Category Archives: Expat Life

spanish word of the day: rematar

Rematar. (verb) – To close out, to wrap up, to finish off.

Popped in to my favorite tapas bar to grab a quick snack before heading to the library. Greeted the bartender with an, “Hola, Que tal?”

He replied, “Rematando la manana.”

“Ohhh…siii,” I responded. Then thought to myself, confusedly, ‘But. But. It’s 3:30 pm!”

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friend request

I sensed there was something a bit strange about the fellow when he sat at the communal table where I was seated. Something about his constant fidgeting and frequent sighing caused my spidey-senses to tingle. But I still wasn’t quite prepared for the interaction that was about to unfold.

“Hola,” he half-whispered.
I whispered a greeting in reply, “Hola,” then attempted to turn my attention back to my laptop. He didn’t take the hint.
 “Eres Dominicana?”
‘Ah, well,’ I thought. The library was getting ready to close for the evening, so I guess I should start wrapping up my work anyway. There’s no harm in engaging this dude in a little small talk.
“No. Americana.”
“Pero, AmericanaAmericana?”
Uh, yeah, homey. From the grand ol’ US of A, born and raised.
By now, I was just trying to think of a way to politely end the conversation with this guy so I could go on about my business. My spidey-senses were tingling even stronger now. Something about the way he was looking at me – like a sickly wolf in need of a quick meal – made me want to exit this scene immediately.
“Eres muy guapaaa…” creepy library dude continued.
I issued a curt, “Gracias.”
“Can I have your phone number?”
Wait. What? That just came out of nowhere.
“Noooo,” I resisted. “I have a boyfriend.”
“Here in Spain?”
“Yes,” I lied. “He lives in Madrid.”
“Ohhhh…” creepy guy replied, despondently.
Ok. I thought. That should shut this dude down. I was sadly mistaken.
“Tienes Facebook?” At this, creepy dude stood up and walked around to my side of the table where, by chance, I had my Facebook account pulled up on my screen.
“Uhhh, si.” I muttered awkwardly. Momentarily taken aback by the sudden proximity of this guy.
“Send me a friend request,” he urged, and began spelling his name for me to look him up on the social media site.
Thinking I could just send the request and cancel it later, and that this would be the quickest way to get rid of this guy, I typed in his name and clicked the ‘Add Friend’ button.
Instead of just returning to his seat, creepy library guy decided to up the creep factor to 10.
“Can I have a kiss?”
Ok. That’s it dude. I’m done being nice.
I scowled back at him, “No!”
“Why not? Your boyfriend won’t see!”
Is this dude serious? We are in the middle of the public library and he’s doing this sh*t!? I felt my face begin to grow hot with anger. God, I wish I knew how to effortlessly cuss someone out in Spanish. In the midst of my mounting rage, I make a silent side-note to brush up on my Spanish swear words and phrases.
Instead of cussing, I give him a look that needs no translation. My left eyebrow sharply raised, my right eye squinting at him like he might actually be insane, my nose wrinkled up like I can literally smell the BS he’s dishing out, and the corners of my mouth pulling downward into a mama-don’t-take-no-mess frown. In any language, this face means, “Look MF, if you don’t back away from me quick fast and in a hurry, I’m gonna smack the taste out of your mouth.”
Message delivered.
Creepy library dude backs away and returns to the other side of the table with a sheepish grin on his face. “Lo siento, Lo siento,” he whispers and begins gathering his things to make his exit. After all his stuff is in hand, he turns to leave, but not before whispering, “Hasta luego.”
I issue a grunt and another scowl in reply.
That uncomfortable moment over, I realize that the library is going to be closing in only a few more minutes. Not wanting to chance running into this creepy guy outside of the library, I wait until the last possible moment to pack up my things and leave. But before I do, I return to Facebook and click the link.

 

Cancel Request.
 
 
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spanish word of the day: abrigar

Abrigar. (verb) To bundle up. To protect oneself from the cold.

As I was leaving the apartment with my bike, I ran into my elderly neighbor, Sr. Braulio.

