AKA Abraham Bacoln

A day in which nothing was truly accomplished
June 30, 2007, 5:46 pm
Filed under: Spain

Today felt long even though it wasn’t, or hasn’t yet been, but who knows when I’m going to go to sleep? Not me, that’s for sure! I’m a party animal!

And by party I mean studying.

There’s a test here at the school every two weeks to determine if you are fit to move up to the next level. Of course I consider myself fit to move up, I’m just as good as anyone else in the class, but it’s still troubling. It’s a test! It’s like the semester final, basically, with regards to how many credits I’ll get if I do it right. So yeah I’m a bit apprehensive and for this I didn’t go out tonight (and am not going out tomorrow night) but hey, I don’t usually go out anyway! I’m too old! Just like an old man!

I look forward to buying my first cane. I’m gonna get a good lightweight one so I can shake it effectively.


So anyway, today I woke up thinking I was going to go to Torremolinos and also to the house where Granddad lived which is between here and Torremolinos (near the airport if I have my directions right). Once I ate breakfast and started really looking at the maps I realized I had a problem. There isn’t an easy way to do the both of those things at once. There’s either a bus from Málaga to Torremolinos, or a bus from Málaga to Granddad’s old place and back, or a bus from Torremolinos to Granddad’s old place and back, but no easy way to do all three. They don’t make a good straight line.

Therefore I had to decide which trip I was going to take – to Torremolinos (to check out the area and look for the bar where Granddad used to hang out) or to his house. I ended up opting for the trip to the city – man I’m tired of typing Torremolinos already – because it looked like the bus ride from Málaga to his old house would be long, confusing, boring, and have nothing at the end except for me to walk quite a distance from the bus stop, take a picture, wonder whether or not the neighbors are the same, end up not knocking on any doors, and then walk back to the bus stop and go home.

Instead I took the bus downtown and looked around until I found the train station. I tell you what – they don’t want you to know it’s a train station. In Málaga the stop is underground, so it’s more like a subway station. I mean, sure, once you know what you’re looking for it’s obvious – the stairway with the big red sign! The big red sign that doesn’t actually have the word ‘train’ or ‘station’ or ‘stop’ or anything other than the words ‘Málaga – Fuengirola’! That’s perfectly obvious!

Okay, so maybe I’m being a bit harsh. All I knew from the map was that it was on a certain block. No one bothered to tell me it was underground or that the other end of the line was Fuengirola. AAANWAY the point is that I found it. I found it, I went down, bought a ticket from the automagic ticket machine, and boarded the train, all without misstep or misunderstanding or mistranslation. Therefore I was pleased.

While waiting for the train I ate the bocadillo that the Sra. had packed for my lunch (since she knew ahead of time that I wouldn’t be home to eat). A bocadillo is a type of sandwich, I guess, kind of like an understuffed po-boy. The mayonnaise was homemade though so that totally makes up for the one slice of ham on there, ha ha. Stupid American! I expect a TON OF MEAT and NO VEGETABLES!

I did not have fruit for dessert. I had already eaten all of the fruit she packed while I was walking to the train station. Instead for dessert I ate a small pack of chocolate-chip-and-hazelnut cookies that I bought yesterday at the grocery store. They weren’t anything to write home about – yet here I am writing home about them.

The train station was just like every underground train station I’ve ever used whether in Paris or Portland – you can feel the air shift before you can hear the train coming. It’s a fantastic feeling. I love it. It’s like some sort of physical precognition.

The whole train ride out something was bugging me about the landscape. I finally figured out that it was because there are so many run-down buildings out there, and so much graffiti, and the natural flora here is rather scrubby desert stuff, and overall parts of the view gave off a post-apocalyptic vibe. It was very strange. Apparently no one cleans up after building projects in this area because every empty lot was filled with construction trash. I should mention at this point that this was only in the unpopulated areas between Málaga and Torremolinos, not every inch of the trip. Regardless, it felt like … I dunno. Like the desert version of 28 Days Later. I found myself tensing up, waiting to see a rush of zombies running towards the Food Train.

I’m going to make this bit about Torremolinos short, and I’m not typing out the name of the city again for a while, thanks very much. It’s a super-touristy town and I arrived just as every shop shut down for siesta, so I ended up there with nothing but time on my hands and a bunch of closed-down stores. Okay, so not everything closed down, no, I got to visit some discount clothing stores while looking for sunglasses (two weeks now! two weeks I have not had sunglasses! I am entirely too picky) and then I walked through that … what do you call that area where people’s cremains are stored? Anyway, I walked through there. It was beautiful, and I’m not being sarcastic or creepy or something. Everyone (especially Isabel) seemed so loved. And sunny. And peaceful.

I looked over the beach, though I did not go all the way down, because I had no reason to. I wasn’t there to swim! I was there on a MISSION. The mission was to force myself to start conversations with strangers under the pretense of looking for the bar where Granddad used to hang out. This was made more complicated by (what I understand to have been) the name of the bar – Dad’s Bar. You know Spanish doesn’t work like that, right, no apostrophes to show possession? So first off we have the name of the place being a word in English, then we have an unfamiliar grammatical construction … this is not an easy thing to pass along without simply writing it down, which is what I ended up doing. The universal response went like this, “You realize this is Torremolinos, right? And that there are about 10 bars within arm’s reach of where we’re standing, right? And that the bars change name and ownership all the time, right?” meaning “What the heck do you think you’re trying to accomplish? This a fool’s errand.”

