Wednesday, December 17, 2008


I'm Gone To Texas.

I should be there a little over 20 hours from the time I hit post.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Zuh, What?

It finally clicked in my little head that I'm flying home this Thursday. So, I thought I would refresh my memory and look at my flight information so I could make sure I had a ride home from the airport and all of that.

Can someone please tell me what I was thinking when I booked a seat on a flight that leaves Madrid at 6 a.m.? With only an hour and a half* to change flights in Frankfurt?


*That sounds like plenty of time, but really, it's only just enough. EU arrivals are on the opposite side of the airport from international departures, and in between I have to go through two security checks (at which any liquids I may or may not have purchased in the duty free shop and subsequently forgotten will be confiscated) and passport control. I've complained about this before, and you'll probably here about it again.[back]

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Lentil Soup

A staple of dinner here is lentil soup. Despite the fact that none of us actually like it, we have lentil soup at least once a week. I have nothing against lentils in principle, it's just... they're lentils, and when boiled for hours to make the stock for a soup they tend to loose all of their flavor and (paradoxically) make every other ingredient in the soup (from chorizo to carrots) taste like lentils. The end result is a dark brown mush that I have had to eat once a week ever since I got here. Back in September lentil soup was something that I was mostly indifferent to; now I want to call in sick to dinner every time I see Juan or Ana setting out soup bowls.

The rest of the this post is kind of like that soup. This is sort of a grab bag of things which are mostly innocuous on their own but -- taken in combination after four months of exposure -- are really starting to annoy me.

First, I would like to address the club hoppers who make the move from Dreams to Joy between two and three in the morning every damn day. Would you all please shut up? I'm trying to sleep. That goes double at five in the morning when the clubs all close. Whatever you do, stop singing. Your voice is not attractive, and after you've had that much to drink you don't even remember all the words. Just. Shut. Up.

Second, I would like to address whoever is responsible for the civic infrastructure on Calle Arenal. Why does the trash get picked up at 1 a.m.? Why can this not be done at some hour when I am not trying to sleep? And the guys you sent last week to use a jackhammer to remove random paving stones and replace them with un-leveled piled of sand? That wasn't funny. I starting to wonder if my randomly non-functioning knee isn't connected to that time I tripped on the place where you removed a tree and replaced it with a pile of sand. Why are you creating more obstacles?

Third: to the writers of CSI (any version). When was the last time an episode did not include a murder/manslaughter/negligent homicide? I thought the team investigated all sorts of crimes. To the Miami people: the only member of your team I liked was the ME, and she's left the show. Horatio's sunglasses are not enough to get me to keep watching. Please get off my TV. To the Las Vegas people: how is it that you can kill off Warick (who I kind of liked) but Sarah (who I hate almost as much as I hated the Sarah/Grissom relationship story arc) still isn't gone even though she technically left? To the New York people: congratulations, you're the only iteration of the show where I like all the characters. Please keep it that way. Also, the "member of the team has been taken hostage and/or seriously injured plot" has gotten old and stale. If I recall correctly, the only team members who have not been sucked into either of those plots are Sid and Adam, both of whom never leave the lab. Also, I notice that suspects try to run a lot more in New York than they do in Las Vegas. While I enjoy watching Detective Flack tackle people as much as the next fan girl, it's getting kind of old.

Fourth, to people who write knitting patterns: is there some sort of law that states that every printed knitting pattern must include at least one typo that will result in me having to frog at least two rows in order to correct? The pattern I'm working from now makes the rather blatant error of giving directions for a stockinette rib stitch instead of a seed stitch. For any readers who don't speak knitting, and have followed the post thus far, the directions to produce something like this:

V - V - V -
V - V - V -
V - V - V -

were labeled as the pattern for this:

V - V - V -
- V - V - V
V - V - V -

Speaking of knitting, I finished Juan's Christmas present. He teased me one too many times about making something for him. If I understood the Juan-ish correctly, he was asking for a gray knee length slip [translator's note: that could mean boxer shorts or it could mean slip, I'm really not sure, and either way, I'm not knitting it] with an American flag on the butt. What I made him is a basket-weave scarf. It's knit from pink acrylic (2 EUR for 200 grams), which experienced knitters will instantly recognize as really, really, cheap. The yarn was thin and the only needles I had on hand are 7mm and solid aluminum, so I doubled the yarn when I made this one. Even after I made the tassels, I still had a ball a little smaller than my fist left over. Take a look if you dare.

On the subject of knitting needles: solid aluminum is a bad choice of material for a large-gauge needle. It's just too heavy, and using these stupid things is about to kill my hands. Why can't I find another option in this city? Surely plastic or bamboo needles exist in this country, why doesn't anyone sell them?

I think I'm done complaining about things that don't really matter now. Thanks for reading.



Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiv-a-dring-a-dring-ling

So Thanksgiving in Spain is just another Thursday. An effort was made to celebrate here in the apartment, but two of my roommates have relatives in town, so Megan, Renee, and Emma were all out visiting, and for dinner it was just me and the three vegetarians. Dinner was pretty yummy anyway, but I'm struggling to deal with the fact that this is apparently a pie-free country.

Christmas decorations went up on Tuesday, because we got tired of waiting. There's me and the tree on the left. It was sort of an adventure, because we were all working in a confined space, with Juan up on a ladder, and the one person (Ana) who was trying to coordinate our efforts was speaking only in Spanish. I've got a few more pictures of the decorating, in various stages of completion, which you can see if you follow this link.

If you scroll down below, you will see that I have finally finished my post about Rome, which is backdated to the end of last month (between "When in Rome" and "Juan-ish"), when I actually wrote most of it. It's actually been written for a while, I was just too lazy to type it up. My photos of Rome (which may look suspiciously similar to some that I took when I was there two years ago) are all here, although I have not managed to caption or even tag most of them.

I've got a write up of my Berlin trip written and typed, but it needs to be cleaned up (and possibly broken into pieces, I was pretty long-winded there) before it will be readable. In the meantime, you can see my photos of the trip (again, caption free at the moment) here.

London, I have neither written or typed about, but here's the link to the photos.

In the next couple of days, I mean to get captions up on all of those, even if they're just of the "this is a building" variety. In the meantime, if there is any of them catch your eye and you want to know more, either comment here or send me an e-mail and I'll do my best to answer questions.

For something more interesting than a list of things I haven't done, I now turn to Juan who recently explained to us how Obama ruined Christmas *:
-His first act as President-Elect was to free the Elves who were forced to work in Santa's North Pole Sweat Shop
-This has brought Santa's entire operation to a halt (no elves = no toys)
-Even if there were toys, they could not be delivered, as Rudolph's nose was found to be causing global warming
-Rudolph was then shot by Bruce Willis, who was quoted as saying "Yippie-ki-yay"**


*Loosely Translated from the Original Juan-ish [back]
**Explination for Mom and Other People Who Don't Watch Action Movies: this is a reference to the "Die Hard" series (starting liberal actor Bruce Willis), the first of which did take place at an office Christmas party. [back]

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Ceci n'est pas un Update

Sorry for the quietness of late. I have much to tell, but it will have to come later, as I'm going to London for the weekend.


Wednesday, November 05, 2008

But I Don't Want to Be a Socialist

Unfortunatly, there are fewer and fewer places in the world I can go to get away from socialism.

That's all I've got to say about that.

Monday, November 03, 2008


My host father, Juan, does not speak English. He does not speak Spanish either. He speaks Juan-ish, which requires special skill to translate.

Things I've learned today:
-Juan is from Ft. Leramie, Wyoming
-Juan is the 5th Beatle
-Ringo Star is not Chinese
-"Jingle Bells" actually begins "Wrinkle birds, wrinkle birds" and is properly sung to the tune of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star"
-Pallea is made from Jackalope
-Amanda is from the North (New Hampshire), therefore all her family members are all penguins, and when they go to vote, they drop sardines in the ballot box.

Speaking of voting, don't forget to vote tomorrow. You'd be better off going earlier in the day then later if you want to avoid a line. Maya's boyfriend Nick (who is visiting us this week) voted early, and he said he stood in line for an hour, and this was in Orange Country. I voted absentee (mailed my ballot a couple of weeks ago, thanks for asking). The statistics-making-people are saying that in this election roughly a third of the voters have voted early or absentee, which I think is interesting.

