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Bye bye blog.

I think it’s time. 

Nobody calls me Ice Cream anymore. 

I don’t live in Madrid.

I’m back home, where people hold doors for you, say please and thank you, and are conscious of personal space.

If you drink on the street here, you get a ticket. Staying out till 3am constitutes a very late night. I’ve gotten used to speaking without planning it out in my head first. My grocery bills have grown exponentially, and my vitamin D levels have fallen. This is, very much, not Spain.

This blog was an interesting experiment. I wrote a lot more than I posted – I’m still internet shy, and it still seems strange to post (personal) things that anybody could read. But it did get me in the habit of writing more, which I’ve carried through to life in Canada (I’m taking a class, even!).

I wanted to have some kind of concluding post, instead of leaving it hanging back in April with my story about buses, beers and bunnies. I’m glad I started the blog, and I hope to have another one sometime soon. In the meantime, you can find me in Halifax, sitting under my daylight lamp, reading the Globe and Mail, listening to the CBC, running in Point Pleasant park, drinking pints of Garrison, studying at the King’s library, reading plenty of fiction, teaching Spanish classes to kids instead of English, dreaming about travel, and planning my next adventure. 

 

ImageAdios, Madrid. Te echo de menos.

 

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Sunday morning

Mom is an early riser. I call her regularly at 6:00 am Canada time and she’s usually been awake for at least an hour.

The rest of us, not so much. Aran and Ilannah could probably sleep forever if left to it.

Dad likes a good lie-in. I am in between… But I definitely do best with an early-to-bed, early-to-rise routine. I don’t make a good twenty-something. I think at this age you’re supposed to be going to bed late and sleeping in at every opportunity? In Spain, especially. Obviously I’m more suited to middle age.

Lately I’ve been leaning to the Mom side of things, waking up an hour or two before my alarm. It gives me lots of time to read. And take pictures of the sun coming up. And bake.

Today I woke up early. And decided that it was as good a day as any to try something new, which led me to a) making a french tart shell for the first time, then b) caramelizing sugar for the first time, followed by c) making a chocolate tart (more or less this recipe) in its entirety.

(Crumbly) shell baking

Melting sugar

Full disclosure: It isn’t perfect.  But how bad could it be, when you have chocolate, butter, sugar, and flour combined and turned out into a pie plate? It is pretty close to perfect.

Still. I might have slightly overcooked the sugar, so the toffee flavour was very strong. Or maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be. In any case, I added more chocolate to make up for it. (Ahem… Any excuse to add more chocolate.) And I think I got the flour/butter ratio wrong in the tart dough, and it needed more flour. I added 4 big teaspoons on top of what the recipe called for, but it still needed more. AND I overbaked it a tiny bit. And you know how you’re supposed to wait until it’s cool before slicing? That didn’t happen either.

Pre-bake

During-bake

Post-bake

 

Yum, yum. Family, I will make this at Christmas. Friends, it’s now available on request.

Love, Aesclinn

Ps- Anyone want to give me a lesson in formatting pictures in WordPress posts? It’s driving me crazy.

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Sneak attack by water balloon

Trying to recount this as it was said in conversation with Aran.

“Ok. So. Today as I was running (cold be damned!) all of the sudden I was hit in the leg with something. Hard enough to leave a mark. Like, big red mark mid-thigh. It happened really fast so I had no idea what was going on. And I looked down and it was a water balloon. Someone hit me in the leg with a water balloon! I looked all around to see where it came from. I looked up, to see if someone had thrown it out of an apartment. I have no idea. Who does that!? I was assaulted with a water balloon.”

… I was actually angry. Attacking people on the street? What? That is not fine! (To use “fine” in the way the Spaniards do.) But luckily I was already running so I could run it off. And luckily I couldn’t see at all how the whole thing had come about – luckily for whoever did it! Ha. (Not. I totally wouldn’t get into a confrontation. Let’s face it. I’d just seethe and be upset.)

