Friday, January 30, 2009

Reading lists

I've been reading a great book about Spanish culture and history called Ghosts of Spain: Travels Through Spain and Its Silent Past by Giles Tremlett. It's well written, with substancial yet easy to digest chapters that cover a journalistic journey into the heart of modern Spain. Explaining many of the curiosities the Spanish society many of Tremlett's observations are good explanations for questions I've been coming across as I am making a new life here. I am also getting a solid basis to better understand the daily news, politics, arts, languages, and nationalisms of this land in chapters with titles like "How the Bikini Saved Spain", "The Mean Streets of Flamenco", and for Galicia "Coffins, Celts, and Clothes". Read it as a whole or focus on specific chapters that interest you most, but I highly recommend this book if you are planning on moving to Spain, are currently living in Spain, or are at all interested in Spanish culture and history. Add it to your list!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Walking with umbrellas

One of the key features of Santiago is the umbrella. It is as much a character of the city as the cathedral, stones, and tarta de santiago. In almost every store window you can find umbrellas for sale, and at the entrance of every home and every store there is a paraguero for you to put your umbrella in while you visit. The past few days we have been experiencing some terrible weather. Heavy rains and strong winds moved their way across northern Spain all weekend. The storms are called Temporales. Winds that have been building up as they move across the atlantic from the artic north and carribean to the south meet up and create on the sea the conditions for a perfect storm (yes, like the movie) and on land the result is a weak hurricane, or as called here a temporal. It began on Friday, classes were canceled for kids all over Galicia in the expectation of the winds and rain, but during the day there was not much to talk about, although having not had much practice in the wind and rain and use of an umbrella, I did lose an umbrella to the wind as I walked out of a restaurant in the zona viejo in Santiago. The wind made a wild change in one of the small streets and the change was more that my umbrella could bear. I had to leave it hanging off a garbage can in the city. After that the weather went down hill. Winds, rains, hail, thunder, lightening, power outages, etc. kept the social spaniard inside watching DEC-Dónde estás corazón all night instead of drinking cañas with amigos downtown.

Saturday we woke up to sunny skies that in a matter of minutes turned into another storm after lunch, cleared up in a matter of minutes and in the evening tricked us all into thinking the worst was over and we could make up for the lost Friday night caña on Saturday. So, we ventured out and the night was misty and windy, but nothing like the night before. Then we decided to go home. And the rain started to pour as soon as we came up with the idea, so we thought we'd wait it out, when 30 seconds later, the winds came rushing through, followed by the thinder and lightening and many taxis that appeared on the streets ready to take us all home.

Sunday was a little bit calmer, but there was wind and hail and extreme changes in the weather in a matter of minutes and until today it is still rainy. So, I've been learning to walk through the city with an umbrella, which simple as it may seem can become quite complicated when the streets are mideval sized with cars passing, and everyone else has umbrellas coming from both directions on the sidewalk. There is a subtle game of tilt the umbrella, dont poke out the eye, careful with the building being played by everyone as we avoid puddles but still get soaked when the wind changes and the rain hits horizontally rather than vertically. Slowly, poco a poco I think I'm getting the hang of the game, I've lost only one umbrella so far this season, and still have both eyes, and I've only had a handful of umbrella collisions, so if the weather continues to be this rainy, I should by the end of the winter master the use of the umbrella on the Santiago sidewalk.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Tele part 2: El Duque

I never really did get into Sin tetas no hay paraiso but El Duque, the main character, is probably the most recognized television character in Spain in the last two years. The series, which roughly translated into English means "without boobs there is no paradise", is based on a series from Colombia about drug trafficking, violence, sex, and a love story involving an innocent girl who gets wrapped up in the wrong world for the love of the Duque. The show has lasted two seasons in Spain, and the finale of the second season was the talk of the town in the days leading up to it because rumor had it the Duque could possibly die. Stories of fans who never missed an episode except for the night their children were born started to circulate and the idea of the end of the Duque, the sexiest man in Spain, was more than the sin tetas public could handle. The night of the finale I did catch the last 5 minutes to see exactly what the talk was all about. The end left some questions to be asked and more than one fan unhappy, so due to the reponse of the fans the following night a second ending was played. I don't want to tell you exactly what happened, but you can watch the two finales and choose the ending you prefer (Spanish skills aren't compeletly necesary). And finally, rumor has it that El Duque is now off to Hollywood to follow the path of Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruise.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Fisica o Quimica

Before moving to Spain I taught High School. It was quite an experience, and the good the bad, the ugly, I look back on the experience with fondness. Here in my new life in Spain, I have a lot more free time, and a lot more time to watch TV and get caught up in pop culture. One of my first television discoveries was the series, Fisica o Quimica, and I was sucked into the melodramatic storylines from the start because when I watched them not only was I entertained, but I also got my first images of the public school system in Spain which is much different from the American system I was used to. The show encompasses the various sterotype trends of the moment in Spanish society including the Chonis o Juanis o Jessicas, basically La Juani, the girls from the lower class barrios who are what we would call a little ghetto in the US and the culture of tuning spending all your money on fixing up your car Pimp my ride style. The story lines on Fisica o Quimica include relationships between students, teachers, and students and teachers, drugs, racial prejudices, social prejudice...etc. etc...along with the high school drama of what teacher is not fair, student behavior, and teacher misconduct. So here here is a clip of the show...if you can speak Spanish enjoy....if not I'll get a little translation together soon!

