer: Ehhhhh... trienta y bastante. Which translates roughly to "thirty degrees and some unnecessarily high number in the ones place" or "dude, it was hotter than it needed to be." For the "metric impaired" (and I know I certainly am), thirty-five degrees Celcius is about ninety-five degrees Fahrenheit. Now, ninety-five degrees in Madrid is pretty tolerable, what with the air being very dry and all, but keep in mind that Venice is on the water. So the humidity "adds ten degrees" as my friend over here commented, but as he was talking in metric degrees, perhaps we can assume that it felt like it was one-hundred ten degrees. It did, I assure you. It was one of those lovely climates in which the only relief is a shower, a swim in the ocean, or a leisurely dip in a plastic kiddie pool with seven members of Madrid's ultimate team (true story). And once out of the shower/ocean/kiddie pool, there is never the luxury of drying off. Even if the water eventually evaporates, it is replaced by sweat.

So I spoke English most of the weekend, unfortunately... but I had some opportunities to utilize the Spanish at Saturday night's tournament dinner and after-party. I'd tell you what kind of nonsense my crazy Spaniard friends provoked at aforementioned party, but I'll leave you wondering. Because it's more fun that way. I will say, however, that the limbo was involved.

When all was said and done, I left Lido and returned to the Venice "mainland" I guess you could call it. I spent a full twenty-four hours with my new friend from Colombia, during which, I was babbling on and on in Spanish, and wishing it had been like that all vacation. We stayed in the house of a really sweet Spanish couple (also in their twenties) who were living for a year in Venice. This is a picture of the downstairs of their house.

There, we hung up all of our wet things to dry for the night, all sat down at the red and white checkered table cloth, and ate dinner. This was one of the precious times this trip when I have been "in the groove." I was following normal-speed, slang-filled, conversation with four native Spanish speakers. Not only was I understanding everything, but I was participating like a normal human being, and even joking around. And they were laughing! Not at me either, but with me. I love those moments. I wish I could bottle them and let them out the next time I trip all over a verb conjugation and feel bad about myself.

Okay, I think that's all. Tomorrow, I'll have to write about today.

La Katarsis del Tomatazo: Spanish Theatre

Last night I went to the theatre. The Spanish theatre, to be exact. "Have you ever been to the theatre here before?" my new friend asked me. "Nope," I said. Maybe more appropriately, he should have asked me if I'd ever been to a theatre in which I got to throw produce at the actors. My answer still would have been "no," but how often do you get to ask that question, really?

My new friend (who happens to be German), his roommate (who happens to be Cuban, I think), and I (who happen to not be Spanish either) went to a production called La Katarsis del Tomatazo. If I really fully understood the name of the comedy troop or if I understood more of the skit explaining the name, I would elaborate. Unfortunately, I don't understand much more than the fact that tomatazo is the opposite of a diminutive form for tomato... and thus indicates the noun form of something grand-scale that involves tomatoes.

Yes, we got to throw tomatoes.

We had the option to either applaud at the end of some skits or to throw tomatoes. Since I didn't understand many of the skits, I just threw tomatoes. At one point, my German friend turned to me and said, "Don't worry, I only understand 70 percent of this." I maybe understood the other 30 percent. Our native Spanish-speaking counterpart, on the other hand, was laughing like crazy at about just everything. Sigh. Comedy. It's the hardest part about learning a language, so they say.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

El botellón

So... thanks to a younger friend of mine in his early twenties, I got to really understand the full Spanish nightlife experience. Last night, I was privy to watching the non-tourist activities that occur on Friday and Saturday nights in Madrid. Apparently, it's quite the phenomenon, and it's called el botellón. Wikipedia defines it in the following way:

Botellón (Spanish for Big bottle) is a social activity among Spain’s youth, who gather in public areas to consume alcohol as an alternative to going to a bar or club.

"Wow, this could never happen in the States... " I commented to my 23 year-old madrileño friend as I observed a park-full of young people gathered with plastic cups and their beverages of choice. "Bueno, es prohibido..." he answered me. Prohibited. Apparently, if the police show up (and they did), participants simply have to get up and move (a slow meander is sufficient) to another spot... as if the police are sheep herders. But instead of sheep, they are herding inebriated teenagers and twenty-somethings.

If you are curious about el botellón, you can visit the Wikipedia page. If you're not, you can just take my word for it. It looked more or less like a tailgate party in a parking lot. But without grilled food. Or cars. Or old dudes with beer guts. And it was a plaza instead of a parking lot. Not sure if that helped. I guess my only complaint would be that the participants of el botollón don't tend to clean up after themselves too well (see picture below).

