Saturday, May 29, 2010
Thursday, May 27, 2010
Within an hour of making an account (and this is purely for kicks) my inbox was filled with messages and, as I skimmed them, I couldn't help but laugh. And that's when I paused to read one that caught my eyes. It read something like "Hola, Rubia, I really would like to meet you" before the writer asked me if I'd be willing to perform certain acts I don't feel like repeating.
As I thought about how to word a witty rejection, it occured to me to write a letter to Spanish men as a whole and relieve myself of the many feelings I have concerning these strange, elusive creatures. So if I had to write an epistle to all Spaniards it might look something like this:
Esteemed Spanish Men:
I have spent over 4 months living in the wild of your habitat, you elusive creatures. During which time, I have carefully noted your walk, your talk, and of course your good looks. Gorgeous! Crikey! But after taking a closer gander, I have observed your comportment and noted that you are indeed stranger than I could have ever imagined, and I'm not quite sure I always approve. The following points are my scientific observations and suggestions concerning the evolutionary improvement of your species:
1. For one thing, my name is NOT Rubia. I'll admit, this one is partly my fault for turning around and looking back at you when I hear "RUBIAAAA" being shouted at me down the street. I'm sorry, I'll try to stop. But I would like to go back to being called what my mother intended: Veronica. Vero will do in a pinch.
2. My name isn't "Guapa" either. Trust me, Spaniards, you are preaching to the choir on this one.
3. Pants in colours better sutied to sorbets and other tropical desserts are not under any circumstances a practical choice of legwear. Also please refrain from wearing rooyal blue rugby shirts with red (acceptable) trousers. You look like a fruit salad (and it makes me hungry at inconvenient times).
4. Speaking of fruit, you men have broken my gaydar. As if your lisp, your flamboyant trousers weren't enough, you insist of public displays of affection with your fellow varones. Being a rubia myself, I can't help but be a little insulted when you'd rather hold the hand of some guy named Jesus instead.
5. Also, why do so many of you shave your legs? This is something that just does not fit in my brain. I do not enjoy being prickled by the stubble of your growing calf hairs. I shudder at the memory of my friend's story about the time she came face-to-face (so to speak) with a landing strip. I just picture a gaggle of Javier Bardems watching me walk down the street, all of them holding hands and their freshly shaved chests gleaming in the sun. All of them laughing at the Neanderthal woman who is hairier than they are. And frankly, your rumoured hairiness was part of the tourist attraction for me. I had heard tales that you had bristling arm hair and beards for days! Way to disappoint, guys.
6. You do not know how to drive, and don't try to convince me otherwise. If I had a Euro for every time I've nearly flown through your windshield, I could buy you a new car. I admire you for driving stick (it's actually kind of sexy), but even my 16-year-old sister knows how to use a turn signal.
7. I don't care how many times you emphasize it, but aceite (olive oil) is not "muy sano" (very healthy). If I had a euro for every time you did this, I could buy you a Lipitor prescription and some cooking spray.
8. Mullets: NO.
But for all your faults and all the ways you stray from the Antonio Banderas mystique, I guess you have some redeeming qualities. For one thing, though it may take me days (sometimes weeks) to confirm your sexual orientation, you are largely confident in your sexuality. I dig your courage to wear loud clothing, that you can hold your wingman's hand or touch his breast, that you don't feel the need to act like a caveman in front of me to prove your masculine mettle.
For another thing, you are amazing cooks. The best paella I ever had? Made by a man. Who taught me to make Spanish tortilla? My friend Juan Carlos. Your ability to feed me delicious food (even if drenched in aceite) is a beautiful thing.
Thirdly, you respect your mothers. This is particularly admirable, because most of you live with yours. God knows I have not the patience to live with mine. But I will be the first to tell you that there is nothing more attractive than a man who respects the woman who raised him.
And really, there are the little things too. The way you say "teepecal Espaneessh". The fact that you blow dry your hair more often than I do. The way you mispronounce the word "egg" (ech). That all of you apparently shop for earrings in the same coconut-wood-jewellery store. That you teach me your slang, and then tell me how good my Spanish is getting. That you kiss on two cheeks to say hello. The hairy awesomeness of your shapely beards (when you do have them). The fact that I can walk home alone at night instead of calling a cab. That you are always gentlemen without being pushy. Sigh, I guess, even when you call me Rubia it is sometimes cute.
I have drawn up mixed data in my purely scientific observations of you, but ultimately I have concluded:
Spanish men, you are the best men.
Love (love love love), Veronica
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Monday, May 24, 2010
That was only two weeks ago, but it has felt like forever considering how hard we've been working. The past 4 days have been non-stop line-memorizing, filming, and editting. Early mornings involved filming at Historical Burgos locations, such as the Gothic Cathedral or pilgrims' hostels. Late nights involved filming dinner over tapas and a brutal fight scene. Several brief scenes took hours to film if there were too many people in the street or one actor had trouble with his or her lines. And on the second day of shooting, someone forgot to pack the most important prop and we were stalled by over 90 minutes. After 4 days of stifling this exhausting assignment, we wrapped at 1 a.m. last night, set a date for the premier party, and said goodnight before going our separate ways to bed. All for a film we've calculated to be less than 10 minutes long.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
When he is awake, Jason is rather dapper. Here he is with his trusty bike.
