a wandering woman writes

Friday, December 30, 2005

Message in a bottle

A bottle of Fanta limón here at my friendly neighborhood Internet Cafe.

And just in case the mighty River Tormes doesn't deliver the message to all of you:

My laptop is no longer with us.

Long live my laptop.

Tomorrow I will wrap her in swaddling clothes and carry her gently to the local e-computer shop, where I suspect Juan will look deeply into my baby blues and break the news. But then, and I this I promise, unless I am swept up in some utterly in character completely illogical impulse to hike off to Carrefour or who knows where and immediately replace Ms. Toshiba, may she be recycled in peace, unless I run off like a wild wandering technology shopper....I will race right over here to friendly CyberAnuario and make up for my shameful blogging behavior. Promise.

So just what were the adventures of the ingenious Doña Erin Patricia during the last few weeks, you ask? What will you have to look forward to if you choose to return to this humble place? Hmm, well, for starters, there's:

Chapter One. In which our heroine quits her job to do who knows what. But wait, that was months ago, she just couldn't tell you.

Chapter Two. In which she spends an idyllic week in a restored 15th century monastery in the sierra of Seville, and meets a most amazing woman, a Mexican sculptor, and many Iberian pigs.

Chapter Three. In which our Sevilla-addicted hidalga conquers the language (that being pueblo Andaluz, vs. plains Castellano, of course), random bus schedule and contradictory directions to hop a bus to Sevilla for a night out and a morning in at the home of her favorite Sevillian newlyweds, only to find herself facing a talkative visiting Argentina along for the required marcha (night out). She is forced to translate every sentence from andaluz to argentine (zhaves??? zhorrar??) and back to castellano, allowing her to perfect her pronunciation of the word "Cómo?" (Translation of cómo: Say what???)

Chapter Four. In which, after sufficient sherry, Doña Erin and the incomprehensible Argentina come to a brilliant realization about Spanish men.

Chapter Five. In which, according to reliable native eyewitnesses, she completely misses the fact that a Sevillano is trying to ligar with her, and finds him merely annoying. Leading to further development of the Pan American Spanish Men theory.

Chapter Six.
In which the company she is about to leave is spontaneously sold to its nemesis, the reputedly evil competitor. She learns alot about how her Spanish coworkers handle change. Or not.

Chapter Seven. In which our heroine battles the dragons of CounterOffers and Wait! Have I got a fat workaholic job for you.

Chapter Eight. In which she repeats "What a country" far too many times to be clever, as the food, and wine, cava, besos and singing flow at work (neither owner being present) before her coworkers head off for a New Year's weekend.

And that's just Part 1...

Sorry about the disappearance. I'll be relatively unemployed soon, so you can count on me to be here.

Once we bury Ms. Toshiba.


Saturday, December 17, 2005

One more good reason......

.....to live and work in Spain:

Extra days off for las Navidades.

My head is swimming with blog entries, lots and lots to tell, but this morning a train calls. I'll be here putting the final touches on my Andaluz (think the Spanish equivalent of English in Mississippi. OK, or Boston....) if anybody calls.

Barring serendipitous Internet cafe sightings, I'll see you back here Saturday the 24th.


Monday, December 12, 2005

Smile, you're in Spain

I'm famous for laughing to myself. Anywhere. For all the times that the people who know me catch me at it, twice as many secret Erin snickers make it out unnoticed. Anonymous street grins, we'll call them. C'mon, it's another Rear Window thing, don't you love when you are walking down street and see someone else chuckling away?

The Guardian ran a
fun article
this weekend about a reporter and photographer who ran around London trying to catch people at it, without being discovered. There is a rather amusing American tale at the end.....

In Salamanca I've developed the habit of grinning back. Or maybe I've just slowed down enough to notice that I can't help but join in. And I am proud to say that's despite having been warned on my arrival in Spain not to smile too much: "The Spanish don't trust people who smile."

So you know, dear loyal Spanish readers, I am grinning as I type this. You'll do what you feel you have to do.

The NO SMILING advice came from 2 American women who thought they knew this place inside out.

One night during my first few months in Salamanca, I went out for pinchos with a couple of American women who knew each other from a shared study year abroad in Spain, 5 or 10 years earlier. When I met them, one was working for a few months in Vallodolid, and the other was in Salamanca chaperoning a university study abroad group. Their Spanish was better than mine was then, and they seemed to know Spain better than I did, but something struck me funny. Well, first, we spent the evening in English, which never makes sense to me if we all speak Spanish. Sorry, it's a hang-up, but when in Spain....

