Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Almost Home

Part of my brain is worried about adult things like have I packed all the documentation I need in order to re-enter Spain next month?  What time do I need to leave my apartment in order to check in on time at the airport?  Am I sure? Because I'm really bad at math, and this would not be a good time to miss-read the clock and show up an hour late?  For sure, sure?  What's the most up to date map I can get for Dulles airport, and more importantly, how do I find out things like which gate my flight from Madrid will arrive at, where is the gate for my flight on to DFW, and is two and three quarters of an hour enough time to get from the one to the other, knowing that I will have to go through passport control and customs somewhere along the way?

The other half of my brain keeps saying things like, "I'm gonna' ride on an airplane tomorrow!  Yay! I love airplanes!"

This is not as helpful as I would like.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Adventures, I Have Had Them

I went to Avila the first weekend I was here.  I've actually had the pictures up for a while, but I'm just now getting around to writing about it because I am a bum.  It's an easy day trip from Madrid (less than 15 EUR for a round trip train ticket) both because of it's distance (about an hour Northwest) and because there's really only three things that you would go to Avila to see.  Those three things are, in no particular order: the cathedral, the medieval walls, and St. Teresa's birthplace.  In the picture on the left, I'm standing on one of those things and a second is in the background.  I trust you can work out which thing is which, and which is not pictured.

I went to the cathedral first, and found that I had it mostly to myself.  The end of September is the beginning of the off-season, and Avila isn't at the top of the tourist list anyway, so instead of having to fight hordes it was just me, a few pairs of Spanish and Japanese tourists, and a French group.   As for the cathedral itself, well the only interesting things are the fact that it's apse is actually a part of the city walls, and that it has a secret passage way that leads into the old city.  Disappointingly, despite all sorts of signage talking about the secret passage way and its discovery (including several pointing right to the entrance) , the public is absolutely forbidden from exploring it.

Another thing the public is absolutely forbidden to do is take pictures, although given the guard/visitor ratio I probably could have gotten away with it if I had wanted to.  Alas, the only thing I wanted pictures of was the one thing in the whole city I absolutely would not dare approach with my stupid flash-happy camera: the 15th century illuminated choir books.  Naturally, since I have an interest in it, this was also the one thing about which the sleepy ticket agent/souvenir vendor did not have a book.

Something that kind of bothered me was the half-assed way that signage was applied to everything.  It was not informative (i.e. nothing was said that I could not figure out myself by looking at the various items), and the signs themselves looked as if they had not been made or applied with much care.  Especially in a sacred setting, I'm of the opinion that if you are not going to do something well, it is better not to do it.  I would rather you gave me enough light to read the Latin inscription on a statue's base than have a poorly translate English card pasted next to it.

St. Teresa's birthplace was long ago converted into a convent, complete with a chapel on the location of her old bedroom.  Like all pilgrimage sites in Spain, this one has over the years acquired a thick layer of bling that almost completely obscures it.

In the basement, there is a nice little museum explaining the events of Teresa's life.  At least it is a nice little museum if you can read Spanish, which is the only language option there.  I can read it well enough to get the gist, but by the time I left I had a splitting headache.  Included in the museum are her writings, including a few of her actual manuscripts as well as printed versions.  That's interesting for three reasons: 1.) she has a very distinctive style of handwriting, that is regardless of content, quite attractive; 2.) the printing press was still the hot new technology at the time, so the fact that her writings were noteworthy enough to print during her lifetime is interesting; and 3.) she is the only female Doctor of the Church which not only puts her in the same select group as Sts. Jerome and Thomas Aquinas, but means that essentially she was cannonized for her writing.  For a woman in 16th Century Spain to have had the sort of influence that she had and continues to have, is absolutly mind boggeling.

The museum also includes exhibits about the founding of her order (she thought the order she was a part of was not strict enough, so she started her own), and her friendship with John of the Cross (Avila's other local Saint).  There's the expected bit about the process of her canonization.  To me the other truly interesting thing was a room about all the other Saints (and yes, the capital S is important).  Whose lives were directly influenced in one way or another by St. Teresa.  Most of them are there because they were members of her order or else the order of monks that St. John of the Cross founded.  There are over a dozen, from John of the Cross, to a couple of martyrs of the Holocaust.  To me, the fact that she lead others to a Saintly life is the most powerful testimant to her memory.