Saturday, May 8, 2010
Some things you really cannot plan, no matter how flexible your itenerary, and this idea is no more perfectly embodied in any segment of my trip than in Holland. My agenda was meager, and therefore, I figured, flexible enough. I had planned to stay in Utrecht for two nights, and take the 20 minute train ride to Amsterdam in the mornings. There I planned to see the Secret Annex and the Van Gogh Museum. I had my agenda and figured I wouldn't get into my host's hair very much. Needless to say, neither of these things occured. Even less so did I expect to get along so famously with my host Tobias, go to Belgian bars, come home on a death wish of a bicycle ride and the following evening pull an all-nighter in a 70s punk bar off the Red Light District. But these things happen I suppose.
My only regret is that I didn't take more pictures, but all things considered, half the things that happened in Amsterdam could not be photographed, and therefore...will stay in Amsterdam. I could not photograph, for one thing, the smell of the curry dinner Tobias was in the midst of preparing when I arrived. Much less the taste of spice paired with the sweetness of coconut milk and the savouriness of fresh peppers, the oaky dryness of the accompanying wine. I must find out where he got the recipe.
After dinner, some wine, and a little shisha Tobias took me out around Utrecht, explaining some of the town's charms (such as Miffy the Bunny from the children's books) before popping into a Belgian bar that boasted an impressive selection of beer. After much French wine and Polish vodka in Paris (Julien was obsessed w/the latter) and Belgian beer in Brugge, I didn't know how much more alcohol I could take. But by Beer Number Two, I was in the middle of a fascinating conversation with Tobias about travel and books. Somehow, we both discovered a shared love of The Beach. And as he began to cite specific pages that he had liked, I knew exactly which paragraphs he was talking about. This book, after, was/is my travel bible. I couldn't help myself and burst, "THAT BOOK IS IN MY SUITCASE RIGHT NOW!!"
Over the next few hours, Tobias and I were joined by a guy he had met at work once and his girlfriend, who were at the same bar by chance. Roeland and Ana talked with us, and we got along so well they offered to show me Amsterdam the next day just like that. Soon after, we were joined by Tobias' girlfriend. When it was finally time to go home for the night, we realised it was a bit slow going since Tobias' girlfriend had a bike. Tobias did what occured naturally. He hopped on the bike himself, commanded her to hop on the handle bar and me on the back.
I gaped at him, and wondered how a girl's bike would support not just one but two girls and a giant, beardy Dutch man. "Oh no! Oh no."
Like a scene from any given comedy, not a minute later all three of us were cruising down a hill at god-knows-how-many kilometers per hour, screaming. Perhaps I was the only one screaming. In fact, it is quite probably. As I held on to Tobias' midsection with fear, I yelled, "IF YOU KILL ME I WILL WRITE YOU A VERY BAD COUCHSURFING REFERENCE!!" If you had a camera with you, and a knack for good timing you still could not have recorded more than a blur whizzing past you. Thankfully, Holland's culture of bicycling got us home safe and sound.
The next was comparatively calm, as I met up with Ana and Roeland at the bus station, and they swept me off to Amsterdam. There I saw everything but the Anne Frank House and the Van Gogh museum. But ultimately, I think I fared better that way. I ended up seeing Amsterdam as the people that live there do. When I decided to travel, I decided to stay with locals, because I was spending so little time in each place. I figured that staying with the natives would give me a better taste at how these people see the world.
Turns out it was a very good decision. Had I done otherwise, I could have seen the museums like anyone else, but not the vintage shops with overpriced teacups and other hipster kitsch that amused Ana. Nor the cafe where Roeland used to go with his father when he was small. Not the lifesize statue of David and Goliath that he remembers from his childhood. Little places and things that touch other people.
Tobias joined us in the evening to meet up with some of his friends, who had us over for dinner and then went out to some bars. The first bar of the night was fairly normal. It was a novelty that it was mostly outdoors and that I had to guzzle hot Irish coffees to stay warm, but normal enough. The last bar of the night, however, ... well. Somewhere just off the Red Light District was a punk bar that Ana suggested and we all went to. And nowhere else have I felt more out of place and so comfortable at the same time.
Surrounded by very pushy Sid Vicious wannabes of all ages smoking joints and playing pool, I put myself in the middle of Tobias and his circle of manly friends to keep from getting knocked over. Whereas outside this ring of 6 to 8 Dutch men I felt out of place due to my lack of a mohawk, a joint, and a leather jacket, inside I realised how short I was in comparison. In Spain, I stuck out like a sore thumb because of my blonde hair, and in Amsterdam I got lost in crowds for bieng easily a foot shorter than any of these fun, fine men. As enormous as these men were in size, they were bigger in spirit as I found them to be some of the most open and easy to relate to folk I had ever met. We talked about politics, music, and of course, touched on cultural differences between Holland and...all the places I had ever lived.
