Posted by: kehespana | June 18, 2010

El Valor de un Año

I’m not sure that this blog was a success. I had every intention of writing regularly when I started, but at some point living abroad became exactly what I’d hoped—living—and between teaching, lesson planning, grocery shopping, and weekend trips I didn’t make the time to write meaningful vignettes about life in Arcos. I am sure there is a part of me that will regret not having kept a better account of my time here; in 2 years or in 20, am I going to remember the Saturday I spent in Vejer with Darío and Carmen, or the “Happy Go-Back-Home Party” at Enrique and Yolanda’s house? (To make matters worse, three days ago I lost my pink Nikon camera en route from Bilbao to Arcos—and 250 pictures along with it! And if by some miracle, you are the person who found my camera, please note I will pay all the euro I have left for those pictures! The camera? Me da igual.) But even if I lament not having kept a better blog, I do not regret how I spent that time. I would not trade one Spanish lesson with Marisantos or one Wednesday night with Rafa’s group in the Fonda for anything else.

Despite my failure to blog, I have had a lot of time to reflect on my nine months in Spain, in particular in the last few weeks.  An expert mover and a seasoned starter-overer, I realize it is impossibility to quantify experiences such as living abroad.  But because I left my job, my apartment, and my friends in New York City a year ago to date (qué fuerte!), I think I owe it to myself to at least make a list of the things I have gained, lost and learned in the last 365 days (or less).

Things I have gained:

  • Two ugly looking scars on my wrist that are noticeable enough to warrant a “Qué te pasó? What happened to you?” –and a slightly less noticeable scar on my chin.
  • Weight in kilos. And thighs of steel.
  • Four novels in Spanish (AKA summer reading)
  • A deep appreciation for siesta. If you live in Andalucía, siesta is imperative!
  • A taste for green olives, fried seafood, and Cruz Campo beer.
  • 156 files of Spanish pop music.
  • Un montón of Spanish friends.

Things I have lost:

  • One pair of Adidas windpants. (Lesson: don’t stand too close to a space-heater, or your clothes will melt. )
  • One Gap sweatshirt that was nabbed from the bench while I went for a run.
  • One Lonely Planet Guide book.
  • One pink Nikon camera and memory card.
  • A fear of making mistakes in any foreign language. Heck, just spit it out!

Things I have learned:

  • How to speak Spanish.
  • How to teach English as a Foreign Language. And how to teach basic music theory, physical education and seventh-grade science.
  • How to interpret Andaluth. Quillo!
  • How to drive a manual car—so long as I stay in gears 1, 2, and 3 and avoid hills and rotaries.
  • How to order and change a bombona – hot water is a finite resource.
  • How to hang my laundry (clip shirts under the armpits so the marks don’t show 😉

Although my time in Arcos has officially ended, thankfully my time in Spain isn’t over. I am currently on the airplane back to Boston, with a pending appointment at the Boston Consulate. My fingers are crossed that the visa process goes flawlessly, and that come September I will find myself teaching in another pueblo, in an another Instituto, in another provincía in Andalucía. And in the meantime, hello United States! Te echaba de menos!

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Posted by: kehespana | March 23, 2010

Coming to Terms with an Idiosyncratic Character

I think I’m probably not supposed to retroactively post, but I wrote this blog entry about three weeks ago and didn’t publish it online:

I just experienced one of those days in Spain when nothing seems to go quite right, when even though I’m trying my best, “nada me sale”—not my classes at school, not my clases particulares, and definitely not my Spanish.  This feeling was solidified in my second period gym class when I was supposed to be teaching the kids in 1*ESO how to juggle in English. The trouble is, I don’t know how to juggle. (Yes, I know you’re supposed to throw the third ball before you catch the second one. But I still can’t do it.) This hour brought to mind a dicho in English that I don’t believe, but at the moment rang true: “Those who can’t do teach.”

Unfortunately, it’s days like this that also get me thinking “what am I doing here in Andalucía?”, trying to English-ize and Anglicize a community that is fine the way it is. Andalucía has its own rhythm, rhyme and reason (have you ever really listened to the percussion of flamenco music?), and sometimes I worry that introducing English and American culture is going to change that.