“Vas en bici?” He asked, looking a little dubious. (Are you going by bike?)

“Siiii,” I replied. Then followed with, “Tengo mis guantes, mi bufonda…” (I got my gloves, my scarf…)

“Ahh…” He responded. “Hay que abrigar!”(Ya gotta bundle up!)

estoy harta (i’m fed up)

Living in a small Spanish town is hard. Harder than I thought. I can’t believe it’s been 4 months, and I still struggle with being here. Still. I mean, I’m usually a pretty adaptable person, so I’m kind of shocked that I haven’t successfully done so here. I feel like almost every moment is a struggle. Nothing comes easily. Nothing is without a little bit of pain, inconvenience, or the unexpected element of surprise. I feel like I’ve been being (or trying to be) mentally and physically tough the entire time I’ve been here. And I don’t think I want to keep it up anymore. Or at least… I need to take a break from this sh*t.
***
Today, I left the bike behind at the house and walked to school instead. I got to school about 30 minutes late for my first class. I had no excuse other than, I couldn’t make it. That’s it. For my evening class, I showed up about 5 minutes late, and I flat out told the teacher – I’m totally unprepared today. She told me to go home. I did. This is what I call radical self-care tinged with a little bit of, ‘Yo. Eff this sh*t’.
***
Living alone was probably not the best decision after all, so I’ve started looking for a new apartment – with roommates. I spent time at the instituto this morning contacting the few shared apartments I found online last night. This evening, they both called back. I’ll be going to take a look at them tomorrow. Hopefully, at least one of them will feel like a better situation than I’m in right now. God, I hope so. I really need an improvement – just for my state of mind. I’m starting to feel so mentally worn down and raw-edged. Like, anything could make me cry these days. What kinda thug cries at the drop of a hat?
***
I watched two movies this weekend about folks locked down in solitary confinement. One was a movie with Kevin Bacon (who did his thing in the role, I might add) as a petty criminal who’d been in solitary in Alcatraz for 3 years in the 1930s. The other was the biopic about Ruben Hurricane Carter starring Denzel. Both felt like my life right now. Mumbling to myself, laughing to myself, entertaining myself with my own vivid daydreams and imaginings. Plus, something that Denzel-as-Ruben said in the movie really stuck with me. I just gotta focus on doing the time. Not on when I’ll get out, not on what my life used to be like in some other place. Just doing the time.
So far, I’ve done 4 months. I’d been thinking that I had 5 more months to go, and that there was no way in hell or on God’s green earth that I could possibly do another 5 months like this. But, then, all of a sudden I realized that the end of May is only a little more than 3 months away (I did start the program late, after all). 90 days doesn’t seem nearly as bad as 5 months. Maybe I can make it. Maybe.
***
I’m tired of fighting the cold
I’m tired of fighting the bike
I’m tired of fighting my schedule
I’m tired of fighting my shower
I’m tired of fighting my coffee maker
I’m tired of fighting my bed
I’m tired of the internet being so damned slow. Slow? No. slow would be an improvement
I’m tired of not having a DVD player
I’m tired of watching the same damned TV shows every damned day
I’m tired of the same crappy movies on Paramount channel
I’m tired of the cold
I’m tired of being sick
I’m sick of waiting a week for my clothes to dry
I’m sick of not having any clothes to wear
I’m sick of going shopping for clothes only to realize that I’m not made like a Spanish woman. (Yes, this dress is very nice. But where do my boobs go?)
I’m sick of going to the library
I’m sick of going to my evening class
I’m sick of this town
No. I’m over this town
I’m over these people who live here and the way they walk (Seriously? Can you f*ckin’ move, please?)
I’m over my students acting like slack-jawed yokels some days (What’s up with that? Think, dammit!)
I’m over this cold
I’m over this sh*tty ass food. Like, really, can I get one decent restaurant that either doesn’t have the same tired ass tapas that EVERY other restaurant has, OR isn’t ridiculously overpriced!? The f*ck?
I’m over positive self-talk. I’m over trying to convince myself that I can do this, that I got this, that I can make it if I just try. No. Enough of that. Today, it’s just me, my screwface, and hip-hop blaring through my headphones as I stomp-walk through the streets of Ciudad Real.
I can try again… tomorrow.

