Luchana CouchSurfers – September

27 09 2011

For some, too much is never enough: my enormous flat bulges at the seams with its ten international residents, plus their various and frequent guests, yet at the beginning of the month we collectively elect to open our couches to travelers passing through the city using the CouchSurfing website. I’ve had an account since just before I moved to Thailand, where I used it not only in terms of surfing and hosting, but also as a means to establish an ever-dynamic social base. CouchSurfers are all over the map, coming from every country and camino, sharing a passion for meeting other travelers and swapping stories.

After introducing the idea and the website to the uninitiated of the Luchana house, we collectively decide to give it a go; I use my account to filter and organize incoming requests, posting the schedule of anticipated guests on a calendar print-out in the living room. September turns out to be particularly high-traffic, owing to the frequent presence of two further guests occupying the other sofas:

1) Gio, Columbian photographer/videographer and previous resident of my very own room in the house, has just returned from months of solo travel through Spain and Portugal. He’s a Luchana institution by this point, ever the wanderer but always returning to beloved Madrid, picking up new kitchen skills in the process.

2) Max, German-American bartender/egg-eater/entrepreneur, is suddenly one of my longest-standing friends: we met six years ago living on the Earlham Wellness Hall, of all places. Philosophies have since shifted, and Max has spent the past while bartending in his hometown of Madison, Wisconsin. He’s got his sights set on ambition, however, and I like to think I was a large part of convincing him to apply for the Madrid auxiliar program, which he’ll be beginning along with me next week (although not in the same Instituto).

Apart from couch-crashers Gio and Max, Luchana has racked up five official CouchSurfers during the month of September:

1) Viktor, Mexican currently studying Latin and Greek in Romania, inaugurates the CouchSurfing experiment the very next day; he notices my profile proclaiming me “Online Now!” and inquires as to whether he might be able to stay that same night. I waver just a moment before responding positively, deciding that getting the ball rolling immediately is the best way to keep enthusiasm high.

Viktor arrives in the afternoon and we set out for a stroll, during which he teaches me much more about Spanish history as reflected in the city statues and structures than I think I ever managed to glean from SPAN 402: Histories of Spain. He is linguist, writer, and philosopher; together we successfully complete a mission to locate blank sheets of paper, his preferred tool of the trade. Over rooftop cañas, we discuss the Meaning of Meaning, singularity vs. author vs. reader, and the above pictured Vaso de la Libertad.

Upon departure, Viktor leaves the house a lengthy letter of thanks pegged to the living room wall, complete with verbal flourishes in antiquated Spanish. He’s an ideal introduction, and has extended an invitation to visit Romania that I may just accept.

2) David, Brit touring the country by thumb, arrives shortly after my return from Berlin. He’s on the quiet side, and unfortunately we don’t end up coinciding a great deal, to the extent that I even lack a proper photo of the guy. He crashes here for a couple nights, then heads out.

3) Alessandra, Napolitan living in London for the past year, is quickly revealed to be a kindred foodie heart; we sample sardine-stuffed olives at El Mercado de San Miguel and whiskey-topped tinto de verano at La Paca. Neighborhood touring takes us further south to calle Argumosa in Lavapiés, where we talk ex-punk phases and living with mainly males. We share a lively ensalada mixta and grilled squid dinner with Max and Gio at a traditional-style Spanish spot in Malasaña.

The following evening we reconvene over a bottle of La Rioja’s best Alessandra’s thoughtfully brought to the house, and I whip up an extra-large batch of palak paneer as a spicy accompaniment. New housemate Miguel joins in the feasting, which is followed by a miniature art exhibition on the sofa consisting of of work of the present creative types. Longtime Luchanero Eugenio reveals himself to be of multiple talents.

4) Sylvain, French computer engineer brought to the city by his company, elects to extend his stay in Spain over the weekend as well. We share morcilla, pimientos de Padrón, pan de jamón y tomate, bacalao, and fried eggplant with salmorejo, along with a glass or two of cool white wine at nearby Lateral. Around 1AM, post-stuffing ourselves well beyond the point of sheer gluttony, we venture back to the piso to check out the party that’s surely happening. We enter into darkness and silence – shit! Looks like the piso’s taking the night off. However, Max arrives soon after, followed by CouchSurfer Eddie and his hosts Kaeli and Fernando, who I’ve invited to the assumed party at my place. The plan quickly shifts to checking out the Malasaña scene, and we kick it in funky Tupperware. The night wraps up with absolutely all present breaking it down on the dance floor to early 90s hip hop jams.

5) Eddie, born in Ukraine with roots in Israel and high-school experience in Boston, is currently working for CERN in Geneva, Switzerland. He’s a major player in the get-down-stay-down that goes-down Friday night in Tupperware, and the beat refuses to go out for the count; next up is a daytrip to Toledo, in which I rediscover the best asadillo Manchego in España. Nighttime brings the much-anticipated piso party, including guest appearances by Kaeli and Fernando, and all proceed to boogie their pants off into some wee corner of the nearly-morning.

The next day brings gastronomic experimentation even for me; Eddie’s heard tell that they enjoy pig ear ’round these parts, and of course I’m game. Supercutre Bar El Jamón in Lavapiés has the porky goods, and I sample glutinous, vaguely meaty oreja for the first and last time. The pimientos de Padrón go down much easier, so much so that I’m beginning to think they may be a new obsession. Evening wanderings include an attempt to take part in a swing event that leads us instead to talking public art at La Tabacalera, then meeting up with Max for red wine plus caviar-flecked ensalada de mariscos at La Buga del Lobo.

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((vamos lo mas de prisa posible))

7 06 2011

Back.

