Friday, November 27, 2009

A positive confirmation day

I was standing at the copier this morning, photocopying a test that I'd made that I was sure Balint was going to hide (he calls it "file") away and I would never see it again. I joked to Edit that I wanted just a copy of my baby. She smiled and said that they were lucky with me, that she appreciates finally getting a partner that she can count on. I almost cried.

Then at Avicenna one of my old students came and sat in on a class and thanked me for all my help with him last year. He said he got into university because of my work. I almost cried.

Then Mate commented that he finally realized how Americans and Hungarians are different at our Thanksgiving dinner this weekend (which was lovely and delicious! a dedicated post is sure to follow). How different we are! he marveled as I quietly raged that I had been saying that for over a year now. Wasn't I lonely? I explained the fact that I feel like I only have one Hungarian friend, that even the people I have that I really love, that I know care about me, haven't done everything to make me fully comfortable in their friendship by my cultural standards. That while my brain knows I am silly and cultural differences are real, sometimes I can't help but feel, really feel in my belly, that I'm totally useless here and nobody actually even notices my presence. And I finally burst into disgusting, hiccuping sobs in the middle of the sidewalk. And then I sobbed out all my angry frustration at my friends never inviting me to their homes, at everyone laughing at my attempts at Hungarian (in the oh-isn't-she-cute way, which still flusters me), at the fact that I can therefore talk in the conditional about economics but can't discuss the weather, at my lack of hugs, at just everything that a someone living abroad deals with and understands and embraces... but sometimes it still just feels lonely.

And poor Mate sat there and took it and looked terrified. And I feel much better now. The every-few-months cathartic sob is an interesting thing, because I feel it so passionately, and really mean it at the time. But as soon as it's over I move on and feel great again.

And it's weird, because I've had a great week. Everything has been going really, really well. I think it might have just been the shock that someone actually tried to understand me.

And now, the indisputably awesome part of my crazy life abroad: I'm off to a long weekend in Belgrade, done on night trains for next-to-nothing, where we will wander and sit and take photos of beautiful and exotic things. Not so rough, this life.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A very important trip to the market

I approach the counter. "Six kilos of turkey breast, please."

The man arches his eyebrow. "Six?!?"

I stammer. "Well... about. Six. Please."

Oh, thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Neni attack! As caused by... sarcasm?

I have mentioned on here many times that Hungarian old ladies, nenis, hate me. Last night I was complaining about a particular episode where I got up to offer my seat to an old lady, and she hit me with her umbrella and starting scolding me. I was appalled by this. As I ranted, my friend Laci stopped me. "What exactly happened?" he asked.

"Oh, I don't know. I saw an old lady, so I got up and said tessek." And I demonstrated with my hands the way I had offered the chair with my hands.

Immediately the three Hungarians I was talking to shouted "Ohhh! That's why!" In response to my total flabbergasted-ness (it's a word if I say it is!), the explained that the way I offered her the chair with my hands while saying the basic equivalent of "please, take my chair," was most likely viewed by the little old lady as sarcastic. I sputtered in bewildered frustration. WHAT?!? Seriously.

Next time I have to deal with a neni, I'm keeping my hands in my pockets. We'll see how that goes.

On an unrelated note, I had two open lessons this morning. I woke up vomiting, infected with the stomach thing that has been running around Krudy. So I went into work, taught one open lesson, was sick again, taught my second lesson, and headed home. And thus took only the second sick day of my entire life (I still have never taken an entire sick day). And I did nothing productive. I feel quite guilty about it. Sometimes it's nice to be reminded of how very American I actually am! Now I'm feeling significantly better. If I had to choose only two things I really love about my physical self number one would be my hair, and number two would definitely be my iron stomach.

