Green Pea Soup and Peacocks on the Loose…

I saw the following headline the other day on Yahoo’s News Homepage…

Female Peacock Escapes from Bronx Zoo

Keep your children inside. Watch your small dogs. Guard your sunflower seeds!

The rest of the article was equally terrifying…

The Bronx Zoo cobra may be back in captivity, but a female peacock is on the loose.
Three zoo workers wielding nets made a failed attempt to recapture the green peahen about noon on Tuesday.
The brightly colored bird was proudly perched atop a parked van on Morris Park Ave., a few blocks from the zoo. As the handlers got close, she flew off, hiding in tall grass around the corner.
“This is so exciting,” said Francisco Pineda, 25, one of the astonished onlookers who gathered. “It’s like I’m watching ‘Animal Planet.'”
Zoo workers crawling stealthily through the grass got within a few feet of the feisty fowl before she flew off again. She hasn’t been seen since.
The runaway bird is about 3 feet long, and her head is crowned with a flamboyant green plume.
“We’ll get her eventually,” vowed Nancy Clum, the zoo’s curator of ornithology.
Peafowl roam freely at the Bronx Zoo, which is run by the Wildlife Conservation Society. Occasionally, they meander away. Zoo officials stress the birds are no danger to humans and should not be harassed or followed.
“Continuing this activity will likely frighten her and drive her farther away from home,” said the director of the Bronx Zoo, Jim Breheny.
“Usually, they wander back on their own,” Clum said.
Earlier in the day, the feathered fugitive was spotted outside the E. 180th St. subway station. As excited commuters snapped cell phone pictures, she dined on a discarded hamburger bun before sauntering across several lanes of traffic.
“That ain’t a chicken,” said Frank Trinidad, 51. “It’s unbelievable. I’m shocked. I’m used to seeing chickens on the street – but not peacocks.”
“Somebody is going to steal it and keep it as a pet,” said Mingo Ortiz, 33. “It’s the Bronx, man.”
The cobra made headlines after disappearing for six days in March. She was found near her cage in the Reptile House. The plucky peahen has been on the lam since at least Monday, zoo officials said.


In other news, life in Madrid is marching along through May. My big picture window and I are best friends now- it lets in so much sunshine, my room is drenched in the mornings. Even the evenings are staying warmer, and if there is anything better than a mild breeze (versus the kind that makes me button the top granny-button on my cardigan) then I haven’t felt it yet.

It was on a seemingly lovely night like that (Monday) that I decided I was feeling the urge to cook, to whip something up for a Spanish-style (10pm) dinner. Unfortunately my culinary enthusiasm had not extended to grocery shopping so I rummaged in the fridge for available ingredients. A stick of parmesan. A wilting bunch of mint. Apricot jam, half a lemon and some slick deli meat. Charming.

So I did what I always do. I hopped on Tastespotting, that glorious bank of all the things I wish I could cook, and sometimes attempt. And then I remembered the peas. 3/4 of a frozen bag of peas nestled in my freezer. The decision was made. Pea Soup.

I searched Tastespotting for Pea Soup Recipes. I found this gorgeous photo on Urbanchickpea and did a victory dance. It looked easy, fresh, and I could even use the lemon and mint. Goooaaaaal!

So I did it. I had my pretty translucent onions, the cinnamon, the warmed peas…all steamy and ready for the blender. Oh the blender.
I poured the first batch in, squeezed the lemon, scattered the mint, and hit ‘On’.

4 seconds of green glory, then there was a strange sound like Splurpp…

At this point, thin green pea liquid began seeping out from under the blender. In no time it had slithered across the counter, onto the floor, down my leg, dripped onto our re-usable shopping bags…
And because the liquid was rapidly draining, I was also getting relatively dry clumps of half-mashed pea all over my hands, dishrags, the microwave and yes, also in my hair.

Apparently the plastic ring that goes around the base of the blender is of the utmost importance. It was also of the utmost missing. Thus, the guerra contra los guisantes, which can be conveniently translated to W.A.P. (War Against the Peas).

Not quite the creamy delight I was hoping for. Blender 1- Danielle 0

It was midnight by the time I’d finished cleaning up. I didn’t even taste the soup. Somehow after cleaning it off of my flattmate’s mail I wasn’t that hungry. (But it was admittedly tasty at lunch the next day. Success! On some level.) So I took a hot shower, curled up in bed with a book, and listened to my ‘Sleep Mix’ on my iPod. Though it took an odd turn to get there, I had an amazingly relaxing hour or so before I fell asleep. If the peas hadn’t made a break for it, I probably would have eaten, gone to bed in a hurry and had weird dreams due to eating right before sleeping (Seriously. Pizza after 9pm and my reverie involves riding horses underwater.)
So I’ve learned something…be it peas or peacocks, we all need a little escape sometimes. (Even if that escape is preceded by green gunk and a broken blender.) So enjoy your weekend, relax, escape somewhere…anywhere! Even for an hour. And, also, check your blender.

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A Little Spring Cleaning

Alright. Let’s go ahead and call it what it is.

My blog has been abandoned.