Tomorrow night I'm planning on staying up for the election watching party, which really means getting up early on Wednesday. 7:00 in the central time zone in midnight here. So, even though the polls should be closing on the west coast at about 2 a.m. my time, I'll be stuck at school because the metro doesn't re-open until five or six. Watching returns means an all-nighter, but it's OK, pizza will be for sale.


Thursday, October 30, 2008


NB: There are a ton of photos to accompany this post. They aren't linked up yet because I haven't gotten around to it yet, but you can see them for yourself by going here.

So I arrived in Rome on Friday night. I found the convent where I was staying easily enough* and wasted a large number of my minutes by calling home.

Saturday morning I set my alarm clock for a ridiculously early time (6 a.m.) and was still trying to convince myself to get out of bed when the sound of the nuns singing Lauds came echoing up from down stairs. That right there is a better alarm clock than any electronic device.

I started the morning in St. Peter's (if you get to the cathedral before 8:30 you beat the crowds, any later and you spend the rest of the day standing in line). I thought that I remembered that photography isn't allowed inside the cathedral, but a review of my hard drive revealed that isn't so. Photography is allowed inside the cathedral (as it is most places in Rome), but none of my photos from two years ago where any good. This time I had a little bit better luck with the photography, but not much. Taking photos inside a space that large is tricky at best. I loitered around the cathedral for a while, went down to the tomb of the popes (no photos allowed in there, which is a change from last time), and then loitered around the piazza for a while. Piazza San Pietro is a good place for people watching. There's plenty of free seating (anywhere along the colonnade), and tonnes of people day or night.

To that end, I have formulated the following theory**:
For every four normal tourists (t) visible, there is/are also: 1 priest or monk (p) or 3 nuns (n, any order).

4t = p where p = 3n

(Buy this you can see that one tourist is only worth 3/4 of a nun, and if you really want to enjoy your trip to the Vatican City, you should bring a priest with you to act as a tour guide and read the Latin signs.)

After St. Peter's, I went to Piazza del Popolo (a large piazza in the north of the city) and started walking south, map in hand***. I did a lot of wandering, saw a few things that are on the normal tourist crawl, and a lot of odd things that aren't really. Some things were old favorites, others were things I can't believe I didn't see before, and others that had opened since I left.

Just in the churches around Piazza del Popolo I saw two Caravaggios and a 3rd century martyr. A little south and east of the Piazza, along the Tiber, there is the recently (re-)opened Altar of Peace, one of Caesar Augustus's many monuments to himself. The museum is pretty simple: there's the altar (which is about the size of my parent's living room), a model of the altar with all the people in the exterior panels neatly labeled, a row of plaster busts of Augustus and his family, a chart showing the line of succession from Julius to Augustus, and through the next few generations of his successors (which makes it all look a lot more tidy than it really was), a model showing the Campus Martus (i.e. the local area) at the time of the altar's construction, and a sign giving some back ground information. The building itself was a shiny modern glass box, which I disprove of in general, but like in this instance. It was all marble and glass, the former always looks natural in Rome and the latter is by nature transparent, and does not obstruct the view. As for the museum itself... well, there's also a gallary in the basement, so if you're interested in whatever the temporary exhibit is (I wasn't), then it's worth the price of admission (6 Euros, 4.50 for a student). If you're not interested in the exhibit, then the glass and stone architecture of the museum means that you can stand outside and see the altar for free.

Also, the church across the street from the altar was celebrating St. Rocco's day (no, I've never heard of him either), and the crowd was big enough that the festivities were being held outside. That was pretty entertaining too, but since I could only understand every fourth or fifth word of the homily, I went back to the Via del Corso (one of the longest streets in the city, built over the top of the Via Flaminia that Augustus had built) and headed south again. I paused at the column of Marcus Aurelius (the forward thinking emperor's alternative to the triumphal arch) long enough to take a photo and do a map recon before continuing to the Pantheon.

The Pantheon continues it's long tradition of being really cool looking and really crowded. It was the first pagan temple in Rome to be converted into a Christian church, but certainly not the last (and officially, it's name is St. Mary's of the Martyrs). It's home to the graves of two kings of Italy (Vittorio Emanuele II and Umberto I) and Raphael (the artist, not the ninja turtle). It's dome is made of concrete and features a giant hole at the center that would confound architects until the Renaissance (and it's still the largest un-reinforced concrete dome in the world), which is even more impressive when you consider that the modern building was built in the time of Emperor Hadrian (c. 125 AD, you may also have heard of a wall in Scotland he had constructed) and has been in continuous use ever since. The original bronze roof tiles were taken in the 7th century (some to Constantinople, must to Castel San Angelo) and most of the exterior marble went soon afterwords, but the brick and concrete are still holding strong.

Next I stopped for lunch. Most of the eating type places around the Pantheon (or any other landmark, for that matter) are ridiculously crowded and over priced. I would however recommend a place around on the back side of the Pantheon called Pizza Minerva. Despite being surrounded by tourist traps on all sides, this place serves good pizza at reasonable prices (pizza in Italy should be sold by weight, if it's not, you've made a bad choice in restaurants, try again), and the crowd inside is composed entirely of Italians. I discovered this place two years ago (in fact, it's the pizzeria mentioned in this story) and I was happy to see it still thriving.

My next stop was catercorner to the Pantheon: Santa Maria Sopra Minerva (St. Mary over Minerva). There are a lot of St. [pick your favorite] over [pagan god] churches in Italy, the name just means that it is a pagan temple converted into a Christian church. This particular church is home to a Michelangelo statue and the relics of St. Catherine of Sienna, both of which were new discoveries for me.

From there, I hit Largo Torre Argintina (where Julius Ceasar was assassinated, now home to a large bus stop and a lot of stray cats) and the Campadolio, as I attempted to enter the forum. I had been for warned that the forum now charges admission, but I didn't get instructions on how to enter it, so I spent some time wandering the back side of the Capitoline Hill, looking for a way in (as opposed to an exit, of which I found several).

As I was looking for the way into the forum, I found the Marmetrine Prison, something that had been around for 2 millinia, but which I still unaccountably failed to visit the last time I was here. You might recognize it from the write-up it got in the best selling book of all time. It's teeny-tiny, with a ceiling so low I felt like I had to duck. All the signage is in Italian and Latin, but as there are only tow rooms (upstairs and down in the cell), even if you don't know either, it's not hard to figure out what's what. It's not crowded (cause it's tucked into an out of the way corner) and admission is only whatever you want to give as a donation (give generously, that hand-rail needs fixing). If you go, take a moment to sit down in a quiet place out of the sun, and think about whose footsteps you've following.

I never did get into the forum, because the entrance was blocked by a political rally (It's always and election year in Italy). the signs posted all around town said that the event would be in Piazza Republica early in the afternoon and at he Circus Maximums later in the day. Italy being Italy, there was only one rally and it was sort of between those tow times, and sort of at the half way point between the two locations (sort of, I say, If I were walking from the one to the other, it's not the route I would have taken, but if you've got a mob to direct you have to stick to the main streets).

Instead, I went to Trajan's forum/markets. There's a museum explains a little of what's what, and a whole swath of Roman ruins I'd not been able to see before because they weren't open to the public the last time I was here. Unlike the forum, which is mostly official Rome -- temples, the senate, and law courts -- this area is public -- shops and public gathering places. I spent the rest of the day exploring. It's interesting to me how archeologists are able to piece so much together from so little information. For instance, they know from 'contemporary' accounts (i.e. ancient letters home, "Dear Mom, I have arrived safely in Rome. Today I went to the forum and I saw...") that there was colossus of Caesar Augustus at the site, and that copies (existent today) were made in the colonies. What have they found of it in Rome? 3 pieces of one hand, and a foot print. The original bits are on display, while replicas have been attached to a wire frame skeleton to give some idea about what the original hand would have looked like. You did read that right, one foot print. the building it was in was built around the statue, so they didn't bother paving the floor under it's feet. The statue is gone now, but the floor remains with a footprint where the colossus once stood. It's about as long as three of my paces.

I did lots of climbing, even though heights make me nervous and just because something has stood for thousands of years doesn't mean that it hasn't just been waiting to collapse when I get there. Also, the stairs were installed by Mussolini's architects in '36 and the railings are an even more recent addition. Prove to me that they are stable.

After that it was dinner time and back to the convent. the next day, I had just enough time to go to the Trevi fountain at the crack of dawn and toss in a coin before collecting my luggage and heading to the airport.


