Thursday, November 25, 2010

In 24 hours...

I land in Budapest!  Everyone say "eeeeeeeeeeeeee" with me!

I seriously should not be so excited over a weekend away!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


I just phoned up (thank goodness for Skype, really) both our selected restaurant and our chosen starting bar for Saturday night in Budapest and reserved tables.  And I did so easily.  Take that, decaying language center!

I really don't think that I could be more excited.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

European Medicine

I'm at home sick.  And this is good, because while I actually don't feel all that horrible, I am just a disgusting human being right now.  I have a lung infection, and as such am just coughing and hacking and wheezing.  Plus my voice is just pretty much gone.  I can sort of croak a few words at a time.  So it's probably for the best that I am not at school.

On Monday I went to the doctor about my illness, where he looked in my ears, made a hissing noise, and then x-rayed my lungs.  I was written several prescriptions and sent home "de baja" or on medical leave.  Now, I also had an appointment with the gynecologist for that afternoon, which I had gone through hell and high water to set up, so I was determined to keep it.  So I stumbled home from the first clinic, started taking all my meds, and headed out to the second appointment of the day.  This appointment was in the nearby town of Villalba, which takes about 30 minutes to get to.  So I walked the twenty minutes down the hill to the cercanias train, then rode the train for the ten minutes to Villalba.  Of course, the train only goes once an hour, so I had the choice of either showing up 45 minutes early or 15 minutes late.  So the receptionist scolded me for being early.  I explained that I had a book and was happy to sit, and she sort of scoffed and waved me away to the waiting room.

Ladies went in and out of the doctor's office with a shocking speed.  They were seriously in there for only a few minutes each, and I wondered what could possibly be going on.  When my name was finally called, I realized what was up.  The doctor's appointment was actually just to sort of chat with the doctor.  Now, I was very sick and my brain was a bit foggy, so I can only imagine how pathetically I managed to pull that off.  So I chatted with the doctor about how my uterus has gone raving mad in the absence of hormonal birth control, and how I would like a prescription for the ring again (I would seriously wear Tshirts advertising the thing, I love it that much).  Then he wrote me out little prescriptions for a pap test, some blood work, and an ultrasound.  I have to return to the same clinic tomorrow morning for the pap and blood test, without eating first of course, and then go back to Villalba, but to a different clinic around the corner, for the ultrasound.  After that, I will have to return to the original doctor and get the prescription for the ring.

It's all just unnecessarily complicated, even with the private insurance provided by my school.  If I wasn't already de baja, I would have had to miss one and a half days of work for all this.  That's assuming I can go to the first clinic after getting the ultrasound tomorrow afternoon and get the prescription, but of course there is a good chance I will have to first make yet another appointment.  Which will make my fourth one-hour-plus round trip in this endeavor.

No wonder women have unwanted pregnancies!  Granted, I'm using mine to prevent insane uterus shenanigans.  But still.  The number of loops that I have had to jump through to stay on birth control throughout my life have been, frankly, insane.  And this is with the privilege of health insurance and jobs that allow me to take time off to go to appointments.  Plus when I eventually do get the prescription, it's going to be a fun 20 euro a month expense, which I make little enough to notice.

If this little rant made you feel uncomfortable, I do apologize.  But I find it just so frustrating that I have to make such an effort to live a life where I don't spend 3 out of every 19 days feeling like I'm being stabbed repeatedly in the gut.  And that so many other women have to do the same to have simple, responsible control over their own bodies.  It's just rant-inducing!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Balint's visit

So in the first week of November (was it already that long ago?) Balint came to visit me here in San Lorenzo.  I'd been looking forward to his visit for a long time; he almost never travels and yet loves everything new, so it's great fun to see new things with him.  For being 31, he has so much more of a sense of wonder than I have, gasping and pointing at things, being amazed, taking a million pictures.  It's a beautiful thing to see and it reminds me a little bit to chill out and stop and look around me as I run through this crazy life of mine.  Beyond that, it was nice to have someone with me here in my pueblo... it made things less lonely.  But most of all, it was just good to see my Balint, who has become so very dear to me, and spend time with him and get to know each other better.

I was honestly just really shocked when he actually bought his ticket and came to Spain.  Pleasantly shocked, of course.  We have a friendship where I'm never actually sure if we are friends, because I know virtually nothing about the guy, and because he is just so unneedy and happy being alone.  I, on the other hand, demand constant love and validation.  We're just opposite personalities, and I don't always know how to react to or interpret his personality.  I'm sure he feels the same way!  His actually coming to Spain made me sure that we are friends, though, which was the best part about the whole visit.