Naturally, we spent the whole night in that bar. We left at closing and had to run to the station to make the last train home. We barely made it, but 40 minutes later we made it back to Utrecht. Again, home in one piece. Barely, but safe. Tobias and I had our last chat in the kitchen over a post-drinking breakfast of grilled cheese. At this time it was 6:30 and I had a train to Amsterdam in an hour, where I had to catch a plane to Copenhagen. I said my final goodbye to Tobias, we hugged and said we hoped our paths would cross someday soon.
My suitcase was packed, so I had nothing to do before walking to the train station (literally) next door. So I sat down and opened my copy of The Beach to kill time. Now remember how I said in my first spring break post that--upon packing the book--I didn't know I'd soon say goodbye to my beloved copy? Well, this is that time. As I homed in on one of the last chapters, I looked at the clock and saw it was time to go. With Tobias sleeping upstairs, I left the book on the kitchen table with a note and quietly left.
I can't help but show a little gratitude to someone if they open up so much of their lives to me. And I was lost for ideas in Amsterdam. But I thought that maybe he could get something out of the book I had gotten every time I had read it. Besides which, since I planned to catch up with my best friend in Copenhagen, I wouldn't have time for reading. So I left my book, and within an hour, I left Amsterdam.
I nodded off at the airport terminal waiting for my plane to Copenhagen. I've learned a valuable lesson that punk bars are probably the worst way to pull an all-nighter. But there could be worse near-death experience than I had in Amsterdam, be they break the sound barrier on a bicycle, raise my beer constitution to new heights, or lose my bible. In exchange I think I gained a lot more, cliched as that sounds, even if I can't record the sight or smell but only hope to write it down and remember.
Friday, May 7, 2010
Here I am as Dalí, with my chum Pablo Picasso on my right. Our friends Bea, left, and Isabel above.
Over the past few weeks, I've gradually bonded with my project group in my Film Class. Consisting of myself, my program(and sometimes room) mate Sima, and three Spaniards (Juan Carlos, Juan and Isabel) have to write and shoot a short film for our semester project. When we're not hunkering down over wine and smokes during the creative process, we've had a few weekends of educational, muy interesante debauchery.
Juan Carlos and Isabel
The thing is, one learns so much when partying with Spaniards. Whether it´s the company or the drinks that do the trick, the end result is that one´s vocabulary becomes rapidly amazing and fluent under the influence of...one of those two factors. If not both.
And lesson #1 is: It's both.
Lesson #2: the Spaniards are masters of peer pressure. There is no such thing as saying "no" to your fourteenth drink, it's simply out of the question.
Lesson #3: There is no such thing as coming home before four o'clock in the morning. The siesta (known as hora de comer here) is a basic need of survival, just behind food & water.
Lesson #4: Spaniards don't just love company. They crave and need the contact of loved ones, which explains how meals can go on for hours, the excessive public displays of affection between supposedly straight men, and the abundance of pets. A walk down any street will convince you that at least 80 percent of Spaniards must have a terrier or poodle as a companion. Thus, you meet a diverse group of friends.
Thursday, May 6, 2010
One of the best decisions of my life, and exactly one month later I still have the scabs and scars to prove it. As I tucked my bike map which Erika had loaned me into my bag, I put one leg over the body of the bike. Which is when I realised the bike was much too tall for me. But I was stubborn about biking to the sea or through the countryside and I estimated that once I got on the seat, the peddles would still be reachable. So I decided to try and literally jump onto the seat of the bike.
I kicked with one foot and held my other on one of the peddles. Then I jumped. And how. As I swung my leg over the bike, I had a split-second of time to realise I had no idea what I was doing and I fell off the OTHER SIDE OF THE BIKE. When I visualised myself jumping onto one side of a bicycle and falling off the other, I started to laugh. Laugh enough that my skinned legs stopped burning as I lay on my side on the sidewalk cracking up.
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
After 3 days and nights of non-stop sightseeing, cheese and crepe eating, jam sessions and a bitchfight with a ticket taker at Gare du Nord, I managed to find my way out of Paris and on a train bound for Bruges/Brugge, Belgium. My first moments in town were a little bit stressful because I still had no phone. My first two hours in town were spent looking for a free phone to use, getting a little bit lost, and--considering my short attention span--stopping to take pictures.
Really, one look at this idyllic town convinces a traveller why Colin Farell and Ralph Fiennes signed up to shoot a film about it. Granted, I had heard about Brugge ages before, described as the Venice of the North. On the other hand, I had also loved the film and seeing moving pictures of the town motivated me to make a trip during my semester in Spain.
I stayed in Brugge with a wonderful woman called Erika, and her two sons Samuel and Elias. My days in Brugge with their family left me with a sense of home I had never felt. Every morning, I would leave the house to explore town and come back around 7 or 8 for dinner. I helped set the table, and then sat down with the family for some of Erika's wonderful vegetarian cooking. After we all helped to clean up, we'd sit around the table and talk while Erika fed us chocolate. And I would tell them about my day. My days in Belgium looked like this: