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Haz el bien, y no mires a quién. -Spanish Proverb


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Just a bunch of face-stuffing, football-watching Americanos

A couple weeks ago, I started teaching a lesson about Thanksgiving to a few of my classes. The lesson started with an explanation of the history of the holiday. Then I helped them work through a Thanksgiving crossword puzzle. After that, I had them make a list of things they’re thankful for, which, for a vast majority of students, looked just like this:

“I am thankful for…

My family

My friends

My cat/dog

My girlfriend/boyfriend

My iPhone/Xbox/Playstation/etc

Pretty standard for teens, I suppose. 🙂

So yeah yeah yeah, the history and purpose of the holiday are nice, but what the kids really wanted to know was this: what do we actually do on Thanksgiving Day, hoy en dia (nowadays)?

Well uh, haha…good question. My favorite stand-up comic, Jim Gaffigan, sums it up pretty well:

I literally gave them this breakdown of a typical Thanksgiving Day in the lives of an American family: wake up, watch the Macy’s Day Parade on TV. Help prepare/wait for the gigantic meal. Consume your daily caloric allowance in a matter of minutes. Feel miserable. Take a nap and/or watch the Thanksgiving Day NFL game.

It never really seemed so pathetic until I said it aloud to several groups of kids who grew up in a place where holidays seem to have a lot more tradition and meaning, and during which families still go out and do things in order to celebrate.

I was asked just this week to talk about parades in the US, since we have a few that are kind of a big deal. I guess you could even say I have inside info about these parades, since my high school marching band is nationally recognized for having marched in the Rose Bowl Parade, Orange Bowl Parade, Hollywood Christmas Parade, Target Thanksgiving Parade, in Disney World and others (it’s true, check out Jamestown’s Wikipedia page!) :-p Anyway, when preparing to talk about parades, it occurred to me that the majority of them actually revolve around NFL football games. As in, that’s the sole purpose of having the parade/celebration in the first place. As I am not a fan of this sport that is so near and dear to my fellow Americans’ hearts, I think this is a bit sad. But I know many would beg to differ.

Explaining both Thanksgiving traditions and parade culture in the US was a humorous and thought-provoking experience. It’s funny how things that have seemed so commonplace all your life can suddenly seem so strange.

For better or worse, we Americans celebrate our holidays just the the way we like, and I suppose that’s just fine. A few of us expats even managed to scrap together a pretty decent Thanksgiving feast here in Bilbao–complete with a very hard-to-find turkey (“what do you mean, you don’t eat HAM on a HOLIDAY!??!” -all Spaniards), mashed ‘taters, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, deviled eggs, mac ‘n cheese, and stuffing. The bread and wine were Spanish….forgive us.

¡pobre pavo!

Vinos de Rioja: a splash of Spanish excellence for our American feast

pretty impressive spread!

Happy belated Thanksgiving, everyone! I am thankful for YOU!


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a “family” reunion

Yesterday, I was fortunate to be reunited with my study abroad family: the directors of USAC Bilbao. I went along with them and the current USACers on a day long excursión to Gernika and Lekeitio, two little towns here in the Basque Country.

First we went to Gernika (Guernica), a town that is a symbol of Basque culture and is of great significance due to the bombing that occurred there during the Spanish Civil War, causing widespread death and destruction. The bombing, which was ordered by the former Spanish dictator Franco, is widely viewed as an example of terror bombing, inspired by Franco’s hatred for the Basque people and culture. The fact that many of the victims were innocent civilians has made the bombing a significant anti-war symbol, and was even the subject of Picasso’s famous anti-war painting, Guernica.

There was a large oak tree in the center of town under which Basque officials would assemble for meetings. Astoundingly, it was not destroyed in the bombing and is now viewed as a symbol of Basque freedom.

