the end

“The journey is sorry for being the cause of distance.”
-Atahualpa Yupanqui; and graffiti on the building next to my apartment

Today, for the first time in more than two years, I woke up in my parents’ house in Massachusetts, knowing that I didn’t have a flight to Madrid awaiting me in the upcoming weeks.

No one can deny the comforts of coming home…the exclamation point-laiden texts from friends upon receiving a message from your “normal” number, the familiarity of the same coffee mugs you’ve caffeinated from for years, the family photos adorning the walls, reminding you that no place, no matter how “right” it feels, will ever replace your roots.

But there’s also that sense of dreamlike fantasy, as if, upon returning to the place of constancy, all of the experiences and growth and changes you’ve undergone since the previous time you lived there, disappear.

While the future is always uncertain, in all likelihood, I will not return to live in Spain. Yes, as a dear friend reminded me via song lyrics, “one always returns to the places where they loved life.”  But there’s a stark difference between living somewhere and returning as a visitor.

“Because Madrid isn’t special at all.  It doesn’t have a great river.  It barely has skyscrapers.  It doesn’t have ruins, nor a beach, nor the sea.  But it has its people, unexpected corners, constant liveliness, and variety.  It’s worth it to get up early—even just once—to live a day in Madrid”
-Anonymous

Yesterday, I walked Madrid’s streets for the last time as a resident (when the customs agent in Barajas asked me if I resided there, it pained me to say no, because although I don’t according to the legal definition of the word residir, I certainly feel like I did).  When I go back to visit, be it in a year or two or five, the guy who works at the corner fruit stand probably won’t be there anymore.  Or maybe the fruit stand won’t be there at all, having been replaced in the interim by a pharmacy or clothing store.  The menus at my favorite restaurants will probably have changed.  My friends will live in different apartments, or different cities altogether.  Those who were dating will be single, those who were single will have children.  The graffiti will be painted over and new words of wisdom will take its place.  Pot holes whose locations I had memorized and could step over with my eyes closed will be fixed, and new ones will catch me by surprise.

But more important than losing familiarity with the employees at neighborhood establishments and the terrain of the local streets, is the fear of losing the intangible things that Madrid gave me: linguistic flexibility, cultural competence, appreciation for spontaneity, comfort in my own skin, life-altering friendships, and confidence in my ability to conquer the world.

Now comes the real challenge.  Not adapting to a new culture across the pond, but rather readapting to my own culture, embracing my own extrañeza and that of those in my own backyard, delicately weaving together the experiences, lessons, smells and sensations that the past two years have given me, with the roots of the previous 22 and the future that awaits.

***

After two years of documenting my life, including trips to foreign lands, adventures in the classroom, Spanish history as seen through food, musings on bilingualism, and love for my adoptive city, it is with this final post that I lay this blog to rest.  I hope that it has served you well, be it as a way to follow my life across the pond, or as inspiration to pack things up and see the world.  If you’re anything like me, doing so will serve as the best tool possible to truly see yourself.

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funny English: round 2

A year full of traveling has allowed me to collect enough amusing translations for this blog’s second edition of Funny English.  Having committed my fair share of linguistic faux pas myself (as recently as last month), it is with an understanding chuckle that I share with you these not-so-perfect efforts at writing in the language of Shakespeare from across Europe.

Rome, Italy Choose between sparkling wine, Italian babies, or foreign babies for a refreshing pre-dinner drink.

Rome, Italy
Choose between sparkling wine, Italian babies, or foreign babies for a refreshing pre-dinner drink.

Venice, Italy The pastry is closed!

Venice, Italy
The pastry is closed!

Budapest, Hungary  Perhaps the editing is a bit gratuitous. After all, how many of us tourists speak Hungarian?

Budapest, Hungary
Perhaps the editing is a bit gratuitous. After all, how many of us tourists speak Hungarian?

Athens, Greece Eggs.  Indeed.

Athens, Greece
Eggs. Indeed.