This photo was taken in 2005, when my (then) roommate and I made fun of the trashy state of the park near our house on a Saturday morning. Haha. Now I know why.

And, in the true spirit of el botellón, I am taking a "plastic cup half-full" approach to analyzing the whole evening:
  1. I was allowed a glimpse into true Spanish "youth" culture.
  2. Given my surroundings, I was able to practice my Spanish with kids who threw around a LOT of slang and didn't always slow down for me to process it. Halfway into the evening, it felt like my own speech was flowing out of me like a river.
  3. No one I hung out with last night actually knew how close to the brink of thirty I was. When my friend and I asked one of his friends to guess, his friend looked at me, " I give you... twenty-five years... but that's on the high end. Probably less." The next words out of my mouth may or may not have been the Spanish equivalent to, "You're my new best friend."
I think I might go to the store now. I ran out of leche de soja, and that's kind of a vegan crime. I will finish my Italy saga and include some nice pictures. Soon.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Adventures with Italian... and, as always, Spanish

Part 2: Milan

After a rather uneventful (and happily so) flight to Milan, I was at last in Italy. I took a bus ride to the central bus station, and talked to an Italian who knew neither English nor Spanish. It was tricky, but Spanish served me well. I was able to ask him questions in Spanish and he was able to answer in Italian. Pretty awesome. That's what I was hoping would happen.

I decided to catch a later train to Venice so that I could wander around and pretend that I was Italian for awhile. Thankfully, the "looking Italian" part went pretty well, as I have that genetic advantage of having Italian descendants on my mother's side of the family. Check. What usually thwarts such illusions is the fact that when I open my mouth, the language I'm most likely to speak is not Italian. Sure, I know some words and phrases like molto bene! and ciao and grazie, along with foods like linguine, spaghetti, ravioli, etc... but those are not likely to sustain me in any situation except for buying pasta in an Italian supermarket.

I talked to as many Italian people as I could, always asking first if they spoke Spanish because... boy do I hate letting people hear me use English! I don't know... I guess it's just a part of me that wants people to see that, although my language is not perfect, I am putting in the effort. I always feel that, as an American, I have to represent my people well. I want other people to say, "Hey, maybe all Americans aren't bad after all... that one was trying really hard to speak our language." We (native English speakers) have the luxury of having the world at our fingertips. We don't have to learn other languages. We let other people learn ours. I like to struggle through to show that I appreciate how much work the rest of the world does to bend over backwards to talk to us. Anyway, enough of my soapbox rant... I had a few people thinking that I was a Spaniard... including two native Spanish speakers from the Dominican Republic that I later met at the train station when I bought my tickets.

Here is a picture of the first place I stopped in... a little Milano cafe with a sign bragging of soymilk accommodations in their caffeinated beverages. Be still my beating vegan heart.

Then I stopped at a bookstore to enjoy their air conditioning and found a few gems:

Diary of a Wimpy Kid! Apparently schiappa (skee-AH-pah)** is someone who is incompetent. Not a direct translation, but pretty fun. Love it.

Then I happened upon this book, which, to my best knowledge, is entitled "Vegetables: Cooked and Raw." Now, all was going just fine, each page with a giant picture of a vegetable, until I turned to this page. The pages went something like this: Carrot, tomato, artichoke...squid? What?! I wish I had been able to read it to see the justification for such an obvious blunder. Last I checked, squid was filed away under "c" for "certainly not a vegetable." Apparently, according to Italians, I am wrong.

More to come. Ciao!

**Thank you to my friend Justin for steering me correctly on my Italian pronunciation.

Italians and Brazilians and Americans... oh my!

Madrid Metro: I went from the bottom of Line 6 to the top of line 8

So, as I said earlier, this weekend was a spur-of-the-moment trip to Italy. Here's the story:

Part 1: En camino al aeropuerto (on the way to the airport)

So, I didn't exactly get to go to sleep on Thursday night. As I had (intelligently) booked a flight to Milan at six in the morning on Friday and the Madrid subway system doesn't start running until five, that was unfortunately not an option. So, I found myself in the position of having to take the last metro of the night before the system shut down... which would mean sleeping at the airport. What can I say? I travel in style.

