Sunday, April 7, 2013

Plaza Mayor at night, after rain

Last week I was waiting for some friends in the Plaza Mayor. It had just stopped raining, which is always a magical time here: it reminds me that, one day, I will live someplace it doesn't rain every day, where I don't feel as if my shoes never dry out all the way.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Campo dei Fiori


This will be the first of several posts on Rome, because trying to fit everything into one was overwhelming. So I'm starting with one of my favorite spots, the outdoor market in Campo dei Fiori, because as you all know, I'm a sucker for food. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.

Friday, March 29, 2013

let's go to the mall!

It's Holy Week here in Spain (fine, it's Holy Week everywhere), which means I'm out of school for an astounding total of eleven days. As most of my friends are traveling to glamorous locales, like Edinburgh or Porto or Madrid or Seville or Ireland or NYC or anywhere in the world except for Lugo, it's been a struggle to find ways to occupy myself.

Especially since--wait for it, wait for it--it's rained every single day.

So two of my friends and I decided we would make an expedition to Lugo's mall, because it's dry, warm, and most importantly: has a McDonald's.

Now, anyone who knows me knows that I am not a fan of the golden arches, or any other kind of fast food. It's poor quality, it's unhealthy, it promotes a mode of eating that is awful for the environment and the living creatures in it...I could go on.

However, I believe that at some point in every expat American's life, the urge for a Big Mac dripping grease, pickles, wilted lettuce, and mayo (I don't even like mayo!) will become too strong to resist. So we stopped resisting.

go America!
Other highlights of the day:
1. When we all got a little agoraphobic in the WalMart equivalent, Eroski (Spanish malls have these). How on earth am I going to re-acclimate to life in America, if even walking past a store that sells groceries and books and t-shirts and bicycles and lawn chairs makes me all freaked-out and uncomfortable?

2. I've been watching a lot of How I Met Your Mother recently, so I will leave you with this timeless classic, which I sang all day*:

*Note: highlight for me, probably a lowlight for my long-suffering friends.

Friday, March 22, 2013

a wine festival

A few weekends ago, two friends and I made an expedition to Chantada, a nearby pueblo, for the first wine festival on the Galician calendar. Because wine, duh.

Since we were beholden to the bus schedule, we had to get there pretty early in the day, around 10:30. We found the festival tent, and then settled into a nearby cafe for a coffee, but were quickly lured back out by the sound of wailing bagpipes.

Wait, you say. Bagpipes? In Spain?

Due to its Celtic heritage, traditional Galician music relies heavily on the bagpipe, or gaita. You can see a performance by Ourense's Royal Bagpipe Orchestra to get a sense of what it sounds like here. (Bonuses: playing on the Great Wall and in New York's St. Patrick's Day Parade.) Obviously, the group playing the Wine Festival of Chantada was not quite on that level, but it was awesome nonetheless, especially for gaita junkies like my friend K. and I.

By the time the bagpipe concert was over, it was time to start tasting some wine (so it was maybe three minutes past noon). Chantada is in the middle of Galicia's best-known wine region, the Ribeira Sacra, so all of the vineyards were local. There were around 20 (no mom, we did not taste wine from every single one!), representing everything from large, industrial operations to mom-pop-and-grandpa bodegas. Each one was set up in a stand shaped like a wine barrel--nice touch, Chantada.

wine barrel pic stolen from my friend K.
look how happy we are!
I'm glad we went early, because even though it meant we started drinking around noon, there wasn't a huge crush of people there. We got the chance to talk to some of the vineyards' representatives, which was awesome (even if they only spoke Galician, like the lady pictured above--but that's okay, 'cause she made the best cured sausage I have ever put into my mouth). We're even planning to visit a bodega or two after K. and A. get back from their Holy Week travels--hooray!

By two, we were ready for a break from wine-tasting, so we settled down to a lunch of octopus, bread, apple pie that K. had brought from Lugo, and (of course) wine. I'm really going to miss eating octopus on the regular when I get back to America. Probably not as much as I miss Indian and Thai food in Spain, but I'll still miss it.

After another round or two (or three or four) of wine, it was time to head back to the bus. It had been pouring rain all day, but magically stopped just before we had to leave the relative safety of the wine tent. So we took a more circuitous route through Chantada's old city, which was absolutely beautiful, and along the river.

