Lyon: Traboules, Les Halles, Au 14 Février Vieux Lyon

17 03 2013
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Morning at Evasion Loft brings piquant homemade rhubarb jam, fresh pastries dotted with vermillion pralines, and top-notch new company. International small talk is a surprisingly pleasing accompaniment to plentiful black coffee.

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Lyon by daylight is sunny and brisk. The bare branches nicely reflect the simple elegance of the French urban architecture. We embark on a walking loop around a few of the northern arrondissements that Thérèse has plotted out on our map.

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A boggling assortment of olive oils on the way hooks us and reels us in. The shopkeep at A l’Olivier proffers an extensive tasting, and we’re shortly inundated in distilled essence of basil, truffle, and lemon zest. The selection of vinegars is formidable, in particular a 10-year-old balsamic both creamy and intoxicating. We make a note to pick up an item or two on our way back later.

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The walking loop takes us through several traboules, winding foot-traffic passageways used in the transportation of silk through the city as far back as the 4th century. They appear almost private – some of the entrances are through doorways – and at first we wonder if we might be trespassing. Good thing Rick Steves has taught us “Désolé, je suis touriste.

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The view of the city at the apex of the loop is outstanding. La basilique de Notre-Dame de Fourvière and la tour métallique emblematically mark the Lyonnaise skyline.

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Wandering this neighborhood is sweetness – here and there are traces of alt-culture, thoughtful graffiti, a dojo. Cassoulet, Whisky, Ping-Pong seems probably magnificent.

We stumble across an open market up here on the hill and do our absolute best not to slaver over the dripping poulets and fresh fromage.

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The loop ends in la place des Terreaux, marked by the elaborate horses of la Fontaine Bartholdi.

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The walking and the cold have us eager to reach our lunching destination, but not so much that we don’t take a pause to vogue on the footbridge. The wind causes it to lurch disturbingly; we make haste shortly after snagging the shots.

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Lunch at Les Halles is an obvious must. We love markets wherever we go (see: Barcelona’s La Boqueria, Huay Kwang in Bangkok, Sunday market in Tolosa – to name just a few), and Les Halles is where the top chefs in Lyon purportedly do their shopping. Pictured is a tiny slice of the overwhelming selection – were we to live here, we would most certainly pick up a pâté pyramid and a chicken complete with feathered head and blue feet. The candied peppers intrigue as well.

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Spying a seafood stall specializing in les coquillages eases the impossibility of choosing, particularly when we note a table enjoying a selection of urchins. I’ve gushed over the Asturian oricios such that MP wants a few oursins of her own, so we stumble our way through the French: une sélection de coquillages, s’il vous plaît? huîtres, non? et oursins, c’est possible?

The photos denote our success. Six enormous oysters (from Normandy?), clams of all variety, and a trio of urchins, one each from Brittany, Iceland, and Galicia. Add slightly sour brown bread, butter, and a cold carafe of house white – parfait.

The oysters are predictably spectacular, and the distinct character of each clam holds its own. The urchins have an order – first Brittany, then Iceland, and finishing with Galicia – and their gooey umami pleases to no end. The Galician is by far my favorite; it’s assertively briny while the other two are much more subtle. For the uninitiated, the texture is a bit like okra – slimy, yes, but it is the loveliest of slimes.

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Cheese is not, strictly speaking, necessary. And yet.

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David Lebovitz-beloved Bernachon just happens to be across the way from Evasion Loft. The ladies seem bemused that we only want one orangette and one brandied truffle, but that is simply how we roll.

And roll we do, right into the arms of a three-hour nap (some of us, anyway. others dedicate themselves to placating you, dear readers).

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How can it be evening already? Weren’t we just urchin-ing, wine-and-cheese-ing? Do we do anything besides eat? No, we do not. We gussy ourselves in preparation for our grand gastronomic venture of the trip.

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It is impossible to get a reservation at the much-lauded Au 14 Février Vieux Lyon. And yet.

We occupy one of four tables. The night’s only seating opens with salmon, ham, and caviar nested in poppy seed waffle compartments, shooters of lobster and parmesan foam, and a slice of sausage embedded in crispy wafer-thin brioche. The following surprise eight-course menu is currently entitled Q.E.D., and the only selection to be made is wine. The four-glass accompaniment sounds about right.