Translation: So here’s an idea of what is happening. If you have some Spanish skills this might make it easier to follow, just remember there is the Castilian accent and there is a lot of “tía” and “tío” talk which in Spain is the word for dude/girl or whatever other term you may use to refer to people.

The clip begins with the two students talking about the guys they have been with. The blonde is telling her friend about being with a “tío” named Gorka. Gorka then storms in calling her “guarra” (nasty) because he has an STD. She freaks out because she has only been with two guys, Isaac and Gorka. Standing near the girls are two teachers. Brown haired teacher is having a secret love affair with Isaac and hearing the news of the STD blonde teacher says she better go to the doctor…DRAMA!

Out in the hall Gorka finds Isaac and takes him down. People start watching telling them to stop. Brown haired teacher lady steps in and Gorka accidentally punches her making Isaac very mad…that’s his lady. The fight is broken up and Gorka tells everyone the blonde girl has gonorrhea. Isaac is proud of defending his lady, and the teacher realizes how immature he is and that she has got herself into more than she bargained for.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


Rebajas! Twice a year the Spanish calendar marks the start of a month or so of sales, January-Feb, and July-August. I was lucky enough to arrive in Spain with rebajas in August, which was very helpful when my luggage was lost and I was left with only the sad clothes on my back...which when traveling trans-atlantic tend to be more comfortable than fashionable making me feel quite out of place in the land of Zara where most women would never be caught dead in tennis shoes outside of the gym (where I believe very few are found...although don't quote me on that I haven't been to a gym since being here either, but have plans to get to one soon...maybe). In any case, this round of rebajas I hit the stores up on the first days to try to feel like a part of the crowd, an important part of Spanish society, and becuase the news was claiming rebajas were supposed to be the best in years due to the financial crisis with up to 70% off at some stores. So far I haven't bought much, the crisis is hitting me pretty hard as well, so, since I won't be buying, I'll imagine.

Besides Zara and company (Berska, Massimo Dutti, Pull and Bear, Strativarious, Oysho), which are owned by a very rich Gallego, Amancio Ortega, and seen on all the women in Galicia (I reached the moment of being sick of Zara when suddenly walking down the street or watching TV I could named where the clothing people were wearing was bought. I'm now over that phase and back to loving Zara since I can afford it, usually.), the next most recognizable Spanish label in the stores and on the streets is Desigual. Desigual means unequal, and like Camper shoes, is based on the idea of creating unique items that set the individual apart from the crowd. When someone is wearing desigual its obvious too, bright crazy patterns, and usually there is someway that the clothing is uneven, a zipper is off to the side, the skirt is asymetriccal the buttons don't match...I don't think I'm quite ready to pull off the look yet or the price tag, but most of my friends here have at least one item from Desigual, and as crazy as the clothes may seem the always tend to look quite nice in them. Check out their newest collection here.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Today is a day that will go down in history and the entire world is watching each step they take as Barack and Michelle Obama make their way to the white house. The radio coverage of the inauguration has already begun in Spain, begining with a report talking to restaurants in Madrid serving a special menu today based on the Obama familiy's favorite foods and continuing to cover until 9pm. has a live streaming video of the coverage. The TV will also cover the inauguration, but starting at 5:30. I'd like to be able to watch, but I have to teach, so I'll be checking out video's later in the evening. While the press is very interested, I haven't noticed much interest in the general public, most people are just commenting on the interest about the new American president compared to the reception of their own president, who for many was also a huge relief (introducing a socialist president after a Bush supporting right wing president who sent Spanish troops to Iraq) when elected 4 years ago. The influence of Obama will have a greater impact than the election of most other world leaders, so here's to the hope for change.
How is the coverage in the rest of the world?

At the same time, the coverage of the end of the Bush era, while very welcome has also been quite funny as many comedians and journalists are bidding a sentimental goodbye to Bush thanking him for the scores of incredibly surreal ridiculous moments one would never expect from a world leader that made their job so much easier.

And, finally, the weather has been crazy lately, a mix of sun, wind, storms, hail, rain, and cold, changing about every hour. A temporal, almost like a baby hurricane, is upon us, and I have to say it's better than snow.