The poor thing has been gathering virtual dust in some drafty corner of my internet toolbar for the last (yes, it’s sad but true…) 4 MONTHS.

In December I thought, I should write about Paris and what it’s like getting ready for Christmas in Madrid and going home for the holiday break.

But I didn’t. Too busy planning life-changing lesson plans for my 12 year-olds? Maybe. Too stressed trying to find the perfect “I got this for you in Spain” gift for every friend and family member. Nah… (That was way too much fun to be stressful!). Too distracted from roaming the city to see each and every one of the elaborate and professionally-designed Christmas lights strung cheerily on every major street in the city? Yup. Swept up in the first days of a new December romance? Um, well…

So, then it was January! And I wanted to write about seeing Madrid through my sister’s eyes as it was her first real trip to Europe ever. And did I mention we went to Rome? And that it was perfect in its ancient, pizza-scented, Italian-speaking way? No, of course I didn’t. Because I thought, in my newbie-blogger way, “Ah! I haven’t written about A, B, or C yet…how could I possibly write about J now?” Ah, how times have changed now. Not because I am a more experienced blogger. (Nothing since November, remember?) but because I am realizing that I will never be able to capture every single moment in my life in any way…photos, video, journal entries…because even as you are writing, recording, clinging to those moments you want so desperately to remember and share, you are still living. Other things are happening. When you are scribbling furiously about a trip to Valencia, your mom calls and tells you that she, no longer a crazed, over-worked business owner for 2 months now, is taking ballet and spanish classes and “could you help me with my homework please?” or that your sister has been accepted to her study abroad program. Life is happening all around us, and I am learning to realize that I can never hope to stall it long enough to write it all down. It’s April 18th today, and my time here has moved past the chaotic and fumbling first months, past the halfway stage and now into a familiar rhythm that sweeps me like a current from day to day. I can’t cling to November anymore, or January or February for that matter, hoping that if I just don’t write about that girl’s trip to Wine Country that my life here will pause and just let me roll around in the wonder of it, and bask in the fact that I am 22, in Spain, and so much is happening every day.
Cheesy? Corny? Overly-romantic? Heck yeah.
True? Every word.

So this, my dear friends, is my spring cleaning. I am shaking off the dust and punching this keyboard (sorry keyboard) with new ardor and enthusiasm. I will no longer hide behind “I have no time,” “I should call Mom” (sorry Mom, I will still call you, just not as an excuse),  or “I haven’t written about…yet”…Nope, this world keeps on turning and while I’m running to keep up, I promise you and myself (and this poor, tentatively hopeful blog) that I will pause to smell the roses, but not hide behind them. (Although I did trip over them last week during a run. Sadly not kidding.) And then I will write about them, those great roses. Or not. But if I don’t, I won’t let 4 months go by, waiting to find the perfect time and the perfect words to describe them. (I know, I know, enough with the metaphorical roses.) But in all seriousness, I’m not back…I’ve always been here.  But I’m awake, freshly-scrubbed and ready for the Spanish springtime. It is one of the Spanish seasons, after all. x

A few phrases and photos to catch you up on the last (4) few months…

Paris: Amazing, incredible and heavily snow-dusted. We landed amidst the worst snowstorm Paris had experienced in 30 years. There were no taxis functioning for half our trip, so we traipsed through the drifts and icy streets to see the sites…and what sites they were! An enormous Christmas tree in front of Notre Dame, long stretches of Christmas markets leading up to the Champ d’Elysees that were serving hot mulled wine, potatoes fried in duck fat, steaming roasted chestnuts…and every time we tucked into a cafe for a cafe au’lait felt like heaven. A dream-about-it-when-you’re-80 moment came when the rest of the group was freezing but I was determined to see Monet’s garden park, Jardin des Tuileries, and his museum, l’Orangerie. So in that blue twilight that only happens on really cold nights I crossed the otherwise empty bridge over the River Seine (torn the entire time between enjoying the incredible view and keeping an eye out for crazies that might try to push me in…blue twilight nights can be a little creepy!) But even my hyper-awareness couldn’t ruin the magic. I shuffled over the bridge and popped out in the middle of the garden. There were a few brave people throwing snowballs by a fountain, but mostly it was quiet. So quiet. There was a tree-lined path leading to the museum, and there wasn’t a soul in sight. Snow was falling and I was there, alone, in Paris on a winter night. It was perfect.

My walk to lOrangerie

– Christmas and going home: The feeling of coming home at Christmastime might be one of the all-time best feelings in the world, right up there with highlights like your wedding day and your first-born child, neither of which I plan on experiencing anytime soon. So it looks like coming home at Christmastime ranks as one of my best experiences ever. And the best part? You get to feel it again and again, year after year. Christmas cookies, Bing Crosby crooning, a light dust of snow, hot chocolate and…oh yeah, that family you missed SO much.

Grandpa teaching Tori to play dice. The man is too good at the game.

Grandma petting the flying monkey that became our mascot for Christmas 2010

A friend reunion!