So I went and sat and ate dulce de leche-flavored ice cream (so good) while I waited for the used bookstore to open back up. They claim to be the largest selection of used books in all of Andalucía. If that’s true, then this place is in bad shape. It was pretty small, to be polite. Still, the lady working there was amazingly helpful and I ended up finding two books in English that I wanted to read, and so that’s good.

Today’s purchases: 3 euro of tourist-priced ice-cream (expensive!) and 5 euro of used books (not as expensive!)

Oh, and 2 euro 70 worth of train ticket.

So that’s it, basically. I left that city thinking that while my day hadn’t been a complete waste of time I certainly wasn’t going to find this place by asking around, especially since it’s been what, 16 years since Granddad was alive and I don’t even know what neighborhood the bar was in.

So I came back home and uploaded some pictures and wrote a bunch of emails and ate my supper (one cucumber, one Fuji apple, and a little hunk of cheese) and then dessert (a lazo, another wonderful pastry) …

… did I write about pastries? The one I got the other day was an ensaimada which looks not entirely unlike a cinnamon roll but it’s a light puffy pastry kind of like a croissant. It is topped with powdered sugar. It is wonderful. Today’s pastry was a lazo, which means ‘link’ if you will, and has the shape of a pretzel. It as well is a multi-layer pastry which in parts had a very very very thin layer of a cream or cream cheese-like substance, and was topped with coconut shavings. I can’t find a good picture of a lazo online and something happened to mine before I could photograph it.


Now I want more pastries.

And to sleep! I want to sleep! So goodnight!

June 29, 2007, 6:14 pm
Filed under: Spain

Holey moley, I can’t believe it’s been two weeks already. I also can’t believe it’s so late here. I should have been in bed an hour ago at least. But hey, what’s a few hours’ sleep on the weekend? Nothing, that’s what.

All spelling, punctuation, and grammatical errors in this post are now declared null and void and not available to be commented on.

Sometimes I have a hard time thinking in English, especially after class. And speaking of class, sometimes I exit the classroom after four consecutive hours and think I’ve really got a handle on things. Sometimes I leave the room and wonder why I’m even here in Spain. Today was the latter.

But, things picked up during the day some, and I remind myself that I now understand my host family a whole lot better than I used to. I also watch the news every day at lunch, and that’s helping. I still can’t understand a quarter of what’s said – newscasters here don’t bother to put spaces between the words – but that’s better than nothing.

I also realized the other day that one of the reasons I am (usually) able to write and speak well in English is because I enjoy reading. With that in mind I went looking for a Spanish version of an English book I already have read so that I could beat my brain into submission by sheer force of will + dictionary. I found a Stephen King book or part of it anyway – apparently it was too expensive to translate all the short stories so they only did the big one (The Mist) plus two others.

I tell you what – trying to flat-out read Spanish at my current level is a real bear. I’m pleased, though, because it’s not the grammar that’s confusing any more, just the vocabulary. That’s a good start.

TWO WEEKS. Did I mention that? I’ve been here two weeks so far. It feels like no time at all. I have my first test on Monday to ensure that I am indeed capable of moving up to the next class. I’m sure I’ll pass with flying something.

Re: things to have mentioned – did I mention the floor here in my host family’s house is little marble slabs? It’s ever so delightfully cool to walk on in the mornings, and even in the heat of the day it’s nice. Who needs carpet?

bluuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuugh it’s late
time to review the notebook

– Mullets (the haircut, not the fish) are here and in a big way. It appears to my untrained eye to be the equivalent of a redneck haircut here, but I think I may have seen one or two being worn in some sort of euro-ironic fashion. Also favored: mullethawks and rattails. I kid you negative.

– On the 27th I wrote in my notebook: “Today I walked past a tree that smelled of Tennessee fall and dried hay.” I have walked past that tree at least four times since and not smelled it again. I wonder why that moment was chosen as the moment to remind me of home?

– I kind of like showing up to a restaurant at 9:00 PM and wondering if it’s still yet too early to eat dinner since there’s no one else there and the waitstaff and cooks are standing around idle. Did I make a mistake? Is this place even open yet?

– Also what in the hell do these people do for a living? How can people twice my age stay out ’till 1:00 AM eating dinner and drinking wine and still make it to work on time the next day? Does their job involve sleeping at a desk? That’s what it’d take for me to be able to live this lifestyle properly.

– The back of a wine bottle (wherein the winemaker typically describes the product) makes sense to me in Spanish or in English. That’s a comforting feeling.

– I know the tourist part of downtown rather well now. I found an alley yesterday that I had not yet traveled and felt a tiny bit elated. Also apprehensive, since it was very long and ran through an area of all delapidated buildings and there were no businesses and it (the alley) was full of stray cats (which have differently-shaped heads than US cats, by the way, apropos of nothing thank you very much) and man was it ever movie. Just seemed like a great place for a bad thing to happen. Fortunately nothing did. Later I saw families and teenagers using that same alley so my fears were all for naught, it would appear.

