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


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Long time, no post! Sorry about that. I hope you’re all enjoying summer and staying relatively cool wherever you are. Europe seems to be completely en fuego lately; I don’t think I’ve stopped sweating since July 1. It has been a fun, busy, very memorable summer thus far. I’ve had a couple awesome visits from friends from back home, attended my second Bilbao BBK Live music festival, enjoyed several beach days and thoroughly enjoyed the company of my “abroad family”: the many amazing friends I have met these past few years.

jammin' to Depeche Mode at BBK Live

jammin’ to Depeche Mode at BBK Live

And the goodbyes have begun. I’ve said goodbye to all but a couple of my private English lesson clients as most of them have headed out on their summer holidays. These people were more than students to me…many of them opened their homes to me, gave me gifts on holidays and invited me to dinners. Many of these people certainly became a part of my aforementioned “abroad family.”

Today I said goodbye to my lovely downtown Bilbao apartment. I can’t believe I’ve been here almost another whole year. This really has become my home, and at the moment I’m not ready to say goodbye.

And I don’t have to…yet. Tomorrow I embark upon a two-week journey through central and eastern Europe. I’m starting in southern Germany, the land of my ancestors, marking my 3rd trip to Germany this year. Then I’ll jet over to Croatia for a few days. I really have no idea what to expect, which I find very exciting. I’ll wrap up with a few days in Venice and just a day in Milan. The only place in Italy I’ve been is Rome, and I wanted to see more of the country on this trip, but if I’ve learned anything in these past few years of Euro-travels, it is to not try to do too much in a short time. I’ll leave the rest of Italy for my next trip.

I’ll be back in Bilbao mid-August just in time for Aste Nagusia, the big yearly summer festival that I’ve never been around to take part in. It will be madness, as you can see in this video from the kickoff to last year’s festival:

Next,  I’ll head west to walk the last 200km of the Camino de Santiago before returning once again to Bilbao to say my goodbyes. I’ll be Stateside in early September.

Again, I hope you’re all enjoying your summer al máximo. Hasta la próxima!


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notes on Spanish night life

Feliz año nuevo a todos! Happy New Year, everyone!

I hope you’ve all had a wonderful holiday season and are now hard at work on some good propósitos del año nuevo (New Year’s resolutions) for 2013. Between the unseasonably warm temps and a very alternative Christmas dinner (homemade Italian and American dishes, all vegetarian), it didn’t feel a whole lot like the holidays here, but I cherish the experiences I’ve had. Certainly there will never be others quite like them.

I spent New Year’s in Barcelona, a city that truly never sleeps. You see the slogan “the city that never sleeps” given to cities like NYC and Vegas, but I think the most deserving of this title is any of Spain’s cities. While crazy long nights happen occasionally in many cities around the world, I think it’s safe to say that the regularity of such long nights in Spain goes unrivaled. My Barcelona New Year’s experience really solidified this idea for me.

To talk about Spanish night life, you need to first talk about Spanish day life. People get up at pretty normal times on work days; most people have to be at work around 8:30 or 9. A lot of people work straight through until 3 or so (as in, no lunch break) and many others work a split shift from about 9:00-2:00 and then again from about 4-7. The lunch breaks for split-shifters vary, but are never less than an hour and are sometimes almost 3 full hours. This speaks to the priority made of sitting down to enjoy your food, catch up with friends or family, take a walk, etc. Contrary to popular belief, a vast majority of Spanish people do NOT go home and faceplant into bed during the afternoon siesta.

When everyone finishes work around 7 or 8, it’s still not time for dinner. Most commonly, people are out mingling in the streets, having a glass of wine with friends or going for a walk. Dinner is at 9 at the earliest–an exception being if you have really young kids, in which case 8 or 8:30 is acceptable. Restaurants literally do not commonly serve dinner before 9pm.