Yesterday, coming home from a run in the fería (my old running route remains flooded), I bumped into an older Spanish couple. At first I didn’t realize they were talking to me, because I was still wearing my i-pod. But when I removed my ear-phones, the older man asked me for directions to a local bar, thanked me, —and then berated me for wearing ear-phones in the first place. As I walked away, I remembered how at 18, when I first moved to New York City, I hated that everyone walked around connected to i-pods and cell-phones. I was critical of the anonymity it created—until I joined the masses. And so I laughed at myself yesterday because I was reminded of one of the amazing idiosyncrasies of living in Andalucía: although my students have i-pods, cell-phones and facebook pages, Arcos is a pueblo still untouched, to some degree, by technology and globalization. And isn’t it incredible to live in a place where listening to an i-pod  (albeit with Spanish music), instead of listening to what’s going on around you, is considered “maleducado?”

Spain is full of these idiosyncrasies, habitually offering me situations that make me question my purpose here, and that simultaneously succeed in frustrating me and making me laugh.  Just a few days ago I took an impromptu trip to Seville to spend the day.  Thought I studied in Sevilla for a month at the beginning of my school year, it’s a confusing city and to the non-Sevillana warrants a good map.  Unfortunately, when I arrived at the bus station in Sevilla, the information desk was closed. A sign in the window read: “Cerrado por el desayuno. Discuple las molestas.” In the midst of a floundering economy, the people working at the information desk in the bus station had gone out for breakfast. Nevermind that it was 9:30 on a Monday morning, nor that hundreds of tourists were pouring through the bus station—the Andalucíans needed their café. ¿En serio? En serio.

I’ve already spent six months in Spain, and I’m still not entirely sure what I’m doing here. But I think, in the end, I will be extremely grateful that I’ve gotten to experience Andalucía in this moment; never again will it be on the verge of globalization. For better or for worse, Andalucía is adopting English language and Anglo-culture, but in its own form and on its own schedule. And if the elderly man that yelled at me for wearing an i-pod, or the information office at the bus station proved anything, it’s that Andalucía isn’t in danger of losing it’s character. How can I be sure?  Because instead of teaching my kids to juggle in English, they spent an hour trying to teach me to juggle in Spanish. ¡Toma!

Posted by: kehespana | February 9, 2010

La Lucha en la Sierra de Cadíz

“¡Huelga General! ¡Todas a la lucha contra la crisis economica! ¡Martes 9 de febrero!” The green and white signs started popping up in the bars around Arcos about two weeks ago. Then, last Thursday, I was awoken from a much-needed siesta by the incessant blaring of a megaphone inviting all the “Campañeros y Campañeras of Arcos” to join a strike against the economic crisis in Spain. Needless to say, you would have to have been living under a rock not to know about today’s huelga.

But somehow in the midst of lesson-planning, and the excitement of Carnival I had forgotten to ask my bilingual coordinator if this strike applied to teachers. Nobody at school had mentioned it. The coworker of my friend, the only Spanish teacher whom I spoke with about it, phrased it this way:  Strike or no strike, bear or bull economy, students have a right to go to school. So even though I knew all of the stores would be closed today, I woke up this morning ready to teach.

As I approached my school one of my students was walking with a gang of his friends away from Alminares. “¿Dónde vas?”, I asked him. “School is closed,” he explained. Apparently a group of protestors had gathered outside the entrance of the building this morning, which precipitated the arrival of la Guardia Civil. And although the protestors did not forcefully stop either teachers or students from entering the school, the majority were intimidated enough to go home. Furthermore, colegios and institutos across the province were closing, requiring parents to recollect their children. I wandered home through the uncannily quiet streets, and tried to imagine a strike of this capacity in the United States. Although the New York City subway strike in 2005 was plenty disruptive, I have never seen a town or a city shut down so completely. Except, of course, maybe Arcos on the holiday of its patron saint.

I can’t pass moral judgment on the huelga since the government in question is not my own. Nor can I speak to its effectiveness, with my limited knowledge of Spain’s economics. The only thing I can say for sure is that to close the businesses for a day isn’t going to jumpstart the economy. It probably hurts more than it helps. Oddly enough, there is no mention of the huelga in El País. Does Madrid know that Alminares was closed today? That Andalucía’s unemployment rate has hit 30% is no mystery. So does closing the local high schools send a message to the government? Does it really help the workers’ cause?

The protesters are marching closer to the town square at this very moment. From my window I can see a sea of people gathering, waving green and white flags. “¡Queremos trabajar! ¡No queremos inmigrar!” I am on my way to go watch the protest because I am curious, and because I sympathize with unemployed 20-somethings.  But if Arcos and Andalucía are going to superar la crisis, I think they’d better re-open their schools. Because if the pueblos want to win this fight, education is the key.