– But anyway, I know the historic center of downtown very well now. Also, I find myself wanting to use the other verb for ‘to know’ but we apparently only have one in English. Brain no for to be language able to make switch effective fast, yes? Anyway, I know downtown well enough I am confident that if I were dropped off in the middle I could find my way back to the bus without too many steps in the wrong direction. Go pull up a map of Málaga and look at downtown and you’ll understand why this pleases me.

– Thomas from Switzerland looked at the Nalgene bottle which I have in class every day and asked me, with a hint of incredulity, “Do you drink the water here?”

of COURSE I drink the water here. How else am I supposed to get super powers?

– I remember years ago when I was in grade school my grandfather (who lived here in Málaga for many years) sent me a birthday card. It was, to my eyes, a really strange and cheap-looking birthday card, with some out-of-date pop culture reference if I’m not mistaken. His note inside explained that it was hard to find cards in English there (here) and it was the best he’d found. Now that I’m here, going on what, 20 years later? I can’t believe he could have found that card at ALL. So what I’m saying is, “Sorry for thinking the card itself was strange or slightly cruddy, Granddad. I had no idea.”

– Tomorrow I intend to take a bus trip to the neighborhood where Granddad used to live so I can try and find his old house. No reason. Not like I ever visited there or I expect to see a sign proclaiming, “Former house of Tom O’Mara!” above the door. Just ’cause. ‘Cause I’m here and it’s here.

– Wow. I actually came to the end of my list. Thank goodness – I’m about to pass out. DANG IT I STILL HAVEN’T TALKED ABOUT LUNCH. Okay, real quick – soup was gazpacho (everyone all together now: mmmmmm), the main meal was croquetes (sp?): bits of chicken and flour rolled into little balls, coated with egg and bread batter, and lightly fried. Side items were strips of canned red pepper as well as fried potato strips. Dessert was sorbet over cherries.

– That’s it. I ain’t got no more. Also, for you, a present. Normally I spell-check and review before posting, but not tonight! Tonight you get this blog post raw. I hope it doesn’t give you an upset stomach.

June 28, 2007, 10:13 am
Filed under: Spain

Aw, geez, where to start? I’m so tired, but this is the only time I’ll have today in which I can write, so I gotta do it now.

Let’s get all this food out of the way! Yesterday’s lunch was simple yet fantastic. The starter was a cream soup of zucchini and a touch of onion (and cucumber?). Of course real cream was used making it rich and delicious. The main meal was chicken parts prepared in some spices I didn’t even bother asking about, and some strips of fried potatoes that were not entirely unlike French fries yet different. Dessert: you guessed it, fresh fruit.

Today’s lunch: pasta salad which was just rotini tossed with fresh raw tomatoes and onions plus a little bit of canned tuna, olive oil, and vinegar. Super-great. The main meal was sauteed eggplant and eggs topped with grated hard cheese. Dessert: fresh fruit.

But last night! Last night I was in the center and couldn’t decide where I wanted to eat. I was originally going to try the tapas bar Orellana, but when I dropped by it appeared that every single item involved seafood in a major way, so I took a rain check. I ended up just around the corner at Salmorejo and that was the best idea I’ve had since I arrived. I sat at the bar and immediately apologized for my Spanish being so bad, which earned the response of “No, I understand you” which while not glowing praise was sufficient. The bartender and I started talking about food and wine and carried on a conversation basically the entire time I was there. One of my favorite things to do at lunch here is discuss ingredients, so I was a little more prepared for last night’s topics than I would have been two weeks ago. I ordered a glass of Rioja which was the best wine I’ve had since I arrived here. For a meal I got the tosta queso de cabra sobre cebollas caramelizados – goat cheese over caramalized onions served on toasted bread. OH MAN was it ever so good. The little raisins added sweetness and the Balsamic reduction on the side was perfect for just a touch of savory zing. The cheese was a local one named La Flor de Ronda – exactly like bucheron except Spanish, not French. I guess there are only so many ways you can make a log of plain goat cheese.

Anyway, while enjoying this sumptuous repast I asked questions about all the tapas (again, with seafood, why did I ever come to the Mediterranean again?) and their ingredients, and the wines, and found out that here in the Málaga area they do make a red wine from the Syrah grape, which is appropriate as it’s a rather hardy varietal and does well in the Rhône which isn’t too far off, heat- and climate-wise, from this area. I was given a free glass (after my two glasses of Rioja this didn’t seem like a bad idea at all) and it was pretty damn tasty. A bit soft, not so much of a food wine but an excellent sitting and sipping and tasting and pondering wine. Then we got into discussing the food ‘salmorejo’ (from which the restaurant got its name, natch). It’s rather like gazpacho but thicker, as it contains crushed bread. It’s basically smashed tomatoes, a bit of garlic, bread, olive oil, and vinegar and was (and still is) a field hand food made on the spot at lunchtime. At the restaurant you get a sample bowl with a sprinkling of three toppings: tiny chunklets of Iberico ham, slivers of hard-boiled egg, and bits of canned tuna. I’ve never had canned tuna taste so good in anything. The salmorejo was just absolutely amazing and practically floored me with all the different flavors involved.

So that was fantastic. Just fantastic. To sit at a bar and talk with a friendly Spaniard about food and wine – those are the best things in life! I came home with a full belly and beyond content. Did I mention I got out of there for 8.5 euro?

I’m also probably going back to Salmorejo tonight to watch some flamenco dancing. Therefore I should go do my homework and rest up a bit. I’ll write about other more trivial things tomorrow.