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1: Egg yolk and mustard foam. Salad greens, sprouts and radish slices in rice wafer shell.

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2: Crab, mango, avocado, green apple, vinegar gelatin, walnuts, green onion, dill.

3: Chorizo, basil, peas and their shoots, orange peel, beurre blanc.

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4: Foie gras, radishes, beet, beet compote.

5: Sea bass, celery, carrot, macha, beurre noisette.

6: Entrecôte, macha, shallot, asparagus, red pepper compote, artichoke, greens.

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Cheese course: an outstanding brie, a charming Comté, a stupefying Roquefort.

7: Champagne foam, acidic fruit cocktail.

8: Chocolate dome melted with hot raspberry sauce. Hidden underneath are cubes of chocolate mousse and cake, cherries, and mascarpone ice cream.

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Ending sweets: macaron, macha marshmallow, and a small sugary truffle filled with Calvados. MP attempts to bite it in half, causing it to dribble; she giggles all over the place and documents my reaction.

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No Man’s Art – Fotopost

9 03 2013

It’s spring, it’s here, I’m calling it. There’s the usual culprits, so much rain and genuine licks of sunlight, and that old onion we planted in the windowsill is actually honest-to-god sprouting. And I’m out, taking the pulse of the city, finding it still alive, we’re still here, estamos vivos, parece. Me too.

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No man’s art next door. An invitation to climb into the insistent sky.

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Wholesale mannequin parade. Readymade framing. Coiffed and poised.





Mark Bittman’s Squid and Artichokes Braised in White Wine

7 03 2013

Predictably, the cusp of spring brings desire for both rebirth and new vegetables.

Mark Bittman's squid and artichokes braised in white wine

The rain doused me today. I think I needed it along with the city. The surprise snow last week was charming for an hour or two, but ultimately resulted in little more than frozen toes. March calls for proper rain.

I went out walking in it, south to the Mercadona I used to frequent my very first year in the city. Very first year. It’s suddenly long ago. The grunge and the gintonics and the wicked-witch-of-the-West nails, Hector and Marta, Emily, theme parties and walking back across the city incensed about the nature of love during the night’s smallest hours. Surely aggravating our unseen neighbors with joyful raucousness of all sorts, much stomping and wailing. Always meaning to try that Colombian place across the street. Wearing boots. Cooking my first octopus, deciding to stay.

It’s all still there, when I visit. All the chaotic love that I found in Madrid, me, for myself, despite/owing in part to The Brick getting lodged somewhere deep in my corpus callosum. You know, I don’t even think about it anymore. I’ve told that story so many times that it has ceased to have weight. I disagree, in the end – we can heal, and we do. We’ll never be the same, but who wants pepper-pots anyway?

Mark Bittman's squid and artichokes braised in white wine

I want to rededicate myself to the art of constantly learning. I’ve misplaced much of the curious drive that so propelled me that first year. It’s not a wish to regress, far from it; it’s a desire for much more movement. I read somewhere recently that we Americans mistake comfort for happiness, which rings terribly true.

And so, today: I decided to learn how to prep artichokes. I’ve done so before but never alone. The thistle bulb takes specific TLC before it’s ready to offer up its buttery secrets, and the specific names for its alien parts make the process feel all the more intimate.

Spoon out the choke. Savor the heart.

Mark Bittman’s Squid and Artichokes Braised in White Wine

1 lemon
4 large artichokes, trimmed
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoon minced garlic
2 anchovy fillets, chopped
2 medium-sie squid, bodies cut into rings
1/2 cup white wine
Freshly ground black pepper
Minced parsley to garnish

1. Prep the artichokes: squeeze the lemon into an awaiting bowl of water, and submerge the artichokes as you trim them so they resist oxidation. Cut them into quarters.

2. Heat 2 T EVOO, then add the garlic and anchovies. Cook a few minutes, breaking up the ‘chovies. Add the squid, artichokes, and wine. Stir and cover.

3. Uncover and stir the mixture every 5 minutes or so. Both elements should begin to tenderize around 20 minutes; at this point, remove the cover and let the liquid simmer off – should take about 15 minutes or so. Season with black pepper, salt if needed, and parsley. Serve.





