Monday, November 17, 2008

Recap, Re-do, Revamp

The first word of this post is overly ambitious. It's what has kept me from blogging for all of these months (at least initially, then I'm pretty sure it turned into an avoidance/laziness routine). It's not easy to recapitulate the 4 weeks I spent walking across the breadth of Spain nor all that has transpired since, but I will do my best.

No, I am no longer on the Road to Santiago. I finished the 900 kilometer trek on June 5, making it exactly one month of walking across the beautiful, peaceful countryside of Espana. It was pain, beauty, history, camaraderie, awe, loneliness, contentment, independence, prayer, determination, indulgence, simplicity, conversation, crazy Italians, crazy Spaniards, a motley crew turned international family, dirty, smelly, blistered goodness. I loved the simplicity of it, the grueling physical aspect, the eccentric strangers and cute old couples, the time I spent with Kaitlin, and more time by myself than I had ever really experienced.

After the Camino I was able to spend a long weekend with Paige and Deyl in their Spanish cottage by the sea. There is no describing what a room to myself with sheets, a big bubble bath, and the comfort of two dear friends and a lot of food can bring after such a journey. These two are an absolute gift in my life.

What followed was a peripatetic summer, still living out of a backpack while traipsing all over California reconnecting with family and friends and patiently considering the possibilities.

The following months have been so full and blessed:

~ The Collins/Davy wedding.
~ Spending more time with my new Brady family.:)
~ Spontaneous camping trip with the delightful Franks.
~ Job searching.
~ Moving into my attached studio in SB and realizing that it had been 4 months since I spent more than 3 consecutive nights in any one place.
~ Freaking out a little.
~ Patch Project.
~ Spending some wonderful time with Noah.
~ Living and Loving Team Mollkoy (Chris & Michele and their exuberant boys, Jesse & Sammy--->).
~ Behavioral therapy with Children with Autism (random, intriguing, exhausting fun).
~ Reality Carpinteria.
~ Spencer-Smith/Hengler wedding in Napa.
~ Tuesdays with Rachel.
~ Thursdays with Paige.
~ Finding a new work-out buddy when my old ones got pregnant and got a man.;)
~ Becoming a camper again with Amy.
~ Being nearer to a fire than I ever hope to be again in my life and being heart-broken for the Westmont family, then being proud and inspired by it.

Which now brings me to the present order of business: Re-do. Revamp.

I believe that a six month hiatus from the world of blogging is an appropriate time to make some changes; the most obvious being the title of this blog. There are a number of reasons I have a distaste for the old one, but suffice to say, there are some fads and phases in this post-college exploratory period that, while necessary and good, I do not wish to be tied to.

I think of myself as a Working Title. I hope to always be such. I am in a place and a mindset where I hope to be the most malleable for God's work. It is a place of expectation, of readiness, of patience, and of earnest desire. It is a place of vulnerability, which makes it difficult to share, but one thing I have learned to appreciate so much in my time abroad, in constantly meeting and talking with new people, is that our stories always seem to instruct and edify one another in the most surprising ways. I think they all, in some way, deserve to be recorded and at times shared. It will not always be a soul-searching manifesto, for at times, the light and pithy are most appropriate.

And I will say again, with a virtual *nudge*, that comments are always appreciated. Especially those of the sassmuffin variety. ;)

Besos y abrazos a todo,


Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Road to Santiago

One of the reasons that I decided to move to Spain was to have the chance to do El Camino de Santiago. This historic pilgrimage marks the way to the entombed body and relic of St. James the Apostle, buried in the famous Cathedral in Santiago...just less than 800 kilometers from the traditional starting point on the French side of the Pyrenees mountains- St. Jean Pied-de-Port.

I had planned to do this pilgrimage sola, but by God's amazing timing and unexpected plan, my dear friend Kaitlin decided to quit her job, join her mom on a brief sojourn in Italy, and then explore the north of Spain with me! She is going to travel with me and do the first two weeks, which will no doubt be the hardest. Kaitlin and I are wonderful opposites in a lot of ways, which makes her the perfect compliment to my journey. I told my dad last night that he could rest easy, I have a faithful perfectionist by my side. We have calendars, maps, itineraries, passport copies, a security belt...all her! I plan to throw it all out the window on our first train, but shh...don't tell.

We are off to Barcelona today, then to Geneva, and across the south of France (Marseille, Bayonne) before reaching the starting point. It's amazing that I had time at all to blog today, and it is no doubt my hastiest attempt yet. We leave in one hour and I am not done packing!!

It's all part of the adventure...

