a wandering woman writes

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Reason 42

I'm back!
Anybody notice I was missing?

There will be much blogging here for a few days, and then there will vacation, well earned, may I add, and shared with the very woman who told me to take the trip that started my romance with Spain and the Spanish language. And there will be Sevilla! Any excuse, I run to Sevilla. We'll use a visiting Aussie this time. Any excuse works for me.


I have come across yet another of Wandering-Woman's myriad reasons to live in Spain:

Reason 42:
There can be no place easier to throw a party. No place.

Cosmo party? Huge success. Despite the frantic and at times desperate search for fresh dill and fresh basil for the pinchos. In the end, I found both. In Salamanca! Impressing even the most pijo (snobby, yuppie) of my guests. And creating much better tasting pinchos.

Success despite the need to corral every lime in town. (OK, Spaniards, just why are fresh limes so hard to come by?)

Triple sec? Easy. I found Cointreau at the El Arbol where my shopping cart still lives. (Yes, still. Stay tuned for El Arbol cart-freeing updates.)

Bottled lime juice? Impossible. Limes? A lot of work, but where else could I find a friend generous enough to squeeze limes with a wooden hand-juicer until her hands blistered? And then soothe the pain with cosmopolitans, sing a little and dance all night?

Be careful inviting Spaniards to a party. They're potent. They bring more people (which I love), they sing, they dance, they make you play the piano, they rave about everything, they eat what you put in front of them and then they help you whip up another batch. While dancing. Finally, they give the neighbors a break about 3 and carry you off to the clubs to dance and sing Fue Un Error at the top of your lungs til dawn.

The other extranjero at the party, a British friend from work, pulled me aside at one point to say - "Wow, you know how to do this! You can really throw a party!"

To which I replied, honestly, "All I did was open the door!"

Easiest guests in the world. Just add food. And other people.


Saturday, September 24, 2005

The In-Between

I love the in-between.

I love the excitement of change, of being on a journey, somewhere between here and gone.

Once again, I find myself in transition and loving every uncertain minute of it. I'm in a work transition, exploring how I might combine 2 passions - living in Spain and working for myself. I'm just coming out of a few uncertain months of bureaucratic limbo, waiting for Spain's stamp-wielding funcionarios to renew my residency. And now I'm soaking up my favorite time of year - a slow, warm Indian summer with chilly fall mornings and the just-installed blue plastic pool cover outside my door reminding me every day that winter's on its way.

Something is over, I think, and something else is about to begin. That's it.

I don't know that I'll be leaving Salamanca, but, still, I walk la Rua slowly these days, drinking in every sound, every smell, every familiar scene, waving at the usual faces. I wonder, am I leaving?

And OK, it shouldn't have taken 42 years to figure this out, but I suddenly understand my passion for travel. And sailboats. I simply love the in-between. I love the train trip more than the arrival, the wandering lost more than the finally being found. I love the sail enough to feel my heart sink as the next dock crawls into sight. I remember my disappointment the first time I sailed in a small lake, somewhere in Texas, with a college almost-boyfriend who desperately wanted to impress me. I was mortified, spoiled coastal child that I was. I could see the other side! I hate seeing shore. There's something about the water in between , the journey in between, the not quite knowing where I am headed or when I will get there that turns me on.

And feels like home.
Somewhere between here and gone.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The English Tester

Serving as the token native English speaker in a promotion office that does most of its promoting in English brings with it certain official duties. Some, like correcting documents and responding to a constant barrage of didactic pop-ups (Select or sellect? How do I say " Estamos de fiestas" in English? Could you translate the paragraph below (already in English) into American?) have grown old.

But others I truly enjoy. Seems I am now the official English Tester for all new hires, for example. Every interview includes a few thrilling moments with yours truly, in English. And secretly, I'll confess, I enjoy it for the sweet if short shot at revenge
- OK, now let's go to MY language and see how your consonants are working today. What's the matter? Am I talking too fast? Mwuah hahahahhaha...

I've met several former English teachers who couldn't hold a conversation, nor understand a fifth of what I said. (That would be scary if I hadn't also studied alongside experienced American Spanish teachers in my beginner's immersion Spanish course.) I've tried, in vein, to convince the powers that be not to send me the Nords (Swedes, Norwegians...) because they speak better English than I do. Honestly. They may test my grammar and lose me my job. (With that last sentence, for example.)

But I think I do it well, if only because, as I describe the biggest challenge for our Client Services reps - talking on the phone with natives - I feel their pain. Intensely.


