Monday, December 31, 2012

roma, roma bella

My Christmas present to myself was a plane ticket to Rome, for a holiday in February. It will probably be the only international trip I take while I'm here, so I'm pretty excited. And nervous, and tied up in knots: I love Rome. I hate Rome. I have a very complicated relationship with Rome, more so than any of the other cities I've felt that magnetic, needle-to-a-pole attraction to.

The first time I visited Rome was the winter after I studied abroad in Lisbon. I'd been to Italy once before, but never made it south of Tuscany. I didn't have many expectations of Rome, to be honest; I was just looking forward to seeing the Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Forum, the Vatican, all the history-nerd highlights.

What I found was this fucking magical fairy land. It was cold, sure, but there was a Christmas market in the Piazza Navona, and hot chocolate tasting like cinnamon and oranges, and pasta con cacio e pepe, probably my favorite dish in the entire world. I walked down empty streets, touching ochre-plastered walls and following strands of lights to the one restaurant near Campo dei Fiori that was open on Christmas Day. I drank red wine by the Tiber, with a man who showed me the scar from when he'd wrecked his Vespa. Like I said, magical fairy land.

Back in the States, I decided I was going back, come hell or high water. I won a scholarship to pursue an internship internationally, and in June of 2009, I flew into Fiumicino for the first time.

To say that things were different would be a hell of an understatement. It was hot and dusty and choked with packs of tourists from every corner of the globe. I didn't click with many people in my program, so I spent most of my summer exploring by myself, trying not to collapse from dehydration or situational agoraphobia.

My job didn't help, either. I'd come to Rome hoping to soak up some culture, speak Italian, talk to people. I ended up sitting in a room by myself, with a single window, cataloging a research institute's archive of films on modern Italian history. So the parts with Mussolini, Hitler, la Shoah (the Holocaust), labor riots, anarchists, and economic paralysis. I did work with three wonderful, inspiring women, but it was hard for me to get excited about it when all I did was watch films about some of the bleakest moments in human history. The field trip I took with my mentor to "get me out a bit" was to the Ardeatine Caves, where 335 Romans were murdered by the Nazis as a reprisal for a partisan attack. The caves were then collapsed on top of the corpses, to hide the execution site. (Read more here.)

When I look back on that summer, I'm not sorry I went. I learned a lot, about Rome and Italy: no place's history is all white ruins, sunflowers, and pasta. I also learned about the kind of working environment I need to be happy. I will never enjoy a job where all I do is stare at a computer in silence. I do have a lone wolf streak (well, lone wolf with canine tag-along), but I need interaction with other people to stay sane. To bring in another Italian, one quote that's always stuck with me is from Italo Calvino's Il barone rampante (translated not at all literally as The Baron in the Trees): the narrator describes his brother, the baron in question, as "un solitario che amava la compagnia," "a solitary man who loved company." While I am obviously a lady-person, that description fits me well. My summer in Rome was too heavy on la solitudine and too light on la compagnia.

But despite all that learning, by the time I was getting on the plane to fly back to DC, I was overwhelmingly grateful that it was over.

So when I realized that I'd be able to manage just the one big trip this year, why was Rome the only place I seriously considered going? I have no idea. I think it's because Rome and I have some unfinished business. Or because, as my mom told me once, I never give up on things when I should. Or because I'm going in the touristic wasteland of February. Or because I miss Pecorino-drenched pasta. I don't know. But I'm going.

one of the comparatively few highlights of my summer was becoming a regular at this osteria

Saturday, December 29, 2012

trust the way

route marker
One of the first times I  saw Galicia was in the movie "The Way," starring everyone's favorite president, Martin Sheen. He hikes the Camino de Santiago in memory of his son, encountering a rag-tag cast of misfits, tobacco addicts, and aspiring James Joyces. To my great disappointment, Lugo did not make an appearance in Mr. President's route--he took the most popular route, the Camino Francés, or French Way. In 2011, an impressive 132,652 pilgrims walked it, as opposed to 22,062 for the second-most popular route, the Portuguese Way.

Lugo likes to fly a lil' more under the radar. It's located on the Camino Primitivo, or Primitive Way. A mere 5,544 pilgrims, accounting for 3.02% of the the total, took it to Santiago in 2011. (If you'd like to check out more stats, look here. Pretty cool stuff.)

A few weeks ago, I noticed one of the shells that mark the Camino in the park.

crossing the river
We haven't gone all that far down it, but the section of the Camino that goes from the park into the city has become one of our favorite walks. This time of year, there aren't any pilgrims, but it's still pretty cool to walk the same path as thousands of others have done.

pilgrims' first view of Lugo

Thursday, December 27, 2012

merry merry

I will be the first to tell you that I'm not big on Christmas. I don't like hearing the same 16 songs every time I venture a toe out of my door. I get insanely stressed over buying people the "perfect" present, and dread having to fake happiness over getting gifts I don't want myself. I gag on the fake peace on earth, goodwill to men sentiment--where is it the other eleven months of the year? And Santa can keep his judgment over my naughtiness to himself.

However, since this was my first Christmas in Spain (although not, in fact, the first time I've peaced out on it to gallivant around Europe), I decided to give it the good ol' college try. I found Christmas-themed crafts for my classes (although not, you know, stupid ones; we learned about modern art and made Kandinsky-inspired Christmas trees) (the example would do double-duty as my apartment's tree, taped to the wall in the kitchen). I wished people felices fiestas. I hunted YouTube for Christmas videos, and planned lessons based around them. I hummed this awful song a couple of times. I helped a friend shop for lingerie as a Christmas present for her boyfriend. I even pitched in womanfully with my school's Christmas pageant, translating things and coaching English accents and trying to keep the kids from crying when the other teachers screamed at them.

the fourth and third graders, who are my most beloved students. note the mini-pilgrim on the right, who pronounced all of his English lines perfectly!