And yet, where, precisely? and for how long? Are these the most relevant questions, situated smack-dab in the middle of madrileña spring, two weeks left of classes, summer’s curly golden locks splayed free and beckoning at the window?

We’ll begin with the direct: what’s happened?

What hasn’t? In the previous month and a half – that’s mid-April through the beginning stirrings of June – I’ve been back and forth across the Atlantic in the name of Global Classrooms, which probably accounts for the most notable “event” as such. My work with the model United Nations program through Fulbright in Madrid afforded me a shot at one of the two available spots as designated representatives to the international conference in downtown Manhattan, and Lady Luck took a liking to the shine of my boots. As such, I accompanied the ten student delegates from each of the ten long-standing bilingual high schools in Madrid to New York City for a week-long stay, which included participation in the Global Classrooms conference along with a few days of US Embassy-sponsored sightseeing.

My own role was that of seemingly lowly Logistics staff, which meant my crew and I picked up slack wherever it was to be found – think setting up seriously bitchy A/V equipment, sprinting freshly copied resolutions across the hotel to the designated plenary, playing UN security guards, etcetera. It was actually a marvelous role for someone with zip experience with the model UN program; it meant I got a thorough behind-the-scenes examination of how such an enormous event is put together. In the process, I managed to meet a couple fun folks from all over the states, all a fascinating combination of UN geekery and serious party-beasts.

It was both an honor and a pleasure to have been able to kick it with the exceptional Spanish students in the States; I know it was completely perspective shifting for the lot. Working with colleagues David Hinojar, Hernán Jaén, and Rebecca Chadd was a total dream – our varying strengths played off each other to provide a solid experience for all involved. Perhaps the standout highlight of the trip was the 86-floor climb up the Empire State Building at midnight on our final full day in the US. After the requisite period of awed silence, floating high amongst the mystic hazy clouds emitted by the building’s own climatization system, David turned to me and said – “This is a gift.” I couldn’t agree more.

In the meanwhile – I’ve changed homes! After tumultuous times in the Palos piso, various turns of events led to me moving near metro Bilbao, in the cutest lil’ blue triangle-shaped room you ever did see. The place is sprawling, home to nine inhabitants total. I’m the youngest at 24; we range up to 36, meaning we’re workers on the whole rather than students. The place is lively without being party-hardy, and everyone asks me ¿qué tal? I’m enamored.

Other bits: recent bouillabaise house dinner involving entire hake a serious success, intimate friendships fostered/maintained with Fulbrights/ex-Fulbrights, Spanish success steadily steaming along, love of literature rediscovered through The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, job at José Luis Sampedro up and down and up up up again, painting pursuits reinitiated on canvas rescued from Chueca dumpster, certain long-standing chapters finally, fondly, firmly closed, such that new adventures may have their proper due along the space-time continuum.

I have had the enormous luck to have seen so many friends, old and new – Andrew, Catherine, Alicia, Alex, and more – with visits to and from further just beyond the horizon – Isana, Aldo, Clara! Dearest readers, the Spanish summer promises to be bang-up. Stay tuned.





Global Classrooms Conference: Act 1

9 03 2011

The Chair rules that motion DILATORY!!!!!

Let’s rewind a tic to last spring and the sneer on my lips upon being informed that I would be working with Madrid’s Model UN program. Given the general complete dearth of interest on the part of American high school students to participate in such an event, how, precisely, was I meant to enthuse and encourage a batch of Spanish teenagers? For god’s sake, they didn’t even speak English.

Skip forward a scene or two or three (you have a one of those fancy DVD clickers, don’t you?). Enter David Hinojar, master of the social sciences and professor extraordinaire. José Luis Sampedro has set up the Global Classrooms program this year as a fully-blown course (as opposed to its previous iteration as an after-school extracurricular), and David is at the helm, trusty Fulbright mateys Laura and Janel at his swashbuckling side.

September sees us talking climate change, assigning countries at random (“North Korea! Poland! Laos!”), and introducing the basic concepts of parliamentary procedure. This last bit activates all kinds of dormant debate geekery in the vestiges of my Lincoln-Douglas inundated high school brain, and I soak up the new series of rules alongside the students. Honorable Chair, Saudi Arabia has a point of personal privilege – can we open a window?

Mid-December brings an informative email from the Comunidad: the two debate topics of the year, Trafficking of Wild Animals and Children in Armed Conflict, along with our list of assigned countries. Laura and I have a decent understanding of the dynamics within our group of precocious cuties at this stage, and we assign accordingly. We advise familiarization over the winter break in between bites of roscón de Reyes, since upon our return we’ll have a mere two months together as a class to make Model UN magic.

January is all position papers and practice. Each pair of delegates composes a single-page document detailing their country’s experience and opinion of the assigned debate topic, each of which goes through three thoroughly revised drafts thanks to serious editing effort on the part of Laura and myself, mostly taking place during the daily Cercanias commute. We also hold what feels like an endless number of practice runs, obligating the students to make use of their country-specific research in conjunction with the newly acquired procedural knowledge (OBJECTION!!!!! … I may be crossing wires, here). I begin flexing my wings as flamboyant chairperson, functioning as both Master of Ceremonies and Keeper of the Pace, cracking the verbal whip when necessary.

The Fulbrighters reconvene for yet another Jornada at the end of the month, wherein the infinitely talented Adam constructs for us a significantly clearer image of how the actual conference will proceed. We here cast ourselves in the various roles of the dais that will convene each of the five plenaries at the conference. The Staff member takes care of note-passing and general running around tasks, the Rapporteur keeps time, the Director handles resolutions, and the Chair bangs the gavel. Was there ever really any other option for this debate nerd at heart?

… to be continued…