Rome: What a trip. For Tori’s 3rd day in Europe, we hopped on a plane and jetted to Roma. Do we speak Italian? No. Did we know anything about Rome? Apparently not, since we thought the Vittoria Monument was the Parthenon, and then later realized as we tucked into mushroom risotto at a lovely plaza cafe that OH WAIT we were sitting in FRONT of the real Parthenon. Basically it was 3 of the most fabulous, mushroom pizza-filled, wine sipping, cobble-stone street lined days ever. And with my sister. Life is good. (We also saw Molly McGonigal on her very first day as an intern in Rome with the World Food Program. I will never forget her dazed and giddy expression and the best zucchini-sausage-pizza in the history of Rome. And Rome is ancient. 😉 Coincidence that our wonderful Molly is currently here in Madrid for a week of Spanish frivolity? I think not.)

Molly and I in Dar Poeta Pizzeria aka, the Mount Olympus of pizzerias

In the Piazza Navona market

My beautiful sister and her empty personal pan mushroom pizza. Get it girl.

Valencia: A long weekend escape in a coastal Spanish city? Well…ok! Travel Hint: If you want a good deal for a trip to Valencia, go the weekend after Las Fallas, their largest yearly festival. Apparently they think no one would possibly want to miss Las Fallas and therefore won’t come the following weekend, so you get to stay in pretty hotels and stroll the lightly peopled beaches in peace. Our weekend was just that…pedaling bikes around the streets, eating seafood paella, and chasing my new straw hat (see below) through the street, the sand, and even into the ocean. Basically the perfect weekend getaway.

We found the beach! Also, a rare moment when my straw hat was still on my head.

Girls Trip to Wine Country: A group of us decided to rent a van, pack in 7 girls, 9 cupcakes and a few overnight bags, and drive to La Rioja, Spain’s wine country. We arrived, and toured the most fantastic, charming and delicious wineries. The first bodega, Valdelana, was beautiful, parts of it built in the 1500’s. And our tour guide was a very patient and sophisticated gentleman who was amused by our enthusiastic interest in learning about his wine. Not until the last few minutes, when he handed us his card and insisted we contact him if we ever found ourselves in Spain again, did we find out he was the owner.  And he could not have been a better host. I brought home two bottles, a white and a rose with a beautiful braille label on the bottle. I am saving them for special occasions. Maybe tonight? To celebrate the blog awakening 😉
The second winery, Marques de Riscal, was completely different in its layout and detail. Modern and a bit more industrial, it smelled like sawdust and that heavy, sweet smell of the wine. My favorite part? The bodega hotel, designed by Frank Gehry, is sleek and tinted pink, like a rose wine, with sweeps of smooth aluminum-looking metal. The girls and I nibbled crackers, sipped the different wines and toasted each other on a successful girl’s outing.

Wine soaked barrels in the Marques de Riscal bodega

And that, my friends, is where I will end for today. It’s a Monday night, and I am going out to have a glass of wine. But there is more (oh, there is always more!) to share. Maybe I’ll even raise a glass to this freshly scrubbed blog tonight, and say salud! to the last 4 months, and the 3 I still have here. So, besos y salud, and I’ll see you here soon. Very, very soon. x

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Saturday in the Sun

So, yes, it is Tuesday. But, this story is from Saturday, I wrote it on Saturday, and so for the sake of a good story, we are going to pretend that it is in fact, still Saturday. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Actually, great week coming up…and by that I am referring to the fact that Thanksgiving is in two days!! I bought the turkey today…that is one big bird. I carried it home in my arms like a small child, and I am hoping that it will amply feed the 13 people that will be filling our piso with merriment on Thursday night.

And now, on with the Saturday tale!

It is a beautiful November Saturday in Madrid. People are wandering the streets, women in their scarves and chic fall jackets, men in their leather coats with bags of vegetables and bread loaves tucked under their arms. Because I live in the Salamanca neighborhood, families abound…wide-eyed babies in the most delicate and adorable strollers (or “prams” or “cochecitos”, depending on your cultural terminology) and toddlers with chubby legs dressed as stylish as their parents…little girls in dresses and tights with mary-jane shoes, and little boys in thick tights too, with their sturdy saddle shoes. It’s a sweet sight, especially at this time of year when the Christmas lights strung over the streets are lit at night and the Carrefour grocery store (which plays only English music for some unexplained reason) pumps out “White Christmas” over its speakers. And it’s almost Thanksgiving.

I woke up absurdly late this morning, 11:30am and ambled to the kitchen, poured some All-Bran into a bowl and microwaved an instant coffee. I read the news headlines online and shook my head at the overwhelming number of Harry Potter facebook statuses. Then I skimmed over my blackberry because I couldn’t remember what time my friend Patrick’s Thanksgiving dinner started tonight and I knew I wanted to make something to take. The spirit of Turkey Day, you know. Since most Spanish dinners don’t start until 8, 9, or even 10pm, I figured I had all day to loll around and make something later in the afternoon. But there are 3 things I should have thought about…
1. Patrick is another English Teacher here in Spain. He is also American.
2. Thanksgiving is an American holiday, with dinner usually around 3 or 4pm.
3. One should check these things the night before. Seriously.