I will be largely incommunicado over the next six weeks, so do not fret if you do not hear from me. Besos a todos! :)

Monday, April 14, 2008

"Sevilla tiene un color especial"

Call Andalusia old-fashioned, unproductive, over-indulgent, if you I sometimes do when the "siesta" cramps my consumer habits, when the "bar creatures" in the Guardia Civil never cease to hit on me when I duck in to use the bathroom, or when I order vegetables and they inevitably come doused in oil or deep-fried...but this week, no one can complain!

At midnight last Monday, thousands of Sevillianos and extranjeros braving the rain and ferocious winds, huddled together drinking rebujitos in one great botellón, for the traditional lighting of the Portada. With a marching band playing rambas and flamencos, the group surged forward to pass through the huge entranceway, newly designed and constructed every year to welcome you to FERIA de Abril!!

For 10 months of the year the Feria grounds are a wasteland and an occasional parking lot for big city-wide events, but two months before this particular week the crews begin constructing row upon row of little houses called casetas, each owned by different companies, member associations, or wealthy families. The casetas are elaborately decorated, inside and out, with wallpaper, antique mirrors, classic Feria posters, furniture, stages, full-service bars, kitchens, and bathrooms. They are arranged in a huge grid that runs more than 7 street blocks, with street names and barrios of their own.

Going to the fair is anticipated all year long. Dirt floor, carnival rides, circus animals, greasy food, bad weather, or dress up for Feria. The women come in elaborate, colorful flamenco dresses, with flowers and dazzling combs on top of their heads and matching mantoncillos around their shoulders. The men traditionally wore bull-fighter style suits (as Feria also marks the beginning of bull-fighting season), but for a long time now have donned a classic suit and tie, unless, that is, they are one of the privileged few who ride a horse to the fair, as this age-old tradition requires the age-old attire!

Feria is one huge flamboyant, clamorous, lively, spectacle...yet, somehow, elegant and refined. The majority of casetas are private, which means invite-only. You must know a member of these casetas to be allowed in. Luckily, between all of us girls, we had plenty of invitations and were usually allowed to bring the group. Mara also brought me along to meet her host families from her study-abroad days in their casetas.

Each caseta is filled with families, friends, co-workers, neighbors, all drinking and eating and dancing the night away. This is a very special moment for Sevillanos, who don't often have the opportunity to entertain all of their gente in one place as the majority of them live in pisos no where near large enough for parties such as these.

Mara and I spent the last two months taking private Sevillanas dancing lessons with a Spanish friend, spending hours agonizing over which dress to buy (they average around 200euro), and carefully choosing our accessories....we were ready. We dazzled the Sevillanos at each caseta we attended with our confidence and ability and were the envy of many the extranjero, who only wished they had the movement in their sangre, as we seemed to have. We were at times mistaken for Sevillanas, which brought immediate grins to our faces and unavoidably betrayed our true identities. We danced until six in the morning the last three nights of Feria and wrapped up the whole experience by eating churros with chocolate sauce in the street, as all of the exuberant Spaniards do in the wee morning hours of Feria.

Having experienced it, in all it's authentic, joyful, glory...I will now dare to say, there is nothing I love more about Sevilla than Feria! Hasta el proximo...Ole'!

A glossary for my readers...:)

"Sevilla tiene un color especial" ~ title of popular song (and expression)
extranjero ~ foreigner
rebujito ~ traditional Feria drink of Manzanilla (sherry) and 7up
botellón ~ gathering and drinking in the street, think "tail-gate"
portada ~ façade
feria ~ fair
caseta ~ stand, stall
barrio ~ neighborhood
mantoncillo ~ flamenco shawl
gente ~ people
piso ~ apartment
Sevillanas ~ regional version of flamenco dancing
sangre ~ blood
Hasta el proximo ~ Until next time

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Alpujarra Adventure

I think I have become more of an outdoorsy person than I was before moving to Sevilla. I have always enjoyed a numerous amount of outdoor activities, but I'm talking outdoorsy, like escape to a mountain town, spend hours without a soul in sight (unless you believe animals have souls because there were plenty of those), not showering for days, woodsy kind of "outdoorsy." I crave the outdoors like I never have before and only there do I feel free, at peace, and refreshed.

That's what last weekend was. I took a bus to Granada (a beautiful city with a
Moroccan/Berkeley feel to it that I will describe more another time) and hitched another bus a few hours later to La Alpujarra. This is a region in the snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountains with tiny pueblos blancos nestled up into the hillside, home to many an ex-pat of the fruit and nut or British mutton eating varieties. Unbeknownst to me, I had booked a hostel for the night in the farthest town possible, which meant a three and a half hour windy bus ride through all the villages. I am so glad for this hasty travel blunder because it meant that I got a 6euro tour through the quaint and pristine countryside.