*By "easily enough" I of course mean that I did far more walking than I needed to because I got tired of waiting for a bus that only comes twice a,n hour (if the driver feels like it) and re-routed to a bus that dropped me off on the other side of the Vatican City. It wasn't that bad, except for the fact that suitcase wheels and cobblestones don't like each other. [back]
**If you, or anyone you know is heading to the Vatican City in the near future, I invite you to collect more data, so I can refine my theory. [back]
***I purchased this map at the train station on my way into town. Fully unfolded it's over a yard long, and, at a scale of 1 to 17,000 (the units arn't specified), it's appropriate for use in planning your invasion of the city.[back]

Sunday, October 26, 2008

When in Rome...

Well I'm back from a whirlwind weekend visit to Rome. I had a lot of fun, and I'll tell you all about it once I get the photos in order (it takes longer than you'd think to write caption). For now, a couple of anecdotes.

I was riding the metro back from the Trevi Fountain this morning when, one stop before I exited, an Italian Boy Scout troop got on with all their hiking gear. Is there anywhere else in the world where one would use public transportation to go on a camp-out? One kid even had a guitar with him.

Then, I walk through the Vatican City to the bus stop, so I can go back to the guest house and check out, when a car pulls up to the curb and stops just long enough to let a bishop (wearing the official black dress and hot pink beanie) hop out. The car spreads away, and the bishop just walks down the street, talking on his cell phone and carrying a briefcase. It's strange to think that for some people, a trip to the Vatican City is just another day at the office.


Thursday, October 23, 2008


Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present the first sock I've knitted all by myself. There's actually more photos where that one came from: I've been showing off all afternoon.
I also hit an office supply store to purchase a new notebook (as my current one is nearly full) and some colored pencils. Right now life is good, and I'm flying to Rome tomorrow for a long awaited trip.


P.S. I finally got the Columbus Day pictures up, they're linked below.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Luggage Restirictions

For your consideration I submit the following statement from a confirmation e-mail for my trip to Rome this weekend:


Do they mean that infants don't count as baggage, or that infants don't get a bag? I'm not sure which interpretation is more disturbing.

On the subject of baggage, I was stubborned into purchasing a bag with wheels as my new backpack. It's really more of a laptop bag/roll-aboard suitcase than a backpack but it meets the "doesn't put any weight on the injured right shoulder"* requirement. It also means means that I now have the perfect size carry on bag. How I am going to get all of this home, I have no idea. Something will have to be shipped, and now I'm thinking it'll be the messenger bag just because it weighs the least.

In totally unrelated news, Ana's mom is a frequent guest in the apartment. She usually stays here on the weekends and with Ana's brother (he and his wife are both opera singers, how cool is that?). The reason mom stays with the kids is because she has Alzheimer's and really shouldn't be left on her own. She's nice, although none of us really know Spanish well enough to talk to her. Mostly we just smile and nod. Sometimes I'll get out my knitting and sit next to her while she's working. Anyway she's been getting worse the past couple of months. Today Ana and her mother left for a doctor in Andalusia (in the south) who Juan says is one of the best doctors for Alzheimer's in Spain. After this guy, the experts are all in the US. They'll be back in Madrid on Wednesday, but for right now, it's kind of quiet around here.


*The shoulder is doing much better, thanks for asking. I still don't have my full range of movement back in my neck, and it still hurts to move my right arm too much, but it's getting a little better everyday. A weekend of sitting around playing World of Warcraft and only leaving the apartment for food (even though I really wanted to attend the Dickens conference but traveling across town seemed like a terrible idea when it still hurt to get out of bed in the mornings) seems to have helped greatly. [back]

Thursday, October 16, 2008


Yesterday evening I tripped on the stairs at school. I managed to catch myself before I fell, but something in my shoulder decided that was enough and quit on me. I've got a throbbing pain from my neck and spine, across my right shoulder down to my elbow. It hurts to turn my neck, bend at the waist, or make any sudden movement with my right arm. I took some Tylenol and waited, but this morning there was no improvement. I went to the doctor the school works with (a very nice guy, and his English is perfect). He says I pulled a muscle. I've been given a cream to apply 3-4 times a day (still working on the logistics of that since its a muscle in my back and it hurts to move my arms that direction), a muscle relaxant to take at night, and Ibuprofen. The Ibuprofen is in a powder form that I'm supposed to mix with water and drink, but some fool decided that adding a mint flavor would help. It doesn't. Those of you who know me, know I don't like mint. To me, this is like trying to drink tooth paste. It's taking me all afternoon because drinking more than a sip at a time triggers my gag reflex. Other then that, I'm supposed to take it easy, and not do any work, especially not anything that requires putting any stress on my right shoulder.

As if that wasn't enough, no one at SLU seems to know where my insurance card is, nor do they seem to be able to locate any documentation that I ever applied for insurance in Spain. I know I registered, because I had to present proof of registration in order to apply for my visa. I've got my documentation and I've requested a statement from last summer from the bank, so I'm going back in tomorrow to see if I can't get this sorted out. Today, I had to pay out of pocket for the doctor's visit and the medicine, and once I get my insurance information I'll have to present the receipts and in theory I'll be re-reimbursed. In practice, I have no idea if I'll ever see my money again.

When I got back to the apartment, Ana told me that the reason I had hurt my back was because my backpack was to heavy (probably true). I got a lecture about how "that's the only back you've got" and how I need to go to el Rastro on Sunday and buy one of those little backpacks with wheels (I good idea).

The good news is that my absentee ballot finally arrived. I should have it in the mail on Monday. Would someone who lives in Denton County send me an e-mail and tell me what's the deal with Bond Propositions No. 1 and 2? No. 1 is "The issuance of $310,000,000 general obligation bonds for constructing, improving and maintaining roads and bridges within Denton county and the levy of a tax in payment thereof". No.2 reads "The issuance of $185,000,000 general obligation bonds for constructing, improving and equipping existing county buildings and facilities to wit: county government centers, service centers, county administration facilities, detention, probation and law enforcement facilities and, related technology improvements, and the levy of a tax in payment thereof." (The punctuation mistakes in both quotes are, sadly, copied straight from the ballot.) What I want to know is exactly what are they planning on improving with this money, and what (and how much) is the tax that goes with these improvements? (Income tax? Property tax? Another sales tax hike?) I'd ask if there was any reason no to re-elect the sheriff, the tax assessor, or the constable, but since no-one's running against them it sort of a moot point.

I'm going to finish lunch and spend the rest of the day sitting very still.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Columbus Day Parade

There are all sorts of holidays and festivals here in Spain that they don't tell Americans about. I just get up on the weekends and, because I live in the center of town, there is usually some pretty interesting street theater going on just underneath my window. A couple weeks ago there was a religious procession (it took two and a half hours to walk a statue of Mary out of the church, to the end of the block, and back), and before that there was a horde of cyclists (apparently they're a pretty regular occurrence, and ride nude in the summer*).

I've started to accept the idea that I probably will never understand why these things keep happening around me, so it was kind of a shock to find a familiar celebration this past weekend. Columbus Day is a national holiday here.

It makes sense, 1492 was a very good year for Spain: the Reconquista ended with the fall of Granada in January, and Columbus's discovery of the New World brought prosperity to Spain for the next century. At one time, Spain owned all of South America except Brazil (which was Portuguese), all of Central America, Mexico, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Florida, and parts of the Caribbean. Then the British defeated the Spanish Armada and the Spaniards backed the wrong horse in the 30 years war, and after that things just sort of collapsed slowly for the next three hundred years or so. The country hit rock bottom either just before, during, or after the Civil War (depending on who you ask). But, to get back to where this story started, Columbus brought good times to Spain, and Columbus Day is a holiday here.**

There was a big fancy schmancy military parade in down town Madrid, with all the different units with their own uniforms. For instance the Spanish special forces wear a hat that looks like the hat an Aggie would call a bitter (What does the rest of the world call it again?) except it has a dangle-y red tassel in front. That combined with the fact that they wear the top button of their shirts unbuttoned (with no undershirt) makes them look pretty ridiculous. That and their mascot is a goat with golden tinfoil on its horns (for no reason that anyone could tell me, and I'm not even sure how to begin to Google an explanation). Remember, they're special forces and if you laugh at them they can totally kick your ass.