Posted by: kehespana | February 5, 2010

That Andalucían Feel

I was walking through Central Park with my family when my sister asked me, “What’s the matter with you?”  It was one of those cold, sunny winter days between Christmas and New Year’s and the city was buzzing with tourists, and urbanites all seeking to take advantage of the holiday festivities.  There, in the city where I went to college and held my first job, in a place replete with wonderful memories and friends, I was feeling depressed. Or more precisely, “numb.” I don’t mean numb from the cold, though it was positively freezing, but I mean “numb” to the excitement of an otherwise exhilarating cosmopolis.

A seasoned traveler, my sister quickly diagnosed the problem: reverse culture shock. Apparently the most common symptoms of this ailment are exactly those that I was experiencing: boredom, frustration and an inexplicable, unwarranted irritability. Coming home for a short break I wasn’t expecting to feel any kind of cultural gap, much less miss my life in an Andalucían pueblo. But then, I’d never come home in the middle of living abroad either.

Even now, three weeks back into my teaching routine, I am surprised by my own sentiments. Why do I feel a sense of excitement when I return from traveling and my plane touches down on the runway in Jerez? Or when the bus to Arcos begins its winding journey down carretera A-382 past kilometers upon kilometers of wheat fields?  Why do the skyscrapers of New York City seem to pale in comparison to the white-washed, centuries-old, poorly insulated edificios of Arcos? Am I crazy?

One of the most inaccurate stereotypes of Andalucía, at least among my friends and family, is that the climate here is mild almost year-round. I am willing to admit is not nearly as cold here as Boston or New York, and I believe it when the locals tell me that the three weeks of straight rain we had is not normal. But Andalucía and Arcos lack the luxuries of home; namely central heat and air conditioning. When it’s hot, it’s caluroso. When it’s cold, it’s friísimo. When it’s raining, my piso is wet and (ewww!) moldy, inside and out. Here, the hills are steeper, the music is louder and the weather really can feel more extreme. And yet, for it all its challenges, I really “feel” life in Andalucía more profoundly.  So although Arcos is merely a dot on the map to the tourists who pass through on bus tours of the pueblos blancos, for me it is every bit as challenging as New York City, and by some measure, even more alive.

Posted by: kehespana | December 17, 2009

¡Muchísimas Gracias!

With Christmas just eight days away and my flight to the United States imminent, I can’t think of a more opportune time to mention something that struck me while I was living in Sevilla, and continues to astonish me over and over: the extraordinary hospitality of the Spanish. Time and again, the profesores whom my friends and I work with have invited me to eat and to go out with them.  They have bought me cafés during recreo, cervezas when they met me on the street and fino just in case I haven’t tried it yet. They have invited me on paseos, driven me home from Granada, and taken me on day trips to Jerez. To some degree, I think this hospitality stems from a desire to share their culture with extranjeros, but more, I believe that this hospitality is a part of their culture.

This past weekend, for example, the profesora with whom I have an intercambio twice a week, invited me (in the middle of our lesson about  “the past continuous” in English) to dinner with her husband and their friends in el campo. Not two hours later, her husband was pouring me red wine and showing me how to pluck birds (our dinner). As we roasted the birds over the fireplace, I felt a bit like I’d was in a movie, or at the very least, had stepped into someone else’s life. The next night a profesor from my friend’s colegio invited us to a Zambombá, a traditional Christmas mass followed by singing Christmas carols and eating buñuelos. Before the mass began this profesor introduced us to his entire extended family, and gave us the grand tour of his church complete with a history lesson about the bell tower, Semana Santa and the corroding statue of Saint Nicholas. After the mass he refused to let us stand in line for buñuelos, but scurried back and forth to bring us heaping piles of fried doughnuts and steaming cups of melted chocolate.

As my extranjero friends will attest, there is a downside to these invitations—they are usually impromptu and can last hours longer than you’d expect. Our Christmas mass and fiesta turned into a walking tour of historic Old Town, and several rounds of copas in a local bar—it was, all told, a 7-hour trip to church.

But I learned the hard way that it’s often more trouble to refuse an invitation than to accept. When one of the profesoras from my Instituto retired a few months ago, I tried to opt out of attending the luncheon because I didn’t have 18 euro, nor four hours in the middle of my day, to spare for lunch. I tried to explain to my colleague that I wasn’t going, but he insisted on paying for me. And because his offer seemed beyond generous, I tried to refuse. This only led to greater confusion when all of the teachers from his department pooled their euro and maintained that, as a teacher, I attend the luncheon. The moral? When a Spaniard says “te invito,” he means it. Accordingly, I have made it a rule to (almost) always accept an invitation from a Spaniard, a principle that seems to avoid trouble about 95% of the time.

