Tuesday, May 31, 2011

that last daytrip: vitoria-gasteiz


People always think Bilbao is the capital of Basque Country. Frankly, this is because it is the most badass and awesome of the three major cities, but unfortunately it is also incorrect.

The actual capital of Euskadi is Vitoria-Gasteiz, located in Alava. It was my destination for my final daytrip in Basque Country. Three friends and I packed onto a bus last Sunday morning to see what it was all about.

Los Indignados - and my friend Cat has already done a great summary of what that is all about, if you don't know, which you can read here - occupied the main square, the Plaza de la Virgen Blanca with their tent village.


"Yes We Camp"

my friend Thomas was good enough to sit for about 689789 portraits

We spent the remainder of the day wandering around the city and noticing that it feels more, well, European than Bilbao (or even Donosti in some ways). One friend kept getting reminded of northern Italy. To me, the big, glassy windows on many of the buildings in the center of town were reminiscent of A Coruña.

For lunch we stopped in a couple of the bars that line the small streets of the old city, sharing pintxos around.

Bull's tail stew and carrillera (veal cheek) - from the first place we stopped

All in all a solid little adventure to say "farewell" to Euskadi. For now...

Saturday, May 28, 2011

"agur" is a four-letter word.

"It's cool," the customs guy in Washington, D.C. told me. "You're a civilian now - you're not a tourist anymore." The relief finally hit me: I'm home. I belong here.

I needed it, because starting yesterday with the end of classes I'd been a mess. I was waiting for my last train out of Laudio when it really started to hit me how much I'm leaving behind. The past 48 hours I've been breaking down and crying on and off. It's the "lasts" that have gotten me: Last Saturday daytrip. Last time singing in church. Last hug with each friend.

This morning I thought I was going to make it OK - I was too sleepy to cry, I figured. Then my friend who had brought me to the airport started crying. I lost it. I've been crying like a baby on and off the whole way home.

Of course, the amount this is hurting really only confirms that it was time to move back now. I know I'm not up to building an expat life for the long term at this point, and if it was this hard now, it would have only been more difficult next year. I know and love people who have remained in Spain because, well, they woke up one day and realized that their life was more in Spain than back home. I'm not ready to do that, not ready to leave American life behind. If it's this hard now, it would have been impossible next year.

I have so much to look forward to here in the USA. It's why I'm moving back home. But as my pastor said, "tienes el corazón dividido." Your heart's divided now.

"Agur" is Basque for "goodbye," by the way. It could be the worst word in the whole language.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

what will you miss?

with my friends Thomas and Bryan at the Hanging Bridge in Portugalete
(photo credit: Bryan Alfano

with my friend Esmeralda in Vitoria-Gasteiz

My friends here in Bilbao and I have been playing this game lately: answering the questions "what will you miss? What won't you miss?" about life here. Most of them are staying here for another year, while I'm flying home this Saturday. It's getting truly strange and bittersweet - of course there are things I can't leave behind fast enough, but I'm also realizing that I'm leaving a pretty significant part of my heart behind here.

So I thought I'd share some of the biggest things I will and won't miss about life here. First up:

Things I Will Not Miss At All About Life In Bilbao

Not belonging. It's thrilling at first, but after nine months standing out it becomes exhausting.

Little things - people walking 4 deep on a sidewalk and not moving, forcing you onto the street; staring being totally A-OK; strangers yelling at me "HELLO!" on the sidewalk because I look foreign (as a side note, if American kids did this to a lady from, say, Mexico, how yelled at would they get by their parents?! So yelled at).

Living in a monoculture. Being as isolated (at least in many ways) from other peoples as Basque country has been for this long makes xenophobia almost a given. Specifying in an ad what ethnicities are and aren't welcome to come check out your room for rent is considered totally acceptable. "Oh, hey, Civil Rights Movement, we didn't see you there. We were too busy recovering from a dictatorship by making films about the crazy stuff we weren't allowed to make films about before."

Not smiling. I've compared notes with other Americans (North and Latin), and the verdict is that people here don't smile nearly as much as we do. Even children - it's pretty standard to see kids playing in a park together with serious little faces, no smiles.

Teaching. If there's anything I don't enjoy, it's teaching people who don't want to learn. It's like, if you don't want to learn English, then don't. If you want to limit your horizons to working in a hardware shop in Alava or something, who am I to stop you?

Things I Will Miss Like Crazy About Life In Bilbao

Living in a monoculture. The flipside of this is that the culture is more condensed, so you get to experience it closer to what it was like hundreds of years ago. There's not so much figuring out what Basque culture is exactly, and the little things that are special about this place stand out more. It's pretty straightforward, you experience it, and you love it.

That incredible travel high that comes from being accepted in a different culture. To everyone who made me feel welcome, accepted, like I could belong even if just for a minute, thank you. You can't know how much it means to me. Unless you've lived abroad. Then you know.

