Tuesday, February 9, 2010

February 9, 2010

My language development is coming along, if only slowly. I am more readily able to communicate in real world situations outside restaurants and banks now. And strangely enough, a lot of these situations have to do with keys, for some reason. Last week I was able to communicate to our housekeeper Jacín that our front door key was no longer working but our housemate Guido’s was. (Sarah’s key has never worked, by the way.) After some physical/mechanical help from a third party (never got his name) and some rough conversation about the door jamb and knob, we all seemed to have resolved this issue for the time being. Then just last Friday, at La Inmaculada where we teach English, I was able to track down the key to a locked cabinet that contained the computer, remote controls and the CD/DVD player. Of course, I cannot take all the credit for these small victories. There were some very nice people who were willing to make an effort to help me.

With these efforts fresh in my mind, I’ve been reflecting on El Día de la Paz – the Day of Peace – recently held at La Inmaculada. This day is observed all over the world, from what I understand. All the students at the school, ages 2 through 18 gathered on the playground. When we were all settled, Principal Sister Asún read a poem and Father Javier read a short homily. Then we all, more or less, sang John Lennon’s “Imagine.” (The language level of the school as a whole is still not quite where it needs to be to understand the whole song. And Father Javier had a great sense of humor about this. They got the gist though.) Then about 100 white balloons were let go into the beautiful Spanish blue sky… half of which were quickly caught in three young and leafless trees just on the other side of the wall of the playground. We all just had to laugh. Shortly afterward, my fifth-graders asked me to read and explain the song’s lyrics, which I of course did.

Afterwards, I thought: what a great metaphor for peace efforts today.

Start with good-hearted and peace-based reflections that at least one person cannot fully understand on a basic language level (me) and still many more do not have a full understanding and appreciation of. Then move on to a song that even fewer people understand. (I know of people in the U.S. who scoff at this song and misunderstand it’s true meaning – that is, just for a minute stop thinking that you are absolutely right and have all the answers – and also have a problem with the man who wrote and sang it. Though I’m sure these same people would not have the same problems with a piece of music by Beethoven or a poem by Frost.) This is then followed by a symbol of peaceful intention that is then quickly snatched by prickly dormant things just on the other side of a wall.

Now I’ve had some people throw a reference from the Gospel in my face. Something like, “Do not supposed I came to bring peace but a sword.” And this is supposed to somehow justify their positions on violence and war. I find this both disturbing and poorly conceived. On the first Christmas the angels proclaimed “peace on Earth, good will to men,” not war and oh-well-they-had-it-coming-to-them. Pretty sure Jesus constantly spoke of turning the other cheek, blessed are the meek and the peace-makers, love your neighbor, bless your enemies… Should I keep going? All of these “crazy” attitudes, if practiced, were going to turn society on its head. People resisted these ideals and they infuriated others. They caused real social turmoil – I think that’s plain to see. So the guy who said this is advocating threats, invasion and occupation as retribution for Sept. 11th and trade deficits? It simply does not make sense. So my response to them (if they’d ever listen to my response) would be something like, “Do not suppose I brought an actual weapon that would cause death and displacement of families, but a metaphor for deep and uncomfortable personal and social change. There is no reference to Jesus performing any act of war.”

I was very disappointed when the Obama administration decided to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. It seemed out of character. And with all the talk of the deficit, why is there no talk of scaling back the tens of billions of dollars we’ve spent over there each month? For years? Maybe we could all try a little harder.

Some say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one…

Sunday, January 10, 2010

January 10, 2010

We haven’t seen as many women crying in public in all our lives as we did in Italy. At the airport, at the Metro station, on the Metro, in restrooms, walking down the street with mascara streaming, sobbing in elevators and at historic sites. A woman who didn’t cry in public almost stood out more than one who didn’t carry a designer handbag in Rome. OK. That might be a stretch. But really, I don’t know what there is to cry about. Italy has an almost magical spell over it that takes you outside of yourself, and Sarah and I experienced more of it than we’d ever hoped.

Italy has a more refined way about it, on the whole, than Spain. The history there is a bit richer and has left a little deeper mark on our present day Western culture, what with the likes of Davinci, Dante, Michelangelo and the Roman Empire effecting nearly every corner of our lives. That’s a tall order to beat. And even more recently their filmmakers and designers hold sway over much of the world. Though Cervantes, El Greco and Almodavar have done well in Spain. For the most part, Spain is more enticing for the long-term. The Spanish are not quite as impressed with themselves as the Italians. The Spanish culture has a little more grit to it. The people are more helpful, they form lines in a more orderly fashion, and the public information is much easier to follow back in Madrid. Rome’s public transportation is rather mysterious and a lot dirtier.

In addition – and this is for all you single folks out there – Spaniards are overall a more attractive people than the Italians. (Compare Penelope Cruz with Al Pacino… Wait. Is that fair?) The Spanish are more daring in their fashion sense too. Though they sometimes fail, at least they fail grandly. (Right now I’m thinking of that lady dressed head-to-toe in purple.) I also find the Spanish language more appealing to listen to.