June 26, 2007, 5:47 pm
Filed under: Spain

I’m finally back to feeling really good about my photos. I was overwhelmed when I first arrived, and constantly felt the need to show the full extent of where I was. Wide shots and huge city scenes, neighborhood panos – these are all not photos with which I excel. Now I’ve gotten some of those out of the way and I’ve given my Flickr followers a few good examples of what it’s like here. That sentiment plus a further familiarity with my surroundings has helped me escape that feeling of overwhelmingtude and enabled me to go back to shooting as I like to shoot.

So there.

Let’s get lunch out of the way. Lunch today was some leftovers first – a combination of rice, chickpeas, a tiny bit of chorizo, and that vegetable that’s not spinach but is very much like spinach. Second course was a … damn! What was it called? Basically it was an inch-thick torta (tortilla?) of potatoes and eggs. On the side were two unbreaded and fried green (not bell) peppers. Apparently THIS is the third-most-common dish when one thinks of Spanish cuisine, behind paella and gazpacho. It was fabulous. Actually, wait, it could have used black pepper. I should find out if the Sra. has black pepper. Fresh fruit for dessert, of course.

This leads directly into my next thought – dessert and how much of it I should consume. I have recently (read: today) come to the conclusion that there are entirely too many new brands of cookies and too many unfamiliar pastries for me to be worrying about eating healthy while I’m here. To show my newfound dedication to this point I ate both cookies AND pastries today. This begins the beginning of something beginning to be wonderful. And unhealthy. But wonderful.

I wish I could remember the name of the pastry I ate. I’ll have to go back and look it up. I’m all the time thinking I can remember things when it’s quite obvious I can’t, so I need to write down more. And I do! I write a lot of notes. Apparently, though, I need to write more.

I should make a note of that.

In many of the shops downtown they don’t turn the lights on. This isn’t a big deal, because most of them are only one room deep, or at least the store part is. Maybe the work area in back has some lights on. Sometimes. This, to me, is fantastic. Why waste electricity when it’s light out until 9:00 PM here? No reason! I love love love leaving the lights off and having natural light just kind of spill in and fill up where it can, leaving little corners dark and hidden in the process. Standing in a store like this, lights out, enjoying the feeling – I can understand why my grandfather moved here.

In the days before I left the states I was completely and utterly stressed out to the point of small-scale breakdown. I told everyone with whom I conversed on this subject that I’m the kind of person that stresses until the very minute I’m on the plane, and then it’s all gone. I just realized today, this very day, that my statement was completely true. I so instantly de-stressed that … that I didn’t even realize it. I feel great, thanks for asking.

Okay, so maybe I was a tiny little bit stressed about being able to listen, comprehend, and respond when I first arrived, but that’s normal. Throw in a tiny bit of jetlag and of course I would feel a little out of whack. That’s over, though.

It’s now 12:45ish here and I have class in the morning, so I’m gonna run. I leave you with one last short here-vs-there list. I’ll present the facts and let you guess my opinion on each topic.

– There are very very few beggars or street musicians downtown. I think I’ve counted four separate beggars.
– There is graffiti EVERYWHERE. Houses, churches, schools, sidewalks – you name it, someone has tagged it.
– I haven’t seen a single SUV since I arrived.
– I also have seen very few bicycles since I arrived. That’s because:
– If someone’s not driving a tiny little car they’re riding on a NOISY two-stroke scooter.
– There is no ice here. Apparently ice is illegal. Occasionally you’ll see a sign outside a microgrocery store that says ‘cubitos de hielo’ but that’s a lie. They don’t have it. They just want to get you into their store.
– You know how I know they don’t have it? Because refrigerators and freezers don’t work the same here. The freezer is more like a fridge, and the fridge should be called a “food box that kind of makes things a little cool maybe if you’re lucky”.
– There is a difference in sympathy versus empathy, and that’s conceptualization versus experience. Previously I could conceptualize why a siesta would be a good idea. Now I truly understand why it is necessary to sleep during the hottest part of the day after a huge meal.

Hasta mañana.

something something something hot
June 25, 2007, 8:49 am
Filed under: Spain

Ahh, Sunday. Sunday was a nice lazy day. I got up late, ate lunch …

oh yeah, lunch. Lunch Sunday was a salad with oil and vinegar, a huge plate of “Cuban Rice” which is to say a massive mound of rice topped with a fresh tomato sauce / reduction (ingredients: tomatoes, olive oil, a pinch of salt) and topped with a fried egg and with two strips of pork on the side that were halfway between bacon and porkchop. Mmmm. Dessert was sliced bananas and pineapple topped with sorbet and a touch of caramel syrup.

There, got that over with. Where was I? Oh yes, ate lunch, walked to the beach and finally got in the water. You know what I had heard from all the other students and from my hosts? That the Mediterranean is cold this time of year. You know what I found out?

The Mediterranean is damn cold this time of year.

I only stayed in the water for about a minute, tops. The rest of my hour or so there was spent beachcoming. I’m not gonna tell you what I found. It’s a secret.

The beach here in its raw form is very much like the beaches in the Pacific Northwest in that it’s composed of many rocks ground down round and smooth by the waves. In other areas here they build jetties and dump sand but where I went swimming was rocks only. There’s the usual desire to pick up the pretty ones and take them home but I’ve done that enough to know that they never look as good dry as they do wet, and I don’t typically have a fountain running in my house, so I’ve gotten to the point where I leave the rocks where they are. Maybe someone else will enjoy that rock I didn’t pick up.