Minimalist Minimal Pairs: /ɪ/ vs. /i/ and /s/ vs. /ʃ/ vs. /tʃ/ English Pronunciation Class. For small groups of any age, any level!

27 02 2013

I write three words on the board:

SIP
SHIP
SHEEP

The students tend to snicker, recognizing these as problem words. They often try to pronounce one or all of the terms. I give them a moment to consider the words, then point to SHEEP.

“What’s this?”
—“Oveja.
“And this?”
—“Barco.
“And this?
—“Ni idea.
Sorbo. Sorbito.” (mime it and make slurping noise)
— [giggle giggle]

“Ok. Oveja, barco, sorbo. Can anyone say all three?”
Someone inevitably tries, and all three come out as “tscheep.”
“Uh-oh.”

I move to SHEEP.
“This one is easy.”
I point to EE and write i in quotation marks on the board.
“In Spanish, the i makes an EEEEEEE sound. In English, the EE makes an EEEEEEE sound. Exactly the same. Say it.”
—“EEEEEEE.”
“Good!”
I point to the SH.
“This is [put finger to lips, look angry] SHHHHHHHH, like be quiet! SHHHHHHHH. Say it.”
—“SHHHHHH.”
“Good. Your lips come out [turn to profile view so they can see lip position] and you use air. SHHHHHHH.”
—“SHHHHHH.”
“Good. So! SHHHHHHH. EEEEEEEE. P. [big pop of air here] SHEEP. SHEEP. Say it.”
—“SHEEP.”
“Excellent!”

I move to SHIP.
“This one is a little difficult.”
I point to the SH.
“This is also [put finger to lips, look angry] SHHHHHHHH, like be quiet! SHHHHHHHH. Say it.”
—“SHHHHHH.”
I point to I.
“But this sound [pause for dramatic effect]. This sound does not exist in Spanish! I am sorry. [wring hands, look faux repentant]”
“This sound is IHHHHHHH, in the back of the throat [point to location on self]. IHHHHHH. IHHHHHH. Say it.”
—“IHHHHHH.”
“Good! It’s weird, no? SHEEP is EEEEEEE, this is IHHHHHH.”
—“IHHHHHH.”
“Very good. So! SHHHHHHH. IHHHHHH. P. SHIP. SHIP. Say it.”
—“SHIP.”
“Great!”

I move to SIP.
“This one is the most difficult.”
I point to the IP.
“This is also IHHHHHHH, then P. IHHHHHHP.”
I point to S.
“But this sound is SSSSSSSS, like a snake. SSSSSSS. It is clean. SHIP and SHEEP use SHHHHHHH, be quiet! But this one is SSSSSS. Say it.”
—“SSSSSSS.”
“Good! You bring your lips back [turn to profile view so they can see] and SSSSSS, like a snake. See? It’s not SHHHHHH, be quiet! It’s SSSSSSS.”
—“SSSSSSS.”
“Nice. So! SSSSSSS. IHHHHHH. P. SIP. SIP. Say it.”
—“SIP.”
“Awesome!”

I point to a strong student.
“Your turn. Say it.”
I point to SIP.
I work through all three words together with each student in turn, me correcting anything that goes awry, reminding them of snake versus be quiet! and familiar EEEEEE versus weird IHHHHHH.

“Nice work. Now, I’m going to make your lives more complicated.”
I write CHIP under SHIP and CHEAP under SHEEP.
I point to CHEAP.
“What’s this?”
—“Barato.”
“And this?
—“Patata frita.”
“Okay. How do you say this? [point to CHEAP]”
—“CHEAP.” (typically they get it right)
“Correct – EEEEEE like SHEEP. And this?”
—“CHIP.” (accuracy depending on level of group here)
“Nice – IHHHHH like SHIP.”

“So! Sorbo, barco, patata frita, oveja, barato. Very different! But we say SIP, SHIP, CHIP, SHEEP, CHEAP. It’s important to say them correctly!”