We believe, perhaps out of necessity, that we are happier living in Spain than we would be in Italy.

With all that said, Italy should definitely be on your list of things to see before you die. Some highlights:

The Coliseum: a monument to what humans are capable of – both the magnificent and the brutal

Leaning Tower of Pisa: truly surreal to look at a leaning, 900-year-old tower

Florence: all of it… everywhere you look is something worth stopping and staring at, but there’s especially something about the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and all is iconography and seeing Michelangelo’s David

Pompei: an ancient city frozen in time

Wandering through Naples: lines to get in to see old, old palaces and seaside fortresses – lines to get in to Gucci and Prada

The Sistine Chapel: you’ve seen it all before, but you still can’t believe what you’re looking at

Dante’s House: OK, this should have been covered in the “Florence – all of it” thing, but what a feeling to stand where the great poet actually spent his daily life

The Wine: so cheap, so good

The Food: "angry" spicy tomato penne pasta in Naples, the perfect pizza crust in Rome, quattro formaggi gnocchi in Florence, peanutbutter sandwiches on Christmas night

Pics are online at our Flickr site (www.flickr.com/photos/rothtravels). We hope you enjoy them.

Happy New Year everyone! Best wishes to all of you for a great 2010.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

December 18, 2009

Merry Christmas...

Here are some new pictures from around Madrid.

December 17, 2009

Ahh… Spain. Amidst the beauty of the architecture, the delicacy of the food and the intrigue of the people lies an interesting fundamental establishment… socialized medicine. Yes, I said it. This is a phrase that triggers elation, contemplation or anxiety in the hearts of Americans – depending on who you ask. It’s become a polarized subject for debate… to say the least. And as one who has not had health insurance for a few years now, it is an issue my husband and I find intriguing.

Last week, I had the opportunity to become more intimately involved with this system. A hair follicle located in my armpit (yes, rather gross, I admit – but a source of rather real pain) became irritated and infected. I wasn’t exactly sure of the rules governing Spain’s health system, so I turned to my student handbook and made a phone call.

Could I make an appointment? Of course. So. Did I want to come in at 12:30pm or 4:15pm or 6:45pm? Um, Today? I asked. Of course, today. And just two hours after my initial call, I was ushered into a lovely doctor’s office and my armpit was viewed with concern. Antibiotics might be the answer. 12€ later, I had antibiotics and a hopeful attitude.

However, two days later with my armpit inflamed and growing by the hour, (probably an exaggeration, but not much of one) I was encouraged to visit the Emergency Room. Now once again, I wasn’t sure my armpit equated an “emergencia,” but off I went to a nearby hospital.

Upon arriving in an examination room, the doctor took one look at my armpit and made a large slashing gesture with his hand, complete with sound effects. This was a gesture that overcame all language barriers. Yep. My armpit needed to be cut open and drained. (I hope you’re not eating while reading this, by the way.) The doctor opened the door and invited a few other people to look at my freakish arm infection. Apparently, this was something they didn’t see every day. Somehow they patiently communicated that I needed to wait 4 hours after I had last eaten before they’d drain the area. OK. I had a good book with me. No problem. As I sat waiting, a few more people were brought in to catch an eyeful of my armpit. (To this day, I don’t know if this was a teaching hospital, or if they just specialized in the axillary.)

Three and a half hours later, I was wheeled to a different floor and shown to a dressing room where I was given a hot little O.R. outfit. I looked around and realized I was on the operating room floor. OK. I guess it’s a kind of surgery. I changed and put on booties to cover my feet and a hairnet to cover my head.

The nurses escorted me to an operating room, complete with a sterile bed and giant light. As I was lying there, they told me they needed to check with the anesthesiologist to see if I had waited long enough after eating. I nodded. Anesthesiologist? When the doctor returned, he told me they couldn’t put me under general anesthesia as I had eaten such a short time before. I said that was fine – local anesthesia would be just fine. (In my mind, I wondered how I would have gone about finding Peter and telling him they put me under for my armpit. And could you help me get home. How do you put that in a text message?)

The doctor had studied some in the U.S. and his English was fairly good. He joked as he went along. Once the procedure was complete, he patted me on the shoulder, told me to get dressed, and I went along my way.

Just over a week later, my armpit is back to normal and my experience is now just fodder for stories. But when I reflect on this experience, though, I’m left feeling grateful for living in a place where an experience like this only cost me a grand total of 12€. Had this occurred last year when I lived in Indiana, I have no idea what the end cost would have been.

The purpose of this blog is not to make a statement about the health care system in the United States. It is a complicated issue which needs a lot of research and a good deal more wisdom. However, I am concerned that basic health services are not available for those without the ability to pay. And pay a lot. There must be a way to enable everyone to have access to the care they need – even if it’s just for a silly armpit infection.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

November 22, 2009

So, once upon a time, we were very good about making regular contributions to our blog. We updated it weekly even with unreliable internet. Plenty of stories were written and shared of odd happenings of our life abroad.