But the bigger shock was this: they didn't seem to LIKE Spain. Or the Spanish. They both peppered every paragraph with huge doses of "Oh, how I love Spain!!", but every comment betrayed them. In between envy at my "luck" at living here, and schemes about how they'd come back next time, they'd launch into detailed tirades about what was wrong with Spain. The food. The customer service, or lack thereof. The music. The bureaocracy.

The stern warning not to smile stunned me. The study group chaperone told me I had better stop smiling, as she had, because the Spanish never smile at strangers. She loved the country, she told me, and she wanted to live here, but she hated that the Spanish had taken away her right to smile at nothing. And strangers. And she poured out 3 or 4 anecdotes about how smiling before knowing people intimately got her into trouble here. We're talking bartenders, or walking in to a restaurant and asking for directions. Buying a paper.
I left the evening with a bad taste in my mouth, partly because I have never enjoyed complaining (which, as I promise to share in an upcoming post, my beloved Spanish neighbors do love, and practice with panache, without ever expecting me to join in), and partly because I couldn't possibly suddenly turn smileless.

I finally got to this: I never can quite soak in why we can't just TRY to remind ourselves, once in a great while, that we each see the world through our own, very powerful lens. Why would anyone in their right mind blame Spaniards for not acting like farmers from Iowa? Where exactly would Salamantinos have learned "farmer from Iowa" golly-gee gushing?

I watched my neighbors for a few weeks after that conversation. While I noticed that Salmantinos - a famously reserved group by the way, this would be a whole other experiment in Andalucia - don't necessarily break into toothy grins at strangers, neither do the New Englandahs I grew up alongside. What I have found is that if I just forget where I live and act like me, the people whose dogs and kids crack me start up conversations, and the man I buy my paper from tells everyone who walks up that I am the happiest customer he's got. Maybe you should be buying El Pais instead of El Mundo, he told the man behind me one day, that may just be her secret.

So, just in case my two paisanas make it to this blog someday, or another new resident of Spain hears the dreaded smile warning: I think I've figured it out.

Know what I found, behind the (admittedly different) Spanish reaction to new people? Respect for authenticity. OK, it's more like intolerance for a lack of authenticity, and maybe just a little paranoia about who's authentic and who's not. Neither strikes me as a bad thing. And since I can't help but smile, or laugh, or crack a joke in my almost-there Spanish, I pass every test and meet dancing eyes, warm grins, and long humorous monologues I am not sure I catch all of.

I hereby advise all wandering smilers, Iowan farmers included, to relax and be themselves on the streets of Spain.

Sorry about all the time between posts, by the way. Lots going on, and lots of news I hope to post about in the next few days...............

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Friday, December 09, 2005

Things I've collected

Things I've Collected

Marriages I'd seen by the age of 25 that I told myself I'd actually take, 4

Women I'd like to have coffee with,
Maya Angelou, Maria del Mar Bonet, Grace O'Malley the Irish pirate queen...

Spanish words it takes my whole mouth to say

Jokes my father told me

Guidebooks to places I've never visited

Little pieces of places I've hiked,
Homemade coal from the Pinsapo forest, an arrow shaped flint from Mallorca...

Moments when I was just where I was supposed to be

Times I've tried to take up yoga

Times I've seen Gone With the Wind, 13

Earth moving jazz solos

Passport-sized photos of myself, just in case

Christmas`cards I never sent

Whales I've watched leap

Single surviving earrings

Broken umbrellas

Unread copies of Don Quijote, 4

Job titles I accepted

Marriage proposals I (wisely) didn't

Black shoes, 14

Foods I've tried and hated, 1

Cookbooks I've never used

Never opened tubes of lipstick

Little strips of paper with spot-on fortunes


So tell me, what have you collected, anything cool?


Sunday, December 04, 2005

A walk through Yeats' woods

Thoor Ballylee, WB Yeats' home in County Galway

My first visit to Ireland 12 years ago, 3 luxurious weeks wandering cow-paths in a tiny plastic car, left me addicted to Irish writers: Joyce, Synge, Yeats, Wilde... The one who most became part of me is Yeats. I remember seeing his grave on my first visit, and asking myself "Now, who is that? And who is this 'George my wife' with him?" Years later, the first English book I felt compelled to buy in Spain was a small Yeats collection. You never know when you might suddenly need a good dose of musical Irish poetry.