Arriving in Trevelez much later than I expected, I hiked (seriously, it was a 20 minute straight up hike) to my hostel in Barrio Medio and pounded on the caretakers' door just as twilight faded over the hills. I was greeted by a boisterous bickering British couple, who ushered me in, lit my heater, showed me every function and every nook and cranny of my little apartment, teasing each other mercilessly in the process, and thoroughly entertaining me. I was sad to let them go.

After getting settled in I went up the hill to Barrio Alto to have a look at the whole town and then popped in to a bar where I sat and had a beer and free tapas (courtesy of this region of Andalusia that has yet to commercialize the tradition) and then up to the restaurant for a lovely meal. I was surrounded on all sides with middle-aged British couples and realized in the process just how strange it feels to hear English as the common language in a public place.

The next day I woke up early, packed a bag with fruit and nuts (I'm not the mutton eating kind...;) and head up into the hills. I could see snow at the top of the mountain above me and decided I was going to touch it, which is actually quite silly because it was way further than it appeared as I found out as I reached the first crest. My disappointment quickly dissipated as I came face to face with a handful of wild horses...or what I thought were wild until the next surprise visitors appeared. Well, actually, I heard them before I saw them. Clink clink, clink clink. A curious sheep stuck it's head up and stared me down, the big bell around it's neck silencing for those brief moments of examination. The sheep quickly became disinterested in me and went back to its grazing. I walked amongst them for some time and sat on a rock outcropping for a while taking in the expansive valley, still hazy with morning light and dew.
I could hear church bells from down in Trevelez and realized it was Sunday. Since moving to Spain I have often missed worshiping in church as I did at home, but today, I decided to do it, with no one but God and the animals listening. The wind stole my voice and pressed at my body as I stood on the precipice looking out over "all the mountains and the valleys of the earth." I couldn't imagine a better service. I finished up with a scary yoga-balancing act and continued on my way.

As I walked back down the mountain I began to follow the canals of water that the town had created to direct the run-off from the mountain snow. It led me all the way back to where I started at a community fountain, with crisp, refreshing, mountain spring water. One of the cool things about the town was that everywhere you walked in the streets you could hear the sound of running water under you. It was so awesome to see a natural life-sustaining process.

I left Trevelez completely refreshed, in more ways than one. And, an added benefit...I gained a new smell! The funny thing is, I don't know what it is. All I can describe it as is "mountainy" because I can't place it might be a tree, or an herb, but whatever it is, it's nature and I was so happy to smell it! :)

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Semana Santa

Holy week in Sevilla begins well before the middle of March. I had heard talk of it since I arrived, but right around the beginning of February I turned a corner late one night on my way home and ran into this. The shock brought to mind a combination of some kind of medieval torture ritual and the local vagrant being made an example of in the town square, one day in the stocks for stealing a loaf of bread. No- this was the prelude to Semana Santa. A grid formation of 25 men carry a statue of Jesus Cristo that depicts some point of passage during his final week, the trial, the flogging, carrying his cross, his crucifixion, burial, and finally the resurrection.

There are two floats per Paso (passage in English)...the second is the Virgin because in the Roman Catholic tradition, Jesus is most often accompanied by his mother.

During Semana Santa there are on average 5-6 Pasos a day, but on the biggest days, Thursday and Friday, Pasos run all day and night. Each one lasts for hours on end as thousands of Nazeranos (or penitentes--sinners) wearing the traditional robe and head-piece to conceal their identities, precede and follow the main events (Jesus and Mary). Some Pasos have a marching band accompaniment that adds a morose or conquering affect to the procession. Others are silent. With crowd cooperation, all you can hear is the shuffling of the men's feet.

In the wee hours of the morning, on the night of his death, surrounded by thousands of people, we stood in silence and watched as an carefully and intricately sculpted image of Jesus hung on the cross. It was haunting and beautiful and very personal, yet so communal. People held their children. Otherwise rowdy and obnoxious teenagers stood still. All attention was focused on our Savior. I prayed for the people surrounding me, that this rapture would move beyond tradition and culture and right to their hearts and souls. And, it was finished.

Over the next two days the enthusiasm seemed to fade in the city, which gave Easter a strangely anti-climactic feeling- exactly the opposite of what I am used to. Anique and I went to mass with her Senora and had the privilege to worship in another language and tradition. I appreciated the experience so much, but did miss the joyful worship of the churches at home.

My comprehension of Spanish is still lacking quite a bit, but I almost felt lucky for that fact during the service because the few phrases that the priest repeated were really the only thing that stuck with me. I meditated on these words, as the others naturally drowned out. "Siempre estoy contigo." Always I am with you. At the end of the service as we exchanged "Paz contigo" (peace be with you) with the warmth of a strangers cheek and a light kiss, I remembered the first time I went to a Catholic mass, and felt strangely at home as sometimes the slightest similarities and memories can evoke. As they began the Lord's Prayer, the cadence the same, I whispered the same in English and instinctively turned my hands upward, not realizing at the time the power that memory can have.

