Sunday, December 14, 2008

Where I Actually Live

sorry the quality's not great, and it's's the best i could do! the circle up on the north coast is Santander, where i live now. the dot to the left of Santander is Torrelavega, where i teach. and the circle down by Portugal is Salamanca, where i studied two years ago.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Get the Spaniards out of My Grill; or, Misadventures on the Santander Bus System

as my trip home approaches, i'm realizing how ready i am for a little break from spain. i truly love it here, and am considering extending my contract to teach for another year. but there are certain things i miss about the US, and certain things about spain that drive me absolutely nuts.

for instance, there is the personal space issue. the spanish "bubble" is much, much smaller than the american one. in fact, i'd go as far as to say it does not exist. people are all up in your grill, all the time. the other day i was waiting for a friend outside a supermarket downtown. i was waiting about a yard from the door, against the wall of the bulding, on a sidewalk that happened to be mostly empty. a woman came along, approaching the supermarket entrance, and actually
ran into me on her way inside. as in, hit my shoulder with her shoulder, and even gave a little huffy sigh of exasperation. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? the whole sidewalk is EMPTY. i am not in your way by any means. and she ran into me 3 feet from the very wide supermarket door?? i was so mad!

the day got worse. later that night i had choir rehearsal, which takes place up on a street called General Davila, which is the worst street in the whole world. perhaps that is a slight exaggeration. but i really hate it. it's at the top of a huge hill, so walking from either direction means hiking a 45 degree slope, and of course it's usually pouring rain. it's a long, ugly, dark street. there is only one bus that goes there, the number five, and by association it is the worst bus in the whole world. it is always packed full of people, and sometimes it doesn't even stop because it's so full. then you have to wait another 15 minutes in the rain at the tiny bus stop full of too many people smoking cigarettes in your face.
General Davila is a very residential street, so the buses going there are always in high demand. as the little digital screen counts down the minutes we have to wait, people start to get more and more restless, shifting over to where they're guessing the bus doors will open so as to be the first one on. which in the first place is stupid, because if the bus driver stops he's not going to pick and choose who can get on. and secondly, it is super annoying because people are wicked pushy and a little mob crowd forms while 15 people try to squeeze through one bus door at the same time, all wildly waving their bus passes and their one euro coins. and inevitably there is that one little old woman who pushes through everyone and stands in the bus doorway to ask "are you going to valdecilla?" 75% of the time they are not, so she fights her way back through the crowd. (the little old ladies are the WORST with the pushing and shoving and general lack-of-respect-for-personal-space. it's the little old ladies who'll getcha).

so as i reluctantly joined the mob that monday evening, a little old lady (told you) bumped into me pretty hard. i turned around, uselessly, because they never acknowledge it. but this time, miraculously, she apologized profusely, calling me "hija," which means "daughter" but is more like "sweetie," saying she was so sorry, oh pardon me, i'm so sorry, excuse me please, forgive me. i turned back around, feeling wonderfully surprised and pleased with this showing of politeness from a spaniard. i was shuffling towards the door, looking over all the short, bald people in front of me (everyone here is bald and short. both men and women. maybe bald is a strong word; but hair-loss is rampant here), when i felt something poke me very forcefully. it was the woman who'd apologized for bumping into me! she had her finger in the small of my back, and was physically
pushing me into the people in front of me so she could get on the bus faster! she was bossing me verbally too, saying "get on, get on, hurry, move forward, that's it," all the while pushing me and poking me. i couldn't believe it. right then and there my slightly renewed faith in spanish manners was crushed under the wheels of the number five bus by a pushy old spanish woman in an ankle-length fur coat and hot pink lipstick. needless to say, the number five bus has not improved any since then. nor has General Davila. although to be fair, last night my trip up there was relatively uneventful.

i realized that the lack of manners (or what we in the US would consider manners -- obviously here it's not really considered a social a transgresion to push people onto buses) is taught from a young age. i teach a private 'class' to two little girls, who are four and five years old, respectively. yesterday i had them say "por favor" when they asked me to open the door for them, or when they grabbed markers out of my hands, and they looked at me like i had three heads. and my roommate's boyfriend chews with his mouth open. smack smack smack. i guess the branch-spencer household and road's end farm emphases on manners has stuck with me in a big way.

but soon i will be home in the land of cool (frigid?) northeastern attitudes, where strangers don't touch each other, where (most) people (i hope) chew with their mouths closed and say "please" when they want to use the blue marker. i fly home december 19th (a week from today)! although let's be honest, the moment i land in boston i'll wish i was back here. but c'est la vie, right? the grass is always greener.

Monday, December 8, 2008

A Day in the Life.

Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays I go to school, so I’ll talk about one of those days. The other days are boring, I make lesson plans and read and see friends and try to find things to do inside if it’s raining (ALWAYS), or outside if it’s not (NEVER).