So last Tuesday, when Conor, our host at the bed and breakfast in Ballyvaughan, told me I was painfully close to Coole Park, Yeats' stomping grounds, I was tempted to try to sell my two Spanish companions on a rainy drive to the woods of an old manor house, to live poems they'd never read by a man they'd never heard of. If you want to understand Yeats, Conor told me over pudding and rashers of bacon, walk Coole Park in fall. I told him I love to travel alone as well, and I'd be back.

I had also asked him about Thoor Ballylee, the Norman castle Yeats restored when he felt, already over 50, a call to settle down in known country - in Galway, a walk away from Coole Park and his lifelong friend Lady Gregory. When the Salmantinas demanded a translation of Conor's passionate, speed-of-light English discourse over they-couldn't-tell-what, I did my best to tell the story of Yeats' unrequited loved for Maud Gonne and his endless proposals of marriage, the last as he was restoring Thoor Ballylee, after buying the long-abandoned tower for 35 pounds. When she turned him down, he proposed to her daughter, who holding tight to family tradition, also rejected him. Tower under construction, Yeats went to England, where he met and married the George I saw with him in the graveyard in Sligo. They raised a family in the Norman tower, and lived there during the Irish civil war, when Yeats wrote some of my favorite poems, contrasting the calm continuity of nature - bees moving into an abandoned starling nest in a hole in the tower, for example - with the bloodshed and destruction he saw around him.

Well, as Irish luck would have it, I was happily careening along a 2 lane cowpath outside of Gort in County Galway last Tuesday when a faded metal sign broke through the mist: Thoor Ballylee - 3 km.
I said something in Spanish, and was immediately reminded of how well I choose friends and travelling companions. An enthusiastic shout from the back seat

"¡¡A la torre del poeta!!"

was followed by an echo from my right and then a unified chorus

"¡¡A la torre del poeta!!"

The road to Thoor Ballylee is narrow, curved and canopied by the twisted old trees that line either side. A few kilometers from the main road we found a small deserted carpark. The tower, a short walk away, hosts a Yeats museum in the summer. I was ecstatic to arrive on a wet, dark day in fall. My companions quickly decided no one could live in this spot and NOT be a poet, a lovely Spanish thought that I am not sure I disagree with. Birds, moss, brush, and crumbling stones are everywhere, and the water gurgles and sings as it passes under the bridge.

The tower fell back into disuse after Yeats' death, until it was restored as a museum in the 60s.

The poem Conor felt this season would best "give" me at Coole Park is called The Wild Swans at Coole, and describes 59 swans that Yeats saw year after year in the woods at Coole. He wrote it while still living his solitary poet's life, and, so they say, saw himself as the 59th swan - the single solitary figure in a community that pairs for life. 29 pairs, and Yeats. I know the feeling, some dark days. Somehow, I almost preferred seeing not Coole Park, but the family home he willed himself to create when he decided it was time. Plus I always prefer to see things I serendipitiously stumble upon.

The picture above shows an intrepid Salmantina marching on to explore la torre del poeta, and below, you see the path that leads along the river bank, toward Coole Park. I like to think these are Yeats' own walking woods.

Visit the west of Ireland, wandering doesn't get any better than this.

Yeats' woods


Thursday, December 01, 2005

Erin go bragh

Just back. Caught a cold. Aaachoooo.

Ireland has changed a lot since I was last there in the early 90s, but then again, I'm not sure it's changed at all. I've still never travelled anywhere where people are so absolutely delighted to talk to strangers, to give directions, to throw in a story about their grandchildren, to laugh at everything and nothing, to ask you about yourself - in short, where people genuinely like people. For today, here's my:

Shorthand Ireland Report

4 breakfasts to die for, just like my Mom makes: eggs and ham and sausages and tomatoes and beans and potatoes and (ok this even my mom doesn't do) black and white puddings

Bread that weighs more than my camera. Much more.

1 flat tire, left front, changed with a smile by some anonymous roadside Irish lad, who appeared at just the right moment

1 left side mirror, cracked

1 wandering American who has yet to completely conquer driving on the left side of the road without running the left mirror and tire into things

2 Salmantinas who, gratefully, couldn't care less as long as they don't have to drive

1 fabulous afternoon at Johnnie Fox's, the highest and best-hidden pub in Ireland

An indeterminate number of Cliffs of Moher, hidden behind a curtain of the thickest fog I've ever seen, and wind that knocks you off your feet, still laughing

Kilmacduagh Monastery, County Galway.

County Clare