******
UPDATE; Since I first penned these thoughts almost a month ago, things have changed considerably. That apartment and those roommates I was hunting for? Found ’em. I now live with 3 other ladies of varying ages. It feels nice to no longer have only myself to talk to, and to have other living, breathing humans to share the details of my day with. I’ve even made some connections with other Americans living in town, and we meet fairly regularly to share tapas, drinks, laughter, and stories of expat life.

That cold that I was so very sick of? The new apartment has much better heating, and the seemingly neverending winter in my little Spanish town has magically transformed into spring – almost overnight. This means that I’ve been able to reunite with my rusty old bike that one of my coworkers loaned me. Now that I no longer have to abrigarme every day, I can actually enjoy the sometimes-challenging ride through town on my way to school or to run errands. I even catch myself humming or singing little tunes as I pedal through the streets – a much better use of my vocal chords than the under-my-breath curses that I used to emit.

That terrible Internet connection that forced me to go to use the wifi at the public library, where I was often prey for creepy library stalkers… it is no more. The wifi in my new place is about as strong as it gets. So, not only can I get more writing work done in the comfort of my own room, I can also watch a variety of TV programs and movies that just weren’t available to me before. And sometimes, when I am just sitting in my room, enjoying the relative softness of my new bed, or watching the sunlight stream in through the window, I hear the lilting sounds of my neighbor practicing the flute (thankfully, he or she is pretty damned good!) or the bells from the nearby cathedral chiming the hour… and I smile, and say a little prayer of thanks.

Through all of this, I’ve realized (or been reminded) that making a mid-course correction isn’t the same as failing; that suffering isn’t necessary, that when going through something that you know is making you stronger and more resilient, you still have the right and the power to say when you’ve reached your limit.

And that sometimes, ‘eff this sh*t’, is exactly the right answer.

A little reminder I wrote to myself and kept on my bedside table when I decided to stop struggling.
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spanish word of the day: caber

Caber (verb) – to fit, to have room for.

As is my usual habit on Thursdays, I go have a coffee and a churrito in the cafeteria at school after my first and only class of the day. Today, the churritos weren’t yet ready when I arrived and ordered my coffee. The guy who runs the cafeteria set out a mini muffin for me to eat while the churritos finished cooking.

“Oh, no…” I protested, “Yo puedo esperar por el churrito.” (I can wait for the churrito.)

“Tu eres grande,” he replied. “Te cabe!” (You’re big. You have room for it!)

Sir!!

how do you say ‘mercury retrograde’ in spanish?

Maybe it was ‘cause Mercury was in retrograde. But yesterday was rough. Much harder than it needed to be. It started out well enough. My 2 classes at the high school where I teach English went well. The students were engaged – which is all I can really ask for most days.
But then I realized that I’d booked 2 private lessons back-to-back that day and hadn’t allowed myself enough time to get between the 2 locations. No worries, I thought. I’ll just ask the first student if we can shorten the lesson to 30 minutes. Since it’s our first class, we’ll just use it as a ‘getting to know you / setting expectations’ meeting and I won’t charge for it. That’ll leave me enough time to bike to the nearby bus stop, tie up Roci, and catch the 5:15 bus to the next town for my 2nd lesson. I got this.
Except, I didn’t had this. Not at all.
My first class ended up being a little further than I’d originally expected, but I still made it to the lesson on time, and had a good chat with both the parents and the teenaged son I was to tutor. Although I did feel the son was a little undercover flirty with me. Who suggests that we can “sometimes meet in your bedroom” because you have a computer in there?
Anyhow, I ended the chat right on time, and as I was preparing to leave, the mom offered to give me a ride to my next place. I was just about to accept when I realized that I’d need Roci when I got back if I was gonna make it to my 7:00 class at the Escuela de Idiomas on time. If I left her at their house, she’d be too far from where the bus would drop me. “Nah, I’ll be ok,” I told her, and set off to catch my bus.