Ibon and I in front of the newest Tree of Gernika

The original Tree of Gernika

After visiting Gernika, we traveled to a txakoli (Basque white wine) vineyard up in the mountains overlooking the vast Atlantic. Our adorable tour guide, Ángel, was also the vineyard owner. Listen to him here as he explains why their wine received a 91/100 Robert Parker rating in 2010:

Lys (current USACer) and myself (USAC alum), both of ND!

Beeeeautiful view!

Txakoli tasting time!

We finished up the day with a traditional 3-course Basque meal and brief tour of Lekeitio, a quaint but gorgeous coastal village. We took a somewhat treacherous hike through a hillside forest up to a lookout. The view was worth it!

An bird's eye view of Lekeitio

My Basque "mom", Arantxa!

I was so happy to be reunited with the people that made my last experience in the Basque Country so special.

Here’s to many more memories with the USAC crew!


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What’s for dinner?

I love food. My family even jokes that I must have a separate “dessert stomach” due to the fact that no matter how stuffed I am, I can still manage to put down a dessert. So what have I been filling my dessert (and normal) stomach with here in Spain? I wish I could say that it has been only the finest European cuisine, but the fact remains that I’m a just a poor college kid, and that makes eating “well” very tricky. I do cook a decent amount of food for myself at my apartment, and I attempt to stick to relatively healthy choices that are still cheap such as rice and beans, vegetarian pasta and omelets. What I make for myself at home really isn’t much different from what I make in the States, except that the produce here is a lot more fresh…which reminds me of a story…*sidetrack*

One time, in one of my classes with our beloved teacher Juan, I wanted to say that I’ve noticed that the produce here doesn’t last as many days as the produce I get at home, but that this probably just meant there weren’t as many preservatives in the products. Being the savvy Spanish student that I am, I figured the word for preservatives would be “preservativos.” I mean, wouldn’t you? It turns out that is the word for condoms. So I literally said, “The fruit doesn’t stay fresh as long because it doesn’t have condoms.” Needless to say, I will never forget the word for preservatives (which evidently is “conservantes.”)

I have become increasingly less picky throughout my life, and a large part of that can be attributed to my travels. What is a “normal” or “typical” food to eat can vary greatly depending on the region or country. I have been very open-minded about trying other foods typical of the area that I never would have dreamed of trying in my life. I’ve tried some of the most unique Basque delicacies such as calamares en su tinta (squid in their own ink), baby eels, blood sausage and bacalao al pil-pil (cod in an emulsion of oil and garlic.) These are especially impressive attempts considering I would barely touch seafood just a couple of years ago.

Squid in their own ink

Baby eels

This article would not be complete without a mention of paella. Paella is, hands down, my favorite Spanish dish. On the surface, it seems rather ordinary: rice and seafood mixed in with some vegetables. I think it is the key ingredient, saffron, that makes it so special. The combination of the freshness of the seafood, exploding flavors of pepper and onion, succulent saffron and cooked-to-perfection rice makes for a mouthwatering Spanish specialty. I’m probably going to have to go eat some now.

Mmm...paella

One Spanish food that I simply canNOT get on board with is ham/pork (shh don’t tell the Spaniards!) This is due, in large part, to one fateful night as a child when I bit into a piece of ham to find what I believed to be a pig’s tooth (it was just fat.) My aversion to ham has existed ever since. Pork in Spain is like a god, and it comes in more varieties than I would have ever thought necessary. I have had exactly one pork dish in Spain that I’ve enjoyed, and I don’t expect there to be another.

Probably my favorite part of Spanish cuisine is their beloved beverage: vino tinto. I could drink red wine every single day, and while living here I pretty much have. It’s a huge part of their culture, and some of Europe’s finest vineyards are just down the road from Bilbao in a region called La Rioja. It is a part of virtually every lunch and dinner, and most menus del día include it in the price of the meal. At grocery stores, you can get a bottle of red wine for as little as 75 cents, but a ¨classier¨bottle may cost you around 6 or 7 euros. Oh, how I will miss those prices when I´m back in the US!

¡Buen provecho!