a wandering woman writes

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Am I an expat?

At the risk of getting myself thrown out of every blog ring that links to me, I'm not so sure.

Loaded word, expat. At least for me, as I recently discovered.

One afternoon a few weeks back, an “expat” site expressed interest in my writing. That same afternoon, I lunched with two self-proclaimed expats in Salamanca. I was surprised to find myself cringing on my way to the lunch. The reason? Well, I was meeting "expats" - and preparing to have lunch in English. My lunch companions, who both live in Salamanca, turned out to be lovely women. The newest arrival was dutifully studying Spanish and earnestly trying to meet Salmantinos, although she will likely live here for only one year.

When I returned from lunch, I found an e-mail from the expat site offering to publish some of my blogs, which they described as "Spanish life, seen from the outside." I cringed again: seen from the what?

The description sent me running to a dictionary.

expatriate: noun /ekspatri t/ a person who lives outside their native country.

verb: to leave one's native country to live elsewhere.

Ok, well, yes, that's true.
But look what comes next:

also: to renounce allegiance to one's native country

Well, now wait a minute.....

I moved on to Wikipedia: where things got worse:

The difference between an expatriate and an immigrant is that immigrants (for the most part) commit themselves to becoming a part of their country of residence, whereas expatriates are usually only temporarily placed in the host country and most of the time plan on returning to their home country, so they never adopt the culture in the host country - though some may end up never actually returning, with the distinction then becoming more a matter of their own viewpoint.

I comforted myself with the "most of the time", the "usually" and that warm little "for the most part".

So am I an expat?

I didn't move to Spain to escape from the US.
I didn't move to make a political statement.
I believe I still have a responsibility to vote in the US, and take my share of the heat for our role in the world.

Most importantly, I didn't move to Spain to live on the "outside" of anything. And aside from our shared belly laughs at a gaffed word, a missed r, or a pathetic attempt at a sevillana, my friends and neighbors have never made me feel like an outsider.

So maybe I'm a "less than usual" expat: the kind that shows up "less of the time" and "for the least part". Or maybe I am an immigrant.

I think of myself as a woman living in Spain, amongst the Spanish. As I was a woman living amongst Californians, long after I lived amongst St Louisans and shortly after boldly declaring myself an adopted Chicagoan.

I know that after three years in Salamanca, I feel more like an outsider strolling through LA then I do paseando through Salamanca. It's a funny thing, this "otherness".

Somewhere in all this pondering I joyfully realized that I will be something "other" than usual just about anywhere I go from here on out. I'm excited about that; it'll be my responsibility to make sure my "otherness" is always more of a bridge than a wall.

In the end, I told the site I'd be thrilled if they published my posts.

And I set my mind to thinking less about labels, and more about what to order next time I meet charming people for lunch. In any language.


2 expats, 2 cameras, 1 passion to create...

If you haven't discovered Natural Light, the new photography blog following the camera-wielding exploits of my fellow wandering woman and Alison - a Kiwi and a Canadian in Belgium - you're missing beautiful photos and thoughtful, intriguing conversations about creativity, photo-snapping, and life in a place other than your own (or your original, I'd rather say....)

The blog's title:
Natural Light: 2 expats, 2 cameras, 1 passion to create....

and a daily opportunity to grin ear to ear, says me.

While I'm at it, I recommend occasional strolls through wandering Di's photography website as well....

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Sunday, March 25, 2007

Ah, the sweet universality of it all....

Extracted from a letter to the editor in El País last week:

There's a deaf man worse than the one who simply doesn't want to hear: the one who keeps shouting at the top of his lungs that nothing can be heard so that the rest of us can't hear anything, either.

The writer was commenting on the current climate in Spanish politics, but somehow I had no trouble applying his very wise words to all kinds of countries and conversations...


Paseo along the River Cuerpo del Hombre

Last Sunday I joined Salamanca's Ecologistas en Acción for a hike along the river Cuerpo del Hombre close to Béjar. After the required prehike stop for cafetitos and donuts, we left the bus and driver and made the easy descent from El Cerro to lovely Montemayor del Río (population an incredibly charming 378).

From Montemayor we continued on to Puerto de Béjar along part of the Vía de la Plata, the centuries old route connecting Sevilla with Santiago de Compostela.

We walked a short piece of the route known as the Ruta de los Miliarios. When the Vía de la Plata was the main thoroughfare through Roman Iberia, these stone milestones told the traveller how many Roman miles (each measured as 1000 human steps) stood between his feet and Rome, or another important destination.

