Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Christmas in America (in pictures)

So, as I previously mentioned on this blog, I flew back to the States on Christmas Eve.  This made me feel far too cool.  My dad picked me up from the airport and we headed right to my grandparents' house, where I ate some food (I was a very bad child and ate fast-food sesame chicken, my great love that cannot be found in Spain, at the Philadelphia airport and was therefore not super hungry) and opened presents.  Christmas morning my sister and I apparently woke up too early, so got sent back upstairs while *Spoiler Alert* Santa came.  I got perfume, some nice bling, and other fun things.  My dad's gift, a shirt of the "Moo brothers" was a big hit, even if my mother was thoroughly scandalized by the bulls' testicles.
There were a lot of presents for everyone!  The dogs also got involved in the festivities.  This is Otto.

The two frog kings, little known fact, were present at the birth of Christ.

Christmas afternoon we headed to my uncle's and then to my other grandparents' house for dinner and more presents.  I must admit that while I love adulthood and sincerely appreciate the presents I inexplicably continue to receive from my extended family, there is something just a little bit depressing about being able to hold all of my Christmas presents in one hand.  It's like... yep, I'm old.  After dinner we went and saw the two Crazy Christmas Casas, a McCawley family tradition.

We also, of course, visited Nay Aug Park.  This is a regular feature on  Nothing says Christmas quite like a stegosaurus.

Ginger and I felt the group was getting out of line, so we whipped everyone back into shape.

And of course we made Christmas cookies, even though Christmas itself had passed.  There were a few traditional styles to please the conservative folk, but Zombie Reindeer Apocalypse Army and Ninja Snowmen were the vast majority.

We also created the most beautiful gingerbread house in the history of gingerbread houses.  Each dog was represented with its favorite toy.  And, oddly enough, my dogs pulled it to the edge of the counter and ate it, or at least ate off the parts they like.  They ate their own representations, googly eyes and all.

Ashley came to visit me, yay!

I relaxed and bonded with my puppies.

We played in the snow and on the frozen lake.

Sadly, the poodles don't handle the cold so well, despite their dapper little jackets, and eventually need to be cuddled.

The shepherds, however, love the snow.

It was all very bleak and pretty.

Yes, a self portrait at my own house.  How meta.

Weasel and me on New Year's Eve, where we saw a hockey match and hung out with some family friends.  It was actually quite fun.

Jackie's going back to school party

my parents nomming

My mom had the whole week off, so we did all sorts of stuff: shopping for precious American goods (velveeta and bras, of course), eating, seeing movies, eating, gambling, visiting family and friends, more eating... I felt very full for two straight weeks!  And we managed to see a Penguins game, too!

My grandparents, who were lovely enough to feed me spaghetti and meatballs on my last full day.  Then I packed up my pounds of treats to bring back with me and headed back to Spain, well-rested and happy.

An awkward conversation

Me, basically shouting: Oh, wow!  I finally caught you!
English director: Have you been looking for me?
Me: ... Yes, for a couple of weeks now.  Did you get my emails?
ED: Yes.
Me, after blinking for a few seconds: Ok.  Well.  I was wondering if you have any feedback for me?  You know us Americans.  We like the feedback.

I laugh awkwardly.  My English director stares at me, nonplussed.

ED: Well, you should try to come up to the staff room more during your free periods so that you are better integrated into the staff.
Me: But... I don't have any free periods.
ED: Really?
Me: Really.
ED: Oh, right.  Well, carry on then.

My English director then walks briskly away, ending what is possibly our fifth conversation all year.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The creepy Belen

So in early December strange things started happening in my town.  First, piles of wood started showing up on corners, then they were turned into fences and the spaces filled with dirt.  Small structures sprang up.  After several days of this, I turned the corner and found this facing me, resulting in a small shriek on my part.

Bull or donkey?
Upon further investigation, animals had been placed on many streets.  They were all made of fiberglass, much larger than life-sized, and quite creepy.

giant camel

A donkey on the stairs- but is he climbing or falling?

a flock of sheep
A few days later people started popping up.  The people were also made of fiberglass and were much creepier than the animals, with twisted broken fingers and evil eyes.  The main square was converted into a town complete with farms, a lake, and a working water wheel.  I asked what was going on, and was told it was large Nativity scene.  Apparently it is the biggest in all of Spain and about 10,000 people come to see it every year, bringing a lot of business and money into town.  And I can understand, because it definitely is a big deal and very extensive, taking up several squares and streets.  I told everyone about it, and Katie came to see it.  I took a lot of pictures, so do please enjoy the bizarre!

a bunch of farmers


a dude holding a sheep

a hill with goats on it

the nativity scene

the working water wheel

people caring for birds

bulls pulling a cart


Katie kissing a camel

some vultures, bones, and me

a Roman general in a chariot

Katie with an elephant and one of the three kings

evil potato seller

Parrots in Bethlehem?  Ok.

A tiger market in Bethelem?  Ok.

a shepherd wearing a flowery fleece blanket

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

6th grade's (totally awesome) bird dance

In my full coverage of the kids' Christmas shows, I mentioned one awesome skit by the sixth graders.  And here it is.  Some of the sixth grade boys covered themselves in feathers, put beaks on their faces, and "sat on a phone line" simulated by a tarp.  They then danced around in unison to various popular songs, often breaking into harmonic squacks.  Best of all, though, was the inclusion of a bit of pathos: every so often a shot would ring out, and one student would drop behind the "phone line," never to rise again.  Meanwhile, the other birds blithely continued dancing.  Towards the end of the skit they started to dodge the bullets, ducking behind the line.  The last bird to survive was finally carried out by his fallen comrades (now wearing halos) to the tune of, what else, "I will survive."

