Tuesday, November 30, 2010

second time's the charm

Kwali the koala visits the Guggenheim

I'd been meaning to do it for a while now. Go back to the Guggenheim museum, I mean. One of my roommates had given me a bunch of free-entry passes she had lying around, so I had no reason not to. Except that the only time I'd been before, the featured exhibition was all about Frank Lloyd Wright, which is great unless you're like me and can't stand Frank Lloyd Wright. Then it's 2 hours of "I wish I'd just stood outside and looked at the museum from out there."

No matter, I decided, as an adopted Bilbaina I had to give it another chance. Anyway, the current exhibitions were photography and Dutch art. I loved it. A couple things struck me as I wandered around the museum. One is relevant to life and the other is ridiculous. Ridiculous first:

1) One of the Dutch paintings (still-lifes with flowers and fruits and dead game and stuff) had hacked salmon. You know when a fishmonger takes a whole tuna or salmon and they chop it down the middle so you can see a cross-section of it the fish's meat/spine? Can't stand it. Like, I go into markets and have to look at the ground in the fish sections because the possibility of seeing hacked tuna/salmon is too terrifying. I didn't say it made sense, I just said I was scared of it. Anyway, it's also scary in a painting.

2) What if I treated Raleigh like I treat Bilbao? Here, I'm always seeking out art exhibits, concerts, festivals, markets, restaurants I haven't tried. I start every week with the expectation that I'm going to have some kind of great cultural/food/etc. experience. Of course I do, and of course much of it is the wonderfulness of Basque Country, but a lot of it is the effort I put in, too. In Raleigh, I generally take life there for granted, get into a routine, and don't bother to seek new things out. Why bother to go to that farmer's market I heard was cool this week when I could go next week, or next year, or in 5 years? There's no urgency to soak up your home culture because your time there isn't limited by a visa. But what if I acted like it was? What if I kept up with art exhibitions, local food trends, festivals, and other events in Raleigh? What if I woke up every Monday expecting to discover some awesome new facet of my own culture that week?

I have a serious suspicion that any city can be interesting and captivating if you put in the effort to discover.

The urge to get in a zinger right now along the lines of "any city except Madrid" is pretty strong, but I think I'm going to leave Madrid alone tonight. My favorite love-to-hate-it city took enough of a beating yesterday when Barcelona FC handed Real Madrid their fancy, overpaid bottoms on a platter 5-0.

In the words of Nelson Muntz, HA HA!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

so true!

from about.com's tips for conversation with Americans:

Americans love to talk about location. When speaking to a stranger, ask them where they are from and then make a connection with that place. For example: "Oh, I have a friend who studied in Los Angeles. He says it's a beautiful place to live." Most Americans will then willingly talk about their experiences living or visiting that particular city or area.

It's so true! I didn't really realize other people groups didn't do that, except come to think of it no English people I've ever met have been excited to discover that one of my best friends is from London. Weird, I would be totally stoked if I met someone someplace random and they told me their best friend was from anywhere in NC!

fall desserts: apple crisp

a little burned but still good

What's easy to make, tastes like fall and makes use of the produce that's everywhere around Basque Country this time of year?

I'm sure there are others, but I'm thinking of the apple crisp I made yesterday for Thanksgiving dinner. I adapted it from here to be bigger, simpler and not include brown sugar (sigh).


1 cup all purpose flour

1 cup granulated white sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon fresh nutmeg

12 tablespoons (170-ish grams) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces

1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats


2 kg Granny Smith Apples or other firm, tart-tasting apple (peeled, cored, and cut into 1 inch (2.5 cm) chunks) - I used a combination of Granny Smith and the golden apples that are everywhere here right now

Juice of 1 lemon

1 teaspoon lemon zest

6 tablespoons white granulated sugar

Large baking dish

Preheat oven to 375F (190C). Toss filling ingredients together; pour into baking dish. Place all the topping ingredients (flour, sugar, spices, butter, oats in a food processor and process until the mixture is crumbly (looks like coarse meal) and there are no large pieces of butter visible. (This can also be done with two knives or your fingertips. I used my fingers.) Cover filling evenly with topping. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until bubbly and golden brown. Remove, wait 30 minutes (if you can), enjoy.

Side note: make sure your broiler function is not on. The black oats you see are the result of me not doing this.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thanksgiving: Round Two

My first helping

The guests for the Big American Thanksgiving just left my house. All I can say is it was really, really nice to get together and enjoy some American tradition together, eat American food (there was even turkey! Can you believe it?!) and listen to christmas music (hey, it's not technically Thanksgiving anymore, christmas music is now fair game).