The hike took us along the river Body of Man (El Cuerpo del Hombre). As if that mythical name, Roman milestones and the lovely Roman Puente de la Malena weren't enough to awe my practical American mind, we passed close to the Tranco del Diablo. Legend has it that the devil himself leapt across this deep ravine one fateful day, only to lose one of his boots in the process. The devil's boot, now turned to stone, sits high on a hill alongside the Body of Man.

In Montemayor we visited the Castle of Saint Vincent, then waited in the plaza with a crowd of townspeople who assured us the señora in charge would be along any moment to unlock the town's pretty Romanesque church for Sunday mass. A fifteen minute wait paid off: la encargada came scurrying up the hill keys in hand, bearing freshly cut flowers for the altar. The lovely, simple church was well worth the wait. After a quick stop for a beer and a pincho of callos in the bar in a nearby plaza, we were on our way to Puerto de Béjar.

We hiked past fresnos, chestnuts, oaks and crumbling stone cottages. As we skipped stone to stone along a narrow, flooded track close to the Puente de la Malena, another group of Salmantinos waited at the mouth of the track to make their way in the opposition direction. A woman from the other group pulled me aside to ask if the entire trail to Montemayor was wet. I assured her it was not. Comforted by my dry boots and my utterly uneducated guess at the distance (in meters, God help me) she'd be expected to hop stone to stone, she followed her fellow hikers into the shallow ravine.

Before heading into Puerto de Béjar we took a quick tour of El Jardín del Conde, a 19th century private botanic garden now housing a casa rural.

We finished the day at the Bar de Chinato in Puerto de Béjar, a dark, stone, inviting place owned by Manolillo Chinato, a local poet best known for the lyrics he's written for Spanish heavy metal bands.

Each of the two Ecologista excursions I've joined have started the day with a widely celebrated coffee stop. Sunday's itinerary included a lunch break of at least an hour in a shaded grove along the river. Time for lunch, time for talk and plenty of time for a quick nap. I looked up from my day-dreaming to find each and every one of my hiking companions blissfully tumbado, eyes closed, under a tree.

My kind of hike.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A door

A door in Montemayor del Río, province of Salamanca


Saturday, March 17, 2007

Top o' the morning to you

And, as my dutiful mother responded when I woke her with an energetic "top o' the morning" at 545 AM east coast US, "the rest of the day to yourself!"

Through the wonders of youtube, I offer up a set of reels by the Chieftains and friends, almost live, from Matt Molloy's in Westport, County Mayo.

Happy Saint Pat's Day from Salamanca!


Friday, March 16, 2007

Good news

Who are really the richest people in the USA?

Motto magazine led me to a cool project put together by Tim Richardson, a speaker and author based in San Francisco. Hot on the heels of Forbes' richest lists, he's launched a project to celebrate people who are rich for what they give, whether or not they have a Forbes' worthy financial picture:

The REAL Richest People in America is about people making a difference. This inaugural list focuses on richness in giving with the aim of inspiring businesses and individuals to give their profits and their time.

Recipients will be selected not because of what they have or profit but because of what they give or what they do. “True richness comes from the love of giving back to society, and happens whether you make $10,000 or $10 million a year” says list founder Tim Richardson.

These nominees reflect the best about the joy of giving back; using their time and resources to make a difference in the world.

The list of nominees is a fun, inspiring read.

Kiva keeps growing

In other good news, my first Kiva loan has been paid off!

If you've somehow missed my previous soap box posts about Kiva, I never had more fun opening an email than I did every time I received a payment update from the Kiva businesses in my portfolio, until yesterday, when the e-mail announced that a loan had been completely repaid. My tiny investment popped back into my Kiva account, for me to withdraw, donate to Kiva, or reinvest in another business. I reinvested.

Kiva lets you loan as little as $25 to an entrepreneur in the developing world safely, directly, effortlessly and online, with a credit card or paypal account. I can't think of an easier way to make a direct, bureacracy-free difference to one person determined to find his own way out of poverty. Every penny you loan goes to the business owner in whom you invest, and every penny comes back to you, when the loan has been fully repaid. Best of all, you get to follow the entrepreneur's progress. Every Kiva update e-mails I receive about one of my businesses gives me a nice wide-eyed dose of perspective.

So far, I've loaned to a young man making a go of his deceased father's shoestore in Honduras, a young woman launching her own cloth stand at a market in Cambodia, an immigrant Turk's café in Bulgaria, a women's co-op raising steers in Kenya, a wedding decoration firm in Tanzania, a hardware store in Ecuador, and widely scattered soft drink vendors and general store owners.