I wake up in the morning and curse everything because it is always cold in my room, and dark – it gets light around 8am and gets dark around 6pm. I shower and eat breakfast (oatmeal, or toast – do you need this much detail?), get my stuff together and run to the train. I am always late. Thursday morning I missed it and said bad words in English – sometimes it is very convenient that no one understands me.

The train to Torrelavega (the small city where I teach) takes about forty minutes, with lots of stops in little towns on the way. The tracks go through green rolling hills and small mountains covered in patches of forest and grazing land. There are lots of cows, some little fat shaggy ponies (ponies!!), and sheep. Every day I look for a cat, because inevitably I see one hunting in the fields, staring pointedly down at what I always assume is a mouse, but could easily be a piece of grass or a leaf. (Sarah Argeropoulous that kitty part is for you. And I always think of you when I look for them!) One day I guess I should take my camera and try to document this trip. Sometimes I bring a book, or my iPod, or my journal, but sometimes I just like to look out the window.

I get off the train and walk to school, which takes five to fifteen minutes depending on which station I disembark from. Then I have classes, which differ each day. In class, I help the teacher or lead an exercise, like a worksheet I’ve prepared. Lately I’ve been reading a simplified Sherlock Holmes story aloud to some third years, and talking about vocabulary etc. My first years are getting very excited about their trip to London in April – they keep asking us questions about it, and none of us have any idea what’s going on. I’m not sure if I’m going to go, it depends on which other teachers want to go. Although not many of them are jumping at the chance. I’ll probably end up going, because hey, it’s a free trip to London! I don’t want to think too much about it though…21 twelve-year-olds who speak veeeery little English…in London…with just me and one other teacher…for five days…yikes.

Wednesdays are my long days – I have classes in the mornings and in the afternoons. (Keep in mind that ‘morning’ in Spain means until about 2pm, and ‘afternoon’ means anytime after then, until about when it gets dark). So I teach for the morning, depending on if teachers sign up to have me come to their classes, and then I go out for lunch with the other girls in the English department. I’ll write a full entry on this, because it’s one of my favorite things about my life here in Spain – so more details to follow. Then I teach from 4-6, and come back to Santander on the train, or sometimes a teacher can give me a ride.

Tuesdays and Thursdays when I get home I cook lunch and chill for a little bit until my private lessons begin around 4 or 5. I have six separate private lessons every week, and my students range from a 50something ophthalmologist to the 4-year-old girl daughter of a teacher from my school. Again, more on this later. I guess I do have a lot to write about!

After lessons I hang out with friends, go grocery shopping; sometimes I attempt to go for a walk or down to Puerto Chico to write, but usually it is pouring. Tuesdays I have a standing date with my friend Laurin (who went to Bates), and her German roommate Bianca to watch Grey’s Anatomy. Don’t tell me what happens; we’re only halfway through the season here. After these evening activities I go to bed. Maybe read a little bit first.

So that’s it – not very exciting at all! Like I said, just life. Except it happens to be in Spain. I’ve taken a few weekend trips, but mostly on the weekends I do the same stuff, only we go out sometimes on Saturday nights. I can’t do that very often though, because most of the clubs open at 4am. So we leave to go out around 11pm, and are out til 4 or 5. I was not made for this type of schedule, so I try to keep going out to a minimum. But sometimes we go to the local Irish pub to have beers and watch whatever fútbol (soccer) match is on the big screen; sometimes we venture out to the cliffs outside the city to take pictures and pretend we’re not in a city. Also, the days I don’t work (Mondays and Fridays) I have choir rehearsal. Which I love! I’ll write about that too, come to think of it. Now I’m going to head off to bed – it has been another (not-so-)exciting day in España. Plus I am getting another cold!

I Knew Keeping Up With This Would be a Problem

Millions of apologies for leaving all you readers in the lurch lately – if I can still use the term ‘lately’ to refer to the last, oh, month, and if there are still people out there reading this…I’ve been terrible at keeping this updated! Amanda even told me “I’m reading your blog, don’t slack on it.” Sorry Manda. Mostly it’s because nothing really exciting has happened, and I don’t want to bore people with things like “Today I had oatmeal for breakfast. But it was the last of the big bag of oatmeal so I have to take the bus to the big supermarket to buy more. Cranberries are impossible to find in Spain. I bought a new pair of boots. Love, Susannah.” All of that is true but not really exciting. I’m sorry to have insulted you if you thought that last bit in quotation marks was scintillating (+1 vocabulary for me).