Patrick’s witty invitation was titled, “…Pennsylvania and Some Homemade Pumpkin Pie…” and welcomed more than 15 people to his and his flatmate Avery’s apartment for a dinner that promised to stuff us all per tradition. And it started at… 4. 4!!!!

I jumped out of my chair and looked at the clock. 12:00pm. What should I make!?? I scanned my recipe file (trusty thing) and found something fast and easy—Pear and Hazelnut Crisp. About 6 ingredients and only one of them fresh. Pears. 8 of them. I needed to buy 8 pears. Luckily there is a handy little fruit and veggie store up the street from me. I had stopped in yesterday with Katia to ask what time they were open on Saturdays (a rare moment of foresight). But now I could not for the life of me remember if they had said “docemedia” or “dos y media” the difference being 12:30pm vs. 2:30pm. I looked at the clock again. 12:15pm. Ah!!

So I did something I always swore to myself I would never do. I threw on my little trench coat and a pair of boots…on top of my black yoga pants and tshirt, both of which I had slept in. I fumbled through my purse looking for a 5 euro note, but no luck. Only coins. So with a fistful of coins, my pajamas and squinty eyes (forgot to put in my contacts) yours truly went out into the world.

I really only had to make it two blocks. But as I passed women in wrap dresses and high heels, old men with their tweed hats and canes, I kept tugging my little trench coat further down, as if it would hide the fact that I was, indeed, wearing sweatpants on the streets of Madrid. Even the punky 13 year-olds know better. At least they wear jeans with their converses and heavy black eyeliner. Not. Sweatpants.

I made it to the door of the fruit market. 12:20pm. There was a line at least 10 people deep. It occurred to me that my fistful of coins might not buy me 8 pears. I asked a woman in line if the market accepted cards or only efectivo. Cash. The answer was a quick glance at my borderline-busker ensemble and the answer: efectivo. Okay. I tried to step delicately around old ladies in wool coats squeezing tomatoes and poking melons. There was a bin of fresh pears, and there was also a plastic-wrapped pack of 12. I grabbed the pack, prayed to the pear gods that the fruit was cheap today, and waited in line, recounting my coins.

One of the beautiful things about Spain that is also relevant to this story is the fact fruit and vegetables are insanely cheap. I have been buying them here for almost three months now and it never ceases to amaze me how much I overestimate the bill. Case in point: my little pack of pears cost me only three coins- 1.12 euros. Beautiful. Soon enough I was back in my own little corner of the kitchen, rinsing, peeling, coring and sugaring the pears. Topped them with more brown sugar, oats, chopped hazlenuts, flour and a hefty stick of butter and voilà! Pear Hazelnut Crisp. And it only cost me a few euros and my dignity.

The Thanksgiving Dinner was also fantastic. About 15 people, 2 turkeys (stuffed with fruit, vegetables and wine, thanks to their Italian flatmate’s mad cooking skills) 2 tins of mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, bread, and dessert brought out pumpkin pie, apple tart and a really lovely pear and hazelnut crisp that was devoured. We all went around and said something we were thankful for…I said I was thankful for new friends in foreign places and the Brazilian and French guys who helped Shalini and I find our friend’s apartment when we were one hour late and lost. (What I did not go on to mention was the fact that he and his French friend then shyly asked “if it wouldn’t be too cheeky, could we have your email address? It would be great to meet up again…” Since Shal was holding the glass dish of crisp, I volunteered and tried to type in my name on his touch screen phone. Darn you touch screens! I kept messing it up, and it was only after arriving at Patrick’s apartment that I had the horrifying realization that there was a 99.99% chance I had typed my email address incorrectly. Shal balked and by the end of the night we had decided that our new phrase was “Whatever is supposed to be, will be…and Danielle will probably mess it up.”)

Indeed, we have yet to receive an email. And I watched him hit “send” when I typed in my address. *sigh*…I think Shal is thankful for me in spite of it. Right, Shal? Shal?…

Highs and Lows of this week:

Lows: Touch screen phones, slippery kitchen floors, (wiped out in Patrick’s kitchen, my feet slid under the stove, banging my shins hard…bruises and ice followed.) and missing home and the people that go with it.

Highs: Thanksgiving, noticeably improved Spanish skills, and making chocolate oatmeal cookies while listening to Elvis, Bing and the whole Christmas gang croon carols to me from my computer. Felt almost like home. And they lit up the Christmas lights in Madrid!!! Joy.

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Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder…

Which is why I haven’t blogged in over a month.


Ok, false. I know that it might seem as if nothing interesting or blog-worthy has happened since September, but that is entirely untrue. October was an incredible month. And I was writing blog posts…they just never made the flying leap from my mind to the computer screen. Things were definitely happening…baby spider infestations on our laundry line, a long weekend in the beautiful, quirky city of Lisbon, Portugal, the freezing days before our calefacción (heating) was turned on in our piso, an American-style Halloween party where the costume theme was “dress as your national stereotype”…

Just another 31 days in Madrid?