For Spaniards, eating is much more about the experience and enjoyment with friends and family than the simple act of putting food in your body, so dinners can (and often do) last for hours. I recently sat down to dinner at 9:30 with some Spanish friends in Madrid, and we didn’t leave the restaurant until after 1:00am. This is completely normal.

This makes for a very different New Year’s Eve experience, as you can probably imagine. Most people are just moving onto dessert when midnight strikes, so the most traditional thing to do here is to bring in the New Year at the dinner table. Others, like myself last year in Madrid and this year in Barcelona, gather in the city’s main square with a big clock tower to count down and eat the traditional “12 lucky grapes.”

So now that it’s almost 1:00am, is it time to go home? Maybe for kids or elderly people (although it’s not uncommon to see people of any age out and about well into the wee hours of the morning), but otherwise, heavens no! Bars are packed and overflowing into the streets with people laughing, drinking, digesting, and getting ready for the next stage of Spanish night life: finding a discoteca or salsa hall in which to shake your groove thang. I can’t count the number of times I’ve read in Spain travel guidebooks or websites something along the lines of “don’t even think about going dancing in Spain until at least 2am.” It’s true–the discotecas don’t even open their doors until at least midnight, and they’re empty for the first couple of hours. People are still finishing dinner, after all. The discotecas typically stay open until at least 6, at which point most people head home to try to get started on some z’s before the sun of the new day comes up.

I attended a New Year’s Party at Razzmatazz, Barcelona’s famous indie-fabulous discoteca. Right around 6am, the lights came on, the DJ took a bow, the people cheered and started filtering out into the street. The next day, I was telling my Spanish roommate about my New Year’s Eve in Barcelona. Her shocked reaction could only come from someone who grew up here in the land that never sleeps:

“They closed at 6am?! Why so soon?? It was NEW YEAR’S!!!”


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Bilbao BBK Live

A couple weekends ago, I had the opportunity to attend an awesome music festival called BBK Live. Among the headliners were a couple of my favorite bands: Mumford & Sons and Radiohead. The venue was phenomenal: 3 stages on a huge green space nestled up in the mountains overlooking Bilbao.

I’ve never been to such a big music festival (there were almost 110,000 total attendees at BBK Live this year) but from what I do know about music festivals, I know that this one has a few characteristics that make it quite unique, or namely, quite Spanish.

Even though there was ample camping available on the festival site, many attendees stay in Bilbao city center, so there was a free shuttle bus service running every 5 minutes, day and night, from the center of Bilbao up to the festival site on the mountain. The line for the bus wound around San Mamés, Bilbao Athletic Club’s fútbol stadium, and almost everyone in line seemed to have gotten the “botellón” memo. Spanish, British, French, American or otherwise– a vast majority had with them a bit of kalimotxo or San Miguel to uh…quench their thirst during the wait for the bus ride. Upon arrival at the festival, there was another large botellón gathering just outside the entrance (no outside beverages allowed, per usual). Some call it recklessness, some call it an economically sound reason to take advantage of Spain’s extremely laid back public drinking culture.

pre-bus botellón beer art

Another very Spanish characteristic of the festival was the schedule. The music kicked off around 6pm and didn’t stop until after sunrise the next morning–around 8am. It’s not uncommon to see both the sunset and sunrise on a night out in Spain, and the festival attendees seemed to, at least for the weekend, adopt the Spanish tendency to keep the party going in order to watch one day close and another begin. On that note, after almost a whole year here I still haven’t figured out when/if most Spanish people actually get a full night’s sleep.

8:00am – looking towards the Bay of Biscay from the campsite

It was a fantastic experience- well worth the 3-day pass price of just 105€. I’ve thrown together a few clips I took at the concert. They’re not fantastic, as bringing my expensive camera into a rowdy crowd of 100,000+ seemed unwise, but I hope you enjoy nonetheless:

If you’re a Mumford fan like me, check out this vid someone (with a much nicer camera than mine) got of “Little Lion Man.”

If you want to read more about this year’s BBK Live event, check out this great article.

Thanks for reading!