I watched this parade on the TV in the living room because 1.)I didn't know about it until it came on and 2.)it's been raining all weekend. After the parade the king traditionally hosts a reception at the Palace (down the street from me on the other side of the Opera House) for the president, the cabinet ministers, any visiting heads of state who might show up, and the commanders of the military units that were in the parade. The upshot of this is that the parade came to me, as it's easier to march (or ride?) a mounted unit down pedestrian streets than ones open to cars (because you don't have to worry about stopping traffic), and the palace guard rode right under my window. [I will have pictures up as soon as my computer decides that it will read my camera's memory card.]

Fun fact: while normal troops march in parades, equestrian troops 'bailar' ('dance'), at least in Spain.


*I'm still not sure if Ana and Juan were kidding about that. It was a source of great amusement for about an hour, then we finished dinner and that was the end of that conversation. [back]
**But it fell on a Sunday this year, and that did not translate to a Monday off like it does in the States. Apparently it's felt that there are enough other holidays disrupting the calendar already.[back]

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Law of Elevator Function

The elevator in my apartment building is one of those old fashioned things with two sets of doors that open in opposite directions (one is in the stairwell, the other set is in the cage itself). You can't call it if it's already in service, you have to wait fifteen minutes for whoever is using it to finish before you can push the button. [Or you can stand there and push the button like an idiot even though the light is on, it just won't do anything.] There's no real air circulation, so if anyone smokes in there you smell it the rest of the day. Only three people can use if at a time (or four children), and even then it moves slower than cold molasses in January.

The Law of Elevator Function is this:
the more tired you are, the more frustrating your day has been, the less it is likely that the elevator will be there when you need it, or even be working at all.
More simply: elevator function is inversely proportional to the users existing level of frustration.


Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Am I Real Student Now?

The graduate semester finally started!

There are a dozen or so English MA students (all in varying stages of "I just have to finish my thesis and then I´m done") here and about twice that number of Spanish MA students. My cohort in the English department is a whopping three students (including myself), although there are supposed to be two more joining us in January.

Coincidently, three is also the number of classes I'm taking. There's the graduate class which is basicly an introduction to literary research, in which we're focusing on the genera of the pastoral. It´s either going to be really good or really tedious. The jury is still out on that one. I'm also in a linguistics class taught on the undergraduate schedual. I just turned in my first paper there (not my best work, but improving it would have required starting over completly and I just didn´t have the time for that, but it will probably be good enough) and took the first partial exam (a piece of cake). Today was also the first partial exam for the Spanish class I'm taking. I think I did pretty well there too, but that one doesn't really matter since I'm just sitting in, instead of getting a grade.

The important thing is, I am learning Spanish. Yesturday at dinner (half a chicken each and curry rice, with marizipan for desert) Ana was asking us all about how our exams were going and she complemented me on my Spanish. She said out of the six of us girls I had made the most improvement. I´ve gone from practically nothing to nearly always speaking in complete sentences in one month.

My absentee balot still isn´t here. (Any day now the lady in the mail room says, they've started to arrive.) I did recieve my admission ticket for the Subject GRE test I'm going to Berlin to take in November. When I registered for the test, I thought the name of the university there sounded kind of familiar and figured that it wouldn´t be to hard for me to track it down. Now that my ticket is here I have the street address and realized that the reason it sounded kind of familiar because it's right smack dab in the center of the city, on Strasse des 17 Juni. In other words, if you start on Under den Linden Strasse and walk under the Brandenberger Tor into the Teirgarten, once you enter the park the road changes its name to Strasse des 17 Juni. Just keep walking strait down through the park, past the Victory Column and out the otherside, and the place for the test is right there.


P.S. If the wear on the keys of the computers in labs here at school are any indication, the least used letters in English and Spanish are (from least to slightly more used) ç, ñ, q, z, x, and p.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Hot Garlic-y Goodness

Ana, my host mom, made humus for the first time today. It was a great success: full of garlic. We've been promised pita bread at dinner tomorrow. Life is good.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Holy Toledo!

Last Saturday I went to Toledo, a half an hour trip by high-speed train. It was such any easy trip to make, part of my wishes that I had gone sooner. The sensible part of me is glad I waited until the weather started to cool off*, because it would have been a miserable trip in the summer heat. The joke is that all of Toledo is uphill. That's not entirely true, there are some flat bits on the other side of the river from the bits that you come to see**. So, for the most part Toledo is all up hill, add in streets that are almost all cobblestone, and walking three blocks becomes a serious hike.

I caught the first train from Madrid, which was itself an adventure. I had help from a professor who has been living in Spain for the past 30 years in buying my ticket Friday afternoon, for which I was extremely greatfull, as I don't think I could have found the correct ticket counter on my own. Fun fact: the main train station connects the metro with two (unconnected) train networks, a food court, more magazine stands than you can shake a stick at, and a greenhouse complete with turtle pond. You can't buy an AVE ticket at the RENFE counter, and you're just expected to know which trains are which. When you take a number and wait 15 minutes for your turn, the ticket minion will tell you that contrary to what the time-table says, the first train on Saturday leaves at 8:20. After you've bought the ticket, getting on the train is comparatively easy. There's no line at security, where your luggage goes through a metal detector but you done. There's a short wait in a departure lounge, and boarding begins twenty minuets before your flight train leaves. Your ticket is checked by a minion before you're allowed down the gangway to the platform. Arrivals are in a different part of the station, if you want to change trains you have to leave the secured area and come back in. The whole deal is pretty neatly run, but feels more like getting on an airplane than a train.

I arrived in Toledo at 9:50 and took a bus up the hill to Plaza Zocodover. The plaza is the city center, not because it's particularly central or nice to look at, but because it's the largest open area left up there. One of the results of the Moorish occupation is the labyrinthine street plan. The streets are almost all twisty little alleyways that would not be out of place in Morocco or Algeria. The sub-folder Side Streets and Go Betweens is full of pictures off some of the little buildings and streets that aren't anyplace particularly special, but caught my eye anyway***.

I started my guerrilla tourism in the Cathedral. The local legend is that one day as Saint Ildefonsus(d.667) was saying mass the Virgin Mother herself came down from heaven and presented him with a chasuble. A story that the diocese has used ever since as its claim to primacy in the Spanish Catholic church. Even in Visigothic times, there was an important church on the site, which was knocked down in order to make a mosque when Toledo was captured by the Moors in the 8th century. Because the city was so important to the church, Toledo was the first city to be taken by the Reconquista (in 1085, for those of you playing at home). The mosque was then re-converted to a church and the current cathedral was built between 1226 and 1493. The cathedral has been remodeled more or less continually ever since (the current work is cleaning the exterior). The most dramatic change was the addition of el Transperente, essentially a giant hole in the roof behind the main altar, with a clear window, and a huge baroque painting/sculpture/altar/thing-that-doesn't-fit-at-all-with-the-Gothic-architecture showing an assortment of saints and angles descending form heaven, unless they're ascending. Mary is near the top, with St. Ildefonsus and the chasuble just in case you forgot where you are. The second most interesting bit of the cathedral# was a collection of 16th and 17th century vestments. The plainest of the group are just silk with more silk embroidery. The fanciest each have enough precious stones on them to start a jewelry store.

The vestry has painting of every bishop Toledo's ever had starting with in the late 300s and going up to the present day. The portrait's have been painted from life since the early 1500s, so it is interesting to see the development of both art history and clothing. There are red hats hanging throughout the cathedral (I counted 4, but I might be forgetting one): according to local tradition when a cardinal dies they hang his hat above his grave until it rots his soul arrives in heaven. I found enough to see in the cathedral## to keep me occupied for two hours. I have pictures only of the outside because "It is not allowed to make photos or film inside the cathedral". As crowded as it was in there, I probably could have gotten away with it, but I didn't think I would have difficulty finding postcards of the largest building in town.###

I went to the Alcazar next. It's an old fortress that has been many things over the years: it was the Spanish military academy for over a century. In the 30s, Republican (that's Franco's buddies) forces were besieged there by the Nationalists (not Franco's buddies), until other Republican troops arrived to break the siege. Because Toledo was rescued* the Nationalists were able to fortify their positions in Madrid, thus dragging the war out for several more years. Reconstruction on the Alcazar began almost as soon as Franco's rule was secure. Currently, it's closed for remodeling but it will open next year as a military history museum. If you visit now, there's a big monument to the civil war outside, some bits of the original Moorish architecture, and some nice views over the river in a nearby park. The 8th floor houses the local library, so it's also a nice place to use a free public restroom and do a map recon in a quiet air conditioned place with comfy chairs.