So I am going to highlight the highlights…and then promise to blog at least once a week. Well, as long as our internet starts working faithfully (its been on the fritz for 3 days at a time) and if WordPress promises to never erase another draft (I have already written one version of this post. I spent 2.5 hours on it. Then saved it. But WordPress spit a blank page back at me. Apparently even blog hosting sites have bad days…)

For me, events and memories are mine only. When they become stories, they’re ours.
So here we go…

A puente in Portugal: The Spanish government knows how to celebrate a holiday. Whenever there is a national holiday on a Tuesday (and sometimes it is consciously assigned to a Tuesday) Madrid also celebrates on Monday. No work, no school, presumably to prepare yourself for the grand holiday that will fall the next day. (U.S. take note!) This is called a puente, literally “a bridge”. And I love them.

So for the puente in the first week of October, my flattmate Katia and I jetted off to Lisbon, Portugal. Yes, we wanted to go to the capital city of that tiny country squished against Spain’s left side. In the U.S., I have rarely heard anyone say they went to Portugal for vacation. This is a grave mistake on the part of Americans. We are missing out. London, Paris, Madrid, Barcelona, Dublin…they’re all wonderful. And popular. But Lisbon? Oh, Lisbon.

Lisbon was, without a doubt, one of the most charming, romantic, pastry-filled, unique, sherbert-colored cities I have ever seen. Nestled into hills on the Atlantic coast, Lisbon has long, winding cobblestone streets dotted with pink, green, yellow, orange and purple buildings often sprinkled with mosaic tiles. Most of these buildings are from the late 1700’s and early 1800’s, because a 1755 earthquake damaged a fair amount of the city’s architecture. But apparently there haven’t been any nasty issues since then, because everything still looks like it probably did in 1756. Renovation seems to be a term lightly tossed around but never taken too seriously in Lisbon. And the people- we were amazed. I am not sure I have ever been more welcomed with open arms (sometimes both literally and figuratively), and everyone we spoke to seemed genuinely interested in helping/chatting/having a coffee with us. And I have to give Lisbon credit- almost everyone we encountered spoke English on some level. It was incredible. Katia speaks some Portuguese and I threw around Obrigada (thank you) and Disculpe (sorry/excuse me) like they were my two best friends, but even with our admirable efforts everyone from waiters to shopkeepers and bus drivers spoke to us in impressive English. One of my favorite interactions was this…

Katia needed a toothbrush. We were staying in what might (seriously) be the most incredible hostel ever (Traveller’s House Hostel) and the amazing people that worked there had sent us to an adorable vegetarian cafe for dinner, where we ate giant bowls of arugula with tomatoes and Portuguese olives and grilled sandwiches. We were exhausted after our first day of sightseeing (besides the fact that we’d woken up at 5:00 am to make our 7:00 am EasyJet flight. Whew.) and we were ready to sleep. But Katia had forgotten her toothbrush. So we poked our heads into a tiny, dimly lit bar that had a pastry counter (welcome to Portugal) and Katia asked in her polite Portuguese,

“Where can I find a…” and then, not knowing the Portuguese word for toothbrush, she mimed the act of brushing one’s teeth. The middle-aged bartender with a few missing teeth tilted his head and looked at her like she was kind of an odd bird before saying,
“You need dental floss?”
Katia stopped brushing her teeth with her finger and said, “Ah, no…toothbrush.”
“Ah, ok. Well go back up this street and I think there is an open general store, perhaps on the right, past the Cathedral.”
We nodded vigorously and thanked him before running out the door and bursting into laughter at our own incorrect assumptions and Katia’s apparent lack of miming skill.
Dear Spain, Portugal speaks great English. They generally also speak Spanish. How many of us here in Madrid speak Portuguese? How many speak good English? That is all I’m going to say.

The rest of our weekend in Lisbon was spent roaming “Alice in Wonderland” public gardens built by generous millionaires, and castles perched on mountains that were filled with the most incredible interior design I have ever seen. If Gaudi and King Louis XIV had teamed up to decorate a palace, then Castello de Pena would be the result. There were porcelain chandeliers shaped like tangled flowering vines, rooms painted entirely in turquoise and gold and bright orange turrets. Amazing.

We also hid in pastry shops during torrential downpours (good life decision), and followed the direction of our excellent hostel managers (Gee and Jaõ…yeah, try and say those three times.) to a tiny little café outside of the touristy part of the city. Why? We wanted to see fado, the traditional folk music of Portugal. Fado translates to “fate” in Portuguese, and the songs are all about exactly that: love, loss, loneliness, and at the same time the steadiness and resiliency of Portuguese pride. So Katia and I wandered up to the door of Jaime’s. A tiny café with mosaic tiles on the walls and people packed snugly against one another. And then we heard the music. Portuguese guitar and a flowing, throaty voice. We stood on our tiptoes to peek in, and saw a 60-something year-old woman singing, with her eyes closed and head thrown back. Elegant and strong. Then we felt a sharp tap on our shoulders—the proprietor’s wife, at least 3 inches shorter than either Katia or I, stood looking up at us with an expectant look on her face. Katia turned to me. “She said we can get a table only if we’re going to eat and drink.” Oh darn, us? Eat and drink? Soon enough the proprietor’s wife, Laura, had seated us and tossed a platter of jamón, cheese, bread, olives and a meaty pastry onto the table. We sipped Vinho Verde (green wine) and sat in awe as people around us stood up from their cheese and wine and maneuvered to the front of the room to sing, regaling the entire room with slow ballads and upbeat cheers. A Dutch couple sitting in front of us explained that they had been coming here for three years, once or twice a year, just to experience the fado and the atmosphere in the café. Then they pointed to the woman we had heard singing earlier, now sitting and sipping her wine. “She’s amazing isn’t she?” We agreed enthusiastically. “She cleans houses. We heard her sing a few years ago and we convinced her to let us produce a CD.” The man handed me his business card and said if I emailed him, he would send me a copy of the CD. I haven’t emai