Christ has risen..... verdaderamente ha resucitado.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


"This life is beautiful."

The Moroccan adventure...

It began at the crack of dawn, boarding a bus in Sevilla, not knowing a soul, but not minding in the least. I have a huge aversion to group tours, even those that last a couple hours, let alone a week, but I was told this is the only way a Caucasian woman could do Morocco, and I wasn't about to pass it up. On the ferry I met a group of girls (American study abroad students) and we became inseparable friends instantly. Juliana and Anique and I spent hours and hours on the bus together, processing all that we were seeing, sharing our lives, getting to that real straight talk about souls that we crave and love. Days later we would be dancing down a massive sand dune in the Sahara desert to the sound of drumming in our camp, unable to tear ourselves away from the beauty of the sand and the deep blue sky, striking warrior pose on the cliff like crazy moon-worshiping yogis, breathless, elated, and alive.

As we drove through the port town of Tangiers almost the entire bus of boisterous young travelers was silent as we looked out into the streets, not unlike those of Tijuana (in fact, Tangiers is often called the Tijuana of Morocco), filled with men, with hardly a woman in sight. The few we did see in those first few hours were covered, head to toe in the traditional burkha. I hated that this gave me a hollow feeling, but it was such a hollow town. Days later, as we crossed through Tangiers, sunburned, plump, and happy, we were again slapped with an ugly reality of this beautiful country that we loved, as young boys jumped on the back of our bus and tried to crawl underneath- to stowaway to a better life, with nothing on their backs. This was a stark contrast to the country we had come to love over the previous week. A country full of music, color, faith, beautiful simplicity, ancient practices, always a cup of tea and smiling faces...

The first couple days of the trip were spent making our way down to the Sahara. Although we spent a lot of time on the bus, we were able to see a lot of the country, from the capital city of Rabat, to the high Atlas mountains, to the Lake of Tears (a beautiful legend told to us one night by a Berber man), to desert oasis's, to the heart of the Sahara. We stopped outside of the Sahara at nightfall and transferred to 4x4s for the last stretch. I felt like I was in Indiana Jones as more than 15 SUV's tore across the open desert, each on their own frenetic path, racing to our destination.

The hotel was beautiful and luxurious. We were told that Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett stayed there while filming Babel. There was a huge feast and a never-ending drum circle after dinner. We danced outside under the stars and an extremely rare and brief rainstorm, and talked with a Berber whose story simply must be shared.

Jamal (pictured next to the fire below) can speak 10 languages, all of them European varieties and also Japanese, but has never set foot in a school and cannot read or write even his own native languages (Berber and Arabic). As a boy he came across a car that was lost and stranded in the desert, with a Spanish family inside. The first words he learned were "a la derecha" and "a la isquierda" as he directed them to his village where his family fed them and let them stay for the night. The next day, the family offered to repay him for his kindness by taking him with them to see his country. He went with them to Marakesh, and further west, where he saw the ocean for the first time. He said that he stood in front of it and wept. He could not imagine that a body of water that large could these people have so much? His whole life was spent in search of enough water to survive. For the week he was there he slept every night on the beach because he did not want to leave the ocean and the hotel felt altogether too foreign to him. He went back and told all his friends about the sea and vowed to himself he would go back. Knowing a little Spanish now, he began leading camel expeditions for tourists into the Sahara. This is how he slowly learned all of the languages he now speaks with an almost undetectable accent. When he was 12, having saved enough money, he left his family and went back to Marakesh and on to the ocean. A local shopkeeper noticed after about a week that he was living out on the street and offered him a job. He worked there until he was 18 when he returned to the desert to work in the hotels. He is now an internationally known musician who has performed for the king of Morocco and Spain. He will even be in New York and California for the first time in July!

The next afternoon, after spending a leisurely morning by the pool (and having the most ridiculous massage of my life- I thought France was intimate- yikes!), we loaded onto a long train of camels and road into the desert to camp with the Berbers. After arriving at our camp we all climbed a massive sand dune to watch the sun set over the desert. I traipsed a bit farther along the crests of the dunes to get a bit further away from the group. The desert has an amazing quiet and stillness that gave me such a sense of peace. It was an awe-inspiring ethereal experience. The rest of that night was spent around a fire, dancing to Berber drums and singing about Africa.

After the Sahara I could have died happy, but on we went to Fez. The medina in Fez was a completely different whirlwind experience. We spent a whole day wandering through the narrow streets, trying not to get trampled by donkeys loaded with everything from rugs, to construction materials, to coca cola cases. We were introduced to Moroccan spices, rug-making, and a tannery that was built in the 7th century and has been run by 25 families through the generations. There were stacks and stacks of animal skins, pools of pigeon feces (used to soften the skins), and a tremendous array of colors to die the leather. It was at once the most nauseating and fascinating of our experiences. And talk about the market chickens heads were chopped off in front of us and bloody goat heads hung as prized commodities, but I was thrilled by all of it. There is nothing I like more than a truly authentic experience...and lucky for me, I couldn't smell much of it. ;)

Morocco represented a lot of firsts for me...