My First Big Mistake

There was some after-school traffic that delayed me a little bit, so I wasn’t exactly sure how I was doing on time when I pulled up to the bus stop and saw a bus there, getting ready to close its doors and pull off. “Is that my bus? No, that can’t be my bus. Is it?” I signaled to the driver to open the door. Slightly out of breath, I managed to ask him if this was the bus I should take if I needed to be in Miguelturra by 5:30. He seemed to indicate that this was probably the best one. But when I asked if he would wait a minute – since I still needed to tie up Roci – he told me he was leaving right away. The next bus would be along at 5:15, he said. Oh! I thought. That’s the bus I wanted anyway. I’m good!
Except, I weren’t good. Not at all.
I quickly tied up Roci, and settled in on the bench to wait, eyeballing the 2 Ferrero Rochers that my 1st student had given me. I imagined enjoying them later as a delicious reward for successfully completing all my running around for the day, and even earning some extra cash in the process. I silently patted myself on the back. Look at me, getting things done, making things happen. That’s alright! Go me!
A few minutes later, the bus pulls up, I pay my fare, have a seat and we take off. After a few stops, I notice that it’s about 5:26, and we’re nowhere near my stop yet. Why is this driver taking so long? C’mon. Let’s move it! After a few more stops, I prepare myself to exit. I’d sent a quick message to my student’s mom letting her know that the bus was running a little behind, but I was on my way. After yet a few more stops, I realized I no longer had any idea where I was. I had never seen these buildings or streets on my route before. I’d been paying attention the whole time, surely I hadn’t missed my stop? Then it dawned on me.
Joder. I’ve taken the wrong bus.
There are 2 busses that go to Miguelturra, but only 1 of them stops near my student’s house. I, obviously, was not on that bus today. I got up, walked to the bus driver, and asked him if I could get off somewhere and get back to my stop. He suggested I get off at the next stop, but was pretty vague about how exactly I could walk from there to my intended destination (I just love it when Spanish people say, take this street, walk to the end, and then ask somebody else. HUH? Dem ain’t directions!). I got off, and headed in the direction he suggested. I asked the first people I passed – two older ladies – how I could get to Parque del Sol, right across the street from where I was going. Their response clued me in to just how off-the-mark I was. Heads thrown back in mock tribulation, hands gesturing and waving that I would need to walk, and walk, and then walk some more, perhaps to the end of the earth, perhaps until the end of time until I got to my destination. I thanked them kindly for the specificity of their response, and trudged on. After a few paces, I realized that I needed to abort this mission. If I had to walk as far as the ladies had said, I’d pretty much have to turn right back around to catch the next bus by the time I got there. There would be no time for a lesson. Which also meant, there would be no extra cash in my pocket today.
Joder.

My Second Big Mistake

I made an about face then set off to look for a bus stop where I could catch the bus headed in the opposite direction. I found the stop, checked the schedule, seeing that I’d probably just missed the bus (unless it was running late) going back to Ciudad Real, and had almost 30 minutes before the next one. I waited for a few minutes to see if the bus was, in fact, running late. At 10 minutes past its scheduled time, I gave up waiting and battling the cold and wind, and sought refuge in a bar a few blocks away. I needed something to warm my bones quickly. I ordered a shot of rum. After finishing, I reached into my wallet and discovered my second major mistake of the day. I’d been expecting to get cash from my lesson, but since that hadn’t happened, I now only had enough money to pay for the shot I’d ordered with a few spare coins left over. I had no way to pay for the bus. No problem. I thought. There’s still plenty of time before the bus comes, I’m sure I can find a cajero nearby.
As my sitcom-life would have it, however, there was no cajero nearby. I ended up walking almost 15 cold, frustrating, muttering-angrily-to-myself minutes to the town center until I found one and extracted money. Luckily, there was a bus stop right across the street, and a few minutes later a bus came along, and I headed back to Ciudad Real. With nothing to show for it, I might add. Actually, with less to show for it, given the money spent on 2 bus trips and 1 rum.
Well, at least I’d make it to my 7:00 class on time. I got back to town, reclaimed Roci and headed to the Escuela de Idiomas, pulling up a full 5 minutes before my class was to start. When I arrived at the classroom, the door was closed. An unusual sight, since my students are usually coming back from a break when I arrive, and the door is always open. I peeked in the little porthole-shaped window. The class looked fully engaged in some activity. I lightly tapped on the door and peeked my head in, getting the attention of the lead teacher. “Oh, hi, Kisha!” she smiled and hurried over to me. “Do you need me today?” I asked. “Welll… not really,” she replied. Of course. I should have seen that coming.
Feeling more than a little defeated at my overwhelming lack of accomplishment for the day, I collected Roci one last time, and headed home to sulk it off. I reached my piso, de-bundled myself, and tossed my bag on the couch. Reaching in to extract my laptop, my finger brushed across something unfamiliar. It was the Ferrero Rocher from earlier.
“Well…” I sighed to myself, “…at least the day wasn’t a total loss.”