led him yet, and I’m not sure I will…a part of me only wants to remember how her music sounded there, in the smoky café, in Lisbon on a rainy Sunday.

Katia and I were the last to leave with a few other stragglers…before we left, we were on a first name basis with Laura, Jaime, and their 15 year-old son who played Portuguese guitar and the accordion. Jaime made him serenade us and we clapped and sang along as he performed the one song he knows in English—Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours”. When we finally left, we were showered with kisses and smiles and told to please come back, very soon. Eu espero.

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Other October highlights:

Swan Lake, as performed by the Classical Moscow Ballet: Enough said.

Flamenco: Yeah, I’m taking classes. Once a week, at a studio called Amor de Diós. My teacher is a former flamenco dancer, whom I realized was well-known in her day when I saw photos of her on the walls outside the studio. It’s so beautiful…I mean, not my rendition of it…I’m generally stomping and a beat or so behind, and the arm movements really throw me off…wrists aren’t supposed to move that way in nature…but I love it, and I’m getting better and it’s dancing, so there we go.

Halloween: I turned off the lights in the classroom, turned on the projector screen and stood in front of it, telling my kids a ghost story that I made up on the spot after offering to tell them a ghost story (there was a definite moment of panic. Thank the lord I was a writing major…) They loved it and I don’t think I’ve ever seen them that quiet and attentive and focused on understanding English. I think they liked it almost as much as getting to stick their hands in a pumpkin during science class/ pumpkin carving experiment.
Halloween at our piso meant a get-together with one suggestion: dress as your national stereotype. This idea was born out of creativity and also the fact that the only thing we girls could think to dress up as at 6:00pm was cowgirls, and so the rule was born. Luis was a torero (bullfighter), Saul was a mariachi band member, and we let Jose break the theme because he does in fact, look like Obama and he had a suit in his closet. Great fun was had by all and the Reeses’ that my mother sent were much adored.

Shal, Saul and I...please note Saul's eyeliner mustache...


the photo theme was "Be Spanish"...and yes, I'm falling out of my chair after running to set the camera timer.

Halloween party munchies

Jose channels Barack

And there ended Octubre, in a flourish of chilly winds and Reeses cups. And now it is November. Late November. My favorite time of year. Why?

Two words: Holiday Season. x

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Union Strikes and Chicken Surgery for the Soul

Today I…

  • Witnessed the effects of a general strike, which were surprisingly few. It was Madrid’s first general strike in 2 years. The huelga was meant to include teachers, public transportation workers…essentially anyone who belongs to any sort of union. I support union rights (a nod to my grandfather’s days in the steel mills of Youngstown, Ohio), but I also respect and support the teachers who came to our school today, the Primero ESO (6th grade) teachers that knew their students were required to attend (Tercero ESO- Bachilerato students can belong to a student union and join the huelga). They were present and ready to teach. About 2/3 of our students were in class. The others were probably kept home by parents concerned about the function levels of the metro, or parents who were involved in the huelga. The kids who were able to come seemed to really enjoy the extra attention we were able to give them.
  • Felt like a good teacher. A real one. I read the kids “One Inch Tall” by Shel Silverstein…
    “If you were only one inch tall, you’d ride a worm to school/ The teardrop of a crying ant would be your swimming pool…”

    Then we learned vocabulary from the poem (new words = crumb, feast, teardrop, inch, fright, flea, beneath, swing and sink…as in the kitchen sink.)
    Then I read it out loud again.  Then they took turns reading paragraphs out loud to practice pronunciation. Then they worked in pairs to come up with 3 other things a one inch tall person would do.  I love it…they’ll ask me how to say things (toast, banister, luxurious) and they’ve realized that I am always going to ask them to explain it to me in English first, vs. just telling me the Spanish word and asking for a translation. They were giggling and really engaged. The hour felt more like 15 minutes. It was kind of like being on stage…I liked it. a lot.
  • Put a euro in the metro ticket machine, only to realize that it was a slot for credit cards. I stood there for a second, gazing down at my (last) 2 euro coin. Then I realized the entire machine was for credit cards only. Oops. That wasn’t awkward, trying to explain to the (cute) metro security officer. No, not at all… :/
  • Got homesick. And that’s not a question, like got milk? No…I felt homesick home-nostalgic for the first time since being here in Spain. Actually, it technically happened yesterday…and it’s funny the way it happened…
    I was walking down the hallway of the school and some unsuspecting Spaniard must have microwaved their lunch because it smelled exactly like my mom’s homemade chicken noodle soup…that moment when  you walk in the door and there is a huge pot gurgling on the stove. It smelled like home. So I got all weird and weepy-ish for a second and had to chant the mantra, “Don’t cry…don’t cry…don’t cry…” I’m not even a huge crier (lie) but it brought me close to the edge. Good thing I had taught my kids the word “teardrop” that day… Luckily I kept it together just fine and resolved the situation later that night by spending an hour in Carrefour, our grocery store, picking the perfect ingredients for homemade chicken noodle soup...