“Okay. Everyone needs a sheet of paper.”
“Please tear it into six pieces. They do not need to be equal.”
I wait for the first to finish while being astounded at how little spacial reasoning some of my students have.
“Write the all of words big [huge hand gesture] on the papers. [draw a diagram on the board if the level’s really low]”

I wait for most everyone to be done.
“Okay, here’s the game. I say a word, and you hold it up [exaggerated gesture here]. Easy. Ready?”
“The first word is…… SHIP. [this can come out more as SHHHHHIIIIIIP if needed per the group level]”
Tell students YES or NO as they come up with answers.

As I go through the words, it becomes quickly apparent which students have problems with which phonemes. After a run through all the words with a few repeating, I pick a strong student and beckon them to the front of the class, indicating that they should bring their papers.

As soon as they get to the front next to me, I take a step back.
“Your turn.”
It’s normal for them to be slightly taken aback, but they tend to recover quickly and understand the game. Because they have the cards in their hand, I’m able to correct their pronunciation as they try out each word. They love correcting their class members as answers are offered.

Each student runs through all the words and one extra – I make them repeat whichever sound they have the most difficulty with (frequently the SSSSSSSS of SIP). This means everyone gets many, many chances to hear the differences between all five minimal pairs.

I’m continually surprised by how well some of my very low-level students take to this activity, as well as how much difficulty some of my upper-level students have with it. It offers students who have trouble in English a possibility to seriously shine. Those students who think they’re all that also get knocked down a few pegs, reminded that they still have plenty to refine.

The approach seems ultra-simple almost to the point of childishness, but students across the board seem to love it. I hear a lot of murmured “este juego mola” comments, and one older girl who struggles with English even directly commented (in Spanish) that this seemed so much more practical than what they studied in their regular class. She asked if she could come with me every day. I beamed.

I follow up the students-as-teachers part by complimenting the whole class.
“Nice work. This is very difficult, but it is important. If you say SHEEP when you mean SHIP, oveja cuando quieres decir barco, you sound stupid. [that twisty finger to the skull gesture here, which gets the point across]”
“If I say I went from Valencia to Mallorca in a SHEEP, I sound stupid! [very limited giggles here] That’s like saying Fui desde Valencia a Mallorca en una oveja. [giggles erupt] Stupid, no? I want you to say these correctly. Pronunciation is important.”

OPTIONAL ADD-ON FOR OLDER STUDENTS WHO CAN HANDLE IT

This bit drives home the “Pronunciation is important” point even further, and for students in 1º Bachillerato and above, I think it’s appropriate. They already know these words and toss them around anyway; it’s time they learned how to do it correctly.

“When I say SHEEP and I mean SHIP, it is stupid, but it is innocuous.”
Write INNOCUOUS on the board.
“Do you know the word INNOCUOUS?” [no one ever does]
“It is the same as the Spanish word inocuo. Do you know that one?” [they tend to have heard of it but not know the definition]
“It’s like innocent. It doesn’t hurt or offend anyone. When you mistake SHEEP for SHIP, it is innocuous – no one will be offended.”
“But, be careful! Not all pairs are innocuous. I think you already know them.”

Occasionally a student will get it and spontaneously offer “BEACH” here; if not, prompting them with a written B under SHEEP and CHEAP does the trick.
“That’s right, BEACH. EEEEEE like SHEEP and CHEAP. What does BEACH mean?”
—“Playa.”
“Yes. It’s not funny when I say that Spain has beauuuuutiful beaches! [students practically pee their pants laughing here] To me, a native speaker, that sentence sounds normal. The Spanish beaches are beautiful! It’s true. But…”
I write BITCH under SHIP and CHIP.
“If I use the IHHHHHH sound, it’s BITCH. Puta, right? You don’t want to make this mistake – it is not innocuous.”

“Can anyone think of another dangerous pair?” [they usually can’t until prompted with a written SH]
I write SHEET under SHEEP, CHEAP, and BEACH.
“What’s SHEET?” [sometimes they know, sometimes they don’t, sometimes they guess “mierda,” which is exactly my point]
SHEET means hoja, like hoja de papel, or sábana, like on my bed. It’s not funny to say that I have beautiful sheets on my bed! [laffo]”
I write SHIT underneath SHIP, CHIP, and BITCH.
“But as soon as we use IHHHHHH, it becomes, well, mierda. Not innocuous!”
“You can remember that the ‘good’ words – BEACH and SHEET – use the EEEEEEE sound, like SHEEP and CHEAP. The dangerous words use IHHHHHH.”
“Got it? Good. Hmmmmmm, better erase this.”
I make a big show of looking paranoid outside of the classroom and erasing the curse words from the board. The students eat it up.