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the streets that sing

One of my favorite things about being in big cities is the presence of street musicians. I love the musical spontaneity that comes with living in or visiting a bustling city. The music that street musicians provide can perfectly complement the atmosphere, lift your mood and inspire you.

The other night, while giving a super quick impromptu tour de Bilbao to some friends, we ran into this terrifically energetic drumming group giving flash performances all over the old quarter of the city. After Googling them later, I found out they’re a Madrid-based group called Hakuna Ma Samba, and their motto is “Elige ser feliz”, or “Choose to be happy,” which they do very well. I dig.

Street performers, or musical buskers (you learned a new word today!), aren’t bound to streets as the only place for their performances. Another common venue for these musicians is on big city subways, like this incredible guitar/violin duo my mom and I came across during our trip to Rome in February:

Some of them play for a living while others play to make extra cash doing something they love. I ran into these guys in downtown Bilbao last fall, and after reading their sign I just had to give them my spare change. For creativity, if nothing else!

Their sign says: "Med students...collecting money for books! Thanks!"

A few weeks ago when I was in Portugal, I stumbled upon this random assembling of couples who heard some music in a plaza stopped to dance…. in the pouring rain!

These performances and spontaneous acts of music and dance are, for me, one of the most beautiful things in life. Music can bring so much joy, and when encountered outside of its traditional environments like concert halls and theaters, it reminds us not to take life so seriously and to experience the beauty in every moment.

Next time you see a street musician, I hope you’ll give them your spare change. It’s the least you can do for them making your day!


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Sevilla, ¡qué maravilla!

Happy Saturday! A bit delayed, but I’ve put together a little video of our trip to Sevilla last weekend. So sit back, relax, and be transported to this magical land of narrow streets lined with horse carriages, royal palaces with lush garden labyrinths, breathtaking architecture at every turn and, of course, flamenco:

 

Hasta la proxima vez….¡Olé!


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Beyonce: my new teaching assistant

Those of you who know me probably know that I’ve long been an admirer of the fabulous Beyonce Knowles. But I mean…who isn’t? She’s beautiful, talented, elegant and humble: a perfect mix that is hard to find among today’s celebrities.

And, as it turns out, some of her song lyrics are just purrrrrfect for ESL lessons.

I remember when the song “If I Were a Boy” came out. I heard it on the radio, didn’t listen to the lyrics very carefully, and quickly dismissed the song as “lame.” Then, I saw the video. Boom. Crying. Pitiful girly tears.

Is the song sexist? Yeah, probably. Girls can be just as shady and treat guys like crap too. But the lyrics bring up some things that I’m betting most people, perhaps girls especially, can relate to from past or current relationships.

This song uses a number of beautiful examples of a grammatical joy known as the “second conditional.” This refers to the verb structure used when referring to impossible situations. For example:

“If I WERE at my house in North Dakota right now, I WOULD BE stuffing my face with Thanksgiving goodness with my parents.”

I cannot possibly be at my house with parents at this exact moment (*tear), therefore this is an impossible situation and a classical example of the “second conditional.”

(Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving BTW!)

I can personally attest to the fact verb structure in the second conditional is one of the trickiest facets of grammar in both Spanish and English, and I’d imagine it’s difficult in other languages too. And what better way to learn a difficult grammar topic than to dissect the lyrics of a Beyonce song?

This has been my most successful ESL lesson to date. I’ve used it in 3 classes thus far, all with students age 16-18, and it has been a big success every time. I have them listen to the song twice to complete and check the first 4 exercises. Then we watch the original video and do the last section of the worksheet, which is a discussion of whether the song is sexist and whether they agree or disagree with the differing perception of boys and girls in relationships, etc. It has made for an interesting discussion/debate to say the least! 🙂

Here you go, people: watch, listen, and flex your “second conditional” muscles (the exercises from my worksheet are below the video):

1. Listen to the first part of the song and fill in the blanks with the words in the box

wanted, confronted, day, girls, stick up, beer, chase, bed, wanted

If I were a boy
Even just for a _______
I’d roll out of_______in the morning
And throw on what I________ and go
Drink ________ with the guys
And _________after girls
I’d kick it with who I _______
And I’d never get ________ for it
Because they’d ___________for me.