Afterwards I went home, took a shower, and went back to the beach, but this time to the section with the restaurants and nightlife. Mainly this was an excuse to get some exercise as I was still feeling like a slug. It turned into an excuse to get some of the best ice cream I’ve ever had. I stood outside for a while going through all the flavors on the board and using the dictionary for those I didn’t recognize (about half, more or less). I finally decided on choconata – nata means cream, and I was curious about what kind of deliciousness I would be served. I thought that cream-flavored ice cream would be boring – turns out it’s beyond delicious. It looked like regular chocolate chip ice cream (white with the tiny little chunks) but tasted so smooth, and so … I want to say rich, but that gives the impression of a heavy mouthfeel whereas it was actually quite opposite. The ice cream itself felt very homemade, not bulked up with thickeners and rock-hard but instead more like hand-cranked. The cream flavor was sweet and clean and almost indescribable. It had nothing to do with vanilla ice cream. Next time I go (and I will go back) I’ll probably skip the choco and get just plain nata. I’m sold.

Okay, what else? Let me check my notes.

Ha ha, oh yes, it’s almost laughable how much some parts of this experience are like high school. It’s akin to a bad 80s movie – there’s the table full of the cool kids, all of them from different countries but I guess being “cool” is immediately obvious regardless of where you’re from. The apparent leader is this short big-headed guy with feathered blonde hair and tan skin who wears a coral necklace (or bracelet, I forget) and I guess it’s his appearance that reminds me of the 80s. Anyway, they always sit together and travel in a pack and it’s … it’s just fascinating. It’s like a time machine. It’s like high school all over again.

What else? Oh yes, my Arm and Hammer unscented deodorant that I picked up on my way here performed in the most underwhelming fashion (so at this point I am officially advising avoiding the deodorant in the yellorange tube next time you’re shopping) so I had to pick up some more when I got here. Apparently the only legal form of deodorant is roll-on. Seriously. I have no idea why. Perhaps gel or solids technology has been banned by the government. Too many military applications. Also the concept of unscented has yet to appear. I think the perfume cartels have their fingers in some pies. Now I’m left smelling like some Nivea product but at least it’s tolerable. It’s not X-TREME COOL GEL BREEZE POWER SEX SPORT AQUA! or whatever the hell they sell in the States.

The deodorant is necessary because it is HOT here. I’m terrible at guessing temperature in Fahrenheit anyway, so the numbers in Celsius mean nothing to me. At least it’s a dry heat, ha ha, so my towel stops being wet after an hour or two as opposed to life in New Orleans where when you used your towel once it never got dry again, ever, maybe not even in the dryer, stupid humidity I’m glad I don’t live there anyMORE.

I’ve not been in air conditioning for over a week now. My body has adjusted, I don’t miss it, but … I think maybe some times I dream about it. Still! It’s not here in the house, so why go looking for it? I’d just have to leave it again.

Finally I leave you with an example of my homework for the weekend. We were working on the estilo indirecto (indirect style) which involves changing a direct quote of what someone said into an indirect statement. In English, for example, we would change:

A week ago John said, “Tomorrow I’m going to come to your house if the shop hasn’t fixed my car by the time I get off work.”


A week ago John said that the following day he was going to go to my house if the shop had not yet finished fixing his car by the time he got off work.

So. I think that’s enough of a pain to do properly in one’s native tongue. Remembering to shift times, verb tenses, places, ownership, and subject in a foreign language – ugh. I’m glad that today we went back to something a little easier.


I’m going to hold off on posting this until I finish with lunch today so that I don’t forget what I had.


To wrap things up, today’s lunch was a bowl of lentil soup – I didn’t get the details on the ingredients. It’s so hot today that we ate inside for once and everyone was a little slow. It smelled like it might have had just a touch of clove, which I thought strange, but it tasted wonderful. We splashed apple cider vinegar on it and it was even better. The main meal was a salad of tomatoes, bell peppers, onion, and cucumber (all raw) in vinegar, and some battered and fried fish. The name of today’s type of fish translates to ‘rooster’ because it has a little red ridge on its head, apparently. It was mild and firm and I ate a whole piece, look at me I’m a big boy.

Dessert was just oranges, which was fine by me. I was so full I couldn’t fit anything more substantial.

Time to rest for a few before I go downtown – let’s hope the heat subsides some. Ugh. I think summer has really started.

Festival de San Juan
June 23, 2007, 7:08 pm
Filed under: Spain

So, this is the information that’s been related to me through conversations with my host family and professors. If any of it is wrong, well, we’ll worry about that later.

One of the single most important holidays here, in Andalusia but especially in Málaga, is the Festival de San Juan. It takes place on the night of the 23rd-24th of June, the 24th being the day for St. John (the Baptist) on the Catholic calendar. However, everyone here has freely admitted that it’s far far older than that and is basically the pagan celebration for the summer solstice. The nickname here is equivalent to “the shortest of the beach bonfire parties” because the night that it happens is close to the shortest night of the year (you know, the other side of the summer solstice being the longest day of the year). I understand that the actual solstice this year was a few days ago but that doesn’t really matter, apparently.