The first time I was in an Islamic country. One of my favorite things about Moroccan culture, infused as it is with Islamic tradition, is the custom of saying "Inshallah," which means "God willing" (in Spanish, "Si Dios quiere"). It is said when someone so much as remarks on the itinerary for the day...our guide would say, "We will walk around the Medina and have lunch at the old palace around noon, Inshallah." Perhaps more meaningfully, it is said along with man's hope for the future..."I hope that one day you will return to Morocco and we will meet again, Inshallah." It is a constant reminder of their focus, their perspective, and their faith.

Morocco was also the first country I had been in with a true monarchical system. Even more foreign than the idea of a medieval age-style ruling king was the fact that everyone loved him! As we drove into Fez we were greeted by scores of people lining the main street that leads to the king's palace in Fez (for he has many). The king was due to return home after a few months away and the people were there to greet him as his car drove through. The western world and modernity are being woven into this uber-traditional society, but somehow without the cry for a voice, for representation, for democracy.

Although parts of Mexico have the same kind of poverty as Morocco, this was my first time in a third world country. My first time in Africa. I don't want to belabor this point because I know the extent to which the bleeding heart of Africa is exposed, I am sure many of you can call to mind images of poverty, so I prefer to tell the other story. As we reached our first stop on the way to the Sahara, a beautiful hotel bedecked with typically Moroccan rugs and ornate detail on every corner of every edifice, and were greeted by a rowdy band parade complete with a criss-cross trumpet arch (think AYSO soccer post-game parents tunnel) beckoning us through the front door, I became extremely aware that Morocco was putting on its best face for us. This was true of the whole trip. Everywhere we went we were served feasts, our heads were wrapped in colorful turbans, we were offered fine hand-made goods (and some not so fine), we enjoyed endless musical nights, for this is a country literally run on tourism.

Even with the prevalence of foreigners, however, this was the first time I felt truly foreign...a combination of being in surroundings that I could not liken to anything else I had ever seen and being treated as a bright, shiny, foreign good of some kind. It is a feeling of self-awareness and vulnerability that I had never before experienced. I have never been so aware of my skin, my hair, my eyes...and my sex. Men are so vocal, which I thought I had become accustomed to living in Spain, but no...much more so, in Morocco. One amusing example: As our group left the rug shop in Fez, a local store-owner sat outside his stall offering camels as payment, evaluating our worth as he saw fit. Dad, you will be proud to know that he offered 3,000 camels for me, well above the others. I think it's because all the girls took on these deer-in-the-headlights faces as we walked by, but I could not help but have a spark of laughter in my eyes. For the most part, I found the whole thing very amusing, but having been there I will give credence to the warnings for women to not travel Morocco much as I still balk at that fact.

With it's many faces, it's natural beauty contrasted with it's poverty-stricken cities, it's gracious and inviting culture and it's harsh and intimidating gender lines, more than anything, I will say of this country and it's people, Alhayatjamila, this life is beautiful.

I will return to Morocco someday, Inshallah.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

On the Road

This weekend I took a day trip by myself and discovered a perfect gem a couple hours south of Sevilla-- Ronda. The town was built way up on a hill, surrounded by rolling hills colored Crayola Green, mountain peaks, and a clear blue sky. Right through the middle of the town is a small river that over time has formed a huge gorge. The two sides of the town are connected by a bride that spans 98m!

The best part is that this amazing natural wonder, combined with man's feat of engineering and strength, is completely unexpected. The bus drove up the sloping side of the hill and right into the newer part of town. Newer is all relative here because it is still very historic in appearance, but relatively commercial as well. You walk through the town past banks and shops and restaurants and are suddenly at the brink of a massive gorge! The other side is considered the true "historic" part, containing a classic cathedral and a fortress wall. The amazing thing about Spain is that there are so little safeguards and precautions taken so they let you climb all over without supervision! ;)

I guess they don't have to worry about insurance on a 13th century Moorish wall?

I cannot imagine how much fun it would be for kid to grow up in Ronda! So many things to climb, so many forts to discover and build...who am I kidding? I was a kid in Ronda! I came out of the gorge after hours of breathless ecstatic exploration, with leaves in my hair and mud on my boots and unknowingly waltzed into a 5 star restaurant (I was just looking for a good view), ignoring the ever well-dressed Spaniards lingering over 3-4 hour lunches. I lunched with Jack Kerouac, eagerly devouring a 3 course meal complete with a whole trout and lingering for a couple hours with Jack in my lap**, two glasses of wine- one for meal, one for dessert (on the house, naturally ;) and a spectacular view.

