Wednesday, September 10, 2008

So I made it to the U.S.

I am sitting here in Chicago in C.J.’s apartment doing absolutely nothing and enjoying the fact that it is about 70 degrees for a high today here.

Yesterday, after writing my little blurb on the long and arduous plane flight I tried to sleep a bit and failed, so I settled down and watched the new Indiana Jones movie. I was extremely tired but could not make myself fall asleep as is often the case with me on planes. We arrived a bit late to Philly. I am not sure what time it was in local time. I think it was about four o’clock.

(I am having a hard time writing because the T.V. is on and there is not another room where i can write, so i have to stay in here where the T.V. is. I think i hate the television.)

I was standing around waiting for my bag to pop up out of the luggage carousel and watching all the poor schmucks who were getting pulled aside by the customs officials. So my bag pops up, I pull it off the carousel, and I am immediately met by customs official who asks me a few of the usual questions and asks for my customs form. He scribbled something on it and told me to go to lane four of the hand-search baggage lines.

I went and jumped in line with the rest of the folks. Most were backpack toting comfortably dressed people like myself. It was like a who’s who of the people who look like they might be carrying weed mixed in with the actual random search victims. I found out from the officer who was searching my bag that I was actually pulled out because one of the dogs downstairs that was sniffing bags actually pegged my bag as containing a large amount of money. Yes, they actually have a dog that sniffs for money. I got a pretty good laugh out of that. Maybe dirty clothes folded in a plastic bag smell like money because I definitely had nothing that even resembled money other than perhaps a few books.

The officer was actually really pleasant about the whole thing, which was nice for a change. He actually thanked me for being pleasant as well as I was leaving. My bag definitely suffered from the ordeal… I had perfectly packed the bag over a period of about two hours and ended up having to stuff everything back inside in about 2 minutes. It didn’t all fit of course, so I ended up having to throw a few things in my carry on. Luckily I had room.

I made it to Chicago without incident. I sat next to a really nice guy named Steve who works for a company that created a machine that puts nanoparticles in paint to make it smoother.

After a long string of train and bus rides I made it to the Hopleaf where CJ works. I had some really nice food and hung out for a bit and then got back to CJ’s house and passed right out. He stepped outside for a cigarette and I was gone so fast that I didn’t know when he came in.

It was a great way to eliminate the possibility of jet-lag. (I hope.)

I’ll be home on Friday.


Tuesday, September 9, 2008

on the plane

Sitting on the plane…

They keep coming over the intercom and saying all of the usual crap that they always say. We have made it to customs declaration forms. To me this is the most unpleasant part of traveling… the sales pitches, the advertisements, and the red tape. It’s kind of like commercials on T.V. and having to pay the cable bill. There’s nothing enjoyable about those parts. Except maybe being amuse by a commercial now and then.

I really didn’t come home with much in the way of souvenirs. I guess I’m not a souvenir type of person… that is until I have the money to buy and ship a set of those five-hundred-year-old doors or something like that. Then I will be a souvenir person. I like the sights and the smells and the memories. I tried to look for some seeds on the jasmine and the night queen that blooms every night, but no luck. Either I don’t know what their seeds look like or I couldn’t find them.

I did grab a few seeds for mom off of some flowers that I thought she would like. I rode my bike out to this old farmhouse where they had a few things like that. Actually in the process I broke my bike again. After about a 20 kilometer ride the handle bars were feeling a little shaky again… then when I tried to ride to town fully loaded (45 pounds on my back and about 20 on the front) I broke them off again, all but the bolt. So, frustrated, I walked up to a kid on the street and said “Hey, you want a bike?” He shrugged. I put the kickstand down and said “Well, it’s yours.” And walked away. Maybe he’ll use it, and maybe he’ll sell it for ten bucks. Either way, I don’t really mind.

I walked the 3 miles into Burriana to the café and gave Jorge his keys. He wasn’t planning on picking me up til’ something like 1 am, and I was not ready to wait that long. He felt bad for me I guess because he packed me a lunch and called his mom to take me the last 2 miles to the train station.