There are relics of Teresa and John on site (part of her finger and a ring, some un-specified bone of his).  The relics themselves are located in a small room that is only accessible through the gift shop.  I have a hard time not being insulted by this.

As for the city walls... well they're walls.  And they wrap around the old city.  The apse of the Cathedral actually forms part of one of the walls, and unlike most medieval structures in Europe, the walls have miraculously not been disassembled and used as pre-made construction materials elsewhere in the city.  I bought the ticket and went for a walk until the combination of hurting feet and the sneaking suspicion that Spain is trying to kill me with non-OSHA compliant railings led me to decide that I did not want to stay in Avila for three more hours, no matter how attractive the guidebooks say that the walls are at night.

I exchanged my train ticket for an earlier one, and was back in Madrid in time for dinner.  Including the train ticket, I spent just under 30 EUR on the trip (a number that does not include meals, because I ate lunch and dinner in Madrid), which is not to bad for one afternoon of site-seeing.

The BBC Lied to Me

More specifically, the BBC's weatherman was wrong today.  The guess on the temperature was about right somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 degrees (just above freezing, but is sounds a lot colder in Celsius than in Fahrenheit), but it was alleged that today would be sunny (as per usual) with some rain later in the week.

Today it snowed.

It wasn't a very hard snow, and it's not sticking, so in practice is like a very persistent rain, but it was still snow.  All in all, tonight is a good night to stay in, curl up around my coffee pot, and write, which is what I'm doing.  It's finally clicked in my little head that the semester will be over in two weeks and that if I am going to finish my final papers (two 12+ page research papers, one 40 page play) I need to do a lot of preparation work now.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

On Cow Squeezings

As a graduate student, two of my primary food groups are things-that-can-be-eaten-from-a-bowl (cereal) and things-with-caffeine-in (coffee and tea).  As such, the state of milk is a concern to me.  Here is a list of the attributes I associate with milk I buy in the United States:
-comes in a jug
-sold by the gallon or half-gallon
-available in whole, 2%, 1%, and skim verieties
-goes bad in about two weeks

Here are the attributes of the milk I buy in Spain:
-comes in a box
-sold by the liter or half-liter
-available in whole or semi UHT
-goes bad in about 4 months
It's that last item that is a concern to me.  I can't help but think that somewhere between me and the cow, something has gone horribly wrong.

For the record, the milk here is thinner and smells different from the milk back home, but it tastes just fine.

Also my travel plans have changed.  Due to ongoing strikes in France (boo french-y frog-ies!), RyanAir canceled the flight that would have taken me to London this weekend.  Why a strike in France affects a flight from Spain to England, I'm not sure, but I had to rebook anyway.  Assuming everyone is back at work, I will be going to London next weekend instead.

In the meantime, I have a long weekend because All Saint's Day is a holiday here.  Since I don't want to waste the chance, I will be going to Berlin this weekend.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

What I've been up to

There's been some interest in what I've been doing in the month or so since I arrived here.  (By which I mean that my mother worries if she isn't updated frequently.)  The long answer involves a day trip to Avila (a post of which has been stuck as a draft for most of the past month), a run to IKEA (unusually frustrating), and moving into my apartment (far more difficult than it needed to be, due to a lack of communication between the schools various campuses).  The short answer is the picture on the left.  That's what I've had to read since I arrived here.  It's not quite complete.  There was a copy of All My Sons that I borrowed and returned, and several hundred pages of pdf that I opted not to print.  In addition, there's the 21 pages of A4 that I've written an turned in, at a rate of approximately an hour's worth of work per finished page.  That's not counting the 5-7 page paper I have due tomorrow, or the two annotated bibliographies I have due next week.  Other time consuming tasks I have include going to class, knitting, eating, and catching up on my sleep. 

Apparently I'm going to take breaks from all of this soon.  Next weekend I'm going to London, and the first weekend of December I'm going to Prague and Budapest.  I know I'm doing this because in a fit of cabin fever I just gave RyanAir and the Deutche Bahn a bunch of money to get me there and back, and I wouldn't want to waste my investment.  Knowing me, I will take a bunch of school work with me, and forget something essential like my toothbrush or socks.