With what was left of the afternoon I stumbled upon a Wine museum and decided to relieve my sun-scathed skin and already sore muscles with a little viticulture. I love the history and art of wine-making, the beauty of wine country, and well, wine in general so it was a fine choice to top off a perfect day. :)

** I'm reading the unedited original scroll version of On the Road, which apparently Kerouac wrote in a 3 week haze of Benzedrine on a continuous sheet of typewriter paper, stretching out 119', "the road", literally, unfolds. There are no page or paragraph breaks at all. It is an endless, frenetic, stream of conscious, often nonsensical, constantly horrifying, surprisingly poignant, artful mess of a story. Because I have loved it so much, I just thought I would share some of my favorite passages so far with you...

"Although Gene was white there was something of the wise and tired old Negro in him, and something very much like Hunkey the NY dope addict in him, but a railroad Hunkey, a traveling epic Hunkey, crossing and recrossing the country every year, south in the winter and north in the summer and only because he has no place he can stay without getting tired of it and because there's nowhere to go but everywhere, and keep rolling under the stars, generally the western stars."

"Boys and girls in America have such a sad time together; sophistication demands that they submit to sex immediately without proper preliminary talk. Not courting talk---real straight talk about souls, for life is holy and every moment is precious."

"A pain stabbed my heart, as it did every time I saw a girl I loved who was going the opposite direction in this too-big world of ours. The announcer called the LA bus. I picked up my bag and got on it; and who should be sitting alone in it, but the Mexican girl. I sat right opposite her and began scheming right off. I was so lonely, so sad, so tired, so quivering, so broken, so beat---all of it had been too much for me---that I got up my courage, the courage necessary to approach a strange girl, and acted."

"We turned a dozen paces, for love is a duel, and looked at each other for the last time."

"It was the end of the continent, no more land. Somebody had tipped the American continent like a pinball machine and all the goofballs had come rolling into LA in the southwest corner. I cried for all of us. There was no end to the American sadness and the American madness. Someday we'll all start laughing and roll on the ground when we realize how funny it's been. Until then there is a lugubrious seriousness I love in all this."

(emphasis added)

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Hide and Seek

I have this thing with Ben & Jerry's, well, it's becoming a thing. A couple years ago I was standing in line waiting for my favorite scoop, Oatmeal Cookie, joking around obnoxiously with Rachel Tomlinson, as only we do...and who do I catch out of the corner of my eye but Bruce Willis. Bruce was wearing the classic, don't notice me, celebrity get up...ratty jeans, black t-shirt, hat, and sunglasses. As if no one notices someone who doesn't take off their sunglasses inside, but whatever, Bruce.

I like to think that seeing a movie star doesn't phase me because I have grown up around enough "famous" people in my town, my school, etc. so I didn't really react. I'm mature, I'm smooth. About a half hour later as we walked around the plaza (in Malibu), and who do we run into, but Bruce. Bruce, are you following me? I wonder. Of course it didn't occur to me at the time that I was in the smallest town in the world. Two Bruce sightings in one day? It was uncanny!

Fast forward to this summer in SB. I was sitting inside Jeannine's, waiting for my Turkey Cranberry sandwich (my mouth is watering), and gazing outside at the beautiful sunny day. After a few minutes I noticed a guy (hat and sunglasses, como siempre) who kept looking up from his meal at me. Only then did I realize I had been gazing right over the head of my good friend Bruce. Of course, being the celebrity that he is, naturally he assumed I was gazing longingly at him. I hastily averted my gaze, totally embarrassed, despite the fact that this time his incognito celebrity uniform had actually worked!

On Friday, as Mara and I strolled through Sevilla doing some lazy afternoon shopping and I noticed an older, scruffy looking bald guy sauntering along with an ice cream cone- from Ben & Jerry's (aha! a pattern, yeah okay, a loose one). I sort of recognized him and wracked my brain for a moment. Sometimes this happens when you see a celebrity, you get this, how do I know you nervous feeling, like you're about to have a blank-faced awkward interaction. As soon as I realized I said to Mara under my breath (smooth and classy, remember?), "Mar are you seeing this?" She kept on talking, not paying any attention. As soon as we passed him I grabbed her arm, "Mara that was Bill Murray!"

"No it wasn't!" she cried incredulously and immediately turned around to follow him, "I have to see his face!" I began protesting. I did not want to break my suave, unaffected performance! I followed her anyway, realizing how much I wanted her to believe me, but after a few minutes I couldn't take it any longer and ducked under an overhang, saying, "Is this the place you were looking for Mar?" As soon as Bill heard me (speaking english...dumb!) and saw that I had backtracked with a tall, blond, German girl (we don't blend well in Spain, have I mentioned that?)-- he crossed the street suddenly.