It was hysterical, clean, short, and just generally perfect for a kids' program.  Teachers, take note!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Every year here in Madrid, the local (national) chain of department stores, El Corte Ingles, decorates all of their stores with massive light fixtures that occasionally blink and flash.  The most special one, though, is the one near Plaza del Sol.  Here, one side of the store is turned into a giant animatronics show called Cortylandia.  Each year it is different with the exception of the opening and closing songs.  I've seen ones in the past featuring animals, but this year featured the most famous buildings of several different countries, all with faces, and all speaking Spanish with thick accents.  It was led by "Cibeles," the fountain in the center of Madrid.

There was also a chorus of children from different countries and a few animals.  Of course, each child was dressed in the most stereotypical way possible (Spanish flamenco dancers, Italian gondoliers, American cowboys and indians, and so forth).  The chorus seemed to exist primarily to mock the other countries' buildings.  I have to admit it was pretty funny, especially as someone who has on more than one occasion been on the receiving end of an accent joke.  "Jo-o say amare-eee-cahnah" is some Spaniards' favorite thing to say to us americanas when our accents are less than perfect.  Though, actually, the Statue of Liberty's accent was far from the worst!

I don't think Lyla totally followed the story, though she could surely appreciate the over-the-top ridiculousness of it all, but I found it hilarious.  It was also super cute to see all the parents dancing their kids on their shoulders and everyone singing along with the theme song.

The first video is of the theme song and the second is a great example of some of the magnificent Spanish accents featured.  Enjoy!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Lyla's visit

In the last week of December before Christmas break, Lyla came to visit me.  I was very very excited for her visit and planned a lot of exciting things.  Of course, then I got a horrible case of pink eye.  So a lot of the awesomeness was waylaid in favor of napping and chilling.  Which might have even been better because it's always so nice to just relax with a very good friend.  Anyway, as I was still out of school on medical leave on the Thursday she arrived, I was able to pick her up from the airport and bring her into my town.  We relaxed a bit then headed back into Madrid for a dinner of sandwiches (calamares for me, lomo for her) and chocolate con churros.  We also checked out Cortylandia, the annual bizarre animatronics show put on by the local department store chain El Corte Ingles.  It was trippy.

Friday Lyla came to work with me and then we hung out in my pueblito, checking out the creepy giant Nativity Scene and a few local places.  Our enjoyment of the local places was slightly hindered by having had a bit too much fun before leaving the house, giving Twilight: Eclipse the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment.  We've now done so for all the movies, though, and it's a lot of fun.  Also, really the only thing those stupid things are good for.

us with a fiberglass elephant
On Saturday we hung out, watched movies, and gossiped.  Then it was into Madrid for some Christmas market shopping, all with great success and only slight agoraphobic fits on my part.  We also got delicious Thai food (mine was delicious, Lyla's was average) in Lavapies.  Then Lyla, Julieti, and I went out for the evening.  We wound up at this strange dance club, where we joined onto a group of Spaniards.  It was a good night, complete with techno remixes of violin music and the "No Stress" song to enrage Lyla.

pork with peppers and Thai basil... yum
On Sunday we went to Segovia on the Ave.  I must mention that I love the Ave.  The trains are so modern and sleek and just fun to look at.  Also, due to their high-speeded nature (we were going between 170 and 180 kph or 105-100 mph) we made the 93 km trip in about 25 minutes.  So we played around Segovia, which is beautiful, until night fell.  We also got a delicious lunch of two "combo plates" which we then shared to make ultimate combo plates.  (I have to say that I miss eating out for things other than the occasional kebab or sandwich.  I can't afford the time or money to do so right now, plus I live in El Escorial.  But eating out a few times with Lyla, and always wanting the same two things and sharing plates... I love it.)
me and the Roman-era aqueduct
the town of Segovia in the rich Castilla-Leon light
pretty pretty
the cathedral
The plains of Castilla-Leon are so ugly, yet I love them.  They just make me think of Salamanca.  They say that "Castilla-Leon es vida" and a part of me is inclined to agree.
me and Lyla in front of the castle
The moon was so intense in the evening sky.  Here it makes an appearance in the palace gardens.
Segovia, like so many mediaeval cities, is a walled city atop a hill.
After visiting the castle, we walked down the hill back in the direction of the bus stop we needed to get back to the train station.  The sky was amazing.
We got a little bit lost, but luckily the bus stop was right by the aqueduct, which is a major draw and therefore has signs pointing in its direction.  Before we caught the bus back to the train station, we had some chocolate and churros from Valor.  We splashed out for the fancy chocolate (mine super dark, Lyla's with orange flavor) and while the portion sizes were a bit tiny, they were awesome.

On Monday I had to work again, so Lyla relaxed around the house.  In the evening we headed into Madrid with the intent of seeing flamenco, but balked at the high cost and went and got beer instead.  Katie joined us and we had a great time at Naturbier in Plaza Santa Ana, a place I love because they make their own organic beer that absolutely destroys me.  So that was again a lot of fun.  Tuesday Lyla visited the monastery while I was at work, then we had lunch and I took her to the airport before running to my last masters class of 2010.