A few people have asked me what my daily life is like here – so I figured I’d do a “day in the life” type-entry to give you an idea. Frankly, lately it just feels like life. I get up, go to work, cook, take the train, normal things. The feeling of elation I got for the first month from realizing I’m doing this amazing thing – that came upon me doing simple things like walking down the street – is pretty much gone. Which is not to say I’m not having a good time! I’m just adjusted, more or less. It will be nice to come home, then return – like they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder, right? Oh you didn’t know? I’m coming home for Christmas!

Friday, October 31, 2008

A Project

it came with black stickers shaped like a jack-o-lantern's eyes and mouth.
watch authenticity take shape:

calabaza brains

i went for a classic face...we're maintaining tradition here

after a quick run to the "chinos," we add a candle
*(please note the extracted seeds to the right -- we are ovenless. how to make toasted pumpkin seeds?? oh thank god for roommates' boyfriends who live with their parents and have luxuries like common kitchen appliances)

...and roommate number three is here!

Happy Halloween from Spain!!

My Apartment Looks Like This

much anticipated pictures...

you can check out more (whole albums!) at

the foyer/entryway. bathroom on the right, my room ahead on the right, living room ahead on the left, kitchen to the left, Ruth (my roommate)'s room behind to the left.

my room!

my window


view out my window


living room


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Notes from Primero A&B Bilingue: Love, InventionATION, "Intimate" Questions, and a New Hero

(my teaching schedule changes every week, but i spend at least a few classes every day with the first years in the bilingual program, so i know them best of all and like them the most. they are twelve.)

-- it's been funny to observe the first years, since the last time i was in a sixth grade classroom was, well, when i was in sixth grade. the girls are just starting to develop crushes on the boys, but the boys (as we all know) are a little slower on the proverbial uptake. their interactions are hilarious. the girls will try to sit closer and closer to juan or pablo or alejandro -- they scootch their desks closer, or ask to share books, etc. and the boys are like "HEY YEAH LET'S TALK ABOUT FUTBOL!!!!!! ...what are you doing so close to me?" the poor girls try so hard and the little guys have noooo idea.

-- the kids are encouraged to make up words if they don't know something in english, because there are so many cognates, and it's better for them to try than to not ask questions because they're shy or don't know the words. lately they've discovered that the spanish ending "-ación" is easily translatable to the english "-ation." which is good for words like "rotación/rotation" in PE class, or "corrección/correction" in math. but now they think that "-ation" added to any word makes it English. the other day in PE we did abdominals, ("abdominales"), so they did their situps whining about having to do "abdominalations."

-- the girls always ask me if i have a boyfriend, but i'm not supposed to let them ask me questions about politics, religion, or relationships -- my co-teacher sheila thinks it's rude and doesn't want them learning to be pushy with newcomers. but every day, without fail, they ask if i have an "intimate friend." I have NO idea where they got this expression, but they seem to think it's a common synonym for boyfriend or spouse or partner. it's hysterical. they're like "CHOO HAFF INTIMATE FRIEND???!" although lately of course it's become "intimation friend." i can't even correct them because it makes me laugh too much.

-- the very first day they asked me about my pets, and clearly i told them about my cat tito and my very strong attachment to him. every day one girl, laura, asks me if i've brought a picture of tito. they're all on my computer, so i have to disappoint her every time she asks. but the other day as i began to walk away after she'd asked me, under her breath i hear her say "¡Viva Tito!" now whenever pets or cats are mentioned the cry goes up, "¡Viva Tito!" it's so damn cute.

Friday, October 17, 2008

An Observing Adventure. Or, The Old Man and the Octopus

today i went down to Puerto Chico, a big long pier along the bay where people go to walk ("dar un paseo"), ride their bikes, sit and read, meet friends, fish, etc. The fishing part is what we're dealing with here.

i brought my journal, and was sitting having a lovely time writing, looking out over the water at the mountains on the other side, with the sun going down over to my right behind some spectacular gray-blue clouds. i saw lots of dogs and had serious pet envy. a fat woman dressed head-to-toe in purple came and sat on the bench behind me and filed her nails for a long time.