Monday, January 19, 2009

A solas

About a week ago, the clothing of the ministra de defensa, Carme Chacon, was the topic of the news for a few days. This weekend, another female politician, Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, has been in the spotlight for her appearance in photographs taken for an interview in Magazine. The photographs, although not blatently distasteful, in my opinion are not exactly the image that the portavoz (spokesperson) for the minority party of the country (PP-Partido Popular) would want to portray. Maybe its all just an image game, but the photographs just dont seem like the best way to present a political leader. (Are there any pictures of men in politics on a similar scale?) Anyway, aside from my opinion, the news has been going back and forth in not really criticizing, but mostly saying who cares. It just seems so strange that a week ago a woman in a modern suit was criticized, and 4 years ago the ministers of the leftist party were also criticized for a photograph in Vogue, and then this photo comes out. In the end its not really that important, and not worthy of being on the cover of the newspaper all weekend, but it does lend to an interesting perspective on the way that women in power are viewed, or for that matter, the image of women in general.

Photograph of the ministras del gobierno in Vogue, 2004

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A hot cup of lemon and honey...

I'm sick, I have been since after Reyes, lots of coughing and nose blowing, and stopping at the farmacias, and I suppose this is a good opportunity to write a little about being sick here. First off, unless you have homemade remedies, like home lemonade with honey, there is no way to self treat yourself. Farmacias in Spain force you to talk to the pharmacist if you want any medicine as everything medicinal is kept in the back (Pharmacies also stock general health care supplies in like skin care products, band-aids, chap-stick, basically any product that has to do with health). Usually you have the chance to tell the pharmacist about your symptoms and they will offer you a few choices of what to take. It's pretty nice to get a professional opinion, even if it is just a runny nose or a cough. If you have a perscription, any medicine will cost you 5 euros, a perk of the socialized health care here in Spain, and a bonus for those who are retired, there is no charge for any perscription. Yes, Spain enjoys socialized health care, so everyone in the country has medical help available for free at any public clinic or public hospital at any hour of any day of the year. There are a few problems with the system, for example many times you have to put your name on a long waiting list for a specific treatment (of course, if it is an emergency there is no wait), and emergency rooms can be filled with people who really do not need emergency treatments, but are either hypochondriacs or use the wait and treatment to socialize (these are usually bored older people), and in the public system you have no control or choice of who your doctor is...but you don't have to pay for any treatment! To offer an alternative to the socialized care, there are also private clinics that you can choose to go to and pay for yourself (or use medical insurance to cover the costs). In a private clinic you can make and appointment the same day and choose your doctor without being placed on a waiting list. One last note, all health treatments are covered under Spain's socialized medicine, except going to the dentist and getting plastic surgery. These are always private practices, and dentists tend to be the most well paid doctors in the country.

Ps...In the Spanish speaking world Tuesday the 13th is the equivalent of Friday the beware...dundundun!!

Friday, January 9, 2009

In defense...

A few days ago a big debate started up in the media about what the Spanish Minister of Defense, Carme Chacón, wore to the ceremony marking the beginning of the military year. The Minister of Defense, a woman, chose to wear a suit, conservative yet modern, rather then the traditional dress, skirt, or pant suit that women in politics are expected to wear. The critics claimed she was being disrespectful and calling too much attention to herself, and the rest of the news began the discussion that what a woman politician wears or how she combs her hair should not overshadow her position and her ideas. What do you think?

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


   The holiday season is officially over. Yesterday morning Spanish children woke up to find more piles of presents next to their shoes (tradition is to put out your shoes so the 3 kings/wise men know where to put the presents for each person), the turron and hay left for the kings and camels gone, and later in the day, with a little luck, a little ceramic toy placed in the Rosca de reyes (sweet bread shaped into a ring, like a crown).
   For the older crowd, the day included one last round of presents, more family meals (nothing like Christmas eve or New years eve), and the rosca. I have to admit that I was a little holiday fatigued and not really that excited for reyes, but the night of the 5th, while shopping for last minute gifts I ran into the Cabalgata, the parade that marks the entrance of the 3 Kings into the city. The city was packed, kids were exstatic, and candy was thrown to the crowd.
   There was a really nice feeling in the city. Reyes is a hispanic celebration; hispanic kids are much more excited to write their letters to the reyes than to Santa, and as much as my heart leans more toward Santa, it was really nice to see that this tradition has not lost its excitement or appeal even as Santa's are climbing buildings around the city.

The first king, Gaspar

The next king, Melchor
The crowd's favorite king, Balthazar

And the Cartero Real, the royal Mailman who takes the letters to the kings

   New Years stories of grapes and churros to come soon...but I have to get out and celebrate the unofficial holiday of Rebajas (insane sales in all the stores that last for a month!!!) that begins today. I'm off to Zara.
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