In Spain, we have lapsed in our regular contributions. In fact, we haven’t posted anything in almost a month. Many may wonder why we’ve failed to keep up on this project… are we busy? Have we lost internet connections? Are school and work taking all our time?

While some of these things are true, I believe the primary reason for our unreliability is our keen enjoyment of Madrid and Spain and our adventure here. Blog writing had become a therapeutic outlet while living in a developing nation and in the absence of the need to vent, we’ve lagged behind in our updates. Somehow, stories of beautiful walks down Madrid’s corridors with blue skies and sidewalks covered with autumn leaves seem less interesting than stories of Indonesian policemen who wake us at 2am to see our marriage papers. Complaints about housemates who leave their (entire) chicken out for the day or leave rotting fruits and vegetables in the kitchen aren’t nearly as interesting as complaints about fellow teachers who black out over the weekend after drinking too much. And, tales of our students who want to learn and the headmistress who bends over backwards to make sure we have all the teaching supplies we need just don’t seem to hold a candle to the epic tales of ceilings that fell in or generators that failed to work as was a regular occurrence in Indonesia.

Madrid is not a perfect city. Spain is not a perfect country. There are things here that drive us crazy. But, the beauty of our time here is so full of good memories that our need for therapeutic release is minimal.

At a time of year when many in the U.S. are beginning to turn their thoughts toward Thanksgiving, we can only say what we are thankful for this year.

  • We are thankful for the opportunity to explore new places and new adventures.
  • We’re thankful for each other and for the life we are sharing.
  • We’re thankful for bread and cheese and the culinary delicacies of Spain.
  • We’re thankful for closed sewers and clean public transportation.
  • We’re thankful for steady work and a good university.
  • I’m thankful that Peter gets the chance to study and work with language all day, every day.
  • We’re thankful for the chance to travel and experience the amazing world we live in.

And, we’re thankful for our family and our friends. We miss you all very much.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

November 4, 2009

My nephew Nick had a school project, and he recently asked us for help with it. His second grade class read a book about a guy named Flat Stanley, who had been flattened in a serious, yet hilarious, accident involving a bookcase. In the story, Flat Stanley discovers he can visit anywhere in the world for only the cost of postage. Cool.

Well, Flat Stanley came to Madrid. We three had a great time seeing Madrid and all it has to offer.

His adventures are posted on our Flickr site. If you're interested in seeing all Flat Stanley saw, check out www.flickr.com/photos/rothtravels.

November 4, 2009

Yeah. I know. I know. It’s been awhile. Too long. But here’s the thing: we’re pretty busy, and when you have some free time in such a great place like Madrid… Well, you know what I’m saying. I don’t feel like hanging in front of the computer screen, is all. Please accept our apologies.

Not that we don’t love you. Quite the contrary. We think of our family and friends often. More than it seems. Really. Sometimes adjusting has its challenges, but overall it’s pretty cool here.

There is, however, one aspect of living in Madrid that has been very difficult for me in particular. Finding that great cup of coffee is still something that eludes me. This upsets me. I live in a city of, what, something like 4 million people – a world-class place that was in the running to host the Olympics – and I’m left with going to Starbucks? That’s the best they can do? The Spanish seem OK with this though.

The perils of a being coffee snob in Spain are many. First, Starbucks is the only place I can get just a regular old cup of joe. Everywhere else only speaks the language of “café con leche” (coffee with hot milk). The other places don’t usually sell beans for brewing at home either. But even going to the ‘Bucks comes along with more than it’s usual baggage. Strangely, many Starbucks in town (and there are many) have drip machines which are supposedly “broken”, and drip coffee is rarely ever brewed. I believe this is because most Spaniards get lattes or café con leches or (of course) Frappaccinos. Most of the time the staff try to give me an Americano instead, but they don’t fool me. I can tell the difference.

But being cheated out of caffeine and regional coffee flavors from all over the world isn’t the only coffee-related danger here. Twice I was given coffee that had gone cold but was warmed up with the steam wand at the espresso machine – the one that’s usually used for steaming milk. And I’m here to tell you, coffee with a frothy head of foam is disgusting… as well as against several health code regulations in the States. And speaking of public health violations, last Saturday, Sarah and I were at a mall and I was putting forth great effort to receive what I had ordered while we were being spit upon by a few cheeky little Spaniards two floors up. I chased them and gave them a look that crossed all language barriers while they hid behind their clueless parents. (yes, lots of parents are inattentive here in Europe too.)

Don’t feel sorry for me. I’d still rather be here with lame coffee than in the States at this stage of my life. Yep, it’s pretty cool here.

Before I go, I want to send a shout out to a dear friend of ours who is ill, and who has seasoned many of life’s greatest storms with so many of us. A friend who has given so much more than he’s received: Morrissey. The troubadour of our most intimate sorrows – the boy with the thorn in his side – collapsed on stage the other week while singing “This Charming Man.” I’ve been wearing black since hearing the news… because black is how I feel on the inside. But maybe I’d be more of an encouragement if I wore gold lamé. Get well soon, Moz.