My favorite English consult:

This frantic IM cry for help:

What does Catch 22 mean? Bego has a client in a Catch 22!

Seems a conversational young American about to confirm his reservation (I work in educational travel) but not confirming and paying up (as he fought logistic and airfare issues) had sent an email: Either way, I'm in a Catch 22. It looks like I won't be able to go.

Their guesses ranged from a quarantine for disease, to legal trouble, to some kind of a show "which must go on", to profound depression.


Tuesday, September 13, 2005

An American solution?

Saturday, 11:10 and I'm already half way to El Arból.

Thrilled to be arriving long before the Saturday crowds, I make a quick stop at the bookstore, where I ask for one book about Salamanca history, and leave with three. This guy sees me coming, but I do enjoy his enthusiastic page-by-page book tours.

1130 and my chic purple and green plaid grocery cart and I roll through the doors of El Arból. Thinking of my last shopping excursion, when I chased a woman up Calle Conde de Crespo Rascón hollering "That´s my caaaarrrt! Myyy caaarrt!" (she was mistaken, for the record, not criminal), I decide I'll do like the natives and pay 50 cents to lock up my precious cart while I shop.

Only the machine doesn't work. I wrap the chain around the handle of my beloved if nerdy carrito and lock it in place. But the machine won't take my money...and the key which will allow me to later reclaim my carrito...just..won't...errr...budge.

American solution 1: Get shopping. Deal with imprisioned cart later.

Cut to later. Chain: jammed. Fast. El Arból staff: less than sympathetic.

-Sorry - says the last cashier to give it the good college try.
-Come back Monday and pick it up.

Bags: many. Home: far.


OK, my fellow Americans: what do you do?

I ask because at least 6 thoroughly amused Spaniards have accused me of solving a Spanish problem (something doesn't work) with a American solution (buy something, but whatever you do don't ask for help).


I pack my groceries and books in to the manacled cart and head off to make the man's day at the ferretería. (Ferretería: picture a small town general store where everything is behind the counter, and the dependiente hollers

¿Más cosas?

at the top of his lungs every time he slams a customer's product onto the counter. The kind of place that carries 1 of every thing ever made.)

-¡Es de risa! Juán, ¡su carrito está atrapado en El Arból! José, ¡ven! ¡Mira esta! ¡Quiere comprar un carrito de emergencias!

They are amused. And sell me the 1 carrito they have in stock. From behind the counter.

Back at the El Arból, the cashier stares at me, aghast.

-You bought another cart????? (Translation: What planet did you say you were from?)


Funny thing is, now that I think about it I see the Spanish solutions. Take 3 trips home. Call a friend with a car. Take a taxi. (Knock the last 2 off the list, by the way, since I'm not yet Spanish enough to have my cell phone handy during every waking moment. I gasp! went shopping without it.)

And I can take the wisecracks, when I ask for a ride to Carrefour to pick up the goodies for Saturday's cosmos party, about me just taking one cart in either hand and heading up to Carrefour on my own, independent American wonder that I am.

But I think the real American solution is not to trust Spanish carrito-locking machines. Who is it exactly who's so hard up he's going to steal my purple and green plaid grocery cart, I want to know? If he does, I'll buy a new one then.

By the way, I did think about naming this post Much Ado about Nothing..... :)


Sunday, September 11, 2005

La Virgen de No Sé Qué

I'm notorious for attributing every Spanish work holiday, of which there are many, almost all in celebration of some long forgotten Catholic feast no one can explain to me, to La Virgen de No Sé Qué - the Virgin of I Don't Know What. You must understand, there is a virgin of the snows, and a virgin of solitude and a virgin of pain and ...the list is endless, and the kneesocked Catholic schoolgirl in me finds this amusing, in what is now not a religious country.

But this week even I know what we are celebrating!

We're in fiestas! My favorite 2 weeks of the Salmantino year have arrived. In celebration of Salamanca's patron Virgin, the Virgin of the Valley (Virgen de la Vega) we're enjoying 2 weeks of concerts, street performances, fireworks, street food, sporting events..... you name it, the mayor's imported it. Toga toting Romans have invaded the lot next to my house for a Roman Market (complete with stands selling Roman falafal and Roman crepes...hmmm..), and 57 casetas line eight of the plazas in town - each set up by a different Salamanca bar, making "going for pinchos" as easy as setting out the front door in any direction - and walking - and eating - and walking - and eating....