And that’s the story of the time I was sneak-street-attacked with a water balloon in Madrid.

Luckily it was not like this cool time warp video of a water balloon to the face. Because then I probably would have wanted to involve the police or something, and I really would not like to have to explain, angry, in Spanish, what had happened.

 

For future reference I just google-translated the word for balloon in case it needs to be used in a police statement. Globo. Like the shoe store.

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Statement of Intent: Where I’m at right now

Please note: My very wise and diligent[1] mother has advised against posting this. As she is almost always correct in matters such as these, as well as most others, I do this with only the best of intentions and with a full awareness that chances are good that my most devoted and sage mother is correct, and that I am perhaps sacrificing the successful future I plan to enjoy, as delineated below, for the sheer kicks I get out of spending a dozen minutes writing such a thing after spending several hours upon hours researching options for my eventual return to academia.

Secondly, please note that this return to academia will not occur within this calendar year, and most likely, if all plans go ahead, my graduate education will not begin within the next three years. But before then, I plan to return to school to take further classes at the undergraduate level, and face the difficult task of placing my varied interests under the banner of one or two departments of study.

Statement of Intent:

I plan to have achieved some degree of clarity by the age of 30. Until then, I would like to be granted permission to spend time among the smart people at your institution. (Insert name of world-class institution of higher learning here.)

As far as the “analytical problem or question” I would most like to pursue, I shall explain it thusly:

Be it understood, henceforth, that my group of friends is unerringly intelligent and many would say, quite beautiful. More scientifically put[2], in the 95th percentile of intelligence, at the very least.

Why, then, is it that I, and the majority of the people with whom I keep company have such persistent difficulty in deciding how to spend our time?

Is it the sheer plethora of options now available to people of intelligence, wit, and not particularly limited economic means?

In their highly acclaimed followup to Freakonomics, Superfreakonomics, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner point out that in previous years intelligent women almost unfailingly became schoolteachers. This is no longer the case, as there are many other options available, and, I might add, a rather dire shortage of positions for new schoolteachers in our beloved home country of Canada.

Or is our uncertainty derived from the pressures of a modern life? Our focus torn among competing stimuli, our brains alert and sensitized from morning to evening?

Our attention is diverted in boundless different directions. Though I have recently (read: in the last seven years) decided against the pursuit of a career in medicine or the life sciences, I have failed to find a significant narrowing of academic interests in my desired fields of study, namely, I would like to combine a thorough understanding of history, government, economics, languages, peace and conflict, anthropology, psychology, behavioural sciences and contemporary philosophical thought into an understanding of certain facets (as all would be not only a foolish, but an impossible goal) of the modern world. Following this, I would like to apply this knowledge to a vocational path which would, in its ideal form, provide a living wage and allow me to become wildly invested in the accomplishment of certain meaningful goals, to be determined over the course of my studies and several very likely unpaid jobs. Furthermore, I would like to work with human beings, not only corporations. I would like to write regularly, and not apply very much of the several years of advanced mathematics I have undertaken in the course of past pursuits. I would, with some regularity, like to feel as though I am accomplishing something, but failing this, am willing to find fulfilment in this area of my life through a continued passion for productive pastimes such as baking and basket-weaving[3].

To conclude, there you have it, this is what I have so far. As previously stated, by the age of 30, I should have achieved some greater degree of clarity. Not that I will have any more answers, but I very much hope that I will be more certain of what it is that I am confused about.


[1] “Diligent” being a term best reserved for those who work with little interruption from approximately 05:00am to 12:00am daily.

[2] Yes I know, not really.

[3] Actually, now that I mention it? I should learn basket-weaving.