And Chantada was only the kick-off to the wine festival season! There's another one coming up weekend after next in the pueblo of Quiroga. I'm counting down the days...

Bonus: Check out these guys, who have forgotten more about going to wine festivals than I will ever know. Yes, they did bring a private cart stocked with a leg of ham, sausages and chorizo, cheese, and bread, with them.


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

well...'s official. After all of the angst and stress (to say nothing of the novel-length post) I will not, in the end, be anywhere in Spain next year.

Instead, I will be back here.

Today, I accepted a place in one of Mr. Jefferson's graduate schools, and in a few months I will begin pursuit of a master's in higher education.

It is, honestly, a weird feeling. Grad school, instead of another year frolicking around Spain, is the right decision for the place I am in my life. I'm excited about my program and the opportunities it will bring me; and the thought of moving back to my city, a place that I sincerely, deeply love, fills me with joy. I want to be close to my old friends, my family, the Blue Ridge Mountains, Chris Greene Lake, the Thomas Jefferson Parkway, Riverview Park, Bodo's Bagels, the Ragged Mountain Running Store, Satan's Pony Amber Ale, brunch at the Bluegrass Grill, cocktails on the Downtown Mall, the view from Carter Mountain. Even summer humidity that you can take a bite out of, and the book-tasting air of Alderman Library.

At the same time, I'm sad to give up that second year in Spain. There are a lot of things that I'll have to put off, like hiking the Camino de Santiago, and spending the summer in Italy remembering my favorite language. I won't be able to pop back over to Lugo to visit my friends, or have mushrooms in cream sauce at Cinco Vigas. I am unlikely to ever live in Spain again--I could see myself moving back to Europe, but probably not here--and it's kind of hard to wrap my mind around the fact that this period of my life has such a definite end date now.

But it does, and I'm ready.

Monday, February 25, 2013

february blooms

Not much of an update (not even an update if we're Facebook friends), but I need to post something. And if I keep waiting until I get all my pictures from Rome edited...well. It will probably be May before this blog gets updated. So here are some highlights from my recent life in Lugo.

Despite the fact that it is February, and that we've had a bit of a cold snap the last couple of days, all sorts of things are blooming: cherry trees, the pretty devil up there, and lots more. Everyone is still huddled in giant fur coats and mufflers, complaining about how winter's going to last until April--but, at the risk of massively jinxing Lugo's weather, are they joking? This much stuff doesn't bloom in the winter.

Granted, Virginia is hardly Siberia, but we do, in fact, have winters there. Cherry trees do not bloom in February. I'm going to laugh in the face of the next Spaniard who tells me how frigid it is, and expresses doubt that my home state can be possibly be colder.

In honor of the springlike weather, I also got a haircut. This is the first time my hair has been this short since, eh, my junior year of high school? I'm loving it so far. It's so much easier to deal with on a daily basis. The eventual goal is to go for a pixie cut, a la Audrey Tautou, but I'm digging this length enough that I think I'll keep it for a while.

Finally, on a sadder note, I am mourning the loss of my trusted Canon PowerShot. We had a good run, but alas, it appears that the viewfinder and lens cap are irreparably crunched. (Nonetheless, a more noble fate than that of my first Canon--it met its untimely end when my friend dropped it in a cup of beer.)

Fortunately, I've still got my iPhone. Unfortunately, I thought I'd kicked my burgeoning Instagram habit, but it looks to be making a resurgence. What can I say, the filters whisper my name every time I take a picture. So brace yourself.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

bear with me, this one's long

It’s application season for the North American Language and Cultural Assistants Program. It feels like, every time I meet up with another American here in Lugo, the question of renewing comes up. “Do you want to stay for a second year?” we ask each other. “Are you applying anyway?” “Will you apply to stay in the same school? here in Lugo? in Galicia?”

My answer to the first question is “I don’t know”; to the second, it’s “Yes”; and to the last ones…well. That’s been something of a work in process.

I knew I wouldn’t stay at the same school. Elementary-aged kids are not for me, and I get more frustrated with my head teacher daily. (Example: The fourth graders don’t know how about “he” and “she.” The concepts of “we” and “they” have never been broached in any class I’ve been in, in any grade.)