Okay! So! Festival de San Juan! It’s celebrated in this fashion all up and down the Mediterranean coast of Spain but apparently Málaga is the best city for the parties, not unlike New Orleans with regards to Mardi Gras on the Gulf Coast of the US. The party unfortunately is not that big, ha ha.

There are a few important things to do in this festival. One is to eat sardines that have been wood-fire-roasted on little spears. There are several guys set up doing the roasting – the fires themselves are built in sand-filled boats. I never did hear why this part is important, but … doesn’t matter! Roasted sardines!

I didn’t eat any! I don’t like fish in the first place! Hooray!

Second is the midnight water ritual. At midnight you must go to the sea and jump in. Barring this, which most people do because it’s a little cold, you must get your feet wet and use your hands to splash sea water on your face. This keeps you beautiful during the coming year. I sense a direct correlation between children, their willingness to jump all the way in, their youthful beauty, and the converse to all of that. Anyway, feet, hands, face. All must get wet with the sea water at midnight.

The third important part are the juas. A ‘jua’ is an effigy made of old clothing, paper, and whatever else is necessary. The name is a derivative of Juan, from San Juan. Anyway, you make juas in the form of someone you dislike, or someone that displeases you, though it’s all done in good fun. After you’ve had your dip in the sea you return to your pre-assembled bonfire, light it, and throw the jua on there. This rids you of all the bad feelings, bad luck, and bad things in general during the past year.

Finally, to prove their strength and bravery the men (and eventually women and children) will jump over the bonfire at the first available time. As soon as it’s not five feet of flames you’ll find people jumping over. I can’t remember if it’s simply a feat of machismo or if it’s supposed to bring luck as well.

I think that damn near everyone in Málaga was at the beach tonight. It was fascinating, to say the least. Oh, yes, and there are fireworks as well. Almost forgot the fireworks.

And now I’m home, at 2:00 AM, writing this up while almost everyone else is still at the beach drinking and partying. I was just a little too tired to stay out all night.

That’s it! You missed it! Maybe next year …

so … sleepy … (and with apologies to hackett for quote theft)
June 22, 2007, 9:11 am
Filed under: Spain

Today I’m giving in for the first time and taking a nap immediately after lunch – immediately after I finish typing this, actually. I have an Activity tonight, and I must be well-rested. The school has sponsored a trip to see some … winery? Something like that downtown. I don’t understand, as this isn’t a wine region, but whatever. There are tapas afterwards and that’s all I really care about. Trip doesn’t start ’till 9, won’t officially end ’till midnight, and won’t unofficially end until tomorrow sometime.

So I need rest.

Also tomorrow (Saturday) night is the Festival of San Juan. I’ll have to go into that more when next I post, but the short version is that everyone in Málaga will stay up all night partying at the beach. And when I say everyone, I mean everyone. I’ve heard that it’s worse than Bourbon St. on Mardi Gras in terms of being able to physically move. I don’t plan on being in the thick of it but I will be there, and for this also I need to rest.

So now I rest!

Wait, no, first I tell you about lunch. Chicken soup with tiny pasta stars, a bit of celery and carrot and potato, and somehow more rich and tasty than any chicken soup I’ve ever had, and no, it’s not just the infatuation with a foreign atmosphere talking. I think maybe she put glue in there to thicken it or make it taste savory. I don’t know. It’s probably fresh-squeezed chicken or something. Main course was sauteed eggplant and zucchini (and a little onion) in a béchamel and sprinkled with grated cheese. Man was that ever good. Dessert: fresh fruit, as always.

I broke down after my entry yesterday re: chocolate and bought a Lindt 85% bar. I’ve eaten one tiny corner. It’s rich and wonderful and will probably take days to fully consume.


I miss you all.

The weather is here, wish you were beautiful.

Just a little list
June 21, 2007, 4:59 pm
Filed under: Spain

Of things I thought about while drinking non-Spanish beer tonight.

– My first day here the Sra. said I look Irish. That was a first. She claims it wasn’t because she knew my last name (from the paperwork) but because of my cheekbones and eyes, or something like that. I forget, I was really jetlagged at the time.

– Some days, like today, I just don’t know what to do. I originally didn’t want to do everything all at once, I wanted to kind of space it out. But … the other day, um, yesterday! Yesterday I went downtown and walked around for two hours. Amazingly enough, by using the simple concepts that the sun sets in the west and that the sea is to the south I was able to navigate these tiny crazy back streets and alleys without having to consult my map even once. Okay, so at least 30 minutes at the end were spent looking for a bar I saw within the first five minutes of exiting the bus, but still! They count!

Oh, where was I? Darnit! OH YES, I walked downtown for 2 hours and saw countless shops and didn’t go in any of them. There’s nothing I want to buy! There’s nothing I need! There are no restaurants at which I am dying to eat, no clubs into which I need to enter! Therefore downtown, with the exception of photographic opportunities and people watching, feels basically worthless.

So now what? I have five and a half weeks left. Of course I will visit Torremolinos, of course I will visit Granada (and the Alhambra) but … what to do during the week? I may have to break down and go to the beach, ha ha.

– Today I spent my free time taking an hour’s walk in the park near my apartment. I did it without shirt, as I wished to get some sun, and I got a few strange looks. Crazy shirtless foreigner with his iPod! I don’t care! That’s me! Crazy foreigner! I even … I even jogged a bit, GASP. I don’t know why. It just felt right.