Barcelona, Spain We have an ice.  Just one.  First come first serve.

Barcelona, Spain
We have an ice. Just one. First come first serve.

Lisbon, Portugal One ball.  Flavor of choice.

Lisbon, Portugal
One ball. Flavor of choice.

Toledo, Spain Here comes oxtail!

Toledo, Spain
Here comes oxtail!

Madrid, Spain Time is thicking...thick thock, thick thock....

Madrid, Spain
Time is thicking…thick thock, thick thock….

 

today’s post is brought to you by the letter r

 

Photo by Lisa L Wiedmeier, on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons

Photo by Lisa L Wiedmeier, on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons

Just like the removal of an “r” can turn the innocent, everyday English “shirt” into an inappropriate word for a bodily function, it can also make the difference in Spanish between a cute little dog and an insurance claims adjustor.

They say that immersion is the best way to learn a language, mostly because it forces you to speak said language for much longer periods of time over many more consecutive days, surrounded by many more native speakers in a way that a classroom setting just can’t provide.  But it’s also because it forces you into situations that bring with them vocabulary that never appeared in your textbooks, and consequences for misunderstanding much graver than a lower mark on a test.

As both a language teacher and a language learner, I can vouch for that.  No matter how much I tried to expose my students to real life vocabulary and authentic English materials, there are things that just don’t come up, or don’t stick, until you’re living in a language.

Since moving to Madrid, I learned how to say security deposit (fianza) when I hunted for an apartment, bank branch (sucursal) when I opened a checking account, and to discharge from a hospital (dar de alta) when a friend got sick.  Words like bobby pin (horquilla), tow truck (grúa), frosting (glaseado), and the chorus of a song (estribillo), among dozens more, have cropped up along the way.

Having been here for two years, the learning curve has certainly leveled out, but just as with any topic, it will never quite flatten completely.  Just last week, I learned the word perito.  Not perrito (little dog), or perrito caliente (hot dog), but perito.  One r.  Also known as the guy who came to assess the damages from the flooding we’ve been dealing with in our apartment for several months.  Thanks to common sense, context clues, and the Internet, I never actually thought that the insurance company was sending a small canine to look at my leaking ceiling, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t get hit with an image of a little barking pup when the man in the suit and hard hat showed up on my doorstep.

Morals of the story?  A. A little r can go a long way.  B. We’re all lifelong learners.  And C. Enjoy said learning.

I can see Africa from my house

Three years ago, the network of The Most Beautiful Villages in Spain was formed, with the mission of identifying and showcasing the rural areas and small towns with the most charm and beauty across the Spanish peninsula.  Selectively accepting only 20% of the towns who apply to join the network, there are currently 24 members.  I am lucky enough that one of my best friends is from one of these gorgeous municipalities — Andalucía’s Vejer de la Frontera.

I recently spent a few days in the beautiful white town, located on a hill just a few miles from the beach.  See below for photos from a perfect “see you later” to one of the people who most shaped my “Spanish experience.”

…oh, and you can see Africa from a path just down the road from her house.

playing tour guide in the city of “irrepressible fizz”

Photo courtesy o Jose Maria Cuellar, on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons

Photo courtesy of Jose Maria Cuellar, on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons

“Madrid’s main selling point is the friendly, anarchic energy of its urban culture. Compared to Rome, its history is short and its monuments modest. The city also lacks the grand planning of Vienna or Berlin’s sense of space. What Madrid does have is an irrepressible fizz, with an eclectic architecture that includes medieval alleys and renaissance squares but also art deco skyscrapers and slightly hysterical buildings that resemble Belle Époque Paris on steroids. While its main street is often said to recall New York’s Broadway in all its pre-2000s grungy energy, around the corner there are quiet, village-like corners apparently populated only by old women walking toy dogs. And although it has one of the grandest royal palaces in all Europe, it’s always been a fairly scruffy place and none the worse for it. Nowhere else in Europe quite matches its contradictory mix of big city bustle and quiet provincialism, its combination of old guard Spanish tradition and punkish vibrancy.”