I miss his face.  Also, take that, popular opinion: I love a man to tiny little pieces, and we're actually friends. 

I lent him my camera, so all pictures are his.

I picked him up Friday night from the airport and we talked and mostly I just repeated "I'm so glad you're actually here" until he was embarrassed.  Saturday we were up pretty early for some sightseeing in Madrid.  Here he is in Plaza Mayor.

Me in front of the Cathedral de la Almudena.  This is one of my favorite churches, because the inside is so different from what you would expect from the outside.

Inside the Cathedral, it is all painted in bright rainbow colors, and the light falls through the stained glass windows and lights upon the floor, the pews, and the people inside in technicolor swaths.  I sat quietly and said some prayers for the many sick and injured people in my life, while Balint ran to see every angle.  Then we sat quietly for awhile together.  So I said a prayer for him, too, and then we headed out into the sun.

Me in the Plaza de Espana with Quijote.

I included this photo because Balint and I had a huge discussion about these two buildings.  He insisted the one on the right was taller.  I insisted that he was a crazy person, and obviously the one on the left is taller.  I was right.  After this we wandered for a bit more and then had dinner: tortilla, croquetas, and patatas bravas.  It was delicious, and Balint fell in love with croquetas.  Then it was off to meet my friends for a bit, then sit in a smoky bar and watch the Real Madrid match.  That's right: Balint sat in a smoky bar.

The next morning it was up early (for the second year in a row forgetting about daylight savings time on the way) and off to the Rastro, where I bought myself a pair of earrings and Balint bought himself all sorts of Spain goodies, including presents for his parents and the coveted Spanish national team jersey.  When I couldn't take it anymore and was on the verge of an agoraphobic fit, we had chocolate con churros (yum, and also my first during this visit to Spain) and then headed up to Plaza de las Ventas to check out a bit of traditional Spanish culture, at least as much as my soft heart will allow.
Unfortunately, there was some sort of beer festival going on, so it wasn't the most traditional of moments at the bull ring.  So Balint ran out to do his own mini San Fermin, and then we went and had lunch.

After lunch we took a nice walk through the Salamanca district and ended at the Retiro, where we chilled on a park bench.  I think this was my favorite moment of the visit.  It was very calm at the park, we could talk and relax, and I was happy.

Then it was off for more sightseeing!

Including Plaza de Cibeles and El Banco de Espana.

We checked out Temple of Debod...

and caught the awesome Madrid sunset.

On Monday we went to Toledo.  Now, I like Toledo.  Most people like Toledo.  Balint, though?  He loved Toledo.  He took so many pictures, and giddily almost pranced from one sight to the next, even when Toledo invariably got us lost in its winding streets.  He was totally entranced and amazed and infatuated with the city.  And now I think I love Toledo a little bit more.

The back of the Cathedral, which we went inside after lunch when I was a little tipsy from my menu-included wine.  Nevertheless, I remembered all my art and Spanish history and gave many many details on the architecture, culture, and so on.  Balint accepted my tour-guiding like a champ.

The front of the Cathedral.
This is absolutely not the best picture of me, but it's still cute.

Balint in the Monastery de los Reyes, in front of an orange tree.

itty-bitty doors

the mandatory Lauren-and-Weasel picture

the courtyard of the Monastery

A gorgeous pink sunset over gorgeous Toledo... there is a saying that if the red clouds float in a purple sky, you will achieve that which you most desire, but at a price.  I wonder what will happen to me.

On Tuesday a very tired Balint (not used to my epic fits of walking through cities) slept in while I went to work.  After work I made us lunch, and then we headed to Alcala de Henares to check that out.  He loved the storks.  But then again, I love the storks.  Storks are good luck, and are so encouraged to build their nests atop old buildings.  Storks also mate for life... the male comes back to the nest in the winter, and waits for the female.  When she arrives, they repair their nest and then raise their young.  Storks are mostly silent, but if their pair dies they sit in the nest and cry for days.  It's a heart-wrenching sound.
Plaza de Cervantes, who grew up here.

my university's building

After wandering Alcala, we headed back into Madrid.  We had dinner at El Almendro, which was of course delicious.  Then we sat around for a long time, talking, me drinking manzanilla wine, and I taught him some Spanish.  The waiter even brought over extra placemats for me to write on.  It was a lot of fun, just a great dinner.  And on the way home we walked through the longest metro tunnel ever.  It was a little bit creepy.