I arrived in Valencia sometime around 8. I walked to a hostel that I had seen before called “Indigo” and got their last bed. I should have just asked if I could pay five bucks to put my stuff in their luggage room because I didn’t really sleep. I was sharing a room with two French girls who spoke little English and less Spanish, Sandra and Claudette, and they were in and out all night til’ about 3. Not that I was sleeping anyway, I was reading some British crime novel that I found laying around. I ended up dozing somewhere for about 10 minutes I guess, but I was to keyed up to be out of there.

I went down to the front desk about 440 and asked him to call me a cab. The cab driver took his sweet time getting there so I stood and talked to the desk guy for about 20 minutes. Finally about ten after five I left the hostel. The cab driver, like all Spaniards, drove like a bat out of hell. I guess he knew he was dilly-dallying and wanted to make up for it. After I arried to the airport I realized that there really was no hurry. The place was deserted and it is very small. I walked right in, checked in, went through security and was waiting on my flight to board in about 15 minutes flat.

I forced myself to stay awake in Valencia, but not so in Madrid. I arrived at 7:25, a full half hour early, and went and found a spot that was out of the way with no speaker overhead and became dead to the world until my alarm went off at 11:30. I wandered a very log distance down to my gate just in time to board… and here I am with Spanish version of a young Elizabeth Taylor to my right and some Americans to my left. Listening to their babble, I can already tell that I am going to miss Spain…

Written around 2pm Spain time Tuesday.

Monday, September 8, 2008

One day.

One day til’ departure…

It’s going to be a short one today.

I didn’t pre-write before I left the house because I wanted coffee before I started trying to think. So I am here at the usual café with a limited supply of battery.

“At the usual café?” you say… “I thought you were having to leave your apartment and move to a different house…” Well, that makes two of us. I was instructed to be ready to leave the flat at 12 noon, and round about eight thirty in the evening I got a call telling me to stay another night. Since the new renters, oil refinery workers from Cadiz, arrived at about 4 and moved into the only decently furnished rooms, I slept in a closet size room off the kitchen ( I think it is supposed to be a pantry) where Jorge had Ivan put up a cot. It’s a good thing I actually love sleeping on cots, because I actually enjoyed it.

Today finds me here in the café in the usual chair that I frequent having my usual cortado enjoying the cloudy noontime lull here in the port. I was planning on going to the beach to sharpen up my Mediterranean tan before my six fifty departure tomorrow morning, but alas, it is overcast and about 80 degrees, ah well.

I am considering ditching town on my own and heading to Valencia, getting a hostel, doing some looking around, and catching a cab tomorrow at 5 a.m. Jorge continues to volunteer to take me to the airport… He say “Oh, Crak, I am so berry sorry, I only want you to be happy. For you have make me no problem here. You are the less problem of all my teachers. So if you want me take you I take you. But I am to be berry berry tired of the work until one or two in the morning, but if it make you happy I take you , I want you to be happy because I am happy with you.” He likes to lay it on thick and drive me into the ground until I don’t have time to be mad, I just want off the phone. I am just not sure that I can depend on him to do what he says…Enough of that. I’m not mad or anything, just tired of playing games.

In other news, I had a great time last night. I was sitting on my porch reading a book that I don’t really care for at about eight forty-five when my phone rang. I was in the middle of being irritated and sullen so I answered the phone with an irritated sullen “ho-la.” It was Dino my Brazilian friend from the café. He was calling to invite me to come eat at his house; he had cooked some Brazilian family-style food (aka “in a big pot”) and was wondering if I’d like to try it. I rose up out of my funk, put on some clean clothes and wandered down to his house, which is in building 24 on the fifth floor on the same street as my building.

We had some cucumber appetizers and then fell to on the real meal. It was rice with a crazy chicken, carrot, potato, garlic, and onion curry-ish dish with mustard in it. And it was absolutely fantastic. I found out Dino comes from a family of eleven of which he is the youngest, so cooking is never done in small portions, and leftovers never last long. I got ridiculously full.

Dino on the terrace.

Afterwards we sat on the terrace which overlooks the harbor like mine, but which has a much better view because it is on the 5th floor, and talked about his life in Brazil and politics and such. Then we went wandering around the port because we were both much too full to sit still. I’m sure it was amusing to the Spanish people we passed to over hear the mix of Spanish, Portuguese, and English through which we communicate as we walked along.