Then it was back down to Plaza Zocodover, past the statue of Cervantes at the top of the page, to the Museo de Santa Cruz. It's an old monastery with free admission to see a bunch of things that don't have any thing in common other than coming from Toledo. The courtyard has interesting architecture and some bits and bobs left over from a recent reconstruction. Photographs were allowed in the courtyard, but not inside, and the guard-to-tourist ratio was about 1:3, so they were able to enforce that ruling pretty well. There's a museum on the ground floor with some processional crosses and other assorted religious articles, along with the one El Greco** that another church in town didn't claim. Up stairs there's a little museum about the history of the ceramic industry in Europe. The explanations were all in Spanish however, so while I found the recreation of an artist's studio interesting, the rest got the reaction of "meh".

After an early lunch (1:30 is early in Spain) I made the hike (uphill both ways) to the other side of town for a marathon tour of the remaining sights.

The Church of St. Thomas (Santo Tomé) hosts the "Burial of Count Orgaz", one of the few El Greco paintings to be left in situ, or at least it's in situ until someone thinks of a way to move the wall it's painted on without damaging the painting. I don't like El Greco (he starts off in Manarism, and ends up with something like Surrialism, two art styles that have both made my Top 10 least favorite art movements list), but I do like this painting. [N.b.: I don't necessarily agree with the interpretation on this page, but it has a good copy of the painting and some nice close ups)The scene of the Count's body being lowered into the coffin is balanced perfectly by the scene of his soul (that's the ephemeral baby the angel in the center is holding) being carried into heaven. The count's body and one of the clerics look up towards the scene in heaven, the rest of the earthly figures look at the body. (Except El Greco -- in the back row -- and his son -- the boy in the very front -- both of whom look straight at the viewer, inviting you into the scene.) Meanwhile, in the heavens, the attention is focused to Jesus at the very top of the scene, in the center with the brightest light. Jesus and Mary both look down towards the earth, showing their care for those who must remain below while Count Orgaz is able to rise (with the help of an angel).

The rest of the church looks like any other parish in Spain, which is to say, it received a lot off money up until the last century, and every available surface is either marble or gold-plaited. The other surfaces are either carved wood, or painted wood. As the Vatican apparently demands nowadays, there is a pro-life poster on one of the confessionals, and a rack of fliers in the back. I risked a photo of one of the side chapels, where they had not one but two statues of Mary that caught my eye.

I then went to the Synagogue of the Transit, which is now a memorial to Spain's Jewish heritage. Jews first came to Spain with the Romans, and established large communities after the destruction of the Temple by Titus. They were tolerated by their pagan Roman neighbors, then their Christian neighbors after Constantine changed the official religion, then their Visigothic conquerors#, then their Moorish conquerors, then their Christian re-conquerors. In 1492## the Christian Monarchs Ferdinand II and Isabella I captured Granada, the last remaining Muslim territory in Spain (freeing up funds to allow a crazy Italian to take three ships on a long cruse to the Dominican Republic, but that's another story...), and they turned their attentions to solidifying their rule of Spain. As a result of the Inquisition, 1/3 of Spain's Jewish population remained and converted to Christianity, 1/3 refused to convert and were killed, and 1/3 left Spain. The last third, called Sephardic Jews, mainly went to large trading centers in England and the Low Lands and got rich in banking and the far east trade, so it worked out mostly all right for them. The synagogues (and mosques as well, the Muslims faced the same persecution, but those who chose to leave went to North Africa, not central Europe) that were left behind where converted to churches or demolished, which is why Toledo has a Sinagoga Santa Maria la Blanca (Synagogue of St. Mary the White) and a Mezquita del Christo de la Luz (Mosque of Christ of the Light).

The Synagogue of the Transit was interesting architecturally, but you can see that same style of architecture anywhere in town. The exhibits of the museum were only explained in Spanish, and no audio guide was available. There were explanatory sheet in other languages (I spotted English and French, I think there were more) offering poor translations full of misspellings of the text at each exhibit, but nothing to indicate when it was referring to which displays. If it hadn't been randomly free admission day, I don't think it would have been worth the price. The Sinagoga Sta. Maria la Blanca definitely wasn't worth the 2.30 I paid to get in: one room, empty except for part of the altar piece (the rest has been removed to another museum), and the only signs were a floor plan and a "No Photo" warning.

The House and Museum of Victor Macho was a pleasant surprise though. I'd never heard of Victor Macho before making this trip, but Rick Steve gave the place a nice write up and he usually has pretty good judgment (even though he does like El Greco). He described the house as having good views of the river, and the art as being art deco, so I gave it a go. It was not very crowded (unlike the cathedral, St. Thomas's, and the Synagogue of the Transit), and a short film of the history of Toledo was included in the ticket price. The lady even put the English version on for me, even though I was the only person there. (A Spanish-speaking couple came in as I left.) I found it very informative, and at that point my feet welcomed the break. The promised views of the river where indeed there, as was the art deco statuary scattered all over the buildings and garden.

My last stop was the Monastery of St. John of the Monarchs (Monasterio de S. Juan de los Reyes). It was originally built to be the burial place of Ferdinand and Isabella, but after the capture of Granada they chose to be buried there instead (as a symbol that they were not going to give up the territory again). The outside of the church is hung with chains belonging to Christian prisoners freed from Granada. In the courtyard there's a nice opportunity to play the guess the saint game, in addition to some other fun carvings. The church itself is technically no-photo, but there was no one to enforce that ruling, so I rebelled along with most everything else. The walls are covered in giant eagles (the symbol of St. John, for those of you playing at home) carrying Ferdinand and Isabella's coat of arms, just in case someone forgot which monarchs had the place build. The side chapels have most of the color: such as St. Peter facing down a rooster (the one that crowed after he denied Jesus three times) or this painting of a group of 30 Franciscans martyred during the civil war (they're buried in the crypt).

At this point, this point it was time to hike back to Plaza Zocodover (uphill both ways) for the bus back down hill and a walk back to the train station. I was back in Madrid just in time for dinner.

Total cost of the trip: 65 Euros, including 14.40 for a round trip train ticket, 18 for a damascene rosary, and 10 for lunch. The rest went to admission fees, postcards, and gelatto.

My pictures are all up in the photobucket, but they got scrambled when I uploaded them, so they're more or less in the reverse of the order in which I took them, except for where they're not. Sorry for any confusion. The good news is the foot notes now have links so you don't have to go scrolling up and down.

Ely, or Elise, or Isabella
no one can quite agree on what the Spanish equivalent of Elizabeth ought to be

*yes, dear reader, fall is starting to arrive in Spain. [back]
**the ruins of a Roman horse-racing stadium with a 10,000 person capacity are also in the flat bit, but I ran out of time and had to skip them in favor of catching my train [back]
***It's also part of my ongoing quest to make an absurdly long, but still logically arranged, URL [back]

#at least to my eye [back]
##the 5th largest in the world, according to a tour guide I eavesdropped on for a while[back]
###I was wrong, I found two. The Spaniards are really missing out by not selling a photo license. I would have been willing to pay the admission price (7 Euro, no negotiating) again in exchange for photos. [back]

*and Franco made Toledo a priority for the same reason it was a priority for the Reconquista: Toledo is the cultural heart of Spain [back]
**El Greco was a Cretin who studied art in Italy, who came to Spain to work on El Escorial but was turned down because Phillip II didn't like his work***, and who made it big in Toledo
***for the record, I think Phillip was right [back]

#Fun fact: the last place in the world where the Visigothic Catholic Rite (they're in communion with Rome, they just never followed the same service as the one in Rome because the one they had was just fine, thank you) is still held is Toledo Cathedral, in the Mozerabic Chapel at 9:15 in the morning. Mozerabic chant is also one of the ancestors of Gregorian chant. [back]
##Conveniently for Americans who don't want to learn anyone else's history, 1492 is also a very important year in Spanish history. [back]

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Free Admission Day

The weekend before last I made my first, and so far only, call home, so my parents at least have had an update since me last post, but it wasn't until just now that I realized that the nagging feeling in the back of my head was me trying to remind myself that I promised that I would post more pictures.