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Return to the homeland

I’ve been back in Gloucester, Ontario, for a week

I got into Ottawa last Thursday. The flight from Madrid to Toronto was nearly full, with the usual mix of Spanish and English speakers and just the right number of crying babies. I sat next to a middle-aged bald man in sunglasses, with big biceps and black tattoos covering his arms, wearing cargo shorts and a white muscle t-shirt. He crossed himself as we took off and that made me warm up to him taking up the whole armrest a little.  It turns out he’s from Ibiza, and had no idea how long the flight was or how long it would then take him to get to San Francisco from Toronto, or what the time difference between all those places was…

It was one of the older generation airplanes – so there were no back-of-the seat screens. I read several hundred pages of Shantaram and tried unsuccessfully to do the crossword and Sudoku in the Globe. On an eight-hour flight they serve two meals. I had ordered the “Vegetarian, lacto-ovo” option. This got me starch and vegetables and … little else. My first meal was white rice and cooked vegetables, a bottle of water and a cup of fruit. My second meal was a white bread and vegetable sandwich, a bottle of water and a cup of fruit. I was SO hungry. Dear Air Canada: although I am vegetarian I am no more highly evolved than other human beings and still require protein in order to survive.

Once in Toronto I nervously watched the time waiting for my luggage and getting through the super efficient system of customs and rechecking luggage and back through security and to my gate. Once there, the flight appeared to be on time and lots of smiley people lined up in an orderly fashion only when asked to do so by the gate agents. (I realize now the smiles might have been due to the air conditioning indoors compared with the 38-degree heat plus humidity outdoors.) We’d been told we were on schedule, but from my seat I could see the ground crew unloading stuff off the airplane even as we were supposed to be departing. Not just any “stuff” either – box after box labelled “Keep warm – Live tropical fish.”

Keep warm!

Unloading the live tropical fish

Yeah. They filled a whole truck with those boxes. Meanwhile, the captain was announcing that he’d gotten word from the ground crew, and “they’re just loading the last of the bags.” He was saying this AS I watched the boxes being removed. Blatant lies, Air Canada, blatant lies. Next they unloaded several trucks worth of mail packages. The captain came on to say that we were expecting departure “on the hour” (meaning six o’clock, when the flight was scheduled to leave at 5:10) because the ground crew was working more slowly than normal at loading luggage and taking more breaks due to the heat.

Again: blatant lies. And this was just insulting – the guys outside were bright red, dripping with perspiration and working hard. I wanted to bring them lemonade and a spray bottle.

Finally, at about half past five, the captain finally got up to date with the situation that I’d been watching through the window for a good half hour. (Oh, due to the heat there’s a shortage of ground crew and the plane hasn’t been unloaded from the last flight and we haven’t even started to load your bags yet folks, sorry about that…)

In this last week, I’ve been experiencing what I’m guessing is a bit of reverse culture shock. After being in Europe, in purely non-English speaking countries, for seven months, it’s weird.

First of all. People smiling at me. It’s not that people in Spain don’t smile at you. But they do it differently. Canadians are more generous with their smiles. You don’t really have to earn it. We just throw ‘em out there.

People also touch a lot less. People are more careful about not getting in your way. But also, if someone bumps into you or you help someone with something in Madrid, it’s not uncommon for them to grasp your forearm to emphasise that they really are sorry for bumping into you or to show that they are really thankful for your help. Whenever you meet anyone new you kiss them on both cheeks and same when you see your friends and your friends’ friends and when you say goodbye – any opportunity. I like it, it’s friendly and it establishes a bit of intimacy with people you’ve just met. Here in Canada, we’re handshakers, and after all that kissing… it seems a little cold.

On my morning run, the following things were said to me: Good, morning, hello.

On an average run in Spain, I have my hair colour pointed out (Ehh! Morena!), my waist size pointed out (Ehh! Delgada!), the speaker’s opinion of my attractiveness pointed out (Ehh! Guapa!). Never once has anyone said the following words to me: Buenos, días, hola.

I’ve also been struck visually by… Canadian-ness . It’s so green! So verdant. The sky is so open. The roads are so big. The houses (this is partly just my neighbourhood) are so big. The trees are big. The cars are big. There is so much space!