The harbor view from the fifth floor

I went to bed a bit early last night, hoping to get some rest stored up for my travels tomorrow… I’m not sure if it worked or not. I guess time will tell.

Well, I am off to the house to gather up my things and decide what to do next.

Hasta pronto


Saturday, September 6, 2008

Three in a row.

Three days in a row…

I guess I am making up for lost time. And my senses are on high alert because I know that my days here are drawing to a close.

I went down to the beach today. It is really interesting how as soon as the calendar turns to September, it is like a switch flips and no one goes to the beach and every one leaves the “port” part of the town. All of the people who usually live in Burriana move back from their “beach” houses and the patio furniture gets moved inside and the inside furniture gets covered with sheets until next year. Today on the beach I think I saw about 20 people total… counting the lifeguards. It was completely deserted. The water is colder, it’s cloudy in the afternoon, and the sounds are only the sounds of the sea instead of the sounds of flocking humanity. I enjoyed it.

I walked out into the water up to my neck and shivered for a bit under the cloudy grey sky. I spotted a jellyfish floating about ten feet away so I eased toward the shore. Once there I asked the lifeguards who were walking up the beach if there were jellyfish out here. They said there were, but they were all dead because the water is too cool for them. I don’t know if a person can be stung by a dead jellyfish or not, but I wasn’t taking any chances. I sat on my towel on the empty beach for a while, and then decided to go for a walk. There is really something magnetic about walking along the side of the ocean and contemplating the massive body of water that is caressing your legs and feet. I walked along and thought of nothing mostly, just letting my thoughts wander like I do in bed in the minutes before I fall asleep. Just random thoughts, incomplete, flitting through my head as I stared of toward the horizon and occasionally down at the sand. Something about the sea makes me do that.

I think I bear definite marks of my genetic heritage in the desires and urges of my guts. I love a cloudy day, a windy sea, and green rolling forested hills. It’s almost as if my DNA still remembers fondly the British Isles, although I have never been there.

I am realizing that I have missed out on some things by living rather isolated outside the small town of Alquerias. I am truly enjoying interacting with the people who live near me here at the beachfront. I have met more people and spoken more Spanish than I would have believed possible just two weeks ago. I spent al of last night with a Brazilian named Dino who showed me around a bit here in the port. We went to some local hangouts and met some of his friends and just walked around and chatted for about 4 hours last night. He speaks little to no English, and supposedly poor Spanish, but between the two of us we talked about everything from fishing, to our homes, to political policy in the Americas. It was a good time.

I was awakened at about 11 this morning (yes I was still sleeping) but a banging on the door… In came Jorge, my boss, Ivan, the repairman, and a cleaning lady whose name I do not know. They proceeded to turn the house upside-down cleaning and moving things around. They tried to rook me into helping, but I locked myself in the bathroom for a shower, locked myself in my room to get ready, and then left for some lunch and some coffee by about 1. Not least of all because I was a bit put out about the invasion of privacy. I ate a leisurely lunch at “A Bordo” or “aboard” just down the street. They have a daily menu of two courses with bread and dessert for around 7 euros. Today I had an asparagus salad made with pickled white asparagus and a fish stew that I think was made from mackerel, shrimp, mussels, and other related things. I wanted to make sure I gave Jorge and company enough time to finish so I stopped in at Tony’s L’arctic café for a café cortado and read the Spanish futbol paper. I arrived back at the house at around four and rested from all of my hard labor…ok, I just rested because I could. Then I rode my bike the half-mile down to the beach… and that was my day. Now i'm sitting on the balcony watching it rain...

I have to say, it was pretty nice.


A "MAN" brand truck

I'd drive one of these if they had them in the States.

Jorge, Katie and I cheezing for the camera at the old house.
Jorge as he usually looks.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Day is done

The day is done.

That phrase sparked a new thought in my head this evening. It is a sentiment that I have felt, but have not put into words since I have been here. I have realized that what I miss most in my basic day-to-day understanding and use of this new language is the innate poetic feel and connotation of a phrase. I am lucky to get away with understanding the gist of an entire conversation. There is absolutely no way that I could feel the poetry of this language while by brain is occupied with basic understanding.