Monday, November 16, 2009

a new notebook

When I was little, one of my favorite things was school shopping. I loved few things more than school, and even fewer more than school supplies. I would spend an absurd amount of time picking out the perfect trapper keeper, the necessary Lisa Frank folders, the right type of pencil. I'm sure I drove my mother insane. There's just something about a new notebook though. Maybe it's the promise of all those empty pages, or maybe it's the perverse thrill of getting to put my own marks all over this pristine thing. Regardless, I still love school supplies. I have far too many pens, I tell others that I buy stickers only for my students but really love their shiny shapes myself, and I own a broad collection of notebooks. Notebooks for Hungarian, for work, for lists, to practice Spanish. All half-sized, all precious to me.

Today I bought a new notebook. It's full sized, graph paper. On the front is a Keith Harris drawing of two people holding a heart. And this notebook, oh, it's important. Because this is the notebook I will use to prepare for the Intermediate Hungarian Language Exam that I will take in the beginning of June.

Incidentally, has anyone seen any Lisa Frank designs lately? Seriously, google it. It's enough to break my heart. Everything has gigantic eyes, and the children have breasts. Gah!


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Spain... feelings

So I finally posted a super-long post on my trip to Spain, complete with about a million pictures. It's postdated since I've been working on it for awhile now, so be sure to go down the page and check it out.

And ten days in Spain was such a blessing for me, and exactly when I needed it. Spain does good things to me. It makes me feel confident and happy. I was talking with someone the other day about how I honestly believe that people are better people in their second language. When I'm speaking Spanish, I'm more thoughtful, more honest, more straightforward. I use more elegant words and phrases. I try to speak beautifully. Because even if I am fluent, it's still not my native tongue. It still takes just that little bit more effort. And I think that effort makes me a better person. English can be too easy for me to be crass, unkind, short. In Hungarian I am still at a low level and just sort of sound like an idiot. I think I was missing that part of me, that beautiful and delicate me that I am when I speak Spanish.

There were a few times wandering the streets of Madrid, and especially of Salamanca, that it hit me that I lived in Spain four years ago. Or, to think of it another way... high school ago. College ago. Four years is still a significant amount of time for me (and I suppose that if I continue teaching in Hungary, in four-year cycles of students, that it will continue to be). Spain made me who I am. And I became who I am only four short years ago. Or four long, incredibly full-of-growth years ago, depending upon how I feel on a particular day. Because it feels like it was yesterday, and it feels like it was my whole life ago.

I really like who I am. I wish I could be a bit kinder, and I especially wish that I was a bit better at reaching out to people... I don't call people enough, message them enough. But beyond that, I like who I am. And I really wonder who I would have become if I hadn't gone to Spain and started this crazy adventure.

Popping into the bars and hangouts of my time in Spain also made me realize that I am no longer a teenager. Which is something that I have realized before (I can't party quite as hard as I used to, for one... at least without feeling serious consequences the next day!) but it really set in there. I have friends with children, I am starting to recognize my own need for sleep, I really enjoy cooking a large number of meals on Sundays so that I have dinner ready on the busy weekdays. I check the weather forecast the night before, regularly mop my kitchen for the first time ever, my dreams now include buying a little flat and a dog and working a job that I love instead of only the single word: travel (though of course travel continues to factor in rather heavily). I'm starting to demand respect in exchange for the respect I give.

I feel like I'm an adult. A woman. I noticed in the past few weeks, only, that I have almost always stopped referring to myself as a girl. And while the word woman still feels rather strange on my lips, I know it won't for long. And woman is a label I am very happy to wear.

a totally unorganized post

we are totally responsible rat mommies

So, what has been going on for the past two weeks? Honestly, not much. The weather has been pretty atrocious, and the flu is running around. Both the normal flu, and H1N1 also continues closer and closer to Hungary... first Ukraine, then Bulgaria got hit with quarantines. Work has also been pretty crazy for no real reason, just a lot of work. Balint and Edit have both been out a few times for different workshops and trainings, so I have had the class to myself, which is fun because it equals a bigger paycheck, but less fun because it equals a bigger class.

So I have done a frightening amount of staying at home. I have done this to give private lessons, cook beautiful meals (enchiladas, squash soup, baked mac and cheese, pot stickers, wontons...), to grade papers, and to rest off the general feeling of weariness that has been following me around.