And then, I even went to work on a Friday (!!) to watch the blasted thing and wish all my little monstermonkeys a merry Christmas. They were pretty cute, so I guess it was worth it.

the sixth graders: Little Red Riding Hood and her erm, deep-voiced grandmother

Thus, Friday was my last day of work, and then it was off to vacation! And stressing about Christmas shopping.

G. guards her granddad's present
Fortunately, Gwen did great as Team Moral Support. Christmas itself was thankfully low-key--I cooked a mountain of food, we opened presents, we drank wine. At least I don't have a family that tries to shove good cheer down my throat. It was nice enough, I guess, but I'm glad it's over so I can think about more interesting things.

...I promise I'm not an awful person. I just don't like Christmas very much.

PS. Over 2,000 hits, wow! Thank y'all so much. I am honored and amazed that so many of you have visited my blog, and shared a part of Gwen's and my adventures in Galicia. (Although I know who you're all here for, and I seriously doubt it's me.)

Thursday, December 20, 2012

arrivals hall

requisite pic on Beta Bridge for graduation. wahoo wa!
My dad and my godmom got here last night. They'll be staying for a few weeks, keeping me company through a Spanish Christmas and the New Year. We don't see eye-to-eye on everything (Paul Ryan, fiscal policy, the age at which I should be settled down a max of 40 miles from the paternal homestead), but I love them both lots.

As awesome at is was to have my mom fly over with me, it also wasn't the best in terms of relaxation and enjoyment--I was constantly stressing about where I was going to live and omg foreign country, plus I had no idea what the cool things were to do. (Do I now? Debatable.) I'm super-excited to have the opportunity to share a more settled, do-this-not-that, go-here-not-there, version of my life in Galicia with my dad and my godmom.

my dad's hobbies include classy things like foxhunting. mine include wearing pink rainboots.
my godmom drives carriages, while I wear fedoras and gaze into the distance.

And maybe now I'll actually go see some of Galicia, instead of staying in Lugito and gorging on free tapas.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

look out

stained glass
It's been a while since I've posted any pictures from the park. Sorry y'all. It's been pretty rainy the last couple of weeks, so Gwen and I haven't been hiking as much. But here you are.

Also, I played hooky from the private lesson I was supposed to have today. I should feel bad, but mostly I'm just enjoying an unexpected free afternoon.

danger, danger

Sunday, December 9, 2012

order up

good dog
This is kind of counter-intuitive, but now that it's gotten cold, I take the Gwenmonster out with me a lot more. Her single, solitary flaw is that she can be a little, erm, enthusiastic about other dogs. And when we got here, the weather was so nice, every family dog in Lugo was out frisking in the plazas and lurking under cafe chairs. The constant gauntlet of dogs made it a bit challenging to enjoy a relaxing café con leche or glass of Rioja, so Gwen had to stay at home, no matter how many sad, Mom-I'm-such-a-good-dog-why-don't-you-love-me-anymore eyes she gave me.

But now, cold and slow, dripping, misty rain is the norm. For some incomprehensible reason, Spaniards and their dogs don't seem to be flocking to outdoor seating areas in quite the same numbers.

Gwen and I are quite happy to take their places. There are a few cafes with heaters for their outdoor tables (one in the Praza Maior even offers cozy fleece blankets), so we've been rotating between them. At one place, Gwen has made friends with the waiter, who offers her ham from the tray he brings around to the humans.

What a hard life.

standard order

Saturday, December 1, 2012

struggle well

Christmas decorations have gone up!
 Remember how I moved to Spain, even though I've never taken a Spanish class in my life? (Okay, fine, I had a four-week rotation in seventh grade, when my school was letting us try out all of its foreign languages; but needless to say, I picked French, so my Spanish never progressed past "Hola, Señora.")

So, after two and a half months, I think it's time to talk about speaking Spanish.

When I arrived, I could ask for directions, order coffee, and exchange basic pleasantries and personal information ("I'm an American from Virginia," "Virginia is close to Washington, D.C.," "No, it's not close to New York or Los Angeles"). This was about it. But nonetheless, I had to accomplish things like acquiring a cellphone and a pet-friendly apartment. I managed to blunder through with a combination of big smiles, apologies for my abysmal Spanish, and friends who went to the real estate agent's office with me.

I've improved a lot since then. I can have actual conversations--real ones, about real things, like the general strike,* or Thanksgiving, or what I did last weekend--and use more than one verb in more than one past tense. I would estimate that, as long as people speak clearly, and directly to me, I can understand 80-90% of what they say.

All of this represents an incredible improvement from when I arrived. I've gotten there the old-fashioned way: by speaking Spanish. At school, I almost entirely communicate in Spanish (with the teachers, obviously, not the students). When I hang out with Spanish-speakers, I don't let myself stay in the huddle of expatriates. And I'm lucky in that no one speaks English in Lugo, so if I'm at a shoe store and need to try a size 38 in the boots I want, it's not like I can wimp out. The same goes for the bus station, or the grocery store, or my Internet provider's office. I have to struggle on through. This is incredibly valuable experience, for anyone trying to learn a foreign language.

Still, I feel so awful sometimes, when I'm struggling so, so hard to make myself understood, and the words are just not coming out. I feel so stupid. I feel like I'm wasting people's time.

I know the only thing I can do is keep trying (or go home, I guess, but I don't want to do that). But sometimes, it's hard.

Also, these pictures have nothing to do with this post. Sorry I don't have any reaction shots of Spaniards' faces when I (try to) talk to them to share instead. That'd be funnier.

a happier time

*Please not that shit did not get this real in Lugo. Lugo's strike was such a non-event it was comical.