Mara stood there, exposed, and watched him walk. He proceeded to duck into an alley behind a big truck. I thought he had just disappeared and came out to continue on our way, but Mara stood and continued watching. "Vanessa! He is hiding behind the truck." QUE?? I followed her gaze, and sure enough, Bill Murray's feet stood right below the frame of the truck. We gawked for at least a minute and they didn't budge. He must be finishing his ice cream cone, I thought, and waiting it out. Crazy Americans!

I walked away, again, horribly embarrassed, but secretly thrilled. A couple minutes later Mara said, "Umm, remember when Bill Murray hid from us?" We bust up laughing. An amusing anecdote that I thought I'd share...doesn't surpass Jon sharing a joint with Rob Schneider in Amsterdam, but still, pretty good. :)

Monday, March 3, 2008

Bom Dia, Boa Tarde, Boa Noite!

Last Wednesday I hopped on a midnight bus to Lisbon to spend a long weekend with my Portuguese family. Well, if we're going to get technical, they are not "real" family, but Ana Margarida and Rita are the sister and niece (respectively) of a family that is as good as my own, the Martins, and they have never failed to make me feel that way on the various occasions that we have spent holidays or celebrations as one big, well, family. This time was no exception.

I emailed Ana Margarida on Monday of last week, having just been told that I would have a 4 day weekend for some Spanish holiday of no particular importance, hoping to seize this opportunity to visit the Portuguese Martins in Lisbon. Thankfully, Margarida, ever warm, inviting, and enthusiastic, embraced my spontaneity and booked me a hotel straight away, saying "Come to Lisbon, we are waiting for you!"

I took a midnight train two days later to Lisbon, arriving at 6am, and wandered to find a taxi to my hotel. I try to make a point of utilizing whatever meager amounts of a language I may have in my repertoire in each new cultural exchange, probably because of my perpetual fear of linguicentrism (I think I made that word up, i.e. expecting everyone to speak english), and this pre-dawn taxi-ride was to be no exception, no matter how tired I was. I managed a "Bom dia", the address of my hotel and an "Obrigada," which I thought was pretty good, considering how tired I was, but my taxi driver cocked his head up and took one glance at me through the rearview mirror and said, "You're English, aren't you?" "Americana," I responded. "Well then, speak English!" as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. Despite my disheveled appearance and bleary eyes, my taxi driver saw my brief presence in his cab as an opportunity to practice his English and bestow upon me, what I later found to be, a characteristic Portuguese perspective. After relaying to him my current occupation in Spain he said, not without an air of disdain, "And how are your students?" I hemmed and hawed a bit, giving them a gracious report only to be met with what resembles a "Guffaw" and a small rant regarding the inferiority of the Spanish, them...and the French. For the remainder of the trip, almost without fail, I was met with Portuguese who could not only speak English proficiently but also Spanish, French and/or German, and this ubiquitous opinion of the Spanish.

On Thursday I wandered the streets of Lisbon, full of hills, taking in the plethora of awe-inspiring vistas, classic Portuguese white buildings with yellow or blue trim, castles, bridges, the vast river (often mistaken for the sea) and dined with the happy couple and the beautiful Mika in their flat in Cascais. On Friday I made a day trip to Sintra where I saw the most unique and exquisite palace, perched on the top of a hill overlooking the city, the forest, and the sea.

From Palacio Pena I decided to wander of in the direction of a convent, aided only by one road sign about 3km down with an arrow down a simple road. My fascination with convents and monasteries began not too long ago when I was sitting and talking and dreaming with my dear friend Abby about the adventures we were about to embark upon and she showed me a book of Monasteries in Italy that allow you to stay in them for a nominal fee. Intrigued, I did some research and found that the same was true in Spain, although the actual ones are not listed online. I inquired in the tourist office in Sevilla only to be told that "No hay en Andalusia." Bummer. I'm going to do it though, only a matter of time. Anyway....

I walked for about 30 minutes in that direction, perfectly content with earbuds tucked in and my "iphone glory" playlist of worship songs playing, imagining myself on a mini-pilgrimage, a sort of practice round for the somewhat longer pilgrimage I will take in May (more on that later). Not long after walking I noticed little posts on the side of the road marking the distance, 8.6, 8.5, 8.4km...and thought, perhaps this is to show how far the historic convent is from here. 8.6km, well, that's quite far...but no matter, I have all day and there is really nothing I enjoy more than walking through a new country, especially off a beaten path. And, let me tell you, this was an unbeaten path. Well, at least for a couple centuries. I came upon several dilapidated estates and only dared to enter one that was very near the road. There is something so enchanting and eery about abandoned buildings, especially ones that have been overtaken by vines and moss and trees and that now barely resemble a human abode.