If I get really adventurous, I might go to the Zoo tomorrow or Saturday to see the new baby pandas.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


I've got a post brewing about my latest adventures (trips to Avila and IKEA, and moving into my apartment), but for now here's an update on what's really important.  I finished another pair of knitted socks.  More pictures are here.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Temple of Debod

So today after class I went to the Temple of Debod, which is a 2,200 year old Egyptian temple currently located in a park here in Madrid. What is Egyptian construction doing in the middle of Spain, you might ask. Wikipedia has an answer that is not awful. Long story short, Spain helped Egypt move a bunch of stuff when the Aswan Dam was built, and Egypt gave Spain a temple that wasn't particularly important as a thank you gift.

I went there today because the site is small enough that I could get to it and see the whole thing between the time my classes ended (5:15) and the time it gets shut for the night (8:00). The Temple was actually quite small, I thought. All the doorways where very narrow and on the second floor my head was barely clear of the rafters. The stairs were tight enough that they had to put guards at both ends to direct traffic up and down. There was not room for two people to pass each other on those stairs, even if they were really good friends.

On the other hand, from the outside it looks pretty cool. It's in a park on a hill, so there are nice views of the city to be had from it, especially around sunset, when the locals come out to enjoy it. Everything is pretty well explained, if you can read Spanish. The English versions were less helpful. The also had a pretty nifty system of lights projected inside, which highlighted the architecture, and explained what it was. I dumped a bunch of photos into the bucket, and I think this is once case where the pictures definitely do a better job of explaining what I'm on about than I can do on my own.

Most importantly, at least to the view of this poor student, entry to the temple is free. I took the metro to get there, because I was coming straight from class and had a backpack full of books. Someone with a more touristy agenda could walk from Puerto del Sol or the Palace, or take the metro if they were feeling lazy.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Arrival in Madrid

Getting set up in Madrid was easy. Getting here was a long and boring process.

For starters, I didn't get a lot of sleep on Saturday night, because I was dithering about getting everything packed, and I was excited about leaving the USA again. Then, I got up early to go to church with my parents one last time. We went to St. Nick's because it's on the way to the airport and the service time was confinent. Aside from my allergies deciding to act up during the lessions, it worked out rather well.

The frist leg of the flight was from Dallas to Tornoto. My Air Canada flight turned out to actually be on Air Canada Jazz, which is their puddle hopper/low fares service. In other words, instead of the big plane that I've come to expect on international flights, it was a little commuter plane. On the other hand, the flight was nowhere near full, so I had an entire exit row to myself. Aside from food being considered a frill, and thus not included, it was a pretty nice flight.

Then came a six and a half hour layover in Toronto. That may be the most soulless airport I've ever been in. If it weren't for the occasional advertisement for their free wi-fi service there would have been no way to tell it was in Toronto. If it weren't for the Tim Horton's and all the left-over merchendice from the Olympics in the duty-free shop, you would never know it was in Canada. The free wi-fi, by the way, was free, but it was also so unberably slow as to be practically useless. I was unable to check my email successfully, much less skype into my D&D game back in Texas, like I'd planned on. On the other hand, I used the time to write a 3 page paper for my class on Emily Dickenson, so it wasn't a total waste of time.

The flight from Toronto to Madrid, despite having a Lufthansa flight number, was served by Air Canada, with a Canadian crew, in a 767 with a giant Maple Leaf on the side. The entire thing was tri-lingual English/French/Spanish, which gets old real fast if you are at all proficient with all three languages and you just want to know what your options are for in-flight movies. I was seated in the very last row of the sterrage section, next to the window, which meant every time I wanted to go tot he bathroom, I had to climb over the sleeping Spanish lady next to me. That happened a lot, becuase I have never been able to sleep sitting up, and I was guzzeling water in a more or less successful attempt to stave off dehydration.

Getting setttled in Madrid has been painless. My Spanish is adiquite for getting a taxi, checking into a hotel, and buying a cell phone. I've finished the paperwork necissary to get a permanant resident card (now I have to wait for an apointment, which will basicly be whenever they feel like it). This will be my second day of classes, and also the day I turn in my second paper. Tomorrow I have an appointment with a real estate agent to see an appartment, and hopefully, sign a lease.

Hasta luego.

Monday, September 20, 2010

I Live!

I have arrived in Madrid, and will be giving the MA thing another go. The blog shall be back for the ride, since I now have something interesting to write about. I'll write more later. Right now I'm very, very tiered because I still havn't mastered the art of sleeping on airplanes.