There’s something wrong with me, obviously.

– It’s getting harder with each passing day to remember to type in English, and I’ve not yet been here a full week. I fear for my ability to compose blog entries properly. I may have to send you all to some Spanish classes.

– Lunch today was gazpacho (the cold tomato-based soup that originated here), “Russian Salad”, and then the usual fresh fruit. The gazpacho was fantastic. I was able to name several of the ingredients. I don’t mean that in the “I knew the Spanish words for their names” way, I always know the Spanish words for ingredients. I mean that in the “it was so fresh and pure and simple that I could taste every individual ingredient” kind of way. Delightful! And with chunks of cucumbers. Man. Perfect summer soup. The “Russian Salad” is an admitted misnomer, as it has nothing to do with Russia. It was a little bit of everything – boiled egg, lettuce, red bell pepper, tuna, shrimp, potato, green peas, etc. all bound together with a homemade mayonnaise. A bit fishy overall for my tastes, but still good. I ate quite a bit.

– Seriously, Guinness is far far far superior to San Miguel. As far as I am able to ascertain, San Miguel is the Budweiser of Spain. That may be a harsh judgment but I don’t care.

– Speaking of alcoholic beverages, did you know that absinthe is still legal here (or more accurately, was never illegal here)? Did you also know that absinthe was the target of various smear campaigns and that thujone (the active ‘drug’ in absinthe) is almost nominally psychoactive, leaving absinthe no more intense or dangerous than any other beverage with the same concentration of alcohol? I’m just saying is all.

– Did you know that tonight the bartender at the college told me that absinthe is illegal in Spain? I wonder who told him that. I personally believe Wikipedia and the grocery store. The two of them would not band together to lie to me.

– Speaking of school, tonight, food, drink, and etc. – there are wild-but-probably-not-feral cats that live on campus. I saw at least nine of them at once tonight on the patio. Normally I wouldn’t care much, but for starters, they’re not shaped like normal cats. They look like caricatures of Egyptian cats. Secondly, six or so of them are BRAND NEW KITTENS and it’s hard to eat your dinner when there are kittens everywhere.

– Not that I like kittens or anything. I’m just saying.

– Apparently I attract old people. Maybe it’s the fact that when those young German punks come up to me I ignore them, or openly glare. Maybe it’s that. Regardless, I seem to spend my time on campus talking with the people my age or older, and feel a lot better for it. I think I have officially passed into curmudgeonhood. It’s very sad. I could be at a club downtown right now if I didn’t dislike those ornery kids.

– Finally, there’s something about being on working vacation here that’s inspiring me to be in better shape. I haven’t had any sort of candy bar nor Coca-Cola since arriving, and I don’t miss them at all. That’s odd, considering I had recently regressed to the point that I was having a Coke every two or three days. Anyway, I’m not complaining. It’s just odd is all. I don’t know why it’s happening.

– Seriously, I’m going to have to start writing bilingual posts or something. Brain can’t handle this separation.

– Goodnight!

Slowing down
June 20, 2007, 9:22 am
Filed under: Spain

Okay, yes, I think you all got the idea that I’m here. I may slow down on my posting now.

I still have not yet been swimming, either in the pool at school or in the Mediterranean. I know, that’s kind of messed up. I don’t really know why. Well, yes I do, it’s because:

I do not have my bicycle so I’m making up for it by going on walks. I’m sure this will end eventually but yesterday I had a great two-hour walk wherein I covered much of this neighborhood, up and down 200 feet of elevation (a couple of times). I also went through the park next door to the apartment which was where I saw the guy trial-biking and took this dorfy self-portrait. That right there is only about 175 ft. altitude, though it feels higher when you can look all the way down to the sea.

Walking is great, it allows me to clear my mind and also look for photo opportunities. Everything I posted yesterday was from my walk. I would wear my headphones and listen to music, but … I dunno. I found out years ago that having music in the background, even quietly, disrupts my concentration. That’s why I can’t read or study with music on. Only recently did I find that it applies to taking photos as well. Apparently I think more about how to actually compose and take the photo than I realized. Also, the Spanish drive like … well, like there’s no reason to stay confined to one lane or attempt to avoid pedestrians, so I like to remain ALERT. No reason to get squished because of a little In Flames or whatever.

Tuesday lunch was a soup of garbanzo beans (chickpeas, whatever) and something akin to spinach but a bit different. Unfortunately I can’t remember what the Sra. said it was called. After that was a baked or steamed fish with a side of potatoes, red bell peppers, onions, and garlic. The Sra. knows that I don’t like fish, and so she was not upset when I didn’t finish (though I did eat a bit of it – always have to try! One day I may end up liking it). Dessert was diced bananas and pears topped with some sorbet, and with a little orange syrup drizzled over the top.


Wednesday lunch (from which I am currently recovering) was a plate of penne pasta and oil, hot, topped with a little grated cheese and a tiny bit of crumbled chorizo. The Spanish chorizo is not entirely unlike Mexican chorizo though I feel that this one had more paprika than the ones I’m used to. Also I hope it had a lower percentage of salivary glands. Regardless, it tasted great! If that’s what salivary glands taste like then SO BE IT, I will continue to eat them. Main course was a very thin pan-fried pork chop, a pork filet actually, and some green beans sliced thinly. Dessert was the standard fresh fruit, today’s fruit being oranges, tiny pears, and cherries.