I joined a gaggle of 12 people I mostly didn't know for a bus trip out into the suburbs. We went to the monastery and palace of San Lorenzo de el Escorial, which is conveniently located in the town of the same name, roughly an hour away from the city center. It was, for some unexpected and still unexplained reason, it was free admission day which was a very nice surprise and meant that I had enough cash handy to rent the audio guide. The library was, unfortunately, not included in the free ticket, and the basilica was closed when I went.

Photography is not allowed inside, but because I am a bad person, I snuck a few anyway. Because I'm the kind of nerd who thinks that looking at foundations and bits of archway to see what's holding the building up is the niftiest thing ever, 1.)I thought the architecture museum in the basement was the most interesting part of the visit and 2.)the things I want pictures of are never in the postcards. The fact that I got in for free only encouraged me because in the back of my mind I couldn't help but think, "what are you going to do, kick me out?"

The wikipedia article I linked does a good enough job of explaining the place, and I've added captions which should be sufficient explanation for the pictures. If some thing is unclear* leave a comment here and I'll try to explain. Leave comments anyway, they make me feel like someone cares about my vacation pictures. :P

After lunch, we loaded onto a different bus and went to the Valley of the Fallen. Franco built the place in the 50s as a memorial to the people who died in the Spanish Civil War (or at least, those people who were on his side). Out side there are a few terraces with great views of the Sierra Guadarrama** mountains, a huge pieta over the door, and a Giant Cement Cross that can be seen for miles***. The wikipedia article does again does a good enough job of describing the place, especially the controversy about it's construction.

It was free admission day there as well, and photos were also not allowed inside. I tried to sneak a few of the interior, but the lighting was so low that they didn't turn out and I had to be content with the post cards and a ton of exterior pictures. The postcards actually aren't that great, because they brought in extra lighting and fancy tripods so they have the statues centered in the frame and you can see all the detail, but that isn't what you experience when you actually visit the place. The interior of the basilica is in what I call the Catholic Fascist style (a combination of neo-classisim and futurism, see anything Mussolini had constructed as an example). The lights are so dim it's hard to see the ceiling, copies of 16th century tapestry depicting scenes from the Book of Revelation line the walls, and giant representations of the Our Lady guard each of the side altars. The neo-gothic carved wood quire is almost comforting when compared to the angels who stand at the four corners of the crossing and in the narthex. The feet of these statues are on pillars higher than my head, they each hold some sort of weapon bigger than I am, and the way they are back lit in the already dim light, it looks like they are ready to come to life at any minute and fight any devils that might present themselves. You, the observer, will be squashed into a grease spot on the floor if you get in their way.

Outside, it's a beautiful day with clean air, sunshine, and a good view of the landscape. My photos are in the same album as the ones from El Escorial, again with lots of captions, if you haven't already looked through them. The one thing I'm not sure that my pictures accomplished was showing just how large the place was, mostly because there's no way to fit it all into one picture without a wide angle lens and a helicopter.

Week-end Adventure #1, complete.

*The captions, I mean. I know the pictures are fuzzy, but it they were the best I can do under the circumstances.
**redundancy alert! Sierra means mountains
***There is a similar sized cross in Effingham, Illinois (because it's the CROSSroads of America, get it?), but the one in Illinois doesn't have any crying angels, so it's hardly art, is it?

Friday, September 12, 2008


Why is it that the things I like in museums are never the things that have been made into postcards? Or included in the museum guide book?

I went to the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza today (the Prado's not-so little brother) and they did manage to get 4 Euros worth of postcards out of me, but they could have easily gotten triple that (or convinced me to buy the book) if they had postcards of the things I liked instead of the avaunt-guard crap that I didn't even see because that part of the museum was "closed for remodelations". My personal theory on art: nothing good* has been created since 1950, and everything after 1850 is highly suspect. Search your feelings. You know this is true.


*I define "good art" as something I would hang in the living room above the sofa.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Many the Hail?

The day before yesterday we had rain off and on during the afternoon. Then, at one in the morning we had hail. That's Ana, my house mom, holding a piece that she saved in the freezer. Freak storms aside, it's still hot and un-airconditioned here, only now it's uncomfortably humid as well.

This is the view out of my window looking to the left, towards Puerta del Sol, and this is looking to the right, towards the Opera House. Puerta del Sol is the center of Madrid containing city hall, "Kilometer Zero" (the marker from which all distances in Spain are measured), a statue of King Charles III, and a bear and a tree (which is the city's symbol).

In front of the Opera House is Plaza Oriente. King Philip IV is in the center of the square. The gardens around it have statues of other (dead) kings. The first night I was here we went down to the square for a free performance of songs from "Beauty and the Beast". We were in the back of the crowd, so we could hear, but not see. Instead we had a better view of the back of the square, which is defined by the back of the Royal Palace.

My room mates and I took the tour on Saturday, but photographs are only allowed on the outside. Inside, there is a over the top baroque/rococo interior. It's all carefully designed to show off the wealth of the inhabitants, but mostly it's just gaudy. On the far side of the palace is the Cathedral. It's new construction, only finished within the last century. The exterior is neo-classical, to match the palace, but he interior is neo-Gothic. At least, that's what I've been told. I haven't actually been able to get inside it yet as every time I've tried it has been closed for no apparent reason. We also took a short walk through the palace gardens, and they got some nice photos of the palace lawns and a peacock. I got nothing, because it was at that point that my camera batteries decided to die on me.

On Sunday we took a longer trip to Plaza Mayor* which has been the home to many things in Madrid's history: a market, bull fighting, carnivals, futbol fans, tourists, and the Inquisition. Now it houses a coin and stamp market on the weekends. Just down the street from Mayor is the beginning of el Rastro - Europe's largest flea market, held every Sunday. I brought my camera, but left if in my purse, because the market was just to crowded to justify the risk of taking it out.

Sunday afternoon, I split off from the group to go to the Museo del Prado, the largest and most important of Madrid's art museums. They don't allow photography inside either, but here's a statue of hometown favorite Goya from the park outside. I just made a quick tour. I need to go back sometime when my feet aren't hurting to enjoy it some.

Tuesday was a state holiday, so we had a day off from classes. Emma and Renee went to Toledo, Megan and I stayed home and did a whole lot of nothing. Also it rained and there was a hail storm during the night, see above.

Classes continue a pace. Spanish continues to go well, although two days in a row now I have been told that I'm pronouncing things like an Italian. Linguistics is coming along nicely as well, although there is a lot of homework. The professor has a contract to write a textbook on the subject, so we are the guinea pigs for her draft of the book, meaning that we have to do all of the little exercises that might otherwise be skipped.

This early in the semester, working in the writing lab means sitting quietly in the corner under the stairs and knitting.

In addition to going to Berlin for the GRE in November, I'm also going to go to Rome for a weekend in October. I may try to go to London this semester as well, but that all depends on how cheap of a flight I can find.

Til later,

P.S. click the link in the side bar to brows a few more of my

*5 minutes walking, if you walk slowly and stop frequently.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Home in Madrid

I am safely arrived in Madrid. This is my third day actually. From the air, Spain looks a lot like Texas, on the ground it looks more like Rome. The temperature is a bit more moderate than back home, even cool in the evenings, but there is always a little wind, and it is very dry.

The flight over was long and boring. The flight was pretty bumpy until we got past Greenland, so that alone was uncomfortable. I was in the second to the last row, in the very middle. On my right there was a large American. On my left there was a large Russian. Both of them went to sleep almost as soon as we were in the air. I was stuck in the middle, with no way to sit without touching both of them. The smaller I tried to make myself, the more they expanded to fill the available space, until I would get up, and pretend walk to the WC, thereby forcing one of them completely out of his seat, and allowing me to reclaim my space when I returned. In the row in front of me, there was a toddler, probably about one, so old enough to stand on the seat and yowl, but not old enough to be expected to use words when she was a.)tired, b.)hungry, and c.)having her ears hurt. In fact, given her age, she was very well behaved, and probably could have yelled louder if she had tried. As if that weren't enough, the couple across the aisle had two cats with them, and the kid's crying periodically set the cats to meowing. It was kind of entertaining to watch as the people around me, one at a time, over the course of the entire flight, put up their heads and asked, "Katzen?"*

By the time I finally landed in Frankfurt, I was so tiered that the layover and the flight to Madrid seemed uneventful. I got to the school with no problems, and was soon shuffled off to my host family. Ana and Juan have a large apartment on the 5th** floor of a building on the main street between the Opera house and Puerta del Sol, so it's literally in the middle of everything. There's a lot of street noise, which isn't _too_ bad at night, provided you are asleep before the garbage truck comes by at 1 a.m. Two of my room-mates use ear-plugs, but I'm to afraid that I'd sleep through my alarm clock to try it.