By the way, after nearly three years of adherence, I’ve decided to flout the the “STRICTLY ENGLISH ONLY EVER DON’T EVEN UTTER AN HOLA” rules. Teaching has become infinitely more effective when I refer to the Spanish equivalents of things. I’m simply not with these students enough to create the “immersion effect,” and I waste far too much time trying to get them to follow simple instructions to engage with a perfectly decent activity because they don’t understand how to play. I use 99% English. The 1% Spanish facilitates learning in an environment with serious restrictions of both material and temporal resources, y punto.

I’d love to hear anyone else’s experience with this.





Bizarre Sports and Have You Ever…?: Conversation Class for Older Students of Any Level

10 02 2013

“Today’s theme is SPORTS.”

It must be a mark of the novice teacher that I feel a need to justify my lesson plans to my students. That whole power-structure bit, the One-Classroom-Under-Me illusion: I continue having a hard time buying into it a priori, perhaps owing in part to memories of shaking my righteous-high-schooler fists at feeling unfairly powerless. I’d much rather the students listen to me because they are interested, because I am saying things that are worth their time and attention. This is, obviously, pie-in-the-sky optimistic (but who doesn’t like pie?).

The other reason not to do this is because, by and large, they don’t understand my garrulous explanations anyway – to their ears, it’s gobbledegook.

So: I’ve attempted to snip it entirely, and have found success in plunging headlong into a lesson. For this one, I like having the group sit around one big table rather than desks. After announcing the athletic theme – which results in an fascinating mixture of groans and accolades – I offer cards with paragraphs describing various oddball practices from around the world.

CHESS BOXING alternates between games of boxing and chess after each round – waiting for a checkmate or knockout to decide the match. A Chess Boxing match between two individuals lasts up to eleven rounds, starting with a four minute chess round and followed by two minutes of boxing.

SWAMP FOOTBALL is said to come from the north east of England where it initially was used as an exercise activity for athletes and soldiers, since playing in a swamp is physically demanding. There are currently an estimated 260 swamp football teams around the world. Boots cannot be changed during the game.

JOGGLING is a competitive sport that combines juggling and jogging. The most common objects used in joggling are balls, or sometimes clubs, but any set of three or more objects can be used. Jogglers say that the arm motions of juggling with three objects feels natural with the action and pace of jogging.

[I also include TOE WRESTLING, ELEPHANT POLO, CHEESE ROLLING, and ZORBING, and wish every single day for an A/V hookup]

[you can download the cards for yourself here. you’re welcome!]

Each student takes their turn reading a card aloud, and depending on the level of the group they’ll get more or less information from it. We then take a closer look at any unfamiliar vocabulary, I do some trademark miming (or, in the case of “juggling,” humming a few notes from the unmistakable circus ditty), and we suss out the gist of each. I repeatedly inquire, Would you ever play this sport? Chess boxing is (shockingly?) popular.

I then write that key sentence on the board, and I ask whether it’s a question about the past or the future. What tense is it in? Great, it’s conditional. I then write a new question: Have you ever played a sport? and ask the same. Okay, so we’ve got that it’s present perfect – and there’s the past participle, yup – and then I pose it directly to the lowest level student in the group, since it’s an easy one to answer and gain some confidence. Everyone inevitably says yes here, and with some prompting they generate the full response Yes, I have played [sport]. I throw it on the board.

But check it out – now we know YES or NO, but do we know WHEN? This key question is actually rather challenging for the lower level groups; I’m aiming for a lightbulb moment. No, we don’t know WHEN. How do we ask WHEN? Through some trial and error, the class generates When did you play [sport]?, which then gets directed back at the original student, eventually resulting in I played [sport] yesterday/when I was 8 years old/two years ago.