On Wednesday Balint came to work with me, which was awesome!  It was seriously just so great to have him there in the halls with me.  In Hungary, whenever I was exasperated, and I think when he was too, we would just make eye contact and immediately smile at each other.  I did that at one point during the day, and my heart almost broke with it.  I didn't realize how much I really missed him until just then.

We went for a walk around the park and then hung out in the evening.

On Thursday Balint climbed the mountain above my town, getting me lots of awesome photos.

Apparently he thought it was a pretty epic hike, too.

Then while I was in class he went by himself to Bernabeu stadium, where he took about a hundred photos, mostly of photos...

and he went to Plaza Castilla...

and he walked up to the European towers, which are cool because you can see them from San Lorenzo.  Then we had dinner and a beer with Carisa, and headed home.

On Friday Balint took himself to the monastery, then I made him lunch and took him to the airport.  I did not cry until he was through security, at which point I must admit that I did.  Not much, though, since it was only three weeks until my visit to Budapest!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Filling time

I just realized that in a little bit less than six weeks, I will be in America for Christmas.

But between now and then I will...
celebrate Thanksgiving on the 20th with my friends.
spend November 26-28 in Budapest, with Lyla also there.
attend my school's Christmas party on December 3rd.
spend a long weekend in Barcelona from December 4 to 7.
attend a Champions League match (versus Ajax) at the incredible Bernabeu.
host a visit from Lyla from December 16 to 21st.
teach the kids about Thanksgiving and American Christmas.

Yeah, I think I can do this.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Today's frustration, take two

It's worth noting that this is the second draft of today's blog post.  I originally wrote a very long, detailed post that I have decided would be unprofessional to post.

I had a very rough time with a class today.  They were screaming, running, and just being totally inappropriate.  And I don't mean that three or four students were.  I mean that three or four students were being good.  It was pretty much the worst teaching experience of my life.  This class spends the whole day being absolutely shrieked at by their homeroom teacher, so anything I might try is rather inaffective.

The class ended, they went to lunch, and I went to my office to have myself a good cry.  And then the really upsetting part of the day happened, as many of my colleagues took it upon themselves to tell me not to worry, that the class is just like that, that it can't be helped, that there is nothing to be done for them, and so on and so forth.  Es así.  That's just the way it is.

To which I have to say... why do a job you don't care about?  If I'm not being successful in my job, especially when my job is a public service job, and especially when my job is one that could potentially impact the future of many, many children... why the hell would I not be worried?  If kids are so used to being yelled at, if they are so convinced that they are bad that a teacher actually leaving the classroom (as I did today) has no effect on them... why wouldn't I be upset?

I get that not everyone cries as freely as I do, and that's really a good thing for them.  I get that teachers get tired as the years go by, and that it's a thankless job, and that they have families and concerns that I don't have to worry about.  I get that I'm really young.  I get it.  And yet... don't tell me that es así.  I can't handle that. 

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Whoo Dad!

Look at my dad go, inspiring kids and such.  Proud!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Bilbao (in photos)

So for the October 12th holiday (Day of Americanism/Day of the Race, depending upon whom you ask) which was a four day weekend, I decided to head up to Bilbao.  I'd never been in the northern part of Spain, besides Barcelona, so I was really excited for the trip.  Moreover, I was also excited to take my very first, grown-up-person solo vacation.  And I had a really, really good time.  I was very tired when I left, due to lots of walking around, but there was just so much to see and do.  I loved Bilbao and very highly recommend it... it doesn't deserve the reputation it has of being a dirty industrial town.  It's not the biggest town, and the buildings aren't necessarily the most beautiful, but almost everything has some small unique gesture that just serves to make it special.  It's gorgeous, the people are great fun, and the food is just fantastic.

I headed up Saturday morning on the bus.  We went over the mountains on our way up to the coast, and it was gorgeous.  They were all big, craggy, and dotted with little grazing sheep.  So I was already excited before even arriving in the city.
I stayed with my friend Eva, who lived on top of a hill.  Luckily, there was a little baby funicular to take you up the hill, for free.
The main square, where we ate pinxos (Basque tapas).  The palm trees in the cold weather were an exotic touch.
part of the old town
the cathedral

a little bit of street art
the front of the cathedral

old train station
This was a random little church that we wandered into, and inside it was all painted and gold-leafed.  What a pleasant surprise.
mail slots at the post office

a theater
The town convention's center was really cool, but unfortunately I couldn't take many pictures as they were holding part of the world chess masters there and flash wasn't allowed.  All the columns were different, and there were many different layers.  Coolest of all, though, there was a swimming pool on top, so that when you looked up at the sky light, you saw all the people swimming around up top.