The woman above took part in the procession that kicked off the festivities last Wednesday evening. Snaking their way across the Roman Bridge and up the hill through Plaza Juan XXIII, hundreds of people (members of traditional charro (the traditional dress/dance/music of Salamanca) groups, politicians, etc.) danced, played castanets and carried both the Virgin and basketsful of flowers to the new cathedral, where the floral offerings were put on display.

More pictures below. My personal favorite: the charro grooving with the castanets, behind the musicians.

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Saturday, September 10, 2005

The road not taken

I left my VP job 4 years ago in February.

When I was struggling with that decision I kept reminding myself:

But I worked so hard to get here!

Funny thing is I knew I'd worked hard, and, yeh, I'd gotten there, but I also knew the truth: I'd never worked hard to get there.

Hired to sell in a tiny St. Louis office (after another spontaneous career change - I'm what I like to call a chapter book:)), I found myself behind a mahogany desk in Southern California 4 years later, with 40 people and 65 million dollars in business looking up at me. Without ever having wanted to get there. I just worked hard.

I can still hear my proud response to every wide-eyed newbee who took me aside and or scheduled an appointment just to ask me how she could get "where I was":

"Oh, I never tried to get here. I just grew my business and here I am."

Four years later that famous line prompts a belly laugh. That I never wanted to get there might explain why I felt like a mismatched shoe once I arrived.

The other day I opened an email from one of my former colleagues, let's call her Lori, the only friend who was still with the company at a senior management level, and I found myself flooded by memories. Lori worked for me, very briefly, then she and I led the same division. Lori handled the Eastern US while I tackled the West and Canada. Her unexpected reaction to my unexpected resignation - "How could you leave me?" - sent me running to the CEO with an offer to rescind my letter, an offer he very wisely declined.

Lori finally left the company a few months ago, after earning a Sr VP title and a company-paid MBA only to become uncomfortable as a new leadership team took the reins. Her e-mail confirmed what I had already heard: She's moved her family from Southern California to Pennsylvania to take on a new Senior VP Sales and Marketing post.

And for a moment - a brief moment - I put my old life in fast forward - as if I'd never handed in that fateful letter - and saw myself in 2005, a lot wealthier :), still in corporate mode, walking into a new company to lead eager young troops to new sales records. Executive MBA in hand.

And I cringed.

Because as much as Lori is one of the corporate good guys, a talented leader who truly does thrive in the big business world, I am not.

I miss my salary and the easy peace of mind it gave me, I miss being an icon - Erin, no last name required, I miss the adulation of eager little sales bucks, I miss speaking in public (in English!) about a company I believe in, I miss the absolute clarity of purpose a company-woman job gave me, and the seductive "Success" label my business card provided. In some ways it was an easy life.

It just wasn't mine! As I closed her e-mail it hit me: I can't for one moment imagine going back.

My job here in Spain is creative and fun, and it's been my way to get here and get started. I'm still wandering around, wondering what I might like to do, professionally, in my next chapter, now that the where has worked out so well, but my quick fast-forward nightmare made one thing clear: Arriving sure is a lot sweeter when you are the one behind the wheel.

Here's to getting to the places you really are working toward.

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Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The Spanish Meeting Bus

I hate meetings.



Loathe meetings.

Can't say why, really. I suspect it has to do with a calculation I rattled off one afternoon during my corporate years, putting a number to how many hours of my adult life I had already spent sitting in meetings. Several weeks, as I recall. Appalling.

For the record, I do love wild, unexpectedly contentious - or creative - meetings. It's weekly round-the-table check-ins and world-touring agendas that make my skin crawl.

Off my back, under the table and out the door.

Til there I sit, irritable. Skinless.

Here's where I should explain something: I was raised by business wolves. I cut my corporate teeth working in a savagely entrepreneurial company where time really was money. The CEO told me so. And if we'd been able to get our hands on a marble statue of a nymph-like goddess called Results, we would happily have rubbed her head and kissed her toes on the way in and out every day.

The millionaire CEO of that highly profitable wolves' den was a German immigrant who, as he told it, arrived in the US at the tender age of 19 with 3 dollars in his pocket. (I've always wondered how German arrived with dollars, but we'll assume he changed them at the airport.) He started meetings by his own satellite-calibrated watch and balanced a metal garbage pail just inside the conference room door to surprise anyone who dared crawl in late - or dispute the satellite-guaranteed hour.

I tell you all this to illustrate the depth of my dislike for the senseless human act of meeting just to meet. Here's what my wolf parents taught me about meetings and memos: Avoid them. When that doesn't work, start them on time, get to the point and get everybody back to what makes money.

Ah, but I live in Spain now.