Then the grammatical wrap-up: see, when you ask in present perfect, you get a response in present perfect, and you learn YES or NO. But if you want to know details, you have to ask a WH-Question, like WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, or WHY (these get scribbled on the board as well), and you ask this question in the past simple.

[clearly these rules aren’t hard and fast, duh. the structure consistently works for eliciting the variety of forms, though, as well as for illustrating the difference in their usage]

That’s about as grammatician as I like to get in class – all of this basic stuff is review to the students, although they can recall it only to varying degrees, and they use it extremely sparsely. Hence, the following game to practice.

I pass out a small cue card with three phrases on it to each student along with the spoken instructions “These are secret. Do not share. If you do not know a word, ask me.”

  • break a bone
  • be a guest at a surprise party
  • be on TV
  • fall in love at first sight
  • forget your mother’s birthday
  • go mountain climbing
  • receive a present that you really hated
  • ride on a camel
  • milk a cow
  • faint
  • hitchhike
  • sing in public
  • call a teacher “mom” by mistake
  • go to a wedding
  • meet someone who has six fingers
  • walk into a really clean window
  • eat frog legs
  • speak to someone from Russia
  • get seasick
  • go to the circus
  • send back food at a restaurant
  • stay up all night
  • eat goat cheese
  • travel by airplane

I keep a card for myself and begin, posing a question to one of the stronger students: Have you ever broken a bone? They tend to respond simply yes or no, and I make the “big” hand motion to indicate that they should say the whole phrase for practice, Yes, I have broken a bone./No, I haven’t broken a bone.

If the answer is affirmative, I follow up: When did you break a bone? What bone did you break? What were you doing? and monitor their story for correct tenses. If the answer is negative, I pose the question to the whole group – Has anyone ever broken a bone? – and hope for a bite. The phrases are purposefully skewed such that several will certainly have takers (stay up all night, go to a wedding) and several only occasionally hit on a jackpot (hitchhike, forget your mother’s birthday).

After going through the process for one phrase, it’s the turn of the person who was asked. They choose whoever they like and grill them: Have you ever…? As soon as they hit on a yes, they’ve gotta inquire with those WH-Questions for more juicy details.

I’ve found this an extremely effective way to get students using the present perfect/past simple forms in conjunction. They also seem to love the phrases, and I’ve never laughed so much in class as with some of the stories that they inspire. Almost everyone admits to having called a teacher “mom” at least once; one student claimed to have accidentally let slip an “abuela.” Boys in particular take great pride in having walked into squeaky clean windows. Perhaps one student per class claims to have fallen in love at first sight.

I swear I didn’t expect anyone to have met someone with six fingers. And yet, one of the terceros claims to have twin cousins “in her village” with six on each hand and each foot. No student at Valdecás can boast an extra digit, but a kid from 1º Bachillerato confided in me that there is a boy in 4º ESO with double uvulas. I want to ask, so badly. Perhaps next week’s theme can be The Weird and Wonderful Human Body!





Cahorros, Granada, and Resilience

9 02 2013

In my continued lack of ability to spend even one weekend available in Madrid, last Friday I hopped a bus to Granada to see great friend and ex-housemate David. His company in Madrid declared bankruptcy several months back, and he’s moving to Chile in a few weeks to seek his fortune as a university professor. I know he’ll find success anywhere, but damn do I wish it could have been here. Santiago’s tougher to impulsively access than Andalucía.

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It was my fourth time visiting Granada, which meant no pesky obligations to See the Sights. The highlight was a morning walk through Cahorros de Monachil, a simple route marked by the occasionally ultra-skinny paths with exaggeratedly low clearance. My miniature frame was built for Cahorros, and I found glee gnoming my way around the rock overhangs.

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I shudder in the wake of David’s impending move. It isn’t just that my current closest friend in the city is moving on, although that’s certainly a cinematically appropriate motif (see: Heather, Alexandra, Sevi, James, Sean. y’all reading? miss. <3). Like all such nagging undercurrents of melencholia, this one has multiple roots. The homestretch of wintertime is one, I know. Ditto yet another year as an English auxiliar, which I find rewarding in a few ways but terribly restricting in others.