there were lots of men fishing -- every few yards was another guy with a long fishing rod, sitting on the big metal things they tie boats to. the one closest to me was a tall old man with a tweed golfer's hat -- the kind the farmer wore in "babe." he looked lonely, sitting there with his fishing rod, just quiet and patient. all of a sudden his rod bent down in a big curve -- such is the sudden excitement of his chosen sport! some kids on bikes wheeled over to see what was going on, and quickly a small crowd formed. i of course couldn't resist joining, so i hurried over to the line of people all leaning over at the same angle to look along the pier at the commotion. a neighboring fisherman ran over with a big round net at the end of a rope. a murmur came down the line of anxious obvservers -- "es un pulpo! ha enganchado un pulpo!" ("it's an octopus! he's caught an octopus!") the man next to me said surely the guardia civil (civil police officially, but much, much more to spaniards) were on their way to charge him up to 200 euro; although fishing octopus cannot be illegal here, i've seen enough droopy, gelatinous carcasses in fish markets to know that for sure. i later asked my roommate and she said it's illegal to catch them off the pier. but that octopus must have known, because he was holding on so hard under the water -- i didn't see it, i never saw it come above the surface. but that old man was pulling and pulling, and the octopus was not having any of it. secretly i was rooting for the slimy guy. i could just see him with every little suction cup hanging on to the pier for dear life...they're supposed to be very, very smart. poor little (big! he must have been big) guy. finally, at the height of the struggle, SNAP! the fishing line broke. the octopus was victorious. i cheered inside. the crowd dispersed quickly -- nothing more to see with a broken fishing line and an octopus that was surely hightailing (hightentacling?) his way out of there. the kids on the bikes were the last to leave, lingering to chat with the old man, i think hoping for a relapse of excitement. but soon they drifted away as well, leaving the little old man by himself again. he sat back down on the bollard (i looked it up -- the things you tie big boats to), with his rod re-baited and ready. although i think he sat a little straighter this time.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Arrival/Adjusting/First update

Hi everyone!
So I'm trying out this "blog" business...a little embarrassing, i know. but i figure a departure from the mass-emails might be a nice change.

so i'm here in spain as part of the Auxiliares de Conversacion program, which brings native english speakers into the spanish school systems to supplement the english/bilingual programs here. my contract is from october-may, but if i like it i can extend for another year and stay on. i'm in Santander, which is in the province of Cantabria, up on the north shore of Spain, next to basque country. it is just gorgeous here -- the city is very new, as it's been completely destroyed by two huge fires, one as recent as the 1940s. there are 6 or 7 big beaches right in the city, and behind the buildings you can see the green hills and mountains of the Picos de Europa range. i hope to make it out there some weekends for some hiking etc. we all know city life isn't exactly my cup of tea...! usually it's pretty rainy here (hence all the greenery), but lately it's been sunny and very warm. no complaints there!

i finally arrived in Spain just about 2 weeks ago, and it has been quite the adventure since then. i arrived thinking i had a place to stay, as i'd been in touch with a landlady and the potential roommate, and had even sent in my $300 deposit. but once i got here, i found that the landlady had lied about many things...even though the house was beautiful, and it was out in the countryside (which is green and hilly and gorgeous, much like western mass!) with horses nearby(!!) , there was no convenient way for me to get to and from work. not only that, but the landlady asked me for the entire year's rent up front. she then proceeded to scream at me on the phone for over half an hour when i told her i couldn't/wouldn't pay that, saying it was all my fault that it wasn't working out, that she was keeping my deposit because i didn't understand that this was a business for her, blah blah etc etc. it was very stressful and really upsetting. so i decided i couldn't have anything to do with someone like that, even though the roommate (who turned out to be the landlady's daughter...more drama...) was wonderful and the house was perfect.

so i had to stay in hostels for about a week, looking for apartments and feeling very lonely and ready to come home. if i hadn't found my apartment, i would have seriously been on the next plane home. some of the places we saw were unbelievable -- holes in the floor, paint peeling, no lights, a sofabed for a bed...i was feeling so discouraged. but finally i found this place!

my apartment is small, but has two bedrooms, a kitchen, bathroom, entryway, and living room. it's decorated for a little old lady, as one used to live here, but it's clean and in a really ideal location for me. i live with one spanish girl, who is very nice, albeit a little overbearing. but she's out with her boyfriend a lot anyway, so i get the place to myself pretty often. i have a big bedroom if anyone wants to come and stay...plenty of room for an airmattress...consider this an open invitation!

i stared work last week, and although i was a little nervous -- i was told i'd be teaching PE, math, and english...when have i EVER taken a PE class?? and math?? -- but it worked out beautifully, and i absolutely LOVE the job. i only work tues-weds-thurs, and i'm mostly with the first years (who are 12 -- i work in the equivalent of a high school/middle school) in the bilingual program, and they are just wonderful. they are the "creme-de-la-creme" according to one of the other teachers: smart, sweet, well-behaved, and enthusiastic (although very energetic and boisterous -- discipline isn't huge in spain, at home or in school). one has to be a top student all around to be in the bilingual progam (where they take extra english classes, and have math and PE given in english), so the kids are great. they love having me there, they cheer when i walk in the door and love to see pictures of home. they were disappointed, though, when they found out that i didn't have a swimming pool.

i think that's about it for now. i've come down with a cold, so today is a lazy sunday to spend at home. i have wireless at my apartment, so email is the best way to get in touch with me. i'd love to hear from any and everyone! ( i hope everything is going well at home. i'll write more later.