In addition to myself, there are 5 other girls here: 3 from Saint Louis University, two from Sufolk University. Ana and Juan are great people. She works from home, and is full of advice and energy. He is an architect and a real character. Every time he opens his mouth something funny comes out of it. His firm is in charge of the effort to make most of down town a pedestrian zone with lots of restaurants and upscale shopping, while the traffic continues in tunnels underneath the major plazas. This is the construction project currently going on around the neighborhood at all hours of the day and night.

Classes have started; that picture is me on the porch of one of the building with the English Department and the registrar in it. Right now I'm sitting in on a Spanish class which meets four days a week (Monday through Thursday). Yesterday the threat was that Dr. S would shoot us if we didn't speak in Spanish, today she was just charging a Euro***.

I'm also taking a class on linguistics. There was some confusion over where the class would be held, as it is cross listed two or three ways, and each course number was assigned to a different room. Apparently who ever makes the schedule thought that Dr. M could be in two places at once, or would stand in the hall and shout towards both rooms.

Next month I will start a third class, about research methodologies, which is on the graduate schedule instead of the undergraduate.

I've got a job working in the writing lab, except I'm being payed with a tuition discount instead of money, because the student visa is different from a work visa, so they can't legally employ me otherwise. I'm waiting now for the finance office to get me billed correctly; the tuition is different in Madrid than in St. Louis, and I've been given a discount as a scholarship, in addition to what I'll receive from the writing lab. I've been assured that they know that they need to fix things, but since the graduate semester doesn't really start for another month, it probably won't be sorted until then. On the other hand, it's the natural state of affairs to be frustrated with the bursar, so I'm not two worried.


*Trans: "Cats?"
*or 6th, depending on how you want to count
***or a cup of coffee, offender's choice

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

This Space Intentionally Left Blank

Last week mom and I drove to Houston to apply for my Spanish visa (5.5 weeks until departure, but who's counting). We got a later start then we wanted because we had to go by the doctor's to get a note that says I don't have the plague*. I had left the form, which only required the doctor to check one box and sign it, on Monday, so naturally when I arrived on Wednesday morning it had not been checked or signed, and certainly not photocopied. Fortunately, because I was there right as they opened it didn't take long for the form to be completed and returned to me. Then we had to make stops at the grocery store, the gas station, McDonald's, and Wal-Mart**, in that order. So it was 9 before we really got on the road. Normally that would be a good departure for us, but the Spanish consulate is only open from 9 to 1.

Those would be great hours if I were working them, but as a customer they're terrible. For those of you playing at home, remember that the Consulate*** is in Houston, and I am coming from one of Dallas's northern suburbs, a good 4 and a half hours away. We made good time getting there, but we still didn't make it into Houston until 1:40.

It was about that time that it started to rain. This was the very edge of hurricane Dolly. It was not nice drizzly well behaved rain, nor was it what one would characterize as raining cats and dogs. It was just rain, and it lasted the entire time we were there.

Houston is the largest city in Texas and full of interesting and cultural things. But we had been to the Kimbell on Tuesday and were planing on going to the DMA on Thursday, so instead of seeing the sights, we went to the Galleria instead and spent the afternoon looking in designer windows.

The next morning we could not find a good cup of coffee. The stuff in the hotel was no better than hot water with a packet of non-dairy creamer (ick :P) and two packets of sugar (stale, I didn't even know that was possible). Then we went to Taco Cabana (so mom could get her breakfast burrito fix) and the coffee there was so over brewed I could have used it for motor oil. All the half and half and sugar in the world could not make that drinkable.

So we set out for the Consulate and maybe a Starbucks only to discover that the windshield wipers, which had been working perfectly the day before were making a squeaky noise. I have only a small tolerance for nasty little noises, but mom has no tolerance for them. So after two repetitions of this noise, mom rearranges our agenda to 1.)new wiper blades, 2.)coffee, and 3.)visa. The auto parts store told mom they didn't have blades for our car and that we'ed have to go to a Honda dealership if we wanted to replace them. Then the only Starbucks we could find was on the wrong side of the street and didn't have a drive through, so we didn't stop because it was still raining and mom didn't want to get out of the car again.

We went to the consulate. I told the lady at the desk that I was there to apply for a student visa and forked over the paperwork. I was allowed to pay in advance to have the visa FedEx-ed back to me, so at least I won't have to go back there to pick up my passport when they are done with it. I didn't even spend 15 minutes in the consulate.

All in all, it was a pretty painless trip except for the bit where I had to make a overnight trip to Houston, we never got the wipers fixed, I didn't get my morning coffee until after 11, and in rained the entire time we were there.

There's nothing to do now but sit and wait for the FedEx man.


*the form really did say I don't have the plague, nor a host of other diseases as well
**to get a money order to pay the processing fee as the Spaniards wouldn't take a personal check
***where I must apply in person

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Shameless Capitalism

It's been a pretty boring summer thus far here at casa del mi genitori*. So boring that the most interesting photo I could come up with is from last December. I use it anyway, because Abraham Lincoln makes most things better and I figure I can use the help.

I've been spinning my gears sending paperwork back and forth across the Atlantic in preparation for grad school in the fall. I leave for Madrid on the first of September and I really wish I could fast forward through the next month and a half so I can get started. Or, just travel to the first and switch places with my future self, except then she'd be stuck in an infinite loop of a really boring month and a half, and I wouldn't want to do that to her. Or me. Or whoever.

In the mean time, I'm bringing in gas money by doing housework for a few people from church, and searching for freelance writing work. I'm also supposed to be working on my novel and learning Spanish, but that's gotten about as far as my carrier as an artiest.

I just got my graduation/birthday present: a shiny new laptop to supplant the much-abused HAL**. I love my new machine, and the transition has been surprisingly easy, barring the fact that Vista is out to thwart my every plan, and I can't find the CD for Office.***

You might have noticed the advertising that has appeared in the sidebar. You might be gnashing your teeth and shaking your fist that yet another site has ads on it, but you shouldn't be. When people who aren't me click on the adds, AdSense gives me money. I like getting money without really having to do anything, so if all of you out there in reader-land will do me a favor and click on the ads, that would be much appreciated. (You don't even have to look at the pages. Just right click on the link and choose open in a new window. Wait for it to finish loading and then hit the Red X in the corner to make it go away forever. Unless you use a Mac. Then you have to do something else because you don't have a right mouse button and you probably call windows by some other name*. I'll let you figure it out on your own.)

If you like me enough to actually spend a little money, then you could also go to Deviant Art (link at left) and buy a print from me. They're cheap, I get a cut, and you have a crap gift to bring to your next White Elephant exchange, so we win all around.


*translation from my limited (and ungrammatical) Italian: my parents house
**HAL had an annoying tendency to freeze up and lock me out of important things, such as the pod bay doors.
***It's in the house somewhere, it just hasn't been used in a couple years and has been squirreled away in some really clever hidey-hole that I haven't remembered yet.
*like 'Apple Cores'?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Warning: Incoming Latin

Universitas Dallasensis
Omnibus has litteras visuris
Salutem in Domino
Praesentium Litterarum Vigore
Confirmatur studiorum curriculum ad normam praedictae universitatis rite persolvisse praescriptaque pericula feliciter superasse. Quapropeter curatores universitatis, ex facultatis consulto, eidem academicum gradum,
cum omnibus iuribus, honoribus ac privlegiis huic gradui adnexis, conferentes, hoc diploma, publico universitatis sigilllo munitum, in collati gradus testimonium tradunt.
Datum Dallasii, Die XVIII Mensis Maii Anno Domini MMVIII.

For my non-Latin-speaking audience, all of that means that I am now a certified smart person. Now, diploma in hand, I am facing the fact that it would probably be a good idea for me to learn some Spanish before I head off to graduate school.

I take off for Saint Louis in August, and will be in Madrid at the beginning of October. Interesting things should start occurring around that time. In the meantime, I'm back at my parent's house, working odd jobs so I'll have enough money to fly there and back. This is, if anything, more boring than even regular school stuff, but I don't really have a choice about this.

I saw this flower (see above) growing in my parents driveway. That's what passes for an exciting time here in Flo-Mo.