Everyone who came, who brought food, paper plates, wine, whatever: Thank you.

There's no place like home for the holidays, but maybe home can be, just for a while, a little corner of the world far from where you were born.

Friday, November 26, 2010

I may have accidentally somewhat joined a "bring the prisoners home" protest today.

To be fair, I thought they were waiting for the bus to go protest in Bilbao or something. Then the bus arrived, no one got on, and I realized they were just picketing there and the line for the bus I wanted was further up. Whoops.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

so much to be thankful for.

Julieta Venegas from the front row.

This week has been crazy hectic but also unbelievably blessed. Here's the rundown:

Monday: Javi, the actual teacher of my "clase mala," stayed in class with me after having a come-to-Jesus last week with the kids about how rude they were being. They behaved awesomely.

Tuesday: interviewed for and got a job in Zornotza/Amorebieta, a town about 25 minutes away. 4 nights a week and more than doubles my income.

Wednesday: Julieta Venegas, one of my very all-time favorite singers, came to Bilbao and did a concert. My friend Jessica and I got there half an hour early; apparently half an hour is all you need to get perfect front-row spots. The above picture was taken on my LITTLE camera with no digital zoom. Besides being only 5 feet away, Julieta was of course amazing. Incredibly sweet, funny, she played at least 4 instruments, and it was her birthday!! Easily best concert of my life.

Thursday: Thanksgiving! I found sweet potatoes (a certain moroccan store gets a big "eskerrik asko" for that one). Cooked them the way my dad always did them, the way I prefer them, which I'll tell you here:

Rinse potatoes. Poke holes in potatoes with fork. Bake in 350-400F (a little under 200C) oven for 40-50 minutes.

Eat. Don't you dare leave the skins, they're caramelized and wonderful!

Yesterday I also started my new job and both of my classes (one of 10-year-old girls, one of adults) were really nice. Then last night was Thanksgiving Round One: Basque Edition. I went with my roommates to a friend's house (actually, the house of Sara, the girl who used to live in my room) for a Thanksgiving dinner party and it. was. awesome. They played (American) Christmas music, made nachos and a "baby turkey" (i.e. large chicken, which I have to say was tender and juicy beyond belief). We each gave thanks for something at the end of the meal, and it was so funny because as the only American I suddenly became the Thanksgiving expert. "Kata, are you allowed to give thanks before the dinner?" "Kata, do you ask for something too, or just give thanks?"

But of course there aren't really any Thanksgiving rules except that you must eat too much, which we dutifully did.

Now I'm gearing up for Thanksgiving Round Two: American Edition on Saturday.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Friday, November 19, 2010

Thursday, November 18, 2010

sevilla: a week in images 3

Best. Olives. Ever.
These little spheres of goodness come from Bar Manolo in Alfalfa.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

sevilla: a week in images 2

rows and rows of tiny donkeys and camels at the Feria del Belen, or nativity scene expo/market.

I adore nativity scenes. Specifically, I enjoy the giant tacky plastic light-up ones that go in your front yard. The ones where Joseph is always wearing a snappy bright pink getup I'm pretty sure they didn't have back in old-time Galilee.

Spain, being a Catholic country, takes the nativity scene to another (tinier) level. First off, "nativity scene" does not really begin to describe the scope of the Spanish belen. In America, the nativity scene pretty much consists of the Holy Family, and if it's really involved might have a couple of barnyard animals, a little drummer boy and the three wise men.

Here, it's the entire town of Bethlehem in miniature. Townspeople, donkeys, chickens, houses, fruit shops. Tiny stews for Mary and Joseph to enjoy if they're hungry after all the labor and angelic visitations. Sheep, cats, trees, angels, fried eggs. You name it.

Obviously, the minute I settle down and live in one place for more than a year I will have two. One detailed, indoor Spanish-style diorama, and one giant glowing American-style one. Because you've gotta have that.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

sevilla: a week in images 1

this is the incense I was telling you about. You smell it before you see it, and it's one of the best smells on the planet.

Monday, November 15, 2010

you can't eat the oranges, by the way.

I even got a little sunburn on my nose on Friday.

After a week of rain and at least three hail storms in Bilbao (we're enjoying a fourth right now, by the by), the clear, warm Andalucian sun was just too irresistible.

It was delightful. The incense on the streets (wipe away all memory of that gross, musty Nag Champa stuff - Sevillano incense is sweet and pleasant and somehow exotic and comforting all at once), the fried food, the crazy beautiful architecture, the old friends.