    1. A whole chicken (more on that later) ____ un pollo
    2. carrots ____ zanahorias
    3. an onion ____ una cebolla
    4. celery ____ apio
    5. fresh parsley ____ perejil
    6. noodles, preferably Kluski _____ fideos Kluski, or fideos

    Then the real adventure began…I had called my mother that afternoon to double check the recipe. She was with my grandmother, Elanor, also known as Baba (Slovak for Grandmother) or Paloma (her self-appointed Spanish name and the only thing I’ve really called her for the last 5 years…). Paloma is in a nursing home after falling last month and breaking both her ankles. She’s a trooper though…she walked 600 ft. yesterday!

    Paloma and my grandfather "Papa" showing their patriotic spirit over the 4th of July

    So Mom is with Paloma when I call. The original homemade chicken noodle soup is Paloma’s mother, Ana’s, recipe. Ana acquired it when she lived in one of the row houses supplied by steel mills. Most steel mill workers were immigrants or first-generation Americans. Ana’s neighbors were Polish, Slovak, Italian, Greek, Hungarian…and they traded recipes like wildfire. So we have this super fantastic, Italian/Slovak recipe for chicken noodle soup that is unlike any other I have ever tasted. I mean, it’s okay… psshh. It rocks.

    So Paloma and my mother advised me (for 20 minutes) on the art of the chicken soup. I was so excited to try it.

    – Stock pot? Check.
    – Veggies cleaned and in the pot? Check.
    – Chicken gizzards removed? Um….

    Right. Chicken gizzards, innards, insides, whatever you want to call them, we all know you have to remove them. Except my chicken didn’t have any. I looked. No bag inside. Just…a cavern. My chicken was empty, except for two white kidney-bean shaped things. Saul, my flatmate from Mexico, wandered into the kitchen. He stopped when he saw me gazing into the chicken, holding it up by its legs.

    “Danielle, what are you doing?”
    “Looking for the chicken stuff…”
    “What stuff?”
    “You know, that stuff that you have to take out of the chicken. Come look.”
    “I don’t see anything.”
    “Me neither. Except for those white bean things…are those the kidneys?”
    “I don’t know, Danielle. Ask Davide, he’s the doctor.”
    Our flatmate Davide is from Milan, Italy, and studying medicine in Madrid. So we called in the Doc…

    “Davide, what are these bean things? The kidneys?”
    “No, I don’t think so. I don’t know chickens.”
    “Maybe the uterus?”
    They both stared at me in horror. Fair enough.

    We decided the beans needed to come out, and that I should at least feel around inside in case we were missing anything. One problem. I had never gutted a chicken. I went to reach inside and froze. It was too weird. Too dark in there. But I wanted soup. I really wanted soup. So I went for it. Then I stopped. And went for it again, and each time my hand hovered closer to the gaping hole in the chicken. Saul grabbed his camera to snap a picture of what had become “chicken surgery”. I closed my eyes and finally, gingerly, stuck my hand down into the chicken. Let’s just say, the final result was a bean-less chicken, and that in fact the gizzards had already been removed, and the chicken went swiftly and cleanly into the pot.

    It was 11pm. Apparently I was emotionally exhausted from the “chicken surgery”, because Shal woke me up from my “nap” on the couch at 2am and asked if I meant to turn the stove off. The soup was done!!!! So I got up, drained the soup, chopped the chicken and the vegetables and climbed into bed at 3am with a fridge full of homemade chicken soup. Just like Mama (and Paloma) always make.

    I ate the soup today. For lunch. I gave some to Davide because you can’t eat chicken soup alone. Then I called Kathleen, who has been sick for the past week and offered soup. She rode 35 minutes on the metro with a low grade fever for a tupperware full of soup. I would have taken it to her, but she called when she was already on her way. Paloma always says chicken soup is for your people. And these are my people now. So we ate chicken soup today. I’m not so homesick anymore. x

    (It turns out that Saul did not take photos of the chicken surgery. He took video. As soon as he gives it to me I will load it here. I’m sure my cringing face and squeals will give you all a good chuckle.)

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The Week in Pictures…September 19-25

A great week. My first full week teaching in the school (sorry there are no pictures of that yet, eventually I’m sure I’ll have plenty.) My students are adorable. They are all 12 years old, super inquisitive and enthusiastic. They understand English incredibly well, and they have less confidence when speaking but needlessly because for 12 they speak really well. For our first class together they interviewed me — asked about my life, family, house, hobbies, friends…my favorite cheese…my favorite movie “with special effects” (I had to think about that one for a second…Titanic? I remember being shocked by that movie at age 12. For a variety of reasons.) Then my students found out that I love to cook, and the questions really started flying…

“Teacher Dani, do you like the hot dogs with muslim?”
“I think you mean ‘mustard’ Javier…”
“Yes I know, I say mustard!”