As I pack my suitcase for Christmas, I wonder if there is anything I can do to repay the hospitality that my Spanish friends have shown me these past three months. The majority of these friends don’t speak English, but even if they did, I’m not sure I could I put into words for them how grateful I am.  Instead I will have to content myself with a mere “gracias,” and note, for the future, what it means to be generous.

Posted by: kehespana | November 30, 2009

Educación en Andaluth

¿Quathoth, fayisathoalldithathesiath? After three months in Spain, I had hoped to have a firm understanding of Spanish, or at the very least, Andaluth. I was reading El Mundo in the teachers’ lounge this morning when one of the profesores (with a particularly strong Andaluth accent) caught me by surprise. ¿Quathoth, fayisathoalldithathesiath? I’m still not sure if he was asking me how much the Junta pays me to work, why the Junta pays me to work, or neither of the above. Frazzled, and embarrassed to be caught reading the newspaper instead lesson planning, I sat there gaping at him. Ultimately, I think he was doing what my coworkers like to do best—joking about me in Spanish—playfully, of course. But truthfully, the latter question is something I ask myself regularly and cannot, in English or in Spanish, provide an adequate answer to.

This question was never clearer to me than in my 6th period gym class today. Pepe asked me to lead the warm-up (for which I usually chose an unlucky or inattentive 12-year-old to assist me), and then to explain two games in English, one of which was Musical Chairs (En español, El Juego de la Silla). Thus terminated the English portion of the gym class. And although I usually teach the full hour in English, today Pepe introduced a new unit on aerobics, which involved him demonstrating a series of dance moves to throbbing techno music. Accordingly, I spent from 2:15 to 2:45 this afternoon bopping around the gym in order to help Pepe teach a group of Spanish seventh-graders how to dance—in Spanish. Thankfully for the Junta I can count to four, because I ended up instructing a group of wholly uncoordinated Spanish boys in “la marcha,” “el step-touch” and “la caja”: Uno, dos, tres, cuatro! Uno, dos, tres, cuatro!

While this activity made me laugh so hard I almost couldn’t step-touch, it also made me question, yet again, what is the Junta paying me for? I don’t mean that I am slacking at my job; In fact, every time I make a new worksheet, or introduce a new activity my coordinator exclaims, “Que trabajadora!” (How hard-working you are!). But I wonder how on earth I can meet the Junta’s expectations for their bilingual program, which lacks curriculum, consistency, and coordination, among the many other elements necessary to make the students in my school truly bilingual.  I am not a certified English teacher, nor am I certified in any of the other five subjects my school has asked me to teach—science, social studies, music, drawing and physical education.  The result? I often end up teaching Spanish kids in Spanish—a language that I have never formally studied—how to label a musical staff, draw a circle with a compass, or translate a paragraph of English into Spanish. I don’t blame the Junta for being ambitious. I think public schools in the U.S. should have a bilingual curriculum. But to make a school and its students bilingual is an enormous undertaking, and I admit that these two months of teaching have brought me closer to being bilingual in Spanish than my students are in English. And even then, I still don’t know what the heck my coworker said this morning: ¿Quathoth, fayisathoalldithathesiath?  Hombré, no sé.

Posted by: kehespana | November 11, 2009

We’re Not in Kansas Anymore

Having moved a lot in the past seven years, I have come to the conclusion that I really am “settled in” when I can go for a run outdoors and make my way home safely.  In New York, as in Florence and Washington DC, going for a run meant traversing concrete, dodging pedestrians, and evading buses and taxis in order to get to the beginning of a path that was runner-friendly. Usually, I ran in search of anything I could call nature.

Finding a running path in Arcos, an exceptionally old town of winding streets and (literally) breath-taking hills was a different challenge altogether. Luckily, another teacher in my school invited me on a paseo with him a few weeks ago, and I discovered a path that begins at the end of the feria grounds, follows the river of Guadalete and deposits me at the bottom the second largest hill in Arcos. This path, which extends below the cliff face of Arcos, when viewed in the early morning or in the late afternoon Andalucían sun, is by far the most beautiful place I have ever run.  But every time I run in Arcos, I can’t help but think of that line from the Wizard of Oz, “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

First, there’s the sheep. Every time I run, one of the local herds is on the move, and I am invariably in the way. Yesterday, for example, I was almost run over by stampede of sheep galloping towards me on my running path!  When that happens, you get out of the way. So I paused my i-pod, stood on the side of the riverbank and watched the sheep dart past. Unfortunately, these same sheep don’t always dart. More often I get stuck behind the herd and can’t continue on my route until they reach their destination. From a teacher’s perspective, the first analogy that comes to mind is that of lazy high school students: A veces los alumnos son tan flojos como ovejas. Verdad!

