Monthly Archives: September 2010

Just an Ordinary Day

A lot of the time, I don’t post because it’s simply a normal day for me. I get up. I get dressed. I eat breakfast and go to class. Et cetera.

But I realized that a normal day for me is actually quite different from a normal day in the U.S. For starters, my room is way cleaner.

Days are simple, but there’s a sort of beauty in their simplicity. When I get up every morning I have time to hang up my clothes and to make my bed, to put on makeup and sit down for breakfast.

Breakfast is my favorite part of the day here. My padres have already eaten, but my madre leaves out a mug, some heated milk and coffee for me, tea for my room mate. The Japanese have perfected the art of tea ceremony. It’s an act of Zen, a meditation, and the tea is less its culmination than a natural part of the whole. My meditation takes place at a small dining room table in Spain among muffins and Melba toast. Every morning I sit down and enjoy, not just the drinking of a cup of coffee, but the making of it, the stirring of the heated milk and sugar and the adding of the coffee afterwards. I sip it slowly–it’s so much richer here than it is in the States–and look out across the street to the balcony of an apartment building, which has a dog house out of which no dog ever comes, and over it a strip of sky that is brilliantly, surprisingly blue. In the morning quiet I marvel once again that I am here, and thank God, fate, and circumstance for this gift.


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Not my Thong

I am currently living in Salamanca, Spain, a small town about two and a half hours from Madrid.  Salamanca is home to the second-oldest university in Europe, a cathedral the locals call “new” that was built in the 1500s, at least six churches that I know of (many more stand empty but were once monasteries), and 1800 bars.

I’ve been here about a week. I’ll be here til December, living in a small apartment that takes up half a floor of a building on a block which houses a construction company, a Laundromat, a bank, and a dance school. My Spanish parents are really more like Spanish grandparents. My padre is in his 70s but looks younger, and I think my madre is around the same age. She makes me and my roommate copious amounts of food and then wants us to eat it all. Fortunately, I came here with a little extra room in my average-American sized Sweetheart jeans.

We got here on a Wednesday, so it wasn’t until the following Monday that we encountered Laundry Day.  My madre has given us each a black trash bag which serves as a laundry hamper, and announced on Sunday night that the following day she would collect it and wash the contents.

For the most part, Spaniards don’t believe in dryers. Energy, water, and petroleum are in short supply and high demand here because they’re not natural resources.  I knew this before I came, but figured that, with everyone living in apartments which are in close proximity to each other, European conservatism would preclude their putting their clothing on display.

When I walked into my room Monday afternoon, I looked out my window to find several clotheslines, all strung up in parallel rows, facing the neighboring building.

On one of the lines nearest my window were my clean white bikini cut Haines, and next to them several cheerfully colored thongs lay drying.

I had several more important things to do. Lunch was ready and a siesta beckoned afterwards. Raising my eyebrows, I decided to contemplate this later and let the sun do its shiny, hopefully eager work. The sooner my underwear was inside, the better.

Monday afternoon I came back from the main plaza, where the social life of the salamantino is centered, to find my blue jeans, neatly folded in half, lying on my comforter. I picked them up, and, to my shock, they stood on their own, almost as stiff as the expressions on the faces of the people I passed in the streets. Fabric softener, like loofahs and whole grains, seems to have been relegated to mythical status.

My underwear remained on the line, proudly flaunting the fact that An American Woman Lives Here, as it decided to extend its tan til Tuesday.

Tuesday afternoon I returned from class to find my underwear neatly folded on my comforter. It was joined during its personal siesta by two pairs of seductive purple thongs.

“I finished your laundry,” my madre said at lunch, “and mostly I can tell whose things are whose, but sometimes I can’t.”

“Really?” I asked, brushing breadcrumbs off my baggy t-shirt and smiling. “Well, I think you did fine.”

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Showers for Midgets

My room mate and I share a small bathroom in my host family’s apartment. It contains a sink, a toilet, an unused bidet, and a small bathtub/shower. The shower has sliding mirrored doors that my madre warned us we must Always Open on the Left.

“One girl opened it on the right,” she said, “and she fell in.”

When one opens the sliding door (on the left side), one sees that the taps are on the long side of the tub, not one of the narrow ends as they would be in the States, leaving the showeree with precious little space between the door and the taps in which to stand. I can only assume that this means the Spanish love to take baths instead of showers, and have cleverly avoided being dripped on by the faucet overhead as they luxuriate, unlike Americans. The shower head, as it would be in the States, is immediately above the taps.

One of my first nights here,  I got back from a club at about 2 a.m., stinking of cigarette smoke and someone else’s spilled beer. I  stepped into the shower, and, during the course of the next 1o minutes, managed to turn the taps off a total of three times by backing up an inch too far.

Well, the fourth time was the charm. As I was busily rinsing the shampoo out of my hair, shivering as I readjusted to the temperature change–my lack of spatial awareness had deprived me of water again–the taps…turned off.

“What the hell?” I knew what it felt like when I backed up and accidentally turned off a tap, and I had not done that this time.

I pulled the taps up again. Nothing.

I pulled out the knob that turns the faucet into a shower. Nothing.

In supreme refusal to face reality, I did both at the same time.

Again, nothing.

I got out of the shower, shivering once more, and tried to turn on the sink. But the basin remained bone dry.

“Oh shit,” I muttered. “I broke it.”

Grumbling, I dry-swallowed my vitamins and, dreading the morning, went to bed.

But the next day,  I heard nothing from my padres until lunch time. “Did someone come in and take a shower very late last night?” my madre asked.

Expecting to face some Spanish wrath and a large plumber’s bill, I said, “That… was me.”

“Well,” she said, “it’s my fault for not telling you this, but our neighbor came to me and said that I should talk to you about that. When he heard you showering, he decided it was too noisy, so he turned the water off.”

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La historia de esta viaje

Or, the story of this trip.

Several summers ago I went to a Spanish immersion program at a Virginia state school. We read, wrote, spoke and watched nothing but Spanish for three weeks. At the end of those three weeks, not only was I fluent enough to invent words, I was not shy about using them. I couldn’t speak English anymore.

Alas, the economy being what it is, I had to head back to work the day after the academy. I’m a camp counselor. I was then and I am now. We were outside and one of the kids, who must have been around seven, was trying to climb a Chinese chestnut. This was Against the Rules. I opened my mouth to tell him to get off, and what came out was…

“No touch tree!”

So there you have it. And now, as I head off to Salamanca, Spain for a semester of college, I can only hope more such mistakes are coming my way.

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