So to say “The day is done” imparts a certain flavor or feeling to the end of the day, at least for me, and the ability to invoke in the mind of another human the selfsame sentiment that I am feeling with a simple phrase is something that I miss.

New topic:

In these last couple of weeks I have been jerked around more than a five-year-old at a family reunion.

First I was living in a house where full on remodeling was taking place for five days, then I actually packed my things and moved to a different place, upon my arrival I pulled beds and desks and chairs out of storage to try and make a cozy habitation for myself for the last 10 days or so of my stay, next I learned (yesterday) that I will have to be out of this place by Sunday at noon because other renters to whom Jorge has promised a place to stay are moving in then, (I’m beginning to feel a little unimportant at this point.) so today I was awakened by the incessant ringing of the downstairs front door buzzer. This apartment building is not truly soundproof so I hear other people’s buzzers ringing all the time. After about the fifteenth time I got up and answered the buzz. It was Ivan. Ivan is Jorge’s personal handy man and go-to-guy for moving furniture and fixing things. So as I got ready for work this morning Ivan, who is Ukrainian, and his assistant were moving in couches and chairs and things to make this apartment habitable for someone who is paying to have an apartment. So Sunday I have to leave. I don’t know where I am going. Probably Jorge’s house or some perhaps some crappy unfurnished place where I will be given a closet and a blanket.

Yesterday I got paid for the first time as well. The entirety of my earnings in one lump sum was very unimpressive. Monica (the business manager) told me that I have been the teacher who has given them the least amount of problems… perhaps I just take too much crap from people. I have learned, at least in this situation, the only way to get what you want, what you need to survive, is to make a noise long enough and loud enough that they cant stand it any longer and give you what you need so you will shut up. Kind of like a 3-year-old would. I saw the other teachers demanding and nagging to get what they wanted from these people that I have been working for, but that is not my style. Evidently it should have been. Jorge had all of the accoutrements to make this little house livable all along, I just didn’t nag him enough for him to have it brought down here. I think in the future when I am faced with a similar situation I will just dissociate myself from the people that behave this way.

All in all they are very happy with me as an employee. I taught all the classes I was given, I went everywhere I was asked, and all of my students were satisfied with their classes. And I will write truthful reviews for Los Naranjos on all of the English teaching forums. I’m sure the lure of Spain will still bring people here, but they should at least arrive informed.

As for Spain… I think I will come back sometime. How soon or late depends on what happens with life at home, but I have not seen nearly enough of this country. I had high hopes of traveling around the whole of the country and seeing the cities and the mountains and the Basque country, but it was not to be. If I wake up early enough I may hop on a train to Barcelona tomorrow… perhaps.

The bike man did me a good turn today. I have been kind of down on the bike man since I have been here. I think he just didn’t like Jeff and since I always went in with Jeff I was cast in the same mold. But yesterday my handlebars on my bike broke off… if you have ever had this happen it is not too bad once you are moving because you can ride with no hands, but if you are trying to start or stop with just a nut and bolt between you and the ground or a car… well lets just say it can get a little peligroso. So I rode/walked my bike to the bike man’s shop in Alquerias today and showed him my problem. He said joder! Which is the common slightly vulgar form of disgust used here, and said that he could get me a new part or he could hacer un punto which is “make a point” I had no idea what he meant, but he had me follow him to the back of his shop. He pulled this ancient looking thing off of the wall and while I was still trying to figure out what was going on he started welding my handlebars on. No mask, no hood, no nothing. POW! “There you go, that’ll cost less” he said. I asked him how much he wanted for his one-minute weld… He made the right move and said I could pay him nothing or whatever I wanted. Always the best move with me. He probably meant it was free, but I gave him a five euro note and rode out happy.

So, here I sit at a little café half a block from my house.

And the day is done, and my work here is finished, and I’ll be home in a week, and, for different reasons, I am looking forward to it. Although I am sure I will long for the simplicity of being ecstatic just to have understood an entire conversation, and before long the ability to go into a store and get just what I want or to have small talk with anyone I please will wear off.

Maybe Ross will buy a house here instead of just talking about it, and then I can come visit more often.

I know this post has a bit of a feeling of finality, but I am not stopping writing just yet; that just happens to be how I am feeling right now. (Doggone it I should have saved a sunset picture for this post)


Thursday, September 4, 2008

it's been a while...