A guy could get used to this kind of lunch every day, as long as someone changes the labor laws to allow time to sit on the bed and blog while resisting falling asleep.

Next topic: to further emphasize the elevation changes around here I decided to count the number of steps (not footsteps, but stair steps) that I have to take to get to my classroom. This is just counting steps, not climbing up and down the streets. There are, from the very bottom of Calle Rodeo, 151 steps I must take to get to the second floor where my classroom is located. No wonder all those smokers look to be out of breath. SUCKERS.

Two more things before I go downtown via bus for the first time. One: a long time ago (think 1998) I was collecting different ways to say a certain phrase (not dirty) in other languages. I think I got up to five or six. That’s pretty good for living in Cookeville, land of no foreigners. I’ve started again, but this time no phrase, just a single word.


Did you have any idea that the word ‘bat’ (meaning small flying mammal, not sports equipment) is ‘murciélago’ in Spanish? Yeah, just like the Lamborghini car, except I had previously pronounced it incorrectly, not knowing it was Spanish. It involves a bull in the 1800s, look it up. ANYWAY, man, how different can you get? Bat = murciélago. I decided to find out how to say bat in as many languages as I can. Already I have six or seven – I may report back to you when I reach 10.

And yes, I know. I know I know I know. I know I could use an online service to do this. Still, I would worry about getting the word for baseball bat instead. This way I just ask politely (in Spanish) to borrow someone’s dictionary, and look up murciélago and find their language’s translation.

This apparently is what counts as a hobby secondary to photography for me.

Second and final ending statement: I feel like now I have shown you a tiny bit of what this area is about, so now I’m not worrying so much about pointing out over and over what the neighborhood looks like but instead I can go back to just photographing whatever I find interesting. I know you didn’t yell, you didn’t chastise, but I felt that if I didn’t show you what it looks like around here you’d be so mad at me that you’d never let me come home.


Now I’m off to downtown to take pictures, and maybe I’ll get some, maybe I won’t. We’ll find out.

I kind of miss you all, but not really. I’m feeling a lot better today than I was on Monday.

June 18, 2007, 1:39 pm
Filed under: Spain

I’m writing this while I have no access to the internet so honestly I have no idea where I left off with regards to my story. So!

Yesterday I walked for two hours around the neighborhood. I think I mentioned that. Then I went to an orientation at the school (this would be Sunday evening for me) and had a little salad and wine. I was pleasantly surprised at the extremely low number of American students. I found out today that in my class of nine students I’m the only American there. I also found out today that I speak Spanish with some sort of South American accent – no real surprise at that, I suppose.

Anyway, there are students of all ages here, and from all places. Holland, Russia, Singapore, Switzerland, France, Italy, Germany, and on and on and on. It’s comforting to know that I won’t be too tempted to fall back into speaking English in my off time.

My head is constantly swimming. I am honestly a bit disappointed in myself – I thought I knew Spanish better than I do. I realize part of it is just immersion shock, but my fellow housemates are doing just swimmingly. Of course one of them has had more Spanish courses than I, and the other has been here for weeks, so I guess I shouldn’t be so hard on myself.

Today we, the new students, showed up at 8:30 for a quick placement test. I did fine, considering that when classes commenced this afternoon I was thrown into a discussion of the pretérito pluscuamperfecto, a verb tense that I’ve not yet covered. It took several minutes of discussion for us to understand the usage when none of it was in our native language(s). It’s difficult to describe a verb tense using circumlocution in the very language one is discussing.

Oh, yes, anyway, so … testing, then a bus tour to Castilla Gibralfaro though we did not actually go to the castle but instead used the view from high up on that hill to discuss the city and its history. Then we drove down to the center of town and did some walking, saw the location of the cathedral, the Picasso museum, and some other stuff. When we returned to campus they had finished sorting us (no sorting hat there, apparently) and we went straight to classes.

Now I’m home, the internet is out, and I have pages of homework to do.

Oh, one last thing. For some reason in … how best to classify this? For some reason, in Spanish-speaking areas that are not Spain (e.g. the Americas) they do not use the second person plural (vosotros) conjugation. I knew conceptually that it was used here and I’d have to learn it, but MAN. I heard it more last night in the span of 10 minutes than I have in all my Spanish courses combined. It’s taking some getting used to.

Thassit for now! I wish I had some exciting news to impart, like the tiger attack that I foiled or the story about how the Mayor’s office called to give me the key to the city, but alas, no. Lo siento.

WAIT NO I forgot to mention that part of my house stay here includes two meals a day. Sra. Perea is a fantastic cook and though I’ve only had two lunches here they’re definitely something to which I shall be looking forward in the future. Did I tell you about yesterday’s lunch? I think I did, so I will skip that part. Today we started with a soup made of potato, pumpkin, onion, garlic, and a bit of carrot which was fantastic. The main course was tiny empañadas (empañaditas?) with all sorts of vegetables and tuna, apparently, though I could not taste it. These were pan-fried and simply fantastic. I ate my serving of three and was tempted to eat one more, but I just couldn’t. Dessert was fresh fruit like yesterday, and again I had the pleasure of una copa de vino con el almuerzo. This is the way it should be.