Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Boarder Hoppin'

I'm going to start dedicating my blog posts to my father. Every single one of them. The man wakes up every morning at 6 am, and immediately sits down at the computer to check if I have written anything during the 6-8 hours he was asleep. That is dedication, and also love. So this is for you, pops:

Let's see, what's new? A few weeks ago I began teaching english to two little girls during the week. I've spent no more than 10 hours working with each of them one-on-one, and I am already impressed by the mental capacity these little fireballs posses. Maybe I'm easily impressed, but the 5 year old is fluent in Spanish, French, and Basque. She has no experience with English, but she's catching on quickly. I began by reading her stories that she was already familiar with in languages she knows, The 3 Little Bigs, The 3 Bears, you get the idea. Anyway, from there we moved to learning nouns that are more less similar in French...There are more than you might think: blue, cat, etc. She's made tremendous progress, and I am very proud of her. The second chica is 8, Ines attends a German school, speaks Spanish/Basque with her parents, and is also fluent in French as well as English. I understand it is not uncommon to know several languages here, but this little girl retains information with unprecedented ease. Therefore, keeping her challenged has been a challenge for me. We have a test every week, and she is in the middle of writing four short stories in English. I have enjoyed sharing my language more than any job I've ever had. Did I mention I get paid? What?

Last Friday my friends and I left for a trip to France and San Sebastian, Spain! By about 11 am on Saturday we were in St. Jean de Luz, France. A smallish vacation, coastal city right on the boarder between France and Spain. Its beaches and marinas were positively beautiful. There was a market going on Saturday morning as well; we had a blast exploring each vendor's booth. Also, the cheese...I have never seen such massive blocks of cheese in my life! I have also never cursed my lactose intolerance more. Alas, I indulged a little. Some things are worth a little digestional discomfort. The most humbling thing about my hours in France was how completely clueless and helpless I felt not knowing a lick of French. My brain understood I was in a foreign place...My survival instinct was to speak and respond when spoken to in Spanish. You can imagine the awkward masterpieces that created. Their eyes said it all, "Who is this strange blonde woman trying to speak bastardized Spanish to me...in France?" I learned my lesson quickly.

French street artists are actually a thing that exists.

Later that day we made our way back to Spain...by boat! That's right, we crossed back into beloved España in a boat floating on the ocean. It was surreal. We arrived in San Sebastian by late afternoon and checked into our hotel (Hotel Codina, it was great should you ever visit!) and took a tiny siesta. That night we explored the city and settled at a cider house for dinner and drinks. Cider is huge in San Sebastian and the surrounding area, I now understand why. I paid 5 euros for unlimited cider that shot out of huge wooden barrels just like the movies. Obviously, we stayed there the entire night, getting drunk on cider, eating too much bread, and laughing inappropriately loudly. Time slipped away, it was the first time I'd been intoxicated in quite some time, and let me tell you: the situation was ideal. My friends and I enjoyed learning about each other and shooting the breeze. The next morning we hiked to the top of a mountain that boasts the coveted Jesus statue of San Sebastian. I've never made so many jokes about finding God in my whole life. After our hike, we visited the city's aquarium and spent the afternoon exploring the old part of town. 

That night we rode back to Bilbao as we had plans for Sunday: Hike the notorious Bosque de Oma! Yes, the painted forest you are about get a sneak peak off is only about 40 minutes by car from my apartment. My host parents drove Damaris and I there on Sunday morning. It is a small section of forest in the mountains near Gernika that was painted by a single Basque artist, Augustin Ibarrola, about 10 years ago. Now art students from a local university come every so often to touch up his work. The trees are painted in such a way that when standing in 30 marked vantage points, the trees together form different pictures and designs. It was like something from my dreams. If you know me well, you know that. 

That's all for now, but this weekend I am traveling to Paris. Expect at LEAST one entry from that trip. All my love. -Jenna

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Changing Thoughts

I fear my updates have been becoming more and more infrequent, but you must understand, staring at a computer screen is the last thing this woman wants to do with her precious time in Spain. However, it's raining cats and dogs this morning and I could use some time hanging out with the English language. It's hilarious how quickly I'm beginning to forget how to properly spell words in English. Spanish has invaded my brain and is setting up camp. I can't say I'm mad about it. That being said, I hereby apologize for any spelling and/or grammatical errors past and future posts likely contain. Sorry, but proofreading will never be a thing on my blog. I got stuff to do, man.

It has been weeks since I last wrote. I tried to come up with an adequate synopsis for today's entry and nearly had an anxiety attack, therefore, I will choose my favorite anecdotes and recite them in no particular order.

Last Friday Damaris, my host parents, and I loaded up the car after class to venture to my host mom's family home in La Rioja. The entire drive there Angeles was reminding us repeatedly that it was definitely NOT a new house and definitely NOT a big house. We kept reassuring her that these were the reasons we were so excited to stay there. We were not disappointed. The house where her mother grew up is in a town with about 10 other houses. It's painted a rosy pink and adorned with grape vines. It has 4 levels and 5 bedrooms, but my favorite room was the basement. Angeles explained to us that it was previously a sleeping room for cows, now it's remodeled as a dining room that has kept its rustic charm. During our weekend we explored 4 towns in La Rioja, there is way too much to tell so I'll give you the basics: we purchased chorizo from the motherland of chorizo, we drank wine from bodegas (wine cellars) that were built into mountain caves, we explored the monastery where the first ever Spanish words were written. Each was an incredible experience that I will carry with me for the rest of my life, but the most amazing things are the people that gave me these life changing moments. Without my host parents and their awe-inspiring generosity and sense of adventure, I would be without every single one of these I-can't-believe-this-is-my-life moments.
Chorizo motherland

The monastery 

Some of the first words ever written in old Spanish

Cooking up our meat in the cow room, talk about being close to your food. 

So far this weekend I've gone out with two groups of locals. Do you know how much Spanish practice that amounts to? A lot. Especially when wine is involved, you can't get me to shut up once I've got a little booze pumping in my veins. Score 2 for Jenna! Thanks to them I finally know the area of town where all of the young people go out. 

Saturday Damaris and I went to a town on the coast about 45 minutes away that has THE most beautiful rocky bridge built out to an island. The connection was initially constructed in the 1700's in order for the outlying island to function as a sort of look out for Spain. The guards watch the sea to the north for English and French invaders, if they saw a ship coming they'd ring the bell 3 times to warn their people. Now it is customary to climb to the top and ring the bell 3 times for good luck. The hike began in the forest near the coast and ends at the summit of the island. It was the most beautiful and peaceful place I have ever been. 

I'll wrap this entry up with a list of differences I've noticed here that may or may not surprise you:
1. The nightlife schedule is quite different: If you leave for the bars before 10 you're kind of a weirdo, and if you come home before 3 you're kind of a prude. I am both of those things most nights. 
2. The dogs of Spain are either robots or have superpowers. Everyone has a dog, no one has a leash. Every, single dog (big or small) follows her owner obediently. Have to go in a cafe/store? No problem. Super-dog sits down by the door and waits patiently until you're done. It's the damnedest thing. 
3. Cussing isn't a big deal here, in fact, swear words are more often called "ugly words" in Spanish. It is not uncommon for my parents, professors, and children to drop f-bombs. The words simply don't carry such a strong negative connotation here. 
4. Baguettes have their own food group. Everyone really is constantly carrying around a fresh loaf of bread during the day. Every tapa, no matter the type, is served on bread. It's a vehicle for virtually every other food. I'm not complaining.