Equally as foreign to me, are the horses grazing along my running route.  I’m not a horse aficionado and I do my best to keep my distance, though the poop they leave in the middle of the trail is a bit harder to avoid.

Thankfully, horses and sheep don’t seem to care about me one way or the other. But a few weeks ago, while running with a friend, some roosters confronted us. One began to run alongside me and it became clear that we were racing. For the record, roosters are fast. Fortunately roosters also have short attention spans, and after fifty yards this one gave up.  I outran the rooster, only to be detained minutes later by some sheep.

As all stereotypes, the saying that Europeans treat their dogs like people does have some semblance of the truth. Nobody in Spain ever keeps his dog on a leash, for instance, least of all on a walking path.  Usually the dogs are friendly, though on one occasion a mini-terrier (about the size of my foot) took a great dislike to me; first he untied my shoelace and then attempted to remove my sneaker with his teeth.  I escaped unscathed and his owner apologized, but I am now as wary of the dogs I meet as  the sheep, chickens, roosters, horses, rams, cats, rabbits, owls, and miniature Indian pigs that I encounter. Todos, I’ve a feeling I’m not in New York anymore.

Posted by: kehespana | November 2, 2009

Un Crisis de Identidad

Spain, which was supposed to allay (if not remedy) my quarter-life crisis, is instead nurturing an identity crisis.

Saturday morning, like any normal Spaniard, I went to the fruteria to buy my fruits and vegetables for the week.  I was wandering around with a basket in hand, considering what to buy when a middle-aged man walked in to the store with his three-year-old son.  He gestured at me and said to his son “Mira! Mira la guiri!”. Look! Look at the foreigner! The boy ran up to me, blinked at me a few times, decided I probably wasn’t dangerous, and then ran back to his dad.  For anyone who isn’t familiar with the term, “guiri” is the Spanish word for foreigner—it’s not necessarily a derogative term like “gringo,” but it’s not exactly complimentary either. It’s the Spanish way of saying you are not like us.

The strangest part about this incident was that there was nothing about my appearance or behavior to suggest that I wasn’t from Arcos. Teachers at Alminares have told me on multiple occasions that I look very Spanish—so much so that I was taken for a substitute teacher instead of a language auxiliary. And on this occasion, I was dressed in jeans, a tee-shirt and Calle-13 Spanish sneakers (hecho en España). Furthermore, I had not even opened my mouth to speak. So how this man knew I was a guiri, and why he brought his son into the fruteria to ogle at me remains a mystery. I can only suppose that he’d seen me before doing something out of the ordinary (going for a run, speaking English, wearing flip-flops) and he remembered who I was. Arcos is a small town, after all.

I was still puzzling over this Spanish man’s exclamation when I went to the bus stop on Saturday afternoon.  While trying to decipher the bus schedule an American tourist whipped out his enormous Canon and started snapping pictures of me. Apparently he thought I was Spanish. Slightly annoyed by this man’s audacity, I refrained from informing him that I was not the authentic local he’d hoped to capture for his Trip to Spain photo album. Mostly though, I didn’t want to interact with anyone who was referring to Cádiz (accent on the “a”) as Cadizzz.

The juxtaposition of these events in the course of the same day has me grappling with the question of assimilation. Mostly I find myself wanting to fit in more (me llamo Cristina, not Kirsten), but I’m starting to wonder if that desire isn’t counter to the purpose of my being here. The Junta hired 1,100 foreigners to teach English precisely because we are foreign.

Incidentally, the Junta doesn’t seem to know who I am either. I recently received a notification that a permiso de estancia (permission to stay) card will be ready in 45 days for someone by the name of Kristen Hansen.  As on Saturday, I think I will just have to let it go…

Posted by: kehespana | October 20, 2009

The Art of Being a European Woman

There really is an art to this and for those of us not born and raised in European culture, the learning curve is steep and costly. I am consistently amazed by the way these women can prance around in three-inch high heels and sport the latest brand-name bag while balancing a baby on one hip, and bag of groceries on the other.  This is particularly challenging in Arcos where every street is a cuesta (translation: incline, not hill), yet the women scale them with unfathomable ease. Practical or impractical, sexy or silly, there is definitely something about the way European women comport themselves that part of me would love to master.