Feargus O’Sullivan

In each of the last three months, I have played the role of tour-guide-extraordinaire to three combinations of visitors from the motherland.  Each set of guests, made up of both friends and family, relied on me to design and execute their itineraries–from sunrise ’til sunset, from sightseeing to dining, from transportation to communication.  All of these visitors combined their trips to Madrid with visits to other Spanish cities, including Barcelona, Seville and Toledo, but I made it my personal responsibility to prove to them that Madrid is número uno, embodying the best that many of the others have to offer.

The thing about the Spanish capital is that, like a fine wine that gets better with age, Madrid gets better with familiarity.  It doesn’t hit you over the head with charm like other European cities, but it drips with quirkiness and regality and magic as long as you know where to look.  Remembering how not-won-over I was during my first visit here as a tourist almost four years ago, I did everything in my power to give my visitors the express version of the Madrid that one knows and loves after living here for some time.  The task of putting together 3-, 5- and 6-day itineraries that capture the city’s essence forced me to think critically about what makes it so special, and what experiences one must have here to be truly aware of its greatness.  I raved to my guests about Madrid’s liveliness, gastronomy and people; its traditions, openness and public transportation; its compactness, diverse neighborhoods, and sense of history.  As they meandered through the bustling avenues of Gran Vía and calle Alcalá, the winding streets of La Latina, the hipster vibe of Malasaña, and the historical heft of Madrid de los Austrias, it appears I was successful in converting them to Team Madrid.

And who could blame them?  What more could one ask for than a city described as possessing an “irrepressible fizz” with a “contradictory mix of big city bustle and quiet provincialism” and a “combination of old guard Spanish tradition and punkish vibrancy?”  Very little, I tell you.  Very little.

Leonardo Viewpoint

Image

In an effort to showcase our school’s strength in English education, something of extra importance in this era of bilingualism in Spain, my colleagues and I have created a quarterly online English magazine featuring student work as well as articles that could be of interest to our readers.

In our hot-off-the-press summer issue, you can find the following:

Highlights:

  • video tours of our school and of Algonquin Regional High School (Northborough, MA), created by my juniors and their American penpals
  • the ABC books written by my 7th graders and by 5th graders from Peaslee Elementary School in Northborough, MA (more info about this activity here)
  • a video interview with yours truly, conducted by some of my favorite 8th graders

Plus:

  • a reflection written by Ángela, a student teacher who joined us in the English department for two months this spring
  • an impressive book review written by Eric, a sophomore
  • a reading of a Robert Frost poem by María, an 8th grade student
  • comics created by the juniors

Enjoy!

San Isidro

Spain may be famous for a handful of stereotypes — among them: football, sun and sangría.  Moving one step higher on the ladder of knowledge, those of us who studied Spanish in high school got a cursory rundown of the major local and national holidays…Semana Santa, La Feria de Abril, Las Fallas, etc.  However, before moving to Madrid, I had never heard of San Isidro, a mid-May festival that celebrates the city’s patron saint, Isidore.

For the holiday, madrileños dress up in traditional local costumes, eat, dance, and listen to music.  Some go to drink from the well where, according to legend, San Isidro miraculously saved his son’s life after he fell in by making the water level rise.  Others watch the festival’s special bullfights, though this year they were canceled due to three consecutive injuries to the bullfighters.  Regardless of what one chooses off of San Isidro’s long menu of ways to celebrate, a good time is usually had by all.

I honored San Isidro 2014 in full chulapa dress, at the traditional Pradera de San Isidro (a grassy area where people gather on this holiday), enjoying the sun, a picnic, some wine, and topping it all off with rosquillas, round pastries covered in merengue (“las de Santa Clara”), almonds (“las francesas”), icing (“las listas”— the smart ones, because wanting extra sugar on top is a smart thing) or plain (“las tontas” — the dumb ones, because why would you pass up sugar when it’s offered to you?).