It's not the sheer volume of Spanish meetings-just-to-meet that has my skin missing in action for weeks at a time. Although the volume is impressive.

Nor is it the epic journey taken by each and every agenda, though a Dutch colleague and I have enthusiastically pointed out the striking resemblance between many of our meetings and, well, the EU, for example.

It's not all that.

It's the darn Spanish Meeting Bus.

Ever call a meeting and nobody came? Well, in Spain, nobody EVER comes. Til the bus goes out to get them.

Allow me to illustrate my point:
Scene: 10 o'clock meeting called by who knows who.
10:01: Cut to the conference room, where our fearless wandering American sits alone.

10:15: Alone she sits.

10:20: Wandering American begins to make the rounds, in what I have affectionately named the Spanish Meeting Bus.

- Knock knock!! Diez y veinte!
- Hola, everybody still working happily at your desks! Don't we have a meeting at 10:00?

Until the bus physically rounds up each and every participants, nothing. This isn't late. This isn't even the legendary (and fictional, if you ask me) Spanish mañana.

This is nunca. Bordering on nunca jamás. Never.

I have an idea. If we start the darn things I bet we'll finish earlier.

Anybody want to buy an imaginary bus?

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Tuesday, September 06, 2005


There really is a post coming, I promise.

Many, in fact.

Blame it on Spanish ADSL, too much work, too little time and a muse who took August off (like a good Spaniard) and seems not to have heard it's September already. Or maybe she just has a Mediterranean sense of punctuality.

Meanwhile, a few quick links. Here's what I've been reading lately:

Ellen MacArthur, yet another woman at the top of my list of "Women I´d love to Meet for a Cup of Coffee" (or a pint of Murphy's, as the case may be) is in standby mode in NYC for a new try at the west to east transatlantic solo record (sailing, that is.) The current record was just set in July by a pesky record-setting Frenchman named Francis Joyon, and she's got her work cut out to beat it.

And the Spanish are doing OK in the Louis Vuitton competitions leading up to the America's Cup in Valencia in 2007! They've been bouncing around 5th place. Impressive, considering they arrived late to the game (like a bad cliche about Spanish punctuality), finally pulling together a boat and a team a few months ago, years after the most of the other challengers. Might be a root for the home team thing, might be the same undying love for the underdog that lead me to 2 heartbreaking and wholly dysfunctional relationships - one with the Boston Red Sox, the other with my poor Chicago Cubs.....but, whatever it is, I am ready to see Spain come out in the final 2.

And yes, these appear to be the wistful wanderings of a sailor landlocked in the rainless plains of Spain. Bear with me.

This cracked me up.

And last, a link in Spanish with no time to translate. An El Pais columnist wrote a fabulous column about Chicago last weekend. In Chicago he found Mies can der Rohe and Al Capone, and Saul Bellow and Hugh Hefner, and Carl Sandberg. He revelled in the lovely contradictions of a city of bewildering extremes - frozen in winter, hell in summer, men in suits mixing with leather at Buddy Guy's blues bar, alternating neighborhoods with the some of the country's largest communities of African Americans, Latinos, Ukrainian Americans and Polish Americans.

In a followup column this week, he headed south from Chicago in search of the Mississippi(I like the way this man travels) passing through through Louisville and Graceland, planning to reach New Orleans. He never made it.


Friday, September 02, 2005


I haven't been able to wrap my head around the horror Katrina left in her wake, particularly in New Orleans. The destruction of a grande dame of a city, the sea of desperate, suffering faces beamed into my living room by BBC - the realization that - at least in the footage I've seen - most of the faces are black. The poorest of America's poor, people without the means to obey an evacuation order - and the rest of us forced to see how the line between those who got out and those who didn't splits down all too familiar racial lines. In 2005.

I haven't been able to wrap my head around the quiet way panic built in a series of emotional group emails from friends in Shreveport, a few hours from New Orleans - first the calm, the "all's clear, we're OK everybody"..a full day later the horrified "Do you all know how bad it is? Friends have lost everything", and finally the frantic plea for ANY help ANYone could send - with a promise to deliver it all by hand to the already overflowing shelters up in Shreveport - almost 3 hours from New Orleans.

I stared at the screen for hours, unable to post about what was happening at "home" and unable to post about anything else.


Melusina at Mel's Diner, an American living in Greece, found the words I couldn't in a beautifully written (and aptly titled) post today: As I Lay Dying.

And this on Be Here Now, which I really do need to blogroll...

The Red Cross is taking donations online, and a long list of artists at CD Baby are donating all CD sales proceeds to the disaster relief.