I was on the last metro to pass through Plaza Elíptica (línea gris), and happened to be seated and waiting near four people (in their twenties) who previously entered with a giant pet carrier and a girl dragging a very unwilling dog by the leash. Well, that, and a whole bunch of bags. I wondered where all those Spaniards were going, aside from the fact that they were obviously bound for the airport with such luggage. This fact was confirmed when one of them started echoing my sentiments (in Spanish)... "are we going to be able to catch the last metro to the airport?" Another answered, "No problem. If not, there are buses that can take you there at this hour." I took a mental note to stick close to these people. If I happened to miss the last metro to the airport, I sure as heck wanted to be around people who knew their way around the bus system.

So, as it turned out, only three of the four people actually got onto the metro when it pulled into the station. One of the guys started speaking to the others about how he would not be able to get back home if he stuck with them on the metro any longer. I realized then that he was not a native Spanish speaker. The other two assured him that they did not need his help anymore, and that he could bajar (get off the train). He gave the standard goodbye cheek-kiss and an adios, buen viaje! to the girl and then left.

With only two remaining, I had the nerve to ask, Váis al aeropuerto? (Are you two going to the airport?) Which then started a friendly little interchange in which I found out that neither of them were Spaniards. She was a bubbly and beautiful Italian girl with thick-rimmed glasses who had just finished an eight-month stay in Madrid, and was returning home with her dog and all her things. He was her adorable Brazilian boyfriend who was cheerfully accompanying her to the airport to see her off at seven in the morning.

When the time came for all of us to bajar as well, I went back over to them and asked, Os ayudo? (Can I help you guys?) To which they looked pretty relieved and accepted since they had about four bags, a giant dog carrier, and a reluctant dog between the two of them. So, when the train door opened, I grabbed onto one end of the carrier and we all started walking (half-running) to the connecting line that would take us to the airport. Unfortunately, since that line is several hallways, escalator rides, and twists and turns away, we missed the last metro to the airport by about sixty seconds. My new friends and I decided to split a cab to the airport, as there was no other way to get there. This meant that not only did we have to find a cab, but we had to find a cab that would fit three people, five bags, a dog carrier, a dog, and a partridge in a pear tree. That was its own adventure. Also, once we got the cab, one of the roads to the airport was shut-down, so we had to get out and wait for a bus to Terminals 1 and 2.

Now, there are several good things about this story... (1) I would not have missed the last metro to the airport had I not helped these people with their dog carrier, (2) I wound up taking a much longer time to get to the airport, so I wasn't sitting in Terminal 1 alone for five hours, (3) they were the nicest people in the planet to hang out with, (4) since we all came from different places, I got to speak Spanish with them all night, (5) I got loads of practice with vosotros (the plural familar "you" that everyone and their mom uses in Spain) and the resulting verb forms, and (6) did I mention how nice they were?

So, to wrap up a ridiculously long story, I got to the airport terminal, said goodbye to my nice travel buddies, and was about to lie down on the floor for two hours to sleep infront of the Ryanair check-in stations... but then I asked a question of one of the on-duty airport security guys, and--wouldn't you know it?--I talked to the dudes for the next hour and a half. Neither could speak English, so that was pretty awesome. I could tell they were amused by my ramblings. That's what I gotta do, though. Talk to old guys. They always appreciate chattin' with the ladies. Even if the ladies mess up conjugating verbs once in awhile.

Until the next entry, ciao.

I will leave you guys with only the beautiful image above of the Madrid metro system. Oh, if only the metro were that awesome in Boston.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Italy for the weekend.

I am taking a last-minute, impromptu trip to Venice, Italy to play in an ultimate tournament on the beach called "Redemption." I am leaving in a few minutes to catch the last metro of the night and then I will sleep in the Madrid airport. In case that doesn't hit home for you, my flight is at 6 in the morning. I don't really know where I will be sleeping this weekend, but most likely outside. We'll see if someone is nice enough to let me into their tent. I've been told that it's too hot for sleeping bags in Italy these days. So basically, I will be living like a bum. Don't tell my mother. Oh wait... she reads this.

Also, this is the first time in my life that I bought a plane ticket without really being certain if I was going to be allowed into the tournament, where I would sleep, what I would eat, how I would return, etc. For a gal whose job it is to plan every square inch of a day for ten and eleven year olds for nine months of the year, this is rebellion to the opposite extreme: Plan nothing and hope for the best.

This is for you, mom.

I'll let you guys know how my Spanish fares while talking to Italians.**

**I'm technically half-Italian.

Ciao, Madrid! I'll update when I get back on Monday night or Tuesday!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

It takes two hours to do laundry, so...