The famous Basque pinxos, which totally lived up to their reputation.  The top one is lomo, simmered in garlic until it was so soft it was like a cream.  It's on carmelized onions, topped with a salty, spicy little sauce and a fried onion.  The one on the bottom is bacalao in pil-pil sauce atop a roasted red pepper.  Yum!  Later that night I also ate a gorgeous langostine wrapped in fresh herbs above a light ali-oli sauce later in the night.  Basque pinxos ¡para ganar!
That night we went out to a concert by the Mad Caddies, which was great fun.  It was a ska concert, and if you are wondering how Spanish people dance to ska, imagine the Elaine dance, but on speed.  Bouncing, kicking, and arm-waving was involved.  It was pretty much awesome, and I ended the night sweaty and tired yet exhilarated, perhaps feeling a bit loopy from the smoke floating through the air in the club.  A great first day, over all!

The next day we took an excursion up into the mountains east of Bilbao, to visit the painted forest.  Waking up to a gray, rainy day, we decided to brave the elements and do it anyway.

a little sea monster for kids to climb on
This picture was taken in Guernica, the spiritual capital of the Basque country.  There is the stump of an old tree where they still meet to make all their decisions.  It was rainy.

Slug!  This guy is about the size of my hand.  There were also bunnies that would come right up to you.
The mountains were gorgeous.

Painted trees... some were just bright colors, others were designed that if you looked at them from one angle, they formed one picture, many trees working together; from another angle they made a different picture.  Quite cool overall.
wet but happy

Is something watching me?
Basque sheepies... everywhere!
So after many hours of hiking through the forest and over the mountains, we arrived to a small town.  We wandered around, looking for a place to sit and eat our picnic lunch.  Noticing our predicament, one old man invited us into his house for lunch.  After we insisted that we would get his house wet and did have food, and didn't want to be any trouble, he set up a table for us in his shed and lit a little fire to keep us warm.  We were also served hot coffee.  Yes, folks, people are good.  Trust.  It's the only thing consistently true about every place I go... the people are the best and most beautiful thing. 

Eva with a cow
The next day Eva had things to do, so I was on my own.  I decided to head out to the Guggenheim, which I was very excited about, and also up to the northern part of the city, otherwise known as the sea.

cool building
Pretty pink flowers with little raindrops... Bilbao is like the Ireland of Spain.  Wet and green.
So cool!
Check out this awesome boat-looking museum.  It was so pretty.  I didn't love the inside that much (there isn't actually that much interior space so there were only a few exhibits) but the outside just cannot be beat.  The inside exhibits were cool... a lot of pop art, a giant room filled with giant steel waves and spirals that you could squeeze into and walk around in, and one man who made all these really awesome things with wax and color.  There was some really surprising art inside... and also a random top floor filled with Dutch still-lifes.  Hmm.
self-portrait, naturally
self-portrait with Puppy, a statue that is covered with real flowers

after visiting the museum
After lunch, I headed up to the coast.  A river runs through Bilbao to the sea, and rather than having a traditional draw bridge, they solved the problem another way... by building a giant suspension bridge with a little cable car hanging from it by meters and meters of steel cable.  The little car fills up with people on the side, cars drive onto the center part, and it whips over to the other side of the river with rather alarming speed.  Very, very cool.
I, however, was greedy for the views and paid to go up to the top of the bridge and walk over.  I was the only person up there, and spent a lot of time running back and forth, taking tons of pictures of the town, cape, and sea... and many self-portraits as well.  There were lots of little plaques with the history of the bridge and such, as well as old tools and bits of machinery.  For example, I learned that they only started using radar like ten years ago, and before that just had a dude sit up top and watch for boats. 
The views were great.
It was windy, and I was happy.
Giant statue at the cape... the sea was a little bit dirty so I didn't take a picture.  I did spend several minutes sitting with an old man who was feeding pigeons, talking to him a little bit about the USA, Hungary, and Madrid, and listening to him a lot about the Basque country and his life.  He was very old, and it was a very moving experience to hear him talk about his experiences.  Plus, about 10 pigeons landed on my outstretched arms at a time.
That night I hung out with Eva a bit, and made her dinner (stuffed peppers).  The next day I had to catch the bus around lunch time, so I woke up early to check out the nearby Begoña church, which was celebrating its feast day.

The whole church is on a hill, but the foundation, unusually, does not compensate for this.  So when you walk into the church, you have to walk uphill to the altar.

I am very proud of this particular photo... the blue flowers with the blue accents of the church were gorgeous, and maybe this does it a bit of justice.
And of course I found the local cemetery.

I finished my trip with the beautiful thing... flaky, light, and delicious.