2. Put the verses in the right order

If I were a boy
I swear I’d be a better man
When you loose the one you wanted
And everything you had got destroyed!
Cause he’s taken you for granted
Cause I know how it hurts
How it feels to love a girl
I’d listen to her
I think that I’d understand
1. _____________________________
2. _____________________________
3. _____________________________
4. _____________________________
5. _____________________________
6. _____________________________
7. _____________________________
8. _____________________________
9. _____________________________

3. Put the verbs in brackets in the right tense

If I were a boy
I__________ (turn off) my phone
Tell everyone that it’s broken
So they _________(think)
That I ___________(sleep) alone
I___________(put) myself first
And _________(make) the rules as I go
Cause I know she __________(be) faithful
__________(wait for) me to come home

4. Fill in the missing word.

It’s a little too late for you to come _____
Say it’s just a _______
Think I’d ______you like that
If you ______ l would wait for you
You thought wrong

5. Read the following verses and say or write if you agree or disagree with the notion that boys and girls feel and behave in a different way in relationships. Do you think the message of the song is sexist?

But you are just a boy
You don’t understand
How it feels to love a girl
Someday you’ll wish you were a better man
You don’t listen to her
You don’t care how it hurts
Until you lose the one you wanted
Cause you taken her for granted
And everything that you had got destroyed
But you are just a boy


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Sounds of Spain

Music has been a huge part of my life for as long as I can remember. I’m not terribly picky about what I listen to, as long as it’s good (ha.) But really though, I have my favorites and tend to especially appreciate creative lyrics and unique sounds, but I enjoy almost all music.

I came here excited to experience the music in another country for awhile. To my disappointment, Gaga and Ke$ha are topping the charts here too, so there hasn’t been much of a change. The wildly popular American artists are, however, intermixed with some Spanish and Latin American pop artists on Spain’s Top 20 list.

Spanish pop music. What can I say about it. While Europe tends to be “ahead” of the US in many trends–fashion, hairstyles, etc.–I would say that the case of music is the opposite. This is just my humble opinion, of course, but bear with me.  It’s not terrible by any means, but a lot of it is a little bit “90’s love ballad” style. Some of it I’m really sick of, but some has totally grown on me. One Spanish pop artist, David Bustamante, won my heart over a little bit with his latest hit, “Abrazame muy fuerte” (Hug me strongly, or more like–hold me tight…):

*Note the subtle Spanish “lisp”

Another popular group in Spain right now is Fito y Fitipaldis. The cool thing is, they’re actually from Bilbao! Their song, “Antes De Que Cuente Diez” (Before I Count to Ten) will always remind me of my first few weeks in Spain, when it was on the radio nonstop:

*On this one, note the harsh “h” sounds (sounds like the “ch” in Bach), also very typical to the dialect here.

Nelly Furtado‘s most recent album is very popular here right now, probably because it is 100% in Spanish. One song from this album has become one of my all-time faves very quickly. The first line of the chorus is so simple, but powerful and true at the same time: “La vida debe ser feliz” (Life should be happy.) There is no video with this one, but if you know a little Spanish I found a video with the lyrics of the song that you can follow:

This is only a small sampling of the current popular music in Spain; a few of my favorites. One thing I haven’t yet mentioned is that club/euro techno music is very popular here and can be heard on multiple radio stations at all hours of the day, which is a little different. Like I said, there is a lot of American music too, so I’m not missing music from home or anything like that. The one thing I do miss dearly is Pandora, which is currently unavailable outside US borders. Thankfully I’ve found a couple of somewhat similar sites: Grooveshark and Jango.

I’ll try to share more popular Spanish music as I discover it!

¡Espero que disfrutaras la música!