livin’ la vida monja

Part of me feels like I need to make excuses for my little apartment. It has no oven, I have to pass through the kitchen to get through the bathroom, and the small floorplan poses some interesting storage challenges. But honestly, I love the place. It’s kind of funny, because I’ve been reading articles and watching videos about the so-called ‘tiny house’ movement in the US for the past couple of years, and I told myself that if I ever had the chance to have my own tiny house, I’d jump on it in a heartbeat. It seems like my wish has come true, even though not exactly in the way that I expected. 
Before leaving the US this time, I had to shed a lot of stuff. I got rid of tons of clothes, sold off some things and donated others. I even sold my car. At first, the process of shedding so much made me really anxious, but after it was all said and done, I felt amazingly light. It even felt like I’d cleared up some extra storage in my mind. It occurred to me that each thing that I owned not only occupied a physical space in my life, but also took up virtual space in my mind. Since I had to remember where everything was, even if it wasn’t in plain sight or used every day, there was always a space or a spot on a mental map that it occupied which helped me locate it when I needed to. Getting rid of all those things meant I no longer had to remember them. I could clear out those mental references and fill that space with something more important, or just leave it blank for now.
My new apartment is located just around the corner from a convent, and the street it’s on is called ‘Inmaculada Concepcíon’. For those reasons, I’ve started referring to it as my nun’s cell. Since my goal this go ‘round is to focus more on productive solitary activities – namely writing – I think my pisito is just what I need right now, and it brings me a great deal of joy cooking a basic meal, reading or watching TV on the couch, or just soaking up the sun while sitting in front of the window.

espere tu turno, gracias.