Until Later,

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

One Week and Counting

I'm done with comps (passed all three rounds on the first go!), and it's the last week of class. Technically, all I have to do now in order to graduate is show up. Why am I so busy?

Mostly, I'm waxing the cat, and doing other assorted chores to avoid doing the last little bit of school-work that I need to get done. Like the term paper due on Saturday. I should probably start working on that. Instead, I've cleaned the kitchen twice in the last three days.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Crunch Time

Ask me how I'm doing tomorrow at about 5:00 pm, for then I shall be done with round one of comps.


Friday, April 04, 2008

Spring in Texas

**Warning, if you don't like links or my landscape photography, this is not the post for you.***

Yes, it's spring is finally here. I can tell this because for the past few weeks it has been difficult to breath through my nose, the weather has gone bonkers*, and wild flowers are in bloom. I finally got some free time, and went on a little expedition to the various pathways around UD and took pictures.

As every true Texan knows, Texas is at all times more beautiful than any other state in the union, and she is at her most attractive in the Spring. Bluebonnets can be found singly, but they are more often seen in great sweeping masses of them on the side of the road. One of my personal favorite places to view them is at the 121/114 merger just north of the airport. The on ramp makes a 270 degree turn, during which the smart driver will follow the recommended speed of 30 mph, allowing one a nice chance to gaze at the flowers growing in the median. Unfortunately, there is really no safe way to photograph this. The Texas driver will slow down for bluebonnets, but not pedestrians. I settled for pictures of Northgate and the railroad bridge, which have the advantage of being 1.)within walking distance of campus, and 2.)not a highway. I've seen evening primrose, Indian blankets, and Indian paintbrushes out as well, but unfortunately there weren't any within easy walking distance from the hovel.**

Some other typically Texas things I snapped include a tornado siren and a sign warning of an underground oil pipeline.

I got a few more shots along the paths at the base of seminary hill and a lot of pictures of trees. Including several bizarre looking ones which don't know when to quit. I returned to the hovel by way of Madonna Pond, the Art Village, and the Rat, which is to say, the long way.

While I'm thinking about it and have the evidence at hand. I'd like to say that for a university that prides itself on a classical education, the art department produces a surprising lack of classical style art. It can be quite difficult for the lay person such as myself to tell the difference between things that have been placed around the art village and things that have been left there to die.

I would also like to say that this swing, found out back of the raw materials lab*** looks like it came from the set of a horror movie.

These signs are from the outside of the science building. I think the one on the left is a little redundant.

This limestone altar is one of many on campus which are all that remain of a lost dwarven civilization that existed in Texas after the giants, but before the humans.

See you next time, when I promise to talk about my comprehensive exams, and cutting up fetal pigs,

*i.e. Alternating between 87 degree days, and golf ball sized hail.
**OK, there are several that are within a distance I am capable of walking, but all of them are across highways and even I am not crazy enough to try that.
***which I didn't know existed before I saw it today. I was disappointed to discover that these raw materials seem to consist mostly of bricks.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Adventures in Biology

As many of you know, it's my senior year of college and I'm finally taking the introduction to biology course that all undergraduates at UD are required to take. I put it off this long because in general biology is squishy and gross, and I was kind of hoping that there would be a change to the course bulletin so I wouldn't have to take it. Alas, that was not to be, and the registrar held a gun to my head and made me sign up for the class.

The past two weeks the laboratory portion of the class has been a non-starter. Last week the lab about fruit fly genetics* didn't happen because mites decimated the school's fruit fly herd. The lab assistant and Dr. D spent an hour explaining in detail why we weren't doing the lab, and what we would have done if we had done the lab. That's an hour of my life that I will never be able to get back. It's unknown at this point whether or not we will have to make that lab up at a latter date.

This week we were supposed to be determining our blood type, a process which takes about a minute. You put three dots of your blood on a slide each, and mix each dot with a different chemical. You wait a second, and the way the blood reacts to the chemicals indicates your blood type. This is an easy enough process, except that due to all the typing** I do, the skin on my finger tips is really thick, and I wasn't able to draw blood with the little lancets the lab has. I got tired of cutting up my fingertip for no reason, so I typed my lab partner's blood instead. For the record, Anita is AB+***

One can only wonder what sort of pitiful excuse for science we will preform next week.


*No one's been able to tell me why I'm supposed to care about whether or not short wings are a recessive or dominant trait.
**Not to mention knitting, crocheting, and sewing that involves me regularly jamming sharp pointy things into my fingertips
***my other lab partner, Taylor, is O-, which means that his blood reacted to the lovely chemicals in exactly the opposite way hers did, and he's also the universal donor

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The 7th Inning Stretch

I'm right smack dab in the middle of everything here in the hovel, so it's time to take a break and stretch before my muscles cramp permanently into a somehow-still-sitting-improperly-despite-using-an-ergonomic-chair position.

My application to Oxford was completed last month, so I'm waiting to hear back from them. I'm working on applications to King's College London, Saint Louis University, and Columbia. All three of those are in the rounding up recommendations and transcripts stage, which means that all I have to do in order to complete those applications is nag other people.

The first round of tests and papers has been passed, and passed well, so I can stop worrying about that for a little bit.

Pearl Dust is taking a ridiculously long time to type up. I wrote a lot more than I remembered I had, and there's far more to be done in revisions. Outlining for 9 Revolutions -- my next big project -- has hit a snag because a couple of the characters are not talking to me at the moment. In the meantime, I have an idea for a short story that I want to get to work on while I still think its a good idea, so it's not as if I'm without a writing project.

In the sticks and string front, the maroon scarf of fuzzy DOOM! is finally complete. I have three more projects started which I can see from where I'm sitting: four if you count the one for which I need to buy more yarn.

I really want a cup of coffee, but I can't have it because I gave up caffeine for Lent. I'm ready for Easter to get here, I don't remember the headache lasting this long in previous years.


Friday, February 15, 2008

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Dinner

Experience has shown me that whenever I ask a person to give me directions, I always get where I'm going without problems, but when I consult a map, a computer, a guidebook, or, God forbid, a computerized map in a guidebook, I always get lost. 9 times out of 10, this is because the map bears little to no resemblance to the actual place. I thought I was done with aimless wandering when I returned from Europe, under the mistaken assumption that I know my way around town pretty well. This is, alas, not so.

A couple days ago Aerisith and I decided that we wanted a pizza, and not just any pizza, because we were not going to pay more than $5.00+tax for one, which was not coincidently all the spending money we had between the two of us. The only way to get 1 large pizza for $5.00+tax* is to go to Little Ceaser's, a chain which has only recently moved into our neck of the woods. We knew of one up in L-ville, but not wanting to drive 15 miles one way for a $5 pizza, I used the locate a store feature on the company's website to find one closer to home.

We looked at the address, compared it to a couple of maps, and concluded that we knew where it was and could get there easily. How wrong we were. A couple minutes of driving later, we arrived at the spot indicated by the Internet and discovered that it was actually the parking lot of the Police Station. Next door were the Fire Station, City Hall, and the Public Library. If there was a pizza place there, it was evidently hiding up in a tree or something, were we missed it because it was after dark. We went further down the block, and while other assorted fast food places did materialize out of the gloom, none of them had cheap pizza.

We gave it up and went to the one on Main Street in L-ville, because we knew where it was.

In other news, classes are proceeding well, the first German paper, the first German test, the first paper about Camus, and the first long lab write-up have all been turned in, leaving me with little to do this weekend. The maroon scarf of fuzzy doom now officially stretches from the floor to my shoulders, and I am currently accepting bets on whether or not it will be taller than I am when I finish it. The yarn is approximately 3/16ths of an inch thick, and remaining ball is roughly 3 inches in diameter. I estimate that I would need 36 more rows to make it over my head.

I think I may have finally finished this draft of Pearl Dust, so that's one project at least that is all over but the typing. Of course, I finally thought of a way to get rid of that first part, which I never really liked, but doing so will require a lot of restructuring of the rest of it, so I have my work cut out for me in the revision.

I also got a quick ego boost in the form of this:

How grammatically correct are you? (Revised with answer key)

You are a GRAMMAR GOD!

Congratulations! If your mission in life is not already to preserve the English tongue, it should be. You can smell a grammatical inaccuracy from fifty yards. Your speech is revered by the underlings, though some may blaspheme and call you a snob. They're just jealous. Go out there and change the world.
Take this quiz!

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That's it for now,


*short of you know, making it ourselves