I have returned from Prague and am now back in Spain. I (sadly) was not in Spain when Spain won the World Cup, a tragedy that prompted my friend to email me the comment Vaya fiesta q te has perdido!!! ("Hot dang, did you miss an awesome party!") On the plus side, I did have a blast of my own. Here was our group of friends: A boy from Slovakia, an American cheering for Holland, a Ukranian gal, and me. I was in the middle of Old Town Square in the center of Prague, which, as far as locations go, was pretty killer itself (see image below). The sea of Spaniards (minus those from Holland) erupted in a cheer so loud, that I could have imagined that I was in Spain anyway. The only difference being that after the game, there were far fewer people out on the streets causing mayhem. The excitement was more localized to certain streets, and there was no dancing in public fountains (which I found out--via Facebook--is what I would have been doing if hanging out in Madrid with my usual crew of Spanish friends).

My proudest moment was teaching a cute Arabic-speaking guy from Saudi Arabia to yell ¡Vamos España! at the appropriate moments. He did me proud.

To draw this entry back to the theme of my blog, the language there was so interesting. Almost nothing looked familiar! I am so used to being able to sort of read signs, that it really threw me for a loop to have to try to recognize such drastically different words. Some of my new favorite words in Czech:

Ovoce (fruit) and zelenina (vegetable). Every good vegetarian should know these. I don't think those two words are in their plural forms because, as I understand it, that is done mostly by adding a "y" at the end of the word.

Pozor! It means "Careful!" "Watch out!" "Attention!" It was everywhere, and I made sure to exclaim it with enthusiasm every time I read it. I was talented at this because in Czech they roll the "r"s just like in Spanish.

As I said before, pluralization comes from adding a "y" at the end of the noun. That's how we get such awesome aisle signs in this supermarket: Crackery, snacky, and (my favorite) chipsy. Apparently, the Czech people, upon adopting the word "chips" did not know that it was already plural. So they have pluralized our plural form. Aside from these words that are obvious in meaning, I did have another very proud moment where I read a sign of about three words that I recognized... something like, "store open daily until 9." The best part about it was that the words for "store," "open" and "daily" were all words that did not look even remotely English, and required me to recognize them in variations of forms I had seen them in previously. Go me.

With that, I will do some yoga and check on my laundry. Then I plan to leave the house.

Hasta la próxima.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Spain versus Holland in the World Cup Finals, and I'm in... PRAGUE?!!

Hola amigos y amigas!

That's right. I'm in Prague (Czech Republic). The city is absolutely gorgeous and I have many pictures to document that fact. I have been busying myself with the task of figuring out simple, basic Czech words. The amazing and beautiful part about trying to read things here is that... I can't! Well, technically I can since the alphabet is the same roman alphabet that I'm used to. I just don't recognize more than one or two percent of the words. There are some words that I do recognize and I imagine that it is simply a matter of them having been appropriated and then integrated into the Czech language (like alkohol or fotograf, for example). I have also discovered a few words that I excitedly point out every time I see them, like the word for fruit and vegetable (ovoce and zelenina). My friend's challenge for me is to find the written forms of the numbers one, two, three, four, and five. I so far have successfully located two and three, I think. not sure.

Anyway, I also find myself in the predicament of being in Prague during the World Cup Finals of Spain versus Holland. Seriously? I missed my opportunity to be in Spain because I extended my stay in Prague? We will see if this situation can be worked out among my friends and I, who are also looking to last-minute book a ticket to either Madrid, Barcelona, or Amsterdam. I would love to watch the finals in one of those two countries (although preferably Spain).

Friday, July 2, 2010

Back in España: ¡Maravilloso!

So I'm here again in Spain. I know, I know... I've been here before. I look at it this way: Some people live in other places for extended periods of time, months, years even. I am doing more or less the same thing, just chopped up into little, smaller trips. When it's all said and done, perhaps over the duration of my life I will have lived here two whole years. ¿Quién sabe?

This is where I'm staying. It's the size of a tupperware container. My friends are certainly generous with the little space they have, and I'm trying to take up as little of it as possible: The size of my suitcase and the molecules displaced by my body. That is all I take from them.

And the view...