I’ve heard all sorts of horror stories from other auxiliares in other parts of Spain about the process of applying for and obtaining a NIE, or numero de identificacion para extranjeros. Basically, it’s like a social security number for foreigners. My own appointment for my NIE was scheduled for a Thursday in my 2nd full week in Ciudad Real. A woman who works with the auxiliars in my province sent me an email asking if I’d like to join a group of other auxiliars whom she’d be helping with the process on that day. All I had to do in advance was fill out my application form (which was in Spanish). She suggested that I have one of the teachers at my school help me with it.
So it was that I found myself in the teachers’ lounge a couple of days before my appointment, looking for someone to help me with the application. I had just been introduced to Emilio, a retired profe in the school’s English department, who happened to be onsite that day. Apparently Emilio stops by every once in a while to visit and chat with the other English profes, even though he no longer works there. With his British mannerisms and his Mr. Rogers countenance, I figured he was just the right person to ask to help me with the task. I was right. He gladly accepted my request, and slowly walked me through each field on the form, making sure I understood exactly what I needed to enter in order to complete it correctly. After we’d finished, he asked me where my Thursday appointment was. I gave him the name of the location that I thought I had to go to, but I wasn’t sure I was remembering it exactly correctly. Emilio was sure I was mistaken. I thought harder. No, I was sure that was the place. I went to the computer and printed out the email I’d received, and showed him the address and building name. Emilio remained unconvinced. He seemed certain that the lady coordinating the meeting didn’t know what she was talking about. I was certain that I had only asked Emilio to help me with the application, so I wasn’t exactly keen on him ‘helping’ me figure out where I already knew I needed to go two days later. But this gray-haired gentleman had already accepted his charge, and would not be swayed. Before I knew it, he had gallantly snatched up my completed application, and was signaling me to follow him. I tried resisting – politely, but firmly. ‘No, I think I’ll just wait to go with the others on Thursday. Maybe that will be best.’ Emilio scoffed. This shit was going down, and it was going down now. 
Dismayed, but hopeful, I quickly asked my knight in cable knit cardigan what I should bring with me. He advised me to bring all the documentation and identification I had. Before I could quickly gather my folder that contained everything, Emilio was already heading out of the lounge. I followed, clutching my folder to my chest, still not sure how his helping me with my application had turned into this impromptu, unsolicited expedition.
Despite his advanced years, Emilio moved swiftly. I had worn the wrong shoes today, and found it a little difficult to keep up with his long, loping strides. We made our way out of the school, down the block and across the street to a different foreign registration office. Emilio strode in, stopping briefly to ask the security guard which doorway we needed to pass through. The guard motioned to the left, but also seemed to indicate that the waiting area – where other people with appointments were seated – was on the right. I was pretty sure that our expedition would be a bust since we had no appointment whatsoever. Emilio glanced towards the closed office doors, but ended up heading toward the waiting area. We copped a couple of chairs, and waited – me, nervously wondering if Emilio was being just a little too cavalier; Emilio, tapping his foot somewhat impatiently. We waited for a couple of minutes, and when someone from the office on the other side of the hall stuck their head into the waiting area, Emilio pounced. He sprang up from his chair, and crossed the large room in two quick strides, his index finger held up in an authoritative attention-getting gesture. I sat quietly, my eyes slightly bugged, waiting for what would come next. In a few moments, Emilio peeked his head back into the waiting room. He motioned for me to join him. I tried to ignore the stares of the other extranjeros who were patiently waiting their turn. I’m sure they were thinking, “Who the hell are these two? Why do they get to jump the line?” Ok, maybe they weren’t thinking that, but I knew that’s what I would be thinking if I were them.
On the other side of the hallway, Emilio motioned for me to have a seat at a desk where a middle-aged official-looking woman was seated. She started asking me for my paperwork, and entering my details into a computer. Emilio sat next to me calmly watching the process, chiming in to help me out if there was something the woman asked that I didn’t quite understand. Once the lady had finished her questions and tip-tapping into the computer, she ripped off one of the pages of the triplicate form, and then told Emilio that I needed to go to a nearby bank to pay the application fee, then come back to finalize the process. Emilio seemed slightly exasperated at the inefficiency of that procedure, but he rose and exited, and again, I found myself scurrying to catch up to him.
Outside, Emilio paused for a moment to explain the bank-paying step to me in English. He said I should go there now and get it out of the way. I explained that I had only brought my folder, not my wallet, and would have to go back over to the school first before heading to the bank. He glanced at his watch, seemed to calculate that that would take too much time, then waved away the idea altogether. “That’s ok,” he said. “We can go now,” Then he set off again. I cursed myself for at least the third time in the last 30 minutes for picking these shoes today. I did a halfway decent job of keeping pace with Emilio as we made our way to the bank. We entered, then waited for the clerk to finish with one other customer. Then Emilio approached and stated our business. The clerk seemed annoyed. Apparently, they only handled this type of transaction during certain hours. We were well outside of that timeframe. Emilio didn’t bat an eyelash. The clerk started processing the transaction. Emilio casually tossed down the 10 euro payment on the desk like he was throwing down his gauntlet. I was glad the clerk had chosen not to deny him.
Emilio. Waits for no one. 
Once the transaction was finished, we walked back to the foreign registration office and showed the office-lady the receipt. She loudly applied an official stamp, and de repente, I had my NIE. It had taken less than an hour. I thanked the office-lady, and we left. When we were outside of the building once again, Emilio made me repeat to him what I needed to do next. I repeated the instructions the office-lady had given me. I needed to call the police office and request a cita previa to apply for my tarjeta de residencia. On the day of my appointment, I needed to bring specific paperwork and forms of ID, etc., etc.