So I'm devoting a week to my old city. Instead of a long photo post, each day for the rest of the week will be a bit of "Sevilla: a week in images."

And the sunburn was gone by Sunday.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

today's post brought to you by blank palate.

My friend Marti (recent transplant to Donostia, cook, teacher, wife, mother and all-around badass) invited me to share something about the Bilbao food scene on her blog.

Actually, I believe her words were "if you can find something worth writing about in Bilbao."

Challenge accepted, and you can read my guest post here.

Monday, November 8, 2010

heading back to the south

No, not that south.

This south.

Possibly I have not mentioned it on this blog, but I studied abroad back in 2007 in Sevilla. Now my oldest stepsister is studying abroad in the same program in the same city and I'm off to visit her this weekend.

Sevilla, where oranges fall in the streets, cars run over them and the whole city smells like juice all winter, until the orange blossoms form in the spring (then the city just smells like heaven). Where bullfights and flamenco and machismo and all the things you think of when you think of Spain are a real part of life. Where you head to the old part of the city and are constantly clobbered over the head with how outlandishly beautiful everything is, as opposed to what I think of as the gentle lulling of the beauty here in the north.

I will go the baños árabes and eat 2000 Bar Manolo olives and relax in my favorite restaurants and maybe find Scottish Donald and see if he will do his "upper Michigan accent" for me again.

Friday, November 5, 2010

learning curve

I was out for dinner and drinks with my roommates and kept noticing myself zoning out because I was having difficulty following the conversation. I could swear my Spanish is actually worse than it was a few weeks ago because it feels like I am so often missing the words I need to articulate myself. What's going on? A few weeks ago I was positive I could understand any conversation in Spanish, and now it feels like all confusion, all the time.

I've hit that point in language learning where I feel like I'm at a plateau, where it feels like my spanish isn't improving at all even though I'm using it all the time and goodness knows I'm immersed. The tricky thing about this period is that although it's the easiest time to get discouraged and retreat into an expat circle where all you use is English (or the Spanish that everyone understands because, claro, we're all English speakers first), I really believe it's also the time when the most growth happens.

It's only at this point, having lived here for a month with Spanish (ok, and Basque, but that doesn't help me a lot)-speaking roommates and encountering new situations, that I'm becoming unable to coast by on my casual conversation abilities. It's not all "hello, nice to meet you" and "excuse me while I order this pintxo"-type conversations anymore, and I'm noticing my weaknesses because I'm being challenged more.

In retrospect, of course, this is really the best stage someone wanting to improve a foreign language could hope for. Every time I become frustrated that I can't communicate a certain story or view the way I want to to my friends and/or roommates, I learn in retrospect what I was missing.

Leaving me at once frustrated and hopeful every time I open my mouth and my second language comes out.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


After the cemetery yesterday, the rain let up a little and we were on our way to the coastal town of Lekeitio. We parked with a bunch of surfers (heavy winds all day had made for rare, surfable Lekeitio waves) at the end of the beach and then walked along towards the old town. We walked through plazas and stretches of boardwalk that, during the city's festival, are filled with tents, stands and people dancing. Yesterday it was all empty, except one little girl playing in the bright yellow leaves that had just begun to fall.

We climbed up and got some views of the sea and the town, which was historically a fishing village and the site of the Austrian Empress's summer vacations. By 6:30 it was already getting dark- thanks daylight savings! - so we swung by to see a lighthouse nearby and then headed home.

Beautiful weekend.

Monday, November 1, 2010


Thanks to a schedule of no work on Tuesdays or Fridays and having today off for All Saints' Day, I am only now approaching the end of a glorious 5-day weekend. Highlights: discovering my new favorite site for pintxos in Bilbao (Saturday). Classical concert at the Euskalduna concert hall (Sunday). Today I met up with Ismene, one of my roommates, in her hometown of Markina, where she showed me around for a while before we headed to the coastal town of Lekeitio for the rest of the afternoon.

Markina is known primarily for cesta punta - the sport also known as jai alai - and cocotes, little flat, flaky, frosted anise-flavored pastries.


It's a tiny town - only about 5,000 residents as compared with Laudio's 20,000. I enjoyed it a lot, possibly because of how compact and small-town it felt there. Ismene kept bumping into people she knew, and it quickly became clear that this was the kind of town where that's pretty unavoidable.

And, because it was All Saints' Day, we stopped by the cemetery, which was covered in flowers in tribute to the memory of loved ones.

Totally beautiful, and obviously kind of bittersweet.