It is extremely weird to be able to speak with pretty much anyone without any communication difficulties, or communication failures, or confusion, or at the very least, me listening with full, rapt attention to try to understand and hear as much as possible in order to piece together the rest.

It’s so strangely efficient. I don’t have to psych myself up for phone calls or look up key words before going to the bank or the post office. I’m Canadian. I fit right back in. Even though I’ve been doing ‘Canadian’ my whole life, it still takes some getting used to.

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A moment in time, Barcelona

Scene: Barceloneta beach, Barcelona.

Aran, Peter, and Aesclinn, standing on the beach.

A man approaches. Cerveza, beer? Coca Cola, Coca Cola light? Water?

Aran and I slightly shake our heads. The man takes a step away.

Aran: What was he offering?

I repeat the inventory.

The man turns around, hoping for a sale. Seeing none, he makes the same pitch to Pete. Then whispers something to Peter, under his breath.

What were the specials?

Peter: I think it was marajuana, hashish.

No cocaine.

Aran: I want them to offer me drugs.

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Last Lessons

My last lessons of the year are supposed to be a little “fun.” “Fun” as it gets when you’re forcing a group of 30 kids in an overheated classroom to speak English, which 98% of them would prefer never to do. Just kidding. The kids do have fun. And so do I. We only go to school in the morning in June, and the classrooms are lined with a wall of beautiful big windows, so the overheating factor is (morles*) kept to a minimum.

*Story to come on why “morles” is my new favourite word.

With my sixth graders (6.º primaria) I’ve been playing a game called “Move your butt.” It’s a camp classic and perfect for practicing English and running around a lot. Desks are cleared to the sides of the classroom, and the kids make a circle with their chairs. There is one less chair than there are people.

The person without a seat stands in the middle and makes up a “Move your butt if…” sentence. Like, “Move your butt if you’re wearing red.” Or, “Move your butt if you can swim.” Or “Move your butt if Aesclinn is your favourite language assistant ever.” Um. That was one of mine. Yes, they all moved their butts… I didn’t really leave them much of a choice.

I’ve also adapted the “My name is Joe and I am Canadian” speech of Molson Canadian fame into a classroom activity, which I’m doing versions of with some of my secondary school classes.

They listen to the speech, then make their own version of it.

The results are hilarious and often brilliant.

 

Here is the one that has had the best delivery so far, from a tenth grader. (I corrected the grammatical errors.) It was read with the most attitude imaginable – awesome. There might have been a couple of “Don’t go there, girlfriend” finger snaps thrown in for good measure.

Hey.

I’m not a bullfighter, I don’t live in a hut, and I’m not always eating paella.

We Spaniards are not lazy, and we don’t spend all day at parties.

I’m not called Paco, or Alejandro, I’m Guillermo.

We are not South Americans, we are Europeans. Despite the fact that you don’t know anything about Spain, we have much more history than Americans.

We are proud of our beaches, and our climate. And if you don’t know who we are, remember that we discovered America!

Our country is the most visited in Europe, the first nation of football, and we have the best food.

I’m Guillermo, and I’m proud to be Spanish.

 

This is the original text:

My name is Joe, and I AM CANADIAN! 

Hey. I’m not a lumberjack, or a fur trader, and I don’t live in an igloo or eat blubber, or own a dog sled.

And I don’t know Jimmy, Sally or Susie from Canada, although I’m certain they’re really, really nice.

I have a Prime Minister, not a President.

I speak English and French, not American, and I pronounce it “about” not “a boot.”

I can proudly sew my country’s flag on my backpack.

I believe in peacekeeping, not policing, diversity, not assimilation, and that the beaver is a truly proud and noble animal.

A toque is a hat, a chesterfield is a couch, and it is pronounced zed, not zee. Zed!

Canada is the second largest landmass, the first nation of hockey, and the best part of North America. My name is Joe, and I am Canadian.

Thank you.

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