Emilio seemed satisfied with my answer. He mentioned that since it was a little past lunchtime, he needed to head home now. I thanked him profusely for his help that day, explaining that I couldn’t believe how quick and easy the process had been. I headed back to school, still a little bit bewildered by the whole incident, while my hero turned in the other direction and strode off into the sunset. Well, not really, it was still only afternoon. 

toto, we’re not in marbella anymore

Adjusting to a new place can be hard. And, though the process has only just begun for me, I think that adjusting to Ciudad Real will definitely present some challenges, mainly because I can’t help but compare it to my stint in Marbella. So far, there have been a few things that have stood out as being distinctly different than my previous experience living in Spain. Not all of them are bad differences, but they’re certainly noticeable. Here are a few:

  • They don’t speak Spanish here. I found out this little fact when one of the teachers at my school complimented me on my speaking. To my surprise, she didn’t say, “Hablas español muy bien,” instead I got, “Hablas castellano muy bien.” In my head, I gave her the ‘whatchoo talkin’ ‘bout Willis?’ face, but on the outside, I kindly thanked her and went on with our conversation. Of course, castellano and español are exactly the same thing, but since we’re in Castilla La-Mancha, I guess that’s what they prefer to call it here. Also there are some words they use here that I never heard in Andalucía. For instance, instead of saying ‘mira’or ‘mira eso’ (look at this / check this out), they say ‘fijate’. The first time I had someone say it to me, I thought I was being asked to fix something. They also use ‘metalico’ instead of (or, in addition to) ‘efectivo’ to mean cash. I’m not sure if that one is specific to this region, but I’m pretty sure I’ve only heard it Ciudad Real.
  • It’s flat – One of the first things I noticed when I was doing my initial explorations around Ciudad Real was how flat the landscape was. In Marbella / Málaga, I was situated between the sea and the mountains, so there were lots of hills and steep inclines. The good thing about this is that the flatness makes getting around on foot a lot easier and less tiring. However, it might not be best for keeping my buns and thighs tight – a nice side effect of my daily walking commute in Marbella.
  • It’s super dry – Technically, Ciudad Real is in the middle of the desert. Unlike Eliza Doolittle’s song would suggest, there is very little rain in the plain in Spain. The reverse was true in Marbella. Proximity to the sea meant high humidity, and also a short lifetime for clothes to dry. But being a long-time resident of Atlanta, humidity is something I’m very accustomed to. Here, I’ve already seen the effect the dry climate can have on my hair, skin, and mucous membranes. That family-sized jar of shea butter I brought along probably won’t last me ‘til spring. And I frequently tote a little bottle of saline spray to keep my nasal passages from drying out and leaving me with achy sinuses.
You got it wrong, boo.

Update: Though the atmosphere is generally dry, since I originally penned  this post, I’ve seen lots more rain. In fact, it’s probably rained as many times here in the last month and a half, than it did my entire 6 months in Marbella. Sorry, ‘Liza. I take it all back.