I went back and forth on staying in Lugo, staying in Galicia, for a long time. (This is probably why all I talk about is renewing: I’ve been bringing it up every time I see anyone.) One day, I’d want to stay in Lugo: it’s a manageable city, it’s cheap, I know my way around, I have friends, there’s lots of green space for Gwen, I’ve sincerely loved living here. The next, I’d want to move to Santiago: Lugo doesn’t have enough culture, Santiago is more vibrant, there are more young people, it’s still inexpensive.

And then on day three I'd consider leaving Galicia entirely. I’m sick of the rain. I want to experience someplace new. Galicia feels so closed off from the rest of Spain. Bueno, Europe. The biggest cities in Galicia don’t have anything close to the Prado, or the Alhambra, or the Guggenheim, or the Sagrada Familia.

Finally, I was helping the secretary at my school fill out the recommendation form I would have to submit at part of my renewal application. There were questions about what kind of school I wanted to be in (“Well, I’ve enjoyed being here, but I really loved my old job at a high school, and I think I’m more suited to working with older students…”), and, of course, where I wanted to go. My mind went completely blank and I said I wanted to stay in Lugo.

Decision made. The next day, I opened Profex, the application system, and chose three regions of Spain. 1. Galicia, where I would be virtually guaranteed a placement, since second-years get preference over first- and third-year applicants. 2. The Basque Country. And 3. Madrid, because I like art museums and concerts and why not.

After I hit submit, I wasn’t particularly excited, but it was done. Can’t change it now, I thought, and went about my life.

Until the next week. One of my good friends from home asked about applying to the program, and as I was poking around getting answers for her, I realized I’d mistakenly applied as a first-year, first-time applicant. Not as a returning second-year. I would not get the preference I’d earned through blood, sweat, and tears at my school, and could potentially be sent anywhere in Spain. (Fine, I’d probably still end up in Galicia, since no one applies to come here, but the program is much more accommodating about special requests, e.g. “please keep me away from three-year-olds,” for second years.)

I immediately emailed my regional coordinator, who referred me to Profex support. I couldn’t reapply as a renewal with an application already filed, so the solution? Cancel my existing application, so I could apply again, this time with the correct status.

Do-overs in terms of your regions are unheard of in the auxiliares program. I have not heard of a single person, ever, successfully requesting a different region after they’ve submitted their application. Getting placed in Galicia when you requested the Basque Country, Cataluña, and AndalucĂ­a, yes; changing those original requests, no. I’m hardly an expert, but I read the Facebook groups and this forum, and every question about the possibility of changing regions has been answered with a resounding no.

But I would get to.

I decided that my lack of excitement about staying in Galicia was something I needed to pay attention to. Chances are good that I won’t have this opportunity again, at least not in its presently unencumbered form--no boyfriend or husband, no kids, no student loans, parents still in reasonably good health. So why would I stay someplace that I wasn’t looking forward to being in for another year?

So, the second time around, I switched. 1. The Basque Country. 2. Galicia, since hey, I’d rather live here than in Murcia or Badajoz or Algeciras. 3. Madrid, because I still like the Prado.

And now, I can honestly say, I’m excited. I love the Basque Country. I love Galicia too, but I didn’t research the auxiliares program to come back to Galicia. I didn’t apply last year to come to Galicia. I didn’t spend one of the happiest weeks of my life traveling in Galicia (except for when I got sick in Bilbao; almost passing out in the Guggenheim was not so fun). I didn’t salivate over all the Michelin-starred restaurants in Galicia. I didn’t read up on the history or culture of Galicia anywhere other than Wikipedia (should I be admitting that?). I didn’t cheer myself up when I was having a bad day, by flipping through pictures of Galicia. I did not, as a matter of fact, make the background of my blog about Galicia a picture of Galicia--it's a view over the bay in San Sebastian.

look familiar?
Of course, even after all of this, I still don't know if I'll be in Spain again next year. I've applied to grad school, and if I get in, there's a very good chance I'll go. I'd say, pre-application switch, I was splitting 85% towards going to grad school; now, it's looking more like 60% towards grad school, less if I can defer a year.