I keep circling around the verb to invest, attempting to clarify just what it is that merits meaningful deposits, along with how that might be done. How do I act on the micro level of the present such that it supports a macro level image of the future? Because my premonitions are big (huge), I refuse to downsize, refuse to settle. However, this kind of massive payout simply doesn’t result from getting cozy.

One recent struggle has been with the idea of being alone versus acting as a lone agent. It’s not easy for me to get interpersonally vulnerable, even though I do see that there’s much value that can come out of such a state. I keep flirting with it, possibly to my own detriment. I feel swallowed up by the intensity of emotions set free, by allowing felt truth its full and natural space. The response ought not be to withdraw, I’m convinced, even though it’s admittedly my primary impulse. Rather, the aim is resilience.

Dynamicism (I don’t care that that word doesn’t seem to mean what I wish it meant. You get me.) used to be my rallying call, embracing curly-haired chaos by its golden locks, a holographic double rainbow whirling dervish, reveling in the unpredictable intensity of both the pain and the glory. That lustful seed’s always been within me, cultivated by Bangkok and imported to Madrid. I do treasure it, but I no longer identify with it, and I think that’s why it’s felt so achingly empty as of late when I overhear myself chanting refrains more hollow than hallowed.

Springiness, malleability, flexibility, adaptability. Indefatigability. Intestinal fortitude, dammit. Moxie. Guts. The truth will not swallow me, no. I will cook truth over open flame for dinner, accompany it with a bottle of Bierzo, beam it out from my glossy painted fingernails. Time and truth combined are a resource more precious than any other, and I’m lucky enough to have both in spades. These are what I will invest. Watch me take them and run.





Looking to Cuenca

5 02 2013
Cuenca, Castilla-La Mancha
Cuenca, Castilla-La Mancha Cuenca, Castilla-La Mancha

I first visited Cuenca in 2008 as a junior in college doing my study-abroad in Valencia. It was at that point in the program when everyone’s simply sick to death of each other, and hackles are raised by even the slightest provocation. Absolutely no one had any desire to be shipped away in a bus together, much less to this dinky middle-of-nowhere destination.

Although it was well into spring by the time of our visit, we were hit with a combination of sleet and hail upon arrival. None had thought to bring boots/umbrella, and the soggy time spent prowling the extreme slopes of Cuenca’s hills just served to exacerbate initial crankiness. Supposedly there were hanging houses somewhere in the murk, but hell if we cared enough at that point to suss them out.

Cuenca, Castilla-La Mancha
Cuenca, Castilla-La Mancha Cuenca, Castilla-La Mancha

After an obligatory group tour through the Museo de Arte Abstracto Español (which we all grudgingly admitted was pretty damn sweet. Check out Antonio Saura’s rendition of Brigitte Bardot), we scattered as far apart from each other as possible, each holing up in a different rincón of the city for stress beers. The designated hotel was located far from the center, however, and the mandate from on high was to be back in the bus by 10PM at the latest. Anyone who’s gone out at night in Spain knows this is early to the point of absurdity, and as such resulted in great trudging of feet.

Sopping, grumpy, and half-intoxicated across the board, we winced our way one by one onto the bus like bedraggled cats, and waited for a complete head count.

The last one to show was Chris, our coordinator for the semester. She was ripped, and immediately invited everyone to further drinks in the hotel bar. Well hey.

Cuenca, Castilla-La Mancha

The mood did a 180, and the Backstreet Boys made an a capella appearance. Loud and thoroughly guiri, we burst all at once into the couldn’t-be-chintzier bar. Rum and cokes sprung into eager little fists, and we had ourselves a catharsis. Animosity blurred along with vision. Chris enthused about pool boy butts. And I’ve loved Cuenca ever since.

Returning this late December bore no comparison, and was completely lovely in its own right. I tried ajoarriero (the wiki makes it looks appealing. ours was a cold ceramic cazuela of white gloop) and zarajo (… don’t). I hit up another abstract art smorgasbord, Museo Fundación Antonio Pérez. And I managed to spy the hanging houses with my own eyes, unobstructed by cloud or malice.

Cuenca, Castilla-La Mancha

w/r/t the title:
¿Alguna vez has puesto a alguien mirando hacia Cuenca? Sea cual sea tu respuesta, es muy probable que necesites esta aplicación.