  • The local vegetable is pork – Seriously, these people luuuuuv some pig meat! I’ve already had a few restaurant meals where pork was served for each course. In fact, on a recent tapas excursion with Pablo (Juana’s husband) and some of his friends, a plate of pig ears showed up on the table. I shared with the group that people in the South have an expression that we eat everything on the pig from ‘the rooter to the tooter’. It seems Pablo was already familiar with the concept, as the manchegos have a similar expression. I can say, however, that the quality of the pork here is amazing – I’ve had some cuts (particularly presa iberica) that were extremely tender, juicy, and flavorful without being overly porky (that’s a scientific term, ya know).
  • Nobody takes the bus. Well, not nobody. But when I think back to Marbella, I recall how the bus was almost full every day with locals, seasonal residents, and tourists of all ages. I’ve only taken the bus twice in Ciudad Real, and the only other people on there were either very elderly or riding along with a small child. Plus, the buses seem to take these long, circuitous routes that makes them the least efficient mode of transportation for getting around town.
  •  It’s small. Like, really small – If I have my ‘marching on Selma’ strut on, I can pretty much get from one side of town to the other on foot in about 30-35 minutes. This would explain why hardly anyone takes the bus.
  • It’s cold. Like, really cold – My first couple of weeks here were actually unseasonably warm. In late October, temperatures reached highs of around 70 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, with lows in the 60s. However, since Halloween, all that has changed. Unlike Marbella where winter spelled more rain than true cold and lasted for all of about 45 days, I can already tell that, here, there will be winter. Cold as a witch’s tit winter. It’s already been down in the upper 30s a couple of nights. And I’ve already realized that my assortment of blazers which served me well in the south, won’t stand much of a chance against these temps.
  •  There is a famine of beauty. Remember when I shared that the abundance of natural beauty was one of the most amazing things about Spain during my previous stint? Umm… yeah. Not quite the case here in Ciudad Real. Strangely enough, this is one of the few Spanish towns that I’ve been to that doesn’t have a casco antiguo – or historic quarter – with beautiful old buildings and charming cobblestone streets. Nope, Ciudad Real is surprisingly regular. Architecturally speaking, there isn’t much to look at. And since, as I mentioned, it’s in the middle of the desert, the surrounding landscape doesn’t immediately grab the eye. I don’t doubt that are some breathtaking views and scenes to see here, but for now, it looks like I’m gonna have to work a bit harder to find them.

From Wikipedia entry on Don Quixote, “La Mancha is a region of Spain, but mancha (Spanish word) means spot, mark, stain. Translators such as John Ormsby have declared La Mancha to be one of the most desertlike, unremarkable regions of Spain, the least romantic and fanciful place that one would imagine as the home of a courageous knight.

  • The stares. Dear god, the stares! Now, I’m used to being one of a relative few brown faces in a Spanish town. As such, I’m also used to getting the occasional stare from passersby on the street – it happened on several occasions in both Marbella and Málaga. Spanish people from other parts of the country are also known for openly staring at almost anyone – I’ve just chalked it up as a cultural difference. However, while staring was noticeable in Marbella and Málaga, I never felt it was excessive. It’s a totally different story here in Ciudad Real. During the roughly 20-minute walk from my flat to my school, I’m sure to receive no less than 10 blatant (like, stop in your tracks, squinch up your face, forget to chew your gum) stares from people I pass on the street, or even people passing by in cars. At first, I took it with the same bemused attitude that I did when I lived in Andalucía. But as the days have passed, the stares have kept coming. It’s a bit unnerving at times. Nothing makes you feel more like a stranger – or even like an unwelcome guest – than people looking at you strangely all day long. And I know it’s not just my own self-consciousness, as I’ve had some of my new friends comment on – and even apologize for – the excessive staring that they notice when they’re walking along with me. While I think it’s noble and sweet of my new friends to take some responsibility for what I perceive as the rudeness of their fellow countrymen, I know it’s not something that’s going to change anytime soon. Because Ciudad Real is such a small, largely homogenous town, I’m probably going to keep getting stared at, and I’m going to have to keep not taking it personally. I’ve taken to walking around with my headphones on to help insulate myself from that feeling of ‘otherness’. I realize that some of the stares are simply curiosity, some are even complimentary, but most are because many of the people here have never ever left their home town or region, so they’re not used to seeing different people, and some of those may not even like seeing different people. I was talking to a friend of Pablo’s recently – an over 30-year-old woman who is una manchega, born and raised in the area. We were talking about how much we both loved Barcelona. She ultimately revealed that her first time visiting the city (which is only about 3 or so hours away by train) was this past summer. I was completely shocked! How do you live in a country this small for all your life and never visit what is arguably its most popular city? Of course, I know similar people in my hometown of Macon and even people from Atlanta who’ve never travelled further than a neighboring state. But I think it surprises me even more here in Spain, given how easy and relatively affordable it is to travel from one region to another. Still, I knew well enough not to stare at her for it.