Tonight is Wednesday night; September has begun. Today was the fourth. I just returned a while ago from dinner with Vicente and his wife Rosa. I apologize to all of you who check my blog often enough to realize that it has been a while since I have written. I have been in a state of flux here with moving to a different house and such. I have had no internet connection near here and my phone has been out of range/ out of minutes.

It is very different for me living here in the port. I am right on the main drag that runs along between the port and the rest of the town. There are lots of little cafés and ice cream shops here on this street and a lot more people than in Alquerias. For the first time since I have been here I am quite alone and surrounded by people who speak very little or no English. (except for Vicente´) It has helped immensely already with my confidence in Spanish. I have found that I now can make some small talk when I go to buy lunch or have a coffee, and lately I feel compelled to do so.

I was strolling along the waterfront last night (I think), and a waiter came out of one of the shops and was trying to hustle me into a seat. I was in the mood to be hustled I guess because I let him. I told him I had just moved to the beachfront and had been living in Alquerias. I watched as he took stock of me and my accent; then he asked me if I knew Nanny Congorno, which I do. His name was Tony and it turns out he was the owner of the place and we have a friend in common. I ended up sitting and talking to him for an hour or so about random stuff before he closed for the evening. It was very cool. Today I stopped back in and had a coffee at his place rather than any of the others. Evidently he is pretty well known for being an all-around good guy because his place is paked every afternoon and well into the evening. I think I’ll be a repeat customer until I leave.

As I’m sitting here writing, I am realizing that quite a bit has happened since last I filled you all in on my daily doings… All last weekend I had two flat tires on my bike. I ran off the road a bit and into the grass and dirt as I was trying to put away my camera, answer my cell-phone, and dodge a car all while riding with no hands. Yep. Bad idea. The picture turned out pretty good I guess, the phone call was successful, I dodged the car, and got two punctured tires in the process…I ran over about a hundred sand burrs that just filled my inner tube with holes… So I walked the last 2 miles home in sandals… that was Saturday I believe.

We were supposed to be out of the house on Sunday, technically. We didn’t really get out until Monday afternoon/evening though. I had to load all my things in Katie’s van to bring them out to the port, and I also had to wait for the bike man to decide to be open so I could buy some new tubes for my tires. The owner was very cool about it all. He was in and around the house all weekend working on things and painting for the next renters. Katie and I were in and out of the house and always joking with him about something… It was all in Spanish…so, at least I think we were joking. He told us that if we ever wanted to come back to this part of Spain, we were always welcome to stay in one of his houses.

Katie made it out of here on Monday afternoon sometime, headed for Sevilla. The las I heard from her, she was a few hours away and had just finished swimming in a clear cold river… I am sort of wishing that I had given my notice and ridden south with her. Ah, well.

I was a bit under the weather on Monday, but since I have been fine. I have no refrigerator here in this apartment, which Jorge, my boss said he would remedy… but nothing yet. So I have been eating fresh bread and fresh fruit, and only buying enough for each day. I guess it’s not really a problem, come to think about it. There is a corner grocery all of about half a block away… Its just nice to have a cold drink occasionally and not have to walk and get it.

The weather has changed here. It is pleasant and sunny during the early part of the day, changing to quite hot for about an hour just after noon, and then the afternoon has been a bit cloudy with a stiff breeze off of the water. I have been working in the mornings this week. It is nice to be out in the cool part of the day, but the time I would usually go to the beach has been cloudy and windy. No sunbathing for me. I was hoping to show back up in the states with a tan so dark that my mother wouldn’t recognize me… but it looks like I’ll just show up looking like I did when I left… minus about 10 pounds.

I want to know more about the passive heating and cooling of Mediterranean architecture. I have no air conditioning, but the house is never hot, and there is nearly always a breeze. Perhaps I should ask Vicente’s wife Rosa, she’s an architect.

I’ve got lots more to talk about, but I feel sort of like someone who keeps saying things just to keep you on the phone.

I have quite a bit of time to myself these days so I might write a lot. You just might not get to see it until I find some Internet.

Until then

Fran Pretending he is shy.

With Nando his brother in their house.

the good ol' T.N.A. ambulance.