Happily, that changed this weekend. It started on Thursday night, where we went out to celebrate Vivvi's birthday, and perhaps due to our weeks of responsibility, got a little too irresponsible. Friday night we had a night in, but not in our flat. We watched little Lucas, our friends' ten-week old angel baby. And he was adorable and sweet, and if I could bottle the scent of the top of his head, so soft, I would. Saturday it was off to the Tropicarium, which is in a mall in southern Buda. Nevertheless, it was surprisingly nice and complete, and I got to pet rays. Then we saw Julie and Julia, which was cute. Finally today we had a small viewing party of Up, which we downloaded and loved.

It has also been sort of strange, in that I keep bumping into people I know. Which is strange, because I don't feel like I actually know all that many people. But this weekend everywhere I go, there someone is. And it's lovely, and makes me feel like I'm at home.

I have been struck this week by how at home I feel. I head out to work, and nod at the corner shop employee having his smoke on the corner. I got pulled over by the cops for "incorrect signaling" and successfully told them they were mistaken (basically, correct signaling is just ignored here... you just have to point in the direction you're turning). Things have seemed clear and beautiful to me, despite the rain. I wore an irresponsibly short skirt out in the cold, just like everyone else, and could give snappy responses to the few comments I got. And I feel comfortable.

I don't know if I mentioned this on here, but one of my classes was having serious problems. We just couldn't find success together, and it was killing me. Their last test on Friday, though, was superb. 17 of the 25 got 100%s, and 7 of the other ones got As. I was so happy while I was grading their tests in the staff room that I was actually making happy noises and getting some strange looks. And I guess... that's all!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Ten days in Spain (a summary)

In times of crisis and recession, buy pork products!

Friday, Oct. 23: wake up early to catch the taxi to the airport. We overpacked. A lot. In the end it was almost worth it, because I wore almost everything I brought with me. After a whole summer spent living out of a twelve-kilo backpack, however, a twenty-kilo suitcase for ten days seemed a bit excessive. But it was a real vacation, not a "journey," so I justified it to myself.

Made it to Madrid without any hassles, picked up our bags, and went to where we were staying. Weirdly, it was right around the corner from where I lived when I studied in Spain, in a nice residential neighborhood I hadn't had any reason to return to while visiting the past few times. So to be back was a bit strange. The first thing we did, sure enough, was to find a little cafe to sit and drink chocolate, and eat lomo and cheese sandwiches. And I was happy. That night we went out dancing at a pretty chill place, after eating a delicious dinner of beautiful fresh vegetables and rice.

Saturday, Oct. 24: off to Toledo! After a small mishap caused by going to the wrong bus station, we caught our bus to Toledo. As usual, I didn't make it out of Madrid without being lulled to sleep by the comfortable chairs and Spanish pop music. As always, my body knew when to wake me up, and I shook awake just in time to see the giant toro on the side of the highway into town, and admire the old city raising up over the valley. The first order of business was lunch, a starter of garlicky setas (a kind of mushroom), followed by pork and sausage stewed in a spicy tomato sauce, so tender it was hard to lift with a fork. From there we saw the beautiful city: the cathedral, the monasteries, the synagogues. We bought some beautiful damasquin jewelry as our Spanish souvenir. Primarily, though, we just wandered the tiny, winding streets of the city, soaked in sunshine, and popped in and out of tiny shops. We caught the bus back as the sun started to set, and finished our day with a dinner of tapas: patatas bravas and tortilla from El Meson de Tortilla, topped with bitter Spanish beer.

the cathedral
happy toros come from Spain
I found a weasel!one of the monasteries

Sunday, Oct. 25: forgetting about the time change, we woke up disgustingly early (before 7!) to head to the famous Rastro flea market. There, we bought key chains of adorable monsters, some useless pretty things, and a Barcelona scarf for Balint. We chatted with the merchants, and again had some chocolate con churros for breakfast. Wandering the area between el Rastro and La Puerta del Sol, we discovered that there was a giant parade of people from the northern regions of Spain. They were playing traditional music, wearing bizarre shoes, and had also brought a lot of animals with them: whole flocks of sheep, dogs, giant cows and bulls, at least a hundred horses. So that was festive, and took at least an hour to fully appreciate.