Specialized food shops. I had a good thing going with my butcher, who knew my favorite cuts for stews, and had found my favorite shop for cheap, amazing fruits and veggies. Goodbye, Fresh Local Produce; hello, Trader Joe's.

Random delightful moments. We had our kitchen window open this evening and while I was cooking, voices singing "Happy Birthday" in Basque from another apartment came breezing in. Moments like that.

Specific people - my housemate from last semester, my church family, and a handful of other incredible people. A lot of people have stepped up and been amazing friends to me here when it came down to it (more on that to come).

Fellow expats: what about y'all? What would you most miss - and be the most glad to leave behind?

Friday, May 20, 2011

aaand the postcard goes to...

Miss Cat Gaa.

Right now I am supposed to pretend like it was all random. I had planned for it to be.

I have a confession to make, though: kind of hit the number generator a lot of times until it came up with Cat's number. The thing about her friend Cody was pretty adorbs, y'all.

Get ready for a random and hopefully unexpected postcard, Cody!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

a giveaway, of sorts

I just discovered I have one postcard stamp left. To anywhere in the world.

And two postcards: one of the Laudio main square, which is awesome because Laudio is like BFE, Alava, and you wouldn't expect them to have a postcard, and yet they do. The other is an artsy depiction of a Basque farm lady bringing her astoa (that's donkey, duh) and some fresh vegetables to market.

I mention all this because I'm sending one to one of you. Just post a comment on this post by 5 PM Basque time on May 20th. You can specify "Laudio" or "Lady + donkey" if you like. I'll choose one at random from the comments, contact you for your mailing address, and send you a postcard. I'll write things to you on it.

Enter or this guy will club you with a spoon.

That's it! have at it.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

a festival, and students

Laudio had its annual feria right before the Giant Humongous Two Week Spring Break. The festival meant lots of stands with local food...

Idiazabal cheese-on-bread pintxos

Basque cakes

...Tractors (no photos of those, but you're not missing out much - it's pretty much all John Deere over here too, if you're interested in that stuff), livestock...

Some delightfully patriotic cows

(as a side note, at the end of the row of really beautiful horses they had were a cluster of decidedly not-beautiful horses. Hanging over their sides was a sign that said "Horses for meat." What up, culture shock?!?)

...and as an added bonus, my last class got to skip its lesson. Instead, the other (i.e. real) teacher and I took the class over to the feria.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

one of those reminiscing posts

"pour cider perfectly" could have been a goal. check.

Way back in July, I made a list of things I wanted to make sure I accomplished during my stay here. With less than a month to go (exactly 3 weeks now!) left in Bilbao, I thought it was time to revisit those plans and see how I did.

So, presenting the Basque Country Goals Progress Report:

1. Calçotada. Yes, yes, and yes. It was everything I dreamed it would be.

2a. Yep. Visited Sevilla; saw stepsister.

2b. Obviously. These things are so good they shouldn't even be classified in the same species as regular olives. They should be called "angel droppings" or something.

2c. Nope. Donald proved impossible to find.

3. Partial success - I did the harder part, interestingly, and can now sing you the entire Athletic song in Basque, although I didn't make it to the stadium. Whatever, time over here has made me realize, once Betica, always Betica. Embarrassing but true. Choose your first soccer team wisely, kids, it's your team forever.

4. Not necessary, Cristiano Ronaldo creates these every day without any help from my creativity.

5. Not really. I have no idea what the heck my accent is at this point; it's certainly not an actual Bilbao one, although my andalu comes back after I try for a while. Anyway, ambitious much? What did I even think I was going to do here in Bilbao, learn to talk like someone from the Canary Islands?

6. Oh yes. My winter runs were always along the river, by the Gugg. The incredible good fortune of living five minutes from the actual Guggenheim museum isn't something I'll forget anytime soon.

7a. Whopping fail.

7b. Whopping success.

8. No. But I did begin mashing them often, which was new, and also went through a pretty big "homemade fries" phase last semester. Also made patatas a la Riojana, which I hated (for chorizo reasons).

9. Not happening. Your loss, Pamplona.

a blog confession. and a cheeseburger.

So first off, during the hectic whirlwind that was my mom having surgery/my dad moving/my best friend getting married all in the week that I was back in the States, I did make sure to get my hands on the sorts of food you can't get here in Iberia. This included Mexican food, American Chinese food (as opposed to Spanish Chinese food, and believe me, there's a world of difference), and a Five Guys bacon cheeseburger.

Three words: no regrets there.

And now, the confession: I really didn't want to write this blog post. Ever go through phases where you just. don't. want. to. write in your blog? I sure am right now. I mean, the school year and my time in Bilbao are both drawing to a close, my mind's off in North Carolina at least half the time and seriously, what am I going to write about? "Students frustrating again today"? "Flowers bloom in springtime"? "Pollen worse in Raleigh"?

Full disclosure: blogging regularly is not the easiest thing. Especially when I don't feel I have much to say. Anyone relate? Other bloggers: how do you get past "slumps" in writing?