Because I believe that my road to becoming said European woman is likely to be a long one, I wanted to share one of my first lessons: how to do laundry.

After living out of a suitcase for five weeks, laundry was the first project I attempted to tackle when my roommate and I finally moved into our piso.  Unfortunately, after a long two and half hour cycle in the machine, my laundry kept coming out soaking wet. I did the same load of laundry three times and probably almost did the machine in before I figured out the problem: in many European laundry machines there is a metal cage, and if you don’t close the cage securely, guess what? The spin cycle can’t function.

That problem solved, I went to hang my laundry to dry on our terraza. Not surprisingly laundry dries in about thirty minutes if hung at mid-day in the hot Andalucian sun. But when I went to collect my clothes they all had deep imprints from the plastic clothes pins I’d used to hang them—imprints that can’t be ironed out. (Recently I have taken to ironing my laundry in the evenings while watching Spanish soap operas on television.  But unlike my host mother in Firenze, I skip the socks and underwear since I figure no one will notice.)  The second time around I decided to hang my shirts on hangers and then balance the hangers on the drying rack. This seems to be a good solution, though certainly not the method my neighbors have adopted. Maybe one day I will go introduce myself and, if they seem friendly, inquire about this subtle trick of the European woman: how exactly do you hang your laundry? Cómo tender la ropa limpia para secar?

Even so, another conundrum remains—since I am hanging all of my clothes to air-dry nothing is shrinking back to its normal size like when I am at home. The result? All of my jeans are too big and therefore very un-European.

Posted by: kehespana | October 5, 2009

Una Vista de la Feria de San Miguel

Whoever dubbed New York “the city that never sleeps” obviously never went to Spain.  This thought occurred to me while I was living in Sevilla because my apartment was on the river and most nights the borrachos kept me awake with their singing.  A friend of my sister, who also happens to be living in Sevilla right now, explained to me that certain neighborhoods do tend to settle down after 3am, but that el Barrio de Triana is a party-all-night kind of place.  I guess that explains why I woke up to a group of guys playing bongo drums outside my window at 5:30 in the morning my first weekend in Triana. Much to my chagrin, nobody else living on my block seemed to care.

I had thought when I left Sevilla last week (I can’t believe it’s only been one week) that Arcos would be a whole lot quieter, particularly since most Sevillanas snidely refer to the towns in Andalucia as boring pueblos. Incidentally, my arrival in Arcos coincided with the town’s biggest event of the year, and the festival of their patron saint: La Feria de San Miguel. I’m not sure who San Miguel is but he must have been pretty darn important because the Spaniards have been partying for four days straight.

In truth, the actual day of San Miguel was this past Tuesday, and can best be described as the calm before the storm.  On Tuesday every store in Arcos shut down, and it felt like a permanent siesta. On Wednesday and Thursday most stores opened for a few hours in the morning (feria hours), and then closed for the four-day weekend. This schedule made it virtually impossible for me and other auxiliares to have a smooth transition into living in Arcos: it’s really tough to find an apartment, put saldo on my cell phone, open a bank account, buy sheets, use the internet and grocery shop when nothing is open.  In short, real life gets put on hold for the feria.

The feria is a mix between a country fair and a dance club, and is set up on dirt roads below the town of Arcos.  On one “street” there are more than a dozen fair rides with bright lights and blaring music. On the next street are thirty plus casetas (tents) for eating ten courses of tapas, drinking cerveza and dancing the Sevillana.  The special drink of the feria is something called a rebujito, though all of the casetas carry the local beer called Cruz Campo on tap, and are stocked with every kind of liquor imaginable.  Kids and adults go dressed in traditional costumes; women wear long floral dresses, and men don suspenders and bowler hats. I didn’t actually go to any, but the mornings are filled with horse shows and dance contests. Afternoons begin with a long meal followed by dancing, which starts early (5pm) and ends late (7am).

Luckily, despite the feria, I was finally able to move into my apartment on Saturday. It’s in a terrific location in the center of town—and also just a few meters from the entrance to the fair.  As I sit here writing I can hear clearly the music from the fair rides, competing with the base drums from the casetas, the announcers, and the horn of the toy train that keeps driving by full of rowdy Spanish children (who probably ought to be in bed). It’s midnight and the fireworks are about to start. Tomorrow is my first official day of teaching, but I don’t think I’ll be sleeping much tonight either…

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