We then did some sightseeing: the cathedral, the castle, Plaza de Espana. My beloved Pans & Company served us a delicious sandwich for lunch.

the interior of the Madrid cathedral
Don Quijote and Sancho Panza in the Plaza de Espana

Then we headed to the Prado for the afternoon, where we visited only the first floor. Having happily gotten in free (yay, teacher discount), we decided to come back another day and finish seeing the collection. In the evening, we took ourselves to see the lovely (500)Days of Summer, which it seems will never make it to Budapest. Afterwards: El Almendro. Oh, El Almendro. I dream of the food when I am away from it. Imagine: lomo (pork loin) that has been stewed in a delicious, garlicky gravy for over 24 hours, poured over fried potatoes so thin as to almost be chips, the juice from the meat soaking through them. Diced jamon serrano with perfectly fried eggs over the same potatoes. Olives and pickled beans. All washed down with the sweet-crisp taste of cold manzanilla sherry. This is the stuff that dreams are made of.

Plaza del Sol at night

Monday, Oct. 26: Lyla and I spent essentially the entire day laying in the Retiro park, soaking in the sun. We did very important reading and people-watching. We ate doritos and sandwiches of jamon serrano and cured cheese. We chased ducks. It was beautiful.

how we felt after a day in the park
the Crystal Palace in the Retiro

Tuesday, Oct. 27: some more leisurely sight-seeing, mostly consisting of walking through tiny streets. A fair bit of shopping, of both the window (me) and purchasing (Lyla) variety. A yummy lunch of Thai food.

Gran Viaa bear and a strawberry tree, the symbol of Madrid

Then it was off to my interview for me and to the royal palace for Lyla. As I mentioned: the interview went well. The school is on the southern edge of Madrid, and when I came up from the metro I was struck by the desolateness of the area. It's totally new there, and still being built. You can see the desert around you, and feel the famous madness-causing hot southern wind in your face. It was stark and beautiful and something that I had no idea existed in Madrid.

To celebrate, Lyla and I drank mojitos under the stars near Plaza Mayor, followed by Sangria. I watched the crazy Spaniards milling about as if it were noon, when it was actually midnight on a Tuesday, and I was happy for their presence, and for the simple fact of how alive they are.

Wednesday, Oct. 28: We started the day by heading back to the Prado to see the second and third floors. Lunch was delicious sandwiches, and then it was to the bus station to head to my favorite place in the whole world: Salamanca. As always, the sight of the city cresting over the horizon took my breath away. Upon arriving, we settled in and then headed out for dinner at my favorite gyros stand and a few drinks.

these two are of the view from my friend's flat

the cathedral at night

Thursday, Oct. 29: Woke up pretty early and headed to my old school to visit with the professors there. It was really nice. Then headed off to my old home to visit my housemom, Mariela, who continues to be a totally lovely lady. Napped and layed about in the afternoon, then walked around the city. Salamanca is seriously one of the most beautiful places in the world, and every street and every building seemed to be welcoming me back. In the evening, it was out for a bit of a fun, as every student in town prowled the streets in Halloween gear.

me and Lyla on the Roman bridgethe cathedral, painted red by the sunsetthe above-mentioned sunset
a church on the outside of the town wall, surrounded by inexplicably painted dead trees

Friday, Oct. 30: caught up with another professora that I had missed the day before, and went to the Museo del toro with Lyla. This bullfighting museum is one of the more interesting museums that I've been to. Basically it's a small building crammed full of the most random assortment of stuff related to bull fighting, curated by this absolutely fanatical man. The afternoon was spent in a park reading magazines and soaking up the sunlight, then eating amazing food. That evening was more time out, including a long dinner of paella and chorizo at one of my favorite little restaurants, and a quick stop into the Irish Rover for old time's sake, which really just resulted in my feeling a bit old!