If you've ever wondered what you could "do" to make a hands-on difference with little money and little time, Kiva's a great place to start.


Thursday, March 15, 2007

An Angel in Córdoba

Just felt like time for a photo. This is Córdoba, back in September. San Rafael (the angel) watches over Córdoba from monuments all over the city. It's a lovely feeling to stroll through a town with angels everywhere you look...


A Year in Europe - That's not crazy, is it?

A post by Ben at Notes from Spain led me to A Year in Europe.

I was following the trail of this spectacular photo of Córdoba, hoping to find more just like it. I did. A trip to Andalucía may be the only cure to my reaction to a ayearineurope's flickr account.

A Year in Europe is a blog, a spectacular photo trail and a series of podcasts chronicling the adventures of an American couple who quit their jobs, sold their home, and set off on a year-long wander through Europe.

From Córdoba, ayearineurope's photos took me to Sevilla, to the only place I'll eat breakfast in Seville, Bodega Santa Cruz (tostada con jamón y tomate, or salmorejo...and well worth a stop back in the evening for pinchos), then on to a flamenco performance at Casa de La Memoria.

A small excerpt from Say What?,
the post that started this visual treat of a trip:

We’ve lived fairly safe lives so far, each following a predictable and somewhat unfulfilling career path that has left us both asking, “Is there something more?” And over the past year or so, we’ve had a few significant experiences that have reminded us how short and tenuous life really is. So we’re doing something about it. That’s not crazy, is it?

I secretly hope they plan on passing through Salamanca. Pinchos are on me.


The trouble with normal

The trouble with normal is it always gets worse.

Bruce Coburn

Today my never ending search for the perfect work-at-home soundtrack took me deep enough into my CD collection to find myself happily singing out this Bruce Coburn line, one of my all time favorites. I smiled, never having been accused of being normal.


Thursday, March 08, 2007

Grand opening of casa Erin and other tales of self-employment

It's like this.

I've discovered that while I cherish the endless travel my virtuality affords me and doubt I'll ever be able to give up this sweet absolute autonomy, I'm not exactly cut out to work alone all day in front of a laptop.

As luck would have it, my old company recently moved into an office dos pasos from my front door. And in a stroke of luck I didn't appreciate at first, a decent pincho tour is a challenge in my barrio. I have a weekly lunch date with two discriminating friends from that old company. Since the move, our weekly lunches have decidedly not been cutting it.

And so, today marked the grand opening of Casa Erin. I supplied a tasty Ribera, a fresh baked loaf of rustic bread, a fabulous salad and the grill. One of my lunch companions donated homemade morcillas - picante and dulce - and chorizo, all from her family's matanza back in the pueblo. Buika sang, and we feasted. We finished up two hours later with strawberries that inspired me to continue my song of spring, although my friends insisted that while they were exquisite, I mean exquisite, strawberries from Andalucia don't prove it's spring in Castilla Leon.

We toasted to living well.

That's all. Just one of those afternoons when I stop and remind myself:
I like my life in Salamanca.

C'mon, wherever you live, you could make room for two hours of good company and a bottle of wine this week, couldn't you?

Salamanca is a moveable feast.


Saturday, March 03, 2007

A sure sign of spring, or: why did the Salmantina cross the road?

After three years, I expect the debate.

Every year right around this time I spot the storks collecting twigs for nest repair. I pack my winter coats away and dance round Salamanca announcing the arrival of spring.

And every year my friends assure me we are nowhere near spring. Nowhere, they hiss, while we stand talking in jean jackets. The other day a neighbor sternly warned me not to jinx the weather for all of us by daring to utter the "s" work (p, primavera, en español) before its time.

Today I gathered my strongest piece of evidence yet.

As I was climbing up toward la Rua, I watched the chica in front of make a sudden sharp left turn, followed by a quick 90 degree right once she'd placed herself firmly in the center of a shaded path. A shaded path, I tell you! I observed a precise, deliberate Spanish move to avoid walking in the sun.

Now everybody knows nothing gives away a tourist in Spain more than walking in the sun during summer or the shade in winter. Multiple street crossings and two point turns are perfectly acceptable; we all do what we must to stay cool or warm.

She sought the shade, I tell you! The shade! I consider the walking paths of my fellow Salmantinos far more reliable indicators of the season than the shadow of some drowsy groundhog in rural Pennsylvania.

A Salmantina sought the shade!

I hereby proclaim the arrival of spring.

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