Anyway, after all the adventures I had on day one, I felt like I had filled the majority of my "bad luck quota."
  1. The airport lost my luggage (but don't worry, I've already got it back).
  2. There was a huelga (strike) with Madrid's metro, so none of the efficient public transportation was working.
  3. So I had to take a "tour"--let's call it--of the city by way of the bus system... and by "tour" I mean that I went on a wild goose chase in search of my friend's piso (apartment)... which should have been even easier than chasing a goose since the apartment certainly isn't a moving target.
  4. My friend was an hour late back to his piso because of the huelga. I almost didn't get into the building because I rang the wrong doorbell. I rang the bell of the 3rd apartment of the 12th floor on the right side instead of the 3rd apartment on the 12th floor on the left. Turns out there is a big difference. Once I finally got in, I waited in the stairs until he got back, all the while wondering if he would. But he did.
  5. One of my socks fell into the inodoro (toilet). Actually, that was day 2, but it goes well with this list. Don't ask.
Right now I'm doing exactly what I wanted do do here: watch a soccer game with my friend. This is how I learn all the good madrileño (from Madrid) swears and sayings. And really, it doesn't matter if the team he's rooting for is winning or losing. His words are colorful either way. He even talks to the players through the TV: "Wow! #$%$! How stupid you are! Red card! To the street with you! I can't $@#* believe it!" More or less, but in Spanish. We aren't even watching a game with Spain in it. It's Holland versus Brazil. I can't wait to watch the Spanish game tomorrow night in Spain. I'm going to make sure I situate myself close to this friend. It is a sure-fire way to epitomize my language enrichment. Note: Not language for use in front of most grandmothers and people like, oh saaaaay, your boss.

And he just used my new favorite word. Esto es uno de los partidos que molan... (this is one of the really awesome games). ¡Joder! ¡Cómo está este partido! ¡Cómo mola este partido, tío! Molar basically means "to rock" in the sense that, "Dude, that rocks!" Molar, how I define it, is "the act of being totally wicked awesome."

In general, I have felt a little linguistically handicapped. I am constantly at a loss for words and keep mixing things up. The good news is that I correct my mistakes after I make them instead thinking about the sentences for hours before I say them. Well, that is, until I get shy... them I start thinking more and talking less. I hope that goes away soon.

This weekend should help. I'll be speaking a LOT of Spanish and playing a LOT of ultimate. It's the ultimate tournament that my friend organizes yearly in his pueblo, and it promises to molar mucho.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Notes in Spanish

I have discovered (and doubt I have written about it here, more than just briefly) a wonderful audio tool to advance my Spanish knowledge. Notes in Spanish (dot com). I have absolutely fallen in love with Ben and Marina, the wonderfully adorable married couple that record the audio sessions and create the fabulously-detailed transcripts (for paid members) to go along with them.

Don't feel like paying, you say? Never fear! There are three levels of audio: Beginner, intermediate, and advanced. Each level has some free content to download and enjoy. I believe all you need to do is go to iTunes and type in "Notes in Spanish" to find and download the free files. I would actually like to do a more complete review of Ben and Marina's site and language tools, but right now I am totally, one-hundred percent exhausted and need to get some shut-eye.

Hasta la proxima.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Gusto en conocerte

I wonder sometimes, how very long it will take me to answer a confident "yes" when someone asks me if I'm fluent in Spanish. I'm not sure if I've posted this before, or just thought it to myself enough times that I suspect I must have. Because... well, there's no clear line. There's no "this side you're fluent, this side you're not" barrier that I can simply step over one day, or from which I can conveniently measure my distance in inches or feet or miles. No, this is a clear-cut example of how nothing in the world of bilingualism and/or multilingualism is blanco or negro. Everything comes in shades of gris.

But knowing that does not stop the internal questioner. When will I know?! Is it like what they say about finding the one you will marry? "When you know, you just... know... You know?" No. I don't. I really don't.

What I DO know, however, is that I must keep doing what I've been doing all along: Practicing, speaking, listening, writing, learning, interacting... Hola. Me llamo Kristy. Gusto en conocerte.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Okay, so it's been too long...

Abandoned, neglected, dejado... these are all words that adequately describe my blog and anyone who may have been following it. This is not to say that I have not been practicing Spanish. Au contraire, mes amis! Wait, that's French. ¡Al contrario, mis amigos! I have been speaking up a storm, especially since getting my current job as a teacher in a program where, like, 90 percent of my students speak Spanish at home.

In fact (odd and lovely phenomenon), I have been increasingly asked by native Spanish speakers where I am from. And, not only that, which Spanish-speaking country I am from. A woman from Guatemala at the gas station last night asked in Spanish, "Where you from? Chile?" The fact that I am even asked this question at all astounds me. Considering that it happens now at least once or twice a week, makes me realize that, wow... this is a very good sign.

For anyone who actually reads this and practices Spanish, this may help you with some verbs: Linked verbs in Spanish