ears are given as trophies to good bullfighters
Lyla strikes a bullfighter's pose
smiley in the sunshine
Yum!the facade of the old cathedralThe Casa Lis lit up for the nightLyla and I in the Plaza Mayor

Saturday, Oct. 31: realizing that we were leaving the next day and until that point had basically only relaxed, we set about sightseeing with a vengeance. We visited the monastery, the cathedrals, and the art-deco museum Casa Lis. And... have I mentioned that Salamanca is beautiful? In the evening we bought cured meats and cheeses to bring home with us, then it was off to O'haras for a few drinks, followed by an unexpected and apparently impromptu flamenco performance in the square. Then we had a delicious dinner at Delicatessan, followed by a long slow walk home.

a monastery's cloister
the view of the cathedral
one of the facades of the old cathedral, depicting the nativity
inside the new cathedral
Look at that sky!
the Casa de las Conchas... the shell house

Sunday, Nov. 1: early up and to the bus station, as always staring behind me at the city as it dropped out of sight, as always promising to return. Then to the airport in Madrid for a rather uneventful flight home.

Finally, the cow bids you farewell, and of couse, since it's Spain... buen provecho.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

I have a future!

On Thursday, October 22nd I ran out of work a little bit too quickly (not skipping laughing about insincere "I statements" with the other native-English teachers and scolding Balint to get some actual rest and not work all break) and caught the bus home, giggling with Lyla over the cold weather and grey sky. Why? Simple. The 23rd is a national holiday in honor of the 1956 revolution, so we were dressed up and pretty for the commemorative ceremonies held that day. I had done almost no work that day, just brought kids to the ceremony and proctored tests. And most importantly of all, because I would be waking up very early the next morning to head to Spain.

If you know me, you know that Spain holds a huge part of my heart. When I was not-quite-19 years old I left America for the first time on my own and headed for a few months study abroad. I had the time of my life in the small town of Salamanca. I perfected my second language. I traveled all over the country. I didn't get enough sleep but I got more than enough rest. I met truly different people for the first time in my life and can cite the exact moment when I judge to have become an adult. I fell in passionate, adult love, but was too scared to do anything about it. I danced, ate, played, soaked in the warmth radiating off hundreds-year-old golden buildings' stones. I lived and breathed and actually allowed myself to be unworried and free for the first time perhaps ever. I was radiant.

When it came time for me to leave, I was desperate. I spent hours and hours in internet cafes searching for programs that would allow me to stay. I found them, but I didn't find the courage. So, sick to my stomach and sobbing, I came back to America. And I had an amazing rest-of-college experience that I wouldn't trade. My life has always been good about bringing me the best things in that way. And I met Alfonso, so a bit of Spain continued with me for a long long time in our conversations, in our ability to understand each other, and in my continued visits to the country. And then we split up, and I didn't return to Spain for almost two years.

Coming to Hungary was similar to me in almost every way, only... calmer. More adult. I wasn't out dancing every night; I was dancing with 8-year-olds every day. I wasn't speaking effortlessly and without thought, I was pondering every word because each one was (is) a mental struggle. I was traveling in much more exotic locales and on my own accord, rather than on excursions planned by a school. I was actually grown up. And it was, and continues to be, exhilarating and terrifying and everything I could possibly want. And this feeling of calmness, of happiness with my simple state of being, stays with me. It allows me to make the scary and painful decisions I have recently made.

Spain was my first love and I remember it fondly and miss it from time to time. Hungary was the first thing I love that I've actually had to work for. And it was worth it. I love my life. Everyday.

While in Spain this week I interviewed for a masters program in Bilingual and Multicultural Education. The interview went very well. I am full of joy and hopefulness. If I receive a position in the program, which seems more than possible, I will finally get to live in Spain for awhile. And most importantly, the program will allow me to return to Central Europe for the long term, because I won't have loans afterward. I will be free to continue in this life. And I can't think of anything better than that.

Update on the actual, fantastic and delicious trip to come.