“Do you know Spanish food?”
“Yes Isabella, I like Spanish food a lot.”
“That is good because there is much Spanish food here in our Spain.”

“Do you speak German?”
“Ah, no, only English and Spanish.” (Luckily I did not make the same mistake here as I did on the plane…)
“Oh. I speak German. My mother is from Germany.”
Yeah. I only speak a language and a sock…

So I love being a teacher so far, and the other teachers have been incredibly welcoming and patient. That having been said, I am not complaining at all about the fact that I have Fridays off. Every Friday. For 10 months. It will probably forever ruin me for the corporate world. Speaking of breaks, I have discovered the meaning of….

El Puente
Sounds menacing, I know. The literal translation is “the bridge”. It actually just refers to the fact that for any bank holidays that fall on a Tuesday in Spain, they give you Monday off as well. Yup. You gotta love the puentes. My first puente is soon, and it means I have a 5 day weekend…in PORTUGAL. Yes, I will be jetting off to Lisbon, Portugal with my flatmate Katia for a Portuguese adventure of grand proportions. (If anyone has been to Portugal, feel free to toss me your recommendations, advice, useful Portuguese phrases…”Where is the bakery?”…)

So another week has flown by in Madrid. Tonight I am going  with my flatmates to celebrate one of our new Spanish friends’ birthdays. I don’t know what that entails, but I’ll let you know. So until mañana then. As Baba, my grandmother, says in the only Spanish she knows,
Vaya con Dios.
(“Go with God”. Then she usually breaks into the song, as recorded by Jerry Vale, but I’ll spare you. Her version is better anyways.) So do that. Goodnight! x

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A Language and a Sock…

Today Katia, Shal, Jose and I were sprawled on the couch in our common room (something we do frequently and for extended periods of time, usually with our computers on our laps…) and we had an epiphany. We have been here


Less than three weeks, and yet we chat about metro stops and street names like they’re old friends…
“Oh yeah, Velazquez had a new fruit market on the corner today…”
“Metro Goya, ugh, packed per usual.”
We hang out with Velazquez and Goya. No big deal.

And yet, in other ways it feels like I just stepped off the plane. Like when my landlord asks me how to make Lentil Chorizo Stew (more on that later) and I tell him “tenga que orar la agua” instead of “tenga que hervir la agua“…yes, I did tell my landlord “you have to pray the water,” instead of “you have to boil the water”. (Poor Nacho. He’s used to my blunders. He even introduced me to our new flatmate from Mexico as “la chica que no entenderá nada que dices.” Yup. The girl who won’t understand anything you say. He said it with a grin and I responded in Spanish, “I understood that!” and we’re buddies, but I am also signing up for an (albeit advanced) Spanish course. Like, mañana.

Which brings me to the story behind the title of this post. Nacho (aka best landlord ever) drove Katia, Shal and I to Ikea, that amazing Swedish behemoth of DIY kitchen tables and cool pillows, last Thursday to pick up a few things for our new piso (apartment.) We wandered amongst the cowhide-patterned couches and 10-forks-for-a-euro, and I mused that it was my first time in Ikea. Nacho asked me a question. I asked him to repeat it. He did.
I asked again.
He repeated.
I sighed.
He shrugged.
I shook my head and sighed again, and lamented
“Lo siento Nacho. Tengo una idioma y una media.”

I was trying to apologize and express the fact that I only spoke a language and a half. (Because obviously he hadn’t come to that conclusion already.) I saw the corner of Nacho’s mouth twitch as he nodded sympathetically.
I groaned. “What? What did I say Nacho?”
He broke into a grin. “You have a language.”
“And a sock.”
“A what?”
Una media, Daniela, is a sock. Un medio is a half.”
“Thanks Nacho. Noted.”

Ah, the glories of foreign language. I do love Spanish. I want to know it, wholly and fluently. I can read it easily, and I can tell you what year the Royal Palace was built (1738, and it took 30 years). I toss around the words for eggplant, goat cheese, garlic clove and soy milk respectively, but I struggle with the translations for goals, timetable, and useful phrases like “I don’t mind at all.” So I’ll learn. Poco a poco, se va lejos. My high school Spanish teacher, Dr. Van Meter, instilled that phrase into our memories. “Little by little, one goes far.”

How profoundly true that is turning out to be.  x

Puerta del Sol is the centre of Madrid, all of the city is measured from here, Km 0

El Palacio Real (the Royal Palace)- I saw it on Sunday, and it is truly incredible. You can take an unguided tour for only 3,50 Euros (especially handy when you only have 45 minutes because your forget it closes at 4:30pm on Sundays...)

The Lentil Chorizo Stew...not my finest food photo, still getting used to my new camera. Remember "to boil" the water, not "to pray" over it. Although I suppose you can do both...

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