I kept walking for miles, every once in a while being passed by a curious car, to which I paid no attention because I was set on walking the whole way there. As I reached the top of each new hill I found a new village nestled among the trees below or a clearer view of the sea and reveled in the beauty of this little storybook land. As I saw the numbers 3.2, 2.4, 1.1 pass by I began to walk a bit faster with excitement and anticipation in each step. Then, all of a sudden, I was at the end of the road, looking at another sign, just like the first one I had seen over 10km back, except this time, with one marked difference- note the distance: "Convento Capuchos 4". What? 4km back?? How did I miss it? Besides the obvious disappointment, now I was a bit worried. It was about 4:30 and I knew I had about an hour and a half before dark and I was well away from the town, not to mention the Convent would probably be closing soon. I knew I was going to have to hitch-hike back to Sintra either way so rather than walk down into another town to find my way back, I head back up into the hills to complete my quest.

This time, I decided, I would not be against a little help, so I decided to petition a small coupe coming up the road for a short ride. An old man named Grecia, the one Portuguese I met during my whole trip who did not speak English (or Spanish) opened the passenger door for me gruffly without saying a word. I just kept saying "convento" and he tried to speak German and we were a goofy lot for the 5 minute ride to his natural spring well. He stopped, said, "Agua" and pointed me in the direction of the Convent...okay, 1km to go. As I walked a blue BMW drove up next to me, rolled down the window and motioned me inside. I remembered seeing it parked in front of a glorious mansion at the end of the road. I shook my head and smiled, "Solomente un kilometer" (resorting to Spanish), and the man nodded reluctantly and drove on. Two minutes later the same car came back the opposite direction and stopped to inquire what (the heck) I was doing because apparently he saw me walking a couple hours ago. Refraining from just calling myself loco, I explained my destination and declined help again (I can walk the last km, claro!). He drove off only to return, once again, going my way, and insisting on driving me the remainder. The Portuguese are incessantly accommodating! ;)

I found myself at the convent, 10 minutes before it was to close, buying a ticket and appeasing the perplexed woman at the desk explaining that I would find some way down the big hill to town (I did concede that I was a little loco this time), and finally venturing into see the place I had walked over 14km to reach. I will explain it with photos only, but suffice to say, I was satisfied and once again enchanted by the history and beauty of the country. The ticket woman convinced me to drive to Capuchos with her and take a bus back to Sintra, so I agreed, happy to not have to hitch a ride in the dark and happier to set this poor woman's mind at ease (and my dad's too, because I knew he'd be reading this ;).

Once back in Sintra, I ran to catch the train, stopping in the station cafe for a hunk of chocolate salami for the road, realizing that I hadn't eaten since breakfast at the hotel. Chocolate salami is one of Portugal's mythic treats for me because Giselle and I were obsessed with it when we came 5 years ago and I hadn't had it since. That night, I met Margarida for dinner, exuberant, exhausted, and famished. We feasted on cod fish (also very Portuguese), wine, and a boiled egg dessert down by the docks.

Saturday Margarida and I took a long scenic drive down the coast to the Troia peninsula, where a lot of families from Lisbon have summer homes. On the way she stopped to show me a beautiful convent nestled up in the canyon overlooking the crystal blue water of the Atlantic. A colleague of hers was married here a few years ago...a new dream of mine! :) We took a ferry across the river and spent hours relaxing on the beach and eating a late lunch in a small fishing village. That night, we strolled through Barrio Alto, a four-street neighborhood of funky bars and restaurants with tons of people hanging out and drinking in the streets until the wee hours (which, like a lot of Lisbon, resembles San Francisco). I met some of Rita's friends and they took me in like one of their own and treat me to a great night in the Barrio and later at the best disco in Lisbon, called Lux. It was truly impressive, and was made all that much more so because we walked right to the front, greeted the doorman with a hug and handshake and passed well over a block of people waiting in the freezing cold of 4am. Yet another way I was happily spoiled in Lisbon. :)

On Sunday Rita and Luis had all of their friends over for a bbq and we spent the whole afternoon playing with the beautiful baby and chatting and gazing out on the Atlantic (and NATO headquarters) right from their balcony. Their friends were delightful and warm and I was so sad to leave, but I have been entreated to return in June for a big festival called Santos, so I hope to make it back before I head back to the states.

More than anything, spending time with Margarida and getting to know her better and Portugal through her eyes was such a wonderful experience. I told her and Rita that the thing I looked forward to most about coming to visit was the normalcy and comfort of being with a family and I enjoyed that time immensely. In some ways, coming back to Sevilla, I feel as if I have left my heart in Portugal...yet another place it now resides, as with all of you.

Boa noite!